Current Mini Reviews

So the last few weeks of movie-going have certainly had their ups and big time downs! Make sure you are following me on my youtube channel because some films I review there and some here (just some content speaks more to writing an essay and others to a video LOL). Also make sure you are following me at smilingldsgirl on Stardust and Letterboxd to have these mini reviews sooner.

I did a full review for Sorry to Bother You so I won’t include that here but there are still 11 films I have seen since my last update. There were some highs and some definite lows!

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

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The first Mamma Mia is a bit of a guilty pleasure. It’s not a good movie but it’s effervescent vacation porn with some catchy songs sung terribly. In the sequel, we get catchy effervescent vacation porn but sung well so I’m on board! I really liked the entire cast and thought Lily James was great as a young Meryl. The movie didn’t judge her character but just presented her life and gave us happy energetic songs. That’s all I needed. A little more Meryl would have been nice but that’s the only problem I had with it. I have been listening to the soundtrack all summer!

Smile Worthy

Three Identical Strangers

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I’m not normally someone who decries spoilers (in fact, I find that super annoying) but in the case of Three Identical Strangers try to go in spoiler free. The twist blew me away! This is an incredibly engaging film. It starts out funny and light and then becomes something much darker. I was moved and amazed. If it wasn’t a documentary you wouldn’t believe it could be true.

Smile Worthy

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

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I have never seen an episode of Teen Titans Go but have heard nothing but how terrible the show is and how it is an affront to the original Teen Titans. I also was not impressed with the trailers, so you can imagine my surprise when I walked away having had a great time! I laughed harder at Teen Titans Go! To the Movies than I have at any other film this year except for Game Night. It was a hilarious satire on superhero movies and tropes.

I also enjoyed the 2D animation with its comic book aesthetic and the voice cast from the original show were great. Nicholas Cage also gets some good laughs at Superman. I just really enjoyed it!

Smile Worthy

Mission Impossible: Fallout

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While not as well written as some of the best of this franchise, Mission Impossible: Fallout is a great action film. The action set pieces are above reproach and they happen so much and so quickly that I never had time to think about the story or be bored while watching.

The cast is all great including Tom Cruise who is evidently willing to do anything to get a compelling action scene. I still think Ghost Protocol is the best of the franchise because of its story but this is darn good. I wish the women had been used a little bit better but that’s a small nitpick.

Smile Worthy

The Spy Who Dumped Me

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The Spy Who Dumped Me is a frustrating film of unmet potential. Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis have good chemistry and the action is shot well but its tonal shifts were jarring making the movie unpleasant and long. It had some silly moments but then mixed with brutal violence, nudity and other harsh content it was off-putting. The tone was just all over the place and it felt like McKinnon was the only one trying to make things work but even that got old after a while.

Frown Worthy

Breaking In

Film Title: Breaking In

I’m not the biggest horror/thriller fan but I do love Gabrielle Union so I thought I would give Breaking In a shot. Unfortunately it ended up being a pretty mediocre film. It’s not terrible and there are some entertaining moments but as a whole it didn’t work. I liked the kid actors and Gabrielle Union is great as usual but it’s all extremely by the numbers and generic. They also obviously decided to make this PG-13 at the last-minute so there are tons of ‘freakin’ where obviously the f word was intended which is distracting.

Frown Worthy

Christopher Robin

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It’s no secret I haven’t been a big fan of these Disney live action remakes, but I was actually excited for Christopher Robin. My hope was it would feel fresh and sweet like the great Pete’s Dragon remake. Unfortunately I was disappointed. The entire premise didn’t work for me with Christopher forgetting his promise to Pooh and becoming the tired evil man of business. This left the 100 Acre Woods as kind of gloomy and sad with the characters waiting for Christopher to return.

Christopher is supposed to be a terrible parent but in reality he is working to save his entire team their jobs. He’s the hero! They should have had his daughter Madeline find Pooh. That would have made way more sense since she is being sent to boarding school. Her interacting with the friends of the 100 Acre Woods might actually been magical. Here it is just a weak version of Hook and Paddington without either’s whimsy and charm (especially compared to Paddington). The only things I liked were the overall aesthetic, a scene at a train station where Pooh gets a balloon and a bonus credit song by Richard Sherman! Other than that this movie was an Eeyore!

Check out the podcast my friend Conrado and I did about the live action remakes and Christopher Robin

Frown Worthy

Crazy Rich Asians

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Everyone knows I love a good romance but the cinemas have been alarmingly short of them in recent years. (If you like romances check out my podcast on Hallmark films Hallmarkies Podcast). Before seeing Crazy Rich Asians I read the book by Kevin Kwan and for the most part the film does a good job adapting the novel. It stars Constance Wu and the super hot Henry Golding as a couple who are dating in America but things get rocky when he takes her to meet his ‘crazy rich’ family in Singapore.

For what it is trying to be Crazy Rich Asians is just about perfectly executed. It’s funny, romantic, sweet and big hearted. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The cast is great including Awkwafina who stole all her scenes. Michelle Yeow plays a convincing villain because her point of view makes sense. It might be a cold view but it comes from her life experience so it is reasonable. Overall it’s a movie that has it all!

Smile Worthy

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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I know the title is a mouthful but I loved the book so was very disappointed to hear this was not going to go to theaters but only to Netflix. Sometimes that can be a sign of a poor film but not in this case. I really loved it! Lily James is wonderful as Juliet an author who starts conversing with a man from Guernsey and learning the story about his secret book club. This society or club helped them get through some tough tiems during the German occupation.

The entire cast is wonderful including a very dreamy Michael Huisman and Penelope Wilton who is always great in everything. Matthew Goode has a wonderful supporting role as Juliet’s publisher friend Sidney. It’s beautifully filmed by Mike Newell and will make you want to go to the Channel Islands. They do a good job mixing the light and fluffy with sincere and moving moments. I loved it! I wish we could at least get a fathom event to see it on the big screen for one night only. Come on Netflix!

Smile Worthy

Dog Days

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I’m normally not a big fan of these ensemble films like I hated Mother’s Day and New Years Eve. However, Dog Days proved to be a pleasant surprise. While it will be too cheesy for some, I found it really sweet and heartfelt. Pretty much every storyline worked for me.

My favorites were an elderly man and teenager trying to find his dog and a family with a newly adopted little girl bonding over a dog. I also liked a romance between 2 news anchors that grows because of their mutual love of dogs. It was sweet, funny and I teeared up a few times. Dog Days is a charmer!

Smile Worthy

Duck Duck Goose

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And now for the movie that made me want to die. I had a feeling Duck Duck Goose would be a bad movie but as someone who loved Son of Bigfoot last year I always go into films with an open mind. Unfortunately Duck Duck Goose proved to be even worse than I could have imagined. It is right up there with Norm of the North for one of the worst animated films I have ever seen.

I hated the animation. I hated the characters. I hated the humor. I hated the weird attempts to appeal to a Chinese market. I hated the unearned sentimentality. I hated how mean spirited it was and just overall unpleasant I hated the villain cat. I am someone who liked The Nut Job 2 so I don’t just dismiss films like this but it was atrocious in every respect. Do not show it to your kids! There are plenty of other things to watch on Netflix.

Frown Worthy

Let me know what you think of these films if you have seen any of them in comments section. Thanks!

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Blind Spot 32: Young Girls of Rochefort

I’m really glad I decided to make Jacques Demy’s classic The Young Girls of Rochefort  my August Blind Spot pick because it seems like such an interesting forebearer to films such as the recent Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and certainly the Oscar winning La La Land. In fact, after seeing it, I almost feel like Damien Chazelle took the happy moments from Rochefort and the sad moments from Umbrellas of Cherbourg and birthed a movie. They are so similar it is weird- even the score sounds the same.

Anyway, it’s easy to see why filmmakers like Chazelle would be inspired by Jacques Demy as both Umbrellas and Rochefort are incredible films. Rochefort like Mamma Mia 2 is an effervescent bubbly celebration of love, and I kind of loved it! (Obviously Mamma Mia 2 isn’t near as good but it does have a similar tone)

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The story isn’t very important to Rochefort but it follows twin sisters Delphine and Solange (Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac who are real life sisters) as they meet 2 carnies Etienne and Bill (George Chakiris and Grover Dale) and have a romantic adventure for the weekend.

We also learn about their mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux) who had a love that she foolishly let go as a young woman because she didn’t want to have his last name. She meets her former love Simon (Michel Piccoli) and his American colleague Andy (Gene Kelly) and has her own romantic adventure.

And that’s about it. The movie isn’t about the story. It’s about the continual singing, great choreography and an overall feeling of joy. Just look at the opening ballet number and how much fun it is (and how much La La Land used for its opening number!)

I love that this movie took real care to make the singing and dancing great. It does not feel half-baked at all.  They dubbed all the singers so that the singing would be good. They have very impressive dancing throughout and all the costumes and colors are so dazzling.

Look at this effervescent delightful scene with Gene Kelly. The tap dancing at the end is perfection

I probably still like Umbrellas of Cherboug a little better because it is so moving but The Young Girls of Rochefort has definitely taken a place in my heart. I can watch Cherboug when I want something deep and watch Rochefort when I want to smile. Well done Jacques Demy!!

The Young Girls of Rochefort is definitely smile worthy!

smile worthy

My Problem with Sorry to Bother You (Spoilers)

Recently I heard great praise for an indie film called Sorry to Bother You and so I decided to check it out. It is directed by Boots Riley and stars Lakeith Stanfield in the lead role. I had been told this movie was very creative, and as I like creative things, I was hoping to love it. Unfortunately, I left feeling disappointed. What I got was creative but it wasn’t executed in an effective or appealing way. Let me explain…

sorry to bother you

Sorry to Bother You tells the story of a man named Cash who gets a job working for a telemarketing company called Regal View. While there, he finds out that by speaking in “white voice” he can make more sales and move his way up the company ladder. All of this was effective and quite biting satire (that unfortunately is lost by the madness of the last act of the movie). The more white Cash sounds the higher he can get at Regal View, until he is the top position of “power caller”

This gets the attention of a CEO of a company called WorryFree played by Armie Hammer. He invites Cash to his headquarters to court him to his “innovative” business. The only catch is there is a strike at Regal View, and Cash will have to break the strike as a “power caller”. His girlfriend, an experimental artist named Detroit, is shocked by his behavior, as our his co-workers.

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All of this seems fairly straight-forward and the set up is pretty engaging. The problem is once the movie gets going we have so many ideas that it becomes overwhelming. We have workplace satire, anti-capitalism, a media commentary, racial satire/commentary, experimental art, surrealism, drug abuse, partying, fantasy sequences, and characters being turned into horses (yes you read right).

It sometimes felt like Boots Riley was scared he could never make another movie again so he had to throw every cinematic thought he had into this one. I’m sure some will say the chaos is part of the message but the world being in chaos is a hardly revolutionary or interesting thought. It’s certainly a way less interesting message than the “white voice” satire message that the film started with. By the end of the movie, I had forgotten that in favor of horse people and experimental art with sheeps blood.

film socialisme

Creativity in film is not an inherent good. A great example of this is Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme (a much worse film than Sorry to Bother You). You could easily make the argument Godard’s film is creative but it presents this creativity in such a chaotic way that it becomes exhausting for the viewer making whatever he was trying to say a moot point.

Roger Ebert wrote about Film Socialisme:

“This film is an affront. It is incoherent, maddening, deliberately opaque and heedless of the ways in which people watch movies. All of that is part of the Godardian method, I am aware, but I feel a bargain of some sort must be struck. We enter the cinema with open minds and goodwill, expecting Godard to engage us in at least a vaguely penetrable way. But in “Film Socialisme,” he expects us to do all the heavy lifting.

And like I said Sorry to Bother You is not as bad as Film Socialisme, but I think the heart of what Ebert is saying applies here. You can have interesting ideas and creative storytelling methods but if it is presented in a maddening, chaotic way than we leave feeling frustrated more than inspired. At least that was my experience. 

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An allegorical movie about the company who turns black people into horse people could have been interesting, or a film about a strike by low level employees, or about workplace racism, or a film about experimental art, or corporate excess and partying, or modern media and consumerism, all could have worked but combined together it was exhausting.

So I did not like Sorry to Bother You. I hope the talent involves continues to do creative things, and I applaud them for their ambitions but let’s hope next time they will remember the old wisdom of Coco Chanel “before you walk out the door everyday take one thing off”. Same holds true for movies!

frown

Blind Spot 31: The Last Emperor

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This month for my blind spot pick I decided to take a look at a film that took home 9 Oscars including Best Picture and Director: 1987’s The Last Emperor. I didn’t know much about it going into the film except that it was a long and sumptuously mounted production. After viewing it, I agree it is long and sumptuously mounted but aside from those qualities, I wasn’t very impressed by it.

The Last Emperor was helmed by Italian director Bernardo Berlotucci and it feels European in its grand scope and leisurely pacing. It was the first Western film authorized by the PROC to be filmed in the Forbidden City in Beijing, so naturally all of the sets and locations are authentic and grand. It is completely understandable why it won Oscars for art direction, cinematography and especially costume design. The music by Ryuichi Sakamoto is also very strong.

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However, in many ways it felt like a foreigner telling a Chinese story. The Last Emperor is about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Evidently they based the screenplay off of Puyi’s autobiography, which is odd because so much of it rang flat and false.

To begin with, having all the characters speak English feels like an almost mocking choice. It takes you out of the scenes because this is supposed to be a serious movie and they are so obviously not speaking the right language. It’s one thing for an Indiana Jones movie to have accents but an epic masterpiece like The Last Emperor? Not so much. I guess you could make the argument it is in the traditions of old school epics like The Ten Commandments but those movies had stronger narratives to make up for the cultural awkwardness.

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Speaking of story, it boggles my mind that The Last Emperor won Best Adapted Screenplay because the narrative is very weak. We see many events happen to Puyi but I never felt sorry for him or invested in his character. For most of the movie he came across as a spoiled brat without much nuance or introspection. Towards the end he grows as a person as he is incarcerated by the communists, but I still felt distant and like I never truly understood him. We are told Puyi is the “loneliest boy on earth” but he just felt like the blandest.

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Some of the side characters are more interesting like his main wife Wanrong. She kind of has a lesbian relationship yet does seem to love Puyi and want him to succeed, which could have been interesting but it isn’t really explored in a satisfactory way. She’s a lonely character and I wish we got to know her better and have more time with her. Peter O’Toole is good as Puyi’s British tutor Reginald Johnston. He both kowtows and challenges the Chinese royal establishment, but even he could have been used more effectively and challenged more as a character.

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The frustrating thing is I can tell Puyi’s story is fascinating having gone from opulence to a puppet emperor to a prisoner and a common man all in one life. But the screenplay in The Last Emperor delivers that compelling story without any tension or emotional heft. It all landed like a thud and was really quite boring. I didn’t care about his character and the interesting parts were more like reading a textbook than watching a compelling narrative. It needed a Steven Spielberg type voice to come in with sweeping moments of drama and tension to sell the soapy dialogue and characters. That might have worked better.

I kind of wish they would remake The Last Emperor. I don’t think many are too attached to this version and there is a good story in there to tell. A modern filmmaker could have all the good qualities of this film but make it in Mandarin with a better, more compelling script and it could be an amazing film.

I can see why other people like The Last Emperor, and I do commend it for its production design, costumes, cinematography and music but it didn’t work for me as a movie. It was bland, culturally awkward and plodding. I’m glad I checked it off my blind spot list but it is definitely one I will never watch again.

frown

Current Mini Reviews

So I must admit I have been on a bit of a role lately! I not only have been making podcasts I love on both of my channels (Hallmarkies and Rachel’s Reviews) but I have been able to see a lot of movies (I’ve done several double-headers). Some I have reviewed on my channel (and some on this blog) but others I haven’t gotten around to covering. So that means it’s time for my Current Mini Reviews update! I will let give my brief thoughts, whether it is smile/frown worthy and where it lists in my 2018 Releases Ranking. Enjoy!

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Life of the Party

I seem to be one of the few who hasn’t grown tired of Melissa McCarthy’s shtick (I even enjoyed Ghostbusters!).  Now we have Life of the Party and it wasn’t the greatest comedy but it was serviceable. I laughed enough to enjoy myself and the supporting cast is strong including Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs and Molly Gordon who plays McCarthy’s daughter. Luke Benward is very hunky as McCarthy’s boy-fling.

Smile Worthy (barely)

51 out of 71

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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

This franchise has produced 3 entertaining if a bit unmemorable films and that includes Hotel Transylvania 3. It was an enjoyable sit with some nice animation and good laughs. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of Pixar but it had a sweet message to it.  I think this is an improvement over HT2 which didn’t use its ensemble cast very well.

Smile Worthy

19 out of 71

gotti

Gotti

With a 0% on rottentomatoes and moviepass making it basically free I couldn’t resist watching this trainwreck. And trainwreck it is. Pretty much everything is off in this biopic but the most absurd part is they try to paint the mafia as a persecuted minority that the cops are hounding unfairly. There’s even a title card at the end explaining the efforts the FBI went to take them down and the FBI is the villain!

Frown Worthy

69 out of 71

hearts beat loud

Hearts Beat Loud

I think this might have been oversold to me as ‘the next Sing Street‘. Hearts Beat Loud isn’t a bad movie but I left feeling underwhelmed. The performances are nice and a couple of the songs decent but I was never emotionally engaged with the main relationship between the father and the daughter. Both my friend and I agreed that it felt cursory when they could have dove deeper and asked more questions. The only emotion I felt was between the daughter and her girlfriend. Sing Street it is not. I honestly found it kind of boring…

Frown Worthy (barely)

52 out of 71

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Set It Up

Since everyone knows I love romcoms I was told by many to check out this Netflix entry in the genre. My response was it was ok. I liked the lead couple Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell and they had decent chemistry. Lucy Liu is also good as an ice queen boss that gets more character development than the trope typically allows. However, I found the movie to be a bit too cynical for my taste. I like my romances to be a little more light and fluffy.

Smile Worthy (barely)

50 out of 71

Maquia

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms

Very sweet fantasy anime that is about an immortal woman’s struggles to be a mother and watch her mortal child grow up and suffer. The animation was stunning, and I got very wrapped up in it. It has some pacing issues but over all I definitely recommend it. Director Mari Okada has made a fantasy film that is ambitious in its world building and lovely in its emotional depth. Fantasy fans, not just anime fans will really enjoy it.

Smile Worthy

12 out of 71

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Whitney

I love Whitney Houston and was so sad to see her life spiral out of control leading to her eventual death. So naturally I was interested in this documentary and it’s mostly satisfactory. Director Kevin Macdonald does a good job showing all sides to the singer and her impact on music and pop culture. However, there are a few things that felt a little exploitative to me and his attempts to tie Whitney’s life into broader world events felt a little heavy handed. Still worth checking out. Bring tissues.

Smile Worthy

39 out of 71

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Ant-Man and the Wasp-

I really enjoyed the first Ant-Man. I think more than most, so I was excited for this sequel and I left thinking it was just ok. The action is a lot of fun and the cast knocks it out of the park but it wasn’t as funny as the first one and several plot threads got a little boring for me. Still, it’s a decent superhero movie with some fun moments.

Smile Worthy

23 out of 71

skyscraper

Skyscraper-

This was more entertaining than I expected it to be. There are some entertaining action set pieces like a fight that happens in a room with mirrors. Also I liked that Nev Campbell’s character wasn’t a cliched warrior woman or damsel in distress but just a smart Mom. I’m not sure why they needed him to have an artificial leg except for one kind of gimmicky scene.
The villain characters were very snoozeworthy with lame motivation. Still, if looking for summer entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously you could do worse.

Smile Worthy

35 out of 71

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Fireworks-

With the marketing heavily leaning on the ‘producer of Your Name’ I wondered if this would be a disappointment. It didn’t seem to have much to sell of itself but just its similarities to a beloved film. Sadly my worries were correct. Fireworks does have some good things but for each good aspect there was a negative. Some of the animation was beautiful and then others used CG in really terrible ways. Some character moments were sweet and others felt really cheesy. Some parts of the story worked and other parts felt very muddled and confusing. There’s a sexuality in the character design and story that was strange.

Frown Worthy

61 out of 71

 

 

2018 Mid-Year Rachies

Hello friends!  So we have recently passed the half way point of the year in movie-going and I thought it would be fun to give you my picks for the best of 2018 so far. Around the Oscars I do something called The Rachies so you might just consider this a mid-year Rachies. Let me know what your favorites areBest Picture Live Action-

Paddington 2- As far as I’m concerned this film is perfectly executed. Funny, sweet, heart-warming and delightful.

Best Picture Animation

Incredibles 2– A delightful Pixar sequel that is both a well done superhero movie and a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Charlie Plummer for Lean on Pete– This is a film that has really stuck with me and Charlie Plummer is phenomenal as a homeless teenage orphan who is traveling America trying to save a special horse. There are scenes in this film that broke me and I haven’t been able to shake from my brain. Devastating but emotionally true and a lot of that goes to Charlie Plummer. He’s going to be a huge star.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Thomasin McKenzie for Leave No Trace– Teenagers are giving the best performances of the year (I could have also picked Elsie Fisher for Eighth Grade). I debated about picking Leave No Trace as my best of the year because it is a film I saw at Sundance and has stayed with me all these months later. I love everything about it and Thomasin is incredible in her role. It’s amazing to see her begin to lovingly question her father and make some very tough choices.

Best Supporting Actor-

Hugh Grant for Paddington 2- I was trying to think of another film I could showcase but there really was nobody else close as a supporting performance to Hugh Grant in Paddington 2. He is so funny and obviously willing to make fun of his own reputation as a bit of a foppish actor. In a near-perfect movie he was the stand out.

Best Supporting Actress-

Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place- this might be considered a lead by some but I’d say she is supporting to John Krasiniski’s lead. What she manages to do without making a sound is so impressive and when she is trying to birth that baby it is so tense my nails were digging into the arm rests. It was the most invested I’ve been in a horror performance in a long time.

Best Cinematography-

Joshua James Richards for The Rider- I didn’t emotionally connect with this film the way I hoped I would but I still greatly admired it and thought it was stunning to look at. Richards and director Chloe Zhao have made the American prairie look both gorgeous and achingly lonely at the same time.

Best Production Design-

Adam Stockhausen for Isle of Dogs- I thoroughly enjoyed Wes Anderson’s quirky stop motion film but I loved the production design. The attention to detail was outstanding and I can’t wait to get the art book and find out how everything from the wall of glass to the Japanese political rallies were staged.

Hidden Gem-

Sgt Stubby: An American Hero- This sweet little indie animated film about a dog in World War 1 I will continue to champion and try to get everyone I know to see it. It did so many things right that so many animated films fail to do. It doesn’t have the dog talk. It gets the tone just about perfectly down. It shows enough war to be meaningful without traumatizing children. It is not a ra ra America film nor is it shaming the troops in any way. It was so sweet and inspirational without being maudlin. I LOVED it!

Best Documentary-

Won’t You Be My Neighbor- In many ways the documentary about Fred Rogers doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It has talking heads who reminisce about the subjects life and his impact on the world like many have done before. However, in a world of Me Too where every famous man seems to disappoint finding out Fred Rogers was just about as great as you thought he was meant a lot. Watching this movie was a reminder to be a little kinder. To love a little bit more easily and to accept people for who they are. It was so well executed and just what I needed (I’ve seen it twice!)

Best Comedy-

Game Night- Maybe it is just coming from a competitive family that likes to play games but I thought this movie was hilarious. I loved all of the performances and thought the cast had great chemistry together. I loved Kyle Chandler playing this near-do-well but slick brother (I’m so used to him in dramas like Manchester By the Sea). I loved scenes like when Jason Bateman is trying to clean blood off a dog. It was so funny

(Game Night is rated R so it won’t be for everyone

Best Visual Effects-

Ready Player One- the best visual effects for my money go to the Steven Spielberg and the team behind Ready Player One. They made a lot of changes from the book (which I LOVE) but one thing they got right was the look and feel of the Oasis. It was so immersive and stunning. The kind of place I would like to go if I could with details filling up the screen. Each set piece contained surprises (and not just call outs but visually interesting and beautiful things). The segment at the Shining was incredible but the whole movie looked great

Some Other Quick Awards-

Most Overrated- Annihilation- looks pretty but is basically a creature scares movie pretending to be a pretentious treatise on life. It has no idea what it is trying to say as it lays one message down after another. Stupidity wrapped in smart clothing

(I also didn’t like Peter Rabbit, Upgrade, Set it Up, or The Party as much as most)

Most Underrated- I Feel Pretty- a throwback to Penny Marshall movies from the 90s that everyone took WAY too seriously. It had its heart in the right place, and I appreciated what it was trying to say. I laughed and thought it was overall very sweet.

(I also liked Adrift, Book Club, I Can Only Imagine, Solo, and The Commuter more than most)

Biggest End of Movie Letdown- Avengers: Infinity War. Most of this movie was pretty entertaining and well done but then they had the ending that tries to get me to believe that a major studio is actually killing off their brightest and newest talents. Give me a break. Most people were crying and it kind of ticked me off. I HATE when directors think I am stupid and I’m not stupid enough to believe that Marvel is killing off Black Panther. Ugh

(The last 30 minutes of Tully was also extremely disappointing and frustrating!).

Biggest Disappointment- Wrinkle in Time- I love the novel and Ava DuVernay had all the pieces to make something great but instead made something that was muddled, confusing and full of speechifying. All the spirituality of the novel is taken away in favor of sermons that looked like part of a yoga retreat video and Meg was told she was a warrior instead of figuring that out for herself and saving Charles Wallace from IT because she knew how important he was to God. What a waste!

(I was also disappointed in Early Man and Ocean’s 8 was just Ok when I was hoping it would be great)

Worst Movies So Far-

Lu Over the Wall- Made me physically nauseated. Spastic and all over the place. The parts that do work are a copycat of Ponyo.

White Fang- Exploitative animal violence in a film aimed at children was jarring and went on for way too long. Also the animation and voice acting was hit and miss.

Gotti- Terribly made in every way but also wants you to believe the mafia are the true victims of authorities who won’t stop hounding them!

Pacific Rim: Uprising- I hated every inch of this nauseating blockbuster full of stupid and irritating characters that would not shut up

Ophelia- the most ridiculous attempt to turn Hamlet into a feminist mantra you could imagine. I was dying trying to hold my laughter in.

For more of my thoughts on some indie films check out the podcast I did with my friend Orla Smith

Pixar 42: Incredibles 2

For years whenever a superhero movie sequel came out I wondered to myself ‘will they ever make The Incredibles 2?” The 2004 film is not only one of my favorite animated films but is my favorite superhero movie along with Wonder Woman. It so brilliantly weaves together traditional superhero themes with a message of the mundane nature of modern work and the toxicity of pretending to be something you are not. Now in this sequel Brad Bird and his team have managed to combine classic superhero fun with a reminder that when “done properly, parenting is a heroic act.”

Incredibles 2 starts off where the first movie leaves us. Unfortunately, the people have not immediately welcomed back Supers like you might expect. They see carnage and suffering left by Syndrome and look for someone to blame in the Supers. This leaves the Parr family in a tricky dynamic of having a newfound confidence in their powers but living out of a hotel without a way to support each other.

One day a businessman named Winston Deavor approaches them with a seemingly perfect solution. He wants to use Elastigirl as a spokesperson for a movement to bring the supers back out of hiding. This requires Helen to go away from the family but it provides housing, employment and a way to help their family and others be their super selves.

Helen Parr: [to Bob] You know it’s crazy, right? To help my family, I gotta leave it to fix the law, I gotta break it.

Bob Parr: You’ve got to, so our kids can have that choice. (They are both being the best parents to their kids. One has to leave to find work and the other has to deal with the day to day problems).

This is where we get to the real cream of Incredibles 2. Bob must figure out how to solo parent for not only his 3 children but 3 special children including baby Jack Jack who has over 17 powers he can’t control. The scenes with Bob and his kids brilliantly show the exhaustion of parenting especially with an infant. It oddly made me think of the movie Tully and how exhausted Charlize Theron’s character is when carrying for her new baby.

What separates Bob, however, from a lot of movie Dads is he both struggles and succeeds. For example, Dash has the new math (which is totally a thing), and Bob is overwhelmed but eventually they figure it out. Violet is angry with her Dad and he messes up but then they have a really sweet moment where she tells him he’s doing a super job and let’s him sleep for 17 hours. This made Bob’s story feel human and relatable instead of just mindless slapstick.

The highlight of the film is when Bob takes Jack Jack to meet Edna Mode and she turns out to be a better parent than we might expect. After all it takes a village to raise a child and that is certainly true with Jack Jack!

I also appreciated how Incredibles 2 allowed the kids to be empowered without turning them into mini-adults like other franchises do. Violet and Dash use their powers to help save their parents but only when they have to. They still need their parents for love, guidance and protection. It was very well done.

Some of the elements in Incredibles 2 are pedestrian like the predictable villain but it is surrounded by such engaging fast-paced action, quippy dialogue and striking animation that I didn’t care. Not every part of every movie needs to reinvent the wheel for things to work. Plus, the standard superhero segments still gives us a ton of new characters with fun super powers like Voyd and Brick. Frozone (Lucius) also gets much more screen time and dialogue, which was a delight.

There are other messages hidden inside of Incredibles 2 like our dependence on technology and the way we are pitched glossy showcases of progress without real change being made but my main takeaway was a reminder at how difficult parenting is. How it takes the best out of even superheroes but in the end it is worth it. Loving families and children growing up to be the best version of themselves is worth it. I’m not even a parent but I think that is a fantastic message and something we need to see more in film. So many parents are either shown to be demanding jerks or idiots that this is not as common in film as you might think.  Most parents are trying as hard as they can and if they get frustrated by new math or a baby that won’t sleep let’s all try and help them out as much as we can. They are the true superheroes!

Overall Grade- A-

Uncle Drew Review

Over the years, there have been many humorous sports movies. I’ve laughed at everything from Dodgeball to Caddyshack to Major League. I even love Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. Whether it is focusing on the players or the fans, there is something about the intensity of sports that can provide great fodder for laughs. Unfortunately for Uncle Drew, the writing fails to live up to this tradition of funny sports movies and it failed to make me laugh more than a passing chuckle. The film is based on a series of Pepsi ads and that’s where it should have stayed.

Uncle Drew stars Lil Rel Howery as Dax, a man who grew up in an orphanage with nothing to inspire him but the NBA. Unfortunately, as a teen, he has an embarrassing defeat on the basketball court at the hands of rival Mookie, played by Nick Kroll. As revenge, Dax becomes a coach and decides to enter a team in the streetball  tournament called The Rucker Classic.

After a long introduction, Dax ends up without a team and he begrudgingly recruits a local legend, Uncle Drew, to join his roster. Drew, played by Kyrie Irving (just like in the Pepsi ads), then gathers his senior citizen friends including Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie to join the team. The first hour of the film is Dax being introduced to the characters who have a variety of old people problems – one is blind, one is in a wheelchair, one has a grudge against Drew, etc. None of this was interesting and it certainly wasn’t funny. There is even an especially egregious scene where Preacher (Chris Webber) is baptizing an infant and it is swapped out for a doll and then close-ups of the baby in the most awkward ways. I was cringing during the entire scene.

Eventually we get to the big game and it plays out fairly predictably. As I was leaving the theater, a woman was saying, “it was a love letter to basketball,” so clearly the sentiment paid off for her but, as only a marginal basketball fan, I wasn’t moved by the story.

However, the biggest strength to Uncle Drew is the makeup. They do a very good job making Kyrie Irving and company look old. It doesn’t look like prosthetics and feels convincing.

Other than that. Uncle Drew is not for me. The biggest problem is none of the jokes landed. I laughed one time at a joke about the Chris Webber character. That’s it. I realize humor is subjective but my theater had nothing but a few courtesy chuckles. So I wasn’t the only one not laughing.

Also a few characters meant to be funny came across as very irritating. I realize, for example, Nick Kroll is meant to be an antagonist but he was extremely grating as Dax’s rival. More annoying was that ‘humor,’ often in supposed comedies, when characters complaining about each other is supposed to be funny. All that does is make your characters shrill and unlikable. You see this a lot with the nagging female trope; it’s not funny and usually comes across as more than a little sexist. Tiffany Haddish is billed as a lead character but she’s really not in the film much and was an overbearing harpy the entire time. It certainly didn’t make me laugh. 

In fairness, the basketball stars all do a serviceable job with what is given to them. There is a particularly nice moment of reconciliation between Kyrie Irving and Shaquille O’Neal that is well done and sweet.

Despite some positives, Uncle Drew just wasn’t funny. It was always an uphill climb to transform a 30 second Super Bowl ad into a feature film but with a good script this could have worked. Sadly, it was a bit of a chore to sit through and one of the worst studio films I’ve seen this year. As they say, “funny solves all” and this was depressingly lacking in funny.

How to Save Jurassic Park

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One of the most impactful moments of my movie-going life occurred when I was 12 years old and saw a little movie called Jurassic Park. I loved it so much I saw it again, and again until I had seen it 7 times in the theater. My young brain was completely caught up in the magic of the great storytelling. I had never seen images like the dinosaurs on the screen. I had never felt such fear, awe, majesty and excitement. It was exhilarating! Even now years later, Jurassic Park still holds up as quite possibly the greatest blockbuster entertainment ever made.

Having loved the first one so much you can imagine my excitement when they announced a sequel and Steven Spielberg would be directing again! This was thrilling! And then I went to the theater and had my first real disappointment. It was cluttered, boring and thoroughly lame.

The rest of the sequels have continued the trend of the Lost World and been very disappointing. The most recent example is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I liked it a little bit better than Jurassic World because the director J.A. Bayona is talented enough to put together some engaging set pieces. However, some plot choices were idiotic and much of the movie the dinosaurs are in cages because that makes sense…

So it begs the question- what would I do to make a better Jurassic movie or is it just a hopeless endeavor? Do you have to get so convoluted trying to get people back to the dinosaurs that it just doesn’t work any more? Well, like I have saved Superman, Alice in Wonderland and Tim Burton I have a proposal to what I think would fix Jurassic Park (BTW the hints at Jurassic World 3 left in Fallen Kingdom sound completely awful so this is strictly a fantasy pitch).

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The group could be kind of similar to the diverse collection of people on the show Lost

My main premise is to take the idea of the Jurassic Park 3 but actually execute it well. You start out with a cruise ship that is shipwrecked onto the Isla Nublar. They have no way of reaching anyone and nothing to do but to try and survive until another ship comes.

Do not have any of the original characters but create new characters that have compelling backstories about why they came on the cruise. You could have a mixture of workers, elites, young singles looking for love etc. You can cast charismatic actors that are fun together and of course you need to have some people who are jerks that can be eaten by the dinosaurs LOL.

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Naturally you are going to want to have lots of dinosaur action and antics but don’t forget to have moments of awe and wonder as well. One big mistake in Jurassic World was killing off all the herbivores so there was no moments to stop and breathe. In Jurassic Park we get a lovely little break where Lexi, Tim and Dr Grant get to pet a brachiosaurus. As an audience we need this moment both as a breather for the characters but to make the dangerous dinosaur moments more chilling and real.

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I would also make it a priority in my movie to create real characters that have meaningful conversations. Sure the dinosaurs are great in Jurassic Park but so are the characters. One of the best moments in the film is when Dr Sattler and John Hammond are eating ice cream and Ellie calls Hammond out on his BS. He is waxing on about his dreams (letting us get to know him) and she basically dope slaps him and says “all that matters is the people that we love”. We learn so much about these characters in one quick scene of dialogue and so we care about them when they face all the action and tension.

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The thing I like about this shipwreck idea is that it wouldn’t require some convoluted reason for them going back to the island and it wouldn’t necessitate some ridiculous excuse for mutant or militarized dinosaurs. It’s just people on an island with dinosaurs trying to survive. That’s enough. That’s all you need. These other sequels have just gotten too stupid for my liking and I can’t deal with it. Jurassic Park was smart! It can be done.

Of course some of the characters would fall to the dinosaurs but eventually a ship would come or they would find some way to signal from the old Park headquarters and be rescued. And as they are being rescued the T-rex would be coming towards them but they zoom away just in time. This would be exciting and a thrilling moment for all involved. Don’t worry about setting things up for a sequel or starting a cinematic universe. Just make a fun monster movie with a good script and it will make tons of money. I know I would LOVE it!

So there you have it. That’s my idea for a Jurassic Park movie. I think almost anyone will agree my idea is at least better than whatever ridiculous nonsense they have planned for Jurassic World 3.

Sigh…What could have been.

How would you save Jurassic Park? And what do you think of my idea? Let me know in the comments section