Review- Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh (Disney)

Winnie the Pooh is one of those characters and series of stories that I cannot write about without giving you a bit of personal information to help put things in perspective for the reader this way you, the reader, can understand where I’m coming from and you can then gauge what your reaction will likely be. I’ve loved this character and the world he inhabits since I was very young. However, as I grew older, more knowledgeable and perhaps a bit more cynical I cast a leery eye on the modern renditions of Winnie that Disney was creating. However, I recently gave one a chance and while it wasn’t great it was much better than I expected. So I came into the film open-minded and cautiously optimistic.

Immediately, I fell in love with this film because they brought back the live action introduction wherein we see Christopher Robin’s room. It sets the tone for the rest of the film where a new story was being unfurled in a very traditional manner but to a new generation. From there on in all the choices are a very delicate balance between trying to recapture some of the old magic and also advance the narrative in some new directions.

One very clear way in which this was done is in the brilliant job that was done in casting this film. Firstly, you have Jim Cummings not only doing double duty as both Tigger and Pooh but his Pooh is eerily similar to Sterling Holloway’s original version. What’s more stunning is Craig Ferguson’s performance as Owl because I literally had no idea who played Owl but he’s fabulous. The last and most important cog in any of these films is the narrator. John Cleese, of course, does wonderfully and the Narrator is very involved in this tale.

Which brings to mind an interesting point about this film is that the book and the text within that act as interstitials between the occasional scene gets very involved in the telling of the tale. This I’m sure must be fun for kids but it’s a great treat for the parents and adults as it’s a joke that works on a couple of levels.

What’s most refreshing about the film is not even that it manages to be very funny but that most of it stems from a series of misunderstandings. The timing is crisp and the jokes do have variety some are cutesy but some are also rather smart. What’s also fantastic is that the morals of the story fold themselves in very naturally and aren’t overly-apparent when they’re happening and also not overly on the head when told to Pooh at the end.

It also manages to be a genuinely touching and heart-warming film without needing to be cloying or schmaltzy. The characters to those familiar to us are well-established but for those new to them they are quickly and clearly re-established as is their relationship to one another and their search for the “creature” they believe has Christopher Robin and for Eeyore’s tail reflects all that’s great about each of them and it jumps off the screen.

There are used in the film many different techniques that make the film feel more modern such as the chalky animation to describe the mythical “Backson” during the musical number that accompanies it and the fantasy sequences as Pooh through most of the film cannot sate his hunger for honey.

In summation I would not hesitate to call Winnie the Pooh a great film. In little more than an hour you had two searches and two other characters had their own subplots, the songs are all good and well sung and there’s a great bit of comedy and philosophy as per usual. As a post-script I’m saddened that those who were not inclined to see Harry Potter were likely averse to going to the movies that weekend and thus you get the returns for Winnie the Pooh were less than stellar. With that in mind I urge you, if it’s no longer playing at a theatre near you, to see this film on home video please. You won’t regret it.

10/10

Review- Zookeeper

Kevin James in Zookeeper (Columbia Pictures)

Upon hearing about the film Zookeeper one would think and hope that there’s got to be more to it than just talking animals. The good news is that there is. The bad news is that there really isn’t that much more to it. Sadly, the film aside from not being that funny gets bogged down in a transparent and overly predictable love plot that makes the entire thing seem like an exercise rather than an attempt to create.

While the film starts well enough with a humorous and slightly heartbreaking inciting incident of a failed proposal attempt there comes a point where all the cards are laid out on the table and you start to see where it’s heading. Now I harp on this because this isn’t your usual amount of predictability, I’m talking about an experience wherein you can predict how and when all the dominoes of the story will fall with a great amount of accuracy, this lack of the unexpected leads to a lack of joy and a lack of real comedic impact despite the occasional half-hearted chuckle.

When there is a twist, and I use that term lightly here, it’s like a breath of fresh air and what you’re witnessing becomes exponentially more enjoyable than it should be. When you combine two old hat concepts like talking animals and chasing after a dream girl that doesn’t make the story different or unique by default there needs to be a bit more to it than that but the film never quite gets there.

Typically, with material of this ilk the performances can raise it to a level where it ought not be able to reach but that sadly doesn’t happen here. Rosario Dawson, who let me state for the record is a great actress, can’t really elevate the film at all. A majority of the laughs that this film can muster are thanks to Joe Rogan, as our lead’s rival for the affections of his beloved. He is a crazy, over-the-top type of character but at least he’s well-defined and there’s an energy to his scenes. Kevin James’ scenes with him are the best he has really, as a romantic lead and a no-nonsense-business-man he connects less and isn’t as convincing.

The casting of the voices was a bit odd. Cher and Sylvester Stallone are always very obviously themselves and never really become their characters or invisible as I like to call it in voice work. Adam Sandler does well by seemingly impersonating Gilbert Gottfried as the monkey but of course Nick Nolte is the stand out of the voice cast not because he has the most versatile voice but because he’s the strongest actor of the bunch by far.

Of course, in comedies it all comes down to “How funny is it?” If it can hold water as a compelling narrative it can almost be looked at as a bonus. Clearly as a story the film has its failings but it’s really not terribly funny either. It’s the kind of movie that you might see on cable (a lot) and if you had nothing better to do you’d still likely change the channel.

The ultimate failing of this film is that it tried to get a little too cute by creating an excessive amount of symmetry in the story. This symmetry makes the design of the film apparent and instead of being engaged the film just hits you and you just take it. Sadly, there are very few redeeming qualities about this one.

3/10

Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick a Country (Part 7 of 7)

Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. You should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that in to consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up a mini-festival.

Cidade de Deus (City of God)


Alexandre Rodrigues in City of God (Miramax)

This is a film produced by Walter Salles who was at the helm of the prior breakout hit from Brazil, Central Station, it’s a tale of how the favelas got how they are, how they went from “purgatory to hell” as the film puts it. It’s a tale that weaves several threads together intriguingly it’ll start focused on a character or group of characters but also introduce other characters, then when the secondary characters come into focus the story backpedals and fills in blanks. It flashes back with style and tells a gritty story in the highest rendition of cinematic art. It not only tells a bulk of its story within a frame but also has several dovetails of jaw-dropping quality and affect. It’s also a film that proves samba can provide a score effective in all situations and reflective of all emotions. It’s a film unafraid of montage with dialogue.

One of the best films of the decade that just ended. Brazil in the past two decades has had tremendous achievements on the world cinema stage including a Best Actress award at Cannes for Sandra Corveloni in Linha de Passe. It is consistency that detractors seem to be in want of.

All in all this is a festival that showed some of the prowess, and in a few cases weakness, of Brazilian cinema. If you have seen a film from a country that intrigued you can look into creating a similar fest of your own because seeing only wide international releases doesn’t really give you a feel for a country’s cinema.

Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick a Country (Part 6 of 7)

Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. You should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that in to consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up a mini-festival.

Se Eu Fosse Voce (If I Were You)


If I Were You (20th Century Fox Brazil)

This is a genre film. It’s a trading places story which is funny and elevated due to the tremendous performances of the ensemble specifically Tony Ramos and Gloria Pires. While very few of these films go out of their way to try and explain the catalyst of the switch this one does. While in other films most notably Freaky Friday the switch is caused by a minimal twist of fate like a fortune cookie. This film operates on a much more cosmic level with planets aligning, which makes you wonder why they’re the only ones, especially considering the jokey ending which, seemed to imply another switch which would’ve been impossible by the rules established at that point.

Another thing that absolutely undoes all the good work of the cast is the fact that the cat should be let out of the bag about their trading places when Ramos’s character, now a woman trying to pass herself as a man, receives a phone call from her husband trying to live as a woman; at that time of the month and in need of guidance. Unfortunately, the secretary announces it’s his wife so the staff overhears part of the conversation chuckles, this is not something that can be forgiven. He should’ve tried to cover by saying it was a mistake and it was his daughter calling. Worst still this occurrence was about where Act II was turning to Act III so it lightened the climax and rendered it an anti-climax because there was no longer the risk of being found out. We know they will understand one another and the opposite sex better. That’s a given of this subgenre what we need for entertainment purposes is some suspense.

It’s a harmless film in the end. It’s not the kind of bad film that gets you angry but just upset that great performances and talents were wasted in a simplistic tale with obvious flaws that could’ve been easily corrected.

Mini-Review Round-Up #2

This is something I’m going to do periodically. Basically, I will employ many means to qualify films for the BAM Awards be it either seeing the film theatrically acquiring a DVD either through purchase or on Netflix. This could lead to an influx of several new titles being seen in a short span of time which would be difficult to write full reviews for. At least this way the film gets some of its deserved attention and you get some notion of my thoughts on them.

If you have questions or comments feel free to respond. I always get back.

As always please refer to My Rating Scale for an indication of what the scores mean and if you’re curious where these films might make a dent in my personal awards please check my BAM Considerations.

The Films

Kaboom

Thomas Dekker in Kaboom (IFC Films)

This is a film by director Greg Araki that can only be described as one of the strangest I’ve yet seen and in both a good and a bad way. The story is a widening gyre that goes from very real and gritty to incredibly outlandish. It’s a movie that has me torn between opposite extremes whereas I love the audaciousness of it I cannot say I liked it because it just went too crazy. The film does feature a very strong performance by Thomas Dekker.

To try to synopsize the film is a slippery slope which would likely lead to me having to explain everything. It’s not a film for a mainstream audience. There’s adult content all throughout so that whole viewer discretion is advised spiel applies to this film on many levels.

5/10

The Way Back

Jim Sturgess in The Way Back (Newmarket Films)

This is a tale about a courageous escape from a Gulag in Siberia during the second World War.

This is a film by acclaimed director Peter Weir, which is certainly not among his best but it is a very interesting and well-wrought tale. The only part that feels rushed is the ending but there’s a creative montage there. The acting is very strong in the film from the likes of Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan. It’s a very human tale that’s shot beautifully.

7/10

On the Shoulders of Giants

The Harlem Rens in On the Shoulders of Giants (Union Productions)

A documentary about the best basketball team you never heard of: the Harlem Rens.

This film has a fascinating subject and some interviews who are able to shine a light on the story of a team who played in the days when professional basketball meant barnstorming, however, the scope of the tale isn’t focused enough and there is a lack of footage of team, which would allow the film to be more visually appealing. I liked learning about the team and there’s great information but it’s not a great film.

6/10

The Fab Five

Jimmy King, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Ray Jackson in The Fab Five (ESPN Films)

A feature-length documentary from ESPN Films that chronicles the five freshmen who changed the landscape of college basketball in the early 90s.

This is a very compelling (as most of ESPN Film’s recent works have been) look at Michigan’s blue chip recruiting class and the cultural and athletic sensation they were and the aftermath of their years in the game. This film garnered a lot of attention due to the controversial comments by Jalen Rose, one of the players and a producer of the film, about Duke. However, the film is bigger and more important than those polarizing comments. Rose’s decision to honestly portray his sentiments at the time and include them in the film are bravura filmmaking. The only part of the film that falls a little short is that the controversy that swirled about the program as the players left was never really foreshadowed and that may have made it more effective.

8/10

Bob Dylan: Revealed

Bob Dylan in Bob Dylan: Revealed (Music Video Distributors)

A documentary that tries to encompass a large part of Bob Dylan’s musical career.

This film is like an instructional on how not to construct a documentary. There’s little to no music in a film a bout a musician, interview subjects dominate entire portions of the film, there is insufficient editing of what they say, there is footage that’s described as we’re seeing it and the scope is gigantic. Ultimately, if the subject, Dylan, wasn’t as interesting as he is I’d have given this the lowest possible score but instead it gets by with a

2/10

I’ve been a little behind so there will be one or two more coming quite soon.

Review- You Again

You Again is now available to stream on Netflix.

You Again is a film that ultimately sinks or swims on the strength of its actors’ performances and due to them it manages to stay afloat.

While the concept is not shockingly original what it did promise was the comedic possibilities of the mirrored stories of high school torment as experienced by both mother and daughter which are to be relived through coincidence brought to their attention by an upcoming family wedding. Where the film falls just a bit flat is that there could’ve been more balance between the disparate rivalries but ultimately it is overwhelmingly about younger set, which makes sense but there are a few issues there.

Now all that is not to say it isn’t funny. It does have its share of laughs. Certainly more than last weekend’s other offering, The Virginity Hit, it’s just matter of some squandered potential.

In terms of performances the four leading ladies certainly deserve their mention. Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver both play to their strengths from start to finish in roles seemingly tailor made for them. Curtis excels in her enthusiastic, slightly goofy and affable role and is a perfect foil to Weaver’s sophisticated, high society businesswoman who puts on airs. Their interaction is why you want more of them. Kristen Bell and Odette Yustman both do very well with their parts even if at the end the truthfulness and motivation of Yustman’s character is somewhat suspect.

The now seemingly standard Betty White appearance was as expected rather funny even with the gag at the end which was a bit much. However, the glue that holds the film together and in fact helps this film be more relatable to a male audience are Mark (Victor Garber) and Ben (Billy Unger). Not that I think that the label “chick flick” is completely apropos as these struggles in high school could just as easily be about men with some slight variations but the target is women. However, with Garber’s character, as Gail’s (Curtis’s) husband, who tries to but can’t quite grasp the situation and Ben, Gail’s son and Marni’s (Bell’s) younger brother, who lampoons the situation brilliantly stealing quite a few scenes along the way, it allows men to find characters with which the identify and ultimately it can bring a wider audience into the story as these characters get involved in the conflicts.

With a film of this type there is the almost mandatory scene where things all come tumbling down for the protagonist. However, I feel that the apparent defeat here is a bit undermined by the toast right before what Marni actually does orchestrate. Things play out such that she could’ve actually escaped with less of the blame and she came out looking better and less conniving than she would have and was intended. Had the start of the Third Act played out differently it might’ve had more impact.

You Again is a funny piece of escapist cinema that could’ve been a little bit more if only a few things had been different. Having said that there is still a good time to be had.

6/10

Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick A Country (Part 5 of 7)

Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. With that in mind you should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that in to consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up a mini-festival.

Avassaladoras (Overwhelming Women)

Overwhelming Women (Fox Filmes do Brasil)

This is the kind of film that would be described in Brazil as “sugarwater,” sweet, simple and ultimately disposable lacking any depth or substance. Granted it does try and in the end it is an anti-romantic comedy in as much as our protagonist gets no one in the end. It is so singularly focused on her finding someone that it barely builds her or any other semblance of a subplot. It is very narrow-minded throughout.

The cast is decent. Caco Ciocler appears here as well and is hardly recognizable and extremely funny. It goes a little over the top at times but at least it is generally light but the resolution in the end is facile and its oncoming was buried. Though they were fine Giovanna Antonelli and Reynaldo Giannechini were underutilized here and their relationship, though understandable, was quite odd until they finally speak to one another.

It is likely this kind of film and the next that give Brazilian films a bad name in Brazil. It’s a genre film, the likes of which we’ve seen thousands of come out of the US so why bother when they can be just as bad coming from the States? Also the idea could likely be better executed on television and at least would be more acceptable light fare in that medium.