REVIEW: “ALL MY LIFE” (2020) Universal Pictures

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Have I ever mentioned how much I love Screener Passport that Universal uses as it can be downloaded on Roku and you can actually watch in comfort on a bigger screen TV, so I’m always pretty happy when they send over screeners. Why bring this up here and now? Well it’s probably the best thing to come away with after watching this film.

Cheesy, sappy romantic dramas aren’t entirely my cup of tea and most especially ones where you know immediately off – doom is in the cards for one of them. You’ll almost certainly have seen romantic dramas that deal with terminal illnesses as it’s a storyline that is really overplayed in Hollywood and “ALL MY LIFE” from Director Marc Meyers is just this story. Almost from the start, you know what’s coming, and the film knows it too as the film follows the romance between Jennifer Carter (Jessica Rothe) and Solomon “Sol” Chau (Harry Shum Jr). Things seem to be going well for them after they meet at a bar, and they have a sweet little series of dates where they fall right off into ‘that’ couple. We all know the cliches: have to constantly be together, holding hands, laughing at each others jokes, sitting on laps etc. We also learn that Sol works with digital media and is also a wannabe-chef and Jennifer does other things that’ll surely be interesting at some point but we never really find out what that is so touche’ on that one. They move in together so Sol can save up some money and get into his dream job so Sol eventually quits his job and takes that dream job as a chef and proposes to Jennifer. Immediately we find out one of them is ill and since this is based on a true story and it can be easily looked up, it’s Sol that has liver cancer. With the help of family and friends, they start a GoFundMe campaign..for the wedding..mind you not the medical bills they can’t afford but of course a $20,000 wedding that happens two weeks later.

All My Life’ fails itself in two large and very definitive ways. First, it definitely leans more on how everything is impacting Jennifer, we get many more shots of her trying to cope with the trauma of the cancer diagnosis and in an odd way, she makes herself out to be the victim even though you know, it’s Sol’s diagnosis and him who has to deal with it. There is one sappy – you see it coming from a mile away moment – where he says if it’s bad news they will get a dog, later in the film, he shows up with a dog. All along Sol doesn’t get nearly the time to say how any of this is impacting him as again, it’s kinda all about Jennifer. I don’t know if this part really happened is or is liberties the writers made up and ran with, but it doesn’t played out well. The best thing to come out of this film is it’s about an interracial couple with an Asian male lead that never makes you even think twice about it.

Now this is based on true story and yes it can be a grim awareness of a how sickness like cancer can affect any one at any age and be terribly difficult to deal with – but the acting here by the leads Rothe & Shum Jr and their lack of chemistry is almost as bad as the sentiment which comes across poorly and neither lead offers any real depth of character to their roles. The script is just too weak to do justice to the theme or to sustain 90-odd minutes on a big screen. Saving grace are some colorful supporting players like Jay Pharaoh as one Shum’s friends Dave, Chrissie Fit as one Rothe’s friends Amanda, Ever Carradine as Gigi a restaurant owner who hires Sol, and a brief cameo from Mario Cantone as a wedding organizer.

The film wraps up quickly like it’s giving you the barest minimum required to tell its story, with everything handled like we’re in a hurry because there just isn’t enough time to try and let things have an impact or give you time for emotions and that’s where it loses it’s audience as a tearjerker, because you never feel like tears are necessary.

BTW – can I mention how much I love screener passport again..

Grade: D+

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Review screening: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“ALL MY LIFE” IS AVAILBLE ON VOD STARTING DECEMBER 2020

REVIEW: “WOLFWALKERS” (2020) APPLE FILMS/GKIDS

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With everyone loving on this new animated film from two-time Academy Award nominated Tomm Moore and his co-director Ross Stewart, my excitement and expectations were high on getting this screener and giving it a watch. Then my internet went out and has been spotty ever since so it took me a moment and after watching I felt as though the title said it all. Not that it’s bad, it’s not bad at all and it could be all about taste as this type of animation is so very different than what we are used too, what could be called ‘very mature animation’ and it took me a moment to adjust as it’s doesn’t really feel like a children’s movie.

Story line sum up is in 1650, a hunter named Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) and his daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) have to move from England to this small Irish town as he has been hired to hunt/kill the wolves who are threatening the small village. Bill goes out each day to do his job while he makes Honor stay in the village so she is safe from them. However she sees herself as a wolfhunter as well and wants to help her father kill the wolves, so she sneaks out of the town and happens to come across a young girl wolfwalker named Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who can transform into a wolf when she is asleep. They start a bond as friends that gets severely tested as the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) is trying to get rid of all wolves to protect his town, so Robyn has to convince his father that Wolfwalkers are real and must do what she can to save her friend and the wolves.

While the backgrounds are so beautifully done and so is the music, the plot lacks in spots and in places where the characters are supposed to be charming, they came off as annoying. That along with a lot of it dragging in the middle and being somewhat cliche in lots of places, left it still with a somewhat satisfying ending leaving open many possibilities in which to possibly explore in a follow up.

So, the good parts you ask? The villain Lord Protector was done well not only in character but in design in keeping him feeling mysterious, intimidating and keeping the audience engaged with scenes he was in. With Robin’s dad was being the most likeable character, little Robin’s friendship with Mebh has good heart and sweet humour and it’s themes of loyalty, trust, and family truly resonate.

All in all though, after the amazing opening pace the story lacks for a good portion of the movie, losing the magic it held at the beginning in favour of just being characters chasing after each other.

Grade: C+

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Review screening: Courtesy of 42 West

“WOLFWALKERS” NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS/DRIVE-INS WHERE AVAILBLE  ~ COMING TO APPLE TV+

 

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