Christopher Robin: Disney’s Heartfelt Tearjerker a Perfect Family Film

4 Tigger-Bounced, Honey-Soaked stars out of 5 (One of the best of the year)

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I have long been against Disney’s current trend of reimagining their classic films for modern audiences.  While they strike gold on occasion (Pete’s Dragon), more often then not, these films lack the spirit of their originals and grossly misrepresent their iconic characters (Maleficent).  Therefore, it gives me immense pleasure to type that their newest film, Christopher Robin, not only understands the spirit of its characters and source material, but also places it in the modern world without succumbing to crude gags or pop culture references.  If you loved Winnie The Pooh, then you will love this movie.  Like Toy Story 3 (and I don’t make that comparison lightly), it is a love letter to those of us who grew up loving those characters as well as a logical conclusion to their story and a great introduction for today’s kids.

As the trailers haven’t spoiled much of the plot, neither will I.  The film follows a grown-up Christopher Robin (a perfectly cast Ewan McGregor), now an overworked and distant family man whose innocence was buried by the harshness of life.  However, when his childhood friends Pooh, Tigger (both voiced by Jim Cummings), Eeyore (voiced by Brad Garrett), and Piglet (voiced by Nick Mohammed) reappear, Christopher will learn the value of embracing his inner child again.

I love almost everything about this film.  Pooh and his friends retain their personalities and blend seamlessly in the real world.  The ever-reliable McGregor interacts perfectly with his cuddly co-stars, and the film’s score successfully combines bouncy and inviting pieces with surprisingly somber ones when needed.  The voice acting is flawless on all sides, with Cummings and Garrett being true standouts as Tigger, Pooh, and Eeyore.  The people working on this film clearly have reverence and love for these characters and they never talk down to or insult our intelligence.

My only problem with the film is its lack of character development for Christopher at the start.  We see him working at his job, but he’s hard to sympathize with for much of the first half.  However, McGregor’s skill as an actor got me through this early rough period and was worth it in the end.  Also, kids might need some explaining of the plot in the opening 20 minutes, but it’s simple enough to follow after that.  Pooh and his friends lighten the mood and inject humor once they appear, so it’s well worth the wait.

Christopher Robin is just the kind of hopeful family entertainment we need.  It doesn’t shy away from sadness, but it’s not a depressing mess as some have proclaimed it.  I would recommend this film to all family audiences and fans of these characters, if only so this silly old bear can remind us that this dark world still has some light in it.

Rated PG For Some Action (a brief battle in WWII and some property damage).

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Dino Sequel Darker, Scarier, and More Thrilling

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

I am baffled by the critical reception to Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomSitting at an unbelievable 51% critics rating on Rottentomatoes.com, reviewers are claiming this entry is stale, unimaginative, and lacking the magic of its predecessors.  I completely disagree with those criticisms and believe the film actually improves the series by being darker, scarier, and providing all the expected dino-action without sacrificing the heart and character of this franchise.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom should leave moviegoers totally satisfied with action, thrills, and a scarily plausible plot in today’s world.

The film picks up 3 years after the events of Jurassic World.  Now that the raptor’s out of the bag, the world is debating over the creature’s rights, with an active volcano threatening to sink Isla Nublar.  Scientist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, sans high heels) and dino trainer Owen (the eternally awesome Chris Pratt) are called into action by elderly Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who promises to relocate the creatures to a sanctuary safe from pesky humans.  Little do they know this expedition will lead to a conspiracy that will change human life forever.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom absolutely delivers as a summer blockbuster.  The story feels realistic, the characters have developed a bit, and the action is some of the best you’ll see this summer.  The effects are still astonishing and mix flawlessly with the dedicated human actors, who continue to sell the outlandishness.  Newcomer Isabella Sermon is also great as Lockwood’s young daughter.  She’s cute, likable, and believably terrified when called upon, all the more impressive when you realize it’s her first acting role.  Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard continue to have wonderful chemistry, and the climax is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The film has a few problems that hold it back from being one of the greats.  Rafe Spall’s human villain simply lacks a threatening screen presence and is one of the weakest baddies this year.  The writing for his character isn’t amazing, but I was more taken in by Wayne Knight with his goofy shaving cream can in the original than by this guy.  Knight was enticing in his greed, but this guy is so milquetoast that he comes off more like one of those 90’s villains who wants to close the rec center than a manipulative businessman.  Worse still, Toby Jones appears as a secondary bad guy, and is much more engaging.  I either would have made Jones the main villain or recast Spall with David Cross (Tobias from Arrested Development).  There’s also some mediocre aging make-up and weak explanation for Sermon’s accent, but my complaints end there.

These problems are minor in the grand scheme of things.  We come to these movies for the dinosaurs and characters, and we get great results with both.  While it doesn’t match the original classic, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a surprisingly solid sequel with great action, good characters, and the possibility for future adventures.  Also look out for Jeff Goldblum in the beginning and end returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm, and BD Wong as Dr. Wu.  This is one attraction you need to see up close.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Science Fiction Violence and Peril

Pitch Perfect 3: Third Installment an Aca-tastrophe Worth Seeing

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Pitch Perfect 3 Poster
Image from https://www.themoviedb.org/

Pitch Perfect 3 is the third installment in the musical comedy series about  a cappella and  the bonds of sisterhood.  If you enjoyed the other two and want one last hurrah with the Bellas, then you should embrace your inner completionist and seek this out.  And, even if you’ve never cared for this series, I would still recommend it purely to watch the film morph from a generic comedy into a ridiculous action film.  No I’m not kidding.

This film sees the Bellas reunite post-graduation to take part in an international USO tour and encountering rival groups Evermoist (yes you read that right) and other unimportant bands, who all use actual instruments!  The goal: to  to impress and open for DJ Khaled (playing himself).  However, things get complicated with the intro of Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) criminal father (John Lithgow sporting a horrid Aussie accent), who essentially forces the movie into a bizarre (yet still enjoyable) direction.  John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks also appear as the sexist announcers, this time following the Bellas around for a documentary.  Because of course they are.

This is a bad movie.  Most of the musical numbers feel forced and aren’t memorable like previous entries.  The comedy is self-mocking, almost as if the film was originally supposed to satirize the formula before being overhauled, and the final 3rd becomes a Rebel Wilson Action Movie.  I don’t know who made this decision, but I would like to personally thank them for doing so.

Pitch Perfect 3 is both a beautiful aca-tastrophe and a passable swan song to fans of the franchise.  The musical sequences should get the toes tapping, but the plot and characters are hilariously thin and the final act was clearly rewritten to get more buts in seats.  It’s time to close the aca-curtains on this series, while it still has a shred of dignity left.

Rated PG-13 for Crude And Sexual Content, Language, And Some Action

Infinity War: Mega Marvel Team-Up Should Thrill Fans, Confuse All Others

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Avengers Infinity War Poster
image from https://www.amazon.com/

Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of the past 10 years of superhero movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Fans of the franchise will laugh and cry as their favorite heroes go up against the toughest foe they’ve ever encountered, while non-fans will wonder what all the fuss is about.  Essentially, this is a movie for the devotees of this billion-dollar series.  If you are not on the Marvel train yet, either engage in a massive binge session to get caught up, or wait until The Incredibles 2 next month for your superhero fix.

The story sees several members of the Avengers team (who are too numerous to mention) battle the malevolent alien Thanos (an intimidating Josh Brolin).  Everyone will put their egos aside in order to stop Thanos from getting the magical Infinity Stones and annihilating half of Earth’s population.

Avengers: Infinity War will thrill and emotionally devastate series fans, but the uninitiated will be lost.  Despite the downbeat tone, the film contains unexpected humor from the character interactions and some of the best action in the franchise.  The performances are uniformly strong, and Brolin steals the show as one of the series’ best villains.  Lastly, the emotionally charged ending is nothing short of heartbreaking for fans, changing the rules for both this universe and superhero films as we know them.

Avengers: Infinity War is a thrilling, fun, and emotional climax to the past 10 years of Marvel’s reign over the multiplex.  May future installments continue to entertain as much as this.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence And Action Throughout, Language, And Some Crude References

Ernie And Cerbie: Family Film Mixes Spiritual Elements, Good Message

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

Ernie and Cerbie Poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/

Family entertainment is harder to find than an honest politician.  Most “family” films rely on kid-only humor, leaving their parents waiting anxiously for the credits.  Film producer Tammy Williams (through her production company Tammy Dele Films) made her directorial debut with The Chronicles of Ernie and Cerbie, a film that will actually entertain the entire family without crude jokes or pop culture references and balances humor, drama, and spiritual elements to create a unique experience.

The film follows young Ernie (Brogan Hall) and his dog Cerbie (voiced by an energetic Arlen Dewaine Griffin) who come out of a local lake before being taken to a children’s orphanage.  However, Ernie is no ordinary boy; he is actually an angel who gave up his life in heaven so he could experience the different kinds of love on Earth, unfortunately losing his memory in the process.  It also doesn’t help when bully Leto (John Whitley) begins to pick on Ernie, forcing him to confront his newfound human emotions.  All the while, police Detective Meyers (Dominic Pace) attempts to find out who Ernie is.

The Chronicles of Ernie and Cerbie is a sterling directorial debut.  Williams’ knowledge and experience with film shines through, as she directs the story with ease and gets some legitimately great performances out of her cast, especially the kids and animals.  I’ve seen many a film ruined by a child’s inability to act, but the young cast members possess unexpected range for their ages and hopefully have long careers ahead.  Best of all, the film’s message (no spoilers) is one that both parents and kids should connect with.  The Chronicles of Ernie and Cerbie is a funny, well-executed blend of genres that proves the family film can actually entertain the entire family.  Purchase the DVD on www.ernieandcerbie.com.

Deadpool 2: Silly Sequel is Surprisingly Dark, Relentlessly Juvenile

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Deadpool 2 poster
Image from http://collider.com/

Deadpool 2 is the first disappointment of 2018.  With a genius marketing campaign, hilarious trailers, and the prospect of seeing our favorite foul-mouthed antihero again, I was ready to dive head-on into this Pool.  Sadly, Deadpool 2 is a needlessly darker and sophomoric outing that emphasizes violent action over clever wit, making for a film that will satisfy action junkies, but leave those who enjoyed the cleverness of its predecessor yearning for more.

The mess of a plot involves Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) mourning over the death of his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin), joining the X-Men, and attempting to save an annoying teenager (Julian Dennison) from, brace yourself, a cyborg from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin).  Wade will sort of go on a journey to discover his inner hero and learn to move on from the death of his loved one, while still cracking jokes to the camera.

Deadpool 2 could have been a savage satire on how sequels always darken, but falls into that trap instead.  While still charismatic, Ryan Reynolds isn’t as likable here, overdoing Wade’s depression in the opening act and attempting to make out-of-place statements on sexism, racism, and other topics Deadpool should not discuss. Brolin acts like he’s in a completely different movie, but has good chemistry with Reynolds when onscreen with him.  The plentiful action sequences are well-done yet sadly unmemorable, and Dennison alternates between unlikable and annoying rather than menacing.  Lastly, the supposed emotional punch of an ending rings hollow.  I came here to laugh hysterically, not think about character drama.  It’s a sad state of affairs that should hopefully be remedied with the upcoming 3rd installment.

Deadpool 2 has more than enough action, but the plot and tone meander without much logic, the characters aren’t as endearing, and the writing is surprisingly juvenile rather than clever or witty.  While it certainly isn’t the worst X-Men film, Deadpool 2 is only slightly above X-Men Origins:Wolverine in terms of quality enjoyment.  I am sad to report that, of the three films I’ve seen this week, Book Club was the funniest one, not this.

Rated R for Strong Violence And Language Throughout, Sexual References, And Brief Drug Material.  Sorry, DP, but X is not gonna give this one to ya.