Let me start out by saying, I don’t give this review the subtitle of ‘a perfect movie for 2020’ lightly. It’s a tagline I’ve heard a lot this year and most of the time it seems undeserved. However, after much thought I really do believe this is the perfect movie for this moment. (Check out my friend Sean’s rave review who convinced me to watch it and thanks to Paramount for the screener).
Even if you don’t love Love and Monsters like I did I think you will agree it is a pleasant surprise. What makes it special is it has something for everyone. It’s PG-13 but a lot of older kids will dig the monsters and action set pieces. There’s also romance, heart, tension, drama and it’s about surviving an apocalypse so perhaps we should all take notes? 😉
Love and Monsters stars Dylan O’Brien as Joel who has survived a nuclear event that has mutated normal animals like frogs and lizards into giant monsters. As it starts out he is bunkering underground but he wants to find his girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick) who he believes is still alive. Deciding to brave the land Joel strikes out on his quest to find Aimee and along the way he meets a Clyde (Michael Rooker) and his daughter Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt) who show him the ropes of surviving in this hostile environment (I loved this father, daughter combo).
I won’t give away any more of the story but I thoroughly enjoyed Joel’s journey. O’Brien does a fantastic job creating a character we are rooting for. It also doesn’t hurt he has an adorable doggie to help him along the way. The visual effects are very impressive for a $30 million budget and what they lack in polish they make up for in creativity and inventiveness.
There are always people who dislike every movie but Love and Monsters is one most people will enjoy. It’s fun. It’s heartfelt and moving. It’s tense. It’s romantic. It’s just really well done and definitely one of the biggest surprises of 2020. It’s one of the first movies I can confidently say is worth the $20 rental cost. Gather the family together and watch this entertaining monster movie and have a blast. You’ll love it!
For a time period with essentially no new movies coming to theaters I sure have a bunch of films to update you on! Here I am with 9 mini reviews to help you decide what is smile and frown worthy:
On one hand it is hard to fault this handsomely mounted film version of the classic novel by Daphne Du Maurier (which was famously adapted by director Alfred Hitchcock in a 1940 version that won the Oscar for Best Picture). On the other hand, all that potential makes the film all the more disappointing.
The problem with this version of Rebecca is it fails to capture the suspense and chilling atmosphere of the source material. Lily James, Armie Hammer and Kristin Scott Thomas all do a good job in their roles but the movie is just plain bland. To begin with it takes way too long for the story to get to Manderley and then it feels like everyone is going through the motions. I didn’t hate it, but I also wasn’t very engaged. It is shot beautifully, and aside from some wonky fire visual effects, looks great, but that can only take you so far. Instead of making something compelling and mysterious they’ve made something dull and ponderous.
5 out of 10
This film Spontaneous is very difficult to describe and it will definitely be divisive. It stars Charlie Plummer and Katherine Langford (both whom I love and are very talented) in an unusual coming of age love story, For some unexplained reason people in their high school start randomly exploding. At first this is played for laughs which is awkward (I’m not the biggest fan of dark comedies) but then it becomes serious as our 2 leads know that any moment may be their last together.
Spontaneous is not going to be for everyone but if you are looking for something creative and different give it a shot. The leads are so good and it kept me guessing,which is refreshing. The more I think about it the more I love it
7 out of 10
The War with Grandpa
On one hand I can’t in good conscience recommend The War with Grandpa. It’s ridiculous, stupid and most of the jokes don’t land. On the other hand, I didn’t hate the movie. I am a sucker for broad live action family comedies so I am perhaps more forgiving of a film like this than my other critic friends. It’s movies like The War with Grandpa that I wish rottentomatoes had a middle ground score. It’s worth a rental if you like slapsticky family comedies but it’s not great. (I really miss the live action family comedies we used to get from Disney and other studios- broad, silly, fun with a nice message).
Most critics of course hate the film, and I can see why. The whole concept is inane about a Grandfather (Robert Deniro) and a grandson (Oaks Fegley who was so good in Pete’s Dragon) that engage in a war of pranks with each other when Grandpa takes the grandson’s room. However, I did like the cast including Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin and Jane Seymour. I also really liked the little girl who is obsessed with Christmas. Her holiday themed birthday party is the stuff of my dreams!
But it can also be a little too mean for my liking with Grandpa and grandson hurting each other and being really irresponsible. This isn’t the best message for kids, which hurts its value as a family film. It’s too destructive so I can’t recommend The War with Grandpa.
5 out of 10
Frown Worthy (but I didn’t hate it like everyone else)
The Trial of the Chicago 7
After I have just defended The War with Grandpa let me confess I am not the biggest Aaron Sorkin fan. I think Sorkin is great at dialogue, and I never hate his movies, I’m just usually not as excited as most seem to be about them. I find that behind the quippy dialogue are often flat, bland characters that don’t grow and change. His portrayals in particular of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs left me wanting more. They are one-note characters at the start and end of their respective films. His writing, despite the good dialogue, always leaves me a little cold.
Now we have The Trial of the Chicago 7 and despite my having the same problems with Sorkin’s characters, I am more forgiving with this film. It’s easier to accept one-note characters in an ensemble piece where the actors can feed off each other and that’s what they do here. Plus, the real-life events are crazy enough to engage and entertain the audience. The trial moves along nicely and is so surprising that it is fun to watch. All the performances are good including Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mark Rylance and more.
The film manages to be relevant without being too on-the-nose like some movies in COVID have been. I also felt the music did not fit in with the period or feel of the film especially at the start. It seemed like something from another movie.
8 out of 10
Adam Sandler continues his terrible streak of comedies with his latest for Netflix Hubie Halloween. I knew the minute I heard his annoying babyish voice this movie was going to be rough and it was. It’s somehow not as bad as films like The Ridiculous 6 or The Do-Over, but I still hated it. I hated the characters. The jokes are awful and Hubie is incredibly annoying. There isn’t anyone to root for and you just hope they will all go away by the end of it.
3 out of 10
The Last Shift
It seemed to apropos to see the new film The Last Shift on the last day the Regal Cinemas will be open for a while. I was literally seeing The Last Shift on the last shift! This film is a small yet tender story about an older man, played by Richard Jenkins, who has worked at a fast food establishment his entire life. He is now retiring and must train a young Black man named Javon (Shane Paul McGhie) on how to do his job.
As they work together prejudices are revealed, life plays out in both expected and unexpected ways, and they learn a lot from each other. Jenkins and McGhie are excellent in their roles and it’s a nice slice of life film. Some aspects of the ending didn’t work for me and I didn’t like Ed O’Neill’s character, but overall I enjoyed the film.
It’s definitely worth a watch if you can see The Last Shift
7 out of 10
The King of Staten Island
I put off seeing The King of Staten Island because I’m normally not a big Judd Apatow fan, and I find Pete Davidson to be a grating presence on screen. However, after finally seeing it, I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised. This is a sweet coming of age story about a young man who can’t figure out what to do with his life. So instead of doing something he skates by with the bare minimum, waiting for something to inspire him. Then one day he becomes involved with a group of firefighters who knew his deceased father and his life starts to change.
Bill Burr shines as Davidson’s new stepdad figure and Marisa Tomei is good as usual as his long-suffering Mother. The film definitely has the Judd Apatow man-child plot and it is way too long and vulgar but overall the sweetness won me over. Both of the romances in the movie are also really sweet and enjoyable. It’s a genuine, heartfelt, coming of age story.
7 out of 10
Then Came You
Most people will probably see Kathie Lee Gifford starring and writing Then Came You and not give the film much of a shot. That’s a shame because it’s an enjoyable rom-com. It’s definitely loaded with tropes and silly moments, but I liked the chemistry between Craig Furgeson and Kathie Lee Gifford. It was nice to see a romance between an older couple and it is surprisingly mature in its humor for this kind of film.
Elizabeth Hurley is not in the movie much so don’t go in expecting a lot from her. It’s mostly a 2 people show with Ferguson and Gifford hating each other at first but falling in love while she scatters the ashes of her late husband in Scotland. If that sounds fun to you than you’ll probably like it. I did. This is not as made for the Hallmark crowd as it might appear with the sensuality, vulgarity and other mature topics discussed so buyer beware on that account.
7 out of 10
2 Hearts will always be remembered as my 2nd critics screening since the start of COVID. I will always be grateful to it for that. However, as a movie it’s a very strange film that I hardly know what to make out of it. On one hand, it’s a typical soapy tragic love story along the lines of A Walk to Remember or Five Feet Apart. In fact, it tells 2 love stories and the unexpected way they influenced each other. For the most part it is well cast and has a nice message about living life to its fullest and the value of organ donation. However,about 2/3rd of the way through they make a narrative choice with one of the couples that is frankly bizarre. I am still quite baffled by it. I can’t share here because of spoilers but it was strange.
There’s a lot of Hallmark movie talent in this film including a few people I have interviewed over at Hallmarkies Podcast. It’s always nice to see these actors getting work in feature films. Some non-Cuban actors playing Cuban roles was a poor decision and the timeline on some things was a little confusing but again 2 Hearts is a harmless movie. It just depends if you can get over the twist, which I’m not sure I can. It was so bizarre.
4 out of 10
So there you have it! What do you think of these films? What score would you give them? Let me know in the comments section
So I don’t know if you knew, but I love animated films. LOL. Obviously not all animated films but I love the medium and all it can offer the filmgoer. I love being swept away by the artistry and characters and it is even better when it is also a musical! So, I was primed to love the new animated musical Over the Moon, and fortunately it did not disappoint. What a beautiful hope-filled animated musical. I loved it and can’t wait to watch it again!
Over the Moon is the first feature film from famed animator Glen Keane who created such memorable characters like Ariel, Aladdin, and Beast. Here he is taking us to China with the help of China’s Pearl Studio (who did last year’s Abominable with DreamWorks, which I also really enjoyed). It is a retelling of the classic Chinese myth of the mysterious moon goddess Chang’e.
Chang’e is voiced by Phillipa Soo of Hamiltonfame and our young heroine Fei Fei goes after her on a quest to find her Mother who has passed away. Voiced by Cathy Ang, Fei Fei sings about her desire to find answers for her grief:
The music is written by Steven Price, and while I could have used even more songs, what we get is enchanting. I loved Fei Fei as a character and ‘Rocket to the Moon’ is probably the best ‘I want’ song we’ve gotten from a studio since ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen.
I also really enjoyed the sense of family in Over the Moon. Fei Fei’s mother makes mooncakes, which are then sold at the market. When the family has meals together it feels warm and authentic, all sitting together talking. Eventually Fei Fei must learn to get along with a new energetic step-brother Chin (Robert G Chiu) and that is sweet and challenging. A lot of kids will be able to relate to these family dynamics as they felt real and authentic.
When Fei Fei gets to the moon things get a little convoluted, but I still found it charming. I really liked the characters and the heart. It’s the kind of film the entire family can watch together and enjoy. Plus, the animation is completely stunning. What a treat to watch! We even get some 2D animation in sequences!!
I still think Tomm Moore’s Wolfwalkers is the best animated film of the year but Over the Moon is a complete delight. If you are an animation fan and/or a musical fan you will love it!
What do you think of Over the Moon? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section
After I saw the new film A Call to Spy I regretted having watched it without my friend Jen. She’s a huge history buff and will really enjoy this film. I guess I will just have to see it again with her :).
A Call to Spy tells the true story of 3 women who worked as spies in Churchill’s Secret Army. One of these women is an American named Virginia Hall and she is a woman with a wooden leg who after being denied a job as a diplomat becomes a spy instead. 1 in 3 of these spies lost their lives. It’s harrowing stuff!
Hall is played by Sarah Megan Thomas and she also wrote the film and pushed it into fruition so I give her a ton of credit. The production is handsomely mounted and well acted. It’s an interesting story and for the most part I enjoyed watching it. I kind of wish they had gotten an actress with one leg to play the role but Thomas was very convincing (at least from my POV as an able-bodied viewer.)
On one hand, I can see some calling A Call to Spy a workmanlike or by-the-numbers type of film, and they would be right. There’s nothing particularly creative or unique about it. However, I really enjoyed learning about these 3 women. Their stories are remarkable, and it’s sad that it took me until my 39th year to learn about them. In this case, teaching me about history with a slick and well made production is all they needed to do, and they did it well.
It’s probably too intense for most kids unless they are used to watching a lot of war films (torture, murder and other Nazi behaviors are shown but it is also PG13).
If I am going to fault the film it is a little bit too long at 123 minutes, and we go too long in-between seeing some of the women. It’s supposed to be all 3 women’s stories but particularly the Muslim spy Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte) gets the short end of the stick. I would have liked to have seen more of her and gotten into her head better.
Still, A Call to Spy is an inspirational true story I knew nothing about before seeing it, so I’m glad I watched it. It’s well made and acted and I’d definitely recommend it.
I believe it will be in theaters and then go to streaming so let me know what you think if you see it.
Over at Backseatdirectors.com recently I wrote a review of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film The Truth. It is what I call a ‘slice of life’ film or in other words ‘a film that follows a character around without much plot or story’. In that review I said “It’s interesting because The Truth as a movie doesn’t have a ton of plot. It’s the kind of film some people will find boring, but not yours truly. I liked spending time with these characters.” I bring this up in my Nomandland review because it is also a slice of life film. And like The Truth, I enjoyed spending time with these characters (or character) but just enough to recommend it. I did not love it like I loved The Truth.
Nomadland is based on a non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century by Jessica Bruder, and I am curious to read the book. The strongest part of the film is the empathy it has for all of the people and the lack of judgement of their life choices. It’s also beautifully filmed with lovely cinematography by Joshua James Richards. He also shot director Chloé Zhao’s previous film The Rider, and it had a similar empathy towards its characters, which I admired.
In the film Frances McDormand plays a woman named Fern who is a nomad that wanders in her van from job to job. She eventually becomes a part of a community of nomads (real people not actors mostly featured as the nomads). That’s really all the plot there is. It’s just following her around, seeing her life, which is fine. She’s a compelling enough character to make the film worth a watch.
Unfortunately I couldn’t keep myself from asking a few questions (that maybe are explained in the book but that’s not what this review is based on). It seems unlikely that a single woman alone in a van would be so protected from predators and bad men. But never once in the film is that a problem? Maybe I’m too nervous as a single woman myself but there was no seedy side at all? No drugs, theft, or anything else unkempt.
And it’s not like challenging people makes a film less empathetic. For example, director Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Petewas very realistic in showing the good and the bad side of the Heartland of America and it only made me more invested as he struggled.
On one hand, I admire Zhao’s optimism in not portraying these dark sides but on the other hand it makes the movie very repetitive and not as interesting as it could have been. In Lean on Pete I was sobbing by the end of it because Pete had overcome so much to get to safety. In Nomadland I felt relief and comfort but not much emotional investment in Fern’s story. It was beautiful but would have probably worked better as a short than a feature.
I’m still going to give Nomadland a recommendation but I’d say to moderate your expectations. Some are calling it the ‘best film of the year’, and I’m not in that camp. Still it’s beautiful enough with a strong enough performance from McDormand to be worth a view. If you see it let me know what you think.
7 out of 10
I saw Nomadland through the NYFF Virtual Film Center at Lincoln Center. I recommend checking them out and supporting independent cinema if you can.
Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well (or at least as well as can be expected during this crazy time). I have certainly been hard at work both watching and creating content. I am so blessed to be able to do what I do.
While I would love to be a full time critic I am extremely blessed to be able to write/create my reviews and be a part-time corporate blogger for the rest of my job. However I don’t only post to this site. Recently I have reviewed:
With that out of the way let’s share some mini reviews!
Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles
Fans of the Food Network and Top Chef will enjoy this documentary that follows famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi as he puts on an event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honor of Versailles. Ottolenghi assembles his crackpot team of eccentric bakers and jello-makers (yes you read right) and their artistic process is fascinating and a lot of fun to watch. I particularly liked chef Dinara Kasko as she fights for her pastry vision from a pushy man who wants her to take the easy way out.
Where Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles doesn’t work as well is in the final act change in messaging. It feels tagged on after so much excess and opulence the entire movie to all the sudden have a social conscience. Not everything has to have a message or speak to the injustices of our time. It’s fine to have one documentary that is just about escapist cakes. No more.
Still it’s a fun movie and available in theaters and on demand.
6 out of 10
Give or Take
One trend I’ve noticed over the last few years is lots of movies about the male experience and in particular unlikely male friendships. Whether it be an Oscar winner like Green Bookor smaller films like To Dust or Papi Chulo we seem to be fascinated as a culture with men and their friendships. Now we have the latest in this trend with the indie film Give or Take and for the most part it works quite well.
Give or Take tells the story of an estranged son (Jamie Effros) who comes home to bury his father and struggles to get along with his father’s spouse Ted (Norbert Leo Butz- who I’ve enjoyed since his Broadway days and they almost let him sing in this!). The film explores themes of forgiveness, loss and what moving on means. The comic relief from people like Cheri Oteri is less effective and the relationship between Martin and his former flame Emma (Joanne Tucker) didn’t really work for me. Still, if you are up for a small, low budget drama it’s worth a watch.
6.5 out of 10
Stars and Strife
With the current political climate being a continual cess pool of despair and depravity I was honestly quite hesitant to watch the new documentary Stars and Strife. Political documentaries very easily veer into the propaganda camp and are more for building up the ideology of the ardent believers than for making persuasive arguments.
Well, color me shocked when Stars and Strife actually turned out to be a hopeful film examining our current condition and how we might be able to dig our way out. It might be too optimistic for some people but in this day and age I will take a little hope where I can get it. It’s also very even-handed with people who worked in Bush and Obama administrations weighing in. This film is available on STARZ and to rent VOD.
7 out of 10
The Human Voice
Right now as part of the New York Film Festival you can have a special film festival type experience right from your own laptop. The great Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has made a one-woman short with Tilda Swinton during quarantine and it’s a delight to watch. In addition, with your purchase you get an interview with Swinton and Almodóvar, which includes a passionate speech from the director about getting back to the big screen experience as soon as we possibly can.
The short The Human Voice is ”freely based” on the Jean Cocteau play La voix humaine and is about a woman waiting for her ex to pick up his things and dog in their apartment but he never comes. Both the dog and woman are abandoned and angry yet it is very fun to watch. I love the way Almodóvar uses color and Swinton is fantastic. It captures the sense of isolation we’ve all been feeling lately and is definitely cathartic to watch.
8 out of 10
4 movies today all smile worthy! I love when that happens. What have you been watching? Any recommendations?
Slice of life movies are always a tricky venture. By their very description they are low on plot,high on characters. The idea is we as viewers relate to the day-to-day goings on of our characters and this closeness to our own lives inspires an emotion out of us. It moves us to see a version of ourselves on screen and this mirror gives us insight into our choices and lives. However, when slice of life films don’t work they are just people and the characters are not strong enough to give us needed insight. Such is the problem with Sean Durkin’s new film The Nest. The film is getting heaps of praise from other critics but I found it to be an underwhelming experience.
The Nest tells the story of a dysfunctional family in the 80s that moves to London so the husband (Jude Law) can make it in financing like he has been unable to do in the US. His wife (Carrie Coon) begrudgingly moves with him, along with her fitful horse, and 2 children. As they live in England, their marriage goes downhill quickly as he proves to be a terrible businessman. The girl throws a party. The horse has issues and that’s it.
Maybe my being single doesn’t allow me to get the deep meaning in the marital conflict? That is possible but when you compare this with something like 45 Yearswhich is also about a struggling marriage, with partners failing to communicate, there is no comparison. I am not very familiar with Coon but her performance didn’t work. The Nest screams for a Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine type performance but doesn’t deliver it. Again, if the story isn’t going to draw us in the characters need to and these do not.
Law does more but is stuck in a basic role we’ve seen a million times and done with far more gravitas in other films. I felt no emotion with his character- neither anger nor sympathy. The daughter throws a party but that is quickly done away with and not taken seriously by the script. I could say that for all the characters including the horse! It’s all surface-level. It all looks pretty with nice production design and cinematography but the characters and story are very bland.
Others seem to be enjoying The Nest more than I did so by all means give it a watch and decide for yourself. It did nothing for me, and I cannot recommend it. Let me know what you think.
It’s always a tricky thing turning a celebrated stage play into a movie. It can be very successful like Amadeus or A Man for All Seasons. Other times it doesn’t carry over well like with August Osage County or marginally so with Fences. There is something about the monologuing and cadence a play needs to be successful which can feel awkward and inauthentic in a film.
The new film One Night in Miami doesn’t totally escape these problems. There are times it feels stagey and the dialogue is clinical rather than the natural discourse of friends. However, the performances are strong enough and the true moments true enough to rise above these problems.
The film tells a fictionalized story of real-life icons Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), Malcolm X, Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke as they meet for one night following the first championship fight of Clay over Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964. Each man has a different perspective on life, race, publicity, work and the Civil Rights Movement, and none are shy about sharing their views with each other.
Again, sometimes this dialogue can feel stagey or like they are talking to the audience more than their friends in the room. However, the performances are so charismatic that it draws you in anyway. I particularly liked the interchanges between Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X and Leslie Odom Jr as singer Sam Cooke. They have different perspectives about when to speak out and when to play along, and they both make good points that ring true today.
The filmmaking in One Night in Miami, by first time director Regina King, is appropriately minimal. Most of the film is set in a hotel room with the 4 men talking. You get brief glimpses of Clay fighting, Cooke singing, Malcolm calling his family etc but for the most part it stays true to the origins of the play. This works quite well as nothing on screen distracts you from the performances.
Currently the film is premiering at the Venice Film Festival (the first film directed by an African-American woman to be selected in the festivals history, which is insane it took this long!). I saw it virtually through the Toronto International Film Festival but it will be coming to Amazon Prime and I definitely think it is worth a watch especially for the performances.
When American Sniper became a huge hit in 2014/2015 Hollywood realized that the conservative market could support more edgy R rated films than the squeaky clean variety they had previously been served (along with Passion of the Christ but that was more avertly religious than American Sniper). Since then I have noticed a number of overtly Christian films that are decidedly R rated and yet it still catches me off guard. I guess it is something I just have to get used to! The latest is a film by director Cyrus Nowrasteh called Infidel. It’s a bit of a mixed bag but overall if the topic interests you I think it is worth a watch.
Infidel stars Jim Caviezel in inspired by true events of the kidnapping and imprisonment of former FBI agent Robert Levinson in Iran in 2007. His character’s name in the movie is Doug Rawlins and to start with he goes to Cairo to give a speech. While there he is kidnapped and his wife (Claudia Karvan) is left to try and rescue him.
The first part of Infidel with Doug speaking and getting over to Cairo is very clunky, and I thought for sure I was going frown-worthy on it. However, once the movie gets into full rescue mode it became a lot more palatable. If you like movies like Taken you might have fun with this film.
All the performances are good. I particularly liked Claudia Karvan as Doug’s wife. She’s not your typical upset wife waiting at home nor is she the kick butt action hero. Just a strong capable woman who gets things done. Caviezel is also good especially when he is in more prisoner vs preacher mode.
I don’t know what Christian audiences will think of Infidel? It is violent and has its share of F-bombs so I know that will turn away some people of faith. However, it is based on a true story and the action is exciting, so it has its appeal. Nevertheless, It’s a weird mixture but I was entertained enough to recommend it. It’s going to be playing in 1500-1700 theaters starting this weekend so if you get a chance to see it let me know what you think.