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MOVIE INFO
Synopsis:
Frida chronicles the life of artist Frida Kahlo, from her humble upbringing to her worldwide fame. The film shows the turbulence and controversy that surrounded both Frida and her husband, Diego Rivera, from their complex and enduring relationship to her illicit and controversial affair with Leon Trotsky to her provocative and romantic entanglements with women.

Director:
Julie Taymor
Cast:
Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Valeria Golino, Mia Maestro, Roger Rees, Diego Luna, Patricia Reyes Spindola, Margarita Sanz, Geoffrey Rush
Writing Credits:
Clancy Sigal, Diane Lake, Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas, based on the biography by Hayden Herrera

Tagline:
Prepare to be seduced.

Box Office:
Budget
$12 million.
Opening Weekend
$205.996 thousand on 5 screens.
Domestic Gross
$25.776 million.

MPAA:
Rated R for sexuality/nudity and language.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Makeup; Best Score-Elliot Goldenthal. Nominated for Best Actress-Salma Hayek; Best Art Direction; Best Costume Design; Best Song-"Burn It Blue".

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English, Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 6/10/2003

Bonus:
DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Director Julie Taymor
• Audio Commentary with Composer Elliott Goldenthal
• “A Conversation with Salma Hayek”
• Sneak Peeks

DVD Two:
• “AFI Q&A with Julie Taymor”
• “Bill Moyers Interview with Julie Taymor”
• “Chavela Vargas Interview”
• “The Voice of Lila Downs”
• “The Vision of Frida: With Rodrigo Prieto and Julie Taymor”
• “The Design of Frida: With Felipe Fernandez”
• “The Music of Frida: With Elliott Goldenthal and Salma Hayek”
• “Salma’s Recording Session”
• “Bringing Frida Kahlo’s Life and Art to Film: A Walk Through the Real Locations”
• “Portrait of an Artist” Featurette
• ”Amoeba Proteus” Visual FX Piece
• ”The Brothers Quay” Visual FX Piece
• Frida Kahlo Facts


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RELATED REVIEWS


Frida (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 2, 2003)

For me, one of the oddest Oscar victories in 2003 occurred when Frida beat The Time Machine for Best Makeup. The latter required the invention of non-human species. The former mostly asked its makeup creators to give Salma Hayek a unibrow and make her look a little less hot than usual. Admittedly, the latter’s a daunting task, since Hayek’s one of the great babes of our time, but did this deserve an Oscar?

Maybe the Academy felt Frida deserved some kind of reward since Hayek lost the Best Actress prize to Nicole Kidman, another serious babe who got uglified for The Hours. I guess all these hotties have to play less attractive women to get critical recognition. Where does that leave the naturally ugly actresses?

Whatever happens to them, Frida allowed Hayek an attempt to prove herself as more than just a pretty face. A portrait of noted artist Frida Kahlo (Hayek), the flick starts with Frida apparently near death and then flashes back to 1922 and early adulthood. We see her passion for boyfriend Alex (Diego Luna). We also witness an event in which she taunts philandering artist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) after his wife Lupe (Valeria Golina) chastises him for carrying on with a nude model.

Soon after this, tragedy strikes. Frida gets severely injured in a bus crash, and this leaves her in a body cast for many months. She paints as she slowly recovers and her father Guillermo (Roger Rees) goes into debt to try to fix her and allow her to walk again. In the meantime, Alex decides to move to Europe with relatives, which disappoints Frida. Eventually she gets out of her body cast and gradually learns how to walk again.

Frida takes her paintings to Rivera for his appraisal. He likes them and encourages her. The pair soon become a couple despite his notorious and unstoppable womanizing. They marry and Frida claims that she accepts his lack of faithfulness as long as he remains loyal.

The rest of the movie follows their lives together. We watch as Rivera gets a commission to paint a mural for Nelson Rockefeller (Edward Norton) and Frida goes with him. We also her pregnancy, their return to Mexico, and the arrival at their home of noted Communist Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush).

While that last bit sounds like it comes from left field, it does follow the historical facts of Frida’s life. I think most of Frida remains true to the facts, but unfortunately, it does little more than give us a glimpse at “Frida’s greatest hits” as it blithely traipses through her biography.

On this DVD’s supplements, director Julie Taymor states that she wanted to avoid the usual biopic trappings, but I feel she mostly embraces them. The film focuses on the Kahlo/Rivera relationship at its core, but it never demonstrates a great connection between the pair. We tend to hear things rather than feel them. For instance, we’re constantly told that Frida’s in terrible pain, but this issue never comes across clearly.

Part of that stems from the miscasting of Hayek as Frida. Not that I think the actress does poorly in the part. While she probably didn’t merit that Oscar nomination, she still imbues the role with spirit and heart. Unfortunately, she movie asks her to do little more than act like a victim, and Hayek also remains about a billion times hotter than the real Frida, and this causes a major distraction.

To get inside Frida’s mind – which the film apparently wants to do – we need to have a better sense of the real person. We’re frequently told of Frida’s physical ailments and unattractive features, but Hayek still looks damned sexy to me. The flick includes some nude scenes, and if the real Frida looked one-eighth as sexy as Hayek does here, I’ll eat a bug.

Frida runs into problems due to other visual reasons as well. Periodically throughout the movie, Taymor tosses in odd elements like stop-motion skeletons to represent doctors or King Kong to illustrate the time that Frida and Diego spent in New York. On the surface, these sound like a good idea. After all, the movie deals with folks who spend their lives dealing with unusual visuals, so why not use quirky techniques to get us in touch with them?

Unfortunately, the results never blend naturally with the movie. Instead, they feel self-consciously arty. It seems like Taymor injects them just for the oddness of the moment and not to illustrate anything more substantial. These moments consistently take the viewer out of the movie, which is the opposite of what they should do.

Speaking of distracting elements, Frida tosses in cameos from Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton, Geoffrey Rush and Ashley Judd. Actually, Rush’s portrayal of Trotsky probably lasts too long and plays too significant a part in the movie to qualify as a cameo, but the impact is the same: distraction. This seems especially strong during the Banderas and Norton bits, as their appearances heavily make it tough for us to focus on the story. Instead, we think, “Hey – that’s Antonio Banderas!” and we lose what impact the tale wanted to impart. Frankly, these cameos feel like little more than fodder for movie posters so the studio can advertise the presence of these notables; Molina’s a good actor, but he doesn’t sell a lot of tickets.

Even without the distracting cameos and visual elements, I still don’t think I would have cared for Frida. The movie gives us the rudiments of the artist’s life but fails to dig any deeper than that. When it ended, I felt like I’d seen a quick synopsis of the facts but I didn’t think I really understood her any better.


The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B- / Bonus B

Frida appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, Frida presented a lush and distinctive picture.

Sharpness looked solid. If any examples of softness appeared, I didn’t detect them. The movie came across as tight and accurate at all times. Jagged edges and moiré effects presented no concerns, and only the slightest smidgen of edge enhancement popped up on a couple of occasions. Other than a speck or two, the movie betrayed no print flaws.

While a few scenes featured either desaturated images or stylized tones, most of Frida boasted vivid and lively colors. The hues came across really well throughout the movie. Reds looked especially rich and vibrant, but all the colors popped off the screen with great clarity. Blacks also seemed deep and dense, while shadows were tight and well defined. Ultimately, Frida offered an excellent image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack made less of an impression, but that didn’t come as a surprise, for I didn’t expect much from it. The soundfield presented the kind of fairly limited scope that I anticipated. For the most part, the audio stayed heavily oriented toward the front channels. Music showed acceptable stereo definition, and effects helped create a moderately inviting sense of place. The surrounds kicked in for a few occasions. They added some percussive score during a couple of scenes, and segments like the destruction of a mural brought some dimensionality to the piece. Otherwise, the track stayed pretty restricted; not even the trolley crash added much to the proceedings.

Audio quality was fine. Speech seemed natural and distinct, and dialogue suffered from no flaws or distractions. Music enjoyed nice dynamics, as the score consistently sounded smooth and robust. Effects mostly stayed limited, but the track reproduced the elements with more than acceptable accuracy. Bass response was good, though nothing about the mix provided much low-end information. In the end, the audio of Frida served the movie well but it did nothing to stand out from the pack.

This two-DVD release of Frida packs an extensive set of supplements. On disc one, we get two audio commentaries. The first comes from director Julie Taymor, who offers a running, screen-specific track. She covers the film well in this consistently informative discussion.

Taymor discusses quite a few areas related to the movie. Most interestingly, she relates details of Kahlo’s real life and gets into matters that were changed for the movie. We get a decent sense of biographical background, and this helps open up the film’s characters. Taymor also delves into thematic issues, what she wanted to achieve with different segments, technical topics, and a mix of other things. Overall, she provides an intriguing and useful examination of her movie.

Next we get a commentary with composer Elliott Goldenthal. Unlike Taymor’s feature-length track, Goldenthal gives us one for “selected scenes”. He covers 20 different scenes and gets involved in his work. The clips run between 54 seconds and nine minutes, one second for a total of 50 minutes and seven. Annoyingly, the DVD fails to include a “Play All” option; it forces you to access each of the snippets individually, which gets tiresome before too long.

Goldenthal mostly discusses his choices for the segments and lets us know why he went in certain ways. He also goes over instrumental choices, influences, how he worked out decisions with director Taymor, selected non-original songs, and other factors. Goldenthal provides a somewhat disjointed but useful chat about his work.

Though she doesn’t provide a commentary, the lead actress offers a lot of information during A Conversation with Salma Hayek. This 38-minute and 18-second program consists of nothing more than one extended – though edited – interview with Hayek; no behind the scenes footage or movie clips appear. Hayek discusses her interest in the project, getting Taymor to work on it, their working relationship, dealing with the script along with Taymor and Edward Norton, composer Goldenthal, various actors, and a mix of other elements.

Though Hayek’s passion for the film remains obvious, she doesn’t present a lot of intriguing information. Mostly she praises all involved and gushes about the flick. Even when it sounds like Hayek will dish some dirt, it comes out as happy talk. For example, she initially tells us of her love/hate relationship with Alfred Molina. The cause of her negativity? Jealousy, as she thinks he’s just about the greatest actor ever and she wises she could be more like him! That’s not exactly a daring statement, and this “Conversation” comes across as a bland one.

Lastly, in the Sneak Peeks domain, we find ads for “Miramax Year of Gold”, Gangs of New York, Chicago, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and the Frida soundtrack.

With that, we go to DVD Two, where we open with an AFI Q&A with Julie Taymor. If you didn’t get enough of the director during her commentary, maybe this 30-minute and 13-second program will satiate you. She covers what drew her to the project, attempts to avoid a standard biopic telling, dealing with period challenges, shooting in Mexico and the use of a Mexican crew, visual design, improvising by Hayek, sex and nudity, the shooting order, rehearsals, the real relationship between Kahlo and Rivera, and other matters. Taymor proves chatty and passionate, and she gives us a good examination of these areas.

Amazingly, we hear more from the director during a Bill Moyers Interview with Julie Taymor. While the AFI piece offered a simple “talking heads” presentation of that session, this 19 minute and 11 second program is a more standard TV piece. We see Moyers chat with Taymor but we also find shots from the set and many clips from the movie. A more personal conversation, she goes over her feelings about the real-life Frida and Diego and also gets into some of her own experiences that impacted her view of the world. The program packs in too many movie clips, but it offers an interesting perspective.

Finally, someone else talks during a Chavela Vargas Interview. In this 15-minute and 44-second featurette, composer Goldenthal chats with the Mexican singer and intimate of Kahlo’s. He speaks in English, but she replies in Spanish and subtitles translate her statements. Vargas speaks a little of her work on the film and her reactions to it, but she mostly discusses her relationship with Kahlo. Unfortunately, this offers no real information, as Vargas just describes the pairing as the greatest love ever. She uses bizarre phrases such as “her joined eyebrows were a swallow in full flight” in this disappointing piece.

We hear from another singer in The Voice of Lila Downs. During the five-minute and 22-second program, she chats about how she came aboard the film, her music, and other related topics. We also see her in the recording studio and check out parts of her scenes from the movie. It’s a moderately interesting look at one of the flick’s participants.

Next we get some featurettes that examine various areas of the production. The six-minute and seven-second The Vision of Frida: With Rodrigo Prieto and Julie Taymor looks at visual elements. We hear from director Taymor and cinematographer Prieto as they go through camera movement, lighting, colors, and other aspects of this subject. We get a little material from the set as well. The short program doesn’t give us much depth, but it tosses in a few nice details.

The film’s production designer comes to the forefront in The Design of Frida: With Felipe Fernandez. This two-minute and 27-second program includes comments from Fernandez as well as Prieto and Taymor. Fernandez tosses out a few general concepts that relate to his work, but it flies by quickly and offers little concrete material.

We learn more about the score in The Music of Frida: With Elliott Goldenthal and Salma Hayek. For this four-minute and 57-second featurette, Hayek basically interviews the composer. She tosses some softball questions at him such as whether or not the production was blessed by some magical luck via the music selection. He responds in the affirmative and offers some general notes about the topic. If you want to know about Goldenthal’s work, his commentary is the place to go; this puff piece doesn’t present anything useful.

More fun is Salma’s Recording Session, a two-minute and 38-second glimpse in the studio. It includes some quick comments from Taymor but mostly shows Hayek as she records the song that she performs in the movie. You don’t really learn anything, but it’s entertaining, and at least Hayek looks good.

We take a tour during the five-minute and 19-second Bringing Frida Kahlo’s Life and Art to Film: A Walk Through the Real Locations. Hosted by production designer Felipe Fernandez, we get video footage of the places as he contributes some factoids about them and the flick. Like the other featurettes, this one lacks much depth, but it adds some decent notes.

A basic promotional piece, Portrait of an Artist lasts 14 minutes and nine seconds and includes all the expected components. It tosses in lots of film clips plus a few behind the scenes bits and interviews with Taymor, Hayek, actors Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, and Mia Maestro, and producer Sarah Green. A few interesting bits about funding and adapting for the roles show up, but mostly this is the standard fluffy “go see the movie” fare.

Next we get two programs that relate to effects. ”Amoeba Proteus” Visual FX Piece runs nine minutes, 23 seconds, while ”The Brothers Quay” Visual FX Piece goes for 92 seconds. Visual effects supervisors Jeremy Dawson and Dan Schrecker pop up in the first one, while Stephen and Timothy Quay chat in the second piece. Both offer details about various visual elements and give us a fairly nice look at the topics.

Lastly, we find a collection of Frida Kahlo Facts. This offers a basic text recap of her life. Most of this appears in the movie but some unique material shows up here.

I respect that Frida tries to let us know more about a moderately obscure – but increasingly prominent – artist, and the movie does give us a basic feel for her life. However, it suffers from a number of flaws that make it seem insubstantial and problematic. The DVD presents excellent picture quality along with decent but fairly average audio and a reasonably good set of supplements. For those with an interest in Frida Kahlo, the movie may offer a passable starting point, but don’t expect much from it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8 Stars Number of Votes: 35
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