Candy Jar (2018)

Candy Jar
Director: Ben Shelton
Writer: Chad Klitzman
Cast: Jacob Latimore, Sami Gayle, Tom Bergeron, Helen Hunt, Paul Tigue, Austin Flynn, Blake Flynn, Christina Hendricks, Uzo Aduba
Seen on: 4.1.2020

Plot:
Bennett (Jacob Latimore) and Lona (Sami Gayle) are constantly in competition with each other in school and on the debate team, as are their mothers Amy (Christina Hendricks) and Julia (Uzo Aduba) who couldn’t be more different. But when they run into trouble with their individual debates, the only way they can bolster their resumés for college is by teaming up. So, reluctantly and begrudgingly, they decide to go for cooperation instead of competition. Surprisingly, this works much better than either of them expected.

Candy Jar is a nice high school romance that manages to get a little off the beaten path – though it doesn’t stray too far. I enjoyed watching it.

The film poster showing Bennett (Jacob Latimore) and Lona (Sami Gayle) looking at each other in front of a blackboard and a lectern.
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Step Sisters (2018)

Step Sisters
Director: Charles Stone III
Writer: Chuck Hayward
Cast: Megalyn Echikunwoke, Eden Sher, Lyndon Smith, Gage Golightly, Alessandra Torresani, Nia Jervier, Marque Richardson, Naturi Naughton, Matt McGorry, Sheryl Lee Ralph, L. Warren Young, Robert Curtis Brown
Seen on: 3.1.2020

Plot:
Jamilah (Megalyn Echikunwoke) has her life completely figured out: she’s president of her sorority, leads her sorority’s step dance group, she gets excellent grades, she has a devoted boyfriend (Matt McGorry) and she knows exactly where to go next: Harvard Law. But her plans are being threatened by another sorority’s embarrassing misbehavior. The school fears for its reputation and tasks Jamilah with getting the white girls of Sigma Beta Beta back on track by turning them into step dancers and winning the next contest. Despite her misgivings about bringing that black tradition to a bunch of white girls, Jamilah sees no way out but to do as asked – but that proves more difficult than initially thought.

Step Sisters was fun enough with a few good things, but I was also a little weirded out by the way they handled race in it. Since race is at the front and center of the film, that’s not a small thing.

The film poster showing two pair of boots, one black, one pink.
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A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding
Director: John Schultz
Writer: Karen Schaler, Nate Atkins
Sequel to: A Christmas Prince
Cast: Rose McIver, Ben Lamb, Alice Krige, Honor Kneafsey, Sarah Douglas, Theo Devaney, John Guerrasio, Tahirah Sharif, Joel McVeagh, Tom Knight, Richard Ashton, Raj Bajaj, Simon Dutton, Katarina Cas
Seen on: 28.12.2019

Plot:
It’s been a year that Amber (Rose McIver) and Richard (Ben Lamb) got together and Richard ascended to the throne. Now they are planning their wedding. Or rather, everyone is planning their wedding for them, with Amber having a very hard time to have her wishes respected, or heard at all. Maybe her discomfort means that she shouldn’t become a queen in the first place? Richard is also not much help as he is preoccupied with the failing finances of his kingdom that run counter to all of his modernization intiatives.

I honestly can’t really tell you why I even watched A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, given that the first one wasn’t a particularly great experience for me. The Royal Wedding was even worse – and I still couldn’t pry myself away from the screen or stop myself from watching the sequel.

The film poster showing Amber (Rose McIver) and Richard (Ben Lamb) dancing.
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Christmas with a View (2018)

Christmas with a View
Director: Justin G. Dyck
Writer: David Finley, Rebecca Lamarche
Based on: Teresa Southwick‘s novel The Maverick’s Christmas Homecoming
Cast: Kaitlyn Leeb, Scott Cavalheiro, Mark Ghanimé, Kristen Kurnik, Joseph Cannata, Jess Walton, Patrick Duffy, Vivica A. Fox
Seen on: 26.12.2019

Plot:
Clara (Kaitlyn Leeb) works as a restaurant manager in the town she grew up in and has plans for more. The restaurant she manages recently landed a big coup: celebrity chef Shane (Scott Cavalheiro) – who just one a big cooking show on TV – has agreed to come and work with them. Shane has a good reason to come to that particular town anyway. Even as they clash together at work, Shane and Clara quickly find that they have many things in common.

Christmas with a View is gave me exactly what I was looking for with a whole lot more food porn than I expected or found necessary. There are some uneven bits and a racist part, but it delivers the expected emotional satisfaction, at least to a white person like me.

The film poster showing some of the main characters of the film.
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The Holiday Calendar (2018)

The Holiday Calendar
Director: Bradley Walsh
Writer: Amyn Kaderali
Cast: Kat Graham, Quincy Brown, Ethan Peck, Ron Cephas Jones, Genelle Williams, Ali Hassan, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Laura de Carteret, Kevin Hanchard, Romaine Waite, Jaeda Owens, Nicola Correia-Damude
Seen on: 26.12.2019

Plot:
Abby’s (Kat Graham) best friend Josh (Quincy Brown) just returned from his prolongued travels abroad – just in time for the holiday season. Abby is really happy to have him back, but other parts of her life are less great – like her job where her photographic talent is wasted on taking snaps of children on Santa’s lap. When her grandfather (Ron Cephas Jones) gives Abby an antique advent calendar, it seems to be able to predict things – in particular, it predicts Abby’s sudden romance with Ty (Ethan Peck). Or is it all a coincidence?

The Holiday Calendar is one of the few Christmas movies that has people of color in the lead roles and for that alone, it’s worth opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate and watch it. But even disregarding that, it’s a very cute movie.

The film poster showing a young woman (Kat Graham) leaning on an advent calendar and a young man (Quincy Brown) standing behind her.
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Love on the Slopes (2018)

Love on the Slopes
Director: Paul Ziller
Writer: Bruce D. Johnson, Kirsten Hansen
Cast: Katrina Bowden, Thomas Beaudoin, Elysia Rotaru, Anthony Konechny, Corey Woods, Chris Shields, Tony Giroux
Seen on: 23.12.2019

Plot:
Alex (Katrina Bowden) really wants to be a travel writer, but so far her job at a magazine has only consisted of copy editing. When a contest is announced for a new writing gig, though, Alex jumps at the chance, suggesting an article on a reclusive sports photographer. Instead her boss suggests that she should write about trying out winter extreme sports instead. Used to a mostly pampered, comfortable existence with her fiancé Barton (Anthony Konechny), Alex is hesitant about that, but ultimately can’t pass up the chance. So she finds herself in Ridgeline looking for somebody who can show her the ropes (quite literally) and finds Cole (Thomas Beaudoin), the photographer she wanted to write about in the first place. As they start exploring the mountains together, they become ever closer.

Love on the Slopes is exactly what you’d expect and want it to be. There is not a single step that strays from the usual romance path, but formulaic as it may be, it’s also pretty charming.

The film poster showing a man (Thomas Beaudoin) and a woman (Katrina Bowden) standing on a snowy mountain with skis in their hands.
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Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal [The Incessant Fear of Rape] (2018)

Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal
Director: Aditya Kripalani
Writer: Aditya Kripalani
Cast: Shalini Vatsa, Chitrangada Chakraborty, Kritika Pande, Sonal Joshi, Vinay Sharma, Ahmareen Anjum
Seen on: 29.5.2019
[Screener Review.]

Content Note: rape

Plot:
Vibha (Shalini Vatsa), Chitra (Chitrangada Chakraborty) and Shagun (Sonal Joshi) don’t know each other, but they end up sitting in the same taxi, part of a fleet especially for women. Their cab is being driven by Shaila (Kritika Pande) who owns the taxi company. As they are stuck in traffic, the four women get to talking: about the need for a taxi service like this. About the constant threat of being raped if you’re out just a little too late. About the entitlement of men. Even on this night, they can’t get home unbothered: a man (Vinay Sharma) starts hollering at them from his moped. But this time, they strike back and soon they have the guy locked up in an abandoned building, ready to teach him what it means to be afraid all the time.

Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal is an interesting, character-driven film on a feminist mission. It has a good cast and is well-told, although the ending – while thought-provoking – is a little unsatisfying. But that shouldn’t keep you from watching it: the film is well worth it.

The film poster showing Chitrangada Chakraborty.
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First Man (2018)

First Man
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Josh Singer, James R. Hansen
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Patrick Fugit, Christopher Abbott, Ciarán Hinds, Olivia Hamilton, Pablo Schreiber, Shea Whigham, Lukas Haas, Ethan Embry, Brian d’Arcy James, Cory Michael Smith, Kris Rey
Seen on: 26.11.2018
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Plot:
Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) just lost their little daughter to cancer, prompting Neil, who also had some professional disappointments, to apply for a new program at NASA. They all move to Houston and Neil starts working on the Gemini project – the most important project in the space race between the USA and the Soviet Union. But it will take a while before Neil and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) undertake their historic flight to the moon.

First Man is made of excellent parts that nevertheless feels underwhelming as those excellent parts don’t really make for an excellent whole – even if I can’t put my finger on why that’s the case.

The film poster, showing an astronaut (Ryan Gosling) in profile.
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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Director: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston
Writer: Ashleigh Powell
Based on: E.T.A. Hoffmann‘s novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, as well as the ballet based on this story by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Tom Sweet, Meera Syal, Ellie Bamber, Matthew Macfadyen, Morgan Freeman, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Helen Mirren, Jack Whitehall, Eugenio Derbez, Richard E. Grant, Keira Knightley, Misty Copeland, Max Westwell, Aaron Smyth, Sergei Polunin
Seen on: 26.11.2018
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Plot:
Clara’s (Mackenzie Foy) mother passed away not too long ago, but her father (Matthew Macfadyen) has one last Christmas present from the her for Clara and her siblings. While her siblings’ presents are rather self-explanatory, Clara gets a golden egg that’s supposed to open, but doesn’t. Her godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) is the one who made it, so Clara hopes that at his annual Christmas party, she might find more answers. Indeed, he leads her to the key, but before she can reach it, Clara finds herself transported into a completely different world – a world her mother apparently knew intimately. Clara meets the soldier Philipp (Jayden Fowora-Knight), as well as the regents of three of the four realms of that world. Quickly she is deeply involved in the politics of the four realms.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is nice, but doesn’t really come together. Nevertheless, it is entertaining and cute in an entirely unimpactful way.

The film poster showing the main characters in very colorful outfits.
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Camp Death III in 2D! (2018)

Camp Death III in 2D!
Director: Matt Frame
Writer: Matt Frame
Cast: Dave Peniuk, Angela Galanopoulos, Darren Andrichuk, Emma Docker, Chris Allen, Starlise Waschuk, Terry mullett, Cynthia Chalmers, Gerald Gerald Geraldson, Hans Potter, Katherine Alpen, Jason Asuncion, Andrea Bang
Seen on: 6.1.2019
[Screener review.]

Plot:
Camp Crystal Meph was the scene of a horrific bloodbath by the killer Johann Van Damme (Terry mullett). But a few years later, Todd (Dave Peniuk) is ready to give it another try. His uncle Mel (Darren Andrichuk) owns the camp ground and Todd has set up a new camp concept. Together with his camp counselors Rachel (Angela Galanopoulos) and Barry (Chris Allen), they are ready to welcome their group. But soon after their arrival, people start dying – again -, murderous squirrels run wild and nobody has any clue what is actually happening

Camp Death III in 2D! is a parody of Friday the 13th Part III in 3D that has some nicely silly ideas, but unfortunately overdoes it a lot of the times. Plus, it is just so ableist that I really wanted to scream.

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