The movie hadn’t been on very long, but I had the feeling that most of the funny scenes from the trailer had already flown by. I checked my watch: six minutes. Not much later the rest of the trailer galloped past. Then Dodge, the Steve Carrell character, pulled into his rooftop parking place at work. He leaned forward to check an insect bite on his cheek in the rear view mirror. With a shattering crash, a body landed on his windshield.
As I watched the trailer for Brave I had a sinking feeling. It’s funny, of course, and the images and characters are brightly appealing. But the plot … hmm. A feisty young princess is to learn which of three princes — who range from wimpy to oafish — will be her future husband. They will compete with each other in feats of archery, with the winner to wed the princess. But she refuses her socially assigned fate; taking up the bow herself, she easily bests the suitors and wins her own hand.
As the last scene of this movie faded away, replaced by a screen reading “Directed by Madonna,” I asked my companion, “If you’d known ahead of time that Madonna was the director, would you have enjoyed this movie as much?” He replied, “Honestly, no.”
I have 11 grandchildren. I see plenty of children’s movies. I have acquired a jaundiced eye. As autumn leaves drift into piles, as souvenir teacups proliferate around a royal wedding, thus do crass, crude, cynical children’s movies pile up around the family DVD player. Until now. The Adventures of Tintin is superb. Grandparents everywhere will babble tearful thanks: it’s so much better than it had to be, given the industry’s steadily decreasing quality (everywhere but Pixar-land). Credit must go to both the stars at the helm, Peter Jackson (of The Lord of the Rings) and Steven Spielberg (of too many hits to mention), and the new technologies (motion-capture animation, improved 3-D process) deserve a toast as well. However, none of this would be here without the hero himself.
This might be an excellent movie; it certainly looks impressive. But I’m only a little less baffled now, after reading up on the storyline, than I was when I walked out of the theater. Suffice it to say that reviews by people who had already read the novel, or viewed the 7-part BBC series, regard the movie with great appreciation. Those who didn’t already know the storyline range from appreciative-but-puzzled to frustrated-and-annoyed.
Playwright Horton Foote (1916-2009) made the comment a few years back, “The people hardest on [my work] always say that not a lot is happening.” Oh, but what delectable nothing it is. Foote won Oscars for Tender Mercies (1983) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and was nominated for The Trip to Bountiful (1985)—all works of great tenderness and insight. (Let me recommend too the little-known 1918, which accumulates quietly and then unexpectedly provokes a painful compassion.) Many of his films also show a good grasp of what it is to be a person of faith, and how to persevere in prayer when things are hard.
First the bad news, for adolescent viewers, anyway: there don’t be any dragons. Not the leathery-winged kind, at least. The title refers to a medieval map-making custom of inscribing the warning “Hic Sunt Dracones” on unexplored regions. In this case the warning refers to the unexplored regions of the psyche, where destructive emotions may lurk.
And that’s the happy ending. It’s this unintentional resonance that threatens to turn In Time from a nifty thriller into an unintentionally obtuse message-movie, one that seems to say that an international financial disaster would be the best thing that ever happened to the poor. There may have been eras in the last few decades when a saucy statement along those lines might have been relished. Now is not one of those times.
[October 8, 2011] Here’s a link to my interview on the PBS show, “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,” about the movie Higher Ground: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/october-7-2011/higher-ground/9668/
Here’s what happens. You prepare for a phone interview with an actor or director by thinking up a list of questions. Really, you only need one or two good ones, and the conversation takes care of itself. But the person being interviewed has a different perspective. There are certain points they want to get across, regardless of which questions you ask. They may have been reiterating these same points into different microphones a dozen times a day for many days.