“Witch Academy” the best episode yet of Sabrina

Kiernan Shipka has had a few many chances to test her emotional range as an actress, not only as the tortured daughter of Don and Betty Draper in Mad Men but more recently in horror flick The Blackcoat’s Daughter and as a different angsty child in Feud. She’s a proven holder of this skill, and she applies it to Sabrina Spellman, really for the first time, in “Witch Academy,” the fourth and best episode yet of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

So, what’s she need it for?

The deals she’s made are in the past. So, in this episode, we go with her into a whole new world as she begins her freshman orientation at the witch academy, and for the first time, she’s walking into a universe that she’s not wholly in control of.

At Baxter High, her human school, she has a devoted boyfriend and a strong group of friends, a group which she is the leader of. Her powers, that whole other world is a secret packed comfortably in her back pocket, almost like a safety blanket. If she’s really pissed about something — say, football players picking on her friend Susie — what’s to stop her from breaking out those powers and giving them a good scare? Nothing. We’ve seen her do it.

But at the academy, everything’s an unknown. Her schedule was selected for her (and it’s not what she wanted it to be).

That’s the start.

She doesn’t really know anyone — no one she can trust, anyway — and she doesn’t have friends to defend her, and everyone else has powers, too. What kind of fallback is it that you’re still hanging out in the mortal world with the rest of your time? None. In fact, these classmates consider it borderline disrespectful. “Her hearts not in it,” or “She’s half-assing it,” they could rightfully think.

Also, and this is most important, she’s a Spellman! Never before has that really mattered to anyone else, but at the academy, it puts a target on her back.

So, what’s Shipka need the range for? Sabrina’s the target of bullies, Prudence and the sisters. They’re ruthlessly hazing her, it turns out, at the instruction of the headmaster, Father Blackwood, and doing it with hazing rituals that, we also find out, have killed students in the past.

It’s really like real-life sleepover pranks gone horribly wrong, as it’s all things related to the 13 witches who were hanged — at first, overnight in a dungeon,* and then stripped and standing in front of that tree,** and finally, being escorted to that tree with a noose around her neck.

(*Salem comes to the rescue.)

(**There’s some serious Hunger Games shit going on in this one.)

It’s the second and third rounds, in my opinion, when Shipka whips Sabrina to her emotional bottom, and then so sweetly and vengefully back to her emotional strength from which we’ve seen this character mostly act in the first three episodes of this new series.

Shipka’s work this episode firmly plants Sabrina as the sentimental favorite of the show, which is different than us as viewers simply rooting for her because it’s her TV series. Now, we’ve developed an emotional connection to her; after all, the second round of The Harrowing, as they call it, was severely heartbreaking.

Sabrina’s stripped down to her undergarments, facing this tree she’s already a little weary of for other reasons, and told she must stay standing there until dawn and can never turn around no matter what, at the risk of death. What’s to cause her to turn around? Some Hunger Games shit. She hears voices behind her all through the night, first of her boyfriend Harvey as if he’s being tortured behind her, and later of her parents who just want to catch a brief sight of the daughter they never got to see grow up.

Camera close-ups help to focus in on tears running down her cheeks, show her shivering, and once morning comes, the first we see is the back of her,* and she’s hold onto herself, shaking, conveying that in these moments she’s the only person she has — a terrified loneliness, if you will. Once she turns around, she has dark shade around her eyes, she’s sweaty like she, all at once, went sleepless for a week and ran a marathon on a treadmill inside a house that was on fire.

(*We also find her this way the morning after the night in the dungeon.)

The third night, Sabrina’s ready and she gets her revenge on the sisters, and it’s a real, sweet, bad-ass bitch don’t-mess-with-me kind of turn that happens. I think it’s the first huge, OHHHHHHH! I’ve shouted in the series, so far. It’s a reunion of the kind of moxie that has made Sabrina so charismatic all along but with a darker, “Cheryl Blossom”-esque spin.

And, ooooooooh, baby, did I like it.

Kiernan Shipka knows how to bring it and, this time, she’s bringing it as Sabrina freaking Spellman.

Other things happened, too…

  1. At the academy, a possibly Love Interest No. 2 is introduced, Nicholas Scratch, played by Gavin Leatherwood. Seriously, though, either of those names could be a fictional character.
  2. In the human world, a sleepover between Roz and Susie goes horribly wrong. Susie’s uncle, it turns out, also “saw something” in the mines and has never been the same. When Harvey gets word of this, he wants to speak to him. But, I mean, this uncle of hers seriously has never been the same. He’s possessed by the devil and tries to kill Harvey when Harvey comes to his bedside to talk. So, what do we know? Not one, but two people have seen this monster in the mine.

The trial of Sabrina Spellman

Our scope of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s universe, Greendale, is expanding with its third episode, “The Trial of Sabrina Spellman.”

We could see the central resolution of the episode written on the wall, not just because it’s in the title. Sabrina wins her case to continue living her mortal life while holding onto her powers, with the exception that she attend exclusively the school for witches. This is where the story’s been leading.

But thinking about how the show is digging in now for the rest of its 10 season one episodes, with its initial conflict basically resolved, the more important takeaway from the episode is how it starts to trace the town’s relationship to the underworld. Specifically, stories about Harvey and a new character we meet, lawyer Daniel Webster, begin to create a picture. Basically, at least these two people have been exposed to this other world that Sabrina is now making deals in.

Harvey doesn’t know it, at least he’s not convinced he knows it. His story, that he tells Sabrina, involves him getting lost in the mine.* While he’s down there wandering around, trying to find his way back out, he sees a beast — yeah, that beast — and it terrifies him. Hearing this, Sabrina knows exactly what he’s describing but can’t say anything. He’s seen the devil and he doesn’t know it.**

(*This is the place his family — an angry dad and a caring older brother — is employed. Greendale seems like a mining town.)

(**Maybe, though, he subconsciously does.)

This certainly connects Harvey to Sabrina in an interesting way and makes you wonder what would’ve happened had she continued to tell Harvey the truth about the significance of her 16th birthday, rather than wiping that conversation from his memory.

The new character, Mr. Webster, was knowingly involved with the underworld; in fact, he made a deal with the devil that made him the world’s greatest defense attorney, but it cost him his daughter’s life.* He’s the one who comes to Sabrina’s aid to help her with her case, which he’s motivated to do because although he lost his bet with the devil, maybe she can be the one who finally beats him (the dark lord).

(*In his defense, he didn’t know it would.)

This episode tells us a lot.

Sabrina’s father signed her name into the devil’s book just days after she was born as his bargaining chip to marry Sabrina’s mortal mother. Her mother, however, baptized Sabrina in a human church a day earlier. Such a complex timeline is why Sabrina, here, had bargaining power to take the deal she takes.

But Greendale’s relationship to witchcraft, initially by the examples of Harvey and Mr. Webster, is important because of the John Doe brought to the mortuary, whose funeral was held during this latest episode. Ambrose continues to be concerned about the circumstances of his death, as he was a witch living in the mortal world whose death appears to have been premeditated.*

(*Another new character, Luke, is a warlock who shows up at the funeral and has apparently had a relationship with the deceased.)

Why is it concerning? Well, now, because this is the type of situation Sabrina is willfully walking into. How many other times have the worlds of Greendale and the dark lord crossed? And is there a certain negativity that exists because of it? Should Sabrina ever be found out, what does that mean for her?

Who killed the boy? Why?

We’ll see.

It’s a hurried baptism in second episode of Sabrina

This is what you’d call a rush job. It’s midnight in the middle of the woods, there are fires burning everywhere around Sabrina Spellman plus a coven of witches and warlocks looking on, her palm has been cut open*, she sees a vision of her parents and another of a red-hued future where witches are hanging lifeless from trees, and Father Blackwood is speeding through the reading of her, let’s say, rites. This is the chaotic, distracting setting we’re meant to experience, as directed by Lee Toland Krieger for “The Dark Baptism,” that of Sabrina’s, episode two of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

(*As is traditional campfire bro code.)

And suddenly, Sabrina catches an inconsistency between what Father Blackwood is telling her now and what he promised her earlier, where we left the premiere episode and pick up this one, in the family room of the Spellman house as he makes certain assurances of free will to her, to convince her to go through with her dark baptism. Interjecting into his spiel, Sabrina says, “That’s not what you said earlier,” and she starts to pull away, hesitate.

Really mentally present is this Sabrina, played by Kiernan Shipka, when few of us watching are. Two episodes in, I’m amazed at the way Sabrina compartmentalizes her life and stays so convincingly present in every part of it.

Earlier in this second episode, on Halloween, Sabrina’s birthday and day of the dark baptism, her Aunt Zelda is calling her niece out of school sick. When Sabrina asks why, she explains that the day is better spent in deep, internal thought. I didn’t think anything of this at the time because of course Sabrina doesn’t oblige — she goes to school and, not only that, a Halloween party that night, which makes her late* to the midnight baptism. But during the intense, hectic baptism scene, you bet I thought back to that explanation again.

(*Was she though?)

Yeah, I think I’d definitely want a day to think about what the hell is about to happen to me. But that’s just me projecting. When I’m about to go on a big vacation, for example, or even a three-day weekend, for goodness sake, I’m a useless warm body at my workplace for days. That’s not Sabrina.

Sabrina is so much more poised. She has an uncanny ability to compartmentalize her complicated life, so much so that not one of her friends really senses something’s up. So much so, that she loses track of, dancing the night away at her friends party, that she must sprint back to the woods to avoid being late to the biggest event of her life.

What must be going through her head? How long is she running for?

She’s in a full sprint all the way up to the gate, or what I’m going to call the gate, to the big show. Then, her white dress turns black, she walks through blue fire and up to her step, front and center to be baptized. It’s a jarring emotional and mental U-turn that develops so quickly, and is executed so perfectly on screen, but doesn’t seem to bother Sabrina, who’s still aware enough in the middle of it all to catch Father Blackwood in a lie and renounce her oath.

And that’s where we are. Much of the first two episodes was spent, as an audience member, wondering how Sabrina would get around the rules to have her cake and eat it, too.

This, honestly, was not what I expected. My expectation had Sabrina finding a way to maintain her human life, while committing to the coven. Either way, she’ll try to do both. But regardless, I didn’t see it coming that everything almost instantly returns to a version of normal — that, like, she says No! and then she and her aunties and cousin all just go back into their house.*

(*That part, I was kind of like, “Oh. Well, OK.”)

But of course, Sabrina’s not home free. Father Blackwood, Ms. Wardell and even the Dark Lord himself* will continue their efforts to recruit** Sabrina to sign her name to the list or, seemingly, make her life a living hell so long as she refuses.

(*If you read my last post, you saw the twist ending coming because of the blur effect.) 

(**Is it now, technically, recruiting?)

Sabrina’s conviction will be tested. What will happen to it when the two worlds she so expertly keeps apart start mixing together as the dark world aggressively seeks her?

What did you guys think of the second episode?

Camera sets the boundaries in Netflix’s new Sabrina

The first thing you’ll notice about Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the way it’s using camera effects as a narrative element, specifically to separate the worlds that Sabrina Spellman is tightrope walking still days before her 16th birthday — the witching world and human world.

How? Study even the following two stills from the series premiere, “Chapter One: October Country.”

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Here’s a still from the opening sequence. Sabrina, played by Kiernan Shipka*, is at the movies with her friends (humans), seeing a horror flick from which she is comically, inhumanely entertained if not aroused. Nothing special about this still.

(*Welcome back to my life, *cough* Sally Draper *cough*. I’ve missed you, so much.)

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Here she is later, in the woods in which she was born and will be re-born on her 16th birthday by a dark baptism. Notice specifically the blurred edges of the frame surrounding her. It’s this blurred feature director Lee Toland Krieger uses consistently throughout the episode to share scenes that are happening, generally, from the witching world. It’s within this same scene that Sabrina’s visited by three bratty, seemingly full-blood witches* and cursed. That scene is practically a blur-fest, as the camera circles Sabrina over and over while the witches, blurred almost in their movements, creep closer to her.

(*Sabrina’s half-blooded.)

This technique is used over and over again — early when Sabrina wakes up from a nightmare just before a bat flies through her window or when a witch kills and occupies the body of Sabrina’s teacher, Mary Wardell, or every time the witch’s “Familiar,” a raven visits Wardell.

The debate my wife and I had was whether the difference was based on the scene being something of the witching world or it being something evil, but I think both can be true; after all, witching is considered evil. Even Sabrina knows that and embraces it. It’s one of the entertaining things about the story, of course based on the Archie comic. Our main character is evil, or at least has dark powers and dark tendencies, but she enjoys the heck out it just like those horror movies.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a dark contrast to the late 90s sitcom, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. There’s a zombie-like, dark-drive-on-a-country-road spook within the first five minutes and a bloody murder five minutes thereafter. There are spiders. So many spiders. There’s a possessed scarecrow, hangings and the dark lord.*

(*Not THAT Dark Lord, but, I’m pretty sure, the other one?)

But that’s what makes the Netflix series so appetizing and so promising. It’s intense. But it’s funny, too.

Sabrina, at least for now, has a human life, friends in high school, and she’s kind of badass feminist teenager in that part of her life, starting a Women Protecting Women club in “Chapter One.”

Harvey’s there. So is Salem, the black cat, though Salem is not just a jukebox of punchlines this time. And, of course, there are Sabrina’s aunties.

The story in front of us is this: Sabrina has a few days left for her normal human life. At her dark baptism, she will have to leave that world to covert to the witch’s coven and go to an academy for witches. Though, she has a decision to make. Maybe she won’t sign her name over to it. Why does she have to give up everything about her human world, she asks. Why can’t she have some of both? That’s the track we’re on.

It’s important, that idea of two different worlds. Sabrina’s not totally into the coven’s side yet, which may explain the blurring effect. That world, to her, is not fully realized yet. The one that is, the human side, is in perfect high definition, so long as you have a good internet connection.

For fans of franchise, latest Halloween is perfect

Set exclusively in the universe of Halloween (1978) comes the latest spin on the what-happened-next timeline to John Carpenter’s horror franchise. Of course titled Halloween, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s vision is at least an explicit contradiction to Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and potentially even Halloween II, the two other films in the franchise, before this one and after the first to feature Jamie Lee Curtis’ “Laurie Strode.” Here, 40 years later, Michael Myers is an old man* who has been locked up in Smith’s Grove since that first Halloween night, while Laurie Strode has devoted her life to building a fortress to capture and training herself to kill Michael if, and more likely when, he escapes. In keeping to the franchise’s traditional tropes, he does.

(*Quick math puts him at 61 years old.) 

Naturally, this installment has its modern influences from the current culture. Our obsession with true crime podcasts, procedurals and documentaries, for example, is what motivates two reporters to visit Smith’s Grove and Haddonfield in an attempt to tell the Myers-Strode story. That general cultural influence also seems to effect the movie in making it, maybe, not as scary — though that can be debated. It’s not clear whether Green and McBride intentionally made it so, or that our exposure to the other installments in the franchise, or even just that this Halloween is quite a bit funnier at times than I can remember others ever being, has dulled or redirected our senses.

Michael is a little different than before. He’s not the inhuman killing machine he was made out to be in other remakes, but I’m not a cardholding member of the group who thinks he should be. He’s unmasked for a much more significant amount of time in the movie and his knife feels less present at times, if even it’s the weapon he’s using at the time — this Michael is actually quite proficient in disfiguring the faces of his victims in several of his kills.

Regardless, it’s not at all disabling or disappointing. In fact, this version sticks to many of the traditions we love, which feeds to our thirst for it — not just in wanting to watch re-runs of the old ones but in our longing for fresh, modern versions.

Of course the look of Michael is a tradition bridging every installment of this franchise — the significance of his mask, the consistency of his attire (even how he attains it), his weapon of choice. But always worth a glowing commendation is how rewrites religiously stick to the same trope of an ending. This one, which I really* don’t want to say much of, seems to make a nod to Jamie Lloyd** while also casting doubt upon its own definitive ending with a classic shot of seemingly nothing from inside the place in which it happens.

(*Maybe later?)

(**Lloyd, despite that she would not exist in this universe’s timeline.) 

The continuity of those tropes is what makes this installment satisfying, but some of the modernism takes it from satisfying to uniquely entertaining, like that it’s, in fact, almost laugh-out-loud funny sometimes, or that while Laurie Strode is the playbill’s main character because we know her, it’s, I think, the characters of her daughter (played by Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) that are the film’s primary vehicles for action and, ultimately, the best parts of it, or that there’s a wicked twist and that that twist initiates the most immersive and tense scene in the movie.

It’s the right kind of spin to jump forward in the timeline of the original film. It isn’t drunk on the legend of Michael created by the success of the franchise, making him out to be something he’s not. It references the good that came before and adds on to make it feel like it belongs to right now.

Halloween: ★★★★, a.k.a. Gonna be Re-watching It Forever

Crazy Rich Asians gets sweeter on big screen

Reading the book before seeing the movie was a new pursuit for me, but with Crazy Rich Asians I really wanted to do it. So, on Saturday morning, with a little extra push from my wife, I sat down and read for about six straight hours, knocking out the remaining 250-ish pages* of Kevin Kwan’s first novel, through a Notre Dame football game and all, and then we bought our tickets to the 7 o’clock show.

(*Please don’t do an efficiency conversion on that.)

It was unlike any viewing experience I’ve had. I knew the characters,* I knew what happens to them in the end,** but I hadn’t ever had that perspective beforehand. So, when snippets of conversations from the book were placed in different scenes in the movie, it was, at first, strange, and then enlightening.

(*Astrid was my favorite from the book.)

(**It’s not as neatly tied up in the book as it was in the movie.)

This was a 500-page novel adapted into a two-hour movie. That much content doesn’t fit into that allotted time, so it’s important to invent new ways to relocate a factoid here or there in the story to bring the kind of perspective the audience can really only get a full understanding of by reading the book, like me. For example, the screenwriters had to create a scene in which Nick Young’s mother, Eleanor, directly revealed her deep-rooted disapproval for her son’s girlfriend, Rachel Chu, because it couldn’t have possibly had time to follow Eleanor through all of her investigative missions she takes in the book. This is also the reason why some characters like “Francesca Shaw” get dropped, while others like “Amanda Ling” take on some of that character’s contributions or why the novel’s fully-developed side story for Astrid gets trimmed up and changed in the movie. It’s also why two separate parties in the book get smashed into one for the movie. Frankly, I was fascinated by the filmmakers’ little maneuvers to bring this story to the big screen.

Nothing changed effected the story negatively. The two biggest differences, Astrid’s storyline and the movie’s ending, were positive, in my estimation. What the writers did with Astrid portrayed a stronger, independent person than the direction she was heading at the end of the book. And while I won’t say anything specific about the movie’s ending, I’ll say this: it created a few very sweet moments and brought some finality to the story. It was every bit the enjoyable romantic comedy I’d hoped it to be.

Constance Wu plays the lead character, Rachel Chu, very well, every bit the sweet, innocent girl from a reasonable American upbringing Rachel was in the books, but Constance also has the moxie to really bring it when the character is asked to play the game, so to speak, to give right back all the attitude she’s getting from all those jealous Singapore socialites and exude the kind of unwavering confidence that makes that Mahjong scene* a real zinger towards the end of the movie.

(*Not in the book. But, again, a great addition.)

There’s Henry Golding as the strapping boyfriend Nick, Sonoya Mizuno as super-bubbly bride-to-be Araminta, Jimmy O. Yang as batshit crazy-as-hell Bernard. They all play their characters well.

But above all others, it’s Awkwafina who steals every scene she’s in, and that’s hard with this many characters in play. But it’s, in fact, her character, Peik Lin, who gets the greatest innovation from book to movie. The movie makes her far funnier and more eccentric than she ever came across in the books. Much of her dialogue is certified fresh. The jokes that smashed in the theater aren’t in the book. They were significantly more topical, as if they were rewritten for 2018, when the novel released in 2013. I’d guess it was because of her comedic prowess, her pace that always arrived as a welcome shakeup to the otherwise cautiously-progressing, side-eyeing vibe, spare a few sequences like the bachelor and bachelorette parties, that the writers inserted her into more scenes. For example, she doesn’t drive Rachel to nor attend that first party in the book, but that night is more fun because of it. It’s the freedom of adaptation, after all. Here are two separate parties into one, why not bring our funnest character along for the ride. If anyone could sell the audience on the excitement of this extravagance Rachel was walking into, it was Awkwafina, selfie-ing her way up the stairs.

Crazy Rich Asians: ★★★, a.k.a. Happy customer

Making It is clean, therapeutic fun

Making It is America’s answer to The Great British Baking Show, and that’s precisely the point. There are no simpler terms to put it in than that.

All of the things that make the British baking show a hit (recently here, thanks in large part to Netflix, and longer overseas), even a flawed aspect or two about its setup, are what make* Making It equally as good.

(*Yeesh! Uncomfortable annunciation.) 

Chief among reasons for, first, the personal enjoyment and, second, real success of these shows is the communal, people helping people, vibe. It’s therapeutic. A handful of competitors are chasing patches, week-to-week, and ultimately a cash prize pennies compared to what most reality talent competitions are giving away these days. No competitor is above helping another finish their tasks, which represents correctly the crafting and baking communities that these individuals play around in. It’s been said before: It’s nice seeing people being nice to one another.

Pun-ny and funny are the hosts — for Making It, that’s Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. These hosts don’t have to be experts (the shows have those, though Offerman, in this case, is one), but what they do successfully is riff. Where Amy and Nick separate Making It from the baking show is their side skits — pun-offs, or the clever little episode-enders from the porch of their tiny house in which they involve the crafter eliminated that week. What NBC must be discovering, in case it didn’t already know, is that there’s an audience for anything involving Amy and Nick together. People like me miss Parks & Recreation everyday* and long for comedic timing of that duo.

(*Except when we have a DVD popped in for re-runs. Ahem, we’re on Season Six.)

What else? Both competitions take place in a field — barn and tent. Both shows are 30 minutes. There’s a star crafter or baker every week and someone is eliminated, which brings to mind what some consider a weakness from these two shows: the judges.

They never change. They’re the same each week. So, saying you’re making judgements solely on the current week is difficult to believe, but also kind of just silly to attempt. But I get it, each episode tests a different skill. One’s exceptional macaroons shouldn’t make it OK that they plated a disaster the following week. It makes it more unexpected who’s kicked off week to week. But if that’s the case, why not bring in a wider variety of judges if it doesn’t matter not knowing what’s happened in past weeks? I haven’t gotten any impression yet from Making It‘s judges, Dayna Isom Johnson and Simon Doonan, but there are weeks on the baking show when I think Paul’s definitely got it out for somebody.

The big difference here is how contestants are able to prepare — or, in Making It‘s case, apparently not. There were a couple mid-crafting emotional breakdowns on the episode title “All the Holidays at Once,” when it was mentioned that not only do these makers get no time and no heads up about their next task but also, apparently they get very little time off — not enough to see your family, whereas the bakers spend their weeks prepping and living their lives. You bet that’s rough, but maybe that changes as the show has the chance to perfect its structure.

Still, as a viewer, it’s fun to see these contestants dreaming up and bringing to life something you never could’ve imagined or done yourself. They’re not just someone singing a cover of a chart-topper you’ve sung a million times in the shower. It’s pure creation. That’s what makes it perfect.

Anna Kendrick makes you feel things in Table 19

“I think it just means she’s a good actor,” my wife tells me; meanwhile, I grapple with how Anna Kendrick can make me feel so sad for her, in her movies, as if she were one of my dearest friends, whenever she flips the compassion-getting switch.

Yes, Anna Kendrick is a great actor, but put another in her role and does that replacement yield the same emotional pull? I think not. I think Table 19 needs her for this specific purpose, as if only she can play Eloise.* I think she’s had this effect on me for years, dating at least as far back as Drinking Buddies (2013), a film she transplanted a heart into, right at the end, because of her character’s sudden emotional break.

(*A great name for a character, by the way.) 

Table 19 is about that random table at your wedding where you seat all of the guests you invited but didn’t expect to come. Eloise is at that table, though how she ended up there is a far-fetched, fallen-from-grace story. Eloise went from maid of honor to rejects’ table all because she was dumped by the best man and then was replaced by that best man’s new girlfriend, whose relationship to the bride, even as I write this, is a cold case I can’t break. Eloise is seated with a circus of characters (played by Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, Tony Revolori, Stephen Merchant and June Squibb), each, like Eloise, has problems of their own they’re working through, the most fun of which is Merchant’s character, Walter, who has just gotten out of prison.

The group sticks together. They stir up a little trouble. They have a good time, very little of which is spent at the actual reception, which is either* the longest or shortest (and discombobulated)** reception of all time. It’s funny and entertaining overall. The only detracting problem with it is that it doesn’t settle into place on how it wants the audience to feel about the best man, Teddy. The filmmakers want you to hate his guts at first but be accepting of him later, and it just doesn’t work for me.

(*I really can’t decide, guys.)

(**Eloise brags a lot, early on, about planning 90 percent of the wedding. I got married two years ago. This wedding and reception wasn’t very well-planned.) 

Eloise is quite a bit conflicted about Teddy, though the audience is almost certain in thinking this is one of those stories when the sympathetic female lead meets someone new and amazing. It isn’t, but I don’t think that’s a surprise. If you look at roles Anna Kendrick has taken in What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012) and Drinking Buddies, there are similarities in the parts. She plays someone in love, whose been wronged, pushed away, or made to feel unwanted, but who can’t help wanting who she wants.* In all three parts, when Anna Kendrick’s climactic emotional break comes, she convinces the audience that these two people are really in love, they were just being dumb, they were meant to be together.

(*That’s so real to me.)

How does she get us there? It angers me to simplify it down to her being a good crier, but she is. Her high voice complements the visual. In Table 19, she screaming through her big, heartbreaking scene and you have a visceral reaction to it. She’s great in these moments. This movie, and the others, need that moment. Because, while a lot of silly stuff happens in the interim, the times comes when Anna Kendrick reaches out and pulls you into believing in a story about two messy millennials in love that you weren’t even sure was there. And then, suddenly, it’s all very real to you.

Table 19: Happy customer ★★★*

(*Writer’s note: I’m rating on a new rewatchability scale.)

I went to the Reputation Stadium Tour

We are not concertgoers, my wife and I. In fact, I said, I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a concert that wasn’t a greatest hits nostalgia show, as would be made pretty clear by the list of bands I’ve seen (REO Speedwagon, Styx, Journey, Def Leppard, the Backstreet Boys that I can remember) and when I’d seen them (2000 or even more recent).

So, what’s a concert like when the band or artist is touring an individual album, instead of replaying hit after hit after hit? This is what we were so anxious to find out. The artist was Taylor Swift; the album, “reputation.”

Taylor* stopped in Minneapolis for two nights last weekend. A perfect storm of circumstances led us to U.S. Bank Stadium downtown.

(*Yeah, let’s use first names.)

First, the tour included Camila Cabello. Seriously, it starts there. Sure, way back when the tour dates were announced, we thought it’d be cool to see Taylor Swift. We tried to get my wife’s uncle (a country radio guy in Arizona) to hook us up with two free tickets,* otherwise we didn’t act on it the impulse. Months went by and the concert dissipated from our interest.

(*This will be ironic later.)

Lately, I’ve developed something of a crush on Camila. Her self-titled debut album is packed with hits and ballads that I sing along to while I work from the private confines of my home office on Fridays. I’m telling you the truth when I say there was a day at work that I watched Camila’s “Never Be The Same” video on repeat for, safely, four straight hours.* That’s Michelle Branch-level stuff for me.**


(**I use YouTube like it’s Spotify.)

About a week-and-a-half before the Reputation Stadium Tour was scheduled to come to the city, I surprised myself. I decided I was sooo into Camila’s “Camila” that I wanted to see her perform it live. Here it was, a rare moment in time when I thought an album was so good I wanted to sing it aloud with 60,000 strangers before I missed my chance. I looked up tickets, but me being uber frugal, I kept one foot lightly on the brake pedal. And then …

Second, my wife’s co-worker got four free tickets.*

(*There’s the irony.) 

Ultimately, I don’t know if I would’ve bought tickets. There wasn’t all that much time between shopping around and hearing that we were in the game for a pair of free seats. All I have to go on is this: We offered to pay her for the pair, to which she refused, and we didn’t move to buy any others while we waited for her decision. The night before the concert, she said we could have them. Just like that, we were about to see the biggest tour in the world.

The biggest — that’s really the way to do this, for non-concertgoers. If ever you’re considering going to a concert, go to the biggest one. It’s probably the best performance you’ll ever see, and you never have to go to another one.* You’ve seen Taylor (and Camila and Charli XCX) live.

(*Unless, as we decided, it’s Taylor again.) 

After it was over, my wife mentioned, “This must be what Sarah (a friend) felt like after seeing the Beyonce concert.” I bet so. Pick your preferred taste — Taylor’s mine — it’s about as good as you’re ever going to do.

Taylor was awesome. Label an artist a prolific hitmaker because all you do is listen to their music in your earbuds. You don’t experience all of an artist until you see her live. Camila was great. Her voice is as good live as it is on her album. It won’t be long before she’s headlining her own show.* I got everything out of Camila I hoped I would**, but I left thinking about Taylor — specifically, damn, she was born to be a performer.

(*This is what I found most unbelievable about the tour. One of Taylor’s opening acts won Artist and Video of the Year at the VMAs in the same year as said tour.)

(**Including a T-shirt.)

In the local newspaper, the music critic wrote that Taylor seemed happier than three years ago. “More confident and super self-aware, she seemed more comfortable with herself,” he wrote, “and more assured in her musical changes.” I didn’t see her three years ago, but anyone who saw the show knows what he’s talking about. She does seem very happy. She has a ton of fun on stage. I loved the faces she’d make while she danced. Her performance was full of playful attitude, a great personality.

We aren’t suddenly concertgoers now. We went to the biggest show on the planet by the biggest artist in the universe and went for free. It felt like we committed a felony having that much fun for no money at all,* but that doesn’t mean we’re going to go see Iggy Azalea now,** or even Ariana Grande. We don’t have to. We saw the best there is.

(*Beer and merch did cost money.)

(**Only mentioned because Charli XCX performed “Fancy.” I’d sooner go to Ariana, but, again, I won’t.)

Now we know the answer to what a concert looks like when it’s an artist touring one album. Instead of walking away thinking that band was great*, we went away reminded how great that entire album is. I liked that. I really like “Delicate” a lot, but it’s days later and the songs I’m singing are secondary to the radio hits — they’re “Don’t Blame Me,” “I Did Something Bad” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.”

(*Was great, back when they were releasing albums.)

It also occurred to me that Taylor could go on a greatest hits tour today and it wouldn’t be lacking content. She mixed in a handful of her biggest bops, which really riled the crowd, but she also took an intimate moment to strap on the acoustic guitar and bring “Begin Again” out of her library. All in the 40,000-person crowd knew every single word. It was surreal. It was awesome.

It’ll be the first time, when she does do that greatest hits parade, decades down the road, that I’ll be able to say I saw Taylor when she was touring her albums — when she was at the peak of her powers. It feels pretty damn cool to have done that.