One of my hottest takes as a critic is my disappointment in Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. Unlike most people I didn’t care for the story, character choices or most of the other creative decisions. This still makes people angry for some reason and it was the beginning of my somewhat antagonistic relationship with superhero movies. They are without a doubt my least favorite genre to cover and if I could avoid them entirely I would. All that said, they are some of the biggest releasees of the year and this week we have our latest entry Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3. Would I leave underwhelmed like the 2nd or thoroughly enjoy it like the 1st? Well, Marvel fans can relax because I enjoyed this latest entry and consider it a big step up from vol 2. Let’s talk about it!
One of my favorite parts of vol 1 is the coming together of this rag-tag band of mischiefs to make a family unit. This is something lost in vol 2 with the team being divided and more concerned with individual stories than the group as a whole. This is not the case with vol 3. While they do become separated at times the focus is on helping one of their own, Rocket, and caring for each other as a family.
I also appreciate the comedy a lot more in vol 3 than vol 2. Most of the jokes in vol 2 revolved around Drax making fun of Mantis, which got old quick. Vol 3 has more variety in the topics of the jokes and gets everyone a chance to be light hearted and funny. It was also moving to see how Rocket came to be the smart aleck he is and how he became a part of the Guardians.
The production design is excellent and the action done well. We have some new characters like Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) and Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova, who was in the Guardians Christmas Special but this is his first time in a feature film.)
Some people have said the plot is too messy in vol 3 but I didn’t feel that too much. If anything it was nice to see a movie in the MCU that sticks to its own timeline and doesn’t worry about building up other movies or characters. This is strictly about our core Guardians so I didn’t find it hard to follow personally.
Parents may want to use caution when taking their kids to vol 3. This is a strong PG13 with graphic depictions of animal cruelty, torture and some profanity. I also found the villain, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) to be a bit shrieky for my tastes. You might say a little of that character goes a long way…
Those flaws aside Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 is a moving story of the family you choose and how the trauma we experience doesn’t have to define us, but it is a part of who we are. The music is probably the weakest of the trilogy but it’s still fun and overall an entertaining return to form for James Gunn and his Guardians.
Any follower of my writing knows coming of age stories are a tough sale for me. To often the teen characters are portrayed as one note, sullen monsters that I can’t stand. I realize being a teen is tough and you go through sulky phases- I certain did- but there are soft moments in any human and that’s rarely portrayed. (Last year’s The Whalewas particularly distasteful with its supremely unpleasant teen character.) So you can imagine I went into the latest teen drama Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret with some hesitation but fortunately I found a beautiful and authentic story that may be close to a perfect film.
…Margaret is of course based on the landmark novel by Judy Blume and it tells the story of the titular Margaret who is 11 and struggling to fit in with her new suburban New Jersey home and all the changes going on with her body and peer group. She also has started asking questions about what she believes and trying out different faiths and asking God for help in her various travails.
There are so many things I loved about this film. First off Abby Ryder Fortson is fantastic as Margaret. Again, she’s warm and authentic and a joy to watch as she wades through the highs and lows of being 11. I also loved Benny Safdie and Rachel McAdams as her parents and all the young actors in her peer group are fantastic.
The highlight, however, is Kathy Bates as her Grandma Sylvia. I honestly became emotional whenever she is on screen because she reminds me so much of my Grandma who I miss dearly.
I miss hanging out with my Grandma and chatting about life. I miss going shopping together and seeing the Rockettes which she was a huge fan of. The dynamic between Margaret and Sylvia is so perfectly captured I bet most anyone will be able to relate to it on one level or another.
There’s also a lot of humor in the film that keeps it from feeling too heavy. Margaret and her friends exploring bras and maxi pads is sweet and very funny as are her various crushes and observations about the world around her.
I guess if I am going to nitpick a section where her maternal grandparents come for a visit didn’t have the nuance of the rest of the film. I don’t believe these people trying to make amends with their daughter would tell Margaret to go to Sunday School on the first dinner they have together. That could have been handled better.
Other than that, there’s nothing I would change about Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The production design and costuming capturing the 70s is excellent. The acting is all top notch. It’s a heartwarming, authentic, wonderful depiction of adolescence and the life of a true American family.
Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. It seems we are back in a full-blown movie release schedule because I’ve been so busy watching both indie and mainstream movies I haven’t seen much television- aside from one I will be reviewing on this post- there just isn’t the time!
I will have 2 full reviews this weekend for the latest Guardians of the Galaxy movie and for the endearing and wonderful Are You There God It’s Me Margaret adaptation.
But for now let’s have some mini reviews!
I think you will know from the description whether Kelly Reichardt’s new movie Showing Up is for you. Her movies are always minimalist when it comes to plot and exorbitant when it comes to pacing but I still enjoyed some of them like First Cow and Wendy & Lucy.
Unfortunately this one was not for me. When you do this kind of slice of life slow film where you follow a character around living their life the character or characters have to be compelling and I just didn’t find that to be the case here. It tells the story of a group of artists in Portland, Oregon who are forced to interact with each other even though they’d rather be doing their art.
Michelle Williams plays the lead Lizzy, and she never seemed moved by her art. At one point one of her sculptures is burned in a kiln and she shrugs it off like it is nothing. Why should we care about her artistic journey if she doesn’t seem to care? Hong Chau has some funny moments as Lizzy’s negligent landlord but it wasn’t enough to interest me in the story or characters. I simply didn’t care and the 107 minutes really dragged.
I know this movie has its fans. I’m just not one of them. I’d rather watch First Cow again any day.
4.5 out of 10
My Sister’s Wedding
On the other end of the indie spectrum we have an interesting little film called My Sister’s Wedding. This quasi-rom-com/family drama is written and directed by Kenneth R Frank and while flawed it creates compelling characters and situations that makes it worth a watch.
I do have to confess the dysfunctional family movie (particularly around weddings) is not usually my favorite but occasionally with works for me like Father of the Bride, My Best Friends Wedding and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This film is not on those levels but it does have something to offer and situations anyone can relate with.
The story follows a woman named Allison (Samantha Sayak) who is trying to keep everything together for her sister’s (Lauren A Kennedy) wedding. Her parents are married only on paper and the fact the wedding is a mixed race lesbian wedding provides all kinds of drama.
Jennifer Jiles steals every scene she’s in as the mother and the conflict with the Catholic priest was nuanced and moving.
I don’t think this film has a distributor yet but if you get to see it I think it is worth a watch
6 out of 10
Peter Pan and Wendy
Expectations are a weird part of movie watching. I try to go into every movie as objective and hopeful as possible but sometimes it’s hard to not be caught up in the hype of a new release. Such was the case with David Lowery’s new film for Disney Peter Pan and Wendy. It’s a perfectly enjoyable take on the Peter Pan mythos, but I was hoping for something more memorable. Still I do recommend it. Just go in with the appropriate expectations (it’s certainly on the better part of these Disney live action remakes but that’s not really saying much especially after last year’s disastrous Pinocchioremake.)
You all know I’m not a big fan of these Disney live action remakes but Peter Pan has been done so many times this feels like another entry in the series than a remake of the 1953 animated classic. Supposedly there is more of an emphasis in this version on Wendy (Ever Anderson) but the animated film gives Wendy practically as much screen time, even giving her a whole song to sing to the Lost Boys with “Mother” (Kathryn Beaumont’s vocals for Wendy and particularly that song are gorgeous.)
Jude Law makes for a grimacing and scary Captain Hook and Jim Gaffigan is fun as Mr Smee. The film is also paced nicely at a lean 109 minutes.
Some people have said Peter Pan and Wendy is too green but I saw that as Lowery trying to place his indie stamp on the picture. I just wish he had brought some of his story choices from Pete’s Dragon (the best of the live action remakes by a long mile) into this film. It all ends up feeling fine. If you are in the mood for a take on Peter Pan it’s perfectly enjoyable version but nothing more.
6 of 10
Boonie Bears: Back to Earth
It’s always interesting to watch more populous mainstream films from other countries. I feel like because of the international Oscar we tend to get the more prestige projects the big action films or films for children that get a big following in other countries. This is part of the reason why I found The Wandering Earth movies so fascinating. It’s interesting to see what other people find entertaining. Such is the case with the latest Boonie Bears movie, Boonie Bears: Back to Earth, a phenomenon out of China, and I can see why. I haven’t seen any of the other Boonie Bears films but this latest is the 5th installment and there is evidently a television show in China that is the most popular children’s show in the nation.
The story is kind of similar to Kung fu Panda in that it is about a bear who Bramble who dreams of being a famous superhero but is forced into cleaning trash with his family. However, when an alien comes down to earth things start to change and he might learn being a superhero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The message of Boonie Bears is fairly mundane one about having self confidence and believing in yourself but it’s still a positive one and the animation is bold and clear throughout the film. You can tell this film had some major money put into it especially in the action scenes.
This isn’t the kind of film that will appeal much to adults but I don’t think it is trying to be. It’s a well animated, bright, colorful, positive superhero adventure.
6 out of 10
Sanditon season 3
If you follow me on social media you know I have not been a fan of the first 2 seasons of PBS’s Sanditon. Especially with esteemed Austen writer Andrew Davies at the helm, the writing has been pedestrian at best and it is only my loyalty to Jane Austen that I felt a need to watch the 3rd season. This new season is a massive step up from the previous 2 but the whole series feels like a massive missed opportunity- particularly when they could have done anything with Austen’s unfinished novel.
The biggest bonus of season 3 is they do not have the incredibly annoying Esther back. It’s not the actress Charlotte Spencer’s fault but anytime the story came back to her it was like death to the series. Now they have more of Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) and her on and off again romance with Alexander Colbourne (Ben Lloyd-Hughes). The 2 have great chemistry and while their story should have been given more time it overall works. We also have Georgiana Lambe’s (Crystal Clarke) story of her inheritance being threatened and her deciding whether she should get married.
I never thought I’d be saying this about Sanditon but the season felt a little rushed and I could have used a couple more episodes. I also didn’t love the plotline with Lady Denham’s (Anne Reid) near-marriage to Mr Pryce but it wasn’t as bad as the Esther plots.
Still, this series could have been campy and fun but it just proved frustrating and clueless about what people want from regency romance (and especially Austen.) Still, I give it a mild recommendation because they did make noticeable improvements and with the chemistry of the leads I had a decent time watching it.
6 out of 10
So there you have it! If you get to watch any of these films please let me know what you think. Thanks!
Hey everyone! I hope you all enjoyed reading my in-depth post on Suzume. Unfortunately I do not have time to write so prolifically for every movie but here are some quick thoughts on 3 recent new releases.
Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant
They actually made a special announcement at the screening to make sure we included Guy Ritchie in the title. So there you go sir. It is officially your movie…
That said, I actually enjoyed Ritchie’s latest true story war film. It starts out kind of slow following these Afghan soldiers into several skirmishes before the plot starts going. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Sergeant John Kinley who is stuck in the Afghani desert with Taliban hunting him down. When injured his local interpreter Ahmed saves him through a series of miraculous and brave ordeals before making it back to the base and to safety. Then Kinley becomes obsessed with finding Ahmed and getting him and his family to the United States.
Some are going to be turned off by any kind of war story but once the film started going with the rescue I found it quite gripping. I was genuinely invested in Ahmed and John’s story and if they were going to make it to safety. The acting by Gyllenhaal and Dar Sajim, who plays Ahmed, is outstanding and I think no matter your political persuasion you’ll be rooting for these 2 men to save each other. It’s really a story of friendship more than a story of war. It’s the kind of movie my Dad will love and that’s a good thing! An inspiring true story.
7.5 out of 10
If you follow my content you know how much I enjoy a good costume drama. It’s for this reason I was looking forward to the new film Chevalier, which tells the story of 18th century Black composer, Chevalier de Saint-Georges or Joseph Bologne who at one time composed for Marie Antionette. Unfortunately despite the best efforts of star Kelvin Harrison Jr Chevalier is sunk by a mediocre script that can’t decide whether to be campy fun or serious melodrama and it ends up choosing tedium instead.
With this type of film you either want it to be over-the-top bodice-ripper like with Netflix’s Bridgerton series or take itself seriously like a Merchant Ivory film from the 90s. If it was silly I wouldn’t mind that almost none of the actors have French accents or speak in ways appropriate for a the time period. I wouldn’t mind the sloppiness of the costumes or the weakness of the production design. It would all be part of the escapism.
Instead I found myself getting both annoyed, bored and frustrated. The whole thing felt way longer than the trim 107 minutes. It’s a shame because there is a good story hidden in Chevalier. Just wish they’d gotten a better screenplay so I’d be either entertained or edified by it. Sadly it did neither and I left disappointed.
4 out of 10
As we’ve seen recently with the terrible The Whale teen characters in movies can be a bit of a sticking point for this critic. When they are continually portrayed as miserable, sulking creatures I become frustrated and disengaged with the story. I know it’s a tough time of life but at a certain point they start to lose their humanity when there is no kindness presented. This is why I found the latest teen rom-com from Disney Channel and Disney Plus, Prom Pact to be so refreshing and enjoyable. It’s definitely the best DCOM we’ve seen in a while and one of the best teen rom-coms of the last decade. I am a big fan of the To All the Boys… films on Netflix and this is as good if not better.
What I loved most about this film is the characters and how they start out as cliches of the genre (the nerd, jock, prom queen etc) and then expand out of those cliches as we get to know them. It’s what John Hughes did with his beloved teen movies in the 80s. Peyton Elizabeth Lee is fantastic as the girl who wants to get into Harvard so she befriends a jock athlete she thinks is a cocky jerk played by Blake Draper but there is more to him as they spend time together. There is also her best friend played by Milo Manheim and they have a nice character arc through the story. He has a crush on prom queen played by Monique Green. There are also adult characters: a guidance counselor played by Margaret Cho and Peyton’s Mom played by Wendi Mclendon-Covey (I love both of them and could have seen even more).
This is not the most unpredictable of scripts but it is so well executed and everyone involved has great chemistry. I love how it is about more than just romance but about friendship and growing up. These are teens I was rooting for and had to forgive each other on occasion- flawed yet pleasant and enjoyable to spend nearly 2 hours with. I’d say Prom Pact is a real hidden gem of 2023. Watch it! I know you’ll love it!
Anyone who has followed my writing knows I’m a big fan of Japanese animator (or anime) Makoto Shinkai. His film Your Name from 2016 won my heart, and I’ve been a big fan of his ever since. It is fair to say he has familiar tropes he works with and he has not been able to quite capture the glory of Your Name in his subsequent films; however, he is a bold storyteller and there is always a hope to his pictures which win me over. Such is the case with his latest film Suzume. It’s not perfect and he will lose some in its embrace of fantasy but I still found it a creative and dazzling experience. One I recommend anyone to get to the theater and support (it’s getting a pretty big rollout so now is your chance to support anime!)
Suzume has a lot going on but it basically tells the story of a teen girl named Suzume who meets a mysterious man named Sota one day who is looking for local ruins. She follows him to an abandoned section of town where they find a door which is a portal to a fantasy world called Ever-After. Then through various contrivances she ends up with Sota on a journey to stop a supernatural force called a worm from destroying all of Japan by causing earthquakes.
Part of the reason Shinkai wanted to explore this story was the after-effects of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Parts of Japan never really recovered from the destruction and this inspired a story where Suzume and Sota (and sometimes her aunt Tamaki are on a road-trip to find the keystones throughout the country. There are also a lot of tributes to the great Hayoa Miyazaki with a city called Miyazaki, a magical cat named Daiijin and a quick wink to Whisper of the Heart.
Shinkai also makes the bold choice of having Sota turn into a chair for most of the movie. I was a little bit skeptical of this with the trailers but it honestly worked very well. Never has a chair had so much personality and charm. Daiijin the cat was also very mischievous, making life very difficult for poor Suzume.
The animation is of course outstanding as any Shinkai movie is and the music from RADWIMPS is the perfect accompaniment (and more of a traditional score than a JPOP background than their previous collaborations.) I interviewed the band back in 2020, which was a super cool experience. But my favorite part of the film is how it kept surprising me. I didn’t know where it was going and after seeing such a bland film in Super Mario Brosthe week before it was so exciting to see a bold, inventive animated film from Shinkai.
I also appreciate how Shinkai uses the narrative to help the Japanese people process what happened to them with the earthquake (as he has done with comets and floods in his 2 previous films.) It’s so refreshing to have someone with such a hopeful outlook tackling such issues as climate change and national trauma. It makes me as a viewer and fan want to do more to help my community heal from our own problems (for example, the Great Salt Lake is drying up here in Utah.) Rarely are disaster films so encouraging and profound.
There are some flaws with Suzume. I think the design of the worms is a strange choice, not just its phallic similarities but also how different it looked from the 2D designs of the rest of the film. It looked cheap which is something I never thought I’d say about a Shinkai film.
Also while the road-trip for the most part worked well it gets bogged down with the relationship drama between Suzume and her aunt Tamaki. The comic relief with Tamaki’s boyfriend Serizawa can also get old quick and for how rushed some parts of the narrative feel these travel sections can be frustrating.
All that said, I still loved Suzume and can’t wait to watch it many times to gain more from it each time. I am sure the Academy will continue to ignore anime, which is a real shame because Suzume is a film that deserves to be recognized for its creativity and boldness. I hope you get a chance to see it and let me know what you think when you do.
When I decide on the Blind Spot picks for each year I try to have a variety of favorites- critical darlings, arthouse films, cult classics, box office winners etc. This month’s pick, Jeanne Dielman, 23… is definitely of the arthouse variety but it became a point of conversation last year when it ended up at the top of the list in the recentSight and Sound Great Moviespoll. Because I never attended film school, I admit I had never heard of this film before the poll and was shocked to see it make number one. Now I have seen it, and I still don’t understand it! Let’s talk about it:
Jeanne Dielman, 23… is a slice of life type film that tells the story of a woman named Jeanne who is a bored and unhappy housewife who makes money on the side as a prostitute. Most of the movie is watching her perform basic household tasks like polishing shoes and peeling potatoes. For a 3 hr 20 m movie very little happens although Delphine Seyrig does a very good job portraying Jeanne in some long and uncomfortable takes.
I happen to like watching people cook so I actually enjoyed those sections. You do start to see little differences between day 1 and day 2 of her daily activities. It all leads to some violence at the end but even that is treated by director Chantal Akerman with a sense of ordinariness.
When it came out in 1975, Jeanne Dielman, 23… might have seen more groundbreaking but I’m honestly tired of this disturbed/stifled housewife being one of the only ways Hollywood depicts contemporary women. Does it happen? Sure but there are also lots of women who chose to stay-at-home and raise their families and it would be nice to tell their stories as well. I wish we told more mature female stories in general but this miserable suburban woman is just real played out for me.
I suppose it’s a movie that’s a bit of a victim of its own hype. If I just saw it as an experimental indie I might be less critical but I still wouldn’t call it a favorite. That said, I didn’t go to film school so what do I know?! I guess I’m glad to have checked it off my list. If it is one of your favorites let me know why. I would love to learn.
I don’t know what rating to give this one tbh. It’s interesting more for the legacy than the actual movie, but I can’t deny that legacy.
If you grow up in a Christian (or in my case LDS) household you hear the same Bible stories over and over again that it can be easy to forget how strange some of them are. For example, how strange is it that people decorate a nursery for their baby using Noah’s ark themes when that story is about almost the entire human race except one boat being drowned. While perhaps not quite as extreme this same phenomenon can be seen with the story of Abraham and Isaac. It is truly a horrific thing God is asking Abraham to do but one we learn about from such an early age it probably doesn’t feel that way.
Now we have a new cinematic version of this classic story called His Only Son and for the most part they do a pretty good job telling this troubling story. Those looking for accurate depictions of Biblical stories should be pleased. I am not a traditional Christian but nothing in this version felt inaccurate or a departure from the Biblical texts.
Nicolas Mouawad plays Abraham and he shows the terrible conflict he is feeling for having been asked by God to kill his only son. Sara Seyed plays Sarah in a convincing performance and Edaan Mosokowitz gives a humble and sweet portrayal of Isaac.
I appreciate His Only Son doesn’t shy away from the troubling aspects of the story including Abraham’s relationship with Hagar and Ishmael (although it makes when he refers to Isaac as his only son a little tough to swallow.)
My only real flaw with the film is the makeup felt excessive. I understand they are nomads but the dirt was so caked on it felt like brown-face in scenes which is unnecessary as they have a POC cast. It was just a little over the top.
Other than that, those looking for a solid adaptation of the Abraham and Isaac story will get it in His Only Son. It’s not a great Biblical epic but it does quite a bit with a small budget. The target audience should be more than satisfied and it certainly captures the faith it would take to be as obedient as Abraham is.
I pride myself on the fact I keep an open mind as a critic and give everything a fair shot. This was perhaps no mare demonstrated than in last year’s Minions: The Rise of Gru that I had little to no interest in and got super sick of hearing with its long delay but I actually ended up enjoying! Go figure! Particularly the scene with the Minions flying the airplane made me laugh, and I couldn’t deny I had a good time with the film. I say all this to point out I wasn’t out to get The Super Mario Bros Movie like some might claim. I wanted it to be good. I was excited for it. I even wore my Super Mario Bros t-shirt to the screening.
Unfortunately there’s not much praise I can give to The Super Mario Bros Movie. At best it’s an ok watch for little kids who aren’t as demanding on plot or dialogue but I bet it will be quickly forgotten by them. There’s certainly no scene as memorable as the plane scene in Minions 2. I was really hopeful Illumination would use this property as a way to push themselves visually and story-wise much like Sony did with Into the Spiderverseor DreamWorks with The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wishbut they didn’t. The animation is fine but nothing memorable and the story is bland and boring.
I know some people were nervous about Chris Pratt cast as Mario with Charlie Day as Luigi but honestly they are fine. The problem is the script doesn’t give them anything engaging to do. In fact, the 2 brothers are separated for most of the movie and Luigi is imprisoned literally giving him nothing to do. Most of the plot revolves around Bowser wanting to marry Princess Peach I guess because she’s pretty. We are given no other reason. What a weird plot-point for a children’s movie?
My favorite part of the movie was the music by Brian Tyler on the original theme by Koji Kondo. It cleverly mixes the iconic theme with a new score to add just the right touch to the action.
The animation is bright and colorful and looks nice but nothing like the action in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish to take it to another level. If they had told me this is a straight to streaming release I wouldn’t have been surprised. There is no wow factor. Just the typical bland Illumination animation. It bums me out because I really think this was their chance to make something special and they chose to go the thoroughly average route instead.
If you want to see a basic animated film for kids The Super Mario Bros Movie I suppose will suffice but if you are hoping for something fresh, exciting, creative or funny I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere. Believe it or not Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is still playing at theaters near me. Just see that instead…
Before I begin this review I will state outright that my co-host of The Criterion Project, Conrado Falco, has a small role in this film and we have had the director Abie Sidell and producer Trevor Wallace have come on our show and are the reason I was aware of the project. That said if I didn’t think it was quality I would not review it so I think I can be objective about it.
Recently attending both Sundance and SXSW I must have said 100 times- this would be so much better as a short. Too often interesting concepts for a featurette or short are stretched out to feature in order to make it marketable in a cineplex. This is a real shame and ruins some otherwise good ideas.
That said, one of the cool aspects of the new horror film Cram is its length- not a short but a featurette of 44 minutes. It would be really neat if we could get enough of these shorter genre films being made that a theater could combine them together to fill a feature film slot- Grindhouse style or like what they used to do at sci-fi Drive-ins. How fun would that be?
Anyway, Cram stars John DiMino as a college student Marc who is cramming for a college paper, getting little to no sleep, but the only problem is he didn’t read the book that the assignment is based on. He tries to get a friend Alice to let him use her paper but she refuses (of course because she would be punished along with him for turning in the same paper).
When he falls asleep writing his paper, he wakes up in a haze and an acid-trippy force has taken over the library. This is the most effective part of the film with director Sidell creating some compelling and spooky atmosphere. I like the way he used bright colors to draw the viewer into each aisle of the library.
As it gets more into fantasy the narrative started to lose me a little bit but as it’s only 44 minutes I didn’t feel frustrated long.
Overall, Cram is a scrappy little thriller that most anyone who has crammed for a test in college will understand. It’s available to watch for free on tubi so check it out. I think you’ll enjoy it.