Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I am extremely busy right now with my podcasts, open water swims, traveling and more. I am also covering both the Annecy Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival so things are busy for yours truly. Today I have 3 mini reviews for you with much more to come. Enjoy!

Wish Dragon

After 2 huge successes from Sony Animation in Spider-man Into the Spiderverse and The Mitchells vs the Machines I was eagerly looking forward to their next picture Wish Dragon, and it is probably my high expectations that led to disappointment.

Wish Dragon isn’t terrible but I found it to be bland with slow pacing. I liked the bright and colorful animation but the script was lacking. It seemed to take forever to get to the dragon and when he appeared he certainly wasn’t as funny as the Genie in Aladdin but I’d put him below the recent dragon in Raya and the Last Dragon.

The story gets lost in the relationship between Din and Li Na and his attempts to impress her business-man father who has some shady deals behind him. Maybe the humor will work better for a Chinese audience but it didn’t work for me.

Other than the dragon Wish Dragon did nothing for me and I found it kind of a chore to get through. I hope you all enjoy it more than I did but it’s not for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

I wasn’t the biggest fan of 2018’s Peter Rabbit because I felt it wasted all the sweetness of the original stories for this slapstick creation. However, I will own it did have some laughs and I can see why other people enjoyed it and why it was such a big hit.

Now we have the inevitable sequel and I honestly don’t think fans of the original will enjoy this film. It seemed like a big mess if you ask me. The strangest part of this sequel is they take themselves seriously instead of just being the romp people are expecting. They have Peter full of existential dread and worrying about the meaning of life and how he can fit in when aren’t people just expecting a lot of silliness?

They also go meta by the end with David Oyelowo playing a publisher who wants to make Peter Rabbit crass and commercial with rabbits in space all the while them winking at the camera that they know this is what they have done with Beatrice Potter’s sweet books. To say this fell flat would be an understatement.

Peter Rabbit 2 is also part a heist film and I don’t think kids will be all that entertained by Peter and his friends stealing dried fruit from the farmers market. The only part I laughed at is a comedic sequence where Domhall Gleeson rolls down a hill in an attempt to be more free spirited. Isn’t this what people are expecting from this movie?

There are so many good entertainments for children right now so I would give Peter Rabbit 2 a pass

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The First Step: Tribeca 1

My first film of The Tribeca Film Festival is a documentary called The First Step. It follows political commentator and activist Van Jones as he seeks to pass criminal justice reform in the era of Trump.

I have to admit I had no idea Van Jones was the way he is portrayed in this documentary. I thought he was much more radical than this but he tries his hardest to be a ‘bridge builder’ during the years of Trump,which I really admire.

Some on the left condemn him for this but he managed to get all but 12 senators to vote in favor of his bill. That’s pretty impressive and 10k inmates were released as a result. Obviously a documentary like this is going to portray him in the best light possible but he gets so much flack on either side it felt pretty even-keeled in my opinion.

If you want to see a fascinating a look at modern day politics watch The First Step.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Spirit Untamed’: For Little Girls Who Like Horses

In my career as a critic some movies presented before me are complex and challenging with different layers of meaning. Others are not. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I believe there can be value in knowing what you are and executing it well. I enjoy simple well done Hallmark movies for example. The new film from DreamWorks Animation entitled Spirit Untamed is such a film. It is made for little girls who love horses and want to watch an adventure. On that level it succeeds and is an animated adventure.

This somewhat vanilla film may be disappointing to those of us who love the original Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It was a film that took real risks in its storytelling combined with some of the most beautiful animation DreamWorks has ever produced. If you would like to hear me talk more about the original film my friend Stanford and I covered it last year for Obscure Animation:

Unfortunately DreamWorks has moved on from the original film and created a series called Spirit Riding Free, which I admit I have never seen an episode. This new movie, Spirit Untamed,is a spin off of that show, which given it has 12 seasons has its audience. That’s who this movie is made for.

The story of Spirit Untamed follows a young girl named Lucky who is moving to a frontier town and meets a wild mustang named Spirit while on the train. Her Mother road horses and Lucky dreams of doing the same. When Spirit is caught by ne’re do wells Lucky and her friends, the PALS, go on an adventure to rescue all the horses taken.

If you are wondering why this needed to get a theatrical release I would agree with you. On the story and animation quality it feels more like a direct to streaming feature. However, that doesn’t mean it is bad. It’s perfectly serviceable little movie. I just don’t know if I would pay the big prices at the theater for it. I would probably wait for its inevitable Netflix release along with the series.

It does have a more star-studded voice cast than the series (which again I’ve never seen). This features Jake Gyllenhaal as Lucky’s Dad and Julianne Moore, WalterGoggins and Andre Braugher. I don’t know that I needed these stars for the film but I guess they give it a little more gravitas as a theatrically released film.

I also appreciate the diversity in the film. Almost all young girls should be able to find someone to relate with amongst the PAL characters. The horses are also very beautiful although not nearly as beautiful as the original film. It does have a really nice message about never giving up, connecting with our ancestors, working together and being brave when things are challenging.

In the end, ones enjoyment of Spirit Untamed comes along with your expectations. If you are wanting something along the lines of the original you will be disappointed. If you want something cute for little girls who like horses you’ll enjoy it. It will win the heart of all who love horses.

I also appreciate Spirit Untamed has a female director Elaine Bogan. I hope we keep seeing more female directors in animation (something DreamWorks has been above the curve on with directors like Brenda Chapman and Jennifer Yuh Nelson)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 66: Beverly Hills Cop

Recently I watched Eddie Murphy’s classic comedy Coming to America and really enjoyed it. It was genuinely funny and had a sweet romance to it. Naturally when looking at another one of his classics, Beverly Hills Cop, I wasn’t expecting a romance but I did expect it to be funny. Now I have seen it and…I didn’t laugh. Maybe I’m missing something but it seemed like an ordinary police procedural?

The film definitely earns its R rating with language and some strong violence for a comedy but the story is pretty bland. Murphy plays a Axel Foley a Detroit cop who travels to Beverly Hills to try and look into the murder of his friend shown at the beginning of the film. While there he meets various local cops including detectives Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Aston).

The case involves a drug ring led by villain Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff). It was all extremely obvious and by the numbers. What surprised me was how serious the movie took itself? I was expecting to laugh more and the jokes were hardly there. I guess something like Foley putting bananas in the officers car tailpipe is funny? I’m not sure why but they referred to that incident several times as a sign of Foley’s wild ways. Huh?

I guess you can enjoy it as a cop procedural and there is some chemistry between Murphy, Reinhold and Ashton but if that’s the strength of the movie I wish they’d given them a more interesting case. Maybe they do in the sequels?

A lot of 80s comedies fall flat but this one didn’t even seem to be making jokes so I evidently am missing something? It felt long and was under 2 hours. It just did nothing for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Cruella’: It’s Weird but Ok I Guess?

I know people like us as critics to be sure about our opinions. To come out of the gate with a confident ‘masterpiece’ or ‘garbage’ about every film. Indeed, I know some critics who seem to be able to always know how they feel with ease. However, in my case I often struggle weighing the pros and cons and trying to decide how I actually feel.

Cruella is one of those moments. Even as I am writing this review I’m not entirely sure what grade I am going to give it. Smile or frown worthy? Hmmm.

Part of the problem is Cruella is a very strange movie. To begin with it tells the backstory of one of Disney’s most notorious villains Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians. But it’s not really for children and it doesn’t try to humanize Cruella in the way that Maleficent did. They aren’t telling you that she actually had the best interest of the puppies in mind or something like that.

It’s basically a Devil Wears Prada story but with both characters being wicked or ending wicked. What I liked about is both Emma Thompson and Emma Stone are having a blast in their roles. It’s a battle of wits in who can be the most cutthroat and evil and that’s fun to watch.

The fashion is also absolutely stunning and guaranteed an Oscar nomination come Awards season. Both the costuming and the hair and makeup are outstanding and very memorable.

It is also fun to see a series of heists staged during the fashion shows/galas but I wish they had only had 2 instead of 3 because it started to feel repetitive after a while. The music, for the part, works (they spent a fortune on the soundtrack) although it can be sometimes a little too on the nose and obvious.

In general the movie is way too long at 134 minutes and like I said feels repetitive after a while. Some of the nods to the original film are fun and others are cringeworthily obvious. In the end, it had a hard time overcoming the bizarre premise for a children’s film.

See Cruella for the fun performances and the fashion. I would love to see it do well because we need hits at the box office but just as far as quality I’d wait and watch it on Disney Plus. At least they tried something different rather than a remake like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Maybe that’s a low bar but there it is. It has fun moments and is a weird experiment from Disney. If it sounds like your jam check it out and let me know what you think

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy (Barely)

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! Got a quick 3 mini reviews for you today.  I am making more of an effort to see live theater these days so I will probably be a bit pickier when it comes to new movies. You can find my live theater reviews on my personal blog here.

I will have a review of Cruella tomorrow and Spirit Untamed for you on Friday but for now here are 3 new movies I’ve seen but haven’t been able to review yet.

Demon Slayer- The Movie: Mugen Train

Some movies based on anime shows can stand alone others need more backstory. Demon Slayer is the latter. I wish I had seen the show before watching the movie but I still enjoyed the film and it has inspired me to watch the show. This film takes the demon slayers from the show and puts them on a train that is possessed by demons. As they travel on the train and fight the demons we get to learn more about each of the slayer’s backstories and lives. It’s emotional, intense, violent and beautiful. The animation is gorgeous and as I saw the dub it was well done.

There are times I was confused but for the most part I got what was going on. So if you don’t have time to watch the series I still think it is worth seeing for the animation alone. The series is available on Netflix for all interested.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Top End Wedding

The first third of this Australian wedding romcom is very chaotic and random and I wasn’t sure it was going to be my thing but once it gets to the actual wedding it really works and I was invested. Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) have such great chemistry and you are really rooting for this couple to succeed.

There are all kinds of shenanigans from difficult parents who have to be hunted down, bachelorette parties that get out of hand and a boss with Cruella hair. Like I said, some of it is a too much but the core is so heartwarming and sweet I couldn’t help but love it.

It ends in one of the most satisfying weddings in recent memory. 2 good people have found and committed to each other and isn’t that what it is all about? A rom-com win that will leave you cheering.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Here Today

Some movies just have bad timing. Here Today is one of those films. Directed and starring Billy Crystal it has the best of intentions and is trying to be a sweet film about a man getting dementia. The problem is we just had an Oscar winning film about a man with dementia that was far superior in The Father. It’s impossible to not compare the two and find this one lacking.

Tiffany Haddish costars with Crystal as his friend who helps him with his family and come to terms with his dementia.We also get flashbacks to him and his kids and ideal wife (Louisa Krause).

Some people might compare Here Today with a Hallmark movie but honestly I think it lays on the sentimentality even too thick for Hallmark. I appreciate what they were going for but it gets lost in the cliches and trite characters I had trouble relating too. It’s too well-meaning to be awful but it didn’t really work for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you go. Did you get to see any of these films? Let me know what you thought!

[REVIEW] ‘In the Heights’ or You’re Not Taking Away Their Shot

Most of you who know me well know I absolutely love musicals. Whether it is animated musicals from Disney and other studios, original films like Sing Street or The Greatest Showman or Broadway adaptations like Hairspray or My Fair Lady I am down with musicals!

In fact, this summer I am making a goal to see and support as many local musical and theater productions as I can. I have already seen 9 since I was cleared after my vaccination with more to come. You can read my theater reviews on my other blog here.

With this being my summer of musicals It is such kismet that 2021 is fixing to be the best year for musicals at the movies ever. In both live action and animated films we have practically a musical film opening (or going to streaming) every month! This includes filmed musicals like Diana and Come From Away to animated films like Vivo and Encanto! I can’t wait!

The first up in the live action department is In the Heights. This is based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tony award winning musical of the same name and tells the story of Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) who dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic and run a bar there. Meanwhile he is grinding it out running a bodega in Washington Heights with an array of friends and family in the rapidly changing area.

Gentrification is coming and even the beloved hair salon is being forced to move. There is Nina back from Stanford. Abuela Claudia who Mothers and Grandmothers the entire street. Usnavi’s cousin Sonny helps him at the bodega but he has his own share of troubles. Usnavi also has a crush on Vanessa who can’t wait to get out of Washington Heights.

In the Heights is directed by Jon M Chu who is at his best in these spectacle musicals. He made the Step Up movies entertaining to watch despite their somewhat flimsy plots and he made the best rom-com in a long while with Crazy Rich Asians. (We won’t talk about his abysmal Jen and the Holograms adaptation. Yikes…). With him at the helm, it should be no surprise that the big bombastic (people are literally dancing on the side of buildings) dance and musical sequences are where In the Heights shines. They are so much fun!

There is also a nice heart to the film. I saw the show years ago and really enjoyed it and the team has done a great job translating the energy and sense of community of the stage musical into this feature film. The whole cast has an effortless chemistry (including Miranda as Piraguero, the piragua guy or shaved ice salesman).

They manage to touch on important issues facing areas like Washington Heights in effective ways and juggle a lot of characters without it seeming cluttered or flimsy. Watching In the Heights will leave you smiling but also reflective on what we can do better as a society to support communities especially with minority populations.

The only real flaw in the film is for the non-musical buffs the 143 minute runtime may be a bit wearing. They could have definitely cut down a few numbers and made things tighter- even for a musical fan like myself it ran a bit long.

Nevertheless, I loved In the Heights. It’s an energetic burst of song and passion at the movies. It promises to be the movie event of the summer!

8 out of 10

[REVIEW] A Quiet Place Part II: Quiet Film Brings Big Thrills

Crafting an effective sequel is extremely difficult- especially in the world of the horror/thriller genre. It’s tough to avoid the temptation to repeat the successful film and if they try something new it can backfire and not please the fans of the original film. This trend is what makes the achievement of A Quiet Place Part II all the more remarkable. I really enjoyed the first film but this sequel is one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. The two films together may very well be my favorite story of the genre (and I’m not one for hyperbole).

What makes this film work so well is the characters and the atmosphere director John Krasinski creates. He takes characters we really care about and then puts them in situations of real peril. He also uses the quiet to create tone and suspense that had me literally jumping from my seat on several occasions. You could hear a pin drop in my theater we were all so invested!

A Quiet Place Part II brings back the Abbott family from the previous film (Krasinski in flashback). Emily Blunt is on the run leading her family to try and find some kind of safety. This is made more difficult by the fact she has a newborn and they like to cry last time I checked.

She also has her 2 other children Marcus played by Noah Jupe and Regan played wonderfully by Millicent Simmonds. She’s practically the lead in this film and she does a great job!

They eventually run into Cillian Murphy’s Emmett who reluctantly helps them. All the characters work and I was invested in their journeys.

I won’t say any more but I encourage you to see A Quiet Place Part II in the theater if you can. It’s the kind of movie that will be better when part of a shared group experience. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in a regular audience instead of a critics screening.

The only real flaw I had with the film is I still don’t love the design of the aliens. They look pretty generic and the film loses some of its family feel from the first by splitting up the characters for a majority, but I still liked the journey of the characters, so it’s not much of a loss.

It’s a fantastic film! Don’t miss it!

9.5 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘Dream Horse’ or How to Win at a Comfort Movie

Whenever I review a film I always ask myself if the movie succeeded in doing what it set out to to do. In other words, if it an action movie is the action good? If it’s a tearjerker did it make me cry? If it is a comedy did it make me laugh? It’s always a satisfying experience when I can confidently answer yes: the movie in question successfully executed its premise.

One such example is the new movie Dream Horse. It sets out to be a heartwarming inspirational true story and it is such a film. I really enjoyed this sweet story of community and never losing hope.

Dream Horse arrives in theaters tomorrow May 19th and tells the true story of a group of Welsh small town residents that gather together in a ‘Dream Alliance’ to pool their earnings and bread and raise a racehorse appropriately named Dream.

Toni Collette plays Jan, the leader of the group, and she’s just what you want in this kind of role. She’s likable while also being just enough of a spitfire to keep it from being too saccharine. I also really enjoyed Owen Teale as her husband Brian. He isn’t too thrilled about the Dream Alliance idea at first, but falls in love with the horse despite himself. Dream Horse is absolutely a feel-good movie but it is not too glossy (granted I’m the Hallmark girl so what do I know?). It shows the tough situation of most of the townspeople and even the big investor Howard, played by Damian Lewis, is barely hanging on to his marriage because of risky investments he recently made.

Sure it’s predictable but it’s also heart warming and will make even the crustiest Scrooges cheer. Watch it with your whole family. They will love it!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Dream Horse is available 5/19 in theaters and 6/11 digitally

 

[REVIEW] ‘Finding You’ or Do You Like Rom-coms?

Anyone who follows this site knows I am a huge fan of romantic comedies. I review Hallmark movies for a living after all! Therefore, it should be no surprise I am kinder on the genre than many other critics. A film can be full of the tropes of the genre and I’m fine with that because I like the genre and I like those tropes.

Such is the case with the new film Finding You. Some will say it’s predictable and cheesy and they would be right, but it is exactly those elements that won me over to the film. Finding You is one of those movies if you watch the trailer and it looks sweet and enjoyable than you will like it. If you watch it and think ‘oh no another romantic comedy’ than you will hate it.

Not that I just give a blank check to romantic comedies. They have to be done well and for the most part Finding You is. The biggest strength it has is Rose Reid in the lead. She is warm, charming and easy to root for. I especially loved her interactions with screen legend Vanessa Redgrave. That dynamic seriously elevated the film.

Jedidiah Goodacre was serviceable but felt a bit miscast as the hunky fantasy movie-star Beckett Rush, whom Reid’s Taylor meets while studying abroad in Ireland. Most of the dragons movie elements have to be taken with a grain of salt as you don’t even see a green screen anywhere- the visual effects are amazingly present on days of shooting. LOL

Tom Everett Scott does a good job as Beckett’s father. The whole film has a better cast than the script probably warrants but it makes it entertaining to watch.

There is also a degree of escapism in trotting all around Ireland as we are all anxious to get traveling again. Fans of the genre will be swept away in a sweet romance at the cinema!

At nearly 2 hours Finding You could have used a trim and the chemistry wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. However, if you like rom-coms than you will enjoy the film. It’s nothing new but I still had a fun time watching it.

6 out of 10