Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well (or at least as well as can be expected during this crazy time). I have certainly been hard at work both watching and creating content. I am so blessed to be able to do what I do.

While I would love to be a full time critic I am extremely blessed to be able to write/create my reviews and be a part-time corporate blogger for the rest of my job. However I don’t only post to this site. Recently I have reviewed:

For Backseatdirectors

Wolfwalkers

Made in Italy/Chemical Hearts

The Rental

For Rotoscopers

H is for Happiness

Mulan

Rachel’s Reviews

Secret Society of Second Born Royals

Utopia

I’ve also been doing a lot of fun stuff on both of my podcasts Rachel’s Reviews and Hallmarkies Podcast (and more) and some cool videos on my youtube channel like my first ever Tier Ranking video!

On to the Mini Reviews

With that out of the way let’s share some mini reviews!

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles

Fans of the Food Network and Top Chef will enjoy this documentary that follows famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi as he puts on an event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honor of Versailles. Ottolenghi assembles his crackpot team of eccentric bakers and jello-makers (yes you read right) and their artistic process is fascinating and a lot of fun to watch. I particularly liked chef Dinara Kasko as she fights for her pastry vision from a pushy man who wants her to take the easy way out.

Where Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles doesn’t work as well is in the final act change in messaging. It feels tagged on after so much excess and opulence the entire movie to all the sudden have a social conscience. Not everything has to have a message or speak to the injustices of our time. It’s fine to have one documentary that is just about escapist cakes. No more.

Still it’s a fun movie and available in theaters and on demand.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Give or Take

One trend I’ve noticed over the last few years is lots of movies about the male experience and in particular unlikely male friendships. Whether it be an Oscar winner like Green Book or smaller films like To Dust or Papi Chulo we seem to be fascinated as a culture with men and their friendships. Now we have the latest in this trend with the indie film Give or Take and for the most part it works quite well.

Give or Take tells the story of an estranged son (Jamie Effros) who comes home to bury his father and struggles to get along with his father’s spouse Ted (Norbert Leo Butz- who I’ve enjoyed since his Broadway days and they almost let him sing in this!). The film explores themes of forgiveness, loss and what moving on means. The comic relief from people like Cheri Oteri is less effective and the relationship between Martin and his former flame Emma (Joanne Tucker) didn’t really work for me. Still, if you are up for a small, low budget drama it’s worth a watch.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Stars and Strife

With the current political climate being a continual cess pool of despair and depravity I was honestly quite hesitant to watch the new documentary Stars and Strife. Political documentaries very easily veer into the propaganda camp and are more for building up the ideology of the ardent believers than for making persuasive arguments.

Well, color me shocked when Stars and Strife actually turned out to be a hopeful film examining our current condition and how we might be able to dig our way out. It might be too optimistic for some people but in this day and age I will take a little hope where I can get it. It’s also very even-handed with people who worked in Bush and Obama administrations weighing in. This film is available on STARZ and to rent VOD.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Human Voice

Right now as part of the New York Film Festival you can have a special film festival type experience right from your own laptop. The great Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has made a one-woman short with Tilda Swinton during quarantine and it’s a delight to watch. In addition, with your purchase you get an interview with Swinton and Almodóvar, which includes a passionate speech from the director about getting back to the big screen experience as soon as we possibly can.

The short The Human Voice is ”freely based” on the Jean Cocteau play La voix humaine and is about a woman waiting for her ex to pick up his things and dog in their apartment but he never comes. Both the dog and woman are abandoned and angry yet it is very fun to watch. I love the way Almodóvar uses color and Swinton is fantastic. It captures the sense of isolation we’ve all been feeling lately and is definitely cathartic to watch.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

4 movies today all smile worthy! I love when that happens. What have you been watching? Any recommendations?

[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

Current Mini Reviews

Hi everyone! I hope you are doing well. It’s time to get caught up on a few movies I’ve been watching that I haven’t had the time to write up a complete review. In the next few weeks things are going to be very busy for me with new movies coming to theaters and VOD so reviews should be coming. Make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel and my podacasts (here and here) to get all of my content!

SPUTNIK

sputnik

I’m not the biggest horror fan but I do enjoy a good alien story and a well done creature scares movie.  It is with these tastes I was hoping I would enjoy the new alien horror film out of Russia called Sputnik. Indeed, the film looks great and the scenes with the creature are chilling and quite gory. Unfortunately when they leave the aliens and focus on the humans it becomes a bit of a slog. This is a film I’d actually be interested in seeing a remake where they can have a bigger budget allowing for longer visual effects sequences. As it is, it’s too uneven to recommend; although I am definitely interested to see what the director Egor Abramenko does next in his career.

Sputnik is available to stream on VOD and in theaters.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

HOWARD

howard

I love me a fascinating person documentary, and I love the Disney Renaissance films so I was primed to love the new film about Disney Legend lyricist Howard Ashman. He was taken far too soon from the AIDS epidemic, but it is amazing to watch the impact he did have in the time he was given (it’s bittersweet to think of all he could have done in the many years following his passing. Tragic). The documentary doesn’t break the celebrity bio-doc mold but it’s a must-watch for any Disney fan. Especially the time spent on The Little Mermaid and behind the scenes on Beauty and the Beast is wonderful to watch.

Howard didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about Howard Ashman but it was still fun to see his talent. I particularly loved seeing him work with Jodi Benson and his performances of Poor Unfortunate Souls had such vibrato and energy. No wonder he got story credit on the The Little Mermaid! He invested his all into the film. It also all has special meaning now as we are going through this pandemic. I wonder what documentaries are going to be made of those lost too soon to COVID19? Howard is available on Disney Plus and I highly recommend it!

7 out of 10

THE WEIGHT OF GOLD

The-Weight-of-Gold

As a huge life-long Olympian fan this documentary The Weight of Gold is tough but important watch. Narrated by star swimmer Michael Phelps it profiles the challenges Olympic athletes face obtaining the proper mental health care they need to deal with the intense pressure of competition. The athletes interviewed include a wide variety of disciplines from both the summer and winter Olympics including Apollo Anton-Ohno, Lolo Jones, Bodie Miller and Shaun White. I have dealt with my own mental health crisis in my life so it’s a subject that means a lot to me.

This stigma against mental health care needs to stop and it doesn’t matter if you are an athlete or have any other type of job we need proper care. Help needs to be easily accessible and encouraged. We’ve lost too many to suicide and despair. Enough is enough! The Weight of Gold is available to stream on HBO Max

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

MAGIC CAMP

magic camp

I love live action family comedies and dramas but lately they have been few and far between. Aside from Disney Channel movies Disney has been happy to stick to live action remakes and sequels rather than the small family features they used to be known for. However, with Disney Plus they have been doing more of these films with Togo, Timmy Failure, Noelle and more, which I am very excited about. Now we get their latest film, the long in development Magic Camp starring Adam Devine and Gillian Jacobs.

Magic Camp has a nice message with a simple story of the misfit kids learning to be believe in themselves we’ve seen a lot. Devine is fun and has chemistry with Jacobs, and they both try to make the movie work. Where I fault Magic Camp is, I hate to say it, the kid casting. They are a very bland group of ,kid actors that I struggled to stay engaged with. This is especially true if you compare them to the kids in something like The Sandlot or even The Mighty Ducks. There is no comparison. It makes the movie drag and it’s never funny enough to work as an outright comedy.  I’d say skip this one on Disney Plus watch and just watch Timmy Failure again.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! Have you seen any of these films? What did you think and are you going to be going to the movie theaters to see upcoming films like New Mutants or Tenet? Let me know in the comments sections!

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone it’s time for another one of my quick set of mini reviews for you. All 3 that I am talking about today are from Netflix and in the grand tradition of that illustrious streaming service I didn’t really love any of them. One is an abomination and the other 2 are just ok. So here goes.

wrong missy

The Wrong Missy

Let’s get the abomination The Wrong Missy out of the way. We have the new film from Happy Madison productions starring David Spade as a man who amazingly has 2 women desperately in love with him. One is a super model played by Molly Sims and the other is an insane person played by Lauren Lapkus.

One day he mistakenly invites the wrong woman to a company retreat and then we are treated to Lapkus portraying one of the most annoying and obnoxious characters in recent memory. She is vulgar, pushy, irritating and not the least bit funny. Then like all Happy Madison productions we are supposed to buy that these 2 fall in love despite them being hateful and awful to each other the entire film.

The attempts for laughs include a threesome with poor Sarah Chalke, a long shark cage scene where the big laugh is Lapkus vomiting chum for a cgi shark and several scenes where characters fall humorously off of 2 story buildings/cliffs unharmed. What on earth? It is so obvious the only effort here is to get a free vacation and it shows. Comedy deserves better. Netflix watchers deserve better. Humanity in quarantine deserves better. No thank you!

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

becoming

Becoming

It feels ridiculous to talk about a film like Becoming after The Wrong Missy and to give both films rotten on RT, yet here I am. Becoming is a documentary that follows former first lady Michelle Obama on her recent book tour. Along the way we learn a little bit about her time in the White House and her adjustment after leaving office. We also see her speaking before large crowds and meeting and encouraging youth across the country.

The frustrating part of this documentary is it is so safe! The Obama’s production company Higher Ground have made 2 excellent documentaries Crip Camp and American Factory, so I was expecting more from this film about Michelle. It’s a perfectly pleasant puff piece on the First Lady but it never once challenges her or digs deeper into her private life. I’ve frankly seen biographies on the E! channel that told me more about a celebrity.

I hope her book is more insightful because this told me nothing I didn’t already know about Michelle Obama and isn’t that the point of this type of documentary? For a better example of a well done film watch The Last Dance currently airing on ESPN (or any of the 30 for 30. They are much better than this).

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

secret love

A Secret Love

Finally on Netflix we have a new documentary called A Secret Love that tells the story of a lesbian couple Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel who have been together for over 65 years. As the title suggests they had to express their love in secret and were seen by most of the world as roommates rather than spouses.

The film tells the couple’s story in 2 narrative threads: one is about their young life with Terry as a female baseball player in the late 40s. Then we see them in a modern setting trying to work with Terry’s family to sell their home and make the move to assisted living. I preferred the historical segments much more over the modern sequences.

A part of me thinks these sections needed to be their own separate movies. In the modern I was confused by the responses of the family members particularly to Pat, which the documentary didn’t flesh out well. Most of the time was spent arguing over moving when I wanted to know more about the relationships. The historical sections were more focused perhaps because bigoted family members were dead and easier to expose/talk about.

Nevertheless, it is still a tremendous couple and worth a watch just to see how they have lived their lives on the outside all these years. It could have been better but I still recommend it.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! My reviews of 3 films from Netflix. Let me know if you see any of these and what you thought of them. Sure love ya!

PS. I will be having a review of the new Valley Girl remake over at Backseat Directors coming soon so keep an eye over there!

Sundance Log 2020 Day 9: Dick Johnson is Dead, Sylvie’s Love, Tesla, The GoGos

Hey everyone! I did it! I made it through the last 4 movie day of the Sundance Film Festival. I really thought about skipping the first movie today but last minute I decided to finish out my goal and went. I ended up barely making the passholder line grouping but I’m so glad I did because I wound up loving that film most of all! Go figure!

I actually left feeling positive about all 4 films today. I’m not sure if Sundance has just worn me down but they were all entertaining and free from the extreme content a few other films have had, which was a nice relief.

Now I only have 2 more tomorrow and I will be done and will have watched more films than I did last year (25 in 2019, 26 in 2020)!

Here’s my thoughts on today’s movies:

200576-1-11006934456290982417901.jpg

Dick Johnson is Dead

I was a little skeptical going into director Kirsten Johnson’s experimental documentary, fearing it would be too much of a gimmick. The idea is she is profiling her father as if he had passed away when in fact he is alive. They even have a mock funeral which her father views from the balcony above the grievers (including his very emotional best friend). They all know it is a fake funeral and yet their emotions are very true and real.

In fact, that’s the way I would describe this movie: true. Kirsten and her Dad speak openly about the process of getting older, losing memory, and the pain of grief. As someone who lost both my Grandmas last year this really rang true for me and I was crying something fierce!

Fortunately with the tears is a lot of laughs as we see the bond between father and daughter and wish we could meet the wonderful Dick Johnson. Kirsten also stages fake deaths with her Dad as part of the experiment, and it becomes a kind of ‘cinematic therapy’ for both of them. It really worked for me!

Dick Johnson is Dead will be on Netflix soon so keep an eye out for it. It’s a real gem.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

(Also her Q&A was amazing. Probably the best of the festival)

img_20200201_144715_5461167669496310152665.jpg

As host of the Hallmarkies Podcastyou all know I love a good romance, and we don’t get enough of them in the theaters these days. We especially don’t get as many that are as old-fashioned as the new film Sylvie’s Love, written and directed by Eugene Ashe.

In the film Tessa Thompson stars as the title’s Sylvie who falls in love with a young saxophonist named Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) in 1950’s Harlem.  Her father owns a record store and her Mother is set on her daughter marrying a high class boy. This first half of Sylvie’s Love is what works the best as young love blossoms with all the requisite flirting and stolen kisses.

The second half of the film is less effective as the script lays on the soapy melodrama too thickly even for me. We have several separations that don’t seem necessary and then reunions that feel even less plausible. There will be a lot of people rolling their eyes at the cliches and corny moments but the chemistry was good enough between the 2 leads that it worked well enough for me.

I also loved all the period details and wonderful  music. I would compare it to something like The Notebook. Cheesy, full of melodrama but the chemistry between the couple and overall quality of filmmaking carries the day making an enjoyable time at the cinema.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

tesla_copy8199602277389748811.jpg

Next up we have the very unusual quasi-biopic Tesla. This is a hard movie to describe but I will do my best. It tells the story of famed inventor Nikola Tesla played by Ethan Hawke but in a format that is both traditional and modern at the same time (quite literally).

The film let’s us know right away it is going to be different by employing a narrator (Eve Hewson playing Ann Morgan) who breaks the 4th wall and tells us why Tesla was such a mixture of brilliance and self-sabotage. We also get flights of fancy where fake realities are put before us such as a funny scene where Tesla and Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) are eating ice cream instead of fighting.

There are also scenes where we see modern gadgets to show the end-product of Tesla’s ideas and even a very wacky scene where a boozy Tesla ends up singing at a modern karaoke bar.

The backgrounds and production design in Tesla is also intentionally fake looking with artificial sets and obvious green screen. It may be Sundance brain talking but I found the choices intriguing and usually quite funny. Occasionally they’d push things too far but for the most part it was different but not in the confrontational way that some arthouse films can be.

If you are looking for something new and creative check out Tesla. I will be very curious to hear what people think!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

the_go_gos_copy2330353437127151651.jpg

The GoGo’s

Before watching this documentary I had certainly heard of The GoGo’s, and I enjoyed their hits like ‘Can’t Stop the Beat’ and ‘Vacation’. However, I had no idea they started from such punk rock origins. They always seemed more pop-influenced from what little I knew about them. So it was really interesting to watch this film The GoGo’s and learn about their formation as a punk band and how they became the first all-girl band to reach first place on the charts.

This documentary admittedly is a fairly standard rock band bio-piece but it is nonetheless entertaining. They have all the major characters there and the interviews are honest and amusing. We get to hear a lot of music and hear lots of stories of excess, music and drugs.

The only fault I’d have with The GoGo’s is we don’t get to learn much about the girl’s relationships outside of the band. There’s one point where they mention 2 of the ladies dated but that’s all we hear about their sexuality, love-lives or anything like that, which would have been nice to get a peak into.

Other that than that The GoGo’s is a lot of fun and worth a watch in the next few months if you get Showtime.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sundance Log 2020 Day 1- Crip Camp, Miss Americana

Hey everyone! The first day of Sundance has come and gone and overall it was a decent start to the festival. I am trying this year to not get caught up in festival hype and am going to try to be as objective as possible. Today I saw 2 documentaries both from Netflix (I am kind of irritated by how co-opted the festival has become by Netflix but that’s a topic for another day). I really liked one of these documentaries and the other I was pretty meh on but it was serviceable. So here goes:

Crip Camp — Still 1

Crip Camp

This film had a lot of buzz going into it before Sundance. It is a documentary about the civil rights movement for those with disabilities but it is also produced by the Obamas who had a big hit with last year’s American Factory. I think for the most part Crip Camp lived up to the hype. It was a lot different than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a lot more about the camp but it is mostly a step by step retelling of the disability rights movement from 1977 on.

This was probably my own fault for not having done enough research into the film so I don’t fault it much. I might have liked to get more information about the people who started the camp and why but they did a good job introducing us to important figures of the movement who had all been to the camp as teenagers. I also learned about the 504 protests that occurred years before the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was very interesting. Judy Heumann is especially impressive as the movement’s leader and I’d love for a movie to be made about her life some day (only if they actually cast an appropriate actor and not an able-bodied actor!).

Crip Camp does have some vulgar language and nudity but it does teach a lot of important lessons so it will be up to parents if they want their kids to watch it. I’m certainly glad I saw it

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

taylor-swift-miss-americana-movie-poster

Miss Americana

Next up is Miss Americana about country turned pop singer Taylor Swift. I like Taylor well enough but these kind of celebrity documentaries are a bit of a tough sell for me. I’m just not someone enamored or impressed by celebrity. She’s just a human who has a job singing. That’s it.

If you want a music documentary with lots of singing and behind the scenes looks at Taylor than this is perfectly serviceable. It does it’s job and fans will be happy with it.

As far as anything more it didn’t do much for me. They try to make a big deal of her decision to endorse the democratic candidate in the midterm elections in Tennessee. I have no doubt it was an empowering moment for her personally. However, the documentary tries to compare this action to that of the Dixie Chicks coming out against George Bush in 2003.

This seems like a big stretch to me when the Dixie Chicks were still solidly country music singers and Taylor hasn’t been one for years and it was at the height of the Iraq war. Now a celebrity coming out to support a democrat against Trump is hardly world altering decisions. If anything doing such an action helps a celebrity’s career not the reverse these days.

If it was me I would be far more interested to learn more about her song writing process because that is where she shines as an artist. We see a lot of her recording new songs and working on rhymes but I wanted more. I was also disappointed we didn’t hear anything about the early managers who have made it impossible for her to sing her early songs because of a terrible contract they tricked her into signing. Why did we hear nothing about that?

Anyway, I am being hard on Miss Americana because I think it could have been much better. As it is, it’s fine. If you want a celebrity documentary with lots of Taylor singing and chatting with her cat than you’ll love it. It’s as simple as that.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (barely)

Current Mini Reviews

Hello my fine movie-loving friends! Today marks an exciting day. Believe it or not I have officially seen every movie of any interest to me in both regular and art-house cinema! That almost never happens to me but with a lot of horror movies coming out there hasn’t been as much that interests me when compared with a typical July.

With so many movies seen this means it is time for one of my much celebrated ‘Current Mini Reviews’ posts! These occur when I don’t have time to write an entire post on a film but want to log my response to help all of you know what’s out there to see. So here goes!

plus one2

PLUS ONE

First up is the romantic comedy Plus One starring Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid in the lead roles. This film is available in theaters and on demand and while it is definitely R rated, it is also a pretty charming romcom.

Quaid (who is very charismatic) and Erskine play 2 friends who make a deal to be each-other’s plus one for 10 weddings they have been invited to in one year (I would die going to so many weddings!). As romcoms go, naturally their friendship blossoms into something more, and all kinds of shenanigans unfold. Plus One definitely follows an expected formula but the leads have enough chemistry and it was funny enough to entertain me. If you can handle an R rated movie than I recommend it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

pavarotti

PAVAROTTI

Directed by Ron Howard this documentary on the legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti doesn’t break the mold of a standard celebrity biographical documentary but I still enjoyed it because of the stunning music. Howard allows the performances to go on for long stretches so you can get a feel for the experience the audience had listening to such a master tenor. The interviews are interesting but again quite standard for this kind of film. Go see it for the music!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

far from hom5

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME-

I know it is kind of sneaky to put only a mini-review for such a big film in here but my friend Patrick already reviewed this film for the site and I have no desire to compete with his review. Unfortunately I was not as in love with this movie as Patrick or the masses seem to be. It has its pluses but some real problems as well.

First the aspects I enjoyed is Tom Holland as Spider-Man. He’s sweet, vulnerable and completely likable as our teen web slinger. I also liked Zendaya as MJ and pretty much all the ‘teenagers go to Europe’ stuff I liked.

Unfortunately I did not like the villain plot. Without spoilers I found it convoluted, predictable and dull. Similar to Zemo, in Civil War, the amount of steps that needed to make the plan work is ridiculous and it required actions by Tony Stark in previous films that don’t make sense. Also some of the more creative moments felt like too much of a video game for my taste. Even something psychedelic like Doctor Strange still felt more grounded and therefore more engrossing with more stakes than the illusions here. Just not my cup of tea visually I guess.

It’s weird because everyone online seems to love this film but myself, my friend Jen and my two nieces all left disappointed so who knows? It’s not awful but definitely lower tier Marvel (and I’ve seen it twice to verify).

Also do the humans in this world even try any more to fight against the bad guys or just the Avengers because that’s what it felt like? I also don’t understand why Spider-man needs anonymity in this universe. Liberally none of the MCU is secret so why him? I dont get the big deal?

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

yesterday

YESTERDAY

For some reason when the trailer to Yesterday came out there was a big backlash against it. I don’t know if it is just the popularity of The Beatles people wanted untouched or they sensed a dud but many were up in arms about it. I, on the other hand, thought it looked quite charming and was excited to see it.

Unfortunately the doubters proved to be correct, and I was disappointed in Yesterday. A world without The Beatles is an interesting concept and Danny Boyle infuses the film with his trademark optimism but he is unable to overcome a lead character (Himesh Patel) that’s hard to root for and a romance with Lily James that has no chemistry. I was also surprised how sloppily made the film was with some poor editing and some ADR issues with the singing.

In the end, it’s just a bunch of The Beatles karaoke so I’d skip it. (Also the world would be way worse without The Beatles than not having Coke!).

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

echo in the canyon

ECHO IN THE CANYON

The documentary Echo in the Canyon profiles the music scene of the 1960s that developed in LA’s Laurel Canyon area. This includes interviews with bandmembers from The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and more. Jakob Dylan becomes are narrator as we learn about the epic recording sessions that mostly occurred in small studios or in the musician’s homes.

Any music fan will love interviews with Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and more. It was great. Unfortunately I was less enthused with the long sections of the tribute concert put on by Dylan, Regina Spektor, Beck and more. These are very talented singers but it was distracting from the musical story of the classic bands and the time and place the documentary is profiling.

Still, I enjoyed it well enough to recommend to any music fan!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

papi chulo

PAPI CHULO

An interesting trend I have noticed lately in film is the exploration of male friendship- particularly unlikely male friendship. We even recently had our Oscar winner focus on this subject in Green Book. Another example is this sweet little film called Papi Chulo.

Matt Bomer plays Sean, a weatherman who has lost his husband and is finding the transition process very difficult. He is lonely and doesn’t seem to have any real friends (he goes to a party but he seems to be more worried about impressing them than any kind of real kinship). One day he befriends a house painter he hires named Ernesto played by Alejandro Patiño. The fact Ernesto doesn’t speak English is actually a plus as Sean just needs someone to listen and not respond.

Papi Chulo is a bit too casual in its treatment of moments of serious mental health crisis in Sean’s life but it has a huge heart I couldn’t resist. It is rated R for a little bit of language, alcohol use and background sensuality but it’s overall pretty tame and very sweet.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 9 (LOVE ANTOSHA, TROOP ZERO, PADDLETON)

sundance bye

It’s finally happened. After 9 days of attendance and 25 movies screened the Sundance Film Festival has finished for 2019! What a great ride it has been. I hope you have all enjoyed these daily updates and that perhaps it will inspire you to join me next year for the festival (or go to your own local film festival. They have them all over the country).

I finished the festival with 3 films all at the Rose Wagner Theater and they were all quite different but each emblematic of the type of material we often get at Sundance. A sweet documentary tribute, a quirky family comedy and a bittersweet dramedy about 2 friends facing the toughest of life decisions together. I’d say it was a pretty great way to end the festival and it was neat to talk with all the other passholders in line about the movies they’d seen. Believe it or not almost everyone I spoke to had seen more than my measly 25! Looks like I will have a new goal for next year.

Here is my ranking of the 25 movies (plus animation spotlight which would be towards the bottom):

sundance ranking

But let’s talk about the 3 movies I saw today.

LOVE, ANTOSHA

Love, Antosha - Still 1

First up is the documentary Love, Antosha about the life of lost-too-soon actor Anton Yelchin. He died in a freak accident at the young age of 27 in 2016 but there was much I didn’t know about him. For instance, despite being so young he had 69 film/tv credits to his name, which is pretty impressive. Also, I had no idea he suffered from cystic fibrosis. Many in his life probably expected him to die a young age of this condition of the lungs so how strange to have him taken from a preventable accident. Funny how life works out sometimes.

He is also an only child, which is always the saddest thing. His parents, both Russian immigrants, are obviously devastated. I can’t even imagine what they have gone through. The title of the movie is from the letters Anton would write to his mother signing them Love, Antosha with a little drawing of his Mom. I definitely teared up whenever they read one of his letters.

The documentary doesn’t reinvent the mold but interviews an impressive group of his friends and family including costars like Martin Landeau, Jennifer Lawrence, Ben Foster, Kristen Stewart and more. They do go into his photography career which are quite pornographic (you’ve been warned).

But Love, Antosha is a sweet look at a young life taken too soon but who still managed to cram so much into the time he had. If you need some inspiration give it a watch.

6/10

Smile Worthy

TROOP ZERO

troop zero

Next we get a classic Sundance quirky indie comedy in the veins of Me Earl and the Dying Girl or Napoleon Dynamite except having a more noteworthy cast than either of those films. Troop Zero is about a hokum little town in Georgia (in the early 70s I think?) where a young girl named Christmas (McKenna Grace) joins a scouting troop because she dreams of winning a prize to make a record NASA astronauts will take into space to play for any aliens they might find.

In order to get on the record they must attend the jamboree and in order to attend they must each earn at least one badge. Viola Davis plays Rayleen, a woman who works for Christmas’ Dad who reluctantly agrees to be the troop Mother and then Allison Janney plays the rival team Mom who is selfish but not too catty. Jim Gaffigan is a lot of fun as Christmas’ Dad.

One of the weird parts about this movie is race is never mentioned. Rayleen being black is never discussed. The black kids in the troop get no flack for it. I guess it’s a film which requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

Also, the look and feel of the film is very reminiscent of Wes Anderson but not quite as well executed. I don’t know who the ‘Bert + Bertie’ directors are but it might have been nice if they had differentiated their film more from something like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

But all that stuff can be put aside because the kids are so cute and everyone involved is bringing a warmth to the picture. It makes for a pleasant enjoyable movie. It kind of reminded of the underrated Because of Winn Dixie in many ways.

I wouldn’t say it is a must see but if you get the chance to see it on amazon prime you’ll enjoy it.

6/10

Smile Worthy

PADDLETON

paddleton

Finally my last film at Sundance is the dramedy Paddleton starring Mark Duplas and Ray Romano. This is the first in a 4-picture deal between the Duplas’ Brothers and Netflix and it’s a pretty good start. Someone in line told me that in the q and a the director said much of the dialogue was improvised between Romano and Duplas and if that’s the case they are definitely pros because I couldn’t tell.

Paddleton tells the story of 2 platonic friends who live in the same apartment complex and enjoy watching kung-fu movies, making pizza and playing their made-up game called paddleton. One day Duplas’ character finds out he has terminal cancer and decides to take a prescription, which will end his life before he goes through all the pain. Romano’s character struggles with this choice but in the end decides to go through the journey and support his friend.

It sounds like a real downer, and it is very sad, but it is actually quite funny throughout. Romano and Duplas have terrific chemistry and the highs and lows feel earned and emotionally true. It’s a sweet, endearing little movie.

If you are open to movies that will make you cry than Paddleton is definitely worth a watch and I’m excited to see what the Duplas Brothers come up with next.

8/10

Smile Worthy

So what do you think of the movies I have reviewed for Sundance? I would love to hear your thoughts!

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 6 (THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO, MOONLIGHT SONATA, EXTREMELY WICKED SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE)

Day 6 has come and gone at the Sundance Film Festival and today was a lot of fun seeing 3 movies with very long names! LOL. I think I liked the experience of attending the festival today more than the actual movies but it’s an interesting grouping. The final movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was my first true midnight movie of the festival (not just this year but ever). My pass wasn’t valid so I had to wait hoping to get in over at the Tower Theater. Luckily I was in line with some nice people and it ended up being pretty fun.

So without further ado my thoughts on the 3 films:

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO

thelastblackmaninsanfrancisco

Judging by the overall positive response of last year’s Sorry to Bother You, which I did not like, there is obviously an audience for this type of chaotic urban art-piece. Unfortunately, I am not a member of that audience. I did enjoy last year’s Blindspotting so it can work for me when there is enough of a story to carry me through all the chaos but often I leave feeling assaulted by art (which is probably part of the point but I leave more confused than inspired). This trend is like if Terrence Malick and Spike Lee had babies, and I just don’t get it.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco has impactful moments but most of the time it was all over the place in both story and message. The lead protagonist Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) have sweet scenes as they fight to keep possession of a family home in San Francisco but in the meantime there are street preachers, rotting fish, toxic oceans, a blind Danny Glover watching old movies and much more. We meet the protagonists Mother at one point but I’m not sure what the point of that was. It was really strange.

The other big problem with The Last Black Man in San Francisco is it is far too long for this kind of abstract art piece. At 2 hours I grew bored with all the shouting and what was supposed to be revelatory felt exhausting. I am sure many will be inspired by director Joe Talbot’s arthouse film. It just wasn’t for me.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

MOONLIGHT SONATA: DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS

moonlightsonatas

Next up is a documentary with tons of heart called Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in 3 Movements. In the film director Irene Taylor Brodsky profiles her family and their experience with deafness, both her parents and her son (she is fully hearing). All 3 subjects received cochlear implant surgery to varying degrees of success.

Irene’s parents don’t do well with the surgery and prefer their deaf world where her son feels conflicted. In fact, he enjoys the quiet peace of turning off his implant but then is glad when he can be in the hearing world again. This was a very interesting perspective I have never considered.

The film is all built around Jonas learning Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for a recital. This is a dream of his as Beethoven was also deaf. They also use animation to show Beethoven and portray the inner feelings of both Irene’s parents and Jonas. All of this worked pretty well and was very sweet. My only qualm with the film is that at times it was a little dry and slow but overall I’m glad I saw it. It’s going to be released on HBO films so look out for it there and give it a watch if it interests you.

(I did think it was a little strange they didn’t have subtitles when many deaf people were in the audience and the sign language interpreter was difficult to see in The Tower Theater).

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE

extremelywicked

The final film of the night was the much talked about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile starring Zac Efron. There’s a lot to like in this film including the solid performances by Efron, Lily Collins and even Jim Parsons in a small role. It looks nice and clips along fairly well. I understand what they were trying to do humanizing Bundy to make his crimes seem all the more vile and disgusting. You are supposed to see the suave, slick guy that Ted Bundy was in and out of the courtroom.

Unfortunately they almost do too good a job with that. The movie needed to be messier. There are almost no signs of an evil man at all. We needed to get some clue that he committed the murders aside from him being in the locations. It almost seemed like the movie was painting him as the underdog who was wrongfully convicted. I guess that could be an interesting approach but shouldn’t there be some moments where we see the darker man come out? Some scenes of fleeting anger or fear from the Lily Collins character? It was strange and left me a little uncomfortable to be honest.

The movie Monster about Aileen Wuornos does a much better job of portraying a serial killer as just that but also showing some of her backstory and her perspective. I realize they are different in that Wuornos was not a charismatic showman like Bundy but at least the movie wasn’t afraid to depict her as a monster as the title suggests. This film, on the other hand, shows little evil or wickedness or vile behavior.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! My thoughts on another day at the Sundance Film Festival! Let me know what you think