Exmas or How to do the Holiday Hijinks Right

Today I want to give my quick thoughts on the latest Christmas comedy to hit Freevee app, which is a spinoff of Amazon prime. It is one of the many holiday films I am reviewing as part of Hallmarkies Podcast and one of my favorites of this initial batch for 2023. It’s interesting because usually the family shenanigans brand of holiday film isn’t my favorite (not a big fan of The Family Stone for instance) but this one stayed just grounded enough to be able to relate with and kept the characters likable enough to enjoy the experience.

In the movie Robbie Amell plays a man who after he tells his family he isn’t coming home for Christmas they invite his ex who they were close with to stay with them for the holidays. This all seems great until surprise Amell comes to visit after all and then must spend the holiday with his ex (who of course he still harbors feelings for since she dumped him.)

Some may find this to be an outlandish premise but I don’t. I could totally picture my parents inviting an ex they had grown close with to stay for the holidays if they had been reassured the child who dated them wasn’t coming. That’s a clever and funny premise to start the movie and the antics continue on from there.

Exmas wins because it has the energy of the old screwball comedies from the 50s and it never allows our leads to be too mean-spirited or judgmental. It’s always kept within a space where we believe them falling in love again by the end of the film. There are also a lot of funny family moments with everything from ice fishing to a hilarious sequence where they all accidently get high.

With everything going on in the world right now we can all use a good-hearted laugh and that’s what you get with Exmas. It’s romantic, funny and gives you all those holiday feels. I really enjoyed it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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WISH or Can I Wish for Something Memorable? (Disney Movie 62)

Some that are  new to my writing might not know that my whole journey as a critic started with reviewing the Disney Canon. I had torn my ACL and needed something to occupy my time so leading up to Big Hero 6 I reviewed all the Disney animated classics. This is why my site was originally called 54Disneyreviews. Once I finished that project I enjoyed writing about film so much I decided to keep it up and eventually that expanded to youtube, podcasts etc and my whole life changed.

I mention this history only to say that an animated Disney musical that pays homage to 100 years of filmmaking should be right up my alley. This is what they promised to produce with their latest offering Wish but unfortunately what they have given us is something truly forgettable. Even today just a few days out from seeing it I am struggling to remember anything remarkable. That was not the case with other recent animated offerings. For example, I was humming “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and thinking about some of the moments of that film for weeks after I saw it. I guess there was Strange World but it’s not a throwback princess musical that I should have loved!

I actually don’t think Wish is a terrible film. There is nothing offensive or woke about it so alarmists can calm down. It just wasn’t memorable or special. It honestly reminded me of the Disney renaissance copycat films made by other studios like a Swan Princess but I prefer that film over this. Someone in my comments accused me of hating on a film that I’m not in the ‘target demographic’ for but I don’t think that is it. I wouldn’t be surprised if kids end up feeling restless and disengaged from it. The story just isn’t there (I’d like to remind that person I enjoyed both Paw Patrol movies outside of my demographic.)

The main problem is with the screenplay. The heroine Asha lives in a city where subjects must give up their wishes to leader Magnifico who keeps them locked up so that he can grant wishes each month. Asha goes to Magnifico in hopes he will grant her Grandfather’s wish but it turns out he is a wish hoarder who controls his people rather than helping them. There’s also a troop of sidekicks, a Queen (who is probably the best character in the movie) and a talking goat.

Inside the wishes there are lots of nods to classic Disney films and unfortunately I found myself wishing I was watching one of them at all times. Even the songs, which are fine, had me wishing for other better songs of a similar vein. Ariana DeBose is a good singer and particularly “This Wish” is the standout which is why it’s the one song they’ve been using in the promos.

I do appreciate they made Magnifico a straight up bad guy and gave him a villain song “This is the Thanks I Get.” The Queen has a redemption arc, which like I said, works quite well but all the other sidekicks I found bland to outright annoying (especially Valentino. A little of him goes a LONG way.) For the most part I liked the 2D aesthetic to the animation and the design of the star character had a vintage appeal to it, so that was enjoyable.

And that’s all I really have to say about Wish. It’s a totally forgettable entry from Disney and a real missed opportunity to make their 100 year anniversary special. During the closing credits they have images of characters from those 100 years and while that was nice it only underscored how the film we had just saw wouldn’t be amongst those greats. I hate to say it but this one you can probably wait to watch on Disney Plus if you are curious.

5.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Poor Things, Leo, Maestro, Napoleon, May December, All of Us Strangers, Trolls: Band Together, Down in Dallas Town)

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well and are keeping busy like I am. These last few weeks have been very intense with daily screenings (sometimes more) plus everything I’m trying to keep up with at Hallmarkies Podcast. Needless to say it has been overwhelming and I have a ton of movies to catch you all up on. In an ideal world I’d be able to do longer reviews on all of these films but there just isn’t time. So here goes:


Poor Things is the latest film from Yorgos Lanthimos and like all of his films it is definitely not going to be for everyone. It’s a new take on the Frankenstein story with Emma Stone in the monster role (this time a woman brought back from the dead with the brain of a baby) and the movie follows her through each stage of her development from childhood to puberty to sexual and political awakening etc.

One thing that can’t be debated is Stone gives a fearless performance here not holding back whether she is playing a baby or a prostitute servicing clients in Paris. The rest of the performances are fine but she is this movie. The rest of the production is very impressive from the costumes to the fish-eye emphasizing cinematography. Unfortunately the movie is also self-indulgent and far too long. I wish they had cut the entire Paris section, not because it is sexually explicit but because it is very repetitive and doesn’t tell us much we didn’t already learn about Bella in the previous segment on the boat.

Still, the film was interesting enough and Stone committed enough to the role to recommend to the right moviegoer. If you are up for something ambitious and challenging maybe give this one a shot.

7 out of 10 (this film is a hard R rating so buyer beware)

Smile Worthy


I have a feeling I might end up with an unpopular opinion about Maestro. It feels like this year’s The Fabelmans that everyone loved that I didn’t connect with. Indeed my main problem with both films is the same: authenticity. Like The Fabelmans, Maestro felt phony and inauthentic most of the time.

I can understand why Bradley Cooper chose to play Leonard Bernstein as a mannered, flamboyant character in parties and he and his wife Felicia putting on airs for their associates (mostly to hide his bisexuality and their open marriage.) What I don’t understand is why that needed to continue into their private conversations and interactions. I wanted them to be real for a few seconds and they rarely were.

There are nice moments of performance, particularly  a climatic one in a church and I enjoyed the way Bernstein’s music was used throughout but I left feeling frustrated with how shallow and one-note the screenplay was. No thanks

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy


Like a lot of Netflix films Leo ends up being a bit of a frustrating experience. There are some elements I really admire about it but the script is uneven at best.

First, what I like is that it shows the different it makes when parents and adults put down their judgmental caps and actually listen to children. Leo is a lizard that reveals to students he can talk when he thinks he is going to die. Each of the kids flourishes when they have someone in their lives who just listens to them.

The problem is the story really doesn’t work. Particularly when it comes to a substitute teacher that sometimes is a mean demon and other times we are expected to feel sorry for. Also the movie can’t decide whether to be a musical or not. Some songs are stopped mid-way through and we never hear the rest of the song and then other sequences are full-on from a musical.

This one is close but I can’t recommend it.

5.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy


When the first trailer for Napoleon came out some loudly complained they were painting a dictator in a heroic light. I, like many others, responded that there’s nothing wrong with making a movie about a flawed or even evil person depending on how it is done. Under the right hands a movie about Napoleon and his rise to power could be enlightening and fascinating. Unfortunately Ridley Scott was not such hands and he has given us a biopic of Napoleon that feels like 19th century propaganda rather than a serious exploration of a the impact of power on this general turned emperor.

I couldn’t believe how positive a portrayal of Napoleon this film is. The main conflict is not that his campaigns led to 3 million deaths as the ending card tells us but that he has to divorce his wife in order to produce an heir. The film spends so much time on his personal drama that you almost forget he is ruling people. Someone said ‘well he was a hero to the people.’ Unfortunately that is not a perspective demonstrated by Scott as they people are rarely heard from aside from a couple scenes with him and the soldiers.

The battle sequences are well staged although do not watch if you are sensitive to violence on horses. That scope of battle might be enough for some to enjoy Napoleon but it certainly wasn’t enough for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy


I have never been the biggest fan of the Trolls series. I like the aesthetic and some of the songs but the messaging always ends up feeling muddled and the characters annoying. I was hopeful the addition of NSYNC would help boost the latest entry Trolls Band Together but I think I actually liked it the least of the franchise. My main problem was Poppy and how relentlessly annoying she is. I know I’m not the target demographic for these films but oh my gosh she got on my nerves.

What is so grating about Poppy is she doesn’t listen. I’m fine with cheerful, upbeat characters but she steamrolls all around her including Branch until they give up and let her brand of music or way of doing things rule. I’ve always found it strange in these movies how freedom of expression is preached unless you do something differently than Poppy and then you need to change (Branch not wanting to dance in the first one, people liking rock music in the 2nd etc.)

I also felt the animation was strange in this one with some character designs not fitting in with the style of the movie. For example, the villains Velvet and Veneer looked like poorly rendered plastic rather than the textured characters of the Trolls worlds.

We are also promised things like Poppy’s sister and the NSYNC reunion that are delivered in an underwhelming fashion. I just couldn’t wait for it to be over.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy



May December is the latest from director Todd Haynes who even if his films don’t work usually makes interesting works of art that give me something to think about. Such is the case with May December. It unfortunately becomes muddled and can’t decide what it is trying to say but it is an interesting misfire with everyone trying their best to make it work.

In the film Natalie Portman plays an actress who is playing a Mary Kay Letourneau type person pursued a young man when he was only 15 but they maintained a relationship with each other just like in the Letourneau situation. As Portman’s character becomes more involved with the family the line between research and obsession becomes more murky.

Like I said, the problem with this film is it becomes muddled. It at times wants to be an erotic thriller but then at other times it wants to comment on them (even with the music it seeemd to want to be a Lifetime movie but then held such exposes in disdain.) It wanted to be about sexual predators, women, victims, children raised in toxic environments, acting, etc. Sadly none of these topics get explored in a satisfying way leaving me confused with what Haynes is trying to say and what I’m supposed to get from this confused commentary on modern society. Charles Melton is very good as the victim and husband.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy


Going into All of Us Strangers I admit my expectations were high. I have loved all of Andrew Haigh’s films to date, particularly Lean on Pete from 2017. While I did like some things about his latest entry I left feeling disappointed with the execution and story structure.

What I did like is the chemistry between Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott. It really shines and I could have had even more scenes with them together and less of Scott visiting his parents. Jamie Bell and Claire Foy play his parents (it makes sense within the story) and mostly I found their scenes repetitive and the big reveal obvious.

It’s not a terrible film by any means but not one I will remember like I’ve remembered Lean on Pete.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy


I love documentaries that take risks and try new things with the format. Such is the case with Down in Dallas Town a new documentary about the day JFK was assassinated and how it changed everything. What was particularly interesting is interviews with people who were there and one woman Mary Ann Moorman who took a photograph of shot that killed the president. She hadn’t been back for 50 years and her journey is moving.

Where the documentary is less effective in how it tries to bring the assassination into the current discussions on gun violence and especially homelessness. Some of the connections felt repetitive and a bit of a reach- like the filmmaker wanted to talk about the issues whether they really connected with the assassination or not.

Nevertheless, the elements with Moorman are insightful and provocatively enough to recommend.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. Watching all these films was a ton of work! Sorry I wasn’t more positive but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

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‘THE MARVELS’ or How Not Even a Singing Planet Can Make Me Like This Homework

Over the years as a film critic my relationship with superhero movies has been an interesting one. In many ways I’m a defender of the genre and find those who dismiss them as not being cinema to be absurd. However, the fandoms surrounding the popcorn films often make them hard to stand up for or engage with and this goes for both DC and Marvel. It also doesn’t help that the films, outside of animation, have been largely weak for a while now. Sure we get an occasional Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 but most are underwhelming at best. The latest to join this club is The Marvels from the MCU. To say this film is a disjointed, confusing mess would be an understatement. It makes mixed entries like Thor: Love and Thunder look coherent and well done. If the combination of this and the very underwhelming latest Antman movie don’t give Marvel the wakeup call they need I don’t know what will.

I know some people complained about Dr Strange 2 being too tied to Wandavision and that was a concern I had, but I gave it a bit of a pass because Wandavision was in the heart of the pandemic when theaters were closed so most people attending MOM had probably seen it. Now we have The Marvels that requires heavy knowledge of the last Captain Marvel movie, Wandavision and Ms Marvel and I’m sorry but it really felt like homework this go-around. I wish someone had told me I needed to have seen all of this before watching the film and even if I had I still think I would be confused because of the choppy editing.

It is abundantly clear this movie was heavily influenced by reshoots. Characters are introduced and then we move away from them for a long while, plot points are scattered haphazardly without concern for flow or a coherent story. This is especially true with our villain, Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), who I think we are supposed to sympathize with but the character arc is so choppy and the performance so bland that I was completely unmoved by her.

It’s a shame because the 3 leads do have a nice chemistry together and there are fun individual moments. Iman Vellani is particularly good as the Captain Marvel hype girl Ms Marvel. I don’t know why they didn’t have her team up with America Chavez from MOM. The two of them have similar energy and would be a good dynamic but she is cute.

I also died laughing at a scene involving cats and Cats if you get my drift. They even have a section where they go to a planet where everyone sings all the time. That should be right up my ally but it was so disconnected from the villain and the story it only mildly amused me. For some reason (I guess?) Captain Marvel needs to destroy the sun because of AI that she destroyed in the first movie. This caused genocide of a people and this involves Monica Rambeau for some reason. I was lost.

I am sure some will say ‘but Rachel it’s just a fun movie’ and I do have to give it credit for being short. Most comicbook movies are so bloated these days but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect some coherence in story and character arcs in my ‘fun movies’ these days. There might have been a good movie buried somewhere in The Marvels but what I saw was a big mess. My Marvel ladies deserve much better than one of the worst movies the MCU has sadly ever produced (My advice stay home and watch Across the Spiderverse and TMNT instead.)

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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2 Wildly Different Holiday Films Both Fun: IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE, JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM Reviews

When I say I cover all things holiday over at Hallmarkies Podcast well I  mean what I say and today’s review is proof of this! Opening this week we have 2 wildly different Christmas themed movies but I enjoyed both and both take their holiday origins to spark creativity and joy in their own ways.



Before I give my review I had the opportunity to interview the director, Adam Anders, after I saw the film. He was also on the creative team behind Glee and High School Musical so it’s a fun interview. Give it a listen!

I wouldn’t be surprised if Journey to Bethlehem isn’t treated kindly by most critics. It takes creative swings that will definitely be divisive. I am more curious to see how the faith-based market responds to it, as it’s not typically a market that gets artistic visions or creative storytelling.

As for me, a non-traditional Christian and more importantly in this case lover of musicals I really enjoyed Journey to Bethlehem. They do a challenging thing taking a story we know well and injecting energy and passion into it and reminding us of themes within that typically don’t get emphasized.

For example, Mary and Joseph’s love story is amplified in the narrative. We sometimes forget how risky it was for Mary to be an unwed mother at that time and for Joseph to marry her despite her pregnancy was a bold move. This is true whether you believe in the divinity of her pregnancy or not.

They also have a lot of fun with Antonio Banderas’ take on Herod. It’s a great example of an actor who knows his job and brings it with just enough camp to sell the role. His song “Good to Be King” is a musical highlight and a ton of fun.

The rest of the music is what you would expect from a creator of Glee. It’s big and brassy and if you know me that’s what I love. My other favorite song is “The Ultimate Deception” where Joseph battles with an angel and devil telling him what he should do with Mary. It’s very clever and well sung by Milo Manheim (who has huge charisma here as well as in this year’s Prom Pact)

Some religious viewers will bristle at the modern interpretations to the story in Journey to Bethlehem but since I’m not a traditionalist I appreciate the risks they took. I also like energetic musicals with big spectacle and that’s what I got here. It’s fun and that’s hard to do with a story like this. It captures the warmth and hope of the Christmas story with a burst of creativity and music. Sign me up!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Followers of my reviews know I’m not the biggest slasher fan but I have been trying to expand my palate in all genres in the last few years and I try to see all of the holiday films even if they are of the horror variety. When I saw the trailer for It’s a Wonderful Knife I figured it was either going to be super cringeworthy and cheap or a fun horror take on a story we know well. Fortunately after having seen the film I can say it is the latter. I’m so glad I enjoyed it because we are going to be doing a special episode of Hallmarkies Podcast on holiday horror in the next few weeks showcasing this film and my friend Lee from Drumdums youtube and Sean Chandler. They are horror experts so can speak to the movie’s quality within the genre but as a novice I had a lot of fun with it.

The movie takes the idea of alternate lives from It’s a Wonderful Life and adds a serial killer to the mix (I laugh just writing that!) It’s a pretty bloody movie but the plot is murders start happening in a small town and in desperation a teen wishes she’d never been born because she thinks she’s bad luck causing the murders.

Jane Widdop is likable as our grinchy lead. Justin Long is a favorite of mine and wonderful as the untrustworthy mayor and Joel McHale is terrific as Widdop’s father. Director Tyler MacIntyre creates eerie holiday tinged atmosphere and the tension builds with each murder.

The only thing that could have been improved is there aren’t very many nods or Easter eggs to the original film. They could have had more fun with that. Maybe name a character Potter or a bar named Martinis to pay homage? You don’t need to have seen the original film to enjoy this one and the movie isn’t as meta in that regard as I had hoped.

Still, if you are looking for a bloody good time this Christmas It’s a Wonderful Knife is a perfect choice. Give it a try. It just might surprise you!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Merry Christmas movie watching!

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Current Mini Reviews (The Killer, Rustin, Mars Express, What Happens Later)

Hey everyone! We are getting into the busy season both for my Christmas movie coverage at Hallmarkies Podcast and awards season for regular moviegoing. For this upcoming week I have a screening almost every night and in the case of tomorrow I could see 2 movies if I was interested in the new Hunger Games prequel. Crazy busy! Before all that starts I wanted to update on a few of the films I’ve seen lately:


I think one’s experience with The Killer will have a lot to do with expectations. If you are expecting a David Fincher masterpiece than you might be disappointed. If you are expecting a solid, well-crafted character piece you’ll be satisfied. Michael Fassbender gives a smoldering, near-solo performance as a hitman who’s plans go awry.

Fincher is definitely paying homage to film noir classics like Double Indemnity but the ever-present naration can be a bit  much. At times it even felt like self-parody it was so on-the-nose. Still, there are some great sequences like a fight mid-movie that is superbly staged.

With The Killer you have a slickly made film with a commanding lead performance but not one you need to rush out to see and fortunately you don’t have to because it’s for Netflix.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Also coming to Netflix we have the biopic Rustin based on the life of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. I have to admit this is a person I have never heard of so that’s on me and the film does a pretty good job introducing us to this enigmatic figure. Rustin is unique because not only did he do the groundwork coordinating the March on Washington in 1963 but he was an openly gay man at that time.

Colman Domingo gives an excellent performance as Rustin and the supporting cast is strong with a few exceptions (I’m talking to you Chris Rock.) I particularly enjoyed seeing Jeffrey Wright as Adam Clayton Powel Jr and Audra McDonald as Ella Baker. Da’Vine Joy Randolph puts in another wonderful performance after The Holdovers as Mahalia Jackson.

All that said, Rustin doesn’t do anything to elevate itself over the typical biopic but as I didn’t know anything about this person I was fine with it. Give it a watch when it comes to Netflix.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Unfortunately I was not able to attend the Animation is Film Festival in Los Angeles this year, but I did get to screen one of the films making its US Premiere there. It’s called Mars Express and is definitely something sci-fi and adult animation fans will want to keep on their radar.

It’s interesting because to see the similarities between this and the recently released The Creator (which I really enjoyed but most seemed underwhelmed by.) It’s hard to say what people will think of this sci-fi story, but I think its AI narrative is a little tighter and should be less problematic for viewers.

The animation from first time director  Jérémie Périn is stunning with a gritty yet immersive feel. It definitely takes inspiration from Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Blade Runner and more but the world he creates on Mars is unique enough to stand on its own. I particularly liked Aline as our lead character looking into the world of AI crime on Mars. I also loved the score as it gave the moody noir feel you want in a movie like this.

Mars Express is definitely one to keep an eye out for when it gets a mainstream release next year.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy


As the host of the Hallmarkies Podcast I am naturally a big fan of romantic comedies and for years we weren’t getting many of them in the theaters. This is why I was thrilled to see Meg Ryan not only coming out with a new movie (her first since 2015) but she directed and adapted the screenplay from a play. I’m a huge Meg Ryan fan and was excited to see her come back to the genre she hasn’t dabbled in since 2008. Now I have seen What Happens Later and it’s a mixed bag but I think worthy of a recommendation.

You can immediately tell this film is based on a play as it only as Ryan and David Duchovny are the only characters with vocal lines aside from an over-head voice. To be honest I thought for a while we were heading towards a twist that this was the afterlife and they had to reconcile their relationship before flying off to the spirit world (she’s even wearing white) but it doesn’t play out that way; although, there are surreal moments thrown in that make a person think this way (My friend Terry had the same feeling so I’m not alone.) I also felt like her character was a manifestation of the grown up Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which was interesting.

In the end What Happens Later comes down to the script. I’d say about 60% of the banter works and is charming. Duchovny and Ryan have nice chemistry and there are some sweet moments as they unravel their past. Unfortunately the other 40% feels very phony, contrived and the film definitely over-stays its welcome, having more endings than it should. Again, it’s a mixed bag but the stuff that works is pleasant enough for me to recommend. Hopefully this will inspire Ryan to make more rom-coms and keep the resurgence of the genre going. Welcome back Meg!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! Let me know what you have been watching and keep an eye on the site as we have a lot of screenings and reviews coming up!

If you like my writing and want to support what I do check out the patreon for some great perks here..

Why THE HOLDOVERS Wows and PRISCILLA underwhelms

Originally I wanted to write solo reviews for both The Holdovers and Priscilla but I am running out of time and the thought occurred to me ‘maybe a comparison of the 2 might be interesting?’ After all, why did one work for me so well and the other was so disappointing? Let’s talk about it!

Now they aren’t an exact comparison because The Holdovers is an original screenplay with fictional characters and Priscilla is based on the memoir of a real person Priscilla Presley. But they are both character pieces and both set in the 70s and both about young adults so they aren’t complete opposites.

The main difference between the two films is in The Holdovers we get to know the characters so well, even minor characters we don’t spend a ton of time with like Mary Lamb played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph. We learn so much about the choices in her life, her family, faith and everything else in only a few key scenes.

Priscilla, on the other hand, always keeps her at an arms-distance. You’d think a film directed by the daughter of a famous person, Sofia Coppola, would have something interesting to say about this famous woman who eventually leaves Elvis but she really doesn’t. The relationship is toxic but we don’t get to hear from Priscilla. What does she like about Elvis? Is it the money? Is it a spiritual connection? What does she want in life? She’s young but all the more reason to see her grow and develop as a character.

The performances are all good in Priscilla but its the screenplay that lets them down. It honestly felt like a made for TV movie without the moxie and camp those films can have. I felt like I learned next to nothing about Priscilla from watching the movie and I came in knowing very little. Isn’t that the whole point of the movie to tell her story? Evidently she’s a young girl who waited around in Graceland but had almost no personality herself. Also I felt they were trying to portray Elvis as asexual or disinterested in sex (he’d rather read philosophy) but they never did anything interesting with that either.

The Holdovers has 2 masterfully written characters with Paul Giamatti as the professor Paul Hunham and Dominic Sessa as a lonely student Angus Tully. They can’t stand each other at first but are forced to share the holidays together and come to understand and respect one another. It’s moving and authentic and wonderfully acted. It is also cool that Paul Giamatti’s character has a strabismus problem with his eye which I have too! I’m not sure how they did that if it was special effects or what but it was neat to see a character grapple with that in a feature film.

Of course I am drawn to holiday films but The Holdovers is really a film about friendship and how we all freaking need each other. I could nitpick about the ending not being perfect but it was good enough and provides a moment of sacrifice for Paul (who has been relatively selfish most of the movie) and some hope for Angus. Nobody has really believed in him in his life and now someone has and it’s beautiful,  moving and lovely.

Basically Priscilla is well-made but it left me with little insight into its characters where The Holdovers had it in spades. One has a weak script and the other is one of the best in years. It’s as simple as that.

Priscilla– Frown Worthy 4 out of 10

The Holdovers– Smile Worthy 9 out of 10

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Killers of the Flower Moon or the Pain of Having No Control Over Your Pain

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m one of the only professional critics who wasn’t going into the latest, Killers of the Flower Moon, from director Martin Scorsese with super high expectations. While I recognize the achievement in many of his films they often aren’t on my wavelength and not something I particularly enjoy (I famously hated his film Silence but have appreciated some of his films like Goodfellas.) Especially with it’s well over 3 hour runtime I anticipated KOTFM would be something I’d appreciate but struggle to get through. Well, now I have seen it I can say it is a tough sit but I found it surprisingly compelling and something I can genuinely recommend experiencing.

I think what makes KOTFM work so well is Scorsese has found a genuinely compelling story and he asks us to root for and against the right people so we are with the movie from the beginning and end up outraged, as we are intended to feel. What particularly struck me is the lack of control especially the female characters (in this case real life people who actually existed) have over their lives and choices. So often it is assumed that money=power and that is often true but it is only the case if you have the power to use the money effectively. All the Osage characters in the story have money from oil so one would think they have power but they do not control the use of that money therefore their power is easily manipulated.

This is made especially clear in the narrative by the fact that two with power, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart and Robert De Niro’s William Hale are complete idiots especially Ernest. And yet because of who they are and the color of their skin they have power and with their lack of care for their fellow humans they wield that power with disastrous results.

Lily Gladstone is getting deserved buzz for her incredible performance as Mollie Burkhart. Her character genuinely falls for the simple-minded Ernest but that decision is truly her only moment of power. Even as she fights diabetes with some of the first ever insulin injections she is completely at the mercy of her husband and other mostly white men in her life. She watches in horror as her family members are taken down one-by-one knowing her time is coming and knowing how little power she has. At one point she tries to get the President of  United States involved, and I suppose her money does get her some notice there but it’s so minimal compared to the easy power her husband so thoughtlessly bumbles about.

Watching KOTFM it’s easy to become angry and this is intentional. We as human beings bristle at the idea of inequalities around us. It’s gross what is happening to Mollie and we want to make it better. We hope that such atrocities couldn’t happen today all the while knowing the horrific statistics of violence towards Native American women- and those are women without the faux power of wealth like Mollie had. It’s maddening and makes the film very effective.

What makes it less effective is some of the direction of the actors by Scorsese. Most of it is compelling but there are times performances feel like caricatures more than realistic historical figures. This is particularly true with Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow’s attorney characters which felt like they were from a different less-grounded movie. I also felt some of the supporting and extra roles were amateurish and weak.

Other than that this is a compelling story that needed to be told, and I’m grateful to Scorsese for telling it. I guess there is comfort that there is some justice at the end of the film but only after such a price is paid and again only because a literal trip to the President was called upon to get it. (When she does say ‘you’re next’ to Ernest that’s a satisfying moment!)  Surely we can do better? Again it makes me mad. It makes me want to fight harder for people like Mollie who deserve power but are instead left to the whims of the despots and fools. We as a country pay the price. It’s tragic yet, like I said, compelling.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews (Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, The Other Zoey, Jesus Revolution, Once Upon a Studio)

Hey everyone! It’s time for an update on a bunch of recent releases I’ve seen. I’ve had a pretty good stretch of films and am excited to be starting Christmas coverage at Hallmarkies Podcast next week with the first Hallmark movie airing on Friday.


One of the great things about being engaged in cinema is it opens you to so many different kinds of experiences. You can laugh, scream, cheer, and occasionally go nuts with teens  at a concert and the latter is what you get to do with Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour. I am obviously aware of Taylor Swift but I am far from a swiftie or fan of hers. I have nothing against her but just not very up to date on modern music unless it’s in a movie or Broadway show.

Anyway, the concert was super fun to experience with everyone singing and cheering. I can only imagine how much fun it is for fans or to go with a group. As a critic it’s hard to review such a fan-specific event but the concert is well put-together and Taylor is an extremely engaging performer. Again I was not familiar with most of the songs but she did a good job combining soft and hard and her stamina with the complicated arrangements and set-pieces is impressive (and some extremely fast costume changes.)

She also includes over 40 songs which is amazing for any performer so we definitely get our moneys-worth for the cost of admission. I had a great time with Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour and if you can see it in IMAX or at an xd screen I highly recommend it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy


In addition to Taylor we have a new rom-com out in theaters this weekend called The Other Zoey. It stars Josephine Langford as Zoey who gets in a screwball comedy situation where she is mistaken as a different Zoey by a hunky soccer player who gets amnesia and thinks she is his girlfriend also named Zoey. The catch is that she is cynical and not interested in romantic comedies, so for her to be stuck in the plot of an outlandish screwball comedy is ironic and funny.

They try and give The Other Zoey an edge to separate it out from Hallmark romances by having characters be polyamorous and lie to each other, but a lot of that edge falls flat. Langford’s character is pretty unlikable in the film but she does have decent chemistry with both male leads (Drew Starkey, Archie Renaux.) If you are jonesing for a rom-com this is sarcastic and funny enough to satisfy that itch. Not great by any means but passable entry in the genre.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy


I finally got around to seeing Jesus Revolution on the plane and after hearing good things I can say I really enjoyed this intriguing faith-based film. It is made by one half of the Erwin Bros, Jon Erwin (with Brent McCorkle) and so far I have enjoyed all of the Erwin Bros films. They are making by far the strongest narratives right now in the faith-based market. They still have flaws but they aren’t afraid to put story over ministry and have characters with flaws that learn and grow.

Jesus Revolution tells the story of a group of hippies that turned to evangelicalism and religion in the early 1970s. We get to follow a number of real life characters including: Kelsey Grammer’s pastor Chuck Smith who embraces, at first reluctantly the movement, Joel Courtney as a confused teen in love named Greg Laurie and Jonathan Roumie (who plays Jesus on The Chosen) as the charismatic leader Lonnie Frisbee. These are fleshed out, imperfect characters. Not the paragons of virtue we sometimes see in this genre.

They do have enough messaging for fans of the genre but overall it’s a compelling story well told and I learned about a movement I’d never heard of before. Worth a watch.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy


I am sure there will be some people who will turn up their noses at Once Upon a Studio and criticize it as empty fan service but even though I have been very disappointed in Disney lately I’m not that cynical. For the 100 year anniversary of the studio they created a little short showcasing their animation (I really appreciate they kept it to just Disney and no Pixar, Star Wars or anything like that.)

It’s a simple concept of 500 characters from the studio gathering together to take a family photo. What I love is they didn’t just stick to the successful properties like The Lion King or Frozen but we have characters from shorts like Johnny Appleseed and from flops like Gurgi from The Black Cauldron. There is a particularly touching moment where Mickey greets a painting of Walt Disney and thanks him for all the memories. You’d have to be pretty cynical to not appreciate a moment like that.

Of course animation lovers and Disney fans have to see this short. I look forward to seeing it before their new film Wish coming out next month.

If you got to see it what characters did you enjoy seeing again the most?

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. An all positive update! Happy moviegoing! 

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