Current Mini Reviews (MLP: A New Generation, Lamb, Diana: The Musical and More)

So it’s that time again where I catch up on all the films I’ve been watching with a bunch of mini-reviews! Sorry I couldn’t do longer reviews but if you have any questions or would like more of my thoughts just ask in the comments section!

My Little Pony: A New Generation

My Little Pony: A New Generation' Review: A Fun Franchise Re-shoe - Variety

I was actually a fan of the MLP: Friendship is Magic and enjoyed the MLP movie based on that series. Now we have a new series with an introductory movie, My Little Pony: A New Generation. This is technically a sequel to Friendship is Magic (and we get a little intro from the FIM characters) but it is new characters with a new style and it is thoroughly charming.

In this story, Equestria has been divided into 3 lands with 3 different pony kinds- earth, pegasi and unicorns. One day a new unicorn named Izzy comes into town and they have to work to overcome prejudice and restore the unicorn magic. I love the bright and cheerful animation and the message is important and perfect for the whole family. It’s a great start to the new series

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Lamb

Lamb,” a Bittersweet Nightmare - Scraps from the loft

Whenever I see a movie from A24 I know I’m in for something different. The distributor prides itself on procuring strange eclectic films. Most of their films I enjoy like The Farewell, Minari and more. Others like The Souvenir or The Last Black Man in Francisco I did not care for. (or C’mon C’mon reviewed below is A24)

Now there is the movie Lamb, and I was actually looking forward to the film because the trailer looked like a fun horror movie. Unfortunately it didn’t deliver and was instead a pretentious dull marriage in crisis drama.

The trailer is one of the most deceptive I’ve seen in a long time because Lamb is not scary in the slightest. In fact, every time they showed the human lamb baby it looked so ridiculous it took me out of the movie. It was too goofy, and I honestly thought it was plain stupid.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Diana: The Musical

Netflix's 'Diana: The Musical' is a royal pain | Star Tribune

You all know I am a sucker when it comes to musicals. I famously went fresh on much maligned recent film adaptations of Cats and Dear Evan Hansen. So when I say a musical is terrible it’s really bad. Such is the case with the recent Diana: the Musical.

Everything about this filming of the new Broadway show about Princess Diana’s life is a complete mess. Maybe the costumes can be praised but the lyrics, music, book, casting, staging is all laughably bad. It’s almost worth recommending for the ‘so bad it’s good’ elements, but I can’t do that to you. I feel bad for whomever invested in the Broadway show starting in December because this thing is going to tank badly. I can’t imagine it lasting outside the previews…It’s so bad.

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

C’mon C’mon

C'mon C'mon' Review: Joaquin Phoenix Delivers His Mellowest Turn Yet - Variety

I saw C’mon C’mon as part of this year’s NYFF59 and director Mike Mills was there to present it to the crowd. The film is thin on plot but its characters are endearing enough to make it all work.

It tells the story of a man named Johnny who is asked to take care of his nephew Jesse while the child’s parents are dealing with medical care. At first he doesn’t know how to parent but over time he and Jesse become very close. As an aunt I can relate to the bond between Johnny and Jesse and the beautiful black and white photography gives the film a grounded, authentic feel.

It is slow moving and the interruptions with documentary subjects waxing philosophical didn’t always work but still a sweet movie worth a few hours of your time.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Returning to Reims

Returning to Reims

My second movie at NYFF59 is a very unusual documentary called Returning to Reims. This film takes clips from movies, interviews, and selections from director Didier Eribon’s memoir to tell a history of labor struggles in France. Normally such a subject would be dry but the approach was unique enough to keep me engaged. I think it would have worked better as a documentary short but still I’m glad I saw it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Muppets Haunted Mansion

Muppets Haunted Mansion Review - IGN

I don’t know if I mention it enough on this blog but I love The Muppets. I even have Muppet May every year over on my youtube channel. That said, the franchise has had a rocky road the last few years. I did not enjoy Muppets Most Wanted and the various TV series have not been good.

Now we have a new film for Disney Plus with Muppets Haunted Mansion. Fortunately it is the best project the franchise has made in a long time. I really enjoyed all the homages to the attraction (which is my favorite at Disneyland). Will Arnett is a lot of fun as the host to a great party Gonzo and Pepe are attending. We also get the adorable image of Piggy and Kermit dressed up as each other.

The only thing I didn’t like was a plot-line with Taraji P. Henson and Pepe getting married. It’s not that funny and took up a lot of the runtime I wish had been given to the rest of the Muppets.

Still, it’s definitely worth a watch especially for Disney parks and Muppets fans. It’s a gift from the Muppets for this Halloween season.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Baby-Sitters Club Season 2

The Babysitter's Club Season 2 Parents Guide Review - Guide For Geek Moms

I loved the first season of The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix. It was so well written and cast and felt like an authentic portrayal of teens today.

Now we have season 2 and I loved it all over again. I loved the books growing up and even had my own babysitting club as a tween with my friends. This show so captures the experience of being a teen girl with the insecurities, joys and struggles. But you don’t need to be a teen girl to enjoy the series. If you like good writing and authentic storytelling you will like this show. It’s fantastic.

Particularly great this season is the story for Claudia who faces a great loss. It honestly made me quite emotional. Trust me on this one- you should watch it!

10 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Have you seen any of these films/shows? What have you been watching? Share in the comment sections.

[REVIEW] ‘Dune: Part One’ or It’s Dune. Take it or Leave It

A couple of years ago my book club chose to read Frank Herbert’s 1965 scifi novel Dune for one of our summer selections. The whole point of book club is to get me out of my reading comfort zone so I dove in hoping to enjoy it…and I did not. It was a beast of exposition and ambling plot that went nowhere. None of us but one enjoyed the book and I hoped to never hear about Dune again.

Then of course the movie was announced directed by auteur Denis Villeneuve and of course it was delayed last year due to the pandemic. I feel like I have been hearing about this movie for ages. First the endless casting announcements and then trailers and other publicity as it became delayed. The hype for most was building to a promise I knew the film would not be able to meet- ‘the next Lord of the Rings or Star Wars and I knew from the book that’s not what Dune is unless they strayed far away from the source material.

Today we finally arrived at the big screening day and I had moderated expectations, which is what I recommend for each of you. Don’t go in expecting to hate it- that’s idiotic but expect a well made scifi movie and that’s what you will get.

That’s right. I did actually enjoy Dune despite my dislike of the book. I don’t love it and it has its issues but it’s about the best you could do in making a Dune movie and what more can you ask of filmmakers?

The strengths are in the visual effects and production/sound design. The acting is also all competent and they keep the story moving fairly well- far better than the book or some of Villeneuve’s other scifi films.

My problems with the film is in the character development. Timothee Chalamet does a good job with Paul but the character is flat and doesn’t grow in the way we need for this type of Chosen One story. In addition, none of the side characters stand out or are particularly memorable (no Samwise or Han Solo types in the bunch). It also has no comic relief or lighthearted moments to allow the audience to breathe away from the action.

As I said, the visual effects are strong but in the last third of the film there are a lot of night scenes obfuscated with sand storms. I know this is partly intentional as the story has become darker but it lost some of its visual flair to a muddy sameness by the end.

I know many will disagree with me, but I also was underwhelmed by the Hans Zimmer score. I thought it was bland and missing the dynamic theme we need in such an epic story.

After I see a film I always ask ‘did it succeed in doing what it’s trying to do?’ and I think with Dune the answer is yes. Sure I had some critiques but for a very difficult novel to put on film they did a good job and certainly fans of the source material will love it. When you get a chance to see it let me know what you think!

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] The Addams Family 2 or The Bland-dams Family

It’s always disappointing as a critic when you recommend a film and then the sequels don’t live up to the original film. I feel like saying ‘I was pulling for you!’. This year it happened with Bigfoot Family which was a lame follow-up to the surprise The Son of Bigfoot.  Now it has happened again with The Addams Family 2 which is a sequel to the first The Addams Family, which I actually enjoyed back in 2019.

The reason I liked the original The Addams Family is it kept me laughing throughout. I also felt the animation did a good job capturing the spirit of the Addams characters with a tremendous voice cast.

Unfortunately this sequel does nothing to improve upon the original (which wasn’t perfect despite my recommendation) and fails to provide the laughs needed to enjoy the film. They try but most of the jokes feel repetitive and lacking in any creativity. It all felt very bland.

Watch “The Addams Family 2” Full Movie: How to Watch “Addams Family 2021” Online Streaming at Home?

We still have the great voice cast with Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bette Middler and more. The problem is they are trapped in a boring road trip movie with the overprotective father Gomez fixating on his rebellious daughter Wednesday. You have Bill Hader as Cyrus Strange who is a decent villain but it all feels like the same movie we just saw in Hotel Transylvania with Drac and Mavis or even Tim and Tabitha in the most recent The Boss Baby 2.

There’s nothing harmful about The Addams Family 2 but there are so many better animated films your kids will enjoy more and that you can watch as a family. I would honestly recommend the recent Paw Patrol: The Movie more or My Little Pony: A New Generation. Both of those films were much better as far as story, heart, and creativity. If you want to watch an Addams Family movie watch the films from the live action films from the 90s or the original from 2019. That will give you a much better experience than this bland laugh-less sequel.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ or Superheroes Meet the Odd Couple is a Hoot

When I saw the original Venom movie I had mixed feelings but my big takeaway was the “humor worked for me” and then I added “I’d be open to a sequel where they could iron out the bugs”. Now we have a sequel and in my opinion they have done just that. The humor is still great and the problems with the supplementary characters and the sluggish pacing have been addressed. I walked away from Venom: Let There Be Carnage having been thoroughly entertained. Other people seem to be having different responses and that’s fine. I can only share my experience.

Sometimes I like a movie that’s just plain weird and both of the Venom movies fit that description. The buddy relationship between Venom and Eddie is bizarre, random and hilarious. I was laughing throughout- and so was most of the audience in my critics screening. Eddie trying to keep Venom happy which usually means he says funny, inappropriate and strange things. Tom Hardy is great as Eddie/Venom and it’s fun to see an actor of his caliber arguing with himself over chickens and what not. If my Grandma was alive she’d describe it as a hoot and I’d agree with her.

The rest of the movie is fairly standard but well done with Woody Harrelson playing Carnage. He always does a good job playing manic insane villains. Naomi Harris plays his love interest Shriek and she’s fine. They aren’t especially memorable but they do the job they need to do to get to the action and Venom/Eddie plotline going.

Much has been talked about the 97 minute runtime. I loved it. I was never bored. It never got bogged down in exposition. It was clean, concise and on its way. I found the pacing very refreshing. It’s actually simple. If you want to watch a weird movie about a very odd couple and have some laughs check out Venom: Let There Be Carnage. I sure enjoyed it and I bet you will too. If you are expecting a Shakespearean comicbook movie you probably won’t like it but if you want a kooky good time you will or at least I sure did.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘No Time to Die’ or Bond Makes Us Cry in 2021…

I must admit the James Bond franchise has never interested me much. Of the long running franchise I have only seen the Brosnan and Daniel Craig entries and they are a hit and miss bunch.

Now after seemingly endless delays we get the latest and final entry in the Craig saga of Bond films: No Time to Die. It’s not a perfect movie but it should more than satisfy Bond fans and I was happy with its emotional conclusion to a normally silly franchise.

Some may lament the loss of the stupid women and over-the-top action of past Bonds but I welcome the change. The franchise is finally making movies that appeal to me and make Bond into an actual person I care about. Plus you still get the pretty people and great stunts so win/win in my opinion.

If you want to get the full amount out of No Time To Die I recommend watching the previous film Spectre first. I have seen it but it has been a while so some of the plotpoints were lost on me and the film felt more than a little confused. It also definitely drags at times with the audience feeling the 163 minute runtime.

All that said, the action is well done. The movie is well shot with the style and panache you want from a Bond movie. Rami Malek makes for an intimidating and creepy villain. The little girl is cute. Léa Seydoux is fine as Madeleine although her and Craig don’t have much chemistry due probably partly from their large age gap (he’s 53, she’s 36).

My favorite part of No Time to Die is its humanity. It’s an emotional, gripping end to this version of Bond. Craig gives a great performance and like I said we actually care about the character this time around. That emotion is what makes it worth watching even with its flaws.

No Time to Die releases Oct 8th around the world. When you get a chance to see it let me know what you think  and how it compares to other Bond entries I might not have seen.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘We Rise Up’ or Saving the World One Documentary At a Time

Sometimes we all need a little pep talk. I remember as a child going into assembly hall meetings and hearing speakers designed to encourage us to be kind, not bully each other, not do drugs, be better friends etc. As adults we don’t really get that experience and sometimes I miss it.

This is type of inspirational presentation is essentially what we get in the new documentary We Rise Up. It is a slickly made film designed to help us put aside our differences for the good of the planet. It is also loaded with talented people “from all walks of life” sharing how they didn’t just become successful but they did so in a way that helps the environment.We Rise Up’s message is we can help save the world from pollution and global warming by moving from a system of consumption to one of contribution. Blake Mycoskie from Tom’s Shoes is given as an example. He made it part of his business model to give back and many pairs of shoes have been donated as a result.

The number of interviewees the documentary has is very impressive with everyone from the singer Moby, to the Dalai Lama, to Amina Mohammed (Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations). It’s hard not feel motivated and inspired with so many remarkable people all encouraging change and growth. It’s very effective.

On the downside We Rise Up does feel a bit too corporate at times. It seems like something you’d watch at a corporate retreat rather than a real authentic sharing of experiences. At times it doesn’t really feel like a movie but more a sales pitch for a product- except in this case the product is the We Rise Up movement. This is heightened by the way they do the graphics throughout that feels like a power point presentation.

Nevertheless, this documentary would make a great addition to a family home evening or homeschool lesson. It has so many interviews and the message is so encouraging (as well as the cinematography can be beautiful) that it will be a great jumping off point for discussions on how we can each do more to be a contributor and not a consumer.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ or Loneliness is Tough

Anyone who knows me knows I love musicals and musical theater. In fact, this year I have seen 27 local live shows since I have been vaccinated. You can read my theater reviews on my other site here. Back in 2017 I did a podcast with my friend Hayden on the Tony Awards. To prepare I listened to the original cast recordings and watched as many clips as I could (I don’t live in NYC so first run shows are hard for me to see). Instantly I was captivated by the recording for the musical Dear Evan Hansen. The songs were so engaging with great hooks. I loved them!

Now I have yet to actually see the musical on stage but I hope I get the chance someday. Fortunately this week I got to see the filmed version of the musical and it is not without its flaws but I still overall connected with its themes and love the uplifting music.

I totally understand why some people are responding negatively to this film. It definitely has some issues story-wise. To begin with Evan’s mental health issues come and go. At times he can’t muster the confidence to order a pizza on the phone and at other times he’s asking girls out and going to dances. It doesn’t really make sense.

Also the character Connor we are told he is abusive to his sister and she holds no remorse for his passing. She’s relieved and then another minute we see him dancing around singing with Evan in a fantasy sequence. It’s very strange. Also, I thought the portrayal of his mother by Julianne Moore was odd. Usually single Moms are seen as strong and empowered but she was judged harshly by the script for over-working and not being there for her son.

All that said…I still enjoyed the movie. I know it’s weird, but I was able to put all the negatives aside and focus on the core idea of loneliness and how once we matter and are loved it can make all the difference. Evan realizes he can actually make a difference in the world and the more he speaks out the happier he is. We all have those lonely moments, especially as teens, and maybe we can help rescue each other? That’s the main point of the story.

Of course, he also lies so it’s a flawed story, but I was able to see the core of what they are going for and enjoy it flaws and all. I also love the music by La La Land‘s Pasek and Paul. I actually think the songs are far better than in La La Land. I also appreciate the songs are all sung well with Ben Platt reprising his Tony winning role. (I know some criticized his casting but it personally didn’t bother me as all the teen characters are in their 20s so it didn’t stick out. Plus every teen movie practically has 20 year olds).

Kaitlyn Dever is great as Zoe and Amandla Stenberg does a good job with a perky character that is hiding her own demons. She also gets a new song called “The Anonymous Ones”, which did a good job of underscoring the themes of loneliness and fear.

If you don’t care for Dear Evan Hansen I totally get it, but I walked away having thought about my lonely moments, and what I would write to myself. The music soars, the singing is great and it is trying to share a positive message to teens. I think you can watch it with your teen and have a great discussion about how we can all love more, communicate better and try to notice those who are ‘waving through a window’ crying out for help

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 69: Perfect Blue

Originally my plan for this month’s blind spot pick was to cover the anime Her Blue Sky. It was done by writer and animator Mari Okada who created Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms and A Whisker Away. Both films I enjoyed a lot. Unfortunately Her Blue Sky is not available anywhere I could find both streaming or on US playable physical media. This forced me to find a different anime selection and after some discussions with friends I decided to finally watch the classic Perfect Blue by Satoshi Kon.

Satoshi Kon has been fresh on my mind lately because I just watched a documentary on his life as part of Fantasia Fest 2021. Back in 2016 I reviewed his masterpiece Millennium Actress for rotoscopers.  I also covered his film Tokyo Godfathers in 2019 as part of this blind spot project. And finally my friend Conrado and I recently covered Paprika as part of our Criterion Project podcast.  So, it is appropriate I would finish this Satoshi Kon immersion process with quite possibly his most famous film in Perfect Blue. Perfect Blue tells the story of a woman named Mima who gives up her career as a popstar in order to become a serious actress. Unfortunately she ends up getting a role in a show called Double Blind where she has to perform in a rape scene (this is the reason I had avoided this movie until now). At the same time she is asked to do this she is being stalked and threatened (even letter bombs).

Mima starts to have conversations with her old popstar self and the line between reality and dreams becomes more and more confusing (a theme of Satoshi Kon).

The animation for Perfect Blue is absolutely stunning. Satoshi Kon weaves layers of backgrounds so multiple things are happening in each frame. You also feel for Mima’s character and want her to be treated fairly.The movie also uses music very well, which allows the viewer to become fully immersed in the story.

Perfect Blue also takes on deep themes of celebrity, fandom, identity, dreams, mental health, suicide, sexual discrimination and more.

The downside to the film is with so much happening both in the animation and story it can be confusing and difficult to follow. This is especially true when you have Mima talking to her former self and another person who is delusional thinking herself to be the “real Mima”. Even with the dub it’s still felt overwhelming to watch and keep track of.

There are also disturbing elements but I wouldn’t say it is gratuitous. It’s all part of the story and important to Mima’s progression.

What do you think about Perfect Blue? Is it a favorite of yours or is it not for you? Let me know in the comments section. Also let me know what anime you’d like me to review that I haven’t? I would love to know.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews (Blue Bayou, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Silent Night)

Hi everyone! I have officially finished with TIFF and it’s been a great experience. This morning I watched my last movie for the festival, Silent Night and that makes 23 movies watched and reviewed. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on these artistic and ambitious films. Even with 9 I did not recommend I still appreciate the experience of attending a festival and watching a large number of films in a short period of time. It gives you a whole different perspective than a typical ordinary trip to the cinemas.

Anyway I have 3 movies to report on today. One I saw at TIFF and the rest were at screenings. Here we go!

Silent Night

I must admit I haven’t seen many apocalyptic or end of the world movies. I’m naturally more of an optimistic person so such dour films don’t appeal to me. Now with director Camille Griffin’s Silent Night we not only get the end of the world but it is combined with Christmas, making for a very weird combination.

In this film a family and friends are gathering to celebrate Christmas knowing the end of the world is coming the next day. A tornado of toxic gasses is going to pass over and they can either take a suicide pill first or wait to die.

The cast for this strange film is fantastic. Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode have great chemistry as the hosts of the party. Rufus Jones, Annabelle Wallis, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and more play their friends and Roman Griffin Davis and his twin brothers play their children.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t do much to flesh out the characters outside of the fact they are all going to die, which obviously makes the movie very depressing. Some people may like the depressing version of a Christmas movie but it is definitely not for me and I didn’t take away anything profound that would make all the sadness worth it. My advice is watch Anna and the Apocalypse instead. It’s zombies end of the world and is much more entertaining.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Everybody’s Talking About Jaime

You all know I love musicals and 2021 has proven to be an amazing year for the genre with films like In the Heights, Vivo, Dear Evan Hansen and more. Now we have Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and it’s another win!

This film is based on the stage production of the same name and it tells the story of high school student Jamie New who’s dream is to become a drag queen performer. Jamie is played by newcomer Max Harwood with energy and charisma.

My favorite part of this movie is how positive and life affirming it is. For the most part everyone is kind and encouraging to Jamie. I particularly loved his mother Margaret played by Sarah Lancashire. Her song ‘He’s My Boy’ is the highlight of the film. She sang it like a Broadway pro.

There is of course opposition for Jamie including a bully at school and his Father’s disapproval but it still overall feels positive and uplifting. Richard E Grant could get a supporting Oscar nom for his wonderful performance as a mentor for Jamie.

The songs aren’t especially memorable, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this big-hearted film.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blue Bayou

There are certain movies I’m glad I have seen but never want to watch again. The new film Blue Bayou is one of those films. It’s a devastating film that profiles an important issue I didn’t know was a problem. It tells the story of the LeBlanc family that lives on the Louisiana Bayou. Wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) is pregnant and father Antonio (Justin Chon- who also directs) is trying to make it as a tattoo artist. He was adopted as a child from Korea but things get complicated as the government tries to deport him.

The success of this film will depend a lot on if it emotionally gets you or not? It got me. I was crying especially a very brutal end. I am sure some will think it is too much and it might be but it worked for me. Chon and Vikander have good chemistry and little Sydney Kowalske is great as Kathy’s little girl Jessie. They feel like a believable family to me.

The weaker part of the film comes in a side plot with Linh Dan Pham who is a Vietnamese immigrant who befriends Antonio despite her having cancer. I didn’t see the point of her character. She didn’t add anything to the main conflict and her entire presence could be cut without changing a thing.

Blue Bayou is also a beautiful film that captures the magic of the Louisiana swamps well. It’s devastating but a film you won’t soon forget.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There you have it. Let me know if you get to see any of these films what you think. Thanks!