There’s nothing like a live concert! This is especially true when you get multiple artists playing together in a musical festival or celebration. The combined energy from the performers and the audience is intoxicating and something I adore.
Imagine adding more to that with the historical and musical significance of the Harlem Cultural Festival that occurred in Harlem in 1969. After over 50 years the footage from this landmark concert has been released in the new documentary Summer of Soul, which you can watch in theaters today or on hulu streaming. It is one of the best films of 2021. No question.
One of the challenges of a documentary like Summer of Soul is how much of the music to show while also providing cultural and political context to the songs, performers and festival itself. Some may wish for just music but director Ahmir ”Questlove” Thompson does a great job balancing these demands. I particularly loved the first-hand accounts of both performers like Gladys Knight and The 5th Dimension singers, and concert attendees who witnessed the events. It really gave a feel for the full concert experience and how important it was to all involved.
“You put memories away and sometimes you don’t even know if they are real” is the closing thought of the documentary by one of the concert attendees and it captures the power of this type of film. It not only chronicles what happened with amazing music but it reminds of the impact it had on real people, on their lives and how it made the world a better place. In doing so it hopefully encourages us all to listen, celebrate and sing out as much as we can today.
And even if you don’t care about any of the historical or cultural importance watch Summer of Soul for the amazing music. Everything from Motown, R&B, gospel, blues and more is featured and some of my favorites are Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Family Stone and more. It’s absolutely incredible and you won’t regret checking it out.
Turn on Summer of Soul for a documentary that combines history, music, soul and the Black experience perfectly.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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!
So you might not have heard but recently I’ve found myself with a little bit of time on my hands. The movie theaters are closed, screenings are cancelled and most films are postponed, so what’s an aspiring film critic supposed to do with herself? Well, I have a lot of fun stuff planned but to begin with I watched the new documentary series on HBO called McMillions and boy is it entertaining!
McMillions follows the $24 million fraud perpetuated behind the McDonald’s Monopoly game sweepstakes between 1989 and 2001. The story has almost nothing to do with McDonalds but it is a many tangled web of all kinds of characters who become involved: ‘from Mobsters to Mormons’ as the ads promise.
Even the agents investigating prove to be very entertaining. This is especially true for agent Doug Mathews who was born to be on television. He is funny, charismatic and probably a little bit nuts but it makes for great TV. In fact, the series suffers a bit when it goes to long without him. What makes him so appealing is his innocent enthusiasm for every part of the investigation. He doesn’t want those boring old cases. No way! He wants to be where things are happening and he can go undercover and do crazy things. It’s the best.
Aside from Matthews there are a ton of different personalities on both the investigator and criminal side and the scheme is very well executed. In fact, it may have never come to light if there wasn’t a mysterious informant who tipped off the FBI. It brings up the interesting question if someone came up to you and offered you a million and all you had to do was turn in a game piece that you didn’t organically find would you do it? I think a lot of us would.
Also in the end who is really hurt in this whole scam? McDonald’s isn’t. They would have given the money out regardless of who won. The American public? I guess they had no chance to really win but the chance was so small to begin with that it is hardly a large wound. The marketing firm went under after it was revealed one of their employees did this but that’s about the worst it got. Is it a victimless crime?
I suppose that is for the courts to decide and not me but I do know this documentary series was very entertaining especially agent Matthews who should totally have his own show. He’s got that secret sauce for television you don’t see every day. So fun!
Have you seen McMillions? What did you think? I would love to hear in the comments section.
Even though this is on HBO it’s pretty clean minus some language.
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
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
MOONLIGHT SONATA: DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS
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
EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE
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
So there you have it! My thoughts on another day at the Sundance Film Festival! Let me know what you think
So today ended up being an interesting day covering Sundance. Last night I was tired and frustrated that I went to the grocery store to get something to eat (most everything else was closed and I didn’t want fast food). Little did I realize with my fatigue I left my wallet at the grocery store and I didn’t need it until the evening tonight. I didn’t realize it wasn’t there until after my first screening and I was purchasing a sandwich (luckily I had some cash in my purse!).
Panicking a little I decided to forgo the second screening and look for my wallet and it was a good thing I did. I looked all through my car and then my house and in a last ditch effort I called the grocery store and was thrilled when they said they had it! I’m so grateful to whomever found it and turned it in. Thank you kind and honest stranger!
So that leaves me with only one movie to review today: the documentary Halston. Directed by Frédéric Tcheng it tells the story of the great American fashion designer Roy Halston who achieved peak fame in the 1970s. As one might expect, he led a very interesting life and created beautiful clothes for the modern woman. The film has a ton of new and archival interviews and I found it all quite fascinating.
Unfortunately they decide to frame the film with a bizarre narration that makes it seem like they are setting up a murder mystery not a celebrity documentary. They have an actress who is going through files and researching into the strange goings on of Halston and honestly nothing seemed all that strange? It was really odd and distracting from the narrative they did have because I was constantly waiting for Halston to get shot or something sinister. Also there are some reenactments which feel really cheesy.
It’s a shame because none of it was needed. Halston’s life is interesting enough without a fake melodramatic narrator. I wish they had paid attention to last year’s Kusama Infinity which did a much better job telling the story of an eccentric artist in a documentary format. Unfortunately these additions also make the movie too long. They should have gotten rid of all of the narration nonsense and just be confident in Halston and his life to carry the movie.
So I must admit I have been on a bit of a role lately! I not only have been making podcasts I love on both of my channels (Hallmarkies and Rachel’s Reviews) but I have been able to see a lot of movies (I’ve done several double-headers). Some I have reviewed on my channel (and some on this blog) but others I haven’t gotten around to covering. So that means it’s time for my Current Mini Reviews update! I will let give my brief thoughts, whether it is smile/frown worthy and where it lists in my 2018 Releases Ranking. Enjoy!
Life of the Party
I seem to be one of the few who hasn’t grown tired of Melissa McCarthy’s shtick (I even enjoyed Ghostbusters!). Now we have Life of the Party and it wasn’t the greatest comedy but it was serviceable. I laughed enough to enjoy myself and the supporting cast is strong including Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs and Molly Gordon who plays McCarthy’s daughter. Luke Benward is very hunky as McCarthy’s boy-fling.
Smile Worthy (barely)
51 out of 71
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
This franchise has produced 3 entertaining if a bit unmemorable films and that includes Hotel Transylvania 3. It was an enjoyable sit with some nice animation and good laughs. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of Pixar but it had a sweet message to it. I think this is an improvement over HT2 which didn’t use its ensemble cast very well.
19 out of 71
With a 0% on rottentomatoes and moviepass making it basically free I couldn’t resist watching this trainwreck. And trainwreck it is. Pretty much everything is off in this biopic but the most absurd part is they try to paint the mafia as a persecuted minority that the cops are hounding unfairly. There’s even a title card at the end explaining the efforts the FBI went to take them down and the FBI is the villain!
69 out of 71
Hearts Beat Loud
I think this might have been oversold to me as ‘the next Sing Street‘. Hearts Beat Loud isn’t a bad movie but I left feeling underwhelmed. The performances are nice and a couple of the songs decent but I was never emotionally engaged with the main relationship between the father and the daughter. Both my friend and I agreed that it felt cursory when they could have dove deeper and asked more questions. The only emotion I felt was between the daughter and her girlfriend. Sing Street it is not. I honestly found it kind of boring…
Frown Worthy (barely)
52 out of 71
Set It Up
Since everyone knows I love romcoms I was told by many to check out this Netflix entry in the genre. My response was it was ok. I liked the lead couple Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell and they had decent chemistry. Lucy Liu is also good as an ice queen boss that gets more character development than the trope typically allows. However, I found the movie to be a bit too cynical for my taste. I like my romances to be a little more light and fluffy.
Smile Worthy (barely)
50 out of 71
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
Very sweet fantasy anime that is about an immortal woman’s struggles to be a mother and watch her mortal child grow up and suffer. The animation was stunning, and I got very wrapped up in it. It has some pacing issues but over all I definitely recommend it. Director Mari Okada has made a fantasy film that is ambitious in its world building and lovely in its emotional depth. Fantasy fans, not just anime fans will really enjoy it.
12 out of 71
I love Whitney Houston and was so sad to see her life spiral out of control leading to her eventual death. So naturally I was interested in this documentary and it’s mostly satisfactory. Director Kevin Macdonald does a good job showing all sides to the singer and her impact on music and pop culture. However, there are a few things that felt a little exploitative to me and his attempts to tie Whitney’s life into broader world events felt a little heavy handed. Still worth checking out. Bring tissues.
39 out of 71
Ant-Man and the Wasp-
I really enjoyed the first Ant-Man. I think more than most, so I was excited for this sequel and I left thinking it was just ok. The action is a lot of fun and the cast knocks it out of the park but it wasn’t as funny as the first one and several plot threads got a little boring for me. Still, it’s a decent superhero movie with some fun moments.
23 out of 71
This was more entertaining than I expected it to be. There are some entertaining action set pieces like a fight that happens in a room with mirrors. Also I liked that Nev Campbell’s character wasn’t a cliched warrior woman or damsel in distress but just a smart Mom. I’m not sure why they needed him to have an artificial leg except for one kind of gimmicky scene.
The villain characters were very snoozeworthy with lame motivation. Still, if looking for summer entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously you could do worse.
35 out of 71
With the marketing heavily leaning on the ‘producer of Your Name’ I wondered if this would be a disappointment. It didn’t seem to have much to sell of itself but just its similarities to a beloved film. Sadly my worries were correct. Fireworks does have some good things but for each good aspect there was a negative. Some of the animation was beautiful and then others used CG in really terrible ways. Some character moments were sweet and others felt really cheesy. Some parts of the story worked and other parts felt very muddled and confusing. There’s a sexuality in the character design and story that was strange.
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’.
For my Disneynature reviews I am going to review the current film Monkey Kingdom and then go back and review the previous films, so it will be a little bit out of synch but it makes the most sense to me.
This weekend Disneynature releases Monkey Kingdom about the toque macaques (or monkeys) of Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka. The lead monkey is named Maya and is at the bottom of the monkey class divisions.
The monkey clan is quite the totalitarian regime with a strict hierarchy led by Raja and a trio of sisters who boss everyone around and take all the good warm sleeping spots.
Monkey Kingdom follows the clan for entire year and has a lot of monkey eating, grooming, and sleeping. The variety of food the monkeys eat surprised me a little bit and how rigid the social structure seemed to be (if you believe the movie at least which I have no other knowledge about monkeys to say otherwise).
There is a point where they even swim to get food! Who knew that monkeys could swim! We also get glimpses of other animals both predators and friendly folks like elephants and squirrels. They even branch into human world and the big city for a stretch which is a lot of fun.
Tina Fey is the narrator and she does an okay job. I’m not normally her biggest fan but it works for the cute monkeys. Normally we expect someone with gravitas for such narration but I liked her motherly warmth for Maya’s story.
Here is the trailer to give you a better idea.
Monkey Kingdom is an engaging story that is simple enough for kids to understand and shouldn’t bore their parents. Plus it is a cute way to explain complex social orders and the way we treat those of other classes through the examples of the monkeys. It also may give kids an appreciation for the effort it really takes to do the basics of provide food and shelter. Plus, the monkeys are just so darn cute (and they do give us a ‘hey, hey, we’re the monkeys’ musical number).
Director Mark Linfield and cinematographers Martyn Colbeck and Gavin Thurston give us a lush beautiful look into the monkey habitat and the film could be appreciated on silence just for the gorgeous earth visuals.
As with all the Disneynature films Disney will donate a portion of proceeds to charitable causes. For Monkey Kingdom they will go to Conservation International.
Overall Grade- B (wasn’t anything super exciting to worthy an A but a solid effort).