I’m sure the actor Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) will despise me after I write this review for his new film Black Adam, but I actually really enjoy him and his presence as a celebrity. I’ve followed him on instagram for years and have always found him to be charming and endearing as a public figure.
So imagine my surprise when I saw his latest film from DC Films and Warner Brothers and all that charisma has been sucked out leaving a bland shell of the man I’ve enjoyed for years. Others seem to be enjoying this film more than I did, but I found it to be completely inert and lifeless, especially his character.
It’s a real shame to because I actually love the whole cast. I’m a big fan of Sarah Shahi, and she’s given nothing interesting to do. I love Noah Centineo and think he is going to be a big star, but he’s barely-used comic relief, and Pierce Brosnan can be wonderful but he feels like a warmed-over imitation of what Benedict Cumberbatch is doing in Doctor Strange.
The only performance that stood out is Aldis Hodge as Hawkman. He is given some diversity of expression. Not just constantly stoic and bland like Black Adam. He can be light and engaging with Centineo’s Atom Smasher but he can also be serious, even tragic in other scenes.
The villain is completely forgettable. I only saw it a few weeks ago and can remember little but a devil-like creature. They even have Black Adam off screen for a large portion at the end which is bizarre because that’s when e are supposed to be getting invested in his story.
There is some fun action but nothing I haven’t seen a million times before and the score by Lorne Balfe was surprisingly weak.
If I had never seen a comic book movie I guess I’d be impressed by some aspects of Black Adam but as far as developing characters in interesting ways and using its cast effectively it massively fails. If you like it than knock yourself out. Why do you care what I think?
4 out of 10
There is a mid-credit scene which is fun and made me smile
Everyone who has followed my career knows I love romantic comedies. For proof of that I have an entire podcast devoted to Hallmark movies, rom-coms and holiday films: Hallmarkies Podcast. The reason why many of us turned to Hallmark for our rom-com fix is because Hollywood stopped making them for most of the 2010s. Now to my delight 2022 has given us a bunch of new films in the genre such as Bros, The Lost City and Marry Mewith the latest coming out this weekend, Ticket to Paradise. So let’s talk about it!
More than almost any other genre, the romantic comedy lives and dies on how its tropes are executed and the chemistry of the stars. Sure there are an occasional entry that’s original like an Annie Hall or Shaun of the Dead that try something new and different, but that’s really not what people are looking for from the genre. The predictability is part of the comforting appeal. So in Ticket to Paradise we are presented with the key ingredients to create that comfort: the stars and the trope. Julia Roberts and George Clooney, with a set-up for them to play the “Enemies to Lovers” trope.
They star as David and Georgia who are divorced parents of daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) who has suddenly decided to get married in Bali to a man she barely knows. This would concern any parent but both David and Georgia are over-involved in their daughter’s life and they both can’t stand each other (hence enemies to lovers…)
Of course, Bali is gorgeous and the contrast of big city vs island seaweed farmer lifestyles is another trope of the genre (how many Hallmark movies have the big city girl going to the country. In this case it is a tropical country!) Naturally, David and Georgia fight and ride the line of being unlikable. If they weren’t Clooney and Roberts with such great chemistry they might have been too much to take.
There are some attempts at broad comedy like when David is attacked by a dolphin but The Lost City was better this year if looking for actual laughs. However, if you are jonesing for a classic rom-com with charming movie stars bantering it out for 2 hours Ticket to Paradise delivers. Billie Lourd is also a lot of fun as Lily’s boozy college friend.
It’s a welcome and needed entry in the genre and the kind of movie many women are going to enjoy with their girlfriends and/or on date nights with their significant others. I’ve missed those. Please give us more Hollywood!
I don’t think Ticket to Paradise is a classic in the genre but it does what it needs to do to provide a pleasant evening at the movie theater.
Part of the point of this blind spot series is to get me out of my comfort zone and watch movies I may have been avoiding or putting off. Horror or scary movies definitely fall into that category as I’ve always been a bit of a scary movie wimp. However, I am trying to expand my palate and as part of this series I’ve watched Scream, Halloween, Frankenstein and now A Nightmare on Elm Street.
In watching these scary movies I’ve realized something about myself. I’m actually not that scared by supernatural horror. If I can put some distance between my reality and the horror movie plot I do pretty well. What seems to scare me the most is a scary movie that could actually happen to me. A good example is a film called The Gift from 2015. This is a well done film but it gave me legit nightmares for weeks. The idea of Rebecca Hall’s character being stalked by an old acquaintance of her husband and then what he does to her was terrifying.
So I give this long introduction to explain why I actually had more fun with A Nightmare on Elm Street than I would have guessed. It is gory and graphic. There’s no question about that but it’s all in dreams and over-the-top so it doesn’t feel like something that could actually happen to me. This makes it easier to have fun with the story.
A Nightmare on Elm Street tells the story of a girl named Nancy who lives on a street where a ghost named Freddy Kruger is haunting teens in their dreams and killing them. He is doing this out of revenge for the parents who killed him for being a child murderer.
The production design is the greatest strength of this film and director Wes Craven has a lot of fun with the horror dream kill sequences. Of course, Freddy has the knives as hands but most of the kills are more elaborate than that might imply. One teen is swung around in circles, another is nearly pulled through the tub and a young man is killed in a tornado of blood from his bed. These are all so over-the-top that they weren’t scary but more fun and inventive.
There is something chilling about being haunted through your dreams- a space you have no control of and can only put off for so long. However, I think some of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies are a little scarier in that concept because not only do you die but you become this horrible creature that can hurt other people. It’s one thing to die but another to become a monster that hurts the people you love.
Evidently Robert Englund gets into more camp as Freddy in future installments, but he is good in this first film and all the teens are excellent including a young Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp as Nancy.
In the end, I’m glad I finally watched A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I can see why it is considered to be a horror classic. I’ve heard the 3rd film is the best of the sequels, but let me know what you think. And what scares you the most in movies? I’d love to know.
There has been a lot of buzz out of NYFF over Till and in particular Danielle Deadwyler’s performance as Mamie Till. I saw the film at a screening here in Utah the day I came back from New York and for the most part I was impressed. There will be some who claim it’s too safe, but I appreciate what it is trying to do.
Director Chinonye Chukwu made a choice to focus on Mamie and her grief rather than depicting the violence of the situation. Of course, Mamie’s son Emmett Till was murdered by supremacists for whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi in 1955. Mamie insisted his casket be left open for all to see what the men had done and then she testified at the trial where the murderers were acquitted by an all-white male jury.
I recently complained about She Said feeling too safe and sanitized, so I understand why some will claim that here. However, that movie felt self-congratulatory and self-important in a way I didn’t love. That’s not the case here. We are meant to focus on Mamie and her strength and courage and Deadwyler does a fantastic job with her portrayal.
Till is a movie I can see playing in schools for years to come and as such the PG-13 has value. It’s important we have the violent films, but also key to have ones that can help introduce teens (13 and up) to history and begin important discussions that are unfortunately still topical to this day.
I vividly remember watching a TV movie called Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad (ad) at school and it having a big impact on me. I’m sure it’s not the greatest film as far as production values and gritty realism but it was effective in introducing me to American history and making our heroes comes alive.
Like I said, I can see Till having that kind of legacy in classrooms. It effectively portrays the grief Mamie experienced without relishing in the evil of the perpetrators. We see Emmett’s body without watching the lynching taking place and that has value particularly for younger viewers who will be able to relate with Emmett.
There are parts of Till that feel like a TV movie (which I’m fine with) particularly in the production values and supporting performances but Deadwyler and Whoopi Goldberg as Alma, Mamie’s Mother, elevate everything. If you have middle and/or high school age child take them to see Till and have a discussion with them about what happened to Emmett and how we can make our world better even today. That conversation is what will make Till a great film more than anything you’ll see on the screen.
Hey everyone! Yesterday I finished up my last day at the NYFF and am now having a leisurely weekend in the city with my friends. After the movie I met up with Conrado and we had a nice lunch while recording a special episode of The Criterion Projecton the festival which will air on Monday. It was a lot of fun so don’t miss the episode.
The festival picked an interesting film to close things off: The Inspection by director Elegance Bratton.
I’m not sure why the movie is called The Inspection (something with boot camp or marines would make more sense but whatever) but in the film Bratton tells his own experience as a gay Black marine in boot camp in the mid-2000s. Going into the film I was expecting something more traumatic and negative but it actually was more inspirational and positive about his experiences.
Trauma is there but most of the time his trauma is the same as anyone going through boot camp. We get to see how grueling that experience is but he gets out of it and is a better man with a band of brothers who support him.
Gabrielle Union plays his Mother and her character is the most devastating aspect of the film for French. I definitely give her a lot of credit for taking on such an unlikable, cruel character.
Jeremey Pope is strong as French as are the other recruits with him in boot camp.
For some The Inspection will be too conventional and simple, but I appreciate Bratton sharing his experience with us. It’s an inspiring story that will make you cheer by the end. In a way that was quite refreshing especially for an indie festival.
6 out of 10
So I’ve seen 8 films at the festival. Thank you to NYFF for admitting me as press and for any of you reading these logs. I would love to hear what of the films I’ve written about stand out to you and that you might seek out.
Hey everyone! I had another great day at NYFF including getting to meet one of my online friends Alli. We went to this wildly overpriced seafood restaurant (they charged $9 for a little bowl of rice!) but had a good time (it was quite stressful trying to navigate New York in the rain! A kindly doorman helped me get a cab. Thank you!).
Anyway, I saw 2 movies at the festival and they were interesting watches. No panels today but I still had a good time. So here goes:
Return to Seoul
I’ve always been someone that believes adoption can be a beautiful and wonderful experience but there’s no question it carries with it an array of emotions and challenges. Return to Seoul dives into that with the lead character Frederique or Freddie coming back to Seoul to meet her birth parents (she was adopted by a French family).
The film makes some big time jumps so you get to see Freddie through different periods of her life each time trying to balance her French and Korean sides. It’s all beautifully filmed with good performances particularly from Park Ji-Min who plays Freddie.
The only challenge is Freddie is a young selfish character who can be frustrating to watch at times. I don’t mind an unlikable character but particularly in the last section where she’s a soulless business-woman it was a lot to take in. The pacing is also of the indie-variety that may be challenging for some viewers.
Overall Return to Seoul is a memorable look at one woman’s look into her complicated identity.
7 out of 10
As seems to be the case lately, I feel torn on the new movie from director Maria Schrader depicting the Harvey Weinstein investigation, She Said. It’s a perfectly well done journalism film in the spirit of All the President’s Men (which I admittedly don’t love) and Spotlight. The performances are good, the reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are admirable people who are good at their jobs.
However, it all felt a little too tidy and safe for my liking. Only Hollywood could make a movie about the Harvey Weinstein scandal where basically only he and his bland board of directors are at fault. Despite the fact that actors like Jane Fonda have admitted they knew what was happening and didn’t do anything (the problem was more than just one man, it was systematic). When Ricky Gervais got upset at the Golden Globes he may have been uncouth, but he was right about the way so many knew what was happening and did nothing.
Hollywood loved Harvey and some of the actors who are portrayed as heroic in the film could have done more to help others avoid this and other horrible men. I understand that’s up to them in their journey as a victim but it just rubbed me the wrong way how the movie didn’t acknowledge the greater Hollywood problem.
That said, the investigation by the 2 journalists is done well. Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazaan bring a lot of personality to the roles (although I wish they hadn’t acted like postpartum depression is solved by…working hard?) Anyway, Jennifer Ehle steals the show, as she usually does, playing a victim Laura Madden who was one of the few allowed to testify because she wasn’t under a NDA gag order from a settlement.
Like I said, I feel torn on She Said. It’s fine but its weaknesses irritated me. It could have been a lot more daring and had something to say (Mulligan’s Promising Young Woman was divisive but far more evocative.) I think someone outside of the Hollywood system would have been a better choice to tell this story. Then it wouldn’t feel so sanitized and safe.
Another day of NYFF 2022 has come and gone and it was mostly notable for the fact I got to see my friend Austin Burke and watch 2 just ok movies.
So here’s my thoughts:
This film comes from director James Gray and is semi-autobiographical about his life growing up in Queens in the 1980s going to a private school run by Maryanne Trump (the former president’s sister played by Jessica Chastain).
Gray always paints a nice palate to his films with cinematography by Darius Khondji and he does so here. It feels more 1970s than 80s but I’m not an expert so I trust the costume designer did their homework. The cast is very strong with Anthony Hopkins probably earning his next Oscar nomination for his supporting work as the Grandfather who fled Nazi Germany after his parents were murdered in front of him.
The child named Paul is played well by Banks Repeta and his friend Johnny is Jaylin Webb. Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong play Paul’s parents Esther and Irving.
With a title like Armageddon Time you’d think the movie would be more exciting but it’s really a by-the-numbers coming of age story. Nothing new here but it’s not bad. If you are fan of this genre than you’ll enjoy it. I actually often find that to be the case with Gray’s movies. They are usually serviceable but nothing more.
6 out of 10
Personality Crisis: One Night Only
Some people may not know that Martin Scorsese has done a number of music-based rock documentaries including No Direction Home about Bob Dylan, Shine a Light about The Rolling Stones and The Last Waltz about The Band. Now his latest entry in the genre carries the unwieldly title Personality Crisis: One Night Only about the lead singer of the New York Dolls, David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter).
The most interesting part of this documentary for me is it’s actually the second documentary I’ve seen about members of the New York Dolls. Another one called New York Doll came out in 2005 and is about band member Arthur Kane and how he went from punk rocker to Mormon senior missionary. It’s a fun watch:
This film, Personality Crisis, is more your standard music documentary. The most interesting part is probably Johansen exploring his Dolls persona and his Buster persona (the personality crisis of the title).
They do give long stretches of singing which I’m sure fans will especially enjoy. Obviously this is the perfect documentary to have at NYFF and I suspect it will end up on a streaming service eventually such as Apple Plus or HBO Max. If you have a chance to see it there I’d recommend it like I said especially if you are a fan of either of Johansen’s identities.
Hey everyone! I mean to update my reviews before I went to NYFF but it didn’t happen so here is my post catching up on all the movies I’ve been watching lately. Here goes!
This film evidently is being released under different names. It might be The Railway Children Returns. It is evidently a sequel to a popular 1970 film in UK and based on the novels by E Nesbit. I was unfamiliar with both and overall I thought the movie was just ok. It tells the story of a group of siblings that are sent to live in a small town in Yorkshire, England during WWII and the various trouble they get into with their guardian Bobbie (Jenny Agutter) and Annie (Sheridan Smith).
On one hand, The Railway Children is a sweet, harmless family film but on the other it tackles a lot for one film including war, death, racism, bombings, bullying and more. The child acting is also on a made for TV movie level not that of a feature film. I didn’t hate it but it was confused enough to not be able recommend unless you are previously invested in the series or the book.
5 out of 10
While it is definitely not going to be for everyone (a strong R rating), I enjoyed Bros. In fact, I did a whole podcast on it at Hallmarkies Podcast (see above).
7 out of 10
While my feelings on David O Russell’s Amsterdam aren’t nearly as harsh as most my critic friends I still can’t quite recommend the film and admit it’s a bit of a mess.
The aspects I like of the film is the friendship between Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington. Platonic friendship is rarely explored at the movies and there are moments where I enjoyed that dynamic here. I wish there had been more of it (the romance between Robbie and Washington falls flat. It’s so much better when it is the 3 of them as friends!) There is also some great cinematography from the always reliable Emmanuel Lubezki.
The problem is the story tries too hard to be funny without actually making the viewer laugh and the barrage of characters get little to nothing to do. Like I said, it should have just focused on the 3 friends but instead we get introduced to 2 dozen or so characters all with their own plotlines and eccentricities until it becomes too much.
5 out of 10
The Oscar season has officially started for critics like myself and one of the early frontrunners (for best actress at least) is Todd Field’s new film TAR. Starring Cate Blanchett, TAR tells the story of a composer/conductor named Lydia Tar who becomes embroiled in a ME Too-esque scandal just as she is about to lead the Berlin Symphony Orchestra in her dream concert.
Blanchett is absolutely tremendous in this film and her performance is the reason to see it. It also has terrific sound design and some engaging supporting performances from people like Julian Glover and Mark Strong.
My only issue with TAR is the script is unfocused especially the last 30 minutes where it became difficult to understand what is happening (why is she conducting in some kind of cult at the end?). It got extremely confusing and for a 158 minute film that’s a problem. Also, for a movie about a conductor I could have used more music. As the movie mostly focuses on rehearsals we only hear bits and pieces of the music and that keeps us from understanding Tar’s genius like something such as Amadeus gives us access to.
Still, it’s worth seeing for the positives even if I do think the huge praise I’m seeing is a bit much but that’s just me.
6 out of 10
The Banshees of Inisherin
I wasn’t a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s previous hit film 3 Billboards so I went into his new film The Bashees of Inisherin with some hesitation. Now that I’ve seen it I can definitely say I liked it better but it’s not really my kind of film. I respect it and recommend it for the right type of viewer but I’m just not a cynical person and this film is extremely cynical and depressing while also being quite funny. It’s an unusual mixture.
In the movie Colin Farrell plays Padraic a man who lives on a remote island in Ireland when one day his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) tells him he doesn’t want to be friends with him any more. He basically gets ghosted by his best friend but they have to see each other all over town leading to many funny instances. Colm wants to be left alone to write great fiddle music and he feels Padraic is a distraction from that work. This is devastating for Padraic as it would be for most people who value friends (also the island doesn’t seem to have many options for friends).
The war of words between the 2 men gets very bloody and mean-spirited (It’s honestly just gross!). The ending left me so depressed I wanted to cry. This is not a movie I will ever watch again or remember with any fondness but it is well done for what it is. If it sounds like your kind of thing you’ll probably like it. As for me I need some humanity and care for others in my films.
5 out of 10
Smile Worthy barely
Lyle Lyle, Crocodile
Now for the complete other side of the spectrum we have the uncynical, sweet family film Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. Based on the popular children’s book by Bernard Waber this film tells the story of a special crocodile named Lyle who communicatees with all of Manhattan by singing. He has an owner magician Hector P Valenti (Javier Bardem) and a family with one child moves in to find him in the attic ready to be their friend. Constance Wu plays the Mom with Scoot McNairy as the Dad.
I love Winslow Fegley as a child actor. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made was one of my favorite movies of 2020, and I loved 8-Bit Christmas last year. (Incidentally his brother Oakes Fegley was also great in Pete’s Dragon so I guess it runs in the family!) Winslow is lovely here and does a great job interacting with Lyle on their misadventures (especially when you think about how bad quality actors can be at acting with cgi creatures. (Need I remind you of the recent Pinocchiowith Tom Hanks as an example!).
In the film Lyle is voiced by Shawn Mendes, and he wouldn’t have been my pick for the character but he does a fine job. The songs are terrific by Pasek and Paul of The Greatest Showman fame. And you all have read enough of my reviews to know how much I love musical sequences (even when sung by random animals like Lyle the crocodile).
In the end Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile doesn’t have a cynical bone in its body. Its message is about love, acceptance, kindness and family warms the heart and it shares these messages without apology. It’s a perfect film to take the whole family to, enjoy together, and then have a discussion about the way we treat people who are different. It also asks questions about how we confront new experiences when they might seem scary or difficult and it is hard to be brave. This is a sweet endearing movie I thoroughly enjoyed.
Hey everyone! Day 2 of NYFF has come and gone and I actually only saw one movie- of course it was a 4.5 hour movie so it counts for a lot!
Trenque Lauquen Pt 1 & 2
Evidently Laura Citarella is known for making lengthy epics focused on a personal quest or mystery but Trenque Lauquen is my introduction to her. Going into the screening was more than a little intimidating at 280 minutes including an intermission it was a lot to prepare for. Plus the summary by NYFF made the experience seem more than a little pretentious. Imagine then my surprise when the film, while definitely a long sit, is actually quite charming and accessible. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.
Trenque Lauquen begins with 2 men that are looking for a woman named Laura who they both claim to be in love with. When we meet this woman we start to understand her backstory and how she wandered away from her friends and family. Laura (Laura Paredes) works for a radio station with Ezekiel (Ezequiel Pierri) and in part 1 they begin to research a love story between 2 lovers in the past with clues hidden in library books around town. As they search their bond grows and they even share a kiss.
Part 2 was a little more dry with a pregnant woman and a magical lake that somehow connects to Laura and Ezekiel. However, If you are looking for traditional linear storytelling this isn’t the film for you but if you are open to hanging out with some characters as they ask questions and ponder the world around them you might just enjoy Trenque Lauquen.
Pierri and Paredes bring a subtle power to their roles as the lovelorn (or love-confused) Ezekiel and Laura respectively. They make for characters we want to spend time a leisurely morning with even if they give us more questions than answers in their quest for love.