Thursday, June 28, 2012


I remember a time when Pixar could do no wrong. Even when people initially criticized them for retreading familiar territory with "Toy Story 3", it turned out to be a unanimous hit. Surprisingly, this was only two years ago. It's baffling to me that so much unfair backlash can be hurled at a studio that has continually raised the bar for quality in both animation and heart-felt storytelling after one misfire. "Cars 2" was, in all honesty, completely uncharacteristic of Pixar. It was totally boring, the dialogue horribly cliched... anyway, this isn't a "Cars 2" review.

The point is, I never lost faith in the studio that has brought me to tears on more than one occasion (nope, I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried during "Finding Nemo", wept in the five-minute montage at the beginning of "UP", and definitely choked up at the end of "Toy Story 3"). The studio is still synonymous in my mind with the absolute personification of quality. I had no doubt that "Cars 2" was a fluke. There's no question that it was made out of greed to capitalize on the explosion of merchandise that the original "Cars" generated. Their next original effort would more than make up for the betrayal that was their previous film. I can only report that I am delighted to be proven right! Brave is an absolute triumph. The animation is the most beautiful I have ever seen. The characters are funny and likable, particularly the protagonist, Merida. She's perfectly portrayed as a head-strong, emotional, and spirited young woman.

One of the best things about "Brave" is the Scottish setting. The voice actors are all native to either Scotland or at least the British Isles, which really transports the viewer to another world, one filled with magic, as the trailer points out. The story, possibly the weakest link for its sheer familiarity, is still very well done. The kicker, the thing that brought me to tears yet again by the time credits rolled, was the emotion wrought from a tense mother-daughter relationship that I completely understood. I have sisters, and I know that turmoil is almost to be expected between teenage girls and their moms. This story portrays that in such a relatable way, and develops it so carefully, that it really is one of the most touching things I've seen this year.

If you've seen the trailers, you still don't know the real plot, something that my mother actually pointed out when I showed it to her a few weeks ago. It is kept intentionally ambiguous, which is why I won't be doing a plot summary of this film. I will tell you that one overarching theme in this movie is the ability and the desire to change your fate, and I feel this is a good metaphor for what Pixar has done with this film. Despite the pundits sounding the alarm that Pixar's time as the pinnacle of animated storytelling was coming to a close, "Brave" proves that the studio isn't going anywhere. I absolutely love this movie and am just a hair away from giving it a full four stars. I give it a very solid three and a half stars.

BRAVE is rated PG for some scary action and rude humor.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Prometheus... this is another example of a trailer completely selling me on a dark, intense movie that I wasn't initially aware of. Being a big movie buff, I had heard that Prometheus was coming out this year. I knew it was supposedly some kind of prequel to Ridley Scott's "Alien" movie. However, prior to seeing this trailer, I had absolutely no desire to even seek out this film. Once I watched the teaser, I immediately got excited for this movie's release. I even went back and watched the original "Alien", as well as "Aliens" for good measure. Based on everything I had researched beforehand, this movie was supposed to unravel the Space Jockey's mysterious origins (the fossilized creature sitting in the pilot's chair before the crew discover the eggs). Ridley Scott has been insisting that this isn't going to be an Alien origin story. If you are expecting to see the creation of the xenomorph, get that out of your head. This movie is closer to a spin-off than an actual prequel, though we do get some answers about that elusive Space Jockey.

The story begins with a small group of scientists in Scotland, excavating an ancient cave and finding the last piece of the puzzle they've been looking for. The next scene is on the space vessel, Prometheus, where these scientists explain that they are seeking the creators of mankind. Pretty big theme to be taking on, right? Particularly when they were supposed to be focusing on explaining the history of the Space Jockey. The remarkable thing is, however, that though this movie veers off in a totally new direction, it isn't necessarily a bad move. Damon Lindelof, famous for his contributions to "Lost", wrote the screenplay for Prometheus, and at certain points you can sort of tell. The story is tackling ginormous themes, not least of which is the actual title of the film (referencing the tragic character from Greek mythology).

Despite the enormity of the project and the unrealistic expectations that must have been thrust on this film, it's surprisingly satisfying. Not only do the themes feel fully fleshed-out, but the characters are interesting, the conflict imposing, and the mystery intriguing. This film has plenty of spectacle, and may be the most beautifully captured piece of cinematography since INCEPTION. The problems that I have with this movie are partly its connection to "Alien", but also with the complex narrative. I've already praised Lindelof for his great writing, but he also has a tendency to indulge in mystery and neglect the revelations. I'm sure he's trained himself to do this after years of working on "Lost", but it is somewhat unfulfilling in a movie universe where the story has to feel self-contained.

On a slightly unrelated note, Ridley Scott has talked openly about his desire to make the film R-rated, though he also admits to making another cut for a PG-13 rating. The end result is honestly a coin-flip. I don't think this movie is any more intense than The Dark Knight, but there are some more disturbing images that aren't often seen in PG-13 movies. But never mind that, this movie is exactly what I was hoping for when I saw the trailer - really dark and really intense. There are a few scenes in particular that will have you squirming in your seat and, conversely, unable to keep your eyes away. This movie is very good, and I definitely recommend it to fans of sci-fi with a touch of horror. I give it a solid three stars.

PROMETHEUS is rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

It's no secret to anyone that I am a huge fan of comic-book movies. So when I saw that Chris Hemsworth (Thor) was going to be portraying the titular "Huntsman" in what looked to be a serious take on the Snow White story, I was intrigued. That initial spark of interest grew into a blaze the instant I saw the theatrical trailer, which promised a dark, gritty, supernatural style that seemed right up my wheel-house. I therefore went into this movie with fairly high expectations. Expectations that weren't immediately dashed, but that slowly deflated as the story unfolded. If you've ever heard of Snow White... well, I'll just assume you have and skip the obvious parts of the plot summary.

Charlize Theron plays the evil queen who seduces Snow White's father and takes over the throne. She does a fantastic job in the role, though, admittedly, there are a few puzzling moments that I couldn't quite get a handle on (a mid-day bath in... milk...?). Anyway, the story does have its cool moments, particularly once we get into the Dark Forest. One thing I should probably mention right off the bat - this movie looks incredible! The visual effects are done masterfully in every scene. Chris Hemsworth also does a great job and even Kristen Stewart isn't that bad. My problems with this film are almost entirely with the story. In the trailer that I've posted below, for example, there is a super-cool Troll that emerges from a bridge and attacks Snow White and the Huntsman. I want to issue a mild SPOILER ALERT at this point: Unfortunately, this really awesomely rendered monster never comes into the story again! What a waste! Also, this Dark Forest that has so much going for it, the one that is also featured in the trailer, only features in the actual movie for about five minutes. That alone turned me slightly against this movie. The filmmakers had so many ideas to put on the screen that they couldn't possibly have done them all justice in a 2 hour film. There are so many dangling threads in this movie that I can only assume they either forgot about or are saving for a future sequel to resolve/explain. It's disappointing beyond belief that the screenwriters let so much potential and everything that was unique and enticing about this version of Snow White fall by the wayside as they pursued a much more cliched and slightly boring approach. I'll withhold talking about the rest of the story to avoid divulging too many spoilers.

Keep in mind, I didn't hate this movie. I think there are a lot of good things going for it, as I've already mentioned. However, the feeling I kept having in the theater was disappointment. I can barely recommend this movie on the merits of its visual style alone, but just know that the best things about this movie are so sparsely used that it's a real let-down. Perhaps with a good re-write this could have been streamlined into the movie it had the potential to be. I give this movie two and a half stars.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.