Learning to Drive Review

learning to drive2Today I decided to not see M Night Shyamalan’s new movie The Visit (I don’t like horror movies) and opted for a smaller film- Learning to Drive.  I went into it not knowing much and I left feeling it was just okay. (hey you win some, you lose some, and some are just okay).

Learning to Drive stars Patricia Clarkson as Wendy, a woman who is dumped by her cheating husband and is forced to learn how to drive (living in Manhattan she hasn’t had to learn).  Her driving teacher is a Sikh man named Darwan played by Ben Kingsley.

The actors are what make this movie work as well as it does.  I really liked Clarkson who seemed just like a middle-aged New York yuppie trying to figure out her new life.  It really worked.  Kingsley is also very good as a practical but kind-hearted man.  It was neat to see a Sikh man as the lead as that is a religion and culture I admittedly know very little about.

Learning-to-DriveFor a lot of the movie they are in the car, doing the driving lessons and talking.  That part worked pretty well.  I like when movies are about ordinary life.  (I guess that is why I loved Boyhood so much!).  This is just two people talking in a car.  Love that.

I liked that they were only friends and we get stories from both of their lives.  Both characters are equally developed and focused on.  And it is kind of an interesting dynamic to have Wendy’s relationship falling apart at the same time that Darwan marries a woman he has never met in an arranged marriage.

learning to drive3I also liked the scenes with Grace Gummer as Wendy’s daughter Tasha.  You get the feeling that the marriage held it all together until the daughter was out of the house and it all fell apart.

learning to drive5There is also an interesting message that even reading can be harmful when it distracts you from the people in your life.

All that said, the movie struggles with tone.  There are scenes that feel like a romantic comedy.  Then others that get very serious.  And others that are a silly sex-romp.  It earns its R rating and all of that content is completely unnecessary and actually a distraction (at least for me) from the good stuff.

Also the ending was kind of a letdown. A character does something that I didn’t think fit with his or her character in the rest of the movie.

Director Isabel Coixet has worked with both Clarkson and Kingsley in the past and you can sense that kind of familiarity.  It felt like watching some of her friends live their lives.  I just wish the script by Sara Kernochan had been more focused and like I said had more control of its tone.

So learning to drive has some good stuff but problems as well. I’m not sure how helpful that review is but it’s what I thought!

As far as content there is some crude humor, profanity, and strong sexuality albeit brief.

Overall Grade- C just for the good performances and the few other things I liked.

Content Grade- C- (adults and mature teens only).

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End of Month Youtube Videos

I got some new videos up on the channel I think you will enjoy.  Definitely check them out.  If you haven’t already please subscribe to my channel and give me some thumbs up if you think they are any good.  Thanks!

Here’s one on movies I like to watch when I am sick.

Here’s the end of my blu-ray review series

Movies that I watched in theaters in March

Here’s one on why I think critics are particularly tough on Christian films but it would apply to any film with a narrow audience

Here’s my youtube review of Dreamworks Home

And finally here are the movies I watched at home in March.  Not my greatest viewing month but Akira was pretty cool.  I have to watch it a couple more times before doing a written review.

Again, thanks for giving them a watch and thumbs up.  I really appreciate it.  On to April!

Animation Lookback 2014 Videos

I had one of the worst nights of insomnia in my life so I’ve spent most of last night and today working on a new series on my youtube channel.  It is a look-back on animation in 2014- the highs, mediums and lows.  It is basically my Rachie’s post in video form.  I thought you might enjoy them and I would love if you gave them a watch.  I would also appreciate it if you subscribed to my channel.  I do box reviews and movie reviews of which you will probably be more interested in the latter but I try to post good thoughtful content and am improving every day.

This series I think turned out very good.  I hope it will help the public at large become aware of some of the smaller special animated movies, as well as maybe seeing ‘the big 6’ in a new light.  Thanks again for watching the videos and for all your support.

Theory of Everything: A Review

theory of everything2I finally got to the theater to see the Oscar nominated film  The Theory of Everything. It tells the story of Stephen and Jane Hawking’s marriage and life together.

theory of everythingThey meet before Stephen’s ALS diagnosis and everything is shot through sepia tones with dew filled lighting, very picturesque. (That technique is called upon far too often in the movie…).  I wish they had let us know why Jane falls in love with Stephen.  She just says kind of out of the blue that she is in love with him but I would have liked to have gotten more into her heart.

Then the film chronicles his diagnosis, their marriage, his progress on The Brief History of Time and his physics theories.  They do a good job making the theories accessible and easy enough for the viewer to understand.  You might not really get them but enough to see why they are so important.  (I mean it is black holes after all!).   There is also a continuing theme of Stephen’s atheism conflicting with his theories which was interesting.

theory-of-everything-stephen-hawking-movie-trailerThere is an extended section where Jane meets a choir director named Jonathan and that was a snoozefest. I never felt like I got to know Jane well enough.  I found myself anxious in her sections to get on to Stephen because more concrete things were happening to him and the performance by Eddie Redmayne is very good. Felicity Jones is just ok but the script doesn’t give her a ton to work with.

The movie also has constant twirling which I guess was supposed to mimic the universe but got annoying after a while (seriously even the coffee twirls).

theory of everything3My feelings at the end of the movie is- it is fine. It’s a perfectly standard adequate satisfying biopic about a very unique man. I found myself getting anxious for the story to move along and all the dew filled picturesque cinematography got on my nerves. It kept the two main characters at a distance.  I rarely felt I got in their hearts or who they really were.

theory of everything4But I still enjoyed it. It’s competently made and a good story.  I liked it.  I just didn’t LOVE it.  It’s such an interesting life that it may work almost in spite of itself.

I liked they didn’t try to give it more of a perfect ending than was deserved. From  what I understand they stuck to real life events pretty well.

I couldn’t help but think of A Beautiful Mind while watching A Theory of Everything.  Both are shot with a similar style about women married to geniuses who become ill. I think A Beautiful Mind is better because it gets a little more into both characters heads and I liked the twist (and the script is tighter).  But they are very similar.

theory_of_everything_still_a_l

So if you liked Beautiful Mind than you will probably enjoy A Theory of Everything.  I’m certainly glad I saw it.  It’s always great to watch stories of people who defy the odds and do incredible things.  A Theory of Everything gives us such a story and I enjoyed it even if I didn’t think it was spectacular. I was inspired by the events of the movie more than the movie itself.

This would be a good movie to watch on a Sunday when you are looking to be inspired and it would certainly be a good way to introduce students to Hawking’s life and ideas. Like I said it doesn’t reinvent the wheel but I liked it.

As far as content there is hints of affairs but it is kept very PG and a brief but very tame penthouse magazine. Maybe a little language and a scene where a trachea is installed that was tough to watch.

Overall Grade- B-

Content Grade- A

Movies I Saw Youtube Videos

Pictures12Today I tried something different and made 2 videos for my channel.  One that summarized the movies I saw in the theater in January and another the movies I saw at home.  If you read my reviews you already know my opinion but this is a summary.  I would love if you took a look and subscribed to my channel.

Thanks!

54 Disney Films- The How and Where Behind the Project

A few people have asked me some questions about my project and I thought I would take a second to answer them.

WHERE DID I GET 54 MOVIES TO WATCH?

Disney is divided into segments.  There are segments for Pixar, Studio Ghibli, Tim Burton animation (Frankenweenie, Nightmare Before Christmas), stop motion animation (Christmas Carol and Mars Meets Mom), and then there is the Disney Toons Dept.  This last segment makes films many times associated with their television franchises such as The Ducktales Movie, or the Tinker Bell movies.

When we say something is ‘Disney cannon’ what we mean is it is from the Walt Disney Animation Studio and is deemed by them as an ‘animated classic’.  That can be confusing because we hear classic we think old but it is actually just movies produced by Walt Disney Studios that they put on the list of animated classics.  Why for instance are 2 of the Winnie the Pooh movies included but others like The Tigger Movie are not? I don’t know?  I guess it just comes to where the movie is made in the company and the resources which go into it.

My friend over at The Lawn Gnome explains it better than I could.

HOW DO I WATCH ALL OF THE MOVIES?:

Perhaps I should add this to all of my reviews so you know how to watch it if the film sounds interesting to you.  Basically there are a number of ways.

1. My Blu-ray collection-  I don’t have that many Disney Blu-rays because honestly they aren’t that great.  Unless you especially want to see it in HD and have a TV that will make a big difference there is no need to upgrade a film from a DVD to a Blu-ray.  On most of them the special features and films are identical (and some feel the blu-rays are worse because they clean up images in pictures and take away some of the original earthiness. I’ve heard that about the blu-ray for Sword in the Stone).  That said, if you don’t have them on DVD and you find a good price go for it!  Disney is not keeping as many movies ‘in the vault’ like they used to (probably because of digital copies getting out to the public anyway) so you can find good deals if you are on the hunt for them.

disney blu-rays2. Disney DVDs Collection- Like I said the DVD sets are basically identical minus the HD as the blu-ray so over the years I collected a bunch of those.  I have more than pictured but I went through a misguided phase where I threw cases away to save space.  Stupid!!

disney dvds3. Stream It- There are lots of methods for streaming Disney movies which you can even get in HDX now.  (Some claim there is a huge difference between digital stream and blu-ray but I haven’t noticed it with Disney at least. There is a website called CanIStreamIt.it   where you can look up any movie and see if it is available for free stream, rent or own.  Before I started my project I went through all 54 and checked them on CanIStreamIt.it and knew which one’s I would need to acquire from different sources.

can I stream it

Three of the biggest sites are vudu, amazon and netflix.

Vudu you purchase and rent on an individual basis but they have some great deals including daily rental discounts and an entire Disney Collections storefront.  Most rentals cost between $2.99 and $4.99 depending on how picky you are about HD.  My blu-ray players have apps for vudu which makes it easy.  I can even watch vudu and netflix on my phone if I want.   There is no monthly cost for vudu it is per purchase.

Vudu also gives you the rotten tomatoes score and review blips for any movie you look at which is nice, and you can share your experience on social media easily.

vuduAmazon is similar to vudu but they have a large library of free viewing films for prime members (a yearly fee that covers your 2 day shipping and other usage of the site).  It is an app on my downstairs blu-ray but not upstairs and it is not available for viewing on your phone (but really Disney deserves bigger than a 4 inch screen!).  You can also load your digital hd copies that come with most blu-rays onto either amazon or vudu (and you can watch them at disneymovierewards.com).

Amazon gives you reviews from fans if that helps you decide to view a movie or not.

amazonNetflix is the other major way to watch Disney films.  Their streaming services are charged by the month and I think it is $7.99 in the US.  They sometimes rotate a movie out so if you love it probably best to procure it some other way as it is not like vudu where once you buy it it’s in your library for good.   But if you are not a rewatcher of movies than it is a great, affordable solutions.  Right now they have The Rescuers movies, Pocahontas, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Sword in the Stone and other Disney films on Netflix.

netflixIf you were curious I do not have a fancy TV.  It is a plasma Philips I bought on craigslist in 2009 but it seems to do the job just fine.

plasma tvIf you are a Comcast subscriber they have a ‘Disney Family Movie Channel’ that is a premium on demand channel and those films rotate as well.  They do a good job getting odd or unusual films in there and I watched Saludos Amigos and Three Cabelleros on the channel.  It is $5.95 a month where I live.

family movie channel

4. VHS it!-  I know it’s old school but I have a TV/VCR combo (2 actually in different rooms) and for harder titles to find like Aladdin VHS can still be a good method.  Again I’m not too picky about the HD angle.  I actually watched Snow White, Pinocchio and Melody Time on VHS for this project and I was able to get them for .50 each.  Not half bad.

vhs

 

HOW DO YOU HAVE THE TIME?

Well, first of all I have been a blogger for 7 years and a youtuber for about 2.  I love social media and interacting with people from all over the world, especially about something I love like Disney.  I have done movie reviews on both my old site and my channel (in fact, I just posted reviews on my channel of Boyhood and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).

http://smilingldsgirl.com My Regular Blog

To read a written review I did on a movie I did not care for this summer called Austenland-

http://smilingldsgirl.com/2014/06/22/austenland-a-review/

My Channel

http://www.youtube.com/user/smilingldsgirl

My review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-

I have loved criticism my whole life.  I was a huge Siskel and Ebert fan growing up and find it fascinating how individuals can see art and have such differing responses . My parents raised me to ask questions and not just be an absorber of art.  So it is the perspective I am coming from.  To me noshing over a movie with friends, even online friends, is part of the fun of going to a movie.

For a long time I have wanted to watch all of the Disney cannon because there were films I had heard about like The Black Cauldron but never seen.  I was curious but never could find the time . Then in July my MCL tore and I found myself with limited mobility.

knee2It was also screwing up my already problematic sleeping schedule (you have probably noticed a lot of 2-4am posts.  I’m a terrible insomniac). I figured I needed something to feel productive because I was literally sitting around all evening once work was finished.  So, I decided to dive in and finally watch the Disney cannon.  At first I was confused and thought it was 57 movies because the list I had included The Wild, Christmas Carol and Mars Needs Moms.  Then I figured it out and changed it over to 54.

One of the nice things about Disney is most of the movies aren’t very long.  Usually around 75 minutes so really it is just a few minutes longer than a tv show like Project Runway or Survivor . Most of my shows are in between seasons so that worked out perfectly too.  It was easy for me to watch a 75 minute film and blog about it daily or every other day depending on my schedule.  These next 26 are going to be harder because most of them are longer but once I start a project I never stop so we will get all 54 for the Big Hero 6 premiere in November!

As far as my knee I am probably 80% healed but still some pain and not able to do a lot of standing or walking.  Hopefully I can get back to swimming soon.

HOW DO YOU WRITE A REVIEW?

For me it is a process writing a review.  I do as much research as I can before watching the movie, even for a movie I know pretty well.  The wikipedia on Disney films is actually pretty good, Disney wiki, other bloggers, articles, reviews etc are also helpful.  If I have one I will watch behind the scenes and audio commentaries.

I also take notes both of my research, the plot and my responses.

disney notesSome of the package films I will have a tab for each of the segments so I can keep them straight.  With Little Mermaid I had 2 tabs because there was so much in the audio commentary I wanted to keep that separate.   I couldn’t capture all my notes on a screen capture.  They are pretty in depth.   As a grad student I learned how to take detailed notes quickly and I find I enjoy the films better when taking notes (super nerd I know).

One thing that helps  is I am a very fast typist and writing the prose of the review isn’t difficult for me.  In fact, as much as I enjoy youtube I find editing a video to be more challenging.  Plus, once you’ve uploaded it is harder to make corrections like I can with my blog entries.  Youtube is also more restrictive on copyright rules than blogging and if I get strikes against my channel even though it is fair use it cold be a big pain.

In June I also ended 10 years of accounting and was hired to work as a digital marketing specialist so anything I learn on any social media isn’t just for fun but helps me with my career as well.

MY VIEW ON CRITICISM

It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve tried my best to be open minded to every movie, even one’s I previously did not care for.  I also have tried to be positive and not trash any films.  This is Disney and they all have some good traits.  I haven’t given an F to any film because nothing has deserved an F.  An F would be for a total failure like The Smurfs or The Lorax (2 least favorite animated movies).  I know when I read a review I like to see the reasoning behind the critique and even if I disagree I can respect it.  That’s what I’ve tried to do in the blog.

I hate internet reviewers who give blanket statements like ‘I hate this movie’ or ‘it sucks’ or ‘it is so boring’.  That’s a starting point but tell me whey.  Even if your ‘it sucks’ reviews are meant for humor,in the jokes tell me why you don’t care for the film.  Did the characters not work for you?  Did the plot meander?  Did you find the animation unpleasant?  I try to comment on all of those factors whether it is positive or negative in my reviews because those are the types of reviews I find fascinating.  People have dedicated years of their lives to these projects and we owe them a thoughtful response.

A while back I had posted that I didn’t really get the movie The Graduate.  The performances were good but I didn’t like the ending, and I explained why.  A friend told me why it made sense given the time and characters and it opened my eyes to the scene.  While I don’t think The Graduate is a masterpiece, I like it much better after that conversation, so I am always open to others insight and analysis.

In a way it is funny because my parents are not movie people at all.  My Dad is lucky if he see’s one movie a year but all of his kids love them.  Other than the Simpsons, nothing got us talking as siblings more than movies.

I believe movies are the great storytelling device of our era and if you miss out on going to the movies you miss out on understanding yourself, others and the age we live in.

So that is the 411 on the blog and how you can watch all of these great movies.  Thanks for reading and making it such a fun experience!

mickey