[REVIEW] ‘Dream Horse’ or How to Win at a Comfort Movie

Whenever I review a film I always ask myself if the movie succeeded in doing what it set out to to do. In other words, if it an action movie is the action good? If it’s a tearjerker did it make me cry? If it is a comedy did it make me laugh? It’s always a satisfying experience when I can confidently answer yes: the movie in question successfully executed its premise.

One such example is the new movie Dream Horse. It sets out to be a heartwarming inspirational true story and it is such a film. I really enjoyed this sweet story of community and never losing hope.

Dream Horse arrives in theaters tomorrow May 19th and tells the true story of a group of Welsh small town residents that gather together in a ‘Dream Alliance’ to pool their earnings and bread and raise a racehorse appropriately named Dream.

Toni Collette plays Jan, the leader of the group, and she’s just what you want in this kind of role. She’s likable while also being just enough of a spitfire to keep it from being too saccharine. I also really enjoyed Owen Teale as her husband Brian. He isn’t too thrilled about the Dream Alliance idea at first, but falls in love with the horse despite himself. Dream Horse is absolutely a feel-good movie but it is not too glossy (granted I’m the Hallmark girl so what do I know?). It shows the tough situation of most of the townspeople and even the big investor Howard, played by Damian Lewis, is barely hanging on to his marriage because of risky investments he recently made.

Sure it’s predictable but it’s also heart warming and will make even the crustiest Scrooges cheer. Watch it with your whole family. They will love it!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Dream Horse is available 5/19 in theaters and 6/11 digitally

 

[REVIEW] ‘Finding You’ or Do You Like Rom-coms?

Anyone who follows this site knows I am a huge fan of romantic comedies. I review Hallmark movies for a living after all! Therefore, it should be no surprise I am kinder on the genre than many other critics. A film can be full of the tropes of the genre and I’m fine with that because I like the genre and I like those tropes.

Such is the case with the new film Finding You. Some will say it’s predictable and cheesy and they would be right, but it is exactly those elements that won me over to the film. Finding You is one of those movies if you watch the trailer and it looks sweet and enjoyable than you will like it. If you watch it and think ‘oh no another romantic comedy’ than you will hate it.

Not that I just give a blank check to romantic comedies. They have to be done well and for the most part Finding You is. The biggest strength it has is Rose Reid in the lead. She is warm, charming and easy to root for. I especially loved her interactions with screen legend Vanessa Redgrave. That dynamic seriously elevated the film.

Jedidiah Goodacre was serviceable but felt a bit miscast as the hunky fantasy movie-star Beckett Rush, whom Reid’s Taylor meets while studying abroad in Ireland. Most of the dragons movie elements have to be taken with a grain of salt as you don’t even see a green screen anywhere- the visual effects are amazingly present on days of shooting. LOL

Tom Everett Scott does a good job as Beckett’s father. The whole film has a better cast than the script probably warrants but it makes it entertaining to watch.

There is also a degree of escapism in trotting all around Ireland as we are all anxious to get traveling again. Fans of the genre will be swept away in a sweet romance at the cinema!

At nearly 2 hours Finding You could have used a trim and the chemistry wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. However, if you like rom-coms than you will enjoy the film. It’s nothing new but I still had a fun time watching it.

6 out of 10

Blind Spot 65: Bonnie and Clyde

Part of the purpose of the Blind Spot series is to challenge myself to watch classic films outside of my comfort zone. These are usually films I’ve heard great things about but have been hesitant to watch for one reason or another. 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde definitely fall into that description. A landmark of its time Bonnie and Clyde is a film that changed cinema with its grounded feel and shocking violence and sensuality.

Of course, Bonnie and Clyde tells the story of the outlaw couple in Depression Era America. Bonnie is played by Faye Dunaway and Clyde by Warren Beatty. Gene Hackman and Estelle Parson also play notable supporting roles (Parson won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress). Burnett Guffey also won an Oscar for the incredible cinematography.

The best thing about Bonnie and Clyde is its realism. Even though I know it plays fast and loose with the real story of the couple, when you are watching it feels real. It feels like what it might actually have been like stealing and scrounging for food and lodging- learning to dodge bullets along the way. Nothing feels clean or glossed up for the movies.

As you are watching you feel the exhaustion from the actors as if they were actually experiencing the events of the film. And by the time you get to its very graphic ending it is a relief for the chase is finally be over. I can see why critics like Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert were so drawn to such a visceral piece of work.

All that said, the film could do a better job in helping us to get to know Bonnie and Clyde as characters better. They are always kept at a distance and that’s a weakness in the script. Also, this type of violence just isn’t my cup of tea so I don’t picture myself ever watching Bonnie and Clyde ever again.

Still, I’m glad I saw it once to see a turning point in film and to broaden the scope of the films I have seen.

Have you seen Bonnie and Clyde? What did you think of this classic?

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘My True Fairytale’

Making movies is difficult and some films are enjoyable despite having a lot of problems. Sometimes you can dig deep and see what the director is going for and have a good experience in spite of or maybe even because of the flaws. This was my experience with director Dmitry Geland’s new film My True Fairytale.

Inspired by the tragic death of his teenage daughter in an accident, Geland tells a story about a young girl named Angie (Emma Kennedy) who is killed in a car crash and then becomes a superhero who helps her friends connect with their parents (and vice versa).

Some of Angie’s rescue attempts work better than others and at only 85 minutes all the stories feel a little rushed. My favorite is Angie helping her father (Darri Ingolfsson) connect with his girlfriend played by Taylor Cole. This was fun for me because I have interviewed Taylor and it was neat to see her in a more dramatic role away from Hallmark. I thought she did a good job in her scenes and I kind of wish the whole movie had been about them.

Speaking of Hallmark, I would not be surprised at all if this film gets picked up by the channel’s competitors either Lifetime or Uptv because the length is more of a TV movie length rather than a feature film. Plus, the themes and messages have the melodrama that works in a TV movie.

If you are looking for something with a big heart that comes from a true place I recommend My True Fairytale. It’s not perfect but especially teens and their families will relate to it and be inspired to improve their relationships. We can certainly all use a little magic in our lives to help us get along with our loved ones!

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 64: Two for the Road

I always like to have a variety in this blind spot series, so for April I decided to watch the 1967 romantic comedy Two for the Road. As a huge Audrey Hepburn fan this is one I had heard about but never seen and was excited to check off my list.

It’s interesting because this film was made 2 years after Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou which we just reviewed for The Criterion Project (my podcast with my friend Conrado about films on The Criterion Channel. We had guest artist Esther Ko on and it’s a fun listen!). I mention it because both films feel very similar. They are both about couples going on road trips in France and their relative tumultuous relationships. I don’t know which one I like better but they are both unusual romances to say the least.

Two for the Road is about a couple (Hepburn and Albert Finney) and their relationship over 12 years all told with their road trips in France over the years. It’s an experimental film like Pierrot le Fou and goes in and out of non-linear storytelling without any notice of a changing time (you have to tell by what car they are suddenly driving). It’s all very creative and the script is well done.

All that said, this is one of those movies I admire more than I like. I found both of them to be very unlikable and cynical takes on romance just aren’t my thing. I can see it is well done and understand why it was given an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.

However, I like my romances more on the fluffy-side (big shocker coming from the Queen of Hallmark movies). Even when they were supposed to be young and in love it still felt cynical and I wasn’t feeling the chemistry between Hepburn and Finney.

Two for the Road is directed by Stanley Donen with style and I can see why Roger Ebert said it was a ‘romance for grown ups’. Like I said, it’s well done but just not for me. This makes giving it a grade difficult (these are the hardest reviews to write) but I will go with…

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy barely

[REVIEW] ‘Mortal Kombat’: Is Effective Action Enough?

Faithful readers on this site know I am not a video gamer in any way. It’s not that I’m against them but I have a lazy eye (strabismus) making anything with hand eye coordination very difficult. My brother Sam loves video games but I never got into them outside of maybe tetris!

This makes reviewing movies like the new Mortal Kombat a little difficult. I know nothing about the game and when I say nothing I mean nothing.

The only thing I know about the franchise is from watching the 2 previous films with my friend Patrick this month for 2 reviews.

What I can say is this new film is definitely better than Mortal Kombat Annihilation but that’s not saying much. Is it better than the first one? That’s a tough question. Paul W.S. Anderson is a pretty bad director, but he had more fun with his version than this new version.

Lately it seems like the answer to modernizing franchises is to make them dark and gritty. This can be done well but often you lose the humanity and the stories become drab and dull in their self-seriousness.

In this new Mortal Kombat the action has energy and is well done but is that enough for a movie? Are we supposed to ignore characters, story, dialogue, acting because the action is good? Maybe some can but I struggled. I particularly disliked the character Kano played by Josh Lawson. He is an incredibly annoying character that shouts and swears a lot and I couldn’t stand.

Mortal Kombat (2021 Film) Review - Bloody Ripper | PowerUp!

The rest of the cast is not the strongest acting. They were obviously selected for their action prowess, which is effective. The script is clearly full of nods to the game but I wish they had crafted a better story around that action. I’m not expecting Shakespeare. I enjoyed the recent Tomb Raider which had the exciting action with a serviceable plot if you ask me.

If you only care about action than you will probably enjoy Mortal Kombat, but I want more. Maybe watch it on HBO Max? But if you want gritty over-the-top action I would watch last year’s Extraction instead. That was a lot better done and more entertaining.

The action is also extremely bloody and R Rated so take that into consideration when you decide if it is right for you.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Nomadland vs Minari: Outsider Stories with Hope

Each year when the Oscars come up I try to write a little bit about what the nominated films mean to me. Some years it is easier than others. Last year was a joy because I could promote Parasite which I loved that actually went on to win! That never happens!

This year we are all grateful we are having an Oscar season at all even if it is late. It’s remarkable in a year where theaters were mostly closed that we came away with as strong a slate as we got in the 8 nominated films. The only one I gave a negative review to is Mank and it’s more self-indulgent than outright bad. It’s really the only one of the 8 I’d be sad to see win. The rest I enjoyed for a variety of reasons.However, today I want to focus on the 2 frontrunners for Best Picture- Minari and Nomadland. On the surface the 2 films seem quite different. One telling the story of a young Korean immigrant family in Arkansas in Minari, and  a widow living out of her van after her husband passes away in Nomadland. And yet the 2 movies share a lot in common.

Nomadland has the best odds for winning Best Picture but if it was up to me I’d give the award to Minari. Nomadland felt a little more scrubbed clean and polished than it needed to be. Despite a wonderful performance from Frances McDormand, Fern never felt threatened as a single woman living a nomadic lifestyle might feel. She faces challenges but never anything that can’t be solved by a fire or a song with friends.

I must admit when I watched Nomadland a second time these issues bothered me less but you do have to go with what the film is telling you about Fern’s life in order to enjoy it (and for the most part I did).

Minari' Review: Growing Up Korean Outside Little Rock, Arkansas - Variety

Minari, on the other hand, forces its characters to go through a lot more pain and anguish than Fern does in Nomadland. Steven Yeun is fantastic as Jacob the father of the family and little Alan S Kim is adorable as Yeun’s young son David. Youn Yuh-jung will probably win the Oscar as the matriarch grandma of the family.

Both Fern and Jacob are characters who stand on the outside of the American dream and ask ‘why is it not working for us?’ and yet the dream is working. That’s the irony of it all. It comes down to hope. No matter how bad things get there is always hope. Whether it is hope from the next harvest or pit stop, or hope from the freedom to gather with each other and try again that is what makes an American story different than what can come from any other country in the world. It’s the unique combination of community and the individual spirit, which we foster here and both of these films showcase in their stories.

It shouldn’t be a surprise in a year of isolation these 2 films have resonated with so many. They are about never giving up and that’s what we’ve all had to do this year. Fern doesn’t give up. Neither do her nomad friends. Jacob comes close but will get through it with his family by his side. The minari plant doesn’t stop growing and neither will he. That’s an inspiring story and one we need now more than ever.

Minari” is what we need right now in these trying times | The Peak

If you haven’t seen Minari and Nomadland I highly recommend it as well as checking out the rest of the nominees. I think you will really enjoy the chance to see some great American stories!

[REVIEW] ‘The Mitchells vs the Machines’ Vacation Meets the End of the World

It’s funny to think not that long ago Sony Pictures Animation was the bottom of the animation totem pole. With the release of The Emoji Movie in 2017 they hit their proverbial low point and since then it’s been all uphill from there! The smartest choice they made was to hitch their wagon to producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who had worked with them previously in the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs films.

Then just a year later they produced (and Phil Lord wrote) the groundbreaking film Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse which blew me away and won the Academy Award for Best Best Animated Feature of 2018! What a turnaround!

Now Lord and Miller are back producing with Sony a film that was supposed to go to theaters in 2020 the family dramedy adventure The Mitchells vs the Machines and even though it is going to Netflix it is a gem and you don’t want to miss it.

I loved this film so much that I immediately bought the art book (ad) after watching it. It is such a special movie the whole family will love, and I will be shocked if it isn’t in my top 10 of 2021.

The Mitchells vs the Machines (formerly titled Connected) tells the story of the Mitchell family who are struggling to accept change as the oldest daughter Katie (Abbie Jacobson) is going off to college. She has always dreamed of going to film school and after getting into the school she most wanted to attend she is ready to ditch her family and move on. This is particularly tough for her Dad (Danny McBride) who decides to make a family trip of the event so he can spend a few more weeks with his daughter (much to her chagrin). The only problem is the cell phones revolt and the robots turn on the humans. All mayhem results.

On the surface family shenanigans can dip into sitcom territory rather quickly. However, here the characters are so charming including Mom (Maya Rudolph) and brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) who I loved so much. Even the dog Monchi is hilarious along with the 2 adopted robot Mitchell family members. The script is so good. It’s funny, sweet, heartfelt and surprising. Obviously we know the Mitchells will win but the journey is such a fun ride (forgive the pun).

One of my favorite parts of the script is the whole family learns and grows and forgives each other. I finished watching the movie thinking ‘who couldn’t relate to this film?’. I certainly could. I especially related to Katie because there was nothing I wanted more than to get out of my house when I was 17 and ready to go to college. My Mother had just had a baby and I wanted out of there!

I could also relate to all the trips we used to take with my Dad getting so excited about rocks and the rest of us thinking he was nuts LOL. That’s the dynamic here in The Mitchells vs the Machines. Again, who can’t relate to that?

The script isn’t the only strength to The Mitchells vs the Machines. The animation is absolutely spectacular. If you liked the hybrid CGI/2D feel of Spider-verse you’ll love the animation here. It’s obviously a little more grounded in style but the way it uses color and movement is brilliant. Like I said, I bought the art book after seeing it and I’m dying to learn more about how they created the stunning animation.

Most importantly The Mitchells vs the Machines is charming. The characters are great. The story is great. The music and animation are great. I loved it and I hope you will too. It’s funny and about the American family. I hope we get a whole series with the next film a story from Aaron’s perspective. Please more from the Mitchells!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[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