Expectations can be a weird thing when it comes to movies: they can either serve you from being mostly absent or betray you from being too present. Incidentally, they played a role in this week’s two biggest releases, both of which combine to make one of the strangest, most entertaining double features I’ve ever seen.
Pixar has become known, especially in these past few years, for delivering sophisticated, beautifully animated movies that appeal not only to kids, but almost every demographic that sees them. The original title of Brave
was The Bear and The Bow
. While Brave
is a blunt title that hints at some kind of complexity under the surface, The Bear and the Bow
would have been a more suitable title that gives a more honest idea of how simple this movie really is.
Yes, most of Brave‘s story is focused around a plot twist that made me go, “That’s all there is to it, huh.” I knew from the trailers that the main character, Merida, would ask for a spell that would change her fate but I was sort of assuming it would lead to history being re-written in some way, and all of them ending up in “the darkest timeline”. Yeah, shame on me to try and expect where the plot is going.
(SPOILER ALERT) As it turns out, the witch she goes to gives her a cake that transforms her demanding, traditional mother, the queen, into a bear. Now Merida and her mother must go to get the spell removed, tiptoe around her father, who is obsessed with killing bears after one devoured his leg and repair their rocky bond as mother and daughter.
That’s the kind of movie this is. It wants to feature a big dose of slapstick comedy over subtlety or a strong message throughout. And that’s fine. I can’t say I was never amused by the humor; I found myself chuckling a lot at the queen acting out her proper mannerisms in bear form, and the mischief of the triplet brothers. But that sort of thing is not what Pixar has been known to rely on and makes it seem like a lesser movie. Worse, the first half hour of introducing the characters and situations sets it up as what we’ve come to expect from the better of previous Pixar movies, making the switch more jarring and unwanted.
But this is, indeed, a Disney/Pixar movie we’re talking about. Even on efforts that don’t knock it out of the park, they feature some of the most swooningly gorgeous animation ever seen, reaching almost photo-realistic levels. The vocal performances remain great and help to enhance already likable, interesting characters. And Brave continues the trend of great music in Pixar films. Patrick Doyle’s score, along with Julie Fowlis’ songs, gives the movie its heart and the requisite amount of Scottish flavor (Not like haggis, though. That would be terrible).
It’s interesting to point out that not only does this Disney movie feature the first examining of a mother-daughter relationship, the sweetest and most resonant aspect of the movie, but has both parents alive and well in the first place! Ah, progress.
Maybe it’s me, but I like my movies to have antagonists. Brave could have used one instead of just a big obstacle at the end.
Brave is a sweet, funny, family tale wrapped in the wonderful sights and sounds of Scotland. But with Pixar, you come to expect something that isn’t quite as juvenile in its focus. As is, it’s a completely acceptable and heartfelt, if weightless, romp.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
The POTUS is a complete badass, and the South is a land full of soulless bloodsuckers, slowly draining the life out of everything in their path. Also, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is out this week.
I kid, and so does Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, albeit with a straighter face. With such a blatantly silly concept, I was a little surprised/concerned when I saw the first footage and realized how serious they were taking the material. It seemed like clear enough evidence that this movie would be a chore to stomach. I was wrong.
AL: VH is the best of what B-movies have to offer. It’s sleek, stylish, violent, tongue-in-cheek, and fun. More importantly, it’s entirely watchable, which, for a while there, is more than I was expecting.
Through some strange twist of fate, the seriousness with which this is all treated makes it even more silly and amusing. I cannot properly describe the utter glee I found watching the actors go from reciting their terrible dialogue with a straight face to butchering vampires in slow and fast motion set to Henry Jackman’s pounding score in the background.
Now, keep in mind this is clearly a B-movie. Translation: hokey premise, terrible dialogue, one note characters, bad special effects, plot holes and inconsistencies, and possible self-important lines that have no business here. But that much should have been obvious just from the title.
Surprisingly, none of the actors are “stand out” bad or hamming it up. Usually there’s at least one who goes all out Nic Cage, but everyone present keeps it in line.
I’m not a huge fan of gratuitous slow-mo but I can accept it here because director Timur Bekmambetov crafts some slick and entertaining set pieces that don’t rely entirely on it because they are generally well staged. Lincoln’s axe-fu brings some impressive kills and the horse stampede scene, despite the CGI looking like ass, is a blast.
More-so than a period piece, this looks and feels even more like a genuine vampire movie. The look of the un-dead is pale, veiny, vicious, nasty and all around menacing. The white house is often immersed in thick fog, with moonlight and candles shining through the haze. A flock of bats swoop overhead while our heroes try to escape a horde of vamps in the Louisiana baillou. Stuff like this is what gives AL: VH its flavor.
The movie incorporates much of the real life story of Lincoln and that’s when parts of the 1hr 45min runtime can stretch on, but throughout most of it they do a good job of interspersing historical drama with vampiric dismemberment equally. Only in the second half is there a prolonged break.
It would be so easy for them to slip up with this movie and make it dull, but goddamn if I didn’t have a lot of fun with it. It was never going to shoot for high marks on story or characters, but it’s got such a great visual style and cool action bits that it became so much more fun and enjoyable than what I was expecting. And that’s what kitschy, silly movies
with names like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
need to be.