Adapting YA novels can be a bit of a tricky high-wire act to walk. You have to satisfy your fervent teen fanbase while elevating the material to wider audience. The novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was particularly difficult because of its very sensitive and timely subject matter of police violence on African-Americans. Fortunately director George Tillman Jr and his team have done an excellent job with their film The Hate U Give and made one of the best films of the year.
First of all, let me set fans of the novel, like my niece’s fears to rest by saying that they changed very little in the adaptation. At least by my memory, almost everything in the book is in the movie, so yay!
The Hate U Give is about a teenage girl named Starr (Amanda Stenberg) who lives in a tough part of town called Garden Heights. Her father (Russell Hornsby) works as the owner of a small grocery/convenience store and her mother (Regina Hall) is a nurse. To give their children a better life they send them to a richer private school called Williamson High. Here Starr has to put on a face, even for her white boyfriend, so that she is not seen as ghetto.
Unfortunately one Saturday after leaving a party with her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) a tragedy occurs and he is killed by a police officer. This starts Starr on a journey to figure out her place in the world and how she can best use her voice.
What makes this script work so well is it is so well-rounded. We hear from so many different perspectives on the situation including Starr’s Uncle Carlos (Common) who happens to be a cop. Anthony Mackie also plays King a local drug dealer who threatens Starr and her family as she gets ready to share her truth.
At Sundance I saw a similarly themed movie called Monster and it was so heavy-handed and full of distracting visual choices from the director. It’s almost like the director didn’t trust the truth of his material. Not the case here. Director George Tilman Jr has faith in his script, and he let’s it tell its story.
The cast of The Hate U Give also really feels like a family. They have chemistry together and they all had unique voices and spirits that meshed well together. I never felt like the teenagers were being one note rebellious or the parents were being bossy. These are people who happen to be related and happen to love each other. It was honestly one of the most believable family groupings I’ve seen in a movie in a long time.
The only part I didn’t love in the movie was some of the school dynamics- particularly with a white girl friend of hers. It didn’t have the nuance of the rest of the movie but to be fair I didn’t like those scenes in the book either.
Obviously with such material there are tense moments and some violence but I would take my family if I had one. It’s not too graphic and the message of family and standing up for who you are is positive and important. The Hate U Give is the kind of movie I would take my family to and then have a family home evening and discuss why injustices happen and what we can do to make our world a better place. I like that it doesn’t sugarcoat the hard truths of life but it also never loses the sense of hope and faith.
If you have been following this blog you know my relationship with director Damien Chazelle has been a bit rocky. I always want to love his movies like everyone else but usually leave thinking they are just ok. There is always something in his portrayal of dreamers leaving me wanting more. Wanting more understanding of what drives them to put up with a mad man in Whiplash or leaving their true love to chase their movie dreams in La La Land. So this year with his film First Man, about Neil Armstrong, I was hopeful it would be the first film of Chazelle’s repertoire to move me into the love camp. Unfortunately the opposite has occurred and it is definitely my least favorite of his movies.
There are some impressive things about First Man. While relying way too much on close-ups (a trend I hate!), the cinematography and space set pieces were very striking. Also the performances by Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Kyle Chandler were all excellent with what they were given to do. Unfortunately, those impressive visuals were shot with a handheld camera style and were very shaky. For someone with a weak stomach it was almost too much. However, if you don’t have those problems they are impressive sequences.
My problem with the film was the script. Aside from a few glimpses of emotion at the death of his daughter, I never got any sense of feeling or personality from Neil Armstrong. I guess they were trying to portray him as being on the spectrum but that doesn’t mean he needs to have the same flat expression at all times. I didn’t feel like I got to know him as a person- his idiosyncrasies, his passions. I don’t even know why he wanted to go to the moon? In Apollo 13 we have the scene where Tom Hanks puts his thumb over the moon and he talks about his dreams. We needed something like that here.
Because I wasn’t invested in Neil Armstrong’s journey it made the movie kind of boring and flat. They didn’t do a good job of building up the characters at NASA like in Apollo 13 and aside from his wife getting upset a couple of times it was all flat and business-like.
I guess when it comes down to it I like my inspirational stories to be inspirational (go figure right?). Some may balk at a movie like Hidden Figures or October Sky and call them pedestrian but I left those movies inspired and wanting to do great things. Surely a movie about Neil Armstrong should give me such a feeling? Are we so elevated these days that we don’t need heroes but they all have to be whittled down to ordinary people who show up for work every day? Even a minor character in Apollo 13 like Gary Sinise’s astronaut who got bumped from the shuttle had an arc and an emotional journey I could relate to. Here I just didn’t get that.
So good job Neil Armstrong. You’re our hero. This movie however didn’t do you justice
(Also the flag controversy was mostly caused because of a dumb interview Gosling gave but it does show an overall scorning of heroic moments by Chazelle, which did not work for me)
As I was planning my blind spot picks for 2018 I wanted to challenge myself with a few picks and step outside my comfort zone. And no pick did that as much as this month’s pick Scream. Directed by Wes Craven, Scream has become an iconic slasher film which went on to inspire 3 sequels and the Scary Movie spoof series.
One of the interesting things about Scream is it is not just a scary movie but it is a critique of the horror genre. There are many references throughout the movie both visually and in the script to classic horror franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. Unfortunately since I am a newbie to the genre a lot of the references were lost on me, but I can see why many fans really enjoyed them.
The story to Scream is simple. A man in a scream mask (called Ghostface) is calling teens, talking to them in an increasingly chilling manner and then stabbing them with a knife. Most people are probably most alarmed by the killings in the movie, but to me, the phone calls were the creepiest part. It is especially chilling in an opening scene with Drew Barrymore when the caller is giving her movie trivia to keep her and her boyfriend alive. That was pretty scary!
Most of the violence is done with a wink and isn’t especially scary. It’s more meant to be fun and silly. It’s not the kind of thing I am going to get nightmares of because it is very over-the-top.
Neve Campbell plays a girl named Sidney who is hesitant to give up her virginity because of her Mother being murdered (and raped I think) a year earlier. Her boyfriend Billy struggles with her choice but seems to respect it. There is also a sheriff (David Arquette), a reporter (Courtney Cox), a principal (Henry Winkler) and friends (Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, and more).
The last act of Scream is a bit chaotic for my liking. I prefer the opening scene with Drew Barrymore over the messiness. It’s much scarier when tension has time to build and bubble up until you can’t help but respond. The never-ending mayhem gets tired even as it is increasing in violence. The only thing that really creeped me out (or grossed me out) in the last part is a death involving a garage door.
But that said, Scream is an enjoyable film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has a winking sensibility to it and while I think I would enjoy it more if I knew what the jokes were referencing it still was a fun enough ride.
Of course, Scream is rated R so it won’t be for everyone but if you are up for a light-hearted slasher movie (such a weird description but it’s true) than this is the movie for you! I’m glad I saw it even if I don’t think I’d ever watch it again. Always good to get out of your comfort zone!
Have any of you seen Scream? What do you think of it and its sequels?
So I haven’t done one of these mini-review posts since August. Honestly I have been so busy with both of my podcasts I haven’t had much room to breathe lately! My Hallmarkies Podcast just keeps growing each week and I am so primed for the massive Countdown to Christmas season (starting in October!).
I have also done some really interesting things on my personal podcast Rachel’s Reviews including monthly Talking Disney podcasts and Obscure Animation with my friend Stanford, Animated News posts, previews and wrap ups with my friend David and various podcasts with another friend Conrado.
I am so proud of both and think you will enjoy them so please subscribe.
I have also done some reviews on the blog such as Life Itself and Juliet Naked so I won’t be repeating those thoughts here.
So here we go!
Talk about false advertising! I’m someone who really enjoyed 47 Meters Down so I like a silly shark movie but this was just boring and bland with hardly any of the fun moments promised in the trailer. It made the fatal mistake of taking itself seriously which made the terrible dialogue stand out because I couldn’t laugh it off as silly fun. What a disappointment!
97 out of 106 Ranking
Very entertaining film with strong performances especially by Adam Driver who has to play the racist as a Jewish man. Some of the choices feel self-indulgent and are a bit distracting but overall a really interesting/thought provoking (and even funny) movie.
15 out of 106 Ranking
Miseducation of Cameron Post-
A good movie about the sobering reality of gay conversion schools and camps. There are definitely a lot of chilling scenes but I felt the Chloe Grace Moretz character was a bit too stoic for a teen in her situation. I have a feeling the book for this is way better but it was still worth a watch
45 out of 106 Ranking
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before-
Lana Condor is super charming as the lead character Lara Jean in this perfectly pleasant teen romance. However, is it one of the best high school movies ever made as some have said? HECK NO! If we think about the truly great high school movies more than just the lead grows and changes. The boys in this movie are just there to do LJ’s bidding. Someone like Josh in Clueless had dreams, ideas, thoughts of his own. Not so much here. That said it’s perfectly harmless.
60 out of 106 Ranking
The Night is Short Walk on Girl-
I did not like director Masaaki Yuasa’s film Lu Over the Wall from earlier this year. It made me nauseated watching it and the cute moments felt very derivative of Miyazaki’s Ponyo. Fortunately, I felt the opposite about this film. It is completely bonkers so it won’t be for everyone but I enjoyed it. It’s basically about a female college student who goes on a giant bender and the crazy things that happen to her. Along the way the animation is so bright, colorful and inventive and the story is random but very fun. It even evolves into a musical at one point and you know I love that.
20 out of 106 Ranking
The Kissing Booth-
This movie is pretty terrible. The director seemed to have a strange fascination with the lead taking off her shirt and wearing super short skirts, and the camera lingered on her in ways that made me uncomfortable (she’s supposed to be underage for goodness sakes). Also, her ‘friend’ was the worst. He was completely selfish and even claims ownership of her at a point and the screenplay never calls him out on that.
103 out of 106 Ranking
The Year of Spectacular Men-
This Deutch/Thompson family collaboration had moments, and I’d be very interested to see what they do next as I feel there is a lot of potential (obviously they all have chemistry). Unfortunately, the script was just too uneven for me to recommend. Most of the humor falls flat and it didn’t go anywhere interesting or charming.
81 out of 106 Ranking
Summer of 84
Some people will describe this as a Stranger Thingscopycat and they would be right but I think it is a pretty well executed copycat. It definitely has nostalgic elements so if that isn’t your thing than you won’t like it but I enjoyed it. The boys all have chemistry and the mystery was fun. It definitely gets a little gory by the end but I thought it was a good little horror movie with some genuine scares.
52 out of 106 Ranking
This movie is about a billion times better than it has any right to be. I joked that it is like The Revenant for teens but about a nice person. Kodi Smit-McPhee is practically a one man show and he is does a fantastic job. The cinematography and music are tremendous. I really enjoyed it and would watch it again if given the opportunity.
32 out of 106 Ranking
I had high hopes for this movie, but I think I got greedy after Crazy Rich Asians was so fantastic. What a terrible film. Winona and Keanu have surprisingly little chemistry but it’s not really their fault. The script is awful. It’s just them bickering the entire time with some of the worst sex scenes I’ve ever seen on film. What a miserable experience
104 out of 106 Ranking
God Bless the Broken Road/Unbroken: Path to Redemption
I reviewed both of these for Hallmarkies Podcast:
Unbroken- Smile Worthy 61 out of 106 Ranking
God Bless- Frown Worthy 71 out of 106 Ranking
The House with the Clock in its Walls-
I really enjoyed this haunted house movie and found it to be scary but in the right way that a lot of kids get a kick out of. Here is my review for youtube:
35 out of 106 Ranking
As a Hallmark movie fan you’d think I would love a movie like this but I did not! The leads are very charming but the script was vulgar and unpleasant from start to finish. These kind of movies work because they are light and fluffy entertainment. You don’t want unending sex jokes and cynicism in a movie like this! Because I wasn’t enjoying the romance, the stereotypes were tough to ignore especially a gay character that felt right out of 1995.
102 out of 106 Ranking
A Star is Born-
I will try to find time to write a legit review about this soon but for now this 4th attempt at telling this story is surprisingly decent. The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is fantastic and the singing is amazing! For once a modern musical has good singing and great songs! All the supporting work, particularly Sam Elliott, is tremendous and I was invested despite it being a story I’ve seen many times (not just in the previous iterations but in movies like Walk the Line). Still it is proof a formula story isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it is executed well and this is.
14 out of 106 Ranking
This movie was really strange. Everything from the messaging, to the story, to the weird musical choices, to the bloated voice cast was odd. It was kind of interestingly odd but I don’t think I’d ever want to watch it again despite it having some nice animation.
65 out of 106 Ranking
My Hero Academia: The Movie-
I have never seen the anime show but this was actually surprisingly great. They do a good job catching us newbies up with the premise at the beginning and then it is a good superhero movie about a team of teens that have to use their various ‘quirks’ or powers to fight an evil man who has kidnapped a scientist that has invented a power multiplier. It was funny with likable characters, dazzling animation and a good score. I really enjoyed it
34 out of 106 Ranking
Whoever said this is as bad as Catwoman probably hasn’t seen Catwoman in a long time. It definitely is a big mixed bag but not one of the worst superhero movies ever. The main problems is all the supplementary characters to Venom/Eddie are lame and it’s 30 minutes too long so a lot of it drags. However, there are fun parts with some inventive action and humor that worked for me. Tom Hardy is pretty good and I’d be open to seeing a sequel where they could iron out the bugs. I can’t really recommend it but it’s not awful.
(I did realize I was too hard on Upgradewhich is exactly the same story but executed MUCH better)
Frown Worthy (Maybe rent it)
70 out of 106 Ranking
(Also I saw Searching at Sundance but haven’t had a chance to see it again. 30 out of 106 Ranking)
That’s it folks! Phew! Let me know if you have seen any of these and what you thought.
I also watched the Netflix animated series Hilda (yes I watched a television series!) and it was soooooo good! You all have to watch it: