Author

About the Author
I’m Parker! I was raised in a military family and like most military families, we lived in many different places. I called Washington, Okinawa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee home before settling in Logan, Utah when I was in middle school. I went on a religious mission to Reno Nevada for two years, and now work as a program analyst for Conservice. My hobbies include watching as many movies as I can while also learning from them, reading books, hiking, and being distracted from the inevitability of adult responsibilities. So in the meantime, you can find me writing for Backseat Directors, and for my personal accounts on Instagram. You can also find me on my Letterboxd account: prj492

REVIEW: The New Mutants

20th Century Studios
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 94 minutes
Director: Josh Boone

  The New Mutants release date has become something of a joke as of late. Between the rumors of reshoots, the confusion between the Disney/Fox merger, and delays because of the Corona Virus- The New Mutants seemed to be cursed. But against all odds, it ended up being one of the first new movies to be released in 2020. Being a fan of the X-Men films, and of Anya-Taylor Joy and Maisie Williams in particular, I was eagerly awaiting this film for two years, and I leapt with joy when I finally got to see it in theaters.

My Quibbles

  The New Mutants has been described by its director as “John Hughes meets Stephen King”–a combination of the horror and coming of age genre. This hybrid is nothing new with shows like Stranger Things and the It movies. So having some of the X-Men set in this kind of environment is such a great idea for a film. However, The New Mutants fails to do something that is absolutely vital in order for a horror movie to succeed: establish the scare.

In the beginning of every horror movie you need to establish what we should be frightened of–whether it be a setting (like a haunted house), a supernatural entity (like a ghost or demon), or a specific person. Once we establish the scare, we are then able to increase tension until the final confrontation or twist.

The first two acts are really weakened because we are shown scares without it connected to anything. Frightening events happen with seemingly no connectivity until the final act.  We are unable to determine if we should be wary of the hospital our characters are in, the director of said hospital, or one of the characters in the hospital. If we had any lead (even a false lead) we could have been more engaged with the scares instead of just randomly jumping from horror scene to horror scene.

Blu Hunt in a scene of The New Mutants | 20th Century Studios.

What I Liked

Relationships: Despite the lack of a proper horror establishment, what kept me interested in the first two acts was the relationships between our characters.

One of the main themes of this movie is how we deal with trauma in our lives and how we each cope with it in our own specific way. Illyana (played by Anya-Taylor Joy) lashes out in anger and sarcasm and is an absolute joy to watch as she learns to open up to her eventual friends. The stand out relationship of the movie is between Dani (played by Blu Hunt) and Rahne (played by Game of Thrones standout Maisie Williams). Rahne offers a really interesting dynamic as she is a person of faith while dealing with the burden of being a mutant. Her positivity during the whole movie was so charming and filled with warmth, and her romance with Dani was so genuine and heartfelt. These characters make the movie, and without these actors giving their all to these roles, the movie definitely wouldn’t have been as good as it was.

Scares: I personally am not frightened by the typical loud jumpscare-noise-thing that infects most of the horror movies Hollywood churns out. I get startled, I jump in my seat, and then I move on. What really gets under my skin is when the scary thing is disturbing and/or specifically relates to a trauma that the characters go through .The latter is what the film chooses to employ. The CGI isn’t anything to write home about, but boy does it know how to pack a gut punch. I audibly gasped “oh crap” when it was revealed what the “smile creatures” shown  in the trailers actually were. And the shower scene shown in the trailer? Terrifying. You don’t have to have the best gory effects, or have something jump out at you every ten minutes for it to be effective. Maybe the real scares are the trauma we made along the way.

Final Tribute: There is no end credit scene, but there is something else fans can look forward to. Bill Sienkiewicz, who originally worked on the “Demon Bear Saga” (the story this film is based on) in the comics drew a portrait of each of the actors in character, which were displayed over the end credits. It was a beautiful tribute to the last X-Men movie we will get from Fox… excuse me… 20th Century Studios.

Final Thoughts

The New Mutants  is a fun and heartwarming  mashup of the best parts of  Glass (2019) and the It movies. Was it worth the two year wait? Honestly, it was for me. It wasn’t the greatest movie ever made, but it certainly doesn’t belong down at the bottom of the mutant list with X-Men Origins (2009) and Dark Phoenix (2019). Booth has created a solid mid-tier horror coming of age tale that should satisfy X-Men fans and young horror fans alike. I know I look forward to having this movie on my shelf and re-watching it whenever I need a fun spooky movie to watch.

Recommendation: Go See It!

REVIEW: Palm Springs

HULU
Rated: R
Run Time: 90 minutes
Director: Max Barbakow

Let’s go back to my college days, when my roommate and I needed a TV show to watch at night to relax after arduous hours of homework and essay writing.  I remember seeing clips of How I Met Your Mother on occasion and I thought we should give it a try. We ended up loving watching Ted Mosby navigate through his love-life while dealing with shenanigans from his friends. For eight seasons we wondered who the titular mother would end up being. What would she look like, act like, be like? Would it end up being one of Ted’s many romantic conquests, or would it be an original character?

(*Minor spoiler ahead) In the end the Mother (Tracy McConnell) was played by Cristin Milioti, and she was perfect. Her character’s personality beautifully matched with Ted’s. Their relationship was the perfect culmination of the nine-season show. (Then of course, the writers completely destroyed all character development during the last two episodes like Game of Thrones after it); however, Cristin brought a feeling of authentic romance and wholeness to How I Met Your Mother that made up for the backwards last two episodes.

Fast forward to last year. My roommate and I had been watching several documentaries on really heavy subjects, and I was looking for something lighthearted to watch. I was talking to one of my good friends about our favorite TV shows, and I mentioned how much I liked Psych, and so she recommended Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I started watching and fell in love with it—especially the character of Jake Peralta (played by Andy Samberg). I only knew Andy Samberg from his comedy group, The Lonely Island, and was surprised to see how kind, respectful, and hilarious he was both in and out of the show. Brooklyn Nine-Nine joined How I Met Your Mother as one of my favorite TV shows. So naturally when I saw that Samberg and Milioti were teaming up to star in a Groundhog Day-esque rom-com, I was super excited.

Meaning and Purpose

I was happy to see that the chemistry and charm that Milioti and Samberg brought to their respective shows were on full display in Palm Springs. Their characters (Sarah and Nyles) sell a truly believable and lovable romance. Just by seeing the trailer, I assumed that the goal of the movie would be for their two characters to end up together and that would be sufficient to end the time loop. As much as I loved watching their romance blossom on screen, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that their romance was not the end of the journey they embarked on during the movie.

It seems almost serendipitous that this movie is in wide release during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many of us feel we are also in a repetitive loop as we wait for life to return to pre-pandemic normalcy. I related Nyles’s struggle to find out the meaning of our daily struggle. My fears of the film focusing all of its attention on the romance was short-lived as we get to see Nyles overcome his apathy, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy; Sarah overcoming her sense of low self-esteem and guilt; and J.K. Simmons’ character, Roy, learning how to forgive and appreciate the day he has.

Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg in a scene of Palm Springs | HULU.

I really appreciate this take, as too often films try to dedicate the entire movie to one lesson, whether it be “love conquers all”, forgiveness, acceptance, or lessons like that. Palm Springs allows the characters to be as complex as humans are in reality. Life and love are messy, and deserves to be shown messy. Our characters feel more human, more like us, and thus more relatable.

Palm Springs almost reminds me of one of my favorite romantic films, About Time, a movie where the main character has the gift of traveling into the past to relive his days. Like Palm Springs, it is a beautiful love story that is more than just romance—it’s about life. Love shouldn’t end when you get together with a person. Love is about finding peace within yourself, your relationship with your partner, and with the world around you. Palm Springs accomplishes this beautifully.

Final Thoughts

Palm Springs is a hilarious and beautiful film that shows us how messy, complicated, imperfect, but also wonderful life can be. All the characters have great chemistry, the comedic beats are hilarious with just the right amount of raunchiness, and it just ends up being such a pleasurable movie to watch. If you have Hulu I recommend it as one of the best movies of 2020.

Palm Springs is streaming exclusively on HULU.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Hamilton

Walt Disney Studios
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 160 minutes
Director: Thomas Kail

Hamilton is particularly challenging to review as a film since it wasn’t made as a traditional movie, instead being a filmed stage production. If I had to nit pick one thing, it would be that because this ultimately is a staged performance, the cinematography was not the same as it would be an actual movie. They had to make up for the fact that we’ve lost the ability to see the entire stage at once like we would if we were actually attending the Broadway performance. So, in some cases where they could’ve used a more cinematically pleasing shot, they cut to different angles so we could see a different perspective (I’m specifically thinking of the “rewind scene” from “Satisfied”). This is not inherently bad, since if we were a part of the actual audience, our attention would be focused on different things at different times. However, it doesn’t quite translate over to a film as well. But overall, the cinematography is the best we could’ve hoped for from a musical of this caliber.

Another thing that limited Hamilton was its choice of provider–Disney+. Lin-Manuel Miranda clarified on his Twitter account that in order for Hamilton to keep a PG-13 rating, its three “F-bombs” would have to be censored. While it is understandable (Lin wanted audiences of all ages to be able to enjoy the historically based musical) I personally felt like they should’ve left it uncensored and left Hamitlon unrated. It’s a filmed stage production after all, it shouldn’t be subject to the same weird standards that the MPAA places on normal movies. However, I respect Lin’s and Disney’s choice on the matter.

I have been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for five years now, and I was ready to see the context in which the musical existed and I was blown away by all the performances. The advantage of filming the live production has given us the ability to see all the subtle emotions playing on the actors’ faces. Seeing the fear, anger, disgust, heartbreak, and tenderness made the musical all the more emotionally engaging. Seeing Daveed Diggs bounce around the stage as Lafayette/Jefferson left me grinning from ear to ear. I was particularly surprised by Leslie Odom Jr.’s subtle performance. For nearly the whole musical he kept this fake smile on his face (reflecting Burr’s “talk less, smile more” philosophy), but near the end of the final act it dropped to reveal the buried rage within. Truly a powerful performance.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and others member of the Hamilton cast perform on stage | Walt Disney Studios.

I was also stunned by how good everyone sounded. I’ve listened to the Original Cast Recording so much I’ve lost count, and I expected it to be the gold standard for the performances. However, I think the live singing was even better! My jaw actually dropped during “One Last Time” and “Satisfied” from the immense power of the vocals. Every solo was like this, so beautiful and powerful and emotional. I was also really surprised by the way Lin handled being the weakest link vocally. (Mind you, he actually held his own in his duet with Leslie in “Dear Theodosia”) Even though he’s not the best vocalist/singer, he portrays his singing with such earnesty and emotion that it overshadows his weaknesses. Honestly, all the cast were absolutely fantastic. Everyone was so good! 

RELATED:

Who Tells Your Story: The Legacy of Hamilton

Hamilton the movie is everything I wanted from the filmed stage production and more. As getting Hamilton tickets is a struggle, along with the pandemic affecting theaters across the country, this is the closest thing to actually seeing the live show as many people are going to get. Lin-Manuel Miranda has created a masterpiece, and I am so glad he’s sharing it with us.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Who Tells Your Story: The Legacy of Hamilton

The original cast of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015).

If you asked me who Alexander Hamilton was five years ago, I would’ve maybe remembered that he was the guy on the ten dollar bill. If you asked me what he did with his life, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much at all. My interest in Hamilton: An American Musical began when I was on vacation in New York City. We were walking through Broadway, trying to find the specific theater our show was being performed in, when we passed the Richard Rodgers Theater that was housing Hamilton. I thought that the outside of the theater looked really cool; it was something I had never seen before. However, I didn’t feel the need to look anything up about the musical until later.

When I returned to college for the Spring semester, I was browsing Pinterest when I saw someone had animated Hamilton as a traditional hand-drawn Disney film. I was intrigued that a musical about the Revolutionary War had gotten so popular; not only that, but a hip-hop and rap musical had gotten so popular. I downloaded the soundtrack, looked up the lyrics on Google so I could understand what they were actually singing/rapping, and prepared to see what the hype was all about. I was completely captivated by the musical genius and the story of Hamilton. Thus began my obsession with everything Lin-Manuel Miranda has done. In the process of learning about how and why he created Hamilton, I began to understand how influential Hamilton was—not only as a small glimpse into a lesser known narrative of the Revolutionary War, but celebrating diversity. As Miranda so eloquently puts it, “Hamilton is the story of America then told by America now.”

Who Lives

Cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) perform on stage.

One of the main criticisms of Hamilton is that while almost all of the characters are played by people of color (POC), there are actually no POC characters in the story. There is one throw away line about Sally Hemmings (a slave that Thomas Jefferson owned and had a relationship with) but that character is played by an ensemble dancer and has no significant involvement in the story aside from taking a letter from Thomas Jefferson. Other than this three second sequence in the song “What Did I Miss?” there are no characters of color in Hamilton.

The phrase, “History is written by the victors” is commonplace now in this age, but no less true. Right now, especially in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, we are more focused on scrutinizing our media and the way we view and understand history. Many films about race have come under fire for being “White savior movies.” Historical accounts of people of color have been coming forward to highlight how significant their role was in the history of our country—it seems as though diversity has never been more important, analyzed, and talked about. So why did Miranda choose not to include POC characters in the story? After all, In the Heights (Miranda’s first musical) was entirely about POC characters. Couldn’t he find a Revolutionary War story from a perspective of a person of color?

Who Dies

Cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) perform on stage.

Before Hamilton, my knowledge of Revolutionary War history was very minimal: the British were taxing the colonies without allowing the colonies to have representation in Parliament, we protested, revolutionary sentiment spread , we went to war, George Washington was awesome, and somewhere in between Ben Franklin discovered electricity. That was pretty much it. I had no idea what Alexander Hamilton contributed, or who he even was. Even the lyrics of the opening number of Hamilton acknowledges this: “His enemies destroyed his rep/ America forgot him.”

Hamilton’s first act focuses on a group of revolutionaries that not many people are aware of: Hamilton himself, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Laurens, and Hercules Mulligan. We are given a very basic story of what they contributed to the war effort, all under the legendary George Washington. The second act takes historical figures we know (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) and deconstructs them into more antagonistic roles while still respecting all that they did for the founding of America.

While Hamilton may be historical fiction and has taken creative liberties, it is a brilliant introduction (and it really is only an introduction) into the complex nature of the founding of our nation. However, I think the historical backdrop is secondary to the actual message of Hamilton.

Who Tells Your Story

Cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) take a bow at the end of the show | Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP.

Ultimately, Hamilton is a tragedy. The character even refers to himself as “another Scottish tragedy,” comparing his life to Macbeth’s. Hamilton was so caught up in his legacy (a constant theme of the show); he spent a plentitude of time dedicated to his writing and securing that legacy at the cost of his wife and children. He was even willing to die in order to be remembered—and eventually, he did die over an argument about his reputation with Aaron Burr.

The truly ironic thing about Hamilton’s obsession with his legacy is that he would’ve been forgotten if not for Eliza—the wife he neglected for so long. In an earlier draft of the song “Burn” Eliza sings, “And when the time comes//Explain to the children//The pain and embarrassment//You put their mother through//When will you learn//That they are your legacy?//We are your legacy.” The final shot of the musical is Miranda leading Eliza up to the front of the stage, and she sees the audience, realizing that Hamilton’s legacy exists because of her.

Miranda has taken the founding of America—a story told traditionally through the lens of White men—and recontextualizes it to fit the story of modern America. Hamilton is a story about immigration, slavery, feminism, the value of family and marriage fidelity, and the inherent worth of all people regardless of gender, race, or financial status. Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Aaron Burr in the Broadway production, viewed the message of Hamilton as a vehicle for these themes when he addressed Vice President Pence:

“We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values. We truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.”

Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical (2015)

Rather than telling the people of color’s story during the Revolutionary War, Miranda instead chose to correlate the struggles of the Founding Fathers then to the diverse America now. Through our own dedication and determination, we have a chance to improve our nation, and leave behind a legacy of good for our children. People of all colors, genders, sexualities, races, nationalities, and abilities have an opportunity to “rise up” and create a better world. And that is a message we so desperately need in our time.

REVIEW: Feel the Beat

NETFLIX
Rated: G
Run Time: 107 minutes
Director: Elissa Down

Feel the Beat is a Netflix original movie directed by Elissa Down about a small town dance company that rises to a national level thanks to the tutelage of a disgraced Broadway dancer. I initially found out about this movie through the Ai-Media page on Facebook—a page celebrating Deaf culture and Sign Language. Shaylee Mansfield is a young, deaf actress who stars in this film playing a deaf character using American Sign Language. As I am Hard of Hearing myself, I will jump at the chance to see almost any film celebrating sign language and deaf characters. What I found is one of the best feel-good family films I’ve seen in a long time. 

My Quibbles

As (almost) no film is perfect, there was one thing about the movie that I had a slight quibble over: the plot is extremely formulaic. It suffers from what some have called the “Cars phenomenon.” It’s a movie about a successful jerk who goes to a small town and rediscovers their love for humanity and rekindles their passion. It’s the kind of movie that if you’ve seen the trailer, you know exactly how the movie is going to pan out. However, despite being that type of movie, it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of it too much.

What I Liked

Like I said in another review, representation in media is super important and will elevate any film when done properly. Sadly, most films end with simply having a POC (person of color), woman, or disabled character in them without doing the proper writing and character development to make the character’s inclusion valuable. Or the film’s creators will parade their progressiveness months before the film’s actual release. Most of the time in that case, those characters get very minimal screen time, hardly worth the positive PR that the studios try to gain.

Sofia Carson instructs dancers in a scene of Feel the Beat | Netflix | Photo credit: Ian Watson.

Incredibly, Feel the Beat manages to check almost all of the diversity boxes without feeling forced at all: the main character is a woman of color; her roommate is a gay Black man. Among the group of young dancers there is a Black girl, a chubby girl, a deaf girl, and a young boy, and not once did I feel like the movie was shoving itself in my face yelling, “See how progressive we are!” Every character felt like they naturally belonged in the narrative. Rather than elevating one demographic above the other to showcase it, the movie allows the characters to exist with each other, creating a more realistic world. I also have a soft spot for any deaf representation in media, so this was a huge plus for me. (Fun fact: the movie is called Feel the Beat because that’s how a lot of deaf people enjoy music, by feeling the vibrations.)

Although the plot is simplistic and predictable, the film actually incorporates a lot of really good messages that I think a lot of young people should be hearing. It shows the hard work the dancers have to do in order to achieve the level of excellence that they do by the end of the movie. They have to be dedicated, hard working, and have a passion for what they do. 

It also shatters gender stereotypes as a young boy eventually joins the dance team and becomes one of its showcase members. The message that boys can participate in “girly things” like dance is a message that young children need to hear. It helps children become more rounded and enjoy many more different kinds of experiences in life.

I was pleasantly surprised by just how many good child actors there were in this movie. They portrayed all the emotional scenes with such sincerity that it was hard not to feel for them. I totally bought all of their performances.

Sofia Carson performs a dance routine in Feel the Beat | Netflix.

And let’s talk about the dancing in this film—HOLY COW. I was so impressed by how well done the choreography was, not to mention how impressive the children were dancing. It took some real dedication for them to be able to perform all the dances. They were even doing the Dirty Dancing lift and absolutely nailing it! All in all, there were some incredible performances.

Final Thoughts

Feel the Beat may be a predictable movie, but it’s jam-packed with healthy diversity and representation, great dancing and performances, and good messages for young children. With all of the mindless family movies that are being churned out these days, Feel the Beat is easily one of the best family films of the past few years.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Martin and Malcolm

When filling out my Apocalypse Bingo sheet, I could have never guessed that a second Civil Rights Movement would be on the horizon. I found myself woefully undereducated about the nuances that are required for this subject. Luckily, one of the benefits of self-quarantine is that I have more time and the resources to learn more. And so, I set out to watch two movies that focus on two of the most recognized figures of the First Civil Rights Movement in America: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Selma (2014)

David Oyelowo (MLK Jr.) and others Civil Rights activists march in a scene of Selma | Paramount Pictures.

During my elementary school years, I grew up in a small town near Memphis, Tennessee. Those days were filled with stories about Martin Luther King Jr.— taking field trips to the hotel where he was assassinated, and learning how much progress and change he brought to our nation. The impression I got was that he was a national hero that helped end racism in our country.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that, at the time when MLK was living, our government had the exact opposite opinion of him. I was shocked. I thought only white supremacists and racists had a poor opinion of him. So, when Ava DuVernay announced that her film ​Selma​ would be available to stream for free, I leapt at the chance to watch it. It ended up being one of the most relatable films to our current times that I’ve seen. David Oyelowo was the actor casted to play MLK, and I’m not sure there is anyone else that bears such a striking resemblance to him.

The movie tells of the struggle between the people who demanded change and equality for the Black community, and both the local and federal government who were more complicit with the status quo.

What I really appreciate about this film is that it highlights King’s dedication to non-violence, and his cunning in using his enemies’ prejudice against them to the movement’s advantage. He puts their bigotry and violence on full display for the country to see, and when the Alabama state troops conceded because of the backlash against their violence, the marchers turned back. This allows the President to reflect on the violence and outrage, which convinced him to pass a bill that will allow Black citizens to vote without restrictions.

While knowing a little bit about Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement in the First Civil Rights Movement, this film helped me see him as a more layered, complex, and cunning person that helped the cry of the oppressed be heard more loud and clear.

Malcolm X (1992)

Denzel Washington standing behind microphones on the city street in a scene from the film Malcom X (1992) | Photo by Largo International NV | Warner Bros. Pictures.

I grew up not knowing who Malcolm X was, but once I heard of his existence, I was immediately bombarded with the accusations that he was a terrorist. I took that accusation as fact, so I spent years thinking that Malcolm was the radical violent version of MLK. While researching about the First Civil Rights Movement, I discovered that I was wrong. So, I was determined to watch the Spike Lee Joint and see the history I missed out on. The movie was three-and-a-half hours long, but it flew by with how interesting and enjoyable it was to watch.

While MLK was a Christian pastor who believed in unity and non-violence, Malcolm was an Islamic minister who, for most of his life, believed in segregation and equality “by any means necessary.” He taught that the white man had stripped the Black people of all their culture, their right to commerce, and even their identities. So there was nothing to be done than to live apart from another. He condemned leaders like MLK for pandering to the white community.

After becoming disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, Malcom took a pilgramage to Mecca where he realized that members of different races could live together in peace. He believed this could be obtained through Islam. After returning to the United States, he began to change his views on Black nationalism, and was later assassinated while speaking at the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

This film’s ending was especially powerful, with actual footage of Malcolm’s speeches interspersed with the film and a surprise cameo from Nelson Mandela. I am so glad I watched this film. It gave me a newfound respect for all of the different factions of the First Civil Rights Movement, and allowed me to view the depth of pain and alienation that bigotry and racism caused. Malcolm X was a powerful figure in the First Civil Rights Movement that should be highlighted just as much as MLK.

What Have I Learned?

We are all (hopefully) taught that overt racism is wrong. We’re taught not to judge people based on the color of their skin, not to call others names, that violence against others because of their race is wrong. This is overt/individual racism. Nearly everyone recognizes that this is wrong.

We are rarely taught about the real history of racism in America. It took the recent events of police brutality for me to really reflect on how much race, education, and socioeconomic circumstances are a factor in each of our lives. Whether we like it or not, slavery and racism is part of the history of our country and have cultivated many of the social situations that communities and families find themselves in today. Watching ​Malcom X a​nd ​Selma​ have helped me realize that while overt racism is generally frowned upon today, we still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing outdated policies and ideologies that seem to perpetuate racial tensions in our country. It’s easy to say in hindsight that we would have walked hand in hand with MLK Jr. or Malcolm X in the last Civil Rights Movement, but that might be disingenuous if we’re standing on the sidelines now. We must confront these issues head on and leave a better country and world for the next generation.

REVIEW: Bad Education

HBO
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 108 minutes
Director: Cory Finley

 I am at a point in my life where if I see Hugh Jackman attached to any film then that alone gives me immediate incentive to watch that movie.  He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest and diverse actors around today, so seeing him in a new movie was exciting. Luckily, I have HBO, so once I actually remembered that Bad Education was out, I quickly fired it up.

 One thing this movie has going for it is its spectacular use of writing to increase tension and give us insights into the characters. For the first twenty minutes or so, I was worried that I would find this show dull and uninteresting. But the tension kept rising and rising, and the characters kept getting more compelling until, by the end, I was on the edge of my seat! (Well…bean bag).

 I’ve seen many reviews calling this film the best performance of Hugh Jackman’s career. While the performance was excellent, I don’t think the role was dynamic enough to label it as his best. For that honor, I’ll steer you towards his performance as Tomás/Thomas/Tommy in The Fountain or as Wolverine in Logan. However, what this performance did give us was a truly three-dimensional look at what could have easily been a flat character. It’s a testament to how fantastic the writing is in this film. Jackman’s character could very easily come off as sleazy, callous, and selfish. Instead, we are confronted with a man who truly believes that spending the school’s money in order to give the appearance of financial affluence is the right thing, and would ultimately be beneficial for the progress of the school and the students as well. Allison Janney also gives a great performance in this film as well— although her character comes off less rounded than Jackman’s.

I will always champion well-written movies, and the writing for this film is its greatest strength. It elevates a story and characters that with a lesser script would be reduced for a very slow and dull story. Instead, it makes for a very compelling drama with empathetic characters. If you have HBO, or know someone who will lend you their password, give this movie a chance!

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Wendy

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rate: PG-13
Run Time: 112 minutes
Director: Benh Zeitlin

 Back in the “before Coronavirus times,” Wendy was the latest movie I had planned on seeing. The story of Peter Pan—like Robin Hood or Batman—is a story that Hollywood seemingly thinks needs to be told over and over again, every five to ten years or so. After the fever dream that was Pan (2015), I was convinced that there was nothing any movie could do that would revitalize my interest in the story. 

 Then I saw the trailer for Wendy. It was a new setting, an unknown cast, a more artsy feel, a more modern time period, and a new focus on Wendy. I was [H]ooked. (Haha, see what I did there?) 

 Then the theaters shut down, and after months of mourning my loss I realized Wendy could be streamed via Amazon and iTunes. So I settled into my beanbag and fired it up. And well… I was underwhelmed.

The Setting

Instead of taking place in Edwardian England, the story is set in the deep South of the United States, a little closer to our own time. Instead of Peter flying and listening to stories at Wendy’s window, he is aboard a “haunted” train that travels right next to the Darlings’ home and restaurant. Neverland is an island that they can travel to by boat. It takes the more whimsical parts of the classic story and makes it feel more grounded and realistic.  You would think that the Rural South and the lush island of Neverland would lead to some gorgeous cinematography, but I found it really uninspired.

Magic?

Near the beginning of the film you would assume that this movie would be an almost entirely grounded story with none of the fantastical elements of the original Peter Pan. There’s no flying, no Tinker Bell, no offensive stereotypes of Native Americans, and no mermaids; everything seems to be grounded in our reality. However, once they arrive in Neverland, they in fact do discover that no one grows old there because of a magical glowing whale/fish that lives in the ocean, which Peter calls “the Mother.” 

Not only do the children not age, but it is revealed that the children who allow negative or mature thoughts to enter into their minds age rapidly. These elderly lost boys and girls, whom Peter call “the Olds” live on the other, less lush, side of the island.

It’s really confusing that a movie that starts out so grounded in our reality will suddenly have an unexplained magical phenomenon that wasn’t part of the original lore, and even abandons key parts of that lore.  Tinker Bell and the ability to fly were not only the highlights of the original stage play, but also highlights of most of the movies after it. Heck, Tinker Bell is even integrated into the Disney logo (She’s the spark that flies over the Disney Castle)! It seems super weird that Wendy would ignore two of the most integral parts of the Peter Pan mythos. 

This image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures shows Devin France, from left, Gavin Naquin, Gage Naquin, Romyri Ross and Yashua Mack in a scene from the film Wendy | Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Characters

I had really hoped that the more realistic nature of the film would allow for more intimate connections with the characters—especially Peter and Wendy. Sadly though, all of the characters’ motivations are really vague and don’t let us connect or emphasize with them at all. What makes it even more frustrating is that the script lays all the groundwork for a really profound look at the way children view, understand, and process growing into adulthood. But the film never delivers on what it promises. We are left with the standard “I don’t want to grow up” line and are expected to be satisfied with that. Peter Pan (2003) (which I believe is the best film adaption) gives the explanation that the kids didn’t want to grow up because it meant having to conform to societal norms and lose a part of their identity. Wendy gives us hints that all the adults in children’s lives  seem poor and overworked, but on the other hand, they were loved by their parents. There was no inciting conflict between the Darling children and their mother to give them a reason to leave with Peter. (Side tangent, taking the Darling father out of the narrative also disrupts the symbolic themes of the story since the father and Captain Hook are meant to be shadows of each other, often portrayed by the same actors on stage and on screen.) 

There is also a weird power struggle between Wendy and Peter that I would have liked to have seen more fully fleshed out. In other versions, Peter either looks up to Wendy and defers to her as a motherly figure, or as a love interest. In this version, the age difference between the two is more drastic, and they seem to struggle for leadership over the lost boys. There’s one moment where I thought Peter was going to show the cruel streak that he exhibits in the novel, but then the moment passes. None of the lost boys are particularly interesting either.

One positive aspect that the film does bring to the characters is the relationship between Peter, Wendy, and the character who eventually becomes Captain Hook. The events, actions, and emotions that lead up to the characters taking on their more iconic roles was the best part of the film for me. However, this only constitutes the third act of the movie and also drastically impacts the main characters’ home lives, but the movie completely ignores it. 

Final Thoughts

I really wanted to like Wendy. I really thought it could bring something fresh and new to a story that people keep bringing back. We’ve seen so many different incarnations and this one actually looked like it could stand out. Sadly, it was just as forgettable as most others. It looks like we might have to wait until some horror director discovers Gerald Brom’s The Child Thief , or Disney cashes in on Peter and the Starcatchers before we get another truly unique and good Peter Pan adaptation.

It feels like the writer had the setting and the dynamic between Wendy, Peter, and Hook in the forefront of his mind when penning this film, but didn’t know how to fill in the space around it. What we are left with is a reimagining that changes or subtracts everything that made the original not only iconic, but also narratively and symbolically cohesive and satisfying. It offers up some good ideas, but lacks the fairy dust to make it soar.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

A Long Time Ago in an Imagined Scenario Not So Far Away…

Happy Star Wars Day!

The year is 2053. The Disney Wars continue to engulf the nation as the Mouseketeer Army advances from their home base on the Anaheim System. Both the Warner Bros. and the Universal Systems have fallen, causing the Netflix and Apple Systems to form a Resistance Alliance. In a last ditch effort to boost morale, the Alliance sent two undercover agents to Galaxy’s Edge in order to procure a rare asset to the Disney Empire to hold hostage: the theatrical releases of the original Star Wars trilogy. 

The spies were successful in stealing the asset and hiding the films, but were ultimately captured before they could escape and get them to the Alliance. Held beneath Smuggler’s Run, the spies are interrogated about the location of the rare films and forced to watch reimaginings of their childhood classics in an attempt to have them psychologically broken. Having grown up watching both the prequel and the sequel trilogies, the spies are confident that nothing can break their resolve. That is until The Empire puts on a TV special from 1978…

The two spies looked at each other nervously as the guard wheeled in a very old brown TV with a VHS player on a wheeled tray. The elder spy leaned over and whispered, “What are they gonna show us now? That looks like something my great-grandfather used when he was in elementary school!” 

The other shook his head, “They wouldn’t be showing us the original Special Edition, would they? We lived through those AND The Last Jedi. There’s nothing more that they could show us that we haven’t already suffered through.”

“So you may think,” said a sharp voice smugly behind them. 

The two men whipped their necks around to see the tall figure striding into the room. The spies allowed a small smirk to play across their faces for an instant. If their shenanigans aroused the ire of the Captain of the Lucasfilm Division himself, they must’ve done something right.

The Captain smirked back as he walked around them to the TV, shaking a VHS tape in front of their faces. “You see gentlemen, what you have stolen is quite valuable. We were planning on releasing those films in a higher definition format as an…heh hemmm…reward for those who lay down their arms and surrender. However, because of your antics, the Alliance has deprived the citizens of something they’ve been wanting for over fifty years. As we cannot allow this and nothing we have shown you seems to have no effect on you, I’m afraid we must subject you to our last resort.”

“Last resort?” The older man scoffed. “On a VHS? What could you possibly…”

The Captain laughed as the spy’s eyes went wide in shock as the realization hit him. “Ah, it’s nice to see the older generation still remembers it. Who told you about it? Your grandfather?”

The spy didn’t answer the Captain, but turned to his companion in a panic. “Don’t look at it, Roderik! Just close your eyes and don’t look!” 

The Captain barked out an amused laugh and rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t be so dramatic. I am prepared to make a deal, since you two seem determined to defy us. You watch this tape, and I will give you the choice to reveal the location of the original trilogy. If you do, you are free to go with no consequences, provided that the films are still where you say they are. If you refuse, you will be allowed to keep the original trilogy, but we will release this film in high definition to counter it.”

Roderik frowned. “How is that a threat? What could you possibly show us that will persuade us to give up our most valuable hostage?” He grew more angry. “Do you take me for a weakling? I lived through the High Republic trilogy—through Rey Palpatine! What could possibly be so horrifying that it would sway us from our goal?” 

“Dark Rey” from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker | Walt Disney Studios

The Captain smiled cruelly as he inserted the tape into the VHS player. “Why don’t you watch and see?”

The old grainy footage opened to reveal a familiar scene, Han Solo and Chewbacca speeding away from the Empire in the Millenium Falcon. Han promises Chewy that he will be home in time for Life Day...

Roderik frowned. “I don’t know what this is.”

The older spy groaned and hung his head. “I don’t think I can bear watching this again.” The Captain slapped the back of the man’s head. “If you want to go free, you will watch all of it.”

The older man reluctantly lifted his eyes back to the screen as the title credits rolled: The Star Wars Holiday Special

As images of the cast flashed across the screen, Roderik leaned over to the other man and whispered, “John, why does Mark Hamill look so… weird?”

“Just keep watching,” John muttered.

The scene now shows the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk as Chewbacca’s family appears to get ready for Life Day. They groan and moan in the Wookie language to each other over…and over…and over again.

Twelve minutes later…

How long does this go on,” Roderik cried, struggling against his restraints. “No subtitles for this? I can’t take it anymore!”

“Calm yourself, man,” Roderick hissed. “It’s only going to get far, far worse.” 

Lumpy, Chewbacca’s son, turns on a holographic display of what seems to be acrobats. After this, the family tries to contact Luke Skywalker who is fixing his X-Wing. 

“What in the name of all that is holy is wrong with Luke’s face?!” Roderik shouted. “It looks like he has twelve pounds of stage makeup on! And don’t get me started about that haircut!”

“You will be silent,” the Captain growled, cutting the younger man off.

For the next hour, the Alliance spies were subjected to a variety of different clips that aggravated Roderik further, and caused John to slip into a deep despair—from an alien cooking show, tech support , a rock music video, an actually semi-decent Boba Fett cartoon, and another musical number. What nearly drove Roderik over the edge, though, was the erotic music video that Chewbacca’s father found great pleasure in watching near the middle of the special. 

“I can’t take it anymore,” he yelled at the Captain. “What the hell is this? Who signed off on this? This isn’t Star Wars!’

“Rod, shut up,” John snapped. “There’s only an hour left. One hour and we are free to go. Remember why we are here!”

Holding back his sobs, Roderik nodded and continued to watch.

Nearing the end of the special, the Chewbacca family reunite with Han, Luke, and Leia as they gather around the Tree of Life; Leia sings a song about Life Day as they all hold glowing orbs. The dead look in Harrison Ford’s face as the film ended is the same look that reflected in Roderik’s own face. 

“So, now you have a choice,” the Captain declared. “Do you tell us the location of the stolen films, or do we release the Holiday Special? The choice is up to you, Roderik.”

John’s eyes flickered back to full alertness at this new development. “Why only him?” 

The Captain grinned. “Because you are the last of the older generation that understands just how many changes were made to the franchise. His generation does not. If he wants the pure, unadulterated films as they were originally, he should have the knowledge of everything that came out in those days, not just the ones you older folks seem to worship. So, what will it be? The responsibility is yours.” 

“Rod, think about it! For the first time in history, we can have the original films legally! No unnecessary CGI! No dubbing over Boba Fett and Darth Vader! You can see Darth Vader’s original Force Ghost…”

He was cut off by the Captain raising his hand to silence him. “Your choice, Roderik. Make it quickly.”

After a long pause, Roderik sighed. “We hid the tapes in a room under the Pirates of the Carribean ride when we were trying to escape.”

“Rod, NO!”

He looked over at his companion. “I’m sorry, John. No one should ever have to suffer through this. The changes are bad, yes. But it’s all we know. This will totally destroy their perspective.” 

“A wise choice,” the Captain sneered. “Guards, let them go and retrieve those tapes.”

Two guards stepped forward and began dragging them away, not noticing the look of triumph in John’s eyes. The third guard looked at the Captain curiously. “Sir, how did you know that showing them the tape would break them?”

He chuckled, “We’re part of the Disney Empire. Ruining childhood memories is what we do.”

The guard started laughing but then suddenly stopped, his eyes growing wide as something Roderik said stood out to him.

The Captain glared at him. “What is it man?”

“They said they hid the tapes in Pirates of the Caribbean. Fantasy Land is quite a distance from here sir. Why run there?”

“They were running?” he scoffed. “Who knows their logic?” 

“Sir, they said they hid them in a room underneath the ride. No one is supposed to know about that room.”

The Captain stopped, his normally calm demeanor shattering as terror filled his eyes. “No… You think the tapes were a decoy? But that means…” As if his fears could hear his thoughts, a message blared over the speakers of the ride:

“ATTENTION, IMPERIALS. THIS IS THE ALLIANCE. WE HAVE WALT DISNEY’S CRYOGENIC CHAMBER. YOU HAVE LOST.”

The End

2oth Century Fox Televison
Release Date: Nov. 17, 1978
Run Time: 98 minutes
Directors: Steve Binder & David Acomba

Actual Review

The Star Wars Holiday Special is every franchise at its lowest. It attempts to cash in on its popularity without providing the effort to connect it to what makes the franchise so beloved among fans. With only half-hearted cameos from the original cast that look like they’d rather be anywhere else and guest stars performing dated sketches that range from weird to seriously uncomfortable, this TV special is a stain on the Star Wars legacy that even George Lucas is ashamed of. What they should have done is have Lumpy watch an hour-long cartoon about Han Solo and Boba Fett. The cartoon segment was the only unironically enjoyable segment, and could have provided some interesting segway into The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, we are left with an uncomfortably bad TV special that is so reviled that it can only be found on YouTube in a very low resolution quality. The one spot of hope in this monstrosity is that no matter what Lucasfilm comes up with next, it will never sink lower than this. Although the above story is a humorous work of fiction, it would not surprise me if this Special was used as a torture device somewhere. It’s that bad. If you’re brave enough to venture into these depths, the entire video is posted below. May the force be with you!

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Abe

 It’s rare when my parents and I have a movie we all want to watch at the same time. When I was looking at all the movies the Salt Lake Film Society (SLFS) ‘At Home‘ streaming service was offering I came across Abe and showed the movie trailer to my mom. It looked like a movie we’d all enjoy, so we decided to watch it over the weekend. This looked like a sweet story about overcoming religious and cultural barriers that the whole family would enjoy. 

Blue Fox Entertainment
Rated: PG
Run Time: 85 minutes
Director: Fernando Grostein Andrade

Authenticity In Our Stories

 I believe that the stories we tell mold and shape the way we view our world. Diversity in race, culture, gender, ability, and sexuality are all important to see in film as it contributes (however minor)  to our collective tolerance and understanding.

 There are those, however, that claim that any media that attempts to portray a character or culture that is anything other than white cis heteronormative is only doing so to be “politically correct.” And while maligning those cultures and characters simply for being “the other” is wrong and deplorable; there have been some occasions where a film has lazily used a culture/race/gender/sexuality/disability without any research or effort in order to seem “woke.” Let me be clear: diversity in a film is not the issue; bad writing and the lack of authenticity is. Even the most casual of movie-goers (the “popcorn munchers,” as my old boss would lovingly refer to them) can sense when a movie is not being authentic. 

Abe, fortunately, is an extremely authentic movie. It tells the story of Abe, a twelve-year-old boy living in New York whose descendants are from Israeli Jews on his mother’s side, and Palestinian Muslims on his father’s side. Both sides of his family encourage him to go after the faith of their family, constantly pitting themselves against the other side.  Abe’s father, himself disillusioned by all religion, tries to persuade Abe to abandon faith altogether while his mother insists that he is still a child and therefore unable to make any important decisions. Abe seeks to reconcile the two factions in his family, and is inspired by a local Brazilan fusion chef, Chico, who runs a food truck in Brooklyn. He seeks Chico out and becomes Chico’s student. The story moves along as Abe seeks reconciliation between the two factions of his family, and fusion between food.

What I seriously appreciate about this movie is that while there are opposing sides to the family, the film doesn’t divide them into “good” and “bad” sides.  Both have their own faults and good intentions. The father doesn’t want Abe to feel pressured, but he also pushes atheism on him to the point that Abe feels frustrated that he feels like he can’t value any traditions. His mother also doesn’t want to push anything on Abe, but smothers him with her mothering. This film could’ve very easily made one belief the “right” one, but instead had all the nuances, triumphs, and failings that the varying cultures deserved.

A family prepares a meal in a scene of Abe | Blue Fox Entertainment

Food and Family Fusion

Good grief, this movie is mouth watering! Just watching this movie made me want to be more serious about cooking so I could eat all of the food in the movie. But beyond that, I was really impressed that Abe didn’t start out immediately as a cooking prodigy.  He had to learn, grow, and improve as a chef under Chico’s tutelage. The first time he even attempted fusion food (Ramen tacos), it turned out horrible. It shows Abe wanting to learn a skill, failing, learning from his mistakes, and getting better and better over time. I really appreciated that. It shows people that skills aren’t magically inherited or sustained by just raw talent—you have to work at it.

The symbolism between the harmony of the two different sides of the family, and the fusion food that Abe learns to perfect is an absolutely brilliant take that I’m glad got incorporated into the movie.

Noah Schnapp and Seu Jorge in a scene of Abe | Blue Fox Entertainment

The Heart and the Stomach

When we put this movie on, I thought I was in for a visual feast with a story about the power of good food. And I got that. But I was totally unprepared for the emotional gut punch this film would bring. I couldn’t even blame the on-screen onion for my tears! All joking aside, this movie tells a powerful story about culture, family, and acceptance.

Final Thoughts

Abe is an absolutely incredible film that is truly needed in this day and age. Too often we define our relationships with others based on what divides us. Abe (both the film and the character) reminds us that although our divisions may be great, we can always find something that unites us. 

Shout Out: Once again, a big thank you to the Salt Lake Film Society and their At Home streaming service for consistently providing a great film selection during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are in need of a fascinating documentary, check out Fantastic Fungi. As always, if you choose to watch any of their films, consider donating to help keep them in business during this time of economic turmoil.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

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