Thursday, June 23, 2016

Finding Dory (and a final deviation to basketball for a Northern California salute to the Golden State Warriors)

                             How Deep (in the ocean) Is Your Love?

                                                      Review by Ken Burke

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                             Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton)
This sequel to Finding Nemo goes back to when memory-challenged baby Dory accidently gets separated from her parents but much later starts having flashbacks of her early life so she’s off to find them again; obstacles keep getting in the way before, during, and after the frantic scenes at the Marine Life Institute, ultimately leading to a fabulously charming story.
What Happens: Building on the events of Finding Nemo (Stanton, 2003), sweet-little-short-term-memory-challenged Pacific regal blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is introduced to us as a baby where her concerned-but-loving-parents, Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Diane Keaton), urge her to stay away from the dangerous undertow but if she ever gets lost to just follow the trail of shells they’ve constructed to lead her back home.  (They also console her for her challenging condition, saying “We’ll never forget you, Dory, and we hope you never forget us.”)  She does accidently get sucked away from them one day, though, spending years trying to reunite with little or no help from her ocean denizens until that fateful day when she comes upon clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) frantically looking for his lost son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence [Alexander Gould was his voice in the earlier movie, but he’s too old now to have the proper vocal inflections]).  Our current story picks up a year later with everything peaceful in these fishes’ Great Barrier Reef home, but Dory’s a bit of a burden for the community because she can’t form new memories very well, leading to easy distraction and bothersome repetition.  While attempting to be a “fish school” helper for Mr. Ray (Bob Peterson) in a lesson on migration, Dory’s accidently walloped by a passing herd (?) of rays, with the collision helping her gain some insight of where she grew up, by the Marine Life Institute in Morro Bay, CA (we learn later it was actually in the Open Ocean section of this sea-creature-rehab-facility [Sigourney Weaver—as herself—is constantly heard over the PA system] where Dory lived with her parents).  Eager to use this new information to finally find them again, Dory convinces reluctant-to-travel-Marlin (accompanied by Nemo) to help with her journey as she needs someone who knows her intentions to keep remaindering her where she’s going and why.

 After getting a rushed journey across the Pacific in the raging current navigated by hang-loose-sea turtle Crush (voice of director Stanton), our voyagers encounter danger from a huge squid; they escape but Nemo’s knocked around, leading to an angry rebuke of Dory from Marlin that sets her off sadly to the surface (with a cluster of soda-can-plastic-rings around her, part of the various subtle ecological messages throughout this movie) where she’s caught by workers from the local Institute, tagged to be sent with other blue tangs to an aquarium in faraway Cleveland (I guess that’s the new hot destination after their Cavaliers took the NBA title from our [speaking for all of Northern California, of course; see below for more on this] glorious Golden State Warriors), a goal for Hank, a 7-legged East Pacific red octopus (Ed O’Neill) who doesn’t want to be released back into the ocean where some problem led to the loss of his other leg (Dory calls him a “septopus,” noting that while she can’t remember a lot she does know how to count) so he agrees to help her find her parents in return for getting the trip-verifying-tag.  From this extensive set-up, the movie’s action becomes a series of fast-paced-scenes in and around the Institute where we meet further new characters:  Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a directionally-challenged whale shark who knew Dory in her baby days; Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale who’s lost his echolocation ability; Fluke (Idris Elba) and his buddy, Rudder (Dominic West), a pair of California sea lions who give advice to Marlin and Nemo when they arrive at the Institute; Becky (Torbin Xan Bullock), a goofy loon who transports father and son clown fish in a small bucket of water at one point.  The most active of all is Hank because he apparently doesn’t need to be in water all of the time (neither does Becky, but she’s a bit short of brains so she’s lucky to get anything accomplished), plus he’s got great camouflage ability so that he can mimic any background, allowing him to hide in plain sight.

 With the various “help” provided by Hank and Becky (after a frightening interlude in the Kid Zone Touch Pool where we see what it feels like to the be on the other end of active children poking at the various sea creatures therein) Marlin and Nemo make it to the Tide Pool while Dory gets to the Open Ocean exhibit only to find out that all of the blue tangs are down in Quarantine, to be trucked off to glorious Cleveland (hopefully, not for a massive fish dinner for Cavs superstar LeBron James) so she finds her way into the complex pipe system where she reunites with Marlin and Nemo, but they all get to the tang tank only to find out Dory’s parents are long gone from the Institute.  Hank manages to drop Dory down a drain, leaving her back in the ocean, before the others are being trucked off to Ohio.  Despondent and confused, she swims around until she sees a trail of shells which she follows to where Charlie and Jenny have established a home with many shell-trails leading to it in hopes they’d ever see Dory again.  Reunited, the blue tang family sets off (with the help of outdoor-tank-escapees Destiny and Bailey, plus a group of sea otters in an inlet over a bridge) to rescue their friends.  Through a series of adventure too complicated to recount (but much fun to watch), Hank ends up driving the truck with Dory as his navigator (he can’t see over the dashboard) which finally ends up back in the water so that all of the fish escape into the ocean (to the tune of Louis Armstrong’s "What a Wonderful World" [from the 1967 album of the same name] on the soundtrack), with Dory’s family joining Marlin’s back at the Great Barrier Reef.  Various mini-scenes of Hank and ocean views keep you interested in watching the final credits, followed by one last moment with the goofy sea lions.

So What? There’s been no lack of active, embraceable response to Finding Dory, with its enormous $136.2 million domestic (U.S.-Canada) opening last weekend, setting the record for an animated-feature (as well as being the all-time #2 for a June opening, behind Jurassic World [Colin Trevorrow, 2015; review in our June 17, 2015 posting]), along with pulling in another hefty $50 million from overseas markets, with its success attributed to such useful factors as aduiences' ongoing-confidence in Pixar (Disney) products and its unique appeal to young girls, often ignored as a potential audience, although plenty of other demographics also found reason to wade into this newest talking-animals-epic (maybe if for no other reason than a relaxing break in an air-conditioned-theater vicariously indulging in cool water as summer temperatures continue to rise, even in my normally-temperate-Northern California-environment).  Once again, Pixar manages to blend action, emotion, and fine-inspirational-uplift into a digestibly-brief-running time—about 100 minutes if you stay for the credits, but even a little of that experience is devoted to the opening-Pixar-animated-short, Piper (Alan Barillaro), a delightful, near-photographic-take (clip here) on emerging-childhood-awareness as a newborn shoreline bird is weaned by his mother from being fed by her to finding his own food, mostly clams that sit right on the sand until the tide comes in.  His initial attempts are interrupted by the waves which scare—and drench—him, until a helpful little crab shows him how to burrow into the wet sand in order to miss the wave’s impact, then spring up with a clam for his efforts, so that he’s soon nutritionally-independent, a proudly-happy little guy, and the new pride of his flock. 

 Don’t be surprised if both Piper and Finding Dory become Oscar-contenders a few months from now.  In addition to the likeable characters that populate … Dory there’s always something happening, along with interesting information casually worked into the script.  (Did you know that octopuses [not octopi] have 3 hearts?  Hank didn’t until Dory made him aware of it—demonstrating another positive aspect of Dory for all kids, or anyone else with memory or attention-deficit-disorders, that just because you may have weaknesses in some area doesn’t mean that you can’t have usable-strengths in others.)  Further, the solutions to the various crises that the fish face are too creative to be predictable (Marlin and Nemo jumping on water jets to get themselves from a tourist’s fish bowl into the Tide Pool exhibit; Bailey using his put-your-mind-to-it-recovered-echolocation to help track the fish-truck once it’s out of sight of the MLI; Hank driving the truck).  For those of us who live in the San Francisco Bay Area there are additional little pleasures such as when the Cleveland-bound-fish-truck is motoring down the highway it passes freeway exits for Ashby and Gilman streets, actual exits from I-80 into Berkeley (close to Pixar’s home in Emeryville), even though the seacoast portion of this movie’s set in Morro Bay, about where the Pacific coast division resides between Central and Southern California (the fictional Marine Life Institute also resembles the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium with its similar massive Kelp Forest tank, touchable-animals Rocky Shore exhibit, and man well-respected-conservation-programs).

 Even though there’s a sad moment when Dory discovers that her parents are no longer in the MLI (therefore they're assumed dead because they never came back after leaving to find their daughter), there’s too much else going on for characters or audience to have any time to grieve this likelihood, just as, on the other hand, there's time made for a touching moment at the very end when Dory swims away from the fish school (being taught by Hank as a substitute while Mr. Ray’s on a migration-vacation) toward the dangerous undertow current that rushes past an undersea cliff.  Marlin quietly follows, not wanting to be his usual demonstrative, overprotective self but still concerned that she not be swept away because she’s forgotten the danger that lies there; however, she notices him then explains that she’s just being alone for a bit contemplating what she does remember of her ongoing-oddball-life.  (Subtly acknowledging that she needs to be on constant guard toward her surroundings so that she doesn’t do anything foolish, just as she’s had to be resourceful in times of being lost during the story picking up clues in her environment as to why she’s where she is and what to do next even if she’s not fully sure about her decisions—“Just keep swimming,” she says.) You know, for anyone who doesn’t feel that celebrating their enjoyment of what’s being assumed as a “children’s movie” is some kind of a self-insult, someday Finding Dory would make an interesting video-double-feature with the R-rated-Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) where the protagonist (played by Guy Pearce) has a similar inability to retain short-term-memories, a fate that leads to much darker, more brutal results than Dory’s many delightful discoveries.  (Such a double-feature might not seem that appealing, but I base the concept on my initial viewing of The Exorcist [William Friedkin, 1973] where, as a result of lingering-Catholic-fears of the afterlife, I watched it at a mall 2-screen-theater where I could exit into daylight, walk into the mall for some dinner, then go back to the moviehouse to watch a re-release of Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland [Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske; 1951] to clear my mental palate, so to speak, which worked just as intended).

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Challenging an ongoing-2016-trend of my reviews often being higher (often notably so) than the critical consensus you’ll find at sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, this time I find myself in league with the rest of my (generally-unknown) colleagues, as those surveyed by RT gave Finding Dory positive reviews at a rate of 95% while the MC snobs (dependably lower than the folks cited at RT) offer a 77% average score.  While my 4 of 5 stars is mathematically closer to the current MC critics'  cumulative number, I rarely go above 4—see the Summary of Two Guys reviews in the Related Links section below—so I also harmonize with the Tomato Tossers in that my 4 stars can be seen as a normally-high-mark-of-achievement for me—the goal in my viewing intentions, to find the tops of the ongoing crop of releases as best I can rather than spend time and money on lesser or just uninteresting offerings—just as their 100% positive clusters of reviews indicate a solidly-worthwhile-audience-investment within current parameters rather than demanding the level of cinematic classic that I reserve for my rarely-given-5’s. However, gushing over Finding Dory is quite easy to do because it’s a pleasure to watch (while the humans depicted are consciously-stylized a bit and some aspects of the ocean-dwellers—such as their expressive eyes—are exaggerated to give them more personality, much of what we see here reaches a level of almost-photographic-quality not only beautiful to see but also fascinating to admire as visuals that fluctuate between plausible verisimilitude and crafted-artificial-creation), the characters are distinct and engaging (great renderings of their movements along with well-articulated-delivery from the impressive vocal talent), and the simple-but-profound-messages of believing in yourself especially when challenges are the strongest, keeping faith that past problems can be overcome, and facing what you fear gives personal growth are always welcome reminders no matter what age you are.  

* Example:  Peter Hartlaub (of the San Francisco Chronicle; a Rotten Tomatoes top critic, his ... Dory review here) gives this movie his highest rating but cites 4 other Pixar features—and 3 more contenders—as being better; at least my ratings system allows me to acknowledge what I consider better movies or even more challenging films so that they’d stand out in my lists.  Yet, this guy’s in the SF Film Critics Circle while I’ve been turned down 4 times; there just ain’t no justice, I tell ya.

 Finding Dory is fun yet heart-warming to watch, even though it doesn’t get mushy-gushy with its inspirational intentions, capped off by that final after-the-credits-scene where not only do we go back to our lounging sea lions still enjoying their day in the sun even as they quickly rise to the occasion to chase off an attempted intruder into their pleasure zone, we also get a last reference to Finding Nemo as the “Tank Gang” (voiced by Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, and others) who escaped captivity in the previous movie are still in their individual plastic bags floating through the ocean, all the way from Australia to California (how they get food in those bags during such a long journey would seem to be a concern—if we were given any time to think about it, but it’s only a quick sight gag to top everything else off in an efficient manner).  Trying to mirror that efficiency, when I pondered my usual tactic of adding a Musical Metaphor as additional commentary on Finding Dory I quickly came to The Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden” (from the 1969 Abbey Road album, 1 of only 2 songs that Ringo wrote for their records [the other was in 1968, “Don’t Pass Me By” on The Beatles {the so-called White Album}]) at, a video from the Cirque Du Soleil’s majestic Beatles’ tribute, Love, which has been playing in a specially-designed-theatre at the Las Vegas Mirage Hotel since 2006 (my wife, Nina, and I finally saw it in 2015; magnificent).  But if you’d rather listen to the Liverpool Lads mostly just do it on their own (but still with added video animation) here’s that version, which submerges our musicians into a wondrous-water-world where, like Dory and her friends, they have their “little hideaway beneath the waves” where they can celebrate “joy for every girl and boy Knowing they’re happy and they’re safe” in Hank’s “octopus’s garden with you” (being anyone you’d care to insert from the Nemo/ Dory/Beatles worlds, above and below sea level, to keep everything in pleasantly-flowing-harmony).
In Closing, One Last Sports-Distraction from My Movie Reviews …
 No longer being a religious man, I didn’t read much from the King (LeBron) James Version of the “gospels” before watching Game7 of the National Basketball Association Finals last Sunday with confidence that my local Golden State Warriors would repeat as the NBA champions (they beat Cleveland last year) but that was not to be.  Despite a marvelous season in which various group or individual records were set for the Dubs (a twist on the “w” beginning letter of their team name), the Cavaliers (led by mega-superstar James—a status he’s brazenly-well-aware of) finally triumphed (only by 4 points, but all you need is 1) in a nail-biter, allowing the 1st NBA championship ever for Cleveland and the only pro-sports-trophy for that beleaguered-city since 1964 (bringing appropriate pride and joy to my mentor [whose advice in writing these reviews I never seem to take], Barry Caine, a proud native of that Ohio metropolis)—along with the distinction of being the only team in NBA history (out of 33 attempts) to come back from being down 3 games to 1 in the Finals to take the trophy, leaving the supposed-winner shell-shocked.  Maybe next year there’ll be an opportunity for a rematch between these 2 impressive squads with both finally at full strength.  (In 2015 the Cavs had 2 of their other superstars injured even before the Finals; in 2016 the Warriors dealt with several inhibiting [including to 1st-time-ever-unanimous-choice 2016 MVP Stephen Curry] or season-ending-injuries during the Playoffs and Finals, plus a 1-game suspension to a crucial team member [Dreymond Green] for flagrant fouls followed by his lackluster-performance in game 6.  But, getting back to any sport’s defining series 3 years in a row is a huge challenge so only time will tell if that’s possible for a rubber match in 2017.)

 Oh well, it was a great run for the Warriors while it lasted, but their flat surprise-demise largely closes the book for me on San Francisco Bay Area sports for this year, given that on ice-skates the San Jose Sharks finally made the National Hockey Association’s Stanley Cup Finals for the 1st time very recently only to lose 4-2 in their series while my forever-beloved-Oakland Athletics (whose baseball stadium is next door to the Warriors’ arena) are now so firmly in their division’s cellar after only about a third of the season that they can’t quite see daylight (too many players, especially starting pitchers, downed by injuries; I’ll still watch them, but through what’s likely to be yet another “wait ‘til next year” overcast) while I couldn’t care less what happens when football season finally rolls around.  (Maybe some will see the Warriors’ overall 2015-’16 fabulous season triumphs as being like the original Rocky [John G. Avildsen, 1976], a moral victory for the protagonist despite a loss of the championship, but given their sad collapse in the crucial final 5 minutes of bitter Game 7 that’s hard to relish right now either.)  Of course, there's that black-and-orange-clad-baseball team with the huge payroll, fantastic stadium, hefty media contracts and corporate backers, plus 3 World Series wins in recent years, over in San Francisco but the only entity I’ll say less about in these postings than those SF Giants is that Republican blowhard (whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken) running for U.S. President.  (As for my unreasonable-enmity toward the Giants, I’ll just paraphrase another famous GOP Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater [1964], by saying: “Extremism in defense of sports loyalty is no vice, moderation in criticizing your cross-Bay-rivals is no virtue.”)

 For now, farewell Warriors, thanks for the memories, and, truly, my sincere congratulations to the Cavs for their showing of resilient-superiority.  However, my marvelous wife, Nina, and I were watching that NBA game on a large video screen at the Alameda County (CA) Fair (we lost only $ .60 at the horse races, a personal best for us), where the sting of the loss was largely healed just a few minutes later by a great concert performed by Eric Burdon and the Animals, with a great set of rock numbers that incorporated Burdon’s blues-influences, as he growled through all of his hits to the great delight of the crowd.  (Nina took this accompanying iPhone photo; none of those I attempted with her camera came out very good.)  I’ll choose one of his final numbers to close out this posting, “It’s My Life” 
(a 1965 hit, found on the Animals' 1984 Greatest Hits Live (Rip It to Shreds) album), at https://www. S8gck (a video with absurd-but-sadly-older-age-tolerant use of women as trophies [no sexist implications toward LeBron intended], so if you don’t care for that aspect of it here’s another version more like what I just saw), dedicated to (as he’s now earned the right to be called after his 2016 Finals-MVP-trophy-winning-domination) King James and his salvation for his adoring Ohio fans (who rejected him after he left for the Miami Heat a few years ago in order to be on an NBA championship team—happened twice while he was in Florida—but embraced him again when he returned to his home area, set on bringing glory to Cleveland as well): “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want It’s my mind and I’ll think what I want Show me I’m wrong, hurt me sometime But some day I’ll treat you real fine.”  But just you wait ‘til next year too, your Majesty!  (And you can take that "Ultimate Warrior" T-shirt you wore getting off the victory plane in Cleveland and stuff it up the part of you that probably empties into Lake Eire—I don’t care that it’s originally about a [now deceased] WWE wrestler, it’s still insulting, ya big jerk.  But, short of that hope, I guess until “next year” ever comes the Golden State Warriors, the Sharks, the A’s—and I—will just have to be content with this reminder from the Rolling Stones [from their 1969 Let It Bleed album; video from a 2013 concert, though, in recognition of this song’s eternally-relevant-message that "You Can't Always Get What You Want."])

  One last thing, as of the Google statistics I see in the process of this posting I’ve recently gotten pageviews from 5 of the 6 continents I hope to reach (until some movie theaters open in Antarctica), with only Africa missing from the coverage, so thanks again to all of my global readers out there especially the ones in France who’ve lately been racking up unbelievable numbers for Two Guys!
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepageIf you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

Here’s more information about Finding Dory: (22:06, 107 facts about the movie, presented at breakneck-speed)_

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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