"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"

Richard's Review: 3 1/2 stars

What happens when the end of the world is just days away and you meet the person of your dreams? Are you a hopeless romantic or is your romance hopeless? Three weeks before a giant asteroid is scheduled to collide with earth, killing everyone on the planet, Dodge (Steve Carell) finds himself suddenly single and wondering if he can find meaning in a world that soon won't exist. When a riot breaks out on his Manhattan street, he and his flaky downstairs neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley) escape and head out of town, toward their destiny. He wants to reconnect with his high school sweetheart; she wants to fly home to England to see her family.

"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" is a keenly observed, if somewhat speculative look at what might happen when the end is near… or here. The movie begins with a darkly comedic take on civilization's last moments. "Nobody is anyone's anything anymore," says the despondent wife of Dodge's best friend. The looming apocalypse has leveled the playing field, giving the usually staid insurance salespersons in Dodge's life permission to behave how they've always wanted by sleeping around, doing heroin and generally letting their hair down.

It's amusing and inventive, but the film really begins when Dodge and Penny hit the road. The movie takes a serious turn, turning the camera on the characters and not the jokey predicaments of the first half-hour.

On the big screen Carell leaves the trademarks of his best-known character -- Michael Scott from "The Office" -- behind. He can still hit a punch line, but Carell can also drum up empathy for his character without resorting to melodrama.

He's a likeable everyman, and as such the viewer wants the best for him, no matter what the situation.

Knightley is a good foil for Carell. The camera loves her, and despite her character's self concern she wins over the audience.

A scene over spaghetti with a Herb Alpert soundtrack seals the deal. It's a wonderfully romantic scene about true love, vinyl and getting to know someone better. It's a movie that requires the viewer to get caught up in the romance of the story and accept some far fetched twists. If you're prepared to accept them, bring some Kleenex. If not, go see "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."

"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" is a low-key movie that could have been a broad comedy, but instead chooses for a more modest, heartfelt approach.

"Brave"

Richard's Review: 4 1/2 stars

I'm not sure how long something has to exist in order to be called a classic, so I'll qualify this review in a different way. With "Brave" it's possible Pixar has created an instant classic, a film that will be as fresh 30 years from now as it is today. It's a brand new fairy tale about Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald), a flame-haired Celtic tomboy-turned-princess. She's feisty, with little regard for the customs of her station in life, including an age-old ritual that will decide who she will marry.

When her mother (Emma Thompson) insists she follow custom and choose a husband from the eldest sons of the MacGuffin, Macintosh and Dingwall clans Merida learns that you have to be careful with what you wish for -- especially when that wish is granted by an absent-minded witch (Julie Walters).

"Brave" so effectively creates its own world and mythology it would be easy to think it is an old tale updated by the story shamans at Pixar. But it's a new story that feels timeless.

There's no pop culture references à la "Shrek" and only a couple of pop-song montages to date it. Other than that it feels like a classic, with one major difference -- strong female characters.

Merida may be a princess in the tradition of Disney princesses but she's also strong willed with a story arc that keeps her in the middle of the action. There's nothing passive about her, or about her mother's character. It's a refreshing change, and one that should appeal to girls. But the movie isn't just for the distaff side of the family. Everyone will enjoy the humor, the gentle action and characters.

When I first saw the trailers for "Brave" I thought it looked very conventional, as if Pixar was leaving behind the imaginative storytelling that had become their trademark to tell a simpler tale. How wrong I was.

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

Richard's Review: 3 stars

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" throws a crimson stain on American history, but for a movie about vampires "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" has very little bite.

You have to expect a movie about a president offing vampires to be silly, and this movie is. But you also hope it will have some scares, and those are as rare in this film as a beard trimmer in Lincoln's travel kit.

The story of Abraham Lincoln's bloodsucking battles begins in 1818 when his mother is killed by a vengeful vampire. His hatred of his mother's killer grows for years, but when he finally has the chance to even the score he is bitten by the urge to hunt vampires. Teaming up with a Van Helsing-esque warrior named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), he uses a silver-tipped axe to make sure America remains "a nation of men and not monsters."

There are a couple of big action set pieces and bloodsuckers get killed by the dozen. But the over-reliance on computer generated effects reduces the vampire battles to a bloody synthetic spray of binary code and little more. This isn't a history lesson, it's a movie about killing vampires in slow motion and on that level it only works in the film's action sequences. Give me more of Honest Abe jumping from horse to horse during a stampede, and less of everything else.

That said, I do have a soft spot for a movie that wraps up (mild spoiler) with Mary Todd Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) saying, "Abraham! Hurry, we're late for the theatre!"

The vampires do have cool shark fangs here. There's also an unexpected horse-drawn-carriage rescue and the head vampire is 5000 years old. But there's no real atmosphere to go along with the flowery language and petticoats. It's neither historical or horror. It's not fish, but it is occasionally foul. The acting ranges from good to bland. Benjamin Walker beards-up nicely as the elder Abe. Anthony Mackie as Will, Abe's forgettable friend, is bad. Rufus Sewell as the "first vampire" Adam is not nearly megalomaniacal enough, and everyone seems to be struggling to find the right tone to tell the story. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" director Timur Bekmambetov knows his way around an action scene. But despite the gallons of gore on display in this film he has made a bloodless vampire movie. Abe would hate it, honestly.