November Movie Preview

November this year is stacked with highly anticipated movies coming out, and there’s a great mix so there’s something for everyone. I had a hard time just picking five movies to highlight. A ton of potential awards contenders are being released (The Irishman, Ford v Ferarri, Waves, Honey Boy, Knives Out) as well as some fun action and family adventures (Terminator: Dark Fate, Charlie’s Angels, Frozen II).  Here are the five movies coming out this month that I’m most excited about.

Harriet (Nov. 1)

Rating: PG-13
Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monae, Joe Alwyn

Abolitionist Harriet Tubman escapes slavery and returns to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad.  

Why I’m excited: It’s insane that there hasn’t been a movie about Harriet Tubman until now. Stories like hers need to be broadcast more widely, so I’m excited to learn more about her. Cynthia Erivo is phenomenally talented and it’s evident that she has taken this role seriously and wants to do Harriet justice.

See this if you liked: 12 Years a Slave, Glory, Amistad

Last Christmas (Nov. 8)

Rating: PG-13
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson

An unlucky young woman takes department store during the holidays where she meets a charming mystery man who changes her life.  

Why I’m excited: Emilia Clarke spent the last 10 years as Daenerys Targaryan on Game of Thrones, so to make the jump from high fantasy drama to holiday rom com will be quite something. Henry Golding is still riding the high from his breakout performance in last year’s Crazy Rich Asians, so he and Clarke together will be some great fun.

See this if you liked: The Holiday, Four Christmases, Love Actually

Frozen II (Nov. 22)

Rating: PG
Starring: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown

After the events of the first movie, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf must journey to discover the origin of Elsa’s magic.

Why I’m excited: The original Frozen took the world by storm when it came out (you’re still probably singing “Let It Go”). It was a unique story with fun characters, and the sequel looks like it’s focused on expanding the world and answering questions leftover from the first movie. I just hope Jonathan Groff gets to sing a full song this time.

See this if you liked: Frozen, Moana, Brave, Tangled

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Nov. 22)

Starring: Tom Hanks

A cynical journalist takes an assignment to profile beloved television host Fred Rogers. As the reporter spends time with Rogers, his perspective and reflections on his own life begin to change.

Why I’m excited: Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. That’s it. What else do you need?

See this if you liked: Sully, Forrest Gump, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Knives Out (Nov. 27)

Rating: PG-13
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer

A wealthy crime novelist celebrates his 85th birthday with his dysfunctional family. But the day after the party, the patriarch is found dead. Detectives are called to investigate, and everyone is a suspect.

Why I’m excited: This is by far my most anticipated movie for the rest of the year. Pairing Rian Johnson with this ridiculous cast and a murder mystery is a formula for success. It’s an original story that’s making a lot of waves, which is becoming rare nowadays. The reviews so far are already great, which makes me even more excited. Plus, Chris Evans.

See this if you liked: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Murder on the Orient Express, Clue, Death on the Nile

All-time Top 10: La La Land

Here’s to the fools who dream…

It took me a long time to fully realize my love of musicals. Sure, I grew up in the Disney Renaissance so most of the earliest movies I saw were musicals, but I didn’t really understand their impact as a seven-year-old. As I got older, I saw some other movie musicals, like Hairspray, Rent and the High School Musical trilogy, and even saw Wicked on stage. Again, they were fun, and I liked the songs, but I never fully appreciated them.

It wasn’t until I saw the 2012 movie version of Les Misérables that something finally clicked. The way the music told the story, the characters, the emotion, the harmonies and melodies… I was obsessed. Over the next few months, I went down a musical rabbit hole, discovering new shows, new songs, and new performers. While this eventually led to my ultimate obsession with Broadway and stage musicals, movie musicals are just as important to this art form. So in 2016 when La La Land came out and was getting a lot of awards attention, I knew I had to see it.

La La Land (2016), directed by Damien Chazelle, is a story about love, but it is not a love story. La La Land follows Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist, and Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actor, as they try to break into the industry and chase their dreams. As they both feel the push and pull of success, they struggle to maintain their budding relationship.

Both Mia and Sebastian’s journeys show the hard decisions that have to be made in order to follow your dreams. Mia wants to be an actress, but she struggles in auditions – not always by her own fault, either. The directors and producers she sees don’t always give her their undivided attention or she’s interrupted in the middle of her audition. She decides to take a risk and writes a one-woman show that doesn’t go as well as she expected. She keeps getting beat down to the point where she doesn’t believe she’s good enough to succeed. This is something almost everyone can understand – we’ve all felt unworthy or not good enough to reach our goals. Mia eventually finds success thanks to some supportive nudging from Sebastian and through a producer who saw her one-woman show. Having people who believe in you, even if you don’t, can sometimes change your life.

Sebastian, on the other hand, has such lofty goals that they’re not possible to achieve in the way he wants. His ultimate dream is to open a new jazz club and somehow “save jazz.” But the club he wants isn’t for sale and he can’t hold a steady job to help him work toward that goal. An opportunity comes along that lands him in a successful band, but they’re not playing “his” style of music. Sebastian has to struggle between having financial success and doing what he really wants to do. Like Mia, Sebastian eventually finds success and opens his own club where he can perform the music he loves, but his journey took a few detours in order to get there.

In Mia’s final audition song, she sings about “the fools who dream.” Both Mia and Sebastian are dreamers, and while they both eventually succeed in reaching their goals, it comes at a cost – be it heartbreak, setbacks or jobs they’re not committed to. The “epilogue” shows what their life could have been and the possibility of a happy life together. But ultimately they both found happiness on their own through the mess they made.

La La Land is also a love story to classic Hollywood musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, and you can really feel that influence throughout the movie’s tone, visuals, and structure. There are plenty of references to classic musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris. With a predominately jazz-based score, La La Land even sounds like a classic musical. The epilogue and the planetarium sequences really give the score huge moments to shine.

The music in La La Land is so good at telling Mia and Sebastian’s love story. The couple’s main theme is first played by Sebastian in the restaurant, and Mia is drawn to it – hinting at a connection neither of them know is there at the time. Mia later hears the theme played at another restaurant when she’s at a dinner with her then-boyfriend. She is supposed to be meeting Sebastian, and the music reminds her where she really wants to be. Shout out to the music team for this movie – Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman), who wrote the lyrics, and Justin Hurwitz (First Man, Whiplash), who did all the composing.

There’s an old musical theater saying that says “if you can’t say it, you sing it; if you can’t sing it, you dance it.” It’s a beautiful idea that illustrate how music and dancing relate to the characters’ emotions. In the “Lovely Night” dance, Mia and Sebastian begin by talking and bantering back and forth. They clearly like each other, but when they can’t think of anything else to say, they start singing. And once they can’t sing anymore, they break out into dance. By the end of the song, it’s obvious they like each other, and their relationship begins to develop.  

And a special shout out to Mandy Moore (no, not that Mandy Moore), the choreographer, for all of these incredible dance sequences. Many of the numbers were shot in one take or made with very few cuts. The end of the opening number on the highway is one long take with dozens of performers and stunts. It’s mind-blowing to realize all the details and planning that went into just one small part of this movie. The “Lovely Night” dance is also shot in one long six-minute take. These long takes are just another homage to classic Hollywood musicals that highlight the actors’ performances.

Speaking of actors, is it even possible for Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to be unlikable? These two have such great chemistry that they’ve played love interests in THREE movies – La La Land, Crazy Stupid Love, and Gangster Squad. They play off each other so well in both the funny and serious moments. They spent weeks in rehearsals for the big dance numbers, and Ryan Gosling even learned how to play the piano for this role – that’s actually him playing on screen, not someone else.

La La Land is ultimately a story about love and balancing that love with following your dreams. It’s an absolutely gorgeous movie (just pay attention to the colors) with some incredible performances and a bittersweet ending. This is the second Damien Chazelle movie (after First Man) to make it into my all-time top 10, so I’m definitely excited to see what he does next.

10 movies to watch in October if you hate horror movies

October is the time for ghosts, ghouls and monsters, ready to jump out and scare the pants off of you. But if you’re like me, you don’t see the point in purposefully participating in any activity that’s going to give you anxiety or keep you up all night scared of what’s in your closet.

Luckily, there are plenty of movies that can satisfy the wacky and weird Halloween cravings in your life that won’t haunt your dreams. A lot of classic non-scary Halloween movies came out during the late 1980s and early 1990s, possibly in response to the horror heyday of the 1970s and 80s that produced classics like Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So here are 10 movies you can watch this month to celebrate Halloween if you hate horror movies.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Is there a bigger cult classic than Hocus Pocus? This movie has become more synonymous with Halloween than the Halloween franchise. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are indescribable as the Sanderson sisters.

Clue (1985)

Based on the classic board game, Clue goes all-in on the tropes, props and story of a murder mystery in a hysterical fashion. It actually sticks pretty closely to the plot of the board game and is filled with slapstick humor perfect for all ages. The cast is incredible and looks like they had the best time making the movie. Tim Curry and Madeline Kahn steal the show.

Halloweentown (1998)

Every kid that grew up in the 90s knows this Disney Channel Original Movie is one of the greats. Debbie Reynolds is an icon and it introduced us to the DCOM queen Kimberly J. Brown. It’s goofy and definitely geared towards younger kids, but you wanted not scary, right? Bonus: Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge is just as good (don’t ask about the others). 

Ghostbusters (1984)

This classic has everyone asking “Who you gonna call?” every Halloween. There’s plenty of laughs to balance out the weird and the Zuul. It has one of the catchiest theme songs ever written and introduced us to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the concept of intimate ghosts.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Tim Burton shows up three times on this list (get it?). He’s the king of quirky dark comedy, and Beetlejuice is his quirkiest of all. When a couple gets some uninvited house guests, they call on Beetlejuice to help get rid of their infestation. Plus it’s got an all-star cast with Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

This movie is wild. A flower shop worker finds a new plant that grows to an enormous size, talk, sing, and cause lots of problems for everyone involved. And it’s a musical – written by a pre-Disney Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

How do you even begin to explain The Rocky Horror Picture Show? It’s become one of the greatest cult classics and fans across the world have live performances with the movie each year. It features some truly unique characters (another iconic Tim Curry performance) and incredibly catchy songs.

The Addams Family (1991)

The first live-action feature film debut of the creepy and kooky family, it’s just as wacky as you’d expect. Bad is good, disgusting is beautiful. Anjelica Huston as Morticia is perfection – she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance! Christiana Ricci and Christopher Lloyd are also standouts.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Is Winona Ryder the Queen of Halloween? She certainly has a strong argument to make with Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Stranger Things on her resume. Here, she teams up again with the undisputed King of Halloween Tim Burton, along with Burton’s muse Johnny Depp, to bring the story of Edward Scissorhands – an unfinished science experiment that winds up in a standard suburban town.

Casper (1995)

Casper the friendly ghost is definitely geared more towards kids and is very much a 90s movie, but it’s cute and fun and Casper is adorable. Christina Ricci gives another great performance and adds to her campaign to be the younger Halloween Queen after Winona Ryder.

Bonus: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Yes, this counts as both a Halloween movie and a Christmas movie. I like to watch this during the first week of November as a way to wrap up Halloween and officially begin the Christmas season. As the story centers around residents of Halloween Town, it feels more Halloween-centric. Tim Burton produced this stop-motion masterpiece and his long-time collaborator Danny Elfman wrote the iconic songs.

How I see so many movies in theaters (aka RIP MoviePass)

There’s no doubt that movie theaters are struggling these days. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have made it easier than ever to watch new movies from the comfort of your own couch – which normally is something I fully support. Leaving your house to do anything is terrible. Like comedian John Mulaney says, “It’s so much easier not to do things than to do them.”

But there’s still something that can be said for watching movies in a movie theater. Sitting in a dark room with a giant screen, seeing your favorite characters larger than life with the ultimate surround sound can transport you right into the story. It fully immerses you in that world and you forget about everything else for a couple of hours. Plus, there are some movies that are just made to be watched on the big screen.

Recently, theaters have been making a lot of updates to make sure people keep coming to watch movies. Changes that make the price of tickets, popcorn, and snacks worth it. Just going to see one movie can wind up being pretty expensive. Something had to be done to keep theaters competitive with Netflix.

In late 2017, a company called MoviePass rocked the entertainment industry. Billed as “the Netflix of movies,” MoviePass would let you see one movie every day for the low cost of $9.95 a month.

One. Movie. A. Day.

For $9.95 a mONTH??

Like, are you kidding??

That’s less than an actual movie ticket! MoviePass would immediately pay for itself just by seeing ONE movie. Users would use a MoviePass credit card to pay for the movies (which would charge MoviePass for the price of the ticket). You also had to be less than 100 yards from the theater to “activate” your ticket, so you couldn’t pre-order tickets ahead of time.  

I subscribed to MoviePass in November 2017 just to see how it worked. At such a low price it couldn’t hurt! Initially, I used it to see movies I wouldn’t normally pay to see in theaters. One of the first things I did was see as many of the Oscar Best Picture nominees that year. It introduced me to the more artistic side of movies and knowing more about the movies nominated made watching the Oscars much more enjoyable. So for me, MoviePass was a game-changer.

But MoviePass had some glaring issues from the start. Setting the price at $9.95 a month enticed millions of people to use the service, but the price was not high enough to recoup their costs. MoviePass was having to pay the full price of each ticket bought with their credit cards but were charging less than the price of a full ticket for their service. They were hemorrhaging money.

Throughout the first half of 2018, MoviePass changed their pricing structure multiple times, restricted availability for certain movies, and had spotty reliability. The video below does a much better job of explaining what went wrong with MoviePass, so I highly suggest watching it if you’re interested.

I stuck with MoviePass through most of the changes, but in July 2018 I decided enough was enough. Luckily, there was another, better option.

In response to MoviePass’s initial success, theater chains began working on their own versions of subscription services. AMC, the largest theater chain in the country, launched the AMC A-List the same month I quit MoviePass.

The A-List, which cost $20 a month, was similar to MoviePass, but only allowed members to see up to three movies each week and pre-order tickets online. You also get points for AMC’s membership program that you can redeem for $5 off at the concession stand.

Other theater chains announced similar programs, but since almost all the major theaters in Birmingham are AMCs, it was kind of an obvious choice. Using the A-List has been one of the best decisions. Since joining in August 2018, I’ve seen almost 50 movies in theaters and saved almost $300 by not buying each ticket individually. (AMC, if you’d like to sponsor me for this glowing endorsement, hit me up!)

MoviePass definitely deserves credit for introducing the concept of movie subscription services to the world. It changed the way people see movies, but it just didn’t have the right business model to sustain itself. MoviePass shut down indefinitely in September 2019.

So now I get to go see any movie I want ~basically~ for free. I don’t go see movies in a theater every weekend, but I absolutely go enough to justify the cost of $20 each month for the A-List. Some months are slower than others – like I only saw two movies in theaters in August, but there are NINE movies being released in November that are on my must-see list.

These subscription programs obviously aren’t for everyone. Nearly half of Americans just go to a movie theater once or twice a year. But for crazy people like me, who go multiple times a month, or people who want to see a wider variety of movies, it’s definitely worth a shot. There are so many good movies being released each year – all you have to do is get out of your house and go see one (sitting in a different dark room that’s not your own)!

All-time Top 10: Kingsman: The Secret Service

“This ain’t that kind of movie, bruv”

Kingsman: The Secret Service was one of those movies that just came out of nowhere but hit me just right. Now, it’s on my list of movies I can endlessly rewatch and fall in love with over and over again.

Kingsman was released in February 2014. I had seen a couple of the trailers and thought it looked pretty cool, but I was never that interested in spy movies. This wasn’t a Marvel or Star Wars movie that I already had an emotional connection to.

But, Kingsman just happened to come out the same weekend as Fifty Shades of Grey – a movie that I was very much against (which is a story for another time) and did not want to do well at the box office. So I brilliantly thought that going to see this new Kingsman movie would be a contribution against Fifty Shades. Kingsman ultimately came in second place to Fifty Shades in its opening weekend, but it immediately jumped to number one in my heart.

I had no idea what I was getting into with this movie, but holy cow did I love everything about it. Like I said, I’ve never been big on spy movies – James Bond, Jason Bourne and Mission: Impossible have never really appealed to me that much. Kingsman, though, is a spy movie turned up to 11. More action, more blood, more cursing, more British.

Kingsman follows Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, a poor kid from London, as he discovers the world of a secret spy agency. Eggsy is recruited by agent Harry Hart to replace a recently fallen spy. Eggsy has to compete against other recruits to become the next Kingsman. Meanwhile, the agents work to stop Richmond Valentine, a tech billionaire who is intent on killing millions of people across the globe in order to protect the earth and its environment. Valentine describes humanity as a virus, and believes global warming is the earth’s “fever” in response. He concocts a scheme to give everyone in the world a free SIM card that offers free internet forever – no more carrier charges or phone bills ever again. Naturally, the world sprints (no pun intended) to pick up these SIM cards, but little do they know that Valentine has the ability to control them through the cards and make them unnaturally violent.

At its heart, Kingsman is one of those odd couple kind of movies. Eggsy and Harry discuss this idea in an early scene, name-dropping My Fair Lady and Pretty Woman. Eggsy learns that becoming a Kinsman is not about fitting a specific mold, but learning to better himself and bring the skills he has into this new world. At every test, Eggsy is able to find success not because he’s doing what he’s told, but because he’s using his own talents in new ways. Sure, he learns some Kingsman tricks along the way, but he becomes more confident in his own skills throughout the movie.

Taron Egerton is the breakout star of this movie. He’s instantly likable and endearing as Eggsy and watching him enter this strange world is delightful. The supporting cast of Kingsman is ridiculous. Colin Firth as Harry Hart, Mark Strong as the Kingsman version of Bond’s Q, Merlin, and Jack Davenport (from Pirates of the Caribbean) as an unlucky agent are inspired casting as stereotypical posh Brits.

Then there’s Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine, who probably had more fun in this role than he’s had in a long time and really steals the show. Jackson gives Valentine a lisp, which is a little off-putting when you first hear it, but becomes menacing when it counts. Sofia Boutella is Valentine’s delightfully strange henchman Gazelle, and Michael Caine and a wild Mark Hamill cameo round out the main cast.

The action in this movie is really what sets it apart from others of the genre. It’s simultaneously beautiful and brutal. The crowning set piece is the church fight. Shot to feel like one continuous take, it’s a wild ride from start to finish and every time I watch it, I see something new that is both horrifying and incredible to look at. All the other action sequences in the movie are equally impressive. I especially love the skydiving scene – it’s so effective at building the tension and making you stress out with the characters. Every action scene really feels unique and keeps you engaged throughout the entire movie.

This movie is also hilarious. Since it’s partially a satire of spy movies, there’s a lot of self-aware and tongue-in-cheek jokes that poke fun at the genre as a whole. And it seriously has some of the best one-liners in any movie I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of dry British humor that I can’t get enough of. You’ll never hear “Pomp and Circumstance” the same way after you see this movie, and the finale set to KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up” is inspired.

Kingsman came into my life with no hype, no background knowledge, and no expectations. Maybe that’s why it hit me as hard as it did. What could have been a bland James Bond knockoff was bolstered by incredible characters, insane action, and great humor, which earns it a spot in my all-time top 10.