Friday, June 24, 2016

"Finding Dory" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new Disney movie "Finding Dory" as well as DVDs "Frozen (no, not THAT "Frozen") and "East Side Sushi."  The Book of the Week is "Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Charlie Chaplin's "Monsieur Verdoux."]





Finding Dory


This time Nemo has to help find Dory.

You might find it strange that I am reviewing a kid's movie, but this is not the time of year for the kinds of movies I usually enjoy. I know I am not going to get a "Spotlight" or a "...Big Short" in the Summer Blockbuster Season.  But I am a big Kevin Hart fan, so I was going to go see "Central Intelligence," Kevin Hart's new movie, but after watching "Ride Along 2" over the weekend (see review next week), I decided against it.

Though I am not known to go see many animated films, I did love "Inside/Out," and I fondly remember "Finding Nemo," for which "Dory" is the sequel, so after a process of elimination, I found myself in a theatre full of little children and their parents and grandparents.  And I have to say, as I waited for the movie to begin, I was drawn back to my own childhood, sitting in the darkened theatre waiting for the magic that was Disney to begin, and when the Disney theme music ("When You Wish Upon a Star") played and Sleeping Beauty's castle appeared on the screen, I felt a little rush of excitement.

And "Finding Dory" does not disappoint.

As you know I am not a fan of sequels or prequels, one of the reasons being that it's difficult to remember what happened in the earlier films and many of them don't do much to remind you what happened in the earlier films.  "The Hunger Games" movies are perfect examples.  "Finding Dory" is the sequel/prequel to "Finding Nemo," and it's been 13 years since that film.  But "Finding Dory" has done a great job of reminding us of what happened in the first film and bringing back beloved characters like Nemo and his Dad Marlin.

As you may remember from "Finding Nemo," Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) was the little Blue Tang fish with short-term memory loss, who helped find Nemo.  In that film, she didn't know anything about where she came from, so this film explores Dory's life before she met Nemo.

It begins with Dory as a little girl fish living with her loving parents, Charlie and Jenny (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton providing the voices).  She gets separated from them, but we are not really sure how.  Fast forward to the present, which is just after Nemo was found.  Dory is living with Nemo and his over-protective, Dad, Marlin (Albert Brooks), but Dory keeps getting flashbacks about her parents and decides to try to find them.  She has a memory of the "Gem of Morro Bay" (which is actually the Marine Life Institute, an aquarium and nature preserve), and she talks Marlin and Nemo into helping her get there to find her parents.  But, wouldn't you know, when they get close, Dory becomes separated from Nemo and Marlin. Dory is "captured" and tagged by the nature preserve.  The tag marks her for deportation to a Cleveland aquarium. Now Nemo and Marlin must find Dory before she gets sent away. 

At the Institute, Dory meets, Hank (Ed O'Neill), an octopus who is scheduled to be released back into the ocean. However, he doesn't want that. He is an anti-social type who has bad memories of life in the ocean, so he just wants to go to Cleveland, to be put in an aquarium and left alone.  So he makes a deal with Dory. If he helps her find her parents, she will give him the tag and they will in essence switch places.

All kinds of adventures ensue  as Hank and Dory make their way around the Institute to find her parents.  It's quite enlightening to find out how fish and mollusks feel about those "touching pools" at aquariums where children can touch the wildlife. It's a literal horror story for those inside.  We also meet some funny seals, a nutty seagull, a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny and Bailey, a Beluga whale who is convinced he has lost his sonar ability.

Disney films always have messages and this film is no exception. The messages here are about the importance of friends and family and the power we all have to figure things out for ourselves and make our way in the world. 

As expected, this is a sweet film that will pull up a tear or two, but what's more important, it's a very funny film.  Written and directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane (with additional material from Victoria Strouse and Bob Peterson), it is wonderfully funny with all kinds of antics and excitement that the little ones will enjoy, and, as usual, there are enough double entendres and puns to delight the adults in the audience ("Holy carp!") as well.  Ellen DeGeneres as Dory lends her hilarious deadpan delivery to Dory, which adds to the smart screenplay.  The other voices, most notably Hank, are all first-rate.

And don't leave before the credits roll as our friend Hank, the octopus, puts on a bit of a show.

Because it's Disney, there is a cartoon that precedes the film.  It's called "Piper" and wordlessly follows a baby sandpiper as it learns to spread its wings.  It is one of the cutest things you will probably see this summer, especially if you are a fan of cute kitties and puppies on the Internet.  Even if you are an old grump, you will not be able to defend yourself from the cuteness that is this little film. 

Rosy the Reviewer says..."Dory" is one of the funniest comedy films of the year in a year where few comedies have been funny.  Don't miss it, even if you don't have a little kid to take with you!
 
 
 

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now Out on DVD






Frozen (2010)


WARNING!  Disney's "Frozen" this is NOT!  There is no one singing "Let it go...let it go!" except maybe in a character's mind when her frostbitten hand gets stuck on the chairlift guard.   This one is all about the horror of possibly freezing to death on a ski lift that is stuck high up in the air with no one around to help get you down.

Freezing to death on a stuck ski lift? How could that happen?

College buds Dan (Kevin Zegers) and Joe (Shawn Ashmore) prepare for their annual snowboarding vacation at a New England ski resort, except this time Dan's girlfriend, Parker (Emma Bell), is coming along, thus making Joe feel like the third wheel, something he is not happy about.  Dan is a bit of a scammer.  He gets Parker to use her girlish wiles to get the three a free trip up the ski lift. There is a harbinger of doom as the ski lift stalls on their way up, but it's day time and the lift quickly starts up again.  As night falls and a blizzard is imminent, the ski lift is shutting down for the weekend, but the three talk their way into one last run.  Unfortunately for them, the guy who let them go up didn't tell his replacement that there are three more people on the lift.  So he shuts down the ski lift, turns out the lights and leaves for the weekend.

Now our kids are stranded up on a ski lift at night in freezing temperatures with a blizzard on the way...and when you are all alone, stranded on a ski lift, will anyone hear you scream?

This is one of those "what if" horror stories.  What if a ski lift jams and strands you high up over a mountain?  And what if no one knows you are up there and, it's Sunday and everyone has left the resort until next Friday? What if you weren't dressed properly to withstand an overnight blizzard?  What if there really are hungry, blood-thirsty wolves in New England?

That's our premise.  It's a simple one, but it's scary as hell, especially if you are afraid of heights and of freezing to death. It's almost a real time exercise in what it would be like to face a death like this.  What would you talk about?  When would the horror of your situation kick in? What would you do? What kinds of risks would you take, especially is there is a salivating wolf standing under you?

It's all very scary and plausible, except for one thing: 
none of these kids had their cell phones. What millennials go anywhere without their cell phones?  But of course, if they had their phones, we wouldn't have a horror film, now would we?

Well, and wolves in New England.  Not sure about that (the film was shot in Utah).

Written and directed by Adam Green and starring relatively unknown actors, this low-budget film plays out with just our three characters, a blizzard and a bunch of hungry, angry wolves. 

Will they make it?

Sometimes, there is nothing like a good horror film to get your juices flowing!

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you ski, this could give you the willies, and if you like your characters in horror films to be stranded in scary situations, this is for you.  It's tense.





East Side Sushi (2014)



A hard-working Latino single Mom wants to become a sushi chef.

The film begins as Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) wakes her sleeping daughter and carries her out into the early morning East Oakland darkness to buy fruit to sell at her fruit cart. When she is robbed and beaten, she decides she needs to do something else. Good call! She gets a job cleaning a gym where her boss demeans her, but she keeps plugging away until one day she sees a Help Wanted sign on the window of Osaka, a Japanese restaurant. 

Though Juana has never worked in a Japanese restaurant before, she is a skilled cook and goes in for an interview.  However, the owner is skeptical. Osaka appears to only employ men. Juana manages to talk her way into a job in the back washing dishes and busing tables, but she wants more to do.  She wants to learn to make the sushi.

Let the culture clash begin!

Juana has never had sushi before so there is some humor in her lack of chopstick skills and her suspicions about the sushi, but once she tries the food, she is amazed.  Slowly, she becomes immersed in the food and, Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi), the handsome sushi chef, befriends her, letting her do some food prep behind the scenes.

We have already seen Juana at home cooking for her family and friends, so we know she is a good cook with impressive knife skills.  She impresses Aki, too, with her knife skills and slowly she gets more to do.  At home, she practices her chopstick skills, then masters making sticky rice and finally she works on the sushi, practicing on her family at home for a year. She shows Aki what she can do and begs to be allowed to work in the restaurant making sushi, but the owner says no.  Juana is not Japanese and she is not a man.  So, no.

The owner says, "What would you do if you walked into a taqueria and Asians were making the food?"

So Juana quits and ends up working in a car wash.

But she hasn't given up on wanting to make sushi. She sees a flyer about a competition - "Champions of Sushi" - think "Iron Chef, the original one" - and sends in her audition tape, showing only her hands because she knows the world of sushi is a man's world.  When she wins a place in the competition and shows up to compete, the organizers almost don't let her in because she is a woman, but a little arm twisting ensues.  When Aki finds out she is in the competition, he respects her so much that he wants her  to have his knife of carbon steel, but he tells her that he cannot give her the knife as a present because giving a knife as a present represents a severed relationship so he sells it to her for a penny.

Later Juana takes Aki to a Mexican food truck and she schools him about Mexican food.  A little romance is brewing, but no clichés here.

Juana has been practicing making sushi at home so much that she has come up with her own version, a Mexican sushi that she prepares in the competition.

Will she win?

I learned some things about sushi in this movie:

  • Did you know that the sushi chefs don't talk while they are preparing the sushi because they don't want to spit on the food? 
  • Did you know the secret ingredient in sticky rice is vinegar?
  • Did you know that the prevailing "wisdom" is that women can't be sushi chefs because their hands are too warm and their perfume affects the food? 
  • Did you know that if you sit up at the sushi bar,you are supposed to order sake for the chef?
  • And did you know that in most good restaurants, Latinos are behind the scenes prepping the food and making everyone look good? 

Written and directed by Anthony Lucero, you can't help but like this film.  Torres is likable and real.  You root for her.  It's a small film but it has a big heart.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love sushi, hell, if you love food, you will love this very sweet film that brought tears to my eyes.



 

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
 



247 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?






Monsieur Verdoux (1947)



After 30 years, a bank clerk finds himself out of a job in Depression Era France and figures that seducing, marrying and then killing rich women is the best way to support his invalid wife and small son.

When Monsieur Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin) was fired from his job in a bank after 30 years, he decided to become a lothario, romance rich women, marry them, get their money and then kill them.  The movie begins at the family home of, Velma, one of his prey. Her family hasn't heard from her, and they know she withdrew all of her money from her bank account.  They alert the police, but since Monsieur Verdoux uses false names, they can't find him.

The police are aware of 12 women who have disappeared, all married to the "same type of man."

Verdoux has dispatched Velma and another wife, Lydia, and when he returns to Paris, one of his friends from the bank runs into him and sees how prosperous he looks.  "You must have made a killing!" he exclaims.  Yuk.  Yuk. 

Verdoux has been successful so far divesting his victims of their money and is investing that money in the stock market so he can provide for his invalid wife and young son. He would probably be able to continue this ruse if it weren't for his latest conquest, Annabella (Martha Raye).  Annabella has won the lottery.  She's not smart smart but she continually outsmarts him.  In a very funny scene on a boat, Verdoux tries to put a noose around her neck from behind, but every time he approaches her, she turns around and he jumps back down looking innocent in one of those comic bits for which Chaplin is famous. After several attempts, naturally he ends up falling off the boat. Chaplin was immensely good at physical humor, even in his later years. 

Verdoux meets a homeless woman and uncharacteristically he helps her.  Later, when Verdoux has lost all of his investments in The Crash and his scam is no longer working, he runs into her again. Now she is a prosperous woman and wants to help him, but it's too late.

Chaplin has taken the Bluebeard story and departs from his "Little Tramp" persona.  Here he adopts a more sophisticated persona, though the "Little Tramp" is still in evidence in Chaplin's comic timing and some of his gags.  Chaplin has also given the story some social significance.  When Verdoux is finally caught, he gives a speech and asks why private murders are condemned, but public killing, as in wars, makes heroes.  These sentiments were not popular in postwar America, and he was branded a Communist and became the target of right wing witch hunts, leading to his leaving the United States in 1953, never to return until 1972, when he was awarded an Honorary Oscar.

Chaplin directed this film and also composed the score, the theme of which is very similar to "Smile," the song he would later write for his film "Limelight" in 1952.

Why it's a Must See:  "The tight economies of the postwar period obliged Chaplin to work more quickly and with much more planning than on previous films.  The result is one of his most tightly constructed narratives, which he unselfconsciously considered 'the cleverest and most brilliant film of my career."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...an enjoyable and well-told black comedy, uncharacteristic of the usually sentimental Chaplin.


 

***The Book of the Week***





Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me by Ron Miscavige (2016)


Every father's nightmare.

I have always had a fascination about cults and strange religious groups ever since the Manson Murders.  I moved to California right after the murders and it scared me to death.  Reading about "The Family" and all of those young men and women who fell under Charles Manson's spell, I couldn't understand how that could happen. Then more and more groups came to light.  Later, there was Jim Jones, David Koresh, those Heaven's Gate people who under the leadership of Marshall Applewhite all committed suicide... I could go on and on.  I continue to wonder how people, many of them smart and well-educated, can fall under the spell of one person and believe in that person so strongly that they will commit murder or suicide to show their allegiance.  I keep reading, and I still don't understand it.

So that interest has included Scientology, a religion that appears to use some strange tactics to keep its believers believing. Though Scientology is not as extreme as the groups I have just mentioned, some of their religious practices have come under scrutiny and those who have left the religion report being harassed and shunned by their own families.  There are many books out there about the so-called horrors of Scientology but not any written by the father of the most powerful man in the organization, David Miscavige -- until now.

In the 1970's, Ron Miscavige had a wife and family, but he wasn't happy.  His marriage was a nightmare, and he was looking for something fulfilling.  He was drawn to Scientology because he believed its followers wanted to help people and make the world a better place.  It wasn't long before he embraced the religion and involved his entire family in it, even moving them to England on two different occasions to become immersed in the religion.

When his younger son David showed a real interest to the point of asking his parents to let him quit school at 16 and move to England to work for the group full-time, they relented and David quickly moved up in the ranks.  Ron eventually divorced his wife and also went to work for the religion full-time, using his musical skills in a band (he played trumpet) and working to write songs for Scientology videos.

But as David's power within the organization grew and when founder and leader L. Ron Hubbard died, David took control, and according to Ron, David was no longer the son he knew.  According to Ron, David became a dictator. Worse yet, he hints that David is a sociopath, which is a pretty strong statement from a father about his own son and when Ron finally left Scientology, he reports his son going after him in a vicious way.

Ron says he wrote this book because:

"Much as I cherish my anonymity today, I must do something, because the Scientology movement under David has morphed into a money-grubbing organization...Rather than concentrating on the substance of Scientology, the church today is focused merely on appearances...The Church of Scientology as it presently operates does not help anyone, as far as I can see."

I think it is no coincidence that the cover of this book looks like one of those pictures we have seen of third world people holding up pictures of their missing family members who were "disappeared."  Ron Miscavige's son, David Miscavige, has, according to his dad, Ron, in essence, gone from a fun-loving, caring son and disappeared into this organization to become its "ruthless" leader.

There is a certain irony here that it was the elder Miscavige who got the ball rolling in what turned out to be his sad story by joining Scientology in its early years.  Like many, he was looking for something, wanting to do good in the world.  And according to Ron, that's what Scientology was in the beginning before his son took over.

But the other irony lies in the question he asks toward the end of the book:

"...How did it come to this? How did a young boy who was an affectionate, happy, bright kid with a great sense of humor and a desire to help others grow into a man who surrounds himself only with people who suck up to him and lives a lavish lifestyle while those who work for him live no better than medieval serfs?  What is the catalyst for such an unfortunate transformation?"

Well, Ron, I have to say that your letting your 16-year-old son quit high school and run off to England all by himself to work for Scientology is probably the reason.  And unbelievably, Ron never addresses this particular aspect.  He goes into a lot of nature vs. nurture stuff and beats his head against the wall about how this could happen when it's plain to me that an uneducated 16-year-old, whose parents, for all intents and purposes, gave up their parental rights to let their teenage son spend his teens and early twenties in a regimented religious organization that some would call a cult could possibly get a taste of power and not have the education or values to be particularly careful with it.

There is a subtext here where Ron seems to absolve himself from any blame in how this all turned out.  He spent most of his life in Scientology and worked for years with his son in a position of power, and it wasn't until his 70's that he left, and it's unclear why he put up with things for so long, and for that reason, the book is a bit of a turn-off.

Though he gives insight into the structure of Scientology and the day-to-day operations and some of the "ruthless" ways things are carried out, particularly when people are "disconnected," it's nothing that hasn't already been explored in other books of this kind, though the irony of the father/son story is interesting.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are interested in Scientology, a better book is "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief" by Lawrence Wright.

 

That's it for this week!
 
 
Thanks for reading!


  
See you Tuesday for

 
  What I Have Learned from
 
"The Game of Thones"
  

 
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