Red Riding Hood * * *
Cert 12A, 99 minutes
When it comes to cinematic fashion, fairy tales are the new black.
Coming up soon are two reworkings of Snow White, along with Hansel and Gretel and a modern twist on Beauty and the Beast. First comes Red Riding Hood, a stylish-looking production in which Amanda Seyfried’s scarlet cape stands out beautifully against the snow.
It’s not exactly a modern retelling, as it’s set in a medieval-looking wooden village amid spectacular mountains. The inhabitants live in fear of a werewolf, who they believe lives in the forest and is usually placated by a full moon offering of livestock. Until a girl is killed.
The victim is the sister of Valerie (Seyfried, a suitably fragile-looking, ethereal heroine), who is in love with her childhood sweetheart, woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) but forced to get engaged to richer Henry (Max Irons).
The film steps up a gear with the much-heralded arrival of Gary Oldman, hamming it up as Father Solomon, complete with a strange wandering accent.
He warns the villagers that the wolf is living among them and could be anyone, including Valerie’s glamorous granny Julie Christie.
Red Riding Hood is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who helmed the first Twilight movie, and there are many similarities between the two. Just as she made heart-throb stars of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, here she thrusts Fernandez and Irons (son of Jeremy) into the limelight as two sides of another love triangle.
There are lots of brooding close-ups and an underlying frisson of menace, while Billy Burke plays the heroine’s father in both films. Disappointingly, once again Hardwicke relies more on visual appeal than decent dialogue.
But teenage girls, for whom this movie is made, will lap it up. They’ll love deciding whether they are Team Peter or Team Henry and enjoy being mildly scared while they work out the wolf’s identity. RL
Your Highness * *
Cert 15, 102 min
When the Oscars short-list appears each January, you might study the list of names and hope that perhaps a couple of the nominees will share an exciting future project.
This year, who wouldn’t have fancied seeing best actor nominee James Franco (127 Hours) and best actress winner Natalie Portman (Black Swan) working together on a film?
They’re both talented, young, good looking and athletic. What more could you want?
Answer: a script!
Judging by the shockingly puerile nature of Your Highness, you can bet your bottom dollar that Franco and Portman would have both been glad this film wasn’t opening until the Academy Awards members had cast their votes.
And yet they are not the only guilty ones.
Clearly prepared to take on any job as long as they keep in work, their co-stars include Charles Dance as King Tallious and Toby Jones as Julie. The phrase ‘‘old enough to know better’’ springs to mind here.
Directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), Franco plays Prince Fabious who is keen to marry his new catch Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel).
When she’s kidnapped by the evil Leezar (Justin Theroux), Fabious sets off to rescue her with useless brother Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride) in tow.
For all of its gross-out humour, Your Highness has some decent horse and carriage action sequences and impressive ‘Sword of the Rings’ scenery.
It also (generously) receives a second star simply because there’s no sign of Jack Black, who sucked all the life out of the similarly-intentioned prehistoric adventure Year One.
Franco is a likeable character and he looks more suited to action than Jake Gyllenhaal does in the recent Prince of Persia and Source Code.
Portman tries her best, despite surely knowing she could end up being nominated for a Razzie (the unwanted Oscars’ alternative).
A former pupil at Sutton Coldfield’s Arthur Terry School, Rasmus Hardiker (Courtney) should have been celebrating working with stars of this calibre. Instead, he’ll be praying he doesn’t receive an invitation to show this in the school hall on a careers’ night.
Your Highness will be a hit a) because the starry cast will catch some people out and b) it will undoubtedly appeal to a certain low-level mindset.
But if you hear someone laughing behind you this week, do check to see if Wayne Rooney is out enjoying a lewd alternative to what should have been his FA Cup semi-final weekend at Wembley.
The Manchester United star has been banned for swearing into a TV camera on the spur of the moment.
Having a script so that actors can do likewise on film won’t make this any more palatable when you’ve bought a ticket in search of simple pleasure. GY
Winnie the Pooh * * *
Cert U, 73 mins
A fundamental problem with any Disney film about the great British character of Pooh bear is that it’s, well, Disney.
And that means Pooh talking in an American accent, which just isn’t cricket, dear boy.
But at least this, the latest animation, tries to reintroduce some of the traditional elements. It’s narrated by the very English John Cleese and in the main it features old-fashioned hand-drawn animation rather than fancy CGI effects.
Most effectively, it returns, literally, to AA Milne’s books and the original illustrations by EH Shepard. Our animated friends walk over the pages and the words come to life, jumping off the paper and, in one inventive scene, making a ladder of letters up which the animals can escape.
With any luck, it will remind audiences where the stories came from and encourage them to open a book.
The story cleverly links five Pooh tales, including Eeyore losing his tail and the friends – Rabbit, Owl, Tigger, Piglet, Kanga and Roo – searching for a terrifying creature they’ve invented called the Backson.
I could do without Christopher Robin’s babyish voice and some new, but unnecessary, songs.
But it’s hard not to be charmed by their adventures and their amiable bumbling is fun. I reckon little kids will love this film, which is as sweet as Pooh’s favourite honey.
It’s short enough for little ones not to get too bored. and there are two cartoons beforehand, the second of which is a touching story about the Loch Ness Monster. RL
Waste Land * * * *
Cert PG, 99 mins
Introduced as one of the world’s greatest living artists, Brazilian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Vik Muniz grew up in St Paulo with a damp bedroom ceiling.
Using a diary to chart the stains’ ever-changing patterns through the seasons gave him an eye for the big picture.
And it taught him that ‘‘when one thing turns into another it is the most beautiful moment’’.
In this award-winning social documentary film showing next Wednesday and Thursday at the MAC in Cannon Hill Park, Muniz visits Rio de Janeiro’s biggest landfill site to see if turning the dump’s human ‘‘pickers’’ into artists will improve their mundane lives.
This is a profoundly moving study of real poverty which deserves to be seen by all social groups and anyone interested in how works of art can be created from nothing.
Environmentalists will also be inspired by how the pickers collect 200 tons of recyclable things per day – equivalent to the waste of 400,000 households.
Waste Land fuses the design concepts behind two of the most high-profile animations of recent years, Rio and the Oscar-winning Wall-E, into an essay about how hard some people are prepared to work.
“I was never ashamed of being poor and was always proud of my parents,” says Muniz of his own rise.
Explaining his two-year project to his worried-looking wife, Janaina, he says his next subjects will be ‘‘the roughest people you can think of ... people who, in Brazil’s society, are no different from garbage itself’’.
What Waste Land proves, of course, is that you are just as likely to find nice people at the bottom of the ladder as anywhere else – and putting something back into society in this manner you can have an even more profound effect on your own life than those you are helping. GY