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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: Descendants 3

I know I live tweeted this during the premiere, but now that I’ve watched it multiple times, I still have feelings that I need to get out, plus the set needs to be complete. As a note, I am trying to be…less abrasive, I suppose?…of my reviews, even if I have issues with them. This is especially true for this movie, since it premiered so soon after the loss of Cameron Bryce (Carlos).

Descendants 3 picks up a bit after the second movie, bringing a fresh class of kids from the Isle of the Lost to Auradon for a chance at turning good. However, a clash with Hades at the gate puts the entire program in jeopardy, especially when a villain appears and begins to wreck havoc on all of Auradon using Maleficent’s scepter. Mal and the others must obtain Hades’s ember, the only force capable of countering the scepter, and bring an end to it…once and for all.

Okay, spoilers from here on out, ya’ll. Look away if you don’t want to see anymore.

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Review: Teen Witch

Hey look, I managed something after all. (By some miracle.) And in a fit of Halloween Nostalgia, I watched an old movie that at some point crossed my path when I was a child. While not your normal Halloween horror movie, I thought it would be a tame way to start the month off.

Teen Witch follows Louise Miller, a freshmen just starting in high school and struggling like we all did. But there is something special about Louise. On her sixteenth birthday, she comes into her powers as a reincarnation from the Salem witches. At first, she uses her powers for petty things–getting her little brother to behave and getting revenge on upperclassmen and teachers. But when she uses her powers to become the most popular girl in school, things start taking a turn for the worst, and Louise has to make a decision. Keep her powers, or earn things the hard way and have them mean so much more.

Okay, this is very much an 80’s movie. I make no apologies for that. But seriously, this used to air on ABC Family and Disney?! Excuse me, I’m going to go laugh hysterically in a corner for a while. It gets a bit racy for them nowadays, in somewhat mortifying ways. (There’s a poor home ec teacher trying to teach sex ed, it’s awful.) The plot is full of trope, but I don’t really expect much more from it. The pacing though was lacking, though, which was disappointing. You can have tropes and be fairly predictable, but you have to keep things constantly going. They tried, but overall the feeling of the movie dragged. Big time. It’s very much a movie you jump around according to what scene you want to watch next. There’s also some description issues since some of the films call Louise a descendant from a Salem witch, when she’s a reincarnation within the same family–what’s referred to as a throw-back.

Character wise, I did not buy into the main character very much. Poor little rich girl who isn’t popular in school. Um, I’m sorry, what? Like, this is who we are really giving amazing, basically mind-raping powers to? Really? Talk about misuse of power, man… And her adviser in all things magical, Selena, wasn’t much better. I guess they really needed to work on making these characters relateable. I mean, if the main character hadn’t been from what was very obviously an affluent family, it would have given her at least a little bit of depth. But as it was, she just came across as extremely shallow and self-centered. I guess this was some of the point and her needing to learn what really matters, but yeah, needs some help in the character department.

There was a lack of world building in general. I mean, they really relied on this idea of a) the Salem witches were actual witches, and b) a bunch of mystical components without actually explaining them. For example, how deeply is the amulet linked to Louise’s powers? Does she have powers without it, or does it have to find her before her sixteenth birthday? Why was Louise reincarnated within her family? Selena mentions the last of her powers being in this bag, so can they make their powers into tangible objects (which might answer the amulet question)? And then they just tossed random phrases around to serve as the magic words… I just wish they had done more to establish what was going on and how it worked.

I’ll be completely honest… It’s not the greatest of movies. I watch for the musical segments. And while it isn’t your traditional scary movie, it really is more of a Fridge Horror situation. I mean, she basically takes free will away from all those around her. But if you want something vaguely mystical to watch this Halloween because you are a horror wimp (and welcome to the club), see if you can get a copy of Teen Witch and enjoy the campiness.


Review: Disney’s Descendants

Well, I tweeted while watching it, I figure I might as well review it, right?

Descendants is the story of the children of our favorite princes, princesses, villains, and sidekicks, looking for their own adventures. It all begins when Ben, the son of King Adam and Queen Belle of Beauty and the Beast fame, decides that the children of villains deserve a chance, rather than being imprisoned on an island behind an anti-magic barrier with their parents. He suggests a small group to begin with: Carlos, the son of Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmations, Jay, the son of Jafar from Aladdin, Evie, the daughter of the Evil Queen from Snow White…and Mal, the daughter of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. It’s the last who especially sets everyone on edge–and for good reason. Maleficent plans to use this idea of Ben’s as a chance to get the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand and free her and the other villains. But what if Mal starts to have second thoughts about whether or not she’s actually evil?

As far as Disney movies go, it’s pretty formulaic even by their standards. I mean, I was shocked thirty minutes in when the kids almost achieved their goal, but then one of the kids bungles things and so we have to have so many attempts at getting the stupid thing. The plot suffered because there were just so many characters going on, and none of them really had subplots going in the same direction. So the main plot had to try and herd them all together…which just made things even more of a mess and it felt like we didn’t really get to touch on some of them, especially Carlos who I felt got shafted a bit. Jay and Evie sort of manged to survive with some character depth, but a lot of the attention went to Mal because…Mal’s plot was also the main plot, she just had some internal conflict going on in addition.

That said, I did love most of the characters. They did a good job with the villain kids, showing them slowly coming to the good side by softening their look. (I’m holding on to hope that the end was just them being formal and they are going to stay fairly punk in their more everyday outfits.) As characters, I loved how reversed Evie and Jay were from their parents. Evie actually likes cooking and cleaning and sewing, which seems contradictory to her mother, and whereas Jafar was all about the intellect, Jay is very physical. Carlos also had a little of that, reminding me more of Horace and Jasper than Cruella. Mal was very much her mother’s daughter, which actually was a bonus because it fit with where they were going with their character. Aubrey at times fell too hard into the mean girl role, I would have liked to see more depths, while Ben actually shocked the bejeebus out of me at the end with his surprising changes (though he’s Belle’s kid, how I missed that he would be smart, I don’t know.) Again, there was just a lack of focus that made it hard to get as much out of them as I would have liked.

World building and back stories wise, we got given a bit of an info dump at the beginning, and then we were just sort of tossed in. Which…didn’t exactly work. Most of the Disney films are actually set in different time periods and countries, and most of them are even historical. I couldn’t get how the heck Carlos could be in the same universe as Ben, for example. Really, despite it being in the song that they remixed, they seemed to have forgotten that the set Beauty and the Beast in France, not some random magical kingdom they made up. I just wish we had gotten less names thrown around and more focus on the history of the characters and how this crazy world came to exist. Hell, that could have been added motivation for Mal’s eventual heel-face-turn!

Now, because this is live action, I have to pick on the acting and costumes a little bit. I normally give Disney channel movies a bit of credit. I mean, I was raised during the golden age of Disney TV movies actually being good, but I know it’s a bit more hit or miss now. But I actually thought a lot of the actors were at least decent, with some potential for more. The exception…was the guy they got for Ben. The title male character, and he was stiff and flat a lot of the time, especially in dance scenes (not good for a musical). He had his moments, but overall, I expect better if you are going to make him the co-lead. While some of the nods to the parents were neat, the colors were sometimes overly bright. They could have muted them and made their point just as clear. I also don’t get why Maleficent had black lips when one of her big signatures is her bright red lipstick. The crown for the coronation also looked awful and fake, which is cringe worthy.

Despite all of this, the visual effects were awesome, and I have to give a shout out to Maleficent’s actress, since she was great. And as everyone saw in the tweets, yes, she was the original Glinda from Wicked and she is also from my home state. I am proud. I also loved Belle and her little whacks at Adam whenever he said something she didn’t like, it made me snicker. Which is good, since Adam is still a bit of a jerk (yay, characters being consistent) and needs his leash tugged occasionally. Obviously I loved the female villain-bred heroes, since Evie and Mal sort of just stole my heart, and I loved the evil little smirks and power walks they had, especially how Evie’s plot boiled down to, you don’t have to be an airhead to catch a guy….heck, you don’t even need the guy. And still I was on the Ben and Mal train through all of this!

Okay, I have to wrap this up. As far as an obvious answer to the Ever After High franchise goes, Disney did…okay. They could have fleshed things out more, and they obviously forgot their own canon in places. But (and this is a big but), this first movies appears to be, in Disney fashion, a franchise building block, much like a first book in a longer running series. As far as that goes… They did good. I will definitely be seeing what’s going on in the sequel, and while the books look to be too juvenile for me to even glance at (curses), I hope they will do great things with the animated shorts coming out.


Review: Willow

…I wish I was reviewing something cool titled this. (I can think of a couple things that share this travesty’s title.) Instead, I have to delve into George Lucas’s insanity. Super. /sarcasm

Okay, so what exactly is this 80’s wonder movie about? A special baby is born, destined to bring about the end of a cruel queen’s reign. Obviously, the queen doesn’t want this to happen, so she sets out to kill the baby. A few shenanigans later, and she is put in the care of a humble farmer named Willow who has aspirations of being a great sorcerer…just struggles with the execution. He has to deal with a bumbling “great” swordsman, a warrior daughter of the queen, and a great sorceress who has been turned into an animal…which one tends to change throughout the film. They have to bring an end to this queen (despite it being the prophecy that the baby is supposed to do this), and… I don’t know. Live happily ever after?

Now, let’s get this out there. I have issues with George Lucas. I think he contradicts his own canon in everything he writes, which is one of my Cardinal Rules (Obey your own rules!), he tells stories about how things went in the story-planning process (or at least that’s the impression I’m under, I could be wrong), and he basically has no idea how to tell these great premises that he comes up with. And there is almost always a lot of potential in everything he touches. But then he just…throws it at us in this big blob and expects us to do half the work for him.

Where does that leave us for the plot of this movie? Well, in a quagmire from minute one and it just sort of gets worse from there. Seriously, it takes forever to find out who exactly Elora is, what impact she is supposed to have on this world, or even how we know that she’s the right baby just by looking at her. Characters go unnamed far too long so you’re left going, “That guy,” or “that girl,” rather than getting attached to them as characters. It takes most of the movie to get any proof that the evil queen is the one actually doing these horrid things, rather than just characters saying so (and seeing as they flip flop so much on what they are going to do, reasonable doubt can be given until that point). Most of the movie is Willow running around with the baby strapped to his chest or in his arms. And a young Van Kilmer running around in drag, half-naked, or in armor.

That helped make up for the rest. A wee bit.

Speaking of characters… Sigh. Not only were there severe portrayal issues that I’m not sure how to even describe without offending some ethnic or socio group. Not only could they not make up their darn mind what culture they were drawing from, either for armor or for culture. Not only did none of the characters show enough depth for me to really get attached. The one character who I almost started going, “Okay, I can work with this, there is potential here…” She was also his primary female protagonist. So she had to be involved in some romance. And since Lucas can’t write romance, he instead settles for ruining this strong, powerful character because she “falls in love” with Van Kilmer’s character and not only becomes an idiot, she becomes incompetent after a few lines of trite poetry. Just gag me. I like sap as much as the next person, if not actually more so, but it needs to make sense or at least have some build-up to it!

You may notice I’m not saying any of the character’s names. That’s because I have no idea how to spell them. I can guess. But this is what happens when you go with overly complicated fantasy names. People aren’t certain of the spellings, or in case of books, pronunciations.

The world was equally confusing. Again, no real cultural basis. Lucas did what Lucas always does and has to put “his” stamp on every single thing. So the humans aren’t humans, they are some clanky word. The magic chants are long, equally clanky, and even the characters couldn’t keep them straight. And while yes, I respect the facts of the technological limitations of the 80’s… The trolls were just sad. I got extremely grossed out by the way the magic transformations were done, since they were done just to be grotesquely as possible. I got frustrated with the swordsman juggling of his sword, trying to be fancy and show off that he was as great as he said. Every time he did it, I went, “Aaaand, you’re dead.” Weapon work as a whole though was far more realistic than usual, though some of the rest was comedic as all get out. There, there’s a minor pro to it.

So overall, I cringed and snorted my way through it. But Ginny has promised that the three books that follow the movie are love (okay, not the first one, but the other two!), so those are next on the list.


The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks Review

Derp. I was so busy with the subject of tomorrow’s post that I forgot to type this up. Oops?

That said… *whines* I don’t wanna review this! It isn’t a story, it’s a political agenda pretending to be teen fiction! Ugh. Oh well, here we go anyway. If someone isn’t going to say it, I guess I will.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (God, ain’t that a mouthful?) follows a teenage girl, the title’s Frankie, who has finally blossomed like all teenage girls wish to–spectacularly. She gets the cutest boy in the school for a boyfriend, considers herself in love with him, and everything seems to be looking up. But when her prince charming is sworn into a boys-only secret society dedicated to pranks, Frankie decides to take over to get her boy’s attention back and gets swallowed up in her plans until she almost can’t find what she started out wanting.

The most basic premise of the book is at least moderately intriguing. Girl trying to enter an all-boy secret organization and entering a prank war? That could be really interesting if handled well, and at least a decent start if it wasn’t. If the girl protagonist had strong motivations, and if the society was given a key character to serve as an antagonist, there would have been the bare bones of a realistic teen novel that even I would read.

Which I guess gets to characters. Frankie was set up to be the main protagonist, but… I won’t call her weak because of the traits she was given, but she is a weak character because of the way the writer conceptually set her up. She is a geek, who blossomed into a smart beauty. But she wants to run with the boys, while being acknowledged as appropriately feminine. I have no idea what her reasons were for provoking the society into a prank war, mostly because there was no consistency to her. Rather than being a solid character capable of standing on her own, “Frankie” served as a vehicle for the theme the writer was pushing. (More on that later.)

As for the side characters, well… none of them were really memorable. (I had to double check Wikipedia for names, and I hardly ever have to do that.) It doesn’t help that the pseudo-antagonist, Alpha, is first introduced to Frankie like a love interest, and then the love interest, Matthew, was completely bland. There were other characters–quite a few of them, actually–but none of them served a strong enough purpose. Really, it felt like a harem anime with as little thought was given to the introduction of characters.

I would talk about plot now, but, really, what plot do you speak of? Seriously, about half the book for me was wading to what the summary had promised me–the pranks. The summary and opening letter had a modest intro, and then listed what I assumed was only the major pranks Frankie was responsible for. It took half the book to get to theĀ first prank, and for the record? The list is all the pranks that happen. All of them.

The only good part of the book–if I’m forced to acknowledge any of this travesty as “good”–was the world. I don’t read very much in non-fantasy worlds, and if I do, it’s usually super unrealistic, such as Heist Society or Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon books. But the boarding school for Disreputable History had just enough detail to paint a clear picture, without being weighed down too heavily with unnecessary information. Even the Basset Hound Society was created in a way that at least seemed plausible to me. I guess what cinched it was the clubs. I attended a high school where “clubs” was a really loose term. While I was technically part of several, including the debate team on a technicality (thought it was really competitive speech), most of the others were just code-names for class related work. The speech and debate team was where I really found a niche, and I think that was what gave me a point of relatablility to the world.

For once, I’m going to address the author’s message. Mostly because she doesn’t leave me much of a choice. The world, the characters, and especially the plot were just props and tools for Lockhart to spread her feministic message to teen girls. I have nothing against feminism, being an equalist myself, but I also think there are better ways of conveying girl power than this mess of a book. Tamora Pierce’s character Kel, for example, or even John Flanagan’s cast of strong girls in the forms of Evelyn, Alys, Jenny, and even Pauline as a grown-up example. They don’t have to needlessly argue with the male cast, or fall into a near endless list of tropes with female characters that do more harm than good. They are simply relatable, nearly real characters that act true to their natures, and through succeeding in their trials, prove a feministic point.

I think this book’s biggest flaw is it set out wanting to convey a specific message, rather than think about what kind of person the main character had to be, putting any real work into the other characters, creating a strong story question, and then working the message in to the story in such a way it worked with all the elements without completely taking over. Lockhart just threw words on a page and called it good. Not going to cut it, in my opinion. Not going to cut it at all.

Occasionally, I stray from my land of make-believe and fantasy for a taste of so-called “reality.” I’ve found a couple of gems over the years, but then I find or get assigned duds like this one. I then proceed to jump back into mythological waters at the nearest opportunity. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book about about Jesus apparently having a wife and the lost sacred feminine to finish reading.