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A little before 2000, Disney began to phase out its animated movie
musicals. It wasn't that people stopped wanting enchantment at the
movie theater, but rather a cold, hard fiscal decision: the films
continued to gross less and less and newer ideas for family
entertainment were capturing audience attention and dollars.
Undoubtedly, however, Disney wanted back into the musical business, to create a nostalgia market and perhaps re-create the golden years of the early '90s. After the traditionally animated "Princess and the Frog" failed to revitalize business for classic fairy tales, Disney took to the story of "Rapunzel" and gave it a modern twist, calling it "Tangled" and giving in to CGI entirely. Here, it seemed, was the formula for fairy tales in the 21st Century.
Confident in its success, Disney took another classic tale in Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" and slapped an adjective title on it to give it a contemporary feel. "Frozen," however, throws ever further back to fairy tale musicals than "Tangled," which tiptoed back into the lyric-laden waters with some help from legendary songster Alan Menken. With "Frozen," Disney has definitely let itself go (yes, that's a pun on the film's biggest track) with a film full of magic and princes and princesses and musical numbers.
Anyone who grew up in Disney's animated prime or simply recalls it fondly will feel instant kinship with "Frozen" and its dainty, fair-skinned, doe-eyed heroines, charming heroes and beloved animal companions, coming together in a story of family, adventure, danger, betrayal and true love.
Princess sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) shared a close bond as children, but when Elsa's magical frozen touch nearly took Anna's life, their parents the king and queen vow to isolate and Elsa to control her powers. They also wipe Anna's memory of her sister's magic, so she grows up wondering why Elsa has shut her out. When Elsa comes of age to inherit the throne, the castle finally opens its doors, but Elsa loses control of her powers during the coronation and an eternal frost sets over the entire Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle. Terrified of what she can do, Elsa banishes herself to the mountains and its up to Anna to find her and a solution to her frozen enchantment.
Anna comes in a similar mold to Rapunzel, the beautiful heroine who is a little clumsy and awkward but also wacky and exuberant. She fawns over Prince Hans (Santino Fontana), whom she meets at the coronation and falls for quickly, but she's otherwise full of self- determination and bravery. Elsa is more poised and pragmatic, until she sings the aforementioned "Let It Go" and embraces her abilities.
The heart of "Frozen" is a story of sisterly love and dedication, as well as finding one's courage in the face of great fear, but it of course has all the trappings of a contemporary family film. Disney pulled a good deal of misdirection in the marketing, highlighting Olaf the living snowman (Josh Gad) and the wintery adventure of Anna and her escorts, the ice peddler Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his trusty reindeer, Sven. Absent was any hint of a mushy love story and singing. But even the commercial ploys of the film surpass expectations. Olaf, for example, is unlike any comic relief character in an animated film that you could think of. He has some running physical gags such as his carrot nose and how his body moves independent of his head, but Gad gives him a completely different sense of humor some combination of wide-eyed wonder, witty observational humor, cluelessness and more. You can see the influence of screenwriter Jennifer Lee ("Wreck-It Wralph") in some of the film's humor for sure.
Lee co-directed with Chris Buck ("Surf's Up," Disney's "Tarzan"), who knows his stuff in terms of making action-oriented, environmental digital animation. There's lots visually going on in the film between the ice powers and snow-covered action sequences, all of which look exceptional.
"Frozen" does seem to walk a line in the story in terms of being cliché and defying convention. A lot of plot points and outcomes are predictable in spite of a few small twists and the characters, especially Kristoff and Sven, are a little formulaic, with brief moments of originality. On the other hand, for example, there's not a clear, malevolent villain in this movie. There are bad characters, but Disney almost always establishes an evil figurehead. In "Frozen," much of the conflict comes from the characters' fear and how this magic is keeping everyone from being happily ever after. At least that's different.
The original songs from "Book of Mormon" composer Robert Lopez and wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez don't rival the Menken glory days, but they do go for that style in a few instances ("Do You Want to Build a Snowman?", "For the First Time in Forever") in addition to some more modern-sounding Broadway-style tracks ("Love Is An Open Door," "Let It Go"). In terms of where the songs go structurally, a few feel more like interruptions than positive additions, but it's fair to allow some time for Disney to get back in the musical swing of things.
Disney has taken a big step forward in making its musical fairy tale brand relevant in the digital age with "Frozen," and though they should exercise a bit of caution before stepping on the accelerator with these kinds of projects, there's no question we could all use this kind of enchantment a bit more regularly.
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Summertime there's no season more influential in a young person's
coming of age. Being out of school means a chance for a new experiences
and self-discovery, and spending that time in a new location always
feels like a fresh start. In "The Way Way Back," Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
("The Descendants") portray the "life-changing summer" in a sincere
way, but they also capture the nostalgia and fairy tale-like qualities
with which we often remember these times in our lives.
It starts and ends with Duncan (Liam James). Too many characters in independent films are written like Duncan, the socially challenged kid who discovers himself with the help of some quirky role models and a beautiful girl, but James actually looks and acts the part, compared to the many protagonists we usually see in these films. He's quiet, closed off and doesn't stick up for himself, but he's more than the product of a the unlikable supporting characters jerking him around and most importantly, James is actually close to the same age as Duncan (a 16-year-old playing a 14-year-old), which so many coming-of-age characters aren't.
Duncan is going for a long summer vacation to the Massachusetts shore with his mom (Toni Collette) and her serious boyfriend (Steve Carell), Trent, who tries to impose rules on him while taking shots at his self-confidence. Along with Trent's superficial and self-absorbed daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), they stay at Trent's beach house, which clearly is meant to be a getaway for Trent and Duncan's mom, who spend their days and nights there drinking and socializing with Trent's neighbors (Allison Janney, Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry). Clearly miserable, Duncan endeavors to get away, and in doing so discovers Water Wizz water park and its carefree owner/operator, Owen (Sam Rockwell).
Water Wizz is like an entirely different world, a Neverland of sorts where growing up doesn't require growing pains, where life's unfairness doesn't apply; a place where Duncan can find himself in the middle of a break dancing circle and earn the nickname "Pop-'n-Lock." There's a huge difference between the way the script treats scenes at the beach house, where Duncan can't be himself, and scenes at the water park. Rockwell's Owen is by no means a paragon of self-made success, but there's something about his attitude toward life and that of the other park employees played by Maya Rudolph, Rash and Faxon that's infectious.
The family drama away from Duncan's chlorinated safe haven, on the other hand, can get heavy and real. It is full of unhappy characters trying to force themselves into happiness and being inauthentic with themselves and each other. That's why Duncan can't stand it, especially when it becomes clear that Trent and his mother don't have the healthiest of relationships. As the story unfolds, the divide between Duncan's worlds grows so large that he can't straddle them any longer.
And what would this story be without a little romance? Janney's Betty, who lives next to Trent's beach house, has a teenage daughter named Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) who takes a curious shining to Duncan, presumably because her friends, which include Trent's daughter Steph, are also superficial. Of course Susanna is the kind of knockout that guys like Duncan dream about landing but rarely do, so their relationship is part of that nostalgic coming-of- age fantasy. Faxon and Rash clearly aren't aiming for 100 percent realism, just 100 percent genuineness of emotion.
Something about "The Way Way Back" so easily provokes the fond recollection of summers past. It taps into the feelings, emotions and nerve endings of those formative experiences and the role models that profoundly impact our lives. It has to be the honest, reflective writing and the telling of a story that has a lot of universal touch-points and therefore really resonates.
Casting actors who have perfected the dance between drama and comedy proves immensely important as well. Carell, Collette, Janney (practically a poster woman for independent comedy), Rockwell they know how to operate in these stories and they know how to make humorous dialogue feel true to their characters. The script pushes for humor in spots, so talents like these help keep everything real.
Everyone should be able to find some kind of connection to "The Way Way Back," and that will keep it from getting lost in coming-of-age indie comedy obscurity. Faxon and Rash are two- for-two and whatever they've got in store next has to be considered a must-watch.
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For those not easily smitten by J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy tales, "The
Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" was a substantial letdown from "The Lord
of the Rings" films, and the thought of enduring another immensely long
trilogy too much to bear. But even they'll agree with the biggest fans
of "An Unexpected Journey" that part two, "The Desolation of Smaug,"
shows substantial improvement over the first film.
Foremost, the film benefits from needing little to no exposition. The suspense and action ratchets up quickly as Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarfs, on their quest to reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug, are still being pursued by a band of ruthless orcs led by Azog the Defiler at the behest of the frightening, amorphous Necromancer. They must journey through the cursed forest of Mirkwood, home of the wood-elves, up the river to Lake-town and across the lake to the Lonely Mountain where Smaug awaits.
The action sequences alone prove "Desolation" a better film than "Journey." Nothing was really wrong with the first film, but the danger, excitement and creativity of "Desolation" simply trumps its predecessor. The return of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) along with his companion Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, who looks born to play an elf) brings with it the return of incredibly fluid, exciting and yes, perhaps even unrealistic fight choreography. Remember when Legolas took down an entire elephaunt in "Return of the King" in a brilliant sequence? The barrel escape on the river shows it up big time. Simply put, orcs are treated as deli meat in this movie.
Aracnaphobes be warned: director Peter Jackson is relentless in the spider scenes in Mirkwood toward the beginning of the film and as for any dragon-phobes yeah, you might want to walk out of the theater after the first two hours, because at that point begins the Smaug show. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers delicious vocals (as expected) playing the fearsome dragon, and the sheer scale of the climactic sequence inside the cavernous halls of the dwarf kingdom of Erebor doesn't disappoint.
As was a noticeable challenge in "An Unexpected Journey," the "Desolation" script contains even more filler and plot lines not in the book crafted from appendices than the first film. Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro generally make good use of this creative freedom by keeping the pace of the film up some parts of the movie, though excellently written and executed, go on a bit too long and provide little value outside of pure entertainment.
Two-thirds of the way through this adventure, it has become clear that the themes of "The Hobbit" trilogy don't run nearly as deep as with "The Lord of the Rings," and neither does the emotion. A subplot tries to create a love story between Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel as a change-of-pace from the danger and fear (the film's primary and dominant emotion), but it just doesn't hit. Kili has nowhere near the same level of audience admiration as Legolas, whose legacy from "Rings" carries instantly over to this film and who seems an obvious match for Tauriel. Outward ploys to generate some emotion such as this, however, wouldn't be necessary if the same motifs that made "Rings" more than blockbuster (friendship, the struggle of being outside of one's comfort zone, the fear of failure) were a part of "The Hobbit." Freeman and Richard Armitage (Thorin) are true talents, but they can only go so far with this material. What "Desolation" makes up for in entertainment value from "Journey," it loses in heart.
Other casting decisions earn excellent marks among the film's new characters including Lilly and Cumberbatch. Lee Pace nails the elf aura as good as Cate Blanchett playing the elf-king Thranduil and Luke Evans makes a fine, likable hero out of Bard the Bowman, the man who harbors the company in Lake-town. Although his character is a waste, the delightful Stephen Fry is another good call as the master of Lake-town. And let us not forget old friends: Ian McKellan gets a good number of badass moments during Gandalf's side-journey.
Anyone unsure which format to view the film in should consider that the last sequence with Smaug and a few others occur in somewhat dark locales. This is a significantly less than desirable situation for traditional 3D, because 3D already makes the frame seem darker. Those looking to upgrade from 2D should make the jump to HFR 3D, which despite its many critics, definitely has less motion blur and doesn't have the same issues with darkness.
Jackson, of course, continues to marvel with his vision for Middle Earth. The design of the locales and the sets (the wood-elves' kingdom, Lake-town, Erebor) show a great deal of technical sophistication and more importantly, imagination. The places truly come to life in all these films, and with a sense of eye-opening grandeur. Sometimes it even borders on too big and magnificent.
"The Desolation of Smaug" definitely sets the stage for what will surely be another memorable conclusion in both excitement and scale. The film ends on much more of an unexpected cliffhanger than the first film and the first "Lord of the Rings" films. "The Two Towers" definitely unwound in the end, as ominous as it still was, but "Desolation" will leave viewers with a sense that what they just saw will be like foreplay when they witness the conclusion.
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Aging is hard, as it accepting your lot in life. "Nebraska" adds
another poignant story about life's tragic beauty to Alexander Payne's
filmography and it's likely the most universally accessible of all his
Whereas his last film, the 2011 Best Screenplay winner "The Descendants," drew some criticism for being overly depressing, "Nebraska" has sadder moments but is much lighter in subject matter. Don't let Payne's choice to film in black and white fool you: this is a contemporary film that will connect with adults of all ages.
Bruce Dern and Will Forte star as father and son, Woody and David Grant, who set out from their hometown of Billings, Mont. after Woody receives a marketing sweepstakes letter telling him he's won $1 million, though he has to go to Lincoln, Neb. to cash it. The prize is obviously a scam, but when Woody keeps sneaking out of the house in attempt to walk all the way to Lincoln, David thinks maybe a little road trip would be good for both of them. On the way, however, they're forced to detour through the Nebraska town where Woody grew up.
Small-town jokes, sarcasm and senility humor abound, but both Payne and this spot-on script from Bob Nelson (HBO's "Hung") always keep the futility of this quest in perspective, and the time-tested theme of "it's about the journey, not the destination" informs the plot's many twists and turns, as does the basic human desire of having something to live for.
When all of Woody's hometown friends and relatives hear that he's won a million dollars, they take immediate interest in his return to town. His similarly quiet and stubborn brothers, former business partner (Stacy Keach)and former girlfriend all come into the picture, and then there's the relationship between Woody and David, which goes through its own rigmarole. Woody has been an alcoholic in denial for most of his life, who never developed a relationship with his kids (David's brother is played by "Breaking Bad" star Bob Odenkirk)and from what we can tell, spent most of his life indifferent if not regretting his marriage to Kate (June Squibb), who lambastes him at every possible moment for being useless, crazy and stubborn, like an all-too-familiar grandmother figure.
Dern's portrayal of Woody is scary authentic. Most great performances have some kind of emotional, dramatic heft to them. Dern stays true to the inexpressive nature of his character, yet watching him you can see the seasons and the life experiences and the underlying emotion, the hardship and the regret, even though we only learn of it through dialogue or stories from other characters who knew Woody way back when. He does so much with silence and short, curt responses and that has a dramatic power of its own.
Squibb as his wife Kate is absolutely hysterical as whip-smart elderly woman with a great memory and no filter along with the most brutally honest opinions you can imagine. Nelson writes her some outstanding dialogue, but she sells it. Payne, of course, is known for getting outstanding stuff from his cast. How many others could cast Saturday Night Live alumnus Will Forte ("MacGruber") and still have their film considered among the year's best? Music and scenery play a huge role in this film as with Payne's previous work. The black and white seems like a curious decision, and though it's hard to argue that it was 100 percent necessary, it certainly adds to the nostalgic moments of the film such as when Woody, David and family explore parts of Woody's past. Mark Orton's score also adds so much to the poignancy of a film that has nothing but images of flat, rural Nebraska to try and elicit an emotional response from its audience.
At times loud and hysterical and at others quiet and sad, but so is "Nebraska" captures so much of this duality that's so true of life itself. The longing of a child to connect with and understand a parent, and the longing of a man in the twilight of his life to find fulfillment are universal sentiments true of the young and the old. "Nebraska" certainly isn't the flashiest or most exciting of dramatic comedies, but Payne hits all the right emotional notes with his film's simplicity.
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For fans of the Nicolas Winding Refn-Ryan Gosling duo, "Only God
Forgives" throws a left hook. Although both this film and "Drive" have
their silent, slow-building moments that give way to shocking, powerful
violence, "Drive" at least provides a bit more context and story
development, whereas "Only God Forgives" is like a visual revenge poem.
The film takes place in Thailand and centers on the repercussions of a murder and a swift retaliation in the name of justice. Julian (Gosling) deals drugs behind the veil of a Muay Thai boxing ring. When his older brother, Billy (Tom Burke), murders an underage prostitute, retired detective Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) allows the prostitute's father to have his vengeance by letting him kill Billy, but cuts off his arm to even things out. Learning what Billy did, Julian decides not to take the father's life when he has a chance, but when his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in Thailand, it gets complicated.
The above plot summary is not easy to surmise on one's own. The film moves slowly and distorts what's reality with what's in Julian's head. It takes a few minutes to realize that a scene is actually happening and isn't part of Julian's imagination. Refn leans a lot on cinematography to grab audience interest. The neons prevalent in Asian settings and the light shining through ornate oriental wall carvings definitely sets a tone for the film, but it can't be seen as a substitute for the staples of good storytelling. Refn's captivation with the setting of his film doesn't translate with so much utter confusion going on.
Symbolism, then, becomes the primary lens for exploring the film's many warped senses of justice. Arms reaching out, hands turning from open palms to clenched fists in a simple metaphor Refn, captures the capacity of man to do both good and bad. The biggest challenge in appreciating that notion is that the founding incident of the entire movie is a horrific crime and the main characters want their vengeance for a justice that has already been served. Obviously, it will not end well for Julian and his overbearing, cruel mother, who overlook what the audience can so plainly see. At least Julian struggles with it.
Gosling has proved countless times he can act without saying a word, which is why he's Refn's muse, but Julian is missing something. There are a lot of forces acting upon and influencing his character, especially his mother, but he doesn't get much of a chance to express himself. He makes a couple crucial decisions that impact that course of the film, but he's a weak, inaccessible protagonist.
The supporting characters are no more accessible but definitely contribute to film's impact. Thomas is just despicable, belittling Julian in front of his girlfriend and using downright Freudian tactics to leverage him for her revenge. Pansringarm represents the old-school notion of honor, though he takes himself very seriously. He would make for an interesting character study if Refn was as interested in helping us understand him as he was in fitting him perfectly in the frame.
Still, "Only God Forgives" is chilling and contemplative. Refn is nothing if not affecting as a filmmaker. He knows how to evoke a strong emotional response in the audience with both imagery and violence. The question always comes down to whether someone watching his film can find some meaning in his graphic yet tacit approach. In this film, it's a bit more shock than awe. Unsurprisingly, that makes "Only God Forgives" a love it or hate it kind of film moments of both ebb in and out.
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Welcome to "Drive," Nicolas Winding Refn's exercise in the tried and
true lesson that less is more, and more when it follows less is
pulse-pounding mayhem. Maybe somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of
"Drive" could be considered "action" or "violence," but Refn makes
every second of it count. When each slowly mounting scene finally
explodes, the rush of adrenaline is so startling that you will either
gasp or laugh from shock. "Drive" offers nothing the "stoic hero takes
revenge" plot hasn't seen before, but you've never seen it done in this
seemingly counterintuitive but amazingly effective fashion.
"Drive" stars Ryan Gosling as our nameless "Driver," a mechanic and stunt driver by day, stone-cold wheelman by night. Gosling hardly does a scene without a toothpick in his mouth or his scorpion-emblazoned driving jacket. And when the driving gloves come on you can forget about it. His calm demeanor says everything not written into Hossein Amini's script and from the get-go, this protagonist has earned legions of faithful viewers.
Gosling packs a lot of his signature suave from previous roles into the driver, that suave that would have anyone convinced he's a blue-blooded New Yorker and not a Canuck from Ontario. Anyway, the driver develops a little crush on his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), who happens to have a son and a husband in jail. Instead of sweet-talking his way in, he just gazes at her with that little smirk on his face courtship complete. Men would kill for that move, women are killed by it and Gosling is one of the few who can pull it off convincingly.
After the driver grows fond of Irene and her boy, the husband (Oscar Isaac) comes back. Not only does his return bust up their relationship, but also the husband owes money for protection in prison and if he can't pay, it could lead to his wife and son getting hurt. From what we know about our driver, that's tickles the one moral fiber in his body the wrong way. He agrees to help the husband rob a pawn shop by acting as the getaway, but when the job goes horribly wrong, he finds himself in a situation no one could drive away from.
It takes awhile for "Drive" to get rolling, but that appears to be Refn's style: tantalize the audience with brilliant camera angles, an unpredictable score and churn the suspense to a tar-thick consistency. This approach will undoubtedly scare off some moviegoers yet completely awe others, but from a filmmaking perspective the artistry of the shots and takes puts Refn easily into a category of elite directors. Only a director with an undeniable gift could linger on literally half his shots and draw out nearly every scene without driving the viewer completely insane (that pun wasn't intended, yet quite fitting). "Drive" feels tedious at times anyway, so it would be painful to imagine such an interpretation of "Drive" in lesser hands.
Due to this choice, the film suffers at points for lack of dialogue, but perhaps that's years of conventional filmmaking built up inside me. The instinct becomes particularly hard to ignore in those scenes of longing gazes between the driver and Irene when the script that ought to be runs through your head over the silence in the film. Fortunately, the love story plays second fiddle to the ever-spiraling degree of danger.
Considering the aforementioned percentage of action and violence in the film, what little there is feels somewhere between excruciating, satisfying and terrifying all at once. The driver's iced veins through some jarring brutality seem unexplained, but the void in his back story rather than hindering his character allows us to draw any number of wild conclusions about what he's been through. The same goes for most of the other characters. Bryan Cranston's character and especially Albert Brooks' carry themselves in similar fashion. In one scene, Refn even commands the half-naked strippers to stay completely still and silent as the driver holds a bullet over a guys forehead with one hand and a hammer with the other. Realistic response from strippers? Hardly but effective.
Effectiveness would have to be the card "Drive" plays best. Say what you will of character motivation, romantic subplots and the the fact that much of the second act rests completely on an improbable coincidence, but Refn's film cuts hard and fast to the core; it makes you pay attention and then forces you swallow, just as any veritable tour de force ought to. Long term, count Gosling and Refn as two such forces.
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Even an outrageous stoner comedy can successfully appeal to a wide
audience with a little ingenuity. "This Is the End" could've stopped at
being a comedy in which a bunch of friends are faced with the
apocalypse, but what really makes Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen's film
work is that there's a big glass window where a fourth wall ought to
"This Is the End" takes advantage of those who count tabloids and celebrity news amongst their guilty pleasures, creating a sense of being shown behind the curtain and feeling on the inside just by having all the actors play themselves and making sporadic jokes about their real-life careers. As the film goes on, the actors become characters more than they actually play themselves and the authenticity wears off, but part of what makes the movie so effectively funny is that it peels off certain layers that 99.9 percent of other films (not labeled documentaries) have, regardless of how closely these actors all resemble their actual personalities.
Rogen and Jay Baruchel star (again, as character versions of themselves) as old-time best friends drifting slowly apart. Baruchel comes to Los Angeles to stay with Rogen, who insists they party with his other Hollywood friends including Jonah Hill, James Franco and Craig Robinson. It's not Baruchel's scene, but he puts up with it. At the party, however, the Earth begins to shake, fires erupt everywhere and sinkholes form in the earth, including right outside Franco's house. A number of actors and celebrities playing themselves in cameos die, including a coked-up Michael Cera and other A-listers whom under normal movie circumstances we aren't used to seeing get killed off just like that.
Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Hill, Robinson and a crazy, reckless Danny McBride end up (for the most part) the lone survivors and board themselves up in Franco's house. Their attempts to figure out how to survive become the comic material from that point forward, along with some satanic twists. Meanwhile, their attitudes toward each other rear their ugly heads and cause even more friction.
This all sounds like a thought-out, creative, original comedy plot, but some will see it as nothing but a dumb comedy masquerading as something innovative. Rogen and Goldberg are up to their same-old humor: masturbation jokes, random references, lewd physical humor and penises abound. But they innovate just enough to give their shtick a fresh coat of paint. Comedy trends and actors come and go; if these Apatow disciples want to remain relevant beyond this first decade, this is the kind of creativity that will be required of them. Simple, clever and effective.
The film is garbage as a take on the apocalypse; it's all about the social scenarios that emerge from it. The few action sequences and visual effects scenes are borderline horrendous, but it doesn't jump into these dumb stoner-movie parts until after sufficiently building up the character-focused parts of the story.
That said, it's hard to buy into the bromantic heart of "This Is the End" unlike previous movies featuring these guys ("Superbad," "Pineapple Express," etc.). Rogen and Goldberg assume because the actors are playing themselves that this establishes a relationship dynamic between Seth and Jay to the point that we're willing to root for them to overcome the riff they endure in the film. That, or Rogen and Goldberg just didn't care. Either way, their films usually succeed more at creating sincere relationship moments and they end up empty in this one.
"This Is the End" marks a successful experiment at twisting familiar genre tropes into something novel. It's not as well-rounded of a comedy, but it doesn't lack for moments of hilarity and it's certainly the best this crew has done in a while when it comes to stoner comedy.
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How will Marvel's universe ever be the same after "The Avengers"?
There's bound to be a vocal percentage of viewers who walk out of "Iron
Man 3" thinking, "why didn't he just call his superfriends in the end?"
It's a good question, one that Drew Pearce and Shane Black's script
doesn't ignore, but never satisfyingly answers. Yet that doesn't seem
to matter. The bigger question that Marvel has addressed is whether it
could effectively narrow the scope of its universe again after "The
Avengers" blew it openand the answer is yes.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) hasn't been the same since his near-death experience in a intergalactic wormhole at the end of "The Avengers." In fact, the words "New York" have become a trigger for his newly discovered anxiety attacks. He has spent his funk by building an inordinate amount of Iron Man suits, and specifically a remotely operated suit that he can summon through a biological tracking system. When a terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) emerges, hacking U.S. airwaves to spread fear and causing thermal explosions, Tony calls him out on his cowardice, a move he immediately regrets.
As the script continues to introduce all the players in this third iron-clad outing, from Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killiana think tank manager Tony spurned 13 years agoto Don Cheadle's Col. Rhodes who has a new gig as the stars-and-stripes-studded presidential bodyguard Iron Patriot, the film appears as a sloppy mess likely to meet the same fate as "Iron Man 2." Only when Tony begins to pursue the mystery of the terrorist bombings do all these seemingly disparate pieces begin to come together into what's actually a rather clever story.
Story structure aside, the script does boast plenty of Stark quips in case you worried the directorial turnover from Jon Favreau to Shane Black would alter the tone of the franchise. Not even close. If anything, the "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" director pushes the boundaries of political correctness with some of the dialogue, especially in the scenes in which Tony finds himself teamed up with a 12-year-old boy.
"Iron Man 3" digs deeper into the psychology of Tony Stark, at least more than you'd expect from a blockbuster. Rather than open with an action sequence to get the ball rolling, we get a flashback to when Stark met Pearce's Killian as well as a genetic engineer named Maya played by Rebecca Hall. Things don't really begin to pick up until Tony has his mansion blown into the ocean.
Not unlike "Iron Man 2," the film's action is largely reserved for the grand finale. Still, the amount of special effects shots is probably tripled, and the action sequences when they do come were written to be as unique and memorable as possible, with a skydiving sequence taking the cake. "Iron Man 3" hits big whenever it makes the effort to do so, proving again how Marvel Studios holds a quality entertainment standard rivaled by few.
The "Iron Man" films (and this is partly fault of the comic) lack truly excellent villains. This film sets up Tony Stark's greatest nemesis in the Mandarin, but complicates it in a way you'll never see coming considering how studios and writers have flocked toward villains in the mold of Heath Ledger's Joker from "The Dark Knight."
The movie gambles in that way and in other ways not all audiences will recognize. Take the boy for example. If the film failed on the whole, it would forever be remembered as "the 'Iron Man' movie with Tony Stark and that kid." That's dangerous territory. If "Spider-Man 3" had worked, everyone wouldn't refer to it as "the one with emo Peter Parker."
Nothing gambles more than the script, which spends a lot of time setting up the premise for what it hopes will be an effective payoff. So much of the film seems anecdotal until you see how the pieces fit. Even then, there's no guarantee the audiences will be compelled by the completed puzzle, but "Iron Man 3" goes bold enough to surprise in a good way.
The humor definitely misfires at times and the sense of danger doesn't pervade the film from start to finish, but considering how must third installments have sputtered ("Spider-Man 3," "X-Men: The Last Stand"), it's testament to a number of quality components at work behind the scenes, not excluding "The Avengers," which clearly reenergized Iron Man as a solo character. Without it, no way "Iron Man 3" opens with nearly $175 million after the critical disappointment toward the second.
Few actors have truly created and owned a character like Downey Jr. and Tony Stark. Without him, Iron Man is just a second-class superhero in Marvel's canon. He single-handedly launched Phase One of Marvel Studios' plan and gave audiences a multi-dimensional hero with both despicable and lovable qualities. If he powers down the suit after "The Avengers 2," it'll be the end of an era.
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Tales of 20-somethings in New York City epitomize the independent film
scene, as does the star and co-writer of "Frances Ha," Greta Gerwig,
the indisputable indie queen. Together with writer and director Noah
Baumbach, "Frances" is practically the comfort food of independent
film, a genre label usually reserved for something edgy and different.
However, despite the film residing in the wheelhouse of its talent, it
somehow finds a certain freshness and quirky sense of inspiration that
you typically don't get from veterans.
Re-teaming after the slightly more Hollywood-ized "what am I doing with my life?" film in 2010's "Greenberg," Gerwig and Baumbach have taken a step back into something a little more on-the-sleeve. "Frances Ha" hides behind nothing it is pure, unadulterated relationship-based emotion featuring entirely unremarkable characters meant to reflect the utter mundaneness and raw beauty that is the life of a struggling middle class person.
Frances is a lover. She aspires to dance professionally despite the obvious limitations of her talent, and she has a powerful bond with her friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Their friendship, which transcends most on-screen friendships in terms of closeness and authenticity, is the core love story of the film. As much as Frances attempts to navigate new roommates and friendships, nothing can replace the connection between her and Sophie, two people who just get each other. The quote of the film comes from Frances describing when you know "that's your person."
Perhaps the mere fact that "Frances" is a good love story that doesn't center on a non- platonic heterosexual relationship is what elevates it, but Baumbach makes some sound choices behind the camera too. Filming in black and white these days almost always comes off as a bit bold if not pretentious, but it works especially well in a number of scenes that employ classical music or classic film music from French composer Georges Delerue, adding foreign art-house and nostalgic tones to remind us that while the story feels modern, its core is timeless.
"Frances" is put together in sequences. The camera becomes a removed observer for quick snippets of scenes throughout, letting us see how Frances interacts with the world though we know what's going on inside; we have a sense of how she feels. All of these sequences are tied together by a song or musical style and have a clear beginning, middle and end, and the many sequences in the film are strung together with large chunks of time missing in between. There's no traditional plot, just a few key dramatic moments here and there involving Frances' career and relationships that shape and inform the rest of the film. At times, this can get extremely boring, but there are enough momentary gems throughout to keep the feeling of boredom from overpowering the other sentiments.
Frances' dance career isn't the most interesting storyline in the film, but it's so relatable anyway. You always see hard-working, talented dancers in films, not average dancers who deeply care about dancing. It's clear that dance is what Frances loves, but she struggles, unable to make the company with which she apprentices. Yet she commits to doing it her way, and despite her ever-changing living situation and Sofie coming in and out of her life, she remains locked on her focal point, like a dancer doing a pirouette.
Gerwig just owns these kinds of performances. She creates incredible nuance and mannerisms for her characters to make them quirky but totally believable. A scene in which she leaves dinner with her newfound friend Lev (Adam Driver) to run around looking for an ATM is over-the-top but kind of endearing. You never question Gerwig's authenticity, and the script steers so far away from anything resembling melodrama that Frances is never pushed into the kind of larger-than-life situation that requires an actor to really really work in order to bring a film down to earth, not that Gerwig would be incapable. The couple of freakouts Frances does have are weird, but totally natural.
Fans of Baumbach's debut, "Kicking and Screaming," will see "Frances Ha" as a return to form for the filmmaker, if for no other reason than the age of the characters, though "Frances" proves how much he has matured in writing witty dialogue that actually feels authentic. The big key difference between "Frances" and Baumbach's other work, however, is the choice to focus on a central character and not an ensemble film in which we have to feel connected to what's going on with every character. His style seems best suited for these kinds of character studies.
Although one might be tempted to describe "Frances Ha" as "the latest indie movie starring Greta Gerwig," it's more than just a drop in the films about 20-somethings bucket.
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In telling chapters of history, films have the benefit of hindsight. As
obvious as that statement sounds, Oscar-winning screenwriter Brian
Helgeland takes advantage of almost 70 years of history in
writing/directing "42," to the point where he can set the stage with
the perfect emotional tone for telling the story of Jackie Robinson,
one of the greatest legends in all of sports, who broke baseball's
color barrier in the 1940s.
"You want a player who doesn't have the guts to fight back?" Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) asks of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the man who dared to put him in a Major League uniform. "No, I want a player who has the guts not to fight back," Rickey says. The exchange is music to our ears, but did it ever happen? Probably not quite like that. You can pull lots of dialogue from "42" and make the same argument, but it doesn't matter; Helgeland is telling the folk story of Robinson and that's the story we want to see anyway.
The film opens with Rickey, a shockingly refreshing change of pace for Ford, who never played a non-fiction character in his life, endeavoring to bring in a player from the Negro Leagues. The reason? None given at first, but no matter. Today, it wouldn't be surprising for one person to take a stand on a matter of civil rights, but back then, it was probably hard, assuming Rickey had a care about civil rights. The film hints that he just wanted to win and make money, but it goes on to paint him as an ethical hero too, because just because. And why not? We want to believe that's the man Rickey was, and his character is totally lovable for it.
"42" doesn't sugarcoat the discrimination Robinson and other African-Americans faced during this historic time, but we still lap it up. The most memorable instance is when Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) shouts slur after slur at Robinson over the course of a game and ultimately makes amends with him as a publicity move. Harsh, brutal and tough to stomach, this discrimination makes us feel for Robinson when he heads into the clubhouse and unleashes his anger because he couldn't do it on the field. How hard it was back then and how terrible people could be, but the movie presents it in this "my, look what he had to overcome!" sort of way. Helgeland stirs up our emotional response, even though the reality was probably much uglier.
A perfect example is during one of Robinson's first few big league games presented in the film when a man takes his boy to the ballgame and they look like they're having a great time, until the father shouts slurs at Robinson when he enters the field. The kid, who clearly didn't feel negatively about Robinson to being with, joins in the heckling because that's what the other men were doing. Engrained racism doesn't need to be showed in such a picturesque light, but it adds to the emotional experience of the film.
Boseman's Robinson is both humble and bold. We see him hold back and keep his temper in check and we also see him instigating by showing off his athletic prowess. Boseman makes Robinson every inch as lovable as we imagine the man to have been. He's unafraid to bring on some extra heat, but like most of us, he has a breaking point. Surprisingly, we don't see that breaking point much; the script doesn't care much for that kind of melodrama, just the feel- good kind.
"42" embodies everything you'd want from a feel-good movie. Helgeland perfectly sets up bad characters or characters with bad attitudes to get served with witty civil rights-affirming dialogue or scenes in which they have to eat crow (or yes, I'll go there Jim Crow). The film definitely panders to the obvious inclinations of its audience, who so many decades removed, very clearly stands on the right side of history. I won't be so naive as to believe that everyone who sees "42" has no racial prejudice, but what Robinson stood for and how what he did changed society let alone sports has few opposers these days.
In reality, Robinson was and is a hero, but in the minds of a generations removed, he's a legend. The film honors the legend of Robinson in a way that it will feed whatever idealistic notion of Robinson you might have developed in your mind. "42" is the comfort food of sports drama, which is the comfort genre of cinema. In other words, it's any food item analogy you wish with lots and lots of butter. But there's butter for the sake of butter, and there's butter applied in perfect, mouth-watering amounts, and "42" has the proportions measured out just right.
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