The movie Frozen may be Disney's best animated film in 20 years. The adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" is a return to Disney classic form with a few new twists on old tropes.
The pairing of composer Christophe Beck (Pitch Perfect, Burlesque) with lyricist Kristen Anderson-Lopez recaptures some of the magic of Menken/Ashman from 1989-1992 in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The screenplay by Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph), who also shared directing duties with Chris Buck (Tarzan), carefully balances dark subject matter with good-natured humor as it transports the audience into a magical frozen world.
Idina Menzel won a Tony for her Broadway performance in Wicked as Elphaba, the misunderstood "wicked witch" forced into isolation by her appearance and powers. The role of snow queen Elsa she plays in Frozen is not a very far stretch from that character, though she is not the heroine of this tale.
Princess Anna is voiced by Kristen Bell, who also performs her own songs. Who knew Kristen Bell could sing like this? Performing in four tracks that include duets with Santino Fontana, Josh Gad, and Menzel, her voice is flawless.
The most memorable numbers in Frozen, however, are "In Summer," performed by Josh Gad (Jobs, Ice Age) about a snowman's light-hearted musing on dreams of warm weather, and "Let It Go," which inspired youngsters in the audience to sing along with the credits.
After she accidentally injures younger sister Anna while playing with her budding magical powers, Elsa's parents hide her away, isolated from people in order to avoid hurting them. She grows up striving to repress, rather than control, her feelings and thus her powers. After their parents' deaths, Elsa comes of age and must assume her role as queen at a coronation ceremony, resulting in a disaster from which she flees.
The Austin Film Society is taking a few days off for the holidays, but will return this weekend with a special series called "Jan Nemec: Rediscovered Treasures of the Czechoslovak New Wave." 2005's Toyen screens on Sunday night (December 1) while Diamonds Of The Night and A Loaf Of Bread play next Monday and Wednesday. All three titles are screening in rare 35mm prints. Meanwhile, the latest AFS Essential Cinema series on Irish cinema (our preview) screens 1995's Nothing Personal next Thursday.
The Paramount is kicking off its annual Holiday Film Series with Elf on Sunday and a double feature of It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story next Wednesday. All films are screening in 35mm and there will be a few more titles in the weeks ahead. Check out Elizabeth's chat about the series with Paramount programmer Stephen Jannise.
The Alamo Drafthouse begins a new film series focused on journalism this Sunday and Tuesday with Citizen Kane at Slaughter Lane and Lakeline and Almost Famous on Tuesday at the Village. The Ritz has 35mm screenings scheduled for Labyrinth (free, Alamo Kid's Club this Saturday), Ladies And Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains (on Monday night) and Zodiac (next Wednesday).
War is hell, but not in The Book Thief.
This is not to say war is a picnic in the film; the specter of war's ultimate toll is ever present and personified by the narrator, Death. But The Book Thief's absurdly sanitized depiction of World War II barely hints at the horrific realities, and a story that should be gritty and deep is mostly mild and superficial.
The titular book thief in the film (based on a bestselling young adult novel of the same title) is young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse). Her mother, a communist in pre-war Nazi Germany who fears for her family's safety, takes Liesel and her younger brother to live with foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann. Liesel's brother dies aboard the train en route to meet the Hubermanns; after his trackside burial, the illiterate Liesel steals the gravedigger's manual to remind her of her brother. This is the first of many books she'll take throughout the film as she becomes more literate.
Despite the cold and rainy weather this weekend, massive crowds turned out for the Wizard World Austin Comic Con for a chance to see their favorite television and film stars as well as experience the "Day of The Doctor" 50th Anniversary with a well-attended BBC America simulcast screening. The most popular costumes at this weekend's event were obviously Doctor Who related, with scores of "Weeping Angels," various incarnations of the Doctor and sonic screwdrivers held high.
Oddly another costume that I saw frequently was that of Kevin Smith's recurring character, Silent Bob, which was even more popular than The Walking Dead Daryl and Merle Dixon. Speaking of the Dixon brothers, the lines in the autograph pens were quite long for Norman Readus and Michael Rooker (pictured above). I chatted with Rooker briefly -- he spoke of enjoying the rooftop scene of The Walking Dead episode "The Prologue," especially the aspect of "manipulating the audience in understanding what Merle is about."
Kasi Lemmons, director of Eve's Bayou and Talk to Me, chose a play by poet Langston Hughes as the basis for her new movie. Black Nativity is first and foremost a musical, featuring original pieces of music as well as new arrangements of familiar hymns and carols. Lemmons even co-wrote some of the songs, with Raphael Saadiq producing the music (he shares the "Music by" credit with composer Laura Karpman).
The music is the best thing about Black Nativity. Without the songs it would likely be a far more disappointing movie, as you can see plot lines coming from a mile away. There are a couple times when a character says something that punches you in the gut with its earnestness, but otherwise the story is as ridiculous as it is predictable.
Langston, a fatherless kid from Baltimore played by young Jacob Latimore, is sent to live with grandparents he's never met. His rhyming narration kicks off the movie, and his singing voice has a light tone. Singer/Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson plays his financially-strapped mom who sings more often than she talks. Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are the grandparents living in Harlem (and both of them sing in the movie!). Bassett's tentative alto harmonizes nicely with Hudson's more assured voice for a duet in "He Loves Me Still."
Tyrese Gibson (Baby Boy, Transformers) shows up as a gritty man Langston meets in NYC, and his performance of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" late in the film is simply beautiful. A homeless couple -- obvious Joseph and Mary stand-ins as soon as they appear onscreen -- are played by R&B singer Luke James and newcomer Grace Gibson. Mary J. Blige is an angelic figure with startlingly white hair, and Nas is... himself, I guess?
Some aspects of Philomena can be the stuff of films that critics loathe: It's a crowd pleaser, the central characters are borderline cinematic clichés, they form an unlikely friendship (I wish there were more films about unlikely animosities), and the story's morality isn't complicated.
But thanks to a smart, funny script, a likeable vibe, direction by the esteemed Stephen Frears and superb performances by Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, Philomena avoids all these potential pitfalls. It's a great movie that may be a hit with audiences for all the right reasons.
Based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, the film is based on the true story of the titular Philomena (Dench), an Irish woman who spends nearly 50 years wondering what became of her long-lost son. As a teenager in 1952, she becomes pregnant and, like many "fallen" girls and women in Catholic-dominated Ireland, is sent away to a convent. After she gives birth, the proudly cruel nuns force her to sign away her parental rights to the baby, Anthony, who lives with her at the convent until he's adopted at age three. Knowing nothing about Anthony's adoptive parents, Philomena loses touch with him.
Here's the first of our 2013 Holiday Favorites (see 2011 and 2012), a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.
We're starting off with this selection from Samantha Rae Lopez (@sraelopez), producer of short film The Book of Joe and program coordinator at Latinitas, a local organization working to empower young Latinas through usage of tech and media. Here are her thoughts on a Christmas favorite:
If you are a frequent Slackerwood reader, chances are you have some familiarity with Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. If you haven't seen this film, stop what you're doing and find it on DVD, iTunes or Amazon streaming. Despite the fact that many would argue that this movie is an "American Christmas Classic," in reality the holiday itself is merely referenced and not crucial to the plot progression. Much like films such as Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black seems to love Christmas) and Trading Places, It's a Wonderful Life can also -- arguably -- fall into the "anti-Christmas movie" sub-genre.
George Bailey, played by a post-war James Stewart, is a small town business man with a strong stake in the town of Bedford Falls. When his business is held captive by the greedy Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), Bailey has suicidal thoughts which reach his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers). Bailey is granted a rare glimpse at what the community would be like without him and gets a new found appreciation for everything he has worked for; his friends and family.
Now that it's Thanksgiving week, it's time to get to watching holiday movies! Here to help, the Paramount Theatre is showing a variety of films during the month of December. As you watch these older and more recent Christmas classics, you can imbibe the free hot chocolate provided (discounted "extra toasty" beverages will also be available).
For something different this year, the downtown Austin landmark will be running a special deal for marriage proposals on Sunday, December 8. In between the Love Actually showtimes that day, the marquee will read "Will you marry me?" and couples can reserve times to pop the question in front of the theatre.
I asked Paramount programmer Stephen Jannise how this idea was conceived and whether this is the first time something like this has been done at the historic venue. His response:
"One of my coworkers actually came up with the proposal idea after I had already programmed Love Actually. Apparently we get tons of calls from people wanting to use the marquee to propose, and of course we just can't accommodate all those requests (a majority of the time we're using that marquee to promote our shows). So we figured we'd take a whole day to give people an opportunity to get photos with the marquee, along with all the other awesome benefits of that package. And what better movie to pair that experience with than Love Actually! To my knowledge, this has never been done at the Paramount."
Here's the schedule for seasonal movies at the theatre:
Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.
- IndieWire's "Sundance wishlist" includes Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater's long-awaited Boyhood, which chronicles the life of a child from age six to 18 and stars native Texan Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette; University of Texas lecturer Kat Candler's feature-length version of Hellion, about a seven-year-old who falls prey to his older brother's mischievous ways in a small Texas refinery town; Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter from Austinites David and Nathan Zellner; and Austin-based Hammer to Nail magazine editor and filmmaker Michael Tully's Ping Pong Summer, starring Susan Sarandon. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed that these movies really do get into Sundance 2014.
- MovieMaker named the Austin Film Festival as one of the top 25 coolest general film festivals, as voted on by their readers. Austin-based Fantastic Fest was also honored by readers as one of the top five coolest horror/sci-fi film festivals.
- The Central Texas-shot indie-comedy Cinema Six (Jette's dispatch), about the hijinks of three longtime small-town movie theater employees, is now available on cable VOD (check your local provider for availability), according to Devolver Digital.
This is an abbreviated, pre-Thanksgiving edition of Movies This Week. While everything pretty much got out of the way of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire this weekend, some new movies will open mid-week to take advantage of the holiday. As such, we're just going to cover what is playing over the next few days and then return on Wednesday with a new post so you can plan your moviegoing accordingly.
The Austin Film Society only has one event lined up before the holidays and that is tonight's special presentation of The Unspeakable Act. It's happening at the AFS Screening Room and online ticketing closes at 3pm, so you'll want to plan ahead to attend.
The Alamo Ritz has a couple more screenings of To Kill A Mockingbird for their "Tough Ladies" series happening this Saturday and Sunday. On Monday night, you can catch a very rare screening of Taxi Zum Klo (also at the Ritz) for this month's installment of Homo Arigato and Anime fans will want to head to the Alamo Lakeline on Tuesday for a 25th anniversary celebration of Akira on the big screen, although you should be aware that the distributor is only providing the English-dubbed version.