Movie Mini-Review Roundup: “Frozen,” “Before Midnight,” “The To-Do List,” and More

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Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) are sisters in "Frozen"

Sisterly combo Elsa and Anna from Disney’s “Frozen.”

Thoughts on some movies from the early stages of my 2013 movie catch-up, including this week’s new “Frozen.” For a more complete taken on the new Disney film, see Shawn Kotzen’s review. 

 – “Frozen.” I’m not sure how and why Disney Animation started totally outclassing its corporate cousin Pixar, but it’s happened again. “Frozen” is just fantastic and, like “Wreck-It Ralph” last year, it’s got that special magic that’s been missing from the last several Pixar releases.

A throwback to the Disney animated classics of old- it’s got princesses, original songs, and a literary pedigree- “Frozen” also adds something of a subtle feminist twist. Working from the rough outline of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” it’s a tale of the complicated love between two sisters. The animation is beautiful, the songs- by the “Avenue Q”/”Book of Mormon” team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez- are first-rate, and the story is equal parts satisfying and heartbreaking. And that Snowman, he’s the best. Now in theaters.

– “Before Midnight.” The third film of the trilogy from director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy- first they met on a train in Vienna, then they were reunited in Paris, and now they’re a couple in Greece-  is the best of the three films. The movie, co-written by the two actors, picks up the lovebirds as a 40-ish couple with two kids that’s pretty tired of each other. The movie’s funny at times and difficult at others, and ends absolutely perfectly. Now available on DVD and Netflix disc.

– “The To Do List” This movie looked really great on paper: A teenage coming-of-age sex comedy, a sort of female answer to “Superbad,” with Parks & Recreation’s super-appealing Aubrey Plaza in the lead role and a super-deep supporting cast with comedy standouts like Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Adam Pally, as well as Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse, Maeby from Arrested Development and both Mrs. Coach and Jason Street from Friday Night Lights. 

Didn’t work. The film gives these people just about nothing funny to do, and it’s full of both gross-out gags that don’t connect and dialogue that isn’t especially funny. The movie is also set in 1993 and full of nostalgia gags and music that aren’t nearly as funny as the filmmakers think they are. And Plaza, who I normally love, is absolutely wrong for the role, and also about ten years too old. Now available on DVD and Netflix.

– “Greetings from Tim Buckley.” This film got just about no attention when it came out last spring, and it’s too bad, because it’s excellent. Gossip Girl‘s Penn Badgely plays a pre-fame Jeff Buckley, haunted by the death of the musician father (Tim Buckley) he barely knew as he prepares to play a tribute concert. Full of songs from both Buckleys the film, directed by Daniel Algrant, underplays the daddy-issue cliches while also staying away from a typical biopic structure- after all, it ends before Jeff Buckley even got famous. Now available on DVD and Netflix, and I expect to do lots of cable re-watching in the coming years.

– “Crystal Fairy.” This film gets off to such a poor start that I turned it off after 15 minutes, but I watched the rest a few nights later and liked it a lot more. It’s Michael Cera in drugged-out Ugly American mode, going on a drug-fueled rampage through Chile. There he’s joined by a fellow American hippie chick (Gaby Hoffmann), the Crystal Fairy of the title, as they go on a quest to find a fabled hallucinogenic cactus. The revelation here is Hoffmann, the former child star who was the little girl in “Field of Dreams,” who here finds a new- and very naked- way to play a hippie character. Her Independent Spirit Award nomination was richly deserved. Now available on Netflix Instant.

I’m planning to watch a movie a day in the month of December, so expect more of these roundups.

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  • 12-String Frank

    “Before Midnight” is one of the … WORST films of 2013. Total depressing dreck. And it’s on many critics’ top 10 lists. WHY ???? I don’t get it. This is more mysterious than than the identity of Jack The Ripper! It was pretentious. It had dialogue that went nowhere. It had two married losers arguing about nothing interesting. How can critics put this crap on their lists ??? Are they being paid ??