Blind Spot 61: SELENA (1997)

As a film critic I watch at least a movie almost every single day. And yet somehow there are films that still slip through the cracks and I haven’t seen despite them being quite popular and even iconic. This is the whole purpose behind this blind spot series. Well, a couple of months ago I was talking to my friend Larry and he was shocked I haven’t seen the musical biopic Selena. This is a favorite film of his (see his review above) so I knew I must put it on my blind spot picks for 2021.

Selena tells the story of Tejano singing star Selena Quintanilla-Perez who shot up into fame on the Mexican charts (even winning a grammy in the category) before being tragically killed by an employee at the age of 23.

Jennifer Lopez shines playing Selena. First of all, she looks so much like her that there really was nobody else who could have played the role. Also the film lives and dies in the staging of the musical sequences. Some of the more dramatic sequences feel a little weak in the acting departments but the film knows this and gets quickly back to the music. We get to see Selena’s charisma on the stage and how she could truly captivate an entire stadium.

Director Gregory Nava smartly frames the film around her final breakthrough show at the Houston Astrodome. With a story with such a sad ending it gives her a moment of triumph which helps it feel rewarding while also of course being still sad. We at least know she got her moment.

The script also gives most of the meatier dialogue to veterans like Edward James Olmos who plays Selena’s father Abraham Quintanilla. I particularly liked a speech he gives about the Catch-22 of being a Mexican American:

“We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting”

Some may complain that Selena doesn’t drift far away from the music bio-pic formula. However, perhaps because Selena is so young we are spared many of the scenes of rebellion with drugs and partying we typically get in these kind of films. About the worst we get is her wearing revealing clothing, wanting to get married and her band-mates messing up a hotel room. Pretty tame in the musical bio-pic world.

Mostly we get to know a sweet young woman with a beautiful voice who’s life was cut far too short. The film decides to leave the shooting off screen, which perhaps was best since it was all so fresh (she died in 1995 and the film was released in 1997). Still, I wish we could have gotten one more scene with Yolanda to try and understand why she did what she did. It all feels a little rushed at the end.

Nevertheless, I am glad I finally saw Selena. I can understand why it is a favorite of Larry and many others. It captures the appeal of Selena singing and Lopez is fantastic in those scenes. Olmos backs her up with a great performance as her father and the whole experience is respectful and uplifting. If you haven’t seen it I’d say it is worth checking out.

I’ve heard from all of my friends that the new Netflix series is not good. Here is my friend Kristen’s review:

I give the 1997 film Selena

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Effigy: Poison and the City’

Anyone who has read this blog for long knows I have a soft spot in my heart for period piece dramas. I even recently enjoyed the glittery and not-at-all true to life series Bridgerton on Netflix. Today I want to share my quick thoughts on something entirely different in the world of period films. This time it is Effigy: Poison and the City and it is a grisly tale by way of Germany about one of Europe’s first female serial killers.

Director Udo Flohr does a lot on a small budget and crafts for us the story of real-life murderer Gesche Gottfried (or the Angel of Bremen) played by Suzan Anbeh. They do a very good job of making Gottfried a morally ambiguous character. At times she seems to be a Kevorkian type character who is helping people who want to die. Then she seems to be out for revenge. At other times she’s an outright crazy person. We don’t really know what version of Gottfried we are going to get next. All we know is that we need to keep the poison or ‘mouse butter’ away from her.

The story is told from the perspective of a female law clerk Cato Bohmer (Elisa Thiemann) who is assigned to help a senator (Christoph Gottschalch) investigate the ever illusive Gottfried. She deals with her own discrimination as a female in mostly a male world of politics and law. There is a side of her that seems repulsed but also fascinated (maybe even attracted) to Gottfried. Again, the movie leaves the relationship ambiguous in a way most domestic films wouldn’t. We are allowed to wonder what the characters are thinking and yet their choices and motivations are clear. I wish more American dramas had a similar trust in their audience.

There are times the budget is obvious in Effigy and it feels more like a TV movie than a feature film but if you are interested in a Dateline from the 1820s with some good performances it’s a small film worth checking out.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

 

[REVIEW] TULSA or A Modern-Day Pollyanna

I’ve said it many times on this site but faith-based films are perhaps the toughest genre of films to pull off. What is a pure and powerful testimony to one may come off as cloying and preachy to another. So often the ministry gets in the way of telling a good story. It is this difficulty that makes me happy whenever there are well done Christian films on the market. The new movie Tulsa is such an example. While it isn’t perfect, it is a sweet story about the good a little girl and God’s grace can do.

The title Tulsa actually comes from our lead character a little girl named Tulsa (if they explained why I must have missed it). A child of foster care she is reunited with her father Tommy who is a struggling addict who is hiding from his broken pass. Much like Pollyanna in the Disney classic cheers up all around her, so does Tulsa but she is also a little girl of faith who knows her Bible inside and out.

For some people this will be too cloying, but I think it struck a nice balance of a redemptive message with real-world problems. Nothing felt too unbelievable or pentacostal in its presentation. It also helps that little Tulsa is played by newcomer Livi Birch and she shines in the role. If she wants to be an actress she definitely has the raw natural talent to do it. Scott Pryor does a good job as Tommy but his role is more basic. The movie lives and dies on the back of Branch’s charisma and warmth.

There are definitely moments you can feel the budget in Tulsa particularly in the supporting performances. Also a plot-point involving an angry employee at Tommy’s auto-shop feels unnecessary and distracting (pretty much anytime Birch is off screen the movie suffers but luckily those are few and far between.

There are some weightier themes of addiction, suicide and death explored so not for young children. But adults and teens of faith will enjoy Tulsa and in particular love Livi Birch’s wonderful performance. It will be available on all the streaming services 2/1/2021

Overall Score 7/10

Smile Worthy

My 2021 Blind Spot Picks

Hi friends! It’s that time of year again! It is time for me to make my picks for my blind spot series for 2021. This series is designed as a way for me to check much heralded and praised films off of my to be watched list. This will be my 5th year of blind spot picks and I always try to make it a mixture of critically praised and audience favorites as well as some cult classics along the way.

So here goes. My 2021 Blind Spot Picks!:

January

Selena

This pick goes out to my friend Larry who was aghast to find out I have never seen this musical biopic. I’m not sure how it slipped under my radar but it needs to be seen!

February

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I have a lot of blind spots from 2004 as it was the year I served a full-time mission for my church. Eternal Sunshine is one of those films. I missed it when it came out and have never caught up with it. I’m told it is a tragic love story with Jim Carrey trying to forget Kate Winslet? Either way I always try to pick a romance for February so this should be good.

March

Highlander

March seems like as good a time as any to finally get caught up in the fantasy action-adventure from the 80s: Highlander. This battle between the immortal warriors looks like a lot of fun.

April

Two for the Road

I’m a big Audrey Hepburn fan but haven’t seen this zany road trip movie she is in with Albert Finney. They play a married couple traveling to France and it looks like something right up my alley. It is also directed by Stanley Donen who did films like Singing in the Rain so it should be fun!

May

Bonnie and Clyde

A landmark film of its era Bonnie and Clyde has been on my bucket list for some time. I remember Roger Ebert particularly liked it and it was one of the movies that convinced him to become a critic. It should be really good!

June

Beverly Hills Cop

I always try to include a popular comedy I haven’t seen and Beverly Hills Cop fits that bill. Eddie Murphy scored a massive hit with this first film of the franchise but the screenplay was even nominated for Best Original Screenplay. A lot of comedies from the 80s don’t hold up well so it will be fun to see how this one does.

July

The Wild Bunch

I tend to not think of myself as much of a Western fan, but I’ve enjoyed most of the films of the genre I’ve watched for the blindspot series including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence which was fantastic. Now we have The Wild Bunch from 1969 about an ‘aging outlaw gang on the Mexican border in 1913. It stars William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and is a long 145 minutes. Perfect for blind spot!

August

Godzilla 1954

A definite blind spot of mine is I have only seen modern Godzilla films. The earliest I’ve seen is the terrible one from Roland Emmerich in 1998. From what I’ve read this version from 1954 is the best and it looks like a lot of fun. I enjoy creature scares and monster movies when they are done right so hopefully this one will be.

September

Her Blue Sky

I always try to include some anime in my blind spot list but I’m running out of most of the big names. Her Blue Sky is a film I’ve heard a lot of good things about. The story about a young girl and time travel sounds intriguing and I love the writer Mari Okada so it will hopefully be a win!

October

Frankenstein 1931

Another big gap in my film knowledge is the Universal Monster movies. I’ve seen hardly any of them, and that needs to change. First up will be Frankenstein from 1931 starring Boris Karloff and Colin Clive as Frankenstein’s monster and the man himself respectively. It should be a great choice for Halloween!

November

The Gold Rush

I’ve seen a lot of Charlie Chaplin but never seen The Gold Rush for some reason. In this film the Little Tramp heads north to join in the Klondike Gold Rush and all kinds of shenanigans ensue. It looks like a lot of fun and I look forward to watching it

December

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

I had never heard of this holiday film until this year while watching the TCM special they had on holiday films. Margaret O’Brien was talking about Meet Me in St Louis (which I adore) and she mentioned also appearing in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. I’ve seen most of the holiday classics so I immediately added it to my blind spot list!

So there you have it! My blind spot picks for 2021. What do you think of them? Have you seen any of them? Let me know what you think!

Happy movie watching 2021

My Best Movies of 2020

Hey everyone! Happy New Year! 2020 was a tough year for all of us and that was certainly true for the world of cinema- especially theater owners and employees. Fortunately out of all the mess that the year brought we somehow managed to still have an interesting and eclectic group of movies released mostly via streaming services. It still means to be seen how the film landscape has changed for good but for now I want to share with you the movies I most enjoyed in this tough year. These aren’t necessarily the most expertly crafted films of the year, just my favorite (if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at my video version that would help me out as well. Thanks!).

Before I start I will add that this is always a tough process for me and even this year I had about 35 films I could have included. If I didn’t include a film you love on this list I probably still enjoyed it. You have to split hairs at a certain point for these lists. Also the order is admittedly somewhat arbitrary, so don’t put too much stock in that.

Here we go!

15. Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon

Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon Review - HeyUGuys

Few films were as sweet and delightful as the this latest entry from Aardman Animation. After a bit of a miss for me in Early Man, they redeemed themselves with a lovely little film about Shaun and company coming into contact with an adorable blue alien. Even just them ordering pizza at the beginning made me laugh. The animation is flawless as usual and the entire segment in the grocery store will have you and your family laughing. It may not be as challenging as both of Pixar’s films but in 2020 the pure laughs Shaun and company gave me impacted me just a hair more.

14. On the Rocks

On the Rocks Review: Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray Reunite | IndieWire

It seems like I enjoyed this father/daughter team up movie more than most. I am usually mixed on Sophia Coppola but I found On the Rocks to be completely charming. If it were up to me I’d give Bill Murray the Oscar for his performance. He is a scoundrel but a charming one and his chemistry with Rashida Jones was lovely. I laughed. I smiled. It was great!

13. What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL - DOC NYC

Ever since the fallout over my Shazam review I’ve had a hard time having the same confidence in my opinions as I once had. I know that might seem lame but it was scary and sometimes it seems easier to just keep my mouth shut than face those kinds of attacks. Well, watching this documentary on the great Pauline Kael really encouraged me to snap out of it and try to be confident in my voice again. The documentary itself doesn’t break any molds or anything but I just loved getting to know her and remembering how she was not afraid to tick a lot of people off with her reviews! She is one of my biggest inspirations as a critic, and I hope I can emulate her in any way.

12. The Truth

Venice Film Festival To Open With Hirokazu Kore-eda's 'The Truth' – Deadline

The Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda is never mentioned amongst the great filmmakers, and I don’t understand why. Consistently he has made one thoughtful film after another. The Truth is his first film not in Japanese (in French) and it features a standout cast led by Catherine Deneuve. She plays an aging actress who has written a memoir that her daughter (Juliette Binoche) calls greatly into question. The movie is probably too ‘slice of life’ for some people, but I loved spending time with this family. Deneuve should be considered for Oscars and Binoche and Ethan Hawke are great as well. Simple effective family film about memories and how subjective they can be.

11. Save Yourselves

This was my favorite narrative I saw at Sundance. Save Yourselves is a very funny movie about a couple that goes off the grid for the weekend to reconnect. Unfortunately that weekend there is also an alien invasion. I loved Sunita Mani and John Reynolds as our lead couple. They are very funny and have terrific chemistry. The ending isn’t perfect but I still really enjoyed it. One of my favorite comedies of the year.

10. Words on Bathroom Walls

This is the most personal entry I have on my list. I really enjoyed this teen film when I saw it but when I wrote my review I mentioned that I’d like to hear from someone with schizophrenia to see what they think about it. A young man named Zach reached out to me and he came on my podcast and we had an incredible discussion. Then the director Thor Freudenthal listened to the interview and came on the show and I spoke with him. It was an empowering experience and in my own little way I hope it took down some of the BS stigma that still surrounds conditions like schizophrenia. It has to stop. Plus, when Walter Goggins writes a letter in this movie I cried my eyes out.

9. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

I am sure I am the only critic in the country to have Timmy Failure on their best of the year list. All I can say is I loved this little family film so much. I loved little Timmy and his segway zooming around Portland cracking cases. I loved his polar bear friend and when he had to say goodbye I cried. The conversation between Timmy and Craig Robinson about adaptability has stayed with me all year. I love Wallace Shawn as his teacher. It’s sweet, funny and heartfelt. A real hidden gem if you ask me.

8. Spontaneous

When I first saw Spontaneous I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It’s such a weird and unique movie but it really stayed with me. I kept thinking about it and wanting to watch it again and again. I love Charlie Plummer and Katherine Langford in this (2 of my favorite young actors. Charlie is also in Words on Bathroom Walls). The whole concept of a world where you might explode at any moment is crazy and certainly keeps us the viewers on our toes. It’s sad and scary but it also has a sense of humor and a lot of romance. It’s got it all and how fun to see something fresh and new especially in the teen genre (although it is rated R). It is one of the most unpredictable, innovative and exciting movies I saw all year.

7. The Personal History of David Copperfield

Another movie that shook things up and surprised me is The Personal History of David Copperfield. Everything from the casting to the production design was different in this new take on the Dickens novel. I am not a literary purist so I don’t mind they clearly left out sections and ideas prominent in the novel. I love Dev Patel in the lead and the supporting cast with Peter Capaldi and Tilda Swinton to name a few are outstanding. It’s a period piece those who don’t like period pieces might enjoy. Charming

6. Bad Education

Bad Education is probably the best script I saw all year. It manages to walk the line of making the characters despicable while still likable. You hate what they are doing and yet you can see why they charmed their way through it for so many years. Hugh Jackman is great. Allison Janney is fantastic (better than her rather one note role in I Tonya if you ask me). Geraldine Viswanathan is also tremendous as the teen who starts asking questions.

5. Dick Johnson is Dead

Dick Johnson is Dead' Review: Kirsten Johnson's Rich Paternal Tribute - Variety

Dick Johnson is Dead was the best movie I saw at Sundance this year. It is a documentary where director Kirsten Johnson explores the reality of her father’s impending death by staging mock deaths for him to experience. It’s weird and wacky and so sweet. I loved Dick Johnson. He reminds me of my Grandfather who I miss every day. I lost both my Grandmas last year so the themes of death and loss really hit home. I loved Kirsten at Sundance. She was awesome, but I loved her film even more. Anyone who’s ever lost anyone should be able to relate to this charming film.

4. Love and Monsters

Love and Monsters' Review: An Unusually Upbeat, Enjoyable Apocalypse - Variety

Love and Monsters was a big surprise in the year. I didn’t know about it and then my friend Sean Chandler raved about so I had to check it out. Fortunately I completely agreed with him and found this film to be the most engaging blockbuster of the year. It has everything you could want in a film. It’s exciting with creative world-building and visuals. It has a terrific star making performance by Dylan O’Brien. Michael Rooker is fantastic in a supporting role. The creatures are unusual and fresh. I laughed. I cried. It has romance. It’s just a great time everyone will enjoy. There’s even a cute doggie in it!

3. Emma

Emma. (2020) - IMDb

Emma is exactly what I want in an adaptation. It stays close enough to the book to be satisfying for a fan like myself but it gives its own style and flair to make it its own creation. Director Autumn deWilde did a great job in her debut film. I loved all the production design and costumes. The music was wonderful. Anya Taylor-Joy was young and more innocent than most Emmas and Mia Goth is my favorite Harriet ever. And I absolutely loved Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightley. I’ve seen it at least 5 times including 3 times in the theater and I love it!

2. Hamilton

Can I still watch 'Hamilton' on Disney Plus? For how long? - nj.com

I went back and forth on whether to include Hamilton in this list. It just feels so different than the rest of the films (I literally filmed my Best of video 3 times trying to decide what to include). Eventually I went ahead and included it because it is so wonderful and was such a breath of fresh air in July 2020. Especially after the devastating news of Broadway closing down to get to see Hamilton with the rest of the world on Disney Plus meant so much to me and all the other musical theater fans. I have seen Hamilton previously on the stage when the touring company came through Salt Lake and that’s an incredible experience but this was something different. In the filmed version you get close up to the actors in a way you can’t at the show (the show has more spectacle so I still recommend it) and it feels intimate and close. I love the mixture of Broadway and hip-hop into the music and lyrics. I love the take on history and the way it makes you think about this great nation of ours. I love the eclectic casting and the way the production moves and flows from scene to scene. It’s a masterwork brought to the screen!

1 Wolfwalkers

The top spot was no argument. It had to go to Tomm Moore’s new film Wolfwalkers. His stunning new animated film continues his three movie hit streak with gorgeous animation and a heartfelt story of two girls who have a special tie to the forest. The story definitely has ties of Princess Mononoke but without the blood and violence. I loved the 2 girls and Robyn’s complicated relationship with her protective father. I loved the animation and the music. It will make you smile and tear up at the same time. It has it all. Get Apple Plus and watch it!

 

So there you have it. The best movies I saw in 2020. What about you? What are some of your favorite films? I would love to hear in the comments sections. Thanks for supporting me in 2020 and reading my silly thoughts on films. Now on to 2021!

If you love my writing please consider sponsoring me on patreon. Cool perks for as low as $2 a month

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[REVIEW] BRIDGERTON: Netflix Meets Dishy Regency Romance Novel

It’s interesting one would think with a new  female led action film coming to HBO Max this weekend in Wonder Woman 84 (which I did marginally recommend) I would not be looking to Netflix for pleasurable entertainment. Alas that is the case and fortunately they provided with the dishy new series from producer Shonda Rhimes called Bridgerton.

Based on the romance novels by Julia Quinn Bridgerton is set in a fantasy version of Regency London.  As such it has no interest in the plight of the working class or the yorkshire schools. It’s not interested in diving into racism or class problems. Such issues are for other shows and series to tell. This show is made for one reason and one reason alone: to bring pleasure to to the viewers, mainly women.

For example, if a Black woman will get more pleasure out of seeing the handsome Duke of Hastings be a Black man (Regé-Jean Page) than that’s what they are going to do. This isn’t about realism or historical accuracy. It doesn’t waste time explaining casting choices or the setting (it might as well be on another planet and timetable). It’s about eroticism, lust and luxury, which all has to be hid under the “rules’ of the time. That’s very sexy and fun!

The only real look into darker themes is a brief scene where Lady Featherington (Polly Walker) takes her distant cousin Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) to show her where the working class lives and her response is something to the effect of ‘why are you taking me to see these hard working pleasant people?” Indeed, why? Some may take this as a bad thing, but I find it very entertaining and a welcome escape after a hard year.

I think what makes it work is they go all the way. Any aspect they can make more dishy they do. They have a mysterious gossip paper writer voiced by Julie Andrews narrate the show. They have Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) who seems to be from a different era with the powdered wigs and structured dresses of the 18th century not the empire dresses and white gloves of the Regency Era with the rest of the characters. We also have classical music versions of modern songs from the likes of Ariana Grande, Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift.

If this sounds awful to you than you will hate it. If it sounds like trashy romance novel fun than you will love it! It definitely leans into all the tropes of romance novels including strong sexual content so if you aren’t comfortable with erotica don’t watch this show. It’s all part of the fantasy and the fun.

The main focus  is on the Bridgerton family of 8 children with eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) leading the cast. Then we also get Lady Featherington and her 3 daughters including the delightful Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) that will be a treat for any plus size female viewers looking to dive into the story.

My only quibble is I’m not sure why they have Daphne have 3 brothers. I did not care about their stories near as much as the female characters. At the very least they could have been combined into a single brother to follow and that would have been much better.

Earlier this year we had the supposed modern take on Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon, which was a huge misfire. The attempts to combine camp and gritty realism did not work (especially the terrible ending!). With Bridgerton it’s like they took notes and corrected everything I disliked in the earlier show. Thank goodness! Sanditon apologized for being a Regency story. Bridgerton revels in it!

Throughout the 8 episodes we follow our characters through all the tropes of romance novels. We get a fake relationship, a problematic pregnancy, a scandalous gambler (rakes make better husbands as the series tells us), a marriage of convenience that grows into more, and I could keep going. There is even a dramatic duel over honor at one point!

Just as we are moving out of the purity of the Hallmark season (which also uses all the same tropes to their fullest effect) Bridgerton provides a tantalizing and delicious entry for romance fans everywhere. It is just what this queen ordered!

8.5 out of 10 (This show is a Mature Rating and has strong sensuality. Buyer beware!)

[Review] ‘News of the World’ or an Unlikely Friendship in the Old West

There are 6 new films premiering in theaters or on various streaming services on this Christmas Day and I have reviewed all of them on this blog except for the new western News of the World. So I thought I would share my quick thoughts on the film starring Tom Hanks that comes to theaters and PVOD on January 15th.

For my reviews of the other 5 releases:

Soul

Sylvie’s Love

One Night in Miami

Promising Young Woman

Wonder Woman 84

As I said, News of the World stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Paul Greengrass who he worked with previously on 2013’s Captain Phillips. Greengrass is famous for his spurning of a steady cam for an intimate close look at the characters (sometimes too close). For the most part I enjoyed that approach to News of the World. It perhaps helps that Hanks is a very likable presence that we enjoy being close with, even in the rough and tumble environment of the old west, which makes it all work.

The film is based on a novel by Paulette Jiles and tells the story of Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd who makes a living going around Texas and reading the news to the illiterate men of the frontier. And he doesn’t just read it but offers a performance, which hopefully makes the news come alive to his audience. It’s almost a mixture of a comedy show and a vaudeville routine without the music. More entertainment than serious news.

One day Jefferson meets a young girl (Helena Zengel) who has been living with the native Kiowa people and doesn’t speak any English. The two form an unlikely duo as they traverse the desert frontier and try to get to her aunt and uncle in Texas.

I enjoyed watching them and their journey from one town and challenge to another. They have a good chemistry, the film is beautiful, and the music by James Newton Howard gives a sweeping feel this kind of story needs. One of the best sequences in the film is a long shootout between Jefferson and a bunch of thugs trying to get the girl.

Like most westerns the pacing is a little on the slow side in News of the World and I can see that being a barrier for some. The production values and immersion into the world is very well done and like I said I enjoyed the bond between Hanks and Zengel but it’s definitely leisurely paced.

I also was sometimes unclear on the character motivations of the thugs after the little girl. Was she valuable in some way? What did they want with her? I didn’t really understand the animosity against Jefferson’s character.

That said, it doesn’t really matter because News of the World is a simple journey story of 2 people traveling together and becoming friends. It’s a formula that almost always works and it does here. I enjoyed spending time with these people and experiencing this story. It won’t be for everyone, but I’m glad I saw this piece of classic storytelling in the old west.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[SPOILER FREE REVIEW] Wonder Woman 84: Is Disappointing the same as bad?

Those of you who have followed my writing know how impactful the original Wonder Woman film was for me in my movie watching career. I didn’t just love it as the best of the DCEU. I loved it as one of my favorite films ever and emotionally bonded with it in a special way. Of course, I am aware of its flaws, but that doesn’t matter when a film has you engrossed in the character and her transformation as she comes to know the frailty and humanity (or lack there of) in man amidst the horrors of war. Even the 3rd act that most people hate I didn’t mind because Diana’s transformation was so moving and honest. Watching Wonder Woman was a spiritual experience for me, and I will always love it for that.

Now after 3 years of waiting with a whole year of delays we have the sequel Wonder Woman 84 and it is…

Disappointing!

Now that doesn’t mean I hated it because I didn’t and even as I write I still don’t know whether to give it a smile  or frown worthy (fresh or rotten). It has a lot of positives but it is not nearly as emotionally resonant as the original film, and the story has a lot of problems. I tried to moderate my expectations because I don’t know if it is possible for a movie to impact me again as much as the first film, but I still wish it was stronger. Darn!

Anyway, let’s talk about the strengths. First up is Diana/Wonder Woman as a character. She has been the best part of all 4 DCEU films she’s in and that continues here. I love her mixture of strength and softness. She forgoes the tired cliches that a woman has to be tough and kick-butt in order to be strong. She is kick-butt but also sweet and charming and finds joy in many things.

She is a WOMAN in all the strength and beauty that implies not a woman pretending to be a man, and I greatly appreciate that dynamic. I also love Gal Gadot and think she being an ex-soldier and a model brings that mixture of femininity and strength to the character.

I loved watching Gadot in Wonder Woman 84 and think she makes me invested in a lot of scenes that would not work otherwise. I also think she and Chris Pine have incredible chemistry. In fact, it’s almost too great because story-wise they probably should have went a different direction, but I understand the desire to put them together again because it is so good.

(Also if you start to think about how this connects to the DCEU and Diana having been in hiding when BvS starts it doesn’t make much sense. I guess DC doesn’t care about continuity any more? I don’t care but for the record it doesn’t make sense).

There are also nice moments in Wonder Woman 84. Nice moments of action, romance, character development throughout. I enjoyed the opening sequence in Themiscyra. Diana and Steve have some touching and humorous interactions and the action scenes are well staged (a lot of lasso work, which I enjoyed). I also liked Max Lord’s (Pedro Pascal) relationship with his son and the humanity that gave what would have been a very one note villain.

The problem with the film lies in its unmanageable length at 151 minutes and the bland, uninteresting story. I particularly found the arc involving Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva to be weak.

They also didn’t do a good job capturing 1984. The hair isn’t big enough. The clothes aren’t flashy enough. Maxwell Lord feels like such an obvious commentary on 2020 and Donald Trump (I understand this is part of the comics character from its origin) that it made it harder to be immersed in the setting of the film. I didn’t have that problem with WW1 in the original film.

It’s not that Kristin Wiig gives a bad performance. Barbara’s just a very bland character we’ve seen in a thousand other comic book movies. I don’t understand why so many of these movies insist on having 2 villains? Rarely can the script justify that choice without some kind of character reveal like in Iron Man 3 or Big Hero 6. Wonder Woman 84 would have been so much better with just Maxwell Lord as the villain.

With so many characters the film also has what feels like 3 endings and then it keeps going. There are several times my friends and I looked at each other and said ‘there’s still ____ left?’… and then it kept going. It wraps things up with a moving message of hope and healing but so much felt wasteful and unfortunately again bland.

I know it’s hard for readers to accept critics can have mixed feelings on a film and rottentomatoes only exacerbates that problem. It forces us to pick a side. Fresh or rotten? Good or bad? Wonder Woman 84 is  in the middle but it feels bad because it is disappointing.

In my review of Justice League I said:

But all this aside I can’t deny that when I saw Superman fighting for truth and justice it made me really happy…I guess since it did make me smile I will give it a smile worthy but just barely

I think I feel the same about Wonder Woman 84. I got enough joy out of seeing Diana back on screen and the character made me smile enough to give it a smile worthy but just barely.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Also if people can’t be respectful in the comments I will turn them off for this review. Disagreement is fine but threats and unkindness will not be tolerated

 

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I have another quick round of mini reviews for you to enjoy. Here goes!

Wild Mountain Thyme

I had enough people tell me to review Wild Mountain Thyme because ‘it’s like a Hallmark movie set in Ireland’ that I plunked down the $20 rental to watch it. After viewing it my main conclusion is none of these people have seen a Hallmark movie. Aside from romance existing in both there is little in common between them. That out of the way, I must admit I was extremely disappointed in the film.

I like all the people involved including Emily Blunt in the lead who I adored in films like Mary Poppins Returns and director/writer John Patrick Shanley who made one of my favorite romance films of all time in Moonstruck. Sadly here it feels like he piled 7 screenplays into a canon and then mixed it up to make the final version. There’s no cohesion which is a problem especially with some of the strange choices the characters make.

Needless to say I regret that $20…Sigh

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Prom

Any readers of this blog know I am a huge fan of musicals and musical theater. Of course they can be done badly but I am more of a push-over than many when it comes to the genre. When it comes to our latest musical from Netflix called The Prom I overall enjoyed it but it definitely has some problems.

Adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name Ryan Murphy has made a bubbly, energetic, mostly joyous film full of the best of intentions. It is obvious all involved had a great time and really believe what they are singing about and that’s infectious.

However, I wish the show wasn’t so focused on the celebrities that come to town and more focused on the teens. The celebrities like Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman do a good job in their roles but the movie couldn’t seem to decide whether it was mocking or worshiping them. James Corden’s storyline also didn’t quite work for me.

Still I am a musical junkie so I enjoyed the songs, dance and bubbly energy. So I’d recommend watching The Prom (it’s also way too long at 130 min)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Mank

Mank is a difficult film to review because I am very hot and cold with it. We are going to have an episode of The Criterion Project post today where I get into it a little bit more. So please listen to that for more of my thoughts.

On the plus side, as a cinemafile who greatly admires Citizen Kane, I enjoyed getting to learn more about its creation and its writerHerman Mankiewicz. It also looks nice in black and white with great period details in the production.

Unfortunately I found Mank to be very repetitive in its scenes and Herman to be the least interesting character in almost every scene he is in. This mostly comes from him being an alcoholic who spends most the film participating in activities that alcoholics engage in like drinking and screaming and causing a fuss. This gets old real quick. I’m sure it’s accurate in many ways

That said if you are interested in movie history give it a watch. If not a pass.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy