Current Mini Reviews (Downton Abbey, Chip ‘N Dale, Along for the Ride, Top Gun OG)

Hey everyone! It’s that time again where I give some quick updates on the films I’ve been watching. Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to write up a full review on every film I see. It’s impossible!

Aside from Men, which I hated, it’s been a pretty good month of movie-watching. Particularly in animation we are getting a lot of creativity and innovation which makes me happy to see (especially since I didn’t like Turning Red from earlier in the year).

So here’s the reviews:

Downton Abbey: A New Era-

I was a big fan of the 2019 Downton Abbey film and the show so I came into this new film a little biased to enjoy it. However, I have heard from a number of friends who haven’t watched the show that they have enjoyed the movies so it might surprise non-fans. Either way, this new entry Downton Abbey: A New Era is everything I want in this very fun frothy continuing journey of the Crawley family and their downstairs staff.

Writer Julian Fellowes does a great job balancing a ton of characters and story-threads which is particularly difficult this time because we have the group splitting up- half going to visit a villa in the Mediterranean and half managing the house while a movie is being shot by new to the series Hugh Dancy playing director Jack Barber.

My only nitpick is with Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). I wish they could have gotten Matthew Goode in the movie as her husband. What they came up with instead was frustrating. All the other plotlines I really enjoyed. It’s particularly fun when the servants get a chance to dress up to be in the movie.

The highlight is always Maggie Smith as Violet and she’s spectacular here. My advice is have some tea, take your friends and go back into time for a delightful experience at the theaters!

(And check out our catch up podcast on the series and first movie above)

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers Review - IGN

Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers

I have to say I was as skeptical as anyone going into this movie. I didn’t like the trailers and the images I saw looked like a lame nostalgia grab. However, count me shocked because I had a blast with Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers. It all comes down to the script by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, which is chocked full of gags and laughs that particularly animation fans will go gaga for.

I don’t want to spoil the gags for you but evidently they were going for a Who Framed Roger Rabbit feel and I think they totally succeeded. We have cameos from not just Disney like in Ralph Breaks the Internet but from studios like Sony and Netflix. And there were just a lot of hilarious gags like I loved the setup of Dale doing the comic-con circuit and getting ”CGI surgery” to relive the glory days. That’s clever.

The voice cast is also excellent with John Mullaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett and more. This should entertain both kids and adults so definitely worth your time on Disney Plus. It’s a hilarious time with our dynamic duo.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Along for the Ride' Review: Netflix Dips Into Sarah Dessen Library | IndieWire

Along for the Ride

New on Netflix is the rom-com Along for the Ride. It is based on the book by Sarah Dessen and has lots of beautiful beach scenery but unfortunately that’s all I enjoyed about it. Teen love stories are usually not my favorite but this does try for some deeper themes with our lead Auden (Emma Pasarow) dealing with divorce, a new baby sister and trying to make friends in a new town of Colby.

I didn’t think Pasarow and her guy Eli (Belmont Cameli) had much chemistry and the plot dragged on without much to engage the viewer. i wasn’t invested in the relationship or much beyond her relationship with her Father (Dermot Mulroney) and Step-Mom (Kate Bosworth). Andie McDowell is also good as her Mother.

I hate to say it but this one was dull. It’s about insomniacs and it just about put me to sleep. Also the acting was weak at times. I’d skip this one.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Tom Cruise Top Gun Top Gun Maverick: film confronti Festival di Cannes. Foto | Style

Top Gun 1996

With the release of Top Gun Maverick coming soon I wanted to log my review of the original Top Gun for rotten tomatoes. I just had my friends over for a watching party and we had a great time. I can see why some find it too cheesy but in my opinion that’s part of the appeal. I like the posing, corny dialogue, and volleyball playing with the campy 80s music in the background.

The flying scenes still hold up with terrific sound design and music from Harold Faltermeyer. It also has a good mixture of light and heavy moments with a cast that has chemistry including of course a young Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Meg Ryan to name a few.

Everyone around me seems to be loving the new film but I will always have a fondness for the original Top Gun. It’s what you want in a big bombastic cheesy blockbuster.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Hit the Road’ or Take a Ride with This Wonderful Film

In this era of big spectacle and cinematic universes it’s amazing how simple making a great piece of cinema can actually be. In his feature film debut Hit the Road, writer/director Panah Panahi has taken the road trip movie and crafted a moving, touching, funny family drama that anyone should be able to relate with. It’s as close to a masterpiece as I’ve seen in a long time and the more I’ve thought about it the more it resonates with me.

The film centers on a family traveling through the beautiful Iranian countryside (seriously this movie makes you wish you could go visit Iran and just drive. Gorgeous). It is a typical crammed in suv but the occupants don’t seem to be on a vacation. In fact, they are racing to get across the border into Turkey, having left their hometown in a rush to try and smuggle Big Brother played by Amin Simiar out of the country.

Big Brother obviously has a great deal of anxiety given his situation but this is countered by the joyousness of Little Brother played by the adorable Rayan Sarlak. He steals the movie but he is also an important element providing laughter and joy into an otherwise tense film. Pantea Panahiha is the ideal Mother trying to keep her family together and both her sons hopeful but the fear behind her eyes is ever-present.

Then we have Hassan Madjooni as the Father who is struggling in the backseat with a fully-cast broken leg. It itches and it’s hot and miserable. He tries his best to be a team player but it’s obvious it is a tough situation to be in.

But the real star of Hit the Road is the script. Panahi has done such a great job crafting a family we care about, a story that surprises and dialogue that touches on so many important modern issues. It’s a film the entire family can watch together and be entertained and edified. I’m not sure what the roll-out is going to be but I can’t recommend it more highly. A moving family story you won’t soon forget and if there is any justice we’ll hear about it come awards season.

9.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] MEN or How to Really Annoy this Woman…

Alex Garland's Horror Movie 'Men' Has Trailer With Jessie Buckley, A24 - Variety

It’s a little hard to formulate my thoughts on Alex Garland’s new movie Men. I know I found it very annoying and difficult to get through but explaining why is challenging. I’ll do my best. I should start by saying I liked Garland’s Ex-Machina but I did not like his scifi film Annihilation in 2018. The former was an engaging AI scifi while the latter was a pretentious slog. Now we have Men, which purports to give us a ‘folk horror’ movie, but instead serves up a pretentious, heavy-handed, non-scary piece of arthouse junk. No thank you!

Men' trailer: Alex Garland ditches sci-fi for his most human movie yet

I will start out by saying I love Jessie Buckley so much. She won my heart in Wild Rose and I’ve loved her in everything I’ve seen her in since. The failure of Men is not her fault. In fact, she does a great job in a challenging performance. The film also looks nice with some great cinematography and small-scale visual effects.

The problem is the story and the fact it thinks it has something interesting to say but it doesn’t. At least something like Promising Young Woman has an unreliable narrator that hates men for a reason and her toxicity along with the men played out in interesting ways.

In Men Garland doesn’t give us any such nuance or engaging story.  Buckley’s character Harper is grieving over the loss of her husband (Paapa Essiedu) when she meets Rory Kinnear’s Geoffrey when renting his vacation home. We don’t really get to know her well and only have minimal backstory or insights into her character. She’s a classic case of someone who doesn’t act but is acted upon within the narrative.

Spoiler Alert: Men Movie Review - THE HOLLYWOOD MIRROR MAGAZINE

Kinnear plays several characters and each one of them embodies different shades of toxic masculinity. There’s a petulant boy, a creepy vicar, and even Adam and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (yes they go way back…). I guess this treatise on gender could be interesting but it doesn’t have anything to say beyond the fact that toxic men exist. We already know that! Again at least PYW had a message about how we treat victims. This is nothing. It’s not scary and the screenplay just gets more annoying as it goes along.

If he’s going to comment on half the human race I’d think Garland could come up with something better than they are all terrible and selfish creatures? Then the ending is so dumb I almost left the theater. I guess I can’t say it because it would be spoilers, but I hated it and they repeat it 3 or 4 times!

There will be people who will claim this is brilliant but I don’t see anything great about what it was trying to say or do.  Why not have one sympathetic man so Harper is confused and doesn’t know who to trust? This would be scary and provide a more layered view of how toxic masculinity and abuse happens. Instead we get this pretentious “horror” film that fails in nearly every respect.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ or Don’t Get Wanda Mad

One of the biggest critiques that seems to come for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is it has underwhelming villains. This is because the MCU is geared more towards families so the focus is on the heroes doing heroic stuff rather than the villains (with notable exceptions like Thanos, Loki and Kilmonger). The studios latest entry, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness seems to want to change that impression with a strong, scary, and complex villain by the name of Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch.

Director Sam Raimi makes his first superhero movie since Spider-Man 3 and adds his horror sensibilities all over the place in this MCU entry. We even get some zombie action which fans of Raimi’s Evil Dead movies will appreciate.

DS2 takes over from where WandaVision left us with Wanda abandoning Westview after her attempts to craft a perfect life fall apart and she is a desperate, angry woman. After she obtains the Darkhold (in the WV post-credit scene) she now has the power to create chaos on our planet but also in other dimensions- dimensions where she can be with her sons Billy and Tommy which she got to quasi-raise in WandaVision.

It is the combination of desperation and power that make Wanda a compelling character. Also we want to root for her because we loved her and Vision but the more unhinged she gets the harder that is to do. Very few Marvel villains have that kind of push and pull where we are repulsed by and hopeful for the character at the same time.

Then we have Stephen Strange who kind of plays second fiddle in his own movie (which I was fine with). He is outpowered and outplayed by Wanda at every turn, which makes for a desperate and compelling character. Also Strange sees him mess up and become very flawed in alternate dimensions (and in his dreams), which makes for an interesting character. Arguably he is a more conflicted character than in his previous solo outing Doctor Strange.

A new hero is introduced to the MCU named America Chavez who has the ability to jump between universes. We don’t get to learn much about her but I did like her performance by Xochitl Gomez. Marvel often introduces characters in ensembles and then gives them their own movies so this was fine for me (think Spider-man and Black Panther in Civil War). I’m sure we will see more of her going forward.

There have been some that have criticized Doctor Strange 2 for being too dependent on WandaVision but when Wanda is your main character I’m not sure how you get around that? Haven’t people been hoping the MCU would have more layered villains? Is that not what we got with Wanda? Much like Loki she’s going to swing between villain and hero but that’s fascinating and a lot of fun.

It’s also refreshing in this film to see Riami’s stamp and style all over the place- especially in the 3rd act. It was surprising and engaging and I loved the visual style of the multiverse. The cameos were also a lot of fun. They weren’t on a No Way Home level but I didn’t expect them to be.

As far as flaws, the plot did zip around a lot and it can feel messy putting all the clues from the shows and movies together but I also think that’s part of what makes the MCU special- putting the clues together and filling out the puzzle? Nothing in Doctor Strange 2 felt out of character, mean-spirited or frustrating like Spider-man Far From Home or Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. Those are the worst films in the MCU for my money.

Why 'Doctor Strange 2' Showtimes Dominated Theaters Opening Weekend - Variety

Comparing it to Eternals, that film was messy in a different way. Jumping between timelines with 10 different characters didn’t work. With Doctor Strange 2 you are focusing on the same characters that are behaving the same but in different dimensions. With Eternals, especially Ikaris, one minute he’s a hero, the next he’s out to kill our heroes and then back and forth again. It didn’t work. Nothing with Wanda, Doctor Strange or America changes in this film despite what dimension they might be in.

With 28 films in, it isn’t reasonable to expect Marvel to make stand-alone movies. Again putting all the pieces together in the universe is part of the fun of the experience. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had a lot of pieces but it’s an enjoyable ride. Riami’s style is bold and exciting. Wanda is terrifying yet relatable and Strange is a great guide into all this madness. If by some miracle you haven’t seen it yet, catch up with the MCU and give it a watch

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (18 1/2, AmbuLAnce, Father Stu)

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. I have been busy as usual.  The fun thing about doing my podcasts is there is always something new and fresh to talk about. Lately I’ve been covering a lot of television at Hallmarkies Podcast which has been demanding but exciting.

Anyway, I have some reviews to update you on. What have you been watching? There is so much it’s impossible to keep up with everything, so I would love your suggestions!

Sanditon Season 2

Anyone who knows me knows I was not a fan of Sanditon season 1. Based on Jane Austen’s unfinished novel the creators decided it was more important to be edgy than to provide a satisfying love story. I particularly disliked anything to do with Esther and her relationship with her “brother” Edward.

What’s so surprising is it is created by Andrew Davies who has given us great period piece projects like the 1995 Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. With Sanditon it’s like he has completely forgotten what makes for a satisfying romance.

Why did I watch season 2 you ask? Well, there was such an outcry at the terrible ending of season 1 I assumed season 2 would fix it all. Unfortunately that was not the case. Almost every love affair ends badly. Esther’s plotline is still awful, and we get another befuddling ending for Charlotte. What on earth! Jane Austen would not approve!

I hate this show!

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

18 1/2

I always enjoy a good historical fiction. It’s fun to go back in time and wonder what might have happened or what people might have been like? Such is the case with the new indie 18 1/2. In this movie we get a fictionalized portrayal of what it might have been like for a White House transcriber and her associate who find the 18 1/2 minutes missing from the Watergate tapes.

I liked Willa Fitzgerald and John Magaro in the lead roles and the simulated tapes with Bruce Campbell as Nixon and Jon Cryer as Bob Haldeman feel very convincing. Richard Kind also appears as a supporting role as a man who owns an inn where the transcribers are staying (it had the feel of It Happened One Night in those sequences, although not as much a romance).

The film does drag in the middle when Connie and Paul are trying to schmooze fellow guests (Sullivan Jones, Marija Juliette Abney) at the inn who also want the tapes. But overall this is an exciting and engaging time at the movies!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Father Stu

I admit I tend to be easier on faith-based films than a lot of my fellow critics. This comes partly because I recognize the audience they are creating content for and that often they are made on small budgets with good intentions. Nevertheless, I recognize the genre could do a lot better in making nuanced and engaging films certainly to appeal to more than just the hard core believers (which I am not a traditional Christian so I include myself in that group).

This is why I get excited about a film like Father Stu. It is far from perfect but it takes risks in the genre that excite me and I hope it is successful enough to encourage others to make similar attempts. The first reason Father Stu stands out is it’s strong R rating. This is not a one or two curse words R. It uses the f word frequently as well as other profanities. This is really surprising given the target market.

That alone wouldn’t make the movie worth seeing (of course) but I appreciate the film has flawed characters that aren’t paragons of virtue. The title character, Father Stu, played by Mark Wahlberg is kind of a mess and he remains a mess even when he gets an ASL-like condition and his body starts deteriorating.  His relationship with God is also refreshingly simple and free from theatrics.

Unfortunately I wish the movie was made better. The directing is very clunky with strange photo choices and odd pacing.  There are also some weird side-plots that don’t work like Father Stu’s girlfriend who he seems infatuated with until all the sudden he’s not and wants to be a priest. Also his priest roommate was maybe closeted gay man but it was handled strangely?

Nevertheless, flaws and all I think Father Stu is worth a watch and if someone were to ask me this is the way I would like faith-based films to go.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

AmbuLAnce

I have never been a big fan of director Michael Bay particularly his overbearing and annoying Transformers films. I did like his movie 13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi which perhaps was too politically charged to get the credit it deserves as an engaging action film but for the most part his style of directing isn’t my favorite.

Now we have AmbuLAnce and it is definitely the best movie Bay has made in a long time and while I had some issues it’s a fun action thriller.

The story centers around 2 brothers Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who plan the perfect bank heist only to end up in a high speed chase around LA in an ambulance (hence the captialized LA in AmbuLAnce). This seems to be the year for movies set in LA and I think anyone who has visited or lived there will recognize the ridiculous nature of most of the chases in this film. Never has LA traffic been so free during a whole business day!

Gyllenhaal and Mateen do a great job playing off each other and Bay builds tension well as the day gets crazier with each decision Gyllenhaal makes. Eiza González is less convincing as an EMT trying to keep a cop alive in the ambulance but it works.

My problem with AmbuLAnce is the way Bay filmed the movie. The constant swirling drone shots and shaky cam made me nauseated. Honestly I’d recommend skipping this film in the theaters and watching it at home where you won’t be as sick. I know I’m more sensitive than most but it’s a long movie and all that movement was too much.

The movie also gets more ridiculous as it goes along with Gyllenhaal’s character getting more insane by the minute, which is fun, but also hurts the tension when its so unbelievable. It also vacillates greatly on how we  are to value human life. People are mowed over, cars are flipped, cops and thugs are killed and we are to be entertained where other deaths are treated with great solemnity.

There is fun to be had in AmbuLAnce but in the end the shaky filmmaking and questionable character/plot choices were enough to make it not enjoyable for me. Maybe watch it when it comes on streaming at home. Otherwise it’s a skip

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Colma: The Musical

This last review isn’t a ‘current’ film but one we are covering for The Criterion Project podcast I host that covers films on the Criterion Channel streaming service. It’s a micro-budget musical called Colma: The Musical and I loved it!

Made on a budget of only 15k in 2006 this labor of love from director Richard Wong and writer HP Mendoza (and lead actor) is a total delight. It tells the story of 3 friends graduating high school in Colma, California and trying to decide what to do next. The songs are the real highlight and it is full of bop after bop.

Naturally some of the production feels hyper-indie but it’s all done with such love and energy I didn’t care. If you have the Criterion Channel I highly recommend Colma: the Musical and look for our review to come on the podcast next week. It is a fantastic hidden gem more people should be talking about.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (…Massive Talent, Everything…, Polar Bear, The Bad Guys)

Hi friends! I really wanted to write long reviews for each of these movies but alas I simply ran out of time. Shorter reviews will have to do because I want to get the word out (on most of them) as they are part of a strong April at the cinemas.

So here we go!

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

SXSW Review: 'The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent': Nicolas Cage –  Deadline

After years of making schlocky underwhelming films Nicolas Cage seems to be having a bit of a renaissance with films like Pig, Mandy and Spider-man Into the Spider-Verse. With this in mind it perhaps the perfect time to release a film like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. In this comedy Cage pokes fun at his persona, Hollywood in general and tells an endearing story of friendship with the great Pedro Pascal (who was one of my favorite parts of Wonder Woman 84).

In this meta-story a version of Nic Cage, the actor, is hired by Pascal to come to his Birthday party and hopefully read his movie script. Unfortunately while there Cage gets recruited by the CIA to investigate Pascal who is involved with organized crime and abducting the daughter of a fellow mob boss.

The truth is I could have gotten rid of all the espionage plot and just had the movie been about Pascal and Cage becoming friends (make it a My Dinner with Andre but with these 2 dudes) and been perfectly content. They have great chemistry together and I bought them as friends. There are other strong supporting roles from Sharon Horgan, Neil Patrick Harris, Tiffany Haddish and more.

Something like Massive Talent could be smug and annoying but it never loses its sense of humor and spirit of fun. I had a great time with it and I agree with its conclusion that Paddington 2 is the best…

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) - IMDb

Everything Everywhere All at Once

If Massive Talent is too meta for you than you definitely should stay away from the new film from distributor A24 Everything Everywhere All at Once. To say this indie martial arts family drama is bonkers would be an understatement. Normally I don’t like movies which feel jumbled and confusing but for whatever reason I had a good time with this one.

The story of the film is about a woman named Evelyn played by Michelle Yeoh who stumbles into an interdimensional portal when visiting her auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis). This portal includes different versions of herself and her family (Ke Huy Quan who is so fun as her husband and Stephanie Hsu as her daughter). We also see the great James Hong as her father.

There are times when the multiverses feel like they are trying too hard to be edgy and weird but it was all in a spirit of fun so I enjoyed it. The weirdest one they have hotdogs as hands!

Such a bonkers film won’t be for everyone but I loved all the homages to classic films thrown in like a whole In the Mood for Love section. The music is also strong by Son Lux and I laughed throughout at the madness. If you are up for something weird give it a shot.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Polar Bear' Disney+ Review: Stream It or Skip It?

Polar Bear

Now we have for something totally different the latest documentary from DisneyNature Polar Bear. Like all the films in this series it helps us get to know a species of animal (in this case polar bears) and tries to teach kids about the world around them. While this one is harmless and has a good message, I must admit it is one of my least favorite of the DisneyNature docs.

For Polar Bear they don’t give the bear a name but they have Catherine Keener narrating the film in first person. This leads to lines like ”I had the best day of my life”. I mean come on. How could they possibly know that? LOL. These nature docs are always cheesy but this one laid it on especially thick.

Also the film is very heavy-handed on the climate change messaging. I suppose there is a place for that but it made it all less fun and was strange when put up against the cheerful ahtropomorphization of other sequences .

I guess this is harmless for kids but not one of my favorites.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Bad Guys Review: Heist Comedy Is One of DreamWorks Animation's Best

The Bad Guys

One of the most exciting trends in moviemaking today is the hybrid 2D/3D animation method. I love the flat, yet rich, designs of films like Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs the Machines and The Peanuts Movie. Now our latest entry comes from DreamWorks animation with The Bad Guys.

Based on the graphic novels by Aaron Blabey The Bad Guys takes a simple concept of a group of ‘bad guy’ thieves and asks if they can be the good guys? It’s not so different from Wreck-it Ralph in that regard except for here you have more than one character who needs reforming and animation that is truly special.

There are a lot of reasons the animation is stunning in this film but I particularly loved the way the action was shot. I can’t think of a film that has better animated car chases and fight sequences except maybe the web-slinging sequences in Spider-Verse. It was a joy to watch.

I also really liked that it was set in LA with recognizable landmarks. Most animated films are set in fictional cities so that was a fun aspect here. The voice-cast is also excellent without being distracting. I loved Sam Rockwell as our lead Mr Wolf with Awkwafina stealing the show as the cute Ms Tarantula.

The story in The Bad Guys is a basic heist plot and it is definitely predictable but everything else was so great I didn’t care. I’ve seen it twice now and loved it both times. The whole family will enjoy following these bad guys on this very good time!

8 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!

If you enjoy what I do please consider supporting at patreon where you can get tons of fun perks.  https://www.patreon.com/hallmarkies

[REVIEW] ‘Belle Vie’ or The Bistro COVID Took From All of Us

Obviously the most important losses from COVID19 is the human life that was taken across the globe. Almost everyone knows someone who was taken too soon from the virus and this number would have been even more without the brave essential workers who helped treat the ill. However, this was not the only loss we experienced as a country. Movie theaters, restaurants, entertainment, theater and more were all shuttered down and in a lot of cases faced irreparable harm.

Marcus Mizelle’s new documentary Belle Vie showcases this nightmare through the perspective of Vincent Samarco who started 2020 running a popular bistro called Belle Vie.

Samarco is a cheerful fellow and he tries to do everything he can to save the bistro including building an outdoor patio area so patrons can be socially distanced. It even seems like they are going to be successful but then the second wave hit California and they were forced to shut down. This is all chronicled by Mizelle in as bright and happy a tone as is possible given the circumstances.

It’s ironic that Belle Vie lies between a McDonalds and a KFC. Such large corporations were able to weather the pandemic (of course) but it’s hard to not feel like we let the small people like Samarco down. They  face not only bankruptcy but also in many cases deportation when they aren’t able to run their businesses like normal. It’s very sad but like I said Samarco is such a cheerful guy that it’s easy to forget the sadness while following his story.

For some people it might be hard to watch Belle Vie. The pain from the lockdowns and pandemic might be too fresh but I found it to be an enlightening and poignant documentary. Now that we are moving from a pandemic to endemic phase we need movies like this to chronicle what happened over the last 2 years and the price ordinary men and women paid for safety from the illness. Whether it was the right call or not is for others to decide but the cost was definitely a high one.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Moonshot, Julia, The Northman, One Road to Quartzsite)

Hey everyone! It’s time to update you on a bunch of the films I have been watching. I am planning on doing a longer review for Everything Everywhere All at Once coming this weekend (my thoughts on that delightful insanity can’t be limited to a mini review).

There was also a really excellent Hallmark movie this month called Just One Kiss I highly recommend. It’s great for anyone not just Hallmark fans.

So let’s talk about some recent movies:

Moonshot

The cast was the big reason why I was interested in watching Moonshot. I am not the biggest scifi fan but I love Lana Condor who was in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved series and Cole Sprouse has been charming in films like Five Feet Apart. Now I have seen it they are the biggest draw but it has enough fresh about it to recommend especially for teens or romance movie fans.

Sprouse and Condor play young adults in 2049 who are trying to get to a colony that has been established on Mars. Condor is going to see her boyfriend where Sprouse is infatuated with a girl he has a meet cute with at the beginning of the film. The two become friends when he sneaks on board and she has to hide him from the space centers computer system.

The production design is excellent here and both leads have nice chemistry. The story is something we’ve seen before but I didn’t mind that because it’s executed well. I appreciate they did not have her emotionally cheating on her boyfriend and the conflict had real emotion in it. It’s definitely worth checking out especially for romance fans.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Julia

If you have followed my content for any amount of time you know how much I adore Julia Child. I find her story of setting out on a second career in her 40s to be so inspirational and I think her and Paul Child had a marriage to be envied. It is for these reasons I will watch anything about her including the new series on HBO Max called Julia. 

It’s tough to capture Julia Child in media because she was the definition of larger than life. Her voice is so unique. She’s so tall at 6’2 and had a charisma unlike any other. I must admit Sarah Lancashire leaves a lot to be desired in her portrayal especially in the voice. It doesn’t sound anything like Julia. However, I was able to get used to her choices after a while and embrace the project.

At first I didn’t like David Hyde Pierce as Paul Child. He was petty and jealous and from everything I’ve read that’s not who he was at all. They also seem to have combined Avis DeVoto and Julia’s sister Dorothy into one character but I didn’t mind that because I love Bebe Neuwirth who played her.

Eventually Julia was able to win me over and I enjoyed it. It’s not the Julia Child parts of Julie and Julia but it’s a nice depiction of Julia’s start on television.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Northman

I am sure there will be many people who will be singing the praises of Robert Eggers new film The Northman and I can see why. It is very ambitious and well made with good performances from all involved. The problem is it’s so brutal and joyless that it becomes a slog. What happened to fantasy stories being even a little bit inspirational? A film like The Northman has no heroes let alone a heroes journey. It’s just one scene of brutality after another. That’s not entertainment to me.

The Northman tells the story of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) and how he seeks revenge on the man who kills his father in the opening scenes. His mother is played by Nicole Kidman and Anya Taylor-Joy plays his love interest Olga.

The story brings in supernatural elements in some truly bizarre scenes and as I said the actors throw their all in it but it becomes exhausting. Eggers needs to allow some moments of quiet so we can get to know the characters and feel invested in their journeys. This was too much of everything and I grew weary of it (it’s 137 minutes!). If it sounds like something you’d like than go for it but it definitely wasn’t for me.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

One Road to Quartzsite

In 2020 Nomadland took the world by storm and it ended up winning best picture at the Oscars. In many ways the film felt like a documentary using real life modern nomads along with the actors to immerse you in the life of people who travel for a living. Now we have an actual documentary with One Road to Quartzsite that follows the same people and in many ways it feels like a companion piece to Nomadland. Q

One Road to Quartzsite is directed by Ryan Maxey and it takes a slice of life approach to following the people at Quartzsite, Arizona as they gather in camps and RV centers to share their life experiences together. It’s interesting to see people that are in many ways outcasts and loners find solace in community just like the rest of us do.

These kind of documentaries will be too slowly paced for some but if you are interested in the lives of these modern nomads you should be entertained. I also loved all of the folk music played throughout.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood’ or the Power of Memories

Have you ever sat with an elderly person and listened to them tell their stories? There’s something powerful about that experience even if the stories don’t particularly go anywhere. I know when my Grandparents were still alive I loved hearing them talk about what their parents were like, what cars they drove, food they ate, what it was like to serve in WWII etc. As they shared their stories I’d think about my own life and how despite the different eras we weren’t that different after all.

Sometimes film can capture this experience. Some might call it nostalgia, and it is, but when done well it can be a gift, helping to bind generations in a special and powerful way. This is the experience offered in Richard Linklater’s new film Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. It’s nostalgia in the best sense of the word, and I adored it.

Some may watch Apollo 10 1/2 and want more plot but I’m glad he kept it simple and wistful. It’s interesting because both Licorice Pizza and Belfast from last year have similar story structures, but I prefer this film to either of those (I liked both of them). I think part of my response is because I love animation (even rotoscoped animation) but the other part is I connect more with a story of a big family in the suburbs than the families in the other 2 films.

As I said, the animation in this film is rotoscoped, or traced from live action. Linklater has used this style before in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. I haven’t seen the latter but did a whole episode on Waking Life with my friend Stanford you can find here. It’s  way more pretentious and existential than Apollo 10 1/2, but I still enjoyed it.

Linklater has long been a favorite filmmaker of mine. I loved Boyhood and the Before moves are transcendent. But Apollo 10 1/2 goes back to his early films like Dazed and Confused and Slacker. He does such a good job of taking you to a time and place and helping you see the glory in the small moments of every day living.

For example, there’s a great scene in Apollo 10 1/2 where the kids go from playing games outside on the lawn (statue tag) to playing games inside- board games like Life and Clue. As someone from a family that loves games this was so comforting to watch. It made me want to get my family together and play games again.

Such a yearning for a simpler time is the power of Apollo 10 1/2. I don’t know if that time actually existed but it’s comforting to imagine it did. The incredible soundtrack also helps in that escapism with bands like CCR, Johnny Cash, and The Byrds (much like Dazed and Confused which has one of the best soundtracks in movie history).

We also get to experience young Stanley’s fantasy about getting plucked into the space program for a secret mission to the moon. Plus, we see the stories of the NASA officials as they work on the Apollo 11 mission. This part of the story probably gives the structure and plot some will need, but I could have had the movie be just the everyday living and been perfectly content.

But in truth, I loved everything about Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. It made me happy in a way few films have since the pandemic started, and I felt a desire to watch it again as soon as I finished. It’s on Netflix so gather the family together and watch a sweet film about a family of the past. You won’t regret it.

9.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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