FlixChatter Review: FROZEN II (2019)

Written & Directed By: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown
Runtime: 1 hour 43 minutes

When the credit for Frozen II started to roll, I looked over at my (adult) niece and asked what she thought.

“It was really cute! What did you think?”

I opened my mouth and immediately closed it again, trying not to be a party pooper. She grinned. She knows me too well.

“What didn’t you like?”

“I feel like –“ I paused, looking for the right words, “it’s an apologist narrative for colonialism.”

My niece blinked at me. I changed tracks.

“The animation was so pretty, though! Those fall colors!”

We left the theater, talking about the incredible animation and how hilarious Olaf was, which is true, but so is the thing about colonialism. Unfortunately, it is impossible to unpack any of that without spoiling the entire end of the movie, so I’ll save that for the very end of my review. Once you’ve seen the movie, come back and we’ll compare notes.

Frozen II picks up approximately where Frozen left off. Anna and Kristoff are clutzily in love. Olaf is essentially a pre-teen in a toddler shaped body, trying to figure out what growing up is. Elsa is the beloved queen of Arendelle, but she worries that she isn’t fulfilling her potential. This hunch is verified when Arendelle is attacked by the four forces of nature (wind, fire, water, and earth) and a mysterious singing voice compels Elsa to leave her city. Predictably, she wants to go alone. Just as predictably, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf want to join. The five of them set out on an adventure and along the way they wrestle with their personal struggles: destiny (Elsa), sisterhood (Anna), growing up (Olaf), and love (Kristoff).

Frozen II is jam packed with Big Ideas. Aside from the aforementioned personal struggle each character is dealing with (which they mostly hash out in their solos), the movie also reckons with environmentalism and colonialism. All these topics are interesting, but there are so many ideas floating around that the movie suffers, feeling disconnected and meandering. Despite having so much thematic content, the story never quite fleshes itself out. There were several scenes that felt like padding (Olaf recounting the entire plot of Frozen is one of the more delightful examples of this) and overall the story just didn’t move with the same vivacity of its predecessor.

As far as the music goes, the soundscape is gorgeous and a couple songs are gems (Olaf’s solo about growing up is hilarious and fun). Unfortunately, most of the songs, although good, feel misplaced. Rare is the moment when it makes sense for the character to burst into song. The biggest offender on this count was Kristoff’s solo, told through a hilarious 80s style music video (replete with pine cone microphones and elk backup singers). It’s a fun idea and technically well executed, but it took me right out of the story, and if you’re older than ten it will probably have the same effect on you.

All that said, the animation in Frozen II is absolutely to die for. The coloring, the action, the impeccable eye for detail: there is so much to love. The autumn colors of the forest repeatedly took my breath away and the animation of the sea and its watery inhabitants is just as stunning. Olaf, of course, is a whimsical favorite: his expressive bodily rearrangement is cute, complicated, and so fun. Honestly, I could have written an entire review just about how great the animation was, but I’ll leave the rest of it for you to discover yourself.

Frozen II is a movie that knows it has a lot to live up to. From its top-notch animation, an insistently whimsical Olaf, and surprisingly cerebral themes for a kids’ movie, Frozen II will leave its viewers with a lot to be impressed by and think about. Although worth seeing, its rather lackadaisical story arc, plodding soundtrack, and severe misstep of an ending make it hard for me to rate the movie highly.


SPOILER ALERT

Alright. For those of you who have either already seen Frozen II or don’t care about spoilers, here it is:

Frozen II ends with Elsa and Anna righting a wrong that their grandfather, then king of Arendelle, committed against the Northuldra tribe. In typical colonial fashion, their grandfather murdered the leader of the Northuldra after that leader expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the giant dam the king had installed “as a gift”. This murder (and the resulting battle) was an act of evil that the spirits of earth, wind, fire, and water repaid by (kind of unfairly) trapping both sides of the feud within a dome of impenetrable magic fog. Fast forward to “present day” in the movie. Anna destroys the dam when she and Elsa realize that their grandfather was a murderer and a liar.

This destruction creates a tidal wave that nearly flattens Arendelle, but doesn’t because Elsa races back to the city on her stunningly rendered Sea Horse and stops the water with a beautiful wall of ice. And then the water level very unrealistically just settles back to where it was before the dam broke. The fog lifts. The Northuldra continue to live in the forest; the city of Arendelle continues to exist exactly as it had before. Literally the only change made is that Arendelle installs a new statue that is supposed to represent the love between the Northuldra and the citizens of Arendelle.

There is a lot to unpack here and every pro is wrapped up in a corresponding con.

After thinking on it for a while, I do like the metaphor of some people being stuck in the fog of ancestral mistakes. It is fitting that Arendelle continues to thrive outside of the magical forest while none of the Northuldra people escaped the fog. Historically conquerers have been able to continue building their cities and their families and their futures while the conquered suffer under their rule. The only flaw here is that this particular fog represents the spirits of the forest and if the spirits are going to be on anyone’s side, it should probably be the Northuldra since they weren’t the lying liars who built a dam that destroyed a local ecosystem.

It is great that Anna and Elsa take responsibility for their grandfather’s actions and undo what he did by destroying the dam. However, there are absolutely no consequences to Arendelle. The two women are disappointed in their grandfather and they are not shy about telling others what he did, but their city, which we are told repeatedly is in the floodplain of the dam, emerges unscathed despite the destruction of that very dam. One well-placed wall of ice would not have saved that city from a mild flood at the very least. I get that this is a kids’ movie. I get that we want a happy ending. I also strongly believe that there was a huge missed opportunity to talk about reparations at the end of this film. Two generations of Northuldra people lived in a literal fog while Arendelle thrived on the other end of the fjord. Bare minimum giving the Northuldra people a stronger voice at the end of the movie would have been a better choice. Additionally, the storytellers should have found a more compelling way for Arendelle to reckon with the wrongs of its founders.

All that said, Disney collaborated with the Sami (a native group in Sweden) for this film. Although I get the impression that most of the Sami contributions were aesthetic, I would like to assume that they had some sort of input on the story as well. However, the pretty blatantly apologist ending makes it hard to believe that.

Tangentially, none of the Northuldra voice actors are native people. Obviously there are plenty of reasons why this myriad of choices would have gone unchallenged, but if you’re going to make a movie about reckoning with the sins of our fathers, maybe start with a more diverse cast.


Agree? Disagree? This is one I want to talk about. 🙂

Fun in the Florida sun, Wizarding World of Harry Potter & What I watched during my vacation

Hello everyone! So I’m kinda back from vacation though I haven’t blogged a single thing since I’m back, well except for this post. I’m hoping to start in the swing of things and write reviews again before I forget how, ahah. I have like five reviews I still have to write hopefully by end of the month. I literally had to write a note on my phone last night which movies I saw in the last three weeks that I haven’t reviewed yet:

  • The Water Diviner
  • The Woman in Gold
  • Far From the Madding Crowd
  • Felony
  • Paddington

We’ll see which one I’m in the mood to write next 🙂

Ok so, the Florida trip… well it was a blast!! We pretty much got to everything we set out to do, except for Disney’s Animal Kingdom as the forecast said it might rain that day. So here’s my recap:

Clearwater Beach

We kinda started late in the day and it was about an hour drive from our hotel in Tampa. By the time we got there it was mid afternoon and the place was packed!! We didn’t swim – I’m actually not a big ocean swimmer, if I want to swim I’d hit the pool – but we did walk around barefoot on the soft, white sand beach and dip our feet in the ocean to cool off.

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Tarpon Springs

I’m so glad we managed to fit in this small Greek town about 40-min north of Clearwater. It’s such a picturesque little town with a small harbor. The town has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US and the historic downtown is lined with Greek restaurants/bars and shops. We had one of the best Greek food for dinner with one of the best views!

NASA Kennedy Space Center

On our way to Orlando from Tampa, we fit in a visit to the Kennedy Space Center. There wasn’t a crowd at all on Sunday so it was perfect.

NASA

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The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)

We took on a bus tour around the vast NASA facilities, including some of the rocket launch sites at Cape Canaveral. We didn’t get inside the VAB building though, just went around it. It didn’t seem THAT big but apparently you could fit three Empire State Buildings comfortably inside this, wow!

My favorite part is the new Atlantis exhibit. I think if you’re a space nut or someone who’s really into sci-fi would get a kick out of this one.

Universal Studios – Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Monday was Harry Potter day! We could see the Hogwarts Tower from our hotel window as Universal Studios is only about a mile away.

The place was packed and it was well worth getting the Park-to-Park tickets so we could get to both Harry Potter sites: Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The latter is no doubt my favorite and it’s a bit cooler in there. We spent the most time at Diagon Alley and we had lunch at Leaky Cauldron in which was a rustic tavern like place with a kind of a communal seating area with long tables and benches.

One of the highlights was definitely riding the Hogwarts Express itself that takes us from Hogsmeade right to Diagon Alley!

I’m quite impressed with these two parks. Seems that they went to great lengths in creating a fun experience for HP fans and paid attention to the small details from the architecture, down to the food and beverage – those BUTTERBEER seems to be quite a hit! I especially love the architecture of Diagon Alley with all the shops. I’m not as huge a fan of HP to fully appreciate every detail but I still enjoyed them. The only disappointing thing for me was there’s nothing on Snape at all, not a single statue or even Snape-related souvenir item. Trust me, I actually asked a couple of people about that.

Second best part of the HP experience is the Escape from Gringotts ride. It’s my fave ride of the entire Universal Orlando, and we went to about five of them including the Transformers and Spiderman rides. The wait was the longest too, but the inside of the ride was beautifully decorated and as you entered the Gringotts Bank, there were lifelike goblins working at their stations and sometimes they look up from their papers to stare at people waiting in line. Creepy but fun!

If you’re ever in the Universal Walk area, make sure you stop by The Crowfish which is a fusion type bar/restaurant for their awesome sushi and burger fusion dishes. I actually had the delicious Bento box and my hubby had sushi w/ burger meat that’s absolutely smashing! Great ambience too, definitely our favorite restaurants from the entire trip!

TheCrowfish

Downtown Disney

On our last day in Orlando, we just spent our time in Downtown Disney. Now that we think about it, we really should’ve gone to Animal Kingdom instead as the rain was kind of sporadic anyway.

It’s kind of disheartening to see all the bastardization of the Star Wars paraphernalia. I mean, they basically added Mickey Mouse ears to most of the iconic SW characters. Needless to say, we didn’t buy anything at the plethora of Disney stores.

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Vader and Leia w/ Mickey Mouse ears! My hubby’s not impressed.

Movies/TV Watched During Vacation

I only had time to watch stuff on the plane or when we’re bat at the hotel.

Nazi/Hitler documentary on American Heroes Channel

It’s a rather dark subject to watch during vacation but my hubby ended up watching a couple of hours worth of Hitler documentary, mostly concentrating on his youth and how he became the monster that he was. It’s more of a re-enactment documentary, not just talking heads. Interesting though that it’s in a channel called American Heroes (??)

The Rewrite


TheRewrite

I saw this on the plane and mostly because I love Marisa Tomei. It actually turns out to be pretty good for a rom-com. I mean it’s kinda predictable but sweet, and it was rather fun seeing Hugh Grant poking fun at his previous roles as a Jane Austen hero. Not a bad rental if you like this kind of stuff.

Frozen (rewatch)

I can’t help rewatching this one on the plane ride back. It just always puts me in a good mood. Funny but Let It Go is actually my least fave song of the whole movie! Olaf’s In Summer song however, never fails to put a smile on my face!

SHOWTIME’s Penny Dreadful Season 2 (2 episodes)

PennyDreadfulSeason2

I don’t know which episodes they are but since I’ve read a few articles/reviews on the show (yes because of Timothy Dalton’s involvement), I pretty much knew what the show is about. Boy is it ever terrifying, I don’t think I could watch this alone in my basement without my hubby in the room. The violence is really quite brutal and the satanic stuff is REALLY creepy, but the production design is top notch. Seriously they threw money at this show like nobody’s business, they certainly don’t skimp on the set, costumes, ambience, etc.

 


Hope I didn’t bore you with my recap folks… So how’s your week been, seen anything good lately?

TOP 10 FILMS of 2013 and The Worst/Most Disappointing Films of the Year

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It took me a while to finally publish my Top 10 list, but my plan was to post this sometime in January anyway. Now, when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Rewatchability is a factor but it doesn’t account as high as the other virtues I’ve mentioned, because some of the films here are more of a one-time-viewing-only types (for me anyway), but I still very much appreciate the artistry and passion that goes into making them.

Last year I did something different where I posted my Top 10 of the First Half of 2013 back in July, though only one of the films I listed there made it to this FINAL list. Yeah, I’m quite surprised by that as well, but I guess a lot of great films were released in the latter half of the year. 2013 has been a pretty good year for movies so I couldn’t resist actually making a Top 20 (scroll down to read it), as well the unfortunate WORST list that we moviegoers are likely to be subjected to year after year [sigh].

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. Captain Phillips (full review)

Ten_CaptPhillipsUnder a lesser director than Paul Greengrass, this film could’ve easily been a run-of-the-mill action film. Fortunately, even when you already knew the story did end well for the Captain, Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray managed to deliver one heck of a thrill ride.

Tom Hanks once again proved he’s one of the most consistently accomplished actors of his generation with his astute portrayal. The genius casting doesn’t stop there, as  newcomer Barkhad Abdi is quite a revelation in portraying a villain that’s so much more than a caricature. The direction, performance, cinematography and score all made for a taut, cerebral thriller from start to finish.

9. August: Osage County

Nine_AugustOsageCounty It’s especially challenging to adapt from a stage play, but somehow director John Wells did an admirable job making it work. The ensemble cast worked wonderfully and it manages to be both hilarious and moving. There’s beauty amidst all that chaos and it’s quite amusing that at times the madness of the Weston family actually hits pretty close to home. It’s no surprise that Meryl Streep can pretty much play ANYONE, and as the pill-popping matriarch Violet, she made even the Prada-wearing Miranda Priestly seems warm and fuzzy! I’m especially impressed by Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale and Julianne Nicholson are especially worth-noting. Oh and Benedict Cumberbatch also proved his versatility playing a role that’s a complete opposite of Sherlock. Plus he sings, too!

8. The Act of Killing (review + interview w/ director)

Eight_TheActOfKillingIt’s truly one of THE most harrowing films I saw in a long time and not only because it involved my home country’s history. As if all the re-enactments of the gruesome genocide wasn’t enough, the perpetrators went even further in making an elaborate theatrical performances of their past that’s as surreal as it is disturbing. Major kudos to director Joshua Oppenheimer for tackling a subject matter that not many people know about, and made it in such an inventive way. Though it’s really tough to watch, I still would recommend people to give it a shot. It’s an essential viewing in that this incident isn’t just about Indonesia, but it speaks volumes about our humanity and what we humans are capable of

7. Nebraska (full review)

Seven_NebraskaThis film was an absolute surprise when I saw this at TCFF as I hadn’t heard much about it. Like August: Osage county, this one also deals with a quirky family. I feel that this one has a more compelling character development as I felt an odd kinship with Bruce Dern‘s Woody and his son David (Will Forte). I think the ending is one of my favorites of the year as it’s hilarious but also full of heart. This is one family road movie that you’d be glad you tag along.

6. The Hunt (full review)

Six_TheHuntFew films I saw last year got me as riled up as this one. It’s another film festival gem that I’m glad I got to experience, though not something I’m keen on seeing again. The way the story unfolds is most unsettling, made even more eerie by director Thomas Vinterberg‘s minimalist but atmospheric style. He found the perfect actor for the protagonist in fellow Dane Mads Mikkelsen who also subscribed to the less-is-more principle in delivering maximum impact with subtle nuances. Superb in every sense of the word.

5. 12 Years A Slave (full review)

Five_12YearsASlaveI finally get what the fuss is about with British director Steve McQueen. This is only his third film but he’s certainly made an indelible mark in the filmmaking industry. The story of Solomon Northrup, a former free man who was tricked and sold into slavery, made the darkest chapter of human history so hauntingly personal. Glad to see the talented actor Chiwetel Ejiofor getting much-deserved attention for his eloquent and stirring performance. A powerfully-breathtaking work of art, in more ways than one.

4. MUD 

Four_MUDThis is the film that got me so upset I couldn’t see it at the MSP film fest as it was snowing so hard. I’m glad I finally saw it when it’s out on rental and what a gem it is! Like McQueen, this is my intro to Jeff Nichols which is also his third film. I really like the story of unlikely friendship and this is one of the roles that brings about Matthew McConnaughey‘s career transformation. I also got to discover Tye Sheridan as one of the boys who befriended Mud. The stunning cinematography of Arkansas’ Mississippi river banks could be a character in itself, it definitely adds to the beauty of this film.

3. Frozen (full review)

Three_FrozenIt may seem like a traditional Disney princess movie as it’s also set in a Kingdom in a far-away land, but fortunately there’s more to it than that. I absolutely adore the story and the characters, with the funny and kind protagonist Anna being one of the most enchanting character that kids and adults alike can look up to. There are much fun to be had watching this film, but it’s also got so much heart. It’s certainly one of my favorite 2013 films I’ll watch over and over again.

2. HER (full review)

Two_HER2013 turns out to be full of surprises in terms of movies, and this one is at the top of the GREAT surprise. There’s barely any buzz surrounding this when I saw it, but it absolutely mesmerized me. It’s the most bizarre exploration of love in the modern world, but also one of the most emotionally-gratifying. It’s the kind of film that makes you ponder about the possibilities and effects of technology in our daily life, but more profoundly, it makes us reflect in what really makes us human. I’ve only seen one film by Spike Jonze but after this I’m real curious to see what he’ll tackle next. As for the performances, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson made the most arresting couple in recent memory despite the latter not being physically present in the film.

1. Gravity (full review)

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I saw this last October and I knew it would top my Best list. I kept wondering though if in the next two months there might have been another film that might dethrone it. Well, as of today, it still reigns as THE best film of 2013 for me. Her comes pretty darn close but overall I think Alfonso Cuarón‘s work is still more deserving to take the top spot. I have always loved Sandra Bullock and her outstanding performance here has become a career’s best even in her long filmography. As I said in my review, I ran out of adjectives to describe this film. It’s an exceptional kind of work that people will be talking about for years and people study about in film schools. A pretty simple story set entirely in space, yet it’s a feast for the eyes, ears, mind and soul. Plus, it boasts a finale that makes you want to get up and cheer. Can’t top THAT!


These 10 would likely make my Top 20:

It’s a testament to a pretty strong year of movies last year was that I have a long list of Honorable Mentions. Now, before I get to the general list of Honorable Mentions, I should prioritize films that I thought were excellent but for one reason or another, they just didn’t make it to my top 10 (in random order):

  1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler
  2. RUSH
  3. The Kings of Summer
  4. American Hustle
  5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  6. Pacific Rim
  7. Saving Mr. Banks
  8. Stoker
  9. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  10. Man of Steel

You might be surprised that Man of Steel didn’t make my Top 10 considering how much I had been anticipating it. Well, upon third viewing (3rd time being on Blu-ray), somehow I just wasn’t wowed by it anymore. In fact, I found myself picking faults with it that I either overlooked or didn’t mind at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the film and I probably will watch it again, but I just don’t think it deserves to be on my Top 10.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Now some of these films are on my list from the first half of 2013. They’re definitely worth your while when you’re looking for something good to rent:


MOST DISAPPOINTING:

The Wolverine (full review)

It’s not quite a terrible movie so I don’t think it deserves to be on the WORST list, but I was expecting SO much more from this. It’s not enough that it’s better than the original Wolverine movie. Plus it had so much promise the fact that it’s set in Japan and we’re supposed to get a compelling back-story into one of X-Men’s most bad-ass mutants. Alas, apart from a few exciting scenes, I find myself feeling quite bored by this movie. I expected a great deal of emotional gravitas from the story, but I didn’t connect with Wolverine’s Japanese journey as much as I had hoped.

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WORST OF THE YEAR:

Ok I’m glad that at least my bad list is shorter than my good list and thankfully I saw less horrible films in the latter half of the year. In any case, my initial Top Five Worst List from last July still stands (listed first), with two more that I saw after that. So avoid these if you can help it, you’ve been warned!


So that’s my Best/Worst list of 2013. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d be happy to discuss ’em with you 😀

First Question of the Year: Which 2013 movie(s) do you appreciate but wouldn’t watch again?

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It’s been a bitterly c-cc-cold start to the new year here in my neck of the woods! I know I seem to be obsessing over the weather a lot but really, you’d understand when the *high* only reaches -2˚F (that’s -18˚ C!) and I’m super excited that Friday is going to hit 20 degrees (woot woot!) Yeah, it’s pathetic!

But hey, it’s not a weather blog so let’s talk about movies! As I’ve been writing some reviews of 2013 releases the past few days (stay tuned for my review of Nebraska later this week), it made me think of how I view some of those films now that it’s sunk in. More often than not, the reaction right after seeing the movie is pretty different than how I feel days or weeks later. There are some films I rate highly that I wish I’d watch again, sometimes right away (Frozen comes to mind, and on varying degrees HER, Nebraska, Austenland, and of course Pacific Rim, which I had watched twice since its theatrical release).

On the flip side though, there are films I appreciate and truly respect, but not something I’d ever want to see again. This question is kind of a different twist to what I posed a couple of years ago in regard to The Hurt Locker. A couple of movies that comes to mind (which sort of sparked this post), are Inside Llewyn Davis and The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, I was originally going to title this ‘Movies I Appreciate but NOT Love.’ That’s perhaps an equally appropriate question, though there’s perhaps other reason why you don’t want to watch something a second time around. Interestingly, those two films come from beloved and celebrated filmmakers (the Coen Brothers and Martin Scorsese) whom I respect but their work are not exactly my cup of tea. In any case, both are good films, some would even call a masterpiece. But for me, I can only appreciate some aspects of the film (i.e. the performances) but as a whole, it’s not something I’d want to see again.


What about you folks? Which movies you saw in 2013 that you’re glad you saw but wouldn’t watch again?