Film Review: Moana (dir by Ron Clements and John Musker)

Look, I get it.

Everyone’s depressed right now.

You’re depressed.

He’s depressed.

She’s depressed.

That random guy over there is depressed.

Your cat’s depressed because you’re so depressed that you’re probably not feeding him on time.

I’m not depressed but I’m currently pretending that I am in order to show solidarity for the people.

Everyone’s depressed!

But you know what?  No matter how depressed you are, don’t take it out on the movies.  I actually had someone tell me recently that he didn’t see how I could worry about movies with so many terrible things happening in the world!  Well, listen up — the world may be a terrible movie but movies help to make it a lot more bearable.

For instance, there’s Moana.  Moana is the latest Disney film and it is a burst of pure joy, a wonderfully entertaining animated adventure that also carries with it an important, timely, and welcome message of empowerment.  Some day, when I have a daughter, Moana is one of the many films that I look forward to watching with her.  We’ll watch Moana and then we’ll watch Brave.  And then we’ll close things out with Frozen.  I can’t wait!


Now, I’ll be honest.  The film’s plot, in many ways, sounds like almost every other Disney princess film.  Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is the headstrong daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe.  Moana dreams of sailing to the ends of the Earth but her loving but protective father refuses to allow her to go beyond the reef.  However, when a force of darkness threatens to consume the island that Moana calls home, she defies her father and sets sail with her pet rooster.  The only way to stop the darkness is to track down a demigod named Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and go with him to return a sacred stone to Te Fiti, the island Goddess.  (The stone is Te Fiti’s heart.)

Now, that may all sound like typical Disney fare but the brilliant thing about Moana is that it realizes that the plot sounds like typical Disney fare.  When Moana finds Maui, he asks her where he animal sidekick is because all princesses travel with an animal sidekick.  Moana argues that she’s not a princess but then realizes that, as the chief’s daughter, she kind of is.  Moano is full of self-referential humor, the type that tells the audience that we’re all in this together.

Maui himself is a brilliantly animated, written, and voiced parody of the type of muscle-bound character who, in the past, would have automatically been this film’s main character.  Dwayne Johnson has always been willing to have fun with his persona and he continues to do that with Maui.  For that matter, Heihei the Rooster also pokes fun at the typical Disney animal sidekick.  As opposed to the usual all-knowing, often snarky sidekick that we’ve come to expect from Disney, Heihei spends most of his time searching for something to eat.  It doesn’t matter if it’s edible or not.  He’ll eat it.  As a result, Heihei doesn’t really do much to help Moana on her journey but he’s still adorable.

But ultimately, this film is all about Moana and what a wonderful character she is!  Strong, independent, intelligent, and occasionally just a little unsure of herself, Moana is perhaps the most 3-dimensional Disney character since Brave‘s Merida.  It’s her character (and  Auli’i Cravalho’s voicework) that brings the film its humanity and makes it a truly special viewing experience.

Moana is wonderfully animated and if you don’t fall in love with the coconut pirates then there is no hope for you.  (Is this film worth seeing in 3D?  I would say that it is.)  The insanely catchy songs are provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i and I’m looking forward to the inevitable Broadway adaptation.

So, seriously — stop feeling sorry for yourself for two hours and go see Moana!  You’ll be glad you did.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #21: Hidden Truth (dir by Steven R. Monroe)

(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Sunday, December 4th!  Will she make it?  Considering that she only has a day left, probably not.  But keep checking the site to find out!)



I recorded Hidden Truth off of the Lifetime Movie Network on September 18th.  It premiered before that on Lifetime and I even live tweeted it but I didn’t record it until it re-aired on LMN.  I’m glad that I did that because, as I rewatched Hidden Truth, I was surprised by how much I had forgotten about the film.

Hidden Truth is one of those Lifetime films that takes place in a small town where everyone knows each other.  It tells the story of a girl named Zoe (Diana Hopper) who is upset because 1) her father, Pace (Brendan McCarthy), may have killed her mother, 2) he’s now an alcoholic, and 3) she’s being raised by her loving but overprotective aunt, Jamie (Sarah Lind).  Zoe is desperate to get out of town so she starts having an affair with a local rich guy, Michael (Shawn Christian).  She wants his money.  He claims to be in love with her….

And then, one day, Zoe turns up dead and floating in the river.  The sheriff (Parker Stevenson) immediately suspects that Pace got drunk and killed his daughter.  Soon, Aunt Jamie is the only person in town who believes that her brother is innocent.  Can she clear his name?  Can she solve her niece’s murder?  Can she uncover the hidden truth…

Ironically, for the viewer, there’s nothing at all hidden about the truth in this movie.  The movie actually opens with Michael murdering Zoe and dumping her body in the river.  So, from the start, we know who the murderer is.  The film instead becomes about watching Michael try to cover his track and wondering when Jamie will finally figure out what happened.

It’s actually a different approach from what we’re used to with Lifetime but I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about it.  The problem is that Michael really isn’t that clever.  He’s a sloppy murderer and he’s sloppy when it comes to covering his tracks and there’s no moment when you think to yourself that he might get away with it.  And since Michael is a thoroughly despicable and inept character, it’s not like you find yourself conflicted as you watch him try to cover his tracks.  At no point do you think, “He’s a bad guy but I kinda hope he gets away with it.”

I guess what I’m saying is that the Hidden Truth would have worked better if the truth had remained hidden until the final five minutes of the film.  Still, you have to give the filmmakers some credit for trying to do something different.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #20: Girl In The Box (dir by Stephen Kemp)

(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Sunday, December 4th!  Will she make it?  Considering that she only has a day left, probably not.  But keep checking the site to find out!)


Girl in the Box originally aired on Lifetime on September 10th and I have to admit that I specifically chose to record it as opposed to watching it.  That’s because Girl In The Box was based on the true story of the kidnapping and 7 year enslavement of Colleen Stan.  It’s an incredibly disturbing story and I knew that, much like last year’s Cleveland Abduction, Girl In The Box would give me nightmares.

And, having now watched the film, I think I probably made the right decision.  Girl In The Box is an incredibly unsettling film, one that is all the more upsetting for being based on a true story.

In 1977, 20 year-old Colleen (played by Addison Timlin) is hitchhiking from Oregon to California.  We watch as Colleen turns down two prospective rides, one from a group of frat boys and one from an older couple that wasn’t going far enough.  When she does accept a ride, it’s from Cameron Hooker (Zane Holtz) and his wife, Janice (Zelda Williams).  What we know, but Colleen doesn’t, is that Cameron has just recently murdered another woman that he abducted.

Soon, Colleen is being held prisoner in a tiny wooden box, only being brought out so that she can be abused and raped by Cameron.  Cameron forces her to sign a “slave contract” and he tells her that he is a part of a much larger conspiracy.  Even if Colleen could escape, he tells her, his associates would track her down and kill both her and her family.  Slowly, Colleen’s will is broken down.

And through it all, Janice watches.  Janice, we learn, married Cameron when she was sixteen and he seemed like he was the most handsome and charming guy in the world.  It was after they got married that she discovered that Cameron was a monster.  Cameron justifies his crimes by claiming that, if he wasn’t abusing Colleen, he would be abusing Janice.  Janice, the film suggests, is just as brainwashed as Colleen.  They are both prisoners of a truly evil creature.

(It should be noted that the film is generally sympathetic to Janice.  I’ve read a few true crime accounts of Colleen Stan’s kidnapping that paint a far less forgiving picture.)

Much like Cleveland Abduction, Girl In The Box was difficult for me to watch.  The three main actors totally committed to their roles, taking the audience to a very dark place, one that was all the more disturbing for being real.  Zane Holtz revealed Cameron’s evil and sadistic side while, at the same time, showing how he could easily fool the rest of the world into thinking that he was a normal, likable guy.  Zelda Williams portrayed Janice’s growing horror at realizing what her life has become, while at the same time never entirely letting Janice off the hook for her part in Cameron’s crimes.  And Addison Timlin was courageously vulnerable as Colleen.

It’s hard for me to recommend Girl In The Box because it really is such an unpleasant film.  I mean, this is not a film to watch if you’re just looking for a relaxing night in front of the TV.  But I do think it has an important message.  There are other Cameron Hookers out there and the reason that they thrive is because, far too often, people are scared to get involved.  There were so many times that Cameron’s crimes could have been exposed if only people were willing to follow up their concerns.

Ultimately, Girl In The Box is a story of survival.  Somehow, Colleen Stan survived her ordeal.  I don’t know if I could have.

Music Video of the Day: Burning Down The House by Talking Heads (1983, dir. David Byrne)

I am in no position to write about this now, but I refuse to let a day go by without one of these posts. Just enjoy this classic Talking Heads song that drives home well that they were former art school students who started a new wave band.

If you want to know who worked on it, then you can look at the listing on IMDb.