August 2022 Wrap-Up

It’s been kind of a tough month personally, but I read some absolutely fantastic books and watched some charming, wholesome TV/movies. To shake things up a little I decided to swap the order of this recap and put my viewing highlights first and books second because all the books will eventually get their own individual posts but the movies and TV won’t necessarily.

Here’s what I watched…

Abbott Elementary

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My sister recommended Abbott Elementary to me and I can’t believe I hadn’t either seen it before or heard more about it, because it is a hilarious, warm-hearted show that feels like a spiritual successor to Parks and Recreation. It follows a group of passionate teachers lead by a hysterically funny but woefully incompetent principal who teach at an underfunded elementary school. Each episode sees them them try to do their best by their kids by whatever means necessary, whether it be by leading an after-school step class or using hush-hush connections or by participating in a dangerous viral trend to suck the cool out of it, and it hits that all-too-rare combination of genuinely funny comedy that touches on real subjects but comes from a place of love rather than taking shots at people. Like any good sitcom, it balances small, arguably unimportant plotlines (Melissa and Jacob play poker) with more blatantly character-driven and important ones (Janine, whose mother was never there for her, tries desperately to get in contact with a struggling student’s hard-to-reach mother, and suffers jealousy when work-mom Barbara’s real daughter pops by for a visit). Somehow every character, from the shallow and conceited Ava to neurotic but secretly soft-hearted Gregory, feels fully developed and lovable. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all so funny and because their slightly different styles of humor bounce off each other well, and the show does an admirable job of mixing everyone up into different combinations so that no pairing ever feels stale or merely informed. Perhaps most importantly, the show manages to be largely lighthearted and happy without losing sight of its central premise: because they love their kids and want to do right by them, these teachers are working in a profession that pays them too little and expects too much from them. Watching it, you’ll laugh but you’ll also want to do right by your teachers. Abbot Elementary also—and this can’t be understated—knows how to balance the kids. There’s enough of them that it feels like a real elementary school, but it doesn’t ever focus on them at the expense of the teachers who are the heart of the show. Let’s face it: fictional kids can be very annoying, but Abbott Elementary managed to cast only cute ones and to keep them out of the direct spotlight enough that they don’t put off the people who don’t want to watch a kids’ show.

Basically, this show is hilarious and you should watch it and I’m very glad that it got renewed for season two. That was well-deserved. We need more feel-good sitcoms!


The Descendants

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Yes, I watched these again. If there’s anything I love, it’s a catchy, campy musical. I really don’t know how I missed these movies when they first came out because 1) they’re exactly my jam 2) Kenny Ortega is the best and 3) I LOVE High School Musical. One night my parents and I were looking for something to watch and I was like, “Hey, do you want to try this kids’ movie that I discovered last year in my campiest phase? You might hate it.” But they watched it and, honestly, they loved it too. Even my dad! It’s hard to get him to watch anything all the way through with me because we have very different taste. Mom and I invited him to be nice, expecting him to turn us down, but he watched all three movies! They’re just so much fun. No, the politics don’t really make sense and yes, there’s arguably a little too much autotune, but other than that, what more can you ask for?

There are ridiculous allusions to Disney movies. There are delightfully cheesy big group dance numbers. There are some legitimately sweet romances, and a big emphasis on platonic friendship and personal responsibility (which isn’t always something you get in a romance!). There’s a variety of different musical sounds, from emotional duets to upbeat group numbers to power ballads. There are chaotic pirates (you know how much I love my chaotic pirates) and amazingly over-the-top costumes and hair. Last time I watched these I ended up listening to the songs on repeat, and I am literally listening to “Do What You Gotta Do” as I’m editing this. They’re just a fun time, and I’m side-eyeing old me who said they were “so bad they’re good.” They’re so good they’re good. You’ve just gotta be into a silly, singy good time.

I love all three movies, but the second one is definitely the best one. It has all the best songs! “Chillin’ Like a Villain,” “What’s My Name?”, “Ways to Be Wicked,” “Space Between”! There’s not a bad song in any of them (although I’ll admit that Ben’s rap of “Be Our Guest” does give me major secondhand embarrassment). Also the presence of Kristin Chenoweth gives any musical franchise a major boost, even if she only actually sings one song before getting turned into a lizard.

Are these movies made for kids? Yeah. Does that stop adult-me from unironically loving them? Definitely not.


Only Murders in the Building

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Season two can make or break a TV show. I loved season one of Only Murders in the Building, and I was excited for season two. It’s such a funny, clever, and warmhearted comedy-mystery that both appeals to my current sensibilities and my nostalgia. The Three Amigos was one of my favorite childhood movies, so seeing Steve Martin and Martin Short team up again after however many years was charming to me. Do actors have to be friends to work together? Obviously not, but it’s just always cute when you find out that people who play buddies onscreen are buddies offscreen. Also, just lifelong buddies. Lifelong buddies are the best. Beezus and Ramona, which stars Selena Gomez, was also a major childhood favorite. I loved season one, but knew that sophomore seasons are often shaky. I shouldn’t have worried. This one wasn’t!

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September 2021 Wrap Up

It’s hard to believe that it’s already October! 2021 is flying by, not necessarily in that when-you’re-having-fun way, but flying nonetheless. The most important thing that happened this month is that this darling angel turned one!

That’s right! Darcy, the world’s sweetest puppy and this blog’s mascot (she deserves better), had her first birthday! In November, we get to celebrate her adoption day.

With the most exciting news out of the way, let’s move on to my literary recap.

Since I’ve written full reviews for all these books, instead of rehashing my thoughts I’m going to try something new: five-word reviews. If you’re interested in my full thoughts, the full reviews are linked as always (unless they’re not posted yet; some of the reviews are behind). We’ll see how that goes. Here’s what I read…

(or jump to what I watched)

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Serviceable mystery, but mostly romance.

When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Queer AF but otherwise bland.

The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Platonic friends? Nope. Affairs only.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Promising but flawed fantasy debut.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Classic, but not my taste.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Totally worth the hype. Unputdownable.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Smart, surprising, funny… but slow.


Here’s what I watched…

I was apparently in the mood to watch a bunch of campy musicals this month, because I watched a bunch of them. I’m still doing five-word reviews, but since in most cases I haven’t written about these movies and shows at all elsewhere, I’m elaborating a little more after the fact.

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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Movie Review)

September 2021 is a gift to musical fans. Aside from Broadway reopening, a slew of musicals are coming to the screen. Dear Evan Hansen is coming to theatres at the end of the month. A proshot of Come From Away has already been released on AppleTV. Amazon Prime has been particularly busy, giving us a new jukebox version of Cinderella and a movie adaptation of the West End’s majorly successful Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing movie and musical reviews, not for any reason in particular. I’ve been trying to focus more on my creative writing and work has been crazy. But I watched Everybody’s Talking About Jamie the day it was released and was moved enough that I wanted to write a bit about it. This is no shade to the other two newly available musicals. I thoroughly enjoyed Cinderella (the “What a Man/Seven Nation Army” mashup was incredible and I would like to start a petition that Pierce Brosnan is only allowed to be in campy musicals from now on because between this, Mamma Mia!, and Eurovision he has found his niche) and I haven’t seen Come From Away yet (I have tickets to see the traveling production, and want to experience it for the first time live).

I’d been looking forward to Jamie passively. I’d listened to the cast recording a few times and even written about it once on this blog, but it wasn’t a show I knew a whole lot about. I’d kind of assumed it was a sort of Kinky Boots copycat with a bit of Billy Elliot mixed in. It isn’t.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy (Max Harwood) from a small town who wants to be a drag queen. There are some similar elements to Kinky Boots, of course. Both musicals are about drag, are based on true stories, and challenge the stringently enforced gender binary found in small, conservative communities. The overall feeling, though, is very different. When we meet Simon/Lola in Kinky Boots, he’s already who he is. He’s been through the hardships of his youth and while there are still struggles, he’s mostly pushing against the people who won’t accept him. The song “Not My Father’s Son” has the same feeling as Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, but overall Kinky Boots is about a grown adult and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is about a teenager still growing up. Also, much as Lola steals the show in Kinky Boots, it’s Charlie’s story. Jamie’s queerness is the story of his musical, and Lola’s queerness colors Charlie’s.

Jamie and his musical have a closer, more introspective story. He’s young. As his mentor Hugo (Richard E. Grant) says, of course he doesn’t know who he is yet. He’s sixteen. He’s still developing his drag personality, but more importantly he is still developing himself. He seems comfortable with himself—we find out in the first scene that he’s openly gay and thinks nothing of calling out the bullies who say anything to him about it—but much of that is a front; he is still working through a lot of internalized shame stemming from his father’s bigotry.

It’s easy to miss how absolutely devastating Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is when you’re just passively listening to the cast recording. Just listening, it’s the bold, confident songs that stick out—“And You Don’t Even Know It,” “The Legend of Loco Chanel”—but watching it pulls the subtler, sadder songs to the surface. Hands down, my favorite song is “The Wall in My Head.” It’s the second song of the musical, and it has Jamie expressing how difficult it is for him to overcome the internal shame that he has built over the years, but how desperately he wants to get over it. It’s beautiful and it’s powerful and it’s a gut punch right at the start.

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December 2020 Wrap-Up

Anyone who has ever worked retail during December knows that there’s not a lot of downtime for relaxation and reading. Last month was highly stressful because the combination of a pandemic and cranky holiday shoppers is a doozy, to say the least.

I read…

American Royals by Katharine McGee

American Royals disappointed me. I expected it to be cleverer and bolder and to have a lot more to say about the current political state of America (well maybe not the current state, because yikes). It’s a standard teen romance with a few too many characters and a bit too much dependence on outdated/sexist tropes. If you’re into romance specifically for the romance, you’ll probably like American Royals, but if you’re looking for anything beyond that, you’d do better to look elsewhere.

⭐⭐


World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

This is not the type of book I’d normally read. I never pick nonfiction when left to my own devices, and I’m very wary of anything written by poets since in my experience they tend to use fifty words where two would suffice, but since this was Barnes & Noble’s book of the year, I had to read it. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The writing is beautiful, and the way that Nezhukumatathil infuses her life story and reflections on the world into her nature essays is remarkably effective. As with any essay collection, I liked some more than others, and I loved the ones that skewed more towards the personal. I like nature, but at least in World of Wonders, it works better as a conduit to humanity more than the subject in and of itself. The fact that I liked this book is remarkable, and I’m sure that anyone more inclined to essays, nature writing, memoirs, or poetry would absolutely adore it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

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Musical Monday: Don’t Rain When the Parade Passes By

For Musical Monday this week I decided to zero in on two movie musicals that I recently saw for the first time. It’s actually shocking to me that I hadn’t seen these before, because they’re classics in the movie musical genre and I LOVE movie musicals.

I didn’t used to sort shows for Musical Mondays. I wrote about whatever show I felt like at whichever time. That’s very disorganized, though, and I don’t like it. Recently, I’ve been trying to group musicals into categories that make sense, and this time I’ve come up with the most ridiculously specific category of all time:

Musicals that end act one with a large-scale number about a parade and that have movie adaptations starring Barbra Streisand

Hello, Dolly!

How I’ve experienced it: I saw a touring production live with Carolee Carmello (who, trivia time, was in the original cast of Falsettos; obviously I haven’t seen that particular performance, but I love the revival). A few months later, I watched the 1969 movie with Barbra Streisand and Michael Crawford.

What do I think? I knew very, very little about Hello, Dolly! before I saw it. A lot of the time, I listen to shows before I see them, but I didn’t with this one. I’ve changed my mind now that I’ve actually seen some of her movies rather than just hearing a few songs out of context, but I’d previously thought that I didn’t care for Barbra Streisand (Rachel sings a lot of Streisand songs on Glee, and I found them overall fairly boring). But Hello, Dolly! surprised me. It’s much funnier than I expected. There’s a running gag about Dolly always having a business card for even the most specific occasion that makes me laugh out loud every time, and the way Dolly inserts herself and meddles in everyone else’s lives is annoying in the most hilarious way possible. It takes a certain kind of actress to pull that off, to flirt with annoyance but remain charming throughout, and thankfully both productions I saw—the live one and the movie—had an actress who could pull it off.

But even funnier than Dolly herself are Cornelius and Barnaby, the two apprentices who run away from their normal lives for a day of adventure in a big city. I have a definite type when it comes to favorite characters. It just doesn’t get better than a slightly stupid but sweet and well-meaning comic-relief character who has a fully-formed storyline. Another staple of great musical theatre is the dancing, and Hello, Dolly! has some amazing dance numbers. Several main characters are played by excellent dancers—specifically Ambrose, Barnaby, and Minnie—but the real showstopping moment is in the second act when the ensemble dancers get a chance to shine in the “Waitors’ Gallop.” It’s insane how such a large group of people can be so hilarious while also being so technically brilliant. The whole show is charming and fun.

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Musical Monday: Duets

I recently rewatched all the High School Musical movies. I love those movies, both because they’re legitimately great and because I have a ton of nostalgic affection for them. I used to watch HSM2 on the last day of school every year, and even now it wouldn’t be right to go the whole summer without seeing it. During the rewatch, I noticed that the High School Musical franchise has a lot of non-romantic duets. I realized that duets are almost always sung by lovers, and that duets by friends or rivals are, strangely, a lot less common. Platonic friends don’t usually get duets to themselves; I guess the duet seems like a romantic medium. Thankfully, though, there are musicals–like HSM–that expand the types of duos who get to sing together. I decided I’d compile a list of ten musicals with at least one great platonic duet. It was surprisingly difficult to come up with them at first, but as soon as I got to ten I thought of a few more I couldn’t leave off and eventually ended up with fifteen.

1) High School Musical

High School Musical is what inspired me to start this list, so obviously I had to start with it. Across three movies, High School Musical has a ton of great duets. My favorite songs are the ones sung by Ryan and Sharpay, who are siblings. They sing “Bop to the Top” and “What I’ve Been Looking For” in the first movie, “Fabulous” and “Humuhumunukunukuapua’a” in the second, and  “I Want It All” in the third. The second movie has “I Don’t Dance,” which is sung by Ryan and Chad as they transition from rivals to friends. Finally, Troy and Chad sing “The Boys Are Back” in the final movie, which is a song about their lifelong friendship. I like all the songs in HSM, but if I ranked them all, these songs would all rank highly; that’s actually true of all these entries. Plantonic duets are freaking awesome and I wish they got more attention.

High School Musical' fun facts and trivia about the movies - Insider

2) The Spongebob Musical

There isn’t any romance in this musical (I mean, I guess aside from Plankton and his computer wife, but whatever), but there are a lot of friendship songs and that’s a big reason for why I love this musical as much as I do. Having a best friend is awesome, so it’s kind of sad how few songs there are about best-friendship. Spongebob and Patrick’s “BFF” is a precious song and it’s not even the only platonic duet in this show. It’s not even the only platonic duet for Spongebob and Patrick! They also sing “(I Guess) I Miss You.” The best thing about the duets in this show is they demonstrate how versatile duets can be. Love duets are pretty much all I love you and you love me, but Spongebob has a wider variety. “BFF” is about being friends. “(I Guess) I Miss You” is about owning up to your issues and reaching out to friends. “Daddy Knows Best” is about family, communication, and misunderstandings. “Chop to the Top” is about resilience. They’re all dynamic, fun songs and they’re all totally different.

BFF | Encyclopedia SpongeBobia | Fandom

3) Be More Chill

“BFF” is my favorite song about being best friends, but I also really like Be More Chill’s “Two Player Game.” As in Spongebob, the most important relationship in Be More Chill is between the protagonist and his best friend rather than the one between the protagonist and his love interest. I’ve written a lot—in my book reviews—about my love for quality platonic and/or familial relationships, and I’m glad that at least a few modern musicals are using duets to emphasize them. “Two Player Game” is sung by two unpopular best friends, Jeremy and Michael, and it’s about teamwork and how their friendship sustains them through the hard times.

Original Broadway Cast of Be More Chill – Two Player Game Lyrics | Genius  Lyrics

4) RENT

RENT has some absolutely spectacular duets, but most of them are sung by people in romantic relationships. There are two that aren’t, and one of them is—not coincidentally—my favorite song in the whole show. I rarely see “What You Own” on other people’s lists of favorite RENT songs but it is just so good. Unlike the other songs on this list up until this point, it’s not so much a song about a relationship as it is about two people sharing an experience. Mark and Roger are good friends, but they’re not singing about their relationship to each other; they’re singing about a shared disillusionment. I love every song in RENT, but whenever I listen to it, I repeat this song at least once. I don’t know if it’s the rock sound or the highly relatable search for meaning, but this is one of the most addictive, powerful musical songs I’ve ever heard. “The Tango Maureen,” which is an aggressively contentious song sung by Mark and Joanne about a mutual love interest, is also great.

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Cats 2019 Review

Cats was my introduction to musical theatre, and even though I’ve since discovered and adored tons of other shows, Cats is still one of my absolute favorites. The 1998 version is absolute perfection, but I was still extremely excited when I found out that someone was turning Cats into a movie. The unadulterated excitement didn’t last long, though.

I was bewildered by the lengthening list of A-list actors because Cats is a show that calls for insane dancing chops and exuberance, not for star power. I understand stunt casting, and for certain roles—Old Deuteronomy, Grizabella, Bustopher Jones, and Gus the Theatre Cat—it’s fine. But there are other characters where that absolutely does not fly.

Two particular announcements struck me as spectacular missteps: When I saw Rebel Wilson’s name attached to the project, I knew that there was going to be at least one song that went the route of cringe humor and gross-out gags. Not choosing a dancer to play Mr. Mistoffelees was one of the most glaring signs that Cats 2019 wasn’t going to capture the stage play. Cats is all about the movement, and even though the whole cast is made up of spectacular dancers, Mr. Mistoffelees is a featured dancer.

jellicle cats come out tonight | Tumblr

And then, of course, the infamous trailer came out. To be honest, I wasn’t that bothered by the CGI. Do I like it? No. Do I hate it? Not really. Obviously it could’ve been better, but I wasn’t one of those people going around talking about how it was the stuff of nightmares. The unsung dialogue and cringe humor were the bits that bothered me.

Then the movie came out and everyone hated it. I don’t go to the movies often, so I figured that as much as I love the stage show, I’d wait to see the movie until it was cheaper to do so.

Well, I have finally seen it. It’s bad, but it’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be from the reviews.  Most of the reviewers were fixated on the CGI, which—as I said—didn’t bother me that much, and I didn’t read a single review from the perspective of a fan of the stage show.

A lot of the most oft-repeated criticisms had nothing to do with the movie adaptation and everything to do with the show. People were confused about what a Jellicle Cat is or obsessed with the lack of plot. For the record, plot is actually not necessary. Most sitcoms don’t have one, but no one would write off Friends or Seinfeld for the lack. And then there are scores of people who—inexplicably, to my mind—simply hate musicals but went to see Cats anyway. Seriously. What were they expecting?

All this to say, here’s a critique of the Cats movie from someone who unabashedly ADORES Cats.

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Here’s a picture of me with Mungojerrie

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Dumplin’ (Book/Movie Comparison)

dumplinDumplin’ by Julie Murphy is one of those books that’s everywhere. For years, I had been repeating the cycle of hearing about it, reading the summary, deciding it doesn’t sound like something that appeals to me, and forgetting about it. The movie adaptation made me curious, but I didn’t even give it a shot until my sister recommended it. I went into the movie a little skeptical and left it completely won over. I figured that any book that had been adapted into a movie that good would be amazing. Everyone knows the adage “the book was better,” and I decided I’d finally read it.

Summary: What’re they about?

Both the novel and the movie follow Willowdean Dickson, the fat daughter of a pageant queen. Will is not a beauty queen like her mom, and—consciously or not—she lets that color her opinion of herself. However, when she discovers that her beloved Aunt Lucy (who, like Will, was overweight and who, unlike Will, has recently died) considered entering the famous local pageant, Will decides to enter herself in order to make a point. By entering the pageant, Will inspires a group of fellow misfits to enter the contest and prove that there’s not just one way to be beautiful.

Which one is better?

Short answer:

The movie is better.

Long answer:

While both the novel and the movie have essentially the same plot, the overall feeling is different. The novel places Will in the middle of a love triangle. Although she wants to be with Bo, a handsome ex-jock who works with her at the local fast food joint (and who, honestly, has some issues), she doesn’t see a world where an attractive guy like Bo could be with an overweight girl like her. Instead, she goes out with Mitch, who is kind but unexciting and who is on the bigger side. The novel also focuses on Will’s relationship with her traditionally beautiful lifelong best friend Ellen; the friendship strains when the two find themselves growing up at different rates.

Although the movie does cut Mitch entirely, it still mostly preserves those two plotlines. Bo is reduced to a supporting player, which opens up space for the movie to expand upon Will’s strained relationship with her mother and to flesh out Will’s misfit pals more completely. Ellen’s story is present, but less drawn out, in the movie, which makes the friendship feel stronger.

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Mary Poppins Returns (Movie Review)

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I really enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns. It’s a solid sequel in that it tells a new story but maintains the feeling of the original… which is particularly impressive when you realize that Mary Poppins came out in 1964 (so… 55 years ago) and every single major role has been recast.

I was a little hesitant going into this one. Mary Poppins has never been one of my favorite movies. I like it, but I’ve never really loved it. I didn’t really see the point of a sequel, but when I heard Lin-Manuel Miranda was going to be in it, I changed my mind. I trust that I’ll like anything that he’s involved with. So far he has not let me down, and Mary Poppins Returns is a lot of fun.

It’s not just Lin-Manuel Miranda who’s well cast. Emily Blunt, who plays Mary Poppins, is the perfect replacement for Julie Andrews. Blunt’s Mary Poppins is charming but stern, a bit narcissistic, kind but with a streak of mischievousness. Both the Banks kids are recast exceptionally well. Adult Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Adult Jane (Emily Mortimer) really resemble the child actors from the originals. Jane is particularly uncanny. They’re also very winning actors, so they’re excellent even apart from physically resembling the original kids.

From a story standpoint, the Banks kids grew up perfectly. They are similar to their own parents (Michael has a mustache and works in a bank; Jane is an activist for the underprivileged) but both feel like their own characters. They also hit a very good balance between stodgy-adult-in-kids’-film and child-at-heart. You can’t have the grown-ups be too aware of the situation in a movie like this, but it would have been a frustrating copout to ignore the fact that Jane and Michael experienced Mary Poppins and her magic in the previous film. It’s a tough line to walk, but I think that the new movie manages it. Mary Poppins’ return helps Jane and Michael to regain their childlike wonder and belief in magic, and that rediscovery is just as well done–if not better than–Michael’s kids discovering magic for the first time.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Movie Review)

spiderman into the spiderverse sony

My brother and my sister are both artists, so Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has been on their radar for a long time because of the unique animation style. I knew about it and that there were multiple Spidermans (Spidermen?) in it, but that was the extent of my knowledge before my siblings took me to see it with them. There’s actually something pretty exciting about going to see a movie that you know next to nothing about.

There’s also something exciting about going to see a movie that’s this good. Spider-Verse manages to feel entirely unique even in a market that is completely inundated with superhero movies. Honestly, we’re even inundated with Spiderman movies, but Spider-Verse turns that—which could so easily be a drawback—into a strength. It uses the audience’s collective knowledge of Spiderman but doesn’t retread anything.

Side note: I’m using “Spiderman” when I mean Peter and “Spider-Man” for Miles.

By putting Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), rather than Peter Parker, at the heart of the story, Spider-Verse stands out. I am not a comics person, so previous to this movie I didn’t know anything about Miles aside from the fact that he exists. As a casual superhero fan, it’d be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Peter Parker is the only Spiderman and Spider-Verse plays with that a lot, to excellent (and comedic) effect. The meta moments that arise from Peter’s fame are amazing. I particularly love when Miles, alarmed by the process of turning into Spider-Man, turns to Peter-Parker-as-Spiderman comic books for guidance and information. There are jokes like this throughout, and I love them. Meta humor is my favorite and it is really well executed and not at all overdone here.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp (Movie Review)

ant man and the waspIt’s no secret that I love superhero movies. Aside from enjoying them generally, I appreciate them because they’re basically the only category of movie that my whole family can always agree on. So obviously we were all really excited for Ant-Man and the Wasp, because Ant-Man is hilarious and funny superheroes > serious superheroes. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.

For those of you who are unaware, Ant-Man and the Wasp is also notable for being the first Marvel superhero movie with a titular female character, which is pretty cool.

By the way, it’s a good idea to refresh yourself on Civil War if you haven’t seen it or haven’t seen it in a while. I saw the movie with people who hadn’t seen it; they still really liked it, but they were missing a lot of context.

I’m happy to report that the Ant-Man sequel is excellent. It is easily as funny as the first one, which is saying a lot considering how funny that one is. What’s even better is that the humor builds off last movie instead of just repeating the same kind of gags. Obviously Luis still tells an overlong, wrong-details story, because it would be heartbreaking if he didn’t (that sequence is arguably the best part of the movie), but the changes (and expansion) of Scott’s powers and relationships allows for fun scenarios that would’ve been impossible in the first movie but make perfect sense here. There is a good emotional core to the movie, but mostly it is just funny. The jokes, importantly, are well spaced out; you never go too long without laughing, but you also never feel like the plot is stagnating for unnecessary comedic scenes.

The antagonist is fully realized; like it is with the best Marvel super villains (think Loki, Killmonger, Vulture, etc.), it’s hard not to empathize with and understand Ghost. Plus, her visual effects are super cool. It is also nice that her powers are different than Scott and Hope’s. I’m not entirely sure when I first became aware that superheroes tend to fight enemies with equivalent powers (Tony’s first villain had an Iron Man suit; Scott’s first villain could shrink; Cap… tain America’s was another super soldier; Edward Norton’s Hulk fought what was essentially another hulk; etc.), but now that I am I’m appreciative of new powers.

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That being said, I like the Ant-Man and Wasp suits. I love that the superpowers have expanded (literally) and that Scott and Hope, despite technically having the same abilities, have vastly different styles. Their partnership is a highlight of the movie as well. A lot of movies trip up by either making talented women wimpy so that they can be a damsel in distress or by assuming that women only make good heroes if they’re unbeatable badasses. Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t do either of those things; instead, it makes Hope an equal partner. She is a badass, but she is also allowed to be feminine and vulnerable. Even better, she and Scott are allowed to be a team rather than simply alternating who rescues whom.

Scott’s daughter Cassie is also a movie highlight. Honestly, I usually find movie kids irritating, but Cassie continues to be cute and endearing. It helps that the actress is very good (especially for a small child), and that she continues to be an emotional center to the movies.

ant man luis professionals.gifIt goes without saying that Luis and his cohorts Kurt and Dave are hysterically funny. The FBI agent charged with enforcing Scott’s post-Civil War house arrest is also unexpectedly charming. A lot of the time, the role of law-enforcement-operative-who-inconveniences-the-hero is a thankless one, but Ant-Man and the Wasp makes it another fun part of an already very fun movie.

Essentially, Ant-Man and the Wasp is hilarious. It absolutely stands up to the first one. It’s probably true that anyone who liked the first Ant-Man will see Ant-Man and the Wasp with or without positive reviews, but just in case… Yes, it’s just as good, and possibly even better.


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Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Movie Review)

mamma mia here we go againMamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the sequel that nobody wanted… until it got announced and everyone cool realized that actually, yes, we do want this. Here’s the thing about Mamma Mia!: either you’re going to like it or you’re not. Either you will embrace the campy ridiculousness or you will groan because, in the way of all jukebox musicals, it doesn’t exactly have a tight plot.

The best thing about Here We Go Again is the same as it was in the original: everyone is having an over-the-top good time. Pretty much everyone goes all in with the silly choreography (though special props go to Christine Baranski/Tanya and Julie Walters/Rosie, because they—more than anyone else—look like they are having the time of their lives), and when the whole group puts on ABBA outfits at the end, it’s hard not to want to:

  1. get an ABBA outfit
  2. have a dance party

mamma mia you can dance

The story parallels Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) in the wake of Donna’s (Meryl Streep) death with Young Donna (Lily James) in her first summer on the island. While Sophie attempts to throw a reopening party for the hotel while fighting with her husband (boyfriend? I’m not sure) Sky (Dominic Cooper), Young Donna flirts and charms her way into the hearts of Sam (Pierce Brosnan/Jeremy Irvine), Bill (Stellan Skarsgård/Josh Dylan), and Harry (Colin Firth/Hugh Skinner). This is essentially the whole plot, but it doesn’t matter because everyone sings and it’s fun.

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The Incredibles 2 (Movie Review)

incredibles 2I really enjoyed The Incredibles 2, which isn’t a surprise. You don’t just make a sequel after fourteen years that’s not good. It’s not like they churned one out right after the first one to capitalize on the success. If the script was bad, they could have scrapped it before anyone found out that they’d written it. Also, all the reviews that I saw before going were positive, which is saying something.

The movie goes by really fast. It’s almost two hours long, but the laughs are spaced out really well, so much so that when the bad guy was getting captured I was like, “Really? Already?” I always find it a good sign when a movie flies by. I’m a pretty restless person, and if I’m not enjoying myself I get antsy when I’m not able to jump up to walk around or do sit-ups or something.

The Incredibles has a really nice balance between family comedy (Mr. Incredible trying to watch the kids) and superhero epic (Elastigirl chasing the legitimately frightening Screenslaver) that emphasizes both storylines but does not value one over the other. Both storylines are well developed—though, me being me, I prefer the family side of the story because it is hilarious—and the way that they come together for the end sequence is pretty cool.

There are tons of really great jokes. Mr. Incredible’s response to pie graphs detailing his destructive saves, a cringy trip to a diner (this scene got the biggest laugh), and a villainous henchman’s quip to try un-punching something were highlights. Edna and Frozone are also standouts. I like that Frozone had slightly more to do this time around.

loki avengersThe movie does a good job with its villain. The best villains are the ones who you can empathize with (see: Loki from Thor, Vulture from Spiderman, Killmonger from Black Panther, etc.), and Screenslaver does have a point even if the resultant actions are kinda evil.

There are lots of nice references to the first movie, but there are plenty of new characters, storylines, and themes as a whole to make the story feel fresh. I may be a bit biased because I love superhero movies–particularly the funny ones–but I don’t think that The Incredibles 2 suffers at all from superhero fatigue. Superheroes weren’t as big a thing in movies back when the first Incredibles came out, but I don’t think it matters at all that that’s changed. The Incredibles 2 has the advantage of focusing on ideas that aren’t exactly central to DC and Marvel superhero stories (there are more female characters, more kids, and more focus on everyday life in both Incredibles movies than there are in other modern superhero stories).

The only complaint I have—and it’s honestly not a huge complaint—is that there is an easy-to-see-coming twist. It doesn’t detract from the movie, but it did give me (and the other members of my family who saw the movie with me) an ‘I called it’ moment instead of a surprise.

quicksilver see that coming avengers

I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I won’t go into any more detail. Essentially, The Incredibles 2 is really funny, goes by quickly, and stands up well to the original (and this is coming from someone who still yells ‘Syndrome’s remote!’ every time I’m in charge of the TV remote). There’s not really a point in recommending it since everyone is going to go see it anyway, but just in case: recommended.


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Solo: A Star Wars Story (Movie Review)

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Honestly, I went into Solo: A Star Wars Story assuming that it would be kind of bad. When I first heard that they were making it, my reaction was a combination of “Literally no one asked for this,” “only Harrison Ford can be Han Solo,” and “Isn’t half the allure of Han Solo that we don’t really know what his deal is?” After watching it, though, I can say that I legitimately enjoyed it.

falconI also had a really fun movie experience in general. There was a giant interactive display of the Millennium Falcon out front of the theatre, so obviously my brother and I pretended to fly it. He made Wookiee noises, and I didn’t only because I sadly can’t make Wookiee noises. Also, before the movie instead of the usual behind-the-scenes looks at stuff I’ve never heard of, there was a hilarious tribute to Star Wars that included recapping Han Solo’s part of the original trilogy with snarky commentary, tongue-in-cheek pitches for more spinoffs, and a montage of cinema’s best Han Solo rip-offs. So that was fun.

The movie itself is a lot of fun. It’s true that Alden Ehrenreich is not Harrison Ford. He looks passably like him, but his nose is too pointy for it to be a great likeness (I apparently identify faces about 80% from nose shape, so that’s really the thing you have to get right for resemblance for me). Aside from that, he works in the role. I’ve always seen Solo as a bit of a dork who fakes suaveness until it looks real, and that’s kind of how he’s played in Solo. He’s not the galactic cad a lot of people assume he is: he’s a romantic with a good heart who does everything it takes to seem like a badass. There are a few moments where Ehrenreich really nails the mannerisms, though. There’s a moment towards the end of the movie when he does the sort of squinty eyed, head tilted thing that Ford-as-Solo does a lot, and that kind of cemented it for me that I could accept this new guy as Han.

han solo head tilt star wars
This one.

I expected Lando (Donald Glover) to be the standout of the movie and I was not wrong. I love Lando in the original trilogy and it makes me sad that he doesn’t have as much as a presence in those movies or in any of the extras (put Lando in episode nine, please and thank you) because he is awesome. I thought that he beginning of Solo dragged, but it really kicks into gear when Lando shows up. That’s not necessarily all because of Lando, but he certainly contributes. He also initiates by far the best exchange in the whole movie, which references the difference between Billy Dee Williams’ (OG Lando) pronunciation of the name “Han” vs. everyone else’s.

Obviously Chewbacca is around, and he’s as awesome and hairy as ever. In fact, the movie does a good job of using established canon and building on it without contradicting anything. We get Han’s friendships with Chewie and Lando, Han becoming a smuggler, references to the empire and Jabba the Hutt, Han and Lando gambling over the Falcon, and more. There are nods to the originals everywhere, from costume and prop design to dialogue to foreshadowing.  It’s obvious that the filmmakers did their homework/legitimately like Star Wars.

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Sea of Monsters Book to Movie Comparison

My family and I saw the second Percy Jackson movie, and overall I preferred it to its predecessor because it was more true to the book. However, there were some changes (and now that I think about it, a lot of changes). I like to talk about characters best, so that’s how I’ll organize this, but since characters haven’t changed all that drastically (except in one or two cases) I’ll also talk about plot points within the character sections.

I’ll start with the hero, Percy Jackson. In the film, Percy doubts himself and his role as a hero. In the novel, Percy is much the same as ever—wisecracking and clever. The main change is that in the movie Percy learns of the prophecy much earlier (in the books, he Percy_Jacksondoesn’t learn until book four or five—I don’t remember for sure) and he often, towards the end, talks about changing his fate a lot. In the books, it is always clear that Percy might die before his sixteenth birthday (in the movie changed to twentieth birthday to accommodate actor Logan Lerman who is older than novel Percy), but in the movie everyone naturally assumes that it must be Percy because he is the only half-blood child of the big three. In the movie, no one mentions that Percy is the only offspring because of the pact made to avoid the prophecy.

Maybe it is just me, but it always seems to me that Percy’s best friend Annabeth Chase is dumbed down in the movies. Once in the movie SoM Percy tells Annabeth she is “smart” and she replies ‘daughter of the wisdom goddess, remember?’ or something to that effect, but she is not the future architect/genius planmaker from the novels. Annabeth is also missing her love for Luke, which is a major plotline in the novels partially because it complicates the actual plot of Percy and company versus Luke and Kronos and the love plot between Percy and Annabeth. Also, I thought that Annabeth and Percy hugged weirdly often. Once or even twice is okay, but not after every major or minor event. Annabeth’s major scenes in SoM have been cut; in the novel, she shows great strength on Circe’s island and great weakness with the sirens. Annabeth’s hopes and dreams are pushed away so that she is little more than Percy’s romantic interest. I also miss the golden knife that Annabeth uses, because in the novels it is the cursed blade, not Riptide as the movie indicates. Also, I prefer in the book when Annabeth gets tossed on the rocks and injured in the final battle so that she is healed by the fleece. We already have Tyson’s fake death and Annabeth’s right behind it makes both less dramatic.

Grover Underwood has the most drastic personality change, though his starts in tLT. Instead of being an enchilada-obsessed, constantly nervous, wimpy (but hilarious) satyr, he is a somewhat tough satyr ‘protector’. I like both Grovers, but they aren’t very similar. In the SoM movie, Grover gets kidnapped by Luke to find the fleece for him and then sent on ahead. In the novel, he was looking for Pan and followed the nature magic. In the novel he also made an empathy link with Percy, which was what told Percy to rescue him. Also, in the novel Grover was disguised as Polyphemus’ Cyclops bride instead of as a Cyclops handmaid.

I found Percy’s half brother Tyson irritating in the books, so I did not mind when he was drastically changed for the movie. In the books he meets Percy at Percy’s regular old school and then saves him from cannibals. In the movie, he randomly turns up at camp. He is mentally aged in the movie, so that he doesn’t have the mentality of a four year old. I thought Tyson’s relationship with Annabeth was very well handled, but I disliked his supposed death. In the book he blows up with Clarisse’s Confederate ship when he fixed it, and in the movie he stopped an arrow. Since he was missing for longer in the book, his return was far more dramatic.

I thought that Clarisse La Rue was well handled. She was funny and aggressive and one of my favorite parts of the movie. Mr. D/Dionysus was also totally hilarious (the fact that he was played by the excellent Stanley Tucci didn’t hurt). Chiron did not get fired and replaced by Tantalus, but as Mr. D covered Tantalus’ role, it did not end up mattering. I thought it was odd that Chiron allowed Percy to go see the oracle so early on and hear the whole prophecy, but the oracle did salvage the plot from the first movie and was very accurate to the book so no complaints there. I was surprised by the cameos by Chris Rodriguez, Silena Beauregard, and Ethan Nakamura, Luke’s half-blood helpers. I didn’t mind Chris’, but I disliked that Silena was revealed as a traitor so early on as her arc is an interesting one. Hermes (Captain Hammer’s here, hair blowing in the breeze, this day needs my saving expertise…) was completely excellent. He appeared later than in the novel, but was mostly the same. He even had George and Martha. His scene was one of my favorites. Thalia Grace was also fine, but they all pronounced it ‘T-al-E-uh’ when I always thought it was ‘Th-al-E-uh’. Whatever.

Percy’s nemesis Luke Castellan was handled somewhat clumsily. I thought that he looked kind of sick, and he monologued about bringing Kronos back and then appeared randomly at the end on the island instead of fighting Percy on the Princess Andromeda. Also, why make it look like he dies again? And Kronos eating him was just stupid. Way to go, titan, he is definitely going to help you come back again after you eat him. Nicely played.

The part of the movie that I had the most problem with was the end. I guess that the filmmakers thought that it would be better to have Polyphemus defeated easily so that Percy could have one final showdown with Luke and so that the audience could meet Kronos in the flesh. I thought that that was just…dumb. Kronos reappeared and was defeated really easily. And as I mentioned above, eating Luke was just stupid. It took away from the terror everyone has of Kronos coming back. Annabeth said that Kronos returning would be ‘game over.’ Well…not so much. Also, why did he come back in a form that looks just like Hades’ form from tLT instead of in Luke’s body? Kronos taking over Luke was one of the scariest, most interesting, and most important parts of the book series and they totally glossed over it. I thought that when Kronos ate Luke he might come into Luke’s body which would have made a reason for eating Luke, but then Kronos ate Grover, too, and that theory died.
There were a few other changes, including the absence of Percy’s mother (which was good because I really disliked the actress who played Sally in tLT), the mist only appearing when applied instead of all the time to hide mystic things from mortals, the fates’ taxi cab appearing later, no carriage rides, etc.

So anyway, the movie was better than the one it follows, but definitely not perfect. I wish that the ending had stayed closer to the book, or at least not resorted to a few stupid gimmicks but overall I liked it.