Brave

This movie rocks. Everything about it. The story, the colorful characters, the laughs, the scares, the gorgeous scenery rendered in flawless CGI, and the haunting Celtic soundtrack that wafts through the theater as you sit transfixed. Pixar has done it again, serving up a feast for the eyes and ears, without sacrificing a good story, thought provoking messages, and something for every age, gender and background to relate to.

At the start, we meet Merida (Kelly McDonald), princess of a Scottish kingdom, and Daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Elinor works overtime, trying to teach Merida to be a princess, which generally involves being lady-like. Merida loves to ride horses, shoot arrows and climb mountains, much to her mother’s chagrin, and father’s chuckling pleasure. The best scene in the movie is an early one in which Merida, and her horse, Angus, gallop through a shimmering emerald forest, Merida firing arrows into passing targets while Gaelic siren Julie Fowlis weaves a haunting yarn over fiddles and Celtic flutes. I’d probably buy the DVD just for that scene.

For awhile, it looks like Brave might turn out to be a microwaved version of Aladdin. Merida is horrified when she learns that her mother has invited three other kingdoms to submit contestants for her hand in marriage, and three princes are coming to compete for her in the Highland Games. A series of arguments follows, in which Merida doesn’t want to get married, least of all to someone she’s never met, and her mother tries to remind her of her duty to the kingdom and the importance of stable government. The big day arrives, and the three princes fire arrows at targets to determine who will win her hand. Suddenly, in what initially appears to be the ultimate cliche, a cloaked figure approaches the archery range. Merida throws off the cloak (big surprise, right?) and declares, “I’ll be shooting for my own hand!” As her mother protests, she fires arrows dead center into each target, winning the competition.

Of course, for your average modern fairy tale, this would probably be the climactic scene. Our strong, free spirited heroine throws off the shackles of patriarchal oppression, beats the men at their own game (using weapons, of course), and establishes herself as an independent woman, or at least chooses her own man. It would have been easy, and politically safe, to throw something like that together, but of course, easy doesn’t cut it for Pixar. We still have a lot of movie to go and, while Merida doesn’t exactly end up as a tamed shrew, she soon realizes she has a lot to learn about life in medieval Scotland, not the least of which is putting family and country above her own desires.

Pixar’s talent for story telling especially comes through in the fact that this story relies for its context on a back-story from eons past. This back-story is mentioned only in two very short, and rather washed-out flashbacks, but it still makes perfect sense (within the context of the movie, that is). Using the art of brief, visual story telling Pixar wove the two stories seamlessly together.

That’s probably as much as I should say. Pixar wisely left some major plot points out of the trailers, and it’s better for you to be surprised. It’s no fun reviewing great movies; I can’t say much or I’ll ruin it. I should note that the main reason I’m not giving Brave five stars is that I’ve only watched it once. But I intend to remedy that when it’s out on DVD.

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Men in Black 3

Will Smith, arguably the most bankable Hollywood star in the business, returns from a near 4-year absence with Men in Black 3.  For the life of me I can’t figure out why.  This franchise began 15 years ago to huge success, but the last time we saw the duo of Agents J and K was back in Summer 2002… ten years ago.  And it was a very disappointing outing at that.  With Smith needing an established franchise to return to, the filmmakers attempt to breathe fresh air into a musty framework.  In many respects Men in Black 3 actually delivers some old school action-comedy hijinks, but generally speaking the film fails to match the energy and wit of the first installment.

Smith again plays Agent J ridding the Earth of violent extra terrestrials alongside his aging partner K (Tommy Lee Jones).  K is even more dry, stoic, and blunt than usual.  Something seems to be eating away at him and he harnesses his internal fear from J, until one morning K disappears from existence.  J can’t find him at MIB headquarters and no one seems to have any recollection that he’s been alive during the last 40 years.

Perplexed by K’s literal erasing, J discovers the malevolent plot of a one-armed alien bug named Boris (Jemaine Clement) that was captured and locked up on a lunar prison by K.  Somehow, Boris managed to escape prison, make his way to Earth, and then travel back in time to 1969 and murder K before Boris could be incarcerated.  Not only that, but this altering of time also prevents K from ever having launched an alien shielding force field around the globe that prevents otherworldly invasions.

As the bug clans enter Earth’s atmosphere for a full-scale assault to annihilate the planet, J must travel back in time to 1969 to stop Boris from altering the future and preventing K’s murder.  J teams up with the 27-year-old Agent K played by Josh Brolin, sporting a spot-on impersonation of Jones, and livening up an otherwise forgettable sequel.

Although the plot wreaks of ‘Back to the Future Part II‘ syndrome, Men in Black 3 has matured in comparison to Men in Black II.  Smith mounts the film on his shoulders and treks through some messy writing to find occasional inspired moments of humor—which for the most part surprised me.  After reading of the numerous production issues on this project, I expected nothing from this third outing.  However, I have to say this return to old school cheesy action and plotting was a bit refreshing.  Will Smith returns to a genre that suits him well and it is a great deal of fun to have him back steering a blockbuster film.

It is Brolin, however, that steals the show and makes the mediocrity of the film worth enduring.  Where Jones seems to be phoning in his 15 minutes of screen time, just as he phoned in the last installment, Brolin actually gives 110 percent and provides the audience a window into Agent K’s heart that has been sealed shut since Jones reprised his role ten years ago.  Men in Black 3 also has a ball poking fun at the 1960s and Will Smith’s character in that time period.  Does it go for broke?  No.  But Men in Black 3 is a marginally enjoyable diversion for brisk silly escapist entertainment.  You won’t love it, you won’t hate it.  And you’ll probably forget it before you can even find your neuralizer.

 

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Rating: 4.0/5 (2 votes cast)
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