This biopic about Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne may look like the usual lushly produced British period movie, but it's far more original than expected. Avoiding pushy sentimentality, the filmmakers go for something that's surprisingly grim, and the messiness of the people and situations makes it feel almost unnervingly real. It may be set in frightfully posh society, where cut-glass accents waft through sun-dappled woodlands, but there are gritty issues swirling through every scene.
It opens in 1941, as Alan and Daphne (Domhnall Gleeson and Margot Robbie) receive word about their son Christopher Robin, who is off fighting in the war. This triggers a flurry of flashbacks for Alan, who is still suffering from trauma after his own service in World War I. He returned from the front determined to stop writing frothy comedies for the stage and screen, and sets out to be more politically aware. After his wife gives birth to Christopher Robin, whom they call Billy, they move to the Sussex countryside. Billy is mainly raised by his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), but as a young boy (Will Tilston) he also spends time with his father in the woods, making up stories about his collection of stuffed animals. These would become the Winnie the Pooh books, and they change the family's life as the public clamours to know the "real" Christopher Robin. So as Billy grows up (now Alex Lawther), he's determined to be his own man.
Director Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn) cleverly weaves the flashbacks to create a vivid sense of Alan's mindset. This of course triggers big emotions, but the filmmaker never wallows in them. Gleeson is superb in the role as a sensitive, creative man with a gentle twinkle in his eye and some very dark shadows deeper inside. In his privileged world, he's not allowed to show emotion, but the actor lets us see inside. Robbie has an even trickier role as the matter-of-fact Daphne, a good-time girl who rejects anything serious ("No blubbing!") but is clearly feeling everything very strongly.
Continue reading: Goodbye Christopher Robin Review
By Rich Cline
A terrific true story is oddly underplayed in this sober, sedate drama about reconciliation and making peace with the past. Strikingly complex performances from Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman help give the film some deeper resonance, even if even it all seems rather under-powered. But the force of emotion in the events makes the film worth a look.
In 1980 Scotland, railway expert Eric (Firth) has defined his entire life by trains. During the Second World War, he was captured by the Japanese and put into forced-labour to build a railway in Thailand. And more recently he met his wife Patti (Kidman) on a train journey. But their marriage starts to collapse when Eric refuses to face up to his torture at the hands of his wartime captors all those years ago, so Patti turns to his war-veteran pal Finlay (Skarsgard) for help. Eventually, Eric makes the difficult decision to return to Thailand and confront his tormenter Nagase (Sanada).
A more Hollywood-style film would play out as a build-up to roaring vengeance, but director Teplitzky internalises the tone, showing us past events in extensive flashbacks as the young Eric and Finlay (Irvine and Reid) try to subvert the young Nagase (Ishida) at every turn. These scenes are eerily tame as well, and only reveal the true horror of Eric's experience when he finally faces up to it himself. Instead, the focus is on his struggle to forgive Nagase, and this gives the film a strongly moving punch.
Continue reading: The Railway Man Review
If Woody Harrelson is a journalist, then hell, I'm Woody Harrelson.Continue reading: Welcome To Sarajevo Review
In the vein of Unforgiven comes this moody western about another small town in the middle of nowhere, struggling with its place in a world quickly passing it by.
Central to the story is Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), mayor of the town of Kingdom Come, Nevada, located on the spot of the gold claim he struck during the 1849 gold rush, some 20 years earlier. Or so we are led to believe. As it turns out, Dillon's claim was given to him in trade -- in trade for his wife and daughter, sold as if they were slaves.
Continue reading: The Claim Review
By Blake French
You're a preteen growing up in the United Kingdom, and you just stumbled upon the loot from a bank robbery. What do you do? Tell your father? Keep it a secret? Contact the police? Give it to charity? Go shopping? Well, whatever you're going to do -- be fast, because in less than a week, the UK is switching to the euro, which will render the money useless.
Welcome to the dilemma in which Damien (Alexander Nathan Etel) and Anthony (Lewis Owen McGibbon) find themselves after moving to a developing British subdivision with their father (James Nesbitt) shortly after their mother passes away. Damien discovers the loot one afternoon as he watches trains pass while inside his homemade cardboard box hut. A spiritual young lad obsessed with famous saints, Damien believes the money is a gift from God; therefore, he wants to give it to charities and poor people. When Anthony finds out about the money, however, he has other ideas for the money...
Continue reading: Millions Review
Meant to appeal to romantics and political flunkies, Michael Winterbottom's near-future allegory Code 46 is a well-made hodgepodge of Greek myth and think tank reveries. Told in his usual assured observational style, Code 46 is a marvel to look at: beautifully photographed in metropolis cities in the middle of the desert (labeled Seattle and Shanghai) and well acted by Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. But what it has in sensual ambiance, it lacks in cohesiveness.
The plot is dippy melodrama cloaked in politically charged keywords: corporate entities, genetic coding, the Haves and the Have Nots, multicultural whitewashing, language barriers, secret passports, checkpoints, homeland security. It's charged material, but Winterbottom transforms it into so much white noise. That's all right -- it provides a sheen that's nice to look at, and the keyword dialogue takes on a musicality when spoken by detective William Geld (Tim Robbins) and suspect Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton). But it's all a smokescreen meant to disguise a story about love found, love lost, and a tragic denouement made-to-order from the Oedipus legend.
Continue reading: Code 46 Review
How'd Coleridge and Wordsworth write all that nutty poetry? By getting high off of helium, nitrous oxide, opium, and its ilk. Julien Temple's ambitious film is nonetheless perplexing, a Kafka-meets-Coming Home story of friendship and betrayal as well as war (the French revolution) and drugs. It's awesome to look at, but its historical accuracy seems iffy at best. And it's far too long.
It's getting to the point where I've just seen enough movies about crazy musicians and whacked-out siblings. Hilary and Jackie gives us both(!), so if you haven't had your fill of these two genres, here's a chance to knock both out at once.The true story of the Du Pre sisters, we get to see them grow up and become famous musicians. Hilary (Griffiths) ends up opting out of the limelight to raise kids and chickens in the country. Jackie (Watson) goes all-out in her quest to be a solo cellist, and of course, she goes totally bonkers before too long.
Continue reading: Hilary And Jackie Review
Like most art forms, music is complimentary, or commentary, for the age in which it is presented. Analogous to painting, the moving image, and literature -- the great arts we all lean on for sympathy and entertainment -- we find ourselves attracted to what we relate to or wish for, and end up with extra propulsion to go forward based on the experience. What better way to get a glimpse of creativity and encouragement to keep pushing forward with it than by presenting it on screen through a charismatic narrator in half-documentary, half-storytelling fashion?
This is exactly what Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People does, depicting the path of the renowned Tony Wilson, who spearheaded names like Joy Division (later to become New Order), groups which are still held as influences to today's musicians. Mixing frenetic plot with a vérité slant, we see the punk and rave movements evolve through the admirably hard-working, but ultimately self-defeating, energy with which Wilson built Factory Records.
Continue reading: 24 Hour Party People Review