‚ÄúBrave‚ÄĚ (PG) ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ
Few things in life can compare with the origination of a new legend. And when you hear the pipes and see the castles of Scotland even in a Pixar animated film, you suspect that legends may be on the way.
Seldom has there been such a superb subject for a legend as Merida (Kelly MacDonald) and her family (Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson). Her three hellacious brothers are not voiced (therefore not credited), but they contribute their share of laughs to this scary-funny-awesome masterpiece.
Merida is the ultimate tomboy, superior in bowman‚Äôs skills to Robin Hood and certainly to her suitors, three of the most hapless, hopeless and daffy suitors that could be designed. When you see their fathers, you can understand. Resentful of anything that limits her freedom, Merida rebels against her mother, who‚Äôs lining up suitors for her hand. She‚Äôs so angry that, when she stumbles into a witch‚Äôs lair/gift shop (‚ÄúEverything half off‚ÄĚ), she makes a bad bargain that results in turning her mother into a ferocious (sometimes) she-bear.
The problem is that Fergus, her Dad, is noted for killing bears ever since he got revenge on the one that ate his leg when Merida was a lass. The adventures and escapes from bears make up much of the plot, but somehow we know that Merida will survive ‚ÄĒ if she can stitch back together a tapestry that she ripped, starting all the trouble.
This film is filled with gems of animation and scripting. It has those small touches of genius that give you the shivers inside ‚ÄĒ Merida‚Äôs leaving a rebellious lock of hair loose in protest of a ridiculous outfit her mother has pulled her into; the look on the Queen‚Äôs face when she realizes she is now a bear; the small expressions of all characters that tell of their emotions; and a very funny take on answering machines and automated sales phones on the part of the witch were among my favorites.
The most telling detail may be Merida‚Äôs face. She is stunning to look at, with her wild red hair and big, expressive eyes to go with her defiant attitude. That she is voiced perfectly by MacDonald is another asset.
This is a mostly-Scottish cast and they deliver big time. It may be a bit scary for the pre-5 set, but remind them this is a fairy tale ‚ÄĒ without a prince to save the day ‚ÄĒ and they should be fine. The bears are pretty scary but not all the time. This is terrific filmmaking. Don‚Äôt miss it.
‚ÄúTed‚ÄĚ (R) ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ
Sorry. I laughed myself silly in this wacky, raunchy comedy. What else can you do when Mark Wahlberg as a juvenile trapped in a 35-year-old‚Äôs body appears in a scene with a bear; a Chinese character, Ming, with a duck named James Franco; Flash Gordon at 70+; cocaine and shots with Mila Kunis on deck? Okay, so many of the laughs are guilty ones, but they flow easily if you‚Äôre in the mood for wacko comedy as I was.
Current pop culture references reverberate effectively throughout the Seth MacFarlane script (he is also the voice of Ted), and heavy Boston accents are even funnier. The animated Ted is a stroke of genius: Even his mouth has a Boston twist that makes the accent even more effective.
Narrated by Patrick Stewart, the script is raunchy from the start and extremely droll with surprise references and twists that keep you on your toes even as you perceive the broad outlines of the boy-meets-girl-loses girl-gets-her-back arc. The bear, Ted, the result of a boyhood wish from young Johnny for a friend, is a triumph in every way. Perhaps the skuzziest of the characters in language and behavior, he is constantly funny and subtle in odd ways. His stapling of his own ear back after a fight is a gem, as is his extended fight with Johnny in a hotel room.
Mila Kunis (Laurie) is Kunis ‚ÄĒ bewitching, wonderfully vulnerable and clever ‚ÄĒ a perfect foil for Wahlberg‚Äôs Johnny. Joel McHale is perfect as Laurie‚Äôs egotistical boss, Gianni Robisi scary as a demented villain who wants the bear for his own spoiled brat, and Jessica Barth wonderfully daffy as Tami-Lynn, identified by Ted and Johnny as having a ‚Äúwhite trash name‚ÄĚ that sets off Wahlberg on a virtuostic listing of white-trash girls‚Äô names.
There are many scenes in this film that are comic masterpieces, most with R-rated elements, such as the ‚ÄúTruth or Dare‚ÄĚ episode that Ted has with four hookers ‚ÄĒ Heavenly, Cherene, Angelique and Sauvignon Blanc. Stewart warns you up top that this is mostly a fairy tale so you can‚Äôt take anything too seriously but don‚Äôt be surprised if it also becomes a cult classic. Only for a very immature adult audience that likes guilty laughter.
‚ÄúPeople Like Us‚ÄĚ (PG-13) ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ
This is an aberration this summer. A film that starts with character and defines it and lets it evolve. Evolve the characters do, led by Chris Pine as Sam, a spoiled, immature 30-year old who cannot face his own messes and prefers to flee. Hannah, brilliantly underplayed by Olivia Wilde, is the responsible one in the pair. Elizabeth Banks as Frankie gives a performance so real and with such depth that awards should come her way. As a single mother, who turns out to be Sam‚Äôs sister, she it totally sympathetic, even as an alcoholic and less than perfect mother.
Her son, Josh (Michael Hall D‚ÄôAddario), is the pivotal character in the piece, precocious to a dangerous extreme, though never over the line to being hateful, and Michele Pfeiffer is sympathetic as Sam‚Äôs mother and widow of Jerry, a former A&R man for record companies. Her problem is that she holds a secret too long.
This is a complex film because of all the various elements that are in play: the hidden relationship between brother and sister, the developing relationship between Sam and Josh, the very real possibility of a prison sentence for Sam, Pfeiffer‚Äôs health and other minor plot twists all have to be worked out without coincidental magic. Respecting character and honesty of portrayal, this film gets it right because it remains true to its initial directions. Though characters change, they change for the best of reasons and because they have no alternative.
Any tears that fall from the eyes of audiences are honest ones, not yanked forth √° la Nicholas Sparks‚Äô plots, by sappy and banal tricks. It‚Äôs a thoughtful movie ‚ÄĒ no bang-bang stuff ‚ÄĒ and will vibrate in your mind after you see it.
‚ÄúMagic Mike‚ÄĚ (R) ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ
Channing Tatum is a disaster as an actor, but in this film he finds his level: on the down side of intellect, uneducated, almost totally inarticulate and reliant almost totally on his physique for a minimal impact. For some reason, the producers (which include Tatum) chose to cast Cody Horn opposite him as a love interest. Her usual expression is a twisted grimace, making her mouth almost immobile. To see her laugh is almost painful.
Nobody else in the cast distinguishes themselves either. Matthew McConaughey is shirtless most of the movie, but at his age it is getting to be a tough sell without lots of oil and the right camera angles.
The plot is allegedly taken from Tatum‚Äôs pre-Hollywood days as a male stripper and isn‚Äôt much. Dallas (McConaughey) wants to move into the big time in Miami from Tampa. Though nothing noticeable is done to increase the value of his tiny theatre and tawdry dancers other than to hire an underage stripper called ‚ÄúThe Kid,‚ÄĚ we are meant to accept the growth of the enterprise into a credit-worthy concern.
There are subplots about Mike (Tatum) making custom furniture and a confusing scene in a bank in which cash is considered unworthy as a down payment on something, there are choreographed dance numbers and screaming females (the audience in the movie theater was 98 percent female as well), drug scenes and other depravities, but it is a curiously sexless affair when you come down to it.
Why does the Kid decide to dance? ‚ÄúWomen, money and a good time.‚ÄĚ The women in the strip audiences appear to have a lot more fun than the dancers even though Mike has managed to accumulate $13,000. (‚ÄúThat‚Äôs a lot of ones.‚ÄĚ)
Tatum, who confuses stoicism with nobility, drives resolutely to his fate at the end, to the relief of an audience that has to wonder how he made a living doing this.
‚ÄúTyler Perry‚Äôs Madea‚Äôs Witness Protection‚ÄĚ (PG) ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ
I never have responded positively to a Tyler Perry film, and this one continues the string. Any film that forces Eugene Levy to overact is suspect to begin with, and he is even forced into a fake and useless French accent, adding to the waste.
An amateurish Denise Richards is a total spoiler as Levy‚Äôs unlikely wife; Doris Roberts gives a performance that is gratefully excused by the fact that her character is demented; and Perry, as usual for an actor who plays three parts and directs, is overexposed. In this film, however, perhaps because he constantly has to be spliced into scenes, the resulting choppy pace and slow timing is totally distracting.
Then there are the word plays that go nowhere. Not clever to begin with, not even the cast can react to them, and they end up another waste of time.
At bottom, however, this film emphasizes the fact that Madea is not a very likeable character. Allegedly wise, she is merely banal, allegedly Christian, she is unendingly greedy, even taking a cut of money destined for charities, and allegedly funny because of her size, accent and bouncing artificial body parts, she becomes a mere spectacle.
I won‚Äôt bother you with a plot summary. It is totally impossible, illogical and infuriatingly stupid, and the gaps in it are monumental. For example, how does an effort to gather fraudulently extorted funds end up in a first class air flight to New York and residence in a posh suite, with requisite bidet, at the Plaza? (Write your own stupid bidet jokes. Perry does.) And to wrap it up, Perry as a male FBI agent named Bryan, is a woeful actor whose pacing, character and presence is stiff and ineffective.
Two stars instead of one only because it didn‚Äôt have any vampires in the cast.
‚ÄúAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter‚ÄĚ (R) ‚ėÖ
For a country in which a significant percentage of citizens does not know that the Civil War was fought in the 19th century, this probably makes sense. For any American who values history or common sense or good moviemaking, this is a travesty of the lowest order, a use of ‚Äúhistory‚ÄĚ that is not historic and that confuses any attempt to fit the narrative into actual events.
To tell you how far they scraped for a cast, ‚ÄúSpeed‚ÄĚ is played by the same weird guy who finds an occasional bit on Letterman as Lyle the Intern. He is better there.
How bad is the historical distortion and abuse? Gettysburg is portrayed as the last chance to defeat vampires dedicated to taking over the United States, and only Abe and his silver-edged axe can save the day by getting silver to the battlefield in time to pulverize the vampires. Lincoln‚Äôs marriage to Mary Todd is portrayed as his back-up choice when he decides not to fight vampires any more.
There is a positively revoltingly stupid chase and fight on the backs of stampeding horses (in dim light so you can‚Äôt see any details) and other idiotic scenes that make you further embarrassed that a distributor could be found for it. Special effects? Of course, but if you haven‚Äôt seen all of them already, you won‚Äôt be interested in this disaster to begin with.
It is also a bit disconcerting that Abe is played by an actor who looks like a young Liam Neeson. You look at him and keep expecting decent acting.
Enjoy more of Mike‚Äôs movie reviews at www.towncourier.com.