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Brave (2012)

by Steve Habrat

After last year’s lemon Cars 2, Pixar has returned to form (sort of) with Brave, a thunderously exciting and comedic offering that falls victim to childish antics that never have the dual appeal for adults. Lacking zero complexity, Pixar opts for a simple story and keeps things light this time around, reluctant to show their emotional strength. Brave also lacks the vision that made their previous offerings so irresistible and unforgettable, seeming somewhat bland in comparison to tasty offerings like Wall-E, The Incredibles, Up, and Toy Story. Yet Brave, with its enthusiastic voice work and detailed visuals, still manages to get on your good side with some clever moments of slapstick humor that will have you chuckling due to their unpredictability. It also features an immensely likable main character in Merida, an archery obsessed tomboy who likes to allow her unruly explosion of red curls bounce around her face as she rides through the woods shooting arrows at targets. I admit I was worried that I may not care for this feisty free spirit but I have to say that she is a real charmer.

Brave takes us to the 10th century Scottish highlands where we meet Merida (Voiced by Kelly Macdonald), the archery fanatic daughter of King Fergus (Voiced by Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Voiced by Emma Thopson). Merida happens to be a tomboy who loves riding her horse through the woods and firing arrows at several targets she has placed around a trail. She also gets a kick out of climbing up the sides of mountains to drink from waterfalls. Merida is a firm believer in pursuing one’s own destiny rather than having her life planned out for her by others. Her behavior horrifies her mother, who demands that she learn to act like a lady before three neighboring clans arrive in their kingdom for a competition that would allow one young man the chance to win Merida’s hand. The clans arrive and each clan leader offers up his first-born son to compete for Merida, even though she is disinterested in the entire event. Merida grows restless during the competition and she erupts in an outburst that infuriates her mother. Merida runs off into the woods where she finds herself face to face with a witch (Voiced by Julie Walters) that offers her a spell that would change her controlling mother. The witch conveniently forgets to add that there is a small side effect that changes her mother’s appearance too. Meanwhile, the clan leaders begin to grow restless over who will win Merida’s hand, slowly stirring up war between King Fergus and the neighboring clans.

Pixar’s first fairytale does come with quite a bit to admire even if it is reluctant to tackle any heavy topics. I can honestly say that Brave had me laughing from start to finish. I loved how rowdy the film was even if things do get a little too out of hand at times. Brave has tons of shouting, drinking, eating, singing, fighting, brawling, and more shouting, sometimes driving the viewer to a headache but it is all in good fun. You’ll get a bang out of King Fergus as he stomps oafishly through the frame, devouring chicken legs and chugging cup after cup of ale. The heads of the three clans, Lord Dingwall (Voiced by Robbie Coltrane), Lord Macintosh (Voiced by Craig Ferguson), and Lord MacGuffin (Voiced by Kevin McKidd), are all equally boorish and disgusting in their own right but they do manage to grab a whole slew of giggles. The one interesting aspect of Brave is that the film is not hiding the fact that it is advocating female empowerment. The men are made out to be clueless and battle hungry in addition to their already hearty appetites. Yet the men are compassionate to the women and they do respect them, which does make Brave’s message a bit perplexing. I understand that Merida wants to break away from what is expected of a lady but I thought we were over this old fashioned defy-conformity-and-do-what-makes-you-happy message by this point.

Brave is, after all, a ladies show and the guys are just there to fill some space. Merida acts as a firm role model for young girls, a less gritty and animated Katniss Everdeen for five-year-olds. Director Mark Andrews pushes Macdonald to really emphasize the Scottish brogue, making her a bit cartoonish at some points but that actually adds to her appeal. She is the liberal answer to her conservative mother Elinor, who is tied to old-fashioned behavior and unwilling to accept anything less. She warns Merdia to keep her bow off the table and that she better grin through the pain of a corset. A blow-up between these two worlds is the only moment that Andrews really cranks the emotional intensity up a notch or two. When the spell is cast upon Elinor, the plot takes an unexpected twist that worried me at first but then really gains some momentum and keeps the laughs flying. The other female character that I was intrigued with upon first meeting her was the witch, who is introduced halfway through the film and then never heard from again. I kept wondering when the story would return to her and develop her further. Alas, she magically disappears.

While I enjoyed all the main characters in Brave, there was a trio of scene stealing tykes that won me over early on and kept me in stitches every time they scampered into the action. I’m talking about Merida’s three trouble making younger brothers who gag over their dinners while plotting ways to make off with trays of sweets brought to them by their servants. Wait until you see the scene where they have to steal a key off one servant, who stashes it in her cleavage. The Pixar team manages to deliver one hell of a pay off in the final stretch of Brave, offering more satisfying action than most of the other blockbusters that have taken up space in the theater this summer. Yet the Pixar team seems unsure over how to make a film that is aimed at younger girls and the message to send to that demographic. It falls back to something that would have really been saying something before the Women’s Liberation Movement but today, it just seems lazy, especially after what Pixar has accomplished with some of their other work. It may not be the best of Pixar’s bunch and you may yawn over what it trying to say underneath all the yelling but Brave still manages to be one of the better films in a summer that has been filled with duds.

Grade: B

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollow Ending: A Reflection of the Biggest and Most Disappointing Film of the Summer (2011)

by Charles Beall

I did not like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

There, I said it.  Phew, I needed to get that off my chest!  I have seen the movie twice now, because after the first viewing, when everyone started applauding and taking off their 3D glasses to reveal their tear-stained cheeks, I felt something was wrong with me.  Listening to the murmurs of praise among departing theatergoers, I found myself disagreeing with them.  I was quiet the rest of the night; I went to grab a beer with my friends and they kept asking me what was wrong.

“I didn’t like it,” I confessed, my head hanging in shame.  They looked at me like I was a freak, like I had said something along the lines of supporting Michele Bachmann for president.  What was wrong with me?!

I went back a second time…again, disappointment.  I am a horrible person, I thought to myself.

It seemed as if rain clouds followed me and I had a big scarlet “A” on my chest (for “asshole” for not liking the last-ever Harry Potter movie).  But then, I began to think that I wasn’t a horrible person- maybe the final Harry Potter chapter really did suck.

That is not to say that Hallows: Part 2 is a poorly made film; quite the contrary, which is why I was so disappointed in it.  First off, the craftsmanship on this film is amazing.  Not only is the cinematography gorgeous (Oscar-worthy, in my opinion), the eerie set pieces, costumes, visual effects, and even the performances are pitch-perfect.  Which leaves two key ingredients that are lacking that could’ve made this the best Potter film: the screenplay and direction.

Now I have had a love/hate relationship with David Yates as the director of the last four Potter films.  I wasn’t crazy about The Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince (they were good, not great) but I was floored with Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (which I consider the best-and my most favorite-film in the series).  I loved the pacing of it and, by the end of that film, I conceded that it was a good idea to split the final book into two movies.  As the release date of Part 2 approached, I was eager to see it.

The gorgeous, foreboding pacing of Part 1 was replaced by a frantic, amateurish, and uneven film in Part 2.  I know this was an “action movie,” but the filmmakers (or Warner Bros. corporate heads?) abandoned what worked so well in Part 1 and just shat out the final chapter so it could get converted to 3D in time for its release date (my theory- not a fact).  Call me a pessimist, but there were dollar signs hanging over Hogwarts, not dementors; it felt that there wasn’t a screenplay, but rather a checklist of the last half of the book that Yates was going by.

The whole world has seen this film by now, so I will not go into an all-out review of it.  In the case of this article, I will touch upon some key scenes that I believe were butchered for this movie.

The first is the Battle of Hogwarts, which in the book was both heart-felt and action packed, but in the film was just action-packed.  Yes, all of Harry’s friends show up to help save the day, but that is it.  Indeed, it was like the film was a supplement to the book- you needed to have read it to know who people were and what their relationships to Harry were.  That emotional connection that was so well-written by Rowling and decently portrayed in previous films was thrown out for the last film.  I know their allegiance to Harry…I read about it.  I want to see it.

Another complaint of mine (in regards to the Battle of Hogwarts) is the death scenes of certain characters.  I will not name names in case the reader is one of the 19 people who haven’t seen the movie, but in the book, their deaths were dramatic and heroic.  They died for Harry, for the greater good.  In the movie, their deaths just served as a transition to the next scene, losing all of the emotional weight that it carried in the books.  Another death scene (SPOILER) is that of Bellatrix.  Now, that was my favorite part in the last book, mainly because I couldn’t wait to see Julie Walters deliver “the line” in the movie.  I knew going in that “the line” would be in there, and I barely missed it.   Again, it seemed that “the line” was just on the checklist that Yates had as his screenplay.  There was no emotion, no drama, no suspense to the delivery of “the line.”  It just happened…and it sucked.

Finally, the epilogue to the film, while nearly verbatim from the book, was just…what were we talking about?  To be fair, I felt the epilogue to the book, while bittersweet, was a bit too uneventful.  Yes we know everyone is okay and happily ever after, but this was a real chance for Yates to do something epic.  Do a montage of Ron proposing to Hermione, Harry proposing to Ginny, Hogwarts rebuilding itself, Ron and Hermione getting married, Harry and Ginny getting married, Neville and Luna hooking up, Draco becoming head of the Republican Party, the lives of Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny with their children, Hagrid marrying that giant chick from The Goblet of Fire, Harry killing Jacob and Edward from Twilight, etc.  How come after eight films of “tweaking” things from the books, the filmmakers actually take the weakest part of them and adapt it verbatim?!  You can end with the train station; just show what happened in those 19 years.  I wonder if Yates was working under the assumption that we had read the book and were waiting for, indeed expecting and demanding, the epilogue.  My hypothesis was validated with the hisses of “yes!” that escaped in the packed theater when the “19 years later” title card came up.

Now there are parts I enjoyed.  The fight between Harry and Voldemort is pretty badass; I even liked the lack of a film score in some scenes, just the cracking of spells from wands.  The best part of the film was Snape’s memories, which were really the only emotional part in the film.  This was a rare case where Rowling’s words were beautifully transformed to images on the screen.  I just wish the rest of the film was like that.

In conclusion, I didn’t hate Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2– I was just disappointed in it.  There was so much building up to this final chapter that I just felt underwhelmed, unmoved, and let down.  Maybe my expectations were too high?  I will have to see it again, but at $13 a pop to see it, those pesky dollar signs play too much a roll.  Maybe when it is out on Blu-ray, I’ll revisit it.

Grade: C+ (but I really do love Harry Potter…don’t hate me!)