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Favorite Movies of 2019!

2019 was definitely an experimental year when it came to movies but some of that experimentation turned out for the better as some of them actually went into my top lists!

So let’s start off with movies first since I only have 4. In total, I watched 45 movies this year. One did not come out this year so these are just the best I watched this year.

  1. The Farewell

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Despite my immense frustration with the ending, the Farewell had to make my top list. In retrospect, it would be odd if it didn’t because it definitely ticks all the boxes for my type of movie. It’s pretty female centric, the story revolving around our main character Billi who has a close relationship with her grandmother and her struggle with the family decision to keep her grandmother in the dark about her grandmother’s cance; it is character centric, most of the scenes are quiet, almost trivial interactions between family members and it’s a slow coming of age story about family. I definitely think the director has at some point experienced firsthand this internal struggle. Every conversation feels so natural. They feel real partially because there’s a lot of Mandarin infused throughout. But its dialogue takes on familiar beats of the “tough love” Asian children experience (her grandmother often calls Billi stupid endearingly) but also the unspoken silence of bearing burdens alone as is common in Asian households. The film does lean towards Billi’s side (the culmination of mainly American values) but ultimately dishes up both perspectives and lets the audience decide. It is a lovely and warm movie. Definitely will be rewatching in the future.

2. Parasite

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This one totally came out of left field and I definitely did not expect to love this one as much as I did. Parasite is a thriller with horror elements about a poor family that slowly invades this rich family’s house in an effort to get rich themselves. This movie is heavy on the metaphors and symbolism and although twists abound, nothing prepares you for the crazy twist in the middle. My mind was blown. In many thriller movies, characters especially secondary ones are not fully fleshed so you’re left with motives that are left woefully unexplained. But not here. I appreciated that each character had a purpose and a personality that had them even more interesting when they were on screen together. But more than that, the movie brings up a lot of questions surrounding the class system in Korea. I appreciated it more because we see how each class is at fault, how they faulted each other. I particularly found it interesting the themes of finding the poor disposable to the rich and how that came into play. When it comes to the war between rich and poor, the director does a brilliant job at highlighting the how vastly different these two worlds are.

3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

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When it comes to movies and TV, I definitely have a weakness for coming of age and romance. Never have I seen a romance so masterfully done as this one. On every technical aspect of filmmaking, this was beautiful. Each shot in the film looks like an oil painting from the 18th century. Each scene is carefully placed and centered. Every color is bright and saturated. Every glance between actors meaningful and fleeting that you can’t tear your eyes off the screen. I know a lot of people will think this movie is boring since so much of the action happens in the space between silences and quiet split second facial expressions but it says so much about love and desire. It also says a lot about how we create memories. I find also that films that are most successive in exploring through a feminist lens are the ones that don’t parade that they are “woke” and feminist but are still just as powerful.

4. Pan’s Labyrinth

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Pan’s Labyrinth is hands down my favorite movie of the year. It’s definitely a weird one but I loved the themes behind it.  Everything about this movie is stellar from the screenplay to the cinematography, the acting, the visual effects, the editing. All of it helps to convey a seamless transition from the human world to the underworld. lives in, in many ways humans do worse things to each other than anything the others could do. It is also interesting how even though the creatures look terrifying, Ofelia  retreats to this world when the real world is too much to bear. It is at least a world where she feels like she has some semblance of agency over her destiny and her life. The film is deeply brutal and violent yet somehow whimsical and mysterious. I love this movie because it upturns so much that we expect from a children’s fantasy movie. I also love how deftly it explores how children see the world especially in war and through the added fantastical lens we see the human characters for who they truly are.

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Reviews: Romantic Comedies

It is exciting that we are finally seeing romantic comedies featuring Asian leads! The romantic comedy genre is a genre that I love despite being extremely picky about it.  Rom coms get a bad rep in general for being unrealistic and cliche and rightly so, they contain a lot of generic plot points, not-that-romantic leads, toxic ideals of love, and mostly white people. Do these romantic comedies do anything different? We shall see.

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You can imagine my excitement when I realized that TATBILB was becoming a movie. It is, after all, one of my favorite YA contemporary novels of all time. I’ve reread the trilogy multiple times now and I still adore them. I love Lara Jean as a character, I love LJ and Peter, I love the family dynamics, I love the happy-go-lucky feel to it. While I thought the movie was entertaining, I did think it could have captured the essence of the books a lot better (although maybe I am just bitter it did not turn out as I had wanted it to which is also a problem). My main problem with the movie was the cinematography. You might think this is not a big deal, but it made a huge difference to the overall tone and atmosphere of the story.

For example, in one scene where Lara Jean and Peter were talking in the cafe about why Lara Jean kissed him out of the blue, the camera lays its lenses on one person and then abruptly lays them on the other. While this is great for seeing the character’s emotions, it does not bring any sort of chemistry or intimacy to the scene. A lot of the book depended on the chemistry between LJ and Peter and I’m sure the movie wanted to make us believe that they were falling in love, but the detached and stilted way the camera captures the whole room instead of the two characters and the frequent back and forth between just the faces did not help capture any sort of intimate banter between the two.

It also did not help when we were meant to relate to LJ and her relationship with her sisters. The climax did not feel climatic (This bon iver wannabe?? what kind of insult is that) and the denoument felt lackluster. The script also did not help adding to the stiff and almost formal nature of the characters.

I also had issues with Lara Jean’s character. This sentiment was exacerbated of the way the character should be written when I was watching Princess Diaries the other day. At the beginning of the movie, Mia is constantly dropping things and avoiding conversation with her grandmother. We, as the audience, really see that Mia is clumsy and all around socially awkward (although I hate this trope in general) in a unique way but in the case of Lara Jean, I’m only reminded of who Lara Jean is as a character by the way everyone else talks about her–or by the movie being portraying her as a cliche awkward outcast teen heroine as in the scene where she says her boots are from Etsy to the Gen the bully. Also where was all the baking? So in the end, when Josh is talking to LJ about how she cannot keep hiding her true feelings, it doesn’t feel quite as punchy. I did, however, like that they captured fairly well Lara Jean’s naivety and romantic idealism. It’s part of what makes her such a great teen main character.

The movie also did not make good use of its voiceover narration. It should allow the characters to jump back and forth in time but really, that happened only once. I felt it was used more as a copout to explain characters that they didn’t know how to insert in otherwise. For example, Chris did not have to have that introduction of being her best and only friend. We presumably would already know this in the next scene when she is waiting in the cafeteria all alone with no one to eat with her and texts Chris. Waste of a scene to be honest. Also, all the scenes with Gen were kind of a waste as well considering we don’t really meet her in the book until some time later if I recall correctly. I will say though that Noah Centineo who plays Peter Kavinsky was A+! I really could not have thought of a better actor for the role. He embodied a good balance of playfulness and sportiness but there was a sublime thoughtfulness to him that wasn’t forced. He was very different than other teen movie love interests. He was the hands down the best actor out of the whole bunch, with Lara Condor second and Kitty third. Speaking of which, I did not get nearly enough sisterly dynamics. I thought the ending ended on a cute note and it was overall entertaining at least. I guess I just had high expectations for a book series that was so close to my heart. B-

 

 

Crazy Rich Asians

Romantic comedies are a fickle genre for me. On the one hand, I love romance, but I usually hate romance books and romantic comedies get some passes from me but they mostly end up in the C category. Well Crazy Rich Asians really fleshed out the parts of the romantic comedy that I did not like but still stuck to the genre.

The best reason why this romantic comedy was able to have depth is the secondary characters and Rachel’s viewpoints. I’ll start with the secondary characters. I absolutely adored the depth they were given. The obstacles given to the main character in rom coms are usually very one dimensional. Some storytime is given to Astrid, an old money type who contrasts Rachel. Her storyline was actually very surprising to me and it ended on a rather feminist note about the woman being the breadwinner in the relationship.Their storylines collide in similar ways and I really liked it. I also really liked the way the mother was portrayed. In a ton of korean dramas and Asian movies, I see this representation of the cruel mother in law who subjects our heroine to many humiliating experiences. But as disapproving as this mother in law is, we understand why she disapproves even as we are rooting for Rachel.

As she states, Rachel is not “one of our kind”. This statement would have been cliche had the movie not explored the mother in law’s past, had the movie not been truly seen through Rachel’s eyes. Throughout the movie, we see how overwhelming stepping into Nick’s world is. She literally feels like a fish out of water with constant humiliation. This is a lifestyle that she has not lived. As in most romantic comedies, the heroine is usually written to be relatable and it is great how this movie shows the problems specific to an Asian heroine. Rachel faces a lot of the problems that Asian American and Asian women face when they are faced with a disapproving mother in law, a fact that happened a lot. I love that the story constantly brings it back to Rachel’s perspective and how overwhelming it is for her to meet Nick’s family. It is not just a matter of her being poor and him being rich, it’s about the differences in lifestyles and perspectives in the world. Rachel struggles with not feeling good enough for this family and constantly trying to gain respect from people who think she is beneath them. The movie definitely sought to do more than share a romantic story with cultural clash however. It sought to inform the audience about new vs old money in Asia and the camera really dwells on the beauty of Singapore. One of my favorite scenes was the scene where Rachel, Nick and their friends are eating out through the street food markets that pass by.

The cast and crew really cared about making this movie authentic and as such the jewelry, dresses, and outfits were all hella extravagant and expensive.

This movie is very funny and just an all around feel good movie and in fact a movie I would recommend seeing in theaters. The opulence of the set design can be really appreciated on the big screen. I recently read a review on myanimelist about My Hero Academia. It was a review stating that this anime did not seek to break down any barriers of its genre. It sought to be the best of it. And that is what Crazy Rich Asians is to the romantic comedy (aside from of course, the all Asian cast). It did it well and I have to also applaud its focus on its heroines’ growth and change and did not fall into many toxic tropes used in romantic comedies that make us fall in love with the main characters. No clumsy heroine, no changing for a man, no stalkery tendencies, no wrist grabbing, and no infidelity with a mean ex or a nice-but-safe ex. This is what happens when rom coms pay attention to the details. 

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movie reviews · tv review · Uncategorized

Reviews: A TV Show, A Movie, A Drama

For Beginners

Stranger Things season 2 was an inevitable thing considering the enormous popularity of the first season. As a whole, I think it succeeds but I have a few qualms. First of all, my feelings about the side characters are two fold. On the one hand, I struggle to see how they stand on their own throughout the season; I even question some of their significance such as Maxine’s stepbrother who is a dick for basically no other reason than being a dick. With that said, however, some of the success of Stranger Things is the fact that it juggles so many characters but gives each one their moment in the spotlight. It takes a while for some of the characters to show their true deal and sometimes I feel the side characters are just used to create tension in the plot like Bob.

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As conflicted as I feel about the side characters, I do like that the show continued to expand our core cast of characters with the exception of Will and Joyce. I wish Will hadn’t spent the entire season unconscious or confused or seeing visions. I think there wasn’t enough time for him to really develop as a character what with him being entirely missing in S1 and unconscious for much of S2. I also wish Joyce didn’t spend all season screaming. However, I feel as though the dynamics of the group are ever evolving in a good way. They are each trying to find their own identity outside of the group and because of that they spend a significant amount of time away from each other. Dustin discovers a new creature that he wants to keep despite the group’s skepticism. Mike is still trying to get Eleven back. Lucas is grappling with his feelings for Maxine. I’m very pleased with Eleven’s story arc as well even though the storyline with finding her mom was a little tedious. She finally figures out what her powers mean to her and how she wants to use them.

I have to say I was so very happy about what happened between Nancy and Jonathan, my OTP of this show. I like that Nancy really got to shine on her own. It was somewhat marred by the fact that Steve did not get any closure from this but I’ll take it and hope he gets some more development next season. And let me just say, I did not know I needed Steve as an unwilling babysitter till now. I completely love Steve as a character this season. He is an incredibly funny character and he plays it just right.

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The cliffhanger was unsatisfying to me because I thought the entire season was about just this thing (that I won’t spoil). The plot continued to be compelling and it definitely got pretty gruesome at parts for a family show but I’m all for it. But side note, what is up with all the cliche one-liners? B+

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Lady Bird is only one of a slew of coming of age movies that I’ve had the pleasure to watch in the past couple of years. It’s about a girl named Christine, or as she dubs herself, “Lady Bird”, in her final year of high school. I have to say it’s one of the most stylistically unique. It moves in vignettes and mere snapshots of Lady Bird’s life with no sense of beginning, middle, or even end. It just feels like you’re watching little video clips spliced together as she tries to figure out to get out of California and get into college to a school on the East Coast. She is misunderstood but that misunderstanding is as much a result of her own perception of herself as those of the perceived perceptions of her from the people around her such as her father, her brother, her friends, her love interests, and especially her mom. A hodgepodge of juxtapositions herself, she is romantic but crass, she is delusional but also very grounded in reality, she is an outcast but wants to fit in.

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She has a frustrating relationship with her mom and I like that they spend an equal amount of time focusing on all her relationships, romantic, familial, and friends.

No scene really begins with a clear purpose; no scene ends with a clear resolution. It could just be a clip of her and her mom shopping at the mall and then cutting to a scene of her at school. It is beautifully acted, often feeling more improv than scripted which is only a testament to the natural dialogue. Everything feels just well balanced. A lovely coming of age movie. A

For Beginners (2)

It is rare for me for me to have completed a kdrama and give it a B. Usually, I know it’s a B from the first few episodes and just quit it. You can see from my previous reviews of Descendants of the Sun, Age of Youth, Signal, and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo that I gave all of them A’s and if I didn’t, such as Tomorrow with You, I have already stopped watching by the 3rd episode. Despite the cons of the drama, I loved the poignancy of this drama and what it has to say about the institution of marriage. Ji Ho is a quiet, mousy 30 year old who wants to make it as a writer. She desperately needs a room while she is looking for jobs after quitting her first one as an assistant writer. She finds a room with Se Hee who just wants a roommate who will recycle and look after his cat and pay the rent so he can pay back his debts. They don’t ask for much from life, just a place to stay, food, and the ability to watch soccer games in their spare time.

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They fall in love, obviously, as one can only expect in a kdrama. This will not be the first time there is a marriage contract based korean drama nor will it be the last. It is, however, unique in many ways. Even though Ji Ho and Se Hee are the main characters, they are not exactly the type of main characters I usually gravitate towards and they are not charismatic enough to hold the storyline together. It’s a good thing then that the show focuses also on Ji Ho’s two best friends, Ho Rang and Soo Ji and interesting opposite studies on their own. Ho Rang goal in life is to get married, have kids, and be a good housewife. Soo Ji works at a big male-dominated company and dreams of becoming a CEO of her own company. The drama directly explores gender dynamics in a relationship such as proposals, sexual harassment in the workplace, and patriarchy in the family head on. The very subjects that Korean dramas never, ever, ever explore.

It’s even better that the drama does not take any sides on these issues but instead portrays the characters to the best of its ability and allows viewers to make their own opinion. It does not take Ho Rang’s side or Soo Ji’s side or even Ji Ho’s side although it could be said that it supports all these characters equally in their endeavors. On top of that, I will always support a drama that supports their female friendships. It asks us if she can live her life even if she doesn’t become her life-long career of being a writer. It tell us how complicated but how simple it is to love someone. And most importantly, it asks these characters what it means to live a meaningful life to them.

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The main reason for my B rating are the last few episodes. I think it’s a shame that the previous explored these issues so deeply and carefully that the rushed last episodes felt like a bow slapped onto an almost finished present. I was especially dissatisfied with Ho Rang’s ending. I think what hurt the drama was that the writers thought, as with all kdramas, that there had to be an HEA when it would have been perfectly fine and even more emotionally enriching to have a more ambiguous ending. However, its poignant moments and its thoughtful dialogue on what it means to live a meaningful life make this worth watching. B

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Mini Movie Reviews: Summer Movies

Wonder Woman | Directed by Patty Jenkins | Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine | B

It’s hard to live up to the expectation of being the most anticipated movie of the year. I can say that Wonder Woman both lived up to and disappointed those expectations. And I Image result for wonder woman movie posterthink in the movie’s essence, Jenkins really understood who Wonder Woman is at the core. She is someone who is a little naive and idealistic but ultimately resiliently caring and kind and that is who Wonder Woman has been since her inception in 1941. So even though the pacing was a little clunky and it falls into the same traps of typical superhero movies like a predictable and obvious villain and side characters that are not developed enough to be memorable, it still felt true to its heroine. What is slightly different is that Jenkins at least allows the development of small character moments both serious and humorous making sure that the small details about these characters are not slipping through. Just the small lines about babies and ice cream is enough to establish a baseline for the character. Of course, that allows the interactions between Wonder Woman and Steven Trevor to shine through and it was honestly where a lot of the humor came from. I do wish they had done a better job of establishing why Wonder Woman is the way she is. The way they portrayed her made it seem as if she was born like this; I wish they had showed some sort of catalyst. And I think sometimes she jumps a little too quickly to violence even though a big part of her character is showing mercy and kindness to all. Like any summer blockbuster, it’s not all about the characters, Wonder Woman revels in the dramatic and slow motion stylized action moments which is probably why the action sequences were some of the best parts of the entire movie. They felt adequately long and really built on each moment instead of being one long overdrawn battle sequence.  My forever favorite scene is when Wonder Woman walks into No Man’s Land to block the bullets and clear the way for the rest of the soldiers to come through. If anything else, Wonder Woman is inspirational precisely because, however cheesy it is, it is ultimately committed to its sincerity and that makes up for a lot of its flaws.

Everything, Everything | Directed by Stella Meghie | Starring Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson | C

Look, this is just not a good movie. Plain and simple. The entire movie felt like one long awkward conversation with excruciating pauses between dialogue and long, silent stares that last minutes too long. One of the biggest pitfalls of the movie is failing to establish aImage result for everything everything movie poster sense of chemistry and urgency. In a movie, if you are going to tell a romantic story about a couple, you must, must, must take the time to establish the individual characters first. I knew a lot about Maddy throughout but I don’t really know anything about Ollie. At all really. What are his dreams, his desires, his motivations, his fears? Without them, he has been spit out from the generic boyfriend machine. Even her mother who has a side role in the movie had better development than him. I wish I could see what the screenwriter of this movie was thinking because the dialogue felt so misplaced most of the time. Cheesy lines felt even cheesier than usual and serious lines were just plain hilarious. On top of that, they failed to establish a relationship between the two characters mostly due to the mediocre writing. So when climactic events occur, you can bet I did not feel a single thing and it’s not because I have a heart of stone this time. But more than that, there is no sense of real danger; I never thought for a second Maddy was in any danger of dying from SCID (and I haven’t read the book), and therefore, no real sense of loss and ultimately growth for these characters. I suppose if you’re in the right mood for a dramatic teen love story, I suppose you can watch this and have a good laugh but otherwise I recommend a hard pass.

Dunkirk | Directed by Christopher Nolan | Starring Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy | B

Dunkirk is the latest of Nolan’s impressive filmography so I expected nothing less than something stellar. I suppose maybe I am too used to blockbuster war movies (the last one I saw was Hacksaw Ridge) or other stylized ones in general. And while I appreciate the Image result for dunkirkcraft behind making this film, it was more apparent to me that the story lacked something. It starts off intriguing, a young soldier walking through a deserted neighborhood and for the first some 30 minutes after he almost barely speaks a word of dialogue. For the most part, this provides a sense of mystery, you don’t know this boy’s (I don’t think his name is ever mentioned) motivations, his desires, his fears. I suppose those things aren’t needed for a movie that is about, as Nolan states himself, survival. How he portrays the characters is at once it’s biggest strength but also it’s biggest weakness. Nolan flits between characters and their perspectives for a time before flitting back to another character. And even though I usually love that careful attention on small character moments, this time I wasn’t as satisfied with it. Usually in war films, there’s a period where the soldiers will reveal parts of their lives before they became a soldier and it turns into a point of emotional investment from the audience to the character but here we don’t get that. But even if we did not get the back story I would have at least wanted a better sense of motivation and desire. The characters just feel like faces in the crowd. And if Nolan wanted to portray survival, I think he only touched on surface level facets of survival that could have been explored deeper. There is no doubt that Nolan still knows how to craft a movie in his exact vision. The cinematography follows those frequent over the shoulder shots and careful time on small character moments. And of course, Hans Zimmer once again does an excellent of creating suspenseful and tension filled pieces to fill in the scenes. Maybe I wasn’t able to look too hard into the details. There’s also this sense of build up that continually builds up during the movie but there is no sense of that build up leading to anything significant or poignant at the end. Maybe that was the point, after all, in war, there is no discrimination and no time to focus on the individual, but if so, I think it could have been executed better.

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Mini Movie Reviews: Coming of Age

Why do I even try calling these “mini” reviews? I can literally write a whole review on each one of these but then I would never catch up on my reviews. If you’ve been following my blog for the past couple of months, you’ll know how much I completely adore the coming-of-age genre. I just love the exploration of identity and just discovering what you want out of life while at the same time, faced with these growing burdens and expectations from the people around you. I think it’s such an interesting dynamic and I’ve been watching a lot of TV and reading books that revolve around this but I haven’t really talked about coming-of-age movies.

Lemonade Mouth

Musical | Directed by Patricia Riggen| Disney Channel | D

To be honest, I only watched this movie because I wanted a point of reference to the other movies. In a sense, comparing a “bad” coming of age movie to a “good” one. Image result for lemonade mouth posterLemonade Mouth tries so hard to portray an authentic high school experience but it doesn’t work. It’s like making someone who has never been to high school make a movie about high school.

And because of this, this entire movie is so unintentionally funny. I’m not kidding you when I tell you there was a part in this movie where the school bully falls in someone’s lap and then for some reason the entire pizzeria starts fighting and everyone starts throwing empty red cups at one another. I’ve never been so painfully aware of a movie’s limited budget. There is no mystery to these characters or the fact they are having inner lives apart from the page. You know exactly what their deal is the minute they are introduced and their subsequent story arc only serves to confirm what you already know. For one, there is Charles whose parents want him to play soccer like his perfect older brother but guess what he doesn’t want to play soccer. Who would have thought? And of course at the end, it’s suddenly revealed that his brother is actually not so perfect (surprise). The dialogue leaves no room for conflict and neither does the story.

The songs aren’t particularly great either. The lyrics are too bright and dare I say it, too inspirational if that makes any sense at all. It’s kind of funny that this movie would be more of an inspiration for little kids or tweens rather than people who are actually in high school. It’s got that unrealistic teen empowerment message–like yeah I can do anything type thing and that cheesiness to go along with it. I will say that I have to give it credit for its diversity. That makes it feel more true to recent times but alas that’s really the only thing it’s got going for it.

The Breakfast Club

Directed by John Hughes | B+

So apparently this is the quintessential coming-of-age film. I can see why from just watching its beginning lines unfold. The most notable of which is in Brian’s monologue Related imagewhere he’s telling Mr. Vernon, “You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” And every single high school coming-of-age film afterwards has tried to answer this statement. To show these kids as more than just their stereotypes. How does someone break into themselves in the pressure pot that is high school? The Breakfast Club is smart is so many ways, instead of tediously showing what life is like for these people, wasting scenes of waking up and showing what their room is like and things like that or following them through a typical school day where we mostly know what’s going to happen to them, Hughes puts them all together in the same room, where these so-called stereotypes would have never have met and forced them to interact in the same playing field–in detention. Slowly their layers are peeled back layer by layer. There is a lot of explosive angst especially from Bender who basically adds fuel to the fire in whatever he says. And there’s a lot of anger in these kids that is just brilliantly acted.

Although what they reveal about themselves isn’t terribly original like Vernon, who is stereotyped as the smart, straight A student is actually failing a class and of course Andrew who is presumably the star of the wrestling team, shocker, does not have the perfect life and has to live to his father’s persistent expectations, the way these secrets are revealed is explosive and surprising. And there’s really nothing better for me than to see a group of unlikely friends become well..friends.

This movie was produced in 1985 so while it feels timeless in some aspects, it also feels dated at the same time. It is sexist and the romances are so off-kilter, and while the cast is supremely more talented than the cast of Lemonade Mouth, the same can’t be said about its diversity. If there could somehow be a good remake of this movie, I’ll be the first one to see it.

Sing Street

Musical | Directed by John Carney | Ireland | A-

This movie is the reason this whole post was started. Sing Street is the most charming movie I have seen in a long time.

It is so inspirational and caught with youthful optimism but never descends into cheesiness because it is so grounded in realism. There are so many ways this premise could have gone wrong. I mean this movie takes Image result for sing street posterplace in Ireland in 1985 and it is about a boy who starts a band to impress this mysterious girl that he likes but doesn’t know anything about. But I was so unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised. It finds this perfect balance between the raw realism of the inner life of Conor as a teen with parents who constantly fight and dealing with kids and staff (who btw are priests) who bully him and the wish fulfillment optimism of of starting a band. The dialogue is so well-written, full of dry one-liners that you almost miss and reactions that never feel over-the-top or dramatic in any way.

 

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Basically, they skip all the unnecessary parts and just get straight to the good stuff. There was this one part where the school bully tells our intrepid main character to dance naked in the bathroom, Conor says no and the bully just leaves. Just unexpected moments like that are what make this movie work. Or like the part when no one questions the unrealistic nature of starting a band. They just do it. It shouldn’t work, there usually is a period of disbelief that the characters go through because they think they can’t actually pull off start a band but the movie skips those parts we expect. I adored each and every song. They were so catchy and nostalgic and inspirational and so feel good. Easily could have fallen into Lemonade Mouth’s trap but it effortlessly avoids the same pitfalls by painting its characters with subtle and nuanced inner lives.

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And let me tell you that the female love interest is not nearly as manic pixie dream girlesque as one would expect.

The Edge of Seventeen

Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig | A

The Edge of Seventeen is my favorite out of the bunch and that’s because it’s just got the best ingredients of the coming-of-age genre. Nadine is a character that isn’t “likeable”. Most ofImage result for the edge of seventeen poster the awkward situations she gets into are of her own doing. This is truly someone whom no one understands and even she doesn’t understand herself. She’s self-centered and melodramatic and is always ready to pick a fight. And the one person who did understand her most was her dad who died when she was just going through middle school. The dialogue is crude and unapologetic but the story is so sincere and charming. It’s as if the person who wrote this movie has been Nadine before and is chuckling and shaking their head at their past self. And hey, there is an Asian male love interest who is into drawing and is even more awkward than our main character. It’s so wonderful. Image result for the edge of seventeen gifThis coming-of-age film is not necessarily about finding her own identity so much as finding a way to make the most of her present as shitty as she thinks it is which is honestly how a lot of high school teens feel. This feeling that even though you know this is temporary, this part of your life feels so permanent and you’re just waiting for the day when you can find your way out. This movie is also just funny. I love the wit between Nadine and her history teacher played by Woody Harrelson, the one and only Haymitch, and he was such a great casting choice for this role. Like the Breakfast Club, it’s about the character’s perceptions of other people, just as we try to see past our perceptions of the characters, we see from the very beginning, that Nadine’s “hate” for her older brother is a little misguided. Her brother who appears to be golden boy the one who gets everything he wants and doesn’t give a shit about anyone else. But though many of the things Nadine thinks about her brother may be true, there’s many other things that she doesn’t quite know about her brother.

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I actually watched this movie a 2nd time just so I can write this review and I don’t regret a single moment.

Let me know if you’ve seen any of these movies and if you have any other coming-of-age recommendations.

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movie reviews · tv review · Uncategorized

Mini TV/Movie Reviews: Animation

So I’ve noticed I’ve been watching a lot more animation lately. Usually, animation is not something I normally gravitate towards especially animated TV and anime but there are always exceptions (See Voltron: Legendary Defender). I do tend to like animated movies more just because there are studios like Disney and Pixar that are always making really good content but even then I usually they don’t have quite as much emotional impact on me as they seem to on other animated fans but again there are exceptions (See Zootopia). And the ones I’ve seen recently are as expected a hit or miss.

Tangled Before Ever After (TV Movie) & Tangled: The Series

Starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi|Disney Channel | Currently 4 episodes released

Image result for tangled the seriesI’ll admit I was pretty excited but also really hesitant about watching these two. I didn’t know how well the 3D CGI would translate to 2D. The movie animation was absolutely stunning and I was worried the TV show would lose a lot of the feel of the original. But I was totally surprised. At first look, the 2D looks juvenile and a little sloppy but after watching it, it is absolutely stunning in its own way. The background and scenery are so bright and vivid but really detailed at the same time. They look like drawings in a picture book. It also helps that the voice actors for Eugene and Rapunzel are the same as in the movie and they do an equally good job in this one. The TV movie and TV series take place after the events of the 1st movie but before the Tangled short film where Eugene and Rapunzel get married. The first few episodes that have been released follow Rapunzel as she learns how to be a princess after being locked up in a tower. The relationship between Rapunzel and Eugene is just as cute and cheesy but there are worse things to show in a relationship than being cheesy. It is very healthy and respectful and I do like that they are getting separate storylines as they each figure what they want to be. There’s also a new character that’s introduced, Cassandra, who is Rapunzel’s lady-in-waiting and she’s awesome. She’s fearless and adventurous and a great foil for Rapunzel. She has an interesting hate relationship with Eugene which is fun. The storylines aren’t terribly original and I can forgive that because the show is very clearly targeted towards very young children (8-12) but they are refreshing in many ways and just solid storytelling. Fun and easily bingeable. I have a feeling shows based on popular Disney movies are going to continue being a thing in the upcoming years. I am particularly excited for the Big Hero 6 show coming out this Fall (again 2D) and the voice actors for most of the original cast will be the same which is exciting.

Trollhunters

Created by Guillermo Del Toro | Season 1: 26 episodes | DNFed: Episode 7 |Netflix

It’s very clear to me from seeing Pacific Rim and now Trollhunters that Guillermo Del Toro has such an imaginative and epic visionary style but I wish he paid as much Image result for trollhuntersattention to his stories. The world of the Trollhunters is riddled with interesting trolls and troll lore. The city that the Trolls reside in is beautifully animated (in the same CGI as Tangled) but as beautiful as the animation is, the story is lacking soooo much. It is overly cliche with by-the-book humor and one-note characters. It has the bare bones of an underdog-turned-hero story. Our hero, Jim Lake, is living in the suburbs with his doctor mom. He is kind of the outcast of the school and is bullied by the blonde-haired jock at school. His best friend, Toby, is the fat and lovable sidekick who is obviously fodder for a bunch of fat jokes. And to add on top of this mountain of cliches, he has a crush on one of the girls at school but of course does not think he is good enough for her attentions. But he’s a special snowflake so he finds this jewel and turns out that he is the savior of the trolls. Do you see where this is going? Much like the Kaijus and the Jaegers, the Trolls are extremely well-designed and varied. I really wanted to like this show because it seems like a show that I would like but 7 episodes in, I just couldn’t get past the bland storytelling. I’ve heard it gets less cliche as it goes on with the side characters getting their own development separate from their association with Jim but I don’t have enough patience to stick around.

Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name)

Directed by Makoto Shinkai | Based on the manga: Your Name by Makoto Shinkai

This is one of those unfortunate instances where I’m wondering if everyone is watching the same Image result for your namemovie as me. I won’t deny that the animation and directing is beyond gorgeous. Much like Hayao Miyazaki’s films, the animation is hyper realistic and detailed especially in its scenery. But the storyline falls so flat for me. I think my biggest problem with the story is the fact that they were trying to insert 3 whole storylines into 1 movie which was too much and each storyline suffered because of it. What I thought I was getting was a body swapping storyline and eventually a romance but then halfway through, that sort of changed and went into more fantastical explanations for why this was happening that felt contrived. And to be honest, I didn’t really need to know why the body swapping was happening. And because of this deviance in plot, the characters never get past the stage of typical high school teens. In fact the things that happen when Mitsuha and Taki switch bodies are completely forgotten the next time they go back to their own bodies which makes me wonder how the fuck they could fall in love. And the parts where the relationship is being developed is filmed in a montage which is just annoying. This might just be me, however, I don’t like “they are bound by fate” storylines but I still felt like these storylines were not integrated well enough and felt like they were totally separate storylines. And then that random plot point at the end??

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And at the end, I just didn’t care about these characters and I was just bored. There are two reviews that explain my thoughts in a more well-written manner, however be warned they both contain spoilers.

Review #1 | Review #2

Let me know if you’ve seen any of these and what you thought of them (especially Your Name). And if you have any animated recommendations for me, I’d love to know 🙂

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movie reviews · Uncategorized

Mini Movie Reviews: Oscar Nominees 2017

The Oscars are tomorrow! I’m especially excited for this year’s Oscars because I’ve actually seen a lot of the nominees whereas in other years, I would have watched only one or two of them. I think this year I was a lot more interested in the movies released. The following are all nominees for best picture and two of them actually have the most nominations behind La La Land. I still wanted to see Hidden Figures but alas it’s tomorrow and I wanted to get this post up today. I will see it though sometime! In the meantime, enjoy!

Moonlight

Contemporary Drama | A

My favorite quote from this movie is spoken when Juan was telling Chiron about an encounter he had with an old woman: “In moonlight, black boys look blue” and the woman Image result for moonlight postertold him: “You’re blue. That’s what I’m gonna call you: ‘Blue'”. I really like that part mostly because it speaks to the preconceptions we have about others because of how we see them even though we don’t really “see” them. We see them shrouded in blue. And our main character, Chiron, struggles with finding his identity separate from the judgements that people bury him under. We first meet Chiron when he is running away from bullies as a young child. He is quiet, reserved and unassuming, contraindicative already of so many other black American narratives of hyper masculine men. In three separate acts from his childhood to his teenage days to his adulthood, the movie follows Chiron as he discovers who he is and his sexuality and what he has to sacrifice of himself to survive in this harsh ghetto environment that has a very limited idea of what it means to be a man. The fact that he also has no one to confide in only amplifies his struggle.  It just makes the 2nd and 3rd act all the more vivid and heartbreaking. Part of this movie works so well because all three of the actors playing Chiron do an amazing job of channeling Chiron’s inner state. I do think this film deserves something for its film editing because it is just so seamless even when there are dream sequences and dream sequences usually hold back the narrative for me. It also is nominated for best original score which I can’t decide if La La Land or Moonlight deserves more. Moonlight has a beautiful classical score that settles in even in Moonlight’s most violent scenes which further magnifies Chiron’s sense of isolation and difference from the other boys. I really enjoyed this movie and I hope it at least gets some of the awards it deserves.

Hell or High Water

                                                          Neo-Western, Heist | B+Image result for hell or high water poster

I initially wanted to watch this solely because Chris Pine was in this movie and I’m shallow
af. But it turned out to be a well-executed movie with nuanced acting and a good screenplay that transforms the modern Western into more of a character study than a gun-slinging action adventure. The storyline is simple enough, it follows two brothers who rob banks and Jeff Bridges plays a detective who tries to apprehend them. It does play and subvert these tropes well especially towards the end and delves with the idea of tradition vs progressivism. As well-executed as it is though, I think other nominees do it better and it’s probably not going to win any awards if I’m to be honest. Jeff Bridges is good in it but Mahershala Ali was better imo; editing is probably going to go to La La Land and I’m 99% sure it’s not going to be winning Best Picture. I’m glad to see it’s getting recognition though.

Arrival

Science Fiction | B-

Image result for arrival posterFor some reason, Arrival actually was a bit of a let down for me? I thought the screenplay was unoriginal and it’s trying to tackle so many themes, themes of using language to communicate, themes of time-travel and knowing your future, themes of motherhood and it doesn’t explore any of them as deeply as I would have liked. The side characters were just so dull and were mostly used as plot devices than to serve as actual characters. Like why were you even here Jeremy Renner??? I will say that it’s different from other award-winning science fiction movies we’ve had of late. With Gravity and Interstellar and The Martian, it was about going into space or the perils of space itself but Arrival is about first contact with aliens and how humanity deals with a race that has a different language than ours. It has a good concept but its execution was off and I was expecting a lot more. Also, why does Amy Adams feel like the only important female character in this movie? Where are all the female scientists?  Maybe hype got to me because most people seem to like this.

Hacksaw Ridge

War, Historical Fiction (WWII) | A-

Hacksaw Ridge is based on a true story of Desmond Doss who was the very first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty during WWII. This movie really has to thank its script and direction because if thoseImage result for hacksaw ridge were even average this movie would have just been a mediocre underdog story. And indeed, some of scenes feel a little trite and predictable. I mean we have all seen that one part in a movie where the underdog is beaten up by bullies and when asked who beat him up, he denies anyone did. There’s that one bully that we all hate but it turns out he never had any parents and he gets a redemption arc. *rolls eyes* However, Andrew Garfield always plays it just right so he kind of saves this role. In the second half of the movie, we get some overlong battle sequences that feel a tad too gratuitous. And I say that because, unlike movies like Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge surprisingly retains its stylized quality throughout. Not to say that it wasn’t violent (it was; there are spilled intestines), but even in the beginning, the colors are bright and saturated; there’s no shaky cam or “in-the-moment” camerawork that war movies seem to love.. Despite my qualms with it, I loved this movie; it’s probably my favorite behind La La Land and Moonlight for Oscar nominees because it is so grounded in its main character, Desmond. You get to really feel that conviction that Desmond has in his faith and his beliefs are the only thing he has to hold onto. It’s also quite a suspenseful movie especially in the latter half that really works because you feel so much for Desmond. Highly recommend because it is an Oscar nominee but it also can stand as a “blockbuster” movie. I like movies that can cross those boundaries.

Let me know if you’ve seen any of these movies, which one of them you would want to win Best Picture or which one’s your personal favorite. For me, it’s still La La Land and I know it’s now a trend to hate La La Land but I love it.

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