Sunday, July 26, 2015

Series: Summer Lovin' - Week 6

What reminds you most of summer?

As an adult with a full-time job that doesn't include summer (a fact that baffles the kids who I volunteer to spend time with weekly), there are a few things that remind me of the summers spent as a child. The smell of sunscreen (or truly anything coconut-scented) sends me back to the days where my mom would slather the stuff on us and then send us over to our next-door neighbors' backyard to play in their above-ground pool. Last year, three friends and I hung out in the pool of one of the girls' condos. When we got out to lay on our towels, my friend Heather brought out her cooler which was stuffed full with Otter Pops. All of us -- all mid-to-late twenty-somethings -- ended up eating at least four of the popsicles each, devouring their brightly-colored pure sugar water. Eating those reminded us all of childhood summers spent in backyards, at barbecues, and poolside.

Summer Lovin' has been such a fun series for me to do because it's allowed all of us on staff to take breaks from our normal fall television review schedules and just enjoy time binge-watching Netflix, reading in our backyards, or beating the heat by sitting in an air-conditioned movie theatre for a few hours. We hope you've enjoyed this series as much as we have! So let's kick off our sixth installment. This week, I have the distinct honor of the following writers joining me:

  • Supernatural guru and adorable human being, Deena Edwards
  • Leo, crepe-lover, and recent birthday girl, Chelsea!
  • Queen of The X-Files and meta commentary, Lizzie
  • Lover of animals, Adam Scott, and snarky live-tweeting, Laura
Ready? Here we go!

What Jenn's lovin': Wish I Was Here

Why she's lovin' it: Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I'm a person who has a lot of faith. I believe in God and prayer and love my church. I consider faith to be such a fundamental part of who I am. I definitely wasn't always that way and yeah, sometimes I struggle with things and life because life is rough and unfair. But faith is my anchor. That's why I found Wish I Was Here to be so completely moving and compelling. It's a story about a man named Aidan Bloom (played by the immensely talented Zach Braff) who learns that his father, Saul (the fantastic Mandy Patinkin) is dying. He's had cancer and now it is back and back aggressively. This means that Saul will no longer be able to fund his grandchildren's private schooling, leaving Aidan and his wife Sarah (queen Kate Hudson) to figure out what to do next. Wish I Was Here is all about the struggle -- the struggle of what it means to be a parent, a child, a friend, a spouse, a good decision maker, and a dream-chaser. It's a movie that asks what it means to have faith and what happens when you don't know what you believe in. It's a story about chasing life, not death. 

What I really loved about this film was how grounded it was in the messiness of those questions. Aidan and Sarah don't have easy answers. They have a difficult marriage and we see the stress of life wear on them. But we also see what happens when they refuse to give up fighting for each other -- when Aidan sacrifices for Sarah and defends her after realizing how strong she is. We see Aidan and his brother Noah (Josh Gad, whose presence in this film was absolutely wonderful and who made me cry twice) struggle with growing up and making amends with their father before he dies. We see what it means in this movie to be fearless (Joey King absolutely shines as Grace and her role focuses a lot on the dichotomy between fearlessness and faith as a child), to run after the hard questions instead of running away from them. We learn what it means to have faith, to live rather than exist, and to trust in the things that matter. There were so many wonderful elements of this film and they were all presented in the way that life is: messy, broken, beautiful, and not easy. But always worth fighting for.

Bonus lovin' from Jenn: The Begin Again soundtrack

Why she's lovin' it: Okay, so those of you who know me know that I'm totally NOT someone who sees a lot of movies. I'm a TV girl. If a movie is recommended to me, it's rare that I'll fork over $11 to see it in theatres (unless it's Inside Out). So it's weird that this weekend I watched two movies on Netflix. But what can I say? British Netflix has all of the great options. I had been hearing great things about Begin Again, so I watched the film and was really impressed with the story. I really rooted for Greta as a character and I was glad that the movie ended with her absolutely and completely finding freedom in herself and her music. I am in the business of loving redemptive stories, too, so to Dan's arc of redemption through his relationship with Greta was just wonderful. Plus, this was a film that had Mark Ruffalo, James Corden, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, and Hailee Steinfeld in it. It doesn't get much better.

What I really loved though was the music in the film. I texted Jaime during the "A Step You Can't Take Back" scene, basically with hearts in my eyes. That was an absolutely beautiful song (and, cinematically, one the absolute coolest scenes ever). And, of course, I got to experience the joy of "Lost Stars." A movie about music needs to have great music and Begin Again did. Moreover, the music really emphasized the plot and enhanced it. The music made us ache for Greta and when she heard Dave sing "Lost Stars" live, there didn't need to be any words spoken between them or uttered by Greta in order to understand exactly how she was feeling. That's what great music in a film does -- it moves characters, moves plot, and most importantly moves US. I'll be putting this soundtrack on repeat for quite a while.

What Deena's lovin': All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Why she's lovin' it: The Fault In Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park. When I'd first seen this comparison, I knew that I had to at least check All the Bright Places out. TFIOS and E&P are two of my favorite books, and still remain very close to my heart. I'd seen All The Bright Places around before but had never given much thought to reading it, until I found it on sale for a few bucks on the iBooks store. I some extra dollars, so I thought, why not? I normally don't buy ebooks, but in this case, I'm glad that I did. 

Now, after having read it, although I can see why critics and fans might compare it to those books, I feel that even without that sort of comparison, this is a book that is perfectly capable of standing on its own. Sure, it's Young Adult, and it's certainly emotional, but there was something about it that pulled at my heartstrings just as much as either of the above books had, perhaps even more at certain moments. 

The story is about two high school students, Violet Markey and Theodore Finch, and it begins when they meet atop the school belltower. Violet is still grieving her late sister, and Finch is riddled with thoughts of suicide, imagining various ways he might end his life. While I won't go too far into the plot of the story as not to spoil anything, I can say without a doubt this was one of the most heartwrenching books I've ever read. It still remains cute and quirky at times, but it deals with the serious issue of depression -- not carelessly as a simple plot device or shrugging the disease off as nothing. This is actually a fairly dark story in a lot of ways, but as the title suggests, there are still moments of brightness that shine through. As we get inside both Violet and Theodore's heads, we understand how they feel, and why they're doing the things they are. We see them grow and change and basically save each other, all the while embarking on their own little adventures. We root for them -- we want them to win in the end. By the time I finished the book, I was so invested and attached to these characters, it was incredibly hard to let them go.

In summary: if you're looking for a very light read, this might not be for you. But if you want to get the crap kicked out of your feels, if you want to laugh and cry and not stop turning the pages until you're on the very last one, I highly suggest you give this book a try. I applaud Jennifer Niven for tackling such a tough subject with such grace and mindfulness as she did. Oh, and apparently, as I found out quite recently, it's going to be a movie starring Elle Fanning! If that's not reason enough to read it, I don't know what is. I'll definitely be watching it, and hopefully writing about it whenever it comes out.

What Chelsea's lovin': Electra Woman & Dyna Girl's trailer

Why she's lovin' it: YouTubers are my favorite content creators these days. I think they're putting out better work than most things on film and TV and it's a great platform for female writers and performers. When I heard that my two favorite YouTubers Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart were not only making a web series together but they would be superheroes in the series, I may have lost my chill. In the great Marvel vs. DC battle, we are still waiting for a female-led superhero movie and sure, we might be getting a Wonder Woman film in a few years but I'm tired of waiting. YouTube is once again proving to be ahead of the curve.

In the words of Helbig and Hart, Electra Woman & Dyna Girl is "The Avengers meets Friends meets Girls meets Fame meets Gilmore Girls." and "it's Ducktails meets Superman meets... like an E! fashion review show." While it could very well be these things, it is a reboot of the 70's TV series that satirized superheroes such as Batman and Robin. In the new series, a video of the duo's exploits goes viral, leading them to move from Akron, Ohio to Los Angeles in hopes of making it big as crime-fighters. They quickly learn that crime-fighting in L.A. isn't a walk in the park as they face competition from other heroes and their friendship is put to the test.

The above trailer was released earlier this week at VidCon and it exceeded my expectations. Very quickly you can tell that Helbig and Hart kept their brand of awkward and goofy humor while also remaining faithful to the original series. There's no release date yet for Electra Woman & Dyna Girl, but for more Helbig & Hart, subscribe to their hilarious channels where they posted behind-the-scenes clips from filming earlier this year and go watch their first film Camp Takota on Netflix (it also stars the third part of the Holy Trinity: Mamrie Hart).

What Lizzie's lovin': The Mockingjay trailer (and the books and the movies and the actors)

Why she's lovin' it: I was not a fan of Mockinjay, the book, when it first came out. I’ll admit it. I devoured the first two books in the series, and yet, when I got to the final installment, I was disappointed. There was too much politics, and too little humanity (the humanity is what I loved about the first two!) But after the seeing the first two movies, I had high hopes for Mockingjay: Part 1 (and it delivered!) and the second part. If the movies have done one thing well, it has been in making the Peeta/Katniss relationship flourish. This, of course, is especially because Jennifer Lawerence and Josh Hutcherson are two total cupcakes with so much chemistry that half the time I have a hard time deciding if I like Peeta/Katniss or Josh/Jennifer more.

Mockingjay: Part 1, as much as I liked it, was two hours of setup for this final movie. This is the movie we’ve been waiting for. This is the conclusion to the saga. And I thought I was excited. I thought I was looking forward to it. Then I saw the Comic-Con trailer.

Now I’m pumped. I’m counting down the days. I’m DROWNING IN FEELS. I need this movie now, and I need it like I need air. How am I supposed to wait four more months? How, when I got a glimpse of strong, badass Katniss leading her people and Peeta coming back and Finnick and Annie getting married and a grown up Prim. Even Gale looks like he’s doing something in this movie, and I’m glad. Everything is coming to an end, and though endings usually make me sad (especially endings to stories I love so much), in this case, I think I’m going to enjoy the ending -- the end to the war Katniss has been fighting for so long. Because Katniss has suffered enough. She deserves a victory. She deserves a little bit of happiness. Even if she has to suffer one more time to get there.

... I might be re-watching the trailer right now. On a loop. Sue me. This is perfect.

What Laura's lovin': Ant-Man (and Paul Rudd)

Why she's lovin' it: Let me preface this by saying that I am not a huge Marvel person. I’ve enjoyed the movies I’ve seen but I don’t go out of my way to see them. It wasn’t until a year ago, when I fell in love with Arrow, that I even gave any superhero movies or shows a chance, writing them off as a genre I would never get into. Since then, I’ve seen a few Iron Man movies, one Thor movie, and one of the Avengers movies, going into each with an open mind and finding them entertaining enough. There are a lot of Marvel things that I’m sure I just don’t "get" because I’m so unfamiliar with the backstories and the genre in general. Honestly, I think it’s a sign of a good movie or show for an uneducated audience member to still find enjoyment out of the content even without knowledge of the backstory. 

Last year at Comic-Con, I happened to be in Hall H on the day of the Marvel panels and was delighted to see Paul Rudd there promoting Ant-Man, a movie I had vaguely heard about but not paid much interest to. Being a life-long Paul Rudd fan, the movie immediately caught my attention, as I found it odd that they would cast someone who’s done mostly comedy in an action movie. Over the next year, various news pieces about the movie popped up on my Twitter feed and the consensus seemed to be that it would be one of the worst Marvel movies ever made. But still, with the never-aging yet always delightful Paul Rudd starring in Ant-Man, it remained a movie I wanted to see. 

This past week, I got a chance to see the movie and it did not disappoint. As much as I’ve loved Rudd in all the comedies he’s done, I won’t pretend like I didn’t have my doubts about him being able to pull off the superhero thing. The way the movie played out though, it was no stretch to see his character gradually work his way from a criminal to a hero. Rudd is one of those actors that can make literally any character likable, giving you reasons to sympathize with and care about their journeys. On top of that, he brought humor to the movie while ensuring that you still realized how high the stakes were. The science stuff went right over my head, but I do know one thing. If it ever were possible for a man to shrink to the size of an ant while still maintaining the power of a normal-sized human, I’d want that Ant-Man to be Paul Rudd. 

There you have it, friends! What TV shows, movies, or books are you loving this week? Hit up the comments below and let us know your thoughts. Until then, folks. :)


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