An Ace of a Film

In a portrayal by Emma Stone, Billie Jean King answers her ringing telephone, only to hear the voice of a male tennis player and frequent gambler, Bobby Riggs.

Eureka, Billie Jean! It’s Bobby. Bobby Riggs. Listen, I have a great idea. Male chauvinist pig versus hairy legged feminist, no offence. You’re still a feminist, right?”

From that conversation, one of the most historically televised events in the nation bloomed, The Battle of the Sexes, an exhibition match between 1973 Women’s U.S. champion Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, a washed-up tennis player with a gambling addiction. While the film was primarily written for the purpose of creating a biopic about one of the most publicized discussions on gender equality of all time, each of the players were getting caught in a more personal game. “Battle of the Sexes” is an under-advertised film, but emits an overwhelming amount of emotion and fine craft from the production team.

I walked into the theater expecting a tennis movie, but walked out feeling as though the characters stole a small piece of me upon leaving the screen. Emma Stone’s acting style always takes the cake for her amazingly unapologetic portrayals of different characters, including her roles in films such as “La La Land” and “Birdman”.  Her success in this role was far from surprising. Steve Carell however, was the diamond in the rough. He’s known for being the awkward funny guy, most commonly known from his character Michael Scott on “The Office”. In ‘Battle of the Sexes’, he shines particularly because of his seriousness in playing a man who lost everything.

The incredible characterization of two real-life people, along with realistic cinematography that makes the viewer feel like it’s 1973 and a sub-plot of discovering one’s sexuality and powering through addiction make “Battle of the Sexes” worth your two hours. This is truly a biopic that even Billie Jean would be proud of.

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The Best Plot You’ve Never Heard Of

Based on Amazon’s previous track record with straight-to-streaming productions, I wasn’t expecting much from this seemingly out of the ordinary film, The Student; fortunately, the original storyline and character depth lead this one to exceed my personal expectations (and prove a previous Disney Channel star to be more than the companion to a talking dog).

The first (and only?) trailer for The Student gives away a solid majority of the plot; while this would typically disappoint, it allows the viewer to catch a glimpse of just how its unique premise stands out amongst other films in its genre.

All of us have seen (or at least heard of) the story of the boy/girl who sought to avenge their father’s/mother’s death. Well…here we go again. However, Vance Van Sickle chooses to avenge the death by working intensely to make sure the same thing that happened to his father doesn’t happen to anyone else. There is a lot of touching on mental illness, including a brief lesson on two types of medication; the subplots are slightly off-putting and unrealistic, but overall worth the watch. For a recap, here’s the IMDB version of the plot (spoilers included):

“After leading a jury to wrongly sentence a man, Abigail enters her new teaching job at the law school with a newfound commitment to ethics. When she takes over her new class, it includes Vincent, an intensely ambitious student who will do anything for an A. When Abigail fails him for academic dishonesty, Vincent threatens that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. As Vincent’s devious plot begins to unravel, she must take her life into her own hands, or Vincent will take it himself.”

In an hour and thirty minutes, we are accustomed to seeing poorly-made horror movies or a sequel to a once-great children’s film. However, we see an interesting turn in The Student, where we get at least a partial angle on all characters that lead viewers to see them in an entirely new light.

Let’s begin with the main character, Blake Michael, whose marketing strategies on social media are the central reason as to why this film was really brought to the public eye. Last time we saw Michael, he was the oldest, angsty teenager in the Disney Channel Original Show, Dog with a Blog. Let me tell you–what a change. At first glance, Blake may only be recognized by his Lemonade Mouth roots, but The Student shows his maturity in more ways than one. This darker and more mysterious acting style that Michael has debuted in his latest release has the potential to not only make him more appealing to the now-young adult generation of teens who followed his Disney days, but also adult thriller fans who typically wouldn’t give him a passing glance. Acting aside, the character is very well-rounded, including the allusion to behavior stemming from not only the death of his father but a lack of support from his remaining parental figures at home. His flirtatious ways have traveled between films, and Blake Michael’s performance throughout will make this $3.99 rental worth the extra change.

The second of our central characters is Abigail Grandacre, played by our favorite soap star (if that’s what you’re into), Alicia Leigh Willis. For those of us who have only seen her multiple marriages on General Hospital or her long-running stint on 7th Heaven, there wasn’t much of an expectation. While her filmography is extensive, it didn’t seem to be anything to write home about. In The Student, she blows away my expectation as not only a critic but as an advocate for mental illness. Her portrayal of someone who has PTSD is impressive, albeit a more in-depth discussion about what exactly Abigail’s illness entailed would have created a broader and more informative picture for the viewing audience. Her character development was spot on, especially with the screenwriter-made connection between Abby’s past and that of Vance’s father before his demise. Overall, the performance was impressive, and I look forward to seeing more than a soap scene falling into Willis’s filmography in the near future.

The film clearly deserves to be highly praised, yet there are certain elements of the film that fall short of the plot; for example, I genuinely wish the very beginning and ending scenes has simply never happened. In fact, they could be completely removed from the timeline and the movie would have been just as successful as it is currently. The film opens with a silhouetted figure (who viewers know immediately is Vance) watching over a professor as he dies in the campus hallway, assumingly after taking the wrong medication (also assuming Vance had some part in his death). The issue isn’t that the scene is poorly executed, it’s that it literally ruins the suspense of the entire movie. From that point on, there is no guessing who will snap, only why he did. As for the ending scene, it’s just cheesy in the worst way. There will never be a sufficiently effective ending to a film that is a reoccurrence of the beginning, and even includes a fourth wall break with Abby staring straight into the camera. Quite frankly, I hated it.

All in all, I urge you to please not judge a book (or movie) by its star’s adolescent past, and give The Student a shot for what it is–a thriller with a more original plot than most others. If that isn’t enough for you, I’m afraid you’re missing out on something special; maybe this one could even teach you a lesson.

Grade: B

 

Most Likely to Succeed

Out from the shadows appears a woman–one we have seen before, but this time, in a whole new light. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know about the lawsuit dilemma(s) between Kesha and her kind of current, mostly former music producer Dr. Luke. In case you call a rock your home, here’s a short recap:

In 2014, Kesha filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke after news surfaced that Dr. Luke had allegedly sexually assaulted Kesha, with and without her consent–this lawsuit came about just months after fan-made petitions to drop her from RCA Records due to belief that Dr. Luke was censoring music, including her album Warrior. Dr. Luke then counter-sued, claiming defamation against Luke by Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos. In 2015, Kesha stormed New York Fashion Week with a dress stating “You Will Never Own Me”, and ever since, Kesha’s struggle for freedom from RCA and Dr. Luke has been documented in the public eye.

Since this fiasco in the public eye, our beloved artist no longer has to succumb to the muse of her prior label, (Dr. Luke is no longer at Sony), and may now produce music as she pleases, without unneeded and unwanted censorship behind the songs that matter for her new album, the lyrics that mean something to her–out of this newfound freedom rises Kesha’s first post-lawsuit single from her upcoming album Rainbow, Praying. The song acts as a blow to her demons and an open door for her future, wherever it takes her–in and out of the spotlight.

As there is so much beauty to the meaning of the song, it is only fair that we save the  best for last and speak of the technicalities to the tune first.

In the past, the only music with the Kesha (previously Ke$ha) brand heard on the radio consisted of party tunes about drinking, sex, and glitter. Praying gives us a much-needed breath of fresh air, bringing us, as listeners, a new sound and empowering lyrics to anyone who pays attention. This sound is prominent in the vocals of the single; Kesha hits notes that no one knew possible, following suit to Ariana Grande’s earlier hits with a whistle note in the second half of the song. She has literally never sounded stronger as a vocalist, and I can’t wait to see what comes next after her initial two-single release.

As for length, Praying comes in at just short of four minutes, with a long, and sometimes overly repetitive, bridge and chorus that takes a majority of the song; meaning is important, but so is lyrical diversity, and it seems as though this single has fallen short on the latter.

Finally, price–the label and streaming services have, fortunately, made the ultimate decision to keep the album affordable–this presumably suffixes assumptions that the album will at least hit platinum status, as most comeback albums, or singles, do. On Amazon, the MP3 version of Rainbow is just $9.99 for preorder, and the physical copy is $11.78. For you vinyl lovers, however, you’ll be forking up a little over $20 for this one–but free shipping with Prime, right? Apple users will find that the single is $1.29, but if you are like the majority of Gen Z listeners, you’ll be using Spotify or Apple Music, which makes the album practically free for subscribers, with student pricing as low as $4.99 a month.

On the subject of hidden meaning for the song, you won’t find any. The song is straight forward in its empowerment for Kesha in her battle against depression, the struggle of being a woman in the spotlight, and foremost, Dr. Luke. Praying, albeit, is not a diss track–you will not find any name dropping or hints within the music video, and it was never intended to be that way. We are shown through lyrics and interpretation that the artist will now be focusing on what matters most–herself. This song is something to be proud of as a woman, an artist, and a victim who wants to be seen as more.

Lastly, I’d like to touch on the music video. Unfortunately, Kesha hasn’t dropped the cultural appropriation, specifically of Native American tribes, that she was known for during the Warrior era. This problem is one perpetuated by more artists than one, and as influential as Kesha is to a multitude of coexisting people, I wish that she would be the one to stop the trend, and realize that the practice is anything other than trendy.

If you’re interested in learning more about cultural appropriation and how Kesha is continuing to perpetuate the harmful practice, check out this article: http://culture.affinitymagazine.us/its-time-to-call-out-keshas-cultural-appropriation/

It is a seriously great and educational read.

Aside from the issue presented above, the music video for the single is visually stunning, and captivates watchers and listeners with settings that feel, as they should, free. It is crystal clear that the producers of the video took into account the original meaning of the song and created a visual journey through that meaning, specifically for Kesha; I include specifically not because we ought not appreciate it, but because we have to understand who the song is written for–it is not our place to take that away from the artist and create selfishness amongst the intended purpose. That said, the video creates a landscape that we all can appreciate, and we certainly do.

As expected from a new release after nearly half a decade, Praying has a few bumps in the road. As more of the album is brought into the light, I expect we will see an improved image, sound, and person in the Kesha we know and love. Here’s to praying for new beginnings.

Grade: A

 

 

 

‘Gorilla’ Warfare

With the release of War of the Planet of the Apes just behind us, it feels redundant to have yet another King Kong film appear in our Redbox distributors and movie rental stores so soon. However, throughout the two hours of Kong: Skull Island, you’ll be glad you picked it up.

For a film with such a large following, I feel as though I should air the dirty laundry of this one right off the bat. First, the costuming. Viewers have an opening scene circa-1930’s, where we see the ending of an air battle in World War II; this opener only includes two characters, plus Kong, so we don’t see any major time period issues in that moment. Fast forward through the timeline that immediately follows, and we are taken to a government building in 1973–but you wouldn’t have known without the date clearly shown on the screen. While the women are clearly dressed in bright patterns and bell bottoms, the men look like time travelers…from 2017. Tom Hiddleston, our main character, looks like an under-dressed James Bond meets Jurassic Park, and his look never changes. Unfortunately, this drew attention away from the time period, therefore creating a wrongful combination of time periods in the coming sequels to the film.

Next, it is only fair to evaluate the second most pressing problem with the film–its lack of gender diversity. Aside from hopeful extras in the background scenes early in the movie, the only woman that we come to know is Brie Larson’s character, Mason–an anti-war photographer. The personality that Mason has is impeccable; held to a high personal standard of sarcasm, rebellion, and compassion, you want her to be the center of attention among men with battle scars and a need to blood. Of course, just like most action movies released before DC’s Wonder Woman, our sole female character is practically one-dimensional–something we should have known by Larson’s near absence from all Skull Island marketing. Shocker. Throughout the duration, Larson has what feels like ten lines and one touching moment with Kong, but nothing to write home about. She finds a friendship in Tom Hiddleston rather than a romance, which was pleasing to see, but as a viewer and a reviewer, I am pleading with the screenwriter to provide more time on-screen for such an essential character to the film. One final note on this one: please stop allowing the military characters to mansplain war ideals to Mason.

“The world is bigger than this.” – Mason (Brie Larson)

‘”Bitch, please.” – Samuel L. Jackson

Y I K E S.

Let’s touch on those special effects next; at some points, they are so visually stimulating that they feel, for lack of a better word, fake. Recall the effects in Mad Max: Fury Road, which were beautiful to look at–so much so, in fact, that they were literally unreal. This is both a blessing and a curse for Skull Island; it is fascinating to watch, but it almost takes away from the appeal to the characters. There is one scene in particular that looks more like a painting than a movie scene, and it involves Tom Hiddleston and some extraterrestrial-looking, military-grade toxic gas. While the fan girl in me drooled a little, the reviewer was confused. With special effects that take away from the action, it almost feels like lack of confidence in film marketing. Filmmakers should not have to create marketing strategies within the movie to get by, and simple yet engaging effects will always be better. Less is more in action films. On a higher note, the movie monsters on the island and the stereotypical action elements (explosions, specifically) were beautifully done, and I was amazed by how realistic Kong looked, in and out of action-filled scenes.

Since the film’s characterization was about as basic as an island expedition action movie gets, I’m going to skip it entirely in this review and speak about something far more fascinating film connections, most of which were told to me throughout. For those of you who know of Heart of Darkness, or as most of us know it, Apocalypse Now, you’ll know that the author’s name is Joseph Conrad; in Skull Island, we find a nod to this author in Tom Hiddleston’s character, Captain James Conrad. Super rad. The most interesting piece of information that the film provides, however, is found at the end credits scene.

(Note to Legendary: If you want an end credits scene, make the credits fewer than ten minutes long. That was ridiculous.) 

In the end credit scene, we see James Conrad and Mason sitting in a room with those super cool interrogation mirror-windows, and they are later joined by their previous companion from the island expedition. This companion, Houston Brooks (whose actor counterpart is most commonly recognized as Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton), informs the pair of the other dangerous that lurk beyond the bounds of human existence, going as far as saying, “This world was never ours.” This scene teases a new Kong v. Godzilla film, which would be the third installment of Legendary’s MonsterVerse; this new world-building began with 2014’s Godzilla, and will be forced to compete in the future with Universal’s Dark Universe, which began with the 2017 film The Mummy, featuring our favorite scientologist, Tom Cruise. (I chose not to review the film, because I was utterly disappointed in its execution.)

As an early set-up for a new world to be build, I believe that Kong, for the most part, did its job. In future films, I hope the writers and director choose to create more storyline and dimension for characters that will become part of a long-running franchise; stop monkeying around, and please write for the audience, not the box office.

Grade: B

 

Honey, I Ate the Neighbors

Author’s Note: This is the first review in a series of Netflix reviews. You’ll find these under ‘Netflix’ in the categories tab–NOT TV shows.

I’m going to say what every reviewer is thinking–Drew Barrymore is no one’s favorite actress. She has a few cutesy blockbusters (see 50 First Dates and Never Been Kissed), but she isn’t a classic. Santa Clarita Diet, a Netflix original, nearly puts her back on the map…at least for now. Unlike Netflix’s other original, Girlboss, which premiered around the same time period, SCD will be back for another season (yay!).

The first, and only, season of the seemingly underground hit follows a boring, suburban family through their day-to-day life, before the head of household mother Sheila, portrayed by Barrymore, becomes part of the undead. Every episode is essentially a continuation of the family’s trials and tribulations towards finding a cure, and it is just as laughable as it is interesting.

While comedy does typically bring people together, I’m going to include a note here: DO NOT WATCH THIS WITH THE KIDS.

I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but this show is not appropriate for anyone under the age of at least sixteen, maturity dependent. The show contains adult language, situations, and more than anything, sexual content. So watch out, and use your best judgment before allowing this show to go on your family’s Netflix queue.

With that out of the way, character analysis is a big reason that this show is so enjoyable overall. Joel, Sheila’s husband, is surprisingly okay with Sheila’s condition, which is exactly what makes him a likable character. Rather than giving into comedy’s traditional “reasonable” character persona, Joel portrays devotion rather than insensitivity. His confusion and frantic personality make him entertaining to watch without becoming irritating, and most comedies fail to hold main characters to that standard (wait for it, this show struggles at times, too). This is Timothy Olyphant’s first role that actually matters, and he makes it work. This is one character that I am excited to see more of in the coming seasons.

For the first time in what feels like forever in the comedy television world, the supporting roles matter just as much in Clarita as the main roles do. The most important pair is the dream team, Sheila and Joel’s daughter Abby and the nerdy teenage neighbor, Eric.

Unfortunately, while important, both roles meet a stereotype that studios find necessary to meet the standard comedy agenda. Abby is the typical angst-y teen that hates school and wants to rebel against her parents; I’ll give the benefit of the doubt here, however, because towards the second half of the season, her compassion for her mother’s ‘condition’ begins to show. Skyler Gisondo portrays Eric, and if you recognize him, it’s because he plays the, once again, geeky son in the remake of Vacation. In SCD, he isn’t the most memorable character, but his awkward charm will leave you rooting for his and Abby’s first kiss. Even with their respective stereotypes, I fell for the characterization by both actors, and I will certainly be shipping Erbby (??) in the coming seasons.

I decided to leave our main character for last on this one, because Drew Barrymore makes being a zombie look like a walk in the park–in the best way. Stuck somewhere between sheer recklessness and a fear of harming the people she loves, Sheila does everything in her power to still be the greatest mother, and wife, that she can. Not only will her drive make you fall in love with her, but I had no idea that Barrymore was capable of such a sarcastic comedic style. While some scenes could be considered cheesy, Clarita isn’t a show built upon slapstick comedy, and Drew manages to enforce the mature sarcasm that the show thrives upon. Her characterization of the persona that does it all–parenting, working, being a zombie–is spot on, and I am certain that the show would be nothing without her charm, in and out of her home.

If you are a sucker for cinematography and setting, you may be disappointed with this one. The setting is its own stereotype, think Desperate Housewives suburban scope, and the cinematography isn’t anything to write home about. The true winners for this series are the creator and producer, Victor Fresco, who is also credited with producing the comedy My Name is Earl. If you enjoy good, comedic writing, this one is for you.

Santa Clarita Diet may never become one of the most popular Netflix originals, but you can bet that it will be one of the most humorous; while I wouldn’t call it one of the greats, I can safely say that this show is one worth taking a bite out of.

Grade: B+

 

Despicable…Maybe?

Do spoilers really matter on this one? Either way, you’ve been warned.

despicable, (adjective); 1. deserving to be despised

Walking into the dark theater for this one, I wasn’t expecting more than another Minion-ridden, animated sequel. While I was correct, I was also (pleasantly?) surprised with a little something for the whole family–but mostly, just for mom.

Let me set the scene for you: a washed-up child star turned super-villain steals the world’s largest diamond, with none other than the King of Pop’s “Bad” playing at the heist music in the background. A simple moonwalk was all it took for the moms in the theater to start cackling from nostalgia…and the kids to be confused. I believe that we are all too familiar with hidden adult humor within children’s movies today (see Rango), but Despicable didn’t even bother to keep it a secret in this installment. While this certainly makes the film a little less dreadful for the 40-something’s in the room, it doesn’t keep the focus of the audience that it is marketed to–kids, specifically those who were fans of the first two chapters in the (seemingly) never-ending movie series.

This review wouldn’t even be worth reading if I didn’t mention the Minions, would it? For lovers of the walking Twinkies, you’re in luck. The entire movie, as always, is marketed heavily upon them, even giving the group two full length musical numbers, one performed during a prison escape. Viewers are taught to be weary of them in the beginning, after a strike of Gru’s newfound good-guy attitude causes them to quit and leave their old life “for good”, but expectantly, doesn’t last long. In fact, in the ending scene, the Minions are reunited with Gru and his family, reassuring you that they will most definitely be making a film-length appearance in the next installment. The entire Minion spotlight feels incredibly unnecessary, considering the last movie was literally their own spinoff prequel for the franchise–a serious detriment to the third film. If you’re like me, I’m happy to tell you that there is plenty of other continuing storylines that you will be much more likely to appreciate throughout.

Take, for example, pure Agnes’s love for ~unicorns~. Not only do the children never seem to age in this timeline, but they also have the same passions that they’ve had since the very beginning of the franchise. This time around, the obsession becomes so extreme that she embarks on an adventure into the Crooked Forest on a quest to find a real-life unicorn, accompanied by none other than her sister Edith. A few movie hours and a one-horned goat later, and you’ll be feeling the love along with the characters. While remembrance is nice, especially for the biggest of fans, the truest standout moment of the film is watching Lucy, Gru’s newlywed wife, struggle with understanding what it takes to be the mother of three girls who don’t know her well, or trust her much at all. While this is, again, particularly relatable to the parents in the room, even kids will be rooting Lucy on in the scenes where this dilemma appears, and it even gives the film some depth.

As for how it adds up to the last two (or three, if you include the Twinkie prequel), don’t get your hopes too high. While, as stated above, the animated movie holds some of the original’s values, it is clear that marketing and the media have gotten to the source of this story, making it feel lackluster comparatively. Don’t underestimate the power of marketing, though; in just its first weekend at the box office, it has grossed roughly $18.4 million, hoping to catch up to its predecessor, which has become the sixth highest grossing animated movie in the box office (Rotten Tomatoes). The movie certainly won the weekend, but there seems to be no guarantee that it will win the affection of its young viewers.

Overall, I definitely wouldn’t say that this one lives up to its despicable name, but I also wouldn’t expect any kids I know to absolutely fall in love with it. Between the nostalgia of the 70’s and 80’s looming in the undertones of the main villainous character, and the ‘to be or not to be’ a mother secondary plotline, there’s no denying that this installment wasn’t written with the children, or the franchise’s target audience, entirely in mind. Sorry, Minions, but the parents win this one.

Grade: B-

Everything, Everything By the Books

There’s probably spoilers down below. Don’t take any chances.

Another late review, I know–make sure you check this out if you were planning on renting this one from the local Redbox (the DVD hits stores on August 17th).

I love cliches; so much so, in fact, that I am practically a walking cliche. However, Everything, Everything really takes the cake in this competition.

Book-to-movie adaptations typically have a very fine line between artistic changes from the pages and complete overhaul of story lines–the film in question, albeit, took absolutely no risks. I dig a good adaptation, don’t get me wrong–I read this novel before the film hit theaters, and to be honest, that may be why I don’t have the best things to say.

Everything, Everything–both the film and the novel– was marketed towards fans of John Green’s latest novel/film adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars, and justifiably so. Both stories have similar plots: boy meets girl, girl is sick, death scare, break-up, rekindling of romance, plot twist, the end. The true differences only lie in two places, being Augustus Waters’s death and the fact that Maddy isn’t actually sick. Called a ‘do-not-miss’ for John Green readers, the book gained incredible amounts of attention, spending over eight months on the New York Times Bestsellers List. While fans will find the nostalgia within the film itself entertaining, the rest of the movie is really a bust in terms of originality, and here’s why.

While the romance is the blockbuster issue within the film, the internal plot of “I’m sick and I can’t go outside otherwise I will die” remarkably resembles that of the 2001 B-movie Bubble Boy, a movie about a boy who goes outside to chase after the girl he loves when he realizes she is getting married. In fact…these films are exactly the same in their dynamic, and while Bubble Boy was not impressive in its acting, it was praised for its originality on the silver screen. Everything, Everything is wrong in the newer ‘adaptation’, simply because the storyline truly had nowhere to go. Why? The book had no more pages, and the screenwriter clearly wasn’t going to create their own.

After reading the novel, I had decently high expectations for the screenplay–there are several buried plotlines throughout the story that I believe should have seen the light of day, including her father’s past and the reasoning as to why she writes spoiler book reviews. The “could have” moments I have chosen aside, the far-too-direct book adaptation was boring for those who have read the novel, and predictable even for those who hadn’t. While sitting in the theater, murmurs were heard, such as “Her mom lied, didn’t she?” or “She isn’t even sick.”, and this was before the ‘big reveal’ was even mentioned. I’m sure that somewhere in the world, someone was shocked, but that person was not me, or anyone else at the 4:30 showing on that particular Saturday in The Village at Meridian.

There are many factors as to why I believed the film was such a flop; maybe there wasn’t enough notable romance quotes, or perhaps my expectations were too high before entering the theater, but I believe that while Everything, Everything was certainly by the books, it will not be one for the books.

Grade: C+

A Night Under the (Hollywood) Stars

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. (Just so you know.)

Don’t get me wrong; I know that I am about eight hundred months late to the La La Land party, and for that, I apologize. However, after watching the movie three times over the course of six days, I believe I am fully prepared to give you a thorough review on everything from character to costuming. *insert entrance music here*

Before I even go straight into the factors that made the movie great, I want to give a brief synopsis:

  1. Aspiring actress goes to several auditions, inevitably fails.
  2. Aspiring jazz musician plays jazz music in a club where Christmas (??) music is the only type of music that is allowed, is promptly fired.
  3. Actress and musician meet in traffic, actress flips off musician, beginning of love story.
  4. Lots of other plot lines happen, and by the end, actress has a successful audition and jazz musician opens a jazz club.

Let’s be honest: historically, movie musicals are well-hyped on social media but fail about 77% of the time when they hit mainstream theaters (made-up statistic, real-life results). Take, for example, Jem and the Holograms, the most recent flop. The film had such a horrid crash landing, in fact, that it was pulled from the public only one month after its initial release date. This nickel of a nostalgic “masterpiece” is a prime example of reasoning to NOT release a movie musical in this day in age. However, following in the footsteps of Rent, Chicago, and The Sound of Music, director Damien Chazelle takes a risk and hits the ground running.

Despite the failure of its predecessors, La La Land became, unarguably, the most successful film of the 2017 awards season, breaking the previously held Golden Globes record and meeting the record for most Academy Awards for a single film. Chazelle can credit these wins to an incredible score and a ridiculously likable cast–especially in the interviews. With chemistry (even friendly) on screen and off, we all knew even before the premiere that La La Land was going to be a film to watch out for. We were right. (Also, ICYMI, here’s the best interview, because Vanity Fair always does it right: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/09/la-la-land-ryan-gosling-emma-stone-damien-chazelle-interview).

The most redeeming factor of the entire film, however, is the remarkable ending. Sorry, you hopeless romantics out there–the leads do not live happily ever after, the end. In fact, our lovely aspiring-now-famous actress is married and has a child with another man, and only ever lays eyes upon our jazz club owner once she accidentally steps foot in his club, where a montage of their relationship plays with a smooth jazz score riding through the background. They smile at each other, and then the credits roll. Incredible.

Long story short, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling will steal your hearts, stomp on them, and the tears left over will ruin the makeup that you paid good money for. Even knowing this from experience, I still highly recommend a watch. Seriously.

Grade: A

An Album Divided

Unlike your typical algebraic equation, Divide doesn’t leave you wondering what the next step is to solve it. With a diverse tracklist and some killer controversy, Sheeran’s third album certainly won’t leave you adding up your emotions. Subtract the overplayed hits, and you’ll find that Divide is by far one of the most unique albums written by pop artists today, and even touches back on some of Sheeran’s most prominent contemporary folk roots. Compared to other albums targeting the same audience, Generation Z, this junior compilation is more compatible with the teenage lifestyle, while still harboring some more mature hits within its run time. That said, the songs hit a few potholes on the way to the “Castle on the Hill”, and a few are impossible to overlook. While the album as a whole certainly isn’t “Perfect”, chances are that you’ll find yourself wishing you were “Nancy Mulligan”, or maybe even Ed’s “Galway Girl”.
Maybe spoilers for musical compilations aren’t possible, but if Divide is up next on your listening queue, I recommend stopping here. The album is most effective when the first impression comes from a personal listening sesh, with some review reading after to confirm your thoughts. Consequently, it is most important to begin with what would be considered the album’s flops, most commonly referred to as “airing the dirty laundry”. The most confusing (and seemingly, out of place) track is most definitely “Bibia Be Ye Ye”. What seems to be Ed’s first attempt at a multicultural anthem, “Bibia” falls short of any real meaning and just feels like a generic feel-good tune with a single line in a language other than English. The concept of diversifying the album was clearly well-intentioned, but, unfortunately, the pieces of this puzzle didn’t quite add up. Next on the list is Track 13, better known as “Barcelona”. This song feels more like a commercial for a travel agency than a real, musical engagement, but Ed certainly doesn’t think so. If you’re looking for an upbeat vacation jingle, “Barcelona”’ has it in the bag; however, it falls short of the rest of the album. The last downfall of the equation is one with a faulty feel for an Irish jig–”Nancy Mulligan”. For the American release, this song would bring something new to the table, and the new material is that of a traditional Irish tune in a spotlight of American culture. While the idea sounds immensely appealing, the song ends up sounding like a soundtrack to a Disney Channel movie, very Luck of the Irish-esque. Overall, the appeal is less than intriguing for those teens who are used to idolizing Taylor Swift and paying to see 5 Seconds of Summer live in their hometowns. The Divide tracklist is sixteen songs long, so don’t turn away after recognizing that there are three flawed songs. The rest of the album feels like a journey of self-discovery, and Ed knows how not to disappoint, especially when it comes to the younger generation.
Ed cares about his fans’ bank accounts. I repeat: ED CARES ABOUT HIS FANS’ BANK ACCOUNTS. He doesn’t care enough to replenish them, but he certainly knows how to provide quality entertainment at a low price. As the two initial singles, “Castle on the Hill” and “Shape of You”, were released on digital download, it is only logical to evaluate those platforms first. On iTunes, where songs regularly cost $1.29 each, one can buy Ed Sheeran’s Divide for no more than just $12.99; on Google Play Music, the album is a cost-effective $12.49, and on Spotify and Apple Music (common streaming platforms), the cost of the album is included in the monthly subscription price. All in all, the price is right, and if one of your main voting points on the album is cost, you can tally up the score for Divide.
The diversity of the album is touched on a lot, mostly because listeners had an initial shocked reaction to the stray from Ed’s last two albums in Divide. Much like his previous genre-crossing tunes, songs like “Perfect” and “Dive” give us a hearty reminder of what a love song (or breakup song) should look like, and the straightforwardness of it all is exactly why this album has become so popular with Generation Z. Kids either seek music that relaxes them or music that they relate to. While mature themes are prominent in songs such as “Castle on the Hill”, most songs hold some aspect of youth that this generation clings onto as they listen from beginning to end. Nostalgia is an important factor of any media publication, but Divide takes the cake when it comes to appealing to several groups of people, all at once. While they aren’t exactly crowd favorites, “Barcelona” and “Nancy Mulligan” seem to bring some cultural flavors to the table, but this taste isn’t where the uniqueness of this compilation ends. “Eraser”, the first track, provides a full-length version of the aspect listeners are most interested to hear from Sheeran–his rapping. The song is an acquired taste at first, but the uplifting message and catchy beat will leave you wanting to make even more mistakes, if you know what I mean. Finally, but certainly not the least important aspect of the album, is the diversity of released singles from the album. Initially released hand-in-hand, “Castle on the Hill” and “Shape of You” hit the charts immediately. However, these two songs are immensely different, with “Castle” pulling on the heartstrings of looking back on childhood and feeling the realization of the place you are in, while “Shape of You” feels more like a catchy, romanticised-lyric version of Sia’s “Cheap Thrills”, which is its current lawsuit. Both singles have been important to the success of the album, yet they are so vastly different that they are almost incomparable. The current single, “Galway Girl”, is untraditional for what longtime fans would consider a Sheeran tune. While some aspects of the song are comparable to “Don’t” from the album Multiply, “Galway” seems to be an entirely new take on Ed’s musical career. Throughout the record, you’ll find the bumps in the road and the unexpectedness of where it takes you, but Divide will make you want to come along for the ride–all of it.
Ed Sheeran gives the impression that he knows what he’s doing through the release of Divide, and he knows exactly who his audience is. As an avid listener to heartbreak anthems and reminiscent melodies, Ed’s album is for me. Although he might be branching off from his traditional roots, he gives us the performance of a lifetime, just as he always has. Yes, there are a few missed connections, but after connecting the dots with the tracks that hit home, the chances are high that there will still be a picture worth seeing. All in all, it is time to clear up any confusion, and hope that Sheeran finishes this equation in the near future.