Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Holidate: A Review

Holidate directed by John Whitesell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is Christmas Rom-Com time! This is the first, but certainly not the last, new Christmas film on Netflix (more have already been added to the list). And in a nutshell, it is one of those very self-aware movies.

Emma Roberts plays Sloane, a work from home admin of some sort who is unlucky in love. Her last boyfriend left her for a barista, and she is the last single in her family. She meets Jackson (played by Luke Bracey), an Australian golf pro who seemingly works at a golf course, maybe? They decide to be each other’s Holidate, a person who accompanies one to various holiday parties and get-togethers.

The premise was a little fantastical for a year like 2020, as the big end of year holidays are approaching. It was weird to see big parties and family events without the social distancing and masks. However, that will be a common theme in most of the Christmas movies this year.

The movie was very self-aware, making jokes about tropes in romantic comedies and relationships. But then they go ahead and do the tropes they complained about, to perhaps show the walls coming down for Sloane. There were some very hilarious moments, and some very cringe moments, but overall, a great start to what will hopefully be a season of sappy love stories filled with plot holes and silly tropes that resolve too neatly within the 2 hour time line until the last second of 2020 is over.

There is a lot of profanity in this film. It even becomes a joke towards the end. There is some grinding and “sexy” dancing at one point, and there is one sex scene but not incredibly steamy. Violence includes a lot of slapstick, like losing a finger while shooting off fireworks. It’s lighthearted and silly for the most part.

Secret Society of Second Born Royals: A Review

Secret Society of Second Born Royals directed by Anna Mastro
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This Disney+ film came out in the summer. It was on the list of “To Be Watched” films that finally got scratched off at the end of October. It is similar to most made for TV movies by Disney in that it is full of cheese and weird plot holes.

Sam is a royal princess of Illyria, the second born daughter. Because her older sister is destined for the throne, and all the responsibility that entails, Sam is allowed to do pretty much whatever she wants, which mostly includes playing gigs with her friend, Mike that include a lot of “Down with the Monarchy” content. She is a good kid with a rebellious streak.

And it is revealed (in the trailer) that she has superpowers. Apparently, every second born child of a royal family has them, and they are sent to an elite training summer camp to either hone their skills or have them removed by the end of summer. Some powers are interesting, like controlling bugs (similar to Antman) and others were pretty typical (like invisibility). But all of them pretty much lived up to mediocre expectation when it came to actually using these powers.

Most of the cast was pretty new, though Skylar Astin (from Pitch Perfect) and Greg Bryk (from Bitten) were notable. Their acting was good and carried most of the scenes they were in. All of the emotion, especially in Bryk’s character, seemed limited, stunted. This is a Disney, straight-to-video, film so to speak, but there never seemed enough time to really develop any of the relationships making all of the choices seem stilted and lacking in tension.

And there were so many plot holes. The backstory, the relationship between Inmate 34 and Sam, where exactly all these other royals were from and why they wouldn’t be invited to a royal coronation, and the whole DNA thing towards the end were just a few of the confusing twists the film tried and failed to make. It pulled the viewer out of the movie completely.

The film is cute, but it would have worked better in a shorter TV series format, allowing for more relationship development and at least a little tension. Ignoring all of the blatant plot holes and confusing connections made throughout the film in order to show that teamwork is important and listening to family is cool can make the film a fun viewing on a bored Saturday afternoon. But honestly, there is better content, even just on the Disney+ platform.

There is no profanity in the film. No sexual content, other than making puppy dog eyes between two characters. Violent content mostly included heavily choreographed fights and a lot of CGI, nothing graphic, grotesque, or detailed. It is Disney+ after all.

The Babysitters Club: A Review

The Babysitters Club created by Rachel Shukert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought sharing something light might be appropriate with all the crazy chaos lately. I was familiar with these books from childhood, as well as the original TV show, but I didn’t know much of the details. This new reboot of the franchise is light and fun, specifically directed towards young girls around 11 to 13.

It definitely has been updated a bit. For example, there is an episode that touches on transgender issues as part of the storyline. But for the most part, it pays homage to the original books. Each episode leading to the last two (which is a two part finale), focuses on one of the girls, and some sort of character growth she experiences. It culminates to a finale that incorporates the friendships created as well as lessons learned through the season.

Some of the content dragged for me, but that is probably because it is not meant for me. I loved the focus on standing up for others, playing as a team, and believing in yourself and your friends as main themes throughout the show. Definitely recommend watching it together if you have a daughter or child in your life that fits the demographic, because of some of the issues that are discussed. But overall, just a fun, light show!

There is no profanity in the film. Sexual content consists of a few chaste kisses. No violent content either, though the finale does include a “curse” over the theater at the camp, which may be a little scary for some.

Whose Vote Counts, Explained: A Review

Whose Vote Counts, Explained produced by Vox on Netflix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since tomorrow is Election Day, this limited series on Netflix would be appropriate to watch and review. The series is produced by Vox and Netflix. And they really tried to maintain a nonpartisan perspective while answering a lot of questions heard on social media and straight from voters, themselves.

The series is divided into three parts. The first episode covers a lot of the history of voting, how at first voting was a privilege of the wealthy, white, male landowners (though, surprisingly, there were instances in some states that included black and women landowners before they were shut down in favor of the majority), and the ways voting has evolved and devolved throughout the years.

The second episode was about money. Whether elections can be bought (they can’t but advertising, social media, and politicians can influence you, and there is a lot of money in that). They talk about the nonprofit political groups, the Super PACs, and ideas on how to get smaller donors more involved as well as the average voter.

The third episode was about how votes can matter differently? They cover gerrymandering that specifically affects the House districts and can make the minority have a majority of representation. This also happens because of where we decide to live as well. And why swing states are swing states, and how other states could become swing states. This was a fascinating episode.

Basically, voting can be a really complicated process. There are a lot of ways it can go wrong, and there are other countries who are also democratic that do some things better than we do (or at least have found policies that help their particular problems better than our policies help us, if that makes sense). But there is always hope for reforms or adjustments to the current rules and regulations on the horizon, which is why it is so important to participate in the current process.

Registering to vote in most states have met their deadlines (except in North Dakota where there is no registration), but if you are registered, don’t forget to vote tomorrow! It is an important process, not just for the federal government, but your local one as well.

There is no profanity in the film. No sexual content, either. There are mentions of school shootings and violence against protestors as covered by news media outlets.

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting: A Review

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting directed by Rachel Talalay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to review a Halloween movie for this week, but I don’t really like scary movies. However, when I saw the trailer for this movie, I figured it was pretty safe since it was directed towards a younger crowd. I was also curious to see how scary kids movies were, since the ones I watched growing up petrified me (particularly Witches which I saw got a reboot on HBO Max, and I will in no way be seeking out that new release).

The story follows a girl names Kelly Ferguson who is really smart, to almost a superpower capability, particularly in seeing patterns in mathematical formulas, able to do them in her head. She is also teased because when she was five, she claims a monster in her closet attacked her. So, she has the nickname Monster Girl. There is also a typical school crush and a mean girl and a silly best friend, who are all pretty one-dimensional and are more props than characters.

But the adventure begins when she babysits for her mom’s boss. And the little boy, Jacob, gets taken by the monsters set on releasing nightmares into the world. We are then introduced to the secret society of The Babysitters whose sole purpose is to protect those left in their charge. These characters have a lot more depth to them, but overall everything is pretty light.

The movie is based on a three book series by Joe Ballarini. Knowing that it was based on a book series gave a little grace to some of the awkward emphasis on how smart Kelley is or some of the pacing of the movie at times. There are some moments I feel were missed opportunities to make the film just a little deeper in meaning, but overall, it is a fun movie about bravery and believing in yourself and standing up for your unique qualities.

This was pretty mild for a scary, Halloween movie. Not that I would want my toddler in the room for this particular film, but it is easily meant for the elementary/preteen crowd. The main scariness of this movie are the monsters hiding in your closet or under your bed. But there are some silly moments interwoven in those scenes to cut the scary aspect down a bit. Definitely a fun family movie night!

There is no profanity in the film. (They even referred to a week of initiation into the Society as “heck week”. No sexual content, not even a chaste kiss between the main character and her crush. Violence is a slight factor, but nothing gruesome. Some kicking and attacking with weapons, but even when a monster is vanquished, they dissipate into light, nothing remotely graphic.

The Booksellers: A Review

The Booksellers directed by DW Young
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was an absolutely lovely documentary about the book world, specifically the rare book dealer world. It focused less on the stories within books and more on the stories of the books themselves. The only negative was that the film was too short, needing a more in-depth look into the collections of these booksellers.

The film focused on specific booksellers in New York City, but also about the history of book collecting and book binding. Did you know that there are books bound in human skin? Most of these books have made it into museums and libraries, but there are still a few collectors still in the game.

There has been a decline in collecting, though. Part of it is limited supply, and part of it is limited demand. Booksellers are having to pivot to keep up with the changes brought on by the internet and technology as a whole. Older booksellers would say the whole industry is dying, but there a still young people with a lot of ideas to keep it alive.

Book collecting is different than just buying a lot of books to add to a growing TBR. The libraries are curated to a specific theme. One collection may have just women writers, while another follows the history of hip-hop. And it is usually more than just the books, but other items that support the history they are collecting.

So book collectors are essentially historians with a love of their items. First editions aren’t always the best, sometimes it’s annotated copies or signed copies (especially signed to specific people). There was this infectious love of the search. The search that has been dampened by the internet, but it still out there.

It might have taken 20 years to find a particular book at one point, and now it may only take minutes on eBay or a bookseller site. But the love of books, the growing collections of books, is still a loved past time. It has definitely changed the way I will look at my own bookshelves and how I want those shelves to reflect me the next time I am ready to cull back or add to my own library.

There is no significant profanity in the film. Maybe some brief nude images on the cover of books for some of the stranger book collections. No violent content, either, though there is a section discussing how they wish their collections will be handled when they die.

Knock Down The House: A Review

Knock Down The House directed by Rachel Lears
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to watch this documentary because I thought it would be interesting to see the process of a campaign during an election year. The film follows four women from various parts of the country who are trying to win in their primaries during the 2018 election. This is during the primaries, so at this point, they aren’t running against another party, but an established incumbent within their own party.

Did you know that there are organizations whose main purpose is to find new people to run against already established candidates? Two that were mentioned were the Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats. They basically seek out working class people to enter into grass roots campaigns to replace well established incumbents.

Each of the candidates had separate motivations for why they wanted to run and different obstacles to overcome. Sometimes it was personal, sometimes it was to make a difference in their neighborhoods on specific issues. Immediately, I recognized Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as one of the candidates the film followed. I also had heard of Cori Bush as well. But I knew very little about the other women.

It was really heartbreaking for those that lost (but I looked them up and one of them has won their primary this year). I really got invested in their stories.. The strategy and stress that go behind each of the campaign is incredible. Seeing AOC gather her community and acknowledge them every stop of the way, I can see why she won.

I think this is a great film to learn about the process, the work, and gain respect for those who campaign for public offices. They and their team put their hearts and souls into it. It didn’t make me want to throw my hat into the ring, but I gained a new respect for these women and all of the smaller names on the ballots. Even if I don’t agree with them on every issue, it takes a lot of guts and sweat and tears to get out there.

There is no profanity in this film, maybe a “hell” here or there. No sexual content or violent content. One of the candidates does talk about how her daughter died which was the catalyst for her to get involved in politics and advocacy.

Enola Holmes: A Review

Enola Holmes directed by Harry Bradbeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, to be perfectly fair, I watched this movie assuming it was an adult movie which I think colored my opinion of it. This is not an adult movie. If it was meant for adults, it would definitely be a 3 star film, but I’m going to review it as a young teen film.

The cast is fantastic, as it would be. Enola Holmes is played by Millie Bobby Brown who is also known as Eleven from the Stranger Things series. In this film, she is quirky and fun and encompasses both the cleverness and naivete of the character. Henry Cavill plays her brother, the famous Sherlock Holmes. He seems almost type casted in roles as an emotionally stunted superhero/savant who ends up learning to love in the end (Witcher, Superman, and now this). He didn’t exhibit the exaggerated arrogance that usually is connected to Sherlock Holmes, but he fit this storyline well. (Benedict will always be the one and only Sherlock). Helen Bonham Carter, Sam Claflin, Susan Wokoma, and Louis Partridge (as well as basically the rest of the cast) did excellent jobs as well in both explaining and supporting the main character’s antics.

There is a romance, but it is really young and awkward. Most of the film is spent running and investigating, very little canoodling, even in scenes with just those two characters. The romance reflects well Enola’s naïve nature. There is more of a focus on the clues to follow much like a Sherlock Holmes novel.

It has a strong feminist message, but more in the sense that people can be more that what they are labeled. This message is first exhibited by Enola, as a girl who can do incredible things but not the socially acceptable things. But then Enola, herself learns not to judge a book by its cover through her relationship with Tewkesbury who she thinks is unable to take care of himself. He, of course, will prove her wrong.

It is set in the 19th century during the suffrage movement in London, England. The costuming is beautiful. The sets are lovely and enforce the tone of the movie, exhibiting Enola’s chaotic upbringing in the countryside to the order of the finishing school back to more chaos in the streets of London.

The ending fell a little flat for me, a little too neat and naïve, but the movie is fun. The characters are loveable. And it is fast-paced and funny. Definitely recommend to a younger audience or a family film night.

There is no profanity in this film. No sexual content, other than longing glances and a kiss on the hand. Violent content includes hand to hand combat, one scene with characters shooting a gun at other characters with intent to kill, and one death scene which felt a little brutal for this movie. If that one scene (which is towards the end) was out of the movie, I would recommend the movie to even younger audiences. Parental discretion is a must.

The Social Dilemma: A Review

The Social Dilemma directed by Jeff Orlowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The documentary portion of this film was excellent. It opens on a series of interviews with former and current engineers, designers, presidents, and ethical decision-makers of some of the social platforms we all use – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. The main premise is how these platforms began with pretty pure motives. They were created to be content-sharing, thought-sharing communities, but eventually, the financial aspects and opportunities turned these platforms into places that can effectively build and destroy those same communities. Even whole countries can rise and fall to the power of manipulation these platforms hold.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. I think this documentary is meant to give awareness to the potential of harm that has already happened in our country. And I had noticed already a lot of what they talked about in this film.

Take Facebook, for example. When I got an account with Facebook, it was a little more focused on college campuses. My university had to sign up for Facebook, and then the only way I could get an account is through my university email address. Of course, a year later, it would be open to the public. Then, I remember that the newsfeed was chronological in the beginning. So many of my friends were upset when it changed to only show the friends we seemed to be more engaged with. Out of 500 friends, you might only see 25 of those friends’ updates on your feed. You would have to go to each of the other 475 profiles to see any of the other updates.

Then, as Facebook became a publicly traded company, they had to really show that they could make money. They created a way for advertisers to only show ads to those people who fit their demographic, and that algorithm got smarter and smarter. Soon, there was this bubble around each person, pushing the agendas and ads that would drive this person further and further to the fringes.

One of the interesting things was how different a search on climate change would be depending on where you live in the country. The top autocompleted searches would change if you lived in Texas versus California. Everything is built so that you will stay on the platform, because the longer you stay, the more ads you see, the more likely you are to buy.

I have my own thoughts about all of these platforms. I haven’t been a fan of Facebook for a while, so I might have a little confirmation bias. But it is good to approach these platforms with sober intentionality, a time limit, and an awareness of where these algorithms try to pull you.

The only thing I didn’t like was the fictional family that they follow throughout the show. The parents seem helpless. The oldest child seems aware of what is going on and prefers books to screens, but acts with more authority than the parents because she seems to know better. The two younger children are swept up in the rabbit holes and “likes” obsessions. And the ending is a little dire. I kept thinking, we have more tools as parents than what is presented. There are ways to keep up with what your kids are seeing online. When the girl smashes the compartment, the next scene shows her still having a phone. I mean, what the heck?

Still, this documentary is a good one to watch, even if it just lends a little more self-awareness to what you are doing online. There are a lot of things available now to track your intake and what exactly you are taking in. So I definitely recommend this one.

There is profanity in this film. No sexual content. One of the fictional children struggles with her looks. All the violent content are videos of riots and fighting, as well as a riotous protest in the fictional family story.

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.