Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Movie Review: "American Movie" by David Pretty

Since truth is considerably stranger then fiction, I'm an unabashed and voracious documentary junkie.  The "plots" are consistently surprising, the "dialogue" always sounds natural (with the possible exception of Trekkies) and the "characters" are often wildly original.  Of this genre American Movie is, without a doubt, my favorite documentary of all time.

Here's the trailer:

If you're looking for interesting characters then look no further then Mark Borchardt.  Mark's always wanted to make movies for a living but he has a couple of strikes working against him.  He lives in a small town in Wisconsin, has no formal training, no mentor to speak of, struggles with a handful of personal problems and is drowning in a whirlpool of debt.  Despite the fact that he has no guidance, discipline or help, he's completely and totally obsessed with the concept of makin' movies.

Actually, he does have some nominal help in the form of hetero life-mate Mike Schank, who does what he can to encourage Mark's low-budget endeavors.  Regrettably, a history of drug abuse has taken it's toll on poor Mike, who often comes across as a genial but oblivious combination of Ron Jeremy and David Crosby.  Viewers will be amazed when Mike displays his savant-level guitar skills (his masterful acoustic tribute to the late Randy Rhodes is worth it's own documentary) and his easy-going nature obviously keeps Mark from going completely off the deep end.

And then there's Uncle Bill.  Once a brilliant man with all the potential in the world, Bill has all but given up on life.  He sits alone in a ramshackle trailer and feigns ignorance when Mark grills him about the "American Dream".  Although Bill is a black hole of negativity he does have a tremendous stockpile of savings, which results in some darkly comedic scenes in which Mark attempts to lure his Uncle into the role of "film producer".

But Mark doesn't visit Bill merely to weasel cash out of him, he tries desperately to rouse the old man out of his funk.  Indeed, the old man seems to be the physical embodiment of Mark's greatest fears.  He does everything he can to involve Bill in his life because he probably knows that he might very well end up like Bill in a few years.

Sadly, very few people in Mark's dysfunctional circle seem to understand what he's trying to accomplish.  One of his brothers even goes so far as to call his sanity into question and declares that Mark is "probably best suited to working in a factory".  Between a disastrous stint in the army and plugging away at a series of dead end jobs (literally), Mark understands that he's staring down a life of solitary confinement in a cold, empty trailer if he doesn't keep pursuing his dreams.

And Mark certainly stumbles.  A lot.  Though technically competent and blessed with a great eye for shot composition and camera movement, Mark's writing talents are questionable at best.  He's terrified to complete a project, probably because it'll open him up to criticism.  He drinks too much.  Indeed, the deck is stacked against our hero.  If Mark eventually throws in the towel and fails in his bid to become a film-maker, it certainly won't be from any lack of passion.

Which brings me to Mark's good qualities; those personality traits which give him a fighting chance.  First off he's patient to the point of sainthood.  On more then one occasion you expect him to break down and/or flip out (and admittedly Mark does seem like the kinda guy who was voted "MOST LIKELY TO GO POSTAL" in his High School yearbook).  But when things fall apart, he just sighs, drops a couple of f-bombs and then gets right back at it again.  And, as Uncle Bill knew full-well, Mark's also a born salesman, which is really half the battle of movie-making.

I imagine that documentarian Chris Smith had to be pretty patient himself, since it took Mark three years before he finally completed his forty-minute debut film Coven (pronounced COVE-In by it's director to ensure that it doesn't rhyme with a certain kitchen appliance).  Smith probably had miles of footage to contend with, so kudos to him for recognizing a fascinating subject matter and sticking with it to its natural conclusion.

Although American Movie is sometimes pathetic to the point of wince-inducing, it's also incredibly inspirational.  If you fear a lifetime of of cleaning up someone else's shit (which Mike is actually reduced to at one point), I heartily recommend that you give this doc a watch.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Movie Review: "The Dark Knight Rises" by David Pretty

There's a long and painful history of movie franchises flying off the rails with the third film (witness Godfather, Blade, Spider-Man, Superman, Alien, X-Men and Terminator just name a few).  But with The Dark Knight Rises we get to revel in that rarest of achievements: a movie trilogy where the same uniform quality runs throughout all three films.

So, how did director Christopher Nolan and writing partners David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan pull this off?  The answer is deceptively simple: they merely sustained the same creative team throughout all three films.  This alone gives the series a clarity of vision, tonal continuity and a natural escalation of the stakes.

You can certainly get a feel for the film's epic scope and artistic qualities in the theatrical trailer:

The movie takes place eight years after the events depicted in The Dark Knight.  Batman has all but vanished from Gotham City, having taken the fall for the crimes of white knight District Attorney Harvey Dent while he was under the guise of Two-Face.  But his retirement hasn't been in vain.  With sweeping powers granted to law enforcement courtesy of the Dent Act, the authorities have almost eliminated organized and violent crime in the city.

Feeling rudderless, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) lives a Howard Hughes-style existence away from the public eye.  To make matters worse, Wayne Enterprises is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy after Bruce invested heavily in a sustainable energy project but backed out after discovering that the technology could be perverted into a weapon.  Needless to say the project's originator, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), is less then impressed when she hears the news.

The situation gets even murkier when a physically imposing masked mercenary / terrorist calling himself Bane (Tom Hardy) appears in Gotham and begins to rally the city's homeless underground population to his anarchic cause.  In a pivotal early encounter, Bane leaves police commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) wounded and bereft of an important document which reveals the awful truth about Harvey Dent.

Between Bane's brazen attack on the Gotham City Stock Exchange and a personal theft by cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Batman feels compelled to leap back into action.  Naturally, after eight years of sedentary retirement, the caped crusader is a tad rusty and Bruce's stalwart butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) quits after refusing to preside over what he believes is certain suicide.     
Alfred's predictions prove to be painfully accurate.  Bane manages to seize control of the entire city and handily bests Batman in their first encounter.  As we share Bruce's agonizing recovery and rebirth we begin to learn more about Bane's motivations as well as his ties to our hero.  Their open warfare over the heart and soul of Gotham City forms the centerpiece for the final act, which I firmly believe will leave no fan unfulfilled.

Honestly, The Dark Knight Rises is huge in every possible way.  It may be hard to fathom but the conflict that's documented here actually makes the previous two films look humble in comparison.  When we see Bane crack into Bruce Wayne's secret armory we know that the scale of the battle is going to be kicked up a notch.  Nolan and his stunt team are certainly up to the challenge, giving us some impeccably staged vehicle chases and hand-to-hand skirmishes that resemble vicious but balletic street-fight.

All the previous Bat-trappings are in fine form here.  Although the suit has been nicely streamlined, they still can't seem to match the lustrous-looking sable cape with the flat black costume.  The cowl persists with the turned-in ears and concave neck but the brow sculpt is pretty badass.  Add the fact that Christian Bale fills the suit with pure authoritah and such quibbles become superficial.

In addition to some hot "Tumbler" action, the Batpod also gets a workout in The Dark Knight Rises, often expertly guided by the fetching Selina Kyle.  We also get to see "The Bat" a new Harrier-type aircraft designed by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) which features prominently in the film's tense finale.  Finally, the Batcave gets pimped out with secret platforms bearing computers, gear and costumes cleverly rising out of their underwater concealment.

I don't often mention soundtracks, but Hans Zimmer's score really deserves special mention.  The eerie ceremonial chant heard during Bruce's attempt to "rise" from his prison really gives the scene an off-balanced quality and adds to the already-palpable tension.  The tonal strains and minimalist piano keys that accompany Bane's sacking of Gotham are also incredibly evocative.  The percussive drive and brassy arrangements heard during the action sequences are transcendent.  Zimmer even succeeds in making "The Star Spangled Banner" sound unnerving as the preamble to an ill-fated football game.

The script is monstrously self-aware.  Although the film begins with a dozen random elements up in the air, each character, plot thread and motivation eventually falls into place.  As soon as this happens (approximately a third of the way through the film) the story starts firing on all cylinders and it never slacks off until the end.  I absolutely loved all the call-backs and cameos referencing the previous films (Batman Begins in particular), none of which I'll mention here for fear of revealing even the most innocuous revelation.

For long-time Bat-fans as well as folks who are only familiar with Nolan's take on the character, there are plenty of awesome little Easter Eggs to look out for.  One particular sequence is a direct homage to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, perhaps the most influential Batman graphic novel of the modern age.  Two cops are in hot pursuit of Bane's gang when our eponymous hero suddenly re-appears after an eight year absence.  Upon spying the Dark Knight, the veteran cop turns to his rookie partner and says:

"Oh boy, you are in for a show tonight, son."                   

The jittery noob is even foolish enough to point his firearm at Batman, resulting in a classic dressing down that comes straight from source.  It's a wonderful nod to the nearly single-handed renaissance that Frank Miller's work kicked off for this classic character.

The dialogue is a shade over-wrought at times, but if there's ever an appropriate place for melodrama, it's in a comic book film.  If anything, many of the lines are particularly relevant.  "No one cared who I was until I put on the mask," Bane says at one point, evoking shades of real-life urban terrorists.  When Selina Kyle tells Bruce that "there's a storm coming" and "when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us" you can't help but wonder if this heralds a real-life paradigm shift.

Every member of the cast brings their "A" game.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is Christian Bale's best turn in the role.  Even after three films, Bale and his writers manage to navigate Bruce Wayne through a considerable character arc.  He begins the film as a physically wrecked recluse, segues into believing his own legend, gets reduced to rock bottom (literally) and then manages to claw his way back again.  Throughout it all, Bale is supremely self assured and there's never a false step in his performance.  He even had the foresight to moderate his oft-parodied Batman voice.

I still can't belive that Tom Hardy is the same guy who played Shinzon, the scrawny, pasty-faced Picard clone in Star Trek: Nemesis.   Bulked up for his role as Bane, Hardy stalks through the film's environs like a scary, swaggering amalgam of Darth Vader, Sean Connery and Zangeif from Street Fighter.  With half of his face obscured by a mask, Hardy really had to rely on his body language, his eyes and his voice, all of which are used in good measure.  Just by taking Hardy's veddy propah  English accent and filtering it through what sounds like an ancient phonograph player, it produces a really weird contrast to Bane's intimidating physical presence.  At first, I was going to bitch about a couple of incomprehensible line readings, but in the end that'll probably just improve the film's repeat viewing appeal.

At the beginning of TDKR, Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon is like a veteran general who's usefulness comes into question after an unfortunate outbreak of peace.  Eight years of concealing secrets clearly has him itching to prove himself on a  street level.  Even after sustaining a crippling injury, he isn't content to live vicariously through his younger contemporaries.  It's a blast to watch him experience his own "rise" and lead the rebellion against Bane.  Personally, I'd love to see an ongoing HBO series called Gotham P.D. which features James Gordon at the epicenter.  Call me, Warner Brothers!    

After the stunt casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker, I didn't even blink when Anne Hathaway was tapped to play Selina Kyle / Catwoman.  Once again, there's probably an entire legion of contrite fanboys out there who have egg on their face after watching Hathaway's acutely intelligent performance.  In Nolan's quest to ground the Batman mythos in reality, not once is the name "Catwoman" ever evoked.  Instead, Selina Kyle is merely a lithe, slinky, inhumanly gifted cat burglar who just so happens to dress up in stiletto high heels, cat-eared infrared goggles and Lulu Lemon bondage gear.  Hathaway is absolutely terrific: moving effortlessly between cocky, self-serving, indignant, sultry and semi-noble.

The supporting cast is equally game.  Michael Caine trumps all previous showings as Alfred Pennyworth, providing his best speeches of sagacity and some genuine heartbreak after he refuses to enable Bruce Wayne's death wish.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is genuinely earnest and stalwart as "new cop on the block" John Blake, a young, idealistic officer who puzzles out Batman's secret identity, inspires the Dark Knight's ascension and then serves diligently in the uprising against Bane.

Morgan Freeman doesn't get quite as much to do as Lucius Fox, but he still gets few cheeky scenes showing off his latest technological prodigy to an appreciative Bruce Wayne.  It's a fantastic scene that harkens back to their first meeting in Batman Begins.  Series newcomer Marion Cotillard exhibits a steely resolve and tremendous insight as Miranda Tate.  Bat-fans will absolutely love the revelations that come part and parcel with this character.

Just like in Chris Nolan's Inception, there are plenty of armchair director nits to pick.  There's a pretty glaring day-to-night continuity error that occurs just after Bane's assault on the Gotham Stock Exchange.  Some folks are likely to grouse about the ease in which Bruce Wayne breaks back into Fortress Gotham.  Comic book purists may also take umbrage with the changes to Bane's origins and his direct link to a previous Bat-villain.

I'd be prone to jump all over these things as well if not for the fact that everything else in The Dark Knight Rises is so goddamned good.  It's a monumental piece of entertainment and an emotional powerhouse.  Unlike most modern blockbusters, all of the major characters experience some sort of growth or development by the end of the film.  The action sequences are exhilarating, not because it's a dazzling CGI spectacle, but because we're emotionally invested in every conflict.  The risk seems genuine for all of the characters, even the ones we're supposed to boo and hiss.

I'm so happy with the success of Nolan's entire trilogy that a re-boot a few years down the road wouldn't even faze me.  This series has always been about taking a realistic crime drama and populating it with exotic characters, like a remake of Heat with Batman, Bane and Catwoman standing in for Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer.  I think it'd be awesome if another equally-gifted and visionary director explored a completely different facet of the character.

We could see Batman more as The World's Greatest Detective.  We could get a deeper psychological analysis of the Caped Crusader and his Rogues Gallery of villains.  Hell, if the producers are competent enough, we could even be treated to a lighter, primary-colored, fun depiction of the Dark Knight from a classic Dennis O'Neil / Neal Adams perspective.

I really welcome any future re-interpretations of this iconic character.  As long as the producers can find another director with the same purity of vision and commitment to follow through.    

    Tilt: up.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Movie Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man"

I really don't envy anyone tasked to reboot the Spider-Man franchise since the last film was in theaters only five friggin' years ago.  The Sam Raimi trilogy wasn't perfect but it got just enough right to prevent new director Marc Webb from including certain beats in Spidey's iconic origin for fear of being labeled derivative.  Ultimately, all this really does is weaken the original spirit of the character.

Before we start swinging down Disappointment Avenue, here's the film's super-slick trailer:


One marginal improvement here is actually in the characterization of Peter Parker.  In the Raimi films, he's often portrayed as a complete nebbish, the sort of shlub that Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory might feel compelled to beat up.  That's not to say that Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker doesn't have his fair share of issues.  He can't string a coherent sentence together in the presence of his secret crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and he routinely gets slapped around by prototypical bully Flash Thompson.  But he's also reasonably hip and good-hearted; certainly not the hopeless sad-sack that we've come to see in previous entries.  

Of course the big conceit that screenwriting posse James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves will hold up as their standard for "originality" is the story of Peter Parker's purloined parents (man, try saying that five times real quick).  Here we get a mysterious (and ultimately pointless) preamble featuring Campbell Scott as Richard Parker packing up his wife and young son in the middle of the night after his home office has been ransacked, presumably for his secret research material.  We then witness Peter's parents handing him off to Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) for safekeeping.

But then precious little else is done with this.  In fact, all this revelation seems to do is give Peter a dubious link to Oscorp and his father's former partner Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans).  Anyone familiar with comic book lore knows that this entire angle is merely the symptom of screenwriters who are trying to cram in as much Spidey-mythos in as little screen time as possible.

The MacGuffin headquarters building. 

Tying Peter to Oscorp accomplishes a slew of script conveniences.  First off, it gets him closer to his  chronologically-appropriate love interest Gwen Stacy, who is inexplicably shown herding interns there.  Next it develops a relationship between Peter and the inevitable villain.  And in a final (and not insignificant) liberty taken with Spidey's origin: it provides an environment for Peter to receive his power-granting spider-bite.  

Readers out there who were horrified by that minor deviation are in for bigger shocks.  Perhaps the film's biggest transgression is the gloss-over job done on the whole Uncle Ben / "With Great Power" speech and Peter's dalliance as an amateur wrestler.  Again, Raimi did this so well in his first go-round that Marc Webb and company wisely decided to avoid aping it.  Unfortunately this damages the integrity of the character.     

In fact, Peter develops his super-hero persona primarily to hunt down and punish his Uncle's killer.  Although this certainly does wonders for story economy, it completely telegraphs a pivotal component of the character's fabled arc.  The point of Stan Lee's original story is that our hero's initial mercenary         motivations are shamed by his Uncle's sage words and subsequent demise.  When this happens, we know that Peter's been set on the straight and narrow path for life.

"Oh, Ben, look!  I think he's on the marijuana!"  

Despite omitting pertinent lore for the sake of making the story "fresh", there's a huge feeling of déjà vu hanging over the film.  Peter discovers a secret cache of his father's work and gives Doc Connors the missing half of formula which might allow the scientist to re-grow his missing arm.  Just like in Raimi's Spider-Man, the embattled Connors finds himself under pressure to expedite human trials before proper testing is complete.  Just like Norman Osbourne in Raimi's Spider-Man, Connors ends up taking the formula himself.  And just like in Raimi's first two Spider-flicks, Connors is transformed into a super-villain (Lizard-flavored this time) and promptly starts losing his marbles.  

And this is where the film completely falters.  I find it disheartening that super hero movies always insist on cramming a major villain into the first film.  As if the story about a guy being bitten by a radioactive spider and gaining all kinds of incredible powers isn't compelling enough, they try and develop an adversarial figure at the same time.  In my opinion, it's virtually impossible to do this properly, which is why, of every previous iteration, only Spider-Man 2 really soars.

It's frustrating that this one fails overall in spite of getting so many things right.  I've catalogued a few genuine bright spots below:
  • Peter is shown developing his mechanical web shooters.  Another bird killed by the Oscorp stone!         
  • There's no Mary Jane Watson to be seen!  Yet...   
  • Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are so great together that their on-screen relationship became a real-life alternate ending. 
"Spider-sense...and...various...other.. appendages...tingling..."
  • Dennis Leary's performance is fantastic, even if they did fuck up George Stacy's character.  See rant in "CON" section below...
  • The dialogue is considerably less goofy then in Raimi's films.  Now some might argue that a movie about a guy dressed up in red and blue tights should be goofy, but these people obviously have never read "Kraven's Last Hunt".  There needs to be a balance and the script actually does a pretty decent job with that.  Given his constant tsunami of personal problems, Peter Parker has always been pretty dour and introspective, but this always melts away when he changes into his arachnid alter-ego.  The swingin' Spidey on display here is true to form: mischievous, irreverent and consistently smart-assed.
  • The producers have mercifully solved the whole web slinging / wall-crawling conundrum.  The effects in the Raimi trilogy went from cartoony to decent but they really can't hold a candle to the impressive acrobatics on display in The Amazing Spider-Man.  Indeed, there are several comic book panels come to glorious life here.  
Finally!  No more shades of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends in the new web-swinging scenes.  

And then, to add to the pile of things that suck:
  • Let's face it, the Lizard is a pretty one-dimensional, Jekyll-and-Hyde type character.  In fact, in the comics, he's little more then a destructive brute.  Yet here, he manages to mastermind the sort of ambitious (yet imaginatively braid-dead) mad scientist plot that ends up threatening the entire city.  Been, there, done that, got the "I Tried To Destroy New York" t-shirt.
  • Oddly enough, although the Spidey-in-action special effects are awesome, the Lizard himself kinda looks like the CGI bastard child of the Abomination from Hulk and Cayman from Battle Beyond the Stars.  

  • The fight scenes suffer so badly from Michael Bay-itis that I half-expected Optimus Prime to swoop in and break up the final scrap.
  • There's no Daily Bugle, no Robbie Robertson, no Betty Brant and worse still, no J. Jonah Jameson.  It's not hard to tell why: if Webb hadn't cast J.K. Simmons as Jameson he would have been run out of Hollywood by roving bands of nerds armed with torches and pitchforks.     
  • Partly because the flinty publisher of the Bugle is absent, Captain George Stacy becomes the de facto anti-Spider-Man authority figure.  In the erudite opinion of this humble fan and film critic this is complete and total horse shit.   
  • The Spidey suit.  Seriously, why fuck around with something so iconic?  Oh well, at least it isn't half as retarded-looking as the new Superman uniform.                 
Like Khan Noonian Singh, these Spider-Man scripts are like poor marksman who keep missing the target.  But what the fuck do I know?  The Amazing Spider-Man is raking in some major cheddar right now, which goes to show that the movie-going public have all the memory capacity of a fucking goldfish.  

Maybe when this new Spidey franchise fucks up, it'll get rebooted again in another four or five years.  I can only hope that when this happens ol' web-head will finally get the Batman Begins treatment that he deserves.  

     Tilt: down.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Movie Review: "Brave"

When compared to the lofty creative heights achieved by The Incredibles, Up and Toy Story, Brave seems kinda m'eh in comparison.  Despite its beautiful art design, excellent voice acting and positive themes, the movie suffers from pedestrian story beats, all-too-familiar tropes and vast tracts of slap-stick comedy.


Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a rough-n'-tumble tomboy with a yen for adventure.  Her proud father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), happily indulges her but her mum, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) is more pragmatic.  She knows that tradition dictates that her daughter will someday marry the heir of an allied clan.  Since martial skills like horseback riding and archery are moot, Elinor tries her best to re-fashion Merida into a real princess.

But when Merida learns that she's betrothed to one of three unpalatable suitors, she declares archery to be the determining contest and then wins the competition herself.  This results in a major rift between mother and daughter and the young princess runs away from home.  Not long after, Merida encounters a mysterious witch in the woods and urges the old crone to give her a spell to change her mother's mind.

Anyone familiar with The Monkey's Paw will know exactly where this is headed.  The spell goes horribly (and comically) awry and Merida spends the rest of the film trying to restore the "pride-torn bond" with her mum.  There's a bit of traditional adventure shoe-horned into the film in the form of some ancient ruins and a mysterious dude name Mor'du, but otherwise the story is pretty castle-bound.

Honestly, I had no clue what the film was going to be about.  At the very least, the trailer certainly can't be accused of "giving too much away".  On the downside, anyone expecting a grand and epic tale may be sorely disappointed in what amounts to a mash-up of Freaky Friday meets Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs told with a Scottish brogue.    

Unintentional transmogrification isn't the only tired plot chestnut being peddled here.  By my calculation, we've seen the whole "willful-young-girl-rebels-against-arranged-marriage" thang approximately one hojillion times.  Add in what feels like a laundry list of historical Scottish tropes and personality clichés (They're loud!  They're quick-tempered!  They fight a lot!) and the entire thing feels creatively fatigued.

Which is a real shame since the movie looks so durned pretty.  The character models alone are fantastic.  Merida is a wondrous creation; her Captain-Caveman-by-way-of-Carrot-Top hair is positively hypnotic to watch.  I applaud the animators for making her cute without without going all "Anime Disney Princess" on her.  On the other hand, I find it hilarious that even the creatively unhindered realm of animation isn't immune to the whole "ugly dude/hot wife" phenomenon.  

The castle, the surrounding village and the environs traversed by the characters are all colorful and vibrant.  I couldn't help but marvel as Merida climbed to the top of a gorgeous waterfall, dashed through the forest astride her trusty steed and followed the spectral Wisps to the Stone Circle.  Having been to Scotland before, I was also amused to see that Brave seems to take place just prior to the time before the Celts cut all of the trees down.

As I said before, the voice acting is stellar and I'm really pleased that most of the cast is actually Scottish.  Kelly Macdonald's voice is a winsome match for Merida.  Emma Thompson's Queen Elinor maintains a regal and spot-on Scottish accent.  Billy Connolly really steals the show as King Fergus, serving up sly asides, awkward proclamations and pure bombast in equal measure.               

Now, some might think me beastly for criticizing a film that's essentially targeted towards little people who don't know a cliché from the Champs-Élysées.  But it's still an adult that has to pay those admission prices and I think they deserve to see something fresh, new and thought-provoking as well.

That's not to say that Brave is addle-brained.  In fact, it's core message of female empowerment and open communication is an inherently positive one.  But we've seen all of these things before and, frankly, the familiar in Brave far outweighs the innovative.

For the record, I really do appreciate that a girl is finally at the center of a Pixar movie.  I just wish the producers had given her a more original and interesting MacGuffin to rail against.  

Tilt: down.

P.S. To any chucklehead out there who thinks Merida might be a lesbian: just watch this clip and ask yourself: 'If I were her, would I let any of these organ donors within a caber's length of my vagoo?'