Christopher Robin

August 16, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cummings
Directed by: Marc Forester (“Finding Neverland”)
Written by: Alex Ross Perry, (“Nostalgia”), Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) and Allison Schroeder (“Hidden Figures”)

If you get a sense of déjà vu when you hear that there’s a new Winnie the Pooh movie called “Christopher Robin,” bear with us. Last year’s drama “Goodbye Christopher Robin” was a biopic on English Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne and the inspiration that led him to write children’s books. In “Christopher Robin,” we return to the fictional world of Pooh, 30 years after Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien as a young Christopher) is sent to boarding school and leaves behind his fluffy friends in the Hundred Acre Wood in Sussex.

Ewan McGregor (“Moulin Rouge!”) stars as an adult Christopher, all grown up with a wife (Hayley Atwell) and daughter (Bronte Carmichael) and heaps of responsibility as an efficiency manager at a struggling luggage company in London. His daughter is heartbroken when he has to skip out on their family vacation because his boss orders him to overhaul the budget on his weekend off.

It’s a theme we’ve seen countless times before: the balance of work and home life, and a father who can’t seem to understand which is more important. None of it rings very original in “Christopher Robin,” although the scenario is more complicated since Christopher is faced with not only family obligations, but also having to “put away childish things” once again when the huggable, anthropomorphic Pooh comes for a surprise visit, which leads to Christopher traveling to Sussex to get him home.

Directed by Marc Forester, who explored this same type of narrative in the 2004 fantasy biopic “Finding Neverland” about Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, “Christopher Robin” doesn’t break any new ground with its human characters, but there is plenty to love when Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang come out to play.

The appearance of these computer-generated, vintage-looking stuffed animals is flawless, and their interaction with Christopher provide some of the best examples where live-action meets animation in recent memory. It feels like the actors and animated characters are inhabiting the same realm, which is a testament to the incredible creativity and realistic design by VFX studios Framestore and Method Studios.

As a family-friendly film, some viewers might be a bit turned off by the gloomy, quiet nature of the picture as a whole (“Christopher Robin” is more “Where the Wild Things Are” than it is “Alvin and the Chipmunks”), but the charm is never lost when Pooh is delivering one of his clever Poohisms (“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day”) or even when Eeyore is sulking in sadness. If anything is impossible, it’s not being enchanted by the film’s many adorable qualities.

Jack the Giant Slayer

March 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Elanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“X-Men”)
Written by: Darren Lemke (“Shrek Forever After”), Christopher McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher”) and Dan Studney (debut)

Based on the fairy tales “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer” comes a fantasy movie from former (and future…future past?) “X-Men” director Bryan Singer. In “Jack the Giant Killer,” farmhand Jack (Nicholas Hoult) decides he must climb up a giant beanstalk in order to save Isabelle, (Elanor Tomlinson) a princess who has been kidnapped and is trapped at the top. When Jack and the team of the King’s men reach the top of the beanstalk, a group of newly awakened giants await.

Though the acting in the film isn’t bad, it is certainly nothing to write home about either. For better or worse, everyone in the film plays everything relatively straight, so you get actual effortful performances from acting veterans like Ewan McGregor and Ian McShane. The same goes for the performances from Hoult and Tomlinson as Jack and Isabelle. While neither of them are particularly good, they are adequate enough to where they aren’t trite or cheesy.

One of the things that “Jack the Giant Slayer” struggles with is finding a consistent tone. At times it seems as if the PG-13- rated film is going for a serious, adventurous tone while other times Singer takes full advantage of gross out and flatulence humor that would appeal to younger kids. Regardless of tone, the script is also a problem with lame jokes and a tendency of extended lulls in action.

“Jack the Giant Slayer” trudges through most of the first half of the film as the entertainment levels wax and wane. The final act of the film is a CGI-heavy battle sequence that finally ramps up the action and adventure levels. The effects behind the actual CGI  giants are pretty good, but the noisy finish can’t quite make up for the film’s overall mediocrity.

It’s a little surprising that Warner Bros sunk $200 million into a CGI-heavy fairytale adaption with no stars in its leading roles. What makes the situation even more perplexing is spending that much on a film without a distinct tone, a strong story, a worthy script or built in audience. Too serious and dull in parts for small kids, and too juvenile and monotonous in others for older kids, tweener tone in “Giant Slayer” misses the mark on all intended audiences and will likely prove to be massive waste of cash for a studio that is struggling to find a hit in 2013.

Men Who Stare at Goats

November 9, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges
Directed by: Grant Heslov (“Par 6”)
Written by: Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”)

Everything unravels pretty early on in “Goats,” the dry comedy directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter/producer Grant Heslov (“Good Night, and Good Luck”). In the film, George Clooney, who has done satirical characters well before, plays Lyn Cassady, a psychic spy for the U.S. military who teams up with a reporter (Ewan McGregor) to go on a quirky adventure through Iraq. Based on an actual secret military program, the story behind “Goats” is one of mystifying science fiction that never gets passed the idea that all these characters are just darn so kitschy. It would have been nice to delve deeper into what makes all of them actually tick, but instead screenwriter Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”) and Heslov decide the funniest thing they could do with “Goats” is get McGregor, who played Obi Wan Kenobi in the most recent “Star Wars” prequels, to overkill Jedi jokes while Clooney caricatures the heck out someone that should have been ten times more fun.

Amelia

October 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Mira Nair (“The Namesake”)
Written by: Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”)

With as much fascinating insight that director Mira Nair offers into the life of legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the biopic “Amelia,” it would be impossible to fill in a few footnotes much less an entire film on the pilot’s contributions to female aviation. Nair simply fails to make the picture soar. In fact, it hardly gets off the ground.

Based on the biographies “East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and “Amelia Earhart: the Mystery Solved” by Elgin Long, “Amelia,” adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”) takes the all-too-familiar safe route and, in turn, does a disservice to the story’s precarious nature.

It is 1937 when we meet Amelia, a headstrong pilot who is attempting to become the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe. It’s a journey that would inevitably lead to her mysterious disappearance somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

Taking a straight-forward angle to Earhart’s story and tangling it up with flashbacks and ineffective narration, Nair and company mix stock footage, newsreel-type transitions, and murky aerial shots that will elicit a lukewarm response for those who want more heart and adventure from the narrative.

Instead, Nair focuses on Earhart as a celebrity and a wife more than she does a pioneer of her field. The attention paid to her character’s depth might have been useful if “Amelia” was aspiring to become something as epic as Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” but in Nair’s hands the film feels smaller in scale and significance.

We watch Earhart’s involvement with book publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere), a relationship that starts off more like a business venture than it does a courting session. From their marriage to Earhart’s love affair with aviation professor Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), Nair hits all the plot points reasonably well but never enthralls us with drama or, more importantly, wonderment behind Earhart’s flights through the farthest reaches of the world.

Even when Nair does get Amelia up in the air, Bass and Phelan’s script reduces her adventurer’s spirit in heavy-handed metaphors about the freeing sensation of flying. Swank does Earhart justice – although she more than likely won’t be getting another Oscar nod this year for her portrayal – but her contribution to the picture is an afterthought.

“I fly for the fun of it,” Amelia reminds us during the movie. It’s too bad Nair didn’t follow suit with her filmmaking.

Angels & Demons

May 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Angels & Demons
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer
Directed by: Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”)
Written by: David Koepp (“War of the Worlds”) and Akiva Goldsman (“I Am Legend”)

It might not ruffle as many miters as Bill Maher’s 2008 God-is-the-equivalent-of-an-imaginary-friend documentary Religulous, or even The Da Vinci Code, the first film based on author Dan Brown’s bestselling novels. When two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks dismisses faith in favor of science in Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons, however, you know there’ll be a few extra Hail Marys uttered for the souls of the entire production.

Nevertheless, when it comes to all things religious, not even a talented director like Howard can enlighten everyone. Nor can he and screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman manage to compress Brown’s text into an insightful narrative. Their version really should be renamed CSI: Vatican City.

In A&D, Hanks reprises his role as Harvard University symbologist Robert Langdon, the protagonist pitted against an angry albino and a secret sect of the Catholic Church in 2006’s Da Vinci conspiracy. Here, the professor teams up with more God-fearing men to discover who is responsible for the disappearance of four Vatican cardinals and the theft of a top-secret science experiment that could annihilate Rome if it’s not found in time.

Clues point to the Illuminati, a centuries-old underground society made up of Catholic free thinkers for whom the fine line between religion and scientific truth is always smudged. Needless to say, this idea doesn’t jibe with the traditional Church’s contention that “ancient traditions [are] threatened by a modern world.” (Prayer chain emails, by extension, must be the root of all evil.) There is, however, never an authentic sense of conflict between these concepts beyond the film’s conspicuous amped-up tempo after the much-maligned sluggish pace of its predecessor. Science and technology may very well lead to the death of theology, but A&D’s preaching lacks any real conviction.