[REVIEW] ‘Eternals’ or The Script is Not a Marvel

Back in 2019 I attended the D23 Expo and one of the most exciting announcements was Marvel’s upcoming film Eternals. How cool to see Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek and more coming out on stage to be in a Marvel movie with a female director! This was going to be awesome!

Unfortunately I must admit to being completely underwhelmed and even frustrated by Eternals. It has some positive aspects of course but its main downfall is a confusing script with inconsistently written characters stuck in a timeline that makes it impossible to build momentum or tell a story that makes sense.  We don’t even have the ties to the MCU to help guide the new characters into the world (Wong for instance in Shang-Chi filled this role).

Other people seem to have enjoyed it more than me. I don’t know what to to tell you but most of the film I had no idea what was happening. There’s lots of exposition explaining the rules of the emergence and celestials, for example, but when these events are happening the conversation explaining said event had been so long ago I had forgotten what it meant and was left wondering what was happening and why our characters were behaving in this way.

It might help to watch this movie on Disney Plus when it is available and have a pen and paper to keep track of all the rules and what happens in each time period and how that matters. But should that be required of every movie? My friend seemed to keep track of details better than I did but my brain (I have some dyslexia and am more of a linear learner) struggles when plots are fragmented like they are in Eternals. It’s especially frustrating when they could have easily made different choices that would have made sense in the theater on the first watch.

Another problem I had was with the characters. Because the timeline flips around over centuries we see characters at weak and high points but since this is out of order it’s confusing and makes it hard to invest in the characters. One character is a hero in a timeline, in another he or she betrays and even kills our heroes, and then he or she’s back to being a good hero and then final redemption. I love the Marvel heroes but these will have to be explained better in other movies because I did not get to know them hardly at all. Also their powers seemed completely random and some hardly useful for defending the world against deviants.

All the actors in Eternals give good performances. The cinematography and visual effects are impressive. There are also grown-up moments that some may enjoy (Marvel’s first sex scene since Iron Man). I also appreciated the diversity and inclusivity but unfortunately it all sinks under the weight of a poorly written script and makes for a frustrating watch.

If you like Eternals I am happy for you. Indeed, I am jealous because I wanted to have that experience. Please keep comments civil. Anything threatening or unkind will be deleted.

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Current Mini Reviews (French Dispatch, Last Duel, Becoming Cousteau and More)

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I am writing this review update from Los Angeles, California. I am in town for the Animation is Film Festival, which showcases the best of animated films from this year. I am super excited to see Luca and Mitchells v the Machines on the big screen as well as new films like Mamoru Hosoda’s new film Belle.

In the meantime I have also been to a lot of screenings lately so I have some catching up to do on reviews. I wish I could write whole posts on each of these films but I am only one human and I simply run out of time. So here goes! If you have seen any of these films let me know what you think.

The Last Duel

The Last Duel Trailer Reveals Jodie Comer, Adam Driver, and Matt Damon in Ridley Scott's Epic Film

We don’t get many medieval epics these days so one has to admire director Ridley Scott and the team at 20th Century for even greenlighting The Last Duel. It is a sweeping story of war, revenge, friendship and betrayal. Unfortunately some decisions from the director with the storytelling kept me from loving the film.

The positives are like I said the scope of the filmmaking and the attention to detail with costumes, battle scenes and sets. I also thought Jodie Comer and Adam Driver did a great job in their roles. Matt Damon works hard but is miscast and given one of the ugliest haircuts of recent memory. Ben Affleck’s character and performance is very strange but effective.

The problem with The Last Duel is they tell the story of a rape 3 times and I don’t think there is enough to be gained from each perspective to make the storytelling choice worth it. It feels repetitive because it literally is repetitive. Plus, the fact they show the rape twice feels gratuitous and unnecessary. It’s not like each side has radically different takes. It’s clearly rape in both versions.

The Last Duel is not a terrible film. I am sure many will enjoy it but the story structure sank it for me. No thanks

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Becoming Cousteau

See the source image

For many of us the name Jacques Cousteau is synonymous with the ocean and marine conservation. During the 1960s and 70s ABC ran a series of documentaries from the French explorer called The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Now we have a documentary about the Cousteau’s life and it is a fascinating look at both a media figure and the environmental activist movement.

Part of what makes a documentary like this work is the footage the filmmakers have to use. Fortunately for this film they have tons of footage, Cousteau being a documentarian himself. It’s sad to see the deuteriation of the ocean from when he starts filming to the 80s and even 90s. It’s even more sad to see the toll that causes for Cousteau who takes the polluting of the ocean as a personal failing on his part when even he could only do so much to prevent humans from hurting the ocean.

I assume Becoming Cousteau will end up on Disney Plus so you can wait to see it then or if it is a theater near you check it out.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch: Four stars for Wes Anderson's latest - BBC Culture

Wes Anderson is similar to Zack Snyder in the fact they both make very stylish films with a near cult of personality that devours their work. It almost seems futile to write a review on either of their films because their fans are already signed up to see them. What I say won’t matter.

Anyway we have the latest from Anderson, The French Dispatch, and it’s very Wes Andersony… It has all of his best and worst qualities and in the end I thought it was…ok.

To start with the production design in the film is immaculate. The camerawork is fantastic and the score does a lot of the heavy lifting. The cast is impressive but many of the actors feel underused. When someone like Edward Norton appears for under 2 minutes it’s distracting. We keep waiting for such a big name actor to appear again and when he doesn’t it’s disappointing.

The short stories in The French Dispatch are hit and miss. My favorite was the prison chef story with Jeffrey Wright especially the animated section but then others went on too long like the story of Timothee Chalamet’s rebellion with Frances McDormand overstayed its welcome.

Nevertheless, if you like Anderson than you’ll get something out of The French Dispatch. It’s uneven but worth watching.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Ron’s Gone Wrong

Ron's Gone Wrong review: A kid-friendly, tech-upgraded Iron Giant - Polygon

For animation fans the new film Ron’s Gone Wrong is an exciting release as it is Locksmith Animation’s first feature film and the only CGI animated film to come out of the UK this year. It is also a 20th Century Studios release, which is now a part of Disney.

My favorite part of the film is the animation and the design of the b-bots (named Ron in this case). I honestly would like to have one of these robots- and not the ones at the end but the ones that work the way they should at the beginning.  I also liked the lead character Barney and his Slavic old-fashioned family.

Unfortunately it is impossible not to think of Big Hero 6 when watching Ron’s Gone Wrong. The movies are so similar but Ron doesn’t hold a candle to Baymax. I mean who could? Barney also doesn’t have to deal with the same level of loss (at least on screen. His Mother has passed on but that isn’t a part of the plot like it is for Hero).

All that said, the film does get intense and may be too much for very small children. I would say 8 and up should be fine.

Despite its flaws Ron’s Gone Wrong has enough imagination, creative character designs and heart to make it worth a recommendation.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Dune: Part One’ or It’s Dune. Take it or Leave It

A couple of years ago my book club chose to read Frank Herbert’s 1965 scifi novel Dune for one of our summer selections. The whole point of book club is to get me out of my reading comfort zone so I dove in hoping to enjoy it…and I did not. It was a beast of exposition and ambling plot that went nowhere. None of us but one enjoyed the book and I hoped to never hear about Dune again.

Then of course the movie was announced directed by auteur Denis Villeneuve and of course it was delayed last year due to the pandemic. I feel like I have been hearing about this movie for ages. First the endless casting announcements and then trailers and other publicity as it became delayed. The hype for most was building to a promise I knew the film would not be able to meet- ‘the next Lord of the Rings or Star Wars and I knew from the book that’s not what Dune is unless they strayed far away from the source material.

Today we finally arrived at the big screening day and I had moderated expectations, which is what I recommend for each of you. Don’t go in expecting to hate it- that’s idiotic but expect a well made scifi movie and that’s what you will get.

That’s right. I did actually enjoy Dune despite my dislike of the book. I don’t love it and it has its issues but it’s about the best you could do in making a Dune movie and what more can you ask of filmmakers?

The strengths are in the visual effects and production/sound design. The acting is also all competent and they keep the story moving fairly well- far better than the book or some of Villeneuve’s other scifi films.

My problems with the film is in the character development. Timothee Chalamet does a good job with Paul but the character is flat and doesn’t grow in the way we need for this type of Chosen One story. In addition, none of the side characters stand out or are particularly memorable (no Samwise or Han Solo types in the bunch). It also has no comic relief or lighthearted moments to allow the audience to breathe away from the action.

As I said, the visual effects are strong but in the last third of the film there are a lot of night scenes obfuscated with sand storms. I know this is partly intentional as the story has become darker but it lost some of its visual flair to a muddy sameness by the end.

I know many will disagree with me, but I also was underwhelmed by the Hans Zimmer score. I thought it was bland and missing the dynamic theme we need in such an epic story.

After I see a film I always ask ‘did it succeed in doing what it’s trying to do?’ and I think with Dune the answer is yes. Sure I had some critiques but for a very difficult novel to put on film they did a good job and certainly fans of the source material will love it. When you get a chance to see it let me know what you think!

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ or Superheroes Meet the Odd Couple is a Hoot

When I saw the original Venom movie I had mixed feelings but my big takeaway was the “humor worked for me” and then I added “I’d be open to a sequel where they could iron out the bugs”. Now we have a sequel and in my opinion they have done just that. The humor is still great and the problems with the supplementary characters and the sluggish pacing have been addressed. I walked away from Venom: Let There Be Carnage having been thoroughly entertained. Other people seem to be having different responses and that’s fine. I can only share my experience.

Sometimes I like a movie that’s just plain weird and both of the Venom movies fit that description. The buddy relationship between Venom and Eddie is bizarre, random and hilarious. I was laughing throughout- and so was most of the audience in my critics screening. Eddie trying to keep Venom happy which usually means he says funny, inappropriate and strange things. Tom Hardy is great as Eddie/Venom and it’s fun to see an actor of his caliber arguing with himself over chickens and what not. If my Grandma was alive she’d describe it as a hoot and I’d agree with her.

The rest of the movie is fairly standard but well done with Woody Harrelson playing Carnage. He always does a good job playing manic insane villains. Naomi Harris plays his love interest Shriek and she’s fine. They aren’t especially memorable but they do the job they need to do to get to the action and Venom/Eddie plotline going.

Much has been talked about the 97 minute runtime. I loved it. I was never bored. It never got bogged down in exposition. It was clean, concise and on its way. I found the pacing very refreshing. It’s actually simple. If you want to watch a weird movie about a very odd couple and have some laughs check out Venom: Let There Be Carnage. I sure enjoyed it and I bet you will too. If you are expecting a Shakespearean comicbook movie you probably won’t like it but if you want a kooky good time you will or at least I sure did.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘No Time to Die’ or Bond Makes Us Cry in 2021…

I must admit the James Bond franchise has never interested me much. Of the long running franchise I have only seen the Brosnan and Daniel Craig entries and they are a hit and miss bunch.

Now after seemingly endless delays we get the latest and final entry in the Craig saga of Bond films: No Time to Die. It’s not a perfect movie but it should more than satisfy Bond fans and I was happy with its emotional conclusion to a normally silly franchise.

Some may lament the loss of the stupid women and over-the-top action of past Bonds but I welcome the change. The franchise is finally making movies that appeal to me and make Bond into an actual person I care about. Plus you still get the pretty people and great stunts so win/win in my opinion.

If you want to get the full amount out of No Time To Die I recommend watching the previous film Spectre first. I have seen it but it has been a while so some of the plotpoints were lost on me and the film felt more than a little confused. It also definitely drags at times with the audience feeling the 163 minute runtime.

All that said, the action is well done. The movie is well shot with the style and panache you want from a Bond movie. Rami Malek makes for an intimidating and creepy villain. The little girl is cute. Léa Seydoux is fine as Madeleine although her and Craig don’t have much chemistry due probably partly from their large age gap (he’s 53, she’s 36).

My favorite part of No Time to Die is its humanity. It’s an emotional, gripping end to this version of Bond. Craig gives a great performance and like I said we actually care about the character this time around. That emotion is what makes it worth watching even with its flaws.

No Time to Die releases Oct 8th around the world. When you get a chance to see it let me know what you think  and how it compares to other Bond entries I might not have seen.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ or Loneliness is Tough

Anyone who knows me knows I love musicals and musical theater. In fact, this year I have seen 27 local live shows since I have been vaccinated. You can read my theater reviews on my other site here. Back in 2017 I did a podcast with my friend Hayden on the Tony Awards. To prepare I listened to the original cast recordings and watched as many clips as I could (I don’t live in NYC so first run shows are hard for me to see). Instantly I was captivated by the recording for the musical Dear Evan Hansen. The songs were so engaging with great hooks. I loved them!

Now I have yet to actually see the musical on stage but I hope I get the chance someday. Fortunately this week I got to see the filmed version of the musical and it is not without its flaws but I still overall connected with its themes and love the uplifting music.

I totally understand why some people are responding negatively to this film. It definitely has some issues story-wise. To begin with Evan’s mental health issues come and go. At times he can’t muster the confidence to order a pizza on the phone and at other times he’s asking girls out and going to dances. It doesn’t really make sense.

Also the character Connor we are told he is abusive to his sister and she holds no remorse for his passing. She’s relieved and then another minute we see him dancing around singing with Evan in a fantasy sequence. It’s very strange. Also, I thought the portrayal of his mother by Julianne Moore was odd. Usually single Moms are seen as strong and empowered but she was judged harshly by the script for over-working and not being there for her son.

All that said…I still enjoyed the movie. I know it’s weird, but I was able to put all the negatives aside and focus on the core idea of loneliness and how once we matter and are loved it can make all the difference. Evan realizes he can actually make a difference in the world and the more he speaks out the happier he is. We all have those lonely moments, especially as teens, and maybe we can help rescue each other? That’s the main point of the story.

Of course, he also lies so it’s a flawed story, but I was able to see the core of what they are going for and enjoy it flaws and all. I also love the music by La La Land‘s Pasek and Paul. I actually think the songs are far better than in La La Land. I also appreciate the songs are all sung well with Ben Platt reprising his Tony winning role. (I know some criticized his casting but it personally didn’t bother me as all the teen characters are in their 20s so it didn’t stick out. Plus every teen movie practically has 20 year olds).

Kaitlyn Dever is great as Zoe and Amandla Stenberg does a good job with a perky character that is hiding her own demons. She also gets a new song called “The Anonymous Ones”, which did a good job of underscoring the themes of loneliness and fear.

If you don’t care for Dear Evan Hansen I totally get it, but I walked away having thought about my lonely moments, and what I would write to myself. The music soars, the singing is great and it is trying to share a positive message to teens. I think you can watch it with your teen and have a great discussion about how we can all love more, communicate better and try to notice those who are ‘waving through a window’ crying out for help

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Current Mini Reviews (Blue Bayou, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Silent Night)

Hi everyone! I have officially finished with TIFF and it’s been a great experience. This morning I watched my last movie for the festival, Silent Night and that makes 23 movies watched and reviewed. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on these artistic and ambitious films. Even with 9 I did not recommend I still appreciate the experience of attending a festival and watching a large number of films in a short period of time. It gives you a whole different perspective than a typical ordinary trip to the cinemas.

Anyway I have 3 movies to report on today. One I saw at TIFF and the rest were at screenings. Here we go!

Silent Night

I must admit I haven’t seen many apocalyptic or end of the world movies. I’m naturally more of an optimistic person so such dour films don’t appeal to me. Now with director Camille Griffin’s Silent Night we not only get the end of the world but it is combined with Christmas, making for a very weird combination.

In this film a family and friends are gathering to celebrate Christmas knowing the end of the world is coming the next day. A tornado of toxic gasses is going to pass over and they can either take a suicide pill first or wait to die.

The cast for this strange film is fantastic. Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode have great chemistry as the hosts of the party. Rufus Jones, Annabelle Wallis, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and more play their friends and Roman Griffin Davis and his twin brothers play their children.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t do much to flesh out the characters outside of the fact they are all going to die, which obviously makes the movie very depressing. Some people may like the depressing version of a Christmas movie but it is definitely not for me and I didn’t take away anything profound that would make all the sadness worth it. My advice is watch Anna and the Apocalypse instead. It’s zombies end of the world and is much more entertaining.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Everybody’s Talking About Jaime

You all know I love musicals and 2021 has proven to be an amazing year for the genre with films like In the Heights, Vivo, Dear Evan Hansen and more. Now we have Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and it’s another win!

This film is based on the stage production of the same name and it tells the story of high school student Jamie New who’s dream is to become a drag queen performer. Jamie is played by newcomer Max Harwood with energy and charisma.

My favorite part of this movie is how positive and life affirming it is. For the most part everyone is kind and encouraging to Jamie. I particularly loved his mother Margaret played by Sarah Lancashire. Her song ‘He’s My Boy’ is the highlight of the film. She sang it like a Broadway pro.

There is of course opposition for Jamie including a bully at school and his Father’s disapproval but it still overall feels positive and uplifting. Richard E Grant could get a supporting Oscar nom for his wonderful performance as a mentor for Jamie.

The songs aren’t especially memorable, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this big-hearted film.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blue Bayou

There are certain movies I’m glad I have seen but never want to watch again. The new film Blue Bayou is one of those films. It’s a devastating film that profiles an important issue I didn’t know was a problem. It tells the story of the LeBlanc family that lives on the Louisiana Bayou. Wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) is pregnant and father Antonio (Justin Chon- who also directs) is trying to make it as a tattoo artist. He was adopted as a child from Korea but things get complicated as the government tries to deport him.

The success of this film will depend a lot on if it emotionally gets you or not? It got me. I was crying especially a very brutal end. I am sure some will think it is too much and it might be but it worked for me. Chon and Vikander have good chemistry and little Sydney Kowalske is great as Kathy’s little girl Jessie. They feel like a believable family to me.

The weaker part of the film comes in a side plot with Linh Dan Pham who is a Vietnamese immigrant who befriends Antonio despite her having cancer. I didn’t see the point of her character. She didn’t add anything to the main conflict and her entire presence could be cut without changing a thing.

Blue Bayou is also a beautiful film that captures the magic of the Louisiana swamps well. It’s devastating but a film you won’t soon forget.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There you have it. Let me know if you get to see any of these films what you think. Thanks!

[REVIEW] ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’: Big Eye Lashes, Big Life

Going into The Eyes of Tammy Faye I didn’t know what to expect. Of course, I’d heard of Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband Jim Bakker but didn’t know much about them. From the trailer I was expecting something very negative about her. Hollywood, after all, is usually pretty rough on religious people especially if there is a scandal attached to them.

Imagine my surprise leaving the theater to find the movie to be overwhelmingly positive in its portrayal of Tammy Faye? In fact, it was so positive I had to wonder if the Bakker family had final approval over the script? All that said, I still enjoyed the film and especially loved Jessica Chastain’s performance as Tammy Faye. Andrew Garfield is good as well as Jim but Chastain steals the movie.

The film is based on a documentary of the same name which was released back in 2000. I haven’t seen the documentary although I am definitely curious to watch it after seeing this dramatic version. Chastain transforms into Tammy Faye not only with the makeup and costumes but also with her acting and singing. I had no idea she could sing so well. It’s a complete performance.

I also had no idea Tammy Faye was an advocate for AIDS patients. In particular an interview with patient Steve Pieters where she tells him “I just want to love people” as God does was very moving.

It will be interesting to see what others think of this film. I do think they could have shown something about the victims that Jim and Tammy Faye took advantage of in their organization. Jim takes most of the blame in the scheme and maybe that is true to life but if so, it makes Tammy Faye seem like a very naive person.

Nevertheless, go see The Eyes of Tammy Faye for Jessica Chastain’s incredible performance and an unusual story of redemption.

7 out of 10

Smile worthy

TIFF Day 1 Log: As in Heaven, Petite Maman

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. This week has been very busy with all my normal busyness plus getting ready for the beginning of TIFF (The Toronto International Film Festival). I am blessed to be accepted as accredited press with the ability to participate in the digital festival (I hope to go in person next year but I was too afraid of getting caught in Canada with a surprise attack of COVID to go this year.

Unfortunately the festival had a rough first day with the digital player not working on any browser. This caused them to reschedule some of the screenings and I was only able to get 2 films in. On the plus side I was able to get ahead on other projects so I should be able to watch more movies this weekend.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the 2 movies I did get to see today as part of the festival

As in Heaven

As in Heaven (Du som er i himlen in Danish)

First time filmmaker Tea Lindeburg tells a story about a young girl named Lise who is trying to help her family get through the long couple of days of her Mother being in labor and enduring a difficult pregnancy. Her and her children struggle with the thought of losing their mother and Lise hopes to someday escape the small world of her farm.

This movie is beautiful with some of the most striking cinematography I’ve seen in a long time. I also felt like I connected with the characters as my Mother had difficult pregnancies when I was a teenager (obviously this is a period piece but I still connected with the worry).

It will definitely be too slow for some as there isn’t a ton of plot. It’s a fly on the wall kind of movie where you watch and experience life with the people in the film. It also has some pretty grisly birthing scenes so viewer beware! Still I was moved by As in Heaven and I recommend it to anyone who can handle the pacing and challenging subject matter.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Petite Maman

One of my most anticipated films of the festival was Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman. I really enjoyed her film Portrait of a Lady on Fire from 2019 and this more modern story of 2 young girls looked very sweet.

Unfortunately, now that I’ve seen it I must own to being quite disappointed. Nearly everyone else I know seems to be loving this so maybe my hype hurt my experience but I didn’t see anything special in this film.

I was right about the 2 girls being cute. They are adorable little girls and the child actors do a great job playing and having fun together. They don’t feel like the too precocious child actors you sometimes get in Hollywood films. We all know kids just like these girls.

The problem is with the script. Nothing really happens. You spend a weekend with the girls as they help pack up one of their recently deceased Grandmother’s homes. That’s it. They pack things, eat cereal, build forts. It’s cute but not enough to sustain a feature film. It’s once again an indie festival film that would have been much better as a short.

It’s interesting because both Petite Maman and As in Heaven are slice of life narratives but the latter worked more because the stakes are so much higher if the family loses their mother. In Petite Maman it’s cute but the emotional weight isn’t there. Like I said, I’m definitely in the minority on this one but that’s part of the festival experience. I always have a couple festival favorites I don’t love.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it. Hopefully tomorrow I will have many more films to log! Happy movie viewing!