Watching: Freaky Friday (2003)

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Much of the 2000s flew right by me, and upon finally watching Walt Disney’s Freaky Friday I never really understood exactly how much I ignorantly passed by. A barrage of teenage comedy films. Questionable fashion fads. Normal Lindsay Lohan. But while these things may have been a thing of the past and I now live in a completely different world, I thoroughly enjoyed this family comedy for what it was – a heartwarming, albeit whimsical, story about family ties.

I’ve always managed to scroll past this film when browsing the listings on what I should watch next. I’m a very big horror junkie, and so I never really payed any attention to a Lindsay Lohan (Mean Girls, The Parent Trap) film until I noticed Jaime Lee Curtis (Halloween, A Fish Called Wanda) was also in it. Seeing as I absolutely loved the Halloween series, I gave it a chance. I was not disappointed.

Anna Coleman (Lindsay Lohan) and her mother Tess (Jaime Lee Curtis) couldn’t be anymore different – while Tess is an uptight mother trying to keep her family in line, Anna is a rebellious, rocking teen. Really, the only thing they seem to share is… arguing and fighting. On a visit to a Chinese restaurant they’re at it again, fighting, until an old Chinese woman (Lucille Soong) offers them fortune cookies. Unfortunately (heh), the next morning not all is at it should be, as both mother and daughter find they have switched bodies – and must learn to walk in each other shoes.

I’m not sure if I’m starting to enjoy comedies a lot more, but I had a great time watching Freaky Friday. Yes, while the premise is more common than it should be, and the strained mother/daughter relationship a tad cliché, the film is more than deserving of praise for the amazing Curtis/Lohan performance. They seem to work well off each other, and both did a great job in portraying the other’s character. Props definitely go out to JML though: my eyes were glued to the screen whenever she was on it. She was vibrant, exciting, and most importantly, genuinely funny. It amazed me when I found out she was put on the cast only four days before filming, which made me all the more impressed with her performance. Other than that, dialogue in the film was above average at best and average at worst, and the rest of the film pretty much plays out on that line. The supporting cast does well to compliment the unique personalities of the mains, and a very special mention goes out to Lucille Soong for making me burst out in laughter at the end scene.

I have to say, I quite enjoyed a taste of early 2000 Disney. Freaky Friday overall was a great film to pass my Sunday morning, and I have no regrets about watching it. Oh, except for the music video-esque performance by Lindsay at the end – yeah no, I cringe at those things, really, skip right past it and onto the scrolling credits. But other than that, I suggest you don’t do what I did – don’t hesitate! Enjoy this fun and heartwarming film that is sure to leave you laughing.

Bry Rating: 3.5/5
Recommended? Go for it!
Country of Origin: America
Language: English

Watching: The Help (2011)

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Exploring the racial segregation of the 1960’s, The Help is a film that incorporates a unique blend of humour and heartstrings. Speaking straight to the heart, it is a faithful adaption to the book of the same name by Kathryn Stokett. The powerhouse cast is to thank for it’s degree of success, as is the translation of the narrative from novel into film. With beautiful settings and a performance driven plot, it’s no wonder that this movie has been positively received the world over.

There are only a handful of films that have managed to make me cry and The Help is one of the lucky few. It was as intense as it was heartfelt, and I couldn’t help but adore Viola Davis’s (Prisoners, Doubt) performance as Aibileen. The entire film is well thought out and its story, although a tad predictable and melodramatic, is highly engaging and leaves the viewer asking for more. I’ve watched this with the family a few times since it’s release – and it’s just as powerful every time.

It’s the 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi as racial rights are trotted on by the hegemonic White society. Skeeter (Emma Stone), an ambitious writer working on a mundane cleaning column, becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the treatment of the coloured help by the people around her. Determined to voice out their opinions, she approaches Aibileen (Viola Davis), a maid who has raised White kids throughout her life, with the intent on writing a book on her experiences. As tensions rise between the White and the Black, Skeeter and Aibileen, along with fellow maid Minny (Octavia Spencer) and others, push through their social boundaries to expose what really happens behind closed doors and white picket fences.

The star ensemble of the film are without a doubt the film’s success. Davis is more than capable of pulling of an emotional performance, presenting the audience with a compelling act that is as touching as it is powerful. I would say that it is impossible not to feel for the characters the team gives life to, even if those emotions range from pure hate to heart wrenching pain. Stone’s (Easy A, Amazing Spiderman) act as Skeeter is, although not a strong as Davis’s is still solid and carries its own weight through the film. Although not part of the main story, an honourable mention goes out to Jessica Chastain’s (The Tree of Life, Mama) role as Celia Foote, who – like Davis – provides a surprisingly fleshed out character to the audience without overstepping her boundaries. On another note, the setting of Jackson seems to me to be highly authentic – it simply breathes a 1960’s air. Whether this vibe is used to heighten the tension between societies or to represent the simplicity of these times, Tate Taylor’s understanding of the original work is to thank for the beautifully created scenes. Add in an eloquent musical score, carefully selected costumes and the right shots – and you’ve got yourself a triumphant film that speaks for itself.

As a whole, The Help is a remarkable film that uses the talents of it’s actors to their full extent. Performances are ripe with emotions and sincerity, giving life to this beautiful and humorous fight for truth. While it at time may dip it’s toe into a melodramatic puddle, it never seems to coincide with the cliches that fill films that centre on race and ethnicity. With it’s comedic flair, topic gentility and emotional poise, The Help is a rewarding film experience that any film junkie should not go living without.

Bry Rating: 4.25/5
Recommended? Without a doubt
Country of Origin: America
Language: English

Watching: Frozen (2013)

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How do you write about a film, when it seems the rest of the world has already seen it? Arriving fashionably late to the hype of Disney’s Frozen, I managed to savour the newest addition to the Disney archives. I will admit, the film is genuinely funny, moving and is an excellent film for families or the Disney viewer. That being said though, I found the movie to be overrated by the fanatics of the internet (I’m looking at you Tumblr) and I expected more out of it, though I do agree with the aray of awards it has garnered.

I managed to finally get my hands on a copy of Frozen through the release in Australia. I watched it with my family on a Sunday afternoon (as we often do), and began listening to the story. At this point my older brother and I had already learnt the lyrics of all its songs, as such was the hype of the newest Disney film. While we were mostly happy with the overall film, I personally felt wronged. It’s story – although good – just wasn’t as fleshed out as I had hoped it to be.

Frozen takes place in the Kingdom of Arrendale where King & Queen rule with two daughter, one of which – Elsa (Idina Menzel)- possesses cryokinetic powers. After hurting her sister Anna (Kirsten Bell) with her powers, Elsa is shielded from the world and lives her life in isolation.  Years later, Elsa and Anna live very different lives – whereas Anna is an optimist, Elsa has become a recluse, creating a rift between the two. Elsa’s powers seem to be affected by her emotions, and so after she becomes stressed at her coronation, she runs away from the kingdom, accidentally setting off an eternal winter. Feeling responsible for her outburst, Anna teams up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), an iceman; Sven, his loyal reindeer; and Olaf (Josh Gad), a living snowman, in order to return summer to Arrendale and reconcile with her sister.

As expected of modern computer animation, Frozen’s characters and world are essentially flawless. There’s no doubt that a lot of detail went into the film’s creation, and it seems to have payed off – character movement is fluid and believable, structures are impeccable and objects rival their real counterparts (have you seen those snowflakes?) . Minor points are filled with information that would otherwise be overlooked (i.e. the symbolism of both princesses’ dresses), making it ripe with secrets and facts. The characters, namely Elsa and Anna, are portrayed in a realistic manner, and it isn’t an overstatement to say that both Bell and Menzel give life to the sisters. Anna’s quirky and joyful personality is rivalled only by Elsa’s stoic and refined behaviour, presenting to the audience two princesses that stray from the fairy tale norm. Whether this is the product of the string of films Disney has produced in recent years or the desire to portray a larger variety of female characters (and not just the damsel in distress stereotype), it seems Disney is headed in the right direction. The musical score of the film doesn’t fail at all, possessing a variety of memorable songs that I find myself humming to every now and again. The one point I think the film failed for me was its story – it’s not that it was bad, in fact, it is smartly written. It’s just that through all the hype and the commotion, I thought that there’d be more to it than what I was presented with.

In total, Frozen has become a hit worldwide, and personally one of my favourite animated films. I do think that Disney is returning to it’s roots, simulating the inspiring hits of the 20th century (In particular The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast) with a new formula that seems to be working quite well. While I wasn’t completely satisfied with it, I think that its been one of the better movies of 2013, and one of the best movies to come out of the 2010’s so far. If you have been left completely in the dark on this snowstorm of adventure, like I was until a few days ago, be sure to check it out. There’s nothing better than a Disney film to put you in the right mood.

Bry Rating: 4/5
Recommended? Don’t miss out on another Disney hit!
Country of Origin: America
Language: English

Watching: Pompeii (2014)

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I’m not really into the whole disaster type films, save for a few that have sparked my interest throughout the years. Most of the time, it’s usually how the destruction is caused – rather than an actual film, it’s a messy array of explosion, deaths and fire. And although Pompeii falls into the category of “failed” disaster films, it’s not the fault of the disaster itself; but rather the fault of its lacklustre script and the almost non-existent plot.

Funnily enough, I saw this film as part of a school excursion for my Ancient history topic. We were all expecting big things – expecting a story that centred on the actual disaster of Mt Vesuvius. Instead, we were served a bland poor-boy-meets-rich-girl story  that had was filled with gladiatorial film troupes. Admittedly, the film did begin with promise yet it all quickly fell apart, revealing the dry and uninteresting love story beneath.

The film centres on Milo (Kit Harrington), the last of a Celtic Horse Tribe and an enslaved gladiator who has recently arrived in the great city of Pompeii due to his excellent fighting skills. He catches the interest of Cassia (Emily Browning) who is in turn desired by Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), the man also responsible for his tribe’s death when Milo was a child. Now with the city crumbling around him, he and others must find a way to survive and escape the oncoming disaster caused by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius.

I was really surprised by how flat and mono-dimensional the characters and story seemed. It got to the point that rather than taking interest in the main characters, I soon found myself rooting for minor characters (My favourite character being Cassia’s handmaiden). I think it’s been proven time and time again that story telling isn’t Anderson’s forte – films like Resident EvilAliens Vs Predator, and Death Race are all heavily action based and, if anything, their action sequences give the films enough credibility to be called films. In saying that, Anderson’s portrayal of the actual eruption, and all the repercussions of the initial blast, is an archaeologist’s and historian’s dream. Referring back to my textbooks (and the all important internet), not only is the eruption entertaining and engaging – it’s also surprisingly realistic and accurate. Also deserving of praise are the few gladiatorial fights that are littered in section of the film, which is a godsend considering the true destruction of Pompeii – and I’m not talking about the explosion mind you.

True to it’s historical awareness, Pompeii is a giant disaster. While I do love Game of Thrones, I have to say, It’s not exactly Harington’s best work (Keep it up though Jon Snow!), and so I expect a lot more from him in the future. Although it would otherwise get a zero for its rating, the film’s visual effects are solid and extraordinary, and I’m sure many studying effects for film production would benefit from Mt Vesuvius’s destruction. If you are not however, such a student, I suggest you keep your distance from this disaster flick.

Bry Rating: 1/5
Recommended? Like in Roman times, I give this a thumbs down
Country of Origin: Germany/Canada
Language: English

Watching: Exam (2009)

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Works that have an “elimination” premise have always intrigued me since reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. One by one, a character is eliminated until, at last, only one remains. Stuart Hazeldine’s independent film, Exam, depicts this type of story in a new light – within the gripping jaws of a job examination, something I’m sure many of us already find terrifying. Although the film starts as an entertaining story with an exciting premise, it does – eventually – lose its potential.

Slightly reminiscent of the works of Vincenzo Natali (Cube) and Luis Piedrahita (Fermat’s Room), Exam is a unique and interesting film that comments on human nature and the different ways people pursue their desires. Having said that though, it eventually boils down into a mix of different character archetypes, creating an average narrative at best.

The story begins with 8 people preparing themselves for what is soon revealed to be a job exam. Entering the exam room, the applicants are met by the Invigilator, who explains to them the three rules to avoid disqualification. The candidates quickly find that this is no normal exam, as the paper given is blank, and they are forced to find the all important question before finding the answer.

I really had high hopes for the film with its premise. The eight characters – a mix of different backgrounds and personalities – initially seemed to work well with each other in the sense that it gave the film purpose. But they, along with the point of the story, became highly ludicrous and downright cringe worthy. After the variety of antics characters pull to better their chances, the audience soon realises the futility of their actions and the incongruity of the whole selection process. I mean, as I watched the story unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder why the company even considered such an outlandish way to hire a person. And to make matters worse, the applicants quickly become desensitised to morality in the face of a job examination. Although it is suggested that an ongoing pandemic is the source of their strong desire for the job, the whole narrative seems pushed in an effort to intrigue viewers.

To sum up, Hazeldine’s brilliant concept is fumbled into a mediocre creation that manages to entice the audience with the original point of the film – the question. While not a lot of the film can be praised for, it’s without a doubt that the “why” and “what” aspect of the film garners enough interest to warrant a view. If you’re looking for a way to pass the time, or even just a film to play in the background, try the Exam – an easy to digest thriller all within the cozy confines of a single room.

Bry Rating: 2.5/5
Recommended? Give it a go… In your spare time.
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English 

Watching: How I Live Now (2013)

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How often is a good premise destroyed in the world of film? Lately, it seems, all too often. Piling on the mountain of teen romance films, Kevin MacDonald’s How I Live Now is a somewhat mediocre attempt in creating a romance amidst the chaos of a World War. In essence, while a variety of film aspects are generally quite good, it seems that the overall film is weighed down by a poor plot line and story telling.

To be honest, the Netflix description really intrigued me – with the unique combination of the war and a girl-meets-boy- movie tropes, I was expecting a balanced story that wouldn’t severely hinge on either for a long period of time. Unfortunately, I was flat out disappointed, and worst of all… proven wrong.

The film opens with Daisy, a compulsive American arriving in England seemingly completely oblivious to the impending threat of a World War III. She later arrives at her cousins’ house and although she is hesitant at first, befriends her family and learns to be more at ease with herself and others. This happiness is short lived though, as she is soon separated from her cousins and is forced to cope with the harsh realities of war, the responsibilities as a carer and the deep desire to reach the one she loves.

I’ve never seen the director’s previous work, nor have I read the novel the film is based of, but it seemed as though he went through a checklist of things to shoot in the film. A love scene? Check. A sex scene? Check. A confrontation scene? Check. Stock character death? Check. And even then, there are some plot details that audience members like me were left wanting more of. It can be said that the general plot is horribly watered down, sanitised and wholly unrealistic, most likely to appeal to the filmmaker’s “stereotypical”  young female audience. Luckily though, Saoirse Ronan’s (The Lovely Bones) performance, as well as the performance of her fellow cast members, give the film some good points, providing a welcome sense of relief to MacDonald’s train wreck. Other kudos come from the few scenic shots, as well as the focus on Daisy’s development from a neurotic teen to a more rounded character by the end of the film.

In short, the film definitely has more downs than up, and while that is a legitimate reason to ignore this attempt at a romance-during-war story, the acting and casting of the movie just lifts it enough to be palatable. If anything, watch this film to see the brilliant work the actors put on… or don’t, to save yourself the pain in watching a film that will leave a longing, bad taste in your mouth.

Bry Rating: 2/5
Recommended? Don’t bother.
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English