[REVIEW] CRAM or Just Read the Book Marc!

Before I begin this review I will state outright that my co-host of The Criterion Project, Conrado Falco, has a small role in this film and we have had the director Abie Sidell and producer Trevor Wallace have come on our show and are the reason I was aware of the project. That said if I didn’t think it was quality I would not review it so I think I can be objective about it. 

Recently attending both Sundance and SXSW I must have said 100 times- this would be so much better as a short. Too often interesting concepts for a featurette or short are stretched out to feature in order to make it marketable in a cineplex. This is a real shame and ruins some otherwise good ideas.

That said, one of the cool aspects of the new horror film Cram is its length- not a short but a featurette of 44 minutes. It would be really neat if we could get enough of these shorter genre films being made that a theater could combine them together to fill a feature film slot- Grindhouse style or like what they used to do at sci-fi Drive-ins. How fun would that be?

Anyway, Cram stars John DiMino as a college student Marc who is cramming for a college paper, getting little to no sleep, but the only problem is he didn’t read the book that the assignment is based on. He tries to get a friend Alice to let him use her paper but she refuses (of course because she would be punished along with him for turning in the same paper).

When he falls asleep writing his paper, he wakes up in a haze and an acid-trippy force has taken over the library. This is the most effective part of the film with director Sidell creating some compelling and spooky atmosphere. I like the way he used bright colors to draw the viewer into each aisle of the library.

As it gets more into fantasy the narrative started to lose me a little bit but as it’s only 44 minutes I didn’t feel frustrated long.

Overall, Cram is a scrappy little thriller that most anyone who has crammed for a test in college will understand. It’s available to watch for free on tubi so check it out. I think you’ll enjoy it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Little Nicholas, Shin Ultraman, Spoiler Alert, I Wanna Dance with Somebody)

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. Today I have to play some catch-up on 2022 movies I saw but never got around to writing a review for. This is no statement on the quality of the films but more how busy I was watching Christmas and Oscar films. Make sure you check over on my youtube channel for all of my end of the year videos including best, worst, most disappointing of 2022 and my most anticipated of 2023.

All that said let’s get on to the mini-reviews

Little Nicholas - Happy as Can Be (2022) - IMDb

Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be

2022 seems to be my year for absolutely adorable yet thoughtful animated films. It’s certainly the case for Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and this film out of France called Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be. It is both really cute little stories about Little Nicholas (a popular character in France) and a rumination on the cartoon’s creators writer René Goscinny and cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé.  We see the character interact with both the writer and artist and interact as they struggle to create the stories.

The film has something to say about friendship, a life’s work and what gives life meaning. It’s no surprise the film was written by Gosvinny’s daughter Anne because it feels like that kind of labor of love. Any animation fan will adore the simple sketch animation and appreciate getting a peak into an illustrator and writer’s process and the heart that goes into creating a character like Nicholas.

I don’t know how much of a rollout Little Nicholas will get but if it is playing near you I highly recommend it. One of my favorites of 2022

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022) - IMDb

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody

I must admit I put off reviewing this movie because it really bummed me out. I love Whitney Houston’s singing and her death hit me harder than most celebrity deaths. The Bodyguard came out when I was 11 so a little too young for it as a movie but the soundtrack was some of the first pop music to impress me (along with the Beach Boys and Celine Dion.) I remember listening to her concert in Africa in 1994 and being blown away by her incredible voice.

Now we have this movie of her life (thankfully they kept Whitney’s singing because how could you replace her like they did with Judy Garland biopic). Naomi Ackie looked like Whitney more in the trailer than in the actual movie and everyone else is fine imitators such as Stanley Tucci playing Clive Davis but they can’t save the movie.

Some may say this is like a Lifetime biopic but honestly most of those are better than this. They had one last year on Mahalia Jackson that was actually quite good. This is as generic as it comes and the whole thing feels scrubbed clean as if it had a final edit by the family.

It’s just completely mediocre and not worth your time.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Spoiler Alert' Review: Jim Parsons in Michael Showalter Tearjerker – The Hollywood Reporter

Spoiler Alert

Going into Spoiler Alert I must admit the romantic weepie is not my favorite brand of romantic films. Nevertheless, I can still recognize when they are done well and this one is. It is based on a memoir by writer Michael Ausiello and tells the story of his love with husband Kit Cowan who dies of cancer.

Jim Parson plays Ausiello and I think his nerdy energy was a good fit for the role. If there is anyone who can convincingly play a Smurfs collector and still be charming it is Parsons! He also has good chemistry with Ben Aldridge who plays Kit.

If you have seen a Nicholas Sparks weepie than that’s basically what you get here but like I said they have chemistry and the whole thing is endearing enough to work. Sally Field is really nice as Kit’s protective mother.

Spoiler Alert also definitely counts as a Christmas movie, which wins some points in my book. I’d say get out the tissues and enjoy this sweet, hopeful love story

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Shin Ultraman' Review: A Massively Entertaining Superhero Relaunch - Variety

Shin Ultraman

I don’t pretend to be an expert on tokusatsu cinema out of Japan but I have covered some Godzilla films for The Criterion Project and watched a few of the films. Recently director Shinji Higuchi came out with a film called Shin Godzilla to wide acclaim. Now he has released his version of Shin Ultraman which has also been around for many years.

Fortunately you Shin Ultraman stands alone and you don’t need to know any of the history in order to enjoy its fun campy take on a superhero movie. It centers on a group of Japanese bureaucrats who are trying to stop the aliens attacking their country. To their relief they get help from a giant alien called Ultraman but then the friendly creature takes a turn and they don’t know if they can control him.

I particularly enjoyed Hidetoshi Nishijima who was in last year’s Oscar contender Drive My Car. He plays the leader of the SSP (Species Suppression Protocol). The rest of the acting is a lot of fun especially the women who have a very unusual way of boosting their self esteem. The visual effects are campy and reminded me of a good episode of Doctor Who. If you like campy scifi monster movies you’ll have a great time with Shin Ultraman.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! Let me know what you think of these 4 films and what you have been watching.

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[REVIEW] ‘A MAN CALLED OTTO’ or A Movie That Doesn’t Need To Exist but Still Works

I often hear people criticize a remake by saying ‘this movie doesn’t need to exist.’ What they are trying to say is ‘this movie has already been made well once so there’s no reason to make it again…’ and they aren’t wrong. Especially in an era where we have access to most of the originals (thank goodness such gimmicks like the Disney vault are gone!) It’s particularly scummy when the only reason to remake a film is because the original is a foreign film and Americans can’t be bothered to read subtitles…All that said, the unnecessary remake can still be a serviceable film that’s well put together. Both things can be true. Such is the case with today’s film A Man Called Otto.

If you follow my content you might know A Man Called Ove (the original title) is one of my favorite recent novels. The novelist Fredrik Backman is one of the best writers working today. He is so great at creating characters I care about and describing the human condition. A Man Called Ove is fantastic and his Anxious People is outstanding.

In 2015 a Swedish adaptation of the book entitled A Man Called Ove was released starring Rolf Lassgard and it is an excellent adaptation that was nominated for 2 Oscars. It’s widely accessible to American audiences and can be watched currently for free on the kanopy library movie app (it’s not some obscure or hard to find foreign film.)

A Man Called Otto' Review: Tom Hanks Learns Life Lessons - The New York Times

Now we have a new adaptation called A Man Called Otto starring Tom Hanks in the lead role. And all in all, despite feeling redundant, it’s a pretty good adaptation of this book. I admit I am a sucker for these kinds of grumpy old man redemption story movies, and I’d be lying if I said this one didn’t get to me, and I didn’t leave the theater wiping away some tears.

Hanks plays a grumpy old widower who’s sole purpose in life is monitoring the tenants of his little condo complex in Pittsburg. Nobody follows the rules well enough and everyone but Otto is an idiot that can’t get things right. However, what all the tenants don’t know is Otto has decided to end his life so that he can be with his wife who died the year before. Fortunately for him he meets a new neighbor Marisol (Mariana Trevino) who is up for whatever Otto can throw at her- even letting him teach her how to drive in a funny scene.

Hanks is a strange choice to play such a miserable character, but I suppose it helps the audience keep rooting for the character because he is such a likable presence. We also see flashbacks to his life with his wife (Truman Hanks plays young Otto) which helps endear us to the character.

Like I said, the redemption of a grumpy character (Up, Gran Torino, A Christmas Carol, As Good as it Gets…) is a favorite plot trope of mine in the movies. It will always get me crying and this did just that. Maybe it’s because I had a grumpy Grandpa who never came around, but I like to believe there is that potential in every one of us. It’s a very hopeful message I never tire of.

If you are triggered by suicide than A Man Called Otto won’t be for you, but I found it quite moving- even if it is unnecessary. You can totally stay at home and watch the original on kanopy, but if you do go out to see this new version, I bet you’ll have a good time and leave feeling uplifted. It’s a movie with a message that we can reach out and help even the most surly of neighbors and it will all turn out for the best. Maybe that’s a story worth telling…even twice?

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Matilda the Musical’ or This Generation’s ANNIE is Mostly Fun

It is really hard to adapt Roald Dahl’s stories into films. The dark comedy in his childhood stories have delighted kids for years but when translated into live action film it can come across as cruel and mean-spirited very easily. The latest attempt is an adaptation of the Tony award winning musical Matilda called appropriately Matilda the Musical and I’d say it’s mostly successful in attempting to convert this difficult material to the big screen (or Netflix screen…).

One thing fans of the Broadway show should be aware of is how much is cut for this version. There’s a good 30 minutes or more taken from the stage removed from the film. I understand this has to be done but unfortunately they removed a lot of the comic relief making it feel like a torture movie for children far too much. They do all they can to brighten up the production design and make things silly but without the comedic songs it’s hard to shake the feeling these kids are being imprisoned and abused. (I was especially sad to lose “Telly” and “Loud” as they are such funny songs from the Wormwoods).

Many Broadway fans have called Matilda this generation’s Annie and I can see why. They are both about bright bubbly characters in an orphanage-like environment with plucky songs to boost their spirits. My friend who coaches kid-actors told me she rehearses nothing but “Naughty,” “Revolting Children” and “Miracle” and I can see why. They are catchy tunes where the child performers get to shine.

In August I reviewed a production of Matilda at Payson Community Theater that was absolutely outstanding. The large energetic cast, choreography and incredible production design really won me over to this show, which I had previously been meh on. When it is done right it’s so energetic you can’t help but have a good time.

The best part of this movie version of the show is Emma Thompson as The Trunchbull (a role that is usually done in drag- and the version I saw in Payson they had a real life married couple playing Jenny and Trunchbull which I thought was a fun touch). The best sequence of the movie is “Bruce” where Thompson gets beaten by a kid who eats her giant chocolate cake as an act of protest.

I am glad the screenwriters didn’t feel a need to give us a Trunchbull sympathetic backstory like so many family stories do these days. She could just be an over-the-top villain that’s defeated by the kids. I miss those.

Lashana Lynch makes a great Jenny (or Miss Honey). I had no idea she can sing so well since she is usually in action roles. Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are fun as the Wormwoods but again I missed their songs.

The biggest weakness of the Broadway show is the fantasy sequences where Matilda tells the story of an escapologist and trapeze artist to her local librarian. The show is a little long and bloated as it is and these sections don’t do a lot for the overall story. You could easily remove them and the musical would be exactly the same. So, I’m not sure if they are removing over 30 minutes of material why they kept those sections in? That certainly wouldn’t have been my choice.

Nevertheless, if you are fan of musicals and in particular this musical, I think you’ll enjoy Matilda the Musical. It’s certainly worth a watch on Netflix for Thompson’s performance alone. I definitely think its many child fans will particularly love it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews (X and Pearl, White Noise, Aftersun, Babylon, Something from Tiffany’s)

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I have been overwhelmed with movie-watching lately, which isn’t a big surprise with my career as a film critic and Christmas movie podcaster (check out Hallmarkies Podcast for reviews of all the holiday films!). It’s just hard this time of year because I have over 100 Christmas movies to watch plus all the awards screeners so I can vote in the critics groups I’m a part of (HCA, UFCA, OAOFFC). I usually watch at least 4 movies every single day! Plus I’m also reviewing live theater for UTBA  and writing reviews, editing podcasts and videos…the list goes on. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there is enough hours in the day!

Anyway, I have a bunch of Oscar screeners to update you all on. I wish I could write long reviews on all of these but alas a mini review will have to do:

Something from Tiffany’s

I must admit I didn’t love the plot of Something From Tiffany’s which you can watch over on Amazon Prime. It’s one of my least favorite of the romantic comedy tropes when the script forces people into emotional cheating to find love. That’s the case here with Kendrick Sampson and Ray Nicholson getting their Tiffany bags swapped- one bag that has an engagement ring causing all kinds of confusion.

Fortunately the movie still manages to work because of the charm of star Zoey Deutch and her terrific chemistry with Sampson. I just wish they had found another way for them to get to know each other than both cheating on their significant others. It makes it hard to root for the characters or their romance. Deutch certainly knows how to rock a red lip nd after Set It Up (which is a lot better) she may be our next rom-com star.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

X and Pearl

X Movie Killer Pearl Backstory Explained

If you have followed my site for any period of time you know I’m not the biggest horror person but I have been trying to expand my palate in recent years. Since they seemed like important films from this year I finally watched Ti West’s new films X and Pearl and overall I was impressed with them. They have a unique perspective, are very well made and Mia Goth is outstanding in both.

I am not going to give a score to X because I fast forwarded through some of the porn scenes and I only review films I’ve completely watched but I watched enough to say it is a well made slasher with atmosphere and entertaining “kills”/scary sequences.

Pearl I did watch in totality so I can give a review. This is a very effective prequel, giving us the backstory of how the Pearl in X became a serial killer. It’s all wrapped up in old-school dreams of Hollywood with fantastical sequences and a monologue that should (but probably won’t) give Goth an Oscar nomination. Pearl is definitely one of the most memorable movies of 2022, and I’m glad I saw it.

Pearl gets an 8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Toxic Impulses

Toxic Impulses (2022) - IMDb

This one is a micro-budget indie crime noir film that does a lot with a little. Writer and director Kyle Schadt puts together an impressive thriller with almost no budget that can rival or even top the entertainment value of the big budget films we are seeing out of Netflix and Amazon. It tells the story of a man named Mosley (Benedikt Sebastian) who meets a woman named Zemira (Olivia Buckle) who unbeknownst to him is a bank robber on the run. Quite unwittingly he becomes involved in her affairs and everything gets crazy as they evade the law.

There are obviously some elements of the movie where you can feel the low budget but nothing that kept me from having a good time. If you like an edgy independent thriller where people are clearly trying to make something special give Toxic Impulses a try.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

White Noise

White Noise Trailer Shows Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig Trying to Survive

White Noise is one of those movies I feel torn on. On one hand it has some very entertaining characters and moments. On the other hand, the plot is messy and I don’t understand why they needed to make Adam Driver’s character a Hitler studies expert. I realize that’s how he is in the novel but maybe in the novel they give a compelling reason (not that there is a good reason to be a Hitler studies expert). It just felt like such a strange choice.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, I could feel him working out COVID and quarantine through this movie. The premise is a  disaster (‘airborne toxic event) has caused the Gladney family to evacuate. Each of them grapples with this new reality in their own way until the disaster becomes literal and metaphorical for this family.

Like I said, I’m torn where to rate this one. (Stay around for the fun credits sequence)

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

After Sun

Aftersun (2022) - IMDb

On my podcast, The Criterion Project, we have a pretentiousness scale where we rate how artsy or difficult to grasp the film we are talking about it (a thing that happens a lot on Criterion.) A lot of A24 films the rating would be quite high as they tend to have films outside of the mainstream. Their latest, Aftersun, definitely qualifies as pretentious in its pacing and lack of plot but it’s also quite mainstream in its sweet and endearing nature.

It’s a simple movie about a father and daughter who spend a holiday at a rundown resort in Turkey . Like I said, it doesn’t have much plot but the 2 lead performances are very likable and sweet and you find yourself rooting for this pair. I honestly could have used a little more story but its definitely a strong debut for writer director Charlotte Wells. I think if you are open to slice of life films at all you’ll enjoy Aftersun.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Damien Chazelle's Babylon Trailer Is Full Of Drugs, Big Dreams And A Dancing Brad Pitt | Movies | Empire

I’ve never been as in love with Damien Chazelle as a lot of my friends are. I haven’t hated any of his films but they’ve all left me wanting particularly in the character development area. Now we have Babylon and this is even more the case here! Babylon is an unending parade of supposed excitement that instead becomes dull and predictable.

The film is mostly madness but I guess it’s about a bunch of people who are struggling to transition between silent films and talkies. I say I guess because the plot is barely there. Instead you get 188 minutes of cocaine fueled parties that feels like it will never end. Even the great cast like Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Jean Smart and Tobey Maguire cant make this film coherent and fun. It’s truly exhausting and I hated watching it.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

There you go! Let me know what you thought of these films. It’s certainly an eclectic group

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[REVIEW] ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ or The Most Awe Inspiring Refugee Story Ever

Unlike most people I don’t remember the first Avatar merely for its astonishing visuals. No, my experience was more unique because it was actually the first movie I ever got evacuated from the theater in the middle of watching it. I was in California visiting my family, who lived there at the time, and went with my brother to see Avatar. In the middle of the movie the fire alarm went off and we were asked to evacuate the building. I think there was an actual fire in the kitchen area because they gave us a coupon to come back and see the rest of the movie, which I eventually did, and we left the theater.

I mention this experience only to say I have a nostalgia for the first film that most don’t have. It was a very memorable time at the theater! Anyway, as far as the actual movie Avatar goes I think it’s fine. It’s one of those movies that has been called overrated so much it’s actually become a little underrated. The visuals are outstanding and the story is serviceable. My main problem with it is it is too long for the love story it services. It’s often compared to Pocahontas and Fern Gully but both of those movies are under 90 minutes! This one stretches out to 162 minutes, which exposes its story problems and other weaknesses.

Now after 13 years of waiting James Cameron has finally given us a sequel with Avatar: The Way of Water. Like the original it is too long and bloated but its story resonated with me so much more this time. It still has the amazing visuals (and you all know I’m a sucker for the ocean so I loved all the water scenes!) but instead of a trite romance we have a beautiful story about family and surprisingly the refugee experience.

The sequel starts with Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) raising their family of 4 kids in Pandora. Their paradise is interrupted when the “sky people” attack and Jake and his family are forced to take refuge with the Metkayina or water clan led by Tonowari (Cliff Curtis) and Ronal (Kate Winslet).

As we experience the astonishing visuals (truly astonishing) we also grow to love and care for this family and watch as they attempt to fit in with the Metkayina, defend their new home and get to know the beautiful whale creatures that are also under attack. I found the whole thing to be powerful and moving.

Like I said, Avatar: the Way of Water is too long and particularly the fight sequences start to drag. Anytime they go back to the ”sky people” with Edie Falco and Stephen Lang it begins to lose me.

Fortunately those moments didn’t last long and they would quickly come back to the family I cared about.

For the most part I’ve found the Oscar contenders this year to be underwhelming. So I was as surprised as anyone with how much I liked Avatar: the Way of Water. It truly was an astonishing cinematic experience I won’t soon forget.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Devotion, Food and Romance, The Whale, All Quiet on the Western Front, An American Ballet Story)

Hey everyone! I am back to give you my thoughts on a bunch of recent movie releases. I wish I could do longer reviews on all of these but that isn’t possible. Here we go:


Movie "Devotion" filmed in Statesboro opens at AMC Statesboro Nov. 22

Not every film is a masterpiece. In fact, most aren’t. Most are base hits instead of homeruns. Devotion is a perfect example of a base hit. It tells the heart-tugging story of Korean War hero Jesse Brown who was the first Black aviator in Navy History. He is played by Jonathan Majors who perfectly captures the confidence yet awkwardness of the character. This is especially true when compared with his suave wingman and friend J.D. Dillard played by Glen Powell (despite the similar career the role is actually quite different than his aviator in Top Gun Maverick.)

Devotion definitely drags in the middle as the pilots get to know one another on both sea and land (they spend a day flirting with Elizabeth Taylor at one point in the script.) It picks up towards the end as we know things are likely not going to go well for our soldiers but it earns its emotions, is well made and acted and for a conflict we don’t know much about I’m glad I saw it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Food and Romance

Tisdagsklubben - Bio.nu

Next on the docket comes out of Sweden and is a really sweet, pleasant romance called Food and Romance. Like Devotion, this doesn’t do anything new or exciting but what it does, it does well. It stars Marie Richardson as Karin who after 40 years of marriage ends up single and alone. To keep her spirits up she decides to take a cooking class, which is led by a grumpy unhappy chef named Henrik (Peter Stormare).

Of course they start up not liking each other but their bond grows as they cook together. That’s a very romantic concept and the 2 leads have lovely chemistry. The other classmates and friends are a lot of fun and it all makes for a delightful story of second chance romance.

7 out of 10

The Whale

The Whale' Review: Brendan Fraser in Darren Aronofsky's Film - Variety

I think most of America is rooting for Brendan Frasier. I don’t know all the details but it seems like he was bullied out of Hollywood, faced hard times and is working his way back into films. He certainly has received loads of praise for Darren Aronfsky’s The Whale, and will probably be nominated for an Oscar for his performance, which is great. I’m happy for him.

That said, I did not enjoy The Whale. His performance is fine and honestly not as fat shamey as I feared. He tries to bring humanity to the 500 lb man named Charlie he plays in the film. Unfortunately the script surrounds him with people who are so mean that it becomes a frustrating experience.

I particularly hated Sadie Sink as his miserable, angry teenage daughter. I understand being a teenager is tough but so often they are portrayed as practical robots to their rage especially here. Any humanity to her character mostly feels imagined by Charlie more than a real attribute to her character.

The whole experience of watching The Whale was excruciating and it felt like it would never end. No thanks.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front' Review: The Spectacle of War - The New York  Times

Coming from Germany onto Netflix we have the latest telling of the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. It’s been a while since I read the book or saw the 1930 classic but this new version can still stand alone as a worthy adaptation. It’s a brutal watch that I’m not sure we needed but it’s certainly one of the most well made of any of the Oscar contenders I’ve seen.

The movie follows Paul Bäumer as he and his buddies join up for World War 1 with excitement and even glee. Quickly they learn what they have gotten themselves into and each dies one by one in the most brutal of all the conflicts (it must have been intense to watch the 1930 version when it was all so fresh in their minds.)

There isn’t much relief from the brutality of war here and like I said I’m not sure this gives us anything we haven’t seen before in movies like 1917 just a few years ago. Still it’s a harrowing reminder of the horrors of war and quite masterfully put together.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

An American Ballet Story

May be an image of 10 people, people standing and indoor

I’m a sucker for documentaries about art and artists. Even if others find them dry I like learning about creative minds and what goes into their artistic process. That’s essentially what we get with An American Ballet Story. It’s a documentary that tells the story of the Harkness Ballet and its founder Rebekah Harkness that changed the world of dance in the 1960s.

A documentary like this is somewhat constrained by the footage they have to use (and archival interviews they can find) and that is the case here. A lot of the images are grainy and not as clear of the dancers as we’d like to see but director Leslie Streit gets enough personal stories to keep the narrative going.

If you have any interest in dance or the arts you will enjoy this informative documentary.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is My Wish Come True

Going into 2022 I can tell you one thing- I did not expect to prefer both DreamWorks films over both Pixar (and Disney) films and to be crowning one of them as my favorite movie of 2022…and yet here we are. Even more surprising is that film, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a sequel in a franchise that has well exceeded its welcome. This is why I always go into a movie hoping to be dazzled with what the filmmakers have to offer.

I’ve long said the match of Antonio Banderas with the character of Puss in Boots is one of the best uses of celebrity voices ever. This is not movie star stunt casting but a perfect match of voice to character. Banderas continues that tradition here voicing the famous feline to perfection. Giving just the right amount of moxie mixed with a little bit of fatigue from using all those lives.
In fact, Puss in Boots learns at the start of The Last Wish that he only has 1 more of his 9 lives left. Being accident-prone, he better get the most of his last life and learn to work with others before it’s too late.
One aspect that’s interesting about this film is that it actually has a lot of similarities with the recent GDT’s Pinocchio. Both deal with death and the afterlife as a theme, have a wood-spirit type creature that controls access to heaven, and both have stunning animation.

The only main difference is that GDT has songs and gets bogged down a little bit in the middle, sending Pinocchio to war. This is why I’d give The Last Wish the slight edge in my ranking (but both top 10 of the year at the moment).
Like I said, the animation is astonishing in The Last Wish. I am absolutely enamored by recent animation trends began by Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. The way the hybrid animation ebbs and flows between 2D and CG is breathtaking and makes every scene memorable – especially the action. When Puss in Boots is sliding across rooftops chasing people, it took my breath away.

But it’s not all action. We have meaningful conversations about what makes a worthy life, how we can recover from grief, and the importance of friendship. There’s also a lot of humor from Puss in Boots, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek.), and the selfish Goldilocks (Florence Pugh).
Looking at a movie like Puss in Boots: the Last Wish, I worry people will dismiss it as a cash-grab sequel, but you shouldn’t. Just the animation alone is worth the cost of admission, but the script by Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow is outstanding. I actually haven’t seen it on the big screen yet (saw screener link), but I can’t wait to do so. It’s a blast that I can’t recommend more completely.
9.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘THE FABELMANS’ or I’m Sorry Steven Your Story Didn’t Work for Me

Reviewing a movie like The Fabelmans is challenging because it’s clearly coming from such a personal loving place. It feels weird to be criticizing someone’s journey and basically saying ‘your story didn’t work for me.’ Alas, that is my job and what I have to do for this review of Steven Spielberg’s sentimental tale based on his own adolescence: The Fabelmans. I respect the effort and it has nice moments but as a whole the film rang flat and most of the endearing sections felt phony and inauthentic rather than moving.

The Fabelmans begins with young Sammy becoming inspired by a trip to the theater to see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. In particular, a train crash sequence blows Sammy’s mind and he asks for a train set for Hanukkah so he can attempt to recreate it using his Dads super 8 camera.

Sammy has a computer programming father (Paul Dano), an eccentric composer mother (Michelle Williams) and 2 sisters. He also has a friend of the family “uncle” Bennie (Seth Rogan) who both his Mother and Father seem equally attached to. We then follow the family in its highs and lows throughout Sammy’s childhood until he graduates high school and goes to work in Hollywood.

The best section of the movie happens at the end when Sammy gets to meet with director John Ford played by director David Lynch. He gives the young filmmaker some very sage advice on what makes an image art and how to turn a scene into true cinema.

Unfortunately there was far too few of these compelling scenes. Frequent Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski shoots everything in nostalgic sepia tones, which is sweet, but I would have liked to see the cinematography change as the decades wear on. It all felt a little samesies after a while.

Also I found Williams’ performance to be especially phony. It almost came across as a Mother version of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ rather than someone with a legit mental illness that needs help. She’s the perky one who believes in him instead of a real authentic human being.

Perhaps Spielberg was too close to this material to give it the nuanced script and direction it deserves? But then again most people seem to be loving it so what do I know? I thought I would love it because I love cheesy, wholesome films but I did not.

If you want something sweet and nostalgic from this year I recommend Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. That worked so much better at creating authentic characters and moments I could relate with despite having grown up in the 80s rather than the 60s. I did enjoy the original score from John Williams in The Fabelmans and I think Sam Rechner and Oakes Fegley were strong as 2 of Sammy’s high school classmates. Other than that, this sentimental journey wasn’t for me.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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