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!

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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:

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 2 (ABE, ELEPHANT QUEEN, FAREWELL)

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Day 2 of the Sundance Film Festival has come and gone and despite having only gotten 4 hours of sleep last night I powered through and saw 4 films in 3 different venues today! Maiden is still my favorite of the festival but there were some interesting films today I’m glad I saw.

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Abe

The first movie of the day is a film called Abe that was screened at the SLC Library and it is part of the Sundance Kids lineup. It stars Noah Schnapp as a young man of both Muslim and Jewish ethnicity who is trying to balance his backgrounds and the people in his life carefully all through his love of cooking and food.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved everything with Abe and Noah Schnapp does a great job. He’s a very easy character to root for. I also liked all of the cooking and food scenes (particularly when he goes to work for a local Latin American fusion chef it’s very strong. What I didn’t like was all the other adults. They all claimed to love Abe but then would act in such shrill, inconsiderate ways. At one point he makes an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner for his grandparents and instead of eating it like grownups they start a big fight ending with one of them saying Abe should never have been born. I just don’t think a loving Grandparent would behave in such a way in front of their grandchild. It didn’t feel authentic so it was frustrating.

But in the end Abe is a strong enough character to carry his movie. One warning it should not be in the kids section as there is the f word 6 times. It would definitely be rated R by the MPAA.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

elephant queen

The Elephant Queen

Next up in the Sundance Kids section is a nature documentary called The Elephant Queen. Director’s Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone spent 4 years following a group of elephants to make this incredible film. The shots they get from the very small dung beetle to the giant savannas full of elephants are very impressive.

Like Disney Nature films we get names and a narrative to all the characters but it all worked for me and was very charming. I particularly liked the ‘late to everything’ geese hatchling named Steven. Chiwetel Ejiofor narrates and aside from being a touch too long for small kids it’s an adorable film the whole family will love.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sister - Still 1

Animation Spotlight

I must admit I go to the Animation Spotlight each year more out of obligation as an animation blogger than anything else. The selected shorts are almost always disappointing. It feels like all the creators are either trying too hard to be Don Hertzfeldt or to be too grown-up and edgy. Last year was a pretty good year with The Driver is Red and The Burden being standouts but there was nothing that strong this year.

The best of the group were Untravel and Obon. My least favorite of the group was Acid Rain which went on forever and was unpleasant in every way.

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

farewell

The Farewell

Last of the night is the family drama The Farewell which stars Awkwafina as a young woman who goes to China to be with her dying Grandma. The only problem is her Grandma doesn’t know she is dying. The whole family is visiting under a farce that her cousin is getting married (did he actually get married though? It was a little unclear).

Anyone who is part of a big family will be able to relate to this story. Both in the lies we tell each other to get through family gatherings but also how every family has that person who is a treasure to everyone in the family- usually a grandparent. If the ending doesn’t make you tear up than I don’t know what to say!

There are some pacing problems but all the acting is good and overall I really enjoyed The Farewell. Watch it with your Grandma.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

STEP Review

The big weekend is finally here! After me babbling on about a little documentary I saw at Sundance called STEP some of America finally gets to see it! I’ve actually had the chance to see it twice: once at Sundance and once at an event for the Utah Film Center, and I look forward to seeing it many more times when it opens in Utah 8/18. STEP may be a sweet documentary to some but for me it is why I go to the movies. It really spoke to me and it might sound cheesy but it made me feel better about this crazy world we live in.

Here’s the trailer:

A few months ago I shared that trailer with a friend of mine and she said ‘I don’t like dance movies’. Let me tell you what I told her- this is not a dance movie. Much like Hoop Dreams wasn’t about basketball, STEP is not about dance. STEP is about 3 girls in Baltimore and the community that helps get them to college.

The three girls are named Blessin, Cori and Tayla and each of them face different struggles.  They are all students at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women that is admittedly owned by the director Amanda Lipitz’s  mother. This school caters to inner city Baltimore girls and graduated its first crop of seniors in 2015-2016 (the year we follow).

In 6th grade Blessin started a step dance troupe but was unable to compete during her junior year because of poor grades. She also has a mother with severe mental health problems. On the other side, Cori is a book worm who dreams of getting into John Hopkins and becoming a doctor despite growing up in a family that can’t pay for power. Tayla has a mother who works as a cop and see’s the worst the city has to offer.

The documentary then follows these girls for a year and we see teachers, coaches, administrators and parents all fight for them to achieve their dreams. Both times I saw it the crowds cheered at the end and how wonderful to cheer for real life and not imaginary superheroes for once? I got to meet Coach G at the Utah Film Center screening and she was awesome. Just as real and down to earth as you’d think from the movie. Roger Ebert said about Hoop Dreams “A film like “Hoop Dreams” is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself.”

That’s how I feel about STEP. 2017 has been a great year for movies. I loved films like Wonder Woman or Dunkirk but nothing has wowed me like STEP.  Nothing else, you might say, has ‘touched life itself’.

GO SEE STEP!  You won’t regret it!

Overall Grade- A+

 

Current Mini Reviews

Every once in a while I get a little swamped with everything in my life and I get behind on reviews. This is when I need to do one of my mini review posts where I cover a bunch of films in a paragraph or two. Some of these I really loved so I hope to be able to do them proper justice in the future but at least this will give you some clue into what is or isn’t worth your time.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

This was my introduction to the Wimpy Kid series, so I have no attachment to the previous movies or casts (which I see on social media evidently is a thing of contention). What we have here is a basic family road trip comedy. I laughed a little bit and little kids will probably enjoy it. However, the gross out gags became a little bit too much for me.  There were also some really strange jokes for a kids film like an extended Psycho shower scene gag that kids won’t understand. Also the parents participate in distracted driving like texting while driving and it’s not part of a joke, which I thought was kind of odd. Still a few laughs. Probably best to watch on cable with the fam.

Overall Grade- C

Kedi

An adorable documentary about the cats of Istanbul. It sounds weird and boring but it’s really quite charming and I’m not a big animal person. You get to know 7 different cats and the various people who feed and care for them. The heart of the movie lies in the attachment the humans have to these mangy cats. One baker gives all his tips to the vet to take care of a cat. The entire family can watch this documentary and enjoy it together.

Overall Grade- B+

XXX: Return of Xander Cage

This movie starts with a scene of Xander Cage skiing through the jungle and I thought ‘this is going to be a blast’. I was hoping for a big over the top ridiculously fun movie. Unfortunately, the action sequences aren’t enough to prop up unlikable characters, the horrible way it treats the female characters and a self-seriousness that drags the movie down. I started to get annoyed by it when it should have been fun. Also I found it kind of shocking how hostile the movie was to soldiers who are bystanders. They are often mowed down for no reason.  All that said, I thought this was more entertaining than the recent Fate and the Furious.

Overall Grad- C-

Gifted

They had good intentions with this movie but it really annoyed me. The main flaw is the dichotomy presented to us is false. The girl is given two options she can go to public school and be socially adjusted (although a bully comes first day so don’t know about that) or she can go to a school of gifted and talented that is painted as some kind of prison. Bologna. There are so many options open to kids today to get a good education.

This movie reminded me of Patch Adams where they show one option as being perfect and another as evil when the truth is always in between.

The courtroom scenes are uninspired and boring. The whole thing just super annoyed me.

Overall Grade- C-

Their Finest

A film about the making of a film is always interesting to see and Their Finest has a lot going for it. Gemma Arterton is great as a young writer trying to figure out the ins and outs of screenwriting. However, Bill Nighy steals the show as a foppish seasoned actor. He’s hilarious and the movie is worth watching just for him. It took me a while to get into it but once I did I enjoyed it. It went a few ways I wasn’t suspecting and has a nice heart to it.

This is rated  R but it is pretty tame. There is a little bit of nudity and 3 uses of the f word.

Overall Grade- B

Casting JonBenet

I appreciated they tried something different with this documentary but I’m afraid it ends up coming across as more of a gimmick than a success. They have the actors auditioning for the parts of John and Patsy Ramsey (as well as other parts) talking about the case instead of any photos or talking heads.

My main problem is I felt like the movie was mocking its subjects especially the actors. This seemed unfair. Plus, you are dealing with the horrific death of a child and sometimes the tone didn’t address that. Also, I’m not convinced they didn’t coach or even write some of the comments from the actors. It sometimes felt a little bit too on the nose and perfect to just happen organically.

Overall Grade- C

Personal Shopper

A brilliant movie about a girl who works for a celebrity buying clothes and accessories. The problem is she is haunted by the ghost of her twin brother and a mysterious person begins to text and follow her. It is spooky, spiritual, heart wrenching, different, tightly written, and surprising. Kristen Stewart is wonderful and is able to carry the movie almost by herself. It reminded me a little bit of The Others, which I also love. The music and cinematography are perfect. I can’t wait to see it again and figure out even more I missed the first time.

There is pretty strong nudity in this one as she is trying on clothes and some blood.

Overall Grade- A

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

I watched both Baahubali films this month and thoroughly enjoyed them. They are loud, crazy and true spectacles. I wish that the major blockbuster studios were half this fun.  It’s a little hard to explain but basically they are epic stories of 2 generations of a royal family in India. In this second one we take off from the battle at the end of the first and follow Amarendra Baahubali and his son as the evil Prince Bhallaladeva fights for power.  The musical sequences, dancing, battles and everything else are magnetic and wonderful. The only downside to this film over the first is there isn’t quite as many musical sequences but it is a little easier to follow than the first.  Still, you get action, battles, special effects, romance, and everything else. Sure they are over the top but that’s what I like about them.

It is pretty bloody so not for everyone but again it is so fantastical it didn’t bother me. No gritty realism here!

Overall Grade- A

Alive and Kicking

A fairly standard documentary about the history and performers of swing dance. I loved watching all the dancing and that’s really where the joy of this film is. It is fast and exciting and I could watch it all day!

Overall Grade- B-

So there you have it. What sounds the most interesting to you of these films? If you’ve seen any of them let me know what you think in the comments. And if there is one you would particularly like me to write a full post on let me know.  Thanks!