Over the years as a film critic there are certain movies you hear about all the time but haven’t gotten around to seeing for whatever reason. 2011’s The Raid: Redemption is one of those films, which made it a perfect choice for this year’s Blind Spot series. Now I’ve seen it so let’s talk about it!

The Raid: Redemption is an Indonesian action film directed by Gareth Evans with a budget of under 1 million US dollars. Given how bloated and bland most action movies are with much larger budgets it’s impressive what they were able to accomplish.

There isn’t a ton of plot to the movie. Basically you have a squad that is ”raiding” an apartment complex run by local crime lord Tama Riyadi. As they go from level to level they experience different threats and the action moves forward.

If you are following me on twitter you know at first I was disappointed in the action (it had been hugely hyped up by friends over the years). The first act is mainly gun fighting not the martial arts masterwork I had heard so much about. In general I find gun fights to be rather boring because little strategy is involved just shoot and dead (this movie is insanely violent so know that going in.)

Part of the problem is the first part of the action is with snipers and a group of gunmen who attack the officers. However, as the movie goes it loses the guns and is more officers vs Tama’s men.

Probably one of the most effective scenes is when Rama (Iko Uwais) is fighting a machete gang through a hallway and into the main room (again violence warning in clip)

This film is not for someone who wants deep character development or plot. It’s merely to be enjoyed for the action- particularly the action in the last half of the movie. It’s easy to see why it created such a splash even if it does feel like a video game more than a movie at times.

Nevertheless, If you love action movies you’ve got to see The Raid: Redemption. 

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Broker, Rickshaw Girl, Fairways to Happiness)

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I am deeply ensconced in Sundance Film Festival and will have reviews of all the films I have been watching (I am not doing daily logs like I’ve done in the past because I’m trying to enjoy the experience more this year.) So far it has been a terrific festival and I’m so glad to be back attending in person again.

If you missed it I was on Good Things Utah for the first time as their movie critic. Check it out

In the meantime, I have a few current films to update you all on.

Rickshaw Girl

It’s always fun when you see a film that helps you dive into a different culture and country. Such is the case with  Amitabh Reza Chowdhury’s new film Rickshaw Girl. It tells the story of a teenage girl named Naima who dreams of making it as an artist in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This is based on a popular children’s book and the director weaves together animation and live action to tell Naima’s story.

The film is helped by a vibrant and lovely performance by Novera Rahman as Naima and the animation is a nice touch when telling the story of an artist. I only wish the animation had been done in 2D instead of CG to make it feel more like Naima’s art.

They also make the choice to have some dialogue in Bengali with no subtitles and some in English. I’m guessing this is to add to the chaos of the city but it felt like chaos for chaos’ sake. Still, there’s enough here to enjoy in the sweet story and Rahman’s performance to recommend it. You can find it on amazon (ad) and other streamers to rent.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Fairways to Happiness

We can all use a little boost in our spirits every now and then, right? I know I can. Well, if you are looking for a quick motivational documentary than Fairways to Happiness might be a good choice. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel and could definitely be called cheesy but I like a self-help cheeseball movie every now and then.

In the film Doug Morrione is inspired by his move to Dubai to interview expats and people from around the world on what makes them happy. He also weaves in the struggles of an amateur golfer name Eugene, and examines why so many get joy out of the solitary peace of the golf. I don’t golf but I can understand the appeal. For me it is being in a lake surrounded by water that gives me joy. For others it might be art or hiking. Whatever it might be what is it that makes humans happy? That’s an interesting question Morrione dives into.

If you like this kind of motivational, self-help documentary than Fairways to Happiness is a fun easy watch.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy


The true gem of this group is the latest film from Hirokazu Kore-eda called Broker. Kore-eda is a filmmaker I love, and while his films always do well at Cannes and other international festivals I don’t think he gets enough credit here in the states. He makes lovely films full of humanity and Broker is no exception.

Like his 2018 film Shoplifters, Broker tells the story of a fractured family brought together by crime. It is set in Korea (Kore-eda’s last film was set in France called The Truth so evidently he can direct in any land or language!) but Broker is about a group of people that are operating a human trafficking ring where they sell babies to struggling couples that are left at a baby box in a church.

Song Kang-ho is fantastic as Ha Sang-hyeon, the leader of the trafficking ring and Lee Ji-eun is great as a young Mother who leaves her baby and then becomes involved in the enterprise. Obviously human trafficking is terrible but Kore-eda works hard to bring out the humanity in each character so by the end you at least understand where they are coming from even if you don’t agree with their choices.

I’d say Shoplifters is still the better of the two films but Broker is definitely worth checking out and supporting.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews (Little Nicholas, Shin Ultraman, Spoiler Alert, I Wanna Dance with Somebody)

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. Today I have to play some catch-up on 2022 movies I saw but never got around to writing a review for. This is no statement on the quality of the films but more how busy I was watching Christmas and Oscar films. Make sure you check over on my youtube channel for all of my end of the year videos including best, worst, most disappointing of 2022 and my most anticipated of 2023.

All that said let’s get on to the mini-reviews

Little Nicholas - Happy as Can Be (2022) - IMDb

Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be

2022 seems to be my year for absolutely adorable yet thoughtful animated films. It’s certainly the case for Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and this film out of France called Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be. It is both really cute little stories about Little Nicholas (a popular character in France) and a rumination on the cartoon’s creators writer René Goscinny and cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé.  We see the character interact with both the writer and artist and interact as they struggle to create the stories.

The film has something to say about friendship, a life’s work and what gives life meaning. It’s no surprise the film was written by Gosvinny’s daughter Anne because it feels like that kind of labor of love. Any animation fan will adore the simple sketch animation and appreciate getting a peak into an illustrator and writer’s process and the heart that goes into creating a character like Nicholas.

I don’t know how much of a rollout Little Nicholas will get but if it is playing near you I highly recommend it. One of my favorites of 2022

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022) - IMDb

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody

I must admit I put off reviewing this movie because it really bummed me out. I love Whitney Houston’s singing and her death hit me harder than most celebrity deaths. The Bodyguard came out when I was 11 so a little too young for it as a movie but the soundtrack was some of the first pop music to impress me (along with the Beach Boys and Celine Dion.) I remember listening to her concert in Africa in 1994 and being blown away by her incredible voice.

Now we have this movie of her life (thankfully they kept Whitney’s singing because how could you replace her like they did with Judy Garland biopic). Naomi Ackie looked like Whitney more in the trailer than in the actual movie and everyone else is fine imitators such as Stanley Tucci playing Clive Davis but they can’t save the movie.

Some may say this is like a Lifetime biopic but honestly most of those are better than this. They had one last year on Mahalia Jackson that was actually quite good. This is as generic as it comes and the whole thing feels scrubbed clean as if it had a final edit by the family.

It’s just completely mediocre and not worth your time.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Spoiler Alert' Review: Jim Parsons in Michael Showalter Tearjerker – The Hollywood Reporter

Spoiler Alert

Going into Spoiler Alert I must admit the romantic weepie is not my favorite brand of romantic films. Nevertheless, I can still recognize when they are done well and this one is. It is based on a memoir by writer Michael Ausiello and tells the story of his love with husband Kit Cowan who dies of cancer.

Jim Parson plays Ausiello and I think his nerdy energy was a good fit for the role. If there is anyone who can convincingly play a Smurfs collector and still be charming it is Parsons! He also has good chemistry with Ben Aldridge who plays Kit.

If you have seen a Nicholas Sparks weepie than that’s basically what you get here but like I said they have chemistry and the whole thing is endearing enough to work. Sally Field is really nice as Kit’s protective mother.

Spoiler Alert also definitely counts as a Christmas movie, which wins some points in my book. I’d say get out the tissues and enjoy this sweet, hopeful love story

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Shin Ultraman' Review: A Massively Entertaining Superhero Relaunch - Variety

Shin Ultraman

I don’t pretend to be an expert on tokusatsu cinema out of Japan but I have covered some Godzilla films for The Criterion Project and watched a few of the films. Recently director Shinji Higuchi came out with a film called Shin Godzilla to wide acclaim. Now he has released his version of Shin Ultraman which has also been around for many years.

Fortunately you Shin Ultraman stands alone and you don’t need to know any of the history in order to enjoy its fun campy take on a superhero movie. It centers on a group of Japanese bureaucrats who are trying to stop the aliens attacking their country. To their relief they get help from a giant alien called Ultraman but then the friendly creature takes a turn and they don’t know if they can control him.

I particularly enjoyed Hidetoshi Nishijima who was in last year’s Oscar contender Drive My Car. He plays the leader of the SSP (Species Suppression Protocol). The rest of the acting is a lot of fun especially the women who have a very unusual way of boosting their self esteem. The visual effects are campy and reminded me of a good episode of Doctor Who. If you like campy scifi monster movies you’ll have a great time with Shin Ultraman.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! Let me know what you think of these 4 films and what you have been watching.

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There is something to be said for a movie that knows what it is and executes that well. It’s not pretentious or trying to be high art- just a simple genre film. Such is the case with the new action shlockfest, Plane, starring Gerard Butler directed by Jean-Francois Richet. Fans of the show 24 (which I am) will recognize much of Jack Bauer in Butler’s character Brodie Torrance (he’s even got a suitable tough guy name). You can also see elements of MacGyver and Die Hard in the film. It’s your classic innocent but tough guy put in an untenable situation where he saves the day fighting bad guys (and nature).

In the film, Butler plays a pilot of the plane from the title and after flying into a storm from Singapore they are forced to crash in a militia controlled island in the Philippines. The crash landing makes up the first act of the film and I thought it was very well executed. Maybe it’s because I travel quite a bit and always get nervous when we reach a bumpy section but seeing all the steps before they have to brace for impact was very effective.

Once  they land everything becomes a lot more generic. Mike Colter plays a fugitive ex-military guy who helps Butler track down help and then confronts the terrorists (who hold the passengers hostage.) His role is very basic but it worked for the movie I was watching. The terrorists are also one note evil bad guys we’ve seen a million times. It is true there are islands in the Philippines run by Muslim rebels called The Moro Islamic Liberation Front but there is no attempt in this film to humanize them or show their point of view. I didn’t really need that (I’m fine with just bad guys being bad guys) but it can be awkward when minority groups are only presented one way in a film or genre. If people are offended by that choice I wouldn’t blame them.

As an action film, Plane is less compelling when it is grounded but it is still entertaining with servicable action and likable performances from Butler and Colter. Again, this is not high art. It’s completely predictable and obvious but sometimes I enjoy a slickly made action film and this fills that need. It’s also only 107 minutes which is refreshing in this era of bloated action and superhero movies.

If you watch the trailer for Plane and it looks like fun than I think you will enjoy it. Let’s just say this film comes in for a solid landing.

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘A MAN CALLED OTTO’ or A Movie That Doesn’t Need To Exist but Still Works

I often hear people criticize a remake by saying ‘this movie doesn’t need to exist.’ What they are trying to say is ‘this movie has already been made well once so there’s no reason to make it again…’ and they aren’t wrong. Especially in an era where we have access to most of the originals (thank goodness such gimmicks like the Disney vault are gone!) It’s particularly scummy when the only reason to remake a film is because the original is a foreign film and Americans can’t be bothered to read subtitles…All that said, the unnecessary remake can still be a serviceable film that’s well put together. Both things can be true. Such is the case with today’s film A Man Called Otto.

If you follow my content you might know A Man Called Ove (the original title) is one of my favorite recent novels. The novelist Fredrik Backman is one of the best writers working today. He is so great at creating characters I care about and describing the human condition. A Man Called Ove is fantastic and his Anxious People is outstanding.

In 2015 a Swedish adaptation of the book entitled A Man Called Ove was released starring Rolf Lassgard and it is an excellent adaptation that was nominated for 2 Oscars. It’s widely accessible to American audiences and can be watched currently for free on the kanopy library movie app (it’s not some obscure or hard to find foreign film.)

A Man Called Otto' Review: Tom Hanks Learns Life Lessons - The New York Times

Now we have a new adaptation called A Man Called Otto starring Tom Hanks in the lead role. And all in all, despite feeling redundant, it’s a pretty good adaptation of this book. I admit I am a sucker for these kinds of grumpy old man redemption story movies, and I’d be lying if I said this one didn’t get to me, and I didn’t leave the theater wiping away some tears.

Hanks plays a grumpy old widower who’s sole purpose in life is monitoring the tenants of his little condo complex in Pittsburg. Nobody follows the rules well enough and everyone but Otto is an idiot that can’t get things right. However, what all the tenants don’t know is Otto has decided to end his life so that he can be with his wife who died the year before. Fortunately for him he meets a new neighbor Marisol (Mariana Trevino) who is up for whatever Otto can throw at her- even letting him teach her how to drive in a funny scene.

Hanks is a strange choice to play such a miserable character, but I suppose it helps the audience keep rooting for the character because he is such a likable presence. We also see flashbacks to his life with his wife (Truman Hanks plays young Otto) which helps endear us to the character.

Like I said, the redemption of a grumpy character (Up, Gran Torino, A Christmas Carol, As Good as it Gets…) is a favorite plot trope of mine in the movies. It will always get me crying and this did just that. Maybe it’s because I had a grumpy Grandpa who never came around, but I like to believe there is that potential in every one of us. It’s a very hopeful message I never tire of.

If you are triggered by suicide than A Man Called Otto won’t be for you, but I found it quite moving- even if it is unnecessary. You can totally stay at home and watch the original on kanopy, but if you do go out to see this new version, I bet you’ll have a good time and leave feeling uplifted. It’s a movie with a message that we can reach out and help even the most surly of neighbors and it will all turn out for the best. Maybe that’s a story worth telling…even twice?

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] M3GAN or My First Killer Doll Movie is Fun

For all of you who have followed my reviews you know I’m fairly new to the horror genre. I grew up thinking I didn’t like to be scared so I mostly avoided the genre and it is only recently that I have been catching up to try and have a more well-rounded portfolio of reviews. Last year I watched Black Phone, Scream, X and Pearl, Barbarian, and The Menu as well as the original Nightmare on Elm Street for my blind spot series (I have also seen Halloween, the original Scream and The Lost Boys.) I am going to continue this trend and watch  more horror this year and the first one up is the killer robot/doll movie M3GAN.

Believe it or not this film by Gerard Johnstone is my first killer doll movie. I’ve never seen a Child’s Play movie or Annabelle or anything else. You can say that makes my opinion less valid because I have nothing to compare it to but it is what it is. Sometimes a fresh perspective can be interesting so perhaps that’s what I can provide?

M3GAN tells the story of little girl and recent orphan Cady (Violet McGraw) who is being raised by her ill-equipped aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) who has designed an interactive doll named M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android). Cady is paired with M3GAN and Gemma is happy to turn the parenting responsibilities for her damaged niece over to the doll. Of course this creates some attachment problems and since this is a horror movie the doll gets more possessive of Cady by the minute.

First, I will say the viral marketing campaign for M3GAN has been hilarious and brilliant. I think I would have been inclined to see it even if I wasn’t a critic because it was so creative. Also the combination of puppetry, animatronics and motion capture to create the doll is seamless and completely believable. My favorite kind of horror has a dose of comedy and M3GAN gives plenty of humor for the audience. There’s the iconic dance in the trailer but she’s a heroine with lots of sass.

The downsides to the movie is it does take a long time to get going. It’s pretty slow for the first 30 minutes and then it finally gets going. Also without spoilers there is one death to a child that surprised me. I figured, even though he or she is a jerk they would just get hurt and not die. That is surprising! I know a lot of people have complained about the pg13 but as someone new to horror I appreciate there being some entries not as violent for us newbies!

I also thought some of the supporting acting is weak particularly Ronny Chieng as Gemma’s boss. He over-acted whenever he is on screen. Fortunately Williams and McGraw are both good and they are the main characters (along with M3GAN). Aside from being funny, the movie has something to say about parenting and how quick we are to turn those responsibilities over to technology these days.

All in all, I’d say my first killer doll movie was a success. If you are wanting to dive into a fun, silly horror movie give M3GAN a shot. From this newbie I’d say it’s a good time at the cinema.

6 out of 10

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My 2023 Blind Spot Picks

Hi everyone! It’s that time again. Time to pick my blind spot picks for the next year. Since I started the series in 2016, each month I watch a popular film I have never seen. I try to make it not just austere film twitter picks but some cult classics, and popular films I just happen to have not seen. It’s a lot of fun and something I really enjoy doing each month.

So here goes for 2023!

January- The Raid

Even though I have never seen The Raid or its sequel I know I have seen its influence in many recent action films. Starring martial artist Iko Uwais from what I’ve heard this film is light on plot but high on incredible fight choreography. Sounds good to me.

February- It’s Love I’m After

I love screwball comedies but most of them I’ve seen at least once. That’s why this hidden gem, It’s Love I’m After, caught my attention. It not only stars a young Bette Davis but has Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland 2 years before Gone with the Wind! In the movie de Havilland plays an obsessed fangirl of Howard who after he plays Romeo is convinced he’s her dream man. Sounds fun for February

March- Slap Shot

I do love a good sports movie and one article I read described Slap Shot as the greatest sports movie ever made! High praise! I know it is more rough around the edges than some inspirational sports movies but that could be a lot of fun. I’m always up for Paul Newman so it should be good for March!

April- Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

I must admit when the Sight and Sound poll came out last month I had never heard f its number one spot. I guess it’s a film school favorite and I’ve never been to film school! Jeanne Dielman is a really long film about a housewife and I’m told there’s a really long scene of her peeling potatoes. Well, I better see what all the fuss is about in April

May-National Lampoons  Vacation

Of course being a Christmas person I’ve seen the National Lampoons Christmas Vacation many times but never the original from 1983. I must admit I haven’t had the best luck with 80s comedies in this series but let’s hope this one surprises.

June- Tokyo Story

I had never seen a film by Yasujirō Ozu before until we covered Late Spring on The Criterion Project. I really enjoyed that episode and movie so it inspired me to watch his most famous film Tokyo Story for this year’s blind spot. It’s about parents visiting their sophisticated children and if it’s as good as Late Spring I will really enjoy it. 

July- Face/Off

Set your faces to stun but I’ve never seen the campy classic Face/Off starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. Directed by John Woo with a lot of moxie both actors have to play each other which should be a lot of fun.

August- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I know critics were mixed on Walter Mitty but it’s one of those films I always wanted to see but have never gotten around to it. The search for meaning Walter goes on seems appealing and I like Ben Stiller in other roles!  It will be great for the end of Summer.

September- Out of Sight

I know when Hustlers came out everyone was shocked I’d never seen Out of Sight. Let’s fix that. I like J Lo and George Clooney and am a big fan of director Steven Soderbergh’s first Oceans 11 movie so it should be great.

October- Trick R Treat

Each year I try to challenge myself with a horror classic I haven’t seen. So far I’ve done Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream etc. This year I am watching the 2007 new classic Trick R Treat. It looks pretty scary but I’ve been told by friends I trust it isn’t that bad. We’ll see!

November- A Fistful of Dollars

There are a lot of westerns I could put on this blind spot list but one of the most iconic ones I haven’t seen is 1964’s Fistful of Dollars. Directed by Sergio Leone it has influenced many other films and has a classic performance from Clint Eastwood.

December- Trading Places

Trading Places (1983) | MUBI
Like I said, I haven’t had great luck in this project with 80s comedies but I’m running out of Christmas movies I haven’t seen. 1983’s Trading Places has a devoted following and I’m always up for a subversive funny comedy. Let’s see how it goes.

So there you have it. Let me know what you think of my picks!

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