Category Archives: entertainment

Bohemian Rhapsody film provides disappointment

Via 20th Century Fox

There is no better Oscar bait than the biopic, and Bohemian Rhapsody, an examination into the life of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, fits the bill perfectly. Mercury is indisputably one of the greatest vocalists to exist, and, to me, he is the best lead singer of all time. Queen is known by essentially everybody under the sun, and even for those who don’t know them by name (if not, where have you been for the last 40 years?), you will definitely know them from songs like “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” They are absolute legends, and it’s about time Hollywood made a film about them.

Unfortunately, the filming of Bohemian Rhapsody has become almost infamous at this point, because of the change of directors halfway through filming. For those not educated in the drama, the director, X-Men’s Bryan Singer, was showing up late and neglecting his responsibilities according to lead actor Rami Malek. On top of that, Singer was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women around this time. Malek complained to the studio, and they fired Singer, who was shortly replaced by Eddie the Eagle’s Dexter Fletcher.

Typically, whenever this much turmoil happens behind the scenes of a film, it shows on screen. Unfortunately, this is no exception.

Bohemian Rhapsody comes up short on almost every level. Some of the only positive traits I could take away from it were Malek’s dedicated performance as Freddie Mercury and the soundtrack (obviously). That’s about it.

I wasn’t alive when Mercury was, but even I can tell when a man’s reputation is slandered on screen. I’m not saying this movie needed to be a propaganda piece about Mercury’s genius, but it didn’t need to make him look like the anchor that was dragging the rest of Queen back. The film doesn’t concentrate on his genius at all. From the beginning, they simply portray him as an eccentric personality who would strut around like he was on top of the world, putting his own needs above that of his band members. I don’t know where they got this information, but this just seems like a portrayal based on stereotype, not on reality.

This movie misses on a whole bunch of aspects of Freddie’s life, but easily the biggest that it gets wrong is its portrayal of his homosexuality. From the instant it is brought up in the film, there is a negative connotation surrounding his sexual preference, which sends an awful message to those struggling with their identity. The film also completely generalizes homosexual mannerisms by making Freddie Mercury seem overly “flamboyant.” If you take a look at Mercury’s actual mannerisms, they are outgoing yes, but not flamboyant. Bohemian Rhapsody takes the fact that he was gay, and injects the stereotypes into his personality. This perpetuates stigmas that shouldn’t exist in society, and casually slips them into viewers minds.

The entire reason that viewers watch biopics is to get some new and interesting information either about a person they already know or a person they are discovering for the first time. The only new information that Bohemian Rhapsody gives us is either uninteresting or just completely false. Every time Mercury or any other members of the band write a famous song, it is just incidental–like they just happened to be playing it in order to get a cheer out of the die-hard Queen fans in the audience. There is absolutely no insight into the creative process that goes behind the writing of their iconic songs, and when there is an attempt, it ends up just being a montage sequence of Malek and crew lip-syncing in the recording studio.

There is also a conflict that lasts the second half of the movie between Mercury and the other members of Queen that was cringe-inducingly fake. The film depicts a falling-out of Mercury and Queen that goes on for years, but in reality this never happened. Mercury did make two solo albums, but they never made the entire band fall apart, and the Live Aid concert that comprises the finale was in no means a reunion.

There are far too many historical inaccuracies in Bohemian Rhapsody to name, which is shameful beyond words. There is absolutely no point to making a biopic if most of the events you depict are based on false information. Not only that, the actual Mercury’s real life was far more interesting than this film made it seem. Mercury spent the first seventeen years of his life in India listening to American music and striving to be a rock star, even forming his own band in his tween years. The first seventeen years of one’s life form who they are as a person, so why wasn’t this depicted? The Live Aid concert would have been far more impactful if we had seen his poor upbringing in India, and it would have given the film an emotional weight that is nonexistent in the version we got.

Rami Malek is good here, but he is not good enough to pull this dumpster fire of a movie together. Remember Freddie Mercury as he actually was, not what this film wants you to think of him. Mercury was one of the best performers ever, and if you want to see why, then looking on his Wikipedia page would be a far better source of information than Bohemian Rhapsody. Few films this year left me as disappointed as this one did. Instead of wasting money on this film, stay home and watch the incredible and iconic Live Aid performance yourself rather than viewing a mediocre recreation of it.

by joel alexander–entertainment editor

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The Haunting at Hill House is a Truly Horrific Spine Chiller

Via imdb

Truly effective horror shows are very difficult to pull off, which is why they are so rare. Netflix pioneered the concept of good horror television with Stranger Things, and have gone all out with their new project The Haunting of Hill House. Horror to this degree has not been done effectively in television due to the difficulty of keeping the audience in constant suspense for an entire ten hours of film. Nevertheless, Mike Flanagan seems to have cracked the formula, with one of the most bone-chilling and truly terrifying pieces of horror in the last decade.

Flanagan introduces the Crains, a fragmented family who are all still haunted (literally and figuratively) from their past–specifically when they lived inside Hill House, a giant and spacious mansion that is tailor made for horror. The show often flashes back to the Crains’ childhood in order to give more context to the events happening in present-day. Storyline-wise, Hill House contains virtually everything you could possibly want in any television show: insanely suspenseful sequences, emotionally investing characters, and insane non-linear storytelling.

As the show goes on, each episode appears to take place at the same span of time but from different characters’ perspectives. The greatest aspect of this show’s structure–which is saying a lot–is that it is like putting together a puzzle. When each episode passes, more pieces are added to the puzzle, and a bigger picture is gradually created that is equally horrifying and emotional.

The best horror films/shows are those that don’t just involve demon possession. No offense to The Conjuring, but when a film’s only theme is simply attempting to scare the audience, it seldom succeeds due to the weak emotional stakes. Of course, there are exceptions to this generalization, but fortunately Hill House doesn’t have to deal with problem at all, because it has more emotional stakes than the best of TV’s dramas. This season is essentially a better version of This is Us. Episode Five, “The Bent-Neck Lady,” is a wonderous example of how the show combines nail-biting horror with tear-inducing melodrama. The last twenty minutes of this episode contain some of the most beautiful scenes in recent years of television, despite the horror undertones. And then the final thirty seconds…. Well, you’ll have to watch it for yourself.

The horror is all the more terrifying due to the emotional stakes it brings to the table. Every single creature or entity that is introduced in the first half of the season is explained later in a way that isn’t simply saying, “it’s a demon.” The explanations also make the entities that much more disturbing, instead of quenching all the horror that was built up throughout the show with a shallow write-off.

Flanagan writes and directs Hill House with ease and has finally made the horror masterwork that audiences have been yearning for from him. His previous films, while very good, nearly achieve mastery but just barely fall short. Here, Flanagan finally rises to all of the potential he showed with films like Hush and Oculus. One episode that was especially masterfully crafted was Episode Six: “Two Storms”. This episode was filmed in roughly five shots, with the cast and crew continually working without cuts for twenty minutes at a time. This is quite an achievement, especially since Flanagan still manages to make it suspenseful and gut-wrenchingly emotional.

One particular quirk that cannot be ignored when discussing The Haunting of Hill House is the inclusion of random presences appearing and disappearing in the background of shots. This can be as simple as a person standing in the doorway in one shot and then disappearing the next, to entire statues moving positions to face ominously towards the camera. Most of this is very difficult for the casual viewer to spot–someone had to point out to me that there was a stark white face in the background of the scene in which young Theo goes into the cellar–but once you do, it will cause you to peer into every dark corner as if something is staring back at you.

If this show does not win every single Emmy for acting, then there is no justice in the world. Particularly transcendent are Victoria Pedretti as Nell, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Luke, and Kate Siegel as Theodora. Pedretti has an especially tough job, delivering some of the most emotionally devastating scenes in recent TV history during Episode 5. Jackson-Cohen nails the gait of a drug addict who cannot seem to escape a levitating figure from his childhood. Siegel delivers an understated performance as the sister who hides a secret from society that gives her an advantage (or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it) in her area of work. The Haunting of Hill House is easily the best horror I have seen in recent years, and it will most definitely get under your skin in some way by the time the ten episodes are up. When finished, I immediately wanted to watch it again despite its horrifying nature; the twists and turns along the way changed my perspective of the show and it would be interesting to see the ways it foreshadowed what was to come. Skip over Chilling Adventures of Sabrina; the best show around right now is easily The Haunting of Hill House.

by joel alexander–entertainment editor

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

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