Tag Archives: entertainment

Newest ‘Star Wars’ reawakens fans’ passion

I experienced something odd at the movie theater lately. I believe the phenomenon is called childlike wonder and joy. Stow away any fears you may have of a Phantom Menace redux, because Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings much needed reinvigoration to a beloved series.

Director J.J. Abrams approaches the film like a Star Wars savant, stitching together elements found in the original movies while bringing in fresh faces to prevent The Force Awakens from spilling over into nostalgia overload. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill all return to reprise their roles as Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker, respectively. While Harrison is delightful as Han (his roguish wit hasn’t waned), it’s the new generation of stars who bring energy to the film. Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku, is effectively the new-school, female Luke. That might have been irritating if she wasn’t so downright cool; Rey proves herself to be a quick-thinking heroine slightly more reminiscent of Han than of Luke in some regards, and Ridley delivers the character with so much warmth. Other newcomers include Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper with a conscience, and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a swaggering resistance pilot. Adam Driver makes an impact as Kylo Ren, a sullen and tempestuous antagonist hiding behind a mask reminiscent of Darth Vader’s.

The settings of The Force Awakens are a marked improvement from the predecessor films. While the backdrops of the prequel trilogy always seemed so placid and artificial (I swear you could see the green screen radiating off the actors), the worlds in the newest film have depth, from desert bazaars to pirate-filled cantinas. Lightsaber combat is better than ever; the blades crackle, and stray swings slice down unfortunate trees.

And yet it isn’t perfect. The movie is a skosh too similar to A New Hope, with Rey’s background and character arc paralleling Luke’s a bit too much, down to their shared upbringings on desert planets (and similar fashion choices). And destroying entire planets! You have to hand it to Star Wars villains; they don’t think small. Moreover, the film occasionally feels too ambitious, as if there simply wasn’t enough time to jam in everything Abrams wanted to incorporate. One example is a scene in which Finn declares his affection for Rey. Although the two characters do have chemistry, the confession seems bizarre, considering they have probably only known each other for about an hour.

Despite occasionally struggling under the tremendous weight of expectations and time constraints, The Force Awakens is ultimately a triumph. I got shivers during the opening crawl with John Williams’ fantastically bombastic score. Han Solo, boarding the Millennium Falcon, echoes a sentiment all Star Wars fans felt for the new installment—“We’re home.”

~lana heltzel, editor-in-chief

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‘The Danish Girl’ tells story of transgender pioneers

The Danish Girl, loosely inspired by the story of Lili Elbe, reveals the challenges and triumphs of Einer Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), a successful Danish landscape painter, and his transformation into Lili Elbe, the first transgender woman to have female gender reassignment surgery.

The idealistic life of Einer and his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander) gets disrupted when a silly game of dress-up and fun brings out Lili, Einer’s alter-ego. Lilli is someone who can dress like and be the person Einer truly is. As Einer begins to be left behind, Lili takes his place, leaving Gerda to struggle between wanting her husband back and supporting Lili.

Although Einer’s transformation is the main focus of the film, Gerda’s development is inspiring as she grows into Lili’s main source of support while managing a successful career and dealing with her divorce. Gerda goes from a struggling artist, trying to get her foot in the door, to the breadwinner. One of the tear-jerking scenes is when Gerda attends one of her galleries alone, hoping that Einer comes to support her; she cannot accept that Einer is gone and Lili has taken his place.

Another important scene displays the violence against transgender people in the mid-1920’s when transgender people were not common. Einer is walking in the park, his first public outing in women’s clothing, when two men approach her asking her gender. The scene, although uncomfortable to watch, portrays the prejudice that transgender people face everyday.

Overall, Redmayne and Vikander give amazing performances and do justice to that stories of Gerda, Einer and Lili. This movie kept me captivated until the credits rolled and left me depressed and in need of a good cry. However, this film is a must see. It provides insight into how it feels to be a transgender woman in an era when it was unheard of.

~erica gudino, viewpoint director

‘Making a Murderer’ probes criminal justice

Netflix’s newest exclusive series Making a Murderer has taken hold of my mind and dragged me into addictive layers of mystery, complexity, and alas, utter shock — in the final verdict, that is.

The documentary series delineates the never-ending legal troubles of one man, Steven Avery, as he faces a literal lifelong battle with Wisconsin’s criminal justice system and the inescapable hatred by the locals of Manitowoc County. The very first episode follows events that took place in 1985 involving the rape and torture of a young woman along the coast of Lake Michigan. Amidst misinformation and a biased county police department, 22-year-old Steven Avery finds himself framed for the crime. Besides the obvious distortion of facts, the victim was manipulated into thinking that Steven Avery was the man who harmed her. Although Steven had several alibis to confirm his whereabouts when the rape took place, he was sent to prison for 18 years as a result of the victim’s mistaken identification.

Spoilers aside, after 18 years, Avery’s problem has only just begun. DNA tests finally secured his release from prison in 2003. Suddenly, less than two years later, Avery’s world gets turned upside down once again when he faces a murder charge. This time, his legal troubles draw the attention of more than just Manitowoc County.

Overall, the series is solid with 10 one-hour-long episodes that kept me hooked on intriguing intros, lovely opening/closing theme music, and consistent cliffhangers. I watched the entire series over the course of just three days, and it’s a must-watch.

If you love a good murder mystery, crime investigation dramas, law-and-order plot lines, or all of the above, Making a Murderer is the perfect series for you. In addition to getting an average Netflix-browser like me addicted, the plot stays stuck in my brain. Making a Murderer has me constantly questioning our nation’s criminal justice system.

However, as convincing as the general argument the series makes may be, there is controversy over whether it was created out of desire for the truth or to express a foregone conclusion. This bias becomes evident after further researching the topic — results show that a good portion of critical information was not released through Making a Murderer.
Nevertheless, it’s still one of the best documentary series I’ve seen. Watch it if you’d like something to ponder or perhaps need some facts about how the criminal justice system works, but don’t forget to conduct your research afterwards. I highly recommend it.

~claire shifflett, staff reporter

‘The Life of Pablo:’ A tribute to arrogance

Kanye West has gone off the deep end; whether he’s $53 million in debt, explosively ranting about Taylor Swift, or banning “white publications” from reviewing his music, the rapper known as Yeezy is always up to something. If the music industry is the solar system, Kanye is the insane, dangerously narcissistic sun that us plebeian planets revolve around. Kanye’s newest album, The Life of Pablo—currently only available on the music streaming website Tidal—is just as bizarre as the man himself.

The Life of Pablo’s opening song, “Ultralight Beam,” establishes a recurring theme in the album; Kanye is the weakest link on his own songs. His verses are auto-tuned to death, droning, and extremely expressionless (the man sounds so bored). The song’s featured vocalist, Chance the Rapper, is by contrast quick and fervent, completely overshadowing Kanye. “Ultralight Beam,” along with other tracks on the album, is interspersed with dramatic gospel vocals, another odd disparity with Kanye’s listless rapping and near-incoherent lyrics.

In the midst of both mediocrity and audio Chinese water torture, The Life of Pablo supplies a few positives. In the song “Fade,” a sample of the Tempations’ “I Know (I’m Losing You)” collides with house music, creating, at the very least, an interesting instrumental. Meanwhile, “FML” is an eerie ode to self-sabotage and the battle of controlling oneself. Kanye mentions his use of the anti-depression and anti-anxiety drug Lexapro, while guest vocalist The Weeknd laments, “Wish I would go ahead and [mess] my life up/ Can’t let them get to me/ And even though I always [mess] my life up/ Only I can mention me.”

The Life of Pablo is ultimately the autobiography of a pseudo-intellectual megalomaniac. While occasionally bearing some glimpses of actual human emotion, it’s more concerned with taking petty potshots at fellow celebrities. The album’s disjointed nature and abstract concepts paired with poor execution make it sound more like the ramblings of an elderly park hobo than a supposed rap god.

The Life of Pablo is garishly braggadocios, and if Kanye isn’t going to fade into obscurity anytime soon, the least he could do is go to therapy to sort out his god-complex.

~lana heltzel, editor-in-chief

‘Honeymoon’ brings back blues

If you’re into soulful and dramatic descants, Indie/alt. pop singer Lana Del Rey’s newly released album Honeymoon is what you’ve been looking for. While her last albums, Born to Die and Ultraviolence, dabbled in a modern pop feel, this playlist is the original Lana, full of sexy, raw, emotional ballads and angelic vocals without any background sound effects and auto tune frill.

With her iconic winged eyeliner and retro Hollywood waves, she is the modern day equivalent of Marilyn Monroe or Amy Winehouse. Del Rey retreats within herself for this album, but that’s not a bad thing. The eerie percussions suggest nostalgic reminiscence for teenage listeners, and offers a vintage music option for sentimental youths wishing they could live in the 60s.

The album opens up with the title track “Honeymoon,” which sets a mature mood for the following 12 songs. Sleepy, slow lyrics make it sound like Del Rey is in a trance. The songs are all similar in tune and audio, which may be boring for some listeners, since the album lacks dance melodies or sappy, bubbly pop lyrics.

Instead, the songs have a slow, gloomy feel, as if Del Rey is crooning over a tragedy. Songs like “Freak,” “Religion,” and “Music To Watch Boys To” are the most melancholy of the bunch because of their haunting, groggy procession. The album carries a sensual mood because of Del Rey’s pure unedited voice serenading throughout and the racy lyrics about her past love encounters.

“High By the Beach,” is probably the only song on the album that could fit right into Born to Die, the most hip work of her musical career, because it has a catchy, synchronized beat and melody.

Despite her age, Del Rey seems to understand the sorrows and heartbreak of living and falling in love, but she offers more emotional depth than any other singer in the industry today. Aren’t honeymoons supposed to be one of the best times of a person’s life? Apparently, not Lana Del Rey’s honeymoon. From heartbreak and painful self-refuge and withdrawal, Del Ray has produced possibly her best collection of songs and sounds so far in her career as a genre-defying artist.

~julia sexton, co-features director

‘Fear the Walking Dead’? Fear the mediocrity, instead

What comes to mind when you hear the words family drama? An overly emotional episode of Days of our Lives, perhaps? Or maybe that episode of The Brady Bunch where Marcia got hit in the nose by a football? Entertainment industry executives seem eager to repaint this listless genre, and the brave new world of family drama is taking a strange turn—zombies?

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead has (unsurprisingly, given its predecessor’s popularity) set the new record for the biggest premiere in U.S. cable history. Set in pre-zombie apocalypse Los Angeles, the series revolves around a blended family’s survival during the days leading to the total collapse of society. This could be interesting, you might be thinking. Surely the writers would take advantage of a prequel series by outlining the cause of the zombie virus and how civilization began to degrade?

No, no time for that. We need to spend time focusing on Nick’s (Frank Dillane) crippling heroin addiction, or Alicia (Alycia Carey) and her boyfriend, or the childrens’ tiresome,  “You’re not my dad!” fight with their mother’s live-in boyfriend, Travis (Cliff Curtis).

Character development is one thing. But we’ve seen these characters before. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every single element in this show somewhere else beforehand. The blended family reeks of Modern Family, while Nick’s zombie-infested church-turned-drug-den- hidey-hole looks like a scene dredged up from 28 Days Later.
But for all the mediocrity the show has presented so far, the groundwork that’s been built shows promise. For one, Los Angeles is honestly a solid backdrop for the series; the city is expansive and almost naturally scary, and it’s already filled with gangs and paranoia. It may also be interesting to see how “normal people” deal with the zombie apocalypse; not everyone can be a crossbow-wielding lunatic prior to the societal collapse.

Amidst a plethora of misses, Fear the Walking Dead has a few hits. Give it a few more episodes and see if the saccharine family values vibe wears off. If not, we will be fearing the walking dead, but not for the reasons the creators intended; the lingering thought that the cast might start a family band is scarier than any undead.

~lana heltzel, online editor

Fifty shades of a bad movie

As soft porn, interspersed with a weak plot and mediocre acting, the movie Fifty Shades of Grey, is an improvement over the book – which is not saying much. Despite the promise of risque action scenes, the audience was left checking watches for most of the 125 minute film.

E.L. James’ bestselling mommy-porn novel was adapted for screen by Kelly Marcel, and produced by Sam Taylor-Johnson. The novel was originally posted as fan fiction to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and the parallels between the two books are obvious. The male lead is transformed from vampire Edward Cullen to kinky multi-millionaire CEO control freak Christian Grey, but the female leads are remarkably similar, despite the slight age difference. Both Anastasia and Bella are very ordinary girls with long brown hair and mousy personalities; they are uncoordinated, and intelligent women who somehow manage to attract men for no apparent reason.

The first scene of the movie is littered with blatant sexual innuendos. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) conducts an interview with powerful young CEO Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) in place of her roommate who has come down with the flu. After literally falling into his office, Ana, outfitted in what could be her grandmother’s floral blouse, is intimidated by Christian’s beautiful staff and powerful demeanor. Christian lends her a pencil; then, in a not so subtle gesture, she begins sucking the eraser. After leaving his building, Ana pauses in the pouring rain, another unsubtle clue as to her depth of infatuation.

As the movie progresses, Christian proves himself to be quite the stalker. He shows up at Ana’s workplace, rescues her from the drunken advances of one of her many admirers, and even follows her on a visit with her mother in Georgia. Ana battles her lust for Christian with actual common sense – that he a sadistic stalker. He convinces her to partake in his lifestyle choices, which eventually backfires. The movie ends on a huge cliffhanger – clearly designed to bring viewers back for the next movie development, Fifty Shades Darker, scheduled for release in 2016.

This movie raised several questions. First, how could a college student living in Washington not have a single appropriate interview outfit? Was she unable to borrow clothes from her prettier and better dressed friend? Second, why is a powerful man like Christian attracted to boring, plain Ana? One of the most infuriating qualities of Ana is her inability to say anything original. Over and over she is presented with a scenario and states the blatantly obvious.

Johnson plays the part of Ana fabulously and adds to the character portrayed in the book; she is cute and sexier with a stronger personality. Dornan, on the other hand, fails to do Christian Grey credit. His perfectly toned body and excellent hair were unable to compensate for the dull and unsatisfying delivery. His one-dimensional acting failed to show any of the “fifty shades” of the troubled, controlling dominant.

Moreover, The movie radically toned down the graphic BDSM sex scenes from the book, in an attempt to appease the suburban mom demographic, but failed to capture the main pull factor of the book – allowing the reader to escape into the oblique female lead and experience secondhand “mindblowing” sex with a billionare. This left the movie as sort of an unconvincing blend of romance and kinky sex behind the doors of the “red room of pain”.

On the plus side, the cinematography showed off the beautiful scenery of Washington, and after the almost comically bad writing of the novel, the script far exceeded readers expectations.

The main criticism to Fifty Shades of Grey came from the middle-aged demographic who were concerned that the movie was promoting the wrong relationship values to younger generations. Luckily their concerns are unfounded, no one watching this movie could possibly related this twisted romance to a real-life scenario.

~madeleine lohr, staff reporter