November 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad
Directed by: Chris Buck (“Tarzan”) and Jennifer Lee (debut)
Written by: Chris Buck (“Surf’s Up”) and Jennifer Lee (“Wreck-It Ralph”)

The late Howard Ashman, lyricist behind the songs in such contemporary Disney classics as “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” had a deceptively simple formula for building the backbone of a movie musical. Paraphrasing from the documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” Ashman’s Broadway-honed process involved writing four or five show-stopping songs first with the story strung in between. While it doesn’t make for terribly original storytelling, the songs were powerful and memorable enough to push through their rather basic fairytale trappings.

“Frozen” begins with two young princesses, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), sneaking out of bed for some late-night frolicking in the castle. There’s something special about the sisters’ playtime, though: Elsa has the power to create ice and snow from her fingertips, and turns a ballroom into a winter wonderland. When an accident caused by Elsa’s powers nearly kills Anna, the girls’ parents lock Elsa away from Anna. The years pass and as Elsa is set to ascend to the throne as queen, incidents at her coronation lead Elsa to lose control and cast the kingdom into a never-ending winter.

Brassy and beautiful, “Frozen” resurrects the Disney animated musical, a genre left for dead when the quality waned and upstarts like Pixar and Dreamworks started pumping out clever, computer-generated cartoons that didn’t rely on cornball songs shoehorned in every 10 minutes or so. While the marketing may overly-emphasize the lovably goofy magical snowman Olaf (Josh Gad in an incredibly endearing performance), this is first and foremost a Broadway-bred fairytale told with soaring songs and crystalline CGI beauty. The romantic in me decries the demise of traditional 2D animation, but the frosty landscape rendered digitally here wouldn’t have been nearly as jaw-dropping had they been rendered in old-school ink and paint.

“Frozen” is a polished and exhilarating film, and Disney is surely hard at work lining up the characters for wintertime theme park takeovers from now through the next century. Get used to it, everyone: the Mouse House is back in the game of churning out instant classics.

When in Rome

January 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Dax Shepard
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson (“Ghost Rider”)
Written by: David Diamond (“Old Dogs”) and David Weissman (“Old Dogs”)

Take the screenwriters of one of the unfunniest comedies of 2009 (“Old Dogs”) and team them up with the director of two of the worst superhero movies of the last decade (“Daredevil” and “Ghost Rider”) and there’s no telling what kind of mutant cinematic love-child can be spawned.

Whatever label you’d like to put on the new romantic comedy “When in Rome,” it’s unfortunate that Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) – an actress that makes looking adorable an art form – has her name attached. It’s the type of pointless rom com that is easy to dismiss if you’ve clawed your way through enough of them.

In this latest entry of chick-flick torture, Bell plays Beth, a Manhattan museum curator who is too busy with her career to search for Mr. Right. Her interest in love is at an all-time low since her last boyfriend dumped her at Applebee’s and announced his engagement to another woman soon after.

While a wedding would be the last place Beth would want to go, especially with her boss Celeste (Anjelica Huston) breathing down her neck about an upcoming art show, Beth travels to Rome to see her little sister get married to an guy she’s only known for two weeks.

In Rome she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel), a sportswriter and charming best man who could have made perfect boyfriend material if Beth wasn’t so skeptical about relationships. Her cynicism (in addition to a little too much wine) drives Beth to take coins from a fountain in the city’s square where people make wishes to fall in love. In turn, the men whose coins Beth snatches from the magical fountain immediately direct their attention to Beth and follow her back to New York to try to win her heart.

Leading the pack of stalkers are actors Dax Shepard as an arrogant male model, Will Arnett as a crazy Italian artist, Jon Heder as a untalented street magician, and Danny DeVito as a friendly sausage capitalist. Other than DeVito’s short stature and the fact that he’s the only character of the bunch not written like a bumbling fool, there’s nothing remotely funny about Beth’s ridiculous suitors.

As the story continues to unravel as predictably as possible and with scarce humor, screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman decide that it might be neat to emphasize their unoriginality by writing in a “Napoleon Dynamite” reference into the script where Heder (the star of the 2004 indie hit) reunites with actor Efren Ramirez, who played Napoleon’s best friend Pedro. Really? The cameo works about as well as the rest of the thoughtless jokes that plague the script.

In the end, “When in Rome” is one uncreative sight gag after another. From Beth and Nick’s date to a restaurant where food is served in the dark to the weird “Wizard of Oz” curveball it throws at the end, director Mark Steven Johnson seems to have told the entire cast to just run with it and have some mindless fun. If only we were so lucky.

Couples Retreat

October 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell
Directed by: Peter Billingsley (debut)
Written by: Vince Vaughn (debut), Jon Favreau (“Swingers”), Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”)

Pack light. “Couples Retreat” might seem like an island paradise at first glance, but the star-powered date movie quickly turns into something as enjoyable as the most annoying parts of a free timeshare vacation.

Directed by Peter Billingsley (he played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”), “Couples Retreat” is not the kind of comedy anyone should take their fiancé (or fiancée) to if they plan to keep the thought of marriage positive before the big day. With so many unlikeable and featureless characters and a script that reads like a fall TV sitcom begging to get axed after six episodes, “Retreat” recoils into childish and repetitive jokes, character clichés (Carlos Ponce steals Hank Azaria’s role from “Along Came Polly” and plays a macho womanizer) and a whole lot of unfunny foolishness.

Basically, the film capsizes right from the start. Married couple Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) are thinking about getting a divorce. They’ve weighed all the pros and cons of splitting up, but don’t think they can come to a conscious decision unless they make one last effort by going to a tropical island resort where they can spend quality time with each other and get some much-needed marriage counseling.

Problem is, Jason and Cynthia can’t afford the trip on their own (here’s an idea: plan a cheaper trip), so they ask their friends to go with them so they can take advantage of the group rate. It takes some groveling on Jason’s part, but before anyone can say Beach Blanket Bingo Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Ackerman), Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis), and Shane and Trudy (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) are getting off an airplane at a destination described as “Disneyland for adults.”

But what is supposed to be a fun-filled week for a majority of the group becomes a dreaded marathon of couple-building exercises when relationship guru Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno) makes everyone wake up a the crack of dawn to talk about their feelings and participate in other nonsensical icebreakers (who knew throwing bloody chum at sharks could save a marriage!).

Each couple has their specific problems, but none of them are of much significance in the hands of screenwriters Favreau, Vaughn, and Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”). What the writing trio identifies with the most isn’t the deep-seeded problems of a broken relationship, but instead how far they can push their couples (and the audience) to the brink of boredom.

The funniest scene of the movie comes when the men are discussing whether or not thinking about other women while having sex with your wife should be considered cheating. It’s not a groundbreaking joke or anything, but the guys refer to it as a personal “highlight reel” (the best sexual experiences of one’s life), which is fairly clever in terms of sports metaphors. A few misplaced chuckles, however, don’t make up for the movie’s major limitations.

“When you’re married, love is having someone to go to Applebee’s with,” Vaughn’s Dave proclaims by the end of the movie. It might sound like the same kind of cute gibberish you would hear someone like actor Michael Cera deliver in a romantic comedy, but something about “Couples Retreat” makes us think all the characters involved are just dense enough to believe it.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

April 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller (debut)
Written by: Jason Segel (debut)

When it comes to riding the coattails of a friend in the film industry things can go as badly as watching Adam Sandler continue to dish out subpar movies for his buddies Rob Schneider, Allen Covert, and David Spade to star in under his Happy Madison production company or they can go as fairly well for others like Greg Mottola, Seth Rogan, and Jake Kasdan. They are only three of a handful of director Judd Apatow’s friends whom he has graced with the opportunity to earn directing and writing credits in films he finances. Sometimes the project works (“Superbad”). Other times, not so well (“Drillbit Taylor”).

In the most recent of Apatow’s work as a producer, he gets courageous again by handing over the reigns for the comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” to first time director Nicholas Stoller and first time screenwriter Jason Segel, who also stars in the film. It’s a hit and miss first attempt where the peeks in humor will have you laughing out loud and the valleys leaving you wondering why the film feels so bipolar.

After getting dumped by his famous TV actress girlfriend Sarah (Kristen Bell), TV show composer Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) takes some advice and drags his broken heart to Hawaii for a much-needed getaway. A trip to an island paradise, however, isn’t going to turn out as Peter expected since Sarah and her new rock star boyfriend Aldous (Russell Brand) have also decided to travel to the same location. Deciding to stay the course and test his emotional strength, Peter ends up meeting Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis), a possible new love interest who could take his mind off of his devil-of-an-ex.

Like with all other Apatow productions, when the humor flows out naturally from the characters the film is at its most sincere and entertaining. Although it takes a while to get Segel’s character out of his self-pitying rut, once he realizes he has something to offer to the opposite sex, the film takes some interesting twists in familiar territory.

Not everything Apatow touches turns to gold, but with Stoller and Segel’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” there is enough refreshing material and awkward deadpan to call it enjoyable.