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!

smile worthy

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Parent Trap (1961)

This week for Hit Me With Your Best Shot Nathaniel over at the Film Experience has selected a film right up my alley- The Parent Trap (1961).  This is the original version of the movie. Not the superb remake starring Lindsay Lohan in 1998 (that’s how you do a remake right!).  I’m excited to talk about this film because I really do adore it.  It is one of my favorite live action Disney films.

The premise is simple enough. 2 girls meet at camp and surprise! They happen to look just like each other. It turns out they are twins separated at birth. Now they start up a scheme to switch places and bring their parents back together again. It’s not the most original story in the world but it is what they do with it that works so well. And most of the credit goes to the charismatic and wonderful cast. Hayley Mills is amazing as the twins. She gives them each individual personalities and manners of talking. Even when they have the same haircut and clothing I still know clearly who is Susan and who is Sharon.

I also love Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith as the parents. They have terrific chemistry together and you buy these two people have always been in love with each other but have let their passionate natures keep them apart. I even love it when she ends up slugging him in the eye in one spirited argument. It feels believable for their characters that it might happen. Under all that fiestiness is of course passion and love for each other. It is classic!

The movie is also really funny. I love Maureen O’hara when she flirts it up with the local Reverend (Leo Carroll) come to go over wedding plans for Mitch and his fiance Vicky (Joanna Barnes). She is hilarious as she drives her ex crazy in front of the Reverend in a bath robe!

Vicky is a very stock gold digging horrible girlfriend you often see in romantic comedies. They can’t have her be too great or we won’t want him to get together with Maggie very much. However, here the trope works because they get a lot of humor out of it. I love when the girls submarine her on the camping trip because I could be equally spooked in the great outdoors. I hate camping and if bear cubs were licking my feet I would have words just like Vicky!

The beginning scenes at camp are also hilarious with the most epic sabotage in movies. I think every kid dreams of pulling those kind of pranks off at camp or with their friends. (I was never big into being pranked but I thought the idea of it was hilarious). It never becomes dour or depressing but is light and fun.

Now to my best shot. I realize this movie caused some controversy upon its release because many kids felt they could get their divorced parents back together. This is perhaps a strange testament to the effectiveness of the picture, but I think these complaints miss a key point of the film. Parent Trap isn’t saying all parents should get back together. Of course not. It is just saying THESE TWO PEOPLE should get back together.

As I said, Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith have palatable chemistry together. They belong together. It’s as clear as day. The final scene when they talk and embrace is really well written, and I love when Mitch tells Maggie all the silly things he misses about her, and she tells him to wash the stew off of his shirt. It’s just great romantic comedy writing.

So, I picked this picture of the two smiling at each other.  This is why the movie works and why I love it.

BEST SHOT:

What do you think of Parent Trap 1961 or do you prefer the remake? Put in the comments section and what would be your best shot? Please share!

Overall Grade- A

Movie Monday: Underrated Disney Films

There is a new series I am participating with other youtubers called Movie Monday! In this series we get topics and give 5 movies that fit that topic. This last Monday the topic was underrated films, so I decided to narrow the focus to Underrated Disney Films. I wanted to do 5 that most people haven’t heard of or are more obscure.

Here’s my list:

  1. Rocketeer- Charming superhero movie set in the 1930s with charismatic cast and a stand a lone story. This is refreshing to see in the days of the cinematic universes.
  2. Iron Will- a nice heart filled story about a boy who is trying to save his family farm and go to college enters a dog sled race in the great North. This is engaging and sweet with good performances and a nice inspirational ending.
  3. North Avenue Irregulars- very funny madcap comedy featuring some of the funniest ladies ever including Cloris Leachman and more.
  4. Pirate Fairy- I think all the Tinker Bell movies are underrated but this is my favorite one. It has the most links to the original Peter Pan which is fun and a nice story not centered on Tinker Bell. I like seeing the fairies loose their skills and having to figure out new skills. It’s just a lot of fun.
  5. John Carter- underrated space opera that has good battle scenes with a charismatic lead from Taylor Kitsch. I think people think because it was a box office bomb it must be a terrible movie but I don’t think this is terrible. In fact, I think it is a lot of fun!

So there are 5 underrated Disney films.  What do you think of them and what would be your 5?

Queen of Katwe Review (Spoilers)

queen-of-katwe-posterOne of my favorite trends in the house of mouse is their live action sports section. In my opinion, they have made one great inspiring movie after another including Miracle, Million Dollar Arm, The Rookie and most recently McFarland USA which I especially loved.  Some may view these films as trite and cheesy but I love them. They are the only thing keeping Disney small. Oh how I wish they would have a similar small animation department. Their recent entry, Queen of Katwe, cost only $15 million and it is very special.

queen-of-katwe-8I said on twitter about Queen of Katwe “If you like this kind of thing you will love it. If you don’t like this kind of thing, you might still love it”. I don’t know if it is just because it is about chess but if there was ever a sports movie that could please everyone this is it. Sure it hits the predictable ‘inspirational true story’ notes but then it also went places I didn’t expect it to go.

Queen of Katwe tells the true story of Phiona Mutes (Madina Nalwanga) a young Ugandan girl who becomes a chess master. She grows up in the slums of Katwe where she sells corn and other vegetables to make ends-meat rather than going to school. Her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is a widow and trying desperately to keep her family together both spiritually and physically.

nullOne day Phiona comes across an after school type group set up by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) and she starts learning how to play chess. As she grows in her skills she also is taught by Katende’s wife how to read and think for herself. The movie does a good job showing the how hope can be a good and bad thing and how Phiona’s life isn’t anything but peaches and rainbows after her successes in chess.

The slums aren’t sterilized for a Disney audience like you might expect. There is a landfill close and there is a devastating scene where a flood comes through and nearly takes Phiona’s brother away in the water.  There is another scene where Nakku sells her mother’s dress to a skeevy man who propositions her, which I thought was pretty brave for a Disney film. disneys-queen-of-katwe-champion

Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakku is not the perfect mother you might expect from this film. She is scared, gritty and weak at times. There is a brutal scene where her son is in a hospital and she can’t afford to pay the bill so she removes the IV and sneaks him out only to come to their shack and be evicted by the landlord. If that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings you have more self control than I do. It’s not just that these events happen but that I felt for these people. They felt real and whole with flaws. lupita-grabMadina Nalwanga is also excellent as Phiona who goes from shy and awkward to a bit of a diva to completely devastated and back around in the film. There is a devastating scene where she asks David Oyelowo’s Robert Katende if good things are for the city kids because things hadn’t changed and then he tells her about losing his mother. It was really moving stuff! queen-of-katwe

Some will say this film is predictable and by the numbers but at least for me it went places I wasn’t expecting it to go. We learn about Phiona’s sister Night (Taryn Kayze) who is basically with a pimp for the lifestyle perks. Nakku is spiritual but not preachy. She is prideful but also weak, particularly when it comes to Night and Phiona.

There’s a great scene where Nakku thinks her children are being trained to gamble instead of competing in chess. Nyong’o’s ferocity in that scene is awesome. David Oyelow is also tremendous as the chess coach who is real but also ready to give the pep talk.

There is also basically no time spent with the rich kids bullying the Katwe teams. That was very refreshing. Also we get only a brief scene of the ‘jerk governing body embarrassed by the poor team’ like you typically get in these movies (think John Candy ‘they’ve earned the right’ speech in Cool Runnings).  There are also basically no white people in the cast except a couple briefly seen chess competitors. So no white savior storylines this time around.

Director Mira Nair has done a wonderful job taking the inspirational movie formula and creating something special. Go see it. I know you will love it!

Also, I normally hate the ending scroll text in these movies telling you the rest of the story because it takes me out of the movie, but in this case I thought they handled it just right.

Here is the trailer to give you an idea for the film:

Overall Grade- A

Pete’s Dragon Review (2016)

pete's dragon 8Of all the Disney remakes the one I was the most primed for was Pete’s Dragon. That might sound odd but I’m only a marginal fan of the original. In my opinion, the best remakes are films that are good but could use improvement. I don’t get very excited for remakes on films like Beauty and the Beast which are perfect. Anyway, that was my initial interest but quickly I realized this film was remake in name only. This might be concerning but then I read from director David Lowery and loved everything I heard.  Then the trailers came out and I really liked what I saw. Here is movie from an indy director with a passion for the project. It is also made for a low budget of $65 million which excites me greatly as I’d like to see Disney make more artistic low budget films.

So all of those factors led me to greatly look forward to Pete’s Dragon. So I went to see it today and I was not disappointed! This is a really special movie. It could probably be called Boy and the Dragon instead of Pete’s Dragon because it doesn’t have much to do with the original. It’s more like ET, Old Yeller, Black Stallion, Sounder or other movies for children about a boy and his dog/creature. These movies were sweet, emotional and helped teach children important life lessons. Such is the case with Pete’s Dragon. It is impeccably made and seems like something from another era.

pete's dragon2The story is pretty simple here and it’s not reinventing the wheel but it executes it so well and with such heart. It’s basically about Pete who is raised in the wild with his dragon Elliot. One day Pete gets discovered by Bryce Dallas Howard’s character and they try to help him. Various characters find out about Elliott and have different responses. It’s got an underlying message of faith and believing in things you don’t see (Elliott can be invisible after all).

The story may be simple but it will tug at your heart strings and make you feel really good.  All the performances are winning and warm- even the villain is understandable in his fear of the unknown. The child actors are particularly outstanding with Oaks Fegley reminding me of Jacob Trembley in Room. Robert Redford is great.  They are all great.

pete's dragon5If Disney is going to do these live action retellings this is the kind I want. I want a small film that is carefully made, not a lazy cash grab like Maleficent. This film does its own thing and tells a type of story I haven’t seen at the cinemas in a long time.

peteDirector David Lowery gives us incredible cinematography and the special effects on Elliott are first rate. It looked as good as anything we saw in The Jungle Book. I personally prefer this film to The Jungle Book because that film dragged when it tried to include songs and moments from the original. This is tight storytelling at its best.  In a lot of ways it reminded me of The Peanuts Movie. It is old fashioned and simple but full of heart. I loved both movies! There’s no attempt to modernize the characters or make them hip or cool. There’s no cell phones or lame attempts at humor. It is just a boy and his dragon just like Peanuts is about a boy and his dog.

Just everything they did I loved. Even the music I loved. I would encourage you to go see it on the big screen. Let Disney know that this is the type of movie they should be making. It is definitely one of my favorite films of the year and one that I can’t wait to show my nieces someday.

Here is my youtube review:  (I’m almost at a 1,000 subscribers on youtube!)

Alice Through the Looking Glass Review

alice-through-the-looking-glass-poster-aliceIf you guys read my response to the Beauty and the Beast trailer you might have an inkling I’m not the biggest fan of these Disney live action remakes. Even the Jungle Book I didn’t like as much as others; although I certainly enjoyed it. The only one I have really LOVED is Cinderella. It’s odd because I’m not normally opposed to remakes on principle but have found the decision making on Disney’s part to be very disappointing.

And unfortunately these bad choices all started with 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s like Disney doesn’t even understand the appeal of their own properties. They certainly don’t understand the appeal of Alice in Wonderland I can tell you that. But to everyone’s confusion the 2010 film made over a billion dollars. It’s so odd because only one person I know really likes it. Alice is kind of like Disney’s version of Transformers- everyone hates it and yet it still made a lot of money?

So it is perhaps no surprise a sequel to such a hit would come. To tell the truth I’m surprised it didn’t come sooner. Many are calling Alice Through the Looking Glass ‘the sequel that nobody wanted’ and after seeing the film I must concur. As bad as the 2010 film is this is even worse.

alice bookTo begin with, don’t let the title fool you.  This movie has almost nothing to do with the Lewis Caroll book Alice Through the Looking Glass. I recently read both Alice books and found them to be delightful. You can read my review here. I actually think the novel has potential as it has a bit more narrative than the first book. Alice ends up in a chess game where she must outwit various players including Humpty Dumpty and the White/Red Queens. This could have been a nice middle-ground between the prophetic narrative of the 2010 film (ugh) and the nonsense of the animated  film but no they abandoned it for some reason. I actually wonder if director James Bobbin and producer Tim Burton have read either of the Alice books…

alice 2No, in this version you have Alice (a bland Mia Wasikowska) who has been a sea captain outwitting all the men around the world (literally…ugh). She ends up returning to Underland to help The Hatter who is heartsick over his dead family. He wants Alice to bring his family back from the dead for him. Quite the request I’d say! And the weird part is the movie assumes this great friendship between the Hatter and Alice which I don’t recall being established in the first movie. My thought was ‘why doesn’t the Hatter get off his butt and go find his family? Why must Alice do it?”. He’s even kind of cranky when she tells him she has no power over death…

alice5It turns out there is a way to help when Alice goes into a clock and literally meets Time (Sacha Baron Cohen). At great peril to all of Underland she steals a chronosphere and goes back in time to undo what hurt the Hatters family.

This all could be good but it is unfortunately very dopey. The worst part is when you find out what kept the White and Red Queen apart you won’t believe it. It’s one of those movie things that a 3 minute conversation could make right and this disagreement caused the war in the first movie. It caused all kinds of misery and all over desserts…I kid you not.

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The key to a story like this working is the chemistry of the cast and the believability of the world building. Neither of that exists here. I wasn’t a fan of the artistic style of the first film but admit it was a style. This is very generic (although a little brighter).

Johnny Depp is annoying as the Hatter. Anne Hathaway deserves a Razzie award as the White Queen. Helena Bonham Carter shrieks a lot. Alan Rickman literally has 3 lines as Absolem (so disappointed this has to be his final role).  Most of the side characters are marginalized and not heard from and instead we get the dopey relationship drama between the two queens and Alice messing things up.

It’s frustrating because it has all of the pieces to make something good. I would actually love a good Alice in Wonderland movie but instead we get this.

All I can really say for it is that the costumes are well done and it is less violent than the first film, so I guess you can take kids to it. But save your money for Finding Dory. Even Angry Birds is better than this. See Jungle Book again but skip Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Overall Grade- D

Here’s my youtube review. I’d be very grateful if you gave it a watch/thumbs up. I’m nearing 1,000 subscribers and so if you aren’t subscribed I think you will enjoy the content.

Pete’s Dragon Teaser Trailer Response

Everyone is talking about it so I might as well add my two cents.  They just put out the teaser trailer for this summer’s Pete’s Dragon remake.  I have to be honest- I like the trailer.  I think it looks kind of magical.  Now I thought the Maleficent trailer looked promising and you see what that brought us…

I would certainly rather there be no remakes at all and get new and exciting content but that’s not happening any time soon.  The best we can hope for is these remakes are more of the Cinderella vein and less Maleficent/Alice in Wonderland (and no the new Looking Glass trailer does nothing to excite me).  I guess I’m more positive about Pete’s Dragon because I’m not super attached to the original; although, I do enjoy it.

What does seem cool about Pete’s Dragon is they are doing more of a reimagining than a remake, which begs the question- why call it Pete’s Dragon in the first place?  Fair enough, but at least it isn’t like Maleficent where they restage our favorite scenes but ruin the characters and story.  At least that doesn’t appear to be the case.

One thing I don’t understand in these remakes is why they shy away from the music?  I understand not wanting to make everything a musical but why not have a soundtrack?  Candle on the Water is a great Disney song and I feel it at least should be in the closing credits.  You had no Bibbity Bobbity Boo in Cinderella.  No Once Upon a Dream but in credits in Maleficent.  That is so bizarre. Why not take full advantage of the properties you are remaking? It’s not like Oz where they don’t have the rights to the original music.

Either way, I thought it was an effective, enticing trailer that didn’t tell me too much but just gave a spirit of the film.  This movie has been very hush-hush so I’m glad to see some images of the dragon and what the story is going for.  The fact Pete is a feral boy living in the forest for 6 years is interesting and Robert Redford being in your movie never hurt anything.

So I’m hopeful.  What say you?  I know some people are very upset about it and I can see their points.  Share in the comment section.

Blindspot 2: Tron Review

So I was going to review the anime classic Ghost in the Shell for my February Blindspot pick but I started it and it had too much nudity for me to be comfortable with.  So, as a replacement I decided to watch the Disney sci-fi classic Tron.

The Blindspot project is where we watch and review a classic film we have never seen before.  I had never seen Tron before tonight but had heard how great it was from many people.  Now that I’ve seen it I can see why they like it so much.  It’s a thoroughly unique, creative, entertaining sci-fi film.

tronTron was made in 1982 and it’s pretty amazing when you think of the visuals involved.  Just as a point of comparison, Pixar made their first short, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B in 1984, and that is about a minute and a half.  This is a whole movie made 2 years earlier heaped full of visual effects both real and computerized.  It’s incredible to watch and you can’t help but wonder ‘how did they do that?’

tron3The story in Tron can be very confusing so it is perhaps better to just enjoy the visual experience, but I will try to summarize it.  Basically Jeff Bridges plays Flynn a computer programmer who designs a video game but his boss played by David Warner stole the credit and passed the coding off as his work.

In an attempt to hack into the computer system and change the coding Flynn gets sucked into the computer itself.  When he arrives in the computer world, he finds a system of subjugation where the MCP (Master Control Program) manipulates the programs and gets them to deny their belief in the Users (or humans playing the game).

As a User himself Flynn has the ability to use energy and change things for the programs.  He and a program named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and Yori (Cindy Morgan) work to destroy the MCP before it destroys all the Programs.

Through destroying the MCP, Flynn the Programs can begin to communicate with their Users, Flynn is sent back and he is given the credit for his designs.

tron4It is kind of convoluted but I didn’t care.  I was able to keep track and found it creative and different.  I see so much that feels the same that it is refreshing to watch something like Tron that is so out there.  Kind of like Blade Runner, it is nice sometimes to watch a movie that is a little hard to figure out- that makes you think.

tron6All the performances are good. I particularly liked Jeff Bridges who I thought was very attractive in the role! What a great smile! He was a great ambassador to this world and you felt like you were learning about it along with him.

I also liked Cindy Morgan, Bruce Boxleitner and David Warner.  They are all good and elevate the material.  This is not like Jupiter Ascending where the visuals apologize for terrible acting.  They all do a good job.

tron-helmet-kissThe score by electronic musician Wendy Carlos is also a real standout.  It merges synthesizer sounds with classic orchestra.  I particularly liked the final number that uses a pipe organ.  There are also 2 songs from Journey, which is kind of cool.

Tron won’t be for everyone.  I am sure there are people who will think it is boring.   It is kind of confusing but just go with it, just enjoy it.  Some of the visuals look a little dated but it all works within the world of the movie and is consistent in its approach so that did not bother me.  I really thought it was a cool sci-fi film and something different and unique.

Overall Grade- A-

 

Finest Hours Review

I only have a few minutes because I am so exhausted but I saw Disney’s new live action offering The Finest Hours tonight and it is fine (forgive the pun).  It’s not terrible but not great.  The casting is mostly good except the girlfriend played by Holiday Grainger annoyed me.  Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are very good. Some of the special effects work.  Others you can see the green screen and look very cheesy.  It’s a sappy inspirational true story.  If you like that kind of thing you will enjoy the movie.

Here is my youtube review.

I think kids will be kind of bored and there are some definite tense moments that might be overwhelming for them.  Otherwise if you’ve got a free evening you could do worse.  Again, not great, not terrible.  Right in the middle.

This means it gets an

Overall Grade- C+