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Movie Review: “Dear Evan Hansen” Plays a Powerful Song

“Dear Evan Hansen” is the Tony Award winning Broadway musical that’s been adored by millions. But for some reason, the film adaption doesn’t seem to be translating to audiences.

Sadly, I have yet to see this musical on Broadway, but look forward to one day hearing the soundtrack performed live. I am clearly in the minority of my colleagues, but I enjoyed this movie. I went in completely blind. I didn’t know the storyline or a single song beforehand; maybe that’s why it was easy for me to fall for this film.

For those who also might not know anything about this premise, “Dear Evan Hansen” follows Evan (Ben Platt) – a socially awkward High School senior with an absentee father, a loving mom (Julianne Moore) who is constantly working, and not a single friend to sign the cast on his broken arm. In an effort to help with his anxiety, Evan’s therapist suggests he write a letter to himself, encouraging himself throughout the day.

On a random day at school, the brooding at times hostile student, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) decides to sign Evan’s cast. The sweet moment is short lived because he finds one of Evan’s letters in where it mentions Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) – Evan’s crush. He angrily pushes Evan, steals the letter, and keeps it in his coat. The next day, Evan is called to the principal’s office where Connor’s parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) are waiting for him. Connor has committed suicide. The only note he had on him was Evan’s letter, which they believe Connor wrote for him. The letter paired with his signature on Evan’s cast convinces his parents that this was his one true friend. In that moment, Evan can’t help but go along with the lie. He has good intentions, but the events that follow can be tough to watch.

I’ll admit, when this film gets going and the talented cast is pouring their heart into a heavy conversation about depression, suicide, or internal struggles, it can take you out of the moment when one someone suddenly burst into song. Most of the time you forget this film is a musical until the singing starts again. However, once the music begins, and you’re actually listening to the lyrics, you’re pulled back in by the powerful message the songs have to tell. And I guess there’s backlash for Platt playing the role of a high schooler at age 27, but I’m not sure why? Adults have played High School teens for years in film and television. Platt looks the age and embodies the high anxiety, awkward character, not to mention, his voice is incredible. It’s a true gift for fans of the Broadway show to see Platt reprise this role.

The majority of the high-profile cast do a wonderful job. But praise should be given to Kaitlyn Dever who plays the role of Zoe so effortlessly. She excels in her delivery and emotion as a sister who struggles to grieve the brother that was so cruel to her.

The runtime of 2 hours and 17 minutes is a bit long, but I’m not sure what to cut out. Every scene felt vital to the story. It’s understanding not everyone will be able to bare the length of this somber tale, but the film does end on an uplifting note.

“Dear Evan Hansen” may not be a smooth track, but it provides a compelling message that is still relevant to teens today: be kind and make efforts to those kids in school who are closed off and have difficulty building relationships. I remember those students. At times I even felt like those students.

Though it won’t appeal to everyone, “Dear Evan Hansen” is an emotional and heartwarming musical.

Rating: B-

“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” Interview

“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie”

“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” is a film adaption of the musical about a teenager from England who wants to be a drag queen. It’s a touching and beautiful movie about embracing the “real” you. I sat down with the director and stars of the film, Jonathan Butterell, Max Harwood, and Lauren Patel. They discussed the film and even played a little rapid fire game!

Check out the interview and the film when it opens on September 17, 2021.

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Movie Review: “The Green Knight” and “Paper Spiders”

David Lowery is an Irving High School alum who has gone on to make critically acclaimed films like “Pete’s Dragon” and “A Ghost Story”. His new movie, “The Green Knight,” is a Medieval, fantasy re-telling of Sir Gawain based on the 14th century Arthurian poem. Watch the video below to find out my thoughts on the movie, along with a review of the independent film, “Paper Spiders”, starring Lili Taylor (“The Conjuring”).

“The Green Knight” opens in theaters July 30, 2021 and “Paper Spiders” is available to rent on various VOD platforms.

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Movie Review: “Old” Shrivels Up a Talented Cast

At this point, we know walking into any M. Night Shyamalan (Writer/Director) film is a gamble. You’re either going to get a quality movie like “Split”, or you could get the dragged-out disaster that came after, “Glass”. Regardless, we take that risk every time because we know Shyamalan is capable of greatness (i.e. “Unbreakable” and “The Sixth Sense”). Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s newest mystery thriller is far from great. 

The premise of “Old” is incredibly intriguing. A family on a tropical vacation visit a beach that somehow causes you to age nearly a lifetime in a single day!  Sounds good, but it seems the preview alluded to a more satisfying script. 

From the get-go we are introduced to Guy (Gael Garcia Bernel), his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps), their 11-year-old daughter, Maddox (Alexa Swinton), and 6-year-old son, Trent (Nolan River). The parents want to have one last trip together as a family before they announce their separation and reveal Prisca’s illness. Not so coincidentally, the family is offered a ride to a secluded beach for the day. Why anyone would trust a secluded anything in the middle of a shady beach, I’ll never understand. But, this family is not alone in their stupidity. They are joined by another family of 4, a married couple, and a famous rap star?  Sure, why not?

It does not take long for this bunch to figure out something is wrong with the beach. People are dying, and there is no way to get back to their drop off point.

Again, the plot of the film is actually good. It’s original, and you have no idea how it’s going to end or why it’s happening. I can appreciate Shyamalan’s creativity. The man can come up with the most thought-provoking ideas. But sometimes it’s just poorly executed.

The dialogue in “Old” is painful. From the start of the movie to the very end, it’s as if the story was written for toddlers.  Everything is spoon fed to the audience, and so many lines are forced. I’m not certain if many of the actors were bad, or they just didn’t believe in what they are saying.  Either way, it makes for a slow and difficult watch.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least shine a light on the two glimmers of light, Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff, who play teenage versions of Maddox and Trent. These two give their all in their performances and are committed to that script. If anything, “Old” will further launch these two talented actors.

I wouldn’t be so harsh if I didn’t know Shyamalan’s skills. “Old” is a great idea that deserved a better screenplay, and maybe a better secondary cast. The premise pulls you in, but ultimately, the film leaves you out to dry.

Rating: C-

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“Summertime” Interview w/ Carlos Lopez Estrada & Kelly Marie Tran

“Summertime” is set during a hot summer day in Los Angeles. The lives of 25 young adults intertwine as they share their stories and passion through powerful spoken word. I spoke with director, Carlos Lopez Estrada (“Blindspotting” & “Raya and the Last Dragon”) and executive producer, Kelly Marie Tran (“Raya and the Last Dragon” & “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) to talk about the film.

“Summertime” opens in theaters July 16, 2021.

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Movie Review: “Zola” Fascinating and Disturbing Tale

At first glance, “Zola” might have you wondering; “What in the world am I watching?” Some may even want to stop the film all together. If you power through, you will treat yourself to a captivating story and some intoxicating performances. 

“Zola” is based on the viral 148 tweets by the A’Ziah “Zola” King. In the film, Zola (Taylour Paige) plays a Detroit waitress who meets a stripper, Stefani. (Riley Keough) Stefani lures her on a road trip to Florida with her boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) and “roommate” (Coleman Domingo) under false pretenses. What she thinks will be an opportunity to strip from some quick cash turns into a terrifying sequence of events.

The best way I can describe “Zola” is like watching a really bad, but visually satisfying car accident unfold. You just can’t look away even though part of you might want to. And when it’s over, those images will forever haunt you.

What happily stays with you are the incredible performances by entire cast. Paige and Keough carry the film with their cringe-worthy, odd friendship. Stefani is unbelievably offensive and shows no self-awareness, while Zola is the voice of reason that will keep audiences sane. Another polarizing stand out is Coleman Domingo, who plays Stefani’s “roommate” aka her pimp. He is both humorous and frightening. Domingo creates a powerful presence anytime he is on screen.

“Zola” is meant to make audiences feel uncomfortable and pull you into the world of the two leads; where they are trapped and forced into unwanted sexual encounters. Director/Writer Janicza Bravo wants you to feel the same fear that these young girls are feeling.

Some will find “Zola” to be a smart, stylish, summer joyride. While others will see it as a dirty, annoying movie that gets under their skin. Either way you view it, the film is absolutely hypnotizing. And after it was done, Bravo had me under her trance.

Rating: B-

“Zola” is currently playing in theaters and coming soon on VOD.

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Movie Review: “Black Widow”

We have anxiously been waiting for the release of “Black Widow” and it’s finally here! The film is set after the events of “Civil War”. Natasha Romanoff unites with her former “family” and seeks vengeance on the man who turned her into a controlled assassin. Find out my thoughts on the film in video below.

“Black Widow” opens in theaters and is available on Disney + Premier Access on July 9, 2021.

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THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER | Dallas Virtual Screening

Register to get access to the virtual advance screening of Netflix’s “The Last Letter from Your Lover”. To watch the film from home and attend the screening on July 21st RSVP HERE by Tuesday, July 13th. Please note the screening doesn’t require a Netflix subscription to view.

THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER

A pair of interwoven stories set in the present and past, THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER follows Ellie Haworth (Felicity Jones), an ambitious journalist who discovers a trove of secret love letters from 1965 and becomes determined to solve the mystery of the forbidden affair at their center. As she uncovers the story behind Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley), the wife of a wealthy industrialist, and Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner) the financial journalist assigned to cover him, a love story of Ellie’s own begins to unfold with the assistance of an earnest and endearing archivist (Nabhaan Rizwan) who helps her track down more letters. Based on the novel by JoJo Moyes and directed by Augustine Frizell.

THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER Releases on Netflix on July 23rd

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Movie Review: F9 is a Ridiculous Ride

Before the screening of this film started our theater was greeted with some wise words, “leave all logic at the door.” I had to continuously remind myself of this thought during the entire two and a half hours of non-sense that is “F9”.

I was pleasantly surprised with the premise of “The Fate of the Furious”, so it’s upsetting that “F9” didn’t deliver the same quality to their storyline. In “F9” Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are living in a secluded home with Dom’s son, little Brian. Their quiet life is interrupted by some old friends who have been sent an SOS from intelligence operative Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). His plane, which was holding captured cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) and part of some “dangerous” weapon, was brought down somewhere in Central America. We quickly find out the person responsible is Dom’s brother, Jakob (John Cena), who he has never mentioned until now!? What happened to not turning your back on family, Dom?

The mystery behind these brothers’ past is revealed in flashback sequences featuring teenage Dom (Vinnie Bennett) and Jakob (Finn Cole). These scenes were actually the best parts of the film. Bennett and Cole show promising talent, and the older setting took us back to the roots of the franchise with simple street races. Man, I miss those. Less used to be more in the first, “Fast and Furious”.

As we are sporadically informed why Jakob and Dom no longer speak, we are taken on an insane, wild ride. Just when you think you’ve seen it all and it can’t get any crazier, it does! It’s literally out of this world. I could give further explanation of the plot, but why bother? It’s forgettable and not important.

Thankfully, the film is self-aware of it’s lunacy. Tyrese Gibson’s character, Roman, even suggests the crew might be some sort of super soldiers with invincibility. But everyone else thinks the thought of this theory is comical.

If the point of these films is purely to entertain with action, cars, explosions and some humor, then I guess “F9” did its job.

I understand these films aren’t looking to win Oscars. I don’t mind these characters dodging bullets, or Dom having superhuman strength; or even cars in space. In fact, I can appreciate the originality. But, does the script have to be so irresponsible and cheesy? It doesn’t have to be realistic, but the franchise is capable of a more coherent screenplay; i.e. films 1, 5, 6, and 8. That being said, we’re still going to watch the 10th and however many more they make, because we’re invested in these characters and their story.

“F9” sparks laughter, excitement, confusion, and eye rolls. Familiar faces from previous Furious films make surprising cameos and John Cena makes a great addition to the cast. Fans of the saga will be satisfied and somehow still want more.

Rating: C

“F9” opens in theaters June 25, 201.

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Interview: Deepti Gupta talks “India Sweets and Spices”

Deepti Gupta, is a film, television and voice-over actress who can be seen in Geeta Malik’s film, “India Sweets and Spices”, a fresh and fun take on the classic coming of age story making its World Premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Deepti plays the witty, but thoughtful Bhairavi, a former women’s rights activist who owns the neighborhood South Asian grocery store.

I spoke with Deepti to talk about the film and her character. Watch the full interview below!

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