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Update December, 2019


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Film Review:An evolved iceman? Kristoff steps up in ‘Frozen 2’

Jocelyn Noveck, AP

Picture this: A princess is in distress. It looks bad. Her dashing young man rides up in the nick of time and says, “Here I am to save you, my dear!” Actually, he doesn’t. He just says, “I’m here. Whaddya need?” She has a plan, and off they go.

This little exchange between Kristoff and Anna may not be the showiest in “Frozen 2,” the long-awaited sequel to that little 2013 Disney movie that won two Oscars, broke box office records and caused countless young girls (and boys) to find their inner belting voice.

But if you’re a parent looking for your young girl or boy to learn good relationship behavior, they could do well to watch Kristoff, who has now become probably the most evolved iceman this side of Arendelle or all of Scandinavia or maybe the entire European Union, pre- or post-Brexit.

Not that a man is the answer to Elsa and Anna’s problems. As in the first movie, the sisters are still doing it for themselves. And they’re wearing the pants — literally. Gowns give way to more practical attire, even a royal wetsuit.

But, folks: Kristoff has the best song, too. Sorry, Elsa! You sound great — because you’re Idina Menzel, duh. But “Lost in the Woods,” sung by the effortlessly lovable Jonathan Groff, might just be the true heir to “Let it Go,” at least in terms of its addictiveness. An angsty love ballad, performed in retro glam rock style with intentionally cheesy music video moves, a reindeer chorus and Kristoff’s blond mane blowing in the wind ... what’s not to love? “You’re my only landmark, so I’m lost in the woods,” he sings. Sigh.

It’s a highlight of the film. The rest, you ask? Well, it’s got quality, and it’s got quantity (HOW many animators are listed in those closing credits?) It just doesn’t have the exciting, lightning-in-a-bottle feel that the wonderful original had. Perhaps that was too much to ask.

Certainly, the main characters, who have aged three years (though we humans have aged twice that — drat!) are in good voice, led by Menzel’s majestic Elsa and Kristen Bell’s spunky Anna. Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) is back, too, and he’s learned how to read, and he has questions. (And nerve! At one point he channels an “American Idol” judge and pronounces Elsa’s singing “a little pitchy.”)

And if it all seems less effortless, more workmanlike than the first film, with a very complex storyline that will definitely be harder to follow for younger fans, there’s plenty to like, especially the lush visuals. Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck give us an animated ocean that looks incredibly real, a more mature, autumn-hued color palette, and a magical forest surrounded by a wall of mist. There are new creatures, from imposing “earth giants” to a sweet little salamander.

There’s an interesting new character played by Sterling K. Brown, a man from Elsa and Anna’s past. And there are seven new original songs by the estimable songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez, including a fitting anthem for each main character.

We begin, of course, in Arendelle. In flashback, we see Elsa and Anna as young girls, being put to bed by their mother, Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood). In her soothing lullaby, “All is Found,” there’s a message that will shape the story.

Back to present time: It’s autumn, a season we haven’t seen yet in the kingdom. Elsa has gained some control over her magic. All seems well. “Some Things Never Change,” the four main characters sing, in what amounts to a Broadway-style opening number.

Except it’s wishful thinking. Elsa suddenly hears a voice calling from afar — a voice only she can hear, making her feel deeply unsettled. She decides she needs to voyage far “Into the Unknown” — that’s the new anthem she belts out — to see who’s calling her, and why.

Anna insists on going along — they’re in all this together, she reminds Elsa (she has to do this a number of times” it’s the only conflict they still have). And so, accompanied by Kristoff, his reindeer buddy Sven, and Olaf, they head off toward the enchanted forests, unsure of what they’ll find. Meanwhile, Arendelle is in great danger; Elsa has awoken some powerful spirits.

It’s best not to give too much detail about what the band of voyagers will find in that mist-surrounded forest. Suffice it to say that they encounter clues from the past, about wrongs that must be righted if they, and Arendelle, are to have a future.

The voyage has its lighter moments. Olaf gets into his usual jams, and sings about getting older (the song is not, sadly, a substitute for the wonderful “In Summer” of the last film). Kristoff keeps trying to propose to Anna, but saying the wrong thing, and she keeps slipping from his grip. At one point she apologizes, and he replies: “That’s OK. My love is not fragile.”

Keep on modeling that enlightened boyfriend stuff, Kristoff. Our love for you is not fragile, either.

“Frozen 2,” a Walt Disney Studios release, has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for action/peril and some thematic elements.” Running time: 103 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

MPPA definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested.


Film Review: Hanks anchors a lovely Mister Rogers tale for adults

 

Lindsey Bahr, AP

Director Marielle Heller frames “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” as if it were an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” with miniature sets of cars and bridges to illustrate New York and Pittsburgh. Mr. Rogers, played with clear-eyed purpose by Tom Hanks, introduces the audience to the film’s protagonist, journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), using his “picture window” in that all-too-familiar living room where he’s just changed into his sneakers and sweater. It’s even rated PG.

But “A Beautiful Day” is not really a children’s story at all. It’s a story about a man who suffers from the doubly impossible combination of being an adult and an investigative journalist. In other words, he’s the person least likely to be charmed by the straightforward sincerity of someone like Fred Rogers.

The film is loosely based on Tom Junod’s article “Can You Say...‘Hero’?” which appeared in Esquire Magazine in November of 1998. Junod has said that spending time with the then 70-year-old changed him. Cynical at first, the two formed a friendship — Junod’s first ever with a subject — that would last until Rogers’ death in 2003.

The similarities stop there and the film veers off in its own direction, adding drama and elements that are not part of Junod’s life at all (like getting into a fistfight with his father at his sister’s wedding, neither of which happened). But as Junod writes in The Atlantic this month, the film “seems like a culmination of the gifts that Fred Rogers gave me and all of us, gifts that fit the definition of grace because they feel, at least in my case, undeserved.”

Essentially, Fred Rogers’ lessons can apply to adults too. And “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” spins its magic to show (not just tell) us how, no matter if it’s mostly a fiction from the minds of screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster.

The film introduces Lloyd at a particularly unstable moment. He’s got a newborn son with his wife, Andrea (an understated and excellent Susan Kelechi Watson), and his long-estranged father (Chris Cooper) has suddenly started trying to come back into his life. It’s under these high-pressure circumstances that his editor (Christine Lahti) assigns him to write a “small piece” about Fred Rogers for the magazine’s “heroes issue.” Lloyd scoffs at what he considers a demeaning assignment. He’s there to be an investigative journalist and the host of a cheesy children’s show is, he thinks, below him. Andrea even asks her husband, knowing what kind of writer he is, to please not ruin her childhood.

He remains skeptical even upon meeting Fred and goes back to his editor to ask for more time, saying that he “just doesn’t think he’s for real.” Sure, part of you is probably thinking Lloyd a monster. But consider Lloyd’s point of view too: Fred uses puppets during his interview and deflects quite a bit on the more pressing questions, often diverting and asking about his interviewer instead of answering.

And yet, his goodness starts to transcend all of that. Heller does a marvelous job illustrating the effect Fred has on those around him. Even the production staff who he infuriates with his tendency to veer off schedule by spending a little too long with visitors, falls in line when he starts to work his singular magic in front of the camera. They know they’re making something special.

One scene, that seems almost too schmaltzy to be true, in which a subway car full of adults and children starts serenading Fred with his theme song, actually happened.

Hanks is such an obvious choice to play someone as beloved as Fred Rogers that his performance is something that could be in danger of being taken for granted or overlooked. He just makes it all look so easy — the almost uncomfortably slow way that he speaks. But it’s a testament to Hanks that you can’t “see” the work. But much like Fred Rogers, you don’t have to understand it to be moved.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language.” Running time: 108 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.


Jon Voight, Alison Krauss honored with national medals

Actor Jon Voight. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)

Singer Alison Krauss. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Author James Patterson. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP, File)

Washington (AP) — Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight, singer and musician Alison Krauss and mystery writer James Patterson are among the artists and philanthropists being honored by President Donald Trump for their contributions to the arts or the humanities, the first recipients of prestigious national medals since Trump took office.

The White House announced four recipients of the National Medal of Arts and four of the National Humanities Medal in a statement Sunday night. Voight is one of Trump’s few vocal Hollywood backers, and has hailed him as “the greatest president of this century.” Trump is also honoring the musicians of the U.S. military, who frequently entertain at White House events.

While the honors had been an annual affair during past administrations, they have not been awarded since Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. The most recent arts or humanities medals were bestowed by President Barack Obama in September 2016.

The recipients of the National Medal of Arts are:

—Alison Krauss, the bluegrass-country singer and musician, “for making extraordinary contributions to American music.” The White House misspelled her name in its release.

—Sharon Percy Rockefeller “for being a renowned champion of the arts, generous supporter of charity, and a pioneer of new ideas and approaches in the field of public policy.”

—The Musicians of the United States Military “for personifying excellence in music and service to country.”

—Jon Voight “for his exceptional capacity as an actor to portray deeply complex characters.” Voight starred in “Midnight Cowboy,” the 1969 film that won an Academy Award for best picture, and he won the best actor Oscar for 1978’s “Coming Home.” He appears in the Showtime series “Ray Donovan.”

The recipients of the National Humanities Medal are:

—The Claremont Institute “for championing the Nation’s founding principles and enriching American minds.”

—Teresa Lozano Long “for supporting the arts and improving educational opportunities” through scholarships and philanthropy.

—Patrick O’Connell, the chef at The Inn at Little Washington, “for being one of the greatest chefs of our time.”

—James Patterson “for being one of the most successful American authors of our time.” Patterson wrote a book about Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who killed himself while awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls. The book includes several references to Trump, including an account of the men’s falling out.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities solicit candidates for the medals and compile proposed winners. The White House, which sometimes adds its own nominees, traditionally approves and announces them ahead of a presidential ceremony.

Trump has had an uneasy if not hostile relationship with many in the arts and the humanities who oppose his policies and have denounced his presidency. He has been largely shunned by Hollywood and has skipped events like the annual Kennedy Center gala that is one of Washington’s premier social gatherings after some honorees said they would not attend if Trump was part of the ceremony.

 


Like her parents, Blue Ivy now an award-winning songwriter

Beyoncé, right, and her daughter Blue Ivy Carter arrive at the world premiere of “The Lion King”. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Mesfin Fekadu

New York (AP) — At just 7, Blue Ivy Carter is an award-winning songwriter.

Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s daughter won the Ashford & Simpson Songwriter’s Award at Sunday’s Soul Train Awards for co-writing her mom’s hit “Brown Skin Girl,” a song celebrating dark- and brown-skinned women.

Ivy Carter gives a vocal performance that opens and closes the song, which also features Wizkid and Saint Jhn.

The Carters weren’t at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas to accept the honor named after the legendary Motown songwriting duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. Ivy Carter shares the win with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, St. Jhn and several other co-writers.

This week could get even better for Ivy Carter: Grammy nominations will be revealed Wednesday and “Brown Skin Girl” could earn the young star her first Grammy nomination (Beyoncé has won 23 Grammys and Jay-Z has 22).

“Brown Skin Girl” — which features Beyoncé namedropping Lupita Nyong’o, Naomi Campbell and Kelly Rowland and singing lyrics like, “I love everything about you, from your nappy curls to every single curve” — was also nominated for best collaboration at the Soul Train Awards. Most of the top winners didn’t attend the show, and only three of the 12 awards were handed out during the live telecast: best female R&B/soul artist (H.E.R.), best new artist (Summer Walker) and best gospel/international award (Kirk Franklin).

Chris Brown and Drake’s “No Guidance” — which has spent the last five months, and counting, in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart — was the big winner, picking up song of the year, best dance performance and best collaboration. Lizzo won album/mixtape of the year for “Cuz I Love You” and video of the year for “Juice.”

The awards show, which aired on BET and was hosted by actresses Tichina Arnold and Tisha Campbell, also gave special honors to gospel music icon Yolanda Adams and Songwriter Hall of Famers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, who have worked with Janet Jackson throughout her career and have also crafted No. 1 hits for George Michael, Usher, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.


 


UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

An evolved iceman? Kristoff steps up in ‘Frozen 2’


Hanks anchors a lovely Mister Rogers tale for adults

Jon Voight, Alison Krauss honored with national medals

Like her parents, Blue Ivy now an award-winning songwriter