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"Maybe there's something underneath, but what's on top is rough."
2 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: At some point during "Jessica Forever", I started wondering if maybe this whole thing was a fantasy of some character or other, because that's the only way it starts to make some sort of sense, but absent some more concrete indication from the film itself, it's hard to justify that interpretation, even if it does leave the movie a weird mess of uncertain wish fulfillment badly masquerading as world-building. At best, you can say it's a fable, but it's a dull one, unsatisfying as entertainment." (more)
"Ditch the 'Angels' branding and just having the ladies kick ass."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "I try not to think of the calculations that go on in studio executives' heads too much, because it's frightening and tends to put one at a distance from the actual merits of the films themselves, but it gets kind of interest in a movie like this. I suspect that most studios would like to have an action/adventure series along the general lines of this movie, and if you own the name "Charlie's Angels", why not make it part of that franchise? Maybe nobody is really looking for a new "Charlie's Angels" - fans of the first iteration are around retirement age, the second was sold on its cast, and the third bombed - but does the association help or hurt a relatively unremarkable action/adventure film at the box office?" (more)
"Not as much as an American legend deserves, but more than she's had before."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... ""Harriet" often feels a bit like the trailers for faith-based movies, so built around the power of prayer and/or visions that they don't actually show their characters doing anything of consequence and making them feel less proactive when they do. Harriet Tubman did astonishing things, but this telling of her story focuses enough on her "spells" and visions that it's like her own biography doesn't give her enough credit." (more)
"Not for everyone, but certainly for someone."
2 stars
Jay Seaver says... "If you can damn something with faint praise, then you can also praise it with uncertain damnation, and sometimes you must, because what else can you do for a comedy that only sporadically works for you and is so completely absurdist as to resist being pulled apart and examined? "Greener Grass" is weird and most definitely not to everyone's taste but has just enough bits that really work that I can't help but try to figure out whether it will work for someone who likes that sort of comedy or if it's just bad." (more)
"Fitting that it comes from a song that ends "how very strange"."
2 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Here's a fun thing: The Chinese nursery rhyme "Two Tigers" maps pretty much directly onto the traditional French song "Frère Jacques" that I presume many westerners still learn in elementary school, which means that the opening scene of this movie, where generally ominous music becomes and imposing version of the song, is still funny even if you don't know about it until the song becomes part of the story. It would be more impressive if this weren't the high point of the movie, sure, but sometimes you take what you can get." (more)
"Rebel filmmakers and the people who made them possible."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I have probably, over the course of attending this genre festival and other events like it, gotten myself a pretty warped perspective on what filmmakers are a big deal. When it comes to Japanese filmmakers, for instance, I know very little Ozu, but a movie about fringe icon Koji Wakamatsu? Let me clear my festival schedule for that! Truth be told, there's probably more drama to be found in that anarchist maniac's orbit than that of a respected genius, although some may be a bit disappointed that "Dare to Stop Us" takes place more within that orbit rather than focusing on Wakamatsu himself." (more)
"A big, entertaining adventure from China."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The White Snake story hasn't been as frequently retold as that of The Monkey King on-screen, although I can't help but feel there's been more in recent years than the one that came out in 2011 with Jet Li, Eva Huang, and Charlene Choi. It's a natural fit for animation, and though I'm a bit surprised to see this often fun (though weird) get a release on this side of the Pacific, it's at the very least a nifty change of pace for Western audiences whose kids could use a new animated adventure in their rotation." (more)
"Cutting Ties"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "If I had to pick a single title as my all-time favorite mystery movie, I would choose “The Thin Man” (1934) without a single moment’s hesitation. I must confess, however, that my love of the film has precious little to do with the actual mystery element. In fact, I have watched that particular film dozens of times over the years and yet, if you asked me right now to tell you the identity of who did it, I could not do it. The reason I love the film so much is because it is far more interested in presenting colorful characters embodied by perfectly cast directors spouting off sparkling dialogue and presented with an immense amount of wit and style —things that rate much higher in my book than the comparatively mundane details of the plot. Over the years, I have found that many of my other favorite examples of the genre—things like “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Big Sleep,” “The Long Goodbye,” “Chinatown” and “The Big Lebowski”—have tended to lean that way as well and that is why they have managed to stand the test of time. “Knives Out,” the new film from writer-director Rian Johnson, his followup to a little thing called “The Last Jedi,” may not quite be in the same league as those classics but it does wisely follow in their formidable footprints and the result and the result is a witty whodunnit that brings a breath of fresh air to an otherwise stale genre." (more)
"Good at the basics, doesn't quite grab at something greater."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "There's a sharper version of "21 Bridges" to be made which targets the way police culture becomes toxic as opposed to mostly letting it kick around in the background, but I suspect that's a hard thing to believably isolate, and would bring in things the filmmakers weren't totally ready to deal with. As it is, it becomes a bigger version of a story we've heard a few times before, told with some style even if it misses an opportunity or two." (more)
"a.k.a. Disney Creativity On Ice"
2 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Although Disney has generally avoided making theatrical sequels to their animated films—the ones that they have produced over the years have generally been produced for the straight-to-video market—the existence of “Frozen II” is not exactly a surprise. After all, when you make a film that sells over a billion dollars worth of tickets around the world, becomes hat biggest-grossing animated film of all time and inspires tons of merchandise and a popular stage version, both of which will presumably centime to spin millions of dollars for the studio for the foreseeable future, few could possibly resist the temptation to try to make lightning strike a second time. No, the real question is not so much whether or not to make “Frozen II” as it is what to make of it. Do you take advantage of the fact that any film bearing that title is the closest one could possibly come to a sure thing at the box-office these days and come up with something new and innovative and trust that the audience will follow or do you elect to placate those viewers by giving them more or less the same thing that they loved so much six years ago? Not surprisingly, the filmmakers have elected to go down that second path and while the end results may indeed satisfy fans of the original who are clamoring to see anything with their favorite characters but my guess is that the only people who are going to embrace this cookie-cutter sequel are the studio accountants." (more)

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