REVIEW: “THE CROODS: A NEW AGE (2020) Universal Pictures

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The Croods: A New Age is the sequel to 2013’s The Croods which centered on a family of Neanderthals trying to survive in a cold and barren world. This time around the film focuses on his now teenage daughter Eep’s (Emma Stone) romance with Guy (Ryan Reynolds), and her dad Grug’s (Nicolas Cage) worrying thoughts that he might lose her as the two look to starting their own clan.

Luckily for those that can’t remember the ending of the previous film (ahem..me!), The Croods: A New Age picks up pretty much exactly where the first film ended and this fun prehistoric family, which also includes Catherine Keener reprising her role as Ugga, Gran (Cloris Leachman) and younger brother Thunk (Clark Duke) who are going all out in fending off insane creatures and attempting to survive one catastrophe after another.

Everything changes when they break down a wall and stumble upon a valley paradise that has food aplenty. Much to everyone’s surprise this utopia valley is occupied by another family – the Betterman’s – Phil (Peter Dinklage), Hope (Leslie Mann) and Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran), who live in a simply amazing and vastly huge treehouse complete with toilets an elevator and a ‘picture screen’. As it turns out, the Betterman’s knew Guy’s family as they all grew up together and they welcome him home with open arms. All the while having a eye out for him getting into a relationship with Dawn and not even attempting to acknowledge the possibility of him and Eep. This is all done with a bit of arrogance as they are keeping the rest of the family at arm’s length and giving subtle hints with a ‘moving basket’ of food for the road while wanting Guy to stay back with them and all their creature comforts. This immediately creates a rift of which ensues some cute fun moments with a cast of characters that include punch monkeys and the inevitable ‘monster.’ But the biggest question posed for Guy is a toss up between what he ‘should do’ or what ‘he wants to do’ as this decision will affect them all.

While the clan faces all kinds of perilous moments, most of them are over-the-top and slapstick fun as things like fending off wild beasts is just another day in this family’s life. The movie is sure to be a nonstop delight for kids as there isn’t the usual frenetic pacing and pop culture references that go over most kids (as well as some adults) heads. It’s full of bright, colorful visuals with a storyline where there are clear themes of courage, teamwork, and the importance of being yourself. There are also some great “girl power” moments when Eep and the other female characters become the Thunder Girls and have to rescue the captive guys.

All in all, this is a cute, decent holiday watch that while not be for all the adults in the room – it is for the kids and that’s how it really should be.

Grade: B+

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Review screening: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“THE CROODS: A NEW AGE” NOW PLAYING ONLY IN THEATERS/DRIVE-INS WHERE AVAILBLE STARTING WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2020 ~ COMING TO VOD FOR CHRISTMAS

REVIEW: “UNCLE FRANK” (2020) Amazon Studios

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Amazon Studios newest release “UNCLE FRANK” from Writer/Director Alan Ball of the fantastic ‘Six Feet Under’ fame, gives us a film about despair, love, family and learning to live to be yourself. This beautifully done film deals with many important subjects and themes. It is a film about acceptance and understanding people no matter their background or whom they choose to love.

“Uncle Frank” tells the story of a rural South Carolina girl Beth (Sophia Lillis), a lovely but naive young girl who is always happy when her uncle Frank Bledsoe (Paul Bettany) comes for family reunions, which is very rare. She observers how her grandfather goes out of his way to ignore his eldest son while her admiration grows for Uncle Frank, whom she sees as this dashing figure who lives and teaches Literature at New York University (NYU) and lives a life she can only dream of. When it comes time for Beth to go to college, she receives a scholarship to attend NYU and happily realizes she will now get to spend a considerable amount of time with her Uncle Frank.

Uncle Frank': Film Review - Variety

While there Beth learns of not only Uncle Frank’s worldly ways, but learns a lesson about life herself. See her uncle is living in a very discreet ‘relationship’ of 10 years with Walid ‘Wally’ (Peter Macdissy), a lovely bearded, charismatic guy from Saudi Arabia who seems to always be happy and ready for fun. It is on the occasion of the death of Frank’s father ‘Daddy Mac‘ (Stephen Root) that Beth and Uncle Frank embark on a road trip back to South Carolina. Along the way, Beth is exposed to bigotry and homophobia. Once she and Uncle Frank are back in small-town, rural Creekville, South Carolina, the past reveals itself in flashbacks of Frank’s childhood, including how he discovered he was gay and how he dealt with it and how it leads him to deal with it within his small town family circle. The film doesn’t shy away from showcasing small-town 1970’s homophobia and why Frank is so hesitant to come out to his family.

On the acting front, Paul Bettany probably gives the best performance of his life here. It’s truly memorable and very emotional as the film focuses on how living this secret life has affected him and how even though he is intelligent it doesn’t change the fact that he is scared about living his life in the open and coming out to his family. The adorable Sophia Lillis shines brightly here and the supporting cast of Margo Martindale, Steve Zahn, Lois Smith, Jane McNeill and Judy Greer are welcome accompaniments to the story as well.

The bottom line is “Uncle Frank” is a beautifully shot, thoughtful take on the challenges of traditional 70’s thinking and the challenges of a gay life within a family. But it is also a touch guilty of falling for some forced emotional story elements, one in particular that felt wasted and didn’t quite work and felt a little bit forced and like it had an agenda. Still it’s a must see!

Grade: B+

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Review screening: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

“UNCLE FRANK” WILL BE AVAILBLE ON AMAZON PRIME STARTING WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2020

REVIEW: “THE NEST” (2020) IFC FILMS

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As “THE NEST” opens we find ourselves in 1980’s upstate New York and watch “a day in the life” of the O’Hara’s, a seemingly pleasant family living a pleasant life. But this is writer-director Sean Durkin’s first feature film since the excellent and thought-provoking ‘MARCY MARTHA MAY MARLENE‘ in 2011, so we can well figure that all is not as first presented.

Jude Law stars as Rory O’Hara, a business man with big dreams – dreams far bigger than his work ethic parlays, though his wife Allison (Carrie Coon) might have a clue about. This husband and wife team couldn’t be more polar opposite. Where Rory is the charming big-talker salesman, Allison is a down-to-earth horse trainer who loves her life on her horse farm. Oona Roche plays her teenage daughter Samantha, and Charlie Shotwell is her younger half brother Benjamin. Durkin does a nice job with the family set-up in the first few minutes of the film. We get a sense of each, as well as the family dynamics. But clearly something is amiss as we pan to a shot of Rory sitting idly at his desk, and soon after he wakes up Allison with a cup of coffee and the announcement that they need to move to London because he just isn’t satisfied and has been offered a job back as a higher up in his old bosses trading company.

It’s hard here to pinpoint at times exactly whom the story is about as is it about Rory’s desperation to prove his business acumen as he reeks of desperation when he meets his old (now new again) boss Arthur (Michael Culkin). You see, Rory is a social climber, intent on keeping up with the Joneses and living way beyond his means. He’s even referred to as “Old British – New American” which somehow he takes it as a compliment, but we soon witness Rory as little more than a fast-talking salesman. Or is it about Allison clear unhappiness being stuck out in rural Surrey in one of those huge, cold and drafty 17th Century castle type places that you just know is haunted. But this isn’t a scary movie though they do give you a pause with one scene. It could also be about the kids as Benjamin is not adjusting well and Samantha might be adjusting too well. But this is a story of a families dimensions playing out in front of us. A restaurant scene featuring Allison, Rory, and his co-worker Steve (Adeel Akhtar) is brilliantly played, as we watch as Rory’s professional life slowly begins to crumble and unravel at a pace matching that of his family life.

The film is set in the 1980’s Reagan-Thatcher era, and 1980s music is a-plentiful including the Thompson Twins, the Cure, and many others which is a particular delight for me. Jude Law picked an excellent vehicle for himself here as he plays the role as if its his, and the same goes for Carrie Coon. Beware though as there are a difficult few scenes in the movie involving horses that you may find difficult to stomach – be prepared to look away.

All in all, you come to realize this could be a story about so many different aspects involving a family in crisis mode that it is really just about all of them and not just a single member. It’s classified as a Drama/Romance though I would truly hesitate by putting this in only two such categories as it’s definitely up to the viewer to define this. The ending is a bit abrupt, but it works in the line of the story telling here. Will it be a story for everyone, no it won’t, but none ever are.

Grade: B

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Review screening: Courtesy of IFC Films

“THE NEST” IS NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS (WHERE OPEN) & DRIVE-INS AND ON VOD.

REVIEW: “FREAKY” (2020) Universal Pictures

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“FREAKY” gives us another run from Director Christopher Landon from “Happy Death Day” fame. In fact, he repeats the formula by merging the slasher genre again with another exploited trick that we’ve all seen in many previous films throughout the years: the old switch-a-roo of bodies. Some of these have been magically good, some not so much as they truly all depend on the timing, actors and just a twist of originality at their core.

It starts with a stereotypical slasher scene right after a discussion about the towns “Blissfield Butcher” myth, that is told every year at Halloween throughout this small town high school scenario. No one thinks the story is real until of course it is. Our very own ‘Blissfield Butcher‘ is actually a very real serial killer played by Vince Vaughn, who after stabbing a 17-year-old Millie (Kathryn Newton) with a mysterious Aztec knife, sees their bodies exchange and Vaughn becomes a high school girlNow Millie must try to not only convince her two best friends Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O’ Connor) and to somehow go unnoticed all the while controlling this gigantic new body she has. Meanwhile the Butcher totally enjoys his new body by being able to infiltrate an not only the school, but initiates a party outside of town when the Homecoming dance is canceled – full of potential victims. To stop the spell, the teenage version of Vaughns’ Butcher character must stab her original body again with the exact knife within 24 hours or remain forever trapped in each others bodies – oh the drama!

The question the is inevitable brought up is “Does this have some originality to it or at least enough to make it interesting?” Sure it can if you disregard some of the very basics here such as the quote of “You’re black, I’m gay. We’re screwed!” that Josh shouts out, or the very bloody graphic gory deaths, most especially of Wood Shop Teacher (Alan Ruck) who for some reason seems to pick on Millie only for the fact that she isn’t one of the popular kids. Or the fact that to top it off, she is the school mascot. It could go on some, but in all honesty, it feels like it’s has it’s originality because Vaughn goes back into some of old school, most fun performances here. Newton is good for me, but her droid-dead stare like performance when she is in ‘serial killer’ mode just didn’t do it as much for me.

All in all, it’s just fun and in true form, entertaining and that folks is all we are looking for right now, fun entertainment.

Grade: C+

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Review screening: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“FREAKY” IS OUT FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2020 IN THEATERS (WHERE OPEN) & DRIVE-INS

On Temporary Hiatus

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Sorry all.. but things have been extremely rough lately and with all that’s going on right now not just in my life (being immunocompromised and all), but in the world, I felt it best to take a short break from social media and movie reviews right now. I know I am not the only person who feels that taking a little break from time to time, is okay and this one is sorely needed.

Rest assured, I will be back with hopefully even better reviews and fun to share soon.

One thing I ask that everyone please wear a mask, practice social distancing and be aware of what you are doing – Covid is not a hoax nor has it left the building, STAY SAFE!! And for those of us in the United States = VOTE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT – because it does.

Cheers…

Peggy Marie = #PeggyattheMovies

@pegsatthemovies

REVIEW: “UNHINGED” (2020) Solstice Studios

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“UNHINGED” is the first film since Covid shut down theaters in March, that can only be seen at an theater (where open) or Drive-In. It’s not available on VOD or any streaming service and is a decent way to kick-off the return of the in-theater movie-going experience (again, where available). It’s a contemporary horror film that captures the anger and loss of civility that’s become all too commonplace in our society today in every aspect.

Russell Crowe stars as “The Man”.  and the movie begins with Crowe’s character brutally killing his ex-wife and her new lover and burning their house to the ground. And it’s only 4am. His day has just begun as he goes on to ‘run into’  a woman named Rachel (Caren Pistorius) who is just innocently driving her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman), to school and as happens when one is in a rush, she cuts him off. It all starts with the honk of a horn. Then a verbal altercation ensues. The Man tells Rachel she’s going to have a really bad day. And he lives up to that promise. decides to make this the worst day of her life and stalks and attacks her. This even includes preying on her family and friends.

For the next hour, she — and we — are under the menacing spell of this madman in a pickup truck. as we plow through many a ‘wow’ moments and there are, without question, the skillfully crafted car chases. But there is also many scenes, including one at a diner, that are disturbingly violent and scenes where people are not behaving in logical ways or making much sense, this one in particular being one of them. But all is not lost in thrills and I think somewhere along the line it’s loses the sense of what it wanted to be – a thriller suspense film, or a character study and cautionary tale of bad behaviour trying to teach us something about the worst of humanity, or as the ending lines suggest, a more campy fun thriller.

Whichever route works for you, I think some will definitely enjoy ‘Unhinged’ for the ride it does take you on and Crowe’s  performance as the maniacal “Man” is vicious, ugly and totally believable. Again, no matter which way you go,  it will absolutely make you think twice the next time you’re tempted to honk your car horn at someone.

Grade: C+

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Review link: Courtesy of Solstice Studios

“UNHINGED” IS OUT NOW IN THEATERS (WHERE OPEN) & DRIVE-INS

REVIEW: “THE SECRET GARDEN” (2020) STX Entertainment

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Gardens can be beautiful magical places where we can get lost in the beauty of the trees and flowers, Secret Gardens can be even more magical and in this fifth iteration of “THE SECRET GARDEN”, director Marc Munden and writer Jack Thorne, choose to alter the text in a few notable ways by changing the time period, removing some characters, and adding some dramatic elements. Ultimately, however, The Secret Garden remains the story people are familiar with, and despite some pacing issues, there’s still magic to be found in these gardens.

As the film begins, we are told it’s ‘the eve of Partition’, which was the 1947 bitter division of British India into two separate states: India and Pakistan. This timing is, of course, quite a bit later than the original setting, but the effect is the same. Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), is a spoiled and somewhat bratty, young girl living in India with her British parents in the years following World War II. When cholera kills both her parents, Mary is sent to live with her reclusive, hunchbacked uncle Archibald Craven (Colin Firth). Accompanied to massive Misselthwaite Manor by the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters), Mary quickly learns in all the wrong ways, that Uncle Archibald is a grieving widow (his wife was Mary’s mother’s sister) who is not to be disturbed, and his hunchback is not to be stared at. Mary soon learns that her spoiled brat mannerisms will not be tolerated and at first she finds herself frustrated by this new lonely life at Misselthwaite Manor, but as she explores the estate, her world begins to open up.

As fans of the novel will know, Mary’s adventuring eventually leads her to a hidden, magical garden that reignites her imagination and helps uncover some old family secrets. But it’s the plays on Mary’s imagination that are extraordinary here and the wonderful CGI effects allow us to see what she has envisioned. Whether it’s the wallpaper coming to life, or her mother and aunt walking the halls or swinging in the garden and branches twisting and fitting to her every move. We see the past come alive while running through a garden filled with ever-changing plants and creatures and it’s a lovely, refreshing way to present a garden that has seen its fair share of adaptations. As Mary befriends Martha the maid (Isis Davis), and Dickon (Amir Wilson) while wandering the estate grounds, it’s here where the fantastical and supernatural meet reality, as Mary and her new friend go on adventures and find the magical gardens with powers all it’s own.

Mary encounters others on her emotional journey, while hiding it all from Mrs. Medlock, she finds her sickly cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst) locked up in one of the mansion rooms thinking he is much like his uncle. She continues to visit him despite his objections and soon she and Dickon are sneaking him into the gardens where he finds the true story of himself as well.

The Secret Garden undoubtedly belongs to Egerickx as she undoubtedly carries the film from start to finish. At the beginning you almost want to dislike her even though she is a child, and by then end, she has melted your heart and stolen the film from all her co-stars, yes even Firth and Walters, though they do give wonderful supporting performances. Where The Secret Garden falters is in its pacing as though even though it’s an almost quick 100 minutes, the plot doesn’t really start falling into place until we are hitting the last 20 minutes of the film and it could have benefited being a bit longer. But even bearing that and the story changes, this film is just so visually beautiful you are bound to get lost yourself in a magical secret garden of your own.

Grade: B-

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Review screening link ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment

“THE SECRET GARDEN” arrives in theaters/VOD this week 

REVIEW: “THE RENTAL” (2020) IFC Films

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Doing more for Airbnb’s already somewhat tempestuous reputation, “THE RENTAL” will have you thinking twice about booking that weekend get-away vacation we are all aching for.

Dave Franco’s directorial debut “The Rental” revolves around a simple set-up. Two couples, Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie) and Mina (Sheila Vand) and Josh (Jeremy Allen White), have the idea to rent a beautiful Oceanside rental house where they can do some hiking, relax some, and enjoy each others company, well sort of. Bringing along with them not only their emotional baggage but adding some party ‘favours’ into the mix to spice it up a bit and get them through the weekend might not be the best idea ever, but hey no one has ever turned away from a ‘good’ idea now have they… From the get go though, things are off and the feeling is some things just don’t seem right. There’s clearly some underlying issues between the couples, some lingering attraction between Charlie and Mina, and this sea-side getaway they have rented has seemingly more secrets than one can even imagine.

Adding in some racial and creeper-type tension is Taylor (Toby Huss), the caretaker of the house and so much more – because that is not the only tensity here. Franco does a really good job of slow boiling all the tensions together that are abound here from building up of the obvious sexual tension between Charlie and Mina, which could unravel in many ways, but how it does is all part of again, the build up and layers in what awaits us. As to what they don’t know about the house and slowly start to discover is but just an another added plot line that intertwines with the others so well. That they didn’t know that the very house in which they are staying, has some very invasive recording devices placed in some very private places is just part of it. The slow and precise reveal of all this is done by having a grip on us the viewer – to want to know and keeps our toes tingling in anticipation of how it all draws out.

On the acting level Brie, despite a slow start to her character, revs it up during the second hour of the film as the reveals start pouring forth. Stevens once again not speaking in his native accent but more of a whispery American one which once again he’s just not wholly successful at, but because of the genre of movie, it actually adds a little to it by doing so. Jeremy White as a screw up brother isn’t really a stretch of a character and he’s fine here, but does grow aggravating during a few spots. Vand’s role here is a great find though as she handles the biggest character evolvement of both good & bad, all the while keeping us completely on her side.

The movie also shows the effect that technology can have on our lives and how you never really know if or when you are being watched even in the most private of places. The film doesn’t rely on gore, but on the build up of tension to give us it’s scare. The direction from Franco is also well paced and while it could be argued there may have been a need for more depth on these characters, it’s a very slight one as Franco turns the tension up to the perfect level, delivering an ending that makes it all a notable pay off, most especially leading into the credits sequence which will send much worthy chills right down your spine.

All in all ‘The Rental‘ is most definitely deserving of a rental this weekend. 🙂

Grade: C+

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Review link courtesy of IFC Films

THE RENTAL | Opens In over 250 Drive-Ins + Theaters and Digital/VOD THIS Friday JULY 24

REVIEW: “PALM SPRINGS” (2020) HULU

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It’s no surprise that an Andy Samberg comedy is relentlessly funny here with “PALM SPRINGS” –but what was pleasantly unexpected was a deep examination of humanity in general. The film is a really funny, heartfelt romantic comedy that drew me in right from the start.

The premise here is a familiar one, think ‘Groundhog Day’, but then give it an entirely unique twist with new events throughout the story and a you are left with a remarkably fresh perspective.  When Sarah (Cristin Milioti) meets Nyles (Andy Samberg) at a Palm Springs wedding, she unexpectedly joins him in a time loop that sees them reliving the same day repeatedly.  J.K. Simmons is also part of the cast, taking a run at a comical character Roy who is also experiences the Groundhog Day effect, but uses his time to torture Samberg’s character Nyles. It all comes together and wraps up with a fun theory on Quantam Physics giving us a play here in a refreshingly unique story that takes a familiar idea and makes it its own.

While there are laughs throughout, the peak of the humour comes from a typical hijinx montage where instead of the typical cheap gags, there was a familiarization of the two lead characters adding to their chemistry. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are so good together. They were fun when they were supposed to be and when they were supposed to show a romantic energy, they did just that. Samberg not only relying typical his typical humour and charm here as he also brings a much understood darkness to the performance that managed to draw you in. Milioti also managed to show a large amount of pain and conflict in her character while successfully portraying her discovering the world around her. J.K. Simmons is always good and in this movie he goes through an incredible transformation and makes the absolute most of a criminally small role and the smattering of other supporting, Peter Gallagher, Jacqueline Obradors, Jena Friedman, June Squibb and Tyler Hoechlin all add oodles of fun to the all around plot of the film.

The best part about this comedy is it doesn’t overplay it’s hand. It brings laugh out loud comedy to tangible levels where your place in life is examined and how such difficulties can be handled. Besides the silly little comedic jokes which were still enjoyable, there was an underlying depth and intelligence to the humour itself, handling how we may deal with our own decision regardless of the consequences. Slower moments aside, Palm Springs is a complete blast – and if you don’t get the ending, that’s on you.

Grade: A-

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“PALM SPRINGS” IS AVAILABLE TO WATCH NOW ON HULU