Frozen 2 review

For F*** Magazine

FROZEN 2

Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Cast : Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Rachel Matthews, Ciarán Hinds
Genre : Animation, Musical
Run Time : 1 h 43 mins
Opens : 21 November 2019
Rating : PG

In 2013, Disney’s Frozen, based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, became a worldwide phenomenon. The film was a critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing animated film (until this year’s remake of The Lion King, if one defines that as ‘animated’). “Let It Go” became all but inescapable, winning the Oscar for Best Original Song. It seems like making a sequel would be a no-brainer, but the filmmakers took some time before committing to making Frozen 2, beginning work in earnest in early 2015.

Elsa (Idina Menzel) is settling into her role as the queen of Arendelle, but a mysterious voice that only she can hear beckons her to journey beyond the castle. Elsa initially resists, but when she realises that this voice reminds her of a lullaby her mother Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood) used to sing, she is compelled to venture forth. Elsa’s sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), the snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and Kristoff’s reindeer Sven join Elsa on her journey. They travel to the enchanted forest of Northuldra, which has for years been shut off from the outside world by a thick veil of mist. Revelations come to light as Elsa reckons with the secret origin of her cryokinetic powers, and the sisters learn truths both beautiful and hard to face about their family history.

One can see why directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee were initially hesitant to make a sequel to Frozen, because it has become difficult to separate the phenomenon from the movie itself. Frozen’s immense popularity brought about backlash and cries that it was overrated, and it’s easy to forget how good the movie was. Frozen 2 does not merely do everything the same, and is about something.

It is a spoiler to say what exactly some of Frozen 2’s themes are, but it does address the ideas of growth, change and maturity. After everything the characters have been through in the previous film, there is a sense that they’ve arrived, but the events of Frozen 2 push them further along in their character arcs. The sisterly bond between Elsa and Anna remains the beating heart of the film and there are genuinely emotional moments between them, especially when Anna feels that Elsa is still not trusting her fully.

The animation is superb, and the movie features multiple set-pieces in which the animators get to flex their prowess. Water and hair, elements that are notoriously difficult to realise with computer-generated imagery, are rendered beautifully in the film. The forces of nature feature heavily in the narrative, with wind, water, earth and flame all imbued with a dynamism and a consciousness. Also, the costumes in this movie are gorgeous – Elsa is given several show-stopping outfits that look like the world’s classiest figure skating dresses.

There is also a very cute salamander named Bruni, who is like a smaller, happier distant cousin of Tangled’s Pascal. He is very Pokémon-esque and we want one.

While it is commendable that Frozen 2 tackles heavy themes, the movie sometimes strains under the weight of this and is not fully able to support the exploration of those ideas, which requires nuance and time. There is a conversation about the movie’s themes of how history is framed to be had between parents and kids, and not every parent will be up to the task of explaining what Frozen 2 is really about in a kid-friendly way.

While Frozen 2 tries new things and is not a straight re-tread of the first film, there are times when it seems like it’s obligated to deliver what audiences love about the first. We’ll talk more about the songs next, but there are a few that feel like analogues of songs from the first movie and can as such come off as derivative.

Frozen 2 puts great emphasis on the characters from the first film and gives Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf more to do. However, this is sometimes at the expense of the newer characters, such as the likes of Northuldrans Yelana (Martha Plimpton), Ryder (Jason Ritter) and Honeymaren (Rachel Matthews) and Arendellian Lieutenant Mattias (Sterling K. Brown) feel somewhat perfunctory.

If you weren’t a fan of Olaf in the first one, Josh Gad is ever so slightly more annoying here, but there are several moments involving the character that work.

Music is arguably an even bigger part of Frozen 2 than the first one. Songwriting team Kristen and Robert Anderson-Lopez return from the first film, alongside composer Christophe Beck. The songs are a mixed bag: some are good and others feel somewhat derivative. The big number “Into the Unknown”, which is pitched as this movie’s “Let It Go”, can’t help but feel like inherently less than “Let It Go”. Thematically, it is the ‘refusal of the call’ stage of the archetypical Hero’s Journey in song form. It does feature a good use of countermelody, with Norwegian singer Aurora giving voice to the mysterious entity that calls out to Elsa.

The filmmakers seem to have realised how woefully underused Broadway star Jonathan Groff’s singing voice was in the first film, and as such have given Kristoff more songs. He gets what is arguably the film’s best number, “Lost in the Woods”, a playful riff on 80s-90s boyband ballads that is reminiscent of Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” and “You’re the Inspiration”.

The haunting lullaby “All is Found”, performed by Evan Rachel Wood, is analogous to “Frozen Heart” from the first film. It conveys a sense of foreboding but is also an emotional anchor to the piece.

The end credits feature pop versions of the film’s big songs: Panic! At the Disco sings “Into the Unknown”, Kacey Musgraves sings “All is Found” and Weezer sings “Lost in the Woods”. Brendon Urie’s famous four-octave rage gets showcased nicely in “Into the Unknown”.

There’s an authenticity to Frozen 2, which is respectful of the Nordic culture that is its inspiration. The filmmakers were unable to take the customary research trips for the first film, but made it a point to visit Iceland, Finland and Norway during pre-production on Frozen 2. One of the most interesting elements of Frozen 2 is itself an elemental, an entity called the Nokk that takes the form of a horse and with which Elsa has a dramatic encounter. The contrast between the fairytale-like Norway and the ancient, mythic Iceland is meant to represent the difference between Anna and Elsa.

Part of what’s interesting about Frozen 2 is the battle between being its own thing and being the sequel to Frozen, and the filmmakers have mostly struck a good balance here. Stick around for a post-credits scene.

Frozen 2 has a lot to live up to and delivers both breath-taking animation and a substantial story. While the strain of the weighty themes can sometimes be felt and some of the songs feel like also-rans versions of songs from the first film, Frozen 2 is mostly a lively and engaging experience.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies review

TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES

Director : Peter Rida Michall, Aaron Horvath
Cast : Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Jimmy Kimmel, Halsey, Lil Yachty, Wil Wheaton, Patton Oswalt
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 88 mins
Opens : 30 August 2018

Superhero movie saturation has become such a commonplace topic that there now exists a superhero movie specifically about that phenomenon. In Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, the titular DC team of junior superheroes is feeling left out – it seems that everyone, even the obscure likes of the Challengers of the Unknown, is getting their own movie.

This hits Robin (Scott Menville) particularly hard, because his guardian Batman (Jimmy Kimmel) seems to get movie after movie, while he is left in the shadows. Robin’s teammates Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton) and Raven (Tara Strong) try to cheer him up, but to no avail. Robin lobbies film director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) to make a movie about him.

Deciding that what the team needs is an arch-nemesis to make a compelling movie, the Teen Titans take on Slade (Will Arnett), a dastardly mercenary looking to steal a powerful crystal. In their quest for justice/a movie deal, the Titans run into a variety of other heroes, including Superman (Nicolas Cage), Wonder Woman (Halsey), Green Lantern (Lil Yachty) and The Flash (Wil Wheaton).

There have been many incarnations of the Teen Titans in the comics, arguably the best-known being The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is an extension of the Teen Titans Go! TV series, a comedic spinoff of the 2003 Teen Titans animated series. Teen Titans Go! has long been a bugbear of many fans. Those who grew up on the anime-esque Teen Titans series in the early 2000s consider the parody series to be an affront to their memory of the earlier show. Having grown up on the DC Animated Universe, which began with 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series, this reviewer would argue that while not without many redeeming qualities, the 2003 Teen Titans series was itself a marked step down from the DCAU.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the backlash to Teen Titans Go! mostly stems from a rejection of ‘childishness’ – quite cleverly, this is one of the themes in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. In the film, the Teen Titans are dismissed by the other heroes because they can’t take anything seriously. This is a very silly film about just how silly superhero movies can be. On the surface, it’s all pratfalls, toilet humour and incongruous song and dance numbers. Beneath that, this movie delights in a playful meta deconstruction of superhero movies and their conventions, without losing sight of its primary audience.

The popular public conception of DC media as being darker than that of rival Marvel, sometimes to a self-conscious extent, gets a lot of play. We wish that directors Peter Rida Michall and Aaron Horvath could’ve seen bits of the upcoming live-action TV series Titans, which appears to fundamentally misunderstand the source material, just so the Teen Titans Go! version of Robin could mutter “fudge Batman”. Alas, we must make do with yet another Martha joke.

There’s a Catch-22 here: on the one hand, the detail-light and deliberately cartoony animation style of Teen Titans Go! doesn’t work particularly well on the big screen, especially when compared to the richness and technical wizardry of something like The LEGO Batman Movie. On the other hand, this being a theatrically-released movie is integral to the central premise of the Teen Titans going in search of their own movie.

The central voice cast from Teen Titans Go! and the original Teen Titans series returns, with several celebrities joining them. While notable-ish names from the music world Halsey and Lil Yachty don’t contribute too much, getting Nicolas Cage to voice Superman is a bit of a casting coup. Cage was attached to play Superman in Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, a film which didn’t come to fruition and is now legend among comic book movie fans.

Will Arnett, who voiced Batman in The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, voices Slade, and just like everyone else involved, sounds like he’s having the greatest time. There are several cameos which will elicit a chuckle or two.

Fans of comics and related media are often afraid of being perceived as childish, because of the long-held stigma that people who read comics or collect toys are socially mal-adjusted. While that appears to be changing, there’s still a fear of embracing silliness within the genre, which has led to overcompensating with ‘grimdark’ takes on the source material. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies examines this in a surprisingly nimble way. This reviewer still isn’t sure that it works amazingly on the big screen, especially in a summer which has given us Incredibles 2, but if you’re willing to let loose for a bit and not take yourself too seriously, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is worth a look.

Stick around for a stinger after the main-on-end titles.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bad Moms

F*** Magazine

BAD MOMS

Director : Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast : Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumulo, Jay Hernandez, Emjay Anthony, Oona Laurence
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 41 mins
Opens : 28 July 2016
Rating : M18 (Some Nudity & Sexual References)

Bad Moms posterOne would think if anyone knew a thing or two about letting one’s hair down, it would be the screenwriters of The Hangover. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have turned their attention to the demographic of women who feel the pressure to be perfect mothers; juggling careers, caring for their children and obligations as part of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Amy Mitchell (Kunis) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In between working at a coffee co-op and ferrying her kids Jane (Laurence) and Dylan (Anthony) to and from school and various co-curricular activities, she’s just about had enough of being taken for granted. Amy befriends brash single mum Carla (Hahn) and the mousy, awkward Kiki (Bell), and together they make a pact to rebel against established standards and be ‘bad moms’ for once. This earns the ire of Gwendolyn (Applegate), the PTA president who rules over the other parents with an iron fist. Always accompanied by her lackeys Stacy (Smith) and Vicky (Mumulo), Gwendolyn becomes vindictive towards Amy and her newfound friends when Gwendolyn finds her authority threatened.

Bad Moms Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn in the bar

Teaming up actresses as funny and entertaining as Kunis, Bell and Hahn and setting them loose should’ve yielded far less disappointment than Bad Moms delivers. Above anything else, this feels lazy and insincere. Clichés and stereotypes flood the film, which begins with Kunis’ Amy addressing the audience in voiceover. “He’s a successful mortgage broker, but sometimes he feels like my third child,” Amy says of her schlubby husband Mike (David Walton). Many of the jokes sink like a stone, and the cast gets to improvise a little, but the results are mostly leaden.

Bad Moms Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn in the supermarket

The R-rated comedy subgenre of “ladies who can be as lewd and callous as the guys” is already growing tired. It’s difficult to shake the sense that the many, many jokes about genitalia both male and female are a futile attempt to make a mostly safe comedy shocking. The one scene of full-frontal nudity, built around a pubic hair visual gag, is wholly gratuitous. There’s also a miscalculated attempt at diversity, with Muslim women wearing headscarves depicted attending a party with free-flowing booze and weed.

Bad Moms Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn in the movie theatre

Kunis is reasonably convincing as a woman who had her first child at 20 and whose entire life has been consumed by work and kids since then, and she’s well able to convey the character’s understandable frustrations. Bell plays the maladroit, square oddball and it registers as a severe case of miscasting, since she doesn’t get to display her usual effervescence. Most of the film’s dirty jokes come courtesy of Hahn’s Carla – the actress is considerably funnier when she’s more nuanced, and the confident, aggressive and overtly sexual character is gratingly one-note. Applegate bites into the part of the control freak queen bee with entertaining aplomb, but Gwendolyn is yet another example of how the exaggerated characterisation is more annoying than it is actually funny. While Anthony doesn’t get too much to do as Amy’s son Dylan, Laurence manages to be amusing as Amy’s high-strung daughter Jane. 12-year-old Jane’s preoccupation with getting into an Ivy League college does hit a little close to home. And naturally, there’s a requisite attractive guy in the form of Jay Hernandez’s Jessie, who is bluntly referred to as the “Hot Widower” amongst the mums. Classy.

Bad Moms Jay Hernandez and Mila Kunis

There’s supposed to be a heart at the centre of the bawdy gags and copious swearing, but Bad Moms is unable to blend aww shucks sentimentality with its production line crudeness. The main-on-end titles, which feature several surprise guest appearances, are obviously meant to tug at the heartstrings, but this saccharine glop at the end is blatantly manipulative. Lucas and Moore toss in a vertigo-afflicted dog – the device of a pet with a medical condition that is played for laughs is such a hack move. There’s certainly a statement to be made about the societal expectations foisted on mothers and children, and the relatable premise will resonate with any number of overworked mums. It’s too bad then that any sliver of poignancy is buried deep beneath sludgy layers of filth.Bad Moms Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumulo

Summary: Funny actresses are left floundering in this pointlessly crass comedy, which misses the “rude but sweet” mark by a fair bit.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Boss

For F*** Magazine

THE BOSS 

Director : Ben Falcone
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Kathy Bates, Annie Mumulo, Kristen Schaal, Kathy Bates
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 21 April 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual References and Coarse Language)

Melissa McCarthy has become one of the most in-demand comedic actors in Hollywood, and her latest starring vehicle sees her in a position of power as the 47th wealthiest woman in the United States. McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a business mogul and popular financial guru who gets knocked down a few pegs when she’s convicted of insider trading. Starting from scratch after her release from prison, she has nowhere to stay except with her former assistant Claire Rawlins (Bell). The long-suffering Claire has moved on to a new job, trying to provide for her daughter Rachel (Anderson). Michelle hatches a business plan to create a brownie empire off Claire’s secret family recipe. Michelle’s long-time nemesis and former lover Renault (Dinklage) is bent on preventing Michelle from getting back on her feet. Michelle has to learn to become equal partners with Claire, the woman she used to boss around, if her plan is going to succeed.

            The Boss is directed by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, who also makes a cameo appearance as a lawyer. Falcone previously directed McCarthy in Tammy, and the couple also co-wrote The Boss with Steve Mallory. Mallory is a friend of theirs from the comedy troupe Groundlings, and Michelle Darnell is based on a character McCarthy developed during her time at the Groundlings. This sounds like a bunch of friends having a laugh – while there’s no rule saying that a bunch of friends having a laugh cannot produce a solid movie, The Boss comes off as flimsy and self-indulgent. There must be hundreds of smarter, sharper comedy scripts floating around Hollywood, but this gets made because of the clout McCarthy has garnered, and due to the influence of producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

            While McCarthy is undeniably talented, like every actor out there, she has certain strengths and weaknesses. She’s at her best as the scrappy, brash underdog who musters up the gumption when it counts the most. The Michelle Darnell character is obnoxious, confrontational and generally unpleasant. Her sappy backstory – that she bounced around foster homes living a childhood of rejection – is intended to mitigate Michelle’s repulsive behaviour to those around her, especially those trying to help her. It comes off as lazy writing and there’s the promise that the character will be forced to eat her humble pie and change her ways, but any redemption is half-hearted at best. Around half the jokes consist of Michelle blurting out something grossly inappropriate in the presence of children, while the adults gasp and the kids ask “what’s ‘girl-on-girl’?” Rachel seems to get along with Michelle almost immediately, overcoming her initial suspicions of her mother’s former boss with convenient ease. Again, pretty lazy writing.

            Bell is a charming performer whose sunny disposition has served her well in other comedic roles. She does get a few scenes in which the chemistry she shares with McCarthy approaches funny – there’s an extended gag in which Michelle is giving Claire advice about what bra she should wear out for a date where some passable physical comedy is on display from both actors. However, it’s all too clear that this is McCarthy’s show and she’s not going to let anyone steal it from her.

Dinklage, a consummate scene-stealer if ever there was one, is criminally underused as the main antagonist. He is entertaining with the little screen time he gets, but the character is little more than Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, complete with a Smithers in the form of his lackey Stephan (Timothy Simons). The actors who were considered for the role which would become Dinklage’s include names as varied as Oprah Winfrey, Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock. This indicates there wasn’t really a strong idea for who the villain would be, other than a name actor. Bates gets even shorter shrift, appearing as Michelle’s spurned mentor Ida Marquette in two scenes. Dave Bautista showed up in the teaser trailer, but has apparently been cut from the finished film.  

            The Boss has a very sitcom-esque premise: powerful woman used to having things her way has to move in with her beleaguered assistant and shenanigans ensue. Because the germ of the idea feels so much like something you’d see on network TV (that would get cancelled after one season), the swearing and brazen sexual humour feel like they’ve been shoehorned in to make this an edgy, R-rated comedy – and edgy, The Boss absolutely is not. McCarthy’s numerous detractors are highly unlikely to be swayed by her latest starring vehicle, which comes off as little more than a flat, cynical exercise.

Summary:Playing a noxious, unlikeable character whose actions are given the flimsiest excuse, Melissa McCarthy’s comedic skills are largely wasted in The Boss.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong