REVIEW: “HOW TO BUILD A GIRL” (2020) IFC Films

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Teenage girl Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) is a talented copywriter and not popular at all in her school. At home, Johanna has a “Wall of Gods” featuring photographs of her literary and historical heroes, including: Sylvia Plath (Lucy Punch), Elizabeth Taylor (Lily Allen), The Bronte sisters, Sigmund Freud (Michael Sheen), and Maria von Trapp (Gemma Arterton). Johanna speaks to these photos, and the fact that they answer her makes for some early fun. Johanna’s family hustles to stay just above poverty. Her dad, Pat Morrigan (Paddy Considine), still has dreams of rock stardom even though they have long passed, and now he breeds black market Border Collies. Her mother Angie (Sarah Solemani) suffers from post-partem depression after giving birth to unexpected and unprepared for twins.

 

After winning a local TV spot as student poet (in a quick turn as a show host is Chris O’Dowd) turns mortifying, Johanna’s brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston) suggests she audition for a London magazine’s opening as music critic. She unironically writes up a piece on the soundtrack to Broadway’s “Annie”—which nabs her an interview, but only as a joke. Undeterred, she overwhelms the smarmy hipster editor (Frank Dillane) into an assignment and gets the full fledged opportunity to work for a rock magazine.  They however are less than impressed when she writes what is essentially a teenage love crush fluff piece on her first big interview piece about musician John Kite (Alfie Allen) and she gets the hatchet.

With that Johanna decides to sharpen her claws and it’s here where, low and behold, she does a complete reinvention of herself and evolves into persona ‘Dolly Wilde’. It’s no surprise that Dolly’s hatchet jobs become a cause-celebre’ hit. Celebrating the idea of “A nice girl gets nowhere, but a bitch… A bitch can make a comeback,” she gradually rises to become the most hated person in the industry including winning ‘Asshole of the Year’ journalism award.

Performance wise, sometimes it’s left to ponder who Considine’s representation is as he can be fantastic actor, but at times picks roles where he fails to bring any expectation to the character he’s playing. Feldstein, being American, has a somewhat thick British accent here and aside from a few struggles with said accent, commands your attention at all angles. There are times when even though you don’t really believe she is fully pulling the character off – you still root for her – follow her – even if her figure character becomes almost unbearable in between. Nevertheless, Johanna has her heart in the right place and so this comedy is quite a decent affair – and not only for girls. That’ll help you miss some of the weaker elements. Minor characters are allowed little opportunity to develop and the story feels boiled down to the most obvious plot points. There is nothing superficial about Johanna, but the film itself fails to dive far enough beneath the surface to do her justice.

While the film doesn’t work perfectly Director Coky Giedroyc does a perfectly acceptable job of making it a fine watch. I do hope to see Feldstein break out of this typecasting of roles and move towards ones that she can really sink her teeth into. All in all “How to Build a Girl” is more of a cutsey, fun watch than maybe the book by Caitlin Moran was meant to be as Moran’s audacious humor sometimes feels muted. There is also something quite fun as well in a film that decides it is up to every girl to build and/or rebuild herself in any images she so chooses.

Grade: C+
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Media Review link courtesy of IFC Films

“HOW TO BUILD A GIRL” hits select drive-in theaters and VOD on Friday, May 8, 2020

REVIEW: “LAST CHRISTMAS” (2019) Universal

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If Emilia Clarke was looking to step out and reinvent herself after eight years as Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, then “LAST CHRISTMAS” would be that vehicle. Along with her character choice of Kate, a wayward and dysfunctional wanna-be actress in her 20’s, who spends her day working as an Elf selling year round Christmas monstrosities – well you couldn’t be further removed from the queen of dragons herself with this one.

Her boss, in what is sure to be London’s gaudiest Christmas store, conveniently goes by the moniker “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh), constantly admonishes Kate for her shortcoming, and there are many of them. As a matter of fact, Kate is simply just the worst. Her nights are devoted to getting plastered, trying to find one in the endless array of couches to crash on – and mornings, well mornings are spent trying to recall the who/what/where of the previous evening shenanigans. “It’s not my fault” is almost a battle-cry for Kate. She just can’t seem to get it together, oddly enough, even when she somehow forgot to lock the door and the store gets robbed, incredibly she keeps her job.

One day the super dreamy Tom (Henry Golding) enters the picture, helping her piece her life back together just in time for Christmas. Magically he enchants her in every way from little dances in the street, to taking her to his little private garden spot. But everything just seems to be a bit to convenient here.  Showing up at the most random of moments, Tom is just too good to be true. And this is only a partial list of things that just make no sense here.  Katie even goes so far as to out her sister Marta (Lydia Leonard), yet instead of facing actual repercussions for these things, seemingly things get better for her. It’s like magically overnight she becomes a good person.

It’s never a good sign when the film’s trailer feels like the whole movie, but you would be right on the money with ‘Last Christmas,’  and those holding their breath for something more will leave sorely underwhelmed.  Sure, you don’t go into a film like this expecting to be surprised but neither do you want it feeling like it’s three steps behind you just because you’ve seen the trailer. Yet, as soon the film delivers its climactic plot twist with the earnestness of a kid tying their shoelaces for the first time, the film quickly trips over its own feet. Your only small highlights in characters here are her parents Petra (Emma Thompson), who delves into heavily into a Eastern European accent, and Ivan (Boris Isakovic) her taxi cab driving dad, both of whom supply a laugh or two but not much more.

It’s hard to know who to lay blame on here as there’s not much to work with in terms of the film’s story. Taking its title from the 1984 Wham! pop song Last Christmas, the film treats George Michael’s music with the same depth as Yesterday treated the Beatles; as window dressing. When it comes to the actual film, it’s nothing more than your typical Hallmark movie of the week. Watching Clarke bumble around is endearing enough for the first half or so but it wears thin quickly and the predictable story line does little to keep things interesting.

So, the question remains: how far can a film go based on charm alone? Well, your mileage will undoubtedly vary based on your tolerance of saccharine love stories as ‘Last Christmas’ is as sweet as they get. Its lack of cynicism and Clarke’s infectiously bubbly lead performance will likely be its saving grace for many, but overall it’s ‘Christmas’ story feels like a lump of coal wrapped up in pretty packaging.

Grade: C

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, October 5, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“LAST CHRISTMAS” IS OUT IN THEATERS IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE

 

REVIEW: “A WALK IN THE WOODS” (2015) Broad Green Pictures

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A Walk in the Woods is essentially a two-hander piece between Robert Redford’s Bill Bryson, a travelling writer who teams up with his old companion Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) for a hike along the 2,000 mile-plus Appalachian Trail.
Bryson is a sarcastically funny cynic who has his life in a certain order that has become mundane for him, whereas Katz is a grumpy recovering alcoholic who still tries to re-live and remain in his more youthful days. Their contrasts can appear a tad caricature like, but their acting ability, charm, and on-screen chemistry binds the film together well.
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Its a nice witty, little jaunt of a film and while some could be of the opinion that Redford might have wanted to make a bit of an environmental statement here (I disagree), Nolte keeps us entertained all through till the end. Seeing Emma Thompson is always a delight as Redford’s wife Catherine Bryson, but it’s truly Kristen Schaal as Mary Ellen, the annoying, obnoxious fellow traveler whom talks endlessly and knows all, that brings the most to her small, albeit scene stealing role.

DF-03247_R (l to r) Nick Nolte stars as Stephen Katz, Kristen Schaal as Mary Ellen and Robert Redford as Bill Bryson camping along the Appalachian Trail in Broad Green Pictures upcoming release, A WALK IN THE WOODS. Credit:Frank Masi, SMPSP/ Broad Green Pictures

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(l to r) Nick Nolte stars as Stephen Katz, Kristen Schaal as Mary Ellen and Robert Redford as Bill Bryson camping along the Appalachian Trail in Broad Green Pictures upcoming release, A WALK IN THE WOODS.
Credit:Frank Masi, SMPSP/ Broad Green Pictures


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As you might expect, yes there are a few lullsy moments throughout the film but A Walk in the Woods is no Wild nor does it try to be.. it’s more ‘The Odd Couple’ on a roadtrip – buddy type film with Redford as Felix and Nolte as Oscar.
It’s a safe bet that will appeal to a older audience, though they might be a bit surprised with some of the language by these two wonderful actors and while very sweet..I would definitely put it in the category of “sweet & nice” which is a perfectly okay way to spend a few hours!!

Grade: C
@pegsatthemovies

Screening: Landmark Theater Westside – Wednesday, August 26, 2015 – Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures & LAFTV meetup group
Nationwide release: Wednesday, September 2, 2015