Current Mini Reviews

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:

Rebecca

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

Frown Worthy

Spontaneous

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.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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

Smile Worthy

Hubie Halloween

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

FrownWorthy

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

Smile Worthy

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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

Smile Worthy

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

Smile Worthy

2 Hearts

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

Frown Worthy

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

Pixels Review

pixels10You like that poster?  Well, my friends in the new movie Pixels there is no Pacman the size of a city, no Golden Gate Bridge and no San Francisco.  No West Coast at all in fact.  The poster looks like an exciting concept but sadly that’s not the movie we got.  And in many ways that is emblematic of Pixels as a movie.  It’s not really satisfying on any level.

That said, if you like Adam Sandler and were one of the cinemagoers that contributed to the $247 million gross box office that was Grown Ups, you will love Pixels.  It isn’t as bad as That’s My Boy or Grown Ups, or Jack and Jill.  It’s watchable. If you like Adam Sandler’s schtick there were a few laughs.  Something I can’t say for those other films I mentioned.  At least Pixels does not have a vomit, urine or other bodily function joke.  Great job Adam Sandler!  (Have you got the idea I’m not a big Adam Sandler fan).

It’s a shame really because Pixels could have been the next Ghostbusters.  It’s directed by Chris Columbus and he gives it an 80s sensibility with the music and some of the early scenes feel authentic to movies of that era.  Just like with Ghostbusters the creatures special effects are pretty well done and you have this tag team of comedians fighting them off.

pixelsThe problem is the writing is so bad.  With Ghostbusters you had 4 eclectic guys who start up a business.  Are actual entrepreneurs which makes them unique and fun to watch.  Plus, the script is dry and funny and each of the 4 guys has his own personality and story arc. All the guys in Pixels are the same and have the same story to tell.  Basically the entire point of the Pixels script is to say to Adam Sandler “you haven’t done anything with your life but that’s ok.  Your lazy manchild skills are really what are going to save the world after all”.  How hilarious.

The first joke of the movie is that Kevin James is supposed to be President of the United States.  This should be the one gamer who did something with his life but he’s a buffoon.  You get no idea of how he could have possibly become president.  In fact, some of the gags at his expense come off as kind of mean. For example, it is a big joke that Kevin James can’t read very well.

Wouldn’t it be more funny to have an actor like Martin Sheen or Michael Douglas (who both can be very good in comedies) be the video gamer at heart but also be a serious President?  Wouldn’t that have way more potential for comedy?  Or put in someone like a Kiefer Sutherland who is super angry and vengeful towards the aliens.  That would have been funny.  Anything other than Kevin James acting like a buffoon as the leader of the free world.

pixels6Anyway, Adam Sandler is James’ old friend who was defeated in the 1982 World Arcade Game Championships.  This left him devastated (who knew coming in second was such a horrible thing at a WORLD championship).  Anyway, NASA at the championship sends off a time capsule with clips of the video games and other pop culture relics from 1982 in hopes of it reaching extra-terrestrial life.

pixels5The problem is that capsule is seen as a declaration of war and so the aliens come down as those video game creatures and attack America.  There are tons of plotholes throughout this whole scenario.  Like when Pacman and Centipede come down there are specific rules that are the same for the game and yet later on it is just a barrage of video game characters who evidently have no rules?  Also why would the aliens know about cheat codes?  And why would they design into their attack a way to defeat the game and destroy their complete existence? And wouldn’t it make more sense to have the aliens create their own characters? Why would you invade a race with the exact things that they are using in their ‘declaration of war’?  Because this movie is stupid that’s why…

All this would be fine if it was funny (Gozer in Ghostbusters isn’t exactly a great villain either) but aside from a few chuckles it just didn’t make me laugh.  Josh Gad who I normally love is especially annoying in this.  He literally screams every time he is on screen.  I wanted to yell- “channel your inner Olaf.  That was funny!”

pixels2Peter Dinklage is alright in it but he has a strange accent that wanders in and out.  His character is inconsistent and not very well written but he tries.  He gave me a few laughs.

The other thing with Ghostbusters is in that movie you had a lot of factors against the team.  In this you have a grumpy Brian Cox who is listed as “a military heavyweight” in the cast list and he doesn’t like these civilians butting in with his team.  Gad is even allowed to scream at the seals for an extended unfunny scene that added nothing to the story. It makes no sense for Cox to be hating on the team especially after they have defeated Centipede and Pacman. I guess he wanted the world destroyed?

Sean Bean appears for a gag Sandler loves of 2 men hugging in fear.  It’s 2015 is that still funny having 2 men awkwardly hugging?  The women are also completely wasted.  Michelle Monaghan is gorgeous and a  lieutenant colonel in the army but her main job is to invent things for Sandler and then direct them from a screening room.  She also gets dumped for a woman named Sinnamon (with an S as pointed out several times) and is seen drinking chardonnay with a sippy cup even though her son is at least 10. I’m nitpicking there but they totally underuse her.

Jane Krakowski who can be so funny is in 2 scenes of the movie and one of them she is decorating a cake with the her husband the President in the middle of a war and in another they are at a party also thrown in the middle of wartime.  Ashley Benson is literally a trophy given to one of the men for their victory (when I say literally I mean literally).

pixels3All of that said, the special effects do look kind of cool and I did chuckle a couple times.  I can’t say that about all Adam Sandler movies.  In fact, this is probably one of the best he’s done since the 90s…

pixels8Little kids might like it.  There’s a little mild language but that’s about it as far as offensive content.  But will kids get the appeal of the 80s arcade games? So I don’t know who this movie is made for?

Like I said, if you like Adam Sandler movies and think some of his comedies of the last 10 years have been funny than you will probably love this.  It’s just not my cup of tea but I can see its appeal to others.  Hopefully that gives you some idea of what to expect.

Overall Grade- D+ (for special effects and I feel like at least Adam Sandler tried so I won’t give him an F).

My youtube review on this one. I must say I think my thumbnail on this turned out really good! 🙂

3 Animated Trailers

3 new animated trailers came out today.

There’s a new Peanuts trailer

It looks interesting although I worry they are making the characters too old.  I don’t picture Peanuts characters going to school dances and things like that.  What makes Peanuts funny is they are little kids thinking these deep contemplative thoughts.  That said, I like the style, voicework and I think it looks like a cute movie.

Then we got a new trailer for Hotel Transylvania 2

Adam Sandler is one of my least favorite people in entertainment but I enjoyed the first Hotel Transylvania.  It’s not that original but a cute fish out of water kind of story with some good jokes.  I think this new one looks even better with Mavis’ baby not being a monster and them having to move.  This makes Dracula upset and doing anything to keep them there.  It probably won’t be a masterpiece but I think it will be fun.

Finally we had a trailer for one that hadn’t been on my radar called The Secret Life of Pets.

This one does not look like my cup of tea.  It feels a little Toy Storyish but instead of toys its animals and those copycats have been terrible (need I remind you of last year’s Hero of Color City…).    And I think the whole pets are alive usually is a bad idea (think Cats and Dogs which is awful).  It could be like Over the Hedge which I thought was strong for first 20 minutes and then loses its way.  The voice performances look solid but the project looks tired, so I’m not looking forward to this one. This is also really long for a teaser trailer.

So which out of the 3 are you looking forward to most?  I would rank them 1. Hotel Transylvania 2, 2. Peanuts, 3. Secret Life of Pets

Bonus Holiday Review: Home Alone

home aloneNow that I’m finished with Scrooge month I thought I might do a few bonus holiday reviews and tonight I watched Home Alone and boy does it hold up well.  Aside from technology changes I think it could be released today.  It’s still funny, sweet, sincere and a great family film.

I have a bit of a personal history with this movie.  When we were 10 my grandparents would take us on a trip and my trip was to go to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm and see my cousin in a choral competition with my grandparents.  It was pretty great.  Before we went down to Southern California we had a night and decided to go see Home Alone at the theater.  My parents weren’t big TV/Movie people so my movie indoctrination was fairly sparse- the occasional Disney and my recent obsession with Little Mermaid  which was released the year before Home Alone.  I certainly hadn’t seen many comedies at that point.

Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone.  I flew alone which was kind of brave!
Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone. I flew alone which was kind of brave!

So to the theater we went and I laughed my head off. It is the first movie I remember connecting with and laughing hard at.

The truth is I was a very independent kid so Home Alone was kind of my fantasy.  The idea of a kid not only getting by without his parents but defending the house and being smarter than everyone else is so appealing to kids (at least to my kind of kidlike mind). Pretty much if you want to know about me as a child watch Little Mermaid and Home Alone.  That’s the kind of independent spirit I was.  I hated to be told what to do and wanted to be taken seriously in conversation and life. My parents were wise to give me a pretty long leash.

What makes it funny is very good writing combined with the type of humor usually reserved for animation.  Road Runner or Tom and Jerry would have anvils dropped on their heads in cartoons but here is it is real people and all done by a charming little kid.

spiderI like that the movie stays grounded.  All of the stunts Kevin pulls off feel like the kind of thing a kid could do even if in reality they are not.  It’s not like he’s blowing stuff up or using chemicals a kid wouldn’t know about.  He puts ice on the staircase, puts toys and glass ornaments on the ground, makes havoc with a air rifle.   I’m sure you could tear apart things like the zipline as not being realistic but for the most part it feels plausible.  If anything it feels more grounded in reality than Columbus’ Goonies which is another child-fantasy film with heart and humor (a favorite of mine too).

home-alone-wet-banditsHe also doesn’t totally get away with it.  He comes pretty close to being hurt by the Bandits which creates a kind of nervous tension that makes the viewer laugh.

One of my favorite things about the movie is they make Kevin a capable kid.  Some of the best scenes are him going to the grocery store, doing laundry, sitting at church, meeting with Santa, and ordering pizza.  We sometimes see kids as so helpless but I bet a lot of kids in Kevin’s position would do just fine at all those tasks. They aren’t as stupid as we like to think.

home alone groceryThere is also real heart to the movie which especially for a holiday film endears the picture to all of us.  So many comedies today feel crass and then try to throw in sentiment at the end (I’m talking to you Adam Sandler).  But this maintains that kind of heart all the way through.  Even the fight between Kevin and his Mom at the beginning feels authentic to the way a family really talks and deals with one another. Again, it feels like a real family and that gives the whole crazy situation a grounding for the humor.

mom home alone 2I love the scenes with Kevin and the scary neighbor.  It’s sweet and sincere and reminds you of the fears and earnestness of children.  It could have been overly-sentimental but it is played perfectly and you have to give a lot of credit to Macaulay Culkin and Roberts Blossom who plays the old man.

home alone churchCatherine O’hara is wonderful as the Mother.  When she is pleading for help to get back to her son you wish you could help her. You not only feel her panic but her shame and guilt.  It’s very good.

home alone momI also like that Kevin does not immediately forgive his Mother.  He pauses for a second and looks at her.  You think maybe he will stomp off and then he smiles.  It is a great moment.

mom home aloneJohn Candy has a lovely cameo as a Polka band member who agrees to give Kate a ride to Chicago.  He’s joyful and sweet and wants to help a person in need, and the polka music makes it funny (of all the music I think polka is the funniest for some reason).

john candy home aloneJohn Heard feels authentic and real as Kevin’s father and the rest of the family is kind of generic Hollywood kids but it works.  My family reunions are full of chaos and I didn’t get along with my brother so those family scenes ring true for me.

1323845870Eat-Junk-and-Watch-RubbishThere are a lot of little details I like.  Such as Kevin getting his own tree and decorating it or the fact he lights candles over his mac and cheese.  It makes this little kid feel like a real person instead of a caricature.

mac-and-cheseHome Alone could have gone off the rails in so many ways but it straddles that line of slapstick, sentimentality, and a good story just about perfectly.

I give a lot of credit to John Hughes’ writing and Chris Columbus’ directing.  They both had (or have in case of Columbus) careers where they respected young people and sought to tell their stories well.

Whether it is Chris Columbus writing Goonies, directing Harry Potter movies or The Gremlins, or John Hughes with Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller they both managed to always portray children and teens as real people with their own thoughts, desires and struggles.  We take them seriously because the creators took them seriously.

In the end with Home Alone I think even if you hated all the slapstick violence you could still enjoy the movie. There is enough character development and warmth to enjoy the movie on that level alone. How many comedies can say that?

And let’s not forget John Williams’ wonderful score. He combines traditional carols, band and pop music with his own original pieces in one of the best holiday soundtracks ever.  He’s the master!

I hadn’t seen Home Alone for a couple of years and watched it last year and was really charmed by it.  So if it has been a while for you give it a watch.  Your kids will love it and you will too!