geeking out

A Love Letter to Booksmart

Dear Booksmart,

I just wanted to let you know that I think you’re pretty cool. Actually, you’re a badasss and I really enjoyed everything about you. I was first hooked from early moments when protaganists Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are on their way to the last day of school but have to break for a silent dance sesh. But it’s not really to boost their self-esteem; they already know they’re awesome.

Let’s talk about these two leads. Molly and Amy are not your typical high school girls represented in film, much alone teen genre movies. They have real bodies, they represent more than one sexual orientation, and they are deeply aware of the political and social constructs around them. Plus, they exhibit a natural and believable chemistry. I believed these actresses were indeed 18-year-olds full of both hope and trepidation for the lives unfolding in front of them.

When things get turned on their heads. We learn, along with Molly, that she’s not the only one going to an Ivy League or top college. In fact, almost all the other students around her are bound for impressive higher education institutions — the only kick being that she thought it was impossible since it never seemed like they focused much on the ‘”school” part of high school. Here we have our first expectation smashed: Molly and Amy have been so focused on succeeding in school that they’ve let their entire adolescence be only about that. Meanwhile, everyone else is just as smart or qualified as them, but just didn’t wear it on their metaphorical sleeves most of the time, if at all. I love that twist; here’s a bunch of teenagers that might appear to be slackers, but they’re not. Everyone, as you learn throughout the film, isn’t something you’d expect. They all defy the labels that teen comedies love to apply. This is 2019 afterall.

Then there’s the director, Olivia Wilde. Thanks to her (first time!) directing choices, we were treated to some cinematic moments that you wouldn’t expect from an end-of-high school comedy. First, there’s the animated doll sequence, as if something straight out of Broad City but instead it’s two young women accidentally taking drugs for the first time. And then I really loved the Molly and Nick dance sequence. I think it goes without saying that a female director just captures something more authentic in a moment of daydreaming. (What girl hasn’t been in this situation when ogling her crush from afar?). Also, this movie is raunchy. It’s refreshing to see girls’ sexuality treated equally and aptly, just as we’ve seen in so many boy-centric coming-of-age stories.

A fantastic cast rounds it out. On top of a wickedly talented group of young adults, we get Jason Sudeikas, Jessica Williams, Mike O’Brien, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Forte as the adults in this world. I wouldn’t want to take more time away from the younger cast, but I also wouldn’t have minded seeing more of Forte delivering food puns and enthusiastically yelling “Ling Ling!” in his reliable Will Forte way.

Cue the feels. Yes, this movie made me feel things! A great thing about being an adult watching teen movies is that you’ve lived through this, and perhaps more than any other end-of-high school movie Booksmart is the one I could relate to most; both in gender relatedness, and just overall familiarity of what these girls were going through. But who can’t relate to that out-of-body moment when you realize your crush is actually crushing on someone else? The pool scene with Amy ripped out my heart, and the long panning shot of her walking through the house party looking for her best friend took my heart, threw it on the floor, and stomped on it. Ugh!

I could go on about the soundtrack oscillating from fun and rowdy to atmospheric and moving, or the frank discussions about female masturbation, but dear reader, you just have to see it for yourself. Or if you’re like me, plan to see it again and again.

Love,

A Booksmart Fan

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Gut Reaction: Star Wars: Episode IX Trailer

Usually when there’s a pop culture moment taking off online (e.g. breaking news of college admissions scandals, “Old Town Road” remixes trending, or Times Up-ing the next male Hollywood exec), I’m typically at work sitting at a desk and having to sneakily thumb my way through all the nonsense on my tiny iPhone SE screen, not letting my coworkers onto the fact that I’m nearly addicted to keeping abreast on such “news.” However, all that secrecy goes out the window when something truly monumental happens. And that is, of course, when a Star Wars trailer drops; and not just any Star Wars trailer, but the trailer to the closing chapter of the Skywalker-centric saga. I went full-screen, volume up (headphones on, because I’m still a polite coworker), and didn’t try to hunker over the screen to hide it. No, when it comes to Star Wars I wear my fandom on my sleeve. And then I watched and savored the next two minutes with bated breath.

What can I say? I loved it. I loved what we got, and what we didn’t get. It felt like the perfect amount of tease for a so-called “teaser” trailer. And once that Princess Leia theme kicked in, full body chills and watery eyes ensued. We got just enough glimpses of the characters we care about (although I’m not sure if we see Rose?), including the one and only Lando Calrissian; that put a smile on my face (Nice to see you, Billy Dee!). As well as the late great Carrie Fisher, which my emotions can’t process just yet, except for wanting to cry like Rey. It appears that we’ll be getting Rey, Finn, and Poe together for a while, and some sort of face off between Rey and Kylo Ren. Even though Kylo killed the love of my life Han Solo, I’m still pulling for him to turn back to the good side just in the nick of time à la Anakin Skywalker. Yet, all that may be ruined when Luke’s voiceover reminds us, “No one’s ever really gone.” Initially we assume he’s talking about himself being a Force Ghost (like the fallen Jedi before him), but by the end of the trailer we get a blackout and only hear maniacal laughing, letting us believe that it’s none other than Emperor Palpatine. Welp, that’s no good. We hear a slight riff of the First Order theme mixed into the final notes of the score, and then we get it folks: the title reveal. The Rise of Skywalker. Cue those chills once again!

What does it all mean? Is Luke going to be back in some form in a bigger way? Or is it alluding to the rising of his legacy via a new generation of Jedi, as nodded to in the ending to The Last Jedi? My bets are on the latter, though sometimes it’s just as fun to under-analyze and simply see what happens come December. Either way, I’m ready…and also not ready whatsoever for this incredible saga to come to an end.

‘So You Think You Can Dance’ is Strong as Ever

Typically you might expect the fifteenth season of a show to be worn out and overdone, but that hasn’t been the case for the fifteenth season of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD). The show has had its ups and downs—its downs mostly being the changes in judges and formatting and the best-to-forget “junior” season—but this year it is busting at the sequined seams with a stellar roster of contestants and choreographers (the latter including returning favorites and exciting newcomers). What blows me away most though, is how reliably entertaining and pure it is. More than other dance-based reality shows, there is something very genuine about SYTYCD in its love of this art form. Yes, it’s a competition, but most if not all of the dancers competing audition for this show because of their love of dance. Nearly all of them are bound to be professional dancers, usually by the mere fact that they are talented enough to be selected for the show, but it never seems that anyone here is for money or fame per se—it’s for the love of dance. And because of this, the show soars in bringing unique dance styles to a national stage and giving creative freedom (or at least it appears this way) to the choreographers. Sometimes the routines are simply fun and entertaining, other times so emotionally raw it can give you literal chills. Here a just a few examples of the breadth of what is delivered, often found in a single episode:

Cerebral Creativity

Sure, season in and season out SYTYCD needs to present fresh ideas. Props and concepts can run the risk of being gimmicky, but a simple idea or storyline executed in the right way can do wonders.

Art for Change

Dance with a social message, especially something you haven’t seen done before, can be breathtaking when you have the care and respect that choreographer Travis Wall and contestant Darius bring to this piece. When is the last time you can say you saw representation like this on broadcast TV?

Good Ol’ Fashioned Fun

The personalities of this group number shine through, and the result is a highly infectious hip-hop number.

Emotional Therapy

There are many moving contemporary pieces every week of the show, but then you get something like this group number that is simply joyful. Props to choreographer Mia Michaels for sneaking some Vivaldi into primetime television.

From krumping and contemporary to African jazz and Broadway, the dance styles are as diverse as the dancers dancing them. I suppose that’s the other thing—while the contestants all have dance as their common interest, they come from such different backgrounds and life experiences. Luckily for the viewers, this is reflected in what we see on stage, bringing a welcome display of unique perspectives for all of us to enjoy and learn from.

“Solo” Soars

And now a spoiler-y, rapid-fire response to Solo: A Star Wars Story…

Initial thoughts straight out of the theater:

  • That was fun!
  • Alden Ehrenreich was great and exceeded my expectations in what is essentially an impossible ask and a thankless position to be in.
  • Beautifully shot and thoroughly impressed by the cinematography (kudos, Bradford Young!).
  • Loved Chewbacca’s entrance and the Wookiee appearances.
  • Hard not to like Woody Harrelson in this (or in anything, really).
  • Wish there was more of Thandie Newton, what a shame to not get more of the Val character.
  • L3 (aka Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is a scene-stealer.
  • Pleased with the message of the droid liberation.
  • Donald Glover is clearly having a blast here (and he made me have a blast too).
  • Not sure I was completely jiving with Paul Bettany’s character, Drydon Vos, as it felt a bit too cliché and I was not about that silky blouse he had on.
  • Speaking of silky things, I did enjoy Lando’s wardrobe and loved how well Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra pulled off a wide-leg pant.
  • No thank you to that tentacle monster—we did not need this.
  • I totally dug the Darth Maul surprise, even though it also didn’t make any sense to me in the moment (this being from a Star Wars fan who pretty much only sticks to the movies and doesn’t venture too far into the other shows, books, or comics…so yeah, to me Darth Maul has been dead. You could say his onscreen death is a particularly bad case of being cut in half.)

More thoughts upon further reflection:

  • Did we really need this movie? Only time will tell to see how some of the peripheral developments play out in other movies, but again, did we need to see Han’s origins? Did this serve some bigger purpose other than an entertaining romp?
  • Really liked the moments where we see more of what day-to-day life is like for those in this galaxy and the struggles they face, which is something I think the newer Star Wars films since have done well. For example, seeing the lines at what looked like an immigration/border patrol station and knowing that Han has to enlist in the Imperial Navy to escape gives much more depth to the realities of life in this world.
  • Some have thought it’s too unbelievable that Han would be so romantic and idealist because of his love for Qi’ra, but seeing how that plays out and how he gets burned…maybe this very thing is what blackens his heart a bit and really makes him trust no one (except Chewie, of course).
  • Qi’ra represents an interesting story within this galaxy and one that seemed more worth telling in this film, but perhaps that means we’ll see her again soon.
  • And of course the burning What If of this entire film is wondering what a Phil Lord and Christopher Miller version would have truly looked like, as there were certainly elements of mild goofiness woven in that I could only expect would have been much goofier and included more plays for laughs throughout.
  • Even with what felt like some forced and overtly saccharine set pieces on heroism and rebellion, which I could only assume was more direction from Disney and/or Ron Howard, ultimately I was satisfied and thoroughly entertained by the fun heist film this turned out to be.

And I’ll leave you with this:

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Star Wars Coincides with Style and an Important Statement

Can we stop for a moment and discuss Thandie Newton’s Star Wars dress from the Solo premiere at the Cannes Film Festival?

At first glance the photographs aren’t super clear, but the word going around is that she wore a custom Vivienne Westwood gown made of a custom print featuring Star Wars figurines.

Many questions arise. Obviously she’s in the new film, but is she also a big Star Wars fan? And if that is in fact common knowledge, does that mean I may not be as big of a fan as I think I am?

Taking a closer look, you can tell that all of the photographed figurines featured on her dress are of black male characters that we’ve seen in the galaxy (from Finn to Mace Windu). Although this may not have been intentional, it’s a nice callback to the SNL sketch from the Donald Glover –hosted episode just a few weeks ago. But that aside, she’s clearly making a statement here as she is now the first black woman to be featured in a leading role in a Star Wars film. Get it, Thandie.

The sparseness in the design of the figurines is a reminder that there’s still more work to be done with representation in this franchise (although I’d like to think that Star Wars has often been ahead of the curve).

Another article claims the figurines featured on her dress are from her personal (!) collection—so if this is indeed true, when did she start collecting and how many does she own? Or do you think she may have just started collecting once she was cast in Solo?

Either way, it is a stunning dress with layered meanings and it just may be the most badass thing anyone has ever done.

The Force is Strong with J.J. Abrams

Today it was announced that J.J. Abrams will return to the directing chair for the final (for now) installment of the Star Wars saga, following the recent parting of ways between Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow (or, as some would say, after he was fired). Frankly, I’m excited. I loved Episode VII: The Force Awakens and I’m a big fan of his work. From Lost and Felicity to Super 8 and, yes, even Regarding Henry, Abrams has a knack for compelling storytelling and strong character development. Heck, he brought an epic franchise back to life after a tumultuous and CGI-ridden trilogy of prequels. He deserves some respect, as he often gets chastised for the fact that for some die-hard Star Wars fans (a categorization that I include myself in) he didn’t deliver a perfect movie. Look, not sure we’ll get anything more perfect than Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, so let’s not be so harsh. Other misgivings included that Force felt like a carbon(ite) (sorry!) copy of Episode IV: A New Hope. Well, to me, he handled the film with such care, affection, and general badassery I could feel it oozing from the screen—and as that die-hard Star Wars fan, I couldn’t ask for much more than that.

Downton Abbey Gets Meta

I only just started watching Downton Abbey over the winter break and subsequently became OBSESSED. I watched the first and second season just in time to start the third season when it debuted here in the US. I know I’m a tad late to the game (even more so considering when it started in the UK), but with Season 3 in the thick of things [Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the current season!] there is a bit of Downton Abbey fever going on. And no, I am not talking about the Spanish Flu or whatever the hell Sybil got. But because of this fervor, there have been some great DA parodies and tributes. Firstly, Sesame Street just posted yesterday a lesson in learning about ups and downs, starring the uncanny muppet incarnations of Mr. Carson and the Dowager Countess of Grantham in “Upside Downton Abbey”:

Then there is the hilariously accurate modern-adaptation of transferring all the drama from Downton to Facebook. Yep, Facebook threads as episode recaps. The little nuances are so spot on, you will bust a gut laughing if you even remotely like the series [Season 3 Spoilers!]:

“If Downton Abbey took place entirely on Facebook: Season 3, Episode 4”

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Then there’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon‘s take on DA with “Downton Sixbey” which is pretty funny. I mostly love Fred Armisen’s cameo (perfect casting!) and the later use of Whoopi Goldberg in a following sketch.

And just when it couldn’t get better, Stephen Colbert and his team concocted a spectacular mash-up of Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad. That’s right, I give you “Breaking Abbey.”