I must admit the James Bond franchise has never interested me much. Of the long running franchise I have only seen the Brosnan and Daniel Craig entries and they are a hit and miss bunch.
Now after seemingly endless delays we get the latest and final entry in the Craig saga of Bond films: No Time to Die. It’s not a perfect movie but it should more than satisfy Bond fans and I was happy with its emotional conclusion to a normally silly franchise.
Some may lament the loss of the stupid women and over-the-top action of past Bonds but I welcome the change. The franchise is finally making movies that appeal to me and make Bond into an actual person I care about. Plus you still get the pretty people and great stunts so win/win in my opinion.
If you want to get the full amount out of No Time To Die I recommend watching the previous film Spectrefirst. I have seen it but it has been a while so some of the plotpoints were lost on me and the film felt more than a little confused. It also definitely drags at times with the audience feeling the 163 minute runtime.
All that said, the action is well done. The movie is well shot with the style and panache you want from a Bond movie. Rami Malek makes for an intimidating and creepy villain. The little girl is cute. Léa Seydoux is fine as Madeleine although her and Craig don’t have much chemistry due probably partly from their large age gap (he’s 53, she’s 36).
My favorite part of No Time to Die is its humanity. It’s an emotional, gripping end to this version of Bond. Craig gives a great performance and like I said we actually care about the character this time around. That emotion is what makes it worth watching even with its flaws.
No Time to Die releases Oct 8th around the world. When you get a chance to see it let me know what you think and how it compares to other Bond entries I might not have seen.
Sometimes we all need a little pep talk. I remember as a child going into assembly hall meetings and hearing speakers designed to encourage us to be kind, not bully each other, not do drugs, be better friends etc. As adults we don’t really get that experience and sometimes I miss it.
This is type of inspirational presentation is essentially what we get in the new documentary We Rise Up. It is a slickly made film designed to help us put aside our differences for the good of the planet. It is also loaded with talented people “from all walks of life” sharing how they didn’t just become successful but they did so in a way that helps the environment.We Rise Up’s message is we can help save the world from pollution and global warming by moving from a system of consumption to one of contribution. Blake Mycoskie from Tom’s Shoes is given as an example. He made it part of his business model to give back and many pairs of shoes have been donated as a result.
The number of interviewees the documentary has is very impressive with everyone from the singer Moby, to the Dalai Lama, to Amina Mohammed (Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations). It’s hard not feel motivated and inspired with so many remarkable people all encouraging change and growth. It’s very effective.
On the downside We Rise Up does feel a bit too corporate at times. It seems like something you’d watch at a corporate retreat rather than a real authentic sharing of experiences. At times it doesn’t really feel like a movie but more a sales pitch for a product- except in this case the product is the We Rise Up movement. This is heightened by the way they do the graphics throughout that feels like a power point presentation.
Nevertheless, this documentary would make a great addition to a family home evening or homeschool lesson. It has so many interviews and the message is so encouraging (as well as the cinematography can be beautiful) that it will be a great jumping off point for discussions on how we can each do more to be a contributor and not a consumer.
Anyone who knows me knows I love musicals and musical theater. In fact, this year I have seen 27 local live shows since I have been vaccinated. You can read my theater reviews on my other site here. Back in 2017 I did a podcast with my friend Hayden on the Tony Awards. To prepare I listened to the original cast recordings and watched as many clips as I could (I don’t live in NYC so first run shows are hard for me to see). Instantly I was captivated by the recording for the musical Dear Evan Hansen. The songs were so engaging with great hooks. I loved them!
Now I have yet to actually see the musical on stage but I hope I get the chance someday. Fortunately this week I got to see the filmed version of the musical and it is not without its flaws but I still overall connected with its themes and love the uplifting music.
I totally understand why some people are responding negatively to this film. It definitely has some issues story-wise. To begin with Evan’s mental health issues come and go. At times he can’t muster the confidence to order a pizza on the phone and at other times he’s asking girls out and going to dances. It doesn’t really make sense.
Also the character Connor we are told he is abusive to his sister and she holds no remorse for his passing. She’s relieved and then another minute we see him dancing around singing with Evan in a fantasy sequence. It’s very strange. Also, I thought the portrayal of his mother by Julianne Moore was odd. Usually single Moms are seen as strong and empowered but she was judged harshly by the script for over-working and not being there for her son.
All that said…I still enjoyed the movie. I know it’s weird, but I was able to put all the negatives aside and focus on the core idea of loneliness and how once we matter and are loved it can make all the difference. Evan realizes he can actually make a difference in the world and the more he speaks out the happier he is. We all have those lonely moments, especially as teens, and maybe we can help rescue each other? That’s the main point of the story.
Of course, he also lies so it’s a flawed story, but I was able to see the core of what they are going for and enjoy it flaws and all. I also love the music by La La Land‘s Pasek and Paul. I actually think the songs are far better than in La La Land. I also appreciate the songs are all sung well with Ben Platt reprising his Tony winning role. (I know some criticized his casting but it personally didn’t bother me as all the teen characters are in their 20s so it didn’t stick out. Plus every teen movie practically has 20 year olds).
Kaitlyn Dever is great as Zoe and Amandla Stenberg does a good job with a perky character that is hiding her own demons. She also gets a new song called “The Anonymous Ones”, which did a good job of underscoring the themes of loneliness and fear.
If you don’t care for Dear Evan Hansen I totally get it, but I walked away having thought about my lonely moments, and what I would write to myself. The music soars, the singing is great and it is trying to share a positive message to teens. I think you can watch it with your teen and have a great discussion about how we can all love more, communicate better and try to notice those who are ‘waving through a window’ crying out for help
Originally my plan for this month’s blind spot pick was to cover the anime Her Blue Sky. It was done by writer and animator Mari Okada who created Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms and A Whisker Away. Both films I enjoyed a lot. Unfortunately Her Blue Sky is not available anywhere I could find both streaming or on US playable physical media. This forced me to find a different anime selection and after some discussions with friends I decided to finally watch the classic Perfect Blue by Satoshi Kon.
Satoshi Kon has been fresh on my mind lately because I just watched a documentary on his life as part of Fantasia Fest 2021. Back in 2016 I reviewed his masterpiece Millennium Actress for rotoscopers. I also covered his film Tokyo Godfathers in 2019 as part of this blind spot project. And finally my friend Conrado and I recently covered Paprikaas part of our Criterion Project podcast. So, it is appropriate I would finish this Satoshi Kon immersion process with quite possibly his most famous film in Perfect Blue. Perfect Blue tells the story of a woman named Mima who gives up her career as a popstar in order to become a serious actress. Unfortunately she ends up getting a role in a show called Double Blind where she has to perform in a rape scene (this is the reason I had avoided this movie until now). At the same time she is asked to do this she is being stalked and threatened (even letter bombs).
Mima starts to have conversations with her old popstar self and the line between reality and dreams becomes more and more confusing (a theme of Satoshi Kon).
The animation for Perfect Blue is absolutely stunning. Satoshi Kon weaves layers of backgrounds so multiple things are happening in each frame. You also feel for Mima’s character and want her to be treated fairly.The movie also uses music very well, which allows the viewer to become fully immersed in the story.
Perfect Blue also takes on deep themes of celebrity, fandom, identity, dreams, mental health, suicide, sexual discrimination and more.
The downside to the film is with so much happening both in the animation and story it can be confusing and difficult to follow. This is especially true when you have Mima talking to her former self and another person who is delusional thinking herself to be the “real Mima”. Even with the dub it’s still felt overwhelming to watch and keep track of.
There are also disturbing elements but I wouldn’t say it is gratuitous. It’s all part of the story and important to Mima’s progression.
What do you think about Perfect Blue? Is it a favorite of yours or is it not for you? Let me know in the comments section. Also let me know what anime you’d like me to review that I haven’t? I would love to know.
Hi everyone! I have officially finished with TIFF and it’s been a great experience. This morning I watched my last movie for the festival, Silent Night and that makes 23 movies watched and reviewed. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on these artistic and ambitious films. Even with 9 I did not recommend I still appreciate the experience of attending a festival and watching a large number of films in a short period of time. It gives you a whole different perspective than a typical ordinary trip to the cinemas.
Anyway I have 3 movies to report on today. One I saw at TIFF and the rest were at screenings. Here we go!
I must admit I haven’t seen many apocalyptic or end of the world movies. I’m naturally more of an optimistic person so such dour films don’t appeal to me. Now with director Camille Griffin’s Silent Night we not only get the end of the world but it is combined with Christmas, making for a very weird combination.
In this film a family and friends are gathering to celebrate Christmas knowing the end of the world is coming the next day. A tornado of toxic gasses is going to pass over and they can either take a suicide pill first or wait to die.
The cast for this strange film is fantastic. Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode have great chemistry as the hosts of the party. Rufus Jones, Annabelle Wallis, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and more play their friends and Roman Griffin Davis and his twin brothers play their children.
Unfortunately the script doesn’t do much to flesh out the characters outside of the fact they are all going to die, which obviously makes the movie very depressing. Some people may like the depressing version of a Christmas movie but it is definitely not for me and I didn’t take away anything profound that would make all the sadness worth it. My advice is watch Anna and the Apocalypse instead. It’s zombies end of the world and is much more entertaining.
4 out of 10
Everybody’s Talking About Jaime
You all know I love musicals and 2021 has proven to be an amazing year for the genre with films like In the Heights, Vivo, Dear Evan Hansen and more. Now we have Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and it’s another win!
This film is based on the stage production of the same name and it tells the story of high school student Jamie New who’s dream is to become a drag queen performer. Jamie is played by newcomer Max Harwood with energy and charisma.
My favorite part of this movie is how positive and life affirming it is. For the most part everyone is kind and encouraging to Jamie. I particularly loved his mother Margaret played by Sarah Lancashire. Her song ‘He’s My Boy’ is the highlight of the film. She sang it like a Broadway pro.
There is of course opposition for Jamie including a bully at school and his Father’s disapproval but it still overall feels positive and uplifting. Richard E Grant could get a supporting Oscar nom for his wonderful performance as a mentor for Jamie.
The songs aren’t especially memorable, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this big-hearted film.
8 out of 10
There are certain movies I’m glad I have seen but never want to watch again. The new film Blue Bayou is one of those films. It’s a devastating film that profiles an important issue I didn’t know was a problem. It tells the story of the LeBlanc family that lives on the Louisiana Bayou. Wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) is pregnant and father Antonio (Justin Chon- who also directs) is trying to make it as a tattoo artist. He was adopted as a child from Korea but things get complicated as the government tries to deport him.
The success of this film will depend a lot on if it emotionally gets you or not? It got me. I was crying especially a very brutal end. I am sure some will think it is too much and it might be but it worked for me. Chon and Vikander have good chemistry and little Sydney Kowalske is great as Kathy’s little girl Jessie. They feel like a believable family to me.
The weaker part of the film comes in a side plot with Linh Dan Pham who is a Vietnamese immigrant who befriends Antonio despite her having cancer. I didn’t see the point of her character. She didn’t add anything to the main conflict and her entire presence could be cut without changing a thing.
Blue Bayou is also a beautiful film that captures the magic of the Louisiana swamps well. It’s devastating but a film you won’t soon forget.
6 out of 10
There you have it. Let me know if you get to see any of these films what you think. Thanks!
Hi everyone! This may be my last log from TIFF. This weekend I am attending the FANX Con in Salt Lake so I probably won’t have time to watch any more TIFF movies (I would like to watch Silent Night, but we will see). Overall TIFF has been a great experience, and I am so grateful to the team there for giving me the opportunity to cover the festival as press. I hope I have done a good job and given all of you, my readers, an idea of the independent films which are coming out soon to a theater or streaming service near you. There have been misses (including the 2 I will review today) but even the misses are interesting to analyze why they don’t work.
So I hope you have enjoyed my TIFF coverage and hopefully next year I will be able to attend in-person for the first time!
Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on today’s movies
Ali & Ava
Going into Ali & Ava I was looking forward to it. I love romances and the summary of “2 people both lonely for different reasons, meet and sparks fly” sounds like my jam. Unfortunately it didn’t work for me. The main problem is Ali (Adeel Akhtar) and Ava (Claire Rushbrook) had no chemistry and the script didn’t give them enough cute moments which we want in this kind of romantic film. Instead they had a lot of unpleasant stuff to deal with like putting up with Ava’s annoying teen children who don’t approve of her choices.
I also must admit to struggling to understand most of the dialogue. The accents are very strong and the actors mumble their lines making me wish I could have watched with subtitles. Maybe there was charming stuff going on and I just couldn’t understand what they were saying? I doubt it but still it was hard to get into the dialogue when I cant decipher it.
If you don’t have that issue perhaps you will enjoy it more than I did? However, in the end a romance comes down to chemistry and it wasn’t here in Ali & Ava. Oh well!
4 out of 10
Where is Anne Frank?
There are times when I feel bad writing a negative review. I’m not made of stone and it’s hard when you can see so much love put into a piece that doesn’t completely come together. Such is the case with director Ari Folman’s new film Where is Anne Frank. Of course, I love animation so I was especially rooting for this film to be great but it was a mixed bag at best.
I do like the animation. Folman uses some beautiful techniques to make the 2D animation move and flow on screen. I particularly liked the way Anne Frank’s diary comes alive transitioning the viewer from modern times to Anne’s time. I also appreciated the message Folman was trying to share about helping refugees and that Anne would certainly have been an advocate for their cause were she alive today.
The problem with the movie is the concept. I just couldn’t get behind Kitty (Anne’s friend in the diary) coming to life in modern times and to make it worse she falls in love with a refugee activist named Peter. While I admire the message Folman is trying to share the heavy handed nature of it had me rolling my eyes more than sympathizing with the characters. The script throughout the film is clunky and awkward especially in the final act confrontation between Kitty, the refugees and police. It was obviously well-intentioned but badly done.
4 out of 10
So there you have it! If you got to see anything at TIFF let me know what you liked or didn’t like. Festivals are an amazing experience and I look forward to attending more of them in the future- hopefully in-person. Meanwhile if you are at FANX say hello! I’d love to meet you. Thanks!
Hey everyone! Another day of TIFF has come and gone and I must admit the 3 movies I have to report on today were all disappointing. It’s always a bit hard being critical of these independent films that clearly have so much love and care put into them. Nevertheless, I have to share my opinions as a film critic, so let’s see what I thought!
Nobody Has to Know
I feel like when you describe the premise for Nobody Has to Know it sounds more interesting than it actually is. The film is written, directed and stars Bouli Lanners and it certainly is an ambitious project. He plays Phil a man who loses his memory after a stroke. A woman named Millie comes to his aid but she also says they had a relationship before the stroke. Phil doesn’t know whether to believe her and we as an audience are skeptical as well. Is this a desperate ploy for companionship or a real connection Phil’s forgotten?
Nobody Has to Come explores these questions with good cinematography and performances. Unfortunately the pacing is very sluggish and the film meanders away from the core premise a lot. Maybe in a theater it would have kept my interest better but at home it did not. The acting is excellent and it is beautifully shot. Unfortunately the script let’s down an interesting premise.
To be frank Nobody Has to Come was simply dull. So I admire what they tried to do but can’t recommend it in the end.
4 out of 10
Being an animation buff I was obviously looking forward to both of the animated films at TIFF. I love indie animation and have a whole podcast once a month where my friend and I focus on indie and obscure animation. Unfortunately both of the animated films (not including Flee which I saw at Sundance and loved) ended up disappointing me during this festival- particularly Charlotte.
This film tells the story of Charlotte Salomon who was a German-Jewish artist murdered at Auschwitz concentration camp after completing her series of over 700 paintings. Indeed, the most captivating part of Charlotte is the addendum at the end talking about Salomon’s works in a traditional documentary fashion. It’s a problem if a section at the end is more effective than the entire rest of the movie!
The animation is pretty bad in Charlotte which feels awkward in a movie about an artist. And while the voice cast is impressive the voices didn’t match with the characters. Keira Knightley does a good job as Charlotte but her voice seems too old for a young artist in her 20s. None of them fit!
But the main problem is the story, which manages to feel bland and ordinary when it should be exceptional. Like I said the brief documentary at the end is much better than the story we get in the entire film. You’d honestly be better off reading an article on Salomon and giving Charlotte a pass. It’s a real shame because it had a lot of potential if it was executed better.
3 out of 10
The Middle Man
I’m not the biggest fan of dark humor. Every so often in something like The Addams Family it can work but for the most part it falls flat and ends up being more disturbing than elevating. The Middle Man, a new absurdist kind-of dark comedy is such a film and I really disliked it. Not for me.
The Middle Man tells the story of Frank who has been hired to be the ‘middle man’ for their community which has a bizarre number of accidents (he’s not with the military or anything like that). It’s a weird dystopian without being a dystopian.
It’s hard for me to explain why I found this movie to be so irritating. Maybe it’s because it is so repetitive? Maybe it is because it is pretentious and dealing with topics like death and grief in such a trite way? Maybe it’s because it dragged on and was so obviously pleased with itself? Either way it was not for me. It reminded me of Kajilionaire which I also hated with its unlikable characters and repetitive frustrating script. However, most people seemed to like that film so maybe they will like this? Like I said- it’s not for me.
2 out of 10
So there you have it 3 frowns. No fun when that happens. I hope you had better luck if you are covering TIFF or with whatever you are watching. I hope the festival finishes out on a run of good movies after this weak batch. Take care!
Hi friends! I hope you are all doing well. For Day 5 of TIFF I only saw 2 movies at the festival because I spent most of my day at a critics double screening of Blue Bayou and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Reviews of both of those films are to come, but the 2 films I did see at TIFF were very enjoyable and particularly in terms of documentaries the selections have been outstanding this year.
So here are my thoughts on today’s movies:
If you were in high school in 1995 like I was there was no escaping the album Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette, It was everywhere and rightfully so as it is a well written, raw, honest album with tons of great songs. The documentary Jagged explores the making of that album and Morissette’s career.
I must own I had no idea she was a child singer and had her first album at 11. Then at 14-16 she was a pop singer similar to Tiffany or Debbie Gibson. When MCA dropped her she retooled and at 19 put out Jagged Little Pill. There are some upsetting revelations in the documentary about Morissette time as a teen star including allegations of abuse that may be triggering for some viewers.
What I liked most about Jagged is its narrow scope. It went through each notable song on the album and explained what it meant to Morissette and the influence it had on fans and the music scene of that time. It’s definitely a talking heads piece but everyone had something interesting to say and Morissette makes a terrific interviewee in her segment. She’s likeable and funny, which makes you more invested in her story.
Jagged doesn’t break the bio-doc music mold but as a fan of the album and her music I had a great time watching it.
7 out of 10
Addendum- Alanis has come out saying this isn’t the story she wanted to tell. I find this confusing as it was predominantly her words so I’m not sure what story she wanted told instead? Either way it puts a shade on the documentary and I suppose it should all be taken with a grain of salt. It all seemed quite worshipful in tone to me so this is all very perplexing and surprising
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Cats often have a rough time in the movies. For every millionth positive dog movies there is 1 cat movie. Usually they are the villains in most stories (think Babe or Fievel Goes West). Well, now cat lovers rejoice because you have your movie! The Electrical Life of Louis Wain tells the story of the patron saint of cats, artist Louis Wain.
If you didn’t know Louis Wain was a painter who came from a high brow family and became famous with his whimsical paintings of cats. Before his influence cats weren’t domesticated like they are now. You could say his paintings were the catalyst for people keeping cats as pets, which is kind of amazing (I had no idea).
Benedict Cumberbatch is strong, as he always is, playing Louis throughout the highs and lows of his life. The film tackles a lot including art, commerce, mental health, marriage and more and for the most part it does it all well. I also really liked Claire Foy as Louis’ wife and Andrea Riseborough as his feisty sister Caroline. The production values are also impressive showing they did a lot on a small budget.
My only complaint is I don’t think the movie needed to cover all of Wain’s life. It drags at times and certain time periods could have been skipped.
Other than that I think The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a charming film about an eclectic and unusual man who happened to love cats!
Going into The Eyes of Tammy Faye I didn’t know what to expect. Of course, I’d heard of Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband Jim Bakker but didn’t know much about them. From the trailer I was expecting something very negative about her. Hollywood, after all, is usually pretty rough on religious people especially if there is a scandal attached to them.
Imagine my surprise leaving the theater to find the movie to be overwhelmingly positive in its portrayal of Tammy Faye? In fact, it was so positive I had to wonder if the Bakker family had final approval over the script? All that said, I still enjoyed the film and especially loved Jessica Chastain’s performance as Tammy Faye. Andrew Garfield is good as well as Jim but Chastain steals the movie.
The film is based on a documentary of the same name which was released back in 2000. I haven’t seen the documentary although I am definitely curious to watch it after seeing this dramatic version. Chastain transforms into Tammy Faye not only with the makeup and costumes but also with her acting and singing. I had no idea she could sing so well. It’s a complete performance.
I also had no idea Tammy Faye was an advocate for AIDS patients. In particular an interview with patient Steve Pieters where she tells him “I just want to love people” as God does was very moving.
It will be interesting to see what others think of this film. I do think they could have shown something about the victims that Jim and Tammy Faye took advantage of in their organization. Jim takes most of the blame in the scheme and maybe that is true to life but if so, it makes Tammy Faye seem like a very naive person.
Nevertheless, go see The Eyes of Tammy Faye for Jessica Chastain’s incredible performance and an unusual story of redemption.