Monday, December 30, 2013

Frozen review; Disney takes it up an notch

Believe me, I know I'm late to this party.  But when it comes to seeing Disney films in the theater, it usually involves waiting until I can take my nephews.  That being said, Frozen is a Disney film for all ages, a film that anyone can appreciate.  I don't want to waste any more time, let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Story
Disney is so damn good at their storytelling.  They don't begin such a long, arduous, animated filmmaking process without nailing the story first.  Frozen tells the story of two sisters and how they realizing their importance to each other.  The film offers up a grand adventure, as most Disney films do.  But there was something a bit deeper in this film, that we only see in a few animated films.  On top of the adventure and emotional drama, there's a nice balance of comedic characters as well!  Speaking of comedy...

The Cast/Characters
Frozen offers up a slew of great new characters.  There is the female lead, Anna, voiced by the wonderful Kristen Bell.  She plays a princess who is eccentric and adventurous at heart.  She lives in a castle with her sister, Elsa, played by Idina Menzel.  Elsa is a Queen with magic powers that allows her to create ice/snow from her hands.  Menzel played the lead character on Broadway's Wicked.  The sisters have been forced to live apart, in the same house, for years.  So they are just now getting to know each other, in their adult years.

There are some great male characters in the film as well.  Kristoff is voiced by Jonathan Groff.  The character is a manly man who falls for Anna, while on a journey to find Elsa.  Josh Gad rounds out the main characters, as a lovable snowman that the sister's dreamt up when they were younger, and is now alive.  Gad's subtle, yet perfect comedic style worked perfectly for the character.

The Animation
Pixar has usually overshadowed the CG films made at Disney in-house.  But Pixar should look out!  For every bomb Pixar produces (Cars 2), Disney is creating some VERY good films (Tangled).  The animation in Frozen is among the best I've ever seen in an animated film.  And once you see the movie, it only takes a few scenes to understand the complexity of the animation.  Taking an entire city and showing us how it freezes over is a tough task.  The animators made Elsa a superhero of sorts, with her powers; but showed us her fear and vulnerability as well.  I really got lost in this world Disney created.

The Not So Cliche
The movie had several opportunities to jump the shark and fall back on cliche story devices.  Especially the climax of the film.  But it doesn't!  It goes down a different path, towards originality that we rarely see in animated films.  I'm trying to be discrete here; so if you see the film, Tweet me and let me know what you think.

What I didn't like about the film:
A Predictable Ending
For all the things the filmmakers did against the grain; I saw the ending coming about 30 minutes into the film.  I understand the plot device and why the writers wrote the 'surprise' the way that they did.  But as I mentioned above, the writers did so many things we WOULDN'T expect.  To have the twist be so predictable for me, let me down a little bit.  But just a little bit.

The Verdict:
Another 'One of my Favorite Disney Movie'
For me, Frozen was even better than Tangled, and I absolutely loved that film.  The story, the actors, the animation and the songs were all terrific.  It was entertaining, exciting and emotional throughout.  The climax will have grown men holding back tears.  Just really good filmmaking from the studio whose been doing it since the 1930's.  I totally recommend Frozen to people of all ages.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks review

I'm guilty.  I AM GUILTY!  I walked into Saving Mr. Banks with unrealistic expectations.  But is it my fault?  Is it the mainstream media's fault?  Is it the blogosphere's fault?  Maybe all of the above are responsible for me expecting so much more out of this film.  Saving Mr. Banks is of course the story of a story.  Don't follow?  Well it's simple really.  Sometimes the story of how a film gets made, is just as interesting as the film itself.  Films like Finding Neverland give us the background of artists, and their inspiration for their popular works of art.  Saving Mr. Banks tells us the story how the film, Mary Poppins, was brought to life by Walt Disney.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film
The Acting
I have sort of spoiled what I thought of the film in the introduction, but that doesn't mean I disliked every aspect of the film.  The acting in the film is EXACTLY what I was hoping it would be.  Emma Thompson is spectacular.  She plays the author of the Mary Poppins books, P.L. Travers.  She is a very stern, conservative woman who is having the hardest time giving up the rights to Mary Poppins, so Walt Disney can make a film out of it.  The film moves along two concurrent timelines.  The creation of the Mary Poppins film, as well as flashbacks into Travers' upbringing and her relationship with her father.  Thompson steals this show.  She makes us want to shake the stubbornness out of the character at the beginning of the film.  We never quite 'hate' the character, we're just as frustrated with her as the rest of the supporting characters.  Then, something magical happens, we sympathize with the character by the end of the film.  We care about her, want her to move on with her life, and want her to be happy.  Loved this performance!

Not to be outdone by Thompson, is Tom Hanks in really a perfect role for the actor.  He plays the ever charming Walt Disney.  I say it was a perfect role because Hanks seems to have that intangible goodness to him, that I feel Walt Disney had about him before he passed away.  He's likable and has just as interesting a back story as Travers does in the film.  I will say this, it was hard to look at the man on the screen as Walt Disney, rather than Hanks PLAYING Walt Disney.  Still a great piece of acting on his part.

There are a few supporting roles that I'd like to point out as well.  Colin Farrell plays Emma Thompson's father in the flashback sequences.  He is terrific!  He is a man struggling with alcoholism, while doing his best to keep his family together.  There was something humbling about knowing Farrell had his own issues with alcohol, and was able to really bring some realism to the film.  Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are all employed by Walt Disney.  They play various characters put in place to make sure the movie is made without a hitch.  They all do a fine job, but Giamatti has some really wonderful scenes with Thompson that I absolutely loved.

The Nostalgia
Mary Poppins actress Julie Andres, Walt Disney, P.L. Travers
The movie takes place in the early part of the 1960's, and I loved what the filmmakers did to take us to that era.  Production Designer Michael Corenblith and Costume Designer Daniel Orlandi took us to Southern California in the 60's.  It was beautiful; especially seeing Disneyland mocked up to look like it did 50 years ago.  Awesome.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Pacing/Editing
My main problem with this film is it's storytelling, pacing and editing.  For example; we are watching the height of an emotionally draining scene involving a young P.L. Travers and her mother in a lake.  Then SNAP, we switch back to the 1960's during the making of Mary Poppins.  There is no time to really absorb what we just saw, considering the extremely sensitive subject matter, before it is gone off-screen.  An impromptu visit by Walt Disney to P.L. Travers home offers one of the best scenes in the movie... only to have it abruptly end with no rhyme or reason to the cut.  Call it picky, but it took me out of the movie.  I was left asking myself 'why did the filmmakers do that?', instead of letting the movie really take me in.

A great example of a film that handles flashbacks perfect is, Slumdog Millionaire.  Similar to Saving Mr. Banks, it told two concurrent stories.  But with 'Millionaire', the cuts made sense, and the flashbacks explained the events of the present.  Flashbacks are often viewed as a lazy ploy by a screenwriter to tell a great story.  I disagree, I think if they're done correctly, they're a powerful tool.  I was just disappointed in way they were executed in this film.

What Story Are You Trying To Tell?
I saw the movie less than 48 hours ago and can barely remember anything about it.  I know I loved the performances by the two lead actors.  I know I was drawn into the period of time the story took place, but nothing else really stuck.  I am actually a fan of the director, John Lee Hancock.  And there are a handful of scenes I could probably recite to you right now from his previous films like The Rookie and The Blind Side.  But there's not much that happens in this movie.  There is scene after scene after scene of P.L. Travers turning down one idea after the other that is brought forth by the Disney staff.  I just don't see any value in re-watching this film, and that's too bad.  I'll explain in more detail in a minute, but are we telling the story of how Mary Poppins was made; or are we telling the story of P.L. Travers' upbringing?  Of course her upbringing leads to her unwillingness to let go of the character, but WHERE IS MARY POPPINS?  The real life inspiration is only on-screen for a few minutes.  We don't get to see the inspiration interact with the young Travers very much at all.  And if we don't see them interact much, how can we begin to understand why the older Travers is so emotionally attached to this character?  Don't worry, I didn't give anything away that trailers didn't already.

The Verdict:
I Wanted So Much More Than Charming
Farrell, Novak, Richard Sherman, Thompson, Hanks, Whitford
I wanted Saving Mr. Banks to be an Oscar-worthy film, with an amazing performances.  I wanted it to be a great story about forgiveness, and having the will to move forward with your life.  I wanted it to be so much more than just a 'charming' movie.  I think I got some of what I wanted.  Emma Thompson will hopefully be recognized by the Academy for her heartbreaking performance.  Tom Hanks gives yet another likable performance.  But the film?  The film ultimately fell flat for me.  It felt repetitive and wasn't quite sure which story it really wanted to tell; the making of Mary Poppins, or P.L. Travers' upbringing.  And one thing I've learned from watching literally hundreds of hours worth of filmmaker interviews is, if you don't know what story you're trying to tell is, your film will show it.  And that's what I believe happened here.  I realize I am in the minority disliking the film, but we're just going to have to AtD on this one.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

X-Men: Apocalypse film announced for 2016

You thought the Hollywood studios were going to slow down their onslaught of superhero films?  Think again!  Last month, Sony announced that they were going to expand the Spider-Man universe into more films.  Warner Brothers announced last week that they were developing several lower-budget films, based in the DC Comics universe.  That doesn't include WB's casting for Batman vs. Superman, or their new television shows being developed.

Marvel themselves announced last month, they were developing several television shows, exclusively for Netflix; one character being the ever popular Daredevil.  It wasn't long before 20th Century Fox jumped on this expansion train!

A few months ago, the studio announced an X-Force film, featuring some really popular Marvel characters they own the license to.  Today, Foxsigned writer/producer, Simon Kinberg, to a 3 year deal to expand the X-Men and Fantastic Four universe of films for the studio.  This news coincides with another major announcement made today, by Bryan Singer, via Twitter.
WHOA!  What the?  What the heck?  Just like that?  There's no other news attached to this announcement, but one could guess it is a straight sequel to the 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand.  And that it will more than likely feature a very popular X-Men villain, named Apocalypse.  Sure there is an X-Men film being released next year, but that appears to be more of a hybrid film, bridging the two franchises (X-Men and X-Men: First Class).  I'm curious to see what news comes about in the next few weeks.  And also, what actors will reprise their roles.  That was a major challenge in making the X-Men film for next year, work.  As usual, we'll have to wait and see.

Quickie: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 trailer premier

The trailer to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been released and it looks pretty awesome.  A ton of action and multiple villains has me asking though, 'will this turn into another Spider-Man 3?'  For that, we'll have to wait until next May.  The movie again stars Andrew Garfield as the hero, alongside Emma Stone.  Newcomers to the franchise are Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti, Dane DeHaan and Chris Cooper.  The sequel is again being directed by Marc Webb.  Check out the trailer below.

If I have time this weekend, I've got a lot to say about this trailer, I'll post it then.