Category Archives: Family

Review: Brave

Brave is another animated movie from Pixar. It’s a studio that has built its reputation making computer animated movies that have better characters, more heart, and more soul that most live action films, and Brave is no exception. With some of the most stunning visuals and life like animations to date, this family adventure has such a wonderous appeal I doubt anyone would fail to find something to enjoy.

Set in medieval Scotland, Brave follows the story of Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald) who is wrestling with the responsibilities of her station and her wild and free willed spirit. Bored by her Royal duties and her well managed life she yearns to take flight on a horse, bow in hand, exploring the wild Scottish countryside free of any care in the world. When her parents (Billy Connolly, Emma Tomphson) attempt to marry her off, she makes a wreckless choice that plunges her world into turmoil forcing her to take responsibility for her actions and seek a way to set things right.

The story is not dissimilar to Finding Nemo but instead focussed on the Mother/Daughter relationship, and focussed on the younger of the two making the attempt to repair the broken relationship. It’s refreshing to see stories that address the empowerment of women without perpetuating the myth that one can have it all. The film remains very grounded and reminds the audience that in the age of the individual someone has to accept responibility for the well being of society.

I do have a few elements I take issue with, for starters the film lacks the patience of previous Pixar stories and seems to jump around at a hectic pace more akin to the Shrek movies. Rest assured the comedy is well constructed however, it never reverts to cheap one-liners. There is also a fundamental contradiction in the story. Merida is a free spirit yet she spends most of the film following a pre-destined path set out by a mythical being. It felt odd that she allows something external to her to decide her fate and I was waiting for the moment she decided not to follow the path. She never does, I guess perhaps the film was trying to say that real courage is following your path, not running away from it, but to me that didn’t quite work.

What did work however is the quality of the animation. It’s is utterly stunning, I am always amazed how with each Pixar movie they manage to vastly improve on the visuals and aimation. Scotland is a wonderful country when filmed in real life, and this film certainly does it justice. For this reason alone it’s worth seeing it on the big screen.

Usually the name Pixar is all you need to hear when deciding wether to see this film, but they have stumbled with their last few movies. Rest assured however that Brave is a return to form, it’s not quite the delight of their earlier films but it makes their competition look like amateur hour.

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Review: Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots is effectively a Shrek spin-off. Puss was a wonderful supporting character in the second Shrek film, but is he strong enough to carry a whole movie? The cynic in me says this is just another way to cash in on the success of the Shrek franchise, and this will be by the numbers. Puss has potential, especially with names like Antonio Banderas, and Salma Hayek. Unfortunately that’s exactly what it is, a by the numbers, run of the mill, decidedly pointless piece of brain dead entertainment … Well some might argue it’s not all that entertaining.

Set many years before the events of Shrek, Puss is an Outlaw set on paying an old debt and clearing his name. He seeks to do so by finding the legendary magical beans, ascending the bean stalk they will grow, and stealing the golden eggs from the Giant who lives there. When he discovers that Jack and Jill have possession of the beans he seeks to steal them but is thwarted by Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). The plot is relatively straight forward but it’s told in a rather disjointed manner that doesn’t allow the characters to develop well alienating the audience.

Puss should dominate the movie, his charisma is fantastic, but his development is weak and he feels like a human version of an actor reading his lines off a script. That is a slight injustice to the artistry at working bringing him to life and to the voice work of Antonio Banderas, but the film doesn’t ever convince me that Puss is a character worth caring about, let alone interesting enough to watch.

This is perhaps the films biggest flaw, it’s just another run of the mill story and it’s parts don’t quite sum up to make it whole. Zack Galifianakis voices Humpty Dumpty, but he is as clichéd as they come and he never quite works as a character. Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris voice Jack and Jill, but they also lack anything to define them or justify their presence in the tale. There’s a number of giggle moments here, but never a laugh out loud moment, and certainly nothing that takes you to a place you weren’t expecting to.

Shrek amazed us with clever wit, excellent characters and voice work, and a modern take on the typical knight in shining armor fairy tale. Puss in Boots on the other hand might match Shreks technical wizardry, but lacks all the rest, which is to say it lacks the qualities of even a decent movie. It’s a sign that Dreamworks are yet to really understand what makes the magic produced by Pixar really work and resonate with audiences.I really wouldn’t even recommend this to families or children, it was a strong indicator that even the children in my screening were not having much fun at all that the film really doesn’t work.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I was amongst the disappointed crowd after the first Harry Potter film, billed as the greatest film of all time it feel desperately short of the mark. Not a complete failure on all levels, and I did enjoy the first film, it was at best a well-made children’s film. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets succeeds where the first did not, a children’s movie that works as adult fantasy.

It is very obvious from the very start of Harry Potter that Warner Bros. and director Chris Columbus have both learnt some very valuable lessons from the first film. It is darker, scarier, it contains some real magic and it entertains both adults and children alike, it was not over hyped, it was not overdone and it did justice to the books. I must admit I was a little scared when the film opened and Dobby the house Elf made his appearance, ‘mini-Jar Jar Binks’ came to mind until the character redeemed himself with the first comic relief of the film. That was basically the entire mood of the film, some scenes made you cringe at first with the stilted book like dialogue but they all tended to redeem themselves very quickly.

Like the books Columbus still takes the time to re-introduce the characters and places ever so briefly, obviously to remind our young attention less audience who is who and what is what. Some questions still remain unanswered, like why is Harry still with his awful muggle aunt and uncle, but in the end these questions are not very important to the plot, so why let little facts like this get in the way of a good story. Still we jump straight into the story of the Chamber of Secrets and the dreadful past of Hogwarts.

At some points, my friends and I looked at each other in wonder, ‘is this a kids movie’ we asked ourselves as certain events unfolded on screen. Certainly some of the content is of an adult nature (nothing to with sex thank the lord) but some of the scares and some of the more harsh treatment of a few certain characters would make you think this was not intended for kids. Fortunately the children still enjoy it and these adult themes seem to only make the film tangible for adult viewers. So parents can relish in the fact that they won’t be bored for the whole two hours of forty minutes.

The child actors too take a step up from the first film, all putting forth a far more mature performance than before. Daniel Radcliffe now seems quote content as Harry Potter and he loses that totally annoying cardboard cut-out style approach of the first film. Rupert Grint shows us he is in puberty with a new tone of voice in every scene os good friend Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson (II) starts to look like a young attractive star in the making as Hermione Granger. Special mention must go to Kenneth Branagh who almost steals the whole show, let alone a few scenes as Gilderoy Lockhart and Jason Isaacs and the cunningly evil Lucious Malfoy. The rest all seem to remain same as they did in the first film, with no particular standout. There is a little mellow-drama and some over acting and some would call the final sequence of the film a little over the top, but it still does not distract from an overall wonderful performance.

The special effects also have increased in quality, supposedly they only had three months to do effects on the first film and it showed, this time around they had a lot more time and they have put in a greater effort. Rumour has it that the Fellowship of the Ring served as inspiration for Columbus to become more daring in his approach to the second film and the effects he could create. He succeeds, with scenes such as the Qudditch game and the dark forest look quite impressive and energetic. The action seems to take a more prominent role in the story and the climax resembles any Hollywood action blockbuster, except with a little more intelligence and fantasy to boot. It is not all perfect, with creations such as the Phoenix being totally dissapointing and looking really out of place, but the problems are small enough that they can be overlooked. Overall this film is far more daring then the first and Columbus has visibly matured in his film making skills.

Finaly note as usual goes to the score, which was far too overwhelming in the first film. This time around it takes a back seat to the action and adds to the film instead of over taking it. I caught a glimpse of music from Attack of the Clones in the Quidditch game and if I am not mistaken a number of sequences sounded suspiciously like other John Williams scores from the past. Still it was a far more moody attempt at music, and it worked very well in this film.

In the end you have a rare thing, as sequel that is better than the first! My friends tell me the third will be even better and I am even keen to read the book first. Still this film is a darker, scarier look at the world of Harry Potter, and it should delight all audiences of all ages.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Unless you’re still too young to earn your own income chances are this movie will not sweep you off your feet and give you the experience the hype has been promising. That is not to say you won’t enjoy the film, far from it! With some brilliant acting and a very original plot you can certainly expect to be entertained. However with the lack of some genuine fear and feeling for the characters on screen the promise of `the best movie ever’ is a little off the mark.

Creating the atmosphere that sucks an audience into a story is arguably what Hollywood struggles with most and this film is no exception. Despite the strong performance of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and friends Rupert Grint (Ronald ‘Ron’ Weasley ) and Emma Watson(Hermione Granger), the fact the film is aimed at children creates a distinct lack of emotional involvement we are used to in some of the better pieces of recent cinema. Harry’s encounter with the snake at the beginning of the movie sums up the emotional level the film is aimed at.

The support cast is perhaps more relevant to older audiences and definitely provides the best moments in the film. Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman steel the show in with some authentic acting that makes the world of Harry seem much more real than the special effects make you feel. Coltrane provides most of the comedy relief and does so with the same line on a number of occasions.

The Special effects, whilst grand and definitely not cheap tend to overshadow a story that is beyond the need for extravagant computer generated effects. Besides the game of Quidditch, the Troll, and Fluffy, there were only minor requirements for the computer. Unfortunately there were a number of visually obvious computer additions that likened the awful Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars.

The films strength however lies in the story line. Whilst some scenes may seem oddly familiar to those well versed in Fantasy and Science Fiction, for the rest of us `main-stream’ folk the world of Harry Potter is a fresh sight. Without a clear beginning, middle, or end, the story instead builds from the basic premise that Harry is something special. With no strong and outward villain for most of the film the pace and motivation of the story surprisingly held together quite well and is nothing but a huge testament to the abilities of the books author J.K. Rowling.

A novel to film adaptation is and always will be an immense task, particularly when the novel has a following most authors can only dream about. What would make it even harder is the promise to keep true to the written word, which is exactly what director Christopher Columbus swore to do. The finished product, whilst a breath of fresh cinema, ultimately fails to deliver much more then another Children’s holiday adventure.

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