Current Mini Reviews

So I haven’t done one of these mini-review posts since August. Honestly I have been so busy with both of my podcasts I haven’t had much room to breathe lately! My Hallmarkies Podcast just keeps growing each week and I am so primed for the massive Countdown to Christmas season (starting in October!).

I have also done some really interesting things on my personal podcast Rachel’s Reviews including monthly Talking Disney podcasts and Obscure Animation with my friend Stanford, Animated News posts, previews and wrap ups with my friend David and various podcasts with another friend Conrado.

I am so proud of both and think you will enjoy them so please subscribe.

I have also done some reviews on the blog such as Life Itself and Juliet Naked so I won’t be repeating those thoughts here.

So here we go!

the meg

The Meg-

Talk about false advertising! I’m someone who really enjoyed 47 Meters Down so I like a silly shark movie but this was just boring and bland with hardly any of the fun moments promised in the trailer. It made the fatal mistake of taking itself seriously which made the terrible dialogue stand out because I couldn’t laugh it off as silly fun. What a disappointment!

Frown Worthy

97 out of 106 Ranking

blackklansman

Blackkklansman-

Very entertaining film with strong performances especially by Adam Driver who has to play the racist as a Jewish man. Some of the choices feel self-indulgent and are a bit distracting but overall a really interesting/thought provoking (and even funny) movie.

Smile Worthy

15 out of 106 Ranking

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Miseducation of Cameron Post-

A good movie about the sobering reality of gay conversion schools and camps. There are definitely a lot of chilling scenes but I felt the Chloe Grace Moretz character was a bit too stoic for a teen in her situation. I have a feeling the book for this is way better but it was still worth a watch

Smile Worthy

45 out of 106 Ranking

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before-

Lana Condor is super charming as the lead character Lara Jean in this perfectly pleasant teen romance. However, is it one of the best high school movies ever made as some have said? HECK NO! If we think about the truly great high school movies more than just the lead grows and changes. The boys in this movie are just there to do LJ’s bidding. Someone like Josh in Clueless had dreams, ideas, thoughts of his own. Not so much here. That said it’s perfectly harmless.

Smile Worthy

60 out of 106 Ranking

night is short

The Night is Short Walk on Girl-

I did not like director Masaaki Yuasa’s film Lu Over the Wall from earlier this year. It made me nauseated watching it and the cute moments felt very derivative of Miyazaki’s Ponyo. Fortunately, I felt the opposite about this film. It is completely bonkers so it won’t be for everyone but I enjoyed it. It’s basically about a female college student who goes on a giant bender and the crazy things that happen to her. Along the way the animation is so bright, colorful and inventive and the story is random but very fun. It even evolves into a musical at one point and you know I love that.

Smile Worthy

20 out of 106 Ranking

kissing booth

The Kissing Booth-

This movie is pretty terrible. The director seemed to have a strange fascination with the lead taking off her shirt and wearing super short skirts, and the camera lingered on her in ways that made me uncomfortable (she’s supposed to be underage for goodness sakes). Also, her ‘friend’ was the worst. He was completely selfish and even claims ownership of her at a point and the screenplay never calls him out on that.

Frown Worthy

103 out of 106 Ranking

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The Year of Spectacular Men-

This Deutch/Thompson family collaboration had moments, and I’d be very interested to see what they do next as I feel there is a lot of potential (obviously they all have chemistry). Unfortunately, the script was just too uneven for me to recommend. Most of the humor falls flat and it didn’t go anywhere interesting or charming.

Frown Worthy

81 out of 106 Ranking

summer of 842

Summer of 84

Some people will describe this as a Stranger Things copycat and they would be right but I think it is a pretty well executed copycat. It definitely has nostalgic elements so if that isn’t your thing than you won’t like it but I enjoyed it. The boys all have chemistry and the mystery was fun. It definitely gets a little gory by the end but I thought it was a good little horror movie with some genuine scares.

Smile Worthy

52 out of 106 Ranking

alpha

Alpha-

This movie is about a billion times better than it has any right to be. I joked that it is like The Revenant for teens but about a nice person. Kodi Smit-McPhee is practically a one man show and he is does a fantastic job. The cinematography and music are tremendous. I really enjoyed it and would watch it again if given the opportunity.

Smile Worthy

32 out of 106 Rankingdestination-wedding

Destination Wedding-

I had high hopes for this movie, but I think I got greedy after Crazy Rich Asians was so fantastic. What a terrible film. Winona and Keanu have surprisingly little chemistry but it’s not really their fault. The script is awful. It’s just them bickering the entire time with some of the worst sex scenes I’ve ever seen on film. What a miserable experience

Frown Worthy

104 out of 106 Ranking

God Bless the Broken Road/Unbroken: Path to Redemption

I reviewed both of these for Hallmarkies Podcast:

Unbroken- Smile Worthy 61 out of 106 Ranking

God Bless- Frown Worthy 71 out of 106 Ranking

The House with the Clock in its Walls-

I really enjoyed this haunted house movie and found it to be scary but in the right way that a lot of kids get a kick out of. Here is my review for youtube:

Smile Worthy

35 out of 106 Ranking

littleitaly1

Little Italy-

As a Hallmark movie fan you’d think I would love a movie like this but I did not! The leads are very charming but the script was vulgar and unpleasant from start to finish. These kind of movies work because they are light and fluffy entertainment. You don’t want unending sex jokes and cynicism in a movie like this! Because I wasn’t enjoying the romance, the stereotypes were tough to ignore especially a gay character that felt right out of 1995.

Frown Worthy

102 out of 106 Ranking

A STAR IS BORN

A Star is Born-

I will try to find time to write a legit review about this soon but for now this 4th attempt at telling this story is surprisingly decent. The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is fantastic and the singing is amazing! For once a modern musical has good singing and great songs! All the supporting work, particularly Sam Elliott, is tremendous and I was invested despite it being a story I’ve seen many times (not just in the previous iterations but in movies like Walk the Line). Still it is proof a formula story isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it is executed well and this is.

Smile Worthy

14 out of 106 Ranking

Smallfoot-

This movie was really strange. Everything from the messaging, to the story, to the weird musical choices, to the bloated voice cast was odd. It was kind of interestingly odd but I don’t think I’d ever want to watch it again despite it having some nice animation.

Frown Worthy

65 out of 106 Ranking

my hero academia

My Hero Academia: The Movie-

I have never seen the anime show but this was actually surprisingly great. They do a good job catching us newbies up with the premise at the beginning and then it is a good superhero movie about a team of teens that have to use their various ‘quirks’ or powers to fight an evil man who has kidnapped a scientist that has invented a power multiplier. It was funny with likable characters, dazzling animation and a good score. I really enjoyed it

Smile Worthy

34 out of 106 Ranking

venom-2

Venom-

Whoever said this is as bad as Catwoman probably hasn’t seen Catwoman in a long time. It definitely is a big mixed bag but not one of the worst superhero movies ever. The main problems is all the supplementary characters to Venom/Eddie are lame and it’s 30 minutes too long so a lot of it drags. However, there are fun parts with some inventive action and humor that worked for me. Tom Hardy is pretty good and I’d be open to seeing a sequel where they could iron out the bugs. I can’t really recommend it but it’s not awful.

(I did realize I was too hard on Upgrade which is exactly the same story but executed MUCH better)

Frown Worthy (Maybe rent it)

70 out of 106 Ranking

(Also I saw Searching at Sundance but haven’t had a chance to see it again. 30 out of 106 Ranking)

That’s it folks! Phew! Let me know if you have seen any of these and what you thought.

I also watched the Netflix animated series Hilda (yes I watched a television series!) and it was soooooo good! You all have to watch it:

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Little Women (2018) Review (Mild Spoilers)

One fact about me that might surprise you is I was actually a late reader. My strabismus in my eyes makes it hard for me to focus; thereby making reading difficult. I would say I was 7 or 8 when I really learned to read, which isn’t unheard of, but a little late (especially because my kindergarten teachers were ‘you must read at 5’ gestapo).

Once I caught on to reading I loved it and dove in and the first book I remember being proud of finishing was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was emotional and I could relate to each of the girls in special ways especially Jo. Her and Anne of Green Gables were the heroes of my childhood!

Over the years there have been many film versions of Little Women including a classic from 1933 with Kathryn Hepburn, wonderful version from 1994 starring Winona Ryder and a ridiculous 1949 take with a grown Elizabeth Taylor playing a blonde little girl Amy. Now we have a supposedly “modern telling” of the story from director and writer Clare Niederpruem and it, unfortunately, was very disappointing.

I honestly had high hopes for this adaptation because Niederpruem did a lovely little film in 2015 called Once I Was a Beehive. It handled themes and messaging much better than many faith-based films and was well made and acted. I was also hopeful I would love it because I did not care for the recent PBS version of Little Women. Evidently it’s just not my year for Little Women in film!

little women

Let me start off with some strengths. I like the idea of modernizing Little Women and telling the 4 sister’s stories with a modern sensibility (one of my favorite movies is Clueless which does that brilliantly with updating Jane Austen’s Emma). There are also some nice moments between the girls and overall the movie looked nice.

I also enjoyed Lea Thompson as Marmee (even though it is a little strange that the Lawrences and everyone calls her Marmee instead of Mrs March). She wasn’t in the movie that much (I’m guessing they only had her on site for a few days) but when she appears there is a warmth that is required for Marmee (who is basically the perfect Mother of fiction).

I also thought Allie Jennings did a good job with Beth and Ian Bohen was pretty dishy as our Professor Bhaer (just called Freddy here).

My problem mostly lies with the script. The choices they made to ‘modernize’ the characters were frustrating. Jo (Sarah Davenport) isn’t the free spirit I know and love. In here she’s a bully who is mean, entitled and insulting to everyone around her. This is the only version I’ve seen where I felt like Jo deserved to have her journal burned by Amy. All Amy had done is ask to go to a movie with them and Jo proceeds to insult Amy’s art and call her names. She does that repeatedly throughout the film, and I honestly wanted someone to slap her and get her off screen! To say she is insufferable is being kind.

And then the choices they made for Meg (Melanie Stone) were baffling. For some reason they have all the girls being homeschooled and it’s never really explained why? I’m a huge homeschool advocate so that normally wouldn’t be a problem but here they use it as a reason for why Meg is socially awkward. Instead of just wanting to fit in with the cool kids she dresses in a skanky dress, gets drunk and is nearly assaulted by a boy at a school dance. I guess this could be a way to update the Sally Moffatt party but it was executed in a clunky way that did not fit the movie at all.

The debates between Meg, over her domestic dreams, and Jo, over her feminist ideals, were also hard to get through. Feminism done right is about embracing all forms of womanhood and empowering girls to lead whatever life they want. We needed Marmee in these scenes explaining this to Jo and being warm and loving. Instead it was a strange shouting match.

Laurie played by Lucas Grabeel was also a miss. There was no chemistry between him and Jo and the relationship with Amy (Elise Jones and Taylor Murphy) was rushed. Also for various reasons, I thought they were going to make him gay, which would have been an interesting take on the character, but they didn’t so that felt strange. little women3

I also hated the non-linear structure of the movie. Similar to movies like Man of Steel it flashes back and forth to different times in the girls lives. This hurt momentum and didn’t allow the scenes to build off of each other. They also made the choice to go with 2 different Amys (which many do) but if you are going to do that, a flashback structure is awkward (also they use the younger Amy in scenes that don’t make sense if they are using 2).

In the end, I’m sad I didn’t like Little Women. I wanted to like it. I wanted to champion a sweet locally filmed movie and tell you all to hunt it down. Sadly I cannot. Jo was just too much of a jerk for me to recommend.

If any of you see it let me know what you think and what is your favorite version of Little Women?

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A Simple Favor Review

It’s always an interesting experience when I go out of my comfort zone when viewing films. I normally love my animation and romcoms and don’t get out to see the thrillers and scary movies very often. However, occasionally I take risks and it’s so much fun when they pay off. This week I had the chance to see the sexy caper A Simple Favor and to my surprise I really enjoyed it!

ASF_D17_PI_04344.ARW A Simple Favor is directed by Paul Feig and stars Anna Kendrick as a Mom/youtuber named Stephanie who becomes friends with a sexy femme fatale Mom played by Blake Lively. Lively’s character Emily drinks strong martinis and seems the epitome of cool and mysterious. And the fact she seems to like hanging out with Stephanie makes her feel cool and empowered.

Then one day Emily asks Stephanie to do (as the title suggests) a simple favor and then disappears. The  rest of the movie is a slick murder mystery where we put the pieces together as each new clue is revealed. It kind of reminded me of something like Clue which has mystery but also some dark comedic banter.

Henry Golding continues to be the sexiest man alive as Emily’s husband and Blake Lively is so great in her role. Anna Kendrick was terrific in the sweet bubbly parts but not as  convincing when she had to be more cutthroat and calculated.

a simple favor2

A Simple Favor is filmed with a ton of style and panache and while I’m not sure all the plot devices hold up to deep scrutiny it is an enjoyable whodunit to watch. It’s funny because with Hallmark I’ve been watching all these murder mystery films lately and this kind of felt like a sexy version of those films. I hate to use the word but it was just fun.

As far as flaws, I didn’t really understand why they kept using french music and like I said Anna Kendrick didn’t quite work for me in some of the more devious scenes. It also could be maybe 15 minutes shorter.

All that said, I really enjoyed A Simple Favor. It’s a sexy mystery thriller that will keep you guessing and smiling as each new reveal unfolds

smile worthy

As far as content, A Simple Favor is rated R for language, sensuality and violence. I would say is a medium level R rating and fine for adults.

Crazy Rich Asians and Why Romances Matter

3 years ago I did a youtube video entitled ‘Is the Romantic Comedy Dead?’ and it is still one of the best videos I’ve ever made. It’s basically a video essay where I talk about why the romantic comedy matters and how so many of them get the genre wrong. Well, after 3 years of little else but Hallmark in the genre (which is amazing and I podcast about each week) we finally get a successful romantic comedy in Crazy Rich Asians, and I am thrilled about it! Naturally most people are cheering on the underrepresented Asian community that is featured in the film (and rightfully so!), but I want to take a second and cheer it on for being a great romantic comedy!

Crazy-Rich-Asians-Movie-Review

Crazy Rich Asians is based on the very funny novel by Kevin Kwan about a girl named Rachel who goes to meet her boyfriend’s family in Singapore. When she arrives she discovers they are super rich and judgmental. This premise doesn’t reinvent the wheel but as I’ve said many times movies don’t need to be original to work. They just need to be executed well and this is. It is funny, romantic and has a nice heart to it. Also the Mother who is the ‘villain’ of the film has motivations that make sense when looked at from her life experience.

A lot of people will tell you romantic comedies like Crazy Rich Asians are too ‘cheesy’ or ‘unrealistic’ and therefore they shouldn’t be taken seriously. I would counter that nearly all film outside of documentaries (and even them sometimes) exist in a heightened reality. Very few films are truly realistic and when they are, with films like Boyhood, they are often decried for their lack of story.

I would contend that romantic comedies in their own unique way can actually be very realistic. Think about the couples in your life? Think about when you’ve heard their love stories? Is it not usually some variation on a meet-cute and then they fall in love and get married? Most human beings fall in love and have their own version of a cheesy love story. At least that is the hope…

And there’s the magic word- hope. Hope is something special romantic comedies (and dramas) can give us. If they are done well, they can give us hope that love is out there. That maybe someday we can find someone who will love us for who we are and despite whatever shenanigans happen he or she will make it work with us. There is a hope that love is real and that good things can happen to good people.

Then why you ask are so many romantic comedies lame? Well, I do think that male critics are often more likely to criticize films with a feminine energy as lacking in value. But the greater problem is when the films themselves loose that sense of positivity and hope. In an attempt to play into opposites attract the bad romantic comedies will often make the characters too mean spirited so we don’t really want them to fall in love or have a happy ending.

The other mistake they make is relying too much on a gimmick and forgetting about writing interesting characters. Going all the way back to The Taming of the Shrew, many romantic comedies have been built around a gimmick such as a bet, contest, or article that must be done etc. This type of premise is very difficult to pull off and requires great writing and engaging characters.

Crazy Rich Asians at its core is a simple movie of a boy introducing his girl to his judgmental family. The reason it works is because it is well written and the characters are likable. It’s not too different from other great romantic comedies like Notting Hill or My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I hope that Hollywood takes the right lessons from Crazy Rich Asians and in its eventual copycats remembers to give us romantic comedies that are as well done. I’m sure there will be clunkers, but I’m just excited to have a jolt in the romantic comedy genre because I’ve missed it!!

Welcome back romcoms!!! Let’s have some hopeful, romantic, enjoyable movies! Yay!!

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(And we won’t have to wait long! I’m so excited for Destination Wedding which comes out in just a few days!)

Also I did this post on my other blog on recent romcoms you might have missed that are worth checking out

https://smilingldsgirl.com/2018/08/10/recent-romcoms-worth-checking-out/

My Problem with Sorry to Bother You (Spoilers)

Recently I heard great praise for an indie film called Sorry to Bother You and so I decided to check it out. It is directed by Boots Riley and stars Lakeith Stanfield in the lead role. I had been told this movie was very creative, and as I like creative things, I was hoping to love it. Unfortunately, I left feeling disappointed. What I got was creative but it wasn’t executed in an effective or appealing way. Let me explain…

sorry to bother you

Sorry to Bother You tells the story of a man named Cash who gets a job working for a telemarketing company called Regal View. While there, he finds out that by speaking in “white voice” he can make more sales and move his way up the company ladder. All of this was effective and quite biting satire (that unfortunately is lost by the madness of the last act of the movie). The more white Cash sounds the higher he can get at Regal View, until he is the top position of “power caller”

This gets the attention of a CEO of a company called WorryFree played by Armie Hammer. He invites Cash to his headquarters to court him to his “innovative” business. The only catch is there is a strike at Regal View, and Cash will have to break the strike as a “power caller”. His girlfriend, an experimental artist named Detroit, is shocked by his behavior, as our his co-workers.

sorry

All of this seems fairly straight-forward and the set up is pretty engaging. The problem is once the movie gets going we have so many ideas that it becomes overwhelming. We have workplace satire, anti-capitalism, a media commentary, racial satire/commentary, experimental art, surrealism, drug abuse, partying, fantasy sequences, and characters being turned into horses (yes you read right).

It sometimes felt like Boots Riley was scared he could never make another movie again so he had to throw every cinematic thought he had into this one. I’m sure some will say the chaos is part of the message but the world being in chaos is a hardly revolutionary or interesting thought. It’s certainly a way less interesting message than the “white voice” satire message that the film started with. By the end of the movie, I had forgotten that in favor of horse people and experimental art with sheeps blood.

film socialisme

Creativity in film is not an inherent good. A great example of this is Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme (a much worse film than Sorry to Bother You). You could easily make the argument Godard’s film is creative but it presents this creativity in such a chaotic way that it becomes exhausting for the viewer making whatever he was trying to say a moot point.

Roger Ebert wrote about Film Socialisme:

“This film is an affront. It is incoherent, maddening, deliberately opaque and heedless of the ways in which people watch movies. All of that is part of the Godardian method, I am aware, but I feel a bargain of some sort must be struck. We enter the cinema with open minds and goodwill, expecting Godard to engage us in at least a vaguely penetrable way. But in “Film Socialisme,” he expects us to do all the heavy lifting.

And like I said Sorry to Bother You is not as bad as Film Socialisme, but I think the heart of what Ebert is saying applies here. You can have interesting ideas and creative storytelling methods but if it is presented in a maddening, chaotic way than we leave feeling frustrated more than inspired. At least that was my experience. 

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An allegorical movie about the company who turns black people into horse people could have been interesting, or a film about a strike by low level employees, or about workplace racism, or a film about experimental art, or corporate excess and partying, or modern media and consumerism, all could have worked but combined together it was exhausting.

So I did not like Sorry to Bother You. I hope the talent involves continues to do creative things, and I applaud them for their ambitions but let’s hope next time they will remember the old wisdom of Coco Chanel “before you walk out the door everyday take one thing off”. Same holds true for movies!

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Uncle Drew Review

Over the years, there have been many humorous sports movies. I’ve laughed at everything from Dodgeball to Caddyshack to Major League. I even love Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. Whether it is focusing on the players or the fans, there is something about the intensity of sports that can provide great fodder for laughs. Unfortunately for Uncle Drew, the writing fails to live up to this tradition of funny sports movies and it failed to make me laugh more than a passing chuckle. The film is based on a series of Pepsi ads and that’s where it should have stayed.

Uncle Drew stars Lil Rel Howery as Dax, a man who grew up in an orphanage with nothing to inspire him but the NBA. Unfortunately, as a teen, he has an embarrassing defeat on the basketball court at the hands of rival Mookie, played by Nick Kroll. As revenge, Dax becomes a coach and decides to enter a team in the streetball  tournament called The Rucker Classic.

After a long introduction, Dax ends up without a team and he begrudgingly recruits a local legend, Uncle Drew, to join his roster. Drew, played by Kyrie Irving (just like in the Pepsi ads), then gathers his senior citizen friends including Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie to join the team. The first hour of the film is Dax being introduced to the characters who have a variety of old people problems – one is blind, one is in a wheelchair, one has a grudge against Drew, etc. None of this was interesting and it certainly wasn’t funny. There is even an especially egregious scene where Preacher (Chris Webber) is baptizing an infant and it is swapped out for a doll and then close-ups of the baby in the most awkward ways. I was cringing during the entire scene.

Eventually we get to the big game and it plays out fairly predictably. As I was leaving the theater, a woman was saying, “it was a love letter to basketball,” so clearly the sentiment paid off for her but, as only a marginal basketball fan, I wasn’t moved by the story.

However, the biggest strength to Uncle Drew is the makeup. They do a very good job making Kyrie Irving and company look old. It doesn’t look like prosthetics and feels convincing.

Other than that. Uncle Drew is not for me. The biggest problem is none of the jokes landed. I laughed one time at a joke about the Chris Webber character. That’s it. I realize humor is subjective but my theater had nothing but a few courtesy chuckles. So I wasn’t the only one not laughing.

Also a few characters meant to be funny came across as very irritating. I realize, for example, Nick Kroll is meant to be an antagonist but he was extremely grating as Dax’s rival. More annoying was that ‘humor,’ often in supposed comedies, when characters complaining about each other is supposed to be funny. All that does is make your characters shrill and unlikable. You see this a lot with the nagging female trope; it’s not funny and usually comes across as more than a little sexist. Tiffany Haddish is billed as a lead character but she’s really not in the film much and was an overbearing harpy the entire time. It certainly didn’t make me laugh. 

In fairness, the basketball stars all do a serviceable job with what is given to them. There is a particularly nice moment of reconciliation between Kyrie Irving and Shaquille O’Neal that is well done and sweet.

Despite some positives, Uncle Drew just wasn’t funny. It was always an uphill climb to transform a 30 second Super Bowl ad into a feature film but with a good script this could have worked. Sadly, it was a bit of a chore to sit through and one of the worst studio films I’ve seen this year. As they say, “funny solves all” and this was depressingly lacking in funny.

Ocean’s 8 Review

In my Most Anticipated Films of 2018 I had the heist film Oceans 8 at my 6th spot. I loved the trailers and felt the gender swap concept made the most sense for a heist film, as many women have all female friends. So, suffice it to say I went into this film with very high expectations, hoping I would love it. Now that I have seen it, it’s a decent film but didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The biggest strength of Oceans 8 is the cast led by Sandra Bullock as the sister to the original film series lead Danny Ocean. She has just been let out of prison and is ready to implement a heist that she has been planning during her incarceration. She recruits Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter and Awkwafina to make her plan work. These women have chemistry and do a good job working effortlessly together.

I also thought once Ocean’s 8 got going with the heist it became fun and enjoyable. The plan could have had a few more hitches the team would need to deal with but it was breezy and sold with class. The fashion and costumes are also top notch and really sell the whole Met Gala heist angle.

Unfortunately there are problems with Oceans 8. Mostly the set up for the heist did not interest me. They had so many scenes with characters huddled together looking at screens. This never works in movies and is a great way to guarantee I will be super bored.  In the original Oceans 11 remake they did a better job setting up for the heist and building up the characters or at least explaining their character archetype within the group.

The other problem I had with Oceans 8 is I hated the score by the usually reliable Daniel Pemberton. It had a lot of organ music, which I felt was extremely strange for this hip modern movie and it was loud, overbearing and distracting. It didn’t fit at all with the film.

So, Oceans 8 ends up being a mixed review for me. There is entertainment to be had, especially once the heist gets going,  and the cast is amazing. However, the setup is a bit of a slog and the score doesn’t work. I’d say it is an ok rental but I was hoping it would be better. Oh well.

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Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Hello my fine readers! Let me take you back to a simpler time. A time when Stars Wars: The Force Awakens had been released and it was one of the most memorable and exhilarating theatrical experiences of my life. I know many have since found flaws with the film, but I still love it. It is what I like in a Star Wars movie. I want pulpy space adventure. The kind of film where you get out of your seat and cheer at the end. To be perfectly frank, I don’t want gritty war stories or fantasy sagas with hologramming and other magic. This is why the original Star Wars film (now called A New Hope) was always my favorite. It is a pulpy space adventure that I cheer along with when our merry group of rebels defeat the bad guys. It’s as simple as that. Empire Strikes Back is the best made of the Star Wars movies but if we are just talking about my favorites, I prefer the original Star Wars.

Anyway, I bring all of this up to explain why I enjoyed the saga’s latest offering Solo: A Star Wars Story. This rather light diversion may be a disappointment to those who enjoyed the more heady previous 2 films, but for me this was a welcome return to the Star Wars that I love. (For the record I did not like Rogue One and I was mixed on Last Jedi).

Most of us know about the rocky road that Solo: A Star Wars Story had in production, but I think it was a good move hiring Ron Howard. He is what I would call an ‘old school director’: meaning he isn’t trying to be edgy or groundbreaking. He knows how to make an entertaining, crowd-pleasing blockbuster, and that’s who I think needs to be making Star Wars movies. That’s what I want at least, and that’s what he has done with Solo.

Alden Ehrenreich has the unenviable task of taking over for Harrison Ford in the lead role of Han Solo, and I must own I never bought that he was the Han Solo I know and love. I didn’t feel that way for any of the returning characters except for Chewbacca who is portrayed by Joonas Suotamo instead of Peter Mayhew.

However, this was not a barrier in my enjoyment of the film. I kind of look at it as various actors playing Ebeneezer Scrooge. They are all very different, but I can still enjoy the basic character of Scrooge and his reformation (I have reviewed over 30 versions of Christmas Carol if you doubt me on that!)

The main appeal of this film is the heist action set pieces that clip along with just enough fan service to be enjoyable. Han Solo is kind of like Aladdin in a way. He lies and steals to survive but is loyal and sweet at the end of the day. At the beginning of the film he is with his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke- who is way better in this than in Terminator Genisys!). They get separated and then are back together throughout the film. Then he meets Chewie, Lando Calrissian played by Donald Glover, Tobias Beckett played by Woody Harrelson and a crime lord named Dryden Vos played by Paul Bettany.

I won’t give any spoilers but it is pretty simple. The team are asked to steal something for Beckett and the movie is a series of misadventures around the theft of those items. The energetic action sequences entertained me and were boosted by terrific music by John Powell and beautiful production design and cinematography by Bradford Young.

Sadly there are major problems with Solo: A Star Wars Story I must address. First of all, it is way too long. This movie should be under 2 hours. The original Star Wars movie was 121 minutes and that had to set up an entire universe, mythology and lore. This is does not have near that burden and is 135 minutes! As you can imagine from that run time the pacing is an issue. The beginning feels drawn out and a bit choppy and then when we get to the various action set-pieces it picks them. Then there is a point where the Kessell Run is done and they have delivered the stolen goods. The movie should have ended there. It was a natural stopping point and would have left our heroes on a victorious note. But it goes on for another 35 minutes and even introduces new characters at that late point, which did not work at all.

Also, there is a problem with a droid named L3-37. She is presented as a companion droid for Lando, but she bothered me greatly. I have no problem with messages or activism in Star Wars but it has to come from an authentic and natural place. If it doesn’t it comes off as forced and patronizing. Unfortunately L3 was the latter. She is a droid concerned with equal rights for droids (think Dobby in Harry Potter)- a worthy goal. The problem is she yelled and screamed her case in times that any sensible character would know is fruitless. You are not going to be able to fight for equal rights in the middle of an action scene. This makes it feel, like I said, inauthentic and forced. And when a character preaching social justice is inauthentic and forced, it is very grating. As a woman it doesn’t make me feel represented to have a character that is unbelievable, cloying and one-note. In fact, it is kind of insulting when writers feel the only way to portray a minority viewpoint is in such a shrill, awkward way.

To make matters worse they make L3 a permanent part of Star Wars canon in a very meaningful way, which I was not a fan of. (Also it kind of undermines her entire message and makes her a slave for all of the history of future Star Wars films, which is weird). I also found it hard to believe a character like Lando would be attached to a droid like L3.  For all the praise Donald Glover is getting, we don’t see him that much (he doesn’t make an appearance until an hour in). And I did not think he even liked being around L3 (I mean who would want to be around such a droid?…) and certainly not have a deep and meaningful connection. Despite Donald Glover’s charm, there was no chemistry between the two characters.

I can appreciate wanting to have an activist droid and wanting to make Star Wars more socially conscious but it has to be written with more of a deft hand for it to be effective. Jar Jar Binks is a super annoying character but at least he has a role and purpose aside from being an activist. He ends up getting his people, the Gungans, to fight with the rebellion and takes the Jedi to meet them. L3 was just a sidekick fighting for equal rights! That’s not enough to make an interesting character. Plus, Jar Jar was an attempt at comic relief and some kids found him funny. There is nothing funny about L3. So yes, I think L3 is the worst character in the history of Star Wars. Worse than Jar Jar Binks. Boom!

But all that said, I walked away from Solo: A Star Wars Story having had a pretty good time. It was the pulpy space adventure I had been looking for and hadn’t gotten for the last 2 films. I look forward to seeing it again. Something I also couldn’t say about the last two films. Flaws and all, this is my type of Star Wars movie.

PS. There is also a reveal at the end, which was very groan inducing and if you watch Rebels or Clone Wars will not be much of a surprise.

What did you think of Solo? Let me know in the comments section.

Book Club Review

One trend I have noticed recently is movies are being made for older demographics both male and female. Whether it is an action movie like Red, a drama like I’ll See You in My Dreams, or a light romcom like The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, these films have an audience, and I think it is great they are being made. Many theaters have senior citizen discounts and it is not uncommon for me to see many retired men and women there enjoying films. Some I see so much I recognize them and they wave hello.

Anyway, the latest entry in this demographic is the romantic comedy Book Club and going into it I was pretty sure I was going to enjoy it. First of all, I love romantic comedies. You don’t have a Hallmark podcast and not love romcoms! LOL. I also love the cast with Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Stenburgen- some of the funniest ladies in Hollywood today. Finally, I am a huge fan of book clubs. For pretty much all of my adult life I have been a member of a book club. It is such a welcome release to have a guaranteed monthly social interaction and the mental stimulus of group discussion and debate. My book club this month is this upcoming Thursday and even though the book was a bit of a chore I am eagerly awaiting it!

So, I  was primed to like this movie and sure enough I did! It’s not reinventing the wheel, but I consistently laughed throughout and thought the 4 women had great chemistry. They all felt like legit friends who were loving and yet sassy with one another. Some of my more conservative readers will struggle with the 50 Shades of Grey references and frank talk about sexuality, but I found it funny and kind of refreshing. It reminded me of a good episode of The Golden Girls (which I love) where mature women were allowed to talk about their frustrations, desires and passions. That’s a good thing!

In truth, the 50 Shades element is just the beginning to get things rolling and most of the movie is about their various dating escapades, which were hilarious and sweet. Diane Keaton is recently widowed and struggling with children who think she’s ancient. Candice Bergen is a judge who is trying online dating for the first time. Jane Fonda is a confirmed bachelorette who has no interest in settling down with a man and Mary Steenburgen is dealing with a lull in her marriage that started once her husband retired.

All the men they got for the ladies are top notch and great. Craig T Nelson, Don Johnson, Wallace Shawn, Richard Dreyfus are all great but my favorite was Andy Garcia. I think I might have a crush on him after this movie. He was soooo charming!

Book Club is not perfect, and I wouldn’t be surprised if critics are very harsh on it, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There is some wonky green screen work that looks dumb and it is all very predictable and silly. Also the 50 Shades references would probably have been funnier several years ago. It seems like the trend has basically faded now that the movies are done, so it makes the movie feel a little dated.

But none of that mattered to me. I had a great time watching Book Club. It’s rated PG-13 but will not be for everyone because of sensuality, so just make sure you check various resources before to make sure it is something you feel comfortable with.

I also really enjoyed The Jane Austen Book Club if you are looking for something to stream that is more of a drama. More book club movies please! 🙂