Category Archives: Article by R. Agler

Summer Movie Slam: ‘Brave’

Tuttle: For this particular review, me and my co-writer, Rebecca Agler, decided to tag team the duties of writing about ‘Brave’. It seems like a movie that most of the general public went to see, and it was also a film that both Agler and I were particularly disappointed with.

I know what you are thinking. “I thought ‘Brave’ was a pretty good movie.” Well, it very well might have been, but a ‘pretty good’ Pixar movie, in my mind, is a HUGE step backwards for a great production company. This is the same studio that gave us ‘Toy Story’, ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘WALL-E’, and my personal favorite ‘Up’. I mean think about it, can you think of many movies that tell a story better than ‘Up’? That montage that made all of America weep and weep again? Pure movie magic. Agler, why do you think we are so attached to these older Pixar movies?

Agler: It’s because they’re stories  that are so easy for us to relate to. Just think of ‘Toy Story’. Now, where do I begin with why I love ‘Toy Story’? A common part of childhood we all had when we were little tykes, whether it was playing with a dolled-up Barbie or macho (insert male toy), was making our toys talk and have human tendencies. The idea that our toys were more than toys was what every kid dreamed of. That’s why we can all relate to growing up but refusing to give our toys away despite our mother’s nagging wishes. We formed an unbreakable allegiance to our plastic friends. These friends didn’t tire of hours upon hours of play time, didn’t care how lame our imaginative scenarios were, were often chosen instead of other activities, and were our companions when the real people around us were not.

This storyline is there in all three ‘Toy Story’ movies; they’re not so much about toys as much as they’re about growing up. You could say the same thing about ‘Monsters Inc.’ and ‘The Incredibles’. These movies, although some might call them ‘kids’ movies’, are about very real things.

Tuttle: And this brings us to ‘Brave’. Obviously, I went in with high expectations, given how great the Pixar movies of the past have been (sure ‘Cars 2’ was awful, but no one really liked ‘Cars’ that much in the first place). I think the biggest reason that I was let down with ‘Brave’ was the fact that the story was not unique in any way. In reality, you could take the characters of ‘Brave’, and the storyline of ‘Mulan’, and end up getting the same exact movie. Woman must marry man, but woman wants independence. Woman makes statement about independence and must endure conflict. Women overcomes conflict when society makes compromises. Cue credits. It’s all seems very formulaic and unoriginal to me, a story that we’ve all heard a million times.

Agler: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Brave, but it didn’t hit me until the end that this movie was not what I expected it to be, so it fell below my expectations. I have to say it kept my attention, and I wasn’t always sure what would happen next. But I was left thinking “what a letdown” because there were really no endearing characters. Yes, the connection between mother and daughter brought tears to my eyes while watching with my own mother, and yes, the change of a girl choosing singlehood over marriage is rare and possibly a first for childhood memories (hooray!) , but other than that, there was really nothing all that great as far as the characters go. The animation was of a higher quality and inspiring, but the story, the story was lacking. I honestly don’t know if they could’ve made it any better. It seems to be a stinker from the beginning.

Tuttle: I think the script could really be to blame. I mean, other Pixar movies had the creative genius of Brad Bird, Pete Docter, among others. Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman headed this one up, and in my mind, just really fell short.

I know of a lot of people that were really excited to see, for the first time, a female lead character in a Pixar movie. Especially in a year that gave us strong women like Katniss Everdeen, Suzy Bishop, Selina Kyle, and Black Widow, how do you think Merida measured up to the rest?

Agler: Merida was stubbornly independent, willful, and determined. But her actions and decisions didn’t scream “remember me, I’m different.” She missed the boat on that certain character trait, that spark, found in classic female characters in animated movies. Let’s take her and compare her to Belle from ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Belle was stubbornly independent when ignoring her town and loving her father anyway, was willful when refusing to settle and marry a jerk, and determined to see the good in the Beast. But we got to know Belle while witnessing her deep compassion for those around her, her numerous encounters with the Beast, her simplicity when it came to life and how she didn’t need her every move catered to, and her fierce determination to seek justice and equality.

Merida had potential to be a strong female character, she was in scenarios where she could have stood out, but it’s almost like she didn’t cross over the finish line. He started to be great but stopped half way. For example, Merida was the reason her mother turned into a bear. She would’ve stood out as a true heroine if she would’ve, let’s say, traded her humanity with her mother so her mother could become human again. Instead, the way her mother transformed was really no burden on Merida: all she had to do was sew a canvas together. There were simply no heroic acts that made Merida worthy to be called a classic heroine.

Tuttle: Agler, I think with what you just said, you revealed a key point to how ‘Brave’ really missed the boat, and it’s the fact that out main character didn’t have to sacrifice anything but a kooky evening of shenanigans in order to solve the conflict. In reality, it was the mother that was forced to be the hero, to suffer trials and achieve resolution. As an audience member, I felt no connection to Merida, and therefore didn’t feel any connection with this movie. Also, that old witch? Worthless character, through and through. Absolutely no purpose. She didn’t even show up after the spell was broken to offer an answers. I would’ve rather had Billy Crystal as Miracle Max than that irrelevant hag.

So where does Pixar go from here? I mean, with ‘Cars 2’ and now ‘Brave’, they’ve made two pretty mediocre movies in a row. Should they keep going for sequels, or do they try to write another unique story? They’ve now struck out in both categories.

Agler: I’d definitely say new, original stories. With Pixar, it’s almost too risky to have a sequel. Toy Story was lucky, but the rest should be left alone due to their finality in ending and overall creativity. Some stones are better left unturned. It seems like there is a repeat in movies these days: new characters and settings, same ideas. Fresh, new ideas are hard to come by, so Pixar landing one will be a great success and something worth working towards. Brave was a new idea, but the execution was horrible.

Tuttle: If they just keep re-releasing they’re good movies in 3D, they should do just fine. *cue ominous music here*.

Agler: I think its understandable that our expectations are high after the stellar movies Pixar has made. But the last two are causing me at least to be cautious in my excitement. Pixar is simply struggling like all other production companies with the need for originality, but I would say they of all companies should be able to come up with something due to their unique perspective in movies.

Our Note: ‘Brave’ falls short, but remains to be at least a decent movie for the whole family. Pixar: We want better than decent.

Our Grade: C

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Summer Movie Slam: ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

Can this really be the best and most exotic?

“I have a dream to create a home for the elderly so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die”

What if we lived in a world where every man had a British accent? How absolutely wonderful would that be…..if only it were true. I mean come on. The female population would be more inclined to settle down with a dreamy man who could woo them with that bloody brilliant speech. Besides being incredibly attractive speakers, the World of Brits seems more at large as of late. Maybe it’s due to the Olympics taking place in London. Not only are they hits with their cunning speech and location, but they’ve also found a place in the spotlight on television screens. It seems like the Brits are coming out on top in captivating series. Specifically on the BBC channel we encounter hit shows like Sherlock (4 nominations beating out AMC’s The Walking Dead) and Downton Abbey (16 Emmy nominations). Since I have yet to watch Sherlock, I can only speak for Downton Abbey. It is a remarkable series built with a solid cast which, in my opinion, is the reason for its popularity. I ask again, what’s not to love about these British characters? With this in mind, a movie has come along that contains some of the brilliant actors found in these series. It probably won’t stand the test of time like most, but it deserves praise none the less. If you classify yourself as having a passing fancy for some enchanting British television, I encourage you to read on.

The movie is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and the location is India. The plot concerns the lives of seven elderly chaps and dames coming together to a place that is supposedly built for them from the ploy to “Come and spend your olden years in an Indian palace.” To some folks from different walks of life whilst in the same age group, this slogan seems overly enticing. The elderly are viewed as a bunch of old farts about to croak. Retirement is the life, children see them as a burden, their agility has significantly lessened, and luxury is a dream that doesn’t fit into their present conditions. They don’t see a purpose in life anymore. Or perhaps they’ve lost something or someone so significant in life that moving forward or starting over seems utterly impossible. What if they can find a new purpose, a new perspective? What if they can change and affect others in ways they never dreamed possible, especially at this point in their lives. The possibility of fulfilling dreams by a refusal to accept the norm for people their age is what drives them to uproot and move to place foreign and completely opposite of what they’ve always known.

What do they have to lose? Not much, according to society’s standards. Hence, all of them end up at said hotel. The “what if” is more than tantalizing in place of a dull existence. “It’s a luxury development where all the residents are in their golden years” says one of our adventurous friends. And an adventure it certainly becomes. Things are definitely not what they seem upon arrival. The culture is nothing less than an absolute shock, and the state of the luxurious motel is the complete opposite of “luxury.” Luckily, at the end of it all, they discover that “The light, colors, smiles, it teaches [them] something.” Let’s take a look at our lead characters and the qualities that make them unforgettable.

First, we have our leading lady, Evelyn Greenslade played by the talented Judi Dench (M in the latest Bond films, and also seen in Ladies in Lavender and the BBC series Cranford). Evelyn is the one who has lost her partner in life. The death of her husband has left her with a complete void in her little life that seems ever looming and encompassing. In addition to the void, he’s left her in a similar fashion with debt, causing Evelyn to sell her house. For her, a new start is all she can hope for. Naturally, she jumps on board to take off to start afresh. Despite the twist on what she expected, she indeed finds purpose in a job with a voice she can project for the first time in her life. All around her are glimpses of a simplistic life she never dreamed possible, and more importantly, people that can fill her life with depth and meaning. She finds that “India, like life itself I suppose, is about what you bring to it.”

Our next fellow is the leading man, Graham Dashwood, played by brilliant actor Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone in the new Batman trio, also seen as Arthur Edens in Michael Clayton). This is a man whose success has been grounded in the high courts as a prestigious judge. He is finally done after a split second decision, and the move to India is all he cares about. We come to learn that this is not his first time to see the sights of India, for he lived there for a time as a boy. Every day he sets out to find someone whom he loved as a youth, but parted with disgrace and in prejudiced times. This man is the only love Graham has ever known, and to simply know he is alive and well is what drives him each and every day. Discovering that the guilt he carried his entire life was of his own creation frees him to accept redemption and complete happiness. To laugh and learn about the man before him with a family of his own connects Graham to the life he wished he would have been allowed to have, and the perspective makes his glass no longer half empty, but finally half full.

The couple in this film is Douglas (Bill Nighy also known as Davy Jones in the Pirates movies) and Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton as seen as Isobel Crawley from Downton). Doug and Jean seek a new life after losing most of the money they’d acquired for retirement after investing in their daughter’s frugal business. Jean is evidently repulsed by the opposite of what they expected, so she refuses to conform or accept the fact that she can start afresh. Doug has suffered years of abundant negativity and lack of respect from Jean, and he luckily discovers contentment and peace alongside a newly discovered connection with Evelyn. We find out whether or not this couple can put aside built up grudges and start a new chapter in their lives in this foreign place.

Feisty Muriel played by the wondrous Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley in Downton and Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter) finds herself in need of a hip replacement in a place where she’s promised a quick and inexpensive procedure. She holds her own with racist tendencies after a life of devotion to an adopted family who replace her with someone younger. Along the way, she fights to apply the idea that “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat [or have anything to do with] it.” Muriel unknowingly bestows acceptance on a young girl accustomed to having no status or recognition in life. She finds new ways to implement her acquired skills including a head for figures in a new life which she thought was unattainable with her background. Ironically, it is Maggie who changes the course of the hotel.

Our final duo are the well endowed Madge (Celia Imrie) who is hunting for her next husband alongside Norman (Ronald Pickup), a man who is trying to remain youthful and vigorous by pursuing reckless short term encounters with younger women as a matured Lothario. Both go to great lengths of fitting in with the high society by pretending to be a sort of royalty from England. The acceptance of how old they really are is difficult to accept while desiring to feel needed and loved by someone truly worthy. Their efforts are highly entertaining and happily resolved.

The glue that holds all these characters together is the fisher who lured them in, Sonny Kapoor played by the up and coming Dev Patel (Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire and Prince Zuko in The Last Airbender). Sonny is the dreamer and part owner of the hotel, and his optimism despite the somewhat false advertising is evident in the idea that “In India we have a saying. Everything will be alright in the end. So if it’s not alright, it is not yet the end.” He deals with an overbearing mother trying to douse his dreams by orchestrating an arranged marriage, and keeping the woman he loves (Sunaina played by Tena Desae) despite his mother’s evident objection. Sonny sees things as they can be, and he refuses to conform to the standards of his family. He too receives perspective from the occupants who inspire him to fight for all he envisions.

India is a world of poverty, but simplicity. To have the ability to adjust to a foreign world at such a ripened age is understandable far out. But our friends thrive in a new place that is surprisingly fitting for what they need. Seeing past the face value of an alien land is what marks them as trail blazers. One of them admits that “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected” to which Muriel replies “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.” Innovative beginnings and friendships are the key to overcoming age, and they all have the chance to embrace or reject this once in a lifetime opportunity. For The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel offers “a new and different world. The challenge is to cope with it. And not just cope, but thrive.”

My Note: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is brimming with revolutionary cures, vices, and opportunities for the overlooked elderly.

My Grade: B

 

 

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The Last of the Mohicans: Love in the Midst of Sorrow

Picking up an authentic, historically accurate movie, one that’s not found on the History Channel, seems to be a rare occurrence. Completely twisting the facts to fit the action packed scene is the norm. Even though there are added love interests and catastrophic battle scenes that are not historically correct, they represent situations that could easily have been found in that distinct time and place. With that in mind, we get exceptional movies that have at least one fantastic and accurate scene, situation, or portrayal such as Braveheart, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Gone With the Wind, Dances With Wolves, The Godfather, and The Patriot.

The reason I love movies like this is with the knowledge that it is, basically, a historically relevant movie with a compelling story. It’s not full of blue aliens, Disney characters, or futuristic worlds. Granted they aren’t 100% accurate, like Defiance or The Conspirator, but they do share a common spirit. One of the reasons I love movies is they allow me to experience something special and put me in the moment; historic movies take me to a time period that I sometimes wish I would’ve been born into.

Another movie I’d like to add to the list is not a “box-office blockbuster” or a “Best Picture” winner, but it certainly has the qualities necessary to throw it into the mix. The film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans is a movie full of courage, devotion, and passion. Directed by Michael Mann, and scored to the exquisite compositions of Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman, the film itself is one of great beauty. 

Set during the French and Indian war, the movie depicts the siege at Fort William Henry and the following battle after the British surrender to Marquis de Montcalm. The portrayal of these events resonate with authenticity. We see the lives of the soldiers and their families living in close quarters within the fort, the wounded accumulating by the hour, the skirmishes outside the walls, and the chaos within the trenches moving closer and closer by the day. The eventual surrender is well depicted, as well the unwarranted generosity and gentlemanly behavior on the part of Montcalm towards his British opponents, including Lt. Colonel George Monro. After the surrender, the evacuation of the able and wounded English and subsequent brutality of the hostile Indian tribes leaves a mark on the memories of those viewing the savagery. One senses the confusion and utter panic on behalf of the English, being attacked with intense ferocity without the availability of safety within sight. 

In addition to the accurate historical depictions, what solidifies my love and appreciation for films are the emotional and realistic relationships that form between characters. The movie opens with the Mohican indian Chingachgook (beautifully played by the famous Ogalala/Lakota Sioux and first national director of American Indian Movement, Russell Means) and his two sons, Uncas (Eric Schweig) and our hero, Nathaniel, (played by the famous Daniel Day Lewis also found in There Will Be Blood and Gangs of New York) hunting in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. They later visit the homestead of their friends, Camerons, “hack[ing] it out of the wilderness with their own two hands.” 

The three men initially reject the offer to join their friends as volunteers in the British army, but the eventual murder of the Camerons and the encounter with a detachment of officers, including the two daughters of Colonel Monro, throw them into the ranks of the war. 

As a result, our heroes lead the surviving officer, Duncan, and the daughters, Cora (played by the stunning Madeleine Stowe from the TV series Revenge) and Alice to Fort William. In the course of their travels, Nathaniel and Cora are found in a treacherous war in which their love is discovered and validated amidst the firing cannons and flying tomahawks. This love is one that we all dream of: all sacrificing, unwavering faithful, and passionately sustained. 

Cora’s devotion is clear when she challenges her father’s authority to save Nathaniel from being hanged for sedition. Nathaniel is equally faithful when he saves Cora from a slit to the throat. He climbs up the highest mountains to rescue her from the antagonist Magua (played by the infamous Wes Studi), and free falls into a trecherous waterfall to ensure her safety. His love will forever be marked and defined by the ever famous line “No, you submit, do you hear? You be strong, you survive… You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.”

During the development of Nathaniel and Cora’s relationship, a bond is formed between Uncas and Alice. Uncas subtly watches over the meek and pure Alice who is evidently fragile and delicate in the midst of the wars waged around her. Before Uncas joins Chingachgook and Nathaniel jumping into the waterfall, he pulls Alice from a rash suicidal decision to end her life; she believes that she cannot go on after witnessing such evil and death. His tender affection for her is unmistakable in his embrace and comfort. The love that Uncas feels for Alice is moving and foreshadows the painful climax to come.

After Nathaniel once again saves Cora, Uncas sets off to save Alice from the clutches of Magua. Regrettably, Uncas is sliced before her eyes and kicked off a mountain after repeatedly trying to outmatch Magua. Although defeated, Uncas refuses to give in without one last blow. His sacrifice is the last straw for Alice who is united with Uncas through the same tragic death. Is there a greater picture of true love other than the sacrifice of one’s own life for their soul mate?

After watching his son’s sacrifice from a distance, the overwrought and enraged Chingachgook has his revenge in the brief but power defeat of Magua. He is able to rip his enemy apart with the surest and swiftest movements formed over years of perfection. Before enacting the final blow, Chingachgook looks his enemy square in the eye and that moment is the epitome of a father’s righteous justice. His mouth is silent, but his eyes say, “You messed with family, and you will die for that.

In the final scene, Chingachgook, Nathaniel, and Cora gather together to grieve their lost ones in the only way they can. We glimpse a future full of hope for Nathaniel and Cora despite the extreme pain and loss at the end of the film, but at the same time the final moment is mixed with intense despair from a man who has experienced unspeakable tribulation throughout his long life. It is at this point that we hear the words of a man who is the definition of wisdom:

“The frontier moves with the sun and pushes the Red Man of these wilderness forests in front of it until one day there will be nowhere left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us….The frontier place is for people like my white son and his woman and their children. And one day there will be no more frontier. And men like you will go too, like the Mohicans. And new people will come, work, struggle. Some will make their life. But once, we were here….Great Spirit, Maker of All Life. A warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun. Welcome him and let him take his place at the council fire of my people. He is Uncas, my son. Tell them to be patient and ask death for speed; for they are all there but one – I, Chingachgook – Last of the Mohicans.”

My Note: A movie with historic merit in addition to relatable passionate connections and true devotion to those connections.

My Grade: A

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