SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 5 (WORDS FROM A BEAR, THE REPORT, SWEETHEART)

sundance 2019 rachel

Another day has come and gone at the Sundance Film Festival! Today I saw 3 films, 2 of which were at the Rose Wagner Theater. They have a cool backdrop there that you must have your picture in front of to be a real Sundance groopie!

After some misses I am happy to report today is 3 wins at the festival and 3 films that couldn’t be more different. Just goes to show there is a little of everything at Sundance.

WORDS FROM A BEAR

words from a bear

First up is the documentary Words from a Bear, which profiles the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/poet N. Scott Momaday. This film is directed by Jeffrey Palmer who was there at the screening and has a small theatrical release planned, followed by a release on the PBS program American Masters this fall. If you have ever seen American Masters than you will have a good idea about this film. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it is an effective and competent look at an important American literary figure.

Momaday makes a great subject for a documentary because of his big booming voice. He could have a second career as a voice actor if he wanted. It really was very captivating! He won the Pulitzer from writing his novel House Made of Dawn, which I have not read but sounds like a good book. He certainly has a beautiful way of describing nature and the Native American experience.

They do work some neat animation into the documentary and have a wide variety of guest contributors with everyone from scholars to Robert Redford and Jeff Bridges. You could probably wait until it airs on PBS but if you get a chance to see it I don’t think you’ll regret it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

THE REPORT

the report

One of the things I loved about the Oscar winning film Spotlight is how fair and thorough it was. It resisted the urge to be a political bully-pulpit so many similar films step into being. I can say the same thing about Scott Z. Burns’ film The Report. As it follows the investigation into enhanced interrogations, led by Dan Jones, it gives no one a free pass. After seeing the propaganda piece disguised as humor that is Vice, this was so refreshing. That said, I have a feeling some of my liberal friends who have President Obama on a sacred pedestal may find his administrations choices hard to stomach but nobody is ignored. That’s what makes it great.

Dan Jones (Adam Driver) is the only hero of the film with perhaps Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) as his trusty knight who goes through the whole ordeal with him and finally gets things done. Everyone else is willing to turn a blind eye to the findings of the report for a variety of reasons. Dan Jones even gets faced with chances to compromise his values. It reminded me a little of Mr Smith Goes to Washington without the Capra vibrato. We can have hope that amidst all the mess people exist in America like Dan Jones.

The Report is very stressful to watch as they meticulously gather information, facing barriers at each step but I was riveted. Driver is tremendous as is the incredible supporting cast including Bening, Jon Hamm, Michael C Hall, Corey Stoll and more. There are some tough scenes of the interrogations being performed but it’s all part of building tension and desperation on Dan’s character to try and get something done. Like I said, I was riveted throughout!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

SWEETHEART

sweetheart

I always try to get out of my comfort zone at the Sundance Film Festival (if there is ever a time to do that it is Sundance! It’s the whole point of the festival!). One example is going to see the Blumhouse offering Sweetheart. If you don’t know, Blumhouse is a studio that makes small horror movies. Technically I will have seen 2 of their movies in January with having seen the Shyamalan film Glass in the regular theaters. Sweetheart seemed like it would be an enjoyable creature-scares movie and to my delight it was just that!

Directed by JD Dillard (who was at the screening and a lot of fun answering questions), Sweetheart tells the story of a young lady named Jennifer (Kiersey Clemons) who is washed ashore on a deserted island in Fiji. At first it seems like her greatest challenge is going to be living on the island but she quickly realizes there is a strange creature haunting all who dwell there.

In mostly a one-woman show, Clemons does a great job being vulnerable and also tough as she faces off against the monster. The tension builds well and had a good mixture of jump scares and lingering frights. The creature is seen just enough and there are a couple of great reveals especially one involving a flare gun. Sweetheart also doesn’t wear out its welcome at just 82 minutes. I was never bored and was smiling throughout.

The only downside to the film is 2 other actors we meet are not as strong as Clemons and the creature looks cheesy. He actually reminded me of an evil version of the creature in The Shape of Water, which was funny. But if you just go with it, there is fun to be had. It will be interesting to see what people think of it as it is definitely outside the normal genres I cover.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! 3 more films at the Sundance Film Festival! Tomorrow I have 2 on the docket and then a jam packed weekend to follow. Happy Sundancing!

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 4 (HALSTON)

So today ended up being an interesting day covering Sundance. Last night I was tired and frustrated that I went to the grocery store  to get something to eat (most everything else was closed and I didn’t want fast food). Little did I realize with my fatigue I left my wallet at the grocery store and I didn’t need it until the evening tonight. I didn’t realize it wasn’t there until after my first screening and I was purchasing a sandwich (luckily I had some cash in my purse!).

wallet

Panicking a little I decided to forgo the second screening and look for my wallet and it was a good thing I did. I looked all through my car and then my house and in a last ditch effort I called the grocery store and was thrilled when they said they had it! I’m so grateful to whomever found it and turned it in. Thank you kind and honest stranger!

HALSTON

Halston - Still 1

So that leaves me with only one movie to review today: the documentary Halston. Directed by Frédéric Tcheng it tells the story of the great American fashion designer Roy Halston who achieved peak fame in the 1970s. As one might expect, he led a very interesting life and created beautiful clothes for the modern woman. The film has a ton of new and archival interviews and I found it all quite fascinating.

Unfortunately they decide to frame the film with a bizarre narration that makes it seem like they are setting up a murder mystery not a celebrity documentary. They have an actress who is going through files and researching into the strange goings on of Halston and honestly nothing seemed all that strange? It was really odd and distracting from the narrative they did have because I was constantly waiting for Halston to get shot or something sinister. Also there are some reenactments which feel really cheesy.

It’s a shame because none of it was needed. Halston’s life is interesting enough without a fake melodramatic narrator. I wish they had paid attention to last year’s Kusama Infinity which did a much better job telling the story of an eccentric artist in a documentary format. Unfortunately these additions also make the movie too long. They should have gotten rid of all of the narration nonsense and just be confident in Halston and his life to carry the movie.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

 

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 3 (THE WITCH HUNTERS, LATE NIGHT, SUNLIT NIGHT)

Originally my plan for today at the Sundance Film Festival was to see 4 films but by the time I got through film 3 I was tired and ready to go home. Even so, 9 movies in 3 days is nothing to sneeze at! So far I’d say the festival has been a success with the usual combination of studs and duds. Hopefully I will get lucky and this week’s evening shows will be all winners because today swung violently both ways!

witch hunter

The Witch Hunters

First up this morning was the last of the 3 Sundance Kids films for this year entitled The Witch Hunters. Directed by Rasko Milijkovic this sweet film would be a perfect way to introduce a young child to a foreign language film. At the screening they gave all non-readers in the audience headphones with an English interpreter telling them the dialogue and it seemed to go over great. What a terrific experience for kids to be exposed too!

Fortunately the film is also delightful. Most of the story relies on the charm and terrific acting of its two young protagonists Jovan (Mihajlo Milavic) and Milica (Silma Mahmuti). Jovan has cerebral palsy and struggles with the weaknesses of his body and his inability to be like everyone else (a scene where he tries to climb a staircase had me in tears!). Meanwhile Milica is struggling with the destruction of her parent’s marriage and her father’s new girlfriend who they deem to be a witch (she makes her own kombucha and does yoga LOL).

It is so nice to see a story where a girl and boy are just friends and there is no attempt at young love. The parents (even the new girlfriend) are also pleasant and trying their best to do a good job (this isn’t a Home Alone style of disastrous parenting). It’s a sweet story about how friendship and imagination can help us get through the tough times of life- especially as young children.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

late_night_still_1

Late Night

It will be interesting to see how the public accepts Late Night. I worry it has the chance of being seriously overhyped. I came out loving it but then heard it had just set a record of $13 million purchase price by Amazon. Much like The Big Sick, I wonder if by the time normal audiences see it they will be frustrated it isn’t the greatest thing to ever exist? We will have to see I suppose.

Regardless, I can tell you what I thought about it. Written and starring Mindy Kaling, it tells the story of an Indian-American writer who gets her dream job working for the queen of late night television Katherine Newberry (Emma Thompson). As she works in this masculine environment we see both her sensibilities challenged and the Emma Thompson character trying to deal with her declining career.

Late Night, felt like a throwback to a type of movie we don’t get any more. Not since Nora Ephron died have I seen a movie that did such a good job in balancing comedy, story, witty banter and sneaky social commentary. Nora’s movies were always (even the bad ones) deceptively light and fluffy. Sure something like You’ve Got Mail may seem like a basic romcom but hidden inside are loads of little quips about New York, men and women, politics, movies, marriage and more. This is the dynamic Mindy Kaling was able to tap into when writing Late Night. It is funny. It is insightful and there might even be some romance (for both characters in a way).

The supporting cast is also great with John Lithgow and Amy Ryan as special standouts. Late Night is a real winner you should keep your eyes open for!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

sunlit night

The Sunlit Night

There’s always one movie at Sundance that its acceptance at the festival should give young aspiring filmmakers encouragement to enter their own films next year. Not because of its brilliance mind you, but because it is a complete disaster. Last year it was Ophelia but at least that was unintentionally funny. Instead, this year we get the hot mess that is The Sunlit Night.

Starring Jenny Slate (who’ve I’ve never been a fan of) The Sunlit Night is about an aspiring artist that takes an internship in Norway to work for a curmudgeonly old man who is painting a barn to look like the sun. It is also about Alex Sharp’s character who’s father dies and he ends up in Norway to grant his father’s last wish to be buried at the top of the world.

All of this could be fine but there were so many problems I almost don’t know where to begin. First of all, it is so tonally all over the place. Certain moments are very silly. For example, Zach Galifianakis playing a man from Cincinnati who lives in the Viking reenactment, or any scene with Gillian Anderson as Alex’s Russian Mother. These were so cringe-worthy. All of this was played for laughs but landed like a thud. And then the movie would try to go super sincere and then would be pretty dark. Then other moments it was like a fluffy romcom.

There was also no chemistry between Alex and Jenny. He seemed like a child where she was a fully-experienced woman. Plus, they are together for so little time that the relationship isn’t even given a chance.

The writing was also a mess. I’m told it is based on a book but it dragged (SO BORING!!!) and yet it somehow also had more story than it knew what to do with. For instance, there is a side plotline with Jenny’s sister’s wedding and her parents separating, which just makes her parents look like insufferable jerks. Nothing interesting is done with them so I was left wondering why I was forced to endure these terrible human beings for 2 hours?

It’s also technically a disaster. The editing is weird and there are multiple points where the ADR doesn’t match up with the mouths of the people talking. I was left truly baffled that anyone with a job thought this was fit to air. What on earth?

Norway looks nice. I’ll give it that but everything else gets a giant UGHHHHH!

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 2 (ABE, ELEPHANT QUEEN, FAREWELL)

day 2

Day 2 of the Sundance Film Festival has come and gone and despite having only gotten 4 hours of sleep last night I powered through and saw 4 films in 3 different venues today! Maiden is still my favorite of the festival but there were some interesting films today I’m glad I saw.

abe

Abe

The first movie of the day is a film called Abe that was screened at the SLC Library and it is part of the Sundance Kids lineup. It stars Noah Schnapp as a young man of both Muslim and Jewish ethnicity who is trying to balance his backgrounds and the people in his life carefully all through his love of cooking and food.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved everything with Abe and Noah Schnapp does a great job. He’s a very easy character to root for. I also liked all of the cooking and food scenes (particularly when he goes to work for a local Latin American fusion chef it’s very strong. What I didn’t like was all the other adults. They all claimed to love Abe but then would act in such shrill, inconsiderate ways. At one point he makes an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner for his grandparents and instead of eating it like grownups they start a big fight ending with one of them saying Abe should never have been born. I just don’t think a loving Grandparent would behave in such a way in front of their grandchild. It didn’t feel authentic so it was frustrating.

But in the end Abe is a strong enough character to carry his movie. One warning it should not be in the kids section as there is the f word 6 times. It would definitely be rated R by the MPAA.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

elephant queen

The Elephant Queen

Next up in the Sundance Kids section is a nature documentary called The Elephant Queen. Director’s Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone spent 4 years following a group of elephants to make this incredible film. The shots they get from the very small dung beetle to the giant savannas full of elephants are very impressive.

Like Disney Nature films we get names and a narrative to all the characters but it all worked for me and was very charming. I particularly liked the ‘late to everything’ geese hatchling named Steven. Chiwetel Ejiofor narrates and aside from being a touch too long for small kids it’s an adorable film the whole family will love.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sister - Still 1

Animation Spotlight

I must admit I go to the Animation Spotlight each year more out of obligation as an animation blogger than anything else. The selected shorts are almost always disappointing. It feels like all the creators are either trying too hard to be Don Hertzfeldt or to be too grown-up and edgy. Last year was a pretty good year with The Driver is Red and The Burden being standouts but there was nothing that strong this year.

The best of the group were Untravel and Obon. My least favorite of the group was Acid Rain which went on forever and was unpleasant in every way.

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

farewell

The Farewell

Last of the night is the family drama The Farewell which stars Awkwafina as a young woman who goes to China to be with her dying Grandma. The only problem is her Grandma doesn’t know she is dying. The whole family is visiting under a farce that her cousin is getting married (did he actually get married though? It was a little unclear).

Anyone who is part of a big family will be able to relate to this story. Both in the lies we tell each other to get through family gatherings but also how every family has that person who is a treasure to everyone in the family- usually a grandparent. If the ending doesn’t make you tear up than I don’t know what to say!

There are some pacing problems but all the acting is good and overall I really enjoyed The Farewell. Watch it with your Grandma.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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

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

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

maiden

Maiden

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

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

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

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

After The Wedding - Still 1

After the Wedding

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

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

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

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey guys! It’s early in the morning and I can’t sleep so I figure I might as well give you one of my mini-review posts. I actually haven’t done one since Dec 7th but there have been some posts with thoughts like my best and worst films of the year lists. Like always, this will not include movies like A Dog’s Way Home that I have written full reviews for. Also I haven’t reviewed Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse on this blog yet but I have reviewed it (as well as several others on this list) on my channel and I have done a full podcast on it. I would like to do a full detailed analysis on it at a later date.

So, let’s get started with the most recently watched first:

glass

Glass

Anyone who reads this blog knows of my shaky career with director M Night Shyamalan. His self-indulgent style and fixation on twists is often not for me. With his latest Glass, I was not looking forward to it much. I didn’t like Split at all and Unbreakable I found was just ok. My ending thought was it was a mixed bag, which is probably a win for me and Shyamalan. The pacing is very mixed and Shyamalan’s usual pretentiousness is in full display. The ending isn’t really earned by the characters or the script but the idea of a reverse origin story was mildly interesting. It wasn’t great but I didn’t hate it, so there you go! James McAvoy was terrific and we didn’t have the weird ‘your worthy because you were raped as a child’ element that Split had.

5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (just barely)

dragon-ball-super-broly

Dragon Ball Super: Broly

It makes me very happy to say that anime has been on a bit of a roll lately with good original films like Mirai and well done serial films like My Hero Academia: the Movie. While I don’t think the new Dragon Ball Z movie is as good as either of those films it was solid film. It doesn’t do as good a job as My Hero in explaining the world for newcomers but after a few minutes I was able to catch on to what was going on. Broly is an interesting character and I liked that the villain Frieza is an old school, screechy maniacal villain. I miss those. These days it seems like every villain has to be conflicted with a tragic backstory, so how refreshing to have one that is just over the top bad guy. The animation shines and Super: Broly is an overall fun experience at the theater.

Overall Grade 7/10

Smile Worthy

mary queen of scots

Mary Queen of Scots

If you are looking for historical accuracy this take on Mary Queen of Scots life will not be for you. There are sections particularly near the end that are quite howler-worthy but I nevertheless enjoyed the film. It’s silly fluff but my kind of silly fluff. Both leads Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are great in their roles (we see much more of Ronan than Robbie) and have just enough camp to make it fun. This is more The Other Boleyn Girl or The Tudors kind of historical film than something solemn and reverential like A Man for All Seasons. The makeup and costumes are tremendous so I can see why it got nominated in those categories. It’s not silly like The Favourite but I still enjoyed it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

if beale street could talk

If Beale Street Could Talk

Unpopular opinion time! A lot of people were upset that If Beale Street Could Talk wasn’t nominated for best picture. I’m not one of those people. While I acknowledge there is craft to be found in this film, I really was irritated while watching it. Nobody talked like a human being. It all felt like watching a bad off-broadway play where the talent is way better than the script. We are supposed to be invested in this couple but we hardly get to know them at all. I knew way more about Chiron in Moonlight in just the scenes of him learning to swim than I ever get about these 2 characters. The only character that was interesting was Regina King and her plotline going to Puerto Rico to try and exonerate her son-in law. Other than that, I found the movie to be an insufferable slog.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

modest heroes

Modest Heroes-

I really wanted to like this more than I did. The idea of Studio Ponoc releasing serialized anime shorts is very exciting but I found these 3 to be quite forgettable. You can read my full review for rotoscopers here. The only one that had any lasting value for me was the 2nd short about a Mom dealing with her son’s severe allergy. It ended weirdly but it is an urban modern setting and real-world heroism you don’t often see in anime and I appreciate that. I hope they keep making shorts and films but this first effort wasn’t my favorite.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

shoplifters2

Shoplifters

Another winner from one of my favorite directors Hirokazu Kor-eeda. He always has such humanity for his characters and that is no exception here. This story of a band of misfits that comes together to become a family in many ways feels Dickensian- like a fresh take on Oliver Twist. These people are technically breaking the law but we all know as viewers they belong together and yet it is clear their love has a ticking clock accompanying it. I loved every performance especially Lily Franky as the father and the stunning Sakura Ando as his wife. The two little children who play Yuri and Shota are also adorable.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

second act2

Second Act

This is a perfectly pleasant romcom with JLo doing what she does with tons of charisma. There’s also a sweet message at the core about adoption and being brave no matter where you come from. The moviemaking is pedestrian but I like this genre so I enjoyed it. Could have used more romance and the lie feels a little stretched out but it’s cute watch.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

next gen

Next Gen

This animated film from Netflix is very derivative of films like Iron Giant, Bumblebee and even Terminator but it has a cool world and some nice moments of heart. The girl can be a bit too unlikable at times and gets pretty close to hurting her classmates in a disturbing way. The PG rating is pushed so it may not be for small children but overall I enjoyed it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

the mule

The Mule

From director Clint Eastwood The Mule wasn’t awful but it wasn’t what I hoped it would be. As a big fan of Gran Torino, I was hoping it would have that grumpy guy charisma we know Eastwood can bring but it was just bland and self indulgent. I think Eastwood called in a lot of favors because the cast is much better than the script deserves with Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, and Dianne West all doing a good job. They elevate it but it’s just felt like something you’d see on TNT at night. Blahh!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

gnome-alone-ss2

Gnome Alone

This is another animated film that went straight to Netflix and I guess I went into it with very low expectations but I didn’t think it was that bad. It is a played out Coraline-lite story but the lead character was likable and it had enough sarcastic humor to be watchable. Not great but a passable babysitter for the kids.

5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

old_man_and_the_gun

Old Man and the Gun

Supposedly going to be Robert Redford’s last role and if so it’s a nice way to go out. They even find a very clever way of paying homage to some of his earlier outlaw roles in this story of him as a elderly bank robber. He’s a gentleman and leaves his victims with a smile on their faces. He’s just so charming. Director David Lowery continues his win streak with a slickly made movie with great performances from Redford, Cissy Spacek, Danny Glover and Casey Affleck. The clothes and production design feel steeped in 1970s so it has a nice sense of time and place. Pleasant watch.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

roma2

ROMA

Alfonso Cuarón is such a great director and he has another win with ROMA. Following Cleo as she works as a domestic for a family may be boring for some but I was engaged. I particularly thought anything involving Cleo’s pregnancy was devastating and compelling. Many of the characters are dynamic and feel easy to relate to. The cinematography and production design are perfection. It feels like something students will be studying in film school for many years to come and yet unlike many arthouse pieces it made me cry. I was invested in these people and their lives. It does have strong nudity so be warned if you are sensitive to that.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

favourite

The Favourite

I was reticent to see this film because I did not like Yorgos Lanthimos’ last film The Lobster but happily I liked this entry much better. It’s a genuinely funny, wacky take on a historical drama. Like The Lobster, Lanthimos makes this film top heavy with most of the good jokes and fun scenes happening in the first 45 minutes. After that it becomes more repetitive and less interesting. It’s also probably too long for what it’s trying to be. However, the performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are so much fun that it carries me through and I enjoyed it. Not one of my favorites (pun intended) of the year but still pretty good. This is a fairly strong R rating just so you know.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

anna and the apocalypse3

Anna and the Apocalypse

This energetic indie sums up why I love going to the movies. To get such a joyful, creative experience is really special. I loved pretty much everything about this mash-up of zombies, musicals and Christmas movie tropes. ‘Hollywood Ending’ and ‘Turning My Life Around’ are the highlight sequences but I enjoyed all the songs and I thought all the performances were great. Ella Hunt could be a big star and Malcolm Cumming was very sweet as her best friend. I even liked the jock cool kid who turns out to be a pretty tragic character. I was shocked at some of the zombie kills and overall I just loved it. I will definitely make this a part of my regular Christmas viewing each year. That’s for sure.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

once upon a deadpool

Once Upon a Deadpool

I have never seen anything Deadpool related and so I thought I would give this experiment of a PG-13 Deadpool 2 a shot (figuring I was the ideal audience for it). Unfortunately I did not care for this film at all. I didn’t think it was funny, mostly obnoxious and the action was underwhelming. Juliean Dennison who was so great in Hunt for the Wilderpeople was terrible as this strange bad guy, which was unfortunate when you have Josh Brolin doing a great job as Cable. Forming the X-Force felt like a waste of time and didn’t have the humor payoff to make it work. I was just thoroughly underwhelmed by this PG-13 Deadpool 2. A few of the Fred Savage jokes were good.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

bird box

Bird Box

This movie was frustrating for me to watch. I recently finished reading the book by Josh Malerman and it was an engaging thriller novel with well developed characters I cared about. The movie mostly loses those strengths in favor of schlocky moments and cheap laughs. The cast is great but all the stuff at the house felt like a cheap syfy channel movie. For example, in the book her sister dies at the house in a creepy, terrifying way that is devastating. In this she gets hit by a bus in the first 10 minutes. Not as good! In the book a character named Gary comes into the house for many days and Tom and Gary have different philosophies on how to live in this apocalyptic land and how to run the house. This builds tension and endears us to Tom. Here it is just a cheesy mad-man. However, I did like the scenes with Sandra Bullock and the children on the river. These were well shot and I was genuinely engaged. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t read the book but that’s my thoughts!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

blindspotting

Blindspotting

Everyone who follows this blog knows I did not care for this year’s Sorry to Bother You. It’s narrative was so over-stuffed that the compelling metaphors became muddled and exhausting. Blindspotting, on the other hand, does a much better job of keeping control of the script while still having madcap touches. Rafael Casal is particularly good as the leads toxic, erratic friend. He is always on the edge of insanity which kept me tense and worried for our lead character. The film has social commentary but it doesn’t distract from the narrative making it a quite mesmerizing portrayal of racial conflict and how even the most toxic people get free passes depending on their race.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! Did you get to see any of these films? What did you think? I would love to see your reviews in the comments section. Thanks so much!

A Dog’s Way Home Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smile Worthy

7 out of 10

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Blind Spot 37: Henry V (1989)

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I don’t think it is too controversial to say that in America we are in a bit of a leadership drought these days. Gone is anyone that seems to be able to unite and inspire us to be better than we might otherwise be. You can make the argument this type of dogmatic leader is dangerous, and that is certainly true, but I nonetheless miss it.

William Shakespeare’s play Henry V is perhaps the greatest example of a dynamic leader who through their powerful discourse is able to convince people to do more than they ever thought they could. Now, whether invading France is a good thing is another discussion but Henry still got the men to do it and to win in spite of all the odds. Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 adaptation of Henry V is a visceral and intense version of this story, and I honestly can’t imagine it being done any better.

The film uses elements from Henry IV Part 1 and 2 in a flashback style and adds a narrator billed as Chorus played by Derek Jacobi. This is helpful as particularly the opening actions can be a little confusing.

It always takes me a bit to get into Shakespeare but particularly here as these scenes involve a lot of diplomatic negotiations. I especially found confusing a story-thread with Dame Judi Dench as an innkeeper and Robbie Coltraine as Falstaff. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be comic relief like the Thénardiers in Les Miserables, but I didn’t really get it.

Fortunately for us, Branagh quickly moves on to the soldiers and the battlefield, which is easiest to understand and become engrossed with. First, we get the rousing speech at the city of Harfleur:

“What say you? Will you yield?” I would yield. I can tell you that right now! Then the army continues to struggle through Calais where a member is hanged for stealing from a church. In a great scene Henry goes amongst the soldiers to see how they are feeling and they tell him ‘if his cause be wrong…it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it”:

Then we get up to the battle where they are outnumbered by the French 5 to 1 and it is there that Shakespeare gives Henry one of the most powerful speeches of all time:

“But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…” That’s a leader! With such leadership they fight and defeat the French with Henry becoming King of both nations. It’s all quite riveting and while Branagh’s version is very violent it works to draw you in and build up the stakes of the story.

The easiest modern example to compare Henry V with is obviously Braveheart which follows very similar beats and executes them well. Some may cringe at the glorification of war but where is leadership more crucial (especially in this ancient age of intimate conflict) than in war? Do we honestly believe we would have gotten the Abraham Lincoln or the Winston Churchill in an era of peace and serenity? Not so much. The great leaders are great because they inspire us to be better and to gather together as a ‘band of brothers’ to face the struggles of the battlefield and of life.

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As far as technical prowess of Henry V it holds up quite well. The acting is great across the board (we even get to see a young Christian Bale in a small role). The sets, action and cinematography are all great. The music is soaring and draws you into the battle. Aside from the confusing scenes with Falstaff, it all works very well and is very impressive considering it is Branagh’s directorial debut (he was nominated for best actor and director for Henry V). I think it is even stronger than his a bit bloated version of Hamlet.

It is definitely smile worthy!

8.5/10

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What do you think of Henry V? Do you find it inspiring or is it too violent for your taste? Let me know in the comments section. What is your favorite Shakespearean adaptation?

My Best Movies of 2018

Hi everyone! If you are following my youtube channel/podcast you already know my top 15 movies of 2018 list. It was a challenging list to put together and probably not the same as you will hear from anyone else but isn’t that the way these lists should be? So for those that haven’t heard here are my favorite movies of 2018:

15. A Star is Born

When I first heard they were remaking A Star is Born again I rolled my eyes at another cash grab from Hollywood. Then I went to see the movie and I loved it! The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga was tremendous and the singing/music was so great. I haven’t heard such good singing in a musical movie since Dreamgirls. The ending is very sad but it works because of the chemistry and connection of the actors. The supporting work from Sam Elliott and Dave Chappelle was also great.

14. Sgt Stubby: An American Hero

Every year I like to have a little movie to champion and Sgt Stubby was mine for 2018. Made by a new animation studio, Fun Academy, this true story of WW1 dog and his owner made so many correct choices. They didn’t have the dog talk. He is just a normal sweet dog with a connection to his soldier owner. They didn’t minimize war; nor did they traumatize children with gory details. It hit just the right balance which is no easy task. Plus, they had lovely animation and a score from Patrick Doyle that elevated the production. I hope they keep making movies because it was a very promising start.

13. Instant Family

On the surface Instant Family looked like a tired big studio comedy but then I went to see it and I was shocked how much I liked it. I think what makes it work is the personal connections all involved have with foster care and adoption. The director Sean Anders basically tells his own story about how he and his wife adopted 3 siblings and the blessings and challenges that went along with it. The film does not gloss over how hard it is and how damaged these children are but it all worked for me. The ending when the adoption is finalized and you see the photos of the various crew with their adopted/foster children had me sobbing. I had to compose myself before leaving the theater. It was so good!

12. Incredibles 2

This is why I hate ranking things because I loved Incredibles 2 and yet it ends up at 12. Go figure! I loved this long-awaited sequel because not only is it a terrific superhero movie but it is also a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent. It avoids the pitfalls of the dumb Dad stereotypes by having Bob actually figure everything out. He eventually gets new math and how to help Violet. It’s just super exhausting which is how parenting is! The action was terrific and the animation bold. I loved it!

11. ROMA

Alfonso Cuarón is back with another winner. Everything about ROMA works from the stunning black and white cinematography to the touching story of women in Mexico and their struggles. Yalitza Aparicio gives a devastating performance especially in the scene where she gives birth and in a follow up scene where she gets her anger out at the beach. It may not be super rewatchable but it is a film I won’t soon forget.

10. Ralph Breaks the Internet

Everyone who follows me regularly knows I am more lukewarm on Wreck-it Ralph than the average Disney fan. I like it fine but don’t think it fully delivers on its premise. Ralph Breaks the Internet, on the other hand, elevates itself above its premise.My favorite part of the film is its message of friendship. Ralph must learn to accept Vanellope for who she is, not who he wishes she would be and that is the hardest thing to do in life. I found the ending to be quite touching as they figure out a solution to still love each other but allow them both to be their best selves. Of course, the movie is also very funny and a surprise Alan Menken song secured my love! (Also it basically admits the animators think Ariel is the best!).

9. Anna and the Apocalypse

Anyone knows how much I love Christmas movies and musicals so throw in zombies and I’m a happy girl! This genre mashup was probably the most creative movie-going experience of 2018. It was joyful, exuberant and surprisingly sweet. All the songs are a lot of fun especially Hollywood Ending and Turning  My Life Around. Ella Hunt has huge star potential but the whole cast works together well. It’s definitely a movie I will watch every year at Christmas, and I’m sure it will become a holiday cult classic. Delightful

8. Shoplifters

Ever since I saw After Life in 1998 I have been singing the praises of director Hirokazu Kore-eda. I love all of his movies and his latest Shoplifters is no exception. In what is basically a modern take on Oliver Twist, Kore-eda presents an unusual family  that is very flawed but has the best intentions. You know these people belong together but the law says they are doing the right thing. All the performances are lovely especially our two young children, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) and Shota (Jyo Kairi). Kore-eda has such humanity for his characters and that allows Shoplifters to be both hopeful and devastating at the same time and it all works.

7. Juliet, Naked

Featuring my favorite script of 2018, Juliet, Naked tells the story of a woman (Rose Byrne) who is beginning to regret some of her life choices when she meets the rock star (Ethan Hawke) her boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd) is obsessed with. I love the Nick Hornby novel and this adaptation is pitch perfect in how it criticizes and yet stands up for modern-day obsession and fandom culture. I particularly love a scene towards the end where Chris O’Dowd’s character tells Ethan Hawke what his music meant to him and how it doesn’t really matter if the artist himself values it. His character is very flawed and the fact the screenplay allows me to still care about him shows how good the writing is. An under-seen gem of 2018

6. Crazy Rich Asians

Romantic comedies have long been overdue a big hit and Crazy Rich Asians is a great film to reinvigorate the genre (unless you’re a Hallmark fan which has been doing romcoms all along!). This film is about as perfectly executed a romcom as you could do. It’s funny, sweet, romantic, with tons of luxury porn and a wedding that will not soon be topped. However, putting that all aside it actually has well written characters who’s character motivations make sense. The mother for instance isn’t just a shrew who hates someone dating her son. She knows the sacrifice the family requires and an upstart, independent American,  in her eyes, isn’t going to able to make that sacrifice. Her POV makes sense. Also Henry Goulding is such a dream boat!

5. Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete is a movie I saw and liked but that stayed with me for weeks after. Director Andrew Haigh has made another stunning film about a boy named Charley (played so well by Charlie Plummer) who saves a racehorse named Pete from slaughter and begins a journey across America. It felt emotionally true and had me weeping throughout. It’s also a portrait of America today with all our heartlessness and humanity. The cinematography, music and supporting performances all work together to make it one of the best movies of the year!

4. Paddington 2

Who can be uncheered by Paddington 2? What a delightful sequel to an already delightful first film! When poor Paddington goes to prison and is waiting for the Browns to visit I felt it and yet he quickly revamps the place and introduces the inmates to the joys of marmalade. Hugh Grant is so great as the foppish actor villain and the rest of the cast is wonderful. It has such a lovely message about family and never losing hope and I just love it!

3. Leave No Trace

I saw Leave No Trace at Sundance and it never left me. Debra Granik fashioned a lovely movie about a father and daughter living off the grid. I’ve hated most of these off the grid stories but this does not try to paint the father in heroic colors. He is a damaged man and everyone knows it. I found it very touching how people try to help them along their way even if it is simply giving them a ride and a cup of coffee. Thomasin McKenizie is wonderful as the daughter who comes to realize she can love her father without making the same choices he makes. The ending has me cheering her as she makes very tough choices. It might sound depressing but it’s actually quite hopeful and invigorating.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

When I first heard that Sony Animation was making an animated Spider-man film I rolled my eyes. Their output hasn’t exactly been great lately and another Spider-man movie? Imagine my surprise when they managed to pull off one of the best animated films of the decade! Miles’ journey is easy to relate to and well written ( I love the scene when his father is talking to him through the door). It had emotion and was a really good coming of age story. Plus, the animation was unlike any I’ve ever seen before. The hybrid 2D/3D was dazzling. I also loved the story of the different Spider people and their own unique animation styles all flowing together. It was funny and sweet. It just has it all and has the potential to be a real game-changer for animated films!

1. Mary Poppins Returns

I know Mary Poppins Returns has received some mixed reviews but this is my list and it is without a doubt the movie that gave me the most joy in 2018. I loved everything about this movie. I loved all of the songs and the great singing and choreography that accompanied them. I loved the 2D animation and found the entire sequence in the bowl to be completely charming. I loved all the performances from Emily Blunt as Mary down to the smallest cameos. I think they nailed the balance of new with an homage to the original. Most of all I loved the message about how family and friends will help you get through the tough times in life. It had huge heart and felt like a kind of Disney magic I haven’t seen in live action in many years. I can’t wait to see the sequel!

So there you have it! My favorite movie list. Let me know what you think. Also I recorded a Best of 2018 Awards podcast with my friend Conrado you might enjoy. Who needs the Oscars when you have our awards 🙂