[REVIEW] Escher and Tiger Documentaries

Hey friends! I just wanted to tell you quickly about 2 documentaries that are worth your time.

M.C. ESCHER:JOURNEY TO INFINITY

The first is available for rental and in some called M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity. This tells us about the artist (or mathematician as he says) M.C. Escher but it does it through his own letters and diaries read by actor Stephen Fry.

Written and directed by Robin Lutz isn’t very concerned with Escher’s life.  It’s concerned with his work and if it counts as art or not. Most of us would look at his woodprints and drawings and say of course they count as art but the artist himself didn’t see it that way.

There are a few interviews from fans like Graham Nash explaining why they feel the work is art which makes for a fascinating contrast with the words from Escher himself. They also use Escher’s work to create new art and animation throughout the piece, which was very effective because I have a feeling they didn’t have many archival photographs to work with.

It is $12 to rent the documentary but you are supporting small local theaters that are struggling so much. Here is a link through Park City Film.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Tiger

Next up we have a new sports documentary from HBO Max diving into the world of golfer Tiger Woods called Tiger. This documentary is particularly chilling given Tiger’s recent car accident and injuries. He’s already had a dramatic fall from grace and a return. One can’t help but wonder if he can do it again?

Before continuing on with this review I should clarify I have almost no interest in golf. I recognize the skill that goes into the game. It is just not something that interests me to either play or watch. Nevertheless, I found Tiger to be a very well done and gripping documentary.

The most chilling part of Tiger is the audio they use repeatedly of Tiger’s father Earl talking about his son as a great gift to mankind, a Messianic like character that society better treat right.

“He will transcend this game and bring to the world a humanitarianism which has never been known before.
“The world will be a better place to live in, by virtue of his existence and his presence.”

This is my treasure; please accept it and use it wisely.”

Tiger tries to brush this aside as the words of a proud father but it can’t help but feel like such lofty expectations were doomed to fail. Who but God himself can live up to such promises?

As we all know Tiger did live up to the expectations when it came to golf but his personal choices caught up to him causing a moral implosion and scandal. All of this is dealt with in the documentary and I found it fascinating.

It’s too bad, unlike The Last Dance, which had Michael Jordan himself in the docuseries they couldn’t get Tiger in Tiger or anybody in his family.  That would have added some authenticity but overall I still enjoyed watching the documentary. I appreciate it tried to look for broader themes rather than a more sensationalized TMZ like approach.

Tiger is available on HBO Max and I recommend giving it a watch.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[Movie 59] ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ (Spoiler Free Review)

It has been a long time since we got a new Walt Disney Animation Studios film. Since November 22, 2019 to be precise. Now in 2021 we are lucky enough to receive 2 WDAS films: Encanto coming later this Fall and the latest film Raya and the Last Dragon. While I have high hopes for Encanto, one thing is for sure the studio is off on the right track with Raya! Disney has made a stunning animated film loaded with adventure and heart for the whole family.

Raya And The Last Dragon: Release Date, Story & Disney+ Premier Access

Raya and the Last Dragon tells the story of the title character Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) as she seeks to restore peace to her land called the Kumandra. Along the way she meets a dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina) and faces off against a tough warrior with a grudge named Namaari (Gemma Chan).

I won’t tell you much more of the plot but it should entertain both girls and boys and have something for all ages. It’s not too scary or convoluted for little kids but it isn’t too dumbed down for teenagers and pre-teens. A little boy character named Boun (Izaac Wang) should delight young and old and a giant pill-bug creature named Tuk Tuk will make everyone laugh.

The action is fast and smooth and the brightness and colors of the animation begs to be seen on a big screen. I can’t wait until I get to see it there! If you can go safely to a theater I recommend it. However, even if you do see it at home you will still enjoy it. My favorite part is how it explores themes of forgiveness and trust. I can picture many a conversation between kids and parents about the themes of the film and yet it doesn’t feel heavy-handed or preachy.

I don’t want to give any spoilers. As far as problems it gets a little exposition heavy at moments and I don’t think I got to know Raya in the same way I got to know Moana, Elsa or Rapunzel. She’s always kept at a bit of a distance from us, the audience, so she can appear tough and strong. I also admittedly missed the music. James Newton Howard’s score is fine but nothing special. I love Disney musicals and this seemed to have so many moments perfect for songs. I wonder why they decided to go away from the musicals? I missed them.

Other than that Raya and the Last Dragon is a stunning adventure for the whole family. And you don’t even have to have kids to enjoy it!

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

If you don’t want to pay the big bucks on Disney Plus consider attending this weeks NYICFF for a great price and a behind the scenes Q&A

‘Tom & Jerry’ Virtual Screening Giveaway!

Tom and Jerry (2021) - IMDb

I am very excited to announce the good folks at Warner Bros have given me a chance to host a giveaway to the virtual screening of their new movie Tom & Jerry. This is of course a new take on the classic characters that have been around since 1940.

The giveaway will run until Wednesday and winners will be notified by Warner Bros on the screening information. Your information will only be used to get you the screening information and for nothing else.

The screening is taking place 2/27 at 10am MST

Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blind Spot 62: ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

Hello friends! It’s time for my monthly entry in my Blind Spot Project.  This is the series where I take a look at a critically lauded or fan favorite film I have not seen and see what I think about it. This month being valentines month, I decided to finally watch a film I’ve long heard is a complex romantic story: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This film is directed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman and has the surreal elements one might expect from both individuals.

After watching it, I can see why many love it but I did not enjoy it. I find that to be the case with most of Kaufman’s movies. I get why others love them but they rarely work for me. Eternal Sunshine has the intriguing premise of a procedure where you can erase a person from your memory.

I’ve enjoyed similar movies involving memory. For example, Afterlife by Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of my favorite films. It is all about a way station that asks you to determine your favorite memory. I also enjoy Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep where they have to defend his memories in a trial at the afterlife. Recently Nine Days came out about a way-station between life and death and memories and I enjoyed that.

My problem with Eternal Sunshine is I found it very surface-level compared to those films. I especially did not enjoy anything that had to do with Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst. They felt so distracting from our main couple and made it harder to get to the core of what Kaufman is trying to get at with memories. I felt like 60% of the movie was watching them hang out in a dingy apartment with Jim Carrey sitting their under the machine.

When it gets to Carrey’s character Joel and his relationship with Kate Winslet’s Clementine it is better but the movie fails to show why the memories are so devastating. It feels like checking off boxes in the memory department (and manic pixie dream girl trope) more than true devastating memories. Maybe this could have been more impactful if we weren’t’ constantly interrupting the flow of the narrative with Ruffalo flirting with Dunst.

Image result for eternal sunshine of the spotless mind cinematography

Eternal Sunshine does look beautiful and I admire the creative abstract camerawork by cinematographer Ellen Kuras. I’m surprised she wasn’t nominated for Best Cinematography that year but that’s the Oscars for you.

It actually took me several sittings to finish this film because I was not engaged. Perhaps part of it is I’m more of a fan of relationships starting rather than exploring breakups, (I recently liked the break-up abstract film Wander Darkly but that had way more focus on the couple than this) but I was open to it. Unfortunately it just felt really fractured and distracted from its main premise and something that might have been more interesting as a short (think World of Tomorrow…) than a feature film.

What do you think of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Is it a favorite of yours? Let me know in the comments section

 

 

[REVIEW] ‘Flora & Ulysses’ or Super Squirrels and Little Girls Are Adorable

One of the best things to come out of Disney Plus is the return of the mid-budget family film from Walt Disney Studios. With the exception of their Disneynature brand, the studio for many years only made giant blockbusters with over $100 million budgets. This was a real shame because I love the small live action Disney films from my childhood. Films like Newsies, White Fang, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken and The Journey of Natty Gann are practically as important to me as the Disney animated films. I’m so happy that a new generation of children will get films like these by way of Disney Plus!

Last year the best from Disney Plus in this department was Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. It is a sweet, well written film about an awkward child, dealing with trauma by setting up his own detective agency. It made my top films of 2020, and I absolutely loved it.

While not as good as Timmy Failure, this year’s first contender is the new film Flora & Ulysses. It is a very sweet film about a little girl named Flora who helps rescue (literally giving CPR)a squirrel named Ulysses that just might have superpowers!

Flora’s parents played by Alyson Hannigan and Ben Schwartz are going through a separation and obviously that is hard on everyone. Hannigan is fantastic as her mother who is also a romance novelist with writers block. They get a lot of laughs out of her book titles and covers and the fact she won the Jack and Rose from Titanic prize for writing.

Image result for flora and ulysses movie
I also thought Schwartz was warm and authentic as Flora’s aspiring comic book artist Dad. He is obviously very sad about what is happening to his marriage but not so much that he lets his daughter suffer.

The real star is young Matilda Lawler as Flora. She is so cute and I am extremely impressed this was her first film role. I predict we will be seeing a lot of her. Especially acting with a cgi creature is not easy and she did a fantastic job.

Parents of divorced kids might be a little annoyed by the ending of Flora & Ulysses and it is perhaps a touch too long but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It will be a wonderful movie to watch for family movie night and all enjoy together. It’s so enchanting it will make you wish for your own super-powered squirrel!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

If you get to see Flora &  Ulysses let me know what you think. Do you miss mid-budget live action films from Disney?

[REVIEW] ‘To All the Boys: Always and Forever’ or I love Peter and Lara Jean

For how often it is attempted it might seem hard to believe but teen romances are not easy to pull off. Usually they are actors way too old to be playing their teen parts and the romance feels more like adults rather than teenagers. The To All the Boys series is an exception to the rule. I’ve enjoyed all 3 of the films in this series including the latest To All the Boys: Always and Forever, which comes to Netflix Feb 12th.

The reason why this new film and the series work is because they have created such warm and affectionate lead characters in Peter and Lara Jean. They are both charming as played by Noah Centineo and Lana Candor respectively. They have terrific chemistry as a couple and as believable characters in their own right.

I’m one of the few people who actually enjoyed the 2nd film PS I Still Love You more than the original because I felt it made Peter a more well-rounded, fleshed out character. In the first he was a bit too perfect; whereas, in the second he had opinions and ideas all his own and their relationship had to grow. I enjoyed that dynamic.

Fortunately the 3rd movie has done away with the weakest part of the 2nd movie- the love triangle between Lara Jean, Peter and John Ambrose (played by Jordan Fisher). This love triangle was unnecessary and took away from building the relationship between Lara Jean and Peter.

The 3rd movie covers a lot of ground. We start out with Lara Jean and her family exploring Korea and her hoping she gets into Stanford to be with Peter in college. Then things get more serious as they go to New York and she starts to wonder if she belongs there more than in Palo Alto.

We also have prom, her father’s wedding and Peter trying to forgive his father for his lack of presence in his life (his father played by ET’s Henry Thomas!). All of these moments add to our characters and make the entire journey feel authentic and very sweet.

Some people may find To All the Boys: Always and Forever to be too sweet and romantic for their tastes but I’m all for it. I thought it was delightful and one of the most romantic movies I’ve seen in a long time. Viewers young and old will be swept away in the love story of Peter and Lara Jean and be cheering for them all along the way.

Most importantly all 3 movies together work as a coming of age story for both Lara Jean and Peter. They both grow and change and their love grows along with them. Honestly I could keep following them as they grow into adults, get married, have kids, the whole shebang. As it is, I’m glad we’ve gotten such a lovely trilogy to enjoy. If you like romances at all I think you will love this whole set of movies and even if you don’t, it might still win you over!

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘TED LASSO’ or a Smile Means a Lot

During the peak of Christmas season watching, my friend Jen told me about a little show she loved called Ted Lasso. I’m normally not much of a TV person so I put it in the back of my mind and didn’t watch it until this last week. I needed a break from the heady nature of Sundance films, so I decided to give it a shot. Now after watching it, I can add my recommendation to the many, like my friend, who love this charming, sweet and funny show. Ted Lasso is a delight!

In some ways Ted Lasso reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite. Now if you are someone who hates Napoleon Dynamite: hear me out. It doesn’t have the dry humor of NP. The style of comedy is very different. However, they are both carried on the back of extremely likable lead characters who are a weird mixture of both confidence and naivete.

Jason Sudeikis plays Ted as a man who is clearly over his head coaching a sport he’s never played (He is hired as a football coach for British football, which is soccer) and yet he is absolutely convinced that optimism and team spirit will make the team great and win matches. And you know what? He might be right.

After all, these professional players know the game. They’ve been playing it their whole lives. What they need is someone who is going to believe in them and keep them practicing each day. In that regard, Ted Lasso is an ideal candidate for the job!

Sudeikis is so great as Ted, and he brings a vulnerability to a role that might otherwise be a joke. I also loved the rest of the cast including all the players and Nick Mohammed playing the shy Nathan who works for the team and Ted calls ‘Nate the Great’.

Ted builds relationships with every single member of the team and crew and that makes it easy to root for him. We want someone to succeed who cares so much about others. It’s similar to watching Napoleon dance for his friend. We root for him because he is serving others with such delightful abandon.

I also really enjoyed Hannah Waddington as Ted’s tough but sweet boss. She knows hiring Ted is a joke. This is by design to hurt her ex-husband; however, his cheerful ways start to wear even her down. It also doesn’t hurt that Ted brings her delicious biscuits each week for Biscuits with the Boss (biscuits are shortbread in England).

I also really enjoyed Juno Temple as Keeley Jones a model and struggling actress dating the star player. I particularly liked her interactions with Rebecca as the 2 are very different types of women but they learn a lot from each other in the first season.

The most important part of Ted Lasso is its heart. I know I say things like that a lot but it’s true. This show is so good-natured it would be difficult to not love. I am sure there is someone out there who dislikes it but not this critic. I loved it!

Have you seen Ted Lasso? I would love to hear your thoughts. It’s also a quick binge. Only 9 quick 30 minute episodes. You can easily knock it out in one evening. I look forward to season 2!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There is some language in the show and a little bit of sensuality.

Sundance Log 2021 Day 6 (The World to Come, Amy Tan, Users)

Hey everyone! I am writing this having finished the 2021 virtual edition of the Sundance Film Festival. I definitely missed my normal festival experience but there were some good parts of being at home. I got to connect with all of my online friends watching movies and the experience wasn’t as grueling as the live format can be.

I want to express my gratitude to the festival organizers for putting together a wonderful event that ran pretty seamlessly. I was honestly expecting there to be more problems than there were. I also had better luck with my movies this year than last year so that was nice.

This morning I had a blast going on Austin Burke’s channel to talk about the festival and more (we went on some very interesting tangents about how we create our reviews and dealing with toxity).

But I have a few more reviews to share with you from the end of the festival. Here we go:

The World to Come

This film tells the story of 2 lonely pioneer women who become friends and then fall in love on the American East Coast frontier. It stars Vanessa Kirby, Katherine Waterston, Christopher Abbott and Casey Affleck. I have mixed feelings on this film. On one hand it is beautiful to look at with music by Daniel Blumberg.

I also thought the 2 leads had nice chemistry and Casey Affleck does a really good job playing a husband trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation. However, certain details were distracting. It might sound nitpicky but their hair was so unrealistic, all loose and flowing. It looked like it had been worked on at a salon with a curling iron instead of a prairie hairstyle. The whole film had a cheesy harlequin feel about it instead of a gritty realistic look I think they were going for. The narration added to this corny feel.

I’m on the fence about it but I give it a mild recommendation

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Amy Tan: An Unintended Memoir

I think this is probably the best out of all of the celebrity bio-docs at Sundance and I enjoyed all of them. Writer Amy Tan let’s us get really close into her family, writing and personal life. She is particularly frank about her Mother and their strained relationship. At one point her Mother even tried to kill her in a group suicide delusion. I honestly don’t know how you can forgive someone for something like that but she did. It made me want to revisit The Joy Luck Club both book and movie now that I know more about the author (as well as her other books).

If you have any interest in writing, movies, immigrant experiences or people you’ll like this film. I also really enjoyed the animated sequences throughout.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Users

My last film at Sundance is a documentary called Users and it is not a great note to end the festival on. It’s the kind of pretentious groan-worthy films unfortunately the festival is known for. The movie is supposedly a poetic treatise about man and nature. In reality what it is consists of pretty images of the Earth along with images of children. Honestly it makes something like Ghost Story or Tree of Life feel plot-heavy.

Some may want to say I didn’t get what the movie was saying but I got it. I just didn’t care about it. It’s a message of man vs machine we’ve heard literally since the beginning of film. It’s pretty but that’s about it. To think this beat Misha and the Wolves for best documentary is outrageous.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there it is my final log from the festival. I hope you have enjoyed my review. Did any of you get to see the festival? I would love to hear your reviews for what you saw! What movies in February would you like to see me give reviews for?

Sundance Log 2021 Day 5 (At the Ready, First Date, Land, Misha and the Wolves, Life in a Day 2020, Judas and the Black Messiah)

Good evening friends! I just finished up day 5 of the Sundance Film Festival and I am here to give you another log of all of the films I watched. With the 2 shorts packages I saw I have actually beaten my record of last year’s festival with 26 movies seen and soon to be reviewed! I’m proud of this accomplishment because the festival is half the length of last year so even being virtual 26 movies is pretty good!

Anyway, here’s some thoughts on today’s movies:

Image

At the Ready

Some people will no doubt be mad this documentary doesn’t take more of a stand for or against the criminal justice program in El Paso it is profiling, but I admire it for that. It really lets the teenagers tell their story. Some of the students become border patrol agents and are serving honorably. Others make changes and go to college, start speaking out against the wall and other injustices. That’s what a good documentary does. Director Maisie Crow stays out of the way of subjects and let’s them tell their story and I admire her for that. The parents and teachers are also given time but I could have had even more from them. I would also have been interested to hear more stats about the program and what kinds of officers it ends up recruiting.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Image

First Date

The new comedy First Date is not without laughs but most of them are small moments of levity in the script and in the performance by lead actor Tyson Brown. Indeed, the basic concept of a teen buying a used car to impress the girl he finally asks out, only to discover it’s a drug car, is funny. The problem is what they do with that concept gets old quick. The violence and other shenanigans is too much and it distracts from the jokes. Also aside from Brown, all the acting is amateurish. I know they are on a small budget so I want to be encouraging but it just didn’t end up working for me in the end.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Image

Land

The fact Robin Wright both directs and stars in Land is a big selling point for the movie and a big reason it was probably chosen to premiere at the festival. She is an actress who has been solidly turning in good performances for years and it is exciting to see what she will do behind the camera. Now that I’ve seen it what’s my review? It’s fine. The story is basic with the woman coming to find herself in nature and recovering from past trauma. (Want to see a version of this watch Virgin River on Netflix!). However, I liked each of the cast of 3 (Wright, Demian Bichir and Kim Dickens), it is beautiful to look at and surprisingly hopeful and positive. It’s also a blessed 93 minutes! With all these positives I didn’t mind the predictability and overall enjoyed watching it for what it is.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Image

Misha and the Wolves

This documentary is definitely the biggest surprise of the festival. I went into it literally knowing nothing about it but a friend told me to watch it and I’m so glad I did. Look out for it on Netflix and avoid spoilers. It reminded me of the great documentary 3 Identical Strangers from a few years ago. That movie shocked me and so does this! It’s also so well paced and put together. It all makes it a great time at the movies. This might be this year’s Dick Johnson is Dead and make it to my Top 10!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Image

Life in a Day 2020

I don’t know if the youtube Life in a Day counts as a movie but it is 90 minutes and it is on rottentomatoes so I guess so…It feels more like a instastory clip reel than a feature film and it’s fun enough to watch. It feels like opening up a time capsule except from just last year! The conceit is on July 25, 2020 a bunch of people sent in their “days” into youtube and honestly it felt like everyone had a different 2020 than I did. I was surprised how many group scenes they still had. There were even some concerts and lots of parties. There weren’t very many masks. It was strange but I’m happy to see happy people so it was harmless. I don’t really feel like I can give it a review. It’s not a movie. It’d be like me giving the camera gallery in your phone a number grade. No.

(If you think I should give it a score let me know in the comments).

Smile Worthy that 2020 is Over!

Image

Judas and the Black Messiah

Most film fans have undoubtedly started to get hyped for Judas and the Black Messiah. Oscar buzz is high for the film and especially the performances by Daniel Kaluuya as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and Lakeith Stanfield as undercover operative William O’Neal. The movie paints O’Neal as a traitor or rat and yet Hampton is both electrifying and terrifying as a leader.

For the most part I agree with the hype for the film especially with the 2 lead performances. Both men live and breathe the roles and there are many raw and visceral moments. The production design, costuming and music is all also excellent.

However, the film is hurt a bit by a wandering protagonist. It keeps flipping between both men to the point I didn’t feel I got to know either well. There is also moral ambiguity about both men. Do the moviemakers think O’Neal is a rat and traitor? I’m not sure. If you are someone who thought The Trial of the Chicago 7 was too bombastic and simple you may like these more morally confused heroes.  However, I think the script could have drawn the characters out better and given us more about who they are and why they are making the choices they do.

Also it might have just been my home setup but there were times the scenes were very dark and I struggled to see what was happening.

Still, I recommend seeing Judas and the Black Messiah for the great performances and absorbing moments. Let me know what you think. (The intense scenes reminded me of Detroit)

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you go! That’s my moviegoing for today. Have you been able to attend the festival? I would love to hear your thoughts on these films and any you have seen I may have missed.