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Movie Reviews: Brave, Abraham Lincolin: Vamp Hunter, Seeking a Friend...

New movies from Pixar, Steve Carell, and Abraham Lincoln

Brave

Review: 2 out of 4

The mouse house's favorite production studio may be crumbling. After last year's "Cars 2", a direct-to-DVD offering—if there ever was one that instead got the big 3-D theater treatment—I expected Pixar to bounce back with something better.

Instead "Brave" just becomes safe.

Kelly MacDonald, of “Boardwalk Empire”, voices Merida, the tomboy princess of a Scottish kingdom forced into marriage with one of three doofuses from the surrounded clans by her domineering mother (Emma Thompson). After a heated throw-down with mom, Merida runs off and encounters the cabin of a witch, who she coaxes into giving her a spell that will hopefully get mom off her back, but instead makes her a literal mama-grizzly.

What could have been a heartfelt mother-daughter movie (this is the first time the main characters of a Pixar flick are female) disintegrates into a silly premise where Merida's father (Billy Connolly) hunts her mom, mom gets taught how to catch fish with her mouth, and it wraps up with both mother and daughter finding mutual understanding that the movie has put no effort into earning.

It seems to be saying both “hey kids, mom can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but at least she’s not, you know, a bear” and “hey moms, when your kid puts a hex on you, that means you’re being too controlling, stop it.”

The rest is average.

We get quite a few speeches about the kingdom crumbling if people don’t stick together, a soundtrack filled with songs subbing in for where the drama should be, and some sight gags, mostly mundane, about a bear acting like a woman.

When the best laughs in a Pixar movie come from belching and bare-assed Scotsmen, something is wrong. At least the animation looks great; mountain-climbing, horse-riding, arrow-shooting, and sweeping shots of the forest all coming to life in 3-D. And the last act offers some nice bear-fighting thrills.

But this is a story that falls well below what we've come to expect from Pixar.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Review: 3 out of 4

Even Honest Abe would tell you; there are a lot of“Matrix”impersonators out there. But I would be lying if I said Russian-born Timur Bekmambetov, director of 2008’s “Wanted”, wasn’t chief among them.

He takes Seth Grahame-Smiths screenplay, based off his book, which uses America’s vampire fascination as symbolism for masters and slaves, and turns it into the best-looking movie of the year.

It’s on a quest to avenge his mother that leads young Abe (Benjamin Walker) to vamp Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), who becomes his trainer, noticing in Abe the chops necessary to stop the vamps from pushing from the South into the North.

With his axe, fortitude, and way with words, Abe rises to political heights and begins a Civil War to retain freedom for all. What we get here is the usual mix of slow-mo, gravity-defying, and gory blood, but this is breathtaking action staged with grace and excitement (like a battle fought on the backs of a stampede of horses) not the self-parody much of this stuff has become in other films.

The rest of the visuals follow suit. Atmospheric (uses a variety of colored tints, the best being a gothic dark-blue that at times frames the characters in picturesque silhouette), flawless set and costume design.

And unlike so many other pansy vampires, the make-up and effects here are made to frighten.

This all looks so good that the episodic screenplay falls danger of being overshadowed but Walker gives it some heft, whether awkwardly stiff with wife Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) or strong-willed in his resolve; and Cooper, Winstead, and Anthony Mackie, as his friend and freed slave, offer fine support.

There is more than enough reason to love what’s going on here, and this may even start a trend.

"Charlie Chaplin: Nazi Assassin" anyone? 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Review: 3 out of 4

So, it’s probably not the title you’re looking for in a comedy, much less a romantic one. But Steve Carell (seeming to have GPS for tracking down the few smart romantic comedy scripts in Hollywood)—with his hangdog face and excellent comic timing—again finds an adult comedy well-suited to his gifts, and his co-star keeps up with him perfectly.

He plays Dodge, an insurance salesman who, like the rest of the world, is coping with the fact an asteroid is about to annihilate Earth. Only while everyone else does what they feel like doing to close out their last month on Earth—Dodge’s funk goes deeper since his wife has chosen now to leave him.

As the end approaches, he meets Penny (Keira Knightley), a flakey, emotional Brit who just missed the last flight to London to see her family. As the riots in the city get worse, both decide to take a road trip, he to see an old girlfriend and she to hopefully meet up with a friend of his who has a plane.

They meet several people along the way, some of the best encounters including TJ Miller and“Community” star Gillian Jacobs playing perky Friday’s-type waiters ringing in the apocalypse high as kites and later, Martin Sheen as Dodge’s father.

The first half offers the funniest stuff, as people succumb to the panic, need fulfillment, and meaninglessness (“Anybody want to be the new CFO?” one character asks) of their new existence.

Though eventually it becomes Carell and Knightley’s movie and they pull it off with an endearing chemistry, vulnerability, and deadpan humor.

Writer-director Lorene Scafaria (writer of“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) takes a few missteps (scenes involving CSI’s William Peterson and Derek Luke miss the comedy mark) but the witty, sweet screenplay lets these characters talk organically and keeps its focus on what's most important in life.

And when you have actors like Carell and Knightley, you don’t have to look too far to find the heart of the story you seek.

 

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Dina Sciortino June 28, 2012 at 06:50 PM
I saw "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" and found it to be ABSOLUTELY horrible. I was TERRIBLY disappointed. I love Steve Carell and the previews looked hilarious. It was pretty funny in the beginning, but at a certain point everyone stopped laughing. At that point it just became really slow paced and downright depressing. The only thing that was funny after that was the look of utter shock, confusion and disappointment on everyone's faces as they left the theatre. I really want to see Brave and Abraham Lincolin though!

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