Popular teen novel turned typical romance film

The film If I Stay, released on Aug. 29, is the most predictably tear-jerking, heart-wrenching film of the summer.The film inspires a sense of melancholy, a desperate desire to grasp life before it runs out and to find love like the film’s protagonists, Mia and Adam. In this respect, If I Stay is worth the watch. In terms of originality, this film is not up to par. If I Stay centers on Mia, a young cellist played by Chloë Grace Moretz. At only 17 years old, Moretz gives an outstanding performance. She is an exceptional actress and even more so with Jamie Blackley––who plays her boyfriend Adam––by her side. The movie begins the morning Mia is in a car crash that puts her in a coma on a snowy morning that also claims the lives of her parents. We follow Mia through her out-of-body experience. She takes us with her as she reflects back to her dearest memories in her life. By the end of the film, the audience has a good account of her life to this point. Everything seemed to be going unbelievably well before her accident—she had a close relationship with her family, a handsome, loving boyfriend and a successful audition to The Julliard School. The loss of her parents, however, has put Mia somewhere in limbo weighing the pros and cons of coming to back to a world where her parents are gone and deciding whether she should stay for her boyfriend and brother or “move on.” There is a lot going on in the film that isn’t all about Mia and Adam. Her relationships with her family members and the cello are emphasized consistently. Still, one cannot help but notice that it is as much about the love story as it is about her devastating situation. This plot is in no way surprising. Countless times in the past and in the anticipated future, we have had films that revolve around first love, loss and the “life-changing crucible.” The rejections of happily ever afters are not original anymore. Shakespeare already covered that when he wrote “Romeo and Juliet” decades ago. In fact, it has been covered over and over since then. This is not to say that happily ever afters are the better option. We have reached a time where films should aim at stronger messages than the continuous fight toward love. Films need to educate rather than regurgitate. Teaching something new and applicable to real life will inspire audiences to create and delve deeper into matters of the heart and life. The film itself will most likely bring a large profit from the pockets of young teenage girls who romanticize everything. It isn’t a life-changing or even very thought-provoking film. Be warned, you will not be enlightened by anything in this film. This is yet another flick that revolves around a girl’s most “important” decision in life, centered on a boy.

Movie Review: Nymphomaniac

Sex is often a surreptitious topic, but in Lars von Trier’s new film, Nymphomaniac – split into two volumes – sex is at the forefront of discussion. Nymphomaniac is centered on the story of a middle-aged nymphomaniac, a woman affected by excessive sexual desire. After she is found beaten in an alley, she discloses everything about herself and her sexual ventures to a man who considers himself asexual.

The film is unspeakably profane; few audience members will be able to stomach the intensity of von Trier’s story. The movie is filled with exposed genitalia, graphic sex sequences and violence and foul language. It’s exactly what your parents told you to stay away from.

Nymphomaniac stars Christian Slater, Stellan Skarsgård, Uma Thurman, Stacy Martin, Willem Dafoe, Shia LaBeouf and Charlotte Gainsbourg as the protagonist, Joe. None of the actors actually participated in the sexual acts, rather, body doubles were used along with digitally manipulated genitals.

As for the cinematographic value of the film, von Trier has some occasional beautiful compositions and intriguing edits. He may break from conventional film standards at times; however, being the co-founder of the Dogme 95 avant-garde filmmaking movement, he is certainly no amateur.

Just as a play features an intermission, in a sense, so does Nymphomaniac. The split is solely for the sake of avoiding a four-hour runtime. The first volume covers Joe’s early life, while the second follows her later years. The first volume is also slightly more sexual, but much less graphic than the second, which is more violent and disturbing. It explores the darker moments of Joe’s adulthood, including her experimentation with kinky perversions and sadomasochism.

The film serves as a very unique biopic into a life that is otherwise hidden from society. Critics argue about the value of the film in regards to feminist movements. The film depicts the struggles of women to a point where it supports sex-negative feminism, inciting many to call the film misogynistic.

The film seems to support a sex-negative feminist viewpoint. Sex is largely found to be brutal and not gratifying toward the end of the film. Women are initially overlooked as objects, but they are not afraid to stand up against their oppressors.

On a less controversial note, von Trier manages to edit in a few moments of dry humor and tongue-in-cheek sequences that may lighten the mood for some viewers. Regardless, he often turns to his signature grim and gloomy style, as seen in his 2009 film Antichrist.

Nymphomaniac is not rated, but could very easily receive an NC-17 rating because of its explicitness.

When considering watching this film, I caution you. Von Trier is bold and merciless in his direction. While his manner of execution is extreme, he does manage to integrate intriguing and intellectual ideas into his work

Movie Review: Captain America

As one of the most eagerly anticipated and ubiquitously praised films of the spring season by both fans and critics alike, my expectations for the new Captain America movie were understandably high. Yet despite what may have seemed like lofty and unrealistic aspirations for this film, directors Anthony and Joe Russo and their entire creative team wholeheartedly deliver on that projected hype – arguably exceeding it.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a thoroughly enjoyable two-and-a-half hour ride that captures your interest and attention from the get-go and holds them tightly until the very end; proving to be not only one of the strongest contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date but also an excellent work of cinematic artistry in its own regard.

As expected, the story revolves around the actions of the titular character Steve Rogers and his involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D., the peacekeeping organization responsible for overseeing all superhero-related business. Ultimately, the plot's action boils down to Rogers striking out on his own adventure accompanied by a select few and unearthing some of the dark secrets of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s past all the while going toe-to-toe with one of the most dangerous adversaries introduced thus far: the Winter Soldier.

Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson all reprise their roles from the series and do a pretty decent job expanding each of their character’s depth and motivations, respectively. The newcomers to the film do an impressive job holding their own as memorable characters in their own right, from Anthony Mackie’s seamless transition into the role of Rogers’ loyal friend and sidekick of sorts to Robert Redford’s portrayal of S.H.I.E.L.D. executive Alexander Pierce, a role akin to Iron Man 2’s Justin Hammer but with a bit more gravitas.

Though chronologically speaking, the film takes place not long after the events of The Avengers, this sequel also directly ties into its original predecessor, Captain America: The First Avenger. It does a pretty impressive job incorporating fundamental aspects from both; viewers who have kept up-to-date on the franchise are sure to appreciate the occasional appearance of a familiar face or two alongside scattered references to the established Marvel mythos.

Another significantly positive aspect of the film is its accessibility. This is arguably Marvel’s most accessible film to date and that's largely attributed to the way it handles itself. Some of the biggest issues with past Marvel features have been a reliance on the source material to drive the story along with an overall lack of seriousness or dramatic tension. And that's part of what makes this film so brilliant. The Russos very clearly take this story in their own direction and make it their own. They imbue it with such a driving sense of momentum that you’ll likely find yourself on the edge of your seat for the majority the film.

With a notably darker tone from its other Marvel counterparts, exceptionally well-choreographed fight scenes, explosive action sequences and just the right amount of clever comic relief, this film manages to cover its bases quite well.

Though it clearly follows the standard action film formula (especially in terms of plot structure), it utilizes these cinematic conventions so expertly that it could easily be described as an art. There are a sufficient amount of unexpected twists that are consistently able to keep the story fresh and interesting.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is by far one of the best movies I have seen in a while. Regardless of your previous experience with Marvel features or any preconceived notions you may have about superhero movies, I implore you to go out and see this film while it’s still in theaters. I solemnly swear that you’ll be kicking yourself in the rear if you miss an opportunity to see a gem like this in its proper form.

 

 

Movie Review: Her

Nominated for five Oscars, Her proves to be a visually stunning, brilliant, quirky and wryly comedic film. Spike Jonze has traded in his Jack-Ass-style absurdist humor and created a sweet melancholy tale, reminiscent in the tone of his recent film adaption of Where the Wild Things Are. In the Jonze-created not-so-hard-to-believe future, we are introduced to the withdrawn and wonderfully mustachioed writer Theodore Twombly, performed subtly yet stunningly by Joaquin Phoenix. Having a hard time coping with his recent break up, Twombly finds himself alone, alternating between work and video games. A once-popular man, the audience watches as friends reach out to Twombly. He rejects most of their gestures and his only active human connection is found in his long-time friend Amy, played by a blonde Amy Adams.

In this world, which seems to be an almost satirical version of the iWorld in which we live today, Jonze invents brilliant new technologies and explores the idea of true human connection. One of the most telling glimpses into Jonze’s idea of the future is the company for which Theodore works: beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. Hallmark on steroids, this company hires writers to create personal letters for people’s loved ones – birthdays, anniversaries, you name it.

Through exploration and invention, the film heats up, introducing the latest piece of technology, an intuitive operating system – “a consciousness,” OS1. Twombly buys the OS, and shortly after starting her up, finds himself developing a peculiar connection to this super-computer, who goes by the name Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

It doesn’t take long to predict where the film is headed – a lonely man desperately searching for interaction, connection, a humorous, spunky, female character – the film quickly becomes a unique 21st-century love story.

As this romance blossoms, Twombly finds himself opening up and beginning to rekindle and revisit other relationships in his life. After double dates with his co-workers and a closing lunch with his ex-wife, Twombly becomes less and less withdrawn. It could be argued that Samantha, a piece of technology, teaches him to accept the people in his life who love him and open up to the world again.

As an audience, we are completely submerged in this world. Through subtle yet intimate dialogue, breathtaking cinematography and a sweetly melancholy soundtrack, we begin to feel we live in this world alongside Twombly and Samantha. The raw emotion, not thrown in our faces but scattered carefully throughout the movie, is left for us to discover and interpret and leaves little room for dry eyes.

We feel the emptiness in not only Twombly but also the extreme technology-ridden world. We feel the emptiness in our own lives, and we wonder if Jonze is just giving us a glimpse into our own future. Once we get past the disbelief that a human-computer relationship could ever exist, and more absurdly that human-computer sex could exist – yes, it happens, we begin to feel overwhelmed with deep emotion.

Some scenes are a little boring, with long drawn out dialogue and complete silence. While artistically beautiful, these scenes become sleepers pretty quickly. They are balanced by other exceptionally well-written and at times mind-boggling concepts that Jonze depicts on screen.

Tumbling through the almost sci-fi, colorful and soulful film that Jonze has created, we leave the theater with some insight into one view of human connection and relationships as well as the limits of human understanding, consciousness, soul and, through all the complication, the simplicity of heartbreak. Jonze explores the juxtaposition of human interaction and technology. A beautifully crafted work of art, it’s impossible not to be consumed by this quirky romance.

Movie Review: Lone Survivor

Peter Berg is no stranger to action films, having directed Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in The Rundown (2003) and Will Smith in Hancock (2008), among others. His latest film Lone Survivor tells the true story of Operation Red Wings, a mission in Afghanistan in which a small team of Navy SEALs was severely compromised. The film is one hell of a ride for the first half, packed with intense shootouts and high-stakes survival, yet it goes somewhat downhill during its latter half, suffering from clichéd baddies and a rather lacking performance from Mark Wahlberg.

The fatal flaw in this team’s mission is Wahlberg’s character, corpsman Marcus Luttrell, and his orders to set the goatherds free. It’s evident that the townspeople are hostile toward American soldiers, which should have steered the SEALs’ decision about killing them off and proceeding with their mission. While this may sound relentless toward the unarmed civilians and insensitive toward Wahlberg’s characher, keep in mind that not just the three other men in the team die but also many soldiers that arrive later on to save them.

But looking at the film itself, Wahlberg does little to give our lone survivor humanity or even remote likability. The factual detail of his compromising orders aside, his dramatic portrayal of Luttrell is very callous and not on par with his co-stars. I am a fan of Wahlberg, but here, he struggles to grasp the ruggedness and desperation of the character.

The redemption of the SEALs comes from the three alongside the lead actor. Into the Wild’s Emile Hirsch does a fantastic job as Danny Dietz, getting shot maybe a dozen times and breaking his bones while falling down cliffs in gut-wrenching slow motion sequences. Ben Foster plays a soft-spoken, smooth-operating Matthew “Axe” Axelson going out in a slightly overdramatic but awesome death scene. Taylor Kitsch, who played the titular role in box-office bomb John Carter, portrays the last member of the team, Michael P. “Murph” Murphy. This “voice of reason” goes out in a glorious fashion as well, becoming a martyr while calling in reinforcements.

Additionally, Alexander Ludwig from The Hunger Games and Eric Bana from Star Trek get little screen time as support personnel back at the base.

Now, aside from the strong supporting players, the aspect that makes Lone Survivor a more-than-decent war film is its intensely realistic action. From the moment the SEALs are dropped off to pursue their objective to the climactic deaths of all but Luttrell, we are deep in a cat-and-mouse survival game, as hordes of Taliban insurgents hunt down four SEALs through dense, mountainous woodland.

Bullets pierce flesh with spurts of sanguine mist and explosions send the protagonists flying down jagged, bolder-riddled slopes for what seems to be a good hour of the movie – and what an intense hour it is. It’s as engaging as classics like Saving Private Ryan.

But here’s what bogs the film down: Its second half deals solely with the last man standing, who is sadly the least compelling character in the main cast. Also, the oppositional focus is eventually shifted to a particular Taliban higher-up rather than hordes of unidentifiable enemies. This could have been a good move if the new “villain” was at all menacing. Instead, he’s made a joke through clichéd motives and dialogue, making him more of a Middle Eastern Bond villain than a realistic obstacle.

Berg’s latest is, for an interval, one of the most intense war films in a while, with epic firefights and badassery from the supporting cast. Despite this, it falls apart with clichés and a less-than-intriguing focus toward its conclusion. Regardless, knowing Berg’s previous feature – the insufferable Battleship – it’s surprising that Lone Survivor is as good as it is.

Film Review: Gravity sets standard for masterful film-making

Many years from now, art critics will analyze the past to see what films and filmmakers have influenced their current art world. As filmmakers of today look to Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin for influence in technique, I believe that the future will use Gravity as an influence.

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Film Review: Cronenberg successor presents interesting but messy movie with Antiviral

In a future society in which obsession over celebrity culture has reached its peak, people pay to be injected with a virus from their favorite star. Directed by Brandon Cronenberg, the son of legendary cult film director David Cronenberg, Antiviral is a fascinating and uncomfortable − if murky and unclear − horror film that takes celebrity obsession to a whole new level.

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Movie Review: Rush

Rush may be two hours long, but it races by. Directed by Ron Howard, the film is based on the true story of a rivalry between two Formula One drivers in the 1970s, Niki Lauda played by Daniel Brühl and James Hunt played by Chris Hemsworth.

The film is brilliant. Rush is engaging, simplistic, and aesthetically pleasing. Howard understood the simplicity of his film from the start and makes no mistake to depict the story any other way than it should be told. There is an overlying message to the story, but it holds no burden on the viewer's mind. Overall, it's an adult-friendly film that challenges any viewer to find their flaws.

Hemsworth and Brühl are also exceptional aspects to the film in both their visual similarities to their characters' real life counterparts as well as their abilities to lead a convincing story through the eyes of their characters. Both are worthy of their fame, and Hemsworth can finally be viewed as a character other than Thor.

The film shows minimal unnecessary racing scenes and there's no disappointment when Howard skips through several races at a time with brilliantly motion-tracked text depicting the races outcomes. All that is revealed of the racing scenes is what's necessary to convey the suspense, characterization and events pertaining to the depiction of the story.

Rush maintains a perfect balance of cinema elements including dramatics, humor, intensity, character development and conflict that are lacking in most sports films. Certainly, this film stands on a pedestal of best sports dramas and perhaps is the best racing film out there.

The simplicity of the film may serve to disappoint those who are in search of a more profound story. The film wraps up leaving no desire to journey further into the themes and simply serves to entertain for what it is because that was Howard's intention. The narrative didn't even faintly dissatisfy my personal search for profundity.

Rumors have already begun circulating even before the official release of Rush to theaters concerning the potential relationship this film may be having with our upcoming Oscar season. After Howard's success at the Academy Awards with A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon, there seems to be no doubt that Rush will have the same fate. Howard will be competing with other directors such as David O'Russell, Martin Scorsese, George Clooney and Alfonso Cuarón, all of who are held to high standards for their upcoming films later this year.

Howard, however, has already proven himself a worthy candidate and doesn't cease to impress the audience with his latest installment in his filmography.

 

Movie Review: Escape from Tomorrow

When a movie's official poster depicts Mickey Mouse's gloved hand dripping with blood, you know things are about to get real, or rather surreal in this case. From newcomer director Randy Moore comes Escape from Tomorrow, a daring work of filmmaking that most likely has a very slippery road ahead of itself. Filmed mostly onsite at both Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida, Escape from Tomorrow is sweeping the festival scene because of its dark, surrealist content and style, and especially its bold techniques. Using these guerilla filmmaking techniques, Moore and his cast and crew put together the film completely under the nose of park security and without permission from the Walt Disney Company.

The plot centers on the father of a vacationing family. He has recently been laid off from his job and is trying his best to withhold this information from his family as they spend time in a land “where dreams come true.”

He eventually takes his daughter on rides while pursuing two beautiful pre-teen French girls thƒroughout the park. As the theme park starts to take a toll on him and reality and fantasy seem to blur together, things get even stranger. I don't want to give too much away, but he starts seeing things such as Disney princesses alternating as hookers for Asian business executives, and even brainwashing conspiracies.

The film has had very little official marketing apart from a trailer, a theatrical poster and a clip, which has since been removed from pretty much every site that offered it. Thankfully, the Internet and news sources have given it quite a bit of attention to stir up interest.

The trailer itself includes a quote from a HitFix article.

“A film that should not exist by any rational definition,” it reads.

This type of promotion is sure to instigate some curiosity, especially considering the film's unique and risky production history, and its seemingly irreverent, or perhaps innovative, handling of Disney, a powerful icon of innocence and youth.

Another interesting aspect of the film's promotion is the very beginning of its official trailer, with a parody of the Motion Picture Association of America's “green band.”

“The following motion picture has not been approved for all audiences by the Walt Disney Company,” it reads.

This is an honest declaration for sure, and it's definitely going to build some controversy.

Speaking of controversy, the Walt Disney Company has yet to take action against the film. They have remained silent for now, which is probably a better strategy than taking Moore and company right to court, because doing so would only create more publicity for Escape from Tomorrow. But it's inevitable that a confrontation in the form of lawsuits will come about eventually.

I, for one, think Escape from Tomorrow is a grand experiment in independent filmmaking, and it puts the previously unknown director Moore on the grid as an artist to watch out for. Whether or not Disney takes action against him for his guerilla efforts, Moore has created what seems to be a cult classic on the rise. Hopefully it will get more attention as it continues its circuit through theaters and festivals, and if the “Imagineers” over at Disney decide to lawyer up, so be it. They'd only be helping the film's reputation. A lawsuit would definitely make things more interesting, that's for sure.

Movie Review: Don Jon

Don Jon, which hit theaters on Sept. 27, may be the most vulgar film of the year, but it's hard not to join in with the laughter it inspires. Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon is the story of Jon Martello Jr., a self-absorbed, porn-obsessed character played by Gordon-Levitt himself. The movie follows Martello as he deals with the repercussions of his morphed sexual expectations resulting from his addiction to porn.

First off, if you can't make it through the first five minutes of the film, it isn't your movie. Gordon-Levitt starts his sexual venture boldly with a racy introduction into the life of Martello, which includes his passion for family, church and porn. Around 60 percent of this introductory sequence consists of spliced clips from actual pornography − all rated R. If this makes you uncomfortable, don't watch it.

It may not be the visuals of Gordon-Levitt's film as much as it is the frequent and graphic audible depictions of sexual imagery that may set a low-key audience over the edge. Don Jon is a confident film that doesn't leave room for anything to be served lightly.

If this sounds tolerable, you're bound to get a kick out of everything.

Gordon-Levitt sports an interesting New Jersey “guido” accent alongside his superb co-star Scarlett Johansson, who plays his romantic interest, Barbara Sugarman. Sparks fly between them.

If that's not evidence enough of a star-studded cast, then perhaps Julianne Moore, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly are the cherries on top, not to mention the cameo appearances by Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum.

The story is neat, organized and absurd − the perfect combination for a Sundance Film Festival selection. In fact, Entertainment Weekly Managing Editor Jess Cagle called the film “one of the best movies I saw at [Sundance].”

Although the ending may serve to disappoint some, it illustrates and concludes the key message of the film in a neat package that leaves few holes poked for breathing room, not that you'd need it.

Don Jon serves as Gordon-Levitt's feature film directorial debut, building on his already promising career as an actor. His directing style is clearly noticeable, intriguing and engaging throughout the film. Although there are a few bumps in his style, Gordon-Levitt is definitely a talent to watch in the future.

Movie Review: The Butler

History buffs or not, viewers will find appreciable entertainment value in Lee Daniels' The Butler, which includes a gifted cast, an enjoyable screenplay and a lot of emotion. Released on Aug. 16, The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines, a man who grows up in servitude of an affluent Southern white family and eventually works his way up to the position of a butler in the White House.

While Gaines' personal life is a significant part of the film, the audience still goes through known events of United States history. From Eisenhower portrayed by a bald Robin Williams to Ronald Reagan played by Alan Rickman, viewers travel with The Butler for an inside look at the civil rights movement, U.S. involvement in Vietnam and many social developments of the era.

Apart from just being a summary of the last 60 years, Daniels' directing also takes a stab at a pressing question of the times: Was it better for blacks to work their way up by catering to the white world, or did the unjust segregation call for war?

Daniels brilliantly raises this query with the personification of each side; Gaines is the image of the black man earning liberation and respect through subordination, and his son is the outraged civil rights protestor, first a Freedom Rider and then a Black Panther Party member − I hope your high school history isn't already failing you.

When we boil it down, the film's central question is this: Who was right, Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X? That's up to the audience to decide, but the screenplay excels at blending the philosophies and showing the importance of both men.

Though I'm one to pensively rest my chin on my fist when seated in history class, I still fell asleep twice during Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's recent biographical film. I was ashamed of this ignorant drowsiness until I saw The Butler, which confirmed for me that maybe my attention span can outlast that of a squirrel. For, throughout its two-hour-long runtime, the movie captivates the audience entirely.

Maybe this is due to The Butler's knockout cast, which includes Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and even Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. It's a remarkably positive feeling to be reminded that Oprah is more than a TV personality and always amusing to see the figures in our history textbooks portrayed by modern actors.

Though much of the history is not dealt with in depth, the audience feels refreshed by a highly emotional and personal look into those uncertain times, which left a lot to be desired by those who experienced them anyway.

The film's somewhat shallow treatment of parts of history, however, can work to its advantage. Daniels' directing lets the audience fill in those gaps and periodically requires them to infer. I found this style fortifying - almost like a game. The Butler will lead you through a journey, but you need to do your part in connecting the pieces.

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Movie Review: The Conjuring

Haunting. Evil spirits. Possession. Who doesn’t love a good edge-of-your-seat horror movie? If you like creative horror films that keep you guessing about what is going to happen next, prepare to be disappointed.

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