[REVIEW] ‘Emma’ and Why Miss Woodhouse is Austen’s Most Delightfully Flawed Heroine

Everyone knows I love me some Jane Austen. For someone who wrote in the late 18th century it truly is remarkable how relevant and entertaining her work still remains to this day. Each year I try to re-read her books and I have seen every film adaptation out there from heroines killing zombies, facing cliques in high school, to Bollywood, to our traditional retellings in Georgian era garb and British accents. They almost always work for me to one degree or another.

And yet even by her fans sometimes Austen isn’t given the credit her writing deserves. They are admired but casually grouped in with romantic novels only about silly women falling in love. This is far from the case. The women of Austen are dynamic humans who are forced to make choices, and frankly the only major choice within their power at that time was who they agreed to marry. So when Lizzie refuses Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice this is not a normal dating scenario but a radical departure from customs and even a risk to her own survival and that of her family.

Austen’s novel Emma is especially interesting because it has her only heroine that is not on the outs of society. Lizzie and Jane are losing their home, Eleanor and MaryAnn in Sense and Sensibility are left in rather dire straits after their father dies, Fanny in Mansfield Park is dependent upon her cousins for survival and Anne in Persuasion has a double woe of being both an old maid and having a foolish father who has squandered their fortune.

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But then we have Emma. Miss Emma Woodhouse not only faces no financial crisis but she is so comfortable and frankly bored that she deems it her responsibility to meddle in other people’s lives. As one might expect, the more she meddles the more trouble she gets into and this makes her an interesting character. She has different flaws than the other Austen heroines.With these flaws it would be easy to make Emma an unlikable character, but there are two reasons why her story works:

First, she always has the best of intentions. Whether it is meddling with Harriett or encouraging Mr Elton, she is trying to increase the joy of those around her. This makes her foibles easy to relate with despite her aristocratic lifestyle.

Secondly, the narrative never fails to call her out for her mistakes. This is usually done by Mr Knightley but occasionally by Mrs Weston and sometimes it is her own inner monologing that teaches Emma the lesson she needs to learn. By the end of the novel she has grown immensely and has a new appreciation for her entire community. This is what you want to see in a story- character growth in addition to a compelling romance.

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2020 Film

Anyway, I tell you all this to try and explain why I think the new adaptation by director Autumn de Wilde of Emma works so well. She seems to instinctively understand and respect what Austen was going for in the story and character. Then she adds her own flair and touches I found completely delightful and charming. Aside from Clueless this may be the outright funniest version of the story and yet it still has the heart and vulnerability we need from the titular character.

In this version, Emma is played by actress Anya Taylor- Joy, and she feels younger and more sheltered than other versions. This makes total sense for her character. She certainly would not be someone that would have ever gone to any formal schooling or been out a lot in social situations. Most of her experience would be from her governess and/or her Father. Now her teacher and Mother-figure is leaving, so it’s no wonder she quickly finds a more naive and innocent person she can teach and train in Harriett Smith.

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Harriett is played by Mia Goth and she’s definitely my favorite person to play the role with the exception of perhaps Brittany Murphy in Clueless. The two of them are truly the blind leading the blind but they both mean well and seem to have a true bond of friendship that helps them to forgive and quickly find new loves to dote upon.

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Then we have the Eltons played by Josh O’Connor and Tanya Reynolds (her hair was especially memorable! Take note come Oscars). They are our comic relief/ or rich people who don’t learn and grow like Emma does. Miranda Hart is lovely as the chatter-box that is Miss Bates and Callum Turnder is the mysterious and selfish Frank Churchill. All of these characters sparkled with humor and wit.

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However, the funniest of them all is Bill Nighy playing Emma’s father Mr Woodhouse. He is a hypochondriac who has the doctor on continual notice (even when a baby is crying he wants to call the doctor!) and is constantly worried about the drafts in the house (which leads to a hilarious bit I won’t spoil). Even his reaction to the weather made me laugh. I would nominate him for best supporting actor if it was up to me. So funny.

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Finally, let’s talk about Mr Knightley and Emma in this version. This is a younger version of Knightley than we get in the novel, which I was a bit anxious about but it worked. Because he has clearly been working and out in the world more than Emma, his lectures and scolding still feels valid and earned.

I loved the way de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton give time where Emma and Knightley are fighting so hard they are shouting at each other. It was very refreshing for this kind of period piece. Also actor Johnny Flynn has the smoulder and suffering for his girl we like to see in spades! However, it is not all grand gestures as we see sweet and swoonworthy moments where he is crying in desperation for Emma. It helps that Taylor-Joy and Flynn have sizzling chemistry together especially in the dancing scenes where they are allowed to touch and linger on the feel of each other’s hands. So good!

While watching Emma I definitely felt some inspiration from 2018’s The Favorite and 2016’s Love and Friendship. They are both films with a period sensibility but a sharp sardonic sense of humor, and I’m all for that. It’s what Austen would have wanted and enjoyed in this day and age. It’s what she was going for with her bold heroines who defied convention in the one way they could: LOVE! It’s the best. l love Austen and I really loved this version of Emma! Go see it!

9 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The Invisible Man’ (Spoiler Free)

If you have been following my site for any amount of time you know the horror genre is one of my least favorites. That doesn’t mean there can’t be gems which I enjoy. I especially like creature scares movies like last year’s Crawl or the classic Jaws. I also enjoy a tight thriller like 10 Cloverfield Lane or a Hitchcock film like Vertigo. However, it is in general a tough genre to win me over to.

Understanding my bias, one of my goals for 2020 is to try and expand my palate in the horror genre. This will hopefully make my portfolio of reviews stronger and open a new world of moviemaking to me. Unfortunately most of the horror movies so far this year have looked atrocious, so I didn’t see any of them. That changed with this week’s release entitled The Invisible Man.

Very loosely based on the original 1933 Universal Monster movie and the novel by H.G. Wells, this contemporary adaptation is directed by Leigh Whannell and stars Elizabeth Moss. I don’t know if it is her role on The Handmaid’s Tale that is to blame but Moss has become a pro at playing the battered, tortured woman and her performance is the strength of this film. She commits to every scene and you feel invested in her character throughout.

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While the movie is focusing on her paranoia caused by her abusive husband it is very effective and chilling. I won’t give any details away but suffice it to say he has been so controlling that when she starts to sense his presence it isn’t entirely clear whether she has gone into full mania or is actually sensing his spirit (or an invisible man…).

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Unfortunately the last act of the film abandons this initial premise and becomes more of a generic monster/ghost movie and that interested me a lot less. Everything that was unknown and hidden becomes obvious and as a result a lot less scary. It honestly became kind of corny with over-the-top kills and cheesy set pieces.

However, I can still recommend The Invisible Man, especially for horror buffs. Moss is very good and there are enough scares in the first half to be entertained. Just manage your expectations. Some of the hyperbole has been a little nuts on this film. In fact, I’m not sure why this film is getting so much more praise than last year’s Greta? They are both about lonely women who get pushed to the breaking point by a megalomaniac who is stalking them, and they both have slightly cheesy finales. Who knows? All that matters is I found them both entertaining enough to recommend.

If you get to see The Invisible Man let me know what you think. It is rated R for “strong bloody violence and language” and especially at the beginning it earns its scares.

6.5 out of 10

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Current Mini Reviews (Zombies 2, Shaun the Sheep 2, The Photograph, The Call of the Wild)

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I have been busy as usual but still have managed to see 4 films I wanted to report here on the blog. It’s an interesting bunch so you will have to share with me what you thought if you get to see any of them. Sure love ya!

Zombies 2

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A lot of people are really tough on the Disney Channel original musicals but I’ve enjoyed almost all of them. With the exception of Freaky Friday I’ve had fun with the energetic dance numbers and positive messages for teens they all offer. Now we have Zombies 2 and it is another entertaining entry.

Meg Donnelly and Milo Manheim are both charismatic actors and good singers that solidly lead the film and the new crew of werewolves in town have a cool slick style to them. Unfortunately they just recycled the message of the first movie again but it’s an important message of tolerance so I give them a little bit of a pass. However, Zombies 3 needs to be something different!

All that said, if you enjoyed the first Zombies film you will enjoy this.

6 out of 10

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The Photograph

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I really enjoyed director Stella Meghie’s last film Everything Everything. I felt she took a basic sick teen love story and elevated it with sincere performances and a clever atmosphere. So naturally I was excited to see her new film The Photograph which Universal decided to bury for some reason over the Valentines weekend.

I don’t know why they hid The Photograph from critics because I really liked it. If you are looking for a romance directed with tons of style it is the film for you. Stars Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae have wonderful chemistry together and Maghie does such a good job creating palatable romantic tension between our two leads.

The flashbacks telling the story of Rae’s parents isn’t as compelling but it’s still serviceable. If you are into romances The Photograph is a well executed film I definitely recommend. For the record, it is pretty steamy for a pg13 so you’ve been warned.

8 out of 10

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A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

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It seems like I have been waiting for the sequel to the delightful The Shaun the Sheep Movie from 2015 for forever. We heard about it getting developed for several years and then last year it opened in England to acclaim only to be relegated to Netflix here in the States in 2020. Hopefully on Netflix will allow more people to see the film as it is a sweet and funny comedy for the entire family.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon reunites us with our rascal sheep at Mossy Bottom Farm in England. Shaun and his friends are bored and making life difficult for the farm watchdog Bitzer. Then one day an alien arrives named Lu-La and all sorts of mischief occurs.

This movie is adorable. That’s all there is to say about it. Every minute on screen is super cute and I had a smile on my face. If you don’t think Shaun and his friends antics are funny it won’t be for you but I loved it. It has an old school silent movie appeal to it I really loved and kids will adore it. It’s a great film to watch as a family and everyone will laugh and enjoy the cuteness together. And of course the claymation animation is so well executed.

After a bit of a mistep with Early Man Aardman Animation is back with a real winner in Farmageddon.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Call of the Wild

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Our last film is the new adaptation of the Jack London novel The Call of the Wild. I know I have read the novel but it has been a few years and I must admit I sometimes get it and London’s other popular novel White Fang confused. That said, I do think this version stays pretty close to the book, so that should make literary fans happy.

This version stars Harrison Ford as an adventurer who finds a dog named Buck who has seen many owners before landing on him (Ford isn’t in the movie much for the first 45 minutes). The only catch is this version of Buck is an all CGI dog instead of a regular dog and it arrives with mixed results.

Ford does a good job and the spirit of adventure throughout is compelling. There’s something old fashioned about this storytelling without wasted time on romances or unnecessary melodrama. The beautiful cinematography of the Yukon is also gorgeous and immersive.

However, the CGI dog is distracting especially when he is surrounded by other dogs (or any kind of group shot to be honest). Close up he fairs a little bit better but it is not a convincing visual. It’s especially a problem when we just got Togo from Disney Plus, which is also about a heroic dog in the Klondike and was soooo much better.

The other problem I had with The Call of the Wild was a very cringe-worthy performance by the usually reliable Dan Stevens. He plays an over-the-top bad guy named Hal who has a grudge against Ford’s John Thornton for the weakest of reasons. I am sure he was just doing what he was told but his insane bad-guy did not fit in with the leisurely paced choices in the rest of the film. It was really bad.

The Call of the Wild is also pretty scary for small children and I don’t know if the story will interest older kids. When it comes to Disney Plus it could be a nice way to introduce kids to the book but I don’t think I can recommend it in the theaters. It’s not awful but too uneven to spend the big dollars on.

4.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’

We all know video game movies have had a rough road when it comes to both box office and critical success. The new film Sonic the Hedgehog’s path is not that different. When the first trailer was released many found the design of Sonic to be very off-putting. I was honestly more puzzled by the use of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ for no reason in a kids movie but I digress.

In an effort to placate the upset fans they decided to redesign Sonic and delay the films. This definitely got me curious and after having seen the finished film I’m glad they did. This new Sonic the Hedgehog is a charming throwback to the family films of the 90s that the whole family will enjoy.

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Old and New Sonic

The easiest film to compare with Sonic is last year’s Detective Pikachu, which I gave a mild recommendation for. Both films are about a human male who comes into contact with a fast talking, snarky video game sidekick. While Detective Pikachu has better atmosphere and world-building, I prefer Sonic the Hedgehog as a complete film.

A movie like this doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it executes a familiar concept well. In some ways lead actor James Marsden already did a very similar story with his 2011 film Hop. The big difference is in Hop the bunny is Russell Brand and his brand of comedy gets old quickly. In Sonic the Hedgehog we have James Marsden with a sidekick alien Sonic voiced by Ben Schwartz. He gives a lot of warmth to the character and with the new design it’s easy to root for the 2 misfits.

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The other benefit Sonic the Hedgehog has over similarly themed films is a really fun villain named Doctor Robotnik played with theatricality by Jim Carrey. For instance, one of the problems with Detective Pikachu was the boring villain and plan. Here Jim Carrey is having a blast as a mustache twirling villain with gadgets and evil plans to spare. I am a little tired of villain surprise reveals so it is refreshing to have an outright bad guy in a film like this.

Sonic the Hedgehog is also a film clearly made for children. Aside from maybe one scene at a bar there weren’t any jokes intended at just parents or the kind of wink-wink scenes they hope go over kid’s heads (I hate that). Also at 99 minutes it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. I appreciated that they did a really good job immersing Sonic into the world and the special effects felt believable and full of bright colors.

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My only major problems with Sonic the Hedgehog came in some of the humor and overt product placement. Originally they had plans to have Sonic wearing Nike shoes but they at least got rid of that choice but there are multiple Olive Garden jokes and a very obvious plug for Zillow. I can put up with product placement that is tastefully done but if we pay $15 for a ticket to a movie we don’t expect to constantly see advertisements especially in movies for children.

Nevertheless, Sonic the Hedgehog is a cute movie that the whole family can go see and have a nice time together. It has a big heart and the character of Sonic is well rendered and voiced. It’s not a classic like Paddington but a pleasant little movie about friendship and never giving up. Enough for me.

There are also several bonus scenes in the credits so watch out for that.

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You’ or a Guide to Teenage Romantic Escapism

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Contrary to what some may believe I don’t automatically love every romantic comedy that is released. In some ways I think I am a bit pickier than most because I love the genre so much, and I want the movies to be great.

Knowing this it might or might not surprise people I wasn’t as in love with the 2018 Netflix romcom based on the YA novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as most people seemed to be. I didn’t hate it but I had some issues I will get into. Now we have the sequel To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You, which is also based on a novel by Jenny Han. I haven’t read this novel (I had read the original) but I think I actually prefer this sequel over the original film.

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My main problem with the original film is I felt Peter, while played with huge charm by Noah Centineo (who I think is going to be a big star), was a pretty bland character. There was no spunk to him. He basically did whatever he was told and agreed to whatever plan was presented to him. One might think of him as a manic pixie dream guy that is only there to help our heroine get out of her shell and nothing more. I like my leading man to have opinions and stand up for himself. It doesn’t always have to be the enemies to friends romantic trope but a little personality is important.

That said I do love a fake relationship plot and the leads were very charming with great chemistry, so I gave the original film a mild recommendation. Now we have the sequel where Peter and Lara Jean are actually dating and in a real relationship. I’m not sure why we needed to interject a love triangle with the also charming John Ambrose played by Jordan Fisher, but Peter got more to do this time around and showed more personality. He wasn’t always the perfect boyfriend, which made him more appealing and swoon-worthy.

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We also got some nice moments between Lara Jean and her family. Lana Condor does a nice job in the lead role and Anna Cathcart and John Corbett are lovely as her sister and father respectively. It’s certainly nice to see some diversity in teen movies and the family dynamics will be easy to relate with for adults and teens alike.

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On the Hallmarkies Podcast I talk a lot about the value of romantic escapism for women. This isn’t just for old fogies like myself but teenage girls as well. To All the Boys: PS I Still Love You does a good job of fostering this kind of escapism. I used to have movies I called ‘sleepover movies’, which were usually silly romantic films I would watch with my friends at sleepovers (or should it be sleepunders as we didn’t sleep much?). Some of my favorites were films like Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Princess Bride, Ever After, The Cutting Edge, Some Kind of Wonderful, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken and Dirty Dancing, .

With this sequel, the To All the Boys series definitely cements itself as the sleepover movies of this decade for teens. They are charming, escapist romantic stories, and this sequel makes me like the original even more. So go get your friends together, have a sleepover and watch a fun movie!

7.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made’

One of my biggest laments in recent years is the practical abandonment of low budget live action films from the Disney Studios. Since The Queen of Katwe in 2016 (very underrated film) there has been almost nothing from the House of Mouse but remakes of their animated classics and you know how much I love those films…

However, one of the exciting things about Disney Plus is the studio now needs content badly and so by necessity they need to start up again making smaller live action films. So far they have released Noelle which was disappointing but passable.  Then they had Togo, which turned out to be a delightful throwback to films like White Fang and Iron Will. I really enjoyed it!

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Now we have their latest film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made which may be my favorite of them all. Based on the books by Stephan Pastis, director Tom McCarthy of Spotlight fame has made a sweet, charming, funny film the whole family will love.

The film tells the story of an 11-year old boy named Timmy (played by the adorable Winslow Fegley) who lives in Portland and takes his detective agency very seriously. He has a home office, business cards and a giant polar bear sidekick that help him be ready to crack the toughest of cases. He’s even looking into the Russians and their conspiracy to ruin his school and the scary transition to middle school.

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What makes Timmy Failure work so well is they take his character completely seriously. It’s not like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies with over-the-top slapstick sequences (which can be fine). It’s so easy to write child characters as silly jokes but I remember as a kid getting so frustrated by that attitude. I had something to say and my own way of looking at the world, which adults did not care about. This movie cares about Timmy and his world.

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I actually found myself tearing up on more than one occasion. Timmy is a really lonely kid and people like his teacher Mr Crocus played by Wallace Shawn don’t seem to even try to understand him. Much of his loneliness is compounded by his worries for his over-worked Mother played well by Ophelia Lovibond and his absent father.

Craig Robinson has a great scene where he talks to Timmy about adaptability and trying to be unselfish without losing yourself. Kyle Bornheimer is great as a meter maid who is dating Timmy’s Mom. These characters take him seriously and are interested in what he has to say. I loved that.

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made. The script, performances, themes, all worked for me. I even enjoyed the cgi polar bear (there are no trained polar bears so cgi was a necessity). I really think you will enjoy watching it with your family and have a great discussion together about how we all deal with loneliness and achieve our goals. Check it out and let me know what you think

8.5 out of 10

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Sundance Log 2020 Day 10: Downhill, Wendy

The 2020 Sundance Film Festival is done! I lived it and finished off the experience watching 26 films in 10 days: a new personal record! I missed 3 films that were on my preview (yes I wimped out and didn’t see either of the horror movies I had planned and 1 movie I swapped out for the Bruce Lee movie Be Water).

Of the 26 there really was only a couple that I loved compared to last year where I had 2 in my top 10 of the year and a dozen or so contenders for those top spots. Also last year I didn’t find the festival to be as R rated, which was a bummer because I invited 2 friends and they didn’t have a great experience. It was just rotten luck. Next year I HAVE to get the locals pass. It makes all the difference in the world.

Anyway, I will do a best and worst video later this week but for now I have 2 more movies I saw on Sunday that I need to review. So here goes:

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Wendy

Director Benh Zeitlin made a huge splash at the festival in 2011 with his movie Beasts of the Southern Wild. If you haven’t seen it that film is a tale of magical realism set in the punch bowl area of New Orleans and it is a breathtaking film. With such success under his belt Zeitlin taking the same style to a new version of Peter Pan seems like a perfect fit but  I walked away with mixed feelings.

The strengths of Wendy lie mostly in the style. Just as in Beasts the beautiful cinematography mixed with wonderful music by Dan Romer (who also did Beasts). There are a lot of sequences with children running and playing that take your breath away!

Zeitlin also takes a lot of  inspiration from Lord of the Flies and Where the Wild Things Are (a movie  I love).  But Wild Things works because of its layered script that confronts the loss of childhood innocence where Wendy doesn’t have such a clear message. It’s a lot of pretty images but at a certain point I as a viewer need more story. The story he does give us is kind of  garish and stark and left me missing the whimsy that a Peter Pan adaptation should have.

The closest the film gets to whimsy is in a whale that spews magic just like a giant Tinker Bell. They also have some interesting things to say about age and growing up but it gets muddled by all the shouting and action.

Like I said, I have mixed feelings about Wendy. Some people will really hate it and other people will admire the style and creativity that it will capture their hearts. I’m somewhere in-between, but I think the good outweighs the bad. So give Wendy a shot when it comes to the theaters and let me know what you think!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Downhill

The last movie of the festival for me was the marriage comedy Downhill, which is based on the French film Force Majeure. I haven’t seen the original film so I can only comment on this version.

On the surface Downhill should be an easy home run. You have 2 actors who have been very funny with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell and an original film that is evidently quite funny). Unfortunately this film didn’t do much for me as either a comedy or an exploration on marriage.

The concept is our leads play a couple who is coming to Switzerland with their 2 boys for a much needed vacation on the slopes. While there, the mountain experiences a controlled avalanche and Louis-Dreyfus’ character Billie shields her sons in fear and Ferrell’s Pete runs away. This deeply hurts Billie and she has trouble continuing on with the vacation.

All of this could have been funny but Downhill is one of those comedies that mistakes characters fighting a lot for jokes. Fighting can be funny but a lot of the time it is just awkward and dull. It also can make your leads unlikable and hard to relate to. I didn’t really care about either Billie or Pete and found them both frustrating and unsympathetic.

There are a bunch of comedic set-pieces in Downhill that are supposed to bring laughs such as when Billie kisses a hot ski instructor but they usually fall flat. Like I said, the whole thing ended up being dull and uninvolving. I would definitely recommend saving your money and looking for a better comedy than this.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! Sundance 2020 is done!! Wahoo!

Sundance Log 2020 Day 9: Dick Johnson is Dead, Sylvie’s Love, Tesla, The GoGos

Hey everyone! I did it! I made it through the last 4 movie day of the Sundance Film Festival. I really thought about skipping the first movie today but last minute I decided to finish out my goal and went. I ended up barely making the passholder line grouping but I’m so glad I did because I wound up loving that film most of all! Go figure!

I actually left feeling positive about all 4 films today. I’m not sure if Sundance has just worn me down but they were all entertaining and free from the extreme content a few other films have had, which was a nice relief.

Now I only have 2 more tomorrow and I will be done and will have watched more films than I did last year (25 in 2019, 26 in 2020)!

Here’s my thoughts on today’s movies:

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Dick Johnson is Dead

I was a little skeptical going into director Kirsten Johnson’s experimental documentary, fearing it would be too much of a gimmick. The idea is she is profiling her father as if he had passed away when in fact he is alive. They even have a mock funeral which her father views from the balcony above the grievers (including his very emotional best friend). They all know it is a fake funeral and yet their emotions are very true and real.

In fact, that’s the way I would describe this movie: true. Kirsten and her Dad speak openly about the process of getting older, losing memory, and the pain of grief. As someone who lost both my Grandmas last year this really rang true for me and I was crying something fierce!

Fortunately with the tears is a lot of laughs as we see the bond between father and daughter and wish we could meet the wonderful Dick Johnson. Kirsten also stages fake deaths with her Dad as part of the experiment, and it becomes a kind of ‘cinematic therapy’ for both of them. It really worked for me!

Dick Johnson is Dead will be on Netflix soon so keep an eye out for it. It’s a real gem.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

(Also her Q&A was amazing. Probably the best of the festival)

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As host of the Hallmarkies Podcastyou all know I love a good romance, and we don’t get enough of them in the theaters these days. We especially don’t get as many that are as old-fashioned as the new film Sylvie’s Love, written and directed by Eugene Ashe.

In the film Tessa Thompson stars as the title’s Sylvie who falls in love with a young saxophonist named Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) in 1950’s Harlem.  Her father owns a record store and her Mother is set on her daughter marrying a high class boy. This first half of Sylvie’s Love is what works the best as young love blossoms with all the requisite flirting and stolen kisses.

The second half of the film is less effective as the script lays on the soapy melodrama too thickly even for me. We have several separations that don’t seem necessary and then reunions that feel even less plausible. There will be a lot of people rolling their eyes at the cliches and corny moments but the chemistry was good enough between the 2 leads that it worked well enough for me.

I also loved all the period details and wonderful  music. I would compare it to something like The Notebook. Cheesy, full of melodrama but the chemistry between the couple and overall quality of filmmaking carries the day making an enjoyable time at the cinema.

6.5 out of 10

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Next up we have the very unusual quasi-biopic Tesla. This is a hard movie to describe but I will do my best. It tells the story of famed inventor Nikola Tesla played by Ethan Hawke but in a format that is both traditional and modern at the same time (quite literally).

The film let’s us know right away it is going to be different by employing a narrator (Eve Hewson playing Ann Morgan) who breaks the 4th wall and tells us why Tesla was such a mixture of brilliance and self-sabotage. We also get flights of fancy where fake realities are put before us such as a funny scene where Tesla and Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) are eating ice cream instead of fighting.

There are also scenes where we see modern gadgets to show the end-product of Tesla’s ideas and even a very wacky scene where a boozy Tesla ends up singing at a modern karaoke bar.

The backgrounds and production design in Tesla is also intentionally fake looking with artificial sets and obvious green screen. It may be Sundance brain talking but I found the choices intriguing and usually quite funny. Occasionally they’d push things too far but for the most part it was different but not in the confrontational way that some arthouse films can be.

If you are looking for something new and creative check out Tesla. I will be very curious to hear what people think!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The GoGo’s

Before watching this documentary I had certainly heard of The GoGo’s, and I enjoyed their hits like ‘Can’t Stop the Beat’ and ‘Vacation’. However, I had no idea they started from such punk rock origins. They always seemed more pop-influenced from what little I knew about them. So it was really interesting to watch this film The GoGo’s and learn about their formation as a punk band and how they became the first all-girl band to reach first place on the charts.

This documentary admittedly is a fairly standard rock band bio-piece but it is nonetheless entertaining. They have all the major characters there and the interviews are honest and amusing. We get to hear a lot of music and hear lots of stories of excess, music and drugs.

The only fault I’d have with The GoGo’s is we don’t get to learn much about the girl’s relationships outside of the band. There’s one point where they mention 2 of the ladies dated but that’s all we hear about their sexuality, love-lives or anything like that, which would have been nice to get a peak into.

Other that than that The GoGo’s is a lot of fun and worth a watch in the next few months if you get Showtime.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sundance Log 2020 Day 8: The Truffle Hunters, Nine Days, The Glorias

Another day of the Sundance Film Festival has come and gone and I must admit I’m losing steam here. It’s been a long week with a lot of late nights and disappointing films (with some good ones mixed in). Today I ended up seeing 3 films and tomorrow I have the option of seeing 4 but I may just do 3 since the 4th is coming to Netflix soon and I could use a long morning to be honest. We’ll see!

Anyway, I feel about emotionally tapped out but I still managed to take in the 3 films today and here are my thoughts:

The Truffle Hunters - Still 1

The Truffle Hunters

First up is the documentary The Truffle Hunters. This is a charming film about a group of 3 or 4 Italian  men who, along with their dogs, hunt down the prized Alba truffle. The best way I can describe this film is it is like an Italian version of Duck Dynasty, which is a show I have a lot of affection for.

These men wax philosophical about life, truffles, competition and drive the people who are buying the truffles crazy. None of them seem to have family lives and they all relish having directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw following them around. I especially laughed when one man writes a letter resigning from truffle hunting to the horrors of the buyers (he reminded me a lot of Uncle Sy from Duck Dynasty). I also loved the man in the picture above and his relationship with his dog.

The Truffle Hunters comes in at 84 minutes so it doesn’t outstay its welcome and is a real gem of the festival.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

nine days

Nine Days

I have a seen a lot of experimental, artistic films here at Sundance and most of them have failed spectacularly. Nine Days is finally one that actually worked for me! It definitely won’t be for everyone but it’s a weird little movie with a spiritual core to it I connected with.

Nine Days is set in a premortal world (filmed in beautiful Utah!) where one man named Wil (Winston Duke) is responsible for deciding who is ready to come to earth in a body and who is not. He gets 9 days to make his decision and then in a wall of TVs he watches his choice live out their lives on VHS tapes.

At the beginning of the film Will is shaken by the suicide of one of his favorite recruits and yet he soldiers on with the interviews of the new candidates. For a small indie they gathered a pretty impressive cast. In addition to Duke (who is tremendous especially in the epic final monologue), they got Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgard, Tony Hale, Benedict Wong and more.

The cinematography of Nine Days has a definite Terrence Malick vibe to it, which is enhanced by the beautiful Salt Flat vistas behind the house. Also the script is unpredictable and creative.

Where the film falters is sometimes the world building and rules are unclear and confusing. Even his final choice seems  to come out of the blue and not make much sense. It’s also a bit repetitive and slow at times; however, compared to something like Horse Girl this should win all the Oscars. It’s a good one!

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

the glorias

The Glorias

If there ever is a case of a film biting off more than it can chew it is the new film from Julie Taymor called The Glorias. The film strives to tell the 80 year story of feminist icon Gloria Steinem and it has tons of ambition and some solid performances. However, it ends up feeling like a well-intentioned mess. It has so many ideas and covers way too much to absorb everything or give it all the gravitas it should have and it ends up being frustrating.

The conceit of the film is that a child, tween, young adult and older version of Gloria are all taking a road trip together through the events of her life. These scenes are shot in black and white and at times we spend a lot of time on the bus and than other times we will go 30 minutes without seeing them. Then there are flights of fancy and even an animated sequence that feel very out of place.

The Glorias would have been smarter to focus on one era like the start of Ms magazine or the achievement of the National Women’s Conference. Instead we get Gloria’s childhood, her experiences with both her parents, her time in India, her time as a struggling journalist, every era of her feminist leadership, her finally getting married, her sadness at Hillary losing and finally the Women’s March where we see the actual Gloria speech (real footage is used throughout). It was just too much and it all starts to run together and feel like a biographical box the filmmakers needed to check off the list.

I can see why other people might like bits and pieces of this film, but I found it pretty frustrating to watch and was relieved when it was over.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy