Tag Archives: datenight

Dating & New York

[3.5 stars]

Like Broken Hearts Gallery, this first feature by Jonah Feingold delivers on almost all levels. They both aim at Millennial love connections and struggles. And both made me realize how much things have changed about dating… and how much they’ve really stayed the same. Dating & New York is a bit less polished than Broken Hearts, and it’s more unapologetically aimed at a younger audience, but there is plenty there for all ages to sympathize and recognize and laugh with (and at).

From the moment it starts we know we’re about to enter a sort of satirical view of old romance films, but done with both love and affection. It isn’t making fun of those fantasies so much as updating them. And the main couple in this modern romcom comes to wonderful life with Jaboukie Young-White and Francesca Reale (Stranger Things). The energy and easy nature of both are completely engaging. And their friends, Catherine Cohen (The Lovebirds) and Brian Muller, bring some framework and balance to what we know just has to get messy eventually, no matter how civilized and above-board it all starts.

Feingold keeps the pacing unrelenting…exhausting even, at times. The story is entertaining. The ending is honest and romantic. The gender flips he does are nicely turned. And, OK, absent one character, I never had any idea how any of these people supported themselves, but that wasn’t the focus of the story. Having found out he filmed it all in 15 days, this movie is sort of amazing.

This is a romantic comedy for both those that like romantic comedies and those who scoff at them. It’s an honest romantic comedy. Well, mostly honest. Mainly, it’s believable where it needs to be and wry where it threatens to get too syrupy. Above all, it’s fun and funny.

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Adam & Steve

[3 stars]

Craig Chester’s indie romp and rumination on missed opportunities and love is as entertaining and sweet as it is raw. Chester and Malcom Gets’ near slapstick romance plays out over the course of the film, helped along by the secret that they had met once long before, but neither puts the story together. It also includes a surprising cast of characters, most notably Parker Posey (Lost in Space) and Chris Kattan.

Chester had fun with this story. He allows it to get absurd, but never for too long. But he also uses the craziest of those moments to find the deepest humanity and emotion. This isn’t a great film, or even a polished product, but it finds some really great moments and truths. If you can get through the first couple scenes, the rest is a cake walk. And if you spent the late 80s and 90s/00s in NYC it will resonate even more.

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Love and Monsters

[3.5 stars]

There was something quite fun in taking the action-hero oriented Dylan O’Brien (Infinite) and making him into a somewhat inept, but able to learn, heartsick dweeb during the apocalypse. It also helps that the script was wickedly funny and unpretentious. By combining the raw sarcasm of  Brian Duffield (Spontaneous) and sweet sensibility of Matthew Robinson (Dora and the Lost City of Gold), the result is an unexpectedly humorous and entertaining action romance.

The story is unabashedly absurd from the start, but not without heart. In fact, if anything, that is the point of the story: family and love (in case the title wasn’t enough of a clue). But it’s all done with a wry wink. Michael Rooker (Vivo) and Ariana Greenblat (Awake) add to that considerably. And Jessica Henwick (On the Rocks) provides a suitable and believable focus for our hero.

This isn’t brilliant comedy or action, but it is totally entertaining and never takes itself too seriously. And, even amidst the absurdity, there is a real base of emotion and intention. It’s a flick that fulfills many needs for an evening and will have you laughing and jumping. Had it not released during the pandemic, it may even have found a wider audience on the big screen, but now it will just have to grow it from a smaller one; and it should.

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benjamin

[3 stars]

Colin Morgan (The Happy Prince, Humans) frontlines this understated romantic comedy. He is the embodiment of the overanalyzing filmmaker, but in a sweet rather than egotistical way. In fact most of the movie is about him building an ego of any sort so that he can be open to life with Phénix Brossard (Little Joe).

Brossard, himself, is mostly a cypher for the film, but an attractive and talented one. You understand Morgan’s fascination with him, but also glimpse Brossard’s own struggles, though those are secondary. And, as Morgan’s external reflection and friend, Joel Fry (Yesterday) delivers a harshly honest view of being lost as both a person and an artist.

Writer/director Simon Amstell managed to keep this film both funny and sharp. It doesn’t shrink away from the flinching pain of moments, but also doesn’t go anywhere too dark, allowing this to be light trip and darkly funny romantic romp.

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Schmigadoon

[4 stars]

This wonderful anti-musical is a riot of satire and wry humor. The more you know classic musicals the funnier it is, but knowing is not required. Not since Galavant has anyone really tried to tackle this vein of humor and production. And even those who hate musicals have found joy in the show, because it makes fun of the format as much as committing to it fully. And at only 30 minutes each, no episode is too long to support the joke.

It also doesn’t hurt that the cast of this crazy production is a glorious collection of singing powerhouses. Giving any of them away sort of spoils the surprises. But it’s all held together by the love story of Keegan Michael-Key (The Prom) and Cecily Strong (The Female Brain), an unlikely power couple from NYC trying to save their relationship.

Go for the fun and absurdity of it all, but stay for the very real sense of emotion it leaves you with. Barry Sonnenfeld (Nine Lives) gave us six episodes that traverse a landmine of clichés without a single miss-step. Go visit Schmigadoon and embrace its silly wonderfulness and biting wit.

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Vivo

[3.5 stars]

I love that animation, particularly animation aimed at younger viewers, is starting to tackle deeper subjects. Look at Coco or Soul for examples of this shift. It speaks to bravery on the part of the studios and an emotional awareness on part of the writers and directors. The trick is to balance those more adult aspects with a younger person’s point of view and perspective of the world; you can’t share a message if you don’t have enough common ground.

And this is where Vivo, for all its wonderfulness around Cuba, music, love, and loss, stumbles. It really isn’t balanced for the widest audience. I suspect it will resonate much more for adults than kids, despite some fun and funny moments.

The main culprit is the script by Kirk DeMicco (The Croods) and Quiara Alegría Hudes (In the Heights) which hides Ynairaly Simo’s reasons for engaging on the adventure until it’s too late for audiences to latch into it. Adults may see what’s going on, but many kids just won’t and, for all her wonderful and brave acting, she just comes off as being silly rather than purposeful and with something invested until near the end.

Fortunately, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (In the Heights) energy, and his ability to connect with the other characters, does help pull it all along. And his songs don’t suck either. Michael Rooker (Fantasy Island) gets a prime bit of screen time…and is every bit as memorable as Sterling Holloway’s (or even Scarlett Johansen’s) turn as Kaa in Jungle Book. (Rooker also had a double opening weekend with The Suicide Squad.) And Gloria Estefan as the lost love and famous singer was an inspired choice, though I wish she’d have gotten to let loose her chops some more. The rest of the voice cast is generally serviceable.

Vivo is really a sweet film to share. The story may be, well, incredulous, but the message and emotions are real. And the animation has moments of true beauty, though it is generally just your typical 3D CGI that we’ve grown used to accepting. It works, but I’m still finding the clash between landscape photo-realism and weird balloon people a struggle at times mentally. All that said, it certainly entertains. And, depending on where you are in life and mood, it may just grab you by the shoulders and shake you (in a good way) a little.

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The Last Letter From Your Lover

[3 stars]

Yeah, up front, this is a sappy and manipulative movie by design. And I’m fine with that. Director Augustine Frizzell aimed the adaptation squarely at romantics, no others need apply. The story cleverly follows two couples from different periods through the lens of discovered letters and the mystery and curiosity they invoke.

In the 60s we follow a married woman discovering a life and love she didn’t even know was possible. But the relationship between Shailene Woodley (The Mauritanian) and Callum Turner (Emma.) comes across as more an act of desperation rather than a great love affair. Part of that is the period acting, but part is simply the lack of chemistry between the two. Given that our window to them is through letters, it could be a style choice to make it reflect more of a written romance; but many of the scenes are clearly flashbacks so that distance isn’t consistent.

On the other hand, Felicity Jones (The Midnight Sky) and  Nabhaan Rizwan (1917), in current times, are completely compelling as the inevitable couple that Jones refuses to acknowledge. Their mental and emotional dance is instantly tangible, even though neither knows quite what to do about it. We invest in them immediately and want them to succeed.

Outside of the main couples, Joe Alwyn (A Christmas Carol) plays the suitable cad of a husband for Woodley to react against. And the late Ben Cross turns in one of his final performances with a sweet and sad depth that carries all the emotion you wish the couple had had in their younger incarnations.

So find someone you really care about who can appreciate the movie for what it is, and curl up together. It will leave you happy to be in love and not unentertained.

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Supernova

[3.5 stars]

Better known as an actor, Harry Macqueen wrote and directed this quietly intense story that should be recognizable to anyone who has ever been, or ever wanted to be, in a long-term relationship. Despite its framing, it isn’t a story about a gay couple, it’s a story about two lovers in crisis and holding on to one another as they navigate the issues. And he manages to do all this through quiet dialogue and without losing tension.

It’s worth every minute of this movie to follow Stanley Tucci (The Witches) and Colin Firth (Mary Poppins Returns) across the English countryside as they struggle to help one another accept the latest phase of their marriage. Both are wonderfully subtle actors, and the depth of their connection is undeniable.

It’s hard not to watch this and not compare it to The Leisure Seeker. Despite the radically different temperaments of the two movies, they tread the same ground in many ways; that of a deep and abiding love facing mortality. But unlike Leisure Seeker, little happens in this movie and few secrets are revealed. It really is a story about the two talking to each other and their friends. But, thanks to the clever direction and editing, it isn’t in the least boring.

This is definitely one to curl up on the couch with your nearest loved one and consider what it means to spend a lifetime together.

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A Discovery of Witches (series 2)

[3 stars]

There is a story in here…somewhere between the melodrama and hand-wavy, pointlessly designed magic. It was in the books, but the translation to screen has been frustrating and very much in the soap opera vein. Frankly, the first season was a bit more interesting because there was so much world to explain. But, now that the foundation has been laid, I expected a lot more information than I got this round. Certainly a lot more about how magic works and about the creature histories since that is the focus of the second season’s uber-arc.

Instead, we get serial drama and romantic drivel… which can work if it is part of something bigger, but this season had about half the suspense and tension that the first did. Not what you expect in the middle acts of a trilogy. Most of the issue, outside of the scripts, is that Teresa Palmer (2:22) just doesn’t have the presence to own the show. There is something missing for me. And Matthew Goode (Ordeal by Innocence) keeps substituting intense glower for acting. Both of these characters are massively layered and full of potential, but somehow it all feels silly and without much real power under it all.

There are some nice expansions of character in this season for Edward Bluemel (Killing Eve), but most of the rest have small additions to what we know or expect.

With only one season left (if they cleave to the books), I’m going to hang out to see if they can pay it all off. Also, because they left this series on a collection of annoying cliff-hangers and I at least want to see how they wriggle out of them or not. As a magical, light romance in the vein of Outlander, this will appeal to many. I’m on the fence, but not yet running away, but I do hope there is more meat on the bones for their finale.

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Coming to America (1 & 2)

[3 stars]

As I got ready to watch Coming 2 America, I realized that I’d never seen the original. It was a timing thing when it came out…but I have no answer as to the 33 intervening years. So, I made this one a double feature over two nights…and I was glad I did.

First, yes, they’re entertaining. A bit pushed on the comedy at times for my taste, but always only briefly so I don’t have to give up on the story. Second, they’re really a single movie. The first stands on its own and makes its own points. The sequel tries to stand on its own, but it references so much of the original that it frankly can’t. At least not if you want to get the whole point.

Eddie Murphy (A Thousand Words) and Arsenio Hall reteam seamlessly, as do a number of the original cast. And getting Wesley Snipes (The Recall) was a solid choice for them to bump up against.

And then there was the new generation. Jermaine Fowler (Sorry to Bother You) was a perfect choice for Murphy’s son. His command of comedy and drama, and the ability to flip back and forth between them sells the part, regardless of how silly and forced some of the situations become. Likewise, KiKi Layne (The Old Guard) as his daughter is a powerhouse of a person as well as an injured child.

I, honestly, could have done without some of the broader humor from Leslie Jones (Ghostbusters) and Tracy Morgan (The Boxtrolls), but that’s my taste. There are moments it works, but it just as often threw me out of the story, unlike the barbershop moments which acted as humorous asides.

If you liked the first movie, you’ll enjoy the second just as much. It is a nice evolution of the characters and respectful expansion of the sentiments and intents of the first. Oh, and yes it’s funny and romantic, just like the original. It’s even updated in its thinking in nice ways, and full of amusing cameos.

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