Current Mini Reviews (Ernest & Celestine 2, Dumb Money, Jawan, Camp Hideout, The Inventor)

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. I’ve been busy as normal but wanted to take a second and update you on everything I’ve been watching. As I get ready to start both the holiday and Oscar season it’s more important now more than ever to support quality criticism. If you can support the patreon it means a lot. You can find more information here.


The original Ernest & Celestine from 2012 is one of the most charming movies I’ve ever seen. So attempting a sequel was a risky enterprise to say the least; however, the team behind Ernest & Celestine have risen to the challenge and made something that’s still charming and has something to say about music, the rule of law and of course friendship.

Our pair head to Gibberitia so they can fix Ernest’s violin but unfortunately the city is under a martial law where only one note of music is allowed. Even the birds aren’t allowed to tweet or sing. This could be heavy-handed in the wrong storytellers but here it never tonally moves away from the sweetness of the original friendship story. We also get to understand Ernest’s family and how he became the crusty old bear we know and love.

I love the current era of hybrid animation that’s bold and crazy but it is also a welcome breath of fresh air to get simple sweet stories told with sketchy animation like we have here. I loved Little Nicholas earlier this year and this is its worthy companion. I think it’s great we are in a golden revival of animation where we get the best of all types and styles and this is about as perfectly crafted as you could hope for with this style. It’s one of those movies I can’t imagine anyone disliking. I’m sure there will be someone but it’s definitely not this critic.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Dumb Money is one of those movies where the binary system of fresh/rotten or smile/frown prove difficult. It’s an ok movie. I didn’t hate it by any means but I do have some major problems with its storytelling. I,Tonya‘s Craig Gillespie (which I didn’t love as much as some but did recommend) tries his hand again at a creative take on a true story but in this case the story lacks focus and the screenplay feels very  surface-level.

The main problem is he is trying to tell too many of the stories of investors impacted in the GameStop “short squeeze” of 2021. There are  a dozen or so characters that all get arcs and all have stories but none of them are explored enough so it feels like we are watching people look at their phones for 2 hours and talking about should they hold their stocks or not… While very dramatic for them it’s not compelling for a feature film.

I can see why this would be more interesting as a documentary where you can spend more time explaining the complexities of a short squeeze and what was happening with the stock but that’s hard to do for a narrative unless you employ flights of fancy like they did in The Big Short. I would recommend watching that instead.

Also I really thought the music was strange and didn’t seem to fit with the characters or story.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy


Ever since I first saw Baahubali 1 and 2 I have really come to appreciate the world of Tollywood and Bollywood cinema. I do not pretend to be an expert on the genres and I am sure there are many films I should see from India but it’s been a fun experience of movie-going so far. Last year of course there was RRR and now we have Jawan which is by director Atlee S. Ramanagirivasa. It’s a movie you have to be patient for but it is worth the investment and ends up being a ton of fun.

Jawan stars Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan in 2 roles- one in current time and one in 1986. The movie flips around between the 2 time periods and it can get a little confusing but if you wait it all comes together in a satisfying way at the end. It also takes a while for the first song and dance sequence to come in but I enjoyed them when they did.

There’s simply an awe and spectacle to these films that I love. The violence is big and bloody but so over-the-top that it’s not offensive or jarring. I love the energy and sincere desire to entertain in every frame and that’s the case with Jawan. It’s a blast.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy


One has to wonder what the makers of Camp Hideout were thinking giving it a theatrical distribution. It screams Disney Channel movie (or DCOM) or Nickelodeon and probably could have found an audience there. The pre-teen protagonists at summer camp and the juevenile sense of humor would probably be very engaging for the 10-13 year olds that watch those channels but alas I have to judge it as a feature film.

The cast is pretty solid with Corbin Bleu and Amanda Leighton putting in nice work as the lead camp counselors and Christopher Lloyd piping in for a few scenes. The problem is they have a bizarre plot with mafia thugs that are following our lead teen Noah played by Ethan Drew. We even get the Home Alone style antics left over from the 90s with the thugs ending up in booby traps and covered in mud. Then they awkwardly try to wedge in faith-based heartfelt moments that seem like they belong in another movie. It just all doesn’t work.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

I was pretty excited when I saw a small stop motion animated film called The Inventor was coming to my local AMC. I had heard about it from Annecy Film Festival in France and usually such small films don’t get a big release (I usually have to go to the Broadway downtown if at all to see them.) I was hoping it would be a hidden gem but unfortunately I left underwhelmed.

There are things to like particularly the animation. The mixture of stop motion and 2D sketchy animation had an old UPA feel to it and I enjoyed the vintage aesthetic and tone in the film. Unfortunately the story just wasn’t there and I felt like I was watching those old education film reels I used to watch in elementary school. I like learning about da Vinci but even he has to be given something interesting to do. Perhaps this could have worked better as a short but I grew tired of it even with the enchanting animation.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! If you have seen any of these films let me know what you think of them. 

If you enjoy what I do and value quality criticism please support me at my patreon here.

Current Mini Reviews (Aristotle & Dante…, A Haunting in Venice, Golda, The Hill, MBFGW3)

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. Time has been flying by as I am busy trying to keep my podcasting/critic career afloat while looking for a new full-time gig (If you ever thought about joining the patreon now would be an amazing time to do so here.) Nevertheless, I have a few films to catch you up on. Make sure you are following me on social media because I post on instagram and youtube shorts my out of theater reactions to every film and theatrical production I see.

But here we go!

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe-

This is the kind of film that inspires me to read the book. I have no doubt the book is much better because so much of the content seemed tailor-made for a novel (particularly lots of time with the 2 leads corresponding via letters.) There were also elements of this indie film that felt a little sloppy with noticeable ADR flubs and some weak acting performances.

All that said, the core emotion of the story really works and the 2 lead performers have a lovely repartee together. I also really enjoyed Eugenio Derbez as Aristotle’s father (you can barely recognize it is him under a large bushy beard!) Some are saying this is a teen Call Me By Your Name and that may be a bit generous (also that was about a teen…) but it is a very sweet teen love story with a big heart. I’d definitely recommend it and I can tell you I will be reading the book right away!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

A Haunting in Venice

The Hercule Poirot films from director Kenneth Branagh are an interesting trilogy because nobody I know loves them (some have varying degrees of fun but they aren’t favorites to most) but they keep getting made with huge all-star casts in them. The latest gives a horror take on Agatha Chritie’s Halloween Party novel and sets in the most popular place for movies in 2023- Venice. The result is probably the best out of the 3 films but still has some of the same problems the other 3 have.

First of all Branagh has made a great looking film that makes good use of the spooky atmosphere the old house in Venice provides. The performances are also good with Michelle Yeoh stealing the show as a medium hired to communicate with the spirits of the house. Jamie Dornan also does a lot with a small role as a struggling father trying to help his son.

The problem these Poirot films have all had is instead of building clues organically we get random scenes followed by a long exposition dump at the end that is supposed to clear everything up but feels unsatisfying and dull. I guess this is the way the books are but if that’s the case Branagh’s job as the director is to make the stories more cinematic. Still, if you like mysteries you’ll probably have an ok time with this and it makes for a fun Halloween-time release.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy


I hope all of you have the chance to participate in National Cinema Day on August 27th. I normally don’t go to films on Sunday but I wanted to participate in the national support of cinemas and with it being an educational film it seemed harmless. My choice for the event was the new bio-pic Golda. Going into it I knew nothing about Israeli prime minister Golda Meir and as an instructional tool it was insightful on that level.

It’s interesting seeing Golda so soon after Oppenheimer because they both have commanding lead performances portraying enigmatic real-life leaders but they also both left me a little cold, keeping their subjects at an emotional distance from me. Even though Golda is a lot shorter than Oppenheimer the pacing still dragged and the editing between personal scenes and supposedly tense war-room negotiations was off. Still, I did learn a lot about Golda and it was interesting enough for a mild recommendation. I tell you one thing Helen Mirren set a record for number of cigarettes smoked in a movie for this film! So many!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Hill

I have to admit I knew almost nothing going into The Hill. I knew it was a baseball movie but I wasn’t even aware it is a faith-based film so I’m not sure if the experience will be different for those with proper expectations. I am not a traditional Christian but am open to faith-based films. I have particularly enjoyed films from the Erwin Brothers (I Can Only Imagine, I Still Believe, Woodlawn, American Underdog all got positive reviews from me.) Unfortunately other directors in the genre have struggled to find the same nuance in their scripts and The Hill is in that camp. A lot of the baseball elements in this true story worked well enough but the religious elements felt so heavy-handed and clunkily written it hurt my enjoyment of the film.

I also felt the acting, even from Dennis Quaid, was uniformly weak and seemed like it was more out of a low budget Sunday School video than a feature film. And it’s all a real shame because in Rickey Hill’s story you have a story of someone who beat incredible odds to barely make it as professional baseball player. It’s always interesting when the hero in the sports story doesn’t win the big game and that’s basically what you have here in Hill’s very brief professional career. Sadly the script isn’t interested in such a complicated legacy but is content with cliched scenes of the preacher father who doesn’t understand his talented son despite everyone else believing in him. A number of my Christian friends seem to be enjoying this one but the script let me down and I would recommend any of the movies I mentioned above far above The Hill.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3

Anyone who has followed my content knows I am normally not a big fan of wedding movies when it comes to rom-coms. They tend to bring out the petty and annoying side of characters and the conflict is frustrating. That’s why it is a miracle I enjoyed the first My Big Fat Greek Wedding as much as I did. In fact, it is one of my favorite comedies because it is a rom-com that doesn’t forget the com. It’s genuinely funny and the couple rises above the wedding chaos with great chemistry and heart.

Unfortunately the sequel I did not enjoy so I wasn’t super excited for a third entry in the series. Now that I’ve seen it it’s…ok. I do think it is better than the 2nd film because the dynamic of going to Greece for a reunion is funnier than bothering daughter Paris at career day. Unlike the first one, most of the comedy in this film comes right out of a sitcom and is generic at best. However, I laughed just enough to give it a mild recommendation. If you are from a big family you’ll probably chuckle at some of the silly antics and the family dynamics are still a lot of fun.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. Have you gotten to see any of these films? If you enjoy what I do please support me at my patreon here.


Blind Spot 93: OUT OF SIGHT

In a way it’s kind of amazing it has taken me this long to check off Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight in this blind spot project. It’s a movie I have heard about for years and is a favorite of many of my friends but I just never got around to seeing it. A lot of my blind spots are rated R films from the 90s and earlier because growing up I didn’t watch mature films. It really wasn’t until around 2012 that I realized the rating system was dumb and began challenging myself with more adult content in my media.

It’s funny because this trailer for Out of Sight makes it seem like it’s practically a rom-com and it is a very sexy movie but the relationship is more of a side-story rather than the main focus of the film. I would think of it more as a sexy version of Oceans 11 than a rom-com  (Soderbergh also directed George Clooney in the Oceans films.)

It’s funny because Jennifer Lopez plays the least likely person to be named Karen ever in a film…but her role is as a US Marshall who is forced into a trunk with Clooney’s Jack Foley as he escapes from prison. They then end up in a tit-for-tat with each other over the course of several years. The two actors do have sizzling chemistry and the main sex scene is very spicy but it all works for the story.

One of the strongest aspects of this film is the atmosphere and tone Soderbergh along with his cinematographer Elliot Davis creates. It looks great and all the characters ooze with cool and a slick style that draws you into the story. It reminded me of Pulp Fiction without Tarantino’s more annoying qualities. These are people I am interested in that don’t seem concerned with crafting sound bites but instead making the next great deal and how good they look while doing it.

It’s interesting because Out of Sight was one of Lopez’s first roles and it showed a lot of potential she wouldn’t realize again (despite my enjoyment for her mostly terrible rom-coms) until Hustlers in 2019 (which I think was just an ok movie but she was good in it.) In this movie, however, she brings a strength to Karen that makes her a believable force alongside Clooney and the rest of the cast.

We also get memorable roles from Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Michael Keaton, Albert Brooks and more. Like I said, it’s a film that’s loaded with great atmosphere and panache which makes it a very engaging watch. I can see why it has gained a bit of a cult following and is a favorite of so many.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

If you enjoy what I do please support me at my patreon here.

‘Bottoms’ or I Guess I Just Don’t Get the Joke…

There is absolutely nothing more important to me as a critic than authenticity. Even if it is unpopular I will always tell you what I think about a film and do my best to explain why. Usually even if I don’t enjoy a film I can usually understand why it is working for some people and what the general appeal might be. However, occasionally I find myself on the outside of a phenomenon scratching my head and wondering what I missed that most everyone else seems to be loving in a project. Such has been my experience with the latest raunchy comedy Bottoms. This has been the summer for raunchy comedies and some I have enjoyed (Joy Ride) and others were not for me (Strays.) But with Bottoms I left truly befuddled at the appeal of this very strange movie. I suppose the appeal is the strangeness but not only did I not laugh much I didn’t even see where jokes were attempted?

I take that back. The big joke of the movie seems to be teen girls punching each other and I guess that’s hilarious? I’m confused. The film is about girls starting a fight club with the 2 leaders hoping it will help them meet girls to date and be with. That’s a fine premise but I suppose I don’t think people punching each other- girls or boys- to be all that funny? I admit I am in the vast minority here so fair enough…

The only part of the movie I found funny was surprisingly from former football player Marshawn Lynch playing the girls teacher Mr G. He actually had funny dialogue and delivered it quite well. Nicolas Galitzine also has a good time mugging it up for the camera as the cocky football player Jeff. Again he actually had some amusing scenes and dialogue. Most of the other characters it was them being mean to each other with very little witty banter or funny situations (unless you find girls punching each other inherently funny which I don’t.)
I guess I give the film a little credit for not shying away from the violence. We see blood and many a broken nose as a result of these fights. It could have actually been a compelling horror movie without many changes.

I’m sincerely glad so many are enjoying Bottoms. I am always happy when anyone enjoys films especially when it profiles a group like lesbian teenagers who could use more varied and interesting narratives than only the coming out variety. However, in the end I have to be honest when I just don’t get a film. This one was simply not on my wavelength and it certainly didn’t make me laugh. Your mileage may vary so if you see it I hope you have a better time than I did.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

If you enjoy what I do please support me at my patreon here.

Current Mini Reviews (Talk to Me, Puppy Love, Gran Turismo, Strays, Blue Beetle)

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well and enjoying what has turned out to be a pretty fascinating summer movie season. The studios have tried a lot and the experimental and unusual has won over the safe and expected. Make sure you are following me on instagram because I give my out of theater reaction of every movie and live theatre production I see. Let me know what you think of these films and what your favorite of the summer turned out to be:

Blue Beetle

Blue Beetle is our latest from DC (who knows whether it is still DCEU or the first of the DCU but I don’t really care…) and after their massive flop with The Flash (which I liked more than most even with its flaws) DC needed a solid likable film and that’s basically what they got here. It’s generic but thoroughly watchable and fun. I think a big part of enjoyment of this film goes into expectations. It’s not some kind of comicbook masterpiece but it’s cute and the cast is likable.

The story is by-the-numbers superhero origin story and the villain by Susan Sarandon is lame but Xolo Maridueña is likable and charming in the lead. Sometimes that’s all you need in a movie like Blue Beetle. The family and Mexican culture give the movie warmth and character but I wish there was more of it and less of the bland goings-on at Kord Industries. Still, I think most people will have a good time with Blue Beetle and I’d watch it again without much protest, and I can’t say that about all the DC films.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy


I rarely truly hate a movie, but Strays is an exception to that rule. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was a half second away from walking out of the theater midway through its 93 minute runtime. Naturally I know a raunchy comedy like Strays is not really made for me but I went into it with an open mind and hoping to find a guilty pleasure. The main problem was I didn’t laugh hardly at all and it’s just the same 2 or 3 jokes over and over again until I wanted to rip my hair out. It’s completely disgusting and its attempts to be sentimental feel so off-putting after the barrage of poop and dog-humping gnome jokes we’ve gotten. If you think a dog saying f*** a lot is hilarious than maybe you’ll enjoy this one. I hated it. Stay away!

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Talk to Me

Unlike with Strays, sometimes going out of my comfort zone pays off which is what happened with the indie horror film Talk to Me. Directed by youtubers Danny and Michael Philippou they have crafted a tight little horror movie about a bunch of stupid teens who commune with evil spirits using a supernatural hand device. This brings in themes of loss and grief naturally and anyone who has spent time with bored aimless teens will be able to relate (or been such a teen yourself.) The acting was mostly amateurish but it did the job it needed to do for this story and the scares are definitely there.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Gran Turismo

Remember when Disney used to put out those inspirational sports movies like Miracle and Million Dollar Arm? Well, that’s basically what we get with the new film Gran Turismo and I loved every second of it! This is a wildly entertaining film from director Neill Blomkamp starring Archie Madekwe as young teen who dreams of racing in a real race car but has to settle for the video game Gran Turismo. Then one day Orlando Bloom’s character Danny Moore leads a team to give the best video game rider a chance at the real deal. David Harbour is great as the salty ex-driver and the racing scenes are kinetic and exciting.

The only real flaw I had with Gran Turismo is at times it felt like a commercial for the game but everything else was so well executed I didn’t mind that. This is a real winner and one the whole family will love.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Lucy Hale & Grant Gustin Meet On Bumble In 'Puppy Love' Trailer – Watch Now! | Grant Gustin, Jane Seymour, Lucy Hale, Michael Hitchcock, Movies, Nore Davis, Trailer | Just Jared Jr.Puppy Love

Some romantic comedies work almost in spite of themselves and Puppy Love is a good example of that happening. It’s a classic enemies to lovers type story where 2 people that don’t get along are forced to spend time together when their dogs fall in love. What worked for me in this movie is the adorable doggies and the performance by Grant Gustin. He is charming but in a nerdy very awkward kind of way. I completely bought this man would have trouble meeting women which is refreshing in these movies because most of the time I’m like ‘sure this movie star has a hard time getting a date…) He even felt on the spectrum at times, which made his character easy to connect with and enjoy.

Unfortunately the chemistry with Lucy Hale just isn’t there and the humor falls completely flat in the film. Still Gustin is good enough and the puppies are cute enough to recommend it.

6 out of 10

Smile worthy

Have you seen any of these films? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

If you like what I do please consider supporting me on patreon. There’s some great perks and I sure appreciate it

‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ or How this Enemies to Lovers Tale Stole My Heart

One of the most satisfying trends over the last 2 years has been the reemergence of the feature film rom-com. For many years the genre was relegated to the world of made for TV movies (MOTW) and usually of the squeaky clean variety (which of course I love and adore and cover on my podcast Hallmarkies) especially at Christmas. Partly due to the popularity of these MOTW films we have seen more feature film length rom-coms and we are starting to see rom-coms made for more niche audiences such as LGBTQ rom-coms. We have a near-perfect example of such a film with the new release of the delightful Red, White & Royal Blue. I am low-key obsessed with this film and highly recommend it to anyone who can handle its R rated content.

The film is based on the steamy but delicious novel (ad) by Casey McQuiston and it is a classic enemies to lovers story but told with nearly flawless execution. Taylor Zakhar Perez plays Alex the son of the US President and Nicholas Galitzine plays Henry the 2nd son British prince. At the start of the film Alex is questioning and discovers himself to be bisexual and Henry is closeted gay man. They begin hating each other because of an incident they had at a party years before. After a flair-up at the royal wedding they are forced to spend time together and ‘pretend’ to be friends and all this forced proximity sparks begin to fly.

There are so many things that work in this film but let’s start with the incredible chemistry between Perez and Galitzine. They are absoloutely perfect with each other, and I was rooting for them from the beginning. Enemies to lovers is a lot harder to pull off than people might think. It’s easy to make the characters too hateful and unlikable, so we don’t care about them finding love or getting together, but here the 2 actors work, and I bought them from frame one.

I also have to give director and screenwriter Matthew Lopez a ton of credit for adapting the McQuiston’s novel with  a panache that reminded me of the great romantic comedies of the past. The witty banter between our leads is the kind of repertoire Nora Ephron would have written and been a fan of. Combined with the chemistry, the back and forth between Alex and Henry make it a movie I have already rewatched multiple times and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Red, White & Royal Blue is a steamy movie so it won’t be for everyone, but I think they kept it all in good taste and since I liked the couple so much I was fine with it. Since Henry is a closeted character the film can also be moving as we follow his journey to accepting himself and feeling like he is worthy of being loved  by someone like Alex (and that the people will accept that love.) Both Perez and Galitzine are up for the more dramatic sections and it all felt believable to what a prince and the son of a president might experience.

Aside from a wonky accent by Uma Thurman (playing the president) I loved the entire supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed Sarah Shahi as Zahra, the president’s main campaign manager. She is such a funny, beautiful actress and I hope she gets more work after this role because she deserves it. Clifton Collins Jr and Rachel Hilson are also wonderful in their supporting roles.

There is a bit of fantasy in the film with the democrats ‘flipping’ Texas, which is a long way off but the film largely uses politics as a backdrop for Alex and not as messaging platform. We just need to buy that Alex is the son of a democratic president running for re-election and we certainly do.

It might sound crazy to some that a movie like Red, White & Royal Blue is my favorite movie of 2023 but it’s hard to overstate how happy it made me. It is so well crafted, swoonworthy and endearing. It is a totally winning and wonderful romantic comedy that anyone who loves the genre will enjoy. Anyone who loves movies should enjoy it. It’s that good.

Tomorrow check out Hallmarkies Podcast for full recap with my friend Joe of this wonderful film.

10 out of 10


Blind Spot 92: ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (2013)

What people might not know about me is I love movies about work and work/life crisis. There is nothing I love more than an epic quit and a person who realizes their life is worth more than the misery of an unfulfilling job. Perhaps this is why I was attracted to the 2013 retelling (not really a remake) of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty– one of those films I had been interested in but had never gotten around to watching for some reason (what this blind spot project is for!) Well, not only did I see it over the last weekend, but I watched it and the Danny Kaye original with my good friends Jen and Stanford, and we had a wonderful time together.

I must admit was a bit distracted watching the 1947 original but from what I could gather it is quite different than the 2013 film and the only commonalities outside of the names are the daydreaming tendencies of the lead character. The new film is more of an existential crisis movie where the older movie is a screwball comedy meets mystery.

The new film gives us director and actor Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty who is unhappily working at Life Magazine where his only joy in life is his brief interactions with co-worker Cheryl played by Kristen Wiig. One day he loses a key negative for the magazine’s final print issue and he starts a journey through Greenland and Iceland to find the photographer played by Sean Penn.

The cinematography is a stand out (you’ll want to book your trip to Iceland after seeing the film) and like I said the themes of work and what motivates our lives always intrigues me and it was no different here. Walter is a character that is easy to relate with and there’s a voyeurism aspect to the film. We all wish we could find ourselves in Iceland in such a dramatic fashion don’t we?

The only thing I could have used more of in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is more insight into Walter himself. For a film about life and the human connection we don’t get in his head as much as I would like to. It’s funny the streaming service we watched the movie on suggested Stranger Than Fiction as a similar film, and I do think that film explores work in a more humorous and insightful way while getting more into the lead character, Harold Crick’s, inner-most thoughts and desires. We see the transition and growth of his character more than we do for Walter and so the experience is more moving.

Still, I’m glad I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Particularly with some changes going on in my career at the moment its themes hit home and it gave me some courage to be bolder, more willing to embrace change instead of wanting to hide from it. If you haven’t seen it I’d recommend it and maybe if you are lucky you’ll have good friends to watch it with just like I did. I’m certainly blessed beyond measure.

If you like what I do please consider supporting me on patreon. There’s some great perks and I sure appreciate it

‘The Hiding Place’ or How to Showcase the Best in Theatre and Film…and Humans

Those that just read my film reviews might not realize I have become equally invested in reviewing live theatre over the last 2 years. Once live theatre began again after the pandemic I made it my mission to support it as much as possible and I became a writer for Utah Theatre Bloggers Association and have my own site So it is exciting when my love of theater and film merge and a pro-shot or filmed play or musical is released in the cinemas. It’s even more exciting when it is based upon a book I love and adore (and one the previous film adaptation was underwhelming to say the least). This new release is The Hiding Place based on the incredible book by Corrie Ten Boom. It is a filmed play directed by Laura Matula (and stage director Matt Logan) and adapted by A.S. Peterson.

You can see The Hiding Place as part of a Fathom Event on August 3 and 5th. You can find more information on their website here. If you’ve never seen a filmed play it takes a little getting used to as the pacing and performances are a little different although they do what they can to make this production feel cinematic. The play was filmed and staged at the Soli Deo Center in Nashville in 2022 with a live audience and the large, textured sets add an immersive quality that draws you into the story. The costumes are also do a lot to convey tone especially when we get to the concentration camp scenes where everything becomes appropriately grim and hopeless (production and costume designer Matt Logan, wig and makeup Allison Hearn.) The use of lighting and music for a straight play is also very effective (lighting design Stephen Moss, music by Don Chaffer with additional film scoring by Anthony & Laura Matula.)

All that aside, the main strength with The Hiding Place is Corrie’s incredible story of faith in the hardest of times and the wonderful performances. I was moved to tears several times especially in the second act as Nan Arnold Gurley beautifully captures Corrie and her struggle to survive and then amazingly forgive during the horrors of the Holocaust. You can’t help but wonder: would I have the courage of Corrie?

One part that isn’t as impactful as in the book is Corrie’s sister Betsie. Carrie Tillis does a good job in the role. It’s just such a moving section of the book and her character is almost angelic in its goodness that it’s tricky to translate to the stage. The play is also a sprawling adaptation at 2 hr 33 minutes and it might have benefited from a trim-down focusing the majority of the time on the concentration camp scenes and less on the everyday life/hiding scenes.

Still, if The Hiding Place is playing near you I highly recommend this stirring night of theatre showcasing the best (and worst) of the human experience. It should inspire us all to be braver and forgive more (And then go read the book. It’s one of the best I’ve ever read).

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

If you like what I do please consider supporting me on patreon. There’s some great perks and I sure appreciate it

‘TMNT: Mutant Mayhem’ or a Cowabunga of an Animated Film

Hype for films these days is always a fascinating experience to observe. As a critic I try to go into any film with an open mind and as minimal of expectations as possible but sometimes it is hard to not be impacted by the buzz- both good and bad- before stepping into the theater. Initially when I heard about another TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) movie I wasn’t that interested. I’ve enjoyed the franchise over the years but is has never a favorite of mine or one I’m particularly passionate about. Then I heard the co-director of Mitchells vs the Machines (which I adored), Jeff Rowe was the director and it was receiving a new and exciting animation style I became intrigued.

Once the trailers came out and I heard about some of the creative decisions they were making like having an all-teenage vocal cast for the turtles my excitement grew. When an unfinished screening received a standing ovation at Annecy Film Festival in June TMNT: Mutant Mayhem solidified itself as my most anticipated film of the year. High expectations…

Fortunately for this film this is a case where high expectations have actually been met and then some. I loved this film! What an authentic, thrilling, innovative, exciting animated experience at the theatre. Nothing will probably topple Across the Spiderverse’s artistic achievement but I do think this TMNT: Mutant Mayhem has a tighter script with a unique and fresh art style all its own (those worried this will be Spiderverse-light can rest assured this is raw and edgy in a way Spiderverse isn’t. They both stand on their own as wonderful animated films.)

My favorite part of this film is the our 4 main turtle characters. All voiced by actual teenagers the banter is written naturally and their relationships feel authentic to the teen experience, which is something we have never gotten in this franchise. The dialogue by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jeff Rowe is funny, charming and again authentic to the way teens today talk. It was so refreshing to teen characters that aren’t the sullen miserable specimens we so often see in film but that have highs and lows appropriate especially to these teens that are so isolated from others.

The story in this film is also solid with Ice Cube voicing a convincing villain and Maya Rudolph as Cynthia Utrom. It’s not a new arc but it was executed well and the design of the Superfly as he morphs and changes is extremely clever and inventive. The animation in general has a roughness to it that I loved with the feel of pencil sketches mixed in with CGI 3D realism. The mixture of styles and how it ebbs and flows dazzled me!

The only miss is in the character design of April O’Neil (voiced by Ayo Edebiri.) She’s supposed to be a lonely high school student but she looks a lot older than that in my opinion. The character was fine just didn’t look like a teenager to me.

I also love the pacing of this film. How refreshing to go to a superhero movie in 2023 that isn’t bloated and over-long- 99 minutes! The design of the various mutants is a lot of fun as well even if the celebrity voice cast for those characters is unnecessary. The music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross added just the right mixture of nostalgia and modernism to make the film work perfectly.

If they give it a chance families and moviegoers should love TMNT: Mutant Mayhem. It is charming, energetic and artistically exhilarating. A thrilling time at the movies! I think they’ve made something special in a very solid year for animation. Let’s make sure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle!

9 out of 10

Smile worthy

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