Tag Archives: music

Review: Frozen 2

…Hey, I’m still doing the occasional review. Plus I figure it’s been long enough that no one will gripe at me about spoilers and still a chance for me to convince the few hold-outs to go see it. Because it is worth it.

Frozen 2 picks up two years after the original film, set in Arendelle’s autumn harvest festival. Elsa has been hearing a mysterious voice calling her, but she is so worried about messing up or not living up to her people’s expectations of her, she’s been ignoring it. But ignoring it is no longer an option when one interaction sparks ancient spirits her father told her about long ago to awaken in Arendelle…and they are not happy. The royal family goes on an adventure into the northern forests of Arendelle’s border, and into their parents’ pasts. Because when all is lost, all is found.

So first word of warning: do not go into this expecting a super intense story line. I’ve long since believed that the point of Frozen, the mini-adventures, and now this sequel isn’t some surprise ending or revelation, but instead about the emotional arcs they are guiding us through. Remember your target demo is like eight and lower your expectations a little for deep meaning/analogies and focus on what it is actually doing and how important that is. The first story focused on not only failed relationships, but how to recognize when to rebuild them and when to kick people to the curb, as well as moving on from past hurts.

Similarly, this movie seems to focus on the past a lot…but it’s more about what these characters are experiencing in the present. You have to look past we’re going from point a to point b. From worries about what the future holds, the pressures of expectations, discovering that the past they thought they knew was one-sided, the film is about coping with the shifting realities of your world. It even tackles acceptance of one’s self and grief, respectively, in ways that I don’t think a Disney film has tackled before. (Not gonna lie, these are the points where I started bawling in the theater. Twice.) Olaf has a whole song about it because, in many ways, he represents the age of the target audience and these are things that not only do they not know how to cope with, it is terrifying. And in balance, Elsa and Anna show that even adults struggle with these things, but give some strategies that are still simple enough for all sorts of people to relate to.

Characters, new characters. Okay, the Northuldra elder and the general were like my favorites of all time. I loved their interactions, and I am so happy with the direction they went with both of their characters. They could have made him a jerk, they could have made her even more uptight than she already was, but they didn’t. It was perfectly balanced. I do like the glimpses and history we see of the parents, but this is also slightly problematic for me? There’s something to be said about the emotional/mental abuse that Elsa went through, and while I hesitate to cast wrathful blame now on her parents after the nightmare that they met under, I also have to look at them, particularly their mother, and go, “Da faq? You should know better!” So yeah, trying to make those two characters from this new movie and from the first meet up is…Ugh. More work was needed.

World-building wise, we got a ton of lore and other info dumped on us. If you follow the Frozen mythos at all, not all of it is surprising–the Broadway musical brought in the Northuldra people or at least something similar to replace the trolls, and had the queen be from them, so that isn’t too shocking. The elements kinda make sense as you bring it in to the relationship with Elsa’s powers. We finally were really able to nail down a time period for the setting between Anna’s Victorian walking skirt in this film, the bicycle in the first film, and now the photographs in this one. Is it a lot? Oh yeah. Is it too much? Meh. For the younger kids who can’t follow that sort of thing, they don’t really care, it looks cool. For the older audience members, we’ve wanted answers so it is satisfying to have them. I’m not saying it’s done in the most elegant of fashions, but it got the job done and I am not going to bash on it for that.

The visuals and the music… Let me just die here. OMG. They did so many intricate touches with the visuals, and all those little touches really show. I wish there was some more in-world explanation for some of it (example: the friggin’ ponytail scene. I had to read an article to get commentary that revealed that Elsa’s braid is mostly ice and so she tied it back with something real before diving into the ocean, it was driving me nuts why they went through the wasted animation but now it makes sense), but the rest is just too cool to be punny. I appreciate the signs that they really consulted with the Sami representatives to get things right with the Northuldra and it shows.

And some of them, like even though I couldn’t understand everything being said on the water memory of the ship, I still go the feeling and it hit me right in the feels (and you know, set me up for more tears later). Also, the water fight with the water horse was brilliant and exactly what it should have been. That is totally how a pissed off horse would behave, especially with power over water and in its element. And then the ending where it got so excited to go for a run and not be sea/water locked? My heart! Speaking of water and memory and music, UGH THAT GLACIER SCENE. All about it. First scene I started crying in, and you know, it just stayed my favorite through both viewings I’ve had of it.

They did a ton more songs, but they ended up cutting so many and I think they really kept the ones that did the emotional work that they needed them to. “I Seek the Truth” is great, for example, but unneeded after the wreckage done to us on the boat. It really lets the others stand out. The only one I sorta wished stayed or had gotten reworked is “Unmeltable Me.” Does Olaf need a second song? No. But it includes some important info, like that Elsa’s powers have grown. We see it through the later half and she mentions it “Into the Unknown,” but still. I wanted to know more earlier on.

Overall, I think as long as you go in with an open mind and being prepared for a simpler story and yet a lot of info on the world being thrown at you, it works out. I didn’t touch on a lot of things, because I think they make some awesome surprises, especially for adult viewers. (I only had second hand embarrassment the first round, so they are probably just funny for everyone else.) Go see it if you haven’t already.


Review: Love Never Dies

This is joining, “She Slays Monsters,” as a sort of weird review, but I’m been obsessing, so here we go. Note I’ve listened to the original cast recording, and watched the Australian production, soooo. I have opinions.

Love Never Dies picks up ten years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera. Still alive, Eric has relocated to Coney Island with Madame Giry and Meg, running a carnival/side show titled Phantasma. But he is unable to forget Christine, and when opportunity comes, he brings her to his new home. But both Eric and Christine have a secret they are carrying that will change the lives of Madame Giry, Meg, Raoul, and Christine’s son, Gustav. Things aren’t quite settled yet, and Christine will have to chose again…and face the consequences.

People have very strong feelings about Phantom. Some can’t tolerate even the first five minutes of this musical. And you know, I see their point when I listen to the original arrangement. It dragged, badly, with tons of chorus numbers, it made Madame Giry into a monster, confirming that Eric is too violent to deserve a happy ending, and it kept spoiling the ending! Even if people can stand Phantom (and some can’t compared to the book), the sequel tends to give them hives.

That being said, Love Never Dies was rearranged at one point, easing the plot issues, and it also helped make Eric more approachable. Are there still holes? Oh yeah, plus new ones. They cut out important information, such as that Eric has been helping Meg learn to sing (which explains why she is not just dancing anymore), and it emphasized how she was trying to get the Phantom’s attention at her mother’s urging. The production I watched also didn’t have Meg dancing enough, so that was a bad casting call I think, since the character is a trained ballet dancer and would retain at least some skill. Overall though, the restructuring of the musical made it something that those who love the musical of Phantom can appreciate too. Even the original writers and composers agreed that it was better, so proof that editing is important!

The setting of Coney Island was…both fitting and weird? It’s a very obvious place for Eric to hide, in a side show and carnival type setting. It’s somewhere he is familiar with from his childhood and he can blend in there easily. Madame Giry and Meg are the oddballs as far as fitting there, and it takes a lot of plot wrangling to get Christine and Raoul there for the meeting of all the players. That being said, I can’t think of anywhere else this could be set, so by process of elimination, it must be the best place for it. I felt like the music at least helped with the contrast, the songs Meg sang, particular “Bathing Beauty,” what Madame called vaudeville trash in the original and made me snort in laughter, helped contrast with Christine’s opera, showing just how far they’d fallen/shifted around.

Oh, characters. I feel like Raoul pulled a 180, and whether or not it makes sense…sort depends on your experience with the prequel. I had to watch it a couple of times and THINK about it, and realized that what happened was a disillusionment. Raoul believed himself in love with Christine (when he was just infatuated), believed himself to be this big hero (because he was the society favorite between him and Eric), and even won in the end…only to realize he didn’t love her, he wasn’t ever going to be as important as Christine, and so he forced himself to keep winning.┬áChristine, in return, finds herself in a trap of her own making. She went with the society choice, especially considering how intense and violent Eric can be, only to have it all fall apart underneath her and she’s trying desperately to keep it all together.

Eric of course is the defeated villain, but rather than focusing on revenge, he still wants his original goal–Christine. Madame Giry is trying to recoup what she has lost by manipulating her daughter, and Meg… Meg fell for it and can no longer stand herself, so she wants Eric to rescue her like she thinks he rescued Christine from being another girl in the chorus, not realizing Christine’s talent and heart aren’t something that can be learned. It ┬ámakes the ending very bittersweet for everyone. As for new characters, the trio of “barkers” makes less sense in the rearrangement than it did in the original, and overall Gustav is very bland, but considering the fact he’s ten, I am betting there is some limitation there.

So what about the plot? Well, it’s pretty straight forward, not a lot of surprises. Even when you cut the spoiler-ridden stuff out of the original scripts, you figure out a lot of it before it happens. I do like the conflict that is shown between Raoul and Eric, and how it shows how time has affected these characters–Raoul is still trying to be the hero and is aggressive in stance and words, but Eric is more willing to let his words fight rather than physically engage until it is defensive. And Meg’s little bit before Christine performs really helps highlight how defeated she is. The ending drags though, even when cut. I honestly think it still needed work to pare it down.

Overall, I think this musical can be watched. Do you have to watch and make sure what version is being performed? Oh yeah. But if it’s the Australian rearrangement, I highly recommend at least trying it if you liked Phantom of the Opera as a musical. It is entertaining, and if nothing else, as a writer it’s a good example of what editing can do to change how a story is presented.


Review: Descendants 2

Okay, I’m late to the party, but I’m still determined to keep reviewing this movie series (I’m…ignoring the animated shorts unless forced). I was pretty hyped for this movie, especially as the actors kept saying how great it was turning out. And I see what they were talking about! I’m just…not as sure I agree?

Descendants 2 takes place months after the first film, with Mal and Ben firmly in a relationship…and very much in the public eye. When Mal suffers from anxiety over the level of pressure, there’s an inevitable fight that leads Mal to assume that she has made a mistake, returning to the Isle. Unfortunately, she and the other villain kids left some enemies behind when they turned good, and they will take any opportunity for revenge. The other VKs will have to convince Mal to return, and learn that they are both from the Isle, and from Auradon, and they can’t just abandon either side.

In a lot of ways, I can see why the cast and crew were so sure the sequel was a stronger movie. The story was much tighter this time, with a constant sense of suspense and the character reasoning was apparent to the audience. It was also not afraid to make fun of itself and the cliches of fairy tales, such as true love’s kiss. I was really excited by the show of growth in Mal’s powers, and I hope that is continued to be played with. Auradon seems determined to shove all the magic out, which is annoying, but Mal’s magic keeps asserting itself, so I’m hoping that will end.

New character wise, I feel like we’re beginning to drown in them. I’m not getting enough to be invested in all of the characters, and it forces the old characters to stay in their little story-boxes rather than having a chance to keep up the arcs that were started in the first film. In particular, while Carlos got more of a show this time and Evie got a little bit too, it was very much a focus on the new characters, Mal, and Ben. If the third film is going to introduce even more to the line-up, some cuts are going to have to be made. It took three viewings for me to catch that Lumiere was even present in the film, besides being a name drop early on, which while admittedly more of a nod than anything, is very telling to me.

Appearances, the bedrooms took a change again, which if you count the animated series for sake of argument, that means there have been three different looks to these bedrooms. Consistency apparently means nothing. (I have a feeling that because they are using this one castle that gets used for everything as their primary shooting location for the school, it’s made things extra difficult.) The costumes were great, and I like that there was a character reason for the Mal hair changes, which in trailers had me going, “WTF?” There were some cool details to the costuming, though, and unlike some of the outfits from the original film, these all seemed to be more in-line with each character. (Okay, some of it was still awful to look at, but that’s teen fashion in general sometimes.)

I think where I ended up disappointed the most was with the music. Some of it was great, things that continued the type of music from the first movie. Those, I was happy with. But much like the random Broadway music that had me going, “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE,” this time it was the hip hop. I did okay with the battle-song between the two groups, Uma’s group and the VKs…barely. Uma’s villain song on its own though just made me cringe. I guess they were trying to make use of the talents they had available, but it just didn’t work for me. Of course, my dislike of most hip hop is a well-known fact, so unless it really makes sense or is done in such a way that it works (like Hamilton, I will admit), then I would rather it stay out of my stuff.

The ending was full of sequel bait. Uma’s little repeat of the, “You didn’t think that was the end of the story, did you?” line, Dizzy getting invited to the school, Evie having a list of similar kids who deserved a second chance. This could go really well for the franchise…or rather poorly. It sort of depends on what direction they keep going with it. If they cut down the characters and stick to a little more consistency in terms of sound, I think it will continue to be the success that it has been. The characters are good, the actors are good, the story is finally where it needs to be. Hopefully, it won’t backslide in the third movie.


Writing: Music as Inspiration

Okay, so when it comes to music and writing, there are a lot of different “camps” as it were. Some people listen to music as they write because it helps them focus, while others find it to be a distraction. Some writers make playlists for their stories, either before they start writing or after. Some only touch music if they have a dancer or singer or whatever as part of the story and need music for that reason.

I’m sort of in an odd camp. I can’t listen to music as I write most of the time, because it inevitably distracts me. I do have to have some sort of noise, which is why I have YouTube or the TV on with some sort of background nonsense, be it a series that I have seen almost all of the episodes of multiple times (Criminal Minds or Law and Order: SVU), or a movie I’ve also watched several times (with exceptions, Marvel movies don’t work), or video game let’s plays. But I do use music for writing.

See, sometimes when I listen to a song, I will peg it as a background song or an inspiration song for a scene, and listening to it always reminds me of how the song will go. This was particularly prominent in writing Ten, because several of the scenes (some of which got cut) came to exist because of listening to particular songs. I even ended up using songs as chapter titles as a result. When I got stuck writing something because it was giving me issues for whatever reason, I’d go listen to the song I’d assigned to that chapter to help my brain get in the mood and emotions of that particular scene. In my case, I built my play list both before and as I was writing, because I plotted an arc, wrote it, and then plotted the next arc. It helped the story shape itself organically, and the music helped me set the tone for each chapter and the book as a whole.

The trick with using music as inspiration is to not to be extremely literal with it. Problem one with that is because if you are literally including lyrics as dialogue in the text, you are going to run into copyright issues. Problem two, most music has the same topic, they just have different phrases and tones. For me, I listen to what the rhythm and words are telling me. Songs of defiance or even upset at an ex turn into fight music for me, because of the speed and the anger that they emote. Break up songs can sometimes be about families or friends rather than loved ones. Love songs can apply to someone that the main character is interacting with that doesn’t necessarily mean romance between them, just wanting a relationship, platonic or otherwise.

Music appeals to people on different levels, and you really have to figure out which camp you belong to on your own. I can’t tell you to turn off the music if it helps you put words to a page, and really if someone tries to tell you how to handle music with your writing and acts like they know it all, well, they are lying. To paraphrase Mercedes Lackey books, there is no one true way. I will say, don’t get stuck in a rut with it. If you are struggling, the first thing I would suggest changing up is your sound environment. If you listen to music, stop for a while and see if it helps, or do what I do and change to a non-music sort of background noise. As you age, your preference will probably change, so just keep an open mind to trying different things to see if they help you when you get stuck.