Booksmart: 4.5 Stars
Director Olivia Wilde knocks her feature film debut out of the park with Booksmart, a high school comedy about two high-achieving seniors that decide they’ve put off partying long enough. The comparisons to Judd Apatow’s Superbad (2007) are many — especially since star Beanie Feldstein is Jonah Hill’s younger sister — and wholly deserved, but this is no gender-swapped retread. Instead, Booksmart’s perspective is female in its essence, and as the two fantastically developed leads ground the comedy in the emotions of their friendship, Wilde explores what this kind of bond between two young women can mean.
Committing to this approach helps the dramatic scenes enthrall without conflicting with the humor, making the highs and lows of their rollercoaster night feel naturally paced and strung together. However you felt when you sat down, you’ll without a doubt leave the theater jubilant. The missing half-star is only for casting the best ever teen-movie parents, Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte, and barely giving them any screen time — you know the movie was really about their daughter, and you thoroughly enjoyed witnessing her crazy night of partying, but you end up half-wishing she had stayed in for that celebratory dinner anyway.
Detective Pikachu: 2 Stars
This movie is a little perplexing. It does so many important things wrong, but somehow nails what it does right, and that’s probably just enough for it to end up a hit. Director Rob Marshall builds a visually compelling world that feels like Zootopia (2016) was filtered through Blade Runner (1982), and the first few scenes in Ryme City feel as if the film will go the neo-noir route with its story as well. Disappointingly though, it becomes a paper-thin adventure flick with occasionally laughable dialogue and a story that ends up tearing when it tries to get too twisty.
The main issue here is really a lack of commitment — Detective Pikachu lightly sketches themes as if to prove ignoring them was a conscious choice, and the performances bounce between kids-film realism and anime camp when sticking with one style would have helped craft a real tone. That said, the Pokémon are tremendously cute and Ryan Reynolds’ voicework is great, so kids will probably enjoy their time anyway.
Hail Satan?: 3 Stars
Yes, this documentary is about the modern-day Satanic Temple, and yes, the filmmakers know how that sounds — hence the question mark! You’ll hear the words “Hail Satan” spoken often throughout the film, and only rarely are they not immediately followed by chuckling, because the Satanic Temple is more about why Jesus doesn’t belong anywhere near our government than it is about the Devil. Like its subject, Hail Satan? starts out with a clear, engaging idea and quickly finds itself more spread out than its creators could have ever imagined, rendering its amorphous structure unable to hold everything together.
Director Penny Lane never quite manages to find a solid grip on the slippery subject of Satanism, but her curious, irreverent tone is enough to spark interest and engagement in the skeptically open-minded viewers that end up watching this doc. The Satanic Temple takes on American master narratives and tries to make people pay closer attention to what they take for granted, and it’s worth hearing them out. In our current political climate, Satanists might just be the most reasonable voices you’ve heard in a while.