[REVIEW] ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’

If you have been following this blog for any amount of time you know I am a tough critic when it comes to the Disney live action remakes. A few I like (Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) but most are bland at best. However, there’s a special level of hatred in my heart for 2014’s supposed reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty called Maleficent. I hated pretty much every decision that film made, so you can imagine my hesitancy when they announced a sequel for this year, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. But I pride myself on keeping an open mind for EVERY film. So, I went to see it today, and left with surprisingly mixed feelings.

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First, let’s talk about the positives. Maleficent: The Mistress of Evil is not a cash grab. It is obvious the creators tried their best to improve upon the original film in almost every way. To begin with, the production design is far better. The original felt like a bland CGI world I’ve seen a million times. In contrast, this film has beautiful cinematography and world building, which felt fresh and original. I particularly loved a long sequence in a nest where everything was monochromatic: filled with beautiful grays and whites woven as background for the bat-like Maleficent. Also, all of the costumes and make-up were stunning. Some of the best I’ve seen all year.

For the first act of the movie I was actually digging the film. It starts out as a fantasy version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which was weird and different. As opposed to the original, which felt like an apology and bastardization of Sleeping Beauty (especially the fairies! How dare they!), this film felt alive with its own lore and story. The acting was also much better especially from Michelle Pfeiffer and Elle Fanning who is actually given something to do as Aurora.

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Unfortunately this is where my positives stop. Once we have our basic setup of Maleficent vs Pfeiffer the movie begins to falter. Where the dinner scene was surreal and strange, most of the remaining second half is a bland fantasy war movie. It reminded me of the war scene in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which I hate, except it went on much longer. Despite being pretty, the story dragged, and Maleficent becomes a character who is acted upon more than she acts. Most of the time she is moping around waiting for other people to do things, so she can either sulk or acquiesce to their ideas.

I also was puzzled by the tone and audience Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (the title is so dumb by the way) is going for? The battle gets intense including a scene that is gas chamber-like for our heroes. I don’t think kids will find this entertaining nor are adults invested enough in the lore to be engrossed. I never watched Game of Thrones, but I know enough about it to spot the many times Hollywood has tried to capture the themes and aesthetics of that series, and this is definitely one of those films (there is even a long sequence with a dragon…)

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It’s a real bummer because if they had kept the strange tone of the early scenes I could have had a surprise hit. I don’t even see why the war plotline is necessary? Why not have a movie about Aurora trying to plan a wedding with Maleficent and Pfeiffer bickering the whole time? That would have been amazing. As it is, we got a impressive looking war movie that loses its guts midway through.

I wanted to go fresh because I do appreciate the obvious attempt to improve upon the ‘Maleficent turning into the victim of a man’ nonsense of the original film, but that second half was too dull and derivative for me to recommend. Maybe give it a rental if curious? Otherwise, I’d say pass on this fairy story.

Frown Worthy

4.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Lucy in the Sky’

Anyone who reads my reviews knows I am not a strict literalist when it comes to cinematic adaptations of true stories. I am on record of enjoying both Green Book and The Greatest Showman. However, both of those films offered entertainment that made up for some problematic elements. Unfortunately, in the case of the new film, Lucy in the Sky, this is not the case. Despite a good lead performance by Natalie Portman, this new film loosely based on the experiences of astronaut Lisa Nowak is a big case of wasted potential.

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In Lucy in the Sky, Lisa is turned into Lucy Cola, a recently returned astronaut who struggles to come to grip with life on Earth after being in space. Everything that gave her joy in the past like her marriage to her husband Drew (Dan Stevens) now feels bland and empty. In an attempt to regain the sense of adrenaline of space she becomes increasingly reckless. She participates in risky training exercises like holding her breath for over 2 minutes under water, she gets drunk, she steals a gun from her Grandmother and finally she starts an affair with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm).

Natalie Portman does a good job playing Lucy and the film captures the spiraling feeling of a panic attack but it doesn’t help us to understand Lucy’s choices very well. When it does try to get inside her head it does so by using gimmicks like changing the aspect ratio of the screen or showing on-the-nose metaphors like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon…

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It was also painfully obvious the script was written by 3 men as the film simplified Lucy’s mental health crisis and then proceeded to judge her and her choices. In contrast, the Jon Hamm character is practically given a high five for being the rational womanizer who mistakenly let this crazy person into his life. What about it takes two to tango? Dan Stevens is better but we hardly get to know him so that doesn’t help much.

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What’s especially odd is the team decided to remove the more sensational aspects of the case- like her wearing an adult diaper in her quest to follow Mark, and yet it remains so shallow. One can only assume they made this choice to give it more gravitas, but I honestly wish they had embraced the madness. Why not make something funny and nuts like Raising Arizona or if you wanted a true story use BlackkKlansman as your guide?

I didn’t hate Lucy in the Sky. Portman puts in too strong an effort to totally dismiss, but I do think it is a big case of missed potential, which is frustrating. They could have done something cool and interesting and instead they made a movie I will forget soon after I post this review. Too bad. Oh well!

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! It’s time once again for one of my current mini reviews where I give my brief thoughts on some of the latest movies I’ve been able to see. Make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel so you get all the latest videos from me including weekly family movie night reviews! I’m also excited to announce I have created separate podcast feeds for 2 of my monthly podcast series:

Talking Disney Classics- with my friend Stanford Clark where we discuss a Disney Canon film each month in random order.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/talking-disney-classics-with-rachel-wagner-stanford-clark/id1479958412

The Criterion Project- with my friend Conrado where each month we talk about a movie on the Criterion Channel.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-criterion-project/id1479953904

I know you will enjoy them if you give them a chance!

Anyway back to the reviews!

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Falling in Love-

It shouldn’t be any surprise to any follower of my work at the Hallmarkies Podcast that I will always be a defender of escapist silly romcoms and Falling Inn Love is certainly an example of the genre. It stars Christina Milian as a woman who goes to New Zealand only to find the big prize Inn she’s won is actually a money pit. Luckily she has hunky Adam Demos there to help her with the renovations. They spar at first and of course fall in love by the end. Is it predictable and silly? Of course it is. That’s all part of the appeal. I thought it was adorable and thoroughly enjoyed it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

overcomer

Overcomer-

I’ve been known to like my fair share of faith-based films. I recognize they have a very tricky task of entertaining a skeptical audience base while trying to tell an inspiring story. However, far too often they forget that the best preaching comes from a story well told, not by actual preaching in your film. The latest hit from the Kendrick Brothers is called Overcomer and is directed, written and starring Alex Kendrick and perhaps he bit off more than he can chew? This film should be a simple inspirational story about a girl with asthma who finds faith and the confidence to race cross country. Instead it’s a clunky, belabored story of the man who is begrudgingly forced to coach her. The dialogue is really bad along with most of the acting. There’s one moment where Priscilla Shirer literally compliments her own prayer and I laughed out loud. Watching this made me realize how good Breakthrough from earlier this year really was. Check that out instead.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Can You Keep a Secret?-

I love the writer Sophie Kinsella but for some reason her books make terrible movies. The latest adaptation is Can You Keep a Secret starring Alexandra Daddario and Tyler Hoechlin. The elements that are charming in the book come across as forced and off-putting in this film. Hoechlin is super dishy but he and Daddario have no chemistry together. Most of the time it is awkward and uncomfortable which is not what you want in this kind of escapist romcom. The big reveal at the end is super underwhelming and the supporting cast is wasted. Honestly I wanted to turn it off it was so bad.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

promare

Promare-

Trigger Studios has long made some of the most arresting and eye popping anime on the market. Their latest film Promare is my first experience with one of their films and I must admit I was really impressed! It tells the story of a futuristic society where a band of firefighters protect the world from a mysterious race of mutants called the Burnish. As the two races fight they start to learn there might be more to the story than their leaders have told them. The animation in this film is intense, frenetic, crazy, whatever word you want to use but it is also exhilarating. I loved the unique geometric style and the electronic music. It’s an experience I highly recommend to those willing to take a risk.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Abominable-

Please check out my youtube review for my thoughts on the latest film from DreamWorks, Abominable. This film marks the end of our multi-film trend of yeti movies in animation and to my surprise it is definitely my favorite. While the story of the little girl Yi finding a mysterious creature to protect may not be the most original, Abominable has huge heart with well-developed sweet characters. It’s also funnier than I expected with beautiful animation and music. This first collaboration between DreamWorks and Pearl Studio is a terrific film, and I hope people will go see it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

judy

Judy-

Last up is the musical biopic based on Judy Garland’s last year of life, Judy. I love Judy Garland and think her life is so hauntingly tragic that it breaks my heart to think about it. Unfortunately this film pulls out every cliche in the musical biopic playbook. It’s generic, boring with a very surface-level script. Some might feel the same way about the recent Rocketman but at least that movie took some creative risks with its flights of fancy. To add insult to injury they make the choice to have the actress portraying Judy, Renee Zellweger, sing for Judy. What on earth were they thinking? She sounds NOTHING like Judy Garland! I’ve listened to the London concert recordings and that’s not how she sounds! Basically the poor singing choices, generic script and screaming-for-an-Oscar performances make Judy a big miss.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

‘Out of Liberty’ REVIEW

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A lot of my fellow cinephiles can be very dismissive of the faith-based genre, and not without some due cause. Too often these well-meaning films are too preoccupied with delivering a sermon rather than telling a worthwhile story with complex characters. However, any genre can produce good films, and Garrett Batty’s new film Out of Liberty is a good example.

I was actually excited to see Out of Liberty because I like both of Batty’s last offerings, The Saratov Approach and Freetown (which was in my top 10 of 2015). All 3 of his films have been about people of faith put in harrowing circumstances where their faith doesn’t help them very much. There are no massive miracles, no grand speeches, just simple stories of how faith can help you get through the tough times. I admire that in his storytelling.

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In the case of Out of Liberty Batty is putting on his history glasses and telling the story of when Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph Smith (Brandon Ray Olive) is falsely arrested along with a number of other men, and forced to live in a dungeon-like cell accessible only by a rope while they await their trial. The conditions are brutal with limited food, light or proper sanitation. Early church leader Sidney Rigdon (Brock Rogers) struggles the most being incarcerated and his faith goes to a low spot as his health declines.

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All of the men struggle including the jailer Samuel Tillery (Jason Wade) who is the true lead of the film. Tillery often reminded me of a kinder version of Javert from Les Miserables. He is not a religious man, but he believes in the rule of law. He will keep the men inside the jail and the mob outside at all costs until Lady Justice has had her say. This dynamic made Out of Liberty feel more like a Western than a faith-based film and it worked for me on that level. In fact, there is really only 1 scene with Joseph I would describe as overtly religious.

This unique approach allows us to get to know the characters as human beings rather than paragons of religious virtue. Even the prophet is painted with the same ordinary-man brush as the rest of the men. At times, Out of Liberty almost felt like a play with its intimate setting and raw dialogue. I wish more faith-based films took this approach because its these more human characters that usually are the most inspirational. People with perfect faith aren’t interesting to me.

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The cast of Out of Liberty is all up for the challenge. I even enjoyed Corbin Allred as the controversial Porter Rockwell- a character that could have slipped into caricature easily.

As far as flaws, those with no understanding in Latter-day Saint history might be a little confused with who these men are, and what they have done to be arrested. A little bit more backstory might have helped clear that up. The angry mobs are always a bit one-note in these movies but that’s the case with almost all Westerns, so it’s not a big problem. Some of the pacing could perhaps be a little tighter in spots but overall I really enjoyed Out of Liberty.

If you are someone who enjoys historical dramas than I would say go see Out of Liberty. It’s a well written, moving character piece that is both a study of faith and a Western jailbreak survival story. It is definitely worth your time and is one of the good ones!

8.5 out of 10

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‘Hustlers’ REVIEW

Hustlers

When I was preparing for the Fall Movie Preview podcast I do with David Healy I kept getting the new film Hustlers confused with the recent film The Kitchen. The connection is understandable with both movies being about groups of women who turn the system on its head and commit crimes together. Frankly I wish both movies were stronger, but I definitely prefer Hustlers of the two. It at least has a consistent tone and characters with some depth to them.

Hustlers tells the true story of a group of exotic dancers who band together to steal from the Wall Street clients who frequent their establishment. Obviously this film has a lot of very sexy dancing so it will not be for everyone. However, most of the R rated content is confined to the club scenes and it is kept rather clinical in feel rather than erotic (because it is being told from the women’s perspective and it is not an erotic activity for them, just a job).

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Anyway, the first half of the movie sets up our characters particularly Constance Wu as Destiny and Jennifer Lopez as Ramona. At first things are going great with everyone helping everyone else to make a lot of money. Unfortunately the stock market crash happens in 2008 and the dancers become more desperate as the stock brokers have less money.

The first half of Hustlers looked impressive with some good performances from Wu and Lopez but it was very repetitive with not enough story. We didn’t need to see scene after scene of the way things were before 2008. I wish they had done more to flesh out the characters of both Ramona and Destiny away from the club. They both end up having daughters, but we hardly get to know anything about them as mothers or how they balance work with raising their children. Just anything other than party, dance, rinse, repeat.

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However, in the second half the plot to drug and swindle the Wall Street men starts and it can be quite compelling and funny. It’s the kind of movie that feels like it should have been a 44 minute television show instead of a feature film. Unfortunately, even in the more compelling sections it is very repetitive. Girl meets man in bar, take man to club, steal from him and then move on. There’s a Christmas scene, which is the best part of the movie, where we get to see their personalities and what actual joy means to them but so often the script is very repetitive.

While I don’t know about Oscar-worthy, Wu and Lopez are good in their roles (the Academy loves giving Oscars to actors who play strippers/prostitutes for some reason). They have a nice chemistry together and feel like a natural fit for their characters (with the exception of Wu’s terrible wig!). Some of the other characters are perhaps made to look more significant in the trailer than they actually are. Cardi B and Lizzo, for example, are really just glorified cameos. Still Destiny and Ramona are flawed interesting characters and there are some really great moments with the two of them.

A movie like Hustlers is where the rottentomatoes dichotomy fails me as a critic. It was ok. The performances are good and it looks nice. The story is interesting, but I wasn’t crazy about the narrative device of Julia Stiles’ interviewing Wu, and the script is very repetitive. It’s a real mixed bag, but I certainly didn’t hate it. If you are someone who thinks capitalism is evil than you will probably enjoy it as a revenge piece more than I did. But even so, I want more than just seeing Wall Street men getting drugged. I want more of these women’s story!!

Still I’d say it is worth seeing for the good performances but manage your expectations. It’s no disaster like The Kitchen but no masterpiece of female empowerment either.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (barely)

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‘Ad Astra’ REVIEW

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

If you are a regular reader of this site you know I can be a bit of a tough sell when it comes to the scifi genre. Still, I try to have an open mind when I go to see any film. Thus, was my attitude going into to seeing the latest space epic Ad Astra. This film is directed by the always ambitious James Gray and stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut of the future trying to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones) in space.

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The first thing I have to say about Ad Astra is it is beautiful. Cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema has done a stunning job creating both the vistas of space and the futuristic imagery of the space stations on various planets. The way he uses color is quite mesmerizing. I was particularly awestruck by a sequence at the planet Mercury where the blue was so bright it could have been made out of candy. It really feels like you are in space while watching the film and that they actually went to Mercury during filming. Amazing.

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The story for Ad Astra I’d say is serviceable while you are watching it. I was curious the entire time to find out what was going to happen and how Brad Pitt’s character was going to deal with all of the challenges along the way. There are also some surprising elements that I won’t spoil for you but they brought in some fun unexpected action.

Unfortunately much of the enticing questions of the plot were not answered in a very clear or satisfying way. Perhaps I need to see it again but there’s a lot of nonsensical randomness in Ad Astra. Scenes looked cool but what their purpose in the story was felt unclear. The movie also uses women very poorly. Both Ruth Negga and Liv Tyler are there only to be objects of hope for Brad Pitt’s character. Like literally they have no other character than to stare profoundly at Pitt and fill him with regret/hope.

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Also, I feel like any good scifi films should have something to say: a metaphor for what the world is coming to if we don’t shape up. For example, Blade Runner is all about what gives a human their humanity. Wrath of Khan has themes of death, vengeance, and friendship. I have no idea what Ad Astra is trying to say. There are illusions of mental health and forgiveness but it’s unclear.

In the end, I feel very mixed on Ad Astra. I did enjoy watching it but left frustrated. It has so many good pieces that it easily could have been a masterpiece but it falls short. Still, if you like space movies and the visuals look appealing I can recommend it. It’s not perfect but I’d say the good outweighs the bad. It’s so pretty!

6 out of 10

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Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! I have a very busy couple of weeks before me with D23 coming up but I thought before I leave you with another round of my mini reviews for new films out at the theaters or to stream. Here goes!

47 meters down uncaged

47 Meters Down Uncaged-

As someone who considered myself a bit of a champion for the original 47 Meters Down, this sequel in name only was a disappointment. The girls in the first were a little stupid but the shark action and the deep under water tension made for a fun ride. In this one the girls are still dumb but the cage has been replaced with tunnels and the sharks with ridiculous looking blind zombie sharks. The kills are on a Sharknado level making it all feel silly rather than tense. I was honestly bored watching it and its only 85 minutes.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

angel has fallen movie

Angel Has Fallen

I must admit I went to see Angel Has Fallen having not seen either of the previous films in the franchise. It seemed like I’d heard mostly bad things so I hadn’t gotten around to seeing them. That said, I had no problem understanding the plot of Angel Has Fallen. It reminded me a lot of a moderately entertaining episode of 24. Just like Jack Bauer, Gerard Butler is framed in a conspiracy to kill the president (Morgan Freeman). On the run he has to put all the pieces together, fight the bad guys and discover who the mole is feeding secrets to the bad guys. If that sounds like fun to you than you’ll probably enjoy it. If not than I would skip it. I like this kind of 90s-style action movie so I had fun watching it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of most Adam Sandler movies. My friends like to joke that he is my movie nemesis and as bad as his feature films often were, his Netflix offerings have been even worse. The Do-Over and The Ridiculous 6 are 2 of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life. His new film Murder Mystery is nowhere near that level of awfulness. That said I certainly can’t recommend it.  Sandler and Jennifer Aniston star as a couple who while visiting Europe end up mixed in with a real life murder mystery situation. The problem with this movie is it’s just not funny. I don’t know if I even laughed one time. It wasn’t outright offensive like some of Sandler’s movies but instead it was bland and dull. Like many of his movies it seemed like another opportunity for him and his friends to take a fancy vacation under the disguise of making a movie with no creativity, wit or charm. It’s not the worst but definitely not worthy of your time.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Otherhood-

Another recent entry from Netflix is the ’empty-nester Mom’ comedy Otherhood, which despite its terrific cast may be just as bad as Murder Mystery. In this slog of a comedy Angela Bassett, Felicity Huffman and Patricia Arquette play Moms who can’t let their grown sons lead their own lives. They are upset they are forgotten on Mother’s Day so they barge into their children’s lives. I feel like you always see middle-aged women portrayed like this in the movies, but I don’t know any Mothers who hover over their grown children like this. Sure they might press them to get married or something like that but this does not feel authentic or emotional. Sometimes the actresses can elevate the material but most of the time they all feel like caricatures not characters. Also the costume designer must hate Patricia Arquette. She looked so frumpy! It was bad, very bad.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Where’d You Go Bernadette

I’m a huge fan of writer/director Richard Linklater. I’ve loved most of his movies including Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, the Before Trilogy etc. When he’s at his best his natural way of writing and filming dialogue in long uninterrupted cuts is magical. His characters feel real and earnest which helps bond me to their journey even if it is different than anything I have experienced. I’m not sure why Linklater ended up adapting the novel Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple but the results are not great.

I must own I have read the novel, and I hated it. I found every character to be selfish and insufferable. It took me many months to finish reading it because I could only stand the characters for short stretches. The movie is a little better than the book because of Linklater’s snappy dialogue and Cate Blanchett’s  performance, but I still hated ALL the characters. The little girl is ok I guess but I didn’t even root for her. I know we are supposed to care for Bernadette and her stifled artistry but I just didn’t. She was simply too irrational and self-centered to win any sympathy from me, which made the movie tough to get through.

However, if you liked the book, you’ll probably enjoy this movie as it is very accurate. It’s just not for me!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Who would have thought out of these movies the one I’d recommend is Angel Has Fallen? LOL. Just shows how the movies can surprise us all! If you saw any of these I’d love your thoughts in the comments.

Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! I hope you are doing well and enjoying the end of your summer. I have been writing a lot of reviews lately but, I still have a few films that I need to catch up on. This means it is time for one of my ‘Current Movie Reviews’ posts. If you got to see any of these films let me know what you thought of them.

Sure love ya!

apollo 11

APOLLO 11-

I was very disappointed I didn’t get to see the documentary Apollo 11 at Sundance this year but I missed it. Now catching up to it I think I prefer it more as an interesting experiment than an actual movie but it still has lots to recommend. What they do is they use archival footage, interviews, sound/video recordings merged together, to recreate the events of the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon. They do it in a way that feels like real time including each step along the way from politicians, to training, to the accounts of the astronauts themselves. While I missed having a narrator to guide me through some of the moments it still is a fascinating documentary with a very unique approach.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

once upon a time

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

I honestly wasn’t going to see Quentin Tarantino’s new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood because it didn’t interest me. It is only the 2nd Tarantino film I have seen; the first being Pulp Fiction, which I did not enjoy. I understand why other people love it but it was not for me. However, enough people wanted to know my take on Once that I decided to give it a watch. My thoughts? It was fine. It has a lot of problems but overall I think the good outweighed the bad. I loved Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in their roles. I love the sense of time and place Tarantino evokes and much of the dialogue and recreated media from the 60s made me smile. Julia Butters from American Housewife practically steals the film as a young actress who inspires DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton to give his best performance. What I didn’t like was the exorbitant running time, the meandering story and the long sequences of driving and walking for no purpose at all. That said, it was a fun lark but mostly forgettable if you ask me.

As for the violence, particularly at the end, it is so over the top and ridiculous it didnt bother me much but I know others will find it alarming so you’ve been warned.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

scary stories

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

When I was in middle school I remember my friends reading the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Being a scary movie/book wimp they didn’t interest me, but I definitely was aware of them especially their creepy illustrations. Now director André Øvredal has made a movie version of these stories with a pg13 rating designed for teens. I am no horror pro, but I found this film to be quite entertaining. I liked the 1960s throwback. I enjoyed the teen performances and found all the horror set pieces to be quite well done and scary. It’s the kind of scary you get going through a haunted house. You know it is silly and not realistic at all but it’s done with enough style to get you and make you smile. That’s how I felt watching it. Sure there are flaws but the overall experience was fun.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2

I had mixed feelings about the original Angry Birds Movie. I liked the animation and some of the characters but I felt the messaging was off and the story wasn’t my favorite. Now in the sequel they have improved upon the original in most ways. The story is equally as bland but the characters are better, messaging more nuanced and the humor is way funnier. I particularly liked any of the jokes involving music. Overall, I had a good time with The Angry Birds Movie 2 because it kept me laughing throughout.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! I am quite the positive person on this week’s mini-review post. Smile Worthy for all of the films! Let me know what you thought about any of these films.

‘The Kitchen’ REVIEW

Since I became a critic on rottentomatoes I have been trying to diversify the films I review. I know if I want to work full-time at this someday I need to be a well-rounded critic that covers more than just family films. In general, pushing myself outside my comfort zone has been a good thing and produced many great experiences. However, occasionally I hit a dud I know was not made for me and then I have to wonder ‘was it made for anyone?’ Such is the case with the new crime drama The Kitchen.

the kitchen

There are positive aspects to The Kitchen but unfortunately they are not put together in an effective way.  It honestly felt like a more brutally violent version of a Lifetime mafia movie (like the recent profile they did of Victoria Gotti called Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter) rather than a gritty organized crime profile. I know I am supposed to champion this film because it stars and is made by women but it is way too problematic for me to do so.

First of all, the film cannot decide on a tone. Of course, 2 of the leads, Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy are known for their comedy, which they try to work into these more serious roles but to no avail. They and Elizabeth Moss play 3 women in the 1970’s running the Irish mafia in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Oddly, Moss’ character tries to be the funniest, which completely misses the mark coming across as bizarre instead of the intended dark humor. For example, a scene where we are instructed how to dispose of a dead body in the Hudson River is played for laughs while we see her severing limbs and her hands covered in blood. What on earth?

Domhnall Gleeson plays Moss’ boyfriend and is the only thing that seems remotely Irish about this supposed Irish mafia syndicate. Not a single character has an accent and our 3 leading ladies sometimes talk like they are from New York and sometimes use their normal voices, which made the whole thing feel very cheap. The Italian characters are equally lame. Cops in the 70s New York sure wished the mafia was like it was portrayed in this ridiculous movie. So instead of being immersed in a time and place we are waiting for the next brutal murder while the ladies do power walks down the street collecting money. This isn’t good storytelling! (If Don Corleone hit as many people as these women there’d be nobody left to collect the money! Give me a break).

Also the portrayal of Haddish’s character felt like something out of a blaxploitation picture like Shaft instead of a real character. Perhaps that’s what they were going for (which could be fine) but then the movie tries to be real and gritty; thereby, creating a muddled mess. For example, there’s almost no attempt to show any kind of racism against Haddish’s character, outside of her husband, which is the same domestic violence the other 2 women face with their husbands. The same is true for Common as a detective (is he always a cop these days in movies?). The Jewish characters are equally shallow and stupid. The longer the picture went on the more it felt like it had to be violent in order for it to feel relevant and edgy instead of actually having a story that is relevant and edgy.

the-kitchen-movie

The sad part is the production design is nice and all 3 of the women are trying to give good performances. Unfortunately, it is in a failing enterprise with a mess of a tone and an uncompelling story. They all feel miscast, and they don’t have chemistry together, so I wasn’t rooting for any of them. I didn’t care if they got revenge or were kick-butt women in the mafia because they weren’t interesting, funny or compelling in any way. Instead, I was left sitting waiting for the next brutal murder to be over, so that I could be done with it and go home.

I guess you can confidently say this one was not for me, and I do not recommend it to anyone!

3 out of 10

frown