Frozen (B+). Disney has scored another hit with this animated tale based on a story called The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. I was feeling sort of down and looking for a pick-me-up, and Frozen did the trick quite nicely. It’s the story of Elsa and Anna, sisters and princesses of the kingdom of Arendelle. Unknown to Anna, her older sister has a hard-to-control magical power that is more of a curse–the power to conjure ice and snow and freezing blasts out of thin air. When Elsa’s power is revealed and she runs away from Arendelle, the plucky Anna sets off on a quest to find her. Along the way, Anna teams up with a surly ice entrepreneur named Kristoff, his expressive reindeer Sven, and a live snowman named Olaf. Their adventures are suitably exciting, and many of the visuals are very cool. It’s not quite top-shelf Disney–the songs are cute enough but not all that memorable, and I would have traded goofy Olaf for good old Frosty the Snowman–but those are very small flaws. Kristin Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) voices Anna; I didn’t really know any of the voices behind the other main characters. Oh, there was a cartoon short involving Mickey and Minnie before the main feature, and I didn’t think it was particularly good. But it didn’t detract from Frozen.
Big Miracle (B-). I caught this little movie at the dollar theater (actually $1.75), and I felt like I got my money’s worth. “Inspired by a true story,” this is the story of three California gray whales that accidentally got trapped under Arctic ice off the coast of northern Alaska in the fall of 1988. (I was in college at the time, which I guess explains why I remember nothing about this incident.) The whales had a small hole in the ice to breathe through, and the hole was way too far from the open ocean for them to swim the distance without drowning. In the movie, a reporter (played by John Krasinski, TV’s The Office) reports the story, which draws attention back in the lower 48 and triggers a massive rescue effort spearheaded by an amazingly annoying Greenpeace activist (played by Drew Barrymore, E.T.). Lots of recognizable stars show up, such as Kristen Bell (When in Rome) as a reporter up from Los Angeles, Ted Danson (Three Men and a Baby) as a wicked oil mogul, and Dermot Mulroney (The Family Stone) as a tough National Guardsman. I liked it well enough, but somehow it just lacked a certain magic about it. Maybe it was that annoying Drew Barrymore character. Anyhoo, it’s basically family friendly, but there is a little swearing, and it does get a little sad at one part.
Fanboys (D-). I went into this with low expectations, but I was still badly disappointed. Four Star Wars nerds in Ohio, 1998, decide to head off to California, where they will break into George Lucas’s ranch and try to steal a copy of the as-yet-unreleased Episode I. They have a variety of unfunny encounters with equally nerdy Star Trek fans, gay bikers, and Las Vegas escorts. Their one female friend Zoe (Kristen Bell, When in Rome) has to come bail them out of jail and joins them for the rest of the quest. Several familiar folks make cameo appearances (Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, William Shatner, a couple of guys from TV’s The Office). It adds up to a whole lot of nothing. Kristen Bell is cute, but she seriously needs to get a better agent. Skip it.
When in Rome (D+). I planned to give this weak romantic comedy a D, but then I remembered that I gave Leap Year a D, and this movie was slightly less horrible than that one. Truly, all the best bits were in the preview (and a couple of amusing lines in the preview were excised from the movie!). Perky blond Beth (Kristen Bell, Couples Retreat) is a workaholic junior curator at the Guggenheim. She goes to Rome for her little sister’s wedding, and in a state of drunken self-pity she fishes four coins and a poker chip out of the magical Fountain of Love. Four random strangers immediately fall in love with her and start stalking her. So does a hunky and suitable guy she met at her sister’s wedding. Unfunny hijinks ensue. The “twist” ending is visible from miles away. There’s a pretty funny gag involving Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder, who plays one of the unfunny suitors, but it doesn’t make the rest any less painful. Skip it.
Couples Retreat(C-). I saw this comedy at the dollar theater, and the price was about right. Four couples go off to a fabulous island resort where relationship-building exercises will supposedly be optional. But when they get there, they are told that the exercises are most definitely mandatory, and hilarity is supposed to ensue when the goofy French relationship expert Marcel (Jean Reno, Ronin) puts the hapless couples through various zany, off-the-wall stunts. The hilarity is seldom in evidence, but there is a fair amount of crudeness and lameness to make up for it. I was amused at one scene in which the tyrannical Marcel orders the couples to line up facing each other and strip to their underwear; all four women (including Kristen Bell, When in Rome) have flawless Hollywood figures, while the men range from average (Jason Bateman, Juno) to walrus-like (Faizon Love, Elf). Although I did laugh a small handful of times, I am confident you can find something better to spend your entertainment dollars on. Trivia — this movie was directed by Peter Billingsley, the child star of the classic A Christmas Story.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (B-). This new comedy was co-produced by the ubiquitous Judd Apatow, who wrote and directed Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I read somewhere that Apatow once said something to the effect that he makes movies that are both conservative and raunchy. This flick is off-the-deep-end in vulgarity, but I didn’t really detect any conservative messages or subtexts. Anyhoo, the story is an archetypal male fantasy. An ordinary joe (Jason Segel, The Five-Year Engagement) gets dumped by his attractive TV-star girlfriend (Kristen Bell, When in Rome), only to meet and connect with an even more attractive girl (Mila Kunis, The Black Swan)–right in front of the ex-girlfriend’s face! And a pretty standard comedic nightmare gets employed too: the guy is so distraught by getting dumped that he impulsively takes off for Hawaii–and ends up at the same hotel as his ex-girlfriend and her rock-star lover! I definitely enjoyed some laughs at the various situations, and sure you root for the guy to end up with the new girl instead of ever getting back with the old one. And what a pleasant surprise to see Steve Landesberg from the old Barney Miller show turn up in a small part! If you can handle lots of vulgarity and male nudity, you might enjoy this movie. All others should steer clear.