Current Mini Reviews (Am I Ok?, Rifkin’s Festival, The Royal Treatment)

Hey everyone! So we had my last day of Sundance today. I ended up with 24 films watched and a bunch started that I chose to not complete (I gave myself that out this year). In general, the festival was a disappointment this year. There were a number of films I enjoyed but nothing I can see ending up in my top 20 of the year. And a lot of my most anticipated were either disappointing or ones I didn’t finish. It’s a real bummer but I hope you enjoyed my coverage. I did the best I could to be fair and enlightening in my mini reviews each day.

Now I have one more Sundance film to review and a few other recent watches I’d like to talk about.

Enjoy some mini reviews!

Sundance: Tig Notaro's Am I OK? Takes Probing Look at Coming Out as an  Adult – The Hollywood Reporter

Am I Ok?

From the summary Am I Ok? looked like the sweet romance I’d been looking for at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Unfortunately, that was not the case. It’s instead a coming out story, which would be fine but the none of the characters in question were very appealing or likable.

Dakota Johnson plays Lucy, a woman who finally admits she is gay, after her best friend Jane is moving back to England (she’s from England originally so not sure why this is a huge surprise). It seems like the narrative is going to be a friends to lovers story but it ends up being a lot of quarreling, fighting and overall obnoxious behavior. Then most of the time is spent with Lucy dealing with a crush on a lady at work not on anything to do with Jane.

Am I Ok? has nice moments but it could have been a lot better. I feel like a lot of films at Sundance this year were rushed with half finished scripts. Maybe they will improve the films before wide-release? Who knows but this one didn’t work for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Rifkin’s Festival

While the festival was busy pumping out indie fare a new film from Woody Allen was quietly released entitled Rifkin’s Festival. Like most of Allen’s recent work it is a mixed bag of his best and worst tendencies.

The positives is with the film being set in a Cannes-like film festival in San Sebastian, Spain, Allen has a lot of fun commenting on the arthouse film crowd and prestige filmmakers like Godard, Fellini, Bergman and Orson Welles. He even has dream-sequences that recreate the iconic moments from these classic directors. That was entertaining.

Certainly the cast Allen has assembled is up for the challenge with people like Wallace Shawn, Gina Gershon, Richard Kind and more. However, the problem comes with the 78 year old Shawn playing the ”Woody Allen” role as the supposed pedantic lover torn between 2 beautiful young women. It was unbelievable to put it mildly.

In Allen’s previous film A Rainy Day in New York he had Timothee Chalamet in the Allen-esque role and I think that was the right way to go!

Still just for the cinema parts I’d give it a watch.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Royal Treatment' Review: A Noble Netflix Romp - Variety

The Royal Treatment

For people outside of the Hallmark bubble they may be unaware of the flourishing business that is the royal genre of films. Whether it is on Hallmark with movies like A Royal Queens Christmas or Netflix with another Princess Switch movie (and that’s only a few of the many releases) there seems to be a never ending supply and demand for what are essentially Cinderella stories at the movies. Now our latest is The Royal Agreement on Netflix.

This film stars Mena Massoud as Thomas, the prince of fictional Lavania who hires hairdresser Izzy (Laura Marano) to help with his arranged wedding preparations. Of course he falls for the hairdresser instead of his intended bride but movies like these are about execution not originality and for the most part this is executed well.

The Royal Treatment is a cute movie that reminds me of The Beautician and the Beast– a movie I love. I appreciate the charisma of both leads and the humor the script brings in. In particular Izzy’s friends Destiny (Chelsea Preston Crayford) and Lola (Grace Bentley-Tsibuah) are a lot of fun as they bring some spice to palace life.

If you are a fan of royal movies you’ll enjoy The Royal Treatment. It does not break the mold but I had fun with it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. I was going to include a couple others but it’s late and I will save them for a future post. I hope you are all doing well and watching some great movies. Let me know what you recommend!

Sundance 2022 Day 6: (The Mission, Maika, Honk for Jesus)

On my 6th day of Sundance I saw 3 films (I started a couple others but they didn’t interest me so I stopped). It’s an interesting batch of movies- all of which I enjoyed- 2 involving religion that couldn’t be more different.

Here we go with my thoughts:

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul

Satire is a tough thing to pull off. For every Dr Strangelove there’s a million misses like last year’s America: the Motion Picture or Drop Dead Gorgeous– 2 movies I really didn’t like. Now we have Honk for Jesus and it mostly works as a satire of religion and megachurches.

The film’s greatest strength is its cast with Regina Hall and Sterling K Brown in the leads. They play the couple over the megachurch who are trying to stage a comeback after a scandal. As someone with no knowledge of these type of churches I learned something while still laughing. For instance, I had no idea that praise mime was an actual thing. I guess whatever moves you but that was new to me!

The problem I had with Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is the consistency of the laughs aren’t there- at times it feels like a full blown drama, which can be jarring when it switches from one style to another. Also I found the writing of Brown’s character to be off. For a lot of the movie we are supposed to hate him as the worst kind of hypocrite but then there are sections where it seemed like we are supposed to be rooting for him and his redemption. It can be tonally confusing.

Still, I recommend it for the performances and enough laughs to make it worth your time.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Maika

The festival this year was woefully lacking in its family programming. The kids section only had 2 entries and 1 of them Summering starred children but was not appropriate for them given the language and subject matter. So we were left with only Maika, a Vietnamese sci-fi film that overall I found very charming.

Maika is directed by Ham Tran and is Vietnam’s first family sci-fi film, only their 2nd entry at all in the genre. I hope it inspires other filmmakers as I love seeing genre films from all over the world. It tells the story of a little boy who stumbles across a little girl alien named Maika.

It is easy to compare Maika to films like E.T. or Lilo and Stitch but I still enjoyed it on its own. The children are adorable and the story have a campy quality that is engaging to watch.

The villains are over-the-top and the movie goes on too long but it still is a fun time. Kids will enjoy seeing a story where they are powerful and able to save the day (a friend compared it to Robert Rodriguez film like Spy Kids and I agree).

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Mission

My final film for the day, The Mission, is a tricky one for me to review. It’s subject matter, a Latter-day Saint mission, is very close to my heart as I served a mission between 2003 and 2005. Although not as fervent a follower as I once was I am still a member of the faith and so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

The Mission is directed by Tania Anderson and it follows 4 young missionaries (2 elders, 2 sisters) on their mission to Finland. Anyone looking for a hard-edged dive into the faith will be disappointed because this is extremely positive. Maybe even more so than it needs to be? I would have been interested to hear what the missionaries had to say about gay marriage, and other controversial topics within the church (although they do spend a little bit of time talking about the mental health care of missionaries which I appreciated).

But alas it is more about the day-to-day experiences of the missionaries and it definitely captures how grueling and even lonely the experience is. It’s a very difficult time but that’s part of what makes it so impactful. If you haven’t lived it, it’s hard to describe but this does a pretty good job of showing the grind.

It’s difficult for me to rate The Mission because on one hand it brought back a lot of memories of my own mission but on the other hand I think it will be quite boring for those not of the faith. It also seems to accept viewers know a lot about the church, its teachings and the jargon of missions. For instance, they say an Elder is a district leader without taking the time to explain what that is.

More than anything I was surprised how positive the film was. It almost felt like it was made by the church or at least edited by them. If any of you see it you’ll have to let me know what you think.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There you go! Another day at the festival is done!

Blind Spot 73: Clerks

Hey everyone! I am going to take a break from Sundance 2022 to talk about one of the classics of the festival, 1994’s Clerks. This film was directed by Kevin Smith and really captures the raw quality of early indie films from the 1990s. It doesn’t work well as a modern comedy simply because it doesn’t have many laughs but I can see why it was fresh and appealing in 1994.

In the movie Brian O’Halloran plays Dante Hicks a man who manages a convenience store that’s next to a video rental place where friend Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) works. One morning Dante gets called in when he isn’t even supposed to be working and interacts with a variety of wild characters.

Of all the people who come in and out of the store my favorite were the 2 women, Caitlin (Lisa Spoonauer) and Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti. While I didn’t think Dante was worthy of either of them they had some good lines.

Given they inspired an entire franchise Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) aren’t in the movie that much. They were ok I suppose but didn’t make much of an impact on me.

I did enjoy the black and white of Clerks and its authentic lived-in feeling. We have all been in this type of store before and we’ve all had that kind of boring repetitive jobs before. They are the worst!

I just wish I had laughed more at Clerks. I chuckled off and on but nothing major. Maybe I missed something or maybe the jokes have fallen out of favor over time but it wasn’t a very funny movie.

Have you seen Clerks? Do you think I am underselling it as a comedy or maybe you like it for other reasons? Let me know in the comments!

6 out of 10

Sundance 2022 Day 5: (2nd Chance, Emily the Criminal, Descendant, Alice, blood)

Another day of Sundance has come and gone and as is the theme with this year it was definitely a mixed bag. Some good, bad, and everything in between.

Here we go with the reviews!

Descendant

I always enjoy documentaries that teach me about something I am unfamiliar with especially if they do so in a polished, beautiful way. Such is the case with Descendant. Director Margaret Brown introduces us to the descendants of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to arrive on American shores (in Alabama and was called Africatown for many years).

Brown effectively uses anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s words to narrate the story throughout the film and she also has footage of Cudjo Lewis, one of the last survivors of the Clotilda.

In February, National Geographic is releasing their own documentary on the Clotilda so it will be interesting to see how it compares. This one focuses more on the current ramifications and the impact big business factories have had on the area. I found Descendant moving and definitely recommend it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Alice

Alice, the new film by Krystin Ver Linden, is a bit of a hard film to review. On the surface its elements could be compelling but as a finished product I hated it. The idea of a slave walking out of the plantation into 1973 America could be interesting but it is executed with complete cringe.

To begin with the slavery part (a good 45 minutes of the film) is executed like they took a greatest hits book from other films and sloppily tried to copy them. Keke Palmer tries her best as Alice but she’s left with a one note character that alternates between timid wallflower to empowered activist without any nuance or believability.

Then we have the blaxploitation, revenge section which includes a terrible sequence from Alicia Witt and it’s awkward and bizarre but not in a way that is compelling or interesting. There are literally scenes with Alice watching television with googly eyes as she sees moments from Black history unfold. Come on. This story deserved better than the Black version of Encino Man. I’ve honestly seen episodes of Doctor Who that tackle this subject better and that’s a largely white show!

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

blood

There are a lot of things to like about Bradley Rust’s new film blood. To begin with it is beautifully shot with gorgeous cinematography showcasing both the city and mountains of Japan. It also has some good performances from Carla Juri, Takashi Ueno (who have great chemistry despite this being Ueno’s first acting role). The little girl is also really cute.

Unfortunately all these good attributes can’t make up for absolutely glacial pacing. Very little actually happens in blood (not too mention no blood LOL). It’s mostly long shots of people staring and contemplating life. And it’s nearly 2 hours! It was a LONG sit and I struggled to finish it if I’m honest. So little happens and pretty images can only satisfy my soul for so long. In the end, it was not for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

2nd Chance

Another strong documentary from the festival comes from director Ramin Bahrani and his film 2nd Chance. It chronicles the life of eccentric inventor of the bulletproof vest Richard Davis.

In some ways 2nd Chance reminded me of an old Errol Morris documentary, something like Gates of Heaven (although that is too strong a praise the films have similar vibes). Davis is certainly the type of bizarre character Morris would have found interesting. But in 2nd Chance we not only meet Davis but his 2 ex-wives and other people like Aaron Westrick who was saved from his vests but then became involved in Davis’ life in unexpected ways.

Davis is a dream subject for a documentary. He’s brash and unapologetic and everyone seems to admire him despite some bad choices. It perhaps feels a little stretched out and repetitive at times but I was for the most part very entertained by 2nd Chance and am now just wondering when we are going to get the feature film adaptation of his story starring Sam Rockwell. It writes itself…

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Emily the Criminal

Actress Aubrey Plaza has become a bit of an indie darling the last few years. With strong performances in movies like Ingrid Goes West, Happiest Season and Black Bear she’s much more than just the funny actress from Parks and Recreation. Now she takes on a thriller in John Patton Ford’s new movie Emily the Criminal.

The premise for this film is strong with Plaza’s Emily desperate for a wage that can pay off her student loans begins working for an underground credit card fraud ring where she basically acts as a personal shopper buying goods with stolen credit cards. A lot of millennials will be able to relate to her frustration having found out the hard way that the promises of college were mostly lies and you are left doing menial work and letting your real passions go dormant. She even interviews for several jobs where she is told she can work for free with the hopes of maybe getting hired in the future. We’ve all been there especially over the last few years.

Where the movie is less successful is the thriller elements. Plaza has decent chemistry with costar Theo Rossi but most of the chases and supposed tension felt very by-the-numbers and ordinary. We’ve seen it all before and it isn’t filmed with any panache or flair which can elevate such sequences. It’s not bad just bland and predictable.

Still, I overall had a good time with Emily the Criminal. It has enough to say and Plaza is strong enough as Emily to carry the film past its more pedestrian elements. I’d say it is worth a watch.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! Let me know what you got to see at Sundance and if you get to see any of these films what you think!

Sundance 2022 Log Day 4: (Brian and Charles, Cha Cha Real Smooth, The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future)

Hey everyone! Yesterday was the 4th day of Sundance and it was also my birthday. As such I only saw 3 movies at Sundance because of family commitments. It was a mixed day of movies and I definitely have an unpopular opinion on one of them…If you are a seasoned Sundance attendee there is always a festival darling you don’t love like everyone else. It’s part of the Sundance experience.
Here we go!Brian and Charles
My favorite film of the day is the sweet little dramedy Brian and Charles. Director Jim Archer has taken his 2017 short film of the same name and expanded it to feature length. I haven’t seen the short but I would definitely be curious to do so after enjoying this longer version (a lot of Sundance movies I think would be better as shorts).
Brian and Charles tells the story of a man named Brian who in a fit of loneliness builds a 7ft robot to be his friend named Charles. The film is done in mockumentary style and the whole thing is just charming. There isn’t a ton of plot but the script is witty and David Earl is sweet as the robot-creator Brian.
If you like big-hearted films that will make you laugh Brian and Charles is a good one.
8 out of 10
Smile WorthyCha Cha Real Smooth
On the surface Cha Cha Real Smooth should be a movie I love. It’s a romance with attractive leads and a script that can be quite charming. The problem is it tries to be subversive of those tropes leaving me disappointed.
The positive of the film is Cooper Raiff as the 22 year old Andrew who is trying to figure out his life while working as a party starter for bat/bar mitzvahs. He seems to only be successful in starting one party and the rest of the time he fails at his job but it appears to be enough to keep him regularly employed. As I said, Raiff is charming in the role, and he captures the likable aimlessness of young John Cusack. I also enjoyed his interactions with young autistic teen Lola played by Vanessa Burghardt.
I wish the movie had been content to leave him as a friend with Lola’s Mom named Domino played by Dakota Johnson. Instead it flirts with romance but the 2 don’t have chemistry and as she’s engaged to another man it ends up feeling more awkward than swoonworthy. I won’t give away the ending but I found it unsatisfying. Other people seem to be enjoying it more than I did, but I felt the film was trying to convince me it was a happy ending when it was not especially for Domino.
I can see why Cha Cha Real Smooth is getting a lot of buzz for Raiff’s performance but the script let me down, so it’s a miss for me. Not horrible but in the end frustrating.
5 out of 10
Frown WorthyThe Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future-
Going into the festival The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future was one of my most anticipated. The story of magical realism intrigued me and it looked beautiful. Now having seen the film it’s another mixed bag for Sundance 2022.
What I liked about the film is the beautiful cinematography and music. Director Francisca Alegria does a good job creating a sense of time and place and immersing you in the experience. It is also creative and surprising.
Unfortunately the narrative takes forever to get going and the story is on the thin side. It seemed to take forever for the promised drama of a Mother returning from the swamps to materialize. Until then it was a lot of traveling and doing chores. I was just like ‘where’s the drama?’.
I think The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future is another example of a Sundance film that would have been better as a short. There’s just not enough story here for a feature film. Nevertheless, it is pretty so not devoid of merit.
5 out of 10
Frown Worthy
So there you have it. My thoughts on the 3 films I saw at Sundance on my birthday. I recommend checking out Brian and Charles. Let me know what you think!

Sundance 2022 Log Day 3: (Free Chol Soo Lee, Master, The Exiles, Framing Agnes, Summering, Dual, Resurrection, Lucy and Desi)

Saturday proved to be a very busy day for me at this year’s virtual Sundance Film Festival. I saw 7 films, which might be a record for me. It’s certainly a lot of movies for one human to watch in a day! I still haven’t found anything I’m over the moon about but there were some good ones. Here are my thoughts:

Free Chol Soo Lee-

First up a documentary called Free Chol Soo Lee about a significant moment in the Korean-American community that I had never heard about. In the 1970s a man named Chol Soo Lee was incarcerated and put on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. The film chronicles the grassroots effort that came about to help get Lee a new trial and an eventual acquittal. Like I said, I knew nothing about this story so it was interesting to learn about especially how the media covered the story- there was even a movie made called True Believer that is evidently terrible (I’m curious to watch it now).

Free Chol Soo Lee does what you need a documentary like this to do. It is fascinating and an insightful and definitely worth a watch.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Master

College campuses have long been the settings for horror films probably because they contain lots of pretty young ladies who are primed to be a final girl. This is no different in the new film Master. Director Mariama Diallo tells a story about 3 women at a Brown-esque college: 2 faculty members (Regina Hall and Amber Gray) and a student (Zoe Renee). It turns out one of the halls is haunted by ghosts and disgusting bugs. The more Hall looks into these supernatural events the more crazy things become.

Master isn’t a classic horror movie or anything but I had a good time with it. It is benefited by strong performances especially from Hall. It struggles to balance tone a bit and is more cheesy than scary but I’ve certainly seen worse in that department (the recent Black Christmas is an example on how to do this badly).

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Exiles

Next up we have a documentary called The Exiles which follows documentarian Christine Choy as she tries to start up a project she was working on after the Tienanmen Square protest. Choy is quite the character with strong opinions on many topics. I kind of wish the documentary was just about her. Flipping back and forth between Tienanmen and her makes both subjects feel underserved and frustrating. It’s not terrible or anything but I feel there is a better movie in there than The Exiles provided.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Summering

Going into the festival Summering was one of my most anticipated. The cast of young girls looked appealing and director James Ponsoldt has done good things in the past with films like The Spectacular Now. Unfortunately this film was very disappointing.

The problem with Summering comes down to authenticity. One summer day the  children in the story stumble upon a dead body and they spend the next few days diving into the mystery of who the man is and how he died. Maybe this story could have worked but the kids don’t respond like kids (or adults for that matter) would. They never have a discussion about calling the police or telling a parent. It’s like that throughout the film. Everything felt so phony I couldn’t get into the story or buy any of the performances. Even the adults didn’t talk like actual humans or make choices that made sense.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Resurrection

Every year at Sundance there is a movie that is nuts and I don’t know how to feel about it. This year’s entry is Resurrection. It is a bonkers movie that doesn’t really work but I admire its crazy chutzpah. It stars Rebecca Hall as a woman who lost a baby years before in a bizarre way and her attempt to exact revenge on her ex played by Tim Roth.

Just to give you an idea of how weird Resurrection gets the plot involves cannibalism and a man having a baby out of his stomach. It’s wild and Rebecca Hall is good in it, but I didn’t get what it was trying to say with all the madness. For a film to work you need a story that makes sense not just wild images.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Dual

There are a lot of horror/thrillers this year at the festival (and maybe that’s why I haven’t found anything I’ve loved yet). Fresh is going to be the one to get most of the buzz but it was too scary for me. Dual is more my jam. It’s a sci-fi thriller starring Karen Gillan (who I don’t think is the best actress but I liked the movie any way). She plays 2 roles as Sarah Prime and Sarah Clone. In the dystopian world they live in you can be cloned when you are given a terminal diagnosis. Unfortunately Sarah gets cloned and then is healed from her disease and doesn’t die. This leaves clone against clone.

Unlike Resurrection, Dual takes a nutty concept but crafts an engaging story around it. I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi lately that takes itself very seriously with lots of scenes of deep staring into space and I’m tired of it. Dual isn’t a comedy by any means but it also has a good time with its concept and a script that kept me guessing. It’s a movie that will invite conversation as we debate which Sarah did what? I’m not sure everything makes sense, but I didn’t really care because I was enjoying the ride. (Aaron Paul costars and has nice chemistry with Gillan).

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Lucy and Desi

It’s always interesting when a documentary and narrative film about the same subject open around the the same time. This is what happened with Being the Ricardos (which I did not like) and Lucy and Desi (which I did like). They both tell the story of Hollywood legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz but the documentary in my opinion has a much clearer focus on their relationship and I felt like I learned so much more about them from watching it.

It’s interesting because Being the Ricardos set itself up as a faux documentary and then does nothing compelling with that concept. It doesn’t do much with any of its plotpoints, leaving a jumbled mess instead of a good story.

Here in the documentary we learn about how Lucy and Desi met, their struggles with infertility, the reason why they created their iconic show to begin with and more. I had no idea how big Desilu Studios actually got and how involved Desi was in the creation of many iconic television shows and films. This was all fascinating.

Director Amy Poehler also showcases Lucy’s comedic chops and how they developed from being a B-movie glamor girl and model to the funniest lady on television. I also appreciated Carol Burnett sharing how Lucy had helped her as a mentor and friend.

Lucy and Desi doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it does a good job helping us get to know such a famous couple and how their love changed the world!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! Those are the movies I saw on day 3 of Sundance. Have you seen any of these? If so what did you think? Take care!

Sundance 2022 Log Day 2: (892, Fire of Love, Living, After Yang)

Another day of virtual Sundance has come and gone. On day 2 I watched 4 films making 7.5 total with the weekend probably many more than that coming up. So far nothing has wowed like a Blinded by the Light, Step or Maiden but they’ve been mostly good. A lot of slowly paced films on the boring-side if I’m honest. But here goes my thoughts on the Day 2 films:

892

892 was a bit of a mixed bag but it has positive attributes. John Boyega stars in this based on a true story of Brian Easley- a man who robbed a bank with a bomb in his backpack to try and get the $892 the VA department owed him. The movie does a good job building up tension and the performances from Boyega and the late Michael K Williams as a negotiator are compelling. However, I don’t think the movie did a good job of getting us to sympathize with Easley or explaining his motivations. Why did he pick that bank, on that day and why did he have to put these poor women through such an awful experience?

I kind of wish the movie had been told from the women’s perspective (Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva). They had this day of horror and yet the movie basically uses them as props. The same is true for Connie Britton playing a news reporter. I felt anger at Easley for what he was doing more than I felt sympathy for his experience with the VA.

In the end, I give 892 a mixed review for a mixed film

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Living

I am admittedly not the biggest fan of famed director Akira Kurosawa. I find a lot of his movies to be bloated and tedious. However, one I do like is his film Ikiru. I watched it for blind spot a few years ago and felt it was a very well acted character study. Now we have a remake of that film from director Oliver Hermanus called Living. The interesting thing about this remake is they took the script and translated it from Japanese to English and that’s it. It’s the exact same script but in a different country and language.

Fortunately, they got Bill Nighy to play the lead, Mr Williams and the amazing Sandy Powell to do the costume design that helps transfer you to the 1950s. Mr Williams is a man of routines and doesn’t like conflict or making waves for himself. Then one day he is diagnosed with a fatal disease and his rather boring life is put into perspective. This story is compelling and the performances are good but it can feel dry at times and be  too slow in its pacing. However, I still overall enjoyed it because of the performances and thoughtful script.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

After Yang

A24 is a studio that always swings for the fences but that’s not always a good thing. In After Yang they try for contemplative sci-fi but instead have a bland, dull film that never had anything interesting to say. Others seem to be enjoying this more than I did but I was very bored.

After Yang stars Colin Farrell, who is always excellent as the father of a young girl who is being raised by a robot named Yang. Eventually they attempt to save Yang’s life but the film is not as exciting as that sounds. Outside of a really fun dance opening credits scene it felt like scene after scene of people staring out into the distance and having the same conversations over and over again. There wasn’t enough story and the characters left me flat.

In general I’m not the biggest fan of slow contemplative sc-ifi but sometimes it can win me over like with Dune and Ex-Machina. This unfortunately was not for me although it does have some pretty cinematography and a beautiful score.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Fire of Love

My favorite movie of Day 2 was a documentary called Fire of Love. It chronicles the love story of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. They are a french couple that explored volcanoes from the 1970s to their death in an eruption in Japan in 1991. Director Sara Dosa has found a treasure trove of footage of the couple and the unbelievable volcanoes they chased. It really is shocking the beauty and awe of the earth in these incredible shots. It’s amazing they lasted as long as they did.

Dosa gets filmmaker Miranda July to help her with the narration and that works for the most part. My only flaw is I wish they had more interviews from people who knew the couple. I felt like I didn’t know that much about them after having watched their documentary. We got to watch them with the volcanoes but I would have liked to learn more.

Still, for the footage and the incredible love story I recommend Fire of Love. It’s a winner.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sundance 2022 Log Day 1: (The Princess, When You Finish Saving the World, Emergency)

Hey everyone! Welcome to my coverage of the Sundance Film Festival! This is my 7th year covering the festival and we started Day 1 pretty well (2/3 ain’t bad). Of course the festival itself got started off badly when the in-person portion got canceled and Sundance refused to give us our money back. It never feels good when an organization steals from you and then says ‘but you can use it as a donation if you want’. Thanks a lot!

Anyway, that’s not the filmmakers fault so I am trying to go in with an open mind to everything I watch. I even recorded a preview show with my friend Justin profiling 12 films we are looking forward to

Like I said, my first 3 films were a pretty good start to the festival. Here are my quick thoughts on all 3:

Jesse Eisenberg's When You Finish Saving the World Is a Great Debut |  IndieWire

When You Finish Saving the World

Unfortunately the festival started with a disappointment. I had high hopes going into When You Finish Saving the World. It’s A24 (which I admittedly have a mixed report card with but it’s at least usually intriguing) produced film written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg but it was not for me. It tells the story of a Mother and teenage boy who can’t stand each other and turn to replacements that they think will better fit. Julianne Moore plays the Mother and her fixation on a young teen boy staying at her domestic abuse shelter is creepy and honestly predatory. If it was a man playing the same role with a young woman everyone would be repulsed.

Finn Wolfhard plays a teen youtube music star who is terrible at writing songs and doesn’t have near the talent or chemistry to be a star. He becomes fixated on a liberal activist classmate of his and that’s just as annoying as it sounds. This movie is everything I hate in a Sundance movie. Smug, weird for no reason with narcissistic characters devoid of charm. No thank you.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Princess

With everything from Diana: the Musical to Spencer to The Crown we have gotten so much Princess Diana coverage in the media lately. The latest is a new documentary by director Ed Perkins. His new fresh take is the film is made completely of edited clips from media coverage of her life from dating Prince Charles to the aftermath of her death. This is an effective technique particularly when it comes to the chilling scenes of paparazzi eating lunch together chatting over her life like it is a big joke.

I don’t know if I learned anything new from The Princess but it was engaging enough to recommend. That said, can we give Princess Di a rest for a while? Everything that needs to be said has been. Let’s move on and make a Fergie movie for once 😉

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Emergency

The highlight of day 1 is the drama Emergency by director Carey Williams. It tells the story of 3 black college-aged friends (RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, and Sebastian Chacon) who end up having to deal with a young drunk white girl in their apartment after a big frat night partying. Each young man has a different solution for dealing with the girl based on their differing upbringings and world-views. This leads to all kinds of craziness and confusion.

Similar to 2017’s Get Out, Emergency manages to combine a message with tension and humor. It’s a dynamic which is very difficult to pull off but I was engaged almost the whole way through. The movie starts off with a classroom scene that I thought was a little heavy-handed but it gets its groove once the boys start dealing with the young lady. It also has one too many puking scenes for my liking but it’s still an excellent film that should inspire a lot of conversation especially amongst young college students.

For a tense, exciting and funny time at the movies check out Emergency

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Hotel Transylvania: Transformania’ or A Sandler by Any Other Voice…

Most people who read my reviews know I am not the biggest fan of Adam Sandler’s comedies. I actually don’t mind him when he works on other people’s projects (Spanglish, Punch Drunk Love, etc) however most of his Happy Madison produced films I’ve loathed. Movies like The Ridiculous 6, Little Nicky, and That’s My Boy should barely be referred to as films.

Fortunately there has been one bright spot in Sandler’s career. Since 2012 the Hotel Transylvania movies have been pleasant, well animated romps with Sandler in the lead as Dracula and directed by the visionary Genndy Tartakovsky. Of course, I wish Genndy’s more ambitious projects like Primal could get the same attention but alas Hotel Transylvania will probably be what he is most remembered for. And I guess they are fun enough films.

I actually enjoyed Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation film the most. The 2nd one flirts with a bold message but then cops out at the end and the first is just ok fish out of water story. The 3rd is a vacation movie with the most humor and sparkling animation.

Now we have the 4th entry Hotel Transylvania: Transformania which has Genndy as only a screenwriter and Jennifer Kluska and Derek Drymon taking over as directors.

We also have Brian Hull taking over for the voice of Drac, which honestly he does a near flawless Sandler impression. It has got to be a weird thing to be Sandler and hear someone doing your voice so identically. Unfortunately Brad Abrell is not as adept at taking over for Kevin James in the voice of Frankenstein.

As far as the story it’s cute enough. Drac’s son-in-law Johnny (Andy Sandburg) stumbles upon Professor Van Helsing’s (Jim Gaffigan) ‘monsterfication ray’ and turns himself into a monster. Then Drac and the monsters get turned into humans. It’s a one-joke premise but executed with enough manic energy to be entertaining. I particularly enjoy any time Fran Drescher’s Eunice gets to shine (they don’t give her enough to do in this franchise but she’s always hilarious). David Spade also gets some good laughs as the Invisible Man who isn’t so invisible any more!

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is a good film to go to streaming. You can turn it on with the kids and have some laughs while folding laundry and getting things done. Maybe that’s a low bar but it’s a reality. It’s no masterpiece but it will have the whole family laughing and that’s important. I say give this scary hotel one more shot.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy