Birds of Prey is a candy-coated, cocaine-sniffing girl’s night out, featuring roller-skating while being pulled by a motorcycle and stabbing bad-guy creeps to ride their bodies down sliding boards in an abandoned amusement park funhouse. 

Written by Christina Hodson, who also penned 2018’s adorable and nostalgic Bumblebee, the film nails the idea that women can look after women, even when they’re on different teams, even when they have nothing in common (Or almost nothing, except for man-baby Ewan McGregor trying to kill them).

The cast--oh my God, the cast. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the quiet, buff, intimidating sharpshooter embodying social awkwardness, Huntress. Jurnee Smollett-Bell brings the careful, composed elegance of Black Canary with a signature boldness. Rosie Perez nails a desperate, alcoholic detective Renee Montoya, and Ella Jay Basco is the immature pick-pocket Cassandra Cain, who the rest spend the movie chasing because she swallows an important diamond.

Ewan McGregor, as the villain Black Mask (or Roman Sionis--”Romie” as Harley calls him) does exactly what he needs to, the perfect mix of pissy whine-time and genuinely terrifying murder kook. He thinks he knows more than he does, that he understands the world in a way that makes him better than others and that he deserves a platform to voice terrible, inept opinions--which makes him both ridiculous and scary, as he has that power. This role would’ve been Alan Cumming’s if this was somewhere between 1999-2005. It’s that camp, and a genius satire of the male persona.

I couldn’t be prouder of Margot Robbie’s glow-up--which I did not realize was one until I saw this movie in action. The trailers, the billboards--they all threw me off for some reason. I didn’t like the colors, or the style, or the way the marketing seemed to lack something that I couldn’t pinpoint. Then, as I was watching, it hit me--this movie was made with love, to be fun--and not to pander. It feels good to watch a film that doesn’t fall into anything it doesn’t want to. Her character design--with those big poofy confetti-sleeves and baby-pigtails--solidifies her status of “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing but I’m going to do whatever I want” character-type. Her choppy bangs serve a purpose--she just got out of a shitty relationship and gave herself a shitty breakup haircut. Duh. It’s something people do. And it highlights the reckless decision-making she is prone too, having to fix her own mistakes as she digs herself bigger holes. That being said, she really finds herself in this movie. Robbie does a great job becoming the down-on-her-luck Harley forging her path in the Lisa Frank-styled world around her. Going in, I was skeptical of Robbie as Harley--she is such a vivid character I was afraid she wasn’t going to go all out for. She is a clown after all. I don’t know when it hit, but it might have been the cocaine-baseball-bat-and-setting-a-man’s-beard-on-fire-scene.

I can say that it took me a few moments to keep my grounding at first. The film begins and jumps from present to flashback and back again a few times--it is a bit unsteady. What really holds it together is the humor. Did I mention this movie is genuinely funny? It’s genuinely funny. The best joke isn’t even spoken. It’s written, in brazen red font, across Detective Renee Montoya’s t-shirt:“I SHAVED MY BALLS FOR THIS.” Surprised? Me too. Why? Maybe because we don’t get a lot of female-starred action movies with a focus on dark humor.

There is something demeaning in comparing this to any other female-focused comic book movie (not that there are many to choose from in the first place), or the villain-focused movies before it (we’ll pretend Suicide Squad didn’t happen, ick)--or even movies which share a similar dark-but-fun sense of humor and wild tendencies. Many have related it to Deadpool, another film starring a mad, hyperactive protagonist--yet, I cannot bring myself to compare it to anything related to the works of Rob Liefeld, the infamous no-waist no-feet all-breast-and-hip comics illustrator, who, not too long ago, tweeted his praise for the old hyper-sexualized Suicide Squad Harley and called the costume design in this film reminiscent of “Ronald McDonald.” I want to ask director Cathy Yan how she managed to make a movie so wonderfully feminine that men can barely perceive it--is it not in their discernible color spectrum? Have we surpassed the male gaze? Was the Divine Feminine in the circus all along? It seems so, because Twitter comicbros cannot seem to wrap their heads around the idea that maybe, just maybe female characters do not have to cater to their fantasies to be well-written and well-acted, nor to have a fun and wonderful dark comedy superhero/villain flick. Ladies, we have transcended.

Existing outside these expectations truly allows Robbie & co. to shine in this film. The cast exudes a camaraderie and confidence I have rarely seen in other big-name team-ups. Even when these characters hate each other, they have more of a dynamic than many other big-screen teams ever did. I wish these dynamics played out sooner in the film, though--it is truly stunning to see these women reluctantly yet wholeheartedly become a working group. They start a haphazard team with a common goal and witty banter, yet the stylized, fun, and energetic teamwork through the action choreography weaves them together. I believe that these women have each others’ backs, and ultimately, although from separate circumstances and going separate directions afterwards, they share something special, wise, and badass.

To be honest, this movie has terrible pacing and lots of plot-holes. It falls into the trope of a terrible person learning to be less terrible by becoming responsible--but it is refreshing and true to the character as a villain that she kind of comes around but also remains an active asshole throughout. My other qualms are subjective: I think Huntress needs more screen time. I identify with numbskull crossbow lady and she had a motorcycle that I wanted to see more of (but lack of motorcycle may be an objective qualm, everything needs more motorcycle). That, and fuck the cover of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Lorde did an edgy cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World '' in 2013 and now every movie thinks it needs an edgy 80s cover. Stop. Can we please leave this in the previous decade? Write your own original edgy music, like Billie Eilish or something.

And even though it might not be doing well by today’s box office standards for a comic-book action film, I predict it’ll be a hidden feminist gem in 20 years. The female comic fan solidarity I have seen this movie create is something special--it draws you in, lets you ask, Did it really do that? Especially in a market of male-dominated action flicks, it feels like it isn’t allowed to be as blatantly loving towards women as it is. Despite some logistical flaws, it is the perfect film to lose yourself in. Have a soda, snort a pixie stick, and have fun with a crazy clown-lady and her crazy friends. 

Header screenshot via Kinocheck International via Youtube

I am not going to lie, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is my happy movie. I mean, it’s got everything- they pretend to be in a relationship! A male love interest with a snappy name! The angst makes me want to tear my hair out with joy. That’s a bit extreme. Either way! The sequel, To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, came out on the 12th, and what better way to celebrate the season of love with a double feature review? 

The series centers around the character of Lara Jean, a high school junior who is in love with the idea of love. We know this because one of the many oddball things she does to express such is her collection of love letters to the boys she’s loved before. One day, these letters get sent out, and that’s when things get interesting. In the first movie, she deals with the repercussions of these letters, and also embarks on a fake relationship with a dude named Peter Kavinsky (what a name!) and then through a series of events, they actually start dating. But that’s when the sequel comes into play! Lara Jean discovers love in real life isn’t the same when you daydream about it, and as such, love with Peter Kavinsky was not what it was all cracked out to be. Meanwhile, a second boy, John Ambrose McClaren (what a name x2!), also got a letter, and he’s also in love with Lara Jean. Romantic hijinks ensue!

The two standouts of the series are Lana Condor as Lara Jean and (surprisingly) Noah Centineo as Peter Kavinsky. They took the archetypes they were given and sprinted with it, going above and beyond. Condor's portrayal of Lara Jean is uncanny to the book- terrified of confrontation, smart, and slightly strange. Noah Centineo as Peter Kavinsky (because he has the kind of name you have to say all at once) is convincing and easy to fall for, which was the goal all along. Noah Centineo also has the name you have to say all at once, and I don’t know who said so, but apparently he’s the internet’s boyfriend? It’s like he was concocted in a lab somewhere far away just to play this guy, because holy shit, he’s weird. 

Aesthetically, these movies are it. The set design? The costumes? The music? UGH. Amazing. Honest to god knock me out. I love the camera work, and the gentle voiceover throughout both movies. It’s such a quiet and tender series, and it’s refreshing to have one aimed at teens that isn’t in your face with jokes and gags. But that just makes it all the more weird and uncomfortable when they do try and get in your face with a joke and a gag. (I’m looking at you King Bach. Also, who the fuck let King Bach into this movie anyways?)

As much as I love the soundtrack, it seems sometimes that the production tailors scenes specifically around the songs, to exemplify how cool and edgy the songs could be, and it doesn't really work to its advantage. The movies are also melodramatic, often more so than they need to be, and in the weirdest spots too. It’s like I just want to shake everybody’s shoulders at once and scream ‘oh my GOD shut UP’ but not in a good way. It’s fine though! They’re only but 22 year old high schoolers who need to learn proper communication! At these moments, it feels like everything is happening at once, and it's almost like it can't decide what it wants to be, though at the end, it decides to marry all of those qualities: it's a modern homage to the John Hughes teenage romance romp (they even give Sixteen Candles a shout out at one point). It's loud and proud about its vulnerability and quaintness, though sometimes it does trip over itself and fall on its face in its loudness. It's not all about being the coolest, or the edgiest, though sometimes it does wish to be the coolest and the edgiest. Is it a bit on the nose at times? Yes. But that's what's so great about these movies: they commit. At no point does it pretend to be some grand gesture of folly or starting a movement- no, this is a teenage chick flick for the girls too quiet to speak up during trig. The movies aren't perfect. The script is a bit wonky, and the mean girl makes you want to bash your head against the nearest door (she makes fun of clothes that are in NO WAY ugly). They also fall victim to the whole 'Mom died before the movie started and now we have to refer to her in the third person’ trope. There are some continuity errors and the dialogue is really weird at times, but these are teen movies after all, and there is nothing extraordinary about that. But what is extraordinary is how it paints teenage girls not as pitchy caricatures, but as creatures that are going through a really strange period of time in even stranger circumstances. Of course it’s going to be awkward at times.

TATBILB is a celebration of vulnerability, teenagehood, and romance. Lara Jean is hopelessly in love, and knows it. I love that. It reminds me of the times in high school where I too was crushing hopelessly on those around me, too caught up in my own head to see what was actually occurring around me. And like Lara Jean, the idea of love and romance is far more satisfactory than the real thing. It's never going to be done right, so why not just stay inside your head instead? But that’s not reality, and it’s not the same either. The first movie deals with the action of reality crashing into your daydreams, while the sequel wants that daydream to be the reality. But if there is anything we’ve taken away from these movies, is that that is impossible. Something’s gotta give (though not your sense of self) in order to live that big showy romance you keep daydreaming of. It also says that despite the terror of it all, big showy romances are worth having IRL. Bridging that gap is scary, and finding that person to bridge that gap is even scarier, but it's all worth it in the end. And also, this is a chick flick for teens. Don't put too much stock into it (even though i'm telling you otherwise). The series also asks the question- is it worth it? After watching both (and praying for the third one to come quickly), it says that yes. Love is worth it.

Image Courtesy of Netlix

John Mulaney and “The Sack Lunch Bunch” is a work of art that, like many works of art, makes you ask questions. But not only does it make you question your sense of self, it asks the questions at point blank range. I found myself in my bed staring in bewilderment at my laptop screen as the many musical numbers unfolded. Why is David Byrne of Talking Heads in an Elsa dress? Why is there an opera singer harmonizing on an alternative song about hibernating flowers? I fell in love while watching this, purely because I think John Mulaney only created this for himself, and I am a fiend for all things Mulaney. But taking the abruptness and absurdity of it all, and setting it aside, this was a very charming special. I was dazzled by both the kids and the guest stars; they all worked very well together in an odd sense of harmony and paper mache volcanoes, but it was really the music and dance numbers that helped seal the deal. 

Also, I need to take a moment to discuss Jake Gyllenhaal as Mr. Music. I need more. I would pay an unspeakable amount of cash to produce a Mr. Music spin-off special, where it’s just an hour of Jake Gyllenhaal sprinting around an empty soundstage doing whatever his heart desires. I genuinely thought I was hallucinating when he began walking barefoot on broken glass (because I did watch this at 3:30 AM after all). But the question of ‘what the fuck?’ is not the only one present--there were two big ones that defined the special. The first one, 'what scares you?' was asked to all of the kids, guest stars, the Mulaneys themselves, and set out to figure out if kids aren’t all that different from adults, with similar strange phobias (spiders) and the same big arching fears (losing loved ones) found among the many ages. The second one, 'John, are you actually serious?’ was asked to, well, John, and through the self deprecating humor that, yes, a flat out inappropriate comedian and former SNL writer of the early aughts is in fact producing and starring in a children's special, we find that yes, he is serious. But besides the almost parodic tone weaved throughout, the sense of earnest shines through. Through jazz hands that are way out of sync with each other, to dramatic dancing with janky pasta props. 

Somehow someway, in his own weird 37-year-old millenial way, Mulaney created a children's special that is actually good, for both adults and kids. I found myself watching it from the strange angle of a college kid, not as the kid from within. I'm pretty sure the kid version of myself would start stress crying the moment Mr. Music started flushing a toilet over and over again (and way, way, way before that as well). And that’s what makes it work. It doesn’t try to make you feel ‘like your inner child,’ as if your sense of self in the here and now can’t be childish already. The Sack Lunch Bunch tells you to like it for what it is, which is to have a really weird time. This special will not answer your questions, and is barely able to answer it’s own- but that’s life, and it embraces that notion. That is what makes this different and makes it worth your time. Do me a favor, and please watch this.

Header Image via Netlix on YouTube

If you’ve ever been curious as to what lies at PA - 61 (Destroyed) - yes, destroyed is actually part of the formal address) in Centralia, PA or if you’re interested in the prospects of graffiti art or ghost towns--look no further.

In 1962, a beast of a coal-mining fire ripped to shreds what was formerly known to be a tight-knit and positive community. Although there are conspiracies surrounding what could’ve led the blaze to become so out of hand, it is most popularly believed that the Centralia County Council set a landfill on fire intentionally, without the knowledge that it was above an open-pit mine. As of 2017, there were only five documented residents in the town, and the population will likely only continue to dwindle.

About three and a half hours away from New York, in Eastern PA, lies what is left of decaying Centralia. My fascination with the abandoned area began when some friends informed me that there was a stretch of graffiti art on the ground that lasted for miles, nestled beside cemeteries and an eerie woods. As a matter of fact, a visit to Graffiti Highway is listed by TripAdvisor as #1 of all TWO things to do in Centralia. Last year, I made the drive with a good friend and parked my car on a grassy bank below steep mountains lined by trees. The colorful highway is challenging to discover in the midst of all of the shrubbery - seriously, we got lost for over an hour, walking around the forest. Eventually we made it to a clearing where we were met with blue sky and a sandy, dirt road that turned into gravel, and the infamous subsidence cracks and spray-painted initials we’d been after. 

I had been sitting down to drink a beer in the face of a touristy-sunset on the isolated road when a man wearing an American flag bandana driving a pick-up truck (even though regular vehicles aren’t allowed) pulled up to us and announced that we “ain’t supposed to be drinking,” incase the, “sheriff come by.” While I wasn’t sure what authority he had to administer this advice--maybe he’d devoted his life to warning young alcoholics about the perils of cops in woodsy PA--we obliged and took off towards the closest town, a crooked haunt called Ashland. 

Ashland and Centralia practically melt into each other. Tired and thirsty, I parked on the road and we staggered towards the only open establishment we’d been able to find: a small, local bar. I remember being delighted that this spot allowed us to smoke cigarettes indoors in 2018 and offered live music, played by an old man with a flannel and a toothpick and an apparent love for sexist classic rock. It all felt very 90’s - the indoor smoking, the local stopping us to inform us what the rules were. After exiting the bar, I realized that my white Toyota was not in the spot which I knew I had left it. However, there was nowhere for my car to go. The roads were abandoned for blocks, I would’ve spotted it in an instant. Hastily, I returned to the bar and asked the staff if car theft was an issue. They shrugged and laughed big, hearty, BudWeiser laughs, almost like they were mocking me for being so naive to the potential dangers of such a small town. I knew that my car was missing, but it seemed far more logical to me that it would’ve been towed, rather than stolen. I had no idea what to do. 

There were truly no other businesses for miles - we were forced to walk through a brisk March evening. We shivered and stumbled for at least six miles before calling an Uber to the nearest town, which was still abandoned and only offered a closed Dunkin Donuts and an encounter with the cops who were unsure why we were banging on the doors of the quiet coffee shop at three in the morning. 

The cops scared us, secured us entry into the Dunkin’ Donuts and gave us free cups of coffee before they scared us even more. It felt like we had entered an episode of Stranger Things. They told me that a car with the exact same make and model as mine had been crashed that night by some drunk drivers - a police report had been filed. They seemed skeptical, like I had crashed my car in some insane black out and simply wasn’t telling them the truth. I assured them that I hadn’t done that. They used their walkie-talkies to figure out the license plate of the car that had been in the crash, and sure enough, it didn’t match mine. We were clueless. 

We ended up being delivered to a hotel room twenty minutes away in the back of a cop car. The following morning, we returned to the Centralia/Ashland area to search junkyards on foot. With no success, we resorted to calling 9-1-1. But 9-1-1 was broken in this area, evidently, and it took two hours for a Centralia phone operator to call us back with the phone number for the region’s towing company. I called and left a message, only to be greeted two hours following that with an offer: Did I want to be picked up and taken to the top of a mountain where my car could potentially be in temporary residence? Fucking sure. 

A burly man in a leather jacket with a slicked black ponytail barged into the tiny sandwich joint. “You Meredith?” I nodded, and my travel companion and I were loaded into the back of an unfamiliar pick-up truck and escorted to one of the Pennsylvanian mountains that overlooked the tiny town. It was beautiful, although I’m not sure if being overwhelmed by relief outweighed my ability to appreciate the scenery of tiny houses and cemeteries and woods lying beneath us. At last, three hundred dollars later, (I  had to call my parents to send me money, embarrassingly, and hit the ATM) my car and I were reunited. The heavens opened up and mocked me, insisting that I refrain from being such a goddamn idiot next time. Centralia is a good time--if you are prepared for an overwhelming abyss of locals who refuse to leave despite the perils of residency in an abandoned minetown--and the strange encounters will haunt you forever.

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