[REVIEW] ‘The Nest’: A Dysfunctional Family But For What?

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 Years which 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.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW]’One Night in Miami’: 4 Iconic Friends, 1 Night to Talk

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.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

 

 

[REVIEW] ‘Infidel’ or Christian Taken?

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.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery’: Female Friendship and Oh Yeah a Romance Too

Being the founder of The Hallmarkies Podcast  many of you probably assume I am going to love a movie called The Broken Hearts Gallery just by the name alone. Well, you would be wrong. Just read my review for Desperados and you will quickly see I do not give all romcoms a pass. In fact, what I enjoyed the most about The Broken Hearts Gallery wasn’t the romance at all; although it was very sweet and enjoyable. My favorite part of the film is the friendships it depicts. It showcases the best kind of sisterhood that especially thrives in your post-college years and in the age of quarantine I miss a lot (I haven’t even been able to attend book club in person for months. Sad face).

The Broken Hearts Gallery stars Geraldine Viswanathan (who I loved already this year in Bad Education, so she’s rapidly becoming a favorite) as woman named Lucy (that’s such a romcom name). In our opening scenes she is dumped by her boyfriend in a very public fashion and she does not handle things well. Luckily she has her very forgiving and eclectic roommates to help her grieve. Molly Gordon plays roommate Amanda who is married to the mute Jeff and Phillipa Soo (of Hamilton fame) is lesbian part-time model Nadine. They are both hilarious, and I loved them so much.

Through an adorable meet-cute Lucy meets hunky Nick played by Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things), and they start renovating a boutique hotel together. Bernadette Peters also figures in to the story as a gallery owner and Lucy’s former boss. As the title suggests, Lucy creates a gallery of items she and others have saved from their failed relationships. It becomes an instagram phenomenon, and you can guess where the story goes from there.

The point of a movie like The Broken Hearts Gallery is not to tell the most original story. You know where it is going each step of the way. The point is to spend time with likable people, have some laughs and feel good about the world for 5 seconds. This movie does a great job with all of that, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think men and women will equally enjoy it as the male characters have personality and aren’t just tools in the plot for the women (except maybe Jeff but that’s hilarious). My friend went with her husband, and he enjoyed it because he was laughing at the witty dialogue. It’s very engaging and funny.

The one warning I will give about the film is it is a strong PG-13. In fact, I am a little surprised it could get away with that rating. I would check a content review site before seeing it to make sure it is something you are comfortable with.

If you do feel comfortable than make your way to your local theater or drive-in and watch The Broken Hearts Gallery. It’s a really fun time!

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Rent-A-Pal’ or Hello Video Friend…

One of my goals for this year was to get out of my comfort zone as far as my reviews. Well 2020 has certainly made that interesting but I have tried to review more thrillers/horror movies to help expand my portfolio as a critic. For example, I recently saw Unhinged which I didn’t like and then Relic which I did like and is one of my favorite films of 2020. Now we have the 80s throwback thriller called Rent-A-Pal. This is a very disturbing but effective film which tells a creepy story about the mania loneliness can cause.

Rent-A-Pal tells the story of David (Brian Landis Folkins) who is shouldering the burden of caring for his aging Mother with severe dementia. She often calls him Frank, his father’s name and seems resentful of the help David gives her. She even wanders away and is lost trying to find her husband. Anyone who has cared for someone with dementia can relate to these experiences. (It’s very interesting that Relic also dealt with these same themes as well as Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which I will review later).

One day David gets a video tape from his video dating service that’s a video introduction to friend Andy played by Will Wheaton. He asks you how your day has been, compliments your decor and shares jokes all for a small purchase fee at the video dating service. Meanwhile, David gets matched by the service with a girl named Lisa who seems could be an actual friend. Can David see the difference between what is real or a artificial? That’s where the mania lies in a the movie and like I said it is very effective.

The only thing I wish they had more time for is to build up his link to Andy. It all happens very quickly, in just a couple of days, which makes it less believable. This is especially true because he is so so excited for the date with Lisa and it seems to go so well.

Speaking of Lisa, I thought Amy Rutledge did a really good job in a small role. She is warm and likable, which is a nice contrast to the phony affability of Andy.  Everybody does a good job in Rent-A-Pal but I found myself rooting for Lisa towards the end.

Rent-A-Pal is an upsetting film if you have been lonely in your life. It definitely won’t be for everyone but if it sounds interesting to you it’s well made and worth a watch.

Look for Rent-A-Pal in drive-ins, theaters and VOD Sept 11th

7 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘Enola Holmes’: A New Game is Afoot!

Longtime readers of mine will know I love Sherlock Holmes. In fact, my entire family enjoys it especially my father who had a particular affinity for the Jeremy Brett version in the 1990s. I wasn’t a big fan of the Guy Ritchie directed films with Robert Downey Jr because he was too much a James Bond type figure dodging bullets and outrunning explosions. Sherlock to me is a character of high intellect not physical strength so it missed the mark. Then the BBC series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch was wonderful for 2 seasons and then went downhill especially series 4 which was garbage.

One of the things I hated about Sherlock series 4 is his sister Eurus who basically puts him in a house with puzzles like some kind of Saw rip-off. I hated the story, and I hated her character. So when I saw Netflix was making a new series about a female Holmes family member named Enola Holmes I was both intrigued and terrified.

Fortunately Enola Holmes is charming addition to the Sherlock Holmes mythology and a promising start to a new series of hopefully many films. In this story Enola played by Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame is a much younger sister of the famed detective Sherlock Holmes. He is played here by Henry Cavill who is fantastic in the few scenes we see him in. Sam Claflin plays Mycroft Holmes and his performance didn’t work as well. He’s too angry and mean for the light-hearted tone of this film. Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as the mother of the whole clan.

Millie Bobby Brown is very good in this role and the script allows her to break the fourth wall and be cheeky and modern. It’s a lot of fun. For the most part this is a film the entire family can watch together and both boys and girls will really enjoy our smart but strong young female detective.

The only problems I have with Enola Holmes is the actual case wasn’t very interesting. This is basically an origin story movie so the film is more concerned with establishing all the key players and parts of Enola’s life and personality. The mystery involving her missing mother didn’t really do it for me. I’d like in the next film for her to get a case to solve and while she’s doing so she can find love and adventure along the way.

I also feel the movie gets too violent towards the end to be an ideal family film. Multiple characters are shot and there’s a lot of tension which is a bummer because most of the movie is appropriate for all ages.

Nevertheless Enola Holmes is a fun ride with a heroine we all need right now. She’s bold, she’s funny and she’s more than a little sarcastic. It comes to Netflix September 23 so put it on your calendar. You’ll love it!

8 out of 10

 

[REVIEW] ‘Tenet’: Complex or Convoluted Piece from Nolan? (Spoiler Free)

2020 has been such a strange year it’s probably in fitting that 2 of the strangest blockbusters of recent memory end up opening theaters back up with The New Mutants and Tenet. The New Mutants feels strange because it was delayed so long that its entire franchise feels dated and Tenet because it is from the auteur-meets-mainstream filmmaker that is Christopher Nolan. Going into the weekend I was sure I’d prefer Nolan’s film over The New Mutants but having seen them both I don’t know if that is the case? Their flaws are different, but I certainly enjoyed the experience of watching the simple superhero origin movie over the convoluted enterprise that was Tenet.

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Without giving any spoilers away Tenet stars John David Washington as the Protagonist (literally that’s his name). He is a CIA agent who becomes involved in a secret organization that is studying inverted energy- or moving backward through time. As part of their investigations they become involved with Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who for a number of reasons is trying to star World War III and destroy the entire world with his technology. He is also manipulating his ex-wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) in a complicated case of blackmail involving their son and art.

Robert Pattinson’s Neil is the best character in the film because his job is to inform the Protagonist of what is going on through long exposition dumps. We like him because he is the only one helping us get some kind of baring into the story. Everything and everyone else is muddled and messy.

The truth is at 150 minutes of this sustained confusion I struggled to stay invested and found myself nodding off more than I should have, especially for how much action is in the film. It goes to show all the splashy action in the world does not get you anywhere, for this critic at least, if the characters aren’t engaging and the story isn’t interesting. And I didn’t go into the movie tired or weary. I was ready to be entertained but I mostly wasn’t.

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Some will probably compare Tenet to Nolan’s Inception but to me there is no comparison. I was so much more invested in the characters in the former compared to the latter. I really cared about Inception’s Cobb and have always felt that his relationship with his wife Mal was the emotional core of the movie. Also Inception set up the clues for its puzzle well, piece by piece, so it earned the ambiguous ending. Part of the fun of Inception was walking out debating with my friends what the spinning top means for the characters?

Tenet, on the other hand, doesn’t develop characters we care about. Branagh’s villain, in particular, falls flat in a very one-note performance. Likewise, the clues aren’t laid out in an enticing or interesting way. It ends up feeling like 2.5 hours of characters we don’t care about experiencing cool looking stuff. This can only entertain you for so long. It’s also hard to get invested in characters and story clues when Nolan chooses to have the sound design almost incomprehensible for most of the dialogue. A friend of mine has a hearing aid and got to watch the film with closed-captions, and I’m honestly jealous. I don’t think I’m being ungenerous when saying 2/3rds of Tenet is unintelligible, to my ears at least.

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Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does tremendous work here and the visual effects should all be praised. Hans Zimmer couldn’t do this film because of his work on the upcoming Dune (we got a trailer to a trailer for that film and even though I hate the book what I saw is intriguing) but Ludwig Göransson does a good imitation. Unfortunately the sound mixing is so off and the music so loud the score becomes distracting to the overall narrative.

I’m not going to tell you to avoid Tenet. Maybe it’s too smart for me and you’ll get what Nolan is trying to do? Maybe I will watch it 2 or 3 more times and eventually it will all make sense? It’s possible but I doubt it. Go see it and make up your mind for yourself (as would be my advice for all films). I appreciate that Nolan is pushing mainstream audiences and is not satisfied with the ordinary movie-going experience. Unfortunately sometimes he forgets that the basics of good cinema are important too- characters, story, intelligible dialogue, emotion etc. We need it all for the pretty images to mean something and make an impact. Sorry Nolan! Try again!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well! I have been very busy watching a bunch of big and small films. After a strange Spring and Summer it is fun to be back busy watching and reviewing movies! Today I have 3 quick reviews for you of smaller films- 2 of them are part of the Fantasia Film Festival which I am grateful to have been granted press access for. I hopefully will have more coming up in the next week.

You Cannot Kill David Arquette-

I really like character piece documentaries and You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a good example of one that really works. The documentary follows actor David Arquette as he returns to professional wrestling after a stunt world championship win in 2000 that angered the wrestling fanbase. Some of the pain Arquette goes through is tough to watch but by the end it feels like quite the underdog story. We also get to hear from Arquette’s famous family, ex-wife and current wife and experience him go through this along with trying to maintain his sobriety and keep his family together. It’s both sad, fascinating and triumphant at the same time. We perhaps get a bit too much wrestling for my taste but still worth a watch.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Northwood Pie-

Made on a very small budget Northwood Pie is another movie that tries to do the indie raunchy teen comedy game but in order for that to work the characters need to be appealing (Dazed and Confused) and the laughs need to be there (Booksmart). Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for me with Northwood Pie. Young Crispin played by Todd Knaak doesn’t have the charisma of a John Heder in Napoleon Dynamite or a John Cusack in Say Anything. But I can’t really blame him because the main problem was the script that just wasn’t funny and seemed to think the f-word is an excuse for a joke, which gets old fast. I hate to be too hard on super small films like this but it didn’t really work for me.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Savage State (L’état sauvage)-

The new film Savage State by director David Perrault will probably end up being quite divisive. It reminded me a little bit of The Beguiled by Sophia Coppola from a few years ago. Both are slow female-centric stories set in the past. I didn’t love The Beguiled even thought it was well cast and shot and I feel the same about Savage State. All of the energy and tension was sucked out of The Beguiled when compared the original and I felt the same way about Savage State. Everything looked beautiful and the actresses were trying their best but the story was not interesting or engaging. Esther (Alice Isaaz) and Victor (Kevin Janssens) do have good chemistry so that helps. I just wish the screenplay had given them more to do.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it. If you get to see any of these films let me know what you think. I would definitely recommend You Cannot Kill David Arquette out of the group!

[REVIEW] ‘Unprescribed’ or A Compelling Case for Pot

If you have followed my content for a while you know I am a big fan of documentaries. Whether it be 30 for 30 and other sports documentaries, historical documentaries like Ken Burns makes or more issue focused documentaries I really enjoy the genre. Today I got the chance to watch a new documentary called Unprescribed which makes a compelling case for medical marijuana that everyone should watch.

These kind of topic-specific documentaries can feel like propaganda so they should be taken with a grain of salt but we can still learn the arguments for one side of the story. such is the case here in Unprescribed. They are not trying to paint a fair argument on both sides of the cannabis debate, merely present one side of the story as compellingly as they can.

The main perspective of Unprescribed comes from our brave military  men and women. Director Steve Ellmore dives into the epidemic of veteran suicide and how the cocktail of drugs they give our returning soldiers is not effective in dealing with their problems. I know from people in my life the damage opiods can have especially on someone with an emotionally damaged psyche as these soldiers have with PTSD. Putting them on opiods is the absolute worst thing we can do for them.

Given the horrible effects of the drugs they give veterans for PTSD it doesn’t make much sense to prohibit them from taking marijuana, a drug with very minimal side effects. Surely nobody can argue that the side effects are worse than the opiods we are giving them!

Unprescribed does not have the flashy celebrity interviews or narration you might see in other topic-specific documentaries (think Michael Moore…). However, I appreciate that it told normal human stories and gives a face to the unfairly demonized pro medical marijuana community. If you are interested in this topic give it a watch. It’s not very long and will help make the case for one side of a very heated national debate.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy