Triple-Feature Review: Brave/Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter/Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

On Friday, some friends and I went and spent the day at the theatre, viewing all 3 of this week’s new releases. Here are my mini-reviews:

Brave:

To this date, I still don’t believe that Pixar has made a legitimately bad film. Most aren’t very fond of Cars and Cars 2, but even those films can still hold their own against the Madagascars and the Ice Ages of this world. Every year, people wonder if this will be the year that Pixar blows it. 2012 is not that year.

Now, that isn’t to say that Brave is a masterpiece. I would say that it’s a good film. I may even say that it’s a great film. I wouldn’t put it on the same level as films like Wall-E, Up, or Toy Story 3, however. Due to Pixar’s stellar track record, each new release is met with an intense amount of scrutiny, and I’d say that expectations for Pixar films are simply too high. People compare Pixar films to Pixar films, and in a way, it’s an unfair comparison. Brave, when taken on its own, can stand alongside any other animated film released in the last year. It’s just not, in my opinion, up to Pixar’s usual level of quality (Cars 2 excluded).

Now, I’m willing to admit that one of the reasons I feel this way is because Brave didn’t resonate that much with me. At its core, this is a film about the relationship between a mother and a daughter. This is a film about a girl whose view of her life doesn’t match up with her mother’s. This is an issue that I’ve personally never really had. Maybe if I had any idea what I wanted from my own life, it would clash with what my parents want from my life. Overall, however, my parents have been supportive of me finding my own path. Princess Merida can’t say the same about her own parents, in particular her mother . If you need a Game of Thrones analogue, Merida is to her mother as Arya Stark is to her Septa. This is a young girl who seeks a life of adventure when all her mother wants for her is a life of domesticity and royalty. I won’t go any more into the plot, because Pixar has done a mighty fine job of keeping the plot points of this movie fairly hidden, but this is the core conflict in the film. It has its fair share of laughs

The film is, unsurprisingly, gorgeous. Pixar has outdone themselves in the visuals apartment once again. I love the aesthetic of this film and I’d actually say that it’s one of my favorite Pixar films, visually. The voice cast does a great job and the soundtrack is superb. It’s a top-notch production, from head-to-toe, although you wouldn’t expect anything less from Pixar.

I admire that Pixar took a risk and tried something different. They made a classical Disney-like fairy tale with a female lead character, and while Brave isn’t Pixar’s best effort by any means, it’s still a beautiful, charming film in its own right.

PS. “La Luna” is the Pixar short that is shown before Brave and it’s every bit as good (if not better) than the film it proceeds. I won’t spoil any of the details here, since there’s really not much to spoil, but it’s expertly crafted and as charming as any of Pixar’s previous short efforts.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter:

This movie is called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and it’s about what you’d expect from a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) takes us back and reveals the secret history behind the American Civil War in a film that is most definitely an exercise in style over substance. Nonsensical set pieces are set up with care and just about every fight scene is interspersed with moments of slow-mo axe swinging. I can’t actually remember if Wanted (which I liked) and the Watch films were this heavy on the slow-motion, but it’s evident that Bekmambetov has been taking some classes from Zack Snyder’s school of filmmaking.

The cast does a good enough job with what they’re given. Benjamin Walker was a good choice for Lincoln and the ever-lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a good job opposite him as Mary Todd. The cast is bolstered by the likes of Dominic Cooper, Jimmi Simpson, Rufus Sewell, and Marton Csokas, and you can tell that they’re all having a good time chewing the scenery. There’s just something missing.

Some have said that the movie’s biggest weakness is the fact that it takes itself too seriously, which it absolutely does. For such a silly concept, there is a surprising lack of levity in the film. At the same time, I felt that it was clear that this was the movie that Bekmambetov wanted to make. I haven’t read Seth Grahame-Smith’s book, so I’m not sure if the book treats the material with the same amount of gravitas, but this film is everything that the director wanted it to be, which, unfortunately, was not that great.

I still love the idea behind this film – it’s a crazy concept, but I love crazy concepts. It really would have benefited from a bit more levity. There are moments when you can see glimpses of self-awareness, but Bekmambetov never really gets it right, which is a shame. There’s potential here. I can’t help but think about how cool this film could have been in the hands of someone like Joss Whedon. You need look no further than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Cabin in the Woods to see that a ridiculous concept can be both funny and grave.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World:

“Funny. Sad. Happy. Depressing. Touching. Melancholic. Hopeful.”

That’s how I described this film on Twitter. It may seem contradictory, but all of these elements actually work together surprisingly well. In fact, I don’t think that this film would work without all of these elements, and that’s what makes it so special.

In case you’re unaware, the premise here is that an asteroid is heading towards Earth and humanity’s last hope for survival has failed – there are three week’s left until life on Earth is no more. Immediately after hearing the news, Dodge Peterson’s (Steve Carell) wife leaves him to face the apocalypse alone. What follows are a serious of funny scenes showing Dodge attempting to figure out how to handle this revelation. Eventually, Doge meets Penny (Kiera Knightley), a charming, quirky girl who’s just looking for a way back to England so she can spend her final days with her family. Dodge may know of a way to get her there, but first he needs her help finding “the one that got away”. And so the two embark on a journey to help one another fulfill their last desires before the world ceases to exist.

It’s an interesting premise, one which I fell in love with from the moment I heard it. The concept is only as good as the talent behind it, however. First-time director Lorene Scafaria (who also wrote the film) does a decent job with her own material, although nothing about the direction really stood out to me. Luckily, she has a great cast filled with funny, recognizable talent to back her up. Just about everyone in this film (with the exception of Knightley) has been a television mainstay at one point or another – we’ve got representation from The Office, Community, Parks & Recreation, Friday Night Lights, The West Wing, CSI, The OC, Children’s Hospital, and more. Carell and Knightley have great chemistry together and it’s a join seeing them bond over the course of the journey.

I will say, however, that this film left me feeling weird as I left the theatre. I liked it, but I was overcome with this intense melancholy that I couldn’t shake for the rest of the night. I usually love these types of movies which use a significant event or a crisis to take a broader look at life and what’s important, because they reveal truths that I seem incapable of discovering within my own life. Maybe it’s because I’m in a perpetual state of waiting for life to happen to me. I don’t know. All I know is that when watching this film, it’s almost impossible to not put yourself in the character’s situation. What would you do if you only had three weeks left to live? How many regrets would you have? Who would you spend your final days with? I think that my post-viewing melancholy came from the fact that I was faced with these questions and didn’t like the answers. If a film has the power to make someone question their own life, it can only be a good thing, right?

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