Ugly Dolls and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Entertainment
Directed by Kelly Asbury
So are Ugly Dolls even a thing? I feel like it HAS to be a thing for this movie to even exist, but I’ve never heard of them and frankly the first thing that annoyed me about the trailers is how decidedly UN-ugly all the dolls were supposed to be. What, are big eyes fuzzy skin on a doll all of a sudden outside of societal norms? There’s no room in the world of the beautiful for dolls of non-humanoid proportions!? See, this is the kind of thinking that gave Sonic straight human teeth, the portions of an Olympic runner, and the eyes of a soulless monster! Say what you will about that Garbage Pail Kids movie, at least they knew what ugly meant! Okay, that’s PROBABLY not the best grounds to dismiss an entire movie on, but with only the occasional trailer and buzz leading up to its release, it certainly doesn’t seem like this is gonna be the sleeper hit of the year. Does it manage to defy expectations and be a really great movie despite how lacking the marketing has been, or are we doomed for yet another animated disaster in a year that already gave us Wonder Park? Let’s find out!!
In the happy town of Uglyville, everyone is happy and always partying which is easy to do when so many of them are inexplicably great singers and love to narrate their lives through song! One such resident is Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) who enjoys her simple life in this unassuming town of ugly dolls, but dreams of something more! She wants to be part of OUR world, by which I mean she wants to be a doll for a kid and… I guess she’s just waiting around for it to happen? Every morning she sings that THAT day will be THE day that she’ll get her own kid, but then just hangs out in Uglyville where no kids every come by. Eventually Moxy realizes that this is probably not the BEST strategy, so she convinces a few of the other residents of Uglyville, Ugly Dog, Wage, Lucky Bat, and Babo (Pitbull, Wanda Sykes, Wang Leehorn, and Gabriel Iglesias) to accompany her on a journey to outside of town. The only way out is also the only way in as there’s a giant tube in the side of a mountain that shoots out an ugly doll every once in a while to join the town, so she figures that they’ll climb up it and see where it goes. It turns out that it goes to a town called Perfection which is full of Barbie knockoffs that have to go through rigorous training before being allowed to go through the pearly gates which… I guess is where they’ll be packed into plastic boxes and sold on store shelves to hopefully wind up in a kid’s hands. The mechanics are a bit unclear, but the point is crystal! Moxy and her friends will face these challenges that all the other dolls have to go through in order to PROVE THEIR WORTH and pass through the gates themselves! However, the leader of Perfection named Lou (Nick Jonas) isn’t happy about these UGLY creatures fouling up his perfect little community and will do whatever it takes to stop them from achieving their dreams! Can Moxy and her friends find a way to not only pass the ridiculous tests set before them but perhaps make a positive change in Perfection in the process? Who is this doll named Mandy (Janelle Monáe) that keeps trying to help them, and what is her reason for doing so? Is it just me, or is this an overly complicated version of college frat comedy?
Mary Poppins Returns and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
This is one of the weirder cases of nostalgia I’ve had because I don’t have nostalgia about this story or the documentary from 2010. I have nostalgia for a review of it. Around that time I had just learned about Spill.com (which is now more or less split between Double Toasted and One Of Us) and one of the earliest podcasts I had heard from them was a series of reviews about films they saw at SXSW 2010 which included a review of the documentary. So when they announced this movie, I actually was rather interested to see it because I had never gotten around to the documentary but that review for whatever reason always stuck with me and so seeing a big budget studio adaptation of something I had THAT tertiary of knowledge for would be interesting; not to mention seeing what those same critics thought of this movie as well. Does this story of a man who found a way to cope with his trauma through the use of imaginative and painstakingly detailed art pieces manage to convey the raw emotional power of this man’s life and work, or are we stuck with another treacly adaptation that fails to live up to the material it’s based on; including the critically acclaimed documentary? Let’s find out!!
Loosely based on the true story of Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carrell), this movie follows the story of Mark who was nearly beaten to death by five Neo-Nazi monsters who did so after they learned that Mark enjoyed wearing women’s shoes. Fortunately Mark survived and the men were caught, but sadly he lost his memories, a lot of his motor skills (making it nearly impossible for him to write or draw), and has been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since. In order to cope with what has happened, he created a World War II village named Marwen in his yard and stages elaborate action scenes and character moments using dolls that represent him, the Nazis who beat him up, and the women in his life who helped him afterwards. This includes Anna (Gwendoline Christie) a nurse who visits him once a month to bring him medication and check on his physical health, Julie (Janelle Monáe) a physical therapist with one leg who helped him walk again and has since been traveling the world and running in marathons, Caralala (Eiza González) who is Mark’s coworker at his part time job, Roberta (Merritt Wever) who works at the town’s hobby shop and has helped Mark get the parts he needs to bring this made up town to life, and Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis) who he may not know in person but has starred in some of his FAVORITE films! Sadly, the one doll that is based on Wendy (Stefanie von Pftetten) who the town is partially named after (Marwen is short for Mark and Wendy) has been permanently removed and put into the RIP bin for reasons that aren’t made explicitly clear but can be somewhat inferred as we learn more about Mark’s life as well as the struggles and demons he’s had to work through. One such demon is the Belgian Witch Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger) who is the cause of many of Marwen’s woes and has a very distinct counterpart in the real world that you’ll have to keep an eye out for while watching them movie. Things seem to have been going along like this for some time now, but when Mark gets a new neighbor across the street named Nicol (Leslie Mann), well it looks like Marwen’s about to get a new resident which will certainly add a few more stories to the town’s ever expanding lore, but maybe this is the point where he takes things too far with his work; not to mention the overwhelming stress he’s feeling about the attack now that the men responsible are going to finally be sentenced for their crimes. Will Mark be able to face his attackers in court and put the incident behind him once and for all? Will Nicol understand what Mark is going through or will his behavior cross some very clear lines that he seems completely oblivious to when dealing with women outside of his fantasy world? Is it just me, or should they start making Marwen merchandise at some point? I want that Deja Thoris doll!
Hidden Figures and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Theodore Melfi
FINALLY! How long did we get trailers for this movie before they finally settled on a release date in January of all months!? Well better late than never I suppose, and there’s been some seriously strong buzz prior to its nationwide release, so maybe the months of this trailer popping up in front of EVERY MOVIE will be worth it unlike other heavily promoted movies like The Secret Life of Pets. Remember how many times they showed THAT trailer? Almost ruined Downtown for me. ANYWAY!! Will this be a great way to start off this already rough year, or will this end up being a bigger let down than the Constellation program? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins in 1961 with three human computers (those were a thing apparently) who work at NASA but don’t quite get the credit they deserve for their work due almost entirely to them being women of color. Our intrepid heroes are Katherine Goble (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and they all get their chances to prove themselves once the government is gung ho about escalating the Space Race to beat the Russians to the moon! Well… sort of. Katherine gets assigned as a temp for the SUPER math department working with Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) who is an amalgam of three real NASA directors from that period of time, and Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) who is completely made up and pretty much just symbolic of crappy people that Katherine had to deal with. Of course, she gets the grunt work, has to run to the colored restrooms (that was still a thing at the time) and was even given a separate coffee pot to use, despite the fact that she can number crunch circles around her coworkers. Meanwhile, Dorothy is trying to get in on the ground floor of computing as the new IBMs are gonna make the human computers irrelevant at some point, and Mary is trying to be a full time engineer at NASA but is constantly hit with discriminatory roadblocks that make it that much harder for her to achieve her dreams. None of that’s gonna stop ANY of these women though, as they’re smarter than everyone else and are out there to prove it! Will they be able to get a proper seat at the table as everyone is working towards the launch of Freindship 7 and in doing so ensure that John Glenn makes it back to Earth safely!? Well… okay, we KNOW that part considering he was still around as recently as a month ago, but that doesn’t make the journey any less compelling to watch!
Moonlight and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24
Directed by Barry Jenkins
I don’t get to see a lot of independent films where I live, and the few chances that I do get to see them usually involve a long drive to a faraway theater with exorbitant prices. Such is the case with this film which has been getting a whole lot of buzz recently, especially with Hollywood’s recent push to diversify itself (and with Birth of Nation having more baggage than they expected). My knowledge of LGBTQ+ cinema is somewhat limited, though even then I’m not even sure the best way to define that. I’m pretty sure that saying John Waters or Gus Van Sant are “gay filmmakers” is right on the money as their work often centers around LGBTQ+ characters and their struggles, but what about directors like Lee Daniels or Rob Marshall? Sure, you can point to most of their movies and point out themes and messages that can be relatable to those in the LGBTQ+ community, but would you put The Butler or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides along alongside Gus Van Sant’s films? Hell, what about movies that are explicitly about LGBTQ+ issues but are directed by those who aren’t in the community such as Brokeback Mountain, To Wong Foo, or even this film which was written by a gay man (Tarell Alvin McCraney) but directed by a straight one? Look, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who can give you a better answer to that question than I can, so I’ll just stick to what I at least PRETEND to know best; namely talking about the movies while making snarky comments. Is this the film that truly lives up to the ideals that Hollywood has failed to live up to and will get all the credit it deserves, or is this a mediocre endeavor that the cynics in the Academy will glom onto just to make themselves look better? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the life of Chiron and is presented to us in three distinct segments. We see him when he’s small and is known as Little (Alex Hibbert), when he’s a teenager and the nickname has been dropped (Ashton Sanders), and as an adult when he starts using another nickname Black (Trevante Rhodes), and in each one they show a little bit more of his struggle. What struggle is that exactly? Well it doesn’t take long to figure out that he’s gay which everyone around him seems to pick up on and, for the most part, use it against him. His mother (Naomie Harris) is dealing with her own problems with addiction so this just seems like an unbearable inconvenience for her and plenty of kids in school just bully him because he seems different. Now it’s not like the whole world is against him as a local couple, Juan and Teresa (Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe), try to give him some guidance in his life, and he has a friend named Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland) who tries to keep his spirits up even though he’s got his own growing pains to work through and his own share of bad choices to make. Will Chiron ever feel accepted in a world that seems tailor made to keep him down? How will decisions that he and his family make at certain points in his life affect him later on? Most importantly, WILL YOU JUST KISS HIM ALREADY!? YOU BELONG TOGETHER!!