Little Women (2018) Review (Mild Spoilers)

One fact about me that might surprise you is I was actually a late reader. My strabismus in my eyes makes it hard for me to focus; thereby making reading difficult. I would say I was 7 or 8 when I really learned to read, which isn’t unheard of, but a little late (especially because my kindergarten teachers were ‘you must read at 5’ gestapo).

Once I caught on to reading I loved it and dove in and the first book I remember being proud of finishing was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was emotional and I could relate to each of the girls in special ways especially Jo. Her and Anne of Green Gables were the heroes of my childhood!

Over the years there have been many film versions of Little Women including a classic from 1933 with Kathryn Hepburn, wonderful version from 1994 starring Winona Ryder and a ridiculous 1949 take with a grown Elizabeth Taylor playing a blonde little girl Amy. Now we have a supposedly “modern telling” of the story from director and writer Clare Niederpruem and it, unfortunately, was very disappointing.

I honestly had high hopes for this adaptation because Niederpruem did a lovely little film in 2015 called Once I Was a Beehive. It handled themes and messaging much better than many faith-based films and was well made and acted. I was also hopeful I would love it because I did not care for the recent PBS version of Little Women. Evidently it’s just not my year for Little Women in film!

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Let me start off with some strengths. I like the idea of modernizing Little Women and telling the 4 sister’s stories with a modern sensibility (one of my favorite movies is Clueless which does that brilliantly with updating Jane Austen’s Emma). There are also some nice moments between the girls and overall the movie looked nice.

I also enjoyed Lea Thompson as Marmee (even though it is a little strange that the Lawrences and everyone calls her Marmee instead of Mrs March). She wasn’t in the movie that much (I’m guessing they only had her on site for a few days) but when she appears there is a warmth that is required for Marmee (who is basically the perfect Mother of fiction).

I also thought Allie Jennings did a good job with Beth and Ian Bohen was pretty dishy as our Professor Bhaer (just called Freddy here).

My problem mostly lies with the script. The choices they made to ‘modernize’ the characters were frustrating. Jo (Sarah Davenport) isn’t the free spirit I know and love. In here she’s a bully who is mean, entitled and insulting to everyone around her. This is the only version I’ve seen where I felt like Jo deserved to have her journal burned by Amy. All Amy had done is ask to go to a movie with them and Jo proceeds to insult Amy’s art and call her names. She does that repeatedly throughout the film, and I honestly wanted someone to slap her and get her off screen! To say she is insufferable is being kind.

And then the choices they made for Meg (Melanie Stone) were baffling. For some reason they have all the girls being homeschooled and it’s never really explained why? I’m a huge homeschool advocate so that normally wouldn’t be a problem but here they use it as a reason for why Meg is socially awkward. Instead of just wanting to fit in with the cool kids she dresses in a skanky dress, gets drunk and is nearly assaulted by a boy at a school dance. I guess this could be a way to update the Sally Moffatt party but it was executed in a clunky way that did not fit the movie at all.

The debates between Meg, over her domestic dreams, and Jo, over her feminist ideals, were also hard to get through. Feminism done right is about embracing all forms of womanhood and empowering girls to lead whatever life they want. We needed Marmee in these scenes explaining this to Jo and being warm and loving. Instead it was a strange shouting match.

Laurie played by Lucas Grabeel was also a miss. There was no chemistry between him and Jo and the relationship with Amy (Elise Jones and Taylor Murphy) was rushed. Also for various reasons, I thought they were going to make him gay, which would have been an interesting take on the character, but they didn’t so that felt strange. little women3

I also hated the non-linear structure of the movie. Similar to movies like Man of Steel it flashes back and forth to different times in the girls lives. This hurt momentum and didn’t allow the scenes to build off of each other. They also made the choice to go with 2 different Amys (which many do) but if you are going to do that, a flashback structure is awkward (also they use the younger Amy in scenes that don’t make sense if they are using 2).

In the end, I’m sad I didn’t like Little Women. I wanted to like it. I wanted to champion a sweet locally filmed movie and tell you all to hunt it down. Sadly I cannot. Jo was just too much of a jerk for me to recommend.

If any of you see it let me know what you think and what is your favorite version of Little Women?

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Blind Spot 33: Ikiru

Ikiru marks the 3rd film I have seen from acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa (I’ve previously seen Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai) and of the 3, it might be my favorite. In what feels like a Japanese version of Death of a Salesman, Ikiru paints a fascinating portrait of business life in Japan and how one man tries to stand out after learning of his imminent death.

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Ikiru is about a middle-aged man named Kanji Watanable. He has worked as a bureaucrat for 30 years and with a dead wife and selfish son/daughter-in-law he doesn’t have much to live for or be excited about. One day he finds out about a proposal to turn a cesspool into a community park and he thinks he might be able to make a difference.

Then he finds out he has stomach cancer and decides to make the building of the park his legacy. Unlike America, Japanese society often values group effort over individual accomplishment. This makes Watanabe’s subordination to get this park an extraordinary effort. His coworkers are shocked by his actions and after he dies they marvel at his boldness.

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Watanabe also receives inspiration from a young girl who he has drinks with. He asks her ‘how do you have such love of life?’ and she says she simply loves her job making toys because the toys make children happy; thereby, giving her life the value of making the children of Japan happy (you see more of a group rather than individual accomplishment).

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Like Death of a Salesman there is a melancholy to Ikiru because his accomplishment (especially to modern American eyes) is so small; however, I related to the emotions that Watanabe experiences. It reminds me of the great quote from You’ve Got Mail ‘I lead a small life. Valuable but small and I don’t know if I do it because I like or because I haven’t been brave?’ That is the question of Ikiru and to his credit Watanabe decides to be brave.

At the end of the movie his associates enthusiastically determine to follow his example and do bold things; however, upon returning to work they lose their conviction and life continues on as before. It’s sad how often the road more traveled, not less, is the choice of so many.

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The cinematography in Ikiru is stunning. The way Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai use the black and white to capture loneliness and melancholy is breathtaking. I loved the way rain and snow looks in contrast to the black sky. Beautiful.

I also thought all of the acting was strong especially from the lead Takashi Shimura. Again, he has a Willy Loman quality to him with his shoulders slumped over at all times except when he is swinging in his park.

As for downsides, the film does lose steam when Watanabe dies and becomes a little repetitive. Also I wasn’t crazy about the music, which seemed a bit too bubbly for the sober story. Other than that, it was a great film! I definitely recommend it!

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Life Itself Review

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As someone who watches 95 Hallmark movies a year I enjoy a sentimental tearjerker. I’m a notoriously easy cry and can put up with a lot of cheese if the cast is charismatic and can sell the emotion. So I was hoping I would enjoy the new film Life Itself more than most critics. Unfortunately, even for me, this attempt at showing multiple generations of love and tragedy didn’t work for me.

In the interest of full disclosure I must confess I fell asleep for a decent chunk of the beginning of this movie. That is partly due to the movie being sluggishly paced but also because I am sick and fighting a post- comicon cold. So take this review with a grain of salt as I may have missed some parts of the film.

What surprised me the most about Life Itself is how cynical it was. I recently enjoyed the multi-narrative film Dog Days which was a sweet movie about people and their dogs. Where that film worked in being warm-hearted, Life Itself left me feeling cold. Nearly every character either dies, gives up or settles for convenient love.

I think director Dan Fogelman was trying to talk about the unpredictability of life and how we all react to trauma differently but all the characters made the same choices so it just ends up feeling unpleasant. In a movie like Love Actually there are all kinds of reactions to love and so it works. Here it was basically the same which made it feel boring and unpleasant.

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I’ve never seen Fogelman’s hit show This is Us but the promos make it look optimistic and inspiring. Not the case here. This miscalculation is hammered home by the terrible narration throughout telling you how to feel; thereby exposing the plots poor job at bringing forth authentic emotion.

The main plus with Life Itself is the incredible cast. People like Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, and Olivia Cooke all try and elevate the material but it just falls so flat.

I saw nothing encouraging or insightful about life in Life Itself. Instead I recommend watching the Roger Ebert documentary with the same title. Now there is an inspiring movie about life!

As far as content there is a lot of profanity which adds nothing to the story and is completely unnecessary. Some characters get hit by cars and there is mild sensuality but it’s mostly R for language

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A Simple Favor Review

It’s always an interesting experience when I go out of my comfort zone when viewing films. I normally love my animation and romcoms and don’t get out to see the thrillers and scary movies very often. However, occasionally I take risks and it’s so much fun when they pay off. This week I had the chance to see the sexy caper A Simple Favor and to my surprise I really enjoyed it!

ASF_D17_PI_04344.ARW A Simple Favor is directed by Paul Feig and stars Anna Kendrick as a Mom/youtuber named Stephanie who becomes friends with a sexy femme fatale Mom played by Blake Lively. Lively’s character Emily drinks strong martinis and seems the epitome of cool and mysterious. And the fact she seems to like hanging out with Stephanie makes her feel cool and empowered.

Then one day Emily asks Stephanie to do (as the title suggests) a simple favor and then disappears. The  rest of the movie is a slick murder mystery where we put the pieces together as each new clue is revealed. It kind of reminded me of something like Clue which has mystery but also some dark comedic banter.

Henry Golding continues to be the sexiest man alive as Emily’s husband and Blake Lively is so great in her role. Anna Kendrick was terrific in the sweet bubbly parts but not as  convincing when she had to be more cutthroat and calculated.

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A Simple Favor is filmed with a ton of style and panache and while I’m not sure all the plot devices hold up to deep scrutiny it is an enjoyable whodunit to watch. It’s funny because with Hallmark I’ve been watching all these murder mystery films lately and this kind of felt like a sexy version of those films. I hate to use the word but it was just fun.

As far as flaws, I didn’t really understand why they kept using french music and like I said Anna Kendrick didn’t quite work for me in some of the more devious scenes. It also could be maybe 15 minutes shorter.

All that said, I really enjoyed A Simple Favor. It’s a sexy mystery thriller that will keep you guessing and smiling as each new reveal unfolds

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As far as content, A Simple Favor is rated R for language, sensuality and violence. I would say is a medium level R rating and fine for adults.