Tag Archives: movie review

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.

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.