Hollywood has long made apocalyptic films a staple.
Hollywood has long made apocalyptic films a staple. Usually the threat is external: ETs intent on turning the Earth and its inhabitants to rubble ("War of the Worlds"), or a killer asteroid on a collision course with Earth ("Armageddon").
What makes "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" so engaging is that the asteroid, some 70 miles wide, due to arrive in three weeks, is only contextually important. Central to the narrative are the reactions of those who are waiting and coping with the harrowing but still abstract truth that Mother Earth is suddenly terminal.
"Seeking" is, therefore, character-driven. How will people react, most especially Dodge (Steve Carell) a sad, lonely insurance salesman, and Penny (Keira Knightly), his flighty neighbor from a downstairs apartment, when time suddenly becomes finite with a vengeance, and not a ribbon that unfolds endlessly?
As it turns out, they serendipitously begin a strange road trip, first in search of Dodge's long-lost girlfriend and then Penny's family.
The journey sets up a series of vignettes detailing how those that they encounter are spending the only currency that matters: time. Many are in various stages of grief and loss: the denialists, who nurture the idea that if their bomb shelter is solid enough, with enough supplies, they will survive); others are angry, even homicidal (riots ensue); while a few have arrived at acceptance (there's a lovely beach scene where people wait to be baptized).
As Dodge and Penny travel, they begin to realize that what they hoped to find they already have with one another — family, friendship and an unexpected connection.
To the credit of writer/director Lorene Scafaria, neither Dodge nor Penny is a caricature. He's not the sad sack older guy looking for love in all the wrong places, nor is she the fickle, shallow, Holly Golightly young woman. Each has issues, residual dreams and a life yet to be lived. If only.
There is never a manic, quick, make-a-bucket-list feel to "Seeking." The days, so precious yet so average, unfold with an easy charm, sometimes laced with humor or a fearful reality, always shrouded by a nudging uncertainty. But then to give each minute a fearsome urgency is to acknowledge fully how few such minutes are left. And there is the embedded question: How long will the patina of civility remain intact? Will people flee when, in truth, there is nowhere to go? Or will there be nihilistic end times' parties, absent restraint?
Films of this ilk always search for a sweet spot, a core feeling that compels and touches and reaches the audience in some intangible way. "Seeking" finds its sweet spot in a quirky and wonderful way with countless unspoken questions that are never quite answered.
The template for "Brave" is decidedly familiar, which is surprising for Pixar, a studio that has pioneered computer-generated animation ("Brave" is its 13th feature) with original and compelling stories ("Wall-E," "Ratatouille," "The Incredibles").
"Brave" is, nevertheless, a beautifully rendered work, an example of detailed and sumptuous animation that creates breathtaking scenes as its heroine, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), rides her Clydesdale Angus through the emerald green countryside of 10th-century Scotland.
What makes "Brave" familiar is the tension between the headstrong teenager, Merida — wildly spirited, her massive persimmon-colored hair a tangle, a deadeye archer, possessing an unyielding wish to fashion her own destiny — and her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who wishes only that her rebellious daughter behave as a demur, corseted, wimple-covered princess should. And, of course, marry one of the doofus sons from a neighboring clan.
Merida, ever-willful, forgetting that she should always be careful what she wishes for, with the help of a witch she encounters deep in the woods, changes her mother's life, literally, with horrifying and unintended consequences. It's at this point that the narrative veers off in an entirely new direction that proves to be less satisfying than anticipated.
Meanwhile, the clans, always at odds, are a bit too slapstick. Merida's father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), is preposterously large and thick-headed; it all becomes at times a bit silly.
On the plus side, Merida is the first female lead for Pixar, and she is both marvelous and maddening. But not to forget that the audience is young, embracing and ready for an adventure. And "Brave" is an adventure.