Stephanie Kocer

Writer. Editor. Grad Student.

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Mary Poppins Returns Review

True story: When I was little I carried a purple umbrella with me everywhere I went. You know, just in case an east wind blew up and wanted to carry me away. My strict mother did not let me watch television beyond PBS when I was little. Instead, if my brother and I wanted to watch something we would turn to our huge Disney VHS collection. When I wasn’t watching “The Lion King,” I was watching “Mary Poppins.” I wanted nothing more to be like Julie Andrews when I grew up. Seriously, from ages 3-10 my dream job was flying, magical nanny.

Mary Poppins is the original badass boss lady. She rides in on the wind, doesn’t take no for an answer, and takes children on elaborate adventures while also telling them it’s all nonsense. And then it’s all a lie because we know it’s the father she comes to save, not the children. She’s the coolest female character of all time. MP is the essence of the Disney magic that us 90s kids were lucky enough to grow up with.

The original “Mary Poppins” came out in 1964 and besides the magical story of national treasure Julie Andrews as a flying nanny, the film was famously plagued by drama, mainly stemming from Walt Disney’s battle to turn the MP books into a full Disney-fied film complete with dancing penguins and laughing uncles that also had a nine minute chimney sweep dance solo. P.L. Travers, the author or the books, was a strict little old British lady that didn’t want Disney to add his nonsense to her beloved stories and he didn’t really seem to listen. (Watch “Saving Mr. Banks” for the full perspective.) It seems odd then, that 54 years later Disney made a sequel.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is that sequel, with the lovely Emily Blunt stepping into the nanny shoes. The premise is somewhat similar to the original; Jane and Michael Banks are all grown up, Jane is a social advocate like her mother was and Michael works at the bank like his father. Micheal’s wife has recently died leaving him to care for their three young children. He’s also in some money trouble. If he can’t come up with the money from his father’s shares in the bank by the end of the movie he will lose his childhood home, where he and his children reside. Enter Mary Poppins, who ultimately comes to save the day and teach Michael (and the children) how to have joy again. Continue reading

Vice Review

I am in the middle of obsessing over three separate men this award season. I’m obsessed with Dick Cheney. Is that weird? Not as a politician, but just the idea that a man like him existed in American government. Ruthless? Sure. But isn’t that what makes him fascinating?

I am equal parts obsessed with Adam McKay, who may just be the smartest man in Hollywood. Despite kind of hating everything Will Ferrell has ever done besides “Elf,” McKay might just be my favorite director. Everything you need to know about how brilliant he is is in “The Big Short.” A movie about the 2008 financial crisis that somehow did the feat of explaining something millions of American’s don’t understand about finance and making it entertaining, engaging, and hilarious. There’s nothing I love more than a good piece of satire that actually teaches you something.

Lastly, I’m obsessed with Christian Bale. He may just be the greatest working actor we have right now, and he’s still somehow a bit underrated. He can do anything. He can change his appearance to look like anyone and change his voice to sound like any American. He’s an unlikely choice for anything, and yet, he’s perfect.

And so you can see why I’ve been so excited to see McKay’s “Vice.” Bale plays former Vice President Cheney from cradle to present as the film chronicles his rocky early 20s to his roles in various White House staffs and eventually how he became the most powerful VP of all time. “Vice” was a lot of things I wasn’t expecting. I learned things I didn’t know. I got angry when Cheney lacked sympathy for, well, anyone. I became obsessed with Lynn Cheney. I was pleasantly surprised by Tyler Perry. And I barely laughed.

Here’s what you need to know right off the bat with “Vice”: it might have been billed as a comedy and put into the comedy categories for the Golden Globes, but “Vice” is a straight biopic. Although it has occasional satire moments like early rolling credits, Shakespearean dialogue, and a hilarious George W. via the always wonderful Sam Rockwell, it’s a drama. This is a hard “Walk the Line”-style pic that tells you about a man’s life and how he comes to power. There’s not a lot of funny, despite what trailers may have told us. The places where I did laugh were when Bale would interrupt a scene to announce to the other characters that he had to go to the hospital again because he was having another heart attack. But even that is more dramatic than “haha” funny. Continue reading

The Favourite Review

Have you ever watched something and thought, “Huh. What was the point of all that?”

Upon first walking out of the theater that’s how I felt about “The Favourite,” the period piece about Queen Anne of England and the two women competing to be her right hand lady played by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. I saw the movie with my aunt and the only comment she had about it was that she hated it. I didn’t. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was that I found kind of great about the movie.

“The Favourite” was one of those films you thought was going to end about six different times before it actually did. And really, the story was a bit unbelievable despite it sort of being true. Queen Anne was a real person of course, as were Weisz’s Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and Stone’s Abigail Hill. Whether or not either one of them had a sexual relationship with the Queen is here nor there I suppose. The plot of “The Favourite” is pretty simple. Sarah and Anne have been friends since childhood and Sarah seems to be at Anne’s beckon call, serving as her head assistant of sorts. Anne, who suffers from gout and depression from losing 17 children, is a bit of a mess, understandably. Sarah is always there to calm her down and take care of her. She’s also there to carry out Anne’s politics when she doesn’t feel like facing parliament, which is a lot. As a result, Sarah often pushes her own political agenda and is constantly convincing Anne what shots to call in the war with France. Think of it as a 1700s version of Bush/Cheney. When Abigail arrives we find out that she’s Sarah’s cousin who is basically a slave because her father gambled her away when she was younger. She asks Sarah for a job and soon proves herself to be clever and likeable. Taylor Swift’s boyfriend has a thing for her and Jennifer Lawrence’s ex-boyfriend asks her to help him spy on whatever Sarah and Anne talk about in private. At first Abigail is very obedient and doesn’t cause trouble. But then she discovers that Sarah and Anne are also lovers and she ends up befriending the Queen and also becoming her lover in order to stay in good graces at the castle and not be kicked back out onto the street. Sarah becomes jealous and Abigail becomes more power hungry eventually leading the Queen to pick one of them and send the other away. I won’t spoil anything beyond that. Continue reading

What 25 Taught Me

 

Yesterday I turned 26. Why does that seem so old? I’m a year away from the age Kurt Cobain was when he died! Twenty-six. I must be a real adult now. My year of being 25 was a lot of things. I changed jobs. I moved states. I looked at grad schools. I broke up with someone. You know, your typical 25-year-old things. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to take all of those experiences and store them away for antidotes later. Everything when you’re in your 20s is a learning experience to become the person you’re supposed to be. I have no idea if I’m there yet, but I do know I learned a lot being 25 that’s prepared me for being 26.

So for fun I made a list of those things:

1) You can move states, apply for grad school, start a new job, and get a dog all at the same time and not die in the process!
2) Listen to your gut. It’s always right. About people, about situations. Never second guess yourself.
3) Never be afraid to ask for help.
4) Remove yourself from toxic people. You don’t have to be friends with people who suck.
5) An unhealthy environment will just make you unhealthy so get the hell out of there.
6) You can absolutely choose to be single and love it. Men in their 20s can be exhausting. Sometimes you need a break from them. Continue reading

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 andย  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. Timothรฉe 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 toย Great Gatsbyย 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

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