Movie Review ~ Love Type D

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Shortly after her boyfriend sends his 12-year-old brother Wilbur to break the news that she’s dumped, Frankie Browne discovers that she has a loser in love gene. Facing a lifetime of romantic failure, Frankie turns to the only genetics expert she knows: schoolboy science prodigy Wilbur who develops a maverick theory to reverse her romantic fortunes.

Stars: Maeve Dermody, Rory Stroud, Oliver Farnworth, Tovah Feldshuh

Director: Sasha Collington

Rated: NR

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  When you tell people that a movie is a hidden gem, it’s not often you can say so because it sparkles but in the case of Love Type D, it’s the truth.  From the looks of the unassuming poster, which you’ll find out after the fact woefully misrepresents the importance of the featured male, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking this was a write-off rom-com that you could save for a rainy day or pass over all together in favor of a proven entity that would get the job done, but you’d be missing out on an honest-to-goodness marvel of a movie.  Even though we aren’t wanting for an easy to digest fluffy comedy to cede our tense minds to, there are days when more substance is necessary and that’s when a film with a little more thought comes in handy.

How many romantic comedies have we seen where we ache watching it because no matter how many complicated set-ups they can throw at you, it’s pretty pointless knowing the ending is a foregone conclusion?  Now think about how many keep you guessing until the very end.  You can put this frothy import, filmed in 2019 but just getting a release from Vertical Entertainment now, into that unpredictable column and also check off a number of other hard-to-find boxes while you’re at it.  When it’s not being uproariously funny in only the way that comedy by way of the UK/Australia can be, it’s almost universally endearing throughout.

Unlucky in love Frankie (Maeve Dermody) has found the perfect mate in Thomas and just when she thinks the relationship is in perfect order, he sends his 11 going on 12 brother Wilbur (Rory Stroud) to dump her.  Offering her a slight bit of consolation, he lets her know that genetically, it may not be her fault…she may possess the “dumpee” gene which predisposes her to be dumped by every person she goes out with.  This sets Frankie into a tailspin, first investigating if she has the gene (she does), then seeing if others in her circle have it (they do), and soon recounting all of her former boyfriends to replay in her mind what the problem was.  All the while, she’s trying to win back Thomas, who has already met and is about to become engaged to a lithe astronaut.

Frankie’s misadventures are fun to a point but when she becomes this obsessive stalker to Thomas, the game is a little less fun.  This is especially apparent when we overhear why Thomas dumped her and the list of things, he dislikes about her.  That Frankie would continue to want to be with him after hearing these terrible things he thinks about her suggests she needs to investigate within herself something other than a gene deficiency.  Thankfully, these darker moments are bolstered considerably by lighter side trips with her once meek co-workers who are determined not be pushed around as “dumpees” anymore and further meetings with Wilbur who is always accompanied by an adorable silent sidekick. 

Hinging on a plot that I think it would love to be scientifically solid but is sheer nonsense in researched actuality, Love Type D spends the first half alternating between carefully droll one-liners and rapid-fire quips of hilarity before moving into a more focused second act.  Writer-director Sasha Collington manages to get an incredibly appealing cast together for her debut feature which has the look and feel of a much larger endeavor, no small feat when working with a tiny budget.  Some rookie mistakes are evident in the editing, like Dermondy’s awful wig which changes from scene to scene with the wigline often clearly noticeable, but I found that it was only the scenes where Frankie was in her dark phase that I noticed these small flaws…perhaps it was my way of coping with the plot elements I wasn’t gelling with.  Thankfully, there are so many positives about Love Type D that it earns a solid A in my book.  

Movie Review ~ Black Widow

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha Romanoff must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O.T. Fagbenle, Rachel Weisz, William Hurt, Ray Winstone

Director: Cate Shortland

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  In the year we’ve had to wait since Black Widow was supposed to debut, I’ve occasionally caught wind of a think piece or two (oh, how I love a think piece by another wise Marvel fan or general fuddy duddy) that has blasted the movie for being “too little, too late”.  Too little, too late for what?  We live in a world where we make full billion-dollar trilogies that later serve as prequels to sequels that are themselves sequels to their own prequels.  I think we can allow a superhero or two to come back from the dead so they can tell their origin story.  If I have to sit through countless tales of how Batman got his cowl and Superman got his cape, I believe I’ve earned the right to know how Black Widow developed her love of changing up her hairstyles.

At times, over the years that Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story) has played Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, I will find myself wondering what the character and even the whole Avengers make-up would have been like had Emily Blunt stayed with the role as originally cast.  Hilariously, it was Blunt’s commitment to the far over-schedule 2009 Jack Black ‘classic’ Gulliver’s Travels which led to her stepping down from the part when it was introduced in Iron Man 2, paving the way for Johansson to take it on. The rest is history and now Johansson is set for life with all the residuals she’ll receive for her efforts.  Part of that deal was, I’m sure, this stand-alone film that was never quite the priority until now and I’m actually glad it came out when it did.  Now, Black Widow isn’t just seen as a filler film while audiences wait for the next Avengers adventure, and it doesn’t have to be a connector (at least a major one) to anything currently cooking in the Marvel Universe.

Right off the bat audiences are going to be able to tell that director Cate Shortland and screenwriters Jac Schaeffer, Eric Pearson, & Ned Benson don’t have a traditional Marvel movie in mind.  Far more along the lines of a James Bond-ian espionage thriller for the majority of its running length, the Marvel-ness of it all doesn’t truly come into play until the final act when we get a major dose of the heroism that has come to define this franchise up through today.  That accomplishes two things in my book.  There’s a little something thrown in for those fans who miss their Marvel friends and have been waiting for more high stakes action (though The Falcon and The Winter Soldier on Disney+ had a fair amount of it) and it gives Johansson a stand-alone film that has a style all its own.  A superlative plus is the addition of two (or two and a half possibly) new characters that amp up the fun.

An opening prologue introduces us to young Natasha and her “sister” Yelena as well as her “parents” Alexei (David Harbour, Hellboy) and Melina (Rachel Weisz, Oz the Great and Powerful) while they are posing as an American family in the mid ‘90s.  After their mission goes south, the group is separated and it’s only after the events of Captain America: Civil War twenty years later when Natasha is a fugitive from the government that she is put on a collision course with her past.  Reuniting with the now-grown Yelena (an fantastic and energetic Florence Pugh, Little Women), another in a long line of Black Widows, the two have some old business to work through first and their physical and verbal sparring is one of the first highlights Shortland capitalizes on.  Showing Natasha and Yelena as immovable forces pursuing each other, the interplay between the two is captured with a fresh style and played to the hilt by both actresses. 

Eventually breaking out Alexei from a maximum-security prison (another gigantic and impressive sequence), the two Black Widows now have an aging former father figure to deal with, one that served as Russia’s version of Captain America: the Red Guardian.  Though offing mugging to the extreme back of the theater, Harbour has a good time with this role and when he’s not trying to fit into his old suit, he’s finding some nice ways to connect with Pugh to quash a few fake-father/fake-daughter issues.  This all leads to finding mom who may just have the key to how a vengeful assassin (Olga Kurylenko, Quantum of Solace) has been tracking them down and also how to save numerous Black Widows out in the field from a maniacal villain (Ray Winstone, Cats) that is controlling their every move.

I’ll admit, it’s hard to watch the film and not have that one scene in the Avengers: Endgame (you know the scene) in the forefront your mind. Yet it doesn’t render this movie pointless nor even gives it a feeling of remoteness in relation to the action that’s taking place in front of you.  Black Widow is exactly what it sets out to be, a summer blockbuster stand-alone utilizing an existing character from a proven franchise.  The popular character has been given a breakneck outing that has its own style that separates it from others, but still has enough of the Avengers DNA (and that welcome final credit scene…stay for it) to link it to what has come before.

Movie Review ~ Fear Street Part Two: 1978

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Shadyside, 1978. School’s out for summer and the activities at Camp Nightwing are about to begin. But when another Shadysider is possessed with the urge to kill, the fun in the sun becomes a gruesome fight for survival.

Stars: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, Chiara Aurelia, Gillian Jacobs, McCabe Slye, Ted Sutherland, Drew Scheid, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr.

Director: Leigh Janiak

Rated: R

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Gotta start with a spoiler-alert right off the bat.  If you haven’t watched Fear Street Part One: 1994, we’re going to be discussing a lot of plot points from that film here, so I suggest stop reading now.

You ready?

OK!

Here we are in Week Two of Netflix’s fun, three-week schedule of releasing a trilogy of movies inspired by R.L. Stine’s classic novels.  At the end of last week’s film, poor Sam had all sorts of witchy things possessing her and her girlfriend Deena was willing to do anything to save her from the curse of Sarah Fier.  With friends Kate and Simon rather cruelly and gruesomely dispatched and with apparently no adults over forty residing in the town, Deena and her brother Josh call up the one townie they know might be able to help them.  That would be the person that has survived an encounter with The Witch of Shadyside before…C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs, Come Play)

Now, here’s where the film actually picks up and meeting the character Jacobs is playing is an interesting introduction.  While she was merely a voice at the end of 1994, offering a scant bit of advice to Deena, she’s front and center from the start in Part Two and director Leigh Janiak allows time for audiences to see how the recluse is living her life.  A creature of routines (her entire life is set by a variety of alarm clocks around the house labeled with various mundane tasks), she keeps herself locked away and is obviously still frightened of…something.   Of course, Deena and Josh easily find her house and have no trouble bursting in and instead of going full on panic attack at the teeth-gnashing growler demon Sam has become, C. Berman sits the two unpossessed teens down and calmly tells them how she faced Sarah Fier at Camp Nightwing in 1978 and lived to talk about it…and how her sister didn’t.

A rollicking summer camp straight out of every horror film of that early slasher film era, Camp Nightwing is all tube socks, lip gloss, athletic shorts, and friendship bracelets.  The counselors are always smoking dope and finding ways to frolic while the campers are largely learning by example.  Goodie two shoes counselor Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd) and her hunky boyfriend Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye, Destroyer) are the responsible ones while partiers like Alice (Ryan Simpkins) are of the lesser dependable variety.  Cindy’s sister Ziggy (Sadie Sink) is also at Nightwing, but the siblings go together like oil and water leading them to keep their distance while Ziggy is pursued by counselor in training Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland)

When the camp nurse (Jordana Spiro, To the Stars) shockingly tries to slice Tommy, it’s the first of many weird occurrences that lead to a night of terror and bloodshed for the campers…again, all without any adult supervision.  After one of the counselors becomes possessed with the urge to murder and does so with little care for age, race, or creed, it’s up to Cindy, Alice, Ziggy, and Nick, to kill or be killed before a rage-filled ancient torment can run its course through Camp Nightwing.  Who actually lives out of this group is surprising and has an impact on the latter moments of the film, leading to a cliffhanger ending which will be resolved in the final chapter next week.

With a new Friday the 13th film stuck, likely for a considerable amount of time, in development hell, this second chapter in the Fear Street series is sure to satisfy those who have missed a blood-soaked summer camp shocker.  It’s light on the T&A that saturated a number of slasher films but doesn’t hold back on the gore that helped define the taste of a generation of moviegoers and what they want to see in these particular types of genre entries.  It plays far more like a stand-alone movie than the middle chapter of a trilogy and that signifies strong writing. It’s actually when it comes back around to the present story where the structure starts to wobble a bit.  No matter, Fear Street Part Two 1978 builds strongly on what its predecessor had set into motion and gives the conclusion some excellent energy to start off with. 

 

Movie Review ~ I Carry You With Me

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Ambition and societal pressure propel an aspiring chef to leave his soulmate in Mexico and make the treacherous journey to New York, where life will never be the same.

Stars: Armando Espitia, Christian Vázquez, Michelle Rodríguez, Ángeles Cruz, Arcelia Ramírez, Michelle González

Director: Heidi Ewing

Rated: R

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I should be used to it by now, but I’m always a little surprised when I see a romance featuring a LGBTQ+ relationship at its center.  I mean, it’s definitely more representative of the world we live in and offers many the opportunity to see depictions of normal, healthy relationships on screens big and small – and that’s awesome.  For so long though, these movies, these stories were often relegated to low budget studios that didn’t have the funds (or frankly, the talent) or access to proven creative energy to give them their proper due.  So it wound up feeling to many that while the effort was appreciated, it also was lacking.

It’s finally starting to feel like we’re moving out of the doldrums of lame, half-hearted attempts at LGBTQ+ romance films and memorable entries like I Carry You With Me are examples to refer back to when showing the forward progression of representation in film.  A unique and surprisingly unpredictable film that starts off going in one direction before unveiling its ultimate truth in finality, director Heidi Ewing’s film has a lot of hot button issues to cover and connect with but manages to do it all with a light touch. 

Based on a true story (have that in the back of your mind…it will come in handy while you watch), the film follows the sweet relationship that develops between Iván (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vázquez) in Mexico. Iván has a son from a previous relationship he wants to keep contact with but fears what his ex and family will do once they find out about Gerardo. Gerardo just wants to keep Iván a part of his life.  A chance at a new opportunity in New York means a decision that offers dangerous consequences for the two men and others they are close to. 

How the film starts to shift is small and almost imperceptible.  At first, you aren’t quite sure what’s happening or how a seemingly disparate narrative is relating to our main storyline but then Ewing and her co-screenwriter Alan Page Arriaga pull a tiny rug out from under you…only to reveal an even larger one underneath they tug away just a few scenes later.  I’ve never seen a movie quite like I Carry You With Me and to reveal what its secret is would be a severe betrayal of the trust the filmmakers and the real people involved have put in audiences (and critics!) that are lucky enough to see it.

Movie Review ~ 12 Mighty Orphans

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Haunted by his mysterious past, a devoted high school football coach leads a scrawny team of orphans to the state championship during the Great Depression and inspires a broken nation along the way.

Stars: Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, Jacob Lofland, Levi Dylan, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen

Director: Ty Roberts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: TBD

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Having seen enough sports movies to be able to at least write a small children’s chapter book on which ball goes with which game, I looked at the upcoming 12 Mighty Orphans and felt like pointing at it and saying, “I know what you are and all the cliché tricks you’re going to play”.  Because, after all, there’s not a lot that’s been left unsaid in the case of these football movies about a rag-tag group of misfits that have to band together to rise above adversity.  Plenty of films before it have gone the distance, scored the field goal, made the touchdown, and knocked it out of the park (oops, wrong sport) and while the entertainment might be passable, it was likely going to be fleeting.

Let me tell you that 118 minutes after I began 12 Mighty Orphans, based on Jim Dent’s ‘Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football’, I was the guy sitting in his living room in the dark watching the credits with tears drying on my face.  Yes, this film got me and got me good, and it was for no other reason than it’s a well-made audience pleaser that steers clear of cheap sentiment in favor of heart on the sleeve compassion.  It’s almost shockingly benign and while I’m not sure this approach would have worked with a more modern story, the period-set drama is the perfect playing field for the real-life events to unfold.

Arriving at the Texas Forth Worth Masonic Home for orphans in 1938 with his family, teacher and coach Rusty Rusell (Luke Wilson, The Goldfinch) has an uphill battle creating a team from scratch and gathering enough interest from the boys who’d rather do anything but play an organized sport.  Forge forth he does, with assistance from a wised teacher nursing a not-so-secret fondness for drink (Martin Sheen, The Dead Zone) and his caring wife (Vinessa Shaw, Hocus Pocus) but with a number of roadblocks from crooked employees and, eventually, a local coach that fears Rusty’s “Mighty Mites”. 

There’s a run-of-the-mill playbook for any kind of biographical sports film and director Ty Roberts follows that fairly close for the majority of 12 Mighty Orphans, but along the way he doesn’t forget to coax generous and gallant performances out of Wilson and Sheen, offering both men wonderful opportunities to shine.  Roberts also handles some of the more saccharine turns with a stronger hand, not letting the film go slack as a result – we all know there’s going to be something that knocks things down before the final build-up, but the screenplay from Roberts, Lane Garrison (who co-stars as the Big Bad coach), and Kevin Meyer, doesn’t make that the true climax of the piece. 

A film like 12 Mighty Orphans is one my dad would have loved to see and I’m sorry he’s not around for me to recommend it to him.  Maybe that’s another reason why I was so sad near the end and also why I appreciated the film’s detailed information on where all of the characters we’ve come to know wound up in their lives.  It’s more than just a “Dad” movie though, it’s one that all would be able to enjoy with equal pleasure.

Tribeca: The Return

12 Mighty Orphans
There’s a run-of-the-mill playbook for any kind of biographical sports film and director Ty Roberts follows that fairly closely for the majority of 12 MIGHTY ORPHANS, but along the way he doesn’t forget to coax generous and gallant performances out of Luke Wilson and Martin Sheen, offering both men wonderful opportunities to shine.  Roberts also handles some of the more saccharine turns with a stronger hand, not letting the film go slack as a result – we all know there’s going to be something that knocks things down before the final build-up, but the screenplay from Roberts, Lane Garrison (who co-stars as the Big Bad coach), and Kevin Meyer, doesn’t make that the true climax of the piece.  A film like this is one my dad would have loved to see and I’m sorry he’s not around for me to recommend it to him.  It’s more than just a “Dad” movie though, it’s one that all would be able to enjoy with equal pleasure.

I Carry You With Me
It’s finally starting to feel like we’re moving out of the doldrums of lame, half-hearted attempts at LGBTQ+ romance films and memorable entries like I CARRY YOU WITH ME are examples to refer back to when showing the forward progression of representation in film.  A unique and surprisingly unpredictable film that starts off going in one direction before unveiling its ultimate truth in finality, director Heidi Ewing’s film has a lot of hot button issues to cover and connect with but manages to do it all with a light touch.  How the film starts to shift to something unexpected is small and almost imperceptible.  At first, you aren’t quite sure what’s happening or how a seemingly disparate narrative is relating to our main storyline, but then Ewing and her co-screenwriter Alan Page Arriaga pull a tiny rug out from under you…only to reveal an even larger one underneath they tug away just a few scenes later. 

Peace By Chocolate
Oh, those Canadians are just the best, aren’t they?  The best Hallmark movie filmed in Canada that’s not a Hallmark movie, PEACE BY CHOCOLATE is the enormously pleasing real life story of the Hadad family, Syrian refugees who took shelter in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada in 2016.  Having owned a chocolate factory in their native Syria before it was bombed, head of the family Issam (the wonderful Hatem Ali who sadly passed away in December 2020) begins making chocolate out of their temporary home and, eventually, a small make-shift house on their front lawn.  Meanwhile, son Tareq (Ayham Abou Ammar) desperately wants to see his medical school training in Syria be put to use in Canada/the U.S. but finds himself turned away from opportunities.  Director Jonathan Keijser’s film could not be more Canadian if it tried…and it tries, with accents that are so Northern you may need subtitles and enough Kanuck slang that a reference chart could be useful.  It’s all Sunday afternoon television movie entertaining and so light and charming you can’t begrudge the at times overwhelming syrupy sweetness.  If anything, like chocolate, it’s a great palate cleanser if you need to unwind and check out after a barrage of bad news and stress.

God’s Waiting Room
When you see a lot of movies and then write about them, eventually your mind starts to naturally pick up visual cues and your ear listens for important plot points in every subsequent film you see, almost as a way to proactively start to assemble your review.  That’s not necessarily how the review will turn out, but that’s how my mind works.  For GOD’S WAITING ROOM, every time a structure started to form in my mind, director Tyler Riggs found a way to shake it clean, like an Etch-A-Sketch that needed a fresh start.  That made the experience of watching the film intriguing and allowed more investment in this story of Rosie (Nisalda Gonzalez) and Jules (Matthew Leone) and their tumultuous love affair.  Co-starring Riggs in a role that is never fully defined until later in the film when intentions are all thrown together in a blender, the film has a lot of good going for it.  The biggest asset is certainly Gonzalez’s grounded performance as a young woman on the cusp of finding herself and feeling suffocated by a number of overbearing men.  Leone is good too in his Tribeca-award winning role, though I started to feel it was a bit more rambling without an edit than rumbling with power.  As for Riggs, his time as a model gave him a good eye for the film’s look which is quite strong for its indie roots; it’s frustrating his storyline is markedly weaker and contains a truly unfortunate sex scene that that might be the most awkward one I’ve seen all year.  Keep an eye out for Gonzalez in the future and I’m thinking Leone’s name is another you’ll be hearing as well.