Double Feature: Dude (2018) & Every Day (2018)

Dude (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Olivia Milch

Cast: Lucy Hale, Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Brooke Smith, Jerry MacKinnon, Satya Bhabha

A group of teenage girlfriends deal with their impending graduation from high school. – IMDB

Dealing with high school seems like a central focus of coming of age stories as the next step in life triggers change and insecurities. Dude focuses strongly on its group of four girl friends as they face loss right before their final year. As they each have their own worries, they all individually make their own decisions even if it isn’t always in agreement with their group. Between getting ready for graduation, getting high together and planning out their next step for college, their last 2 weeks before graduation is one filled with both comedic and dramatic moments.

Girl friends stories are always quite endearing to watch. These four friends each have their own unique personality. Two of the girls are specifically focused with Lucy Hale’s Lily and Kathryn Prescott’s Chloe who share the same loss at the beginning which makes each of them cope in their different ways. The film does a good job at building their friendship where they go to events/parties/school together but gradually all have their own experiences which change each of them, giving them their individuality as well. Lily has her encounters which takes her aback while Chloe chooses to pivot her plans to be closer to home. All these things highlighting the process of moving on to the stage and accepting change and separation. In comparison, Alexandra Shipp’s Amelia and Awkwafina’s Rebecca both have rather one goal oriented, giving them a much simpler role but still they add some fun scenes.

Overall, Dude is a fairly basic coming of age teen comedy/drama. The issues they face are fairly relevant and believable and the characters are decent. If anything, the characters do make the film rather enjoyable. Plus, you even get to enjoy a verse or two from Awkwafina rapping. The writers remember that the film is about teenagers so there is a good balance between drama and fun.

Every Day (2018)

Director: Michael Sucsy

Cast: Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Debby Ryan, Jeni Ross, Owen Teague, Lucas Jade Zumann, Katie Douglas, Jacob Batalon, Sean Jones, Nicole Law, Maria Bello

A shy teenager falls for a spirit who wakes up in the body of a different person every morning. – IMDB

Adapted from the young adult novel of the same name by David Levithan, Every Day stands out from its unique premise where a person “A” migrates through different bodies everyday of the same age. Despite this, they still find a girl Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) who is willing to love them for who they are, putting aside gender and appearances. The story itself feels relevant to today more than anything and tells a story about acceptance and love.

Every Day builds on this premise. The film’s focus in love and acceptance is due to this person’s personality or soul and their connection. Another side of this premise highlights all the different person exist within one community from homeschoolers to extremely religious student. While the story itself seems a little ahead of times for teenagers especially talking about romance in connections and such, the message here is pretty good. The whole body migrating mostly remain a mystery as they never quite figure out what it is however, there seems to be some control as they soon discover which also brings up the question of how unfair it is to take over someone’s life and make them lose out. The whole mystery of the situation also does lead to some unclear moments where A embodies the person but still manages to have their skills. Something that isn’t explored quite enough perhaps but then this is a teen romance drama and not some sci-fi or fantasy film.

The film itself works pretty well as the young cast delivers some good performances. The main constant being the female lead played by Angourie Rice as she faces this person and starts to accept him. Angourie Rice does a great job with the role at hand especially when faced with this odd person who morphs everyday. The conflict, the acceptance, the heartache is all well developed and portrayed by her. The cast which A migrates includes a handful of characters which have more screen time with Justice Smith, Owen Teague, and Lucas Jade Zumann. To be fair, the film itself does a decent job but while I haven’t read the source material, the premise itself has a lot to do with the intrigue. The execution is fairly well where credit is due but there are still parts that feel a tad disjointed.

Double Feature: Booksmart (2019) & Carrie Pilby (2016)

Booksmart (2019)

Director: Olivia Wilde

Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Victoria Ruesga, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Billie Lourd, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga

On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night. – IMDB

Olivia Wilde’s debut directorial feature film is a raunchy teen party film. Booksmart is a pretty fun little high school graduation romp that circles around two girls who have given up their social life for the duration of high school to excel in her studies to realize on the day before graduation that their dedication to the books was in vain as other students who also had fun also got into great Ivy League schools.

One night adventures are something that are quite the fun ride most of the time like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Booksmart actually works in a similar structure as the two best friends try to hunt down the biggest party that they should be at before their high school life is over but ends up in many other places and meeting some strange people along the way. The fun in all of it is that they soon realize that their classmates are more than meets the eye whether it is quirky or different, they all have their own passions and don’t quite have everything as together as they make it seem. Perhaps they don’t quite see it until the end, but a lot of the assumptions they make are eventually overturned throughout the night one by one as they get caught up in different scenarios.

Booksmart is very focused on its two young leading actresses, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein playing Amy and Molly respectively. These two bring their characters to life really well. The two both reveal some glaring differences that make them opposites which all comes crashing down as their own issues surface however, these two do have something great that defines their friendship in a positive way in that they have their own structure as friends and their own rules and words and the essence of their friendship is further encouraging as the two take every moment to lift each other up. The best is when they get changed into whatever outfit and they give each other endless oddly structured compliments which adds humor but is very endearing as well. All great friendships do have those little things and its what makes their feel genuine.

If there was something to nitpick about the film, it has to be that some scenes are taken a little overboard mostly in comedy which makes it sometimes a little unbearable and perhaps could turn some people away as it does come on a little strong. Its not too frequent but the quirkiness and oddities could sometimes feel that way. One of the bigger examples could be Billie Lourd’s character which pops up everywhere. Most of the time, she is very funny and her character does come together by the end when her underlying characteristics are further defined as they know the other people. There really isn’t a whole lot to criticize for this film. Booksmart has a lot of elements that work really well for a teen coming of age comedy about best friends. Its just a lot of fun.

Carrie Pilby (2016)

Director: Susan Johnson

Cast: Bel Powley, Nathan Lane, William Moseley, Desmin Borges, Vanessa Bayer, Colin O’Donoghue, Jason Ritter, Gabriel Byrne

A person of high intelligence struggles to make sense of the world as it relates to morality, relationships, sex, and leaving her apartment. – IMDB

Based on the novel of the same name by Caren Lissner, Susan Johnson’s full length feature directorial debut was for Carrie Pilby which centers around a young girl with high intelligence and realizes that outside of her books and routine, there really isn’t much else. In terms of human relationships, she lacks the ability to find her place, losing out on the social life that she should have at her age. When her therapist makes a list that she needs to complete, her life slowly starts to form together as the emotions with the people she meets brings back a past event that overshadows her in a certain way.

Carrie Pilby is a rather interesting film. The film has some great characters and it focuses a lot on the whole socialization of a the character as she enters the adult world ahead of her time, missing out on the experiences that could craft those skills. Instead her life is filled with books. Honestly, I don’t really see the issues with it being a reader and all, right? However, for her, its a much deeper issue that her therapist is addressing linking back to her family and her past. While not exactly a fish out of water sort of story, Carrie is an odd character and her interactions do turn out to be a little comedic when she easily overthinks a situation or misunderstands certain scenarios or simply making some bad judgment calls. However, it all dials down to her character development being set in a rather emotionless world to protect herself and these tasks help her take down her walls gradually and let those emotions back in. The execution of that element is done very well and Bel Powley does a great job portraying the character.

While Carrie’s character is done pretty well, the other characters do leave a little to be desired as they are designed fairly thin. The other more prominent character does go to her therapist played by Nathan Lane who does a rather decent job to achieve the means. The other characters are just scattered people from dates to neighbors to her father who really just help push her to learn more and see more about other people in the world to see what humanity is and embracing the imperfections of the world. It captures the essence of coming of age pretty well overall.

TV Binge: I Know What You Did Last Summer (Season 1, 2021)

I Know What You Did Last Summer (Season 1, 2021)

Cast: Madison Iseman, Brianne Tju, Ezekiel Goodman, Bill Heck, Ashley Moore, Fiona Rene, Cassie Beck, Brooke Bloom, Sonya Balmores, Danielle Delaunay, Sebastian Amoruso

In a town full of secrets, a group of teenagers are stalked by a mysterious killer a year after a fatal accident on their graduation night. – IMDB

I Know What You Did Last Summer is a 2021 modernized TV series adaptation of the novel of the same name and the 1997 film with only retains the general premise. I have always felt that slashers do have a market in creating longer forms for these stories whether its the previous attempt with Scream TV series (review) or this one since it gives so much more room to flesh out the story and characters and create a bigger mystery to cast suspicions. However, as both Scream and this series has proven, somehow they aren’t quite the crowd pleaser. Perhaps its the comparison to its predecessors or that a bunch of fresh faced teens as the main teens aren’t quite as appealing to watch with their new lingo and modern technology making the target audience not exactly aimed correctly. Whatever it is, it seems like a fate they haven’t been able to escape albeit myself finding both the previously mentioned or this one are still decently enjoyable despite there being obvious plot holes.

Looking at the story of I Know What You Did Last Summer, the essence of the premise is there. Grad night and an accident happen that gets hidden, a year later, they start getting hunted down along with other members of their community. The elements are all there and this remake brings things to today’s world: the social media, the lingo, etc. The story does pace fairly well throughout the season. It sets up the plot and uses the pieces of grad night to craft these characters one by one to not only complete the past and in turn, building up their present intentions or actions. The execution on that level is well done. The killings for the main group of teens is also spaced out fairly well with some creative death scenes to say the least while also directing suspicions from one character to the next reasonably. The best element of this TV series is that its self- contained. One season, a resolution and most answers addressed: its rare thing to have these days.

Looking at the young cast, I Know What You Did Last Summer is still pretty decent. Leading the show is the central characters, twins Lennon and Alison as they appear in flashback and present day, played by Madison Iseman, a young actress that I discovered with an indie film that I love, Riot Girls (review). She does a fantastic job as her character spirals throughout the film and creates some mind-boggling character development moments. Playing alongside her is Brianna Tju as Margot, a girl that has a little thing for Lennon but keeps getting rejected and has her own set of issues whenever she seems to lose control of her life as well as Dylan played by Ezekiel Goodman, who is the center of a lot of grad night’s feud between the twins and has the most resistance towards the whole accident being covered up. Much like them, there’s another girl who is best friends with Dylan and also deals drugs as her side business to earn some money, Riley (Ashley Moore). Complimenting the younger cast are the parent characters, the two prominent ones being Lennon and Alison’s dad (Bill Heck) who seems very knowledgable about covering their tracks about their little secret while his not-so-secret special fling with the police sheriff (Fiona Rene) who no doubt is a focus considering she is investigating all these deaths hitting their small town.

Overall, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a remake. It literally only uses the skeleton of the premise and builds from there. The film is set in sunny Hawaii which makes for some nice scenery. The cast itself is fairly decent for this type of teen series fare. While the plot itself has its fair share of head-scratching developments aka plot holes, it still fairly enjoyable to watch. I’m not sure anyone heading into these teen series are expecting some revelation or revolutionary profound watch so there’s no point in trying to make it what it isn’t. However, the show does have its fair share of tackling different personal issues that a lot of these shows normally would have and does it in a decent way. Slasher genre in general aren’t really supposed to taken that seriously since its just a fun time. Putting aside the comparisons, the show itself is pretty fun with decent moments of mystery and suspicion, building tension and a nice little wrap-up for the season-long mystery.

As a final thought in general, these teen slasher TV genre really seems to be struggling. It definitely makes me wonder why that’s the case. Teen series aim for a younger crowd so the original shows should bank on this better, perhaps Scream Queens being a nice example since it did make it to 2 seasons where other adapted or remade series might have its bigger issues as older audience than teens might want to venture into it since those would be compared to their source materials or film adaptation predecessors. Not sure there’s any conclusion to this thought but its been something that I’ve thought about whenever thinking about these series.

Double Feature: 6 Years (2015) & All The Bright Places (2020)

6 Years (2015)

Director (and writer): Hannah Fidell

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler- Nicholson, Molly McMichael, Alysia Lucas

A young couple, bound by a seemingly ideal love, begin to unravel as unexpected opportunities spin them down a volatile and violent path and threaten the future they had always imagined. – IMDB

6 Years is a familiar story about young romance. One that talks about about a lengthy young romance that’s been around for years with plans of their future that suddenly get shifted when their future plans take on the unexpected changes because of new opportunities. Do they continue or do they end it? That is the main question these movies take its audience on.

Front and center for this film is Mel and Dan who start the film off in a hot and heavy sex scene. Its a unique way to start it as it does show off their intimacy together. However, the film actually sets them apart a lot of the times to interact with their new circle of friends or their work environment as they start stepping into the young adult path into their new career paths. Mel’s friends are still about getting drunk and immature about their decisions, giving a glimpse of the younger age and the people she hangs out with that also makes for some bad decision-making. However, Dan is different. He feels more settled and grounded and just waiting for his turn to grow in his career and making the connections he needs by associating with work friends. As the film puts them in their own social environment and not so much involved in each other’s social environment, the insecurity also sets in, especially for Mel who starts to react both emotionally and aggressively. The film doesn’t take it too far but the hints of the changes in the essence of their relationship is there.

With that said, the film is mostly about these two characters played by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. Each doing a rather decent job at handling their roles respectively as they spiral away. Perhaps, some of the issues is mostly with the script as some of the dialogue feels rather annoying, no matter the scenario of Mel with her friends or Dan with his friends in the social environment. No one in this film other than them seems to believe that a 6 year relationship at their age would work and with all that negative force, its hard to not have some doubt planted in it. But then, when you think deeper, this also does bring up the issues that have been hidden from the comfort of having each other in their lives.

6 Years is a pretty basic film and whether you connect to the story itself and the content will probably determine how much you enjoy it in the end. These characters have their certain level of depths. The film does lack a little progress in general and makes some strong scenes to instigate those changes. However, the dialogue sometimes does get a little grating and annoying in parts. It does feel rather real and raw in some cases where the doubt does feel reasonable because their plans were made with stability and belief that there won’t be any change to their current situation, which also shows their naivety to real life. That is what brings these character to life and what makes this film an interesting one in terms of the material but lacks a little in the execution of the material to make it completely engaging with the whole situation.

All The Bright Places (2020)

Director: Brett Haley

Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Kelli O’Hara, Lamar Johnson, Virginia Gardner, Felix Mallard, Sofia Hasmik, Keegan-Michael Key, Luke Wilson, Chris Grace

The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something. – IMDB

*Published in Friday Film Club HERE*

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven (review) who also co-writes the adapted screenplay, All The Bright Places tells the story of two teenagers, Violet and Finch who are both living unhappily for their own reasons. Violet is living with survivor guilt after her sister’s death which gives her a fear of cars and limits her to things that she finds are safe. Finch is a little more obscure as he is having consulting sessions at school with the counselor after an incident and is considered a freak by other students. When they work together on a project to wander the town, Finch takes Violet to a lot of adventures that slowly pulls her out of her sadness but slowly he retreats into his own darkness and struggles to get out from it. 

While its been a few years since I’ve read the novel itself, the adaptation does have some differences from the novel but does keep it in the important parts to make it the story effective. One of the key elements of the story is between the two main characters Violet and Finch and in turn their portrayal by the two main leads, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. These two young actor and actress do capture their roles really well especially since they each have their own struggles. Justice Smith having the more obscure and complex one which never truly gets addressed as to what he has but his struggles from past to present is constantly shown in little details on screen. However, the film is only about these moments but rather it spends much of the time with Finch helping Violet find her happiness and smile again to break free of her own guilt and in turn, their adventures while rather insignificant at the beginning, each has their own meaning.

All The Bright Places has a very strong source material to begin with and a rather surprising ending when Finch gets a much more dramatic turn of events in its set up in comparison to the film. However, the film does capture the essence of the story in general which focuses on the neglect, ignorance, unknowns as well as struggles with mental illness in general and how Finch’s character is trapped in something he doesn’t quite understand but no one seems to notice that he needs the help either.

All The Bright Places might look like a teen romance that can just be brushed over but while there is some romance between Finch and Violet, the story is much more meaningful and has a lot of depth for what its trying to portray. Plus, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith does deliver some solid performances to capture these two teens very well from start to finish to truly feel their mental transition in both Violet and Finch right down to a very touching speech with Violet recapping the lessons she learned from the whole experience with Finch.

TV Binge: Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever (Season 1, 2020)

Never Have I Ever

Creators: Lang Fisher & Mindy Kaling

Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Darren Barnet, Jaren Lewison, Poorna Jagannathan, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young, Richa Moorjani, Niecy Nash, Adam Shapiro

The complicated life of a modern-day first generation Indian American teenage girl, inspired by Mindy Kaling’s own childhood. – IMDB

While I haven’t been following Mindy Kaling’s career and probably only have seen one movie with her (Ocean’s Eight) and haven’t been exposed to her humor a lot, Never Have I Ever has a fun and unique script and layout. For one, a lot of shows that puts together cultural background with teenage coming of age do create a good effect. This show is no exception. When you look at the different elements of this teen coming of age comedy, there’s a lot to love.

For one, the script itself really brings these characters alive. Its not only Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who has her spotlight even if she is a major focal as this season focuses heavily on her desire to be different whether its acting out from a deeper issue stemmed from her father’s death. At the same time, her two best friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) have their own unique quirkiness that makes the three of them really fun to watch together. Much like the two boys, Paxton (Darren Barnet) and Ben (Jaren Lewison) which also have their differences that separate them significantly as they start stepping more into Devi’s life. However, the show is much more than that as the cultural elements come with majorly with Devi and her family which consists of her mother and her pretty older cousin. As she navigates through school, family, grief, friends and boys, her life is narrated charmingly by John McEnroe with a special episode narrated by Andy Samberg for an episode focused on Ben. A great part of the series charm and humor does come from these voice-over bits as they are a little sarcastic, judgmental and analytical of the whole situation.

The main plot of the story with Devi almost links to films like The Edge of Seventeen (review) where it focuses on a high school girl trying to pursue a school hot guy to lose her virginity where Devi is in the same situation where she tries to break out of her nerdy and invisible presence at school with her friends and try to start the school year after a year of being mysteriously handicapped as her body’s defense mechanism after her father’s death, making her having the wrong kind of spotlight. With that mind, the three set out to pursue the good-looking popular guys which gives revelations on multiple levels as Fabiola embraces her sexual orientation while Devi starts building affections that exceed that of pure appearances as she starts to know Paxton more but also getting to find the points that she can connect with her school competition Ben. Much like Paxton and Ben also have their own set of issues with their own lives. Each of these characters are full of personality as they start to revealing them bit by bit giving them a lot more substance.

What makes them more relatable is that they aren’t perfect especially when looking at Devi who makes some of the worst judgment calls. It all builds up from her sessions with her psychiatrist which highlights the unsolved issues she has as she still hasn’t completely coped with the loss of her father which also has its weight especially in the family segments particularly her conversations with her mother. The family segments giving a lot of weight as it brings in a more dramatic side which definitely hits Devi harder especially with her mother (Poorna Jagannathan) while with her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani), its more of an envious side as she believes that her beauty covers up how nerdy she is which is something that she doesn’t think that she has. Devi turns into a rather unlikeable character at one part and needs to slowly redeem herself and these moments are constructed really well much like the character’s development all progress consistently and does make sense.

In many ways, Never Have I Ever’s first season is a pretty fun season to build a foundation for the show. The characters are built up well and there’s a good sense of how the relationships and chemistry with everyone as they can easily develop further from where they end at this point. Running at 10 episodes, Never Have I Ever is absolutely binge-worthy as its both fun and comedic. It has a really strong script giving a lot of memorable characters. There are some very awkward moments but then it does feel normal for a bunch of awkward teens making questionable decisions. Plus, while its mostly about an Indian American teenage girl acting out and pissing everyone off (its literally the title of one of the episodes), the story has a lot of depth and meaningful moments as it also deals with family, grief and loss which definitely adds to the whole story.

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

The Kissing Booth 3 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Vince Marcello

Cast: Joey King, Jacob Elordi, Joel Courtney, Molly Ringwald, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings

It’s the summer before Elle Evans is set to head off to college, and she has a big decision to make. – IMDB

The final film of The Kissing Booth trilogy takes place the summer before college which pretty much picks up almost after the last film. With college decisions, friendship and love to balance out, Elle is stuck trying to please everyone but not exactly being able to achieve it especially when she has to accept her father also moving on and finding himself a girlfriend who seems to want to replace her mom. If you have seen my review of the first (review) and second (review) films, you will probably know that I am not a big fan of the films, in fact The Kissing Booth getting 2 more films after the first one was a pretty surprising development overall. Still, there’s always hope that it can get better since the second one was a tad better than the first. Who knows, right? With the mentality to finish up the trilogy and to keep on track with Netflix releases (since I’m not going to the theatres yet), here we go!

The Kissing Booth 3 feels pretty much exactly how I felt about the previous two. The story itself is pretty basic. The characters are not really too likeable and the dialogue itself feels a little forced. The chemistry is mostly not too great between Noah and Elle. It really feels like I’m being a bit harsh with the film but I’m not trying to. Its not all bad to be fair. Every single film has one highlight event and that usually lands pretty well. Much like the second movie’s dance competition preparation, this film was all about Lee and Elle’s summer bucket list. That part was a ton of fun as it really focused on their friendship and the fun ideas that they had, no matter ridiculous or silly that it would be. Those moments packed in some fun surprises overall.

These films really are at its worst when it focuses on the deeper feelings as it just doesn’t carry well. In fact, they become really frustrating to watch in general. I’m usually pretty easy to please in this department (considering I watch Asian dramas which are probably the most formulaic). However, Elle and Lee has this solid friendship that seems to easily break apart when life throws them curveballs and Elle doesn’t choose Lee in some situations, which on some level is understandable. Elle and Noah is just an annoying relationship as their chemistry isn’t too great and the arguments increase with each film over the same issues essentially. Its this vicious cycle that whether its one person being careless about the other or they are fighting for each other, it just feels like something is missing between them while they seem to pair up much better with their other friends.

With that said, the character development here is visible. For Elle, she’s a much more likable character as she is working hard to balance everything even if some moments still sees her being a little insensible as she’s overwhelmed but there are shining points of her that truly get shown here. Its the same for Noah and Lee individually. Perhaps the most heartwarming moments are the family ones especially the conversations between them and the parents. Molly Ringwald’s character as Mrs. Flynn is one that truly shines when she acts as a parent figure for Elle much like Elle and her dad’s conversations also are pretty heartfelt as well. However, I do want to mention that the character of Marco, played Taylor Zakhar Perez is pretty good even if his role here is even lesser than his previous one. He is a pretty good second male interest which is a likeable character overall.

Overall, The Kissing Booth 3 is one that I felt pretty indifferent. It delivers about the same feelings as the previous two films. Its not a complete loss but its really not my type of film. While some bits are fun to watch, it never adds to the story as a whole. It might be a script problem or an acting problem or just the cast and chemistry issue. Its hard to really say at this point. As a little spoiler (highlight to see if you have seen the film or don’t mind reading it) and a general thought about the ending: the best part of the film was breaking up the characters at the end and if the film had kept them broken up as the big finale, years down the road, it would have landed so much better. But then, it wouldn’t fit the film genre and turn into some romantic drama, I suppose. If you’ve liked the previous 2 films, you will probably like this one, if you didn’t, then its really up to you whether finishing the trilogy is worth it or not.

He’s All That (2021)

He’s All That (2021)

Director: Mark Waters

Cast: Addison Rae, Tanner Buchanan, Madison Pettis, Rachel Leigh Cook, Matthew Lillard, Peyton Meyer, Isabella Crovetti, Annie Jacob, Myra Molloy

A teenage girl sets out to give a nebbish classmate the ultimate high school makeover. An updated remake of the 1999 film, ‘She’s All That’. – IMDB

Its been 22 years since She’s All That, He’s All That is a remake which uses the same premise as its 1999 counterpart but with flipped female and male character roles set in our current social media modern world where the girl takes on a bet to makeover a guy instead of the original where the popular guy makes over a geeky girl because of a bet to turn her into the prom queen. It definitely feels like making movies where its the same premise, swapping roles or modernizing it feels really redundant. In fact, it shows a lack of creativity for something new. Sad to say that He’s All That is pretty much exactly that. Of course, that’s coming from myself who only did see She’s All That (review) about a decade ago for the first time for this blog in its early days well past my high school days when the film was released and probably would have been more impactful and just ended up falling a tad flat overall. So, He’s All That being released felt like it was banking on a lot of nostalgia which I also didn’t have. Of course, that’s all on a rather subjective level but looking at it on a more objective level as a standalone film, it also doesn’t hold up too well.

Teen romantic comedy films have had its hit and misses over the years. Much like romantic comedy films, its based a lot on the chemistry and the characters itself. Right off the bat, it feels like there’s a lot of very unnatural and lack of chemistry between the two leads, Addison Rae and Tanner Buchanan playing respectively, Padgett and Cameron. The two characters aren’t badly written as they do fit into the current social media landscape as it makes Padgett out as a middle class single mom family trying to pretend that she is part of an upper class family to fit into her school while also being a successful influencer which shares lifestyle tips and other advices where right off the bat, it all is a bit staged, making her life especially the popularity she built feels rather fake. There’s something really over the top with this character that its a little unbearable at times however the script that give her some more real moments when she interacts with Cameron, a photography-obsessed, against the current outcast of the school life with essentially one best friend who dreams for high school to end so that he can go travel the world. The two together is the typical opposite attracts sort of story. In reality, Cameron is a pretty decently written character and well acted for the most part individually. The moments where Cameron and Padgett just feels too rushed and disjointed to actually feel like these two have the chemistry together.

For the teen high school elements of the film, it does reflect it well enough especially when the current social media heavy world is a big part of it as Padgett’s life is upholding her influencer status. Of course, a part of it is her trying to keep it so that she can build up her college fund and help out her family which makes her character likable. How high school changed with the help of social media community is also well-portrayed. In some ways, it also reflects that whether in the past or the present, the high school dynamic doesn’t change too much. Obviously, I’m not in high school anymore so I’m not exactly the person to talk about how high school environment is right now but it does feel like other than bad news spreading even faster through the help of social media and technology advancement, its rather the same. But then, the high school dynamic is centered on the people in it: fake friends, betrayal, people trying to get prom king and queen, the shallowness of teenagers, exes and of course, the best people being the characters’ friends or sibling which adds positivity in the low times. The better moments of the film truly revolve around the other characters interaction rather than focusing on Cameron and Padgett as their storyline is just done to death over the many years of teen rom-coms.

Being a film that banks on nostalgia, they also bring in some characters played by the original cast. The most notable being Rachel Leigh Cook as Padgett’s mother and Matthew Lillard as the principal. These two characters are pretty decent supporting characters and probably add the most point to the film. Its not from a nostalgia element for myself but would for fans of She’s All That but they also have some fun characters. They add some color to this film overall even if they don’t have a big role overall. Much like there’s some fun makeover montage moments of trying out clothes with the crew that was pretty fun right down to a dance battle sequence during prom night that felt out of place but still okay.

Overall, He’s All That is a pretty forgettable experience. Its not quite as good as the first film. The acting is not particularly good. It lacks chemistry between the main leads. While its not a complete destruction, there’s a lot of issues with the script and dialogue (or maybe I’m just not in with the young crowd which is highly probably). Addison Rae is a huge part of the story as she is the main focal point and the film is from her point of view and yet she doesn’t seem to be able to hold up the film enough even if some of the other side characters are rather entertaining to watch. As a final note, movies likes this really feel like its unnecessary as the resources could be in making more original stories rather than just rehashing and that bothers more than the film not being good as I didn’t really have high expectations in the first place.

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Director: Leigh Janiak

Cast: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Ashley Zukerman, Maya Hawke, David W. Thompson

A circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. Welcome to Shadyside. – IMDB

Based on teenage book series by R.L. Stine, Fear Street is adapted as a film trilogy to be released over 3 weeks. The first one is set in the story in 1994 and oddly the trilogy goes backwards to part 2 in 1978 and part 2 in 1666. At first glance, it looks like a unique way to approach story telling and execution especially as its about diving into a lore looming over this town for centuries. While I do love Goosebumps, I have never read the source material or any of the Fear Street novels so this review is solely based on the film.

As the first film of a trilogy, 1994 sets the stage for the present scenario of how Shadyside is towards this evil presence and what brings it to life and whether it is possible to break out of the curse and how as the film follows the teens as they discover with a little trial and error. In the process it refers back to 1978 and 1666 which are the next two films in the trilogy, giving it both a link but also leaving anticipation for the mystery ahead. In some ways, it feels a little backwards and yet, it might work. Being a R.L. Stine adaptation though, it has a more horror comedy feeling to it and even for the killer itself feels almost like a parody or a homage. I’m not sure which its meant to be. With that said, the film isn’t too scary but has decent amount of blood considering it is a slasher film. The film score is full of 90s music which not only matches to the setting but also is a great fit for the different scenes.

The cinematography also deserves a mention. All the settings that the teens move through are great. The opening scene sets the tone and style of the film immediately using both the setting, the lighting and colors to create suspense and tension. The film moves through a good few locations from shopping mall to the school to outdoor areas. It moves rather quickly through its scene keeping it quick-paced and engaging.

However, Fear Street 1994 has some issues as well. Well, I guess one of the bigger problems might be the acting. There’s nothing wrong with the whole teen thing and in reality, playing teens gives a lot of forgiveness for saying weird and awkward stuff or even saying and doing things that don’t logically make sense. But, I do offer a lot of lenience personally on silly decisions in teen-focused films especially slasher.

Overall, Fear Street Part One is a decent start. If anything, it lays out the intrigue for the horror/mystery on hand, whatever you want to call it. However, for hardcore horror fans, I feel like the scary elements a little low but there is some gore. Plus, the setting and atmosphere is done really well along with the fantastic soundtrack, it really boosts the film up in enjoyability. As an ending thought, while I don’t have anything bad to say about it for the most part and I do look forward to the next part. I can’t help but feel like the film is a slightly forgettable in plot as it feels very familiar like a mesh of a few other popular things around (maybe that’s why it feels like a homage or parody either/or…I don’t watch enough parody to be able to tell).

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Director: Derek Tsang

Cast: Dongyu Zhou, Jackson Yee, Fang Yin, Ye Zhou, Yue Wu, Jue Huang, Yifan Zhang, Xinyi Zhang, Xuanming Gao, Xintong Xie

A bullied teenage girl forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of her final examinations. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea for Friday Film Club*

Perhaps one of the more surprising titles to be nominated in the best International feature category at the upcoming Oscars is 2019’s Chinese romantic crime film, Better Days. Better Days is based on a Chinese YA novel called In His Youth, In Her Beauty. Faced with difficulty to release due to censorship in China, Better Days focuses on school bullying while looking at the stressful and demanding environment of preparing for the National Exam which determines the future of a student and where they end up in university while also looking at the reality of family situations in China. It takes a snapshot of Chinese society, call it a social commentary if you will but the movie does end with a discussion of the progress that’s been made with the different ministry departments of creating laws to protect against school bullying. With that said, the movie rather lengthy running at 2 hours 15 minutes, which is structured fairly well as it starts off right away highlighting the school issue and building up those tensions while moving to a second act which is focused on the relationship between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei as he protects her in the shadows. A lot of their relationship is built through actions more than words which thanks to a good direction of director Derek Tsang makes it work. Making the third act one that tugs at heartstrings despite all that’s happening and question the morals of who is right and wrong as well as bringing up how much teens believe in the adults surrounding them and how much they can help.

Talking about the director, Derek Tsang brings in some interesting direction choices whether its how he uses the lighting or moving through a montage of how time passes or just how he chooses to use the cinematography and camera pans to structure the scene to create a great effect and capture what he wants and leaving some mystery, its done pretty well. Of course, the other surprise for most familiar with Chinese pop culture is seeing Jackson Yee do rather well in his role as Xiao Bei especially since he started out at a young age in a youth boy band TF Boys. Taking up this powerful role and delivering on a decent level and especially being able to act at the pace of Dongyu Zhou who is a much more seasoned actress with a lot of great and diverse roles under her belt, a few of them previously Friday Film Club picks, Us and Them and This Is Not What I Expected. Being the central role here, Chen Nian under Dongyu Zhou is done incredibly well. She is able to bring it to a good level of tension and connection especially with a character that doesn’t say a lot and the ability to play a high school senior while being in her mid-20s and making it believable to follow her devastating experience but still in all the bad still wanting to “protect the world” and points out how no one’s taught them about how to be an adult. The most touching line in the movie between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei when he says: “It’s a deal. You protect the world. I’ll protect you.”

Sure, Better Days has its issues especially for those not too familiar with Chinese films, it might bring in the elements of losing traction and shifting focus of the film and having some melodramatic moments as it loves to bring romance in any type of film. However, what Better Days does remind me a lot of is a 2004 Taiwanese series called The Outsiders (currently on Netflix if you want to check it out) which has a similar romantic arc. While it might not be for everyone, Better Days has its heart at the right place, shares an important topic of teen bullying in China and what has been done so far while also having a decent crime story to wrap up the whole thing. Definitely one to check out if you get a chance!

A Week Away (2021)

A Week Away (2021)

Director: Roman White

Cast: Kevin Quinn, Bailee Madison, Jahbril Cook, Kat Conner Sterling, Sherri Shepherd, David Koechner, Iain Tucker

Nowhere left to go, Will Hawkins finds himself at camp for the first time. His instinct is to run, but he finds a friend, a father figure and even a girl who awakens his heart. Most of all, he finally finds a home. – IMDB

It sure seems like Netflix has been getting in on the musicals sort of film and TV. Whether we talk about The Prom (review) or Julie and the Phantoms, its been releasing some decent ones. A Week Away is a Christian musical which sets its story a week away at church camp for a runaway guy who has landed in his latest foster home after stealing a police car and faces with possibly juvenile prison if it doesn’t pan out. As he finds more friends and a sense of belonging and guidance, he starts to reconnect with himself and with his faith.

Having not known beforehand that this is considered a Christian musical and not exactly the religious type myself, A Week Away actually was better than I expected as the addition of its religion and faith wasn’t pushing too hard and the story and music does blend into the scenario, making it feel more like a coming of age teen story very similar to High School Musical right down to the music. Plus, the story gets right down to the plot and kicking off both the camp and the characters with an musical number. The music and the choreography is pretty good overall. The story is a tad predictable and very basic and straightforwars but still acceptable.

Where A Week Away starts to have most of its issues are with the script and acting. While musicals do tend to have a level of overacting, the script here sometimes feels a tad choppy. It focuses a lot on the different activities at this camp and the different teams as well as the different friendships and relationships which is unfolding over the course of one week only. On one side, its fun because of the different activities but it sometimes feels like its missing some depth as well. The younger cast definitely is missing a little something in their roles where sometimes it seems to fit with their character and sometimes, its still not quite there.

Overall, A Week Away is an okay musical. There are some fun moments and the whole musical elements are done well enough however the story itself is a little lacking and familiar. The story itself falls into formulaic territory even though the story does have a heartwarming message in the end especially when it doesn’t push the religion and faith part too hard and actually does have a decent flow.

Despite all this, on a personal level, this worked probably better because it reminded myself of a summer when I did join church fellowship with my cousin when I was younger and that was pretty fun. It was able to bring the themes of friendships and sense of belonging alive which is something that I do like about the film.