My View: Haunted Mansion (2023) PG-13 A single mom, Gabbie (Rosario Dawson), has just bought a mansion, and it’s haunted. What’s mom to do but hire a tour guide, a psychic, a priest, and a historian to help exorcise the ghosts? I found this film boring, which is sad considering that the cast includes Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Dan Levy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Winona Ryder, and surprisingly, Jared Leto as the bad guy, Mr. Hat-Box Ghost. The film felt like one extended promo for the Disneyland ride, and while it has a few fun moments, the film never finds a way to combine a few scares with a few (and I mean few) laughs. I have grown tired of Tiffany Haddish and her limited range, finding her more annoying than funny. LaKeith Stanfield and Rosario Dawson try hard to keep the momentum going, but this ride never makes it past the first hallway of scary pictures. My Rating: Cable Haunted Mansion Website Now playing in theatres nationwide.
My View: Talk to Me (2023) R A group of friends have come across an embalmed hand with mysterious tattoos. They soon discover that they can use it to conjure spirits, which becomes their favorite game to play. Until one of them goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces. Talk to Me is one of the best horror films of the year, maybe of the last five years. It’s downright scary without having to resort to ‘jump scares.’ I will warn you I predict some people will walk out of the theatre during the opening scenes because of the extreme and shockingly quick violence. This is a film where the tension builds from almost the beginning and doesn’t let up until the end. I loved we know what the teens are doing will go badly, but they don’t seem to care until it’s too late. Much like the stupid TikTok challenges that can become dangerous, the teens keep on tempting fate because of the rush it gives them, but we know that rush will come at a cost. Sophie Wilde is perfect as our heroine, Mia, who is reluctant at first to take part, but under peer pressure and wanting to fit in, she relents. Things get out of hand, and Mia realizes she must try to find a way out. But is it too late? If you get past the opening sequence, you are in for a very imaginative and scary film that may make you sleep with a light on. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again Talk to Me Website Now playing in select theatres.
My View: Happiness for Beginners (2023) Helen (Ellie Kemper), who year after getting divorced and stuck in a rut, signs up for a week-long wilderness survival course on the Appalachian Trail. Her fellow hikers are a mess, but it does include her brother’s best friend, Jake (Luke Grimes). Can Helen survive long enough on the trail to fall in love? I am a big fan of Ellie Kemper and had fun with this slight, breezy rom-com. This is a film that I call the ‘beach read’ movie. It’s a film that, like those fun novels, you take on your summer vacations to read while getting some sun and drinking a glass or two of wine. There’s not much to the plot as it’s light and predictable, and you have a good time watching it, and as soon as it’s over, you will forget it. Kemper plays an accident-prone woman who has a troubled past and a bad marriage to get past. So, what does Helen do? Why, go on a survival hike with a bunch of strangers. Along the way, she will learn about herself and her fellow travelers and maybe fall in love. There is some good chemistry between Luke Grimes and Kemper, with their will they/won’t they possible romance. The plot is predictable, but then again, don’t we want it to be with this kind of film? So lace up your hiking boots, fill your pack with dehydrated food, and go on a hike to help find Helen a few answers and a romance. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Happiness for Beginners Website Now playing on the Netflix platform.
Indiefest: Kokomo City (2023) R Documentary that shows the lives of four black transgender sex workers living in New York and Georgia as they confront the dichotomy between the black community and themselves. Kokomo City is a wildly entertaining, sometimes shocking, look at four black transgender sex workers and how they look at themselves, their work, the men who pay for their services, and how others see them. Shot in B&W and using a bit of animation and play-acting make the film move at a fast pace. The subject matters range from downright X-rated material to almost innocent talks about their lives. These four women know they are living on the edge and that what they do is dangerous and looked down on. Sadly, after the film’s release, one of the subjects was found murdered on the streets of Atlanta. Needless to say, this isn’t a documentary for everyone. Still, if you want to spend some time with four fascinating and unique individuals who graciously let us into their world, it’s an interesting 75 minutes. My Rating: Full Price Kokomo City Website Now playing in select theatres.
Indiefest: The Unknown Country (2022) Tana (Lily Gladstone) has just lost her grandmother, who she was caring for. She gets an unexpected call to come to her cousin’s wedding and sets out on a road trip across the Midwest in her trusty car. It’s a trip that Tana will learn about herself and the people she meets along the way. I loved this film primarily due to another brilliant performance by Lily Gladstone. The character played by Gladstone, Tana, travels after her grandma's death to experience the beauty of the land and its people. Tana is Native American, and her family lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This is a film that takes its time, much like the road trip that Tana is on. We get to know not only Tana’s relatives but also the people that she encounters along the way, including a waitress, an owner of a motel, and a convenience store worker. All are not actors, and we get a brief story about their lives, much like if you stopped and talked to them at their jobs for a bit. Tana decides to continue her road trip and find out more about her grandmother’s time in Texas, with only a few pictures to go on. The Unknown Country is a gorgeous film due to the magnificent countryside and the people we meet along the way. My Rating: Full Price The Unknown Country website Now playing in select theatres.
My View: The Beanie Bubble (2023) R Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis) was a frustrated toy salesman until his collaboration with three women (Elizabeth Banks, Sarah Snook, and Geraldine Viswanathan) grew their idea into one of the biggest toy crazes in history. It’s a story of fame, fortune, greed, betrayal, and Beanie Babies. I loved this film about the man who created Beanie Babies, or did he? Based loosely on a true story, Ty Warner is a man who went from almost nothing to one of the wealthiest men in the world (and still is), and the women who made it happen (sometimes with his help, sometimes dragging his feet all the way to the bank). This is the story of three women who, at various times in Ty’s life, made his dreams come true and then were forgotten because of a man who could not share the spotlight or admit that not every idea wasn’t his. Zach Galifianakis is fantastic in the role of a man who cares only about himself and will stab anyone in the back to get what he feels he is entitled to. I loved Geraldine Viswanathan, whose character, Maya, goes from part-time receptionist to creating one of the first company-based websites that started the Beanie Babies craze. Her character is based on a real person who convinced Ty to get on the internet long before anyone else figured out what it could do. Viswanathan is a force in the film and holds her own with Zach, someone who tends to dominate the screen with his antics. Elizabeth Banks plays Robbie, a fiery woman who has a chance meeting with Ty and goes all in on his stuffed toy company, ultimately falling for Ty. Sarah Snook plays a divorced woman, Shelia, who has two young girls and, against her best instincts, falls in love with Ty. Like Elizabeth Banks’s character, Robbie, Ty has weaved a spell and seduced Shelia. The question is, will Ty ever wake up and reward these women for their ideas and hard work, or will the women have to get revenge? Gather your little stuffed Beanies from your closets and storage units, pour yourself a drink, and find out. My Rating: Full Price The Beanie Bubble Info Now playing in select theatres and on the Apple TV+ platform.
My View: Theater Camp (2023) PG-13 Troy (Jimmy Tatro) is forced to run his mother’s three-week theater camp after his mother (Amy Sedaris) has a seizure during a performance of Bye Bye Birdie and slips into a coma. Troy must rely on staff because Troy has no talent and no idea how to run a camp. But the kids have a ‘can do’ attitude and a song in their hearts, so what could go wrong? The film’s cast is the reason to see it because they are having a blast making it. Co-written by two of the cast, Noah Galvin and Molly Gordon, the film is about an annual camp for theater kids run by a group of wannabe performers who take their jobs a little too seriously. Into the mix walk Troy, a YouTube guy who thinks he can turn the camp into a money-maker just because he thinks he can. The film is funny but very uneven because the dialogue and scenes are improvised. The kids are the best part of the movie, so much so that I wish there was less interaction with the adults and more of the kids doing goofy stuff. Theater Camp gets a little stale by the midpoint, but the last fifteen minutes are just so well done, and much like the show they are putting on, it all finally comes together. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Theater Camp website Now playing in select theatres.
Forgotten Film: The Day After Trinity (1981) Documentary on the Manhattan Project and the man behind the creation of the Atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer. This Academy Award-nominated film is a great companion piece to the Christopher Nolan film Oppenheimer, with interviews of most of the participants in the research, including Oppenheimer's brother. It goes into great detail on the building of the bomb. The film’s second half goes into Oppenheimer’s fall from grace when he speaks out against nuclear arms proliferation and the hunt for Communists that cost him his clearance. The Day After Trinity is a fascinating film that will amaze and terrify you while giving you a better understanding of the man and the myth. My Rating: Full Price The Day After Trinity Info Available for purchase on Amazon and playing on the Criterion Channel for free through the month of July.
Weird Credits: From the credits of Haunted Mansion: Prosthetics Silicone Runner
Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: The Equalizer 3 (2023) Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) has finally found a home in Southern Italy. That home is being threatened by the mafia and its local crime boss. As the mafia flex their muscle and threaten McCall’s new friends, McCall does what he always does: protect his friends by any means possible. I have enjoyed this series by filmmakers Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington and look forward to seeing this one. The Equalizer 3 Website Coming to theatres nationwide in September.