Review: Becoming

Yes we can!

This documentary follows former First Lady Michelle Obama as she goes on her book tour for her best selling novel, also called Becoming

I bought Michelle Obama's novel as soon as it came out and read it quickly. I loved getting a deeper look at her life and her history. The Obama's will always be special to me. The 2008 election was the first one I was eligible to vote in, and of course I voted for Barack Obama. But it's not all sunshine and rainbows for them. They still face massive amounts of hate and racism, more than my privileged self can ever understand. It's not easy but Michelle continues to radiate grace throughout.

This doc works as a great companion piece to her novel. On its own, it might seem short on information but not to the point where it isn't enjoyable if you haven't read her words. (Though really, you should.) It still gives us a look into Michelle the person, still out there trying to do the very best.

In a way it also depressed me slightly because it was showing footage of the 2008 election and man do I miss actually being excited about who the president is, and not having the human equivalent of a dumpster fire in office. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A

Memorable Quote: "We can't afford to wait for the world to be equal" - Michelle Obama

Thursday Movie Picks - TV Edition: Competitive Reality Shows

Would you get on TV to potentially embarrass yourself in front of millions doing something to win a big bag of money? Even if you wouldn't, you've probably seen plenty of this week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves: Competitive Reality TV shows. These can be very addicting. Here are three competitive shows that I spent a decent amount of time watching.

1) Chopped

I'm addicted to this show. I've never been into cooking shows until I found this one. It's just so fun watching what people come up with and the series regular judges are always a blast. It's been fun watching them grow as well. Like Scott Conant going from onion hating douche to growing a hot dude beard.

2) Dancing With The Stars

I was pretty into this show for a solid couple of years until Nicole Scherzinger was allowed to compete even though she was already in a trained dance group. For all the dumb shit that happened on that show, that was what ruined the novelty for me. It was so obvious they broke rules in certain dances on purpose just so they could dock her points and she didn't run away with a win every time she danced.

3) Guts

This was one I loved watching on Nickelodeon as a kid, specifically "Global Guts" when they would have kids from other countries compete. I loved this. It looked so fun at the time and looking back on it now as an adult, these kids were pretty damn impressive athletically.

Review: The Lovebirds

We could come in first.

When we meet Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani, (Issa Rae) they're on their very blissful first dates. Sparks fly, then we fast forward four years into the future where they're having a fight, and ultimately decide to call it quits while driving to a party. On their way there, they accidentally hit someone with their car, he's fine, but suddenly a man (Paul Sparks) claiming to be a police officer jumps in the car with them and murders the man they just hit. He gets away, and the two are left to deal with everything that just happened.

I'm a big fan of both Rae and Nanjiani, I finally started watching the former's Insecure on HBO a few months ago and it's hysterical. I was looking forward to this for the one liners alone, and it turns out that's what this movie is all about because the premise is predictable and a little stupid.

This movie would've bombed with unfunny leads, but lucky for us both of these actors are hilarious and they have great chemistry together. I laughed plenty, but it's hard to make excuses for the bare bones script. You can tell this movie was designed more for one liners, and less for a compelling story.

It made for a decent afternoon watch on Netflix. It's not going to be one of the best films of the year, but I'll take any reason to watch these two.

Recommended: Sure, it's on Netflix after all.

Grade: C+

Memorable Quote: "Oh did you think this was one of those men only doors?" - Leilani (Issa Rae)

Review: The Lodge

Quit screwing around.

Richard (Richard Armitage) is a divorcee who is trying to integrate his new fiancee, Grace (Riley Keough) into his life. She has a very tragic past, and his two children, Aiden (Jaeden Martell - formerly Lieberher, I have no idea when he changed this) and Mia (Lia McHugh) are not keen on entertaining the thought of her being in their lives. Richard decides to drive them up to a secluded cabin on a mountain for Christmas in hopes this will all bring them together.

The Lodge sets us up with the hefty task of suspending our disbelief that Richard is in fact, not a moron. Even though leaving his kids with his fiancee, that they hate, stranded in the middle of nowhere without a car on top of a bunch of other factors that I will not spoil is completely moronic. Fine. What's next?

Well, quite the slow burn. The Lodge does a really good job of building tension. While it's slow, it's not slow enough to be boring and even though it heavily foreshadows the conclusion, it does keep you guessing whether or not you have put together all the pieces. It's frequent use of doll houses gives me major Hereditary vibes, even though this screenplay was technically around first. I think that works in this film's favor though, because we all know how that movie ended. Maybe this will be similar.

I'm torn on this film. Keough is fantastic and her backstory had potential to be an entire movie itself, but they never go into it. The overall feel of is tense and perfect, but it is just so implausibly stupid. The ending isn't a huge surprise, it's practically spelled out for you, but the film does keep you guessing on whether or not there's more to it...but there isn't. You'll leave the movie thinking (highlight for spoiler)
 ---- fuck them kids -----

Recommedned: No, but also watch it and tell me I'm not alone in thinking it's stupid.

Grade: C-

Memorable Quote: "You're dating a psychopath." - Aiden (Jaeden Martell)

Thursday Movie Picks: Great Final Films of an Actor

This weeks' theme from Wandering Through The Shelves are those wonderful last glimpses of people that were taken too soon. The hardest part of this is finding the actual final film. When I saw this I immediately thought "The Dark Knight" but that technically wasn't Heath Ledger's final film. In fact, I unfortunately didn't love a lot of my favorite actors like Heath or Phillip Seymour Hoffman's final films that graced the big screen. Here are three films from actors we lost that were really solid.

1) Network

Peter Finch didn't live long enough to accept the Oscar he rightfully earned for this performance. Network is such a good film and the ending is always a bit more sad knowing Finch also passed after it was completed.

2) Thoroughbreds

Anton Yelchin had four films come out in the year after his untimely death, the last being the Wonderful Thoroughbreds. It's my favorite of those films that came out posthumously. He doesn't have a huge part but it is a memorable one.

3) Waitress 

I had no idea when I drove 2 hours to see this little indie film in theaters that it was writer/director/star Adrienne Shelly's last. I wanted to see it based on the trailer and was quite shocked when I came home, jumped online and saw she was murdered so horrifically. It's such a an enjoyable film that I try to focus on how proud she must be of it. It's lovely and heartbreaking at the same time. 

Review: How To Build A Girl

I keep waiting for that moment to happen.

Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) is a 16 year old girl from a poor family in the UK who wants to be a famous writing. Her wall is covered with photos of people like the Bronte sisters, Sylvia Path, and characters like Jo March who periodically speak to her as she bemoans the fact that she doesn't have the traditional tragic writer story. She's not an orphan, her mother (Sarah Solemani)  just suffers from postpartum depression and is generally exhausted taking care of 5 kids and her father (Paddy Considine) is too busy trying to re-live his "glory" days of being in a band that went nowhere. She gets a job writing music reviews for a newspaper, then decides to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde: sex pirate and unapologetic bitch. It does wonders for her writing.

This caught my attention at TIFF last year but now all these months months later, I had forgotten that it was in fact partially based on a novel Caitlin Moran wrote about her life. If you've ever encountered any of her writing, she's brash and hilarious, and plenty of that is on display in How To Build A Girl.

On the face of it, this is a "coming of age" story but told in a way that's feels so different from all the other ones. Not many 16 year olds get writing jobs and experiences like Johanna does, and certainly not as many go completely off the rails. She mentioned at one point that everything everyone ever told her was a lie. Nice girls don't get anywhere, mean ones do.

Beanie Feldstein does a great job as Johanna, the only part she struggles with is the accent. I was always acutely aware that she was not actually from England, but she tried. Two other standouts were Frank Dilane who plays one of her sleazy co-workers and Alfie Allen who plays a singer named John Kite who Johanna becomes infatuated with. His scenes were my favorite. And while we're talking about the cast, Sarah Solemani doesn't have a ton to do, but is very good with what little she is given, but I find it kind of laughable we're supposed to buy her a mother of teenagers. There's a whopping 7 year age difference between her and Beanie and it shows to be honest. They look like peers.

Over all, if you can get past the accent attempt, How To Build of Girl is a refreshing comedy that I'm glad I got the chance to see. It's currently available to rent on Amazon Prime and I'm sure many other VOD providers.

Recommeded: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "Will jam make it better?" - Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein)

Review: All Day and A Night

They don't look at all.

When we meet Jahkor (Ashton Sanders) he's shooting two people to death in front of their young child. As he's sentenced to the same prison as his father, JD, (Jeffrey Wright) a man who he never wanted to become, Jahkor reflects on everything that happened before this moment.

At one point as Jahkor narrates, he mentions that this is the "same story on fucking repeat" and it is. What writer/director Joe Robert Cole captures well is the hopelessness that you feel throughout. I was intrigued seeing that this was coming from the man who co-wrote Black Panther and also a few excellent episode in American Crime Story's first season. I felt like he had a lot of ideas, and maybe just a bit too many for a two hour film.

I found this very disjointed. The opening scene is gripping. The mother of the woman he murders begs to know "why?" and we know that will eventually get answered, but it's going to take its time. The timeline jumps back and forth around Jahkor's life often. It's not that it's hard to follow, but it messes with the flow almost every time we transition scenes.

I've been trying to write this review for over a week. The actors did a good job but I just did not like this as much as I wanted to, and I'm struggling to even write about it now. 

Recommended: No

Grade: C

Memorable Quote: "Just because I ended up like my father, don't mean my son got to." - Jahkor (Ashton Sanders) 

Thursday Movie Picks: Girls Trip

This week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves is Girls Trips! I love when I can make these happen but of course the coronavirus ruined the one I actually had planned for this year. So in honor of all of us rightfully being stuck at home, but still a little bit salty about it, lets go with Girl Trip movies I hated. 

1) Bridesmaids

I think this is one of the most overrated comedies of all time. I still can't believe Melissa McCarthy was Oscar nominated for this. For me, absolutely none of the jokes hit. 

2) Spring Breakers

I wanted to like this movie so much because everyone else on Twitter did. But I just thought it was ridiculous. I do give them some props for their use of Britney Spears' Everytime. Oh hey speaking of Britney..

3) Crossroads

I think this is one of those so bad it's funnytype movies. I loved it when I was a teenager but when I watched it again when I was older maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan what a mess. 

Review: Hearts Want

Love on stage

Lily (Sam Simmons) is an actress back in her home town starring on a small stage play. She reunites with a former lover, Jacques (Peter Christian Hansen) and plenty has been left unsaid between them.

Hearts Want came to my attention as one of the loveliest bloggers out there, Ruth of Flix Chatter wrote it!  It's always nice to see a film made by someone you "know" in the blogosphere. I felt the same way I did when I first saw Alex's short films as well. You can't help but feel a little extra love for the finished product.

Not that this film needs any of my blogger bias, I really enjoyed it and I'd love to see it expanded into a feature. It's shot very beautifully, slightly abstract in its framing. Since it's location is on and off the stage, it feels like you're watching an intimate play.

I was really captured by Sam Simmons, who played Lily. I immediately wanted to know more about her character, and the career she has outside of the stage work that is mentioned. 

All the actors, Ruth, and the director Jason P. Schumacher are all based in the Twin Cities area. I'm always happy to see projects from my Upper Midwestern neighbors, I'm looking forward to what they all do next. You can watch this film on Amazon Prime here

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A-

Memorable Quote: "We couldn't have given her that." - Lily (Sam Simmons)

Review: The Half Of It

Love is messy.

Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) writes papers for her classmates for money. When her father doesn't pay their electric bill, Ellie accepts an offer from her classmate, Paul. (Daniel Diemer) He's in love with Aster (Alexxis Lemere) and wants help writing a love letter. Ellie is also secretly in love with Aster, and that love begins to flow through letters that are supposed to be coming from Paul.

As I get older, it's getting more and more rare that a film centered and marketed around teenagers looks interesting to me. Every now and then something like Euphoria, or Kings of Summer, or The Spectacular Now comes along and surprises me, but it's just not something I seek out. When the trailer auto played on Netflix, I thought it sounded different enough to give it a shot.

I really liked this. It's not free of a few cringey moments and plot devices but Ellie is a truly intriguing person to follow. Circumstances have made her highly cynical, but she thinks deeply about everything which I adored. Plus her pairing with Paul and their friendship was really sweet to watch blossom. I feel like a lesser film would've turned this into a regular "girl falls for best friend" type story, but by having Ellie like Aster instead made it feel fresh.

Lewis is an excellent anchor to this film and Diemer was very sweet. Paul isn't the brightest character but Diemer plays him so earnestly that it's not a nuisance seeing him on screen. Lemere doesn't get the most to do, but you can see why Ellie and Paul are both drawn to her. 

This is easily one of the better Netflix films I've watched lately. (Another one is Been So Long, which I reviewed recently) It's definitely worth your time, just bring tissues. If you're a wuss like me, you'll probably cry.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B+

Memorable Quote: "You can't out run a train, this guy's a moron." - Ellie (Leah Lewis)

2020 Blind Spot Series: Belle de Jour

What I knew going in: I had seen a few scenes from a documentary on IFC about sex in film.

Severine (Catherine Deneuve) has been married to Pierre (Jean Sorel) for one year, yet as much as she loves him she cannot be intimate with him. Instead she has violent fantasies and on a whim, takes a job in the afternoons working as a prostitute.

On paper, Belle de Jour could go so many different ways. What surprised me was how delicate this story was handled when it could've so easily descended into exploitation and titillation. I appreciated that, as I don't think I would've been able to watch otherwise.

I feel like there are not many characters like Severine in film. It's reveled early on why she has issues with intimacy. Her husband doesn't try to force her, but it's clear the world around her wants her to be a certain way, and taking this job in a brothel is her way of fighting against it.

I just wish we had a bit more insight to her thoughts. Deneuve plays her with a 1000 yard vacant stare and many scenes are left open to interpretation. The ending is quite cruel, though not directly to her. 

I enjoyed this over all, the pacing was great and I loved the costumes and production design, I just wish the script had a bit more substance.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "I'm not asking for your real name. You think mine is really Anais?" - Madame Anais (Geneviève Page)

Thursday Movie Picks: Seven Deadly Sins - Envy

This week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves is our jealous deadly sin - Envy. This was one of the easier ones for me with this Seven Deadly Sins theme. Here are three films I enjoy.

1) The Talented Mr. Ripley

I recently re-watched this again and if you can get past how awful Gwenyth Paltrow is in it, everything else is pretty damn good. Is there anyone more envious and smarmy than Tom Ripley?

2) In Her Skin

This little Australian film is about a teenager who is so obsessed with her "perfect" neighbor that she kidnaps and murders her. I thought this was a very powerful film (casting people who obviously aren't teenagers aside) and it's based on a true story that I wasn't familiar with until I watched it. 

3) Black Swan

Nina envying Beth, then Lily is a big part of what torments her. Whenever I talk about this film I immediately want to go watch it again. It's just so wonderful.

Review: The Other Lamb

You are not the Shepherd.

Selah (Raffey Cassidy) was born into an all female cult lead by a single male calling himself the Shepherd. (Michael Huisman) His wives dress all in red, his daughters dress in blue. Selah is a daughter but the onset of puberty means wife-hood is likely not too far off, and she's beginning to question her faith.

Cult movies are always fascinating to me. They tend to feel similar, but usually they say the most visually. The Other Lamb is no exception. This is a film that relies heavily on its cinematography and tone. Many scenes are without dialogue. I haven't seen any director Malgorzata Szumowska's work, but she has a clear vision for how she wants this to look. I often felt cold just watching it, as Selah likely feels wandering to find their Eden all while doubting her faith.

Cassidy gave a breakout performance in 2018's Vox Lux and she continues to show her strength here. Cassidy does a great job of showing cracks in her pious nature. Reality will do that to you. Unfortunately Cassidy is the only actor given anything to do here. Huisman is the biggest name in this cast, and the script doesn't do him any favorites. Szumowska chose to shoot him like the sexiest man alive, which was probably her way of making up for why these women are following him in the first place.

I've commented on other reviews that this seems very similar to Them That Follow, and there are plenty, however I think that film was the stronger of the two. This might not be perfect, but I think it's worth the $5.00 rental price.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B-

Memorable Quote: "What was she like?" - Selah (Raffey Cassidy)

What I Watched on TV in April

Social Distancing is really doing wonders for this series. Here's what I've been watching on the small screen this month. 

Tiger King - I listened to the internet talking about how crazy this was and seeing "Carole Fuckin' Baskin" everywhere so I gave in. Honestly, this was just a bunch of dumb redneck bullshit. Yes it was crazy and nearly everyone involved was garbage, but I expected a bit more because of the hype.

Black Earth Rising - This is a one season mini series I've had in my Netflix queue for a while starring the wonderful Michaela Cole in a dramatic role so far removed from her Chewing Gum days. I really enjoyed it. She plays a legal investigator that was adopted as a Rwandan refugee after the massacre in the early 90's only to find her out her mother is about to prosecute one of the men who helped stop it. It's a lot of information and some of the episodes dragged a little, but overall it was very good. I'm surprised this didn't get a lot of attention when it came out. Cole was easily Emmy worthy.

Better Call Saul - This entire season can be summed up with "Kim, why?" It's frustrating to see a character like her make so many stupid choices. I will say even though the finale wasn't the strongest episode this season, it does make me look forward to the 6th and finale season coming up.

The Plot Against America - They should change the name of this show to "Tr*mp's America", honestly what's the difference? 

Thoughts at the beginning of the month: The highlight of the month was quiet, timid Bess backhanding her son for being a brain washed little twit. Sandy, if you were anyone else's kid you would've caught that hand far earlier into the conversation. You're lucky Bess let you say your ignorant piece. 

Thoughts at the end: This show had its final episode on April 20th and a lot has changed. Sandy got his sense back and saw how stupid he was being. Bess cut Evelyn out of her life, which rightfully needed to happen. The finale was really strong, my only complaint was with Alvin's character. I haven't read the books but his new demeanor after being part of that secret plot felt like a massive 180 turn for him, and I didn't care for it. Over all, this was a great mini series and I hope Zoe Kazan wins an Emmy for it. 

Westworld - I like this season so much better than season 2. It actually seems like they know where they want to go this time around and I'm loving Aaron Paul and Evan Rachel Wood together. Tessa Thompson has absolutely been stealing this season and Ed Harris had a really strong episode himself recently. We even got to see Jimmi Simpson return! Thandie Newton needs better people to bounce off of though, so far Mauve's story has been the least interesting, which is the exact opposite of where we were last season when she was carrying it. 

Peaky Blinders - The biggest endeavor I took on this month was watching all 5 seasons of this show (Which I've been saying I was going to do for years) and I have thoughts.
Season 1: my favorite season, and pretty much perfect.
Season 2: Not a fan of how rape/attempted rape is used, so it loses points there, but Tom Hardy shows up so that helps it a little
Season 3: Kills off my favorite character so I'm sad.
Season 4: Kills off another character I liked, introduces some more annoying ones including Adrian Brody doing the worst Vito Corleone impression I've ever heard. He was legitimately painful to watch.
Season 5: Aside from another Hardy cameo this entire season was incredibly boring and despite being the one I finished last, it's the season I remember the least about because it just wasn't that interesting. 

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez - I find myself getting frustrated on behalf of true crime documentary subjects often, but it's been a long time since I've felt quite the amount of despair I did watching this 6 episode series on Netflix. The amount of people who failed this child are staggering. Not just his trash mother and her boyfriend for murdering him, but the social worker who had all the information there and did the bare minimum. I hope they never work with children again.

Insecure - Since I binge watched all three seasons last month, I was ready to start season 4 with everyone else! This show is still clever, funny, and gives me endless anxiety about how hard dating looks. They had a gag about a lost condom that I laughed so hard at I actually had to pause the show to finish. The series also sets up that Issa and Molly are going to have another falling out, and I'm a little nervous waiting for it.

Run - Another new show that premiered on HBO this month is Run with the always reliable Merritt Weaver and Domnhall Gleeson. So far we've only had a few episodes but I like the set up and I'm interested in seeing where it goes.