New Releases for the Week of March 2, 2018


RED SPARROW

(20th Century Fox) Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciarán Hinds, Joely Richardson. Directed by Francis Lawrence

A ballerina is recruited for the Soviet-era “Sparrow School” in which beautiful young women are trained to be ruthless assassins, using their sexuality as a weapon. She is given the target of a CIA agent with whom she develops feelings for. She is playing a dangerous game and there is no way to know who to trust. Her own agency is after her and her beloved mother; the only way out may be to betray all that she was.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos, IMAX
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)

A Fantastic Woman

(Sony Classics) Daniela Vidal, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Kupperheim. Marina is a transsexual woman who works as a waitress and moonlights as a nightclub singer. It is hard enough to survive as a transsexual in Latin America but when her boyfriend abruptly dies she is left floundering and wondering if she can go on.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language, sexual content, nudity and a disturbing assault)

Death Wish

(Annapurna/MGM) Bruce Willis, Elisabeth Shue, Vincent D’Onofrio, Camilla Morrone. A family man whose wife and daughter are brutally attacked becomes a vigilante when he finds that the police can’t help him find justice – so he goes after the perpetrators himself. This is Eli Roth’s version of the classic Charles Bronson revenge thriller.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action 
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and language throughout)

Nostalgia

(Bleecker Street) Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn. This is an anthology of tales about loss and love, and the artifacts, memories and emotions that shape our lives.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for some language)

The Vanishing of Sidney White

(A24) Michelle Monaghan, Elle Fanning, Logan Lerman, Kyle Chandler. A young writer pens a bestseller about the death of a high school classmate. As the controversy surrounding his hit novel grows, his relationship with his girlfriend disintegrates and at last he disappears without a trace. A decade later a dogged detective searches for the legendary author when his cult classic book is linked to a string of arsons. Florida Film Festival alumnus Shawn Christensen co-wrote and directed this.

See the trailer and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Mystery
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for language and some sexual references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Dance Academy: The Comeback

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Dance Academy: The Comeback
In Between
Let Yourself Go
The Lullaby
The Party

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Dance Academy: The Comeback
Pari

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

None

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Death Wish
Red Sparrow
The Vanishing of Sidney White

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

WineFest: Wine’s World, Tampa

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David Brent: Life on the Road


David Brent is his own biggest fan.

(2016) Comedy (Netflix) Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey “Doc Brown” Smith, Jo Hartley, Tom Basden, Mandeep Dhillon, Abbie Murphy, Andrew Brooke, Tom Bennett, Rebecca Gethings, Andy Burrows, Stuart Wilkinson, Steve Clarke, Michael Clarke, Nina Sosanya, Stacha Hicks, Kevin Bishop, Alexander Arnold, Dermot Keaney, Diane Morgan. Directed by Ricky Gervais

 

Most Americans are aware of the version of the sitcom The Office that starred Steve Carell and a fair amount of them are probably aware that it was based on a British version starring Ricky Gervais. Much fewer of the American audience have probably ever seen any of the British episodes and fewer still will likely have enjoyed it; certainly it is an acquired taste and although it shares many attributes with the American version, the two are quite different.

David Brent (Gervais) was the boss in The Office but he’s fallen on hard times. He works as a salesman of toilet cleaning products for a company called Lavichem and although he turns a somewhat upbeat face to it, one can tell that he is not satisfied at all with the way things have turned out. He’s bullied mercilessly by fellow salesman Jezza (Brooke) and is often the subject of serious conversations with HR manager Miriam Clark (Gethings).

He isn’t without admirers though, like Nigel (Bennett) who looks up to him as a comic mentor, or hopelessly besotted Pauline (Hartley) and the sweet receptionist Karen (Dhillon).  Still, Brent can’t help but feel as if his destiny is passing him by and that destiny is to be – a rock star. So, he assembles a second version of his original band Foregone Conclusion (which includes We are Scientists drummer Andy Burrows) and taking unpaid leave from Lavichem hits the road to do ten dates in the Midlands….all within a few hours’ drive of his flat in London. Along for the unwilling ride is Dom Johnson (Brown), a fairly talented rapper whom David brings along for the street cred he miserably lacks and whom David generally refuses to allow to perform except to use David’s abhorrent lyrics. Cashing out his pension, David undergoes financing the entire tour himself, much to the concern of sound engineer/road manager Andy Chapman (Chapman).

David’s tendency is to blurt out whatever comes to mind without first passing it through a filter, following it with a sort of strangled giggle as if to say “Oh dear, what have I gone and said now?” as a kind of embarrassed signature. He stops conversations dead with his pronouncements and off-the-wall observations that betray sexism and bigotry that most people have the good sense to keep to themselves if they possess those tendencies at all.

True to form, he alienates everyone in his band to the point where they force him not to join them on the tour bus he rented but to follow in his own car behind it. They refuse to dress with him, forcing him to have his own dressing room. The songs that he writes for them to play are pretty awful and the band is humiliated at gig after gig; the only saving grace is that nobody is showing up at them and those that do are drawn out of curiosity to Brent’s quasi-fame (the film treats The Office as a documentary which of course it was made to resemble) and most leave well before the gig is over.

Against all odds, one ends up feeling a kind of sympathy for Brent. He’s the guy who doesn’t realize that he is the joke and nobody is laughing. Still, he soldiers on either because he’s oblivious or refuses to let it get him down. There is a kind of nobility in that which is fascinating, because believe me Brent says some of the vilest things. There is a whole sequence around the “N” word that takes uncomfortable to new levels.

This is a comedy of awkward silences. There is no laugh track and no incidental music, just like the sitcom. The silence serves to make the audience feel more and more uncomfortable which I suppose is a form of humor. In its time it was innovative although it seems a bit dated now. The problem is that the movie doesn’t really add anything to what’s already out there; although Gervais has gone to great pains to distance this project from The Office, his presence essentially makes the sitcom the elephant in the room by default. That begs the question; why did this film need to get made? Some fans will just be happy to see Brent back in the saddle but others will need more than that.

In general, those who adored the British version of The Office will likely enjoy this or at least be interested in checking it out. Those who found the show puzzling will likely not find any insights here that will change their minds. It’s definitely an acquired taste and those who have not yet acquired it should probably give this a miss. Otherwise, those who have might find something here worth ingesting although they likely won’t find it as good as the original.

REASONS TO GO: Gervais actually manages to make Brent somewhat sympathetic. Fans of the British Office will find this right up their alley.
REASONS TO STAY: It’s a very acquired taste, just like the original The Office. It’s an hour and 36 minutes of awkward.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, sexual innuendo and drug humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although David Brent is depicted driving a car on numerous occasions in the film, Ricky Gervais actually doesn’t know how to drive.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/22/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Office (BBC Version)
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Burning Sands

Beauty and the Beast (2017)


Shall we dance?

(2017) Fantasy (Disney) Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ray Fearon, Haydn Gwynne, Gerald Horan, Nathan Mack, Clive Rowe, Thomas Padden, Gizmo, Rita Davies, Adrian Schiller, Harriet Jones, Zoe Rainey. Directed by Bill Condon

 

Disney has of late taken the strategy of remaking animated classics as live action films. It has thus far been successful for them; Maleficent, Jungle Book and Cinderella have both been moneymakers for the studio. Now comes the most lavish and most recent of the animated classics to get a live action version.

The tale’s as old as time; Belle (Watson) is a bookish, intelligent young woman growing up in a provincial town in France in the 18th century. The daughter of Maurice (Kline), a widowed inventor, she happily borrows every book she can get her hands on and cheerfully ignores the advances of the young men of the town, particularly Gaston (Evans), a former soldier chafing in his idleness in a life of hunting and drinking, assisted by the loyal LeFou (Gad).

On the way to the market, Maurice gets chased by wolves onto the grounds of a creepy looking castle. It turns out to be inhabited by a dreadful Beast (Stevens) and living furniture who used to be the servants of the castle. When Maurice’s horse comes home without him, Belle knows something is wrong and races out to rescue her father. When she finds him locked up in a prison cell in the castle, shivering and sick, she offers to take his place and the Beast agrees.

What she doesn’t know is that the Beast and all who lived with him are victims of a curse leveled by a witch (Morahan) who was refused hospitality on a cold stormy night because she was ugly. Now time is running out on the curse which can only be broken by someone who loves the Beast and is loved by him. But Belle is beautiful; she can have any man she wants. Why would she want a Beast?

Although roughly based on the French fairy tale, this version more closely adheres to the 1991 Disney animated version and includes the songs written by the Oscar-winning duo of the late Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken and includes four new songs written by Mencken and lyricist Tim Rice. The results are lush and elegant, gathering many of the elements that worked so well in the original and transferring them note-perfectly into live action.

The production design here is intense and we feel that we are given a glimpse not necessarily into 18th century France so much as a France of myth and legend. It’s an idealized version that is at odds with the suffering amongst the poorer classes that was so great that they rose up and slaughtered their own ruling class. Here however, the ruling class in their rococo Versailles is beloved by the simple folk despite the cruelty and conspicuous consumption displayed by the palace’s occupant that was so egregious that he and all around him were cursed. Well, he had some daddy issues so I suppose he can be excused, right?

There also was much made over the “outing” of LeFou as Disney’s first outright gay character, but even that is a bit of a tempest in Mrs. Potts (Thompson). LeFou’s coming out consists of him dancing with another man (who is dressed as a woman for reasons I won’t get into here) for a few seconds of screen time at the movie’s conclusion. Considering the brouhaha it created in the religious right, I’m not surprised Disney is taking baby steps towards inclusion (there are also a couple of interracial couples among the castle’s inhabitants) but it does feel like the studio didn’t have the courage of their convictions here.

Still, one must commend them for at least trying and for not bending to pressure, refusing to re-cut the movie for Malaysian censors who banned the film from their country based on those few seconds of screen time. Personally, I think the studio should have cut the film a little more judiciously; it runs over two hours long which is about 45 minutes longer than the original animated feature. Condon and writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spillotopoulos flesh out the backstory, explaining why Belle’s mother is out of the picture and why the Beast’s human prince was such a rotten individual among other things and it makes the movie a little too ponderous for its own good. Several little princesses in full regalia at the screening Da Queen and I attended got extremely restless during the movie’s final half hour.

But the ending is definitely worth it. It is slightly different than the animated version and the difference is enough to really tug at the heartstrings and create an emotional catharsis that warms the cockles even as you’re wiping away the tears. I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did; everything I heard about it made me fear that it was a bloated mess and in some ways it is, but there is enough heart here that it actually becomes a worthwhile viewing. Plenty of little princesses are going to be demanding that their parents add this to their video collection not too long down the line when it becomes available.

Chances are, you’ve already seen this and if you haven’t, I strongly urge you see it on the big screen while you still can. The amazing special effects deserve the best possible presentation. Even if you aren’t required to see it by a child in your life, this is actually a fine motion picture for adults, if for no other reason the nostalgia that it evokes. It truly is a tale old as time.

REASONS TO GO: The special effects are gorgeous. The film has a lot more heart than you’d expect from an effects-heavy fantasy.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s a little too much ephemera.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and action sequences, scenes of peril and a few frightening images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ian McKellen was originally offered the part of Cogsworth for the 1991 animated version and turned it down (David Ogden Stiers eventually took the role) but he chose to accept it this time out.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/4/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cinderella
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Dinner

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Home at last!

Home at last!

(2015) Science Fiction (Disney) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, Simon Pegg, Pip Torrens, Greg Grunberg, Kiran Shah, Andrew Jack, Warwick Davis, Sasha Frost. Directed by JJ Abrams

So, no joke, this is the cinematic event of the year – and one of the biggest event movies ever. Certainly it’s box office explosion, mowing down box office records like so many innocent civilians at the hands of Stormtroopers, gives credence to that. People weren’t just excited to see it – they were absolutely insane to see it. Many have gone back and seen it three or four or more times since it opened. But is it worth all the hype?

As the iconic opening crawl informs us, thirty years has passed since the Empire has fallen and the Republic was re-established. From the ashes of the Empire has risen the First Order, run by the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) who appears via hologram as kind of a gigantic mummified cross between Abe Lincoln and C3PO (Daniels). Who appears later on in the film. C3PO, not Abe Lincoln.

I digress. Everyone is looking for Luke Skywalker (Hamill), the last Jedi Knight who has disappeared after some sort of catastrophe involving training new Jedi Knights that went horribly wrong. The First Order wants to stop him from doing what the Resistance (tacitly supported by the Republic) want him to do – to lead them to victory against the First Order. To that end, they have sent cocky pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) to the desert world Jakku to retrieve a map which leads to Skywalker. However, the First Order led by their Sith-like leader Kylo Ren (Driver) show up and Dameron is forced to give the chip containing the map to his trusty droid BB8 (kind of like a Beach Ball with the top of a droid on it – perhaps that’s what BB stands for) and sends him rolling off to the nearest settlement. He’s captured and interrogated but eventually rescued by Fin (Boyega), a Stormtrooper who develops a conscience.

BB8 discovers Rey (Ridley), a metal scavenger who has been on her own since her parents left her on Jakku to fend for herself. In the meantime, Fin and Dameron get separated and Fin finds Rey and BB8 but with the Emp…er, First Order hot on their heels, they escape in what turns out to be a familiar spaceship.

Once away they run into familiar faces and new ones, and discover that an all-new and improved solar-powered Death Star is getting ready to do its worst. The new Resistance heroes must go to this new weapon and destroy it, but that is no easy task, even with the old Rebellion heroes on their side.

After the prequel trilogy left the Star Wars fandom and moviegoers in general underwhelmed, I can safely say that this had a pretty high bar to meet, but it has done so in spades. Frankly put, this is one of the best movies of the year and I never thought I’d say that about a Star Wars film. As you’d expect, the special effects are marvelous and mostly achieved through practical means. However, there’s more to the film than that.

Let’s talk about the story a little bit. Some have complained that there are too many similar elements to the very first film, which is now titled Episode IV: A New Hope in canon. That’s a pretty fair complaint and it is occasionally distracting, but the storylines aren’t terribly identical. I do wish they’d used something other than a desert planet to open the movie with although I suspect that the universe has more desert planets than those with greenery. But one can have a fairly barren terrain without having the same sand dunes that characterized Tatooine. However, the important thing is that the story has retained that epic quality that characterized the first trilogy (not the prequels so much).

That said, the acting here is marvelous. Ford in particular brings Han Solo back to life, giving him the same gruff, roguish qualities in the first trilogy but tempering it with melancholy – there have been events in his life since the fall of the Empire that have been bitter and some even tragic. Not all of those are gone into with much detail, but let’s just say that as a father and a husband he makes a good smuggler.

Ridley and Boyega, who share the heroic role, both show a good deal of screen charisma and promise as the new kids on the block. They both realize they don’t have to carry the film, but something tells me either one or both could if they had to. Boyega, particularly, has an incredible amount of potential, not just here but in all of the films he’s been in. His character is the most interesting one of the new ones, although Kylo Ren has some definite Daddy issues that no doubt are going to develop into something else.

The movie moves along at breakneck speed; even the pauses are well-placed and well-paced. It’s not a short movie but it never feels long. Considering all the expectations that were heaped on this property that Disney paid $4 billion for, it’s good to see that for once not only were those expectations met but exceeded. Looks like Disney has gotten an excellent return on their investment.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular! Recaptures everything about the first trilogy that made it great. Will appeal to kids and adults as well. Surprisingly good performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Story a little too much like the very first movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sci-fi violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Abrams preferred to use actual locations and practical effects over green screen and CGI in order to be more aesthetically similar to the first trilogy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: Hitchcock/Truffaut

American Reunion


Stifler's mom and Jim's dd - now why didn't I think of that?

Stifler’s mom and Jim’s dd – now why didn’t I think of that?

(2012) Comedy (Universal) Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Seann William Scott, Eugene Levy, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jennifer Coolidge, Natasha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, John Cho, Dania Ramirez, Katrina Bowden, Jay Harrington, Ali Cobrin, Chris Owen, Neil Patrick Harris, Charlene Amoia. Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg

When we’re in high school, we are different people than we are as adults. We lack the life experiences that we gain as adults so we look back at ourselves back then and cringe, generally speaking, at how awkward and naive we were. Still, most of us tend to look back at our time back then with some nostalgia – in our ignorance we are kings of the world with everything we could possibly desire still stretched out before us. Perhaps this is why reunions are such big business.

The gang at East Great Falls High are getting together for their 13th reunion – apparently they’re a bit fuzzy on the concept – and some of the boys are getting a head start on the festivities. Jim (Biggs) and Michelle (Hannigan) are married with a two-year-old son who takes up all of their time, leaving none for romance and (especially) sex. Jim’s dad (Levy) is a widower and hasn’t quite gotten over the passing of his wife.

Oz (Klein) is a sportscaster on a 24-hour sports network who famously had a meltdown on a Dancing With the Stars-like show. His relationship with his girlfriend is strained and he is suddenly brought face to face with just how hot Vicky (Reid) still is and that the torch he has held for her still burns brightly.

Kevin (Nichols) is a somewhat emasculated house-husband whose wife Ellie (Amoia) has essentially turned him into a shell of his former self – which isn’t exactly what she had in mind. Finch (Thomas) has managed to get out of East Great Falls and gone on a series of adventures in South America which makes his mates just a little bit jealous of the freedom that he still has in his life.

The one person not invited to their mini-reunion is Stifler (Scott) who has a crap job at a securities firm for a douchebag he can’t stand, but in all other ways he is still the same Stifler they all know and love – which is precisely why he wasn’t invited. His penchant for getting them into trouble is exactly what they don’t need as adults with their responsibilities spelled out.

In a bit of an uncomfortable twist, Jim’s next door neighbor Kara (Cobrin) whom he used to babysit for has just turned 18 and filled out rather nicely. She’s always had a thing for her babysitter (who hasn’t) and has decided that his return to town affords her the excellent opportunity to fulfill her own bucket list dream – to have Jim be the one to take her virginity.

None of them are the same people they were in high school and yet all of them have those people buried deep inside them. As the weekend goes on, they are forced to deal with the changes that growing up has wrought in their lives and struggle to find the bonds that tied them together in the first place. Still, those bond are strong and perhaps nothing can’t be solved when you have a dish of American Pie for desert.

Hurwitz and Schlossberg, who co-wrote and helmed the Harold and Kumar trilogy (and perform the same duties here) manage to capture much of the essential elements that made the first American Pie films work – the genuine bonds between the characters that have been made even more unbreakable by the passage of time.

While the first films were raunchy comedies about teens feeling their way through the minefield of sexuality with often varying results, this is a different kind of rite of passage. Having had the privilege of attending my own high school reunion earlier this summer, I’m perhaps in a more sanguine frame of mind when it comes to reviewing a movie about the subject – I get the nostalgia and the warm glow that comes from it. We tend to look back with rose colored glasses to a certain extent, glossing over the monotony of homework, the agony of broken hearts (and nothing is quite so unbearable as unrequited teenage love or worse, a broken teen romance) and the chafing against parental authority. Instead, we tend to focus on the friendships, the good times, the epic failures that were nevertheless noble for their audacity, and what it all meant.

Seeing this is a bit like a reunion for those who had a fondness for the first movie or its two sequels (there were four direct-to-video sequels but they featured essentially completely different casts). Most of the actors in it have gone on to careers with varying degrees of success but we can recall the characters pretty clearly particularly as introduced here. The actors seem to have developed bonds of their own for each other – the chemistry between them is the kind that comes from genuine affection rather than from the script. You can’t fake that kind of thing and it shows here that they don’t.

This is clearly an ensemble film and all of the characters are given their moments to shine; if you had favorites from the original films you won’t be disappointed with the amount of screen time they get. There are a number of references to the earlier films, enough that those who are unfamiliar with them might get a little lost.

Also, like the first films, there is some heavy raunchiness going on here and if that isn’t your thing chances are you aren’t going to be reading this review anyway since chances also are that you have no intention of seeing this or any of the other films in the series. Ever.

If you liked the other movies in the series, you’ll more than likely like this one too. If you didn’t, you won’t like this one either. The same elements are all here that made up those films – the sometimes uncomfortable wisdom passed on to Jim by his dad, the outrageous attitude of the Stifmeister, the sometimes awkward antics of Finch and Kevin and of course the gorgeous girls who have grown up to become gorgeous women.

I liked this a lot more than I expected to but looking back, I’m not sure why my expectations were so low to begin with. This isn’t rocket science, after all – this is life and the common experiences most of us share. Sure, we don’t necessarily have our sexual failures broadcast on YouTube or sleep with the moms of one of our best friends – at least I didn’t – but all of us have had some awkward moments dealing with sex and attraction as teenagers, and experienced the disappointment of our lives not turning out how we expected them to. Hopefully, you’ll be granted the wisdom to accept that however our lives turned out that they are what we make of them and that good friends and loving family will make them bearable no matter what.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly warm and fuzzy. Nice to see “the gang” after so long.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Relies on crude humor like all the films in the series. Cliché-heavy. Too many references to previous films in the series for newcomers to jump comfortably in.

FAMILY VALUES:  Well, it’s crude. And obnoxious. There’s nudity, foul language and all sorts of sexual humor of varying degrees of grossness. There’s also some teen drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Levy is the only actor to appear in all eight American Pie films including the direct-to-video ones.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a look at how the producers were able to re-assemble nearly all of the original cast, a mini-featurette focusing on the cast’s predilection for punching each other in the balls (I couldn’t make that up if I wanted to) and finally, an interactive yearbook in which you can click on various characters, find out information about them and see interviews with the actor who played them.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $235.0M on a $50M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grosse Point Blank

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The 13th Warrior

Winnie the Pooh


Winnie the Pooh

WInnie the Pooh scurries about the Hundred Acre Wood in search of Hunny.

(2011) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson, John Cleese, Tom Kenny, Travis Oakes, Bud Luckey, Jack Boulter, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Wyatt Dean Hall, Huell Howser. Directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall

The thing with classics is that they simply don’t bear remaking or rebooting. They were done correctly the first time out; is there a compelling reason to try to capture lightning in a bottle again?

Of course there is. Here, the essence of the Disney classic Pooh movies is recaptured, from the story that moves along like a lazy summer day to the beautifully drawn but deceptively simple animation. The story isn’t terribly complicated – Pooh is out of honey and goes to find some, leading to a series of misadventures. There is also a subplot of Eeyore’s tail being missing; sharp-eyed viewers will be able to find it but most will not. And no, I’m not giving you any hints.

John Cleese proves to be a wonderful successor to Sebastian Cabot as the movie’s narrator and like the Disney classics, the animators aren’t above reminding you that Pooh originally began life as a book. There is nothing frightening here in the least, even the dreaded Backson, which is the Heffalump of this movie.

I found myself missing the classic character voices, from Paul Winchell as Tigger (Jim Cummings here) to Sterling Holloway as Pooh (Cummings again) to John Fiedler as Piglet (Travis Oates in this version). Your kids, however might not have that issue but be warned that you might wind up comparing the modern cast with the classic one. It’s an occupational hazard for rebooting a classic.

Whether or not Disney continues to create Pooh films will probably depend on the home video sales; quite frankly the movie underperformed in a disappointing summer when put up against the last Harry Potter film and flashier kid fare that was marketed to near distraction. This movie however does at least bring viewers back to a kinder, simpler time and kinder, simpler movies. It’s a quiet alternative to the CGI-heavy pop culture icons that are mostly what we get in animated features these days, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. I heartily recommend this for parents of younger children; it is a nice way to keep them occupied while you take a break from being a parent and get to be a kid again yourself.

WHY RENT THIS: Wonderful nostalgia factor. Lack of stunt voices and simple animation makes this a pleasure for adults.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is a bit too reminiscent of past Pooh classics. Ideal entertainment for kids six and under and their parents who adored the Disney classics; not so much for those who didn’t.

FAMILY VALUES:  Extremely family friendly.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The familiar Winnie the Pooh theme is sung on the soundtrack by actress Zooey Deschanel and musician M. Ward, better known as She and Him. They also contributed the end credits song “So Long.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a wonderful featurette on the history of Pooh from his origins in the A.A. Milne stories to the wonderful Disney classics. There’s a sing-along feature to the movie that you can activate where the lyrics will appear for each song and Christopher Robins balloon helps kids sing the lyrics in time to the movie. There are also a couple of animated shorts (one Pooh-related, the other one which played in the theaters with this movie) and an odd featurette on how to create the perfect Pooh-themed nursery for your new baby – assuming you have one. If not, there are instructions on how to go get one (just kidding).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.2M on a $30M production budget; the movie was unprofitable on its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Emperor’s Club