Monday, December 21, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

The Film: The Princess and the Frog

The Voices: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, John Goodman, Oprah Winfrey, Keith David, etc.

The Dealio: In Disney's latest addition to the princess folio, we travel back to '30s New Orleans, with a combo of newfangled art and old school primitive. The princess of the title is Tiana, the daughter of hard-working, working class workers-mom is a seamstress who 'does for' a rich-rich-rich family in the Vieux Carree, concocting luscious confections in pink for the 'princess' of a daughter. The daughter's apparent sole goal in life being to marry a prince, Tiana is a more hard-headed type. The sort of Molly Brown, pull myself up by the bootstraps heroine we all love: hardworking, unaffected, generous and self-starting. Her dream? To open a restaurant with her Pa. Fast forward a few years to see whose dreams have travelled closer to fulfillment (Tiana's, and all through her own sweat and toil), and, wouldn't you know it? A real, live (although stone-poor) prince appears on the scene just in the nick of...well, you know. He is looking for a princess with wads of moolah- and may have found her in the bubble brained Charlotte. Wait just a minute, though: this is a Disney flim, and the path need be littered with broken prmises, broken dreams and broken down characters who rise to the occasion. Splendidly.
And, really what would a Disney flick be without treachery, betrayal, some snappy-sappy tunes, a wish- or several- upon a star, a popular character meeting an untimely death to advance the plot? For me, the movie began to lose traction as we went along, detouring into areas of discrimination, deceit and pernicious envy. So- when this movie was good, it was very, very much so. But there were bushels of cliches, mixed in with so many 'dark aspects', (including some hard line black magic stuff that had the kiddies in the theatre fretting: spectres rising from the grave and one character being eaten whole by a scary, animated evil mask). At other times, I found the story draggy and the music very trite and forced. And have you ever noticed how the loss of one or both parents has become a mandatory for Disney movies? Supwiddat?

The Grading Session: 3.71 pengies out of 5. If you are going to bring me down, I will return the favor. Oh, and don't be in such a rush to slap on a 'happy ending' just to finish up in 90 minutes. As Tim Gunn would say, 'OK, people, you have a lot to do here; make it work!' Genius, that man. Tim- go speak with the filmies in Anaheim. Pronto.

Lessons Learned: Kissing a frog is no guarantee you're gonna wind up with a prince. Also, wishing upon a star is nice, if traditional. Falling in love with a star: heart-wringingly moving.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

why can't we just play rugby and all get along?

The Film: Invictus

The Actors: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, etc

The Dealio: Based on the book 'Playing With The Enemy', this story plays, too, somewhat fast and loose with the facts, but ultimately tells a pretty compelling story, while glossing over the 'rough patches' of the actual events. Here is the skeleton: as one of his first acts as the first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela becomes mesmerised by the parallels between the way the 2 disparate groups in South African society relate to their rugby team and the struggle between the white minority and the black majority. He sees that enabling the two groups to work together is the first priority in making South Africa the bright, shining example of democratic tolerance. And, for reasons unexplored in this film, focuses in on the rugby team as a vehicle to bring about this reconciliation, and enhance the ability for the two to work together towards some-any!- sort of common goal.
Although the film seems to imply that the entire process was without much more than a slight hiccup from inspiration to success, there are some truly moving moments, some wonderful portrayals of historical personages. Prendie read the book, and said that it was phenomenal, and well worth looking into (which). It also offers more details about the evolution of the team, the process and the people involved in making this happen.

The Grading Session: 4.23 pengies out of 5. A very earnest effort, some grand, hard work and we always love it when yo get to see pictures of the actual peeps portrayed in the flick. But, oddly, scant reference to why, if Invictus meant so much to the ultimate victory, there was so little of it seen as being used as an inspirational tool, by the rugby-ers.

Lessons Learned: Watching the rebirth of a country, the coming together of diametrically opposed sides and the forging of a new, solid whole from those halves, is seldom as easy a process as portrayed on big or little screen. Rather, it is more like the making of sausage or your son skateboarding down the railings of a 4 level shopping centre in Japan: there are certain things that are simply too painful to witness in the unedited versions.

Have You Heard About The Morgans?

The Film: Have You Heard About The Morgans?

The Suspects: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Eliot, Mary Steenburgen, Wilford Brimley

The Dealio: An estranged NYC couple witness a mob assassination and are put into protective custody in Wyoming. Hilarity ensues. NOT.

The Grading Session: .75 pengies out of 5.0 pengies, mostly due to the creative use of Sam, Mary and Wilford. Not a cliche goes unforce-fed. There is ZERO chem between the leads and I think we have gone to this particular well 3 times too many with the creaky fish-out-of-water-who-will-by-movie's-end-become-the-most-ardent-fans-of-the-new-locale (and beloved of the town-folks. How did they ever manage without them?). Have we heard about the Morgans? Yup, but only for about 45 minutes, which seems to be the ultimate limits of our tolerance for films we just. don't. like.

Lessons Learned: We resent being force-fed crap and pap and told it is hilarious, engaging and entertaining. I want my money and time back!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Everybody's Fine

The Film: Everybody's Fine

The Faces: Robert NeNiro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell

The Dealio: DeNiro's David is still in mourning for his six months' gone spouse. She was, apparently, one helluva listener, and seemingly, is required to take on a similar silently receptive role posthumously. Witness the many scenes of David speaking to his dead wife as he goes about his day, making his plans. One gets the notion that this is a familiar role for him; he is comfortable getting no reply; he never has before. Only a readily listening ear. It is David who is the talker.
He is a character at once familiar-(unable to connect with his sons and daughters-except in a 'strongly encouraging way to make the most of their gifts')-and exotic (taking such inordinate pride in the work from which he retired-making plastic coating for telephone wires- that he challenges every stranger he meets into a game of 'you have been staring at my work for miles. Can you guess what it was?'). He is also under some sort of medical cloud which has him longing to retranslate every relationship in the family into a fairy-tale style picture of all of them, sitting around a Christmas table. At the same time, his family seems to be devoting its extensive energies into keeping him as far away from them as possible.
Early on, even the most casual observer of human nature will figure out the family history and dynamic, the real nature of the current problems and how this family will deal with it- and each other- ifthe formal sit-down ever becomes fact. But the trip there is full of moments large and small that make you smile at their very ordinary, everyday-ed-ness. The, just as you are getting used to the very ordinary truth of this family, in the next instant, you would be surprised to find yourself find yourself hunting for a tissue and vowing silently to stay closer to your own family, to be more patient and to remember them as younger versions, before time and life took their individual tolls.

The Grading Session: 4.48 pengies out of 5. There was the very cool note of showcasing telephone wires, while hearing the voices of two of David's now-adult children, passing along important messages. There is also a slant on the 'offspring-all-grown-up-in-reality-but-Dad-still sees-them-as-children' device. Both these are mostly good. Some other pieces (like having one of David's eldest, his namesake, and, reportedly 'the one you were hardest on', as an 8 year old telling off his Dad, and then leading the other kids in laughing at him. Uncalled for, a bit hysterical in tone, and this made me feel very beleaguered and angry, myself.

Lessons Learned: Unlike the song 'Fathers and Sons' by Cat Stevens' (back when he was Cat Stevens), it is never too late to make things right, if love is on the line. And, no, you don't really have to go to make things right. Stay. instead, and follow the Beatles' advice instead: we can work it out.
Enough musical philosophy for you today?