Current Mini Reviews (Downton Abbey, Chip ‘N Dale, Along for the Ride, Top Gun OG)

Hey everyone! It’s that time again where I give some quick updates on the films I’ve been watching. Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to write up a full review on every film I see. It’s impossible!

Aside from Men, which I hated, it’s been a pretty good month of movie-watching. Particularly in animation we are getting a lot of creativity and innovation which makes me happy to see (especially since I didn’t like Turning Red from earlier in the year).

So here’s the reviews:

Downton Abbey: A New Era-

I was a big fan of the 2019 Downton Abbey film and the show so I came into this new film a little biased to enjoy it. However, I have heard from a number of friends who haven’t watched the show that they have enjoyed the movies so it might surprise non-fans. Either way, this new entry Downton Abbey: A New Era is everything I want in this very fun frothy continuing journey of the Crawley family and their downstairs staff.

Writer Julian Fellowes does a great job balancing a ton of characters and story-threads which is particularly difficult this time because we have the group splitting up- half going to visit a villa in the Mediterranean and half managing the house while a movie is being shot by new to the series Hugh Dancy playing director Jack Barber.

My only nitpick is with Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). I wish they could have gotten Matthew Goode in the movie as her husband. What they came up with instead was frustrating. All the other plotlines I really enjoyed. It’s particularly fun when the servants get a chance to dress up to be in the movie.

The highlight is always Maggie Smith as Violet and she’s spectacular here. My advice is have some tea, take your friends and go back into time for a delightful experience at the theaters!

(And check out our catch up podcast on the series and first movie above)

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers Review - IGN

Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers

I have to say I was as skeptical as anyone going into this movie. I didn’t like the trailers and the images I saw looked like a lame nostalgia grab. However, count me shocked because I had a blast with Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers. It all comes down to the script by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, which is chocked full of gags and laughs that particularly animation fans will go gaga for.

I don’t want to spoil the gags for you but evidently they were going for a Who Framed Roger Rabbit feel and I think they totally succeeded. We have cameos from not just Disney like in Ralph Breaks the Internet but from studios like Sony and Netflix. And there were just a lot of hilarious gags like I loved the setup of Dale doing the comic-con circuit and getting ”CGI surgery” to relive the glory days. That’s clever.

The voice cast is also excellent with John Mullaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett and more. This should entertain both kids and adults so definitely worth your time on Disney Plus. It’s a hilarious time with our dynamic duo.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Along for the Ride' Review: Netflix Dips Into Sarah Dessen Library | IndieWire

Along for the Ride

New on Netflix is the rom-com Along for the Ride. It is based on the book by Sarah Dessen and has lots of beautiful beach scenery but unfortunately that’s all I enjoyed about it. Teen love stories are usually not my favorite but this does try for some deeper themes with our lead Auden (Emma Pasarow) dealing with divorce, a new baby sister and trying to make friends in a new town of Colby.

I didn’t think Pasarow and her guy Eli (Belmont Cameli) had much chemistry and the plot dragged on without much to engage the viewer. i wasn’t invested in the relationship or much beyond her relationship with her Father (Dermot Mulroney) and Step-Mom (Kate Bosworth). Andie McDowell is also good as her Mother.

I hate to say it but this one was dull. It’s about insomniacs and it just about put me to sleep. Also the acting was weak at times. I’d skip this one.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Tom Cruise Top Gun Top Gun Maverick: film confronti Festival di Cannes. Foto | Style

Top Gun 1996

With the release of Top Gun Maverick coming soon I wanted to log my review of the original Top Gun for rotten tomatoes. I just had my friends over for a watching party and we had a great time. I can see why some find it too cheesy but in my opinion that’s part of the appeal. I like the posing, corny dialogue, and volleyball playing with the campy 80s music in the background.

The flying scenes still hold up with terrific sound design and music from Harold Faltermeyer. It also has a good mixture of light and heavy moments with a cast that has chemistry including of course a young Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Meg Ryan to name a few.

Everyone around me seems to be loving the new film but I will always have a fondness for the original Top Gun. It’s what you want in a big bombastic cheesy blockbuster.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Hit the Road’ or Take a Ride with This Wonderful Film

In this era of big spectacle and cinematic universes it’s amazing how simple making a great piece of cinema can actually be. In his feature film debut Hit the Road, writer/director Panah Panahi has taken the road trip movie and crafted a moving, touching, funny family drama that anyone should be able to relate with. It’s as close to a masterpiece as I’ve seen in a long time and the more I’ve thought about it the more it resonates with me.

The film centers on a family traveling through the beautiful Iranian countryside (seriously this movie makes you wish you could go visit Iran and just drive. Gorgeous). It is a typical crammed in suv but the occupants don’t seem to be on a vacation. In fact, they are racing to get across the border into Turkey, having left their hometown in a rush to try and smuggle Big Brother played by Amin Simiar out of the country.

Big Brother obviously has a great deal of anxiety given his situation but this is countered by the joyousness of Little Brother played by the adorable Rayan Sarlak. He steals the movie but he is also an important element providing laughter and joy into an otherwise tense film. Pantea Panahiha is the ideal Mother trying to keep her family together and both her sons hopeful but the fear behind her eyes is ever-present.

Then we have Hassan Madjooni as the Father who is struggling in the backseat with a fully-cast broken leg. It itches and it’s hot and miserable. He tries his best to be a team player but it’s obvious it is a tough situation to be in.

But the real star of Hit the Road is the script. Panahi has done such a great job crafting a family we care about, a story that surprises and dialogue that touches on so many important modern issues. It’s a film the entire family can watch together and be entertained and edified. I’m not sure what the roll-out is going to be but I can’t recommend it more highly. A moving family story you won’t soon forget and if there is any justice we’ll hear about it come awards season.

9.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] MEN or How to Really Annoy this Woman…

Alex Garland's Horror Movie 'Men' Has Trailer With Jessie Buckley, A24 - Variety

It’s a little hard to formulate my thoughts on Alex Garland’s new movie Men. I know I found it very annoying and difficult to get through but explaining why is challenging. I’ll do my best. I should start by saying I liked Garland’s Ex-Machina but I did not like his scifi film Annihilation in 2018. The former was an engaging AI scifi while the latter was a pretentious slog. Now we have Men, which purports to give us a ‘folk horror’ movie, but instead serves up a pretentious, heavy-handed, non-scary piece of arthouse junk. No thank you!

Men' trailer: Alex Garland ditches sci-fi for his most human movie yet

I will start out by saying I love Jessie Buckley so much. She won my heart in Wild Rose and I’ve loved her in everything I’ve seen her in since. The failure of Men is not her fault. In fact, she does a great job in a challenging performance. The film also looks nice with some great cinematography and small-scale visual effects.

The problem is the story and the fact it thinks it has something interesting to say but it doesn’t. At least something like Promising Young Woman has an unreliable narrator that hates men for a reason and her toxicity along with the men played out in interesting ways.

In Men Garland doesn’t give us any such nuance or engaging story.  Buckley’s character Harper is grieving over the loss of her husband (Paapa Essiedu) when she meets Rory Kinnear’s Geoffrey when renting his vacation home. We don’t really get to know her well and only have minimal backstory or insights into her character. She’s a classic case of someone who doesn’t act but is acted upon within the narrative.

Spoiler Alert: Men Movie Review - THE HOLLYWOOD MIRROR MAGAZINE

Kinnear plays several characters and each one of them embodies different shades of toxic masculinity. There’s a petulant boy, a creepy vicar, and even Adam and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (yes they go way back…). I guess this treatise on gender could be interesting but it doesn’t have anything to say beyond the fact that toxic men exist. We already know that! Again at least PYW had a message about how we treat victims. This is nothing. It’s not scary and the screenplay just gets more annoying as it goes along.

If he’s going to comment on half the human race I’d think Garland could come up with something better than they are all terrible and selfish creatures? Then the ending is so dumb I almost left the theater. I guess I can’t say it because it would be spoilers, but I hated it and they repeat it 3 or 4 times!

There will be people who will claim this is brilliant but I don’t see anything great about what it was trying to say or do.  Why not have one sympathetic man so Harper is confused and doesn’t know who to trust? This would be scary and provide a more layered view of how toxic masculinity and abuse happens. Instead we get this pretentious “horror” film that fails in nearly every respect.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Blind Spot 77: Barry Lyndon

There’s always something intimidating about a Stanley Kubrick film. You know you aren’t going to get something run-of-the-mill or mainstream. It’s going to challenge me and be fresh and inventive. He’s an impressive director because he tackled so many different genres from comedy (Dr Strangelove) to scifi (2001: A Space Odyssey) to the film we are talking about for this blind spot choice Barry Lyndon– a historical period piece.

To be honest, as a big fan of period pieces I expected to like this film more than I did. I came away from it feeling it is handsomely mounted and well-made, but emotionally distant and bland.

I’m not saying Barry Lyndon is a bad movie. It just didn’t do a lot to excite me or draw me into the story. I think it is one of those classics I’m glad I’ve seen but can’t ever imagine watching again.

It tells the story of Barry Lyndon who is a rogue in 18th century England who fights in war and then woes a rich widow to take advantage of her social status and connections.

Barry Lyndon is over 3 hours which usually isn’t a problem for me with period pieces. I recently watched the 2006 Jane Eyre and the 1995 Pride and Prejudice which are both over 4 hours with enthusiasm. The problem was I just didn’t feel that attached to Barry or any of the other characters. Again, it wasn’t bad. Just not that engrossing or interesting.

I can see why it won Oscars for score, costumes, art direction and cinematography. All of that is exemplary and very well done. The acting is also excellent by Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, and more.

I appreciated the intermission, and I did enjoy the second half more than the first because war movies aren’t my favorite but again the characters and story left me flat. Someday they should do a movie from Lady Lyndon’s perspective because she is treated terribly by Barry and others. The narrator (Michael Hordern) sometimes gives us insight into her and other characters, but I could have used even more.

I had read Barry Lyndon is “one of the best and most influential films ever made” so maybe my expectations were too high? I guess I can see production-wise but the characters and story were nowhere near on that level in my opinion. If it’s a favorite of yours let me know why and what I missed.

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ or Don’t Get Wanda Mad

One of the biggest critiques that seems to come for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is it has underwhelming villains. This is because the MCU is geared more towards families so the focus is on the heroes doing heroic stuff rather than the villains (with notable exceptions like Thanos, Loki and Kilmonger). The studios latest entry, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness seems to want to change that impression with a strong, scary, and complex villain by the name of Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch.

Director Sam Raimi makes his first superhero movie since Spider-Man 3 and adds his horror sensibilities all over the place in this MCU entry. We even get some zombie action which fans of Raimi’s Evil Dead movies will appreciate.

DS2 takes over from where WandaVision left us with Wanda abandoning Westview after her attempts to craft a perfect life fall apart and she is a desperate, angry woman. After she obtains the Darkhold (in the WV post-credit scene) she now has the power to create chaos on our planet but also in other dimensions- dimensions where she can be with her sons Billy and Tommy which she got to quasi-raise in WandaVision.

It is the combination of desperation and power that make Wanda a compelling character. Also we want to root for her because we loved her and Vision but the more unhinged she gets the harder that is to do. Very few Marvel villains have that kind of push and pull where we are repulsed by and hopeful for the character at the same time.

Then we have Stephen Strange who kind of plays second fiddle in his own movie (which I was fine with). He is outpowered and outplayed by Wanda at every turn, which makes for a desperate and compelling character. Also Strange sees him mess up and become very flawed in alternate dimensions (and in his dreams), which makes for an interesting character. Arguably he is a more conflicted character than in his previous solo outing Doctor Strange.

A new hero is introduced to the MCU named America Chavez who has the ability to jump between universes. We don’t get to learn much about her but I did like her performance by Xochitl Gomez. Marvel often introduces characters in ensembles and then gives them their own movies so this was fine for me (think Spider-man and Black Panther in Civil War). I’m sure we will see more of her going forward.

There have been some that have criticized Doctor Strange 2 for being too dependent on WandaVision but when Wanda is your main character I’m not sure how you get around that? Haven’t people been hoping the MCU would have more layered villains? Is that not what we got with Wanda? Much like Loki she’s going to swing between villain and hero but that’s fascinating and a lot of fun.

It’s also refreshing in this film to see Riami’s stamp and style all over the place- especially in the 3rd act. It was surprising and engaging and I loved the visual style of the multiverse. The cameos were also a lot of fun. They weren’t on a No Way Home level but I didn’t expect them to be.

As far as flaws, the plot did zip around a lot and it can feel messy putting all the clues from the shows and movies together but I also think that’s part of what makes the MCU special- putting the clues together and filling out the puzzle? Nothing in Doctor Strange 2 felt out of character, mean-spirited or frustrating like Spider-man Far From Home or Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. Those are the worst films in the MCU for my money.

Why 'Doctor Strange 2' Showtimes Dominated Theaters Opening Weekend - Variety

Comparing it to Eternals, that film was messy in a different way. Jumping between timelines with 10 different characters didn’t work. With Doctor Strange 2 you are focusing on the same characters that are behaving the same but in different dimensions. With Eternals, especially Ikaris, one minute he’s a hero, the next he’s out to kill our heroes and then back and forth again. It didn’t work. Nothing with Wanda, Doctor Strange or America changes in this film despite what dimension they might be in.

With 28 films in, it isn’t reasonable to expect Marvel to make stand-alone movies. Again putting all the pieces together in the universe is part of the fun of the experience. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had a lot of pieces but it’s an enjoyable ride. Riami’s style is bold and exciting. Wanda is terrifying yet relatable and Strange is a great guide into all this madness. If by some miracle you haven’t seen it yet, catch up with the MCU and give it a watch

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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