[REVIEW] ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’

We all know video game movies have had a rough road when it comes to both box office and critical success. The new film Sonic the Hedgehog’s path is not that different. When the first trailer was released many found the design of Sonic to be very off-putting. I was honestly more puzzled by the use of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ for no reason in a kids movie but I digress.

In an effort to placate the upset fans they decided to redesign Sonic and delay the films. This definitely got me curious and after having seen the finished film I’m glad they did. This new Sonic the Hedgehog is a charming throwback to the family films of the 90s that the whole family will enjoy.

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Old and New Sonic

The easiest film to compare with Sonic is last year’s Detective Pikachu, which I gave a mild recommendation for. Both films are about a human male who comes into contact with a fast talking, snarky video game sidekick. While Detective Pikachu has better atmosphere and world-building, I prefer Sonic the Hedgehog as a complete film.

A movie like this doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it executes a familiar concept well. In some ways lead actor James Marsden already did a very similar story with his 2011 film Hop. The big difference is in Hop the bunny is Russell Brand and his brand of comedy gets old quickly. In Sonic the Hedgehog we have James Marsden with a sidekick alien Sonic voiced by Ben Schwartz. He gives a lot of warmth to the character and with the new design it’s easy to root for the 2 misfits.

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The other benefit Sonic the Hedgehog has over similarly themed films is a really fun villain named Doctor Robotnik played with theatricality by Jim Carrey. For instance, one of the problems with Detective Pikachu was the boring villain and plan. Here Jim Carrey is having a blast as a mustache twirling villain with gadgets and evil plans to spare. I am a little tired of villain surprise reveals so it is refreshing to have an outright bad guy in a film like this.

Sonic the Hedgehog is also a film clearly made for children. Aside from maybe one scene at a bar there weren’t any jokes intended at just parents or the kind of wink-wink scenes they hope go over kid’s heads (I hate that). Also at 99 minutes it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. I appreciated that they did a really good job immersing Sonic into the world and the special effects felt believable and full of bright colors.

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My only major problems with Sonic the Hedgehog came in some of the humor and overt product placement. Originally they had plans to have Sonic wearing Nike shoes but they at least got rid of that choice but there are multiple Olive Garden jokes and a very obvious plug for Zillow. I can put up with product placement that is tastefully done but if we pay $15 for a ticket to a movie we don’t expect to constantly see advertisements especially in movies for children.

Nevertheless, Sonic the Hedgehog is a cute movie that the whole family can go see and have a nice time together. It has a big heart and the character of Sonic is well rendered and voiced. It’s not a classic like Paddington but a pleasant little movie about friendship and never giving up. Enough for me.

There are also several bonus scenes in the credits so watch out for that.

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You’ or a Guide to Teenage Romantic Escapism

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Contrary to what some may believe I don’t automatically love every romantic comedy that is released. In some ways I think I am a bit pickier than most because I love the genre so much, and I want the movies to be great.

Knowing this it might or might not surprise people I wasn’t as in love with the 2018 Netflix romcom based on the YA novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as most people seemed to be. I didn’t hate it but I had some issues I will get into. Now we have the sequel To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You, which is also based on a novel by Jenny Han. I haven’t read this novel (I had read the original) but I think I actually prefer this sequel over the original film.

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My main problem with the original film is I felt Peter, while played with huge charm by Noah Centineo (who I think is going to be a big star), was a pretty bland character. There was no spunk to him. He basically did whatever he was told and agreed to whatever plan was presented to him. One might think of him as a manic pixie dream guy that is only there to help our heroine get out of her shell and nothing more. I like my leading man to have opinions and stand up for himself. It doesn’t always have to be the enemies to friends romantic trope but a little personality is important.

That said I do love a fake relationship plot and the leads were very charming with great chemistry, so I gave the original film a mild recommendation. Now we have the sequel where Peter and Lara Jean are actually dating and in a real relationship. I’m not sure why we needed to interject a love triangle with the also charming John Ambrose played by Jordan Fisher, but Peter got more to do this time around and showed more personality. He wasn’t always the perfect boyfriend, which made him more appealing and swoon-worthy.

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We also got some nice moments between Lara Jean and her family. Lana Condor does a nice job in the lead role and Anna Cathcart and John Corbett are lovely as her sister and father respectively. It’s certainly nice to see some diversity in teen movies and the family dynamics will be easy to relate with for adults and teens alike.

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On the Hallmarkies Podcast I talk a lot about the value of romantic escapism for women. This isn’t just for old fogies like myself but teenage girls as well. To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You does a good job of fostering this kind of escapism. I used to have movies I called ‘sleepover movies’, which were usually silly romantic films I would watch with my friends at sleepovers (or should it be sleepunders as we didn’t sleep much?). Some of my favorites were films like Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Princess Bride, Ever After, The Cutting Edge, Some Kind of Wonderful, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken and Dirty Dancing, .

With this sequel, the To All the Boys series definitely cements itself as the sleepover movies of this decade for teens. They are charming, escapist romantic stories, and this sequel makes me like the original even more. So go get your friends together, have a sleepover and watch a fun movie!

7.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made’

One of my biggest laments in recent years is the practical abandonment of low budget live action films from the Disney Studios. Since The Queen of Katwe in 2016 (very underrated film) there has been almost nothing from the House of Mouse but remakes of their animated classics and you know how much I love those films…

However, one of the exciting things about Disney Plus is the studio now needs content badly and so by necessity they need to start up again making smaller live action films. So far they have released Noelle which was disappointing but passable.  Then they had Togo, which turned out to be a delightful throwback to films like White Fang and Iron Will. I really enjoyed it!

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Now we have their latest film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made which may be my favorite of them all. Based on the books by Stephan Pastis, director Tom McCarthy of Spotlight fame has made a sweet, charming, funny film the whole family will love.

The film tells the story of an 11-year old boy named Timmy (played by the adorable Winslow Fegley) who lives in Portland and takes his detective agency very seriously. He has a home office, business cards and a giant polar bear sidekick that help him be ready to crack the toughest of cases. He’s even looking into the Russians and their conspiracy to ruin his school and the scary transition to middle school.

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What makes Timmy Failure work so well is they take his character completely seriously. It’s not like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies with over-the-top slapstick sequences (which can be fine). It’s so easy to write child characters as silly jokes but I remember as a kid getting so frustrated by that attitude. I had something to say and my own way of looking at the world, which adults did not care about. This movie cares about Timmy and his world.

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I actually found myself tearing up on more than one occasion. Timmy is a really lonely kid and people like his teacher Mr Crocus played by Wallace Shawn don’t seem to even try to understand him. Much of his loneliness is compounded by his worries for his over-worked Mother played well by Ophelia Lovibond and his absent father.

Craig Robinson has a great scene where he talks to Timmy about adaptability and trying to be unselfish without losing yourself. Kyle Bornheimer is great as a meter maid who is dating Timmy’s Mom. These characters take him seriously and are interested in what he has to say. I loved that.

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made. The script, performances, themes, all worked for me. I even enjoyed the cgi polar bear (there are no trained polar bears so cgi was a necessity). I really think you will enjoy watching it with your family and have a great discussion together about how we all deal with loneliness and achieve our goals. Check it out and let me know what you think

8.5 out of 10

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How Bong Joon Ho and ‘Parasite’ are Changing Cinema

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This weekend we have the 92nd annual Academy Awards for excellence in film in the year 2019. I gave my predictions for the Oscars a few weeks ago but since then the tide has been turning towards a surprise win for a South Korean film called Parasite. The film is directed by Bong Joon Ho and whether it wins or not what he has accomplished with his film is groundbreaking and will hopefully influence cinema for the better for many years to come.

Bong has directed and written 14 movies. He first burst onto the international scene in 2006 with the monster horror movie The Host. While it only made $2 million in the US it has $89 million worldwide, which on an $10 million budget isn’t too shabby. Next he had a strange arthouse film called Mother followed by an English language dystopian classic starring Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer in Snowpiercer.

In 2017 he made a film for Netflix in English called Okja starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and more. So what does he do next? He goes back to the Korean language and makes without question the most celebrated film of 2019, Parasite (that’s with an Oscar for best picture or not). This was a bold choice for the director and shows a confidence in his product that I admire. He could have made Parasite in English with American actors but he used his building credibility to showcase his home country and language in a special and important way.

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After winning the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, Bong said:

“Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”

Some may call it wishful thinking but I think he has a real chance of making this dream come true with many filmgoers who saw and enjoyed Parasite. I have rarely seen a film get both the praise of the highbrow film crowd and the everyday filmgoer. Almost everyone I know loves Parasite. It’s the most unexpected crowd-pleaser in years!

This is especially significant for a film not in English but also for one that has a socio-political message. As great as his directing is on the film, his deft and subtle hand in his screenplay is perhaps his greatest achievement. He crafts characters that do lots of unlikable things and yet you are rooting for them the whole time- at least for me that’s true with both the poor and rich families.

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We are even getting a version of Parasite in black and white coming to theaters this weekend. I am beyond excited to see that! Indeed, there is so much to be excited about with the film and like Bong said it could provide ripple effects in the embrace of non-English films for years to come. Even if we could open people’s minds to films from South Korea, India and Nigeria you’re talking hundreds, maybe even thousands of films each year to enjoy and discuss!

This impact will be heightened even more so if Parasite does pull off the best picture win and there’s reasons that it might. It has already won the big prize at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards as well as awards at the Golden Globes, BAFTAS and more. Betting odds have been improving for Sam Mendes’ 1917 for the past month, but they also did in the buld-up for last year’s foreign-language favorite Roma, right up until the moment the more crowd pleasing Green Book took the top prize instead.

Fortunately Parasite doesn’t have the same problem of Roma because it’s both incredibly accessible and entertaining, so anything is possible!

I know I am certainly pulling for Parasite to win. What do you think? Does it have a chance and has it impacted your experience with foreign films? Do you think it will have a ripple effect for more acceptance of subtitled films?

Sundance Log 2020 Day 10: Downhill, Wendy

The 2020 Sundance Film Festival is done! I lived it and finished off the experience watching 26 films in 10 days: a new personal record! I missed 3 films that were on my preview (yes I wimped out and didn’t see either of the horror movies I had planned and 1 movie I swapped out for the Bruce Lee movie Be Water).

Of the 26 there really was only a couple that I loved compared to last year where I had 2 in my top 10 of the year and a dozen or so contenders for those top spots. Also last year I didn’t find the festival to be as R rated, which was a bummer because I invited 2 friends and they didn’t have a great experience. It was just rotten luck. Next year I HAVE to get the locals pass. It makes all the difference in the world.

Anyway, I will do a best and worst video later this week but for now I have 2 more movies I saw on Sunday that I need to review. So here goes:

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Wendy

Director Benh Zeitlin made a huge splash at the festival in 2011 with his movie Beasts of the Southern Wild. If you haven’t seen it that film is a tale of magical realism set in the punch bowl area of New Orleans and it is a breathtaking film. With such success under his belt Zeitlin taking the same style to a new version of Peter Pan seems like a perfect fit but  I walked away with mixed feelings.

The strengths of Wendy lie mostly in the style. Just as in Beasts the beautiful cinematography mixed with wonderful music by Dan Romer (who also did Beasts). There are a lot of sequences with children running and playing that take your breath away!

Zeitlin also takes a lot of  inspiration from Lord of the Flies and Where the Wild Things Are (a movie  I love).  But Wild Things works because of its layered script that confronts the loss of childhood innocence where Wendy doesn’t have such a clear message. It’s a lot of pretty images but at a certain point I as a viewer need more story. The story he does give us is kind of  garish and stark and left me missing the whimsy that a Peter Pan adaptation should have.

The closest the film gets to whimsy is in a whale that spews magic just like a giant Tinker Bell. They also have some interesting things to say about age and growing up but it gets muddled by all the shouting and action.

Like I said, I have mixed feelings about Wendy. Some people will really hate it and other people will admire the style and creativity that it will capture their hearts. I’m somewhere in-between, but I think the good outweighs the bad. So give Wendy a shot when it comes to the theaters and let me know what you think!

6 out of 10

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Downhill

The last movie of the festival for me was the marriage comedy Downhill, which is based on the French film Force Majeure. I haven’t seen the original film so I can only comment on this version.

On the surface Downhill should be an easy home run. You have 2 actors who have been very funny with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell and an original film that is evidently quite funny). Unfortunately this film didn’t do much for me as either a comedy or an exploration on marriage.

The concept is our leads play a couple who is coming to Switzerland with their 2 boys for a much needed vacation on the slopes. While there, the mountain experiences a controlled avalanche and Louis-Dreyfus’ character Billie shields her sons in fear and Ferrell’s Pete runs away. This deeply hurts Billie and she has trouble continuing on with the vacation.

All of this could have been funny but Downhill is one of those comedies that mistakes characters fighting a lot for jokes. Fighting can be funny but a lot of the time it is just awkward and dull. It also can make your leads unlikable and hard to relate to. I didn’t really care about either Billie or Pete and found them both frustrating and unsympathetic.

There are a bunch of comedic set-pieces in Downhill that are supposed to bring laughs such as when Billie kisses a hot ski instructor but they usually fall flat. Like I said, the whole thing ended up being dull and uninvolving. I would definitely recommend saving your money and looking for a better comedy than this.

4 out of 10

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So there you have it! Sundance 2020 is done!! Wahoo!

Sundance Log 2020 Day 9: Dick Johnson is Dead, Sylvie’s Love, Tesla, The GoGos

Hey everyone! I did it! I made it through the last 4 movie day of the Sundance Film Festival. I really thought about skipping the first movie today but last minute I decided to finish out my goal and went. I ended up barely making the passholder line grouping but I’m so glad I did because I wound up loving that film most of all! Go figure!

I actually left feeling positive about all 4 films today. I’m not sure if Sundance has just worn me down but they were all entertaining and free from the extreme content a few other films have had, which was a nice relief.

Now I only have 2 more tomorrow and I will be done and will have watched more films than I did last year (25 in 2019, 26 in 2020)!

Here’s my thoughts on today’s movies:

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Dick Johnson is Dead

I was a little skeptical going into director Kirsten Johnson’s experimental documentary, fearing it would be too much of a gimmick. The idea is she is profiling her father as if he had passed away when in fact he is alive. They even have a mock funeral which her father views from the balcony above the grievers (including his very emotional best friend). They all know it is a fake funeral and yet their emotions are very true and real.

In fact, that’s the way I would describe this movie: true. Kirsten and her Dad speak openly about the process of getting older, losing memory, and the pain of grief. As someone who lost both my Grandmas last year this really rang true for me and I was crying something fierce!

Fortunately with the tears is a lot of laughs as we see the bond between father and daughter and wish we could meet the wonderful Dick Johnson. Kirsten also stages fake deaths with her Dad as part of the experiment, and it becomes a kind of ‘cinematic therapy’ for both of them. It really worked for me!

Dick Johnson is Dead will be on Netflix soon so keep an eye out for it. It’s a real gem.

9 out of 10

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(Also her Q&A was amazing. Probably the best of the festival)

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As host of the Hallmarkies Podcastyou all know I love a good romance, and we don’t get enough of them in the theaters these days. We especially don’t get as many that are as old-fashioned as the new film Sylvie’s Love, written and directed by Eugene Ashe.

In the film Tessa Thompson stars as the title’s Sylvie who falls in love with a young saxophonist named Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) in 1950’s Harlem.  Her father owns a record store and her Mother is set on her daughter marrying a high class boy. This first half of Sylvie’s Love is what works the best as young love blossoms with all the requisite flirting and stolen kisses.

The second half of the film is less effective as the script lays on the soapy melodrama too thickly even for me. We have several separations that don’t seem necessary and then reunions that feel even less plausible. There will be a lot of people rolling their eyes at the cliches and corny moments but the chemistry was good enough between the 2 leads that it worked well enough for me.

I also loved all the period details and wonderful  music. I would compare it to something like The Notebook. Cheesy, full of melodrama but the chemistry between the couple and overall quality of filmmaking carries the day making an enjoyable time at the cinema.

6.5 out of 10

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Next up we have the very unusual quasi-biopic Tesla. This is a hard movie to describe but I will do my best. It tells the story of famed inventor Nikola Tesla played by Ethan Hawke but in a format that is both traditional and modern at the same time (quite literally).

The film let’s us know right away it is going to be different by employing a narrator (Eve Hewson playing Ann Morgan) who breaks the 4th wall and tells us why Tesla was such a mixture of brilliance and self-sabotage. We also get flights of fancy where fake realities are put before us such as a funny scene where Tesla and Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) are eating ice cream instead of fighting.

There are also scenes where we see modern gadgets to show the end-product of Tesla’s ideas and even a very wacky scene where a boozy Tesla ends up singing at a modern karaoke bar.

The backgrounds and production design in Tesla is also intentionally fake looking with artificial sets and obvious green screen. It may be Sundance brain talking but I found the choices intriguing and usually quite funny. Occasionally they’d push things too far but for the most part it was different but not in the confrontational way that some arthouse films can be.

If you are looking for something new and creative check out Tesla. I will be very curious to hear what people think!

7 out of 10

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The GoGo’s

Before watching this documentary I had certainly heard of The GoGo’s, and I enjoyed their hits like ‘Can’t Stop the Beat’ and ‘Vacation’. However, I had no idea they started from such punk rock origins. They always seemed more pop-influenced from what little I knew about them. So it was really interesting to watch this film The GoGo’s and learn about their formation as a punk band and how they became the first all-girl band to reach first place on the charts.

This documentary admittedly is a fairly standard rock band bio-piece but it is nonetheless entertaining. They have all the major characters there and the interviews are honest and amusing. We get to hear a lot of music and hear lots of stories of excess, music and drugs.

The only fault I’d have with The GoGo’s is we don’t get to learn much about the girl’s relationships outside of the band. There’s one point where they mention 2 of the ladies dated but that’s all we hear about their sexuality, love-lives or anything like that, which would have been nice to get a peak into.

Other that than that The GoGo’s is a lot of fun and worth a watch in the next few months if you get Showtime.

7 out of 10

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Sundance Log 2020 Day 8: The Truffle Hunters, Nine Days, The Glorias

Another day of the Sundance Film Festival has come and gone and I must admit I’m losing steam here. It’s been a long week with a lot of late nights and disappointing films (with some good ones mixed in). Today I ended up seeing 3 films and tomorrow I have the option of seeing 4 but I may just do 3 since the 4th is coming to Netflix soon and I could use a long morning to be honest. We’ll see!

Anyway, I feel about emotionally tapped out but I still managed to take in the 3 films today and here are my thoughts:

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The Truffle Hunters

First up is the documentary The Truffle Hunters. This is a charming film about a group of 3 or 4 Italian  men who, along with their dogs, hunt down the prized Alba truffle. The best way I can describe this film is it is like an Italian version of Duck Dynasty, which is a show I have a lot of affection for.

These men wax philosophical about life, truffles, competition and drive the people who are buying the truffles crazy. None of them seem to have family lives and they all relish having directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw following them around. I especially laughed when one man writes a letter resigning from truffle hunting to the horrors of the buyers (he reminded me a lot of Uncle Sy from Duck Dynasty). I also loved the man in the picture above and his relationship with his dog.

The Truffle Hunters comes in at 84 minutes so it doesn’t outstay its welcome and is a real gem of the festival.

8.5 out of 10

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Nine Days

I have a seen a lot of experimental, artistic films here at Sundance and most of them have failed spectacularly. Nine Days is finally one that actually worked for me! It definitely won’t be for everyone but it’s a weird little movie with a spiritual core to it I connected with.

Nine Days is set in a premortal world (filmed in beautiful Utah!) where one man named Wil (Winston Duke) is responsible for deciding who is ready to come to earth in a body and who is not. He gets 9 days to make his decision and then in a wall of TVs he watches his choice live out their lives on VHS tapes.

At the beginning of the film Will is shaken by the suicide of one of his favorite recruits and yet he soldiers on with the interviews of the new candidates. For a small indie they gathered a pretty impressive cast. In addition to Duke (who is tremendous especially in the epic final monologue), they got Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgard, Tony Hale, Benedict Wong and more.

The cinematography of Nine Days has a definite Terrence Malick vibe to it, which is enhanced by the beautiful Salt Flat vistas behind the house. Also the script is unpredictable and creative.

Where the film falters is sometimes the world building and rules are unclear and confusing. Even his final choice seems  to come out of the blue and not make much sense. It’s also a bit repetitive and slow at times; however, compared to something like Horse Girl this should win all the Oscars. It’s a good one!

8.5 out of 10

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The Glorias

If there ever is a case of a film biting off more than it can chew it is the new film from Julie Taymor called The Glorias. The film strives to tell the 80 year story of feminist icon Gloria Steinem and it has tons of ambition and some solid performances. However, it ends up feeling like a well-intentioned mess. It has so many ideas and covers way too much to absorb everything or give it all the gravitas it should have and it ends up being frustrating.

The conceit of the film is that a child, tween, young adult and older version of Gloria are all taking a road trip together through the events of her life. These scenes are shot in black and white and at times we spend a lot of time on the bus and than other times we will go 30 minutes without seeing them. Then there are flights of fancy and even an animated sequence that feel very out of place.

The Glorias would have been smarter to focus on one era like the start of Ms magazine or the achievement of the National Women’s Conference. Instead we get Gloria’s childhood, her experiences with both her parents, her time in India, her time as a struggling journalist, every era of her feminist leadership, her finally getting married, her sadness at Hillary losing and finally the Women’s March where we see the actual Gloria speech (real footage is used throughout). It was just too much and it all starts to run together and feel like a biographical box the filmmakers needed to check off the list.

I can see why other people might like bits and pieces of this film, but I found it pretty frustrating to watch and was relieved when it was over.

3 out of 10

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