Thursday, 23 January 2014

Frozen (2013)

Two things that aren't aimed at me, a 21-year-old man: musicals and Disney stories about princesses.

One thing that shocked me with how good it was: Frozen, a Disney musical about two princesses.

Frozen is the latest in the Walt Disney studios line of animated movies, coming in the wake of 2012's Wreck It Ralph (which was great, by the way). It's been getting rave reviews pretty much unanimously, scooping up two Academy Award nominations along the way (Animated Feature Film and Music - Original Song). So after thoroughly enjoying Wreck It Ralph I thought I'd give it a shot.

Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee manage a magical blend of that classic Disney feel while keeping everything actually in the film right up to date. It's brilliant self-aware in the sense that it's aware of all the films that went before it and the messages that have been sent out by previous films. It can draw attention to changes in attitudes without criticising the old films, they were after all products of their time. There's one great line in particular that just cuts down a classic Disney trope in seconds that I won't spoil.

At it's heart though, Frozen continues the trend of centring around that most powerful of emotions: love. There's a couple of angles about true love thrown around in the film, but at it's heart this re-telling of the Ice Queen story is a story about the love shared between two sisters and what their love means for each other. The importance of family, honesty and being true to who you are are the valuable lessons that this proper, out and out family film sells.

Musicals aren't my bag at all. I'll usually groan if someone in a  film spontaneously bursts into song without me being prepared. But I knew Frozen was a musical going in so I was prepared. What I wasn't prepared for was how strong the musical numbers were. Obviously having an established Broadway star (Idina Menzel) as the icy sister gives you some solid ground to work on, but I had no idea Kristen Bell (who I'd previously only known as that girl from Veronica Mars who has a... strange relationship with sloths) could sing so well. The stand-out sequence is, obviously,  the Oscar-nominated Let It Go, but I'd urge you not to look it up and see it in its full context because it is so much better.

Frozen is just simply a great family film. It hits all the right notes with comedy and poignancy at all the right times. It's Disney on absolute top form once again.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Her (2013)

In a world where our technology is constantly advancing and our reliance on it for everything keeps in stride with that, Spike Jonze delivers a kind of post-modern love story. Her is about the relationship that develops between a lonely and lost Theodore (Joaquin Pheonix) and a wide-eyed, fascinated by the world Samantha. Only, in this just-around-the-corner future, Sam doesn't physically exist. She's an artificially intelligent operating system. Essentially Siri on steroids, especially seeing as Theodore as well as many people around him just pick up the operating systems from a store.

Her blends together two of the top things on my cinematic favourites list: the soft sci-fi romance of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Scarlett Johansson at the top of her game (but she'll still never top Lost in Translation). Spike Jonze, through incredibly considered writing and directing, touches on all the things about those films that speak to me.

It deals with a couple of themes at once, and manages to juggle them pretty well even if it does come out at the end not really saying anything definitive at all. But I think that's kind of the point, there aren't any clear answers to the questions it asks. For instance, there's obviously a message about how invasive technology becomes in our social lives. Theodore is often surrounded by people but completely oblivious to all of them because his mind is buried in his phone. It's a common criticism of social networking, we're all so busy speaking but not actually talking to each other. Is it a real connection if it's just facebook comments? Is it a real connection if you'll never actually meet the "person" you're talking to? Does it even matter if it's "real", and who decides what's real?

Technology and its implications are only the sci-fi elements on stage though. The more personal things Her  deals with are about relationships. Loneliness and overcoming and accepting our past mistakes are big issues for everyone involved in the cast. The only really clear message that Spike Jonze puts out with the film is that it's all about the journey: all the ups and downs matter and shouldn't be forgotten, it's not just about aiming for happiness and getting depressed when you miss.

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster rich."

It might not be Goodfellas with stockbrokers, but it does feel a lot like it.

Martin Scorsese makes fucking brilliant films. There's no two ways about it. And the best thing he's done so far was The Departed, with a Mr Leonardo DiCaprio.  It's a travesty that DiCaprio hasn't yet won an Oscar and The Wolf of Wall Street is going to be another opportunity for outrage because the Academy eats up slavery and 12 Years a Slave is in cinemas.

DiCaprio runs the show almost single handedly here. The eponymous Wolf, he is Jordan Belfort: a stockbroker who turns up on takes Wall Street by storm from the outside and makes an obscene amount of money along the way. Nowadays, everybody hates people in finance like bankers and stockbrokers and people like Jordan Belfort are why. He is a scumbag, and he turns everyone around him into a scumbag, but he's a charismatic scumbag. 

The story of Belfort is an obscene and surreal one, which I guess is what unlimited amount of money can do to the world around you. Like I said, Belfort is a terrible person and you definitely aren't rooting for him but you kind of never want him to get caught. You keep watching because of the potential for just how crazy he can get. Eventually he'll give in, cash out and move away... surely? But no, just when you think it'll happen, more money and more drugs bring the dreamlike state back. 

The film is a long haul. It comes in at one minute shy of three hours. I had to take a snack break half way through, but that's not a slight against it. There's a hell of a lot to take in here because every minute is filled with comedy, debauchery or just sheer brilliance on DiCaprio's aprt. 

I'm so sorry you won't win an Oscar again this year Leo, you deserve it.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Don Jon (2013)

I've apparently made quite the social faux pas before when I've said "Every single man has..." so I'm a bit wary to say this but here it goes: All men, at least in this generation, watch porn to some degree.

This is an issue that Don Jon deals with, and uses to hold a mirror up to ourselves  (hopefully not during the course of... well). Jon "The Don" Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a proper New Jersey lad in every sense. He cars about few things: his family, the gym, getting girls and his porn. Every week he goes out and pulls a girl, every time, but it never quite lives up to when he loses himself in his porn. That is, until he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and she asks him to give up one thing for her.

At first glance, and especially from the trailers, Don Jon seems like a bit of a standard comedy that's trying to push it with the subject material. I expected the basic premise to be "Oops, caught out watching porn again Jon!", but it's a bit more thought provoking than that. It even manages to deal with the immersion breaking question of why anyone needs porn with Scarlett Johansson available whenever she's up for it.

Again, it's not just about porn. Everyone in the film is a bit fucked up with issues they need to deal with. It's largely about what we expect life to be like and what we actually get. We criticise people who invest so much time and faith in things that are completely fake and ridiculous without realising that we do exactly the same with something else.

Don Jon is a triumph for first-time director JGL. The path it takes towards the end might seema little conceited and trite considering how realistic the rest is, but it manages to be thought provoking and funny throughout. And it's not just "oh aren't we funny talking about porn?" type funny but a more mature, ironic humour where if characters would just look at themselves they'd see how crazy they were.