The Princess and the Frog

There isn’t a song, gag, art design, character, moral or plot point in “The Princess and the Frog” that doesn’t seem patently borrowed, adapted and simplified from every other Disney movie ever.

But you know what? I don’t care.

“The Princess and the Frog” is highly watchable, charming, artistic, amusing and funny in the spirit of any of the Disney classics I grew up with as a kid. The film is done in a stunning, colorful 2-D. It has a textbook, but workable story structure. It forces its audience to think, engage with the characters, feel emotions and do it all simply. It does everything an animated movie was supposed to do before chaotic digitally animated action sequences took over or before Pixar made their kids movies a little too smart and started scaring lackadaisical parents and their kids back to the former. Continue reading “The Princess and the Frog”

Tangled

It’s hard to believe that with “Tangled,” the latest Disney animated feature, there have now been 50 of these magical movies since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” back in 1938.

I wrote in my “Princess and the Frog” review that the recipe from which Disney concocts their magic spell has gone a little stale, and that is no less true in this retelling of the Rapunzel story, but come on; it’s a Disney movie. It’s at least what you would call “good.”

To say the least, the goofy thugs, animals and slapstick that populate “Tangled’s” ranks inherently charmed me. The characters’ big droopy eyes and the colorful animation are also a treat.

But I’m more interested in the things “Tangled” does differently, the first of which smacks you right in the face from the first frame. The film was shot in 3-D, and the camera is granted the freedom of movement in a whole new dimension. There are swoops, spins and flurries of cinematography in this digital world that is unlike anything ever seen before in a Disney film. Continue reading “Tangled”

Blue Valentine

Ryan Gosling’s character in “Blue Valentine” mentions in passing that men are more romantic than women. For a man, his bride is the most beautiful creature on Earth, way out of his league. The woman may just settle. I found myself agreeing with Gosling over Michelle Williams more often throughout this film, but who’s right and who’s wrong hardly matters in this heartbreaking romance.

Dean and Cindy are a struggling married couple in their 30s, one child, lower middle class. He’s a blue-collar high school dropout. She’s a nurse through medical school. It’s Valentine’s Day, and they debate getting a room at a cheesy, romantic motel. They’ve made a reservation at “The Future Room.”

We don’t really know why, but things are not well at home. Dean is fun, if a little immature, but he’s good with their daughter and responsible at his job. He also clearly loves Cindy, but her love is not as clear. She gets upset when he gets jealous and angry after she bumps into an old boyfriend at the liquor store. She also questions why he doesn’t do more with his life, or isn’t a little tougher in maintaining the family responsibilities.

Their relationship alone is a variance on what is normally conveyed in broken romances or marriages. He’s usually distant and irresponsible, and she’s usually nitpicky and expecting too much. “Blue Valentine” exists on the basis of Gosling’s sentiment I mentioned above about men and women and romance. Continue reading “Blue Valentine”

The Last King of Scotland

When a leader commands as much conviction in his voice as Forest Whitaker does as Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” you don’t ask why the man thinks or acts the way he does; you just go along with the ride.

Director Kevin Macdonald and screenwriter Peter Morgan are more than happy to take us on this historical journey through 1970s Uganda, when Ugandan President and army general Idi Amin ruled the country with an iron fist. We see the events unfold through the eyes of Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a stifled young man from Scotland looking to escape into the world and do some good.

It does seem to be a trend in historical biopics like these to view the most interesting character, in this case, Amin, from the outside and not as the protagonist. And although we get a richly complex character in Amin, the main story is about a boy who was once sheltered at home and was then ironically sheltered in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Continue reading “The Last King of Scotland”

The New World

Even children know the story of Pocahontas. Her story does not need to be retold, and in fact it is slightly historically inaccurate. But there is still beauty in the story, and leave it to Terrence Malick to evoke the natural wonder contained within the British’s encounter with the “naturals” in “The New World.”

To make the Pocahontas tale a story for adults, Malick embeds in the film a message about the way we communicate when presented with something new. John Smith (Colin Farrell) begins the film as a stoic and silent convict in the crew to settle the colony of Jamestown. Upon arriving in the new world, it is expected of him to rebuild his reputation and communicate to the crew he is worthy of accepting the responsibility of exploring when presented with new circumstances. Continue reading “The New World”

Iron Man 2

If “Entourage” were a superhero movie, it would be this one. “Iron Man 2” loves knowing that it has a cocky, self-centered character everyone loves and an actor that is not only convincing at playing it but whom everyone loves even more. It hypes up the pretty boy lifestyle to the point of being silly and on the verge of absurdity.

If everyone loved the original “Iron Man” because the Tony Stark secret identity was not a cookie cutter hero, dweeb or lone wolf, then reasonably no one should be amused by Robert Downey Jr.’s now extreme version of a cookie cutter narcissist. But maybe like many episodes of “Entourage,” it’s hard not to be amused. I found it odd how little Stark was impressed by his own ability to discover and create a brand new element in the short time frame of one montage. I wondered why he didn’t blink at the thought of drinking coffee in a diner with an eye patch wearing Samuel L. Jackson as he sat in full Iron Man uniform. I can’t say any of it was out of character, and I can’t say it was an inappropriate direction in terms of entertainment value. Continue reading “Iron Man 2”

Thor

As if superhero movies weren’t overblown enough, here’s the bombastically overacted and extravagant “Thor,” starring none other than the Norse God of Thunder. If you thought Robert Downey Jr.’s ego was big as Iron Man, wait until you see the one on the hulking and indestructible alien that helms this movie.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the prince of a sparkling land in another area of the cosmos called Asgard. For eons, they’ve protected the galaxy and maintained order, leading the Scandinavian humans back in ancient times to revere them as deities. Now the throne must pass from the King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to Thor, but when he tries to wage war on their sworn enemies, the frost giants, he is rightly banished to Earth.

Allow me to describe Asgard, a shimmering, God-like planet of rainbow colors blessed with the features of a glistening waterfall spilling endlessly into the depths of space, floating rock staircases, a golden portal capable of summoning lightning storms and an enormous palace of bronze pipes that would put whatever the Royal wedding cost to shame. The existence of this place and the CGI that depict it are self serving, looking good only as an excuse to look extravagant, because the people that live and act on it are the same cocky, privileged, one-dimensional characters we would find on Earth. They even ride horses.

Yet nothing that happens on Asgard has any bearing to what happens on Earth, and I had no reason to care about the spectacular mayhem that could ensue there. “Thor” wastes more time on this fantasy world and its mythology than I care to count. Continue reading “Thor”

Fast Five

Over the last few summers, there have been too many absurd superhero and sci-fi fantasies that take themselves way too seriously and not enough real world heist and car chase movies that don’t in the slightest.

“Fast Five” will crash through that void at top speeds.

Long has the “Fast and the Furious” franchise been the butt of everyone’s jokes, not even being good enough to pass as trash. The street racing and high speed drifting on souped-up nitro engines got old fast (and furious), and while here there are still more slick cars than you can shake a dip stick at, Director Justin Lin has traded in much of that for a silly but riotous and well calculated heist thriller. Continue reading “Fast Five”

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Why has Wes Anderson not been making movies like “Fantastic Mr. Fox” his entire career? This charmingly stop motion animated kids movie is as perfectly in Anderson’s style as any film he’s ever made, and his colorful and peculiar quirks fit in beautifully with Roald Dahl’s lovingly crafted story. Continue reading “Fantastic Mr. Fox”

The Darjeeling Limited

I find it almost pointless to attempt to describe and review “The Darjeeling Limited” because the best way to describe any element of the film would be by saying it is a Wes Anderson movie. What does it look like? It looks like Wes Anderson shot it. Is it funny? That would depend on whether you thought Wes Anderson movies were funny. What’s it about? I have no idea.

Does it sound like I don’t like this movie? Film criticism is about describing the reaction you personally had as a viewer and about how you changed upon coming out of it. I can sadly report however that I had little to no reaction to it. The seemingly pointless irreverence of the film is well made, quirky and atmospheric, but it bounced off me as though there were nothing to gain from the experience.

It tells the story of three oddball brothers who come together for the first time in a year since their father’s funeral to ride the Darjeeling Limited train and explore India for an enlightening experience. Continue reading “The Darjeeling Limited”