Sundance Log 2020 Day 1- Crip Camp, Miss Americana

Hey everyone! The first day of Sundance has come and gone and overall it was a decent start to the festival. I am trying this year to not get caught up in festival hype and am going to try to be as objective as possible. Today I saw 2 documentaries both from Netflix (I am kind of irritated by how co-opted the festival has become by Netflix but that’s a topic for another day). I really liked one of these documentaries and the other I was pretty meh on but it was serviceable. So here goes:

Crip Camp — Still 1

Crip Camp

This film had a lot of buzz going into it before Sundance. It is a documentary about the civil rights movement for those with disabilities but it is also produced by the Obamas who had a big hit with last year’s American Factory. I think for the most part Crip Camp lived up to the hype. It was a lot different than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a lot more about the camp but it is mostly a step by step retelling of the disability rights movement from 1977 on.

This was probably my own fault for not having done enough research into the film so I don’t fault it much. I might have liked to get more information about the people who started the camp and why but they did a good job introducing us to important figures of the movement who had all been to the camp as teenagers. I also learned about the 504 protests that occurred years before the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was very interesting. Judy Heumann is especially impressive as the movement’s leader and I’d love for a movie to be made about her life some day (only if they actually cast an appropriate actor and not an able-bodied actor!).

Crip Camp does have some vulgar language and nudity but it does teach a lot of important lessons so it will be up to parents if they want their kids to watch it. I’m certainly glad I saw it

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Miss Americana

Next up is Miss Americana about country turned pop singer Taylor Swift. I like Taylor well enough but these kind of celebrity documentaries are a bit of a tough sell for me. I’m just not someone enamored or impressed by celebrity. She’s just a human who has a job singing. That’s it.

If you want a music documentary with lots of singing and behind the scenes looks at Taylor than this is perfectly serviceable. It does it’s job and fans will be happy with it.

As far as anything more it didn’t do much for me. They try to make a big deal of her decision to endorse the democratic candidate in the midterm elections in Tennessee. I have no doubt it was an empowering moment for her personally. However, the documentary tries to compare this action to that of the Dixie Chicks coming out against George Bush in 2003.

This seems like a big stretch to me when the Dixie Chicks were still solidly country music singers and Taylor hasn’t been one for years and it was at the height of the Iraq war. Now a celebrity coming out to support a democrat against Trump is hardly world altering decisions. If anything doing such an action helps a celebrity’s career not the reverse these days.

If it was me I would be far more interested to learn more about her song writing process because that is where she shines as an artist. We see a lot of her recording new songs and working on rhymes but I wanted more. I was also disappointed we didn’t hear anything about the early managers who have made it impossible for her to sing her early songs because of a terrible contract they tricked her into signing. Why did we hear nothing about that?

Anyway, I am being hard on Miss Americana because I think it could have been much better. As it is, it’s fine. If you want a celebrity documentary with lots of Taylor singing and chatting with her cat than you’ll love it. It’s as simple as that.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (barely)

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2020 Sundance Preview

Hey everyone! Today is not only my birthday but it is the official start of the Sundance Film Festival. This will be my 4th year attending the festival and my goal is to see more than the 25 films I saw last year! I didn’t get the locals pass 🙁 that I’ve had the last 2 festivals so I won’t have quite the flexibility of the past but I am still going to see some incredible films!

My plan is to post daily recaps of everything I see for the next 10 days just like I did last year, so make sure to check out the site every day for the latest updates!  I may not make all the films on this preview but I thought I would give you a peak at what’s to come.

Crip Camp — Still 1

 

Day 1 1/24- The Grand

Crip Camp

First up on Friday is the documentary Crip Camp. This tells the story of a camp near Woodstock called Camp Jened for disabled teens. It is billed as ‘a rousing film about a group of campers turned activists who shaped the future of the disability rights movement.’ I love inspirational documentaries so this sounds just up my alley. It’s also sponsored by the Obamas production company Higher Ground and their first film American Factory was great.

Miss Americana

This is a documentary about Taylor Swift and I’m not much of a celebrity person but hopefully it will be interesting. It’s by the same people who did 20 Feet From Stardom which was pretty good.

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Day 2 1/25- The Grand

Day 2 is one of my whole days at The Grand Theater because I have a Grand Pass (they only show movies there on the weekend). So I am seeing everything I can at The Grand, which should be interesting!

Bad Hair

This one looks really interesting. It is about a girl who has a scar from a perm burn. Her dream is to get on to a music video TV show called Culture. She gets a weave to help her get on the show but the hair ‘has a mind of its own’. So I don’t know what to expect with this one!

Ironbark

This is a period piece starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jessie Buckley and appears to be some kind of espionage thriller involving the Soviet’s and Cuban Missile Crisis. I haven’t quite forgiven Cumberbatch for the atrocious ending to Sherlock but I LOVE Jessie Buckley so that’s enough there for me to be interested.

Worth

In this film Michael Keaton stars as an attorney who is put in charge of the Victim Compensation Fund after September 11th. Stanley Tucci and Amy Ryan appear so it should be a good one.

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Day 3 1/26- The Grand

Rebuilding Paradise

This a documentary by Ron Howard about the men and women trying to rebuild their town of Paradise, Nevada. Any film that has the words ‘a testament to the human spirit’ is right up my ally. Should be good

Four Good Days

I am very intrigued about this film. It stars Glenn Close as a woman who gets a visit from her daughter played by Mila Kunis. The daughter has been a long-time drug addict and at first Glenn’s character refuses to let her in the house because of her destructive past. This one will either be really good or really boring but I’m hoping for good.

US Kids

This is a documentary about the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their protesting after the school shooting there. Should be an emotional one.

Promising Young Woman

This one I admit I’m a little nervous about because I am not a huge horror person but I am trying to be more open about the genre this year. Plus it looks pretty R rated but again I’m trying to be more open this year. It stars Carey Mulligan as a woman who is raped in college and sets out on a revenge spree with the supposed ‘good guys’ who really aren’t so good after all. We’ll see…

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Day 4 1/27- (Rose Wagner Theater)

Kajillionaire

This stars Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez as 2 young women who get caught up in Wood’s family of scam artists and thieves. It’s billed as an ‘absurd comedy bursting with uncanny sweetness’. Hopefully I find it so amusing!

Save Yourselves!

Monday is just my day for comedies because I will be seeing Kajillionaire and this film which is about a couple who are addicted to their phones who finally take a break from them. Unfortunately when they do is when aliens attack the earth. Sounds funny!

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Day 5 1/28- (Rose Wagner Theater)

On the Record

I must admit I’m not expecting much from this as I think it was barely finished. It was on the schedule as the ‘Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering Film’ until yesterday but I signed up for it because with tickets it’s easiest to be in the same building for both shows. Anyway, this is a documentary about a music executive named Drew Dixon and her struggle with #metoo movement.

Charm City Kings

I’ve heard great things about this film. It is about a young kid from Baltimore that wants to join a group of dirt-bike riders called the Midnight Clique. It looks funny and sweet so I’m excited for it.

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Day 6 1/29- (Rose Wagner Theater)

Palm Springs

My biggest draw for this movie is star Cristin Milioti who I loved on How I Met Your Mother and was furious when they killed her off in the finale! I also loved her in AtoZ which was cancelled way too soon! Anyway she is in this and it is billed as a ‘lighthearted romp’ about a woman putting up with her family at her sister’s destination wedding. Andy Samberg stars as well as JK Simmons, Meredith Hagner and Camila Mendes.

Horse Girl

This is another one I signed up for because of the location more than anything else. It is a supernatural thriller I think about a girl who loves crime shows and horses and starts having strange dreams. I’m not sure but it sounds interesting.

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Day 7 1/30- (Broadway and SLC Library)

Some Kind of Heaven

This is a documentary about a ‘utopian retirement community’ in Florida and a couple of misfits who struggle to fit in with this ‘Disneyland for Retirees’. It sounds sweet and funny so I’m in.

Shirley

I must admit I’m a little nervous about this film because I’m not sure how horror it will be. It’s billed as a ‘drama, full of contemporary intrigue and dynamic style’ but it could be scary. Hard to tell. It’s about a couple who take a job in a small town where they end up living with horror author Shirley Jackson and her husband. Things evidently get a little crazy so we will see! Stars Elizabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlberg, Odessa Young and Logan Lerman

Spaceship Earth

One of my most anticipated of the festival is Spaceship Earth. It sounds like a bonkers documenatry about a group of people in 1991 who entered a biosphere to try and live for 2 years. It sounds like things went downhill pretty fast and I’m beyond curious about it!

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Day 8 1/31- Broadway, and The Grand

The Truffle Hunters

I’m really looking forward to this documentary. It’s about a bunch of grumpy old men who have the skill for hunting special truffles in Italy and I’ve heard it is very funny. I like my grumpy old men movies so this should be delightful.

Nine Days

The summary is claiming this film is the ‘spiritual child of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry’ which is quite the claim. I figure it will either be terrible or really cool. It’s about a man that is interviewing souls to see if they are worthy to be born on earth. We’ll see about this one…

The Glorias

This film has a lot going for it. Julianne Moore playing feminist activist Gloria Steinem seems like a perfect fit. It is also directed by Julie Taymor who usually does interesting things. It also features Janelle Monae, Alicia Vikander, and Bette Midler. I hope it doesn’t fall into the trap of message over story but we will see!

Tesla - Still 1

Day 9 2/1- The Grand

Dick Johnson is Dead

This movie looks really strange. According to the summary it is ‘part observational documentary and fictional fantasy’. The director is making a movie about her father dying but also using as a way to deal with death or something like that. According to the summary it is ‘creative, joyous, funny and heartbreaking’ so that’s quite a promise! We will see how it turns out.

Sylvie’s Love

I’m looking forward to this film which stars Tessa Thompson as a young lady in the 1950s who falls in love with a jazz saxophonist while her fiance is serving in the army overseas. The cast is eclectic with Wendi McLendon-Covey, Eva Longoria and Lance Reddick appear. Hopefully it is my kind of romance!

Tesla

Nikola Tesla just appeared in an episode of Doctor Who so it will be fun to learn more about him in this film. Ethan Hawke plays the famous inventor and Kyle MacLachlan plays Edison so that should be fun. A lot of Sundance biopics are pretty basic but hopefully this is well done.

The Go-Go’s

A long day of movies ends with a documentary about the early punk group The Go-Go’s. It obviously features Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin and should be a lot of fun.

Wendy - Still 1

Day 10 2/2- The Grand

Wendy

One of my most anticipated of the festival is Wendy. This is directed by Benh Zeitlin who directed Beasts of the Southern Wild, which I really enjoyed. This is his first movie since then and it is a new reimagining of Peter Pan. I didn’t think I needed another Peter Pan but the trailer looks very whimsical and charming, so I’m excited.

Downhill

This looks like a pretty unique and funny comedy. Will Farrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus play a married couple who get into a quarrel during a trip to a ski resort. Evidently there is an avalanche and Farrell’s character fails to protect his family in his fear. I’m a little worried this will be trying too hard to be edgy and Sundancy but I hope I enjoy it. Sometimes these types of indie comedies come off mean-spirited to me rather than funny but we will have to see.

And that’s it! Let’s hope I don’t get stuck in traffic or have problems with lines or work. I certainly hope I can make all of the films! What looks the most interesting to you? Let me know in the comments section. On to Sundance I go!

 

 

[REVIEW] ‘Quezon’s Game’

Sometimes it seems like every story about WWII has been told. It’s a particularly cinematic war because the heroes and villains are easy to separate (or at least on the surface it is). Nevertheless, I am always amazed to find new movies about the conflict, with new and fresh takes. Such is the case with the film Quezon’s Game, which is getting a US release starting this Friday. The film has problems but overall it’s a moving piece of history I was unfamiliar with.

When watching Quezon’s Game it is important to remember it was made on a tiny budget. As a result, it has the feel of a TV movie and not even a high budget Hallmark TV movie. (Quezon’s budget is $500,000 US where a typical Hallmark movie is around $2 million). It will be up to individual viewers whether the admittedly cheap looking production values keep them from enjoying the story but as I am quite accustomed to TV movies it didn’t bother me.

quezons game

The story is what I found compelling. Quezon’s Game tells the true tale of Philippine President Manuel L Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing). In 1938 he was presented with an opportunity to help 1200 Jewish refugees trying to escape the impending horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. This was a difficult decision for Quezon because the Phillipines had not gained independence from The United States at that point  the US had already refused to take in refugees.

President Quezon is definitely presented here as a hero and the Philippines as a country is shown in bold nationalistic strokes but I was fine with that. I enjoy heroic, inspirational stories and figure every nationality and culture deserves to have their historical heroics portrayed from time to time on the big screen. The main lead performances of Bagatsing as Manuel and Rachel Alejandro as his wife work quite well. You can see him wanting to be a better man but worrying about the consequences. Of course, this makes his eventual triumph all the more meaningful because he had doubts.

Unfortunately, most of the supporting performances stand out and not in a good way. Many of the line readings come off as clunky and inauthentic. Again, it feels more like a TV movie instead of a feature film and that’s a problem. The film is also too long and could benefit from at least 20 minutes being hacked out.

quezons game3

Enjoyment of Quezon’s Game will depend a lot on your tolerance for its level of production design and acting. I am someone who cares most about story so I found myself more than willing to forgive the problems. You can probably wait and rent it but if you want to learn more about a fascinating piece of WW2 history give this a watch.

6 out of 10

smile worthy

Blind Spot 49: ‘Spartacus’

Happy January! I am so excited to be starting my 5th year doing the Blind Spot project. I can hardly believe I have been keeping it up that long, month by month. So, it seemed appropriate to celebrate this accomplishment by looking at an epic film and few films are more epic than the 1960 historical drama Spartacus.

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The biggest thing Spartacus has going for it is how big it is. Particularly the war scenes are truly epic. In a world where we are used to battles populated by cgi soldiers it is refreshing to see so many extras that it looks like ants moving on the hillsides towards each other rather than humans. The scope of every scene and attention to detail really is tremendous and worthy of praise.

Also the acting is top rate. I particularly enjoyed Peter Ustinov as a cold yet jolly Roman leader named Batiatus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ustinov in a role that he didn’t shine and bring whatever funny he could to the part. All the other acting is great including Sir Laurence Olivier as Marcus Licnius Crassus and Tony Curtis as Antoninus.

spartacus3

However, that’s where my praise of Spartacus must end. This film is a really long movie to not connect with any of the characters. While the acting is great, the writing and story is pretty bland. I was not drawn into the journey of Spartacus played by Kirk Douglas and found his performance the one miss of the film. I didn’t feel like I got to know him very well, and I wasn’t rooting for him the way that I should for this kind of narrative. Unfortunately, he felt miscast in the role.

spartacus4

The only female of note in the film is Varinia played by Jean Simmons, and I didn’t think she and Douglas had any chemistry. Her story is as bland as Spartacus and despite some daring scenes she just wasn’t interesting to me (the film as a whole is pretty R rated both in violence and sensuality).

It’s hard to completely skunk a movie as handsomely mounted as Spartacus but when I compare it to other epics of its time like Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia or The 10 Commandments it doesn’t hold a candle to those films. Those films had compelling characters, terrific action and epic set pieces. I love those films. Spartacus? Not so much.

5 out of 10

frown

Thoughts on the Oscar Best Picture Nominees

This Monday January 13th movie fans held their breath in excitement as the nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced in Hollywood. One can certainly argue that too much time and energy is put into the Oscars but it is also a nice way to look back at the year in film and hopefully honor some of the strong films released by both big and small studios. This year I have actually seen all of the nominees for Best Picture, so I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on each film and what chances each film has to win.

86th Annual Academy Awards - Red Carpet

Ford v Ferrari

I am thrilled to see an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser like Ford v Ferrari get nominated for Best Picture. What’s great about Ford v Ferrari is that it is not just an underdog racing movie (which is a genre I LOVE!) but it is also a wonderful movie about friendship. Christian Bale is excellent as Ken Miles and Matt Damon is great as his bewildered colleague Carroll Shelby. I loved all the supporting cast especially Noah Jupe and Caitriona Balfe as Bales’ son and wife respectfully. The film is a little too long but it’s a highly entertaining watch. I do think it is a long shot to win and comes in at 9th place in my prediction ranking.

Little Women

This new version of Little Women has become quite a part of my life lately. I have seen it twice, written my review, and then been on 2 separate podcasts where I discussed and ranked it. I really enjoyed this take on the classic story of Little Women. In particular the non-linear storytelling (which I usually hate) really worked to help make each sisters choices more valid especially Amy and Laurie. I loved all the performances and filmmaking choices like costumes, production design etc. The script got a little too cute at times and I would have preferred they used 2 Amys but it is still one of my favorites films of the year. Unfortunately with Greta Gerwig getting snubbed for Best Director the odds for it winning Best Picture are small and it is at 8th place in my prediction ranking.

jojo2

JoJo Rabbit-

Writing satire is probably the most difficult type of screenwriting. The line between clever skewering of society and an unfunny piece in poor taste is incredibly difficult. Director and writer Taika Waititi managed to do just that with his film JoJo Rabbit where we learn that even the worst of ideologies can be driven out of someone (especially a child) by the power of human connection. I laughed. I cried. I was delighted and I recommend anyone watch it and experience something unique at the theater. However, because the subject matter and approach is not for everyone it is unlikely to win and gets 7th place in my prediction rating.

The Irishman-

Upon its release I was one of the few detractors on Martin Scorsese’s epic mob film The Irishman. There is much to admire in the film especially the terrific period detail and performances. My issue is the story and characters. The lead character Frank Sheeran is an admitted soldier for the mafia, meaning he doesn’t have a lot of moral questioning of what he is asked to do. He dutifully follows orders. It isn’t until the last 30 minutes of a very long movie that introspection happens and things become interesting. It was too little too late and the ponderous pacing made it a tough watch. As far as predictions, The Irishman was a clear favorite back in November, but with the length being a factor, DeNiro not getting nominated, and a general overall lack of awards season buzz all make it an unlikely winner and ultimately 6th place in my prediction ranking.

marriage story3

Marriage Story-

I must admit I put off watching the new drama Marriage Story from writer/director Noah Baumbach. The idea of seeing a couple go through something as horrible as divorce for 2 hours sounded very unpleasant especially during the holidays. However, I finally watched it and it’s very well done. The writing feels authentic to the characters and I appreciate the script doesn’t pick sides for the male or the female. The acting is tremendous; although, I’m a bit baffled at the awards love being shown to Laura Dern who is fine but nothing extraordinary if you ask me. I think the movie is just too small in scope to win the big prize without a surprise win like Moonlight had a few years ago so it is 5th place in my prediction ranking.

Joker-

Another movie I put off watching is Todd Phillips origin story of Joker. I was pretty sure with the tone and violence it wouldn’t be my taste and after what happened with Shazam I wasn’t interested in facing the angry mob unless I had to for having an opinion. Once it got nominated I watched it and it’s not for me. Basically the Arthur of the film lives in a dystopian where everyone is underhanded, unkind, cruel and bitter. His story wasn’t interesting to me because there never was a valid option for him to chose a different path. Of course he is going to become a supervillain if everyone treats him like complete garbage. This is not a world I connect with or agree with but I’m not a cynical person. Nevertheless, many do seem to enjoy the film and it got the most nominations, so it could win. However, there’s enough backlash and enough comicbook/blockbuster stigma to prevent it. I have it at 4th place in my prediction ranking.

parasite

Parasite-

If I was going to predict a surprise win it would be Parasite. The South Korean thriller by director Bong Joon Ho is the consensus favorite for almost everyone I know. Whether film snob on twitter or everyday moviegoer, we all seem to love Parasite and that’s because it’s a great film. It is entertaining, enlightening, surprising and has something to say without beating you over the head with it. I also think the preferential voting system of the Oscars could help Parasite out the most because even if some don’t have it first almost everyone will have in their top 3. It could be the Green Book of 2020. The downside is some may feel a win in International Film is enough for it and a subtitled film has never won Best Picture before and that is a barrier for some voters. This is why I have it at 3rd place in my prediction ranking.

1917-

These last 2 are very tough to decide between when it comes to predictions. 1917 is an incredible, immersive experience telling the story of 2 soldiers in World War 1 as they attempt to deliver a message across the trenches. It is set up like one take and you really feel like you are there with the soldiers which I found emotionally exhausting and moving. I highly recommend seeing it in the theater if at all possible. It just won the Golden Globe so if it wins Best Picture I won’t be surprised at all but I think the Academy voters are just narcissistic enough to pick the movie which is all about them instead. That makes 1917 in 2nd place in my prediction ranking.

once upon a time

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-

In director Quentin Tarantino’s latest film he does a lot of things right to peak Oscar interest. First of all, he gets a top notch cast with Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. Then he has the film set in Hollywood and it be an alternate history of the life of a tragic figure Sharon Tate. You portray the struggle of being famous and a washed up star, which Hollywood loves (hello Birdman...). You have enough gratuitous violence and humor while showing off Los Angeles in 1969, you’ve got yourself a Best Picture winner. I enjoyed the film well enough but thought it was quite self indulgent especially in the long, excessive driving scenes that went nowhere. This isn’t the best film of the year in my opinion but I think it strokes all of the voters ego enough to win Best Picture and it is my top prediction!

So there you have it!  What do you think of the 9 nominees? Have you seen them? Do you think they are worthy choices or do you feel something better was left out? Let me know and what would you prediction ranking be for the winner? Let me know in the comments!

 

Current Mini Reviews

Hello readers! I hope you are  all having a better start to the new year than I am. Unfortunately today I am sick with a wicked case of a sinus infection/virus. In fact, I didn’t get to go to the Doctor Dolittle screening this morning because I was so worried I would fall asleep/cough throughout the film. Nevertheless, I have 3 recent films I need to update you all on my thoughts so here goes.

like a boss

Like a Boss

Hollywood sure seems to struggle in understanding women. So much of what they make for female audiences feels out of touch with any kind of women I know or interact with. For example, so many seem to suggest women spend way more time worrying about their makeup than most do. Most women have a makeup routine and every once in a while try something new and that’s it.

I was one of the only people who liked 2018’s I Feel Pretty (also set in the world of cosmetics and beauty) because at least it had a little bit of a whimsy which appealed to me. But even I will admit the parts involving the beauty industry and supposed female empowerment fell very flat.

Now we have the latest entry, Like a Boss, starring Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish who run (you guessed it) a makeup company. I actually didn’t hate this movie. It had some laughs with Haddish and Byrne hanging out with their girlfriends  (an authentic relatable situation and probably helped by improv).

However, all the elements involving business fell flat especially Salma Hayek as an over-the-top beauty mogul. It is not surprising this film is written and directed by men because the complexities of the female experience in business as presented are so reductive and cringe-worthy. I’m not saying a movie like this needs to be realistic but come on? They can do better than this.

Even though I did laugh at the friends scenes in Like A Boss, I can’t recommend you spend the big bucks to go see it in the theater. Go see one of the awards caliber films in theaters instead.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

underwater2

Underwater

Next up we have another movie I didn’t hate but was pretty meh on: Underwater. This has its fair share of positives including a good performance by Kristen Stewart. They also do a great job in creating atmosphere with cool production and sound design. Everything felt on the same level as Ad Astra last year in that regard. I also liked that the action gets going right away without feeling a need for backstory or exposition to set up the world.

The problem with Underwater is it felt uneven in the storytelling. One minute the creatures would be attacking and then the next they’d be more quiet and observant. One minute Kristen Stewart would be fighting for her life and the next she’d be back on the ship looking through a locker. It felt like some needed transitions were cut in the editing room.

It is also a very derivative film of movies like Alien which takes some of the edge off of certain scenes. There’s definitely a feeling of ‘we’ve been there done all this before and better’.

Still if you see this airing on cable it’s not a terrible watch but I don’t think I can recommend watching it on the big screen. (Also the excuses they have to get Kristen Stewart in her bra and panties for long segments feels a little gratuitous and absurd).

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

marriage story2

Marriage Story

To be perfectly frank I have been putting off seeing the critically acclaimed film Marriage Story despite it being available to watch for several months. Especially at Christmas time the idea of watching a film about divorce did not sound appealing at all.

Well, now I have seen the film and while it isn’t my type of movie it is worthy of praise. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both excellent as our feuding couple and the script doesn’t pick sides on the divorce. They are both petty and passionate all at the same time.

I’m a little confused at the high praise being given to Laura Dern for her performance as Scarlett’s attorney. She was perfectly fine in the role, but I didn’t see anything outstanding or Oscar-worthy but that’s just me. I do think it would be interesting to see this story from the perspective of people who can’t afford $25,000 retainers for their attorneys. Like what about a divorce between a couple who run a failing convenience story or are both teachers? That might be easier to relate with than these directors/actors.

But nevertheless, it’s a good film. I particularly liked Adam Driver singing ‘Being Alive’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Company both because I love that song but also I had no idea he could sing (what can’t the man do?).

I am sure if you have been through a divorce Marriage Story will have more emotional resonance. As for me it is good, just not a favorite or something I will ever watch again.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

My 2020 Blind Spot Picks

One of my favorite parts of this blog is a special series called Blind Spots I have been doing each month since 2016. The idea behind the series is every month I review a classic or well-regarded film I have not seen- my movie blind spots.

Each year in January I declare what my 12 choices will be. I try to make it a variety of films, genres and styles. For instance, last year I did comedies like Garden State, to anime like Tokyo Godfathers to war dramas like Son of Saul.

So, now is the time to declare my blind spot picks for 2020! Please let me know in the comments which of these films you have seen and what you think of my list in general! I would also love if you have a blog or youtuber to participate along with me in the project. It’s really fun!

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January

Spartacus (1960)

I think the coziness of a Winter month makes for the perfect time to finally check the sprawling epic of Spartacus off of my list. This film is directed by Stanley Kubrick and stars Kirk Douglas, Sir Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov and more. I love Lawrence of Arabia which came along 2 years later so we will have to see how Spartacus shakes out!

Judy-Holliday-Born-Yesterday

February

Born Yesterday (1950)

It’s always fun to pick a romantic comedy for February, and I have never seen the 1950 classic Born Yesterday. I love Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing and William Holden is super charming. The film is directed by the great George Cukor and it appears to be a political take on the Pygmalion story with Holden being hired to teach the uncouth Holliday social manners. I’m excited to watch it!

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March

Goodfellas

Created by the king of cinema Martin Scorsese I finally need to check his most heralded classic Goodfellas off of my list. I’m honestly not that big a fan of mob movies, which is why I’ve never seen this film. However, I am open to the genre if it is a good film. The story of Henry Hill eventually becoming an informant of the mob certainly has a lot of potential to be interesting and one cannot deny the acting talent. I hope I like it better than The Irishman, which was not my cup of tea (shocking I know).

3 colors

April

The Three Colors Trilogy

For April I am going to be extra ambitious and watch the Color Trilogy by famed director Krzysztof Kieslowski. These 3 films are named after the colors of the French flag: Blue, White, Red and they each follow ordinary people as they face challenges to the 3 morals the flag represents: liberty, equality, fraternity. Evidently the characters from all 3 films come together in Red to make for a beautiful treatise on human behavior. One article I read said this trilogy was the big hipster status symbol of the 90s and that it ‘still holds up today,’ so I will be the judge of that!

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May

Lethal Weapon

I figure after such a heady April I deserve some fun so for May I am watching the first Lethal Weapon movie (yes I’ve never seen any of the series). In this iconic buddy cop action series Mel Gibson plays the young hothead Riggs and Danny Glover plays the old tired detective Murtaugh. They are forced to work together with some classic 80s hair from Gibson. This film is written by writer/director Shane Black who I am not the biggest fan of but we’ll see if he can win me over or maybe I’m too old for this…

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June

Wolf Children

As a huge fan of director Mamoru Hosoda I’m almost ashamed to admit I have never seen Wolf Children. I know many friends who consider this his best film and I’m excited to finally watch it. The story is about a young woman who raises her half-human half-wolf children after their werewolf father dies. My friend Ron said it is his favorite movie of the decade so I definitely have to check this one out!

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July

Private Benjamin

I figure by the time July comes around I will be in the mood for a comedy and one classic I have never seen is the Goldie Hawn film Private Benjamin. So far on Goldie Hawn 80s comedies I liked Overboard and didn’t like Foul Play so we will see how this film lands. It was written by a young Nancy Meyers and is about a wealthy heiress who joins the army after her husband dies only for a very rude awakening in boot camp. I hope it will be a lot of laughs!

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August

House of the Flying Daggers

After really enjoying director Zhang Yimou’s film Shadow this year and admiring his film Hero from 2002 I thought it would be fun to watch another one of his famed works House of Flying Daggers. Evidently this is a love story and a martial arts film so that should be right up my ally and from what I’ve seen the production design, fight choreography and cinematography look stunning. I’m excited to watch it!

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September

Apocalypse Now

War movies are a great choice for blind spot because they are the kind of thing I don’t usually watch without a push. So for September I think it is finally time for me to watch the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now. Released in 1979 this film has an incredible cast including Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper and more. It is about a battalion during the Vietnam War who are sent on a secret mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade officer. I learned a lot about the making of the movie in the documentary I saw last year called Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Halloween

October

Halloween (1978)

One of my goals for next year is to try and get over some of my reservations when it comes to horror films. If I want to be a full time film critic I know I will need to watch more horror movies and I have been told by several good friends that the original Halloween film by director John Carpenter isn’t very scary. I’ve seen some scary movies like Scream, Psycho, and others so let’s hope I make it through this one! Ahhhh!

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November

The Last Unicorn

Honestly the number of classic animated films I haven’t seen is narrowing but there are still some and one of them is The Last Unicorn. This anime released in 1982 tells the story of a unicorn that goes on a journey with a wizard to defeat an evil King that wants to kill all the unicorns. It evidently has some scary and bonkers scenes that were quite shocking for 1980s audiences so I’m anxious to see what I think! The animation looks beautiful and it is a musical with voices of Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Angela Lansbury and more on the dub. We will see what I think!

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December

Remember the Night

My December pick is a Christmas classic I just learned about this year: Remember the Night. I don’t know how it flew under my Christmas-movie-loving radar but it is from 1940 and stars Barbara Stanwyck (who is one of my favorite Christmas movies Christmas in Connecticut) and Fred MacMurray (who is a scoundrel in the Christmas film The Apartment!). It is written by the great Preston Sturgess who was the king of romantic comedy writing in the 40s. Evidently it is about an attorney  (MacMurray) who ends up going on a road trip of some kind with a petty shoplifter (Stanwyck) while heading home for Christmas. Sign me up!

So there you have it! That’s my 12 films for the 2020 Blind Spot Series. If you have a blog or youtube channel I encourage you to participate in the project. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding at the same time.

What do you think of my choices? Have you seen any of them? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy New Year!

 

Blind Spot 48: ‘Tokyo Godfathers’

Anyone who follows my content knows I watch a lot of Christmas movies. This can make it difficult to find a good Blind Spot pick for December. However, I have long wanted to see the anime classic Tokyo Godfathers, so it became an easy pick for this month’s selection. Tokyo Godfathers is directed by master animator Satoshi Kon based on the novel by Peter B Kyne entitled Three Godfathers.

There are a lot of reasons why this film works, but I think at the heart is an emotional resonance we connect with. I’d wager to say the 3 main characters Gin, Hana and Miyuki are living wildly different lives than most of us; however, their responses to pain, joy, fear etc come from a truthful place we can all relate with.

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The story begins when our homeless trio finds a baby thrown into the trash on Christmas Eve. Ex-drag queen Hana is particularly excited to help the baby who they name Kiyoko. I loved Hana’s energy, which is always tinged with a bit of melancholy. She reminds me a little bit of Agrado in Pedro Almodóvar’s film All About My Mother. They both are transgender and homeless, yet full of life and energy.

Tough talking Gin helps ground the group and young teen Miyuki is a more of a nurturing presence. They are an unlikely group but one who’s story I was always invested in. The 3 friends set out to find Kiyoko’s parents and face all kinds of resistance along the way. Sometimes the shenanigans are a little too much but for the most part I was very engaged.

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Aside from the day it is set on, Tokyo Godfathers might not seem like much of a Christmas movie. There are no presents, Christmas trees, Santa etc. However, it absolutely gets to the core of Christmas. Each of our 3 characters is sacrificing to help Kiyoko who would have certainly died in the trash without them. Is this not the heart of what pure Christianity aka Christmas teaches?

There’s also a sense of wish fulfillment with this journey. Hana gets to live a day as a mother. Gin gets to be the hero he isn’t to his own children. Miyuki gets to be a part of a loving family unit. These are people who aren’t valued by society but to this baby they are invaluable. It reminded me a lot of both Parasite and last year’s Shoplifters in many ways.

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Tokyo Godfathers, however, is not a morose film. It actually can be quite hopeful and even funny. Like I said, especially Hana is a bright light in a difficult world. I loved the way Satoshi animated her big smile and exuberant responses to everything. It made me smile.

I loved all of the animation. Satoshi does such a good job of developing a sense of place with rich colors of brown, red and green. At one point a character is at her breaking point and there is such a piercing quality to her eyes that anyone who has had a mental health crisis will understand. It’s quite devastating (especially when compared with Hana’s bright energy).

I did struggle a little bit in Tokyo Godfathers to keep up with the subtitles but that is probably my own flaw more than the movie. There are some pretty fast-paced scenes of dialogue! But if you are looking for something different to watch at Christmas or just a unique animated film any time of the year I recommend it for anyone middle school and up. I really enjoyed it (rated pg13)!

In August I got to review Satoshi Kon’s other masterpiece Millennium  Actress over at rotoscopers.com. Check the review out here

 

[REVIEW] Cats: It’s Cats Singing and Dancing

Adaptations of Broadway musicals are a tough nut to crack. Due to fears of box office losses typically the movies come many years after the initial hype of the shows. Then to make matters worse, film directors often seem to have  a difficult time translating the energy of a musical show into a film. It’s a really strange phenomenon and it makes me wonder if the best is movie to Broadway (Mean Girls, Heathers, Beetlejuice, etc) rather than musical to movie.

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The latest attempt is one of the longest running shows in the history of Broadway: the strange Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. In the musical, ALW takes an epic poem by T.S. Eliot and adds songs. The problem is the poem is not very cinematic. It’s all introductions of various cats all leading to the jellicle ball. While there, the ‘jellicle choice’ is made. So literally we spend time getting to know cat A and then cat B until the cat Old Deuteronomy  (Judi Dench) decides which cat deserves to ‘ascend to the heavens for a new life’.

Fortunately where the narrative in Cats isn’t the best, the singing and dancing is enjoyable. I actually got used to the unique visual style very quickly and found songs like ”Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ to be catchy. I also liked ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ and ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’.  They even have trained ballet dancers Francesca Hayward as Victoria and Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks.

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Of course. the highlight of Cats is ‘Memory’ sung by Jennifer Hudson. She is such a powerful singer, and I thought she knocked it out of the park.

I also appreciated with Cats seeing something different. Everything is to scale so the cats look like the size of a normal cat. I personally have never seen a movie like that so it was a neat experience at the theater.

Taylor Swift as Bombalurina in Cats, co-written and directed by Tom Hooper.

The downsides to Cats is because it has so little narrative the pacing suffers. Especially the middle is slow, and I got sleepy watching it. It almost seems like it would be better as a short or a series of youtube sing-alongs rather than a movie. There is just not enough meat on the bones for a feature film.

I was also not a fan of Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots or her song with mice and cockroaches (a step too far! I hate cockroaches!). James Corden as Bustopher Jones was also pretty annoying but I’m in general not a fan of his.

Sir Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat is probably the strangest of the group with his method acting song.  Taylor Swift fans will probably be disappointed that her character Bombalurina takes a long time to show up and only has one song in the film and another in the closing credits.

I think people expecting something super bonkers will be a little disappointed in Cats. It’s unusual but not something like Pottersville where you are just completely baffled the entire time.

I wish the choice to make it a stop motion animated film had happened with Cats. That would have been amazing. Alas this version is fun enough for a musical theater junkie. The songs are well done and the dancing is impressive. All the actors are trying their hardest and the visual style is unique. It’s far from perfect but take your other Broadway fan friends and go watch something different with some catchy tunes. You’ll have a good time or at least my friend and I did!

5 out of 10

Smile Worthy Barely

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