Film Review: “India Sweets and Spices” Delivers Lush Spectacle and Deeper Meaning

My review for India Sweets and Spices on Film Festival Today.
This film was a delight and I would absolutely watch it again!

India Sweet and Spices has a lot to say. There are significant statements about culture, class, generational divides, and economic disparity, but writer/director Geeta Malik (Troublemaker) has a deft hold of her film and conveys these messages in a delightful story that largely avoids clichés, staying grounded, throughout. The film has a self-awareness and compelling rhythm that draws you in and makes you want to stay … The film does an especially great job showing how individual choices affect those around us … This is really a coming-of-age story … and though the film winds up relatively happily, it doesn’t erase all of what’s come before. The characters at the center of the story have a strong sense of what matters most and, ultimately, so do we.


Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“India Sweets and Spices” Delivers Lush Spectacle and Deeper Meaning


Film Review: “Red Notice” Doesn’t Deliver the Thrills It Suggests

My review for RED NOTICE on Film Festival Today.

A heist-style action romp starring a team up (of sorts) between Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Godot seems like an inescapable win, or at least a promise of a great time. Yet despite having so much going for it, Red Notice falls surprisingly short. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Skyscraper) does offer some genuinely creative and fun visuals here, but they don’t entirely make up for the surface-level pastiche to be found otherwise. The film doesn’t really commit in any direction. It’s too light to be add significant pressure or stakes to the characters’ lives, but also not light and whimsical enough to be a breezy blast, either … that said, however, the twist ending sets up a sequel, which boasts a far more compelling pitch. It certainly looks more fun, anyway.


Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“Red Notice” Doesn’t Deliver The Thrills It Suggests


Film Review: “Rhapsody of Love” Is a Patchwork of Stories That Never Fully Resonates

My review for Rhapsody of Love on Film Festival Today.

Rhapsody of Love is an ensemble but feels like the thematic potential gets short-changed in order to make room for too many plotlines. The stories don’t ever really get the chance to thrive or take root. Despite the warmth and good-natured intent here, the numerous conflicts presented lack nuance and wind up feeling amiss …  Lives, loves, and ambitions subsequently clash and the film concludes in direct-to-camera interviews — abrupt given that director Hopwood only introduces them at the very end … Most of the women are growing in their careers and have big dreams, and yet––apart from Jess—they are often depicted as selfish, insensitive, or spoiled … The most powerful moments are the most understated, frequently platonic (rather than romantic), or containing very little dialogue at all.


Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“Rhapsody of Love” Is a Patchwork of Stories That Never Fully Resonates


Film Review: “The Starling Packs an Often-Meandering Emotional Wallop”

My review for The Starling on Film Festival Today.
Many other reviews that have come out for this film have been fairly negative – even brutal. While I didn’t adore this film and I can even see why those critics are saying what they’re saying, I, personally, found The Starling quite moving and would, in fact, recommend it.

The Starling is a jumble of emotional turmoil and bizarre encounters. Ostensibly, the plot revolves around married couple Lilly and Jack in the aftermath of the death of their daughter, Katie … The beginning delivers a powerful, emotional presentation of loss. The film doesn’t explicitly state what happened but nails the smaller details: the impressions of the crib’s feet in the carpet, the encompassing silence, the loneliness … The cast is terrific, especially Melissa McCarthy in dramatic mode, and Kevin Kline is charming as ever, even in a smaller role. Sensitivity to this subject matter may differ from viewer to viewer but the ending falls short compared to the opening’s emotional punch. Perhaps, though, it is the intention … not to leave you in a pile of weeping pieces but rather to conclude in a slightly lighter place than we began; to breathe and smile a little easier.

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“The Starling” Packs an Often-Meandering Emotional Wallop“


Film Review: “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” Positively Shines

My review for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie on Film Festival Today.

With the support of his loving mother (Sarah Lancashire, the BBC’s Last Tango in Halifax), best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel), and self-appointed mentor, Hugo (Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Jamie commits to developing his identity, connecting with his distant father, and preparing for one unforgettable Prom.
Based on the stage-musical of the same title, which is based, in turn, on the BBC Three documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, some of this film does trend towards the theatrical: in large crowd scenes, onlookers often stop and focus on the main characters as they deliver moving soliloquies. It suits the film’s own inner workings and style, though, and the musical numbers feel far more organic. Transitions from speech to song and dance are consistently seamless, in large part due to the cinematography (Christopher Ross, Cats). The fashion is likewise stunning. Wardrobe is almost a character in this film and the costume design by Guy Speranza (The Last Vermeer) sparkles in every possible way…
Director Jonathan Butterell lands a startlingly impressive feature debut. Coupled with Tom MacRae’s screenplay (based on his own book and lyrics from the stage show) and Dan Gillespie Sells’ music, they deliver a film that’s fresh and highly entertaining. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie probably won’t convert any viewers who don’t generally like musicals, but for those that do, this one will undoubtedly leave you humming, dancing, and smiling.

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” Positively Shines


Film Review: Don’t Expect Many Laughs in Otherwise Compelling “Best Sellers”

My review for Best Sellers on Film Festival Today.

The trailer for Best Sellers features a fast-paced edit with rousing rock-and-roll backtrack and several of the most comedic and wacky moments from the film. However, the stakes run much deeper than one might expect. Lina Roessler’s directorial feature debut presents a slow-burn journey of material, emotional, and physical struggle for her two leads, Lucy (Aubrey Plaza, Black Bear) and Harris (Michael Caine, Twist). This is not a quirky, off-beat dark comedy, but a wistful and often heavy-hearted tale of pride, purpose, and family legacy.

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
Don’t Expect Many Laughs In Otherwise Compelling “Best Sellers”


Film Review: “Dating & New York” Is Gratifying, If Predictable

My review for Dating & New York on Film Festival Today! If you like rom-coms (especially those of the 80s/90s/Nora Ephron variety) then definitely don’t miss Dating & New York!

Wendy and Milo…are courtship-weary millennials still pining for romance and…Wendy, a pragmatist, concocts an idea (and a contract): best friends with benefits. Milo, an idealist, is dubious of the arrangement at first, hoping for a real connection. Still, despite warnings from friends and Milo’s own misgivings, they proceed … From the jump, this is an of-the-moment story about dating-app culture and overall virtual communication … Nothing happens, plot-wise, that you can’t at least predict from the start. The surprises are found in smaller moments within those expected beats: when characters break through the digital haze, call each other out, zero in on mistakes, flaws, and quirks. The tonal shift should be jarring but it actually draws you further in. Much of this is owed to Reale and Young-White’s performances.

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“Dating & New York” Is Gratifying, If Predictable


Film Review: Free Guy (no spoilers)

Spoiler-Free Review!


Free Guy (2021)
Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Matt Lieberman, Zak Penn
out of 4 stars.

I’m pretty neutral on Ryan Reynolds. I enjoy his brand of comedy for the most part but my interest in Free Guy sparked almost entirely from the casting of Joe Keery and that Shawn Levy was the director (because I’m a huge Stranger Things fan). In looking over Levy’s filmography as part of my research for my Coffee & Contemplation podcast, I realized that I often like his style and the stories he tends to tell; in particular, the Night at the Museum franchise, Arrival, The Famous Jett Jackson, and, obviously, Stranger Things. Like those properties, Free Guy seemed to be another effective blend of pastiche and originality. Plus Taika Waititi was in the cast, too? Sign me up.

The film itself far exceeded my expectations. Free Guy is celebratory rather than pretentious in its homage. While others are citing The Truman Show, The Lego Movie, and Wreck-It-Ralph as influences, I also detected a lot of the original Tron. Yet Free Guy carves out its own style, its own characters. How it manages to do so is nigh untraceable but it doesn’t really matter because you’re too busy enjoying the result. There are scant few things I didn’t enjoy about it — more on that later — and even in the spots where it doesn’t quite work, there’s a palpable spirit of enthusiasm. Some reviews criticize the film for not delving deeper into the more serious questions and concepts Free Guy indirectly presents — the nature of Artificial Intelligence, corporate strategy, sequels versus original IP, what qualifies as a soul — but I would argue that the film doesn’t avoid these subjects outright, either. The trailers also make it very clear that deep, intellectual exploration is not the point here. Science-Fiction is rife with such explorations and there’s plenty to be found elsewhere if you’re looking for that. In Free Guy, meanwhile, you can expect a buoyant, fun energy at its core. However, I was surprised at the — go with me — level of subtlety at play. No, seriously. There is no shortage of loud, brash, even salacious humor but it never goes too far off the rails and is even quite effectively balanced by some aspects that practically fly under the radar, along with some surprisingly sweet messages.

The real-world and Free-City-world feel equally balanced along with the arcs of the characters in each, both in the writing and the visuals. The cinematography (George Richmond, Rocketman) deftly shifts between cinematic and gaming styles. The cameos and Easter eggs are present and delightful but don’t distract from the center narrative. Guy’s story is our A-Plot, the Soonami story is the B-Plot, but the characters’ comparable screen time, combined with (I believe) dynamite performances by Jodie Comer and Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Britne Oldford, all synchronize successfully. Many critics are ragging on the real-world characters but I buy the characterizations and believe their performances are deeper than they’re getting credit for. Where some have cited that the Soonami storyline drags the film down in the middle, I would question whether Guy’s story — genuinely fun and entertaining though it is — would be able to sustain itself alone, without a supporting plot. Maybe, but I, for one, appreciate the range.

The only pieces that didn’t work for me mostly surrounded the underuse of Taika Waititi as Antwan and some of the humor. For all that the marketing emphasized his role, Waititi seems to be doing a lot with so very little. The film’s antagonist might be the one aspect where the film would have benefited from easing back on the humor in favor of complexity. Waititi would have been more than up to that task; but perhaps it weighed the film down too much? In any case, I’m hoping for a plethora of deleted scenes awaiting us on the eventual Blu-ray. And, apart from that, I found myself tired of the “gamers are lame dudes who live in their mom’s basement and never get laid” joke even just after watching the multiple trailers. It’s directly at odds with the appearances of Professional Streamers. I’m not sure that we needed that particular brand of degrading humor in a movie that is otherwise very uplifting – even respectful – of gamer culture.

Beyond that, though this is an overwhelming net positive. I already want to see the film again and look forward to the conversations that it will inevitably inspire. Will it change the world? No, but it is a huge mood boost, and amongst these dark times, sometimes that’s exactly what we all need.


Read Christopher Llewellyn Reed’s Film Festival Today review here!


Film Review: “The Magnificent Meyersons” Drifts Towards Ambiguity

My review for The Magnificent Meyersons on Film Festival Today.

The five Meyerson children, their mother, their grandmother, and, eventually, their father, introduced through a series of vignette-like scenes during which they go about their day-to-day life and ponder their past, their future, their existence, and the existence of God. The exhibition is not as solemn as such a premise might imply. In fact, it almost goes over a little too breezily…
The big “twist” element introduced in the middle of the film, hinted at in the trailer, barely registers in the overarching story. It’s possible that it’s intended to serve as a metaphor for the absent father, Morty, but it’s not strong enough to make its inclusion worthwhile. The film attempts to evoke a curiosity in the past, and specifically Morty’s abandonment of the family, largely through late-introduced flashbacks, but their history is never quite made fully clear. It would seem that the more natural direction of the film would have been to focus on who the kids grew up to be in Morty’s absence, rather than dwelling so heavily on the past…

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“The Magnificent Meyerons” Drifts Towards Ambiguity


Film Review: Free Guy (spoilers)

This review contains spoilers.


Free Guy (2021)
Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Matt Lieberman, Zak Penn
out of 4 stars.

I’m pretty neutral on Ryan Reynolds. I enjoy his brand of comedy for the most part but my interest in Free Guy sparked almost entirely from knowing that Joe Keery was in the cast (because I’m a huge Stranger Things fan) and also that Shawn Levy was the director. In looking over his filmography as part of my research for my Coffee & Contemplation podcast, I realized that I often like his style and the stories he tends to tell; in particular, the Night at the Museum franchise, Arrival, The Famous Jett Jackson,and, obviously, Stranger Things. Like those properties, Free Guy seemed to be another effective blend of pastiche and originality. Plus Taika Waititi was in the cast, too? Sign me up.

The film itself far exceeded my expectations. Free Guy is celebratory rather than pretentious in its homage (Tron, anyone?) yet carves out its own style, its own characters. How it manages to do so is nigh untraceable but it doesn’t really matter because you’re too busy enjoying the result. There are scant few things I didn’t enjoy about it — more on that later — and even in the spots where it doesn’t quite work, there’s a palpable spirit of enthusiasm. Some reviews criticize the film for not delving deeper into the more serious questions and concepts Free Guy indirectly presents — the nature of Artificial Intelligence, corporate strategy, sequels versus original IP, what qualifies as a soul — but I would argue that the film doesn’t avoid these subjects outright, either. Many critics are ragging on the real-world characters but I buy the characterizations and believe their performances are deeper than they’re getting credit for. Where some have cited that the Soonami storyline drags the film down in the middle, I would question whether Guy’s story — genuinely fun and entertaining though it is — would be able to sustain itself alone, without a supporting plot. Maybe. But I, for one, appreciate the range. The trailers also make it very clear that deep, intellectual exploration is not the point here. Science-Fiction is rife with such explorations and there’s plenty to be found elsewhere if you’re looking for that but in Free Guy you can expect a buoyant, fun energy at its core. However, I was surprised at the — go with me — level of subtlety at play. No, seriously. There is no shortage of loud, brash, even salacious humor but it never goes too far off the rails and is even quite effectively balanced by some aspects that practically fly under the radar.


SPOILERS AHEAD!

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