When I first started The Criterion Project with my friend Conrado one of the first movies we reviewed was All About My Mother by famed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, and I really enjoyed it. Almodóvar is great at creating compelling characters while adding his artistic flair. There are still many of his films I have not seen but I enjoyed All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Pain and Glory, and last year’s short The Human Voice.
Now we finally have Almodóvar‘s latest film Parallel Mothers out in theaters. I wish I could have included it in my end of the year lists and videos but the studio was slow in getting me a screener. Now I’ve seen it, and I not only enjoyed but think it is one of Almodóvar’s most approachable, entertaining films. You don’t have to be an indie viewer to enjoy Parallel Mothers. It’s a good story with great performances and engaging characters.
Penélope Cruz stars as Janis a middle-aged new Mother who shares a hospital room while giving birth with a teenage mom named Ana (Milena Smit). The 2 single Mothers become involved in an unexpected way and their bond is both powerful and painful. Almodóvar does a fantastic job making both women believable, easy to root for and yet frustrating at the same time. They are layered, emotionally true characters and both performances are Oscar-worthy.
Some may want something more daring from Almodóvar but I appreciated a more approachable film that is less challenging. You could almost describe Parallel Mothers as a thriller at times. It’s a very well done script. If it’s playing near you definitely check out this cinematic gem from 2021.
So far this COVID experience has been difficult to transfer to media. Most shows and movies have chosen to ignore it in the guise of escapism but there have been a few standouts. Interesting enough 2 of my favorites focus on the female experience with Stop and Go and I’m Fine Thanks for Asking. Now we can another compelling entry with the new film on HBOMax Single Mother by Choice.
In 2019 Selina Ringel and her husband Dan Levy Dagerman decided to make movie chronicling her pregnancy but make the character a SMBC or Single Mother By Choice. This is obviously where a woman becomes pregnant through a sperm donor and has the child without a partner.
Then COVID happened and the lockdown and the story changed. All of the sudden the expected loneliness became magnified and Selina’s vulnerability and yet strength all the more exposed.
Ringel said “The lockdown as a result of Covid-19 plays directly into this theme. My character gets exactly what she wished for, to take care of everything by herself, but at a whole other level than she imagined and the lonlieness that comes with that is unbearable.”
Obviously this film is shot on a small budget but I felt it really captured the highs and lows of being single in the lockdown. I worked from home so I didn’t think it would be that hard but it was, and I can only imagine if I had all that while being pregnant!
I almost wish it was a series so I could keep following mother and child. One of my favorite parts was when she is interviewing roommates- something I can relate with as I had to find new tenants for my basement apartment during the pandemic.
Also all the zoom chats and the googling information about COVID and the baby. At one point her doctor tells her ‘stay off of google” LOL. It’s an interesting dichotomy because at the same time she’s doing this bold confident thing she’s also never been more isolated and alone. She both realizes she can do it on her own and that she needs people all at the same time. I think we all can relate to that understanding over the last few years.
Selina says “It has been through doing some deep work on myself that I have realized that asking for help is a strength, I think it is important to start seeing vulnerability as a positive attribute.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Single Mother By Choice is a moving insightful look at the female experience in the era of COVID. Definitely worth a watch if you get a chance.
Hey everyone! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. I had a great time covering all the Christmas movies (125 watched and reviewed at Hallmarkies Podcast) and celebrated by going to Disneyland this week. While there I published my Best and Worst Movies of 2021 videos on youtube. Please check out the videos and give them a thumbs up. I would sure appreciate it!
Today is my day to celebrate the Erwin Brothers because I just reviewed their film American Underdog and now I am talking about their documentary The Jesus Music. As I said in that review Jon and Andrew Erwin are making films in the faith-based genre that nobody else is making. They may not be perfect but they are so much better than their contemporaries and that continues into the documentary format with The Jesus Music. This is a solid chronicling of the history of Jesus music from the 1960s to its current day.
Despite not growing up as a traditional Christian I still enjoyed the Jesus music of the 80s. I’ve always been a big Amy Grant fan. In fact, she was one of the few artists my Mother and I agreed on and enjoyed listening together. I also loved Michael W Smith and he was the first concert I ever went to with a friend of mine out at the county fair. Both of them feature heavily in the documentary as well as other artists I did not know like the heavy metal band Stryper.
I don’t think you have to be a follower to enjoy this documentary. As I said I am not a traditional Christian or an evangelical but I found it fascinating. It’s not afraid to be judgemental and call out the Christian audience and it showcases a wide variety of artists not just worship music.
Plus, the music is really good! It made me want to search out new artists and learn more about others song catalog. It’s also uses Kirk Franklin and other artists to talk about the diversity problem within the genre and that they could have embraced it from the beginning more than they did.
If you love Christian music you will love The Jesus Music. If you don’t you might still love it. It’s one of the best documentaries of the year!
One of the toughest genres to make a quality film in is the faith-based film. It is very difficult to portray conversion and a spiritual life in a way that doesn’t feel forced and cloying. However, the Erwin Bros, Andrew and Jon, are doing it about as well as can be done. I first noticed them in 2018 withI Can Only Imagine, which made a non-religious friend of mine weep, it was so good. And then I Still Believe released just before the pandemic that was another solid inspirational true story about musician Jeremy Camp. Now with their latest film American Underdog they are moving to sports to tell the story of come-from-behind football star Kurt Warner and they have another win!
There are a couple key aspects that make American Underdog work. First, the story is compelling and doesn’t try to start a ministry. What Kurt Warner accomplished coming from an undrafted status to winning Super Bowls as a quarterback is remarkable. He literally did go from stocking shelves at the supermarket to an MVP in the NFL. That kind of story doesn’t happen every day and is exciting.
Second, the Erwin’s got quality actors for the film. We all know Zachary Levi is charismatic and likable but so is Anna Paquin who plays Warner’s girlfriend/wife. Dennis Quaid does strong work as coach Dick Vermeil in a small role and little Hayden Zaller is wonderful as Warner’s step-son Zack. The whole cast makes for a story that’s easy to find inspiring because we like the characters and we want to cheer for them.
Finally, for this kind of movie the script is relatively gritty and honest. For example, Kurt and Brenda live together for a long time before getting married. They also meet in a bar and characters get intoxicated on occasion. It’s not like you need these elements to make a story work but it’s also nice the filmmakers didn’t shy away from them to appease their Christian audience either. It makes the victory in the end all the more enjoyable when you see where they come from and what they have overcome.
This holiday season if you are looking for something that will make you stand up and cheer check out American Underdog. It’s a rousing crowd pleaser for the whole family!
I walked into The Matrix Resurrections hopeful to find a story I enjoy and find entertaining. I walked out depressed and baffled. If this is modern sci-fi I want no part of it and I count myself a fan of the original film from 1999.
This was just a complete mess masquerading as meta sci-fi. No thank you!
As best as I can make out this tells the story of Neo trying to figure out the Matrix again and find his love Trinity (now introduced as Tiffany) with an aged Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). Along the way he faces a duplicitous game mogul version of Smith (Jonathan Groff) and a psychiatrist villain played by Neil Patrick Harris.
I have never been the biggest sci-fi fan, but I used to at least understand the movies even if they were a little slow and more style over substance. Now they try to cram so much substance that they lose the story. I guess at least with The Matrix Resurrections I could understand the dialogue unlike the baffling Tenet from last year. Other people are either smarter than I am or they don’t care that the plots make no sense in these movies. I don’t know. I can only share my experience.
Also just because something goes meta and has a message doesn’t automatically make it good. It still has to tell a story that makes sense with characters that grow and change. Not the case here. Honestly movies like this make me feel I was too hard on Reminiscence because at least that had a coherent story with characters that transformed. It was a little boring, but I’d watch it a hundred times over whatever this was.
If you like The Matrix Resurrections more power to you. I hated practically every minute of it.
Now please can someone make a good sci-fi film please? I need it!
It’s no big secret I was not a fan of the last Spider-Man movie in the MCU, Spider-Man: Far From Home. I didn’t like the set up with Tony giving Peter, a teenager, a weapon. I didn’t like the villain motivation being another grudge against Tony Stark and I really didn’t like the attempts at humor like Peter getting caught getting undressed by a woman and then using the weapon to almost kill a schoolmate he thought might expose him. Also the illusions made no sense practically when you think about it. It was bad. Very bad.
So my expectations were not high for the sequel No Way Home. Now I have seen the film and it is a definite improvement from the last film. However,all the ways I liked it better would be considered spoilers. All the things I didn’t like would also be considered spoilers. This makes this review difficult to write. I seriously can’t think of a movie harder to talk about without spoilers than this film.
What I will say is that at its core Spider-Man: No Way Home is a movie about friendship. It’s about schoolmate friendships, mentor/mentee friendships, friends you have nothing in common with, friends who are very similar, and friends that are your parental figures/family. Some friends you chose and some are chosen for you but that all has value.
The biggest downside to the film is a problem I’ve had with Disney for a long time. They are presenting a perfect world where nobody is evil or bad and everyone can be redeemed or ”cured” of their sociopathic or evil tendencies. That’s just not reality. I know it’s a superhero movie but one of the best things about superhero movies and comics is their ability to teach children the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. Now everything is either doom and gloom over at DC or no villains exist at Disney. I don’t love that. It is supposed to make everything more nuanced but it instead makes everything bland and devoid of personality.
There also is a lot of time in this movie with people in rooms talking. Sometimes that works, other times it feels over-rehearsed and careful when it is supposed to be natural and conversational. It does also lean on nostalgia a bit but I enjoyed that aspect.
It will be interesting to see what people think of Spider-man: No Way Home. It’s an unusual entry in the MCU but going in with low expectations I enjoyed it and appreciated Peter Parker and all his friends.
7 out of 10
There is a mid-credits and post-credit scene so stick around!
It almost seems like a waste of time to write about a show that ended a month and a half ago but it seemed like nobody was talking about the latest season of American Crime Story dubbed ACS: Impeachment. I really enjoyed it and wanted to say my peace about it.
Impeachment tells the story of the events that led up to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998. I actually didn’t think Clive Owen was very good as the president but it didn’t matter because the show is not about him. The show is all about women and how they were all manipulated by a system that still even with #metoo does the same things today.
Sarah Paulson is unbelievable as Linda Tripp. She not only transforms before us (I didn’t even realize it was her she looks so different until I looked up the cast list!). Linda is a fascinating character because she both believes she is doing the right thing and she also has a major chip on her shoulder which is manipulated by her publicist and the investigators to go beyond what she is comfortable with. Then once she goes there she’s too stubborn to admit what she did might be wrong. Of course, she is responsible for her behavior but she also was marginalized and underappreciated to the point where most of us would be tempted to lash out and gain some control over her situation. Taping those calls might seem more than a little tempting if we were in her shoes (job well done by the creators making me care about Linda Tripp).
Then we have Beanie Feldstein perfectly cast as Monica Lewinsky. She is responsible for her choices but also manipulated by the most powerful man in the world. Then the investigators who treat her like she is some kind of war criminal trying to get the confession they need to bring down the man they hate.
Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford) is manipulated by lawyers and her husband when all she wants is an apology. Hillary Clinton is manipulated by the press, her husband and his team to be the long-suffering wife who can clean up the messes her husband leaves behind. This would follow her until her own run for the presidency. She was seen as both not feminine enough and yet too weak to lead the country by many. Edie Falco is fantastic as Hillary and I bet a lot of people might see a new side to her if they watched this show, or at least I did.
It’s a tricky thing to tell a story where everyone watching knows the key events and outcome, but I was riveted each week by ACS: Impeachment. It wasn’t about the events taking place but about the lives of these fascinating women and the way the system used, abused and spit them out as casualties to its mean game. Bill Clinton could go on and give speeches and play golf when Lewinsky, Tripp and Jones’ lives would never be the same. Even the very friendship which helps women survive in tough times was weaponized by these people as a tool to take down people they disliked without care of the lives ruined.
I suppose some people are just tired of politics after the presidency we all experienced (even if you are pro-Trump you can’t deny it was exhausting) so maybe there wasn’t an appetite for a political-based story? If so, that’s a shame because this was riveting television. Riveting television that reminds us all what women face each day and how unfair the system can be as it takes us in, squeezes us dry and spits us out for the world to mock.
Hey everyone! I would love to write full reviews of every movie I see, especially these prestige films, but there is only so much time. So, now we have one of my mini-review post to catch up with all the fun films I’ve been watching (for TV movies check out my weekly recaps and all my content at Hallmarkies Podcast.
So here goes:
I have long loved the musical Annie. It has such a positive energy, a delicious villain in Miss Hannigan and songs that are fun to belt out. However, I did not care for the recent movie version from 2014 at all. They made the songs bland and had one of the worst performances in recent memory by Cameron Diaz. With this in mind I was delighted to see Annie Live! was being performed on NBC and now that I’ve seen it I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I’ve enjoyed most of these live musicals (not much of a shocker if you know me) but I think this is one of the best. Aside from a bad bald cap on Harry Connick Jr it all went off without a hitch. Taraji P Henson was fantastic as Miss Hannigan and young Celina Smith shines as Annie. If you like musicals you won’t want to miss this delightful production.
8 out of 10
Last Night in Soho
Now we take a hard left to Edgar Wright’s latest film Last Night in Soho which is billed as a psychotic thriller but in my opinion it had a lot more psychotic than thrills. It seems like the world-at-large enjoys this more than I did and I suppose it looks impressive but the plot made no sense. It felt like Wright was flinging stuff at the screen without any idea of telling a coherent story. I was exhausted after about 30 minutes and it is almost 2 hours long. It’s none of the actors fault but it definitely wasn’t for me.
3 out of 10
The Power of the Dog
Next up we have the new western from Jane Campion called The Power of the Dog. This stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a ruthless cowboy who resents the addition of Kirsten Dunst’s Rose and her son Peter played by Kodi Smit-McPhee into their home on the prairie. After a while he becomes fascinated with Peter and seeks to train him in the ways of being a cowboy.
The Power of the Dog is impressive with great performances, beautiful cinematography and a compelling script. It’s all a bit cynical for my taste but I can’t deny that it is all very well done. If you like westerns you should definitely see it.
7.5 out of 10
Being the Ricardos
Over the last few years there always seems to be a bio-pic that gets a lot of love that I find completely mediocre. Last year it was Judy and this year it is Being the Ricardos. This one has the advantage of being written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. I am not now nor have ever been a member of the Sorkin hive. I respect much of his work but I have also often found his characters suffer in the wake of all that snappy dialogue he loves so much. That is certainly the case here but I actually found his script for this film to be very sloppy and poorly done.
The script for Being the Ricardos can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it about Lucille Ball being investigated for being a communist? Is it about her crumbling marriage? Is it about the writers room and an episode they are focusing on? Is it about Vivian and her weight struggles? I have no idea. All these ideas are brought up but not explored in a satisfying way. It also didn’t help that Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem look nothing like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
I am sure this will get tons of awards love but not from me. I was thoroughly underwhelmed by it.
3 out of 10
A Boy Called Christmas
Everyone knows I watch a lot of Christmas movies each year but most of them are not feature films. A Boy Called Christmas is an exception to that rule and it turns out to be a really fun and engaging holiday fantasy adventure.
Made in the UK (available for us to watch on Netflix) this film tells the story of a young boy who is trying to find his father who became lost searching for the mythical Elfhelm village. Along the way he meets all kinds of creatures, pixies, and elves.
A Boy Called Christmas has an incredible cast including Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins and Maggie Smith. It’s a little slow at points but most fantasy movies are. If you are looking for some Christmas magic this season it’s a great pick
7 out of 10
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