Christopher Robin

christopher_robin_ver3_xlgDirected by Marc Forster who is best known for 2001’s Monster’s Ball, 2004’s Finding Neverland, and 2006’s Stranger than Fiction, Christopher Robin is a sweet and heartwarming re-imagination of the classic Winnie the Pooh stories written by A. A. Milne and Disney animated films beginning in 1966 and is able to appeal to both children and adults. The plot follows Christopher Robin, played by Golden Globe-nominated actor Ewan McGregor, as an adult who left his furry friends from the Hundred Acre Wood many years ago and now has a stressful job that takes him away from his wife Evelyn, played by Golden Globe-nominated actress Hayley Atwell, and his young daughter Madeline. The film starts with a flashback to when Robin is given a farewell party as he is about to go off to boarding school by his magical friends Winnie the Pooh, voiced by Jim Cummings who has been the voice of Winnie the Pooh for over thirty years, Tigger, also voiced by Jim Cummings, Eeyore, voiced by Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Roo, and Kanga. After a difficult day at work and having to skip a family vacation, Robin is astonished to find Winnie the Pooh in London who himself is looking for the other living stuffed animal characters. Robin decides he must take Winnie the Pooh back to the Hundred Acre Wood, a secret world only accessed through a tree’s door, located near the Robin family’s cottage in Sussex. Throughout the adventure to reunite Winnie the Pooh with Tigger and the others, Robin continues to reassert that he is no longer a child and that Winnie the Pooh must stop his silly childish behavior. He is also extremely frantic about a deadline at his workplace Winslow Luggages where he works as an efficiency expert, and things spiral out of control after some of his paperwork is misplaced right before a very important meeting in London. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore along with Madeline try to track down Robin after taking a train ride from Sussex to London, and several funny and cute moments occur during their dangerous expedition in the human world. Eventually, with the help of his friends, especially Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin realizes that family is much more important than work and that it is okay to play like a child as an adult in order to better appreciate life. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable family-friendly movie that was terrific for nostalgic purposes but did not reach the level of the original Disney animated films or other similar movies released recently, including 2015’s Paddington and this year’s Paddington 2 that are also based on classic British stories revolving around a playful bear.

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Leave No Trace

Directed by Debra Granik who is best known for the 2010 Oscar-nominated film Winter’s Bone that helped bring Jennifer Lawrence to stardom, Leave No Trace is a somber and beautiful movie that encapsulates the bond between father and daughter and is marked by top-notch acting performances. The story follows a veteran suffering from PTSD named Will, played by the terrific Ben Foster, who lives off-the-grid in the forested wilderness outside Portland, Oregon with his young teenage daughter Tom, played by the captivating New Zealand actress Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie. After years of living a peaceful existence with bare necessities and very little human contact, they are eventually discovered by local authorities who place them in social services since it is illegal to live on public land and Tom has not been attending school. The separation between the extremely close father and daughter becomes almost unbearable because they have become dependent on one another living on their own in the wild. When they are given an opportunity to live a more normal lifestyle on a tree farm in rural Oregon, Will struggles and over time decides that they need to return to the wilderness despite Tom’s increasingly strong desire to remain a normal teenager living among her peers. She mostly goes along with her father because she knows that he is suffering from his traumatic experiences while he served in the military. He is unable to cope with being around a lot of seemingly normal people who do not understand his experiences, and he simply wants to shut off reality. Heightening the emotional impact of such a heartwarming yet heartbreaking story, the filmmaker makes the excellent choice to portray the narrative in a slow burn fashion in which the unusual premise has room to grow and not become over-dramatized. Furthermore, it enhanced the feeling of being surrounded by the quiet and magnificent wilderness that leads to a slow pace of life. Overall, I found it to be one of the more powerful films I have seen in recent memory because it contains such a thought-provoking and simple story of father-daughter love and is very much an actor’s movie in which the two lead actors give brilliantly nuanced performances.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

antman_and_the_wasp_ver2_xlgThe sequel to the highly successful 2015 movie Ant-Man and the twentieth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a highly entertaining and creative film that takes itself less seriously than a majority of the other superhero movies and thereby is filled with much more humor and fun. The story takes place several years after the original in which the protagonist Scott Lang, played by the humorous Paul Rudd, is under house arrest after a mission as his superhero alter ego Ant-Man. He is a more sympathetic and well-rounded superhero because of his poignant relationship with his young daughter and having fairly usual problems in real life. Just days before his house arrest is over, he is in clear violation by getting in contact with the brilliant inventor of the Ant-Man outfit Hank Pym, played by Oscar winner Michael Douglas, and his smart and beautiful daughter Hope van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly, whose superhero alter ego is the Wasp. Hank discovers there may be a way to rescue his wife Janet, played by Golden Globe winner Michelle Pfeiffer, who is stuck in the subatomic quantum realm, and he must enlist Scott to become Ant-Man again to help develop a device to enter the quantum realm. However, the trio find themselves in trouble after trying to broker a deal with the black-market dealer Sonny Burch, played by the villainous Walton Goggins, who double-crosses them in order to steal Hank’s advanced technology. To complicate things even further, they encounter the mysterious Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen, who is suffering from quantum and molecular instability and is desperate to find the technology to alleviate her problem. Throughout the movie as the characters engage in the typical action sequences of any comic book superhero production, Scott along with his buddies, especially Michael Peña’s character Luis, bring a certain levity to the story through their often ridiculous and hilarious antics. Much of the humor derives from the conceit of the film: the filmmakers play around with the ability of the characters to shrink and enlarge themselves and everyday objects, including an entire building shrunk down to the size of a briefcase and a life-size Pez dispenser that becomes a weapon. Overall, I found it to be one of the more enjoyable cinematic experiences found in the innumerable Marvel superhero movies as a result of its lighthearted approach while still retaining thrilling CGI-enhanced action scenes.

Eating Animals

eating_animals_xlgAdapted from the critically acclaimed 2009 book of the same name written by well-known author Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals is a powerful and thought-provoking documentary that delves into the issues surrounding large-scale factory farming of animals for human consumption. Narrated by vegan activist and Oscar winner Natalie Portman, the film provides a brief history of the early days of farming and how it evolved into an assembly line production mostly owned by such large corporations as Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms. Unlike many other environmentalist and vegan-promoting exposes, it provides a more nuanced view of the current state of animal farming by presenting interviews with a variety of farmers, including those adversely affected by working in the corporate realm and local conscientious farmers who are trying to bring back the old heritage methods of farming. Furthermore, the movie focuses on all of the implications that the mass production poultry and cattle industries has on humankind: the irresponsible dumping of animal byproducts and fertilizers that harm the environment, the corporate takeover of farms that harm the economic interests of the local farmer, and the public health hazards of consuming animals processed and filled with antibiotics. The documentary also features disturbing footage of the mistreatment of animals living in overcrowded and dangerous conditions and have become deformed as a result of practices promoting rapid growth and mass production. However, the purpose of the film is not just to encourage people to stop eating meat but to help inform the audience about ways to consume meat in a more responsible manner by purchasing from so-called heritage farms who care for the animals in a more traditional, healthy way. Overall, I found it to be an enlightening glimpse into the often unseen world of animal farming and a extremely important film that taught me that there are ways to be a more ethical meat consumer without becoming a vegetarian or vegan.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

The sequel to the critically acclaimed 2015 movie Sicario directed by Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a compelling action thriller with great cinematography, music, and acting performances that all combine to create an especially gritty atmosphere conducive to the dark world of the increasingly violent drug war. After a stint in Africa and the Middle East hunting down terrorists, the covert American government operative Matt Graver, played by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin, returns to the US Mexico border to reprise his vicious role as in the first movie to do whatever it takes to take down the powerful Mexican drug cartels. He is recruited by the Secretary of Defense, played by Golden Globe nominee Matthew Modine, and another government official, played by Oscar nominee Catherine Keener, to foment a war between several Mexican cartels by kidnapping the 16-year-old daughter of a particularly influential cartel leader. The ruthless Graver, who is authorized to employ his dirty tactics, assembles a secret contingent of soldiers that also includes the amoral sicario, or hit man, Alejandro who is played by the brilliantly creepy Oscar winner Benicio del Toro. After several intense and warlike gun battles, the covert American forces and loyal members of the drug cartels who also work for the Mexican police, things begin to go awry and Graver’s mission is put into jeopardy by the high-ranking United States officials who authorized the operation. The movie also weaves in another narrative about a Mexican-American teenager living in the border town of McAllen, Texas who is lured by the drug cartels to help smuggle migrants across the border. His story provides insight into why and how young men become involved in drug and human trafficking for such ruthlessly violent cartels and gangs. The most intriguing scenes involve Alejandro who lost his family at the hands of a drug cartel and is now set on a path of brutal vengeance; he is a morally complicated character brought to life by Benicio del Toro’s performance who wants to bring good but does it through clearly bad means. Overall, I found it to be yet another gripping account of the horrific actions of the drug cartels and the secret war against them perpetrated by the American government; however, the movie fell short of the original’s innovative twist on the action thriller genre that explores a complicated subject in a thoughtful way.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise which started with the release of the original in 1993 and was rebooted in 2015 with the first Jurassic World movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a fairly typical popcorn summer blockbuster that provides some over-the-top thrills but ultimately feels unnecessary and obviously cannot rise to the occasion like the original Jurassic Park directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Following on the heels of Jurassic World in which the revamped amusement park featuring live dinosaurs closes under disasterous conditions, a rescue operation to save the dinosaurs is underway by a team of mercenaries under the guidance of Jurassic Park’s co-founder Benjamin Lockwood, played by Oscar nominee James Cromwell, and the head of Lockwood’s foundation Eli Mills, played by the conniving Rafe Spall. Eventually, former head of the park Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and Velociraptor wrangler Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt, are brought in to help track down the remaining dinosaurs before the island where they are kept is destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption. Like the other films, there are a few action sequences in which the characters are running away from gigantic fearsome dinosaurs and this time is further intensified as the humans try to escape as the island literally explodes in stunning CGI sequences. Towards the middle of the movie, Claire and Owen along with a small team of dinosaur advocates realize that their objective in rescuing the dinosaurs is not for entirely altruistic aims as they were initially promised. Much of the action transitions to Lockwood’s large estate in Northern California where the protagonists must fight once again to save their lives and protect the dinosaurs. As a desperate attempt to bring back nostalgia for 1993’s Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s iconic character pops up in a superfluous Congressional hearing about the dinosaur’s fate. Overall, I did find it a fairly entertaining cinematic experience that brought back memories of the original that was released during my childhood; unfortunately, it did not add much to the first film’s originality and thereby the Jurassic Park series feels like it has run its course.

Incredibles 2

The long-awaited sequel of the wildly successful 2004 animated superhero movie The Incredibles, Incredibles 2 is yet another excellent Pixar Disney movie that comes close to the original with its unique retro style and family-friendly fun. Set shortly after the first movie, the story follows the Parr family in which each family member has a superpower but have not been able to publicly remain superheroes since they have recently been outlawed. In a publicity ploy to help legalize superheroes by the wealthy tech entrepreneur Winston Deavor, voiced by Emmy winner Bob Odenkirk, along with his brilliant sister Evelyn, voiced by Oscar nominee Catherine Keener, Helen who is the superhero Elastigirl, voiced by Oscar winner Holly Hunter, is recruited to serve as a positive image of a superhero saving lives. Her husband Bob who is the superhero Mr. Incredible, voiced by Emmy winner Craig T. Nelson, begrudgingly becomes a stay-at-home dad and is unable to use his superhuman strength in public because it is deemed too destructive. He is depicted as a stereotypical father who is in over-his-head while also dealing with three kids who happen to have superpowers. Violet, voiced by comedian and writer Sarah Vowell, is your typical teenage daughter with the exception that she can become invisible and project a protective force field. The middle son nicknamed Dash is a rebellious middle schooler who has superhuman speed. The most entertaining and funny moments occur with the baby Jack-Jack who we find out has some fairly unusual superpowers that are both cute and dangerous. Eventually, Elastigirl heroically fights off a new supervillain named Screenslaver who is hypnotizing citizens and ultimately other superheroes to commit crimes. Towards the end of the movie, we discover that the true villain is actually somebody completely unexpected. Overall, I found it to be a highly entertaining computer animated family movie that appeals to both kids and adults alike as a result of its exciting and sometimes funny action coupled with creative writing and look.