Saturday, September 29, 2012

Brave (2012): Not Up to Former Pixar's Classics

After their heavy domination in the realm of animation, Pixar finally lost the lead last year. The 2012 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature went to Rango and if Pixar rely on Brave to win another Oscar or at least to restore their image, I don't think they will succeed. Brave is neither very good nor brave. It's a decent movie but it leaves more a taste of mediocrity when you know it's made by Pixar.

Brave is about young Princess Merida whose least desirable wish is to be a princess. She's good in archery and horse riding. She does not like to wear tight good-looking dresses. And she does not want to marry somebody her mother or a competition chooses. Merida's rebelliousness is about to start a war in her father's kingdom. So when she incidentally meets a witch she does not hesitate to ask for sorcery in order to change her life and her mother. But the magic does not work the way Merida expects so now she has to act fast and break the spell or its unpleasant effect will remain permanent.

The story is nothing original. A child opposes her parents' will and some complications appear, eventually helping them to resolve the issues. The theme is recycled many times and the main feature of Brave is it's animated. But the story itself is not told in a very interesting way. The plot is kept alive by some illogical actions (who needs to bring a bear in a castle while simultaneously trying to hide it just to take a tapestry from a wall). There are references to ancient events that are pretty much redundant. And Merida has a father who is probably supposed to be a funny character but he's actually acting just plain stupid and is completely uninterested in his family doings. Well, it's not that his daughter is acting smarter most of the time but Ok, she's still a child and it is an animated movie after all.

The visuals are well crafted yet this is naturally expected when Pixar are involved. Some of the landscapes in Brave look almost like real ones. Of course, water scenes are not among these and people are not even supposed to look authentic. The mandatory songs for an animated feature are not omitted. And they as well as everything else sound Scottish, which could be good or bad, or even distracting depending on your preference.

Unfortunately, Pixar are not "brave" this time and they do not take any risks with Brave. This furthers the movie's mediocrity. Brave has a standard story and everything happens the way you would expect from a Disney film. Indeed, it shouldn't be an obstacle for everybody and especially kids will probably find the movie and its characters entertaining. As for recapturing older audience, I think Pixar have to work harder. It seems they are running out of fresh ideas but if they want to be hugely successful again producing just gorgeous animations won't be enough. We need more than a simplistic story and a witty dialogue to begin praising their movies anew.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

North by Northwest (1959): An Accessible Hitchcock's Classic

North by Northwest
North by Northwest is probably one of Alfred Hitchcock's most accessible films. It is full of color. It has Cary Grant. It covers a lot of open and closed spaces. There is more adventure and action than in Hitchcock's other movies. There is mystery and romance. It's hard to enumerate all of the twists that happen throughout the film. There is a legendary scene with a crop duster and decent action around Mount Rushmore. There are a lot of funny moments too. What more a casual moviegoer could want from a movie?

In North by Northwest Cary Grant is in the role of Roger O. Thornhill, a New York advertising expert, who is unluckily mistaken for a government agent by foreign spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). Thornhill's life is in serious danger and he has to find a way to survive as he is kidnapped, forced to drink a full bottle of liquor, accused of murder and this is just the beginning of his troubles. He meets a beautiful woman, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who seems to be trying to help him but soon it appears she is not so innocent as she looks. As a result, Thornhill is once again pursued, shot at and dusted with poisonous pesticide in a cornfield. And he still doesn't have a clue what is really going on...

Unlike many other Hitchcock's films (Rope, Rear Window, etc.) in which the entire action takes place in closed spaces or even in just one room, North by Northwest covers a variety of interesting locations. Mt. Rushmore is a good example to mention. The famous crop duster scene is another highlight. Hitchcock manages to use a wide-open space during broad daylight to create an unexpected but real threat for the protagonist. The scene is masterfully shot and it has become one of Hitchcock's classic moments since the film's release in 1959. Some people still wonder why the antagonist would choose such a complicated plan to eliminate somebody. I do not have problems with such a choice and I can consider it an artistic device. But if you think about the scene deeper there is not a single good reason why Roger Thornhill is sent to that cornfield in the first place. Anyway, this is one of the things that could be reasonably excused with "it's just a movie".

The film is full of adventurous situations and Cary Grant is a very good choice for the role of the light-hearted Thornhill. There are also plenty of jokes like when Thornhill rushes into a lady's bedroom and her initial fright and indignation are turned into a sudden hope to hold Cary Grant in her room longer.

The twists in North by Northwest starts from the very beginning and it's hard to complain there are not enough of them. Almost constantly the situation changes, independently of whether you expect it or not.

The movie is closer to the mainstream (in terms of romantic relationship, color, etc.) compared to other Alfred Hitchcock's films but this does not make it weaker by any means. What it helps for though is that the movie is appreciable by a broader audience and more people can enjoy Hitchcock's craftsmanship.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Dictator (2012): Finally a Funny Film Starring Sacha Baron Cohen

The Dictator
Back in 2006, when I saw the trailer of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan I thought it would be a great comedy. Unfortunately, despite all the critical acclaim that movie got, Borat was nothing more than a mediocre film and almost everything funny it had to offer was already present in the trailer. The movie itself was full of bad taste humor which probably only people who have not any actual idea about the world could find entertaining. For the record I didn't like also Sacha Baron Cohen's 2002 film Ali G Indahouse.

So, the above were the reasons why I delayed watching the latest film featuring Sacha Baron Cohen, The Dictator. The trailer was not so promising as the one for Borat and the reviews were not nearly as favorable as the ones concerning the 2006's movie. Having in mind my dissatisfaction with Borat I disregarded The Dictator initially. When I finally saw it a few weeks after its release, I was pleasantly surprised. The film was not a masterpiece or even remotely close to greatness but it was quite better than Borat and capable of raising more laughter than Borat without being so nasty.

The Dictator is about oppressive and queer North African leader Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen). Protecting his beloved country Wadiya from democracy is among the despot's highest priorities. Aladeen is in a process of developing nuclear weapons so he has to visit New York in order to address International concerns about his country's nuclear program. But everything goes wrong after it becomes clear he is not the only one wanting to rule Wadiya (watch out for Ben Kingsley).

The Dictator shares a lot of similarities with its predecessor Borat, yet not being the first doesn't make it the worse movie. Sacha Baron Cohen's character is coming from a completely different culture again but this time I would guess he has offended less people than in the case with Kazakhstan. In both of the films his character visits America unprepared for the western world and has to deal with numerous complications. But in The Dictator the visit is actually funny while in Borat it's mostly nasty and annoying although this doesn't mean The Dictator is void of a good portion of vulgarity.

The story is nothing impressive and it is just a device for the endless string of comical situations. The plot is nearly ridiculous and you will hardly find anything serious in the narrative (even though there is an attempt at a more serious speech towards the end of the film). A few pieces of political satire are thrown in the mix but political correctness is something you won't find in this movie. Nevertheless, the main intention of a comedy is fulfilled cause the fun never stops throughout the whole film. If you are not afraid of R rated humor it is really easy to enjoy The Dictator.