Green Book, Instant Family, Can You Ever Forgive Me? & Eighth Grade Movie Reviews

I managed to see four 2019 UK cinema releases while on planes to and from America in August (I realize they were 2018 releases in the US). I’d not flown anywhere for years – When did the movie selection get so good & recent?? I figured I’d give these quickie reviews since I try to review all UK film releases each year. I’ll start with the best and end with the worst…

Green Book (2018)

Directed by Peter Farrelly

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
Set in 1962, the film is inspired by the true story of a tour of the Deep South by African American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Italian American bouncer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) who served as Shirley’s driver and bodyguard.

My Opinion:

I’m glad I managed to catch up on seeing this controversial Best Picture Oscar winner. I enjoyed it. I know there’s a lot of hate for this one but I thought the performances were strong and I always like stories involving an unlikely friendship between two very different personalities. I thought Mahershala Ali was great in Moonlight and, at the time, was hoping he’d get more roles so I’m happy that’s happening (and that he keeps winning Oscars). I thought his character & Viggo Mortensen’s worked well together and it felt realistic in that the friendship was often awkward and grew very slowly as they were so different.

Is it true to their real life story? I think some of the controversy comes from Don Shirley’s family saying the two weren’t friends at all (the film was co-written by Frank Vallelonga’s son) but interviews with Shirley himself say differently. Who knows? That’s just what I read at Wikipedia to try to find out what caused the controversy surrounding this movie but I’ve read no more than that. I love movies for their escapism so don’t often go for the “true story” films anyway. I like to think it’s all true but know that movies always play up the feelgood factor. As long as it doesn’t feel too over the top & phony, I’m happy enough with a little bit of feelgood cheese.

At least Green Book keeps it fairly real as things are far from perfect during their journey but I’d have liked a tiny bit more focus on the history of the actual Green Book itself (but that would easily make for another whole separate movie). The focus here is on the friendship between the two men and, as far as roadtrip friendship movies go, I found Green Book enjoyable despite any issues surrounding it.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Instant Family (2018)

Directed by Sean Anders

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Tig Notaro, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty, Octavia Spencer

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb)
A couple find themselves in over their heads when they foster three children.

My Opinion:

This movie was fine. It actually had a great IMDb rating when it came out in the U.K. and I’d really wanted to see it but the feelgood cheese (as I mentioned in my Green Book review) was a little too much at times in this one.

To be fair, though, this movie was marketed as a comedy drama so it kept things fairly light instead of being a hard-hitting drama at all times (which isn’t my thing anyway – real life is depressing enough!). I just think that this situation in real life would probably be far more challenging than depicted and, for whatever reason, I never felt a strong connection between the couple and the foster kids although the actors all did a perfectly fine job.

The strongest performance was from Isabela Moner as the headstrong and challenging teenager. She was tough but not totally hateful, which is often a danger with teenage characters. The relationship between her character & Rose Byrne’s felt the most realistic and it was nice seeing those two grow closer. Overall, Instant Family was a nice and somewhat safe film that was at times a tiny bit contrived but, oh well – A feelgood film never killed anyone.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Directed by Marielle Heller

Based on Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Lee Israel

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a biographical film based on the confessional memoir of the same name by Lee Israel. Melissa McCarthy stars as Israel, and the story follows her attempts to revitalize her failing writing career by forging letters from deceased authors and playwrights.

My Opinion:

This was a pretty typical movie with Oscar nominations for acting: The acting was fantastic but the movie was just okay. The true story is actually pretty interesting but I guess it didn’t translate well to film as I was a bit bored throughout the movie. However, Melissa McCarthy & Richard E. Grant were so great and such entertaining characters that this one was still well worth a watch to see their Oscar-nominated performances. I think both of them haven’t gotten enough credit over the years (Yes, even McCarthy, whose brand of humor isn’t my thing for the most part but I can see why she has fans). It’s great that they got recognition for their parts in this film as they’re what made it enjoyable and they had really good chemistry. I’ll keep this short, though, as I honestly have nothing else to say about this movie. Good story, a little slow & boring at times, but fantastic performances and interesting characters.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Eighth Grade (2018)

Directed & Written by Bo Burnham

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Fred Hechinger

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
The coming-of-age story follows the life and struggles of an eighth-grader, played by Elsie Fisher, during her last week of classes before graduating to high school. She struggles with social anxiety but produces vlogs giving life advice.

My Opinion:

This came out aaaaages ago in America but was only finally released in the UK in April this year. It got brilliant reviews from “Film Twitter” people and, even though I’m an old lady, I’m still always up for a really good coming of age film ever since falling in love with Stand By Me during my own coming of age years. Plus, I can relate to the whole socially awkward thing since I’m still awkward as shit.

Well, damn – This movie was very disappointing. I’ll say that the actress, Elsie Fisher, did a good job and felt very real (she seems sweet – I have nothing bad to say about the actress). She also did the socially awkward thing extremely well so, in that regard, I identified with her (even though she was actually far more awkward than I ever was!). However, I couldn’t relate to the character in any other way whatsoever. I know that pre & early teens can be annoying as hell but her character really was a bit too hateful for me to care at all what would happen to her. And her dad just put up with her whiny bullshit and her being a bitch to him and he didn’t monitor her time spent online AT ALL.

Yeah, yeah – I know I’m sounding old. But, seriously – keep your kids away from all forms of social media as long as fucking possible! It’s dangerous. And if you can’t do that for some reason, monitor what the hell they’re doing! FYI – the girl is a vlogger and this movie is NOT about the dangers of living a phony online existence – It’s just about not fitting in during the most awkward time of life. I’m simply having my own personal rant because seeing young girls living out their lives online and pretending to be something they’re not breaks my damn heart. Do we seriously need a whole generation of superficial KardashiJenners?! I can’t stand that fake bullshit and don’t want real-life girls like this character committing suicide when they can’t live up to the impossible standards set by “influencers” and people with an unlimited supply of money.

No, this movie isn’t about suicide or depression or anything like that – It’s a “comedy” drama, supposedly. Maybe I just AM too old for teen movies now as I found Booksmart disappointing as well. However, I thought The Edge Of Seventeen was very good and a more realistic portrayal of being a teen. I don’t know – I just think Eighth Grade would’ve been better with a more likeable and therefore more sympathetic main character. And possibly with “comedy” that was actually funny – I had to double check to see if this was actually considered a comedy. It also felt like it dragged on forever, despite being a short film. It has one of those typical meandering indie movie storylines that doesn’t go anywhere – I don’t know how I managed to stay awake watching this one on the plane. I suppose that reading all the hype for this one while waiting at least a year for it to come out in the UK didn’t help either as my expectations were probably way too high. What a massive disappointment.

My Rating: 5/10

Million Dollar Baby (2004) IMDB Top 250 Review

Happy Birthday to Clint Eastwood, who turns 87 today. This time last year, I did a week of Clint Eastwood reviews (you can see My Top Ten Clint Eastwood Movies HERE, updated to now include Million Dollar Baby).

I still wouldn’t exactly call Eastwood a favorite actor of mine but I’m glad that I finally explored some of his biggest films last year as I liked them a hell of a lot more than I expected to. Million Dollar Baby was still a big omission, however, so I’m glad I’ve finally watched that now as well. And, again, I like another Eastwood movie far more than I was expecting to! And, of course, the awesome Morgan Freeman is in it as well (who I would call a favorite actor & whose birthday is tomorrow – guess what Top Ten List I’ll be doing tomorrow…). 😉 Okay – I’ll shut up & review the movie now.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Based on Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner by F.X. Toole

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Lucia Rijker, Brían F. O’Byrne, Anthony Mackie, Margo Martindale, Riki Lindhome, Michael Peña, Benito Martinez, Grant L. Roberts

IMDB Top 250 Rank: 172 (as of 01/01/13)

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
This film is about an underappreciated boxing trainer, the mistakes that haunt him from his past, and his quest for atonement by helping an underdog amateur boxer achieve her dream of becoming a professional.

My Opinion:

I avoided watching this film for years. I was like “It’s a boxing drama? Pass!”. (Kind of funny that I’ve just watched Rocky for the very first time the same week that I watched this. But I digress). Mainly, though, I avoided this because, when it came out, some annoying assholes decided to spoil the whole damn plot. So I’ve always known exactly how this ends. And that pisses me off. I know it’s not always possible to avoid spoilers but, in the case of this film, there was an uproar since what happens went against the beliefs of some people and they felt the need to warn the public (or something like that) before the film had even been fully released (if I remember correctly). Annoying.

Anyway! This is a great film. I expected to possibly find it contrived (films that try too hard to pull on the heartstrings & just come across as phony piss me off as much as people who spoil films). I expected to not be affected by this film since I knew the whole damn plot already. But it’s a good, heartfelt drama that came across as quite genuine and had fantastic actors playing likeable characters you wanted to see succeed. I sure as shit can’t say I exactly “enjoyed” it (holy hell! I don’t do well with serious dramas). But it’s not the overhyped Oscar bait I had kind of feared it might be.

Come to think of it, I guess this means I should also update My Top Ten Best Picture Oscar Winners list at some point with both this & Rocky. That list includes all 50(ish) Best Pictures that I’ve seen and I have to say that both these damn boxing dramas potentially break into my top ten. Easily top 20 for sure. I’ll have to think about it some more! They’re certainly my favorite boxing movies (Raging Bull didn’t thrill me…). 😉

It’s a shame that Hilary Swank kind of disappeared into bad movie obscurity after this & Boys Don’t Cry (a movie that manages to be even more depressing than this one). Clearly these sort of heart wrenching dramas did suit her but you can’t blame her for trying other things – Starring in nothing but these sort of films would probably mess with your head eventually. I really liked her character in this. Her enthusiasm and single-minded determination are infectious in the same sort of way that made us all like Rocky Balboa and to want him to succeed.

Swank & Eastwood make a great team and their relationship by the end of the film is beautiful & heartbreaking. Million Dollar Baby probably gets somewhat ignored compared to Eastwood’s full-on “guy” movies & bromances but, as great as I think he was in dude movies with the likes of Lee Van Cleef, his mentor/protégée and ultimately father/daughter-like relationship here is a welcome change (and just as good & valid as the bromances). Swank & Eastwood make this film.

But there’s still some male camaraderie for anyone needing that as well. Freeman plays Eastwood’s ex-boxer friend (and… co-owner? or maybe just a trainer living in the gym Eastwood owns. feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). Anyway, I love Freeman and he’s as great as always and another reason why I ended up liking this film much more than I’d been expecting. There’s a story on the side involving skinny little Jay Baruchel wanting to be a boxer & Freeman taking him under his wing. I really liked this story as well (plus that cool confrontation involving Freeman & one of the young boxers). The main story involving Swank is of course the most important but it was good to get a bit more to the movie besides just that.

I just have to end by saying: Oh man – I hated the f*%k out of Swank’s family in this! Which made her character all the more likeable. To put a horrible upbringing behind her & to try to live her dream is the uplifting sort of message people look for in a good story. Which is another reason why I think some people were probably angered by the ending of this film. What IS the ultimate message at the end? But life isn’t always fair & a Hollywood ending in real life is rare. I do watch movies for escapism and do prefer a happy ending but I also can’t get angry at a movie telling a story in a realistic way. I think some people felt cheated by this film. I think we were given a good film with powerful performances & a message of determination and friendship. It’s not an easy watch but it’s a good film I’m glad to have finally seen.

My Rating: 8/10