Monday 30 July 2012

Review: Brave

Och aye; Pixar Brave Medieval Scotland, fairytales and female protagonists for their wee new film...

Set in a fantasy Medieval Scotland, Pixar's 13th feature film Brave revolves around the story of the young Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who's wild red hair perfectly matches her free-spirited personality and aspirations. In a land of tradition Merida's parents King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) attempt to set up an arranged marriage for their daughter. However in her attempt to fight against the expectations of a young princess, an encounter with an old witch (Julie Walters) and an unfortunate spell result in Merida having to rely upon her impressive archery skills and ingenuity to undo the curse and decide her own fate...

There's just something about Pixar Animation Studios isn't there? Something special in everything they do. Even in their weakest films there seems to be a level of quality within not only the animation but within the stories - something so professional, tasteful, universal and timeless - that other animation studios just cannot beat. In a world where competitors like Dreamwork's How to Train Your Dragon are praised for being the studio's 'most Pixar-like' film, you know which studio's ahead of the game. For anyone who agrees with the majority that the studio's last film Cars 2 dropped the ball a bit (although I did enjoy it personally it is their weakest film, especially when following Toy Story 3), Brave will be a step back in the right direction for them as Pixar remind us all why they're still the kings of the industry.

A Wisp leads Merida (Kelly Macdonald) towards her fate in Brave

The film certainly lives up to its name with a number of firsts for Pixar making the film a Brave choice for the studio (I promised myself I'd get that pun out of the way as soon as possible!). Deciding to make a fairytale was no easy task for Pixar, especially considering that they are owned by Disney who are well renowned for their animated fairytale classics. By setting the film in Medieval Scotland instead of a more generic and non-existent fantasy land, Brave respects and differentiates itself from the clich├ęs of the genre, giving it a heightened sense of reality which plays to the film's strengths - making the characters feel more relatable, the world more engaging and the perils of tradition that Merida must face all the more substantial. The real world history of the setting gives the film a lot more weight than any other fairytale film has yet to provide, making the film a lot darker as a result, almost reminiscent of the old Grimm fairytales that formed the genre. This is all featured in the film's opening scene alone, instantly grabbing you from the very beginning, proving exactly how this is the film's greatest asset and what makes it so admirable and engaging.

At the film's heart is the touching and emotionally investing story of a fractured and testing mother and daughter relationship between Merida and Queen Elinor. This particular story is what really drives the entire film, and once again the enhanced realism of the setting's heritage makes it all the more meaningful and believable - crucial in allowing the audience to become attached to the film's characters, and something that Pixar knows how to do best. It's not all about the darkness and reality though as there is also the abundance of humour that you'd come to expect from a Pixar film. Merida's three younger brothers - the triplets - provide a lot of the laughs with their cheeky antics, but the real star of the show is Billy Connolly's King Fergus who's personality is consistently entertaining and scene stealing, especially when paired up with the testosterone driven clans who start fighting for Merida's hand but end up fighting mainly for no reason at all as the film goes on - all in true man style!

Merida auditions for the lead role in The Hunger Games...

Aside from its many strengths, Brave unfortunately isn't one of Pixar's best, with a lot of the studio's other films remaining a lot more memorable than what ends up being one of the studio's least original films. However it is difficult to put this as a weakness as that just comes as part of the genre which the film has to respect and abide by in certain ways regardless of how far it differentiates itself. As a result Brave seems somewhat less ambitious in comparison to the studio's previous output with its simpler story and weaker second act, albeit even if they do come as a result of the genre. Whilst it does differ substantially from most fairytales it struggles to compare to the incredibly diverse and unique worlds of working monsters, talking toys, superhero families, loving robots, cooking rats and lost fish that Pixar boasts in its back catalogue of films. Pixar have raised the bar in animation, and it'll always be difficult for them to raise it further.

Albeit not Pixar's best, Brave is still a thoroughly enjoyable film that is to be commended for just how, well, Brave it is! It's Medieval setting allows the film to boast a much darker and more realistic approach than you'd probably expect from the genre and studio, linking directly into the heart and sole of the film and giving the mother and daughter relationship the emotional depth that it needs to encapsulate audiences. Merida provides a fantastic and refreshing female protagonist for the film, showing a much needed fairytale Princess figure who is proud to be different and is driven in her pursuits, not one seeking perfection and royal luxuries - making her the ideal figure for young girls. Entertaining, admirable and universally timeless, Brave is another Pixar film that reminds people who is boss in the animation industry; of course the wait continues for the surprises that lay in store with their next big cinematic treat...

Verdict: 4/5

Brave is released in cinemas across the UK on August 13th 2012.

Are you Brave enough to join Merida's adventure, or is this a Pixar film you'll miss? If you've seen it what did you think? Leave your comments below!

Sunday 22 July 2012

Trailer Park: Man of Steel

Superman gets the Batman Begins treatment; so 'Superman Starts'!?...

2006 was the year that last saw the world's most iconic superhero grace the big screen, and next year; Superman Returns (brownie points if you got that!). After being sent to Earth as a child, Clark Kent is adopted into a human family in Kansas. Time passes and today Kent, who disguises his identity as a journalist, protects the Earth with his extraordinary powers whenever he dons his iconic costume to become Superman. Soon however Superman will be tested to the limits when a deadly threat strikes...

Whilst I'm not a huge Superman fan and haven't really followed his many other big screen outings much, I do know how big a deal this film could be. Firstly Man of Steel boasts the talents of David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan on writing duties, the double act behind the incredible Dark Knight Trilogy which has just come to an epic conclusion with The Dark Knight Rises which is now showing in cinemas. These two men have just finished reviving the once dead in the water Batman franchise, turning it into what most people would deem the best superhero films of all time - if anyone can make a Superman film work, it's these guys, and as you can tell by the trailer the film is clearly taking the Batman Begins approach to relaunch the franchise. Secondly, after the success of Marvel's Avengers Assemble, rumours have been persistent that rival DC comics are eager to get a Justice League film in motion - so this film could be the beginning of something much bigger! Alongside these factors, just from the trailer and poster alone it does look like this could be a very good film, and it's certainly the first Superman film that has grabbed my attention in a big way; check out the trailer for yourself and let me know what you think too:

Man of Steel is set for release in cinemas across the UK on June 14th 2013.

Are you expecting little from this film, or do you think it will be!? Will it be a blockbuster or lacklustre? Leave your comments below!

Saturday 21 July 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Director Christopher Nolan concludes the trilogy that turned "nah-nah nah-nah nah-nah nah-nah Batman!" into "yes-yes yes-yes yes-yes yes-yes Batman!"

The Dark Knight Rises picks up 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight; Gotham City is plagued with the threat of a new villain; the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy). As Gotham sees its darkest hour, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) goes against his word and dons his bat-suit once again to become Batman - the city's Dark Knight - in order to face his greatest challenge yet.

Coming in at around 2 hours and 45 minutes, The Dark Knight Rises is a very, very long film - and at times it doesn't half feel like it! In the wake of 2008's The Dark Knight and all of Nolan's other cinematic greats there was an almost unbeatable amount of anticipation for this film, and from that perspective there was a slight feeling of disappointment for me at least. By the end of the film the main plot did feel rather simple (and strangely reminiscent of one scene from 1966's Batman: The Movie in many respects - never thought I'd say that!) for a Nolan film - from which you'd usually come to expect a lot more than what is on the surface - and for someone who has seen all of Nolan's other films was expecting a bit more.

But having said all that, less is more (but try telling that to the running time). Instead of focusing on blowing minds Nolan digs deep a bit further into our emotions instead in order to complete a film and a trilogy that are both truly historic moments of cinema. Whilst the film is long, it's as a result of immense attention to detail in story and plot that all builds up to create the bigger picture at the end - yes it could have been shorter, but I commend it for not being so - as a result Nolan creates a compelling, emotional, and breathtaking finale to his incredible Bat-saga. (C'mon, you weren't really expecting me to give this a bad review now were you!?)

Tom Hardy is the Bane of Batman's (Christian Bale) life in The Dark Knight Rises.

Well written and beautifully shot by Christopher Nolan and his excellent team (a special tip of the hat must be made to Director of Photography Wally Pfister), The Dark Knight Rises is an intelligent blockbuster that twists and turns repeatedly, keeping you guessing and double guessing right through to the very end. This is the beauty of a Nolan film - that regardless of however complex or not the story may be, it is always presented in such a way that it is constantly disillusioning you until the very last piece of puzzle comes into place right at the end of the film. Nolan is both a master storyteller and filmmaker who knows how the two work together and how they can be manipulated and developed in order to create the best result that will last with the audience. Whilst I correctly predicted how the film would end even before seeing it, there wasn't one moment where the film didn't force me to doubt myself as to how it would get there, and constantly throughout the film I was still being surprised with each choice that was made. The ending itself without spoiling anything is done perfectly as to allow everyone to feel satisfied with the film's conclusion (hopefully you'll understand what I'm talking about if you've seen it - you can't imagine how difficult it is to write this spoiler-free!).

Christian Bale leads an incredible cast with an excellent returning performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman which pushes the character to the very limits unlike anything seen in either of the other two films. Tom Hardy's Bane presents an incredible villain figure who many people may not recognise (his only film appearance was as a minor grunting bodyguard type role in Batman and Robin - the film that almost killed the Batman franchise before Nolan saved it), but one that no-one will forget. Anne Hathaway naturally has a large role in the film playing Selina Kyle/Catwoman, a screen presence so spectacular that she steals a lot of the scenes. Whilst some people were concerned about Catwoman's presence, rest assured that she is presented purr-fectly (couldn't resist!) in this film with Nolan challenging her good/bad identity unlike any of the other films that feature her. The supporting cast of both old and new faces is also fantastic and helps to make the film - although discussing some particular individuals best be avoided in order to steer clear of spoiler territories.

Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) experiences some time behind bars, probably for stealing all the scenes in The Dark Knight Rises.

Christopher Nolan has successfully achieved exactly what he set out to do with this film; his intentions were to create a finale that completes Bruce Wayne and Batman's story established in the previous two films, closing off many other unfinished storylines at the same time. For anyone who hasn't seen Batman Begins or The Dark Knight (seriously!? Why the hell haven't you!?) you can still watch and enjoy this film - you will however understand and appreciate it slightly more if you have seen these films, as above all else this is a finale. Whilst The Dark Knight remains as the best stand alone Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises is a film that completes Nolan's incredible trilogy, cementing it in history as one of the best film trilogies of all time. It more than deserves to be seen and recognised as a grand finale over a stand alone film.

It may have its flaws and an incredibly long running time, but The Dark Knight Rises creates an epic and satisfying conclusion to Christopher Nolan's incredible trilogy - a trilogy that will inevitably go down in history. The film is an exhilarating journey made on an epic scale; there were moments that made me want to stand up and applaud the film, and even others that genuinely brought a tear to my eye (it's a Batman film!?! Although Batman and Robin could make me cry, that's for all the wrong reasons...). Watching it on Imax is the best possible way to view this film as Nolan actually shot around an hour of footage with Imax cameras and intended for it to be seen that way - I encourage that you do if you are able to. In the grand scale of film trilogies this is up there as one of the best and will be remembered so for it ; and whilst it may be early days to be saying this, I'm feeling quietly confident that next year will see a very happy Christopher Nolan gracing a Hollywood stage in order to accept the Oscar for Best Picture when the unexpected occurs: a Batman film wins the Oscar...

Verdict: 5/5

The Dark Knight Rises is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen it? Agree or Disagree? Leave your comments below!

Monday 16 July 2012

Review: Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

Rhyming my sentences, I'll try to avoid, or before too long, you'll all get annoyed.
The temptation is there, but I'll give it a miss, I want my review to get cheers, not a boo or a hiss.
Although it'd be quite cool, to write this in rhyme, to be quite frank, I just don't have the time.
But that's beside the main point, I have something to do, so here it is folks, here's my Lorax review!

There, now that I've got that out of my system let's get on to actually reviewing Universal's upcoming animated film adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax! The town of Thneedville is like no-other: it's a town where everything is plastic, even the plants and the trees - and in a town with no natural trees, even the air is manufactured and sold! But when a young boy named Ted (Zac Efron) sets out to find a tree in order to impress Audrey (Taylor Swift), the girl of his dreams, the tale of what actually happened to the trees - the tale of The Lorax (Danny DeVito), protector of the forest and voice for the trees - is told to him by the mysterious Once-ler (Ed Helms); inspiring Ted to take action in order to make a change for the better...

One thing that struck me as particularly interesting about Dr. Seuss' The Lorax is the way that the classic literary tale has been adapted for the big screen, in particular the narrative structure that they've opted to present it in. Essentially the film is made up of two stories - the current predicament of Ted and the O'hare corporation who are selling air to the inhabitants of Thneedville, and the old tale of The Once-ler and The Lorax and what happened to all of the trees in the first place - both of which are presented simultaneously through the film, connected together with The Once-ler telling his story to Ted. Whilst this is not a particularly new way of presenting a film, and a non-linear narrative structure being something that other filmmaker have experimented with much more in other films, as a family film it is interesting to see something more than a standard linear narrative being used; something that works to this film's strength.

The Once-ler (Ed Helms), The Lorax (Danny DeVito) and their cuddly woodland friends take in the vibrant and colourful world of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

With its two stories - Ted's being mostly unique to the film whilst The Lorax/The Once-ler's originating from and remaining faithful to Seuss' original book - we are presented with a pleasant enough story, with a touching and thought provoking environmental message which is shown heavily throughout - giving The Lorax the biggest 'save the planet' massage in cinema since Avatar and Wall-E! The message is more than clear enough, but serves its purpose well by informing the very young rather than being too in your face as to put you off. The Lorax also boasts a very good soundtrack with its unique original songs that reinforce its messages whilst helping the film to move along, and being damn catchy at the same time too; the higlight song being The Once-ler's 'How bad can I be?' which is sung by Ed Helms (from Jeff, Who Lives at Home), making it especially hard to resist for anyone who's seen The Hangover ("Dug, Dug, Duggy-Dug-Dug..."). Evoking a sense of irresistible Seussical-ness, the memorable and humorous songs are a great asset to the film.

However, whilst the songs bring a Seuss like vibe to the proceedings, in many respects the film simply doesn't feel as Seussical as you'd want it to be. The iconic quirky style of the Seuss worlds, characters and creatures in many respects aren't really all that prominent in this film bar a few exceptions, instead we get a slightly more real-world set of characters and creatures in order to reinforce the metaphor for the prallels within our own world that form the film's environmental message. Alongside this, with its cutesy woodland characters such as the cuddly bears et al. The Lorax appeals to very young children more than it does to the entire family as you'd expect from an animated film heavily marketed as coming from the makers of the hugely popular Despicable Me. There are some gags there for the whole family, but the majority feels as though it's being aimed at the younger members of the audience as it tries to educate them with its environmental warning. This is a shame as it's limited market truly let's the film down. Placed next to any film made by Pixar Animation Studios, and suddenly The Lorax feels somewhat unremarkable in comparison.

A pleasant enough film with an enjoyable enough story, catchy enough songs and a environmental message that is actually quite heartwarming, Dr. Seuss' The Lorax limits itself by being a film that ends up being more appealing to the very young rather than something for the whole family. Not quite as Seussical as you'd want it to be either, the film is good enough to watch and enjoy, but not good enough to last in your memories or to become anything particularly timeless. It'll always be a difficult challenge for an animation studio to beat the films of Pixar, and with Brave being released in just a few weeks, the overwhelming legacy of this studio unfortunately hinders The Lorax (Wall-E 1-0 Lorax); but with an adaptation of The Cat in the Hat coming soon from the same studio, it's better luck next time Seuss!

All this Seussical whimsicalness, I'll leave to the pro, because right now, it's about time I go.
So long all my friends, hope you enjoyed my review, I have seen The Lorax, the question is: will you?

Verdict: 2/5

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax is released in cinemas across the UK on July 27th 2012 (Advanced Previews on the 21st and 22nd July).

Will you be visiting The Lorax? If you've seen it what did you think? Leave your comments below!