Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED"
"WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91, Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."
That's the classified ad that inspires Jeff (Jake Johnson), a cynical Seattle Magazine staff writer to delve into the story behind it, taking along two interns: awkwardly insecure, disaffected Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and shy, studious Arnau (Karan Soni), a biology major hoping to diversify his resume.
As soon as they arrive on assignment in the Washington beachside community, cocky Jeff takes off to find an old high-school flame (Jenica Bergere), leaving Darius and Arnau to track down Kenneth (Mark Duplass), an eccentric, suspiciously elusive grocery clerk. Posing as a prospective traveling partner, willing to undergo rigorous training, imaginative Darius befriends Kenneth, a paranoid loner who not only believes that he can time-travel but is also convinced he's being followed by secret agents. Which, in fact, he is.
Novice screenwriter Derek Connolly found this curious ad from the survivalist magazine "Backwoods Home" back in the 1990s and devised the poignant characters, along with an off-beat, romantic story line, teaming up with first-time director Colin Trevorrow, his N.Y.U. Film School classmate and co-intern on TV's "Saturday Night Live." Together, they found the ad's real author in the mountains of Oregon and gained his trust before embarking on this charming comedic quest.
As the earnestly beguiling anti-hero protagonist, Duplass ("The Puffy Chair," "Darling Companion," "Your Sister's Sister") has a sly, disarming instinct for timing, deftly playing off Johnson ("No Strings Attached"), Plaza (NBC's comedy series "Parks and Recreation") and New Dehli native Soni (Fox TV's" Touch"). The reality-based ensemble is greatly enhanced by the original soundtrack by Guster band member Ryan Miller, particularly when Duplass plays the zither and sings an original song.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Safety Not Guaranteed" is an uplifting 7, a fun-filled, feel-good journey.
Pixar/Disney introduces a spunky teenage princess named Merida (pronounced "Mary-da") in this animated 3-D action fantasy, set in medieval Scotland.
During her childhood, wildly willful Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) often found herself at odds with her prim-and-proper mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), but never more so than when she's told that it's time for her to prepare for marriage. Schooled in the use of a bow and arrow by her goofy, garrulous father, King Fergus (voiced by comedian Billy Connolly), Merida rebelliously bests three bumbling suitors, scions of neighboring clans, in an archery tournament, jumps on her trusty Clydesdale horse, Angus, and defiantly rides off into the forested Highlands. Following twinkling blue will-o'-the-wisps, she's led to a devious, wood-carving witch (voiced by Julie Walters). Distraught Merida begs for a magical spell to change her mother's mind about the tradition of arranged weddings. But when things don't exactly go as planned and the spell threatens to become an ominous, ill-fated curse, Merida is faced with the challenge of righting the mistakes she's made.
Conceived and directed by Brenda Chapman as a new role model for 21st-Century girls, this mother/daughter relationship story, which is co-directed by Mark Andrews, veers from the traditional European fairy tale mold of having a passive young woman wait around for a handsome prince to claim her. Instead, this plucky Celtic heroine with cascades of curly red hair is determined to explore her own path and have some exciting adventures along the way. Her tomboy character is obviously modeled on the legendary virginal Arkadian huntress Atalanta, whose name is derived from the Greek word meaning "equal in weight."
As always, Pixar's meticulous CG animation is bold and beautiful, particularly when Merida introduces lady-like Elinor to the fanciful freedom inherent in nature's blissful, outdoorsy pleasures, orchestrated by Scottish composer Patrick Doyle with Gaelic folk singer Julie Fowlis.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Brave" is a sweet, spirited 7, boosting girl-power ... and Enrico Casarosa's Oscar-nominated "La Luna" short that precedes it is even more enchanting.
"SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD"
Give writer/director Lorene Scafaria credit for tweaking a comedic twist on the terrifying apocalypse predicted by some interpretations of the Mayan calendar.
As a 70-mile-wide asteroid catapults toward Earth and all attempts to divert it have failed, people are confused about how to spend their final days.
Many intoxicate themselves into oblivion. Others riot in the streets. And some simply go to work as usual, like soft-spoken insurance salesman, Dodge (Steve Carell), even though his wife has just left him for another man. Resigned to loneliness, Dodge reasons, "I can't spend the last month getting to know someone."
But when Dodge finds his ditsy British neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), crying on the fire escape after leaving her boorish boyfriend, he invites her in -- to sleep on his couch.
In return, Penny retrieves Dodge's mail that's been mistakenly put in her post-box, and he discovers that Olivia, his old high school girlfriend, has been trying to get in touch with him, confessing that he was the love of her life.
That sets Dodge on a quest through New Jersey and Delaware to find Olivia, accompanied on this bucolic road trip by Penny, who yearns to get back to her family in Surrey, but since planes have ceased flying, that's not possible.
Problem is: It's a formulaic, predictable romantic comedy. Lorene Scafaria ("Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist") devises only a few minimal surprises and fails to capitalize on Patton Oswalt, Connie Britton, Rob Corddry and Martin Sheen cameos.
While Dodge supposedly works in New York, his having a designated rooftop parking spot there is highly unlikely. And Steve Carell has played this kind of wistful schlub so often that he could do it in his sleep -- and almost does -- since he has zero chemistry with Keira Knightley.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" is a soulful 6, as the doomsday clock stops ticking.