Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Frozen 2 (2019) film review

Year: 2019
Running Time: 103 minutes
Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Writers: Marc Smith, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (story), and Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (screenplay)
Cast: (voice) Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton

Frozen 2 is now showing in the United States and opens in Australia on November 28, 2019. 

Frozen 2 is not only an absolute delight with it's charm and stunning animation, but it unexpectedly debunks the "happily ever after" myth that Disney themselves so actively promoted with their earlier films. Rather than following the usual formula of such a sequel, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee's follow up to their 2013 phenomenon is a coming of age story that tackles the inner-turmoils many of us feel when wrestling with change, trusting ourselves and finding the strength to keep going in the darkest of times.

The wonderful thing about Frozen 2 is that despite it's inherent fairy-tale nature, it is far more relatable, passionate and inspirational than anyone would have ever thought possible. Anna and Elsa, voiced once again by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, are two of the most popular, if not the most popular Disney princesses with little girls of this generation and with good reason. They are of course marketable, especially Elsa with luscious locks and her gorgeous and regal dresses, but the girls and their feelings are also very real and their issues incredibly human..

It is common protocol for fairy-tales to end on the high note of "and they lived happily ever after", which is always a comforting and reassuring notion that this may be possible for you if it was for Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, Ariel and many others. However, it is also common knowledge that "happily ever after" is an unrealistic concept that once tainted our little minds. Reality is filled with ups and downs, left and rights that contort the original pathway that we set for ourselves. If Frozen gave us a "happily ever after", Frozen 2 gifts us with the very real notion that nothing is ever perfect forever and we must courageously embrace and accept change.

One of the first musical numbers in Frozen 2, "Some Things Never Change" (sung by Kristen Bell's Princess Anna) is an indication of the direction the film will head as it is very tongue-in-cheek, much the same as "Love is an Open Door" was in the 2013 film. Both the princesses in the film are victims of the system and are unknowingly so. The two spend a great deal of time doing what they believe is right, but not what they believe is true in their hearts. While this may seem like a basic formula for a family film and something that a Disney film would have traditionally dealt with as lightly as possible, there are some very deep thoughts and ideas presented that are as important for children as for adults.

Despite Elsa saving the day and regaining her seat as Queen of Arendelle, she still feels as though she does not belong and is searching for someone or something that will give her all the answers. Now, low self esteem is not something that Disney generally deals with, but that is exactly what is happening here. In the first Frozen, we witnessed Elsa as a young girl being hidden away from the world by her parents because she has been told that she is different and dangerous. She is finally brought into the eye of the world and saves the kingdom and her sister, but in only a fairy-tale would that be the end of Elsa feeling like an outsider or like there is something wrong with her.

Of course, she would have recurring feelings of not fitting in or feeling like she is doing something wrong.  Thankfully, the sequel arrived to correct this wrong as it is damaging (and unfortunately, very common) to believe that one event will cure all your destructive inner dialogue. We all know Elsa is amazing, and even Anna says to her "I wish you could see yourself the way I see you", but she continues on her dangerous quest to find out who she really is despite Anna being against this as it would mean change.

Change is a thing that many people are frightened of, and will often go to great lengths to avoid. Although Elsa knows within herself something must change in order for her to find peace within herself, Anna is terrified of change as she is worried she will lose her sister again. Both Anna and Elsa were forced into change when their parents died and their loss and grief is looked at more in this film than in the first. Anna speaks for the first time to Mattias (Stirling K. Brown) about her dark days and ponders how you keep going in those times, which is something we all feel at one time or another. His response is perfect, "You just put one foot in front of the other".

In earlier Disney films and even in Frozen itself, these issues are avoided where "happy ever after" is concerned. However, it is a wonderful thing that Frozen 2 breaks down this myth and reminds both children and adults alike that your "ever after" requires change, resilience and acceptance to be happy and that things will never be smooth sailing.

Another thing that Frozen 2 does to avoid the usual sequel formula, is that it doesn't take the things that worked in the original film and exhaust their appeal. There are several similarities between the first film and the second, such as another big theme song as sung by Idina Menzel in "Into The Unknown" and the sparkly and incredibly stunning visuals of the mountains and forest. Olaf (as voiced by Josh Gad) was an absolute winner with audiences the first time round, and he returns and brings the biggest laughs of the film. It would have been so easy to have overdone his character this time around (eg. the Minions after their success in the first Despicable Me), but his screen time is not overdone in the slightest. Another character who really has his moment in Frozen 2 is Jonathan Groff's Kristoff. Kristoff was the good guy in Frozen, but his character and his love for Anna are fleshed out in this film, complete with his 'Lost In The Woods" power ballad. He steals the heart of everyone watching the film when he asks Anna what she needs from him, which is what everyone wants their partner to ask.

Frozen 2 is an absolutely wonderful follow-up to the 2013 film. It avoids the usual pitfalls of a sequel, and uses being a sequel as an opportunity to continue the story in the most relatable, moving and human way as possible for both children and adults alike.


Thursday, November 7, 2019

"Last Christmas" (2019) film review

Year: 2019
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Emma Thompson (story and screenplay), Greg Wise (story) and Bryony Kimmings (screenplay)
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh, Lydia Leonard, Boris Isakovic, Peter Mygind

Last Christmas is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Universal Pictures.

Paul Feig's latest, inspired by George Michael's Christmas anthem, Last Christmas, may be as cluttered as an over-decorated Christmas tree. It is as predictable as a holiday movie can be, but is nevertheless a fun, uplifting, and heartwarming addition to the genre.With the exciting combination of Feig's direction and Emma Thompson's screenwriting, Last Christmas delivers everything a Christmas film promises with it's story, themes, music and visuals all in the holiday spirit.

Last Christmas is an interesting take on a Christmas film, as it attempts to blend the stereotypical features of such a film with social issues and themes that are not so typical. The film tries hard to do perhaps too much and is very busy as a result, though it is still admirable how much it gets done in it's 102 minute run time. Of course, the film ticks every box of a Christmas genre film and how comprehensively this task is completed will strike many as completely tiresome, though it will be a Christmas lovers delight.

Our down-on-her-luck heroine, Kate (Emilia Clarke) is living a destructive lifestyle while begrudgingly working in a London Christmas store as an elf. While attempting to chase after her dream of being a singer with no luck or great commitment, she meets a charismatic and mysterious stranger, Tom (Henry Golding) who helps her see the magic in life and inspires Kate to turn her life around. It's a story which we have seen many times before in countless rom-coms and Christmas films alike. Although the story itself isn't at all unpredictable or exhilarating, it is executed in such a way that it still manages to hit the mark and be uplifting, inspirational and moving.

At the Sydney Premiere of Last Christmas, Feig spoke of the unquestionable star power of Emilia Clarke and that is exactly what she exhibits in the film. Kate takes the leap from being an unlikable character to one that the audience completely falls and feels for, especially when it comes to her relationship with Golding's Tom. Yes, the screenplay plays you as it wants you to connect and relate to Kate, which can feel manipulative and irritating. However, in the holiday spirit it is forgiven and it is a credit to Clarke's performance that she is able to create a warmth to her character. Golding, who is the picture perfect love interest, lifts his performance to meet Clarke's and the two have great chemistry which adds to the audience's emotional investment in the film.

Despite the constant onslaught of fairy lights, colourful tinsel, disturbing Christmas tree decorations sold by Santa (Kate's boss hilariously played by Michelle Yeoh) and expected festive music, Last Christmas does try to be more than a holiday film that ticks all the boxes. The film is not only based on the 1986 Wham! classic that is played in every shopping outlet approximately 500 times during every holiday season, but it is a tribute to George Michael and his musical legacy. Last Christmas features not only the song it takes it's name after, but also many of his hit singles and a newly released song never heard before. There are also several Wham! and George Michael Easter eggs throughout the film, making this film a less obvious cinematic tribute to the man who passed three years ago this Christmas.

The film also touches on, but does not venture too far into, the effects of immigration, health problems and homelessness (an issue that was close to George Michael's heart) on families. With Kate's family moving from Yugoslavia when she was younger to escape the war, her family still struggles with adapting to a new life in the United Kingdom. Her father cannot find work in the profession he was trained in and her mother (played by Emma Thompson) struggles to let go of her old ways, both which are having a negative effect on their family. Emma Thompson convincingly plays the eastern European mother, taking quirks that many will recognise from their own mothers and turning them into comedy.

Last Christmas does unfortunately not get to the true heart of any of it's more serious themes. The reason behind this is that it really does try to do too much. The screenplay brings us to the brink of these more serious issues (especially the homeless epidemic), and then pulls us back so that we remember that this is first and foremost a Christmas film. This is the greatest downfall of Last Christmas. It really tries to be a Christmas movie to set it apart from other Christmas movies, but instead it just becomes a very, very busy Christmas movie that tries to say more than it does.

However, the bottom line is that Last Christmas really is an enjoyable and uplifting film for the holiday season that will be a staple for December viewing for many years to come. It is evident that Paul Feig and Emma Thompson have really tried to bring more to the table with this comforting reminder of how wonderful it is to be alive, but it is simply a case of trying to do too much and ending up with too much noise playing alongside the Christmas carols.