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

BLIND SPOT 60: REMEMBER THE NIGHT

I’ve said many times on this blog the hardest reviews to writer are for ‘just ok’ films. Movies that inspire a strong feeling either of praise or repulsion are easy to write about. The words flow through the keyboard. It’s the movies that are passable entertainment but nothing special that are a challenge to critique. Or at least challenging for this critic. This ambivalence is how I felt about the holiday classic Remember the Night. It has its moments but I definitely didn’t love it.

Remember the Night has a lot going for it. It’s written (but not directed) by the great Preston Sturges. It stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray who’ve I liked in other things including teamed together again in movies like Double Indemnity. From what I’m reading the the production of Remember the Night was messy and Sturges had his script hacked up and “was one of the main reasons fueling his determination to direct his own scripts thereafter, which he did beginning with his next project The Great McGinty

Learning about these problems with the film doesn’t surprise me and it is perhaps incredible it is as coherent and enjoyable as it is. In the film Stanwyck plays a woman who is arrested for stealing an expensive bracelet. She then goes on trial and MacMurray’s character is assigned to prosecute her. This would all be fine but there’s a lot of pieces which don’t fit. For instance, a long speech by her defense attorney claiming she was hypnotized and it is an example of the injustice against the poor for her to even be prosecuted. It’s full of theatrics and moral gravitas and then the script does nothing with it. We don’t get to know this man and the themes he mentions are rarely brought up again.

Another out of place scene is when she visits her Mother in Indiana. It feels cold and out of place given the witty banter and road trip shenanigans we’ve been experiencing for most of the picture. There’s lots of scenes like that and it leaves the viewer (or at least this viewer) feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

All that said, Remember the Night does have positives. The long segments of banter are entertaining and MacMurray and Stanwyck have a spark in those scenes. The script from Sturges has brilliant moments which had me laughing. I particularly enjoyed the buttoned up MacMurray getting frustrated by the brazen rebel in Stanwyck.

Instead of Remember the Night I recommend a very similar movie also from 1940 His Girl Friday. Both movies are enemies to lovers stories with 2 people forced to work together with snappy banter as they of course fall for each other. I also recommend Bring Up Baby from 1938 which has a similar energy although Kathryn Heburn is more innocent in that role than either Stanwyck or Rosalind Russell are in their films. Or instead you could watch other better films by Sturges like The Palm Beach Story or The Lady Eve (also starring Stanwyck).

In the end, Remember the Night is too uneven to recommend. I liked some of the banter and performances but all involved would go on to do better things and so I would just check out those projects instead.

4.5 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘Promising Young Woman’ or A Word on Boys will be Boys Culture

 

There will be some who reject the new film Promising Young Woman on its concept alone without even watching the film. I can already here the calls of ‘woke’ and ‘feminist agenda’ film coming in the comments section. I’m not going to try and convince you to see the film but merely give my reasons of why it worked for me as a piece of revenge fiction.

Last year we had Black Christmas that tried to do many of the same things Promising Young Woman does but it did not work at all. It was one of my least favorite films of 2019. The problem with that film is it presents only one valid version of being a woman. If you aren’t a kickbutt man-hater you are shamed or killed.

In this film it tells the story of one woman Cassie (played brilliantly by Carrie Mulligan) that is bitter and angry and wants revenge. She is an anti-hero in a sense but she is in no way presented as a guide by which to live by or even a stable competent individual. In fact, quite the reverse. All the men in the film are garbage but the movie is told exclusively through her point of view and she’s a damaged bitter woman who hates everyone around her- male and female.

The reason Cassie is so bitter is because a tragedy happened to her best friend in college and it was ignored and brushed aside. ‘Boys will be boys’ mentality rears its ugly head again. This is something we all should be against and Cassie decides to confront it at any cost. The nice thing is the movie doesn’t forget to have a sense of humor. Yes Cassie has let her crusade become a mania but she’s still funny and sarcastic.

I’ve heard some don’t like the ending. I disagree. I enjoyed the ending. To me it fit with the tone of the film and allowed her to get her revenge in a satisfying way.

Promising Young Woman is not a movie saying all men are evil and women are angels. It’s saying excusing away bad behavior done on college campuses because ‘boys will be boys’ or whatever is and that’s what needs to stop. A simple message is fine in a film. Simple character motivations are also fine. All I need is a terrific performance, which we have here, and a cracking script that doesn’t forget to have a sense of humor every now and then.

It’s not very rewatchable is I guess the only downside and the best thrillers usually should be.  Nevertheless I definitely recommend watching it if you get the chance.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I have a few mini reviews to give you. These are all indie films that I had the privilege of screening. In the next few months I am going to be getting a lot of screeners for awards films so don’t be surprised if you see a lot of these mini reviews posts. So here goes!

Wander Darkly

Wander Darkly is a difficult movie to describe. It’s about a woman played by Sienna Miller who is struggling with being a new parent. She’s resentful of her partner played by Diego Luna and the 2 fight a lot. Then there is an accident and she might be dead, or is she?

The movie plays with time and perspective a lot with non-linear storytelling and a host of mini-reveals leading up to a big reveal. I really like Sienna Miller as an actress. I loved her in last year’s American Woman, which was very underrated. She’s great here and helps you to like a woman who can be shrill and argumentative (a tough quality to see in a young mother). She and Luna have good chemistry even as they are fighting and the emotion of the film works.

There are parts of Wander Darkly that feel aggressively indie like it was begging to be admitted to Sundance, which it was. Nevertheless, I recommend it. As I said on twitter it’s like Marriage Story if death was involved LOL.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Mr Marvelous

Mr Marvelous is a short I was asked to review and it was sold to me as a dark Christmas short about a disgruntled mall Santa. It’s only 13 minutes long but I was a little disappointed at the Christmas aspects of the film. I won’t give away the spoiler (although the title kind of does) but it’s more about heroes than about Christmas.

I’m not sure what this short is trying to say. It didn’t inspire me or make me think about the world in a new way. It’s not a commentary on superhero movies, families, or growing older. It might be trying to be those things but it fell flat. It’s just 13 minutes so if you’re curious you can find it online but I’d honestly skip it.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Busman’s Holiday

Busman’s Holiday is a film I bet will be more enjoyable to isolated audiences in 2020 than it might have otherwise been. It tells the story of man named Michael (Jamie McShane) who is hired as a private detective to try and find a distant cousin who has turned up missing in her travels around the world.

There’s a lot of escapism here with Michael traveling to Ireland, Australia, India and more, and that’s the main appeal in this film. McShane is likable as our rough-around-the-edges protagonist but he spends too much time in deep thought pondering the beauty of the earth. I wanted the search for the cousin to be more interesting!

Still, if you like movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty than you might enjoy Busman’s Holiday. It’s certainly worth a watch for the travel footage alone. Beautiful!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There you have it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have another post like this in the next few days. It’s a busy time to be a critic! Hope you are doing well! Don’t forget to check out Hallmarkies Podcast and please consider supporting me on patreon if you appreciate what I do.

[REVIEW] ‘L’Autre’ or An Art and Dance Film Done Right

There are a lot of of things about the new film L’Autre from french director Charlotte Dauphin that will make some audiences immediately tune it. It’s about a ballet dancer. It deals with grief and loss. It has flights of fancy and jumps around in time and it is in French. However, if you can keep an open mind you will be treated to a lovely little film that has a lot to say and it says it in a beautiful way.

L’Autre tells the story of a woman named Marie who is a young ballet dancer with an overbearing Mother and a beloved Father. When her Father dies on her 30th birthday she abandons dance and becomes a recluse from the world. Eventually, she reaches out to a photographer named Paul who took the last photo of her father and their romance and her rebirth is the main focus of the film.

Astrid Breges-Frisbey does a lovely job portraying Marie. You see her wounds and feel her longing for someone to understand her now that her Father is gone. She feels abandoned and alone. It in many ways reminds me of the longing in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story although not as abstract as that film.

Still, L’Autre uses dance and movement with beautiful cinematography to show Marie’s transformation. Even if you lose track of the subtitles the images are so stunning it should keep you entertained.

One of the keys to a film like L’Autre working is it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. At only 77 minutes you can enjoy the artistic journey through grief and love without becoming exhausted. A lot of arthouse films forget that and an enterprise which starts out exhilarating can become a slog.

Obviously L’Autre isn’t going to be for everyone but if you like dance and appreciate independent films with a European aesthetic give it a watch. I think you will find much to appreciate.

8 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘The Forgotten Carols’

One of the hardest parts of 2020 has been the halting of most live performances and the closure of Broadway. As much as I love movies I equally love live performances whether plays, musicals, orchestras, recitals whatever. Fortunately, as we are waiting for the world to get vaccinated from COVID 19, we have been bequeathed a number of live performances in movie form to help tide us over. Early in the summer we got Hamilton on Disney Plus and now in movie theaters we can enjoy a new filming of the holiday favorite The Forgotten Carols.

Since it’s first release in 1991 The Forgotten Carols has sold over a million tickets all over the world. It is perhaps most popular among Latter-day Saint audiences but it is perfectly appropriate for any Christian to enjoy. It is written by composer Michael McLean and he plays the leading role of Uncle John in this production.

The conceit of the musical is John is an eccentric angel who makes it his mission one Christmas to cheer up a cynical nurse named Constance (not Connie as she reminds him). As she cares for him he tells her the stories of the ‘forgotten carols’ or people who testify of Christ’s birth. Some examples are the Innkeeper who regrets his actions towards Mary and Joseph and extols the audience to ‘Let Him In’. Another is the plucky angel who inspires Handel to write his Hallelujah chorus.

If you can’t tell The Forgotten Carols is an unabashedly religious experience. If you aren’t a Christian this probably isn’t the show for you. However, it is nondenominational so you do not need to be of a particular faith to enjoy it. In this version they have updated it for a 2020 audience with winks to uber, alexa and other products they didn’t have in 1991, but for the most part if you are a person who likes boisterous faith-based music and shows you’ll enjoy this show.

In fact, as someone who will watch over 100 Christmas movies and specials in 2020 it is refreshing to watch one film that’s actually about Jesus and the importance of His birth. The songs in The Forgotten Carols are theatrical and full of pageantry but my theater starved heart needed every last note! My particular favorite number is ‘I Cry the Day I Take the Tree Down’. It gets me every time!

This production was staged in Cedar City in September of this year in a socially distanced crowd and the whole thing had an urgency and poignancy that we all need right now. You can purchase tickets to a safe theater or purchase the DVD here.

For the right audience I recommend The Forgotten Carols.

8 out of 10

 

 

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

Pixar 44: SOUL or Is it ok for Pixar to Release a Film for Adults?

Before writing this review I realized I never did my blog review of Onward. I reviewed it on my youtube channel but it was such a crazy time in March I forgot to review it on the blog. I will do a longer review for Onward eventually but it will be out of order with Soul because I am short on time at the moment. (I enjoyed Onward for the record).

Honestly I have a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to reviewing Soul. I really debated how to best express myself. I even watched it twice to be sure of my thoughts (I don’t normally do that but it is an unsual film and I wanted to be sure).

Let me start out by saying I did enjoy the film. It is bold, ambitious and full of things to think about and discuss. I greatly admire Pete Doctor for making such a film and for Disney/Pixar to have the audacity to put $150 million into what is essentially a CGI arthouse piece.

And I think that is essentially the best way to view Soul. If we look at it as an experimental arthouse piece rather than a blockbuster feature film it makes more sense and is more satisfactory.

Now I am going to say something that might be unpopular: I don’t think Soul is for kids. It doesn’t have anything offensive, and I suppose some more philosophic children may like it, but I don’t think kids will enjoy the picture. It has no gateway for children to access the film like Inside Out did. In fact, it doesn’t have as much in common with Inside Out as many people are expecting (or at least I was expecting)

Inside Out has Riley as our entryway into the world of the brain. In addition, emotions are something easy for children to relate to. It’s also funny and sweet with scenarios kids can understand like losing a hockey game or moving to a new town.

Soul, on the other hand, is about a grown man named Joe who is struggling with the meaning of his life. He has questions like, should he settle for the teacher job or keep trying to get the big gig and share his love of jazz music with the world? Footnote- It’s kind of weird how the movie looks down on teaching (it makes sense for the character but just unexpected in a family film). Joe doesn’t have any children nor are there any children in his life aside from his students who are only briefly seen (nothing like Russell in Up for instance).

At the beginning of the film Joe gets his big break playing for a jazz legend at the Half Note Club. Unfortunately on his way home he falls through a man-hole in the street and goes to the afterlife. (This isn’t a spoiler. It’s right in the trailer).

It's A Wonderful Afterlife In Pixar's Latest SOUL Trailer (VIDEO/IMAGES) – I Can't Unsee That Movie: film news and reviews by Jeff Huston

The animation in these sequences is absolutely stunning. Some of the most beautiful blending of 2D and CG I’ve ever seen. This is when I wish I could have seen Soul on the big screen because the images combined with the beautiful score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross took my breath away. Stunning.

But back to the story, Joe doesn’t want to die, so he escapes the Great Beyond and meets a pre-earth spirit called 22. She is convinced Earth is a big scam and that life isn’t worth even attempting. Joe then helps 22 to find her spark, all the while coming to realize what his spark is (which may or may not be jazz).

22 voiced by Tina Fey is supposed to be our entry-point for children, but I don’t think she is. Maybe I’m wrong and kids will love it but the film strikes me as too heady with too slow a pacing for children? I think they will be bored. Are kids interested in career goals? Do they wonder whether our passions are satisfying enough without relationships? Do kids think a lot about what makes for a fulfilling life?

But let’s assume kids don’t like Soul. Is that a problem? I honestly don’t know. Instead of Inside Out I’d compare this movie to Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow shorts or his feature It’s a Beautiful Day. I admire Hertzfeldt’s philosophical films but they aren’t very rewatchable and not something I love. I like to think of myself as a pretty introspective person, but I suppose I go to religion for this type of spiritual nourishment rather than an animated film. Your mileage may be better than mine, but I guess I like to be entertained a little more when I go to the movies.

There are a few attempts at humor like a repeated gag with pizza that are fun. There’s also a funny section with a cat but it’s mostly a very serious slow meditation on the meaning of life. I definitely recommend seeing it (I actually think Disney Plus is the perfect spot for it to be honest) but have a journal handy to write about your experience and ask yourself questions like these:

What is your spark? Has your passion led you to an empty life? Can the passion be a lie? Is a spark what you do or is it innately a part of who you are as a soul of divine worth? Does your career or passions matter at all?

I’m still pondering what the film is trying to say, which is a good thing I suppose. It just makes writing this review difficult!

In the end, I admire Pixar and Pete Docter for making Soul. It’s a bold, ambitious, challenging film that will appeal more to adults than kids. Whether that is a problem I’m still pondering. I do wish it had tried to entertain me a little bit more as well as make me think. However, the animation is stunning and the music gorgeous. I recommend it but just know what you are getting yourself into before watching it.

7 out of 10

Blind Spot 59: THE LAST UNICORN

When I included The Last Unicorn on my blind spot list for 2020 a lot of people were surprised I have never seen this classic animated film. This is probably especially surprising since I did an entire series on the creators Rankin Bass back in 2015. Well, the truth is I never saw this film because it never really interested me. I’m in general not that into fantasy stories and a story with unicorns, wizards and beasts didn’t look like my jam; however, the entire point of blind spots is to get me out of my comfort zone so I decided to go for it this year and watch it. Now I have seen it and my feeling is… it’s fine but not really my thing.

The first thing I will say is that the animation in The Last Unicorn is gorgeous. This is without a doubt the most beautiful film I have seen from Rankin Bass and I particularly loved the way it used color. We recently reviewed the hungarian film Son of the White Mare for Obscure Animation and that came out the year before The Last Unicorn and they struck me as very similar in style and feel (although I prefer White Mare personally).

It must have been a trend in the 80s because The Secret of Nimh also uses colors beautifully. And even the much maligned animated Lord of the Rings from Ralph Bakshi from 1978 has some bold color choices. I could use more of that in contemporary animation. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is one of the only recent animated films to use color in an interesting way (maybe Klaus as well).

Anyway, all those technical achievements are fantastic in The Last Unicorn, and I enjoyed watching it as an animation fan. On the other hand, the story wasn’t very compelling. It’s about a unicorn on a quest to find the rest of her kind who have disappeared. Along the way she meets an evil witch, an incompetent magician and briefly gets turned into a human and falls in love.The voice work is all good with the likes of Ala Arkin, Jeff Bridges, and Mia Farrow but I didn’t connect with any of the characters or feel much for what was happening.

So often in fantasy I enjoy the world-building more than the actual story and that’s definitely the case here. It’s not the dullest of the genre but I was tempted to fast forward on a number of occasions especially when she turns into a human. That love story was really treacly and plodding.

Still, I’d recommend watching The Last Unicorn especially if you are an animation fan. The story isn’t the best but it’s not awful either. It’s just a little slow but the music is beautiful,voice acting well done and the again the animation is stunning.

6 out of 10

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