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Archives for : Susan Kamyab Stephens

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-

“Lady of the Manor” Interview w/ Justin Long & Christian Long

Brother’s Justin and Christian Long directed and wrote the hilarious new comedy, “Lady of the Manor”. The film follows Hannah ( Melanie Lynskey), a sloppy, lazy mess who becomes a tour guide for a historic estate and winds up befriending the manor’s resident ghost (Judy Greer).

I got a chance to speak with Justin and Christian about the film and both the interview and film is a “laugh out loud” good time.

“Lady of the Manor” is currently playing in theaters.

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“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: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is Marvel Studios’ newest gem. Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is a skilled Kung-Fu fighter, who’s forced to confront his past and return to the Ten Rings organization he ran away from. Find out my thoughts on the film in the video below.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” opens in theaters September 3, 2021.

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Movie Review: “Candyman” is a Terrifying Treat

Even as I write this review, I am a little nervous to type “Candyman”. After seeing the new film, that name instills the same fear I felt after watching the original 1992 movie.

In case you’re new to the franchise, the original film follows Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a grad student researching urban legends who learns of the mysterious murders that happened at the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Residents suspect the killer is the notorious Candyman (Tony Todd). He was born in the late 1800s and was the son of a slave. He grew up to be a well-known artist that wealthy white people sought out for their portraits. But when he fell in love with the daughter of one his upper-class customers, her father sent a lynch mob after him. They cut off his right hand, smeared him with honeycomb, let the bees sting him to death, and burned his body on the land that the Cabrini-Green neighborhood was eventually built. When a person says his name 5 times to a mirror, bees trickle in and a few candies drop before he appears and kills you with the hook attached to his bloody arm.

Fast forward to 2019 and we’re in the middle of a dinner party where couple, Anthony and Brianna (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris) are learning about Candyman for the first time. Brianna is an art gallery director and her partner, Anthony is an aspiring artist whose suddenly fixated with Candyman. He paints the images of the most recent Candyman symbol, a misunderstood resident named Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove), who was mistakenly accused of putting razorblades in Halloween candy. Eventually Anthony’s disturbing artwork inspires others to start uttering the word “Candyman” into a mirror 5 times, and that’s when the bodies begin to pile.

Director Nia DaCosta (Little Woods),  Producer/Co-Writer Jordan Peele (Get Out), and Co-Writer Win Rosenfeld had a keen vision for this continuation of the legendary horror. Lots of praise goes into the storytelling. Instead of flashbacks of the original film, they use silhouettes of puppet paper cut-outs to explain the history. The images are unique and engaging. They also don’t take an extremely graphic route. Although blood is shed, there’s more reaction to the gore than action. One of my favorite scenes is the death shown through an apartment window as the camera zooms out. It’s subtle, but effective bloody art.

Abdul-Mateen II, Parris, and Coleman Domingo (plays William Burke) shine as standouts with their harrowing performances. But the movie does suffer from a few amateur, secondary characters. Luckily, they are not on screen for very long.

“Candyman” (2021) does a wonderful job connecting to the first film. There’s still the same essence of the original, with a modern and more stylistic vision complimented by a stellar score. But perhaps, the most unforgettable addition to this sequel is how DaCosta, Peele, and Rosenfeld turned Candyman into a metaphor for the trauma that has haunted the black community for years. To repeat a powerful quote from the film, “Candyman’s how we deal with the fact that these things happened. That they’re still happening!” Making Candyman a frightening but significant figure.

Audiences will be buzzing about “Candyman” (2021).  It’s a fun and refreshing spin on the iconic cult classic.

Rating: A-

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Movie Review: “The Night House” Gives Thrills & Chills


I’ll admit, I scare easily. Films that aren’t even scary (Boo! A Madea Halloween) make me jump. But when I watch a truly, good horror film, I am on the edge of my seat, holding my breath during the entirety of the film. The only breather breaks are my screams. In David Bruckner’s new horror, “The Night House”, I screamed three times. 

After her husband, Owen’s (Evan Jonigkeit) unexpected suicide, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in their large lake house, and suddenly haunted by a mysterious spirit. Beth heads down a dangerous rabbit hole as this leads her to digging into her husband’s dark secrets. 

What Bruckner captures here is a very real and painful portrayal grief and depression. It’s not an easy subject matter to tackle, but it’s handled so well here. From Beth’s drinking, re-watching old videos of her husband, to how she interacts with her colleagues and people around her. Owen’s death has consumed Beth and is affecting her daily life and personal relationships. 

If you saw Hall in the underrated drama, “Christine”, you already know how well she can portray a woman on the edge struggling with depression. So, it comes as no surprise that Hall’s performance as a grief-stricken widow is incredibly powerful. Your heart absolutely breaks for Beth as she asks the questions one would probably have if their husband chose to end their life: Why? Was he that unhappy? How was he so good at hiding it? Did I really know him at all? Was he a monster and I had no idea? These are just a few of the questions the film will answer. 

“The Night House” is shot and edited beautifully. Paired with Kathrin Eder’s unsettling production design and the eerie music by Ben Lovett, the film makes for an engaging and terrifying experience. 

Where the film falls short, is that it’s slightly over ambitious. Though questions are answered for the most part, there might be some confusion at the end, and there are a few small plot holes. But if you can piece together a narrative that satisfies you, then this may not be an issue. 

“The Night House” is a creative story with gripping visuals and captivating performances.  

Rating: B +

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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Never Have I Ever Season 2 Interview w/ Cast

Mindy Kaling’s hit Netflix, comedy series is back! Season 2 of “Never Have I Ever” offers more laughs and romance than the first. The show is inspired by Kailing’s own childhood. It follows the complicated life of a modern-day first generation Indian American teenager. I spoke with the cast of the show to discuss whose voice would calm them down when feeling stressed, characters they saw themselves in when growing up and more.

“Never Have I Ever” season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.

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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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