Friday, June 22, 2012

Brave Has More Nerve Than You Think

When a new Pixar movie is released, it's declared another instant classic.
This time, people are wondering if the innovative company has finally run out of magic.
Right now, Brave has a Rotten Tomatoes grade of 73, although the public grade is much higher. It's certain to overcome Madagascar 3 easily. Yet some movie critics, pro and amateur (like me) think that Brave will mark the decline of the Pixar dynasty. Some say it actually started with Cars 2 (Mater as an international spy? really?).

Well, I disagree. Maybe brave isn't like Wall-E or the Toy Story movies, but it's a solid movie on its own.

We know the basic story: a headstrong Scottish princess named Merida is in no mood to be betrothed to any of the sons from the other clans. She wants her freedom, and to perfect her archery. Her mom, Queen Elinor, wants Merida to follow tradion, as she had to. This leads to a big fight where Merida runs away. She locates a witch who grants a spell where Merida can change her fate. However, it also changes a few other things, causing chaos in the kingdom. She has to work fast to undo the spell to avoid disaster.

The following will include spoilers, so here's some warning space....

The spell, which involves eating a small cake, turns Elinor into a bear, and how she deals with it almost overshadows Merida's story. She's upset of course, but Merida helps her mom out. After all, it's Merida's thoughtlessness that caused this problem (or maybe it was Elinor, who tosses Merids's bow into the fire, which really sets off the chain of events). It's also great how Elinor gets used to being a bear, and has the chance to really get to know her daughter. It's no accident how, at one point, she leaves her crown hehind.

Being a bear, though, is a big problem. The kingdom has hated bears ever since King Fergis lost his leg to a very nasty bear named Mordu. That's why Elinor Bear is a marked animal. However, the movie adds a little twist: the spell had been granted before to someone who wanted the strength of ten men to conquer the entire kingdom. We'll give you one guess what happened to him.
Yep, he turned into Mordu, who's nastier than the average bear....and is still alive.

In the typical Pixar movie, Merida would be expected to wind up as the heroine who conquers all. Well, she does figure out what she has to do to break the spell, but someone else winds up as the real heroine because she harnessed her true self to save the day. It's in the final battle, and you will really enjoy how this turns out.
(Edit to add: in a way, this movie also makes history by being the second time someone is injured in a Pixar movie, and, if you want to get technical, wandering into PG area in two scenes. We're talking nude body parts)

The importance of family ties, how tradition can evolve, personal responsibility...that would make a good Pixar movie, as it does with Brave, After all, what was Finding Nemo but a road picture about a frightened dad looking for his missing son? Brave is a road picture but of a different highway.

I also notice that some think Brave is a knockoff of How To Train Your Dragon, which I think is fairly unlikely. Dragon was based on a series of books, and I don't think Pixar has spies at Dreamworks. Also, Pixar cancelled a movie because it was too similar to Dreamworks' Rio. Still, I would love to picture a meeting of the casts of Brave and Dragon, where Hiccup and Fergis discuss living life to the fullest on one foot, while Merida and Astrid compare battle techniques.

Brave should do well in the long run, but it's going to have a tough time cominating the movie screens. It has to deal with Abe Lincoln the Vampire Hunter, Spider-Man and Batman. Not only that, it has to head off rumours of its decline if the next two offerings are a 3-D release of Finding Nemo and Monsters University. Some may even claim Pixar will be jealous because it didn't come up with Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie.
Well, Pixar will have something new in 2014, and it only makes sense the other studios would catch up to Pixar. They've already embraced the need for sequels (Ice Age and Despicable Me, for example). Hotel Transylvania is a variation of Monsters Inc. because the monsters (with one exeception) hate humans. That's animated movies today.

So, Brave is worth your cash. Check it out now because Spider-Man tries to take you into its web, which it will.

Oh, and the Pixar short, "La Luna", is also cute. It involves a young boy joined by his dad and grandad as they do some unusual maintenance. Let's just say it's a different explanation of how a full moon turns into a new moon, and the young boy figures out a better way of moon maintenance.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

X Factor in Oakland

It's been an interesting couple of days. KFBK moved into new studios at River Park Drive, and I had to do some quick tap dancing early Saturday morning because the host of the Outdoor Show was late for the first time in years because his alarm clock broke.
At least I learned new skills about the updated equipment in the only effective way: the equivalent to learning how to swim by being thrown into the pool.

So, to treat myself because I just hit 53, I decided to go see one of the X Factor auditions at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.

Don't Cry For Me, X Factor

It's an easy train ride from Sacramento, and it was easy to get tickets.

Ticket to X Factor Auditions in Oakland

The arena was converted to a 5000 seat facility, and it made me think the arena was a lot smaller than what I remembered. Then again, I haven't been there since 1990.

There were dozens of people, thinking that they had the X Factor that's worth five million dollars. That included this girl group called Breaking Day...

Budding Girl Group

The biggest surprise involved this girl, Sophie Tweed-Simmons, a college student with a dad that may be familiar to a lot of you, especially those who rock and roll nightly and party daily....

X Factor contestant..and dad

Yep, KISS Army, Gene Simmons was there. He didn't even know what his daughter was planning to do until the day before. I thought he was there because he was filling in for Simon Cowell, who had been under the weather lately. If that was true, it would be a good idea.

Gene Simmons' Father's Day

I'd rather not say if Sophie made it to the next round. I will say Gene joined her on stage, then left like he was Chuck Berry. Some Twitterers may have spilled the beans already, but you can see what happened this fall.
My seat was just to the right of the stage, and relatively close. I had brought binoculars if I was far away, and they helped.

The X Factor Audition stage

There were plenty of interesting signs from the fans, too:


This one was meant for Simon, but it was used more often for the less-than-talented contestants, including a female duo who would have been gonged out of TV it it was 35 years ago.

That sign was supposed to be for Simon....

I was able to get a good picture at the four judges...

The Most Supreme Court..of Entertainment

From what I could see, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato has a knack for this. Demi was a bit more critical, and chided Simon sometimes. She really thinks that if someone doesn't have that "X Factor", she'll say so. Britney was a bit more diplomatic, and looked cute in glasses. She removed them in the first batch of contestants. Simon, of course, cuts like a knife as usual, because it's what he does.
There was one guy who was, er, unusually dressed, He was off-key singing Madonna, but has a strong voice. His enthusiasm, well, was an asset. There was another guy who was actually advised to change his approach to the song he had prepared, and come back later. I never heard that before.
Some were close, but not close enough, and there were really good prospects like a trio from Orange County who developed their own style. Of course, other people would make their mark in the other sessions, but I did enjoy the one I attended. If I could, I would have attended a second show, but once was enough. I just wanted an interesting way to celebrate my 53rd birthday early, and I think I made a good choice.