Current Mini Reviews (The Power of the Dog, Annie Live, and More)

Hey everyone! I would love to write full reviews of every movie I see, especially these prestige films, but there is only so much time. So, now we have one of my mini-review post to catch up with all the fun films I’ve been watching (for TV movies check out my weekly recaps and all my content at Hallmarkies Podcast.

So here goes:

Annie Live!

I have long loved the musical Annie. It has such a positive energy, a delicious villain in Miss Hannigan and songs that are fun to belt out. However, I did not care for the recent movie version from 2014 at all. They made the songs bland and had one of the worst performances in recent memory by Cameron Diaz. With this in mind I was delighted to see Annie Live! was being performed on NBC and now that I’ve seen it I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’ve enjoyed most of these live musicals (not much of a shocker if you know me) but I think this is one of the best. Aside from a bad bald cap on Harry Connick Jr it all went off without a hitch. Taraji P Henson was fantastic as Miss Hannigan and young Celina Smith shines as Annie. If you like musicals you won’t want to miss this delightful production.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Last Night in Soho

Now we take a hard left to Edgar Wright’s latest film Last Night in Soho which is billed as a psychotic thriller but in my opinion it had a lot more psychotic than thrills. It seems like the world-at-large enjoys this more than I did and I suppose it looks impressive but the plot made no sense. It felt like Wright was flinging stuff at the screen without any idea of telling a coherent story. I was exhausted after about 30 minutes and it is almost 2 hours long. It’s none of the actors fault but it definitely wasn’t for me.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog Review: A Stunning and Contemplative Western

Next up we have the new western from Jane Campion called The Power of the Dog. This stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a ruthless cowboy who resents the addition of Kirsten Dunst’s Rose and her son Peter played by Kodi Smit-McPhee into their home on the prairie. After a while he becomes fascinated with Peter and seeks to train him in the ways of being a cowboy.

The Power of the Dog is impressive with great performances, beautiful cinematography and a compelling script. It’s all a bit cynical for my taste but I can’t deny that it is all very well done. If you like westerns you should definitely see it.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Being the Ricardos

Being the Ricardos' First Reactions: Nicole Kidman 'Incredible' | IndieWire

Over the last few years there always seems to be a bio-pic that gets a lot of love that I find completely mediocre. Last year it was Judy and this year it is Being the Ricardos. This one has the advantage of being written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. I am not now nor have ever been a member of the Sorkin hive. I respect much of his work but I have also often found his characters suffer in the wake of all that snappy dialogue he loves so much. That is certainly the case here but I actually found his script for this film to be very sloppy and poorly done.

The script for Being the Ricardos can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it about Lucille Ball being investigated for being a communist? Is it about her crumbling marriage? Is it about the writers room and an episode they are focusing on? Is it about Vivian and her weight struggles? I have no idea. All these ideas are brought up but not explored in a satisfying way. It also didn’t help that Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem look nothing like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

I am sure this will get tons of awards love but not from me. I was thoroughly underwhelmed by it.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

A Boy Called Christmas' Review: Kindling the Holiday Spirit - The New York Times

A Boy Called Christmas

Everyone knows I watch a lot of Christmas movies each year but most of them are not feature films. A Boy Called Christmas is an exception to that rule and it turns out to be a really fun and engaging holiday fantasy adventure.

Made in the UK (available for us to watch on Netflix) this film tells the story of a young boy who is trying to find his father who became lost searching for the mythical Elfhelm village. Along the way he meets all kinds of creatures, pixies, and elves.

A Boy Called Christmas has an incredible cast including Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins and Maggie Smith. It’s a little slow at points but most fantasy movies are. If you are looking for some Christmas magic this season it’s a great pick

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

 

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Current Mini Reviews (French Dispatch, Last Duel, Becoming Cousteau and More)

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I am writing this review update from Los Angeles, California. I am in town for the Animation is Film Festival, which showcases the best of animated films from this year. I am super excited to see Luca and Mitchells v the Machines on the big screen as well as new films like Mamoru Hosoda’s new film Belle.

In the meantime I have also been to a lot of screenings lately so I have some catching up to do on reviews. I wish I could write whole posts on each of these films but I am only one human and I simply run out of time. So here goes! If you have seen any of these films let me know what you think.

The Last Duel

The Last Duel Trailer Reveals Jodie Comer, Adam Driver, and Matt Damon in Ridley Scott's Epic Film

We don’t get many medieval epics these days so one has to admire director Ridley Scott and the team at 20th Century for even greenlighting The Last Duel. It is a sweeping story of war, revenge, friendship and betrayal. Unfortunately some decisions from the director with the storytelling kept me from loving the film.

The positives are like I said the scope of the filmmaking and the attention to detail with costumes, battle scenes and sets. I also thought Jodie Comer and Adam Driver did a great job in their roles. Matt Damon works hard but is miscast and given one of the ugliest haircuts of recent memory. Ben Affleck’s character and performance is very strange but effective.

The problem with The Last Duel is they tell the story of a rape 3 times and I don’t think there is enough to be gained from each perspective to make the storytelling choice worth it. It feels repetitive because it literally is repetitive. Plus, the fact they show the rape twice feels gratuitous and unnecessary. It’s not like each side has radically different takes. It’s clearly rape in both versions.

The Last Duel is not a terrible film. I am sure many will enjoy it but the story structure sank it for me. No thanks

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Becoming Cousteau

See the source image

For many of us the name Jacques Cousteau is synonymous with the ocean and marine conservation. During the 1960s and 70s ABC ran a series of documentaries from the French explorer called The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Now we have a documentary about the Cousteau’s life and it is a fascinating look at both a media figure and the environmental activist movement.

Part of what makes a documentary like this work is the footage the filmmakers have to use. Fortunately for this film they have tons of footage, Cousteau being a documentarian himself. It’s sad to see the deuteriation of the ocean from when he starts filming to the 80s and even 90s. It’s even more sad to see the toll that causes for Cousteau who takes the polluting of the ocean as a personal failing on his part when even he could only do so much to prevent humans from hurting the ocean.

I assume Becoming Cousteau will end up on Disney Plus so you can wait to see it then or if it is a theater near you check it out.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch: Four stars for Wes Anderson's latest - BBC Culture

Wes Anderson is similar to Zack Snyder in the fact they both make very stylish films with a near cult of personality that devours their work. It almost seems futile to write a review on either of their films because their fans are already signed up to see them. What I say won’t matter.

Anyway we have the latest from Anderson, The French Dispatch, and it’s very Wes Andersony… It has all of his best and worst qualities and in the end I thought it was…ok.

To start with the production design in the film is immaculate. The camerawork is fantastic and the score does a lot of the heavy lifting. The cast is impressive but many of the actors feel underused. When someone like Edward Norton appears for under 2 minutes it’s distracting. We keep waiting for such a big name actor to appear again and when he doesn’t it’s disappointing.

The short stories in The French Dispatch are hit and miss. My favorite was the prison chef story with Jeffrey Wright especially the animated section but then others went on too long like the story of Timothee Chalamet’s rebellion with Frances McDormand overstayed its welcome.

Nevertheless, if you like Anderson than you’ll get something out of The French Dispatch. It’s uneven but worth watching.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Ron’s Gone Wrong

Ron's Gone Wrong review: A kid-friendly, tech-upgraded Iron Giant - Polygon

For animation fans the new film Ron’s Gone Wrong is an exciting release as it is Locksmith Animation’s first feature film and the only CGI animated film to come out of the UK this year. It is also a 20th Century Studios release, which is now a part of Disney.

My favorite part of the film is the animation and the design of the b-bots (named Ron in this case). I honestly would like to have one of these robots- and not the ones at the end but the ones that work the way they should at the beginning.  I also liked the lead character Barney and his Slavic old-fashioned family.

Unfortunately it is impossible not to think of Big Hero 6 when watching Ron’s Gone Wrong. The movies are so similar but Ron doesn’t hold a candle to Baymax. I mean who could? Barney also doesn’t have to deal with the same level of loss (at least on screen. His Mother has passed on but that isn’t a part of the plot like it is for Hero).

All that said, the film does get intense and may be too much for very small children. I would say 8 and up should be fine.

Despite its flaws Ron’s Gone Wrong has enough imagination, creative character designs and heart to make it worth a recommendation.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews (MLP: A New Generation, Lamb, Diana: The Musical and More)

So it’s that time again where I catch up on all the films I’ve been watching with a bunch of mini-reviews! Sorry I couldn’t do longer reviews but if you have any questions or would like more of my thoughts just ask in the comments section!

My Little Pony: A New Generation

My Little Pony: A New Generation' Review: A Fun Franchise Re-shoe - Variety

I was actually a fan of the MLP: Friendship is Magic and enjoyed the MLP movie based on that series. Now we have a new series with an introductory movie, My Little Pony: A New Generation. This is technically a sequel to Friendship is Magic (and we get a little intro from the FIM characters) but it is new characters with a new style and it is thoroughly charming.

In this story, Equestria has been divided into 3 lands with 3 different pony kinds- earth, pegasi and unicorns. One day a new unicorn named Izzy comes into town and they have to work to overcome prejudice and restore the unicorn magic. I love the bright and cheerful animation and the message is important and perfect for the whole family. It’s a great start to the new series

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Lamb

Lamb,” a Bittersweet Nightmare - Scraps from the loft

Whenever I see a movie from A24 I know I’m in for something different. The distributor prides itself on procuring strange eclectic films. Most of their films I enjoy like The Farewell, Minari and more. Others like The Souvenir or The Last Black Man in Francisco I did not care for. (or C’mon C’mon reviewed below is A24)

Now there is the movie Lamb, and I was actually looking forward to the film because the trailer looked like a fun horror movie. Unfortunately it didn’t deliver and was instead a pretentious dull marriage in crisis drama.

The trailer is one of the most deceptive I’ve seen in a long time because Lamb is not scary in the slightest. In fact, every time they showed the human lamb baby it looked so ridiculous it took me out of the movie. It was too goofy, and I honestly thought it was plain stupid.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Diana: The Musical

Netflix's 'Diana: The Musical' is a royal pain | Star Tribune

You all know I am a sucker when it comes to musicals. I famously went fresh on much maligned recent film adaptations of Cats and Dear Evan Hansen. So when I say a musical is terrible it’s really bad. Such is the case with the recent Diana: the Musical.

Everything about this filming of the new Broadway show about Princess Diana’s life is a complete mess. Maybe the costumes can be praised but the lyrics, music, book, casting, staging is all laughably bad. It’s almost worth recommending for the ‘so bad it’s good’ elements, but I can’t do that to you. I feel bad for whomever invested in the Broadway show starting in December because this thing is going to tank badly. I can’t imagine it lasting outside the previews…It’s so bad.

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

C’mon C’mon

C'mon C'mon' Review: Joaquin Phoenix Delivers His Mellowest Turn Yet - Variety

I saw C’mon C’mon as part of this year’s NYFF59 and director Mike Mills was there to present it to the crowd. The film is thin on plot but its characters are endearing enough to make it all work.

It tells the story of a man named Johnny who is asked to take care of his nephew Jesse while the child’s parents are dealing with medical care. At first he doesn’t know how to parent but over time he and Jesse become very close. As an aunt I can relate to the bond between Johnny and Jesse and the beautiful black and white photography gives the film a grounded, authentic feel.

It is slow moving and the interruptions with documentary subjects waxing philosophical didn’t always work but still a sweet movie worth a few hours of your time.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Returning to Reims

Returning to Reims

My second movie at NYFF59 is a very unusual documentary called Returning to Reims. This film takes clips from movies, interviews, and selections from director Didier Eribon’s memoir to tell a history of labor struggles in France. Normally such a subject would be dry but the approach was unique enough to keep me engaged. I think it would have worked better as a documentary short but still I’m glad I saw it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Muppets Haunted Mansion

Muppets Haunted Mansion Review - IGN

I don’t know if I mention it enough on this blog but I love The Muppets. I even have Muppet May every year over on my youtube channel. That said, the franchise has had a rocky road the last few years. I did not enjoy Muppets Most Wanted and the various TV series have not been good.

Now we have a new film for Disney Plus with Muppets Haunted Mansion. Fortunately it is the best project the franchise has made in a long time. I really enjoyed all the homages to the attraction (which is my favorite at Disneyland). Will Arnett is a lot of fun as the host to a great party Gonzo and Pepe are attending. We also get the adorable image of Piggy and Kermit dressed up as each other.

The only thing I didn’t like was a plot-line with Taraji P. Henson and Pepe getting married. It’s not that funny and took up a lot of the runtime I wish had been given to the rest of the Muppets.

Still, it’s definitely worth a watch especially for Disney parks and Muppets fans. It’s a gift from the Muppets for this Halloween season.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Baby-Sitters Club Season 2

The Babysitter's Club Season 2 Parents Guide Review - Guide For Geek Moms

I loved the first season of The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix. It was so well written and cast and felt like an authentic portrayal of teens today.

Now we have season 2 and I loved it all over again. I loved the books growing up and even had my own babysitting club as a tween with my friends. This show so captures the experience of being a teen girl with the insecurities, joys and struggles. But you don’t need to be a teen girl to enjoy the series. If you like good writing and authentic storytelling you will like this show. It’s fantastic.

Particularly great this season is the story for Claudia who faces a great loss. It honestly made me quite emotional. Trust me on this one- you should watch it!

10 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Have you seen any of these films/shows? What have you been watching? Share in the comment sections.

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I know you are expecting more daily recaps of NYICFF but I must own my days have completely gotten away from me and I have only watched 1 movie since my last update on Sunday. I hope to be able to get some more in this weekend but there is only so much time in the day. Next week I have the SXSW festival and hopefully I will do better with daily updates there but again there are only so many hours in the day.

Nevertheless, I have some films I’ve been meaning to write reviews on for some time so I thought I would do one of my classic current mini reviews. If you’ve seen any of these let me know what you think. Enjoy!

The Legend of Hei

The Legend of Hei is the one film I watched this week from the NYICFF. It is a film from China about a world of demons and humans. One demon named Hei goes on a journey to protect his forest home and understand the humans. The main appeal of this movie is the gorgeous animation. The layered watercolor backgrounds are beautiful and the action is fast and stunning. The story was a little confusing at times but I am still glad I saw it and definitely recommend it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Bigfoot Family

I actually have a fondness for the original Son of Bigfoot. It was such a pleasant surprise and I found great joy in recommending it as a hidden gem. So I was actually looking forward to this sequel Bigfoot Family. Unfortunately like so many sequels it was disappointing. The animation is impressive for the small budget and there are sweet moments of family but most of the movie gets lost in an uninspired and frankly irritating story.

Adam’s father Bigfoot goes missing at the hands of an evil oil man and Adam and his talking animals must go to save him. The whole scheme is over the top and the shenanigans get old fast. My advice is to watch the original and skip this unnecessary sequel.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Spongebob: Sponge on the Run

I do not claim to have an extensive knowledge of Spongebob Squarepants but I have seen a few episodes of the show and both of the previous movies, which I have enjoyed. As a result, I was looking forward to this latest film and ready for some crazy fun.

Some fans might be upset this is the first in the series to be full CGI animation; however, I didn’t mind the animation. It is bright and colorful and overall looks cute. There are also a few laughs and Gary the snail is adorable. Unfortunately the story did not work for me and there weren’t enough laughs to carry me through.

I also thought some of the sections were in poor taste for a film for children such as the long section in a casino with characters gambling. It also wasn’t funny enough and the final third of the movie is nothing but a secret pilot for the new show Kamp Koral. Some die-hards might enjoy this but I certainly can’t recommend it

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Coming 2 America

The original Coming to America is considered a classic by many people. I had long heard about it but actually hadn’t seen it since this month preparing for the long-awaited sequel. While all the comedy in the original didn’t land for me but I found the sweet romance at the core to be charming and enjoyable.

Now we have the sequel Coming 2 America and all the players are back and clearly having a great time making the film together. It is particularly fun to see Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall back acting with each other and their chemistry is seamless. The new cast is also a lot of fun with Kiki Layne and Jermaine Fowler doing a good job.

I am honestly quite torn on Coming 2 America. It started off very sour- seemingly going through the motions of the previous film except for adding a sexual assault plotline that is supposed to be charming. No thanks. But I must say it won me over as it went along with it getting back to the sweet romance of the original film. I still don’t think there is enough good to recommend the film but it’s not awful like some other comedy sequels. It’s your classic mixed bag film.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Murder Among the Mormons

I am not sure how much this docuseries will interest people not of my faith or from Utah but I certainly found it fascinating. I have long heard about the infamous forger and murderer Mark Hofman but it was cool to get to dive into the story and learn more. If you don’t know Mark forged a slew of historical documents including some involving the Mormon church or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of which I am a member.

Some say he was the greatest forger ever but his crimes caught up to him and to hide it he started bombing people, killing 2 people and almost killing himself. This docuseries tells you all the sordid details like any good true crime series and director Jared Hess does a good job getting you back to Utah in the 80s.

My only criticism is the last episode was a little too celebratory of Hofman and his skills as a forger for my comfort level. I would have preferred they do less of that and tell us more about his victims and how their families kept on their legacies. At times it even makes the interview subjects uncomfortable talking about Hofman’s skills. Still definitely worth a watch.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I have another quick round of mini reviews for you to enjoy. Here goes!

Wild Mountain Thyme

I had enough people tell me to review Wild Mountain Thyme because ‘it’s like a Hallmark movie set in Ireland’ that I plunked down the $20 rental to watch it. After viewing it my main conclusion is none of these people have seen a Hallmark movie. Aside from romance existing in both there is little in common between them. That out of the way, I must admit I was extremely disappointed in the film.

I like all the people involved including Emily Blunt in the lead who I adored in films like Mary Poppins Returns and director/writer John Patrick Shanley who made one of my favorite romance films of all time in Moonstruck. Sadly here it feels like he piled 7 screenplays into a canon and then mixed it up to make the final version. There’s no cohesion which is a problem especially with some of the strange choices the characters make.

Needless to say I regret that $20…Sigh

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Prom

Any readers of this blog know I am a huge fan of musicals and musical theater. Of course they can be done badly but I am more of a push-over than many when it comes to the genre. When it comes to our latest musical from Netflix called The Prom I overall enjoyed it but it definitely has some problems.

Adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name Ryan Murphy has made a bubbly, energetic, mostly joyous film full of the best of intentions. It is obvious all involved had a great time and really believe what they are singing about and that’s infectious.

However, I wish the show wasn’t so focused on the celebrities that come to town and more focused on the teens. The celebrities like Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman do a good job in their roles but the movie couldn’t seem to decide whether it was mocking or worshiping them. James Corden’s storyline also didn’t quite work for me.

Still I am a musical junkie so I enjoyed the songs, dance and bubbly energy. So I’d recommend watching The Prom (it’s also way too long at 130 min)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Mank

Mank is a difficult film to review because I am very hot and cold with it. We are going to have an episode of The Criterion Project post today where I get into it a little bit more. So please listen to that for more of my thoughts.

On the plus side, as a cinemafile who greatly admires Citizen Kane, I enjoyed getting to learn more about its creation and its writerHerman Mankiewicz. It also looks nice in black and white with great period details in the production.

Unfortunately I found Mank to be very repetitive in its scenes and Herman to be the least interesting character in almost every scene he is in. This mostly comes from him being an alcoholic who spends most the film participating in activities that alcoholics engage in like drinking and screaming and causing a fuss. This gets old real quick. I’m sure it’s accurate in many ways

That said if you are interested in movie history give it a watch. If not a pass.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are having a great December. I have been up to my eyeballs in Christmas movies and creating content over at Rachel’s Reviews and Hallmarkies Podcast. Make sure you are subscribed to both to get my latest thoughts on many films!

Fortunately I have had the chance to watch some movies outside of Hallmark (and Hallmark-like content). Here are some quick mini reviews of some recent releases

Fatman

Obviously this film is not made for me, the Hallmark fan. However, I’m up for darker takes on holiday films but shouldn’t they still be fun? This film was so unpleasant and spurned campy action in favor of gritty realism, which was a very strange choice. Mel Gibson and Walter Goggins are taking the material seriously and giving good performances but it’s all too serious. Again aren’t most people expecting a campy action film with a wink at the camera? Not a mean spirited gritty Santa action movie like Fatman is? No thanks.

3 out of 10

Godmothered

As soon as I saw the trailer for Godmothered I was greatly looking forward to it. It looked funny and charming. I love movies like Elf and Enchanted, which it seemed to be falling in line with. Unfortunately the actual film, which debuted on Disney Plus, proved to be disappointing. In fact, watching it made me appreciate both Elf and Enchanted a lot more. They are both more than fish out of water stories but have good scripts that make you laugh throughout. Godmothered had one joke- amateur fairy Godmother in real world- and that’s it. And the movie is nearly 2 hours which felt way too long for what it is trying to do. Jillian Bell has yet to win me over in a role and Isla Fisher isn’t given much to do besides look tired. If I hadn’t been reviewing it I would have stopped watching it after about an hour. It’s proof concepts aren’t enough. You have to have good scripts

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Modern Persuasion

I have seen a lot of terrible adaptations of Jane Austen particularly of the made for TV variety. Oftentimes they are only adaptations in name only and have none of Austen’s charm and sass. It is for this reason I approached the new adaption of Persuasion called Modern Persuasion hesitantly. However, I watched it because it stars Alicia Witt who I enjoy and have actually had the chance to interview here. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. It doesn’t have a huge budget but I liked Alicia Witt in the lead and Shane McRae as her counterpart. The supporting cast is funny with Bebe Neuwirth stealing every scene she’s in. I’d buy this on digital when it comes out. It’s a charming new take on a classic story.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

All My Life

I actually got to see All My Life safely at the Megaplex theaters and being back at the theaters may have helped my experience but this is a movie that is exactly what you think it is going to be. If you watch the trailer and this brand of emotional weepy makes you grown don’t watch it. If it looked appealing you’ll like it. The stars Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr have great chemistry and the sense of community they have with their friends was comforting and nice to see (especially in isolated 2020). The characters could be better drawn and it’s extremely predictable but I’m glad I saw it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

I Hate New Years

As big a fan of Christmas as I am, I’m not much into New Years. It’s such a couply holiday with the big kiss at midnight that I’ve never gotten much into it. This makes me the perfect candidate for I Hate New Years and for the most part I enjoyed it. It’s limited budget shows at times in both the acting and production but it has its heart in the right place. Particularly the second half won me over and I was rooting for the characters to find happiness. It’s a sweet and likable way to ring in the New Year!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. If you get to see any of these films let me know what you think

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I have been up to my knees reviewing Christmas movies and coordinating interviews over at the Hallmarkies Podcast. Make sure you are subscribed over there but I wanted to give my quick thoughts on a few recent watches I’ve seen over the past few weeks. Some of them are holiday films and some have Oscar buzz. If you’ve seen any of them let me know what you think.

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square

Dolly Parton is as close to an angel human as we have on this planet right now. It was recently reported she has even been contributing to research into the COVID immunization efforts. She has her Imagination Library as well as Dollywood and an array of other businesses and causes that help thousands.

But…this movie isn’t very good. The only way I can think to describe it is it is like going to bad community theater. Everyone looks like they are having a good time and you’re happy for them but that doesn’t change the fact it is terrible. Even Christine Baranski as a Scrooge-type trying to close down an entire town can’t save it. I particularly didn’t care for an adoption storyline that is in very poor taste (no spoilers).

There’s even a scene where Baranski is served alcohol by a little girl and they have a cuddly song together. It was just bad even though I adore Dolly.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

A Rainy Day in New York

Now to the opposite problem of Christmas on the Square, here we have a movie by a person of questionable character that I enjoyed. A Rainy Day in New York is by no meas top tier Woody Allen by I did enjoy it. It is bright and funny with a charming script loaded with Allen’s dry wit.

Only Timothée Chalamet could play a character named Gatsby Welles and make him entertaining. He’s definitely a privileged snot but he’s also clueless and desperate in an appealing way. Elle Fanning is our young innocent ingenue sent to interview director Liev Schreriber and she’s fun. Jude Law and Selena Gomez have memorable scenes. It’s not a movie that will stay with me for years to come but as a light-hearted lark it’s a good time.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two

One thing that might surprise people unfamiliar with Hallmark movies is they don’t often tell North Pole stories. Occasionally you will have a Santa or some Christmas magic but almost never Santa Claus based films. So with this knowledge, I really enjoyed the first Christmas Chronicles film. It was whimsical and sweet with Kurt Russell having a blast as a kick-butt Santa Claus. Unfortunately I found this sequel to be a disappointment. It’s harmless but I can’t really recommend it.

The two biggest problems I had with The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two is the lead little girl is unlikable and annoying and the villain played by Julian Dennison is poorly executed. I hate to be mean on a young actor but I have not been impressed by Dennison’s acting of late. I thought he was terrible in Deadpool 2 (Once Upon a Deadpool that I saw) and he’s really bad here. Everything he says feels so forced and wooden it’s awkward rather than fun.

Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn are great and there is a nice reconciliation at the end but it’s also too long at 112 minutes. This one I will have to say pass and just watch the original instead.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Pieces of a Woman

Pieces of a Woman is a film you should definitely expect to hear about come Oscar season. It is a brutal, searing, emotional film with a great performance by Vanessa Kirby- particularly the first 25 minutes. It honestly feels like a documentary at times it is so real and visceral. I don’t think it is spoiling to say the movie starts with the birth of a child and it is the most immersive childbirth scene I’ve ever seen in a film. It’s intense!

After the birth it becomes more of a melodrama but it is still good and the acting is superb. It’s probably not something I will ever watch again; however, I recommend it to anyone who can stomach the intense scenes.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Alien Xmas-

Now for a hard left turn from Pieces of a Woman let’s talk about the adorable stop motion special on Netflix called Alien Xmas. There’s a grand tradition of animated shorts at the holidays and this could end up in that group which is watched each year. It tells the story of an alien that is mistaken for a toy by a little girl and must fight his natural urge to steal all the presents from the little kids.

I love stop motion animation and this is no exception. The alien is so cute and its transformation is very sweet and tender. It has a nice message and the whole family will enjoy it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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. The more I think about it the more I love it

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?