Documentary Review – Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl (2020)

Directed By: Amy Goldstein
Running time: 89 minutes

If you already love Kate Nash, you don’t need to read this review. Ignore what I think and immediately go stream “Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl” because it was made for you. The documentary is partly a digital year-book covering the first half of Nash’s career and partly an explanation of the creative and logistical battles that she fought as an artist. There are also some very fun lyric videos interspersed throughout the film, which I am certain you will love. Like I said, this movie was made for you, you will love it, go watch it.

If, on the other hand, you do not love Kate Nash or know who she is, I’d say you have a 50/50 chance of liking this movie. There is very little narrative direction in the first half of the film and the second half is a decade’s worth of Nash’s frustrations with the music industry. A large majority of the narration is done with video clips of Nash over the last decade, which makes the movie feel more like a journal than a documentary. Which, again, is great if you are already a fan.

Photo credit: Carolina Faruolo

For the unfamiliar, Kate Nash is an award-winning singer, songwriter, and actress. She rocketed into the limelight around 2008 when her single Foundations hit number two on the charts. Her first album was a solid pop album, but when she tried to shift her sound to punk rock she ran into issues with her record label and they eventually dropped her. Nash has put out four albums and toured consistently. She is not a Beyoncé (I mean, there can only be one), but she is successful: she has built a loyal following, tours consistently, and is currently a part of the core ensemble for the Netflix series GLOW.

With all that in mind, this documentary is going to ask you to consider Nash an underdog, which is its fatal flaw. The first half of the movie loosely describes Nash’s early career. She dealt with terrible hate mail, was exhausted by her grueling debut tour, but came out of the experience determined to empower girls and young women to pursue their mutual love: making music. However, rather than focusing on any of this, the movie instead introduces its recurring theme: Nash cannot make the music that she wants to because her record label cannot handle it. “Record labels don’t like shouting,” she explains at one point, “I think it sounds cool. I’m into, like, punk music and rock music.”

Photo credit: Anouchka Van Riel

Halfway through the documentary we find the other chip on Nash’s shoulder, which is arguably the worse of the two. Her manager stole enough money from her that she is in danger of bankruptcy. Nash sues him and, while she is trying to get that money back, she hits a personal rock bottom. This is where the movie really lost me. For Nash “rock bottom” means moving to a smaller (but still nice) house, selling several garbage bags full of her clothes, and wondering if she’ll need to get a real job. “I don’t know how to make money outside of being on tour or making a record,” she says.

Spoilers: she does not have to get a real job.

To be clear, it is terrible that Nash almost went bankrupt. Her manager’s theft is a disgusting breach of trust and it makes sense that Nash was traumatized by the experience. She almost won me over when she admits of her situation: “It’s not that bad. I’m healthy. I’m alive. I’m on this planet,” sarcasm tinged her voice for a moment, but she finishes sincerely enough, “I have a dog. I have good friends. I have music. So. What more do you need than that, really? There’s a million other people out there that have it worse than I do.”

The problem is that even if she knows that that is true, she never acts like she thinks that is true. She worries about getting a job in a café and being recognized and shortly thereafter accepts a job hosting a geeky shopping show. Even though this gig is career-adjacent to her then-stated goal of becoming an actress, her misery is scrawled so clearly over her face that the scene is painful to watch.

Photo credit: Kelsey Hart

This documentary could have been great if we had heard from more voices and if it had stuck a different overall tone (just a little less “Woe is I”). I mean, come on. There is theft, there is feminism, there is a singer so idealistic that she spent her own money to support the programs for the girls she was coaxing into the music industry, there were so. many. amazing. outfits. And, aside from a couple weird choices (why would you do a rack focus between an empty foreground and the subject of your interview? why did we listen to her drummer read a benign text from her mother after a show?), the movie is beautifully put together.

But the takeaway from this movie is that life has thrown Nash a couple curveballs and she prevailed. The movie closes with Nash, now a multimillionaire, telling us that when she moved to LA she wanted to make a lot of money, but after losing everything (she leaves out the that she recently released a new album and landed a recurring role on a lucrative television show) she has realized that it’s not about the money: it’s about the art.

Again, If you are a hardcore Kate Nash fan, I think you will enjoy this film in spite of everything I’ve said here, but as someone who went into the documentary without a base-level fondness for her, I found it tone deaf, self-indulgent, and tedious.


This film is now available on Alamo On Demand
with apps for iOS and Android coming very soon.


Have you seen this Kate Nash documentary? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: HONEY BOY (2019)

Director: Alma Har’el
Writer: Shia LaBeouf

Honey Boy surprised me. I expected it to be intense, but the film exceeded those expectations. Young Otis Lort (played by Noah Jupe, who, among other victories, perfectly nails his American accent) has started to make it in Hollywood. His father, James (Shia LaBeouf), shuttles him between their motel and set on his motorcycle every day, fathering him as well as he can, but inhibited by his personal demons. Honey Boy cuts this story with one of young adult Otis (Lucas Hedges), who is spinning out of control. A drunken encounter with the police lands him in rehab where he must confront the demons he inherited from his father. Honey Boy is an emotional whirlwind sprinkled with magical realism: a beautiful film that is finely coated with a layer of grime.

Noah Jupe with Shia LaBeouf

Alma Har’el’s direction of Honey Boy is exceptional. The emotional intensity of the movie is at a constant high, but Har’el skillfully controls the tone, keeping the audience so invested that it is only once the ending credits begin to roll that we realize exactly how emotionally taxing watching the film is. Har’el safely and elegantly navigates her actors (especially Jupe) through fraught emotional terrain while maintaining a beautiful visual aesthetic. She also notably lets the script’s snark about rehab shine through without minimizing rehab’s positive impact on Otis.

Lucas Hedges

All that said, I am so curious what the on-set relationship between LaBeouf and Har’el looked like. Although LaBeouf is only officially credited as writer and actor, it seems inevitable that LaBeouf would have had some directorial insights for such a personal project.  (As I’m sure you’ve already heard, writing this screenplay, based on his life, was part of LaBeouf’s recovery process). This curiosity especially comes into play in scenes like the one where LaBeouf plays James Lort at an AA meeting. Tears quivering in his eyes, James describes his love for his son, his deep pain, and how that pain often inhibits the expression of his love. How much of this moment was pure LaBeouf? How much was Har’el? I. am. so. curious.

Noah Jupe and FKA Twigs

LaBeouf’s inherent empathy for and understanding of his father (and Har’el’s ability to portray their fraught, but undeniably close relationship) is exactly why this movie works so well. In a therapy session, the young adult iteration of Otis Lort insists that his father is not the cause of his problems: James Lort is the reason that Otis has been successful. Despite all the pain, all the arguments, all the questionable parenting choices, Otis understands that at his father’s core it was all love. The fact that his father’s love was frequently overshadowed by his demons is as irrelevant as it was painful.

There are no weak actors in this film. You will love FKA Twigs despite yourself: she will make your skin crawl. Lucas Hedges is the eye of a hurricane: a ball of angry energy waiting for any excuse to snap. Byron Bowers is funny and subtle. Noah Jupe, surrounded by strong performers, still somehow carries the film on his tiny, twelve-year old shoulders. He perfectly captures a double-sided coin of innocence and premature adulthood. I dare you not to cry when his parents use him as a literal conduit for one of their arguments. And, of course, Shia LaBeouf will rip your damn heart out.

There are so many smart, artistic choices to unpack in Honey Boy. For one, I think it’s safe to assume that LaBeouf’s choice to rename himself Otis is in reference to Odysseus’ renaming himself “Outis” [ie “nobody”] when he encountered Polyphemus. And there is so much to discuss about that choice. For another, the magical realism that is otherwise a delightfully glowing subtext to the story, peaks toward the end of the film when young adult Otis and his father share a moment that is almost guaranteed to make your head spin. Visually majestic, contextually complex, and full of award-worthy performances, Honey Boy is not a film to miss.

I can only hope that LaBeouf continues to write. He is a gifted storyteller and we’re lucky to have him.


Have you seen HONEY BOY? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: FROZEN II (2019)

Written & Directed By: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown
Runtime: 1 hour 43 minutes

When the credit for Frozen II started to roll, I looked over at my (adult) niece and asked what she thought.

“It was really cute! What did you think?”

I opened my mouth and immediately closed it again, trying not to be a party pooper. She grinned. She knows me too well.

“What didn’t you like?”

“I feel like –“ I paused, looking for the right words, “it’s an apologist narrative for colonialism.”

My niece blinked at me. I changed tracks.

“The animation was so pretty, though! Those fall colors!”

We left the theater, talking about the incredible animation and how hilarious Olaf was, which is true, but so is the thing about colonialism. Unfortunately, it is impossible to unpack any of that without spoiling the entire end of the movie, so I’ll save that for the very end of my review. Once you’ve seen the movie, come back and we’ll compare notes.

Frozen II picks up approximately where Frozen left off. Anna and Kristoff are clutzily in love. Olaf is essentially a pre-teen in a toddler shaped body, trying to figure out what growing up is. Elsa is the beloved queen of Arendelle, but she worries that she isn’t fulfilling her potential. This hunch is verified when Arendelle is attacked by the four forces of nature (wind, fire, water, and earth) and a mysterious singing voice compels Elsa to leave her city. Predictably, she wants to go alone. Just as predictably, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf want to join. The five of them set out on an adventure and along the way they wrestle with their personal struggles: destiny (Elsa), sisterhood (Anna), growing up (Olaf), and love (Kristoff).

Frozen II is jam packed with Big Ideas. Aside from the aforementioned personal struggle each character is dealing with (which they mostly hash out in their solos), the movie also reckons with environmentalism and colonialism. All these topics are interesting, but there are so many ideas floating around that the movie suffers, feeling disconnected and meandering. Despite having so much thematic content, the story never quite fleshes itself out. There were several scenes that felt like padding (Olaf recounting the entire plot of Frozen is one of the more delightful examples of this) and overall the story just didn’t move with the same vivacity of its predecessor.

As far as the music goes, the soundscape is gorgeous and a couple songs are gems (Olaf’s solo about growing up is hilarious and fun). Unfortunately, most of the songs, although good, feel misplaced. Rare is the moment when it makes sense for the character to burst into song. The biggest offender on this count was Kristoff’s solo, told through a hilarious 80s style music video (replete with pine cone microphones and elk backup singers). It’s a fun idea and technically well executed, but it took me right out of the story, and if you’re older than ten it will probably have the same effect on you.

All that said, the animation in Frozen II is absolutely to die for. The coloring, the action, the impeccable eye for detail: there is so much to love. The autumn colors of the forest repeatedly took my breath away and the animation of the sea and its watery inhabitants is just as stunning. Olaf, of course, is a whimsical favorite: his expressive bodily rearrangement is cute, complicated, and so fun. Honestly, I could have written an entire review just about how great the animation was, but I’ll leave the rest of it for you to discover yourself.

Frozen II is a movie that knows it has a lot to live up to. From its top-notch animation, an insistently whimsical Olaf, and surprisingly cerebral themes for a kids’ movie, Frozen II will leave its viewers with a lot to be impressed by and think about. Although worth seeing, its rather lackadaisical story arc, plodding soundtrack, and severe misstep of an ending make it hard for me to rate the movie highly.


SPOILER ALERT

Alright. For those of you who have either already seen Frozen II or don’t care about spoilers, here it is:

Frozen II ends with Elsa and Anna righting a wrong that their grandfather, then king of Arendelle, committed against the Northuldra tribe. In typical colonial fashion, their grandfather murdered the leader of the Northuldra after that leader expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the giant dam the king had installed “as a gift”. This murder (and the resulting battle) was an act of evil that the spirits of earth, wind, fire, and water repaid by (kind of unfairly) trapping both sides of the feud within a dome of impenetrable magic fog. Fast forward to “present day” in the movie. Anna destroys the dam when she and Elsa realize that their grandfather was a murderer and a liar.

This destruction creates a tidal wave that nearly flattens Arendelle, but doesn’t because Elsa races back to the city on her stunningly rendered Sea Horse and stops the water with a beautiful wall of ice. And then the water level very unrealistically just settles back to where it was before the dam broke. The fog lifts. The Northuldra continue to live in the forest; the city of Arendelle continues to exist exactly as it had before. Literally the only change made is that Arendelle installs a new statue that is supposed to represent the love between the Northuldra and the citizens of Arendelle.

There is a lot to unpack here and every pro is wrapped up in a corresponding con.

After thinking on it for a while, I do like the metaphor of some people being stuck in the fog of ancestral mistakes. It is fitting that Arendelle continues to thrive outside of the magical forest while none of the Northuldra people escaped the fog. Historically conquerers have been able to continue building their cities and their families and their futures while the conquered suffer under their rule. The only flaw here is that this particular fog represents the spirits of the forest and if the spirits are going to be on anyone’s side, it should probably be the Northuldra since they weren’t the lying liars who built a dam that destroyed a local ecosystem.

It is great that Anna and Elsa take responsibility for their grandfather’s actions and undo what he did by destroying the dam. However, there are absolutely no consequences to Arendelle. The two women are disappointed in their grandfather and they are not shy about telling others what he did, but their city, which we are told repeatedly is in the floodplain of the dam, emerges unscathed despite the destruction of that very dam. One well-placed wall of ice would not have saved that city from a mild flood at the very least. I get that this is a kids’ movie. I get that we want a happy ending. I also strongly believe that there was a huge missed opportunity to talk about reparations at the end of this film. Two generations of Northuldra people lived in a literal fog while Arendelle thrived on the other end of the fjord. Bare minimum giving the Northuldra people a stronger voice at the end of the movie would have been a better choice. Additionally, the storytellers should have found a more compelling way for Arendelle to reckon with the wrongs of its founders.

All that said, Disney collaborated with the Sami (a native group in Sweden) for this film. Although I get the impression that most of the Sami contributions were aesthetic, I would like to assume that they had some sort of input on the story as well. However, the pretty blatantly apologist ending makes it hard to believe that.

Tangentially, none of the Northuldra voice actors are native people. Obviously there are plenty of reasons why this myriad of choices would have gone unchallenged, but if you’re going to make a movie about reckoning with the sins of our fathers, maybe start with a more diverse cast.


Agree? Disagree? This is one I want to talk about. 🙂

TCFF 2019: ‘The Soviet Sleep Experiment’ – Review + Interview w/ director Barry Andersson + actor Chris Kattan

The Soviet Sleep Experiment

In the late 1940s, Soviet researchers kept four patients awake for thirty days using an experimental gas-based stimulant. The researchers were cut off from the world and asked to do a series of tests on the subjects for the benefit of the Red Army. What started as a purely scientific research study soon escalated to insanity. What happened next will change the way you view humanity.


FCInterviewBanner

The Soviet Sleep Experiment had its world premiere at Twin Cities Film Fest last Friday. Many of the cast/crew were present (many are Minnesota-based) for the red carpet interviews. It’s fitting that the film has a Minnesota premiere, given that it was filmed in the Twin Cities’ southern suburbs of Lakeville (check out this article from the set visit).

FlixChatter media correspondent Holly Peterson had a chance to chat with director Barry Andersson (whose film The Lumber Baron won TCFF’s Best Audience Award last year) and actor Chris Kattan (of Saturday Night Live and A Night at the Roxbury fame). Check out the interview below:

A few bts photos filming The Soviet Sleep Experiment*:

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*Photos courtesy of IMDb + The Soviet Sleep Experiment FB page.


Review of The Soviet Sleep Experiment

The Soviet Sleep Experiment is directed and produced by Minnesota native Barry Andersson and written by Michael Patrick McCaffrey. Andersson is back at the Twin Cities Film Fest in 2019 after a successful 2018 Twin Cities Film Fest, where his feature narrative film The Lumber Baron, a period drama about the heir to a failing lumber business and the enduring rumors of a treasure left behind by his grandfather, won the 2018 Audience Award for best feature. The Soviet Sleep Experiment stars Eva De Dominici as Dr. Anna Antonoff, Rafal Zawierucha Dr. Leo Antonoff, and Evgeny Krutov as Captain Yegor Sokolov. It also stars Chris Kattan as Subject 3, Michael Villar as Subject 4, Charles Hubbell as Subject 5 and Paul Cram as Subject 6.

The movie was filmed in and around Lakeville, Minnesota (per IMDB) and is a psychological thriller based loosely upon the urban legend which follows a married research team — Dr. Anna Antonoff and Dr. Leo Antonoff (De Dominici and Zawierucha) who, under close watch of a Red Army Captain Yegor Sokolov (Krutov) , and they set out to study the effects of forced sleep deprivation on four patients locked inside an observation chamber for 30 days. These four patients are given the names of Subject 3 (Kattan), Subject 4 (Villar), Subject 5 (Hubbell) and Subject 6 (Cram) and are placed inside a controlled tank where anti-sleeping gas is pumped into the chamber and each of the Subjects are mentally tested every eight hours, with their reward being a small earing ration about the size of a hockey puck.

Rafal Zawierucha + Eva De Dominici

After several hundreds of hours inside the chamber, the Subject start turning on each other and the doctors and Soviet Captain are forced to shock them using implants that are surgically implanted inside their necks to give them a jolt of electricity to have them calm down. The hundreds of hours outside the chamber also pays a toll on the doctors performing the experiment, with their also lack of sleep and mental exhaustion. This is brilliantly portrayed by Argentinian actress Dominici (of the 2018 film You Shall Not Sleep) and Polish actor Zawierucha (Roman Polanski in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) acting against Russian actor Krutov (Stranger Things Season 3). Soviet Captain Sokolov, who represents the overshadowing Red Army back in Moscow overseeing the experiment, is compelling and alarming at the same time — making a perfect antagonist to the already tense story!

The actors inside the chamber, most notably Kattan (of Saturday Night Live and A Night at the Roxbury fame) and Villar (of the 2018 film Skin) are featured much more prominently than Hubbell (of the 2013 film Walking with the Enemy) and Cram (of the Minnesota-made film Wilson, which was first shown in Minnesota by TCFF in March, 2017). All four actors portray the victims/subjects of The Soviet Sleep Experiment quite well and make for one bombastic showcase of horror and gore. They act opposite each other very well inside the isolated 1940s Soviet testing facility. The set design team who put together the chamber must also be commended as it is quite believable that such a “deep sea” diving chamber could be used for such a callous experiment. Overall, this is a very creepy and worthwhile movie to see in the lead up to Halloween season.


FlixChatter Review: HUSTLERS (2019)

Written & Directed By: Lorene Scafaria
Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes

Inspired by a Jessica Pressler article from late 2015, Hustlers is the real-life story of a group of women who became sexy 21st century Robin Hoods, stealing from wealthy men and enriching – well, themselves, mostly. But so did Robin Hood. That whole “give to the poor” schtick was a pretty late add to the Robin Hood mythos. Hustlers might be based on a true story, but it is enough of a fictionalization that the characters names have been changed and, last I heard, the woman who inspired the Ramona character is planning to sue Jennifer Lopez for misrepresenting her.

All that said, even as a completely fabricated story, Hustlers stands as a fun buddy comedy with just enough drama and hardship thrown in to keep the stakes high. The screenplay (written by director Lorene Scafaria, most well-known for the 2015 indie flick The Meddler) is sexy, dark, witty, and warm. There are several fun cameos: Cardi B was my favorite, but Lizzo made a brief appearance and Usher has a scene that is guaranteed to put a giant, goofy grin on every 90s kid’s face.

Scafaria places the viewers in time with a very intentionally crafted soundtrack. Britney Spears, Sean Kingston, Lorde, Usher, and Fiona Apple exist alongside their fashion counterparts of bebe, Louboutin, Juicy, Coach, and more. The audience can always be confident of what year it is because Scafaria is so good at giving her viewers auditory and visual cues.

Unsurprisingly, Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians, Fresh off the Boat) both give incredible performances. Jennifer Lopez shines as Ramona, the mastermind and glue of the operation. Her character is a tough-talking, warm hearted woman who takes no shit and is always there to build up the women in her life. Lopez gives an understated, emotional performances that is as warm as it is cold and she proves that even at fifty years old she is hotter than 90% of us can ever hope to be. Her abs alone deserve an award for their contribution to the film.

Destiny, played by Constance Wu, is the narrator and, towards the end of the story, an increasingly important decision maker in the scam that the two women run together. Wu does a great job showing Destiny’s development as a person. She goes from shy to sexy, uncertain to boss bitch, young hustler to young mother. Wu’s creates a vibrant, complex character whose internal battles play right across her face. The movie is truly worth watching for this performance alone.

I initially described this movie as a buddy comedy, but that description deserves the giant caveat that Hustlers is a genre busting film. Hustlers is partially a true story and there are aspects to that true story that are dark. Destiny is sexually assaulted at one point, which, after reading some articles about the actual events, seems like it was a more common experience at her club than was reflected in the film. Hustlers features all kinds of abusers and users: sometimes they are the women who ran the scam, but more often it is the men they are taking advantage of. Buddy comedy or no, this film shows off the glamor, the monotony, and the underbelly of strip clubs.

L-R: Lili Reinhart, JLo, Keke Palmer, Constance Wu

Hustlers is full of funny moments and outright jokes that kept me and my movie buddy laughing for most of the film. Despite its thematic darkness and the fact that neither of us has any desire to commit felonies or take up exotic dancing, we both laughed and cried our way through the movie and, at the end, were both aspiring to create a friendship like Destiny’s and Ramona’s.

Hustlers is a sexy movie with a wicked sense of humor, a lot of heart, and a weirdly uplifting message of women helping women. It’s a beautiful portrait of the highs and lows of friendship set against a backdrop of crime that is pretty palatable considering that most of their victims were insanely rich. Check it out while it’s still in theaters. Do it for the abs. Your TV won’t do Jennifer Lopez justice.


Have you seen ‘HUSTLERS’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a fun revisitation of the classic American adventure story. It follows two unlikely companions, Zak and Tyler, who are thrown together by a mutual need to get out of town. Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with downs syndrome who is running away from his care home, pursued by the well-meaning Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a fisherman who has made the wrong people angry. After a couple narrow escapes both Zak and Tyler realize that they need each other; Zak as a stand-in for Tyler’s brother; and Tyler as one of the few people who sees and treats Zak as a full human being.

Unfortunately, much of the writing in Peanut Butter Falcon is clunky. The introductory scenes in the care home and the fishing yard are stilted:  those scenes wind up feeling undirected, unedited, and rushed. In one scene, Eleanor’s boss urgently calls her into his office, but when she gets there, she, along with the audience, is forced to sit through the tail end of a pointless phone call. Tyler’s rivals talk in an expository way that makes them feel more like super villains than fishermen. They are caricatures of something that does not quite exist:  a confusing mash-up of a bad cliché of an inner-city gang member and an equally bad cliché of a blue-collar worker.

I would have liked more from Dakota Johnson, but her role was more of an outline than a character. She was effortlessly swept off her feet by Tyler, despite the characters seeming incompatible. Tyler mostly made judgmental assumptions about her rather than asking her questions about herself and although we definitely see her come to respect the way Tyler treats Zak, there is never a shift in how Tyler treats Eleanor. Regardless, Johnson played the character with heart and made Eleanor more than she would have been in lesser hands.

Maybe the most egregious writing foul in Peanut Butter Falcon, though, is that one of the movie’s two (count em two) speaking black characters was a “magical negro”. This is a bad move in and of itself, but is made worse because the filmmakers are familiar with the trope. In an interview with City Weekly Mike Shwartz (who wrote and directed alongside Tyler Nilson) said that they wanted to make sure that Zak never came across as a “magical disability person”, directly referencing the magical negro trope. (The film succeeds in this pursuit. Zak’s character has goals, a fun personality, strong opinions, etc.) Those same filmmakers being lazy enough to include a blind black man who lives in the woods and proselytizes to anyone who comes to his door is almost unfathomable when they apparently know that the negro trope exists is incredibly problematic.

So, the positives.

As mentioned above, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a movie that aims to empower people with downs syndrome and it does that well. Not only is Zak a nuanced, interesting character with a big personality, he is also played by a person with downs syndrome. Gottsagen is a great actor and his performance, especially in scenes with Tyler, are really well executed.  We are overdue for casting choices like this one.

Also, the movie did not shy away from the sometimes harsh reality of what life with downs syndrome can be like. Zak is underestimated, bullied, and called names often and although those things hurt his feelings, he remains a resilient man with dreams to fulfill. He is a fully fleshed character from the beginning and over the course of his journey he continues to grow as a person. 

The chemistry between LaBeouf and Gottsagen cannot be overstated. The two share several intimate moments: dancing around a campfire, walking through cornfields, and (my personal favorite) sitting on the edge of their raft gently slapping each other’s faces. The bond they create rests somewhere between brotherhood and friendship and is expressed masterfully by both actors.

The movie is a visual love-letter to the American south. Nigel Bluck creates a scenic backdrop to the story, incorporating drone shots and wide-angles that highlight that beauty of the natural landscape in breathtaking moments that never detract from the story.

Oh, and Thomas Haden Church has a great little cameo as retired wrestler “Salt Water Redneck”.

Overall, this movie has its flaws: the relationship between Zak and Tyler is obviously the element that the filmmakers put the most energy into (and the rest of the movie suffers for that emphasis, even if it is the crux of the story), but the movie is worth a watch for that relationship and for its ultimately empowering story.


Have you seen The Peanut Butter Falcon? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: LITTLE (2019)

Directed By: Tina Gordon
Written By: Tina Gordon and Tracy Oliver
Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes

Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) is the quintessential boss bitch. She is rich, powerful, and micromanages every detail of her life – all the way down to how many centimeters away from her bed her slippers are placed every night. She rules her company with the same iron fist, decimating carbs and fun whenever they try to wriggle their way into the office. A little girl, apparently unimpressed by boss bitchiness as a life philosophy, magics Sanders back into her teenage self (teenage Sanders is played by the iridescent Marsai Martin). Sanders is trapped in her teenage body until she can learn the important lesson that will restore her back to the life that she built for herself.

Like most comedies these days, Little suffers due to the perfection of its own trailer, but it is still a solid movie. Some of the best jokes lose their punch because timing was tighter in the trailer (which is a flaw that extends past general comedic timing – several scenes drag in pacing) and there are some very cute scenes that just do not belong in the movie. In one such scene, Issa Rae (who plays Jordan Sanders’ assistant April Williams) and Marsai Martin slay a duet in a fancy restaurant. It is incredibly fun to watch, but makes no contextual sense, so it completely took me out of the movie.

Overall Tracy Oliver and Tina Gordon Chism created a beautiful thing in Little. The writing is light, funny, and still packs an emotional punch every now and then. The women characters are powerful, creative, and both excel in a tech field. The romantic interests of both Jordan and April are sexy, supportive, self-sufficient, and eager to prove their worth to the women in their lives. These are characters that are clearly built to give something for girls to aspire to, rather than the usual two-dimensional characters that often populate children’s movies or rom-coms.

One of my favorite things about Little is the visual storytelling. April wears fun, bright clothing, and Jordan is completely chic as a grown up and a fashion explosion as a child. The contrast between April and Jordan is non-verbally expressed time and time again through clothing, make-up, and even their homes. We learn almost everything that we need to know about each character when we initially see April in her small, colorful studio apartment while she’s talking on the phone to Jordan, dressed in silks pajamas and roaming the halls of her swanky condo.

However fun it may be, Little ultimately tries to do too much. Jordan is supposed to learn how to tone down her aggression, April is trying to grow a backbone, and Jordan’s new pre-tween friends are also supposed to learn an important life lesson somewhere in the midst of all the action. Viewers miss the fun of it all, as the movie makes sure to check off each step of the hero’s journey for all five characters.

When April meets the child version of Sanders, she jokes that this kind of thing does not happen to people of color. Personally, I look forward to the day when that joke makes no sense. Eventually there will be enough fantastical movies like this that have burst free from their historically caucasian box and our entertainment as a whole will be better for it.

Normally, I would suggest waiting to see a movie like Little once it is available on your favorite streaming service. It is a perfect movie to watch at home on a rainy afternoon when you’re free to pause and replay at your leisure. But. I also want Hollywood to know that Americans are here for this kind of movie. Is Little a perfect movie? Hell no. But it has a sweet ending, it is full of great jokes, and you will fall in love with Marsai Martin if you have not already.

So do us all a favor and go see this imperfect little gem in a theater. The future of American cinema thanks you.


Have you seen ‘LITTLE’? Well, what did you think?