Christopher Robin Review

Next on Disney’s extensive list of remakes and reboots, we have the reimagining of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends titled Christopher Robin.

Arguably the most original of the bunch, Christopher Robin details the later life of Christopher (Ewan McGregor) after a series of significant events have left him without joy. At his absolute lowest point, Christopher receives a surprise visit from, who else, his childhood buddy Winnie-the-Pooh (Jim Cummings). Pooh takes Christopher on one last nostalgia-filled adventure through London (and briefly through the Hundred Acre Wood) to rediscover the priorities and simple pleasures of life.

A harmless, well-intentioned story with a lot of heart and meaning behind it, Christopher Robin doesn’t deliver quite the quantity of fun I was hoping for.

The film puts a little too much time and emphasis on developing the gloomy and sometimes dark world that Christopher lives in, and never really puts in the effort to pull us out. Within the first half hour we see Christopher grow up, go to war, neglect his family, and put into a business situation where he will have to lay off many employees. We don’t even get to the Hundred Acre Wood until half-way through the picture, and even that gets to be depressing.

It’s well understood what the film was going for. We all face the unfortunate realties of work, war, and other tragic aspects of life, and having the innocent Winnie-the-Pooh show us the levity of simplicity is an excellent idea. I just don’t believe the film hits the intended mark as it should. These darker moments could’ve been conveyed more concisely, and the fun live-action scenes were sloppy and without the humorous style of the source material.

I don’t mean to sound as though this were some loathsome bore-fest, as there were several great aspects that made the film worth seeing.

Having Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin was a wonderful decision, and his interactions with Pooh, Tigger, and so on felt genuine and real. We see him juggle between family and work and can feel for him when he’s forced to make tough decisions. Christopher has people counting on him everywhere he looks, and sometimes it seems that there’s no time for games in life. As is typical with McGregor’s performances, all these traits are portrayed to the audience with the conviction can care of a true professional.

And even with Ewan McGregor at the helm (one of my personal favorite actors), the story is undoubtedly held together by our favorite silly old bear Winnie-the-Pooh. Every minute with Pooh on-screen is a pure joy, and his kind-hearted jokes and curiosity were always met with uproarious laughter. The warm personality of Pooh is precious and delightful, enough to make the dreary environment of post-war London amusing to the viewer.

I just wish the tone of Christopher Robin matched the pleasantness of our Hundred Acre Wood favorites. Or is that too much to ask for?

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

The Foreigner Review

You know who I’ve never seen in a serious role? Jackie Chan.

He’s been in countless films, yet every one that comes to mind is upbeat and light-hearted. I’ve heard Chan’s done a few dramatic films here and there, but I can guarantee none are like his most recent political drama, the Foreigner.

Based on the book the Chinaman by Stephen Leather, the film follows Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan), a special forces veteran whose only daughter is killed in a horrible terrorist bombing. Fueled by his desire for retribution, Quan’s search for answers leads him to Irish government official Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) who may hold the key to understanding the attack. Much to Quan’s chagrin, Hennessy is reluctant to reveal any information on the terrorists, possibly because of the terrorist’s links to Irish nationalism. What ensues is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between Quan and Hennessy, as Quan presses him for answers and accountability for the unspeakable crimes.

The Foreigner doesn’t have the levity of a buddy-cop drama like Rush Hour. It grapples with all too familiar themes of terrorism, loss of loved ones to said terrorism, and suspicious political intentions.

To my disappointment, the story gives too much focus on the character of Pierce Brosnan, and all the diplomatic and shady political motives behind the acts of Irish terrorism. Not a bad idea, except it’s carried out in such a disjointed and needlessly complex way. We get wrapped up in a plot with too many characters and not enough screen time to really understand their motives, and Brosnan is at the heart of it all.

The Foreigner would’ve honestly been a more well-rounded movie without the foreigner himself, Jackie Chan. Often Chan felt more like a footnote to a political drama than being the central character trying to take revenge.

It’s a real shame too, as we have this perfectly fine story of a grieving father going rogue, doing everything in his power to extract revenge and get answers. Committing his own acts of self-justified terrorism that would make even John Rambo proud. It’s a concept that’s been done several times before, but a more dramatic take with Chan at the helm is one I don’t mind seeing again. However, when the story tries to juggle between two separate plots in under two hours, we’re left with an uneven and tonally inconsistent film.

Jackie Chan plays the part of a defeated yet determined man quite proficiently, delivering a nice and convincing performance. He spends most of the film stone-faced and quiet as a mouse, but you can feel the anger and malice hidden just beneath the surface. As a small Asian immigrant, his enemies underestimate his perseverance to get what he wants. But Jackie Chan isn’t messing around.

The action is rather subdued and infrequent, but when we got it in small doses it was very satisfying. The climax was particularly energetic and engrossing, a great payoff to an almost unbearable amount of buildup. Quite possibly because the film never felt much like a mystery, although sometimes intended to be one.

Despite the Foreigner’s confused tone and muddled story, there’s a certain level of appeal to the film that I admire. Jackie Chan is a likable actor and has a talent for playing the outgunned underdog. The premise is interesting and had a lot of potential to be a successful political drama or action/revenge movie. It’s when your movie can’t choose between the two that you start to have problems.

Thankfully the raw acting talents of Chan and Brosnan held the Foreigner together like glue, and we the audience reaped the benefits.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation Review

Has there ever been as lazy of a topic as a cruise ship movie? Where all the characters of an existing franchise (in this case Dracula and all his monster buddies) get on a ship and take a vacation. Do film studios save money doing this plot or something?

Well, regardless of why this film happened, it happened. And somehow the creators of Hotel Transylvania 3 make it work for the best. Taking the greatest elements from the past films and boiling them down into a slightly less memorable and entertaining experience.

In the past I haven’t shied away from professing my love for the previous two Hotel Transylvania flicks. Lauding them as energetic, creative, and downright hilarious, my opinions of the franchise aren’t typically shared by many. Yet, miraculously after three movies, a television show, and a short film, critics seem to finally be letting up on the Hotel Transylvania series. Receiving mixed-to-poor critical reception in past releases, people seem to finally be picking up what Hotel Transylvania is putting down.

Now, if you’ve ever seen a movie, and I really do mean ever, then the main premise of Hotel Transylvania 3 will bring you no surprises. It’s a standard kids movie plot that parents and kids alike will predict way before the ending. Don’t let that scare you away from viewing this picture, as there are many absurd things throughout that can keep you engaged.

Jam-packed with slapstick humor and visual gags, all the jokes in Hotel Transylvania 3 involve the same theme of monsters and vacation. Frankenstein gets buried on the beach, gremlins have an airline service, and a skeleton eats an entire buffet table. It’s pure nonsense. And every available second of screen time not dedicated to progressing the plot is spent on these jokes. Often the ridiculous humor lands laughs. Or at the very least, light chuckles.

I’m hesitant to call this film “comedically bold”, but it takes a lot of surprising chances that most kids’ films this deep into a franchise wouldn’t make. Heck, the climax of the film is a dance fight that includes the Macarena, and it’s actually kind of cute. Enough said.

Everyone (including the extensive voice cast) returns for this free for all adventure. The animation of the characters is highly expressive and exaggerated, really allowing the voice actors free reign in their portrayals of these colorful monsters. I especially love Adam Sandler as Dracula, who’s quirky, charming, and quite a goofball. All without the annoyingness and aggravation that accompanies many Sandler performances.

Yes, the third time around isn’t as exciting or funny as fans of the series may wish, but that’s to be expected with a film whose sub-title is Summer Vacation. I mean, at least it wasn’t Chipwrecked.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Review

I, like many kids over several generations, grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS, and hold very fond memories of it from my childhood. Fred Rogers’ ability to teach simple, everyday things (like getting a haircut) as well as teach complex grownup things (like the Vietnam War) in a calming environment captivated us all. Allowing for him to go down in history as an educational television anomaly.

Now, fifteen years after his passing, everyone can relive the magic of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with the latest theatrical documentary titled Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This wonderful movie takes us on a journey through the unique life and career of Fred Rogers. Particularly focusing on his beloved educational show for kids, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. From his testimony to a U.S. Senate Subcommittee that saved PBS funding, to his blatant display of opposition to racial segregation, no stone is left unturned in this thoughtful documentary.

I believe the greatest blessing of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is that we’re given wonderful insight to Roger’s life behind the camera, which was strikingly identical to his television presence. Never letting fame detract from his passion to create children’s entertainment, he seemed to have a clear vision for what his show needed to be. His dedication to the show is established early in the documentary, and is displayed throughout his career and the film.

Unknown to us, Fred was also often full of self-doubt, unsure of how well his lessons were being communicated and acknowledged. We especially see this in a promo Rogers did for PBS regarding the September 11th terrorist attacks. A tragic event that occurred late in his life, Rogers felt as though all the love had been sucked out of the world, and that there wasn’t much hope he could give. A tragic, yet insightful view into a faithful person trying to make sense of all the bad and evil out there.

Overall, Fred Rogers was a gentle, genuine, and kindhearted man with the best intentions for his television show. He never manipulated the emotions of kids and was always honest and direct when communicating with them. The calm and patient demeanor he carried contrasted greatly from typical children’s media. Rogers never felt like he had to be a goofball to connect with kids or be loud and bombastic like modern cartoons. Cartoons that are meant to exploit and distract rather than educate and foster creativity.

Yes, despite the fast-paced world of television, Fred Rogers managed to captivate children with a quiet, soothing environment that lacked the constant white noise of media. On one particular program (highlighted in the documentary) he even sat silently for sixty seconds to show kids how long a minute was. What a nice guy.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a beautiful documentary that brilliantly captures the life works of Rogers and the impact he left on those around him. His enduring messages about unconditional love (propelled by his faith in God) are projected through the screen and onto the unsuspecting audience. Just watching this documentary and seeing Rogers on the big screen was heartwarming for me, as I’m sure it was for others who’ve seen it too. It’s one of the most delightful documentaries I’ve ever seen, and perhaps among the best films this year.

Fred Rogers always invited each of his guests and viewers to be his neighbor, and I recommend you seize that opportunity and watch this uplifting movie.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Skyscraper Review: Dwayne Johnson With a Vengeance

Dwayne Johnson’s new action flick Skyscraper is a hard movie to put a finger on. I guess it’s best summed up by the following two words: ridiculous and inconsequential.

As many have pointed out, the plot of Skyscraper mimics the basic formula of Die Hard: action guy (Dwayne Johnson) in tower fights European terrorists in order to save family (his wife being played by Neve Campbell). The plot attempts to get deeper than this, but overall it doesn’t stray from this premise.

Several obvious MacGuffins, Deus ex Machinas, and other overused tropes make Skyscraper a painfully standard action movie. It borrows every last detail from other films that have already done these ideas much better. It’s sterile, Hollywood green screen look is matched only by its lifeless acting and countless inconsequential scenes.

A character will double cross Johnson, only to be killed moments later. Johnson will be seriously wounded and must perform first aid on himself, only to be perfectly fine in the following scene. Someone pivotal to the story will be introduced into the film, only to be forgotten entirely.

In the end it’s all filler gunk that has no real impact on the convoluted and not well-thought-out plot.

As strange as it is, there were multiple instances where the film set itself up for some great foreshadowing. Particularly the opening scene (where Dwayne loses his leg) and the climax (the final showdown with the villain), both of which were formatted similarly. So similar in fact that I hoped they’d make an insightful comparison to the two scenes, maybe about how Dwayne had grown as a person and wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. But no, they squandered that potential too. They instead try and top the memorable ending to Die Hard by adding in a death scene so corny, so over the top, that I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically.

One of the most astonishing mistakes that Skyscraper flaunts happened whenever Dwayne would leap off a ledge and catch himself safely on the other side. You could actually see his hands completely miss the ledge in the first shot yet cut to him magically catching the ledge in the next. It may sound minor, but this little goof-up is basic editing that the makers of Skyscraper carelessly neglected.

The sloppy editing was incredibly consistent, becoming the biggest nuisances of the film. Action scenes were choppy and often not very satisfying to watch. What’s worse is sometimes the screen would go dark during intense fighting sequences, which coupled with the bad editing made Skyscraper an incoherent mess.

The most enjoyable part of Skyscraper is just accepting the nonsensical nature of the film and watching Johnson live through the impossible. Leaping off exploding buildings, hoisting himself up by thin pieces of rope, defying gravity, Dwayne Johnson is probably the most impermeable action hero I’ve ever seen.

Nevertheless, even this easygoing mindset had its limitations.

Ultimately my feelings towards Skyscraper are ones of confusion and amazement. 125 million dollars spent on a cheap Die Hard knock-off with terrible editing, so-so effects, and a cheesy script. And for what purpose? I refuse to believe for a second they thought this could make its money back. Dwayne Johnson can bring in a lot of money (as we’ve seen with Rampage and Central Intelligence), but there’s no way he can save this film.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

The First Purge: White People Ruin America (A Review)

After the financial success of not one, not two, but three Purge movies, I guess it was inevitable that Blumhouse would sooner or later make a fourth Purge flick.

In The First Purge, we see the political origins of how the Purge eventually came to be, and how the initial round of participants respond to the carnage. It turns out that the first purge didn’t take place all throughout the U.S., but instead acted as a trial run on Staten Island. Think Escape from New York but not just criminals. We follow an unlikely group of heroes as they attempt to survive the night; while they also discover a sinister plot by the political party who began it all, the New Founding Fathers of America.

The First Purge makes the grave mistake of thematically following in the footsteps of the 2013 Ethan Hawke Purge movie. The film spends most of its time trying to convince the audience that this is some realistic dystopian future that the United States is heading towards rather than give the audience what they came for. People watching The Purge want to see mindless violence, awesome kill sequences, and entertaining costumes. All of which we were given very little of.

The bottom line is that The Purge is a ridiculous concept, period. It cannot and will not ever happen in real life. Please make whatever pun you’d like about the current political climate, because I’m sure it’ll be better than anything in this film.

The movie lazily tries to comment on all things race related; including poverty, crime, violence, and an assortment of other things. This is a feat The First Purge is not properly equipped to deal with. The film’s basic principles are such thinly veiled propaganda that, when I left the theater, I had a bruise from where filmmakers beating me over the head with their nonsense.

If the messages of white vs. black weren’t already too evident for the viewer, there’s even a scene where white supremacists commit mass murder inside a black church. I personally found this to be a bit out of place and too heavy-handed for what this film is, but maybe that’s just me.

The poor directing and camerawork often got in the way of enjoying the few good scenes of action sprinkled about. Towards the climax of the film there’s a big fight inside a dimly lit apartment complex that started out pretty promising. The imagery is quite frightening and intense, and the location itself was a fascinating one. But as soon as the action begins, this obnoxious strobe effect gets intercut throughout the scene and distorts the audience’s view. Why purposefully make it difficult for us to see the best part of the movie?

At the very least the movie was well-acted, a particularly tough task when the level of filmmaking is subpar. I give special props to Y’lan Noel, whose acting I highly enjoyed. He somehow managed to give a convincing performance despite the series’ goofy limitations.

If The First Purge would’ve dropped the serious shenanigans and gave audiences more of what they came for (cool costumes/masks and intense action) I think more could’ve been redeemable. Unfortunately, this pill is hard to swallow. The writers behind The Purge want us to take this ridiculous plot as sensible commentary on modern society yet throw in cartoon-like villains named Skeletor. What an unbelievable cluster of a series.

All in all, don’t let this film trick you into believing it has something intelligent to say. It doesn’t.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

After the exciting but desolate film that was Avengers: Infinity War, it’s nice to see Marvel’s Ant-Man sequel be an upbeat and cheerful continuation of this franchise.

In Ant-Man and the Wasp, we see our hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) down on his luck (i.e. on house arrest) after being convicted for his so-called treasonous actions in Captain America: Civil War. He’s soon contacted by Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) Pym, who believe their wife/mother Janet may still be alive in the Quantum Realm. One thing leads to another, and soon Scott adorns the Ant-Man suit once again to fight off some new enemies and help find Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) before it’s too late.

Ant-Man strikes me as a more comedy-focused film than most Marvel movies in the franchise. Even when considering Spider-man: Homecoming and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (which are also comedies), the material never gets as light-hearted and thin-plotted as it is here. There’s more time set aside to focus on long-running gags and even entire scenes dedicated to pushing a singular joke.

This would’ve been an interesting take, if the style of humor used in Ant-Man wasn’t so hit or miss with the audience. Some jokes garnered uproarious laughter while others got complete and total silence. I chuckled more frequently than most individuals in the theater, and I myself didn’t find Ant-Man that funny. Some bits would start out unfunny and stale but redeem themselves with a hilarious witty line. Other scenes would be hysterical right off the bat, but then draw-out the joke too long and ultimately devolve into boring jibber-jabber.

The action scenes are fast, flashy, and occasionally very creative, pretty much what you’d expect this time around. Every now and then there’s a new camera trick, a goofy moment, or a stunt we haven’t seen yet that is visually exciting and memorable. I never thought I’d see a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser thrown out the back of a moving fan and knock out two guys on motorcycles. And now I have.

Ant-Man and the Wasp does a little too much plot juggling for what the story really is. Taking a quick glance at the two-hour runtime as well as the numerous characters incorporated into the flick, you’d think there was more substance to the storytelling.

Still, this was a sturdy enough film to support a slew of great casting choices and consequently many powerful performances. The cast easy being the strongest component of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, the list goes on. And because these actors pulled off great performances, they even managed to make the message of the film (which was your run-of-the-mill morals on friendship, family, and teamwork) feel genuine and not cheesy.

Dedicated Marvel fans will surely enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp, especially for its tie-ins with Infinity War. Those not as committed to the series may find it hard to get into the thin plot and semi-functional comedy routine. There’s enough great performances mixed in to make this a fun viewing, but I’m not sure if it was entertaining enough to warrant a rewatch anytime soon.

 

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint