movies

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.

RANKING THE 2018 BEST PICTURE OSCAR NOMINEES BASED ON MY TEARS

Somehow in the flurry of work, life, and avoiding the horrors of the world, I forgot to release my special Oscars list of all the times I cried (or did not!) while watching the past year’s Best Picture nominees. That’s right, it’s (past) time for the 3rd Annual Movie that Made Me Cry the Most Awards! Let me preface this list with a disclaimer that this was not a good year for making me cry (do better, movies!). That, or my blood has gotten colder. Hard to tell at this juncture. Typically, the nominees tend to be real bummers or have a natural emotional gravitas at its core, but this year most were going for something different. There were attempts to be uplifting, or satirical, or just a reminder that, yeah, Queen made good music…we knew this! No need to make a movie telling us! There were no Manchester By The Seas or Call Me By Your Names…but a couple were close. And this year there will be a slight twist given that I can factor in the results from last night’s telecast. So, let’s get into it. Here’s my ranking of the cry-iest movies, on a scale from “I feel nothing” (0) to “Holy crap, I’m going to die from dehydration” (10). Also, I do not shy away from profanity or revealing key plot details, so read at your own risk!

9. Vice

This movie is a mess. It doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Satire? Drama? Slapstick comedy? I could almost cry from the eerily spot-on makeup job, as well as having to be reminded about how much Dick Cheney sucks, but alas, I did not cry. 0/10 Cries

8. Green Book

Ugh. Can I pass on my own list? Mahershala Ali is really great at what he was asked to do in this film—there’s no doubt that he is one of the greats in this business (just watch his “old age” acting in True Detective season three, it’s a sight to behold). But man, this is a very tidy movie about a racist guy who solves all of his racist thoughts by the end of the movie! It has no substance or realism to it, which, quite frankly, I find offensive. Then, there’s the dude who wrote this who sucks, including that time he tweeted anti-Muslim 9/11 conspiracies. This asshole now has more Oscars than Marty Scorsese. SCORSESE! Aaand he has a terrible songwriting career…look. it. up. I could have cried after this was awarded Best Picture last night. Quite frankly it’s soul crushing knowing that so many Academy voters thought this was not just an okay movie, but the best movie of the year. Spare me, please! 0/10 Cries

7. Bohemian Rhapsody

Where do I even begin with this one?! This was also not a good movie! First of all, known pedophile Bryan Singer was hired as the director. That was the movie’s first mistake. Then he got fired from the movie…but not because he is a pedophile. It was because he stopped showing up to set! Besides all that drama, the movie is just a series of “and then this happened and then this happened” all while glossing over the fact that Freddie Mercury is gay (like, they barely touch on that), but then he has AIDS, tells the band (this did not happen this way), then plays the Live Aid concert, which is essentially just a shot-for-shot remake of the actual thing…to which I say, just watch the real thing on YouTube! It really is that great of a concert performance on its own. And don’t even get me started on Rami Malek winning Best Actor when half of his presence on screen is lip-syncing! Sure, his mannerisms are like Freddie’s and he (sort of) looks like Freddie, but no. No to all of this. I’m tempted to say that this movie almost made me cry because it’s starting to make me resent Queen, which is the biggest tragedy of all. Also 0/10 Cries

6. BlacKKKlansmen

I really dug this one. John David Washington is great. Adam Driver is great, obvs. Even Topher Grace is great! But didn’t make me cry. Though Spike Lee’s after-party responses to Green Book winning almost made me cry from laughter. 0/10 Cries

5. Black Panther

Okay, here we go. Not only was this the highest-grossing movie of 2018, but it also made me a little teary-eyed. And no, it wasn’t the moment I saw Michael B. Jordan’s chiseled body. It was when Jordan’s Killmonger, a complex antagonist, submits to his defeat and claims how he’d rather die than live a life in chains. That shit got me. 2/10 Cries

4. The Favourite

I did not cry while watching this film, which was my favourite of the year. However, my eyes got a bit moist when Olivia Colman surprisingly (and deservingly) won Best Actress. She is the most delightfully odd person and I stan her and when she got emotional, and then addressed her husband who was emotional…well I got emotional too what do you want from me?? 3/10 Cries

3. Roma

Roma is so beautiful! And at times it is so beautifully sad. You would basically be a monster if you didn’t muster up a few tears watching Cleo deliver her baby in that sterile, emotionless hospital delivery room and then watch her learn that her child is dead. I’m so sorry to bum you all out. 5/10 Cries

2. A Star Is Born

Before I get into the tears, DID YOU SEE THAT PERFORMANCE LAST NIGHT? Fuuuuck. Damn. But, I digress. Y’all, this move is sad! I have never seen an earlier iteration of A Star Is Born so I did not know we were going…there. Sweet Bradley. And that poor dog had such a huge steak to eat, I hope he is okay. But yeah, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper have really really good chemistry in this, and the crying really stepped up its game when Gaga delivers that heart-wrenching solo performance at the end, looking straight into camera aka your soul. I live for this kind of drama! 7/10 Cries

1. Paddington 2

When Aunt Lucy shows up at the door it was like she was opening the floodgates to my heart…and my tear glands. I also cried when Paddington thinks the Brown family forgot about him and he believes he’s going to be stuck in prison fore—wait, what’s that? This wasn’t nominated for Best Picture? Are you sure? Not even a single award?? Oh. Okay. Um. Well do better next time, Academy voters. You don’t know what you’re missing. Still, 10/10 Cries for me!

Best Picture Wishlist

The Oscar nominations are a mere 12 hours away, and I’ve seen a few more top contenders of late, so here are the 10 films that I hope make it into the Best Picture race. I know it’s extremely unlikely for a few of these—if it were a fair world, Paddington 2 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would easily knock both Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody out of contention this year. Here’s hoping!

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansmen

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The Favourite

If Beale Street Could Talk

Paddington 2

Roma

Sorry to Bother You

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A Star Is Born

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs may be a collection of short films about life in the Old West, but each chapter of the titular book within a film has a lot in common with each other—and in common with life today. Now, the Old West is much different from our contemporary lives, especially on a material and a daily-way-of-life level—but what has really changed? We still migrate in order to find a more prosperous life somewhere yonder. We still hope that we might catch a lucky break and strike gold, or at least a metaphorical gold. We still work ourselves to the bone and struggle to make it by, and sometimes go to drastic measures to stay alive. We still may be uncomfortable around others not quite like us, perhaps making us act in unthinkable ways. We still are depleting the land we settle on. Yes, it’s all pretty bleak stuff, but these themes are at the core of the anthology.

There is something very raw and unnerving about most of the vignettes in Buster Scruggs, but there is also something extremely transfixing. While the wry charm and dark wit that you’d expect from directing pair Joel and Ethan Coen remains, many of the stories leave you feeling cold, with your gaze paralyzed on the screen. (And no it’s not from watching the “Meal Ticket” segment, where Liam Neeson and Harry Melling do an excellent job portraying despair and exhaustion during a frigid winter.) Maybe it’s the thought of transporting yourself to that time and realizing you’d never make it, or on the flip side maybe you’d do exactly what these characters do in order to live another day.

“Meal Ticket” is especially dark, with an ending that you fear is coming all along but don’t want to believe will happen. But, oh boy, does it happen. Throughout the stories, the Coens cut away from some of the most brutal moments, but one easily fills in the blanks. These visual omissions don’t make it any less visceral of a viewing experience. Thankfully, after “Meal Ticket,” we go to Tom Waits in “All Gold Canyon,” a somewhat more optimistic story—at least by way of soothing scenery and the simple enjoyment of watching Waits on screen with that scruff and deep growl hollering “Mr. Pocket!” over and over. The pleasantness, of course, is short-lived.

“The Girl Who Got Rattled” is another standout, and seems to be leading toward a less-depressing outcome…until it doesn’t. It’s a reminder of the brutality that can accompany exploration and the unknown—and catching an unlucky break. And much like every life lived, an instant can change everything. Just ask doggo President Pierce!

Ultimately, Buster Scruggs is about survival. It’s about the hopes and wishes we have for the future if we survive, and, much scarier and even harder to cope with, the anxieties and fears that live with us in the moment as we survive, grasping to get to the former. Perhaps that’s the harshest realization from Buster Scruggs, that the Manifest Destiny permeating in the Old West was just as much intoxicating as it was fatal. And in the end, after enduring the fears and struggles and hopes, all that happened to these people was that they became ink to paper, bound in a book. Which, sadly (optimistically?), is all we can ever hope to become.

“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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