Finding Dory

Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy

Director: Andrew Stanton

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse

Pixar (and Disney in general for that matter) doesn’t have a great track record with non-Toy Story sequels and prequels. Neither Cars 2 nor Monsters University were able to attain that level of creativity, wonder and heart that usually makes Pixar’s movies so astonishing. Finding Nemo is such a movie. The tale of an anxious clownfish scouring the depths of the ocean in search of his son is one that captured my imagination and filled me with pure delight as a child. The film contains some of the best comedy in any Pixar movie, stunning animation, and a touching (if predictable) message about family and trust. Dory was easily the most entertaining character in the film with her scattered brain, idiosyncratic personality and perfectly cast voice. If a sequel did indeed have to be made, then putting her character at the helm was certainly a wise move.

One year after helping Marlin rescue Nemo, Dory accompanies Nemo’s class on a field trip when an incident triggers a memory of her parents. Realising that she has an actual family, she sets out to resume her search for them with her friends’ help. The only thing she remembers is that they lived at the Jewel of Morro Bay, so they venture there and find a Marine Life Institute. Dory is caught and taken into the Quarantine section where she meets a seven-legged octopus named Hank. He agrees to help Dory find the section of the Institute where she believes her parents might be found if she agrees to help sneak him onto a truck bound for an aquarium in Chicago. Meanwhile Marlin and Nemo need to find a way inside the Institute so that they can rescue Dory. As Dory gets closer to her home, she receives additional flashbacks that help to fill in the blanks over who her parents were and how she got separated from them.

My biggest worry going into this film was that it would end up being a “here we go again” type of sequel. I was afraid that this movie would merely set itself on following the same formula as the original and hitting the same beats without any real variance, resulting in a stale imitation. And that’s actually how it plays out for the first 10-15 minutes. Immediately after Dory, Marlin and Nemo set out on their adventure, they encounter a predatory squid and must avoid it, just like with the sharks, the anglerfish, and the jellyfish in the first movie. However, once the setting is moved to the Marine Life Institute, it becomes its own movie. The film places a strong emphasis on Dory’s personal struggle in the story, stressing the anxiety and frustration that come with Dory’s disability. There’s a good sequence where Dory is trying to navigate a maze of pipes and gets lost as she is unable to remember the directions she received just moments before. This insight into Dory’s inner-turmoil coupled with the flashbacks of her childhood allowed for a deep, personal investment in her journey.

The animation is also as stunning as ever. The character of Hank, the seven-legged octopus that can camouflage itself to its surroundings, allowed the Pixar team to have a field day with all of the shapes and colours at their disposal. The film was also able to experiment with new ideas as in one scene near the end where we see Dory following her own footprints (so to speak). The comedy is also pretty strong, in large part due to many of the new characters that are introduced. These include Destiny, a near-sighted whale shark, Becky, a clueless common loon, and also an incredibly lonely clam. The film certainly doesn’t lack for imagination in the kind of scenarios it is willing to conjure up, as in a bit in the climax that features a truck and Louis Armstrong. It is a bizarre, completely over the top scene but, what the hell, I went along with it. Once a movie has you properly engaged and invested, it’s amazing the kind of places you’ll be willing to follow it.

With Finding Dory Pixar has broken its sequel/prequel trend. While it’s not the equal of Finding Nemo, it succeeds splendidly as a movie on its own terms and delivers an adventure that is funny, exciting and moving all at once. Dory’s journey as a character is a compelling one and it broke my heart to see what an obstacle her short-term memory loss was to realising an objective that meant so very much to her. I re-watched Finding Nemo not long after seeing this film and saw the character in an entirely new light. Before I simply saw her as a potent source of comic relief. Now I see her as a layered and sympathetic character who is undergoing a great struggle, even when she isn’t realising it. If a sequel or a prequel can make me look at the original movie in an entirely new light, then it has definitely done something right. Finding Dory is a far better film that I dared to hope and is worthy of the Pixar name.



A Most Violent Year

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino Moreno

Director: J. C. Chandor

Writer: J. C. Chandor

In A Most Violent Year we are presented with a moral tale about a man who follows a path of truth and honour in the face of violence and corruption in his pursuit of the American Dream. It is a perilous path that he chooses as outside forces beyond his control threaten to bring him down. However, no matter how desperate his situation becomes, he refuses to abandon his principles and stray from his path. He carries on regardless, all the while placing his trust in the belief that whatever choices he must make along the way there is always one choice that is “most right”. He trusts that all will be well so long as he follows his moral compass and does what he believes to be the right thing. This proves to be very difficult and dangerous as he stands to lose everything that he has worked for.

The film is set in the backdrop of New York City in 1981, one of the most violent years in the city’s history. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an immigrant who runs a successful oil business, is in the process of making the biggest deal of his career when a series of his lorries are commandeered by armed men as they make their deliveries. Abel is an ambitious, strongly principled man who prides himself on having built a business from honesty, hard work and integrity. Even after one of his drivers is beaten to a pulp during one of the hijackings, Abel refuses to allow his employees to carry weapons. These incidents indicate that someone has targeted Abel and his company and that he must try to find and stop them. However things become worse for Abel when the district attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) informs Abel that a case is being built against him, accusing him of corruption and embezzlement. This takes a toll on Abel’s business as none of his partners will participate in this deal anymore.

The troubles that Abel faces threaten not only his business, but also his family. When Abel catches a man trying to break into his house in the middle of the night, his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) demands to know what is happening. Abel tries to assure her that everything is under control, only for Anna to later find their daughter playing with the intruder’s gun. Abel is left with no option but to tell his wife the truth. Chastain plays a Lady Macbeth type of character as she pushes her husband to resort to dishonest methods. She is just as ambitious as her husband but does not share his sense of morality. She has no qualms about keeping her family safe through immoral means, a view that often leads to clashes between her and Abel.

Isaacs, who appears to be channelling 1970’s Al Pacino in his performance, plays Abel with a calm and collected demeanour coupled with an underlying sense of panic. This is a man who is trying his utmost to keep everything under control, but finds himself struggling to cope as more of these problems keep slipping through his fingers. He is adamant that this business deal must happen and that it cannot wait until his legal troubles are over, and so he finds himself scrambling around trying to borrow the money that he needs. On top of that he struggles to keep his situation with the district attorney and the police under control, especially when they show up in the middle of his daughter’s birthday party with a search warrant for his house. His legal troubles become even worse when one of his lorry drivers is involved in a gun-related incident. He attempts to face his troubles with all the dignity he can muster, but he exhibits a clear sense of desperation beneath it all. As his difficulties get worse and worse, one wonders how long it will take before he finally snaps.

Despite the compelling struggle of Abel Morales and his ideological clashes with his wife and his associates, I found A Most Violent Year to be a somewhat underwhelming film mostly due to its lack of payoff. When all is said and done, the film never really builds up to anything and never really finds a resolution. I’m not convinced that Abel as a character has learned anything by the end, and so I find myself wondering what it was all for. The inaction that Abel displays may be necessary as a character motif, but in the end it ultimately builds up to something of an anti-climax. It certainly isn’t by any means a bad film; in fact I believe it to be a worthy addition to J. C. Chandor’s filmography. But ultimately I did not find it to be particularly effective or memorable.