Tag Archives: spin-off

Finding Dory (2016)

I’ll be the first to admit that I was never the biggest fan of Finding Nemo. Don’t get me wrong, I quite liked it — it was cute and amusing and all that — but I was just stunned by how much everyone else absolutely loved it. And so I was not particularly excited when they finally announced, after what felt like forever (13 years, in fact) that the sequel/spin-off, Finding Dory, was finally going to be released. I actually wasn’t even going to see the movie but my kids wanted to, so we all went.

As the title suggests, Finding Dory is all about tracking down the lost regal blue tang with short-term memory loss voiced by Ellen DeGeneres from Finding Nemo. It was of course not hard to get the ball rolling given Dory’s mental ailment, and this time it’s up to Nemo and his dad (again voiced by Albert Brooks) to track him down. Added to the all-star voice cast include Ed O’Neill as an octopus who has lost the tentacle, Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory’s parents, Ty Burrell as a beluga whale, and Idris Elba and Dominic West as sea lions, plus Sigourney Weaver, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett and Stephen Root. Holy crap that is a great cast.

Like its predecessor, Finding Dory is an adventure comedy that teaches us to about friendship and to believe in yourself and who you are. And like its predecessor, it’s also absolutely fine as an animated film. It’s beautifully animated, with a smorgasbord of bright colours and wonderfully rendered textures. It has a good handful of good laughs, solid one-liners, quirky characters, and a good dash of poignancy. 

But also like it’s predecessor, Finding Dory didn’t really wow me — and for me there were no expectations to live up to. I didn’t remind it and you could even say I enjoyed it, but I certainly wouldn’t put it on the same level as say the Toy Story franchise or Up. It just didn’t affect me the way those films did.

My kids actually said they enjoyed it, though my elder son was disappointed there were no sharks like the first one, while my younger son fell asleep just before the climax (granted, it was a matinee screening). And as a true barometer of their interest, neither kept talking about the movie or re-enacted scenes from it for days afterward like they have for other films. Like father, like sons, I suppose.

As I have said many times before, I’m usually not the biggest fan of animated films, so take this review with a grain of salt. But I have to call it as I see it and declare that Finding Dory for me was just an above-average film experience that won’t have me running to get the Blu-ray any time soon.

3 stars out of 5

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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As far as conventional horrors go, The Conjuring (2013) was one of the best we’ve had in recent years. Despite the clichéd haunting plot we’ve seen countless times, legendary Aussie director James Wan was able to make the most of it with his reliable bag of tricks, combining a creepy atmosphere with well-timed “Boo!” moments to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Wan did not direct the failed prequel, Annabelle (2014), but he’s back again to helm the sequel to The Conjuring, imaginatively titled The Conjuring 2. This time, the world’s most renowned ghost-hunting duo, the Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), have returned to tackle the infamous Enfield Haunting in the UK. There was actually a recent TV mini-series called The Enfield Haunting starring Timothy “Mr Turner” Spall and Matthew “Mr Darcy” Macfayden, which was actually pretty decent and most likely closer to what really happened than the hyper-sensationalized version told in The Conjuring 2.

Anyway, like The Conjuring, the sequel focuses on both the Warrens and the family being haunted, the Hodgsons — a single mother (Australia’s very own Frances O’Connor) and four children living in suburban England — in particular the second-eldest daughter Janet, played superbly by Madison Wolfe. Some of you might already know the story because the haunting is perhaps the most well-known in British history, but if you don’t, brace yourself for some scary shit.

The film shifts back and forth between the Warrens and the Hodgsons, telling essentially two stories simultaneously. To Wan’s credit, splitting the screen time actually adds to the film rather than take away from it. The Warrens get a bit more of a personal story this time, and it’s good to see actors the calibre of Farmiga and Wilson strut their acting chops. They’re both really good, and their fantastic chemistry helps make their relationship the core the movie.

As with most haunting films, this one plays out as you would expect, starting with a few little weird things here and there to whet the appetite before all hell breaks loose and the ghostbusters come in to save the day. Notwithstanding the boiler-plate structure, Wan works his magic again, turning the first half of The Conjuring 2 into one of the most terrifying movie experiences I’ve sat through in years. I’m sure watching in the cinema definitely helped the atmosphere, but it really is due Wan’s masterful control over everything that is happening – from the atmosphere and the characters (it makes a huge difference when you care about them) to the use of darkness and lightning, and especially the blaring score and sound effects. I’m not going to lie: there were a few sequences where I had an anxious inner debate with myself on whether to shut my eyes for a couple of seconds.

After the nerve-wracking first half, however, the film does settle down, and the rest of the movie isn’t nearly as frightening. Though the rhythm picks up and tensions are supposed to rise, by the time the Warrens arrive to do their thing I had started to get that “here we go again” feeling. While Wan was fantastic in making me forget about how conventional the film was in the first half, in the second half he was less successful. There were still some decent moments as the film ramped up to its finale, but for the most part I found myself significantly more relaxed that I was in the first hour or so.

I also didn’t like the way the script wrapped up the story in a way that connected the dots and made the different strands converge. Frankly, in trying to find a way for help the story make sense it actually made things more confusing and make less sense. And of course, the movie definitely is too long at 2 hours and 14 minutes. It’s never boring or slow, but shaving 15-20 minutes off would have been welcome.

On the whole, The Conjuring 2 is a solid follow up to its predecessor. The first half was decidedly scarier than the latter, though even with a fair share of flaws, the film is still a top-tier horror flick, the type that only comes around a handful of times a year.

4 stars out of 5

PS: A new spin-off called The Nun is apparently in the works.

Creed (2015)

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As a fan of the Rocky franchise and Michael B Jordan, I was desperate to watch Creed, the spin-off about the son of the late Apollo Creed, the initial rival and subsequent best friend of Rocky Balboa. What made it even more exciting for me is that the film is directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, the man who brought out the best in Jordan in the hard-hitting, gritty and emotional Fruitvale Station.

And so it pleases me to declare that Creed is an absolute winner, a powerful, energetic and moving boxing drama that manages to effectively milk the cache and nostalgia of the Rocky franchise without coming across as cheap or cheesy.

While this year’s other boxing blockbuster, Southpaw, disappointed me to no end because of its lack of realism and over-abundance of predictability and cliches, Creed impresses with relative realism, pleasant surprises and by embracing the right cliches at the right times. The resulting experience is night and day; in boxing terms it’s a first round knockout by Creed.

The first reason why Creed succeeds is because it’s driven by wonderfully developed central characters — Adonis (Jordan) and Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). As per my usual policy, I’m not going to divulge anything more than the basic premise you already know, though I will say it is best to avoid the film’s second (and more detailed) trailer due to spoilers.

It would have been easy to just bring back Rocky in his capacity as a trainer like in Rocky V and make Apollo a stock hero with a typical rags to riches trajectory (like Billy Hope Southpaw), but Coogler (with apparent minimal input from a very respectable Stallone) manages to flesh out both of them extremely well and give them worthwhile personal journeys.

I loved Rocky’s development since the last film and there are tragic elements to his story I found surprisingly moving. On the other hand, you might have a preconceived notion of who Adonis is, but there are many aspects to his character I did not anticipate, and I enjoyed the little bits of misdirection that Coogler throws our way to play with our prejudices and expectations. Though this is ultimately still a Rocky-type movie with typical elements from the franchise, I liked how Coogler added wrinkles to the story to remind us that it’s not a clean-cut fairytale and there are harsh realities to be faced. It’s not 100% realism of course, but it adds an edge to the characters and their situations.

The performances are spectacular. Jordan deserves as much praise as Gyllenhaal received for Southpaw (he’s easily just as ripped too), while Stallone deserves the supporting actor nominations he has been getting, reminding me that Stallone can actually act (his running around in platform boots shooting baddies with his buddies in recent years has made me forget). The chemistry between them is fantastic, and I’m happy that this really is a Creed movie as opposed to a clever disguise for another Rocky movie.

In terms of the action, the boxing scenes in Creed are excellent. The training sequences look authentic, while inside the ring the fights are generally well-choreographed, though still slightly on the wild brawling side of the Rocky films of old rather than the realistic technical brilliance of true elite-level boxing. Thanks to the creative camera angles Coogler adopts, there is a bit of that “fly on the wall” feel, which is great because it adds an extra dimension to the usual TV-style presentation or first-person point of view.

As with Star Wars: The Force AwakensCreed has taken an old formula and rebooted it, and in my humble opinion it might have done it even more effectively. It’s a mixture of the old and new, going back to the root of the Rocky Balboa underdog story but with an intriguing new lead and twist. There’s nostalgia but also freshness, solid boxing action but also moving drama. Creed is without doubt the lineal boxing movie of 2015.

4.25 stars out of 5

Minions (2015)

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Unlike a lot of people, I’m not enamoured with the Minions, the yellow, pill-shaped creatures from the Despicable Me movies. Never have been. I’m not into “cute” cartoon characters anyway and don’t understand why people can obsessively gush over creations so obviously designed to elicit “awww”s from grown-ups.

Still, when a movie makes a billion dollars at the box office even before it is released in all worldwide markets (such as China) there must be something more to it than just cuteness. I was also encouraged by the highly positive review from the BBC’s Mark Kermode, who even placed the film in his top 10 of the year (so far). So I checked it out.

My own reaction to Minions? Meh. Don’t get what the fuss is all about. Granted, it’s not as half-assed as some other spin-offs of popular franchises, but ultimately I just found it kinda repetitive and unable to sustain my interest.

For starters, the film has basically one gag: the Minions are always trying to find an evil master but keep ending up toppling them by accident instead. They are more or less a bunch of Forrest Gumps in yellow pill form — they are dim-witted but have an endless supply of dumb luck that seems to always get them out of a jam. It gets better and more varied when Sandra Bullock’s and Jon Hamm’s characters are introduced, though even then it always comes back to that one gag.

Secondly they speak largely gibberish, so you can’t understand them the vast majority of the time. It’s “cute” at the beginning but gets a little annoying after more than an hour of the same thing. Again, audiences have to be rescued by Bullock and Hamm, who actually reveal themselves to be quite talented voice actors and have surprising voice chemistry. Allison Janney and Michael Keaton aren’t bad either.

To its credit, Minions is about as fast and furious as you can get without the presence of Vin Diesel. The gags, while repetitive and hit-and-miss, just keep coming and coming for the entire 91-minute running time. So eventually there will be a few that stick. If you enjoy this style of humour then you’ll probably be laughing non-stop. On the other hand if the jokes elicit not much more than the odd chuckle, then you’ll probably fall in my boat and just find the experience underwhelmingly average.

In some ways you can compare the craziness and zaniness of the film to last year’s The Lego Movie. Both are super-paced and constantly throw jokes at you from all angles, often with uneven results. But I found The Lego Movie a lot funnier — even though it was probably more all over the place — because there was more variety and more shades in the humour. Some of it was random, some of it was deadpan, some of it was dark. By contrast, Minions was more of a one-key affair.

At the end of the day, I still see Minions as a spin-off, and most spin-offs fail to branch out fully on their own. There’s not much that I disliked about the film — it’s more that they just didn’t do much for me despite the occasional chuckle here and there. The characters may be adorable and hilarious  in small spurts, like they are in Despicable Me, though when they are asked to carry a film from start to finish they can’t maintain their charm all the way through, and instead I find that their likability becomes a lot thinner as it is stretched across the longer screen time.

2.75 stars out of 5