Movie Review ~ Sometimes Always Never


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A stylish tailor who has spent years searching tirelessly for his missing son must repair the relationship with his youngest son while solving a mystery of an online Scrabble player so he can finally move on and reunite his family.

Stars: Bill Nighy, Sam Riley, Alice Lowe, Jenny Agutter, Tim McInnerny

Director: Carl Hunter

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 91 Minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: As much as the next person, I’ve been spending the last few months staring out my living room window waiting for the chance to escape.  This has lead to a number of daydreaming flights of fancy that are often eventually nicely satisfied by a healthy dose of television and theatrical options that lets me do my travelling virtually while I wait for another new adventure.  What’s really caught my attention are the quirky and idiosyncratic, think the boundless creativity of Wes Anderson or the bold off-the-wall offerings of Tina Fey.  This is programming that helps you step out of your daily grind and takes you someplace else while still engaging you with storytelling.

It’s hard to know where to put Sometimes Always Never because it doesn’t quite fit anywhere specific.  Part family drama and part droll comedy, it never fully commits to anything for too long and that winds up leaving the viewer unable to acquaint themselves with the characters.  Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce has supplied the screenplay for movies in multiple genres and that journeyman pen could be seen as a hindrance in nailing down any kind of tone director Carl Hunter was going for.  It’s either that or Hunter was too preoccupied with the overly cinematic production design to realize the plot was coming up short.

The plot?  It’s a doozy and I’m still not quite sure I totally understood what was going on.  From what I could gather, Bill Nighy (Pokémon Detective Pikachu) plays widower Alan that has been looking for his missing adult son ever since he walked out in the middle of a heated game of Scrabble. (And I thought my Hungry Hungry Hippos meltdown of 1987 was bad.)  His other son Peter (Sam Riley, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) watches over his dad, partly to make sure he is safe and partly because he’s known to be a bit of a hustler – something we see early on when he cons a grieving couple (Jenny Agutter, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, & Tim McInnerny) out of some cash.

The bulk of the film takes place when Alan comes to stay with Peter and his wife Sue (Alice Lowe) as he’s tracking down another lead on his vanished son.  He thinks he has a lead in an online Scrabble player and as much as Peter discourages Alan from getting his hopes up, it’s a small lifeline after a long stretch of doubt.  There’s a half-hearted attempt to introduce a parallel set of lessons to be learned between Peter and his own son but Boyce’s script and the 91-minute run time don’t allow for much expansion of those ideas.  What’s there is Nighy trying to hold the movie up on his spindly shoulders and doing the best he can with little support from Riley but nice performances from Lowe and Agutter.

The frustrating thing about a film like Sometimes Always Never is that you can see it struggle to be its own thing and sacrifice valuable assets along the way.  While it’s plot lacks the meat that would make this a filling meal, it does have its moments of looking like a nice feast.  Hunter has a nice eye for the visual at times, but then he follows it up with sequences shot on cheap looking sets or traveling shots deliberately made to look homemade.  As much as he wants his film to feel like Wes Anderson, its distinct imbalance keeps it from finding a captivating foothold.

Movie Review ~ Goodbye Christopher Robin

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.

Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Stephen Campbell Moore, Alex Lawther, Richard McCabe, Nico Mirallegro, Geraldine Somerville, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Director: Simon Curtis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Lord, do I love Winnie the Pooh. A longtime fan of that honey-loving bear, I admit that I first came to the Hundred-Acre wood via the now-frightening live-action television series that first aired on the Disney Channel. Remember that one? The one with the puppets that rarely blinked and sometimes talked without moving their mouths? I watched a few minutes of an episode recently and was aghast at how scary it was to me as an adult, obviously I was much less critical (and less easily terrified) when I was six or seven. Anyway, I digress. What I mean to say is that it was only as I became an adult that I went back to the works of A.A. Milne and read the source material that served as a jumping off point for Disney animators and Imagineers.

So that’s all a preface to say that I had high hopes for Goodbye Christopher Robin, a look into the life of the famous author and his family and how he created the world of a hungry bear and his forest dwelling friends. While the early previews promised a heart-tugging drama (don’t worry, hearts are tugged are tears are shed) it didn’t hint that the film winds up to be pretty boring in its heavy first half before finally finding its footing nearly an hour into its runtime.

Coming back from the first World War, playwright Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleeson, About Time) struggles to adjust back to civilian life. His socialite wife Daphne (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad) not so much longs for a child but thinks that it will do her marriage good. The arrival of Christopher Robin Milne (first played by Will Tilston, then by Alex Lawther) is a rough one, mostly because it’s hinted that Daphne wasn’t aware exactly where babies come from…literally. Quickly hiring a nanny nicknamed Nou (Kelly MacDonald, Brave), the parents resume their showbiz lifestyle, often leaving their son for weeks on end as they travel.

It’s only when Milne grows tired of “making people life” and after he moves his family to a beautiful estate in the English countryside that the father is forced to get to know his son. With his wife flying the coop back to London after becoming exasperated at his sluggish ways and Nou off to care for her ailing mother, Milne starts to explore the woods and that’s when the stories are born. First as a play-game and then put to paper and illustrated, the tales of Christopher Robin and his woodland friends become a sensation, blurring the lines between the real boy and the boy featured in his father’s books. This creates a growing resentment from Christopher Robin that permeates his entire childhood, a childhood that may have been stolen away by a limelight he didn’t ask for.

Director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold) along with screenwriters Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan front load the movie with too much Milne moping. A.A. and Daphne are painted as such neglectful ninnies that your heart goes out to their son that can’t find a way into their social circle. Raised to be caring and compassionate by his adored nanny, his life is ultimately sheltered which makes the instant celebrity he achieves so difficult to deal with. Excellently played by young Tilston, the movie takes off when he’s center stage and the same goes for anytime MacDonald is onscreen (why people aren’t mentioning her for an Oscar nom is beyond me) as the sole voice of reason.

I’m not sure if it’s because Robbie is so painfully miscast that her character comes off so horribly but it’s got to factor into the equation. Robbie is a bit of a puzzle actress, she’s never great but seems to be given the benefit of the doubt in Hollywood more often than she should. She’s certainly terrible here, botching her accent and aging too gracefully as the years pass by. When Gleeson ditches his eternal scowl he becomes a tolerable presence but both A.A. and Daphne were so clueless to the pain they were causing their son that it’s a hard thing for an actor to overcome without some blowback.

Goodbye Christopher Robin’s middle section that explains how these fondly remembered characters were created is the best part while it’s poor opening and rushed closing provide an imbalance that the movie can’t recover from. Truth be told it has some emotional heft as it nears the conclusion, but it doesn’t feel totally earned and the tears are delivered via a fairly manipulative plot device that might put some audience members off. I for one was a little miffed at the game that was being played, I just wanted to know more about why the characters were playing it to begin with.