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Movie Reviews

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Jake Kasdan

Stars: Alex Wolff, Bobby Cannavale, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart,Madison Iseman, Marc Evan Jackson, Missi Pyle, Morgan Turner, Nick Jonas, Rhys Darby, Ser’Darius Blain

Released: December 20th, 2017

I was born in 1987. Meaning I turned a perfect eight years-old in 1995. I don’t know if I first saw Joe Johnston’s Jumanji when it opened that December, but I know I saw it within a year of that release and many, many times after. Admittedly, I haven’t revisited the whole of the picture in quite some time, but what I clearly remember about the experience of Jumanji at that impressionable age was the unexpected grandeur of it all-the substance the film carried in the tragedy of this child disappearing from this pristine town and the unfortunate dynamic between he and his parents that, when he did finally return, would lead to a lifetime of regret. These were big themes for a little kid and maybe even the first time I’d really been forced to contemplate as much. It was a movie that made a big impression if not for the mystery and implied scale, but for these themes of loss that resonated with me and now allow me to have these fond and rather heartfelt memories of the film. And so it goes, I could not have been less excited for a twenty-two-year later sequel that would seemingly have no connection to the original, but instead be branded as such to entice the interest of audiences such as myself while selling the movie to younger crowds on the concept of stars like Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Heart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan appearing in an all-out action adventure with a cool premise. I wasn’t ready to think this kind of backwards engineering of new franchises by mining old movies that appealed to those who now have disposable income and children of their own so as to get as many butts in seats as such brand recognition could, but dammit if this twenty-two-year later sequel isn’t a whole lot of fun. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t going to break any barriers or win any awards, but that’s not its intention and given that intention and my lowered expectations out of nothing more than my affection for the original I went into this new film hoping the well-rounded cast could turn what undoubtedly had to be a half-hearted story into something at least remotely entertaining. Not only is Welcome to the Jungle entertaining though, but it is consistently engaging in the obvious, but well executed video game-level structure it possesses as well as offering far more frequent and less obvious laughs than I would have expected the script to deliver. At just under two hours (credits and all) this belated, but welcome (who would have thought?) expansion on the world of Jumanji is certainly an adventure worth taking for those of us that seek to find a place to leave their world behind (and for those who just want to have a good time at the movies).

In this sequel that certainly intends to reboot the series if as much is successful we begin in 1996 and are introduced to a man who, while jogging, happens to stumble upon a board game in the sand-that game being the titular one the characters at the end of the first film apparently did not get rid of well enough. This man turns out to be Mr. Vreeke (Tim Matheson) who has a young son named Alex (Mason Guccione) that he naturally gives the game to upon returning home, but given it is 1996 and kids don’t really play board games anymore we learn that not only is Jumanji able to suck players into its world, but that it is also able to adapt with the times and essentially transforms itself into a video game for the console Alex happens to have in his room at that time. Within the first five minutes of the movie those (if you’ve seen the original and you don’t necessarily need to in order to enjoy this) familiar drums start to pound for a second time, waking up Alex, convincing him to play the game, and ultimately sucking him into the world of Jumanji. Cut to twenty years later and we’re introduced to modern teenagers Spencer (Alex Wolff) who is something of a nerdy outcast that was once best friends with now football star and all-around jock Anthony AKA “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain) whom he now writes history papers for so that Fridge might remain on the football team. There’s also the perpetual example of the popular girl as embodied by Bethany (Madison Iseman) and the perpetually anti-social girl in Martha (Morgan Turner) who each happen to do something just upsetting enough to land themselves in detention on the same day. Once in detention and once given a stirring speech about finding out who they really are and who they really want to be by the consistently dry and always hilarious Marc Evan Jackson (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) as their principal they are whisked off to the basement of the school for their punishment: de-stapling magazines for the recycling plant. Of course, this quartet of kids don’t get very far in the de-stapling business given the fact that somehow, Alex Vreeke’s gaming console has ended up in the school basement, and both Fridge and Alex are curious enough to check it out while coaxing Martha and Bethany into joining them. This version of Jumanji doesn’t mess around and as soon as our four main characters choose their avatars for the game they are sucked into the world of Jumanji transforming the timid Alex into the noble leader that is Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Fridge into the petite, but efficient weapons valet in zoologist Moose Finbar (Hart), Martha into the scantily clad, but more than capable Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan) and Bethany into Professor Shelly Oberon (Black), a renowned cartographer who is also an overweight, middle-aged man.

Once we arrive in the world of Jumanji and with the stars that no doubt factored into the reason a lot of people will show up to this thing outside of whatever percentage brand recognition can still claim is when we naturally get into a more obvious structure. This is literally a movie set inside of a video game and so there are obvious levels and tropes to those levels that will inevitably play out, but the movie has a lot of fun with each of these and each of the actors are very clearly having such a good time in each of the scenarios they are presented with that nothing ever feels stale or trite despite as much certainly being an option. Furthermore, outside of these scenarios the actors are able to play up the personalities of these pre-established teenagers within their already well-defined personas as well as the skills attributed to the avatar they represent in the game. For instance, Johnson is very much supposed to be a version of Johnson when playing Bravestone-an alpha male with huge muscles and superior athletic skill who is also good with weapons; essentially everything we imagine The Rock to actually be like in real life-but within this persona Johnson is also meant to play this timid, nerdy kid named Alex who must adapt to being the leader and having the skills to accomplish as much. With Hart, Finbar is supposed to be a well-educated, but grateful companion to the physically superior Bravestone whereas, once Fridge inhabits his body, he becomes this never-ending machine of quips and jabs that attempt to cover up his insecurities about not being able to be as physically dominating as he would normally be. This allows for the arcs of both Alex and Fridge to develop naturally over the course of the movie with each of them coming to understand the other’s perspective better given the expectations placed on their avatars. For the two females the dynamic is slightly different, but they’re both still meant to take away a lesson from being trapped in a body other than their own. Bethany is introduced to us posing for countless selfies in an attempt to make herself look and feel as effortlessly cool and beautiful as possible for when she shares it with the world. In her inhabitance of Professor Oberon not only does she learn the obvious lesson of it not always being what’s on the outside that counts, but more that she learns how to support and build up others who aren’t as confident; encouraging Martha specifically to embrace who she is, the skillset she has as Ruby Roundhouse, and owning it to a degree the meek, but defensive Martha wouldn’t typically care to project. That said, Gillan also gets a few choice scenes set to Big Mountain’s version of “Baby I Love Your Way,” that are pretty fantastic. Having the likes of Black essentially play a teenage plastic is a genius move, but it is the camaraderie between these characters that is deepened by their journey in these new bodies that make the movie fun to watch, the characters easy to relate to, and their friendship all the more genuine.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is, by all accounts, everything one could want in a family-friendly action adventure given the recognizable faces, the familiar yet still fresh concept, and the general air of comedy that surrounds every facet of the film; and to such promises, the movie more or less lives up to what it intends to be. There is no overstating how much fun can be had at this movie as it is a legitimately good time, doesn’t take itself too seriously, or try to get too sentimental in the end in an attempt to inject real heart as this heart is present throughout the entire journey of our four main characters figuring out the meaning of that cheesily placed thesis from their principal at the onset of detention. Rather, Welcome to the Jungle finds its notes of meaning and fulfillment in the performers and their commitment to what could have easily been dismissed as material too corny to actually convey any kind of authentic emotion. Johnson and Hart once again play well off one another as seen in their previous collaboration, Central Intelligence, while throwing a personality as big as Black’s into the mix was again genius. Still, though it might be easy to assume Black will more or less be playing a version of his goofy personality the comedian doesn’t make things so easy on himself as he wholly commits to the bit of playing this stereotypical mean girl and then giving her layers by revealing the good intentions she holds and the lack of any real hateful spirit that might have just been a facade so as to go along with her pre-determined look in high school. Once Bethany looks like Oberon, Black takes the hits at his age and weight like a champ and still carries himself as if he were Bethany-in every scene and in every instance. Solely focusing on Black in each scene to see to what degree he inhabits this character is worth the price of admission alone, but add to this the fact that the four-man screenwriting team have come up with a handful of good to great jokes in the film that aren’t totally obvious given the circumstances as well as a couple of great running jokes, one in particular involving Black’s character, that land so well I can’t imagine anyone being unhappy with the film as the otherwise obvious plot resolves itself and we end on the obligatory, but fittingly happy note. I was nervous director Jake Kasdan, having only worked on mid-level comedies like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Bad Teacher, might not be the guy to helm a major action/comedy that required equal parts heart, comedy, and adventure while mostly pandering to the younger members of the audience, but the balance is on point here with Nick Jonas showing up to also please a certain demographic (and doing a better than expected job at such) and Bobby Cannavale making a menacing if not exactly memorable villain (which is in line with most video games from the nineties). All things considered, Welcome to the Jungle is an entertaining, funny, and often times thrilling experience that is more than worthy of a place to venture into if you’re seeking to leave your own world behind for a couple of hours.

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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