‘Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie’ Review 0 146

walking-with-dinosaurs-the-3d-movie-review

There’s something to be said for a movie that can provide both big-screen entertainment and education about a much-loved subject for its target audience. Unfortunately Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie aims for that but completely misses the mark. This is unlike its name sake Walking With Dinosaurs, the 1999 mini-series from the BBC. The graphic documentary was ahead of its time, and actually helped us understand a little more about prehistoric perils. The new version, on the other hand, takes us to the abstract and somewhat flat world of the make believe.

The plot starts off with an uncle, Zack (Karl Urban), who takes his eager niece Jade (Angourie Rice) and reluctant nephew Ricky (Charlie Rowe) on a paleontological excavation. Once they arrive, a bird called Alex (voiced by John Leguizamo) appears and starts talking to Ricky about the history of dinosaurs and why their story is so important.

We then travel back millions of years when we meet Patchi (voiced by Justin Long), the runt of a litter of his dinosaur herd. He struggles to keep up with his older, much stronger brother Cowler (Skyler Stone) as he travels with the herd during their migration for the winter, along the way meeting Juniper (Tiya Sircar), an amiable female dinosaur from another herd for whom he falls head over heels.

The film attempts to be both an adventurous tale of the dinosaurs’ journey across vast landscapes and a historical lesson about whatever dinosaur we come across but it succeeds at being neither. Its action isn’t exciting enough and its (paper thin) plot not compelling enough to be the former, while the information is not thorough enough to be a worthwhile example of the latter. Any kids who are not interested in dinosaurs won’t see the film anyway and any who are will already know most of the stuff the film presents. The film then finds itself walking an awkward middle ground, pleasing no one.

On the plus side it looks nice and the zoomed out shots of the dinosaurs migrating are beautiful and hint at the big-scale adventure it had the potential to be. But just when you settle into a visually sumptuous shot of scenery, up pops the unnecessary and relentless narration, annoying and inconsistent voice-acting (it’s never clear why we hear certain dinosaurs speaking and not others) and perfunctory explanations of each and every new dinosaur species we see.

It’s impossible for a dinosaur film that mixes live-action with CGI not to invite comparisons with Jurassic Park. Needless to say this pales in comparison to Steven Spielberg’s seminal blockbuster, both in how it utilizes its special effects and how it presents the spectacle. Watching the dinosaurs fight or trying to escape attack from predators feels weirdly lacking in peril, while the script’s over-reliance on juvenile humour and uncomfortable anthropomorphization perpetually cheapens it.

The people behind Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie don’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between talking at the same level as children, the intended audience, and talking down to them (read: kids are smarter than you think). While visually lovely in spite of the gimmicky 3D, this is a frankly silly, ineffective and weirdly misjudged mix of adventure and education.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 537

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 562

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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