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THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

Studio: Disney

Rated: G

Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Keith David, John Goodman, Jenifer Lewis and Ritchie Montgomery

Directed by: Ron Clements and Rob Edwards

What it’s about: Stick with this, people, because the story is surprisingly complicated. Tiana is a poor black girl in Depression-era New Orleans. She wants to open her own restaurant with her dead dad’s recipes but never has the money for the down payment. When a rich friend pays her some green to cater a welcome dinner for a visiting prince, she jumps at the chance. Then a frog that talks like a prince jumps into her bedroom. She kisses it and wham-o! She becomes a frog. Together, her and the frog prince must find some help to break the voodoo curse that has put them in this predicament.

What I liked: After a string of disappointments in the earlier part of this decade, the 2D department was shut down for more CGI work. This film is the long awaited return of Disney to traditional 2D cell animation. On general principle, I am thrilled to see this art form come back because cinema should have a diversity of styles in the production pipeline. And thank god it works. The Princess and the Frog is a throwback to the neo-classic animated films of the 1990s.

The characters are sweet in the movie, with Keith David stealing the show as the evil Dr. Facilier, the voodoo priest who curses Tiana and the prince. In fact, it’s Facilier who has some of the best songs in the movie.

Overall, The Princess and the Frog hits all the right points. It’s a fun film that kids and parents can appreciate. It’s got some good music to it. And it gives us a unique take on a relatively bland fairy tale. Rather than going too traditional on this, the story exists outside of the box and makes for a fun and unique ride.

What I didn’t: As cool as it is to have a non-traditional story in this genre, things do get a bit bizarre. I can’t say I saw where everything was going, but at times I thought the diversions were a little much – particularly a Cajun firefly fight with two redneck hunters.

Just as this is a return to the 2D animation, this movie is also a return to the Disney animated film as a musical, so it’s packed with songs. Some are better than others, all written by Randy Newman. It’s nowhere near the genius that was Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, but at least it’s not Elton John or Phil Collins again.

Who is gonna like this movie: Boys and girls, kids and parents: the coveted four-quadrant special.

Grade: A

INVICTUS

Studio: Warner Bros.

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language.

Starring: Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

What it’s about: Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) takes office in post-Apartheid South Africa, facing a dangerous and bitter cultural time. To help unite the country, Mandela throws his support behind the South African national rugby team, cheering them on to win the World Cup.

What I liked: There’s a lot about this film that is well done from a technical perspective. It’s looks good and is well shot. The production design is top-notch, capturing the look and feel of South Africa in the mid-1990s.

Also, the acting is pretty good. Matt Damon, who plays the captain of the rugby team, puts on some muscle and a pretty decent South African accent to become his character. Morgan Freeman is stately enough for Nelson Mandela (although he still comes off more as Morgan Freeman than disappearing into the character), and he’s compelling to watch.

What I didn’t: Unfortunately, aside from the technical level, there’s something missing from the film. It just seems thrown onto the screen without any real cohesion or focus. Even after watching the entire thing, I can’t say what happened in the middle. It bored me quite a bit, and I just couldn’t bring myself to find interest in the otherwise historic events.

The movie shifts focus from a political film to a sports movie, and I suppose if you knew the ins and outs of rugby, you’d really get into the climax. However, for a big, dumb American like myself, I was confused. A movie about Quidditch would have made more sense.

I kept wishing that Christopher Johnson from District 9 and Walt Kowalski from Gran Torino would show up and kick start some action… Sadly that didn’t happen.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman or Myaaat Daaaahmon.

Grade: C

THE LOVELY BONES

Studio: Sony Pictures

Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language.

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan

Directed by: Peter Jackson

What it’s about: Back in the 70s, fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is murdered by a man in her neighborhood. The event tears her family apart, with her mother retreating emotionally and her father obsessing about finding the killer. Meanwhile, in “the in-between,” Susie finds herself in limbo, trying to let go of her former life while trying to communicate with her family and help them solve her murder.

What I liked: There is a beauty to this film that works on several levels. Rather than being a crime thriller, it’s a movie about letting go, and it definitely makes its points about that. Not only does Susie have to let go of her time on Earth, but her family has to let go of her memory to a degree. As a parent, this kind of film can really hit close to home.

The Lovely Bones is very well acted, and the in-between scenes are quite inspired. In particular, Stanley Tucci brings a very disturbing performance as Susie’s killer, and the film manages to get inside his head. Also bringing a good performance is Susan Sarandon as Susie’s lush grandmother who comes to help the family out in their time of need.

What I didn’t: Okay, this isn’t as long and drawn out as King Kong or the Lord of the Rings movies, but Peter Jackson is still a glutton for his own art on the screen. The movie runs a bit too long with scenes breathing more than they need to, resulting in a running time north of two hours. And don’t get me started on his unnecessary cameo that makes M. Night Shyamalan look humble in his desire to put himself in his movies.

I realize that there were some serious challenges in bringing the movie to life, and Jackson does a good job conveying the abstract elements of the film. However, it just doesn’t always click. Having not read the book, I think I figured out what was going on, but I was left confused by how knowledge seemed to pass from Susie to her family.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of the book who won’t mind some changes.

Grade: B-


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