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Mainstream Chick’s Middleburg Film Festival Download (2018)

Despite a few (hotel reservation and RSVP) potholes on the road to this year’s Middleburg Film Festival, all’s well that ends well! And what an ending it was. The closing film was my favorite film – by far – securing my only four-star ballot after four days of movie madness in the Virginia countryside.

So, without further ado, here’s what I saw, and how I ranked ‘em:

Review: A Star Is Born

About a week after I first saw the latest version of A Star Is Born, I took advantage of a rainy weekend to catch up on the 1937 original, the 1954 remake, and the 1976 remake of the remake. Then I watched the latest version again. And I can honestly say, the newest one is my favorite, in part because it draws on the best parts of all its predecessors while bringing the classic tragic love story into present-day context, complete with an awesome original soundtrack. We’ll surely be hearing at least one of those songs at this year’s Oscars.

Review: Life Itself

Don’t let the trailer fool you. Life Itself is not This Is Us. Yes, it is a multi-generational family drama written and directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, and yes, you will need tissues. But even Fogelman will tell/warn you that Life Itself is darker and heavier than his serial television weep-fest. It’s a melodramatic soap opera of a film that tells the story of two families – in New York and Spain – whose lives are connected by tragedy. It’s heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting even as it seeks to manipulate our emotions with a heavy-handed theme that ‘Life’ is an unreliable narrator of our story. The film is broken up into “chapters” to drive the point home.

Review: Juliet, Naked

Ah, what a breath of fresh air! Juliet, Naked is a charming and funny romantic drama that is pure and simple in its development of characters and story. In lesser hands, it might have felt like a Hallmark or Lifetime ‘second chance’ romance. But Juliet, Naked benefits from the talent and affability of its three lead actors – Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd and Ethan Hawke. The screenplay is adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby (Brooklyn, About a Boy, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity) whose writing style lends itself well to the genre. There aren’t any real villains here; just humans wrestling with past regrets and coming to terms with who they are and who they want to be.

Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Cue up the sequel. I suspect Hollywood will see enough green from Crazy Rich Asians to justify a speedy greenlight for a second (and third) film based on the popular trilogy by Kevin Kwan. I haven’t read the book(s) but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the movie, which is basically a conventional romantic dramedy that happens to feature a majority Asian cast playing a variety of well-drawn characters, several of whom are crazy rich. It’s all very Dynasty-esque, tackling love, romance, pettiness, sabotage, scorn, humor, fashion, palatial digs and a lot of fantastic-looking food. The story revolves around Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, TV’s Fresh Off the Boat), a bright, attractive and very down-to-earth Asian-American Economics Professor who agrees to accompany her bright and charming boyfriend Nick Young (newcomer Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. En route she discovers that her longtime beau comes from money – lots and lots of money.

Review: Adrift

Adrift (not to be confused with the 2006 horror drama Open Water 2: Adrift) is a meet-cute swept into a Perfect Storm. It’s based on the true story of Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), a couple of young adventure-seekers who encountered a catastrophic hurricane while sailing a 44-foot yacht from Tahiti to San Diego in 1983. The couple was left stranded – injured and adrift – in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. For 41 days.

Review: Modern Life Is Rubbish

The movie has little to do with modern life or rubbish (though I’d think twice before putting the latter in the title of any movie.) It’s the name of an album by a Britpop band called Blur, a favorite of the couple at the center of this music-centric romantic dramedy, Liam (Josh Whitehouse, Poldark) and Natalie (Freya Mavor, Cezanne et Moi) who meet cute in a London record store, brought together by the albums of Blur. He’s a struggling musician. She’s an artist, too, but more pragmatic about her life. And before you know it, they’ve moved in together. But we start their story as they are dividing their belongings after a break-up and flashing back to their years together. It’s a story we’ve all heard before, but it has a nice soundtrack, if you’re into that sort of music.

Review: I Feel Pretty

I Feel Pretty is an average comedy about an average woman who bumps her head in a Soul Cycle class and suddenly believes she’s been transformed into the most gorgeous creature on the planet. The delusions give her newfound confidence to be fearless, carefree and to pursue her dreams and romantic interests as never before. And just like the main character Renee, played by Amy Schumer (Trainwreck), the movie itself is entertaining – yet flawed.

Review: Finding Your Feet

On the day of her husband’s retirement, Lady Sandra Abbott (Imelda Staunton, Harry Potter‘s Dolores Umbridge) discovers he’s having an affair with her best friend. So she runs away to London to stay with her estranged sister Bif (Celia Imrie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) who’s everything Sandra isn’t — liberal, outspoken, and happy. And little by little Sandra gets her groove back with the help of Bif’s dance class buddies. Finding Your Feet feels kind of familiar — older lady finds herself after a breakup — but thanks to a great ensemble cast and some fun dance scenes, it’s a sweet and uplifting little entertainment.

Review: Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun is like a Nicholas Sparks movie in training. It doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of a traditional Sparks tearjerker, but it does try hard to follow the formula. The movie opens with bright sunlight reflecting off the water as a teenage girl describes in voiceover how what we’re seeing is all just a dream. She can’t really be out in the sun. It might kill her. Thus begins a romantic drama about 17-year-old Katie Price (Bella Thorne) and her nighttime meet-cute with her longtime crush Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger) – a guy she’s secretly been watching from the tinted windows of her house on the hill for about a decade.