Author: hannahgrace01

Frozen (2013)

In the mythical kingdom of Arendelle, princess sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are raised in isolation due to the latter’s incontrollable icy powers. When the time comes for Elsa to take on the crown of the kingdom, her anxieties accidentally trigger a snowy magical outburst which sends her into a self-imposed isolation, and the whole of Arendelle into an eternal winter. The younger, excitable Anna vows to retrieve her sister and journeys into the mountains on a quest which sees her joined by magical snowman Olaf, and mountain man Kristoff.

With Frozen, Wreck It Ralph co-writer Jennifer Lee provides a sparkling screenplay which eschews and subverts traditional Disney focus on princes and ‘true love’, and turns its spotlight instead on to family, with the sisters’ dynamic driving the emotional forces of the film. When their parents decide to raise Anna and Elsa as relative shut ins (clearly having never watched how well that worked out for Mother Gothel in Tangled), it turns the girls into completely different people. Anna becomes a restless and jumpy romantic who longs for human interaction, whilst Elsa remains an introverted and anxious Edward Scissorhands-like figure, fearful that she may hurt others with her magical affliction. The filmmakers’ decision to make Elsa a second protagonist with flaws and vulnerabilities rather than a villain is a commendable shift in tone for Disney, and it’s certainly refreshing to see two sympathetic and strong female characters carrying the film. Elsewhere, in the grand tradition of animated films, the enchanted character, in this case Olaf, is an absolute scene stealer, one which judging by the children’s reactions in our screening, will dominate the film’s merchandising output this Christmas.

Musically, Frozen is arguably Disney’s strongest film since the 1990s. The centre piece song, “Let It Go” is Elsa’s rallying cry of liberation and the one you will rightfully hear Oscar buzz about, thanks in part to Idina Menzel’s blistering delivery. Equally beautiful is Anna’s “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?” showcasing the character’s desperate desire for sisterly bonding. Husband and wife Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez ought to be strongly commended for providing Disney with several memorable new songs for the sing-a-long canon. The strength of the music is equally matched by the stunning animation which sweeps from great wintery landscapes of snowy fjords and the magical creation of a beautiful ice castle, to the quietly nuanced emotion of the sisters.

Ultimately Frozen is a glittering triumph, and a wonderfully strong step for Disney to prove they don’t necessarily always need to rely on Pixar’s help to provide tales of equally heartbreaking and amusing magnitude.

Prisoners (2013)

On a gluttonous thanksgiving afternoon, the Dover and Birch families find their worst nightmares fully realised when their youngest children Anna and Joy go missing from their quiet residential street. The children’s older siblings recall the two girls playing on a parked RV, and a man hunt begins for its owner Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Called in to lead the abduction investigation is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), a quietly angry man who the families are assured has solved every case he’s ever been assigned to. The investigation comes to a standstill however when Alex is released due to lack of evidence, and Dover patriarch Keller (Hugh Jackman) takes it upon himself to torture the young man for answers.

Keller is a man whose motto is “Pray for the best, prepare for the worst.” He spends the film’s opening training his son to hunt, and professing to a musical taste that consists solely of Bruce Springsteen and the Star Spangled Banner. His Americana bravado cliché is saved, only just, by a bruising performance from Hugh Jackman, who manages to perfectly portray a man conflicted by his unfettered emotion and his alpha male duties to protect and provide. Jake Gyllenhaal too convinces as a man whose emotional balance is unequivocally tied to the finding of these two young girls. Unfortunately, they’re the only two actors given any space to excel, a shame given the film’s enviable cast list. The film devotes precious little time to Terrance Howard and Viola Davis as Franklin and Nancy Birch, a couple who find themselves unwitting co-conspirators in Keller’s controversial problem solving. But no one is more underserved than Maria Bello as Keller’s wife, a woman who after the initial trauma is all but written out of the scenario.

The film also struggles with what direction it wants to take. We get the bizarre, biblical leanings of a psychological thriller like Seven, a reach for the narrative complexity of Zodiac, the bureaucratic  angst of a standard police procedural flick, and a subplot that strives to ask its audience about their moral barometer. As such Prisoners meanders from one theme to another, often neglecting any sense of focus and pace. The film’s 153 minute running is bizarre and unnecessary as the middle section is begging for a trim and tighten. Detective Loki is presented as man of extraordinary skill, and yet the film’s length means that often the audience is a couple of steps ahead before he comes to any realisations.

Despite this, the film effectively presents a brooding and stark atmosphere, thanks mainly to Roger Deakins’ ever reliable cinematography and Johan Johannsson’s creeping score. There’s also enough mystery presented in Prisoners’ first act to propel your curiosity throughout the film, setting the tone for a narrative of interconnected twists and turns. Whilst not quite the lofty stellar thriller its advertising campaign may want you to believe, Prisoners is a solid drama that’s worth a watch.

The Way Way Back (2013)

We open our journey with the shy and quiet teenager Duncan (Liam James) as he’s being ferried off reluctantly to a “family” holiday with loyal mum Pam (Toni Collette) and her uber-tanned and emotionally intimidating boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Along the way Trent poses our 14 year old protagonist with a question; on a scale of 1- 10, what are you? It’s a hideous, squirmingly awkward exchange that comes to a particularly harsh taste at the end, one which sets the tone for Trent and Duncan’s relationship over the course of the film. After bullying the young man into resolutely confessing to believing himself to be a ‘6,’ Trent opines, or rather more convinces, Duncan is in actual fact a ‘3.’

Not surprisingly, Duncan is less than thrilled to be stuck in Trent’s beach house for the summer. Not helping boost enthusiasm is Trent’s collection of boozy friends, spearheaded by Allison Janney’s deliciously scene-stealing Betty, a woman with no sense of tact and certainly no filter. Unfortunately Duncan’s mum is seduced by atmosphere, the “spring break for adults,” and Duncan is frequently neglected. Fear not though before you think this is a maudlin affair! Whilst it may carry tinges of melancholy, for the most part The Way Way Back is a sweet, hilarious film thanks to Duncan’s daily escapes to nearby water park, Water Wizz. Taken under the wing of Sam Rockwell’s rebellious park attendant Owen, Duncan manages to find himself a little piece of salvation in the holiday from hell.

Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, known for their Academy award winning screenplay for The Descendants, the pair manage to recapture that film’s sense of bonding in adversity, this time in Duncan’s surrogate family at Water Wizz. The latter also makes a ludicrously entertaining cameo as Owen’s colleague Lewis, hilarious in a way that will be of no surprise to fans of his work in NBC’s Community. Like The Descendants also, The Way Way Back provides a wonderfully delicate balance between heartbreakingly honest portrayals of familial dynamics, and outright humour.

There’s a nostalgic tinge to the film too, reminiscent of the best coming of age films of the 80s and 90s, a mood bolstered by that most John Hughes-y of tools, the alienated youth. Of course it wouldn’t be an ‘independent’ film without a good slice of contrived quirk. Duncan’s choice of transport is a pink girly bike complete with tassles. My goodness – how kooky! Another minor quibble is that with such an extensively A  list cast, not everyone gets their fair share of screen time. Maya Rudolph is brilliant as Owen’s exasperated co-worker and love interest Caitlyn but the full scope of her comedic talents is never really utilised.

All in all though, The Way Way Back is a charming and sweet film that successfully has you rooting for its motley crew of colourful characters, thanks to a sparkling script and assured direction by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, as well as a plethora of stellar actors.

2 Guns (2013)

In the harsh and dusty backdrop of the American/Mexican border, supposed criminals Bobby (Denzel Washington) and Stig (Mark Wahlberg) find themselves in hot water when the small town bank job they pull off implicates them in a larger web of drug money, corruption and duplicity. Add to this each other’s secret identities as a DEA agent and Naval Intelligence officer respectively and you get a whole smorgasbord of standard action movie plot incentive. That not enough convolution for your buck? There’s also conspiracy theories a plenty that go all the way to the top.

2 Guns, as you may have guessed, is not a subtle film. Nor is it a particularly original film. What it is however, is a ridiculously over-the-top popcorn flick that delivers exactly the kind of entertainment the trailer promises you. You want noise? Done. You want explosions? Done and done. You want Denzel Washington wearing grills? Well tough shit, here he is. Not to mention a fabulously pantomime performance by James Marsden as Stig’s shady boss. We also have the token action movie tempress in the form of Paula Patton’s Deb Rees, Bobby’s colleague and occasional bed buddy. Mrs Robin Thicke’s character certainly is beautiful, but two-dimensional? Not so much.

But in all honesty, for all its clichés, its standard action movie sexism, its frequently violent ostenticity, 2 Guns is an enjoyable entry to the buddy cop action genre, largely thanks to its effortless chemistry between its two leads. Washington and Wahlberg’s rapid fire rapport is genuinely charming to watch, and every bit as satisfying as the film’s louder set pieces. The standard action trope of yin and yang partners may be done to death but it does provide 2 Guns with a welcomed lean toward comedy, along with some wonderful non-sequitur discussions of flirting and breakfast etiquette.

Put it this way, 2 Guns is exactly the kind of film Hot Fuzz’s Danny Butterworth would be all over. It’s the same sort of gloriously silly slice of machismo that could sit next Bad Boys II, even if that doesn’t sound like a compliment (put it this way, 2 Guns asks for so much less of your time than its Michael Bay directed cousin). It’s the kind of film where people legitimately say “playtime’s over.” Quippy, fun and slickly presented, 2 Guns is an unapologetic, bromantic, action affair which just enough knowing humour to propel it through its clichés.

Only God Forgives (2013)

When his older brother and partner-in-crime is murdered in a bloody act of vengeance, Bangkok-based drug smuggler Julian (Ryan Gosling) is entrusted with the task of killing those responsible by his foul-mouthed and venomous mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas). What follows is a neon drenched, slow moving Freudian nightmare of Lynchian coherence that poses more questions than it answers.

After the surprise mainstream success of 2011’s Drive, director Nicholas Winding Refn reteams with Gosling in this Thai western, and admittedly it is admirable of the two to deviate so wildly from their previous collaboration. Gone are the dreamy soundtrack, the longing looks, the romanticised quest. Only God Forgives’ Julian is, like most of the film itself, an intimidatingly unreadable creature of little to no words whose motivations, dreams and hopes are all up for the guessing. Vithaya Pansringarm’s corrupt police lieutenant Chang casts an equally prominent yet baffling shadow over the narrative. With a fondness for swords and singing, Chang, like Julian, is given no real past, with both warring antagonists being presented more as sketches of ideologies than actual characters.

Nicely offsetting this is Kristin Scott Thomas’ poisonous mother figure Crystal, the perma-tanned, sharp-tongued Lady Macbeth. One of the most enjoyable (although perhaps that’s the wrong word) scenes of Only God Forgives is when Refn simply allows Crystal to drink and chain smoke her way through one of the most awkward meet-the-parents dinners captured on screen. Scenes like this, and Crystal’s sheer aura of awfulness elevates the film out of many a dull moment.

Despite Scott Thomas’s best efforts however, Only God Forgives simply never gets you to invest enough to care about what happens. Sure the film is basically about a bunch of villains all out to off each other, but on top of this, the bizarrely stilted direction, emphasis on visuals and overly stationary compositions leaves the whole film feeling like an assembly of video game cut scenes. The dialogue is clipped, whenever there actually is any, and each character has a grand total of around 3 facial expressions. But damned if they aren’t beautifully lit!

Which is a shame, because the atmosphere is all there. Throbbing like a hangover, Larry Smith’s cinematography is both inviting yet seedy, classy yet crass. The colour palette of the whole film is simply and undeniably stunning. Add to this Cliff Martinez’s almost tangible score which displays more dimensions than the characters on screen. The combination of the two is immersive and claustrophobic, but unfortunately feels squandered on a narrative that refuses to match its excellence.

Only God Forgives is a heavy handed string of motifs and themes which never really takes you anywhere new in its brief but beautifully presented 90 minutes. That being said, it wholeheartedly offers itself up on a plate for discussion, which is a certainly a commendable feat.

The Conjuring (2013)

When the Perron family, led by mother and father Carolyn and Roger (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) move their clan of five daughters into the dream house they bought at auction, they find they may have inherited a little more than they bargained for. One by one, each member of the family members starts to notice something awry. Young daughter Cindy’s sleepwalking episodes have returned. Mother Carolyn keeps waking up covered in bruises. The family dog won’t enter the premises of the house and birds continually fly themselves into the windows as if to deliberately break their necks. When the supernatural occurrences become increasingly intrusive and violent, the family seeks the help of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga).

The Conjuring is the second horror collaboration between Wilson and director James Wan after 2011’s Insidious, a film which whilst immediately psychologically affecting and eerie, unfortunately squandered its last act with too much explanation and a complete deflation of tension. With The Conjuring we get a slightly more consistent film, in both narrative and tone. But beware; The Conjuring is a sloooooow burner clocking in at just under two hours. Anyone looking for immediate horror gratification may well be disappointed at the film’s unhurried pacing. Motifs are established and repeated several times before anything terrifying really happens.

But when the jumps come, they sure are effective. The Conjuring is a journey of peaks and dips. Just when you settle into some notion of calm, the film throws another old school scare at you, reminiscent of horror classics like The Exorcist and even Poltergeist. Wan and co’s stylistic nods to horrors of the 1970s are brilliantly effective, not only given the film’s narrative context but also in its tonal similarities to such films. Wan prevents the film from looking over familiar however with some wonderfully choreographed camera work which lends a fresh presentational take on the haunted house story.

The performances all are round are solid, with Vera Farmiga’s Dana Scully-esque calm being particularly enjoyable to watch. 14 year old Joey King also excels as one of the Perron daughters. Horror films can live or die on the effectiveness of its child actors, but King confidently and assuredly sells an especially important scene. The film’s score from Insidious collaborator Joseph Bishara is also noteworthy.

Unfortunately like Insidious, the film stumbles into fairly predictable territory in the finale. It also leaves a few unanswered questions. Throughout the narrative, breadcrumbs of intrigue are teased out only to be left as loose ends that one can only presume will be addressed in the inevitable sequel. All in all, The Conjuring is a fairly short-term scare, favouring jumps over longer-lasting psychological frights, but with assured direction and 1970s style flare, the film is a competent genre picture.

This Is The End (2013)

In Superbad and Pineapple Express, our protagonists’ recreational activities are stalled by a series of episodes of over dramatic and increasingly ludicrous events. With This Is The End, writing and directing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg take their previously established blueprint and push it even further and into the stratosphere, as a party at James Franco’s house becomes the unlikely host for the end of days. This is truly one of the loudest, crudest, most audacious and immature comedies of recent times, and all the better for it.

In attendance at the party to end all parties (sorry, Project X) are Rogen and Franco themselves, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, Rihanna and a whole host of names from Hollywood’s elite. With the coupling factors of everyone playing themselves and the grandiose settings, the first act of This Is The End could be annoyingly alienating, but the possibility for pretention is nicely offset by Jay Baruchel, Rogen’s Knocked Up co-star, who provides the disgruntled foil to all the celebrity hedonism around. More comfortable in his native Canada than Los Angeles, his attitude can be most accurately summarised when the rapture first announces itself and Baruchel finds himself seemingly more upset at the idea of dying at James Franco’s house than anything else. Like the best comedy bromances, Baruchel and Rogen’s is a relationship which, even in the face of impending doom, still hinges on the frustrations they have in one another for their different lifestyles, and with the former’s constant policing of the latter’s occasional errs toward irresponsibility, there’s more than a hint of Shaun of the Dead’s Shaun and Ed.

But the most successful comedic weapon in This Is The End’s arsenal is the brilliant skewering of its famous faces’ reputations. So we get Jonah Hill, overly nice and try hard in the aftermath of his Oscar nominated role opposite Brad Pitt (“I’m Jonah Hill…America’s sweetheart!”), James Franco is the pretentiously tortured aaaaaartiste who of course designed his own house, and Jason Segel is the frustrated sitcom star trapped in a life of monotonous scripts. But triumphing all of these is the all too brief glimpses into alt-universe Michael Cera’s life as a sleazy cokehead whose drug induced shenanigans see him irritating his old Superbad co-stars before hitting on Rihanna and locking himself in the bathroom with two groupies and a Capri-Sun. Emma Watson’s cameo as a take-no-shit baddass is also briefly fun but marred by its inclusion in every trailer.

Unsurprisingly for a film seeped in meta-narrative, This Is The End is dripping in movie references, some more successful than others. Whilst there’s an awkward reference to Rosemary’s Baby which fell uncomfortably in our screening, these kinds of moments are outnumbered by a mocking and well played collection of self-depricating exchanges as the characters/actors often find themselves ridiculing each other’s filmographies as tensions rise in their artsy fort. These exchanges make up the bulk of the ever-so-slightly saggy middle section of the film, and just when you begin to tire the film hits you with the kind of hilarious montage which can only reassure you of Rogen and Goldberg’s firm handle on pace.

All in all This Is The End is a monstrously lewd and chaotically structured obliteration of the value of fame, Hollywood, and all the shallow, hedonistic pomposity therein. But most of all, it’s just damn funny.