Friday, June 22, 2012

Brave Review

Film Grade: B+

Pixar films have seldom sold audiences short — from Finding Nemo to Toy Story, Pixar has never failed to bring wholesome laughs with surprisingly deep messages, often stressing the importance of family. While Brave introduces Pixar’s first heroine and first period setting, it most certainly stays to true to those traits.

Brave is set in medieval Scotland, slightly past the Braveheart days (although blue war paint still runs rampant), but long enough ago when clans still came together to arrange marriages.

Which our heroine, Medira, beset with the wildest red hair in film history, won’t have. According to her father King Fergus, she “wants to stay single and let my hair flow in the wind as I ride through the glen firing arrows into the sunset” — which Merida’s mother, Eleanor, won’t have either.

To have mommy issues is no new subject in princess tales, but for a change, it’s because the princess doesn’t want to get married, when mother does. Because neither mother nor daughter can listen, Merida decides to use a witch’s spell to “change her mother … to change her fate”.

Well, the spell did change her. Into a bear. The only way to change her mother back would be to “mend the broken bonds caused by pride”, which didn’t mean re-stitching the family’s tapestry, as Merida thought. To undo the spell, Merida and Eleanor have to work together to transform themselves.

Measuring this film to Pixar's past list, Brave isn't exactly an A+. While it isn’t Pixar’s best, the film still has so many good qualities that make it worth seeing. (First of all, it's Pixar. Nuff' said.)

Second, the animation is an aesthetic work of art. Merida’s hair alone is a masterpiece, as the animators created two programs in order to achieve the wild look that is just as independent and strong as she is. Also, the film score and Scottish accents never got old.

Third, the film is refreshing. Not only does Merida kick away the typical princess gender role, she does so without rejecting her femininity. She never discards her role as a woman, but she does know she’s not fit to marry because she’s not ready. That’s a mature thing to realize. In this way, the film shifts the focus away from the distressing-damsel princesses to the film's theme of family importance.

The basic conflict in the film — Eleanor and Merida’s relationship — is typical. A loving mother wants to prepare her daughter for the responsibilities of the role she will have as a grown woman, teenage daughter wants her independence and freedom. Still, deep at the core of those differences, there is unconditional love. The love between a mother and daughter truly transcends all hurts, if we choose to let it go.

Which is the lesson learned in Brave. Family and forgiveness are essential, and the two often go hand in hand— which means we are constantly called to put aside our pride. The family is a messy and imperfect structure. Like the rambunctious clans in the film, we might fight a lot and we might disagree. But the bottom line is that good families love each other, and that is a precious gift.

The film’s trailer especially talks about “changing our fate” and how it is a brave thing to do. We learn in the film that changing our fate begins by changing ourselves. When we gain perspective for ourselves, when we allow ourselves to be transformed, we change our fate, and in turn, change those around us. To lay down arms, to listen, to gulp back pride, to lovingly forgive — that’s brave. And this film is a brave reminder.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Pro-Life Challenge

As an intern at my local newspaper, I was able to cover a pro-life rally at a city hall council meeting where I live. I won't go into what happened in the meeting, but I was struck by what I observed.

Throughout the meeting, several pro-life people were able to voice their beliefs and opinions, without interruption and hailed with applause. But when two abortion supporters rose to speak, the "pro-life" people in the audience booed them, cut them off, and shouted disrespectful remarks.

I know as Christians, we're fallen and imperfect, and sometimes, we're hypocrites. But when we are fighting so hard for something we believe in — in this case, against abortion — we cannot spew hate and then claim to follow Christ. It doesn't work that way, and it's totally counter-productive to what we're trying to accomplish here. The song goes, "They will know we are Christians by our love". I'm pretty sure Jesus wouldn't condone treating people of different opinions with such disrespect, and even hate.

I'm on the imperfect Christian lifeboat, and heck, I'll be the first to admit my imperfection. I can be a hypocrite too sometimes, we all can. But since I identify myself as pro-life, I take that belief into all areas. So here's a challenge, folks.

As a pro-life people, the term doesn't just mean that we are against abortion or euthanasia. It means we respect and value every life, even the ones that have different opinions from us. And treating them as people, with the respect they deserve as fellow brothers and sisters.

Second, we can't win any culture battle by fighting  against other people. As someone in the crowd said tonight, we have to let God fight our battles for us, and do our part — that is, pray, first and foremost, and secondly, to do it the right way. We cannot allow the emotional connection to the pro-life stance get in the way of gulping back the self-righteous part of us that shouts "THIS IS TRUTH" to the world, while condemning those who don't have the ears to hear it.

I know for a fact we won't win anything. Period. God will. We might not even live to see that day, but it's not for us to worry. What we need to do is be the best Christian we can be, while leaving God to change the hearts.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman Review

Kristin Stewart and Chris Hemsworth in Snow White and the Huntsman

Film Grade: C+

Hollywood is just bursting with creativity these days, with all these remakes. At least with the remake of Disney’s happy, lighthearted Snow White, filmmakers have given audiences a more Grimm feel (no pun intended) to Snow White and the Huntsman – certainly a welcome change.

The main plot is generally the same: evil but beautiful witch rules the land, wants to kill Snow White (a very blank Kristin Stewart) in a fit of jealous rage. Even more welcome, however, is the addition of the Huntsman, played by Chris Hemsworth. He’s got enough brawn for several men, but still has the gentleness of a gentleman. (The prince still makes an appearance, but is frankly overshadowed by Huntsman. Let's be honest.)

The film is visually stunning. Ravenna, the evil queen played by the over-sexualized Charlize Theron, is fit with beautiful costumes that change almost as much as her moods. The furry faeries, the woodsy trolls and the queen’s dark army also boast of the film’s special effects abilities.

I also applaud the film’s effort; Huntsman had the potential to be epic, but in the end, fell flat. First of all, the romance between Huntsman and Snow White had great potential to be the heart and soul of the film, but the characters weren’t given enough time and space in the script to develop more. Second, Kristin Stewart just cannot act. The scene where she bites the apple was like a flashback to Twilight when she was bitten by a vampire. She teared up at random moments. She had the daunting task of having to rally men with a speech that was supposed to be arousing, but just ended up sounding like a series of squeaks.

In the end, the movie focused entirely on Charlize Theron. Most of the scenes were devoted to her steamy scheming, writhing, screaming or just standing there, being beautiful. While Theron’s acting, given the script’s limits, did a fine job, it didn’t give the film the depth it needed.

Overall, the film was entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed the Huntsman, who gave all the funny lines and was the only one NOT obsessed with Snow White. The special effects were also worth the viewing, from an artistic standpoint. As a story though, there was much to be desired. The screenwriters couldn’t make up their minds whether they should keep the same innocent, gentle Snow White that we all know, or to turn her into Joan of Arc – and with Kristin Stewart, that definitely didn’t work.

What I thought most interesting was that the film showcased how Ravenna was driven to evil by her jealousy and lust for beauty, a vice she blamed on having to please men all her life. This jealousy literally sucked the life out of  the country’s people and landscape. In contrast, Snow White was pure, gentle and innocent; she did not allow Ravenna’s evil to shroud her pure outlook. Wherever Snow White went, life followed.

I'd say it's a pretty good reminder that purity and innocence trumps jealousy and lust - a relevant theme in our day when people are obsessed with looking younger.