November 2021 Viewing Recap + Movie(s) of the Month

Woo wee! We’re now in the LAST month of 2021! Where has the time go?? We have been in a pandemic period for nearly two years now… and whaddayaknow, it’s far from over 😦 I’m scheduled for my booster in mid December, I suppose it could very well be our new routine, like getting a flu shot annually… it’s the new normal I suppose, better get used to it. Let’s not dwell on that though, now on to the movie report… 

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Movies That Made Us: Dirty Dancing

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I quite enjoyed this docu-series that presents the behind-the-scenes look into how great classics got made, as well as the impact of its release, which often beats expectations. This one has some really interesting tidbits, apparently Jennifer Grey who’s first cast didn’t want the producers to hire Patrick Swayze… anyone but him, she said, but hey they clearly have a great chemistry that contributes to the film’s massive success.

The Harder They Fall

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     4/5 stars
Read Ted’s Full Review

Red Notice

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    HalfReel
Full Review

King Richard

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      4/5 stars
Full Review

Forty Year Old Version*

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4.5/5 stars
Full Review

Passing*

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      3Reels
Full Review

The Marksman

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I’m not sure when I’ll get around to reviewing this, but as far as Liam Neeson‘s action flick goes, it’s definitely sub-par. I might do a summary of all the Neeson-In-Action ranking at some point, once I get around to The Commuter and Non-Stop.

House of Gucci

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    2-half Reels
Full Review

Ghostbusters Afterlife 

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Not sure I’ll be reviewing this one anytime soon, so let’s just say I enjoyed it despite not being a massive fan of the original. I mean it was a fun movie but I wasn’t clamoring to see a remake/reboot of it. But as far a fan-service type movies go, this one was done well and has fun characters, esp. Phoebe and Podcast, those two kids are the movie MVPs for me.

West Side Story

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Full Review coming soon – in the meantime, check out my
Music Break post of five favorite songs from West Side Story!


52 films by womenMovies indicated with * (asterisk) indicates those directed by women. I only saw two films directed by women in November, so I have to catch up this month to complete the 52 Films By Women challenge by the end of the year.


TV SERIES

I didn’t see as many new movies this past month, partly because I had been bingeing on multiple new shows.

FOUNDATION (2021) – Apple TV

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Despite the absolutely breathtaking visuals (definitely BEST production design of any TV series I’ve seen this year), this series was not as captivating as I had hoped. The pacing can be a bit sluggish and the various storylines seem disjointed, but I’m glad I stuck with it as the last few episodes were really good, down to the suspenseful and shocking finale… the MVP of the series are definitely the women (as I’ve mentioned in my post here), especially Laura Birn as Demerzel. I’m definitely curious for season 2!

Hawkeye – Disney+

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I have to admit I wasn’t at all clamoring to see a Hawkeye stand-alone movie/series, but here we are. I got two-episode screenings last week and decided to give it a shot. Well, I quite enjoyed the Christmas setting–and that amusing bit of Rogers The Musical–but the star is truly Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop who’ll likely take the mantle from Jeremy Renner. The two have a fun chemistry but the show is hardly the most exciting compared to the other MCU series on Disney+ so far.

The Wheel of Time* – Amazon Prime

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I’ve enjoyed the first 3 episodes so far, and the latest one definitely got me even more intrigued in the series. Check out my friend Laura’s review who’s a big fan of Robert Jordan’s books. I like the fact that there’s diversity in front AND behind the camera, as the first two episodes were directed by a female director (Uta Briesewitz) and an Asian-British filmmaker (Wayne Yip).

Only Murders in the Building – Hulu

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As everyone has been raving about this show, my hubby and I decided to watch it. Well, we are hooked! Steve Martin and Martin Short are comedic genius and Selena Gomez makes up for a fun, albeit unlikely trio investigating murder in their building. I love that the two comedic veterans are playing two creative has-beens (Martin is a former actor still holding on to his former glory and Short is a former theatre director who’s down on his luck), while Gomez is a beautiful, smart girl with a mysterious past. Two eps in so far and can’t wait for more!


REWATCHES

DUNE | X-Men | X-Men 2 | Crazy Rich Asians | The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

It’s quite an eclectic rewatches this month. Of course I had to rewatch DUNE on HBO Max before it left the platform and I enjoyed it even more than the first watch. I still adore Crazy Rich Asians on second watch and Awkwafina is still hilarious as the bestie.

Not sure why I was in the mood for X-Men, but once I watched the first movie, I was inclined to rewatch the 2nd one with the brilliant Brian Cox as Stryker. On the last day of the month, I was browsing Prime Video and I just couldn’t resist The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I LOVE the cast filled with the best of the British thespians… it’s fun seeing how far Dev Patel has come (so glad he’s not just stuck doing Indian roles), but my faves are definitely Judi Dench and Bill Nighy and their tentative relationship is just so delightful!


NOVEMBER MOVIE OF THE MONTH

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As I said in my full review, I’m still kicking myself that I missed this astounding film last year. It’s definitely the best film I saw in November, and it’s the highest rating I’ve given a film in a long time. If you haven’t seen the creative force that is Radha Blank, you must watch this immediately. Lucky for you, it’s on Netflix!


Well, what did you watch last month and what’s YOUR favorite film(s) you saw in NOVEMBER?

Music Break – Five favorite songs from West Side Story

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I am still humming the gorgeous songs from West Side Story today, as last night I had the privilege of seeing the newly-adapted musical directed by Steven Spielberg at a Dolby Cinema. I haven’t done a Music Break since last August, so I thought today would be the perfect time to highlight the timeless songs in anticipation for the new film’s release on December 10, as well as honoring the late Stephen Sondheim‘s astounding work.

Confession: I actually have not seen the original musical in its entirety, but my late mom had a CD of a bunch of Broadway songs when I was growing up so I’m familiar with most of the music. I’ve seen a bunch of the scenes since then too, so you can say I’m more familiar with the music/songs than the movie.

A few Interesting Trivia about West Side Story and Stephen Sondheim:

  • Per EverythingSondheim.org: West Side Story was Stephen Sondheim’s first foray on a Broadway stage in 1957. He was just 27 when it opened. Already eager to start his Broadway career as a composer and a lyricist, he was convinced by his mentor Oscar Hammerstein to debut as the show’s lyricist, the junior member of a team comprised of three well known artists: composer Leonard Bernstein, director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, and playwright Arthur Laurents.

Bernstein-and-SondheimSondheim (left) with Bernstein – photo courtesy of CulturalAttache.co

  • Per Google Arts & Culture:
    – Arthur Laurents taught him to write from the playwright’s perspective
    – Sondheim had been informally tutored by Oscar Hammerstein II. Hammerstein was one of the foremost lyricists of the first half 20th century, writing the book and lyrics to such classic musicals as OklahomaCarousel, and The King and I. Sondheim describes Hammerstein as a “surrogate father” who mentored the young Sondheim in his teenage years.
  • Since West Side Story, Sondheim has received eight Tony Awards (the most won by any composer) the American Theatre Wing Award Lifetime Achievement Award, eight Drama Desk Awards, eight Grammy Awards (including one for the West Side Story 2010 revival), a Pulitzer Prize, five Laurence Olivier Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors, and the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ok so here are 5 of my favorite songs featured in the film (in random order, I can’t possibly rank them!):

AMERICA

The lyrics for this one speaks of the immigrant experience, all the struggles and advantages of living in ‘someone else’s land.’ Some of the lyrics really hit home and even decades after the first production was released, the words still resonate and relevant.

Life can be bright in America
If you can fight in America

Life is all right in America
If you’re all white in America

Here you are free and you have pride
Long as you stay on your own side

I just love the spunk of Rita Moreno in this dance sequence!!

TONIGHT

This is perhaps the one song I’m most familiar with… it’s such a powerful ballad that I hope one day I get to watch West Side Story on stage to hear this sung LIVE. In the Spielberg’s adaptation, both actors actually sang the songs… and boy, Rachel Zegler has an incredible singing voice that’s perfect for this romantic song. The 20-year-old Colombian-American actor and singer-songwriter beat out over 30,000 applicants for the role and rightly so!

MARIA

Interesting that another favorite classic musical I love, The Sound of Music, also has a song with ‘Maria’ in it. I quite like this one sung by Richard Beymer who certainly has more charisma than the current actor, Ansel Elgort. Now, I barely pay attention to ‘cancel culture’ that’s running rampant these days, and apparently he’s accused of some sexual impropriety, but my issue is that Ansel is kind of a bland actor, though his singing voice is pretty decent.

In any case, the lyrics are just so romantic and sweet…

Say it loud and there’s music playing,
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying.

I Feel Pretty

There’s something so fun and whimsical about this song! Now, there isn’t a clip from the current film yet, which I really enjoyed and Rachel Zegler‘s voice is so gorgeous! So I’m including this clip instead. Natalie Wood‘s singing voice is dubbed by Marni Nixon in the 1961 version. It’s such a catchy song that I often find myself humming and one tends to twirl when hearing this song, ahah.

SOMEWHERE

It’s another ballad with such a beautiful, evocative lyrics… I think it beautifully captures the star-crossed love story and also the Puerto Ricans trying to fit in America, it’s truly amazing what Sondheim did with the words of a song… and of course Bernstein’s melody is equally breathtaking. In the original, the song was a duet…

There’s a time for us,
Someday there’ll be a time for us:
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care.

… but I actually prefer the one sung in the Spielberg version, sung by Rita Moreno as you can hear in the teaser. It packs an emotional wallop!


Hope you enjoy this Music Break. Which song(s) from WEST SIDE STORY is your favorite?

Double Reviews: Passing + The Forty-Year-Old Version

Passing and The Forty-Year Old Version are two Netflix films I saw recently that share some similarities. Both are feature film debuts of two female filmmakers, Rebecca Hall and Radha Blank, respectively, and both deal with racial inequality, albeit set in two different periods and dealt with in very different ways.

PASSING (2021)

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“Passing” follows the unexpected reunion of two high school friends, whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.

The term ‘passing’ refers the practice of members of minority or oppressed races, religions, ethnic groups, etc., pretending to be members of the majority culture (in this case white) to escape prejudice. Apparently it’s a personal topic for actress-turned-filmmaker Rebecca Hall as her own biracial mother and grandfather both passed themselves off as white.

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The film is beautifully shot in black and white, which is a fitting artistic choice given the subject matter. At the center of the story is Irene (a sublime Tessa Thompson) whose chance encounter with a childhood friend Claire (Ruth Negga) at an upscale NYC cafe. Thompson is mesmerizing in the first 10 minutes… as she treads carefully in the way she appears in public, completely aware of her status as a black woman living in New York in the 20s. Hall shows the details of the surrounding as well as the costumes the women are wearing, as those help tell a story as well as being gorgeous to look at.

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I think Passing is an admirable directorial debut that’s both intriguing but also a bit frustrating at times. It’s not so much that it’s slow (I actually enjoy slow-burn movies), but everything is so polished that it’s emotionally-distant. The depiction of Irene’s family life with her wealthy doctor husband Brian (André Holland) and their two boys give a glimpse of the affluent lifestyle (they even have a maid) in a two-story Brookstone Apartment. They are keenly aware that most black people suffer terrible racial injustices elsewhere as they discuss people getting lynched and brutally killed in the South, a subject Irene doesn’t want to dwell on.

There’s not much exploration about Claire’s home life with her white husband John (Alexander Skarsgård) who’s an unapologetic racist. The moment he proclaimed that fact right in front of Irene definitely makes your skin crawl. There’s a really interesting buildup between Irene and Claire, but the fascination wears off rather quickly as I find myself having trouble connecting with either of them, as both are hiding under a veil to conceal their true emotions, even from each other.

Obsession, envy, jealousy are all themes explored throughout, but despite its provocative finale, it doesn’t quite mask its superficiality. The ambiguous ending actually makes me gasp as seems to come out of nowhere. It’s perhaps the boldest move of the entire film, a savage, violent end to an otherwise graceful, even delicate film. But then again, as Irene says to her friend Hugh (Bill Camp) at one point, people–and in this case films–aren’t always what they seem.

3/5 stars


The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

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Radha is a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. Reinventing herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime, she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater in order to find her true voice.

I had missed this film last year, but thanks to my friend’s insistence that I finally got around to seeing it. I’m still kicking myself why it took me so long to watch this!

It’s rare to find a film that has such an authentic voice, so it’s so refreshing to see one that has it in abundance. FYOV… the acronym of the title is the same as its mantra… Find Your Own Voice, an inspiring and fitting theme for the film that lives up to it and then some! Radha Blank tells her own personal story so brilliantly! Basically playing herself, I was completely absorbed by her realness and sense of humor, navigating life as a high school drama teacher and fulfilling her dream as a playwright. Nothing is more motivating, as well as burdensome, to an artist than an early accolade, as Radha was one of the recipient of 30-under-30 award for one of her plays. It’s apparent she is struggling to live up to that early kudos, while her longtime friend/agent Archie (Peter Kim) never stops believing in her.

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I love the documentary shooting style by DP Eric Branco, which suits the narrative Radha is telling. The IMDb trivia page describes the story as a reference to the ‘Hollywood Shuffle,’ about a Black artist confronting the white gatekeepers on who gets to tell a Black story and how. I wasn’t aware of that term but as a non-white, immigrant writer, I definitely can relate to that struggle. White gaze’s eroticism on the pain of people of color’ is nothing new, but seeing it realized in this film in the form of powerful theatre producer J. Whitman (Reed Birney) is so damning and revolting. He only wanted to produce Radha’s play if she’s willing to modify it to appeal to more white audiences, and they changes so much of it she could barely recognize her own work in it.

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I enjoy the warm-yet-testy relationship between Radha and Archie. He means well but it’s obvious his ‘creative push’ for her is self-serving. When Radha finally got a possible big break on her play, Archie said ‘This is the major production you wanted’... Her reply was: ‘Do I want it this way?’ Just that conversation alone strikes a chord with me, which makes me root for Radha even more.

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The moment Radha finally did find her own voice in the form of rap is so cool and filled with a real, raw emotion. I really enjoy her rapping style and most of all her evocative lyrics, and I’m usually not a fan of rap music at all. She finds a young DJ named D (Oswin Benjamin) who she thinks might be able to help her. Despite a bit of a rough start, D actually appreciates that she’s got something to say (‘I make the beats but sometimes I need some storytelling’) and becomes more than just an artistic ally. The tentative romance also feels real and not forced, as Radha begins to open up a bit and let someone in who sees her for who she is.

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I absolutely adore this movie as it presents an artist struggle in such a real way, warts and all… even her relationship with her students is fun to watch despite the vulgar and raunchy language. This movie made me laugh and cry, it’s thought-provoking, funny, relatable and emotional, just what every movie should be! The real star is Radha herself who refuses to be put in a box and be told what kind of art she should make. That final defiant moment at the close of her opening night play makes me get up and cheer.

This movie was a Grand Jury Prize nominee at Sundance where Radha won a Best Directing prize. It’s a phenomenal debut and it stands as one of my favorite films directed by women so far! I sure hope to see more of Radha Blank’s work in the future, both in front and behind the camera.

4.5/5 stars


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This post is part of Dell On MoviesGIRL WEEK 2021 Blogathon – It’s that time of year when Dell invited his fellow bloggers to focus on women in movies. You can join the fun by posting or talking about films with females in the lead, directed by women, or feature women in some other prominent role.


So have you seen Passing or The Forty-Year-Old Version? Let me know what you think!

FlixChatter TV Review: The Wheel of Time (2021)

Reviewby_Laura

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When Ruth asked me if I wanted to review Amazon Prime’s new series, The Wheel of Time, I had to think about it. Anyone who read my JordanCon post from a few months ago knows I’m a fan of the Robert Jordan‘s books the show is an adaptation of. I don’t want to come across as biased or get too hung up on discussing the show as an adaptation, since a good show should stand on without requiring its viewers to be familiar with the source material. Obviously not all viewers will be familiar with the books, so I will do my best to review this as a stand-alone show. That said, some terms are hard to describe to people who haven’t read the books, so I want to give a special shout-out to my JordanCon friends group chat for helping me with the following summary. You’re all the best, and I can’t wait to see you in April!

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The Wheel of Time follows Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of a mysterious order of magical women called Aes Sedai, and her warder (a sort of bodyguard) Lan (Daniel Henney) as they search for The Dragon Reborn, a person prophesied to save the world or destroy it. Their search takes them to the small town of Two Rivers, where five young men and women- Rand (Josha Stradowski), Mat (Barney Harris), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), Egwene (Madeline Madden), and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins)- are caught up in a dangerous and life-changing journey. 

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I won’t say this is a perfect series- with only 3 episodes available so far, there’s obviously room to grow- but it’s off to a very promising start. Its greatest strength is easily its cast. I already loved Rosamund Pike and knew her versatility would lend itself well to the role of Moiraine, and she and Daniel Henney have incredible chemistry. The relationship between an Aes Sedai and her warder is an interesting one, and the wrong actors could easily mess it up, but these two perfectly convey the platonic but deeply loving friendship between them.

The young cast portraying the Two Rivers group are fantastic as well. Despite Zoë Robins getting the least screen time of the five so far, she’s easily a stand out, giving an absolutely fierce performance. Madeline Madden exudes this quiet strength that is so perfect for her character, and I’m so excited to see more of her. Josha Stradowski gives a subtle and likable performance. Marcus Rutherford practically radiates this inner warmth in every scene he’s in. And Barney Harris has incredible comedic chops while still bringing a solemnity to his character. A different actor (Dónal Finn) will be playing Mat in season 2, and while I’m sure he’s an excellent actor, he’ll have some big shoes to fill.

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The show is visually stunning as well. The sweeping scenery and creatively designed sets are gorgeous. The Trollocs (flesh-hungry animal/human hybrid monsters) are sufficiently horrifying. I’m obsessed with the costume design; the clothing is unique but reflective of the environment the characters are in or from, and it’s so refreshing seeing an epic fantasy where the characters aren’t all dressed in generic medieval garb. 

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As I said though, the show is not perfect. There are definitely some pacing issues, especially in the first episode where the ending feels annoyingly rushed. It gets better in the next two episodes, but there’s still room for improvement. The “dead wife” motivation for one of the main characters is more than a little cliche, and having a woman killed after barely 5 minutes of screen time to drive a man’s character arc isn’t a great look. There’s also been some discussion of colorism in the casting; while there are several people of color in main roles, there are only a few actors with darker complexions, and they’re cast as either villains or victims. Even if it was unintentional, it’s understandably upset people, and hopefully more care will be taken in casting going forward.  

Overall, though, The Wheel of Time is a beautifully produced and incredibly acted show, and I’m so excited to see the rest of the season. 8 episodes doesn’t feel like enough, but they’ve already started working on season 2, so at least we know we’ll have more to look forward to. 

4/5 stars

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Have you seen The Wheel of Time yet? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter Review: King Richard (2021)

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Even if you don’t really follow the world of tennis, you would have to live under a rock if you haven’t heard of Venus and Serena Williams. I have to admit I didn’t know much about their upbringing so when I saw the film was about their father, I was intrigued. Will Smith plays the title role, Richard Williams, a determined father of five girls living in Compton, CA. Yep, they’re straight out of Compton! (Sorry I couldn’t resist!)

The 53-year-old Smith’s is made up to look much older with grizzly beard sporting short shorts and speaking with a thick Southern drawl. The movie poster of him pushing a grocery cart with Venus & Serena + a bunch of tennis balls is perhaps the most evocative image of the year. It gets me teary eyed watching Richard collects discarded tennis balls from various country clubs. Richard’s method to get his daughters proper training is unconventional but that persistence is so inspiring. Armed with a 85-page plan, he’d visit affluent country clubs in upscale neighborhoods like Beverly Hills to convince rich members to invest in his daughters. He remains undeterred when one white guy after another brush him off. He firmly believes they will one day become tennis stars that you could tell he actually feels sorry for those naysayers for missing out on this golden opportunity. 

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Director Reinaldo Marcus Green keeps the pace lively and the script by Zach Baylin peppers the film with familial warmth & humor. But they also doesn’t shy away from the economic struggles raising five kids with both parents working, Richard works nights as a security guard and his wife works as a nurse. Not to mention the racial injustice that Richard often face, from past trauma with the police and KKK to getting beaten up by local thugs when he’s training his kids in a run-down tennis court. There is one particularly suspenseful moment when Richard sets out to avenge one of those gang members with a gun in hand.

The performances are the highlights in King Richard. Will Smith gives his best performance in years where he practically becomes the character he’s playing. I said almost as there are a few moments where the actor’s exuberant persona comes out, but Smith is so infectiously charming that I don’t mind.

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As good as Smith is though, Aunjanue Ellis is equally powerful as Venus & Serena’s mother/coach Oracene Price. She’s got such a strong screen presence and all her scenes are wonderful to watch. I especially love the part when she confronts a neighbor who unrightfully called Child Protection Services on them for making the girls train in the rain. The film’s title refers to a singular person who’s responsible for two of the world’s best tennis stars, but obviously it takes two to raise a family of champions. Price also coached Serena when Richard was busy training Venus, as well as puts up with Richard’s less than less than savory side involving his past relationships. I appreciate that the filmmakers refrain from portraying Richard as a patron saint as it wouldn’t be accurate, but despite his flaws as a man, this film’s focus is to highlight his undeniable impact to his two daughters’ careers.

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Saniyya Sidney as Venus and Demi Singleton as Serena are both outstanding here and even more impressive that they also perform all the tennis playing scenes! Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal have memorable turns as Venus’ coaches, Paul Cohen and Rick Macci, respectively. There’s even a funny scene when Richard and his two girls pays him a visit as he was coaching Pete Sampras and John McEnroe. Bernthal is quite a scene stealer here, sporting a bowl haircut, his performance is so unlike the typical tough-guy persona he’s done many times before. It cements my opinion that he’s the one of the best character actors working today.

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Green did a great job filming the dynamic tennis action scenes, even capturing Venus’ famous power serve. There are some beautiful drone shots of the matches as well. But one of the most memorable scenes to me is not on the tennis court, but in their hotel room when a brash Nike exec offers Venus a “take-it-or-leave-it” deal of $3 million. It may seem like a lot of money but Richard had the vision that her daughter is worth more. The closing credits text reveals he was right as she later signed with Reebok for four times that amount. I also appreciate the quieter scenes such as a mother braiding her daughter’s hair or the family watching a movie together which I find really moving.

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Overall this is a rousing, uplifting biopic with a terrific script and spot-on performances. It was emotionally involving from start to finish and I’m glad I got to know a bit more about the journey that shaped Venus and Serena to be the superstars they’re known today. King Richard reigns supreme in the sports drama genre and will inspire many to believe in one’s dreams and work hard to achieve it.

4/5 stars


Have you seen KING RICHARD? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: RED NOTICE (2021)

Netflix-RedNotice

I wasn’t planning on reviewing this, but I felt somewhat compelled to after seeing it. This movie doesn’t even fall into the SO BAD IT’S GOOD category, it’s the kind that’s SO ludicrous you’re left just scratching your head why it ever got green-lit. I tweeted this right after I saw it…

… Most of those $200 mil budget went to its stars… Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot who according to IMDb trivia are getting $20 million each for their roles, likely even more for The Rock who is listed as one of the producers. As if that weren’t enough, there’s the flagrant product placements for Johnson’s and Reynolds’ own brands of liquor that each of their character drink in the film (Aviation American Gin and Teremana Tequila, respectively). The filmmakers are obviously going for a buddy-cop comedy style, but the silly banters goes from amusing to irritating in no time flat as they’re rehashing the same ol’ shtick that’s been done better in other movies. The whole prison scene is so absurd I wish I could erase it from my memory… heck, it makes the prison sequence in Paddington 2 seems far more credible.

Netflix-RedNotice-prison

As for the plot, if you could even call it that… well, it’s a heist action adventure involving an Interpol agent and the world’s most wanted art thief. Who’s playing who? Well, the movie employs the ‘things are not what they seem’ twist which can be a fun mystery in a good movie, but here it ends up being so pathetic. Even the beautiful Italian locations, Rome and Sardinia, are practically wasted here… the only scene that got a strong reaction out of me was when Johnson smashed a Porsche Taycan in Rome… such a waste of fancy automobile, but then again, the entire movie is an exorbitant waste of talents and resources.

I guess one could judge a movie from the cast alone… which in this case if basically filled with attractive people with limited acting skills. I love Gal Gadot in the first Wonder Woman (sadly WW1984 was a disaster) but clearly she is not a dramatic actress. As the enigmatic character known only as The Bishop (it’s never explained why she’s called that), Gadot seems to be channeling Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider movies… down to her gloating smirk every time she outsmarts all the men in the movie. She basically resorts to just prancing around in a slinky dress here, there’s even a scene of her climbing up the ladder to yacht in a skimpy bathing suit as if she’s auditioning to be a Bond girl.

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Now, Ryan Reynolds has certainly settled nicely into the comedy genre and he’s fun to watch in a well-written material (i.e. Deadpool, Free Guy) but not so much in lazily-written ones like Hitman’s Wife Bodyguard and this one. I think he is a naturally funny guy, as evident when he trolls himself (and his wife) on social media, but simply throwing silly quips and incessantly bantering with your co-star is NOT acting. I suppose he’s fully aware of it as I read him jokingly say that he and his co-stars are wasting Netflix’s millions on just goofing around on set… Heh, maybe it IS time for him to retire and just save us from these kinds of insipid drivels until he figures out just what real acting is.

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As for Dwayne Johnson, well he’s pretty much playing a variation of himself in his movies. I’m fine with him as an action star, I mean he’s obviously built like one… but he doesn’t seem content with that as he seems to have this longing to be a romantic leading man as well 🙄 I grimaced during the lovey-dovey scene between him and Emily Blunt in Jungle Cruise as the romance just feels so forced, and he’s so cringe-worthy here as well in another eye-roll inducing kissing scene. Another tidbit on IMDb I found was that Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, and Keanu Reeves were considered for a part that I think Johnson ended up taking on. Well, kudos to them for saying no to a ghastly script despite the huge payday.

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I have no idea who Rawson Marshall Thurber is (the only thing I’ve seen him do was We Are the Millers which isn’t great either), but really, he has no business writing screenplays as there is nothing remotely original nor creative about this movie. To add insult to injury, the action scenes are crappy and cheap-looking (even movies with a fraction of its budget looked far better!). The scene where Reynold’s character is supposed to arrive in Bali on a boat (clearly none of the crew ever set foot in my country during filming), the backdrop looks like something from a zoom virtual background photos!

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Now, I don’t expect every movie to be award-worthy, but even ‘brainless’ movies ought to still offer some kind of entertainment value, otherwise WHAT IS THE POINT?? There is really nothing to recommend this even if you are a fan of the three actors… I suggest just rewatch their more watchable movies instead. Oh and that cameo? I’m not gonna spoil it for you though you might already know from social media, but wow man, it’s got to be a stupendous career low to agree to do such a humiliating cameo. Tiresome contrivances abound from start to finish, going from cheesy, silly, preposterous in one not-so-quick succession all the way to its lame finish that shamelessly teases a sequel! Seriously Netflix, wouldn’t it be nice if you’d spend even half of that budget to fund good independent filmmakers instead?

I rarely give a rating this low, but Red Notice really is SO bad that it’s borderline irresponsible. Apparently it has the dubious distinction as being the most expensive Netflix movie to date, well it’s also the dumbest movie of the year (maybe even of the decade).

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Did you see RED NOTICE? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: BELFAST (2021)

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I am drawn to films that are personal to the filmmaker, and when that said filmmaker is Sir Kenneth Branagh, well it adds another layer of intrigue. As the title says, the film is set in the capital of Northern Ireland. I’m not too familiar with the Troubles, that is the tumultuous period of ethno-nationalist conflict between the late 1960s to 1998. The first film I saw that dealt with the warring Protestant vs Catholic factions was Five Minutes of Heaven where two of its main characters are invited to meet up by a media organization 3 decades after one of them killed the other’s brother in mid 1970s.

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Branagh’s film is semi-autobiographical and was set in 1969 when he was just nine years old. Newcomer Jude Hill portrays the young Branagh, aka ‘Buddy’ in the film. He’s a vivacious boy who loves playing with his friends and neighbors in their tight-knit working class neighborhood where ‘everybody knows y’er name.’ He pretty much grows up mainly with his ‘Ma’ (Caitríona Balfe) and older brother Will (Lewis McAskie), as well as his doting grandparents ( Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench). His ‘Pa’ (Jamie Dornan) is often away on business in London, where he seems to be earning pretty good living for his family.

Narrated by Judi Dench, Branagh’s introduction to the Troubles comes early in the film in a stylish way as the film turns from color to black and white. Buddy is playing war games with pretend swords + shields, as kids often do. but suddenly a group of violent mob descends and things go awry and fiery very quickly. British military with troops and tanks arrives to keep calm the riots. It’s quite a disturbing scene told from the eyes of a young boy. Despite the restless times he’s living in however, the film depicts a vibrant and happy life for Buddy … we see him thriving at school, nursing a romantic crush on a school mate, doing pranks after school, basically doing things mischievous young boys do.

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The topic of the Troubles is handled in a whimsical way when Buddy and his friend Moira (Lara McDonnell) discuss the difference between being Catholic vs. Protestants… but the mirth and whimsy doesn’t mean it lessen the impact and emotional struggle the family are facing. Pa feels that Belfast is getting more and more dangerous and wants the family to move to London. That becomes a point of argument with his wife who can’t imagine life outside Belfast.

It’s interesting to see the relevance of immigrant life we’re still dealing with today, as Buddy’s family are wary about how they would be accepted by Londoners who view them as outsiders. I love the conversation between Buddy and Pop who’s a proud, defiant Irishman… when Buddy asks what if the English won’t understand they way they talk, he replies ‘If they can’t understand ya, then they’re not listening.’ 

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There is a specificity to the film’s casting, most of the cast here are Irish, in fact, Dornan and Hinds are from Belfast. Northern Irish young lad Jude Hill is quite a find, discovered amongst 300 actors. He’s delightful in his big feature debut, perfectly capturing the wide-eyed innocence of a precocious kid forced to be wiser beyond his years by circumstance. Many have complimented Dornan in one of his best performances of his career. I think he’s terrific here and his fans would be happy that he gets to sing again (he seems to sing quite a bit in his movies!). I was really taken by Balfe’s nuanced, layered performance, she’s definitely more memorable here than Dornan. That moment in the bus is likely going to be used as the clip for her Oscar campaign by the studio. She’s won acclaims in Outlander series, but she’s definitely ready for more prominent film roles.

Judi Dench is always a highlight in any film, and here she still shines in an understated role. I love the casting of Hinds who’s such an underrated character actor. It’s quite amusing to see him play Dame Judi’s husband despite being almost two decades younger. Another Northern Irish actor, Colin Morgan, has a small but memorable role as Pa’s childhood friend Billy, who is as close as you get to seeing the face of the ‘enemy.’

Those expecting lots of violent civil war action scenes are going to be disappointed. It’s not that kind of movie… it’s decidedly more reflective in its approach, more observant in nature. It’s appropriate for a coming-of-age drama about a boy whose life is about to change significantly. Given the highly-personal subject matter, I think Branagh is allowed to be lyrical and sentimental in his poignant love letter to his hometown. He employs a decidedly theatrical style as opposed to gritty realism, which is fine for this story but it also lessens some of the suspense. One particular scene in the third act when Pa’s conflict with the relentless Billy reaches a penultimate climax, the way it was staged makes the scenario feels less severe than I imagine it would have been in real life.

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Branagh isn’t exactly known for his visual flair, but this is perhaps one of his most visually striking films. The black-and-white cinematography immediately conjures up a sense of nostalgia. DP Haris Zambarloukos uses a lot of wide angle shots to frame the scenes and most of the shots are deliberately off-center. It definitely adds a level of visual interest in an otherwise mundane, day-to-day life. The music by Belfast composer Van Morrison perfectly complements the tone and atmosphere.

Overall I find BELFAST entertaining and heartfelt… with plenty of wit and humor to keep things from being too dour. It shows the 30-year conflict through a different, non-judgmental lens that shows how in every clash, there are always the regular people who got caught up in something they didn’t want to be a part of. The ending pays a moving tribute to the people of the region, those who left, those who stay behind, and those who will always carry Belfast in their hearts.

4/5 stars

P.S. This film won the Twin Cities Film Fest’s Best Feature Film prize AND the 2021 Audience Award this year – see all TCFF’s winners list!


Have you seen BELFAST? I’d love to hear what you think!