Frozen (2013)


Olaf is looking to make some S'mores.

Olaf is looking to make some S’mores.

(2013) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds, Chris Williams, Stephen J. Anderson, Maia Wilson, Edie McClurg, Robert Pine, Maurice LaMarche, Livvy Stubenrauch, Eva Bella, Spencer Ganus, Jesse Corti, Nicholas Guest,  Annaleigh Ashford. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

If climate change proponents are to be believed, the world is slowly heating up and eventually catastrophic consequences will come about as a result. Here is an animated movie that looks at a different kind of climate change.

Elsa (Menzel), the princess of Arundel who is heir to the throne, has a unique gift – power over snow and ice. When innocent play with her younger sister Anna (Bell) causes her to injure her, Elsa’s parents take the both of them to Pabbie (Hinds), the troll king. He heals Anna but tells Elsa that she must hide her powers. This causes Elsa to stay in her room for the most part, shutting out the world and Anna in particular whom she loves more than anyone. Anna for her part is mystified, her memory of the events gone. She wonders what she has done to drive her sister away so. The gates to the city are closed and stay that way.

Then comes the day that Elsa must be crowned Queen of Arundel for that time has come. Anna is absolutely over the moon, having become bored with the same halls, the same people. She wants music and laughter and life. She meets a handsome young Prince Hans (Fontana) and while there is a stuffy old Duke (Tudyk) who is endlessly irritated at the mispronunciation of his Duchy of Weselton, there is dancing and fun all around them.

Unfortunately, Elsa’s powers manifest themselves at an inopportune time and she flees to the North Mountain but not before putting all of Arundel into a deep freeze. Anna decides to chase after Elsa and bring her home, leaving Prince Hans in charge. Along the way Anna’s horse bolts, leading her to a trading post where she meets young Kristoff (Goff), who finds the winter more unfortunate than most because he delivers ice with his trusty reindeer Sven. The three of them team up to go to the ice castle Elsa has created for herself, assisted by the tenacious snowman Olaf (Gad) who was brought to life by Elsa’s spell.

However Elsa still hasn’t figured out a way to control her powers and Anna doesn’t yet realize that she has been betrayed by someone close to her. Will summer ever come again to Arundel or is that kingdom destined to be an eternal Winnipeg?

First off, this is one of the most spectacular animated features Disney has put out since Beauty and the Beast and maybe since The Little Mermaid. A kingdom of beautiful ice and snow with a traditional Disney rural kingdom setting makes this familiar and yet new all at once. The visuals are some of the best Disney has ever produced.

That said, they sadly set this beautiful film to a typical Disney story. While this was supposed to based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen it is so loosely based as to be unrecognizable. However I will admit that your little princess-wannabe is going to be in seventh heaven as there are not one but two princesses to ooh and ahh over (all right, one of them is technically a queen).

Oddly, the protagonist is pretty much like every other Disney princess ever – plucky, eager, chomping at the bit to find her prince and compassionate to boot. It is Elsa who is a far more interesting character and I think it’s telling that on a recent visit to EPCOT, the princess holding court at the Norway pavilion was not Anna but Elsa. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Idris Menzel is the voice of Elsa and if you didn’t fall for her talent in Wicked then you really don’t know what talent is. This girl has a voice that could restart a flat-lined heart and make a Republican fund the arts.

I also found Olaf to be a hoot. He’s one of those characters who isn’t very bright but has a heart the size of a small planet and the kind of simple faith that only a child would get. One can envy his world view a little bit as it lacks all the sophistication that we adults like to throw into the mix but at the same time probably is closer to what the world should be than we’ll ever get. I could hang with Olaf and hopefully Disney will realize that they have the kind of character who is going to sell a lot of merchandise and direct-to-DVD videos.

While I wish the story was a bit less rote and that the music was more memorable, nonetheless this is a pretty decent effort in a year when animated features really were uniformly bad with only one or two exceptions. While this doesn’t reach the standard of Disney classics, it is still good enough that if your kid wants to see it more than once you probably won’t mind getting the home video edition and watching it along with them – after having seen this in the theater several times of course.

REASONS TO GO: Beautifully animated. Olaf is a keeper.

REASONS TO STAY: Songs are nothing to write home about. A little bit rote.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a couple of rude jokes and some semi-violent action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A cameo is made by Rapunzel and Eugene (Flynn) during the opening of the gates during the musical number “For the First Time in Forever.” They can be seen entering the screen from the left – Rapunzel has short hair and is wearing a purple and pink dress while Eugene is wearing a maroon vest and brown sash.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/11/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tangled

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Flypaper

Advertisements

New Releases for the Week of November 29, 2013


Frozen

FROZEN         

(Disney) Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idris Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds. Edie McClurg. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

In a kingdom of eternal winter, an optimistic and brave girl teams up with a rugged mountain man, his loyal reindeer and a bumbling snowman to take on the forces of magic that have locked it there. The trouble is that the evil witch holding the kingdom spellbound is her sister.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some action and mild rude humor)

Black Nativity

(Fox Searchlight) Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Latimore. A streetwise teenage Baltimore boy is forced to spend the holidays with his strict and devout relatives the Rev. Cobbs and his wife. Unwilling to live by the strict rules imposed by the pastor, he decides that he will return home to his mother, opening himself up for an unexpected Christmas miracle.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Holiday Drama (opens Wednesday)

Rating: PG (for thematic material, language and a menacing situation)

The Book Thief

(20th Century Fox) Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nelisse, Roger Allam. During the Second World War a spirited young girl is sent to live with a new family in Nazi Germany. In a place where books are routinely burned and ideas that conflict with official state policy are dangerous, she  finds courage in the immense power of words and books.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material) 

Bullett Raja

(Fox STAR) Saif Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Vidyut Jamwal, Jimmy Shergill. An ordinary man is pushed to the limit and turns to a life of crime. Now a powerful criminal, he declares war on Indian society in an effort to take down the corruption that forced him to the other side of the law.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Good Ol’ Freda

(Magnolia) Freda Kelly, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr. As a shy young teen in Liverpool, Freda Kelly was asked to work for a young local band with great aspirations. She became the secretary to the Beatles as well as their friend and confidante. This documentary tells her story set to the music of the Fab Four, offering a whole new perspective on the band that changed popular music – and world culture – forever.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for some thematic material and smoking)

Homefront

(Open Road) Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth. When a DEA agent’s wife passes away, he leaves the agency to settle down in a small town community to raise his daughter quietly and get past his own grief. Unfortunately the town he chooses is far from quiet or quaint and soon he finds himself in a war that he will have to go all out to win and keep his daughter safe.

See the trailer, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief sexuality)

Oldboy

(FilmDistrict) Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley. An ad executive and family man is kidnapped and held in a locked room for 20 years. In that time he discovers that his wife has been murdered and that he has been framed for the crime. When he is just as suddenly and as inexplicably released he goes on a quest to discover who imprisoned him and why. The more he discovers however, the more he realizes that his torment is far from over.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language)

Philomena

(Weinstein) Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham. An elderly woman and a BBC reporter go on a journey to find her son who was conceived out of wedlock and given up for adoption to an American couple. Although she had signed a waiver promising never to look into her son’s whereabouts, she still feels that connection and defies the Catholic Church and convention to reunite with the baby she gave up so many years ago.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language) 

Wreck-It Ralph


Wreck-It Ralph

Arcade or Atari 2600?

(2012) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Ed O’Neill, Mindy Kaling, Adam Corolla, Horatio Sanz, Dennis Haysbert, Edie McClurg, Joe LoTruglio, Roger Craig Smith. Directed by Rich Moore

 

Modern kids may not get the allure of the arcade in the same way their parents do. Who among us, children of the 80s, don’t remember eagerly headed to the arcade, quarters in pocket, to try out the latest and greatest from Namco, Konami, Nintendo and Atari? And await eagerly as those great arcade games to arrive on our videogame consoles like the Intellivision and the Atari.

One of those classic games (not really but for the sake of the film) was Fix-It Felix, Jr. In the game Wreck-It Ralph (Reilly), a gorilla-like brute with ginormous arms and hands wrecks the Niceland apartment building, causing damage galore mainly because they built it on the site of his beloved tree stump where he lives (like all 80s arcade games, don’t worry so much about the plot and just go with it). The damage would be repaired by Fix-It Felix (McBrayer) and his handy dandy magic hammer. The citizens of Niceland would aid Felix by baking him pies and giving him other power-ups. When the building was completely repaired, the citizens would give Felix a shiny medal and hurl Ralph from the roof into a mud pit below.

Thus it has been for 30 years and frankly, Ralph’s getting a little tired of it. You see, when the arcade closes, in Toy Story fashion the characters of the game have a life of their own, meeting and mingling in a Game Central Station (arrived at through their power cords) and hanging out at the Tapper Lounge for a brew (of root beer – for those who remember that classic game). Ralph himself attends a 12-step program for videogame baddies who have encounter session meetings where they affirm that just because they’re bad guys in their games doesn’t make them bad people – they’re just fulfilling a necessary role but Ralph isn’t hearing any of this.

And you can hardly blame him. He is regarded with a bit of fear and a lot of being looked down upon. He is not invited to the 30th anniversary party, with the 8-bit residents of Niceland fearing that he’ll just wreck the party. He doesn’t live with the rest of his fellow game characters in Niceland – he lives alone in the dump, a massive pile of bricks. He hates his life and just wants people to like him. He wants to be a hero.

He gets the notion that if he wins a medal he can live in the Niceland penthouse. While at Tapper’s drowning his sorrows in root beer he gets wind of a medal that’s available for those who beat the hot new game Hero’s Duty. There, a bunch of space marines commanded by the crusty Sgt. Calhoun (Lynch) take on a swarm of space bugs. Knowing that if he’s killed outside his game that he can’t be regenerated, Ralph is a bit wary with the bugs being kind of scary in a robo-bug kind of way.  Still, so great is his need that he ascends the tower himself and grabs a medal. This leads to a premature evacuation which lands him with a hatchling robo-bug in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racing game.

There he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman), a somewhat annoying wannabe racer who has some messed-up code. She’s a glitch, whose body de-rezzes at inopportune moments. She and Ralph are more alike than un-alike; she dreams of acceptance as a full racer. Like Ralph, she needs that medal and winds up using it to get entered in a race that determines whose avatar gets to be used in the arcade the next day. This is presided over by King Kandy (Tudyk), the occasionally benevolent ruler of Sugar Rush.

But there is trouble in paradise and King  Kandy for some mysterious reason seems hell-bent on keeping Vanellope from racing. Felix and Calhoun have come over to Sugar Rush to search for Ralph and the bug, respectively – and a little bit of hanky panky maybe. And that robo-bug that made it over to Sugar Rush has been busy and things are going to get a whole lot of ugly a whole lot of quickly.

Moore whose background is in TV animation (directing episodes of “The Simpsons” as well as “Futurama”) gives this a plausible look. While there are elements that are awfully Toy Story-ish it’s so nifty seeing these characters interact you wonder why it took this long to get it to happen (and I’m sure it had something to acquiring rights and paying fees). That aspect is pretty delightful, particularly to those of us who were active gamers back in the day. However, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword – most kids, to whom this is mainly being marketed, won’t have a clue about some of the more obscure games although their dad may get a manly tear or two in the corner of their eye when some of the characters make an appearance.

One interesting aspect is the role women – and young girls – play in the movie. Although gaming seems to be a more male territory for the most part, women have become more and more involved with it in recent years. Here, the primary gamer in the arcade is shown to be a young girl, and of course two of the main characters, Calhoun and Vanellope, are from the more modern games – Felix and Ralph being from the 30-year-old game.

Reilly hasn’t done a lot of animated features (this is only his second, after 9) but this seems a good role or him (Ralph even resembles him a bit facially). Reilly seems to excel in socially awkward characters with a heart of gold, and that description fits Ralph to a T. He’s awkward all right; his size and temperament make him a bit clumsy, but he means well.

Silverman’s Vanellope was in a large part inspired by her own autobiography and so she’s a natural to take on the somewhat rebellious and also socially awkward Vanellope. Like Ralph, she wants very much to fit in but as time goes by, like Ralph, she discovers that fitting in isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. As with most kid’s animated features these days, the message is that being yourself is more important than fitting in which I suppose is as a good message to preach as any.

I liked Tudyk’s channeling of Ed Wynne and Paul Winchell for his King Kandy character and I was impressed by Lynch’s tough-as-nails Calhoun. McBrayer’s character isn’t too far off from the one he plays on “30 Rock” albeit  with a little more focus.

This is a world of bright colors and kinetic motion so even the really wee members of your family will be fascinated by it. While the appearances of certain 80s-era mainstays might go right over the heads of the target audience, their parents will be lost in a nostalgic glow from the retro opening credits to the VERY retro closing credits. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Also to be noted is the short “Paperman” that precedes the movie. It’s very touching and very Disney and has a good shot at getting an Animated Short Oscar nod.

REASONS TO GO: Fun trip down memory lane. A must-see for videogame junkies.

REASONS TO STAY: Too much time spent in Sugar Rush game (due to Vanellope’s glitch nature)

FAMILY VALUES:  The violence here is no more than you’d find in a classic arcade game and there’s a bit of rude humor as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The game “Fix-It Felix Jr.” was inspired by Donkey Kong.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100. The reviews are actually pretty good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tron

CLASSIC VIDEO GAME LOVERS: Video game characters show up from a wide variety of classic games both arcade and console, including Q-Bert, Burger Time, Tapper, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man and Street Fighter.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Never Let Me Go

New Releases for the Week of November 2, 2012


November 2, 2012

WRECK-IT RALPH

(Disney) Starring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Ed O’Neill, Mindy Kaling, Adam Corolla, Horatio Sanz, Dennis Haysbert, Edie McClurg. Directed by Rich Moore

Ralph is a videogame villain who for decades has been overshadowed by Fix-It Felix who always gets to save the day. Ralph longs to be a good guy but will never be one as long as he is overshadowed by Felix, so he decides to find a game where he can do good. Unfortunately, in his quest he inadvertently releases an evil that threatens the entire arcade. Can Ralph be the hero he dreams of being and save the arcade? It’s a Disney film so I’m thinking “yes.”

See the trailer, promos, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some rude humor and mild action/violence)

Flight

(Paramount) Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood. An airline pilot becomes a national hero when he pulls off an impossible maneuver to land a crippled plane. That adulation quickly turns to something different when his blood work taken from the accident site reveals that he had alcohol in his system during the fatal flight.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence)

The Man With the Iron Fists

(Universal) Russell Crowe, RZA, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune. A mysterious stranger arrives in a remote Chinese village to become the village blacksmith. Rival clans within the village force him to forge elaborate weapons of war. When the simmering feud goes nuclear over a shipment of gold, the stranger forges a weapon of his own, channeling an ancient power to fight alongside iconic heroes against soulless villains. The fate of the village rests on his ability to harness that power and control it.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Martial Arts

Rating: R (for bloody violence, strong sexuality, language and brief drug use)

Fired Up!


Fired Up!

This is where a funny caption would go if I could think of any.

(2009) Teen Sex Comedy (Screen Gems) Nicholas D’Agosto, Eric Christian Olsen, Sarah Roemer, Molly Sims, Danneel Harris, Philip Baker Hall, Adhir Kalyan, Annalynne McCord, John Michael Higgins, David Walton, Edie McClurg. Directed by Will Gluck

Ahh, to be young and horny; the arrogance that comes with it and the sad realization that we were all young and horny once. Hopefully, we weren’t all this stupid.

Shawn Colfax (D’Agosto) and Nick Brady (Olsen) are star football players on the Gerald R. Ford High School Tigers and they are entering their senior year. Good looking, popular and with Texas-sized libidos, they’ve been sowing a trail of broken hearts and soiled panties all through their school. Now they are faced with going to football camp with a bunch of sweaty guys and a mealy-mouthed coach (Hall) in the middle of the Texas desert in August. No, I wouldn’t want to do it either.

Instead they concoct a brilliant scheme; they decide to help out the cheerleaders at their camp in idyllic Illinois. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I’d much rather spend the month of August with 300 nubile teenage girls who are limber, horny and have few options to choose from romantically as nearly all the other guys are either gay or old (like 25 years old…grody!). They convince the powers-that-be that going to cheer camp was really what the two guys wanted. Astonishingly, the powers that be agree with them and send them on their way.

Of course, the head cheerleader Carly (Roemer) sees right through them and of course Nick falls hard for her. Shawn, on the other hand, gets the hots for Diora (Sims) who happens to be married to the head cheerleading coach Keith (Higgins). There’s also a group of rival cheerleaders, the Panthers, who like finish first all the time and it’s so unfair. Like, OMG. Their head cheerleader, Gwynneth (McCord) is such a bitch; she, like, always dresses in black and that’s sooooooooo Goth.

But of course, everything turns out okay, despite the machinations of Carly’s boyfriend Dr. Rick (Walton) who’s actually a first year medical student but he wants to get used to the sound of it. And why wouldn’t things turn out okay? It’s cheerleading, man!

Now, the natural inclination is to compare this to Bring It On! and not just because both films have exclamation points in their titles. No, they’re both cheerleading movies and have two groups of rival teams vying for the top spot in a competition, with one team being a perennial champ and the other a perennial doormat. There are a lot of differences however; for one thing, this is much raunchier.

The writing team (operating under the nom de plume of Freedom Jones) tries to liven things up with snappy dialogue that sounds like an unholy crossbreeding of Diablo Cody and Garson Kanin. There are plenty of pop culture references and at times there are some very funny one-liners. Part of my issue is that the dialogue as spoken by these (ahem) teenagers mostly sounds arrogant. I guess it might be hip, but when you dis the message of John Lennon because most of the people who listened to him as contemporaries are in their 50s now then you just sound ignorant.

One other bone I have to pick is that most of the girls in this movie are depicted as bubble-headed idiots waiting for some acne-faced slimeball to charm their way into their pants. I’m not saying teenage girls are the most level-headed strata of our society, but they aren’t all dimwits either.

You don’t see a teen sex comedy for the acting and that holds true here. The performances are okay I guess, just not memorable. When the movie works as it occasionally does, it works really well. However it falls flat in too many places for me to give it anything more than a mediocre rating. It’s not the kind of entertainment you’ll probably care much for fifteen minutes after you’ve seen it. And that, my friends, isn’t necessarily a criticism – sometimes we all need a little disposable comedy to occupy our time.

WHY RENT THIS: The dialogue is clever in places. As teen sex comedies go, this one isn’t too bad.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little too much smug, “look at me I’m young and hipper than you ever were” bullcrap. Too many of the girls are too empty-headed.

FAMILY VALUES: Seeing that this is a teen sex comedy, there’s an awful lot of, well, sex. And talking about sex, sometimes in the crudest terms possible. And nudity, not a lot of it but a little. And other bad words which I won’t repeat here. Anyway, you’ve been warned.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Eric Christian Olsen was playing a high school senior, he was actually 31 years old at the time of filming.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a kinda sorta funny interview from the press junket which goes viciously, horribly wrong but that’s it.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $18.6M on a $20M budget; the movie flopped.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: War