Quick Indie Spirit* Nominated Reviews

Every year when the Independent Spirit Awards are announced I make it a point to drop as many of the nominees as I can into both of my Netflix queues to see what I've missed. Lucky for me, there were a few nominees readily available for me to check out. Here are a few quick reviews. A couple of these are not Spirit Award nominees, but they were in the current conversation so I put them here too. I meant to have this post up before the actual Spirit Awards aired, but time got away from me. 

The Mustang 

Nominations: Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best First Feature
Matthias Schoenaerts was indeed very good and a wild Jason Mitchell appeared for a few minutes which was a nice surprise, but I found this to be unbearably boring. I just can't do horse movies. I felt similar to Lean on Pete last year. Something about horses just puts me to sleep. C-


Nominations: None
While this one technically didn't get any Spirit nominations, I added it to my queue at the same time because it was getting other festival buzz and let me tell you, this movie was not what I expected. I didn't watch the trailer and only read the IMDb synopsis that talks about the love story between the two leads, but it takes an interesting supernatural turn that I didn't see coming at all. I'm really impressed with this movie, it captivated me. B

High Flying Bird

Nominations: Best Screenplay
This was great. I think it also should've been up for the cast award. Andre Holland is such a wonderful actor and Sonja Sohn, Jeryl Prescott and Zazie Beetz are always actresses I'm happy to see. At first glance, a movie about an NBA lockout might not have caught my attention, but I'm glad this one did. B+

Burning Cane

Nominations: Best Supporting Actor, and the John Cassavetes Award for cast.
I need to think of a better word to describe films like this other than "art house." I can see why Wendell Pierce got a supporting actor nomination. His character is despicable but it's quite different from what I'm used to seeing him play and the cast did a good job. It reminds me of movies like A Ghost Story or All My Friends are Funeral Singers. It feels more like a string of thoughts and moments than a movie. That's not a bad thing, it's a perfectly fine way to spend a little over an hour. Plus the director is a 19 year old, and that's impressive. C+

See You Yesterday

Nominations: Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay
The lead actors in this, Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow are absolutely delightful together. I loved their chemistry. This film is both exciting and heartbreaking as we follow two teenagers who invent time travel with drastic consequences. This was easily of my favorite of the films I watched. I didn't want it to end. A

The Souvenir

Nominations: None
It turns out Tilda Swinton's daughter has some acting chops as well. I had a bit of trouble understanding why her character, Julie would be drawn to someone like Anthony because he's kind of a twat the entire movie, but I found the film interesting. The biggest hurdle for me, which unfortunately affected my score a bit was how much the DVD I got of this skipped. It took me over two hours to finish it because I had to work through it. Not the film's fault, but I probably would've enjoyed this more had I saw it in theaters. B-

Thursday Movie Picks: Love in the Tech Age

This week's theme from Wandering Through the Shelves is about love in the tech age. I stretched this theme a bit. My favorite techy movies have love in them, but only one pick has it as a main focal point. Here are three movies where technology played into love.

1) Her

I think this movie will be popular. Theo falls in love with his operating system, Samantha. It's one of my favorite movies and so beautiful.

2) Chatroom

This film is about teens in a chatroom, and it's staged in a way where it looks like they are sitting in a hotel room talking to each other. There isn't a central romance between characters, but one of the teens, Emily feels unloved by her parents. It's a very clever film with an amazing cast.

3) Searching

This film is shot entirely on computer screens, tablets and phones. While the plot is about a father looking for his missing daughter - why did that daughter go missing? Because a boy fell in love with her and catfished her. 

Review: Horse Girl

Sometimes that awkwardness never leaves you.

Sarah (Alison Brie) is a socially awkward woman working at an arts and craft store. She spends time binge watching her favorite supernatural crime show over and over, visiting the horse she used to ride as a child much to the owner's chagrin, but more recently she's been having strange dreams and nose bleeds. She eventually starts to question her reality.

This film reminded me a lot of Safety Not Guaranteed. It's a quirky story that eventually gets weird. Very weird. In fact, I'm not sure what exactly the writers were going for by the end if it. I want to assume they knew exactly what they wanted their movie to be, but the way it translated on screen felt aloof and kind of messy.

That's not to say it's bad, in fact, I liked a lot of Horse Girl. It really didn't start feeling jumbled until the ending. I expected something a little closer to the horse girl stereotype I'm familiar with but that's only a small part of Sarah. It's also the most interesting part, like her brief flashback of an accident that permanently injured her friend. Sarah is an interesting character and I enjoyed the glimpses we got into her life. I just wish everything had been a bit more cohesive. 

Alison Brie is very good in this. I think it might be her best performance. She's also a co-writer and you can tell she cared a lot about Sarah and put everything into her performance.  I liked the supporting cast as well, especially Molly Shannon and Matthew Gray Gubler. This is a bit of a nitpick, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how Sarah and Nikki (Debby Ryan) became roommates. I kept waiting for them to address it because Nikki is clearly at least a decade younger and they don't appear to like each other that much at all. It's a nitpick, but it's something I thought about the entire time.

This film is currently streaming on Netflix and I think it's definitely worth the watch, it's just a bit messy.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B-

Memorable Quote: "It's okay, I'm making an anklet." - Sarah (Alison Brie)

2020 Blind Spot Series: Malcolm X

What I knew going in: I had seen parts of it on TV before.

Spike Lee's sprawling epic follows the legendary activist Malcolm Little (Denzel Washington) from his gangster days, his prison sentence, and his eventual rebirth in the Nation of Islam before becoming what we know him as now - Malcolm X. 

I realize now why I probably never saw this all in one sitting. This movie is three and a half hours long. I must have known that at some point but when I went to start this film on Netflix it came as quite a surprise. 

To tell Malcolm X's entire story, I think the length is justified. There's just so much and you really can't leave out certain parts of it if you want the big picture. I think Spike Lee did a great job of containing everything and an amazing performance by Denzel Washington helped as well.

One of the things I always want from a biopic is a teaching moment. I liked that this film gave me a better understanding of his journey. In history, especially for me growing up in a small, predominantly white town, I feel like we were wrongly given broad strokes about various points during the Civil Rights movement, and Malcolm X fell into that category. 

I'm glad I finally sat down and finished this. I realized that I never saw any part of this film before he got out of prison. It was always afterwards that I'd catch it somewhere. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "I have to stand here today as what I was when I was born: a black man." - Malcolm X (Denzel Washington)

Thursday Movie Picks: Meet Cute

This week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves follows the "meet cute" trope. I'm not going to lie, I had to look this up. I've never heard this term before. It seems obvious in hindsight but Meet Cute is "characters that meet under cute circumstances." So here are a few films I enjoy where that happens.

1) La La Land

Mia and Sebastian have a bad run in at the club, but their official meeting at a garden party where Mia makes his band play I Ran is about as cute as it gets.

2) 5 to 7

Brian and Arielle have an adorably awkward first meeting while smoking cigarettes and begin an affair that can only last between 5 and 7 pm.  Did I mention Arielle's husband has a mistress too? This is a great film, and I highly recommend. Especially if you're an Anton Yelchin fan. 

3) (500) Days of Summer

This isn't about how Tom meets Summer, but how he meets his likely eventual girlfriend. In the lobby at a job interview that they're both competing for, and she has the ironic name of Autumn.

What I watched on TV in January

I almost forgot to post this! I felt like I was on fire blogging in December and January and then I just crashed and burned. Anyways, here's what I was watching on the small screen last month.

The Crown

I did it! I finally finished season 3! To be fair, as dull as the season was at the beginning, I thought the last three episodes were very strong. I'm looking forward to all the drama S4 should bring.

The Outsider

I started this limited series on HBO and I'm booked. Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as is Cynthia Erivo and Jason Bateman is turning out to be a hell of a director. I can't wait to see where this goes. I've never read the book and have been avoiding all spoilers, shockingly.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

Is it bad that at one point in this doc I was like "less football more murder trial?" The saga of former Patriots player and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez is certainly something. Even though this was only three episodes, I felt like it could've been trimmed a bit but it was clearly very well researched and informative. One thing I'm not crazy about is how they talked about his sexual relationships. I don't care for people using bisexuality as a "but wait...there's more!" moment and I felt like that's what they did here. 

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

There were so many hilarious parts this season like Midge teaching Susie to swim, the orgy comment, and really so many wonderful one liners. Alex Borstein was on fire and seeing Sterling K. Brown was a nice surprise. I'm sure I knew he was going to be in this season but I had momentarily forgotten until I saw him again. I hope the way this season ended marks a huge change for Midge, because right now I feel like she's has the least amount of growth. This season focused a lot on her tardiness and privilege and I'm ready for that to hopefully be over. It's kind of awkward when Joel, the man who cheated on Midge and left her in the pilot episode actually comes off looking better at times. And I hope this isn't the last we see of Shy, though I think it might be. I'd like to see Midge apologize and explain herself in person. The biggest weakness were Midge's parents, especially her father. I found their story grating. Hopefully there's less of that next season.

Review: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Not the only dames in Gotham looking for emancipation.

Notorious Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) got dumped by The Joker and when she impulsively broadcasts that message all over Gotham, she realizes very quickly that many people want to kill her now that Joker doesn't have her back. Mainly Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) but not before he agrees to let her track down a priceless diamond that was stolen by a pick pocket, Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco) Roman's singer/driver, Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) a jaded police officer, Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and the mysterious Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) also get in on the action and these women find themselves having to work together to defeat a common enemy.

After the colossal mess that was Suicide Squad, It's nice to see its one shining star in Harley Quinn gets another go at the big screen. Yes, Quinn is not part of the original Birds of Prey. And yes, she does take over this movie, but that doesn't mean the rest of the women are constantly pushed to the back. In fact, each gets a fair amount of screen time. 

Birds of Prey is here to embraces its campiness and show powerful women kicking ass, and I'm here for it. I appreciate director Cathy Yan's lens, especially during some of the more uncomfortable scenes with Sionis. A lesser director could've done some seriously exploitative things here but she films it in a way that gets its point across without that extra baggage. The fight choreography is extraordinary. Especially during the final battle which takes place in a fun house.

Margot is amazing again as Harley, as are the rest of the cast. Smollett-Bell as Black Canary was my favorite of the bunch, she's bad ass and vulnerable and seeing the Canary scream was a great moment. Ewan McGregor you can tell was having so much fun with this.

Birds of Prey had all the cards stacked against it because of Suicide Squad and everyone involved came out swinging. Now, Birds of Prey is one of DCEU's best films. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "It's a cross bow, it's not a bow and arrow I'm not fucking 12." - Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)