Category Archives: Really Late Impressions

Why I Think “Frozen” Is An Overrated Film

*this entry will contain SPOILERS

I already mentioned in my previous post that I thought Frozen falls quite short in practically every aspect that Tangled did better, that is except for the songs. I maintain this idea as I’ve seen Frozen for a second time. Now, before I get lynched once more by those loudmouthed idiots over the internet who believe shouting louder makes them more correct, I’m not saying that Frozen is bad; I’m simply saying that is it an overrated film. It’s not bad by any account; it’s just not as well-made as compared to Tangled, nor does it even stand on its own next to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, or even the non-musical Wreck-It Ralph.

An Organic Unity of Story, Song, and Spectacle

The really good Disney movies have an organic unity of story, song, and spectacle. The story is simple, but not condescending. By condescending, I mean it doesn’t treat its audience like children. Beauty and the Beast is one; it may be the most fairytale of the Disney Renaissance as well as the most girly, but its simple but intelligently written storyline is appealing for the kids and not distracting for the adults. Its script respects the intelligence of the audience, unlike Frozen. Remember Anna’s resurrection scene when Olaf mentioned something about “self-sacrifice being able to thaw a frozen heart?” Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Olaf! Thank you for ruining that scene which I thought was clichéd as hell, and which was bordering on being a deus ex machina. So there, we have one of Frozen’s problems; a distractingly written script which looks down on its audience. Another recent Disney film had that problem; it was The Princess and the Frog. If any children’s film is guilty of being too condescending, it would be that.

“But surely, Evil Dr. Bok,” you ask, “Surely the songs make up for the script’s shortcomings?” Uh, yes, in a pretty lazy way, and no that isn’t a good thing. Disney songs are good, but they contribute to the narrative drive of the film. Again, I would give the example of Beauty and the Beast as that film is the gold standard for Disney musicals in the 90s. Every song, and I mean every song, is absolutely necessary as it contributes some character development as well as help in the film’s narrative. The opening song number establishes Belle and her status in the village, how she feels that she doesn’t fit quite in, and it also establishes one of the key characters, Gaston. See the economy in that song number? See how it merges into the film’s narrative?  That’s the organic unity I’m talking about. What does the Olaf song have to do with the story? Fine, it’s cute, and the novelty of seeing a snowman in summer is fun, but what does it contribute to the entire narrative? Maybe I need a copy of the lyrics to fully appreciate it, but for now, it would seem that there’s no other purpose for the song other than, “Hey we have a talking snowman here. Let him sing.”

And for those particularly close listeners, see how every single song in Beauty and the Beast, while particularly catchy, feels organic? “What do you mean by that, Evil Dr. Bok?” you ask, and I reply, “There is a consistency in the musicality of the song numbers and the score.” We know it was Alan Menken who scored the film, and we also know that it was Alan Menken who composed the song’s music. That’s the consistency I’m talking about. The problem with Frozen was that there is a disjoint between the film’s score and its songs.

Speaking of musical consistency , there isn’t even a good consistency within the songs themselves. We’ve got the opening chant, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman”, “For the First Time in Forever”, that duet with the Gaston wannabe, the inevitable “Let It Go”, and the Troll and Olaf songs. If you have a copy of the OST, try to listen to them to see what I mean. Now try to listen to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Hercules, and to an extent, Tangled (except for the opening song number). Each song has a musical consistency with each other. While some songs maybe too comedic at times, it works within the film’s world itself. Some songs in Frozen are too poppy; definitely at odds with the opening chant in the film. While the chant does give an interesting sound, the succeeding pop tunes tend to diminish it, which is why when we finally hear that chant again when Elsa finally thaws Arendelle, one can’t help but feel that the motif was underdeveloped.

As for the spectacle, well, I guess I can’t complain much about Frozen’s look; the ice motifs are definitely fun to look at (the “Let it Go” sequence, I’ll admit, had me forming goosebumps. And if there’s something that Disney has perfected, it’s coming up with the appropriate “MTV” for its musical numbers (I don’t mean that as a derogatory remark, by the way). Which leads me to one minor (more of nitpicking) complaint…

Where’s the villain?

Beauty and the Beast had Gaston; Tangled, despite having way too many antagonists, both real and pseudo, had Mother Gothel; Sleeping Beauty had Malificent; Wreck-It Ralph had King Candy; and The Lion King had Scar. What did Frozen have? A snivelly old man from Weasel Town, and a Gaston wannabe who’s character reversal is not well established because we were paying too much attention to the songs. Yes, this film meant to examine the sisterhood relationship of Anna and Elsa, and I appreciate that, but I have to admit I missed seeing an actual villain in this film. Tangled, surprisingly, had one very interesting villain. Gothel wasn’t as established as Scar or Gaston, but she makes up for it for her slyness and sheer manipulation. She managed to keep that flower hidden for god knows how many years. She was able to sneak into the castle to kidnap Rapunzel as an old lady, AS AN OLD LADY! She climbed up the terrace AS AN OLD LADY! My goodness I just realized how cool that is! That and she managed to manipulate Rapunzel into singing to for the next 18 years, she manipulated the Stabbington Brothers into working for her, and she stabbed Eugene Fitzherbert at the back! And she was supposed to be one of the “weaker” villains in Disney lore! What did Frozen have? Not much.

Final Words

The really good Disney films have stand out musical numbers, and to that aspect, I will again say that Frozen’s musical numbers really stand out. They are hummable, catchy, and indeed well composed. That, however, is its “downfall”. I thought that Frozen’s musical numbers are distracting in the sense that it distracts you from the problematic script, and the (I hate using the word) cliché storyline. In the end, one remembers the songs, not the story. Is this a good thing? Not exactly. Always remember that  film is still primarily a narrative driven medium, and regardless of how good the songs and eye candy is, the story, songs, and spectacle must be unified.  In this aspect, Tangled beats Frozen in practically every other department except for the songs.

Prisoners: Really Late Impressions

Prisoners2013Poster

Yes, I understand that Prisoners was released last September, but that’s why this is categorized under the “Really Late Impressions” tag. And my goodness, how I wish I saw this on theaters.

I will be brief for this one as I’m still reeling from what is quite possibly the best movie of 2013. Everything about this film, at least what I can remember, is well done. Some might argue that the film moves too slowly, and that some of the events seem a bit arbitrary, but I would have to say that the pace was deliberate as moving this film on a typical Hollywood pace would exhaust the audiences. I would compare the exhaustion to that of Inception, particularly the scene where the van falls from the bridge; yes, this film is indeed exhausting, nail-bitingly tense, and cathartic by its end.

Acting wise, Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal do what is expected of them, and it is fantastic. Plot wise, this is one well-plotted thriller. There may be some scenes which seem contrived, but if they are, it just shows how well the direction goes. Cinematography wise, it looks magnificent; unsurprising for a film photographed by Roger Deakins.

All in all, I would really have to say that Prisoners is a damn good film, and if you still haven’t seen it, grab it on DVD or Blu-ray; it’s that good.

Additionally, the comparison with Inception is no accident; this film contains an Inception-y ending.

Hitting Two Birds with One Post (mostly Catching Fire and an underrated James Bond film)

First of all, I have finally seen Catching Fire on IMAX with my girlfriend a few days ago. For now all I have to say that it was pretty good. It is certainly an improvement over The Hunger Games, but overall, it’s at best just another YA film adaptation. It doesn’t break new ground, nor does it offer something life changing. At its best, it’s a pretty entertaining film, though a bit overlong at times.

Additionally, the Arena sequence was shot in IMAX so you can really see the screen filled up. I have reservations about this as the image quality isn’t that all impressive. At most, the IMAX resolution seemed to highlight the obviousness of the CGI so, yeah, it wasn’t all that impressive. I’m guessing the benchmark would still be Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (at least for the Burj Khalifa scene) for IMAX feature presentations. Still, check it out; it’s definitely sorth the Php401.

Secondly, I’ve been going on a James Bond marathon of sorts. So far I’ve seen Dr. NoFrom Russia with LoveGoldfinger, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (I’m planning to skip all but one Roger Moore flick). For films made in the Sixties, I definitely expected to see how certain aspects of the filmmaking have aged, especially the first three Sean Connery Bond flicks. However, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS) was one which surprised me: while I admit that this film seemed to have aged, it didn’t age as much as compared to the first three ones.

Now, I don’t want to delve too much, but I really think that OHMSS is one of the best Bond films ever made next to Skyfall and Goldfinger. The character development is top-notch (though not necessarily George Lazenby‘s acting), and the action sequences are actually quite modern. There is a reason why Christopher Nolan did an homage to it in Inception; the ski-chase is indeed a well-photographed sequence, and despite certain aspects of it being aged, still hold up till now.

Brave: Really Late Impressions

Brave_Poster

*Disclaimer: I know some of my students read this blog so for now, I would like to warn you ahead of time that this post might include extremely harsh language.

Brave just wasn’t good. It just wasn’t. While it may have some interesting moments, they are too few and far apart. The pacing of the film felt tedious, and the tone was too inconsistent. I know Pixar films had the tendency to  mix drama with comedy but the earlier films did that in order to cancel out the extremely dark and existential themes the earlier films had (specifically Up, and Toy Story 3).

But the moment when I completely stopped giving a toss about what was happening in the film was the moment when the filmmakers EXPLICITLY mentioned that the situation could be resolved by BREAKING TRADITION. WHAT. THE. F*CK?! Here we have a “Girl Power” piece of propaganda material in the guise of a children’s film. My goodness, what is wrong with you guys? I’ll admit that my personal views on gender roles is conservative at best. However, this “breaking tradition” crap with Brave just managed to push way too many angry buttons in my system for a couple of reasons.

Film is a VISUAL MEDIUM. You tell the story with a strong narrative and visual elements. This form of storytelling is not only sloppy or lazy, it’s PREACHY, and being preachy definitely a big no-no in art as the elements are supposed to bring the theme to life (which is why, despite the film going against my viewpoints, Brokeback Mountain and Shame are two well-made films). Being preachy is insulting NOT because you are imposing your morals upon me, but because you are insulting my intelligence.

Additionally, if you guys will be making a “breaking tradition”/”girl power” kind of story, you should have chosen a more fitting character than Merida. If anything, Merida is the WORST person imaginable to be the poster girl of a “girl power” propaganda piece because Merida is one of the most bratty, the most entitled  b*tch I’ve even encountered in animation. There is nothing lovable about her. Fine, maybe the story was meant highlight that aspect of her, and it would’ve been a good move. Unfortunately, she had no growth of character. It wasn’t seen. Fine, it was mentioned EXPLICITLY in the portion when she was crying as she thought her mother would be a bear forever, but the growth wasn’t felt. It wasn’t like in Toy StoryUp, Wreck-It Ralph, or even Cars (supposedly Pixar‘s worst output). Woody and his gang grows up with every succeeding film. Wreck-It Ralph came to terms with his role as a bad guy. Lightning McQueen changed from the self-loving dick he was into a more selfless race car who gained the respect of the world when he helped the crashed race car finish the race (at the expense of coming in 3rd place). These characters grew up. We saw what they did on screen. They didn’t announce it out loud for the whole audience; they just did it. What did Merida do? Nothing. A few tears were shed, and a convenient ending narration summed it all up. That’s it.

The “breaking tradition” monologue actually did more harm for the film as it effectively deflated one of the most powerful characters in the movie; Queen Elinor. Yes, she’s a queen. Yes, she’s the one holding Merida back. Yes, she might seem stuck-up. But yes, she is one “strong woman character” I respected at least until the “breaking tradition” sequence. Remember the sequence when there was pandemonium in the castle, when the four clans were fighting each other? What did Elinor do? She stood up, walked towards her husband, and nobody, I mean NOBODY, laid a finger on her. The Scotsmen parted as she approached, and as she neared King Fergus, the fighting stopped (though one may argue that the males in the film were depicted more like buffoons, it’s one subject I’ll not touch for now). That is true power. She is a woman in authority. She understood the implications of Merida not marrying the firstborns of the other clans (again this was one portion not effectively highlighted due to sloppy story-telling). She herself had reservations when she married Fergus but what happened to her, she was a queen, an untouchable queen, and the Scotsmen would follow her every command. That is real power, not Merida saying, “I want to be in control of my destiny!” It takes a strong will to acknowledge one’s littleness in the universe, and that, at least before the “breaking tradition” scene, makes Elinor a respectable woman. And the fact that she goes back on her stance thanks to Merida taking control of her own destiny makes Merida’s character one of the most appalling characters in animated history, even more appalling than Malificent, Lotso, and Scar (the most bad-ass Disney villain ever).

Brave is not a disappointment; it’s a really bad movie. And I’m sorry, Pixar, but no amount of new technology can ever mask sloppy story-telling, tone inconsistencies, and an appalling protagonist.

War Horse: Really Late Impressions

I’ve finally seen War Horse, and believe me when I say that I agree with James Berardinelli when he said that this is one of those “lesser Spielberg” films to have come out in recent years.

This film suffers from a problematic plot structure… when you look at it from the human perspective. Nope, this is a film about Joey, the titular War Horse, and his journey from the Great War back home. This is what the film is all about.

This has some of the prettiest images I’ve ever seen recently; the cinematography has a very naturalistic feel to it. I loved the use of colors in this film.

The World War I action sequences is one factor that made this film a decent one. The initial cavalry charge was cool (even better when you discover that it hardly has any visual effects). The scene of the trench warfare is one of the best war sequences in a Spielberg film since the Omaha beach landing in Saving Private Ryan. Granted, this is a P.G.-13 film, but it still pack quite the punch. Finally, Joey’s charge to No Man’s Land is nothing short of outstanding.

But for me, the single most affecting scene of the film involves a British and a German soldier freeing Joey from the barb wire. This scene, I believe, encapsulates the film’s strong anti-war point. What makes this scene even more tragic is the audience, knowing full well that despite the hopes of a peaceful future, the world will be brought to war once more in a few years time.

For what it’s worth, War Horse has got its truly moments. The World War I scenes were good, the visuals are definitely pretty, and John Williams’ score is… well, it’s John Williams, what do you expect? But alas, film is composed of individual elements put together to create a good whole, not the other way around. The episodic plot is the biggest detriment to this otherwise affecting film.

If anything, allow me to say that the only reason this film stood together despite its faults is the craftsmanship of one of cinemas greatest living filmmakers out there, Steven Spielberg. This is the type of film that this guy could probably make blindfolded (Movie Bob, 2011). This is indeed a finely shot and directed film, the story and the plot was just all over the place. “Lesser Spielberg” film indeed.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Insidious: Really Late Impressions

For those expecting a review of Captain America, you won’t get it until a few days later as I’ve yet to see the film. That’s why, for now, I’ve decided to review a film which I should have seen in the theaters back in April. That movie is Insidious. Yes, I am 3 months delayed in my review. But like I always say, better late than never, though it would be way better if I could fix this habit of mine.

Alright, Insidious.  As usual, this review will be divided into The Good and The Bad.

The Good

My friends told me that this movie is one of the scariest films to have been released in recent history. I agree. The last films to genuinely scare the crap out of me were REC, and The Crazies. Both employed different techniques in achieving their scares. REC had the intensity and brutality of the cinema verite style to scare the audience, while The Crazies used some good-old fashion characterization: despite their relatively simple characterization, you’d feel empathy for the protagonist and his wife. You connect with them, and you’ll feel scared for them when they are subjected to the horror happening on the screen. Oh, and both films were gory too (though not to the extent of Eli Roth’s absolutely dreadful Hostel).

The film relied on tension: tension through the desaturated color scheme, off-framed composition and camera angles, the play of shadows and light, parlor tricks (similar to Poltergeist), glimpses of the ghosts (though this was one was pretty problematic in the latter half), and surreal imagery which evokes images from a David Lynch film. The film has no gore, but it has some creepy ghost make-up effects. As for the human element, we have a family whose father figure seems to be slowly drifting away from the family, a wife left alone in the house filled with not so friendly ghosts, and kids subjected to supernatural threats: particularly a baby girl being harassed by a malevolent spirit, and a boy who slips into a “coma” and is attracting spirits around him.

It is so refreshing to see a film nowadays relying on some of the oldest tricks in horror filmmaking and not to resort to shlock and splatter. It is more surprising to know that the filmmakers responsible for this are director James Wan, writer Leigh Whannell, and (not so surprisingly) producer Oren Peli (director of the recent Paranormal Activity). Wan and Whannell are known for their Saw franchise, but Peli’s influence can also be seen throughout the film. It’s the film’s subtle horror touches that stand out: doors opening by themselves (oldest trick in the book, but a great trick nonetheless), a rocking horse, and shadows. In the hands of a mediocre director, these touches would not have been as effective.

To see Wan and Whannell a practically goreless film and still scare the audience shitless shows us that these guys are actually good filmmakers. Wan’s framing of the picture is quite discomforting due to the breathing space created, thus highlighting the background. The character may be in focus, but because of the extra space, one expects something to appear in the background: the audience sees it, but the character does not. And that’s just in daytime. Once it goes dark, it’s unbearable: every shadow becomes a potential ghost just waiting to jump at you.

Acting wise, Patrick Wilson and Rose Bynre do a good job playing the couple. You’d feel sorry for Rose Byrne left all alone in a haunted house. The same goes with Patrick Wilson when he finally breaks down due to his helplessness in the situation. Horror veteran Lin Shaye, who horror fans would recognize as the literature teacher in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, does what her role demands of her: play the psychic.

You’ll realize that I’m not making any mention of the script. That’s because this film’s script is part of…

The Bad (spoilers…nah, you’ve probably seen the movie already…if not, you’ve been warned)

The material is quite weak, but not to the extent of calling it mediocre. It is weak in the sense that it was dangerously treading on a ludicrous subject matter (astral projection), the expository dialogue by the psychic ruined the mystery surrounding the film, and it had an unnecessary twist ending.

When it comes to horror, I usually prefer the Lovecraftian fear of the unknown. We fear things we do not understand. The same goes with the film in the first hour: we have no idea why the family is being harassed by ghosts. We have no idea what the kid saw in the attic. We do not know the cause of some apparent poltergeist activity in the house. Because we do not know why these are happening, we are scared of it. But then the psychic had to do some expository speech on astral projection, the “Further”, and how this attracts ghosts to the family. Wow, thanks a lot for conveniently explaining the mystery and demystifying it, lessening the impact of the scares. I noticed that their impact after the exposition lessened, and that the director had to resort to cheap scares and surrealist imagery, which admittedly was interesting, but it felt like it belonged to another movie, namely the films of David Lynch.

Things become more problematic in the 3rd Act, when Patrick Wilson’s character projects himself and tries to retrieve his son from “the Further”. Here we see the ghosts (in shadow, thank goodness), and the demon harassing the son (who looks a lot like Darth Maul…wait, what?!). That part almost ruined the film for me. In the first two-thirds, we see glimpses, I repeat, GLIMPSES of the demon through his silhouette, bloody hand marks, and half his face (thank goodness that part was just a second long). But the third act had to show the demon in its entirety. Take note that while it wasn’t shown in full lighting, the fact is that you’re seeing a guy wearing some goat leg prosthetics and make-up which reminds us too much of Darth Maul. It just ruins the illusion, and risks replacing the horror with comedy.

Finally, oh my goodness, that unnecessary twist at the end. For once, I would like to watch a contemporary horror film which has a relatively happy ending. Believe it or not, there is a way to still make a pretty heavy ending while still making it a “happy” one. Take The Shining for example; sure Jack Nicholson and the black guy dies, but at least the mother and the kid escapes from the hotel. The complication is resolved, but the ending is still quite heavy.

Instead, Insidious had to end with Patrick Wilson being possessed by a former ghost who harassed him as a kid, with the implication that he will end up killing everyone in the house at the end. For goodness sakes: I spent an hour and forty minutes hoping for this family’s problems to be resolved, only for the film to end where everybody dies in the end?! What kind of douchebaggery is this? *sigh* I know the world is going to shit nearer and nearer each day, but that all more shows the importance of things such as movies, most especially horror film. Sure, people in horror films confront forces beyond the material world. But wouldn’t it be uplifting, and inspiring, to know that despite the otherworldy attacks, us worldly beings are able to resist that threat, that despite knowing the existence of dragons, we also know that we could defeat them?

The Verdict

The film’s direction was a dual-edged sword. On one hand, we have a terrifying first half due to the tension it had established. On the other hand, the latter half just disposes of the build-up created by the first half and opted for a more standard climax. Mind you, the directing is solid, and for Wan to be able to dance around the problematic script and still make a pretty scary third act (albeit user weaker scare tactics) shows us his skill as a director. However, like I said time and time again, good direction can only do so much; the film’s mediocre script is what ultimately prevents this film from being a contemporary horror classic. This is a flawed horror film, but an interesting experiment in tension-building. If you are willing to forgive the third act’s lack of genuine scares, and that unnecessary twist ending, this film is definitely for you. Horror buffs would definitely enjoy this one.

Buy on original if possible. If not, a decent torrent copy would suffice (come on, the film made money!).

3.5 stars out of 5.

Can’t wait to watch Captain America! :)

The Rite: Really Late Impressions

Okay, this film is more than 5 months delayed. However, considering that this film has already been released on DVD, here’s to hoping that this review would convince you guys to get it on DVD or Blu-ray.

My impressions on the film? I believe that this is possibly one of the best exorcism films since 1973′s The Exorcist.

The Good and the Bad (combined)

Just to be fast: the film’s scares are more of a cerebral type of horror rather the typical gore-nography used in most horror films these days. Things are more implied than presented (except for the actual exorcism sequence). The film’s look is dark. The cinematography evokes a feeling of helplessness and isolation on part of the protagonist. Combined with the demon‘s presence through sound, the effect is certainly unsettling.

As for the “weak” parts, most have already mentioned that this film adds nothing new to the library of exorcism movies that have already been released. Simply put, the film is supposedly “cliched” and “generic”. Additionally, the third act descended into a  “typical” confrontation between a priest and a demon. Again, “predictable”. If, however, one takes into account the personal journey of the protagonist, one could say that the film’s climax is the most logical path for the plot. Primarily, the film is a spiritual journey on part of the protagonist: he experiences a crisis of faith, and finds his faith once more through an exorcism ritual.

The Verdict

This is definitely one of the scariest films of 2011, if you take into account the reality of demonic possession, as well as if you truly understand the nature of the Enemy. I believe that the film was able to effectively drive the point without being to heavy-handed about it. However, if you do not believe that at all, then you’re in for a *blech* generic, cliched exorcism film (*coughs*bullshit*cough).

4 stars out of 5.

Support the entertainment industry! Buy on original! :P