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)

Image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4575576/

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).

“The Accountant”: Ben Affleck Drama Provides Realistic Portrayal of Autism, Has Great Action

5 out of 5 stars (One of my favorites)

The Accountant poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com

I walked into The Accountant expecting a violent action flick with a conveniently autistic main character.  The film has been marketed as a potboiler character drama/action thriller with a star-studded cast and a director with one popular movie to his name, an advertising tactic used by countless films every year to make them seem “adult” in nature.  The Accountant utilized this very well, making one of the best trailers of 2016 (and maybe of the 2010s).  My skepticism stemmed from how the filmmakers would portray autism, as I am on the spectrum myself and don’t especially like when Hollywood botches it.

It didn’t help that reviews I had seen were criticizing the film for making autistics come off as emotionless killers, or that Ben Affleck’s last film was Batman V. $uperman: Dawn of Ju$tice (in which I hated his portrayal of the Caped Crusader.)  In short, all the cards were stacked against me liking this film.  However, after some convincing from my mother, examination of the gifted cast, and the heavy desire to escape my college campus for a few hours, I went to see Ben “Aspie-fleck.”

And he totally nailed it.  The Accountant should be held as the primary representation of high-functioning autistics in cinema.  My parent’s generation had Rain Man, my generation will have The Accountant, a beautifully filmed, superbly acted, and memorably well-written drama that has action, humor, and twists that will knock your socks off.

The film follows Christian Wolff (Affleck giving an Oscar-worthy performance), an accountant with high-functioning autism who handles the books for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations.  If you need somebody to come in, do the books quickly, and leave without asking questions, then you hire this guy.  He won’t be the life of the party, but he’ll look over seven years of taxes in about seven hours.

Christian’s newest client is Living Robotics, a more legitimate business run by Lemar Black (John Lithgow).  They need someone to make sure their books are on the up-and-up, and Chris is the hot commodity.  Provided an assistant in the spunky Dana Cummings (A thankfully non-singing Anna Kendrick), Christian goes to work, discovering that the company may have some insidious purposes behind closed doors.  Elsewhere, a dedicated analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and the head of the Treasury (J.K. Simmons) are tracking Chris’s past exploits, igniting a chain of events that will leave everyone changed forever.

As previously stated, I have autism myself.  I had never seen a modern Hollywood film attempt to explore this, so I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy when I found out that it would be in the plot.  Would the filmmakers do their research?  Would they understand the numerous, complex intricacies of the autistic mind?  Would Ben Affleck, normally a charming and energetic presence, be able to portray the physical, psychological, and emotional complexities of a high-functioning autistic?  The answer to each and every one of those questions is, unexpectedly, yes.  I’ve seen Ben Affleck give good, bad, and laughably ugly performances in his career, and I presumed that this would be nothing but a forced Oscarbaiting opportunity that only understood the broad strokes of the disability.  No one can fathom the amount of joy I had watching him nail every single aspect of the autistic personality: His speech patterns, ritualistic behaviors, and black-and-white thinking pattern were all perfect mirrors of how I would have responded in the situations he was in (If my area of specificity was math and I balanced books for terrorists, that is).  In short, Affleck completely disappears into his character, never letting the persona drop throughout the entire film.

You might be saying to yourself: “Okay, he’s good, but what about the rest of the movie?”  My answer to that is: Exquisite.  The supporting actors do a very fine job, even if some of them don’t get as much screen time as I presumed (Kendrick and Simmons disappear for a brief span of time, but they return and make up for it.)  If I had one complaint in the acting department, it would probably be Jeffrey Tambor, who seemed like more of an important cameo than anything else.  Not to say that he isn’t important, but I wish I could have had more with him.  Kendrick gets to show a full range of acting abilities, both serious and comedic, and the dynamic between Simmons and Robinson leads to unexpected depth.  Simmons is smart in picking projects, and this is no different.  All the characters are flawed, grounded people; there is not a real “hero” or “villain” here, a refreshing change of pace for an action film.

Speaking of that, the action in this film is extremely well-done.  While violence is prevalent throughout (mostly seen in flashbacks), there are only three legitimate “action sequences” in the film.  While I expected a few more sequences involving Chris actually killing people, the ones I got were tense, fun, and very well-shot, avoiding the dreaded shakeycam (besides the first scene, but the technique works in its favor there).  Director Gavin O’Connor (known for Warrior and the notorious flop Jane Got A Gun) is masterful with his camera, allowing every shot to be clear and visible to the audience.  The action is bloody, but never overstays its welcome; even the climax is perfectly timed to give you the thrills without being so long that you forget why it was happening in the first place.

If Affleck doesn’t get an Oscar nomination, then the cinematography should.  Every shot is important to the story, either to advance the narrative or provide a detail about the characters.  In short, O’Connor seems to understand that film is a visual medium; I never felt like characters were spewing exposition because the screenwriter couldn’t figure out how to show things visually.  I wish more directors and screenwriters would wrap their minds around this so films wouldn’t have to stop and explain things I already know.  We are shown Chris’s meticulous routines, his quirky mannerisms, and gift for mathematics in a Beautiful Mind-esque sequence where he calculates 15 years of tax information overnight.  I had great pleasure watching a movie where my brain had to process information instead of it being spoon-fed to me, and hope that more films will do the same.

The Accountant is a wonderful examination of high-functioning autism that provides a disarmingly realistic portrayal of the disability while still qualifying its action film pedigree.  While I wouldn’t have minded another scene with Affleck killing someone, it would have taken away from the beautifully rendered story about a man with autism adapting to new and unexpected dangers.  The film will likely have more meaning if you or someone you know has autism, but if you don’t, there is a great scene in which Chris lays out what autism is in just a few sentences.  In short, this is one Accountant you should actually want to see.

Rated R for Strong Violence and Language Throughout

 

These “Turtles” Should Have Stayed in the Shadows

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

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1291150/mediaviewer/rm243581696

Childhood is an interesting time. We are young, inexperienced, and easily entertained.  When we are children, all we need is a talking animal and we like what is right in front of us.  That was the case for me at least.  I remember seeing Shrek in the movie theater when I was six years old, being entertained by a fast-talking donkey and an ogre with anger issues.  I also loved anything having to do with Scooby-Doo because there was a talking dog who solved mysteries.  My other childhood memory is of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, four butt-kicking amphibians trained as ninjas by an old, wise rat.  I could identify with all of them on one level or another, and thus my love of them was born.  I was first exposed to them when I was nine or ten with the 1990 film.  It was dark, funny, and action-packed (to a kid-friendly level), and I loved the way the turtles looked.  Though I never saw the TV series the movie was based on, I still enjoy that film to this day (on certain occasions).  The following two sequels were entertaining as well, but then the CGI reboot came in 2007.  It was boring, unfunny, and a poor attempt to start a franchise.  After that film, it seemed that the turtles were cinematically dead.  I heard there was a CGI series on Nickelodeon, but at that point, I had lost hope in the turtles.

So imagine my feelings of glee and worry when I found out that a new “Ninja Turtles” movie was in the works. Who would be in it?  What would the story be?  Most importantly, would it be any good?  These questions and more flooded my mind when I heard that my favorite “heroes in a half-shell” were getting another big-screen treatment.  Eventually, the cast was announced, trailers were released, and they looked decent, as if someone were going to give the “Batman treatment” of taking something stupid and making it great to the turtles.  Unfortunately, my hopes were too high for this film: while old turtle fans will enjoy it, others might find it too preposterous to be entertaining.  I’m in the latter category.  It’s just not good.

The story follows April O’Neal (Megan Fox giving her best performance since “Jennifer’s Body“); a news reporter stuck doing fluff pieces. April would rather be reporting big stories on the Foot Clan, a militaristic group terrorizing New York City, but her boss (Whoopi Goldberg) won’t throw her a bone.  Luckily, April has the support of her cameraman Verne (Will Arnett getting the most laughs in the movie), who has a not-so-subtle crush on her.

April’s luck changes when she happens upon a robbery thwarted by a mysterious figure. She snaps a picture of a symbol left by the figure to show to her boss, who (realistically) rejects that there’s a story lurking in this mystery.  Ever determined, April investigates the symbol and her search leads her to four genetically-altered turtles, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, trained in the art of ninjitsu by a rat, Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub, “Pain & Gain”).  Meeting them puts April on a path with an evil businessman, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner doing a decent job as a villain), a man connected to all of their pasts.

This film has one or two positive aspects. The “human scenes” are interesting enough, but the film is surprisingly boring whenever the turtles are alone on screen.  Also, the turtles and Splinter look a bit creepy, as if they all used steroids that turned them into grown “men” instead of teenagers.  That could just be me, because the kids in my theater never seemed scared.  The technology used to bring the turtles and Splinter to life is the same used to bring the apes to life in “Rise” and “Dawn”, but I personally liked the ‘90’s “men in turtle suits” better.  Also, the original movies were about the turtles, not April.  This film takes what I like to call the “Transformers Approach” and focuses more on the human characters than on the turtles, something I was very grateful for in the long run.  The cast has decent chemistry, and the acting is surprisingly passable (especially from Fox, who wasn’t exactly Meryl Streep-like in the “Transformers” movies).  I feel that her acting talents have improved over time, something that I didn’t expect from her.  That being said, I would have preferred the writers giving the title characters half as much screen time and development as her character.  The filmmakers could have called this film “O’Neal” and it wouldn’t have made much a difference.

The action sequences are below average (excluding the fantastic climax battles.) It felt like choreographer Nuo Sun put little effort into the mid-movie battles, but then gave it all he had for the climax.  The humor in the movie is extremely childish, barely resembling the way teenagers would talk, something the 90s movies nailed.  I laughed and smiled a few times, but those jokes will be tragically dated in a few years (Raphael uses his “Batman” voice to intimidate April).  Other jokes are extremely sophomoric (At one point the turtles are skateboarding down the sewers, they all get stuck in a big hole, and one farts, ha-ha).  There are one or two jokes geared at the older crowd (One of them sings “Happy Together” at one point.)  The film also has a generic story that borrows from much better superhero movies of the past several years (including not showing the title characters for a significant amount of the movie a la “Batman Begins”).  This movie literally combines the climaxes of “The Wolverine” and “The Amazing Spider-Man”, both much better movies.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is not good. With an overemphasis on the human characters, the turtles get extremely underused and underdeveloped, making it impossible for a non-turtle fan to care about any of them.  Also, the decision to have Michelangelo (the one with orange bandana) constantly hit on April is a little creepy given the audience the film is designed for.  I would suggest seeing “Guardians of the Galaxy” if you haven’t seen it yet.  That film contains large amounts of action and humor that outdo this film by leaps and bounds.  To put the final nail in the coffin, a sequel for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” will be released on June 3, 2016.  I’m hoping it’s better than this.  It can’t be worse.

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence

Madagascar: M for Mammal Madness

Star Rating: 3 out of 5 (average)

madagascar_poster

First an island, now a movie; about 4 animals (and 4 penguins.) Marty (played by Chris Rock) wants to see what it’s like in the wild. His best friend Alex, the lion, (Ben Stiller) wants to stay in the zoo and do acts for the people. Meanwhile, the giraffe, Melman, played by David Schwimmer, is always nervous. Gloria the hippo, voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith, loves the food at the zoo. When Marty runs away to find the wild on his tenth birthday Alex, Gloria, and Melman take off to find him.

It’s a crazy ride through New York City for the animals, especially Alex, because there are a lot of people who are afraid of him. (Except for one old lady who keeps hitting him with her purse.) This movie is hilarious and 10 year olds and other kids that can handle some cartoon humor will really like it. The film is rated PG for some mild language, crude humor and some thematic elements. I think this meant when Alex had a dream about eating steaks-you’ll have to see it to know what I mean!