Current Mini Reviews

Today I recorded a podcast with 2 of the ladies at the Filmotomy Podcast. The topic was a  ‘Film Festival Survival Guide’ and we had a great time discussing all of the tricks of the trade for getting the most out of your festival experience. It all made me a bit nostalgic for my time at Sundance, so I decided to head out to my local arthouse theater (Broadway Centre Cinemas) and watch 3 independent releases. Here are my quick thoughts on all 3:

souvenir

The Souvenir-

First up is The Souvenir by director Joanna Hogg. It stars Honor Swinton Byrne as a young film student named Julie who gets caught up in a toxic relationship with an older man named Anthony played by Tom Burke. Anthony is a deep thinker so of course he is also a heroine addict and extremely manipulative. Julie is a naive young girl who gets caught up in the mystique of Anthony and enables his terrible behavior because it feels dangerous and exciting. The Souvenir also stars Tilda Swinton as Julie’s mother and she is in fact Honor’s actual mother so that’s kind of fun.

This film has received huge acclaim from critics and is already scheduled for a sequel shooting this year. All I can say about this film is it is not for me. There are some stunning bits of cinematography (I particularly liked a sequence where we see Anthony and Julie talking not up-close but through a mirror across the room). I also liked Honor and Tilda Swinton’s performances. However, the couple have no chemistry and the story is extremely repetitive. The film is 2 hours long, and I felt every second of it. I didn’t care about either Anthony or Julie and their cycle of abusive behavior was not interesting.  I can see how it would be appealing for others but for me it was a piece of indie slog.

Frown Worthy

4 out of 10

american woman

American Woman-

Next up we have the drama American Woman directed by Jake Scott and written by Brad Ingelsby. This film stars Sienna Miller in one of the best performances of the year.  She plays a woman named Deb who is grinding out her life in suburban Pennsylvania with her sister (Christina Hendricks- who is also strong) living across the street.

For some reason the working class woman seems to be challenging for the movies to portray accurately. They are usually all damage and no joy. In American Woman they avoid this by showing over a decade of Deb’s life with all the joys, sorrows and all the in-between. Some pain is self-inflicted and some is caused by others, but either way it is gripping, and we feel empathy for her.

There were so many times I worried the script was heading into tired twists and then it didn’t, which made me very happy. This is the kind of script and lead performance that will be ignored come awards season and that’s a real shame because it’s great. In my opinion, this is MUCH better than the similarly themed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri  which won all the awards. Oh well.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

all is true

All is True-

My last film of the day is the fictionalized look into the latter part of William Shakespeare’s life entitled All is True. There is perhaps no human being on earth more qualified to play the Bard on screen than Kenneth Branagh. He also directed the film and it hopefully won’t put an end to his long career of adapting the works of Shakespeare because this film is an entertaining mess.

If your brand of historical drama is fluffy films like The Other Boleyn Girl or Tristan and Isolde than this might be the movie for you. The actors deserve awards for elevating such hammy dialogue and selling it as if it was one of Shakespeare’s great soliloquies. Judi Dench is particularly great as his humble wife who can’t read and Kathryn Wilder is big and boisterous as their rebellious daughter Judith. They all do what they can with this inane material.

Honestly there were times when it seemed a half step away from a Monty Python or Blackadder sketch. Even Branagh’s ridiculous hairpiece and beard made me laugh. I was entertained by All is True but probably not for the reason the creators intended.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Road to El Dorado

road to eldoradoIt is no secret I am not the biggest Dreamworks fan.  For me they’ve had two wonderful franchises, How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda and one masterpiece Prince of Egypt but the rest I could do without (although I admit I haven’t seen the Madagascar movies except for Penguins which I liked).  Anyway, I was working on a project and put on a movie as I worked and figured why not give Road to El Dorado a shot as it is on Netflix.  I’d heard some good things and I love action adventure treasure hunting movies, so maybe it would be a forgotten gem?

I’ll just say it- Boy what a stinker…

It does look nice. I will grant it that but that’s really the only praise I have for it.It’s insulting, stupid, inappropriate for children, tonally off and full of unpleasant or underdeveloped characters. In other words, a mess.

But wait…I can hear you saying ‘didn’t you like Atlantis and isn’t that very similar?’.

No it’s not.  Atlantis creates a whole new world with its own culture, people, even language, so nobody is insulted because the culture doesn’t exist (plus it’s inherently more creative and interesting to see something imagined than a cheap reproduction of a people and society).  There is also a whole cast of characters in Atlantis I found  extremely likable and engaging.  Atlantis actually embraces diversity.  This says white people are smarter and better then those silly natives.  The action is well paced in Atlantis and aside from a skimpy swimsuit it is appropriate for kids. So no the two are not alike at all.

road to el doradoThe Road to El Dorado is about 2 con artists  named Tulio (Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) who in 1519 stow away on Cortes’ boat and sneak to the ‘new world’ to find the City of Gold or El Dorado.  Cortes is a semi-villain and a total snoozefest and from the beginning Tulio and Miguel are very smug and unlikable.

road to el dorado 6
What a disgusting depiction of native women. Such cliches.

The boys find the lost city surprisingly quickly and of course they are immediately treated like Gods in an offensive caricature of native traditions and people. It’s worse, much worse, than Pocahontas. It’s one thing for Redman in Peter Pan to exist in 1953 but in 2000 to have the kind of at best culturally insensitive characters, story and behavior is really quite shocking.  At least Atlantis had a certain reverence and awe at its imaginary culture.  This was so bad.

We even get a quasi form of soccer that is embarrassing. I don’t know what they were thinking. road to el dorado3The villain is completely underdeveloped and feels like it was copied off of the obnoxious priests in Prince of Egypt. He is overtaken by some kind of evil spirit and creates a rock monster out of the Gods. I guess it is some kind of heathen magic but it is not explained and doesn’t make much sense or add any kind of fear or suspense a good villain should.  At least in Pocahontas I can remember Radcliffe’s name.

road to el dorado7Just like in Pocahontas the movie acts like the natives are completely oblivious to the value of gold, which is absurd.  They literally have scenes with tribeswomen dumping bowls and bowls of gold into the ocean.  As if all Native and Central American tribes did not have commerce, trade and even their own currency. Kids are smart enough to know they weren’t dumping tons of gold into the ocean.  They have made an occasional offering but this is totally over the top and the natives act like they are clueless of it having any value at all. Give me a break.  Seriously the natives are probably more badly portrayed than in Peter Pan because at least that is an imaginary land and it is a 3 minute song and we move on.  This is 75% of the movie one cliche and cringe inducing stereotype after another.

road to el dorado2It is also extremely inappropriate for kids.  I had issues with the skimpy suit in Atlantis but at least she was smart and kind of mythical.  In this the boys gamble, lie, cheat, steal, and are generally bad examples.

But to make it worse it’s surprisingly vulgar for a childrens movie and the princess Chel wears practically nothing and there is a scene where it is strongly implied her and Tulio have sex. I was shocked.

road to el dorado5The music by usually reliable Tim Rice and Elton John is largely forgettable and most of it is sung by Elton John kind of like Phil Collins in the Tarzan movies.  Hans Zimmer takes a huge step down from Lion King with the mundane score.

Like I said it looks nice but I thought this was a real bomb. No wonder it did so poorly at the box office.  I mean who was it made for?  It’s too grown up for most little kids and too stupid and predictable for adults/teens.  Someone was telling me on twitter the studio got involved kind of like Disney and Hunchback and made them change things around so they are in El Dorado longer.  It feels that way. I smell a rat!

road to eldorado3

This is the era when Jeffrey Katzenberg was heavily involved with stories and the Dreamworks animation films and I don’t know what he was thinking? He usually has good taste but this is tawdry insulting junk.

I normally don’t review the stinkers but I think it being on Netflix a lot of people will turn it on and I hope this review can sway at least my friends away from it.  I was really offended by it and I don’t get offended that easily.  There is so much good animation on Netflix.  Move on to the next option.

This is a reminder of why I don’t want to review the Dreamworks Canon.  Yuck.

Content Grade- C  Overall Grade- F