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Posts Tagged ‘five stars’


Review: Tangled

Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno.
Written by Dan Fogelman.
Starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor, and Brad Garrett.

I know, Tangled has been out for a while, but while I thought the trailers looked amusing, I didn’t really expect to see what I think of as the first Disney classic since the three-peat of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. That statement will chafe fans of The Lion King or Lilo & Stitch (and I absolutely adore Lilo & Stitch); it’s not to say, necessarily, that Tangled is better than all of those films, just that something about those films lacked the fantastical, fairy tale setting that I associate with “classic Disney.” (To further qualify that statement, I’ve skipped several Disney animated features after the disappointing Pocahontas.)

It’s more than just setting, though: Tangled‘s songs are — for the first time since The Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast — truly good, not just serviceable. Composer Alan Menken has found a fantastic new collaborator in lyricist Glenn Slater; none of Menken’s Disney efforts since the death of Howard Ashman quite recaptured that same Disney magic like Slater and Menken do in Tangled.

The leads — Mandy Moore’s Rapunzel and Zachary Levi’s Flynn Rider — are endearing and memorable, and yet very much in the classic Disney mold. Moore (who impressed me in both Saved! and Dedication) is utterly irresistible as Rapunzel, played as an infectiously excitable almost-18 year old girl who seems very much like the classic Disney princess… hopped up on Red Bull. If she comes off a bit extreme, it’s only appropriate: where Ariel and Belle were girls confined by their parents or their “small provincial town” their whole lives, Rapunzel grew up in one building for as long as she can remember.

Despite all of this rekindling of the old Disney magic, though, Tangled manages to feel fresh and modern. Perhaps most impressively, it does it earnestly, without that grating snarky attitude of the Shrek movies — that feeling of superiority over its own subject matter — that has come to mean (at least with me) “we know this isn’t really that great, but if we pretend we’re just kidding around and stick in some fart jokes and pop songs, you might fall for it.”

I groaned (while smiling) at a couple of silly jokes, but the film simply never hits a false note. The handful of brief action sequences are tremendously fun, the pacing is fast and smooth, and it tugs at the heartstrings a couple of times — perhaps not so forcefully as either Toy Story 3 or How to Train Your Dragon did earlier this year, but with no less skill. Despite its middling performance at the box office, this Rapunzel will soon secure her place in Disney’s princess pantheon — and it will be well-deserved.

See it while you still can, or keep your eye out for the DVD.

I didn't mention it in my review, but the animation is gorgeous, and the 3D is very well-used.

Tangled is rated PG for “brief, mild violence,” apparently. I wouldn’t have guessed it, myself. It’s a totally kid-friendly flick.

Review: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring and Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring

Directed by Kim Ki-duk.
Starring Young-soo Oh, Kim Ki-duk, Young-min Kim, Jae-kyeong Seo, Yeo-jin Ha, and John-ho Kim.

Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?

Directed by Bae Yong-Kyun.
Starring Lee Pan-yong, Sin Won-sop, and Yi Pan-Yong.

Set entirely on and around a floating temple (a set built for the movie on an artificial lake built about 200 years ago, to be specific), Kim Ki-duk’s 2003 feature Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring is a beautifully crafted but frustratingly artificial tale of one man’s life told in five chapters. The most disappointing aspect of Spring is how amazingly beautiful it is — disappointing because the several gorgeously photographed, languorous shots of the valley around the temple on the lake, sublime music, and mostly solid, understated performances with minimal dialogue make for exactly the right tone for the kind of film this aspires to be — yet its story falls short.

The film begins innocently enough — in “Spring,” of course — with a charming but troubling story wherein Child Monk (Jong-ho Kim) ties stones to a fish, a frog and a snake. Old Monk (the enchanting Young-soo Oh) is disappointed in him, so he ties a large stone to the child as he sleeps that night and says that he’ll only remove it once the boy has found the three animals and released them, telling the boy that if any of the animals are dead, he will carry the stone with him in his heart for the rest of his life. As he finds them, he discovers that the fish and the snake have died and begins to cry. Even as I was moved by the boy’s tears, it troubled me that the Master placed more importance on the boy’s lesson than the lives of the animals, a choice that — although I am neither a Buddhist nor a scholar of Buddhism — struck me as rather inauthentic.


Review: Godzilla (1954) and Stray Dog


Directed by Ishiro Honda.
Starring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura and Fuyuki Murakami.

Stray Dog

Directed by Akira Kurosawa.
Starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji and Eiko Miyoshi.

Although Godzilla creator and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka lifted monster-sized elements from King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), an early film featuring effects by Ray Harryhausen (Clash of the Titans), the immediate inspiration for Godzilla was a 1954 incident in which a fishing boat called the Lucky Dragon was scorched by an American H-bomb test, seriously burning several of the crew and causing the eventual death of its radio operator from radiation poisoning — clearly the reference point for the opening scene of the original 1954 Japanese Godzilla in which Godzilla’s attack on a small boat appears only as a flash of light.

Science fiction writer Shigeru Kayama, along with screenwriters Ishiro Honda (who also directed) and Takeo Murata, extended the metaphor a bit by paralleling many scenes of death and destruction in Godzilla’s wake with the aftermath of the H-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, using images of a flattened, burning town and hospitals overflowing with people. These images vividly recall what little documentary footage I’ve seen of the Hiroshima aftermath (to be specifc, the stock footage used in the first 20 minutes of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour), but pretending that the film’s deeper meaning is much more complicated than “H-bomb testing is bad” is giving the filmmakers a little more credit than they deserve.


Review: Yasujiro Ozu, Part Two (The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer)

Yasujiro Ozu’s oeuvre continues to grace screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center for the next few weeks. Among the upcoming films are The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer, which are also available in terrific Criterion Collection releases. Other upcoming highlights include Late Autumn (starring Ozu mainstay Setsuko Hara) and An Autumn Afternoon, Ozu’s final film.