As a film critic I watch at least a movie almost every single day. And yet somehow there are films that still slip through the cracks and I haven’t seen despite them being quite popular and even iconic. This is the whole purpose behind this blind spot series. Well, a couple of months ago I was talking to my friend Larry and he was shocked I haven’t seen the musical biopic Selena. This is a favorite film of his (see his review above) so I knew I must put it on my blind spot picks for 2021.
Selena tells the story of Tejano singing star Selena Quintanilla-Perez who shot up into fame on the Mexican charts (even winning a grammy in the category) before being tragically killed by an employee at the age of 23.
Jennifer Lopez shines playing Selena. First of all, she looks so much like her that there really was nobody else who could have played the role. Also the film lives and dies in the staging of the musical sequences. Some of the more dramatic sequences feel a little weak in the acting departments but the film knows this and gets quickly back to the music. We get to see Selena’s charisma on the stage and how she could truly captivate an entire stadium.
Director Gregory Nava smartly frames the film around her final breakthrough show at the Houston Astrodome. With a story with such a sad ending it gives her a moment of triumph which helps it feel rewarding while also of course being still sad. We at least know she got her moment.
The script also gives most of the meatier dialogue to veterans like Edward James Olmos who plays Selena’s father Abraham Quintanilla. I particularly liked a speech he gives about the Catch-22 of being a Mexican American:
“We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting”
Some may complain that Selena doesn’t drift far away from the music bio-pic formula. However, perhaps because Selena is so young we are spared many of the scenes of rebellion with drugs and partying we typically get in these kind of films. About the worst we get is her wearing revealing clothing, wanting to get married and her band-mates messing up a hotel room. Pretty tame in the musical bio-pic world.
Mostly we get to know a sweet young woman with a beautiful voice who’s life was cut far too short. The film decides to leave the shooting off screen, which perhaps was best since it was all so fresh (she died in 1995 and the film was released in 1997). Still, I wish we could have gotten one more scene with Yolanda to try and understand why she did what she did. It all feels a little rushed at the end.
Nevertheless, I am glad I finally saw Selena. I can understand why it is a favorite of Larry and many others. It captures the appeal of Selena singing and Lopez is fantastic in those scenes. Olmos backs her up with a great performance as her father and the whole experience is respectful and uplifting. If you haven’t seen it I’d say it is worth checking out.
I’ve heard from all of my friends that the new Netflix series is not good. Here is my friend Kristen’s review:
Anyone who has read this blog for long knows I have a soft spot in my heart for period piece dramas. I even recently enjoyed the glittery and not-at-all true to life series Bridgerton on Netflix. Today I want to share my quick thoughts on something entirely different in the world of period films. This time it is Effigy: Poison and the City and it is a grisly tale by way of Germany about one of Europe’s first female serial killers.
Director Udo Flohr does a lot on a small budget and crafts for us the story of real-life murderer Gesche Gottfried (or the Angel of Bremen) played by Suzan Anbeh. They do a very good job of making Gottfried a morally ambiguous character. At times she seems to be a Kevorkian type character who is helping people who want to die. Then she seems to be out for revenge. At other times she’s an outright crazy person. We don’t really know what version of Gottfried we are going to get next. All we know is that we need to keep the poison or ‘mouse butter’ away from her.
The story is told from the perspective of a female law clerk Cato Bohmer (Elisa Thiemann) who is assigned to help a senator (Christoph Gottschalch) investigate the ever illusive Gottfried. She deals with her own discrimination as a female in mostly a male world of politics and law. There is a side of her that seems repulsed but also fascinated (maybe even attracted) to Gottfried. Again, the movie leaves the relationship ambiguous in a way most domestic films wouldn’t. We are allowed to wonder what the characters are thinking and yet their choices and motivations are clear. I wish more American dramas had a similar trust in their audience.
There are times the budget is obvious in Effigy and it feels more like a TV movie than a feature film but if you are interested in a Dateline from the 1820s with some good performances it’s a small film worth checking out.
I’ve said it many times on this site but faith-based films are perhaps the toughest genre of films to pull off. What is a pure and powerful testimony to one may come off as cloying and preachy to another. So often the ministry gets in the way of telling a good story. It is this difficulty that makes me happy whenever there are well done Christian films on the market. The new movie Tulsa is such an example. While it isn’t perfect, it is a sweet story about the good a little girl and God’s grace can do.
The title Tulsa actually comes from our lead character a little girl named Tulsa (if they explained why I must have missed it). A child of foster care she is reunited with her father Tommy who is a struggling addict who is hiding from his broken pass. Much like Pollyanna in the Disney classic cheers up all around her, so does Tulsa but she is also a little girl of faith who knows her Bible inside and out.
For some people this will be too cloying, but I think it struck a nice balance of a redemptive message with real-world problems. Nothing felt too unbelievable or pentacostal in its presentation. It also helps that little Tulsa is played by newcomer Livi Birch and she shines in the role. If she wants to be an actress she definitely has the raw natural talent to do it. Scott Pryor does a good job as Tommy but his role is more basic. The movie lives and dies on the back of Branch’s charisma and warmth.
There are definitely moments you can feel the budget in Tulsa particularly in the supporting performances. Also a plot-point involving an angry employee at Tommy’s auto-shop feels unnecessary and distracting (pretty much anytime Birch is off screen the movie suffers but luckily those are few and far between.
There are some weightier themes of addiction, suicide and death explored so not for young children. But adults and teens of faith will enjoy Tulsa and in particular love Livi Birch’s wonderful performance. It will be available on all the streaming services 2/1/2021
Hi friends! It’s that time of year again! It is time for me to make my picks for my blind spot series for 2021. This series is designed as a way for me to check much heralded and praised films off of my to be watched list. This will be my 5th year of blind spot picks and I always try to make it a mixture of critically praised and audience favorites as well as some cult classics along the way.
So here goes. My 2021 Blind Spot Picks!:
This pick goes out to my friend Larry who was aghast to find out I have never seen this musical biopic. I’m not sure how it slipped under my radar but it needs to be seen!
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I have a lot of blind spots from 2004 as it was the year I served a full-time mission for my church. Eternal Sunshine is one of those films. I missed it when it came out and have never caught up with it. I’m told it is a tragic love story with Jim Carrey trying to forget Kate Winslet? Either way I always try to pick a romance for February so this should be good.
March seems like as good a time as any to finally get caught up in the fantasy action-adventure from the 80s: Highlander. This battle between the immortal warriors looks like a lot of fun.
Two for the Road
I’m a big Audrey Hepburn fan but haven’t seen this zany road trip movie she is in with Albert Finney. They play a married couple traveling to France and it looks like something right up my alley. It is also directed by Stanley Donen who did films like Singing in the Rain so it should be fun!
Bonnie and Clyde
A landmark film of its era Bonnie and Clyde has been on my bucket list for some time. I remember Roger Ebert particularly liked it and it was one of the movies that convinced him to become a critic. It should be really good!
Beverly Hills Cop
I always try to include a popular comedy I haven’t seen and Beverly Hills Cop fits that bill. Eddie Murphy scored a massive hit with this first film of the franchise but the screenplay was even nominated for Best Original Screenplay. A lot of comedies from the 80s don’t hold up well so it will be fun to see how this one does.
The Wild Bunch
I tend to not think of myself as much of a Western fan, but I’ve enjoyed most of the films of the genre I’ve watched for the blindspot series including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence which was fantastic. Now we have The Wild Bunch from 1969 about an ‘aging outlaw gang on the Mexican border in 1913. It stars William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and is a long 145 minutes. Perfect for blind spot!
A definite blind spot of mine is I have only seen modern Godzilla films. The earliest I’ve seen is the terrible one from Roland Emmerich in 1998. From what I’ve read this version from 1954 is the best and it looks like a lot of fun. I enjoy creature scares and monster movies when they are done right so hopefully this one will be.
Her Blue Sky
I always try to include some anime in my blind spot list but I’m running out of most of the big names. Her Blue Sky is a film I’ve heard a lot of good things about. The story about a young girl and time travel sounds intriguing and I love the writer Mari Okada so it will hopefully be a win!
Another big gap in my film knowledge is the Universal Monster movies. I’ve seen hardly any of them, and that needs to change. First up will be Frankenstein from 1931 starring Boris Karloff and Colin Clive as Frankenstein’s monster and the man himself respectively. It should be a great choice for Halloween!
The Gold Rush
I’ve seen a lot of Charlie Chaplin but never seen The Gold Rush for some reason. In this film the Little Tramp heads north to join in the Klondike Gold Rush and all kinds of shenanigans ensue. It looks like a lot of fun and I look forward to watching it
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes
I had never heard of this holiday film until this year while watching the TCM special they had on holiday films. Margaret O’Brien was talking about Meet Me in St Louis (which I adore) and she mentioned also appearing in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. I’ve seen most of the holiday classics so I immediately added it to my blind spot list!
So there you have it! My blind spot picks for 2021. What do you think of them? Have you seen any of them? Let me know what you think!
Hey everyone! Happy New Year! 2020 was a tough year for all of us and that was certainly true for the world of cinema- especially theater owners and employees. Fortunately out of all the mess that the year brought we somehow managed to still have an interesting and eclectic group of movies released mostly via streaming services. It still means to be seen how the film landscape has changed for good but for now I want to share with you the movies I most enjoyed in this tough year. These aren’t necessarily the most expertly crafted films of the year, just my favorite (if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at my video version that would help me out as well. Thanks!).
Before I start I will add that this is always a tough process for me and even this year I had about 35 films I could have included. If I didn’t include a film you love on this list I probably still enjoyed it. You have to split hairs at a certain point for these lists. Also the order is admittedly somewhat arbitrary, so don’t put too much stock in that.
Here we go!
15. Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon
Few films were as sweet and delightful as the this latest entry from Aardman Animation. After a bit of a miss for me in Early Man, they redeemed themselves with a lovely little film about Shaun and company coming into contact with an adorable blue alien. Even just them ordering pizza at the beginning made me laugh. The animation is flawless as usual and the entire segment in the grocery store will have you and your family laughing. It may not be as challenging as both of Pixar’s films but in 2020 the pure laughs Shaun and company gave me impacted me just a hair more.
14. On the Rocks
It seems like I enjoyed this father/daughter team up movie more than most. I am usually mixed on Sophia Coppola but I found On the Rocks to be completely charming. If it were up to me I’d give Bill Murray the Oscar for his performance. He is a scoundrel but a charming one and his chemistry with Rashida Jones was lovely. I laughed. I smiled. It was great!
13. What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael
Ever since the fallout over my Shazam review I’ve had a hard time having the same confidence in my opinions as I once had. I know that might seem lame but it was scary and sometimes it seems easier to just keep my mouth shut than face those kinds of attacks. Well, watching this documentary on the great Pauline Kael really encouraged me to snap out of it and try to be confident in my voice again. The documentary itself doesn’t break any molds or anything but I just loved getting to know her and remembering how she was not afraid to tick a lot of people off with her reviews! She is one of my biggest inspirations as a critic, and I hope I can emulate her in any way.
12. The Truth
The Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda is never mentioned amongst the great filmmakers, and I don’t understand why. Consistently he has made one thoughtful film after another. The Truth is his first film not in Japanese (in French) and it features a standout cast led by Catherine Deneuve. She plays an aging actress who has written a memoir that her daughter (Juliette Binoche) calls greatly into question. The movie is probably too ‘slice of life’ for some people, but I loved spending time with this family. Deneuve should be considered for Oscars and Binoche and Ethan Hawke are great as well. Simple effective family film about memories and how subjective they can be.
11. Save Yourselves
This was my favorite narrative I saw at Sundance. Save Yourselves is a very funny movie about a couple that goes off the grid for the weekend to reconnect. Unfortunately that weekend there is also an alien invasion. I loved Sunita Mani and John Reynolds as our lead couple. They are very funny and have terrific chemistry. The ending isn’t perfect but I still really enjoyed it. One of my favorite comedies of the year.
10. Words on Bathroom Walls
This is the most personal entry I have on my list. I really enjoyed this teen film when I saw it but when I wrote my review I mentioned that I’d like to hear from someone with schizophrenia to see what they think about it. A young man named Zach reached out to me and he came on my podcast and we had an incredible discussion. Then the director Thor Freudenthal listened to the interview and came on the show and I spoke with him. It was an empowering experience and in my own little way I hope it took down some of the BS stigma that still surrounds conditions like schizophrenia. It has to stop. Plus, when Walter Goggins writes a letter in this movie I cried my eyes out.
9. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made
I am sure I am the only critic in the country to have Timmy Failure on their best of the year list. All I can say is I loved this little family film so much. I loved little Timmy and his segway zooming around Portland cracking cases. I loved his polar bear friend and when he had to say goodbye I cried. The conversation between Timmy and Craig Robinson about adaptability has stayed with me all year. I love Wallace Shawn as his teacher. It’s sweet, funny and heartfelt. A real hidden gem if you ask me.
When I first saw Spontaneous I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It’s such a weird and unique movie but it really stayed with me. I kept thinking about it and wanting to watch it again and again. I love Charlie Plummer and Katherine Langford in this (2 of my favorite young actors. Charlie is also in Words on Bathroom Walls). The whole concept of a world where you might explode at any moment is crazy and certainly keeps us the viewers on our toes. It’s sad and scary but it also has a sense of humor and a lot of romance. It’s got it all and how fun to see something fresh and new especially in the teen genre (although it is rated R). It is one of the most unpredictable, innovative and exciting movies I saw all year.
7. The Personal History of David Copperfield
Another movie that shook things up and surprised me is The Personal History of David Copperfield. Everything from the casting to the production design was different in this new take on the Dickens novel. I am not a literary purist so I don’t mind they clearly left out sections and ideas prominent in the novel. I love Dev Patel in the lead and the supporting cast with Peter Capaldi and Tilda Swinton to name a few are outstanding. It’s a period piece those who don’t like period pieces might enjoy. Charming
6. Bad Education
Bad Education is probably the best script I saw all year. It manages to walk the line of making the characters despicable while still likable. You hate what they are doing and yet you can see why they charmed their way through it for so many years. Hugh Jackman is great. Allison Janney is fantastic (better than her rather one note role in I Tonya if you ask me). Geraldine Viswanathan is also tremendous as the teen who starts asking questions.
5. Dick Johnson is Dead
Dick Johnson is Dead was the best movie I saw at Sundance this year. It is a documentary where director Kirsten Johnson explores the reality of her father’s impending death by staging mock deaths for him to experience. It’s weird and wacky and so sweet. I loved Dick Johnson. He reminds me of my Grandfather who I miss every day. I lost both my Grandmas last year so the themes of death and loss really hit home. I loved Kirsten at Sundance. She was awesome, but I loved her film even more. Anyone who’s ever lost anyone should be able to relate to this charming film.
4. Love and Monsters
Love and Monsters was a big surprise in the year. I didn’t know about it and then my friend Sean Chandler raved about so I had to check it out. Fortunately I completely agreed with him and found this film to be the most engaging blockbuster of the year. It has everything you could want in a film. It’s exciting with creative world-building and visuals. It has a terrific star making performance by Dylan O’Brien. Michael Rooker is fantastic in a supporting role. The creatures are unusual and fresh. I laughed. I cried. It has romance. It’s just a great time everyone will enjoy. There’s even a cute doggie in it!
Emma is exactly what I want in an adaptation. It stays close enough to the book to be satisfying for a fan like myself but it gives its own style and flair to make it its own creation. Director Autumn deWilde did a great job in her debut film. I loved all the production design and costumes. The music was wonderful. Anya Taylor-Joy was young and more innocent than most Emmas and Mia Goth is my favorite Harriet ever. And I absolutely loved Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightley. I’ve seen it at least 5 times including 3 times in the theater and I love it!
I went back and forth on whether to include Hamilton in this list. It just feels so different than the rest of the films (I literally filmed my Best of video 3 times trying to decide what to include). Eventually I went ahead and included it because it is so wonderful and was such a breath of fresh air in July 2020. Especially after the devastating news of Broadway closing down to get to see Hamilton with the rest of the world on Disney Plus meant so much to me and all the other musical theater fans. I have seen Hamiltonpreviously on the stage when the touring company came through Salt Lake and that’s an incredible experience but this was something different. In the filmed version you get close up to the actors in a way you can’t at the show (the show has more spectacle so I still recommend it) and it feels intimate and close. I love the mixture of Broadway and hip-hop into the music and lyrics. I love the take on history and the way it makes you think about this great nation of ours. I love the eclectic casting and the way the production moves and flows from scene to scene. It’s a masterwork brought to the screen!
The top spot was no argument. It had to go to Tomm Moore’s new film Wolfwalkers. His stunning new animated film continues his three movie hit streak with gorgeous animation and a heartfelt story of two girls who have a special tie to the forest. The story definitely has ties of Princess Mononoke but without the blood and violence. I loved the 2 girls and Robyn’s complicated relationship with her protective father. I loved the animation and the music. It will make you smile and tear up at the same time. It has it all. Get Apple Plus and watch it!
So there you have it. The best movies I saw in 2020. What about you? What are some of your favorite films? I would love to hear in the comments sections. Thanks for supporting me in 2020 and reading my silly thoughts on films. Now on to 2021!
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