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Finding Dory •••

Finding_DoryStarring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill
Director: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Screenplay: Andrew Stanton
Animation/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: PG
Running Time: 97 minutes
Release Date: June 17, 2016


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Well it looks like we’re back in the ocean looking for another disabled fish.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Finding Dory has definitely whet my appetite. But not for seafood. Let’s recap.

We meet Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang fish who lacks short termed memory. It’s been a year since she helped find Nemo and we flash forward to the present. Dory keeps introducing herself to other fish as if they had met for the first time. Then she has a flashback where she remembers her parents trying to teach her (as a young fish) how to find her way home. They are very understanding and patient fish and are teaching Dory coping mechanisms for her memory problems.

Dory is captured by the Marine Life Institute, where she is tagged and thrown into the quarantine section. There she meets a grumpy octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), who wants Dory’s tag so that he can be sent to a permanent aquarium. To get the tag, he agrees to help Dory find her parents. Soon she meets an old childhood friend a shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and a whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell), who both play a role in helping Dory.


It’s been a long time since I saw the prequel Finding Nemo. I think both of these films feature young fish with a disability. And the thrust of the film is how to deal with the challenges life throws at you regardless of your abilities. This is a wonderful message for young children who always feel powerless in a world of adult giants.

Dory is just as adorable as her voice actor – America’s sweetheart Ellen Degeneres. The only problem I had with the film and Dory is that she suffers from selective memory. She appears to remember things just in time for the plot points.

I’m torn in my evaluation because on the one hand this is a children’s film. And Pixar delivers. But there are leaps and gaps in logic (Dory happens to go down the same drain as her parents did two years ago. And they’re still in the same location waiting for Dory to come home. Lucky). This film will entertain children for years to come. But Pixar has a reputation for appealing to both the child and adult markets, and I think they missed the mark for adults.

I was thinking the same thing, Greg. This is a kids movie, pure and simple. I found myself in the unfamiliar position of being bored — an unheard of place for me to be during a Pixar film. All these characters are quite lovable and appealing, but there isn’t much depth or substance in the characters or in the situations they encounter (with one notable exception which I’ll get to shortly). Much is made of all the different places, rooms, and bodies of water that the fish find themselves in, and I suppose there is some cleverness in how they are transported to those places. But again, these kinds of action sequences appeal to children.

So let’s talk about the one exceptional feature of Finding Dory that was very clever and sophisticated. It is her short-term memory problem that you mention, Greg. Typically the hero is missing an important quality and the hero’s journey forces the hero to develop this quality. In Dory’s case, her memory problem cannot be fixed, and so this movie teaches us that even when we face permanent deficits, we can draw on our other strengths to compensate for these deficits. Dory spends her hero’s journey discovering hidden strengths that others do not possess — strengths which more than make up for her memory issues. This is a nice twist on the conventional hero’s journey and I really appreciated it.

Finding Dory is a nice sequel to Finding Nemo. We see similar themes in how to deal with disabilities. The word ‘nice’ comes to mind quite frequently. It’s a nice little story. Dory is a nice character. The parents were nice and patient. And I had a nice time. But there wasn’t a lot of the drama that made Finding Nemo compelling to all ages. Dory merely moves from place to place – each place adding a piece to the puzzle that is her memory. I can only muster 3 out of 5 Reels for Finding Dory.

Dory as the hero does really well here. As you point out, Scott, she has a missing inner quality of a missing memory. But she also has the missing inner quality of not belonging. She suddenly realizes that she’s missed her parents and needs to find them. So her quest to find her parents propels the story forward and her ultimate reunion with them resolves her inner hurt. I liked Dory and I give her 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Dory as several mentors in this film. Her parents act as her early mentors – teaching her how to survive despite her memory problems by drawing on her other gifts. The “septapus” xxx is her guide through the special world of the Marine Habitat. And Dory herself acts as a “by example” mentor to Nemo’s dad xxx. He learns to act in the moment and do “what Dory would do” when the need arises. I give them 3 out of 5 Mentors.

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I think you’ve summed up Finding Dory quite nicely, Greg. Children under the age of 14 should enjoy this movie, and adults will either enjoy it or at least find it palatable. The characters are all adorable and movie captures quite well the time-honored theme of finding home. Finding Dory will never been known as one of Pixar’s finest offerings but it’s still worthy entertainment. I also award it 3 Reels out of 5.

Delivering a strong hero’s journey is Pixar’s strength, and this film is no exception. All the classic elements of the hero’s quest are here in full form, beginning with the departure from home, the encounter with allies to help with the mission, the presence of ominous oppositional forces, and the hero’s meaningful transformation as a result of the journey. I agree that this hero deserves a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5.

There are plenty of mentors, as you point out, Greg. Dory’s strength is remaining open to learning from them all. She also teaches these mentors a thing or two about showing determination and solving problems. I think I’ll bump up the mentor rating a notch from yours and give these mentors a rating of 4 out of 5.

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Independence Day: Resurgence ••

Independence-Day-2-posterStarring: Liam Hemsworth,  Jeff Goldblum,  Bill Pullman
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Nicolas Wright,  James A. Woods
Science Fiction/Action/Adventure, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: June 24, 2016


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Just in time for the Fourth of July, it’s the resurgence of a bad film from 20 years ago.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Actually, I semi-enjoyed the original film with Will Smith. Did this new one measure up?  Let’s see.

It’s 20 years after the aliens invaded the Earth and we repulsed their attacks. The captured aliens, who were previously dormant, have become strangely animated. It turns out they aren’t angry – they’re celebrating because the mothership is returning. Now it’s up to the human race to re-prepare for the oncoming invasion.

Fortunately, humanity has learned a lot from the alien technology left behind from the prior invasion. Still, they are vastly outnumbered and outgunned by a mothership that is the size of a continent. The alien ship begins emitting a powerful laser beam into the earth with the goal of harvesting our planet’s molten core.

Scott, I was not a fan of the original Independence Day and Resurgence is a pale imitation of a lousy original. All the original characters are back, except for Will Smith’s character who died in the 20 years between events. He’s replaced by his son Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) and two friends Jake Morrison and Ritter (Liam Hemsworth and James A. Woods). There’s some sort of animosity between Jake and Dylan that is barely explained.

And Dr Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) is back – but I thought he died in the original. He (and President Whitmore – Bill Pullman) have some sort of psychic connection to the aliens. xxx also has a buddy who appears to be closer to a lover. The script is written so that you can believe they’re gay if you want to, or they’re just Bert and Ernie types of friends. I’m not a fan of ambiguity. If you want to have gay characters in your story, I’m OK with that. Just put it out there.

Just as it was 20 years ago, there are too many stars in this film. Nobody gets much screen time and you never feel close to any character. The result is that you never get invested in anyone and so you cannot get invested in the story. ID:R is a lackluster affair, to be nice.

Yep, this summer of 2016 is turning into a major suck-fest. It’s still July and there’s still time for the movie industry to redeem itself. But boy, are we thirsty for a decent movie or what? You’re absolutely right about too many stars spoiling the broth here. We just reviewed Now You See Me 2 and it had the same problem of many stars but little shine.

The entire story is by-the-numbers and routine. We have aliens attacking and we have humans fighting them. It looks like all is lost until a fallen, has-been hero gets his sh**t together and comes to the rescue. The aliens have an evil queen, and of course the evil queen is easily tricked into making herself vulnerable to attack. I’m struck by the vast number of alien movies that portray aliens as insects with a hive mentality and ant-like colonies and hierarchies. Moviemakers must figure that these types of animalistic, pure evil villains are easy to root against.

Independence Day: Resurgence is simple popcorn fare. There’s not a lot of depth here. It’s a run-of-the-mill attack of the aliens story with no surprises and no heart. While the CGI was good, I am inured now to all CGI fests. I am far past the point where special effects affect me. I expect high-quality special effects. I expect that filmmakers can make anything happen on screen. So when “anything” *does* happen, I’m not the least bit impressed. I feel that they’ve done was was expected. I give ID:R just 2 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes in this story are a watered-down version of what we saw in the original. It apparently takes three people to replace Will Smith. Bill Pullman’s President is a mere shadow of his former self. Jeff Goldblum didn’t even try to pull off his usual geeky-science-guy act. He very much phoned it in. The female President played by Sela Ward was easy on the eyes, but didn’t command much of anything. I could go on quite a bit because there were so many characters and each were lackluster in every way. The hero’s journey here is supplanted by CGI and a rehashed plot. I give the heroes in this movie just 1 out of 5 Heroes.

It’s hard to say if there were any mentors in ID:R. Judd Hersch is back as the kindly grandfather. He gives kindly words of wisdom to some children. I guess that’s ‘kindly’ mentoring. However, I did notice a new mentor type – the Martyred Mentor. Will Smith appears as the hero who has died. He is remembered with great reverence and is held up as an example for the young heroes to live up to. Somehow, that character is greater in death than he was in life. This is the only thing that allows me to award 1 Mentor out of 5.

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Greg, I think you’ve said it all, and the less said the better. Independence Day: Resurgence is lightweight fare even by mindless summer-movie standards. I came into the theater with fairly low expectations and they were met in every possible way. There’s nothing original to see here, but maybe people who enjoy aliens’ butts being kicked will get a charge out of this flick. 2 Reels out of 5 seems generous but that’s what I’ll give it.

As you mention, the heroes here are about as unmemorable as heroes can get. I didn’t see much of a hero’s journey or much character transformation going on. A rating of 1 Hero out of 5 seems generous once again. And as far as mentors go, the late great Will Smith character is the legend who inspires and Judd Hersch’s wrinkles make him wise. So let’s give these mentors a big 2 out of 5 as well.

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Now You See Me 2 ••

Now_You_See_Me_2_posterStarring: Jesse Eisenberg,  Mark Ruffalo,  Woody Harrelson
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenplay: Ed Solomon
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: June 10, 2016


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, just like magic, another movie sequel appears out of nowhere.

Now You See Me 2 should have been called Now You Don’t because that’s what I wished I had done.

The three horsemen magicians have been laying low for a year, awaiting instructions from a secret organization called The Eye. Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), and Jack (Dave Franco) are joined by a fourth horse-“man” named Lula (Lizzy Caplan). Their FBI handler, Dylan (Mark Ruffalo), assigns the horsemen the task of stealing a device that can remove data from any computer system. Their heist, however, goes terribly wrong.

It turns out they’ve been hijacked to Macau, China by Merritt’s evil twin Chase. He works for an evil technologist Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe). Now their main mission is to steal the device for Mabry or suffer the consequences. They rush to an old magic shop in downtown Macau to get the supplies they’ll need for the heist.

Greg, the first Now You See Me was only mildly entertaining at best, and so I had rather low expectations for this sequel. Usually low expectations improve a movie’s chances of impressing me. But alas, not so with this sequel. For me it had the same problems as the first installment. The magic wasn’t real, just all CGI effects, which meant that all that impressive card-throwing (which we saw A LOT of) was faked and hardly jaw-dropping. Then there is the far-fetched plot that depends on multiple cases of “instantaneous hypnosis”. Apparently, all you have to do is surprise someone and they fall under your spell. Ugh.

Yeah, it was pretty weak. The subplot with Merritt meeting his identical twin was just weird. It wasn’t funny, entertaining, or clever. Chase, the twin, showed up without notice wherever the horsemen seemed to be. There was no logic, rhyme, or reason to the character in the movie. It’s almost as if someone said “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if Woody played his own twin? We haven’t seen that in a while,” and then proceeded to inject him wherever the plot seemed to be lagging.

There is at least a hero’s journey. The horsemen are sent down a tube that takes them magically from North America to Asia, and therein begins their adventure in the unfamiliar world. In this world they encounter the usual elements of the hero’s quest, including a mysterious and exotic elderly woman who serves as a mentor figure. Comically, the old lady turns out not to be as exotic as they are led to believe; still, she’s an archetype of wisdom that heroes rely on during their journey.

This is an odd-shaped ensemble cast. The four horsemen are a team and they are commanded by an unseen mastermind “The Eye.” Then there is a fifth guy (Ruffalo) who acts as their mole in the FBI. And then there’s Morgan Freeman acting as … some guy in jail. Freeman appears to be an oppositional character, but ultimately it is revealed that he is “The Eye” and has been molding Ruffalo to take on the role. This is a common trope – the student becoming the master. So, ultimately, Freeman is a mentor. It’s a convoluted, hackneyed and obvious plot point. I wasn’t impressed.

Now You See Me 2 is a sequel that never should have been made, following up on a predecessor that was wracked with mediocrity. This film had the same problems as before — magic tricks that obviously benefitted from CGI enhancements, and a plot that is ridiculously far-fetched. All the star power in this film could not overcome its underwhelmingness. Like its predecessor, I give this move 2 Reels out of 5.

The hero ensemble was fun to watch at times, and the female newcomer to the group, Lula, was a welcome addition. It isn’t exactly a John Hughes-like cross-section of archetypes, but the group does feature a quirky nerd in Eisenberg, a smart-ass in Harrelson, a pretty boy in Franco, and now the Molly Ringwald-esque character in Lula. There is a hero’s journey here and some classic elements straight from Joseph Campbell. So I can justify awarding 3 Heroes out of 5.

The mentors are a muddy mix of men mishandling the magicians. We do appreciate Morgan Freeman’s cleverness, but we are also aghast that he would allow himself to be imprisoned for a couple of years just to fool someone. Rule number 1 of movie-making: Don’t ever do something that is reminiscent of Dumb and Dumber Too.  I’ll award these meager mentors 2 Mentors out of 5.

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It’s hard to be underwhelmed when one’s expectations are already low. Still, while NYSM2 lacked in every other way, at least is accomplished that one thing – completely under-delivering. I won’t recap all that is wrong with this film and give it just 2 out of 5 Reels.

I thought Ruffolo’s character did a nice bit of transformation in this story. If we look at the pain he felt in losing his father, we see it is mended by him taking his own place in the hierarchy of magicians. But the entire movie is so outrageous in its premise that it’s hard to see this as a proper hero’s journey. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Heroes.

I liked the Lula character and wished there were more of her in it. She was the newcomer to the group and could have done with some mentoring. Her immediate acceptance by the team, and subsequent integration into the group’s dynamic left little room for mentorship. On the flip side, I was happy that she wasn’t played up as the “dumb girl who needs to be pulled along.” We’ve touched on the Morgan Freeman mentoring of Ruffalo – but it’s an unlikely scenario. I can award only 1 Mentor out of 5.

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