Category Archives: entertainment

Twenty One Pilots is Back and Better Than Before

After a year-long hiatus, Twenty One Pilots is back with their newest and most hotly anticipated album Trench. After two months of teasing and speculation, the album finally dropped on October 5, and fans were more than satisfied with the final product. Following the global smash Blurryface, some fans weren’t sure if singer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun could live up to the hype surrounding this release.

Fortunately, the doubt was completely unfounded.

Trench may be Twenty One Pilots’ best work production-wise in their entire career. The album flows like a river from the heavy opening track “Jumpsuit” to the crescendoing final track “Leave the City.” Every song has its place on this record, and the album works, aesthetically, as a cohesive whole.

In a way, Trench is a bit of a concept album, with the main messages of multiple songs centering around a fictional world that Joseph made to represent some of his personal anxieties. The story focuses on Dema, a city in which a character named Clancy feels trapped in by nine bishops (Nico and the Niners) who represent the darker parts of Joseph’s thoughts. Clancy escapes this city with help from the Banditos, a group of rebels who wear the color yellow to hide themselves from the evil bishops that want to bring Clancy back. He escapes to a place called Trench, a place where he finally feels some degree of safety from the bishops and where his insecurities are pushed to the side.

Now obviously this is all heavily metaphorical, but what exactly it is referring to is up to the listener. I’ve always seen it as Joseph explaining his struggles with depression and the sudden pandemonium of fame, but some have taken the symbolism a deeply religious route, with Trench representing the true belief in faith. This is why Twenty One Pilots has so many die hard fans; anybody can relate to their message because of how open-ended and broad it is.

The album sometimes faithfully follows this fictional story, and others diverges from it to talk about issues directly. One of the highlights of the record is “Neon Gravestones,” a plea from Joseph for society to stop glorifying those who take their own life. He even goes as far to say, “Promise me this / If I lose to myself / You won’t mourn a day / And you’ll move on to someone else.” This sends a provocative and timely message that not only applies to the treatment of other celebrities’ suicides, but also addresses one’s own suicidal thoughts.

The other musical highlight is the at-first-ballady track “Bandito.” The song exemplifies Joseph’s ability to build a song to a roaring climax with masterful effect. It starts off with a vibe that would be great for listening to alone at night, and soon transitions into a perfect song to play in any party.

Joseph truly is a jack of all trades, including hard rock, hip-hop, reggae, EDM, and many more styles into just one album. Trench is a darker and grittier version of Twenty One Pilots, with thundering bass riffs encapsulating both “My Blood” and “Jumpsuit.”

The only complaint I have is that there are two songs on the record that slightly diverge from the tone of the rest of it, but both of those songs –”Smithereens” and “Legend”– work so well on their own that it really didn’t affect my overall perception of the album.

Twenty One Pilots has done it again. They have managed to keep their old tone while working with new styles and production values that have changed their sound for the better. The duo’s enormous fan base will definitely be overjoyed with this new release, and it may even bring on some new fans who didn’t realize that Twenty One Pilots can exceptionally put together a fun and meaningful album.

by joel alexander–student life editor

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Does A Star Is Born Live Up to the Hype?

Remakes are typically underwhelming cash-grabs that exist because a studio willed it into existence, but the opposite is true for Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born. This is Cooper’s directorial debut, and he comes out the gate with a very promising start. The film centers around Cooper as a slightly aged country star who finds himself falling in love with a girl (Lady Gaga) he meets in a bar who has an angelic voice.

Given that this is the fourth remake of this exact same plot, A Star is Born is far better than it has any right to be. It does basically the same thing as the other versions of this story have done, but updates it for a modern time. The film includes elements of pop music that were definitely not there when the first A Star is Born was made back in 1937. All of the new aspects which Cooper brings to the story, such as the excellent soundtrack and the modern feel, greatly improve the film. In fact, Cooper directs this movie with more style and flair than could ever be asked of a first-time director.

Yes, this film has been done before in many different ways, but the one aspect that elevates A Star is Born above other films that deal with similar topics is the electrifying performances. Cooper and Gaga put all of themselves on screen for this film, and there are many times where I forgot who I was watching. Cooper has a surprisingly authentic singing voice, which really helped his character become far more convincing than if he had either dubbed his singing over or gotten somebody else to do it.

Gaga is also an incredibly talented singer, but unfortunately her voice sometimes took me out of the film because every time she sang it just reminded me that I was watching Lady Gaga and not the character of Ally. This is a very minor flaw that probably couldn’t be helped, but it still bothered me.

The standout acting-wise for me was easily Sam Elliott as Cooper’s brother, who is fed up with Cooper’s drinking habits and general laziness. His character is easily the most interesting in the film, and Elliott sells every look and line he gives with acting expertise. There is one scene in particular where Cooper and Elliott are talking in a car near the end of the film that is masterfully acted, but in such a subtle way that many will not even notice it. All this scene needs is a shot of Elliott pulling out of the driveway and it hits harder than any other scene in the entire two hour and fifteen minute runtime.

Unfortunately, this film was nowhere near perfect for me, even though it entranced many others. It starts off great, with a first act that really lets the audience know the personality of the two central characters while showing the audience the magic of their chemistry. However, the more that Gaga’s character get famous and popularized, the more the film starts to lose its touch. By the time the film reached its end, I had genuinely lost interest in the relationship, and ended up not caring as much as I should have about the ending.

The ending (no spoilers, don’t worry) was very tastefully put together and contains the best of both Gaga’s and Cooper’s performances. This would have been great if I hadn’t seen it coming since the first thirty minutes. I have not seen the other versions of this film, so I do not know if they end the same, but I knew in the back of my mind that it would end a certain way, and it did.

Whenever I can predict the ending to ANY movie, that film automatically loses some of its authenticity to me.

The movie is very well crafted and tastefully done throughout, but it never hit me near as hard as it should have. A Star is Born is still worth watching for the performances alone as well as some other pros, but it is nowhere near as masterful as some critics say that it is.

by joel alexander–student life editor

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is Back

The newest incarnation of the famous Tom Clancy character, Jack Ryan, has finally been released on Amazon Prime, with John Krasinski tackling the role this time around. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is the fifth film version of the book series, but it is the first screenplay that is not based directly off of Clancy’s work. This definitely shows in the plot, for the show goes headfirst into some issues that are exclusively relevant to the 21st Century.

Jack Ryan is a CIA analyst and former marine that finds financial records that point to a major player in the Middle Eastern terrorism game: someone who could be the next Bin-Laden. Ryan and his partner James Greer (Wendell Pierce) have to track down this terrorist before he seriously threatens the security of the United States.

This show tries way too hard to be different than its predecessors, and it succeeds in some ways. One of the best parts about Season 1 is how grounded the plot is. It never ascends into Fast and Furious levels of ridiculous, and every single event or action scene feels like something that could occur in modern-day society. The show also utilizes its two leads, Krasinski (A Quiet Place, The Office) and Pierce (The Wire), in an incredibly efficient way. Krasinski has a mostly comedic background, but here shows that he has the chops to anchor down a drama efficiently enough.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is just generally fun to watch. The show has plenty of problems that I will soon detail, but it does a good job of competently entertaining the audience, and even making it suspenseful near the end. Another plot element that I appreciated was how humane the villains of the story were. A backstory is given to Suleiman (Ali Suliman) that makes the audience empathise his situation despite the fact that he may be attempting to murder hundreds of people.

This leads to some of my serious problems with this show. The villain is given serious hints of a real story and personality, but it is never expanded enough to give it true depth. Near the end, when the stakes get higher, the writers could have made this conflict a true moral dilemma, but they instead retreat back to stereotype and keep it at a typical hero/villain relationship.

Also, while on the topic of writing, the dialogue is often poorly written. There are serious gaps of logic in some of the main character’s decisions, but somehow there are never any repercussions for them. Jack Ryan also makes some serious leaps of faith throughout the season, and he is almost always right. For once, I would have liked to see him make an assumption and be wrong, so that the show could explore the consequences of making a mistake in this line of work.

Most of the storylines in the show are adequate enough, with the exception of two: The romance storyline and a side plot involving a drone pilot. In every show like this, there has to be two attractive white protagonists of the same age who end up getting together. Some shows can pull this off, but Jack Ryan makes it feel incredibly forced. There is no reason for this romantic relationship, and it often just degrades the pacing of the show.  The storyline involving the drone pilot isn’t awful, I just have absolutely no idea why it is included in the show.

The last major complaint I have is the ending. I won’t spoil it for those who want to watch it, but it is VERY sudden. Throughout the season all of these intersecting relationships are built up, and they are all simply ended in one or two scenes in the final episode. This show definitely could have benefitted from a more fleshed out ending, and maybe even a couple more episodes.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan simply exists. The show is not terrible, nor is it particularly good, which is the case with most of these Jack Ryan adaptations. The first season is entertaining enough, but it never quite justifies its existence, especially since it is the fifth remake of the same character.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is streaming now on Amazon Prime.  

by joel alexander–student life editor

Sierra Burgess is a Loser Loses Applause from Audience

 

Sierra Burgess is a Loser marks Netflix’s second teen comedy in the span of a month. For some reason, they are going overboard on the high school films recently, and they’ve quite honestly been more miss than hit. However, after viewing the competent and entertaining To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I hoped that this one would be quite the same, if not better.

Boy, was I wrong.

The plot centers around Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser a.k.a. Barb from Stranger Things), an unpopular and overweight teenage girl who winds up texting and falling for a boy (Noah Centineo) who thinks she is a much more beautiful girl than she appears to be. For those uneducated in the culture, this is called “catfishing,” and is a very mean and deceptive way of using the Internet. The film, somehow, expects the audience to cheer for Burgess even though she is taking advantage of someone like this.

With all of this aside, Sierra Burgess is a Loser is essentially the typical high school movie. The movie stars an antisocial character and her only friend who end up getting thrust into the popular crowd, and by the end of the movie, the main character starts dating the boy of her dreams. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s literally every single high school movie ever made. Every teen comedy in the last decade has had a plot similar to this, if not exactly the same.

Some films, however, decide to twist things up with a unique plot, good acting or some other aspect special to the movie. This film does no such thing. Even though the plot attempts to be different with the “catfishing” premise, the main character and the relationships are so poorly executed that it is very difficult to care.

All of the interesting and well-acted characters are the supporting ones; such as Veronica (Kristine Froseth), who has a very intriguing relationship with her mother (Chrissy Metz, who is wasted here) and siblings that is not explored at all. Jamey, the boy who is being catfished, is also a good character, but is again essentially ignored by the writers. The only funny moments in this so-called “comedy” are delivered by RJ Cyler, who plays the token black best friend, but he is in the film very little and is reduced to stereotype.

Sierra Burgess is a Loser is built on the foundation that the audience will feel sorry for Burgess and her situation. However, she has easily the best life out of anybody in the film. She has a best friend, which is something that not everybody has; she has two parents that care for her; she is incredibly smart, and she is applying for colleges like Stanford. The movie expects us to feel sorry for her when there are other characters in the movie who have abusive parents, deaf siblings, and bad grades.

Another main message that the film gives is that it does not matter how a person looks, but it only matters how they are inside. This is a fabulous message, but the film has no foundation for this message, for the main character is a terrible person. It is hard to see the beauty on the inside of the main character when she is blaming everybody else for her own problems. Plus, near the end of the film, Burgess destroyed what likability there was by committing a despicable act which I will not disclose.

In the end, Sierra Burgess is a Loser is just an overlong build-up until the main characters start dating. By the end of the first ten minutes you can tell they are going to get together, but it takes an hour and 45 minutes to get there. If that sounds like something you’d want to watch then go ahead, it’s streaming on Netflix now, but if that sounds even remotely boring to you, then stay away from this film like the plague and watch Black Panther instead.

by joel alexander–student life editor

The Hate U Give offers powerful, relevant message about police violence

Police violence against African-Americans is a hotly debated and controversial topic in the United States. George Tillman Jr.’s movie The Hate U Give, based on the bestselling book, tackles that issue head on. It has been a good year for films that garner a political message with movies like BlacKkKlansman, and this is another worthy addition to the genre.

On the surface, it seems like just another teen drama with a slight twist to it: one that panders to teenagers to make box office money. This could not be farther from the truth. The Hate U Give centers around Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a teenage girl who witnesses the shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer when they were pulled over just for switching lanes without a signal. This causes contention around the community, similar to what occurred in Ferguson, Missouri with the shooting of Michael Brown Jr. The film chronicles Starr’s journey as she finds her voice and all the troubles that come with it, such as fitting in with her majority white high school and avoiding the drug dealers who want to prevent her from speaking out.

The best thing I can possibly say about The Hate U Give is that it will inspire viewers to take action. By the end of the film, anybody who received the message will want to storm out of the theater and participate in a local march. Many messages involving racism reverberate throughout this movie. One of the more relevant ones is a comment on the white people who like to act like they are black to look cool, but then disrespect the culture on their spare time. More people like this exist than one would believe, and the movie takes the time to throw some much-needed shade towards them.

The main message of the film, however, is how the public opinion on police violence is that the policeman was just doing his job despite having killed an unarmed man for no good reason. Would that same policeman have done the same thing if it was a white man? These are the questions that this film needed to ask and it definitely succeeds in asking them. It then asks the audience to examine the double standard that plagues African-Americans on the daily.

The shining stars of the film acting-wise are definitely Stenberg as the lead, who really gives the audience an insight into the trauma that one goes through when their friend is murdered right in front of them, and Russell Hornsby as Stenberg’s father, who has multiple stirring monologues that are impeccably well-delivered.

Problems with the film are relatively minimal, but they still surface, and nearly all of them have to do with the final twenty minutes. Without completely spoiling the movie, the ending felt a little sugarcoated given the gritty nature of the rest of the film. It tries to tie all the plotlines together with a bow and claims that love will prevail, but I feel the movie would have had an even bigger impact if it had left us with some of the previous, more hard-hitting messages.

Another slight flaw was a particularly cheesy scene in the end involving the main character’s little brother that I will not get into for spoiler reasons. However, the film came together well other than that, and none of these flaws were enough to degrade the powerful message that the film exhibits in the first and second acts.

The Hate U Give is definitely worth a watch, and will most likely change your perspective on the issue of police violence. This is Tillman’s best film so far, and promises great things in the future for Stenberg.

The Hate U Give will be in theaters everywhere on October 19.

-by Joel Alexander

Spike Lee makes a powerful political statement with BlacKkKlansman: a modern-day masterwork

Acclaimed writer/director Spike Lee has returned with his newest joint and he is back with a vengeance, for BlacKkKlansman is a force to be reckoned with. Lee’s film is a true story about a black man named Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington) who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. Sound ridiculous? It is. This is a movie that, conceptually, shouldn’t work, but somehow it is one of the most enthralling, hilarious, and powerful films of the year.

When it comes to politics, Lee is no stranger: in BlacKkKlansman he takes many controversial issues head on such as police brutality, the state of the nation, and the potential racism of the current president. He takes on all of these issues magnificently in a 1970s setting, which furthermore enforces his point that not much has changed between then and now. One would think that a historical drama about the KKK would be an exploration into history, but that is not what the movie has in store. Lee wants to shine a mirror up to every American citizen and ask them, “Are you content with the current state of society?”

Despite all of the politics, Lee still crafts a thrilling and fun ride throughout, and actually makes this one of the funniest films of the past couple months. Much of that humor is executed so well because of Adam Driver (Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi), who plays the white man that physically appears in the form of Ron Stallworth at the Klan rallies. Driver is easily the standout in this film: he shows a spectrum of emotional depth, becomes one of the most likeable characters, and is at the center of the most complex and nail-biting scenes. Washington also shines as the lead role; he talks quite a bit like his all-too-famous father (Denzel), but also shows that he is an excellent actor in his own right.

One detail about BlacKkKlansman that I truly did not expect going in, was that I would get to know these Klan members. Lee portrays them not as truly evil people, but as normal citizens that just happen to have a severely misguided look at society. The film in no way supports these hateful people, but it takes the same approach that Ron Stallworth does when looking at the Klan: fascinated by what drives them and how they became to think the way they do.

The flaws this movie contains are quite minimal. Only small things stood out, such as a rally scene in the beginning that lasted about a minute too long (but it was so well shot that I didn’t mind), or the fact that I could, for the most part, tell which events were true and which weren’t (but the script was so well written that, again, I didn’t mind). The only outstanding flaw seemed to be that Stallworth himself was not given much background, but even this was pushed under the surface by the complexity of the events happening on screen.

BlacKkKlansman is important. Not everybody will agree with the political message it sends, but it is still one heck of a roller-coaster ride from beginning to end. It is funny, timely, well-acted, emotional, and a whole bunch of other qualities that Oscar voters should eat right up.

At the end of the movie, despite having laughed through the majority of it, nearly all of the audience in my theater was crying. That’s the type of impact that the message of BlacKkKlansman creates.

BlacKkKlansman is is in theaters everywhere now and it is rated R for language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references.

-by Joel Alexander

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: a charming romantic comedy with a disappointing, conventional ending

 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is another Netflix original film that approaches the typical high school comedy in a slightly different way. It centers around an incredibly antisocial teenage girl (Lana Condor) who writes fake letters to every boy that she’s had an intense crush on. She keeps these letters secret and hides them below her bed, but all of that changes once her little sister actually sends them out to the objects of her affection.

Netflix has released more movies recently than many of the major production companies, and, quite honestly, many of them have been completely insufferable. Getting through The Package and Brain on Fire was harder than paying attention to a three-hour powerpoint presentation on thermodynamics. Luckily, Netflix has finally shown some potential with this film, which is a charming retelling of the book of the same name by Jenny Han.

The characters are made so personable because the actors really put effort into bringing them off the page in a lifelike way. The ensemble cast is competent overall, but the one who really rises above the rest is Noah Centineo as one of the subjects of the aforementioned letters. Centineo brings a charisma to his role that, frankly, made the other actors look more mediocre than they actually were. It is also really nice to see an Asian-American female lead in a major film like this. Between Crazy Rich Asians and now To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, it seems that inclusion is making a rise in Hollywood at long last.

One particular aspect of these teen films that I always pick on is the high school part and its accuracy to high school in real life (which may be because I’m actually in high school). Thankfully my critiquing was kept to a minimum, because for the majority of the film, they portray high school as it is. There is no typical “bully” character, the high school characters aren’t pigeonholed into groups of people (thespians, jocks, etc.) and there actors don’t look like they are all thirty-six years old. One thing that struck a chord for me, in particular, was the struggle of finding people to sit with during lunch time, which is something most people can sympathise with.

However, this lack of clichés completely disappears when the final third of the movie starts, which is where nearly all of my problems with the film lie. Until then, the story involving the letters was funny, charming, and compelling, but the final act takes it to a slightly different direction that tarnishes the films experience as a whole. My biggest gripe with this movie is that the writers decide to resort to completely manufactured and unnecessary conflicts in the last thirty minutes. It is also painfully easy to tell exactly where it is going in that amount of time. It seems like the writers thought up this great plot involving letters, had it all written out, and then had absolutely no clue how to end it. So, of course, when in doubt they turned to every cliché in the book to finalize it out.

The final act didn’t keep me from enjoying the good things that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before had to offer, but it definitely didn’t help my overall perception of the film. As Netflix teen comedies go, this is one of the better ones, probably right up there with Alex Strangelove. However, if you are looking for a good high school movie or TV show then I also highly recommend Love, Simon.

Netflix has had some real stinkers lately (*cough* Mute *cough*), so it’s nice to see a release that is a genuinely enjoyable film, even if it doesn’t 100% stick the landing. If the plot doesn’t interest you, the characters will still likely win you over by the halfway point; this is more than can be said about many other films released throughout this summer.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is streaming on Netflix today.  

by Joel Alexander