Tag Archives: Idina Menzel

Uncut Gems

Two minutes into this movie, I was over it. Ten minutes later, I was completely done. I kept watching. I pushed through the pain, and it WAS painful. It was just a bunch of angry men shouting at, and over, each other. Scene after scene just yelly chaos, and it wasn’t really an energy I was expecting or felt I could handle. But I kept watching because I realized this was exactly what directors Benny and Josh Safdie wanted me to feel.

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a New York City jeweler – not at Tiffany’s or Harry Winston’s, but in one of those shady-looking mess of stores in the diamond district where the real shit goes down. He’s got Furby pendants in his case and watches of questionable origin in his safe. It’s the kind of place you have to know about, or be lured to, and get buzzed in, which contributes to the seediness rather than a sense of security. Anyway, Howard is a wheeler and dealer always looking to get rich quick, and he needs to get rich because he’s got a girlfriend stashed in an apartment, hidden from his wife and kids, so he’s supporting at least two households that we know about. But his big score just came in: a black opal that’s going to net him a cool million. Except Howard’s not the kind of guy who does well with cash in hand, or even with just the possibility of it. He’s going to parlay that potential (but as yet unrealized) money into yet another high-stakes bet. Yup, Howard is a gambler, big time, and he owes money all over town. Because of course he does. The walls are closing in, the tough guys are getting antsier, and he’s pretty much out of moves.

So yeah. Howard’s life is pure and constant chaos, and the damn Safdie brothers are determined to make us viscerally aware of it. His frantic juggling act makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Adam Sandler is very good as a slimy man living on the brink. Rationally, we know that he’s on the brink of ruin, but addict that he is, inside the Vegas-like interior of his brain, with constant lights and sounds fooling him into believing him the next hit is sure to be the big one, he can’t stop. He just KNOWS that he’s due. And it’s actually very sad to watch someone hustle so hard, so deeply in denial, so dangerously mired in so very many bad situations. And Sean wants me to tell you that Kevin Garnett is also quite good…as Kevin Garnett. The he tried to show me some dated basketball clips so I pretended I needed to go for a very long pee. I think he got the hint.

Anyway, Uncut Gems is rough viewing and the only quiet moments are when we’re literally up his poop hole – and yes, that’s problematic in itself and definitely a weird kind of reprieve. It’s polarizing at best. Challenging for sure. Anxiety-triggering. A masterfully manipulated roller coaster that ends, I suppose, the only way it really could.

Frozen II

Reviews for Frozen 2 were a bit mixed and I confess I didn’t exactly love the first one (was I the only one on the entire planet not to?). I didn’t hate it, but it was just okay for me. I didn’t even love the song. On our recent trip to Disney World, we met pretty much the whole Frozen crew but needed to attend a sing-along (where people definitely, enthusiastically sang along) to even remember some pretty big plot points from the movie, which came out in 2013 (for example, not one of us remembered trolls). Still, we dutifully brought back an Elsa dress for our 3 year old niece, who has caught Elsa fever (not the kind that produces snow boogies) like pretty much every little girl under 10 has at one time or another.

So of course we went to the see the film. The trailers looked…well, astonishing, frankly, real marvels of computer animation, if a little light on story. We tempered our expectations and emptied our bladders (it’s not really that long, just long for kids – nearly 2 hours with previews) and took our seats in a theatre packed with kids.

And you know what? I can’t speak for the kids, but I freaking loved it. Yes, the animation is, well, staggering. There was more than one moment when I had to convince my eyes that they were looking at cartoons, not real life. The cinematography is top-tier; the light design is dazzling. But, okay, throw all that aside: what about the story? You may have heard that it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessor, that it lacks drama because it doesn’t have a distinct villain. That the songs are a bit on the forgettable side. I think that’s all a bunch of hogwash.

Frozen II is more interesting, more complex, and more satisfying than the first one, perhaps because its themes are more mature, perhaps because instead of battling a bad guy, it turns inward, introspective. An enchanted forest is calling to Elsa, and though everyone fears what will happen if she opens Pandora’s box, she opens it anyway, exuberantly, after obsessing over it. Though she and Anna vow to go forth together, as a team, they inevitably part ways and both will be tested.

I laughed. I cried. I was surprised on several occasions by its bold and curious choices. There’s a musical number performed by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) that inserts what I can only describe as a 1980s-style power ballad into the proceedings for no apparent reason. The number is done as if it’s an early MTV music video, all hokey and cheesy and wonderful because of it – clearly not aimed at children who will never know that the M in MTV once stood for music.

I felt that the first film espoused a fake kind of feminism – people applauded it while apparently failing to note that lots of male characters were still propping up the sisters. But in this film they simply do, and they do well, all by themselves, without anyone needing to point it out. You can tell the ladies are genuinely getting down to business because Elsa’s beautiful dress, already being marketed to little girls in stores, comes with slacks, making it easier for her to kick butt. Elsa seemed moody and bratty in the first, but here she’s a woman full of confidence, full of competence. And Anna knows her worth, magical powers or no.

Do any of the songs rival the powerhouse Let It Go? from the first film? How could they, really? Let It Go was an anomaly, one in a million. And then horribly overplayed and quite tedious. Still, several of the songs were quite good, if not quite as memorable, and performed by Broadway’s best, well, it’s nothing to sneeze at.

I don’t know what kids think of it (yet – my 5 year old nephew and 3 year old niece will see it tomorrow – and in 2 weeks, when that 3 year old niece turns 4, her aunt Jay will bring an Elsa cake to her birthday party) but I do know that I was impressed by it, entertained by it, moved by it. I said previously that the first Frozen felt more like a merchandising tool than a movie, destined to spawn straight-to-video sequels, so this is a rare occasion when I admit my mistake, and am humbled by it. Just a bit. 😉

This is my nephew Jack, who’s providing the kid perspective.

And my other nephew Ben.

It’s okay. You can tell me their reviews are better than mine. I know it. And I’m the proudest aunt.

Ben also has something to add to my Detective Pikachu review.

Enchanted

Giselle is a typical Disney princess who lives in a tree and has bird and chipmunk friends who sing with her and help her sew a wedding dress so she can marry her prince. But Disney movies always have an evil Queen – in this case, Narissa, who interrupts Giselle on her way to marry prince Edward and instead shoves her down a magical well which turns cartoon Giselle into live-action Amy Adams, and spits her out in Times Square.

Live-action Giselle is still fairly blessed – sure her tiara is stolen by a homeless man, but ultimately a gentlemanly lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey), takes her in and gives her his couch despite her being a crazy woman in a poufy-sleeved wedding dress claiming to be a princess. And her magic hasn’t deserted her completely: when she leans out Robert’s apartment window to summon some animal friends to help her tidy up, they still respond. But it’s New York City, so the respondents are rats and pigeons. Oh, and cockroaches. Which are ostensibly worse than the dust, but Giselle seems not to notice as she prances about singing her happy songs.

Giselle proves to be quite a disruption to Robert’s life – especially when it comes to his intended (Idina Menzel) and his young daughter Morgan. Luckily her prince charming is so devoted that he throws himself down the same magical well in pursuit and goes through the same cartoon-to-human transformation (James Marsden). Queen Narissa sends her bumbling sidekick Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) down after him.

The film has some wonderful casting, other than Patrick Dempsey who could have been replaced by almost anyone and don’t I wish that he was. James Marsden is wonderfully game to play a toothsome prince. Idina Menzel, Broadway star and future voice of Frozen’s Elsa, is the only lead in the film NOT to sing. But this movie belongs to Amy Adams. I don’t think anyone else could play Giselle. She’s wide-eyed and naive and full of love bubbles, but it never looks ridiculous on her.

Enchanted is, if nothing else, a love letter to all things Disney. The film and the script are bursting with references to Disney films future, past and present. Sean has never seen this movie before (and in truth seems to be sending a larger than usual amount of work emails during it), and I’m trying my best not to shout them all out as I see them:

  • Jodi Benson, voice of Ariel herself, plays Robert’s secretary
  • Narissa tires to poison Giselle with an apple, just like in Snow White
  • Giselle and Robert eat at an Italian restaurant reminiscent of Lady & the Tramp
  • The apartment elevator looks like the Tower of Terror in Disney parks
  • Giselle takes off her heels and leaves one behind, like in Cinderella
  • The old man dancers in Central Park are chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins (not to mention Julie Andrews narrates the film)
  • We often hear pieces of classic Disney theme songs
  • Narissa turns into a dragon, like in Sleeping Beauty
  • Judy Kuhn, voice of Pocahontas, appears as a neighbour answering her door

I could go on and on – director Kevin Lima assures us there are “thousands” of little Easter eggs that an astute Disney fan might notice. That’s why this movie is the perfect way to celebrate our own trip to the happiest place on Earth, Walt Disney World. My own love letter involves eating a poison apple cupcake on Main Street and visiting Ariel at her grotto and letting Sean (making Sean?) nudge a meatball over my way, and wearing my own Mary Poppins dress. We have an ambitious schedule and 10 days to fit everything in, so do play along on Twitter (@AssholeMovies) to see what we’re up to right now – 10 points if I’m standing next to a castle.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

Anna and Elsa ring the bell to mark the beginning of Arendelle’s yuletide season, their first since the gates have reopened, but then the crowds disperse, leaving the Frozen ladies to contemplate their lack of holiday traditions. Moved, their good buddy and everyone’s favourite snowman, Olaf, goes off in search of other people’s customs in order to find the right ones to adopt.

Originally Disney planned for this to be a televised episode but as production continued they felt it was too “cinematic” and deserved to be on the big screen, which is how it wound up in front of Pixar’s Coco. It’s only the second time that a MV5BMTg0MDc1ODY2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODg3MTE2MjI@._V1_CR0,60,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_.jpgnon-Pixar short is in front of a Pixar film (the first time, for Toy Story, was the Roger Rabbit short, Roller Coaster Rabbit) but like any blended family, the Disney-Pixar merger has now been solidified, and when better to spend time together than the holidays? In fact, the two do seem to be appropriate companions since they’re both about appreciating different cultures. However, audiences in Mexico were less than thrilled with the “short” (it’s 21 minutes!); impatient to get to the movie that pays homage to their country, they rebelled until theaters dumped the short altogether.

Like Frozen Fever that came before it, the ladies seem to be confronted yet again with emotional loose ends, as it were, which means this short serves as a bridge to the inevitable sequel. And Olaf is evolving too. A kid favourite, the child-like snowman with a sense of wonder has always entertained, but in this short, he’s becoming more thoughtful and self-aware. He’s not just a side-kick anymore. And at 21 minutes, this short has time for 4 new original songs; That Time of Year is a particular stand out, and I was tickled by the mental comparison between Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) knocking on villager’s doors, and Gad doing door to door with the ding-dong song Hello from Book of Mormon.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is fun in a giddy kind of way and fans of Frozen will be glad to revisit their old friends – though I do wonder if the fans aren’t sort of ageing out of the Princess phase by now. But Elsa and Anna still have a long way to go before their healing’s complete, so there are plenty more ways for Olaf to save them, and he’s always going to be enchanting as heck while he does it.

Frozen – reviewed by the last man on earth to see it.

I saw Frozen for the first time last night. Jay knew I hadn’t seen it and since all our nieces and nephews want Elsa dolls for Christmas, it seemed the time was right. I generally enjoy animated movies (or cartoons as I will probably always call them) and Wreck-It Ralph is one of my recent favourites. Since Frozen is Disney’s follow up to Wreck-It Ralph (at least chronologically) I thought Frozen might be quite enjoyable. As it turned out, there was a little bit of truth to that but not as much as I would have hoped.

The problem for me was that Frozen is basically another princess movie geared toward selling new dolls and dresses and direct-to-video sequels. And clearly it has been a massive success on that front, but it struck me as a very hollow movie. I think there were a few good choices made in its creation, mainly that Elsa did not become the bad guy (which Jay tells me was originally going to happen until they realized they were going to have a huge hit in “Let it Go”) and that the guy with the reindeer did not really end up saving our two princesses.

I shouldn’t complain too much. I don’t want to be unfairly critical or hard on Frozen. After all, it is a cartoon and a princess movie at heart and on those levels I can understand why it is beloved by all my little relatives. It’s just a big step down from Wreck-It Ralph, which really lived up to Pixar’s legacy as a movie that was designed for people my age as much as it was for kids (see Up, Toy Story, the Incredibles, etc.). It’s a high standard and a tough mark to hit but there have been some great animated movies produced in the last ten years (some not even by Pixar) and I hope most people making movies, animated or otherwise, are aiming to match or beat what has come before. Frozen had a few moments where something new and exciting seemed like it might materialize but I think it just ended up being too easy for them to stick to the tried and true princess formula instead of really making something original and memorable.

Hopefully Big Hero 6 will be a stronger continuation of Pixar’s best efforts, or at least be more exciting. That’s probably a safe bet because it seems to be about robots and superheroes so there should be very few princess cliches involved. And for whatever reason, robot and superhero cliches do not bother me at all; I will happily watch the same basic plot over and over if Batman is involved, but if you put a singing princess (or two) in the starring role and tell a generic story then I’ll call your movie unoriginal. So don’t be surprised to see my Guardians of the Galaxy review assign a final score of 21 out of ten space guns (or something equally clever) but in the meantime I am not ashamed at all to give Frozen a rating of six talking snowmen out of ten.

(Check out the comments for Jay’s rant on Frozen’s supposed feminism.)