CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018)

August 2, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. “It’s always a sunny day when Christopher Robin comes to play.” You know when it’s not a sunny day?  When grown man Christopher Robin ignores his wife and daughter to work every waking hour at his job as an Efficiency Manager for a struggling luggage company. Whatever made the filmmakers spend so much time here on the gloominess of adulthood is beyond me, but oh my, when the friends all reunite in the Hundred Acre Wood, it’s truly a joy to behold.

It was only last year when GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN hit the theatres, and while that was more of a biopic of A.A. Milne and the origin of Winnie the Pooh, this version focuses instead on the adult Christopher Robin, and how responsibilities can rob us of all the joys of childhood if we aren’t careful.

Ewan McGregor plays the grown-up Christopher Robin, and we see him back from WWII as a boring workaholic who has little time for his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) or daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). The story begins with young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) sharing a farewell lunch with his friends just before he heads off to boarding school, leaving his childhood far behind. In addition to Pooh bear, we also see Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, Kanga and Roo, as well as a bouncy Tigger and classically mopey Eeyore. It should be noted that these aren’t the animated creatures you and your kids are accustomed to. These are stunning CGI stuffed animals modeled after the early drawn images of Ernest Shepard. They are lifelike … as much as talking stuffed animals can be … and kid viewers are likely to fall quickly for them.

There are three screenplay credits: Oscar winner Tom McCarthy (SPOTLIGHT), Oscar nominee Allison Schroeder (HIDDEN FIGURES) and Alex Ross Perry (LISTEN UP PHILIP). Their work is based on a story from Greg Brooker (STUART LITTLE) and Mark Steven Johnson (SIMON BIRCH), and of course the characters from AA Milne and Ernest Shepard. It might not surprise you that the director Marc Foster also directed the excellent FINDING NEVERLAND, but it’s a bit eye-opening to think he also directed MONSTER’S BALL and QUANTUM OF SOLACE, neither of which have a single scene that kids should watch!

Despite the heavy gloom of the portion of the story dealing with Christopher Robin’s family and job, the film (and the kids in the audience) lights up when all the friends are on screen. Playing the “Say what you see” game on the train emphasizes that creativity sprouts from nothing (doing nothing is a recurring theme in the Pooh stories), and of course, the ever-present red balloon plays a role (much different than the red balloon in IT), as does the familiar “Winnie the Pooh” song from 1977, which most everyone in the audience hummed along with in its various pop-ups during the movie.

The voice acting is necessarily superb, and credit goes to Jim Cummings as both Pooh and Tigger – roles he also voiced in the animated series and previous animated films. Of course the great Sterling Holloway was the original Pooh voice, and he passed away in 1992. Nick Mohammed is Piglet, Peter Capaldi is Rabbit, Sophie Okonedo is Kanga, while Sara Sheen is Roo. Toby Jones is Owl, and Brad Garrett gets some of the film’s best and funniest lines as everyone’s favorite downtrodden donkey Eeyore.

Pooh, the ‘silly old bear’, states “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.” This type of humor and philosophy goes on throughout the film, whenever the friends are on screen. The moral of the story is that it’s crucial that we maintain some sense of childhood wonder and joy, even as adult responsibilities close in on us. If you can wake up each morning and say “Today is my favorite day”, you are likely not a bear of little brain … plus you’ll avoid Heffalump traps!

watch the trailer:

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AFTER EARTH (2013)

June 4, 2013

after earth1 Greetings again from the darkness. If you have read many of my reviews, you are aware that if I didn’t enjoy watching it, I won’t enjoy writing about it. Also, I (foolishly?) refuse to give up hope on writer/director M Night Shyamalan. If such a creative mind (The Sixth Sense) can go so flat, what possible chance do I have? While much has been written about the influence of Scientology on this project, I can only speak to my personal reaction to the movie and story, not the possible ties to that organization.

Will Smith has proved many times that he is quite a charismatic screen presence when the material allows. However, his role here compares to telling Elvis Presley not to sing or swivel his hips. Smith plays General Cypher Raige, the most courageous Ranger from an advanced civilization living 1000 years in the future. His young son Kitai is played by Smith’s after earth3real son Jaden Smith (The Karate Kid remake). The elder Raige is a super soldier, but a lousy father. Kitai wants nothing more than to become a Ranger and prove himself to his legendary father, while redeeming himself from an earlier mishap that had him watching his big sister (Zoe Kravitz) get killed.

The movie kicks into gear after a crash that finds only two survivors … father and son Raige’s … stranded on an inhospitable Earth. Except for a few pretty lousy looking special effects (CGI), a very pissed off Earth is the best part of the movie. The worst part is a near lifeless (double meaning) father Raige tracking the younger Raige on a near impossible mission, all while confined to the wreckage with two broken legs. Somehow this advanced civilization has only invented a weapon that would be effective and cool in today’s world. It seems pretty antiquated when fighting off Ursa, the blind beast that smells fear in humans. Only those who show no fear have a shot at survival.

after earth2 And that’s pretty much what this movie is about. Man against “Nature”, and Man (boy) overcoming his own fears. The story is interesting enough and Earth is fascinating, though could have been ever better. What doesn’t work is that Jaden Smith just isn’t yet at the level to carry a movie of this level. His emotions are limited to furrowed brow and looking longingly at his dad. Even worse is watching Will Smith incapacitated and stoic in his every move.

The movie gives every indication of a pet project that Will Smith developed as a star-making outing for his son. Heck, we all wish we could do such for our kids. Unfortunately, better timing and a better fit would have upped the odds that it would pay off for the Smith family, as well as us movie-goers. So … my Shyamalan wait continues.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you believe Will Smith can do no wrong OR you need to see it to believe it – Will Smith goes two full hours without a smile or that famous laugh

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: lousy CGI accompanied by lifeless acting aren’t worth $9 to you OR you really don’t wish to be reminded that while you never got the pony you wanted as a child, Will Smith’s kid gets to star in a $130 million movie

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZIt20emgLY