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Film reviews: Red Riding Hood | Winnie the Pooh | Your Highness | Little White Lies | Armadillo

Our film critic reviews the best and worst of this week's new releases...

Red Riding Hood (12A) **

Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Max Irons, Shiloh Fernandez, Gary Oldman

THOUGH it's easy to mock the Twilight movies, the first film's director did a great job of tapping into that confusing zone where swooning romantic fantasy crashes headlong into darker erotic desire. Sadly, Catherine Hardwicke – who also made the excellent kids-gone-haywire film Thirteen – fails to pull off a similar trick with her reinterpretation of Red Riding Hood. A toothless take on the fairytale, it's full of the insipid drama-killing girly swooning for which the later Twilight films have rightly been panned as Amanda Seyfried bites her bottom lip and dithers over which hunky guy to submit to: smouldering woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez, looking like Wild Boys-era Simon Le Bon) or rich, handsome, nice guy blacksmith Henry (Max "son of Jeremy" Irons). The romantic conflict is supposedly heightened by the fact that either one may or may not be a werewolf.

The fairytale's familiar story beats have been painfully shoehorned into the film, as has the plot of Arthur Miller's paranoia parable The Crucible (via a bizarrely accented Gary Oldman). The resulting mishmash is a boring mess, neither scary nor sexy enough to justify its innovations.

Winnie the Pooh (U) ***

Directed by: Stephen J Anderson, Don Hall

Voices: Jim Cummings, John Cleese, Craig Ferguson, Bud Luckey

WHAT to do with Winnie the Pooh? Disney's latest take on AA Milne's beloved honey-hogging bear doesn't quite resolve the issue. It does, however, wisely return to the source material while retaining the lovely hand-drawn style and warmly voiced characterisation that has made the studio's take on the characters as integral to most childhoods as the books have been. Indeed the reverence for Milne's words is made clear in the way the inhabitants of Hundred Acre Wood literally jump off (and frequently back on to) the page as the story unfolds.

John Cleese takes on narration duties and proves an engaging storyteller, while Jim Cummings captures the winsome nature of Pooh perfectly well. The story mostly revolves around Eeyore losing his tail, and while it makes for a slight adventure – it's just 70 minutes long – it's enchanting and gentle enough to work for young kids making their first trips to the cinema.

In the old tradition of Disney, the main feature is supported by a couple of short cartoons, including a bizarre one voiced by Billy Connolly about the Loch Ness Monster being ousted from its original home by a Donald Trump-esque tycoon intent on turning Scotland into a garish golfing theme park.

Your Highness (15) *

Directed by: David Gordon Green

Starring: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel

EASTBOUND & Down fans hoping creator and star Danny McBride's first studio vehicle will showcase his comedy genius on a bigger scale (after cult favourite The Foot Fist Way and a slew of amusing supporting roles) should steel themselves for crushing disappointment. This expensive, laugh-free sword-and-sorcery folly doesn't even deliver on the medieval stoner movie promise of its punning title, let alone on the brilliance of his hit HBO show. McBride, who also shares writing credits, plays the film's sort-of-hero – a callow, petulant prince who must team up with his favoured, heir-to-the-throne brother (James Franco) to save the latter's true love (Zooey Deschanel) from a dragon-obsessed sorcerer. A slumming-it Natalie Portman co-stars as the F-bomb-dropping warrior who stirs his loins and inspires him to become slightly more noble, but her newly Oscar-anointed presence just makes this feel like a Funny or Die sketch gone wrong. It's as if McBride has enlisted his A-list buddies to goof around re-enacting half-remembered scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Meanwhile, former Terrence Malick prodigy David Gordon Green – whose directing career took a 180-degree turn with Pineapple Express – thoroughly lowers the film-making bar with gay panic jokes and severed Minotaur penis gags.

Little White Lies (15) **

Directed by: Guillaume Canet

Starring: Marion CotilLard, Franios Cluzet, Benot Magimel, Jean Dujardin

SOMETIMES success breeds self-indulgence. That's certainly the case with French actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet, who has chosen to follow up his tightly plotted hit thriller Tell No One with this baggy, schmaltzy, over-long and tonally discordant riff on The Big Chill. Marion Cotillard leads the ensemble cast as one of a number of whiny, self-satisfied late-thirtysomething friends who retreat to a beach house in Cap Ferret for their annual get-together despite the fact one of their best friends, Ludo (Jean Dujardin), is lying in a coma having been recently hit by a truck.

Out of sight, out of mind, Ludo is soon forgotten as the rest of the group tend to their own insignificant concerns, wondering why none of their lives have turned out quite the way they'd hoped, and failing to appreciate what they have achieved. They're not so much petit-bourgeoisie as the petty bourgeoisie, which would be fine if Canet's film was intended as a satire on a their collective self-absorption, but it never comes across that way. Instead, Canet can't seem to decide if he's making a farce or an earnest melodrama and his specious attempt to give everyone a moment of tearful redemption during the insufferably long climax is just unbearable.

Armadillo (15) ****

Directed by: Janus Metz Pedersen

LIKE last year's astonishing Restrepo, this Danish documentary charting the horrors of combat in Afghanistan succeeds in putting us as close to the action as possible. Embedded in Helmand province with a Danish contingent of the International Security Assistance Force – the coalition army formed to defend against the Taleban after its ostensible removal from power in 2001 – film-maker Janus Metz Pedersen puts his own life on the line to capture some astonishing footage. He also deploys many of the cinematic techniques of fiction film-making to ratchet up our involvement in the story without betraying his documentary obligations. The result is another remarkable portrait of men at war, one that captures for real the long stretches of tedium, the heart-jacking adrenaline rush of combat and the transformative nature of armed conflict on the young men and women who sign up for duty. It's both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch the ways in which gung-ho, but clearly scared, soldiers are either broken or desensitised by their experiences, particularly as mistakes are made and acts of questionable legality are perpetrated. The film doesn't sit in judgment, but it does broaden our understanding of what's happening behind enemy lines – and behind the headlines.

 
 
 

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