We Can Do Better than This: “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” Review

I know I said the same ting last week but… I had a completely different idea for a post this week (in fact, the very same idea I had last week, go figure) but then.. my dorm floor sat down to watch another Netflix original movie.

Unlike last week, though, I have no warm and fuzzy feelings for this movie. Oh god, no. “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” is the wildest trainwreck of a movie I’ve ever seen and yet somehow it also manages to be completely unfun to watch.

There’s… a lot to unpack here. Normally for a review I would do a general overview of the plot with a spoiler-free recommendation on whether or not you should watch it, but… just like… don’t waste your time. Instead, I’m gonna give you a brief (and incomplete, but we’ll get to that later) synopsis with my commentary throughout because I’m fairly certain there’s no other way to capture what makes this movie such a forest fire.

First of all, let’s get the biggest thing out of the way first. The biggest praise I’ve seen thus far for this movie is praise for its diversity. “Sierra Burgess”‘s title character is a plain-looking fat girl and she doesn’t go through a makeover at any point in the movie in order to snag the hot, football guy. Rah rah, hooooray, whatever.

Here’s the problem though…. this is a bad movie. So diversity doesn’t really save it at any point. But, if you connected with this movie because of the diversity, because Sierra isn’t model-thin like so many of her rom-com contemporaries… I get it. But just hear me out for a second.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Warm n’ Fuzzy – “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” Review

After a long time of really wanting to, I finally sat down on Friday night to watch Netflix’s new movie of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” and tl;dr it was amazing and totally deserves a watch.

I was a little concerned when I heard that this book was being made into a movie, honestly. I’ve read all three of the books in this series and they’re definite favorites, and it’s always a bit scary to watch movies made out of books you love. But thankfully, the movie lives up to the quality of its source material.

Much of the discussion I’ve seen surrounding this movie is about the diversity of it – the story surrounds Lara Jean Covey, a 16-year-old mixed-race girl in a story normally reserved for white characters. The story doesn’t shy away from Lara Jean’s Korean heritage, and instead integrates it purposefully into her character, while also allowing her to play the normal romance story roles. It’s a great example of what more stories should do going forward, and I definitely think it’s valid that so many people are talking about this aspect of the movie in a positive light.

But I also think this movie has a ton of other great things about it, and I wanted to talk about those aspects for a moment. As is the case for my other reviews, I’m gonna give a general overview of the story and a bit more of an explanation of my thoughts on it without giving any spoilers away, then I’ll be taking a spoiler-laden dive into it for those who have seen it or don’t care about spoilers.

Overview (Spoiler Free)

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is about Lara Jean, a junior in high school who lives with her older sister Margot, younger sister Kitty, and father in Virginia. Lara Jean loves to bake and has a penchant for fantasy. Though at home she’s outgoing and sentimental with her family, in school she is a shy, reserved girl who mostly stays out of school politics.

Throughout the course of her life, she has had crushes on five different boys, all of whom she decided to write a letter to in order to sort out her feelings for them. She stores these letters in a hat box in her closet, addressing them but never intending to send them out.

The story begins as Margot is moving off to college in Scotland, leaving Lara Jean “in charge.” Though she’s nervous about this prospect, she does her best to set an example for Kitty and deal with the change with grace. Then, unexpectedly, Lara Jean’s letters disappear and she soon finds, to her horror, that they have been sent out to all the boys on her list. Though one is addressed incorrectly and returns to Lara Jean, all the rest go out, including one to Josh, Margot’s ex-boyfriend who Lara Jean has been crushing on secretly for years, and one to Peter, the somewhat arrogant lacrosse jock who up until recently was dating Lara Jean’s former best friend.

Afraid of making Margot upset, Lara Jean devises a plan with Peter to pretend to date him, to serve the dual purpose of making it clear to Josh that Lara Jean isn’t in love with him and to make Peter’s ex jealous.

It’s a fun and heartfelt movie, well-acted, with great music and a really intriguing storyline. If you’re not someone who enjoys YA romance fare, you probably won’t like this one, but if you do it’s a standout in its genre for the relatable and round main characters and delightful writing.

A Deeper Dive (Spoiler Time)

The biggest mark of a good adaptation is that it retains the feeling of the source material. Every book-to-movie adaptation must be a little changed, but the most important thing is that the soul remains intact, and I think “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” does this perfectly.

What I loved about the books so much was the feeling they gave me. Jenny Han’s style of writing and the world she creates is warm and loving, like the literary equivalent of a cup of hot tea on a rainy day spent inside.

The movie captures this feeling surprisingly well thanks to the wonderful acting of Lana Condor as Lara Jean, who sells the reserved yet loving character so well it’s like she was exactly who Han had in mind as she was writing it. Plus, the soundtrack has an indie flair but still holds onto a nostalgic, gentle sound that matches this feeling.

And that’s good, because this story is primarily a character-driven one, and pays a ton of attention to the way characters relate to one another. Overall, I think the movie does a good job holding onto the strong characters, but there were a few missteps thanks to the fact the story had to be cut down for time.

As I’ve already mentioned, Lara Jean’s character is still well-developed even in the pared-down time. Her little character traits that made her so relatable and real in the stories – her messiness, her love of baking, her particularness for tradition – is still there and well-integrated. Peter’s character is explored well too, I think, never making him compromise on his sometimes obtuse personality in order to mold him into a likable romantic interest. Both characters’ flaws are explored well, and overcoming those flaws is what makes viewers root for them and their romance.

Unfortunately, a few characters, namely Chris, Josh, and Gen, don’t get as explored as they do in the books. This makes sense, because following the plotlines that give all three of these characters a bit more roundness would have probably taken away from the central focus of the story – Lara Jean’s quest for emotional vulnerability. I suspect there might be adaptations of the two sequels of this book, so I’m optimistic that one if not all o these characters will be explored further in those.

Though I really do wish Gen in particular had gotten even a whiff more of depth. Though in the books she is a real mean piece of work, she is later revealed to have deeper motivations to dislike Lara Jean beyond “she kissed my not-yet boyfriend that one time while playing Spin the Bottle.” Though I thought the “It wasn’t tongueless to me!” line was hilarious as an explanation as to why Gen does the horrible things she does, it does cheapen and possibly take away the possibility of further exploration of her character in the possible sequels.

Still, the primary emotional conflict, after all, is Lara Jean’s struggle to open herself up to anyone except her immediate family, and I can’t fault the movie too much for not being interested in exploring her backstory with Gen. That emotional line is well established and followed through, anyway.

But what really makes this movie, and this story, fun is the woven threads of fun plot tropes it uses to great degree. The fake dating trope is the big main one I want to talk about, because it’s not only a fun trope, it’s also really well integrated into the themes of the movie.

After all, the only reason Lara Jean enters the fake relationship with Peter is because she’s attempting to avoid emotional vulnerability with Josh. And from the get-go she’s making strict rules with Peter to avoid being emotionally vulnerable with him, too. But it’s that attempt to appear emotionally vulnerable with Peter to the outside world that provides Lara Jean’s first brushes with love. So, not only is the trope exciting to watch play out, it isn’t forced in the narrative thanks to the thematic connections it makes.

Overall, this is a fun movie and something I’d definitely watch again. And it really made me hope for adaptations of the entire series (Netflix, please).

 

Surprise! – “The Now Now” Review

Remember that time, just over a year ago, when I thought that “Humanz” was gonna be the last Gorillaz album? Remember that? When I continuously defended it to the weirdly many detractors I came in contact with because it was one of my favorite bands in the world coming together with lots of other artists to comment on the state of the world in a bunch of beautiful, genre-bending tracks? And I wrote a whole review on it thinking it was gonna be the last one ever?

Oh… well… uh… Gorillaz is back now. I guess “Humanz” wasn’t their last album, huh? Surprise!

I’m joking around a little, but gosh was I not expecting this album as fast as it came. Well actually, I wasn’t expecting this album at all, but here we are! I wanna do “The Now Now” the same justice I gave “Humanz,” but as I sit here writing this intro, I don’t feel like I have the same sort of emotional investment in this album as I did the last one. I’m not at all saying it’s a bad album – it’s great. But the fact it came so quickly and was accepted so easily into the fanbase makes it seem so much less of a big deal than “Humanz” was.

So, anyway, I’m gonna do my best here because I love Gorillaz, and I feel… complicated about this album. I apologize in advance, because while this review starts out pretty run-of-the-mill, it kinda gets weird toward the end. I wanna reiterate that I don’t think this is a bad album, and yet… it really disappointed me in a way I have trouble voicing throughout the post. I hope you enjoy anyway.

Continue reading

Redemption – The Sims 4 Seasons Review

Last time I talked about the Sims, it was maybe not in the most positive or optimistic of lights. It seemed like the game was stuck in a rut that I wasn’t sure it would ever be able to struggle its way out of.

And yet… things have changed since that post. Since I wrote about EA’s greed ruining a franchise I loved, huge news dropped regarding the newest expansion… one Sims fans have been asking for for a long time. Seasons.

It’s out now and… boy is it good. It’s good enough that it makes me feel better about this franchise’s future… and that’s really saying something, considering how the popular theory in the Sims fandom not too long ago was that Sims 4 was on its way out.

How did one expansion turn the fandom’s opinion around so totally? Well… it’s a lot of factors, from the quality of the expansion itself, to the context surrounding it, to the way it was advertised and released.

The Expansion Itself

I wanna start with this because I think it’s the most important. No amount of good PR for a below-average expansion could have saved the Sims from the My First Pet Stuff debacle, in my opinion. And though packs came out after MFPS that were good (I have since gotten Jungle Adventures and actually really enjoyed it), these packs still had that problem of nicheness. Sims needed a pack that would appeal to a broad range of simmers, and affect the game enough that it couldn’t be brushed off as a waste of money.

It also, of course, had to be good. And Seasons is really, really good.

Let’s start off with a little info on what I, personally, like to see in a Sims expansion. Ideally, expansions should have the most game-changing content of the three types of DLC for this game. That means they should have a broad assortment of new CAS items, new objects, and new gameplay. I also think the best expansions have broad appeal – that is, no matter what type of simmer you are, you can find something to enjoy in the new content. And finally, I feel as though expansions especially should really change how the game runs and improve upon the game to a degree that playing the game without that expansion would be markedly different.

I was very impressed with both the CAS and object selections from this new pack. We got a nice look at the new CAS items in the livestream, and then and now I was struck by how diverse the new clothing and hairstyles look. It’s clear the Sims team has been working hard on making their textures look more unique and realistic than ever. I like how the clothing items all have many color options and all look like something people would wear in real life.

Also, I have to give props to the new hairstyles in particular. The Sims team has commented that they’ve been working to make the Sims 4 more diverse and inclusive, and this pack’s focus on textured hairs really puts their money where their mouth is. The new hairstyles are gorgeous, and are different than anything I’ve ever seen from this series, and is a nice step forward toward more inclusivity. I hope the team continues to add content like this to the game.

The bulidmode objects are chock full of fun new decorations for all the holidays, which is something I, as a person who loves realism in their game, really appreciate. I can see people who wouldn’t be as excited about these as I am, because it may seem like a hassle to decorate your sim’s house for each new holiday and season, but for people who love to get into the weeds of all that detail, it’s a welcome addition. Plus, most of the decorations are versatile, with swatches for as many holidays and seasons as I can think of.

Discussion of decorations, though, leads me right into the gameplay features of this new pack. And there’s a lot of good stuff here.

On the subject of decor, I have to commend the attic box decoration feature. While I loved Sims 3 Seasons, one of the more annoying aspects of it was the lack of customization available for exteriors of houses, and how what customization there was was a really huge hassle to mess around with. Sims 4 has found a slick way to make exterior decoration much easier and more engaging, with a surprisingly dense selection of different decorations that are applied easily to the outside of sims’ houses. I also love how other houses in the neighborhood also decorate for each holiday… it really adds to the realism and makes the world feel connected, even if it’s not open.

Moving onto those holidays, though, huge props for making the giant improvement to allow players to create their own holidays. This is a feature I immediately wanted to use as soon as I got my hands on it, and it’s just so intuitive, versatile, and fun that I can’t imagine a Seasons pack without it.

The calendar function is useful for more than just these holidays, though. I absolutely adore the option to plan parties in advance – before, my sims rarely threw parties just because it was weird that you had to plan them the day of. Now, it’s easy to just throw a party out a few days before it happens, giving the player a chance to plan and prepare.

Weather is also a huge addition to the game, and it’s as gorgeous as I expected. I love how dramatic the weather can be – from huge blasts of lighting to vicious blizzards. Plus, it adds an element of risk to the game I haven’t seen anywhere except maybe in Jungle Adventure, because the weather actually is quite dangerous for your sims. Sending them out into the cold without the proper gear or letting them just run around outside during a storm puts their lives actually at risk, just like in real life, and there are moodlets to reflect that. I like that this pack adds stakes to decisions, and makes it so a player can’t just run around willy-nilly without any consequence.

Every season feels distinct and different from each other, and the weather is a big factor in that. Even summer, which is more or less the “default” season that the base game was stuck in eternally before this pack came out, feels different, with heat waves and bright colors that make it distinct from the darkness of fall and winter. And I’m not sure if this is true but it seems to me that the team also put hard work into retexturing the sky… I got this beautiful screenshot of Brindleton Bay in fall as soon as I booted up the game with Seasons for the first time, and I don’t remember the moon ever looking so bright and beautiful with this game.

128

There’s a lot more to discuss in the gameplay, but I feel like I’d be repeating myself. Seasons seems to have touched every part of this game, to the point where everything feels new and exciting, and the level of realism has really been dialed up. I also love the changes to gardening and the scarecrow feature and scouting and the new objects sims can interact with and… if I praised everything I liked, we’d be here all day.

And I do want to touch a bit on the context surrounding this game, and its popular reception within the fandom, because I think that is another thing that set this expansion apart from the others.

The Context

Seasons was the first expansion pack for the Sims 4 I’ve felt legitimate excitement for. And that’s… huge. If you read my last post about my disappointment with how EA was treating the expansions in TS4, you’ll know that that’s huge for me. And while the expansion itself is great and that helped, I also can’t help but think that how the expansion was revealed to the fandom, and what was different about the marketing, did help.

First of all, it’s good to know that Seasons has been asked for for a long, long time. Seasons was one of the most popular expansions from both Sims 2 and Sims 3, and so people were clamoring for it for Sims 4 as well, basically as soon as the base game came out. But after much of the negativity that came along with My First Pet Stuff, I saw a lot of people joking that instead of a full Seasons pack, we’d be getting split gamepacks for each season or something to that effect.

But then, suddenly, with really only a bit of warning, the trailer dropped. And suddenly the mood in the fandom was like night and day. Suddenly, people were excited about this game again. It was cautious, in some cases, but the game just looked so good in the trailer, and most importantly, the announcement came only a month before the release date.

In a lot of ways, I think this was a huge positive for the reception of Seasons. Giving the fandom less time to speculate and tear the information we had to shreds before the actual expansion dropped and keeping that time dense with livestreams and gurus answering questions on Twitter. This kept excitement high and harsh critique to a low.

I think that overall improved the fans’ overall perception of this game pack. It was a sudden surprise, which is exciting, and the short month between the surprise and the actual drop of the pack was filled with even more exciting reveals. What disappointments there were (major ones I can think of only being the lack of snow depth and the lack of a new world), were overall not that big of a deal to most of the people I saw discussing the pack, and more often than not the tone was excitement.

And that coming from a group of fans that not too long ago was griping over a dying game series spitting out bad packs no one really wanted is a huge step forward. And this expansion, with everything its brought along with it, has really reinvigorated my love for this series, and made me hopeful for where it’s going to go in the next few years.

I’m so happy to be able to say that.

It Takes Effort – “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino” Review

I originally had a different idea for this week’s post, but after I realized that Arctic Monkeys’ new album “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino” was going to be released this week, I dropped everything to write a review of it.

This is Arctic Monkeys’ first album since their 2013 hit “AM.” I was introduced to the band by that album, like many people were, charmed by their swagger-filled alt rock sound behind the crooning, smooth vocals of lead singer Alex Turner. “AM,” I think, is a fantastic primer to the band’s work, accessible, catchy, and instantly understandable. I love “AM.”

This album is not “AM,” though.

Continue reading

At Home in the Valley

I’ve found a lot of value recently in calm, quiet places I can escape to for a while to relax. College is great, but it’s also essentially like living at school all the time, so I have a bad habit of getting wrapped up in my schoolwork constantly if I don’t have a good place to calm down and distract myself.

I’ve found a lot of these places, and I want to talk about one of them today. Stardew Valley.

Continue reading

The “Heathers” Remake: Oh God, It’s Bad

So thanks in part to an incredible on-campus performance of “Heathers” my boyfriend and I went to recently, my love for this musical has been rekindled. And just in time for terrible, horrible tragedy to strike – of course. A “Heathers” remake.

Oh god. Here we go.

Continue reading