Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Our reviews and thoughts on the latest releases, classics, and nostalgic favourites. Things we loved, things we hated, and worst of all, things we were ambivalent about.

The Kitchen

When a bunch of gangsters get put away for terrorizing Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s, their wives are left up s creek without a p. Oh sure The Family says it will provide for them, but the measly few bucks isn’t even enough to pay the rent. And we’re talking several years of jail time. So Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) grab their own p and conquer s creek.

Okay, that’s a bit reductive because as you can imagine, absolutely no one was thrilled to have the women take things over – not the people paying them, not their rivals, and especially not the leftover male members of their own mob. And I do apologize for having said ‘male member.’

This is exactly the kind of story you want to get behind 1000% and I can still recall seeing production stills from when they were filming and being extra hardcore jazzed about it. But as you can tell by the timing of this review, I didn’t even bother to see it in theatres. And that’s because try as they might, these 3 exceptional ladies can’t make up for a story that just isn’t there. It’s generic and bland and boring. I expected to see some ass kicking and clever one-up-womanship and salty language. But instead it’s just a bunch of hand-wring and counting money into neat little piles. That feeling of empowerment seems to be missing entirely – and so is the point.

I don’t fault anyone in the cast because they’re all churning out great work, but their characters are underdeveloped and at the end of the day, without character investment, the stakes are very low.

The Kitchen is a disappointment. A disappointing disappointment. I only finished watching it because I’d already paid the rental price, and even then I seriously contemplating a “pause” that we just never came back to.

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Noelle

Growing up, Noelle and Nick new what fates awaited them: Nick would take over his father’s role as Santa Claus, and Noelle’s job would be to support her brother and spread Christmas cheer. Sure it sounds awfully patriarchal, but do you think a Christmas movie has room to unpack that?

Spoiler alert: Santa dies (not to worry, off camera, nothing traumatic) and Nick, now an adult (Bill Hader), reluctantly dons the jolly red suit. He goes deep into training for his big night, learning the fireplace trick, and getting licensed to drive reindeer. But his heart’s not in it. When he confesses his ambivalence to sister Noelle (Anna Kendrick), she suggests he take a weekend away and come back refreshed. Except Nick doesn’t come back. Facing a ruined Christmas season, Noelle and her nanny Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) follow him to Arizona to pull him away from his new life of yoga and enlightenment.

Never having left the North Pole, Noelle is a fish out of water. Not unlike Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf, there’s a lot of humour to be found in a true believer, a fully Chistmas-spirited weirdo finding her way in a world full of cynicism. The girl uses gingerbread-scented deodorant for Santa’s sake. The joy she radiates is a lot to take and though I am not a fan of Anna Kendrick, I admit she is probably perfectly cast in the role. But she doesn’t just excel at all things merry and bright, she tints it all with just a hint of oppressed anger.

Although I like the premise, I wish they’d taken it further. Maybe I wish it was a little less kid-friendly and embraced the acerbic edge it seems more suited to. I’d like to praise it for its feminist edge but it largely ignores it in order to keep the sleigh moving along with good tidings and cheer, plus I’d previously watched Santa Girl, also about a daughter of Santa’s, which tackles a concerning amount of the same material. And I’d like to praise it for avoiding the sappy romance, except it seems to go to a lot of trouble to set one up only to leave us unfulfilled in the end. Strange choices.

A Bill Hader as Santa movie should be a slam dunk. You have to take a lot of wrong turns to mess this one up, but unfortunately Noelle just isn’t my cup of cocoa.

Klaus

Jesper is supposed to be a cadet training in the royal postal academy but he’s made no progress at all. His father pulled every string to get him there but he’s squandering his chance once again. Jesper’s a spoiled brat so his father gives him a wake up call. Jesper’s being sent to Smeerensburg where he’ll have a year to establish a working postal office – he’s got to get 6000 letters mailed or he’s cut off for good.

Smeerensburg is a remote island nation known for only one thing: its intense feuds. They are so dedicated to not mingling with their enemies they don’t even send their kids to school. Postman? Don’t need one, don’t want one. These are not the letter-sending type. Which is fine because we aren’t exactly rooting for dreadful Jesper to succeed. He makes zero friends, and is particularly afraid of a reclusive woodsman named Klaus who spends his days amassing treasures he carves out of wood. When Klaus gives one to a small lonesome boy, Jesper smells potential. He can trick kids into sending letter requests for toys to woodsman Klaus, fullfilling his postage quota.

I was so confused by this message: that the Santa Claus tradition has sprung from such a selfish, mercenary place, that I rewound the movie 34 minutes just to keep better track. But I was right: Jesper manufactures Christmas. I mean sure you can say that toy companies and Coca-Cola have been responsible for this exact thing, but convention says we usually put a bit more of a heart-warming gloss on it, at least for the kids.

You can appreciate that this whole letters-for-presents thing really takes off. And not to worry: the legend of Klaus eventually brings about lots of positive changes in the town, so it’s not a horrible message for kids. It just takes its time getting there.

With excellent voice work from Jason Schwartzman, JK Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack and more, this Netflix original eventually manages to embrace the holiday spirit and puts a bright spot in your heart. It took me a while to win me over, but eventually I realized that what concerned me first was actually its virtue: since it takes a different approach to its theme, it’s nearly Christmas cliche-free. What a marvel! Klaus rewards patience, and it breathes new life into the genre.

reclusive woodsman

Phil

Phil (Greg Kinnear) is a depressed dentist who becomes obsessed with his patient Michael (Bradley Whitford) who seems to have it all. Chasing the secret to happiness, Phil more or less stalks the guy and his perfect family. Phil’s as surprised as anyone when Michael suddenly, and seemingly inexplicably, commits suicide. If the guy who has everything takes his life, where does that leave guys like Phil who most decidedly do not?

If you answered black-out drunk on Michael’s grave, you answered right! That’s where Michael’s widow Alicia (Emily Mortimer) finds him the next morning, hung over with a face full of dirt. But it does not account for why Phil decides on the spot to impersonate Michael’s long-lost Greek friend Spiros as a way of ingratiating himself into the grieving family. Before you know it, he’s renovating their bathroom while digging through Michael’s belongings trying to answer the age old question WHY?

I get it. Suicide is one of those tricky things, like cancer, that leave us feeling vulnerable. We want to know why so that we can feel safe. If someone got cancer because they smoke, we feel relieved because we ourselves are not smokers. Bullet dodged. If someone commits suicide because they have huge gambling debts, lucky us again, because we aren’t gamblers. Phew. We need these tangible markers to help us feel insulated from these scary possibilities. When a vegetarian marathon runner gets cancer, well, that reminds us how random it can all be. And when someone who lives a good life ends it – well, don’t we all sleep a little worse at night wondering why?

Both Phil and Michael’s widow Alicia would like to understand Michael’s motivations, but the truth is, those aren’t always knowable. Mental health is complicated and the things that make one person feel hopeless and helpless don’t always translate. Is better, then, to have each other – even if one of them is not who they claim?

Greg Kinnear stars and directs himself in Phil, a very dark comedy that doesn’t work more often than it does. And it’s not just the tricky subject matter, though it’s difficult to feel good about watching one man find the meaning in his life because of another man’s suicide. Doesn’t quite feel right. Or maybe it’s just not pushed far enough to be convincing. It’s obviously got dark undertones but Greg Kinnear often pushes the goofy side, and those two things don’t always pair well. The script is clunky and the direction doesn’t help – even the performances struggle to rise above. Phil is fine, a mild disappointment I suppose. There’s worse to watch but better too, so I suggest you scroll a little further before clicking on this one.

Let It Snow

A tin-foil-sporting Joan Cusack spells it out: snow brings us together.

She’s lying of course. Snow forces us apart. It keeps us warm in our own houses, or trapped behind walls of hard-packed snow. It keeps us isolated behind layers of scarves, unable to get to work, spinning our wheels in our own driveways. Snow makes us miss our flights and cancel our plans. But for the sake of Netflix let’s say it brings us together, unless in this one small town, in which a bunch of young people have some loosely connected stories going on, including:

a) a teenager desperately in love with his best friend but completely unable to tell her

b) a lonesome popstar

c) a young woman about to defer college because of a sick mother

d) as aspiring DJ

e) a young waitress with feelings for a customer

f) an attention-seeking adolescent with a thing for pigs

Netflix is releasing a steady stream of holiday movies to warm the cockles of your holiday heart. This is one of them. Christmas rom-coms are perhaps even more formulaic than their rest-of-the-year counterparts, but since we don’t demand much of them, it’s hard to be disappointed. And though bland and vanilla as heck, Let It Snow is sort of charming in its way, buoyed by some non-sucking performances by Isabela Merced, Shameik Moore, Kiernan Shipka, Liv Hewson, and Jacob Batalon.

If this movie was a recipe for Christmas cookies, you’d have some fine, and even promising ingredients on your hands. Blend hard as you might they won’t come together, but maybe you’ve heard that cookies aren’t the only end product anymore. Our teeny attention spans have given way to the marketing of cookie dough; you can lick those raw, wet ingredients and get a hint of what might have been. It’s not as good as cookies, but it’s good enough, with only a small chance of salmonella. That’s what Let It Snow is: if you can let go of the warm gooey goodness of a chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven (say, It’s a Wonderful Life), or even the semi-satisfying snap of an Oreo dunked in milk (The Santa Clause), you might enjoy scraping the bottom of the bowl with Let It Snow.

Lady And The Tramp (2019)

Happy Disney+ day, everyone!

I know it wasn’t available worldwide on November 12 but it was here in Canada, which just happened to be our travel day home from Disney World where we saw lots of evidence that Disney is putting some major marketing power behind this streaming service. The Mandalorian, the Star Wars episodic series that debuted today, was publicized everywhere with flags and posters and merch – particularly in Hollywood Studios where Galaxy’s Edge calls home. And alongside standard Lady and Tramp stuffed animals were new models, based on the live-action dogs featured in Disney+’s original programming.

Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) gives his Darling wife (Kiersey Clemons) a puppy for Christmas, a lovely and darling little cocker spaniel she names Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson) who immediately lives up to the moniker. She enjoys a very cosy life nestled between her two favourite humans and can’t imagine life getting any better. But then she meets a street dog who goes by a lot of names but we’ll call Tramp (Justin Theroux). Tramp reveals that life is about to change and not for the better – Darling is about to have a baby, and everyone knows that when baby moves in, the dog moves out. Lady doesn’t want to believe it but of course when baby arrives, she is no longer the centre of her masters’ universe.

Sean and I had just suffered through the inevitable travel day that always puts an unfortunate end on every vacation (waking up at 4:15am is always brutal, particularly when poor Sean was up past midnight purchasing a whole additional suitcase to hold all the souvenirs we bought our niece and nephews, but since we had a relatively easy commute home via a direct flight that came in under 3 hours and Matt had 2 connections and hours of delays resulting in 14 hours of travel, it’s rude to complain…the snow, however, was morally depleting no matter how long you’d traveled to reach it). No matter how tired we are when we walk in that door, we have 4 little pups who celebrate our homecoming like we just won the Superbowl or walked on the moon. If they had access to ticker tape, we’d be hip-deep.

That said, we were cuddled in bed with our 4 4-legged friends (that’s 20 legs if you count ours) by mid-afternoon and were soon watching the newest and finest that Disney+ had to offer. I always find it hard to be away from my pups and this vacation was particularly rough because on our very first day away our dog sitter texted me pictures of bloody stool and I worried for 10 days straight (everyone seems fine). Anyway, I’d been lonesome for my little loves and this movie made me quite emotional.

Perhaps it lacks the sparkle that the first one had, and I’m not 100% convinced real-looking talking dogs (or any animals) is a good ideas, but it’s here, but it’s kind of sweet and it’s a safe family pick. Plus, keeping the antique setting is a lovely excuse for the most sumptuous sets and costumes.

And with some interesting voice work by Tessa Thomspon, a delightfully cast Sam Elliott, and a racist song replaced by a new ditty co-written by Janelle Monae. This updated Lady and The Tramp isn’t a huge hit but it isn’t a miss either – I think it’s worth a watch, especially for dog lovers who just can’t help themselves.

Enchanted

Giselle is a typical Disney princess who lives in a tree and has bird and chipmunk friends who sing with her and help her sew a wedding dress so she can marry her prince. But Disney movies always have an evil Queen – in this case, Narissa, who interrupts Giselle on her way to marry prince Edward and instead shoves her down a magical well which turns cartoon Giselle into live-action Amy Adams, and spits her out in Times Square.

Live-action Giselle is still fairly blessed – sure her tiara is stolen by a homeless man, but ultimately a gentlemanly lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey), takes her in and gives her his couch despite her being a crazy woman in a poufy-sleeved wedding dress claiming to be a princess. And her magic hasn’t deserted her completely: when she leans out Robert’s apartment window to summon some animal friends to help her tidy up, they still respond. But it’s New York City, so the respondents are rats and pigeons. Oh, and cockroaches. Which are ostensibly worse than the dust, but Giselle seems not to notice as she prances about singing her happy songs.

Giselle proves to be quite a disruption to Robert’s life – especially when it comes to his intended (Idina Menzel) and his young daughter Morgan. Luckily her prince charming is so devoted that he throws himself down the same magical well in pursuit and goes through the same cartoon-to-human transformation (James Marsden). Queen Narissa sends her bumbling sidekick Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) down after him.

The film has some wonderful casting, other than Patrick Dempsey who could have been replaced by almost anyone and don’t I wish that he was. James Marsden is wonderfully game to play a toothsome prince. Idina Menzel, Broadway star and future voice of Frozen’s Elsa, is the only lead in the film NOT to sing. But this movie belongs to Amy Adams. I don’t think anyone else could play Giselle. She’s wide-eyed and naive and full of love bubbles, but it never looks ridiculous on her.

Enchanted is, if nothing else, a love letter to all things Disney. The film and the script are bursting with references to Disney films future, past and present. Sean has never seen this movie before (and in truth seems to be sending a larger than usual amount of work emails during it), and I’m trying my best not to shout them all out as I see them:

  • Jodi Benson, voice of Ariel herself, plays Robert’s secretary
  • Narissa tires to poison Giselle with an apple, just like in Snow White
  • Giselle and Robert eat at an Italian restaurant reminiscent of Lady & the Tramp
  • The apartment elevator looks like the Tower of Terror in Disney parks
  • Giselle takes off her heels and leaves one behind, like in Cinderella
  • The old man dancers in Central Park are chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins (not to mention Julie Andrews narrates the film)
  • We often hear pieces of classic Disney theme songs
  • Narissa turns into a dragon, like in Sleeping Beauty
  • Judy Kuhn, voice of Pocahontas, appears as a neighbour answering her door

I could go on and on – director Kevin Lima assures us there are “thousands” of little Easter eggs that an astute Disney fan might notice. That’s why this movie is the perfect way to celebrate our own trip to the happiest place on Earth, Walt Disney World. My own love letter involves eating a poison apple cupcake on Main Street and visiting Ariel at her grotto and letting Sean (making Sean?) nudge a meatball over my way, and wearing my own Mary Poppins dress. We have an ambitious schedule and 10 days to fit everything in, so do play along on Twitter (@AssholeMovies) to see what we’re up to right now – 10 points if I’m standing next to a castle.