Category Archives: Movie Review

Encanto Movie Review

Family is complicated. As much as we love them, it is sometimes difficult to feel like we are seen and appreciated.

The new Disney movie, Encanto, was recently released on DisneyPlus.

Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) is a young lady from a small village in Colombia. Everyone in her family was born with a unique gift. The only exception is Mirabel, which is often pointed out in a less than sensitive manner. When she starts to sense that her home will be destroyed, no one believes her. This may be connected to her Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo). Bruno is the black sheep of her family tree. He is not spoken of and has not been seen for years.

Mirabel appears to be the only one who can save the day. But first, she will have to get past her grandmother, Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero).

I loved this movie. It is funny, enchanting, and charming. In making Mirabel ordinary in both physical appearance and abilities, she has universal appeal. The fact that she has glasses, short curly hair, and is not a size 2, is more than overdue. With a Latinx cast and the creative fingerprint of Lin-Manuel Miranda, it is a joy to watch.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Encanto is currently streaming on DisneyPlus.

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Best Movies of 2021

  1. Quo Vadis, Aida?: This harrowing tale of one woman’s choice to save her family or save as many people as she can during the Bosnian War is as powerful as a film can get.
  2. Mass: Two sets of parents meet after one of their sons has killed the other in a school shooting to figure what happened. Along the way, they are forced to answer questions that are painful and difficult.
  3. Spencer: This fictional take on Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) and what might have occured during Christmas in the early 1990’s is a unique take on the myth of the late royal.
  4. Belfast: A young boy is growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 1960’s. As he starts to transition from a child to a young adult, he begins to realize that nothing is ever a simple as it seems to be.
  5. Black Widow: After ten years, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) finally gets the movie she should have gotten. Trying to atone for her past while living in the present, she must face reality and make up for mistakes.
  6. Framing Britney Spears: This Hulu documentary took viewers in the life and career of Britney Spears and how it has changed since her father took control over both.
  7. West Side Story: Steven Spielberg’s adapation of this beloved musical takes it into the 21st century while retaing its message about prejudice and lack of opportunity.
  8. The Eyes of Tammy Faye: Jessica Chastain not only brings Tammy Faye Bakker back to life, she reveals the real person behind the punchline.
  9. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: This latest addition to the MCU is more than just the first all Asian cast. It is the story of a complicated father/son relationship and a young man who cannot run from his fate.
  10. Moxie: A shy teenage girl stands up to the sexist bullshit at school and empowers her fellow female students in the process.
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This will be my last post of 2021. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing tonight, have a safe and happy New Year. See you in 2022.

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The Matrix Resurrections Review

When The Matrix premiered in 1999, it was more than the standard science fiction good vs. evil movie with computer-generated effects and stunts. The narrative question was existential in nature. Both the special effects and the fight scenes were (and still are) awe-inspiring.

The 4th movie in the series, The Matrix Revolutions, premiered last week. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is torn between the world he sees and the world that is just beyond his consciousness. He is the creator of the best-selling video game of all time called The Matrix. He is also seeing a therapist, known as The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris).

He begins to question his reality when Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, replacing Laurence Fishburne) comes back into his life. When he finally breaks from the world he has known, Neo can only save the day once more with the help of Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). But like Neo, she first has to see the truth.

I wanted to like this film, I really did. It tries to build on the legacy of its predecessors while adding new layers to the story. After nearly two decades. both Moss and Reeves still have the same chemistry. The addition of new cast members builds on this idea of fighting for our individuality instead of just going along with the rest of the crowd. Among the newbies, Harris stands out. I haven’t followed his career closely, but this character from what I know is not one that he normally plays.

The problem is that it just stretches on. It only perks up when Trinity wakes up, which is at about the 60% mark.

Do I recommend it? I would lean toward yes, but only if you have seen the three previous movies.

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Flashback Friday: Air Bud (1997)

Stories about a child and their pet are a staple of the fictional world.

In the 1997 Air Bud, Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers) is a young man who loves basketball. He would like to join the school basketball team. His obstacles are threefold: he is the new kid in town, he is mourning the loss of his father, and he lacks the confidence to try out. All of that changes when he meets Buddy, a golden retriever who matches Josh’s love of the game and his skill level.

With his beloved dog by his side, Josh not only makes the team, but they both become stars of the show. Their bubble bursts when Buddy’s abusive former owner, Norm Snively (Michael Jeter) demands a piece of the action. Will this boy and his dog stay together or be forced apart?

Air Bud is one of the mildly appealing 1990’s films that I suppose is entertaining. But it depends on the audience. If you’re a preteen child, I can see how you might enjoy it. But as an adult, I would rather watch something else.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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Throwback Thursday: Dangerous Beauty (1998)

For most of humanity, women have been limited to the roles of being wives and mothers. Their education, if they received any, was minimal, and their ability to have the same experiences as their male counterparts was virtually non-existent. There was only one exception to this rule, which can only be classified as the oldest profession in the world.

In the 1998 film, Dangerous Beauty, Veronica Franco (Catherine McCormack) is a young woman in 16th century Venice. Though she comes from an aristocratic family, she has no money. When her lover, Marco Venier (Rufus Sewell) is forced to marry another, Veronica has two choices: join the Church or become a courtesan. Her decision is to become a courtesan. Unlike other women in her culture, Veronica has freedoms and opportunities that wives do not have.

Problems erupt when the Inquisition comes calling. She has become too popular and respected among the male elite and of course, because of that, Veronica has a target on her back. Her only way to survive is to rely on Marco, but that does not mean that he will automatically stand by her.

I really liked this movie. It speaks to the double standard that women still have to deal with. It also points out the hypocrisy of male leaders, who both use us for their sexual needs, but are quick to condemn us when push comes to shove.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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West Side Story Movie Review

Regardless of whether or not one is a fan of Broadway musicals, they are likely to at least know of West Side Story. To make a long story short, it is Romeo and Juliet taken from Italy in the 16th century and put down in New York City in the late 1950s.

The reimagining opens as San Juan Hill, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is being torn down to become what we know today as Lincoln Center. Not surprisingly, the residents of this neighborhood are people of color, immigrants, and low-income Caucasians.

The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets, who are all White. Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Though he has a career as a boxer, he is equally concerned with protecting his family and his fellow Puerto Ricans.

Their fates are changed when Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet at a dance. Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister. Newly arrived in NYC, she is both idealistic and stubborn. Without their parents, the only maternal influence she has is Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s girlfriend. Anita is spicy, whip-smart, and is eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before her. Tony is Riff’s best friend and his former second in command. After spending a year in prison, he wants more from life than being a hoodlum.

As the two fall in love and envision a life together, their relationship is tested by the violence around them. If they could get those closest to them to find a way to get along, Maria and Tony could have a chance at a future. But as lovely as that idea is, it will take a miracle to make it happen.

Kudos go to director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. They took a chance on remaking a classic and succeeded. What makes it stand out from its 1961 predecessor is both the casting of Latinx actors and the understanding that socio-economic issues, politics, and racial strife is the backbone of this narrative.

The deliberate decision of seeking out and hiring performers who are from Latin America or of Latin American descent adds a feeling of authenticity that is missing from the original film. Even Rita Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican (Anita in the 1961 movie and Valentina, the co-owner of the pharmacy and widow of the late pharmacist in this adaptation) had her skin darkened.

If there is one performer who stands out, it is Rachel Zegler. In her first on-screen role ever, she shines as Maria. Her voice is absolutely stunning. Most young actors start out as background players or in small roles, slowly building up their resume. To come out of the gate in the lead role in a major movie and blow everyone away shows that she has nothing but a bright future ahead of her.

This narrative is as timely and powerful as it was sixty years ago. The problems have not changed, they just have different names and different faces. If nothing else, it reminds the audience that we have two choices. We can continue to figuratively shoot ourselves in the literal foot, or find a way to work tother.

Though it clocks in at a little over two hours, it is worth sitting through.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

West Side Story is presently in theaters.

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Being the Ricardos Movie Review

I Love Lucy is one of those television programs we have all seen. The antics of wannabe performer Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) have kept audiences howling with laughter for seventy years.

The new movie, Being the Ricardos, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, is a biopic that takes audiences into one turbulent week of the personal and professional lives of Ball (Nicole Kidman) and her then-husband, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem). While trying to go through the weekly process of putting together a show, issues in Ball and Arnaz’s home lives complicate matters. Lucy is pregnant again and trying to figure out how this change will be worked into the program, if at all. She also suspects that her husband is (again) cheating on her. To make matters infinitely worse, the McCarthy witch hunts have accused her of being a communist. If these allegations are proven true, everything that Lucy and Desi have worked for will be destroyed.

When I originally saw the trailer, I thought that Debra Messing would have been a better choice to play Lucille Ball. I was wrong. Kidman is fantastic in the role. We mostly see the woman behind the iconic role with snippets of her on-screen persona. She is tough, driven, intelligent, and able to succeed in a world dominated by men. Bardem is as close to the real Arnaz as this biopic could have gotten. He does not look like Arnaz, but the spirit of the man and his work is evident in Bardem’s transformation.

One thing that I greatly appreciated is the conversation between Ball and co-writer Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat). Pugh points out that Lucy Ricardo is often infantilized, needing Ricky’s permission as if she was his daughter and not his spouse. The character is both a product of her era and an early feminist, pushing boundaries in a time when the ideal life of a woman was that of a wife and mother.

My main issue is not that Sorkin took liberties with the timeline of events. He is not the first and will not be the last screenwriter to do so. It is that this film is not as good as it could have been. It started to drag in at about the 2/3rds mark. By that point, I was starting to get a little antsy. Is this film entertaining and engaging? I would say so. Is it spectacular? No.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

Being the Ricardos is in theaters and available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

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Flashback Friday: Defiance (2008)

During World War II, it is easy to assume that the millions of people whom the Nazis murdered went quietly to their deaths. While some may have just gone along with the occupiers, hoping they would survive, others took their lives and fates into their own hands.

The 2008 movie, Defiance, is the story of the Bielski Partisans. When their parents and youngest brother, along with the other Jewish residents of Novogrudok are rounded up and massacred, the surviving Bielski brothers know that the only option is to hide. Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell), and Aron (George McKay) flee into the forest. What starts out as a small group of partisans grows into thousands, many of whom are unable to fight. Knowing that they could be found at any moment, the only option they have is to fight for their surivival.

I loved this film. I was glued to the screen. My heart did not stop pounding until the end credits rolled. By the end of the movie, I was both heartbroken and cheering. My heart broke for those who were killed just for being who they were. I was cheering for those who stood up for themselves and lived, knowing that the inspiration they created will last for generations.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Throwback Thursday: In Search of the Brontës (2003)

A good biopic does more than lay out the basic facts about the life and work of the subject(s). It brings that story and the subject(s) to life, creating a connection between the audience and the characters.

In Search of the Brontës (2003) is a one-hour TV movie that told the story of the Bronte sisters, their work, and their family. Starring as the sisters are Victoria Hamilton (Charlotte Bronte), Elizabeth Hurran (Emily Bronte), and Alexandra Milman (Anne Bronte). Behind them is Patrick Malahide as their widower father Patrick and Jonathan McGuiness as their only brother, Branwell.

I thoroughly enjoyed this hour of television. It is a fascinating and deeply moving tale of three of the most beloved writers in literary history. The acting is fantastic and the actors are perfectly cast, giving the viewer the opportunity to get to know the characters outside of the dry historical facts that we know all too well.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Throwback Thursday: The Girl King (2015)

It takes vision to imagine a future that is different from your present. It also requires a backbone, as the inevitable forces against change will do everything in their power to prevent such changes.

The 2015 movie, The Girl King, is the story of Kristina, Queen of Sweden. Queen Kristina (Malin Buska) ascended to the Swedish throne when she was all of six years old. Raised as if she was a boy, Kristina is young, opinionated, and stubborn. She also has ideas that her ministers, who are all male and older than her, disagree with. They also are not happy that not only has she chosen to remain unmarried and childless, but she is also infatuated with Countess Ebba Sparre (Sarah Gadon), a young noblewoman.

Those who resist both Kristina as a person and what she represents quickly realize that the only way to get to Kristina is via Ebba. But they underestimate her will, her drive, and her independence streak.

I liked this movie. The problem with history is that women who have dared to step out of what is considered “acceptable” are often forgotten or only barely mentioned in our chronicles. The narrative is compelling, the actors are perfectly cast, and the LGBTQ element is a nice twist on what could be a traditional and predictable tale.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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