‘The Little Mermaid (2023)’ or Why Disney is the Worst but the Movie is Pretty Good…

Gather round folks! Let’s talk about my tumultuous relationship with current Disney and their latest live action remake- The Little Mermaid

Anyone who has read my reviews knows how important The Little Mermaid was for me as an emerging movie and music lover. It came out when I was 8 and was the first of either movie or music I connected with. I remember singing the songs late into the night and having competitions with my sister about who sounded the most like Ariel. I connected with Ariel’s need to belong somewhere and how her father didn’t understand her (even though my parents were awesome doesn’t everyone feel that way when they are young?)

Even to this day I still love the movie and consider it one of the highpoints of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

As you also know I have not been a big fan of most of these Disney live action remakes. For the most part, they have felt meaningless and frustrating but what has really irritated me is the way Disney diminishes the original films in order to puff up their new films. Too often they use these remakes as an opportunity to ‘correct’ or ‘upgrade’ minor nitpicks with the animated films or invent problems that nobody had to begin with.

What’s especially frustrating is when we are told they are presenting these stories as they were “meant to be seen” or they are finally “coming to life.” It’s insulting to the hard working animators and while yes the originals still exist they have successfully created a world where live action is seen by many as an upgrade over 2D animation and that 2D animation is for children only- it makes me so mad.

The marketing campaign on this new The Little Mermaid seemed targeted to tick me off and it did. Disney focusing on how the original lyrics and plot-points needed to be improved and modernized felt like they were feeding into this idea of Ariel and her story being anti-feminist or backward, which is garbage. Plus, all the clips and imagery they showed were terrible. I honestly don’t know what they were thinking showing night scenes out of context so you could barely see what is happening and little of Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King who are the strength of the film.  The designs of Flounder and Sebastian are also awful and should not have been promoted so heavily. For a company the size of Disney they sure could use some help in the marketing of their films (I’m available…)

In retrospect, I should have had more faith in the film because of its director Rob Marshall who had previously directed one of my favorite recent Disney films Mary Poppins Returns. While that film is better than this as an original story with original songs, this The Little Mermaid does work as a romantic drama with 2 wonderful performances at the helm.

It’s funny because most of the problems I feared are still there in this film. The underwater sequences don’t look great, they stripped almost all of the humor from the original, and the less said about “The Skuttlebutt” the better. I also didn’t love Melissa McCarthy as Ursula. Again, they took away all her humor, which is a strange choice when you have a comedic actress like her in the role. Also the ending action looks atrocious and the staging of “Under the Sea” is a bit baffling.

In the end, I loved Bailey so much as Ariel and her singing voice is so beautiful it allowed me to forgive much of the movies flaws. She really is that good. I also thought she and Hauer-King had amazing chemistry, and I appreciated the arc they gave Eric. He’s also not too shabby of a singer and actor(his song is relatively bland but I still enjoyed it.)

Basically in spite of themselves Disney made an entertaining film with The Little Mermaid. I give all the credit to Bailey, Hauer-King and Marshall. I hope people go out and see it, enjoy it and then go home and watch the original and pay tribute to the incredible animators and the great Howard Ashman who made it possible.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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‘Fast X’ or How Jason Momoa Mesmerized Me

If you’ve been following my reviews you know the Fast and the Furious series lost me as a fan 3 movies ago. The Fate of the Furious I found strangely bland in its supposed over-the-topness, Hobbs & Shaw was forgettable and wastes Idris Elba, and the last one, F9, was stupid but not in an entertaining way. I particularly dislike Charlize Theron’s character who spends most of these movies staring at screens, which I hate in action movies.

So now we have Fast X which is supposedly the start to a final trilogy of these films. While I don’t know if that is needed I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by this film. It is over-the-top and ridiculous but there is more gritty action and racing than in the last films mixed in with the absurd spectacle, so that was very entertaining.

The biggest difference between Fast X and the recent entries, however, is the addition of Jason Momoa as the lead villain Dante Ryes. He is the son of Herman Reyes from Fast Five (which is generally thought of as the best of this series.) Now he’s out for revenge and is completely unhinged but in an entertaining way. Honestly he’s one of the most compelling villains I’ve seen in a franchise film in a long time- not just this franchise but any franchise. He reminds me of Heath Ledger’s Joker in the way he is funny yet terrifying at the same time.

Obviously if you are a stickler for realism or plot this film has tons of problems. It is way over-stuffed and most of the humor falls flat but I didn’t mind because Momoa was that good (and I’ve never been a particular fan of his. Haven’t loved his Aquaman portrayal.) Also this film is a strong PG-13 with disturbing imagery, a child in peril and some grittier hand-to-hand combat than we’ve seen in other entries. I personally wouldn’t take children but that’s just me. 

It might sound like hyperbole, but I sincerely think Fast X is the best of this series since Fast Five. It was certainly the most entertaining for this critic. Your mileage may vary.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy


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‘BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER’ and LOVE AGAIN’ or Just OK Rom-coms are Great to See Again in Theaters

Most people know I’m in the business of loving and talking about romantic comedies for my living. I love the genre and for many years Hollywood has been underserving the market making very few feature film rom-coms and forcing the audience to turn to TV movie providers like Hallmark (Check out Hallmarkies Podcast here) and streamers like Netflix. Fortunately over the last year and a half we’ve seen a bit of a rom-com renaissance and I’m here for it even when the results are imperfect but engaging films (even when they are outright bad I want more rom-coms please!!)

Our latest entries come in the form of a sequel Book Club: The Next Chapter and a remake of a German film (SMS für Dich) called Love Again. Neither of these films are masterpieces but I had enough fun to recommend both of them particularly for fans of the genre.

Love Again

Let’s start with Love Again– a new rom-com starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sam Heughan with an extended cameo from Celine Dion. Jonas plays a woman who loses her boyfriend in a bizarrely staged accident at the beginning of the film. To deal with her grief she starts texting her boyfriend’s old number and Heughan plays a journalist who just happens to get this number as his new work phone. He becomes fascinated with the woman writing the messages and they meet and you can fill in the blanks.

This is the same plot we got in a Hallmark movie called The Christmas Promise, which was much better, and I highly recommend.

Nevertheless, I thought Jonas and Heughan had a spark when they were together and even though this is totally a rom-com that could be a horror movie it still overall charmed me and I thought everything with Celine Dion was cute. I love the idea of people falling in love over their words. Maybe it’s because I have a fantasy of someone falling in love with me and my words (ridiculous I know) but movies are about fantasy and I have fun seeing it played out (I think it would have been better if Heughan’s character had texted her back so they were both involved with the communication not just her.)

I wish Love Again was made better. The editing is weird, the comedy and tonal shifts are clunky. It was shot in London but they make it pretend to be New York, which makes scenes like an opera house that’s not the Met odd. I honestly think the Hallmark movie I mentioned above is more well made than Love Again but I had enough fun with it to overcome its flaws. I think fans of the genre will see what they are going for with the movie and have a good time with it.

I also have a soft spot in my heart for Celine Dion after attending her concert got me through a tough time in 2006.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Book Club: The Next Chapter

Next up we have the sequel to 2018’s Book Club, which I enjoyed back then and I felt the same way about this new installment. Honestly I feel like a review for this movie is pretty simple. If you see the poster and trailer and it looks appealing you will enjoy this movie. It delivers exactly what it promises and isn’t that what we ask of our movies?

Book Club: The Next Chapter promises a  senior gal-pal adventure throughout Italy with lots of shenanigans and friendship and that’s what it gives us. I do think it is a little too long and would be better at the TV movie 90 minute length but this group of women are charming and I enjoyed being with them once again.

Jane Fonda’s character Vivian is the focus of this entry with her bachelorette party taking the women to Italy- first Tuscany, than Rome and Venice. Italy has been a favorite location for rom-coms lately with Hallmark going there multiple times last year (we joke on the podcast that the only place you are allowed to fall in love is Ireland and Italy these days and this movie continues that trend.) However, there certainly is a reason these movies go to Italy so often- it’s a beautiful and romantic country both in its nature, art, food and architecture.

Candice Bergen gets the most broad comedy of the bunch with Mary Steenburgen and Diane Keaton having more weighty serious stories but they are all sweet and endearing. The men of the film all do a fine job as mostly arm candy for our leading ladies (Andy Garcia is got to be the most handsome man over 60 I’ve ever seen.) I do think Giancarlo Giannini is under-used as the local Italian police officer. I love him so much in A Walk in the Clouds (so underrated!) and would have loved to have seen him get more to do here.

All that said if you are in the mood for a light comedy with some dynamic actresses who feel like genuine friends than Book Club: The Next Chapter is a great choice. It is brilliant they released it over Mother’s Day weekend because it’s an ideal movie to watch with your mother and grandmother if they are still with you and have a laugh together. I wish my grandma was still here. She would have loved that.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Burt Reynolds: The Last Interview’

Over the last few years I have heard many people bemoan the loss of the true movie star. For a while I thought Dwayne Johnson was the last actor who could open a film based just on his charisma but Black Adam (as well as other films like Baywatch) proved that theory wrong. Tom Cruise may be one but it’s hard to say because Top Gun Maverick and Mission Impossible films both have franchise appeal more than Cruise solely getting people in seats.

It’s interesting to think about because there was a day when the movie stars were enough to bring moviegoers into the theater and one of those stars was Burt Reynolds. In a new documentary Burt Reynolds: The Last Interview director Rick Pampllin sat down with the star before his death in 2018 and talks about the current state of movie-making and his long career.

The documentary also includes friends of Reynolds, associates who worked with him at his theatre in Juniper, Florida and director Quentin Tarantino who was going to work with Reynolds in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood before his untimely death (Bruce Dern replaced him.)

Evidently Reynolds was hesitant to do interviews so this long detailed sit-down is a bit of an anomaly and as someone who knew little abut his life and career I enjoyed watching it. It’s insightful and has a lot to say particularly about the state of franchise mainstream films today.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3’ or I Wish I Could Give Rocket a Hug

One of my hottest takes as a critic is my disappointment in Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. Unlike most people I didn’t care for the story, character choices or most of the other creative decisions. This still makes people angry for some reason and it was the beginning of my somewhat antagonistic relationship with superhero movies. They are without a doubt my least favorite genre to cover and if I could avoid them entirely I would. All that said, they are some of the biggest releasees of the year and this week we have our latest entry Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3. Would I leave underwhelmed like the 2nd or thoroughly enjoy it like the 1st? Well, Marvel fans can relax because I enjoyed this latest entry and consider it a big step up from vol 2. Let’s talk about it!

One of my favorite parts of vol 1 is the coming together of this rag-tag band of mischiefs to make a family unit. This is something lost in vol 2 with the team being divided and more concerned with individual stories than the group as a whole. This is not the case with vol 3. While they do become separated at times the focus  is on helping one of their own, Rocket, and caring for each other as a family.

I also appreciate the comedy a lot more in vol 3 than vol 2. Most of the jokes in vol 2 revolved around Drax making fun of Mantis, which got old quick. Vol 3 has more variety in the topics of the jokes and gets everyone a chance to be light hearted and funny. It was also moving to see how Rocket came to be the smart aleck he is and how he became a part of the Guardians.

The production design is excellent and the action done well. We have some new characters like Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) and Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova, who was in the Guardians Christmas Special but this is his first time in a feature film.)

Some people have said the plot is too messy in vol 3 but I didn’t feel that too much. If anything it was nice to see a movie in the MCU that sticks to its own timeline and doesn’t worry about building up other movies or characters. This is strictly about our core Guardians so I didn’t find it hard to follow personally.

Parents may want to use caution when taking their kids to vol 3. This is a strong PG13 with graphic depictions of animal cruelty, torture and some profanity. I also found the villain, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) to be a bit shrieky for my tastes. You might say a little of that character goes a long way…

Those flaws aside Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 is a moving story of the family you choose and how the trauma we experience doesn’t have to define us, but it is a part of who we are. The music is probably the weakest of the trilogy but it’s still fun and overall an entertaining return to form for James Gunn and his Guardians.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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‘ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET’ or An Answer to My Prayers

Any follower of my writing knows coming of age stories are a tough sale for me. To often the teen characters are portrayed as one note, sullen monsters that I can’t stand. I realize being a teen is tough and you go through sulky phases- I certain did- but there are soft moments in any human and that’s rarely portrayed. (Last year’s The Whale was particularly distasteful with its supremely unpleasant teen character.) So you can imagine I went into the latest teen drama Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret with some hesitation but fortunately I found a beautiful and authentic story that may be close to a perfect film.

…Margaret is of course based on the landmark novel by Judy Blume and it tells the story of the titular Margaret who is 11 and struggling to fit in with her new suburban New Jersey home and all the changes going on with her body and peer group. She also has started asking questions about what she believes and trying out different faiths and asking God for help in her various travails.

There are so many things I loved about this film. First off Abby Ryder Fortson is fantastic as Margaret. Again, she’s warm and authentic and a joy to watch as she wades through the highs and lows of being 11. I also loved Benny Safdie and Rachel McAdams as her parents and all the young actors in her peer group are fantastic.

The highlight, however, is Kathy Bates as her Grandma Sylvia. I honestly became emotional whenever she is on screen because she reminds me so much of my Grandma who I miss dearly.

I miss hanging out with my Grandma and chatting about life. I miss going shopping together and seeing the Rockettes which she was a huge fan of. The dynamic between Margaret and Sylvia is so perfectly captured I bet most anyone will be able to relate to it on one level or another.

There’s also a lot of humor in the film that keeps it from feeling too heavy. Margaret and her friends exploring bras and maxi pads is sweet and very funny as are her various crushes and observations about the world around her.

I guess if I am going to nitpick a section where her maternal grandparents come for a visit didn’t have the nuance of the rest of the film. I don’t believe these people trying to make amends with their daughter would tell Margaret to go to Sunday School on the first dinner they have together. That could have been handled better.

Other than that, there’s nothing I would change about Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The production design and costuming capturing the 70s is excellent. The acting is all top notch. It’s a heartwarming, authentic, wonderful depiction of adolescence and the life of a true American family.

10 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Showing Up, Sanditon S3, Peter Pan & Wendy…)

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. It seems we are back in a full-blown movie release schedule because I’ve been so busy watching both indie and mainstream movies I haven’t seen much television- aside from one I will be reviewing on this post- there just isn’t the time!

I will have 2 full reviews this weekend for the latest Guardians of the Galaxy movie and for the endearing and wonderful Are You There God It’s Me Margaret adaptation.

But for now let’s have some mini reviews!

Showing Up

I think you will know from the description whether Kelly Reichardt’s new movie Showing Up is for you. Her movies are always minimalist when it comes to plot and exorbitant when it comes to pacing but I still enjoyed some of them like First Cow and Wendy & Lucy.

Unfortunately this one was not for me. When you do this kind of slice of life slow film where you follow a character around living their life the character or characters have to be compelling and I just didn’t find that to be the case here. It tells the story of a group of artists in Portland, Oregon who are forced to interact with each other even though they’d rather be doing their art.

Michelle Williams plays the lead Lizzy, and she never seemed moved by her art. At one point one of her sculptures is burned in a kiln and she shrugs it off like it is nothing. Why should we care about her artistic journey if she doesn’t seem to care? Hong Chau has some funny moments as Lizzy’s negligent landlord but it wasn’t enough to interest me in the story or characters. I simply didn’t care and the 107 minutes really dragged.

I know this movie has its fans. I’m just not one of them. I’d rather watch First Cow again any day.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

My Sister’s Wedding

On the other end of the indie spectrum we have an interesting little film called My Sister’s Wedding. This quasi-rom-com/family drama is written and directed by Kenneth R Frank and while flawed it creates compelling characters and situations that makes it worth a watch.

I do have to confess the dysfunctional family movie (particularly around weddings) is not usually my favorite but occasionally with works for me like Father of the Bride, My Best Friends Wedding and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This film is not on those levels but it does have something to offer and situations anyone can relate with.

The story follows a woman named Allison (Samantha Sayak) who is trying to keep everything together for her sister’s (Lauren A Kennedy) wedding. Her parents are married only on paper and the fact the wedding is a mixed race lesbian wedding provides all kinds of drama.

Jennifer Jiles steals every scene she’s in as the mother and the conflict with the Catholic priest was nuanced and moving.

I don’t think this film has a distributor yet but if you get to see it I think it is worth a watch

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Peter Pan and Wendy

Expectations are a weird part of movie watching. I try to go into every movie as objective and hopeful as possible but sometimes it’s hard to not be caught up in the hype of a new release. Such was the case with David Lowery’s new film for Disney Peter Pan and Wendy. It’s a perfectly enjoyable take on the Peter Pan mythos, but I was hoping for something more memorable. Still I do recommend it. Just go in with the appropriate expectations (it’s certainly on the better part of these Disney live action remakes but that’s not really saying much especially after last year’s disastrous Pinocchio remake.)

You all know I’m not a big fan of these Disney live action remakes but Peter Pan has been done so many times this feels like another entry in the series than a remake of the 1953 animated classic. Supposedly there is more of an emphasis in this version on Wendy (Ever Anderson) but the animated film gives Wendy practically as much screen time, even giving her a whole song to sing to the Lost Boys with “Mother” (Kathryn Beaumont’s vocals for Wendy and particularly that song are gorgeous.)

Jude Law makes for a grimacing and  scary Captain Hook and Jim Gaffigan is fun as Mr Smee. The film is also paced nicely at a lean 109 minutes.

Some people have said Peter Pan and Wendy is too green but I saw that as Lowery trying to place his indie stamp on the picture. I just wish he had brought some of his story choices from Pete’s Dragon (the best of the live action remakes by a long mile) into this film. It all ends up feeling fine. If you are in the mood for a take on Peter Pan it’s perfectly enjoyable version but nothing more.

6 of 10

Smile Worthy

Boonie Bears: Back to Earth

It’s always interesting to watch more populous mainstream films from other countries. I feel like because of the international Oscar we tend to get the more prestige projects the big action films or films for children that get a big following in other countries. This is part of the reason why I found The Wandering Earth movies so fascinating. It’s interesting to see what other people find entertaining. Such is the case with the latest Boonie Bears movie, Boonie Bears: Back to Earth, a phenomenon out of China, and I can see why. I haven’t seen any of the other Boonie Bears films but this latest is the 5th installment and there is evidently a television show in China that is the most popular children’s show in the nation.

The story is kind of similar to Kung fu Panda in that it is about a bear who Bramble who dreams of being a famous superhero but is forced into cleaning trash with his family. However, when an alien comes down to earth things start to change and he might learn being a superhero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The message of Boonie Bears is fairly mundane one about having self confidence and believing in yourself but it’s still a positive one and the animation is bold and clear throughout the film. You can tell this film had some major money put into it especially in the action scenes.

This isn’t the kind of film that will appeal much to adults but I don’t think it is trying to be. It’s a well animated, bright, colorful, positive superhero adventure.

6 out of 10

Sanditon season 3

If you follow me on social media you know I have not been a fan of the first 2 seasons of PBS’s Sanditon. Especially with esteemed Austen writer Andrew Davies at the helm, the writing has been pedestrian at best and it is only my loyalty to Jane Austen that I felt a need to watch the 3rd season. This new season is a massive step up from the previous 2 but the whole series feels like a massive missed opportunity- particularly when they could have done anything with Austen’s unfinished novel.

The biggest bonus of season 3 is they do not have the incredibly annoying Esther back. It’s not the actress Charlotte Spencer’s fault but anytime the story came back to her it was like death to the series. Now they have more of Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) and her on and off again romance with Alexander Colbourne (Ben Lloyd-Hughes). The 2 have great chemistry and while their story should have been given more time it overall works. We also have Georgiana Lambe’s (Crystal Clarke) story of her inheritance being threatened and her deciding whether she should get married.

I never thought I’d be saying this about Sanditon but the season felt a little rushed and I could have used a couple more episodes. I also didn’t love the plotline with Lady Denham’s (Anne Reid) near-marriage to Mr Pryce but it wasn’t as bad as the Esther plots.

Still, this series could have been campy and fun but it just proved frustrating and clueless about what people want from regency romance (and especially Austen.) Still, I give it a mild recommendation because they did make noticeable improvements and with the chemistry of the leads I had a decent time watching it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! If you get to watch any of these films please let me know what you think. Thanks!

If you like what I do please consider supporting me on patreon. There’s some great perks and I sure appreciate it https://www.patreon.com/hallmarkies

Current Mini Reviews- Prom Pact, Chevalier, Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant

Hey everyone! I hope you all enjoyed reading my in-depth post on Suzume. Unfortunately I do not have time to write so prolifically for every movie but here are some quick thoughts on 3 recent new releases.

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant

The Covenant Budget and Box Office Collection Prediction
They actually made a special announcement at the screening to make sure we included Guy Ritchie in the title. So there you go sir. It is officially your movie…

That said, I actually enjoyed Ritchie’s latest true story war film. It starts out kind of slow following these Afghan soldiers into several skirmishes before the plot starts going. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Sergeant John Kinley who is stuck in the Afghani desert with Taliban hunting him down. When injured his local interpreter Ahmed saves him through a series of miraculous and brave ordeals before making it back to the base and to safety. Then Kinley becomes obsessed with finding Ahmed and getting him and his family to the United States.

Some are going to be turned off by any kind of war story but once the film started going with the rescue I found it quite gripping. I was genuinely invested in Ahmed and John’s story and if they were going to make it to safety. The acting by Gyllenhaal and Dar Sajim, who plays Ahmed, is outstanding and I think no matter your political persuasion you’ll be rooting for these 2 men to save each other. It’s really a story of friendship more than a story of war. It’s the kind of movie my Dad will love and that’s a good thing! An inspiring true story.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy


If you follow my content you know how much I enjoy a good costume drama. It’s for this reason I was looking forward to the new film Chevalier, which tells the story of 18th century Black composer, Chevalier de Saint-Georges or Joseph Bologne who at one time composed for Marie Antionette. Unfortunately despite the best efforts of star Kelvin Harrison Jr Chevalier is sunk by a mediocre script that can’t decide whether to be campy fun or serious melodrama and it ends up choosing tedium instead.

With this type of film you either want it to be over-the-top bodice-ripper like with Netflix’s Bridgerton series or take itself seriously like a Merchant Ivory film from the 90s. If it was silly I wouldn’t mind that almost none of the actors have French accents or speak in ways appropriate for a the time period. I wouldn’t mind the sloppiness of the costumes or the weakness of the production design. It would all be part of the escapism.

Instead I found myself getting both annoyed, bored and frustrated. The whole thing felt way longer than the trim 107 minutes. It’s a shame because there is a good story hidden in Chevalier. Just wish they’d gotten a better screenplay so I’d be either entertained or edified by it. Sadly it did neither and I left disappointed.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Prom Pact

Prom Pact | Disney+
As we’ve seen recently with the terrible The Whale teen characters in movies can be a bit of a sticking point for this critic. When they are continually portrayed as miserable, sulking creatures I become frustrated and disengaged with the story. I know it’s a tough time of life but at a certain point they start to lose their humanity when there is no kindness presented. This is why I found the latest teen rom-com from Disney Channel and Disney Plus, Prom Pact to be so refreshing and enjoyable. It’s definitely the best DCOM we’ve seen in a while and one of the best teen rom-coms of the last decade. I am a big fan of the To All the Boys… films on Netflix and this is as good if not better.

What I loved most about this film is the characters and how they start out as cliches of the genre (the nerd, jock, prom queen etc) and then expand out of those cliches as we get to know them. It’s what John Hughes did with his beloved teen movies in the 80s. Peyton Elizabeth Lee is fantastic as the girl who wants to get into Harvard so she befriends a jock athlete she thinks is a cocky jerk played by Blake Draper but there is more to him as they spend time together. There is also her best friend played by Milo Manheim and they have a nice character arc through the story. He has a crush on prom queen played by Monique Green. There are also adult characters: a guidance counselor played by Margaret Cho and Peyton’s Mom played by Wendi Mclendon-Covey (I love both of them and could have seen even more).

This is not the most unpredictable of scripts but it is so well executed and everyone involved has great chemistry. I love how it is about more than just romance but about friendship and growing up. These are teens I was rooting for and had to forgive each other on occasion- flawed yet pleasant and enjoyable to spend nearly 2 hours with. I’d say Prom Pact is a real hidden gem of 2023. Watch it! I know you’ll love it!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

If you like what I do please consider supporting me on patreon. There’s some great perks and I sure appreciate it https://www.patreon.com/hallmarkies

Suzume or Let’s Process an Earthquake with Makoto Shinkai

Anyone who has followed my writing knows I’m a big fan of Japanese animator (or anime) Makoto Shinkai. His film Your Name from 2016 won  my heart, and I’ve been a big fan of his ever since. It is fair to say he has familiar tropes he works with and he has not been able to quite capture the glory of Your Name in his subsequent films; however, he is a bold storyteller and there is always a hope to his pictures which win me over. Such is the case with his latest film Suzume. It’s not perfect and he will lose some in its embrace of fantasy but I still found it a creative and dazzling experience. One I recommend anyone to get to the theater and support (it’s getting a pretty big rollout so now is your chance to support anime!)

Suzume has a lot going on but it basically tells the story of a teen girl named Suzume who meets a mysterious man named Sota one day who is looking for local ruins. She follows him to an abandoned section of town where they find a door which is a portal to a fantasy world called Ever-After. Then through various contrivances she ends up with Sota on a journey to stop a supernatural force called a worm from destroying all of Japan by causing earthquakes.

Part of the reason Shinkai wanted to explore this story was the after-effects of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Parts of Japan never really recovered from the destruction and this inspired a story where Suzume and Sota (and sometimes her aunt Tamaki are on a road-trip to find the keystones throughout the country. There are also a lot of tributes to the great Hayoa Miyazaki with a city called Miyazaki, a magical cat named Daiijin and a quick wink to Whisper of the Heart.

Shinkai also makes the bold choice of having Sota turn into a chair for most of the movie. I was a little bit skeptical of this with the trailers but it honestly worked very well. Never has a chair had so much personality and charm. Daiijin the cat was also very mischievous, making life very difficult for poor Suzume.

The animation is of course outstanding as any Shinkai movie is and the music from RADWIMPS is the perfect accompaniment (and more of a traditional score than a JPOP background than their previous collaborations.) I interviewed the band back in 2020, which was a super cool experience. But my favorite part of the film is how it kept surprising me. I didn’t know where it was going and after seeing such a bland film in Super Mario Bros the week before it was so exciting to see a bold, inventive animated film from Shinkai.

I also appreciate how Shinkai uses the narrative to help the Japanese people process what happened to them with the earthquake (as he has done with comets and floods in his 2 previous films.) It’s so refreshing to have someone with such a hopeful outlook tackling such issues as climate change and national trauma. It makes me as a viewer and fan want to do more to help my community heal from our own problems (for example, the Great Salt Lake is drying up here in Utah.) Rarely are disaster films so encouraging and profound.

Suzume': Makoto Shinkai Completes a Disaster Anime Trilogy | IndieWire

There are some flaws with Suzume. I think the design of the worms is a strange choice, not just its phallic similarities but also how different it looked from the 2D designs of the rest of the film. It looked cheap which is something I never thought I’d say about a Shinkai film.

Also while the road-trip for the most part worked well it gets bogged down with the relationship drama between Suzume and her aunt Tamaki. The comic relief with Tamaki’s boyfriend Serizawa can also get old quick and for how rushed some parts of the narrative feel these travel sections can be frustrating.

All that said, I still loved Suzume and can’t wait to watch it many times to gain more from it each time. I am sure the Academy will continue to ignore anime, which is a real shame because Suzume is a film that deserves to be recognized for its creativity and boldness. I hope you get a chance to see it and let me know what you think when you do.

8 out of 10

Smile worthy

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