Category Archives: entertainment

Us: A True Mental Horror Story

Jordan Peele came straight out of the gate with one of the most interesting directorial debuts in years with Get Out, and the world was waiting impatiently to see what he had in store for us next. Will his next film just be Get Out 2? Anybody who has seen his new film Us would definitely respond with a quick denial. Us and Get Out have a relatively similar tone. The similarities stop there. Peele has done the best thing possible as a fledgling director–he has charted new territory.

Us begins with a typical horror movie formula–a family travels to their Santa Cruz vacation home for the summer which is fifteen minutes away from civilization, and their house is invaded by a group of “strangers.” The mother, Adelaide (the incredible Lupita Nyong’o), is uncomfortable about being close to Santa Cruz because she can feel herself getting closer to a traumatic event from her past involving her doppelgänger. This fear manifests itself when she figures out the invaders are exactly what she was staying away from, and thus begins Jordan Peele’s new mind-bending nightmare.
Us is wildly original and goes is so many unexpected directions. Jordan Peele takes the originality and mind-bending nature that Get Out exhibits and turns it up to an eleven.

Peele utilizes a Shyamalan-esque method of structuring Us, with there being copious twists and turns throughout until the ambiguous ending. It is confusing, but in the best way possible. Us reminds viewers of a time where horror was primarily mental instead of filled with pointless jump-scares.

All the performances are great, for the film gives each person a chance to shine given their duel role, but the standout is easily Lupita Nyong’o as the lead: she is simultaneously enthralling and disturbing, sometimes both in the same scene. Most of the pivotal scenes in the film are conversations between Nyong’o and her shadow, and she would be Oscar-worthy even if she was only playing one of the two.

The truly magical thing that Jordan Peele achieves here is how many messages, themes and interpretations the main story and ending have such as major issues like social structure, free will vs. determinism, and the effects of grief. Every single shot, plot decision and character seems to mean one thing at the beginning of the movie, and ten other things when the film concludes.

I will say a second view is mandatory to a complete understanding of Us. Every viewer will have missed at least one major detail that will clarify the message even further, and these aspects surface along the second or even third viewing. The fact that Jordan Peele has gotten to this level of mastery on just his second film is unheard of. I can only imagine what he has planned for the future.

A complaint that surfaced the internet about this film is that it contains many plot holes, and while there are some moments where Peele asks the audience to suspend disbelief, the point doesn’t revolve around the plot holding up under a microscope. Peele’s ambitions run so high that the logic doesn’t need to 100 percent line up. The only complaint I have regards a large exposition dump near the end that basically explains all of the events in one scene, but I don’t see how Peele could have avoided including this scene just the way he did.

Us is the first must-see theatrical release of 2019. Jordan Peele has an acute awareness of the motifs that are exploited in the story. This is definitely the first Oscar front-runner of the year–if Get Out can receive as many nominations as it did then this one sure as hell can. Each person will have their own interpretation of this movie, which is why it is so necessary to check it out while it is still in theaters.


Shazam! Is Both Funny and Fresh

Ever since the Dark Knight Trilogy concluded and the attempt to create a DC Cinematic Universe began, the DC brand has diminished in the wake of multiple mediocre superhero films and the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, their new offering, Shazam!, is a breath of fresh air for DC fans everywhere. As it turns out, all DC needed to do to catch up to Marvel was embrace the comedy in these inherently absurd superhero stories.

The audience is introduced to Billy Batson (Asher Angel), an orphaned foster kid who is still searching for his mom. After locking two police officers in an appliance store and embarking on another unsuccessful trip to find his parent, the foster care system finds him and sends him to a tightly knit group of foster children who treat each other like-as a real family. Soon after his arrival, Batson is transported to another realm while escaping from some local school bullies on a subway train. There he meets a wizard called Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) who transports his powers to Batson, changing him into an adult version of himself (Zachary Levi) and beginning the hijinks that come with being a superhero.

Running parallel to the main storyline for the first half of the narrative is that of the villain–Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). As a child, he was treated terribly by his father and older brother, and was then rejected by the wizard for not having a strong will. This turns him into an obsessive and lost man who takes control of the Seven Deadly Sins in order to eventually gain the power that Shazam holds. Strong’s villain is very well set-up and has a fully-fleshed-out back-story, but unfortunately, he is the sole cause of a few random tonal shifts that seem quite jarring. The film flashes between Batson and his “sidekick” Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) cracking jokes, to Sivana murdering rooms full of people.

Fortunately, Shazam! is fun enough to supersede the tonal shifts.
The tone of this movie could be described as derivative, and my biggest fear going in was that it would feel like a knockoff of superhero movies that have attempted to strike this same balance between comedy and adventure previously. Fortunately, director David F. Sandberg, knows how to strike that chord while also creating fresh perspectives.

For example, a main thread that runs through most of the film is how Batson refuses to conform to other people’s expectations of him. This theme extends to when he actually gains his superpowers. In most, if not all, superhero movies the main character immediately attempts to solve a crime of some sort or do some sort of good in the community. Not Billy Batson. He uses his powers to have fun with his friends and make money as a pseudo-street-magician.
Many aspects of Shazam! could have gone wrong in retrospect. However, the film never fails at anything even though some things, like plot and tone, ride the middle of the road as far as superhero tropes go.

The most conflicting part of the narrative for me is the villain. Strong’s character is a missed opportunity due to his potential back-story. For the entire first act, the narrative has the audience believing that his personal struggle has significance in the long run of the story, but near the end, the film forgets about his motivation and treats him as a forgettable villain as opposed to completing his story arc.

This movie reflects the early and inexperienced Marvel Cinematic Universe films in that the villain isn’t the strongest, but the movie supersedes the limitations of just one character. Shazam! is another “funny” superhero movie, but it manages to make the genre feel fresh in a time where all society seems to be seeing is varying degrees of a similar story, which is an accomplishment worthy of praise.

By Joel Alexander – Entertainment Editor

Wasteland, Baby! Provides Emotion

After an almost five-year hiatus, Irish singer-songwriter Hozier released his second album Wasteland, Baby! on March 1. Many know him from his successful debut, “Take Me to Church,” which hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although his newest album is a small step down from his debut album Hozier, and an obvious hit chaser, his distinctive voice sets a high bar and it’s truly an album listeners can get lost in.

Before the drop of his album, he gave fans a few sneak previews. “Nina Cried Power (feat. Mavis Staples)” was by far my favorite. In this song, Hozier gives homage to artists who have helped shape rock ‘n roll, artists such as Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Billie Holliday, James Brown, and Mavis Staples, who was featured in the song. Mavis Staples’ voice paired with Hozier’s resulted in lush harmonies and a rich blues-rock sound. Hozier has been known to use meaningful lyrics and in this song, he clearly demonstrates that. Lyrics such as, “And I could cry power/ power has been cried by those stronger than me/ straight into the face that tells you to rattle your chains/ if you love bein’ free,” highlight the central meaning of the song and the struggles suffered by those who shaped blues and gospel music during the Civil Rights Era.  

I must admit that there were a few songs in the album I just could not get into. I could tell he was trying too hard to make another hit and it spoiled the album. A clear example is “To Noise Making (Sing),” which is probably my least favorite song from him. It has a good message–the power of singing regardless of talent–yet it feels empty. It just sounds like he just wanted to make an indie song to clap to or play in the background of a coffee shop. Regardless, there are many songs that I could never get sick of if I were to play them on repeat. Hozier has such a profound voice and sound it’s hard to absolutely hate any of his music. “Wasteland, Baby!” is the perfect album to play when you just need a little inspiration and soul in your life.

By Nayei Arellano-Sports Editor

Captain Marvel Is Neither the best nor the Worst

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues deeper into the lore of its comic book origins, it would seem apparent that superhero movie fatigue would set in. It only took the DC Universe three films for viewers to get sick of its characters, but the MCU is miraculously still thriving with every entry it churns out, with many more on the way. The newest flick is Captain Marvel, which marks the first female-led solo superhero movie for Marvel. DC already threw their hat into the ring with the massively successful but hollow and safe Wonder Woman, and after the disappointment of that film, I had my doubts going into Captain Marvel.

Brie Larson (Room, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) takes on Carol Danvers–a woman with a complicated past who finds herself caught in a war between the shape-shifting Skrulls and the Kree. She must fight the Skrulls, figure out the murky details of her past, and save planet Earth while also gaining the confidence to be the warrior she is destined to be. Along the way, she finds young Nick Fury (a movie-stealing Samuel L. Jackson) and must figure out who to trust, for the Skrulls can shape-shift into anybody she assumes she can trust.

Captain Marvel breaks itself up into three sections: the space-epic the first twenty minutes promise, the buddy-cop action film which the bulk of the film is made up of, and the typical Earth-saving superhero movie of the last thirty minutes. Of these three, the best is easily the second, in which Samuel L. Jackson gives his best Nick Fury performance yet and the best moments of the film are contained. Jackson is the glue that holds the film together, and without him the majority of the humor would have fallen flat. While others gave fun and sometimes emotional performances, I always looked forward to the moments in which Jackson bantered with the other characters. In fact, the quality of the film exponentially increases when he first appears on-screen outside of a Blockbuster Video while investigating a supposedly routine case.

Others give quality performances, such as Jude Law as the protagonist’s former mentor and Ben Mendelsohn as the leader of the Skrulls. However, the standout supporting character is Lashana Lynch as Danvers’ friend from her complicated past, who shocked me with the most emotional and subtly-acted scene in the film. I haven’t seen her in anything thus far, and I hope to catch a glimpse of her in the future–preferably with better writing.

Unfortunately, the weakest link in this film when it comes to acting is Larson herself. I don’t believe she performed badly, especially when I have seen her be so radiant in other films. For the first half of the film, her character is kept at a distance from the audience, which creates confusion when it comes to the feelings they should be exerting towards her. Luckily, the second half clears some of the confusion that the first half establishes, but the feeling of connection with Carol Danvers’ emotions never comes flooding in, and I never felt that I got a glimpse into what she was thinking at a certain moment. The reason supporting characters like Nick Fury steal the show is due to the lack of understanding we have of Danvers’ inner workings. This makes it that much harder to empower her and to send a strong message, even though the writers still succeed in doing so by the end of the movie.

By far the biggest issue I have with Captain Marvel is the pacing. The directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, never seemed to be able to hold a scene for the correct amount of time so the audience could embrace the full impact. In the first third, when the film introduces Captain Marvel’s life on the Kree planet, the audience isn’t given enough time to fully understand the impact it has on her disposition. Because of this, when certain plot elements are introduced later in the film, it was hard for me to grasp how profoundly these events mattered to her personal life. On the flip side, the third act of the film seems to hold each scene about thirty seconds too long: just enough that the audience gets tired of the point that the writers reiterate. If the time spent on these useless and long scenes had been spent on developing the essential storylines near the beginning, then we’d have gotten a better film that trusts the audience instead of spoon-feeding them the morals and themes. That being said, Captain Marvel is an unabashedly fun movie that will give the majority of viewers what they want. While plot stereotypes are included, character stereotypes are avoided by the writers. Diversity is spread throughout the story; the movie satisfies both those who want to see Captain Marvel as an empowered and unique female character, and those who want an entertaining superhero movie without any overt political opinions included. While Captain Marvel is nowhere near the best the MCU has to offer, it is also far from the worst–this is especially astonishing given that this is the twenty-first film in the ever-continuing saga. Before every Marvel movie, I always think it is finally time for fatigue to start setting in when it comes to superhero movies, and I am wrong nearly every time. While I do wish more time had been spent in editing the film to perfection instead of adhering to the typical chichés, it can’t be denied that Captain Marvel is escapism entertainment at its finest, which is all this movie needed to be while audiences wait for Avengers: Endgame to hit theaters.

By Joel Alexander-Student Life Editor

How to Train Your Dragon’s Nostalgic Final Trilogy

The dragon fantasy PG-rated movie, How To Train Your Dragon, made the third movie to the twelve-book series that is based on. They are about a boy named Hiccup, whose family and village are the center of everything when it comes to hunting down the dragons.

The two allies must work together to save their world’s from being destroyed by their enemies. As he and his village grows with more dragons, their land gets crowded and they become a greater target for their enemies. They always have a plan to escape from what situation they get into and they come up with a backup plan when it’s needed the most.

Hiccup becomes to be the leader of his village when his the time comes and he realizes that Toothless, his dragon, also needs a partner as he already has one. He also leans to let go when time comes and Hiccup only wants what is the best for his scaley retiled best friend.

They didn’t put The Hidden World in the title for nothing. Hiccup played by Jay Baruchel and his partner Astrid played by America Ferrara go to find Toothless when he was not returning home and they fly into a waterfall. They find countless different dragons that they never discovered before and they soon see Toothless with a white light fury, who becomes to be his mate that he always wanted and finally found.  

A great series can’t end without fighting the antagonist and having an ending that will surely make this trilogy the greatest to those dragon lovers.

Many people say that books are always better than movies, and sometimes they can be right about that. The book series has been around since the early 2000s and it has gained a great amount of popularity since its first release by Cressida Cowell. This PG-rated film brings back those memories that you have from being a young child and liking the fantasy world. If you watch all three movies together, then you might be able to see how each character has changed since the beginning and their true colors will show. I recommend this movie and the other two to anyone who wants to feel like a child again and wants to feel like how it once was when they were five years old again. This movie might even have you believe in things that you may once believe in at the end and bring your younger sibling, so that they may too also enjoy that moment of cherishing of time traveling of being a child again.

By Yohali Arias-Martinz

Leaving Neverland Sheds Light on the Jackson Case

Most people know about the Michael Jackson controversy regarding his alleged abuse of children. The scandal has been the butt of any joke regarding Jackson since the details were first revealed back in the early ‘90s. However, the majority of his fans have never heard the personal stories of the accusers and what they claim to have been through, which is where the new HBO documentary Leaving Neverland comes into play.

From the very start, the documentary lets the audience know the focus is not on Jackson himself, but the two victims–Wade Robson and James Safechuck–who detail the story of their lives leading up to the alleged abuse and how it affected their families in the years following. It is easy to talk about the subject of this documentary without having seen it, for many have done so while swaying the public opinion towards the denial of these accusers’ stories. However, the only way for society to have an educated discussion regarding his guilt or innocence is if people actually watch this documentary and see for themselves what the rumors are about.

It didn’t take long for me to be certain these men and their families were telling the truth, for you can see it written all over their faces throughout the duration of this film. Many people have said these men are lying in order to get money from Jackson’s estate, and if they are then they are the best actors in the entire world. I don‘t know how people can watch Leaving Neverland while still believing these men are lying and that Jackson is completely guiltless in this scenario.

However, the reason this documentary rises above the fray regarding journalism of this kind is due to the angle director Dan Reed takes when telling this story. He doesn’t focus on Jackson’s life, his background, or any other factors that would cause the audience to sympathize with him or his situation. Reed did not make this movie as a Michael Jackson biography or exposé, but as a film that gives long overdue awareness for child abuse and how the abused are mentally affected. Even though the film makes it clear that Jackson is a famous pop artist, he is simply treated as the predator that changed the lives of his victims, and not the subject of his own story.

By reputation only, Leaving Neverland is an exposé that accuses Michael Jackson of various crimes, but in reality it a piece that brings light to the struggles of child abuse victims, and how the abuse stays with them throughout their lives. The abuse was not only physical but mental. Jackson manipulated the kids’ minds into thinking the sexual acts were for their benefit, and even had them fighting over each other in order to win his affections. The boys did not even think of the abuse as negative until 25 years later, which is when they first came out against Jackson to the public. Every facet of this widely known case is covered in excruciating detail, and all from the eyes of two men who will never fully recover from one man’s perverted way of expressing himself.

Never before has child abuse been portrayed in this truthful and personal a manner, which is why Leaving Neverland is one of the more important pieces of journalism in the past couple of years. The recognition that this issue deserves is long overdue, and the many victims of childhood sexual abuse that exist in society have needed a change regarding the stigma that has plagued them for so long. As stated in the epilogue to the film hosted by Oprah Winfrey, one in six men have experienced some kind of childhood sexual abuse, and more people like Wade Robson and James Safechuck exist than most people are willing to admit.

Leaving Neverland is an essential film for anybody that looked at the Jackson case and had even a slight doubt in their mind that the allegations were true; it is essential for those that do not realize the true magnitude of childhood sexual abuse all over the world; and it is paramount that more people support victims with similar stories in their community. This story does not stop at Michael Jackson: it is far broader. While not a perfect film (chronological issues near the beginning), anybody who is not aware and who can take in the graphic details should watch this movie and understand the mental stigmas that are unnecessarily applied to cases similar to this.

By Joel Alexander-Student Life Editor

Fighting with My Family Is a Boring Cliché

Over the past year, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been taking over Hollywood with his mindless action films and various comedies; so it was only natural that at some point he would make a film about his own career and talents in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). His role as producer in the new sports biopic Fighting with my Family–which documents the true story of famous wrestler Paige (real name Saraya Bevis)–resonates through the entire film due to his obvious influence over the creation of it and his brief cameo as himself.

However, the film isn’t supposed to be about The Rock or the WWE, even though it ends up being just that. The audience is led through Saraya Knight’s rise to power, and how she became the youngest woman to win the Divas Championship Title at only 21. For reasons unknown to me, the writer of this film changed Saraya Bevis’ real name to Saraya Knight. Knight was the surname of her early stage name, and the makers of Fighting with my Family must have thought it was a more accessible name than Bevis, so they made it the entire family’s name. This is one of many decisions that confuses me throughout this film’s runtime. I understand that some liberties must be taken when telling a true story in order to make it more interesting and accessible, but so many are taken here that some parts of the movie are pure fiction with no resemblance to the actual events.

Fighting with my Family does get a lot of things right–in particular, the casting. All of the acting in this movie is excellent, and frankly, the product as a whole is much better because of all the performances. Florence Pugh (Outlaw King, The Commuter) plays Knight (Bevis) with ease, making her job look easier than it actually is. Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, Calibre) gives a typically powerful performance as the brother of the female protagonist even though his character is taken in a mundane and overused direction that grated on the pacing of the film. Vince Vaughn also shines as the snappy coach for the NXT program with the best jokes in the film, and Dwayne Johnson is hilarious despite his minuscule screen-time.

Writer/director Stephen Merchant brings his signature wit to the film’s script, which also helps it become more watchable than if they had created a stoney-faced sports biopic. After all, Merchant penned much of The Office, which is the gold standard when it comes to modern comedy. However, it doesn’t seem that Merchant can structure a plot as well as he can tell jokes, for the repetition and seen-it-before mentality of the plot drags this movie down. Any person who has seen an inspirational sports movie will know, step for step, the route this movie is going to take before it even makes the turns. As each pivotal scene starts, I could immediately tell whether the protagonist was going to embarrass herself or come out victorious, and I was heavily disappointed to find I was right every time.

The amount of cliché that Fighting with my Family contains makes the historical inaccuracies of the story all that more pointless. If they had stuck to the true story with relative accuracy, then the producers would have had an original and solid film on their hands. The second half of the film, in particular, was so cookie-cutter (she hits a low point because she thinks she isn’t good enough; brother, father & mother make rousing speeches; she gains the courage to try again; etc.) that I was wanting her to succeed just so the movie would be over. The good and essential messages it expresses (people who don’t look like a supermodel are often excluded without regard for their talent; the average person isn’t as simple as they look) are overshadowed by the boring plotline, and there isn’t enough thematically to get me to remember this movie in a month.

Apparently, Dwayne Johnson was inspired to pursue this project when he saw the 2012 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with my Family, which details the same events that this movie covers, but with far more accuracy (obviously). Watching this documentary was supposedly the first he heard of this story, which also means his cameo in this movie would have had to be entirely fictionalized. I wouldn’t mind this much if the film didn’t imply near the end that Johnson had a major part to play in getting Paige famous. It gives Johnson and Vince Vaughn’s character (who is also fictionalized) much of the credit for her breakout, and this takes away much of the kudos that Saraya Bevis deserves for her own fame. This film should empower her, but it instead decides to further inflate Johnson’s ego and become a big advertisement for the WWE.

To be fair, Fighting with my Family is a good easy watch, and it would probably be sufficient to have on in the background at a party or if something mindless is needed to watch out of boredom. However, any originality that could be squeezed out of Saraya Bevis’ story is mostly voided by the Hollywood commercialization of the piece. Look for the performances when watching, and Google Jack Lowden and Florence Pugh, because both of those actors are going to places far better than Fighting with my Family. As much as this film tries to overcome its flaws with its inspirational story and passionate performances, the over-adherence to boring clichés drags it down to the average and forgettable territory.

By Joel Alexander-Student Life Editor