"Booksmart"

I went back and forth on whether or not to watch this film. Did I want to watch two white girls fulfill four years of debauchery into one night? With this film, yes I do because there is more to the story. Amy and Molly on the night before their high school graduation make realizations about their determination and instill wild fun that balances the beginnings of adulthood.

Kaitlyn Dever is fantastic as Amy. Beanie Feldstein is remarkable as Molly. Together, Kaitlyn and Beanie meet each other through their characters with humor and pure female friendship. Billie Lourd is whimsically high as Gigi. Molly Gordon, who stays booked, is compassionate and cool as Triple A. Diana Silvers is a cool babe in the most sincerity as Hope. Austin Crute is lively as Alan, one of the drama kids. Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, Noah Galvin, Skyler Gisondo, Victoria Ruesga, Nico Hiraga, Eduardo Franco, and Mason Gooding champion a fun ensemble exceptionally casted by THE Allison Jones.

Director Olivia Wilde delivers a film that captures the spirit of high school. The scenes are fuller through her camera. Screenwriters Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman do not delve into the tropes of teen comedies. They also do not make feminism generic. The writing authentically shows teenage life. Amy is a lesbian. Molly encourages her to express her sexuality. There is a pivotal scene between Amy and another character that shows teenage sex and the emotions involved. The scene being between girls brings a perspective we hardly see. Molly is fairly high strung. There is a scene where she is in the restroom with her classmates who she judged as slackers and what follows is astounding. The scenes are lively when needed and moody otherwise. There was nothing ridiculous. Costumer April Napier brings unique outfits to each character. Alan embodies Wakandan Graduation Regalness in his graduation robe. The soundtrack by Dan the Automator, with its score full of rage and spirit, is the ribbon wrapped for this film.

"Miss Bala"

All Gloria wanted to do was enjoy the club with her best friend, Suzu. What ensues is a fight for family and self amidst dire odds. Gloria becomes a part of a drug cartel in Mexico after a murderous night. Each mission is more dangerous and tests Gloria’s will as she works to rescue Suzu.

Gina Rodriguez is incredible as Gloria, growing from a naive woman to a prowess. She is also the epitome of a ride or die. Anthony Mackie is briefly in the film yet makes his presence known as Jimmy. Ismael Cruz Córdova is phenomenal as Lino, the leader of the gang, Las Estrellas. Gina and Ismael have strong chemistry between them that uplifts the film, even in its harshness. I hope Ricardo Abarca is kind in real life because as Pollo, he is absolutely ruthless. Aislinn Derbez is commanding as Isabel, a woman abducted by the gang. Sebastián Cano is fantastic as Chava, Suzu’s younger brother. Cristina Rodlo is also briefly in the film yet she is great as Suzu. Lilian Guadalupe Tapia Robles plays Doña Rosita with kindness and hospitality. Her smile hides her delusion of the gang she works for. Matt Lauria is strong as Brian, a DEA officer, although his character was not complete.

Director Catherine Hardwicke delivers a sweeping vision of the underbelly of crime. There are scenes with striking light and grim darkness that heightened each scene. Writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer has a script that is layered. The plot twists happen in the blink of an eye and are fairly lackluster. Scenes are aggravating to watch for the first hour. The performances, fortunately, carry what the story lacks. While there is hardly any music, Alex Heffes scored sound that also compliments each scene. The film exposes the perils of sex trafficking and the degradation of women, the latter which is prevalent.

"The Farewell"

I watch a lot of films, if you could not already tell. Along with “Fast Color,” this is a film I enjoyed this year. I thought back and forth of whether or not to see the film. I had too many questions about the story. What I recognized was the beauty and reverence of Chinese tradition. When Nai Nai, a headstrong matriarch, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, her family does not tell her, masking a wedding to see her. Yet the reconnection opens wounds during what should be a time of celebration.

Awkwafina delivers a wonderful performance as Billi. Before going back to China, Billi is low on life prospects as an artist. She has a monologue that truly wraps the emotions the family is enduring. Tzi Ma is great as Haiyan, Billi’s dad and Nai Nai’s son. Diana Linn is sensational as Jian, Billi’s mom. Zhao Shuzhen is the heart of the film as Nai Nai with a fierce spirit. Jian Yongbo gives a bold performance as Haibin, Billi’s uncle. Lu Hong is warm as Nai Nai’s little sister. Chen Han and Aoi Mizuhara are delightful as Hao Hao and Aiko, respectively, the couple getting married. The ensemble works extraordinarily together where no character is small.

Writer and Director Lulu Wang adapts her story that encompasses family and culture with humor, heart-tugging drama, and suspense. The colors match the mood of the scene. The sets are unique. The audience can take in everyone’s actions from scenes in the hallway. There is a striking dinner scene where Chinese ideals versus American ideals are argued. The ending is almost incomplete and then a breath of fresh air. I always appreciate people who actually eat in films. The film is also mostly in Mandarin. I read the subtitles without missing a beat. I also never thought calling someone “stupid child” would sound endearing.

"Angel Has Fallen"

I preface this review by noting that I have not seen the previous two films in this series. I was intrigued to watch this film because Jada Pinkett Smith and Piper Perabo were in the trailer. Mike Banning has been a loyal protector of the President of the United States. When vicious attacks threaten the President’s life, Banning is framed as a perpetrator and must fight to restore his loyalty.

Gerald Butler is great as Mike Banning, balancing the commitments of the job that is ailing him and he loves with the commitments to his adoring family. Nick Nolte is wonderful as Clay Banning, Mike’s dad. Danny Huston understands the underbelly of the antagonist that is essentially his MO as a character actor. Morgan Freeman, for the few scenes he is in, carrries the action and gravitas his character, The President, must deliver. Lance Reddick is ever powerful as Secret Service Director Gentry. Jada Pinkett Smith is strong as Agent Thompson. Piper Perabo holds it down as Leah Banning, who fights for the protection of her and her daughter.

Director Ric Roman Waugh captures the glory of the film with its intimate and grand moments, respectively. Writers Ric Roman Waugh, Matt Cook, and Robert Mark Kamen create a succinctly rich film with a realistic timeline. The turn of the story for Banning’s character refreshens the series. The action is stellar, not saturated. This film is a movie miracle as it does all this in under two hours!

"Amazing Grace"

I watched this documentary on a flight. The flight attendant saw a glimpse and told me it was wonderful. And yes this viewing is wonderful. It is almost wrong to call it a documentary. The audience witnesses Aretha Franklin recording her titular gospel album with a choir draped in matching baby blue and black robes. It harkens to the celestial experience of hearing a choir sing until the pews come out of their screws.

You can see the beads of sweat dripping down Aretha’s face. The noticeably disappearance of her once vivid makeup. Her sashay into the room as all eyes fall on her. The moments are intimate yet powerful, a prolific balance. The pastor of the church is as much of a spectacle as he plays the piano and sings.

The church, where the album is recorded, is a revelatory place of song, healing, and inclusion. There were people of a few backgrounds in the church, anticipating what will arise with Aretha’s voice.

There is a short scene where Mick Jagger is in the back of the church, praising to the music. The scene was exciting because it is an icon admiring a legend.

This witnessing of a legendary performance is available on DVD.

"The Kitchen"

Kathy, Ruby and Claire watch their husbands go off to prison for robbery and a slew of criminal charges. One with gloom, two with glee. When their financial situation threatens even their basic needs, they live by the code of “by any means necessary” and instilling a new rule in Hell’s Kitchen.

Melissa McCarthy is captivating as Kathy. Tiffany Haddish is a gangsta as Ruby. She utilizes an opportunity to show her dramatic ability. Elizabeth Moss is fantastic as Claire. She reigns in her dominance as a stellar actor. Clare’s evolution allows Elizabeth to act in an interesting arc. Domhnall Gleeson is ever the chameleon as Gabriel, Claire’s love interest and ruthless hitman. Margo Martindale is intentional in the delivery of Mrs. O’Carroll, Ruby’s racist mother-in-law. James Badge Dale and Jeremy Bobb play horrible men with vigor as Kevin and Rob, respectively. Brian d’Arcy James is Jimmy, Kathy’s husband, with a balance of ego and trepidation. Annabella Sciorra, Common, E.J. Bonilla, Bill Camp, Wayne Duvall, and Sharon Washington are just the beginning of a stunning supporting cast, evoking the criminal world.

I almost did not write about this film because it is violent. However, I recognize the violence is necessary to guide the story. Therefore, watch with caution. Andrea Berloff as director is strong. As a writer, the script needed support. There is a plot twist that briefly revives interest in the film then fades. Kathy, Ruby and Claire are rise above dire situations. The story is based off the DC comic book miniseries, “Vertigo,” and rethinks how comic books are adapted because it does not have CGI action. Music by Bryce Dessner captures the thriving soundtrack of the 70’s. Costumer Sarah Edwards delivers a stunning timeline of the women through their outfits in part with tall boots, prints and chic blouses.

"Enjoying Summer"

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I am on vacation. Therefore, no movie review this week. I am planning to see “The Kitchen,” starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elizabeth Moss. The story is based on the Vertigo series by DC Comics and is quite different than the spectacular CGI films screened over the years. The more I hear about the story, the more I am intrigued.

"A Fantastic Woman"

I was thrilled to see this film was available on the Starz cable channel app. I read wonderful reviews but like many smaller films, especially foreign language films, I could not find it anywhere. Marina is a transgender woman grieving the passing of her partner while dealing his ruthless family who is disapproving of her.

Daniela Vega is fantastic (naturally) as Marina. She is compelling in all facets the character endures and triumphs during the story. She went hard for her dog, Diabla. Francisco Reyes is strong as Orlando, Marina’s partner. He is warm and charming. Amparo Noguera plays Adriana, the detective, with cruel manipulation. Nicolás Saavedra plays Bruno, Orlando’s son, with intensity and similar cruelty as Adriana does. Trinidad González plays Wanda, Marina’s sister, with understanding and love. Néstor Cantillana plays Gastón, Wanda’s partner, with care and patience. Luis Gnecco plays Gabo, Orlando’s brother, with refreshing sympathy. Antonia Zegers and Aline Küppenheim, although in opposite portrayals in attitude for their characters, are outstanding in the supporting cast.

Director and Writer Sebastián Lelio gave moments of magical splendor through the depth of Marina’s thoughts. Santiago, Chile is a gorgeous setting. Co-Writer Gonzalo Maza gives Marina agency throughout the story. I truly felt for Marina because Orlando’s family treated her terribly. The pain could be justified because she was the last person to be with Orlando. However, the family is transphobic. The writing gives a realistic picture of the atrocities transgendered people endure. There is not much dialogue but the exchanges have much force. The actions drive the story. There is also sensuality over sexuality. With Marina, there is optimism for her to dream and thrive in her body.

This film won the 2018 Best International Feature Film Academy Award.

"Someone Great"

I was hesitant to watch this film.

It seemed too romantic. Premise was not my cup of tea. Would it be cheesy? Then I said, “It’s time to watch.” The film begins with “International Players Anthem” playing and I was ready. Jenny, a music journalist, is broken up by her longtime boyfriend, Nate. This is the night before her last full day in New York City before she moves to San Francisco. What follows in the day is cleansing, reflection, and fun.

The cast was essential in my interest to watch. Gina Rodriguez is outstanding as Jenny. DeWanda Wise is herlarious and free-spirited as Erin, Jenny’s best friend. Brittany Snow is warm and ambitious as Blair, also Jenny’s best friend. She is the more guarded of the trio. Watching her peel away the stress elevates the dynamic of this trio. Watching her dance was awesome. Lakeith Stanfield is charming as Nate. The chemistry between him and Gina as their characters is electric, in parts explosive and colorful. Peter Vack plays Matt, a fun opposite to Blair. Rebecca Naomi Jones is lovely as Leah, Erin’s love interest. Alex Moffat is delightful as Will, Blair’s boyfriend. There are a few cameos that filled me with glee. Casting is exceptional by Jeanne McCarthy, Rori Bergman and Leslie Woo.

Writer and Director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson gave a film experience. Each of the female characters have their awakening, which makes them full and realized people. There is a good amount of drama. Jenny flowing through the memories and processing her love is remarkable. Costume Designer Stacey Battat stitches liveliness and culture into each character’s unique style. In Jenny’s first scene, she is wearing overalls! The soundtrack is perfect and upbeat. A wonderful compilation by Germaine Franco with Music Supervisors Stephanie Diaz-Matos and Sarah Bromberg.

New York City in this film is a vital part of the story but does not feel all in your face. It’s peaceful and for healing.

This film is streaming on Netflix.

"Frances Ha"

This film came across my Netflix suggestions. I immediately put it on “My List.” I heard about this film for years as the breakthrough for Greta Gerwig. The title always read as humorous to me. Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a dancer always on the brink of a big break but not quite. She gets by with the help of her friends. As she is inching the end of her twenties, she begins to make decisions to no longer merely survive but to thrive.

Greta Gerwig is delightful and grand, delivering a balanced performance with the fears and realities Frances has. Mickey Sumner plays Sophie, Frances’ best friend, with joy and growth. Baby Adam Driver plays Lev, one of Frances’ friends, who helps her in a pinch. Grace Gummer is Rachel, Frances’ "friend,” who is the successful equivalent of Frances. Michael Zegen gives optimism and wonder to Benji, one of Frances’ friends. Patrick Heusinger, Charlotte D’Amboise and Maya Kazan are an exceptional supporting cast.

Writers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach gives a realistic portrait of being an artist. Greta holds down Sactown, her hometown, for real. The audience witnesses the endearing friendship between Frances and Sophie. The film begins with them laughing and enjoying their time together. At some point I thought, “how do these women afford to do what they do?”. Their friendship is an evolving plot of the script. The film is an hour and twenty-five minutes. In some parts, it feels long. Do not go into this film taking it too seriously yet leave feeling good. Director Noah Baumbach gives color in this black and white film. Watching Frances run through NYC is freeing.

If you could not already tell, this movie is streaming on Netflix.