Christopher Robin review

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

Director : Marc Forster
Cast : Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen
Genre : Comedy/Drama/Fantasy
Run Time : 104 mins
Opens : 2 August 2018
Rating : PG

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things,” so wrote the Apostle Paul in the Book of Corinthians. In this live-action/animation hybrid comedy-drama, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has put away childish things, but the time has come for him to rediscover them.

As a child, Christopher played in what he called the Hundred-Acre Wood with his stuffed animal friends, including the honey-loving Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings), ebullient Tigger (also Cummings), despondent donkey Eeyore (Brad Garrett), worrywart Piglet (Nick Mohammed), fastidious Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), intelligent Owl (Toby Jones), warm Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and her joey Roo (Sara Sheen). They had tea parties and grand adventures, but Christopher has bidden them farewell.

Now an adult, Christopher is married to Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and they have a daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). Christopher is preoccupied with work at the luggage manufacturer Winslow Industries, and is treated poorly by his boss Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss). When a crisis in the office pulls Christopher away from a weekend in the countryside with his wife and daughter, Pooh intervenes. Christopher is confused and unwilling, but eventually gets back in touch with the simple joys of his childhood, as the unexpected visit from his friends reorders his priorities.

This is an utterly devastating film that had this reviewer in tears almost from beginning to end. That is in no small part because it is emotionally manipulative, but just the premise is quite depressing: Christopher Robin has a mid-life crisis. This is not a movie meant for children, or at least primarily for children, judging by all the fidgeting kids in our screening. It’s a movie about what it’s like to lose and then regain a sense of wonderment and awe, and it’s something that’s readily relatable.

Last year, the biopic Goodbye Christopher Robin, about the toll that the success of the stories had on their author A. A. Milne and his family, especially his son Christopher Robin Milne, was released. That film was sad and poignant and might’ve ruined Winnie the Pooh for some, seeing how much pain that bear wound up costing its creator. Christopher Robin is sad and poignant in a different, perhaps more production line way.

Director Marc Forster revisits territory akin to that he covered in the 2004 film Finding Neverland, about the inspiration behind Peter Pan. Here, he works from a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder, with Greg Brooker and Mark Steven Johnson receiving a “story by” credit. The number of writers indicates a cluttered script, but there is a refreshing simplicity to Christopher Robin. At times, it comes off as too simple in straining to be twee and nostalgic, but it generally works.

The dreary post-WWII London setting is contrasted with the idyll of the woods in Surrey. Above and beyond the period details, the visual effects in bringing the cuddly denizens of Hundred-Acre Wood to life are key in making audiences buy into the premise. The character animation, mostly done by visual effects houses Framestore and Method, is pitch-perfect – the way each character moves, the texture of their fur, the subtle nuances in the facial expressions – Pooh and company are all brought to life so lovingly.

Ewan McGregor’s performance as Christopher is reasonably endearing, but all the human characters are quite thinly drawn. We see how much pressure Christopher is under and how he is intent on his young daughter going away to boarding school, against her wishes. Because the titular character is intended as a cipher for all adults, there’s not much that makes him distinctive, apart from how he’s friends with a bunch of sentient stuffed animals.

Hayley Atwell is underused in a sparely written role as ‘the wife’, while Bronte Carmichael does inject some personality into Madeline, but again, it’s not much more than “I don’t get to spend enough time with my dad”. The whole thing is very “cats in the cradle” – or “bears in the honey jar”, if you will. Meanwhile, Mark Gatiss relishes playing the cruel boss.

Veteran voice actor Jim Cummings, who has voiced Pooh since 1988 and Tigger since 1989, is such a joy to hear. His performance as Pooh sounds natural emanating from the fluffy three-dimensional rendering of the beloved bear. While the rest of the voice cast are not as closely associated with their respective characters as Cummings is, everyone does well – especially Brad Garrett as Eeyore, who gets some of the best lines.

Disney has been leaning extremely hard on nostalgia, and Christopher Robin puts a bit of a spin on that by commenting on the nature of adulthood and of maintaining a connection to childhood after we’ve crossed that threshold. The film doesn’t comment on this in the most insightful manner, but there are moments that are sweet as honey, and, if you’re as emotionally fragile as this reviewer, as sad as an empty honey jar.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

For F*** Magazine

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS

Director : David Green
Cast : Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brian Tee, Tyler Perry, Gary Anthony Williams, Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly, Brad Garrett, Brittany Ishibashi, Laura Linney, Danny Woodburn, Tony Shalhoub
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 1 hr 52 mins
Opens : 2 June 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

The world’s most fearsome fighting team has returned to fend off threats old and new – and now, they’re at least a little frustrated that they can’t take credit for it. The brothers Leonardo (Ploszek), Raphael (Ritchson), Michelangelo (Fisher) and Donatello (Howard) have remained in the shadows after defeating Shredder (Tee) a year ago, knowing they will be branded as monsters and reviled. Instead, former cameraman Vern Fenwick (Arnett) is getting all the glory as a New York hero. April O’Neil (Fox) discovers that scientist Baxter Stockman (Perry) is in cahoots with Shredder. After helping Shredder escape from custody, Stockman helps him create mutants of his own: warthog Bebop (Williams) and rhinoceros Rocksteady (Sheamus). Adding to the imminent danger is the alien Krang (Garrett), who plans to open a portal above New York to invade our world. It’s a good thing then that April and the Turtles have a new ally in the form of Casey Jones (Amell), corrections officer by day, hockey stick-wielding vigilante by night.

            2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not exactly well-received by critics or fans, but a follow-up was inevitable. This time, Dave Green (Earth to Echo) has replaced Jonathan Liebesman in the director’s chair, though the lack of a discernible difference is a sign that the producers, led by Michael Bay, have a particularly strong hand in the proceedings. The tone and style remains pretty much the same from the 2014 movie, with the incorporation of fan-favourite characters and elements of Turtleslore in the hope of winning back the shellheads who were spurned by the previous outing. It’s hard to criticise something like this for being ‘silly’, since it can be argued that the silliness is intentional. However, Out of the Shadows frequently crosses the line from ‘silly’ to ‘stupid’. As we said in our review of the previous movie, Guardians of the Galaxydemonstrated how to do an exuberantly tongue-in-cheek sci-fi action flick loaded with pop culture references while not being embarrassingly juvenile. Guardians of the Galaxy, this most certainly is not.

            The Turtles’ designs haven’t grown on us, we’ve just gotten a little less bothered by it over time. The computer-generated characters are integrated into the live-action environments nicely enough and the visual effects work, while sometimes conspicuous, is generally good. The interpretations of Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang do look acceptable. The action sequences will entertain younger viewers and the involvement of second unit director/stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos (the Fast and Furious movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) is a plus. However, nothing strikes us as particularly memorable and the climax with aliens invading New York is quite the yawn, at once too similar to the conclusion of the 2014 movie and to the ending of The Avengers – not to mention any other movie in which extra-terrestrial invaders have seized the Big Apple.

            Perhaps the most positive thing about this film, as with its immediate predecessor, is that our heroes have fun saving the day. Sure, Raph is prone to brooding, but on the whole, they enjoy saving the day and at least a little bit of that is infectious. Characterisation remains paper-thin – the conflict that brews between the brothers is predictable, as is its eventual resolution. While they are sufficiently distinct from each other, not much of an attempt is made to flesh these characters out. It sounds absurd to ask for depth from TMNT, but several of the cartoons, including the current show on Nickelodeon, have succeeded in giving the characters personalities past the single-line descriptions from the theme song.

            Fox remains a poor choice for the role of April O’Neil, and while it is a silly thing to whine about, the character doesn’t even have her signature red hair. There’s a lot of unnecessary leering at Fox and the abbreviated school girl get-up she dons early in the film is a cringe-worthy moment of fan-service. Even the most ardent fans of Arrow would be hard-pressed to deny that Amell isn’t a particularly skilled actor, and his turn as Casey Jones is pretty stiff when the character should be effortlessly cool. He does handle the action beats well, having years of playing a comic book hero under his belt. Perry hams it up as Baxter Stockman, playing him as little more than the, well, stock dweeby scientist. Perry ignores anything interesting about the character, instead becoming yet another comic relief sidekick. It’s also not like he needs the money. Finally, it is truly disheartening to see three-time Oscar nominee Laura Linney absolutely slumming it here.

            Several of the casting changes are nominal improvements – Brian Tee steps in for Tohoru Masamune as Shredder while Brittany Ishibashi replaces Minae Noji as his chief henchwoman Karai. Alas, Shredder does very little and Karai even less.William Fichtner was set to reprise his role as Eric Sacks, though it appears his scenes have been left on the cutting room floor. If you’re able to either overlook or revel in the childishness that runs through most of the movie, it is occasionally entertaining. However, if your tolerance for clunky dialogue, embarrassing jokes and generic action is particularly low, Out of the Shadows will try your patience to no end.



Summary: About on par with the 2014 film, Out of the Shadows is immensely silly and difficult to get into, but its titular heroes are intermittently endearing and the introduction of key players from the comics and cartoons is a half-step in the right direction.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong