Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Movie Review: Beyond the Lights (PG13 – 116 minutes)

I still can’t bring myself to spend the 3 hours and 9 minutes it takes to watch Interstellar, but I was happy to go see the under two hour romance/drama Beyond the Lights.  

There are many movies that tell the tale of what it’s “really” like to be a music superstar from the musician’s point of view.   A Star is Born certainly comes to mind, as well as the movie version of the play Dreamgirls.

They all seem to let us know that the fame and glory is not all it’s cracked up to be.   
Beyond the Lights is written and directed by UCLA film grad Gina Prince-Bythewood (Secret Life of Bees, Disappearing Acts – which features Wesley Snipes and Sanaa Lathan as a couple after she had played his mother in Blade – save that in your trivia folder, and Love and Basketball).  It tells the story of Noni, a British pop tart, whose career has been carefully crafted by her mom-ager to make her a superstar.  She feels like she doesn’t exist, and is only the shell created by her mother and label.  She finally feels pushed to the breaking point one night after winning a Billboard award, and is about to jump from the balcony of her hotel room.  However, Kaz, the police officer hired as security for the night, saves her - convincing her that she is worth saving.  They begin a difficult relationship, working between his aspiring political career, and her very complicated career and half-relationship with a label-mate and rapper.  Eventually he helps her see that she does have some control over her own existence, giving her the inspiration to write and perform her own music.  Spoiler alert – there is a happy ending.

It’s a pretty standard plot, but what makes is really watchable is the exceptional directing.  Prince-Bythewood shoots the movie in a clean, straightforward way, but with enough layers that every time you have to watch Noni at “work”, you cringe.  Everything she is requested to do by her label – and by her mother – makes you so incredibly uncomfortable that you really understand why she is so unhappy.  You also begin to completely understand how Kaz also feels pressure to live up to the expectations of his own family.  The soundtrack also works really well with the simplicity of the direction.  However, the movie is truly elevated by some supremely elegant performances.
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw was recently in the movie Bell, was Tish Jones on Dr. Who, and was Samantha on the Undercovers, a show I loved that got canceled way too quickly.  She was very impressive in this movie, particularly because almost the entire first half of the movie requires her to act with only her eyes.  She manages to look sad and empty until she finally connects with Kaz.  Also – the physical transformation from the Noni that her mother has crafted to the Noni that Kaz helps to release is really beautiful.

  • Nate Parker from Secret Life of Bees, Non-Stop, and Red Tails plays Kazam, who takes the shift of a buddy guarding a pop-star, and has his carefully crafted gameplan thrown all into a tizzy.  His father is very supportive of his plan (political science major, cop, then politician), in fact, he’s helping Kaz meet with various community leaders so that he will have their support when he runs for office.  Parker, like Mbatha-Raw can communicate multiple emotions with just his eyes, from confusion with her ‘performance’, to raw hurt when she inevitably hurts him, to pure love once they reach their happy ending.  Also – there’s several shirtless scenes, and he is incredibly lovely with or without a shirt, but I really appreciated the shirtlessness.

  • Minnie Driver is the best in this that I have seen her in a long time.  Perhaps since her cameo as the Russian cowgirl in Goldeneye.  She’s so angular and hard as Macy, Noni’s completely controlling mother.  You do realize by the end that she does love her daughter, but she has spent so much of the movie treating her like a product that by that point, she’s almost past redemption.  The scene at the beginning where she tells a young Noni to throw away her runner up trophy because she needs to be a winner is heartbreaking.

  • Danny Glover plays Kaz’s dad, Captain Nicol.  And while he never states that he’s too old for this sh*t, you can see him thinking that almost the whole time.  Especially when he realizes his son, who he has carefully groomed for a political career just punched out a rapper on stage at the BET awards.  Yes – that happens.  Glover does manage to give the Captain some subtle layers, as you begin to realize that while he’s not as controlling as Noni’s mother, his influence is just as heavy on Kaz.

  • Machine Gun Kelly (yes, that is his rapper name – his real name is Richard Colson Baker) is a Cleveland rapper who plays Kid Culprit – Noni’s label-mate and “boyfriend”.  It seems like their entire relationship has been crafted by the label for the sake of selling records (you can read a Rhianna-Drake bit into that if you like).  She attempts to break up with him, which seems to go fine, but then he sexually assaults her onstage at the BET awards, prompting the aforementioned punch from Kaz.  Also – the fake music video they show that is Noni and Kid, man, I was way too old to watch that!

Overall, the movie is simple, straightforward, and predictable – but I really feel like the performances gave it just enough edge to make it better than I was expecting.  It’s certainly worth seeing, if you don’t expect too much, I think you’ll be pleased.

8 out of 10  - I wasn’t expecting anything, so I was really pleasantly surprised.  Gained points for the insane costumes that Mbatha-Raw had to wear, lost points for Machine Gun Kelly – ick.  Gained points for all the Kaz shirtless scenes, and lost points for Macy encouraging Noni to get naked in photo shoots.  Gained points for their getaway at a Mexican resort where she removes her ‘mask’.

Bonus Video 1:  The Bodyguard – vaguely similar, but also really entertaining.  And that soundtrack!?!

Bonus Video 2:  The Undercovers – rent this series.  Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe

Bonus Video 3:  RedTails – a highly entertaining flick that you should see.

Bonus Video 4:  cast Interviews:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Retro Movie Review: Knights of Badassdom (R – 86 minutes)

If you read this often, this is not a surprise to you, but I love a good, low budget, silly genre flick.  It’s why I love SyFy Saturday Night Creature Features (yes, Sharknado 3 has started production).  The best thing about these types of movies is that everyone involved is well aware of the nonsense factor of the movie and is there just to have a good time.  Case in point, Knights of Badassdom – written by a couple of LARPers, and directed by a actor/director/producer of these types of flicks.  This movie at no point takes itself seriously, and has a really good time while not doing that.

Director Joe Lynch loves B-Grade horror and genre movies, he’s been in a couple, and he takes his infectious sense of fun to a completely insane story.  Our hero, Joe, has just been dumped by his lady, Beth, because he’s aimless and happy working in a garage and writing death metal songs…I’m sorry, doom metal songs.  Dejected, he heads home to his roommates, Eric and Hung, who are prepping for a  big weekend LARP (live-action role-playing …but you knew that because you saw Role Models) event.  They get him drunk and high, and dress him up as a knight to join their adventure.  The Gamemaster, Ronnie, has an old dispute with Joe, and will only let him join if they do a ‘reanimation spell’.  Eric uses a book he got on eBay to perform the spell, and because it just so happens to be a real ancient spell book – it conjures a demon succubus from hell that takes on the form of Joe’s ex – Beth – in her prom dress, because that’s the picture Joe had in his pocket. 

Hijinks ensue, mainly because the succubus runs through the various groups of LARPers, eating at will, until Joe and the gang decide to step up and take her out.  Yes – it’s exactly as silly as you think.  But what will surprise you is the cast:
  • Ryan Kwanten plays Joe, and while you still don’t get to hear his original Aussie accent, at least the American one he fakes in this doesn’t have the horrible southern twang you’re used to him using on True Blood.  He is exceptionally watchable, and really likeable, and the best thing about him in this movie is that he plays it straight, and lets everyone around him act really over the top – which makes him the audience’s way in.  Also – if you haven’t seen the Venom mini-movie that he and Joe Lynch did, check it out.

  • Steve Zahn plays Eric, who for some reason that is never explained, is a millionaire.  This is why Hung and Joe live with him – in a castle, or at least a house that looks like a castle.  Zahn goes completely over the top in this and it fits perfectly.  He’s insanely funny.

  • Peter Dinklage plays Hung (originally the character was conceived as a Korean-American nerd, then Dinklage said yes, but they didn’t change the name – and it still works).  He’s stoned most of the time, but really takes the LARPing seriously, and his bit about training Joe is really funny.

  • Jimmi Simpson takes a break from playing creepy guys to play the hilarious Ronnie Kwok as the completely full of himself gamemaster.  The running gag about the map being terrible cracked me up at least three times.  Also – his headband is funny on its own.

  • Margartia Levieva plays the ex-girlfriend and then the demon succubus, Beth.  She gets a very brief scene in the beginning, then spends the rest of the movie walking around eating people.  The funny part is that it takes people a bit to catch on that she’s a demon, because they just assume she’s part of the LARP event.

  • Summer Glau plays Gwen, who is into the LARPing, but only somewhat – she’s mainly there to keep an eye on her cousin, Gunther (played by Brett Gipson), who never seems to break character.   She gets a little sweet on Joe, despite having to fend off advances from many other LARPers.

  • Danny Pudi plays Lando, and he’s barely in the movie, but he’s really funny for the time he’s there. 

  • There are some other almost cameos as well – Joshua Malina plays an actor hired to play a monster for the LARP event, Brian Posehn plays Joe’s garage co-worker and doom-metal enthusiast.  Michael Gladis from Mad Men plays the King of one of the two armies, and gets to give a hilarious go-get-‘em speech.

Overall – the movie is terrible, but that’s pretty much the point.  It’s really funny in parts, but be warned – the cheesy gore level is also high.  Rent it, it’s super short and it’s good for a laugh or two!

7 out of 10 – gained points for Jimmi Simpson, who is swiftly becoming a favorite of mine.  Lost points for the Beth demon eating people, gross.  Gained points for Steve Zahn being hilarious – Lost points for Hung being high all the time.  Gained points for the dragon.

Bonus Video 1 – the Venom video.  I am hoping that eventually there will be a Venom movie worthy of Venom.  Sorry Topher Grace – I like you, but you were a terrible Venom.

Bonus Video 2 – Role Models – an equally hilarious movie with LARPing in it.

Bonus Video 3 – SDCC 2011 panel