Frozen (2013)

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Animation

Directors: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck

Writers: Hans Christian Andersen, Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris, Dean Wellins

Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad

Rating: ★★★★

Frozen wasn’t the type of film I thought I would enjoy, I am not exactly the over joyous lover of princesses or all things singing and dancing unless it’s in the form of Reservoir Dogs. I can see where the appeal is for Disney’s latest phenomenon although I might have not attained it. The story is well structured, funny and has elements for every member of the audience, whilst once again Disney creates visuals that are flawless for the eye to witness. However the aspect that saw box-office storm and audiences flood was its musical twist, which although not too great in my head, was a refreshing, clever touch.

The story surrounds two princesses, sisters Anna and Elsa, tracking them through their childhood then skipping into the future. Anna is the youngest sister, a brave believer but Elsa, the oldest, is a troubled girl with a deep dark secret. Elsa is secretly been blessed as the “snow queen” with a simple and single touch can turn anything, anyone and everything into ice or snow. However when her emotions overflow this secret is exposed and trouble arises as Elsa with her magical icy powers locks their home kingdom of Arendelle in an eternal winter. Anna takes on the epic adventure and decides to look for and bring her now runaway and magical sister back home. Anna is not alone and is teamed up on her mission with newly romanced Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven; on a mountain of a mission they encounter everything from mystic trolls to a humorous snowman named Olaf. They soon become close to finding what seems to be a crazed Elsa, but her troubled sister believes her magical ability is only turning her into a monster.

Frozen has a strong story one which is very well structured, as you would expect from Disney. It may involve princesses but really this for me is a story about a real life occurrence involving siblings; Elsa presents the wayward stereotype whilst Anna just wants her attention, respect and love, something common of the younger sibling. It is however sugar coated and covered in funny subplots, typical hidden humour and newly the intervention of singing, to somewhat hide this realistic message. The events which unfold throughout the film are all very good, each fulfilling a purpose, however most didn’t entertain me, perhaps due to me not fitting the height or age of Frozen’s target audience. The character of Olaf however for me is a highlight which shows fully some excellent writing and script work as he brings a host of witty lines which are a little more accessible, for the same reason too Sven and Kristoff provide the same humour. It doesn’t mean however that the two main characters didn’t impress me; I found it very connecting at times with myself buying into both of their sorrow.

Disney is always showing improvements and amazement in visuals with every new release and Frozen had a number of eye-catching scenes and elements. I found myself somewhat amazed at the things that Elsa was making throughout with her magical ice powers, in particular the ice staircase which eventually led to an entire ice castle. It was visually great but more so inventive and it was easy to see the fun the writers obviously had. The inclusion too of the troll was very good and the animation was simply brilliant.

The flaws I have with Frozen aren’t something the film should be criticised for but it was elements that personally irritated me. Ironically my biggest annoyance with Frozen is something it has had the highest praise for, its musical touch. I didn’t expect singing when I first viewed Frozen so when it appeared I was surprised, however its initial appearance for me was refreshing, but eventually becoming a regular occurrence it did become draining, emphasising slightly the childish feel which in some aspects ruined my experience and connection despite my enjoyment with other children’s animation. My feeling for the music is simply demonstrated by the song “Do you want to build a Snowman”, once first heard it was warming and somewhat pleasant, but after a replay or two it is anything but.

I personally out of the animated films released from last year and of course those in the running for the Oscar, preferred Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University over Disney’s Frozen, but its Oscar for best animated feature was justifiable. I enjoyed many elements, the script, characters, and visuals but ultimately the film was knocked by the musical side and inclusion. However taking my personal taste aside Frozen is a very entertaining and fun film to watch, which should and will most likely win over much of its audience. Although it wasn’t exactly my perfect film type or choice I will still respect and appreciate a brilliantly crafted piece of animation which is essentially worth-while.

 

 

Her (2014)

Genre: Comedy, Sci-fi, Romance

Director: Spike Jonze

Writer: Spike Jonze

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson

Rating:★★★★★

Her is certainly one of the most connecting films I have watched in recent years making me experience a bundle of emotions from sadness to inspiration. The story along with the script, characters and acting is a real credit to the amazing writing and visual direction by director and writer Spike Jonze who has really created something special. It’s hard to find faults in one of this year’s big Oscar films and it certainly deserves its reputation and plaudits and in some respects deserves more as Joaquin Phoenix gives a simply great performance as the lead character along with the rest of cast.

Set in a futuristic time, technology is thriving and as a civilisation we are thriving with it. We follow Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) a New Yorker and letter writer who amazes us along with everyone else with his compassion, charm and romance however to our surprise we find that he is actually a lonely man in the final stages of a harsh divorce. Spending his nights choosing between the dilemma of internet porn and video games Theodore is hooked when he sees an advertisement for a new operating system OS1 labelled “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness”. Upon installing his newly purchased OS1 he is matched up with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the voice behind his system, a programmed conscious who can evolve just like Theodore himself. Being his only and new founded company Samantha becomes more than an operating system for Theodore and the two together fall in love.

It is amazing to watch how an operating system voice with only audible presence can have a huge impact and connection to not only Theodore but us as an audience. However after falling in love and forming a relationship the obvious problems form as Samantha is only a voice but there is more than it first seems which causes harm for our main characters. Despite Samantha’s pure and high intelligence helping Theodore in his work and everyday life, he still finds conflict within himself, finding himself mostly withdrawn at times and alongside the ongoing divorce he gets pulled down. As for Samantha finding and discovering new things and feelings isn’t always good and the popularity of OS1 and relationships seem to grow and grow along with the operating system’s intelligence proving to be a disastrous thing.

Spike Jonze has written possibly one my favourite scripts of all time and one of the most diverse screenplays. The whole concept in itself is unique and this unconventional romance is somewhat refreshing and certainly pleasant. At times I was in tears due to the witty and hilarious comedy, by far one of the most entertaining scenes this year to watch is Theodore’s encounter with a lost alien whilst playing a video game. On the other hand at times there was some real emotional pain and heart-felt sadness when you could see the despair in Theodore and even the sorrow in Samantha’s voice as the story closes. It was too inspirational, showing sometimes the message of just doing what makes you happy or as Theodore’s friend Amy says “you know what, just fuck it”. It was a story that slowly grew on me than eventually took over and became amazing, the only flaws are the slightly perverted moments but those can easily be overlooked. It was also inspirational as one day I hope to be able to write a screenplay or script with such emotional impact and connection with the audience as Her achieves.

The cast give fantastic performances and for me a big surprise was how the role of Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore was overlooked by the Oscar committee as it was truly great. Instantly we felt for our protagonist, we felt his harsh and deepest emotions and when happiness approach him it approached us, and that was due to a combination of excellent writing but even better acting. Scarlet Johansson although only a voice was brilliant, I think it needs to be pointed out that it must be harder to communicate emotion with only tone available yet it was completely believable. Amy Adams too as Theodore’s friend Amy was very believable, apparently Jonze made the actors spend forced time together in a locked room to make them all form a connection. It was an idea that really worked as the dialogue and delivery was so real it felt like it wasn’t even acting.

Jonze’s direction too was great along with the cinematography, a flurry of scenery shots of New York’s skyline and coast beaches hogged the screen and it was awe-inspiring. The shots were mainly long and simple but so beautifully crafted as it created a warm glow and feeling. At times it was the simplicity which made the emotion stand out the most.  Along with Best Motion Picture, Original Screenplay and Production Design, Her achieved two nominations for its achievement in score and music something I found joy in. Not only are the scenes where a happy Theodore and Samantha sing together made up created songs pleasant to watch, but it is pleasant to listen to with such a beautifully lyrical song made. The “Moon Song” is something to listen out for within the film.

Her is hard to fault, maybe the perverted scenes were unnecessary but at times it did show us Theodore’s character and his struggle, however it is something that can’t and really shouldn’t bring down this film at all.  Jonze’s creation is a real treat to experience, leaving you somewhat sad not only due to the story but that the film ended and with it the experience and our time with Theodore and Samantha who we bond with an amazing amount. It is a film worth-while to watch and one worth the huge reputation and praise; it is Her’s ability to be outstanding in so many aspects that makes this film complete and something real special. Easily watchable, entertaining, inspiring and emotional it is a film which is firmly making its way as a modern great alongside a personal favourite.

August Osage County (2014)

Genre: Drama

Director: John Wells

Writer: Tracy Letts

Starring: Meryl Streep, Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts

Rating: ★★★½

August Osage County is a strange film, but that’s not a criticism of Tracy Letts’ creation.  A more than fair attempt to display the “dysfunctional family” stereotype that’s rarely mastered in films is achieved and is boosted by some dark humour but more importantly an amazing set of performances. August Osage County isn’t exactly the most heart-warming release, far from if I’m honest, but it has some creditable aspects that make for an enjoyable and entertaining two hours of watching.

The film surrounds the more than dysfunctional Weston family and more importantly the struggling, pain-filled women within. When Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) the pill-addicted tongue-lashing mother awakes to find her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) has up and left, she calls for the help of the family and her three daughters to return to their Oklahoma home. With all the family under one roof it only leads to a slaughter of arguments and insults as every member clashes and locks horns, revealing secrets, shameful truths and causing extreme upset.  All three daughters have relationship problems of their own and their problematic mother only seems to worsen the mess. Julia Roberts plays Barbara Weston the oldest out of the sisters, the one that stands up against her mother’s crazed antics.  It is between Violet and Barbara that the conflict mainly arises, which soon leads to sisters Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) being more than involved. As the arguments never stop, under extreme anger and tension a few secrets and events unfold which could cause the Weston family to be completely ruined at a time they need each other most.

It is a story that is attempted many times, the typical problematic family however August Osage County seems to work. Its success mainly relies on the performances and characters played by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts who retrospectively have been credited with Oscar Nominations for Best Supporting and Lead Actress. The pair together have many battles which result in the occasional laugh and speechless reaction not only from the other family members but the audience. Although the two leads provide great performances so do the rest of the supporting cast. The actors playing the neglected controlled husbands amongst the family provide good humour and keep the film entertaining at times, Benedict Cumberbatch as Little Charles alongside Ewan Mcgregor as Bill Fordham and Dermot Mulroney as Steve Huberbrecht give solid performances.  However it is fair to say at times without the performances and all-star cast August Osage County would fail.

The film although at times comedic is meant to be very serious in many aspects, dealing with very serious and sensitive topics. It wasn’t going to be a feel-good film when the story follows an alcoholic leaving a pill-addicted women starting with the lines “Life is very long”. However it captures some element of realism in how every family have their disagreements and secrets albeit in this occasion they are very extreme. Despite the strong cast and a more than intriguing story Osage County does have it criticisms, at times it was frustrating to not follow a certain perspective and look on events, with the many storylines switching and crossing on a number of occasion it does come across overwhelming. The ending too I felt was very weak, with at least an extra half hour of story to follow up on which could have been shown if previous unnecessary scenes were cut.  Nevertheless there was enough for it to be classed entertaining and worth-while.

Although maybe not a “must-see” August Osage County is certainly a good film, with highlights coming from two fantastic performances from both Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. It is a film that relies strongly on its cast although at times director John Wells’ craft was very well executed. It’s sure to entertain, earn a few laughs but most importantly it is sure to be an enjoyable viewing.

 

Luxo Jr. (1986)

Genre: Animation, Short, Family

Director: John Lasseter

Writer: John Lasseter

Rating: ★★★½

The second ever Pixar Short and now the iconic logo. Luxo Jr. is just another simple animation with no adventuress storyline or lots of characters but nevertheless it’s rather funny and quite magical. John Lasseter’s creation features a two minutes animation of a baby lamp trying to play with a ball all under the watch of his father, a bigger lamp. The way the movement is captured is brilliant and how obvious it is to see the emotions displayed by the lamps are remarkable considering they’re just everyday objects. Bearing in mind this is a 1986 production the animation  quality is outstanding.

In 1986  Luxo Jr. was the first film released by Pixar and this is now to the present day the hopping lamp that is in the logo and opening titles. No wonder it got so popular with its cute behaviour. The noises he squeaks and the body language portrayed really does make you get attached to this lamp and you find yourself smiling and laughing. This was at the beginning of Pixar but from this you could have easily predicted a mountain of success was on its way. John Lasseter writer and director deserves credit for such an inventive idea and brilliant execution, Luxo Jr. also went on to get nominated for an Oscar and eventually got released with feature film Toy Story 2 (2000). Simplistic but quite simply fantastic all once again with that magical “Pixar” feel.

Let me know what you think of Luxo Jr. and check it out here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmhZm5FRV4s