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FRIENDS REUNITED: Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) meets old pal Winnie The Pooh
But while both Paddington films managed to charm adults and children at the same time it isn’t clear who this gloomy spin on AA Milne’s “bear with very little brain” is aimed at. A slick opening sequence shows Christopher Robin growing from a charming little boy into a depressed Ewan McGregor who works as an “effi ciency manager” in a gloomy office in an even gloomier post-war London.
Mr Robin (since his name is Christopher Robin Milne, shouldn’t that be Mr Milne?) is supposed to be spending the weekend with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) in their Sussex holiday home, close to the Hundred Acre Wood where he spent his childhood. But his selfish boss Giles Winslow (Mark Gatiss) has ordered him to stay in London to draw up a list of people to fire from his upmarket luggage firm.
After a couple of tiresome arguments Evelyn and Madeline head off to Sussex leaving Christopher Robin in a pit of despair. Somehow this jolts Pooh bear lying on a park bench like a tiny tramp. At this point it seems that Pooh is a figment of his imagination and director Marc Forster is using Milne for some sort of parable about mental illness, like in The Beaver where Mel Gibson talked to a glove puppet beaver.
The now even-more-stressed efficiency manager takes Pooh to his flat where the bear tries to pull off some Paddington-style (voiced by Jim Cummings) out of his decades-long hibernation. He awakes to discover that a sinister fog has descended on his once-idyllic woodland home, his friends have disappeared and the evil heffalumps are on the prowl.
STUFFED TOY STORY: The Robin TOP GUN: Denzel Washington returns family and their animal friends
Frightened and alone Pooh trudges sadly through a door in a tree and is transported to a park opposite Christopher Robin’s London flat. “Is this stress?” asks Christopher when he sees the slapstick involving a jar of honey and some kitchen shelves.
This convinces Christopher Robin that his old pal is real. But instead of greeting him with a hearty bear hug, he decides to get shot of him. The film gets back on track during a madcap train journey to Sussex and a return visit to the Hundred Acre Wood where Christopher Robin is reunited with Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Tigger (Cummings), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and Roo (Sara Sheen).
The animation is impressive and Eeyore gets some very funny lines but Milne’s whimsical characters feel out of place in Forster’s adult world.
The mixture of accents makes it feel even odder. Cummings turns Tigger and Pooh into Americans, as he did in Disney’s Winnie The Pooh cartoons but they weren’t set in England and they weren’t surrounded by British voices.
And a breezy sequence where Madeline races back to London with Christopher Robin’s forgotten suitcase seems to be an attempt to jolly the story up a little. But it just makes it feel even stranger. It turns out the girl and her mother can talk to the toys too and they have been alive all along which makes their abandonment seem even crueller. I’ve seen Disney gun down Bambi’s mum and lock up Dumbo but the gloomy tone of this Winnie The Pooh movie still took me by surprise.
THE GUARDIANS (15, 135 mins)
This handsome but very slow-moving French drama focuses on the unsung heroes of the First World War: the women who kept the home fires burning while dealing with the flood of bad news from the trenches.
Set in the Limousin region of France it takes us inside the gates of a farm where widow Hortense and her daughter Solange (played by Nathalie Baye and her real-life daughter Laura Smet) are working themselves into the ground behind horse-drawn ploughs.
When the bank refuses to give them a loan for a tractor, they are joined by Francine (Iris Bry), a hard-working, orphaned young farm hand. After a very slow-burning set-up the film takes a melodramatic turn when Francine falls for Hortense’s son Georges (Cyril Descours) while he is on leave from the front line.
With tighter editing this story could be told within an hour but the unhurried pace gives cinematographer Caroline Champetier a chance to shine with long sequences capturing obsolete methods of ploughing, harvesting and sowing. Despite the slow storytelling, every frame is composed like a Monet painting and The Guardians demands to be seen on the biggest screen available.
THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES (12A, 112 mins)
What does film critic Mark Cousins love more: the art of cinema or the sound of his own voice? That question hangs over his documentary about film maker and actor Orson Welles. Director Cousins’ Belfast drawl dominates the soundtrack as he narrates a long and rather overwrought love letter to the Citizen Kane director.
“I swooned,” he says as he recalls a childhood viewing of Welles’ Touch Of Evil. “You threw a rope at me, Orson.” As Cousins flirts with the dead director and speculates about his artistic influences we watch him follow in his hero’s footsteps from his Wisconsin birthplace to Ireland, Paris, Morocco, New York, Chicago and Spain.
Cousins’ travel footage is nicely shot (he credits himself as “cinematographer”) but the most interesting sections relate to a box of Welles’ rarely seen sketches which his daughter Beatrice allows him to examine. Beatrice also invites Cousins into her Arizona home to share her memories of her father. You’d think these interviews would be gold dust for a student of Welles but Cousins barely lets her get a word in.
Inevitably the great director replies to the great critic in a fl orid letter from beyond the grave written by Cousins and voiced by Jack Klaff. An illuminating but at times painfully self-indulgent documentary.
FIELD DAY: Joe Thomas stars
THE FESTIVAL (15, 98 mins)
Writer-director Iain Morris wasn’t quite telling the truth when he said he’d made his last Inbetweeners movie.
This unofficial spin-off from the Channel 4 comedy series sends Joe Thomas’s hapless romantic Simon (now called Nick) to a muddy music festival to get over being dumped by girlfriend Caitlin (Hannah Tointon) at his university graduation.
Thomas forms a nice double-act with Hammed Animashaun as his laid-back best friend while Claudia O’Doherty raises some laughs as a garrulous festival-goer.
Thomas, now 34, is getting a little old for this sort of caper but his experience pays off in the film’s more raucous set-pieces such as his Magic Mike striptease in wellies. However, like the TV series, the film is not for the faint-hearted.
TOP GUN: Denzel Washington returns
THE EQUALIZER 2 (15, 121 mins)
In the first outing for Denzel Washington’s vigilante Robert McCall he was working in a US DIY store that looked a bit like B&Q. When we catch up with the super-tough retired special-ops veteran he is boosting his pension by working for an Uber-esque taxi service called Lyft.
If his face popped up on your phone you’d be extra careful with that fiddly location pin. But McCall isn’t doing this gig for the tips. Lyft gives him a chance to patrol his neighbourhood and get close to the lowlifes. Here returning director Antoine Fuqua cuts between several plots. When a CIA agent is murdered in Paris, McCall suspects a sinister conspiracy.
He also has some amusing interactions with punters in his cab and keeps an eye on a talented young artist (Ashton Sanders) who is getting sucked into a life of crime. The way these strands come together is a little predictable and the ending is not quite as memorable as the finale of the 2014 original where Denzel weaponised a bag of gravel while hunting down goons in the aisles of his hardware store.
The Oscar winner is possibly too good for this sort of nonsense but he impresses in the film’s more dramatic moments. He applies levels of shading to McCall that weren’t required in Edward Woodward’s 1980s TV series.