Movie Review ~ Frozen II

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven leave Arendelle to travel to an ancient, autumn-bound forest of an enchanted land. They set out to find the origin of Elsa’s powers in order to save their kingdom.

Stars: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Evan Rachel Wood, Sterling K. Brown

Director: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee

Rated: PG

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  There are some reviews that you look back on and wonder if you just had an off day when you saw the movie or when you wrote the prose. Or maybe you were perhaps too effusive in praise of something that doesn’t hold up to a second (or third) watch.  Then there are the reviews that haunt you in the ensuing years, the ones you wince a little at when you realize how off the mark you were and wonder what you missed and why you missed it.  True, movies and criticism are subjective and that’s what makes this whole reviewing gig as fun as it is (no really, it’s fun…usually) but it’s hard not to beat yourself up a little when you were off target.

Though I wasn’t exactly hard on Frozen back in 2013, I do remember feeling so ho-hum about it and I was quoted as saying it “wasn’t destined to become a pivotal Disney classic”.  Ouch.  I’ve often thought about that phrase as I watched the power ballad “Let it Go” win an Oscar for Best Original Song and the movie win for Best Animated Feature.  The words floated through my brain while seated for the trimmed down theme park show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida and watching clips from the larger-scale production in California.  And I most definitely shook my head at my statement after I had traveled to Denver, CO and paid a good sum to see the pre-Broadway tryout of the big-budget stage musical based on the movie.  Frozen was a phenomenon and I had said in my review I found it less interesting than Tangled.  It’s enough to keep a guy up at night, I tell ya.

So you better believe I was ready when Frozen II was announced to listen a little more to my younger side this time around.  Announced soon after the first film was an unexpected box office smash (making over a billion dollars worldwide), it’s taken six long years for the sequel to materialize and that’s a hearty stretch of time for their target audience to wait.  Disney had to count that children who were the right age to appreciate the original movie would still be interested in the further adventures of Elsa and Anna, two royal sisters that found a deeper understanding of each other at the close of Frozen.  It was a wise bet that has paid off because with the bulk of the creative team reassembled, including the Oscar-winning songwriters, Frozen II confidently builds off its predecessor and delivers as a warm-hearted and surprisingly subtext-rich sequel.

Now that Elsa has come to terms with her icy powers and returned to reign as Queen of Arendelle, life has settled into an ordinary routine for her royal highness and those close to her.  Her sister Anna is clueless to beau Kristoff’s pending marriage proposal that keeps getting interrupted, sometimes by goofy snowman Olaf, who continues to pontificate about life with childish wonderment.  Even with everything running smoothly, Elsa feels unrest and that’s further complicated by a strange siren’s call that only she can hear and apparently tied to a legend her father told as a bedtime story when she was a child.  When Elsa replies to the call, it opens up a passage into an unknown area outside the realm of Arendelle that may hold the answers to her powers and also a dark part of her family history that she and Anna will need to resolve.

It’s a smart move for directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee to have the sisters join forces and make this trip to uncharted territory together. Of course, Kristoff, Olaf, and reindeer Sven are along for the journey too but aside from a few songs and bits of comedy, the latter half of the film is reserved for Elsa and Anna to sort things out for themselves.  The story trajectory takes some interesting turns and while some of the action may feel a bit like a rehash from the earlier film, all the forward motion feels fresh and hits a true chord of fun discovery.

While the screenwriters (aside from Buck/Lee there were three more) do their best to amp up Anna’s role, it’s hard to come away from Frozen II not feeling like Elsa was again the true star and with good reason.  Here’s a character that draws her power from within and doesn’t need any outside force or person to tell her how she should be using her strength.  Her lack of self-confidence is incredibly relatable, as is the way she comes to terms with the way she feels different than others.  It’s understandable that she’s become a bit of an icon for the LGBTQ community and even if it’s not expressly said, it’s difficult to bear witness to a big anthem like “Show Yourself” and not hear the underlying subtext and I found that incredibly moving.

It helps that “Show Yourself” is performed with gusto by Idina Menzel (Ralph Breaks the Internet) again voicing Elsa with a Broadway belt that could shatter ice.  I still feel Menzel’s voice doesn’t match with the animated character (Elsa’s lungs look to be the size of a thimble) and there’s a lot more big notes in Menzel’s songs this time around – the other big number, “Into the Unknown” comes early in the movie and has a earworm-y hook that had audience members singing it on the way out.  So parents…be prepared for another song to make you crazy.  I know that the Frozen II team is going to push “Into the Unknown” as their Oscar song but I find “Show Yourself” to be the one with more mileage in the long run…plus that one also features Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe) as Elsa’s mother in addition to Scandinavian singer AURORA as the voice of the siren.  The other numbers are all pleasant but don’t get their hooks into you the way those others do.  As Anna, Kristen Bell (Hit and Run) still has the sunniest singing voice you’ve ever heard while Jonathan Groff’s (American Sniper) Kristoff scores with his Peter Cetera-esqe anthem.  Returning to play Olaf make it official: Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer) should only appear as a voice in movies from now on.  In live action, he stinks.  As an animated character, he’s a winner.

Like the first film, this runs out of steam as it chugs toward the end and it could easily lose a solid ten minutes, likely lopped off at the beginning because there’s some good character-driven material we don’t often get in animated films around the end that I wouldn’t want to sacrifice.  It may lack some of the larger emotional beats Pixar is so curiously good at but Frozen II isn’t completely bereft of deeper feeling either.  I definitely found myself choked up a few times and even listening to the soundtrack after and hearing the words again I got all misty.

I’ve heard the phrase “cash grab” tossed around in relation to this film and I’m not sure how a film that took six years to get made could be considered a desperate attempt to squeeze money out of a product.  This is a bona fide cash machine and with two movies, a Broadway show going strong, a national touring company getting ready to roll out, and international companies planned, this machine is just getting started.  We should already be getting ready for Frozen III.  If the filmmakers and songwriters can keep finding the heart to these characters and giving them strong songs to express themselves with, I’m all for it.

 

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Psycho II

psycho_ii

The Facts:

Synopsis: After twenty-two years of psychiatric care, Norman Bates attempts to return to a life of solitude, but the specters of his crimes – and his mother – continue to haunt him

Stars: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Lee Garlington, Claudia Bryar

Director: Richard Franklin

Rated: R

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 slow-burn thriller Psycho remains one of the most famous and famously recognizable movies.  With its iconic ‘shower scene’ and last minute twist, the movie was already interred in the Hollywood history books by the time 1982 rolled around.  That was the year that Robert Bloch, author of the novel Psycho was based on, had published a sequel that found escaped madman Norman Bates turning up on the Tinsel Town set of a movie based on his life and eventually getting back to his own tricks.  While this was a surprisingly meta take (and one the Scream sequels would steal) executives over at Universal Studios who owned the sequel rights weren’t thrilled about their town getting skewered and satirized.

Hiring screenwriter Todd Holland and director Richard Franklin, both having had recent successes with horror films of their own, Universal decided to beat Bloch to the punch and draft their own take on the further adventures of Norman Bates.  The resulting film was far removed from the original, more in the slasher vein which was enjoying peak popularity at the time.  That’s not to say it exists without merit because Psycho II is very much its own film, strong enough to withstand ornery critics who grumbled that it sullied Hitchcock’s memory.

Released from a mental hospital when he’s deemed to be harmless, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins, wisely changing his mind and reprising his role before Christopher Walken could be seriously considered) has only one place to go.  Home.  The house he lived in still stands, as does the motel where guests checked in but didn’t check out…well, at least the ones that showered.  22 years after being apprehended dressed like his dead mother and speaking in her voice, the house brings back bad memories…and maybe his killer instincts.  Not long after he arrives people go missing, dispatched in a variety of gruesome ways.  Is it Norman brandishing the knife or is it someone else with their own motives?

Surprisingly, Psycho II is filled with decent twists and winds up to be quite entertaining.  I somehow get amnesia between viewings and always forget how the pieces fit together.   Aided by Jerry Goldsmith’s (Poltergeist) score that thankfully doesn’t even attempt to top Bernard Hermann’s string heavy orchestrations from Psycho, this has more than its share of spooky moments from toilets overflowing with blood all the way through it’s surprising finale.  Franklin doesn’t try to mimic Hitchcock’s style but cinematographer Dean Cundey (Halloween) does liberally lift familiar camera angles right from the previous film (not to mention Franklin taking a huge risk by recapping the first film in clips before the opening credits).  He even manages to work in a nice tip of the hat to Hitch – try to see if you can spot a recognizable shadow when looking around the room that used to belong to Norman’s mother.

Along with Perkins, Vera Miles (The Initiation) is a returning player from the original as the sister of Janet Leigh’s doomed character leading a one-woman crusade to keep Bates behind bars. Robert Loggia (Jagged Edge) is nicely sanguine as Norman’s psychiatrist and Meg Tilly’s (The Big Chill) waifish waitress cautiously befriends Norman and eventually takes up residence with him in the main house.  Character actors Dennis Franz, Lee Garlington, and Claudia Bryar are all standouts in the well-cast ensemble.

It wouldn’t have been possible to top Psycho but it could have been easy to drag its good name through the mud.  Thankfully Psycho II is elevated from cheap cash-in sequel to respectable continuation thanks to a cast and crew who obviously held the original film in high regard.  Now Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning…those are the sequels you should be worried about.

Down From the Shelf ~ I Love Trouble

i_love_trouble

The Facts:

Synopsis: Peter Brackett and Sabrina Peterson are two competing Chicago newspaper reporters who join forces to unravel the mystery behind a train derailment.

Stars: Nick Nolte, Julia Roberts, Saul Rubinek, Marsha Mason, James Rebhorn, Robert Loggia

Director: Charles Shyer

Rated: PG

Running Length: 123 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  On paper, I’m sure that writing team Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer thought they had a winner.  Aping the same style of rat-a-tat comedy that worked so well for the likes of Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn in movies such as Bringing Up Baby, I Love Trouble was intended to be a modern take on a classic concept.  Unfortunately, Meyers/Shyer have overstuffed their turkey of a plot with about 40 minutes of extra material and made more than a few blunders in the casting department.

At the time of its release, Roberts was the top movie star and could have easily been the only headliner to draw in crowds.  They wanted to see their pretty woman in light romantic fare and matched up with a swoon-worthy fella to recapture that magic.  Now, no one is saying that Roberts had to stick with that formula and to her credit I think she signed on to the film with the best of intentions.  It’s the addition of Nolte as her co-star that put a large hole in an already weighty ship.

Nolte is a strong dramatic actor, a ruggishly handsome dude that worked his way through the 70’s and 80’s in a string of diverse turns.  He’s so uncomfortable in this type of movie that it’s almost painful to watch him try.  It was well documented that Nolte took this film for the money and didn’t get along well with Roberts…and it all shows up on screen.  Though Roberts and Nolte give it their best effort and create a few interesting moments, the lack of chemistry is apparent to the point where you almost beg them not to kiss.

It’s not all their fault, though.  The script from Meyers/Shyer and Shyer’s direction are wooden and forced without a lot of cohesion. There’s a vague murder mystery plot that reporters Roberts and Nolte team up to try to solve (mostly for their own glory rather than any real dedication to the good of the public) and to say the reasons behind the murder were loony would be an understatement.  There’s a big to-do about growth hormones in cows and how it causes cancer…great stuff for setting the scene for romance, right?

The movie is way too long and should have been trimmed down from 123 minutes to 90…just enough time for the mechanics of the film to present themselves and run their course.  I remember seeing this film in the theaters when it was released and not being a huge fan.  I’ve been drawn to it several times since and will learn my lesson that it’s just not a very good film someday.  I do love bad movies but I do not love the trouble this one causes.

Down From the Shelf ~ Jagged Edge

1

jagged_edge

The Facts:

Synopsis: When an heiress is brutally murdered in her remote beach house her husband soon finds himself accused of her murder. He hires lawyer Teddy Barnes to defend him, despite the fact she hasn’t handled a criminal case for many years.

Stars: Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges, Peter Coyote, Robert Loggia

Director: Richard Marquand

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review

This is a pulpy little thriller from the mid 80’s that probably was responsible for ushering in movies like Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Final Analysis, Guilty as Sin, and countless other films where a protagonist is blinded by their animal attraction to someone that may be out to do them harm.

Almost thirty years after it was originally released (yikes!), revisiting Jagged Edge has become something of a yearly trip for me and I still enjoy it.  Time has been kind to the film, owing in large part to a restrained script from Joe Eszterhas (before he went over the, um, edge with the aforementioned Basic Instinct and, later, Showgirls) and two strong lead performances in Close and Bridges.

Before Close became known for playing unhinged women in a string of films, she was a reliable guiding force in whatever project she was working on and that’s true here as well.  Though her seemingly intelligent lawyer winds up doing a lot of stupid things, Close brings a class to it that’s hard to deny. 

Bridges handles the role of the widower accused of killing his wife for her money well and he rolls nicely with the twists that the movie doles out without hinting either way whether he’s guilty or not.  Loggia turned his foul-mouthed, wise-cracking private investigator working with Close into a deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and Coyote is appropriately blustery as a shady District Attorney.

Set along the Bay Area of California and several of its outlying coastal towns, Jagged Edge is directed just fine by Marquand (Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi) but really benefits from an effectively dissonant score from John Barry and interesting cinematography courtesy of Matthew F. Leonetti.

The film chugs through many a red herring and courtroom drama mechanics in its journey to a decent but not wholly satisfying conclusion.  I’ve some thoughts about the wrap-up that I won’t go into here as it would spoil the ending for you and I don’t want to give it all away.  You see, even if the ending doesn’t totally work in hindsight the film succeeds because everything that leads up to it lands and lands well.  As far as movies of this ilk go, Jagged Edge easily rises to the top of the pile for me.