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: :-)

Drag Me To Hell

June 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

I didn’t know this film was done by Sam Raimi at first. I have to admit my ignorance, and I will take the beating I deserve for not staying up on a genre that I typically pride myself being a connoisseur of. So, I apologize to everyone including myself for looking at this film at first and going, “Yeah. Right.” PG-13? Strategically placed by the studio as “The Strangers” was last year to generate a mid-season sleeper buzz? No thanks.

That attitude completely changed when I read that the film was directed and co-written by Sam Raimi, and co-written with his brother, Ivan. Now, these two haven’t worked together this closely since “The Evil Dead” series, and we all know how that went. Probably 3 of the most beloved cult horror/comedy films of all time.

“Drag Me To Hell”, in time, could be headed for the same vault. It takes every good element of a horror film and stretches it to the point where you can’t see the lines in the fabric anymore. It’s ironed to perfection, and while Sam Raimi hasn’t dabbled in this genre for some time; he makes his return a triumphant one, illustrating again why he’s a master of the genre.

The story revolves around curses, and begins in 1969, in Pasadena, in which a young boy is troubled by strange voices and has with him a cursed item, a necklace that was stolen from gypsies. It’s always the gypsies, isn’t it? The boy winds up being visited by a demon, the Lamia, who literally drags him to hell–thus beginning the film.

Forty years later, we are introduced to Christine Brown (played wonderfully by Alison Lohman), and her boyfriend Clay (played by Justin Long, in a rather bland role), who are thrust into the same situation the boy suffered from when she does not allow an elderly woman, Mrs. Ganush, another extension on her loan. Mrs. Ganush angrily shouts at her, and curses a button on Christine’s jacket, and soon after, Christine starts hearing voices and seeing Mrs. Ganush visiting her in nightmares–and then, assaults her in the parking lot late one night.

Christine’s got her own share of problems, dealing with a smug and backstabbing co-worker (played deliciously by Reggie Lee), who stands in her way in getting a promotion to assistant manager. David Paymer plays her boss, and in one of the more amusing scenes, is on the wrong side of Christine as she gets one of the most obnoxious nose bleeds I’ve ever seen. When she starts losing control, she finds through a fortune teller that there may be a way to appease the demon, and she tries a few different ways (some of them are quite funny, if a bit sick) to get the demon to leave her alone.

Of course, it’s never easy getting rid of a demon, and when Christine gets downright assaulted by the gypsy Mrs. Ganush, you’ll wince in disgust while laughing hysterically at some of the hi-jinx that ensue. After all, the Fun Demon Spirit is familiar territory for Raimi, and it’s plastered all over the movie. If it hadn’t been done before, this movie would be an instant classic. But, since the best of it happened in “Evil Dead 2”, this seems more reminiscent than fresh. It is no less hilarious, though. Let me be clear on that.

All in all, this movie is a real treat for those (like me) who have lost a lot of faith in the horror genre–especially the attempts at horror comedy lately, which have mostly been a bust. Raimi still knows how to make your skin crawl while making your stomach hurt laughing so hard, and he deserves credit for that. If you’re looking for a 100 minute escape and enjoy a bit of sick humor laughing at these poor souls staving off demons and disgusting Eastern European gypsies, go see this movie. It helps to be in on the joke that this is pure camp, even if it does scare you out of your seats a few times–don’t take this film too seriously. But there is actually a quality message the film provides too if you pay close enough attention, and it’s more than just “stay away from gypsies”. That should be pretty obvious to everyone in the world.

But you may not want to buy anything to eat before or…even after.

My rating: :-)