[REVIEW] CRAM or Just Read the Book Marc!

Before I begin this review I will state outright that my co-host of The Criterion Project, Conrado Falco, has a small role in this film and we have had the director Abie Sidell and producer Trevor Wallace have come on our show and are the reason I was aware of the project. That said if I didn’t think it was quality I would not review it so I think I can be objective about it. 

Recently attending both Sundance and SXSW I must have said 100 times- this would be so much better as a short. Too often interesting concepts for a featurette or short are stretched out to feature in order to make it marketable in a cineplex. This is a real shame and ruins some otherwise good ideas.

That said, one of the cool aspects of the new horror film Cram is its length- not a short but a featurette of 44 minutes. It would be really neat if we could get enough of these shorter genre films being made that a theater could combine them together to fill a feature film slot- Grindhouse style or like what they used to do at sci-fi Drive-ins. How fun would that be?

Anyway, Cram stars John DiMino as a college student Marc who is cramming for a college paper, getting little to no sleep, but the only problem is he didn’t read the book that the assignment is based on. He tries to get a friend Alice to let him use her paper but she refuses (of course because she would be punished along with him for turning in the same paper).

When he falls asleep writing his paper, he wakes up in a haze and an acid-trippy force has taken over the library. This is the most effective part of the film with director Sidell creating some compelling and spooky atmosphere. I like the way he used bright colors to draw the viewer into each aisle of the library.

As it gets more into fantasy the narrative started to lose me a little bit but as it’s only 44 minutes I didn’t feel frustrated long.

Overall, Cram is a scrappy little thriller that most anyone who has crammed for a test in college will understand. It’s available to watch for free on tubi so check it out. I think you’ll enjoy it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Dungeons & Dragons, AIR, Rye Lane & More)

Hey everyone! I wish I had the time to write long full reviews for each of these films but unfortunately I’ve gotten behind and that’s not possible right now. I did have the chance to review some films for Good Things Utah a few weeks ago. You can check out my review of Creed III, Emily, Mandalorian s3 and The Love Club on Hallmark Channel here:

If you have seen any of these films I would love to know your thoughts.


Here’s a few more reviews:

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

It’s easy these days to be cynical about movies like Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Most of the time movies based on existing IP like D&D feel underwhelming and lazy but fortunately that’s not the case with this film from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. I’m not even a big fantasy person and I still had a good time with this film.

Chris Pine brings his usual charisma playing Edgin, a man who becomes a thief after his wife is killed by a Red Wizard. He ends up imprisoned and the villainous Forge (Hugh Grant) takes his position including raising Edgin’s daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman.) Edgin then gathers a motley crew together including barbarian Holga (Michelle Rodriguez), Xenk (Rege-Jean Page) and Simon (Justice Smith).

I have no idea how well this captures the game but if you enjoy adventure stories like A Princess Bride or the first Pirates movie than you’ll have a good time with this one. It is PG-13 for “fantasy action/violence and some language” but if your kids can handle the latest superhero movies they should be fine with this.

I admit I was really tired when I saw this one at a morning screening but I still had a fun time. I look forward to watching it again and getting even more out of it. If you are looking for a grand adventure with a charismatic cast than this is the movie for you.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Movies about business can be an interesting enterprise. If done wrong they can be as dull as most business meetings are. If done right they can be some of the most compelling human dramas ever released. Of course people think of Moneyball and The Social Network but you can go back to movies like Broadcast News and Network. This year seems to be the year of corporate origin story movies with Tetris, Flaming Hot, Blackberry and this movie AIR.

AIR tells the story of how salesman Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) convinced Nike to bet on Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan line of shoes. The film is directed by Ben Affleck and he plays Nike CEO Phil Knight (I couldn’t help but think of poor Will Vinton and Laika Studios whenever they showed Knight) along with a terrific cast including Chris Tucker, Jason Bateman and a very memorable Chris Messina as Jordan’s agent David Falk.

As with most movies, AIR comes down to the script. Writer Alex Convery  has given us a very entertaining debut screenplay with characters that feel authentic and dialogue that pops. Aside from it being an R-rated, I think I could recommend this film to just about anyone. It’s so entertaining and engaging even though we know how it is all going to end. I could care less about basketball, Michael Jordan or shoes and I still really enjoyed this film because it’s not about any of that. It’s about people and the risks they take to make the big deal. Viola Davis is also great as Jordan’s mother.

I’m not sure why they didn’t release this last year so it could count for Oscars 2023 but I hope at least the screenplay doesn’t get forgotten for next year. It’s super fun. (They also spent a fortune on music for this movie. Get the soundtrack!)

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Rye Lane

One movie I missed out of Sundance 2023 is the rom-com Rye Lane. As a lover of the genre I was so disappointed to miss it but gratefully got to catch up with it this last week. While I don’t think I loved it as much as those who saw it at the festival I still recommend it and especially loved the lead couple of Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oprah.)

The two have a meet-cute when Yas finds Dom crying in a public uni-sex bathroom. As it turns out they have both recently been through break-ups and they decide to spend the day together strolling around London and experiencing all kinds of shenanigans.

I really loved both Jonsson and Oparah together and felt both actors had great chemistry together. I found myself rooting for both of them and being happy when they start to fall for each other, which is exactly what you want in a romantic comedy.

The humor was more hit-and-miss for me and the harsh lighting/fisheye cinematography was distracting but not so much to ruin the experience. Rye Lane is an R rated film and like I said the humor was  uneven but I’d still recommend it playing on hulu right now.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy


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Ranking SXSW 2023 Movies

Hey everyone! I am so excited to finally be getting you my thoughts on the SXSW 2023 Film Festival and my ranking on each of the 11 films I saw while in Austin, Texas (12 if you consider Shazam: Fury of the Gods.)

Let me start by saying I had a great trip. It was my 2nd time in Austin and it’s such a fun town. The festival is massive, not only covering movies but music and innovative speakers. My pass was just for the movie portion but I’d like to go back again sometime and go to some concerts and other entertainment while I’m there.

I had heard some complaints from friends who arrived at the festival before I did- waiting in long lines, it taking 3 hours to get their badges- but that wasn’t my experience. I stayed mostly to the suburbs and got into everything I wanted to see whether I had an express pass or not.

I’m so grateful to the Chandler Family for letting me stay with them. It was so cute their little girls made my room a hotel room for my stay complete with a homemade key-card and reader. I honestly miss them and wish they lived closer so I could see the whole family more easily.

May be an image of 2 people and dessert

I also got to see friends attending the festival like Katie Carter and Anthony Digioia as well as my old friend Emily who drove all the way from San Antonio to have lunch. My only wish is that I lived closer to my friends because I miss them so much when I’m gone.

Ranking the Movies

Now let’s get to the movies. Like I said I saw 11 movies at the festival and it was a good mixture of documentaries, shorts, and both big and indie releases. There wasn’t anything that I hated (which is always nice at a festival) but some I liked more than others. Here goes:

11. Is There Anybody Out There?

I have to admit I fell asleep for a portion of this one. Part of that is fatigue on my part but the other part is a documentary that would have been better as a short. I think Ella Glendining is a super cool person and I enjoyed following her journey to find others with a similar disability; however, it starts to feel repetitive after a while, which hurt my interest. It’s not bad just a little on the dry side.

5 out of 10

10. With Love and a Major Organ-

I have mixed feelings on this one. It has some surreal and quirky moments and I appreciate its trying something new and artistic. However, some sequences seemed to be strange for strange sake and I left feeling unclear with what the director Kim Albright was trying to say. It’s set in a world where you can remove your organs, particularly heart, and give it to someone else- usually as some kind of act of revenge. Clearly she’s trying to say something about loneliness and modern-day relationships but I’m not really sure what that is? It’s an interesting movie but one that didn’t quite come together for me.

6 out of 10

9. You Were My First Boyfriend

Here we have another film I think would be better as a short. There’s lots of good ideas in You Were My First Boyfriend and I defy anyone to watch it and not find sequences they relate to, but there are also segments that feel way too long and it lost my interest. For example, director Cecilia Aldarondo spends a long time recreating a Tori Amos music video because it was a favorite of hers as a teenager. What could have been a few sentences about how music impacted her as a teenager ends up as a 20 minute making of a music video. That said, I did like the segment recreating a bullying incident at a sleepaway camp and it reminded me of when I had a similar incident in 8th grade. The title is kind of misleading because the high school crush segment is brief and it is more about her childhood best friend. That part I enjoyed and found quite moving so it was a mixed bag.

6 out of 10

8. Black Barbie: A Documentary-

I hate to sound like a broken record but this is another documentary that would have been better as a short. There’s a lot of good stuff here about Black Barbie but also the history of diversity at Matel and dolls in general. I loved hearing from the creator of Black Barbie and the other Black designers working at Matel over the years. The problem is they spend a lot of time on research with kids playing with Barbies and it starts to feel repetitive and dry after a while. Still, I’m glad this came out the year of the Barbie Movie and I hope people seek it out and have their kids play with all kinds of Barbies and dolls.

6 out of 10

7. Late Bloomers

This is a sweet if a bit overly-long friendship story. Karen Gillan plays a depressed young woman who breaks her hip spying on an ex-boyfriend of hers. While recovering she meets a Polish woman named Antonia who she begrudgingly begins to help and become friends. This helps her understand her own Mother who has Alzheimer’s. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to Karen’s character  and while it does drag at times it has its heart in the right place.

6 out of 10

6. Animated Shorts Program

I am so grateful to Morgan at Rotoscopers for helping me get my press credentials. As such I reviewed the animated shorts over on their site including my ranking of all 10. You can read that here.

5. Hung Up on a Dream

Pretty much every festival I attend has a band documentary- usually a classic rock band that is underappreciated. Sundance had one on The Indigo Girls, NYFF had one on David Johansen and the list goes on. SXSW has Hung Up on a Dream which is about the band The Zombies. Of all these band documentaries this one is towards the top. The journey of The Zombies is so unique and I felt like I got to know each of the band numbers. It’s not your typical wild rock n roll life but more of a story where luck often wasn’t on their side but they enjoy the ride anyway. It was cool 2 of the band members were there and had a panel after the movie. They seem like really cool guys and I enjoyed learning about them.

7 out of 10

4. Tetris

Because of my eye issues I don’t play many video games but Tetris is the one exception. I’ve wasted many an afternoon mixing up blocks into rows, so I was fascinated to learn about all that went down in the creation and licensing of the game. Taron Egerton plays Henk Rogers who discovers the game in 1988 and Nikita Efremov plays Alexey Pajitnov who invents the game in the USSR. The movie starts off a little slow. The first 20 minutes feel like nothing but board meetings but then when the USSR, Japan, UK and USA factions all get involved it starts to get more exciting. Eventually it becomes a story of unlikely friendship between Alexey and Henk. It was neat to have the real life Henk and Alexey at the screening but even so this story of international intrigue should entertain any fan of the game.
7 out of 10

3. Peak Season

Bittersweet love stories seem to be the theme of 2023. We had Past Lives, Flora & Son at Sundance and now Peak Season at SXSW. This one is set in beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming and follows engaged Amy (Claudia Restrepo) as she finds a friend in local vagabond fly fishing instructor Loren (Derrick DeBlasis) while her fiancé is away. Of course I prefer more traditional romances but this is still very well done. The dialogue feels authentic and natural and the mountains are stunning. I think anyone who loved Cha Cha Real Smooth last year will enjoy this movie- except I prefer this and its ending to that.

8 out of 10

2. Join or Die-

I’ve been a big fan of Robert Putnam’s work since I was a political science undergrad from 1998-2002. If you don’t know he wrote a book called Bowling Alone which looked at trends in joining groups and how that impacts all parts of American life including politics. In this movie Join or Die we catch up with Putnam and see how group behavior has changed in the 20 years since his book. If you think about it so much has changed in those decades including obviously online groups and the recent pandemic. I honestly think everyone should watch this movie. It’s put together in an approachable and entertaining way and it’s a conversation we need to be having.

8 out of 10

1. Molli and Max: In the Future-

Naturally SXSW was very proud of the fact this year’s surprise Best Picture winner EEAAO premiered at their festival in 2022. And in my opinion if any film is going to repeat that success it is this quirky sci-fi romcom Molly and Max: In the Future. This film basically takes When Harry Met Sally and puts it in a brightly colored engaging space world. I’m not the biggest sci-fi person but this doesn’t take itself too seriously and has fun with a world of bright colors and 2 friends, Molli (Zosia Mamet) and Max (Aristotle Athari) who meet with an undeniable spark and then proceed to spend the next 2 decades running into each other and almost falling in love. I enjoyed pretty much everything about this fun romance with an engaging script and visual effects that include miniatures, practical effects and CGI/green screen. It all worked quite seamlessly and Athari and Mamet have delightful chemistry. I hope this gets a good rollout because it is charming.

9 out of 10

So there you have it! I had a great time at the festival and saw a lot of terrific movies. I also got to cover my first red carpet for a movie (or series) premiere while I was there which was a wonderful experience. It was for the Disney Plus series A Small Light, which I didn’t get to see yet but had a great time talking to the cast and crew.

What do you think of the movies I saw? Any stand out to you or look interesting? Let me know in the comments section. 


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[REVIEW] ‘Shazam: Fury of the Gods’ or This is Completely Average and Leave Me Out of It

If you have followed my work for any amount of time you know I have quite the relationship with the first Shazam movie from 2019. I had mixed feelings on the film and ended up going rotten on my score. As one of the first to go negative, and the first female critic to do so, the world went insane and death threats came, the FBI had to be notified and it was a genuinely traumatic experience.

Shazam! Fury Of The Gods' Review: Sequel Keeps Heart & Humor – Deadline

Now we have the sequel Shazam: Fury of the Gods and I honestly struggled with what to do about it. On one hand I could recuse myself for my own mental health. I don’t have to cover it for an outlet, so why put myself through that? On the other hand, isn’t that letting the idiots win?

Eventually I decided to go with the latter and was able to find a critics screening here in Austin which I attended with my friend Sean Chandler (check out his terrific youtube channel for lots of great rankings and reviews of superhero movies and more)

Box Office Preview: 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' Battles Soft Tracking – The Hollywood Reporter

Now I have seen the film I’m left with decidedly mixed feelings once again. I do think director David F Sandberg improves upon the first film in some ways and fixes some of the problems I had with it. The tone is much more balanced and consistent throughout the film (some might say that makes it more bland and I don’t disagree but overall it was a positive.)

They also did a better job of connecting the performances of Asher Angel and Zachary Levi. They felt more like the same person, which was a problem in the first Shazam. I also enjoyed the family spirit particularly the foster parents Rosa and Victor Vasquez played by Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews respectively.

There is also a cameo which I had a fun time with (and I guess the studio has spoiled in the trailer!) As he or she is a favorite character of mine I’m glad I got to see him or her one more time in this universe.

Shazam Fury of the Gods Tracking for Low-Key $35M Box Office Opening – The Hollywood Reporter

So where does the movie not work? Well, actually I shouldn’t even say that because it works fine but it’s all completely average and something we’ve seen a million times before. If you want a fine superhero movie with likable actors and disposable action Shazam: Fury of the Gods will scratch that itch. If you were hoping for something more than it won’t deliver. Even the characters superpowers are bland and non-descript (and all the same for the entire family?)

The cast including Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu as the Daughters of Atlas are fine as villains but bland and forgettable. Djimon Hounsou is involved in the story but not given much to do. Rachel Zegler is wasted in a boring role.

I don’t know. If you loved the original I’m not sure what you will think of Shazam: Fury of the Gods. As someone who didn’t, I did see some improvement, and I liked its heart of family, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before a million times. In the end, whatever. Go see it if you want or don’t and leave me out of it.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Blind Spot 87: SLAP SHOT

One thing I have realized doing this Blind Spot series is comedies more than any other genre are creatures of their times. For every Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Airplane! there’s scores of comedies popular in their day that don’t hold up for modern audiences. Maybe I’m just a grump but I didn’t enjoy movies like Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon and more. Now we have 1977’s Slap Shot and I must own to being underwhelmed by this raunchy comedy classic.

On one hand I do get the appeal of Slap Shot with its raunchy humor and machismo characters. Paul Newman is super charismatic as the team leader Reggie. I also like the end lesson of such a violent movie is that violence is stupid and doesn’t work. That’s subversive and entertaining.

The problem is I just didn’t find the rest of the movie to be very funny or entertaining. A lot of the humor hasn’t aged well- especially anything to do with the gay characters; although, I suppose it was groundbreaking to have gay characters in a mainstream adult film at the time and have them talked about so frankly. Still, you would never have such homophobic jokes made today if they did a new Slap Shot.

Like I said, Paul Newman is very charming in his role and he carries the movie on his back. He is also a very good skater and the hockey scenes are all believable.

In the end Slap Shot is one of those movies I can see the appeal but it is just not for me. It’s too crass with so many unlikable characters and an uninteresting story, so there’s not much to recommend in the film. As I always say ‘funny forgives all’ so if I was laughing than I wouldn’t care about characters or story but I wasn’t so I did care. You may enjoy it more than I do for the shock value alone but it wasn’t for me.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

If you like my writing please consider supporting me on my patreon. There are loads of cool perks including weekly exclusive AFI Passions reviews just for patrons. Learn more here.