[REVIEW] ‘Parallel Mothers’ or All About 2 Mothers

When I first started The Criterion Project with my friend Conrado one of the first movies we reviewed was All About My Mother by famed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, and I really enjoyed it. Almodóvar is great at creating compelling characters while adding his artistic flair. There are still many of his films I have not seen but I enjoyed All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Pain and Glory, and last year’s short The Human Voice.

Now we finally have Almodóvar‘s latest film Parallel Mothers out in theaters. I wish I could have included it in my end of the year lists and videos but the studio was slow in getting me a screener. Now I’ve seen it, and I not only enjoyed but think it is one of Almodóvar’s most approachable, entertaining films. You don’t have to be an indie viewer to enjoy Parallel Mothers. It’s a good story with great performances and engaging characters.

Penélope Cruz stars as Janis a middle-aged new Mother who shares a hospital room while giving birth with a teenage mom named Ana (Milena Smit). The 2 single Mothers become involved in an unexpected way and their bond is both powerful and painful. Almodóvar does a fantastic job making both women believable, easy to root for and yet frustrating at the same time. They are layered, emotionally true characters and both performances are Oscar-worthy.

Some may want something more daring from Almodóvar but I appreciated a more approachable film that is less challenging. You could almost describe Parallel Mothers as a thriller at times. It’s a very well done script. If it’s playing near you definitely check out this cinematic gem from 2021.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Single Mother By Choice’ But COVID Not a Choice

So far this COVID experience has been difficult to transfer to media. Most shows and movies have chosen to ignore it in the guise of escapism but there have been a few standouts. Interesting enough 2 of my favorites focus on the female experience with Stop and Go and I’m Fine Thanks for Asking. Now we can another compelling entry with the new film on HBOMax Single Mother by Choice.

In 2019 Selina Ringel and her husband Dan Levy Dagerman decided to make  movie chronicling her pregnancy but make the character a SMBC or Single Mother By Choice. This is obviously where a woman becomes pregnant through a sperm donor and has the child without a partner.

Then COVID happened and the lockdown and the story changed. All of the sudden the expected loneliness became magnified and Selina’s vulnerability and yet strength all the more exposed.

Ringel said “The lockdown as a result of Covid-19 plays directly into this theme. My character gets exactly what she wished for, to take care of everything by herself, but at a whole other level than she imagined and the lonlieness that comes with that is unbearable.”

Obviously this film is shot on a small budget but I felt it really captured the highs and lows of being single in the lockdown. I worked from home so I didn’t think it would be that hard but it was, and I can only imagine if I had all that while being pregnant!

I almost wish it was a series so I could keep following mother and child. One of my favorite parts was when she is interviewing roommates- something I can relate with as I had to find new tenants for my basement apartment during the pandemic.

Also all the zoom chats and the googling information about COVID and the baby. At one point her doctor tells her ‘stay off of google” LOL. It’s an interesting dichotomy because at the same time she’s doing this bold confident thing she’s also never been more isolated and alone. She both realizes she can do it on her own and that she needs people all at the same time. I think we all can relate to that understanding over the last few years.

Selina says “It has been through doing some deep work on myself that I have realized that asking for help is a strength, I think it is important to start seeing vulnerability as a positive attribute.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Single Mother By Choice is a moving insightful look at the female experience in the era of COVID. Definitely worth a watch if you get a chance.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘The Jesus Music’ or Glory Imperfect Music to God

Today is my day to celebrate the Erwin Brothers because I just reviewed their film American Underdog and now I am talking about their documentary The Jesus Music. As I said in that review Jon and Andrew Erwin are making films in the faith-based genre that nobody else is making. They may not be perfect but they are so much better than their contemporaries and that continues into the documentary format with The Jesus Music. This is a solid chronicling of the history of Jesus music from the 1960s to its current day.

Despite not growing up as a traditional Christian I still enjoyed the Jesus music of the 80s. I’ve always been a big Amy Grant fan. In fact, she was one of the few artists my Mother and I agreed on and enjoyed listening together. I also loved Michael W Smith and he was the first concert I ever went to with a friend of mine out at the county fair. Both of them feature heavily in the documentary as well as other artists I did not know like the heavy metal band Stryper.

The Jesus Music': Movie Review | CBN.com

I don’t think you have to be a follower to enjoy this documentary. As I said I am not a traditional Christian or an evangelical but I found it fascinating. It’s not afraid to be judgemental and call out the Christian audience and it showcases a wide variety of artists not just worship music.

Plus, the music is really good! It made me want to search out new artists and learn more about others song catalog. It’s also uses Kirk Franklin and other artists to talk about the diversity problem within the genre and that they could have embraced it from the beginning more than they did.

If you love Christian music you will love The Jesus Music. If you don’t you might still love it. It’s one of the best documentaries of the year!


Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘American Underdog’ or How to Inspire Right

One of the toughest genres to make a quality film in is the faith-based film. It is very difficult to portray conversion and a spiritual life in a way that doesn’t feel forced and cloying. However, the Erwin Bros, Andrew and Jon, are doing it about as well as can be done. I first noticed them in 2018 with I Can Only Imagine, which made a non-religious friend of mine weep, it was so good. And then I Still Believe released just before the pandemic that was another solid inspirational true story about musician Jeremy Camp. Now with their latest film American Underdog they are moving to sports to tell the story of come-from-behind football star Kurt Warner and they have another win!

There are a couple key aspects that make American Underdog work. First, the story is compelling and doesn’t try to start a ministry. What Kurt Warner accomplished coming from an undrafted status to winning Super Bowls as a quarterback is remarkable. He literally did go from stocking shelves at the supermarket to an MVP in the NFL. That kind of story doesn’t happen every day and is exciting.

American Underdog (2021) - IMDb

Second, the Erwin’s got quality actors for the film. We all know Zachary Levi is charismatic and likable but so is Anna Paquin who plays Warner’s girlfriend/wife. Dennis Quaid does strong work as coach Dick Vermeil in a small role and little Hayden Zaller is wonderful as Warner’s step-son Zack. The whole cast makes for a story that’s easy to find inspiring because we like the characters and we want to cheer for them.

Finally, for this kind of movie the script is relatively gritty and honest. For example, Kurt and Brenda live together for a long time before getting married. They also meet in a bar and characters get intoxicated on occasion. It’s not like you need these elements to make a story work but it’s also nice the filmmakers didn’t shy away from them to appease their Christian audience either. It makes the victory in the end all the more enjoyable when you see where they come from and what they have overcome.

This holiday season if you are looking for something that will make you stand up and cheer check out American Underdog. It’s a rousing crowd pleaser for the whole family!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy


[REVIEW] The Matrix Resurrections or I Might Give Up on Modern Sci-fi

I walked into The Matrix Resurrections hopeful to find a story I enjoy and find entertaining. I walked out depressed and baffled. If this is modern sci-fi I want no part of it and I count myself a fan of the original film from 1999.

This was just a complete mess masquerading as meta sci-fi. No thank you!

Keanu Reeves: Why Matrix Resurrection is not a sequel, his Sandra Bullock crush and 2021 stories | Marca

As best as I can make out this tells the story of Neo trying to figure out the Matrix again and find his love Trinity (now introduced as Tiffany) with an aged Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). Along the way he faces a duplicitous game mogul version of Smith (Jonathan Groff) and a psychiatrist villain played by Neil Patrick Harris.

The Matrix 4 Trailer's Nod to the Gross Bug Machine May Be a Vital Clue

I have never been the biggest sci-fi fan, but I used to at least understand the movies even if they were a little slow and more style over substance. Now they try to cram so much substance that they lose the story. I guess at least with The Matrix Resurrections I could understand the dialogue unlike the baffling Tenet from last year. Other people are either smarter than I am or they don’t care that the plots make no sense in these movies. I don’t know. I can only share my experience.

Also just because something goes meta and has a message doesn’t automatically make it good. It still has to tell a story that makes sense with characters that grow and change. Not the case here. Honestly movies like this make me feel I was too hard on Reminiscence because at least that had a coherent story with characters that transformed. It was a little boring, but I’d watch it a hundred times over whatever this was.

If you like The Matrix Resurrections more power to you. I hated practically every minute of it.

Now please can someone make a good sci-fi film please? I need it!

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ or No Spoilers=Short Review

It’s no big secret I was not a fan of the last Spider-Man movie in the MCU, Spider-Man: Far From Home. I didn’t like the set up with Tony giving Peter, a teenager, a weapon. I didn’t like the villain motivation being another grudge against Tony Stark and I really didn’t like the attempts at humor like Peter getting caught getting undressed by a woman and then using the weapon to almost kill a schoolmate he thought might expose him. Also the illusions made no sense practically when you think about it. It was bad. Very bad.

So my expectations were not high for the sequel No Way Home. Now I have seen the film and it is a definite improvement from the last film. However,all the ways I liked it better would be considered spoilers. All the things I didn’t like would also be considered spoilers. This makes this review difficult to write. I seriously can’t think of a movie harder to talk about without spoilers than this film.

What I will say is that at its core Spider-Man: No Way Home is a movie about friendship. It’s about schoolmate friendships, mentor/mentee friendships, friends you have nothing in common with, friends who are very similar, and friends that are your parental figures/family. Some friends you chose and some are chosen for you but that all has value.

The biggest downside to the film is a problem I’ve had with Disney for a long time. They are presenting a perfect world where nobody is evil or bad and everyone can be redeemed or ”cured” of their sociopathic or evil tendencies. That’s just not reality. I know it’s a superhero movie but one of the best things about superhero movies and comics is their ability to teach children the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. Now everything is either doom and gloom over at DC or no villains exist at Disney. I don’t love that. It is supposed to make everything more nuanced but it instead makes everything bland and devoid of personality.

There also is a lot of time in this movie with people in rooms talking. Sometimes that works, other times it feels over-rehearsed and careful when it is supposed to be natural and conversational. It does also lean on nostalgia a bit but I enjoyed that aspect.

It will be interesting to see what people think of Spider-man: No Way Home. It’s an unusual entry in the MCU but going in with low expectations I enjoyed it and appreciated Peter Parker and all his friends.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There is a mid-credits and post-credit scene so stick around!

[REVIEW] ‘Cyrano’: The Power of Poetry, Music and Romance

I have always loved the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. I recall seeing it when I was a little girl at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and it made an impact on me then and still does to this day. There is something universal in its themes and story that remains just as poignant in 2021 as it was back in 1897.

Now we have a new version simply called Cyrano helmed by director Joe Wright and God bless him he’s turned it into a musical!! 2021 seems to be the year of the musical so it’s been a fun time for me. This production is based on a stage musical of the same name by Erica Schmidt and she does the screenplay here. It has some flaws but it swept me away in the romance, heart and beautiful storytelling.

Cyrano' Review: Peter Dinklage Reinvents a Romantic Classic - Variety

Cyrano in this version is played by Peter Dinklage and instead of a large nose, as in the original play, he is obviously a little person. Dinklage does a great job inhabiting both the bravado and lack of confidence that exist simultaneously within the character. In many ways changing from nose to height makes the social stigmas feel more relatable because sadly more women would probably care more about the height than nose. It just makes for an interesting character to have the same man who kills a man in a duel on stage for all to see be the one who can’t speak one word of his love for Roxanne for fear of rejection.


Haley Bennett makes for a wonderful Roxanne with a beautiful singing voice and she has great chemistry with Dinklage. Kelvin Harrison Jr is fine as Christian but the part is admittedly on the bland side. The songs are all written by the band The National, which I was unfamiliar with before this movie, but they craft some standouts like “Someone to Say”

Some of the other songs are more hit and miss but most musical fans will enjoy them. The singing is all outstanding and score is beautiful. Joe Wright brings his elegant style along with DP Seamus McGarvey who worked with him for 2007’s Anna Karenina, which I also love!

All the costumes and production values are first rate in Cyrano which helps the viewer become immersed in the tragic tale of missed opportunities. If only Cyrano had been braver. If only Christian had confessed. If only Roxanne hadn’t been so blind. All those emotions are felt deeply by the screenplay and make Cyrano a special cinematic event!

Cyrano is also a terrific date night option. It has the swordsmanship for the guys and the romance for the ladies. It’s not getting the wide release until January but keep an eye out for it. You won’t want to miss it!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy



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[REVIEW] West Side Story (2021) or Revivals Aren’t Just for Broadway Anymore!

I have a little podcast with my friend Conrado Falco called The Criterion Project where twice a month we talk about what is playing on The Criterion Channel (we actually talked about the original West Side Story here). As one of our regular topics each episode we pitch a remake of the film we are discussing. This can be very challenging as most of the films we are discussing are considered classics in one way or another.

The trickiest thing about a remake is how do you justify its existence? For example, we have projects like the 2019 remake of The Lion King which only addition was in the photo-realistic style that only detracted from the story rather than enhanced.

Now we have a new telling of West Side Story– an adaptation of the Broadway musical where the original film won multiple Oscars including Best Picture and 2 acting wins for Rita Moreno and George Chakris. How do you remake something so beloved?

Well, evidently the answer to that question is to assign the task to Steven Spielberg and hist team of professionals. I loved this new take on West Side Story and I think they took the right approach by treating it like a revival on Broadway. There are changes. Things are staged differently, songs are moved around and even sung by different characters but it still feels like an adaptation of the musical. Like I said, if I went to a revival of West Side Story on Broadway these are the kinds of changes and interpretations I’d expect. Still the same show but with a new flair.

West Side Story Review: Steven Spielberg's Musical Is Revelatory Riff | IndieWire

As a whole the production is more workman-like than the original without the auteur feel of the Jerome Robbins choreography and Oscar winning cinematography and art direction. However, there are 2 ways this version far surpasses the original:

First, the chemistry between stars Rachel Zegler (in a stunning debut performance) and Ansel Elgort far exceeds the original’s Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood. Beymer famously hated the movie and was embarrassed by his performance (which is a little harsh but there was room for improvement). Maybe part of it is the new couple read as teenagers much more than the original. Who knows? Chemistry is a weird ephemeral thing and here they have it. The whole cast has great chemistry.

Second, the singing is a big improvement over the original. Zegler was discovered on youtube because of her singing and her voice is absolutely stunning. In the original all the singing is dubbed and while I support that choice if the actor can’t perform the songs well enough I prefer casting singers and that’s what they did in the 2021 film. Everyone sings beautifully in this film and for a musical theater fan like myself that added a lot to the experience.

Some people have criticized Elgort’s performance (I am aware his personal life leaves something to be desired) but I don’t agree. I thought he had great screen presence and sold the part of Tony very well. I also love the sound of his tenor vocals.. Moreno also gives a strong performance as the drug store owner Valentina. Her character exists as a kind of bridge between the Sharks and the Jets and that was an effective change.

I also enjoyed Broadway stars Ariana DeBose as Anita and Mike Faist as Riff. Spielberg’s longtime DP Janusz Kaminski does a good job playing homage to the original film but adding new insight. I particularly liked how they staged the final brawl in a salt warehouse. The actors pitched against the giant piles of salt was striking and memorable.

As a theater fan I enjoy going to see revivals just as much as new musicals, sometimes more. That’s how you have to look at this version of West Side Story. It’s a fantastic revival by a cast and crew at the top of their game. I loved it and can’t wait to see it again!


8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy


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Current Movie Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! I have a big update to give you of all the movies I’ve been watching lately. The awards season is upon us so I’ve been trying to get as many of the screeners/popular films watched as possible. I tried to write full reviews for as many of the films as possible but I ran out of time so that means it’s time for some mini reviews!

Here goes!

Bergman Island

Bergman Island Review: Mia Hansen-Løve's Scenes from a Marriage | IndieWire

I am not a Bergman expert (I’ve actually only seen one of his movies The Seventh Seal which I reviewed for Blind Spot a few years ago). I am sure fans of Bergman will enjoy this film even more than I did but I still thought it was a good watch. Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps play a writing duo who go to the island where Bergman shot his movies for inspiration. While there she tells him the story for her new movie which we see played out with Mia Wasikowska. I may like the movie within a movie better than a movie but the script was quippy and fun and everyone had good chemistry. A movie made for cinemaphiles.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza': Trailer, release date and everything we know about the Paul Thomas Anderson movie | What to Watch

I’ve noticed critics slightly older than me are really hyping up this movie. It definitely has that nostalgia for a time and place that will appeal to people who lived in that time and place. All that said, I still enjoyed it. It’s a meandering slice of life type of story that relies on its characters to get you through the film over the story. Fortunately, for the most part the characters are engaging. Alana Haim is great as the Jewish young adult who becomes friends with a teenage boy played by Cooper Hoffman. He’s only 15 but he seems older as he owns several businesses throughout the film and works as a teen-star on a show. Some parts felt a little played out like most of the goings-on involving his waterbed business but I loved everything when she is working for a local councilman’s campaign. It reminded me of Dazed and Confused but without Linklater’s snappy dialogue. Licorice Pizza isn’t a classic but it’s worth watching

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Mass' review: The emotional aftermath of a school shooting - Los Angeles Times

There are certain movies that are very well done that I have no desire to ever watch again. Mass is one of those films. It is a simple movie which feels more like a play: 2 couples sitting in a room talking about their departed children. However, in this case one son is a school shooter and one was his victim. All 4 actors are exceptional especially Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton as the 2 mothers. It’s extremely intense and brutal but there is hope at the end. At almost 2 hours it’s a bit exhausting but I’m glad I saw it.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Hand of God

The Hand of God first-look review – Paolo Sorrentino's Cinema Paradiso

The Hand of God is a movie that tries to do what Licorice Pizza does but without as much success. It’s a slice of life coming of age story about an Italian boy in 1980s Naples. Like Licorice Pizza, it’s full of little vignettes of the young man growing up but they aren’t as charming or engaging. I honestly felt like I was watching Italian people amble about for over 2 hours. The account of Fabietto losing his virginity was especially strange. It is beautifully filmed by Paolo Sorrentino but there are so many better movies that conquer the same topic that this one is a skip.

Frown Worthy

4.5 out of 10


Pig,” Reviewed: Nicolas Cage Is the Only Reason to Watch | The New Yorker

This summer I heard a lot about Pig from my friends but for some reason I didn’t think it would be something I’d like. It just felt weird. However, now I have seen it and to my surprise I actually enjoyed it! Pig tells the story of a reclusive chef turned truffle hunter who goes on a quest to find his stolen truffle pig. These pigs can be very valuable but that’s not why he is on his mission. He’s searching because he loves the pig and misses it, which is sweet and more endearing than this movie had any right to be. I will probably select Nicolas Cage for my actor nominations I am voting for. He’s great and the movie is a winner.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy


Extinct (2021) - IMDb

Extinct is an animated film I kept hearing about but it seemed like it would never actually get released. Now I’ve seen it and it’s…fine. The animation and the story are serviceable and the voicework is all well done, but there’s nothing exceptional or memorable here. The film is extremely exposition heavy. In particular the villain has a monologue at one point that goes on for at least 10 minutes and then we don’t see him again for until the end of the movie. Extinct isn’t actively bad but just bland and forgettable.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Tragedy of Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth Review: Denzel Shines in Dream Shakespeare Noir | IndieWire

Next up we have newest take on Shakespeare’s most disturbing play, The Tragedy of Macbeth directed by Joel Coen of Coen Brothers fame. I am not a Shakespeare expert so I can’t tell you what they left in or took out in this adaptation, but all the main moments are there. The acting is excellent by Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Brendan Gleeson, Corey Hawkins and more. The whole movie was shot in black and white in a castle with seemingly cement walls surrounding it. The use of shadows and lighting is very effective in creating an almost silhouette motif to many of the shots. I can picture this version being used in high schools in coming years to come. Excellent

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sing 2

Sing 2 Trailer Offers First Look at Bono, Halsey in Animated Adventure – The Hollywood Reporter

I am not the biggest Illumination fan but I didn’t mind the first Sing movie and I loved the soundtrack. Now we have the sequel and to my surprise I didn’t mind it either. It’s no masterpiece but it’s a pleasant animated film with another great soundtrack. In this sequel they take our troupe of singers to a Vegas-like city to try out for a show run by mogul Jimmy Crystal. The housewife Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is still my favorite character (you don’t see many Mothers with their own character arcs in animated films. I like that). The story in Sing 2 definitely takes itself way too seriously and gets bogged down in heavy themes of depression, discouragement and rejection but I still overall enjoyed it and especially if you love the music you’ll have fun with it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Worst Person in the World

The Worst Person in the World (2021) - IMDb

In another coming of age story this film is about a young Norwegian woman who decides to study psychology and become a photographer. She begins to date an older man who has a successful comic-book series called Bobcat. The best part of this movie is the chemistry between Julie (Renate Reinsve) and Aksel (Anders Danielsen). They have an age gapbut they fit well together and you are rooting for them as a couple. This is a pretty strong R rating but if you are up for this kind of story you’ll enjoy it.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

8-Bit Christmas

8-Bit Christmas Release Date, Cast, And Plot - What We Know So Far

Most of the Christmas movies I watch for Hallmarkies Podcast are TV movies rather than feature films but occasionally we get a film that could be released in theaters like 8-Bit Christmas. This film has a great cast and while it borrows from many other holiday films (especially A Christmas Story) I found it to be a charming and sweet film. I loved Winslow Fegley in Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made last year and he’s great in this as well. All the kids are excellent (which is important as they are the main characters). Neil Patrick Harris is charming as the narrator (telling his story much like the narrator in A Christmas Story) and most of the humor and heart works. I can picture this becoming a holiday favorite for families looking to remember Christmas in the 80s like A Christmas Story did for the 40s.

8 out of 10

House of Gucci

House of Gucci' film: Plotline, cast, trailer and release date - RUSSH

House of Gucci I won’t log on rottentomatoes because I didn’t get to see the last 20 minutes. I was evacuated from my theater because of a fire! It was pretty surreal. All the sudden a loud siren started going and then the speaker said ‘this is an emergency. Please exit the theater’. So we made our way out of the theater and then were sent home. No end to the movie for us! From what I saw House of Gucci was mostly fun. I liked the camp especially from Lady Gaga. It’s definitely over-long and I’ve heard from others the ending isn’t good (but isn’t it based on true events so maybe they had no choice?). I’m not dying to find out how it ends so I guess that says something but maybe when it comes to a streaming service I’ll finish it off. Jared Leto gives a very strange performance.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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