‘Uncomformity’ and ‘Day9’ Reviews

Occasionally as a critic I get asked to take a look at some indie films and it’s always a fun experience to look at what emerging filmmakers have to offer. I have 2 quick ones to talk about today


In Uncomformity writer and director Jonathan DiMaio uses his characters and the the harshness of the Mojave Desert to contemplate on themes of loneliness and how we as human beings fit into the grand scheme of nature’s plan. Alex Oliver plays a research student who after being betrayed by her colleague (played by Broadway’s Drew Gehling) goes to the desert to research the rock formations there for her geology doctorate.

It’s a little unclear what exactly she is studying (something about the uncomformity of the rocks, hence the name) but it doesn’t really matter. It’s more about Alex and her struggles to connect with anything but rocks. Along the way she meets a young man named Nick (Jack Mulhern) who is equally lonely and estranged from his old-fashioned father.

Given the small budget Uncomformity boasts strong acting and beautiful cinematography that helps the viewer feel like they know Alex and what she is going through. It’s a simple, slice of life kind of story and I’m sure some will want more plot but I enjoyed following these characters as they discover who they are what they want out of life.

If you enjoy character studies and don’t mind a bit of a slow burn Unconformity is available on tubi and Amazon prime and I think it is worth your time.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Also set in the desert, Day9 is a short that reminded me a lot of the Disney film Holes (this is for adults but similar plot and aesthetic.) Holes is one of my favorite live action Disney films, so this is not on that level but like I said it has a similar plot and aesthetics.

Like in Holes, in Day9 a rich man is forcing men and women to dig holes in the desert. It appears to be a test of wills because he does not treat the workers well and gives them little to eat and drink. How long will the workers put up with this behavior? Well, you will have to watch the movie to find out.

At under 20 minutes this short creates atmosphere well and helps us feel empathy for the workers. Most anyone put under their circumstances would behave the way they do. Director Dastan Khalili captures the heat and pressure of this situation very well and it makes for a compelling little short.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

What are some of your favorite indies you’ve seen lately? Would love to hear about them.

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Blind Spot 86: IT’S LOVE I’M AFTER

Happy Valentines Day! Every year when I make my blind spot picks I try to have a variety- everything from cult classics, to popular popcorn flicks to beloved classics. In February I often try and find a romance I haven’t seen, which considering my extensive coverage of the genre is tough to do. Most of the big hits I’ve seen so I try to find hidden gems that might be worth checking out. Such is the case with today’s entry the 1937 screwball comedy It’s Love I’m After.

In many ways this film feels like a dry-run for the all-time classic All About Eve, which also stars Bette Davis, and has similar plot-points; although, this is more of an outright farce. In the film Olivia de Havilland plays a woman named Marcia who has an infatuation with an actor named Basil Underwood played by Leslie Howard. She isn’t as underhanded as Eve Harrington but she is equally persistent.

The main difference between the plots is in It’s Love I’m After Davis and Howard aren’t married. In fact, they keep delaying their wedding because of work and other disagreements they have. Eventually Marcia’s persistent overtures cause them to call off another wedding things get crazy as is want to be the case with screwball comedies.

The strength of this film is in 3 leads. They all play off each other well and have terrific chemistry. I’ve always found Howard to be quite annoying in Gone with the Wind so it was nice to see him here in a charming leading role (he also gets to show off lots of Shakespeare as our famous stage actor). Of course, he and de Haviland would work together again in Gone with the Wind but I prefer them in this, even if her role is somewhat one-note.

Davis is such a terrific actor and excels at playing manic characters with more than a hint of sarcasm and she does that here. Her and Howard are great together and it’s fun to see her first take on this kind of character she would perfect in All About Eve years later.

I wouldn’t say It’s Love I’m After is a masterpiece but it’s an enjoyable entry in the screwball comedy genre and one I’m glad I took time to watch this month. Have you seen it? I would love to hear your thoughts if you have and what are your favorite classic rom-coms?

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ or Where’s the Ant-Man Movie in the Star Wars Knock Off?

This may be an unpopular opinion amongst the Marvel hive but I actually like both Ant-Man 1 and Ant-Man and the Wasp. I understand their weaknesses but they were both welcome diversions from the big epic Avengers films that proceeded them with likable casts led by the always engaging Paul Rudd.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Trailer: Kang the Conqueror Is Here - Variety

I know a lot of people disagree with me about these films (especially the 2nd one which I admit has 2 weak villains but I think Ghost has compelling motivations for her actions) but it is at least reasonable to expect the 3rd entry in a trilogy to follow the basic pattern and tone of the two previous entries. So when I sat down for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania imagine my surprise to get a film completely different. Some may call that a good thing but I was underwhelmed.

In this film we get Scott Lang (aka Ant-Man) trying to teach his rebellious daughter Cassie respect for the rules but her trouble-making spirit lands them both (along with all 3 of the Pyms) back in the Quantum Realm. What then proceeds is 2 hours of Star Wars-like fighting all leading to a fight with the Exiled Kang the Conqueror played by Jonathan Majors. All of this action fit much better in the Loki show, and I don’t think we learned anything new about Kang in the film that we didn’t get in Loki, so what was the point of it all?

When they first arrive in the Quantum Realm there is some fun world building and creature designs, but it quickly becomes giant CG city-scapes and it all feels like we are stuck in a video game from 2002. They try to liven things up with a few cameos and a bizarre appearance from MODOK that I won’t go into more but after a while it felt like a slog more than the upbeat Ant-man movies I enjoy.

Maybe kids who haven’t seen a million scifi movies will like this more than I did but isn’t it interesting that the simple heist story of the first film was much more engaging than this big supposedly epic movie? Honestly to keep myself from getting bored I started imagining the food and beverage tie-ins they could do at Disneyland’s Avengers Campus (they have ‘Pym’s Test Kitchen’ there.) It’s probably not a good sign if your mind goes to Disneyland food during the latest epic Marvel movie…

It will be interesting to see what audiences think of this one. Oddly it reminded me of something DC particularly from the Zack Snyder era would have made. It has all the polish of an epic without any of the spark or engagement to keep me invested. I guess we will see but as for this critic I prefer my Ant-Man movies smaller than whatever this was…

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Valentines is in the air and not only is Hallmark presenting their annual Lovuary slate (which the first one Sweeter Than Chocolate is excellent) but all the studios are embracing romance, which is so exciting after years of droughts in the genre.

So let’s talk about some romances!

Stars Fell Again

Back in January 2021 I had the pleasure of interviewing stars James Maslow and Ciara Hanna for their rom-com Stars Fell on Alabama. While I didn’t think the R-rated humor worked I overall enjoyed the chemistry between the actors and the story about friendship and taking a chance on love (friends to lovers trope.)

Now we have the sequel Stars Fell Again, and it is a definite improvement over the original film. I won’t spoil it but the ending is bonkers but most everything else is a fun frothy ride with multiple couples getting the romance this time around. We get another ‘friends to lovers’ story with Hanna’s sister Harper (Ali Faulkner) and Maslow’s Bryce is trying to find the perfect time to pop the question.

if you liked the last film you’ll certainly enjoy this follow-up, and you don’t need to have watched the original to get this one. Like I said, the ending is bonkers but if you like frothy fun romcoms you’ll enjoy this film.

Smile Worthy

6 out of 10

At Midnight

Paramount+ Sets Premiere Date & Releases Trailer For 'At Midnight' – Deadline

Moving over to Paramount Plus we have another fun rom-com called At Midnight. Borrowing from movies like Roman Holiday and Notting Hill (not on their level but the plots are similar), At Midnight is about a movie star named Sophie (Monica Barbaro) who is stuck pretending her relationship with her co-star is going great while their superhero movie shoots and then they can announce their break-up. Meanwhile she meets the friendly manager at her hotel Alejandro (Diego Boneta) and they become friends and sparks fly between them.

First of all, if you are coming to this movie for comedian Whitney Cummings you’ll be disappointed. She’s barely in the film. There are also parts mostly involving the movie shoot and keeping everything secret that dragged but the relationship between Barbaro and Boneta worked and they had electric chemistry. I particularly enjoyed the dancing scenes between the two of them. It’s not perfect but I think fans of the genre will enjoy it.

Smile Worthy

6 out of 10

Shotgun Wedding

With the release of Shotgun Wedding it was pointed out the very spotty career Jennifer Lopez has with wedding movies. Last year’s Marry Me, which was fine, looks like a career highlight in comparison to movies like Monster-In-Law and this clunker Shotgun Wedding. Basically this film is about a couple that has their fancy destination wedding ruined when pirates attack them and their friends.

This is supposed to be a rated-R, mature, action/romance but it ended up feeling bland and dull. The action is mediocre and the chemistry between Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Lopez is non-existent. Jennifer Coolidge fights for a couple but they are few and far between, which is a big problem in an action comedy. There’s a reason this went straight to streaming on this one because it is not good.

Frown Worthy

3 out of 10

80 for Brady

80 for Brady' review: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Rita Moreno and Sally Field suit up for a sweet story with a weak game plan | CNN
Our next film is a romance of friendship rather than lovers. 80 for Brady tells the based on a true story tale of a group of women who support each other and watch the New England Patriots together- and they particularly love quarterback Tom Brady. In 2017 they decide to go to the Super Bowl to cheer on their team and all kinds of shenanigans occur.

The reason why this movie works is because of the winning personas and chemistry of our 4 leading ladies (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sally Field, Rita Moreno). I love a story about friendship and these women feel like friends, which makes them easy to root for.

Unfortunately the plot could use some work. It feels like they had this basic concept and then began grasping at straws for what could go around it. The humor isn’t great and Tom Brady is no thespian.

80 for Brady can probably wait for a rental to watch with friends but the ladies are pleasant enough that it’s a harmless watch

Smile Worthy

6 out of 10

So there you have it. What of these romances are you looking forward to? Would love to read in the comments section

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[REVIEW] ‘Knock at the Cabin’ or How to Not Make a Kind of Faith-Based Thriller

The relationship much of film twitter has with director M Night Shyamalan I find to be rather baffling. It’s like they bonded with him at a young age and defend him like he’s the only director taking swings and making original work. I’ve always found him to be quite self-indulgent as a filmmaker and often he stands in the way of me enjoying a lot of his projects. Now he has given us Knock at the Cabin, and once again, I left the theater with mixed feelings.

It’s a little hard to talk about Knock at the Cabin without spoilers, but I will do my best. The film starts out with a ‘what if’ scenario and then tries to build a whole apocalyptic disaster movie into it. Basically, a group of religious radicals takes a gay couple and their daughter hostage and forces them to answer the question- what if the world is going to end if one of you don’t make a sacrifice of each other? The death in question will save the lives of hundreds of thousands. What do you do?

The mercenaries are played by Dave Bautista, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint. They are all good as well as Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui as the family . The whole cast brings the humanity and tension you need for such an intimate human-focused thriller. The movie is also shot well using close-ups effectively to get into the soul of the characters.

There are a lot of movies I feel would be better as shorts or 45 minute featurettes rather than feature films, and this is one of them. There’s an idea here but after a while I began to get frustrated. The longer Shyamalan goes, the more it becomes a religious allegory- literally having people become apocalyptic Biblical characters (not just metaphorically). Eventually I wanted to ask Shyamalan- what’s the point? What am I supposed to take from watching these people get tortured?

I feel like you don’t go that Biblical without having something to say but it’s beyond me what that is? Is it about the value of human life? If so than why are we asked to sacrifice somebody? Someone told me they thought it was a repeat of the Abraham and Isaac story but in that story Isaac is saved so Abraham’s loyalty to God is tested without him actually being asked to make the sacrifice.

Is it a Messianic allegory? God did sacrifice His son to save all of mankind but the ending doesn’t seem to own that interpretation (the ending from the book sounds much better.) And if that’s the interpretation what are we supposed to do with that? What does that teach us? With the couple being a gay couple is that a repudiation against Christianity (the couple is shown in the past being persecuted by their community and even family)? I think that’s supposed to make their decision to sacrifice harder because it’s for people that don’t accept them but again what are we supposed to take from all that? I have no idea.

I suppose some people will see this as a simple home invasion thriller, but I felt it was trying to say a lot more in a very muddled way. So despite being well-shot and acted I can’t recommend Knock at the Cabin. It left me frustrated more than anything else.

4 out of 10

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Sundance 2023 Recap and 21 Film Ranking

Hey everyone! The 2023 Sundance Film Festival has come and gone and I decided to do things a little differently this year for my coverage. I didn’t get accepted as press for some reason but I had the locals Salt Lake pass which allows me to see anything I wanted playing in Salt Lake City. Instead of doing the daily logs I’ve done in the past I decided to enjoy the experience and stick my immediate film reactions to twitter and instagram.

I was also trying to think of some way my coverage could stand out and came up with bringing Marcel the Shell along with me to the festival. I’m no Jenny Slate but it was fun

In my attempt to actually enjoy the festival I also was a little pickier this year and only saw movies I had heard good buzz about and thought I had a good chance of liking and to my pleasant surprise I actually did like almost everything I saw. I don’t know if I was just so happy to be back at Sundance after 3 years but it was an entertaining slate this year.

2023 Sundance Ranking and Quick Thoughts

1. Judy Blume Forever– If you’ve followed my writing for any amount of time you know I’m a sucker for a well made documentary and this about novelist Judy Blume is no exception. I was particularly blown away by the letters she received and the correspondence she had with thousands of children over the years.


2. You Hurt My Feelings– Director Nicole Holofcener actress Julia Louise-Dreyfus reunite (I love their work in Enough Said) for this very funny comedy about marriage and the lies we tell the people we love. This is going to be released by A24 and I hope it doesn’t get dismissed as one of their artsy films because it’s quite approachable and funny. I even recommended it to my parents who hardly see any movies. Especially married couples will be able to relate to this story and its wonderful dialogue. The letter left at the end for Tobias Menzies shrink character is particularly hilarious.


3. Radical– We’ve seen this type of inspirational teacher story because but this is done so well and Eugenio Derbez is so strong it worked very well. It tells the true story of a teacher in a deeply poor failing school in Juarez, Mexico and it will bring on the tears so be ready. The kids are all great as well as strong supporting performances from the adults playing the other teachers and parents. I loved it


4. Theatre Camp– Everyone knows I’m a theater geek so this comedy about a struggling theater camp was made for me. Evidently a large percentage of it was improv and the actors like Ben Platt, Molly Gordon and Patti Harrison (who I have loved in everything I’ve seen her in) are all up for it. If you are expecting a lot of Amy Sedaris you might be disappointed but if you want some good natured laughs it’s a great choice.


5. Flora and Son– family stories and non-traditional romances were a big trend this year at Sundance and this sweet little movie from one of my favorite directors, John Carney, is one of the best. The only reason it’s not higher is Flora (Eve Hewson) is a lot to take in at the start of the movie, very rude and caustic to everyone around her, but we see her grow and change until we end up rooting for her. Jack Reynor is great as her ex-husband, Oren Kinlan is the ‘son’ of the title and is funny as an aspiring rapper, and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is charming as the LA guitar teacher Flora becomes friends with online. The music wasn’t quite as strong as Carney’s other films but still a heart-warming little movie perfect for Sundance.


6. Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out– Despite its unwieldly title this is a very endearing family comedy about a teenage boy Calvin (Jacob Buster) who is trying to find his parents after they were abducted when he was 6. Emma Tremblay plays Itsy the new girl at school and she and Calvin have a lovely friendship. Obviously the story in this film is unique but it’s also funny and some emotional moments. In some ways it reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite but not as deadpan in the humor. One of the best family films they’ve had at the festival in a long time


7. Fairyland– Another family story at the festival. This one about a father (Scoot McNairy) and daughter (Emilia Jones among others) growing up through the 80s and 90s in San Francisco. McNairy is excellent and the script covers a lot of time without it feeling maudlin or boring. Geena Davis appears as the more conservative Grandmother but I appreciate she is written with nuance and not a one-note cliché we often see. It seems like others didn’t enjoy it as much as I did but I found it quite moving.


8. The Disappearance of Shere Hite– As the title suggests I had never heard of Shere Hite before this documentary which is fascinating because she was such a prominent figure of her time with her book on female sexuality called The Hite Report. My only question is for someone who seems so shocked by the media’s depiction of her she went on a lot of salacious shows and said shocking things. I think the documentary could have dove into that more. If she wanted to be treated like an academic why is she going on Maury Povich and shows like that. Still it was an interesting watch


9. Fair Play– They are billing this corporate drama as a thriller and that’s a stretch but it is well made and acted. Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich are terrific as a toxic couple who both work at the same investment firm in New York. When Dynevor’s character gets the big promotion jealousy and envy start to ruin their relationship. This film does have shocking scenes of violence and rape but it builds tension very well and I was genuinely unsure with what was going to happen and how it would end.


10. Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)– This is a fun, light documentary about the 1970-80s company Hipgnosis which created some of the most iconic rock album covers for the likes of Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd. Nothing outstanding here but I like these kind of behind the scenes documentaries and the interviews are well done and engaging.


11. The Persian Version– Another film about family at the festival and overall it had enough heart to enjoy but it tries to tackle to much and ends up feeling messy. Director Maryam Keshvarz tells the story of her Iranian-American family particularly herself and her Mother. I think she should have focused just on the Mother but there’s enough good here to recommend.


12. Past Lives– It seems like I’m more mixed on this bittersweet romance than my friends. Greta Lee, Yoo Teo and John Magara are very strong as the leads, but I found the experience very stressful to watch because I didn’t want her to cheat on her husband who I enjoyed so much. I couldn’t help but wish the movie was telling a different story while I was watching it but that’s me putting my traditional rom-com loving self onto the movie. For what it is, it does tell a bittersweet love story well, but I just found it stressful to watch.


13. L’immensità– This film is a spotlight film from the Cannes Film Festival last year. It’s another family story at the festival and is very well made and acted by director Emanuele Crialese. He captures the feel of 1970s effectively and Penelope Cruz is fantastic as the unhappy housewife and mother who still loves her children despite being in an unhappy marriage. All 3 kids are excellent including trans child actor Luana Giuliani. It’s a bit ambling and repetitive but I still enjoyed it.


14. Blueback– You all know how much I love the ocean and this movie about a Mother/Daughter diving team in Australia has amazing underwater footage. The story is sweet and Mia Wasikowska is good as the grown-up daughter with Eric Bana having a great time as the pirate-esque fisherman friend of the family. However, it should have just been the younger girl’s story because anything involving the Mother and her stroke is very saccharine and didn’t feel accurate to what little I know about how strokes work (for example, she just starts talking in full sentences out of the blue after not being able to for months.) Still, the water imagery and main relationships worked enough for me to recommend.


15. The Longest Goodbye– In all the films I’ve seen about space travel there aren’t that many which tackle the psychological toll on the astronauts and that’s what this film tries to do. It comes from the perspective of preparing an astronaut for a trip to Mars, which if attempted would take 3 years in space. Everything is interesting in this film but it was on the dry side and was a little dull.


16. Polite Society– I will not be surprised if we hear a lot about this film going forward and its director Nida Manzoor. It has a ton of energy and its lead Priya Kansara is charming as are all the actors (another family story.) The story is a bit all over the place and couldn’t balance its competing tones but it still had enough fun for me to recommend. I appreciate they made her terrible at martial arts until the one moment where she summons all her powers to defeat the villain. I think people who loved EEAAO will like this wacky movie.


17. Fancy Dance– We have another story about family, this one a mystery and drama. Lilly Gladstone plays Jax a Native American woman who has been searching for her missing sister for years and tryign to raise her high strung niece (Isabel Deroy-Olson) at the same time. Gladstone is very good in the lead role and the ending worked for me but it did have some pacing issues that make it lower on my ranking.


18. The Amazing Maurice– this was the only animated feature film of the festival and overall I enjoyed it. The story is based on a popular Terry Pratchett novel about a cat that becomes friends with a group of talking rats and they figure out a cheap way of making money. I like the animation and the voice-work is first rate including Hugh Laurie, Emilia Clarke and Gemma Arterton. The story felt a little muddled and didn’t do much for me but it’s alright (and it’s getting a 2000 theater rollout starting this weekend!) If your kids enjoy animated films about animals they will have a good time.


19. Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields– This documentary is actually 2 episodes of a show that will be released on hulu. For the most part I found the first part to be more intriguing and compelling than the 2nd. It tells the story of actress Brooke Shields and her work in Hollywood from a very young age. She has many positive experiences but she is also exploited, sexualized as a minor and dealing with an alcoholic Mother/manager. The second part while still containing some compelling stuff felt like it dipped into an advertisement for her Beginning is Now website than a movie. Still, there are definitely enough good parts to recommend especially that first part.


20. It’s Only Life After All– Another documentary about folk rock stars: The Indigo Girls. I knew almost nothing about them before watching so learning about their journeys is fascinating. I also enjoyed seeing how their platonic friendship played out over the years. The problem was the focus on the activism (while commendable) felt repetitive and took away from time spent about the music. I’m still amazed they have never been on SNL after all these years of writing hits. They even had an Indigo Girls skit. Shame on you SNL!


21. Shortcomings– Shockingly this is the only film from the festival I will be going rotten on (a miracle for Sundance!) and it’s not a terrible film, just not for me. The problem is Justin H Min plays Ben an annoying, insufferable 20-something who thinks he knows how everyone should live their lives and what they should like particularly when it comes to movies. Nobody is good enough for this guy and the problem is the movie isn’t funny enough to pull off such an unlikable lead character. Sherry Cola is great as his best friend but she can’t save it.


So there you have it! All 21 films I saw at Sundance. What do you think about these movies? What sounds the most intriguing to you? I would love to hear in the comments section.

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