Monday, June 27, 2016

2 Summer Sequels: FINDING DORY & INDEPENDENCE DAY 2 – Guess Which One Doesn’t Suck

ilm Babble Blog is back! I have returned from my summer vacation, a wonderful trip to Iceland with my wife and her parents, and am refreshed and ready to tackle a couple of the latest movie offerings. And it’s a couple of summer sequels which I caught up with at the Mission Valley Cinema multiplex in Raleigh over the last weekend.

First up, there’s Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane’s FINDING DORY, the long awaited follow-up to one of Pixar’s most beloved (and profitable) productions, 2003’s FINDING NEMO.

Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres wonderfully reprise their roles as the voices of Marlin and Dory, an orange over-protective clownfish and a regal blue tang fish, while 11 year old Hayden Rolence takes over the role of Nemo, as the original’s Alexander Gould is too old to voice the part (he does get a cameo though).

As one can guess from the title, this time Dory goes missing when she’s captured by pesky humans and taken to the Monterey Marine Life Institute.

This is after we learn Dory’s sad back story – how she got lost from her parents (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton), and searched the cold, dark depths of the ocean. looking for them as she grew from being voiced by Sloane Murray, the 7-year old daughter of producer Lindsey Collins into DeGeneres’ distinctive Dory diction.

Marlin, and Nemo, with the help from a couple of cockney sea lions voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West (a mini-The Wire reunion!), a whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), and a beluga whale (Ty Burrell), along with various other aquatic characters, attempt to rescue Dory, while she makes a deal with a cranky seven-armed red octopus, voiced by Ed O’Neil, that he’ll help her get out of the institute so she can go find her parents if she’ll give him her ID tag 
so he gets to go to Cleveland in her place.

Of course, you gotta expect themes about family, and being in the moment like Dory - “be like Dory” becomes Marlin's mantra at a crucial moment. Everyone needs to find their inner Dory, the film appears to advise.

FINDING DORY is a solid sequel, gorgeously animated (the Open Ocean Exhibit sequence particularly pops), with countless gags that land (love the Sigourney Weaver running gag that I won’t spoil), and all the right kind of emotional feels. Sure, there’s still a predictable formula at play, but the formula works because they truly take the fish out of the water. 

With a lot of the action happening on land, director/co-screenwriter Andrew Stanton and the creative crew here came up with tons of clever ways to keep the fish alive by jumping from buckets to cups or going from spouting geyser to geyser, right up until the crazy climax that involves ducks, a stolen truck, and a police blockade.

Of course, it’s not as fresh as the first time around, and with Pixar’s upcoming calendar being clogged with sequels (THE INCREDIBLES 2, CARS 3, TOY STORY 4) it’s easy to be cynical about yet another franchise, but if the quality control is as high as it here, I’m not going to scoff at the idea of a third FINDING film.

If only that were the case with Roland Emmerich’s INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE, the 20 years in the making follow-up to the highest grossing film of 1996, INDEPENDENCE DAY, that takes the term “unnecessary sequel” to staggeringly new lows. The difference between this and FINDING DORY is that with DORY people actually liked the original; I don't know a single person who's a truly, unironically, a fan of the first ID4 (such a stupid acronym).

Anyway, Will Smith’s character was killed off between films, but Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, and Brett Spiner are back for the second invasion by the aliens who come now in a spaceship that’s 30,000 miles wide. That’s what director Emmerich and the four other screenwriters, including James Vanderbilt (ZODIAC – yay! THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN movies – boo!) took away from such sequels as JURASSIC WORLD, which had the biggest dinosaur ever, and STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, which had a Death Star that was 10 times bigger than the original – that is, make the threat BIGGER.

The plot is exactly what you think it is – aliens attack, we fight back and win. So we’ve got a bunch of incoherently shot and edited dogfights in the second half with series newcomers, Liam Hemsworth and Jessie T. Usher (playing the son of Will Smith’s character) as badass fighter pilots attacking the massive mothership, while the rest of the cast is running around below trying to find out if the new alien spaceship is compatible with the new Apple MacBook Pro.

ID4 2 (is that the right acronym?) is a dreadful, boring experience, made worse by unconvincing CGI and horribly written and acted dialogue.  The only memorable line is spoken by Goldblum: “they like to get the landmarks.” 

The first one was bad but at least it had some semblance of character developement and plotting. This one doesn't even try for either - it just wants big thrills and fails at that.

I saw this POS for free and still felt ripped off. Here’s hoping it doesn’t gross enough to justify a sequel – the plugging of which at the end of this is one of the most cringe worthy movie moments of the year.

More later...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Film Babble Blog On Hiatus - Will Return In Late June

Film Babble Blog will be taking a hiatus for a summer vacation. Please check back in a few weeks for reviews of the latest summer movies and other whatnot. Please check out our archives (located on the right sidebar) in the meantime.

More later than usual....

Friday, June 03, 2016

The Lonely Island's POPSTAR: A Hilariously Breezy Piece Of Comedy Gold

Opening today at a multiplex near us all:

(Dirs. Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone, 2016)

The first original feature film from the comedy trio The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer) who cut their teeth making over 100 Digital Shorts for Saturday Night Live, is the funniest musical mockumentary since THIS IS SPINAL TAP.

Mind you, the genre of musical mockumentaries isn’t very large, but the sheer volume of big laughs in POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING indeed makes it worthy enough to be compared to that highly acclaimed comedy classic.

Samberg stars as Conner4Real, a pop/rap superstar who was previously the front man for the hit group the Style Boyz, which included his childhood buddies Lawrence (Schaffer), and Owen (Taccone).

The band broke up after infighting led to a stage meltdown which resulted in Lawrence leaving to become a farmer, while Owen stayed on as Conner’s DJ/producer (which basically means he just has to press play on an iPod).

The film follows Conner on tour in support of his second solo album, Connquest, which is off to a shaky start because of bad reviews - Pitchfork gives it a negative 4.5, while Rolling Stone abandons their star rating system to give it a shit emoji, which Conner thinks is a misprint. The only good review our not-too-bright protagonist finds is from The Onion, which, of course, he doesn’t know is a satirical site.

Joining Conner and Owen on the road is Sarah Silverman as Conner’s publicist Paula, who has one of the film’s funniest lines: “I don’t listen to Conner’s music in my personal time, but he makes so many people so much money,” SNL veteran Tim Meadows, no stranger to pop parodies as he appeared as a band member in WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY, is on hand as Conner’s manager Harry, and Imogen Poots plays Conner’s girlfriend Ashley.

In true Spinal Tap style, the tour is beset with problems. Firstly, Conner’s promotional deal with Aquaspin, an appliance company that programs their products to play Conner’s new singles whenever the owner accesses them – i.e. music blares whenever people open their refrigerator, microwave, laundry machine, etc. – gets a lot of negative backlash – i.e. people smashing their appliances (this plays as a delicious send up of the debacle over U2's deal with Apple which had their last album uploaded on every iTunes user's playlists, but 
Taccone has said in interviews that they had written this storyline before that happened).

Then Conner gets hugely upstaged by his opening act, Chris Redd as the up-and-coming rapper Hunter the Hungry, who may be behind an ultra embarrassing wardrobe malfunction that makes Conner look like he has no genitalia – the movie’s Stonehenge perhaps.

In an attempt to put a positive story out into the nonstop negative news cycle, Conner stages a romantic proposal to Ashley involving a performance by Seal, and a pack of wolves, but somehow things don’t go as planned.

After this series of public humiliations, Conner has hit rock bottom and it looks like the only way to get back on top is to reunite with his former band mates for an awards show performance.

POPSTAR is stuffed with hysterical cameos by the likes of Samberg’s SNL pals like Bill Hader, Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, and Jimmy Fallon, as well as many big names from the music world such as Questlove, Mariah Carey, Snoop Dog, Adam Levine, 50 Cent, Nas, Usher, Pink, and even ex-Beatle Ringo Starr.

There’s also a scene stealing appearance by Justin Timberlake as Conner’s chef, and an uproarious satire of the tabloid TV show TMZ, called CMZ, which has Will Arnett, satirizing sleazy celebrity gossip monger host Harvey Levin, laughing, with a room full of snarky bloggers, including Eric AndrĂ©, Chelsea Peretti, and Mike Birbiglia, like maniacs at Conner’s every misstep.

There are very few gags that don’t land big in Sandberg and Co.’s terrific takedown of celebrity culture in the internet age. It feels like they might have taken the Monty Python route and cut everything that didn’t get a laugh in test screenings judging from the high ratio of screamingly successful jokes-per-minute on display. Even when I expected to cringe at the juvenile, crude humor bits like the aforementioned wardrobe malfunction and an extended flaccid penis rubbing up against a limo window gag, I ended up giggling my ass off.

A hilariously breezy piece of comedy gold that shines as bright as Conner’s bling-bling, POPSTAR is The Lonely Island’s greatest achievement. If you’re not a fan of their SNL Digital Shorts, or of Samberg’s shtick in general (including his Fox sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which I love), you may want to skip it, but if you are then you’re in for a very filling, and funny as f*** treat.

More later...