Brave

June 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

The original title for this movie was “The Bear and the Bow”. Separating a bit from usual Pixar form, this story would revolve around a female–a princess, to be exact. Much more in the vein of the Disney canon rather than the Pixar formula, this project was also helmed by Pixar’s first female director, Brenda Chapman. Chapman left production while the film was still being made over “creative differences”, and it was taken over by Mark Andrews, this being his first full length feature film with Pixar. The idea for the film is much in the vein of the traditional fairytale. This does have a bit of a Pixar twist, but not it’s as devastating as “Up”‘s and not as deeply involving as “Toy Story”. While the film isn’t all about fun, like “Monster’s Inc.”, it does have some kiddie elements and doesn’t always take itself so seriously.

The film’s heroine is Merida (voiced joyfully by Kelly Macdonald), who just wants to be one of the boys. Actually, she just doesn’t want to be a lady. She’s an archer and is quite skilled at the bow. Her mother (voiced by Emma Thompson with a somewhat questionable Scottish accent) doesn’t like that Merida is so unladylike. She doesn’t like that she goes off into the forest, climbing, shooting, riding. She believes Merida should be proper, and will soon be given a suitor by one of the other clans. Her father (entertainingly voiced by Billy Connolly) doesn’t really have much of a say in anything. He seems to like that Merida is boyish, but also wants to keep his wife happy. While Merida is a little girl, her father suffers a debilitating leg injury while fending off a bear after it tries to attack Merida. This bear will play a larger role later in the film.

Meanwhile, after Merida’s all grown up, she is forced to take the hand of one of the clans’ sons that competes in Merida’s favorite sport–archery. She decides to fend for her own hand, much to the chagrin of her mother, who doesn’t want to allow it. But it’s too late, and Merida and her mother have a large fight that leads Merida to follow some enigmatic wisps of the willow into a forest, all the way to a mysterious witch. Merida wants to change her fate–but for some reason thinks that the way to do that is to change her mother’s fate. I still don’t follow that logic; but the result is quite interesting.

The change in Merida’s mother’s fate causes the two to bond with each other in an effort to make everything go back to normal; meanwhile, Merida’s father still has to entertain the clans while she supposedly deliberates over which suitor she chooses. The adventure in the film focuses on Merida and her mother, and their quest to undo what Merida has done.

The film really becomes more of a coming of age story and a very affectionate tale of mother/daughter relationships. It actually makes the other stuff seem a little forced in comparison. For instance, the cute but underused little brothers Merida has. They’re a joy to watch, but they’re hardly used. Same with the witch, and her strange crow that seems to be able to speak. But instead of having them as the resident villains, they disappear without a trace soon after being introduced. The lack of a central villain is a bit of a risk considering the formula this film follows. However, I thought they were able to pull off the story with having Merida herself being to blame for her mother’s misfortune, and it being up to her to save her. The payoff is a bit too easy, but the film has its share of amusing pratfalls and screwballery that keeps you entertained.

Overall it is a nice little tale, and the ending is moving. But there seems to be two different directions this movie wants to go and never quite gets to either, and I think that can be blamed a bit on the changing of the guard midway through production. Sometimes you can tell when a project changes hands (like in “Hancock”). I even think the title change is rather curious. This film isn’t so much about bravery (in that, Merida isn’t a coward in the beginning and brave by the end), but it is about a bear, and it does involve a bow. Maybe “The Bear and the Bow” just doesn’t resonate as a film title. It’d have to be some kind of Little Golden Book classic to retain a title like that.

For a Pixar film, it’s a tad disappointing. We don’t have the typical lush characters and multiple storylines, and some of the plot elements are just all too familiar. However, I did like the main characters enough, and I loved the look of the film, and the music was wonderful. The 3-D left something to be desired; but it still gave a greater scope of the landscapes of the Scottish highlands than I would imagine you could pull off in 2-D.

The film works enough to recommend and be passable. Maybe if this stayed in Brenda Chapman’s hands all along, however, we could have had another Pixar classic on our hands.

My rating: :-)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

July 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

I think it was around 2000 that I first took notice of a book called “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. I was working at amazon.com, and it was starting to gain popularity very quickly. It wasn’t long after that I saw more books with the name “Harry Potter”: “Chamber of Secrets” and “The Prisoner of Azkaban”. I thought, what’s the deal with these books? Well, the answer was…they had just become the most popular childrens’ books in circulation.

By the time the fourth book, “Goblet of Fire”, was being released, Harry Potter mania had taken full effect. In 2001, a film version was made of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. My sister was ecstatic, and even went so far as to work out something with a local theatre to promote a kid-friendly showing of the movie, complete with a Sorting Hat and people dressing up. I went to this showing to support what she was doing, and I had finally taken interest in the books after she repeatedly inflected the highest praise I’ve seen her give a book since she had read Roald Dahl.

I enjoyed the first book, enough to continue with the series. I liked what J.K. Rowling was doing: Harry was a very special child, but he was severely underappreciated and abused by his adopted parents (his own were killed). Harry learns that he’s a wizard, and he can perform magic and all sorts of special things that he couldn’t do in the “Muggle World” (muggle being the word for regular human, or an English person). I was taken by the journey and wound up reading the entire series, getting the concluding book the day it came out and finishing it in a week (a record for me).

Meanwhile, I went and saw the movies. And I was less than impressed with most of them. While some of them (“Chamber of Secrets”, “Order of the Phoenix”) were OK, only two really stood out for me as well done films: “Prisoner of Azkaban” and “The Half-Blood Prince”. Finally, these movies provided some much needed character development that made the books so entertaining and endearing.

For the final adaptation, the money-grubbing producers I suppose thought it’d be better to split the book into two movies. Yeah, I’m sure it was for artistic purposes. See my review on “Part 1” to see if they succeeded. I had my doubts that it would serve well as a two part…mini-series, and I think I was right to be so dubious.

In Part 2, we’re taken right into the action from the start. Why we needed a long-winded 2 and a half hour long “intro” (Part 1), I have no idea. Well, I do have an idea. But in any event, I saw it, and I was just anticipating this film to see if they could conclude it in a satisfying manner, the way the book did.

Obviously, there’s always going to be a disconnect between the film and book, in any adaptation. Certain things cannot be filmed, and sometimes things are left out. The “Harry Potter” series was a frequent culprit of this, especially in “Goblet of Fire” (which was my favorite of the book series). In this adaptation, from what I remember, they do get pretty much all of it right. But something was still missing. And I think because of all of the short comings of previous installments, this film was never going to deliver for me what I had been starved for the entire time–and that’s actually…caring for these characters.

I’ve never thought of Daniel Radcliffe as a good actor, nor Emma Watson. But they’re not entirely at fault for their cardboard cutout characters–the screenwriting in this series has been dreadful in many of the installments, including this one. The film’s pace never seems quite right, especially in Part 1. But there’s just no sense of urgency other than spewing out the dazzling special effects. That’s always seemed to be the driving force of these films.

If aesthetics were all you could base your opinion on in this series, I’d say it was a smashing success. But that’s not what drew me into the books, and that’s not what drew me into liking Harry Potter as a character, along with the other characters. I liked that Rowling gave them complexity and flaws. In the films, they just seem to go along with the story, not really offering any real emotion or showing pain or anguish. It all just seems like window dressing. And while it’s very nice to look at, it just doesn’t do anything for me.

And that’s basically what I thought of this conclusion. Everything is in its right place. But the puzzle itself doesn’t move me. And there was even a conclusion missing, I thought, between Harry and Draco–two characters who were heated rivals throughout the series. There was nothing I felt throughout this film; not even in the last scene, where we finally see Harry as an adult and without the scar. It struck me as interesting that in the film, he does not rub his forehead as he does in the last line of the book. That line was used to show that Harry had finally gotten through everything, and his scar “healed” so that he was pretty much…born anew. In the film he doesn’t touch it–almost signifying that he just never felt anything. I know that’s kind of an insult, and a bit short sighted.

I do not think the film series has been bad, necessarily. It just hasn’t been what I thought it would be. I was hoping for something more meaningful, such as the “Lord of the Rings” adaptations. In that, they cut out a lot from the books but they retained the most important thing–the relationships. Harry Potter’s relationships in the film series just serve as plot devices more than anything else. And all of the films worked on a visual level. But not on any other level. And what made me like Harry Potter so much was that there were so many levels.

But I am relieved that it’s finally over. My scar’s gone, too. And all is well.

My rating: :?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1

November 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

The Harry Potter series has dominated this past decade in book and film, and it’s finally coming to a close next summer with the concluding part of the final entry, “The Deathly Hallows.” I’ve been a fan of the book series; but the movies have been an up and down thing for me. Some of them, like “Prisoner of Azkaban”, “Order of the Phoenix”, and especially the last film, “The Half-Blood Prince”, have been rewarding movie going experiences. “The Deathly Hallows”, unfortunately, is piled in with the other movies as sloppy, slow, and in this case, overly brooding.

The film starts with Severus Snape, who killed Albus Dumbledore in the previous film, meeting with Voldemort and the plot is set in motion that he and Harry Potter will ultimately have a final duel. But Harry cannot defeat Voldemort without destroying precious objects that contain his soul, hidden in objects, known as Horcruxes. We’re reminded that Harry has destroyed a Horcrux already in “Chamber of Secrets”, the second entry–which by this time feels like a lifetime ago. There is so much to remember about these characters and their little adventures that the films have always tried to remind the audience about fun little factoids that can come in handy when it comes to the most recent plot. In this case, it’s important to know that there are a total of 7 Horcruxes, and Harry has destroyed one, leaving six. Or so it seems. Throughout the film, the focus is on one Horcrux which is located in a locket that when you wear it, its negativity can wear you down, if you’re not evil.

Most of the problems with this film involve the pacing. As with some of the previous weaker “Harry Potter” films like “Goblet of Fire” and especially in the first film, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, the film never seems to get its footing in the right place and the narrative comes off as messy. There are scenes that don’t go anywhere, long establishing shots that aren’t necessary, and at one point, the plot completely turns its focus on another object that makes the climax of destroying a Horcrux drag the rest of the film down, since there’s another plot point introduced late in the film–which actually explains the title of the film itself.

The acting is improved. The best example of this is the rising talent of Rupert Grint who plays Harry’s crimson haired, neurotic friend Ron Weasley. In some scenes, he actually carries the film on his own back. But even with his performance, and with the help of some very wicked special effects, “The Deathly Hallows Pt. 1” is a long winded entry in the “Harry Potter” movie series that doesn’t satisfy–mainly because it doesn’t conclude anything.

I had dubious feelings about this from the start: that one book was going to be split into two separate movies. I thought at first, well, maybe it’ll give them more time to develop the characters. That’s one thing that’s always been missing in the “Harry Potter” movies. Instead, the film doesn’t know what to do with itself most of the time. And the film runs at about two and a half hours long. I have a strong feeling the second “part” will run at about the same length. So we’re talking about a 5 hour long epic based upon one book. Not even J.R.R. Tolkein got that kind of treatment (although the director’s cut of “Return of the King” comes darn close). If there were more going on in the film, I’d say it was a welcome thing. But there really isn’t much besides Harry, Hermione, and Ron searching for Horcruxes and getting mad at each other. You have a few scenes of some of the other characters mingling with some of the action. We even get to see the cute little House Elf again. But his presence is a bit forced as a Deus Ex Machina and the climactic battle involving him is the second or third climax in the film–and by that time, we’re exhausted.

The other gripe I have, as I have with many of the films, is the constant throwing out of names. In the books, it works because you can always easily reference them if needbe. You can just turn the pages back and find the name. In a movie, once the name is spoken, that’s it. You have to remember it. And the names are so complicated and unmemorable, it’s nearly impossible to remember every one of them. But for some reason, a lot of those names come back to haunt you. And then you think, “Oh! Scrimmathor Herthelwaipe. Yeah. That guy. He…is something.”

OK I made that name up. But I think you see my point. Overall, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’re going to see this anyway and what I say can’t do anything to sway your decision. If you’re not a fan of the series, do not bother with this film and certainly don’t bother if you haven’t seen any of the previous films. I don’t think the film’s an entire waste of time; but there were some things in the screenwriting process and the cutting room floor that could’ve tightened this film up and made it a two hour long fun ride rather than a two and a half hour bloated run-around.

My rating: :?