Tag Archives: review

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


‘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

‘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

Say ‘Hello’ to an instant hit

Taylor Swift has officially been dethroned as the queen of pop now that Adele has returned with her much anticipated third album, 25. After an absence from the music industry of five years, the 27-year-old British singer is back and better than ever, musically, mentally, and emotionally.

With her successful previous albums, 2011’s 21 and 2008’s 19, Adele said in an interview that she didn’t think she could top their popularity. But the world was hungry for her music, and her suspenseful, bone-chilling comeback single, “Hello,” immediately sky rocketed to the top of the iTunes charts and stayed there for weeks.

Adele comes back confident, sexy, and belting notes in almost every song. Songs like “When We Were Young,” “Million Years Ago,” and “Remedy” are soft, pretty, and sorrowful piano ballads, with romantic lyrics and calming acoustics. But then the album takes a dip into catchy pop music with “River Lea,” “Water Under the Bridge,” “Send my Love,” and “I Miss You,” all featuring incredibly catchy beats, with background sound effects and vocals. Adele sounds like she is almost having fun.

Although many of the songs are her usual slow, beautiful tunes, the pop ones are nestled in between, almost as if they are a surprise. Definitely the most compelling song on the album is the catchy “River Lea,” personally my favorite; but it also comes with a heavy backstory. The Lea River is a tributary of the Thames River near Adele’s hometown. Adele is singing an ode to this river, and she has mixed feelings about it because she wants to forget where she grew up, but the past will always be a part of her. In the first verse, Adele sings: “I grew up by the River Lea / There was something in the water / Now that something’s in me / Oh, I can’t go back, but the reeds are growing out of my fingertips / I can’t go back to the river.” And in the chorus, she sings out: “I blame it on the River Lea.”

Adele’s voice has the ability to draw people in to the story she tells through her lyrics, and on 25 she shows she has overcome personal struggles. The boost in her confidence and self-esteem suggests it just took her a while to finally find her inner superstar. “I was too strong/ You were trembling/You couldn’t handle the hot heat rising/ Baby, I’m so rising,” she sings in “Send My Love.” This album, while new and confident and fiery, has a nostalgic touch to it, as if Adele secretly wishes she could relive her younger years.

Adele is a pop colossus who doesn’t conform to the basic rules of fame. She prefers not to be seen in public, and she is humble in every single interview, despite holding a BT Digital Music Award, four Brit Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, 10 Grammy Awards, 13 Billboard Music Awards, and four American Music Awards. If that doesn’t define a music icon, then I don’t know what does.

~julia sexton, co-features director

‘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

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