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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: Book Club

If you’ve ever been part of a book club and/or read the kinky romance trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey,” then you’ll totally ‘get’ this movie and enjoy a few good laughs along the way. It’s formulaic and predictable and largely stakes-free, but as the friend who accompanied me to a special Mother’s Day screening of the film declared, “We need that type of movie once in a while!” In other words, don’t over-think it. Just appreciate Book Club for its lighthearted nature and positive themes about embracing change, taking risks, and starting new chapters in the book of life. And, enjoy it for the cast: a powerhouse ensemble of veteran actors led by Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenbergen.

Review: Life of the Party

Life of the Party is a serviceable, but forgettable vehicle for the affable Melissa McCarthy. She plays a middle-aged housewife named Deanna whose husband abruptly announces that he wants a divorce after 20-plus years and is in love with a local realtor. He dumps this news on Deanna just after they drop-off their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at a nearby college where she’s about to start her senior year. The locale gets Mom thinking… perhaps it’s time to go back to school herself and get those last credits she needed to graduate with a degree in archaeology. Cue the archaeology puns (can you dig it?), the makeover, and the conventional college and family-dysfunction comedy antics: Deanna’s decision initially horrifies Maddie while her sorority sisters think Mom is the bomb (in a cool way); she moves into the dorms and attempts to bond with her freakish loner of a roommate; and, she catches the eye – and more – of a hunky young guy on campus.

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: The Rider

The Rider is an arthouse lover’s dream – quiet, authentic, raw, visually captivating with minimal dialogue. It’s the kind of indie that mainstream chicks like me can express a certain appreciation for, while still cautioning the masses that its greatest appeal will surely lie almost exclusively with the arty crowd. The film is a hybrid – part western, part docudrama, part biopic about a young cowboy whose days on the rodeo circuit come to a crashing halt when he suffers a devastating injury.

Review: Rampage

There’s just something about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that lets him get away with making disastrous disaster movies. Perhaps it’s the twinkle in his eye as his characters defy death for the gazillionth time, the gentle nod to the absurdity of the plot, the giant muscles in constant flex for the betterment of humanity… Whatever it is, it’s working for him. Rampage is ridiculous. But it’s not bad. Especially if you have a thing for monster movies, disaster movies, a high body count, cartoonish villains, stereotypical government ‘suits’, implausible stunts, self-deprecating humor and cheesy dialogue.

Review: A Wrinkle in Time

I sooo wanted to like this movie. Really, I did. But despite its star power both in front of the camera (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, etc.) and behind it (director Ava DuVernay), A Wrinkle in Time is a bit of a hot mess. It’s colorful, visually stunning in parts, and spreads a heartfelt message about familial bonds, embracing your faults, finding strength in your individuality and all that good stuff. But in the end, the narrative gets lost in the spectacle – and Oprah’s larger-than-life, eye-glittered presence is more of a distraction than a serviceable plot device. The story just doesn’t add up. I don’t recall that being the case with Madeline L’Engle’s classic novel, first published in 1962. I read it in the 1970s (when I actually devoured more books than movies – probably because I couldn’t drive) and have fond recollections of protagonist Meg Murry’s travels through time and space in search of her scientist father who went missing while studying the universe.

Quickie Reviews: Annihilation; Game Night; The Party

Annihilation is interesting and weird, slow and methodical, and dare I say, bordering on boring. Hyper-sensitive fans of the film may ream me for not fully grasping or appreciating the deeper meaning, the metaphors, the beauty in the bizarre, yadda yadda yadda. But that’s okay. I didn’t love Arrival either. Annihilation is a cerebral sci-fi horror flick from Alex Garland (Ex Machina) based on the “Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer. If you’ve read the books, you’re probably ahead of the game and more likely than most to love this movie. Here’s the gist: Natalie Portman plays Lena, an Army veteran and cellular biologist whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) was believed killed in action during a secret military mission. He reappears a year later, extremely ill, with no memory of what happened. Government agents nab the newly-reunited couple and take them to “Area X”, an unspecified locale that borders a mysterious “Shimmer” that’s been expanding along the U.S. coastline.

Review: Fifty Shades Freed

Seven years hence the release of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, it’s time to close the book on the movie franchise that the popular and controversial novel helped procreate. If you’ve read the full trilogy – “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” – and/or seen the first two installments of the erotic fairy tale – then it’s still worth seeing the final chapters unfold on the big screen, even if the ‘climax’ is a bit of a letdown.

Review: Pitch Perfect 3

Awards season is filled with a lot of complex, thought-provoking stuff that represents your cinematic meat and potatoes, with a side of veggies. Pitch Perfect 3 is your fluffy dessert. A simple treat that goes down easy but should be consumed in moderation. It’s not nearly as good as the refreshingly original Pitch Perfect (2012) or its entertaining sequel, Pitch Perfect 2 (2015). But it is good enough to satisfy the fan base (you know who you are, pitches). At this point, the law of diminishing returns has definitely nibbled away at the comedy/music franchise. But there’s room for replenishment and redemption because the main characters are still fun to watch, and the music is still fun to hear. In other words, despite PP3 being marketed as the Bellas’ “Farewell Tour,” there will surely be a PP4 ‘Comeback Tour’.