Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I am extremely busy right now with my podcasts, open water swims, traveling and more. I am also covering both the Annecy Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival so things are busy for yours truly. Today I have 3 mini reviews for you with much more to come. Enjoy!

Wish Dragon

After 2 huge successes from Sony Animation in Spider-man Into the Spiderverse and The Mitchells vs the Machines I was eagerly looking forward to their next picture Wish Dragon, and it is probably my high expectations that led to disappointment.

Wish Dragon isn’t terrible but I found it to be bland with slow pacing. I liked the bright and colorful animation but the script was lacking. It seemed to take forever to get to the dragon and when he appeared he certainly wasn’t as funny as the Genie in Aladdin but I’d put him below the recent dragon in Raya and the Last Dragon.

The story gets lost in the relationship between Din and Li Na and his attempts to impress her business-man father who has some shady deals behind him. Maybe the humor will work better for a Chinese audience but it didn’t work for me.

Other than the dragon Wish Dragon did nothing for me and I found it kind of a chore to get through. I hope you all enjoy it more than I did but it’s not for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

I wasn’t the biggest fan of 2018’s Peter Rabbit because I felt it wasted all the sweetness of the original stories for this slapstick creation. However, I will own it did have some laughs and I can see why other people enjoyed it and why it was such a big hit.

Now we have the inevitable sequel and I honestly don’t think fans of the original will enjoy this film. It seemed like a big mess if you ask me. The strangest part of this sequel is they take themselves seriously instead of just being the romp people are expecting. They have Peter full of existential dread and worrying about the meaning of life and how he can fit in when aren’t people just expecting a lot of silliness?

They also go meta by the end with David Oyelowo playing a publisher who wants to make Peter Rabbit crass and commercial with rabbits in space all the while them winking at the camera that they know this is what they have done with Beatrice Potter’s sweet books. To say this fell flat would be an understatement.

Peter Rabbit 2 is also part a heist film and I don’t think kids will be all that entertained by Peter and his friends stealing dried fruit from the farmers market. The only part I laughed at is a comedic sequence where Domhall Gleeson rolls down a hill in an attempt to be more free spirited. Isn’t this what people are expecting from this movie?

There are so many good entertainments for children right now so I would give Peter Rabbit 2 a pass

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The First Step: Tribeca 1

My first film of The Tribeca Film Festival is a documentary called The First Step. It follows political commentator and activist Van Jones as he seeks to pass criminal justice reform in the era of Trump.

I have to admit I had no idea Van Jones was the way he is portrayed in this documentary. I thought he was much more radical than this but he tries his hardest to be a ‘bridge builder’ during the years of Trump,which I really admire.

Some on the left condemn him for this but he managed to get all but 12 senators to vote in favor of his bill. That’s pretty impressive and 10k inmates were released as a result. Obviously a documentary like this is going to portray him in the best light possible but he gets so much flack on either side it felt pretty even-keeled in my opinion.

If you want to see a fascinating a look at modern day politics watch The First Step.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

SXSW Day 2 Log (I’m Fine, Twyla Moves, US vs Reality Winner, Here Before, Tom Petty, Recovery)

Hey everyone! After a rough start to the South by Southwest Film Festival Day 2 proved to be much better. In fact, I liked all 6 films I watched today to one degree or another. Hooray!

So let’s get started with the recaps!

I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)

I have to say COVID is proving to be a better setting for storytelling than I might have guessed. In this first entry writer, director and star Kelley Kali gives us a day in the life of a grieving widow trying to get housing for herself and her daughter during the pandemic. She travels around down in roller skates and does various gig work and gets more desperate as the day goes on.

It’s a sobering film but Kali is such a likable presence on screen it keeps us invested. It kind of reminded me of the first act of Moonlight in a lot of ways. Some will find the slice of life concept to be a dull but I enjoyed it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Twyla Moves

Twyla Moves is a documentary done by PBS for their American Masters series (it actually airs this weekend on TV). I really enjoy American Masters and this goes right along with what they do. It kind of reminded me of Ailey about Alvin Ailey from Sundance 2020 (which was also for AM).

This one is about choreographer Twyla Tharp who I had never heard of but is absolutely incredible. They listed off her resume and she had major projects every year since the 70s including films like Hair and Amadeus. I kind of wish it had gotten into more of her backstory and personal journey but it stays mostly in the professional realm but still fun to watch.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

United States vs Reality Winner

From the minute I heard federal secrets dropper Reality Winner’s name I wanted to learn more about her and that’s what this documentary does. It’s fairly basic in its presentation but the story is so strange and compelling it doesn’t need much manipulation to work. If you want to learn more about Reality than give this one a watch.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Here Before

If you are looking for an artsy thriller at the festival Here Before may be the movie for you. It stars Andrea Riseborough as a woman who becomes convinced her new neighbor is actually her dead daughter reincarnated. This is a beautifully made film with an excellent performance by Riseborough (who is almost always good even in Birdman which I do not like). The pacing is very slow in this one and there were times my attention drifted away but still enough good to recommend.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free

Obviously this Tom Petty film will be a must watch for fans of him and his music. However, I also think it will be interesting to anyone who has a love of music and is curious to go BTS of the making of an album. In this case it is his ‘Wildflowers’ album and of course everything is touched by the knowledge of his sudden passing in 2017.

If you are looking for Tom’s backstory or how he became a musician that’s not what this is. It’s a showcase of the making of an album and all the people and hours of work that went into it. As a lover of music I enjoyed learning about the process and hearing lots of great Tom Petty songs!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Recovery

My friend Jonathan actually told me this movie was premiering at the festival. It stars Mallory Everton (who also cowrote and directed) and Whitney Call. They are both stars of the comedy skit youtube show Studio C and they bring that zany energy to this hilarious comedy.

Recovery is definitely a hair edgier than what you get on Studio C but it should be fine for adults. It’s about 2 sisters who have to go get their Grandma from a nursing home infected with COVID. A comedy like this comes down to the writing (which is very funny) and the chemistry which these 2 have in spades. I loved i! You may think it’s too soon to laugh at COVID but give it a chance. I bet you will find yourself cracking up just like I did.

It’s definitely the best of the festival so far. I loved it!

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] Escher and Tiger Documentaries

Hey friends! I just wanted to tell you quickly about 2 documentaries that are worth your time.

M.C. ESCHER:JOURNEY TO INFINITY

The first is available for rental and in some called M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity. This tells us about the artist (or mathematician as he says) M.C. Escher but it does it through his own letters and diaries read by actor Stephen Fry.

Written and directed by Robin Lutz isn’t very concerned with Escher’s life.  It’s concerned with his work and if it counts as art or not. Most of us would look at his woodprints and drawings and say of course they count as art but the artist himself didn’t see it that way.

There are a few interviews from fans like Graham Nash explaining why they feel the work is art which makes for a fascinating contrast with the words from Escher himself. They also use Escher’s work to create new art and animation throughout the piece, which was very effective because I have a feeling they didn’t have many archival photographs to work with.

It is $12 to rent the documentary but you are supporting small local theaters that are struggling so much. Here is a link through Park City Film.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Tiger

Next up we have a new sports documentary from HBO Max diving into the world of golfer Tiger Woods called Tiger. This documentary is particularly chilling given Tiger’s recent car accident and injuries. He’s already had a dramatic fall from grace and a return. One can’t help but wonder if he can do it again?

Before continuing on with this review I should clarify I have almost no interest in golf. I recognize the skill that goes into the game. It is just not something that interests me to either play or watch. Nevertheless, I found Tiger to be a very well done and gripping documentary.

The most chilling part of Tiger is the audio they use repeatedly of Tiger’s father Earl talking about his son as a great gift to mankind, a Messianic like character that society better treat right.

“He will transcend this game and bring to the world a humanitarianism which has never been known before.
“The world will be a better place to live in, by virtue of his existence and his presence.”

This is my treasure; please accept it and use it wisely.”

Tiger tries to brush this aside as the words of a proud father but it can’t help but feel like such lofty expectations were doomed to fail. Who but God himself can live up to such promises?

As we all know Tiger did live up to the expectations when it came to golf but his personal choices caught up to him causing a moral implosion and scandal. All of this is dealt with in the documentary and I found it fascinating.

It’s too bad, unlike The Last Dance, which had Michael Jordan himself in the docuseries they couldn’t get Tiger in Tiger or anybody in his family.  That would have added some authenticity but overall I still enjoyed watching the documentary. I appreciate it tried to look for broader themes rather than a more sensationalized TMZ like approach.

Tiger is available on HBO Max and I recommend giving it a watch.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘The Ringmaster’

It’s no secret how much I love documentaries about new and fascinating people and events. The political propaganda films aren’t my favorite but when they can shed light on unique individuals and interesting phenomenon they can be fascinating. One such example is The Ringmaster, which is directed by Dave Newberg and Molly Dworksy but is the brain-child of filmmaker Zachary Capp. The focus of the documentary is on onion rings- believe it or not. However, it is actually much more than that. It also speaks to themes of addiction, obsession and when to stop pursuing a dream.

It all starts with the best of intentions. Fresh out of rehab for a gambling addiction Capp decides he wants to make a Food Network type show on his neighborhood food destination Larry Lang’s onion rings. At the same time Capp inherits some money and decides to bump the project up into a documentary. As his gambling instincts take over Capp becomes obsessed with creating the perfect ending for Lang’s creation; thereby, giving a happy ending to the movie.

It is this dual aspect of The Ringmaster that makes it interesting. At the same time you are learning about Lang’s onion rings and his simple life you are diving deeper into the obsessive tendencies of Capp and his willingness to manipulate the narrative however he can. And yet we don’t feel angry at Capp because his motivations are so understandable. The promise of the American dream is intoxicating and it’s hard to let go of a project- especially one we’ve been invested in for over 2 years.

The filmmaking and editing of The Ringmaster is pretty basic and low budget but the story is very interesting. I can see them making a feature film on this story and it being quite riveting.

You can rent The Ringmaster on amazon (affiliate link) or at streaming service. Let me know what you think of it if you get to see it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘High on Heels’ or Is Beauty Pain?

Due to the effects of COVID 19 and quarantine lockdowns most of us have let fashion fall to the wayside. Or at the very least fashion below the waist go. As long as we look good for the zoom or skype chat that is all that matters! This means most women have stopped wearing high heeled shoes that can make a bold fashion statement but also cause loads of pain. A new documentary short (44 minutes) entitled High on Heels looks at high heeled shoe phenomenon and asks: are they good for women or not? The answer might be more complicated than you think.

On one side you have women who love wearing heels. They feel the posture and shape the heel gives them boosts their self-image and makes them feel more confident. In the documentary we go through the history of heels and why additional height came to be seen as empowering and beautiful.

 

On the other hand you have doctors who see the impact of the shoes on women and the pain they can cause. My problem is I have a high arch so I can’t walk well in heels. They just don’t fit my feet well. Heels can cause all kinds of problems like plantar fasciiitis, bunions, blisters and more. Ask any  woman and they will tell you the pain-stories of her feet.

High on Heels has a small budget and it does show from time to time but I still thought it was very informative and entertaining. If you like consumer reports style documentaries you will enjoy this one.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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!