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Entries in Kristen Bell (5)

Tuesday
Nov262013

Frozen

It’s hard not to love Disney animation. For many decades now, they’ve captivated the hearts and minds of all ages with sweeping musical numbers, beautiful visuals and endless imagination. With heart and wit always seemingly at the center of each tale, their movies are timeless and will continue to be watched for many more generations to come. Their latest, “Frozen,” rests comfortably alongside the rest of Disney’s collection, even if it doesn’t quite reach the wonder of those that have come before.

Anna (Kristen Bell) is a spunky girl. She was always close to her sister, Elsa (Idina Menzel), as a child, but in their older years they’ve grown apart. This is because Elsa has powers of ice that she can’t control and when they were young, she accidentally harmed Anna, an event Anna no longer remembers. By distancing herself from her sister, she ensures she’ll never harm her again. However, Elsa is about to be made queen of her kingdom, which forces her to open up the castle doors to the people. This leads to a circumstance that reveals her powers, frightening the people and forcing her to rush off into the mountains. Determined to get her back, Anna jumps on horseback and rides away to find her, eventually enlisting the help of common man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his deer, Sven, and a magical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).

Just in terms of visuals, “Frozen” is a marvel. It’s absolutely beautiful to watch, perfectly capturing the aesthetic of a childlike imagination that mixes exaggerated views of reality with magic. With our technological advancements in animation, it has never been a better time to revert back to your childhood and enjoy an animated movie and this works as a perfect example of that. Its songs, too, are wonderful, echoing Disney’s 2010 hit, “Tangled.” Sung beautifully and written with care (with a few jokes thrown in the lyrics for good measure), combining them with the pleasing sights are sure to bring goose bumps to all but the hardest of cynics. In these ways and more, “Frozen” is a Disney movie in all the best ways.

Perhaps uncharacteristically of a Disney movie, however, is its surprisingly uneven story. The story itself is grand with neat ideas and real emotion (the opening, in particular, packs more emotional punches than most movies do in their entirety), but it breaks the cardinal sin of storytelling: it doesn’t follow its own rules. The most egregious example comes shortly after Elsa flees the kingdom. Her whole life, she has been unable to control her powers, isolating herself so as not to harm anyone else. Her bedroom is covered from the floor to the ceiling in ice and when she picks something up with her bare hands, it immediately freezes over. It’s this lack of control that creates the primary conflict for the film’s main story arc, but the first thing Elsa does when she reaches the mountains is build an elaborate ice palace, complete with spiraling staircases and giant swinging doors.

This moment doesn’t necessarily leave a huge stain on the story as a whole, but it’s a contrived set-up, existing as a means to give the other characters a location to reach and making moot the film’s previous rules. One late movie twist, that I unfortunately won’t be able to talk about in depth, only adds to the perplexing inconsistencies of a movie that would have been fantastic otherwise. After the true motivation of a certain character is revealed, it calls into question nearly all of the events that led to it. Writers, above all, need to ensure their characters do things that make sense and that they follow their own established set of rules. In these regards, “Frozen” fails miserably.

But there’s so much more to the film than those admittedly glaring blunders. Olaf, in particular, is a treat. With energetic voice work by the underappreciated Josh Gad, he shows up just in the nick of time, picking the movie up from its midway slump. He’s ever the optimist, smiles incessantly and never misses the opportunity to make a joke. He’s one of the most charming and hilarious Disney characters in quite some time. If that doesn’t sell it for you, “Frozen” is opened by a spectacular Mickey Mouse short that cleverly blends old school 2D black and white animation with the new colorful 3D visuals we’re accustomed to today. It alone is worth the price of admission, but the good news is that the movie that follows, while not a new Disney classic, is a pleasant experience in and of itself.

Frozen receives 3.5/5

Wednesday
Aug222012

Hit & Run

Dax Shepard has never been the most appealing actor in the world. He’s supposed to be a funnyman, but his antics never amount to more than the occasional chuckle—his most popular performances coming from Ashton Kutcher’s MTV show “Punk’d”—but he’s never quite unlikable either. He exists within that middle ground where he doesn’t do much to impress, but there’s something about him you enjoy anyway. The same can essentially be said for his fiancé Kristen Bell. Despite love from many adoring fans, she rarely stars in something worth watching. Combine the two in one movie and you have, predictably, something that is neither horrible nor very good. Similar to the stars themselves, Hit & Run fails in many regards, but somehow still retains a decent amount of charm, despite a weak script and amateurish direction from Shepard that falls into redundancy quickly.

The film stars Shepard and Bell as Charlie and Annie, a couple living somewhere in the Midwest United States who are happy with their own little existence. They love each other dearly and treat each other with respect, but one day, Annie is offered a job at a prestigious college in Los Angeles as the head of a new department, Non-violent Conflict Resolution. Unfortunately, heading to LA means putting Charlie’s life on the line—Charlie is in the Witness Protection Program and has been ever since he testified in court to put away Alex Dimitri (Bradley Cooper)—but this job is Annie’s dream job and Charlie loves her too much to keep her from achieving it. Reluctantly, he sets off to LA with her, but Alex is quickly alerted to their presence thanks to Annie’s jealous ex-lover Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), who for some reason thinks he’ll keep Annie safe by allowing the psychotic Alex to track down Charlie (besides, Charlie could be in the Witness Protection Program because he was an accomplice to any manner of evil deed).

The set-up to Hit & Run is as contrived as one could possibly get. Before they head out to LA, Annie needs her teaching license for the interview, which just so happens to be at Gil’s house and has been for the past year. This sparks Gil to contact Alex (through Facebook of all places) and tail Charlie as he innocently accompanies her to LA. If Annie simply had grabbed that teaching license when she moved out of Gil’s place, which any hopeful professor would do, this whole situation could have been avoided. But it’s not just the set-up that falls too comfortably into place. The numerous amount of coincidences in this cat and mouse tale become too much to handle. Somehow, Gil and/or Alex knows precisely where to find Charlie and Annie at seemingly all times. Even when Charlie manages to outmaneuver them, it’s only a matter of time before they stumble upon each other again. Constantly, the film asks you to go with moments like this, but it’s nigh impossible to do so.

When the characters do come into contact with each other, it inevitably leads to a car chase. Because of this, Hit & Run too often feels like a showcase for stunt driving rather than a movie with a story to tell, but none of these scenes offer up too much excitement. While it may be needless to say, this is not a Fast and the Furious movie. Those films may be light on story, but they inarguably had some incredible high velocity car chases. This movie has neither an interesting story nor fun chases. The little bit of excitement it does manage to gather dissipates with repetition. Car chase after car chase ensues in Hit & Run (to the point where I’m pretty sure if I looked at the script, whole pages would simply read in big bold font “CAR CHASE”) and it gets stale quickly.

Hit & Run has jokes that go nowhere, action scenes lacking in thrills, multiple stereotypes and characters whose actions and motivations are clumsy at best, including Randy (Tom Arnold in a horribly overacted performance), a United States Marshal who insists on protecting Charlie against his will and who only serves to complicate the situation, but the film never reaches flat out awfulness. There is a hint of sweetness to it, including the opening and closing lines of dialogue, the latter recalling the former, but the problem is that not enough time is spent building these characters and their relationship with one another for us to care. Instead, the film relies far too heavily on uninspired and overdone chase sequences and it just doesn’t work. Hit & Run isn’t the worst movie you’ll see this year, but it’s certainly one of the blandest.

Hit & Run receives 1.5/5

Friday
Jun152012

Safety Not Guaranteed

WARNING: Heavy spoilers follow. My reaction to the film hinges very much on key plot points, including the ending, and to put my reaction and accompanying score into context, it’s impossible to avoid them.

Safety Not Guaranteed has all the ingredients for a great movie. It has (mostly) charming characters each with their own defined backstories and personalities, an odd but interesting story and relationships that ring true, but it doesn’t capitalize on them. There are a number of nagging issues with all those aspects. By the time the end credits roll around, your initial reaction of greatness will have faded to mere adequacy, but it’s not that Safety Not Guaranteed is particularly bad. It just has so much potential and fails to live up to it.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is not the happiest girl in the world. Her father is in a poor state, her mother was killed years ago and she can’t find a job. The best she can do is land an unpaid internship at a Seattle magazine where she is underappreciated by her boss, Bridget (Mary Lynn Rajskub), and given menial tasks to do, like changing the toilet paper in the bathrooms. One day, she lands a story with journalist Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) and another intern named Arnau (Karan Soni) investigating a strange ad that recently popped up in the papers: someone is asking for a partner to join him in time travel. Believing this man to be nothing more than a kook, the three head out to his neck of the woods and apply for the job. While Arnau and Jeff stand back, Darius befriends the man named Kenneth (Mark Duplass) who begins to train her in preparation for their eventual journey.

Safety Not Guaranteed could have easily been a mean-spirited movie, one that poked fun at Kenneth for believing in something that many think is impossible. It could have made him look like a mentally challenged madman and in another, less sophisticated film, that probably would have been the case, but here he is treated with respect. His willingness and wanting to go back in time is so sincere you can’t help but love him, a notion the filmmakers rightfully realized early on. His relationship with Darius is tended to so well that she begins to believe that he may be the real deal, as does the audience.

Of course, the realization that his plan won’t actually work floats around in the back of the viewer’s mind while watching. This story is grounded in reality (and is actually based on an actual Backwoods Home Magazine ad from 1997) and such a story would never go so far as to actually send them back in time. But then it does. The film culminates in Darius hopping aboard a time travelling machine with Jeff and heading back to 2001, a time period chosen so Darius can stop her mother from being killed and Jeff can try to win the affections of a young crush named Belinda (Kristen Bell). This ending is baffling, comes out of nowhere and somehow manages to both succeed and fail on parallel levels.

Because the story is about time travel and, more specifically, about a man who is wanted by the government for stealing high tech equipment, a realistic ending would not be sufficient. Had the time travelling machine failed, Jeff would have immediately been shipped off to jail and Darius along with him for being an accomplice. A happy ending would be impossible, so by sending them off together, the film nails the emotional ending it was striving for. However, because the film built their relationship to a certain romantic point, where they had fallen in love with each other, their motivations for going back in time become moot. Jeff no longer needs to go back to 2001 to win over Belinda. He has Darius (his last line of the movie is actually along the lines of, “I’m not going back for her anymore, I’m going back for you”), so what’s the point? Similarly, if Darius were to stop her mother from being killed, as she would understandably want to do, her entire life trajectory would change, meaning she never would have met Jeff and none of this would have happened.

The ending also brings to question many of the scenes that came before, including why Jeff would insist on survival training (which includes the usage of firearms) if they were only travelling back to 2001. Had he just been crazy or living out some absurd fantasy, his irrational behaviors would have made since, and do at the time, but they don’t upon reflection because he’s not crazy. He’s more sane than anyone in the movie. This off-the-wall ending works on basic human levels and will provide an emotionally happy ending for those wanting one, but it also punches numerous holes in its plot, some so gaping you could fit an aircraft carrier through them.

Aside from the main plot, there are also a couple side stories involving Arnau as he learns how to win ladies over and Jeff as he tries to rekindle an old flame, but both are merely filler, uninteresting diversions that stretch out its runtime to an already bare 85 minutes. Up until that ending, though, the main story will grab ahold of you. The characters are well written and the performances bring them to life. Despite some key dramatic moments being punctuated by uncomfortable bits of humor, the movie makes you care, but that feeling of disappointment lingers on. Safety Not Guaranteed looked like it could have been one of the best of the year. Instead, it’s merely serviceable.

Safety Not Guaranteed receives 3/5

Wednesday
Nov242010

Burlesque

Musicals are wonderful. From George Stevens’ 1936 classic Swing Time to 2001’s Moulin Rouge, my love for musicals knows no bounds. As I sat down to watch the latest genre effort, Burlesque, I hoped for the best. Basically a mash up of Cabaret and Chicago, Burlesque is snappy, energetic and enthusiastic. It’s a phantasmagoric display of colors and costumes. And it’s also as boring as all get out.

Christina Aguilera plays Ali, an Iowa girl who moves out to Los Angeles with the hopes of hitting it big. On her job search, she comes across a Burlesque club and immediately falls in love with it, wishing for nothing more than to be up on that stage performing for the adoring crowd. However, the club’s owner, Tess, played by Cher, refuses to give her that chance. But when she learns she is about to lose her club to the bank unless able to raise a certain amount of money, she changes her mind and finds that Ali is a force to be reckoned with. She can sing, she can dance, she is beautiful and she becomes the talk of the town.

Burlesque’s plot resembles any other film where a newfound talent brings a business back from the brink of bankruptcy. It’s a story mechanic that has been done to death, but in the right hands it can still work. If it’s believable enough, I can look past it and enjoy the movie for what it is, but there’s nothing in Christina Aguilera that makes me believe she would garner this kind of attention. Aside from the fact that she isn’t a very good actress, which was to be expected, she isn’t particularly fun to watch as a singer either. She has a way of exaggerating her mannerisms to the point where you can’t tell whether she’s really into the song or having some sort of rhythmic seizure.

Still, the songs aren’t bad. It’s everything in between that stings the most. The dialogue, while sometimes humorously blunt, is usually just plain bad and it includes some of the most overly cloying exchanges since the last Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. Perhaps most egregious is its contrivances. As per usual with movies like this, a romance buds between Ali and Jack, played by Cam Gigandet. To get them together, the filmmakers force in one quick scene that shows Ali’s hotel room ransacked. Since she now has nowhere to go, Jack takes her in. In a way, all scenes in every movie set up the next because they are telling a story, but a good movie makes the progression feel natural. Burlesque doesn’t.

Burlesque is a musical only in the sense that it has musical numbers, but it fails to capture the spirit of the best in the genre. Not only are the songs not memorable, some don’t even fit naturally into the movie. It sometimes felt like they had written songs for the film and couldn’t figure out a natural way to include them, so they placed them around at random. The best example comes midway through when Tess, as she is about to leave the club for the night, decides instead to practice a new number, which makes no sense since she is not a performer at her club. I guess the mentality of the filmmakers was, “We have Cher. Why not let her sing?”

Although Aguilera’s performance is wooden and insincere, everyone else is lively and fun. The supporting cast, which includes Kristen Bell, Eric Dane, Alan Cumming and the great Stanley Tucci, provide some much needed withdraw from the sappy main story and stilted, if not nonexistent, chemistry between Aguilera and Gigandet. When focusing on these characters, there is some charm to be found, but in a musical as soulless as Burlesque, that counts for very little.

Burlesque receives 1.5/5

Friday
Sep242010

You Again

In what has been a rough year for romantic comedies, You Again stands apart from the crowd. Don’t take that as a glowing recommendation, however. It’s definitely not good, but it’s also not terrible, so I suppose that’s saying something. Differing from other dreck this year like The Back-up Plan or The Bounty Hunter, You Again’s focus is more on the comedy than romance, holding off the hook-ups until the end, but it is no less boring and insipid for it. Despite an able, likable cast, this cat fight of a movie can’t hold up to scrutiny.

Back in high school, Marni (Kristen Bell) lived a miserable existence thanks to head cheerleader and bully Joanna (Odette Yustman). Along with her friends, she ruthlessly taunted Marni (which apparently includes carrying her around like a hero and singing Queen’s “We Are the Champions”—I wish bullies were that nice when I was in school). Now, Marni works at a high class public relations firm and has just been promoted to Vice President. It seems to make up for Joanna’s bullying, she worked hard and made something of herself. But her brother Will (James Wolk) is getting married and, whaddya know, his bride-to-be is Joanna. Marni’s mother, Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), tells her not to worry about it, but ends up eating her words when Joanna’s aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver), Gail’s own arch-nemesis from high school, arrives for the wedding.

You Again is a movie that doesn’t amount to much. The jokes, usually of the slapstick variety, rarely work and its ending wraps everything up in a nice little bow, despite the extreme circumstances, but, nevertheless, it has considerable charm. This is a great cast, with the likes of Betty White, Victor Garber and cameos from Dwayne Johnson and Patrick Duffy joining those already mentioned, coming together to play out a lighthearted, if ultimately empty, family friendly film.

But if anything, it’s that family friendly nature that keeps the film from reaching greater comedy aspirations. Instead of having some mean spirited fun with its rivalry story set-up, it goes the passive aggressive route. The characters never truly attack each other. They simply talk nice to each other with an underlying zing hidden in each sentence that brings up past transgressions. After a while, it gets boring and you begin to wish something more would happen. Rather than let this terrific ensemble cast live it up, You Again foolishly keeps them subdued for the majority of its runtime.

While the rest of the film is harmlessly middle-of-the-road, the ending reaffirmed my inability to give this a recommendation. After an hour and a half of goofy nonsense, You Again suddenly becomes a self pitying drama where each character sorrowfully realizes how awful they have been. All of the contempt held by each character suddenly vanishes. Its melodramatic and sickly sweet nature is, ironically (and unintentionally), the funniest part of the movie.

You Again is just a drop of water in a sweeping ocean. It will be forgotten by most come the end of the year, with only the few who buy the eventual DVD keeping its memory alive. It is slight in every sense of the word and although it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been, it’s unworthy of anything more than a passing glance.

You Again receives 2/5