Tag Archives: movies

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

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

‘American Sniper’ takes viewers to the front line of war

American Sniper follows Navy Seal Christopher Scott Kyle, the most decorated sniper in United States military history with 160 confirmed kills and another 95 claimed, through his military career of four tours in Iraq. The film, which follows the tradition of Saving Private Ryan, succeeded in being extremely graphic and honest. Slow scenes that are completely free of violence break the tension, but remain riveting. The movie perfects the art of emotionally affecting viewers. The opening scene sets the tone. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) stares down the barrel of .300 Win Mag sniper rifle at a young Iraqi boy who appears to be carrying a RKG-3 anti-tank grenade towards U.S. troops. Kyle must to decide to shoot the potential threat or let what could be an innocent child get dangerously close to the marines below him.

The scene cuts and shows a younger Chris Kyle at the dinner table with his southern father who explains that there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheep-dogs. The sheep do not know how to protect themselves, the wolves use their strength to prey upon the weak, and lastly the sheep-dogs, “are those who have been blessed with the gift of aggression and the overpowering need to protect their flock.” This short flashback shows Kyle’s self image as a sheep-dog who lives to confront the wolf.

Kyle spends his four tours protecting the troops despite a $20,000 bounty on his, and all other sniper’s, heads.
Bradley Cooper, formerly known for his comedic roles in The Hangover series and American Hustle, broke out of his comfort zone with a stellar performance. He essentially “brought Kyle back to life,” according to writer-producer Jason Hall. Cooper gained 40 pounds of muscle and watched hours of Kyle’s interview film to perfect his role.

Cooper handles the emotional jump between scenes in Ramadi, looking down a sniper rifle, and scenes where he holds his newborn child at home. He captures the blank stare of a traumatized soldier. Kyle’s wife Taya (Sienna Miller) tells him that she can see him and feel him, but he’s not really there. Miller shows the physical, emotional, and psychological stresses of standing by her husband’s side while he endures the dangers of multiple tours in Iraq. While the movie belonged to Cooper,

Miller accents him perfectly. The pair pack a punch.

Critics have accused Eastwood of glossing over the United States’ involvement in Iraq. But the movie is about one man’s controversial military life and his struggles at home, not about Eastwood’s politics. The already two-and-a-half hour long film focuses on a warrior’s life, struggles that United States military personnel face on a daily basis.

Was he a hero? Maybe. Was he a killer? Yes. Did he deserve the attention his memoir and film has received? Absolutely. The movie finishes without music and people file out of dark movie theaters all over the country in complete silence.

~gavin cranford, co-editor in chief

Unravel the thrilling mysteries of ‘The Maze Runner’

The mysterious and mind-boggling story of The Maze Runner, James Dashner’s dystopian novel, came to life on screen in a way that offers thrills and chills and intellectual satisfaction. The story throws a bunch of innocent boys with no memories of their pasts into a mysterious location dominated by a maze and monsters, and filled with terrors yet to be discovered.

Forced to start from scratch, the boys form a government to keep themselves safe from the Maze and each other, creating a functional society to help them find the way out. Sounds a little like Lord of the Flies, doesn’t it?

When the main character, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), wakes up in a metal box that transports him to the Maze, he meets at least 30 other boys who also have had their memories wiped. The oligarchical government imposes strong standing rules; their number one rule is: no one is ever allowed to enter the Maze at night. Ever. At this point, the viewer knows just as much as Thomas knows about the Maze and its purpose: nothing.

Thomas becomes a runner, one who maps the Maze by day to find a way out before the walls close at night. The boys haven’t had much success in the past two years, and the group suffers from frequent attacks of the Grievers, large CGI monsters that inhabit the Maze. Hope that they will ever get out is diminishing.

When the girl Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) appears, it’s a signal that the boys’ society is about to unravel.
What stood out on screen was the unbelievable CGI and the perfect casting. When the Maze appears, it’s surreal. The CGI depicts the monstrosity of the Maze as described in the book to a tee. The actors are almost as Dashner created them on paper. O’Brien really made Thomas come to life on screen, and it was nice to see him act as something other than a high school heart throb in MTV’s supernatural thriller, Teen Wolf.

The casting was outstanding and the chemistry between the actors creates sympathy in the viewers. In fact, since the boys don’t know much about their situation, viewers also feel confused and disorientated; you feel as if you are stuck in the Maze. This is especially true at the beginning of the movie when events and developments are fast and furious.
The movie never actually answers the questions you may have had at the end of movie which allows for a potentially satisfying sequel. People who enjoyed the exciting ride of the Hunger Games will enjoy the mysterious journey of The Maze Runner. The movies are similar in their dystopian set-up and involve the sacrifice of children. In the Maze Runner the reasons for the sacrifices are mysterious, but the suspense is comparable to the Hunger Games. Just try to keep up and know that “if you ain’t scared… you ain’t human”.

Having read the book, I appreciated that the movie respected the literary version. James Dashner created such an unusual dystopian world, and director Wes Ball captured it perfectly.

~Emma Spector, photography director

‘Riddick’: Substance sacrificed for showy style

After nine years, Vin Diesel returns as the title character in Riddick, the third installment in writer and director David Twohy’s franchise. If you like testosterone-driven, male-targeted sci-fi action, Riddick holds up pretty well.

Pitch Black, the fist installment, was a decent stab at post-Alien sci-fi-horror, but The Chronicles of Riddick was a bit of a misfire, so Riddick could have gone either way. Luckily, Twohy returned Riddick to its roots.

The movie opens with Diesel’s signature anti-hero struggling to survive after being left for dead on a desert world devoid of civilization. The best portion of the movie is the first 30 minutes. It’s just Riddick against the elements, mapping out his surroundings and squaring off with CGI creatures, such as giant scorpion monsters and hyena-dog hybrids, one of which even becomes a pet.

When Riddick comes upon an outpost, he signals for help from passing spaceships, but what he finds instead is two parties of bounty hunters. The first party is led by Santana (Blow’s Jordi Molla), a fiendish figure. The second is led by Johns (Killer Elite’s Matt Nable), who brings with him Dahl (Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica). As the only important female cast member, Dahl holds her own against the rest of the cast’s hard-nosed brutes. Even though Battlestar ended four years ago, Sackhoff looks as though she just stepped off the set, and she delivers a dynamically interesting element.

The game of cat-and-mouse between Riddick and his would-be captors is exceedingly graphic in gore until the three factions ultimately unite to ward off the greater danger: the planet’s inhabitants. This arc of the story is fun to watch, but predictable and a bit of a bore. Each of these different subplots would make for a good Riddick movie, and Twohy should have focused in on one of them (preferably the first third of the film). Instead, the conglomeration of the three tends to drag on.

But hey, pacing isn’t what this movie’s trying to sell. Riddick dispatches his enemies in a manner that proudly earns the film its R rating. Fans of Quentin Tarantino will take delight in the graphic language and boundless gore, while Tarantino’s dark sense of humor is replaced with equally-graphic and gratuitous nudity.

If you’re looking for character development, you won’t find it here. Diesel doesn’t “act” in Riddick, but he does seem to be having fun with the role. What makes Riddick, watchable, being such a blandly-written character, is his ability to endure. He’s been betrayed, left for dead and hunted over the course of three movies, and he’s still trekking because it’s in his nature.

Yes, the movie has its flaws, but if you’re looking for a Riddick movie, this one is the best by far. It’s a fun ride, but Oscar season can’t come soon enough.

~Ryan Perry, entertainment director

‘The Spectacular Now’: Indie drama wins hearts

Despite the classic bad-boy-falls-for-good-girl plot, The Spectacular Now is not a cliché. Based on a novel by Tim Tharp, the movie presents a well-crafted, raw, and honest story that follows Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) and Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), seemingly opposite high school seniors, who find themselves and fall in love.

Sutter is a witty, popular guy who takes life in the now, always with a flask in his pocket. After breaking up with his long-time girlfriend, Sutter wakes up on Aimee’s lawn. Aimee is reserved and shy, and Sutter feels he has so much life to offer her.

Sutter struggles with trying to figure out who he is while under the influence of alcohol. Don’t be fooled by advertisements that portray The Spectacular Now as a sweet, classic love story. The love story plot is there, but the film is really about two people who find things in each other that give them the courage to face their futures. The Spectacular Now ‘s coming-of-age theme is complicated by the unexpected addition of teenage alcoholism.

At times, the film lacks focus and structure, but actors Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller deliver captivating performances. The actors have chemistry that makes up for some of the awkwardness in the flow of the movie. The script for The Spectacular Now portrays life as it is. Each scene is crafted with raw emotion; they build throughout the film so viewers are not aware of the whole picture until it’s over. Beyond being confused about the future and about love, Sutter needs to deal with being an alcoholic. The Spectacular Now is a great film because it’s original and packed with talent. Unlike most cliché films about first loves, The Spectacular Now portrays love as it actually is: imperfect and complicated. Sutter and Aimee have their own flaws, and one is never entirely sure if they were even good for each other. So, while the ending isn’t picture perfect, it’s hopeful and refreshingly real.