REVIEW: The Hate U Give

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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.

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.

REVIEW: Truth or Dare

Everyone is familiar with the old trope of going out with your friends on a Friday night, settling into theater seats with some popcorn or soda, and watching a scary movie. Like Michael Jackson in the “Thriller” music video. Even if you’re not that much into horror yourself, you’ve likely seen this image before. The movie might not necessarily be good, but for many people, it’s still an idea of a fun night.

Truth or Dare is a great type of movie for this. It’s surprising and scary, shallow enough to make fun of but still deep enough to be genuinely clever. The film tells the story of Olivia (Lucy Hale, Pretty Little Liars), a kind and charitable girl who is enticed into joining a spring break trip to Mexico by her best friend, Markie (Violett Beane, The Flash). While they’re there, they end up getting roped by a stranger into a game of Truth or Dare. When they return to school, they find that the game is possessed with a demon that has followed them back, and now they must take turns being forced to play with the demon. If they answer untruthfully, fail to complete a dare, or refuse altogether, they will be killed.

In a lot of ways, this movie follows a typical, formulaic scary-movie structure. Without naming names, many of the friends are picked off one by one in a series of violent deaths that each manage to be shocking, despite the often-predictable nature of the movie. Olivia and Markie, the main characters—each a “Final Girl” in her own way—eventually end up returning to the Mexican mission where they initially played the game in an effort to set everything straight. When people are possessed temporarily by the demon, their faces take on smiles with a freakish Uncanny Valley quality, which is genuinely disturbing to see.

Additionally, many of the characters fall into convenient and general archetypes, particularly when it comes to the side character friends. Ronnie (Sam Lerner) is an insensitive jerk nobody really wants around. Penelope (Sophia Ali) is an alcoholic. Brad (Hayden Szeto) is the perfect son who’s hiding the fact that he’s gay from his police officer father—who, incidentally, manages to crop up out of nowhere at even the most random and improbable places and times. Each character has one defining feature about them. Only with Olivia, Markie, and Lucas (Markie’s boyfriend and Olivia’s crush, played by Tyler Posey), do these features begin to expand into truly fascinating character arcs.

At the center of the movie is the friendship between Olivia and Markie, established at the very beginning. The repeated line, “Between you and the world, I choose you,” is crucial, as over the course of the movie this friendship is tested in ways that range from trivial to terminal. The audience is coaxed into caring about each of them. Markie is grieving the death of her father, who took his own life, and even at the times when the story seems to flirt with turning her into an antagonist, it is always easy to sympathize with her point of view. Hale and Beane have tangible, believable chemistry, and one finds oneself rooting just as much for them to stay friends as for them to make it out of everything alive.

In many ways, Truth or Dare can be said to be another drop in the bucket of predictable, college-student-focused, slasher horror movies. But the characters are real enough (and the performances strong enough) that it’s still engaging, and it is truly clever in a lot of ways, featuring some major plot twists—again, some of them easily foreseeable, but some still totally out of the blue. It’s not the type of movie you’d root for at the Oscars, but it is the type of movie that will show you a good time if you’re just in the mood to buckle down with some friends and enjoy some good, old-fashioned scares. Truth or Dare is currently showing at multiple local theaters, including the Quality 16 and Rave Cinemas.

REVIEW: A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place is built off of a premise that makes itself known even in the title: The world is quiet. Anyone who makes a sound places themselves in immediate peril of being violently destroyed by any one of a group of sound-hypersensitive monsters that have taken over the country, and possibly the world as well. The idea of a movie in which the characters cannot speak is an interesting concept, and a particularly inviting one for the horror genre, in which so much can be drawn from jump scares and loud noises.

Indeed, A Quiet Place makes plenty of use of these. In this way, the movie benefits from the rules it sets for itself, because in a world of so much silence, each jump scare is that much more arresting. There are other common horror elements at play in this movie, from the horrifying images of the monsters themselves to some of the concepts on the screen, like when the children (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe) nearly drown in a silo and are unable to scream out for help.

But what ultimately makes this story so frightening is the devotion that everyone in the family feels toward everyone else. John Krasinski, who directed, co-wrote and co-starred in the movie, has said in interviews that he wanted the primary focus of A Quiet Place to be the family’s love and dedication, and he absolutely succeeded. He and Emily Blunt, his wife in real life, star as a husband and wife, Lee and Evelyn respectfully, who will do anything to keep their children safe in this dystopian world. Their love for the children is palpable, and small gestures and acts throughout the movie, like Evelyn’s attempts to teach her children reading and math, bring the audience closer into their minds and make it easier to sympathize with them. Which is, after all, the primary objective of so many horror movies, and for good reason: If the audience can come to sympathize with the main characters, then the concern for their safety will be that much more impactful and close, because it will feel similar to a concern for the safety of the self.

Beyond its success within the horror genre, though, the film is fascinating in and of itself, in large part because it isn’t afraid to break its own rules. Or rather, it follows its own rules, but it explores them in so much depth that the viewers are allowed to view them both from within and from without.

The main one, of course, is the principle of silence. The characters are unable to speak out loud, so they communicate through pantomiming, mouthing, and sign language. However, early on in the movie, Lee takes his son Marcus to a river, where the two of them are able to speak out loud for the first time in the film. The way Lee explains it, talking is loud, but the river is louder, which means it drowns out any sound of them being there, and they are safe for the time being. While this does seem to invite some more questions—namely, if talking by the river is safe, why doesn’t the family just move to the river?—it is also a crafty early indication that the film is ready to get creative.

“Creative” is probably the best overall way to describe this movie. Bolstered by strong performances by all four of its lead actors, A Quiet Place, while unconcerned with background information (How did things come to be this way? What was this family like before all of this?), is a skillful look into the strained, meticulous process of preserving love in the face of the apocalypse. A Quiet Place is currently showing at local theaters around Ann Arbor, including the Quality 16 and Rave Cinemas.

PREVIEW: A Quiet Place

Recently, The Michigan Daily did an interview with John Krasinski, the director, co-writer and star of A Quiet Place. Krasinski first came into the public eye for his starring role as Jim Halpert on the American version of The Office, and it has been captivating to watch him branch out into more dramatic territory in the years since the show ended. In the interview, he talked about his goals for A Quiet Place, and the conscious decisions he had to make regarding sound and music, since the characters in the movie can’t make a sound without being attacked by violent creatures.

As someone who loves the horror genre, I’m incredibly excited to see the approach that this new film will take, and how it will use the lack of sound as an advantage rather than a detriment. It should also be interesting to see how the real-life chemistry between Krasinski and Emily Blunt (Sicario), his co-star and wife, plays into the movie and translates onto the big screen. A Quiet Place is currently showing at various theaters around Ann Arbor, including Rave Cinemas, Emagine Saline and the Quality 16.

PREVIEW: Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare is a horror movie about a game. The premise of a thrilling or suspenseful movie being built around a sleepover game isn’t a new one; we’ve seen it done before, in movies as recent as 2014’s Ouija and 2016’s Nerve (which actually used the same truth-or-dare premise, albeit in a much more techno, futuristic setting). Maybe the deal is that we get a new one every two years, and in 2020, we’ll get a scary movie revolving around “Two Truths and a Lie” or “Never Have I Ever”.

Truth or Dare looks like a standard slasher horror movie, the kind with a bunch of teenage friends getting picked off until it all comes down to one Final Girl. While it doesn’t appear to add any promising innovations or creative new spins to the genre, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s just fun to go out with your friends on a weekend night and see a horror movie, even if you’re not sure what to expect from it. The movie looks entertaining, and hopefully it will be able to bring some old tropes into fresh territory in its execution. Truth or Dare is currently showing in several local theaters, including Quality 16 and Rave Cinemas.