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The Shelf: FROZEN, SAVING MR. BANKS, AMERICAN HUSTLE

This week, we’ve got a two-time Oscar winner, a ten-time Oscar nominee, and a zero-time Oscar anything but very possibly should have had a couple. We’ve also got a movie that inspired Star Wars, a movie about time, a movie about stabbing women, and a TV show about mythology. Isn’t being vague fun?!

Frozen

At this point, I think everybody’s been singing “Let It Go” for months and probably can’t even bear to hear it again. Or maybe they can; I didn’t call everybody and ask them. Still, the song has been inescapable and made doubly so by its recent Oscar win. And, truly, the song is very much the centerpiece of Disney’s Frozen, which also won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. There are a lot of great pieces in the film, but they didn’t add up for me to a completely successful whole.

The film is, of course, a loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, in which a queen with powers turns a kingdom to ice. The Disney version is a lot warmer (pun intended), following two sisters in a magical kingdom, one of whom has the power to freeze things and create life, weirdly enough. After a nearly life-ending accident, Elsa, the ice sister, is told to stay far away from her bubbly sister Anna. On the day Elsa is to be crowned queen, the kingdom is opened up and Anna very quickly decides to marry a guy she just met. After an argument, Elsa storms out, unintentionally freezing things. She’s driven away as a monster and soon freezes over the whole of the land. It’s up to Anna, a scruffy ice salesman, his trusty reindeer, and a talking snowman to thaw things out.

This is maybe where my misgivings about giving this a fully rave review lie: there’s a TON of stuff going on and not all of it gets fleshed out the way it should. For instance, there are rock trolls who show up exactly twice in the movie and even get a song but are otherwise sort of superfluous. A lot of times I felt like there were actual scenes missing, like the movie would fade to black and then fade to another scene and there’d be something we were probably meant to see but it didn’t make it into the film. Further, as great as the songs in general are, some of them also feel like they probably were longer or the scene in which they feature was meant to be bigger. It’s hard to explain, and maybe I’m off base, but that’s what I saw.

However, that aside, I thought Frozen was incredibly fun and a visual treat. It’s one of the best-looking CG films I’ve seen outside of Pixar, and they even managed to make computer-generated snow look dynamic, since that’s what the bulk of the film has on it. The voice cast, made up of actors who can sing (or singers who can act), is really lovely, especially Kristen Bell, who was born to voice a Disney Princess, as Anna. Josh Gad as the snowman Olaf could very well have been too silly, but he wonderfully pulls it off.

As far as the Blu-ray goes, there isn’t much to recommend. Aside from the theatrical Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse, which is admittedly wonderful, there’s only a 7 minute featurette about Walt Disney wanting to bring Andersen’s story to the screen, a 3 minute musical thing that never quite tells you about how they made the movie, 7 minutes of deleted scenes, and 16 minutes of music videos of people singing “Let It Go” in different languages. Pretty light, considering how innovative and involved the making of the film were.

Definitely worth a rent, probably not worth a buy unless you’re way into the film and want to be able to watch it as many times as your little heart can handle.

Check out my findings from an early press day, as well as my interview with the film’s directors.

Saving Mr. Banks

Mary Poppins remains to this day Walt Disney’s most celebrated live-action production, even now on its 50th anniversary. The story of the making of the film is almost more interesting than the film itself, with years of Disney pleading with the book’s author, Mrs. P.L. Travers, and her flatly refusing each time. Eventually, though, for financial reasons, she was forced to at least meet with Disney at his offices and the long, note-filled process of adapting began. John Lee Hancock’s film Saving Mr. Banks is not really about this process, not fully. A lot of this is included, and that’s probably the best stuff in the movie, but the real story is about Travers and why she so fervently did not want Mary Poppins to be a film.

The movie goes back and forth between the 1960s, in which Travers (Emma Thompson) goes to California to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his writers and the massive rows had between everybody on the road to a fantasy film masterpiece, and her memories of growing up in Australia with her father (Colin Farrell) as he battled his alcohol addiction and his tendency to be a dreamer.

All of the scenes in the ’60s are wonderful but I found myself increasingly impatient when we would return to Travers’ early days down under. Farrell does a really admirable job as the father, but any time spent away from Hanks and Thompson felt a bit like spinning our wheels. Still, it’s the flashback scenes that give context to Travers’ state of mind and displeasure at the possible “Disnification” of her beloved work. There’s enough good stuff in it, on both sides of time, that it does stand together quite well. The fact that Emma Thompson wasn’t Oscar-nominated for her work in this film is a real shame.

American Hustle

Of all the Oscar front-runners this year, the one I was hoping wouldn’t win the big prizes was David O. Russell’s American Hustle. While I have nothing against Russell, nor any of the actors in the film, I really just felt like this movie wasn’t covering any ground that wasn’t covered by any Martin Scorsese movie a lot more effectively. The fact that this movie was nominated for ten Oscars, including the big seven or actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, screenplay, director, and picture, seemed like a bizarre joke.

Anyway, the story takes place in the late-’70s and early-’80s and follows two con artists (a combed over and doughy-gutted Christian Bale, and and English-accented, plunging necklined Amy Adams) who get caught by Cooper’s flashy and ridiculous FBI agent. In order to stave off jail time, Cooper convinces the other two to help him set up a sting operation to take down corrupt politicians and the mob. This would be fine, except Cooper starts making eyes at Adams, who is mad at Bale for not leaving his wife, a sufficiently loopy Jennifer Lawrence, and that the politician in the cross hairs is the otherwise noble and forthright Jeremy Renner. This whole thing, in real life, was part of the ABSCAM operation.

It’s not that the film isn’t enjoyable enough or that the performances weren’t good or that the direction wasn’t deft; it’s that none of those aspects were anything beyond that. There’s nothing spectacular about anything going on and zero new ground was broken. It’s a very passable, very average, period-set crime movie. Of those nominated, the one most deserved was Bradley Cooper’s supporting actor nod, as the movie really came to life whenever he was onscreen with his manic jackass routine. Screenplay?!? The film’s voiceover begins with “Did you ever…” That’s the hackiest opening like in movie history! I’ve seen better and so have you.

ALSO AVAILABLE

The Hidden Fortress – Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai adventure, which inspired a great deal of George Lucas’ Star Wars, including a princess, an aging samurai sent to protect her, and two bumbling comic relief characters who comment on the action.

A Brief History of Time – A documentary version of Stephen Hawking’s groundbreaking work about the nature of time.

The Slumber Party Massacre – A Roger Corman-produced slasher flick from the early 1980s which sees a group of nudity-prone high school girls who run afoul of a psychotic killer with an industrial drill.

Atlantis: Series One – For the Merlin and Game of Thrones fan out there comes the first year of this fun series about a young man named Jason transported from the present to the lost city of Atlantis where he befriends mathematical genius Pythagoras and the aging legend that is Hercules, played by King Robert himself, Mark Addy. Below, please enjoy this behind-the-scenes clip of how Addy was cast as the famous demigod.

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