REVIEW: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Directed by: Rob Marshall
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Dick Van Dyke.

Written by Cameron Frew

Mary Poppins is a curious thing. Depending on how you explain her, one would be forgiven for being slightly disturbed – a nanny who arrives out of nowhere flying out of the clouds on an umbrella, with seemingly magical powers and the ability to transport whomever she pleases into weird and wacky animated worlds. Disney turned P.L. Travers’ creation into a cinematic legend, however, beaming with warmth, peppy energy and a rigid stance on manners that taught the virtues of decorum and imagination as a pair. It was the perfect treat for the children and adults of 1964 – now more than 50 years later, cinema has given way to a sequel. Will you require a spoonful of sugar to put it over? No, this medicine is an immensely pleasant time all on its own.

Michael and Jane Banks (Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer) are now fully-fledged grown-ups. The latter organises rallies for the working class, the former isn’t so content. After losing his wife, he’s saddled with the task of trying to earn a living at a bank under the scrupulous but seemingly generous eye of William “Weatherall” Wilkins (Colin Firth) and raising his three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson). Life is getting particularly hard as untenable bills mount. Then, as luck would have it, from the breaking clouds flies down Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) to look after the Banks children – and their children.

From the murky, familiar opening shots of an industrial London, there’s a keen sense of welcome in the picture. Not just welcoming new and old audiences, but welcoming its roots, the look, the feel, the style, the mood. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Broadway superstar from In the Heights and Hamilton, plays a huge role in fuelling the charisma machine, leading us into “the days of the Great Slump” with a pep and a jive. He has a breathless allure, the sort of birth-given gift that can’t be truly explained; he’s simply a diamond of the industry.

Whishaw and Mortimer are uncannily believable siblings, both sharing similar ticks and resonant chemistry that’s neither overpowering nor weak. The Newsroom star brings a little of that anxious energy in a likeable turn, but Whishaw has far more to do. That soft-spoken voice which propelled Paddington into our hearts is still around, but the nuance in his performance is quite impressive; at times he’s overcome with giddy joy, at others he’s harrowed with anguish and rage as events out with control cause continuous hardship. There’s a constantly sad undercurrent, the writers (David Magee, Rob Marshall and John Deluca) reminding you of the children’s endless devotion to their mother’s ethos – “That’s what mother would do” you hear them say. But in respecting this grief, in a very accessible way, the filmmakers untangle that knot of emotion.

Of course, they’re gifted the most supreme of helping hands in the form of Blunt, who in one of the most supercalifragilisticexpialadocious efforts this year, totally embodies the spirit of Poppins, and then some. Julie Andrews won the Oscar for the role, and it won’t be a surprise if there’s a Best Actress nomination on the cards this time. Punctilious and genteel, kind and firm, a queen of decorum and advocate of the imagination, Blunt is a revelation.

Soon we’re into ebullient animated-land, a mixture of modernistic visual effects-driven sequences and old-time, classic hand-drawn works that blend live-action and art in the finest display since Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The way writer-and-director Marshall and cinematographer Dion Beebe (who worked on the very different but insanely brilliant Collateral) orchestrate such dazzling set-pieces, packed with stunning choreography and warmly impressive animation is nothing short of remarkable. There are visual gags aplenty that’ll only improve on repeat viewings too, any excuse to dive back into the bathtub.

The song list is only impaired by the odd slightly overlong show tune, but the wild enthusiasm of them all is infectious, anchored on Marc Shaiman’s extravagantly grand composition that never feels anything less than an occasion. ’Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ is the finest number, an ensemble-belter that transports you into the cinema of old.

That’s the thing, Mary Poppins Returns feels like an ode to a cherished time at the movies. It packs both the power to move the kids and the adults, tap everyone’s feet and widen all the grins. There are only a few little bits that nag; the more ornate animation exceeds far better than the CGI stuff, and there’s one joke that sticks around a long time not all that effectively until the admittedly funny pay off. But you can see why big names wanted to get involved; Firth is delicious as a pantomime villain, Meryl Streep makes an appearance, and watch out for Dick Van Dyke. Few sequels these days are quite as joyous.

Blunt is sensational. On top of that, it’s pure Disney. Suppose when you consider the talent involved, there’s nowhere to go but up.

CAMERON’S VERDICT:

4

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Incredibles 2

Year: 2018
Directed by:
Brad Bird
Cast:
Craig T. Nelson , Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L Jackson

Written by Lucy Buglass

It’s safe to say that ‘Incredibles 2′ was my most anticipated film of the year. The original ‘Incredibles’ film ended in a way that left it wide open for a sequel, but that sequel never came until now, 14 years later. Although I was very excited when the sequel was confirmed, I also felt very nervous. What if it wasn’t the same? What if it was forced and uninspired? Too many times we’ve seen film sequels that failed, and I was keeping everything crossed that ‘Incredibles 2′ wouldn’t fall into this category. The original was too good to have a bad sequel!

Thankfully, I thought the film met all my expectations. It’s a direct continuation of the first, picking up where we left off with the Underminer. This made me smile instantly as I was so glad we were getting a resolution there rather than just jumping into an entirely new story. The opening scene is amazing and really sucks you in, reminding you of the first and radiating a wonderfully nostalgic aura. It made me realise just how much I appreciated the first one, whilst still feeling excited about what was to come over the next two hours. The action sequences throughout are particularly stunning, but the first one stood out to me the most as we saw the family fighting together again. Not a lot of time had passed in the cinematic universe, but for us on the outside it had been years since we’d seen them fighting evil together.

This time, Elastigirl / Mrs Incredible takes a much more central role. I thought it was great to explore her abilities more and see how Mr Incredible handles life back home with the kids, contrary to the events of the original film. Whilst Elastigirl is out on a new mission to potentially legalise superheroes again, Mr Incredible has to adopt a more familial role and care for Violet, Dash and Jack Jack. Much like the first, ‘Incredibles 2′ explores how supers balance home life with super life, with hilarious results. Amongst the three children, Jack Jack really steals the spotlight as his powers gradually become known, causing chaos for his dad and siblings, and lots of laughs for the audience. I’m so glad he was explored more in the sequel as his powers were hinted at previously, but never really showcased as much as I would’ve liked. He’s turned into one baby you don’t want to mess with!

The villain in ‘Incredibles 2′ is a great antagonist, and on par with Syndrome in my opinion. It’s difficult for me to fully illustrate why without giving away some big spoilers, but the character’s motivations and abilities really are a joy to watch. They’re the epitome of the term “super villain” and embody everything we’d expect from someone who’d want to bring chaos to the world. But don’t think that makes them generic; they’re an incredibly well-rounded character with lots of depth, something that I have huge amounts of praise for. You have to see it to know what I’m talking about, but I sincerely hope you agree.

As well as the introduction to this new villain, we also meet some new supers with some fun new powers who end up playing big parts in the final act of the film. A lot of work has clearly gone into bringing them to life and giving them all different personalities and powers, which differed from the heroes referenced in the first one. I really am in love with the ‘Incredibles’ universe and everything about it, from the characters to the set design to the soundtrack. Even 14 years on, it felt like we’d never left.

Once again, Brad Bird knew exactly how to balance the right amount of humour with serious moments, without overdoing either. The script has enough to entertain both children and adults alike, and my audience were certainly engrossed no matter how old they were. I’m so glad we were given a well structured, thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining sequel that didn’t exist just to cash in on a franchise name. It was so wonderful to see the Parr family back in action again, and I left the cinema with a huge smile on my face because of it. If the ‘Incredibles 3′ is happening and is good as both predecessors, consider my ticket booked already.

Lucy’s Rating:

5

Peter Rabbit

Year: 2018
Directed by: Will Gluck
Starring: Rose Byrne, James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie

Written by Jessica Peña

With an obsession for the cheap laugh and dull dialogue, ‘Peter Rabbit’ fails to capture a lasting impression of a moral lesson. The film is adapted from ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’, the children’s book written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, which were later adapted into an animated series on the BBC network as ‘The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends’. The story of the peculiar, blue jacket-wearing rabbit has blended itself into British history as a best-selling classic. There’s a comfortable joy in the way the stories taught readers how to dream beyond our own boundaries and take a leap into new adventure. Peter’s treks into Mr. McGregor’s garden boasted an innocent curiosity in his little rabbit world. Heck, the stories even made eating vegetables look so fun! ‘Peter Rabbit’ paints a weak imagination of the classic, mischievous rabbit. If we want to get straight to the point, it is a film targeting children, so it’s hard for that audience not to like it, but the film hops around too many laughs to be compelling for the average viewer.

Domhnall Gleeson is the redeeming villain we can’t help but love. Sure, he’s a little extreme and comical, but it honestly works so well and makes ‘Peter Rabbit’ a little more enjoyable to watch. This young McGregor gets fired from his position as floor manager at Harrods and finds himself staying in the inherited countryside home, living beside the kind hearted Bea (Rose Byrne) and her furry companions. Gleeson’s McGregor is so intent on keeping the animals out of his garden that he pulls out measures like electrical fences and bolted mesh to doors. The rabbits, led by Peter’s self proclaimed “character flaw,” quickly devise ways around it, using very meticulous tricks to scare the young McGregor out of the house and far away from Bea’s affection.

The film brings some charm here and there as the rabbits are mischievous to no end. Peter, voiced by late night host, James Corden, declares some sort of turf war and his siblings reluctantly agree. McGregor faces hysterical misery in the form of bear traps, stepping on rakes, and even electrocutions that kids will get a kick out of. It would be a lie to say its target audience of the young age wouldn’t enjoy the antics. It has inventive, quirky obstacles. They make up the majority of the film, but ultimately find no release. Its sentimental value peeks here and there, but offer little to no redemption for what it’s cast over the legacy of the children’s book.

Rob Lieber and director Will Gluck really try to make these rabbits so human and trendy in mannerisms that it becomes grossly too much. Sony Pictures even received backlash for “allergy bullying” stemming from a scene where Peter slingshots a blackberry into McGregor’s mouth after it’s been revealed he has a serious allergy to those. It has been debatable online, but one thing that’s evident is they could’ve easily done without that bit. In picking out ways to use carrots, other vegetables, and nature itself into play, ‘Peter Rabbit’ tries very hard to barrade the viewer with so much gag laughs that it falls short in carrying emotion all the way through. There’s a whimsical and pure energy that is lacking. The closest to the source tale is probably Rose Byrne’s Bea. She loves her rabbits unconditionally and we really buy into her good nature and how she just wants to have a happy life, possibly with Thomas, but certainly not if her furry friends are being hunted. She’s the fresh air of humanity that helps reel the mayhem back in.

There’s perhaps too much vulgarity in terms of the nature of these animals. The writers thought it’d be tasteful to include a modern edge of pop culture, but it’s honestly flat. It’s not very faithful in the sense of whimsy and proper behavior. Gleeson and Byrne save this film only as much as they can. We can go as far as to say Gleeson is wasting his talent in this. There’s a small payoff in moral that will translate to kids, but it is short lived as the bulk of the film shadows it in cheesy hilarity. ‘Peter Rabbit’ is enjoyable enough to catch our hearts for a moment or two, but is sadly mistaken if it thinks it’s being a clever, modern take on Beatrix Potter’s children’s books.

Jessica’s Rating: 5/10

Early Man

Year: 2018
Directed by: Nick Park
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall.

Written by Sarah Buddery

Any film from beloved stop-motion animation studio, Aardman, will be met with great anticipation. Their films feel so intrinsically part of British culture, and after previous feature-length efforts such as ‘Chicken Run’, ‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’, and ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ delighted audiences almost as much as their fabled ‘Wallace & Gromit’ shorts did, the hope was that their latest offering, ‘Early Man’, would do the same.

Boasting an impressive British voice cast, including Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, and Timothy Spall, to name but a few, the thumbprints of Aardman are all over this film…in more ways than one! It is impossible not to be charmed by this film, even when the story is perhaps a little sub-par compared to some of their previous offerings. Hapless hero Dug (Redmayne) and his quest to save his valley from the tyrannous Lord Nooth (Hiddleston) by defeating his all-star team in a football match, is a classic underdog story and one which is in the safest of hands with Aardman and director Nick Park.

It follows many of the same beats as other sporting underdog stories, but coupling this tried-and-tested movie blueprint with the quintessential laughs and lovingly crafted characters and sets that Aardman are known for, offers something a little different to the similar sporting movies that have come before.

Its football focus opens up a number of opportunities for great visual gags, and wry humour towards British sports fans in particular. It is an odd combination, and one which perhaps doesn’t always work, but there is a certain charm to it, and the characters make it an easy film to like. Towards the end, it starts to drag a little, and when the conclusion seems pretty inevitable in a film such as this, it does make parts of it feel a little tiresome.

However, the laughs come thick and fast, and every time your attention wanes there’ll be a top-notch visual gag or a wonderfully British double-entendre to bring you right back into it. As with all Aardman films, it is the sort of film that demands a second viewing because there are just so many little background touches and jokes that will be easily missed the first time around.

On the whole, ‘Early Man’ is far from Aardman’s best, but is not without merit and its another “fun for all the family” film to add to their impressive canon. It also features the best (and perhaps only) visual gag involving a giant duck that you will see all year. Charming as always, and full of laughs, ‘Early Man’ just about wins this match.

SARAH’S RATING: 7.5/10

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Year: 2017
Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Morgan Jeanette Turner, Ser’Darius Blain, Bobby Cannavale

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Back when it was first announced, I couldn’t help but ask the question “did this really need to happen?” I have an affinity for the original ‘Jumanji’ an old-school adventure film with one of my favourite actors of all time, Robin Williams, in an against-type role with fun characters and a great premise. Sure, it’s cheesy and the effects are a little dodgy, but it was a film I grew up with (I was 3 when it came out), and for my money it still holds up to this day as a fun film. ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ felt completely unnecessary, unless it could bring something new to the table. I’m happy to report that my initial fears were left unfounded as I had a very good time with ‘Welcome to the Jungle.”

We start with four high school students Spencer (Wolff), Fridge (Blain), Bethany (Iseman), and Martha (Turner) finding themselves in detention for various misdemeanours. They are tasked with de-stapling old magazines to be made safe for recycling in the dark basement of the school when they discover an old games console, not unlike a classic SEGA Megadrive. It has a game already plugged in, so Spencer sets the console up on an old TV and they all agree to play to kill some time instead of doing their detention. The game in the console is, of course, Jumanji, which has metamorphosised into a video game because “who plays board games anymore?”. Such is Jumanji’s wont, the four students get literally sucked into the game and assume new roles based on their character selection. To escape, they must complete the game. Simple.

When ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ works, it really works. Our four proper leads once in the game are clearly having a boatload of fun. Dwayne Johnson is the charismatic leader but with the mind of a nervous, nerdy teen; Kevin Hart is a small, side-kick with the mind of a jock, leader-type; Karen Gillan is a badass martial artist with the mind of a self-conscious, shy teen; and Jack Black is a middle-aged cartography specialist with the mind of a popular, ‘Mean Girls’ teen. All four actors are playing somewhat against type, having to think “what would my teenage character do” in any given situation. It serves both as a functional sequel, and a pleasant coming-of-age story. ‘Welcome to the Jungle’s’ writers manage to balance this very well.

Many of the film’s highlights come from the team bickering and working together. They all have to reluctantly follow Spencer because his character is over-powered beyond belief, which creates division amongst Spencer and Fridge, but they all serve a purpose within the world. Bethany can do things the others can’t which helps them advance further in the game, the same can be said for all four of them. The film does a great job of giving every character agency and a role in the game.

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It is worth addressing, too, that given the current crowd of video game film adaptations (most recently the disastrously boring ‘Assassin’s Creed’ adaptation), ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ has stumbled into being arguably the best video game film ever. It has fun with the rules it sets for itself, it makes jokes about game clichés and embraces them, and several scenes felt reminiscent of games I’ve played in the past (‘Far Cry’, the new ‘Tomb Raider’ games).

That said, it does occasionally create new rules on the go in order to write themselves out of a situation (I can’t think of many games that allow you to “share” your lives with another character, for example), and there is the odd internal logic jump that doesn’t really make sense (no game ever forces you to have to die in order to complete a mission), but that is coming from someone who has been gaming for years. They are small nitpicks in the grand scheme of things.

Further, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ boasts a phenomenally bad villain (Cannavale), who barely even registers as a threat, and is another cause for plot-related concern. Early on, they are forced to watch a cut-scene, standard procedure in gaming, to explain the plot of the game. Later, while our heroes are traversing the jungle, it cuts to show Cannavale plotting his next move. Can our characters see this? Is the game-world alive and changing around them all the time? Again, not huge issues in the bigger picture, but they were certainly issues I raised internally.

All in all, though, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ is supremely entertaining. The film lives and dies by its four main characters and they are up to the challenge of making it as fun as they can. Karen Gillan and Jack Black are the personal standouts (I never knew the world needed a scene in which Black teaches Gillan how to flirt, but I’m all the happier for it), but all of them are great. It’s a shame about the villain and the plot-holes that show up every so often, but I had a great time watching ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ the most surprisingly good film of 2017.

Rhys’ Rating: 7.1/10

Ferdinand

Year: 2017
Directed by: Carlos Saldanha
Starring: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Gabriel Iglesias, Gina Rodriguez, David Tennant, Peyton Manning, Anthony Anderson.

Written by Andrew Garrison

I wasn’t enamoured with the idea of seeing the movie ‘Ferdinand’. As far as animated films of 2017 are concerned, this year has proven to be more of a cesspool than a garden of Eden (we are talking mainstream), but I had some hope that ‘Ferdinand’ would be a step above the trash heap that was 2017 (minus ‘Coco’ that is downright phenomenal). I made sure to miss all the commercials and trailers before the film to limit my time in this theatre. Thankfully, I found myself watching the second best animated film of 2017, much to my surprise.

‘Ferdinand’ is about a young bull (Ferdinand) who has no interest in fighting. He would
rather smell flowers and frolic. However, when grows up, he finds himself in a bad situation and must not only face the past he ran away from, but find a way to save his future all while maintaining his passive and friendly nature with the help of an eccentric group of characters.

There isn’t a lot to hate about this film. Some of the humour is dumb, and they become
repetitive with some of those unfunny jokes. The biggest issue is the animation that I found to be average in design. Movies like ‘Coco’ break new ground and push to be visually spectacular, yet Ferdinand seemed to have no interest in doing this. Also, despite a great voice cast, the quality of the sound wasn’t as consistent as one would like. Finally, while the film is directed towards an immensely serious subject that is a blight upon the global society, it had the opportunity to get deeper and dirtier into the subject, but in the name of being more family-friendly, glossed over this.

The things I enjoyed were plentiful in ‘Ferdinand’. Yes, some of the humour is low-brow or doesn’t hit the right mark, but a lot of it does. I laughed more in this movie than just about every comedy that came out this year. Apart from ‘Girls Trip’, I’d say it would be my comedy of the year. I also loved the talented and diverse cast of voices they picked up for this, from Anthony Anderson, David Tennant, John Cena, to even Peyton Manning. Also, the musical score is beautiful, and the soundtrack fitting of this comedy. Yes, this film addresses the cruelty of bullfighting and that important to note, but it goes even deeper than this. The best aspect of the movie is how it directly targets the idea of toxic
masculinity. Yes, others have touched on it, but this one felt like it was directly charging toward this idea. Men must fit a certain stereotype and follow certain rules (don’t cry, don’t show emotion, don’t ask for help), or they are labelled outcasts, devoid of purpose in society. It’s a vile, archaic, and terribly damaging blight upon our global society, and this movie dives into that subject more aggressively than most. I mentioned that I wanted the film to deliver this point because it is so important to the world, but I understand why it softened the blow some.

Overall, I respect the film for its efforts, but feel it would have joined the cream of the crop if it went all in on the subject. In the hellscape that is the animated film selection of 2017. ‘Ferdinand’ is surprisingly delightful complete with a very powerful message about a serious issue facing our species. Pixar’s ‘Coco’ is by far the superior animated film of this year, but ‘Ferdinand’ is the only 2017 mainstream animated film that could be mentioned in the same sentence. (Sorry, ‘Lego Batman’).

Andrew’s Rating: 7.5/10

Coco

Year: 2017
Directed by: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina (co-director)
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil

Written by Jessica Peña

Pixar Animation Studios lets us escape once more. It’s easy to relish in the studio’s latest film, ‘Coco,’ which exudes rich, cultural delicacies of tradition and music. It’s rejuvenating to see a shift into diversity in one of the year’s biggest animated films. Lee Unkrich, with the help of co-director Adrian Molina, brings Mexican culture to the spotlight in such a graceful and energetic fashion.

It’s a story about afterlife and legacy, as much as it is music and tradition. Miguel Rivera comes from a family that holds an ancestral grudge against music after a member of their family seemingly disowns them for a life of glamour and fame as a musician. Even on the Day of the Dead, his family insists he take up a special role in their long-running shoe making business. Miguel is a musician at heart and it sways him enough to confront his family and run off to compete in the town’s talent show. His idol, the late, great Ernesto de la Cruz, is what keeps Miguel fighting for the chance to prove himself to his family that music is the melody of his life. With the honoring of the dead, crowded festivities lead him to find de la Cruz’s guitar. With a strum of the dusty guitar, Miguel is suddenly transported to the Land of the Dead. He meets trickster skeleton, Hector, voiced by ‘Mozart in The Jungle’s’ Gael García Bernal.

Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is the Mexican holiday in which friends and family gather to pray and remember their deceased loved ones. It is celebrated to help support the dead in their spiritual afterlife journey. ‘Coco’ is so very enthusiastic in the way it educates us and presents it in the style of childlike dreams. The pictures on the “ofrendas,” and the use of neon-lit “alebrijes,” as the spiritual, whimsical animals that guide the dead and scare away evil, really breath life into an animation that one would at first dub as “a little kid’s movie.” ‘Coco’ quickly becomes something much more than that after its midpoint. With a patient first half, the film soars into storytelling momentum and we see a young boy take brave steps to secure creative freedom for himself and an understanding of how important it is to honor your family’s love and memory.

‘Coco’ is a colorful visual achievement that celebrates culture and legacy in a way that is enjoyable for all generations of viewers. The importance of family and tradition is very much ingrained into Mexican culture, and it’s beautifully represented in this film. A warm color palette with strikingly beautiful cool tones balances the film. To watch ‘Coco’ is like taking a walk through real Mexican towns and fiestas at night. It is the collaboration of many artists that create the boundless architecture of The Land of the Dead. Layer over layer, Pixar imagines and displays a fluorescent and neon land where our Miguel journeys through for most of the story. Even his walk across the marigold bridge in the other land is so wonderfully lit. I sat in awe as I was transported to a vibrant land that I know my eight-year-old sister beside me was marveling at as well.

The family dynamic toward the end really pulls on those heartstrings. This animated film has a way of reeling in a lesson so pure and close to the heart, it drives the story back home for the win. I found myself relating to its Hispanic culture charm that makes it all so refreshing to watch. In a way, this PG-rated voyage connects us to its adoration for the arts. ‘Coco’ is a colorful visual achievement that celebrates culture and legacy in a way that is enjoyable for all generations of viewers.

Jessica’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10

 

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Daddy’s Home 2

Year: 2017
Directed by: Sean Anders
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, John Cena

Written by Tom Sheffield

Another year, another sequel that we probably wouldn’t have missed if it was never made. Sean Anders returns to direct this festive sequel to the 2015 comedy, ‘Daddy’s Home’. Thanks to a special screening at my local cinema, this happened to be my first festive film of the 2017 (after avoiding ‘Bad Moms Christmas’), and all I can say is the only way is up for my festive viewings this year.

In this festive sequel, Brad (Ferrell) and Dusty (Wahlberg) have a co-dad routine in place that they think is going swimmingly. It soon comes to their attention that their children don’t like having to spend Christmases at different houses every year, so the co-dads decide to have one big family Christmas. Coincidentally, Dusty’s estranged father, Kurt (Gibson), calls to say he’s dropping by for Christmas too, and Brad’s dad, Don (Lithgow), is also on a plane to spend Christmas with them. Kurt is intent on causing a rift between Brad and Dusty from the second he meets them at the airport, and it doesn’t take long before the cracks begin to show.

As with the first film, Wahlberg and Ferrell are a great comedic pair on-screen. Their friendship in this film is put through its paces, which leads to lots of arguing, hugging, fighting, and the exchanging of kind words through gritted teeth. Newcomers Gibson and Lithgow are fantastic additions to the cast, and play their respective roles superbly. Lithgow is an over-loving, coddling, old-fashioned dad, and Gibson’s character is anything but those things. The child actors also get a thumbs up from me, especially young Scarlett Estevez. The less you know why they’re brilliant in this film, the more hilarious they’ll be in the film if you see it, so I’ll say no more!

Where this film really falters is trying to make us care for each and every one of these characters. The plot delves into multiple character backstories and sub plots that, in all honesty, we don’t really care about. I think the forced addition of making it a festive film also hinders the overall story. Don’t get me wrong, introducing us to Dusty and Brad’s Dads was a great idea, but trying to delve into their backstories, whilst also having all the characters in the story interact with one another, then throwing Christmas shenanigans into the mix, all just lead to one gigantic mess of a plot, which admittedly occasionally got a laugh out of me, but overall is easily forgettable and feels wholly unnecessary.

The addition of Gibson, Lithgow, and Cena is the films only saving grace. The new characters meant some of the comedy didn’t feel as repetitive and I found their characters far more interesting and much funnier than the co-dads. The child actors also have their chances to shine during this film, and again, I found some of their scenes much funnier than Wahlberg and Ferrell’s.

As one of only a few festive films hitting cinemas this year, it’s probably worth a gamble going to see it as you may find yourself liking it more than I did. It does offer up a few good laughs, and a twist or two you don’t see coming! I will also add that there is a particular musical scene at the end of the film that would melt the ice-cold heart of the Grinch, and in those few minutes I forgot what I was watching and actually felt a little Christmas-y! That didn’t last long though, and I soon crashed back to reality and pondered on the other things I could have done in those 100 minutes I’d just wasted.

Tom’s Rating: 4.5/10

 

 

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Year: 2017
Director: Simon Curtis
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tiltson, Alex Lawther. 

WRITTEN BY RHYS BOWEN JONES

Winnie The Pooh, I’m sure, is a staple of almost everyone’s childhood post-1924. Everyone knows Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore. Everyone knows Christopher Robin. Finding successes as books, TV shows, and films, Winnie The Pooh is as famous a character as you’ll find in popular culture. To explore the characters’ inception is to explore deep into the childhood of everyone watching, which is what Simon Curtis set out to do with ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’; the untold story of Winnie The Pooh. A behind the scenes look at how the character came to be and what happened next. ‘Goodbye’ provides interesting insights into AA Milne and his creation, but sadly falls short as the film reaches its climax.

Domnhall Gleeson stars as AA Milne, the creator of Winnie The Pooh, and the film follows his life with his wife, Daphne (Robbie) and child, Christopher Robin (Tiltson). Milne is struggling with writers block and hasn’t had a success in a long while, thus he and his family move out of London to the country in order to focus on his next project, a treatise against war. There, Milne spends more time with his now 5-year-old child, and his child’s imagination with his toys is the spark he needs to write Winnie The Pooh, starring his own son. What follows is a look into a life suddenly thrown into fame and stardom as Winnie The Pooh becomes a phenomenon, and the film tackles how well the Milne family respond to new found fame.

Beginning with the positives, I found the performances to be good across the board. Gleeson is reliable if unspectacular in a very softly spoken role. He isn’t given too much heavy lifting to do, but he sells the fish-out-of-water role well as he is forced to be a father more than he ever had been before. Robbie arguably places too much faith in her supremely posh London accent but manages to still portray a conflicted character who desires the fame she has been given potentially more than she desires her own family. The stars of the film are, by a distance, Kelly Macdonald and Will Tiltson, playing Olive (Christopher’s nanny) and Christopher himself respectively.

It stands to reason that these two characters are the most well-realised as they are the two human characters in the Winnie The Pooh series itself. I found Macdonald to be particularly captivating as a Nanny out of her depth, having to be a mother and father to a child that isn’t hers despite wanting a family of her own. Balancing looking after Christopher with effectively being Milne’s personal assistant, and family chef is sure to be difficult, and the strain on Olive’s face becomes more and more apparent as the film progresses. In spending so much time with Christopher, he becomes overly attached, which presents another problem onto her ever-growing list of them.

Will Tiltson, meanwhile, is impossibly adorable as Christopher Robin. Trying to find time to just be a kid among the hullabaloo of paparazzi and visits to New York would be a challenge to anyone, and Tiltson plays this so impressively. When Christopher simply wants to spend time running around the forest near his house with his Dad and his Nanny, Tiltson shines. He has that wide-eyed enthusiasm that comes with having your own, enormous playground, but the more fame becomes a reality to him, the less freedom he has, and his personal playground becomes a genuine tourist and paparazzi spot. ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ is, above anything, a story about a lost childhood. Simon Curtis found a child actor able to convey happiness and loss at the drop of a hat. One scene that stands out is his joy at Nanny reading him a bedtime story, that quickly snaps into sadness as she tells him she’s going away for a while. When Olive and Christopher are on screen, the film is at its best.

When the film works as a somewhat origin story, it works really well. It builds its characters well, establishes life changes effectively, and had me mostly engrossed. When the film has a time jump and Will Tiltson leaves us to be replaced by Alex Lawther as an 18-year-old Christopher Robin, the film loses something. Whether down to Lawther not being as convincing an actor as Tiltson was, or the story simply being less interesting, ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ loses its way.

As Christopher grows up, it becomes apparent that the fame he had as a child had a deep impact on him as a person. Christopher struggled through boarding school as he was bullied for being “that boy from that children’s book,” he laments the childhood he so desired. With better execution, this could have been an emotional knockout, particularly in a late scene where Milne and Christopher argue heatedly about Christopher’s youth and how Milne took it from him. On paper, it’s a powerful scene, but in reality, it’s rushed. Spending so much time on the childhood itself and so little on its effect later in life doesn’t allow the emotion to truly develop.

It’s a real shame. The pieces are all there for ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ to work. It has the set up, but it doesn’t have the execution. It has the ensemble, but only two of them truly shine. It should have packed an emotional punch, but it didn’t. I can imagine seeing this film on a Sunday afternoon on BBC, early in its Christmas schedule. It’s watchable and mostly entertaining, it just doesn’t go that extra mile to make it work. ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ almost worked. Almost.

RHYS’ RATING: 6.2 OUT OF 10