About Jill Malcolm

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Netflix Instant Pick: Disney’s “New” Princesses

Every week we recommend something we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

Sorry gentlemen, I had the gals in mind when I decided on today’s Netflix Instant Picks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the magic of “classic” Disney! This is especially the case with our first film based on the Rapunzel fairy tale but marketed to both girls and boys as the gender neutral Tangled (2010). Originally titled Rapunzel, filmmakers decided to change the title to Tangled after The Princess and the Frog (2009) failed to draw in crowds a year before. For whatever reason frilly dresses and the word ‘princess’ scare away young male viewers. So they beefed up the male lead role of Flynn Rider (voice, Zachary Levi) to accompany Rapunzel (voice, Mandy Moore).

The film is by all accounts a literal translation of the classic fairy tale, but I can’t remember the last time I fell in love with a non-Pixar, Disney produced animated film. Needless to say it’s been awhile. Mandy Moore is excellent as Rapunzel, a sheltered young girl attempting to break free from her stepmother’s clutches for the first time in her life. The adventure she embarks on with Flynn as her guide is nothing short of pure fun. The music is also something to be treasured, and although it was the song “I See the Light” that earned an Oscar nomination, my favorite song and performance of the film has to be “Mother Knows Best” sung by Donna Murphy as evil stepmother Gothel. Also, artists schooled in the Pre-Raphaelite style will notice its influence in the visuals and color palettes throughout the film. It’s just one of the many ways Tangled blends traditional animation styling with sleek and modern CGI effects.

The Princess and the Frog was released just a year before Tangled and while it earned critical praise, it failed to be the financial success everyone had hoped it would be. The financial failure has little to do with the quality of the film and more to do with the difficulties of marketing an animated film without the Pixar seal. And as stated before, there’s that pesky word ‘princess’ in the title. It’s actually a shame because I did enjoy the film, although I can understand why it actually may have gone over kids heads a little.

Instead of setting the story in a “fairy tale” land, The Princess and the Frog is set in Jazz-era New Orleans in the 1930s. As fascinating a time as this era was, it encompasses very complex social, economic, and societal overtones that are difficult to fully articulate in a film aimed at children, although I was impressed that they existed at all. In the end, I think parents will get more out of a film like this, but the heart behind the character of “Princess” Tiana (voice, Anika Noni Rose) is hard to ignore. The film also boasts the voice talents of Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, and John Goodman. Never a bad thing!

Again the tale is quite straightforward but instead of a helpless ‘princess’ character, Tiana has her sights set on opening her own restaurant. She ends up getting sidetracked when a fateful kiss with a frog prince takes her down an unexpected road. Again, it’s not so much the story that appeals to me as my love for classic animation. The Princess and the Frog possesses some very memorable jazz-infused numbers that incorporate the traditional fantasy montage sequences we know and love from Disney. The artistry is something to be admired amidst the sea of 3D and CGI animated films.

Both Tangled and The Princess and the Frog are solid entries in Disney’s “Animated Classics” line, and proof that there are other viable studios besides Pixar producing quality family entertainment.

Watch Tangled

Watch The Princess and the Frog

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.


The Cry Heard ‘Round the World

I think it’s safe to say that the rumors circulating around the internet the last few days are sadly true: George Lucas has again mucked with perfection. The new Blu-ray edition of the Star Wars Trilogy set to be released on September 16 will have a couple new additions to the beloved series, and this time one of them is audio.

In an attempt to further sync Episodes 4, 5, and 6 with the blasphemies known as Episodes 1, 2, and 3, Darth Vader can now be heard yelling “NOOOOOOOO” as he stops the Emperor from killing Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi. You’ll remember the same Vader cry at the end of Revenge of the Sith when his transformation to evil is complete. At least that’s the point of all this hoopla. To integrate a trilogy everyone loves with a trilogy we would all love to forget.

My anger towards this move by Lucas has little to do with money. He and everyone else can try to take my money, but at the end of the day the choice is up to me as to whether I fork it over. It’s really a non-issue at this point. My confusion instead lies with why this man feels the need to mess with a masterpiece. At the time of its release, Star Wars was on the cutting edge of technology, translating the available visual effects resources into a world beyond imagination. It’s proven to be a game-changer of a movie, a source of inspiration for all. So why all the changes?

Obviously a lot has changed in movies in the past thirty years. Special effects are more brilliant and gorgeously rendered then ever. So maybe I can understand why Lucas, devoid of these advancements the first time around, would want to use them to create a “bigger, better” Star Wars experience, perhaps closer to the picture he had/has in his head. Maybe the idea of Star Wars was so ahead of it’s time in the late 70s, early 80s that Lucas did what he could and was merely waiting for the technology to catch up. The problem is, when the technology has matched Lucas’ vision and he makes his changes, he’s met with criticism every time.

The last additions to the Star Wars Trilogy included among other things a digitally rendered Jabba the Hutt, a prolonged music segment at Jabba’s palace, Hayden Christensen replacing Sebastian Shaw as Anakin, and digitally rendered celebrations around the galaxy when the Empire is defeated at the end of Return of the Jedi (I will admit, I didn’t mind that addition so much). What results is a patchwork quilt of new and old technology that takes away the endearing aspects of Star Wars. I remember the outcry following these changes, and it sounds a bit familiar this time around, only more bitter than before.

By adding a battle cry to Return of the Jedi, Lucas is changing the emotion, the tension, and the flow of the original scene. I can understand the want of symmetry between films. In the “new” scene, Vader recalls his own destruction at the hands of the Emperor, and refuses to see his son endure the same future. So with a resounding “NOOOOOOOO” we are taken back to Episode 3 and a light goes off and everything gets tied up in a nice bow. But what about viewers seeing Return of the Jedi in 1983? With no Episode 3 to recall, how did they understand what was happening? Believe me, it’s not a far leap. The original silence on the part of Vader as his son is slowly being killed takes the viewer inside the character to the battle waging in his head. I don’t need a verbal indication that Vader is now battling his own demon as well as Luke’s. The slow panning of the camera into Vader’s face as he looks from Luke to the Emperor and then finally moves in for the kill is enough for me. The scene is still full of tension, and quite frankly, is a lot less lame.

Maybe the verdict is still out on these most recent changes. After all, the only clip available isn’t even from the Blu-ray. Maybe this ranting has been for naught. No one would be happier then me. But for future reference, coming from a historical/preservationist mindset that at times is resistant to change, sometimes it’s best to just let a masterpiece rest in peace.

First Look: Hunger Games Trailer

The world got its first look at the new Hunger Games teaser trailer at, of all places, this year’s MTV Video Music Awards last night (a ploy to attract viewers may haps?). While I didn’t subject myself to the telecast, I received an ample play-by-play via twitter that kept me up to speed with Beyonce’s baby bump, Gaga’s gender bending, and of course, the debut of the trailer and first reactions.

The trailer is very short, not even clocking in at one minute, but it manages to tell us many things about how the story, and the movie as a whole, are being handled by director Gary Ross. Some of the footage appears shaky in the beginning, suggesting a guerrilla style filmmaking that may actually work considering the subject matter. There’s also a voiceover by Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss’ closest friend back at District 12. For non-readers of the book series, Gale doesn’t have a major role in the first book, but it appears they are beefing up his role in the first film to firmly establish his existing relationship with Katniss, and emphasize the beginnings of the love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

I love the idea of a voiceover to bring Gale’s character into the film, and I’m curious if he will have a running presence throughout the film. I’m also happy to report that it looks like Jennifer Lawrence has successfully mastered the bow and arrow. But, I didn’t expect anything less from someone who can filet a squirrel.

All in all, my curiosity is pretty piqued by the trailer. However, I am growing slightly wary of this film overexposing itself; building up so much hype that it slowly crashes in on itself like a dying star (ten points to the person that can name that reference). I have tremendous hopes for this film, my biggest hope being that it manages to develop itself into a film series that treats its audience like adults, despite its source material. Love triangles are juicy, but I want to see this gal kick some ass!

From The List of Shame, File #13: Nine to Five

While we have seen many films, there are many films that are held in high regard that we haven’t seen yet. As we cross them off our List of Shame, we’ll write about them here!

Workin’ 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin’
Barely gettin’ by
It’s all takin’
And no givin’
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It’s enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it

Dolly Parton, “9 to 5 (And Odd Jobs)”

Nine to Five (or 9 to 5) opens with Dolly Parton’s boisterous anthem of the working woman. As we hear her belt out this Oscar-nominated theme song, we see a montage of women in pantsuits hightailing it in heels on their way to work. They’re eager, bright, and ambitious. And they’re all most likely working for an incarnation of the film’s villain Franklin M. Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman), the stereotypical nightmare of a boss, incompetent, sexist, and the bane of existence for any woman looking to break through the glass ceiling.

With an opening like that, I was expecting this film to be a lot like South Park, a comedic romp with a poignant social message to grab onto…minus Mr. Hankey. And for awhile it seems that is precisely what we are going to get. We are introduced to Mr. Hart’s “girls” a.k.a his personal assistant Dora Lee (Dolly Parton), the office’s can-do senior supervisor Violet (Lily Tomlin), and the recently divorced workforce newbie Judy (Jane Fonda). There are some great scenes leading off the film between Dolly’s Dora Lee, and Mr. Hart as she denies his sexual advances with her trademark Southern sweetness and wit. Tomlin drips with sarcastic comments and jabs at Hart’s bumbling incompetence. And Fonda’s bright-eyed bushy-tailed portrayal of a woman just getting her professional footing is endearing at first, but unfortunately becomes just as forgettable as the focus of this film come the second act.

I really did enjoy the first half of this film. But then things get a little too wacky. We are lead to believe that this film will focus on women’s rights in the workplace, and while I was expecting these gals to get revenge on their ass of a boss, the plot becomes so convoluted I can barely recollect where it started. After a bad day at the office, Dora Lee, Violet, and Judy head out for a drink to wallow in their misery. A drink turns into a night of smoking pot and fantasizing about the ways they each would like to off Mr. Hart. No harm there, people have thoughts just as bad when they’re sober. The fantasy sequences are silly, but I can forgive them this indulgence. It’s what comes after the next day in the office that sets the wheels in motion for the insanity to come. A box of rat poison, conveniently resembling the creamer used in Mr. Hart’s coffee, makes the ladies believe that they have poisoned their boss, accidentally of course.

Without going into specifics, the ladies end up kidnapping a body from the hospital they believe to be the dead Mr. Hart. It’s not. Back to the hospital they go. When they discover Mr. Hart in the office the next day, released from the hospital and fully aware about their “plot” to kill him he threatens to have them thrown in jail. Obviously, they’re not having any of it and decide to kidnap him and hold him for blackmail at his house (his wife, a lovable ignoramus, is away on vacation).

I could go on but there really isn’t any point. All the social issues this film could have addressed are condensed into a pithy 15 minutes towards the end of the film when the ladies institute a series of office initiatives including flex and share hours, and company daycare, while their boss is left tied up in his own house. Dora Lee, Judy, and Violet are all interesting enough characters thrown in wacky and unbelievable circumstances that surpass the scope of the film itself. Any wit or humor achieved in the film’s first 45 minutes is abruptly lost, and the story instead makes a series of weird choices that result in a story that seems to be a splice of two completely separate films-part screwball comedy, part espionage farce.

Even moments that are meant to be humorous, like Hart’s wife coming home from vacation to find her husband strapped to the ceiling in pseudo-bondage wear should have been funny, but just fell utterly flat. I think such a sequence could have benefited from a more frenetic pace where the audience senses there is much at stake for these characters. Instead the story lobs along and even resurrects a story arc from the very beginning of the film involving Jane Fonda’s ex-husband turned stalker. The result is a creepy encounter that just feels wrong given the hilarity that should be ensuing.

I’ve made frequent mentions of time in this review. That’s not a good thing. When you find yourself watching the clock during a movie there’s a problem. The only true beacon of light in an otherwise murky film is Dolly Parton. Nine to Five was her first screen role, and I wish better material was given to her. She is a truly gifted actress and if nothing else, this film will be historically remembered for her breakthrough performance.

List of Shame Files normally appears on Wednesdays. Previous entries are here.

Weekend Box Office: Everyone Drinks, Nobody Wins

Aside

I think it’s safe to say Summer is officially over at the box office folks. After a dismal weekend of returns for new films like Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night, I, for one, am ready for the Fall onslaught of Oscar contenders. Although Fright Night was a real treat, and I’m disappointed it’s not getting the attention it deserves. There’s nary a glittery vamp in sight, I promise! Go see it!

A sampling of the Box Office (Box Office Mojo):

The Help with $20 Million

Planet of the Apes with $16 Million

Spy Kids with $12 Million

Conan the Barbarian with $10 Million

Fright Night with $8.3 Million

One Day with $5.1 Million

Rehash: This Week in Film News

Every week we attempt to rehash the top news stories (in our opinion) in the film industry. Can’t wait for Friday? Follow us on twitter (@filmhash) for more news and ramblings throughout the week! 

Hollywood doesn’t seem to be finished with Tolkien just yet: in addition to The Hobbit, word is the controversial novel Mirkwood by Steve Hillard, may also be adapted for the silver screen. The novel presents itself as a story about J.R.R Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings epic just with different characters and names. Also something about being in America and encountering elvish magic? Sounds bizarre, and supposedly the Tolkien Estate is less than thrilled. Read more here.

 Talks about a Blade Runner remake seem definite as ever with the announcement that the original director Ridley Scott will be returning to the project. Opinions vary about whether a) a remake is needed, and b) Ridley Scott is the right man for the job. Harrison Ford will most likely not return. Read more here.

With summer coming to an end everyone is gearing up for awards season. Word is Woody Allen’s wildly popular Midnight in Paris will undergo a wider release this fall (Oscar push anyone?). We’re not complaining!

Just in case you didn’t feel old enough, Pixar turned 25 years old this week. The animation studio has singlehandedly changed animation in America and audiences couldn’t be more grateful. However, looking back on Pixar’s stellar career has made some question their recent “failure” with Cars 2, and whether or not it will signal a decline in original quality films. We’re not sweating it though- Brave in 2012! Read more here.

The much anticipated Lone Ranger remake starring Johnny Depp and produced by the team behind the first Pirates of the Caribbean film has been cancelled for the time being. Concerns over the ballooning budget for the film have studio execs worried. Read more here.

Trailer of the week: Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black. Watch it here. 

Netflix Instant Pick: America’s Mountain Culture

Every week we recommend a movie we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

There are some cities in America that lend themselves to being featured on screen, Boston and New York come to mind. Perhaps it’s because the strongest personalities in Hollywood just happen to call these places home. But I’ve always had a fascination with places a little more remote, where life is intertwined with the landscape and in some cases even dictated by it. I’m speaking of course about America’s Mountain Culture, particularly Appalachia and the Ozarks.

Jesco White, "The Dancing Outlaw"

I watched The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009) a few months ago purely on a whim. It’s a documentary that chronicles a year in the life of the notorious White family of Boone County, West Virginia, a family made “famous” by its patriarch D. Ray White, the king of mountain dancing. We see his widow Bertie Mae throughout the film, a woman so selfless it makes the rest of the brood downright despicable. Touted as America’s last outlaw family, the Whites are an amalgamation of thieves, drug dealers,  and addicts, with a reputation for destruction in Boone. But the most intriguing personality in this family is Bertie and D. Ray’s son Jesco White, the only other member of the family to master the art of mountain dancing. Jesco is a man tortured by many demons, but the second he performs, the years of heavy drinking, smoking, and drugging melt away and we are met with a man who missed his calling as a national entertainer.

This documentary is about the Whites, but it is also about West Virginia, and the people who live there. Coal mining is still a way of life for many, and poverty runs rampant. But despite the hard times, the mountains call to these people, and together a unique relationship is formed. A bond with the land that makes it difficult to leave. We see that these people feel left behind by the rest of the country, and a once vibrant piece of the American tapestry is left to fray under the pressure of a rapidly declining mining economy.

But the resolve of the people of Boone County is unmistakable. In fact, they wish more attention was payed to the good that can come from tucked away corners of the world, and not families like the Whites. A county official is interviewed for the film and tells the story about a local kid getting a full-ride scholarship to MIT. “Why aren’t they following him around with a camera,” he asks. The answer of course is simple. Why is Jersey Shore watched by millions. I understand the frustration of the good citizens of Boone, who pay their taxes and wish that the stereotypes associated with the “backwoods” of Appalachia would stop being reenforced by probing documentarists. But I also think that at the very least The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia aims to capture a moment in time about a group of people that are slowly disappearing under the weight of their own fame and self-destruction. Like it or not, the Whites represent a unique portrait of Appalachian life, and I think they deserve a place in film memory.

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone

For another excellent film featuring America’s mountain culture (this time in the Ozarks) I recommend the painful yet beautiful Winter’s Bone. Jennifer Lawrence portrays a quiet yet fierce young woman determined to save her family’s house and find out the truth about her father’s disappearance. Similar to The Wild Whites, Winter’s Bone examines the oftentimes complicated relationship between family loyalty, and fending for yourself. It shows a lawless land governed by alliances and swift retribution for defectors.

Watch Winter’s Bone here and The Wild Whites here.

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.