Current Mini Reviews

For a time period with essentially no new movies coming to theaters I sure have a bunch of films to update you on! Here I am with 9 mini reviews to help you decide what is smile and frown worthy:

Rebecca

On one hand it is hard to fault this handsomely mounted film version of the classic novel by Daphne Du Maurier (which was famously adapted by director Alfred Hitchcock in a 1940 version that won the Oscar for Best Picture). On the other hand, all that potential makes the film all the more disappointing.

The problem with this version of Rebecca is it fails to capture the suspense and chilling atmosphere of the source material. Lily James, Armie Hammer and Kristin Scott Thomas all do a good job in their roles but the movie is just plain bland. To begin with it takes way too long for the story to get to Manderley and then it feels like everyone is going through the motions. I didn’t hate it, but I also wasn’t very engaged. It is shot beautifully, and aside from some wonky fire visual effects, looks great, but that can only take you so far. Instead of making something compelling and mysterious they’ve made something dull and ponderous.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Spontaneous

This film Spontaneous is very difficult to describe and it will definitely be divisive. It stars Charlie Plummer and Katherine Langford (both whom I love and are very talented) in an unusual coming of age love story, For some unexplained reason people in their high school start randomly exploding. At first this is played for laughs which is awkward (I’m not the biggest fan of dark comedies) but then it becomes serious as our 2 leads know that any moment may be their last together.

Spontaneous is not going to be for everyone but if you are looking for something creative and different give it a shot. The leads are so good and it kept me guessing,which is refreshing.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The War with Grandpa

On one hand I can’t in good conscience recommend The War with Grandpa. It’s ridiculous, stupid and most of the jokes don’t land. On the other hand, I didn’t hate the movie. I am a sucker for broad live action family comedies so I am perhaps more forgiving of a film like this than my other critic friends. It’s movies like The War with Grandpa that I wish rottentomatoes had a middle ground score. It’s worth a rental if you like slapsticky family comedies but it’s not great. (I really miss the live action family comedies we used to get from Disney and other studios- broad, silly, fun with a nice message).

Most critics of course hate the film, and I can see why. The whole concept is inane about a Grandfather (Robert Deniro) and a grandson (Oaks Fegley who was so good in Pete’s Dragon) that engage in a war of pranks with each other when Grandpa takes the grandson’s room. However, I did like the cast including Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin and Jane Seymour. I also really liked the little girl who is obsessed with Christmas. Her holiday themed birthday party is the stuff of my dreams!

But it can also be a little too mean for my liking with Grandpa and grandson hurting each other and being really irresponsible. This isn’t the best message for kids, which hurts its value as a family film. It’s too destructive so I can’t recommend The War with Grandpa.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy (but I didn’t hate it like everyone else)

The Trial of the Chicago 7

After I have just defended The War with Grandpa let me confess I am not the biggest Aaron Sorkin fan. I think Sorkin is great at dialogue, and I never hate his movies, I’m just usually not as excited as most seem to be about them. I find that behind the quippy dialogue are often flat, bland characters that don’t grow and change. His portrayals in particular of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs left me wanting more. They are one-note characters at the start and end of their respective films. His writing, despite the good dialogue, always leaves me a little cold.

Now we have The Trial of the Chicago 7 and despite my having the same problems with Sorkin’s characters, I am more forgiving with this film. It’s easier to accept one-note characters in an ensemble piece where the actors can feed off each other and that’s what they do here. Plus, the real-life events are crazy enough to engage and entertain the audience. The trial moves along nicely and is so surprising that it is fun to watch. All the performances are good including Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mark Rylance and more.

The film manages to be relevant without being too on-the-nose like some movies in COVID have been. I also felt the music did not fit in with the period or feel of the film especially at the start. It seemed like something from another movie.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Hubie Halloween

Adam Sandler continues his terrible streak of comedies with his latest for Netflix Hubie Halloween. I knew the minute I heard his annoying babyish voice this movie was going to be rough and it was. It’s somehow not as bad as films like The Ridiculous 6 or The Do-Over, but I still hated it. I hated the characters. The jokes are awful and Hubie is incredibly annoying. There isn’t anyone to root for and you just hope they will all go away by the end of it.

3 out of 10

FrownWorthy

The Last Shift

It seemed to apropos to see the new film The Last Shift on the last day the Regal Cinemas will be open for a while. I was literally seeing The Last Shift on the last shift! This film is a small yet tender story about an older man, played by Richard Jenkins, who has worked at a fast food establishment his entire life. He is now retiring and must train a young Black man named Javon (Shane Paul McGhie) on how to do his job.

As they work together prejudices are revealed, life plays out in both expected and unexpected ways, and they learn a lot from each other. Jenkins and McGhie are excellent in their roles and it’s a nice slice of life film. Some aspects of the ending didn’t work for me and I didn’t like Ed O’Neill’s character, but overall I enjoyed the film.

It’s definitely worth a watch if you can see The Last Shift

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The King of Staten Island

I put off seeing The King of Staten Island because I’m normally not a big Judd Apatow fan, and I find Pete Davidson to be a grating presence on screen. However, after finally seeing it, I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised. This is a sweet coming of age story about a young man who can’t figure out what to do with his life. So instead of doing something he skates by with the bare minimum, waiting for something to inspire him. Then one day he becomes involved with a group of firefighters who knew his deceased father and his life starts to change.

Bill Burr shines as Davidson’s new stepdad figure and Marisa Tomei is good as usual as his long-suffering Mother. The film definitely has the Judd Apatow man-child plot and it is way too long and vulgar but overall the sweetness won me over. Both of the romances in the movie are also really sweet and enjoyable. It’s a genuine, heartfelt, coming of age story.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Then Came You

Most people will probably see Kathie Lee Gifford starring and writing Then Came You and not give the film much of a shot. That’s a shame because it’s an enjoyable rom-com. It’s definitely loaded with tropes and silly moments, but I liked the chemistry between Craig Furgeson and Kathie Lee Gifford. It was nice to see a romance between an older couple and it is surprisingly mature in its humor for this kind of film.

Elizabeth Hurley is not in the movie much so don’t go in expecting a lot from her. It’s mostly a 2 people show with Ferguson and Gifford hating each other at first but falling in love while she scatters the ashes of her late husband in Scotland. If that sounds fun to you than you’ll probably like it. I did. This is not as made for the Hallmark crowd as it might appear with the sensuality, vulgarity and other mature topics discussed so buyer beware on that account.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

2 Hearts

2 Hearts will always be remembered as my 2nd critics screening since the start of COVID. I will always be grateful to it for that. However, as a movie it’s a very strange film that I hardly know what to make out of it. On one hand, it’s a typical soapy tragic love story along the lines of A Walk to Remember or Five Feet Apart. In fact, it tells 2 love stories and the unexpected way they influenced each other. For the most part it is well cast and has a nice message about living life to its fullest and the value of organ donation. However,about 2/3rd of the way through they make a narrative choice with one of the couples that is frankly bizarre. I am still quite baffled by it. I can’t share here because of spoilers but it was strange.

There’s a lot of Hallmark movie talent in this film including a few people I have interviewed over at Hallmarkies Podcast. It’s always nice to see these actors getting work in feature films. Some non-Cuban actors playing Cuban roles was a poor decision and the timeline on some things was a little confusing but again 2 Hearts is a harmless movie. It just depends if you can get over the twist, which I’m not sure I can. It was so bizarre.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! What do you think of these films? What score would you give them? Let me know in the comments section

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well (or at least as well as can be expected during this crazy time). I have certainly been hard at work both watching and creating content. I am so blessed to be able to do what I do.

While I would love to be a full time critic I am extremely blessed to be able to write/create my reviews and be a part-time corporate blogger for the rest of my job. However I don’t only post to this site. Recently I have reviewed:

For Backseatdirectors

Wolfwalkers

Made in Italy/Chemical Hearts

The Rental

For Rotoscopers

H is for Happiness

Mulan

Rachel’s Reviews

Secret Society of Second Born Royals

Utopia

I’ve also been doing a lot of fun stuff on both of my podcasts Rachel’s Reviews and Hallmarkies Podcast (and more) and some cool videos on my youtube channel like my first ever Tier Ranking video!

On to the Mini Reviews

With that out of the way let’s share some mini reviews!

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles

Fans of the Food Network and Top Chef will enjoy this documentary that follows famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi as he puts on an event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honor of Versailles. Ottolenghi assembles his crackpot team of eccentric bakers and jello-makers (yes you read right) and their artistic process is fascinating and a lot of fun to watch. I particularly liked chef Dinara Kasko as she fights for her pastry vision from a pushy man who wants her to take the easy way out.

Where Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles doesn’t work as well is in the final act change in messaging. It feels tagged on after so much excess and opulence the entire movie to all the sudden have a social conscience. Not everything has to have a message or speak to the injustices of our time. It’s fine to have one documentary that is just about escapist cakes. No more.

Still it’s a fun movie and available in theaters and on demand.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Give or Take

One trend I’ve noticed over the last few years is lots of movies about the male experience and in particular unlikely male friendships. Whether it be an Oscar winner like Green Book or smaller films like To Dust or Papi Chulo we seem to be fascinated as a culture with men and their friendships. Now we have the latest in this trend with the indie film Give or Take and for the most part it works quite well.

Give or Take tells the story of an estranged son (Jamie Effros) who comes home to bury his father and struggles to get along with his father’s spouse Ted (Norbert Leo Butz- who I’ve enjoyed since his Broadway days and they almost let him sing in this!). The film explores themes of forgiveness, loss and what moving on means. The comic relief from people like Cheri Oteri is less effective and the relationship between Martin and his former flame Emma (Joanne Tucker) didn’t really work for me. Still, if you are up for a small, low budget drama it’s worth a watch.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Stars and Strife

With the current political climate being a continual cess pool of despair and depravity I was honestly quite hesitant to watch the new documentary Stars and Strife. Political documentaries very easily veer into the propaganda camp and are more for building up the ideology of the ardent believers than for making persuasive arguments.

Well, color me shocked when Stars and Strife actually turned out to be a hopeful film examining our current condition and how we might be able to dig our way out. It might be too optimistic for some people but in this day and age I will take a little hope where I can get it. It’s also very even-handed with people who worked in Bush and Obama administrations weighing in. This film is available on STARZ and to rent VOD.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Human Voice

Right now as part of the New York Film Festival you can have a special film festival type experience right from your own laptop. The great Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has made a one-woman short with Tilda Swinton during quarantine and it’s a delight to watch. In addition, with your purchase you get an interview with Swinton and Almodóvar, which includes a passionate speech from the director about getting back to the big screen experience as soon as we possibly can.

The short The Human Voice is ”freely based” on the Jean Cocteau play La voix humaine and is about a woman waiting for her ex to pick up his things and dog in their apartment but he never comes. Both the dog and woman are abandoned and angry yet it is very fun to watch. I love the way Almodóvar uses color and Swinton is fantastic. It captures the sense of isolation we’ve all been feeling lately and is definitely cathartic to watch.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

4 movies today all smile worthy! I love when that happens. What have you been watching? Any recommendations?

Current Mini Reviews

Hey  everyone! I’ve got some more mini reviews for you of films I’ve been seeing over the last few weeks. I have certainly been extremely busy with content to make and movies to watch and it’s not even Christmas yet!

Lapsis

Lapsis is a film I saw as part of the virtual Fantasia Film Festival 2020. It is a very interesting sci-fi film starring Dean Imperial as a man in future dystopian-like world who is desperate for work. His brother is sick and the bills are piling up so he decides to get a job laying cable for a giant corporation. As he embarks on an Appalachian trail type odyssey he grows to realize the reach of the company is bigger and stronger than he ever imagined including little robots he must compete with who are also laying down cable along with the humans.

As you can tell this film has an intriguing premise and for the most part I enjoyed it. The only major flaw with it is the ending is very abrupt. It feels like they ran out of funding and couldn’t finish the movie. Up until then I was really digging the strange take on work in the gig economy. Still there is enough good before the ending for me to recommend giving Lapsis a shot.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe

I am only minimally familiar with the Phineas and Ferb program. I’ve watched a few episodes here and there and recently tried to get caught up with mos the first season. From what I’ve seen it’s a delightful show with a nice sense of humor and playful character designs.

Recently they released a new movie based on the show called Phineas and Ferb the Movie Candace Against the Universe. Despite my lack of familiarity with the characters I really enjoyed this movie. It had a lot of humor that worked, a playful sense of whimsy and as someone with 2 brothers a character in Candace I can definitely relate with. I didn’t feel confused as a non-watcher of the show. The animation is bright and colorful and the music is catchy.  Your kids will love it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Blech Effect

The Blech Effect is a documentary that tells the story of investor David Blech as he is about to go to prison for investors fraud. It was for the most part a fine documentary and it is interesting to see the preparation that goes into someone getting ready for a correctional institution. At one point they even have a prison consultant who’s assigned to tell David what the first day of prison life will be like.

The aspect I didn’t like is them painting him as a victim of the system. In particular the repeated use of his young autistic son as a reason to spare him punishment. I am sure raising a son with autism has its challenges but it’s not an excuse for committing crimes or a reason for leniency.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Lost Husband

On the surface The Lost Husband looks like a Nicholas Spark-like narrative with our heroine getting back to her roots while overcoming grief. Unfortunately it is missing key aspects that make those movies, sappy as they might, work.

The film stars Leslie Bibb as a widow who moves into a farmhouse with her aunt Jean (Nora Dunn). Farm living proves to be therapeutic for the city girl especially with hunky farm aid played by Josh Duhamel. The problem is the romance is barely developed and the big reveal does not pay off. It makes the entire film very bland and boring where it could have been good.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Shooting Heroin

When I finished watching the new drama Shooting Heroin I was left more than a little befuddled. The very dark film about a group of citizens that take back their small town from the ravages of addiction has the feel of a faith-based films but then it is loaded with f-bombs, drug abuse and violence. I can’t help but think who was this made for?

The story of the film revolves around Adam (Alan Powell), Hazel (Sherilyn Fenn) and Edward (Lawrence Hilton- Jacobs). All have lost loved ones to opioid addiction and they all do a good job with their performances. Addiction is a horrible blight on humanity and it impacts every family sooner or later. It took 2 of my cousins. So I was with this movie as far as messaging but the tonal shifts didn’t work. It’s not awful but just messy.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Current Mini Reviews (Zombies 2, Shaun the Sheep 2, The Photograph, The Call of the Wild)

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I have been busy as usual but still have managed to see 4 films I wanted to report here on the blog. It’s an interesting bunch so you will have to share with me what you thought if you get to see any of them. Sure love ya!

Zombies 2

zombies 2

A lot of people are really tough on the Disney Channel original musicals but I’ve enjoyed almost all of them. With the exception of Freaky Friday I’ve had fun with the energetic dance numbers and positive messages for teens they all offer. Now we have Zombies 2 and it is another entertaining entry.

Meg Donnelly and Milo Manheim are both charismatic actors and good singers that solidly lead the film and the new crew of werewolves in town have a cool slick style to them. Unfortunately they just recycled the message of the first movie again but it’s an important message of tolerance so I give them a little bit of a pass. However, Zombies 3 needs to be something different!

All that said, if you enjoyed the first Zombies film you will enjoy this.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Photograph

photograph

I really enjoyed director Stella Meghie’s last film Everything Everything. I felt she took a basic sick teen love story and elevated it with sincere performances and a clever atmosphere. So naturally I was excited to see her new film The Photograph which Universal decided to bury for some reason over the Valentines weekend.

I don’t know why they hid The Photograph from critics because I really liked it. If you are looking for a romance directed with tons of style it is the film for you. Stars Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae have wonderful chemistry together and Maghie does such a good job creating palatable romantic tension between our two leads.

The flashbacks telling the story of Rae’s parents isn’t as compelling but it’s still serviceable. If you are into romances The Photograph is a well executed film I definitely recommend. For the record, it is pretty steamy for a pg13 so you’ve been warned.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

shaun-sheep-2

It seems like I have been waiting for the sequel to the delightful The Shaun the Sheep Movie from 2015 for forever. We heard about it getting developed for several years and then last year it opened in England to acclaim only to be relegated to Netflix here in the States in 2020. Hopefully on Netflix will allow more people to see the film as it is a sweet and funny comedy for the entire family.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon reunites us with our rascal sheep at Mossy Bottom Farm in England. Shaun and his friends are bored and making life difficult for the farm watchdog Bitzer. Then one day an alien arrives named Lu-La and all sorts of mischief occurs.

This movie is adorable. That’s all there is to say about it. Every minute on screen is super cute and I had a smile on my face. If you don’t think Shaun and his friends antics are funny it won’t be for you but I loved it. It has an old school silent movie appeal to it I really loved and kids will adore it. It’s a great film to watch as a family and everyone will laugh and enjoy the cuteness together. And of course the claymation animation is so well executed.

After a bit of a mistep with Early Man Aardman Animation is back with a real winner in Farmageddon.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Call of the Wild

call of the wild

Our last film is the new adaptation of the Jack London novel The Call of the Wild. I know I have read the novel but it has been a few years and I must admit I sometimes get it and London’s other popular novel White Fang confused. That said, I do think this version stays pretty close to the book, so that should make literary fans happy.

This version stars Harrison Ford as an adventurer who finds a dog named Buck who has seen many owners before landing on him (Ford isn’t in the movie much for the first 45 minutes). The only catch is this version of Buck is an all CGI dog instead of a regular dog and it arrives with mixed results.

Ford does a good job and the spirit of adventure throughout is compelling. There’s something old fashioned about this storytelling without wasted time on romances or unnecessary melodrama. The beautiful cinematography of the Yukon is also gorgeous and immersive.

However, the CGI dog is distracting especially when he is surrounded by other dogs (or any kind of group shot to be honest). Close up he fairs a little bit better but it is not a convincing visual. It’s especially a problem when we just got Togo from Disney Plus, which is also about a heroic dog in the Klondike and was soooo much better.

The other problem I had with The Call of the Wild was a very cringe-worthy performance by the usually reliable Dan Stevens. He plays an over-the-top bad guy named Hal who has a grudge against Ford’s John Thornton for the weakest of reasons. I am sure he was just doing what he was told but his insane bad-guy did not fit in with the leisurely paced choices in the rest of the film. It was really bad.

The Call of the Wild is also pretty scary for small children and I don’t know if the story will interest older kids. When it comes to Disney Plus it could be a nice way to introduce kids to the book but I don’t think I can recommend it in the theaters. It’s not awful but too uneven to spend the big dollars on.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hello readers! I hope you are  all having a better start to the new year than I am. Unfortunately today I am sick with a wicked case of a sinus infection/virus. In fact, I didn’t get to go to the Doctor Dolittle screening this morning because I was so worried I would fall asleep/cough throughout the film. Nevertheless, I have 3 recent films I need to update you all on my thoughts so here goes.

like a boss

Like a Boss

Hollywood sure seems to struggle in understanding women. So much of what they make for female audiences feels out of touch with any kind of women I know or interact with. For example, so many seem to suggest women spend way more time worrying about their makeup than most do. Most women have a makeup routine and every once in a while try something new and that’s it.

I was one of the only people who liked 2018’s I Feel Pretty (also set in the world of cosmetics and beauty) because at least it had a little bit of a whimsy which appealed to me. But even I will admit the parts involving the beauty industry and supposed female empowerment fell very flat.

Now we have the latest entry, Like a Boss, starring Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish who run (you guessed it) a makeup company. I actually didn’t hate this movie. It had some laughs with Haddish and Byrne hanging out with their girlfriends  (an authentic relatable situation and probably helped by improv).

However, all the elements involving business fell flat especially Salma Hayek as an over-the-top beauty mogul. It is not surprising this film is written and directed by men because the complexities of the female experience in business as presented are so reductive and cringe-worthy. I’m not saying a movie like this needs to be realistic but come on? They can do better than this.

Even though I did laugh at the friends scenes in Like A Boss, I can’t recommend you spend the big bucks to go see it in the theater. Go see one of the awards caliber films in theaters instead.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

underwater2

Underwater

Next up we have another movie I didn’t hate but was pretty meh on: Underwater. This has its fair share of positives including a good performance by Kristen Stewart. They also do a great job in creating atmosphere with cool production and sound design. Everything felt on the same level as Ad Astra last year in that regard. I also liked that the action gets going right away without feeling a need for backstory or exposition to set up the world.

The problem with Underwater is it felt uneven in the storytelling. One minute the creatures would be attacking and then the next they’d be more quiet and observant. One minute Kristen Stewart would be fighting for her life and the next she’d be back on the ship looking through a locker. It felt like some needed transitions were cut in the editing room.

It is also a very derivative film of movies like Alien which takes some of the edge off of certain scenes. There’s definitely a feeling of ‘we’ve been there done all this before and better’.

Still if you see this airing on cable it’s not a terrible watch but I don’t think I can recommend watching it on the big screen. (Also the excuses they have to get Kristen Stewart in her bra and panties for long segments feels a little gratuitous and absurd).

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

marriage story2

Marriage Story

To be perfectly frank I have been putting off seeing the critically acclaimed film Marriage Story despite it being available to watch for several months. Especially at Christmas time the idea of watching a film about divorce did not sound appealing at all.

Well, now I have seen the film and while it isn’t my type of movie it is worthy of praise. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both excellent as our feuding couple and the script doesn’t pick sides on the divorce. They are both petty and passionate all at the same time.

I’m a little confused at the high praise being given to Laura Dern for her performance as Scarlett’s attorney. She was perfectly fine in the role, but I didn’t see anything outstanding or Oscar-worthy but that’s just me. I do think it would be interesting to see this story from the perspective of people who can’t afford $25,000 retainers for their attorneys. Like what about a divorce between a couple who run a failing convenience story or are both teachers? That might be easier to relate with than these directors/actors.

But nevertheless, it’s a good film. I particularly liked Adam Driver singing ‘Being Alive’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Company both because I love that song but also I had no idea he could sing (what can’t the man do?).

I am sure if you have been through a divorce Marriage Story will have more emotional resonance. As for me it is good, just not a favorite or something I will ever watch again.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! Merry Christmas! I hope you are all doing well. As you all know I am deeply ensconced in all things Christmas right now with my work on the Hallmarkies Podcast. I have currently watched and reviewed 85 Christmas movies with 2 more weeks to go! It’s a lot of work but it is also very rewarding.

This naturally hasn’t left me a ton of time to write about the feature films I’ve been seeing (yes still making time to go to screenings). So, I hope you will forgive me for doing one of my current mini reviews posts and hopefully I will be able to expound upon them at a future date. There are just only so many hours in the day for one human to work and write about movies! 🙂

FROZEN II

I will obviously be writing more on Frozen II including my Disney Canon analysis but here is my youtube review. Basically I really enjoyed Frozen II. I loved how the story made Elsa and Anna deal with the messy truth of their parents and how they treated the people in the midst. I loved Elsa and Anna’s struggles to understand each other and thought the music was incredible. I am particularly in love with Jonathan Groff singing ‘Lost in the Woods’. The animation is stunning and the voice acting is outstanding. The plot has a few problems but overall I was very entertained by it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Klaus

Speaking of youtube reviews I also recorded my review of the new Netflix animated film Klaus (see above) and boy did I love this movie. It’s basically an origin story of Santa Claus with 2D animation (a Rachel movie if I’ve ever heard it!) Going into it I thought it would be similar to Santa in Rise of the Guardians (which is a movie I love) but it actually proved to be quite different. Santa here is a wounded person who is closer to the father in Song of the Sea than our typical jolly old St Nick. I loved the journey of all the characters. I loved the 2D animation and how director Sergio Pablos used light and music to create tone. If you haven’t seen it you really should. I just wish I could see it in the theater! 🙁

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Good Liar

good liarI often jokingly talk in my reviews about the new demographic of ‘old people movies‘. This is a new category where Hollywood makes movies starring in and for senior citizens. The new movie The Good Liar is probably the most violent of the entries in this category but it’s an entertaining enough little caper. Helen Mirren stars as a retired professor who meets a charming bachelor played by Ian McKellen. The 2 begin dating, and it turns out they are both not what we initially believe them to be. I will say this movie requires a major suspension of belief as each reveal gets more ridiculous than the next. But if you can take that leap there’s fun to be had and the acting is of course top notch. It all makes for an entertaining if silly ride. (The film does earn its R rating so be prepared)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

1917

1917

I really want to write more about 1917 because it is an incredible experience but for now this will have to do.  In what is definitely one of the best movies of the year, director Sam Mendes has created a war film that completely absorbed me and left me an emotional mess afterwards. It reminded me a lot of Hacksaw Ridge which is another film I love. Both this and Hacksaw focus on one human amidst the horrors of war and leave you rooting for this person’s success.

In 1917, Roger Deakin’s incredible cinematography makes us feel like we are seeing one shot photography, which is more than just a gimmick. It makes the viewer feel like they are the 3rd person in this risky mission across No Man’s Land in World War 1. It is violent but I was rooting for the characters and riveted by every turn in their journey. Definitely seek this film out. It’s worth the investment and you will leave inspired.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Jumanji: the Next Level-

jumanji-the-next-level

I enjoyed 2017’s Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle. It was a terrific way to do a remake of a beloved film. It has the bones of the classic but it’s own story and take on the world. More importantly it was funny. I will forgive a lot of problems in a story if I am laughing. This is where we run into problems with the sequel Jumanji: The Next Level: it’s not very funny. Or rather I should say, it has a few funny jokes they tell over and over again; thereby, weakening their impact.

This Jumaji film isn’t awful. The action set pieces are fun and the cast can be likable. However, there’s nothing new here. It’s like they got to old people jokes and gave up. Danny Glover and Danny Devito are fun enough but pretty cliched. Awkwafina is given nothing to do and Nick Jonas isn’t brought on until late in the 2nd act. I also did not appreciate the excessive profanity thrown in for no reason. It did nothing for the characters or story and makes it so I cannot recommend it as a harmless family adventure film. My advice is watch Dora and the Lost City of Gold instead. It had all the adventure and humor Jumanji: The Next Level fails to bring.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Playmobil: The Movie-

playmobil

Most followers of this site probably know about the epic failure at the box office that is Playmobil: the Movie. However, box office is not everything so I went to see this film yesterday with an open mind. Unfortunately cinema-goers didn’t see this film for a reason. The problem is there are too many ideas. At each turn we are presented with new characters, worlds, villains, motivations, and more. It becomes overwhelming. The film feels very shouty and especially the music did not work at all. I don’t even think small children will like it because most of the jokes are about dating, marriage and other adult topics. It feels like they put 1000 ideas into a bucket and picked one out each week to create the script. It so doesn’t work despite the animation being fine and the action quickly paced. Playmobil: the Movie is a definite skip.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Bombshell-

bombshell2

Bombshell is a bit of an oddity of a film. It’s an attempt to tell a story about conservative women who stick up for themselves. This is very unusual for typically liberal Hollywood, and I think that’s a great thing. If movements like #metoo are going to work we need to tell all women’s stories not just the ones Hollywood agrees with on politics. Some people will not be able to get over the fact that Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly work for Fox News but that wasn’t an issue for me. The makeup on Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman is incredible. Really all the casting is spot on. They all look so close to the original people!

I was drawn into the story of Bombshell but I do think there are some problems. I understand the need for the fictional Margot Robbie character as an amalgamation of a bunch of women (and telling Gretchen’s story she couldn’t tell because of settlements) but it felt inconsistent and inauthentic. Also there is something about the production and direction that felt on a made for TV level. I love made for TV movies but I expect a film with such performances to feel a little more cinematic. Still overall I enjoyed Bombshell and recommend seeing it for the story and acting.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There you have it! My quick updates on what I have been watching at the theater. If you have seen any of these films let me know what you think. Thanks!

Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! It’s time once again for one of my current mini reviews where I give my brief thoughts on some of the latest movies I’ve been able to see. Make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel so you get all the latest videos from me including weekly family movie night reviews! I’m also excited to announce I have created separate podcast feeds for 2 of my monthly podcast series:

Talking Disney Classics- with my friend Stanford Clark where we discuss a Disney Canon film each month in random order.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/talking-disney-classics-with-rachel-wagner-stanford-clark/id1479958412

The Criterion Project- with my friend Conrado where each month we talk about a movie on the Criterion Channel.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-criterion-project/id1479953904

I know you will enjoy them if you give them a chance!

Anyway back to the reviews!

falling inn love2

Falling in Love-

It shouldn’t be any surprise to any follower of my work at the Hallmarkies Podcast that I will always be a defender of escapist silly romcoms and Falling Inn Love is certainly an example of the genre. It stars Christina Milian as a woman who goes to New Zealand only to find the big prize Inn she’s won is actually a money pit. Luckily she has hunky Adam Demos there to help her with the renovations. They spar at first and of course fall in love by the end. Is it predictable and silly? Of course it is. That’s all part of the appeal. I thought it was adorable and thoroughly enjoyed it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

overcomer

Overcomer-

I’ve been known to like my fair share of faith-based films. I recognize they have a very tricky task of entertaining a skeptical audience base while trying to tell an inspiring story. However, far too often they forget that the best preaching comes from a story well told, not by actual preaching in your film. The latest hit from the Kendrick Brothers is called Overcomer and is directed, written and starring Alex Kendrick and perhaps he bit off more than he can chew? This film should be a simple inspirational story about a girl with asthma who finds faith and the confidence to race cross country. Instead it’s a clunky, belabored story of the man who is begrudgingly forced to coach her. The dialogue is really bad along with most of the acting. There’s one moment where Priscilla Shirer literally compliments her own prayer and I laughed out loud. Watching this made me realize how good Breakthrough from earlier this year really was. Check that out instead.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

can you keep a secret

Can You Keep a Secret?-

I love the writer Sophie Kinsella but for some reason her books make terrible movies. The latest adaptation is Can You Keep a Secret starring Alexandra Daddario and Tyler Hoechlin. The elements that are charming in the book come across as forced and off-putting in this film. Hoechlin is super dishy but he and Daddario have no chemistry together. Most of the time it is awkward and uncomfortable which is not what you want in this kind of escapist romcom. The big reveal at the end is super underwhelming and the supporting cast is wasted. Honestly I wanted to turn it off it was so bad.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

promare

Promare-

Trigger Studios has long made some of the most arresting and eye popping anime on the market. Their latest film Promare is my first experience with one of their films and I must admit I was really impressed! It tells the story of a futuristic society where a band of firefighters protect the world from a mysterious race of mutants called the Burnish. As the two races fight they start to learn there might be more to the story than their leaders have told them. The animation in this film is intense, frenetic, crazy, whatever word you want to use but it is also exhilarating. I loved the unique geometric style and the electronic music. It’s an experience I highly recommend to those willing to take a risk.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Abominable-

Please check out my youtube review for my thoughts on the latest film from DreamWorks, Abominable. This film marks the end of our multi-film trend of yeti movies in animation and to my surprise it is definitely my favorite. While the story of the little girl Yi finding a mysterious creature to protect may not be the most original, Abominable has huge heart with well-developed sweet characters. It’s also funnier than I expected with beautiful animation and music. This first collaboration between DreamWorks and Pearl Studio is a terrific film, and I hope people will go see it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

judy

Judy-

Last up is the musical biopic based on Judy Garland’s last year of life, Judy. I love Judy Garland and think her life is so hauntingly tragic that it breaks my heart to think about it. Unfortunately this film pulls out every cliche in the musical biopic playbook. It’s generic, boring with a very surface-level script. Some might feel the same way about the recent Rocketman but at least that movie took some creative risks with its flights of fancy. To add insult to injury they make the choice to have the actress portraying Judy, Renee Zellweger, sing for Judy. What on earth were they thinking? She sounds NOTHING like Judy Garland! I’ve listened to the London concert recordings and that’s not how she sounds! Basically the poor singing choices, generic script and screaming-for-an-Oscar performances make Judy a big miss.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! I have a very busy couple of weeks before me with D23 coming up but I thought before I leave you with another round of my mini reviews for new films out at the theaters or to stream. Here goes!

47 meters down uncaged

47 Meters Down Uncaged-

As someone who considered myself a bit of a champion for the original 47 Meters Down, this sequel in name only was a disappointment. The girls in the first were a little stupid but the shark action and the deep under water tension made for a fun ride. In this one the girls are still dumb but the cage has been replaced with tunnels and the sharks with ridiculous looking blind zombie sharks. The kills are on a Sharknado level making it all feel silly rather than tense. I was honestly bored watching it and its only 85 minutes.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

angel has fallen movie

Angel Has Fallen

I must admit I went to see Angel Has Fallen having not seen either of the previous films in the franchise. It seemed like I’d heard mostly bad things so I hadn’t gotten around to seeing them. That said, I had no problem understanding the plot of Angel Has Fallen. It reminded me a lot of a moderately entertaining episode of 24. Just like Jack Bauer, Gerard Butler is framed in a conspiracy to kill the president (Morgan Freeman). On the run he has to put all the pieces together, fight the bad guys and discover who the mole is feeding secrets to the bad guys. If that sounds like fun to you than you’ll probably enjoy it. If not than I would skip it. I like this kind of 90s-style action movie so I had fun watching it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Murder Mystery

Murder Mystery

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of most Adam Sandler movies. My friends like to joke that he is my movie nemesis and as bad as his feature films often were, his Netflix offerings have been even worse. The Do-Over and The Ridiculous 6 are 2 of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life. His new film Murder Mystery is nowhere near that level of awfulness. That said I certainly can’t recommend it.  Sandler and Jennifer Aniston star as a couple who while visiting Europe end up mixed in with a real life murder mystery situation. The problem with this movie is it’s just not funny. I don’t know if I even laughed one time. It wasn’t outright offensive like some of Sandler’s movies but instead it was bland and dull. Like many of his movies it seemed like another opportunity for him and his friends to take a fancy vacation under the disguise of making a movie with no creativity, wit or charm. It’s not the worst but definitely not worthy of your time.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

otherhood-2

Otherhood-

Another recent entry from Netflix is the ’empty-nester Mom’ comedy Otherhood, which despite its terrific cast may be just as bad as Murder Mystery. In this slog of a comedy Angela Bassett, Felicity Huffman and Patricia Arquette play Moms who can’t let their grown sons lead their own lives. They are upset they are forgotten on Mother’s Day so they barge into their children’s lives. I feel like you always see middle-aged women portrayed like this in the movies, but I don’t know any Mothers who hover over their grown children like this. Sure they might press them to get married or something like that but this does not feel authentic or emotional. Sometimes the actresses can elevate the material but most of the time they all feel like caricatures not characters. Also the costume designer must hate Patricia Arquette. She looked so frumpy! It was bad, very bad.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

hero_whered-you-go-bernadette-movie-review-2019-1

Where’d You Go Bernadette

I’m a huge fan of writer/director Richard Linklater. I’ve loved most of his movies including Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, the Before Trilogy etc. When he’s at his best his natural way of writing and filming dialogue in long uninterrupted cuts is magical. His characters feel real and earnest which helps bond me to their journey even if it is different than anything I have experienced. I’m not sure why Linklater ended up adapting the novel Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple but the results are not great.

I must own I have read the novel, and I hated it. I found every character to be selfish and insufferable. It took me many months to finish reading it because I could only stand the characters for short stretches. The movie is a little better than the book because of Linklater’s snappy dialogue and Cate Blanchett’s  performance, but I still hated ALL the characters. The little girl is ok I guess but I didn’t even root for her. I know we are supposed to care for Bernadette and her stifled artistry but I just didn’t. She was simply too irrational and self-centered to win any sympathy from me, which made the movie tough to get through.

However, if you liked the book, you’ll probably enjoy this movie as it is very accurate. It’s just not for me!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Who would have thought out of these movies the one I’d recommend is Angel Has Fallen? LOL. Just shows how the movies can surprise us all! If you saw any of these I’d love your thoughts in the comments.

Current Mini Reviews

Hi friends! I hope you are doing well and enjoying the end of your summer. I have been writing a lot of reviews lately but, I still have a few films that I need to catch up on. This means it is time for one of my ‘Current Movie Reviews’ posts. If you got to see any of these films let me know what you thought of them.

Sure love ya!

apollo 11

APOLLO 11-

I was very disappointed I didn’t get to see the documentary Apollo 11 at Sundance this year but I missed it. Now catching up to it I think I prefer it more as an interesting experiment than an actual movie but it still has lots to recommend. What they do is they use archival footage, interviews, sound/video recordings merged together, to recreate the events of the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon. They do it in a way that feels like real time including each step along the way from politicians, to training, to the accounts of the astronauts themselves. While I missed having a narrator to guide me through some of the moments it still is a fascinating documentary with a very unique approach.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

once upon a time

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

I honestly wasn’t going to see Quentin Tarantino’s new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood because it didn’t interest me. It is only the 2nd Tarantino film I have seen; the first being Pulp Fiction, which I did not enjoy. I understand why other people love it but it was not for me. However, enough people wanted to know my take on Once that I decided to give it a watch. My thoughts? It was fine. It has a lot of problems but overall I think the good outweighed the bad. I loved Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in their roles. I love the sense of time and place Tarantino evokes and much of the dialogue and recreated media from the 60s made me smile. Julia Butters from American Housewife practically steals the film as a young actress who inspires DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton to give his best performance. What I didn’t like was the exorbitant running time, the meandering story and the long sequences of driving and walking for no purpose at all. That said, it was a fun lark but mostly forgettable if you ask me.

As for the violence, particularly at the end, it is so over the top and ridiculous it didnt bother me much but I know others will find it alarming so you’ve been warned.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

scary stories

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

When I was in middle school I remember my friends reading the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Being a scary movie/book wimp they didn’t interest me, but I definitely was aware of them especially their creepy illustrations. Now director André Øvredal has made a movie version of these stories with a pg13 rating designed for teens. I am no horror pro, but I found this film to be quite entertaining. I liked the 1960s throwback. I enjoyed the teen performances and found all the horror set pieces to be quite well done and scary. It’s the kind of scary you get going through a haunted house. You know it is silly and not realistic at all but it’s done with enough style to get you and make you smile. That’s how I felt watching it. Sure there are flaws but the overall experience was fun.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2

I had mixed feelings about the original Angry Birds Movie. I liked the animation and some of the characters but I felt the messaging was off and the story wasn’t my favorite. Now in the sequel they have improved upon the original in most ways. The story is equally as bland but the characters are better, messaging more nuanced and the humor is way funnier. I particularly liked any of the jokes involving music. Overall, I had a good time with The Angry Birds Movie 2 because it kept me laughing throughout.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! I am quite the positive person on this week’s mini-review post. Smile Worthy for all of the films! Let me know what you thought about any of these films.