Frank Cottrell Boyce

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Goodbye Christopher Robin Review

Excellent

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

The Railway Man Review


Very Good

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

Code 46 Review


OK
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

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Frank Cottrell Boyce Movies

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

This biopic about Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne may look like the usual lushly...

The Railway Man Movie Review

The Railway Man Movie Review

A terrific true story is oddly underplayed in this sober, sedate drama about reconciliation and...

Code 46 Movie Review

Code 46 Movie Review

Meant to appeal to romantics and political flunkies, Michael Winterbottom's near-future allegory Code 46 is...

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