It’s always a fun experience to go into a film knowing as little as possible about it. It is one of the things I love about attending the Sundance Film Festival. Occasionally a movie will get some hype during the festival but most of the time I know only the name and a brief summary.
Recently I had a similar experience watching a small indy film called Prodigy, which has just landed on Netflix US for all subscribers to enjoy. At first I thought it was the 2019 horror movie The Prodigy, which I didn’t have a ton of interest in (I’m not a big horror movie fan). Fortunately, this film, Prodigy, turned out to be an entertaining scifi thriller that does a lot with a very small budget.
Prodigy stars Richard Neil as a psychologist named Fonda who is sent to a government facility to psycho-analyze a mysterious young girl named Ellie (Savannah Liles). She is straight-jacketed and under constant observation for her erratic behavior. Both Fonda and Ellie’s past comes into play and they develop a little bit of chemistry as they talk.
I won’t tell you any more of the story but Prodigy is one of those films that feels more like a play than a movie and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Most of the time is spent between 2 characters talking and yet the tension builds to some satisfying and surprising moments. I also thought Neil and Liles do a good job in their roles.
Where the movie fails is with the other characters and some of the script. In particular a military man who becomes angry at Fonda’s methods, and a man who is operating the observational room they are in, had some very cringy dialogue. It’s also not a very cinematic movie in its production and special effects, so it is perhaps best at a place like Netflix.
That said, I enjoyed watching Prodigy. It’s a clever scifi thriller with 2 good performances so if you are jonesing for something fresh and new to watch on Netflix give it a shot.
It’s time for another edition of my Current Mini Reviews where I give shortened reviews of recently released films. If you are new to the site you are going to think I’m a super big grumpy pants because I didn’t like any of the movies being covered. Sometimes that’s the way the movie Gods see fit to provide, and it’s a good thing because it makes me grateful for the great films! So here goes:
The Sun is Also a Star
First up is The Sun is Also a Star. This is a romantic YA drama based on the book by Nicola Yoon. I actually read the book and enjoyed it. I thought both Natasha and Daniel were well developed and interesting characters and that helped me care about the instalove gimmick. Unfortunately as you can see in my youtube review the movie did not work. The director used too many gimmicks with spinning cameras and heavy-handed narration that got in the way of the characters. Without their development the romance felt very corny. The two leads are pretty people but the script didn’t work for me.
3.5 out of 10
A Dog’s Journey
Don’t worry this is not a sequel to A Dog’s Way Home, which came out in January, and I gave a marginal recommendation to. No, this is a sequel to the 2017 film A Dog’s Purpose, which I didn’t enjoy, but this manages to be even worse. This is a PG family film, and we get multiple dog deaths, human deaths, parental abuse, alcoholism, a toxic teenage relationship, car crashes and cancer. Good grief! The only thing I liked about the movie aside from the cute doggies was the relationship between Kathryn Prescott and Henry Lau. I’d watch them in another movie- maybe a light-hearted romantic comedy and not this massive downer…It makes Old Yeller look like a laugh-fest.
2 out of 10
The Dead Don’t Die-
Last year I loved the delightful indie zombie Christmas musical Anna and the Apocalypse. It was creative, funny and sweet. It even made Best Films of 2018. So when I saw a trailer for The Dead Don’t Die I got very excited. The trailer was hilarious, and I love the cast. My hope was it was going to be a Wes Anderson meets Zombieland film. Unfortunately I was very disappointed. The Dead Don’t Die was an unfunny, self-indulgent, frustrating experience. The cast is woefully wasted, and they strain for the few laughs the script offers. The metaphors are also rammed in to the ground by narrators and characters breaking the 4th wall. It is my first film from director Jim Jarmusch but the critics at Cannes and other places don’t seem to be enjoying it either, so it appears to be a just a big miss. It’s frustrating because it had so much potential and it all falls flat.
3.5 out of 10
In recent years Hollywood has produced several popular comedic films starring and geared towards women. Whether it is the Bad Moms movies, Girl’s Trip or Bridesmaids these films have an audience. Unfortunately the successes for that audience are few and far between. In the latest from Netflix, Wine Country, a lot of funny women are brought together for little to no laughs. It boggles my mind that so many talented people like Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer and more could all get together and produce so few jokes. It felt like an R rated version of a sitcom episode stretched into nearly 2 hours. I also am so tired of the trope that women doing raunchy or outlandish things is inherently more funny than when a man does the same things. It’s so lazy and that’s how I would describe Wine Country. Buyer beware!
2 out of 10
So there you have it. 4 pretty terrible films all in the same month! I bet you’re not so jealous of my job now! If you get to see any of these movies let me know what you think. Thanks
Believe it or not there are other movies out in theaters besides Avengers: Endgame. I have already reviewed Missing Link and Breakthroughon this blog but I thought I would give you my quick reviews of 5 other films that might be worth your time to check out:
First up the anime film Penguin Highway. Directed by Hiroyasu Ishida this creative and original science fiction mystery will delight audiences of all ages and shouldn’t be missed. It reminded me a lot of the Netflix show Stranger Things with a young boy investigating the strange appearance of penguins in his town.
The relationship between the boy and a woman who comes along with the penguins is a little strange but if you like unpredictable, fresh storytelling you’ll love this film
8 out of 10
I will eventually do a full review of Disneynature’s latest film Penguins for my Disneynature series on this blog but until then you should definitely check it out. The penguins are so cute especially our lead penguin Steve who is perpetually behind all the other penguins. It’s so cute!
Ed Helms does a good job as the narrator and kids will love seeing this little penguin romance. Some of the music cues were a little much for me but that’s a minor flaw in a very adorable nature film.
7 out of 10
The Perfect Date
Netflix continues in its attempt to take over the romantic comedy world particularly for teenagers with The Perfect Date. Noah Centineo is super charming, and I’d be in love with him if I was 16. That’s really who this movie is made for, teenagers who want to swoon over Noah Centineo. There’s nothing wrong with that but the script needed work.
He’s charming but the story is so strained and there is no chemistry between him and either of the leading ladies. It also feels like a cheap copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off without any of that movies emotional heft. If you’re not a 16 year old I’d say pass.
4 out of 10
Penguin Highway isn’t the only new anime we’ve gotten this month. We’ve also gotten the sweet ghost story Okko’s Inn. Based on a series of mangas, Okko’s Inn tells the story of a little girl who goes to live with her Grandma at an Inn after her parents die. She soon learns the Inn is inhabited by a series of mischievous ghosts who want to get her into trouble.
Okko’s Inn feels very episodic and is definitely made for very small children. Adults may find it a little cloying but its heart was in the right place so I enjoyed it. If you want to talk to your kids about grief and how to set goals (Okko decides to become a junior Innkeeper) than this would be a fun one to show them.
6 out of 10
About 30 minutes into the new romantic comedy Long Shot I was groaning pretty loudly inside. The characters were annoying me and it seemed like the most tired of tropes to have the gorgeous blonde bombshell fall for the schlep who can’t seem to understand you don’t wear a hideous windbreaker to a swanky party. Ugh.
BUT…then something happened and it started to win me over. I think the key point is when they actually start a relationship is where it begins to work. The build up I was irritated but the actual balance of a liberal writer dating the secretary of state started to entertain me. Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron have decent enough chemistry but it’s the script that makes it all work. The commentary on feminism, work, politics and dating feels believable and is very funny. I particularly thought the ending in all its romcom glory is earned.
O’Shea Jackson as Rogen’s best friend stole the show. Hilarious.
This is an R rated film with lots of language and some sexuality so be forewarned.
So day 7 of the Sundance Film Festival proved to be a unique one! It started out with quite possibly my favorite venue of all: my house! I was planning on seeing director Dan Gilroy’s new film Velvet Buzzsaw at the festival on Sunday but then I heard it was already playing on netflix so I figured why bother? Especially since I had done a midnight movie the previous night I needed to take a lighter day today. Watching the first movie at home proved to be the perfect solution!
The next 2 movies were at the library and I must say those seats at the library are mighty uncomfortable after 2 long movies. My knees are still aching! Luckily tomorrow I have my screening of Lego Movie 2: the Second Part in the morning and then 3 movies at The Grand Theater which is pretty comfortable (and free parking!). In fact, all my remaining screenings are at either The Grand or the Rose Garden theater. Not the most comfortable but better than the Library.
Anyway here are my thoughts on today’s movies
It’s an interesting experience watching Velvet Buzzsaw in the midst of the Sundance Film Festival. There is perhaps no better place to view films that truly espouse to be abstract art rather than narratives than at Sundance (see We are Little Zombies below or The Last Black Man in San Francisco for examples). Some of these artpiece films work for me and then others are frustrating experiences. Either way what’s even more frustrating is when you have the pedantic hipster types who try to tell you how to you should be responding and what classifies as ‘true art’. Velvet Buzzsaw tries to take aim at these irritating art snobs with a mixture of dark humor and horror and it meets with mixed success.
What can’t be argued is the tremendous cast they have assembled for this film. Jake Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette, Rene Russo and Zawe Ashton all do good work as stuffy art buyers/critics. They all seem to be having fun playing such stuffy characters and it helps elevate the material. I laughed quite a few times at the pompous behavior of these characters. It kind of made me wish the Christopher Guest crew had taken on the world of art criticism (movies like Best in Show or For Your Consideration have similarly self-obsessed characters).
Then you have the horror elements. A rich man dies leaving behind some beautiful artwork the team is dying to own. What they don’t know is this art is cursed and it kills the owners (think Final Destination). These kills were pretty creative, and I enjoyed seeing how each of our snobs was taken down.
However, there are problems with Velvet Buzzsaw. While I did laugh some, a lot of the humor falls flat, and you have the feeling it isn’t as creepy or as funny as it thinks it is. After a while, it starts to feel repetitive and that the actors are reaching for moments that the script isn’t delivering. It all feels a little undercooked if I’m honest- like it needed a few more times in the editing/writing room before it was greenlit.
Still, I’d say the good outweighed the bad and if you can handle some strong R rated content it’s worth a watch.
6 out of 10
The next film I saw is an Indian export called Photograph that I have very mixed feelings on. Directed by Ritesh Batra, it has many elements I love. First, it is a classic romance where a poor man who takes photographs for tourists asks a young successful businesswoman to pretend to be his girlfriend for his nosy Grandma. There is nothing I love more than a fake fiance plotline in a romantic comedy.
As they pretend to be a couple their chemistry grows and there were many sweet moments between the 2. However, this relationship is SLOOOOOW going, which I was fine with, but then the director fails to give us the payoff this kind of story needs at the end to be satisfying. He spends a majority of the film getting a special gift for her and then the camera pans away before we get to see her get the gift, which was very disappointing.
If you are going to have something as conventional as a fake fiance plotline, the least you can do is give us a conventional happy ending. I am sure some people like the ambiguity of the ending, and I can see why, but for me I wanted a little bit more closure. It felt like the pilot of a tv show instead of a movie.
Photograph is beautifully shot and acted but I don’t know if I can quite go fresh with it. The pacing and the ending were just too frustrating. She needed to get the cola gosh darn it!
5 out of 10
WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES
Now there are art films and then there are ART FILMS! Japanese director Makoto Nagahisa’s We are Little Zombies is about as big an example of the latter as you are going to get. As such, some people will find it exhilarating, and others like myself, will find it exhausting and even nauseating. That’s just the way bold art works sometimes!
We are Little Zombies is about a group of 4 orphans that decide to form a band because they all hate their parents and are angry at the world. As they play we get 3 new songs that are fun and there are some witty moments particularly from each of the 4 kids.
However, we also get long sequences with blaring music, strobe lights, flashing nonsensical imagery and complete randomness. At one point they are in a womb waiting to be birthed. At another point they steal a car and are zooming around the countryside eating strawberries. Then they become famous musicians and are on covers of magazines. It’s non-stop and exhausting.
Like I said, I’m sure some will enjoy this film. I felt like I was going to vomit after the first hour, and I would have left if I wasn’t crammed in the middle of the row. It’s especially problematic at the very long runtime of 2 hours. It simply was not for me.
So it is time again for one of my current mini reviews wrap up! As per usual this won’t include any films I did a full review for but I only have so much time so mini reviews will have to do for some films!
Make sure you check out my podcast where me and my friends dive into all kinds of content including television like Doctor Who, monthly Talking Disney and Obscure Animation, animated news and movie previews and wrap-ups.
So let’s talk about the movies I’ve seen!
DC Super Hero Girls: Legend of Atlantis-
I’ve really enjoyed the previous 2 DCSHG films and while this wasn’t as strong it was still an enjoyable outing for our girls. This film is about a Book of Legends being stolen from Super Hero High so the girls go under water to Atlantis where they meet Mira and Siren and fight the thief. The animation is very bright and colorful. The voice work is great. It’s empowering and has a nice message. If you have kids, they will love it.
71 out of 119
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween-
I actually enjoyed the first Goosebumps film more than most (but I have no attachment to the original books) and while this was not as bad as the trailers made it look it wasn’t particularly strong. It particularly suffered from the comparison to the recent House with a Clock in Its Walls, which I greatly enjoyed. If you find it on cable it’s harmless but a little of the ventriloquist dummy Snappy goes a long way. I’d say there is about 45 minutes of the movie where Snappy is the only villain. Jack Black is hardly in the movie. It just wasn’t very creative or fun scary.
80 out of 119
Liz and the Blue Bird-
One of my favorite films of 2017 is Naoka Yamada’s A Silent Voice. It was a beautiful, emotional movie about the relationship between an ex-bully and the deaf girl he seeks forgiveness from. Naturally, I was very excited for Yamada’s next effort Liz and the Blue Bird and it’s a good movie but it didn’t wow me like I hoped it would. It’s about 2 girls who are part of a band (part of an anime series called Sound Emporium). It was a little unclear what their relationship is but there were touching moments and the fairytale (told alongside the main story) of Liz and a mystical blue bird is lovely. As I said in my longer review for rotoscopers.com “while it is not in the same league as A Silent Voice, it is as sweet and pleasant film that’s worth a watch”
55 out of 119
Now I admit I didn’t really do my homework on this movie. I knew it was an R rated film but I didn’t know what MFKZ met and I think the advertising was a little deceptive (it means something NSFW). If I had done the research I usually do I wouldn’t have seen it; however, I did, and I hated it! It’s not that the movie has adult themes. I’m fine with that. The problem is the story is complete chaos. Nothing makes sense. Everything is flying at you and assaulting your eyes (and ears). It was exhausting. I know some people think chaos is creative but it usually is just chaos to me. This year I really enjoyed a movie called The Night is Short Walk on Girlwhich is bonkers crazy but there is still enough consistency with the characters, character design and tone that it worked for me. This was just miserable.
111 out of 119
Tito and the Birds
I actually got the chance to interview the director and producer of this beautiful animated film over on rotoscopers. It is a dystopian story about a world where fear is a disease. This fear spreads quickly through the town and the children are left to try and find the antidote. The animation style has an oil painting aesthetic that is unique and beautiful. The message can get a little heavy handed at times, but I still enjoyed it. Wouldn’t be surprised if it comes up as an indie animated film nod for this year’s Oscars.
27 out of 119
I’m one of the few people who thought the trailer for Night School looked funny. I enjoy Kevin Hart on occasion and it seemed like a cute premise. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the film. Tiffany Haddish continues to not impress me (I realize I haven’t seen Girls Trip). Her character is shrill and overbearing (and worst of all not funy). It was rough!
107 out of 119
The Nutcracker and the 4 Realms-
I was really pulling for this movie for a couple of reasons. First, if it was good it might encourage Disney to make more creative films over their remakes. Second, there has never been a good Nutcracker movie and as a huge Christmas movie fan that’s a problem. Honestly the best Nutcracker movie is Barbie as Nutcracker (for real). This movie had almost no conflict and the visuals were not unique or fun enough to save it on their own. There are long segments where Clara is just watching things happening (literally on stage). Then she is told what to do in long scenes of exposition. It just couldn’t escape from the weight of its own boredom.
98 out of 119
I know the production history of this film was rocky but my love for Queen and their music still had me hopeful a serviceable biopic would come out of all that mess. Unfortunately the songs and a good lead performance are the only things to recommend this pedestrian effort. The script was terrible especially the dialogue. It reminded me of one of those music biopic movies they used to have on VH1. Some might argue they had to keep it predictable because they were dealing with true events but they didn’t even stick to the true events so that’s no excuse. I refuse to believe that an icon like Freddie Mercury was this bland and by the numbers rockstar we’ve seen a million times. I was very frustrated while watching this film. Save your money or watch A Star is Born again. It may be fictional but it reads way more real and nuanced than this film
101 out of 119
The Holiday Calendar-
You guys know I love Christmas movies and The Holiday Calendar is one of Netflix’s holiday offerings this year. It’s about a woman who gets a magical advent calendar that predicts good things happening in her life. This is very predictable, but I thought it was sweet. I particularly liked the lead guy Quincy Brown. They keep the lead girl, Kat Graham, a little too unlikable for too long, but I still overall enjoyed it.
67 out of 119
Jane and Emma-
This is a faith-based film about the relationship between Emma Smith (Prophet Joseph Smith’s wife) and a black convert named Jane Manning. It zips around all over their relationship while remaining grounded on the night before Joseph’s funeral as they were caring and protecting the body. I think non-Latter-day Saints might found some elements strange but it is written by Melissa Leilani, who I have interviewed, and she did a good job developing the characters. The acting is also solid and affecting. It’s well made and something I think all of my faith should see. Emma deserves her moment of vindication this film gives her. Many of my church have long vilified her for not going West and that’s not fair. Plus, Jane’s story is fascinating as she faces some persecution for being black from Saints who were at the same time being persecuted.
38 out of 119
So there you have it! The latest slate of mini reviews. Let me know what you think of them and my rankings. How would you rank them? Is there anything I haven’t seen which you would recommend (I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with Hallmark stuff as of late). I would love to have your recommendations!
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.
Even though season 2 of Stranger Things came out just under 2 weeks ago I feel like I am woefully late in logging this review. Most of the world binge watched it in the first weekend but I didn’t have the time and I hate binge watching so I just finished today and I thought I would share with you my response. First, I loved the original because of the intriguing story, nostalgic atmosphere, and the strong performances. This second season was entertaining but for me it fell short of that first season.
Let’s talk about the strengths first. The biggest one is the performances. The kids are all so great and have amazing chemistry with each other. These feel like real kids with unique personalities, bonds and conflicts. As a child of the 80s I can’t help but think back to my friends while watching and the adventures we would have in our neighborhood riding our bikes and pretending in our backyards. Noah Schnapp as Will does a particularly nice job portraying a child trying to sort out his time in the Upside Down. Millie Bobby Brown is fantastic as Eleven and Gaten Matarazzo couldn’t be cuter as Dustin. Sadie Sink is a nice newcomer as Maxine (or Madmax as the boys call her). All the kids are great and completely adorable.
The returning teens are also all good with Natalia Dyer as Nancy, Charlie Heaton as Jonathan and Joe Keery as Steve (he steals the show as the assistant for Dustin hunting down a monster). The one miss for me was Dacre Montgomery as Billy, Max’s racist brother. I didn’t really see the purpose of his character except to just be racist and not take care of Max. I thought he might get eaten by the monsters in some humorous way but no such luck. He was just there to be an unused bad guy from what I could see.
The adults are all good with the nice addition of Sean Astin as Bob Newby (the boyfriend of Winona Ryder’s Joyce). Paul Reiser is also fine as a government doctor keeping tabs on Will’s recovery.
The atmosphere is also really good with terrific music and dialogue that works. The one exception of that was episode 7 that focuses on Eleven and her sister Eight. These characters remind me of the gang in Chappie, which if you know me that is not a good thing. They were very annoying, and I feel like the episode didn’t show me anything I didn’t already know about Eleven aside from giving her a chance at revenge and not taking it. It felt superfluous to me.
Now let’s talk about the parts I didn’t like as much. In the first season the Upside Down is a total mystery. We know Will is gone and all of these strange things keep happening, so when for example Joyce is making an alphabet wall with Christmas lights to communicate with her son it is tense and we as a viewer have no idea what is happening. She could be insane or it could be leading to something sinister? We must keep watching to find out.
There are so many elements of mystery in the first season that kept me engaged and excited. Who is 11? What happened to Barb? What is the strange government facility etc? For the first 3 or 4 episodes of season 2 they do a good job continuing to build mystery by having Will’s character experience new fears and pain. They try to have a similar scene to the lights on the wall by having Will draw a puzzle that gets put together all over the walls and it mostly works if a little repetitive. They also have Nancy and Jonathan looking into Barb’s disappearance and Dustin finding a new mysterious life-form. All of this works pretty well and is entertaining. The problem is eventually Dustin’s life form turns into a monster called a demogorgon and the narrative changes to a standard monster movie.
It kind of reminded me of the movie I am Legend, which is so fantastic for the first 45 minutes when Will Smith is alone and the unknown surrounds him. It is scary and full of surprises. Then the zombies appear and it becomes pretty generic and lame. That’s how I felt about season 2 of Stranger Things
Part of the problem is we get too much of the monsters (as in I Am Legend). Creatures are more scary when we don’t see them and I think you can tell from the image above these monsters are pretty cheesy looking and they are in packs so we see a lot of them. I can enjoy a monster hunting people scene. I love Jurassic Park after all, but it just felt less special than the mystery of the first season. Monsters on the prowl in a hospital with intermittent electricity is fun but not something you speculate about for weeks amongst your friends.
So all in all, I had a good time watching Stranger Things 2. The acting alone makes it worth a watch, but I don’t think it will be something that will stay with me like the first season did especially the last half of the season that got monster-heavy.
I seem to be in the minority with this view but what else is new! LOL. What about you? What did you think of Stranger Things season 2? Which season do you prefer?
Anyone who knows me knows of my love of Anne of Green Gables. Anne and her series of books was essentially my childhood’s Harry Potter. I read them over and over again and I loved the 1985 series with Megan Follows. So it was with great anticipation I heard a new version was coming on Netflix this week! Unfortunately I have viewed the 7 episode first season and not only is it not an Anne series but it doesn’t replace her with anything very compelling. I really didn’t care for this version of Anne.
It cannot be denied there is a darkness to Anne’s story. Many of her most attractive qualities such as her window friends or active imagination when you dig into them are coping mechanisms, survival strategies more than anything else. She had to create an imagination in order to live as a slave with the Hammonds or in the miserable asylum. So, on the surface I don’t have a problem with them exploring this darker side of Anne’s personality. However, what they forgot to show is how Anne is a survivor and how her optimism brightens all around her. The dark is good to show but the lightness is also important.
This is the main problem with Anne with an E- it’s unrelenting bleakness. Most of the series bears no resemblance to the novel and even the scenes that do, come across as cold and sterile where they are mixed to sweet in the book. For example, in the book Marilla accuses Anne of taking her broach. Anne confesses to stealing it even though she hasn’t because she wants to go to a party. Marilla finds the broach and asks Anne’s forgiveness.This is a tense but honest moment where the two become closer.
Unfortunately in this version Marilla sends Anne away to Charleston on the train back to the asylum for stealing the broach!! Gone are any chance to learn or have the characters bond from this simple sweet experience. Plus you have the ridiculous sequence of Matthew racing on a horse to find Anne like a knight in shining armor (and much more melodrama hunting her down in the city crashing into carriages and the like).
Another example can be seen in the school sequences. In the book Josie Pye is a snob that looks down on Anne because of the attention Gilbert gives her. In this series Josie is unceasingly cruel and the entire town talks about Anne and what a retrograde orphan she is. Anne literally has to go into a burning building to get anyone to trust her at all.
Even scenes that should be fun are made ponderous like Matthew buying the puffed sleeves dress. In this version he is confronted with the woman he once loved but couldn’t marry and then Anne must sell the dress back when the house is going to be foreclosed on. It’s just a joyless enterprise!
They even manage to work in themes of suicide, mental illness and abuse to make things really fun. And they are sooooo heavy handed with the modern messaging and feminism. Anne isn’t just as good as a boy but a boy is sent to protect her at one point and he literally gets beat up by thugs while she is unharmed. There is also a weird scene where she tells the other kids about sex and that Prissy Andrews and the teacher are making a baby together. I get the writers wanted to modernize Anne but in so doing they created an entirely different bland feminist character. I like Anne just the way she was!
It is nicely shot and the performances aren’t bad but that’s all I can really say in its defense. As it moved along I became less and less engaged. By episode 5 if I wasn’t podcasting about it I would have stopped watching. Like I said, it’s not just that they changed everything. It’s that they didn’t replace it with something compelling or engaging. It was just grim and joyless.
I would definitely not recommend Anne with an E for children and even teens should be warned. My advice is to watch the 1985 version and even better read the books. This is new series isn’t good. In fact, it is kind of awful.
Overall Grade- D (Yes, that’s what I really feel it deserves)
I realized I haven’t posted in nearly a week. Sorry about that!! Make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel where I do family movie nights (just posted review of Land Before Time) and weekly Disney Canon reviews (just did review of Fantasia 2000). Part of the reason I didn’t post anything for 6 days is there wasn’t any movies I was interested in seeing beyond Magnificent 7 and Storks which I already reviewed. But I also was kept away from the theater, busily finally catching up on the new hit Netflix miniseries Stranger Things! I thought I would share with you guys some of my thoughts. Spoiler free of course.
So Stranger Things is a creation of the Duffer Brothers and directed by Shawn Levy of Night at the Museum fame (big step up for him!). Pulling from the style and lore of 80s television and movies (particularly Stephen Spielberg and Stephen King) Stranger Things tells an absorbing story with compelling characters and fantastic atmosphere.
Stranger Things is about a woman named Joyce (Winona Ryder) who’s son Will ends up missing. Like so many movies it is set in a small town in Indiana (go Hoosiers!) and Will is friends with a group of boys that he likes to play Dungeon and Dragons with. These boys try to find Will and they find a mysterious girl named Eleven. There is also a sheriff looking into the disappearance and teenage girl named Nancy who’s friend Barb also is lost. Nancy has relationship drama with a boy named Steve and Will’s brother Jonathan, who is creepy but likable. The best thing about Stranger Things is the cast. I particularly loved the kid actors. They are completely adorable but also believable as real kids. They spoke like real kids and had conflict and supported each other in realistic ways. When Lucas gets mad at Mike over Eleven it feels completely believable.
Millie Bobby Brown is also sensational as Eleven. She is mysterious and weird but not in the ‘creepy child from horror movie’ kind of way. You feel deeply sorry for her and much like Mike quickly want to protect her. It always seems like she is a hair away from bursting into tears but then she throws vans into the air. That mixture of strength and vulnerability really works.
That is also true for the teenagers who aren’t just one note bad/good guys. While I liked their storylines less than the kids they still did a good job. I like that Jonathan was kind of creepy and weird and Nancy wasn’t just a damsel in distress. They could have given Barb a better storyline but you can’t have everything for every character I suppose. They were just different enough to keep you guessing.
Winona Ryder is fantastic as Joyce who is paranoid and crazy but is she…I don’t think she completely knows for most of the show, which makes her a compelling character. She’s a grieving frantic mother but also warm and sympathetic when she needs to be. It’s also refreshing that she isn’t given a love interest to cling on to in the show. She must be strong for herself and her family but she’s a mess at times as well. A great character!
David Harbour is also terrific as Sheriff Jim Hopper. He’s used to nothing big ever happening in the small town but with Will missing he faces one obstacle after another. Then Barb is gone and other strange things happen. He also has a tragedy in his past which makes him more than just the typical macho cop.
I think you can get an idea from this trailer the tone and atmosphere of the show. It is so well done. I was completely absorbed and watched it in 4 hour batches so set aside time if you do watch it. Also the music by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon is perfect.
The cool thing is I don’t think Stranger Things is just nostalgia porn. It pays heavy homages to past properties but it is its own story with compelling characters. On its own it is as good as anything it is paying homage to and in some cases better. I think you will all love it.
As far as content there are some scares and bloody moments but nothing too bad. If you can handle a movie like Gremlins or The Burbs you will be fine. There is a little bit of language and one scene of sensuality. I would rate it pg13.
Overall Grade- A+ if it was a movie it would be in my top 10 for sure, maybe top 5