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: 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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Film Review: “Vivo” Is Fun but Surprisingly Emotional

My review for Vivo on Film Festival Today!

I enjoyed it very much but it also really shocked me. It’s surprisingly intense, emotionally-speaking. This is a spoiler, but I think it’s important for anyone considering watching it: Vivo is primarily a grief story.

Vivo boasts absolutely stunning animation​… the soundtrack is catchy and charming and the songs span a wide range of genres​… the real magic occurs, though, when Vivo and Gabi harmonize, musically and narratively.​ ​It’s worth noting, however, that this is a grief story, which hits unexpectedly hard. Moments in which multiple characters express regret and desperation reach Pixar levels of potency in their ability to conjure tears​.​.. Yet, at other times, the story careens into side-quests, almost like a series of Odyssey-style vignettes, needing to overcome obstacles and, sometimes, literal monsters.

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“Vivo” Is Fun but Surprisingly Emotional


Monsters, Inc.

*Contains Spoilers*

Pete Docter may be my favorite of the Pixar directors.  He helmed some of my favorite of the studio’s stable: Monsters, Inc., Up, and Inside Out.  Watching Monsters, Inc., I am reminded how much worldbuilding it requires, right from the jump.   I would argue that it remains one of Pixar’s most imaginative movies to date.  It does not take place in our world – let alone a bedroom or sunny backyard – but rather delves into a parallel dimension, populated by wildly outlandish characters.  The characters dip into our world frequently, but the landscape virtually encompasses the entire globe.  That is an immense undertaking, and a huge risk.  That said, Pixar’s success with its first three films laid the groundwork for them being able to present something so “out-there,” and, thus, continue with even more radical ideas in the future.  After all, Pixar was launched on a wild, unprecedented venture, so it’s not exactly surprising.

What was surprising, however – apart from the dynamic worldbuilding and physical comedy (we’ll come back to that) – was the depth of the movie’s theme.  Of course, at four films into the studio’s collection, depicting deep themes was clearly their M.O., weaving these subjects delicately so it reaches audiences emotionally,  regardless of age, but not coming off as preachy.   And, like with A Bug’s Life, the message struck me a lot harder and a lot more powerfully as an adult.   As Sully summarizes during the film’s conclusion:

“…laughter is ten times more powerful than screams…”

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Gilmore Girls: The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton

Season 1, Episode 2: The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton
Directed by Arlene Sanford, Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino
Air date: October 12th, 2000

1x02_04

I did not realize this until I researched the production details of this episode, but director Arlene Sanford directed three episodes of Nashville, an episode of Friends, and, to my great surprise, nineteen of twenty episodes of little known show The Torkelsons, which I adored as a teenager.  The Torkelsons was very successful at creating a believable warmth by way of an unquestionable sense of home and family, which lends itself naturally to the likes of Gilmore Girls.  

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