Current Mini Reviews

It’s time for another edition of my Current Mini Reviews where I give shortened reviews of recently released films. If you are new to the site you are going to think I’m a super big grumpy pants because I didn’t like any of the movies being covered. Sometimes that’s the way the movie Gods see fit to provide, and it’s a good thing because it makes me grateful for the great films! So here goes:

The Sun is Also a Star

First up is The Sun is Also a Star. This is a romantic YA drama based on the book by Nicola Yoon. I actually read the book and enjoyed it. I thought both Natasha and Daniel were well developed and interesting characters and that helped me care about the instalove gimmick. Unfortunately as you can see in my youtube review the movie did not work. The director used too many gimmicks with spinning cameras and heavy-handed narration that got in the way of the characters. Without their development the romance felt very corny. The two leads are pretty people but the script didn’t work for me.

Frown Worthy

3.5 out of 10

A Dog’s Journey

KINÓWKI.pl

Don’t worry this is not a sequel to A Dog’s Way Home, which came out in January, and I gave a marginal recommendation to. No, this is a sequel to the 2017 film A Dog’s Purpose, which I didn’t enjoy, but this manages to be even worse. This is a PG family film, and we get multiple dog deaths, human deaths, parental abuse, alcoholism, a toxic teenage relationship, car crashes and cancer. Good grief! The only thing I liked about the movie aside from the cute doggies was the relationship between Kathryn Prescott and Henry Lau. I’d watch them in another movie- maybe a light-hearted romantic comedy and not this massive downer…It makes Old Yeller look like a laugh-fest.

Frown Worthy

2 out of 10

The Dead Don’t Die-

dead dont die

Last year I loved the delightful indie zombie Christmas musical Anna and the Apocalypse. It was creative, funny and sweet. It even made Best Films of 2018. So when I saw a trailer for The Dead Don’t Die I got very excited. The trailer was hilarious, and I love the cast. My hope was it was going to be a Wes Anderson meets Zombieland film. Unfortunately I was very disappointed. The Dead Don’t Die was an unfunny, self-indulgent, frustrating experience. The cast is woefully wasted, and they strain for the few laughs the script offers. The metaphors are also rammed in to the ground by narrators and characters breaking the 4th wall. It is my first film from director Jim Jarmusch but the critics at Cannes and other places don’t seem to be enjoying it either, so it appears to be a just a big miss. It’s frustrating because it had so much potential and it all falls flat.

Frown Worthy

3.5 out of 10

Wine Country

wine country

In recent years Hollywood has produced several popular comedic films starring and geared towards women. Whether it is the Bad Moms movies, Girl’s Trip or Bridesmaids these films have an audience. Unfortunately the successes for that audience are few and far between. In the latest from Netflix, Wine Country, a lot of funny women are brought together for little to no laughs. It boggles my mind that so many talented people like Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer and more could all get together and produce so few jokes. It felt like an R rated version of a sitcom episode stretched into nearly 2 hours. I also am so tired of the trope that women doing raunchy or outlandish things is inherently more funny than when a man does the same things. It’s so lazy and that’s how I would describe Wine Country. Buyer beware!

Frown Worthy

2 out of 10

So there you have it. 4 pretty terrible films all in the same month! I bet you’re not so jealous of my job now! If you get to see any of these movies let me know what you think. Thanks

Advertisements

‘Aladdin’ 2019 Review

aladdin88

If you have been following this blog for a long time than you know I’m not the biggest fan of these Disney live action remakes. A few I have enjoyed (Mary Poppins Returns, Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) but even when I enjoy them the overall movement away from animation is not my favorite. Plus, when it goes bad it goes really bad (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast). So naturally when I heard about a remake of the Disney classic Aladdin I was pretty skeptical. I was made more skeptical when they hired director Guy Ritchie, who I have not been a fan of, to helm the project. Then the casting looked questionable (how do you replace Robin Williams, one of the great vocal performances ever?) and the trailers were uneven at best.

Nevertheless, I always try to set all that baggage aside and go into a movie with an open mind (otherwise why bother?). So what was the result of this live action Aladdin? I’d say it is a decidedly mixed bag. It’s not awful and it’s not a classic like the original. It’s squarely middle of the road entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.

aladdin6

Let’s start with the positives. The best part about the film is the performances of Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine. They are not only good charismatic actors but they had great chemistry and are pretty decent singers. I really enjoyed the ‘One Jump’ sequence from Massoud and Scott has a power ballad called ‘Speechless’ that felt a little out of place musically but was still a pretty good, well sung piece (written by La La Land’s Pasek and Paul). I also thought they nailed the ‘A Whole New World’ because of their chemistry and good singing. It was everything I could have wanted in that sequence.

aladdin7

I also enjoyed Will Smith when he wasn’t the blue Genie that we know and love. My friend Jen, who attended the screening with me, said she thought he was playing the part of Hitch, acting as matchmaker between a nervous Aladdin and confident Jasmine. These scenes are funny and well produced. They even have Genie getting some of his own plotlines, which I surprisingly didn’t hate.

The trailers are also misleading on how devoted to the original the remake is. It is not a shot-for-shot remake, which many were afraid of, but instead, tries its own thing. The pacing could be a little tighter in spots but overall the story and script worked. Plus the Alan Menken music is always a treat.

aladdin2

Unfortunately I also had problems with this new version of Aladdin. The biggest fall in 2 camps: blue Genie sequences and the portrayal of Jafar.

Like I said, I enjoyed the scenes of Will Smith playing matchmaker and mentoring Aladdin as a normal looking version of himself. However, I did not like him as the blue Genie. First of all, he looked ridiculous with cgi that was only slightly better than the first trailer. That said, my biggest problem was they took all the funny out of these scenes. I wonder if they were afraid of fans comparing him to Robin Williams? Unfortunately their solution was to make ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali’ flat and bland with hardly any jokes or energy to them. It felt like glitzy cruise ship renditions more concerned with checking off boxes instead of digging into a deep manic energy to make us laugh and smile. Also Will Smith doesn’t have a broadway style singing voice, so they should have embraced his more hip-hop style rather than produce weak versions of these iconic tunes.

aladdin8

My other problem with Aladdin is the portrayal of Jafar by Marwan Kenzari. He had a lot of the trappings of Jafar but the performance was very annoying and whiny. I’ve always thought of Jafar as a pretty bold but sniveling villain and this was just irritating. It also didn’t help that Iago as a live action character was window dressing instead of the comic relief that makes the animated Jafar so full of dry menacing wit.

aladdin3

I really struggled whether to go smile or frown worthy on this Aladdin. I’m about split down the middle on it but it so pales in comparison to the original animated classic that I’m not going fresh on this one. It’s not awful and has its charms, but I’d still say stay home and watch the original. Tough call but:

frown

Overall Grade 5 out of 10

If you want to hear Stanford and I talk all about the original Aladdin check out our Talking Disney podcast episode:

The Beguiled Review

Yesterday I had the chance to see one of the most buzz worthy films of the summer: The Beguiled, directed by Sophia Coppola. Heavily praised out of Cannes Film Festival and by many critics I went into it with some enthusiasm. I even watched the original 1971 film for Hit Me With Your Best Shot to get ready.  Coming out of the film I wasn’t all that thrilled with it. The Beguiled is ok but not as good as the original and Coppola makes a lot of weird choices I didn’t understand that made it more languid and removed much of the tension. This was a thriller without any thrills.

beguiled5

Let’s start with the positives. First of all, The Beguiled is a gorgeous film and it is worth seeing for the stunning cinematography, lighting, production design and costumes alone. All of these aspects are significant improvements upon the original. I love how it felt like candlelight and it reminded me of The Others (a favorite of mine) in the way it used light and shadow to create mood.  If it isn’t nominated for best costumes at the Oscars that will be a real travesty.

I also think the acting is all good. It’s what Coppola does with the performances that is the problem. All of the ladies do a decent job with what they are given. I have issues with Colin Farrell’s character but it isn’t really his fault. Again, he does a good job with what he is given.

beguiled2

Now to talk about the problems…and unfortunately that begins with the way Farrell’s character is written. In the 1971 film Corporal John McBurney is an obvious predator that fixates quickly on the most plain girl in the house, Edwina (more on her in a minute). He does this at the same time the more striking Alicia is throwing herself at him. This builds tension so much more than the over-all nice guy this version shows. I didn’t really buy most of the decisions he makes here as they seemingly came out of nowhere.

For example, one scene that is missing from the original is where McBurney tries to seduce the house slave. She is the only one who is in on his game and will have nothing to do with him. It makes it clear this is not a nice man, which makes the tone feel scary as you worry about the women of the house. In this version, Coppola decided to eliminate the slave character completely. I understand why she did it for PC reasons, but I think it hurt McBurney’s character development and made all the girls feel similar since there was no contrasting presence.

beguiled3Now getting to the girls. The character development for them is sadly also lacking. Edwina is supposed to be very plain and Kirsten Dunst is far too pretty to play this part. The plain appearance is important because like I said it makes McBurney’s advances more creepy and his seductions more alluring to the homely Edwina. Here her decisions don’t seem to match with the rest of her character or personality and her stunning dresses don’t help in making her feel mousy either!

beguiled4

It goes the same with the other women. Alicia is not developed at all when in the original she is a real vixen tempting McBurney. The school matron Martha played by Nicole Kidman is also written very flatly. In the original she is a sexual deviant with a strange twisted past. Here she is a nice Southern lady trying to protect her girls. It just doesn’t have the same tension or thrills because their choices are way more predictable and obvious.

I appreciate that Coppola wanted to make a story about women but why not write them as complex characters with interesting backstories and motivations? Or if you aren’t going that route make the situations the stock characters are in scary and fun. Neither is the case here. I wonder if she felt afraid to make her characters more flawed, as the original does, for fear of it not being seen as empowering or a feminist film? Who knows but I don’t get it?

It’s hard without spoilers but there is also a scene where Martha is forced to make a decision and in the original film it is clear she does not need to make that choice. However, here it is the opposite. It is portrayed that if she does not make the choice McBurney will die. This does not work because McBurney’s anger at these ‘crazy women’ seems unjustified when in the original it is definitely not. According to this film they’ve just saved his life but he turns into an insane person. It’s a scene (and final 3rd of the film) that should have been full of tension but it’s not  because all the ambiguity has been lost.

beguiled6

This will sound weird but this version is oddly more pg13ish than the original. More often than not, it plays it safe and doesn’t explore darker themes or twisted character motivations like it could have. It makes it kind of boring and predictable.

All that said, it’s not an awful movie. It is pretty and worth watching for the visuals alone but I just can’t figure out why Coppola made choices that seemed to neuter her gothic thriller? Watch this film and then watch the original, and I think you will see what I mean. This is a nice looking film but a thriller it is not.

Overall Grade- C+


As far as content there is a little bit of blood and brief sensuality but I’m not even sure why it is rated R to be honest. It seemed about the same as My Cousin Rachel and that is a pg-13. The original is way more R rated.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Parent Trap (1961)

This week for Hit Me With Your Best Shot Nathaniel over at the Film Experience has selected a film right up my alley- The Parent Trap (1961).  This is the original version of the movie. Not the superb remake starring Lindsay Lohan in 1998 (that’s how you do a remake right!).  I’m excited to talk about this film because I really do adore it.  It is one of my favorite live action Disney films.

The premise is simple enough. 2 girls meet at camp and surprise! They happen to look just like each other. It turns out they are twins separated at birth. Now they start up a scheme to switch places and bring their parents back together again. It’s not the most original story in the world but it is what they do with it that works so well. And most of the credit goes to the charismatic and wonderful cast. Hayley Mills is amazing as the twins. She gives them each individual personalities and manners of talking. Even when they have the same haircut and clothing I still know clearly who is Susan and who is Sharon.

I also love Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith as the parents. They have terrific chemistry together and you buy these two people have always been in love with each other but have let their passionate natures keep them apart. I even love it when she ends up slugging him in the eye in one spirited argument. It feels believable for their characters that it might happen. Under all that fiestiness is of course passion and love for each other. It is classic!

The movie is also really funny. I love Maureen O’hara when she flirts it up with the local Reverend (Leo Carroll) come to go over wedding plans for Mitch and his fiance Vicky (Joanna Barnes). She is hilarious as she drives her ex crazy in front of the Reverend in a bath robe!

Vicky is a very stock gold digging horrible girlfriend you often see in romantic comedies. They can’t have her be too great or we won’t want him to get together with Maggie very much. However, here the trope works because they get a lot of humor out of it. I love when the girls submarine her on the camping trip because I could be equally spooked in the great outdoors. I hate camping and if bear cubs were licking my feet I would have words just like Vicky!

The beginning scenes at camp are also hilarious with the most epic sabotage in movies. I think every kid dreams of pulling those kind of pranks off at camp or with their friends. (I was never big into being pranked but I thought the idea of it was hilarious). It never becomes dour or depressing but is light and fun.

Now to my best shot. I realize this movie caused some controversy upon its release because many kids felt they could get their divorced parents back together. This is perhaps a strange testament to the effectiveness of the picture, but I think these complaints miss a key point of the film. Parent Trap isn’t saying all parents should get back together. Of course not. It is just saying THESE TWO PEOPLE should get back together.

As I said, Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith have palatable chemistry together. They belong together. It’s as clear as day. The final scene when they talk and embrace is really well written, and I love when Mitch tells Maggie all the silly things he misses about her, and she tells him to wash the stew off of his shirt. It’s just great romantic comedy writing.

So, I picked this picture of the two smiling at each other.  This is why the movie works and why I love it.

BEST SHOT:

What do you think of Parent Trap 1961 or do you prefer the remake? Put in the comments section and what would be your best shot? Please share!

Overall Grade- A

Beauty and the Beast 2017 Review

It’s an interesting predicament I find myself in with this latest live action remake from Disney, Beauty and the Beast. Because I detested the marketing, some think I have a vendetta against the film and would never like it. On the other hand,  the animation fandom cries “traitor” if I like anything about it. Oh well! Looks like I will just have to be honest with my response as I always am. So here goes…

So far these Disney live action remakes have been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved Cinderella and Pete’s Dragon because they felt small and intimate and gave a new vision to the story without bastardizing the original as Maleficent did. Jungle Book I thought was solid and entertaining and the 2 Alice films I didn’t care for. Maleficent I hated with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Where does this Beauty and the Beast lie? Well, I’d say like the remakes as a whole it is a bit of a mixed bag. The average moviegoer looking to be entertained will be but that doesn’t take from some problems I had with the film.

Let’s talk about strengths first. My favorite thing about the film was the strong production design and the large musical set pieces. I can’t think of a musical in a long time that had such satisfyingly staged musical sequences. Be Our Guest, Belle, and Gaston were the particular highlights. The costumes, scope, dancing and ensemble singing were first rate. It was easy to get swept away in the moments and that’s what you want in a musical.

I also really liked what they did with Gaston. Luke Evans was hilarious in the role and while he may not be the size of a barge it didn’t matter. He worked for the part. They made him a bit more sympathetic without completely changing his character like they did with Maleficent. He’s still the cocky guy we know and love but he seemed to actually be in love with Belle, which I appreciated. Also Lefou was a well done character. I liked his story arc through the film and Josh Gad did a good job in the role. He isn’t just a literal punching bag that he is in the animated film.  By the way, the whole “gay moment” is nothing that should offend anyone in any way. His character arc is satisfying not because of his sexuality but because of how he deals with questions of loyalty and friendship.

They also work in a lot of humor into the script, which I enjoyed. I found myself laughing quite a bit especially with Lumiere and Cogsworth but a lot of the characters were funny.

But that’s about where my positives end and some problems start. My biggest problem with the film is in the character design. All of the household objects were difficult to connect with emotionally. Lumiere and Cogsworth were designed in a way that made it difficult to see their faces and expressions. Mrs Potts was literally flat so you had no sense of movement or personality to her.  It is all left to the voice cast to sell the emotion and they just couldn’t do it. The Beast looked like Krampus and his face was flat and dull. And Harry Potter fans will hate me for saying this but I also found Emma Watson to be flat and wooden in her performance as Belle. There wasn’t much chemistry between the two of them because they were uninteresting and bland, which is a big problem selling this story.

I also had some problems with the new additions to the story. For the most part they didn’t add anything that wasn’t super obvious or predictable. It just made scenes feel stretched out and kind of boring. They should have picked one or two backstories to focus on, but instead they did a lot and none of them feel very developed or satisfyingly fleshed out. For example, we learn something about Mrs Potts’ marriage but it feels very tagged on and not emotional like it should.

The best of the additions is the new peril the household objects face with the curse but I didn’t really like that they are somehow blamed for the Beast’s behavior and the curse. This seemed like a major stretch. I can see blaming parents for the behaviors of a child but servants in a castle? That is tough to believe. It’s certainly a very harsh enchantress.  That’s for sure.

Other new story involving Belle’s mother and the Beast’s backstory just did nothing for me. Also the new songs were very forgettable and flat. They aren’t bad songs but the only reason I remember one of them is because Josh Groban sang it in the credits and I’m a huge fan of his.

Speaking of music, the other major problem I had with the movie was in the singing. Emma Watson’s singing was frankly awful. She not only sounds autotuned but her vocals don’t mesh with the rest of the strong ensemble vocals. It’s one thing for a terrible vocalist to be in Mama Mia or Phantom of the Opera but most of the singing sucked in those movies. Here the ensemble is great and classic Broadway sound, so to have an electronic sound as the lead didn’t work at all. It was such a bummer because if she had been dubbed I think I would have LOVED those songs. If I was Emma Watson I would be very mad with Disney because it is their job to make their star sound good and they didn’t.

Most people will go see Beauty and the Beast and have a great time, and so I have to give Disney credit on that level. There is entertainment to be had here and I think as a whole it is a harmless movie. Does it live up to the 1991 original film? Of course not but it’s certainly not awful. I thought the musical set pieces and Gaston/Lefou were fun enough to recommend the film despite some of my problems and issues. In a way it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity because elements  were there to make it truly great but oh well. It’s not an atrocity like Maleficent so I’m grateful for that.

Overall Grade- C

Here is my youtube review. I would really appreciate it if you gave it a watch and a thumbs up if you have a minute.  Thanks!

Beauty and the Beast 2014 Review

So love it or hate it the new Beauty and the Beast is coming out whether we like it or not. To get ready for the release I thought it would be fun to take a look at the 2014 French version of our classic story entitled La Belle et la Bete.

This film is directed by Christophe Gans and stars Lea Seydoux as Belle and Vincent Cassel as The Beast. In all honestly, it is not a strong film but as a piece of soap opera in fairytale form it is entertaining.

The best thing about this version of Beauty and the Beast is the sumptuous costumes and sets. I’ll be honest Seydoux’s dresses show up anything I’ve seen them put on Emma Watson in the publicity for the new film. The attention to detail from hair all the way down to feet is just beautiful.

There are definite moments where the backgrounds look green screened in and the production looks cheap but there are also sets that look as lush and regal as anything you will see in the new version.

As far as the rest of the movie it is extremely silly. It’s the kind of heaving bodice period piece that you see lampooned on shows like Saturday Night Live where everyone has sexy looks about them and the melodrama is strong.

This silliness includes a running set of dream sequences of a prized deer who is shot through the heart with a golden arrow. LOL. These scenes must be seen to be believed and they may have some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in a live action film. It is hilarious.

That’s not to say this movie is ‘so bad it’s good’ because it doesn’t quite get to that level of unintentional laughs. It’s more like a telenovella that’s so over-the-top and dishy that it is kind of fun. I honestly think the people involved in this project know it is silly and they play along.

So your enjoyment of Beauty and the Beast 2014 depends entirely on your tolerance for campy theatrics. If that sounds like your thing than give it a watch. If not than stay away. You will hate it!

Overall Grade- C-

Hidden Gem- Something Wicked This Way Comes

something-wickedOver on my youtube channel I have been doing a Disney Scares month for Family Movie Night. With October being a 5 Monday month I decided on Black Hole, Watcher in the Woods, Frankenweenie, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dragonslayer. It’s been particularly fun to watch these films from the 80s that hardly seem like Disney films at all. Watcher in the Woods has some questionable acting but the rest of the production is fantastic. Black Hole ended up being more of a sci-fi movie than horror but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of a good episode of Star Trek more than a horror movie like I was expecting. But this Sunday I will post my review of Something Wicked This Way Comes and spoiler alert I LOVED IT!

Rarely do I watch a movie that excites me as much as Something Wicked This Way Comes did. If you like Stranger Things than rent this film. I think you will really love it. It’s not hokey fun like Watcher in the Woods but just chilling and thoughtful and extremely well acted.

something-wicked5Something Wicked This Way Comes is based on a novel by Ray Bradbury and it focuses on 2 boys named Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade from a small isolated town where everyone knows each other. The boys are a bit rebellious but there is also an innocence to them. They are instantly likable without being too adorable child-actorish. Will is particularly interesting because his father is an older man (Jason Robards) who worries he can’t play ball and be there for his child the way he wants. To me it was interesting to have a parent more insecure about his child than the child. Usually in most movies it’s the unaware, workaholic parent and the damaged child.

something-wicked3The movie does a great job setting up insecurities of many of the townspeople. The school teacher who was once beautiful. The storekeeper who lost limbs in the war but was once the town football star. These aren’t just cliches but characters we grow to care about in their brief screen time. They all have this mixture of innocence and darker desires that the movie explores.

something-wicked6
Then one day a carnival comes into town- something wicked you might say! This is ran by a man named Mr Dark who is played brilliantly by Jonathan Pryce. This is the kind of role that Tim Burton would muck up with exposition and a tragic backstory. Not here. We get very little about him, which makes him unpredictable and scary.

something-wicked-this-way-comesThe carnival at first seems like an innocent diversion but it of course is not. I don’t want to give away too much but it was so surprising. Each step of the carnival was both a temptation and curse. Some things like a carousel which can change your age appear very appealing but as always is the case there is a price to be paid. The trailer says “never whisper your dreams” and that is such a good tagline for this film. Dreams are where we are often most vulnerable.

something-wicked-2What was so great is not everything was explained and I’m sure someone could point out plotholes and inconsistencies but we are dealing with dark magic here. It really worked. There are some incredibly chilling scenes with everything from psychological scares to creatures in the night. Some scares were even quite devastating like when Will’s Dad is confronted with his insecurities as a father or the school teacher in her lost youth. I cried which is saying something in a scary movie.

Everything works in this film. The cinematography by Stephen H Burum is perfect mixture of Americana and Burtonesque carnival scenes. The music by James Horner is quiet when it needs to be. The sets and special effects held up and were scary and the acting is top rate. Jason Robards, Jonathan Price, Diane Ladd, Pam Grier, and all the small roles including the boys Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson are all fantastic.

I loved this movie. I mean loved it. It builds tension so well and draws you into the story and characters. I just wanted to give you guys a heads up if you are looking for family appropriate Halloween fare to check this out. It is definitely one of Disney’s most hidden gems.

I will go into more detail on my youtube review on Sunday but trust me on this one. It is a fantastic film. Have any of you seen it? Were you as impressed as I was? Let me know in the comments. Thanks

The Dressmaker Review

dressmakerThere are some movies like The Lego Movie that I don’t understand people disliking and then there are others like The Dressmaker that I totally get. It is a weird movie and in some ways I wonder if only people who see lots of movies like I do will dig it. When you see 15-20 movies a month they do start to feel repetitive. Then you see something that’s totally different and nuts like The Dressmaker and it is kind of exciting.

The Dressmaker is directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and it is an Australian film starring Kate Winslet. It is about a woman named Tilly who returns to her hometown to try and remember the trauma of her youth that caused her to be an outcast. She has been away training to be a tailor and quickly makes her impact on the town with her high end dresses but her past creeps back into her life. There is also love with the hunky Teddy played by Liam Hemsworth.

dressmaker3The Dressmaker is part campy soap opera, part romance, part revenge drama, part uproarious comedy. It has violent moments that shocked me but also times I was really laughing hard. It’s hard to remember a movie that is more tonally dissonant but I think that is intentional. It gives the film a unpredictable feeling. At first I thought it was going to be Chocolat but with fashion (mysterious stranger comes in and teaches town how to live!). But just when I got comfortable something shocking would happen and then I would be taken in a new direction.

And Kate Winslet. Wow…

dressmaker2She is just fantastic in this movie and is so beautiful but also heartfelt when she needs to be. I had no problem with her being with the 15 years younger Hemsworth. I mean after all men are frequently that much older than their female counterparts, and how the romance resolves is extremely surprising. I’ve always been more of a Chris Hemsworth fan but Liam is HOT in this film.

dressmaker5Judy Davis is also fantastic as Tilly’s mother. It’s one of the strongest supporting actresses performances I’ve seen this year.

judy-davis-the-dressmakerHugo Weaving gets some great laughs as a cross dressing cop and I also liked Sarah Snook as a mousy town girl who is transformed by Tilly’s dresses.

And speaking of the dresses…Holy cow are they beautiful! If this film doesn’t get nominated for best costumes than that is a real travesty. It is completely stunning work by Margo Wilson and Marion Boyce. It reminded me of the costumes from My Fair Lady designed by Cecil Beaton. The costumes are so beautiful they have an entire exhibit with them on display in Australia. How often does that happen?

dressmaker6

dressmaker4The Dressmaker won’t be for everyone. Like I said it is very strange and the tone goes all over the place but I kind of dug it. It continually surprised me and all the performances are so campy and fun that it worked. It looks so gorgeous and sometimes it’s nice to see something different.

It’s in general a mild R rating with just a few jarring scenes of violence and a little bit of language.

Overall Grade- B+

Here is the trailer to see if it looks like your cup of tea:

Queen of Katwe Review (Spoilers)

queen-of-katwe-posterOne of my favorite trends in the house of mouse is their live action sports section. In my opinion, they have made one great inspiring movie after another including Miracle, Million Dollar Arm, The Rookie and most recently McFarland USA which I especially loved.  Some may view these films as trite and cheesy but I love them. They are the only thing keeping Disney small. Oh how I wish they would have a similar small animation department. Their recent entry, Queen of Katwe, cost only $15 million and it is very special.

queen-of-katwe-8I said on twitter about Queen of Katwe “If you like this kind of thing you will love it. If you don’t like this kind of thing, you might still love it”. I don’t know if it is just because it is about chess but if there was ever a sports movie that could please everyone this is it. Sure it hits the predictable ‘inspirational true story’ notes but then it also went places I didn’t expect it to go.

Queen of Katwe tells the true story of Phiona Mutes (Madina Nalwanga) a young Ugandan girl who becomes a chess master. She grows up in the slums of Katwe where she sells corn and other vegetables to make ends-meat rather than going to school. Her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is a widow and trying desperately to keep her family together both spiritually and physically.

nullOne day Phiona comes across an after school type group set up by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) and she starts learning how to play chess. As she grows in her skills she also is taught by Katende’s wife how to read and think for herself. The movie does a good job showing the how hope can be a good and bad thing and how Phiona’s life isn’t anything but peaches and rainbows after her successes in chess.

The slums aren’t sterilized for a Disney audience like you might expect. There is a landfill close and there is a devastating scene where a flood comes through and nearly takes Phiona’s brother away in the water.  There is another scene where Nakku sells her mother’s dress to a skeevy man who propositions her, which I thought was pretty brave for a Disney film. disneys-queen-of-katwe-champion

Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakku is not the perfect mother you might expect from this film. She is scared, gritty and weak at times. There is a brutal scene where her son is in a hospital and she can’t afford to pay the bill so she removes the IV and sneaks him out only to come to their shack and be evicted by the landlord. If that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings you have more self control than I do. It’s not just that these events happen but that I felt for these people. They felt real and whole with flaws. lupita-grabMadina Nalwanga is also excellent as Phiona who goes from shy and awkward to a bit of a diva to completely devastated and back around in the film. There is a devastating scene where she asks David Oyelowo’s Robert Katende if good things are for the city kids because things hadn’t changed and then he tells her about losing his mother. It was really moving stuff! queen-of-katwe

Some will say this film is predictable and by the numbers but at least for me it went places I wasn’t expecting it to go. We learn about Phiona’s sister Night (Taryn Kayze) who is basically with a pimp for the lifestyle perks. Nakku is spiritual but not preachy. She is prideful but also weak, particularly when it comes to Night and Phiona.

There’s a great scene where Nakku thinks her children are being trained to gamble instead of competing in chess. Nyong’o’s ferocity in that scene is awesome. David Oyelow is also tremendous as the chess coach who is real but also ready to give the pep talk.

There is also basically no time spent with the rich kids bullying the Katwe teams. That was very refreshing. Also we get only a brief scene of the ‘jerk governing body embarrassed by the poor team’ like you typically get in these movies (think John Candy ‘they’ve earned the right’ speech in Cool Runnings).  There are also basically no white people in the cast except a couple briefly seen chess competitors. So no white savior storylines this time around.

Director Mira Nair has done a wonderful job taking the inspirational movie formula and creating something special. Go see it. I know you will love it!

Also, I normally hate the ending scroll text in these movies telling you the rest of the story because it takes me out of the movie, but in this case I thought they handled it just right.

Here is the trailer to give you an idea for the film:

Overall Grade- A