Thoughts on the Oscar Best Picture Nominees

This Monday January 13th movie fans held their breath in excitement as the nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced in Hollywood. One can certainly argue that too much time and energy is put into the Oscars but it is also a nice way to look back at the year in film and hopefully honor some of the strong films released by both big and small studios. This year I have actually seen all of the nominees for Best Picture, so I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on each film and what chances each film has to win.

86th Annual Academy Awards - Red Carpet

Ford v Ferrari

I am thrilled to see an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser like Ford v Ferrari get nominated for Best Picture. What’s great about Ford v Ferrari is that it is not just an underdog racing movie (which is a genre I LOVE!) but it is also a wonderful movie about friendship. Christian Bale is excellent as Ken Miles and Matt Damon is great as his bewildered colleague Carroll Shelby. I loved all the supporting cast especially Noah Jupe and Caitriona Balfe as Bales’ son and wife respectfully. The film is a little too long but it’s a highly entertaining watch. I do think it is a long shot to win and comes in at 9th place in my prediction ranking.

Little Women

This new version of Little Women has become quite a part of my life lately. I have seen it twice, written my review, and then been on 2 separate podcasts where I discussed and ranked it. I really enjoyed this take on the classic story of Little Women. In particular the non-linear storytelling (which I usually hate) really worked to help make each sisters choices more valid especially Amy and Laurie. I loved all the performances and filmmaking choices like costumes, production design etc. The script got a little too cute at times and I would have preferred they used 2 Amys but it is still one of my favorites films of the year. Unfortunately with Greta Gerwig getting snubbed for Best Director the odds for it winning Best Picture are small and it is at 8th place in my prediction ranking.

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JoJo Rabbit-

Writing satire is probably the most difficult type of screenwriting. The line between clever skewering of society and an unfunny piece in poor taste is incredibly difficult. Director and writer Taika Waititi managed to do just that with his film JoJo Rabbit where we learn that even the worst of ideologies can be driven out of someone (especially a child) by the power of human connection. I laughed. I cried. I was delighted and I recommend anyone watch it and experience something unique at the theater. However, because the subject matter and approach is not for everyone it is unlikely to win and gets 7th place in my prediction rating.

The Irishman-

Upon its release I was one of the few detractors on Martin Scorsese’s epic mob film The Irishman. There is much to admire in the film especially the terrific period detail and performances. My issue is the story and characters. The lead character Frank Sheeran is an admitted soldier for the mafia, meaning he doesn’t have a lot of moral questioning of what he is asked to do. He dutifully follows orders. It isn’t until the last 30 minutes of a very long movie that introspection happens and things become interesting. It was too little too late and the ponderous pacing made it a tough watch. As far as predictions, The Irishman was a clear favorite back in November, but with the length being a factor, DeNiro not getting nominated, and a general overall lack of awards season buzz all make it an unlikely winner and ultimately 6th place in my prediction ranking.

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Marriage Story-

I must admit I put off watching the new drama Marriage Story from writer/director Noah Baumbach. The idea of seeing a couple go through something as horrible as divorce for 2 hours sounded very unpleasant especially during the holidays. However, I finally watched it and it’s very well done. The writing feels authentic to the characters and I appreciate the script doesn’t pick sides for the male or the female. The acting is tremendous; although, I’m a bit baffled at the awards love being shown to Laura Dern who is fine but nothing extraordinary if you ask me. I think the movie is just too small in scope to win the big prize without a surprise win like Moonlight had a few years ago so it is 5th place in my prediction ranking.

Joker-

Another movie I put off watching is Todd Phillips origin story of Joker. I was pretty sure with the tone and violence it wouldn’t be my taste and after what happened with Shazam I wasn’t interested in facing the angry mob unless I had to for having an opinion. Once it got nominated I watched it and it’s not for me. Basically the Arthur of the film lives in a dystopian where everyone is underhanded, unkind, cruel and bitter. His story wasn’t interesting to me because there never was a valid option for him to chose a different path. Of course he is going to become a supervillain if everyone treats him like complete garbage. This is not a world I connect with or agree with but I’m not a cynical person. Nevertheless, many do seem to enjoy the film and it got the most nominations, so it could win. However, there’s enough backlash and enough comicbook/blockbuster stigma to prevent it. I have it at 4th place in my prediction ranking.

parasite

Parasite-

If I was going to predict a surprise win it would be Parasite. The South Korean thriller by director Bong Joon Ho is the consensus favorite for almost everyone I know. Whether film snob on twitter or everyday moviegoer, we all seem to love Parasite and that’s because it’s a great film. It is entertaining, enlightening, surprising and has something to say without beating you over the head with it. I also think the preferential voting system of the Oscars could help Parasite out the most because even if some don’t have it first almost everyone will have in their top 3. It could be the Green Book of 2020. The downside is some may feel a win in International Film is enough for it and a subtitled film has never won Best Picture before and that is a barrier for some voters. This is why I have it at 3rd place in my prediction ranking.

1917-

These last 2 are very tough to decide between when it comes to predictions. 1917 is an incredible, immersive experience telling the story of 2 soldiers in World War 1 as they attempt to deliver a message across the trenches. It is set up like one take and you really feel like you are there with the soldiers which I found emotionally exhausting and moving. I highly recommend seeing it in the theater if at all possible. It just won the Golden Globe so if it wins Best Picture I won’t be surprised at all but I think the Academy voters are just narcissistic enough to pick the movie which is all about them instead. That makes 1917 in 2nd place in my prediction ranking.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-

In director Quentin Tarantino’s latest film he does a lot of things right to peak Oscar interest. First of all, he gets a top notch cast with Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. Then he has the film set in Hollywood and it be an alternate history of the life of a tragic figure Sharon Tate. You portray the struggle of being famous and a washed up star, which Hollywood loves (hello Birdman...). You have enough gratuitous violence and humor while showing off Los Angeles in 1969, you’ve got yourself a Best Picture winner. I enjoyed the film well enough but thought it was quite self indulgent especially in the long, excessive driving scenes that went nowhere. This isn’t the best film of the year in my opinion but I think it strokes all of the voters ego enough to win Best Picture and it is my top prediction!

So there you have it!  What do you think of the 9 nominees? Have you seen them? Do you think they are worthy choices or do you feel something better was left out? Let me know and what would you prediction ranking be for the winner? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Current Mini Reviews

Hello readers! I hope you are  all having a better start to the new year than I am. Unfortunately today I am sick with a wicked case of a sinus infection/virus. In fact, I didn’t get to go to the Doctor Dolittle screening this morning because I was so worried I would fall asleep/cough throughout the film. Nevertheless, I have 3 recent films I need to update you all on my thoughts so here goes.

like a boss

Like a Boss

Hollywood sure seems to struggle in understanding women. So much of what they make for female audiences feels out of touch with any kind of women I know or interact with. For example, so many seem to suggest women spend way more time worrying about their makeup than most do. Most women have a makeup routine and every once in a while try something new and that’s it.

I was one of the only people who liked 2018’s I Feel Pretty (also set in the world of cosmetics and beauty) because at least it had a little bit of a whimsy which appealed to me. But even I will admit the parts involving the beauty industry and supposed female empowerment fell very flat.

Now we have the latest entry, Like a Boss, starring Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish who run (you guessed it) a makeup company. I actually didn’t hate this movie. It had some laughs with Haddish and Byrne hanging out with their girlfriends  (an authentic relatable situation and probably helped by improv).

However, all the elements involving business fell flat especially Salma Hayek as an over-the-top beauty mogul. It is not surprising this film is written and directed by men because the complexities of the female experience in business as presented are so reductive and cringe-worthy. I’m not saying a movie like this needs to be realistic but come on? They can do better than this.

Even though I did laugh at the friends scenes in Like A Boss, I can’t recommend you spend the big bucks to go see it in the theater. Go see one of the awards caliber films in theaters instead.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Underwater

Next up we have another movie I didn’t hate but was pretty meh on: Underwater. This has its fair share of positives including a good performance by Kristen Stewart. They also do a great job in creating atmosphere with cool production and sound design. Everything felt on the same level as Ad Astra last year in that regard. I also liked that the action gets going right away without feeling a need for backstory or exposition to set up the world.

The problem with Underwater is it felt uneven in the storytelling. One minute the creatures would be attacking and then the next they’d be more quiet and observant. One minute Kristen Stewart would be fighting for her life and the next she’d be back on the ship looking through a locker. It felt like some needed transitions were cut in the editing room.

It is also a very derivative film of movies like Alien which takes some of the edge off of certain scenes. There’s definitely a feeling of ‘we’ve been there done all this before and better’.

Still if you see this airing on cable it’s not a terrible watch but I don’t think I can recommend watching it on the big screen. (Also the excuses they have to get Kristen Stewart in her bra and panties for long segments feels a little gratuitous and absurd).

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Marriage Story

To be perfectly frank I have been putting off seeing the critically acclaimed film Marriage Story despite it being available to watch for several months. Especially at Christmas time the idea of watching a film about divorce did not sound appealing at all.

Well, now I have seen the film and while it isn’t my type of movie it is worthy of praise. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both excellent as our feuding couple and the script doesn’t pick sides on the divorce. They are both petty and passionate all at the same time.

I’m a little confused at the high praise being given to Laura Dern for her performance as Scarlett’s attorney. She was perfectly fine in the role, but I didn’t see anything outstanding or Oscar-worthy but that’s just me. I do think it would be interesting to see this story from the perspective of people who can’t afford $25,000 retainers for their attorneys. Like what about a divorce between a couple who run a failing convenience story or are both teachers? That might be easier to relate with than these directors/actors.

But nevertheless, it’s a good film. I particularly liked Adam Driver singing ‘Being Alive’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Company both because I love that song but also I had no idea he could sing (what can’t the man do?).

I am sure if you have been through a divorce Marriage Story will have more emotional resonance. As for me it is good, just not a favorite or something I will ever watch again.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] Cats: It’s Cats Singing and Dancing

Adaptations of Broadway musicals are a tough nut to crack. Due to fears of box office losses typically the movies come many years after the initial hype of the shows. Then to make matters worse, film directors often seem to have  a difficult time translating the energy of a musical show into a film. It’s a really strange phenomenon and it makes me wonder if the best is movie to Broadway (Mean Girls, Heathers, Beetlejuice, etc) rather than musical to movie.

cats

The latest attempt is one of the longest running shows in the history of Broadway: the strange Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. In the musical, ALW takes an epic poem by T.S. Eliot and adds songs. The problem is the poem is not very cinematic. It’s all introductions of various cats all leading to the jellicle ball. While there, the ‘jellicle choice’ is made. So literally we spend time getting to know cat A and then cat B until the cat Old Deuteronomy  (Judi Dench) decides which cat deserves to ‘ascend to the heavens for a new life’.

Fortunately where the narrative in Cats isn’t the best, the singing and dancing is enjoyable. I actually got used to the unique visual style very quickly and found songs like ”Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ to be catchy. I also liked ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ and ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’.  They even have trained ballet dancers Francesca Hayward as Victoria and Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks.

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Of course. the highlight of Cats is ‘Memory’ sung by Jennifer Hudson. She is such a powerful singer, and I thought she knocked it out of the park.

I also appreciated with Cats seeing something different. Everything is to scale so the cats look like the size of a normal cat. I personally have never seen a movie like that so it was a neat experience at the theater.

Taylor Swift as Bombalurina in Cats, co-written and directed by Tom Hooper.

The downsides to Cats is because it has so little narrative the pacing suffers. Especially the middle is slow, and I got sleepy watching it. It almost seems like it would be better as a short or a series of youtube sing-alongs rather than a movie. There is just not enough meat on the bones for a feature film.

I was also not a fan of Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots or her song with mice and cockroaches (a step too far! I hate cockroaches!). James Corden as Bustopher Jones was also pretty annoying but I’m in general not a fan of his.

Sir Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat is probably the strangest of the group with his method acting song.  Taylor Swift fans will probably be disappointed that her character Bombalurina takes a long time to show up and only has one song in the film and another in the closing credits.

I think people expecting something super bonkers will be a little disappointed in Cats. It’s unusual but not something like Pottersville where you are just completely baffled the entire time.

I wish the choice to make it a stop motion animated film had happened with Cats. That would have been amazing. Alas this version is fun enough for a musical theater junkie. The songs are well done and the dancing is impressive. All the actors are trying their hardest and the visual style is unique. It’s far from perfect but take your other Broadway fan friends and go watch something different with some catchy tunes. You’ll have a good time or at least my friend and I did!

5 out of 10

Smile Worthy Barely

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Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! Merry Christmas! I hope you are all doing well. As you all know I am deeply ensconced in all things Christmas right now with my work on the Hallmarkies Podcast. I have currently watched and reviewed 85 Christmas movies with 2 more weeks to go! It’s a lot of work but it is also very rewarding.

This naturally hasn’t left me a ton of time to write about the feature films I’ve been seeing (yes still making time to go to screenings). So, I hope you will forgive me for doing one of my current mini reviews posts and hopefully I will be able to expound upon them at a future date. There are just only so many hours in the day for one human to work and write about movies! 🙂

FROZEN II

I will obviously be writing more on Frozen II including my Disney Canon analysis but here is my youtube review. Basically I really enjoyed Frozen II. I loved how the story made Elsa and Anna deal with the messy truth of their parents and how they treated the people in the midst. I loved Elsa and Anna’s struggles to understand each other and thought the music was incredible. I am particularly in love with Jonathan Groff singing ‘Lost in the Woods’. The animation is stunning and the voice acting is outstanding. The plot has a few problems but overall I was very entertained by it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Klaus

Speaking of youtube reviews I also recorded my review of the new Netflix animated film Klaus (see above) and boy did I love this movie. It’s basically an origin story of Santa Claus with 2D animation (a Rachel movie if I’ve ever heard it!) Going into it I thought it would be similar to Santa in Rise of the Guardians (which is a movie I love) but it actually proved to be quite different. Santa here is a wounded person who is closer to the father in Song of the Sea than our typical jolly old St Nick. I loved the journey of all the characters. I loved the 2D animation and how director Sergio Pablos used light and music to create tone. If you haven’t seen it you really should. I just wish I could see it in the theater! 🙁

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Good Liar

good liarI often jokingly talk in my reviews about the new demographic of ‘old people movies‘. This is a new category where Hollywood makes movies starring in and for senior citizens. The new movie The Good Liar is probably the most violent of the entries in this category but it’s an entertaining enough little caper. Helen Mirren stars as a retired professor who meets a charming bachelor played by Ian McKellen. The 2 begin dating, and it turns out they are both not what we initially believe them to be. I will say this movie requires a major suspension of belief as each reveal gets more ridiculous than the next. But if you can take that leap there’s fun to be had and the acting is of course top notch. It all makes for an entertaining if silly ride. (The film does earn its R rating so be prepared)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

1917

1917

I really want to write more about 1917 because it is an incredible experience but for now this will have to do.  In what is definitely one of the best movies of the year, director Sam Mendes has created a war film that completely absorbed me and left me an emotional mess afterwards. It reminded me a lot of Hacksaw Ridge which is another film I love. Both this and Hacksaw focus on one human amidst the horrors of war and leave you rooting for this person’s success.

In 1917, Roger Deakin’s incredible cinematography makes us feel like we are seeing one shot photography, which is more than just a gimmick. It makes the viewer feel like they are the 3rd person in this risky mission across No Man’s Land in World War 1. It is violent but I was rooting for the characters and riveted by every turn in their journey. Definitely seek this film out. It’s worth the investment and you will leave inspired.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Jumanji: the Next Level-

jumanji-the-next-level

I enjoyed 2017’s Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle. It was a terrific way to do a remake of a beloved film. It has the bones of the classic but it’s own story and take on the world. More importantly it was funny. I will forgive a lot of problems in a story if I am laughing. This is where we run into problems with the sequel Jumanji: The Next Level: it’s not very funny. Or rather I should say, it has a few funny jokes they tell over and over again; thereby, weakening their impact.

This Jumaji film isn’t awful. The action set pieces are fun and the cast can be likable. However, there’s nothing new here. It’s like they got to old people jokes and gave up. Danny Glover and Danny Devito are fun enough but pretty cliched. Awkwafina is given nothing to do and Nick Jonas isn’t brought on until late in the 2nd act. I also did not appreciate the excessive profanity thrown in for no reason. It did nothing for the characters or story and makes it so I cannot recommend it as a harmless family adventure film. My advice is watch Dora and the Lost City of Gold instead. It had all the adventure and humor Jumanji: The Next Level fails to bring.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Playmobil: The Movie-

playmobil

Most followers of this site probably know about the epic failure at the box office that is Playmobil: the Movie. However, box office is not everything so I went to see this film yesterday with an open mind. Unfortunately cinema-goers didn’t see this film for a reason. The problem is there are too many ideas. At each turn we are presented with new characters, worlds, villains, motivations, and more. It becomes overwhelming. The film feels very shouty and especially the music did not work at all. I don’t even think small children will like it because most of the jokes are about dating, marriage and other adult topics. It feels like they put 1000 ideas into a bucket and picked one out each week to create the script. It so doesn’t work despite the animation being fine and the action quickly paced. Playmobil: the Movie is a definite skip.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Bombshell-

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Bombshell is a bit of an oddity of a film. It’s an attempt to tell a story about conservative women who stick up for themselves. This is very unusual for typically liberal Hollywood, and I think that’s a great thing. If movements like #metoo are going to work we need to tell all women’s stories not just the ones Hollywood agrees with on politics. Some people will not be able to get over the fact that Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly work for Fox News but that wasn’t an issue for me. The makeup on Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman is incredible. Really all the casting is spot on. They all look so close to the original people!

I was drawn into the story of Bombshell but I do think there are some problems. I understand the need for the fictional Margot Robbie character as an amalgamation of a bunch of women (and telling Gretchen’s story she couldn’t tell because of settlements) but it felt inconsistent and inauthentic. Also there is something about the production and direction that felt on a made for TV level. I love made for TV movies but I expect a film with such performances to feel a little more cinematic. Still overall I enjoyed Bombshell and recommend seeing it for the story and acting.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There you have it! My quick updates on what I have been watching at the theater. If you have seen any of these films let me know what you think. Thanks!

[REVIEW] ‘The Irishman’: Leave the Movie Take the Ingredients (Spoiler Free)

Every once in a while there comes along a movie where it seems like dissension or diversity of opinion is not allowed. You either have to like or hate it or you are not worthy of being called a true aficionado of film. This is how I felt going into the new film from Martin Scorsese, The Irishman. I was told it is a masterpiece (a word that has lost all meaning from over-use these days) and it is destined to win best picture at the Oscars. This may be the case, but unfortunately I walked away from the screening with very mixed feelings. I will do my best to explain why.

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Let’s start out talking about the positives. First, the performances are outstanding. Of course, Robert Deniro as the lead character Frank Sheeran and Al Pacino as famous teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa are the standouts. However, there is also a lot of exemplary supporting work: Joe Pesci is excellent as Russell Bufalino. Ray Ramano is wonderful as mob attorney Bill Bufalino. The list could go on for days.

The Irishman is also wonderfully produced with beautiful period details from costumes, hair and makeup, to production design. As it’s a very long movie at 209 minutes these details helped immerse you thoroughly into in the story. I also think the de-aging technology is flawless. You forget Robert Deniro is 76 years old in the flashback scenes! There is no sense of uncanny valley or weirdness we’ve seen in other attempts such as in the last Pirates of the Caribbean film.

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All of these positive aspects left me wrestling with my score for The Irishman. Unfortunately I had a lot of problems with the story and characters. As I mentioned, this is an over 3 hour film, which in and of itself isn’t a negative. However, the problem is the story does not sustain such a run-time and the pacing feels self-indulgent and ponderous. There are so many scenes that felt unnecessary or over-extended beyond what is needed for the plot

For example, there’s a scene where a character has a wet car and they joke about the wetness coming from a fish. “What kind of fish?” He doesn’t know. “How can he not know the fish?” I guess that is supposed to be interesting or funny? It certainly was neither for me. There are so many scenes like that where the narrative went nowhere or it told us things we already knew about our characters. So, unless you just love being in the world of mob movies you’re going to lose interest real quick.

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A lot of the problems in the narrative come down to Frank as a character. At the beginning he talks about coming out of the army and how he learned to follow orders and not feel emotion about the horrors he was both seeing and participating in. This military-like approach becomes his philosophy for working with the mob. He’s workmanlike about his actions and doesn’t have much guilt or conflict about them.

In contrast, in The Godfather Michael’s character is actively fighting his destiny as head of the family. Practically the first scene of the film is him telling Kay he is not his family. Every part of the narrative then leads back to that core conflict. Will Michael give in and follow his father or will he stick to his morals and leave? This is an interesting character arc and it is reinforced by every other character’s choices throughout the film. Each person in the family learns their lives would be better if they just listened to the Don.

In The Irishman there is no such conflict. Up until the very end Frank does what he is told without any kind of moral crisis. I heard some claim the film is about introspection and questioning our legacy. I did not see such a theme. For most of the movie he’s a character who is perfectly happy to be a team player to fiery characters like Jimmy Hoffa.

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Pacino as Hoffa is more interesting than Frank but we still don’t get much of a character arc from him. He ends the film at the same spot he began at, which would be fine, if I wasn’t asked to watch him not change for over 3 hours. And I know not all movies need someone to root for but with such a run-time shouldn’t we at least empathize with someone? Again, in The Godfather, we are rooting for Michael because his motivations begin so pure.

In my opinion, any good mafia movie should be at least slightly allegorical. The insular nature of the society makes it easy to weave metaphors about both our own society and the individual choices we make. However, for The Irishman I don’t understand what the allegory is? What are we supposed to learn from this mafia soldier? Even the most dramatic moment of the story is executed with little emotion or seeming moral conflict. It is not until the very end that we finally get a narrative of regret and contrition, which in my opinion wasn’t enough.

In the end, despite many strengths in performances and production, The Irishman is not a film I can recommend. As I said, the pacing is too ponderous and self-indulgent, the characters are too stagnant, and the story lacks an emotional punch. Other people clearly disagree, and that’s fine. If it sounds like something you’d enjoy I encourage you to go and see for yourself. It will soon be on Netflix so most people will be able to easily watch it at home. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

4 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’: Watch the Documentary and then See this Ok Movie

Sitting down to review the new film about Fred Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I fear I am going to come across as very negative, so let me state out front: this movie is perfectly amiable and pleasant to watch. I will give it a fresh review. Unfortunately I found the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor about Fred Rogers from last year to be outstanding. It was one of my favorites of the whole year, so I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed with this just ok narrative movie.

beautiful day

I will be shocked if all the critics don’t at least agree that Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as Mr Rogers and his scenes carry the film. However, he is not the lead character, which was a mistake. Matthew Rhys is fine as a the cynical journalist interviewing Fred Rogers for a column in Esquire, but he felt kind of like a case of generic bitter-man syndrome. I wanted to spend more time with Fred Rogers and was anxious to get back to his more layered and interesting character.

They were very careful to not cheapen Fred Rogers’ legacy or scandalize him in any way but the documentary was so much more profound in showing the impact Fred had on millions of children. It had one touching scene after another profiling how his decision to love created a movement of kindness, which blessed so many lives. In this film he seems more like a nice man who makes pies for a few select people. It’s not the same.

Chris Cooper is very good as Rhys’ elderly father. He has been a huge disappointment to his children, and he may be seeking forgiveness a little too late. (Nobody plays a bitter, angry father like Chris Cooper!). There are nice moments between Rhys and Susan Kelechi Watson who plays his very patient wife, and I loved a scene where Fred Rogers prays individually for all of the Vogel family members by name, even the little baby.

I also loved a scene where Fred Rogers is on a train and all the people sing ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ to him and it seems to brighten everyone’s day. I wish there was more of Fred Rogers interacting with the people.

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In fact, there is a great moment in the documentary, which I was sure they would include, where Fred is testifying before Congress to get PBS funding and he is able to win over the heart of a crusty old Senator from his speech. It’s such a cinematic life-moment and would have been easy to include with a flashback or something.

I don’t know. Like I said. I am being harder on it than I probably should. I just think the documentary is much better. But A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a perfectly serviceable and amiable film. If people are opposed to seeing documentaries than they will probably love it. As for me, it’s fine, but not as great as I was hoping for.

Watch the documentary and then if you want more watch this…

6 out of 10

smile worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Knives Out’: Murder and Mirth at Thrombey Hall

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One aspect of covering Hallmark movies for my podcast, The Hallmarkies Podcast, that might surprise some people is I find myself talking about murder mysteries quite often. In fact, they have an entire channel called ‘Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’, which is devoted for most of the year to what are called ‘cozy mysteries’. Similar to Murder She Wrote these stories are about amateur sleuths who help uncover the culprits behind usually quite grisly murders in their midst. They have to be enjoyed with a grain of salt as typically the clues don’t stand high scrutiny but they are fun escapism where we can all envision ourselves cracking the case.

In director Rian Johnson’s new film Knives Out we get a taste of this type of murder mystery but on the big screen (there is even a recurring gag about Hallmark cozy mysteries throughout the film!). I was as skeptical as anyone going into this film as I have not been a huge fan of Johnson’s previous work in Looper or The Last Jedi. However, I am delighted to tell you he has made a very entertaining film that will keep everyone guessing from beginning to end.

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First of all, the cast is outstanding. Daniel Craig steals the show as Detective Benoit Blanc: a man who is hired by a mysterious benefactor to look into the death of famed author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Upon arriving at the house Blanc begins questioning all involved including Thrombey’s relatives and the staff of the home.

Ana de Armas stars as Thrombey’s nurse and close confident. She is helpful for a detective because she cannot lie without throwing up. Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis and more all do entertaining character work. I also really enjoyed the production design of the house and the music by Nathan Johnson.

All that said, it comes down to the script. Johnson manages to have huge exposition dumps but make them entertaining. A recent comparison can be seen in the 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express which wasted a similarly gifted cast on exposition that landed with a thud. The key difference is Johnson isn’t taking his film deadly serious where Branagh was so we as viewers can sit back in awe at each new reveal. It’s a blast!

Like I said with the Hallmark cozy mysteries, Knives Out, needs to be taken with a grain of salt and enjoyed as fun escapism. The characters are kooky and the twists surprising, which makes for a really good time at the theater. I highly recommend it.

8 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Ford v Ferrari’: Friends, Feuds and Fast Cars

Ford-v-Ferrari-IMAX-poster-600x751-1-600x364Sometimes with all the hubbub around the Oscars this time of year we as cinephiles can get a little snobby about what makes a great film.  Yes the art-pieces are an important and vital part of this artform we love but so is the crowd-pleasing entry that makes the audience stand up and cheer. This is why I am always happy when I see films like Hidden Figures and Black Panther received Best Picture nominations. Despite what some people say making entertainment for the masses is not easy and when it is done well it should be celebrated.

Such is my experience with the new film from director James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari. In this film, he has crafted an immensely satisfying story of an unlikely friendship (theme of 2019) and the battle to build the ultimate racing car that brought them together.

Based on a true story Matt Damon plays Carroll Shelby an ex-racer who is tasked by the Ford Motor Company to design a car that can compete, even beat, Ferrari at the Le Mans 24 hour race in 1966. He then recruits the more reckless driver and car-maker Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to drive the car and lead the team. Both actors are excellent in their roles but they are also surrounded by a talented cast including Jon Berenthal as Lee Iacocca, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Ray McKinnon and more.

Christian Bale and Caitriona Balfe in Twentieth Century Fox’s FORD V FERRARI.

I especially loved Caitriona Balfe as Miles’ wife. She was funny, unpredictable and brought a lot to a role that could have been a one-note long-suffering wife. Tracy Letts is also great as Henry Ford II especially in a scene where he unwittingly endures a test-run on the race track.

Most people will probably praise the racing scenes in Ford v Ferrari, and they are excellent, but  the real star lies in the script and performances. I was so drawn into the characters and story and by the end I wanted to stand up and cheer. I love underdog sports movies and Ford v Ferrari is a very satisfying entry in the genre. But add to it a story of the friendship between Shelby and Miles that felt real and authentic and we have a winner!

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I even liked this movie despite watching it in a theater that felt more like a sauna. It’s rated PG-13 but a mild one. I certainly would feel comfortable taking the whole family and seeing Ford v Ferrari. It’s that good. The only major problem is it is a bit too long at 2 hr 32 min but I didn’t feel the length much. Other than that, it’s a wonderful film everyone will enjoy. The story is interesting, the acting is great, script is well done and the racing scenes work.

Go see it! It’s really good!

9 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

Going in to see Terminator: Dark Fate I must admit my expectations were not very high. After 3 underwhelming, bland films in a row it is hard for me to get excited for another entry in this once iconic franchise. Coming out of the film I’m afraid to say I felt basically the same. Terminator: Dark Fate is not nearly as irritating as Terminator: Genisys but it continues on the trend of bland, forgettable action movies in this franchise.

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Terminator: Dark Fate tries to spice things up by giving us a trio of female kick butt characters led by Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Connor. Shes campy enough to be a little bit fun but not enough to save the movie. Mackenzie Davis plays an augmented woman named Grace from the future who is sent to save a woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes) from Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) a terminator that can split into 2 bodies and is practically unstoppable.

The strength of this film is in the performances from Davis, Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger (back as curtain selling family man version of the T-800). They may say ‘I’ll be back’ way too many times but they are entertaining in their roles and know how to sell the action scenes. Also the action scenes are well staged especially the long opening chase sequence.

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The problem is Terminator: Dark Fate has nothing new to bring to the table and it falls into a predictable rut real quick. Exposition, action, exposition, action. For a film with this much action I should not be so bored but that’s what I was for most of the time. The characters aren’t interesting and the film has nothing new to say about humanity, war, AIs or anything else (I believe all good scifi should have something to say). The Rev-9 brings nothing new to the table as a terminator and the time travel concept isn’t explored well. It’s just action interrupted by people cracking jokes and talking about the past.

I am always bad at box office predictions but I don’t see this movie making much money. People have been burned too many times and this entry is at best a vessel for serviceable action scenes. Why when we’ve had such excellent action movies this year like Avengers: Endgame or Shadow would you waste time watching this? I think time has run out on the Terminators, and we need to let Sarah, John and Carl the drapery man go back to their regular lives. No more!

3 out of 10

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