Sundance Log: Day 1 (Maiden and After the Wedding)

The 2019 Sundance Film Festival is here, and I am very excited to see a wide variety of films. Each day I am going to try and log my thoughts, experiences and mini-reviews of the films I see on this blog. If I miss a day I will make it up with a double post.

For day 1 I saw 2 films, both at The Grand Theater at Salt Lake Community College. sundance day 1-2Despite having my SLC Locals pass I arrived about an hour early and it was a good thing because there was a long line just for us but luckily the Grand Theaters is large and so everyone got a seat that was interested in seeing the film. They also have nice snacks at the Grand which is plus.

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Maiden

My first movie is called Maiden and it is a wonderful and inspiring documentary that first screened at the Toronto Film Festival. It tells the story of Tracy Edwards and her quest to be lead the first ever all-female crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race. I love inspiring sports documentaries (see 2017’s STEP!) and this is no exception. Director Alex Holmes does a great job mixing current interviews with archival footage to draw you into each step of the journey. He even got the journalists who had said chauvinistic things about the girls to return and talk about those views, which was very funny.

Maiden is actually a more nuanced look at feminism than it might appear on surface. The women do face huge resistance and odds but they don’t see themselves as feminists and are not satisfied to just be in the race. I particularly liked a sequence where they arrive at one of the stops in their swimsuits so that people will not talk about their poor finish time. This mixture of femininity along with the brute strength required for the racing made the women sailors feel like real people not just feminist archetypes.

Keep an eye out for Maiden. It’s a real winner!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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After the Wedding

Next up is a remake of a 2006 Danish film After the Wedding. I was really excited for this movie especially with a cast including Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams. I haven’t seen the original, but unfortunately this remake was not for me. I found every character to be insufferable, irritating and selfish and all their problems to be first world and difficult to have any empathy for.

The performances are all fine but Michelle Williams character is an unlikable ‘do-gooder jerk) and Julianne Moore is an unlikable rich person jerk (things happen that are supposed to be sad but the way she manipulates people make it hard to care about her). Billy Crudup as Moore’s husband is handsome but bland. (I guess in the original Mads Mikkelsen has the Michelle Willams role). I didn’t even like their daughter who I thought was selfish and miserable.

I can’t give much else away without spoilers but none of the convoluted plot elements or big reveals did anything to draw out emotion for me (except perhaps immensely disliking the entire experience). Yuck!

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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A Dog’s Way Home Review

There are some movies you should be able to tell if you will enjoy it from the poster alone. A Dog’s Way Home is one of those movies. If the adorable image of the doggie inside a sneaker doesn’t make you go “awwwww” than this is probably not the movie for you; however, if it makes you get all warm and fuzzy than I think you’ll enjoy it.

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A Dog’s Way Home is based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron and follows the pattern of dog on a journey films such as Incredible Journey and Homeward Bound. (It’s much better than the recent A Dog’s Purpose, which kept killing off the dog 7 times!). Cute little Bella is born in an abandoned lot right across the street from a young man named Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) who is living with his mother Terri (Ashley Judd), a struggling Afghanistan veteran.

One day a very over-the-top mean property owner comes after Bella and her family of humans, and she ends up getting separated miles away from their home in Denver. Determined to ‘do home’ our intrepid dog spends 2.5 years traveling through Colorado meeting nice and not so nice people, and kind of raising a mountain lion along the way. Each step is as sweet and sentimental as you might guess, and I enjoyed it!

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There are problems with the film. The CGI is atrocious especially for the mountain lion. This would perhaps be more forgivable if his role wasn’t so large. He’s in the movie for a pretty long stretch and it looks so bad.

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Some may also find Bryce Dallas Howard’s precocious voice over for Bella to be a bit grating. Also there is a very weird subplot where Bella is used by a homeless veteran (Edward James Olmos) to help in his panhandling. He’s an unpleasant man who chains Bella down, which is upsetting but then it goes very dark with him. I’m not sure why this needed to be included? I guess it was supposed to show the bittersweet part of the adventure but instead it was awkward and uncomfortable. It’s the one part parents will have to have a discussion with their children about after seeing the film.

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Other than that, A Dog’s Way Home is a perfectly sweet and enjoyable family film. If you have a dog or your kids dream of having a dog they will love it (my niece wants a dog so badly. Poor girl!). The acting is all solid and the message is heartfelt. It’s a movie that reminds us to be grateful for man’s best friend.

Smile Worthy

7 out of 10

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Highs and Lows of Christmas Movies 2018

My thoughts on the Christmas movie season 2018

Smilingldsgirl's Weblog

The new year is here and I am taking down my Christmas décor. It has been quite the season with me covering every new Christmas movie in 2018 whether on television or feature film. All together I watched 85 new films over Christmas:

Here are some of my takeaways from the season:

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    1. Whimsy for the Win- whether on Hallmark, Lifetime or Netflix, movies with a little bit of magic and whimsy won me over. I really enjoyed Shoe Addict’s Christmas where Candace Cameron Bure learns the risks she could have taken in her life from the amazing Jean Smart and how she should take more leaps of faith in the future.
      Christmas Perfection on Lifetime was in deed perfection with its story of a girl who gets to live her perfect Irish Christmas over and over again including having her friends and family act just the way she wishes…

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Disney Magic and Why ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is So Special

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Years ago I read an article which said at Disney “magic is made by optimizing the mundane.” I can’t think of a more perfect description of what Walt Disney tried to do in his career. For example, if we look at Disneyland: at its core is Main Street USA but it is executed in such a charming and idyllic way that it feels magical. I can’t think of any other corporate experience where I would enjoy sitting and taking in the ambiance like I do at Disneyland. What’s fascinating is I didn’t realize how much I missed this experience in Disney films until I walked out of Mary Poppins Returns. To say I was swept away in an experience of pure joy would be an understatement. It was true Disney magic and I LOVED it!

This is not to say I haven’t loved many recent Disney films. I loved Moana, and Coco was my favorite film of last year, but there’s something different about Mary Poppins Returns. It truly does optimize the mundane by taking the trials and pressures of life and reminding the audience to ‘trip a little light fantastic’ and smile a little more through your struggles. It’s one of the most joyful and effervescent experiences I’ve had at the cinemas in a long time.

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Obviously trying to make a sequel to the masterpiece that is Mary Poppins is a tall order and already I’m seeing many who are claiming this film is either too close the original or too far away. I thought they nailed the perfect balance of homage and newness. Emily Blunt is phenomenal as Mary. She gets that mixture of rigidity and whimsy just right (taking the mundane nature of child care and making it magical). She can also sing, which with recent Disney offerings like Beauty and the Beast isn’t always the case (it takes away from the escapism if the singing is bad).

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a delight as Jack, a lamplighter that could be seen as similar to Bert but he only has one job and he has a little bit of a budding relationship with now grown Jane (Emily Mortimer who is delightful). He gets the best song of the movie with ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’, and brings his broadway skills to all the choreography and jubilant musical sequences.

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And speaking of music, the songs are such a delight. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for weeks and it never fails to make me smile. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman did such a great job paying homage to the original while writing new and catchy tunes for a new generation to love. ‘The Place Where the Lost Things Go’ is sweet and touching. ‘Turning Turtle’ is a fun little number featuring Meryl Streep in her small role. ‘Nowhere to Go But Up’ gives us Angela Lansbury and the whole cast floating away in a whimsical melody. ‘Underneath the Lovely London Sky’ immediately welcomes the audience to this magical, charming take on London. I love it!

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The 2D animation sequences are also a complete delight. I don’t know what else to say about them except that I had a huge smile on my face while watching Emily, Lin and the kids dancing amongst 2D animated animals and flowers. It simply made me happy.

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There is also a different message in Mary Poppins Returns than the original film. It has certain trappings that are the same like both involving a bank and a father but the take-away is quite different. In the original Mr Banks thinks he has everything figured out. He even sings about it in the ‘The Life I Lead’. Then Mary teaches him all that stuff he had neatly arranged means nothing and doesn’t last. Without a true bond with his children his life has no meaning. Mr Banks comes to this conclusion after hearing Bert’s advice in ‘A Man Has Dreams’ and as he goes to fly a kite with his kids happiness is promised the Banks family. (Again the ordinary task of kite flying made magical).

In this story, it’s a little different. Michael (Ben Whishaw who is wonderful in the role) has experienced great loss. Unlike his father he doesn’t think he has it all figured out. In fact, he knows he doesn’t. His wife has died and the house is going to be repossessed if they can’t find a bank share certificate from his father. He is reaching his rock bottom and I can relate to this more than the confident Mr Banks of the original film. He is a man in need of rescue, and he knows it. (Again, his father had no idea he was missing out on so much). This is when Mary Poppins comes along to help Jane and Michael (and the children too!) once again. As so often is the case in life, Michael’s friends and family come to help him through his trials and find happiness again. What a beautiful message.

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But it is not a morose film. Quite the contrary. I can rarely recall a more joyous and optimistic film than Mary Poppins Returns. Sometimes life can get me down and it is Disney magic that often gives me that lift I need to try a little harder and keep dreaming. That’s what this movie reminded me of. It spoke to me of the joy of dreaming and how art can uplift even the most mundane of days.

I have not been a big fan of most of the Disney live action remakes. They feel cold and clinical and usually have bad singing. However, with Mary Poppins Returns I was transported in a triumph of music, dance, optimism and animation. I loved the costumes (Sandy Powell with another triumph), perfect production design, old fashioned score and pretty much everything else being great. I guess it could have been edited a bit more judiciously but I was fine with the length because I was enjoying myself so much. I’ve a feeling hard core Disney fans will appreciate this movie more than most, as it definitely feels like a movie Walt would have loved. It’s straight from the heart and pure Disney magic!

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Current Mini Reviews

So I haven’t done one of these mini-review posts since August. Honestly I have been so busy with both of my podcasts I haven’t had much room to breathe lately! My Hallmarkies Podcast just keeps growing each week and I am so primed for the massive Countdown to Christmas season (starting in October!).

I have also done some really interesting things on my personal podcast Rachel’s Reviews including monthly Talking Disney podcasts and Obscure Animation with my friend Stanford, Animated News posts, previews and wrap ups with my friend David and various podcasts with another friend Conrado.

I am so proud of both and think you will enjoy them so please subscribe.

I have also done some reviews on the blog such as Life Itself and Juliet Naked so I won’t be repeating those thoughts here.

So here we go!

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The Meg-

Talk about false advertising! I’m someone who really enjoyed 47 Meters Down so I like a silly shark movie but this was just boring and bland with hardly any of the fun moments promised in the trailer. It made the fatal mistake of taking itself seriously which made the terrible dialogue stand out because I couldn’t laugh it off as silly fun. What a disappointment!

Frown Worthy

97 out of 106 Ranking

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Blackkklansman-

Very entertaining film with strong performances especially by Adam Driver who has to play the racist as a Jewish man. Some of the choices feel self-indulgent and are a bit distracting but overall a really interesting/thought provoking (and even funny) movie.

Smile Worthy

15 out of 106 Ranking

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Miseducation of Cameron Post-

A good movie about the sobering reality of gay conversion schools and camps. There are definitely a lot of chilling scenes but I felt the Chloe Grace Moretz character was a bit too stoic for a teen in her situation. I have a feeling the book for this is way better but it was still worth a watch

Smile Worthy

45 out of 106 Ranking

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before-

Lana Condor is super charming as the lead character Lara Jean in this perfectly pleasant teen romance. However, is it one of the best high school movies ever made as some have said? HECK NO! If we think about the truly great high school movies more than just the lead grows and changes. The boys in this movie are just there to do LJ’s bidding. Someone like Josh in Clueless had dreams, ideas, thoughts of his own. Not so much here. That said it’s perfectly harmless.

Smile Worthy

60 out of 106 Ranking

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The Night is Short Walk on Girl-

I did not like director Masaaki Yuasa’s film Lu Over the Wall from earlier this year. It made me nauseated watching it and the cute moments felt very derivative of Miyazaki’s Ponyo. Fortunately, I felt the opposite about this film. It is completely bonkers so it won’t be for everyone but I enjoyed it. It’s basically about a female college student who goes on a giant bender and the crazy things that happen to her. Along the way the animation is so bright, colorful and inventive and the story is random but very fun. It even evolves into a musical at one point and you know I love that.

Smile Worthy

20 out of 106 Ranking

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The Kissing Booth-

This movie is pretty terrible. The director seemed to have a strange fascination with the lead taking off her shirt and wearing super short skirts, and the camera lingered on her in ways that made me uncomfortable (she’s supposed to be underage for goodness sakes). Also, her ‘friend’ was the worst. He was completely selfish and even claims ownership of her at a point and the screenplay never calls him out on that.

Frown Worthy

103 out of 106 Ranking

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The Year of Spectacular Men-

This Deutch/Thompson family collaboration had moments, and I’d be very interested to see what they do next as I feel there is a lot of potential (obviously they all have chemistry). Unfortunately, the script was just too uneven for me to recommend. Most of the humor falls flat and it didn’t go anywhere interesting or charming.

Frown Worthy

81 out of 106 Ranking

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Summer of 84

Some people will describe this as a Stranger Things copycat and they would be right but I think it is a pretty well executed copycat. It definitely has nostalgic elements so if that isn’t your thing than you won’t like it but I enjoyed it. The boys all have chemistry and the mystery was fun. It definitely gets a little gory by the end but I thought it was a good little horror movie with some genuine scares.

Smile Worthy

52 out of 106 Ranking

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Alpha-

This movie is about a billion times better than it has any right to be. I joked that it is like The Revenant for teens but about a nice person. Kodi Smit-McPhee is practically a one man show and he is does a fantastic job. The cinematography and music are tremendous. I really enjoyed it and would watch it again if given the opportunity.

Smile Worthy

32 out of 106 Rankingdestination-wedding

Destination Wedding-

I had high hopes for this movie, but I think I got greedy after Crazy Rich Asians was so fantastic. What a terrible film. Winona and Keanu have surprisingly little chemistry but it’s not really their fault. The script is awful. It’s just them bickering the entire time with some of the worst sex scenes I’ve ever seen on film. What a miserable experience

Frown Worthy

104 out of 106 Ranking

God Bless the Broken Road/Unbroken: Path to Redemption

I reviewed both of these for Hallmarkies Podcast:

Unbroken- Smile Worthy 61 out of 106 Ranking

God Bless- Frown Worthy 71 out of 106 Ranking

The House with the Clock in its Walls-

I really enjoyed this haunted house movie and found it to be scary but in the right way that a lot of kids get a kick out of. Here is my review for youtube:

Smile Worthy

35 out of 106 Ranking

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Little Italy-

As a Hallmark movie fan you’d think I would love a movie like this but I did not! The leads are very charming but the script was vulgar and unpleasant from start to finish. These kind of movies work because they are light and fluffy entertainment. You don’t want unending sex jokes and cynicism in a movie like this! Because I wasn’t enjoying the romance, the stereotypes were tough to ignore especially a gay character that felt right out of 1995.

Frown Worthy

102 out of 106 Ranking

A STAR IS BORN

A Star is Born-

I will try to find time to write a legit review about this soon but for now this 4th attempt at telling this story is surprisingly decent. The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is fantastic and the singing is amazing! For once a modern musical has good singing and great songs! All the supporting work, particularly Sam Elliott, is tremendous and I was invested despite it being a story I’ve seen many times (not just in the previous iterations but in movies like Walk the Line). Still it is proof a formula story isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it is executed well and this is.

Smile Worthy

14 out of 106 Ranking

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This movie was really strange. Everything from the messaging, to the story, to the weird musical choices, to the bloated voice cast was odd. It was kind of interestingly odd but I don’t think I’d ever want to watch it again despite it having some nice animation.

Frown Worthy

65 out of 106 Ranking

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My Hero Academia: The Movie-

I have never seen the anime show but this was actually surprisingly great. They do a good job catching us newbies up with the premise at the beginning and then it is a good superhero movie about a team of teens that have to use their various ‘quirks’ or powers to fight an evil man who has kidnapped a scientist that has invented a power multiplier. It was funny with likable characters, dazzling animation and a good score. I really enjoyed it

Smile Worthy

34 out of 106 Ranking

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Venom-

Whoever said this is as bad as Catwoman probably hasn’t seen Catwoman in a long time. It definitely is a big mixed bag but not one of the worst superhero movies ever. The main problems is all the supplementary characters to Venom/Eddie are lame and it’s 30 minutes too long so a lot of it drags. However, there are fun parts with some inventive action and humor that worked for me. Tom Hardy is pretty good and I’d be open to seeing a sequel where they could iron out the bugs. I can’t really recommend it but it’s not awful.

(I did realize I was too hard on Upgrade which is exactly the same story but executed MUCH better)

Frown Worthy (Maybe rent it)

70 out of 106 Ranking

(Also I saw Searching at Sundance but haven’t had a chance to see it again. 30 out of 106 Ranking)

That’s it folks! Phew! Let me know if you have seen any of these and what you thought.

I also watched the Netflix animated series Hilda (yes I watched a television series!) and it was soooooo good! You all have to watch it:

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.