By Nozomi Shima PZ ’25
If you talked to me at all this summer, I might have (definitely) raved about my AMC Stubs A-List membership. A long-awaited bucket list item finally able to be crossed off, this subscription did not disappoint.
Essentially (and I should be sponsored for how many times I’ve given this exact spiel), it’s a monthly subscription for $26 where you can watch up to three movies each week at any AMC location, making it worth the investment if you watch even two movies within the month.
I utilized my subscription a total of 12 times this summer, working out the cost per movie to $6.50 each. It also includes any IMAX and Dolby screenings, so a $24 ticket to “Oppenheimer” in IMAX with Laser was almost equivalent to the price you already paid for the entire month. As a frequent movie-goer, AMC Stubs A-List is an incredible economic opportunity that gives you a way to support the box office without breaking the bank.
This summer proved to be the perfect time to start, with highly anticipated blockbusters like “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” as well as indie gems like “Past Lives” and “Theater Camp” hitting the screens. In the spirit of full transparency, I’ll skip a few movies that I’m sure anyone who wanted to watch will have seen by now, including Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City,” the “Spider-Verse” sequel, and the sensational Barbenheimer duo of July. Here are my comprehensive reviews of some of the best movies I watched on the A-List that I think are worth your time.
No Hard Feelings
My first foray into A-List status was with a movie I had been itching to watch since I first heard Jennifer Lawrence had been cast in a comedy. “No Hard Feelings” brings Apatowian nostalgia to a new era of movies that seriously lacks genuinely funny scripts that don’t make you cringe at their attempts to relate to the youth. Director Gene Stupnitsky is also the mastermind behind “Good Boys” and this summer’s favorite new sitcom/reality hoax series, “Jury Duty.”
The movie picks up at the beginning of summer in the Hamptons, or to the locals, the beginning of tourist season. Lawrence plays Maddie, a 30-something local who is desperate and failing to save her childhood home with an income from bartending tips and Uber driving with a car that gets repossessed by the state for failure to pay her property taxes.
To solve her financial woes, she answers a Craigslist posting from a wealthy couple of “summer people” for a free car on the condition that she “date” their 19-year-old son, Percy, who’s going to Princeton in the fall and lacks social skills and overall confidence. Awkward but well-intentioned Percy is played by Andrew Barth Feldman, a Broadway actor who played the titular role in “Dear Evan Hansen” at only 16 (keep an ear out for his musical chops!). Throughout this ruse, Maddie finds herself in too deep, realizing that the innocently sweet and unexpectedly talented teen is actually falling in love with her.
The plot of “No Hard Feelings” isn’t unpredictable— if you watched the trailer or ubiquitous bits and pieces released for marketing, you get the gist of the movie. It finds its worth in its reliability as a lighthearted, R-rated comedy headed by an A-list actress. The cast absolutely makes this movie, marking Jennifer Lawrence as a truly versatile actress: an Oscar-winner and franchise-leading star who can effortlessly translate her talents into a pure comedy role. This feels right, after getting to know her natural sense of humor from interviews and SNL skits and being able to see her utilize her excellent comedic timing and physical acting. Her intergenerational chemistry with Andrew Barth Feldman is the crux of the movie, allowing both to stand out in their roles. Feldman’s Percy is a lovable loser, capturing a timid innocence that contrasts perfectly with Maddie’s brazen charisma.
The jokes were amplified by the natural laugh track of the drunk wine moms sitting in front of me, making it one of my favorite theater experiences of the summer (and requiring me to go twice to make sure I caught every line). With fresh twists on classic tropes, the raunchy script and magnetic actors keep you thoroughly amused and leave the theater with a full heart. “No Hard Feelings” will soon be available to stream on Netflix.
Following is the lesser-known but equally comedic “Joy Ride.” Directed by Adele Lim, a writer of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the movie chronicles a mismatched foursome that finds themselves on the adventure of a lifetime.
The narrative centers around Audrey (Ashley Park), a lawyer who was adopted by white parents from China and hides her impending identity crisis with a ceaseless career drive. Her childhood best friend is eccentric Lolo (Sherry Cola), the only other Chinese-American kid in their town, who now makes “sex-positive” artwork (for nonexistent customers) against her parents’ wishes.
Hiding the fact that she barely speaks Chinese, Audrey embarks on a business trip to China on the promise of a promotion if she closes a deal. For help with translation, she enlists Lolo and Lolo’s socially inept cousin, Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), who has a penchant for K-pop. They then meet Audrey’s college roommate, Kat (Stephanie Hsu) in Beijing, who is now an actress in Chinese soap operas and engaged to her devoutly Christian co-star, from whom she hides her less than holy past.
The four of them work together to make the business deal while jumping over unexpected hurdles that keep coming their way. All the while, Lolo secretly plans for Audrey to meet her birth mother in order to connect with her heritage and confront her internalized racism. Underlying tensions find their way to the surface and produce a hysterically messy, sex-forward, coming-of-age-during-adulthood, female-friendship comedy that rivals “Bridesmaids” in antics. “Joy Ride” also comes with the added bonus of unapologetic and unforced Asian-American representation which is entirely lacking in the comedy genre.
Another film centered around an Asian cast is the understatedly beautiful “Past Lives” which is my favorite movie this year thus far. A gorgeous directorial debut by Celine Song, this Sundance standout follows Nora, played by Greta Lee, in different periods of her life. The audience sees her through these different stages, from childhood in South Korea to immigrating to Canada to living as a writer in New York.
We see the beginning of the process of her family’s immigration intertwined with her youthful wonder and naïveté as she goes on her first date with her classmate, Hae Sung. She soon moves to Toronto and loses contact with him. The story picks up 12 years later, after Hae Sung finishes his military service and Nora has moved to New York. They reconnect on Facebook and start video chatting, but find that their lives are just too separate to reunite in person.
Another 12 years pass, and Nora is living in New York with her writer husband, Arthur, played charmingly by John Magaro, when Hae Sung contacts her again and decides to visit her in the city. Haunting whispers of ‘what if’ intermingle with the pure chemistry between all three of the main actors, making for a captivating narrative, despite the relative mundanity of the film. The language barriers between the characters add to both the friction of the relationships and the distinctive themes of Asian American identity.
Backed by a thoughtful score and carefully crafted cinematography on 35mm film, Past Lives is a multi-sensory experience that tugs at your heartstrings and makes you deeply contemplate everything that’s ever happened to you. The story evokes a certain feeling of nostalgia and intimacy I’ve only ever experienced while watching Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, but Song’s excellent direction and the heartbreaking truths she elicits through her storytelling make this a unique and necessary viewing.
Next on my list of favorites is “Theater Camp,” the next installation of the so-called “Zillenial Cult Classic Cinematic Universe” which includes recent hits like “Booksmart,” “Shiva Baby,” “The Bear,” and “Bottoms” and centers around actors Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, and Ayo Edebiri.
Winner of the ensemble award at Sundance, “Theater Camp” is Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s feature directorial debut, written by the two of them alongside Ben Platt and Noah Galvin, both of whom also star in the movie.
Gordon and Platt play Rebecca-Diane and Amos, long-time best friends and staff members of a theater camp in upstate New York called AdirondACTS. The mockumentary-style film follows the camp going through a big change: the director of AdirondACTS, Joan, falls into a coma at the beginning of the summer, leaving her crypto-bro influencer son, Troy, in charge. He must address the camp’s financial crisis and run the camp with the help of the staff, whose artistic visions completely dispute his.
This camp season, Rebecca-Diane and Amos are putting on their original musical, “Joan, Still,” to commemorate their camp director. With the shifting dynamics of the camp, the motley crew of staff, including (admittedly under-utilized) Ayo Edebiri’s Janet as an under-qualified new teacher, must create a musical from the ground up while fighting financial burdens, friendship troubles, and clashing opinions.
The group of young comics behind the movie and heavily improvised script lets each actor truly shine, with many hilarious one-liners that ring true to anyone who’s ever interacted with, or even a theater kid themselves. Every actor who appears on the screen brims with talent, from the campers to the staff and crew, amplifying their faithful portrayals as passionate artistes. Beyond the script and performances, the film was also shot beautifully in warm, nostalgic lighting. I enjoyed the film so much that I forced my suitemates to watch it with me only one month after watching it for the first time, and it lost none of its charm. “Theater Camp” is currently streaming on Hulu.
Talk To Me
A24’s Australian horror flick “Talk To Me” was a surprising box office hit, grossing almost $69 million compared to the low $4.5 million budget. Directed by the Philippou twins who started on YouTube, it became the production company’s fourth-biggest film of all time, surpassing Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” as its highest-grossing horror movie domestically.
We start the movie at a house party, where a fatal incident sets the tone and informs us that this movie is not afraid to be gory. We’re next introduced to 17-year-old Mia, played by rising star Sophie Wilde, who is still grieving from her mother’s death that occurred two years prior. She and her best friend, Jade, along with Jade’s little brother Riley, start to get involved in their classmates’ most recent obsession: gathering in a basement and using an embalmed hand to talk to spirits.
Each user holds the hand and has to allow the spirit to be let in, a process in which their eyes go completely black as they become possessed. The game is controlled by only allowing the spirits in for 90 seconds at a time, or else they bind themselves to the user. The possession is a rush for the suburban teens dealing with their own family and relationship issues and wanting an outlet, or otherwise looking for dumb fun. The fun doesn’t stay dumb for too long though, with the connections to the spirit world becoming stronger with each misuse. Mia’s everyday misfortunes intertwine with the terrors and consequences of demonic possession, culminating in the perfect storm for her doomed character.
As with other highly-rated movies in the genre, “Talk To Me” does not just hit you with cheap jump scares; it finds a way into the human psyche to terrify you from within. We can’t condone every mistake Mia makes when her self-destructive behaviors start to bleed into hurting the people around her, but we never stop having empathy for the tragic teen. Her pain is ours, and we feel it deeply. The authenticity of the performances and characters juxtaposed with the supernatural elements is effective in upping the horror factor. However, while an extremely well-executed concept, I believe possession movies can ring similar every time, and “Talk To Me” didn’t really talk to me.
While Randall Park’s directorial debut “Shortcomings” went relatively under the radar, it deserves recognition for its authentic portrayal of the complex confrontations with Asian-American identity, skillfully explored through the flawed main character of Ben Tanaka.
Justin Min (“The Umbrella Academy” and “After Yang”) plays the pretentious Japanese-American Bay Area film-bro who simultaneously thinks he’s better than everyone and won’t do anything to prove it. A failed film student who currently works at the local movie theater, he looks down upon blockbuster Asian-American movies (illustrated in a parody of “Crazy Rich Asians”). He complains to his girlfriend, Miko, that the movies trade in frivolous capitalistic fantasies for meaningful representation. Of course, he also has a penchant for dating white women, which is a discrepancy he hides underneath his relationship with his Japanese girlfriend.
Miko’s optimism and Ben’s cynicism keep conflicting, and she eventually gets tired of his attitude, prompting her to accept an internship across the country in New York and reevaluate their relationship. Left to his own devices, barring much-needed advice from his outgoing best friend Alice (Sherry Cola), Ben must address his own shortcomings (hint, hint) and come to the realization that maybe, just maybe, the problem was him.
The movie especially resonated with me because outside of Ben’s constant hypocrisy and defensiveness, he does unfortunately seem to be exactly my type: pretentious film-bros who happen to only be into white women. It wasn’t my proudest moment to walk out of the theater and have to simultaneously acknowledge his assholeness and question if I wanted him to be my boyfriend. The realness of his character makes it hard to look away from the screen, balancing well the trainwrecks of his decisions and his persuasive justifications for them (am I a victim of his gaslighting?).
Adapted from his own graphic novel of the same name, screenwriter Adrian Tomine and director Randall Park bring to life the introspection of Ben’s identity with quick quips and a strong cast. Park explores nuanced perspectives of Asian-Americanness that few movies have been brave enough to really address. With many meta winks to the audience littered throughout the script, “Shortcomings” is an entertaining watch that proves itself through a well-developed character study of the world’s most irritating “Baysian.”
Last, but certainly not least, was my most highly anticipated movie of the summer (after “Barbie”) which boasted a cast of Hollywood’s most coveted young actresses of today. Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott, previous collaborators of “Shiva Baby,” teamed up again to write “Bottoms”: a satirical tale of two queer high school students, played brilliantly by Sennott and Ayo Edebiri (yes, who also played Janet in “Theater Camp”; it’s been a busy summer for our girl), who create a fight club for girls in order to get in their pants.
An unmistakably modern teen movie, “Bottoms” takes clichés and full plot lines from well-known classics, throws them upside down and spins them around. PJ and Josie, portrayed by Sennott and Edibiri, respectively, have crushes on cheerleaders whom they have full confidence will never look their way until a rumor flies around school that they went to juvie over the summer and fought the quarterback (a surefire way to make everyone think they’re cool). However, when threatened with expulsion for violence, the girls must defend themselves with the false claim that they were practicing for their feminist self-defense club. Inspired by the welcoming reception of this lie, they make it a real club, hoping to get closer (and all the way in) with the cheerleaders.
Along the way, they accidentally form a community of empowered women, with the girls confiding in each other about their deeper issues and finding camaraderie through unrestrained punches and matching bruises. Unfortunately, with different levels of commitment to the original plan, the best friends PJ and Josie find themselves grappling with the question: How far should they go to get what they wanted?
The movie takes place in an overdramatic and farcical universe that allows our conventions to take a pause while we fully accept the lunacy of the characters and their wacky plans. Beneath the absurdity of the plot and multitude of hilarious lines is a story with heart, glowing with themes of female friendship and empowerment. This unhinged and campy movie, supported by a well-curated soundtrack from Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg, is ultimately, really fun to watch, and an exciting addition to a new generation of comedies.
It’s been wonderful to return to the theaters full-force after COVID halted the entire industry; I didn’t realize how much I missed the pleasure of looking at showtimes and finding at least one movie I wanted to go see every week.
This summer’s lineup included raunchy comedies, heartfelt dramas, terrifying horrors, and more. We got incredible films from both popular directors with built-in fan bases and debuting directors whose insightful storytelling stood on their own. Almost every movie I watched was an original screenplay that told a fresh story, a welcome change from recent years that were full of sequels and remakes.
AMC Stubs A-List gave me an excuse to set aside a few hours a week to gather with friends amidst our busy schedules and indulge in a cinematic experience, accompanied by reclining chairs and $5 popcorn and slushy deals. If there are a few movies you’re looking forward to watching in the coming months, I highly recommend considering an investment in the subscription that defined my summer. The movies are back, baby!