REVIEW: Boy Erased

The leaves have fallen, snowfall has commenced, and the best time of the year has finally arrived — the “sweet spot” for Oscar contenders. October through December have proven to be the most influential months to release the greatest Oscar-nominated films. With each year, it seems that more films are becoming more diverse and inclusive whether it be seen through its cast, its creative team, or its storyline. Since Moonlight’s monumental success in 2016, we’ve also seen Call Me by Your Name in 2017 and for 2018, it appears that the next biggest contender will be Boy Erased. Not only does Boy Erased put LGBTQ at the forefront, but it also attempts to address a challenging topic.


Boy Erased is a film based on Garrard Conley’s memoir. It tells the story of a teenage boy whose religious-bearing parents enroll him in a conversion therapy camp. Throughout the film, we see minimal glimpses of Jared Eamon’s past. In a rather typical nature, Jared portrays a generalized heterosexual lifestyle as a high schooler. He plays on the basketball team, has a cheerleader girlfriend, and is encouraged to spend time at his girlfriend’s house to avoid freezing up “when the time actually comes.” In a relatively understated scene, we get the first glimpse into Jared’s uncertainty and battle with his sexuality where he swiftly rejects his girlfriend’s sexual attempts and counters it with his religious morals.


During Jared’s college career, it is apparent of his crush on a peer who he frequently spends time with outside of class. However, this relationship led to a painful and terribly disturbing sexual assault scene. Following Jared’s assault, his assaulter, Henry, falsely claimed to be a school counselor as he called Jared’s mother to inform her of his “behavior.” When confronted of his sexuality by his parents, Jared initially declines then later returns to confess that he is indeed gay. In a firm tone, Jared’s father asks him if he wants to change, which Jared responds with compliance and the desire to change.


Marshall (Jared’s father), a Baptist minister, insists on enrolling Jared in a conversion therapy program. Upon his arrival at the camp, it seemed like he was arriving for a jail sentence. All of his belongings were taken, stored away in a cabinet, and informed that notebooks, phones, etc. would be monitored. In a typical motherly fashion, Nancy expressed some uncertainty and discomfort with dropping her son off. Jared initially accepts the principles of the “Love in Action” program conducted by former LIA participants. The program utilizes Christian principles to define their sexuality as a sin that they willingly chose to make. Through various activities, Jared quickly acknowledges that these exercises are nothing short of psychological and physical abuse.


Aside from the societal (and even political) significance of this film, it suffered most from its cinematic elements or lack thereof. The entire film was centered solely between Jared and his parents, Nancy and Marshall. They were presented as a wholesome, loving family. Throughout the film, it is evident that Jared has had a decent upbringing where he expresses his understanding of moral beliefs. Furthermore, it seems that his parents are presented as fairly innocent throughout — as in, they deeply love their son, but his “choice” is simply against their beliefs and is not to be accepted. My only caveat to this was in what I found to be the most powerful scene throughout the entire film. Following Jared’s dramatic exit from the camp, we watched a raw scene between Jared and his mother. Played by the skillful Nicole Kidman, the dialogue was extremely moving and emotional as she spoke with regret on sending him to the camp and explained her intuitions of a mother.


For this film to have tackled such a sensitive topic, it lacked the power of evoking emotion, especially where it had the most potential. Many scenes that felt important were presented in such a way that you knew they were intended to progress the story but did not punch the audience as it could have. Moreover, the film also failed to capitalize on its supporting characters. Since so much emphasis was placed on Jared and his parents, the purpose of other characters was confusing in retrospect. Consequently, when presented with extremely emotional instances from other characters, the audience could not empathize as much as we should have simply because the other characters weren’t given an adequate chance to be developed.


In conclusion, this film represented an important subject matter and was successful in that regard. However, its quality of filmmaking is what will hold this film back from being amongst the most competitive Oscar contenders that follow. Boy Erased is inevitably a heart-wrenching film to sit through but its relevant purpose should not be ignored.


REVIEW: The Hate U Give

Image result for the hate u give movie

The Hate U Give is a stunning film. I felt like I was at the edge of my seat throughout almost the entire movie, my heart ready to lurch forward and join the characters in their fight against injustice, tears welling in my eyes despite myself. In the aftermath of her friend Khalil’s being shot by a police officer, protagonist Starr Carter finds herself in a crucial position to help his case as a direct eye witness; the movie is her navigating her choices to speak up, to fight, and to help her friend and community after his death. The movie seamlessly juggles multiple plot points and themes simultaneously– from large-scale institutional racism, to microaggressions from her close white friends who sympathize with the police officer who shot Khalil; from Starr going to a private school and having a white boyfriend, to loving the black neighborhood in which she grew up; from Starr’s obsession with Jordans, to calling her parents her OTP. The movie shows us so many parts of the black experience in America– political, social, personal, cultural– it seems to maturely accomplish the exposition of so many issues while staying true to underlying the institutional injustice against black people in America. The Hate U Give is a beautiful, mature, and important movie, and I urge everyone to go see it.

The scene that still won’t leave my mind is the one in which Starr’s friend, Khalil, is killed. Starr and him are childhood friends and spent most of their days as kids together, playing Harry Potter, goofing around in the streets of their neighborhood, but they drifted apart as they got older. In the beginning of the movie, Starr and Khalil meet again at a party. They recount their childhood together. Khalil tells her what Tupac meant by THUG LIFE: “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody”– meaning that the unjust systems propagated through our institutions, politics, and social norms eventually repeats itself when it is manifested as hatred and anger in the youth. In the car, Khalil and Starr share a kiss, and for one blissful moment, everything feels good.

Then the police officer pulls Khalil over for what seems like no reason. The film does an incredible job of capturing the small, minute details that culminate to his shooting: the way Khalil refuses to turn down his music, the way the officer ungracefully attempts to regain control of the conversation, Starr silently pleading Khalil to do as the officer says, the officer’s nervousness around both Starr and Khalil, Khalil’s reaching into the car after being patted down to grab his hairbrush… The scene is so carefully constructed and all the moments lead up to another. I’m still running it over in my head, trying to find something that could have prevented it from happening. But that’s the thing– this is a tragedy that has not only happened once, it is not an isolated event– it is the tangible and repeated reality of African Americans in America today. This movie makes you realize that what conspired with Starr and Khalil is the culmination of years of institutional racism, and begs for action from its audience members.

The beautiful thing about this movie is that it engages with these sprawling problems of racism and police brutality while not losing sight of the humanity and individuality of its characters. It freely explores the nuances of Starr’s code-switching between her using slang in the “hood” that she lives in, but speaking “proper” when she’s at her private school. It shows a hilarious scene of Starr introducing her white boyfriend to her dad (he said, “Chris? What kind of plain-ass name is that?” I nearly spit out my drink). It shows a joyful party of young black people having a good time together. It shows how much Starr’s parents love each other. This movie is so full of joy and sorrow and, ultimately, hope that it resonates and hits a deep chord of exigency with its audience members.

The movie was based on the book of the same name by Angie Thomas, which I read in the summer before watching the movie. There were a few characters and events left out of the movie adaption for the sake of brevity, and some events added or slightly altered in the end to thematically tie the film together, but overall, it stayed true to the heart and humanity of the book. I urge everyone to go watch this film as a powerful and engaging social commentary.

PREVIEW: International Studies Horror Film Fest

Halloween is without a doubt the best holiday in the world. It is a time when the horrors of the night, of the darkest parts of the human psyche, are brought into the light to be reveled in.

With Halloween comes horror movies, of course! And while the great US of A has created a treasury of delightful slasher flicks, we are sometimes lacking in variation. Good thing we have the work of other countries to widen the palate!

Join me at the Hatcher Graduate Library’s Gallery Room from 11 am-6 pm on Halloween (if you’re not too scared). It’s free, there are snacks, and there are English subtitles. I will be in costume to uphold the sanctity of Halloween, and I encourage you to do the same.

Here’s the lineup:

11:00–Little Otik

1:15–What We Do In The Shadows

3:00–Ghost of Mae Nek

5:00–Go Goa Gone

See ya there!

REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

“I wish to lose all morals, and accept decadence into my heart.”

The night starts off with crowds of people in sparkles and lingerie and all black  piled up outside of the Michigan Theater, eager to begin their Rocky Horror experience. An experience that is varied and cannot be restricted by just one adjective. An experience that is energetic, erotic, campy, and…. scientific?

With an introduction from a moth, who welcomes all of the groups who are out – the straights, the gays, the sorrorities – the crowd is riled up before the film has started. Prohibited items include: ice, confetti, water guns, candles or lighters, whole rolls of toilet paper, hot dogs, and prunes. But the moth pointed out that squares of toilet paper, or streamers, or 3/4 of a roll of toilet paper, are allowed. It is only the Leather Medusa’s second year putting on a shadow cast show of RHPS at the theater, but they’re sold out.

I stand for my virgin pledge, with about half of the audience who are marked with red lipstick Vs. Surprisingly, such a prominent cult classic still remains unseen by many. Not so surprisingly, the Rocky Horror virgins of the world are curious about the film and its culture, intrigued by its ostentatious reputation and loyal followers. And tonight, our curiosity is to be fulfilled. Soon everyone stands together, for the Rocky Horror pledge and with much anti… cipation – the show begins.

Newly engaged Brad and Janet get stuck in the rain, and wander into Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle, where they have a long night ahead of them. The shadow cast saunters around the stage, their costumes and movements perfectly matching those of the film’s characters. The audience yells “ASSHOLE!” at Brad, “SLUT!” at Janet, “WHERE’S YOUR NECK?” at the criminologist, and a variety of other more specific, seemingly-scripted, comments. The film can barely be heard. This culture is not exactly for the prude or sensitive – although they are the ones that the culture loves to deflower the most. Similarly to the audience culture around Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’, some describe this movie-going experience as wildly inconsiderate and vulgar. But the lines of accepted norms are blurred in the midst of such a cult classic, one that drew counterculture crowds as a midnight movie at its release and still draws those audiences (or those who shapeshift into such for a night) today.

Attempting to watch the film over the yelling of the crowd, I do my best to stay in-tune while actively participating. But the participation doesn’t take away from the film’s grandeur. The unusual set, defined characters, theatrical costumes and makeup, peculiar sci-fi characteristics, lively songs and dances, canted angles, effective use of various lenses, irony, and sexual notions, are enough to interest audiences even when they are unclear of the plot (which is somewhat unclear, anyway.) I’m sure all of the other virgins sometimes sat just as confused as me, but also pleasantly entertained.

Seeing Rocky Horror is a uniting experience: the audience, together, are just as important as the film. Dancing the time warp, throwing cards and pieces of toast, everyone is in tune with one another. Even the virgins. We catch on. If all goes as planned by the Transylvanians, by the end of the film you’re going to want to dance and yell and touch everyone and be covered in sequins and dramatic makeup.

PREVIEW: Searching.

Just like found footage horror movies that preceded it, Searching uses a medium different from the traditional picture format to drive its plot. It’s a part of a new laptop cinema movement still assembling itself in its early arthouse years as the lives we live are increasingly intertwined with our technology.

Screenwriters are beginning to explore this technological horror, with movies like Unfriended and its dispensable sequel laying the shaky groundwork. While those films have had negative to mixed reviews, Searching seems to be bringing a fresh take on the growing trope. Here, David Kim searches for his missing daughter Margo through her laptop, a digital thriller as clues and twists are dispersed in missed phone call logs and old chats between her classmates. With the unprecedented success of the film at Sundance and its opening, Searching perfects a new style, a film to catch soon before the inevitable successors of years to come.

REVIEW: Isle of Dogs.

Momotarō is a peach boy in Japanese folk lore – a hero who had been born from fruit. In the story, he travels to Onigashima, the isle of demons, and defeats monsters with his newly acquired animal friends, obtaining treasure for his family. These parallels are seen in Inugashima, or Isle of Dogs, where Wes Anderson crafts his newest endeavor around a Japanese setting. When a dog flu sweeps through Megasaki City, the mayor Kobayashi exiles all dogs to Trash Island, exercising his authoritarian political precision with sinister intent. But Atari, his nephew, is determined on finding his bodyguard dog Spots.

For many reasons, Isle of Dogs is spectacular and clever. It bangs into its self-assured display like a firework – having the same amount of subtlety and persuasion as a firecracker, but similarly lacking as it dissolves too quickly and leaves a measurably less remarkable post-impression. It is undeniably fantastic, but there is something missing from all the razzle-dazzle.

The production is beautiful, one-of-a-kind. And even without the slick graphics of computer CGI, there’s a exactness in the stop-motion animation, detailed in scenes where a sushi chef prepares a lunch, or when Tracy recites the facts on the actors of her conspiracy theory, shining a flashlight on an elaborate tangle of clippings and string. At a technical standpoint, the film is incredible, made with 240 sets and hundreds of models, scenes constructed with a visionary lens to turn plastic sheets and cotton wool into interesting landscapes. From untranslated easter eggs printed on the overhead trolley to numerous references to Kurosawa, the visuals are refined. The colour schemes are beautiful. Not a strand of fur is out of place.

On the other hand, the film sometimes borders on using Japan like a mood board, as purely an aesthetic, swinging back and forth between succeeding and failing its original intention of being a cultural homage. It’s an interesting choice to have no subtitles for any of the dialogue given in Japanese, dialogue that is given by well-known stars such as Ken Watanabe and Yojiro Noda. It gives us the dogs’ perspectives and uses mistranslations as a plot device, but this can be hairy in certain aspects, especially when a character like Tracy emerges from this kind of language choice.

Nevertheless it’s an idiosyncratic plot, emerging from the surfeit of adaptions and remakes to tell us a story centered on man’s best friend with a weird but irresistible kind of charm in the folds of the writing. Isle of Dogs is ambitious in many ways, and in others, it’s all bark but no bite. It’s crafty in its humour, often deadpan and sometimes near ridiculous. The dialogue is well-timed and funny. And for a film about cute dogs, there’s a grittiness to it, never shying away from graphic themes or its political undertones.

But while there’s certainly a lot of good bois in Isle of Dogs, it’s difficult to form a relationship between the viewer and the number of characters the film introduces. We learn a lot about Atari, Spots, and Chief, but it doesn’t leave much room for the growth of all the other characters, including our main band of dogs. With such a hefty, vibrant plot, the screen time of under two hours ends up becoming a limiting reagent, not allowing the story to glow to its full potential.

In the end, Isle of Dogs is fantastic and it is fun to watch, but it lacks a certain depth – a certain howl – to its puppy snap.

Currently playing at State Theatre and elsewhere! Student tickets are $8.