Spirit Awards Review Nominee Screenings – week one

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So I am a member of Film Independent and every year they do a two-week long jaunt of screenings of all the Spirit Award Nominees. As a lover of Indie films, these two weeks are quite heavenly as not only are the screenings just a short distance from me, but let me see and open my eyes to many films that you don’t always get a media screening invite for. It gave me personally an extra benefit this year as I was quite ill, especially these past few months and missed quite a few of screenings I did have. So onward with brief thoughts and grades on everything I’ve seen so far. Mind you, I did miss some of these even, as not only do they do a whole block of them on weekends as in four in a row – I had a medical time-out for most of the week. Luckily, many of the films are luckily on Netflix, Prime or Hulu – and as voters are also provided with links to watch all of nominated films. But truthfully, watching films on a laptop just seriously isn’t how they are meant to be viewed now is it. So with that in mind – here we go. (following in the format of the Film Independent Screening Awards schedule)

Day One:
“SORRY TO BOTHER YOU” Dir: Boots Riley

I was really loving the first part of this film as it was satire sharp, imaginative and funny. But not only does it run too long, but that bizarro left turn it takes in the last third of the movie will surely leave most as bewildered as I was.
Grade: C-

Day Two:
“SHIRKERS” Dir: Sandi Tan

This was a great little women-driven documentary that takes on a journey of a lost film, a strange relationship that made that happen, and all the friends along the way. But maybe it’s the oddness of all of it put together that works so well.
Grade: B

“LEAVE NO TRACE” by Debra Granik

If you asked me if I thought I would enjoy a film about a man (Ben Foster) and his 13-yr. old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who have been living off the grid in an urban park of all places, and what happens when they make a single mistake and get caught, well I would’ve have probably laughed a bit and given you a ‘NO’ in response. As it was, I loved this film. It was taunt with drama, and the age old question of what is right or perceived as so, and what is wrong, again, perceived as so.
Grade: A

“HEREDITARY” by Ari Astor

While the film wasn’t scary per se for me, nor a particularly good horror film by any stretch, it did stitch itself together enough to follow along and be entertaining mostly because Toni Collette took it there. I had forgotten about Gabriel Byrne somewhat over the years, but his supporting role along with Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff topping off with good performances of their own, helped bring this film up a notch to be sure.
Grade: C

“ROMA” Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

A completely different take on the trials and tribulations in the life of a maid in to a rather dis-functional wealthy family in 1970’s Mexico City. While Yalitza Aparicio is a breath of fresh air to be sure, along with Marina de Tavira and well, truly the whole cast, I do think it’s a bit over-hyped in the ‘how good it is’ department. Mind you it IS good and I will leave it at that.
Grade: B

Day Three:

“PRIVATE LIFE” Dir: Tamara Jenkins

Both Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti give a completely believable ordeal of what one couple goes through to have a child – including numerous fertility ordeals, tests, fake surrogates, family surrogates, money and most of all their own lives and relationships, in a series of choices that can only make one cringe at times as to what some will choose to endure.
Grade: C-

“THE FAVOURITE” Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Let me just shout about how much and how long I’ve loved Olivia Colman. I always felt she was under-utilized so much or not given enough credit for her work. Here, she finally gets her lead role that will no doubt finally change all that and bring her an award. Alongside Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as her supporting, they do a commendable job of making this odd story come to life. While I didn’t love the film overall, the performances were so strong. Even Nicholas Hoult dons the old British wig and make-up to do a fun spin here as the strangest of cads. All said and done, just give Olivia her due already and be done with it.
Grade: C+

Day Four

“MADELINE’S MADELINE” Dir: Josephine Decker

I tried very hard to find a redeeming quality of this film and I just really didn’t find one. It was all over the place with nonsensical scenes cutting back and forth to add up nothing of what makes a film flow from scene to scene. It completely lacked any sense as you didn’t know if Molly Parker’s character was wanting Madeline (Helena Howard) to be crazy or making her crazy. All in all, it just lacked any and all of the Drama/Mystery/Thriller it is categorized as.
Grade: D-

“MINDING THE GAP” Dir: Bing Liu

As we know not all documentaries are going to be a pleasant, happy experience. This one however, made me feel as though I was watching a long drawn out episode of Teen Mom. And while I’ve never actually watched that show, I’m going to guess if you add in their boyfriends and skateboards, you’ve got it down pat. Enough said.
Grade: D-

“FIRST REFORMED” Dir: Paul Schrader

Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried both give good performances here and once again, without that this would be a truly hard film to sit through in it’s entirety. I just wish the movie didn’t drag so much for so long in many different parts. It’s seems as it’s trying to be a social commentary on despair, climate change, torment and tragedy all wrapped up in a bow that you see the ending coming right at you by the 30th minute leaving nothing to chance.
Grade: C

Day Five:

“If Beale Street Could Talk” Dir: Barry Jenkins

While I wasn’t Moonlight’s biggest fan, I did find Beale Street to be a far better film to be sure. I still didn’t love it as it left a lot of questions unanswered for me that I wanted to know and made it feel incomplete to me. While Kiki Lane and Stephan James are the leads, for me it was all about Regina King and Michael Beach (who is all of a sudden in so many projects and I love this fact) who really brought home the acting. And while so much of this hit hard, there was just still too much I wanted to know more about.
Grade: C+

And that’s all I’ve seen at this point – but I’ve still this weeks schedule and to make up some of last week’s also. So please come back as I will hopefully be posting more often again.

@pegsatthemovies

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REVIEW: “MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN” (2018) Universal Pictures

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Oh my my my my “MAMMA MIA!! HERE WE GO AGAIN” had me from the moment one with my devotion and love for true icons ABBA & C-H-E-R all in one movie. What I didn’t expect, was an actual good movie.

Starting off, this sequel to ‘Mamma Mia’, which also presents itself as a prequel, in my world, this is a two-for-one deal of epic-ness that I loved from the get go. “Here We Go Again” has a much better story line than the original, and while all your faves return, you also make some great new ones. Writer/director Ol Parker – gets some good deeper cuts in, too with this being a new, complex and more mature story involving the characters we’ve known, and sang and danced along with for the past decade. The film quickly establishes the parallel stories with it’s fantastic opening number of “I Kissed A Teacher” and boom! we are introduced to the world of a young Donna (played terrifically by Lily James). Moving along back into the world of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is re-opening the hotel her mom Donna (Meryl Streep) ran. Donna died the previous year (this isn’t really isn’t a spoiler). In her mom’s honor, Sophie has renovated the place and is ready for a big celebration, with nearly every important person in her life invited, including Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and Donna’s Dynamo sisters – Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters).

“Here We Go Again” explores within it’s flashbacks, a vibrant and spontaneous Donna of the 1970’s, as she seeks an adventurous life – and we see how she meets the three younger versions of the men whom will play major roles in her life – Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan) and Sam (Jeremy Irvine). It would take more space than I have to touch on every performance, so I’ll just sum it up and highlight a few. With this turn as Donna, Lily James is now officially a STAR as she will charm the socks off of you. In one simple, minute-long scene, Brosnan redeems himself for his lack of singing ability from the original. And in spectacular fashion with white silk wig and pantsuit to match, the one..the only..Cher makes a grand entrance in the final act as Sophie’s grandma… and instantly captivates the screen. And though how she gets to the point of singing is a big spoiler that I just can’t reveal, I will happily admit to yelling out “YES! YES! YES” when it did happen, media screening or not. (no one usually does something like this during them – but I wasn’t alone in my squealing joy of this.. so 🙂 )

Every single person here, from our older versions of Harry (Colin Firth) & Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) doing a bit of ‘Titanic’ for us all, to Fernando (Andy Garcia) & Sky (Dominic Cooper), looks like they’re having an absolute blast, and that happiness is resonates throughout the film and spreads to the audience. ‘Here We Go Again’ provides a carefree, yet meaningful, fun energy that’s so hard to find these days, even in musicals. I got chills during performances of “Mamma Mia!” and “Dancing Queen”, though those are saved till a little later in the film, as the first half has some of Abba’s lesser known hits dominating – though a true ABBA fan will know them!

Sure Mamma Mia 2! might not be perfect – and I might be a sap for anything musical related to ABBA & Cher – but I can guarantee a good time will be had by all who see it. And the beautiful, sweet final scene has a spirit all its own, touching on loss and new life in ways that will hit very close to home. I can only say — I do, I do, I do, I DO want you to see this film.

Grade: B
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Monday, July 16, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
“MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN” WILL BE OUT NATIONWIDE/WORLDWIDE ON FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2018

REVIEW: GRINGO (2018) STX Entertainment / Amazon Studios

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Over the past few years, Nash Edgerton has bounced – possibly literally – between being a top-notch stuntman and a career as a burgeoning director. After a stack of shorts and a 2008 feature The Square, co-written with his more famous sibling Joel, he now steps things up with “GRINGO”, a comedy-thriller-esque type movie that looks sharp in the trailers.

With brother Joel Edgerton on board as one of the co-leads, Richard Rusk – alongside Charlize Theron as his co-conspirator Elaine Markinson and David Oyelowo as the trusty but naive, Harold Soyinka what you have here is a south-of-the-border caper with blood, guns and medical marijuana. As the film opens, crooked business partners Richard and Elaine – post-boardroom bonk – get a call from their Harold, screaming that he’s been kidnapped in Mexico.

That’s just the start – or rather the mid-point – of a twisty amoral adventure where no one is to be trusted and most are to be feared or so they like you to be – but you’re not. Flashing back and forth, the film fleshes things out..sort of. In the process of ditching their Chicago pharmaceutical firm to a conglomerate, Richard and Elaine are looking to cut ties with one of their more shady partners in the business of manufacturing medical marijuana.

Harold, the only good guy amid this nest of ever growing scumbags, and yes, even his wife Bonnie – played by Thandie Newton – is doing the dirty on him with no less that his own boss and supposed friend, Richard. Harold gets wind that he’s going to be out of a job and this is when he realises that his employers couldn’t care less about the fact he has been kidnapped, he sets out to turn the tables. But little is straightforward in a dense plot that also ropes in Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway as tourists and Sharlto Copley as a mercenary with a conscience.
Double-crosses, cases of mistaken identity… just trying to keep up and make sense of what’s going on at this point, leaves you out of sorts with a plot that really isn’t going anywhere. The script is guilty of trying way to hard, to go into sub-Tarantino area – and completely not succeeding in this endeavour.

Performances vary: Theron’s foul-mouthed act wears thin very fast and honestly, I thought she would be a lot funnier than she was, Edgerton passes you by again, not speaking in his own voice (I’m really so very over this Joel), but Copley provides a few live wire moments. Oyelowo isn’t known for his comedic turns and you will see why here with a mostly blah performance with one or two ha! ha! moments by him. While it’s a pity talents like Seyfried and Treadaway are just a weird almost background note here, as their characters almost seem as if they were given something to do, they would be funny. This is one of those films where the trailer shows you all the fun, best moments of a film that’s not terrible, but very easy to forget.

Grade: C-
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Friday, February 23, 2018 ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment
GRINGO will be release nationwide & UK on Friday, March 9, 2018 ~ Worldwide release throughout Mar/Apr