How Bong Joon Ho and ‘Parasite’ are Changing Cinema

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This weekend we have the 92nd annual Academy Awards for excellence in film in the year 2019. I gave my predictions for the Oscars a few weeks ago but since then the tide has been turning towards a surprise win for a South Korean film called Parasite. The film is directed by Bong Joon Ho and whether it wins or not what he has accomplished with his film is groundbreaking and will hopefully influence cinema for the better for many years to come.

Bong has directed and written 14 movies. He first burst onto the international scene in 2006 with the monster horror movie The Host. While it only made $2 million in the US it has $89 million worldwide, which on an $10 million budget isn’t too shabby. Next he had a strange arthouse film called Mother followed by an English language dystopian classic starring Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer in Snowpiercer.

In 2017 he made a film for Netflix in English called Okja starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and more. So what does he do next? He goes back to the Korean language and makes without question the most celebrated film of 2019, Parasite (that’s with an Oscar for best picture or not). This was a bold choice for the director and shows a confidence in his product that I admire. He could have made Parasite in English with American actors but he used his building credibility to showcase his home country and language in a special and important way.

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After winning the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, Bong said:

“Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”

Some may call it wishful thinking but I think he has a real chance of making this dream come true with many filmgoers who saw and enjoyed Parasite. I have rarely seen a film get both the praise of the highbrow film crowd and the everyday filmgoer. Almost everyone I know loves Parasite. It’s the most unexpected crowd-pleaser in years!

This is especially significant for a film not in English but also for one that has a socio-political message. As great as his directing is on the film, his deft and subtle hand in his screenplay is perhaps his greatest achievement. He crafts characters that do lots of unlikable things and yet you are rooting for them the whole time- at least for me that’s true with both the poor and rich families.

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We are even getting a version of Parasite in black and white coming to theaters this weekend. I am beyond excited to see that! Indeed, there is so much to be excited about with the film and like Bong said it could provide ripple effects in the embrace of non-English films for years to come. Even if we could open people’s minds to films from South Korea, India and Nigeria you’re talking hundreds, maybe even thousands of films each year to enjoy and discuss!

This impact will be heightened even more so if Parasite does pull off the best picture win and there’s reasons that it might. It has already won the big prize at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards as well as awards at the Golden Globes, BAFTAS and more. Betting odds have been improving for Sam Mendes’ 1917 for the past month, but they also did in the buld-up for last year’s foreign-language favorite Roma, right up until the moment the more crowd pleasing Green Book took the top prize instead.

Fortunately Parasite doesn’t have the same problem of Roma because it’s both incredibly accessible and entertaining, so anything is possible!

I know I am certainly pulling for Parasite to win. What do you think? Does it have a chance and has it impacted your experience with foreign films? Do you think it will have a ripple effect for more acceptance of subtitled films?

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[REVIEW] ‘Quezon’s Game’

Sometimes it seems like every story about WWII has been told. It’s a particularly cinematic war because the heroes and villains are easy to separate (or at least on the surface it is). Nevertheless, I am always amazed to find new movies about the conflict, with new and fresh takes. Such is the case with the film Quezon’s Game, which is getting a US release starting this Friday. The film has problems but overall it’s a moving piece of history I was unfamiliar with.

When watching Quezon’s Game it is important to remember it was made on a tiny budget. As a result, it has the feel of a TV movie and not even a high budget Hallmark TV movie. (Quezon’s budget is $500,000 US where a typical Hallmark movie is around $2 million). It will be up to individual viewers whether the admittedly cheap looking production values keep them from enjoying the story but as I am quite accustomed to TV movies it didn’t bother me.

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The story is what I found compelling. Quezon’s Game tells the true tale of Philippine President Manuel L Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing). In 1938 he was presented with an opportunity to help 1200 Jewish refugees trying to escape the impending horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. This was a difficult decision for Quezon because the Phillipines had not gained independence from The United States at that point  the US had already refused to take in refugees.

President Quezon is definitely presented here as a hero and the Philippines as a country is shown in bold nationalistic strokes but I was fine with that. I enjoy heroic, inspirational stories and figure every nationality and culture deserves to have their historical heroics portrayed from time to time on the big screen. The main lead performances of Bagatsing as Manuel and Rachel Alejandro as his wife work quite well. You can see him wanting to be a better man but worrying about the consequences. Of course, this makes his eventual triumph all the more meaningful because he had doubts.

Unfortunately, most of the supporting performances stand out and not in a good way. Many of the line readings come off as clunky and inauthentic. Again, it feels more like a TV movie instead of a feature film and that’s a problem. The film is also too long and could benefit from at least 20 minutes being hacked out.

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Enjoyment of Quezon’s Game will depend a lot on your tolerance for its level of production design and acting. I am someone who cares most about story so I found myself more than willing to forgive the problems. You can probably wait and rent it but if you want to learn more about a fascinating piece of WW2 history give this a watch.

6 out of 10

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Thoughts on the Oscar Best Picture Nominees

This Monday January 13th movie fans held their breath in excitement as the nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced in Hollywood. One can certainly argue that too much time and energy is put into the Oscars but it is also a nice way to look back at the year in film and hopefully honor some of the strong films released by both big and small studios. This year I have actually seen all of the nominees for Best Picture, so I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on each film and what chances each film has to win.

86th Annual Academy Awards - Red Carpet

Ford v Ferrari

I am thrilled to see an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser like Ford v Ferrari get nominated for Best Picture. What’s great about Ford v Ferrari is that it is not just an underdog racing movie (which is a genre I LOVE!) but it is also a wonderful movie about friendship. Christian Bale is excellent as Ken Miles and Matt Damon is great as his bewildered colleague Carroll Shelby. I loved all the supporting cast especially Noah Jupe and Caitriona Balfe as Bales’ son and wife respectfully. The film is a little too long but it’s a highly entertaining watch. I do think it is a long shot to win and comes in at 9th place in my prediction ranking.

Little Women

This new version of Little Women has become quite a part of my life lately. I have seen it twice, written my review, and then been on 2 separate podcasts where I discussed and ranked it. I really enjoyed this take on the classic story of Little Women. In particular the non-linear storytelling (which I usually hate) really worked to help make each sisters choices more valid especially Amy and Laurie. I loved all the performances and filmmaking choices like costumes, production design etc. The script got a little too cute at times and I would have preferred they used 2 Amys but it is still one of my favorites films of the year. Unfortunately with Greta Gerwig getting snubbed for Best Director the odds for it winning Best Picture are small and it is at 8th place in my prediction ranking.

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JoJo Rabbit-

Writing satire is probably the most difficult type of screenwriting. The line between clever skewering of society and an unfunny piece in poor taste is incredibly difficult. Director and writer Taika Waititi managed to do just that with his film JoJo Rabbit where we learn that even the worst of ideologies can be driven out of someone (especially a child) by the power of human connection. I laughed. I cried. I was delighted and I recommend anyone watch it and experience something unique at the theater. However, because the subject matter and approach is not for everyone it is unlikely to win and gets 7th place in my prediction rating.

The Irishman-

Upon its release I was one of the few detractors on Martin Scorsese’s epic mob film The Irishman. There is much to admire in the film especially the terrific period detail and performances. My issue is the story and characters. The lead character Frank Sheeran is an admitted soldier for the mafia, meaning he doesn’t have a lot of moral questioning of what he is asked to do. He dutifully follows orders. It isn’t until the last 30 minutes of a very long movie that introspection happens and things become interesting. It was too little too late and the ponderous pacing made it a tough watch. As far as predictions, The Irishman was a clear favorite back in November, but with the length being a factor, DeNiro not getting nominated, and a general overall lack of awards season buzz all make it an unlikely winner and ultimately 6th place in my prediction ranking.

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Marriage Story-

I must admit I put off watching the new drama Marriage Story from writer/director Noah Baumbach. The idea of seeing a couple go through something as horrible as divorce for 2 hours sounded very unpleasant especially during the holidays. However, I finally watched it and it’s very well done. The writing feels authentic to the characters and I appreciate the script doesn’t pick sides for the male or the female. The acting is tremendous; although, I’m a bit baffled at the awards love being shown to Laura Dern who is fine but nothing extraordinary if you ask me. I think the movie is just too small in scope to win the big prize without a surprise win like Moonlight had a few years ago so it is 5th place in my prediction ranking.

Joker-

Another movie I put off watching is Todd Phillips origin story of Joker. I was pretty sure with the tone and violence it wouldn’t be my taste and after what happened with Shazam I wasn’t interested in facing the angry mob unless I had to for having an opinion. Once it got nominated I watched it and it’s not for me. Basically the Arthur of the film lives in a dystopian where everyone is underhanded, unkind, cruel and bitter. His story wasn’t interesting to me because there never was a valid option for him to chose a different path. Of course he is going to become a supervillain if everyone treats him like complete garbage. This is not a world I connect with or agree with but I’m not a cynical person. Nevertheless, many do seem to enjoy the film and it got the most nominations, so it could win. However, there’s enough backlash and enough comicbook/blockbuster stigma to prevent it. I have it at 4th place in my prediction ranking.

parasite

Parasite-

If I was going to predict a surprise win it would be Parasite. The South Korean thriller by director Bong Joon Ho is the consensus favorite for almost everyone I know. Whether film snob on twitter or everyday moviegoer, we all seem to love Parasite and that’s because it’s a great film. It is entertaining, enlightening, surprising and has something to say without beating you over the head with it. I also think the preferential voting system of the Oscars could help Parasite out the most because even if some don’t have it first almost everyone will have in their top 3. It could be the Green Book of 2020. The downside is some may feel a win in International Film is enough for it and a subtitled film has never won Best Picture before and that is a barrier for some voters. This is why I have it at 3rd place in my prediction ranking.

1917-

These last 2 are very tough to decide between when it comes to predictions. 1917 is an incredible, immersive experience telling the story of 2 soldiers in World War 1 as they attempt to deliver a message across the trenches. It is set up like one take and you really feel like you are there with the soldiers which I found emotionally exhausting and moving. I highly recommend seeing it in the theater if at all possible. It just won the Golden Globe so if it wins Best Picture I won’t be surprised at all but I think the Academy voters are just narcissistic enough to pick the movie which is all about them instead. That makes 1917 in 2nd place in my prediction ranking.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-

In director Quentin Tarantino’s latest film he does a lot of things right to peak Oscar interest. First of all, he gets a top notch cast with Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. Then he has the film set in Hollywood and it be an alternate history of the life of a tragic figure Sharon Tate. You portray the struggle of being famous and a washed up star, which Hollywood loves (hello Birdman...). You have enough gratuitous violence and humor while showing off Los Angeles in 1969, you’ve got yourself a Best Picture winner. I enjoyed the film well enough but thought it was quite self indulgent especially in the long, excessive driving scenes that went nowhere. This isn’t the best film of the year in my opinion but I think it strokes all of the voters ego enough to win Best Picture and it is my top prediction!

So there you have it!  What do you think of the 9 nominees? Have you seen them? Do you think they are worthy choices or do you feel something better was left out? Let me know and what would you prediction ranking be for the winner? Let me know in the comments!

 

Current Mini Reviews

Hello readers! I hope you are  all having a better start to the new year than I am. Unfortunately today I am sick with a wicked case of a sinus infection/virus. In fact, I didn’t get to go to the Doctor Dolittle screening this morning because I was so worried I would fall asleep/cough throughout the film. Nevertheless, I have 3 recent films I need to update you all on my thoughts so here goes.

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Like a Boss

Hollywood sure seems to struggle in understanding women. So much of what they make for female audiences feels out of touch with any kind of women I know or interact with. For example, so many seem to suggest women spend way more time worrying about their makeup than most do. Most women have a makeup routine and every once in a while try something new and that’s it.

I was one of the only people who liked 2018’s I Feel Pretty (also set in the world of cosmetics and beauty) because at least it had a little bit of a whimsy which appealed to me. But even I will admit the parts involving the beauty industry and supposed female empowerment fell very flat.

Now we have the latest entry, Like a Boss, starring Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish who run (you guessed it) a makeup company. I actually didn’t hate this movie. It had some laughs with Haddish and Byrne hanging out with their girlfriends  (an authentic relatable situation and probably helped by improv).

However, all the elements involving business fell flat especially Salma Hayek as an over-the-top beauty mogul. It is not surprising this film is written and directed by men because the complexities of the female experience in business as presented are so reductive and cringe-worthy. I’m not saying a movie like this needs to be realistic but come on? They can do better than this.

Even though I did laugh at the friends scenes in Like A Boss, I can’t recommend you spend the big bucks to go see it in the theater. Go see one of the awards caliber films in theaters instead.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Underwater

Next up we have another movie I didn’t hate but was pretty meh on: Underwater. This has its fair share of positives including a good performance by Kristen Stewart. They also do a great job in creating atmosphere with cool production and sound design. Everything felt on the same level as Ad Astra last year in that regard. I also liked that the action gets going right away without feeling a need for backstory or exposition to set up the world.

The problem with Underwater is it felt uneven in the storytelling. One minute the creatures would be attacking and then the next they’d be more quiet and observant. One minute Kristen Stewart would be fighting for her life and the next she’d be back on the ship looking through a locker. It felt like some needed transitions were cut in the editing room.

It is also a very derivative film of movies like Alien which takes some of the edge off of certain scenes. There’s definitely a feeling of ‘we’ve been there done all this before and better’.

Still if you see this airing on cable it’s not a terrible watch but I don’t think I can recommend watching it on the big screen. (Also the excuses they have to get Kristen Stewart in her bra and panties for long segments feels a little gratuitous and absurd).

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Marriage Story

To be perfectly frank I have been putting off seeing the critically acclaimed film Marriage Story despite it being available to watch for several months. Especially at Christmas time the idea of watching a film about divorce did not sound appealing at all.

Well, now I have seen the film and while it isn’t my type of movie it is worthy of praise. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both excellent as our feuding couple and the script doesn’t pick sides on the divorce. They are both petty and passionate all at the same time.

I’m a little confused at the high praise being given to Laura Dern for her performance as Scarlett’s attorney. She was perfectly fine in the role, but I didn’t see anything outstanding or Oscar-worthy but that’s just me. I do think it would be interesting to see this story from the perspective of people who can’t afford $25,000 retainers for their attorneys. Like what about a divorce between a couple who run a failing convenience story or are both teachers? That might be easier to relate with than these directors/actors.

But nevertheless, it’s a good film. I particularly liked Adam Driver singing ‘Being Alive’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Company both because I love that song but also I had no idea he could sing (what can’t the man do?).

I am sure if you have been through a divorce Marriage Story will have more emotional resonance. As for me it is good, just not a favorite or something I will ever watch again.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] Cats: It’s Cats Singing and Dancing

Adaptations of Broadway musicals are a tough nut to crack. Due to fears of box office losses typically the movies come many years after the initial hype of the shows. Then to make matters worse, film directors often seem to have  a difficult time translating the energy of a musical show into a film. It’s a really strange phenomenon and it makes me wonder if the best is movie to Broadway (Mean Girls, Heathers, Beetlejuice, etc) rather than musical to movie.

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The latest attempt is one of the longest running shows in the history of Broadway: the strange Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. In the musical, ALW takes an epic poem by T.S. Eliot and adds songs. The problem is the poem is not very cinematic. It’s all introductions of various cats all leading to the jellicle ball. While there, the ‘jellicle choice’ is made. So literally we spend time getting to know cat A and then cat B until the cat Old Deuteronomy  (Judi Dench) decides which cat deserves to ‘ascend to the heavens for a new life’.

Fortunately where the narrative in Cats isn’t the best, the singing and dancing is enjoyable. I actually got used to the unique visual style very quickly and found songs like ”Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ to be catchy. I also liked ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ and ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’.  They even have trained ballet dancers Francesca Hayward as Victoria and Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks.

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Of course. the highlight of Cats is ‘Memory’ sung by Jennifer Hudson. She is such a powerful singer, and I thought she knocked it out of the park.

I also appreciated with Cats seeing something different. Everything is to scale so the cats look like the size of a normal cat. I personally have never seen a movie like that so it was a neat experience at the theater.

Taylor Swift as Bombalurina in Cats, co-written and directed by Tom Hooper.

The downsides to Cats is because it has so little narrative the pacing suffers. Especially the middle is slow, and I got sleepy watching it. It almost seems like it would be better as a short or a series of youtube sing-alongs rather than a movie. There is just not enough meat on the bones for a feature film.

I was also not a fan of Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots or her song with mice and cockroaches (a step too far! I hate cockroaches!). James Corden as Bustopher Jones was also pretty annoying but I’m in general not a fan of his.

Sir Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat is probably the strangest of the group with his method acting song.  Taylor Swift fans will probably be disappointed that her character Bombalurina takes a long time to show up and only has one song in the film and another in the closing credits.

I think people expecting something super bonkers will be a little disappointed in Cats. It’s unusual but not something like Pottersville where you are just completely baffled the entire time.

I wish the choice to make it a stop motion animated film had happened with Cats. That would have been amazing. Alas this version is fun enough for a musical theater junkie. The songs are well done and the dancing is impressive. All the actors are trying their hardest and the visual style is unique. It’s far from perfect but take your other Broadway fan friends and go watch something different with some catchy tunes. You’ll have a good time or at least my friend and I did!

5 out of 10

Smile Worthy Barely

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[REVIEW] ‘Star Wars Ep 9: ‘The Rise of Skywalker’: Corny Fun Space Adventure to End the Saga

My Star Wars Background-

(I tried my best to keep this spoiler free but if you are someone who wants to know literally nothing about the film than see the movie first).

Sitting down to write this review of  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker feels like a hopeless endeavor. If I like it than I am a Disney shill. If I hate it than I’m a nostalgia tinged hater. However, I am going to show some confidence in you my readers and trust that you will be reasonable.

Let’s start out talking about what I want from a Star Wars movie. My favorite from the series is the original film now titled Star Wars Ep 4: A New Hope. I get that Empire Strikes Back is the deeper entry with stunning cinematography and quite possibly the best twist in the history of film. I just happen to think that A New Hope is more of a good time. A New Hope is an adventure that makes me want to stand up and cheer as the good guys blow up the death star! I like getting to know our characters and keeping the narrative small and succinct.

Being I watch Star Wars to have a rousing space adventure you can imagine my disappointment in the last few entries from Disney. I didn’t care for Rogue One and especially didn’t like Star Wars Ep 8: The Last Jedi (Solo: A Star Wars Story was entertaining but was hurt by the most annoying droid in the history of Star Wars L3). I know some people love it but I disagreed with most of the choices they made especially with how they treated Luke and Leia. To be honest it bummed me out.

Rise of Skywalker-

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All that said, let’s talk about the new film Star Wars Ep 9: The Rise of Skywalker. As is expected with Star Wars these days some people will not like this film, and I can understand why. It’s a flawed, messy film but it recaptures the spirit of adventure I love in Star Wars. There’s a corny innocence to the film I missed in The Last Jedi and it made me happy watching it.

Just as in A New Hope there are a lot of moments in Rise of Skywalker that will make you want to cheer as good defeats evil and our scrappy band of resistance fighters are aided at just the right moment. That kind of action and comradery is Star Wars to me.  Again to use A New Hope as an example it is full of cheesy lines, obvious heroes and villains and it even ends with a medal ceremony for the good guys.

rise of skywalker4

That’s the kind of spirit Rise of Skywalker aims for and achieves. Defenders of The Last Jedi will probably be disappointed because a lot of that film is retconned. Honestly I think you hardly need to watch it any more. At the very least almost every divisive element is either forgotten about or barely touched on, which was fine by me!

They also did a great job handling the passing of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Through mostly leftover scenes from The Force Awakens they were able to make her a bigger part that I anticipated and it was a nice way to leave her after my frustrations with her treatment in The Last Jedi.

They also try their best to wrap everything up from 9 movies (an impossible task) and throw in a lot of fan service, which the most part, I enjoyed. For example, the ewoks make a brief appearance for no reason except to say to fans ‘oh look at those fun ewoks’. I know some will be annoyed by this but I thought it was fun. This whole movie was corny, light, energetic Star Wars.

It’s a Lot of Plot

rise of skywalker

The downside to Rise of Skywalker is there are a lot of characters and plot. For example, just in villains there is Kylo Ren, Hux, Palpatine and General Pryde played by Richard E Grant. Tons of pre-existing characters  get storylines and we have new characters like Zorri Bliss played by Kerri Russell or Jannah played by Naomi Ackle who make no impression and seem superfluous to the story.

Lando, Chewie, C3PO, Leia, Rey, Kylo Ren, Poe, Finn, Hux, Palpatine, the list goes on all have storylines and it feels crowded for one movie. You also don’t have as long to enjoy a moment because you are swifted off to the next plotpoint that must be wrapped up at the end of the film.

Even though I enjoyed the corniness there are definitely some reveals that push the limit, and I am sure do not hold up under deep scrutiny (expect many a raging fan video to come out about A LOT in this movie and they won’t be wrong).

An Era is Done

However, Rise of Skywalker was still a fun adventure where the good guys beat the bad guys with great music, energetic action and brisk pacing which kept me engaged. They retconned what I wanted  and ended the Skywalker saga in a place I am happy with.

Again, it’s not perfect but it’s a pretty entertaining time at the movies, so I’m satisfied.

7 out of 10

smile worthy

 

[REVIEW] ‘Black Christmas’: A Lump of Coal for Horror Fans

black christmas4

Let me state upfront that I am by no means a fan of the horror genre. However, I am a fan of Christmas movies, and am trying to expand my palette as a critic. So when I heard that the remake of Black Christmas was coming out and it was PG13 I jumped at the chance to see it. Unfortunately jumping out of my comfort zone was not rewarded as I was presented with a sloppy, poorly written, unfunny film that evidently has little to nothing to do with the original 1974 classic.

I know there are some women who connected with this film and found watching it to be a cathartic experience for their own suffering at the hands of men. That is not my experience in life and it certainly isn’t my experience with this movie. In fact, from my perspective the movie waters down the stories of women so we are no longer unique beings with different opinions, tastes and experiences. Instead, it’s like we are all made from a mold that’s been approved by feminist think tanks.

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What particularly annoyed was a character who is viewed as the traitor of the women, only to be then rejected by the men she so stupidly followed. She dared to go against the correct definition of femininity and paid the price! All the characters who question the activist character suffer in the end. In fact, it’s kind of interesting that a film with such overtly political messages would also have so little actual diversity of thought…

All the men in this film are problematic and all the women are expected to respond to the men in the same way. I kept thinking of the quote from the new Little Women when Meg says ‘just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t make them less important’. This film tries to stand as a feminist mantra to young women but what about the tomboy or the shy girl who doesn’t want to be a kick-butt female against the evil men? At least last year’s Anna and the Apocalypse had some variety of men and women fighting zombies!

black christmas3

The other problem with Black Christmas is it isn’t scary at all, and I’m a super horror movie wimp. If I’m not scared that’s really bad. Most of the kills come to people we don’t care about and in ways that don’t provide any real dread. Everything is so predictable and bland that it’s not entertaining as some kind of escapist revenge feminist fantasy. It’s actually kind of dull.

Watching Black Christmas reminded me of a cheap knock off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s like they got to female empowerment and stopped. For a movie to be empowering we have to be presented with characters we care about, with dialogue that feels authentic to those characters. Otherwise we can read an article or watch a documentary and be done with it. Fiction needs to draw us in with more than just a message.

Black Christmas fails because of its sloppy script, poor production values and total lack of scares. Avoid it and support female stories with rich and dynamic characters. 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Babadook or the Happy Death Day movies are 3 recent examples that do a far better job. Even Coraline does a much better job of showing a layered interesting female character in a horror environment. Check them out instead.

Also if you want a truly feminist film watch the documentary Maiden from this year.

1 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Spies in Disguise’: More Spies, Less Birds

If you are a follower to this site you know I have a special place in my heart for Blue Sky Animation Studios. Aside from the Ice Age films they have consistently put out films that are bold and ambitious. I particularly think their films Epic and Robots are very underrated and anyone knows of my love for The Peanuts Movie.

So now we get their latest offering called Spies in Disguise and it’s a film I have been very nervous about. The trailers have not been great and with Disney acquiring Blue Sky in the 20th Century Fox merger I fear the studio will be dissolved if they have a big flop. To make matters worse it’s being released at a very busy time with Jumaji: The Next Level and Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker opening along with Cats and Little Women. Plus, Frozen 2 is still going strong.

Anyway, now that I’ve seen the film what do I think? It’s ok. Kid’s will like it but it lacks that boldness I so admire in Blue Sky and I still worry it is going to be a big flop.

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The biggest appeal to Spies in Disguise is Will Smith. He does a great job voicing Lance Sterling, ‘the world’s most awesome spy’. Tom Holland is fine as his nerdy sidekick. When the 2 characters are in spy mode it’s a lot of fun and it reminded me of a similar dynamic between Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the first Men in Black movie.

I also thought the action set pieces were well done with some very fast animation and engaging character designs. Kids will get a kick out of it especially the scenes with glitter grenades. There’s a nice message to the film about loyalty, hard work and trying to use non-violent methods whenever possible.

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However, the problem with this movie is the pigeons. I liked the sequences with the humans way better than with the birds. It seemed like the birds was merely there for cheap humor and the story and fun action stalled whenever they were on screen. All that personality we’ve built up with Lance Sterling was missing and instead we have a pigeon.

Going along with the pigeons the humor mostly didn’t work for me. It will entertain kids just fine but it’s pretty puerile if you ask me. There’s a particular part where they have a lot of laughs over the fat rolls of a passed out villain character that gets old fast.

I also felt some of the voice casting was strange. Like why have Reba McEntire voice the agency director? She has such a recognizable voice it is distracting to hear it coming out of a boss character. Also what is DJ Khaled doing in this movie? No thank you!

Nevertheless, Spies in Disguise is a perfectly serviceable action movie for kids. I worry that it will not be enough to save Blue Sky, but I hope I am proven wrong.

If you get to see Spies in Disguise let me know what you think.

6 out of 10

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Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! Merry Christmas! I hope you are all doing well. As you all know I am deeply ensconced in all things Christmas right now with my work on the Hallmarkies Podcast. I have currently watched and reviewed 85 Christmas movies with 2 more weeks to go! It’s a lot of work but it is also very rewarding.

This naturally hasn’t left me a ton of time to write about the feature films I’ve been seeing (yes still making time to go to screenings). So, I hope you will forgive me for doing one of my current mini reviews posts and hopefully I will be able to expound upon them at a future date. There are just only so many hours in the day for one human to work and write about movies! 🙂

FROZEN II

I will obviously be writing more on Frozen II including my Disney Canon analysis but here is my youtube review. Basically I really enjoyed Frozen II. I loved how the story made Elsa and Anna deal with the messy truth of their parents and how they treated the people in the midst. I loved Elsa and Anna’s struggles to understand each other and thought the music was incredible. I am particularly in love with Jonathan Groff singing ‘Lost in the Woods’. The animation is stunning and the voice acting is outstanding. The plot has a few problems but overall I was very entertained by it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Klaus

Speaking of youtube reviews I also recorded my review of the new Netflix animated film Klaus (see above) and boy did I love this movie. It’s basically an origin story of Santa Claus with 2D animation (a Rachel movie if I’ve ever heard it!) Going into it I thought it would be similar to Santa in Rise of the Guardians (which is a movie I love) but it actually proved to be quite different. Santa here is a wounded person who is closer to the father in Song of the Sea than our typical jolly old St Nick. I loved the journey of all the characters. I loved the 2D animation and how director Sergio Pablos used light and music to create tone. If you haven’t seen it you really should. I just wish I could see it in the theater! 🙁

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Good Liar

good liarI often jokingly talk in my reviews about the new demographic of ‘old people movies‘. This is a new category where Hollywood makes movies starring in and for senior citizens. The new movie The Good Liar is probably the most violent of the entries in this category but it’s an entertaining enough little caper. Helen Mirren stars as a retired professor who meets a charming bachelor played by Ian McKellen. The 2 begin dating, and it turns out they are both not what we initially believe them to be. I will say this movie requires a major suspension of belief as each reveal gets more ridiculous than the next. But if you can take that leap there’s fun to be had and the acting is of course top notch. It all makes for an entertaining if silly ride. (The film does earn its R rating so be prepared)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

1917

1917

I really want to write more about 1917 because it is an incredible experience but for now this will have to do.  In what is definitely one of the best movies of the year, director Sam Mendes has created a war film that completely absorbed me and left me an emotional mess afterwards. It reminded me a lot of Hacksaw Ridge which is another film I love. Both this and Hacksaw focus on one human amidst the horrors of war and leave you rooting for this person’s success.

In 1917, Roger Deakin’s incredible cinematography makes us feel like we are seeing one shot photography, which is more than just a gimmick. It makes the viewer feel like they are the 3rd person in this risky mission across No Man’s Land in World War 1. It is violent but I was rooting for the characters and riveted by every turn in their journey. Definitely seek this film out. It’s worth the investment and you will leave inspired.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Jumanji: the Next Level-

jumanji-the-next-level

I enjoyed 2017’s Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle. It was a terrific way to do a remake of a beloved film. It has the bones of the classic but it’s own story and take on the world. More importantly it was funny. I will forgive a lot of problems in a story if I am laughing. This is where we run into problems with the sequel Jumanji: The Next Level: it’s not very funny. Or rather I should say, it has a few funny jokes they tell over and over again; thereby, weakening their impact.

This Jumaji film isn’t awful. The action set pieces are fun and the cast can be likable. However, there’s nothing new here. It’s like they got to old people jokes and gave up. Danny Glover and Danny Devito are fun enough but pretty cliched. Awkwafina is given nothing to do and Nick Jonas isn’t brought on until late in the 2nd act. I also did not appreciate the excessive profanity thrown in for no reason. It did nothing for the characters or story and makes it so I cannot recommend it as a harmless family adventure film. My advice is watch Dora and the Lost City of Gold instead. It had all the adventure and humor Jumanji: The Next Level fails to bring.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Playmobil: The Movie-

playmobil

Most followers of this site probably know about the epic failure at the box office that is Playmobil: the Movie. However, box office is not everything so I went to see this film yesterday with an open mind. Unfortunately cinema-goers didn’t see this film for a reason. The problem is there are too many ideas. At each turn we are presented with new characters, worlds, villains, motivations, and more. It becomes overwhelming. The film feels very shouty and especially the music did not work at all. I don’t even think small children will like it because most of the jokes are about dating, marriage and other adult topics. It feels like they put 1000 ideas into a bucket and picked one out each week to create the script. It so doesn’t work despite the animation being fine and the action quickly paced. Playmobil: the Movie is a definite skip.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Bombshell-

bombshell2

Bombshell is a bit of an oddity of a film. It’s an attempt to tell a story about conservative women who stick up for themselves. This is very unusual for typically liberal Hollywood, and I think that’s a great thing. If movements like #metoo are going to work we need to tell all women’s stories not just the ones Hollywood agrees with on politics. Some people will not be able to get over the fact that Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly work for Fox News but that wasn’t an issue for me. The makeup on Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman is incredible. Really all the casting is spot on. They all look so close to the original people!

I was drawn into the story of Bombshell but I do think there are some problems. I understand the need for the fictional Margot Robbie character as an amalgamation of a bunch of women (and telling Gretchen’s story she couldn’t tell because of settlements) but it felt inconsistent and inauthentic. Also there is something about the production and direction that felt on a made for TV level. I love made for TV movies but I expect a film with such performances to feel a little more cinematic. Still overall I enjoyed Bombshell and recommend seeing it for the story and acting.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There you have it! My quick updates on what I have been watching at the theater. If you have seen any of these films let me know what you think. Thanks!