Saturday, March 10, 2012

Nostalgic Indulgence: The Frog Prince (1986)

I watched this movie a lot when I was a kid. We had it on VHS, recorded on an old tape that died before DVDs really became a thing. I saw it on Netflix when I was bouncing around the other day, and decided to see how well it held up. I probably hadn't seen this movie since I was 12 or so, back in 96.

The plot is pretty basic. Zora, a lonely might-be-Princess (played by Aileen Quinn, who was also Annie) loses her golden ball in the pond behind the palace, and a frog-looking dude agrees to retrieve it for her if she will be his friend. She agrees, and he tries to teach her the kinds of Princessy things she might need to know if she is chosen as the true Princess. See, she and her sister Henrietta (played by Helen Hunt, of all people) are both nieces to the King, but only one of them is truly the Princess, so a Baron with a ridiculous name is supposed to choose one of them and crown her as Princess.

She's singing about how today is gonna be her lucky day. Spoilers: It's not.

Henrietta doesn't think Zora has a chance, but when she sees the giant frog dancing with her sister in the ballroom, she decides to ensure things by hiding Ribbit (what Zora calls the princely frog) in a hole in the woods, which may actually be called the Dark Heart woods. If Zora doesn't make it back to the ball by sundown, Henrietta will be declared the princess without argument, but she has to save her friend, who will die without water. Obviously, she makes it in time, because this is a fairy tale movie, and she turns Ribbit into the Prince of... Feedly? Freedly? Something, and everyone lives happily ever after.

This still cracks me up. No, she doesn't sing.
Does it hold up? Well... no. It is supposed to be for kids, and it shows. It was also supposed to be a musical, but there aren't many songs, and they're all pretty bland and forgettable. It's unfortunate because Aileen Quinn and John Paragon (who plays Ribbit) are talented and could have both pulled off stronger music.  The plot is also, unfortunately, an idiot plot. (Idiot plot: a plot that only works when everyone involved is an idiot.) It just doesn't hold up in any way, shape, or form.

For some reason only one of these two girls is the "true" princess, and their mother didn't reveal which one so their uncle the King would love them both equally.



If only one of them is the true princess, then they both have two different fathers. And they are clearly like ten years apart. We don't really need a genetics test.

Unless the implication is that she cheated on her husband or something, and that means one of these girls is a bastard. Or possibly adopted? I don't know, and it's really not a well-explained dilemma. On what authority does Baron Von What's-his-nuts declare a girl a princess? Why does the King have no authority on this at all? Why not claim them BOTH to be Princesses? Even if only one is his official heir, at least he could assure wealth and happiness to both girls.

The most useless King ever?

Further: when Henrietta traps Ribbit in the forest, she literally pushes him into a hole in the ground and lays a wooden woven cover over it. She stakes it into the ground. I've known toddlers who could escape such confinement in about half an hour. I know it's implied that Ribbit is weak from lack of water but it's ridiculous to have your "hero" trapped in something that a dog of average intelligence and sufficient motivation could escape. (Edited to add: props for having the princess save him, though.)

Furthermore, it looks like it's made out of pretzels.
Of course, Henrietta "captures" him by kinda throwing a net on him, ish. Both of these things bothered me when I was younger. When an 8 year old is going "That's stupid, I could escape from that," you need to step up your game.

It's hard to see, but the net basically just covers his head, and he could pull it off easily.

When Zora runs off to save Ribbit, her uncle sees her go. 1: He knows she's going to save her friend. 2: He's a King. 3: He knows that Henrietta is responsible. 4: He does precisely zilch for Zora. "Take my fastest horse," or "Here, have some men to protect you," would both have been perfectly acceptable.

Yes, I appreciate that there are some things you must do on your own, but Zora is 12. Two horses and a liveried servant would have been more than sufficient for her needs, and she'd have been back in time to have dinner and a bath before she was presented to the Baron von Whatever.

Henrietta's friend Darcy could have spoken up, admitting that she helped Henrietta trap the Frog Prince and that it was done specifically so Henrietta would have no competition for the crown. Whether or not Henrietta would have been arrested (and rightfully so, had Darcy not marked the location on a map, Prince Ribbit would have most certainly died) she definitely would have been out of the running for Princess, and it's likely the Baron would have been willing to postpone the ceremony in honor of the ongoing rescue mission.

So, basically, I have spent far more thought on the film than the writers ever did.

Also, Zora is 12. The man playing the Prince is 17 years older than Aileen, who might have been as old as 15 when this was filmed. While their relationship is presented as platonically as possible, there are several moments where the age difference is both apparent and incredibly creepy. Especially when Ribbit is in Zora's bedroom, trying to convince her of how beautiful she is. I may be reading too much into it, because when I was younger I just assumed that Zora marries Ribbit, but I don't think I am.

Just a little creepy.

This movie was really fun for me to rewatch because I watched it so often when I was a kid. I may or may not still know the lyrics to some of the songs. But this isn't what I would consider a classic, not even a cult classic. It suffers from many setbacks, and if I hadn't been so interested in seeing how well it held up from my childhood I never would have watched it all the way through. I'm half-tempted to re-write the story of this film into a much better plot. There are some interesting threads, here, but overall it's just kind of poorly done. If you have a nostalgic reason to watch this film, go on ahead, but I don't think there's much here for anybody else.

(Edited on 5/15/13 for some errors.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rubber: A Review

Okay, so, I heard about this movie on Twitter a while back, and from the description alone I wanted to watch it. Killer tire fucks with people sounds exactly like my type of movie, you know? Anyway, reading the Netflix description did not dissuade me.

"Quentin Dupieux directs this inventive twist on low-rent revenge flicks, which follows a car tire named Robert that rolls through the desert Southwest using its strange psychic powers to blow up birds, bunnies, human beings and more. But when Robert spies a gorgeous woman motoring down the highway, he decides to follow her and take a chance on love. This gleefully over-the-top black comedy stars Stephen Spinella and Roxanne Mesquida."

I think it goes without saying that I was really looking forward to watching this.

I was staggeringly disappointed.

Look, I know, it's a film about a tire that kills people, so it's not like I expected it to be high art or something. But the thing is, this film doesn't start for 9 minutes. Nine. In a film that is only 82 minutes long, that's pretty unforgiveable.

Oh sure, there's stuff going on, but it's not the film. There's some desert scenery shots- that's not too bad as the film is set in the desert. Then there's a car driving down this road. A dude is standing there, holding a million binoculars, and there are chairs randomly set up in the road. The car hits every chair, a cop gets out of the trunk, and gives a good long speech. The speech in and of itself is unimportant, because the point of the speech is to address the in-film audience (and me) that the shit happening in this film happens for no reason, and to just go with it.

I am voluntarily watching a TIRE REVENGE FILM. This is not a concept I have trouble grasping.

Then the in-film audience starts 'watching the film' through the binoculars, and we get to the problem with the film that poisoned the whole well for me. They comment on the film as it's happening, pointing out the problems with it. "It's kinda slow." "Well, it's just the beginning." This happens all over the place. They'll cut back to this in-film audience so they can break down the scene for you. And then some of the other people in the in film audience would be like "SHUT UP" (because it's funny because that's what you want!) and then after far too long spent with this mindless bullshit that's supposed to be clever, we get back to the tire.

We have established that I like meta humor. I have done a podcast on this, so this is not me hating on meta humor at all. But there are types of meta humor. There is what one might call the 'straight' meta humor, where the discussion of tropes as they exist is treated as a reality of that film. This is what happens in Behind the Mask, horror tropes are met head on as if they were something that was possible and existed, and how you would go about actually achieving them. This is more common in comedies that feature meta, but the theory is the same.

Then there is meta humor that occurs when one discusses other films. In the Scream universe, obviously most horror films exist that exist in real life, and they discuss those tropes as tropes while said tropes actually take place. When Sidney's character remarks about women who run upstairs when they should be running outside, and then she can't get the chain off the door and so has to run upstairs, we know why she does and that she knows better.

The meta humor in this film is some of my least favorite ever. It comments on the movie as it happens, largely to point out the flaws as the film goes along, or to provide exposition. In small doses, I find this acceptable, though not particularly clever. In Rubber, it's abusively stupid. "Hee hee hee it's funny because we know it's bad and we're going to tell you it's bad and then have another character tell us to shut up because we know you want us to shut up and then some of you can relate to someone in our in film audience" is aggressively annoying to me, and it just grated on my nerves the whole movie. I couldn't get past it enough to truly like the parts of the film that I actually enjoyed, which was basically everything starring the tire.

Yes, the tire is more entertaining than nearly every human in this movie. For those of you going "Well, that's the point! You see, it's funny, because you relate to the tire! And a character points that out! It's funny because half of this film annoys you! That's the point!" I'm just gonna stop you here. I don't watch films to be annoyed by them. (Well, okay, sometimes I do because I watch films to criticize them but most people watch films for enjoyment.) But if I sat next to you and poked you with a sharp stick over and over for twenty minutes shouting SEE IT'S FUNNY BECAUSE I'M ANNOYING YOU AND I KNOW IT then you would have every right to punch me in the face for being an asshole.

Basically, half of this film is the director being an asshole to the audience, and although I enjoyed some other parts of the film, I didn't enjoy them enough to get over the director ramming his elbow in my ribs going GET IT GET IT THIS SHIT IS FUNNY!

I am well aware that other people find this type of humor funny, and I'm sure if you do then you would enjoy this film immensely.