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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Movie catch-up: Weekend, Winnie, Tucker & Puss

Ahead of my 2011 Southeastern Film Critics ballot and upcoming year-in-review stories, I've been catching up on some of this year's movies that I missed the first time. Here's a few:

Weekend: Playing through Dec. 8 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, this British romantic drama has won comparisons to Before Sunrise and the films of Éric Rohmer from its champions. Writer-director Andrew Haigh follows two young gay men over the course of the titular weekend in Nottingham, and examines how their one-night tryst turns into something more deeply intimate. Russell (Tom Cullen), a soft-spoken lifeguard at a swimming pool, keeps his sexuality in low profile, in contrast to Glen (Chris New), an artist who's out, proud and often confrontational about the gay lifestyle. The pair quickly discover chemistry and an emotional connection, but with one due to leave the country in 48 hours, will their budding relationship end before it starts?

Haigh effectively sets a naturalistic, leisurely tone as we tag along with Russell and Glen as they visit bars, parties and have long heart-to-heart conversations, frequently about gay identity and self-presentation. Movies as doggedly realistic as Weekend, that strive to emulate the ordinary, unstructured spontaneity of real life, can risk becoming simply mundane and plotless. At times you may check your watch, wondering how long Russell and Glen will keep chatting, but Weekend creates enough emotional truth that its final scenes feel like epiphanies.

Winnie the Pooh: Not unlike the way The Muppets captured the spirit of the original "Muppet Show," this animated film harks back to Disney's gently whimsical Winnie the Pooh films of the 1960s — at times, Winnie the Pooh interacts with the text of his own storybook, for instance. Monty Python's John Cleese warmly narrates this return trip to the Hundred Acre Wood as Pooh Bear and the gang enjoy modest adventures, like searching for Eeyore's missing tail. When Christopher Robin leaves a note that he'll be "back soon," his animal buddies leap to the conclusion that a menacing beast called "The Backson" lurks in the forest, causing everything to go haywire. The sweet, slight film lasts just over an hour and covers some ground that A.A. Milne fans will find familiar, but it also features consistently amusing jokes and likable musical numbers, including Zooey Deschanel's rendition of the original Winnie the Pooh theme. Harking back to old school two-dimensional animation, Disney delivers a charming Winnie the Pooh reboot. Or should that be "RePooht?"

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil: I'm not sure this slasher spoof ever opened in Atlanta, but it deserves a cult following based on its off-kilter premise and the snappy performances from its two leads. Writer-director Eli Craig joyfully satirizes the kind of horror film in which nubile college kids vacation in the remote wilderness, only to be stalked by bloodthirsty hillbillies. In this case, however, rough-hewn buddies Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are nice guys and perfect gentlemen. Unfortunately, a series of misunderstandings and increasingly freakish freak accidents causes a group of young people to believe they're murderous mountain men. At one point, for instance, a blonde hottie loses consciousness and falls into a river. When Tucker and Dale rescue her, they call to her buddies, "We've got your friend!" but the city slickers think their crowing over a kidnapping. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil loses some of its narrative steam, but Craig crafts some ingeniously sick slapstick scenes. Plus, Tudyk and Labine make a terrific comedic duo that they should make it a franchise, like Tucker & Dale vs. Frankenstein, Tucker & Dale vs. the Blair Witch, etc.

Puss in Boots: I don't have a ton to say about this spin-off of the Shrek franchise, but I enjoyed it more than any of the Shrek films, which tend to hammer their audience with pop references and gross-out gags. I wish Puss in Boots had pursued the conceit of its first act, which envisions Antonio Banderas' Zorro movies, only replacing the major human roles with cats. When Puss in Boots has a dance off with a feline femme fatale, he exclaims, "How dare you do the 'Litter Box' at me!" when his partner paws at the ground in that fashion familiar to all cat owners. Puss in Boots' primary plot, involving Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), some magic beans and a golden goose, feels more pro forma, but the animation is excellent. What I really want to know is why Guillermo del Toro has such a connection to DreamWorks Animation, as he's a producer and voice actor in this film.

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