Dir: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, 2012
The teenage Princess Merida enjoys her independence, adventuring around the Scottish highlands with her bow and arrow. When presented upon the idea of arranged marriage by her over-bearing mother, Merida flees to the forest in search of an escape from the life her parents want for her.
Pixar has garnered itself a reputation of being the most family friendly film studio since it rocked the world with Toy Story in 1995. Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and Up are but a few of the modern-day classics that now have adults yearning to see their next effort almost as much as kids. So needless to say when they release a new feature film, there’s a little bit of hype and Brave is no exception.
Following up on the disappointment that was last year’s Cars 2, Pixar released their first original feature since 2009. Obviously trying for the past two decades to shy away from their parent company Disney’s territory, director Mark Andrews finally brings Pixar into the land of princesses, magic and cauldron voicemail. The themes of responsibility, family and well, um, bravery are textbook fairy tale fodder. Even Disney’s 2010 effort Tangled, while revamping older plots, managed to make more of an innovative impression. While there are interesting characters, feminist values and humour throughout, Brave never truly feels as exciting as it should be (witches, monsters and battling Scotsmen included). Mind, there is the core mother-daughter relationship that tugs on the heartstrings if one can relate but the mature content featured in so many of Pixar’s previous outings is sorely missed.
In the plus column, Brave is visually stunning and has a wonderful soundtrack comprised of Gaelic folk songs, making it an overall delight to watch (an early montage of Merida gallivanting through the countryside serving as the stand-out moment of the film). Also, Princess Merida will certainly classify as one of the great heroines (Katniss for the PG audience, anyone?).
When all is said and done and happily ever is after, Brave’s storyline and development is far too familiar for those who have been around long enough to see Walt Disney’s trademark gems but when considered for the youth of today, it staples itself as another Pixar success.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Watch the trailer here
Dir: Rian Johnson, 2012
By 2074, time travel has been invented and outlawed. With the disposal of corpses near-impossible due to DNA tracking, the mafia secretly sends people they went killed back to 2042, where assassins known as ‘loopers’ finish the job. Joe, one of the most prolific loopers in employ, accidentally lets his target escape after realising his target is his future self. On the run, Joe must find his older self and terminate him and evade his sadistic employers until he does so.
Looper is the latest in a series of films with interesting theories that unfortunately are too convoluted for their own good. The laws of physics are strict when it comes to the impossibility of time travel and Johnson enforces them only when it benefits his film. A sequence involving an on the-run loop suffering deformities inflicted on his past self is creative and chilling in its practicality and yet the simple rule of the butterfly effect isn’t taken into account.
Johnson tries to avoid explaining his intricacy as much as he can, even giving Willis the line of “I don’t want to talk about time travel because we’ll be here all day”, which is an all too convenient cop-out for the lone writer/director. This would be an acceptable diversion if Johnson chose to spend his time fleshing out the characters rather than including arbitrary subplots of telekinesis, narcotics and a farmhouse retreat that dwells far too long.
However amateur the content its presentation is lush with Johnson’s vision of the future pleasantly simple. There are no ambitious Back to the Future-style gadgets nor Minority Report-class weapons. 2044 Kansas may look a little brighter but its core is stricken with socio-economic collapse and gangland crime. Even the blunderbusses the loopers use on their victims are firearms that have been considered obsolete since the 17th century.
In terms of casting, Johnson reunites with his (and Hollywood’s current) golden boy JGL but his forged appearance in the film bundles any chance of a reasonable lead performance. Interestingly enough, for an actor whose placement demanded Gordon-Levitt to be swathed in prosthetics, Bruce Willis is remarkably underutilised, instead portraying a voiceless background assassin – a Terminator without the dread or urgency. Emily Blunt rounds out the leading trio in a particularly superfluous role for an actress of her calibre. All in all, Johnson’s morally ambiguous characters demand no emotional reaction from the viewers but worst of all, don’t demand interest.
Rian Johnson’s endeavour in Hollywood box office has become a financial success due to the present popularity of his friend Gordon-Levitt and the attention of Willis but feels like it belongs as a twenty-minute episode of The Twilight Zone. Looper may pique your curiosity but it rarely holds your attention on its painfully dull journey to an anticlimax that will have audiences shrugging.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Watch the trailer here
Dir: Sam Mendes, 2012
MI6’s credibility is threatened when a hard-drive containing the identities of every undercover British agent is stolen from under their nose. M is in more need of James Bond than ever before, though 007 is physically and psychologically broken after almost being killed by his own agency in a mission gone wrong.
Sam Mendes admits that Skyfall is directly influenced by The Dark Knight and it’s obvious that he drew from the best parts of Nolan’s reimagined Batman to bring Bond into darker territories than ever before, sleek as it is sinister and as compelling as it is respectful. The night is indeed at its darkest in Bond’s 23rd outing as a cyber-terrorist is destroying MI6 from the inside out, M’s job is being pulled from under her and the world’s best secret agent is out of the game.
Interestingly, Skyfall acts as an unofficial second reboot of the series. The classic charm and gadgetry of the old 007 was abandoned in favour of Casino Royale and Quantum’s solemn, Bournesque realism. Refusing to foxhole himself, the Academy Award winning Mendes combines the two and fuses the family adventure with the dark undertones that modern spy films demand. In this hybrid, treachery and death go hand-in-hand with Aston Martins and pyjama quips.
Many were initially sceptical that putting the man who came to prominence with American Beauty in charge would explore the character of Bond and take the gun from his hand. From the first frame, Mendes shows his diversity by hitting us with possibly the best opening scene in all of Bond’s fifty years. Skyfall is laced with explosivity whether it’s crane-on-train action, underground chase scenes or a manor assault in Scotland, all filmed to perfection through the lens of cinematographer Roger Deakins – who provides the most flourishing images this series has ever produced.
The greatest advantage Skyfall has, however, is its cast. Javier Bardem’s Silva returns the terrorizing villainy that Bond has been missing for decades. The antithesis between Bond and Silva is a replicate of the Batman and Two-Face relationship in which Skyfall introduces us to a character who is simply a 007 who took a different shot. Judi Dench’s seventh portrayal of M is her juiciest yet as her character is finally placed under the telescope. Meanwhile, Ben Whishaw’s new Quartermaster is a delightful comic relief, taking a few friendly notes from Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, from one Brit to another. However, it’s seemingly Craig himself who can’t hold his weight, portraying Bond in less fragile a way than previous, despite the character’s aforementioned worse circumstances.
The film is certainly innovative and doesn’t belong to the claustrophobic reins of the Bond franchise but the tragedy isn’t exuberated in as sympathetic a fashion as Casino or Quantum. Mendes silences both the new age anarchist and easygoing traditionalists by creating a Bond who is truly timeless. It’s true that you can teach an old dog new tricks but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has to forget the old ones.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Watch the trailer here