THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG
The most kid-friendly movie of the year is also one of the best all-around films of the year! In Disney's re-telling of The Frog Princess, New Orleans waitress Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) becomes a frog after kissing another frog, who is really a prince (Bruno Campos) enchanted by a voodoo villain (Keith David) -- and honey, it's a shame vocal performances are ineligible for Oscar, because DAMN. An especial standout is Jennifer Cody as debutante Charlotte, squealing her way through the proceedings in an endearingly grating fashion. Yes, they can go together.
Randy Newman's score complements his fantastic new songs (eight), and the requisite pop ballad at the end, this time written and performed by NE-YO, is actually pretty damn good. While the three song nominations for Enchanted and Dreamgirls were a bit much, but The Princess and the Frog easily deserves at least four of those spots (with fifth going to Jennifer's Body, of course). Standout in this category: "Dig a Little Deeper", as performed by the impeccable Jenifer Lewis (William H. Macy's wife in Mystery Men, and yes that is how I choose to remember her) and the Pinnacle Gospel Choir. Glorious.
The movie actually is shockingly dark at times -- the climactic cemetery sequence is a gruesome, chilling thing to watch. Indeed, most of the scenes involving David's Dr. Facilier are both trippy and frightening. I shan't spoil just how they work, since surprise plays a huge part in their effectiveness, but trust me when I say: it gave me CHILLS.
Final verdict: The second-best animated film of the year (Fantastic Mr. Fox is at Number One), and the best (non-Pixar) Disney movies since Mulan.
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
This must be the most mature one of the series so far. I'm not talking story, but filmmaking. Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography, David Yates' direction, Nicholas Hooper's score, Steve Kloves' screenplay, the costumes and production design, everything has finally come together to make a consistently great film. It does not have the pacing issues of the first and last two, nor does it have the freeze-frame of the third one. The acting is better, too. Even Emma Watson appears to have improved!
My problem with this one is the same as the last one, though. I'm beginning to find the Harry Potter movies easily forgettable. While I thought Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire were among the best of the year, Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince I mainly remember for their technical achievements. I find myself becoming ever more unmoved by the proceedings, and just admiring them. But then, I saw this on DVD, so the magic was greatly reduced. Anyway, I look forward to the next two.
Final verdict: Great filmmaking, must be seen in theaters.
Poorly-paced, lazily-written, but well-acted by the two leads. Eastwood continues his Gran Torino technique of having a professional, amazing lead (or leads, in this case), then surrounding them with broad, two-dimensional performances that trivialize the proceedings. Yes, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are amazing, but the rest is dull, dull, dull. Worst editing of the year goes to the team of Joel Cox and Gary Roach, who assist Eastwood in turning the potentially exciting Rugby World Cup finale into snoresville. Yeah, I know the game itself was not particularly "Hollywood" (I read the book by John Carlin), but for God's sake, people, at least don't cut the excitement of the fans off at the knees. The original songs are on-the-nose, horrid, awkward.
Gary Roach, by the way, has been co-editing Eastwood's films since Letters from Iwo Jima. No coincidence, I think, that the films have been getting weaker (much as I love Gran Torino...it's not really a "good" movie, is it?). Fire this schmuck.
Final verdict: Freeman and Damon are worth it, but otherwise, meh.
The ensemble tries, but the movie is a mess. There is a dark, deeply felt story waiting to break out. Instead, we get schmaltz. Forced schmaltz. Despicable. Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore have great chemistry with Robert De Niro, though. I hope they all work together again. Kate Beckinsale does not fare as well. She's admitted to being terrified at the prospect of working with one of her acting gods -- it shows.
I will say this: the epiphany dream near the end is one of the funniest things I've seen in a theater this year. It's not supposed to be, but it's hilarious.
Final verdict: Crap.