Brave


Brave

Merida takes aim at teen angst.

(2012) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, Sally Kinghorn, Eilidh Fraser, Peigi Barker, Steven Cree, John Ratzenberger. Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

 

Fate is a word we sometimes bandy around with negative connotations. There are those of us who believe that it implies that our destiny is set in stone, that we are doomed to live a certain type of life. Some believe that fate is not necessarily set in stone – it can be changed with the right impetus.

Merida (Macdonald) is of the latter sort. She is a spunky, willful princess – literally. She’s the daughter of King Fergus (Connolly) of Scotland, a gruff rough and tumble sort who’s leg was bitten off by a bear that attacked his family, including Queen Elinor (Thompson) who some years later delivered triplets – three wee devils who act as comic relief in the castle.

Merida finds nothing funny about life  though. She longs to go on adventures like her dad, and has become quite the archer. Her mother, though, wants her only daughter to be a proper princess, one who will grow up into a beautiful, regal Queen. And it’s about high time she did; while Elinor nags, Merida stews. And when Merida becomes of marriageable age, as is traditional among the clans a competition will be held to determine which Lord’s son will win the hand of the fair maiden – be it the sons of Lord Dingwall (Coltrane), Lord Macintosh (Ferguson) or Lord MacGuffin (McKidd) – all of whom have travelled to the castle of King Fergus for the games, feasting and tales of bear hunting.

Merida is having none of it. She is for one thing a far better archer than any of the scions of the clans. And for another, she doesn’t want to get married (and to be honest, she is nowhere near ready to be). She and her mother can barely hold a civil conversation and her Dad is too engrossed in the feasting and tale-telling to really notice. So Merida goes off for a ride and finds herself in a Stonehenge-like circle of sacred stones from whence the wills-o’-the-wisp lead her to the cottage of an eccentric witch (Walters) whom Merida asks to purchase a spell from – a spell that will allow her mother to change her mind and in doing so, changing Merida’s fate. However, like most spells that are selfish in origin, it doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

There is an air of mystery and mysticism here that is very welcome. Here we get to see Scotland as a magical land that is wild, beautiful and just a little bit off-kilter. Yes, pun intended. The animation here is gorgeous – quite possibly the best and most intricate that Pixar has accomplished up to now. The look is very much like classic Disney animation and that’s not by accident.

Thinking about it, this is quite the gathering of the clans if your clans are Scottish actors and actors of Scottish descent. It gives them a chance to air out their brogues a little. I have an affection for the accent and even though it can be hard to understand for those who aren’t used to it although to be fair it’s toned down here so it’s pretty easily understandable even for those who don’t have the ear for it.

There is quite a dynamic that goes on between Elinor and Merida – like many mother-daughter relationships it’s love-hate. And, like most teens and their parents, you have two sides talking and neither side listening. Elinor at first is a mom who has a vision in her head of what she wants her daughter to be – without taking into account what her daughter wants to make of herself. For Merida’s part, she’s willful and stubborn, openly defiant of her parents and quite a bit stubborn. Her means of communicating is to make pronouncements and that doesn’t go over well with her mum.

In fact, Merida’s spoiled behavior leads directly to some fairly savage consequences for her family. Now, as a parent I can tell you that tolerance is a great big survival skill for any parent of a teen – they are going to make mistakes no matter how much you try to warn them (pretty much the way we did when we were teens) but I have to admit, it is rare for any parent to have to deal with a mistake the magnitude that Merida makes. Yes, I’m being deliberately vague here because not knowing the nature of what Merida did and the consequences that ensued makes the movie so much more enjoyable, although I have seen a couple of reviews that have spoiled it – including the usually-reliable Roger Ebert, so take that into account when reading before seeing.

This is quite a departure for Pixar – straight into Disney territory. Think about all the elements you have here – a feisty princess, a witch who lives in an isolated cottage in the woods, danger, intrigue – all that is lacking here is true love’s kiss – but then Merida would much rather kiss a frog than a thousand princes. Still, after the lackluster effort that was Cars 2 this is a welcome return to form.

REASONS TO GO: Maybe the best animation in Pixar’s history. Goofy when it needs to be.

REASONS TO STAY: Seems to glorify willful, spoiled behavior.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sequences that might be frightening for toddlers, and there is a bit of rude humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Pixar’s first film set in the past, the first to feature a female protagonist and Merida the first Pixar character to become a Disney princess.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/8/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100. The reviews are solid.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mulan

BEAR LOVERS: We see bears of all sorts in the film, including three little ones, a mama bear and a scary bear.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Ted

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Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen)


Flame and Citron

It's a game of cat and mouse, but who is the cat and who is the mouse?

(IFC) Thure Lindhart, Mads Mikkelsen, Stine Stengade, Peter Mygind, Mille Hoffmeyer Lehfeldt, Christian Berkel, Hanns Zischler, Claus Riis Ostergaard, Flemming Enevold. Directed by Ole Christian Madsen

In German occupied territories during World War II, life was much more different than it was in Allied territories. There were those who co-operated with the invaders, and others who wanted nothing more than to have their country back.

Flame (Lindhart) – so named because of his red hair made more striking after a botched dye job – and Citron (Mikkelsen), who got his nickname because he had previously sabotaged German vehicles while working at the Citron motorcar factory, are Danish resistance fighters. Well, perhaps “fighter” is a bit of a stretch; a better description would be “assassin of Nazi sympathizers.”

Flame is a young man, a little bit cocksure and passionate in his hatred of Nazis and their collaborators. He takes insane chances; the Germans are well aware of his activities, they even have a description of him and yet he boldly enters a bar where Nazi officers hang out and orders a drink.

Citron is ten years older, a family man, a bundle of nerves, popping pills to keep himself going. Perpetually unshaven and sweaty, he has the look of a man who is slowly falling apart. Looks in this case aren’t deceiving.

They report to Aksel Winther (Mygind), a somewhat bureaucratic kind of man who issues the pair their orders, the source of which is never clear. There is increasing tension between the pair and their handler; they have mostly been given collaborators and all men, but the list is starting to change. First, they are asked to murder women, which even Flame balks at. Finally, they are called upon to assassinate German officers, but when they encounter Gilbert (Zischler), he raises disturbing points that cause them to question the justness of their cause.

Further complicating matters is Flame’s attraction to Ketty (Stengade), a courier for the resistance who may be working for the Germans, or may be working the Germans for the resistance. With the Nazis closing in on the pair and caught between conflicting resistance groups with a growing suspicion that they are being used for purposes that are for personal gain rather than for the good of Denmark, the two who have sacrificed nearly everything for their cause determine that there is only one thing they can do – try to take down the chief Nazi Hoffman (Berkel), even though the attempt will almost certainly cost them their lives.

This movie is admittedly influenced heavily by the 1969 French classic Army of Shadows which chronicled the French resistance through director Jean-Pierre Melville, who was actually a member of the French resistance during the war. Madsen is far too young to have taken part personally, but he displays a flair for capturing the tension experienced by the two men, the growing unease with the deeds they’re forced to do.

Lindhart and Mikkelsen do some admirable work here. Lindhart has a great deal of screen charisma, and he gives a sense of the bravado and dangerous skills of the assassin, giving him a human side to balance it out. He yearns for something that he can’t have, and it produces a certain amount of rage and despair in the man.

It is Mikkelsen who steals the show for me, charismatic as Lindhart is. Citron is tortured by the deeds he and his partner do, and the resulting stress is wiping out his marriage and impacting his relationship with his children. Twitchy as Citron is, Mikkelsen is really the emotional core of the movie.

The tension is palpable throughout as the Nazis search for the elusive assassins and the politics within the resistance further muddy the waters. Some of the assassinations depicted here are brutal, and those who are sensitive about such things would do well to take that into account when deciding whether or not to see this.

Americans who watch this might be a bit put off by the pacing, which keeping in line with European sensibilities is far more deliberate than what they are used to. Madsen prefers to allow the tension to build and build during the course of the film until the viewer is nearly ready to leap out of their own skin. I have to admit, being unfamiliar with the exploits of the real-life Flame and Citron amplified that tension, so Danish audiences, more likely to know at least something about these natural heroes, might get a different sense from the movie.

While Flame and Citron are based on actual resistance fighters from the war, this is a fictionalized version of their exploits, although most of the salient facts are here. The movie received some criticism for its depiction of corruption in the Danish resistance, and I can understand the point. However, this was never meant to be a documentary – it is more about the morality of murder, and the increasing murkiness of its depths the more you do it, no matter how just the cause.

WHY RENT THIS: An account of a little-seen side of World War II. Lindhart and Mikkelsen give strong performances, and Madsen ratchets up the tension to a very high degree.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The pacing is very deliberate for a movie of this nature.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the assassination sequences are most definitely not for the squeamish. There is also a fair amount of bad language as well as some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: With a budget of 46 million Danish kroner, this is one of the most expensive movies ever made in Denmark.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Other Guys