My View: The High Note (2020) PG Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a superstar singer who is resting on the popularity of her past hits. Maggie (Dakota Johnson) is Grace’s overworked and under-appreciated assistant. When Grace’s push for a new album is shot down by her manager (Ice Cube), Maggie pushes Grace to record songs on her own, but is Maggie overstepping her bounds? I used to not be a big fan of Dakota Johnson, but after her role in The Peanut Butter Falcon and this film, I am warming up to her. Johnson has a pleasant screen presence and is enjoyable as the lovable assistant who dreams of being a music producer. Tracee Ellis Ross plays the diva that is still a big star but thinks her days as a hitmaker are over. Ross is sizzling in the role, and boy, can she sing, making her performance the highlight of the film. The film is predictable, and the big reveal near the end is something that you will see from about a third of the film in. The film revolves around the love story between Maggie and a singer, played by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., she discovers at a grocery store. Maggie convinces the singer that he has the talent to make it, and she is just the producer who can make his dreams come true. Harrison, Jr. has a great singing voice, and I enjoyed several of his songs, but Ross gives us the reason to see this film, with a stage presence that makes us believe she is that legendary singer. While not a great movie, it's still a fun film to watch, and you might sing along with some of the classic songs that Maggie loves. My Rating: Bargain Matinee The High Note Website Available for rent on participating on-demand services.
Indiefest: The Vast of Night (2019) PG-13 Set in a small New Mexico town in the 1950s, a young switchboard operator, Fay (Sierra McCormick), and a local radio DJ, Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that a caller claims has origins of a mysterious past. This isn’t your typical Sci-Fi film as it starts with credits like it is a 60s sci-fi television show. That open gives you a clue that this film will be pushing a few boundaries, but that makes the film feel very rich and exciting. The film starts with us following Everett, a quick talking young man who, as the local DJ, is the small-town celebrity. He encounters Fay, who wants to know how to work her new purchase, a portable tape recorder. Fay gets a mysterious phone call about the time she hears an unusual series of sounds coming from Everett’s radio broadcast, and the film takes off from there. Like the opening credits, this film feels like those old Sci-Fi TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, where there isn’t a bunch of significant action sequences, but the tension is built on what the characters experience and find out. There is some inventive camera work in the film, and the two leads are fascinating to watch on the screen. It’s a film that doesn’t need the action sequences to make you feel on the edge of your seat; it just needs a few key scenes and some knockout performances to do that. My Rating: Full Price The Vast of Night Info Available for rent on participating on-demand services.
Indiefest: Funny Pains (2017) Documentary featuring the life and times of comedian Wendi Starling, as she navigates the harsh world of a stand-up comic. The film gives us an up-close and personal look at the life of a comic struggling to make her mark. Starling isn’t afraid of discussing her life, whether on the stand-up stage or in her apartment talking to the camera. The film gives us a bunch of conversations that Starling and other comics, including Nikki Glaser, Jim Norton, and Bonnie McFarlane. The film never quite finds its footing, though I think there is a good film in there somewhere. Starling admits to having some problems, but the film never presses Starling into going in-depth into those personal problems, which was desperately needed to keep the movie from feeling so slight. I must admit that I didn’t ever truly enjoy Starling’s stand up routine, and we never see her with an audience that is eating up her material. The film feels flat, much like much of Starling’s material. My Rating: Cable Funny Pains Website Available for rent on participating on-demand services.
My View: Olympic Dreams (2019) PG-13 In the Olympic Athlete Village, a young cross-country skier (Alexi Pappas) meets a volunteer dentist (Nick Kroll), and these two lonely people strike up a friendship as the world gets together to compete in the Olympic games. The film is a must for any fan of the Olympics as almost the whole film was shot in the actual Olympic Village during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. That being said, the film fails to completely overcome the novelty of shooting everything on the site. I liked the initial chemistry between the two, but as the film develops, I just never saw the sparks we needed for us to believe the couple was falling-in-love. The film can’t shake the feeling that most of the scenes are improved, making it seem more like a selection of skits than a fleshed-out film. I did like Alexi Pappas, who, as a former 10K Olympic runner, brings a bit of realism to her role. I wish that the film had a little more substance to it, but still, it is fun to go behind the scenes of the world’s biggest athletic event. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Olympic Dreams Website Available for rent on participating on-demand services.
Indiefest: Banana Split (2018) R Over the summer, right before everyone is about to take off for college, April (Hannah Marks) and Clara (Liana Liberato) become best friends. One big problem; Clara is dating April’s ex, Nick (Dylan Sprouse). Almost from the start of the film, I fell in love with April, played by the fantastic Hannah Marks. Marks reminds me of a very young Sandra Bullock with a touch of Rachael Leigh Cook thrown in. Marks has incredible comic timing, and like Bullock, anytime she is on the screen, she dominates the scene. Liana Liberato holds her own on the screen as the girl that anyone would be jealous of, and the time the two spend on the screen is magical. I enjoyed the dinner scenes that April has with her single, put upon mom (Jessica Hecht) and her younger sister (Addison Riecke), who sees her sister as competition for the attention of Nick. The film has fun with the unusual friendship (they keep it a secret from Nick), and while a bit predictable, I think you will enjoy it as much as I did. My Rating; Full Price Banana Split Info Available for rent on participating on-demand services.
Forgotten Film: Bell Book and Candle (1958) Gillian (Kim Novak) likes her neighbor, Shepherd (Jimmy Stewart), but feels that his fiancée (Janice Rule) isn’t the one for him. How to win him over? Why, with an enchantment, because she is a witch. Only Gillian plays it a little too real and falls in love with him. This isn’t a great film, but Novak is just mesmerizing, the supporting cast with Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester, and Ernie Kovacs are a scream and Stewart is Stewart at his best. Oh, and I’m not a cat person, but you will love the cat in this film. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Bell Book and Candle Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of The High Note: Biscuit Tech
Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: Spelling the Dream (2020) An Indian-American has won the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the past 12 years. This documentary explores this trend, which is one of the longest in sports history, highlighting four students as they compete to win the tournament. I am a horrible speller, so this event always fascinates me every year. Spelling the Dream Website
Until Next Time!