Before Christmas, I had the extraordinary good fortune to be taken to the preview screening of Tangled, the newest addition to the Disney Princess collection. Tangled is a retelling of the classic Rapunzel fairy tale, complete with yards of flaxen locks, an indomitable tower and a beloved royal family, mourning the loss of their baby princess.

And it’s wonderful. Truly, completely wonderful. An immediate amend must be made to the Princess canon to include Tangled, where it will rest happily and compare beautifully to the likes of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.

The screening I went to was in 3D (I’m not really up on this stuff, but I assume it will appear in 2D, as well?) and I freely admit my groans on discovering this were unwarranted. I do still intend to launch half-arsed and poorly structured objurgation on the gratuitous nature of 3D, but in this case, it was used to stunning effect in places. This 3D felt much more like the pretty, floaty effects you got in the IMAX films about fish or space or whatever, rather than the violent bang and crash of flying debris and waving monsters (ahem, Dawn Treader).

And where style has slightly overwhelmed substance lately, Tangled delivers relationships, emotion and suspense, while all the while being genuinely funny and endearing.

Rapunzel herself is superb. She is funny, gawky, complex and an utterly credible character, and both relatable and aspirational in equal measure.

Set in an unnamed fairytale kingdom, we are spared the Shrek nonsense of incongruous pop culture references and school disco soundtrack choices, in favour of breeches, flower garlands and the gorgeous music of Alan Menken.

And just as the dodgy soundtrack is missing, so too is that horrible knowing tone that goes with it. Tangled has the magic of Sleeping Beauty, mixed with the richness of Beauty and the Beast, but feels completely relevant. Tangled does not rely on cameos and pastiches to get cheap laughs, rather it reverently borrows from Princess films past and creates something utterly magical.

Advertisements

Yesterday, my brother and I spent a wholesome Sunday afternoon watching a horror/thriller/glove advert called Frozen. Three nearly-fit young students get themselves stuck on a chairlift in a closed ski resorts. The film itself is scary and horrible and gruesome and extremely fun, but the clothes?! The youngsters are in minus-many degrees cold, in the middle of the night, in the Utah mountains, and they don’t zip up their coats. One of them doesn’t even put his hood up. Who raised them? If you’re at risk of hypothermia and frostbite, you zip up your jacket, no matter how much of a dork it makes you look.

However, as my brother rightly pointed out, watching three brightly-coloured ski jackets talking on a chair lift for an hour and a half does not an engaging film make. When will our obsession with faces end?! How many films would have ended differently if the directors had been brave enough to have the characters zip up their coats?

Probably one. This one.

I was fortunate to get a sneaky preview of The Runaways, so I thought I’d put it to good use, and write something about it. Unfortunately, there’s really not all that much to write about.

I don’t know how much everybody knows about the story of The Runaways, I might have been the only person nodding sagely and pretending to be intrigued when the concept of this film was first bandied about last year. Perhaps everyone else meant it when they said “Hmm, Joan Jett? Ah yes, how wonderful that she’s finally getting the biopic-shaped recognition she deserves…” and I was the only one scanning Wikipedia for reasons to be interested. Anyway, I did become interested, and I was truly looking forward to the tale of angry, disaffected young things, trading their humdrum lives for guitars, pills and slutty outfits.

Sadly, this was a case of the anticipation being better than the film. From the beginning, we are pelted with the themes of experimentation, transition, gender and exploitation, and it is dull. The trials and tribulations of young girls aren’t inherently interesting, even if the stakes are slightly higher than an episode of Skins. The whole film hinges on us already knowing that Joan Jett and Cherie Currie were the bestest of friends and already thinking they’re talented musicians, because in the hundred or so minutes it runs for, there is nothing to demonstrate either of those things. The longest conversation between the two girls is a minute or so long and even that is mostly taken up by Dakota Fanning’s silent pleas that Kristen Stewart just do some acting, yeh?

Poor little Dakota, this was her break out film. She was going to be a grown-up actress and show everybody that she’s not just a wind-up acting doll. She was clearly willing to do almost anything to make the shift into adult acting, including quite literally, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. And then they cast her opposite Kristen Stewart. There is little point getting into a Twilight argument, Stewart’s problem goes beyond the vampires. In short, she’s repulsive to watch on screen. In the truest sense of the word, as in she repels the audience. She is sullen, surly and arrogant, in the worst possible way. There is nothing endearing or warm about her, she is utterly soulless and then, she appears on screen, sticks out her chin, mumbles her lines and we are expected to find her mysterious and charming. Well, no. Shan’t. On the other hand, Dakota Fanning is admirable in her attempt to give the film some life. Her vulnerability fights with her anger and disillusionment in an interesting and almost moving way, and Cherie Currie’s story is ultimately the much more engaging for it.

The clothes are a bit of a mixed bag really. Dakota Fanning is dressed in her miniscule corsets, Kristen Stewart is customizing band t-shirts, and it all feels so contrived. Photos from the original Runaways days show that the designer has done a sterling job of recreating their looks, but the girls just don’t live up to them. We’re not given enough of their personalities to believe that they have created their styles themselves and yet minutes (believe me, you’ll be counting every single one) are spent watching them snip away at t-shirts and their hair and their dignity.

The original Runaways minus Joan

It’s a shame really, because there is a good story in there, but they just missed it. Instead of focusing on the friendship, the characters, or god forbid, the music, they latched on to the subplot of the over-sexed, unchaperoned, too-much-too-fast blah blah blah children. The problem with that is that stripped of the personalities, it has about enough substance to fill a shocking anecdote. “Can you believe those girls started a band, got sent on tour to Japan on their own, and then came home?”, “Which girls?, “Just some girls.”, “Oh…”

Is this the best outfit in which to introduce a strong, female character to legions of young, impressionable fans about to embark on the mystical journey through gender development and personal identity?

I had a big film day not long ago. I went to the cinema to see Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, and then later that day watched the Swedish vampire horror, Let The Right One In. The last time I can think of when I enjoyed two films on first viewing, to such an extent, on the same day, was in 2004, when I went to the cinema twice in one day to see, The Girl Next Door and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That is not to say that this film day was comparable in terms of quality or genre of film, nor is this the place to defend The Girl Next Door or wax lyrical about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there will be other time for that, but for sheer film-viewing pleasure, that day stands out in my memory, as much as this one will.

And so, the films in hand. I was flabbergasted by both of them. Simply put, A Single Man is beautiful. Not in a he’s-a-designer-it-should-look-nice sort of way, but in a truly special, considered way. The film tells the story of a grieving man, with such delicacy and care that it is immediately draws the viewer into George’s unbearable loneliness and desperation. It is difficult to describe the film in detail without committing cardinal spoiler sins, but the way Ford translates the scenery and cinematography into emotion and narrative is astonishing.

Colin Firth’s performance makes you wonder what he’s been playing at for the last few years. He is devastating in his role, as his grief manifests itself on his face, in his movement, and into every part of his character. Equally, the beautiful Julianne Moore is entrancing and unsettling as his manic best friend, Charley. Their relationship and intimacy feels authentic and adds depth to his interaction with other characters.

Tom Ford’s directing is considered, stylised and stunningly executed. He chose his stars well, both for their acting prowess and their ability to inhabit the beautifully crafted costumes Ford draped them in. It is, in short, a tour de force for Ford. He has approached it with the attention to detail and elegance that he imbues his collections with, and we can only hope that he will be bolstered by his success and create more beautiful films.

For those expecting Sex and the City-style fashion porn, turn around, go to the video shop and rent Devil Wears Prada. The clothes in this film serve as a beautiful contrast to the interior hurt and frayed nature of the characters, and Tom Ford is far too sensitive to use pretty clothes to paper over cracks in his narrative. That said, if you muted the film, it would still be wonderful in a completely different way, such is the beauty of the clothes. The stiff elegance of Colin Firth, the youthful contrivance of Nicholas Hoult, and the glamorous artificiality of Julianne Moore combine to make a breathtakingly lovely style.

So, in summation, watch it once and have your heart broken by the narrative, watch it again and be blinded by the way it looks, and then watch it again, just because.

Let the Right One In is a story for another day. Quite frankly it deserves its own post, I don’t know what I was thinking.

After what seems like a decade of terribly clever Pixar feature films, Disney has finally gone back to its roots and made a proper Princess film.

The Princess and the Frog is the story of Tiana, a young black girl living in New Orleans, who dreams of opening her own restaurant, where she can serve her father’s gumbo and her special beignets. So far, so rags-to-riches set up. Add a spoilt but lovable best friend, and a visiting prince of indeterminate origin, and you have yourself a bonafide princess film.

And it is fair to say that The Princess and the Frog draws on all of the best-loved conventions of classic Disney films. There are elements of the old Princess films, such as Tiana’s mini-makeover for her friend Charlotte’s party, which is reminiscent of Cinderella, and Tiana and Naveen’s relationship has shades of Aladdin and Jasmine’s early exchange. But this only adds to the resonance of this lovely film. And it is not only Princess, or even Disney films that can be found in there. The journey down the Bayou combines the lazy drift of The Jungle Book and the quiet menace of creatures on the river in The Rescuers.

I was also reminded of the much overlooked and underrated Don Bluth film, Anastasia. One of the best things about that film is the way they treat Anastasia’s memories and fantasies. They are dreamy and romantic, and very touching because of it. In Princess and the Frog, there is a beautifully designed dream sequence, in which a dilapidated old building springs into life around Tiana, and become the restaurant of her dreams. The art deco influences in the animation of this scene show the evolution in the Princess film genre. It is a step forward from the “Be Our Guest” sequence from Beauty and the Beast, where the crockery danced, but the animation was clunky and slightly incongruous to the rest of the film. In The Princess and the Frog, the dream sequence contrasts, but also complements beautifully, as it captures the positive aspects of the era quickly and evocatively.

Discussing the ‘costume’ in this film is tricky, as frogs drive the narrative for a large part of it, but it is still definitely worth a mention. The animators have a relatively short amount of time for characterization in this film, as once the transformations start, they keep coming. Whether or not this excuses a bit of reliance on stereotypes, I am not sure, but that is what they end up doing. The best friend, Charlotte is spoilt and extraordinarily wealthy, and therefore obviously has blond curls, dimples and an oversized fur coat. And Big Daddy, her kindly and indulgent father, is rosy and rotund, with a bushy red moustache. Equally, the villain, Dr Facilier practices voodoo and is therefore dripping with skulls and talismans, and has particularly large, flagstone teeth, and a pencil moustache.

This is not the time to argue the rights and wrongs of Disney stereotyping; it does exist, it probably has the potential to compound some negative clichés, but there is far more to this film than the presence of a few easy assumptions. The songs are charming, the animation is gorgeous, and there is a princess. All in all, I think Disney’s back.

Before the Christmas carousel of present-wrapping, unwrapping and apron-wearing began in earnest, I went to the cinema to see Me and Orson Welles. Much has been said about Christian Mackay’s performance as the tyrannous Orson Welles, and I can only add assurance that he is brilliant. He is unpredictable and charming, and as he dictates the film, you become one of his cast buffeted from tantrum to hearty camaraderie.

Set in 1930s New York, the film follows fledgling actor, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) through his first week in New York, in Orson Welles’ production of Julius Caesar. This is a very small, sweet story, which, among other things, plots the relationship between Samuels and Welles’ assistant, Sonja Jones (Claire Danes). Efron shrugs off his Wildcats uniform admirably, and Danes’ portrayal is sharp and knowing, but suitably bruised from working with the irascible director.

The 1930s have become a bit of a pet period for fashionable types, which means that two versions of the fashion exist; the genuine, slightly unflattering, chunky cuts that are hidden in undiscovered vintage stores and costume museums; and the Topshop-friendly, much more forgiving styles that wander up and down the streets of 2009.

Costume designer, Nic Ede wraps each character in entirely convincing 1930s garb, and is brave enough to prioritise the atmosphere and style of the film as a whole, over the wishlists of the fashion savvy audience members. Of course, Christian Mackay stills looks overwhelming in his trilby, Claire Danes looks born for a set wave, red lips and a cape, and Zac Efron, well, if it wasn’t so wrong… yes, so, young, bright-eyed Hollywood thing and all that.

In the 14th century, Chaucer’s pilgrims made the long trip to Canterbury, and needed a good story to pay their way. In the 21st, pilgrims make their way to Cardiff and all you need is a fiver for the Severn Bridge.

This winter, Cardiff-vision has returned to our screens, as the third and final series of Gavin and Stacey airs and David Tennant’s much-anticipated but bittersweet Doctor Who Christmas specials are finally broadcast.

Four years ago, the tardis, with the Doctor safely inside, rematerialised on our television screens, and from that moment on, the world’s eyes have been trained on Cardiff, whether they could recognise it or not. Since then, fans have stormed the capital, trying to get glimpses of the Doctor at work. But what effect has this had on the city? Will people really wait around for hours to see the cast for a few minutes? It would seem so. Sarah Thomas, from the Doctor Who Up Close Exhibition in Cardiff Bay, explained, “Here fans just turn up and want to watch and the actors welcome it.”


With filming locations in Llandaff, Cardiff Bay, and  Bute Park, there are plenty of places for Doctor-philes  to shuffle their feet and wait for the action to unfold.  Even the most observant of fans would be hard-pushed to recognise some of the locations used  though, as the designers transform the area into an  ice planet, a biosphere on Mars, or even 17th century  London. Which is why BBC Wales are doing their  best to ensure people know that Cardiff is the  backdrop to the majority of Doctor Who episodes,  with tie-in programmes like Doctor Who  Confidential, which features location managers explaining how they created the mind-blowing scenery for each episode.

The Red Dragon Centre in Cardiff Bay is a showcase of all things Doctor Who, be it costumes, life-size replicas, or the All-New Dalek Encounter. Looking around the exhibition, it becomes obvious why people are drawn in by the fantastic stories and meticulously crafted props and costumes.


Cardiff and Co, the agency in charge of marketing the city of Cardiff, have been quick to capitalise on this craze, and a senior spokesperson from the company said, “We market strongly on the basis of Doctor Who being one of the elements of the city that is of interest to people.”

The savvy people at the Park Plaza Hotel were the first to offer a Doctor Who package, which promises a weekend of tardis-related fun, and other Cardiff hotels quickly followed suit.

And, while Doctor Who was busy setting up its exhibition, and Torchwood was gathering momentum, two unknown writers were putting together a story about a boy from Essex and a girl from Barry. When James Corden and Ruth Jones came to filming their Gavin and Stacey, they chose to shoot on location in Cardiff’s Barry. Fans of the show will be disappointed to hear though, that the lovers are not all that star-crossed, as the long-distance relationship between Billericay and Barry, is actually between Cardiff and Barry, as the producers found a suitably English-looking house for the Shipmans in a village just outside Cardiff.

Cardiff Council and residents alike have taken to the steady stream of visitors, and one resident in particular has to deal with it more than most. Glenda Kenyon doesn’t just live in a small house on a steep hill in Barry, she lives in Stacey’s house. From the very first time Gavin made the long trip down the M4, Kenyon has been inundated with Gavin and Stacey pilgrims. And with Media Guardian counting six million viewers for the episode screened on 10 December, there are plenty more to come. Sarah Thomas, Doctor Who Up Close’s resident expert on all things BBC Wales attributes the move towards Cardiff as the media capital of the future, to the attitude of the council and the fans: “the council have gone all out to say they’ll accommodate anything that producers want. And the people here leave them alone, there’s not really that distraction like in London where people get mobbed all day.”

And now, after 20 years of rescuing the extras of Bristol from destitution and falls from cliffs, the Casualty team is moving to Cardiff. As of 2011, the sirens will be ringing through the streets of the Welsh capital, as cameramen from various crews try desperately not to cross beams. It would seem that Bristol is fast being overtaken by Cardiff as the media location of the UK. Cardiff and Co said, “Having the BBC bring something as large and prestigious as Casualty to the area confirmed really that Cardiff’s moving forward as a media centre.”

Doctor Who is still the big draw though, as people come from all corners of the world to see where he has been doing battle. Jackie Jones, manager of Doctor Who Up Close says, “we get all sorts at the exhibition, from all over the world. We were only meant to be here for three months and we’ve been here four years.”

With more and more filming going on in Cardiff, and Hollywood blockbusters like Sherlock Holmes and the new Robin Hood being filmed here, Cardiff will be full of fans waving autograph books and location maps for the foreseeable future.

Haircuts shouldn’t be underestimated. Not the most profound thing I will ever write, but true. William Wyler, director of Roman Holiday (1953), knew this. Billy Wilder, director of Sabrina (1954), also knew this. And that is why, at pivotal points in both films, Audrey Hepburn’s hair gets fairly unceremoniously lopped off. In both films, the moment that we see her without her ponytail for the first time, is the moment she becomes the real protagonist of the film. Sabrina sitting in a tree gazing at David isn’t the real Sabrina. Humphrey Bogart didn’t fall in love with that Sabrina, he dragged her out of garage and made fun of her pitiful suicide attempt. The ponytail is a reassuring symbol for the audience, as we know that whatever happens to her before the chop will be resolved when she gets a haircut and some gumption.

In Roman Holiday, Hepburn’s haircut is her first real act of  rebellion. Of course, before that she hops over the palace wall  and into the real world, but she is loopy on sedatives, and promptly has to be rescued by the handsome and streetwise Gregory Peck. The next morning, however, she is thinking clearly again, and walks into a salon and tells the hairdresser to cut it all off. In fact, it takes two attempts to assert this independence, as the bob he gives her is a crashing anti-climax.

When he finally crops her hair and rolls the edges, she suddenly  becomes royalty. Not the little princess drowned in her ankle-  length nightdress and waist-length hair, dutifully drinking milk  before bed, but a regal and dignified woman.

Sabrina may cut her hair for the wrong reason, but it has the same effect. It takes a year at cooking school, a friendship with a wealthy octogenarian, and a haircut to transform Sabrina the chauffeur’s daughter, into Sabrina the woman.

When the Baron rightly identifies why Sabrina’s souffle is a flop, (“a woman happily in love, she burn the souffle…a woman unhappily in love forgets to turn on the oven”), he gives her the best piece of advice she could hope for. Her father may have sent her to cookery school in Paris, but the Baron told her she looked like a horse – the ponytail had to go. And just like that, on her return to Long Island, Sabrina and David are equals. Her appearance is the ultimate status symbol.

“Oh Sabrina, where have you been all my life?”

“Right over the garage.”

Hmm, paywalls. It doesn’t sound good, does it?

It is very easy to be cynical and say that Rupe has had an epiphany and decided he likes money and would quite enjoy a bit more, but there’s more to it than that. Honest. Something has to be done, or the news business will fall apart. More newspapers will close, quality will freefall, and streets will be lined with shivering old hacks, reminiscing about the good old days of long lunches and bylines (see IMDB for details of The Day After Tomorrow 2: The Decline of the Newspapers.)

Anyway, for a long time, people could be as click-happy as they wanted, and everyone enjoyed it, flitting around, aggregating, searching, taking the news for granted. It was all going so well, and then a billion or so users had to go and ruin it for everyone else. They stopped buying papers. They didn’t get their copy of The Times in the morning and then go online in the afternoon to check up on the stories they had read. No. They left their house, they got on the tube (without a paper), picked up an abandoned copy of Metro, read it and pretended to be outraged by the standard of free newspapers today, got off the train, bought coffee (without a paper), got to their desk and read the news online (without a paper). You see the problem.

And so, Rupert the Conqueror stamped his feet and blamed Google, and has flexed his muscles with a few regionals, but where to now? The constant pushing of Times+ over the last year or so was already starting to make people feel uneasy. It somehow didn’t fit with Sunday supplements and boiled eggs at the breakfast table. Much too “If you like to read the Sunday supplements at the breakfast table while eating boiled eggs, you’ll love Times+… Now, give us some dosh.” Much too Murdoch. So how will people feel when he barricades his content in with paywalls and glitch-ridden payment systems?

He had better be extremely sure that the content he is squirreling away behind these walls is more than worth what he’s charging, otherwise the whole venture’s doomed. Former FT and New Statesman editor, Ian Hargreaves recently told us that he believes people will only pay for something they want but they can’t get free.

The problem here though, is Sponge and Spiker all over again. When James dropped the magic bag and the peach grew, Aunts Sponge and Spiker put up a fence and charged people admission to see it. Some people paid. Some people stood on the wrong side of the fence, were savvy enough to realise they could see a pretty sizable piece of fruit perfectly well from there, and went on their way. It has to be all or nothing with paywalls (and peachwalls). If there are still news providers out there refusing to put up paywalls, which there will be if The Guardian sticks to its guns, then a lot of people will go to them instead.