3 1/2 stars = Very good
Pixar's "Brave" is the animated adventure that women and girls have been waiting for since Snow White fled into the forest or the Little Mermaid sacrificed her voice for life on land.
Merida is a Scottish teen with wild, curly red hair who, at this point, isn't interested in getting married and wants to control her own destiny. She chafes under her mother's rules about what a princess does and doesn't do, and she is appalled by the future that seems to await her. Three lords of the kingdom, each representing a different clan, will present their first-born sons for a competition with marriage to Merida as the prize.
When Merida stumbles upon a witch masquerading as a woodcarver, the girl asks for a spell to change her mother. In a clear reminder to be careful what you wish for, she watches Queen Elinor undergo a beastly transformation and tries to reverse the curse before it's too late.
"Brave," featuring the expressive voices of Kelly Macdonald as Merida and Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson as the king and queen, boasts remarkably detailed and spectacular animation. Merida's red hair, an explosion of corkscrews, is a work of art, and so is the Highland countryside, while the faces of the king and clans leaders look carved from jagged stone -- especially their beaks. The music is lovely, with Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis performing two new songs, "Touch the Sky" as Merida zips through the forest on her Clydesdale horse, and "Into the Open Air" as mother and daughter enjoy a rare romp.
Merida may be the spunkiest girl to ever come out of Pixar Studios or Disney. It's a more sophisticated adventure than many of its Pixar predecessors but the first anchored not by toys, bugs, monsters, fish, cars or even an aspiring gourmet chef who happens to be a rat.
The Blu-ray extras includes two additional animated shorts, extended scenes, making-of feature and director commentary.
2 1/2 stars = Average
Oliver Stone's "Savages," based on the novel by Don Winslow, is boldly bloody and predictably and unpredictably violent.
Ophelia (Blake Lively) -- "O" for short -- is a gutsy kidnap victim who demands a clean room and an occasional salad, instead of the pizza diet that a young Mexican jailer seems to prefer. She's a Californian born into privilege and secure in the knowledge that her live-in Laguna Beach boyfriends, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), will rescue her somehow, someday.
Chon is a former Navy SEAL while Ben is an eco-friendly botanist-businessman who wants to help save the planet -- in between growing some of the best weed in the world.
The pot peddlers' crop is so legendary, thanks in part to a freakishly high level of a psychoactive compound, that it attracts the attention of a dirty Drug Enforcement Agency agent (John Travolta) and the Mexican Baja Cartel. When Chon and Ben seem reluctant to "partner" with the south of the border dealers, O is kidnapped.
The Americans are drawn into gruesome, deadly games in which decapitations, lashings, military-style explosions, phony financials, torture, regular old gunfire and double crosses leave a smeared trail of blood, corpses and fractured families across the extra-wide and often lovely landscapes.
The ending is more likely to leave moviegoers angry or annoyed than assuaged.
2 1/2 stars = Average
Julie Delpy's comedy "2 Days in New York" shows how some visitors can wear out their welcome in a matter of hours. In this sequel to the 2007 romantic comedy "2 Days in Paris," her photographer character of Marion is living in New York with Mingus (Chris Rock), a talk-radio host and Village Voice writer who is twice divorced.
She has a 3-year-old son, he has a school-age daughter, and all is well until her nutty widowed father (real-life dad Albert Delpy), competitive, critical and oversexed sister, Rose (Alexia Landeau), and the sibling's boyfriend, Manu (Alex Nahon), come for a visit.
There are conversations lost in translation from English to French and back again, inappropriate behavior, sisters squabbling at the most inopportune times and Marion's attempt to sell her soul -- as a conceptual piece of art -- at the opening of her gallery show.
Marion and Mingus are characters you want to spend time with, and it has some amusing bits, slices that seem lifted from a comedy routine -- Chris Rock talking to a cardboard stand-up of President Barack Obama -- and behavior by the visitors that is silly or juvenile at best, off-putting at worst.
ALSO THIS WEEK:
• "Dark Horse" (3 stars): From Todd Solondz ("Welcome to the Dollhouse," "Happiness") comes this melancholy comedy starring Jordan Gelber as a toy-collecting man-child who gets involved with a morose woman played by Selma Blair. Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow also star.
• "The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy": The five-DVD set contains interviews, film clips and TV footage.
• "Lost Girl: The Complete Second Season": Anna Silk stars.
• "Paul McCartney: Live Kisses": Music special starring the legendary singer.
• "SpongeBob Squarepants: The Complete Fifth Season": More wacky adventures under the sea.
• "Storage Wars Texas: Season 1": Bidders fight for storage lockers in the Lone Star State.
• "Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part One": Matt Smith plays the time traveling Doctor.
• "Alice: The Complete Second Season": Linda Lavin stars.
• "Nitro Circus the Movie": Travis Pastrana brings his insane adventures to the big screen.
• "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Parts 1 and 2: Ultimate Edition": Combo pack of the two films.
• "Empire of the Sun": Steven Spielberg film is being re-released to mark its 25th anniversary.
• "My Big Fat Greek Wedding: 10th Anniversary Special Edition": Stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
• "Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos Special Edition": Features Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.
• "Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2": Includes 12 short films.
• "The Astonishing X-Men": Latest in the Marvel Knights Animation series.
-- PG staff and Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers