My review for Marcel The Shell With Shoes On on Film Festival Today! I adored this film and cannot recommend it enough. It’s wonderful; funny, bittersweet, lovely, brilliant. 4 out of 4 stars. If you’re able, go see it in a cinema!
The film delivers on the promise of its trailer: a surplus of wholesome charm and quirky humor throughout but underneath the whimsy beats an unironic, introspective heart. The story is both simple and intricate: Marcel is an anthropomorphic shell living with his grandmother, Connie, in an Airbnb home, occupied by the film’s director, Dean Fleischer-Camp. The Shells rely heavily on one another given their recent separation from the rest of their community. Dean (the character) gets to know them through interviews and tracking their daily life … There are moments of real stakes for everyone involved and despite the predominantly twee nature of the film, there’s no guaranteed all-encompassing happy ending. It stays grounded and even delves into the philosophy of life, death, happiness, and questioning one’s purpose. At its core, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a coming-of-age story: face your fears, accept change, and find the beauty around you, both external and within.
My review for Press Play on Film Festival Today! I enjoyed this one immensely and highly recommend it, especially if you enjoy stories of the Groundhog Day style time-travel variety.
The oft-revisited time-rewinding narrative can be difficult to pull off. Press Play manages to do so by leaning into expectations and relishing the experience. Laura [meets] Harrison, a would-be medical student working at a local record store. [They] fall almost instantly for one another, bonding through music, and they create a mixtape over the course of their courtship… Tragedy strikes abruptly, however, when Harrison is killed. Four years later, upon pressing play [on their mixtape], she is thrown back in time by some otherworldly force and reunited with a still-alive Harrison; each song transports her back to the moment they first experienced it together. Laura tries to “fix” the future, repeatedly altering time in big and small ways … Limitations remain intact, which is especially impressive when it comes to time travel. Much of the film relies on the chemistry between its two leads; and seems to have been deliberately written that way … What might have been a grim exploration of grief, instead delves into a more positive take on the theme of letting go, becoming a broader, less harrowing examination of push-and-pull control vs. acceptance.
The film opens with archival footage of the building’s inauguration in 1963, a celebration of the new and the community’s potential. Cut to present day, however, and the buildings are in acute disrepair. As an inspection draws near, Youri — along with his close friend and fellow Gagarine resident, Houssam and local Roma girl, Diana — strives to bring the place up to code. He spends his own money to buy supplies and devotes every moment to repairs and daydreaming of space travel … here’s displacement, community, and also coming of age, communication, loyalty, and, most importantly, survival. In many ways, Youri is the metaphorical captain of the collective structure of Gagarine, prepared to go down with the ship. He is played by Bathily with steadfast strength and vulnerability and, over the course of the story, it becomes painfully clear that he, like Gagarine itself, is full of every kind of potential that may or may not ever be realized … The film ultimately leaves you with the juxtaposition of how tragedy can drive us into desperation, isolation, and melancholy, and how it can unite a community.
While I’ll Find You might seem like an all-too-familiar period love story, it winds up being something of a collection of surprises… Young musicians Rachel and Robert meet while both passionately studying the violin in Poland. Their relationship, while at first rocky and competitive, evolves into young love, despite the fact that Robert is Catholic and Rachel, Jewish. The film jumps ahead several years when the two reunite… with the Nazi invasion of Poland, religion as a divisive factor falling by the wayside. While the rest of World War II is being fought elsewhere and, yes, Rachel happens to be the love of Robert’s life, this is one precarious attempt to save at least one family, even one life, from genocide.
My review for Belle on Film Festival Today! If you dig “Beauty and the Beast” re-tellings, definitely check out “Belle.” Full review on FilmFestivalToday. This film is gorgeous and deeply moving. I cried more than once because, fair warning: it’s largely a grief story.
Belle is not much of a commentary on social-media culture or technology, nor is it even a straightforward love story. Instead, it’s largely an exploration of trauma, both immediate and long-term, specifically relating to loss and abuse … the film feels a bit crowded in story and theme … That said, the emotion is deft and hard-hitting, the plot far from predictable, and the mystery of who people really are behind their U façades offers surprisingly high stakes. There’s some role-switching, but more often writer/director Mamoru Hosoda blends archetypes and motivations between characters.
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.
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.
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 Starlingis 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.
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.
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.