[REVIEW] ‘Midway’ a Movie That Should Have Stayed in the Past

There is something admittedly nostalgic about schlock-master Roland Emmerich’s latest film Midway. It feels like something John Wayne or Charlton Heston would have been in the 50s and 60s. The problem is this is 2019 and such a jingoistic approach feels woefully outdated and simplistic.

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Midway tells the true story of the Battle of Midway during the Pacific front in World War 2. The cast is formidable with Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid and more. The problem lies in the clunky dialogue they are given and the complete lack of nuance.

There’s a small attempt to humanize the Japanese fighters but it still feels awkward and like they are from a different movie than the risk-taking, daredevil Americans. There’s even a scene where a captured soldier tells the Japanese to f-off as he is thrown into the sea on an anchor. Groan!

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Other problems with Midway is the pacing is slow and the special effects are hit and miss. It will be interesting to see if Midway is a hit or not. There is definitely an audience for this type of simplistic nationalism but whether the marketing has grabbed their attention or not is another question.

I guess we will have to wait and see…

Does Midway interest you? If you get see it let me know what you think

3 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Last Christmas’ and Why It’s So Disappointing

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As host of the Hallmarkies Podcast I feel there is an assumption I will automatically love anything billed as a ‘holiday romcom‘. Well, if you are a listener to my podcast you’d know that I dislike many films we review, as is the case with any genre a critic is partial towards. We aren’t doing our job if we blindly like everything presented to us for entertainment.

This explanation is to hopefully help quell some surprise my readers might feel that I did not like the new film from director Paul Feig, Last Christmas. Unfortunately most of the reasons I did not like it are spoilery but let’s just say it fails at both the rom and the com of a romcom (and I have issues with the holiday part as well).

Last Christmas stars Emilia Clarke as Kate, a disaster of a human who has struggled to get her life together after receiving the gift of a heart transplant the year before. She works at a year-long Christmas shop for Michelle Yeoh (who gets some of the only laughs of the film with her strange cabbage loving relationship).

Kate is simply the worst. It’s always a tough dynamic to pull off when either of our leads in a romcom are unlikable. You have to make that switch to nice person at just the right moment or we as an audience don’t want him or her to succeed in love because they are a terrible human being. Kate even outs somebody at one point which I found shocking for a movie in 2019 (and the penance wasn’t near enough for such a betrayal IMO).

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Henry Golding is super dreamy (of course) but he leaves for long unexplained stretches, which hurt the chemistry and seems especially bizarre as the plot reveals itself. Speaking of said plot it is so groan-worthy and leaves our heroine with a very unsatisfying ending.  Without spoilers let’s just say between this and Me Before You Emilia Clarke has the strangest set of 2 romcoms imaginable.

To my surprise, I also felt focusing on George Michael music was a mistake. The problem is he only has one Christmas song so most of the soundtrack is holiday-free. Sure they are surrounded by the trappings of Christmas but they participate in none of the tropes of the genre such as picking a tree, wrapping gifts, visiting Santa, baking cookies etc. Most of what they do could be done at any time of year just with different decor. All the Christmas in the movie feels like window-dressing without the heart the holiday offers these films.

A lack of Christmas spirit and romance makes Last Christmas an unsatisfying and disappointing holiday romcom. What should have been sweet and funny ends up being groan-worthy and frustrating. Too bad but at least I’ve got 100 other Christmas movies to enjoy this holiday season (not exaggerating).

3 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The Last Color’

There are some films I review where the words of criticism or praise flow freely and are obvious and easy to put to the page. Others are a bit more challenging. I can feel conflicted and torn for a variety of reasons on a project and often it is tough to articulate both the good and and where the balance shifted from fresh to rotten (or smile/frown worthy on my system). Such is the case with the new debut film from chef Vikas Khanna called The Last Color. Even as I am writing I am unsure whether the strengths are enough to give it a recommendation.

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The Last Color tells the story of a little Indian girl named Chhoti (Aqsa Siddique) who makes money putting on tightrope walking performances in the city of Vrindavan along the Ganges River. One day on the run from the police she meets an elderly widow named Noor (Neena Gupta in a lovely performance). When the film focuses on this unlikely friendship it works quite well (I’m a sucker for a story of an unlikely friendship).

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I also thought the cinematography was really good at creating atmosphere and tone. Khanna really immerses us in the world of India in all its colors and textures. This is especially true at the end when the widows finally celebrate the Holi where they splash colored powder on each other which was previously forbidden.

The problem with The Last Color is it takes on too much. It should have stuck to the central relationship of Chhoti and Noor but it tries to tackle transgender rights, rape, elderly abuse, child abuse, corrupt police, religion and much more. Sometimes it was confusing who characters even were and I kept wishing we could get back to the cute little girl and old lady. That was the relationship I cared about.

Unfortunately being so schizophrenic made the movie a little dull and not as compelling as it should have been. It certainly felt much longer than its trim 90 minutes, so that’s never a good sign.

Still I think the good in The Last Color outweighs the problems. It’s not perfect but the core relationship really works and it is a beautiful look at modern-day India. If you get to see it let me know what you think.

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Lucy in the Sky’

Anyone who reads my reviews knows I am not a strict literalist when it comes to cinematic adaptations of true stories. I am on record of enjoying both Green Book and The Greatest Showman. However, both of those films offered entertainment that made up for some problematic elements. Unfortunately, in the case of the new film, Lucy in the Sky, this is not the case. Despite a good lead performance by Natalie Portman, this new film loosely based on the experiences of astronaut Lisa Nowak is a big case of wasted potential.

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In Lucy in the Sky, Lisa is turned into Lucy Cola, a recently returned astronaut who struggles to come to grip with life on Earth after being in space. Everything that gave her joy in the past like her marriage to her husband Drew (Dan Stevens) now feels bland and empty. In an attempt to regain the sense of adrenaline of space she becomes increasingly reckless. She participates in risky training exercises like holding her breath for over 2 minutes under water, she gets drunk, she steals a gun from her Grandmother and finally she starts an affair with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm).

Natalie Portman does a good job playing Lucy and the film captures the spiraling feeling of a panic attack but it doesn’t help us to understand Lucy’s choices very well. When it does try to get inside her head it does so by using gimmicks like changing the aspect ratio of the screen or showing on-the-nose metaphors like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon…

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It was also painfully obvious the script was written by 3 men as the film simplified Lucy’s mental health crisis and then proceeded to judge her and her choices. In contrast, the Jon Hamm character is practically given a high five for being the rational womanizer who mistakenly let this crazy person into his life. What about it takes two to tango? Dan Stevens is better but we hardly get to know him so that doesn’t help much.

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What’s especially odd is the team decided to remove the more sensational aspects of the case- like her wearing an adult diaper in her quest to follow Mark, and yet it remains so shallow. One can only assume they made this choice to give it more gravitas, but I honestly wish they had embraced the madness. Why not make something funny and nuts like Raising Arizona or if you wanted a true story use BlackkKlansman as your guide?

I didn’t hate Lucy in the Sky. Portman puts in too strong an effort to totally dismiss, but I do think it is a big case of missed potential, which is frustrating. They could have done something cool and interesting and instead they made a movie I will forget soon after I post this review. Too bad. Oh well!

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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‘The Fighting Preacher’ REVIEW

For many years filmmaker T.C. Christensen has made a career out of making sweet and inspirational, faith-based films for Latter-day Saint audiences. Many of these are set in the past and seek to tell part of Church history like The Cokeville Miracle or 17 Miracles. These movies are definitely not for everyone but if you like programs like When Calls the Heart or Little House on the Prairie than you will enjoy them. His latest effort, The Fighting Preacher, is a bit uneven but overall it succeeds in telling a sentimental true story about tolerance, kindness and how a Christian spirit will win over hate every time.

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The film is based on the experiences of Willard Bean (David McConnell); a boxing champion who in 1905 is called by the Church to move to the town of Palmyra, New York and make a home for himself and his family in the recently purchased Joseph Smith Farm. As the name implies, the home was once owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint prophet and founder Joseph Smith. Nearby is the Hill Cumorah which is where the prophet claimed to find (by the guidance of an angel) the gold plates he translated into ‘The Book of Mormon’. Unfortunately, the Saints were eventually pushed out of Palmyra by residents who feared the new religion and the fervor of its followers and after 85 years the town had remained free from all ‘Mormons’ as they were known at the time.

One would think after such a long time away from each other, the anger against the Latter-day Saints would have dissipated in Palmyra but this proved to not be the case for the Beans. They faced opposition and challenges trying to do normal things like purchase everyday necessities, get medical care and even helping their daughter get an education.

At first Willard is tempted to use his boxing skills to retaliate against the people but eventually he learns such problems are better solved by an offering of homemade pie rather than a fist to the face (if that description sounds too saccharine, than trust me. This is not the movie for you!).

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The casting goes a long way in making The Fighting Preacher work. McConnell is easy to relate to and has nice chemistry with Cassidy Hubert who plays his wife Rebecca (my only nitpick with her is she had very modern lipstick on). The little girl, Scarlett Hazen, who plays their daughter Palmyra is also adorable. She did a great job!

The rest of the cast is fine but there isn’t a huge attempt to flesh out people beyond a slamming of the door with a ‘get out of here you Mormons’ rebuke. As a former missionary, I have no doubt this was a reality, but as a movie, it comes across as forced. The script as a whole is clunky with dialogue that doesn’t feel natural or human.

For a better example of a similar plot with a much better script I recommend last year’s Jane and Emma. That film took the time to flesh out the characters and give authentic nuanced dialogue.

Even with its flaws, however, I still recommend The Fighting Preacher. It knows its audience and unlike some faith-based films, the message is very positive. It tells the viewer to accept people of all beliefs, and to be kind and loving to all men and women (even when it is not reciprocated). The performances are also strong enough to forgive a script I wish was better.

6 out of 10

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‘The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith’ REVIEW

Those who have been reading my blog for some time know I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or known by some as The Mormons). I don’t normally don’t talk about my religion on this blog but occasionally a faith-based film comes up for review and it is only natural then to share my religious perspective. The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith is actually a sequel to a very popular entry that came out in 2001 (when I say popular it got a Disney distribution, so more than just amongst my community).

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The first The Other Side of Heaven film tells the story of missionary John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) as he serves on a very small island in Tonga for 2 years as a young man. This sequel continues his story but it is a decade later. John with his wife Jean (Natalie Medlock) bring their large brood of children back to the islands to serve as a mission president. From the start they face many tests of their faith and must learn to love the Tongan people in a whole new way.

Overall if you are a fan of the first film I definitely think you will enjoy this sequel. It’s not perfect but it’s well made and Gorham is very strong and charismatic in the lead. I had the chance to interview director Mitch Davis for the Hallmarkies Podcast (see above), and I could see while watching the love and passion poured into the film by him and others.

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They also did an incredible job casting Russell Dixon to play Thomas Monson who would later go on to become prophet of the LDS Church. The resemblance is uncanny both in looks and mannerisms and as someone who loved President Monson, it warmed my heart to see him portrayed so well.

I also thought the second half of the film when the whole island begins to fast and pray together was very touching. Most anyone will be inspired and moved by those moments of shared faith.

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My only flaws with the film is I wish they had brought in that sense of community earlier to help balance out the portrayal of a very angry, even violent, Methodist pastor. If it hadn’t been resolved so tastefully I would have been annoyed. (It was touch and go there for a bit because his behavior is close to unredeemable. He really should be in jail not leading a congregation).

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Also I didn’t love Natalie Medlock as Jean. In the promo footage she mentioned she’s not much of kid person and unfortunately it shows. There was an awkwardness in her scenes that made it hard for me to buy her as the mother of 6. (Although I did like a moment in the script when she tells John “I’m all prayed out”. It was a human moment). The performance just wasn’t my favorite.

The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith is opening on 200 screens, so if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, go out and support it. Rarely does a film like this get such a wide opening, and it’s got enough heart and a great lead performance to be worth a watch. People of faith can’t complain about the depravity of modern films and then not support inspirational, well-made offerings like this and expect their concerns to be taken seriously.

The film is rated PG-13 for some violence but it’s nothing a good chat with your kids can’t address, and I like I said, it ends on a hopeful note. Take your family and enjoy yourself at the movies!

7 out of 10

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