La La Land continues to waltz into the hearts of viewers

After winning a record breaking seven Golden Globes, La La Land is still sweeping people off their feet. 

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, the modern musical is set in today’s Hollywood, but restores the beauty and romance of old fashioned Hollywood musicals. With Chazelle’s extraordinary passion for film, he conveys an emotional story of dreams, love and life, accentuated by the inspiring performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as they pull you in and leave you wanting more.

Stone plays Mia Dolan, a struggling actress who works as a barista on the Warner Brothers lot. She faces the cruelty of auditions where the casting directors yawn, play on their phones and even interrupt her. Despite her unsatisfying day job, she waits patiently to be discovered and to become a classic star. 

Her counterpart Gosling plays Sebastian Wilder, a dedicated jazz musician who refuses to let classic jazz die. He dreams of opening his own jazz club; until then, though, he works as a restaurant musician, playing what he is told to perform. These two old-fashioned characters meet on a jammed freeway where they get off to a rocky start—both victims of modern road rage. 

What follows is an opening number, complete with dancing on top of cars in the middle of a traffic-full Los Angeles freeway, which sets the tone of the whole film. This modern scene is a great example of the traditional musical corniness we all secretly love. It is this balance of youthfulness and joy—as shown throughout the film—that makes La La Land so unique for its genre.

When Mia and Sebastian meet for the second time at a party, the audience is treated to the charming number “A Lovely Night,” where both characters tease the other about never falling for each other. This scene starts simply, as the two sing a casual conversation, but eventually ends in a tap routine.     

This fresh yet timeless choreography—which comes to us via the creative mind of seasoned choreographer Mandy Moore—continues to unravel the flirtatious story of these two artists. Moore’s use of props and her connection to the percussiveness of the music keeps viewers on the edge of their seat.

As expected, Mia and Sebastian end up falling for each other due to their shared passion for the past and to their encouragement of each other’s dreams. Their relationship is filled with lovable innocence as they relive old films and old jazz. 

But as the two become more comfortable with each other, they each begin to become part of the modern world that surrounds them; slowly, they lose the clarity in their own dreams. Though they adamantly help each other through the good and the bad, the couple faces the reality of life when they must decide what they want more: love or success. 

In Stone’s final number “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” she gives her most impressive performance yet. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s touching lyrics recognize and commend those who dream and those who love whole-heartedly despite facing hardship or loss. The song reminds Mia—and the artists in the audience—to value love and to remain passionate, even in the face of trouble.  

As the film draws to a close, Mia and Sebastian’s final scene gives us a chance to imagine what our hearts may have wanted to see, despite what our minds already know. Chazelle’s brilliance doesn’t disappoint the audience from start to end. The film is a moving masterpiece with elements of humor, heartbreak and the creativity of song and dance.

Latest Disney film charms with breathtaking animation, originality

Disney has been wildly successful with their recent string of brilliantly innovative animated movies. Films such as Frozen and Zootopia have broken box office records, gained worldwide acclaim and produced heaps of merchandise. Their latest venture, Moana, is—or should be—no different than its successors. Set in ancient Polynesia, the film follows Moana Waialiki—voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho—as she attempts to find the lost demi-god Maui, who stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti 1,000 years ago. Her goal is to bring Maui—voiced by Dwayne Johnson—and the heart back home to the island of Motunui in order to restore its vegetation, despite her father’s fear of what lays beyond the reef.

Moana may be creating a great deal of buzz, but not for its storyline. The movie has a generally linear and typical plot: the heroine sets out on an expedition to save her family and her home, along with a comedic sidekick—in this case Heihei, the corky chicken—to test her worth, despite a parent’s possible disapproval. This standard storyline prohibits the film from getting off the ground until Moana sets out on her journey.

But this slow start does not lessen the cinematic experience. Although we may predict the ending of Moana because of its common formula, what really matters about this film experience is the journey.

In typical Disney fashion, the animation is incredible. Whether set on Moana’s home island of Motunui or in the middle of the ocean with Moana and Maui encountering Te Fiti as the fiery and brimstone goddess, the tropical Polynesian setting is an amazing and almost breathtaking choice compared to other Disney settings seen in films like Frozen or Tangled.

Since most of Moana and Maui’s journey takes place in the middle of the ocean, the film explores its various aspects. On its surface, a serene atmosphere and HeiHei’s comic relief comfort the audience. But underneath the ocean, we are exposed to the unique Realm of the Monsters, which serves as a parallel, underwater universe.

Additionally, what makes Moana special is its mixed structure of diverse components, as Moana is an individualistic heroine. Not only are the film’s characters Polynesian—a diverse representation of people, compared to recent Disney films—but also Moana has a distinct body shape. She is not your typical Disney princess with “perfect” features; instead, she’s unique and curvy, which is something refreshing to see in a film from a franchise that usually celebrates Barbie-like figures in its heroines.

With that being said, Moana is also one of the most admirable and interesting Disney princesses yet. She is incredibly beautiful, but strong, always willing to stand her ground—qualities other Disney princesses seem to share, but not to the same extent or authenticity as Moana.

Along with this diverse representation comes an incredible soundtrack written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and “Hamilton”’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda—riding high on his recent musical success—provides a fresh sound that is both classically Disney, yet also modern, making this soundtrack stand out from other franchise films.

The songs are enthusiastic and moving, providing the perfect emotional tone for the film. Some are sung in English, while others are in Tokelauan, which is a native Polynesian language.

All that’s really left is for Moana to get the credit it deserves from Disney fans and movie lovers alike. Moana is an exhilarating masterpiece amongst a throng of similar Disney princess stories, and should be appreciated for its authenticity and diversity.

Jungle Book reboot captivates audiences with CGI technology

Lately, the Walt Disney Company has been making everyone’s childhood dreams come true with a number of live-action reboots of their most popular movies. We’ve already seen Maleficent—an alternative perspective of Sleeping BeautyCinderella—a new fantastical twist on the classic tale—and Pan—the story of how Peter Pan never grew up. Everyone is also abuzz about the new Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid remakes, which have A-list celebrities such as Emma Watson set to star in them. The latest Disney remake to hit theaters is The Jungle Book, written by Justin Marks and directed by Jon Favreau. The Jungle Book was originally a collection of tales written by English author Rudyard Kipling and later turned into an animated film in 1994.

The film is a combination of computer-generated imagery animation and live acting. The only human actor in the film is Mowgli—played by 12-year-old Neel Sethi. Both the animals and the jungle environment are CGI, but in order to create a heightened sense of reality, animal behaviors were acted out by their voice actors and then translated into animation. What results is animation so realistic that one cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is computer-generated.

That being said, the film is not without star-power. A famous cast of actors—both new and old—voice the key jungle animals that most fans will remember from the 1994 film. Among the fairly new actors are Lupita Nyong’o—who was celebrated for her roles in 12 Years a Slave and Star Wars: The Force Awakens—as well as Idris Elba—star of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and the BBC hit “Luther.” Nyong’o plays Raksha, the fiercely loyal mother wolf who raised Mowgli from a baby to a young boy, while Elba plays the chief villain of the story—Shere Khan, the ruthless tiger who harbors resentment against all humans and their “red flower.”

The film also includes seasoned actors, most notably Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken and Scarlett Johansson. A lot of the buzz has surrounded Murray, whose character Baloo is a seemingly perfect fit for the actor. Baloo is a lovable oaf of a bear who cracks the film’s only jokes, in many ways mirroring Murray’s down to earth personality.

Kingsley’s role as the ever-so-wise and accepting Bagheera was a perfect fit as well. Kingsley is a revered actor sensitive to social issues; just as Bagheera is respected in the jungle for his reason and guidance, but is also able to see when change is needed.

Johansson and Walken voice two more of the films villains, Kaa and King Louie, respectively. Disney fans will remember these two from the 1994 film because of Kaa’s sly tricks and Louie’s large-and-in-charge personality. Although they may be well remembered, these two characters had insignificant roles in the newer version.

We meet them both because they try to take advantage of the young Mowgli when he is alone in the jungle, but these characters left the film just as quickly as they came in. This is interesting, especially because both Kaa and Louie introduce the audience to very important plot points: Mowgli’s past and “man’s red flower”—what the animals call fire.

Perhaps this de-emphasis on Kaa and King Louie is to make room for a larger concentration on characters that were ignored in Disney’s previous adaption of Kipling’s stories, such as Raksha and Akela—leaders of the wolf pack that took Mowgli in as their own “man-cub.”

Many viewers love this departure from Disney’s first attempt at The Jungle Book because of its amazing computer animation and the dedication of the voice actors. But it seems as though the chief reason that the film is doing so well is because it’s for young and old audiences alike. Its message of embracing differences and finding a place to belong are timeless.

KINO film event explores college racism, power of student activism

Director Justin Simien’s Dear White People explores contemporary college racism and the effect that discrimination can have not only on individual morale, but also on the collective spirit of a university. KINO presented the film in the Hunt Room of the MacVittie College Union on Friday April 8. Dear White People tells the story of students dealing with racism across their campus at Winchester University. Biracial college student Sam White—played by Tessa Thompson—hosts a radio broadcast called “Dear White People” that criticizes white college students and faculty for their racist assumptions and comments.

Tensions already run high at the prestigious Winchester University, where black students like Sam are divided in a segregated manner. The dining halls and dormitories are all separated by race. Furthermore, the college only has one hall for the black students—the Armstrong and Parker house. This segregation generates an acute division among students of different cultures throughout the campus.

Sam is a strong-willed and fearless student who challenges this division with her controversial radio show, as well as through her thought-provoking films. Black, gay college writer Lionel Higgins—played by Tyler James Williams from “Everybody Hates Chris”—also explores this division on campus when he is assigned by his editor to write a story on Sam and her actions of resistance.

Fellow black student Troy Fairbanks—played by Brandon Bell—develops his own strategy in dealing with the racism he faces as he attempts to rise in power and become head of the Armstrong and Parker house. But racism isn’t the only struggle Troy is dealing with; he also faces unyielding pressure from his father, Dean Fairbanks—played by Dennis Haysbert—as he pushes his son to pursue this leadership role.

Sam runs against Troy and ends up winning the election for head of the house, causing hostility across the campus to escalate. Sam gets little respect from anyone on campus—including faculty and staff members—and the backlash from her peers for winning this role is immense.

The strain on campus finally erupts when Kurt Fletcher—son of the school’s president, played by Kyle Gallner—and his club throws a blackface-themed party in response to Sam’s radio show. After finding out about the highly controversial theme, a group of black students—Sam, Lionel and friends—show up to the party to disband it, spurring outrage and violence amongst the students.

Dear White People was created in response to a large amount of controversially-themed parties that have occurred on college campuses across the United States in recent years. For example, Arizona State’s Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity held a “Martin Luther King Black Party” in 2014 and Penn State’s Chi Omega sorority held a “Mexican Party” in 2012. Both parties involved students dressing and stereotyping each respective race and involved the students sharing pictures across social media, catching the attention of the media nationwide.

Simien’s film weaves together contemporary racial issues among students and staff, bringing attention to the larger problem of systemic racism that plagues our society. The wit and brilliance that characters like Sam convey presents a refreshing and poignant angle on racism in the country. With social media platforms keeping record of almost everything college students are doing across the nation, it goes to show that while racism prevails among universities today, students like Sam can inspire change.

Allegiant falls flat, leaves viewers uncertain

It’s a shame that many popular young adult film series’ finales are adapted into two separate films these days—the result is usually an unevenly distributed plot, which only makes the finale of an epic storyline fall flat. Unfortunately for Divergent fans, the third film of the series—Allegiant—falls into that very trap. At one point, protagonist Tris—played by Shailene Woodley—boasts to the council of The Bureau of Genetic Warfare that they keep making the “same mistakes.” It’s a startling coincidence, actually, since director Robert Schwentke and his fellow filmmakers seem to be having the same exact problem.

Allegiant’s preceding film Insurgent ended with the downfall of Kate Winslet’s dictatorial character, Jeanine, and the citizens of a futuristic Chicago ready to cross the wall that divides them from the rest of the post-apocalyptic world. In Allegiant, however, it seems like the characters forgot all of what has happened, as they allow a new tyrannical leader to rise: Evelyn. Portrayed by Naomi Watts, Evelyn forbids anyone to go to the other side.

Naturally, this doesn’t stop Tris and her strong-willed boyfriend Four—played by Theo James—from going over the walls with their friends Christina—played by Zoë Kravitz—and Tori—played by Maggie Q. Tris’ brother Caleb—played by Ansel Elgort—and their “frenemy” Peter—played by Miles Teller—accompany the four to the other side.

What ensues after this rebellion is an exploration of a new landscape and civilization that seems very anticlimactic based on the actors’ reactions and dialogue. Their response to encountering so many new things is underwhelming, making the film more unbelievable than it already is. For instance, their initial reactions to both a Mars-esque world and a high tech bunker are as simple and boring as, “Wow.”

That’s not to belittle some of the solid acting from the leading stars, however. Woodley and James shared a pleasant chemistry and had independent moments in which their characters showed determination and power. Unfortunately, the same doesn’t go for the rest of the character dynamics.

Teller’s character cracks out-of-place jokes as comic relief—jokes that are unoriginal and almost annoying. Jeff Daniels—who plays David—brings no spark to a very unoriginal character. As time goes on, the interest in all of the characters diminishes and all we’re left with are explanations of the plot and non-thrilling action.

The twists in the film were only anticipated by the audience and Four because Tris chooses to believe that this new society—the Bureau of Genetic Warfare—doesn’t have any flaws, regardless of the fact that they’re the ones that created the chaotic and divided city in the first place in order to create a pure genetic race.

The problem with Allegiant stems from the struggle to split Veronica Roth’s novel into two adequate and entertaining parts. This has been a trend among popular franchises ever since the last of the Harry Potter films were made. But because Allegiant was clumped into this group, the audience is left with as many questions coming out as they had going into the movie.

The characters’ dialogue was mainly based on exposition and the conflicts were quite similar to the other films, such as the issue between Johanna’s—played by Octavia Spencer—allegiant group and Evelyn’s faction-less group. Overall, nothing felt accomplished. Sure, we may know more about this world, but it feels as if one of the two hours could have taken care of this story.

Maybe the final film will be better and the questions as to what will happen to Tris, Chicago and the rest of the world will become clearer. But for now, Allegiant stands as a disappointing lull amongst the Divergent films.

Zootopia encapsulates Disney wit, charm

Zootopia—Disney’s newest solo animated film—continues the franchise’s legacy of spectacular animations through the use of creativity and relatable situations. Zootopia seems to do something those other films haven’t, though: create its own unique world for its inhabitants to live in. In Zootopia, directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush create a world similar to Disney Pixar’s Cars and Monster’s Inc.: one purely based on the creator’s imagination. The city of Zootopia is divided into multiple districts for the myriad of different animals in the world, including the Sahara Square, Tundratown, Little Rodentia and the Rainforest District. Each district has its own little quirks that fit to the inhabited animals’ lifestyles.

The film follows rabbit Judy Hopps—voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin—who dreams of becoming a cop in the city of Zootopia. Zootopia is a place where animals of all kind—prey and predator alike—coexist and have the opportunity to be whoever they want to be, regardless of their own natural instincts that pit them against each other.

Even though Hopps passes through the ranks and becomes a cop at the choice of Mayor Lionheart—voiced by J.K. Simmons—she struggles to gain respect from her superior Chief Bogo—voiced by Idris Elba—and the rest of her community because of her identity as a rabbit.

While attempting to prove herself as more than just a bunny and a “meter maid,” Judy meets the charming con-artist fox Nick Wilde—voiced by Jason Bateman—and eventually blackmails him into helping her with her case. Together, the duo attempts to solve the case of a missing otter, who is among 13 missing ex-predators from Zootopia.

The film started with a fairly corny opening, as the young animals boasted about individuality and being able to surpass the fictional universe’s limits and expectations. It seemed as if the film was going to be strictly for children, but as Disney usually proves, the film’s intended audience extended beyond adolescents.

The film steps up from its initial impression by dropping in bits of humor that will resonate for people of all ages, making the film enjoyable for everyone. Whether it’s the animal version of Shakira—Gazelle—or the extremely slow-working sloths at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the film’s clever and subtle humor sparks plenty of laughs.

Without giving away any spoilers, the ending was a bit too trite. It was a conventional, “surprise” ending with the villain who you’d least expect, but with an obvious motive that was perhaps foreshadowed too obviously. For a children’s movie, however, the plot was a bit more substantial than usual.

Regardless of any trite moments, the film was filled with entertainment from start to finish. The actors were perfectly casted, as the always sweet Goodwin—known for her role as the “goodie” Snow White on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”—proved to be the perfect opposite for the usually snappy Bateman. I personally enjoyed the dynamic between the duo.

Although it doesn’t contain catchy musical numbers like Frozen and it doesn’t tug at your heartstrings like Big Hero 6, Zootopia is a must see for all Disney lovers.

The Oscars 2016 Review

Much hype and controversy surrounded this year’s Oscars. The 88th Academy Awards ceremony took place on Sunday Feb. 28. Leonardo DiCaprio’s first win, the debate regarding racial discrimination within the nomination process, Lady Gaga’s tribute to sexual assault victims and many other aspects of the event generated an emotional roller coaster for attendees and viewers alike. Chris Rock seemed to be the perfect choice for the host, guiding the audience through a witty opening monologue addressing the discrimination accusations. He referred to the ceremony as “the White People’s Choice Awards” and said, “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage.” He went on to add that, “Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”

Rock’s comedy strategically dealt with the heavy issue that was the elephant in the room. He acknowledged the controversy’s credibility while also lightening the mood in preparation for the awards. Race issues were tackled throughout the show. In a video clip bit, actors including Whoopi Goldberg and Kristin Wiig comically recognized racist undertones in today’s pop culture.

Winning the first and last award of the night for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture was the drama Spotlight. This was no surprise considering its quality director and its saturation of A-list names as well as its focus on the importance of investigative journalism working to address the pervasive but largely ignored epidemic of sexual abuse within Catholic clergy. From there, the awards continued as they annually do, but with an emphasis on promptness regarding winners’ acceptance speeches. Another memorable highlight from the night was Mad Max: Fury Road winning six Oscars.

Perhaps the most anticipated part of the ceremony was the Best Actor Oscar—finally awarded to DiCaprio. His nomination for his role in The Revenant was his sixth nomination, but his first win. In his acceptance speech, he stated his appreciation, but also took the opportunity to use the spotlight to address environmental issues.

“Climate change is real; it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our species,” he said. “Let us not take this planet for granted—I do not take this night for granted.”

DiCaprio’s win marks the end of a meme trend poking fun at the ridiculousness of his lack of Oscar wins, but opens the floodgates to an entirely new meme onslaught such as a picture of him behind the text, “The Revenant: The epic tale of what one man will go through just to win an Oscar.” Joking aside, much of the public would agree that DiCaprio’s award was well deserved and long overdue.

Another star of the night was 9-year-old Canadian actor Jacob Tremblay, who was commended by critics for his role in Room. His Room co-star Brie Larson won the Best Actress award. Larson high-fived and hugged Tremblay in an adorable show of friendly affection and acknowledgment of each other’s teamwork.

Additionally, Lady Gaga’s performance of her powerful song “Til It Happens to You” was an incredible part of the night, paying tribute to victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault. She and Diane Warren specifically wrote the Best Original Song nominee for the documentary The Hunting Ground, which explores sexual assault on college campuses. Gaga’s performance was emotional and captivating, especially in the wake of Kesha’s recent legal battle with her producer Dr. Luke following rape allegations against him.

To say that the 88th Academy Awards was bursting with social issues and historic moments would be an understatement. The memorable ceremony undoubtedly brought audience members and viewers to tears of empathy, cultural frustration, joy and everything in between.

Deadpool slams box office, emphasizes comedy over drama

Sorry Avengers members, looks like you’ve got some competition. Debuting as the eighth installment in the X-Men film series, the R-rated Deadpool has all but obliterated its competition in the box office, currently grossing $497.6 million since its release on Feb. 12—a total which The Guardian notes is greater than the totals from Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier combined. While I am a huge Marvel fan and love all of the aforementioned movies, it’s clear after watching Deadpool as to why the film has done so well. The prototype for a superhero-centric film is drama with bits of comedic relief sprinkled throughout. Deadpool, however, flips the script on the generic model, using incessantly outrageous and clever humor throughout the movie to create a refreshingly new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

For instance, watching protagonist Wade Wilson—Deadpool—break the fourth wall in intense action scenes to quip with the audience about whether or not he left his stove on or why “that guy in the suit just turned that other guy into a fucking kebab” brings a much-needed sardonic playfulness into a film genre that is often executed with excessive seriousness.

Arguably, the largest factor in Deadpool’s success is the superb acting of Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Reynolds plays the sassy, obscene pansexual mercenary with endearing charm and authenticity, dropping F-bombs and sexual innuendos left and right while fighting off bad guys. Reynolds’ ability to portray the multi-faceted nature of Deadpool’s personality keeps the film from becoming too kitsch. He is a sweet and devoted boyfriend one minute, an immature teen giggling about teabagging a villain the next. He’s fun, he’s flirtatious and he uniquely brings both elements into his fighting style.

Not only did Reynolds shine in his role, but so did the supporting cast members. Deadpool’s bespectacled bartending best friend Weasel—played by T.J. Miller—is sweet and funny, deadpanning brilliant one-liners like, “You are haunting, you look like an avocado had sex with an older avocado.”

X-man Colossus—voiced by Stefan Kapičić—is a giant teddy bear of solid steel, acting as a patient advisor to badass female trainee Negasonic Teenage Warhead—played by Brianna Hildebrand. When teaming up with Deadpool, the chemistry between the three was great and I hope to see them work together again. I also really liked Morena Baccarin as Deadpool’s girlfriend Vanessa, but since Reynolds has hinted that his character may have a boyfriend in the sequel, it’ll be interesting to see if she sticks around for long.

The only time I thought the characterization fell flat was when it came to the antagonists. In the opening credits, we learn that the movie features “a British villain.” And that’s pretty much all the substance we get from said villain and mutant: Ajax. His motivation to experiment on humans to make and sell mutant “slaves” to wealthy clients wasn’t developed well at all—neither was any indication of how these individuals lose their agency. Ajax’s henchwoman Angel Dust is no better in terms of personality—or lack thereof. I was surprised and disappointed that both villains were so underdeveloped.

While I do agree with many critics that the plotline is pretty standard, the utterly unique characters presented in the film, their hilariously shocking actions and their comments kept the audience captivated and itching for more. Deadpool unapologetically tore down antiquated constructs of what makes a superhero film great—and judging by these box office numbers, people are very happy with the result.u

Star Wars returns with same thrill, fresh dynamic

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the original Star Wars trilogy entranced the world with its epic space graphics and valiant heroes—something the prequel trilogies didn’t seem to offer with their constant talk of politics and weak writing. The newest installment of the Star Wars films—Star Wars: The Force Awakens—revitalized not only the pure excitement of the original series, but also nostalgia and appreciation for the franchise. Taking over for director George Lucas, J.J. Abrams reignited the spark that the first films had with a trio of highly likable heroes and the reappearance of fan favorites such as Han Solo—played by Harrison Ford—Leia Organa—played by Carrie Fisher—and Luke Skywalker—played by Mark Hamill.

The film’s plot is similar to the first film, Star Wars: A New Hope, following rogue stormtrooper Finn—played by John Boyega—and scavenger Rey—played by Daisy Ridley—as the two unlikely heroes team up with Solo and Chewbacca to fight with the Resistance against the new villain of the galaxy: Kylo Ren—portrayed by Adam Driver—and the First Order.

Ren serves as a “misunderstood” villain, throwing silly hissy fits if something doesn’t go his way. Attempting to follow in Darth Vader’s footsteps, Ren’s villainous nature helps bring back memories of the first film. Although he has great potential, Ren’s character seems somewhat underdeveloped; lacking a backstory or a strong motive. Hopefully, this will be something that is expanded upon in later films.

Ridley shines in her role as the daring, independent female protagonist. She has huge potential to become a positive role model for young girls with her new identity as a Jedi-in-training. Boyega, on the other hand, serves as the determined and loyal companion to Rey and his action and wit help the team move along. The valiant and highly skilled pilot Poe Dameron—played by Oscar Isaac—completes the trio as he works to stop the First Order and their plans to destroy the Resistance.

It’s hard not to believe that Finn, Rey and Poe will become the new faces of the franchise, replacing the Han, Luke and Leia trio. Even other new additions like the energetic and adorable BB-8 seem promising in continuing to entertain audiences, a change from previous additions like the infamous Jar Jar Binks in the prequels.

The trio’s diversity and relatable humor amongst characters like Finn and Han are what made the film so likeable, even for audience members who have no knowledge of the previous films. It’s hard for a film like Star Wars to be appreciated the same way it was originally, especially when audiences today are spoiled with such thrilling and stellar graphics. The characters, however, really aided in making the film more welcomed by today’s audience.

Abrams rejuvenated the franchise with this film, making up for the prequel trilogy that garnered so much criticism amongst the fandom in the 2000s. The Force Awakens recaptures the classic “heroes versus villains” feel of the original films.

Whether you are rooting for Rey and Finn or lamenting over the loss of old-time favorites, The Force Awakens evokes that feeling you had when you first watched Star Wars.

Peanuts cast have heartwarming reunion, foster hope in despondent time

With so much horrific violence and prejudice spotlighted in the media this holiday season, it can be hard to look at the world in a positive light. Luckily for all of us weighed down by the lack of apparent goodwill in our society, there is a heartwarming cinematic work to renew our sense of hope and belief in the best of ourselves and others: The Peanuts Movie. I know the notion of an animated children’s movie instilling a newfound sense of joy and comfort in college students and adults everywhere may seem far-fetched, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I left the film feeling changed—or at least feeling a lot more optimistic. I laughed, I cried, my boyfriend laughed at me for crying and I laughed some more.

The main plotline of the film centers on the lovably insecure underdog Charlie Brown and his misadventures with the Peanuts gang as he attempts to show everyone that he’s a winner to win the heart of the Little Red-Haired Girl—a character who he is hopelessly and adorably smitten with in both the comics and previous films. The inclusion of canonically accurate elements such as this, the Kite-Eating Tree, Lucy’s counseling stand, Snoopy’s typewriter and the “B” story of Snoopy’s encounters with the Red Baron all serve to enhance the overall quality of the film—and make it that much more special for long-time fans like myself.

Brown’s determination to impress his crush is endearing and relatable. I couldn’t stop smiling while watching him work so hard to try to win the school talent show with a magic act or practicing dance moves in his room with Snoopy so he could be crowned the contest winner. The funniest attempt for me, however, was watching Brown complete an entire book report on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace while the Little Red-Haired Girl—his assigned project partner who was visiting her sick grandma—wouldn’t have to worry about finishing the assignment.

In true Peanuts fashion, however, all of his attempts to triumph are met with failure. He sets off the fire sprinklers at the dance contest and his book report is shredded to bits. But in these failures, we see the unyielding selflessness and perseverance of his character.

He skips his chance to perform at the talent show by helping out his sister Sally, who is bombing miserably onstage with her cowgirl act until her big brother comes to the rescue by running onstage as a cow. Despite his own struggles to successfully fly a kite, he helps another child to do it and doesn’t feel bitter. When he receives a “perfect” standardized test score and suddenly becomes the most popular boy in school, he sacrifices the admiration of his peers when he realizes that the score was actually Peppermint Patty’s—and admits it to a whole auditorium. These simple, moral acts show who he really is—as blanket-toting Linus gently reminded him, “a good person.”

The Little Red-Haired Girl, too, is able to appreciate Brown and chooses Brown as a pen pal at the end. I cried not only at this, but with his sincerity in asking her, “Why me?”—a really poignant moment for any of us who have ever failed to see our own worth. She explains that she loves his compassion and his honesty—I was left smiling with mascara-smudged cheeks.

The film’s narrative and thematic elements shined through to convey an important message about the power and beauty in the kindness and support of others, as well as the importance of believing in oneself. And in a world with so much darkness, it was a refreshing reminder that you and those around you can make all the difference in creating light.

Final installment of Hunger Games brings satisfying closure to trilogy

The finale to The Hunger Games movie series—adapted from Suzanne Collins’ young adult novels—ended with a bang as the final film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, was an incredibly moving, emotional and satisfying motion picture. The film was a wonderful adaptation to the novel, bringing the film series full circle both cinematically and emotionally. The film follows Katniss Everdeen—played by Jennifer Lawrence—as she and her fellow rebels attempt to end the violent revolution within their home of Panem. Along the way, Katniss suffers loss, terror and life-changing moments as she is determined to kill President Snow—played by Donald Sutherland—who has been the villainous dictator of Panem since the beginning of the series. Sutherland brilliantly depicts Snow as the pernicious, haughty dictator with his bone-chilling delivery.

The chemistry between Katniss and Peeta—played by Josh Hutcherson—was stronger than in previous films. Hutcherson played the sometimes-neurotic Peeta Mellark, as he was suffering the after-effects of Capitol torture. The character’s dimensionality was impressively shown through the use of Hutcherson’s display of emotions.

Supporting male characters like Gale Hawthorne—played by Liam Hemsworth—and Finnick Odair—played by Sam Claflin—acted as strong male comrades to Katniss’ war on the Capitol.

After the death of Plutarch Heavensbee—played by Philip Seymour Hoffman—it was interesting going into the film wondering how they would deal with the absence of such a major character. Naturally, the adaptations of the novel in these aspects were different, but the storyline was well maintained.

This film was chockfull of dramatic death scenes. Whether the deceased characters were old-time favorites or Capitol citizens, the filmmakers made the scenes almost too moving, as each death was utterly heartbreaking to watch. It felt as if you were a part of Katniss’ journey and emotional rollercoaster for the entire film—whether she was in the depths of the Capitol sewers or right in front of Snow’s gates.

Contrary to the first installment of the Mockingjay film, the second part had a continuous plot that kept you on the edge of your seat. But perhaps that was one of its biggest—and only—flaws: There were many unlikely events, such as the deadly black sludge stopping right where they needed it to or the peacekeepers just missing Katniss as she attempts to sneak into the Capitol. Although it may have been too easy, it did not hinder the overall experience of the movie.

The film in and of itself was seemingly the best of all four installments simply because the actors played with so much raw emotion and talent. It was the perfect wrap to Katniss’ journey since she first joined The Hunger Games.

Film Review: Horror film resonates through metaphor

The Babadook received rave reviews, obtaining an average rating of 8.3 out of 10 stars on Rotten Tomatoes in addition to The Daily Beast deeming it “the Best (and Most Sincere) Horror Movie of the Year” in 2014. After watching the film, it was clear what all of the buzz was about.

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Movie Review: Damon gives award-worthy performance in The Martian

Based on the 2011 novel by Andy Weir, The Martian spans two and a half hours, but nearly every second is filled with plot twists, conflicts, scientifically-intricate scenes, spoofs and moments that leave your palms sweaty.

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Breakfast Club spurs high school nostalgia

College students look back on high school with a plethora of emotions. Whether high school was a period to be reminisced with fondness or resentment, there is some solace in the fact that it is—and most definitely can stay—in the past. But for Geneseo students, these adolescent memories were revived on Friday Sept. 18 during Kino’s showing of The Breakfast Club. Kino provides popular movie showings for free to Geneseo students and The Breakfast Club did not disappoint. This cult classic—directed by John Hughes—has been met throughout the years with great acclaim. Entertainment Weekly ranked The Breakfast Club first on its list of “The 50 Best High School Movies” in 2006—despite the fact that the movie premiered in 1985. This is only one of many accolades for the film. The Breakfast Club was a colossal success for Hughes; the movie was and still is enjoyable today because it’s relatable to students everywhere—even 30 years after its release.

Kino specifically showed The Breakfast Club on Friday Sept. 18 as a nod to Molly Ringwald, who played ‘princess’ Claire Standish in the film. Ringwald was in Geneseo to perform cover songs from her debut jazz album Except Sometimes on Saturday Sept. 19—but the day before, it was her acting that students came together to appreciate.

Claire was one of five main characters stuck in a library for Saturday detention, each character representing their own respective high school stereotypes. In addition to Claire, Geneseo students can relate to basket case Allison Reynolds, nerd Brian Johnson, jock Andrew ‘Andy’ Clarke and criminal John Bender.

“The one I could relate to the most is some sort of combination of Andy and Brian,” Kino coordinator sophomore Francesco Bruno said.

Junior Elise Johnson echoed the same sentiment after viewing the movie. “I’d want to say Bender—because he’s Bender—but it’d be Andy and Brian,” she said. “I’m more of a blend of a few of them.”

The irony of the situation was alive in the room—college students watched the five high school characters interacting in a high school library while the college students were watching the movie in a college classroom. The spell was broken only when an audience member would laugh—students would have to remember it was Newton Hall they were in and not their past high schools.

“I think the movie deals a lot with having to deal with being put into a box when people start thinking of you under a specific title,” Bruno said. “Like for a few years, I was a jock and I started doing other things and it was a weird breaking point, [like in the movie].”

Kino will be showing another engaging high school coming-of-age-story. The Perks of Being a Wallflower on Oct. 3 at 8:30 p.m.

Shyamalan’s horror flick fragmented, dissatisfying

Despite all the hype around M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie, The Visit proved to be more of a failure than a victory. Like all Shyamalan movies, The Visit contained a classic, unexpected twist. The twist, however, could not make up for the poorly developed plot that dominated the film. The Visit tells the story of aspiring filmmaker Becca and her younger brother Tyler, played by Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould respectively. The story begins with the siblings setting off to meet their estranged grandparents in rural Pennsylvania. Becca brings her video camera to try and seal the rift that happened years ago between her mother—played by Kathryn Hahn—and her grandparents—played by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie.

During their stay, Becca and Tyler come to the realization that their grandparents are not whom they first appeared to be. In order to figure out the truth, Becca and Tyler decide to document their “visit.”

Despite the promising synopsis and director, The Visit is only pleasing from the surface. This movie is full of flaws, bringing about its downfall. A significant problem is that the film tries to stretch across multiple genres. Horror, documentary and comedy combined do not create a good setup for a Shyamalan film. There are times where it is not clear whether the audience should laugh or cringe. Even the horror aspects of the film were not terrifying—just disturbing.

Furthermore, the characters were underdeveloped. Becca—who is barely 15 years old—is using vocabulary so far past her age it seemed awkward and out of place. Tyler is a cocky 12-year-old who believes his rap skills surpass any YouTube sensation. Both children are too precocious, simply becoming aggravations to the film rather than compelling protagonists.

Another issue with the film was that too many themes were brought in and then abandoned halfway through. The children have inner demons that they struggle with after their parents’ nasty divorce. Yet, this very problematic detail is rarely brought up as the children go through traumatic nights with their insane grandparents; even though the resurfacing of these issues would have helped the characters develop.

By the end of the film—despite the unforeseeable twist—there was a sense of incompleteness. An anticlimactic feeling rose within audience members because of all the loose ends the movie did not tie up.

One positive aspect of the movie, however, is that there were no dull moments—even if the movie did prove to be a letdown. In some way—whether it is puzzling over Becca’s word choice, reeling from the grandparents’ creepy behaviors or listening to Tyler attempt to rap—it was undoubtedly entertaining to watch.

Film Review: It Follows fuses sex, gore, classic horror

For many longtime fans of classic horror films like The Exorcist and The Shining, the 21st century movie industry has been characterized more by frustration and boredom than by fear and fright on the big screen. Lately, the genre has sunk into a dependence on jump-scenes, unnecessary gore and recycled storylines of few shapes and sizes.

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Thriller embraces reverse gender roles with strong female lead

Gone Girl is a drama and thriller that reverses the gender roles typically seen in the media. Directed by David Fincher and starring Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris, the film premiered in theaters on Oct. 3. Based on the thriller novel by Gillian Flynn, the film centers on Nick Dunn––played by Affleck––who is framed for the disappearance and possible murder of his wife Amy Dunn––played by Pike––by his wife herself. Gone Girl begins as any romantic film would, sharing the story of how the couple met. Amy is introduced as a New York-bred, successful writer and daughter of two authors who provide her with a trust fund. On the other hand, Nick is laid-back and alluring.

One notable scene is a heated moment of passion unlike any from the other suspense or even romance films I’ve ever seen. As Amy and Nick make love for the first time, the camera takes a delicate—and unique—moment to focus on the pleasure of the female lead. Instead of a typical sex scene, Nick is the one who performs oral sex, adding to the empowerment of this strong female character.

The film soon tumbles into a sequence of events that lead to the disappearance of Amy. Through the perspective of Amy, we see Nick become distant and constantly at edge. Eventually tension builds because of money issues and more, and the love they once had is gone.

Word about Amy’s mysterious disappearance spreads like wildfire and soon all of the town, media and police become involved. Nick is made to look like a careless fool by the media, and the police and town begin to suspect him of murdering his wife.

Meanwhile, Pike’s character develops from victim to victimizer––this is where the actress’ strong acting chops are revealed. Both mentally and emotionally unstable, Amy is revealed to be playing games. As the film develops, we learn more about Amy and her past relationships and inconsistent personality. Pike’s impressive and dynamic acting overpowers that of Affleck’s. Perhaps this is meant to contrast with the character of Nick, who becomes a pariah in his own town and all over television.

The film takes a sharp turn of events and the audience is left confused to many extremes. Affleck’s character is at first an easy and culpable target, but interestingly enough becomes the victim of the film. This is a rare occurrence for a male lead, and unlike the usual roles that Affleck himself plays.

Despite the length of Gone Girl—149 minutes total—it is a slow but steady progression that makes sense considering the careful consideration of the complexity of each character and the overall plot of the film itself. What will surprise viewers even more is the peculiar and unexpected ending.


Rating: 4.5/5

Rochester film festival confronts sexuality, racial issues with stirring documentary

Out in the Night is about violence––where it begins, what it looks like, how it happens and the stories that we tell about it. Screened on Oct. 11 at the Little Theater in Rochester as part of the city’s LGBT film and video festival ImageOut, Out in the Night is an incredibly powerful documentary by director and producer Blair Doroshwalther. Out in the Night tells the story of the “New Jersey Four,” a group of young, black lesbian women from New Jersey who were harshly convicted for defending themselves against a targeted attack that took place in New York City in August 2006.

The film deals with the ways in which misogyny, homophobia and racism function together as forces of oppression and emphasizes the necessity of working simultaneously against all three. Labeled a “gang assault” by the justice system and “Attack of the Killer Lesbians” by the media, the story of the “New Jersey Four” challenges the idea of living in a post-racial, colorblind society.

While the media and the trial focused solely on the violence of that one night, the film takes a nuanced look at the various forms of violence within the case. The film examines the violence of gay-bashing and sexual harassment that happens daily even in supposed “gay-friendly” cities and neighborhoods. In addition, it depicts the violence of a culture that routinely criminalizes the bodies and existences of LGBTQ-plus people and people of color and the violence of a legal system that sentenced “New Jersey Four” member Renata Hill to more prison time than the man who serially raped her as a child.

After watching the film, all confidence in the ability of the criminal justice system to sort through all these layers of violence disappears. Instead, the film asks us to consider the possibility of community-based alternatives to policing and incarceration.

Out in the Night also explores the complex terrain of self-defense. It discusses who is granted the right to self-defense and who, as activist and writer Mariame Kaba puts it, is seen as having “no selves to defend.” In the film, activist and scholar Angela Davis argues, “You either ascent to the homophobia of everyday culture, or you figure out a way to speak out, to resist.”

At the ImageOut screening, three out of the four who were convicted—Renata Hill, Terrain Dandridge and Patreese Johnson—were in attendance and fielded questions from the audience. They discussed their lives after prison and possible steps forward in combating the injustices that they and other LGBTQ-plus individuals experience.

Although the film ends with a reduction in their sentences and a release from prison, the fact remains that these women spent several years of their lives behind bars and continue to face difficulty in finding employment because of their criminal records. They may be out of prison, but they are not entirely free.

Awarded with the Special Documentary Jury Prize for Courage in Storytelling by ImageOut, Out in the Night is a moving and essential film. Although difficult and potentially triggering to watch, this film’s story is one that needs to be told.

Adam Sandler looks to revitalize career with move to Netflix

Adam Sandler’s new films have quite frankly sucked over the past few years. This is an objectively true statement, regardless of whether you choose to evaluate movies by critical consensus or box office returns. His movies are consistently rated in the single digits on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes and are taking in less money than ever. They are still profitable, however––this is Adam Sandler. Still, Netflix recently partnered with Sandler’s production company Happy Madison Productions to develop four new films to be released exclusively through the streaming site. This move seems puzzling at first, but the deal has potential to be a career-saver for Sandler and a savvy business strategy for Netflix.

It seems hard to fathom today, but there was a point in history when Sandler was a creative force to be reckoned with. His early albums like the 1993 They’re All Gonna Laugh at You! and the 1996 What the Hell Happened to Me? boldly experimented with the medium. Not only were these records hilarious, they were commercially viable––both went double platinum.

His earlier films contain the same anarchic aesthetic. By taking generic plots wherein the protagonist must overcome some obstacle to save the day while getting the girl—see Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore—and injecting them with downright absurdist diversions, Sandler subverted audience expectations of what a major studio comedy film could be.

Lately, however, Sandler has fallen into a mid-career malaise. His latest offerings, including Blended and Just Go with It, more closely resemble the films that he used to skewer. His only impressive performances of this millennium have come in non-Happy Madison productions such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love and Judd Apatow’s incredible Funny People.

With this move to Netflix, however, Sandler has a new opportunity to focus on the quality of his films rather than their profitability. As Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarando said, “Very uniquely, he [Sandler] stands out for his global appeal to Netflix subscribers. Even movies that were soft in the U.S. [theatrically] outperformed dramatically on Netflix in the U.S. and around the world.”

With a built-in audience ensured, Happy Madison can primarily focus on the quality of films it puts out. This will hopefully signal a return to the spirit of weird experimentation that marked Sandler’s earlier career.

No one should worry about Netflix posing as a creative obstacle. The company’s original programs including “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” are generously supported with big budgets, reflected by the quality of the finished products.

This move could be a career renaissance for Sandler. He’s long overdue for a return to the wild, outlandish humor that initially endeared audiences to him. For Netflix, this is a low-risk, high-return endeavor—as long as Sandler doesn’t put out anything as awful as Jack and Jill.u

Historical drama reveals cultural identity crisis

The Identical is 107 minutes of a complex storyline that pulls in an impressive bounty of both universal and cultural themes, yet delivers no substantial exploration of any of them. Played by Blake Rayne, protagonist Ryan Wade is given up as an infant to a preacher––played by Ray Liotta––and his infertile wife during the Great Depression in an act of both hard necessity and spiritual selflessness.

Wade’s identical twin Drexel Hemsley––also played by Rayne––grows up to be a famous rock artist in the genre’s infancy. His fame casts an unrelenting shadow over Wade’s own musical career as a Drexel Hemsley impersonator while neither character is aware that they have a brother. Wade’s adoptive father disapproves of his musicianship.

The conflicts in the film are fickle and uncertain. From the start, Wade struggles with love, greed, racist law enforcement, black culture and problems within the growing rock n’ roll culture. Thrown into this overwhelming mix are familial conflicts, spiritual tradition and introspection––all in the first 30 minutes.

With the same reckless haste in which they are introduced, these concepts pointlessly end as mere scattershot surrounding a relatively boring conflict: Wade failing to find his way in an industry already conquered by his lost twin.

Wade also struggles with the predictable conflict of getting his dream girl Jenny, played by Erin Cottrell. Like every other woman in the film, Jenny is an utterly static and flat character whose agency obediently lies in Wade’s hands.

Jenny is the cause for director Dustin Marcellino’s failure of the Bechdel test. To pass this “test,” a film must have at least two female characters––each of who must speak to each other at least once––and it must be about something other than a man. The only moment when the film comes close to passing is one line shared between Reece Wade and Helen Hemsley concerning Wade as an infant.

Seth Green’s character Dino reads like an aborted attempt by Marcellino to put comic relief into an early draft. Dino’s one or two out-of-place jokes considered, no audience would notice if he were cut even though the apparition of Green’s weasel face does at times pass for comedy.

The acting offers little redemption for the film. Rayne’s performance as a rock star is not believable as either Wade or Hemsley. As a typecast actor, Liotta’s performance is predictable at worst and par at best. Ashley Judd, Erin Cottrell and Amanda Crew prove that they are excellent at crying, smiling and dying.

The Identical is presented as a PG family film, which for some might allow it some slack in terms of cinematic quality. Essentially, it just has to keep people less bored for an hour and thirty minutes. Perhaps Marcellino thought a movie about music would accomplish this easily enough. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.