For National Novel Writing Month (November) this year, I was working on a YA fantasy adventure trilogy. It was a new project to me, and I admit to not being as versed in YA or speculative fiction as in some other genres. In the past, I have made playlists to get in the writing mood for a particular project, but this year I went all out. I immersed myself in the genre and the world of that genre by playing my playlist, reading related fiction and nonfiction, and watching movies that would both educate me and get me in the vibes. I have already reviewed Circe and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (The books didn’t have to be YA adventure fantasy, but either YA or fantasy or dark or having to do with death or mythology or a combo thereof… I felt it out a bit.) I have not reviewed the first two books of the Percy Jackson series, The Raven Cycle, or Six of Crows because I am going to finish those series before reviewing them. But I am going to take a moment and review the movies that I managed to watch in November to keep me vibing and thinking along the lines of The Edge (my trilogy-in-the-making).
I am also going to give you my The Edge playlist, at least as it stands today. If you have a project that is YA adventure fantasy (or maybe magic realism and kinda dark with a murder mystery vein and some supernatural/myth leanings) then you might enjoy plugging this into your Spotify or whatever thing you use to make playlists. There are some very inspiring moments on it.
FIRST, THE “THE EDGE” PLAYLIST
- Angsty Teen, Deathproof Inc.
- Paper Thin, Illenium
- Greek Tragedy, The Wombats
- Greek God, Conan Gray
- Coming Out of the Rain, Greek Fire
- Indie Teen Movie, Electricool
- Black Butterflies and Déjà vu, The Maine
- Pull It from My Teeth, Galaxy Family
- Songs I Can’t Listen To, Neon Trees
- Cemetery, Coin
- American Money, Borns
- Millie, Christophe Beck
- Fantasy, Bazzi
- Underworld, Vamps
- death bed, Powfu and beadadoobee
- #1 Crush, Garbage
- Local God, Everclear
- Angel, Gavin Friday
- I Found, Amber Run
- Mad World, Michael Andrews
- No Time to Die, Billie Eilish
- I Want to Feel Alive, The Lighthouse and the Whaler
- ilomilo, Billie Eilish
- The Night We Met, Amber Run
- July Bones, Richard Walters
- Doppleglanger, Lissom
- The Other Woman, Lana Del Ray
In hindsight, I would add some music from the 90s, too (Alanis, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc.). While the trilogy is supposed to be vaguely modern times, I think it has ended up being the 90s in my head. And yes, there is a mini-section pulled from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet soundtrack. You noticed that, huh? And now for the movie reviews.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT (2019)
Whoops. I rented this movie before I realized I’ve already seen it. I think that says that it was oddly unmemorable for me. Either that, or the description doesn’t match with how I recall movies. It’s not that I don’t watch movies multiple times, sometimes, but I didn’t mean to watch this one as a rental, again. It’s a little strange because the movie—though made by the same peep as Bend It Like Beckham—just doesn’t hit me the way that Beckham does. I love British movies, coming-of-age, a little quirky, involving music. It should have been right up my alley. But there is something of magic in some movies and it is hard to quantify or even speak about. But I’ll try to say how it wasn’t as strong in this one: one of my main complaints is that it only does unique things now and again, which I always find awkward in a movie (like Enola Holmes or Tolkein). I like the full-commit to quirk or fantasy elements (which can still include magic realism). I would have liked more of the same quirk, here. But that can’t be all of it, and I can’t say exactly what is not memorable about this movie. It feels more memorable now so maybe I was in a distracted mood when I watched it the first time. If you asked me during or right after watching this movie (both times) I would have said I liked it. It is, as a British, eighties-and-nineties, coming-of-age movie, music-forward—right up my alley. And there’s nothing really wrong with it, just that it isn’t that magical thing you get when a movie goes right. I liked it. I would recommend it, especially if you have anything like my taste in movies. It’s about a second gen Pakistani-British kid coming-of-age in the eighties and nineties in a factory town in England. He is really looking for a place to fit in when he makes a new acquaintance who tells him the music of Bruce Springsteen will change his life, a girl who is super in to activism, and a teacher who encourages his gift for writing. (Yes, it is a movie about a blooming writer, which is probably why I saw it the first time and definitely why I should have reviewed it before. Whoops.) Struggles and antics ensue. It is based on a memoir, Greetings from Bury Park. It is fun, cute, affecting, surprising, and at times, artistic.
THE CRAFT (1996)
This movie was too dark for me. I was reluctant to even watch it, because I don’t mess around with serious witchcraft/the occult, but I went ahead because this is a classic and maybe it wouldn’t be that dark. At first, though some of the messing-with-witchcraft stuff made me squirm, it was a little more on the teen-rebellion, almost-innocent side. However, there is a point in this movie where things go south, hard, and real fast, like a switch is thrown. Actually, whether or not you can deal with dark, violence, and the occult, the pacing of the movie is pretty bad because of it. The film is basically divided in half, and I found the characters and plot of the second half to come out of nowhere (meaning that they were technically the same characters, but they had wildly different character than in the first half). You don’t just go from struggling with coming-of-age and normal rebellion to murder, from BFFs to mortal enemies, the way this movie wants us to believe. When the gears shifted, for me, the motor stalled and I felt broke down at the side of the road. I can see how this would be a cult classic (with Neve Campbell and some other actresses that might have been pretty cool at the time); there are things about it to draw you in to the nostalgia and charms (ha ha), but it’s a not for me. It’s too violent, dark, and unbelievable.
ENOLA HOLMES 2 (2022)
I watched this because it popped up on my Roku ads and I just went, fine, okay, path of least resistance. I thought Enola Holmes was only an okay movie which shouldn’t have bothered trying to be related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes because it doesn’t ring true in that way. See previous review HERE. So I gave it a shot with low/adequate expectations and they were met. It is a repeat of the first movie, which actually means that as a sequel it is not half bad. You care about the love interest. You root for the heroine. You are wowed by the costumes, clarity, and general direction. However, it’s cheesy and predictable, not very Sherlockian, and the plot is ehn. We get it. Girl power studded with crowd-drawing names (like Millie Bobby Brown, Louis Partridge, and Helena Bonham Carter). If you want a nice family movie (it’s pretty darn innocent) to watch and you enjoyed the first one, go for it.
LOVE, SIMON (2018)
This was probably my favorite of all the (at least new-to-me) movies I watched for Nano. Perhaps this is surprising because it is really meant for a more modern, teen audience (especially a generation more LGBTQ+-friendly than the decades preceding), but I thought it was sweet, effecting, and full of likeable characters and a compelling plotline. I also liked this thing the director/writer does where there’s a mystery, a who-is-it, and we see this mystery person as whoever Simon thinks it is at the time. I thought this was innovative and interesting. About a boy who is still in the closet figuring out how to live with his secrets and his burdens, how to make and keep friends, how to be part of a family—Simon finds himself writing anonymously back to a guy from his school who outs himself while still staying a secret. As the two boys write back and forth, a relationship develops, but there are about 6,000 reasons one and then the other don’t want to go public with their feelings and their sexuality. In the end, I suppose, the story is predictable, and the teens might be given more maturity than it is usually their fate to have (which is something I find in many, many movies and books, see review on The Perks of Being a Wallflower), but it made me cry like a handful of times and the adults/parents in the movie don’t suck. I was a little conflicted about how Simon’s gayness was more assumed than developed, partly because this movie is a place to explore these things, but it also made some fascinating points, like a scene where straight kids come out to their parents, which maybe means his assumed homosexuality is a point in itself. So, I enjoyed it, maybe more than I should have as an adult and not a teen, but still. I would totally enjoy watching it again.
SAY ANYTHING (1989)
Now this is a classic. If you like retro cinema and rom-coms, then you should see this (if you haven’t already). I’m not going to say it’s my favorite movie. It’s not. But it was worth the watch. The whole thing is a little softer than most recent movies (like in story-telling, explicitness, conventionality, etc.), but it translates, I think. It does have this issue, like The Craft, where the gears switch suddenly and you’re not sure you were set up to believe what then happens, but it’s not nearly as big of a problem as in The Craft. Mild. Classic. Worth a watch, once. It’s a kinda’ quirky, old-fashioned romance that was super big in its day and still beloved and referenced by many. John Cusack (and his sister is in it, too). Epitomizes the genre at the time. I don’t even really need to tell you what it’s about. Quirky nobody wants to get the valedictorian but they have just graduated and are supposed to be going their own ways. There is money laundering involved, but only after the gears switch. Lili Taylor is the quintessential platonic friend.
DONNIE DARKO (2001)
I have seen this movie before, several times. It is one of my husband’s favorites and I always find it intriguing, maybe despite myself. It’s a little dysthymic for me, but still I watch. And every time I figure a different thing out about the plot. This time, I figured out that the time travel element is not all that important and I shouldn’t place too much brain power on figuring it out, because it’s metaphorical. Some fans of this cult classic have said that it always ends up being nonsensical or that it doesn’t hold up to too much scrutiny, while others parse it all out and have theories and whatever. People tend to do that sort of thing. The real fun is in the cultural allusions and, dare I say, cliches. It’s a fun (though ultimately sad) movie with many memorable moments. It made the Gyllenhalls, though, actually, I don’t love the way Jake acted the titular role. Just sayin’. If you want to know what it is about or if you might want to see it, it is a cross between psychological drama, horror story, and coming of age with a little science fiction thrown in. It is a cult classic and also considered by some to be one of the best movies of all time. It is interesting, well-written and well-done and explores both mental illness and time travel as well as the teen years and suburban America. It’s a mash up of black comedy and YA-level seriousness that ultimately brews on the dark side (with touches on everything from banning books to pedophilia), but most people love how it eventually surprises you with its twists and then leaves you scratching your head.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012) I have already reviewed this separately and I actually re-reviewed it (sorta) when I just read the book (also for Nanowrimo). I loved the book. I like the movie. See the movie review HERE and the book review HERE. The gist is it’s a coming-of-age modern classic that is probably more college age but is still a great piece of writing and a cinema favorite for the young’uns.