BRAVE review

Pixar’s reputation for delivering quality animated films was impeccable. Then Cars 2 happened. One year later, they’re back trying to prove they haven’t sold out by releasing Brave, which is a first for several things at the studio. It’s their first fantasy film and their first film with a female protagonist. But can these help make this film stand out, or is this another misstep in the wrong direction?

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Brave tells a very simple fairy tale; one that takes many elements from the classics without feeling like a rip-off. It has enough Grimm-esque inspiration not to feel like a watered-down version of the tale (the sort you’d expect from a Disney production) and makes the film feel more unique than you’d expect. The characters are well fleshed out and you come to care about them, and I think that is mainly thanks to the main mother-daughter relationship; a dynamic rarely seen in films but one that Pixar pulls off to great effect. Merida and her mum feel like a proper bickering family, and their arguments about what is right don’t feel like they’re just there to serve the story. On the other hand, there were certain moments I felt logic went out the window purely to push the plot forward. I know these tropes are part of the whole fairy tale aesthetic, but it could have been much better executed. Overall, not the best tale Pixar has told, but is still a much better and more thought-out one than most would put into a kid’s film.

As I said, the characters of Brave really sell the story and that is helped by the great voice acting. Kelly Macdonald plays our heroine Merida with plenty of Scottish charm and the feistiness of a teenager to make her a believable character. Some may say she comes off as bratty and selfish but, as I said to those who had similar complaints about Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man, SHE’S A TEENAGER! Her behaviour is completely natural for her age and makes her seem not only more human, but emphasises the significance of her character arc. Also great are Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly as her parents; the three of them share fun and different dynamics between them that lead to some great comedy moments. But arguably the best characters are three who don’t talk: Merida’s wee brothers. Their antics lead to some hilarious physical comedy and while some may compare them to the minions from Despicable Me, I think they are far superior to those yellow rascals as they feel more like actual characters and they actually serve more of a purpose to the plot.

Pixar’s quality of animation has always been well above standard compared to those of Dreamworks and Sony, and that continues with Brave. As a Scotsman, I can tell you the designers clearly did their homework in researching the look and feel of the Scottish highlands with some very clear influences from certain areas. This leads to some stunning landscapes and beautiful vistas that further make this fantastical representation of Scotland feel more real. Less amazing but still great is the character design. While quite similar to other films of its ilk like How to Train Your Dragon or Tangled, the design still feels unique and no two characters look alike (other than the triplets, but that makes sense). The artistic style is easily among Pixar’s best and will be hard to top in the years to come.

In conclusion, while Brave isn’t among Pixar’s best (my personal favorites being the Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles and Up) it is still a great family film and the best animated film I’ve seen this year. It’s made me all but forget the sour taste of Cars 2 and I look forward to more great films from Pixar in the future. Let’s just hope a prequel to Monsters Inc isn’t as stupid as it sounds…

Rating: 8/10

TED review

I’ll start off by saying I love Family Guy. I understand why some people don’t like it, but I do. And when it was announced that Seth MacFarlance was doing a movie I was all for it. Now that Ted has finally hit British shores, but does it match up to the quality of its small screen cousin?

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The story is pretty simple, but not so bland that you can predict the entire plot. It sticks to the basic template of the buddy movie/rom-com, but it remains fresh because of the lunacy of some of the situations these characters get into. This film was made by a guy who regularly breaks up scenes with fights with a giant chicken, remember? The film is quite limited in size and scope, but I don’t have a problem with that. MacFarlane fares better when its more about the character gags, even if the bigger moments still deliver. My main problem is that the antagonists of the film seem a bit forced in; it’s like the writers suddenly realised “Shit! We need a big climax! Let’s just create a character, give him two scenes prior, and then make him the villain”. It didn’t take away from the film too much as the bad guys are still funny, but I feel that the climax should have felt more natural.

The performances here are nothing to write home about, but they service the script well. Mark Wahlberg works here as a likeable protagonist and fits into the wackiness even if it looks like he doesn’t always know what’s going on (then again, I’ve seen Marky Mark in roles he definitely didn’t belong in. *cough* Max Payne! *cough* ). Mila Kunis is good here too; she could have easily fallen into making this character completely unlikable due to wanting Ted to leave, but she remains fun and avoids the stereotype. MacFarlane himself voices Ted and, while it’s clear he’s running out of voices to us (they even point it out!), he still remains a laugh riot throughout. Almost every line that comes out of his mouth is a gag, and most of them hit. The supporting cast is also good and filled with plenty of MacFarlane regulars and some surprise cameos. I won’t spoil any of them, but one of them is The Saviour of the Universe. Wink wink nudge nudge!

But what’s the most important thing about a comedy? Oh yeah, the comedy! Don’t worry, Ted has more than enough of those. If you know MacFarlane’s sense of humour, you’ll fall easily into this. The jokes come fast, in your face and never stop. Some do miss their targets, but no comedy has perfect aim and the misses are never huge bombs. Again, I don’t want to give away any jokes but you’ll find your fair share of pop culture references, toilet humour and even those good old non-sequiters. Man, don’t you just love it when they stop to do something that has noting to do with anything?

Elephant juice!

Anyway, you’ll certain laugh at this movie more than my painful attempts at comedy in this review.

Ted is by no means a perfect movie and there are certainly better comedies out there, but it delivers on exactly what it promise and never stops until the end.

8.5/10

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES review

So, it’s finally here. The conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking trilogy that is probably the most hyped finale in a long time. Leading up to its release, I never doubted that it would be a good movie but I always knew it could never live up to expectations regardless of quality. So did it overcome this major obstacle? That’s a tricky question, but let me explain why.

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I won’t go into details on the plot, but I will say it is great. It ups the stakes from the previous movies and creates enough tension that you become unsure of every character’s safety. The pace remains fast and riveting, which is especially impressive for a film close to three hours long; I can easily say I was never bored. Its main flaw, however, is that it feels uneven at times.  People often complain how the Batman movies don’t focus enough on Batman himself, and TDKR is no exception. While Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is very key to the story, he spends very little time as Batman. The film feels like it has two protagonists; the other being John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The film focuses on this character a lot and, while he is an engaging character that you quickly come to like, I feel more focus could have been put on Bruce’s struggle against these impossible odds. The movie also gets a bit extravagant in its third act which, while thrilling and an awesome spectacle, leads to some plausibility and plot holes. Regardless, I think the story works overall and is also a very good cap to the entire series. I didn’t get teary-eyed, but I’m sure some fans might during its final moments.

The performances in The Dark Knight Trilogy have always been stellar, and TDKR continues this trend. All the familiar faces continue to do excellent work and feel they have developed much since the events of TDK, especially Bruce and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). You really feel the guilt they have around how this lie they created has put this city into a false sense of security and have set them up for a massive fall. Alfred’s (Michael Caine) role is very brief but very powerful during a certain revelation to Bruce. Morgan Freeman continues his charming role as Lucius Fox, and cameos from certain familiar faces from Batman Begins will put a smile on the faces of fans. But onto the new blood. As I said earlier, Gordon-Levitt works well as a secondary protagonist and you root for him as much as Batman near the end. Miranda Tate (Marion Cottilard) performs well, but that’s all I’ll say. In terms of villains, Bane (Tom Hardy) is very intimidating and definitely proves to be a good match for Batman, which is especially clear in their first battle. Hardy gets so much across here through just his eyes, though it is sometimes off-putting to hear that muffled voice of his. My main problem with him is how they treat the character in the finale. After a very big third act twist, his role feels diminished in the overall finale and his last moments are too rushed. However, the big surprise here is Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). She gives a wonderful performance, filling the classic femme fatale role brilliantly without falling into Schumacher-esque camp. I enjoyed every moment she was on screen and the film shows that Hathaway is a much more versatile actress than many assume.

Christopher Nolan knows how to deliver spectacle and he definitely delivers here. The scale is massive and the action is much more hectic and expansive than he has gotten in this whole series. And while it makes sense considering that this is the conclusion, I missed some of the quieter moments that were present in the climaxes of the first two. Here, once the actions starts it doesn’t let up until its over. On a technical level, the film is a pure treat. The cinematography is excellent, the editing mostly smooth and the score, while a bit too bombastic at times, fits well with the tone. While I’m unsure if this film will be up for any major awards come Oscar season, I’m sure it will have a major presence in the tech department.

In conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises is not the Second Coming of Movies a lot of its over-eager fanbase has been anticipating, but it is a satisfying conclusion to the story. I see it as the Return of the Jedi of the series: a good movie with a strong and finite ending but lacks some of the things that made its predecessors superior. I can honestly say I feel both The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man were better movies overall, but I feel all are flawed in their own ways; TDKR just has a few more. While I feel comparing these three movies is a bit unfair, it is an unavoidable discussion point. I definitely recommend you see it in a theatre (was unable to see it in IMAX, but I’m sure it looks amazing in the format) and decide for yourselves. Not everyone will be satisfied, but I think that will be more down to overhype rather than the quality of the film itself.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

 

P.S.: They showed the trailer for Man of Steel beforehand. It doesn’t show much, but it definitely feels like a Nolan production. It looks sombre and moody, and there is only a brief moment of Superman being Superman. Not enough to know whether it’ll be good, but it got me more invested.