Review: ‘Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2,’ starring Scott Chambers, Tallulah Evans, Ryan Oliva, Teresa Banham, Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, Alec Newman and Simon Callow

March 29, 2024

by Carla Hay

Ryan Oliva in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” (Photo courtesy of Fathom Events)

“Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2”

Directed by Rhys Frake-Waterfield

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, the horror film “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” (which has warped versions of characters in A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” book) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Serial-killing mutant bear Winnie-the-Pooh and his murderous animal allies continue to hunt down Christopher Robin out of revenge for the broken childhood friendship between Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher. 

Culture Audience: “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” and other stupid horror movies.

Lewis Santer in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” (Photo courtesy of Fathom Events)

“Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” was one of the most atrocious movies of 2023. “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” has noticeable improvements. However, a larger budget, a new cast, and a more detailed screenplay do not turn this sequel into a well-made or coherent horror movie. The plot twists are idiotic, and the kills are still very misogynistic. For all of the effort put into giving backstories to the main characters, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” just devolves into a mindless slasher flick where women get the most sadistic murders.

Rhys Frake-Waterfield directed “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” and “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2,” featuring characters from A.A. Milne’s 1926 “Winnie the Pooh” book. Jagged Edge Productions, the company behind these tacky horror movies, has announced plans for a Twisted Childhood Universe movie franchise, including a “Poohniverse: Monsters Assemble” movie due out in 2025, as well as “Bambi: The Reckoning,” “Peter Pan’s Neveland Nightmare” and “Pinocchio Unstrung.” These characters are now in the public domain, which is why anyone can take these characters and make terrible movies about them. There’s nothing imaginative about having actors dress up as horror-movie versions of these children’s book characters and putting them in a movie where all they do is kill people.

Frake-Waterfield wrote “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” but handed over screenwriting duties for “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” to Matt Leslie. This sequel’s screenplay has development of the movie’s characters, but the second half of the movie gets lazy and just becomes a muddled mess. “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” also has entirely different cast members—most of whom give slightly better performances than the dreadful performances in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey.”

And it’s obvious the filmmakers of “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” had more production money to spend on this sequel. The number of people in the cast is much larger in this sequel. The movie’s production design and monster imaging are better than in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey.” The cheap monster masks have been replaced by makeup and other prosthetics that actually look professionally done.

But all of these improvements ultimately can’t erase the biggest problems in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” that stink up the movie: It’s still a poorly made film with a weak and incoherent story. In “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2,” mutant bear Winnie-the-Pooh (also known as Pooh) still wants to get revenge on his former childhood friend Christopher Robin, because Pooh thinks that Chistopher abandoned Winnie-the-Pooh when Christopher moved away. When they were children, Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher would spend time in Hundred Acre Wood, a remote wooded area in Ashdown, England.

In “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey,” Christopher (who is in his 20s) was barely in the movie when Pooh and his friend Piglet went on a murderous rampage, mostly against some young women who were staying at a guest house at Hundred Acre Wood. In “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2,” voiceover narration and an animated sequence explain in the beginning of the film that Christopher Robin (played by as an adult by Scott Chambers) has been suspected by many people in Ashdown of causing the massacre that happened in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey.” They think he had something do with the murders because he is the only known survivor. Some people don’t believe Christopher’s witness statements about who committed the murders, so he has become an outcast in Ashdown.

Viewers soon find out that Winnie-the-Pooh (played by Ryan Oliva) and Piglet (played by Eddie MacKenzie) have been joined by two other killers on this vendetta: Owl (played by Marcus Massey) and Tigger (played by Lewis Santer), who do the most talking out of all of four of these serial killers. Winnie-the-Pooh was mute in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey,” but he occasionally utters some forgettable menacing words in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2.”

Christopher is a pariah to many people in Ashdown, but he has complete and unwavering support from his girlfriend Lexy (played by Tallulah Evans) and his family members: father Alan Robin (played by Alec Newman), mother Daphne Robin (played by Nicola Wright) and sister Helen “Bunny” Robin (played by Thea Evans), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. Whenever a stereotypical horror movie has a protagonist who’s the target of a serial killer, and the protagonist has family member who’s a child, you can almost do a countdown in the movie to when the child is kidnapped by the killer.

Some other people who believe Christopher are residents of Ashdown who want to find the real killers. Some of these people have become vigilantes who go into the woods with guns because they think the local police are incompetent. These vigilantes will soon have another reason to go hunting for the murderers when the killers strike again.

Near the beginning of the movie, three young women named Mia (played by Kelly Rian Sanson), Jamie (played by Lila Lasso) and Alice (played by Tosin Thompson) are camping at Hundred-Acre-Wood and doing a seance in their camper vehicle. And you know what that means: Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet and Owl emerge from their lair and brutally murder all three of the women. Owl snarls at one of the victims: “Who’s the abomination now?”

Christopher has completed his medical training, so he has gotten a job as a medical doctor at a hospital. However, the recent murders have placed him under more of a cloud of suspicion. He gets fired because several people in the community don’t want him working at the hospital. It’s one of many reasons why Christopher decides to get revenge on Winnie-the-Pooh and Pooh’s cronies.

Meanwhile, there are some unimaginative scenes involving Lexy babysitting a bratty kid named Freddie (played by Flynn Gray), who has a fascination with movie serial killers. Freddie wears a hockey mask like Jason Voorhees in the “Friday the 13th” series and a sweater that’s identical to the sweater worn by Freddy Krueger in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. The scenes with Lexy and Freddie are essentially ripoffs of what’s in the first “Halloween” movie.

There’s a bit of meta-referencing when it’s mentioned that the massacre has been made into a movie. When the movie about the massacre is shown on TV while Lexy is babysitting Freddie, what’s shown on the TV screen is a scene from “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey.” Freddie asks Lexy while the movie plays on TV: “Isn’t that your boyfriend?” Lexy looks annoyed and disgusted and says no. It might be this sequel’s way of poking fun at its predecessor, but it will just remind viewers who saw “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” how abysmal it is.

And because “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” keeps regurgitating clichés, there’s a large section of the movie where a lot of young people are gathered in one place, which will make them easy targets for a massacre. Christopher has been invited to a Halloween party for young adults, with the party taking place at a warehouse. Guess who else is going to show up at the party?

Various characters go in and out of the story and are only in the movie for exactly the reason why certain characters are in slasher flicks. Mary Darling (played by Teresa Banham) is Christopher’s therapist, who puts him through hypnotherapy to recover his childhood memories. Christopher’s friend Finn (played by Flynn Matthews) is one of the people at the Halloween party. Cara (played by Nichaela Farrell) is the host of the Halloween party.

When Christopher isn’t moping around, he tries to find out why Winnie-the-Pooh became a monster. He does an Internet search and finds out about a scientist named Dr. Arthur Gallup (played by Toby Wynn-Davies, who is also the movie’s voiceover narrator), which then leads to a meeting with a creepy elderly man named Cavendish (played by Simon Callow), who provides a lot of answers about Winnie-the-Pooh’s monstrous origins. Cavendish’s story isn’t too surprising, especially when “regeneration abilities” are mentioned. In other words, don’t expect any villains’ deaths in the movie to be final. A mid-credits scene in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” confirms that these villains can’t really be killed.

In addition to having ridiculous action scenes (characters suddenly show up out of nowhere and are instantly able to find people in the dark woods), “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” has a very sloppily conceived “reveal” toward the end of the film. This “reveal” tries to be shocking, but it actually contradicts the original story presented about Christopher and Winnie-the-Pooh in “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey.” There are flashbacks to an underage Christopher (played by Mason Gold) and an underage Winnie-the-Pooh (played by Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) that raise questions that the movie either doesn’t answer or deliberately bungles by throwing in this “reveal.”

And the movie can’t answer the most basic question of all: Christopher isn’t that hard to find, so why does it take so long for the villains to go after him? There would be no “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” movies if that question was answered, because the vast majority of “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” movies are insipid filler scenes.

There is no clever irony or entertaining campiness to “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2,” which has villains that are shallow and uninteresting. Even if a horror movie skimps on background information for the main characters, the movie fails if the villains of the story are just hollow and boring characters. And in that respect, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2,” just like its predecessor, is a dismal failure as a horror movie.

Fathom Events released “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2” in U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement on March 26, March 27, and March 28, 2024.

Review: ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ starring Callum Turner, Joel Edgerton, Jack Mulhern, Hadley Robinson, James Wolk, Peter Guinness and Chris Diamantopoulos

December 15, 2023

by Carla Hay

Bruce Herbelin-Earle, Callum Turner and Jack Mulhern in “The Boys in the Boat” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Amazon MGM Studios)

“The Boys in the Boat”

Directed by George Clooney

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1936, in the United States and in Germany, the dramatic film “The Boys in the Boat” (based on the non-fiction book of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Against the odds, the University of Washington junior varsity rowing team becomes a winning team in the United States, and competes in the 1936 Olympics against the Nazi German team that is expected to win the gold medal. 

Culture Audience: “The Boys in the Boat” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker George Clooney and old-fashioned sports movies that are conventional to a fault.

Chris Diamantopoulos, James Wolk, Joel Edgerton and Dominic Tighe in “The Boys in the Boat” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Amazon MGM Studios)

“The Boys in the Boat” is the cinematic equivalent of stale and lukewarm comfort food for people who like formulaic underdog sports movies with no surprises. The acting performances are competent, but the screenplay and direction have too many dull clichés. Even if you didn’t know the true story on which this movie is based, it’s very easy to know how the movie is going to end within the first 15 minutes of watching the film.

Directed by George Clooney and written by Mark L. Smith, “The Boys in the Boat” is based on Daniel James Brown’s 2013 non-fiction book of the same name. The movie waters down, oversimplifies, and omits many interesting facts from this true story. The end results are a plodding and monotonous catalogue-type film, where most of the characters are either stereotypes or utterly forgettable.

“The Boys in the Boat” movie takes place in 1936, when the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. In the city of Seattle, a financially struggling, working-class student named Joe Rantz (played by Callum Turner) is on the verge of being removed from enrollment at the University of Washington because he hasn’t been able to pay his tuition. In the beginning of the movie, Joe is told by a university official that Joe has two weeks to pay the tuition that he owes, or else he can no longer be enrolled in the university.

As luck would have it in a movie like “The Boys in the Boat,” Joe finds out that he can make the money that he needs in a short period of time if he gets chosen for the university’s junior varsity rowing team: the Washington Huskies. Only eight students will be chosen from a group of about 100 students who have tried out for these coveted slots. The team’s head coach Al Ulbrickson (played by Joel Edgerton) is a typical no-nonsense sports leader who warns everyone that being on this rowing team is physical torture, and most of the people who want to be on the team don’t have what it takes to succeed in rowing.

It’s not spoiler information to say that Joe makes the team, because the movie’s trailer and other marketing materials already reveal who’s on the team. The other students who are chosen are Don Hume (played by Jack Mulhern), Shorty Hunt (played by Bruce Herbelin-Earle), Jim McMillin (played by Wil Coban), Chuck Day (played by Thomas Elms), Johnny White (played by Thomas Stephen Varey) and Gordy Adam (played by Joel Phillimore). Nathan Coy (played by Tom Claxton) is the team’s reserve member. Glenn Morry (played by Frankie Fox) is the team’s coxswain.

Joe’s love interest is Joyce Simdars (played by Hadley Robinson), who was his crush in the fourth grade, but she moved away with her family and hasn’t seen Joe in years. But lo and behold, there she is at the University of Washington as a student. And when Joyce and Joe see each other again, she immediately reminds a slightly embarrassed Joe about the love note that he gave to her when they were children. Joyce, who comes from an affluent family, says she mainly enrolled in the university to get away from her religious mother. The romance between Joe and Joyce goes exactly the way you think it’s going to go in this type of movie.

Joe’s family background is reduced to a soundbite, in a scene where he tells the team’s boat maker George Pocock (played by Peter Guinness) that he’s been on his own since he was 14 years old. The character of George is a sports movie stereotype of a wise elder who’s not the main coach but who gives mentor advice to troubled athletes. Joe’s mother died when Joe was about 4 years old. His father Harry Rantz left to find work when Joe was in high school, and he didn’t come back. Joe briefly mentions he has a stepmother who had two young sons in her care. “It worked out best for everybody,” Joe says of his fractured family.

Really? Because in real life, things were much more difficult for Joe than how it’s described in the movie. In real life, Joe had an older brother named Fred, who is completely erased from the story. And although it’s true that Joe’s father Harry left, what the movie doesn’t mention is that Harry took his wife and stepsons with him. According to “The Boys in the Boat” book, Joe’s stepmother disliked Joe and insisted to Harry that Joe had to be left behind to fend for himself.

This traumatic abandonment is barely explored in the movie, which failed to give a deeper understanding of Joe’s intense motivation to succeed on the rowing team, other than the need to get money for tuition. Instead, the movie turns this parental abandonment into a glib line that Joe says about things working out for the best. You can almost do a countdown to the scene when deadbeat dad Harry (played by Alec Newman) shows up again at a certain point in Joe’s life.

“The Boys in the Boat” makes the same mistake that mediocre and bad movies about sports teams tend to make: Instead of giving distinct and memorable personalities to several of the team members, only one or two team members get this type of showcase. But even in this area, “The Boys in the Boat” falls short with trite dialogue for the two team members who get the most screen time: Joe and Don. Joe is in the team’s seventh boat position to set the pace, while Don is in the eighth position as the stroke anchor.

Joe is a typical star of a team in a sports underdog movie: He’s talented but he had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get to where he is. Joe is a good guy who’s a little bit introverted. He’s very shy when it comes to dating, which is supposed to make him look endearing to the viewers of “The Boys in the Boat.”

In these types of generic sports movies, the protagonist can’t be completely confident or completely privileged, or else the protagonist won’t be “relatable.” But “The Boys in the Boat” filmmakers don’t want to make Joe have too many hardships, or else that won’t make him “relatable” either. Even when Joe experiences a “will he or won’t he stay on the team” moment, there’s no real gravitas, because this moment comes and goes so quickly in the movie.

Every star on the team has a rival on the same team, who could either become a close ally or a bitter enemy. In this case, Joe’s competition for being the team’s biggest standout is Don, who’s even more socially awkward than Joe when it comes to dating. At least Joe can initiate a conversation with a potential love interest. In a scene taking place at a school dance, Don is afraid to look at and talk to a woman who looks at him flirtatiously when she’s sitting about six feet away from him.

Don’s rowing teammates are at the same dance. They know that Don is a talented piano player. And so, when they see that Don is having a hard time connecting with any women at this dance, what do his teammates do? They get up on stage and tell a reluctant Don that he has to play piano for the crowd, with the ulterior motive being that this performance will impress any women who could be Don’s love interest.

Don starts off playing bashfully, but he quickly improves and wins over the people in the audience, who respond with loud cheering. It gives Don the confidence he needs when that woman who was looking at him earlier has an inevitable conversation with him at the dance. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

The coaches in the movie are also fairly predictable. Coach Ulbrickson is typically gruff and tough in training and during rowing matches, but he shows a compassionate side when necessary. His two assistant coaches—Coach Tom Bolles (played by James Wolk) and Coach Brown (played by Dominic Tighe)—are mostly inconsequential characters. Coach Bolles is the more upbeat counterpart to frequently scowling Coach Ulbrickson, while Coach Brown is written with an almost completely blank personality.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports journalist Royal Brougham (played by Chris Diamantopoulos) shows up occasionally to give the coaches information on how rival teams are doing. The movie becomes a checklist of stepping stones for the team, until the Huskies reach their ultimate challenge: competing in the 1936 Olympics against the frontrunner rowing team from Nazi-controlled Germany. There is no suspense, because there would be no “Boys in the Boat” movie if the villain team won.

Along the way, viewers of “The Boys in the Boat” are constantly pounded over the head with corny dialogue saying that because the University of Washington’s junior varsity team members come from working-class backgrounds, they “deserve” to win more than any affluent and privileged students from opposing teams. This heavy-handed messaging is especially hammered into the Pacific Coast Regatta scenes, where the Washington Huskies face off against the better-funded and more experienced Cal Bears from the University of California at Berkeley. It’s reverse snobbery that’s kind of obnoxious and hypocritical, considering that “The Boys in the Boat” director/producer Clooney comes from the same type of affluent and privileged family background that is frequently insulted in this hokey movie.

And therein lies what is ultimately the undoing of “The Boys in the Boat.” By trying too hard to look “relatable” by appealing to “working-class/common-person” sensibilities, everything is “dumbed down” and ends up looking too phony in the movie. “The Boys in the Boat” needed to give audience members more credit in being able to handle the grittier and more complex nuances of these real rowing team members, instead of forcing these athletes into looking like “too good to be true” heroes with cardboard personalities.

Amazon MGM Studios will release “The Boys in the Boat” in U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2023.

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