The Princess and the Frog

[Screenshot]I haven’t actually taken in a Disney original feature animated film in a while, and got the impression I wasn’t missing much, with increasing tokenization and worsening art and being pitched at Kids Today, from whom I am increasingly remote. But I got the impression this one was actually pretty good, so I decided to give it a go. I wasn’t disappointed! There’s actually some refreshing willingness to step outside of a lot of the boundaries which have bound Disney of late. It doesn’t have that trying-too-hard-to-be-hip vibe that characterizes far too much children’s entertainment today, and the animation is reminiscent of a less-stylized naturalistic design from Disney’s glory days. But it still seems to have basically modern sensibilities, and encompasses a number of good progressive ideals (strong women and large minority roles) without becoming oppressively tokenistic. The art is organic, the characters and voice-acting appealing, and the music pleasantly appropriate. It works quite well. I wasn’t blown away, but I was satisfied and entertained.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.


Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar

[Screenshot]I read that there was a Bollywood remake of Breaking Away, and figured I had to see this singular oddity. I’ll admit I don’t necessarily understand the whole Indian-musical thing, despite occasionally watching them, and my ability to figure out the musical bits was not helped in this case by the unfortunate decision not to subtitle the songs.

It recognizably contains significant elements of Breaking Away, but makes some interesting changes to the dynamics around the lead character. First of all, he’s basically split in two, and the talented cyclist is his “good brother” Ratan: the one his father likes, who doesn’t get into trouble, and who eventually has to step aside for the real protagonist, his troublemaker brother Sanjay; Sanjay doesn’t much resemble Breaking Away‘s Dave either, and is distinctly lacking in admirable characteristics. Granted, that makes his eventual redemption that much more satisfying, but he isn’t even likeable for much of the film. Part of what makes him unlikeable is the resctructuring of the family dynamic: while the father in Breaking Away was a rather clownish caricature played largely for laughs, Sanjay’s father is presented as a responsible businessman and father who is materially hurt by Sanjay’s selfishness.

The cinematography is pretty satisfactory although the colors always seem a bit washed-out, which is probably a technical or budget issue. The music is pretty standard Indian musical fare, which I don’t differentiate well. The subtitles were competent, as far as I can tell.

I’m not sure if this movie is particularly worth seeing on its own merits, but it’s definitely a distinct take on the basic plot of Breaking Away, which is certainly well wrthwhile if you either liked Breaking Away or like Bollywood musicals (or both!). It runs a bit long, though.

Incidentally, even though most of the film is in Hindi, people (mostly the prep-school girls) say “OhmyGod!” in English an awful lot.

See also: IMDB, .

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

[Screenshot]The 5,000 FIngers of Dr. T was very much destined for cult-classic status from its release, as long as it managed to not actually be successful, as indeed it was not. Its chief claim to fame is that the chief creative talent behind its creation was Dr. Seuss, who then disowned it. His hand is oddly not all that visible in many aspects of the film: while the backgrounds are unmistakably Seussian and the lyrics of many of the songs resemble Seuss’s wordplay, the intervening dialogue, the characters, and most of the foreground decorations are really not all that remarkable. The story occasionally veers into entertainingly crazy territory, but mostly feels like a product of its time, all in all. It falls into a sort of boy-hero plot which seems rather relentlessly 50s, and for enough of the running time the piano-related lunacy is in the background. My expectations may be my fault, but nonetheless I can’t help but think this film squandered its opportunities to be truly fantastic. Only the wide-angle outdoor shots really capture a sense of magic and unreality.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Repo! The Genetic Opera

[Screenshot]Shit, you don’t need me to tell you if you’ll like this or not. It has the same director as Saw (and Saw II, and Saw III, and, er, however many more films are in that franchise), and stars, among many other colorful actors, Anthony Stewart Head, Ogre from Skinny Puppy, Paris Hilton, and Sarah Brightman. And it’s a musical. Having read all that, I imagine that either you are right now adding it to your Netflix queue, you are recoiling in horror from the screen, or your head has exploded. No matter which of those groups you fall into, you probably don’t need me to tell you if you’ll like it.

But, OK, I ought to say something. This film is, as the above synopsis suggests, one big kettle of weirdshit. Parts of it work better than others. Everyone hams it up tremendously, so the acting is what it is, which is neither good nor bad. Even Paris Hilton does an OK job. The songs include some decent pieces, some earworms, and a fair number of clunkers (the entire film might have been better if the “Seventeen” sequence had been left out. They could’ve snuck Joan Jett in somewhere else, really). All in all, it shows a certain amount of care and design, but that has absolutely no relevance on who will like it. This film is aimed at a very particular demographic and will please them, and probably enter into cult-classicdom through them. As a ridiculous, hammy piece lobbed at a particular culture, I can kinda respect this one, even if I’m lukewarm to it personally.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

István, a király

[Screenshot][Screenshot]A couple disclaimers: first, I watched this without subtitles, and with only a minimal plot outline; second, the recording of the 1984 movie I watched was a pretty crummy copy; to make up for it, I also watched a much crisper (and actually better artistically) recording of a 2003 open-air performance in Csiksomlyó. The music is excellent and stylistically diverse, although they make the common mistake of reusing old tunes for later plot events, so by Act 4 virtually everything’s a reprise. As for the performance issues, the movie and live performance were sufficiently different that they might need to be addressed individually. The movie was rather overfond of flashy effects, or what passed for flashy in 80s Hungary, which involved irritating quantities of slo-mo and stop-motion. Add that to the generally degraded quality of the print I was watching, and it was hard to get much nuance off of the characters. The Csiksomlyó performance, on the other hand, had a lot going for it in terms of character nuance, which surprisingly came down unflatteringly on the ostensible heroes: István seems indecisive and easily manipulated, and Sarolt just a tyrant. Oh, and in both versions the hordes of priests are pretty intimidating, so the overall effect is, to say the least, not exactly pro-Catholic.

I’d definitely recommend the Csiksomlyó performance, and even the movie if you can find a clean print, but I’m imagining the whole tihng’s a lot more enjoyable if you can find subtitles (I’m actually working on some, just for the hell of it, but it’s slow work for someone who doesn’t know Hungarian).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

[Screenshot]Sweeney Tood was one of those projects which has to cause a bit of trepidation. It’s a fairly ambitious musical, one demanding some pretty solid chops in both acting and singing, and Tim Burton handed the leads over to… his usual suspects, who are not actually professional singers. That it was possible is surprising, and that it is actually pretty good is nothing short of a miracle. It’s been ages since I saw the stage production of Sweeney Todd, but this recreation did it justice in tone, acting, and singing. Johnny Depp is well-suited to the role of Sweeney Todd himself, and fortunately he actually hits the notes and does a satisfactory performance (movie actors do have one distinctive advantage over stage actors: multiple takes!). Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs. Lovett feels a bit wrong to me, but I feel her character needs to be less goth and more matronly, which may just be my perspective. The bit roles are excellent too, if played a bit too much within type: Alan Rickman basically can’t play anyone but greasy authority figures any more, and Sascha Baron Cohen, whose type I don’t generally like, manages to work it into a surprisingly appropriate mold as Pirelli.

It’s not exactly the equal of an excellent stage performance: the principals do quite well but trained musicians might bring a bit more polish, and some of the songs were dropped for brevity (or perhaps the actors’ comfort). Nonetheless, this is surprisingly competent as a stageplay adaptation, and accomplished from a cinematographic perspective as well.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Across the Universe

[Screenshot]Everyone knew what thie gimmick was, and I remember when this film came out there was a bit of a buzz as to how well it could actually be pulled off. Pretty easily, actually, for the most part, since the Beatles, like every other band in history, recorded a prodigous number of love songs, and anyone that can’t fit a huge quantity of love songs into a movie isn’t actually trying very hard. The problem came with their attempts to fit everything else into the film, and it came off half-baked. Some of the associations were moderately clever: if you’re going to introduce a thinly veiled Janis Joplin standin, “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” is a good song to introduce her with, and the surreal Selective Services imagery during “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” actually works. You have to stack that against everything that doesn’t work in this movie, though, like the copout of putting “I am the Walrus” opposite acid-trip visuals, Eddie Izzard butchering “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” (disclaimer: I have nothing particular against Eddie Izzard, but I think his thing doesn’t work here), and random elements which don’t integrate into the story, like the extended Detroit race riots montage and pretty much everything involving Prudence (yes, I get it. She’s a lesbian. How is this significant?).

There’s some potential here, but this film is dragged down fairly heavily by the mediocrity of the love story and the producers’ complete inability to get over themselves and their own ostensible cleverness.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.