First Man Review

If you have been following this blog you know my relationship with director Damien Chazelle has been a bit rocky. I always want to love his movies like everyone else but usually leave thinking they are just ok. There is always something in his portrayal of dreamers leaving me wanting more. Wanting more understanding of what drives them to put up with a mad man in Whiplash or leaving their true love to chase their movie dreams in La La Land. So this year with his film First Man, about Neil Armstrong, I was hopeful it would be the first film of Chazelle’s repertoire to move me into the love camp. Unfortunately the opposite has occurred and it is definitely my least favorite of his movies.

first man4

There are some impressive things about First Man. While relying way too much on close-ups (a trend I hate!), the cinematography and space set pieces were very striking. Also the performances by Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Kyle Chandler were all excellent with what they were given to do. Unfortunately, those impressive visuals were shot with a handheld camera style and were very shaky. For someone with a weak stomach it was almost too much. However, if you don’t have those problems they are impressive sequences.

first man2

My problem with the film was the script. Aside from a few glimpses of emotion at the death of his daughter, I never got any sense of feeling or personality from Neil Armstrong. I guess they were trying to portray him as being on the spectrum but that doesn’t mean he needs to have the same flat expression at all times. I didn’t feel like I got to know him as a person- his idiosyncrasies, his passions. I don’t even know why he wanted to go to the moon? In Apollo 13 we have the scene where Tom Hanks puts his thumb over the moon and he talks about his dreams. We needed something like that here.

Film Title: First Man

Because I wasn’t invested in Neil Armstrong’s journey it made the movie kind of boring and flat. They didn’t do a good job of building up the characters at NASA like in Apollo 13 and aside from his wife getting upset a couple of times it was all flat and business-like.

I guess when it comes down to it I like my inspirational stories to be inspirational (go figure right?). Some may balk at a movie like Hidden Figures or October Sky and call them pedestrian but I left those movies inspired and wanting to do great things. Surely a movie about Neil Armstrong should give me such a feeling? Are we so elevated these days that we don’t need heroes but they all have to be whittled down to ordinary people who show up for work every day? Even a minor character in Apollo 13 like Gary Sinise’s astronaut who got bumped from the shuttle had an arc and an emotional journey I could relate to. Here I just didn’t get that.

So good job Neil Armstrong. You’re our hero. This movie however didn’t do you justice

(Also the flag controversy was mostly caused because of a dumb interview Gosling gave but it does show an overall scorning of heroic moments by Chazelle, which did not work for me)

Frown Worthy

Ranked 72 out of 114 of 2018 Films

frown

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Why I Liked Ready Player One But Prefer the Book (Spoilers)

“The book is better…” is an oft hurled accusation thrown at the world of cinema. I have no doubt those that love movies over literature tire of being told their medium of choice is always a second class substitute. Normally I stay clear of this conversation and try to appreciate both endeavors on their own merit; however, in the case of Ready Player One the book has been so unfairly maligned by many who have often read mere pages I decided it was worth an entry in my blog. I enjoyed Ready Player One as a fun adventure mystery movie but it is a step down from the book, and the more I thought about it the more changes bothered me. So, here goes…

There are two huge differences between the book and movie Ready Player One. The first is the time spent in the real world. The first third of the book is spent mostly in the real world of the Columbus Ohio stacks. This allows you to get to know Wade as a character in a way that the movie doesn’t. Wade is your classic nerd and in the movie he is much more of a cool, confident character. This helps make his bond and admiration for Halliday feel more understandable in the book. He knows there is something Halliday has to teach him through this quest and that’s what makes him continue when others have long since given up.

The search for the first key is all done in the real world in the book. He puts together all the pieces from the different parts of Halliday’s life and tries to find what is special or memorable about them. This is a lot more interesting to me than a race. In the book there is a book called “Anorak’s Almanac’ which lists all of the things that Halliday enjoyed (something that has been very criticized but never bothered me… It’s all part of the story of Wade researching to figure out the clues). In the movie they have “Halliday’s Journals” and the process of the research there feels easy and so you see less growth from Wade as a person. This makes his end takeaway when he meets Halliday not as impactful as the book’s ending. Wade comes to understand Halliday in the novel as a full person, and even a reflection of himself in many ways

In the book, Wade struggles with the fame he achieves when he gets the key which is interesting for a person who is literally surrounded by pop culture and knows so much trivia (which isn’t really trivia in the Oasis but survival knowledge). Wade is a character I loved in the book and was rooting for where in the movie he is a standard cocky teen male lead.

The other big difference is the changes to all the side characters. In the movie Art3mis is a standard avatar that doesn’t stand out much from the other avatars aside from her telling Perzival that he would be disappointed by her. One of my favorite things about the book is the reason Art3mis stands out to Perzival in the game is she is so confident and real. She is one of the few characters in the Oasis who has a realistic avatar. She doesn’t go with the sexed up version of herself and Wade finds that very attractive. I wish they had worked this into the movie more. She’s a positive yet still kick-butt character and in the YA literature world where every woman has to be a warrior I really appreciated her.

Much has been made about the pop culture ‘nostalgia porn’ of the movie and book. I personally think this criticism is a very surface-level analysis and misses the point. It’s like criticizing a Western for having too many horses. The pop culture is just the setting which the mystery takes place in. It’s not the story but where the story lives. That’s why in the book setting up the Oasis and all of the parameters of Halliday’s quest makes so much sense. We are in the real world and see all the research that Wade has to do so when we see the cornucopia of images in the Oasis it’s not just fun visual candy but clues Wade is ingesting and processing.

For example, in the book the jade key requires Wade to figure out he needs to recite the movie War Games, play a text game Zork (to get the key), unlock a Voight-Kampff machine from Blade Runner and play a game of Black Tiger (to unlock the gate) and more. This was exciting to read because we knew what Wade had been studying and it was unpredictable what would be asked of him next. Thus making the pop culture part of the puzzle/mystery more so than in the movie.

The other thing that wasn’t nearly as effective in the movie as the book is the villain. In the movie they make Sorrento a former intern who is generally resentful of Halliday and the Oasis. In the book it is more the world as a whole that is against Wade with them being envious and trying to stop him from winning. Sorrento is in the book but not as cartoonishly bad as he is in the movie.

Halliday and Morrow’s friendship is a lot more developed in the book and so their separation is more profoundly felt. It’s one thing to fall out of favor with a business associate as shown in the movie. It’s another to lose your best friend from childhood who you played Dungeon and Dragons with (making the first challenge being playing DandD all the more meaningful). Halliday’s clues are about his life not just nostalgia porn IMO.

The book also treats Aech very differently than the movie. He/she is more of a nerd who builds things and has a chat room as opposed to a warehouse. In the book none of the High 5 meet until very late in the story but it’s just all more layered, with harder clues, and characters than the movie. Aside from Art3mis giving herself to the loyalty center in the movie nobody else does much to find the clues or beat Sorrento like in the book. You even get a whole sublot with Daito and Shoto being hunted down by Japanese authorities in the book that adds to their story.

The last line of the novel is “It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the Oasis.” This makes sense because Wade was only in the Oasis because of his connection with Halliday. Now that he has finished his quest he’s done. The mystery is solved. All the research, study, thought is done. That is the fun part of the novel and what makes Wade a great character. The movie ends with him as a moderate user of the Oasis and says that real life is important as well. That’s fine but not as satisfying as the ending of the book.

It might seem like I hate the movie Ready Player One but I don’t. I liked it quite a bit; although, it was not as satisfying on the second watch as the first but still good. Unfortunately, they changed a lot from the book and it makes the movie less special as a result. I enjoyed it and will defend it but probably won’t remember it like I remembered the book.

The reason I loved the book is it was finally a YA novel that felt positive and hopeful. Most of these novels are cynical and depressing but here we had Wade trying to make his life better and trying to understand another human being in Halliday. We had him seeing the beauty in Art3mis and she being confident in her own unique identity. All of these things were hopeful and positive. You had fun characters and a mystery that was fresh and new. Yes, there was the nostalgia but that was just the unique setting like the maze in Labyrinth or Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings. It was an imaginative, inventive narrative where good won over evil, and that is hard to find these days. Most YA novels have characters limping towards the finish line having sacrificed all that was important to them at the beginning (cough Hunger Games cough). Not Ready Player One and I loved the novel for it!

So in the end, my opinion on Ready Player One– the movie was good, fun ride that especially kids will love (although The Shining sequence may be over their heads)

But the book was great. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

Current Mini Reviews

Normally I try to equally divide my time between my youtube channel and this blog. Well, my apologies because I didn’t realize I hadn’t posted on here since my Blind Spot review of The Seventh Seal on March 16th. I’m not sure how I let that happen, but I do have a bunch of reviews over on my channel so make sure you are subscribed over there.

Anyway, it is time to play catch up with one of my mini review posts. I should have a full review for Isle of Dogs on here this week so you will not be abandoned forever :).

Love Simon-

This proved to be a sweet coming of age story about a boy who is afraid to come out and admit he is gay to his family and friends. He ends up getting manipulated by a fellow classmate over an online relationship he has developed with a penpal from school. This bully classmate was the obvious villain of the film but he got on my nerves and was very irritating as well as being horrible (and in the movie a lot). Aside from that, it is a well acted, well written film that will help a lot of young people so I’m a fan.

Smile Worthy B+

I Can Only Imagine-

Anyone who is Mainstream Christian (or Mormon) knows the song I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me. It is a great song that transcended the Christian music charts to become a pop hit. This film tells the story of the writer of the song Bart Millard. Dennis Quaid is very good as the father who is a beast of a man that finds God. Trace Adkins is really good as a manager. The music is great. Overall, it’s an enjoyable and moving faith based film. Only flaw is the same actor, J Michael Finley, plays Bart in high school and he looks ridiculous. He looks like a 40 year old man in high school. Other than that, it’s a good inspirational story with good music

Smile Worthy B

Sherlock Gnomes-

I’m not a fan of the original Gnomeo and Juliet but at least it didn’t annoy me like this film did. Every character was grating and annoying especially the villain. There were a few sections of 2D animation that go into the mind of Sherlock that were fun but that’s about it. It wasn’t funny and the music was less fun than in the original and there are some scenes in an Asian toy market that were kind of culturally insensitive. However, the villain was the biggest problem and was super shrill and annoying. Nut Job 2 was way better in my opinion.

D Frown Worthy

Off the Menu-

A very sweet romcom that I thoroughly enjoyed. It stars Santino Fontana from Frozen fame as an heir to a fast food chain that goes to find new recipes and meets fiery Dania Ramirez. They had great chemistry and it was filmed nicely. Just a pleasant romantic movie that I think you should check out. They even get Santino to sing a little bit which is the best!

A- Smile Worthy

Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies-

This animated film reminded me a lot of the Living Scriptures films we used to watch on Sundays growing up. It is for a Christian Evangelical audience although it never mentions Christ. Just the style of the music and the way the morals are taught are very audience-specific. If you are in the audience you might enjoy it. It has a few scary moments but it should be fine for little kids. The songs are very Christian pop rock but were fine. I can’t say that it is good but I think it has it’s audience that will like it.

C Smile Worthy for its audience

Ready Player One-

Anyone who follows me on twitter knows I loved the book Ready Player One and it irritates me how much hate it has gotten. It’s a positive absorbing mystery when most YA fiction is cynical and depressing. Now it has been made into a movie by Steven Spielberg and I loved it. They changed a lot from the book but I had a great time. I loved following all the clues and seeing Wade learn from Halliday’s mistakes. The world-building is amazing and I liked all the performances. See it on the big screen if you can. It has a big heart and a lot more laughs than is in the book. Not every change from the book worked but I enjoyed it!

A- Smile Worthy

7 Days in Entebbe-

I must admit before seeing this film I didn’t know anything about this hostage crisis and I think the movie did a good job informing me and it makes some unusual choices I admire. First of all, the film is told from the perspective of the hostage takers and they try to help you feel sympathy for them. They also tell the story of the hostages and there’s a lot of good stuff in there. However, it can seriously drag and a choice to involve interpretative dance did not work at all. Mixed bag for me.

C Smile Worthy barely

Journey’s End-

I always feel bad disliking a war film because I do not mean any disrespect to the heroes who died or fought in the conflict. Such is the case with Journey’s End. It’s a WW1 film with good performances and one intense battle scene. Unfortunately for most of it the movie was super dull. I couldn’t believe how much time was spent debating eating military rations. They have a whole debate over the fact that canned pineapple is actually canned apricots. Multiple scenes are spent on this. They talk forever about what the mysterious ‘cutlets’ are in their meals. It was very boring.

C- Frown Worthy

So there you have it. Let me know if you have seen any of these movies and what you thought of them. Thanks!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review (Some Spoilers)

So I’m told a little movie came out this week? You might have heard of it- Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This latest edition in the Star Wars saga has pleased most people and critics while disappointing a small, yet always with the internet, vocal minority. So, what do I think you ask? Well, I think it is the first Star Wars movie to 100% embrace its fantasy origins, and I liked it fine. I guess I’m somewhere in between masterpiece and worst movie ever- as most films are. Let’s put it this way- it’s no Force Awakens, but I was entertained enough (ps. I love the Force Awakens. I think outside of Wonder Woman it is one of the most rousing, fun blockbusters in recent memory).

I guess the problems with the Last Jedi didn’t bother me like some people because I have already dealt with a disappointing film in Rogue One and came out of it still loving the franchise. I think Last Jedi is a step up from Rogue One in pretty much every way but it does have some of its problems (and some new ones all its own).

Let’s talk about it:

In Force Awakens we left Rey meeting Luke on the island of Ahch-To, and that’s where things pick up for her in Last Jedi. She wants to be trained by Luke and recruit him to help the rebellion but he is not interested. Luke is a confusing character in this film. Much like Saw Gerrera in Rogue One I felt the screenplay couldn’t quite decide if he was a monster or a hero. It swung a lot, which was more frustrating than intriguing.  Mark Hammil is up for the challenge of the role and does a great job but it was confusing. I hope repeated viewings will clarify that character arc for me.

The best part of The Last Jedi by far is the performance of Daisy Ridley as Rey and her interactions with Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. I was nervous about this from the trailer but it completely worked for me. I never would have thought those characters would have had such chemistry, but I was honestly rooting for both of them. The energy and connection between them was palpable and really worked.  We also learn things about Rey that I have no doubt disappointed fanboys with their elaborate theories, but I thought it was cool. It’s very impressive that director Rian Johnson was able to move me from hating the killer of Han Solo to rooting for the guy!

At the same time Rey is having her adventure several other plotlines are going on. We get more information about Poe Dameron and find out that he operates on gut instinct, which can be both admirable and reckless. General Leia is concerned about his behavior and even demotes him. This is great because we see both the strength of Leia and the loyal, fearsome nature of Poe. Oscar Isaac has charisma in spades and is so great as Poe. I could have watched him all day.

Finn is back from Force Awakens and is joined by a new character named Rose who challenges his lack of loyalty to the Resistance (at times the modern resist messaging felt a little heavy handed). The two of them are sent to a planet by Maz Kanata to try and find a code breaker who can help them disable a First Order tracking device. I liked these characters but it is probably the weakest part of the film. I didn’t hate it as much as some but it was weak. I loved scenes in this section of children playing with dolls and telling each other the story of the Rebellion. This is the true essence of Star Wars- inspiring young kids to be better and dream more.

There is also action in Last Jedi that should make any Star Wars fan happy. A couple of light saber battles in particular are exhilarating. Rey and Kylo face off against Supreme Leader Snoke and my jaw was on the floor. It was awesome (I’m telling you anything with those two was amazing. Note to Lucasfilm- don’t abandon that pairing!).

BB8 returned and was completely adorable once again. Some may call it fan service but I don’t care. I thought it was delightful. Also C-3PO and R2D2 were used more effectively in this film than in The Force Awakens.

The last act of Last Jedi has some problems and makes confusing choices but it still entertained me. I didn’t care for Laura Dern as Admiral Holdo and felt her dialogue was very clunky. It reminded me of the prequels to be honest. I also felt that she took away moments of strength that Leia should have had. I also felt the way things finish for Luke should have been the ending for Leia. It was emotional to say goodbye to Leia for sure, but I don’t know if the movie really allowed me to say goodbye the way I hoped.

The biggest issue for me with Last Jedi is like I said the full embrace of fantasy over science fiction. There is literally a scene where a character uses the force to stay alive in space and float/fly back to a ship remaining alive. I used to see the force as more of a priesthood than a super power. It was the kind of strength the prophets of the Bible had which allowed them to part seas and destroy evil idols. However, it did not allow them to fly or go unharmed into blaster fire or combat. In Rogue One we saw the force being used as a super power and this has continued in abundance in Last Jedi.

In the end, with Last Jedi it comes down to what you like from Star Wars. My favorite was always the original Star Wars (now coined ‘A New Hope’) because it was a rousing space adventure that made you cheer at the end.  This is why I loved Force Awakens so much. It was tightly paced and edited with a true heroes journey that inspired me.

However, if you love Star Wars for the world building, mythos and lore than Last Jedi will be more up your ally. I enjoyed it and look forward to seeing it again but it was a more challenging watch than I anticipated. It’s messy and long but if I was a big fantasy person I would probably love it, flaws and all. I will keep pondering particularly Luke’s journey and my grade may rise over time but for now I give the Last Jedi:

Overall Grade- B-

PS- I am more grateful than ever before we have JJ Abrams coming back for the final episode of this trilogy to end it off on a rousing fun note!

Current Mini Reviews

So I have been very behind in reviews for the blog lately. Make sure you are following my letterboxd account where I will at least post my star rating for a film I’ve seen. Also I do a weekly show on my youtube channel where I rank the new films I’ve seen that week and share some thoughts.

But let me catch you all up with some 2017 films I’ve seen in some Current Mini Reviews!

Beatriz at Dinner-

I thought it was awful. It’s basically a chance for liberals to have a pissing session over Donald Trump. The Lithgow character is a rich, white, racist capitalist who owns hotels and Beatriz throws his phone at him and envisions murdering him. If that is your jam than this movie is for you.
Basically this movie is the liberal equivalent of Christian movies that just tell the viewers what they want to hear and how much better they are than those evil atheists.

Frown Worthy

The Guardian Brothers-

This is a Chinese animated film that is now available to watch on Netflix. I’m not as hard on these Chinese animated films as most. In fact, I enjoyed this year’s Rock Dog when many didn’t like it. However, I did not enjoy The Guardian Brothers. I found it very boring. There is some nice animation but I honestly kept falling asleep because nothing engaged me about the story.

Frown Worthy

Megan Leavey-

I haven’t been a big fan of most of the post-Iraq war movies portraying the life of soldiers. I can’t explain why but most of them don’t really work; however, Megan Leavey is an exception. It’s very heart-felt without being preachy or overbearing. Kate Marra is great in the lead role and I really felt for her and her dog. Some may call it sentimental but I think it was moving and beautiful.

Smile Worthy

Louise By the Shore-

This is a french animated film about an old woman who gets left behind on an resort island and must figure out how to survive on her own. As she lives she is reborn in a way and gets a new energy for life.

I loved this film! The animation is beautiful with a whimsical quality and I loved Louise as a character. It might have too little plot for some people but I really thought it was charming. It’s worth hunting down if you can find it. The music and sound design were perfect also.

Smile Worthy

Wind River

It’s only major flaw is perhaps that it is not as good as Hell or High Water– writer Taylor Sheridan’s previous film. This is his first time directing and he does a great job creating atmosphere and tone. I had a few issues with the way the female characters were portrayed but it was still an engaging mystery.

Smile Worthy

Napping Princess-

2017 has been such a great year for anime that I wanted to love this but I couldn’t get on board. The visuals and world building are impressive and it will entertain small kids but I found it repetitive, exposition heavy and boring.

I reviewed it for Rotoscopers.com here.

Frown Worthy

 Home Again-

I was actually excited for Home Again as I love a good romantic comedy and we get way too few of them these days. Unfortunately Home Again wasn’t a romantic comedy. It wasn’t a romance. It was a sitcom about 3 guys trying to get a screenplay made in LA and an older woman helping them out. I hope we get better romances in the future but until then I will enjoy Hallmark movies and my Hallmark podcast I’ve started which you can find here.

Frown Worthy

Window Horses-

I absolutely loved this indie animated film about a Chinese/Iranian girl who gets invited to a poetry festival in Iran. While there she learns much about her father, family, identity, life and poetry. It was funny, emotional, sweet and very well written. I loved the unique artistic style and music. If you can find it see it!

I reviewed it on rotoscopers.com here

Smile Worthy

Viceroy’s House-

This seems to be the year for lots of films that satisfy the Anglophile in me and all of the British films have been worth a watch. So is the case with Viceroy’s House. It tells the story of the last Viceroy in India and the events that happened to split India and Pakistan. Director Gurinder Chadha has a personal connection to this story and it comes through. The cast is good and it is handsomely produced. There are definitely sentimental and predictable moments but it is enjoyable

Smile Worthy

Person to Person-

I recently became aware of the term ‘mumblecore’. This is an indie film that follows characters around and shows their everyday life and Person to Person is such a film. I don’t require a strong plot for my movies. I love Richard Linklater movies and enjoyed a film like Maggie’s Plan from last year. However, this one didn’t really do it for me. The people didn’t feel real enough and so it felt like following around a bunch of New York caricatures instead of people. There are some nice moments but over all it didn’t work

Frown Worthy

Lego Ninjago-

I have been a big fan of both the previous Lego movies but must own to feeling underwhelmed by Lego Ninjago. My main problem was it felt very derivative. It’s not just derivative of the previous Lego movies but of Kung fu Panda, Star Wars and a myriad of other films. This made it feel very repetitive and boring. The animation isn’t as good as the original Lego Movie (neither was Lego Batman tbh) and the live action elements didn’t have the emotion of the original film. There is some fun action and the scenes with the cat were hilarious but I can’t recommend Lego Ninjago.

Frown Worthy

Leap

Known in other countries as Ballerina, Leap is a European animated film that will satisfy its target demographic of little girls dreaming of being a ballerina. It’s got decent animation and is a perfectly harmless animated film. However, I did have a major issue with it. The message of the movie is to be a dreamer, which is great. The problem is these dreams come pretty easily to our young heroine. She gets parts in ballets that others have worked for years to get when she is just learning the basic positions because she has the heart! I don’t think this is a great message for girls. Dreaming is wonderful but it must also be accompanied by the requisite hard work.

Frown Worthy (but it is very close. Smile worthy if you are an 8 year old girl who loves to dance)

So there you have it! Let me know if you have seen any of these films and what you thought of them. Thanks tons and happy movie watching!

Tim Timmerman, Hope of America Review

One of the concerns I often have with seeing as many movies as I do is becoming overly critical. I never want to be someone that nitpicks and insists everything be perfect to enjoy a film. I say this because today’s review- Tim Timmerman, Hope of America is a flawed film but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is a locally made  film by Cameron Sawyer about a Ferris Bueller knock off, know it all, high schooler named Tim Timmerman played by Eddie Perino. Tim has life figured out or so he thinks. He’s going to rule the school as student body president and then head off to Yale. But of course, events happen that start to mess up his plans!

Tim meets a deaf girl named Sydney played by the lovely Chelsea Maidhof. He starts off wanting to use her to improve his chances with her senator father in getting the Hope for America award. Of course, they end up falling for each other like you would expect. He also has a jealous student body co-chair who reminded me of the Jennifer Grey character in Ferris Beuller. There is a principal who is tired of putting up with Tim and an array of geeks, weirdos and stoners who Tim befriends and helps with their problems. They also play a game called Assassins which reminded me of the $2 gag in Better Off Dead. A movie like Tim Timmerman, Hope for America is very easy to criticize. It is derivative, predictable and none of the cast look like they are in high school but it won me over with its charm and positive energy. I was impressed with all the music they got rights too. It’s not a bad 90s soundtrack. It also never becomes mean spirited or judgemental as some high school comedies can be. Being a teen of the 90s it was also very nostalgic for me as it captured the feel and energy of that era.

Cameron Sawyer made this film on a micro-budget with help from kickstarter and it shows, but I didn’t mind that. It’s kind of like Napoleon Dynamite in many ways. Sure it’s a small film but it’s done with such likable characters that it leaves a smile on your face. It won’t be the mammoth hit that Napoleon Dynamite was but that only happens once in a blue moon. Still, hopefully some people will seek it out and support it. It’s a cheerful throwback to the 90s with a very engaging cast. Can’t go wrong with that! It’s also probably the cleanest PG-13 movie I’ve seen in a long time. Definitely family friendly.

Overall Grade- B

Here is the trailer:

They have a form on the website you can request this film in your city. If not look for it on streaming and other services in the next few months and let me know what you think.

 

My Sundance 2017 Preview

It might seem crazy but this year is my first time attending in mass the Sundance Film Festival! Last year I went as a guest of rotoscopers.com to review the film Snowtime and interview the creators but I didn’t really attend the festival. This will be my first time really attending every day and I’m very excited!

The reason I have been reticent to attend in the past is the lack of ratings for the films. Sundance films are more artistic in nature and so I worried I would be wasting my money on films I wouldn’t want to see content-wise. Well, this year I figured I’d give it a shot and if a film is super bad I can always leave. Nothing ventured, nothing gained right? 🙂

Make sure you follow me on snapcat @smilingldsgirl and on other social media because I will update throughout the days on how my experience is going and what I think about the films I see. But I thought it would be fun to give you a preview of what I am seeing.

My Life as a Zucchini-

The first and probably most highly anticipated is the animated film My Life as a Zucchini. This is a stop motion animated Swiss film about a little boy who deals with his grief while becoming a part of a new group home.

Lady Macbeth-

I’m a little nervous about this one because it looks pretty steamy but I love Macbeth so much and I thought it looked like a good film. The tagline is “Alfred Hitchcock meets Wuthering Heights” caught my interest. I would share the trailer but it is very spoilery and so I’d rather you not see it. The movie is about a shut in in 1865 who is basically kept inside by her husband. She meets and falls in love with a servant and the story goes from there.

lady-macbethSTEP-

This is a documentary about a group of high school seniors from Baltimore who are part of a step dance team and their struggles to get into college and compete.

stepRISE-

Billed as a docuseries, RISE is 3 episodes about the struggle of Native Americans and indigenous citizens.  There is a Q and A after so I hope it is good! I see both RISE and Step on my birthday so another reason to hope they are good.

riseAnimation Spotlight-

Of course I had to see this. It is 10 shorts in a variety of styles and subject matter. I think they will be pretty great!

animation-spotlight

The Good Postman-

A documentary about a Bulgarian man who helps the Syrian refugees who are coming into his town.

Band Aid-

This has an engaging cast and it looks like it could be a fun dramedy. It is described as about “a couple who can’t stop fighting embark on a last-ditch effort to save their marriage: turning their fights into songs and starting a band”. I hope it will be good! Could it be 2017’s Sing Street?

Band Aid - Still 1The Hero-

This film is about an aging western movie star played by Sam Eliot who gets a cancer diagnosis and has to face his life. It looks like it could be very sweet.

heroThe Yellow Birds-

This Iraq war story was mostly sold to me on the people behind it. It is written by David Lowery who did Pete’s Dragon, which I loved and stars Alden Ehrenreich and Tye Sheridan who I also love. Jennifer Aniston plays Sheridan’s Mom which I can’t really imagine but I’m looking forward to it.

yellow-birdsRebel in the Rye-

I don’t know much about this one but it stars Nicholas Holt and is about JD Salinger before he wrote Catcher in the Rye.

rebel-in-the-rye-movieI had a ticket for Wilson staring Woody Harrelson but after seeing the trailer it really doesn’t look like my thing, so I think I will try and exchange it.

So there you have it! Do any of my selections intrigue you? I wanted to see A Ghost Story which is directed by David Lowery but it is at the same time as Yellow Birds so I picked the latter.

I’m definitely the most excited for My Life as a Zucchini and the animation spotlight! I hope they are great!

Cheers to Indy filmmakers!

Suicide Squad Review

suicide squad cerealI’ve never been the biggest superhero movie person, but over the years movies like The Avengers and X-Men Days of Future Past have won me over. These movies have clever stories, great scripts and charismatic performances by Oscar level talent. 2014 was a particularly memorable year with only 2 bad superhero movies and 4 outstanding films- Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Big Hero 6 and X-Men Days of Future Past. These movies had everything I could want in a superhero movie.

WE WERE SPOILED!!!

Aside from Captain America: Civil War the superhero movies of 2016 have been kind of sucky and unfortunately the latest entry, Suicide Squad does not change that trajectory. Suicide Squad is the latest offering from DC Comics and Warner Brothers and despite promising trailers it fails to deliver on its potential.

After Batman v Superman frustrated many moviegoers in March, Warner Brothers clearly took all the wrong lessons out of the feedback. ‘Make the movies more fun’ is what they heard. So, they rushed David Ayer to write Suicide Squad in 6 weeks and then hacked it to pieces creating a mess of a movie.

suicide squad2That’s not to say there aren’t any redeeming values to Suicide Squad. There are mainly with the casting. All the roles, with 2 exceptions, are well cast. The problem is the script doesn’t give them time to grow as characters or to gel as a unit. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are the standouts as Deadshot and Harley Quinn and I’m curious to see more of them in future films. Viola Davis is also great as Amanda Waller who is an agent forming the Suicide Squad. She is ruthless and you kind of see why she would be interested in super villains.

The story of Suicide Squad is you have this group of villains that are called upon to fight evil metahumans. This is all supposed to be after the events of Batman v Superman but there is never any talk of using the good metahumans like Flash and Wonder Woman (despite briefly seeing Flash in a cameo). And the fact that only 2 of the Suicide Squad are actually metahumans which makes you scratch your head?

The first act of the film starts out clunky with Davis sitting at a table looking through a binder of each of the squad members.  Then we see flashback introductions to the characters. It’s kind of like the gossip montages in Ant-Man but repeated over and over again.

But even with that certain characters aren’t introduced at all like Katana. She just walks onto a helicopter and they say ‘oh look it’s Katana. She’s a crazy ninja” (I’m paraphrasing but you get the drift).

Suicide-Squad-Enchantress-OriginSo what are they called upon to do? Well, they are supposed to stop an evil being named Enchantress who kind of needs to be worse than the squad in order for the story to work but she’s just not. I normally don’t care about lame villains but she did nothing for me and I felt the special effects were very poor. She creates this ‘brother’ that looked right out of Gods of Egypt. Again, I wouldn’t have cared about a bad villain if I had cared about the rest of the film.

SUICIDE SQUADFor a movie like this to work it relies on the charisma of the stars and a witty script (this is not a gritty crime drama like The Dark Knight). And the problem with Suicide Squad is the editing is so poorly done that just when characters are starting to interact it cuts away to something that doesn’t matter.

You are supposed to believe that the characters are becoming a family but I didn’t buy it for a second. There’s a moment where Deadshot has to decide whether to hurt Harley Quinn and their relationship wasn’t near built up enough for me to buy his decision. They had one very brief conversation and they are supposed to be big baddies. It didn’t work.

There’s another scene where they are fighting these glob creatures of Enchantress and the creatures stop coming for some reason and they stop fighting evil and have a drink. If the movie had effectively established them as not caring about the mission or stopping the badder guy than I could have bought it but the way it sits it feels random and jarring.

suicide-squad1The other confusing part about the movie is why have Enchantress when you have DC’s greatest villain in the film for like 6 minutes? You could have made the Joker the villain and instead you have a lame villain. That would be like Marvel having Loki as a villain for a 5 minute cameo. It makes no sense.

But speaking of the Joker…Jared Leto goes for it as this new take on the character and I personally was not a fan. The Joker is an agent of chaos. He thrives on creating disorder. He is the last person in the world that would want to be an organized crime boss like in this movie. It felt too outright bad-guy where the Joker is supposed to be a believer in the philosophy of chaos. He should be more complex than having damaged tattooed on your forehead!

suicide squad3All that said, if you can go into Suicide Squad and ignore the script and just enjoy the charismatic performances and the fun soundtrack I think you may have an enjoyable time. It’s a lot like Batman Forever. There’s some engaging performances in Batman Forever, some decent music and production design but the story and script are terrible. So if you can enjoy Batman Forever than you will enjoy Suicide Squad.

At the very least I didn’t feel as manipulated as Batman v Superman and it isn’t as gloomy (although the forced fun added by the studio is so obvious). To me the two movies are about equal in quality but it is a case of picking your poison and what types of problems bother you more than others.

It’s probably very generous but I did like it better than X-Men Apocalypse which underserved all of the characters I love and became destruction porn. I gave X-Men Apocalypse a D+.

So for Suicide Squad Overall Grade- C- for Will Smith and Margot Robbie but I’d say it’s a definite skip.

ps. Those people who started the rotten tomatoes takedown petition are morons.

Hit Me with Best Shot: Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind

close encounters posterOpinions are an interesting thing. We can have a response to art at one time in our life that is a certain way and then at another it strikes us completely differently. So was my experience with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Directed by Steven Spielberg when I saw it in my 20s I was bored. I don’t know if I was expecting a movie like Independence Day with alien action (which ironically bored me on the rewatch) but at the time it seemed boring.

Now as a grown up adult I look at it and scratch my head at my earlier thoughts. How could I possibly think this movie was boring? It has so many characters and so much going on that it almost feels a little disjointed at times (especially in the beginning). Isn’t that funny?  A completely 360 degree turn around for me on this film. Who knew!

I think what really struck me this time around was its commentary on media and communication. Perhaps it is just seeing the Republican Convention and the Democratic  Convention starting, but I’ve seen so many people passionately trying to explain what is crystal clear to them (including myself I might add) and being told they are insane in response. There are so many scenes like that in Close Encounters. People know what they saw. They sometimes have the scars to prove it and yet they are told they are delusional.

Richard Dreyfuss is so good as an electrician who has a UFO encounter and his wife and others won’t believe him. He gets more and more manic as the signs grow and that makes people push away from him even more. The same thing happens with Melinda Dillion’s Jillian who’s son is taken by the spacecraft and people still don’t believe her.

We as the audience have seen the spaceship in bright technicolor so we know they are right but the other characters either ignorant (lots of scenes of people playing unaware of situation), or chose to not believe and some lie. Is that not also how communication is today more than ever? We either don’t know, chose to not believe or we are lied to and that goes for both sides of the political spectrum.

John Williams score is so great in this; although I did think the ending with the music was a little silly. In fact, I don’t know if I needed to see the aliens at the end because they weren’t really what the movie was about. Still, it’s not a huge problem.

My best shot is probably a strange one as there are dramatic shots of spaceships I could pick but my pick goes back to this commentary on media that impressed me. It’s a news conference where the leaders are trying to explain away what the people know they have seen. I think the way this guy is holding up the plate mocking their concerns shows how we often do the same today with people who hold passionate views different than our own.

close encounters of 3rd kindNathaniel at The Film Experience is doing a week-long series of best shots for the 1977 Cinematography nominees, so Close Encounters best shots will be posted today, and the rest on proceeding days. None of the others sounded very interesting to me so I’ll probably just stick with this but you should check out the blog for the posts.