Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I know you are expecting more daily recaps of NYICFF but I must own my days have completely gotten away from me and I have only watched 1 movie since my last update on Sunday. I hope to be able to get some more in this weekend but there is only so much time in the day. Next week I have the SXSW festival and hopefully I will do better with daily updates there but again there are only so many hours in the day.

Nevertheless, I have some films I’ve been meaning to write reviews on for some time so I thought I would do one of my classic current mini reviews. If you’ve seen any of these let me know what you think. Enjoy!

The Legend of Hei

The Legend of Hei is the one film I watched this week from the NYICFF. It is a film from China about a world of demons and humans. One demon named Hei goes on a journey to protect his forest home and understand the humans. The main appeal of this movie is the gorgeous animation. The layered watercolor backgrounds are beautiful and the action is fast and stunning. The story was a little confusing at times but I am still glad I saw it and definitely recommend it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Bigfoot Family

I actually have a fondness for the original Son of Bigfoot. It was such a pleasant surprise and I found great joy in recommending it as a hidden gem. So I was actually looking forward to this sequel Bigfoot Family. Unfortunately like so many sequels it was disappointing. The animation is impressive for the small budget and there are sweet moments of family but most of the movie gets lost in an uninspired and frankly irritating story.

Adam’s father Bigfoot goes missing at the hands of an evil oil man and Adam and his talking animals must go to save him. The whole scheme is over the top and the shenanigans get old fast. My advice is to watch the original and skip this unnecessary sequel.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Spongebob: Sponge on the Run

I do not claim to have an extensive knowledge of Spongebob Squarepants but I have seen a few episodes of the show and both of the previous movies, which I have enjoyed. As a result, I was looking forward to this latest film and ready for some crazy fun.

Some fans might be upset this is the first in the series to be full CGI animation; however, I didn’t mind the animation. It is bright and colorful and overall looks cute. There are also a few laughs and Gary the snail is adorable. Unfortunately the story did not work for me and there weren’t enough laughs to carry me through.

I also thought some of the sections were in poor taste for a film for children such as the long section in a casino with characters gambling. It also wasn’t funny enough and the final third of the movie is nothing but a secret pilot for the new show Kamp Koral. Some die-hards might enjoy this but I certainly can’t recommend it

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Coming 2 America

The original Coming to America is considered a classic by many people. I had long heard about it but actually hadn’t seen it since this month preparing for the long-awaited sequel. While all the comedy in the original didn’t land for me but I found the sweet romance at the core to be charming and enjoyable.

Now we have the sequel Coming 2 America and all the players are back and clearly having a great time making the film together. It is particularly fun to see Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall back acting with each other and their chemistry is seamless. The new cast is also a lot of fun with Kiki Layne and Jermaine Fowler doing a good job.

I am honestly quite torn on Coming 2 America. It started off very sour- seemingly going through the motions of the previous film except for adding a sexual assault plotline that is supposed to be charming. No thanks. But I must say it won me over as it went along with it getting back to the sweet romance of the original film. I still don’t think there is enough good to recommend the film but it’s not awful like some other comedy sequels. It’s your classic mixed bag film.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Murder Among the Mormons

I am not sure how much this docuseries will interest people not of my faith or from Utah but I certainly found it fascinating. I have long heard about the infamous forger and murderer Mark Hofman but it was cool to get to dive into the story and learn more. If you don’t know Mark forged a slew of historical documents including some involving the Mormon church or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of which I am a member.

Some say he was the greatest forger ever but his crimes caught up to him and to hide it he started bombing people, killing 2 people and almost killing himself. This docuseries tells you all the sordid details like any good true crime series and director Jared Hess does a good job getting you back to Utah in the 80s.

My only criticism is the last episode was a little too celebratory of Hofman and his skills as a forger for my comfort level. I would have preferred they do less of that and tell us more about his victims and how their families kept on their legacies. At times it even makes the interview subjects uncomfortable talking about Hofman’s skills. Still definitely worth a watch.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

NYICFF Blog 2 (Curtain Up, Moominvalley)

Happy Sunday! I hope you have all had a great day! I have 2 films for the NYICFF to post my review of today. So let’s get right to it!

Curtain Up

Curtain Up is a very cute documentary about a 5th grade class in NYC’s Chinatown (PS 124) that decides to put on a production of Disney’s Frozen Jr. As they prepare for the musical you get to know the adorable children, their parents and teachers as well. Some of the parents are more supportive of participation in the arts than others and a lot of that comes down to cultures, stereotypes and changing traditions.

As a former theater geek myself watching this was a nostalgic experience. I miss the group experience of theater. At least in the past I could go see live theater if I couldn’t be in it. I miss that. It’s such a great experience to all work on a production and see it all come together on opening night. Curtain Up captures that energy and it doesn’t hurt the kids are super cute!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Moominvalley: The Hobgoblin Trilogy

This Moominvalley trilogy is not really a film at all. It’s 3 episodes of the Moominvalley tv show put together as a trilogy. If you don’t know Moominvalley is a Finnish series based on the Moomin books that also had a stop motion series made about them in the 80s. The characters are the creation of artist Tove Jansson who published them in 9 books over many decades.

The thing that makes the Moomin stories so effective is how incredibly adorable they are. I admit I prefer the stop motion over this CGI version but even here they are so cute. The stories are perfectly fine for little ones but it’s the animation and character designs that make you want to hug them.

The trilogy contains:

  1. The Hobgoblin’s hat-a Moomintroll finds a magic hat. At first they are excited but then they grow to be nervous about the hat’s powers. This one is my favorite of the 3
  2. Thingumy and Bob- a pair of small creatures come to visit the Moomins. They are cute but a little annoying so this is my least favorite
  3. The Trial- the last centers around an argument between Moomins over a special ruby. It’s pretty cute!

Moominvalley: The Hobgoblin Trilogy is just for very little kids but they will love it and be begging for a Moomin plush as soon as they finish watching.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

NYICFF Blog 1 (The Bears Famous Invasion, Beans, Nahuel and the Magic Book)

Hi everyone! Today marks my first day covering the New York Intl Children’s Film Festival and it started with a bang! I saw 3 movies with many more to come.

If you want to learn more about the festival check out my preview video:

Here are my quick thoughts on the films I saw today:

The Bears’ Famous Invasion

This film is also referred to as The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily and it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 and at Annecy in 2020 to great acclaim. It is the debut work of Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti and it’s strongest attribute is the beautiful and lush animation- it has the appeal of a true work of art.

The story behind the art is a wandering storyteller and his daughter who get caught in a cave with a bear so they start telling stories about the bears and their acts of heroism.

The Bears’ Famous Invasion throws a lot at the screen with wars, ghosts, sea serpents and more but it is kept light by the storytellers and a free-spirited tone. My only flaw with the project is the white subtitles were often difficult to read especially with the nearly constant snow backgrounds in the film. Probably not the best choice!

Nevertheless I had a great time with this film and it was a terrific way to start off the festival

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Beans

Beans was my live action entry for the day and I must admit I found it to be a baffling film, which I did not enjoy. It seems to have the best of intentions telling the story of the Mohawk tribal protests in Quebec in 1990. The director Tracey Deer uses a combination of fictional events and real footage (reminded me of Spike Lee in Blackkklansman) but unfortunately it all feels more messy than moving.

Before the movie starts the festival announcers say this is for “kids” ages 14+ which is 14 a kid? I find this a puzzling decision on the part of the festival because this movie would definitely be rated R as it has the F word many times. And that’s not the only objectionable content, which would be fine I guess if the movie did anything interesting with that content. Instead it reminded me of Hillbilly Elegy in the way it wallows in people’s misery without having any insight on what do with those sorrows.

I left thinking who was this made for? It’s definitely not for kids and it sure wasn’t for me.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Nahuel and the Magic Book

We finished the night with an animated film out of Chile and Brazil called Nahuel and the Magic Book. This is a very well done fantasy adventure about a young grieving boy who finds a magic book called The Levisterio. He uses the book to help him conquer his fears and face bullies but then it has consequences he can’t imagine.

I’ll admit that I lost track of what was happening a few times in the film. There is a lot going on but I still enjoyed the ride. The animation is beautiful and there are some great segments. I particularly found a recurring theme of black birds attacking him in a giant swarm to be chilling.

Kids will have a great time with Nahuel and the Magic Book and both boys and girls should enjoy it equally. It’s an exciting adventure for the whole family with gorgeous animation (the animation kind of reminded me of Steven Universe in style).

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

What about you? What have you been watching at the festival and if you’ve seen these 3 movies what do you think of them?

[REVIEW] ‘Kim’s Convenience’ So Good I Binged Watched 4 Seasons This Week

I am not a binge watcher. It is probably my least favorite way to consume content. However, every once in a while I find a show where I just can’t help myself. I enjoy it so much I have to devour it! The CBC show available on Netflix Kim’s Convenience is such a show. There are currently 4 seasons with 2 more coming, and I can’t recommend it more highly. It’s funny, sweet, authentic and just great.

Kim’s Convenience is about a Korean Canadian family that owns a convenience store in Toronto and is based on a play of the same name by show creator Ins Choi. I’d love to see the play someday because it creates a setting for the show that feels authentic and true (it reminded me of Lin Manuel’s similar set up with his In the Heights musical).

Paul Sun-Hyung leads the cast as the father or Appa of the Kim family and owner of the store. What I appreciated about his character is he is a funny loveable curmudgeon who is set in his ways, but he also is a flawed character that is estranged from his son. This makes him more than just the butt of jokes but someone we can relate with and become invested in his journey.

Jean Yoon is equally strong as the matriarch of the family. She is famous for her pokes when people are frustrating her and her sneak attacks when she wants to get her way. But again she’s not a cliche character because the separation of her family is quite devastating for her throughout the show. I loved her character so much.

All the characters are great. Andrea Bang as Janet is fantastic as the daughter of the family. Simu Liu (who is about to blow up in Marvel’s Shang-Chi) is wonderful as the estranged son Jung who is trying to rebuild his life after a rebellious youth. I absolutely loved his relationship with his boss Shannon played by Nicole Power. She’s just weird enough to be charming and funny.

The supporting cast is wonderful with people like Jung’s best friend and roommate Kimchee (Andrew Phung) and the whole cast at the car rental place Handy that Jung, Shannon and Kimchee work at. You could honestly have an entire show just at Handy.

I think what’s most important about Kim’s Convenience is the writing. There honestly isn’t a bad episode. It’s so funny and it creates a family I cared deeply about. Sure it pokes fun at Korean stereotypes but that’s not the main source of the humor. Mostly it is about relationships and everyday problems anyone from a family can relate with.

The entire cast has chemistry together and even small roles like Amanda Bruget as Pastor Nina are so well executed. With weaker writing such a role could have been a bland overbearing religious figure but she’s not. She’s funny, flawed yet sincere and that’s the way all the characters are.

I can’t recommend Kim’s Convenience highly enough. It goes along with the recent Ted Lasso as a fantastic comedy with a big heart. I adored it and can’t wait for 2 more seasons!

Have you seen Kim’s Convenience? What did you think of it? What other hidden gems are out there I might have missed?

9 out of 10

[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 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?