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: “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: “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: “Charming the Hearts of Men” Almost Succeeds

My review for Charming The Hearts of Men on Film Festival Today. This one was tough to write about. I find myself thinking and saying this a lot when I’m writing reviews, but this film really had such potential that never got fully lived up to. I say as much in the full review, but I really do believe Charming the Hearts of Men have worked better as series, limited or otherwise.

The seeds of an innovative premise can be found, though they don’t get the chance to mature … the film calls out sexism more directly than racism, which winds up feeling disproportionate and awkward. First-time director S.E. DeRose examines the concurrent struggles of multiple oppressed groups and outsiders, as well as the parallels, the distinctions, and the insidious way that prejudice can affect the very oppressed people, themselves. It’s not a new idea, but worth investigating further and, sadly, the film doesn’t invest in an equally nuanced payoff … Where the film takes a bolder approach, it works … it hammers home the reality of how little has changed since the 1960s…

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“Charming the Hearts of Men” Almost Succeeds


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


Film Review: “Scales” Conceives a Fresh and Sinister Take on Mermaids

My review for Scales on Film Festival Today!

This film was a real experience. As part of the “stunning visuals” I mention in my review, the stunning black-and-white presentation was a real surprise and metaphor in and of itself.

Very rarely does one come across a truly unique interpratation of the mermaid mythos. They usually fall into a trope of one sort: the sweet, feminine ideal; the monstrous siren; or some unsettling mix of the two. However, in Scales, Saudi Arabian writer/director Shahad Ameen explores the mermaid concept in a fascinating new way. Here is a depiction of mermaids as nightmares and deep-seated beliefs made uncomfortably real. The story, or what there is of one, takes place in a dystopian landscape and commences with the disturbing ritual in which the citizens of a fishing village must sacrifice one daughter to the “sea maidens.”

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
Scales Conceives A Fresh And Sinister Take On Mermaids


Film Review: “Chasing Childhood” Makes Good Arguments But Could Be Stronger

My review for Chasing Childhood on Film Festival Today!

Chasing Childhood primarily questions the lack of ‘free play’ and independence from parents among children today, in tandem with a ferocious drive towards the best grades and the best sports’ statistics, all in pursuit of admittance to the top colleges … the focus is mostly on white and upper-middle class families. The documentary would have benefited tremendously had it leaned more into how this problem is shared across economic, racial and cultural divides.

Additionally, the impact of social media is almost entirely absent … How can it possibly not factor into this conversation?”


Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“Chasing Childhood” Makes Good Arguments but Could Be Stronger


Film Review: “Sisters on Track” Leaves You Rooting for Team Sheppard

My review for Sisters on Track on Film Festival Today!

“What’s refreshing is that this film isn’t interested in telling the rise-to-the-top, the sports-driven, winning-of-the-big-game kind of story … Sisters on Track excels at grounding the audience in the present … the balance between work, sports and play; decisions regarding high school and college; managing grief; job hunting, etc. Early on, the film recounts the Sheppards’ struggle through financial distress that led to homelessness. As the youngest of the girls, Brooke, states, ‘I thought we would be homeless for the rest of our lives,’ which sets up the very pragmatic and visceral need for success in track. It isn’t just a hobby or an after-school activity. As with so many other athletes, sports is their passage to an education and, beyond that, security in life.”

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
“Sisters on Track” Leaves You Rooting for Team Sheppard


Film Review: The Young Cast of “Skater Girl” Shines Despite a Disjointed Script

My review for Skater Girl on Film Festival Today!

This film really made me want to bust out my rollerblades…

Skater Girl treats both the titular character and her sport with a lot of heart. Beautiful intentions are on display here, between some gorgeous, energetic cinematography and a few stellar performances by young and relatively unknown actors. The downsides are an inconsistent tone and a plot that builds to an abrupt and limited ending, dulling the many other elements of this story about being true to oneself and following your dreams … It’s a shame, too, because it is easy to see how great this movie could have been … Gupta absolutely shines in her performances on and off the skateboard. Patel is a tremendous delight, too, with whimsical counterpoints to many serious moments. On the whole, Skater Girl is quite enjoyable and worth watching

Read the full review on Film Festival Today:
The Young Cast of “Skater Girl” Shines Despite a Disjointed Script


Film Review: “Grace and Grit” Aims for Transcendence but Critically Misfires

My review for Grace and Grit on Film Festival Today.
This one was such a disappointment. I really had high hopes from the trailer.

It’s clear that there isn’t a lot of time available to establish the romance before the [breast cancer] diagnosis kicks in, but creating a foundation of profound love has most definitely been done before. Here, though, Treya and Ken’s romance winds up seeming to be based entirely on physical attraction or starry-eyed naïveté (perhaps both), due to cloying dialogue, melodramatic gazing into one another’s eyes… Particularly frustrating is the abrupt point of view switch, abandoning Treya’s direct experience for Ken’s distress. The film almost singularly depicts how the disease impacts their marriage, rather than also exploring Treya’s individual suffering. The most we get are fleeting flashbacks to her teenage self, standing in front of a mirror, exploring her femininity. There is a legitimate sense of helplessness most of us are probably familiar with when watching someone we care about suffer. That could have been a much stronger motif, had it been the starting point, but it’s not.

Read the full review on Film Festival Today: “Grace and Grit” Aims for Transcendence but Critically Misfires