The Colours Blogathon: Blue Jay (2016)

The Colours Blogathon

This is an entry for The Colours Blogathon hosted by Thoughts All Sorts.

Interesting that that original plan fell through with White Oleander as the DVD has vanished somewhere in my house. It will pop up when I don’t need it. Going back, looking at my too long Netflix to watch list, it felt right to finally give Blue Jay a watch, a 2016 indie romantic drama.

Blue Jay (2016)

Blue Jay

Director: Alex Lehmann

Cast: Mark Duplass (writer), Sarah Paulson, Clu Gulager

Meeting by chance when they return to their tiny California hometown, two former high-school sweethearts reflect on their shared past. – IMDB

Blue Jay is truly a unique experience. The way its presented is solely in black and white however it quickly becomes not so noticeable when the focus on the two characters, Jim and Amanda are so deep. Jim and Amanda both have returned to town and we quickly see the high school sweethearts go from the awkward meeting to revisiting their memories and from there the chemistry is feels incredibly authentic and we can’t help be wonder what split them apart. The film does answer that as well by the end. The film’s black and white doesn’t only focus on them but in between scenes will also switch over to the small town scenery: empty streets serene nature and the likes. This is a nice way to approach a transition as it takes us into simple natural beauty and lets us see the town and everything around them. They regard it once as a “shithole” when in fact it doesn’t quite seem that way.

Blue Jay

As aesthetically pleasing as Blue Jay is made, the true gem here is the telling of the story between Jim and Amanda. We see them find the pieces of their young romance over 20 years ago. The awkward and weird parts when they were very different than now. There is something very believable about Jim and Amanda’s relationship. Perhaps its their awkward re-encounter of a first love, possibly the first true love that many say is unforgettable and will always influence us. The script takes a careful step to learn about them between their nostalgia and getting into deeper conversation of how both Jim and Amanda’s current life dilemmas are. However, there is an undeniable chemistry between them that is so real to watch come to life that it sucks us into their story, wondering why this beautiful couple split up. It is obvious that even they envisioned themselves together till they were old, making this relationship very much different from a high school fling but something made of true love and possibly the rare high school sweetheart stories that make it. The script also treads carefully to find the perfect moment to reveal the pain that has broken them apart.

Blue Jay

Overall, Blue Jay is a rare gem in the romantic drama genre. It also happens to be a favorite setting of mine to be set in a one night period and very character-based. The black and white adds to the aesthetic and appeal of the film as well as the tone. It helps with the nostalgia that these two characters carry for their relationship. At the same time, these characters are deep and carry many layers. Blue Jay captures young love, memories, chemistry and loss so well and in a believable way. There are laughs and thought-provoking and emotional moments. Its definitely a must-see!

Thanks to Thoughts All Sorts for hosting this fantastic blogathon so that I could discover this wonderful movie!
Find more entries for this blogathon here!

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Double Feature: Southpaw (2015) & Miss Sloane (2016)

Welcome to the next double feature. I rented Southpaw and Miss Sloane on discount on Play Store last month. Two very different films and two very different feelings about it however both heavily reliant on their main character.

Southpaw (2015)

Southpaw

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Oona Lawrence, 50 Cent, Naomie Harris

Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Wills to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services. – IMDB

If there is one word to describe Southpaw, it would be disappointing. It isn’t particularly a bad film as the performances were great. Rachel McAdams did great for what it was. Jake Gyllenhaal was fantastic and I absolutely love Forest Whitaker who is an underrated actor. The girl who played the daughter was Oona Lawrence and that arc was decent.

However, the flaw lies in the fact that Southpaw is pretty much another Rocky story in many instances and we already had Creed recently that was much more engaging. It didn’t help that Southpaw was a little too dramatic at parts but never made it feel very exciting to watch. Seeing the stellar cast being in this uninspired script truly was a lackluster experience.

Miss Sloane (2016)

miss sloane

Director: John Madden

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Lithgow, Jake Lacy

In the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, Elizabeth Sloane is the most sought after and formidable lobbyist in D.C. But when taking on the most powerful opponent of her career, she finds winning may come at too high a price. – IMDB

Miss Sloane was a movie that I went in with no idea of what the premise is. I have heard good things about it and I have enjoyed Jessica Chastain. Miss Sloane is such a vibrant character wrapped up in a tough and ruthless shell. She is strong and strategic in all her plans and for all the reasons, it makes us wonder on what she has under her sleeve even in the most desperate of situations but it is what makes her compelling to watch.

Miss Sloane, just as the title implies, is truly based on Jessica Chastain and how she takes on the role and she did an outstanding job. As we navigate through her way of life and the little things, while she isn’t exactly a character you would cheer for because of her lack of ethics and morals in some of her decisions, every part whether planned or not comes into play and that gives full credit for the screenwriters doing a fine job at giving it a good pacing that keeps everything moving and finding a balance to learn just enough about Miss Sloane and keeping enough to make everything make sense and surprise when it falls into place.

While Miss Sloane isn’t typically the movie that I would watch, I’m glad that I did because it was absolutely awesome. Gripping, compelling and full of twists and turns around every corner. This one is a must see.

Have you seen Southpaw and/or Miss Sloane?

Fantasia Festival 2017: Free and Easy (2016)

Free and Easy (2016)
Director: Jun Geng

Director: Baohe Xue, Benbin Gu, Gang Xu, Liguo Yuan, Xun Zhang, Xuxu Wang, Zhiyong Zhang

When a traveling soap salesman arrives in a desolate Chinese town, a crime occurs, and sets the strange residents against each other with tragicomic results. –IMDB

A peddling monk, a soap salesman, a reforestation ranger: What do these three characters have in common? Add in a God-loving man who is seeking for his disappeared mother, a jack of all trades kung fu instructor and a tough landlady. Throw together two cops who really seem to be both careless and clueless and this creates the mix of a 99 minutes Chinese movie set in desolate area in Northeast China. Free and Easy is an odd piece altogether. Is it trying to be comedic with its dry  humor? Or is it a societal statement about the world we live in pushing those into paths they don’t really choose no matter how good or bad they are? Perhaps, its a crime story when one of the characters die. Just like the story its telling, maybe the genre also steps somewhere in a grey area.

Free and Easy is however an interesting piece of cinema to talk about. With so many characters on screen, we mostly focus on the soap salesman and the monk at the beginning. The cops are the other end of the spectrum as they truly feel useless in their positions or simply bored. They talk constantly about things they probably shouldn’t and then they also take antibiotics like its candy. Not the authorities that we’d imagine them to be. In a community like this one, desolate and forgotten, even the cops are useless, it is a statement on how everyone has their own way to fend for themselves and survive day to day. They are thrown into circumstances that we eventually realize aren’t quite them however, it is all a sense of digging out that part of them that they need to live. The soap salesman and monk eventually have some insightful conversations throughout the movie that truly point us into knowing them more. Just as the reforestation ranger obsesses over who cut down his trees and we start seeing his mellow character go through a myriad of reactions to the situation. However, with the amount of characters here, the focus moves quickly through them. Their personalities, their facades, their conversations, their tricks all come together as what defines this world because we never know any of them well enough to know their history or even their story. We only know what they are now and those few days in this desolate area.

While, Free and Easy slowly progresses its story and it feels disjointed throughout the majority of it and there isn’t really a character to bond with, one of the best aspects is its landscape and cinematography. The way that the director composes their shots, capturing the wide angles and pulled out space. It truly expands on the desolate and emptiness in this area. Perhaps, it also is done to create a parallel for these characters who each have their own issues and all don’t seem to keen about what life they are in now. No one truly seems happy. However, the scenes here truly capture so much atmosphere and is structured carefully to capture exactly what it wants and hides some of the details off screen. One of the best scenes do go to one of the cops confronting four of the characters as they keep moving on and off screen.

Honestly, there isn’t a lot to say concretely about Free and Easy. The story needs a little more work particularly for the pace they are going at. The sound design is nice and the cinematography captures so much of the atmosphere and the area despite it being desolate and empty. The characters are plentiful but never fleshed out. The dry humor definitely is there however, it never seemed to work enough although humor is rather subjective. Free and Easy is a statement piece about society, at least from the first watch, it definitely seems to be leaning the most in that direction. Its a lot of reading between the lines and listening to the dialogue and conversations. Its a movie for those that enjoy dry humor, slow-paced and reading between the lines.

Personally, this doesn’t feel like a movie that I was meant to like. I do think for its vagueness in many of the issues, it makes it more thought provoking to figure out what they are trying to say. What message is it all about? I’m honestly kind of in between with this one.

Fantasia Festival 2017: A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story 2017

Director and Writer: David Lowery

Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo

In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife. – IMDB

Perhaps one of the first things to start off is that A Ghost Story is not a horror movie. It shouldn’t be expected to be one as it is a fantasy drama. David Lowery crafts up a passion project that brings to life an old perception of a ghost covered in a bedsheet who lingers for their loved one in the background. This character may seem like a goofy concept and the movie may have its quirky moment however it isn’t meant to be funny. A Ghost Story is a slow burn movie, more than possibly anything else you will encounter. It has lingering shots before it switches, teasing the audience perhaps to expect something to happen that often doesn’t. It has almost no dialogue but focuses heavily on its soundtrack and its subtle noises in the surroundings. It doesn’t give the characters any names which creates a world where we see only this ghost, a ghost of a husband who has come back to console his wife however not making contact but stirs up memories throughout. A Ghost Story is for those extremely patient because this movie may make you wait for things that won’t happen and answers that you might not get. It seeks to dig a little deeper and expands farther than its star-studded main characters, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. Whether the slow-burn works for you or not, this is an odd but unique experience. One that makes you question where the line falls for the audience between tedium and depth.

A Ghost Story is shot in an almost square aspect ratio. Its something that native moviegoers may notice right away. However, what the movie lacks in dialogue is greatly made up by the perfect cuts and transitions between scenes. The ghost moves at a slow pace and frequently shots are taken from his slow movement as he enters a new room or observes something different. He may simply turn and the scene will change. All this is done slowly and seamlessly. The first part of the film focuses on the husband and wife relationship and the love and loss as well as the moving forward and holding on in two people. Despite the silence, we feel the connection between these two characters in the pieces scattered as the time moves on after C (played by Casey Affleck) dies in a sudden accident. There is a great use of time moving forward particularly in the fluidity of creating a scene where M (played by Rooney Mara) goes day by day, carrying on with life.

This fluidity of transition shifts through time as the story turns to a second act of various future tenants. While the technical scenes work well, the second act moves forward and we can only wonder how David Lowery will wrap this story up and how do you end something as random as the scenes he has linked together. This question will lead the audience straight to the final act which unfolds what can only be described as a masterful story writing that somehow does lead this story to giving us a lot of the answers that we’ve been wondering with the bits and pieces.

A Ghost Story is not the conventional way to make a movie. In the final Q&A session of this movie, its apparent that this project turned out as he would like. The slow pace, the sound design and the voiceless and nameless man under the bedsheet all serves its purposes. However, this is an incredibly experimental piece that is definitely not for everyone. Its for those with incredible patience, especially when this movie requires a few minutes watching someone eat pie, as well as attaching to a bedsheet ghost, that will oddly seem to start feeling like they are emoting by just standing there and the camera angles.

For what this movie accomplished, it is one that gets better the more you think about it. It is also one that best seen with as little knowledge as possible. The best movies create discussion and it certainly feels like this one will have that kind of impact.

TV Binge: Refresh Man (2016)

Man, its been a month since our last TV Binge. I can assure you that I’ve been watching a ton of TV series and just having a lot of fun in general. TV Binge posts are fun but sometimes its hard to share a lot of it. The reason why this one took so long is really on post scheduling issues since there’s been a ton of other things to get in and I don’t want to just be writing about movies or TV every single day. I’ve already expressed myself about this issue before and that hasn’t changed. However, I never give up a chance to talk about Taiwanese TV series, because no matter how generic they are, there are some that just are absolutely incredible and 2016’s Refresh Man is. In fact, I said it already before also in another post but I’m currently slowly watching it a second time. That’s how much I love it.

Refresh Man (2016)

refresh man

Cast: Aaron Yan, Joanne Tseng, Lene Lai, Yun-Ching Li, Roy Chang, Cherry Hsia, Jenny Chen-Ni Huang, Sara Yu, J.R. Chien

In high school Zhong Yu Tang was the overachiever with a bright future ahead of her while Ji Wen Kai was the underachiever. Ten years later the tables have turned when he becomes the new CEO of the cosmetic company Yu Tang works for. – IMDB

It is a little sad that Taiwanese television dramas have not caught on as much as other foreign shows like Korean dramas for example. I’m personally a huge fan of Taiwanese series because they are a little formulaic at times but they also have a lot of creativity and the best ones create a good balance between romance, drama and comedy. Its a shame that I’ve fallen out of it for a while but at the same time, coming back to it these past two years have really opened up my eyes to how well the shows are. There is still a big issue with the industry and one of the actors here have brought it up but I’m going to avoid diving into that issue but focusing on how great this show is because of its colorful cast, well-timed comedic moments and general fun moments.

Refresh man

What I love about this series:

  • Wen-kai Ji (played by Aaron Yan): Aaron Yan is possibly my favorite part of this series. He is so expressive with his motions and reactions. His dialogue was done so well and his chemistry with Joanne Tseng who plays Yu-Tang Zhong is so awesome. Not to mention, he came back based on a promise that he’ll take care of her and the way he is doing that is by pushing her to be better.
  • Yu-Tang Zhong (played by Joanne Tseng): Its hard to find series that I like both of the couples equally as much and in this case, Joanne Tseng does a stellar job. She captures a very innocent girl who is really very smart but has fallen into a comfort zone as an executive secretary. When she is suddenly pulled out of her comfort zone, she accepts her challenge and you see her grow, being stronger and more courageous and eventually become a fantastic woman. What makes her so endearing is her lack of knowledge to her feelings and what people around her feel for her (aka Wen-kai Ji and the other male character, Zi-yu Wang).
  • Sales Team 3: The team that Yu-Tang ends up doing sales is the most rag-tag team of unmotivated individuals. In many ways, they all are the “refresh man” concept here that needs a fresh start and the extra push. They are funny together and truly fun to watch grow as they all find their potential and let it grow as they realize that they can be more.
  • The Romance: I already mentioned the chemistry before but there is so much about the trials and tribulations between Yu-Tang and Wen-kai from their high school years to how they finally owned up to their romance. Its hilarious and crazy and yet so touching to watch. Its one that truly does make us love and ship them. One of the rare on-screen couples that I actually route for fully and completely because they are worth every moment of it. You can feel their pain and their love no matter before they find their balance to be together or after they finally get together and are forced apart. If you watch any of these drama series, you know that it isn’t a spoiler but an eventuality.

refresh man

Refresh Man is a great series, probably one of my absolute favorite. Its great to see that Netflix has acquired some good ones. This was a fun spontaneous discovery and I quickly binge watched it twice in a row. Joanne Tseng and Aaron Yan are awesome actors and they capture their role perfectly. The script is charming for the most part and still pretty predictable however, there are some spontaneous bits that will take you by surprise here and there. There is also some odd moments that make us wonder why it was done that way. However, whether you find it funny or entertaining or downright warm and fuzzy (or maybe a little in pain when things go wrong), Wen-kai and Joanne Tseng are characters that come to life who make us want them to win whatever challenge is in front of them. When they aren’t in the romance thing, which actually is in the background a lot more, Sales Team 3 will make you want to cheer for them to pick up their slack and succeed in their almost impossible task of selling a product that no one really cares for anymore.

Overall, a great show and one that deserves to have great appreciation. I’m glad to see that Aaron Yan has grown so much from the first series I saw him in till this one. Joanne Tseng also looks familiar and yet I can’t place where I’ve seen her before but she is fantastic and I’m going to look for more of her series. If you do like Taiwanese series, this is one to check out.

Valentine’s Marathon: Romeo & Juliet (2013)

Next up in the Valentine’s Marathon is a tale really as old as time and probably one of the first Shakespeare plays I had to read in school but super renowned and adapted a ton of times and that is Romeo & Juliet. This version is the 2013 one with Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth.

Let’s check it out!

Romeo & Juliet (2013)

Romeo and Juliet 2013

Director: Carlo Carlei

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Kodi Smit-Mcphee, Ed Westwick, Christian Cooke

Romeo and Juliet secretly wed despite the sworn contempt their families hold for each other. It is not long, however, before a chain of fateful events changes the lives of both families forever.-IMDB

 Its always hard to review Romeo and Juliet adaptations. We all know how the story will go and the tragic fate of these lovers. It becomes even harder each time to feel moved by the characters and the story somehow because of that familiarity. I’m not sure if this is the most recent movie adaptation but I think so with these young stars playing the popular roles. In reality, it feels like quite the task and one that I’d eventually like to do to talk about the play and all adaptations (or as many as I have access to). Maybe I’ll give that a go one day. However, we’re here to look at this adaptation and to be fair, it was fine. There were some familiar faces, some good performances, the set was pretty decent and so were the costumes. I’m not a Shakespeare extreme connoisseur so I don’t know the play front and back. It been a long time since I’ve read it but from what I remember, its seems pretty close (if not the same) in dialogue.  However, something seems missing which I can’t quite pinpoint so maybe as I write this out, I’ll figure it out.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet are played respectively by Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld.  I haven’t seen a lot of Hailee Steinfeld but I have seen Douglas Booth in few of his previous roles, probably the one I remember most is LOL and Jupiter Ascending (review HERE). To step into Romeo and Juliet is a big task (like I mentioned before), there was to be passion and believability in their roles. Perhaps one of the things I didn’t quite feel was their connection. Sure, they were passionate in their lines and I could see it working but when they were together, something just didn’t click. Although, I feel that it progressed a little fast also. I get that its supposed to be a few days of events like most Romeo and Juliet movies are set in but it took two seconds to jump to seeing each other, dancing and then going to to the back and kissing. I never felt like other Romeo and Juliet movies progressed the love arc that fast for them and maybe its why those movies had a more impactful performance. Oh, and I actually did like Hailee Steinfeld’s performance. I feel that she has potential to do more and that’s where I think I probably should check out The Edge of Seventeen from last year.

Romeo and Juliet 2013

Talking about the Montague boys now, we’ve already discussed Romeo as the lover boy but possibly a great bromance trio goes to these guys who felt naturally good together. Somehow they worked well in showing their different personalities of Mercutio, Romeo and Benvolio. It was easy to believe that they all held different views of the rivalry between the Montague and the Capulets but also that they each also had different values. Mercutio is played by Christian Cooke, who is a familiar face and I liked him in the role. However, I love Kodi Smit-McPhee ever since I saw him in Let Me In (review HERE). This guy has some really great acting chops. He did a great job at Benvolio even if it was just a supporting role.

Romeo and Juliet 2013

The Capulets are much more individual but also has a lot more screen time. We have Tybalt, played by Ed Westwick who is incredibly known to me as Chuck Bass in Gossip Girl and I loved his character there. Ed Westwick does have some good acting and in the right roles, he can do quite a bit. As Tybalt, he really just does the cocky guy with a ton of anger issues who has incredible hate for Montagues who can barely keep his actions in control. Plus, he does a whole lot of odd grunting angry voices and always has a grimace, which I get is in character but something about his character felt a little overacted perhaps. I can’t say that its his best performance in my book. The other part of the Capulets is Damien Lewis as Lord Capulet. I honestly haven’t had much contact with Damien Lewis but he seems like a really powerful actor because Lord Capulet’s role really carried especially when he was having the whole scene with Juliet and making his point clear of her marrying Count Paris. That was a fantastic scene.

Overall, Romeo and Juliet in this 2013 adaptation was okay. It probably won’t be memorable but its not horrible either. The pacing of the script could probably use some work to help make us care more about Romeo and Juliet especially when everyone already knows how this all works out and pretty much knows what to expect. There are some decent performances that I haven’t even mentioned other than Hailee Steinfeld, Damien Lewis and Kodi Smit-McPhee but also we have Paul Giamatti who plays as the Friar and as always, he does a nice job in the supporting role. Its hard to not compare Romeo and Juliet adaptations to each other especially since there’s already been so many but here’s my shot at it.

Have you seen this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet? Which adaptation is your favorite?

Netflix A-Z: The Spectacular Now (2013)

We’re at the S selection for Netflix! Movie reviews craze going on over here, right? I’ve been wanting to watch The Spectacular Now since this movie released back in 2013 but somehow never got around to it. It could be that last year, I took a long drama movie break. There was a few indie S selections that I wanted to watch but The Spectacular Now was one I didn’t want to wait anymore.

Let’s check it out!

The Spectacular Now (2013)

The Spectacular Now

Director: James Ponsoldt

Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson, Mary  Elizabeth Winstead

A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.” – IMDB

 The first thing to really catch my eye watching The Spectacular Now at this moment is the brilliant cast they have here. I haven’t really seen a ton of Miles Teller so I don’t have much to compare him to (yes, I haven’t seen Whiplash yet) and I’ve only seen Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars and I wasn’t a fan of that one. Nothing to do with her, just the story was my issue. Aside from our main characters played by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, there is a supporting roles by Brie Larson (who went on to play her fantastic role in Room), Jennifer Jason Leigh (who I saw in The Hateful Eight) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (in  this year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane) for starters. The Spectacular Now is a coming of age story that delivers something a little different. Sutter is our main guy here and in many ways, I feel like it wasn’t even meeting Aimee that changed him but just that Aimee was the girl that gave him a different perspective on the future and growing up. The power of youth and relationships, right? In all reality, Sutter is afraid of growing up and its why he doesn’t embrace his the concept of living for the future but rather for the now moment. There’s a really honest and relatable coming of age story in between the charming romance drama going on here.

The Spectacular Now

I have a feeling a ton of people are going to be disappointed when I say this. Miles Teller is an odd choice as Sutter. Maybe its because this movie is meant to be odd but I’ve never been able to see Miles Teller as a very good actor. Maybe its the lack of movies that I’ve seen of his. It took me a while to really connect with Sutter’s character but in a rather unexpected and subtle way, he did grow on me, especially because we could see the script giving him and Aimee a very cute young love growth in a way that they influenced each other and gave each other courage to do the things they were previously afraid to face.

With that said, I liked Shailene Woodley a lot. As the nice girl, she portrayed it on point. It was believable in her most innocent ways. She truly loved Sutter and saw the good in him even when sometimes, he wasn’t all that great. The fascination of a relationship is finding the balance of having something in common but enough not to learn something new from each other and Sutter and Aimee had that. Their relationship was a highlight of this coming of age story even if I don’t believe it would be what really changed Sutter because the powerful scene with him and his mother played by Jennifer Jason Leigh was the one that stole the show.

The Spectacular Now

Other than the wonderfully sweet moments between Aimee and Sutter crafted beautifully, the drama truly comes in in a strong scene when Sutter finally meets his father again. It proves that the innocent memory he had for his father was actually very much an illusion. He starts noticing all the bad his father truly is even when he tries to brush it away and in many ways, can see the hints of him really starting to see how ignorant his father is and how he somewhat sees the disappointing similarities and how he could potentially be a lot of bad. It shows a little of the nature vs. nurture influence right there in my opinion.

The Spectacular Now

 Overall, The Spectacular Now is a really good coming of age story. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are great as Sutter and Aimee. The character development for both of the characters carry a lot more than just romance but also what growing up is about. Other than romantic themes, it also has a strong family relationship concept here. The Spectacular Now tells a great story with a compelling message. While I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of the way they ended it because a ton of movies are doing that also, the journey of Sutter and his coming of age story is an intriguing one to say the least.

Have you seen The Spectacular Now? What coming of age movies do you like?