quick review: frozen

Frozen opens with Frode Fjellheim’s beautiful blend of Saami yoiking and the Danish Christmas hymn “Dejlig er jorden” (”Fairest Lord Jesus”), eliciting the hope that the film, like the music, will be something other the porridge Disney tends to serve out. Alas, it’s not to be. The music quickly returns to that peculiarly unambitious Disney pop house style, punctuated by the catchy but cloying Let It Go, which seems entirely fitting for a film that is lukewarm at best.

The animation rates as nice in quotation marks, with the snowy special effects standing out. Overall, however, Frozen’s rendering exhibits the CGI gloss that makes the characters and the environment, designed in Disney’s safe house style, seem too much like extruded plastic. The story feels similarly extruded from the big Hollywood book of marketing-approved plots, with a narrative that rushes to introduce its premise before becoming curiously inert (e.g. nothing much happens, although foreseeable twist involving the prince is a nice touch). There are flashes of cleverness in supporting characters such as the amiable rock trolls and, in particular, an oddball snowman who consistently charms scenes away from the main cast. But the core story might as well be called a shell story; a simplistic affair that, unlike the similarly simplistic but charming Tale of Despereaux, doesn’t benefit from especially rich drawing. Elsa’s alienation, on account of ice-related magic she can’t control, is treated perfunctorily, and her devoted sister Anna is plunked into an entirely predictable love triangle. Though it’s a tale of sisterly bonding, the emotional stakes rarely arise from anything other than sitcom setups. As a story of female empowerment, it’s hard to see the mix of Disney’s usual Princess fetish with a message to embrace one’s unique qualities as anything more than a well-intentioned but ineffective gesture. The best that can be said is that, in the vein of films like Paranorman, Frozen foregoes the usual Manichean climax in favour of a lesson in forgiveness. Isn’t that nice?


odyssey theatre pops the corktown '57, with winning results (at TFPO)

Review of Corktown ’57 on stage at the Odyssey Theatre.

Science-fiction author Frank Herbert rightly observed that “Blood is thicker than water, but politics are thicker than blood.” Set in a Republican Irish neighbourhood in Philadelphia, Corktown ’57 deftly dramatizes the way in which familial bonds can be worn, frayed, and ultimately disintegrated by ideological conflict – in this case, the historical antagonism between the Irish and the British.

Loosely inspired by playwright John Fazakerley’s family memories, and embellished for dramatic effect, Corktown ’57 invites us into...READ THE REVIEW AT THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE

wonder woman: reviving William Moulton Marston's original feminist icon (At TFPO)

A review of Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics – 1941 -1948 by Noah Berlatsky. 

When Warner Bros. and DC announced that Wonder Woman would make an appearance in Zack Snyder’s follow-up to Man of Steel (and precursor to a forthcoming Justice League movie), the obvious questions were: What took so long, and why is such an important and interesting character being tucked into a film about two men divided by the letter “v?”

Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948, by culture critic Noah Berlatsky, doesn’t propose to offer insight into DC’s movie universe, but it does explore the origins of an iconic character through her creator, William Moulton Marston (who wrote under the pen name Charles Moulton.)

Berlatsky is at his most persuasive when he...READ THE REVIEW AT THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE


fashion design is boring - a small dose of pontification

I recently came across a feature on a new fashion label that unintentionally encapsulated precisely what is wrong with fashion design as a profession today. Without naming names, the revelation comes by way of one of the label’s founders: “With women we are exploring many more categories, more of an emphasis on style and being relevant to what’s happening in fashion, whereas with men it’s extremely timeless.” And this, after the article describes the men’s collection as “t-shirts, woven shirts, knits, jackets and chinos in muted, low-key colours” that, according to the same founder, men “won’t get called out on.”

Heavens to Betsy, we wouldn’t want men to get called out for what they’re wearing.

The problem is the concept of timelessness. In some contexts, the concept of timelessness represents a universal quality, a consistent solution to a persistent design problem, an aesthetic that transcends cultural identification, an idea whose relevance endures over long periods of time. Yet timelessness can also be a manifestation of the status quo, a conceptual frost that favours the static over the dynamic. “Timeless” becomes more excuse than rationale, an apology (without acknowledging it as such) for failing, not to innovate, but to even attempt innovation.

This isn’t to say that women’s fashion is the product of innovative design in and of itself while men’s fashion is fundamentally stagnant. Although there’s no question that the most fun in fashion design is to be found in products for women –see Mohop shoes, or early United Nude designs, for example – fashion designers, as the quote above reveals, nevertheless tend to deploy a conservative hybrid of recycled imagination and reactivity. The relevance to what’s happening in fashion, what’s trending for women, is essentially an example of cyclical cannibalism. Designers resurrect and reinvent past trends in women’s fashion over and over again, with variations marketed as more than they are. Once in a while, they fly their freak flag with wild and admittedly imaginative designs, but so what? They’re typically too impractical and artsy for daily wear. Men don’t get trends, but quality craftsmanship for “timeless” styles, aka lazy design.

For fashion design to be innovative, let alone revolutionary, it should purposefully upset the established order of gendered stereotypes, reject the homogenizing effects of mass production in favor of bespoke artisanship, and genuinely challenge the tension between individuality and social identity manifested in how we choose to appear. It’s not enough for fashion design to question design objects. It must also question the process and reasoning of design itself.

Anything else is just the same old pursuit of commoditized novelty, gendered to favour women with imagination and men with timelessness.


some music wanders on purpose: thoughts on pink floyd's endless river and division bell

When The Division Bell was released in 1994, roughly at the beginning of my musical adventuring, my exposure to Pink Floyd had been more or less limited to The Wall. In comparison to that seminal rock album, one I’d unhesitatingly place as a 20th century masterpiece, The Division Bell seemed rather lacklustre. Tracks like A Great Day for Freedom recalled the melodic riffs I latched onto in the band…but then there were tracks that came across merely as soft and meandering. Prog rock, I thought, shouldn’t come across like soft jazz.

Over 20 years later, with a more evolved appreciation for music and greater knowledge of Pink Floyd’s word, the release of Endless River prompted me to return to The Division Bell and give it another listen. Surprise, surprise, the album doesn’t sound the same. While certainly not a landmark like The Wall, nor seminal like earlier albums (Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and so on), The Division Bell is also far from “rubbish” as Roger Waters unkindly judges it. Liberated from the demands of aggressive ambition, the album’s relaxed demeanour feels today, quite simply, like having a seat in a studio filled with musicians at ease with each other.

As a parallel album in space if not entirely in time – the music was recorded during the Division Bell sessions but unreleased at the time – Endless River serves as epitaph in memory of Richard Wright, a coda to Division Bell, and a pensive epilogue, as it were, to a classic and essential band. Predictably, the critical consensus circles the verdict that this is the sort of music put out by rock ‘n rollers after their exile to the retirement home. Some reviewers tack away from this view, praising the album for what it is, while others reject it as a disappointing, sighing retread. In the “end,” only one’s own ears can tell which it is.

Arguing over the musicianship strikes me as a technical dead end. But artistically, it’s hard to refute the argument that the band has not been driven towards conceptual grandeur after The Wall, an impulse that exited stage left along with Roger Waters. Endless River, like The Division Bell, is hardly a tremor let alone an earthquake insofar as visionary music goes. But as a straight-up listening experience, music for the senses more so than the mind, Endless River benefits from a quality that Division Bell exhibits after one gets past its drive to be “about” something. By foregoing the conceptual burden of lyrics (except for the last track, Louder Than Words) in favour of riffs and jams, improvisations and musical quotations, the album is allowed to stand for itself. Like its title suggests, the music isn’t about a particular destination, or even a port of origin (unless you want to bring band politics and other contexts into play), but a quietly compelling journey by accomplished musicians limited only by one’s preconceptions and expectations. More ceremonious than a fade to black, Endless River is best enjoyed in a darkened room as a mind trip from the planetarium to outer space – just like The Division Bell, in the end.