Stephanie Kocer

Writer. Editor.

Green Book Review

Every award season there is at least one film that deals with a 1960s relationship between a white person and a black person, in which the white person magically ends up saving their new black friend. These films usually make a lot of money and win a lot of awards. They also piss a lot of people off and for good reason.

“Green Book” staring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as the respective white and black characters is not necessarily one of those films. It’s the story of real life African American pianist Don Shirley as he embarks on a tour across the Deep South and the white Italian man, Tony Vallelonga, who he hires to drive him on the tour. Tony starts off as a rough guy from the Bronx but of course through many ups and downs with the very educated and cultured Don he learns great lessons about race and the human condition. When the credits roll we learn that the two men stayed friends until their deaths.

OK, maybe it is one of those movies.

“Green Book” has gotten the usual controversy that comes with these sort of films. The National Board of Review named it the year’s best film, but there’s also been a dozen think pieces on it’s whitewashing just this week alone. Don Shirley’s family released a statement saying the film was just Hollywood’s way of using a black man’s story to make money. Viggo Mortensen then made headlines when he used the “N” word at a press conference. Some have commented that his remarks have ruined his Oscar chances before they’ve really begun. Continue reading

A Star is Born Review

It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I could write about “A Star is Born.” A lot of friends and family have asked why I haven’t done this review yet. I haven’t really had a good answer. How do you write about a film that already has an entire culture built around it?

For starters, I kept thinking about why we keep remaking this movie. Why? I mean, the Barbra Streisand one is SO awful. Not to mention all the self-serving, arrogant Streisand ego that fueled the movie (seriously look it up). And yet here we are again in 2018, this time with Bradley Cooper remaking the tale as old as time. This is the fourth time “A Star is Born” has come to the screen. And Judy Garland version (the best), the 2018 version comes in as a close second.

Where Barbra’s version failed, B. Coop’s version does a little better. It accurately depicted both addiction and  the mean machine of the music industry. For those of you that are still under a rock and don’t know, the “A Star is Born” formula is pretty simple. A rough actor and/or singer (depending on the era) meets a struggling but talented young female actress/singer. He helps her launch her career, only to see her star rising, while his falls. Oh yeah, and he’s an alcoholic and has a lot of internal struggles so he kills himself at the end of the movie. That’s not a spoiler. Because this movie has been remade four times, remember?

In Cooper’s version he plays Jackson Maine, a 40-something rocker who is still selling out venues to loyal fans, but struggles from alcoholism with a sprinkling of drug abuse offstage. He meets Lady Gaga’s Ally in a drag bar and the two immediately hit it off, he makes her awkwardly sing on stage with him, she starts to get recognized and gets a record deal, and eventually we’re told she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Continue reading

The Front Runner Review

https://variety.com/2018/film/reviews/the-front-runner-review-hugh-jackman-1202924916/

As a journalist, journalism movies either really excite me or really upset me. They’re hard to get right, mainly because if they don’t have a point you’re left wondering why you should care.

“The Front Runner” is one of those movies that left me wondering why I should have exactly cared. Hugh Jackman stars as Gary Hart, a politician that time has largely forgotten. Hart was running for the Democratic nomination in the 1988 election when his campaign crumbled and flew off the rails after the Miami Herald ran an article about his alleged affair with a young woman named Donna Rice. In a three week time period the front runner fought with the media about whether or not his personal life was the press’ business and subsequently ended his campaign. Today, Hart’s story is widely regarded as the beginning of obsessive tabloid-like journalism surrounding politics.

It sounds like a great story with obvious connections to today’s maddening political landscape. And yet, the movie was kind of just eh. Maybe it was because a scandal that happened in the 80s seems like child’s play compared to the things we read about Trump on the daily. Or maybe because the story of Hart and his downfall happened so fast in real time there really wasn’t that much substance to the story to begin with. When the movie ended I had one of those, “that was it?” moments. I was sure there was still a solid 20 minutes left before the credits rolled. It just simply ended with Hart going back home to Colorado with his wife while voice over told us he had suspended his campaign. That was it. There wasn’t even a climatic “West Wing” scene where he argued with his team over ending things. I mean, you had J.K. Simmons. Use him! Continue reading

Beautiful Boy Review

It is hard to make a movie about addiction. Not because the subject matter is difficult, but because it’s hard to show the emotional turmoil behind it.

“Beautiful Boy,” is a movie about a teenager addicted to crystal meth and his dad’s struggle to help him get sober. Steve Carell plays David Sheff, a freelance writer. Timothée Chalamet plays his son Nic, a good student and a creative, whose experimentation with drugs at a young age leads to a dangerous crystal meth addiction. Makes you uncomfortable right?

I gotta say, I’m always wary of movies about addiction that are based on memoirs. It can be really easy to Great Gatsby them. You know, they make a powerful story on the page, but it’s almost impossible to really show what addiction is on screen. A teenager with a meth addiction isn’t something you can make up. So when you portray it in a movie it has to seem real.

“Beautiful Boy” almost gets there. Like I’ve said before, I like my true stories gritty. There were plenty of scenes that showed Chalamet putting drugs into his body, but I kind of wanted more. When Nic would go missing and his dad couldn’t find him, where was he? What was he doing? I mean, we know he was doing drugs, but what kind of people was he with? Was he alone most of the time? Although I felt the movie probably left a lot of that grittiness out that had to have been in the book (I haven’t read it but it’s on my list), I did feel like it did a good job of showing Dave’s distress that at some point he had to let go and hope that his son would be able to get sober on his own. I was impressed by his character’s dedication to his son even when he told him he had to figure out his addiction by himself. The old saying, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t fix it. Continue reading

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

This summer while a few friends and I were visiting Colorado we went for a hike at Rocky Mountain National Park. During our hike we somehow ended up in a rather tense discussion about Harry Potter. Did Professor McGonagall know Harry’s fate the whole time? Meaning, did Dumbledore ever clue her in on the whole he’s going to have to let Voldemort kill him so it kills the part of Voldemort that lives inside of him so he can come back to life and kill Voldemort thing? Oh calm down. Deathly Hallows came out over a decade ago. This is child’s play.

“Of course she knew,” my friends answered. Even if Dumbledore never explicitly told McGonagall why they had to keep Harry alive so he could die at the right time, she got it. Because she was McGonagall. She got everything. While we were listing all the reasons we knew she knew a couple of grown men passed us on the path. Before we even had time to quiet down and do that whole awkwardly passing another party in silence thing on the trail, the men answered my question back almost in unison, “Oh, she definitely knew!”

Like how you know Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father even if you’ve never seen “The Empire Strikes Back,” Harry Potter is a huge part of the conversation of pop culture. Even if you’ve never read the books or seen the movies, you know what Hogwarts House you belong in. Harry Potter has been a part of my life since second grade. My mom bought me the first few books and read them out loud to me. Eventually I got old enough to read them on my own. Say what you will about my generation, but the one thing we really owned well was Harry Potter. I feel sorry for the dummies who had to grow up with that Twilight nonsense or even The Hunger Games. We hit the jackpot of literary heroes. Not to mention we got the queen herself, J.K. Rowling.

I love Harry Potter with every fiber of my being. It is freakish the things, characters, and their connections from the Wizarding World that I can remember off the top of my head as if I’m discussing the politics of the day. It’s that rooted in my brain. So, naturally, when I heard Rowling was expanding her Harry Potter universe I was excited. Although, I didn’t quite understand why she had decided to focus on Newt Scamander and his famous book. Weren’t there more, uh, interesting and important characters to focus on?

Nonetheless, two years ago I went to see “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” in the theater opening night. And I have to say, I really enjoyed it. It somehow fit well in the world of wizards I had built up in my mind. I loved Newt and I loved Eddie Redmayne playing him. I loved the supporting characters and loved seeing the American version of witches and wizards. I was even interested to learn more about Gellert Grindelwald, a mysterious character from the Potter books that seemed like he could definitely have his own movies. Continue reading

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

I have not been looking forward to seeing the new Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Everyone knows I love classic rock and I love Queen. I’ve been sick worrying for the last year and a half about how badly Hollywood was going to mess up their Freddie Mercury movie. I’m obsessed with Freddie and his narrative. In fact, this is the second time in the last few months I’ve written about him. Biopics rarely show the whole story of their subjects. They either go for the feel good or go for the political statement, and, as I feared, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” went for the feels.

First, let me say it was not a bad film. I did enjoy parts of it. I mean, Queen was a very dorky band. They loved the feels, so it did a good job paying respects to their larger than life music. But there was a lot of Argo-ing (adding plane chases where they certainly did not happen) going on. And unfortunately for me, I couldn’t sit in the theater and not think about all the things it was misleading a potential new generation of fans about. A simple Google search would help you fact-check all of the inaccuracies to both Queen and Freddie’s stories, but I can’t help but lay them out for you here. Because I need you to know.

But first, let me explain what “Bohemian Rhapsody” got absolutely right. Continue reading

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Ever since the big move back home to Minnesota, I’ve had a personal goal for myself to read more. In college I read constantly. But that was only because I was an English major and my only homework was, well, reading books. Those books were usually assigned to me by professors, though. For four years I never had to think about what books to buy and read. Even if I didn’t like a book we were reading in class cough* Let US Now Praise Famous Men*, I still had to finish it so I could participate in class discussions. But even then, the satisfaction I got from finishing a book and being able to say I had read that book was beyond words.

Maybe that’s nerdy. And if you think it is, then you obviously weren’t an English major. After I graduated I read a lot, but that time I was able to choose the things I was reading. I rarely read fiction, unless it’s something like Gone Girl or Harry Potter. My go-to is usually nonfiction. Maybe that’s the journalist in me, but things just aren’t compelling to me if they aren’t real. I read a lot of memoirs, some good and some written by celebrities.

But then I got a new puppy, a new job, and moved to a different state. In the chaos of packing up my life and begging Cooper to stop eating the bottom of my couch, I stopped reading. It wasn’t necessarily purposeful. I just seemed to run out of time at the end of every day. I was exhausted. So after I moved I made a promise to myself; I was going to read more. And I was going to read the good books, the classics. Growing up going to a poor, Catholic school we seemed to never have the resources to afford any of those classic books you read in high school besides 1984. I think there was one English class where we read A Tale of Two Cities for the entire semester and did nothing else.

So the goal was set. I was going to read the classics. And I was in luck! My mom, aunt, grandma, and I had been planning a trip to Savannah, Georgia for months. It would be the perfect time to get through some books. So I packed my carry on with a few and off we went to the deep South. Continue reading

First Man Review

People really seem to hate the new Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man.” Which is bonkers.

First, let me say that it’s hard to hate anything Ryan Gosling is in. I’m not super into him in that way, I genuinely think he’s a great actor. Then mix in the QUEEN Claire Foy? How could you not like this movie?!

“First Man” follows the seven years before the Moon landing. The film shows how Armstrong came to be a part of the team of astronauts preparing for potentially going to the Moon, how they trained, who died in the process, and, ultimately, what kind of a sacrifice it was.

Foy plays Armstrong’s wife Janet who is becoming increasingly annoyed with her husband’s absence. He’s there but barely interacts with his sons, and when he is home he’s always researching space or talking about it. He’s kind of a nerd about space. So much so that you start to get the sense that maybe Armstrong related more to the Moon than his family and friends.

In the very beginning of the film we get a glimpse into why he’s like that. I’m not a huge fan of space unless it involves some droids and Harrison Ford, so I didn’t know much about the Moon landing or Armstrong before seeing “First Man.” The movie brings light of the fact that Armstrong and his wife had a daughter that died at a very young age. The sorrow and the stress Armstrong feels from the death seems to only fuel his desire to go to the Moon. It also makes him shut out the rest of the world, including his wife. Continue reading

Take Me Home, Country Roads

About a year ago a psychic gave me a palm reading and told me I was afraid to take chances. “Just remember that you control your destiny,” she told me.

Her words cut like a knife. What did she know about my life anyway? I did cool things all the time! I was fun and adventurous! I had a great job and a boyfriend at the time. I was truly living my best life!

The only reason I was sitting at this woman’s kitchen table getting a ridiculous hand massage in the first place was because her and her husband were friends with the boyfriend mentioned above. I was politely letting her judge my life, trying to form some sort of connection with her to make that guy happy. But the worst part about that uncomfortable evening was the fact that she was absolutely right. I was lying to myself about being happy with how my life was going. Income and a boyfriend were not reasons to be happy. Like a palm reading, life is much deeper than the surface level. She also told me that my relationship with that boy wouldn’t work out, which she was also absolutely right about. He broke up with me a few days before my birthday. I had been thinking about whether or not he was right for me for awhile before he broke up with me. I was getting increasingly annoyed by his obliviously selfish behavior. I would practice my breakup speech in the shower and in traffic. But I was never brave enough to pull the trigger. I was choosing being unhappy and annoyed.

I often make decisions based on what I think others want me to do. I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to like me. And I wait way too long to get myself out of situations because I’m afraid to take chances. What if I rush into a decision and then I can’t go back in case I change my mind?

The psychic had me pegged so accurately that I could no longer ignore the already burning desire I had to make a change in my life.

When I thought about a recent, truly happy moment in my life I pictured myself wrapped in a blanket sitting on the couch in my parents’ basement in Minnesota, my heart pounding as I watched the Minnesota Vikings about to lose yet again to the New Orleans Saints on a cold January day. My brother was tearing up as he paced back and forth and my dad sat in his recliner, head in his hands, as he kept muttering, “how could they do this to us again?” And then Diggsy ran the ball into the end zone. My dad was crying. My mom was screaming. My brother and our dog were running in circles. I just pulled my blanket up over my head so they couldn’t see me crying. I was beyond excited about the Vikings win,  but I was also overcome with emotions that I was going to have to drive back to Iowa after the game and leave my family behind. I missed them so much it felt like I couldn’t breath. Continue reading

A Dog Owner’s Prayer

Dear Lord,

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change right now and by that I mean the fact that my puppy has not quite grasped the concept of potty training yet.

I know, I know. I’ve only had him for a month and in his defense, he has been doing OK with it. But for the love of you, if I have to clean up one more puddle of pee I may invest in a litter box.

Give me the humbleness to praise him when he does gesture to go outside and successfully goes potty in the dead grass outside my apartment building, and give me all the patience in the world to not yell too badly when he trots over to me in the kitchen, stares me dead in the eye, and squats right then and there.

Bring me strength oh lord to give him credit for the fact that he does have standards and doesn’t shit in his kennel. And please remind me not to lecture him about all of the money mommy is spending on puppy pads. He does not understand such first world problems.

Let me stay chipper, even when he wakes me up at 3 a.m. to go outside only to discover that he’s already piddled in his kennel by the time I put on pants and find my glasses.

Don’t let me be upset with him when he goes potty in my car. It was an accident and I too get anxious about things sometimes. He will one day be better at controlling his bladder. I hope.

Give me the poise I need when I take him outside and get stopped by an overly friendly neighbor to say, “excuse me but my dog is about to piss on this common area carpet so I suggest you get out of my way immediately. And no, you cannot pick him up.”

And finally, lord, when I do get frustrated, let it not be with him but with myself. For I chose to get a beagle knowing full well how damn stubborn they are.

And, yes, I know dogs take on the personalities of their owners, so I have really brought it upon myself bringing this furry monster into my home. But damn is he cute.

Amen.

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