December 26th, 2013

Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

"Philomena" could be Dench's swan song

In storytelling, the most affecting tragedy includes the tears of a clown.  Sir Toby Belch or Falstaff was a stock comedy relief in many of William Shakespeare's historical tragedies.  The terror of the original "Wicker Man" is made more horrorific by the goofy characters and cheesy music that is played previously.  Given his work in **Dangerous Liasons,** **The Grifters,**Mrs. Henderson presents...** and **The Queen,** director Stephen Frears knows how to balance the humor and sadness of **Philomena.**
When journalist Martin Sixsmith  (Steve Coogan) loses his high profile job with a national newspaper in Great Britain, he begins slumming in "human interest stories."  Given his international career covering the fall of the Soviet Union, Sixsmith finds "human interest" stories beneath his standards.   Desperate for income, Sixsmith gets in contact with Philomena (Judi Dench).
When she was a naïve teenager visiting the county fair, Philomena had a boy out of wedlock.  Without parential support, Philomena is forced into indentured servitude at a Catholic nunnery.  The boy is born and young Philomena's maternal instincts kick in.  One day, rich parents from Washington D.C. adobt Philomena's boy, while the heartbroken mother continues to fufill her medical debt to the nunnery. Fifty years later, Philomena wants to know what happened to her baby boy.
With a mystery afoot, Sixsmith & Philomena uncover clues.  What does an autograph picture of Jane Russell have to do with the nunnery?   Why is there an unkempt graveyard of young mothers and premature babies?  How does the Reagan Administration fit into this mystery?   **Philomena** answers these and many more questions, but it is personal resentment and human interest that forms this core mystery of evil.
As Philomena, Judi Dench will provide Meryl Streep competition during awards season.  Dench retains the grit from her previous acting challenges as Queen Elizabeth & Queen Victoria, but with **Philomena** the actress reveals a vulnerability not seen in many decades.
Best known from his British comedy performances, Steve Coogan  cowrote and produced **Philomena.** With low key precision as the straight man, Coogan let's Dame Judi Dench shine without shadow.  With **Philomena,** Coogan enters the next stage of British Royal film making
Cinema Dave  Swashbuckling ournalist and

"Frozen" melts the Heart

41 years ago, WPIX Channel 11 in New York would broadcast **Hans Christian Anderson,** a MGM musical with lyrics by Frank Loesser and starring Danny Kaye in the title role.  Originally the film was to be a collaboration between MGM and Walt Disney animation, but two decades of business negotiations fell through and the studios developed their own projects.
Walt Disney Productions stuck with animation and developed the Oscar winning, **The Little Mermaid,**
which has become culturally significant for the past three decades.  Taking a dark fairy tale like **The Snow Queen** and mixing it with the Disney touch, **Frozen** has created a Hans Christian Anderson renaissance.  **Frozen** is easily the best holiday motion picture for 2013.
The film opens in a magical kingdom that looks suspiciously like Denmark. Princesses Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) love each other. However big sister Elsa is a mutant who can shoot frost out of her fingertips. When Elsa frosts Anna's brain and distorts her little sister's memory, the King & Queen teach the future Snow Queen to isolate herself from the world.  These royal actions are observed on the sidelines by young Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his not so magical reindeer.
It is during Queen Elsa's coronation that disaster occurs.  Anna announces her impulsive engagement to a charming prince and Elsa flees into the forrest to build her own ice castle.  Anna recruits Kristoff in a vane attempt to get Elsa to return to the magical kingdom.   With Queen Elsa and Princess Anna out of town, passive aggressive evil brews.
One of the most overwhelming days that Disneyworld Orlando confronted this year was "Villain's Day," in which Magic Kingdom was forced to stop admission.  Given that **The Snow Queen** was one of Hans Christian Anderson's premier villains, one expected **Frozen** to have sympathy to the devil.  However the dynamic between sisters keeps the villainy on a human level.   In fact, it is good intentions and miscommunication that propels the plot.
The animation is filled with visual poetry, with the snowy landscapes invoking childhood Christmas Season memories.  There are some thrilling action sequences when Kristoff battles the Snow Beast or when the hero's sleigh comes cliff hanging close to danger.  There are enough action sequences to interest a father who has to babysit their kids.
Expect the song "Let it Go" to be Oscar nominated for best song, it is a ballad tour de force sung by Idina Menzel and covered by Demi Lovato.  From the breath taking open to the clever post credit closing gag, **Frozen** has all the entertaining qualities to melt one's heart.