Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Booksmart (2019) Is A Genuine Revelation

Booksmart Movie Review
Photo Credit: United Artists Releasing
Every generation has a coming-of-age movie that speaks to them - Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Mean Girls. Joining a solid pack of recent flicks exploring girls' complex emotions and moving into the real world - Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Olivia Wilde's directorial debut with Booksmart explores even the bookworms don't know it all.

From earning admission into Yale to doing charity work in Botswana, best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have high aspirations for themselves and their classmates. When Molly discovers that the slackers have also leveled up into amazing post-high school opportunities without sacrificing fun, she encourages Amy to squeeze four years of partying into the night before graduation.

The enthusiastic and personable performances by Beanie and Kaitlyn easily make them the break-out stars of the year. Dropping us in on their last day at high school, their quick-witted conversations and unbreakable admiration for each other is adorably infectious. From the beginning, the story immediately feels like we're at the center of their enduring friendship, being an outcast, and understanding their flaws  before their summer break. As the film's leading ladies not only do they  have amazing chemistry and timing but also exude a genuine love for playing their individual characters. As much as they are equally awesome together, both Beanie and Kaitlyn create effervescent performances as relatively unknown actors.

The film covers a lot of bases to build their friendship and the kids around them, but it's never overwhelming or too simple. As poster women of Generation Z, Molly and Amy are tenaciously independent and inclusive about each other, but they fall short of giving other students a chance. As much as the film comes to life with Feldstein and Dever, they're wonderfully backed-up by other supporting characters - the wild child Gigi (Billie Lourd), the hard-ass Hope (Diana Silvers), the slut "Triple A" (Molly Gordon), the rich loser Jared (Skyler Gisondo). Refreshingly, none of their classmates aren't typically villainous or bully the girls for their book smarts. Instead, everyone is set apart by the reputation Molly and Amy judges them with, and then they're able to play a humanizing side  to their characters. Appearances aren't what they seem for both the main characters and their counterparts.

Helmed by actress Olivia Wilde making her directorial debut and rom-com writer Katie Silberman, Booksmart easily shows the power and empowerment of what can happen when women are behind and in front of the camera. The world that Wilde lays out is easily recognizable as just another part of the Gen Z / millennial environment filled with intricate costume design and set design. (The soundtrack is pretty banging too.) Booksmart's raucous rite of passage is filled with hilarious antics such as a murder mystery, drug-induced episode, and seeing a whole other side of their teachers. It also explores the heartfelt (humiliating and confusing) ways Molly & Amy try to explore their sexuality, have their friendship tested, and maybe fall in love. From the inside out, the film was refreshingly fused with unadulterated passion that's nearly impossible to ignore.

The film itself is not a revolutionary concept. Its plot and humor share similarities with Superbad and Broad City, but it's not an outright copycat. Even though the film's premise harbors on the girls' unpredictable shenanigans, the comedic set pieces or running gags might not work for everybody. A few issues stick out in the script such as a few stereotypical gay characters and a graduating student and teacher hooking up at a party. Depending on personal taste, the raunchy humor might cross a line (I'm not a fan of raunchy humor, but I was fine with it. here) These aren't necessarily flaws that make the movie unwatchable or horrible; just little flubs that could've been tightened or might leave audiences wondering if the hype was worth it.

Unfortunately, the most important element to some might be the hype itself. In the sea of reboots and sequels, there's a consistent cry for original movies. Booksmart ticked a lot of boxes that would make other movies considered 'revolutionary' by now. Yet when it comes to directors or stories that are about women, the LGBTQ community or people of color, there's an expectation that they have to do and be better than all other films that have come before it. It's a boring, old, and disappointing standard that makes even the most original movies struggle to break out from the pack. There's a big difference with not liking a movie because everyone's tastes are different or it was poorly made versus the interest for a movie falling apart because it's being used as a measuring stick against all other movies. And sadly, the latter seems to be the bigger part of the case here for Booksmart. The hype might win out for movie-goers or it might not. I'm definitely in the former.

Movies directed by filmmakers other than white and male shouldn't be hailed as perfect just because the directors aren't white and male; but they should be given room to be hailed as great, imperfect, funny, romantic, etc. if they fit those traits. Booksmart is all of these things for me. There wasn't one scene where I didn't feel like I was having a good time with how Olivia Wilde sets the film up and leads the girls from one unexpected experience after another while celebrating female friendship and challenging the assumptions that young adults make about each other. Molly and Amy aren't just cardboard cutouts of girls as we've seen in movies before - they're unabashedly nerdy, sex-positive, self-assured, vulnerable, determined, curious, and witty. Women being women. It's a revelation, and maybe even a little revolutionary.

Rating for the film: ★★★
Have you seen Booksmart? What do you think?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Rocketman's (2019) Imagination Almost Burns Itself Out

Rocketman movie review
Paramount Pictures
Biopics tend to play it safe. They're afraid to veer too off from presenting the facts by the books and  rests on its laurels about whoever the story is based on. Given the freedom to delve into Elton John's colorful and bold life, Rocketman explore more than thirty years of the iconic musician's life. Combining elements of music and story, director Dexter Fletcher's goes all in, to the point that you wish he reeled it back just a little.

Growing up with his cold father and self-absorbed mother, a young Elton John finds refuge, imagination, and identity in his musical gifts. The lack of love he didn't received as a child, homophobia, and toxic relationships turns into a devastating recipe for substance abuse as he rises in the music industry.

Musically, the film combines elements that contemporary musicals haven’t attempted in a long time. The song and dance numbers move the chapters of John’s life along by mixing practical effects and CGI (mostly for concert arenas) set to all of his greatest hits. Moments that could’ve been a standard “stand here and lip sync” sequence or a dramatic montage transforms into all-out metaphor – time standing still as John and the crowd jump in the air during his debut at the Troubadour singing Crocodile Rock; his sexual addiction as he dives into a sea of naked bodies to Benny and the Jets; attempting suicide by jumping in a pool and seeing his childhood self while signing Rocketman; to name few. Every song has an intimate way of showing exactly what made John a hit at the time as well as showing how far his personal life was falling apart. As a musical fan, I found each one to be compelling and show a new dimension to what a musical can be like.

As imaginative as the songs are used, their overuse becomes an excuse for the story to lack your typical biopic plot. Aging John from a kid to his thirties remains on track throughout – the story is merely jaunting backwards from a mid-forties John reflecting his life in the middle of an AA meeting. Every musical sequence ends the same way it begins: interjecting reality for a minute or so – long enough for you to feel invigorated by the song before John comes back down to Earth. Other elements come into play to rush and confuse the plot. Splicing up songs out of order from when they were released and glossing over/altering/ignoring facts about his life are summed up in minutes, and don’t give the audience enough time to digest what’s going before another song is launched.

Having been encouraged by the man himself to not copy him but give his own interpretation, Taron is easily a powerhouse throughout the film. There’s an expectation in biopics for the lead and supporting characters to age and show how the story moves forward, and Taron is all-in for us to see John’s youth and vigor, self-loathing and exhaustion, the continual abuse of his body and talent. For an icon as expressive and bold as John is, Taron never feels like a caricature or that the arc is too young or too old for him to carry. Next to him, Jamie Bell as John’s songwriting companion Bernie Taupin exude the most chemistry. Their charming friendship between Bell and John shines more than any other relationship in the film, and sometimes feels lost in the mix. Everyone else on the cast are just there (Richard Madden as John's abusive boyfriend) or miscast (Bryce Dallas Howard as John's vain mother). They don't truly feel used to the best of their ability or they feel wrong for the role.

What balances the film is how it takes the typical rise and fall of an icon and morphs it into the rise and the fall, falling, falling, falling, and picking myself back up again. After Rocketman kicks off with John’s stint in rehab, fully dressed in a glittery devil costume, his life disintegrates both figuratively and literally. His music bares it all as John faces his own demons, and the triumph it takes for him to overcome depression, self-loathing, homophobia, alcoholism, sex and drug addiction. Biopics often explore a substance addiction through a formula of using and abusing, maybe a withdrawal scene and then sobriety. As flashy as Rocketman is, the story truly tries to show where his problems stem from and why, and the vital reconciliation he has to do in order to start over again. By the end, John’s ability to remain sober for twenty-five years is a victory that’s still felt even as the movie hits wrong notes along the way.

As the director of the more coherent elements to Bohemian Rhapsody, Dexter Fletcher didn’t intend for this to be a mere Wikipedia page you could just read. And somewhere along the way, maybe after the first hour, Rocketman isn't necessarily a film, musical or a biopic. There’s too much music to make it a musical and not enough story to make it a cohesive biopic. They never really seem to be on equal footing each other, and while Elton John served as executive producer with veto power, the film doesn’t have a strong enough check and balance system creatively. Even as wonderfully bold as Fletcher's vision is, it almost burns itself out as it goes along. If it wasn't for the explosion of music and Taron's performance, Rocketman would have a hard time jumping off the launching pad.

Rating for the film: ★1/2-★☆
Have you seen Rocketman? What do you think?

Monday, June 17, 2019

Watching Game of Thrones For The First Time

Binge-watching Game of Thrones For The First Time
If anyone told me eight years ago I’d binge-watch Game of Thrones months ahead of its series finale, I honestly wouldn’t believe them. I was never a fan to brag about not watching a popular show, as if ultra-cool fans who weren't interested in the series act like they deserve some sort of medal for living off-the-grid. Game of Thrones, in the beginning and its peak, didn’t appeal to me because The Walking Dead was ruling my life, and after trying to watch one episode, I just didn’t connect. Giving it another chance, and having been 98% unaware of its biggest moments, felt like a fun challenge. And if there is one thing that I accept more in life than anything else, and what I actually think I'm decent at, it's live-tweeting a whole series on a ridiculous time limit.

But that's exactly how I decided to ring in 2019.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Quick Tv Reviews: The Orville, Survivor: Edge of Extinction, What We Do In The Shadows

With all of the streaming services available and tapping our fingers on apps to find exactly what we want, it's a little odd to talk about traditional shows - those old things we used to wait wait-to-week to for an entire series to unfold. The Orville, Survivor: Edge of Extinction, What We Do In The Shadows recently wrapped up their latest series, and were some of the traditional shows I enjoyed this past Spring. They may not be "on" or available right now, but still thought it'd be fun to share my thoughts on their latest seasons.

What are you watching right now? anything on streaming or traditional tv? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

John Wick (Chapter 3 - Parabellum) Is Back So Tell A Friend

John Wick: Chapter 3 Parabellum
After making a name for himself on a bus with Speed (1994), as the Chosen One in The Matrix (1999), and fighting demons in Constantine (2005), among other countless roles, Keanu Reeves headlining a spy movie became an absolute no-brainer. But nobody could’ve probably anticipated the unstoppable resurgence his career would’ve taken with John Wick (2015). The start of a non-stop action chronicle where his character brutally, endlessly assassinates other assassins is just something we can't get enough.

The John Wick series is unlike any other spy movie. In one-fourteenth of the time of James Bond’s legacy, fans have gobbled up John Wick and all the new ways he can kill someone in a little over four years. But it isn't that he just massacres bystanding hitmen, one right after the other that keeps us hooked; it's the intense choreography Keanu and the stunt crew goes through to perfect every action scene; his enigmatic reputation and the relatable relationship Wick has with his dog; the slick direction of Chad Stahelski; the sleek production design as Wick sheds blood in a nightclub, on the city streets, or by a dockside that keeps us wanting more. While John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum carries over all of the stunning elements from the first two films, it also proposes that idea that sometimes story can damper the action.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Dan Fogler Makes A Fantastic Appearance at MegaCon Orlando

In J.K. Rowling's spin-off series to Harry Potter, No-Maj Jacob Kowalski captured Potterheads' hearts in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Leading the franchise alongside Eddie Redmayne, Katharine Waterson and Alison Sudol, the rising star Dan Fogler made a fantastic appearance at MegaCon Orlando with a panel full of impersonations, tales from the set and questions about the series' future.

A big topic of conversation at the panel was arguably Fogler's most popular character to date from Fantastic Beasts. Fellow Potterheads delved deep into the wizarding world about his time at the theme parks, his own favorite baked goods, and so much more. Here's a general transcript of fans' questions from the panel that are not included in the videos below.

Isn't It Romantic (2019) Knows How To Be A Copy But Not Exactly Original

Warner Bros. Pictures
Natalie (Rebel Wilson) cherished romantic comedies as a young girl, watching Pretty Woman with wide-eyed optimism and believing her own life could turn into an epic fairytale. When her mom shatters her dreams that women like them don’t get their happily-ever-after, she grows up to be cynical about love and the genre she used to adore. And then she suffers a traumatic concussion and wakes up in her ultimate nightmare: a rom-com. Her life is flipped upside down with an apartment straight out of Architectural Digest, a bustling career, and an impending engagement to a hot yet superficial millionaire (Liam Hemsworth). The only way Natalie can return to reality is to fall in love, but that’s a little hard when it’s the last thing she wants.

As much as romantic comedies have found resurgence on streaming services, the typical genre of a woman searching for the love of her life has changed drastically over the years. Landing Mr. Right while living in a fancy apartment and having a career of every woman’s dreams has made way for rom-coms to feature more realistic views of dating, singledom, and marriage. Modern stories have commonly explored imperfect relationships with female characters struggling to balance work, love, motherhood, and friendships. By trying to take a page out of the chick flicks that have paved the way with tropes and running gags, Isn’t It Romantic doesn’t quite know how to be a parody of the traditional genre and say something new.