films

Brave

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Main Cast:

Merida – Kelly Macdonald
Fergus – Billy Connolly
Elinor – Emma Thompson
The Witch – Julie Walters

*WARNING* – I am writing this early, early in the morning after picking the Scottish fiance up from the airport and then watching this movie.  Please excuse all typos in the post.

Brave centers on Scottish princess Merida, who in her mythical time wants nothing more than to avoid the life-ending fate of marriage (as she said this line, the Scottish fiance and I laughed out loud).  She wants most of all to choose her own journey in life and to not have her family – mostly her mother – decide for her.  When a cast spell goes terribly wrong, Merida must find a way to break the curse before it is too late.

Brave was, in essence, a beautiful movie.  Visually stunning especially in 3D, it lives up to the Pixar movies that came before it.  When you tell me that you are going to have an animated film set in Scotland, my first thought is that you had better get the scenery to be as striking as what the real thing is.  Pixar definitely achieved that.  Intricate animation brings the mystical land to life and sets the perfect backdrop for the story that unfolds.

The story line was also gorgeous.  I have yet to be disappointed by a Pixar film (which is why I avoid Cars 2, since I fully expect disappointment), and I had high hopes for Brave and its feisty heroine.  No worries here, folks.  While one review I read of Brave criticized its focus on the mother-daughter relationship, I thought it was so much more fulfilling than anything else Pixar could have done with the story.  You get magic and enchantments, but at the heart of it all you watch the frustrated mother and daughter learn more about each other and grow closer together.  How can you not love a movie that so accurately depicts the struggles of every parent, but also shows the rewards for the effort we put in to our relationships?  (As a personal side note, if I had a nickel for every time my mom wished I was more ladylike, I’d be rich.  So Merida is obviously my new favorite character).  Merida and Elinor are the heart ofBrave, and their interactions drive the story.  It may not have been the plot I was expecting, but it was the one that the characters deserved.

It is hard to go into much detail without revealing key plot points, but I will say that I loved the voice cast.  I was a bit nervous about Emma Thompson, but her dinnays were just as good as native Scots Kelly Macdonald and Billy Connolly, if not a bit more refined.  I also want to say that I am very relieved that Pixar did not go ahead with the original casting of Reese Witherspoon, because Macdonald’s voice melds so effortlessly with Merida’s character.  Plus, an obvious fake Scottish accent would have distracted from an otherwise perfect movie.

It was perfect, it really was.  I remember there being one little plot hole (other than the fact that bears haven’t resided in Scotland since the Romans came, and if that’s when this was set, they didn’t wear kilts then), but even that has slipped my mind.

Oh darn, guess I’ll have to go watch it again.

Rating: 10/10

*Kudos also go out to the short before the movie, “La Luna”, which was worth the 3D glasses alone.  Stunning.*

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Real Steel

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Real Steel posterMain Cast:

Hugh Jackman – Charlie Kenton
Dakota Goyo – Max Kenton
Evangeline Lilly – Bailey Tallet

MPAA: PG-13

If you asked me a few weeks ago if I would review a movie like “Real Steel” on my blog, I probably would have laughed at you.  But it was really, really good!  I was excited to see it (hello, Hugh Jackman is in it!), and I always love a good action film, but I never expected it to be as good as it was.

Set in the near future, the world still loves a good fight.  Though now they have turned to robot boxing; they can take harder, more devastating hits than a human ever could.  Charlie Kenton was one of the last boxers and now fights robots, except he’s not very good at keeping the odds in his favor.  When Charlie discovers his estranged son’s mother has died, he goes to sign away his kid to a wealthy aunt and uncle.  Charlie didn’t want the kid 11 years before, he doesn”t want him now.  But there’s a catch – he has to take Max for the summer.  It doesn’t take very long for Max to wiggle his way into his dad’s heart, all by taking a salvaged robot and getting him to fight the big leagues.

On the surface, this is a movie about fighting robots.  It’s also a movie about the underdog who can still win the hearts of the people.  But for me, the movie was about Charlie growing up and learning to let himself love.  Hugh Jackman has always been one of my favorite actors, and despite some flops (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, “Australia”), he has a track record of making some really good films.  He’s terrific here as the reluctant dad.  He’s never cruel to Max, but he just didn’t want to care.  He wanted to score, get the next great bot to make the big money and the glory.  But when Max insists on going with his father, and then practically forces him to take up Atom and make him box, well, who couldn’t love that kid?

For comic film geeks out there, Dakota Goyo is probably best known as the younger Thor.  He was cute in his two minutes of film time, but he really owns this movie.  First, the kid can dance.  Second, he’s probably the smartest, most determined child you would ever meet.  Maybe he’s not so much of a child since he’s supposed to be eleven, but whatever you want to call Max, he certainly makes an impression.  I particularly love seeing this young kid get hyped up on caffeine (Dr. Pepper was his drug of choice), and excited to have these experiences with his dad.  He constantly tries to prove his worth to Charlie.  Like any kid, all he wants is for his father to fight for him.

I’m not saying “Real Steel” will be vying for any awards this season, but it was a solid movie with a lot to see.  And while there are a lot of unnecessary sequels out there, this movie leaves you wanting more.  I thought I heard something about a “Real Steel 2”, so I’m going to keep my hopes up.  Charlie and Max just barely gave us the start of their story, and I for one want to see more.

In a lot of ways, “Real Steel” reminds me of the Marvel movies.  Solid acting, solid action, heart all mixed with that little bit of cheese.  It played like a real boxing movie, just with robots instead of people.  If you’re in for a good IMAX film or one both genders can agree on, go see it.  Seriously.  You can hurl angry comments at me if you don’t agree, but I doubt you’ll walk away with anything other than satisfaction.

Rating: 8/10

Lion King 3D

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Lion KingI am not entirely sure if this is out anywhere other than the States at the moment, but I was so grateful to get a free evening to go watch it.  I have always loved “The Lion King”, especially since I saw it originally in theaters when I was little (I would have been seven-ish).  A lot of my friends raved about the movie now, and it has certainly made quite a bit of money in the US.  It was actually the #1 movie for two weeks in a row, beating out a Brad Pitt vehicle (“Moneyball”) for its second week in theaters.

The movie holds up, and even though I’m 17 years older, “Lion King” still makes me cry when Mufasa dies, and makes us cheer when Simba returns home to fight.  This is the mark of a good film.  If you can rerelease almost twenty years later and claim the top spot two weeks in a row, you know you’ve done something right.

Here is where a lot of people were a bit scared:  3D.  When “Avatar” came out, 3D was a marvel and transported us to a new world.  Even though the movie’s story didn’t hold up to multiple viewings, you could still appreciate the beauty of Pandora through your 3D glasses.  Then came the round of crappy post-production 3D conversions:  “Clash of the Titans”, “Green Hornet”, “Green Lantern”, “Step Up 3”, and others.  3D was seen as a way to drive up ticket prices, thus the studios earned more money.  Of course, the 3D overload alienated a lot of people.  Very few movies use it correctly (“Transformers 3” and “Tron Legacy” being a rare couple that did), and most have no payoff.

Disney has been known to make crappy sequels and I was worried that the 3D conversion process would sort of ruin “Lion King”.  It actually enhanced it.  Keep in mind that good 3D doesn’t mean that things should be popping out of you all of the time.  Sure, a little bit should for fun, but the main purpose of the extra dimension is to add depth.  It was pretty amazing to watch this previously flat animated movie come fully to life with the 3D conversion.  Suddenly, the African plains were more detailed and more real.  It was amazing.

Was the “Lion King 3D” worth the conversion?  Definitely.  Should Disney do this with all of their movies?  No.  I would love to see some of the late ’80s & ’90s Disney movies rereleased and there are a few that would work with a conversion.  “Aladdin”, “Beauty & the Beast”, & “Little Mermaid” would get a little something extra out of it.  I loved “Lion King” all over again and it provided something fun and new to see to a classic.  The only problem is that studios might make this a trend.

But “Lion King” itself was beautiful, funny, and charming all over again.  There is definitely a reason that it was the top movie 17 years after its initial release.

Rating: 10/10

The Help (Film Version)

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I am a bit nervous, because this is the first time I will review a film for the blog.  Hopefully I don’t bomb it.

Main Cast:

Emma Stone – Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan
Viola Davis – Aibileen Clark
Octavia Spencer – Minny Jackson
Bryce Dallas Howard – Hilly Holbrook
Allison Janney – Charlotte Phelan
Jessica Chastain – Celia Foote
Sissy Spacek – Missus Walters

The Help focuses on three women from very different backgrounds.  The movie opens with one woman sharing her story with another, and then we go back to watch the events unfold.  Skeeter (real name Eugenia, so no wonder she goes by Skeeter) is a recent graduate of Ole Miss and wants to be a writer.  She also happens to be white and from Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s.  If you are unfamiliar with just how awful things were at that time, it would be hard for you to have some perspective on just how risky her endeavors were.  We then get to know Aibilene, an African American maid who happens to work for one of Skeeter’s friends.  Their friendship starts off with Skeeter asking for cleaning advice, since her first job is to write the housekeeping column for the local paper.  But when Skeeter begins to see how horribly her supposed friends treat their maids, she gets another idea.  To write about the women’s day to day lives, the terrible things their employers put them all through.  Other maids are reluctant to share or even talk to Skeeter, but soon Minny comes around.  And when a local woman is arrested, ten more women step up to share their own stories.  The resultant book creates waves in Jackson, but because it is published anonymously, the white can only speculate.

My mom and I went to this, and she had read the book beforehand.  I have not, mainly because I wanted a fresh approach when I went to the film (and partly because I’ve been reading everything else lately).  She loved the adaptation and was so grateful that they were able to translate it so well to the screen.  I loved the movie simply because it was so inspiring.

I grew up in the States, so I was taught American history, which in the 1990s, was pretty candid about the horrors African Americans faced in Jackson.  In a lot of ways, I came to The Help thinking a lot of Matched or The Hunger Games.  They were societies who needed change, but one person had to spark that fire, had to stand up and admit that something was wrong.  You get to witness these three women come to the realization of just how awful the situation is, and you get to see them grow strong and stand up for what they deserve.  Like those YA novels, they begin their journeys accepting what their life is, but by the end, they have learned that their dreams do not lie beyond their grasp as they once thought.

The marketing might have touted Emma Stone (Skeeter) as their star, but this movie belongs to Viola Davis (Aibilene) and Octavia Spencer (Minny).  Skeeter’s growth is wonderful, but she already had so much sensitivity towards the subject that she doesn’t really change.  She just begins to stand up for it more, to have less fear for the friendships that she has with these women.  It is Aibilene and Minny that we enjoy watching.  Aibilene because she finds the courage to light the fire with the match offered to her by Skeeter.  And Minny for joining, for knowing how dangerous it is, and for fighting back.

The acting was superb.  Emma Stone plays snarky in most of her movies, but she was scaled back here.  Sure, Skeeter gets her moments, but Stone showed a new level that we have not gotten to see yet.  Viola Davis was so understated that you forgot you were watching someone act.  She embodied her character and made Aibilene her own.  It was her character’s story that narrated the movie, and Davis did it justice.  In a world where some actors think, “the bigger, the better,” it was wonderful seeing someone so personal.  Octavia Spencer, however, really steals the show.  Minny provides some comic relief, but she is so opinionated that you gravitate towards her.  And when you watch Minny bond with her new boss Cecilia, you begin to really see a woman instead of a maid.  It is all of these relationships that make up the movie, that drive the story, and that move you to tears (several times).

I will say that Allison Janney (who plays Skeeter’s ill mother) was fantastic, as usual.  I have not seen a production that she’s been in that she wasn’t superb, though.  You can tell that Charlotte wants to have these friendships with her maids the same as Skeeter, but cannot break free of what society expects.  And Bryce Dallas Howard is the perfect villain.  You leave that movie hating Hilly, just as the writer intends, and yet there is something so sad in her character as well.  Perhaps it is her ignorance, her belief that she is not racist or cruel, but that you can see it so clearly.  Like a cherry on top, we are given Sissy Spacek as Hilly’s mother.  Though she is supposedly suffering from some sort of dementia, she can see how horrible her daughter has become.  In the beginning of the movie, she constantly berates her daughter for her treatment of Minny, as Minny was really Missus Walters’ employee.  Her arc is sad, but mostly serves as a reminder that not all of these women are terrible to the hired help.

All in all, a fantastic movie.  There is a good reason it has been the #1 selling movie for 3 (?) weeks, and will continue to dominate.  It is moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking.  I want to pick up the book just so I don’t have to say goodbye quite yet.

Rating: 10/10  I seriously cannot find anything wrong with it. (Maybe the fact that Skeeter’s curly hair was frowned upon.  I have curly hair, so that’s insulting.  Yea, one thing. 😀 )