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A Wrinkle in Time

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Ava DuVernay

Stars: Andre Holland, Bellamy Young, Chris Pine, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Levi Miller,Mindy Kailing, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Rowan Blanchard, Storm Reid, Will McCormack, Zach Galifianakis

Released: March 23rd, 2018

This one is a hard nut to crack. Both for this reviewer and the filmmakers as Madeline L’Engle’s 1962 novel that serves as the source material for this latest Disney live-action adaptation has been said to be unfilmmable. A Wrinkle in Time was always going to be different though, in that this wasn’t a Disney live-action re-make in the vein of one of their treasured animated films from their golden age or renaissance period, but rather the Mouse House had enlisted Selma and 13th director Ava DuVernay to bring this much beloved material to the screen. On the other end of this review is myself who somehow made it through grade school without finding L’Engle’s novel despite being an avid reader and fan of all things science-fiction/fantasy. A Wrinkle in Time is one of those cases where my intent was to in fact read the book prior to seeing the film, but that intent never led to any kind of fruition and so I walked into DuVernay’s adaptation of this seemingly complex yet still kid-friendly source material last night with little to no expectation as to where the story might take me. What I did know was that the trailers hinted at some pretty spectacular imagery as well as some intriguing ideas that would be interesting to see worked out through a narrative. First things first though, A Wrinkle in Timemisses a huge opportunity to inject a rather epic title card (which, if you’ve read my reviews before, is kind of a thing for me), but more so by the third or fourth scene it’s clear there is a stiffness to the events that have unfolded thus far and that there is a certain flow most movies settle into that A Wrinkle in Time isn’t finding. It’s a weird kind of phenomenon that either happens or doesn’t and most of the time, especially with movies such as this AKA big-budget spectacles produced by Disney, there is such a reliability factor that we as viewers automatically settle into the groove and/or movement of the environment the movie invites us into, but this speaks to what is the biggest weakness of DuVernay’s adaptation in that it’s never sure enough of itself. Where this apprehensiveness comes from in terms of movie language doesn’t necessarily seem to come from DuVernay’s filmmaking skills as anyone who saw Selma can attest to her talent, but there is a more deep-seeded issue at the heart of this big-budget spectacle and I don’t know whether it comes from the seeming compression of the original text or the inability to materialize the countless words L’Engle put on the page, but 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time is essentially a concept that possesses these larger than life ideas as reduced to their simplest form.

Jennifer Lee (Frozen, Wreck-it Ralph) and Jeff Stockwell’s (Bridge to Terabithia) screenplay may be at the root of this problem as, by the second act of the film where we are indeed deep into the adventure despite not feeling like we really know these characters, there seems to be no sense of structure, no stakes or rising action despite events undeniably taking place. It is in this lack of character investment and the consistently evident pacing issues that plague the entirety of the picture that we find fault in DuVernay’s direction. The trailers have hailed the filmmaker as being “visionary” and the visuals present in A Wrinkle in Time, at least some of them, may warrant this adjective above her name, but if we’re talking about someone who sees the entire package, the big picture, it doesn’t ever feel as if DuVernay earns that title in this film given that unease that seeps into nearly every scene. Individual scenes are moving, individual sequences are fun and interesting, but on top of one another they never build to anything worth caring about or anything that is as interesting as these characters seem to believe their situation is. This begins by keeping Mr. and Mrs. Murray’s (Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) scientific ambitions rather vague. Sure, they want to travel across time and space without rocket ships and think they’ve discovered a way to potentially do so, but the scene given the most exposition around this also plays up what a quack the audience listening in on Mr. Murray’s lecture thinks he is by the time he comes to the end of it. Keep in mind, we are also only given such exposition after Dr. Murray has been gone for four years-disappearing without a trace and leaving his wife, daughter, and newly adopted son behind. And sure, it’s cool to want to try and accomplish these insane things and to crave the knowledge of what exists beyond our world, but why? Why do Mr. and Mrs. Murray, both seemingly respected scientists otherwise, want to achieve this or prove the possibility of such? What is the personal angle? What is their drive other than validation? Unfortunately, we never become privy to such insight because Mbatha-Raw and Pine are essentially small supporting characters in this children’s adventure that ultimately comes to reinforce the simple lesson of love conquering all rather than exploring the philosophical questions inherent in good versus evil and why as much exists in the universe as that would seem the more fulfilling territory. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate this is a rather strange and pretty trippy movie unabashedly made for younger audiences, but that isn’t an excuse to not make it mesh as well as it should or be as compelling as it so easily could have been.

Furthermore, this vagueness within who these characters truly are extends even into our trio of main characters as beyond the fact she misses her father and has let her grades and mood deflate because of it we don’t really know why Meg Murray (Storm Reid) is so disconnected from those around her save for her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), who is beyond pretentious and a little grating in the way he comes across via the child performer. Reid comes across as an endearing enough presence and we want to root for her Meg, but while she is supposedly not as ready to experience or understand what Charles Wallace has more easily taken to we never fully comprehend why this is such a difficult transition for Meg to make when her biological father of all people is the one to have discovered and fulfilled its potential (it being the ability to “tesser” across space and time into other parts of our universe). There are hints of Meg feeling inadequate and unsure of herself as there are bullies at school who are kind of beyond cruel for no apparent reason (as led by Girl Meets World‘s Rowan Blanchard), but this aspect only seems present so as to show that bullies more often than not are coming from a place of their own pain. Still, while bullying and her father’s disappearance may play into Meg’s inability to feel worthy of the possibilities and opportunities she is presented with shortly thereafter there is never a strong enough sense throughout the rest of the film as to why the solution to her insecurities is that of being herself and being okay with being herself other than it feels like the right message to send to the many kids who will be seeing this movie. That isn’t to say this wasn’t the same message that was conveyed in the novel, I’m sure it’s in there somewhere, but if so I have to believe it didn’t feel as blatantly bland as presented in this new adaptation. Meg is a character who, as we come to learn, is meant to become one of the great minds of our human race alongside Einstein, da Vinci, and Gandhi, but there are no glimpses as to why Meg would be positioned as such given Reid’s portrayal of the character other than the fact she learns through the coaxing of these three celestial beings that she has more to offer than she gives herself credit for. And it may be unfair to come down on a character who is on the cusp of her teenage years for not fully knowing who she is or what she wants to be yet, especially after dealing with a traumatic experience, but while Meg seemingly should be this surrogate for so much of what DuVernay wants to say she ends up feeling as empty as the spectacle that surrounds her throughout much of the (what feels like abbreviated) runtime.

Speaking of those celestial beings, how do they play into the proceedings and is there more weight to them than their extravagant wardrobes? Well, somewhat. In many ways, they are the most engaging characters in the film as they offer this doorway to these galaxies and planets we’ve never seen before and while Reese Witherspoon is delightfully eccentric in her first appearance as Mrs. Whatsit she is given very little room to spread what are very clearly very wide wings any further other than in a sequence where she morphs into a CGI leaf creature with a face that exists solely for the visual spectacle of it all as well as to introduce the audience to the antagonist of the piece in a planet referred to as Camazotz and the “IT” which, as I understand it, is the disembodied brain that controls all the inhabitants of Camazotz or the embodiment of evil on this planet. Sounds menacing, right? Too bad it looks like something akin to Parallax in 2011’s Green Lantern (yes, that awful Ryan Reynolds comic book movie) which brings me to how, despite a handful of stunning shots, this feels nowhere near as stunning as it should. Anyway, if Witherspoon has the most to do out of the three celestial beings and already feels limited one can only imagine then how expendable Oprah and Mindy Kailing’s Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who must feel despite being inherently intriguing. As Mrs. Which, Oprah more or less does her Oprah thing and spouts inspirational adages that are meant to give Meg just enough insight to figure out what she really needs to possess within herself in order to defeat the “IT” and free her father without spelling it out whereas Kailing’s Mrs. Who only speaks in quotations from famous thinkers and writers which leads to the most unbelievable moment in a movie with a flying lettuce monster where Calvin (Levi Miller), a thirteen year-old white kid in 2018, knows an Outkast lyric by ear. So many of these elements are fascinating on their own terms and would likely be more effective were the narrative compounded in a way that gave the audience any real interest in where this journey was taking them, but as it unfolds on screen A Wrinkle in Time more feels like a series of events with no real connective tissue which is never more apparent than in the scene featuring a fun, but ineffective Zach Galifianakis. Even in the climactic sequence, the visuals in which DuVernay chooses to illustrate these large ideas and lessons her characters are supposed to be learning feel more basic than they do cinematic; as if something out of a commercial rather than that of the mind of a visionary director. Ultimately and unfortunately, much of A Wrinkle in Time comes to be rote and recycled rather than fresh and inventive. It’s a flat and uninvolving mess of a movie that needed to take its time to figure out where all of its individual parts stood before beginning their collaboration.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

The Equalizer 2

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Stars: Abigail Marlowe, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, Denzel Washington, Jonathan Scarfe,Melissa Leo, Orson Bean, Pedro Pascal, Sakina Jaffrey

Released: August 17th, 2018 (UK)

Denzel Washington is sixty-three years-old and will be sixty-four this coming December. I can recall taking note of this fact when writing about the first Equalizer film when Washington was about to turn sixty and how impressive it seemed that the guy had no intentions of slowing down. In the interim between that 2014 film and what is the first sequel one of the world’s most charismatic actors has agreed to be a part of, Mr. Washington has still shown no signs of slowing down. Since The EqualizerWashington has already paired with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) again prior to this latest entry with their remake of The Magnificent Sevenwhich I found to be immensely entertaining as well as having adapted, starred in, and directed August Wilson’s seminal piece of work in Fencesfor which he was shrouded in awards love. And again last year, the actor earned another Best Actor nomination for his work in Dan Gilroy’s quirky, but largely effective Roman J. Israel, Esq. (which I probably liked more than you). The point being, each of these gave Washington the chance to continue to do what he loves as he flexed a different muscle in regard to each respective project, but the choice to return to the character of Robert McCall among every character Washington has played is a curious one. I enjoyed The Equalizer upon initial release and was happy to find it wasn’t simply another case of an aging star attempting to cash in on the Liam Neeson-proven method of combining a once valuable name on the poster above a newfangled action-centric conflict. Of course, Washington was never relegated to being a star whose name ever lost any value. Denzel is Denzel and no matter what he does people typically turn out in fair enough numbers to justify his mid-range action projects and awards contenders. In fact, since 2009 (which accounts for Washington’s last ten films), the star has never seen less than a $50 million lifetime gross with the exception of Israellast year with seven of those ten releases doing over $70 million worth of business during their theatrical runs. Denzel, the man, is typically all the brand recognition that is required and so it feels weird that Washington has been brought into this fold of sequels and franchises. Maybe it’s just the first time someone has offered the actor a follow-up to one of his projects or maybe it’s just a sign of the times. Whatever the case may be, The Equalizer 2 isn’t exactly what one might hope for in a “first” from Denzel Washington, but more it plays into what the first did more to subvert in not being your by-the-numbers action flick as this sequel, with nowhere else to go, had no choice but to surrender to the trend.

The Equalizer 2 begins by luring the unknowing audience into what will turn out to be the most interesting mission Washington’s Robert McCall goes on in the film. This deals with some Turkish thugs on a train who have kidnapped their ringleader’s daughter from the U.S. for no other reason than to be vindictive against the mother who was left with little else when this guy up and left. It’s some pretty odd circumstances, granted, but Fuqua shoots the action in a way that Washington never shows his age and better-we completely believe McCall via Washington’s physicality, is able to accomplish what the script lays out for him to accomplish. In short, if The Equalizer 2 is good for anything it is to say that, for Denzel Washington, age is indeed nothing but a number. From here, the film takes us back to Boston where Fuqua and his editor cobble together a mirage of what seem to be shots of the cityscape as if taken from any one of the many nineties procedurals that no doubt featured these exact same shots as if to make us aware of the exact type of movie we’re in for. One might think that after the opening action sequence taking place abroad and then the film returning to Boston to catch us up on the day to day of McCall the film would eventually come to be about the murder of an undercover operative in Belgium as this is what we’re given next in the movies sequence of events. It never does. In fact, McCall never again leaves the country despite the aforementioned opening sequence seeming to imply the type of work the character is now taking on. Rather, McCall resigns to his day job as a Lyft driver (yes, you read that right) only picking his cases from the conflicts of those he comes into contact with during these shifts. How does our man in Belgium come back into the picture then, you ask? Well, that would be when McCall’s former supervisor and the only other person in the world who knows who he was in his former life, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), comes back into the picture and begins investigating the Belgium incident with the help of McCall’s former partner of seven years, Dave York (Pedro Pascal). When Susan and Dave travel to Belgium to investigate the murder of one of their own, but only one of them returns McCall takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of what happened and exact revenge on those who are behind it. There’s also several extraneous subplots dealing with an elderly man (Orson Bean) who is searching for his long-lost sister, and a paternal relationship McCall strikes up with a young resident who lives in his building as played by Moonlight‘s Ashton Sanders.

All of this mixed bag of events comes to feel like nothing short of an odd combination by the time we reach the conclusion of this two hour actioner that is twenty minutes too long. The movie, from a screenplay by Richard Wenk (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, The Expendables 2), is all over the place, but ultimately turns out to be a rather small story. This is one of the reasons it can’t help but to feel as if The Equalizer 2 never takes off. There is this precedent set for something of a globe-trotting adventure and the audience is led to believe that Washington’s McCall will be pulled into the Belgium investigation alongside Leo’s Plummer as this will somehow undoubtedly connect to one or both of their pasts, but in the single surprise the film is able to offer it also seals its downfall by having to then revert to a generic revenge thriller. If you’re curious as to just how generic the movie is then take into consideration the fact that when McCall’s living complex is vandalized the tag on the wall literally says, “gang” rather than what could be interpreted as an actual gang name. That’s how broad this movie likes to play things. That’s how familiar all of this feels. It is also in this standard execution of the revenge thriller that Washington and Fuqua run into an inherent issue with their franchise and its central character. The Equalizer films, and I don’t know if this is true of the television series off which they are based, face a difficult contradiction of tone and moral code. When McCall takes action he is ruthless in as much and yet at the same time he is the most gentleman-like of assassins when not in direct conflict with whoever is in front of him. This type of nature may be more effectively explored in David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun (though I doubt Robert Redford will be decapitating people and throwing them onto rocks), but in Fuqua’s follow-up these mentalities clash in a more disagreeable way that didn’t rear its head in the first film. The difference in The Equalizer and something like Non-Stop or 3 Days to Kill was the fact Washington and Fuqua’s film was able to go there; it was allowed to play up the vulgar aspects of the job McCall was doing. It was allowed to bathe in the gore and the grim perpetuated by all those that existed within this world because that was McCall’s world in the wake of his wife’s death. He lived and existed in the shadows and thus his actions to bring some balance to the community made sense and were in line with where the character was at mentally. In this sequel though, the mentality with which McCall approaches Sanders’ Miles in an effort to pull the young man from a life of crime and push him more towards a brighter future that Miles doesn’t think is possible just doesn’t line up when that same guy says something like, “…then I’m going to kill you all, and my only regret is that I only get to do it once.”

Both Fuqua and his movies are well-oiled machines in that they’re relentless, sturdily storied, and well put-together, but more often than not neither to offer the depth they seem so capable of producing. The Equalizer 2 feels like the epitome of this as Fuqua’s films tend to at least have some redeeming entertainment value most of the time. Largely an exercise in going through the motions though, The Equalizer 2 leaves the audience to wonder what half of the subplots might have to do with the main narrative in which half of those that seemingly have nothing to do with the main story in fact do not while your standard themes of redemption, virtue, and the promise of exploration into good versus evil being too simple an idea to blanket the society of today abound with no real substance. There was a moment in the film where it seemed Wenk might take the opportunity to say something really interesting or at least begin to navigate his way through tricky terrain that dealt in the difficulties of trying to leave a gang without any lasting repercussions, but while this moment in the movie where McCall rescues Miles from what is essentially preparation for his initiation into a gang hints at as much it seems McCall’s actions were enough to convince the gang that Miles wasn’t worth the trouble. Fair enough given how much McCall roughed up a couple of the guys, but rather than utilizing this strand as a way to say something more profound Wenk instead only utilizes Miles as a plot device the antagonist can use against McCall in the final act. Speaking of that antagonist, I suppose it’s a spoiler to say who it is exactly despite the fact it’s terribly telegraphed fairly early on. I’ll just say that if you’ve seen Kingsman: The Golden Circle you might get a sense of where this is going before it does. As for the supporting players Leo is fine, Bill Pullman is wasted as is Sakina Jaffrey, while it seems uncertain at this point what it is Pascal can bring to the table that a handful of other aspiring actors couldn’t. His interpretation of the co-lead here is bland and completely deprived of any humanity as it shows him in a picturesque setting with his family in one scene and then passively gunning down a seemingly innocent individual in another. And if you were at least hoping for a climactic action sequence that matched if not exceeded the warehouse set piece in the first film you’ll be sorely disappointed to find out The Equalizer 2 spends intermittent moments of its running time telling us a storm is brewing for no other reason than to set its climax in an evacuated town where McCall and those who oppose him run amok and the main antagonist remains perched atop a building. Of note is the fact this is one of the uglier looking Fuqua films I think I’ve ever seen, but there is one shot of Washington, wearing all black, as he runs in between buildings and through the rain and wind in that climactic action set piece where for a brief moment he almost looks like the caped crusader. It lends a fleeting sense of what could have been. I understand Washington wanting to have his own super hero alter ego and God knows he deserves it at this point in his career, but early on in the film his McCall talks about there being two types of pain in this world: the pain that hurts and the pain that alters. The Equalizer 2 is largely painful to watch and most of the time it just hurts.

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Movie Reviews

Christopher Robin

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Marc Forster

Stars: Brad Garrett, Bronte Carmichael, Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cummings, Mark Gatiss, Nick Mohammed, Orton O’Brien, Peter Capaldi, Sara Sheen, Sophie Okonedo, Toby Jones

Released: August 17th, 2018 (UK)

There is a moment within the opening credits of Disney’s latest attempt to turn one of their classic animated properties into a live action ATM that hints at the devastating nature of our lives. It is fleeting and it, if only for a moment, says all it needs to say about what this movie aspires to be. As it passes though and as it becomes more and more apparent the film doesn’t really know how to accomplish what its initial ambitions intended the film instead becomes all the more broad and all the more safe. This moment is one in which a young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) comes to the Hundred Acre Wood for the last time. He is going off to boarding school, you see, and won’t be able to visit his friends as often anymore. His friends being his stuffed toys, which include that silly ol’ bear named Pooh (voice of Jim Cummings), the perpetually petrified Piglet (voice of Nick Mohammed), the ever-exuberant Tigger (also Cummings), the steadily gloomy Eeyore (voice of Brad Garrett), as well as Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), her little Roo (Sara Sheen), and of course Owl (Toby Jones). Robin’s toys know change is afoot and are throwing Christopher a farewell party of sorts in which treats-ranging from pots of honey to carrots, of course-are served and where even Eeyore is moved to make a speech. It is in light of the depressed donkey’s surprisingly apathetic speech that Rabbit reacts to accordingly that we hear Cummings as Winnie the Pooh whisper a soft, “I would’ve liked for it to go on a bit longer.” And just as fleeting as the moment itself is it simultaneously felt as if I’d been knocked over by a half ton barrage of scattered thoughts and emotions that reminded me just how fleeting time itself is. It’s the one thing we can’t get more of no matter how much wealth we possess or the circumstance of our lives; we all have a finite amount of time and Christopher Robin, in its first five minutes, exists to remind you that your children will grow and change just as you did and even though you feel you’re different, that you’re special, and that despite knowing it was a fact of life all along you were never really meant to grow old and become like your parents before you. Time truly waits for no man. This affected me to the point I wondered why I was sitting in a theater watching a movie when I should have been at home snuggling my three year-old daughter. In short, that would have been the more entertaining option of the two and certainly the more fulfilling one as it is only in this aforementioned moment that Christopher Robin was able to pull any genuine feeling out of me. And might I remind you, this is a movie wholly designed to pull on the heart and nostalgia strings. One moment.

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, this fictional land inhabited by Pooh and his friends, is where we initially meet the cast of well-known characters in director Marc Forster’s (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball, Quantum of Solace, World War Z) film, but we don’t spend much time here over the course of the next ninety or so minutes as Christopher Robin quickly enters the real world first showing us in montage how our titular character comes to stray so far from the childhood that has seemingly brought so much joy to so many other’s childhoods. Beginning with boarding school-and a very telling shot in which Robin’s father turns his back to walk away as soon as he’s hugged and told his son goodbye while his mother stands for a moment longer, watching her son walk away-onto having to become the man of the house at a younger age than most, into the fact this young boy who we’ve always pictured as something of a Peter Pan-like touchstone actually served overseas in the war for several years away from his pregnant wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), therefore missing the birth and early years of his daughter’s life. It’s a lot to take in especially given the amount of time in which the film delivers it, but more interesting is the fact any point in these events would have made for a more satisfying experience in terms of what the movie wants to do, but instead of having Robin hit rock bottom-losing his sense of childlike wonder completely-during the war the screenplay from Alex Ross Perry (writer/director of such indie darlings as Listen Up Philip and Queen of Earth), Tom McCarthy (writer and director of the Best Picture-winning Spotlight), and Allison Schroeder (whose first feature screenplay made into a film was Hidden Figures) instead decide that the film’s namesake will have this crisis of identity post-war when he’s stuck in an office doing mundane, day to day tasks because “Hey! At least the war was unpredictable!” This may be the most “movie” thing this movie does, but this has a lasting effect on the film as the biggest issue Christopher Robin runs into is being a movie about the purity and preciousness of childhood and yet it never feels authentic. Everything about from how the scenes are stitched together to the very example-like nature that each of the situations possess lend the overall impression of a series of contrivances rather than a genuine truth that conveys the thesis of the pitch that adults too easily lose sight of a child’s perspective including the multitude of joys that can be found in the world if we alter how we look at it.

Forster is a diverse director, but in less and less of his more recent efforts has he seemed to be able to find his own sense of footing or who he is as a filmmaker. It’s admittedly been some time since I’ve seen either Monster’s Ball or Finding Neverlandthough he will always have my favor and optimism thanks to Stranger than Fiction (I need to see The Kite Runner), but while it was those early films that marked Forster’s arrival on the scene and as something of a formidable force to be reckoned with he was then snatched up by the studios to direct pre-destined tentpoles such as the next James Bond. It’s easy to see how his career trajectory went astray after this, but with Christopher Robin it seems he might have landed on a project that would allow that footing to once again be surer of itself. And while there are components, arguably the most critical of components, that work well and bring the aimlessness of the plotting and the lack of efficiency (ironically enough) in the pacing up to levels of charming and more consistently funny than expected after the slog the first act turns into the movie itself ultimately never has any stakes that are worth getting involved in, has a message and main idea that should be fairly obvious to the main character, but that he doesn’t fully give into until the third act when he’s supposed to give into his epiphany despite long-since realizing the lesson he’s intended to learn. Worse, none of these actions ever truly gel with what the movie really wants to say. There is this line that is repeated often by Pooh that goes something like, “doing nothing often leads to the very best something,” and though there is certainly flaws to be found with this nugget of wisdom it might have been beneficial had Forster taken cues from his characters. Christopher Robin is aimless because it tries to do so much at once, throwing multiple character arcs and conflicts at the wall, but never giving any of it enough weight to the point it amounts to anything. There is a bit with the Robin’s weird neighbor who keeps insisting he and Robin have a game of gin rummy, but this goes nowhere and is ultimately nothing more than something thrown in to get a laugh. The likes of Atwell and Bronte Carmichael who plays their daughter, Madeline, are more or less wasted and serve simply as reminders of how much Robin is messing up and how much he is missing. Christopher Robin is oddly paced because it largely wraps up its core story in an hour and then has to go on for another forty minutes so that the title character can repeat his arc and Madeline can fill in the role once played by her father in regards to his toy friends. Oddly enough, this redundant final act is the only time the movie possesses some forward momentum. Essentially, should Forster’s Christopher Robin have less distractions filtered through it the characters themselves might have been more in tune with the film’s very visible heart.

Being a story about how Christopher Robin becomes so lost to the point it is difficult for his own child to imagine him as a child though, the most critical of elements that would need to be pulled off in order for even the single most innocent member of the audience to buy into the fact Robin could make the realizations he needs to make in order for viewers to feel as if they’ve been taken on a journey is that of the credibility and connections of those inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood. We needed to care about Winnie the Pooh and his make-believe friends and believe in their ability to serve as not just reminders of who Christopher Robin once was, but as symbols of what he’d lost in the course of growing up. It is in this course of action that Forster and Christopher Robin as a whole succeed the most. This is a very handsome film, a gorgeously rendered film, if you will, as each of the characters we all know and love are depicted as something of a balance between the animated incarnations most will associate them with and the real-life dolls of the real-life Christopher Robin and his father, author A.A. Milne. Forster and cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser create this warm and comfortable aura with a soft sun luminescence within the Hundred Acre Wood that lends the realm something of an ethereal element whereas Robin’s London-based job and home life couldn’t be drearier or more drained of color. The aesthetics of these dolls come to life in truly tangible ways and their interactions with both real-world environments as well as, when Pooh makes his way to London, real-world people are what give the film a much needed vibrancy. Pooh will rattle off little sayings like, “It’s always a sunny day when Christopher Robin comes to play,” but in the case of this movie it is more the opposite for it is when we get to see cute little Piglet try to hide, but be tempted by the thought of acorns, or Eeyore float down a river with no hope of being saved, or even when the movie blatantly pays fan service by having Tigger perform his trademark song that the most joy comes off the screen and we, the viewer, are ourselves reminded of what made our childhood so magical. This isn’t to say Ewan McGregor isn’t fine enough as the titular character, but he’s simply strapped with so much of the dour material that he can’t help but to pull down both the energy and the tone. The challenge with Christopher Robin was always going to be how to make it more than just a nostalgia trip though, and while it might have yielded a better, more insightful movie better in tune with its feelings and ambitions had Disney maybe allowed Perry to direct a script he wrote by himself based on the given premise what Forster has crafted here is a very nice, very quaint film that hits its necessary marks, but is far too slight to ever reach the emotional heights it’s scaling.

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Movie Reviews

Faces Places ★★★★

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Released: 21st September 2018

Directed By: JR/Agnes Varda

Starring: JR, Agnes Varda

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

One of the biggest problems with great art, and the great artists behind it, is the notion that it isn’t for everyone. Of course it’s for everyone, and it always should be. Creators who lose sight of the real world around them, and the real people who would admire their work, often fall short as they lose that insight into what truly matters. Great art without openness and empathy is rarely that great at all.

The biographies of film director Agnès Varda and guerrilla artist JR don’t inspire much hope that they would be at all in touch with the average Jean or Jeanette.

She emerged from the French New Wave of the 60s, rubbing shoulders with Godard and Truffaut, while dabbling in surrealist art and photography, and eventually cut a niche as an impressionistic documentary maker wandering the world beneath an angular bob of grey hair tipped in brilliant red, continuing to create as she edges into her 90s.

He drives around in a van made up to look like an analogue camera, printing large-format images from its side like a giant Polaroid, and he pastes them on the sides of buildings and structures, all the while never revealing his true name and obscuring his eyes behind ever-present sunglasses.

Whatever presumptions their combined histories inspire, it’s undeniable that the two together have created in Faces Places (a translation of the delightful French title Visages Villages) an inherently humane and undeniably wonderful little ode to the everyday wonders of French life.

Bundling together into JR’s infamous van, the unlikely pair trundle across the country to all its obscure and disregarded corners – the mining villages, the goat farms, the docks and the small towns that collective culture and government policy often disregard. There, they make it their quest to find people, any and all kinds of people, and hear their stories.

Frequently moved and often awed – as with the tale of an ageing miner’s daughter who refuses to leave her family home on a now-deserted street – Varda and JR photograph their subjects and pay tribute to the quiet humility and enduring importance of their lives by installing the images on building façades, farmhouses, shipping containers, trains and oil tankers for all to see. Given the time and space to speak for themselves, the weird and wonderful people the two meet are sheepish, tentative and wonderfully unique.

Playing alongside these vignettes of rural French life, a narrative through-line is generated in the mutual respect and budding friendship that develops between the two artists. Though often quite stagey and more plainly constructed than the interviews and installations that give the film its meat, these little asides have their own offbeat charm and humour, as Varda reveals the day-to-day inconveniences of her advancing age, and slowly succumbs to a grandmotherly obsession with getting JR to remove his irremovable shades.

It is a friendship of equals and the catalyst for a project of innate charm and respect for its subjects. The installations themselves, more a trademark of JR than of Varda – who more likely influences the moving image here rather than the still – are impressive and humbling, enjoying both weighty meaning and intent alongside everyday accessibility and joy. What results is an amicable, oddball and wholly delightful snapshot of a country whose international perceptions are so often focused on its capital. Both the faces and the places that Varda and JR uncover together are well worth the visit, and show the true value in making art for all.

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