Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Mulan: A Review

Mulan directed by Niki Caro
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I don’t usually come out and say this at the beginning, but if you haven’t paid the extra 30 dollars to watch this movie yet, please wait until December when it comes to all Disney+ patrons.

I didn’t see the animated version of this movie, like I had with Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella – both live action movies I really enjoyed. But I knew that it wasn’t going to be a scene by scene remake of that movie, sticking closer to the actual mythology behind Mulan. So, I was excited to see them dig into Chinese culture and history, and they did, sort of.

The beauty of this film is impeccable. The cinematography, sweeping landscapes (at times, more on that later), and costumes are utterly gorgeous. Even some of the martial arts, especially a sword demonstration by Commander Tung, was absolutely spectacular.

The plot didn’t have a lot of depth to it. It really honed in on the fact that this world was very sexist. Women were not much more than marriage negotiations. Being in the army, being different in any way, was basically a death sentence to most women. But it wasn’t developed much beyond the surface level.

Mulan grows up in a family with no sons, and her father dotes on her, recognizes her gifts in Chi (didn’t really quite understand what chi meant in this movie – but it seemed to have something to do with magic, or at least natural athletic skill?). As she grows up into a woman, she is discouraged from exhibiting this Chi. When a decree goes out that one man from each family must fight in this war, Mulan manages to sneak out in order to save her ailing father from certain death.

In the training camp, she flourishes. But she must hide who she really is, which leads to a montage of fighting sequences and her evading group bath time. There was a lot of comments on how much she stank. There was also a conversation about what kind of girls they all like, and it was all pretty much the stereotype about what boys only think about (she has to be pretty, she has to cook well). The whole movie was filled with stereotypes.

About the sets. There were some beautiful, sweeping landscapes in this movie. And then it would switch to a market scene that looks borrowed from the first Descendants film (a made for tv movie by Disney). The effect was a little jarring and took me out of the action. For a movie that originally was set to be seen in theaters as a blockbuster, it felt at times a little low budget.

And there was a lot of the resolution that made no sense (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it). Minds are quickly changed even though all of these people are raised to believe one thing about women. The transformation in characters just didn’t make sense. Outside of Mulan, there seemed to be very little actual character development (like how one character would get from point a to point b). Everything was rushed to move the story along.

Maybe I’m not this movie’s demographic which could be the reason that the movie wasn’t the right fit for me. But for a studio that has access to the worlds of Marvel and Star Wars, I’m just a little disappointed in the story-building in this film. And I’m not even really comparing it to those franchises, but to similar films like the ones I mentioned above (Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast). There was more character depth and backstory in those movies that I felt was missing in this film. Still, with all its problems, I did find it beautiful and definitely a good film to watch on family movie night, just not with the extra 30 dollar price tag.

There is no profanity in this movie. It is Disney. Sexual content mainly consists of one moment where she is bathing in a lake and another male character joins her but nothing is revealed and the man walks away without knowing she is a girl. There is no kissing at all, and only a hint of a romantic interest, but not really. Violent content does include some fighting, but it is all sanitized. There is a moment when they walk through a field of dead soldiers, but it isn’t in the least gory, the men could all be asleep and it would look the same. One character does get shot with an arrow, but again, very sanitized death.

Behind the Curve: A Review

Behind the Curve directed by Daniel J. Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fascinating film, but not really because of the flat earth movement. It felt like it was more of a look at conspiracy theories and how people can get really involved in the communities surrounding these conspiracies. And how difficult it can be to change your mind once you have committed.

The documentary opens on a man named Mark Sargent who is apparently pretty popular within the movement. He talks about flat earth’s validity simply based on the number of views his videos have or the number of members they have in their society. The science seems to be lacking or at least circumstantial, but it is believed by a lot of people.

The documentary then interviews people within the science community, mostly from CalTech who don’t’ believe in flat earth theory, but are fascinated with the people who do. It also has interviews with psychiatrists to discuss how someone could get involved with something like conspiracy theories, and there is where it really gets interesting.

When they look at a lot of the flat-earth community, they find that the majority of them want to be special, to be heard, and to belong to a larger society. They find all of these things by believing flat earth theory. But it’s more than just flat earth. It’s anti-vax, deep state, secret societies that are ruling the world. In one way or another, all the big conspiracies out there have found a tie to the world being flat.

The film itself was engaging. You come to really care about the people who lead, who disagree, who make art surrounding this belief system. The conference was the most interesting. There was a guy named Matt who was at odds with Mark and claimed the the whole conference was a big conspiracy from Hollywood. I mean, why not? According to most of the membership of the flat-earth movement, everything is a conspiracy.

It’s a fascinating watch. I’m so glad that one of my friends recommended it to me. It helped me to understand other people’s beliefs and the motivations behind people’s beliefs, especially when it comes to conspiracy. And 2020 has been full of them. Highly recommend!

There is profanity in the film but it’s not significant. This was one of the milder documentaries that I have watched this year. No sexual content or really any violent content at all.

Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers: A Review

Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers directed by  Jeremy Kenyon Lockyer Corbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Beliefs are mercurial things”

So begins the narration by Mickey Rourke about a strange conspiracy from the late 1980s. A man named Bob Lazar comes forward on a news broadcast to talk about his time working for some secretive organization in the government. It has all the trappings of UFO conspiracy, and just enough of it is true that it all might be true.

He alleges that he was hired to work in a place called S4 north of Las Vegas, Nevada. Up to this point, he had been working on jet engines. When he arrived at this covert operation, he says he worked to reverse engineer technology that he had never seen before, tech that he believed were from aliens. He divulged this information anonymously at first, but later revealed it as himself.

His background is complicated. He alleges that he went to MIT and CalTech, but they have no record of him. He also says he woeked for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, but they have no record of him, either. Yet, they do have him listed as a contact in the Lab’s directory during his alleged time working there. He has gotten in trouble with the law and been raided a few times, which is all used as evidence to substantiate all of his claims. If they were untrue, why would he be targeted so much?

The film was a bit chaotic. The music was ominous, and there were these flashes of random images – some including aliens, but others that didn’t seem connected. The flashes left me a little motion sick, which made it hard to focus on the information on the film, but maybe that’s what they wanted.

Overall, I don’t have a strong need to know whether or not there are aliens that have visited our planet. It was interesting in how information can be bent when processed to fit into our own confirmation bias. If we choose to believe him, then everything will match up. If we don’t, then we see the flaws in his argument. I felt it more fascinating to watch the filmmaker trying to make sense of everything going on. It was an okay film, but I could have done without the flashing images and ominous music, instead letting the information speak for itself.

There is profanity in the film. No sexual content or really any violent content unless you count the images of distorted aliens or skulls.

Project Power: A Review

Project Power directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was one of my anticipated films for the month of August. I’m always hyped for a superhero movie, and the premise of this one intrigued me.

The movie is set in New Orleans, which is talked about a lot. The opening shot is of the Superdome. There are references to how the government mishandled Katrina. Outright mentions of being in New Orleans. But if you missed all of those clues, they had people in the streets chanting for the Saints (New Orleans football team) and wearing jerseys. I grew up in New Orleans, and I can’t remember making or hearing that many references to the city on a daily basis. But it felt like the city was a character in the film as well.

A secret organization is using the city as a lab to test a drug called Power. When someone takes the glowing pill, they get a superpower unique to them for five minutes, or they explode and die. The three main characters connect through this drug. Robin, known as Bird on the street, is a teenage girl who has started selling the drug through her cousin. Frank is a detective that uses Robin as an informant but is also her friend. Art is new to the city but there to find his daughter who was taken in connection to the drug.

There is this really amazing scene between Art and Robin as they first encounter each other. Robin wants to make rap music, that’s her dream, and she is pretty good at it. But she feels like in the present, she has to sell this drug in order to help her very sick mom who has diabetes and no insurance. When Art suggests college or the military, Robin doesn’t have the grades or the interest for either. She wants to follow her dream. They both talk about how the system works against them, and how they must use their skills, their own power, to push back, without relying on the quick fixes of promises destined to break.

It was funny and sweet at times. The relationships between the three main characters are familial, no romance necessary for this film. The characters were flawed but endearing, but the situations weren’t very complex. Very much bad guy versus good guy scenario. The writer, Mattson Tomlin, also wrote the new Batman movie coming out next year, so I’m looking forward to how similar that might be. If you like comic books, straightforward good versus bad type films, and you are able to stomach a good bit of violence, definitely check out this one!

There is profanity in the film. Really didn’t see any sexual content. But there is a lot of violence. Some of the powers were capable of burning a man’s skin or freezing a woman to death, there was a lot of slow motion violence, death, murder, fighting, car accident, and use of guns and other weapons.

Immigration Nation: A Review

Immigration Nation directed by Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is a new documentary (came out on August 3, 2020) about the state of Immigration and its process. It covered a lot of the things I see in the media already – the separation of families, the harrowing journeys crossing the border, and the ICE raids. But I learned so much more.

Most of the episodes followed immigrant families or ICE agents. The first episode starts as ICE agents in New York City are going to different apartments to apprehend targets who have received a deportation order. Under the Obama administration, the main focus was on people who had committed serious crimes, but now all violators are in danger of being deported. And if an ICE agent enters a home with a target but finds others who are in the United States illegally, they are also taken, called “collaterals.” One ICE agent talks to the film crew about how he doesn’t take collaterals when he goes for a target, and minutes later, his boss calls over the radio to order him to bring in at least two collaterals so they can fill their quota.

Agents have to become desensitized in order to do their job. Some even looked at it like a game. They repeat over and over how it is not personal. Their hands are tied. They are just doing their job. The PR guy for ICE was very specific in his wording when he gave presentations or talked to people about ICE operations. He was super creepy and slimy. He would mention the word criminal, but that could mean anything from murder to a traffic stop. And the agents would repeat the rhetoric, most not really wanting to face the entire truth.

Families are still being separated all over the country, just not in the shelters at the border. One man has to say goodbye to his wife and children as he is deported back to El Salvador where he will most certainly be killed, as he was a police officer that helped American agents apprehend drug gang members from his country. A grandmother seeks asylum for her and her granddaughter because gang members want to force her young granddaughter to marry. The granddaughter got to stay in America with her mom. The grandmother was deported, and will probably be killed.

Plus, people who are already granted asylum in the US don’t have a guarantee they can bring their families with them. Even when it is clearly a civil rights issue, the paperwork alone can delay the process, leaving families separated and detention centers full. One mother is separated from her children for five years, only when she returns to Africa to talk to the embassy do things start to happen. And that trip was incredibly dangerous for her, considering her husband paid to have acid thrown at her, hence the reason she had to leave. It still took five years.

There are so many heartbreaking stories. And the solutions are not easy. This is a system that is set up to keep people out, and a lot of the changes need to start with the Executive branch decisions. I learned so much from this film, but I wish they had followups at the end of what became of the families that were interviewed. Overall, it is an excellent, in depth, heart-wrenching series that I highly recommend to anyone!

There is profanity in the film. Not much explicit sexual content – mostly just talks of rape or the forced marriage. There is some violence – the story of the woman who had acid thrown on her, the dead bodies in the desert or the river (including a child, so trigger warning there), but all faces are blurred.

Miss Representation: A Review

Miss Representation created by Jennifer Siebel Newsom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This documentary from 2011 was recommended to me by a friend.  The director and narrator, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, is an actress who had recently found out she was having a girl.  This sparked a deep dive into the way our community is set up for women, and how the patriarchy plays a part in both politics and Hollywood in keeping women from believing they could become leaders in industry.

I had heard about much of the content in this film through conversations and even in the media, probably since this film came out.  It covers the fact that women are encouraged to seek power through sexuality and not their intellect.  It described the evolution for women’s rights from WWII when women were working in the factories, through the 1950s when media encouraged women to return home, on to the ERA and then how Hollywood still continues to portray women in narrow roles.

There have been some things that have changed since this film aired.  The Me-Too movement happened.  There have been more and more women involved in politics as well as more female production companies in Hollywood.  In fact, I watched the TV show Mrs. America which gave a look into the ERA and the anti-ERA movement of the 1970s which is mentioned in this documentary.

But we still have a long way to go before we can really consider a realistic representation of females in leadership as it reflects to the number of women in society.  I found it interesting that a lot of the conversation around women in this film also applies to people of color as well as other marginal groups.  It was really shocking to hear what some men felt completely comfortable to say on live TV about their female counterparts.  And that still happens. Just a few weeks ago, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to some inappropriate public behavior of a fellow congressman.

There is profanity throughout the film.  The sexual content consists of women dressed and moving provocatively and talking about rape in headlines.  The violent content included video of women getting cosmetic surgery and pictures of women covered in bruises after assaults.

I felt convicted to really keep an eye on what I was watching, to critically think about what messages are being communicated in how women are portrayed, even in major roles in film, even how they are portrayed in news media.  I think this film is a good starting point to the conversation, but it shouldn’t stop there.

The Old Guard: A Review

The Old Guard created by Greg Rucka
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had seen trailers for this particular movie in July, and I thought it might be something I would enjoy.  The premise is a group of immortal warriors live their lives in secret but use their unique skills to help those who are helpless.  Sometimes that means covert operations, sometimes it means being a part of some of the bigger wars.  Their immortality does end one day, unknown when it will happen, but their bodies just stop healing altogether and they die.

I usually talk about the profanity, sexual content, and violent content in any media I consume.  And there is a lot of profanity, but there is a lot of violent content.  You see bullet wounds, blown up body parts, just a lot of violence.  But I think that’s really a lot of the point of the plot.  One of the neat things they did was have each character with a special old-world weapon.  They would use that weapon in conjunction with newer weapons in almost a graceful dance.

There are two plots to the story.  One is that another immortal has surfaced.  This hasn’t happened for a couple of centuries.  They have dreams that tell them that there is another one around, and the new immortal has dreams about the others until they have found each other.  So, they set out to find this new girl and we see a lot of this story through her eyes.

The second plot is that there is a company that is hunting the immortals.  The pharmaceutical company, Merrick, wants to take these people apart and find out how they are able to heal and survive death so many times.  And in the world of pictures and records, it’s getting harder for them to hide.

The themes of teamwork and loneliness and making a difference that could help in generations to come are all blatantly set out in the dialog.  The dialog felt at times a little too neat, everything explained quickly and simply.  The characters are basically hand-holding the audience to the place they want them to be.

The movie was okay.  It had a lot of potential that I think it missed, but there is a major cliffhanger at the end of the movie.  So, hopefully this movie is just the set-up to a more complex one in the future.  Of course, that depends on the ability to even make a second one soon enough for people to remember the first one, and in this climate, that’s not so simple.  This might have been better as a TV series.  This felt like an elongated pilot.  If you like a good, simple, fighting movie, I would say check it out.  But don’t expect anything too deep or complex in this first movie.

Sweet Magnolias: A Review

Sweet Magnolias created by Sheryl Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first impression of the first episode was that this story was quite saccharine-sweet.  And that first impression maintains its accuracy throughout the season.  It takes place in a Southern, fictional town of Serenity and follows the lives of three women who have been friends since high school. 

They want to start a spa together in a mansion that they apparently spent a lot of time in when they were kids.  And I thought the building of said spa was going to be the main focus of the first season.  But as the show continued, the spa became somewhat of an afterthought.

The main focus of the show really were the relationships, between the three women as well as their children, community, and love interests.  There were a couple of love triangles that didn’t feel fully developed.  And sometimes the chemistry also came across as awkward. Also, I don’t know where to fit this, but the accents are all over the place. They are southern accents, but from various regions which is strange since they are all supposed to be from this one town.

In a nutshell, this is an easy, “turn your brain off” kind of show. The conversations, even the more deeper ones are not very long or detailed, even feeling glossed over at times. Plot points are either resolved quickly or ignored for several episodes, only to be mentioned again in the laundry list of drama that they are having to deal with. But in their defense, there seems to be a lot of ground to cover before the cliffhanger at the end. We have to understand how we get to that point, and that means a lot of rushed drama and quick resolutions.

I felt at times like I didn’t know the characters well enough to understand why certain things bothered them or why their reactions were so strong. I know this is based on a book series, so I feel like I’m missing chunks of their motivations because I haven’t read the books. But they will mention something to a character, but then there is no follow up until several episodes later when they dissolve a relationship over that thing that they haven’t really mentioned more than a couple times.

There is profanity throughout the show, usually followed by an apology for the language, and meant to give the speaker either strength or sass.  Sexual content includes several kissing scenes as well as one sex scene that is not graphic at all.  Violence includes some fist fights, some almost assaults, but no one is severely hurt.  There is underage drinking and bullying among the kids which is sort of addressed, again like most of the drama.

But all of those issues aside, I still gave it four stars because it is a nice escape from reality.  Serenity is just one of those places that you can just go with the flow.  The drama is muted, most of the conflict is resolved with ease and cliché.  And the humor is just the right amount of eye-rolling corny that I like.  Big warning, the season ends with a huge cliffhanger, and I’m not sure there will be a second season any time soon (thanks, coronavirus).

Harriet Tubman: They Called Her Moses: A Review

Harriet Tubman: They Called Her Mosus directed by Robert Fernandez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is finally a documentary that I feel like I could recommend to slightly younger audiences (like middle school or maybe older elementary).  It was a pretty straightforward biography of Harriet Tubman, who is pretty well known as a Black history figure.  But there were definitely some things I learned.  It was well-paced, and the narration was dynamic, along with the interviews.

She had a lot of obstacles in her life.  She was hit in the head at 13 which caused her to have seizures and fainting.  She married a free man who refused to run when she was ready to escape.  And she was helped in her escape by Quakers.  She had a strong faith in God.  Christianity empowered her, especially the slave church which was considered an invisible institution. 

There wasn’t any profanity.  There was mention of rapes and brief mention of whippings, but it was pretty tamed compared to other documentaries I’ve watched recently.

An Uncomfortable Truth: A Review

An Uncomfortable Truth directed by Loki Mulholland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent and fascinating documentary that I watch on Amazon Prime.  It follows the history of the director of the film, Loki Mulholland as he navigates the history of his family.  It also includes interviews with Luvaughn Brown, a black civil rights activist, who gives his perspective on American history as well as the civil rights movement, even Mulholland’s family.  I felt like the two narratives intertwined to produce a balanced story.

Mulholland’s mom is a civil rights activist who used her white privileges to combat systemic racism in the 60s and 70s era.  But as he goes back into his family history, it is revealed this he is the direct descendent of slave owners.  Of course, the story that is told to him by his family is that they were the benevolent slave owners.  When they told the slaves that they could leave or stay after the Emancipation Proclamation, only one of their 100 slaves left because they were so beloved.

The reality was that they probably only owned about 6 slaves, and only one actually stayed.  He continued to explain how his family, and ultimately how he, benefited from being white.  The opportunities they were given.  And even though his grandmother was a poor sharecropper who worked hard within the real estate business to provide for her family.  Even though she did fight the discrimination of being a woman, she never had to worry about her skin being a factor that would keep her from her accomplishments.

He also revealed a lot of things that happened around his family in Georgia.  Like the lynching of Leo Frank in Marietta, Georgia.  And how the KKK was reborn at Stone Mountain, burning crosses at the top.  I actually had family in Marietta, Georgia, and I had been to Stone Mountain quite a bit as a kid.  I learned a lot about the history around my own family, which has prompted my own search through family history.

Just a few warnings.  There is profanity, the use of the n-word as well as other words.  Sexual content mainly consists of mentions of rapes.  Violent content includes accounts of lynchings and the pictures from the lynching postcards, as well as details of how these people died slowly, even being burned.  It gets pretty detailed.

Despite those warnings, this was engaging and fascinating and prompted my own dive into family and American history, which I think is what a good documentary does – prompts further action and/or investigation.  Definite recommend!