[REVIEW] ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’: Watch the Documentary and then See this Ok Movie

Sitting down to review the new film about Fred Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I fear I am going to come across as very negative, so let me state out front: this movie is perfectly amiable and pleasant to watch. I will give it a fresh review. Unfortunately I found the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor about Fred Rogers from last year to be outstanding. It was one of my favorites of the whole year, so I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed with this just ok narrative movie.

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I will be shocked if all the critics don’t at least agree that Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as Mr Rogers and his scenes carry the film. However, he is not the lead character, which was a mistake. Matthew Rhys is fine as a the cynical journalist interviewing Fred Rogers for a column in Esquire, but he felt kind of like a case of generic bitter-man syndrome. I wanted to spend more time with Fred Rogers and was anxious to get back to his more layered and interesting character.

They were very careful to not cheapen Fred Rogers’ legacy or scandalize him in any way but the documentary was so much more profound in showing the impact Fred had on millions of children. It had one touching scene after another profiling how his decision to love created a movement of kindness, which blessed so many lives. In this film he seems more like a nice man who makes pies for a few select people. It’s not the same.

Chris Cooper is very good as Rhys’ elderly father. He has been a huge disappointment to his children, and he may be seeking forgiveness a little too late. (Nobody plays a bitter, angry father like Chris Cooper!). There are nice moments between Rhys and Susan Kelechi Watson who plays his very patient wife, and I loved a scene where Fred Rogers prays individually for all of the Vogel family members by name, even the little baby.

I also loved a scene where Fred Rogers is on a train and all the people sing ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ to him and it seems to brighten everyone’s day. I wish there was more of Fred Rogers interacting with the people.

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In fact, there is a great moment in the documentary, which I was sure they would include, where Fred is testifying before Congress to get PBS funding and he is able to win over the heart of a crusty old Senator from his speech. It’s such a cinematic life-moment and would have been easy to include with a flashback or something.

I don’t know. Like I said. I am being harder on it than I probably should. I just think the documentary is much better. But A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a perfectly serviceable and amiable film. If people are opposed to seeing documentaries than they will probably love it. As for me, it’s fine, but not as great as I was hoping for.

Watch the documentary and then if you want more watch this…

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Season of Love’ LGTBQ Community Get a Quality Christmas Romcom

As the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast I obviously love Christmas movies! While there are certainly misses like Last Christmas, in general I find the genre to be warm, cheerful and just the thing to put me in a good mood. Naturally I want everyone to participate in the joys of the season including finding holiday films they can connect with. So imagine my happiness when I heard about the new independent film Season of Love. 

In the film, director Christin Baker makes a rare “queer lady holiday movie” and for the most part she succeeds. The story revolves around 3 female couples and their interconnecting romantic entanglements during the days before Christmas.  My favorite couple was between the nervous Lou (Jessica Clark) and the deaf Kenna (Sandra Mae Frank).

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The conflict between Sue (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) and Janey (Janelle Marie) was my least favorite because it seemed illogical that someone who wants to become a singer would get so mad at her singing being put on youtube lovingly by her girlfriend.

But for the most part Season of Love was a sweet holiday romcom. I felt like I got to know all 3 couples well enough and there were enough cute moments that it worked.  The cast is all strong and there is a nice energy behind the entire project. Nothing feels phoned in.

If you like holiday romcoms and are open for something different give a shot. It will be available later this month on VOD and check out their website for more information.

7 out of 10

smile worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Knives Out’: Murder and Mirth at Thrombey Hall

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One aspect of covering Hallmark movies for my podcast, The Hallmarkies Podcast, that might surprise some people is I find myself talking about murder mysteries quite often. In fact, they have an entire channel called ‘Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’, which is devoted for most of the year to what are called ‘cozy mysteries’. Similar to Murder She Wrote these stories are about amateur sleuths who help uncover the culprits behind usually quite grisly murders in their midst. They have to be enjoyed with a grain of salt as typically the clues don’t stand high scrutiny but they are fun escapism where we can all envision ourselves cracking the case.

In director Rian Johnson’s new film Knives Out we get a taste of this type of murder mystery but on the big screen (there is even a recurring gag about Hallmark cozy mysteries throughout the film!). I was as skeptical as anyone going into this film as I have not been a huge fan of Johnson’s previous work in Looper or The Last Jedi. However, I am delighted to tell you he has made a very entertaining film that will keep everyone guessing from beginning to end.

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First of all, the cast is outstanding. Daniel Craig steals the show as Detective Benoit Blanc: a man who is hired by a mysterious benefactor to look into the death of famed author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Upon arriving at the house Blanc begins questioning all involved including Thrombey’s relatives and the staff of the home.

Ana de Armas stars as Thrombey’s nurse and close confident. She is helpful for a detective because she cannot lie without throwing up. Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis and more all do entertaining character work. I also really enjoyed the production design of the house and the music by Nathan Johnson.

All that said, it comes down to the script. Johnson manages to have huge exposition dumps but make them entertaining. A recent comparison can be seen in the 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express which wasted a similarly gifted cast on exposition that landed with a thud. The key difference is Johnson isn’t taking his film deadly serious where Branagh was so we as viewers can sit back in awe at each new reveal. It’s a blast!

Like I said with the Hallmark cozy mysteries, Knives Out, needs to be taken with a grain of salt and enjoyed as fun escapism. The characters are kooky and the twists surprising, which makes for a really good time at the theater. I highly recommend it.

8 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Ford v Ferrari’: Friends, Feuds and Fast Cars

Ford-v-Ferrari-IMAX-poster-600x751-1-600x364Sometimes with all the hubbub around the Oscars this time of year we as cinephiles can get a little snobby about what makes a great film.  Yes the art-pieces are an important and vital part of this artform we love but so is the crowd-pleasing entry that makes the audience stand up and cheer. This is why I am always happy when I see films like Hidden Figures and Black Panther received Best Picture nominations. Despite what some people say making entertainment for the masses is not easy and when it is done well it should be celebrated.

Such is my experience with the new film from director James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari. In this film, he has crafted an immensely satisfying story of an unlikely friendship (theme of 2019) and the battle to build the ultimate racing car that brought them together.

Based on a true story Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby an ex-racer who is tasked by the Ford Motor Company to design a car that can compete, even beat, Ferrari at the Le Mans 24 hour race in 1966. He then recruits the more reckless driver and car-maker Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to drive the car and lead the team. Both actors are excellent in their roles but they are also surrounded by a talented cast including Jon Berenthal as Lee Iacocca, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Ray McKinnon and more.

Christian Bale and Caitriona Balfe in Twentieth Century Fox’s FORD V FERRARI.

I especially loved Caitriona Balfe as Miles’ wife. She was funny, unpredictable and brought a lot to a role that could have been a one-note long-suffering wife. Tracy Letts is also great as Henry Ford II especially in a scene where he unwittingly endures a test-run on the race track.

Most people will probably praise the racing scenes in Ford v Ferrari, and they are excellent, but  the real star lies in the script and performances. I was so drawn into the characters and story and by the end I wanted to stand up and cheer. I love underdog sports movies and Ford v Ferrari is a very satisfying entry in the genre. But add to it a story of the friendship between Shelby and Miles that felt real and authentic and we have a winner!

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I even liked this movie despite watching it in a theater that felt more like a sauna. It’s rated PG-13 but a mild one. I certainly would feel comfortable taking the whole family and seeing Ford v Ferrari. It’s that good. The only major problem is it is a bit too long at 2 hr 32 min but I didn’t feel the length much. Other than that, it’s a wonderful film everyone will enjoy. The story is interesting, the acting is great, script is well done and the racing scenes work.

Go see it! It’s really good!

9 out of 10

smile worthy

 

 

[REVIEW] ‘Playing with Fire’ and Longing for the Family Comedy

Honestly this post will feel more like an editorial than a review. I don’t have that much to say about the latest comedy Playing with Fire. It’s one of those films that think being made for kids is synonymous with making it stupid. Of course, the truth is the reverse: anything made for children needs to be twice as clever and engaging.

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There are a few hard earned laughs from Keegan-Michael Key but he needs to be careful as he runs the risks of over-exposing and diluting his talent in projects like Playing with Fire. I also thought the kids were pretty cute; although the teenager Brynn is played by Brianna Hildebrand who is 23 and it shows.

Unfortunately there are many more things I did not like. First of all, the film has bad timing with its release coinciding with the fires in Southern California. It feels in poor taste to show firefighters acting like morons when they are risking their lives at this very moment.

Also the film is chocked full of product placement which is always especially distasteful in a movie for children. It’s not bad enough they make a movie that does nothing for their creativity or intellects but they have to sell them SPAM, Kleenex and My Little Pony every 5 seconds?

The oldest child is also very reckless causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage while committing felonies. I’d think she’d be a little grateful for someone saving her life but she sure has a strange way of showing it!

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All this said, the biggest problem with Playing with Fire is it is just not funny enough. As I was watching it I kept thinking back to the live action Disney films from the 50s and 60s. Sure not all of them were classics but I miss them.

Now we mostly get remakes from Disney live action and even outside of Disney most family comedies are animated now. Whatever happened to films like Blackbeard’s Ghost, The North Avenue Irregulars, The Parent Trap, That Darn Cat etc. Even Herbie or The Absent-Minded Professor are much better than most family comedies we see today.

I would so love to get these small budget family films back! We don’t need fancy special effects or expensive actors. Just well written scripts the whole family can enjoy. Why is that so hard?

Instead we get Playing with Fire and I think that’s a real shame

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews

As a critic who has seen over 200 films both TV movie and feature film it is impossible to write full reviews of every movie I have seen. This means it is time for one of my famous ‘Current Mini Reviews’ posts! This is where I give my brief thoughts on a film I’ve seen and let you know whether it is smile or frown worthy so here goes!

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Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl-

This is a movie version of the anime, and I must own I should have watched the series before seeing it. Some anime do a great job of welcoming newcomers into the films (like My Hero Academia was the best) but then others assume only fans are interested which I can understand. Nevertheless, I liked the many worlds premise that brings multiple versions of a girl named Shoko into conflict (and love) with a boy named Sakuta. It was interesting with beautiful animation. Even being a greenie I’d say it is worth a watch.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

I had the great opportunity to review this cool new documentary called Making Waves: the Art of Cinematic Sound for rotoscopers.com. In fact I even got to interview the director Midge Costin. I really enjoyed learning more about the incredible work sound designers and editors do behind the scenes to make everything pop on the big screen.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Addams Family-

Unlike most it seems, I enjoyed the animated take on The Addam’s Family. My review (make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel for all my reviews)

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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White Snake-

This is another film I was blessed to review at rotoscopers.com and interview the director Ji Zhao. Based on the Chinese ‘Legend of the White Snake’ they have created a modern fantasy adventure with quite possibly the most beautiful CG animation ever. It has some grown up moments and is a bit uneven in tone but I still really enjoyed it and found it very new and innovative.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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One Piece Stampede-

This is another anime based on a series but the plot is simpler so I didn’t have much trouble following it. Some of the animation of this film, especially the extreme closeups wasn’t my favorite, but I liked the energy in it. It reminded me of an anime take on Mad Max Fury Road with all these pirates racing to find a buried treasure. It’s definitely not for people with sensory problems or anything like that but worth a watch.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

parasite

Parasite-

This film by Korean director Bong Joon-ho lived up to the festival hype in spades. In fact, there isn’t much to fault with it. The writing is fantastic, as well as the acting, production design and score. The premise is at the same time heartbreaking, thrilling and funny. It has a message about class warfare without beating you over the head with it (like what was done in this year’s disappointing The Dead Don’t Die). The director trusts the viewers and the film he has crafted enough to not feel the need to hold your hand through every metaphor of the story. It’s definitely a movie that has stayed with me and one I hope to be able to watch again soon.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Christmas Jars-

As someone who podcasts about made for TV movies it was a little jarring to see a movie like Christmas Jars on the big screen. It is definitely designed for television with even the noticeable ad breaks left in. That said, I did enjoy the film. It gave me everything I want from this kind of movie. It was sweet with a nice message about community and Christmas. The girl lies more than she needs to and the liar reveal trope is one of my least favorites but I liked everything else enough to forgive those elements. For a pretty melodramtic Christmas tearjerker it can also be quite funny (although its depiction of journalism is ridiculous I still found it funny). Christmas Jars will definitely be something families can watch together for a cheesy batch of Christmas feels!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Arctic-Dogs

Arctic Dogs-

Anyone who follows this site knows I am frequently a defender of low budget CG animated films. Something like Sgt Stubby American Hero or Son of Bigfoot I have championed when other people won’t even give them a chance. So, I was willing to give Arctic Dogs a shot but unfortunately it is one of the worst animated films I’ve seen in a long time. People might criticize something like Ugly Dolls but at least there was clear effort put into that film. This is just lazy with no creativity to the story and nothing to inspire or move children. I hated pretty much everything about it. Avoid it at all costs and support better animated films like White Snake.

0 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you go! Let me know what you thought of these films if you got to see them. Thanks always for reading!

[REVIEW] ‘Midway’ a Movie That Should Have Stayed in the Past

There is something admittedly nostalgic about schlock-master Roland Emmerich’s latest film Midway. It feels like something John Wayne or Charlton Heston would have been in the 50s and 60s. The problem is this is 2019 and such a jingoistic approach feels woefully outdated and simplistic.

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Midway tells the true story of the Battle of Midway during the Pacific front in World War 2. The cast is formidable with Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid and more. The problem lies in the clunky dialogue they are given and the complete lack of nuance.

There’s a small attempt to humanize the Japanese fighters but it still feels awkward and like they are from a different movie than the risk-taking, daredevil Americans. There’s even a scene where a captured soldier tells the Japanese to f-off as he is thrown into the sea on an anchor. Groan!

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Other problems with Midway is the pacing is slow and the special effects are hit and miss. It will be interesting to see if Midway is a hit or not. There is definitely an audience for this type of simplistic nationalism but whether the marketing has grabbed their attention or not is another question.

I guess we will have to wait and see…

Does Midway interest you? If you get see it let me know what you think

3 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Last Christmas’ and Why It’s So Disappointing

last christmas

As host of the Hallmarkies Podcast I feel there is an assumption I will automatically love anything billed as a ‘holiday romcom‘. Well, if you are a listener to my podcast you’d know that I dislike many films we review, as is the case with any genre a critic is partial towards. We aren’t doing our job if we blindly like everything presented to us for entertainment.

This explanation is to hopefully help quell some surprise my readers might feel that I did not like the new film from director Paul Feig, Last Christmas. Unfortunately most of the reasons I did not like it are spoilery but let’s just say it fails at both the rom and the com of a romcom (and I have issues with the holiday part as well).

Last Christmas stars Emilia Clarke as Kate, a disaster of a human who has struggled to get her life together after receiving the gift of a heart transplant the year before. She works at a year-long Christmas shop for Michelle Yeoh (who gets some of the only laughs of the film with her strange cabbage loving relationship).

Kate is simply the worst. It’s always a tough dynamic to pull off when either of our leads in a romcom are unlikable. You have to make that switch to nice person at just the right moment or we as an audience don’t want him or her to succeed in love because they are a terrible human being. Kate even outs somebody at one point which I found shocking for a movie in 2019 (and the penance wasn’t near enough for such a betrayal IMO).

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Henry Golding is super dreamy (of course) but he leaves for long unexplained stretches, which hurt the chemistry and seems especially bizarre as the plot reveals itself. Speaking of said plot it is so groan-worthy and leaves our heroine with a very unsatisfying ending.  Without spoilers let’s just say between this and Me Before You Emilia Clarke has the strangest set of 2 romcoms imaginable.

To my surprise, I also felt focusing on George Michael music was a mistake. The problem is he only has one Christmas song so most of the soundtrack is holiday-free. Sure they are surrounded by the trappings of Christmas but they participate in none of the tropes of the genre such as picking a tree, wrapping gifts, visiting Santa, baking cookies etc. Most of what they do could be done at any time of year just with different decor. All the Christmas in the movie feels like window-dressing without the heart the holiday offers these films.

A lack of Christmas spirit and romance makes Last Christmas an unsatisfying and disappointing holiday romcom. What should have been sweet and funny ends up being groan-worthy and frustrating. Too bad but at least I’ve got 100 other Christmas movies to enjoy this holiday season (not exaggerating).

3 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

Going in to see Terminator: Dark Fate I must admit my expectations were not very high. After 3 underwhelming, bland films in a row it is hard for me to get excited for another entry in this once iconic franchise. Coming out of the film I’m afraid to say I felt basically the same. Terminator: Dark Fate is not nearly as irritating as Terminator: Genisys but it continues on the trend of bland, forgettable action movies in this franchise.

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Terminator: Dark Fate tries to spice things up by giving us a trio of female kick butt characters led by Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Connor. Shes campy enough to be a little bit fun but not enough to save the movie. Mackenzie Davis plays an augmented woman named Grace from the future who is sent to save a woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes) from Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) a terminator that can split into 2 bodies and is practically unstoppable.

The strength of this film is in the performances from Davis, Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger (back as curtain selling family man version of the T-800). They may say ‘I’ll be back’ way too many times but they are entertaining in their roles and know how to sell the action scenes. Also the action scenes are well staged especially the long opening chase sequence.

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The problem is Terminator: Dark Fate has nothing new to bring to the table and it falls into a predictable rut real quick. Exposition, action, exposition, action. For a film with this much action I should not be so bored but that’s what I was for most of the time. The characters aren’t interesting and the film has nothing new to say about humanity, war, AIs or anything else (I believe all good scifi should have something to say). The Rev-9 brings nothing new to the table as a terminator and the time travel concept isn’t explored well. It’s just action interrupted by people cracking jokes and talking about the past.

I am always bad at box office predictions but I don’t see this movie making much money. People have been burned too many times and this entry is at best a vessel for serviceable action scenes. Why when we’ve had such excellent action movies this year like Avengers: Endgame or Shadow would you waste time watching this? I think time has run out on the Terminators, and we need to let Sarah, John and Carl the drapery man go back to their regular lives. No more!

3 out of 10

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