Current Mini Reviews (The Black Phone, RISE, The Outfit, Love & Gelato, Trevor: the Musical)

Hey everyone! I am back with some more quick reviews for a lot of new films I’ve watched this week. There is quite a variety and a lot of good movies so let’s get started!

The Black Phone (2021) - IMDb

The Black Phone

I’m normally not a big horror gal, but I also try to have an open mind to every genre. My friends told me The Black Phone was more of a thriller than horror and so I decided to give it a shot, and turns out they were right. Not only is it a supernatural thriller but it’s a darn good one to boot!

Director Scott Derrickson takes a short story by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son) and crafts it into a tight effective throwback thriller. Ethan Hawke plays “The Grabber” a masked man who abducts and murders children. We also see his latest victim Finney (Mason Thames) use a mysterious black phone to help him get free while his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) channels her dreams to find her brother.

The Black Phone has classic beats we’ve seen before but done effectively with great child performances. However, it also has surprises especially using the supernatural elements to bring in heart as we get more anxious for Finney with every passing moment. There’s even a couple jump scares that certainly got my upright attention!

Even if you don’t like horror movies this one might surprise you. It certainly did that for me. Check out The Black Phone and have a great time with a summer horror with heart and chills!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Rise | Disney+ Originals

Rise

Next we have Rise on Disney Plus. This continues the grand tradition of Disney Sports movies with films like Miracle, Glory Road and McFarland USA. This time we are learning about the story of the 3 Nigerian-Greek brothers from the Antetokounmpo family. Evidently Giannis is the biggest star at the NBA (I don’t follow sports or basketball)

The film starts when the boys are young and is really about the entire family emigrating to Greece and starting basketball. They end up trying out for the NBA and all 3 playing with Giannis getting drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013.

At just under 2 hours, there are moments where Rise can drag but I appreciate it tells more than just one underdog sports story. It’s really a family and immigrant story more than anything else.  Yetide Badaki and Dayo Okeniyi are good as the boy’s parents and 3 acting newcomers as the boys, Uche Agada, Ral Agada, and Jaden Osimuwa, all hold their own and do a good job in their roles.

Rise doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it’s a heartfelt family story that should inspire just about anyone to go for their dreams!

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Review: 'The Outfit' features strong acting values and smart plotting | Datebook

The Outfit

Mob movies are often films I admire more than I like. The pacing tends to be sluggish and the characters not anything I connect with. Well, The Outfit is an exception to that rule! Now playing on Peacock, The Outfit is a well-crafted, engaging story that will keep you guessing until the very end.

The film tells the story of Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance), a tailor of high-end suits in 1950s Chicago. Burling is happy to make suits for the mob bosses who frequent his establishment and all he asks is that they keep him out of their goings-ons. I’m not always the biggest fan of Rylance but he is perfect for this role- that’s 2 wins for me from him this month with Phantom of the Open also being great!.

One night his shop becomes the place of intrigue when mob boss son Richie Boyle (Dylan O’Brien) and his cousin Francis (the fantastic Johnny Flynn) come in looking for an mob informant in their area. The script kept me guessing until the very end and the acting is all first rate. Dick Pope gives great style to the cinematography and the costumes are stunning by Zac Posen and Mark Bridges.

The Outfit is a definite hidden gem, which I highly recommend on Peacock.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Watch Love & Gelato | Netflix Official Site

Love & Gelato

Meanwhile over on Netflix we have the coming of age romantic flick Love & Gelato. Based on the book by Jenna Evans Welch, this is exactly the kind of light breezy escapism you expect from the title. If it sounds like something you will like than you probably will. If it sounds like a tooth ache than it’s probably not for you.

Susanna Skaggs plays Lina a young high school graduate who has lost her Mother and as a result is forced to go to Italy for a summer and experience the Mediterranean transformation her Mother did 20 years before. She even has her Mother’s diary to guide her through her experiences as she meets 2 hunky guys: slick Alesandro (Saul Nanni) and sweet Lorenzo (Tobia De Angelis).

Naturally Love & Gelato pays homage to classic romcoms like Roman Holiday and 3 Coins in the Fountain and it’s loaded with Italian vacation porn but sometimes in the summer we need that kind of escapism! If you are in the mood to be swept away to Rome with a story of young love check this one out.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Is Trevor: The Musical on Netflix? (Where to watch)

Trevor: The Musical

I’m not sure what I expected from Trevor: The Musical but I must own to being quite shocked by what I saw. It’s mostly shocked in a compelling way but it was not what I was expecting especially on Disney Plus. This is a very intense and quite brutal pro shot of a coming of age, coming out musical recorded at Stage 42 in New York City in October 2021.

Holden Hagelberger has a daunting role of Trevor (who would later go on to start The Trevor Project for LGTBQ youth) where he is required to go to very dark places and also be light and bouncy with his hero Diana Ross who appears frequently on stage as his musical muse. I would certainly want to talk to my child before watching a musical like this where bullying, suicide and abuse are depicted.

I’m not sure they get the balance between the intense and the fun right and none of the songs outside of the Diana Ross hits stand out but it’s hard to not admire its sheer guts. It could be the start of some good conversations but just make sure you know what you are getting into and that your children aren’t triggered by the intense moments depicted in the film.

I tell you one thing. It makes me want to take any bullied child out of school and kept where they can be safe and loved. It can be brutal out there.

(It’s kind of insane that people are complaining about a milisecond kiss in Lightyear when this is way bolder in its LGTBQ representation on Disney Plus. Not that we should be complaining about any of it…)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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All Smile Worthy today!

Current Mini Reviews (Downton Abbey, Chip ‘N Dale, Along for the Ride, Top Gun OG)

Hey everyone! It’s that time again where I give some quick updates on the films I’ve been watching. Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to write up a full review on every film I see. It’s impossible!

Aside from Men, which I hated, it’s been a pretty good month of movie-watching. Particularly in animation we are getting a lot of creativity and innovation which makes me happy to see (especially since I didn’t like Turning Red from earlier in the year).

So here’s the reviews:

Downton Abbey: A New Era-

I was a big fan of the 2019 Downton Abbey film and the show so I came into this new film a little biased to enjoy it. However, I have heard from a number of friends who haven’t watched the show that they have enjoyed the movies so it might surprise non-fans. Either way, this new entry Downton Abbey: A New Era is everything I want in this very fun frothy continuing journey of the Crawley family and their downstairs staff.

Writer Julian Fellowes does a great job balancing a ton of characters and story-threads which is particularly difficult this time because we have the group splitting up- half going to visit a villa in the Mediterranean and half managing the house while a movie is being shot by new to the series Hugh Dancy playing director Jack Barber.

My only nitpick is with Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). I wish they could have gotten Matthew Goode in the movie as her husband. What they came up with instead was frustrating. All the other plotlines I really enjoyed. It’s particularly fun when the servants get a chance to dress up to be in the movie.

The highlight is always Maggie Smith as Violet and she’s spectacular here. My advice is have some tea, take your friends and go back into time for a delightful experience at the theaters!

(And check out our catch up podcast on the series and first movie above)

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers Review - IGN

Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers

I have to say I was as skeptical as anyone going into this movie. I didn’t like the trailers and the images I saw looked like a lame nostalgia grab. However, count me shocked because I had a blast with Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers. It all comes down to the script by Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, which is chocked full of gags and laughs that particularly animation fans will go gaga for.

I don’t want to spoil the gags for you but evidently they were going for a Who Framed Roger Rabbit feel and I think they totally succeeded. We have cameos from not just Disney like in Ralph Breaks the Internet but from studios like Sony and Netflix. And there were just a lot of hilarious gags like I loved the setup of Dale doing the comic-con circuit and getting ”CGI surgery” to relive the glory days. That’s clever.

The voice cast is also excellent with John Mullaney, Andy Samberg, Will Arnett and more. This should entertain both kids and adults so definitely worth your time on Disney Plus. It’s a hilarious time with our dynamic duo.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Along for the Ride' Review: Netflix Dips Into Sarah Dessen Library | IndieWire

Along for the Ride

New on Netflix is the rom-com Along for the Ride. It is based on the book by Sarah Dessen and has lots of beautiful beach scenery but unfortunately that’s all I enjoyed about it. Teen love stories are usually not my favorite but this does try for some deeper themes with our lead Auden (Emma Pasarow) dealing with divorce, a new baby sister and trying to make friends in a new town of Colby.

I didn’t think Pasarow and her guy Eli (Belmont Cameli) had much chemistry and the plot dragged on without much to engage the viewer. i wasn’t invested in the relationship or much beyond her relationship with her Father (Dermot Mulroney) and Step-Mom (Kate Bosworth). Andie McDowell is also good as her Mother.

I hate to say it but this one was dull. It’s about insomniacs and it just about put me to sleep. Also the acting was weak at times. I’d skip this one.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Tom Cruise Top Gun Top Gun Maverick: film confronti Festival di Cannes. Foto | Style

Top Gun 1996

With the release of Top Gun Maverick coming soon I wanted to log my review of the original Top Gun for rotten tomatoes. I just had my friends over for a watching party and we had a great time. I can see why some find it too cheesy but in my opinion that’s part of the appeal. I like the posing, corny dialogue, and volleyball playing with the campy 80s music in the background.

The flying scenes still hold up with terrific sound design and music from Harold Faltermeyer. It also has a good mixture of light and heavy moments with a cast that has chemistry including of course a young Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Meg Ryan to name a few.

Everyone around me seems to be loving the new film but I will always have a fondness for the original Top Gun. It’s what you want in a big bombastic cheesy blockbuster.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Bridgerton Season 2’: Still Swoonworthy But Do I Miss the Spice?

My review of Bridgerton Season 1 is one that surprised many of my readers. Given I cover Hallmark movies on Hallmarkies Podcast most put me in the ultra-conservative bubble that wouldn’t enjoy something as spicy as this Netflix regency show is. However, not only did I enjoy it but the way the show handled its eroticism was one of the best parts about it and what made it stand out.

Here was a show made to titillate and entertain women. All women. It did not worry itself with realism, historical accuracy or the dark side to the aristocracy. Bridgerton season 1 was about a marriage and both participants coming to an understanding of their own sexuality and its power within the relationship and it was great!

I say all of this to try and give some context of why Bridgerton season 2 is still an enjoyable romantic romp but not nearly as special as season 1. Some who didn’t appreciate the sensuality of season 1 may like this new approach but I found it disappointing, even while still having fun with what they did offer.

Part of the difference comes from the show focusing on a Bridgerton son, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), rather than a daughter- a male perspective is going to be inherently different. Also the couple in question does not get married right away and so less sexuality is obviously going to occur in a regency set show. There really is only one major love scene in the entire season. Instead, we get a lot dancing, staring and parties, which is great but just not as special as season 1.

Bailey and Simone Ashley who plays Kate Sharma do have terrific chemistry together and I loved the way he breathed her in with his near kisses. It definitely built tension until I was about ready to burst- along with the characters! Charithra Chandran is also strong as Kate’s sister Edwina. She seems like a weak, flighty character at first but there is surprising strength in her.

There are also lots of swoonworthy moments viewers will go nuts for. One scene where a white-shirted Lord Anthony gets thrown into the water will remind viewers of Colin Firth coming out of the lake in his version of Pride and Prejudice.

As far as the other stories go in the season they are entertaining enough (and mostly steam free). The best arcs probably come from upstart/misfit Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie) and her best friend Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan- who I also love in Derry Girls). I would love if they made Penelope the focus of season 3 because you so rarely see a dishy romance with a plus size actress. And such escapism is the true joy of this show.

Like I said, there is still a lot of fun to be had in Bridgerton Season 2. I just wish they hadn’t decided to pull back on what made the first season so special. It’s like they got a comment card from a concerned parent and lost their nerve. It will be interesting to see what others  think when it gets released this week.

As for me, I recommend this romance, even if I’m not over the moon, in love with it. Let me know what you think!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Single All the Way’: Deck the Halls with Family Happiness

In the world of the holiday rom-com of which I spend most of my waking life we often hear calls for ‘family friendly films’ or ‘clean films’ and what that really means is movies that pretend like LGTBQ people don’t exist. Fortunately, things are changing in this corner of the movie-sphere and people are being pushed to accept love stories from all kinds of perspectives and experiences (and we are all a lot better for it).

I bring this up only to emphasize how special the new comedy Single All the Way is. Not only is it funny and romantic but it’s one of the most joyous depictions of family I’ve seen in a long time. I LOVED it!

On the surface the story in Single All the Way is rather pedestrian. The friends to lovers and fake relationship tropes are well worn and predictable. However, it’s like I always say it’s not a bad thing to use tropes. It’s what you do with them that makes it stand out!

Michael Urie plays Peter a gay man living in LA who is unhappy in his work and his love life is even worse having been recently dumped. Rather than face his family alone he invites his longtime roommate Nick (Philemon Chambers) to come with him and pretend to be his boyfriend for the holidays.

The ruse doesn’t really last long when his Mother sets him up with a hot local man named James played by Hallmark hunk Luke MacFarlane. As Peter gets closer to James, Nick begins to realize he may have more than just platonic feelings and things go from there.

What made Single All the Way special is not that it was a queer story, although that is nice. Happiest Season last year mined similar terrain last year to less success. What makes it stand out is how funny it is and how joyous it is (huge contrast from Happiest Season).

The cast is full of heavy-hitters including a hilarious turn from Jennifer Coolidge as Peter’s eccentric Broadway dreaming aunt who is putting on the Christmas pageant. There’s also Kathy Najimy and Barry Bostwick as Peter’s parents and they couldn’t be more warm while still being funny.

Urie and Chambers have fantastic chemistry and the whole family is rooting for their relationship. When revelations are made everyone cheers and is happy. It was so refreshing to see a family that loves each other unconditionally and is again joyous to see Peter in love. It made me happy to see them so happy. Maybe some people will find Single All the Way too trite and fluffy but I just loved it. I thought it was one of the best rom-coms I’ve seen in years and that’s saying something coming from me. These are 2 people, Nick and Peter, that I was rooting for the whole time and was so happy to see them get together. Isn’t that what we want in a romantic comedy? It is for me.

We should see more joyous families in movies and TV. Sure the dysfunctional families can be funny and help us relate to our own moments of dysfunction, but the movies should also be aspirational.  They should show us something to work towards. The family in Single All the Way gave that to me. I hope I am as joyous towards everyone in my life, friends or family, as this family was for Peter and Nick. It was great. I loved it. Watch it. I hope you love it too!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

 

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[REVIEW] Arlo the Alligator Boy

One of the great things happening over at Netflix is the fostering of new and innovative animated talent. Whether it is I Lost My Body, Klaus or Over the Moon creative men and women are being given a place to explore and make beautiful films. The latest entry is basically a pilot for a new animated TV series called Arlo the Alligator Boy made by first time director and animator Ryan Crego. Honestly story and pacing-wise the film is a mixed bag but as a pilot for a 20-episode series it establishes the characters enough to make me want to tune in; therefore, it does its job.

In this film we are introduced to an alligator that is anthropomorphic and talks like a human boy (hence the title). Much like in the movie Elf, Arlo finds out he has a father in New York City and decides to go there in order to find his father and figure out who he is.

Along the way Arlo meets up with a rag-tag group of friends who help him on his journey. There’s a tiger, a pom-pom girl, a dinosaur and more. The further Arlo goes the more wisdom he adds to his team much in the same way that Dorothy adds to her team in The Wizard of Oz.

The animation in Arlo is also a lot of fun with whimsical details and beautiful watercolor-inspired backgrounds. It reminded me style-wise of something like Steven Universe or even Hilda.

The music by Alex Geringas and Crego doesn’t always fit the vibe of the scenes but it is still good music and some of the musical sequences especially at the beginning are catchy. It feels like a show that could have quality songs like Elena of Avalor.

Where the movie loses me is when Arlo gets to NYC and there is a back and forth between him and his Dad. It felt really long, and I struggled to stay invested. The ending is very predictable and it just wasn’t engaging me the way I wanted it to.

However, despite some script problems, Arlo the Alligator Boy has a big heart, enchanting animation and is a good start to a 20 episode series. The whole family will love it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Kim’s Convenience’ So Good I Binged Watched 4 Seasons This Week

I am not a binge watcher. It is probably my least favorite way to consume content. However, every once in a while I find a show where I just can’t help myself. I enjoy it so much I have to devour it! The CBC show available on Netflix Kim’s Convenience is such a show. There are currently 4 seasons with 2 more coming, and I can’t recommend it more highly. It’s funny, sweet, authentic and just great.

Kim’s Convenience is about a Korean Canadian family that owns a convenience store in Toronto and is based on a play of the same name by show creator Ins Choi. I’d love to see the play someday because it creates a setting for the show that feels authentic and true (it reminded me of Lin Manuel’s similar set up with his In the Heights musical).

Paul Sun-Hyung leads the cast as the father or Appa of the Kim family and owner of the store. What I appreciated about his character is he is a funny loveable curmudgeon who is set in his ways, but he also is a flawed character that is estranged from his son. This makes him more than just the butt of jokes but someone we can relate with and become invested in his journey.

Jean Yoon is equally strong as the matriarch of the family. She is famous for her pokes when people are frustrating her and her sneak attacks when she wants to get her way. But again she’s not a cliche character because the separation of her family is quite devastating for her throughout the show. I loved her character so much.

All the characters are great. Andrea Bang as Janet is fantastic as the daughter of the family. Simu Liu (who is about to blow up in Marvel’s Shang-Chi) is wonderful as the estranged son Jung who is trying to rebuild his life after a rebellious youth. I absolutely loved his relationship with his boss Shannon played by Nicole Power. She’s just weird enough to be charming and funny.

The supporting cast is wonderful with people like Jung’s best friend and roommate Kimchee (Andrew Phung) and the whole cast at the car rental place Handy that Jung, Shannon and Kimchee work at. You could honestly have an entire show just at Handy.

I think what’s most important about Kim’s Convenience is the writing. There honestly isn’t a bad episode. It’s so funny and it creates a family I cared deeply about. Sure it pokes fun at Korean stereotypes but that’s not the main source of the humor. Mostly it is about relationships and everyday problems anyone from a family can relate with.

The entire cast has chemistry together and even small roles like Amanda Bruget as Pastor Nina are so well executed. With weaker writing such a role could have been a bland overbearing religious figure but she’s not. She’s funny, flawed yet sincere and that’s the way all the characters are.

I can’t recommend Kim’s Convenience highly enough. It goes along with the recent Ted Lasso as a fantastic comedy with a big heart. I adored it and can’t wait for 2 more seasons!

Have you seen Kim’s Convenience? What did you think of it? What other hidden gems are out there I might have missed?

9 out of 10

[REVIEW] BRIDGERTON: Netflix Meets Dishy Regency Romance Novel

It’s interesting one would think with a new  female led action film coming to HBO Max this weekend in Wonder Woman 84 (which I did marginally recommend) I would not be looking to Netflix for pleasurable entertainment. Alas that is the case and fortunately they provided with the dishy new series from producer Shonda Rhimes called Bridgerton.

Based on the romance novels by Julia Quinn Bridgerton is set in a fantasy version of Regency London.  As such it has no interest in the plight of the working class or the yorkshire schools. It’s not interested in diving into racism or class problems. Such issues are for other shows and series to tell. This show is made for one reason and one reason alone: to bring pleasure to to the viewers, mainly women.

For example, if a Black woman will get more pleasure out of seeing the handsome Duke of Hastings be a Black man (Regé-Jean Page) than that’s what they are going to do. This isn’t about realism or historical accuracy. It doesn’t waste time explaining casting choices or the setting (it might as well be on another planet and timetable). It’s about eroticism, lust and luxury, which all has to be hid under the “rules’ of the time. That’s very sexy and fun!

The only real look into darker themes is a brief scene where Lady Featherington (Polly Walker) takes her distant cousin Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker) to show her where the working class lives and her response is something to the effect of ‘why are you taking me to see these hard working pleasant people?” Indeed, why? Some may take this as a bad thing, but I find it very entertaining and a welcome escape after a hard year.

I think what makes it work is they go all the way. Any aspect they can make more dishy they do. They have a mysterious gossip paper writer voiced by Julie Andrews narrate the show. They have Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) who seems to be from a different era with the powdered wigs and structured dresses of the 18th century not the empire dresses and white gloves of the Regency Era with the rest of the characters. We also have classical music versions of modern songs from the likes of Ariana Grande, Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift.

If this sounds awful to you than you will hate it. If it sounds like trashy romance novel fun than you will love it! It definitely leans into all the tropes of romance novels including strong sexual content so if you aren’t comfortable with erotica don’t watch this show. It’s all part of the fantasy and the fun.

The main focus  is on the Bridgerton family of 8 children with eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) leading the cast. Then we also get Lady Featherington and her 3 daughters including the delightful Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) that will be a treat for any plus size female viewers looking to dive into the story.

My only quibble is I’m not sure why they have Daphne have 3 brothers. I did not care about their stories near as much as the female characters. At the very least they could have been combined into a single brother to follow and that would have been much better.

Earlier this year we had the supposed modern take on Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon, which was a huge misfire. The attempts to combine camp and gritty realism did not work (especially the terrible ending!). With Bridgerton it’s like they took notes and corrected everything I disliked in the earlier show. Thank goodness! Sanditon apologized for being a Regency story. Bridgerton revels in it!

Throughout the 8 episodes we follow our characters through all the tropes of romance novels. We get a fake relationship, a problematic pregnancy, a scandalous gambler (rakes make better husbands as the series tells us), a marriage of convenience that grows into more, and I could keep going. There is even a dramatic duel over honor at one point!

Just as we are moving out of the purity of the Hallmark season (which also uses all the same tropes to their fullest effect) Bridgerton provides a tantalizing and delicious entry for romance fans everywhere. It is just what this queen ordered!

8.5 out of 10 (This show is a Mature Rating and has strong sensuality. Buyer beware!)