Category Archives: viewpoint

Outlaw King: A boring but well-constructed Braveheart follow-up

Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) is Scotland’s new hope for freedom in Outlaw King.   photo acquired via imdb.com

The long awaited sequel to Braveheart has arrived! Not really, but Outlaw King is likely to be the closest we will ever get to a follow-up to the 1995 Mel Gibson classic. It follows Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) shortly after the death of William Wallace and the quenching of the latest Scottish uprising. Robert has just been forced to kneel to the King of England (Stephen Dillane), and his father has just died. All of these events coalesce with Robert rising up against the English tyranny and claiming himself as the King of Scotland.

The one thing this film does better than Braveheart is that it is considerably more historically accurate. Braveheart is an excellent film, but let’s face it, almost nothing depicted on screen actually occurred. Outlaw King has considerably more accuracy, and while there are some obvious liberties taken here and there, it gets the general gist of things correct. Unfortunately, this may be the only aspect of this film that truly improves upon Braveheart.

That’s not to say this movie is completely worthless, because it’s actually not bad. In fact, it’s actually very good at times. One of those times is the very opening scene, which introduces all of the main characters in one long nine minute shot. It really gives of glimpse of the immaculate set design that went into this film, and it is insanely well shot. In fact, the absolute best thing about Outlaw King is the combination of cinematography and production design. Even when some scenes can be kind of boring thematically, this film looks positively gorgeous. Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd (Captain Phillips, The Hurt Locker) really outdoes himself with this one. The battle scenes (though tone-deaf, but we’ll get to that later) are fully realized and incredibly gritty, and all of that is due to both the incredible set design and cinematography.

Director David Mackenzie also shows he is not a one-off director here. He has to follow up his previous film, Hell or High Water, which is one of the best films of 2016. He doesn’t get anywhere near that level of suspense or expertise, but it is easy to see that the talent is still there, especially in some of the quieter scenes, which I found to be far more chilling than the loud and bombastic war scenes.

Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce is another highlight, but did we honestly expect any different? Even when Pine is in an abysmal film (A Wrinkle in Time), he still manages to be the best part of it.

On the subject of acting, this unfortunately brings me to my nitpicks with Outlaw King. Many people often say that a movie is only as good as its villain. This is definitely not always true, but if a movie has an awful villain, than chances are it won’t succeed near as much as the filmmakers want it to. Unfortunately, Outlaw King falls under this spell. The main antagonist, in the end, is not the King of England: instead it is his son, Edward. Edward is an incompetent and sadistic baby who cannot keep his temper under control for more than half a second, which was honestly more funny than menacing. When the main villain is that incompetent, it is impossible to feel at all threatened by him, which means that throughout the movie there are essentially no stakes. Yes, I know that he could potentially die and be oppressed by the English, but the film made it feel as though the main characters were just wandering around Scotland fighting random battles.

This leads to another unfortunate aspect of this film: the battle scenes. They remind me of the action scenes in Michael Bay’s Transformers movies: they give the viewer no sense of what is happening. Random objects are flying around, people are getting hit by objects, blood is being sprayed, and I have no earthly idea what is happening. Whenever I look to a great medieval battle sequence, I look to the Battle of the Bastards sequence in Game of Thrones. All of the carnage is shown in complete clarity so that the audience can feel every blow that the main character receives. I could go on for days about the mastery of that sequence, but unfortunately Outlaw King does not follow any of these visual techniques.

My biggest complaint about Outlaw King is that it is simply boring. The movie seems to drag on far longer than its actual runtime, and the Netflix version isn’t even the full cut of the movie shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. Even during the action scenes I was checking the time, which is the last thing a filmmaker wants a viewer to be doing when they should be scared that the main character will violently perish.

Outlaw King is not a bad film. It just isn’t good either. I really do wish I was more invested in the events portrayed, but the film had a significant lack of suspense that I could not seem to get over while watching. I would recommend this for some casual viewing, but there’s an extremely graphic sex scene at the end of the first act, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend inviting your girlfriend/boyfriend over to Netflix & chill. If you’re a fan of Chris Pine or just war films in general than you might like Outlaw King, but if not, it’s probably not worth wasting your time.

by Joel Alexander–Entertainment Editor 

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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

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

Allowing Transgender Athletes to Compete Their Choice of Sport is a Matter of Life or Death

Via wikimedia commons
Zdenka Koubkova is a transgender from Czechoslovakia who won several national titles as a track athlete.

According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, half of female-to-male adolescents, 29.9% of male-to-female adolescents, and 41.8% of non-binary adolescents have attempted suicide.

Along with this, Dr. Nicole Martins, an Associate Professor of Media Studies, has this to say about the effects of representation in the media: “There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant.”

Keep in mind that sports are extremely televised, and something like a trans person daring to live their lives is widely publicized; I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to draw a connection between transgender people in athletics and representation in the media.

Transgender people are undoubtedly victims of symbolic annihilation. The result of symbolic annihilation is low self-esteem, which then can develop into depression; those who are depressed are far more likely to attempt suicide.

To me, this is enough of a reason to allow transgender people to compete the way they want: it helps a vulnerable minority see themselves in a positive light. It gives them hope that they can live the way they want and be happy, regardless of the hardships. Media is a powerful tool, and only a fool would dismiss the way that it affects people.

But in case saving lives isn’t enough of a reason for you, I’ll continue.

A particular criticism leveled at transgender women is that they have an advantage over biological women, because they have a higher testosterone level. Strangely enough, people don’t seem to worry about transgender men having a disadvantage against biological men.

I’d love to know why this criterium is only ever applied to transwomen. Biological women can also have abnormally high levels of androgens; those women have what’s known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Perhaps they should be barred from competing in women’s sports as well.

Funnily enough, taking estrogen has the reverse effect of what bigots think; it actually reduces muscle mass and worsens performance, according to Dr. Eric Vilain of UCLA. If a man has any advantage prior to transition, it will be null and void after a year on hormones.

So let’s stop dog-whistling and talk about what this debate is actually about: people are irrationally afraid of transgender people. They want their hate and delusions to prevail over what the words of experts say, which is that being transgender is just plain old biology, and that allowing them to compete is perfectly fine. But of course, it’s the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, the Mayo Clinic, and the American Academy of Pediatrics that are wrong.

by sarah smith–contributor

Transgenders should NOT decide their sport

Via Unsplash
Transgender athletes cause an unfair advantage in the sports industry, arguing that they should participate in their birth sport or hang up their shoes.

In modern day America, some individuals feel as if they need to change their gender, from female to male, or male to female.

Sports are something that everyone can come together over. However, high school, college, and professional sports are being affected by the transgender issue. For example, a biological man, who now identifies as a women, will compete against a biological woman, and because they still have the features of a man, they can overpower the woman. For some people, this idea sounds perfectly fine; for others, this idea sounds unfair to the biological women who had to compete against a transgender man.

One example is when a transgender woman won a state championship in the state of Connecticut. Terry Miller, a individual who was born a biological man, competed against biological women in sprints. Miller took first in the event. Parents of the other competitors, biological women, have came out and spoken against biological men competing against the biological women.

Bobbi Lancaster is another example of transgenders in sports. Lancaster was born a male, but at the age of four, he believed that he was a women and started to dress in womens clothing. When he was young, he took up golf, as well as other sports. Although he didn’t take up golf as a career, he continued to play golf as an adult. Once she came out as a female, the USGA accepted he has a female and let her compete against, and beat, biological women.

One more example of a transgender person winning a sporting event unfairly is when biological male Rachel McKinnon won the women’s world championship for Track Cycling of ages 35-44. Rachel is a biological male, who now identifies as a women. The other racers that participated in this event, weren’t happy that a man won the event that was for women only. McKinnon says that nobody is “born a man”. She thinks that the term “born a man” helps contribute to a “harmful myth” and a “false stereotype”. I believe that this statement is invalid because being born a man isn’t a myth. It’s a fact. You’re either born a male or a female. The third place racer, Jen Wagner-Assal, came out and said that the race was unfair because a biological male was competing against the rest of the field.

With the support of the stated examples, I believe that it’s unfair that these people are able to participate in whatever gender’s sport that they want.

by tayte mills–staff reporter

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