Blind Spot 41: ‘Brief Encounter’

I always like to have a little bit of variety on this Blind Spot project and this month we are going back to 1945 and taking a look at the romantic drama Brief Encounter.

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Starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter tells a simple story of 2 strangers that meet in a train station ‘refreshment room’ and become fascinated with each other. Then they meet several more times until a relationship develops. Unfortunately with them both being married they cannot pursue their love so it is doomed to remain unrequited.

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Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean and he, with cinematographer Robert Krasker, do a stunning job crafting this film. The black and white photography is beautiful with great use of shadows and light. You feel an intimacy with the couple like you are somehow eavesdropping on their conversations instead of watching a movie. It kind of reminded me of the Before Sunrise movies in that regard. I think it also helps that we don’t have traditional movie stars in the lead roles but more ordinary looking humans. It makes their connection feel more grounded and real.

If you are worried this is a movie that justifies cheating, it doesn’t. In fact, the ending with Laura and her husband is actually quite touching. It’s just a moment between two people and that’s it. If it was made today it would probably be tawdry and tasteless but here it strikes just the right note.

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My only flaw with Brief Encounter is it is perhaps too brief. They go from strangers bumping into each other to declaring their undying love very quickly. In that sense, it feels a little hard to believe. We understand why Laura is tempted by a new and exciting love but are not entirely sure why this love with Alec fits that bill. I wish there were a few more scenes where we got to know both of them more and could understand their connection better.

That said, I definitely recommend checking out Brief Encounter. It is currently available to stream on the Criterion Channel which is a service I highly recommend. They not only have great films but tons of special features on most of the films.

(Also David Lean is such an incredible director. It’s hard to believe the person who made this also directed Lawrence of Arabia!)

Overall Grade

7 out of 10

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‘Poms’ Review

One of the interesting trends of the last few years is Hollywood taking notice of an older demographic of filmgoer. It makes sense with senior citizen discounts and other programs that older men and women are going to the movies more each year. When I go to my local theater there are a number of older patrons who I see regularly and who seem to attend the movies almost daily.

With this audience it only stands to reason films are going to be made that particularly appeal to them. Whether it is comedies (Marigold Hotel movies, The Intern, Hello My Name is Doris, Book Club) or dramas (I’ll See You in My Dreams, The Mule, Beginners), every year we get a handful of movies about senior citizens and the contributions they make. The latest entry in this genre is called Poms and it is unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag

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The best parts of Poms are the sweet parts. Diane Keaton plays a woman named Martha who with little to no family moves to Georgia to live out her final days of cancer at a plush retirement community. While there she decides to fulfill her teenage dream of becoming a cheerleader with the help of a bunch of her new friends (Jacki Weaver, Pam Grier, Rhea Perlman, and more). These ladies have lovely chemistry and seeing them work together definitely pulled at the heartstrings (my Grandma just recently passed so it was close to home). I particularly loved Jacki Weaver who I think always elevates anything she is in. The ladies also have some sweet moments with 2 teenagers who agree to help the cause (Charlie Tahan and Alisha Boe).

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The problem with Poms is most of the humor felt very sitcomy. It felt like a used Golden Girls script stretched out into a feature film. The ‘old women can have sex’ jokes got old very fast and some of the humor was flat out weird- like an implication Rhea Perlman murders her abusive husband to be on the team or a badly handled subplot with Phyllis Somerville’s abusive and controlling son that was awkward. I also got really sick of Celia Weston’s antics as a Southern Belle maiden overseeing everything at the community. There might as well have been a laugh track behind some of these bits they were so sitcomy.

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All that said, if you are looking for something to do with your Mother and Grandmother for Mother’s Day you could do worse than Poms. It’s harmless but probably best to be seen at home as a rental.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy (Barely)

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Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Review

I think like most people when I first heard of a live action Detective Pikachu movie I rolled my eyes. As an animation fan it can be very irritating when it seems like the great answer to updating a property is to abandon animation and make it live action (Disney I’m talking to you!). In addition most of the live action/animated hybrids have been terrible. With the exception of Paddington, it is usually a terrible idea to have a cg creature in the human world. Naturally we were all concerned and then the trailers came out and to my surprise the film looked pretty good. Ryan Reynolds looked funny and the world building with the pokemons looked adorable, so I went into seeing Pokémon: Detective Pikachu with pretty high expectations. Unfortunately I ended up with very mixed feelings on the film. It’s not a total loss but it could have been so much better!

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It’s movies like Pokémon: Detective Pikachu that make the binary system of rottentomatoes difficult because it does have many positives. First of all, the world-building is really strong. It kind of reminded me of Zootopia in the way the world was full of creatures and captured that crime-noir feel while still being kid-appropriate.

The design of all the pokémon was creative and adorable and will no doubt delight fans of the franchise (I have seen 2 Pokémon movies but would not consider myself a fan).

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Ryan Reynolds is great as the voice of Pikachu and Justice Smith does a serviceable job as our orphan looking into the strange death of his father. There is also a really nice heart to the film, and while inconsistent I did laugh a few times.

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The problem with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu lies with the script. At only 104 minutes it feels much longer and there are stretches where nothing seems to be happening but bland action and reveals that don’t amount to much story-wise. The mystery isn’t set up well because the villain is obvious from the start and the clues aren’t interesting to put together. Again to use Zootopia as an example, I was way more invested in the clues and mystery of that film than in Detective Pikachu.

It’s always hard for me to know what kids will like but I suspect a lot of them will get fidgety especially during the middle section of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. I know both my friend and I were struggling a little bit to stay invested. I’ve seen it many times before where the team behind a movie gets so caught up in world-building they forget to craft a script worthy of that world. Such is the case here. (There is some action such as fighting and a car crash depicted multiple times that might scare very little kids but nothing too bad content-wise).

But it’s not a disaster by any means. I would recommend seeing Pokémon: Detective Pikachu at a discount theater if you have one in your community. It’s got enough fun moments to justify a watch but I just wish the mystery had been handled better. Perhaps if they make a sequel they can improve upon that aspect? I’d definitely be interested in them taking another swing at it!

Smile Worthy (Just barely)

✮✮.5 out of 5

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‘UglyDolls’ Review

Before I start my review I wanted to give a shameless plug for my new patreon account! If you enjoy what I do hear on the blog please consider supporting me for as little as $2 a month. We have benefits set up and would be beyond grateful for the support. Thank you in advance https://www.patreon.com/hallmarkies

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Now let’s get into reviewing the latest animated film UglyDolls. Looking like a mixture of Boss Baby and Trolls (both films I wasn’t in love with) I went into the screening of UglyDolls more than a little bit nervous. However, I should have noticed it is made by Kelly Asbury, a director I find to be very underrated. I particularly thought his Smurfs the Lost Village got way more hate than it deserved (still has some of the most beautiful CG animated backgrounds in recent memory).

Now I have seen the film and am delighted to say I enjoyed it. Of course it has its flaws but overall I liked UglyDolls. It tells the story of a world where dolls are made in a factory and chosen for a special kid to own. The dolls that don’t fit the correct specifications are rejected and sent to Uglyville, which is where we find our heroine: the plucky Moxy (Kelly Clarkson). She is dying to get out of Uglyville and find her special friend but nobody has ever left the town before and they don’t feel restless like Moxy.

Of course, this is a story arc we’ve seen many times before but Clarkson does a good job with the vocals and her character isn’t pushy like the lead troll in Trolls; Nor was she aggressive and angry like in The Angry Birds Movie. She’s pretty happy doing her own thing and if people follow that’s their choice.

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Eventually Moxy ends up at the Institute of Perfection where normal dolls (not stuffed dolls like Moxy) are being trained to take on the gauntlet that proves they are ready for the human world. There is our wannabe Trump copycat leading the Institute named Lou. With his dictatorial attitude and fear of outsiders he can be a little grating but is a serviceable villain.

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What makes Ugly Dolls work is the infectious songs (All original songs except one song in the middle that is randomly a cover). They have good singers performing and the staging was energetic and joyful. Animated musicals like Strange Magic can be tough to pull off but this one worked for me.

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I also thought the overall message of acceptance and tolerance was really sweet and Moxy as a character was likable and fun to spend time with. The animation had a tactile quality to it I enjoyed and overall it will entertain and enrich particularly small children.

There are moments with Lou where things get a little too mean for very small kids and the world-building is kind of strange. Humans are present but I was a little unclear how the gauntlet worked and how long these dolls had been there waiting to be delivered to a child. Also why didn’t the UglyDolls go to be with other stuffed dolls not have human-like dolls in the same factory area. It was a little confusing.

However, that is definitely over-thinking it. UglyDolls has a sweet message with some catchy tunes and appealing animation. If you go see it with your kids they will really enjoy it and you’ll have an ok time as well. It’s a sweet, fun little movie worth checking out

6.5 out of 10

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