On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 18, 2014

Frozen has been all about defying expectation and convention. Looking at the marketing campaign for the film you really didn't get much sense for what the story was and what we did gather from the commercials and the pictures plastered all over Wal*Mart and Target was that it was more a new Princess tale from Disney looking to capitalize on the good will of both Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph as those two films have come to be revered with much more excitement than anything Pixar has produced in the past few years. Going into the film, I wasn't overly sure of what I was getting myself into, but the early word of mouth that praised it as being the best Disney animated film since Beauty & the Beast or the The Lion King was certainly something that caught my attention. If nothing else, I was now curious to see how the film would measure up against these other films that shaped my childhood and are nothing short of classics in my mind. Frozen does indeed fit nicely into the library of what Disney has brought us before in terms of beautifully realized castles and princesses with funny supporting characters to lean on and charming princes or underdogs that rise to the occasion, but as I said earlier it is also all about defying those expectations and it is those variations on the structure, those added moments where the characters within the film look at each other as if to say what every grown-up in the audience is thinking, that made this all the more delightful and all the more fulfilling than simply being another knock-off of the early princess stories that made Disney the brand that it is. Disney animated films have always been able to transcend age groups and trends, but what makes this film work along with its past few efforts that differentiate it from something like Treasure Planet is that it is no longer trying to be cool or stay with the times, but is instead playing by its own rules and letting the magic flow without any caution as to what might be widely accepted and in return has been rewarded handsomely. Full review here. B+

From its inception a lot was expected of American Hustle, or "American Bullshit" as it was once called, director David O. Russell’s follow up to his Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook. The key element of Russell’s films since re-certifying himself as a force to be reckoned with was the frenetic energy with which they carried themselves and while his latest is no different this time around it feels like there was nowhere specific to focus this energy and so it gets sprawled across a multitude of characters and a convoluted plot that concerns itself with con artists, IRS agents, mobsters and politicians. It seems unfair that with the good will Russell garnered not only with Silver Linings, but also with The Fighter that he immediately be expected to deliver more great cinema simply because he is working in the same time period and has recruited the same group of actors from each film to make up a stellar cast because it almost seems it would be impossible to deliver. The problem is, expectations were set so high that critics and cinephiles automatically assumed it was going to be quality movie-going and so they have seemingly lapped up this picture to be what they wanted it to be rather than taking it for what it actually is: a solid piece of Scorsese tribute with a cast that transcends the messy script. It is hard to say whether this would have come off as a better film without the expectation or if the expectation indeed helps it appear more impressive considering that is what we expected. I simply found it hard to really dig into the film as it never pulled me in and kept me there the way those last two efforts did. And that may be a problem as well, both that we expected American Hustle to be of the same quality and to do many of the same things to our senses that those two films elicited, but this is a different film altogether and to take it on those terms alone would be to realize by no means is this a bad film, it also isn’t one of the best I saw last year. Full review here. C+

There is just something that comes with movies about making movies and how the behind the scenes dynamics somehow connect more and serve as dramatic material in their own right that gives, at least certain audience members, a rush of fascination especially when paired with a film or some other piece of pop culture that has become a mainstay over time. There is no doubt that the 1964 Mary Poppins film has become a soft spot for generations of children that have fallen in love with the songs and the characters that are now iconic, but what many people even fail to realize is that Mary Poppins herself was not the creation of the Disney studios and it's figurehead Walt Disney, but instead of a small English woman by the name of P. L. Travers who took the nanny very seriously as she was more than a fictional character to her creator but the heart and soul of her childhood that would shape the woman she became and the code she would live by. This is made apparent in Saving Mr. Banks until the terribly particular author comes in contact with Mr. Disney and is able to find common ground with a man who'd made his fortune from portraying himself and pumping out products that conveyed the happiest man the world could offer. There is a complex relationship at the heart of this film that gives us not only a look at the shaping of one of Walt Disney's productions in the latter half of his career, but it also chronicles the creative process in a way that you realize the depths to which some people hold onto moments past in their life and how it inspires what is the centerpiece of their existence to the point they find it hard to let go, to let it become something new and how that can both be a weight lifted and a new burden all at once. I began the film, excited to see what was in store for the audience as, obviously, I love movies and so I love movies that detail the industry and how other movies are made, but as we are introduced to Miss. Travers and her constant scrutiny I was at first repulsed by the way in which she not only treated the people involved in the production, but everyone around her to which she is then somehow able to become a more respectable figure whose complexities don't excuse her attitude, but endear her more to the audience which is credit fully due to the performance of Emma Thompson. Full review here. B

Prior to seeing  Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom I knew little about the titular figure past the major facts that he spent twenty-seven years in prison only to become the President of South Africa. He was a revolutionary, a philanthropist and a beacon of hope to people that, in my distant learnings, would never be associated with the word politician. Turns out there was much more to his story than I could have imagined as this wasn't simply a man who went through the ups and downs of immaturity to be re-born in prison and make a difference once he was set free, but this was a man dedicated from birth to leaving an impression, to doing something that would make the ones he loved, proud. This was not a leader bent on gaining power for personal gain or to feed his ego, but a man determined to make a difference in the lives of his people and to allow his family and friends to walk free in their own land. Naturally, there has no doubt been some type of flattery given to the man as this is playing up the acts he initiated and was willing to die for, but none of it comes off as such in the film and despite the fact I would need to do immeasurable research to fact check every event the film chronicles never do the actions our titular subject takes part in feel lacking in genuine reason or motivation. They are simply part of what makes this man who he was and while much of that is conveyed successfully through the obstacles encountered and overcome by Mandela there is also no lack of that raw human element that the character would feel forced and inaccurate without. Idris Elba, in a career defining performance, delivers on every level a man who is, despite his consistent talks of peace, not afraid to walk the walk and that is what makes him so appealing to his people, so trustworthy to his peers and so impressionable to those with power. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a solid two hours and twenty minutes of biography that is unable to follow the typical story structure of these films due simply to the unique consequences of Mandela's story, but despite a few hang ups here and there in only skimming over certain details and opening subplots without any further exploration or eventual resolution this is still every bit the engaging experience you might expect it to be and a film that implies a sweeping and powerful scope such a life should be represented by. Full review here. B+

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