Friday, April 23, 2010

Penny Thoughts: April 16-22

The Princess and the Frog (2009) ***
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker, Greg Erb, Jason Oremland, E.D. Baker (story “The Frog Prince”)
Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruce Campos, Keith David, Michael Leon-Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrance Howard, John Goodman

With “The Princess and the Frog” Disney proves the madness in their decision a few years ago to abandon their traditional animation productions. But even at that time, I never really thought we’d seen that last 2D, ink and line animated musical feature from the studio that perfected them. Like their hiatus in the 80s, a few years off seems to have revitalized the format. After their last break from this traditional format they produced “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “The Lion King”. “The Princess and the Frog” never quite lives up to that legacy, but it is exuberant, vibrant, and fun. If anything the filmmakers are trying a little too hard to evoke all the color and music their hearts can muster, but it all makes for an enjoyable experience and a pleasurable romp.

Couples Retreat (2009) **
Director: Peter Billingsley
Writers: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Dana Fox,
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis, Kali Hawk, Peter Serafinowicz, Carlos Ponce, Jean Reno

“Couples Retreat” isn’t really all that bad. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. In fact, not ringing enough to recommend, but it’s not terrible. Its main problem seems to be an identity crisis. It wants to be some sort of brainless raunchy comedy, but never seems to muster itself up to commit to it. Instead it feels obligated (as often we are in marriage) to treat its characters with respect and truly contemplate what it means to be a couple. It never really does contemplate that meaning, because it is distracted with the notion of being funny. The two forces act against each other and neither forms into anything beyond a mere notion, but as a good husband, I’m willing to commend the effort it makes in trying to take it’s relationship with the audience seriously at times. I really liked the way the Vince Vaughn/Malin Akerman couple assessed their marriage. “We don’t have a problem; we’ve got a million problems.” Too true to totally dismiss.

Ninja Assassin (2009) *
Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Matthew Sand, J. Michael Straczynski
Starring: Rain, Naomi Harris, Ben Miles, Rick Yune, Shô Kosugi

“Ninja Assassin” has been described by some as a tribute to ‘80s B-grade kung fu flicks, which is an insult to ‘80s B-grade kung fu flicks. Unless, of course, the ‘B’ stands for ‘bad,’ because it is very much like a bad ‘80s kung fu flick. It has the same ridiculous storyline, the same bad acting, including Europol agents who couldn’t even pass for off-duty desk jockeys they have so little authoritative presence. I thought it might at least be worth while for the action, but there’s so much blood, you can’t see the action through it. And it seems the best fight sequence would’ve taken place in a brightly lit Laundromat; had the director actually filmed it, but that was the one where he chose discretion over evisceration. Actually, he still showed the evisceration of that scene, it was just the fighting that he decided we shouldn’t see.

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