Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well (or at least as well as can be expected during this crazy time). I have certainly been hard at work both watching and creating content. I am so blessed to be able to do what I do.

While I would love to be a full time critic I am extremely blessed to be able to write/create my reviews and be a part-time corporate blogger for the rest of my job. However I don’t only post to this site. Recently I have reviewed:

For Backseatdirectors

Wolfwalkers

Made in Italy/Chemical Hearts

The Rental

For Rotoscopers

H is for Happiness

Mulan

Rachel’s Reviews

Secret Society of Second Born Royals

Utopia

I’ve also been doing a lot of fun stuff on both of my podcasts Rachel’s Reviews and Hallmarkies Podcast (and more) and some cool videos on my youtube channel like my first ever Tier Ranking video!

On to the Mini Reviews

With that out of the way let’s share some mini reviews!

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles

Fans of the Food Network and Top Chef will enjoy this documentary that follows famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi as he puts on an event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honor of Versailles. Ottolenghi assembles his crackpot team of eccentric bakers and jello-makers (yes you read right) and their artistic process is fascinating and a lot of fun to watch. I particularly liked chef Dinara Kasko as she fights for her pastry vision from a pushy man who wants her to take the easy way out.

Where Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles doesn’t work as well is in the final act change in messaging. It feels tagged on after so much excess and opulence the entire movie to all the sudden have a social conscience. Not everything has to have a message or speak to the injustices of our time. It’s fine to have one documentary that is just about escapist cakes. No more.

Still it’s a fun movie and available in theaters and on demand.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Give or Take

One trend I’ve noticed over the last few years is lots of movies about the male experience and in particular unlikely male friendships. Whether it be an Oscar winner like Green Book or smaller films like To Dust or Papi Chulo we seem to be fascinated as a culture with men and their friendships. Now we have the latest in this trend with the indie film Give or Take and for the most part it works quite well.

Give or Take tells the story of an estranged son (Jamie Effros) who comes home to bury his father and struggles to get along with his father’s spouse Ted (Norbert Leo Butz- who I’ve enjoyed since his Broadway days and they almost let him sing in this!). The film explores themes of forgiveness, loss and what moving on means. The comic relief from people like Cheri Oteri is less effective and the relationship between Martin and his former flame Emma (Joanne Tucker) didn’t really work for me. Still, if you are up for a small, low budget drama it’s worth a watch.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Stars and Strife

With the current political climate being a continual cess pool of despair and depravity I was honestly quite hesitant to watch the new documentary Stars and Strife. Political documentaries very easily veer into the propaganda camp and are more for building up the ideology of the ardent believers than for making persuasive arguments.

Well, color me shocked when Stars and Strife actually turned out to be a hopeful film examining our current condition and how we might be able to dig our way out. It might be too optimistic for some people but in this day and age I will take a little hope where I can get it. It’s also very even-handed with people who worked in Bush and Obama administrations weighing in. This film is available on STARZ and to rent VOD.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Human Voice

Right now as part of the New York Film Festival you can have a special film festival type experience right from your own laptop. The great Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has made a one-woman short with Tilda Swinton during quarantine and it’s a delight to watch. In addition, with your purchase you get an interview with Swinton and Almodóvar, which includes a passionate speech from the director about getting back to the big screen experience as soon as we possibly can.

The short The Human Voice is ”freely based” on the Jean Cocteau play La voix humaine and is about a woman waiting for her ex to pick up his things and dog in their apartment but he never comes. Both the dog and woman are abandoned and angry yet it is very fun to watch. I love the way Almodóvar uses color and Swinton is fantastic. It captures the sense of isolation we’ve all been feeling lately and is definitely cathartic to watch.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

4 movies today all smile worthy! I love when that happens. What have you been watching? Any recommendations?

Blind Spot 57: ‘Apocalypse Now’

 

I’ll be honest when I put Apocalypse Now on my blind spot for 2020 I did so with hesitation. I knew it was a hard R rating and a long war film so it didn’t sound like something I would love. As we got closer to the watch in September my hesitancy increased as it seemed like a big downer to watch in quarantine.

Well yesterday I had terrible insomnia so decided to finally watch it and to my surprise I found it quite exhilarating.  To be sure it is long (I watched the theatrical cut) and brutal but the characters are so well realized and the story so surprising that it really worked well. I see why it is considered one of the great films of the 1970s.

If you didn’t know Apocalypse Now is directed by Francis Ford Coppola and stars Martin Sheen as an army captain given a secret mission in the Vietnam War to go into Cambodia and kill a rogue Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). He is given assistance along the way by a PBR or river patrol boat which includes an assortment of characters such as Chef (Frederic Forrest), The Chief (Albert Hall), and Lance B Johnson (Sam Bottoms. He is a professional surfer in the movie).

They also meet people like a hippy journalist played by Dennis Hopper and an insane war-hungry Lieutenant Kilgore (Robert Duvall). His character is a morally repugnant man who cares more for surfing and the wins of war than human life but it’s such a big performance I found myself transfixed by it. Of course, he has the iconic line of the film ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’. And the crazy thing is he actually does love it. That’s nuts but also compelling.

The movie takes a long time to get to Colonel Kurtz but the wait is worthwhile. Brando was evidently quite the diva by this time in the 70s but somehow that aloofness and pride works well for the character. The final scene with the butchering of the water buffalo and the assault on Kurtz is riveting and tense.

It probably goes without saying but the production values of Apocalypse Now are absolutely outstanding. The sound design alone by Walter Murch was a game changer. The editing is great. The spectacle of the battles and use of color throughout the cinematography is incredible. All the acting is top notch.

As far as flaws there is a moral ambiguity about war which some might question. These days we want everything to make a statement but Apocalypse Now could easily be criticized as being both pro and anti war. This no doubt reflected the divided nature of the country in 1979 (what it must have been like to watch the film in 1979 is incredible to think about). I kind of like that it is open to interpretation but some may see it as a cop-out.

This might be a weird comparison but Apocalypse Now reminded me of another epic Lawrence of Arabia. Different time periods obviously but they both have large scale spectacle filmmaking mixed with unique characters that transfixed me. I love Lawrence of Arabia more but still both movies lived up to their respective hypes in my opinion.

What do you think about Apocalypse Now? Please put your thoughts in the comment section.

The horror! The horror!

9.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘The Nest’: A Dysfunctional Family But For What?

Slice of life movies are always a tricky venture. By their very description they are low on plot,high on characters. The idea is we as viewers relate to the day-to-day goings on of our characters and this closeness to our own lives inspires an emotion out of us. It moves us to see a version of ourselves on screen and this mirror gives us insight into our choices and lives. However, when slice of life films don’t work they are just people and the characters are not strong enough to give us needed insight. Such is the problem with Sean Durkin’s new film The Nest. The film is getting heaps of praise from other critics but I found it to be an underwhelming experience.

The Nest tells the story of a dysfunctional family in the 80s that moves to London so the husband (Jude Law) can make it in financing like he has been unable to do in the US. His wife (Carrie Coon) begrudgingly moves with him, along with her fitful horse, and 2 children. As they live in England, their marriage goes downhill quickly as he proves to be a terrible businessman. The girl throws a party. The horse has issues and that’s it.

Maybe my being single doesn’t allow me to get the deep meaning in the marital conflict? That is possible but when you compare this with something like 45 Years which is also about a struggling marriage, with partners failing to communicate, there is no comparison. I am not very familiar with Coon but her performance didn’t work. The Nest screams for a Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine type performance but doesn’t deliver it. Again, if the story isn’t going to draw us in the characters need to and these do not.

Law does more but is stuck in a basic role we’ve seen a million times and done with far more gravitas in other films. I felt no emotion with his character- neither anger nor sympathy. The daughter throws a party but that is quickly done away with and not taken seriously by the script. I could say that for all the characters including the horse! It’s all surface-level. It all looks pretty with nice production design and cinematography but the characters and story are very bland.

Others seem to be enjoying The Nest more than I did so by all means give it a watch and decide for yourself. It did nothing for me, and I cannot recommend it. Let me know what you think.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW]’One Night in Miami’: 4 Iconic Friends, 1 Night to Talk

It’s always a tricky thing turning a celebrated stage play into a movie. It can be very successful like Amadeus or A Man for All Seasons. Other times it doesn’t carry over well like with August Osage County or marginally so with Fences. There is something about the monologuing and cadence a play needs to be successful which can feel awkward and inauthentic in a film.

The new film One Night in Miami doesn’t totally escape these problems. There are times it feels stagey and the dialogue is clinical rather than the natural discourse of friends. However, the performances are strong enough and the true moments true enough to rise above these problems.

The film tells a fictionalized story of real-life icons Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), Malcolm X, Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke as they meet for one night following the first championship fight of Clay over Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964. Each man has a different perspective on life, race, publicity, work and the Civil Rights Movement, and none are shy about sharing their views with each other.

Again, sometimes this dialogue can feel stagey or like they are talking to the audience more than their friends in the room. However, the performances are so charismatic that it draws you in anyway. I particularly liked the interchanges between Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X and Leslie Odom Jr as singer Sam Cooke. They have different perspectives about when to speak out and when to play along, and they both make good points that ring true today.

The filmmaking in One Night in Miami, by first time director Regina King, is appropriately minimal. Most of the film is set in a hotel room with the 4 men talking. You get brief glimpses of Clay fighting, Cooke singing, Malcolm calling his family etc but for the most part it stays true to the origins of the play. This works quite well as nothing on screen distracts you from the performances.

Currently the film is premiering at the Venice Film Festival (the first film directed by an African-American woman to be selected in the festivals history, which is insane it took this long!). I saw it virtually through the Toronto International Film Festival but it will be coming to Amazon Prime and I definitely think it is worth a watch especially for the performances.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

 

 

[REVIEW] ‘Infidel’ or Christian Taken?

When American Sniper became a huge hit in 2014/2015 Hollywood realized that the conservative market could support more edgy R rated films than the squeaky clean variety they had previously been served (along with Passion of the Christ but that was more avertly religious than American Sniper). Since then I have noticed a number of overtly Christian films that are decidedly R rated and yet it still catches me off guard. I guess it is something I just have to get used to! The latest is a film by director Cyrus Nowrasteh called Infidel. It’s a bit of a mixed bag but overall if the topic interests you I think it is worth a watch.

Infidel stars Jim Caviezel in inspired by true events of the kidnapping and imprisonment of former FBI agent Robert Levinson in Iran in 2007. His character’s name in the movie is Doug Rawlins and to start with he goes to Cairo to give a speech. While there he is kidnapped and his wife (Claudia Karvan) is left to try and rescue him.

The first part of Infidel with Doug speaking and getting over to Cairo is very clunky, and I thought for sure I was going frown-worthy on it. However, once the movie gets into full rescue mode it became a lot more palatable. If you like movies like Taken you might have fun with this film.

All the performances are good. I particularly liked Claudia Karvan as Doug’s wife. She’s not your typical upset wife waiting at home nor is she the kick butt action hero. Just a strong capable woman who gets things done. Caviezel is also good especially when he is in more prisoner vs preacher mode.

I don’t know what Christian audiences will think of Infidel? It is violent and has its share of F-bombs so I know that will turn away some people of faith. However, it is based on a true story and the action is exciting, so it has its appeal. Nevertheless, It’s a weird mixture but I was entertained enough to recommend it. It’s going to be playing in 1500-1700 theaters starting this weekend so if you get a chance to see it let me know what you think.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey  everyone! I’ve got some more mini reviews for you of films I’ve been seeing over the last few weeks. I have certainly been extremely busy with content to make and movies to watch and it’s not even Christmas yet!

Lapsis

Lapsis is a film I saw as part of the virtual Fantasia Film Festival 2020. It is a very interesting sci-fi film starring Dean Imperial as a man in future dystopian-like world who is desperate for work. His brother is sick and the bills are piling up so he decides to get a job laying cable for a giant corporation. As he embarks on an Appalachian trail type odyssey he grows to realize the reach of the company is bigger and stronger than he ever imagined including little robots he must compete with who are also laying down cable along with the humans.

As you can tell this film has an intriguing premise and for the most part I enjoyed it. The only major flaw with it is the ending is very abrupt. It feels like they ran out of funding and couldn’t finish the movie. Up until then I was really digging the strange take on work in the gig economy. Still there is enough good before the ending for me to recommend giving Lapsis a shot.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe

I am only minimally familiar with the Phineas and Ferb program. I’ve watched a few episodes here and there and recently tried to get caught up with mos the first season. From what I’ve seen it’s a delightful show with a nice sense of humor and playful character designs.

Recently they released a new movie based on the show called Phineas and Ferb the Movie Candace Against the Universe. Despite my lack of familiarity with the characters I really enjoyed this movie. It had a lot of humor that worked, a playful sense of whimsy and as someone with 2 brothers a character in Candace I can definitely relate with. I didn’t feel confused as a non-watcher of the show. The animation is bright and colorful and the music is catchy.  Your kids will love it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Blech Effect

The Blech Effect is a documentary that tells the story of investor David Blech as he is about to go to prison for investors fraud. It was for the most part a fine documentary and it is interesting to see the preparation that goes into someone getting ready for a correctional institution. At one point they even have a prison consultant who’s assigned to tell David what the first day of prison life will be like.

The aspect I didn’t like is them painting him as a victim of the system. In particular the repeated use of his young autistic son as a reason to spare him punishment. I am sure raising a son with autism has its challenges but it’s not an excuse for committing crimes or a reason for leniency.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Lost Husband

On the surface The Lost Husband looks like a Nicholas Spark-like narrative with our heroine getting back to her roots while overcoming grief. Unfortunately it is missing key aspects that make those movies, sappy as they might, work.

The film stars Leslie Bibb as a widow who moves into a farmhouse with her aunt Jean (Nora Dunn). Farm living proves to be therapeutic for the city girl especially with hunky farm aid played by Josh Duhamel. The problem is the romance is barely developed and the big reveal does not pay off. It makes the entire film very bland and boring where it could have been good.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Shooting Heroin

When I finished watching the new drama Shooting Heroin I was left more than a little befuddled. The very dark film about a group of citizens that take back their small town from the ravages of addiction has the feel of a faith-based films but then it is loaded with f-bombs, drug abuse and violence. I can’t help but think who was this made for?

The story of the film revolves around Adam (Alan Powell), Hazel (Sherilyn Fenn) and Edward (Lawrence Hilton- Jacobs). All have lost loved ones to opioid addiction and they all do a good job with their performances. Addiction is a horrible blight on humanity and it impacts every family sooner or later. It took 2 of my cousins. So I was with this movie as far as messaging but the tonal shifts didn’t work. It’s not awful but just messy.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery’: Female Friendship and Oh Yeah a Romance Too

Being the founder of The Hallmarkies Podcast  many of you probably assume I am going to love a movie called The Broken Hearts Gallery just by the name alone. Well, you would be wrong. Just read my review for Desperados and you will quickly see I do not give all romcoms a pass. In fact, what I enjoyed the most about The Broken Hearts Gallery wasn’t the romance at all; although it was very sweet and enjoyable. My favorite part of the film is the friendships it depicts. It showcases the best kind of sisterhood that especially thrives in your post-college years and in the age of quarantine I miss a lot (I haven’t even been able to attend book club in person for months. Sad face).

The Broken Hearts Gallery stars Geraldine Viswanathan (who I loved already this year in Bad Education, so she’s rapidly becoming a favorite) as woman named Lucy (that’s such a romcom name). In our opening scenes she is dumped by her boyfriend in a very public fashion and she does not handle things well. Luckily she has her very forgiving and eclectic roommates to help her grieve. Molly Gordon plays roommate Amanda who is married to the mute Jeff and Phillipa Soo (of Hamilton fame) is lesbian part-time model Nadine. They are both hilarious, and I loved them so much.

Through an adorable meet-cute Lucy meets hunky Nick played by Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things), and they start renovating a boutique hotel together. Bernadette Peters also figures in to the story as a gallery owner and Lucy’s former boss. As the title suggests, Lucy creates a gallery of items she and others have saved from their failed relationships. It becomes an instagram phenomenon, and you can guess where the story goes from there.

The point of a movie like The Broken Hearts Gallery is not to tell the most original story. You know where it is going each step of the way. The point is to spend time with likable people, have some laughs and feel good about the world for 5 seconds. This movie does a great job with all of that, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think men and women will equally enjoy it as the male characters have personality and aren’t just tools in the plot for the women (except maybe Jeff but that’s hilarious). My friend went with her husband, and he enjoyed it because he was laughing at the witty dialogue. It’s very engaging and funny.

The one warning I will give about the film is it is a strong PG-13. In fact, I am a little surprised it could get away with that rating. I would check a content review site before seeing it to make sure it is something you are comfortable with.

If you do feel comfortable than make your way to your local theater or drive-in and watch The Broken Hearts Gallery. It’s a really fun time!

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ or Not My Art Film

There will be a lot of people who find the new Charlie Kaufman film I’m Thinking of Ending Things to be brilliant and one of the best movies of the year, and I can totally see why. It’s bold, creative and clearly trying to say something about deep themes of life, death and relationships. It also has strong performances from Jessie Buckley (who I adored in last year’s Wild Rose), Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis and more. All of these factors could make it a compelling work of art.

Unfortunately just like with any art there are going to be people who do not connect with it and it doesn’t inspire. With this film I am one of those people. If it does move you I totally get it but people are asking for my experience in this review. I can’t lie and say something moved me when it did not.

Let’s get into it. I’m Thinking of Ending Things stars Buckley as a ‘young woman’ who is going to meet her boyfriend Jake’s family for the weekend. She has very mixed feelings about this trip because she wants to break up with him. We then get 2 main portions of the film: First, when she arrives at the house and strange things start happening, and second, when those strange things continue on as they are driving home. That’s all I can really say without spoilers.

As these strange things happen our ‘young woman’ is confronted with themes of aging, life, death and more but none of it seemed very deep or interesting and Kaufman repeats himself a lot. By the third or fourth time seeing an aging parent, for example, you want to say ‘I get it!’ He also doesn’t make his characters very likable which makes the whimsy less enchanting.

In contrast to I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a movie called A Ghost Story which is also abstract and strange and has a similar message about the fragility of life and permanence of death. However, A Ghost Story keeps its metaphor simple and it is only a blessed 92 minutes. I often think arthouse films would be better as shorts as opposed to features but either way I’m Thinking of Ending Things is way too long at 134 minutes. Especially the last act when they are driving lost me, and I was ready for it all to be over.

Some people may throw up their hands in frustration and say ‘well Rachel you just didn’t get it’ and maybe they are right? Most of it I got, but not all of it. I don’t understand, for example, why we needed a long scene in a blizzard getting ice cream which is then immediately thrown away. I don’t understand why we need an animated pig and a naked man at a certain point? You may see that and its ambiguity and love it! Not knowing what is happening may intellectually excite you. I can respect that. It just wasn’t my experience.

If you loved I’m Thinking of Ending Things please explain what moved you in the comments section? What did you love about it? Where does it rank for you in the Kaufman canon? As for me I would pass on this one unless it sounds like your kind of thing than go for it.

4.5 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘Rent-A-Pal’ or Hello Video Friend…

One of my goals for this year was to get out of my comfort zone as far as my reviews. Well 2020 has certainly made that interesting but I have tried to review more thrillers/horror movies to help expand my portfolio as a critic. For example, I recently saw Unhinged which I didn’t like and then Relic which I did like and is one of my favorite films of 2020. Now we have the 80s throwback thriller called Rent-A-Pal. This is a very disturbing but effective film which tells a creepy story about the mania loneliness can cause.

Rent-A-Pal tells the story of David (Brian Landis Folkins) who is shouldering the burden of caring for his aging Mother with severe dementia. She often calls him Frank, his father’s name and seems resentful of the help David gives her. She even wanders away and is lost trying to find her husband. Anyone who has cared for someone with dementia can relate to these experiences. (It’s very interesting that Relic also dealt with these same themes as well as Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which I will review later).

One day David gets a video tape from his video dating service that’s a video introduction to friend Andy played by Will Wheaton. He asks you how your day has been, compliments your decor and shares jokes all for a small purchase fee at the video dating service. Meanwhile, David gets matched by the service with a girl named Lisa who seems could be an actual friend. Can David see the difference between what is real or a artificial? That’s where the mania lies in a the movie and like I said it is very effective.

The only thing I wish they had more time for is to build up his link to Andy. It all happens very quickly, in just a couple of days, which makes it less believable. This is especially true because he is so so excited for the date with Lisa and it seems to go so well.

Speaking of Lisa, I thought Amy Rutledge did a really good job in a small role. She is warm and likable, which is a nice contrast to the phony affability of Andy.  Everybody does a good job in Rent-A-Pal but I found myself rooting for Lisa towards the end.

Rent-A-Pal is an upsetting film if you have been lonely in your life. It definitely won’t be for everyone but if it sounds interesting to you it’s well made and worth a watch.

Look for Rent-A-Pal in drive-ins, theaters and VOD Sept 11th

7 out of 10