Opening this week in a theatre near you, Disney leaps back into form with the animated marvel, The Princess And The Frog; Clint Eastwood directs Invictus, the story of Nelson Mandela’s fight to unite his country; plus a look at Me and Orson Welles and A Single Man.
There was a time, one that frequent readers will understand I’m often reminiscent of, when Disney was at the top of their game, releasing animated classics that have earned a place in many homes over the years. Since the 1990s though, Pixar has stolen most of the limelight from their parent company, which is exactly why The Princess And The Frog is such a wonderful surprise, proving once more that Disney still has what it takes to make enduring classics.
Written and directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, who previously made The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, The Princess And The Frog is a return to form for Disney, offering an age-old tale that has been updated to exist perfectly inside the city of New Orleans.
Living within the culture of the city, the film features the voice of Anika Noni Rose as Tiana, a hardworking girl who wants to achieve her father’s dream of opening a fancy restaurant in the heart of the city. Living in the same house where she grew up, Tiana has been saving since her childhood, but she still seems a long way from realizing her dream. Her life suddenly looks like it is about to change, however, when the young and handsome Prince Naveen, voiced by Bruno Campos, arrives in town.
With the town preparing for Mardi Gras, and Tiana’s best friend throwing a gala party for the Prince, one fiendish witch doctor, voiced by the great Keith David, schemes his way into turning the prince into a frog. His plans start to go awry when the Prince escapes in his froggy form and the young Tiana gives him a kiss. Since Tiana isn’t a princess though, she ends up turning into a frog too, setting off a chase across the Bayou that everyone hopes will end in one marriage, or another.
Executive produced by Pixar’s great John Lasseter, The Princess And The Frog is unequivocally one of the best animated films of the year, and also one of Disney’s best films in three decades. Ranking right up there with Musker and Clements’ previous work, the film is a hilarious romp through the south, with loads of heart, and a fantastic collection of songs by Randy Newman.
Featuring the wonderful voice work of Rose, Campos, David, plus John Goodman, Keith David, Jim Cummings, the film is well worth the trip to the cinema, and parents will have no problem enjoying the film right beside their little ones. Although this is a bit early to say, I also hope The Princess And The Frog signals a brand new era of classics from the House of Mouse.
Director Clint Eastwood delivers his latest film this week with the dramatic true story of South African President Nelson Mandela’s goal of uniting his country during the 1995 World Cup of Rugby. Following the end of apartheid in the country, the film recounts Mandela’s work to convince Springboks team captain Francois Pienaar, played in the film by Matt Damon, to use the event as a way of bringing South Africa together with an unlikely win.
Author and critic Christopher Heard reviewed the film for The GATE. Here’s what he had to say about the film, which is already kicking up some serious Oscar buzz.
“Invictus proves something that I have known all along: Clint Eastwood is one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time. At nearing 80 he is making films with energy and a passion and an emotion that most American filmmakers half his age can muster. While it is not Eastwood’s best film, Invictus is a finely crafted movie that is told simply, somewhat idealistically, and strongly.”
Summing up the film, Heard writes, “Morgan Freeman is terrific as Nelson Mandela, but then one would be hard pressed to name a film that Morgan Freeman wasn’t terrific in. He strikes the right balance of authority and wise old soul whose story is one of the most remarkable examples of human redemption and personal power in the history of humankind.”
“Matt Damon delivers a remarkable performance as the South African Springboks captain – he not only does an admirable job with the harsh and hard to imitate Afrikaner accent, he also is a smart actor who seems to realize that underplaying this character is the key to keeping the overall story credible and strong.”
“Clint Eastwood shoots South Africa with an epic, but non-judgmental hand. He captures the stunning beauty of the country and the abject poverty and desperation in equal measures. There are moments of over-sentimentality but only a few and it is much preferable watching a life affirming, idealistic movie taken from a moment in the life of a deeply troubled nation, than watching the constant heartless, soulless, gutless films featuring explosions, torture, gunfire and computer graphics that are released one or two per week. It is wonderful that a guy like Clint Eastwood and actors like Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon believe in their audience, want to entertain them, inspire them and want them to think and feel along with them.”
“Invictus (Latin for Unconquered) is a fine film, not a great film, but a film you will feel good about experiencing. A film that only dedicated, skilled, filmmakers and performers could make, would make.”
It’s hard to imagine High School Musical star Zac Efron involved in a serious film, but in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, Efron plays a young man cast in Orson Welles’ stage production of Julius Caesar, with Christian McKay playing the large-than-life actor and director.
The film has been playing to quality reviews from many of the world’s top critics. Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News wrote, “Surprisingly conventional by director Richard Linklater’s standards, this pleasant, low-key dramedy is most memorable for the discovery of co-star Christian McKay.”
Last but certainly not least this week comes first-time director Tom Ford’s A Single Man, which is based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same name. Set in 60’s-era Los Angeles, the story weaves around the Cuban missile crisis as a British college professor, played by Colin Firth, tries to sort out his life after his partner passes away.
Dealing with romance and love cut all too short, A Single Man is a highly regarded little drama. Emanuel Levy wrote for his website, EmanuelLevy.com, “Fashion designer Tom Ford makes a stylishly elegant debut with his effective adaptation of Isherwood’s seminal, stream-of-consciousness tale of love and loss, featuring Colin Firth in a multi-nuanced, tonally perfect Oscar-caliber turn.”