justin's review

Comet (2014) directed by Sam Esmail

‘Eighth Grade’ Captures Awkwardness And Impermanence Of American Adolescence

Fresh Air music critic Justin Chang says:

“After seeing Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s enormously affecting new movie, you might assume that a lot of the dialogue was improvised. Most of it was, in fact, carefully scripted, which makes it all the more remarkable: It’s been a while since I’ve heard a screenplay so fully master the awkward, hesitant rhythms of everyday teen speak. Burnham’s young characters talk in long, rambling but more-or-less coherent sentences, each thought punctuated with a perfectly timed “um” or “like” or “you know.”

The director approaches his subject — the awkwardness and impermanence of American adolescence — with an almost anthropological curiosity. A few of his throwaway observations, like a shot of a kid sniffing a highlighter pen in class, play like something out of a wildlife documentary.”

Stay tuned next week for an interview with Bo Burnham.

The Spy Who Dumped Me dir. Susanna Fogel (2018)

I don’t watch a lot of Hollywood movies. A lot of people assume that’s because I’m a film snob (which I can admit I am) but the truth is that while I enjoy a good popcorn flick I turned away from these movies a long time ago because I was sick of seeing so many movies that included casual sexism and racism. It was usually only a line or two here or there of the main (usually white, usually male) character sexualizing his co-worker or making some lame “joke” about his brown friend. And watching that always made me feel like I had just spent money to be slapped in the face.   

It definitely feels like the tide is slowly changing. There are now a handful of studio films that come out every year directed by a man of colour or a white woman (and every now and then a woman of colour) and I always go to support these films because I know that no matter how bad they are it’s so much less likely that there will be this painful throwaway lines that denigrate people for their race or gender. 

This was part of the reason I decided to give The Spy Who Dumped Me a shot. A comedy/action film the movie reminded me a lot of Spy, that Paul Feig directed, Melissa McCarthy starring movie that came out a few years ago.  Like with Spy, TSWDM focuses on non-spies who get caught up in intra-agent warfare: slacker-cashier Audrey (Mila Kunis) and her roommate/bestie Morgan (Kate McKinnon). 

We meet Audrey as she’s moping because her gorgeous out of her league boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) has abruptly dumped her over text right before her birthday. Morgan encourages her to burn his things and they are both surprised when, after days of ignoring Audrey, he calls and begs her not to burn anything. When he shows up at Audrey’s apartment she discovers he’s a spy being chased by a group of international assassins right before he’s shot in front of her. On the run and knowing they are about two seconds away from being murdered, Morgan persuades Audrey to go to Europe to complete Drew’s mission. After all if there’s a choice between dying having never seen Europe and dying in Europe one option certainly sounds better than the other. So armed with the 2nd place fantasy football trophy that Drew emphasized was important right before getting shot, and with each other, the two jet off to Vienna where more spies, guns and (likely) death await them. 

This was the type of movie that even if I didn’t know it had been written and directed by a woman I would have been able to tell it was. I mean that in the best way possible. Fogel’s debut film, the indie Life Partners, also focused on the messy intimacy of female friendship and though this movie has a much bigger budget and parts of it could easily act as a straight up action movie, the friendship between the two main characters makes it a sort of thematic sequel to Fogel’s earlier work. And where so many movies still struggle to clear the lowest of low bars i.e. passing the Bechdel test, TSWDM is just one long conversation between two women that starts early and never stops. Do the women talk about guys? Sometimes. But there are large swaths of the movie where they are more concerned with staying alive.  

There’s also a hilarious shot of a man’s penis and testicles fully shown on screen. It reminded me of a quote by Amy Heckerling where she talked about how when she went into filmmaking she thought she could even out the objectification of women by showing male nudity. It didn’t quite work out the way she wanted, she was quickly censored by studios. Yet here is Fogel, decades later, fulfilling Heckerling’s wish. The shot of the penis in TSWDM lasts maybe two seconds but it’s a shot that pushes the envelope and feels revolutionary when nearly every actress you can think of has gone topless on screen while most male actors will at most show their nude bottoms.

Kunis and McKinnon have great friendship chemistry as well. Kunis unfortunately has the thankless role of playing the straight-woman to McKinnon’s off-the-wall, over-the-top, theatre-kid bestie, but she plays it perfectly allowing McKinnon to truly shine. The guys (Justin Theroux as Kunis’s characters ex, and Sam Heughan as an MI6 agent) are mostly there for eye candy and they deliver on that front. 

TSWDM isn’t a perfect movie. For absolutely no reason at all it’s almost two hours and a last minute twist falls apart if you think about it too closely. But it’s a charming hilarious movie that serves up plenty of laughs and action without ever offending me once, which is all I ever wanted from a popcorn movie. 

I love that they gave Beth some much needed development. Like, she needed to realize that idolizing Rick is not healthy in the slightest and that she’s been regressing who she is in favor of this charade that was her marriage with Jerry.

Rick needed this to realize that even tho he tries to make himself out to be a cold unfeeling person he loves Beth more than he can even fathom.

I like that Rick admitted that he was a bad father.

People are making it out like Beth possibly abandoning her family is bad but its not like she’s truly abandoning them, she’d be leaving them in the hands of her clone and Rick who she despite her reservations about him trusts.

Beth after all this time could benefit from exploring the world and trying to figure out who she is removed from her father, her ex and her kids.

I hope she did leave on an adventure. I hope she finds herself.

Beth deserves it.

‘First Reformed’ Asks: 'Will God Forgive Us For Destroying His Creation?’

First Reformed is a stunner, a spiritually probing work of art with the soul of a thriller, realized with a level of formal control and fierce moral anger that we seldom see in American movies.

This isn’t just Paul Schrader’s best picture in years; it distills his brilliant, erratic career into one magnum opus. It brings together his background in Calvinist theology, his fascination with male sociopathic rage and his scholarly expertise on the austere, contemplative style of filmmakers like Carl Theodor Dreyer and Yasujirō Ozu.

If that sounds like a lot to process, don’t worry: It’s also a hell of a compelling story.

–Justin Chang

Dear White People: The Series (Review)

in 2014, writer/director Justin Simien exploded into the mainstream with Dear White People. The title alone was enough to send the entertainment industry into a talespin of words like “reverse racism” and “boycott.” Thank God it was good. Not just good, but borderline excellent. Equal parts Spike Lee and Aaron Sorkin; Simien effortlessly balanced the tepid climate of post-Obama’s America with razor-sharp dialogue that rivals the veterans of Hollywood. So when word broke that Simien was developing a show based on the modern day cult classic, many fans and skeptics alone were curious to see the project would join the ranks of other movie-based-shows (Bates Motel, Fargo, etc.)

Needless to say, it’s the best one yet.

Dear White People centers around the life and times of a predominantly white Ivy League university, which is currently under fire for a controversial party that involved its white students in blackface. Leading the crusade is Samantha White, portrayed here by Logan Browning (taking over the role previously depicted by Tessa Thompson),  a fervent freshman who gets her kicks by exposing institutionalized racism on her notorious radio show, which shares the name of the series. In an effort to bring the minorities of the university together, Sam soon learns that not all black people are created equal.

What makes this show so great is that there’s not a black stone that goes unturned. The 10-episode season is split into almost comic book like arcs centering around the Winchester students, such as Sam, Joelle, (Ashley Blaine Featherson,) Sam’s cool-as-hell BFF who keeps her down to earth; Gabe (John Patrick Amedori), the “cool white boy;” and the object of Sam’s affection; Reggie Green (Marque Richardson), Sam’s fellow warrior for wokeness, who has unrequited feelings for his partner in crime; Troy Fairbanks (Brandon Bell,) the golden child of the university who just so happens to be the son of the Dean; Lionel (DeRon Horton), the geeky journalist who gets a front row seat to the madness, all while trying to get closer to his superstar roommate; Coco (Antoinette Robertson,) a driven student who seems to separate herself from the pack at will, and often finds herself at odds with Sam. While Featherson, Bell and Richardson are the only ones to return from the film, the slew of new talent is more than able to hold their own. While there may be plenty of laughs, the show is never quick to remind us that the reality of being a black face in a white place is still a struggle we all deal with. In “Chapter V,” directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Reggie has an encounter with the police that leaves him shaken to his core, all over the misuse of the dreaded n-word in a Future song. It’s one of the most riveting 30 minutes you’ll see in 2017. Not to say the other nine episodes don’t hold up either. Quite the opposite. Every half hour of Dear White People feels self-contained enough to have its own arc while also maintaining the overall arc of the series.

Dear White People runs laps around its predecessor, and it’s a rarity when a movie-based-television show can do that. The actors are top-notch, the dialogue is perfection, and the line between biting satire and social issues is damn near pitch-perfect. Justin Simien created arguably one of the most impressive first seasons of television that the year has seen thus far. In an era where Insecure, Atlanta, and Black-Ish reign supreme, and movies like Moonlight, Fences, Get Out, and Hidden Figures break not only records, but stereotypes of old, Dear White People feels right at home in the modern Black Renaissance. And I feel that we’ve only seen the beginning. 

A+

‘Geography Club’ Directed by Gary Entin 2013

5 Stars from me. If you like love, Simon, you’ll probably enjoy this too.

This is a cute highschool themed movie mainly about acceptance within the lgbtq+ community.

Russell (Cameron Deane Stewart) is a closeted gay kid who is outed to the school, due to an unfortunate situation with a girl. He finds support within a group of students, of varying sexual orientations, who call themselves ‘the geography club’. They help him to accept who he is, and in the end he club becomes and official gay/straight alliance.

The movie is lighthearted and funny, and also looks upon other sexual orientations besides gay and straight.

Geography Club is quite similar to love, Simon, because:

There’s romance with someone, who they first meet on the internet, and who doesn’t want to come out

The main character being outed to the school and receiving comments and actions against him because of this

A girl who likes him and gets upset when he doesn’t feel the same way

A happy ending with a larger group of friends.

I can’t really find any flaws with this movie, apart from the storyline being quite basic.

I would recommend this movie as much, if not more that love, Simon. I don’t get why this movie didn’t get as much attention.

A Family Moves From Tragedy To Terror In ‘Hereditary’

A new film offers searing portrait of a family wracked by grief — and by mysterious forces. Reviewer Justin Chang calls Hereditary the most emotionally devastating horror movie he’s seen in ages.

Hereditary belongs to Toni Collette. This is her first major return to horror since her Oscar-nominated work in The Sixth Sense nearly 20 years ago, and it’s been a long time coming. Collette plays Annie like an instrument going slowly out of tune, exposing more and more nerve endings in every scene. It’s one of the most emotionally fine-grained performances I’ve seen this year, a mesmerizing reminder that the devil really is in the details.”

Gorgeous And Lyrical ‘Shape of Water’ Doesn’t Quite Hit Its Mark

Fresh Air film critic Justin Chang says:

The Shape of Water is such a lyrical and imaginative piece of storytelling that I’m genuinely disappointed that I didn’t love it more. There’s no doubting the visionary credentials of the director Guillermo del Toro, though his richly atmospheric fantasies are often more inspired in concept than they are in the moment-to-moment unfolding. The great exception is his Oscar-winning 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth, a masterpiece of historical fantasy in which he held a brutal Spanish war story and a transporting fairy tale in exquisite balance.”

Hannah & Zach

Originally posted by barchieapahart

Hannah & Zach had the potential to be a great ship, had it ever gone into fruition (after summer break) but Zach unfortunately let outside pressures put a full stop to that.

I wish he would’ve had the cojones to fight for this relationship and worry less about his “friends” approval; because this ship would’ve been good for Hannah’s overall mental state. Their summer tryst looked happy & healthy and who knows, had they gone public & moved forward with the relationship, it possibly could’ve been a saving grace for her. But Zach punked out and chose to keep Hannah his dirty little secret. Shame.

But there lies the bigger issue here, these kids are in such need of others validation that it seems like they’re consciously sabotaging themselves in every possible scenario that might result in a positive outcome, simply out of fear of being out-casted.

I hope that by season 3 the writers give these characters more individualism…they desperately need it.

With that being said, Hannah & Zach deserved better…..they weren’t my OTP of this show, but they were very shippable! ❤

Originally posted by itscyrusbabe