Saturday, November 30, 2013



Review by:
G.P. Manalo

Kristen Bell
Idina Menzel
Josh Gad
Jonathan Groff
Santino Fortana

If there are other things Disney is truly trademarked for besides Mickey Mouse it is the Disney Princesses. For almost 8 decades, Disney has brought magic and wonder through these princesses, even having a tradition out of it. But as years come by the Disney Princess movies have become more different, making their princesses be stronger instead of waiting for their princes to save them.  It wasn’t until 2009 where Disney was slowly forming itself back to the Disney we once known since the animation renaissance. Frozen, somewhat broke 8 decades of tradition in a good way as it put twists to the assumptions and conclusions of the people who have explored this kind of boundary before and at the same time have that same magic and wonder from the Disney animation renaissance. Granted there are still a few flaws that does not put on par with the film.

Frozen tells the story of two sisters, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel). Elsa was born with supernatural powers where she has the ability to create ice and snow. But when one accident occurred between the two sisters, her parents decided to hide her from the outside world and even her own sister. When Elsa is finally coroneted as the queen of their kingdom, she is forced to come out of hiding and in an unfortunate timing made her lose control of her powers and made their kingdom put to an eternal winter. Anna embarks on a journey with the help of her newly founded friends, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Sven and a snowman named, Olaf (Josh Gad) to find and reconcile with her sister who has isolated herself to the dangerous Icelands where she built her new kingdom.

An adaptation/re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen has been in talks ever since the 40s and even Walt Disney himself couldn’t seem to have a crack at it. Like most Disney Princesses movies (or Disney movies in general), the source material it is based on is very much loosely based on it (Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid being one of them), As I do my research on The Snow Queen (by research I mean, other sources than Wikipedia), an adaptation about the Snow Queen does seem too “out there” to have a motion picture out of it. Nonetheless, despite its difficulty to bring a property like The Snow Queen, writers Jennifer Lee (of Wreck-It Ralph fame) still puts most of the elements together and tell a good (and kid-friendly) enough story with the material.

Instead this film feels like it is making fun of other Disney Princess films or at least putting a twist to it, almost how the Shrek movies did to the fairy tale characters. One of the notable examples was, Elsa’s characterization, she would’ve been the plotting pointy nosed witch who cursed the land for revenge of shunning her from society but instead made her a misunderstood person, other examples would be the film making fun at how fast the princess falls in love with a prince without knowing who he is, and other things that I shouldn’t be mentioning anymore. The film does a terrific job to put those in-jokes play a huge part in the film’s storytelling.

Granted, the storytelling part is not necessarily perfect when it does have its fair share of flaws; from the first half it does feel clumsy though not as messy when it comes to the exposition. Introducing the characters other than the two leads, felt rushed and some unnecessary elements weren’t really needed for them, the villain on the other hand felt short-handed; the villain was disappointing in this movie due to the lack of screen time and not having the proper introduction for them.  Despite this film being a musical and all they didn't give the villain a song either to shed some light on their motivations. The film was too busy raising some elements from the “Snow Queen” storyline. It could’ve been better if this film was told without elaborating the fact that “this is based on the Snow Queen” because the movie can do better without it. Ironically enough, the film didn’t develop the character of Elsa that well. I left the theatre wanting more from her character (exploring her abilities and back story), you never really get to know her side of the things that much throughout the film, making it a bit difficult to understand more to the character. Despite the first half’s clumsiness, the second half kicks into high gear for a more emotionally driven film, though the ending does ruin it a bit because of how rushed it is.

Speaking of musicals, the music in this film had that touch of a broadway musical. Having some of the cast and crew as veterans of broadway musicals as characters speak through song (which i'd like to call Les Miserables-ing) much like Beauty and the Beast had back then and if you thought the songs in Tangled and Princess and the Frog were a lackluster, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (both being fresh from “The Book of Mormon” fame) gave this film a lot of memorable songs (a lot of people will be singing “Let it go” once they go out of the cinema, that’s for sure). In every song of the film the expressiveness feels dominant in both melody and voice, giving real emotions to the rather obvious lyrics. The music in this film is on the level of Disney classics like Lion King and Beauty and the Beast (both having broadway productions themselves) I can totally see a marquee one day where it will say “Frozen on ice”.

The performances were also amazing in this film, Broadway veteran Idina Menzel stealing the spotlight in most parts of the movie, but it was really Josh Gad's adorable snowman character, Olaf. Him having a role as a comedy relief felt genuine and not forced with modern jokes that feels irrelevant in the timeline. Every time he enters the screen is a scene stealer and you just feel like giggling by his presence. The rest like Kristen Bell's Anna, giving a lot of spunk and empowerment that could shut feminists up while the other supporting cast such as Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk and Jonathan Groff were also great in this film even though their characters were lacking development.

Though the traditional 2D animation is shelved in a generation of 3D animation, the animation in the film gives more finesse when it comes to bringing a world to life in animated form. The animation is just beautiful in this film, people in the past few months have been shredding this movie due to its similarity to the recent Disney Princess Film, Tangled. But we can say the same thing during the renaissance where they recycled animation and designs being similar themselves. The character designs are unique enough, having fun characters that do fit their personalities.

Nowadays, Disney Princess films tried to be that nostalgic film and at the same time thinking forward as it empowers the princesses than just someone who waits for their princes to rescue them, making them doing better things without those princes. Disney's Frozen is a great film, following up to Disney's successes (I'm fully aware Planes came out this year, but I'm still pretending that movie does not exist). Frozen is a film where you truly feel that Disney is coming back to form. The film tells a satisfying enough story with a very creative twist of two sisters of royalty, not to mention this can inspire children/girls to channel their inner strength than waiting for their prince charming and fix their problems. The film is packed with laughs, beautiful imagery and songs that'll get you tapping your feet and be in awe. This is definitely fun for the whole family, I can see two bickering sisters getting along after seeing this movie (somehow, but then again I don’t understand women very well) and when kids do pull you into watching this movie you’ll actually find yourselves having a good time, I should know because I’m a 17-year old boy who pulled my mom into watching this movie with me and she ended up enjoying the heck out of it.




4/5 – FOR THE WIN!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


The following images are not by me for they are officially released by Universal Studios

Review By:
G.P. Manalo

Directed by:
Francis Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence
Josh Hutcherson
Donald Sutherland

Of all the Young Adult novel adaptations, the film adaptation of Suzanne Collin's best-selling Hunger Games series feels different among them (because the love triangle doesn't beat you in the head like most YA novel adaptations do) , it is pretty rare to have success out of a property like the Hunger Games when it is living in a world of a male dominant industry (and when they do have a woman as the lead, she is not the strongest *cough* Twilight *cough*). One of 2012’s biggest surprises was the young-adult novel adaptation of Suzanne Collin’s “The Hunger Games” being a worldwide hit, as it impressed both fans and non-fans of the novel combining over $700M worldwide, though a vast majority still hunger for something more out of the first film. With Gary Ross out of the director’s chair and I am Legend’s Francis Lawrence in, the second instalment of the mega-hit franchise takes a huge upgrade under his helm as it takes off the kid gloves and start doing serious business.

After the events of the first film, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) could never have been more grateful for surviving the 74th Hunger Games after pulling off a Romeo and Juliet-esque stunt and now they must go through a Victory Tour and all of their problems will be done. But what they didn’t know was that their so-called “stunt” has inspired Panem to revolutionize against the Capitol and Katniss becoming their symbol of hope. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is displeased with the idea of a revolution. As much as Snow wants to kill her, he does not want a martyr. After listening to the advice of the new gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) President Snow announced that the 75th year of the games will be “different” as it becomes an “all-star” game where the tributes will be existing victors as they are pitted together once again in the arena for a free-for-all killing spree; Katniss and Peeta found themselves fighting for their lives once again.

This film is a huge improvement of its predecessor. When I say that this movie “take off the kid gloves” (compared to the last film), I really mean it. It’s amazing how the franchise has become more mature as it goes on. This film has less laughs, less mushiness (the romance being more believable than the last film), and goes on a more a darker route. Under the helm of Francis Lawrence he gives the film a more emotional environment, giving more emphasis to the depressing reality of living in a world like Panem. In the first half of the film, it felt like it was some sort of political message to the world we are currently living in. It has a lot to say about how the media are more of a device to distract the masses in seeing the reality they are living in with the private lives of people more famous than them and how manipulative the totalitarian government really is but also how far they can go to retain their power as it gives emphasis on the dystopian theme of both the films and the novels. 

In early reviews, most critics have compared this to The Empire Strikes Back (also known as Star Wars Episode V, just so you know). This being a stronger film than the first one, and some other comparisons such as the big threat, one of the themes of the film (and the book it is based on) is knowing who the real enemy is, meaning the enemies in the games aren't going to be developed more than they were in the first film and instead give the screen time to the real enemy, The Empire The Capitol. Like in the original Star Wars trilogy from The Star Wars (Episode IV), they made you be aware of the threat like them exists but it wasn't until the second film where they really go on full force and start getting their hands dirty. The Capitol (the government atleast) aren’t screwing around anymore, in this film they feel like they’re Nazis; they just go in to houses destroying their belongings, gunning and beating people down unfairly. 

Not to mention the tone does get a bit darker, but not the kind where it feels  "in your face" like most people would call "Nolan knockoffs". The dark tone does benefit for the film's storytelling. The first film was a clunky one but after seeing this movie I’ve learned to appreciate the first one quite a bit because of this film and it is because I get to understand the underlining story more in this film. The first film builds up a lot of things; dropping hints of what’s to come for the future films, building up the world and the list goes on. Catching Fire continues to flesh out the world of Panem, thanks to a bigger budget; the film’s special effects gives it that sci-fi feel that feels absent for the most part of the last film.

The last film was entitled The Hunger Games but ironically that part of the film was the most underwhelming part despite making the build up from the start feel like false advertising towards the end. As I went out of the film, I left the film saying that the games were the best part of the film.  Like what Haymitch said in this movie “Last year’s games was child’s play” and it does show in this film. The games in this movie are bigger and better in this film (in both design and how it will be played), since they’re gonna kill adults now, that means no more “shaky cam” which is another plus from me. Right from the part when Katniss is about to rise to the game floor, my heart was just pulsating because you know that shit is about to go down, and it never stops from the start as every step of the way is another nightmare waiting for them.

Fans of the book will be happy that this film stays true to the source material, as a reader of the books, I’d say that this film is 95% accurate to the book because it does leave a couple of key elements from the book (both having something to do with Haymitch and District 13). As the film ends, mentioning that one “thing” made one part of that ending feels abrupt because it wasn’t properly built up. Granted, this is just a minor complaint. Nonetheless they were still able to tell a perfectly paced adaptation (honestly, it never felt like I was there for 2 hours and 40 minutes).

The performances are also better in this film (not saying the performances in the last film aren’t great at all). Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress me in every film she is in proving that she is not only owning the role of Katniss Everdeen but also being one of the best actresses of this generation. Her character as the focal point of the film is the reason why The Hunger Games franchise is different than other young adult novels and it is that her character is not overbearing. The writing for this film doesn’t beat you in the head that “hey, look at how strong this female character is!”. Her performance brings Katniss’s character to life even more; sure she shoots arrows as perfect as Legolas, but she’s not really that tough as nails type, in performance she shows that she is indeed human and vulnerable, doing everything to protect the ones she holds dearly. The most noticeable improvement was Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, he left me a bad taste in my mouth in the last film, I remember saying that he is in fact replaceable. After seeing him in this movie, I’d take it all back. The script was able to give him more charisma and charm, making him relevant to the storyline and showing what he is capable of as a character, not to mention he shared a better yet believable chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss.

The film has an even bigger cast, having both old and new faces gracing the screen. the one who really stands out among the  cast is the big bad Donald Sutherland. Donald Sutherland as President Snow is illustrated more as the big villain in this movie and he has that sinister presence that felt absent in the last movie and I'm glad they gave him more to do in this film. Woody Harrelson still stands out in most scenes, though I do wish he was developed a bit more, Elizabeth Banks has a bit more to do than going “la-di-da” in the background (which I’m glad because Effie just disappeared in the book and never mentioned again), Lenny Kravitz was good for the little time he had, Liam Hemsworth feels like he took the back seat in the first half of the film making the love triangle around Peeta and Gale feel clunky, while Stanley Tucci continues to steal the show. Among the new faces who did stand out was Sam Clafin as fan-favorite character Finnick Odair. I was very much skeptical at first about the casting choice for him at first, Sam Clafin actually owns the role, he is exactly the way i pictured him to be as i read the book. Others who did stand out and spot-on were Jena Malone’s (whom i'm glad they put her in a good movie) Johanna, and Jeffrey Wright's (who i thought was a deep voiced David Cross at first) Beetee.

In the end, The Hunger Games - Catching Fire is the best film in the series so far and it is definitely the "Empire Strikes Back" of the series, Director Francis Lawrence has given the series a better direction. The film is packed with suspenseful action that will truly start your heart racing as Katniss rise above to the arena, a good social and political commentary about our easily distracted society we are currently living in, great performances and a better look at the world of Panem. Granted, I still think most things in the first half feels rushed and some key elements from the book were left out but that's just me nit-picking and i'd leave that as a minor complaint. I highly recommend you see this movie, if you are a fan of the series you will definitely love this movie as it is accurate to the books this time even if you haven't read the books and enjoyed the movies you will definitely enjoy it nonetheless. But those who thought that the last film was either lacking or terrible, i'd suggest you give this film another chance and see this, surely this film could change your mind about the franchise.




4.5/5 - FOR THE WIN!