Brave, Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, 107 mins (PG)
360, Fernando Meirelles, 110 mins (15)
The Highlands are alive, but how do you solve a problem like Merida?
Sunday 12 August 2012
Despite Pixar's well-earnt reputation for super-lative storytelling, the studio seems to be having more and more trouble getting a 100-minute narrative to flow from start to finish. Up begins as a beautiful encomium to marriage, before switching to a fast and furious jungle adventure; Ratatouille isn't sure whether it's about a rat, a chef or a restaurant critic. Brave is similarly muddled, as if the film-makers picked the setting then left the story to take care of itself.
Brave unfolds in the magnificent Scottish Highlands in the Dark Ages (give or take a century or two), which the animators have recreated in luxuriant detail. It's the home of the feisty Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), who's always being lectured on feminine decorum by her mother (Emma Thompson), but who'd prefer to be like her wild, battle-scarred dad (Billy Connolly). The delightfully authentic mother-daughter griping boils over when Merida is ordered to marry a crown prince from one of three neighbouring clans. She can't stand the idea, but what can she possibly do?
It's a question that the screenwriters find as difficult as Merida does. Having spent a long time introducing the three suitors, the film gives them almost nothing to do. Having spent an even longer time establishing that Merida would win gold medals in archery and equestrianism, it denies her the fight scenes she deserves: considering the title, it's odd how little bravery there is on show. The cartoon's centrepiece, which comes after an hour's wait, is a weirdly placid interlude in which Merida pals around with a bear.
The film's disjointed, shilly-shyalling structure probably has a lot to do with its years in development, the initial director, Brenda Chapman, being replaced halfway through. Mothers and daughters will revel in it together, but it's not essential for anyone else.
Inspired by La Ronde, but more like an enervated remake of Love Actually, 360 is a series of interlinked stories about relationships all round the globe. The action hops from Vienna to London to Denver to Phoenix to Paris and back again, as a Slovakian prostitute (Lucia Siposova) is booked by a British businessman (Jude Law) whose wife (Rachel Weisz) is having an affair with a Brazilian photographer (Juliano Cazarré) whose girlfriend (Maria Flor) meets a man (Anthony Hopkins) who shares an AA meeting with a Russian dental nurse (Dinara Drukarova) … and so on.
If you put together all the many vignettes, you still wouldn't have enough excitement to fill one standard story, even though the film is directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God) and written by Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland). What 360 does exceptionally well is evoke a bleary, globalised world of anonymous hotel rooms and airport lounges, where the most intimate conversations are had with strangers and answering machines. But does anyone go to the cinema to suffer two hours' jet lag?
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