Friday, 13 July 2012

'Brave', 'Magic Mike', 'Seeking a Friend For the End of the World', 'Woody Allen: A Documentary'

Not to get all confessional, but I'm still having a bit of a rough time at the moment (boo hoo!) so I haven't been updating as often as I would like. But I've got a little bit of time at a computer right now so I thought I'd do a few more mini-reviews, discussing the films I've seen over the past week. I hope you check back again soon when I hope to return to more consistent blogging. Anyway, here goes...

Pixar's first non-sequel since the phenomenal 'Up', 'Brave' was a troubled production which saw original director Brenda Chapman replaced as a result of "creative differences" midway through. With that in mind it's pretty amazing that the final film is such a fine addition to the studio's pantheon: a mature and nuanced mother-daughter bonding story that's pretty touching and, as usual, beautifully animated. The backgrounds are richly detailed and the character animation is peerless, particularly for the film's hero, Scottish Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) - a determinedly individual teenage redhead, and skilled shot with a bow - resentful of her mother's (Emma Thompson) attempts to make her a courtly lady and marry her off to a rival family's prince.

At a first glance it seems as if the decision to make her father (Billy Connolly), the king, indifferent to the whole arranged marriage thing (with all the men in the film lovably feckless and harmless) wrongly casts patriarchy as the oppression of women by other women. However, a second act twist that I won't spoil here reveals the purpose behind the framing of the story as Merida versus the queen and confirms that Pixar deserve the benefit of the doubt from their audience. The central conceit is genius when it gets going and ensures that this is a genuine female empowerment tale without being at all condescending or in the least trite.

'Magic Mike'
Steven Soderbergh is on a good run at the moment, something which makes his impending retirement a real shame. 'Contagion' and 'Haywire' rank among the most enjoyable films of the last twelve months, and now 'Magic Mike' can be added to that list. Based on star Channing Tatum's own experiences as a male stripper, this slightly moralistic and overlong tale is more than salvaged by a fine - and extremely intense - performance by Matthew McConaughey and a couple of really funny scenes. Tatum confirms that he is a genuine star, a quadruple threat: showcasing some amazing dancing chops to add to his established gifts for action ('Haywire', 'Fighting'), comedy ('21 Jump Street') and romance ('Dear John').

'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'
Perhaps the year's most pleasant surprise, this apocalypse dramedy sees Steve Carell and Keira Knightley forming an unlikely friendship with only days to go before an asteroid destroys the planet. It's a sublimely sweet little movie from 'Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' scribe Lorene Scafaria, which skillfully combines genuine heartfelt emotion with black comedy. There are some really profound musings on love, life and regret here, but also some of the best comic moments of the year as people react to the end of days in a myriad of psychotic and self-deluding ways.

For her part Knightley is uncharacteristically winsome as the young, zesty one - never overselling the kookiness factor - whilst Carell channels the downbeat introvert persona that has worked so well in previous dramatic efforts to equally great effect. It makes for an appealing screen pairing in a movie that's life-affirming without being overly saccharine. Perhaps it's because it tapped into my current emotional state, but I found this film really emotional.

'Woody Allen: A Documentary'
A nice little career overview with unprecedented access to its interview shy subject, this doc gives an insight into Allen's work methods and personal life, even spending a reasonable amount of time on all that stuff - ensuring that it's not quite a whitewash, even if it's overall very positive. There are also interview segments with many of his collaborators and stars, as well as dozens of hilarious clips from his best films and old TV appearances - all of view do a great job of showcasing Allen's comic genius and razor-sharp wit. There's nothing here for non-fans, but those who already appreciate the great man will find much to like in this entertaining look at everything from 'What's New Pussycat' to 'Midnight in Paris'.

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