Current Mini Reviews

For a time period with essentially no new movies coming to theaters I sure have a bunch of films to update you on! Here I am with 9 mini reviews to help you decide what is smile and frown worthy:

Rebecca

On one hand it is hard to fault this handsomely mounted film version of the classic novel by Daphne Du Maurier (which was famously adapted by director Alfred Hitchcock in a 1940 version that won the Oscar for Best Picture). On the other hand, all that potential makes the film all the more disappointing.

The problem with this version of Rebecca is it fails to capture the suspense and chilling atmosphere of the source material. Lily James, Armie Hammer and Kristin Scott Thomas all do a good job in their roles but the movie is just plain bland. To begin with it takes way too long for the story to get to Manderley and then it feels like everyone is going through the motions. I didn’t hate it, but I also wasn’t very engaged. It is shot beautifully, and aside from some wonky fire visual effects, looks great, but that can only take you so far. Instead of making something compelling and mysterious they’ve made something dull and ponderous.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Spontaneous

This film Spontaneous is very difficult to describe and it will definitely be divisive. It stars Charlie Plummer and Katherine Langford (both whom I love and are very talented) in an unusual coming of age love story, For some unexplained reason people in their high school start randomly exploding. At first this is played for laughs which is awkward (I’m not the biggest fan of dark comedies) but then it becomes serious as our 2 leads know that any moment may be their last together.

Spontaneous is not going to be for everyone but if you are looking for something creative and different give it a shot. The leads are so good and it kept me guessing,which is refreshing. The more I think about it the more I love it

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The War with Grandpa

On one hand I can’t in good conscience recommend The War with Grandpa. It’s ridiculous, stupid and most of the jokes don’t land. On the other hand, I didn’t hate the movie. I am a sucker for broad live action family comedies so I am perhaps more forgiving of a film like this than my other critic friends. It’s movies like The War with Grandpa that I wish rottentomatoes had a middle ground score. It’s worth a rental if you like slapsticky family comedies but it’s not great. (I really miss the live action family comedies we used to get from Disney and other studios- broad, silly, fun with a nice message).

Most critics of course hate the film, and I can see why. The whole concept is inane about a Grandfather (Robert Deniro) and a grandson (Oaks Fegley who was so good in Pete’s Dragon) that engage in a war of pranks with each other when Grandpa takes the grandson’s room. However, I did like the cast including Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin and Jane Seymour. I also really liked the little girl who is obsessed with Christmas. Her holiday themed birthday party is the stuff of my dreams!

But it can also be a little too mean for my liking with Grandpa and grandson hurting each other and being really irresponsible. This isn’t the best message for kids, which hurts its value as a family film. It’s too destructive so I can’t recommend The War with Grandpa.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy (but I didn’t hate it like everyone else)

The Trial of the Chicago 7

After I have just defended The War with Grandpa let me confess I am not the biggest Aaron Sorkin fan. I think Sorkin is great at dialogue, and I never hate his movies, I’m just usually not as excited as most seem to be about them. I find that behind the quippy dialogue are often flat, bland characters that don’t grow and change. His portrayals in particular of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs left me wanting more. They are one-note characters at the start and end of their respective films. His writing, despite the good dialogue, always leaves me a little cold.

Now we have The Trial of the Chicago 7 and despite my having the same problems with Sorkin’s characters, I am more forgiving with this film. It’s easier to accept one-note characters in an ensemble piece where the actors can feed off each other and that’s what they do here. Plus, the real-life events are crazy enough to engage and entertain the audience. The trial moves along nicely and is so surprising that it is fun to watch. All the performances are good including Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mark Rylance and more.

The film manages to be relevant without being too on-the-nose like some movies in COVID have been. I also felt the music did not fit in with the period or feel of the film especially at the start. It seemed like something from another movie.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Hubie Halloween

Adam Sandler continues his terrible streak of comedies with his latest for Netflix Hubie Halloween. I knew the minute I heard his annoying babyish voice this movie was going to be rough and it was. It’s somehow not as bad as films like The Ridiculous 6 or The Do-Over, but I still hated it. I hated the characters. The jokes are awful and Hubie is incredibly annoying. There isn’t anyone to root for and you just hope they will all go away by the end of it.

3 out of 10

FrownWorthy

The Last Shift

It seemed to apropos to see the new film The Last Shift on the last day the Regal Cinemas will be open for a while. I was literally seeing The Last Shift on the last shift! This film is a small yet tender story about an older man, played by Richard Jenkins, who has worked at a fast food establishment his entire life. He is now retiring and must train a young Black man named Javon (Shane Paul McGhie) on how to do his job.

As they work together prejudices are revealed, life plays out in both expected and unexpected ways, and they learn a lot from each other. Jenkins and McGhie are excellent in their roles and it’s a nice slice of life film. Some aspects of the ending didn’t work for me and I didn’t like Ed O’Neill’s character, but overall I enjoyed the film.

It’s definitely worth a watch if you can see The Last Shift

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The King of Staten Island

I put off seeing The King of Staten Island because I’m normally not a big Judd Apatow fan, and I find Pete Davidson to be a grating presence on screen. However, after finally seeing it, I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised. This is a sweet coming of age story about a young man who can’t figure out what to do with his life. So instead of doing something he skates by with the bare minimum, waiting for something to inspire him. Then one day he becomes involved with a group of firefighters who knew his deceased father and his life starts to change.

Bill Burr shines as Davidson’s new stepdad figure and Marisa Tomei is good as usual as his long-suffering Mother. The film definitely has the Judd Apatow man-child plot and it is way too long and vulgar but overall the sweetness won me over. Both of the romances in the movie are also really sweet and enjoyable. It’s a genuine, heartfelt, coming of age story.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Then Came You

Most people will probably see Kathie Lee Gifford starring and writing Then Came You and not give the film much of a shot. That’s a shame because it’s an enjoyable rom-com. It’s definitely loaded with tropes and silly moments, but I liked the chemistry between Craig Furgeson and Kathie Lee Gifford. It was nice to see a romance between an older couple and it is surprisingly mature in its humor for this kind of film.

Elizabeth Hurley is not in the movie much so don’t go in expecting a lot from her. It’s mostly a 2 people show with Ferguson and Gifford hating each other at first but falling in love while she scatters the ashes of her late husband in Scotland. If that sounds fun to you than you’ll probably like it. I did. This is not as made for the Hallmark crowd as it might appear with the sensuality, vulgarity and other mature topics discussed so buyer beware on that account.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

2 Hearts

2 Hearts will always be remembered as my 2nd critics screening since the start of COVID. I will always be grateful to it for that. However, as a movie it’s a very strange film that I hardly know what to make out of it. On one hand, it’s a typical soapy tragic love story along the lines of A Walk to Remember or Five Feet Apart. In fact, it tells 2 love stories and the unexpected way they influenced each other. For the most part it is well cast and has a nice message about living life to its fullest and the value of organ donation. However,about 2/3rd of the way through they make a narrative choice with one of the couples that is frankly bizarre. I am still quite baffled by it. I can’t share here because of spoilers but it was strange.

There’s a lot of Hallmark movie talent in this film including a few people I have interviewed over at Hallmarkies Podcast. It’s always nice to see these actors getting work in feature films. Some non-Cuban actors playing Cuban roles was a poor decision and the timeline on some things was a little confusing but again 2 Hearts is a harmless movie. It just depends if you can get over the twist, which I’m not sure I can. It was so bizarre.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! What do you think of these films? What score would you give them? Let me know in the comments section

[REVIEW] ‘Irresistible’ or Don’t Forget to Be Funny

Most of my readers know I am a traditional conservative who did not vote for our current President Donald Trump. This puts me in a bit of a weird position when it comes to observing the current political landscape. I side with Republicans when it comes to many issues particularly fiscal ones, but I cannot abide the moral failings of our leader and the many reprehensible things that have happened since 2016. On the other hand, I also disagree with most of the positions of the Democrats and so I am stuck in the middle with nowhere to turn to.

irresistable

Being an independent-of-the-moment should make me primed to enjoy political satire and comedy. Ideally I should be able to see truth in the humor of both the left and the right; however, unfortunately the tension of this moment seems to have made both sides either too nervous or distracted to make good comedy. This is a real shame as comedy can be an important tool in critiquing and even challenging our leaders to do the right thing and listen to the people. You can see this going all the way back to Charlie Chaplin challenging Hitler in The Great Dictator.

Anyway, I say this to make clear my problem with the new film Irresistible by writer/ director Jon Stewart has nothing to do with my disagreeing with its politics. The film actually does a pretty good job of poking fun at both parties equally. Unfortunately, the problem is I just didn’t find it to be funny. To be more specific, I laughed twice over 2 media related gags and that’s it. Everything else fell completely flat.

The problem with Irresistible isn’t that different than the problem most faith-based films have. Stewart wants to reveal a big flaw in the American political campaign system so he made a movie exposing this flaw to the American people. This attempt is perfectly admirable, but just as with faith-based films, it is not enough to have a compelling message in a movie. You must craft a narrative around that message which will appeal to the audience. Story first. Message second!

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Not that Irresistible doesn’t have its strengths. All the acting from folks like Steve Carrell and especially Chris Cooper as a Vietnam War vet are well done. The problem is the script doesn’t give the actors anything to do. Most of the time I was watching campaign stops mixed with board meetings, and if you know anything about me nothing is more boring in a movie a than board meeting (with a tie going to staring at screens).

Most of the attempts at jokes involve the media. Carrell and Rose Byrne’s characters trying to manipulate the 24 news cycle in their favor and most of these jokes are not funny because they are more observations than actual humor. I honestly had more laughs with last year’s Long Shot: a movie I would barely count as political satire.

Again it’s more about the message than an entertaining script. If we want to learn more about the mechanics of the campaign finance system and how it can be corrupted we can read an article or watch a documentary. Watching Irresistible just makes us bored and less likely to want to learn more about this important subject.

If you want to see a well done political satire there hasn’t been much lately but some classic examples are Dr Strangelove, Wag the Dog, In the Loop, Thank You for Smoking, and Dave. As far as current politics you are probably better off watching an episode of The Simpsons or The Daily Show than spending time with Irresistible. I’ve been told VEEP is good but have never seen it myself.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

frown

Blind Spot 52: ‘The Three Colors Trilogy’

When I was setting up this year’s blind spot picks I took what seemed like a big risk in my pick for April. Deciding to go with a trilogy of films called the Three Colors Trilogy seemed like a big ask. Little did I know we would have a pandemic and I’d be in quarantine for the entire month! It ended up being the ideal choice!

3 colors

The Three Colors Trilogy is a trio of films by polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. The 3 films are loosely tied together stories that are named after the colors of the French flag and supposedly meant to be emblematic of the 3 political ideals associated with each color: blue=liberty, white=equality, red=fraternity. Some also feel the films are an anti-tragedy, anti-comedy, and anti-romance.

While I admire the boldness of the project, the trilogy is bookended by 2 great films with a real turkey stuck in the middle. That’s right. I enjoyed Blue and Red but found white to be a big misfire. However, as they aren’t very connected this isn’t a huge problem and I’d honestly suggest just skipping White all together.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on all 3:

blue

Blue

Blue stars Juliette Binoche as a widow who loses both her daughter and husband in a horrible car accident at the beginning of the film. She is a classical music composer, as was her husband, but he got most of the praise and glory. Now out of the hospital she has to try to put her life back together all the while discovering new revelations about her husband along the way.

This is a very ‘fly on the wall’ type of movie with us mostly following Binoche around as she makes choices. One minute she is reuniting with a former lover, another she is selling her house, then moving to Paris etc. Fortunately she’s a compelling enough character for this to work. Binoche does a terrific job playing this damaged woman and her responses felt real and honest- no melodrama here.

I also enjoyed the way Kieslowski brought in the color blue into the film through a blue chandelier and lots of time in or near swimming pools. It was more than a gimmick but a way to establish moods of grief and loss.

Blue is a definite great start to the trilogy!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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White

As I mentioned above White is the film in the trilogy that is the big miss. It stars Zbigniew Zamachowski as a sad sap of a man who at the start of the film is getting divorced by his wife. She is played by Julie Delpy and she wants a divorce because he has failed to consummate their relationship. He then spends the rest of the movie feeling sorry for himself and planning his elaborate revenge.

At one point he gets involved with the mafia and sends himself in a suitcase to Poland to finish a job for a shady friend. I guess such gestures are supposed to be the ‘anti-comedy’ of the trilogy, but I didn’t laugh. I found him selfish, rude and irritating. I think there is supposed to be satisfaction in his ending, but I found it pathetic.

I suppose the acting and filming of White is fine but the story and characters were too insufferable and annoying for me to care about. Let’s just say it’s a slice of life I can do without!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Three-Colors-Red

Red

The highlight of the trilogy is the concluding film, Red. Instead of an irritating useless male character as we saw in White, in Red you get a layered, interesting character and an ending that ties the trilogy together.

Red tells the story of a model named Valentine played by Irene Jacob. One day she has a car accident with a dog and she seeks out the dog owner. It turns out to be a former judge played by Jean-Louis Trintignant. Unfortunately the judge doesn’t care about the dog but he has a sophisticated technology for listening in on the conversations of his neighbors.

Like in Rear Window, as he listens he becomes more involved in their lives and starts to make assumptions about what is best for them. Valentine tries to help the judge but things become more complicated by the minute. She also has her own love problems to deal with along with some bad luck at work and in her social life.

Like Blue, Red works because it has a compelling main character we are interested in. The reason it is better than Blue is because the plot is more linear and engaging and Valentine is a more complex character (it was nominated for best screenplay). It’s also beautifully made from the lighting, music, direction, all the way to the cinematography. It’s a gem!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Have you seen The Three Colors Trilogy? Which one is your favorite? I would love to read your thoughts below in the comments

Blind Spot 51: ‘Goodfellas’

When I set up my 2020 Blind Spot list I knew immediately I wanted to include something from director Martin Scorsese. He not only caused a lot of ruckus with his ridiculous and out of touch comments about superhero movies not being ‘cinema’ last year but then he achieved great critical acclaim with his film The Irishman.  I famously did not care for this Oscar nominated film, and I also hated his film before that Silence, so I began to wonder if maybe the famous director and I simply don’t mix very well (I did like Hugo and The Aviator so there’s that)?

Anyway, I knew I wanted to give his other mobster movie, Goodfellas, a shot this year to see what I thought. Now I have seen it, and I’m happy to say I liked it. It’s not a top-tier film for me but definitely entertaining and far better than The Irishman in every way. I still prefer the gravitas and messaging of The Godfather over this film but I can see why it has its ardent fans.

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Goodfellas tells the story of Henry Hill a real life mobster in 70s and 80s who works and serves the family despite not being a full-Italian ‘made’ member. We start out the film with Henry as a teenager dazzled by the lifestyle and family-connection of organized crime. He gets taken under the wing by a caporegime named Paulie played by Paul Servino. Joe Pesci plays a violent and erratic man named Tommy Devito and Robert De Niro plays a leader of the group named Jimmy Conway.

goodfellas

The reason I liked this so much better than The Irishman is the characters are all more dynamic. My problem with Robert De Niro’s character in The Irishman is his come to Jesus moments come too late in the narrative. For 80% of the movie he is perfectly happy being a soldier for the mafia and someone who simply follows orders isn’t interesting for a film, especially a long film.

In contrast, Henry has many moments where he bucks against the system, especially in the 2nd half where it becomes more of a heist movie than a mafia film. He even challenges orders in his personal life with wife Karen and mistress Janice/Sandy. This makes him an interesting character. We want to root for him because he is our protagonist, but he’s such a sleazy guy that it becomes difficult. Such conflict is cinematic and entertaining. It also doesn’t hurt that Ray Liotta does a very good job playing Henry so you both want to hang out with and smack him at the same time.

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Unlike The Godfather, Goodfellas doesn’t attempt to teach us lessons through the insular society of the mob. It’s not an allegory to society at large or a treatise on group behavior and loyalty. It’s just Henry’s story- a biopic if you will, with all the highs and lows we expect from that genre. It is greatly aided by witty and engaging dialogue by screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi. It clips along and stays free from both exposition or over-narration.

As far as flaws it still feels self-indulgent at times. Scenes are stretched out longer than they need to be and certain sequences are repeated that provide no real addition to the plot. For example, we see multiple scenes with them laughing it up at the comedy club in the beginning of the film. One scene is fine and establishes the juvenile nature of these men; however, I didn’t need to see it again and again. Same with scenes with the drug-trade later in the movie. We get the idea the first time. We don’t need scene after scene of them getting blow. It’s almost like Scorsese lacks confidence in his scenes so he has to repeat them again. (Come to think of it one of the things I hated in Silence was the repeated torture. He would literally show a scene of torture and show that exact same scene again in case we didn’t get it the first time. No thank you!).

goodfellas2

Goodfellas is also very well edited and the production values are all top rate. It doesn’t feel dated in any way. It could be released now and hold up (honestly better than The Irishman with its distracting special effects). I also enjoyed the cinematography and music choices throughout.

If you can handle a hard R rated film for violence and language I recommend giving Goodfellas a watch. If you do, you will find a well-told story about a complex character in the form of Henry Hill. It’s got a sharp script and good performances all around, which makes it very entertaining. I can definitely see why it is a favorite of those who love the gangster genre.

What do you think of Goodfellas? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section

7.5 out of 10

smile worthy

On another note I can see why so many compared Hustlers to Goodfellas. They have a very similar structure especially in the last half of the film and have the same type of repetition and character beats.

 

Current Mini Reviews

Today I am back with a small edition of my mini reviews post. Mostly the end of January was taken up by the Sundance Film Festival but I was able to squeeze in a few other viewings which included both new and 2018 releases.

So here goes!

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS CR: NETFLIX

At the risk of losing some of my film snob credibility with #filmtwitter I must own I have not enjoyed most of the Coen Brothers recent comedies. They seem to rely so much on setting that they forget to tell a good joke. Films like Hail Caesar didn’t work because instead of being funny they decided to be boring and repetitive. Their early work like Raising Arizona focused on script first, setting and set-pieces second and this is what made it so funny.

Now we get a western themed anthology from them and it has much of the same problems of Hail Caesar. Lately the Coen Brothers seem content to simply pay homage to classic storytelling (in this case the western) instead of crafting compelling scripts within said genre.

For starters, I didn’t think that any of the shorts were funny. A couple were sweet and tender like The Gal Who Got Rattled, but even it, is not something I am going to remember. In contrast, their films like Fargo or Oh Brother! Where Art Thou I will never forget (memorable characters, script and setting!).

The shorts in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs are well made and acted but aren’t memorable nor did they inspire any large emotion from me. Pretty bland I’d say.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

MOWGLI: LEGEND OF THE JUNGLE

mowgli

Another missed opportunity came with Andy Serkis and his version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Of course we all know that Disney hit a real homerun with their 2016 version directed by Jon Favreau. I wasn’t as in love with that version as some moviegoers but it was certainly better than this new version that went straight to Netflix for a reason.

To put it quite bluntly Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is unmemorable and boring in every way. The child performer Rohan Chand who plays Mowgli is pretty good (perhaps better than the kid in the Favreau version tbh) but the story was not interesting. They go a darker angle which will be too traumatizing for kids but it isn’t compelling enough to entertain adults so it’s just really bland.

Also the cgi, which was so memorable in Favreau’s version, is very hit and miss here. The voice cast is all good but the characters don’t do anything interesting and Mowgli is a jungle boy who stays the same through the movie. I immediately forgot about the movie as soon as I finished watching it, which is a real shame.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

FREE SOLO

FreeSolo

This Oscar nominated documentary follows climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to ‘free solo’ climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The directors do a good job creating stakes for the danger of the climb and helping us get to know the free-spirited Alex. This helps his climb during the last third of the film feel wracked with tension!

I couldn’t help but ask myself while watching what all this risk was for? What was the point of going solo? I guess just to prove you can but is that something to be applauded? It’s similar to Evil Knievel jumping over 20 cars through a ring of fire for our entertainment or Philippe Petit walking across the World Trade Towers in 1974. Man always wants to entertain us via risking their own lives and more often than not such stunts are compelling and hard to not watch and applaud.

They had a lot of challenges while making the movie because they couldn’t disrupt his dangerous climb in any way to get either sound or images, so what they accomplish is really quite impressive. If they win best documentary I won’t complain (knowing the documentary branch it will probably go to something more pedestrian like RBG). Regardless you should check out Free Solo while you have the chance.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

I WANT TO EAT YOUR PANCREAS

I want to eat your pancreas

I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is definitely the strangest title of the year but fear not! It is not a cannibalism movie after all. In fact, it is a sticky sweet coming of age love story in the vein of A Fault in Our Stars or a Nicholas Sparks film like A Walk to Remember.

It tells the story of Sakura, a teenage girl suffering from pancreatic disease who becomes friends with a sullen teen boy who wants no part in her dreaming and life. Sakura is very much a manic pixie dream girl who exists mostly to inspire this boy (who we don’t even get a name of for most the movie) to live a full and exciting life. She also has a best friend who is very suspect of this new boy in her friends life.

Despite the somewhat tired setup, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is actually quite sweet with nice moments between the 2 characters that teens will relate with and enjoy. The animation is beautiful throughout using light and a watercolor aesthetic to make Sakura seem all the more angelic and hopeful. I also enjoyed the music and the character designs while fairly generic were pleasant to watch.

Overall, if you like these kinds of coming of age weepies than you’ll enjoy I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, and I’d recommend checking it out.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

WHAT MEN WANT

what men want

If you are new to my blog you might not know that I hate the original What Women Want with a passion. I think it is such a putrid terrible lazy excuse for a comedy. Especially with the Marisa Tomei character’s plot I find it quite morally repugnant to be honest. So you can imagine I was horrified to see it was being remade with a gender swap with Taraji P Henson in the Mel Gibson role. Unfortunately the filmmakers couldn’t swap my feelings for the film into enjoying this new version

The positives for What Men Want is it has a funny poker scene where Shaquille O’Neal and other NBA stars get some good laughs. Also Wendi McLendon-Covey is funny in the 3 or 4 scenes she is in.

The rest of the movie is awful. The stereotyping is embarrassing. The laughs are few and far between (and extremely repetitive). The movie is way too long at nearly 2 hours and the lead character is an insufferable, entitled jerk for way too long. Also her skill of reading men’s minds seems to come in and out very conveniently. I know a lot of people hated I Feel Pretty last year but I thought that had way more heart and a way better message than this mess.

Worst of all it wasn’t funny (except for the poker scene). There’s tons of R rated humor and that did nothing for me. (I’m not sure why people think saying the f word a lot is funny. It’s just using a word. You have to do funny things with it). Anyway, What Men Want is trash. Don’t watch it or the original. There’s way better comedies out there to watch. Put on Game Night or even TAG instead.

Please let’s move on from this lazy gender stereotyping movie concept!

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Have you gotten to see any of these releases? Let me know in the comments section. Thanks!

Exciting News and Almost Best Movies of 2018

So if you follow me on twitter or youtube you already know my big exciting news! Last week I was contacted by a representative from the website rottentomatoes.com asking me if I was interested in becoming an approved critic for their site. At first I thought this couldn’t be real and was some kind of scam but I looked into and sure enough it was real!

I am still in shock about this development because I don’t know how I was selected out of the many talented podcasters and bloggers. I hadn’t applied because my numbers are far under what they say you need to apply. I am guessing they were trying to recruit female critics and somehow I got on their radar but I really have no clue. Maybe they just liked my writing? Who knows?

Anyway, it is a super exciting development for me as it should help me get on press lists I have been dying to get on. It has already got me on the local Disney/Marvel press list which is a dream come true and I’m hoping to get approved for another big local list. It also gives my content more exposure which is a great thing! I just can’t believe it! Dreams do come true!

You can see my profile with a few uploaded reviews

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/rachel-wagner/movies

Then I also posted my ALMOST Best Movies of 2018 List today. These are 15 movies I really loved that I couldn’t fit on my top 15 Best of List. I’d love for you to check out the video (or listen to the podcast) but here are the picks:

16. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society– great performances by Lily James, Michel Huisman, Penelope Wilton and more. Lovely story with heart and touching moments. Loved the ending and the proposal.

17. Won’t You Be My Neighbor- a documentary that manages to draw you in just telling a man’s simple story. There’s a moment at Congress that had me on the edge of my seat. Inspiring and heartwarming. I also got to attend the premiere at Sundance and another exclusive screening to celebrate our local PBS station KUED. Good memories

18. Mirai– sweet and intimate little anime film from Mamoru Hosoda about a little boy learning to appreciate his new baby sister. He is visited by guests from the future and past to teach him to be kind. Lovely with beautiful animation.

19. Green Book– I love stories of unlikely friendship and this was a great one. Wonderful performances between Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Some want this movie to be more than it is, a protest film but that’s not it at all. It’s just about 2 friends and it is full of comedy, tender moments and learning to accept and value someone you never thought you could get along with when you first met.

20. Minding the Gap– Stunning documentary where director Bing Li follows his friends from an early age and weaves in skateboarding into themes of growing up, change, and most importantly how the domestic violence put upon their mothers changes them.

21. The Night is Short Walk on Girl– surrealist, bright and bubbly anime about a girl who goes on a giant drinking bender on a break from college. There are musical sequences, wacky artwork and a sweet love story. A trippy experience but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Very different than any other anime I’ve seen.

22. Game Night– hilarious film about a bunch of friends trying to have a secret game night. The whole cast is hilarious. I especially loved Kyle Chandler in an unusual comedic role. Anyone who has a competitive family with games will relate and it shows well the slight desperation we can feel to socialize as grown ups in our 30s. It’s hard!

23. Three Identical Strangers– A documentary that completely blew me away. I stayed spoiler free so when certain things happen I was shocked! I could never have guessed such twists and turns. It was funny, heartwarming, scary, everything all rolled up into one crazy story.

24. Eighth Grade– I’m usually not a big fan of sullen teenager coming of age stories but this one had just enough humor and heart to work for me. Elsie Fisher was wonderful and her experience youtubing felt totally authentic (I know of what I speak!).

25. Bumblebee– A completely charming film that is the Transfomers movie I have been hoping for all along. I loved the nostalgic feel and the heart with the relationship between Bumblebee and Hailee Steinfeld’s character. The use of music was also brilliant. It’s how to do a great blockbuster/reboot.

26. A Quiet Place- I don’t know how rewatchable this film is but it belongs on this list because of the great performances and what a memorable theater experience I had. The tension of the story and atmosphere they created really worked for me. I was so wound up when I left the theater I kept getting startled by everything around me! Such fun! (It’s also a story at its heart about a family that loves each other).

27. Maquia: Where the Promised Flower Blooms– an extremely ambitious anime fantasy from director Mari Okada. It has all you could want in a fantasy with battles, elves and dragons but at its core is a touching story about a girl becoming a mother and changing as a person in the process. Beautiful animation and music and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

28. Creed II- one of the more underrated films of the year. I really thought it was great. I liked all the performances and thought the story built tension and excitement well. I honestly would have been fine with either Adonis or the Dragos winning the final fight which is hard to do in a boxing movie. If it’s the end of the series it is a good way to go out.

29. The Hate U Give– The greatest thing about this movie is how well it portrays a family. These actors really felt like family and had incredible chemistry together. They did a great job building tension and showing a nuanced and layered view of the situation. I didn’t feel preached at but invested in her story and the family. The school stuff doesn’t work as well for me but I didn’t love that in the book so not especially surprised. Still very good YA adaptation.

30. Isle of Dogs– stunning animation from Wes Anderson and a story with the dogs that was adorable. I loved the attention to detail especially in the backgrounds. Amazing! Some of the human stuff doesn’t work as well but I still thoroughly enjoyed this unique animated tale.

So there you have it: My ALMOST Best Movies of 2018 List. What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for all your support! Sure love ya!

2018 in Animation

Today I wanted to share with you all a podcast I did with 3 of my friends on the year of animation in 2018. It’s a long one but we covered every release we could from the small to the large.

If you get to listen I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. What did you think about animation in 2018? Any disappointments or surprises?

My ranking of 2018 animation:

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

2. Ralph Breaks the Internet

3. Incredibles 2

4. Sgt Stubby: An American Hero

5. The Night is Short Walk on Girl

6. Mirai

7. Maquia: When the Last Flower Blooms

8. Isle of Dogs

9. My Hero Academia: The Movie

10. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

11. Tito and the Birds

12. Hotel Transylvania 3

13. Pokemon: the Power of Us

14. Liz and the Blue Bird

15. Next Gen

16. Smallfoot

17. The Grinch

18. Maya the Bee 2: the Honey Games

19. DC Superhero Girls: Legends of Atlantis

20. Early Man

21. Gnome Alone

22. Fireworks

23. Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies

24. Sherlock Gnomes

25. Lu Over the Wall

26. White Fang

27. MFKZ

28. Duck Duck Goose

 

First Man Review

If you have been following this blog you know my relationship with director Damien Chazelle has been a bit rocky. I always want to love his movies like everyone else but usually leave thinking they are just ok. There is always something in his portrayal of dreamers leaving me wanting more. Wanting more understanding of what drives them to put up with a mad man in Whiplash or leaving their true love to chase their movie dreams in La La Land. So this year with his film First Man, about Neil Armstrong, I was hopeful it would be the first film of Chazelle’s repertoire to move me into the love camp. Unfortunately the opposite has occurred and it is definitely my least favorite of his movies.

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There are some impressive things about First Man. While relying way too much on close-ups (a trend I hate!), the cinematography and space set pieces were very striking. Also the performances by Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Kyle Chandler were all excellent with what they were given to do. Unfortunately, those impressive visuals were shot with a handheld camera style and were very shaky. For someone with a weak stomach it was almost too much. However, if you don’t have those problems they are impressive sequences.

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My problem with the film was the script. Aside from a few glimpses of emotion at the death of his daughter, I never got any sense of feeling or personality from Neil Armstrong. I guess they were trying to portray him as being on the spectrum but that doesn’t mean he needs to have the same flat expression at all times. I didn’t feel like I got to know him as a person- his idiosyncrasies, his passions. I don’t even know why he wanted to go to the moon? In Apollo 13 we have the scene where Tom Hanks puts his thumb over the moon and he talks about his dreams. We needed something like that here.

Film Title: First Man

Because I wasn’t invested in Neil Armstrong’s journey it made the movie kind of boring and flat. They didn’t do a good job of building up the characters at NASA like in Apollo 13 and aside from his wife getting upset a couple of times it was all flat and business-like.

I guess when it comes down to it I like my inspirational stories to be inspirational (go figure right?). Some may balk at a movie like Hidden Figures or October Sky and call them pedestrian but I left those movies inspired and wanting to do great things. Surely a movie about Neil Armstrong should give me such a feeling? Are we so elevated these days that we don’t need heroes but they all have to be whittled down to ordinary people who show up for work every day? Even a minor character in Apollo 13 like Gary Sinise’s astronaut who got bumped from the shuttle had an arc and an emotional journey I could relate to. Here I just didn’t get that.

So good job Neil Armstrong. You’re our hero. This movie however didn’t do you justice

(Also the flag controversy was mostly caused because of a dumb interview Gosling gave but it does show an overall scorning of heroic moments by Chazelle, which did not work for me)

Frown Worthy

Ranked 72 out of 114 of 2018 Films

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Why I Liked Ready Player One But Prefer the Book (Spoilers)

“The book is better…” is an oft hurled accusation thrown at the world of cinema. I have no doubt those that love movies over literature tire of being told their medium of choice is always a second class substitute. Normally I stay clear of this conversation and try to appreciate both endeavors on their own merit; however, in the case of Ready Player One the book has been so unfairly maligned by many who have often read mere pages I decided it was worth an entry in my blog. I enjoyed Ready Player One as a fun adventure mystery movie but it is a step down from the book, and the more I thought about it the more changes bothered me. So, here goes…

There are two huge differences between the book and movie Ready Player One. The first is the time spent in the real world. The first third of the book is spent mostly in the real world of the Columbus Ohio stacks. This allows you to get to know Wade as a character in a way that the movie doesn’t. Wade is your classic nerd and in the movie he is much more of a cool, confident character. This helps make his bond and admiration for Halliday feel more understandable in the book. He knows there is something Halliday has to teach him through this quest and that’s what makes him continue when others have long since given up.

The search for the first key is all done in the real world in the book. He puts together all the pieces from the different parts of Halliday’s life and tries to find what is special or memorable about them. This is a lot more interesting to me than a race. In the book there is a book called “Anorak’s Almanac’ which lists all of the things that Halliday enjoyed (something that has been very criticized but never bothered me… It’s all part of the story of Wade researching to figure out the clues). In the movie they have “Halliday’s Journals” and the process of the research there feels easy and so you see less growth from Wade as a person. This makes his end takeaway when he meets Halliday not as impactful as the book’s ending. Wade comes to understand Halliday in the novel as a full person, and even a reflection of himself in many ways

In the book, Wade struggles with the fame he achieves when he gets the key which is interesting for a person who is literally surrounded by pop culture and knows so much trivia (which isn’t really trivia in the Oasis but survival knowledge). Wade is a character I loved in the book and was rooting for where in the movie he is a standard cocky teen male lead.

The other big difference is the changes to all the side characters. In the movie Art3mis is a standard avatar that doesn’t stand out much from the other avatars aside from her telling Perzival that he would be disappointed by her. One of my favorite things about the book is the reason Art3mis stands out to Perzival in the game is she is so confident and real. She is one of the few characters in the Oasis who has a realistic avatar. She doesn’t go with the sexed up version of herself and Wade finds that very attractive. I wish they had worked this into the movie more. She’s a positive yet still kick-butt character and in the YA literature world where every woman has to be a warrior I really appreciated her.

Much has been made about the pop culture ‘nostalgia porn’ of the movie and book. I personally think this criticism is a very surface-level analysis and misses the point. It’s like criticizing a Western for having too many horses. The pop culture is just the setting which the mystery takes place in. It’s not the story but where the story lives. That’s why in the book setting up the Oasis and all of the parameters of Halliday’s quest makes so much sense. We are in the real world and see all the research that Wade has to do so when we see the cornucopia of images in the Oasis it’s not just fun visual candy but clues Wade is ingesting and processing.

For example, in the book the jade key requires Wade to figure out he needs to recite the movie War Games, play a text game Zork (to get the key), unlock a Voight-Kampff machine from Blade Runner and play a game of Black Tiger (to unlock the gate) and more. This was exciting to read because we knew what Wade had been studying and it was unpredictable what would be asked of him next. Thus making the pop culture part of the puzzle/mystery more so than in the movie.

The other thing that wasn’t nearly as effective in the movie as the book is the villain. In the movie they make Sorrento a former intern who is generally resentful of Halliday and the Oasis. In the book it is more the world as a whole that is against Wade with them being envious and trying to stop him from winning. Sorrento is in the book but not as cartoonishly bad as he is in the movie.

Halliday and Morrow’s friendship is a lot more developed in the book and so their separation is more profoundly felt. It’s one thing to fall out of favor with a business associate as shown in the movie. It’s another to lose your best friend from childhood who you played Dungeon and Dragons with (making the first challenge being playing DandD all the more meaningful). Halliday’s clues are about his life not just nostalgia porn IMO.

The book also treats Aech very differently than the movie. He/she is more of a nerd who builds things and has a chat room as opposed to a warehouse. In the book none of the High 5 meet until very late in the story but it’s just all more layered, with harder clues, and characters than the movie. Aside from Art3mis giving herself to the loyalty center in the movie nobody else does much to find the clues or beat Sorrento like in the book. You even get a whole sublot with Daito and Shoto being hunted down by Japanese authorities in the book that adds to their story.

The last line of the novel is “It occurred to me then that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I had absolutely no desire to log back into the Oasis.” This makes sense because Wade was only in the Oasis because of his connection with Halliday. Now that he has finished his quest he’s done. The mystery is solved. All the research, study, thought is done. That is the fun part of the novel and what makes Wade a great character. The movie ends with him as a moderate user of the Oasis and says that real life is important as well. That’s fine but not as satisfying as the ending of the book.

It might seem like I hate the movie Ready Player One but I don’t. I liked it quite a bit; although, it was not as satisfying on the second watch as the first but still good. Unfortunately, they changed a lot from the book and it makes the movie less special as a result. I enjoyed it and will defend it but probably won’t remember it like I remembered the book.

The reason I loved the book is it was finally a YA novel that felt positive and hopeful. Most of these novels are cynical and depressing but here we had Wade trying to make his life better and trying to understand another human being in Halliday. We had him seeing the beauty in Art3mis and she being confident in her own unique identity. All of these things were hopeful and positive. You had fun characters and a mystery that was fresh and new. Yes, there was the nostalgia but that was just the unique setting like the maze in Labyrinth or Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings. It was an imaginative, inventive narrative where good won over evil, and that is hard to find these days. Most YA novels have characters limping towards the finish line having sacrificed all that was important to them at the beginning (cough Hunger Games cough). Not Ready Player One and I loved the novel for it!

So in the end, my opinion on Ready Player One– the movie was good, fun ride that especially kids will love (although The Shining sequence may be over their heads)

But the book was great. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it