Brave * * * *
Cert PG, 100 mins
This hasn’t been a great year for family films. Children have been ill-served by cinemas, with only a very few movies, like Ice Age 4, worth tempting youngsters out. Even The Muppets was probably enjoyed more by parents than their kids.
So what will bored children do when the wall-to-wall coverage of the Olympics is over?
Thankfully, riding to the rescue comes a Pixar animated classic with a plucky, red-headed heroine to entertain cinema-goers of all ages.
She’s actually a dab hand with a bow and arrow and could probably take an archery gold in today’s Olympics.
But Merida (Kelly McDonald) lived in Scotland around 1,000 years ago, where women, and especially princesses, could not get involved in such pursuits.
That’s a shame because Merida is as fiery as her hair and likes riding and shooting, much to her mother’s dismay. Elinor (Emma Thompson) keeps telling her daughter that she’s a lady and must behave with more decorum.
Merida takes more after her dad Fergus (Billy Connolly), a large gruff chap who lost his leg in a fight with a bear.
She’s not at all happy when her parents break the news that she is to be married off, and will get little choice in her future husband. Each clan – whose members are voiced by the likes of Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson – presents a suitor to compete for her hand, and the options aren’t dazzling.
“This is so unfair!” she whinges in typical teenage fashion.
After a row with mum, she runs away on her trusty horse and stumbles across a witch (Julie Walters) in a cottage. She asks her to cast a spell which would change her fate, but ends up getting in a right pickle.
From snow-covered peaks to lochs and glens, Scotland has never looked more stunning, especially in 3D. The animation is superb, with Merida’s hair providing a lovely splash of colour on screen.
It’s nice to see a Scottish film with a genuinely Scottish cast, rather than Mel Gibson’s attempt at the accent.
With its amusing, endearing characters – particularly Merida’s cute little brothers – Brave is clever, exciting and moving at times.
It’s not quite up there with Pixar classics like Finding Nemo and Toy Story, as it’s not quite consistently funny enough – but it is certainly worth a look, especially when there hasn’t been much quality fare for youngsters lately.
Opening on Monday, Brave is probably the family film of the year and the perfect antidote to post-Olympic blues. RL
Step Up 4: Miami Heat * *
Cert PG, 99mins
The fourth in the series of frenetic dance films is as formulaic as ever. You don’t need to have seen any of the other movies to know how it’s all going to turn out.
A hunk and a pretty girl will dance together and fall in love. Some kind of competition will take place. There will be lots of dancing in scenic locations.
The story, such as it is, involves an entirely new cast and takes place in Miami. The central couple are Sean (Ryan Guzman) and Emily (Kathryn McCormick).
The one departure is that there aren’t any dance battles between rival crews. Instead it’s all about flash mobs, with dancers staging impromptu (though very well rehearsed) performances in interesting places, like an art gallery.
There is a contest, though, because The Mob want to win an online competition by attracting 10 million views to their videos. And in a sub-plot, Emily’s greedy developer dad (Peter Gallagher) is planning to bulldoze Sean’s neighbourhood.
If you’re a fan of the Step Up films, this one is worth watching for the impressive and varied dancing which at times is visually stunning, even if the elaborate dance sequences would be impossible to stage in real life.
But the rest of us should probably avoid the clichéd dialogue and predictable plot. RL
Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Dog Days * *
Cert PG, 94mins
After thankfully blowing the awful Horrid Henry film away at the box office, ‘Wimpy Kid’ Greg Heffley is back for a second sequel of his own adventures.
Based on the books by Maryland-born author/illustrator Jeff Kinney, this one draws from The Last Straw and Dog Days.
Greg (Zachary Gordon) is rather bashful about a girl he likes, Holly Hills (Peyton List).
With his dad (Steve Zahn) wanting Greg to do more than just sit around playing video games, the boy pretends he has a job at a country club.
This gives brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) a chance to blackmail him and there’s trouble ahead at a pool and on a camping trip.
Kinney, who is also behind the children’s website Poptropica, clearly has a Midas touch.
But British director David Bowers, who has Flushed Away and Astro Boy to his name, doesn’t manage to lift this film to the heights he achieved with Rodrick Rules last time out.
The feel is more like an episodic TV sitcom than a full blown feature.
Perhaps it’s because Rules was only released in May last year and this has been rushed through before Zachary Gordon grows too much.
He’s reaching that curious teenage age where he can no longer be ‘cute’ nor a four letter word used to describe older people when they are considered to be attractive.
With Peyton List looking like she’s someone older playing younger – make-up does strange things to young girls – it’s left to Robert Capron as Rowley to steal the show.
He’s still on the chubby side. Still with sufficiently dodgy hair to be a London Mayor one day. And still funny.
Youngsters will enjoy the physical stunts, Rodrick’s comeuppance with a bearded man and the knowing references which show how parents become increasingly weak at controlling their children’s growing rebellious streak.
Mums and dads will know how Zahn feels when he threatens to rip all of the leads out of the back of the TV set. GY
The Players (Les infidèles) * *
Cert 18, 107mins
A wife is tired of her husband coming home at 5am – and not allowing her to read his text messages.
For his part, he and a friend worry about the new freedoms that women have in the age of sex equality: ‘This equality business is ridiculous’.
Judging by the outrageous behaviour of middle-aged Fred (Jean Dujardin) and Greg (Gilles Lellouche), you’d think they were trying to make up for lost time before being splattered by an asteroid.
But this is no Armageddon. Instead it’s Legoverandoverandover.
The Players is a series of short films shot by different directors, with Dujardin and Lellouche exploring infidelity as different characters.
Or, to put it another way, the impossibility of fidelity for some.
Rude and raunchy, it’s like a Gallic flavoured version of The Hangover starring men old enough to know better.
It’s certainly not what you’d expect as a follow-up to Dujardin’s Oscar-winning performance in The Artist which was rated a PG.
After yet another one night stand, the two men wonder if they ‘Should go to Las Vegas... so that we get sick of (sex) like taramasalata’. Our Olympian bedhoppers end up so confused it’s as if their thirst for women could actually mean they are gay.
The seriously-long hotel corridors in Vegas ring true, but any Stevie Wonder fans should be warned the script includes a very bad-taste gag at his expense.
Although how much you believe in the men’s shenanigans could depend on your degree of wish fulfilment after a lifetime of missed ‘opportunities’, the shallowness of people who live this way is as dispiriting as the action is meant to be titillating.
Showing at the Warwick Arts Centre from Friday till Tuesday. GY