Part of my goal with this blind spot project is to push me out of my comfort zone. To watch acclaimed movies I haven’t seen for some reason. This includes movies with content I have otherwise avoided that I will broaden my horizons and give a chance. Such is the case with my December pick: 2015’s Tangerine.
Directed and co-written by Simon Baker, Tangerine, tells the story of transgender sex workers in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. Obviously this is a mature topic and won’t be for everyone. I do appreciate the characters are treated with respect and nothing is sensationalized or tawdry.
When this first came out in 2015 it was revolutionary at Sundance because it was filmed entirely on an iphone. Now that has been done several times so it has lost some of its sticker appeal but however it was filmed I found the shot selection to be distracting. We are usually seeing Los Angeles from the characters POV so this limits are views at their faces/seeing their emotions. If we see them it is in a 2 shot or wider shots and I felt like this prevented me from really getting to know them and feeling a connection with them.
I also don’t really understand it being billed as a comedy. Some of the banter between the girls is amusing but for the most part I felt sad at the lonely lives of the women. I particularly felt bad for Alexandra who tries to get everyone to come out to her performance, which we find out she paid to do and barely anyone comes. That was just sad.
The ending of Tangerine is very chaotic with a crying baby and people fighting, which is the last thing I think of when I envision a comedy. I guess we can chop this one up to something that’s just not for me. However, I am glad I gave it a chance and tried something new.
What do you think of Tangerine? Is it a favorite of yours? What’s one of your favorite off-the-beaten-path Christmas movies?
Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I have been overwhelmed with movie-watching lately, which isn’t a big surprise with my career as a film critic and Christmas movie podcaster (check out Hallmarkies Podcast for reviews of all the holiday films!). It’s just hard this time of year because I have over 100 Christmas movies to watch plus all the awards screeners so I can vote in the critics groups I’m a part of (HCA, UFCA, OAOFFC). I usually watch at least 4 movies every single day! Plus I’m also reviewing live theater for UTBA and writing reviews, editing podcasts and videos…the list goes on. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there is enough hours in the day!
Anyway, I have a bunch of Oscar screeners to update you all on. I wish I could write long reviews on all of these but alas a mini review will have to do:
Something from Tiffany’s
I must admit I didn’t love the plot of Something From Tiffany’s which you can watch over on Amazon Prime. It’s one of my least favorite of the romantic comedy tropes when the script forces people into emotional cheating to find love. That’s the case here with Kendrick Sampson and Ray Nicholson getting their Tiffany bags swapped- one bag that has an engagement ring causing all kinds of confusion.
Fortunately the movie still manages to work because of the charm of star Zoey Deutch and her terrific chemistry with Sampson. I just wish they had found another way for them to get to know each other than both cheating on their significant others. It makes it hard to root for the characters or their romance. Deutch certainly knows how to rock a red lip nd after Set It Up (which is a lot better) she may be our next rom-com star.
6 out of 10
X and Pearl
If you have followed my site for any period of time you know I’m not the biggest horror person but I have been trying to expand my palate in recent years. Since they seemed like important films from this year I finally watched Ti West’s new films X and Pearl and overall I was impressed with them. They have a unique perspective, are very well made and Mia Goth is outstanding in both.
I am not going to give a score to X because I fast forwarded through some of the porn scenes and I only review films I’ve completely watched but I watched enough to say it is a well made slasher with atmosphere and entertaining “kills”/scary sequences.
Pearl I did watch in totality so I can give a review. This is a very effective prequel, giving us the backstory of how the Pearl in X became a serial killer. It’s all wrapped up in old-school dreams of Hollywood with fantastical sequences and a monologue that should (but probably won’t) give Goth an Oscar nomination. Pearl is definitely one of the most memorable movies of 2022, and I’m glad I saw it.
Pearl gets an 8 out of 10
This one is a micro-budget indie crime noir film that does a lot with a little. Writer and director Kyle Schadt puts together an impressive thriller with almost no budget that can rival or even top the entertainment value of the big budget films we are seeing out of Netflix and Amazon. It tells the story of a man named Mosley (Benedikt Sebastian) who meets a woman named Zemira (Olivia Buckle) who unbeknownst to him is a bank robber on the run. Quite unwittingly he becomes involved in her affairs and everything gets crazy as they evade the law.
There are obviously some elements of the movie where you can feel the low budget but nothing that kept me from having a good time. If you like an edgy independent thriller where people are clearly trying to make something special give Toxic Impulses a try.
6 out of 10
White Noise is one of those movies I feel torn on. On one hand it has some very entertaining characters and moments. On the other hand, the plot is messy and I don’t understand why they needed to make Adam Driver’s character a Hitler studies expert. I realize that’s how he is in the novel but maybe in the novel they give a compelling reason (not that there is a good reason to be a Hitler studies expert). It just felt like such a strange choice.
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, I could feel him working out COVID and quarantine through this movie. The premise is a disaster (‘airborne toxic event) has caused the Gladney family to evacuate. Each of them grapples with this new reality in their own way until the disaster becomes literal and metaphorical for this family.
Like I said, I’m torn where to rate this one. (Stay around for the fun credits sequence)
5 out of 10
On my podcast, The Criterion Project, we have a pretentiousness scale where we rate how artsy or difficult to grasp the film we are talking about it (a thing that happens a lot on Criterion.) A lot of A24 films the rating would be quite high as they tend to have films outside of the mainstream. Their latest, Aftersun, definitely qualifies as pretentious in its pacing and lack of plot but it’s also quite mainstream in its sweet and endearing nature.
It’s a simple movie about a father and daughter who spend a holiday at a rundown resort in Turkey . Like I said, it doesn’t have much plot but the 2 lead performances are very likable and sweet and you find yourself rooting for this pair. I honestly could have used a little more story but its definitely a strong debut for writer director Charlotte Wells. I think if you are open to slice of life films at all you’ll enjoy Aftersun.
7 out of 10
I’ve never been as in love with Damien Chazelle as a lot of my friends are. I haven’t hated any of his films but they’ve all left me wanting particularly in the character development area. Now we have Babylon and this is even more the case here! Babylon is an unending parade of supposed excitement that instead becomes dull and predictable.
The film is mostly madness but I guess it’s about a bunch of people who are struggling to transition between silent films and talkies. I say I guess because the plot is barely there. Instead you get 188 minutes of cocaine fueled parties that feels like it will never end. Even the great cast like Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Jean Smart and Tobey Maguire cant make this film coherent and fun. It’s truly exhausting and I hated watching it.
3 out of 10
There you go! Let me know what you thought of these films. It’s certainly an eclectic group
Unlike most people I don’t remember the first Avatar merely for its astonishing visuals. No, my experience was more unique because it was actually the first movie I ever got evacuated from the theater in the middle of watching it. I was in California visiting my family, who lived there at the time, and went with my brother to see Avatar. In the middle of the movie the fire alarm went off and we were asked to evacuate the building. I think there was an actual fire in the kitchen area because they gave us a coupon to come back and see the rest of the movie, which I eventually did, and we left the theater.
I mention this experience only to say I have a nostalgia for the first film that most don’t have. It was a very memorable time at the theater! Anyway, as far as the actual movie Avatar goes I think it’s fine. It’s one of those movies that has been called overrated so much it’s actually become a little underrated. The visuals are outstanding and the story is serviceable. My main problem with it is it is too long for the love story it services. It’s often compared to Pocahontas and Fern Gully but both of those movies are under 90 minutes! This one stretches out to 162 minutes, which exposes its story problems and other weaknesses.
Now after 13 years of waiting James Cameron has finally given us a sequel with Avatar: The Way of Water. Like the original it is too long and bloated but its story resonated with me so much more this time. It still has the amazing visuals (and you all know I’m a sucker for the ocean so I loved all the water scenes!) but instead of a trite romance we have a beautiful story about family and surprisingly the refugee experience.
The sequel starts with Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) raising their family of 4 kids in Pandora. Their paradise is interrupted when the “sky people” attack and Jake and his family are forced to take refuge with the Metkayina or water clan led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet).
As we experience the astonishing visuals (truly astonishing) we also grow to love and care for this family and watch as they attempt to fit in with the Metkayina, defend their new home and get to know the beautiful whale creatures that are also under attack. I found the whole thing to be powerful and moving.
Like I said, Avatar: the Way of Water is too long and particularly the fight sequences start to drag. Anytime they go back to the ”sky people” with Edie Falco and Stephen Lang it begins to lose me.
Fortunately those moments didn’t last long and they would quickly come back to the family I cared about.
For the most part I’ve found the Oscar contenders this year to be underwhelming. So I was as surprised as anyone with how much I liked Avatar: the Way of Water. It truly was an astonishing cinematic experience I won’t soon forget.
Hey everyone! I am back to give you my thoughts on a bunch of recent movie releases. I wish I could do longer reviews on all of these but that isn’t possible. Here we go:
Not every film is a masterpiece. In fact, most aren’t. Most are base hits instead of homeruns. Devotion is a perfect example of a base hit. It tells the heart-tugging story of Korean War hero Jesse Brown who was the first Black aviator in Navy History. He is played by Jonathan Majors who perfectly captures the confidence yet awkwardness of the character. This is especially true when compared with his suave wingman and friend J.D. Dillard played by Glen Powell (despite the similar career the role is actually quite different than his aviator in Top Gun Maverick.)
Devotion definitely drags in the middle as the pilots get to know one another on both sea and land (they spend a day flirting with Elizabeth Taylor at one point in the script.) It picks up towards the end as we know things are likely not going to go well for our soldiers but it earns its emotions, is well made and acted and for a conflict we don’t know much about I’m glad I saw it.
6 out of 10
Food and Romance
Next on the docket comes out of Sweden and is a really sweet, pleasant romance called Food and Romance. Like Devotion, this doesn’t do anything new or exciting but what it does, it does well. It stars Marie Richardson as Karin who after 40 years of marriage ends up single and alone. To keep her spirits up she decides to take a cooking class, which is led by a grumpy unhappy chef named Henrik (Peter Stormare).
Of course they start up not liking each other but their bond grows as they cook together. That’s a very romantic concept and the 2 leads have lovely chemistry. The other classmates and friends are a lot of fun and it all makes for a delightful story of second chance romance.
7 out of 10
I think most of America is rooting for Brendan Frasier. I don’t know all the details but it seems like he was bullied out of Hollywood, faced hard times and is working his way back into films. He certainly has received loads of praise for Darren Aronfsky’s The Whale, and will probably be nominated for an Oscar for his performance, which is great. I’m happy for him.
That said, I did not enjoy The Whale. His performance is fine and honestly not as fat shamey as I feared. He tries to bring humanity to the 500 lb man named Charlie he plays in the film. Unfortunately the script surrounds him with people who are so mean that it becomes a frustrating experience.
I particularly hated Sadie Sink as his miserable, angry teenage daughter. I understand being a teenager is tough but so often they are portrayed as practical robots to their rage especially here. Any humanity to her character mostly feels imagined by Charlie more than a real attribute to her character.
The whole experience of watching The Whale was excruciating and it felt like it would never end. No thanks.
2 out of 10
All Quiet on the Western Front
Coming from Germany onto Netflix we have the latest telling of the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. It’s been a while since I read the book or saw the 1930 classic but this new version can still stand alone as a worthy adaptation. It’s a brutal watch that I’m not sure we needed but it’s certainly one of the most well made of any of the Oscar contenders I’ve seen.
The movie follows Paul Bäumer as he and his buddies join up for World War 1 with excitement and even glee. Quickly they learn what they have gotten themselves into and each dies one by one in the most brutal of all the conflicts (it must have been intense to watch the 1930 version when it was all so fresh in their minds.)
There isn’t much relief from the brutality of war here and like I said I’m not sure this gives us anything we haven’t seen before in movies like 1917 just a few years ago. Still it’s a harrowing reminder of the horrors of war and quite masterfully put together.
7 out of 10
An American Ballet Story
I’m a sucker for documentaries about art and artists. Even if others find them dry I like learning about creative minds and what goes into their artistic process. That’s essentially what we get with An American Ballet Story. It’s a documentary that tells the story of the Harkness Ballet and its founder Rebekah Harkness that changed the world of dance in the 1960s.
A documentary like this is somewhat constrained by the footage they have to use (and archival interviews they can find) and that is the case here. A lot of the images are grainy and not as clear of the dancers as we’d like to see but director Leslie Streit gets enough personal stories to keep the narrative going.
If you have any interest in dance or the arts you will enjoy this informative documentary.
Going into 2022 I can tell you one thing- I did not expect to prefer both DreamWorks films over both Pixar (and Disney) films and to be crowning one of them as my favorite movie of 2022…and yet here we are. Even more surprising is that film, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a sequel in a franchise that has well exceeded its welcome. This is why I always go into a movie hoping to be dazzled with what the filmmakers have to offer.
I’ve long said the match of Antonio Banderas with the character of Puss in Boots is one of the best uses of celebrity voices ever. This is not movie star stunt casting but a perfect match of voice to character. Banderas continues that tradition here voicing the famous feline to perfection. Giving just the right amount of moxie mixed with a little bit of fatigue from using all those lives.
In fact, Puss in Boots learns at the start of The Last Wish that he only has 1 more of his 9 lives left. Being accident-prone, he better get the most of his last life and learn to work with others before it’s too late.
One aspect that’s interesting about this film is that it actually has a lot of similarities with the recent GDT’s Pinocchio. Both deal with death and the afterlife as a theme, have a wood-spirit type creature that controls access to heaven, and both have stunning animation.
The only main difference is that GDT has songs and gets bogged down a little bit in the middle, sending Pinocchio to war. This is why I’d give The Last Wish the slight edge in my ranking (but both top 10 of the year at the moment).
Like I said, the animation is astonishing in The Last Wish. I am absolutely enamored by recent animation trends began by Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. The way the hybrid animation ebbs and flows between 2D and CG is breathtaking and makes every scene memorable – especially the action. When Puss in Boots is sliding across rooftops chasing people, it took my breath away.
But it’s not all action. We have meaningful conversations about what makes a worthy life, how we can recover from grief, and the importance of friendship. There’s also a lot of humor from Puss in Boots, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek.), and the selfish Goldilocks (Florence Pugh).
Looking at a movie like Puss in Boots: the Last Wish, I worry people will dismiss it as a cash-grab sequel, but you shouldn’t. Just the animation alone is worth the cost of admission, but the script by Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow is outstanding. I actually haven’t seen it on the big screen yet (saw screener link), but I can’t wait to do so. It’s a blast that I can’t recommend more completely.
9.5 out of 10
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Reviewing a movie like The Fabelmans is challenging because it’s clearly coming from such a personal loving place. It feels weird to be criticizing someone’s journey and basically saying ‘your story didn’t work for me.’ Alas, that is my job and what I have to do for this review of Steven Spielberg’s sentimental tale based on his own adolescence: The Fabelmans. I respect the effort and it has nice moments but as a whole the film rang flat and most of the endearing sections felt phony and inauthentic rather than moving.
The Fabelmans begins with young Sammy becoming inspired by a trip to the theater to see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. In particular, a train crash sequence blows Sammy’s mind and he asks for a train set for Hanukkah so he can attempt to recreate it using his Dads super 8 camera.
Sammy has a computer programming father (Paul Dano), an eccentric composer mother (Michelle Williams) and 2 sisters. He also has a friend of the family “uncle” Bennie (Seth Rogan) who both his Mother and Father seem equally attached to. We then follow the family in its highs and lows throughout Sammy’s childhood until he graduates high school and goes to work in Hollywood.
The best section of the movie happens at the end when Sammy gets to meet with director John Ford played by director David Lynch. He gives the young filmmaker some very sage advice on what makes an image art and how to turn a scene into true cinema.
Unfortunately there was far too few of these compelling scenes. Frequent Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski shoots everything in nostalgic sepia tones, which is sweet, but I would have liked to see the cinematography change as the decades wear on. It all felt a little samesies after a while.
Also I found Williams’ performance to be especially phony. It almost came across as a Mother version of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ rather than someone with a legit mental illness that needs help. She’s the perky one who believes in him instead of a real authentic human being.
Perhaps Spielberg was too close to this material to give it the nuanced script and direction it deserves? But then again most people seem to be loving it so what do I know? I thought I would love it because I love cheesy, wholesome films but I did not.
If you want something sweet and nostalgic from this year I recommend Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood.That worked so much better at creating authentic characters and moments I could relate with despite having grown up in the 80s rather than the 60s. I did enjoy the original score from John Williams in The Fabelmans and I think Sam Rechner and Oakes Fegley were strong as 2 of Sammy’s high school classmates. Other than that, this sentimental journey wasn’t for me.
Being an animation junkie there is always a sense of excitement whenever a new film premieres from Walt Disney Animation Studios. This is especially true when it is a new Disney musical like last year’s Encanto. That said, Disney, is one of those studios that tends to telegraph in advance when they are less than enthused about a new film, animated or live action.
Unfortunately this is definitely the case with their new 61st animated classic Strange World and even more unfortunate is their lack of enthusiasm is earned with a thoroughly underwhelming cinematic experience. Instead of being strange and exciting Strange World ends up being dull and mostly annoying. It’s a real disappointment because there is tons of unrealized potential here that director Don Hall failed to monopolize upon because of the weak and predictable script.
Let’s start out with the positives of Strange World. Like any Disney animated film the world building and animation is beautiful. I loved the colors and the 2D 1940s adventure reel style in the introduction.
I also thought the voice acting was fine, if unmemorable, and the dog Legend was very cute. The lgtbq representation is better executed than any previous Disney film, and I appreciate it being done well. However, the movie still has to be good around that representation and this just isn’t.
The problem is the very pedestrian script and the unlikable characters. We are supposedly following a family named the Clades as they explore a new “strange” land. Unfortunately the big reveal of what this land is made of is completely obvious from the beginning so it’s not that strange or new to film. We’ve seen films exploring this particular type of world in many other films and like I said it’s clear what it is from the first time we see the floating bridge they walk on we see in the trailers (trying hard not to spoil the reveal.)
We have 3 generations of Clades voiced by Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jaboukie Young-White, and they do almost nothing but argue the entire picture, and that’s just not what I want to see from my animated family films. Literally the most exciting part about this film is when they all get stuck in a closet and the dog has to help them out. That’s not great for a movie called Strange World.
I know animated films are hard to make and that a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this film but in the era of Into the Spiderverse and GDT’s Pinocchio you have to do better. It’s no surprise Strange World received the lowest Cinemascore of any Disney film ever. It’s not interesting or enchanting and the characters bickering the whole time makes for a thoroughly unpleasant experience. If you want my advice I say wait for Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (which is amazing) and watch this on Disney Plus or just watch Encanto for the 30th time with your family. This is certainly not a world I recommend. If you need an adventure honestly Atlantis or Treasure Planet, with their flaws, are better than this.
I’m not sure what inspired me to put the 1987 vampire flick The Lost Boys on my Blind Spot list this year. I think I have just been trying to go out of my comfort zone lately and it seemed like an approachable horror film I could try out. Now that I have seen it…I’m so glad I selected it! What an entertaining, enjoyable film, and really not that scary at all.
The Lost Boys is about a teen named Michael (Jason Patric who is so dreamy in this role!) who moves with his brother and mother to a beach town called Santa Clara. While there they become involved with a group of teen hoodlums that turn out to be a vampire gang. In this version of vampires you can be kind of a vampire, and a full fledged immortal vampire.
Kiefer Sutherland plays David the leader of the vampires and he and his friends know how to rock an 80s mullet. Director Joel Schumacher imbeds just enough camp to keep things engaging without going into the full-fledged silliness of his Batman movies of the 90s. These are definitely vampires that belong in an 80s hair metal band but again not complete caricatures.
I really enjoyed Corey Haim as Michael’s brother Sam and Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander as the Frog brothers who’s special skill is hunting down vampires.
You’d have to be very sensitive to be scared by The Lost Boys. They literally have scenes with bathtubs full of holy water (how did they make so much!) and they certainly got all the local grocery stores garlic supply especially for the ending. Again Schumacher keeps control of all of these details so it made me smile throughout.
If you are like me and need a break from the Christmas movies and awards films give this fun, 80s, teen horror movie a shot. I’m glad I did!
I know the original Knives Out had its detractors. A lot of my friends said it was ”overrated” or “nothing special” but I had a fun time with it. To me it was light fluffy entertainment well told and since we hadn’t gotten a mystery like that in some time it felt refreshing and new. Now in 2022 we seem to be having the year of the mystery with Death on the Nile, See How They Run, Only Murders in the Building and more to be released. I don’t know if this deluge of new entries in the genre has made me more critical of Glass Onion but let’s just say I went excited and left deflated. As far as viewing experiences go this supposed mystery is one of the worst ones I’ve had all year and one of the only times in a theater in the last few years I’ve been actively annoyed by what I’m watching. I know many seem to be enjoying Glass Onion but I thought it was terrible in just about every way.
Daniel Craig comes back to this sequel as detective Benoit Blanc but the rest of the cast is new. They have all been invited to a billionaire’s mansion on a private island to participate in a murder mystery party game. On paper this should be a fun setup for a mystery. They even make illusions to the board game Clue and the classic 1985 film it helped inspire.
The problem is the terrible script. Each scene is nothing but one exposition dump after another trying to make obvious revelations sound revelatory when we can all see them coming a mile away. I grew so bored listening to these bland people drone on and on about this Miles Bron guy and the supposed shenanigans happening around him. Neither the clues or the people were interesting or compelling, and I found myself getting both annoyed and bored as I watched. I even took a bathroom break because I was so disengaged I needed a break.
The characters also don’t help with each actor mugging it up before the camera especially Edward Norton as a Elon Musk-style tech billionaire. At least in the first one Ana de Armas’ character had some mystery to her, some allure we didn’t understand. In this Janelle Monae’s character is supposed to be the layered one we are rooting for but everything with her is so convoluted and takes forever to explain, that I lost interest. It takes an hour for any murders to happen and that’s a problem in a murder mystery!
Blanc doesn’t even solve the case in this film. He pushes someone else to solve it but that ended up giving us nothing but exposition from our lead character. The ending is meant to be clever, but I rolled my eyes hoping it would all be over soon. It wasn’t soon enough if you ask me.
So if you want an annoying, unending experience of a movie check out Glass Onion. Maybe it will be just your cup of tea? As for me, I’m glad it’s done and I can move on to something of quality to watch. It honestly felt like I was watching a bunch of famous people take a vacation in Greece and that’s not my idea of a good time. No thanks.