Movie reviews

NO OFFENCE intended to that silly old bear Winnie the Pooh (G), but it’s a telling indictment of the week’s releases that an animated movie for a young audience is the most accomplished film of the week.

The plot is simplicity: a ravenous Pooh Bear (voiced by Jim Cummings) gets distracted from his hunt for a jar of honey by the news that Eyeore’s tail has gone missing. Is the fiendish ‘Backsun’ responsible for Christopher Robin’s disappearance also the monster who stole Eyeore’s tail? Whimsical in tone, the 74-minute Winnie the Pooh gives all of the Hundred Acre Woods’ denizens plenty of screen time, as Tigger, Piglet, Owl, Kanga and Roo join the hunt. Adults will revel in the subversive story-telling, such as when Pooh wanders off the page and gets tangled up in a thicket of the words describing his perambulations, and it’s no surprise to discover that the creator of Toy Story, John Lasseter, serves as executive producer on this project. Mark Henn’s hand-drawn images are a throwback to a simpler age before computers dominated animation, and his classically drawn characters dovetail beautifully with the sedate pace and subtle humour.

SUBTLETY is at a premium in Your Highness (16s), a mediaeval romp starring Danny McBride as the feckless Prince Thadeous. Thadeous is unceremoniously dragged out of his comfort zone when his virile younger brother Fabious (James Franco) demands that Thadeous prove his manhood by joining him on his latest epic quest, to rescue his bride-to-be Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) from the clutches of the evil wizard, Leezar (Justin Theroux). The bawdy surrealism suggests that McBride, who co-wrote the script, is a student of the Monty Python and Carry On films, even if he takes his humour from the Carry On flicks and crude sexual innuendo from Monty Python. The drug-taking, foul language and frequent bare flesh are intended as a parody of the fantasy epic, but McBride’s poor timing and a paucity of decent punchlines ensures most of the humour falls flat. Franco, Deschanel and Natalie Portman — who joins the quest as a feisty assassin, Isabel — are all very watchable, mainly because they invest their roles with a cartoonish intensity. Overall, though, Your Highness is a right royal mess.

FROM fantasy quest to fairytale, and Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood (12A), which stars Amanda Seyfried as the eponymous heroine. Hardwicke directed the first Twilight movie, and here returns to that film’s theme, as the sexual awakening of a young woman is a werewolf’s cue to terrorise her remote village. It’s surprising the werewolf hasn’t been more active, given that the village is a hotbed of sexual intrigue, all of which is exposed when the fearsome wolf-killer Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) arrives, complete with an elephant and Nubian warriors. Laughably arch in tone, muddled in character development, and preposterous as a drama, Red Riding Hood is further hampered by woeful performances from its leading pair. Given the overblown theatrics, Oldman is excused his OTT turn as Father Solomon, but Seyfried is asinine as the iconic heroine.

FRESH from her Oscar-nominated turn in Blue Valentine, Michelle Williams makes a formidable heroine in Meek’s Cutoff (PG). Part of a wagon train lost in the Oregon wilderness in 1849, Emily (Williams) represents the quiet dignity of civilisation as all about her succumb to the pressure imposed by the harsh environment, the vagaries of fate and the threat of the unseen ‘hostiles’. With a fine cast in support — Paul Dano, Will Patton, Shirley Henderson, Bruce Greenwood — Williams seems set to conquer her remote patch of the ‘wild west,’ but director Kelly Reichardt, who directed Wendy and Lucy, gives the characters little to do. The heat, dust and monotony of the wagon train’s wandering are no doubt realistic, the performances are convincing and the cinematography takes advantage of the ruggedly beautiful terrain, but you’ll be praying for a horde of scalp-hunting hostiles to come pouring over the nearest hill long before the credits roll.

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