[REVIEW] ‘L’Autre’ or An Art and Dance Film Done Right

There are a lot of of things about the new film L’Autre from french director Charlotte Dauphin that will make some audiences immediately tune it. It’s about a ballet dancer. It deals with grief and loss. It has flights of fancy and jumps around in time and it is in French. However, if you can keep an open mind you will be treated to a lovely little film that has a lot to say and it says it in a beautiful way.

L’Autre tells the story of a woman named Marie who is a young ballet dancer with an overbearing Mother and a beloved Father. When her Father dies on her 30th birthday she abandons dance and becomes a recluse from the world. Eventually, she reaches out to a photographer named Paul who took the last photo of her father and their romance and her rebirth is the main focus of the film.

Astrid Breges-Frisbey does a lovely job portraying Marie. You see her wounds and feel her longing for someone to understand her now that her Father is gone. She feels abandoned and alone. It in many ways reminds me of the longing in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story although not as abstract as that film.

Still, L’Autre uses dance and movement with beautiful cinematography to show Marie’s transformation. Even if you lose track of the subtitles the images are so stunning it should keep you entertained.

One of the keys to a film like L’Autre working is it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. At only 77 minutes you can enjoy the artistic journey through grief and love without becoming exhausted. A lot of arthouse films forget that and an enterprise which starts out exhilarating can become a slog.

Obviously L’Autre isn’t going to be for everyone but if you like dance and appreciate independent films with a European aesthetic give it a watch. I think you will find much to appreciate.

8 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘The Forgotten Carols’

One of the hardest parts of 2020 has been the halting of most live performances and the closure of Broadway. As much as I love movies I equally love live performances whether plays, musicals, orchestras, recitals whatever. Fortunately, as we are waiting for the world to get vaccinated from COVID 19, we have been bequeathed a number of live performances in movie form to help tide us over. Early in the summer we got Hamilton on Disney Plus and now in movie theaters we can enjoy a new filming of the holiday favorite The Forgotten Carols.

Since it’s first release in 1991 The Forgotten Carols has sold over a million tickets all over the world. It is perhaps most popular among Latter-day Saint audiences but it is perfectly appropriate for any Christian to enjoy. It is written by composer Michael McLean and he plays the leading role of Uncle John in this production.

The conceit of the musical is John is an eccentric angel who makes it his mission one Christmas to cheer up a cynical nurse named Constance (not Connie as she reminds him). As she cares for him he tells her the stories of the ‘forgotten carols’ or people who testify of Christ’s birth. Some examples are the Innkeeper who regrets his actions towards Mary and Joseph and extols the audience to ‘Let Him In’. Another is the plucky angel who inspires Handel to write his Hallelujah chorus.

If you can’t tell The Forgotten Carols is an unabashedly religious experience. If you aren’t a Christian this probably isn’t the show for you. However, it is nondenominational so you do not need to be of a particular faith to enjoy it. In this version they have updated it for a 2020 audience with winks to uber, alexa and other products they didn’t have in 1991, but for the most part if you are a person who likes boisterous faith-based music and shows you’ll enjoy this show.

In fact, as someone who will watch over 100 Christmas movies and specials in 2020 it is refreshing to watch one film that’s actually about Jesus and the importance of His birth. The songs in The Forgotten Carols are theatrical and full of pageantry but my theater starved heart needed every last note! My particular favorite number is ‘I Cry the Day I Take the Tree Down’. It gets me every time!

This production was staged in Cedar City in September of this year in a socially distanced crowd and the whole thing had an urgency and poignancy that we all need right now. You can purchase tickets to a safe theater or purchase the DVD here.

For the right audience I recommend The Forgotten Carols.

8 out of 10

 

 

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are having a great December. I have been up to my eyeballs in Christmas movies and creating content over at Rachel’s Reviews and Hallmarkies Podcast. Make sure you are subscribed to both to get my latest thoughts on many films!

Fortunately I have had the chance to watch some movies outside of Hallmark (and Hallmark-like content). Here are some quick mini reviews of some recent releases

Fatman


Obviously this film is not made for me, the Hallmark fan. However, I’m up for darker takes on holiday films but shouldn’t they still be fun? This film was so unpleasant and spurned campy action in favor of gritty realism, which was a very strange choice. Mel Gibson and Walter Goggins are taking the material seriously and giving good performances but it’s all too serious. Again aren’t most people expecting a campy action film with a wink at the camera? Not a mean spirited gritty Santa action movie like Fatman is? No thanks.

3 out of 10

Godmothered

As soon as I saw the trailer for Godmothered I was greatly looking forward to it. It looked funny and charming. I love movies like Elf and Enchanted, which it seemed to be falling in line with. Unfortunately the actual film, which debuted on Disney Plus, proved to be disappointing. In fact, watching it made me appreciate both Elf and Enchanted a lot more. They are both more than fish out of water stories but have good scripts that make you laugh throughout. Godmothered had one joke- amateur fairy Godmother in real world- and that’s it. And the movie is nearly 2 hours which felt way too long for what it is trying to do. Jillian Bell has yet to win me over in a role and Isla Fisher isn’t given much to do besides look tired. If I hadn’t been reviewing it I would have stopped watching it after about an hour. It’s proof concepts aren’t enough. You have to have good scripts

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Modern Persuasion

I have seen a lot of terrible adaptations of Jane Austen particularly of the made for TV variety. Oftentimes they are only adaptations in name only and have none of Austen’s charm and sass. It is for this reason I approached the new adaption of Persuasion called Modern Persuasion hesitantly. However, I watched it because it stars Alicia Witt who I enjoy and have actually had the chance to interview here. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. It doesn’t have a huge budget but I liked Alicia Witt in the lead and Shane McRae as her counterpart. The supporting cast is funny with Bebe Neuwirth stealing every scene she’s in. I’d buy this on digital when it comes out. It’s a charming new take on a classic story.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

All My Life

I actually got to see All My Life safely at the Megaplex theaters and being back at the theaters may have helped my experience but this is a movie that is exactly what you think it is going to be. If you watch the trailer and this brand of emotional weepy makes you grown don’t watch it. If it looked appealing you’ll like it. The stars Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr have great chemistry and the sense of community they have with their friends was comforting and nice to see (especially in isolated 2020). The characters could be better drawn and it’s extremely predictable but I’m glad I saw it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

I Hate New Years

As big a fan of Christmas as I am, I’m not much into New Years. It’s such a couply holiday with the big kiss at midnight that I’ve never gotten much into it. This makes me the perfect candidate for I Hate New Years and for the most part I enjoyed it. It’s limited budget shows at times in both the acting and production but it has its heart in the right place. Particularly the second half won me over and I was rooting for the characters to find happiness. It’s a sweet and likable way to ring in the New Year!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. If you get to see any of these films let me know what you think

Pixar 44: SOUL or Is it ok for Pixar to Release a Film for Adults?

Before writing this review I realized I never did my blog review of Onward. I reviewed it on my youtube channel but it was such a crazy time in March I forgot to review it on the blog. I will do a longer review for Onward eventually but it will be out of order with Soul because I am short on time at the moment. (I enjoyed Onward for the record).

Honestly I have a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to reviewing Soul. I really debated how to best express myself. I even watched it twice to be sure of my thoughts (I don’t normally do that but it is an unsual film and I wanted to be sure).

Let me start out by saying I did enjoy the film. It is bold, ambitious and full of things to think about and discuss. I greatly admire Pete Doctor for making such a film and for Disney/Pixar to have the audacity to put $150 million into what is essentially a CGI arthouse piece.

And I think that is essentially the best way to view Soul. If we look at it as an experimental arthouse piece rather than a blockbuster feature film it makes more sense and is more satisfactory.

Now I am going to say something that might be unpopular: I don’t think Soul is for kids. It doesn’t have anything offensive, and I suppose some more philosophic children may like it, but I don’t think kids will enjoy the picture. It has no gateway for children to access the film like Inside Out did. In fact, it doesn’t have as much in common with Inside Out as many people are expecting (or at least I was expecting)

Inside Out has Riley as our entryway into the world of the brain. In addition, emotions are something easy for children to relate to. It’s also funny and sweet with scenarios kids can understand like losing a hockey game or moving to a new town.

Soul, on the other hand, is about a grown man named Joe who is struggling with the meaning of his life. He has questions like, should he settle for the teacher job or keep trying to get the big gig and share his love of jazz music with the world? Footnote- It’s kind of weird how the movie looks down on teaching (it makes sense for the character but just unexpected in a family film). Joe doesn’t have any children nor are there any children in his life aside from his students who are only briefly seen (nothing like Russell in Up for instance).

At the beginning of the film Joe gets his big break playing for a jazz legend at the Half Note Club. Unfortunately on his way home he falls through a man-hole in the street and goes to the afterlife. (This isn’t a spoiler. It’s right in the trailer).

It's A Wonderful Afterlife In Pixar's Latest SOUL Trailer (VIDEO/IMAGES) – I Can't Unsee That Movie: film news and reviews by Jeff Huston

The animation in these sequences is absolutely stunning. Some of the most beautiful blending of 2D and CG I’ve ever seen. This is when I wish I could have seen Soul on the big screen because the images combined with the beautiful score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross took my breath away. Stunning.

But back to the story, Joe doesn’t want to die, so he escapes the Great Beyond and meets a pre-earth spirit called 22. She is convinced Earth is a big scam and that life isn’t worth even attempting. Joe then helps 22 to find her spark, all the while coming to realize what his spark is (which may or may not be jazz).

22 voiced by Tina Fey is supposed to be our entry-point for children, but I don’t think she is. Maybe I’m wrong and kids will love it but the film strikes me as too heady with too slow a pacing for children? I think they will be bored. Are kids interested in career goals? Do they wonder whether our passions are satisfying enough without relationships? Do kids think a lot about what makes for a fulfilling life?

But let’s assume kids don’t like Soul. Is that a problem? I honestly don’t know. Instead of Inside Out I’d compare this movie to Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow shorts or his feature It’s a Beautiful Day. I admire Hertzfeldt’s philosophical films but they aren’t very rewatchable and not something I love. I like to think of myself as a pretty introspective person, but I suppose I go to religion for this type of spiritual nourishment rather than an animated film. Your mileage may be better than mine, but I guess I like to be entertained a little more when I go to the movies.

There are a few attempts at humor like a repeated gag with pizza that are fun. There’s also a funny section with a cat but it’s mostly a very serious slow meditation on the meaning of life. I definitely recommend seeing it (I actually think Disney Plus is the perfect spot for it to be honest) but have a journal handy to write about your experience and ask yourself questions like these:

What is your spark? Has your passion led you to an empty life? Can the passion be a lie? Is a spark what you do or is it innately a part of who you are as a soul of divine worth? Does your career or passions matter at all?

I’m still pondering what the film is trying to say, which is a good thing I suppose. It just makes writing this review difficult!

In the end, I admire Pixar and Pete Docter for making Soul. It’s a bold, ambitious, challenging film that will appeal more to adults than kids. Whether that is a problem I’m still pondering. I do wish it had tried to entertain me a little bit more as well as make me think. However, the animation is stunning and the music gorgeous. I recommend it but just know what you are getting yourself into before watching it.

7 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘The Ringmaster’

It’s no secret how much I love documentaries about new and fascinating people and events. The political propaganda films aren’t my favorite but when they can shed light on unique individuals and interesting phenomenon they can be fascinating. One such example is The Ringmaster, which is directed by Dave Newberg and Molly Dworksy but is the brain-child of filmmaker Zachary Capp. The focus of the documentary is on onion rings- believe it or not. However, it is actually much more than that. It also speaks to themes of addiction, obsession and when to stop pursuing a dream.

It all starts with the best of intentions. Fresh out of rehab for a gambling addiction Capp decides he wants to make a Food Network type show on his neighborhood food destination Larry Lang’s onion rings. At the same time Capp inherits some money and decides to bump the project up into a documentary. As his gambling instincts take over Capp becomes obsessed with creating the perfect ending for Lang’s creation; thereby, giving a happy ending to the movie.

It is this dual aspect of The Ringmaster that makes it interesting. At the same time you are learning about Lang’s onion rings and his simple life you are diving deeper into the obsessive tendencies of Capp and his willingness to manipulate the narrative however he can. And yet we don’t feel angry at Capp because his motivations are so understandable. The promise of the American dream is intoxicating and it’s hard to let go of a project- especially one we’ve been invested in for over 2 years.

The filmmaking and editing of The Ringmaster is pretty basic and low budget but the story is very interesting. I can see them making a feature film on this story and it being quite riveting.

You can rent The Ringmaster on amazon (affiliate link) or at streaming service. Let me know what you think of it if you get to see it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I have been up to my knees reviewing Christmas movies and coordinating interviews over at the Hallmarkies Podcast. Make sure you are subscribed over there but I wanted to give my quick thoughts on a few recent watches I’ve seen over the past few weeks. Some of them are holiday films and some have Oscar buzz. If you’ve seen any of them let me know what you think.

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square

Dolly Parton is as close to an angel human as we have on this planet right now. It was recently reported she has even been contributing to research into the COVID immunization efforts. She has her Imagination Library as well as Dollywood and an array of other businesses and causes that help thousands.

But…this movie isn’t very good. The only way I can think to describe it is it is like going to bad community theater. Everyone looks like they are having a good time and you’re happy for them but that doesn’t change the fact it is terrible. Even Christine Baranski as a Scrooge-type trying to close down an entire town can’t save it. I particularly didn’t care for an adoption storyline that is in very poor taste (no spoilers).

There’s even a scene where Baranski is served alcohol by a little girl and they have a cuddly song together. It was just bad even though I adore Dolly.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

A Rainy Day in New York

Now to the opposite problem of Christmas on the Square, here we have a movie by a person of questionable character that I enjoyed. A Rainy Day in New York is by no meas top tier Woody Allen by I did enjoy it. It is bright and funny with a charming script loaded with Allen’s dry wit.

Only Timothée Chalamet could play a character named Gatsby Welles and make him entertaining. He’s definitely a privileged snot but he’s also clueless and desperate in an appealing way. Elle Fanning is our young innocent ingenue sent to interview director Liev Schreriber and she’s fun. Jude Law and Selena Gomez have memorable scenes. It’s not a movie that will stay with me for years to come but as a light-hearted lark it’s a good time.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two

One thing that might surprise people unfamiliar with Hallmark movies is they don’t often tell North Pole stories. Occasionally you will have a Santa or some Christmas magic but almost never Santa Claus based films. So with this knowledge, I really enjoyed the first Christmas Chronicles film. It was whimsical and sweet with Kurt Russell having a blast as a kick-butt Santa Claus. Unfortunately I found this sequel to be a disappointment. It’s harmless but I can’t really recommend it.

The two biggest problems I had with The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two is the lead little girl is unlikable and annoying and the villain played by Julian Dennison is poorly executed. I hate to be mean on a young actor but I have not been impressed by Dennison’s acting of late. I thought he was terrible in Deadpool 2 (Once Upon a Deadpool that I saw) and he’s really bad here. Everything he says feels so forced and wooden it’s awkward rather than fun.

Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn are great and there is a nice reconciliation at the end but it’s also too long at 112 minutes. This one I will have to say pass and just watch the original instead.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Pieces of a Woman

Pieces of a Woman is a film you should definitely expect to hear about come Oscar season. It is a brutal, searing, emotional film with a great performance by Vanessa Kirby- particularly the first 25 minutes. It honestly feels like a documentary at times it is so real and visceral. I don’t think it is spoiling to say the movie starts with the birth of a child and it is the most immersive childbirth scene I’ve ever seen in a film. It’s intense!

After the birth it becomes more of a melodrama but it is still good and the acting is superb. It’s probably not something I will ever watch again; however, I recommend it to anyone who can stomach the intense scenes.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Alien Xmas-

Now for a hard left turn from Pieces of a Woman let’s talk about the adorable stop motion special on Netflix called Alien Xmas. There’s a grand tradition of animated shorts at the holidays and this could end up in that group which is watched each year. It tells the story of an alien that is mistaken for a toy by a little girl and must fight his natural urge to steal all the presents from the little kids.

I love stop motion animation and this is no exception. The alien is so cute and its transformation is very sweet and tender. It has a nice message and the whole family will enjoy it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Love and Monsters’: A Perfect Movie for 2020

Let me start out by saying, I don’t give this review the subtitle of ‘a perfect movie for 2020’ lightly. It’s a tagline I’ve heard a lot this year and most of the time it seems undeserved. However, after much thought I really do believe this is the perfect movie for this moment. (Check out my friend Sean’s rave review who convinced me to watch it and thanks to Paramount for the screener).

Even if you don’t love Love and Monsters like I did I think you will agree it is a pleasant surprise. What makes it special is it has something for everyone. It’s PG-13 but a lot of older kids will dig the monsters and action set pieces. There’s also romance, heart, tension, drama and it’s about surviving an apocalypse so perhaps we should all take notes? 😉

Love and Monsters stars Dylan O’Brien as Joel who has survived a nuclear event that has mutated normal animals like frogs and lizards into giant monsters. As it starts out he is bunkering underground but he wants to find his girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick) who he believes is still alive. Deciding to brave the land Joel strikes out on his quest to find Aimee and along the way he meets a Clyde (Michael Rooker) and his daughter Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt) who show him the ropes of surviving in this hostile environment (I loved this father, daughter combo).

I won’t give away any more of the story but I thoroughly enjoyed Joel’s journey. O’Brien does a fantastic job creating a character we are rooting for. It also doesn’t hurt he has an adorable doggie to help him along the way. The visual effects are very impressive for a $30 million budget and what they lack in polish they make up for in creativity and inventiveness.

There are always people who dislike every movie but Love and Monsters is one most people will enjoy. It’s fun. It’s heartfelt and moving. It’s tense. It’s romantic. It’s just really well done and definitely one of the biggest surprises of 2020. It’s one of the first movies I can confidently say is worth the $20 rental cost. Gather the family together and watch this entertaining monster movie and have a blast. You’ll love it!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

To help support my work use my affiliate link to purchase the movie on amazon https://amzn.to/3dQqOOI

[REVIEW] ‘The Witches’ or a Lukewarm October Fare

Most critics will tell you the hardest reviews to write are the lukewarm movies: the movies that are fine but not especially memorable. This is particularly true given the dichotomy of rottentomatoes doesn’t allow for a lukewarm response. It is either fresh or rotten, good or bad.

The latest lukewarm movie comes from director Robert Zemeckis with his adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel The Witches. Like all of Dahl’s books I really enjoyed his writing as a kid, and I was the perfect age of 9 to enjoy the first film adaptation in 1990 starring Angelica Huston.

This new version stars Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch and Octavia Spencer as the Grandmother of young Luke played by Jahzir Bruno and narrated by Chris Rock. Rock and Spencer set up the world of the witches but it takes a lot longer than the 1990 film and never fills the audience with the same dread and suspense. This might be because I am no longer 9, but I predict kids will not find this new version very scary.

The story takes a while to get to the witches being witchy and when they do Hathaway has a ton of fun with the role. She’s hamming it up and having a good time being deliciously evil. I appreciate they didn’t try and humanize the witches with a tragic backstory like so often is the case in modern-day villains. It’s not scary if we know the backstory of our characters. Sometimes evil is ok and fun.

Octavia Spencer is also good and the child performers are fine. I didn’t love the visual effects they used and wish they had gone the Muppet/make-up route of the original films. It’s a lot scarier to see the warped flesh and strange creatures; much more so than seeing Hathaway with a CG giant smile over her face. That looks very artificial so it’s not very scary.

The costumes and style of The Witches is a lot of fun and like I said Hathaway is selling every scene she’s in. It’s just frustrating because it has so many good pieces that it could have been something special but it ends being a big meh.

It’s fine. Kids will be moderately entertained but it’s unlikely to make any lasting impact and if I was looking for a The Witches adaptation I would pick the 1990 film every time. Take that for what you will.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (barely)

[REVIEW] ‘Baby Frankenstein’ or Indie Sweet Monster Movie Fun

There is a poster going around for the new indie monster film Baby Frankenstein that makes me wonder if the poster-makers have seen the film.

This poster is in no way accurate to the actual film. In fact, those watching it expecting a gore fest are going to be very disappointed.

On the other hand, if you don’t enjoy gory horror movies you might be pleasantly surprised by the actual film that is Baby Frankenstein. It’s by no means a indie masterpiece but it’s sweet and fun experience to watch.

Baby Frankenstein is a very low budget film about a young man named Lance (Ian Barling) who discovers an ”automaton” they dub Baby Frankenstein (Rance Nix) in the attic of his Mother’s new house. Quickly Lance and BF grow an attachment and he and his girlfriend Truth (Cora Savage) spend the rest of the film hiding their new friend (ala E.T. style) from the authorities and Lance’s Mother’s boyfriend Ken (Patrick McCartney).

For the most part Baby Frankenstein is a fun indie low budget ride made with a lot of heart. However, the antagonist Ken was a bit much for me. I realize he is supposed to be unlikable but he was more irritating than menacing. There are also definitely moments where you feel the low budget in the acting and directing, but with these kinds of films that’s all part of the homespun charm in a way.

If you know what you are getting into than I think you will enjoy Baby Frankenstein.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy