HOW & WHY I ANNOTATE MY BOOKS!

I recently posted about annotating books on my JMoReads Instagram account and ever since then, I’ve gotten tons of questions on how I go about my process. So, I put together this little guide on how I annotate my reading material in hopes that it helps some of you develop your own distinct techniques!

Before we even get started, let’s talk about the inconceivably obvious elephant in the room.  Yes, I write in my books. Yes, I enjoy writing in my books. And no, I don’t feel bad for writing in my books, so don’t even get any ideas about how you’re planning to make me feel guilty for it (book shaming is sooo 2011 *insert eye rolling emoji here*). Alright, now that we got that out of the way, we can move on to bigger and better things.

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First, some basics…

Why do you annotate, isn’t that like basically committing book murder?  

Uh, no. The complete opposite. Actually, let me explain. I have never yearned for a pristine-looking book collection. Okay, that’s a lie. Twelve-year-old me would have definitely cut your hand off if you would have even done something as little as accidentally dog-earing my book. But let’s not focus on that version of me – quite frankly, she was rather scary. And influenced. But mostly just scary. Let’s focus on the post-preteen version of me, she’s less…intense. It’s been years since I have longed for a perfect-looking bookshelf. It’s not something I’m interested in. If I want to make heart eyes at rows upon rows of books in model condition, I can go to the bookstore three blocks away. I want my book collection to look like my book collection. I want people to borrow a book of mine and be able to clearly see what passage I loved so much that I was compelled to draw a heart around it, what piece of dialogue made me laugh so hard that I dog-eared the page and highlighted it, not once but twice, and what sentence made me cry enough for it to be slightly smeared from coming in contact with a tear. I hope to someday pass down my book collection, and whether that’s to a child, friend, or stranger, I want that person to not only read the story at hand, but feel a little less alone while doing so. Because, who knows – perhaps what made them laugh, or cry, or simply ponder, is exactly how it made me feel, but how would they know unless it’s indicated as such? As an avid reader, I want to be able to experience each and every story told within every one of my books as intimately and authentically as possible; I want to live and breathe every sentence, taste every word. As an aspiring author, I’d feel the most honored if a reader came up to me with a battered, entirely written up copy of my book because that means they took the time to connect with each and every character, theme, and storyline on the deepest of levels.

Alright, enough with the gushy stuff. What type of books do you annotate?

Honestly, if I annotated every single book I read the proper way, it’d take me just about a year to get through a mere handful of them. Annotating – although enjoyable and liberating and totally something I think everyone should do – is time consuming. Almost every book on my shelf has at least a single pen marking in it, but the books I truly try to annotate from beginning to end are those that I predict will be four or five star reads. Sometimes even three star reads, but those are significantly less common. If I know a book will impact me in any way, shape, or form, I usually reach for my stack of pens, highlighters, and post-it notes and get ready to mark the hell out of it.

So, you write in any edition? *screams in horror*

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NO! Everyone obviously has their own preferences when it comes to this, but I don’t touch my signed or first editions. I’m a rule breaker, not a monster.

Okay, now that we’re through with that, let’s move on to my actual annotating process. It’s so complicated (sarcasm intended), so I’m going to be a nice blog owner and lay it all out for you in an easy-to-read, step-by-step guide. Keep up, this is some serious shit.

Step 1: Turn to any of the beginning pages of your book and make yourself a key so that it’s accessible in case you ever need to remember why you highlighted and/or marked a certain word or passage. Keys are definitely not necessary but they help me out a whole lot, so I always recommend them to other aspiring bookish rule breakers. Coming up with a key is pretty simple, here’s an example of one of mine featuring one of my latest reads, Shanghai Girls.

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A huge part of my annotating process is highlighting – it’s an easy way to give some order to your notes and annotations without necessarily looking too tidy. There’s two ways to incorporate the use of highlighters. You can either just highlight anything and everything you want without following a system, or you can do what I do and highlight based on a set structure. Just like in the picture above, I assign highlighter colors to different categories. The five categories I typically use are: anything important/details I should remember (this one is crucial for those who are annotating for reviewing or educational purposes), beautiful writing/passages or pieces of dialogue that spoke to me because of its fantastic use of words, scenes/moments that made me so unbelievably happy I almost cried (I’m a very emotional person so I cry…a lot. This category might not seem very significant to the average person, but I use it more often than not), scenes/moments that made me laugh, cry, or ponder depending on the genre of the book, and themes worth noting (not pictured because I sometimes don’t include this category in every book I annotate due to how time consuming it can become). Feel free to personalize your own categories and corresponding key, and be creative with it! This is supposed to be fun, after all.

Step Two: Okay, so you have the highlighting portion down. The next thing I tend to include are actual handwritten notes. For me, this is the most entertaining part of annotating. I get a lot of questions regarding this aspect of the process because most people are confused as to what they should write, and fortunately, there’s no set answer. I say ‘fortunately’ because this is what makes it so liberating and enjoyable. As far as my own technique though, I go back and forth between two types of notes. At times I’ll make a note about something I liked and/or appreciated, like in the picture shown below where I specifically comment about how I enjoy how Lisa Lee includes the definitions of certain Chinese phrases or slang terms, since it makes the entire experience a bit more relatable and transparent. My other types of notes are the ones I treat as a conversation with the characters, or sometimes even the author. So, for example, if a character does something questionable or idiotic, or both, I’ll write comments on the margins such as, “Why?!” Or if the author leaves us on a heartbreaking cliffhanger, I’ll totally pretend they can telepathically read my notes and I’ll write something like, “You better fix this, Ms. I-think-I-can-kill-your-favorite-character-without-any-consequences” – that note is actually taken directly from a book I annotated not too long ago.

It’s easy for people to shy away from annotating books because it can genuinely seem like a daunting process, but what most fail to realize is that it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need an English degree to read critically, and you most definitely don’t have to turn critical reading into a professional sport. Just enjoy it! Be creative and have fun. Out of everything it offers, when I look back at my annotated books, I see a diary – a genuine and raw insight into what and how I felt while reading certain moments in a book. Don’t dismiss annotating just because you think it needs to be immaculate and proficient.

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And that’s basically it.

What? Were you expecting a longer process? Sorry to disappoint!

But really – try it! If you’re not fully comfortable with marking your precious children just yet, there are other options, although I still hope you try my method at some point. My first suggestion is to either buy or find a stack of sticky notes and do the note taking on those, instead of in the actual book. It’ll allow you to still explore and dissect the story on a deeper level without the commitment. Talking about commitment, another way to deal with that while still wanting to give my method a chance is to purchase a cheaper, preferably used copy of whatever book you want to annotate and use that instead; it’ll allow you a real feel for annotating without touching your bookshelf copy.

The above are just last minute suggestions for if you really, really, reallyyy (I obviously can’t stress it enough, but if you need even more convincing, here’s one more: reallyyy) are hesitant about committing to annotating a book or two. I think you should just go for it though…join the dark side. We have way more fun.

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TOP FAVORITE ‘CAPTAIN SWAN’ MOMENTS!

How could I possibly let May 7th pass without making a Captain Swan related blog post? If you’re not on the same level of fangirliness (Is that a word? it is now!…maybe it’s fangirlness? Yes? No? I don’t know, what even is English?) as I am, allow me to explain. Captain Swan is the ship (Totally-professional fangirl term for ‘couple,’ not the water vessel – although the confusion is both understandable and expected) of  dreams…They’re basically the Titanic of all fictional couples for me. Guess that’s not entirely the best analogy since the Titanic sank…what is wrong with me today? *Sigh* Excuse my scattered ramblings…I may have had a cup too much of caffeine. ANYWAY, like I was trying to say – Captain Swan is my favorite fictional couple of all time. And yes, I realize just how big of a deal that is, considering that statement means they surpass any other TV, film, AND literary couple, but it’s true. I could genuinely sit here and bore every single one of you for hours on end about how much I simply adore this duo, but for now, let me get to the point of this post. So, May 7th turns out to be Captain Swan’s wedding anniversary and today, May 7, 2018, makes one year since the happy couple sang their hearts away…quite literally. You’re probably thinking, “You’re really celebrating a fictional couple’s wedding anniversary?” And my answer to that is, how could I not?! In hopes of sharing some of my own love for these two lovebirds and their story on this very special day, here’s a comprehensive list of my absolute favorite Captain Swan moments.

“DON’T YOU KNOW, EMMA? IT’S YOU” // 4×15

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Killian has been admitting his love for Emma since the beginning of time. It’s one of the many things that melt my heart into an absolute puddle regarding their relationship. But this time, it was different. Given the starkness of the situation, Killian confessing this to Emma changed the course of their relationship as a whole. It’s evident that Emma was afraid to ask because, to some extent, I believe she actually still had doubts someone could love her so much, but when Killian came out and said what she always hoped he would, her facial expression gave everything away. She was relieved and touched, and in this precise moment, she knew that this – that Killian – was it for her.

“I LOST EVERYONE. I CAN’T LOSE YOU TOO.” // 4×03

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From Emma’s vulnerable peek to Killian’s relieved expression when Emma said the opposite of what he was expecting, everything about this scene makes my heart skip a beat. While watching the show live, I remember being so frustrated by Emma’s constant avoidance. I mean, while it was totally relatable, I was even more irritated than Killian, which is saying a lot considering he was beginning to lose his mind over Emma constantly dodging his every move. Then suddenly, the dam burst, and we got a raw insight into a very sensitive and susceptible place for Emma. I think I can speak for every single one of us, including Killian, when I say we were all relieved that that was the reason Emma was avoiding him, yet it managed to shatter my soul into a million pieces. No exaggeration. Emma’s experienced so much painful loss in her life and every time she begins to think things are changing for the better, the universe somehow finds a way to ruin it once again. It’s no surprise she was so scared of allowing Killian in, but I felt like a proud mom when she was brave enough to admit the reason behind her hesitation. Just like the scene I previously wrote about, this one was yet another major turning point in their relationship. It was, in a way, what steered their love forward.

OPERATION BEST MAN // 6×19

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SPOILER ALERT. Emma and Killian get married! Besides the iconic wedding scene which I’ll write more about a little later on, this scene was my other favorite wedding-related moment. First of all, even though it technically wasn’t Captain Swan, can we please just acknowledge how sweet and heartwarming the little moment between Killian and Henry was? I love their relationship so, so much and that small but substantial moment made my life. There’s really nothing better than some quality future step-dad and step-son bonding. But as far as the actual Emma and Killian interaction in this scene, it was simply just too precious. Their joy was palpable through the screen, so much so that I genuinely cannot watch the scene without smiling like an idiot throughout the entirety of it. You try it and tell me if it’s any different for you. I bet not because it’s impossible to react any other way. Emma, who is already typically very smiley around her pirate, is absolutely radiant in this scene and after everything they’ve been through, it’s such a satisfying sight. Also, can I just add, the look Killian gives Emma towards the end of the scene, which makes her chuckle all while shaking her head in disbelief of her soon-to-be husband’s dorkiness (I’m just making up words left and right in this post, aren’t I?) is, without a doubt, a favorite moment of mine all on its own.

THE WEDDING // 6×20

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What kind of fan would I be if the epitome of their love story wasn’t one of my favorite scenes? This whole episode was absolutely fantastic. Not only because of the wedding, but also because of the musical. We had been anticipating a musical episode for so long and the fact that they incorporated it into Emma and Killian’s wedding made it all that more special. Their wedding was so magical. From their effortless yet entirely authentic vows to lovingly singing their feelings away, it looked and felt like a dream. Everything Captain Swan had endured, both the good and the bad, was completely worth it to have seen them as happy and fulfilled as they were during this very special moment. I think it’s pretty much every fangirl’s dream to witness their OTP (Yet another totally-professional fangirl term meaning ‘one true love’ aka the couple you root for the most) get married and with Captain Swan, we got that and so much more which I’m eternally grateful for.

“…AND YOU TRUST ME!” // 6×14

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a sucker for well-executed angst. This scene was, well, it was nothing short of painful and a definite tear-jerker. But just like Emma and Killian are a fan of every part of each other, I’m a fan of every part of their relationship – the good, the bad, and the ugly. The Captain Swan fandom has been put through hell and back, literally, so watching it, I knew that this angsty fight wouldn’t face them in any way. Yes, it was yet another hurdle they had to work through, but it made their relationship all that more real. This is yet another reason why I adore Emma and Killian’s dynamic so much. They’re not all rainbows and butterflies. Their relationship has been put through some incredibly strenuous situations and they’ve fought for each other and their love through it all. It was refreshing seeing this side of Emma – the side who knows them and their relationship so deeply and so authentically that she wasn’t going to put up for anything short of the best versions of themselves, especially before taking such an important step in their lives. On top of this, Jennifer Morrison’s acting blew my mind out of the water. She’s usually pretty amazing all around, but there was something about this scene that hit me like no other and I completely applaud her on her impeccable performance.

SECOND PROPOSAL // 6×17

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No matter how much I adore the first proposal, this one upstages it with flying colors. Working out the kinks from the previously discussed fight ended in this very sweet moment. I was so happy that Killian finally got to propose the way he wanted, without fear of disappointing Emma or without anything holding him back from enjoying the moment in its totality. I love his choice of words, especially when he assured Emma that, no matter what, he’ll always be by her side, and I love Emma’s tearful chuckle as a reaction. Then, Emma joining him at eye level before muttering the anticipated response and Killian’s heartfelt and purely sincere smile when he heard it was just enough to send me over the edge on the emotional meter. Everything about this moment is so indescribably tender and everything this couple deserved.

TRUE LOVE TEST // 5×20

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I don’t think people talk about this scene enough. It’s, next to the wedding scene, the embodiment of their entire journey as a couple. One of the most important moments we’ve witnessed time and time again throughout the course of Once Upon a Time is true love couples experiencing their true love realization moments. Now, before Captain Swan, every single one of these moments had been shown through the cliche but very romantic act of a true loves kiss. But for Emma and Killian, it was different. Although considered a bit debatable because some fans believe that them not sharing a true loves kiss means they were deprived of something, I think it’s quite the opposite. Captain Swan’s story is so perfectly unique and special in its own way and they’ve gone on so many thrilling adventures that the typical true loves kiss would be quite a dull experience for their standards. The idea of their love being tested to its extreme is so fascinating and it really is the only thing that makes sense to me, considering that every other aspect of their relationship has also been pushed to its limits. We’ve seen Killian give up his own life to save Emma and her family. In turn, I simply adored the act of sacrifice Emma showed during this scene which ended up seamlessly depicting their unconditional and indestructible love for one another.

“YOU’RE IMPOSSIBLE.” // 5×14

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Out of this entire list, this has got to be the shortest scene but I love it just as much as all the others. It wasn’t often that we got alone and quiet moments between these two, so I quickly learned to appreciate the ones we did get. Even though this particular moment happened in the midst of an insanely bleak season, it was so tenderhearted that I can’t even think about the scene without feeling my heart double in size. The fact that Emma crossed a very dangerous and narrow bridging over the river of souls without a hint of hesitation is enough to applaud her. I would have been terrified, and I’m sure she was too, but she didn’t care because her sole objective was getting to her true love on the other side. If that’s not the most nail-biting, romantic gesture then I don’t know what is. It was a moment, in between all the spirits and death lords, where Emma and Killian could simply be in each other’s arms and presence without having to worry about anything or anyone else. Along with that also comes the epitome of cute exchanges topped off with an adorable giggle from Emma and a weak but genuine smile from Killian.

STORY TIME // 6×07

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Will I ever get over just how gentle Killian is with his Swan? No, most probably not. This is one scene that caught me by surprise because I never expected to love it as much as I do. It’s so simple yet I think that’s exactly why I love it so much. This exact moment is a beautiful testament to just how supporting and encouraging Killian is towards Emma and everything that she is and stands for.

CEMETERY REUNION // 5×21

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Drum roll, please! I may love every single scene on this list so, so much but the cemetery reunion will forever and always be my absolute weakness. If I’m being honest, I’m not quite sure why I’m such a big fan of this moment, but it makes my stomach do somersaults and my heart leap out of my chest. I’m pretty sure we can all agree that season five was one hell of a rollercoaster ride. There were so many heartbreaking and emotionally exhausting moments, and very few that allowed us any bit of relief. But this one. This one changed the game. I guess part of the reason I love it so much is because, first and foremost, I’m an Emma Swan fan, and seeing her so incredibly happy for once in a long time was more rewarding than I can explain. The cheek kisses along with the intense giggles and pure joy make for one of the most uplifting, lighthearted scenes in the show’s history.

There you have it, my top favorite Captain Swan moments from the first six seasons of Once Upon a Time. Happy anniversary to my favorite couple! Are you also a fan of them? What are your favorite scenes?

BACK ROADS: BOOK VS. MOVIE

Back Roads, originally a novel written by Tawni O’Dell and released back in 1999, was recently adapted into a film directed by Alex Pettyfer, starring Jennifer Morrison, Juliette Lewis, Nicola Peltz, Chiara Aurelia, June Carryl, Robert Patrick, and Hala Finley. The film went into production in early/mid 2017 and ended up having its world premiere as a spotlight narrative at the Tribeca Film Festival in April of this year.

I was lucky enough to attend the Back Roads premiere at Tribeca and the entire experience ended up becoming one of my ultimate favorites. Having run the Back Roads movie fan account on Instagram for over a year now, I had been anticipating the film for so long and actually getting to see the final product come to life at such a special event felt like an incredible honor.

That being said, I’ve been a fan of the novel far longer than I’ve even known about the making of the film and being a book lover in general, you can probably imagine my natural weariness when it came to the adaptation. I was so anxious about how it would turn out and I can’t even begin to explain just how relieved and thrilled I was when it came out better than I ever imagined.

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I already reviewed the film on my YouTube channel (Also called ‘Nerdy Babble’ – check it out, *wink wink*), so I felt like writing a similar review on here would be utterly redundant. Instead, I thought it’d be a fun idea to note some of the key similarities and differences between the film and novel, all while keeping it as spoiler-free as I possibly can…here’s to hoping for the best.

* Warning: This post might (probably not, but perhaps) contain novel spoilers, but I will keep any specific details about what they did or didn’t include in the film out. If you’ve read the novel, then you should be safe. If you haven’t, then well, you’ve be warned. Proceed with caution.

First, for those who decided to proceed with caution, if you don’t know what Back Roads is even about, here’s a quick synopsis taken directly from the novel’s Goodreads page:

Harley Altmyer should be in college drinking Rolling Rock and chasing girls. He should be freed from his closed-minded, stricken coal town, with its lack of jobs and no sense of humor. Instead, he’s constantly reminded of just how messed up his life is.

With his mother in jail for killing his abusive father, Harley is an orphan with the responsibilities of an adult and the fiery, aggressive libido of a teenager. Just nineteen years old, he’s marooned in the Pennsylvania backwoods caring for his three younger sisters, whose feelings about him range from stifling dependence to loathing. And once he develops an obsession with the sexy, melancholic mother of two living down the road, those Victoria’s Secret catalogs just won’t do the trick anymore. He wants Callie Mercer so badly he fears he will explode. But it’s the family secrets, the lies, and the unspoken truths that light the fuse and erupt into a series of staggering surprises, leaving what’s left of his family in tatters. Through every ordeal, the unforgettable Harley could never know that his endearing humor, his love for his sisters, and his bumbling heroics would redeem them all.

As far as similarities go, the most important ones – the ones I always felt like they had to include in order to appropriately honor the novel – are the novel’s narrative sequence, plot highlights, and core conflicts and themes. But what does this mean, exactly? Themes that run throughout the length of the Back Roads narrative include: the process of maturity, own worst enemy, coming-of-age, humanity vs. human nature, family, loss of innocence, and motherhood (Or, in this case, the lack of). All of these themes, which are ever so prominent in the novel are just as prominent in the film, consequently giving the film a very similar tone to the one the novel portrays. While watching the film, I found myself experiencing the same thought process I did while reading the source material, and being as big of a fan of these specific themes and core conflicts as I am, I was so glad to see them included in the screen adaptation.

The original story follows a very unique plot timeline by revealing the sequence of events in a form of a flashback. If you’ve read the novel, then you’d know exactly what I’m referring to. The first scene we are introduced to in the novel is the interrogation scene between our protagonist, Harley, and Chief Mansour that takes place in the police station. Very similarly, it’s also the first scene you see in the film. Then, just like in the novel, the story unfolds chronologically in one long flashback sequence circling back to the very beginning of the film again at the end.

Another major similarity is the characterization. Although in the novel, some of the characters, such as Callie and Amber, are physically described a bit differently than how the actors portraying them look (In the novel, Callie has brown hair vs. her blonde hair in the film; in the novel, Amber has reddish-blonde hair vs. her bleached blonde hair in the film; etc), every single cast member brought their corresponding character to life in such an authentic way. During the Q&A session after the screening at Tribeca, Tawni O’Dell herself thanked the cast for how well they treated these characters and for their genuine and spot-on portrayal. I mean, if that doesn’t tell you something, then I don’t know what will.

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Alex brought out Harley’s naive and sympathetic personality so extremely well, it gave me chills quite a few times. Harley’s violence-filled and psychologically disruptive upbringing were direct implications for his troubled and misplaced character, and even though I had my own personal doubts about how Alex would manage to portray such a complex and troubled individual, he exceeded my expectations. To be wholeheartedly honest, he broke my heart with his tangible performance time and time again, and I can’t do much except applaud him for a job well done. Also, can I just quickly mention – on top of being in every single scene, the man still managed to direct a cinematically stunning film with numerous elaborate and exacting shots, and I still can’t wrap my mind around how he accomplished it so effortlessly.

Alright, enough gushing about Alex’s talent, even though I could seriously go on all day. Let’s move on to the other, equally as well depicted, characters. Jennifer Morrison as Callie Mercer…wow. She’s just so good. I’m not exaggerating when I say that after seeing Jennifer as Callie, I can’t possibly imagine anyone else doing a better job. Knowing how big of a book lover she is, I wasn’t a bit surprised with the amount of details Jennifer managed to incorporate from the novel version of Callie into the on screen version. Every bit of energy and time she spent trying to make sure she got this character just right reflected so well in the final product. Callie’s such an elaborate character and so different from anything Jennifer’s ever done before, yet it feels like she’s been playing her for the entirety of her career. In the novel, the only insight we get into Callie’s character and life is what Harley chooses to reveal to the reader from his perspective, which I can see being an entirely difficult and limiting situation when it came to bringing the character to life on screen, yet it doesn’t seem like Jennifer had any issues. She managed to not only portray all of Callie’s written quirks, mannerisms, desires, and emotional complexity, but she also brought so much more than I expected to the character, making her a million times more layered than in the novel. Also, since we’re already on the topic and because I know a lot of you will be curious – no, the film didn’t change the ending of the book (Thankfully! I mean…could you imagine? I would have been downright pissed), and yes, it’s just as heartbreaking and infuriating.

The girls, Amber, Misty, and Jody, were all beautifully portrayed. Mostly, I was very nervous to see how Nicola would go about bringing Amber to life as she’s my favorite character in the novel, and she did it seamlessly. Amber is just as strong-willed and troubled as she is in the book, and Nicola plays her with such passion and veracity that every scene leaves you torn between feeling empathetic and furious towards her character. Misty was just as unsettling on paper as she was on screen and I was blown away by Chiara’s ability to depict this character’s intricacy at such a young age. Last but certainly not least, Hala Finley as Jody. My goodness, what a little talent. Hala was the most surprising part of this entire experience. Not that I didn’t think she’d do a fantastic job but she blew my expectations out of the water. Jody was exactly the same as in the book but even more adorable and endlessly endearing, if that’s even possible. She provided some of the most heart-warming pieces of dialogue and some much needed lightheartedness to the entire narrative, balancing out the heaviness of the central plot in  such a necessary and flawless way. Amber might have been my favorite character in the novel, but Jody stole the show as well as the audience’s heart, including mine.

The biggest difference I found between the two pieces is the intensity of Harley’s character. Allow me to explain. In the book, Harley’s character is intense. Due to the fact that a novel allows for a much deeper character analysis and insight, while reading the story you really get an idea of just how fiercely disturbing some of Harley’s thoughts truly are. Yes, in the film you get to see his damage, but in my opinion, it’s nowhere near as heavy and grim as the novel portrays it. In all fairness, I really do think this is a natural shift as, like I mentioned before, the length of the novel allows for a deeper dive into his character’s thought process. It’s almost impossible to translate every little inflection the novel carries into a screen adaptation, given that films are more restricting, and so this slight difference in tone didn’t end up bothering me in the slightest. Also, there are several moments in the film, just like in the book, where you still get those intense insights into the odd workings of Harley’s mind, which are equally as disturbing, so it ends up balancing out the intensity of the novel in what I think is a phenomenal way.

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Overall, I’m beyond satisfied with the way Back Roads turned out. Now I know that I should have probably never been as nervous as I was to begin with, because having followed the entire production through my Instagram account, I knew just how much love, respect, energy, and effort was being poured into this project and so I should have known it was going to be great. In all honesty though, it easily exceeded every expectation I had and my hat goes off to every single person who worked so incredibly hard to make this fascinating and special story come to life in the way it did. I’m just hoping the rest of you get to see it very, very soon because I’m sure it will not disappoint!

My rating?

4+1-2+Stars

 

WHAT I LOVED & DIDN’T LOVE ABOUT ‘A QUIET PLACE’

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If you don’t at least know about A Quiet Place, then you’re surely living under a rock. The film is doing major damage at the box office and with good reason – it’s a simple concept done so right. I finally got around to watching it the other night, and from a technical perspective, it left such a good impression on me, but overall, I had a few issues with it that I still haven’t been able to see past. Today I am here to discuss those impressions with you all. Oh, and don’t worry – this will be an entirely spoiler-free post!

WHAT I LOVED:

  • Like I mentioned above, A Quiet Place was based around such a simple, and at times even overdone, horror concept – a post-apocolyptic world where a group of characters are targeted by an enemy of some sort, whether that would be in the paranormal or monster sense of the word. It’s a concept that has the potential to go so wrong, because of how many times it’s been done and redone throughout the years, yet they managed to, instead, take that overplayed idea and use it to their advantage. Adding the more distinctive elements, such as the noiselessness, gave the film an edge that undeniably made it stand out. Horror films have a reputation for making their concepts so unbelievably complex that it takes away from the meat of the story, hence why I enjoyed the simplicity A Quiet Place offered. Now, don’t get me wrong, a simple concept can fall flat if the execution is not carried out properly, but in this case, it definitely was.
  • There’s a lot to say about a film whose entire cast managed to keep the audience’s attention in line through their acting. Of course, it’s easier when you have a cast like the one from A Quiet Place, which only has a total of five actors, but considering that three out of those five actors are children, I still give them major props. Typically, films, especially the horror/thriller genre, tend to lean a whole lot on their use of sound to create a sustainable ambience. With this film though, because they took away most (I’ll get into why I specifically said ‘most’ later on in this post) of that element, they really depended on the actors’ facial expressions, mannerisms, and body language to convey every bit of emotion; it felt very theatrical in a sense and I really enjoyed that.

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  • John Krasinski deserves every bit of recognition for the fantastic amount of attention he poured into this film. You really don’t realize just how noisy humans are until you watch A Quiet Place. Also, as a side note, you don’t realize how noisy we are until you have to challenge a crowd to stay quiet throughout a 90 minute film. The struggle was real. ANYWAY. Everything we do in our day-to-day lives requires us to make some sort of noise and the fact that this film made me realize that says a lot. Even things like the eating utensils or how they covered the path they walk home on with sand…every little detail was accounted for and it made the entire experience seem so much more believable. You could really dwell on the idea that these characters have genuinely adapted to this new world in the most extreme and realistic of ways.
  • Given the fact that silence played such a massive role in the narrative, it was almost a given that jump scares would be used. I mean, if not, why develop all that tension to begin with, right? I’m typically not a huge jump scare fan – I think they’re overly used to the point where they become a way to get a cheap scare out of the audience. A Quiet Place uses them sparingly though, which I think created just the right amount of build up. With the lack of noise, you’d expect for the movie to be full of them, which I was scared of, but I was pleasantly surprised about how they chose to go about it. The ones used were very strategically placed and actually managed to scare me half to death. Alright, maybe I’m exaggerating a little there, but still…it was great.
  • My favorite aspect of A Quiet Place, by far, has got to be how they put in the effort to actually include a deaf actress, Millicent Simmonds, to portray the role of young Regan Abbott, the oldest daughter who, in the film, is deaf. Millicent did a phenomenal job depicting Regan’s frustrations and strides towards her character’s turning point. Disabled individuals are highly underrepresented in the film community, and even the roles that are written as disabled are typically played by abled actors. The fact that the producers and Krasinski were so adamant about giving this role to a genuinely disabled person is incredibly important and a step in the right direction when it comes to being more inclusive of a marginalized community.

 

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WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE: 

  • Contradicting exactly what I just said above (I know, I’m so complicated), the one thing that has bothered me about this film since the minute I stepped foot out of the theater is how they managed to turn right around and screw up said inclusivity. They were doing so well when it came to using ASL in a respectful and appropriate manner, and being careful to include subtitles throughout the majority of the film’s length, making it possible for hearing audiences to understand. That being said, you’d expect them to have the same courtesy for the deaf/hard of hearing community, considering they put so much effort into making it as inclusive as possible during every other moment of the film. Unfortunately, during the few speaking scenes that were included, they failed to offer subtitles, making it incredibly hard or impossible for the same group of marginalized individuals to comprehend, consequently defeating the purpose of a comprehensive experience. I was utterly disappointed with this, especially given the fact that it was such an easily remediable fix.
  • The score. You see, the score is typically one of my favorite parts of a film. Without a good quality score, films tend to fall flat and can be rather lifeless, making for cinematic disasters. But, in this particular situation, where the narrative depends so intensely on the use of silence, the cliche horror score they used during most of the tension-heavy scenes sometimes took away from what they were trying to achieve. Heavy silence is such a terrifyingly brilliant component to add to a film and it can make the audience’s experience an entirely spine-chilling one, but instead of utilizing it to its fullest potential, I feel like they took the safer route, and sadly, it reflected in the final product.

A QUIET PLACE

Putting aside my obvious issues with it, I still managed to enjoy A Quiet Place a whole lot. It’s refreshing to finally get a horror movie whose execution is dissimilar from every other one that’s been released in the past few years. I do believe that if they would have kept up with their fantastic efforts at an inclusive concept throughout the entire film, instead of just during the parts accessible to hearing audiences, I would have rated this a full 5 stars, but I have to at least knock down half a star for the backwards leap during those several speaking scenes. No matter what though, it is a step in the right direction and at the end of the day, that’s what truly matters. If you have yet to watch A Quiet Place and don’t mind the two negative points I noted, give it a go! Let me know your thoughts and whether or not you agree with my points.

My rating?

4+1-2+Stars

TOP 10 HIDDEN NETFLIX GEMS!

Netflix can be a complicated world. You have thousands upon thousands of films at your disposal, ranging from all types of different genres and categories, so why is it so hard to make up your mind on something to watch? I mean, it can’t just be me, right? It’s quite easy for me to spend hours trying to choose a film, yet I end up watching the same ones over and over again. If you share a similar struggle, I’ve got you covered – at least for the time being. Here are some of the little gems I’ve found throughout my many adventures scavenging the depths of Netflix:

WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY

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  • DIRECTOR: Tommy Wirkola
  • WRITER(S): Max Botkin, Kerry Williamson
  • STARRING: Noomi Rapace, Glenn Close, Willem Dafoe, Marwan Kenzari, Christian Rubeck
  • GENRE(S): Dystopian, Science Fiction, Thriller

“In a world where families are limited to one child due to overpopulation, a set of identical septuplets must avoid being put to a long sleep by the government and dangerous infighting while investigating the disappearance of one of their own.”

This one is what I like to call ‘Orphan Black: On Steroids.’ I’m not the biggest sci-fi fan so I don’t have too many recommendations when it comes to the genre, but I wanted to make this list as diverse as possible. What Happened to Monday is one of the better sci-fis I’ve seen lately and Noomi Rapace’s phenomenal portrayal of seven totally different women alone is enough for you to want to watch.

MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI

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  • DIRECTOR: Claude Barras
  • WRITER(S): Celine Sciamma, Gilles Paris, Morgan Navarro, Germano Zullo, Claude Barras
  • STARRING: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz, Raul Ribera, Estelle Hennard
  • GENRE(S): Family, Animation, Drama

“After his mother’s death, Zucchini is befriended by a kind police officer, Raymond, who accompanies him to his new foster home filled with other orphans his age. There, with the help of his newfound friends, Zucchini eventually learns to trust and love as he searches for a new family of his own.”

I have wholeheartedly fell in love with animation this year. Of course, I’ve always been a massive fan of the Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks films, but didn’t start really testing the waters with other animations until earlier this year and thankfully I did because I have found some that have become lifelong favorites. This one didn’t come to me as a surprise as it’s written by Celine Sciamma, one of my all time favorite directors and writers. Her storytelling always manages to leave me breathless, and My Life as a Zucchini was no exception. It’s still hard for me to believe that this 70-minute odd, little French film about characters made out of clay provoked as much emotion as it did. Not only is it absolutely stunning and so incredibly well put-together, but also manages to shine a light on some crucial themes and subjects, which will all manage to tug at your heartstrings throughout the entirety of the narrative. Trust me on this and give it a watch, it wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award for no reason…*wink, wink*

HUSH

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  • DIRECTOR: Mike Flanagan
  • WRITER(S): Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel
  • STARRING: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr, Samantha Sloyan, Michael Trucco, Emilia Graves
  • Genre(s): Thriller, Horror

“A deaf woman is stalked by a psychotic killer in her secluded home.”

Ready to get a proper scare? Hush is the first movie I always recommend to people when they ask me for Netflix recommendations. It’s always surprising to see just how little amount of recognition it has, and I find that it’s a balanced enough film where lots of different people with all types of tastes will enjoy it. Aside from my obsession with foreign films and female directed and/or written works, another one of my favorite things is finding good stories that center around an underrepresented community and Hush is just that. I do wish they would have used a genuinely deaf lead actress though, but for what it’s worth, I feel like they spent a lot of time and energy making sure that that community was appropriately represented and respected.

THE BREADWINNER

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  • DIRECTOR: Nora Twomey
  • WRITER(S): Deborah Ellis, Anita Doron
  • STARRING: Saara Chaudry, Noorin Gulamgaus, Soma Chhaya
  • GENRE(S): Drama, War, Animation

“A headstrong young girl in Afghanistan disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family.”

Another animated masterpiece! Told ya’ I was in love. This one is so special and I’m so excited to share it with you all because it truly deserves every bit of recognition and praise.  A story about an independent, brave, completely badass little girl written AND directed by an all female crew? I don’t think it can get any better than that. Oh, wait – it can! Not only does it have great female representation, but it’s also a story focused around a culture typically not highlighted in the film industry. The Breadwinner doesn’t hold much back when it comes to showing the audience the reality of women in these situations – it is terrifyingly harsh in the same way it is deeply moving and real. There is something so refreshing about a film of this nature not being afraid to tackle such sensitive yet jarring issues and I applaud it for doing so in such a heartbreakingly stunning and respectable manner.

GIRLHOOD

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  • DIRECTOR: Celine Sciamma
  • WRITER(S): Celine Sciamma
  • STARRING: Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Lindsey Karamoh
  • GENRE(S): Drama

“Oppressed by her family setting, dead-end school prospects and the boys law in the neighborhood, Marieme starts a new life after meeting a group of three free-spirited girls. She changes her name, her dress code, and quits school to be accepted in the gang, hoping that this will be a way to freedom.”

Yet another Celine Sciamma mention. Are you really surprised though? She’s just so good. I swear everything Celine touches turns into pure and perfect cinematic heaven. I have watched and re-watched her entire filmography and could genuinely recommend every single one of her films, but sadly, most are not on Netflix. Good news is that Girlhood is and gosh, is it great! There are so many great coming-of-age stories out there, but I had never seen one focus on the lives of young Black women in a poor French neighborhood. It’s stunning, intimate, thrilling, heartbreaking. I simply couldn’t recommend it more.

UNDER THE SHADOW

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  • DIRECTOR: Babak Anvari
  • WRITER(S): Babak Anvari
  • STARRING: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi
  • GENRE(S): Thriller, War, Drama, Horror

“As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war torn Tehran of the 80s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.”

I absolutely adore horror films – actually, they’re my number one favorite – and I love war films almost just as much. Now, combine those two elements with a mother/daughter story and a well-developed cultural commentary sprinkled in here and there, you’ve basically got one hell of a horror movie. It’s a simple concept with a marvelous and atmospheric execution that will surely leave you spooked.

FRUITVALE STATION

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  • DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
  • WRITER(S): Ryan Coogler
  • STARRING: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer
  • GENRE(S): Drama

“The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.”

Let’s be honest, we all know that everything the Michael B. Jordan/Ryan Coogler duo does turns out great, and this is no exception. It’s so absolutely heartbreaking and Michael’s performance is one of his best. I loved how they included real footage of Fruitvale – it made it all that more powerful and striking. Most importantly though, I think it was a beautiful and respectful nod to Oscar Grant III, whose tragic death is what this film is based on.

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

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  • DIRECTOR: Abdellatif Kechiche
  • WRITER(S): Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix
  • STARRING: Lea Seydoux, Adele Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche
  • GENRE(S): Romance, Drama

“Adèle’s life is changed when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire, to assert herself as a woman and as an adult. In front of others, Adele grows, seeks herself, loses herself, finds herself.”

Blue is the Warmest Color is so beautifully hypnotizing that sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s even real. I love my French films, as you can probably tell from this list, and I think one of the reasons I love them so much is because French filmmakers tend to be so daring when it comes to their art. It’s like poetry coming to life on screen and it is simply stunning in every way. This depiction of a boldly passionate coming-of-age story is one of the most raw and painfully honest I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

MUSTANG

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  • DIRECTOR: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
  • WRITER(S): Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour
  • STARRING: Gunes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan
  • GENRE(S): Drama

“In a Turkish village, five orphaned sisters live under strict rule while members of their family prepare their arranged marriages.”

Talking about powerful coming-of-age stories, this has got to be my absolute favorite, by far. I watched it for the first time about a few months ago and I still manage to think about it quite often. I’ve never seen a film tackle such a serious issue in such a tasteful manner. The movie doesn’t stray away from being terrifyingly real and unapologetically honest, yet it balanced itself utterly well by allowing the audience to feel these young girls’ hopeful spirits. There are highs and there are lows, there are heartbreaking moments just like there are lighthearted ones. There’s not a single character you don’t react to in an emotionally striking way, whether it’s a positive or negative reaction. The fact that there are five main characters that are all taking separate life routes also allows for the story to be seen from five dissimilar perspectives which I thought was so clever of Deniz. Also, I dare you to watch the movie and not fall completely head-over-heels in love with little Lale. Go on, try to prove me wrong.

RAW

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  • DIRECTOR: Julia Ducournau
  • WRITER(S): Julia Ducournau
  • STARRING: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
  • GENRE(S): Horror, Drama

“In Justine’s family everyone is a vet and a vegetarian. At 16, she’s a gifted teen ready to take on her first year in vet school, where her older sister also studies. There, she gets no time to settle: hazing starts right away. Justine is forced to eat raw meat for the first time in her life. Unexpected consequences emerge as her true self begins to form.”

Okay, my French film obsession is clearly getting out of hand, but c’mon, how could I possibly go through an entire recommendations list without mentioning one of my favorite directors, Julia Ducournau? Raw is yet another film that I never fail to recommend to everyone around me. It is a bit tricky because it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s so great, both narrative and directing wise, and I just feel like everyone should at least give it a try. This film’s so odd that I’m not quite sure what to even say about it except for, give it a chance! I promise it’s great! In all honesty though, I (clearly) love coming-of-age stories and the more unique, the better. What more unique than a disturbing, cringe-inducing tale of cannibalism? I guess I’ll leave it at that.

Okay, so there you have it! Now that you know some of my favorite Netflix films, let me know some of yours. Don’t leave me hanging!

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUN DOGS REVIEW | SPOILER FREE

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Sun Dogs caught me by surprise, in the most wonderful way. I knew the synopsis going into it, obviously, but in no way, shape, or form did I expect to love it as much as I did. At first, I was utterly confused because it’s always been labeled as a comedy – or a dramatic comedy, in this case – which, it is, but the way in which the film begins completely contradicts that genre’s barriers. In a way, that’s what makes the film so great. Throughout the entirety of the movie, the storyline dances on a very thin line between what would be considered comedy and what could potentially be taken as utterly offensive due to its mentions of some considerably serious topics. That constant push and pull between staying within the barriers of the comedy genre and often pushing past those barriers and diving deep into more complex ideas and issues truly gave Sun Dogs a subtle edge I have not witnessed a film having in quite some time.

The audience is first and foremost shown flashes from the September 11th catastrophe, along with clips from what seems like an intense war scene, both of which are not only, on their own, wholeheartedly sensitive subjects but ones that have the potential to cause the entire film to crumble, yet it did quite the opposite and I applaud it for doing that so effortlessly. The underlying themes that run throughout the length of the film are some that genuinely stick with you long after you finish watching it – transformation (both physically and mentally), innocence, sacrifice, selflessness, compassion, acceptance, courage, and that’s barely scratching the surface. The most prominent and definitely the most salient theme that is more and more noticeable the deeper into the story you get, is that, although you may not think so, the smallest of actions can have the biggest impacts on people’s lives and in the world. After finishing the movie, I was left with an overwhelmingly powerful urge to seek out what smaller gestures and actions I could potentially incorporate in my day-to-day life that could, somehow, benefit someone…anyone. And that’s exactly what a great film does. A great film does not just end and leave you entirely satisfied; a great film leaves you hungry for more, it leaves your mind breathless from basking in all of the minuscule details that caused the film to have such a meaningful impact in the first place and Sun Dogs accomplished that and so much more.

Now, here are my thoughts on the more technical aspects of the film, and brace yourselves because I have no official knowledge on the craft, just what has been self-taught, so this part of the review could potentially be disastrous. There is no denying that the cinematic techniques used made the film what it is. Jennifer Morrison’s directing was impeccable. From the seamlessly creative typewriter shots and sounds (my literature loving self completely fell in love with the use of the typewriter) to the use of Ned’s iconic and vibrant blue notecards, and everything in between, the directing style Morrison chose was what lead the film to be as impactful as it was. The music, written and composed by the greatly talented Mark Isham, flowed with the storyline impeccably – almost as if no other soundtrack could have worked for this specific story. Also, I cannot possibly get through this entire review without mentioning Julia Morrison Summers’ song during the ending credits, Not Alone, as it fit the mood so well that it is still hard for me to believe Summers wrote it by simply reading the script. How an artist is able to capture a film’s genuine essence and tone from merely reading a stack of papers either shows just how vivacious the script truly is or how talented the artist is. Or both. In this case, definitely both. The sequence of shots paired with the use of what I felt was a complimentary color scheme (mostly orange and teal tones) allowed the audience to feel connected with Ned’s internal conflict on a whole new level. The cinematography, in general, was stunning, and I am forever blown away by what a powerful duo Michael Lloyd and Jennifer Morrison proved to be. The fact that this 93 minute, cinematically gorgeous film was short in just about 18 days with only 9 days of prep is enough to keep my mind blown away for an entire eternity. Watching it, it is almost impossible to comprehend that they managed to fit in 30 different locations in that short amount of time. I totally and wholeheartedly applaud the team behind Sun Dogs for not only managing but succeeding at such a feat.

There are not enough words to describe just how talented the group of actors are and their chemistry is something you have to watch in order to fully appreciate. Let’s start with our very own Ned Chipley – probably one of the most lovable, unconventional heroes. I could not think of a better person to have portrayed the role of Ned than Michael Angarano. Going back to what I mentioned earlier about the storyline walking on a thin line between being light-hearted and being taken extremely seriously, Ned was the constant source of balance. There were times where a scene dealt with a serious topic, such as suicide or terrorism, and it was hard for me, as an audience member, to figure out what the appropriate reaction should be. But Ned’s always charming personality never failed to pull me back from spiraling too deep into said dire topic and it somehow always ended up with the entire theater laughing out loud at one of his profoundly serious, yet hilariously odd one-liners, such as, “Stay vigilant,” or another one of my favorites, “I have field preparedness.” Due to his mental condition caused during birth, Ned is as smart and alert as they come, but he is unable to comprehend abstract ideas, causing him to have a stern, yet childlike way of viewing the world around him.

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Ned Chipley is most definitely a relentless soul and that makes me love him all that much more. Allison Janney as Rose Chipley and Ed O’Neill as Bob Garrity could not have been any more perfect. Rose’s unconditional love and admiration for her son was something that, at times, almost even brought me to tears. Bob, although more exacting when it comes to Ned and his intellectual limitations, truly does love his step-son and at the end of the day, only wants what is best for him. Even though I thought his way of carrying himself around Ned was, at times, perhaps a bit too harsh, everything he did came from the heart and I think that was genuinely noticeable through Ed’s impeccable acting. Talking about Ed, him and Allison’s chemistry was so potent that it is hard for me to believe they have not actually been married 20+ years. Their scenes together  were pure magic and it was a joy watching their individual talents feed off of each other. Last but certainly not least, Melissa Benoist as Tally Peterson managed to crawl her way into a very special place in my heart. She’s just so good. Tally’s story broke my heart in inexplicable ways, but her excitement for life and adventure made up for it. Witnessing Ned and Tally’s relationship grow and blossom through the film made my heart so happy and I would be lying if I said their scenes together were not my favorite. Aside from just offering the audience a refreshing contrasting balance to offset Ned’s character, her storyline introduced the most prominent theme that eventually lead to the film’s pivotal ending and profound message of how every action, no matter how small, can have such sizable effects.

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Overall, Sun Dogs was a remarkably special film with so much heart and such an important message. After an extremely successful festival run, Sun Dogs is now streaming on Netflix and I highly encourage every single one of you to press play and join the Chipley family.

My rating?

4 star rating