‘The Biggest Little Farm’ Review Haiku: Old Becomes New Again


Engaging Premise;
Informs And Still Entertains;
Packs A True Message.


It is often stated that history is cyclical, with the past always finding a way to repeat itself. In the case of Apricot Lanes Farms, old ways of farming are made new again, replacing modern techniques focused solely on mass output and embracing a concept of complete biodiversity to the fullest possible extent. The ecosystem they have built is especially admirable considering the condition and history of the farm and soil when John and Molly Chester (a cameraman focusing on nature documentaries and a chef with big dreams of farming, respectively) purchased the space.

The way they turn such dead land into something so thriving over the course of eight years is truly something to see and appreciate. One aspect I really enjoyed was that it doesn’t bother with scare tactics or demonizing “Big Farming” as an industry, instead focusing on its own story and how that offers some hope for the future. I’ve seen some refer to it as more of a commercial than anything else, and while its true that it takes a few shortcuts in terms of the way its story is told, The Biggest Little Farm is an uplifting story that offers laughs, heartbreak, and an endless sense of wonder.

John Chester’s background as a nature-based documentary cameraman works wonders here, offering a big-picture, Disney Nature-style take on a relatively small operation. Once nature really takes hold after the first few seasons, they offer a great sense of the possibilities that this type of system, and the planet in general, can offer humanity. Especially for those willing to put in the necessary amounts of love and effort.


The Biggest Little Farm is Written By John Chester and Mark Monroe and Directed By John Chester

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‘Shadow’ Review Haiku: Beauty and Blood


Slow Exposition;
A Glorious Second Act;
Splendid Design Work.


Zhang Yimou will probably always be remembered for the one-two combo of Hero and The House of Flying Daggers from the early 2000s. Those films took some of what made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon such a hit and expanded on the action, costumes and production design to big results. While Shadow doesn’t live up those lofty heights, it is certainly a worthwhile entry in his catalog and features some stunning design and great sequences, despite getting off to a slow start.

Exposition is necessary to understand characters, setting and motivation, but sometimes it just doesn’t click as well as it should. The film opens with a lot of talk-heavy scenes that set up where the film will eventually go, but it could use some tightening up. If you watch the trailer before seeing this, after twenty minutes or so you may wonder if this is the same movie you saw advertised. But while the opening act is the film’s weak point, it’s second act struck me as an absolute powerhouse.

Once the film really gets going, the spectacles are a sight to see. The choreography is as good as you’d imagine, with inventive fighting scenes featuring a creative new weapon that allows for some really engaging sequences. Specifically (without spoiling anything), the downhill sequence once the fighting begins in the city is the high point of the film and downright exhilarating. I could have watched that scene four or five more times in a row and would have enjoyed it just as much with each viewing.

Chao Deng does very well in a double role, playing Commander and his “shadow,” the younger Jing. Though Jing is essentially Commander’s double, they are very different characters and Deng gives them each a distinct personality and does an admirable job in each skin. Some of the side characters, easily forgotten about or generally hollow in lesser scripts, are given proper characterization and make the most of their appearances. As one would come to expect from these types of period pieces, some of the acting in the final portions of the film can be a bit stagey, but it works for the material being presented. Perhaps I’m thinking this way because I just watched Kurosawa’s epic take on Macbeth, but Deng’s Commander reminded me a lot of Toshiro Mifune’s Washizu in the closing moments.

Visually, I found the film to be wonderful. The production, set and costume design work are all top-notch. Most of the dressing is all done in stark black and white, with the flesh tones and blood being all that pierces that shroud. It makes for an old school cinematic feel beyond the period itself, a great dichotomy when presented with modern action techniques. The constant presence of rain doesn’t just add to the dread-laden ambiance, but it can also come into play in the fighting, and some of the slow-motion shots that include water are amazing to look at.

This is certainly not a perfect film and probably won’t stand up to his earlier work, but is is unique, very well shot and quite engaging at times. It takes some of the ideas that gave his previous films a large impact and makes them feel new and exciting. If you’re a fan of this kind of film, you’ll likely find it rewarding. If you’re lucky enough to live near a theater playing Shadow in its limited run, seek it out!


Shadow is Written By Li Wei and Zhang Yimou and Directed By Zhang Yimou

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‘Toy Story 4’ Review Haiku: Lost and Found


Warming And Poignant;
Pixar Has Done It Again;
To Infinity…


Hold on, let me wipe the tears from my eyes so I can see the screen to write this…

Ok, now I’m good. I think.

Like everyone else, when this was announced I had the same thought: Why? Why make another entry, after Toy Story 3 completed one of the best trilogies ever made? What could its purpose be, all these years later? But it turns out that not only is this a fantastic film that in hindsight was a necessary addition, but that question was also the driving force behind Woody’s arc. Andy has grown up, and before they know it, the toys will watch Bonnie do the same. So what could Woody’s purpose be?

As usual, Woody acts with one singular purpose at all times: he must do what is best for his kid. Sometimes it’s as small as keeping an arts and crafts project out of the trash. Sometimes it’s a full-blown, high stakes adventure that starts with jumping from a moving vehicle and only grows more perilous from there. Whatever his kid (formerly Andy, now Bonnie) needs, he throws himself at the task full force, with the added pressure of trying never to he spotted by humans while carrying out his heroic charge. This is his lot in life. But after saying goodbye to Andy and realizing that Bonnie may prefer the other toys over him, he’s left to consider his purpose. Although he has a home, in a sense he is slowly becoming a lost toy. Lost to time, being a product of the 50s cowboy craze, and lost to his new kid. But his purpose is strengthened when he sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack for kindergarten orientation and she crafts a new toy named Forky out of a spork and some pipe cleaners. Brought to life, somehow, he has a full-on identity crisis (“I’m not a toy, I’m trash!”) and Woody is there to help him through it. Not just for Forky, for Bonnie. For the anxiety that each will suffer if they don’t have each other. So neither toy nor kid will feel as lost as he does. Because he is Woody and that’s what he does.

Seriously. Find someone as loyal in real life as Woody is to everyone around him. Befriend them, marry them. Whatever. Just don’t lose them.

The lost and found theme is prevalent throughout, especially as the gang arrives at a carnival that sees a longtime reuniting and others, both toy and human alike, that just need some companionship. Some direction. A purpose. Like the one Woody has.

Pixar absolutely excels at making movies for kids to laugh with and enjoy on the surface level while silently destroying their parents and our fragile emotional states. This is no different, especially as Woody draws clear parallels to parental struggles and anxieties while dishing out advice and wisdom to the (reluctant) newest member of the group. He is voicing our same concerns about our kids and how we will fit into their lives as they grow and it just twists your insides in knots. But then you look at them and they just smile, popcorn in their teeth and melted chocolate on their fingers and you just silently move on.

Maybe I’m getting carried away, but I don’t think I am. Pixar does an amazing job of telling these stories in exciting and accessible ways, inviting the kids to enjoy the tip of the iceberg above the water line and forcing the parents to examine the mountain of emotional weight under the surface. It’s brilliant, and the fact that they just keep making it look so effortless is stunning.

Of course, the animation is absolutely gorgeous (having watched the entire series this week, seeing the transformation as technology took great strides was incredible). Whether it’s a kid’s bedroom, an antique store or a fair, a quiet walk or full-blown action, everything looks wonderfully alive and full of character. The voice work is great as always, with the mainstays (Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Wallace Shawn, especially) doing exactly what we expect, giving us great lines and infusing the scenes with pitch-perfect emotion. But the universe expands this time around, with awesome performances from Key and Peele, as well as Keanu Reeves. All three nail their characters perfectly and bring some of the best laughs of the film. If you don’t put your kids to bed yelling PLUSH RUSH and pelting them with stuffed animals after this, you’re not doing it right.

Yes, at first I may have questioned the existence of this film. My emotional core had been through enough after the third installment. But like a kid needs the stability of a loyal toy, I never knew how badly I needed this film. It took me everywhere that needed to be explored.

…And beyond!


Toy Story 4 is Written By Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom and Directed By Josh Cooley

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‘Dragged Across Concrete’ Review Haiku: I’m In Until I’m Not


Brooding And Measured;
Takes Its Time And Makes You Think;
Hushed, Yet Explosive.


I am truly a sucker for an auteur, especially one not interested in making the standard Hollywood production. When a writer/director has powerful actors at their disposal and isn’t afraid to take chances, the results can be vexing. After seeing Brawl at Cell Block 99 last year, I knew I would have to keep an eye on S. Craig Zahler in the future. It’s too bad this didn’t hit my market during its theatrical run, because I would have loved watching something like this crawl across the big screen, leaving squeamish patrons stuck to their chairs in its wake.

At its core, this isn’t a brand new story. Essentially, it’s a buddy cop picture where two partners have to enter the criminal world to make some much-needed quick cash. But the territory doesn’t have to be new to be effective, as this feels utterly distinct and all its own. It’s a long movie, clocking in at a little two and a half hours, but never fails to be engaging. Zahler’s craftsmanship is on point and he directs with confidence, delivering a gritty and unsettling story that never shies away from its violent moments but still manages to ground them in emotion.

Gibson and Vaughn are great together as partners Ridgeman and Lurasetti, a pair of detectives who find themselves suspended after a video of them using excessive force hits the news cycle. Needing money fast to sustain their families, they get wind of a bank robbery that will result in a major payday and decide to rob the robbers upon its completion. But unlike a more traditional story that might see us focus solely on them, we also see things from the point of view of the men tasked with being the lookouts/getaway drivers (played by an excellent Tory Kittles and Michael Jai White), spending nearly equal time with each set of characters. Of course the plan doesn’t go down smoothly and the resulting mess is one that you can’t take your eyes off.

Zahler takes his time to examine his characters and their motivations. Scenes that may be seen as throwaways in lesser films play here with greater importance as they really fill out the edges of these characters and add a lot of weight to the catharsis on display in the last act. It masterfully plays its explosive moments against the otherwise careful, quiet scenes. In a sense, the film lulls you into a false sense of security with long takes and scenes padded with extended beats before shocking you out of that zone with volatile, jarring sequences that you can’t look away from, despite how much you may want to.

This is a film that knows how to maximize its strengths. Dragged Across Concrete feels a bit like a Coen film with less witty dialogue and a harder edge, making it an unapologetic powerhouse and an unforgettable watch. Lurasetti repeats the line “I’m in until I’m not” a few times in the film and that’s exactly how I felt at the time. But it turns out, I was all the way in until the end, just like he was.


Dragged Across Concrete is Written and Directed By S. Craig Zahler

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‘Dark Phoenix’ Review Haiku: All Smoke, No Fire


Fueled By A Weak Script;
Little To No Emotion;
Disappointing Close.


After twenty years under the Fox banner, the current iteration of the X-Men has come to a close. There have been highs and lows, and unfortunately, the series limped to a disappointing close before it eventually gets folded into the MCU, hopefully to be revived for the better.

I really enjoyed First Class and Days of Future Past and while Apocalypse was a letdown, it still had its moments. So does Dark Phoenix, but ultimately it is not at all satisfying as either a blockbuster or an X-Men entry. There are good actors present, but they cannot rise above the material they are given. James McAvoy, Sophie Turner, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence try, but they can only do much with Kinsberg’s writing and direction. I really wanted to like this and hoped the consensus opinion would be unfounded, but I simply couldn’t find much to admire about this outing.

The biggest issue I had was that it simply couldn’t muster any real emotion. We’ve been following these characters for years and given the nature of the Phoenix Saga (which I loved in the animated series as a kid, though I never read the comics) and the end of the X-Men as we’ve come to know them, the film should have carried a lot more weight. And while it’s possible that Jennifer Lawrence could have done more as the lead Sophie Turner, even her arc didn’t have the impact that it should have. Fassbender seems to bring the most gravitas (and he’s always been great as Magneto, for my money), but the script is so uneven that some powerful individual moments aren’t enough.

Another problem is logistical inconsistency. It may seem like a minor gripe, but this series of films has spanned several decades, and most of the characters (most notably Beast, Xavier and a few others) don’t appear to have aged…at all. When he’s in his normal human form, Hank McCoy still looks like he’s under 30. How is that possible?

I had no issue with the overall plot, but its execution was off. Jean hiding (or being hidden) from her emotional trauma and using that to fuel the turn as the Dark Phoenix could have worked much better with more substantial writing behind it. If done properly, it could have achieved a similar level of catharsis as Logan, but instead we will forever wonder “what if?” Also, given how great the Quicksilver sequences have been in recent films, the fact that he spends the majority of this film on the sideline is a major letdown. And Jessica Chastain? For all the hype around her secretive involvement, her villain turned out to be very one-dimensional and, frankly, lame. Which is a shame, given how incredibly talented she is.

It’s certainly not all bad. Aside from a few cheesy CGI shots, I really liked the visual effects. The movie looks very good on the surface, and the final showdown is a lot of fun to watch, with the set piece on the train providing some cool action that utilizes everyone’s powers well. I’m sure some of the characters that popped up throughout the movie are featured in the comics, so I assume hardcore fans got a bit more out of that aspect than I would have. And although it felt disjointed (likely from the rewrites and reshoots), ultimately it was an entertaining enough two hours. But given where this series started and where it has gone, I was really hoping for much more.


Dark Phoenix is Written and Directed By Simon Kinberg

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Top 10 Pixar Movies

Coming off the success of 2017’s Coco and 2018’s The Incredibles 2Pixar is set to release their 4th installment of the Toy Story series. With very few misses in their resume, Pixar knows how to release solid family stories. Let’s take a look at their 10 best:


10. Finding Nemo

incredibles 2

09. The Incredibles 2


08. Monsters, Inc.


07. Coco


06. Ratatouille

Toy Story 3

05. Toy Story 3


04. The Incredibles

Toy Story 2

03. Toy Story 2


02. Toy Story

Inside Out

01. Inside Out

What are your favorite Pixar movies? Drop a comment below or head over to our Facebook Group for more discussion!

‘Framing John DeLorean’ Review Haiku: Back to the Future


Film Within A Film;
Bio Pic Reimagined;
Wild Maverick Tale.


John DeLorean’s story was one filled with drama, intrigue, inspiration and tragedy. The man who revitalized Pontiac and helped define Detroit’s muscle car era, formed his own company intent on pushing his vision for the future of sports cars, dodged a major cocaine trafficking conviction and ultimately fell into financial ruin is tailor-made for a major motion picture about his life. Why it took this long is a bit of a mystery, but here we are. And Framing is about as interested in telling his story in a conventional way as the man himself was in acting in a conventional way. He pushed boundaries and played by his own rules, so it’s fitting that this docu-drama does the same.

It’s a documentary. It’s a bio pic. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at actors getting into their characters for both. It’s a film-within-a-film (within…another film?) and a genuinely fascinating look at a very interesting man and his incredible, wild story full of highs and lows in extremes.

DeLorean’s drive was undeniably admirable. He may have had to use some sketchy tactics to get the powerful GTO engine into a line of Pontiacs, but once he did the results were a smash hit. He became such a hotshot CEO for GM that he wanted to strike out on his own and change the game all over again. After designing the car that would later become a lifelong icon thanks to Back to the Future, he had to look to the United Kingdom to find financing and land for a factory to make his dream a reality. Financial hardship took hold and he found himself entrapped and preyed upon by feds looking to make a sting. Agreeing to bankroll a cocaine trafficking operation to get his hands on money he desperately needs. When he was busted, his defense argued successfully in his favor and he was found not guilty, but by then the damage to his reputation had been done. His fall from grace was public, and Framing does well to shine a light on his life.

The interviews and archival footage are mixed with dramatic recreations of key moments, with DeLorean played by the incomparable Alec Baldwin. Whether studying footage from the makeup chair or face timing his wife to discuss the role and his preparation, Baldwin allows us somewhat into the process of becoming another person. The recreated scenes never come off as cheesy, overdone or distracting, but instead serve as another reminder that this is no ordinary film and DeLorean was no ordinary man.

It may not pack the emotional impact of some of the other great documentaries of recent memory, but it is no less fascinating and distinct. It’s am ambitious project about an ambitious person and deserves to be seen and recognized for its willingness to take risks, just as John DeLorean himself delighted in doing.


Framing John DeLorean is Written By Dan Greeney and Alexandra Orton and Directed By Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce

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‘The Dead Don’t Die’ Review Haiku: This Isn’t Going to End Well…


Delightfully Weird;
Deadpan, Offbeat And Funny;
Pure Jarmusch Flavor.


Jim Jarmusch isn’t for  everyone and I freely admit that I can’t shake my bias towards him when I sit down to watch his work. His brand of strange just works really well for me (The Limits of Control notwithstanding), and this was a great example. 

I imagine the outtake reel for this movie is a mile long. The humor is so gloriously deadpan and awkward that holding it together for the space of even a single take must have been a challenge. A cavalcade of actors from his past films appear (including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver, RZA, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Chloe Sevigny and more) and contribute to a wide array of roles, populating this sleepy town with a colorful cast of characters. Characters are paired up in humorous scenarios that allow them to share slight hints of hilarious looks or dry, witty dialogue that just keeps coming, an endless march of offbeat lines and expressions that rival the nature of the undead horde itself. The script has an ebb and flow and the actors maximize on pauses and environmental cues for laughs.

The reason for all of this apocalyptic madness? Polar fracking has knocked the Earth off its axis, causing a rotational shift that is waking the dead from their eternal slumber. And that’s not the only bit of commentary to be found, as the zombies all gravitate to what they were familiar with during life. That could be wine and coffee or it could be Siri and Wi-Fi. Jarmusch pulls no punches in this regard, skewering us for our Earthly obsessions and pointing out in no uncertain terms that we are the zombies, and we amuse and disgust him in equal measure.

Jarmusch isn’t afraid to break the fourth wall somewhat, but finds refreshing ways to do so. A running but subtle bit with the soundtrack is a great addition, filling vital spaces of dialogue and adding a unique layer to the humor. Sturgill Simpson and the song are real, and the gag fits perfectly within the Jarmusch Cinematic Universe. Also, RZA drives a WU PS delivery truck. I’m sorry if that’s a spoiler, but it’s just an awesome sentence to be able to type.

Above all, it’s a relentlessly enjoyable hundred minutes,  with Jarmusch merging the comedy and zombie genres in his own way. And I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but he always does well to illustrate his fascination with the oddity of humans. He doesn’t color inside or outside the lines, he seeks out the untouched corners brings them to life, which resonates with me. So maybe, like I  said,  that bias is hard to check. Maybe it’s because the house was packed and the movie kept us all laughing. Maybe it’s because my family had spoiled me on Father’s Day. Or maybe it was just really good. All I know is one of my favorite directors has made quite a quirky world, and in the words of Hermit Bob (grumbled by the incomparable Tom Waits), “what a fucking world.”


The Dead Don’t Die is Written and Directed By Jim Jarmusch

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‘Rocketman’ Review Haiku: The Bitch Is Back


Edgerton Soars High;
Real And Fantasy Combine;
With A Fresh Structure.


Even nine months after Bohemian Rhapsody was released, it is inevitable that Rocketman will draw comparisons to it, whether or not that is a fair comparison. Two definite similarities, however, are the great soundtrack and incredible lead performance. 

Taron Edgerton, a relative newcomer to the screen, knocks it out of the park as Sir Elton John. He captures the aura, showmanship and star quality that made John a household name and does so while actually singing the songs that we all know. He does a wonderful job showing us the darker side of the legend and the emotional trauma that shaped him is emoted very well, barely able to hide under the facade of the costumes and glitz.

These types of films often follow a very familiar pattern and structure, and while the down-and-out rock star arc is front and center as expected, the narrative structure itself changes things up. The change is welcome, as the film is not only told to us as John tells it to a group inside rehab, but the musical nature of  much of it helps to set it apart from other concert dramas.

Those musical elements waste no time, starting off right away in Elton’s youth (when he was still Reginald Dwight). It’s a great way to showcase not only how much music meant to him even that far back in his life, but also perfectly illustrates the blend of reality and fantasy that accompanies life as a rock and roll superstar.

If there is  something to pick at, for me, it’s that Elton’s life is presented as being somewhat joyless, despite having it all. The central theme of needing to love yourself in order to receive love from others resonates, make no mistake. But someone with such talent and a gift for sharing it with the world and being handsomely compensated for it never seems to be happy. However, his struggles (both personal and professional) add a lot to the film’s closing number.

The road had its ups and downs, but one thing is triumphantly reiterated. Elton John is still standing.


Rocketman is Written By Lee Hall and Directed By Dexter Fletcher

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‘Her Smell’ Review Haiku: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun


Mesmerizing Lead;
New Take On Old Formula;
Captivating Style.


Considering I finally got fully caught up with The Handmaid’s Tale this morning and eagerly anticipate Legion’s third season, it was very timely to choose today to watch the new film starring Elizabeth Moss and Dan Stevens. It’s theatrical run was brief in my market, but luckily for me, Hoopla was streaming it immediately.

This isn’t the normal movie about a singer in the lows of life and in need of a redemptive arc. Alex Ross Perry has crafted something different here, told in five distinct sections that each tell an important part of an uncomfortable but fascinating story. The narrative centers around Becky Something (an incredible Elizabeth Moss), the singer in an all-female punk band that is spiraling out of control. Between an ex-husband and the child they share, her bandmates and the head of her label, no one can rein her in and lessen the danger she poses to herself and those close to her. But unlike most films in this genre, this one structures itself in a very different and refreshing way, and while it is a bit longer than it needs to be, it grabs you right away and never lets its grip loosen.

Moss is absolutely fantastic as Becky, using fierce energy to draw you into her tortured inner circle and tighten the vice grip. She is wildly unhinged, letting loose an endless string of words that plays like a monologue, concerned only with herself and her art, however she can find each. She is surrounded by people who love and care for her, regardless of the hurt she’s inflicted over the years, but she simply can’t look past her own selfishness to see them. Moss nails the role with uncanny precision, bringing total believability throughout the entire arc.

The film starts with Becky at her absolute worst, a welcome change from the typical formula that shows the musician’s rise to power and eventual downfall. Here, Perry doesn’t set the table for as much emotional investment by starting her at at rock bottom, but the story instantly becomes more riveting for that decision. Each of the five scenes are broken up with some disjointed home movie shots, painting a little more of a fun and somewhat innocent picture of Becky to punctuate the story. The vignettes are long and heavy on dialogue, filled with extensive takes and lots of motion. Perry’s camera stays uncomfortably close to the turbulence, immersing the audience in the mess that is Becky’s life from all angles.

Is the title strange? Yes. Is this for everyone? Probably not. Are you likely to forget it? Certainly not.


Her Smell is Written and Directed By Alex Ross Perry

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‘The Souvenir’ Review Haiku: Don’t Remind Me


Good Acting Debut;
Slow, Boring And Pretentious;
Its Strengths Are Squandered.


Sometimes, you can watch a trailer and know the film is made for cinephiles and critics as opposed to normal moviegoers. There is nothing wrong with that, as I am both a cinephile and something of a critic, but man oh man did this miss the mark for me in a big way.

Joanna Hogg and A2 teamed up for this project (and its sequel, which I will be skipping, is announced during the credits) and I was pretty excited for it as I have yet to see an A24 film I didn’t like. Most, in fact, resonate greatly with me. Despite my initial zest, The Souvenir is such a plodding, disjointed affair that tries so hard to be “arty” that its message is utterly lost. If you read the reviews, the scores are very high, but audience scores are dismal and I can see why. It’s a coming-of-age tale lamenting a tumultuous relationship where the partner, Anthony (played by Tom Burke), is so utterly unlikeable and unsympathetic on every level that it’s too hard to buy into anyone liking him, let alone loving him and going through these struggles alongside him.

The unfortunate part is that it has some really strong points, but they are all wasted on the overall product. Hogg’s direction is bold and confident, and the cinematography shines as many of the frames are meticulously composed. Newcomer Honor Swinton Byrne is very good in her debut and is easily the strongest part of the film. She emotes well and fully understands her character. But even those strong suits can’t save the film, as it doesn’t translate into anything enjoyable to watch. There were some shots and “scenes” (if you can call them such, because most of the film plays like a random collection of memories rather than anything resembling a plot) that stood out and I could appreciate a lot of individual things being presented, but overall I simply couldn’t wait for the credits to roll and the positives I mentioned were the only thing saving this from a lower grade.

A souvenir is something meant to remind you of a person, place or memory. In this case, I’d like to forget.


The Souvenir is Written and Directed By Joanna Hogg

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