EIFF 2012: Brave Movie Review 0 34

EIFF 2012 - Brave Movie Review

The latest offering from the pedigree powerhouse of animation that is Pixar is always an event. Even if it doesn’t always turn out top-notch, as was the case with their last outing Cars 2, you still nevertheless know you’re in safe hands to get an enjoyable experience.

The latest from the studio is Brave, set in a mythical version of Scotland, featuring a largely Scottish voice cast and is the first outright fairy tale they have attempted. The result is far from their best effort but nevertheless a very entertaining adventure.

The story follows Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a young Princess who one day is told by her controlling mother (Emma Thompson) and conforming father (Billy Connolly) that she has to marry the winner of a series of games held at the castle. Not wanting to lose her freedom, Merida defies her mother by running away and eventually happening upon a mysterious witch (Julie Walters) who, upon request from the Princess, casts a spell over her mother. But it doesn’t exactly go to plan and Merida must then rely on her own bravery to try and undo the spell.

It must first be said that visually Brave is absolutely stunning, bringing the world to life in a crisp and heavily-detailed fashion that at times looks so real you could be forgiven for thinking it was actually live-action with CGI characters imposed onto it. It offers a rich and epic feast for the eyes and is one of those films where you could take any frame from it and hang it on your wall it’s so beautiful. The level of loving craftsmanship that is so clearly poured into the visuals cannot be understated or misunderstood.

EIFF 2012 - Brave Movie Review2

The voice casting is also spot on. Macdonald is exceptional as the Princess who needs to discover her inner courage, a brilliant creation by Pixar with her flowing curly red hair (the signature colour of the film), the quintessential Princess character but one who can take care of herself and isn’t just there to be the damsel in distress for the knight in shining armour to come along and rescue. She might be the best role model the studio has produced yet.

There’s pitch-perfect casting to be found elsewhere too, with the likes of Connolly as Fergus, the King who wants to keep the peace with the determined Queen and never shuts up about getting revenge on the bear that took his leg, and Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd on fine-form as the leaders of the other clans come to offer their sons to marry the Princess.

The issue which ultimately holds Brave back from being in the top-tier of Pixar’s body of work is that it is disappointingly formulaic in nature. Sticking to a strict fairy tale structure it’s not that difficult to predict how things are going to end up. Despite some twists and turns along the way, the final destination feels all too inevitable and that’s something we’re not used to seeing from the folks who brought us Toy Story, Up and Ratatouille.

Also, the film sometimes relies on cutesy aspects to get by, such as Merida’s three younger triplet brothers who run around the castle and “get away with murder,” as she puts it. Undoubtedly they provide some of the films purest laughs but it almost feels like a cheat in some cases. We’ve been conditioned by Pixar to expect better.

Having said that, Brave is still a supremely fun adventure film, exuding passion and love for its characters, mythical setting and fairy tale foundations. The biggest attention-grabber for Scotland (albeit the postcard version) since Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, this is one of the most fun films to come along this year, hitting you with as many gags as it does sweeping action scenes. It may not be the most unpredictable of films and certainly not Pixar’s best but nevertheless offers much to enjoy.

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Brave is released in UK cinemas on August 17th.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 353

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 380

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10