December 30th, 2010


Dec. 24th, we went out to see the latest Disney animation (the 50th feature film) “Tangled”. “Tangled” is loosely based on, or perhaps better to say, inspired by, the tale of Rapunzel, one of the few classic fairy tales Disney hasn’t already adapted. In this case, the looseness of the adaptation is a GOOD thing, since the Rapunzel story as it has come down to us from the Brothers Grimm doesn’t really have much plot, and what there is of it is dark, bloody, and, well—grim.

The screenplay by Dan Fogelman is quite inspired. By rewriting the “rampion” for which Rapunzel is named from a kitchen herb to a magic flower with miraculous healing powers gives the witchy Mother Gothal (voice by Donna Murphy)a plausible reason to want to steal the baby Princess and to keep her locked away in the tower, an improvement over Grimm, where the witch’s motive seems only to be the perversity of evilness. We see the frustration of Rapunzel’s restricted life in the song “When Will My Life Begin?” as she goes her daily round of cooking and cleaning and then trying to amuse herself with painting or other crafts, or reading her pitifully small library, while longing to see some of the outside world.

However, this is not in Mother Gothal’s plan, and she exerts her emotional control as Rapunzel’s supposed mother, to keep her in line. We modern audiences, of course, know all about “smother love,” guilt tripping, and passive-aggression, but seeing this played out on the innocent Rapunzel (voice by Mandy Moore) makes us feel that, despite her relative lack of magic, Mother Gothal’s utter selfishness and cruelty make her as evil a villain as the Wicked Queen or Malificent ever were.

Rapunzel’s life changes when Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a thief on the run from both the law and his accomplices, investigates the tower as a potential hiding/looting place. He’s KO’d by Rapunzel with her handy frying pan, and, while he’s out, hides his loot and uses it to coerce him into being her escort to see the festival of flying lanterns that takes place yearly in the town over the horizon.

Of course complications ensue: Flynn’s pursuers are hot on his trail, Rapunzel’s conflicted about defying her “mother”, and they begin to fall in love with one another (natch!). The plot works out with some clever twists, and genuine heroism and sacrifice on the part of both rogue and princess.
The voice acting for the principals is very good. They are all experienced voice and TV actors, although the names were new to me. It was good to see some veteran character actors like Ron Perlman and Richard Keil getting work in the supporting roles.

Visual design was also very nice, with characters like Flynn and Max the horse in classic Disney mold. Rapunzel has “anime” eyes, which are a bit distracting, but not too badly. Mother Gothel has big eyes (“to see you with”) also, but they just make her more creepy, even when she’s at her supposed peak of youth and beauty. Architecture and background designs hark back to the gorgeous days of “Snow White” et al. We saw the movie in 2-D and were quite happy with that, but I can imagine the famous multi-plane effects would be even more marked in 3-D.

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Dec. 26th, we caught up with “RED” (stands for “retired, extremely dangerous”). The movie stars Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich as overage CIA agents who find themselves on a “hit list” for unknown reasons. The initial assassination attempt on Frank Moses (Willis) gives “shooting your way in,” a whole new meaning. Frank’s younger civilian love interest (Mary-Louise Parker) gets roped in on the general principal she may have learned too much. The plot follows any number of similar films from “The 39 Steps” onward, as they run, escape, and eventually fight back as they unravel who is doing what to whom. Along the way, they acquire the help of old allies and opponents, former MI6 assassin Helen Mirren, and KGB rezidentura Brian Cox, and CIA records keeper Earnest Borgnine.

What enlivens the movie is the witty dialog, rife with juicy black humor, and intriguing action, which is very heavy on gunfire, but relatively light on bloodshed. (Much of the time, the protagonists are shooting it out with Federal agents who don’t know they are being used, and thus not to be lightly killed. Hired assassins, on the other hand, are another matter--.) The other thing that makes the film a standout is the relationships between the characters, which made Georgie describe it as the “holiday feel-good movie of the year.”

While Freeman’s character is described as having cancer, and Malkovich’s character was obviously retired on disability due to mental issues, it’s hard to understand why “Frank Moses” isn’t still working, since his reflexes, weapon skills, and situational awareness exceed those of younger men, and even several younger men, other than some bumf about mandatory retirement age, but it makes a good plot. It’s obvious that Moses hasn’t been off the payroll long, since we see him living in a new and barren house when the film opens.

The elder spies are well supported by their opponents, Karl Urban as agent Cooper who is assigned to “retire” Moses, and Rebecca Pidgeon as the ambitious ice queen who is his control. In interesting casting against type, Richard Dreyfuss, who started his movie career playing nice guys in Neil Simon comedies (and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) plays arms dealer Alexander Dunning, who is as nasty a character as anyone could wish for.
Highly recommended for fans of action, adventure, intrigue, shoot-em-ups, or of Willis, Freeman, Malkovich, or Mirren, all of whom have juicy roles. On the other hand, if you don’t like guns, don’t see it.

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