Horror movie roundup

Muschietti makes a riveting adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel  

Amazing acting and incredible visuals define this popular horror film


As many know, “It” was originally created by the popular horror novelist Stephen King in 1986. The plot was centered on a group of outcasted children being terrorized by Pennywise, a sinister shape-shifting clown that takes the form of his victim’s worst fears.

Being one of his most famous works, the popular thriller novel was adapted into a miniseries four years after its publication. Unfortunately, this 1990 adaption of the book would fail to impress many, earning a 57% on Rotten Tomatoes with critics claiming its only remarkable quality was Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise.

However, the newest version of “It”, released on September 8, 2017, not only has a notably sensational portrayal of Pennywise by Swedish actor and model, Bill Skarsgård, but also incredible child actors, a good atmosphere, creative scares and an excellent soundtrack.

The incredibly adept cast of child actors give a genuine depiction of childhood grief and isolation while showing as much skill as educated professionals. At no point throughout the film did poor acting or stunted dialogue pull me out of the story, and I found myself truly becoming attached even to characters who only appeared for short amounts of screen times

The fine-tuned details seen throughout “It” only increased my appreciation for the movie. Amongst the background, eagle-eyed viewers could find a deadly easter egg hunt, creepy library patrons skulking in the background and a motif of lurking red balloons.

It’s clear this film was made with painstaking focus on the visuals, every scene using lighting, proper set decor and a detailed costumes to create an atmosphere that emotionally adds to the situation and characters.

However, while what scares someone is different for all individuals, I personally found the jumps in “It” to be predictable and cheesy, with an overuse of imagery that was noticeably computer generated. The film’s noticeable lack of any ambiguity or suspense also ruined the scariness of the story.

Pennywise defies the common trend in horror films of keeping the main monster a mystery in appearance. Most of it’s entrances are rather extravagant ordeals (Pennywise even frantically dancing in one of them) that ruin all chance of tension.

Though “It” is full of creepy, innovative visuals, it doesn’t have an eerie tone or any real terrors to make this a truly frightful movie. Honestly, “It” fits in more of a coming-of-age, fantasy genre due to the film’s occasionally choppy comedic exchanges, focus on childhood drama, extravagant visuals and ultimately heart-warming ending.

However, these flaws don’t make “It” any less of a well-done, intriguing movie. Even with a running time of of two hours and 15 minutes, it’s impossible not to be hooked on this adrenaline-rushing, surprisingly poignant film.


A prequel that upstages its predecessor

Despite “Annabelle”’s flaws, its prequel, “Annabelle: Creation”, is a riveting watch.


“Annabelle,” a branch of “The Conjuring” franchise, was the over-hyped horror movie of 2014 that was expected to be as well-done and original as it’s companion films. Ultimately, it failed to meet such hopes due to its dullness, predictability and lack of genuine frights.

Despite such poor reviews, the financial success resulted in an initially unwanted prequel: “Annabelle: Creation,” which most expected to be just as unoriginal and boring as its predecessor.

“Creation” focuses on a nun and six orphaned girls being housed by a former toy-making couple who’ve lost their six-year-old daughter, Annabelle.

To everyone’s shock, “Annabelle: Creation” proved itself to be an incredibly frightful film, full of intense and creative jumpscares.

However, this movie certainly isn’t intellectually or emotionally profound. It’s not going to make you contemplate any philosophical issue, but innovative scares make up for all of the film’s flaws. The director of the movie, David F. Sandberg, is merciless in his attempts to terrify you.

By not holding back on suspense, and cunningly using common fears, such as the dark, scarecrows and creepy dolls, he delivers a petrifying film.

Fans of the “Conjuring” series will definitely enjoy this latest installment, which features several easter eggs. Some of them including Valek (the malevolent villain of “The Conjuring 2”), a brief appearance of the original Annabelle doll that the movie is based off of, multiple post-credits scenes and an ending that cleverly ties in with the original film.

“Annabelle: Creation” is a worthy prequel and a frightful delight for both regular viewers and fans of “The Conjuring” series that I would thoroughly recommend for anyone hoping to be scared out of their mind.


Madness Condensed Into One Movie

Mother! delivers a high-intensity, fast paced thriller, feeding fans satisfaction


Gut-wrenching barely scratches the surface for “Mother!” as it displays gunshots of sickening emotions and a whole new definition of violence.

The film features two nameless couples, the first played by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, and the second being two strangers played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris. Their meeting triggers a massive wave of commotion that spirals out of control.

I’ve waited for this film for months. Director Darren Aronofsky managed to gorge out every bit of sanity my mind was capable of holding in “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Black Swan” and I did not expect any less from “Mother!”.

Though I have to admit, this film left me confused when I first stumbled out of the theater. Copious amounts of vague symbolism were smashed into this two-hour flick and it left me with a sense of hesitation towards “Mother!” and regretfully, Aronofsky.

After putting more thought into the movie and digesting explanations from Aronofsky, I realize that this film isn’t meant to be simple at all. This is very complicated, very deranged and very outstanding.

The biggest highlight from the film was Jennifer Lawrence’s exceptional performance. She illustrated a radiating goddess on one end and a hysteric slasher soaked in blood on the other end.

This paired with the “soundtrack” really hit the spot for me. One Skeeter Davis cover of “The End of The World” by Patti Smith was layered on top of the ending credits, but no other soundtrack was present throughout the film.

What they did instead was exaggerate every sound in the film; the fly buzzing outside, Lawrence picking up a glass of water, sliding her hands against the table. All emphasized more than it needs to, luring the audience in and forcing them to pay closer to details. The lack of any soundtrack was almost a soundtrack itself.

I personally highly appreciated “Mother!” from beginning to end, but the movie isn’t for everyone. It’s difficult to recommend this to all, because it can really twist your emotional and mental limits. But if you’re seeking for something to stir and crush you inside out while being able to stomach gore, this might be the film you’ve been looking for.


Oplev’s Downfall

Horror film remake brings disappointment to the table


Nials Arden Oplev, genius creator of film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Dead Man Down,” etches disappointment into the audiences’ minds with his recent remake of “Flatliners.” Pointless and monotonous, “Flatliners” was able to do just one thing: flatline me to boredom.

I won’t lie ; the mid-summer release of the first trailer snapped my attention with an intriguing concept: medical students playing with science and temporarily stopping beating hearts to see what’s beyond death.

Ellen Page’s appearance as Courtney definitely contributed to my decision to watch this film. Her performance in “Juno” was in-character and left me in silent awe. I was a little skeptical on this one though —  “Flatliners” would be too serious for her usual childish and reckless personality in movies.

I was right. Page’s acting fell short but didn’t lack as much as the other major roles in the film. Kiersey Clemons (as Sophia) and James Norton (as Jamie) were exceptionally forgettable characters, bundled there to only exaggerate the plotline. Nina Dobrev (as Marlo) was also extremely unnecessary, with facial expression fruitless as ever.  Page just shouldn’t work for thriller films.

That wasn’t the tipping point for me though. What really irked me was the amateurish editing and the choppy transitions.

The messy color gradation and the absent blend between computer graphics and actor was simply rushed and unprofessional. Careless, silly plot holes were peppered throughout the film. Unfitting soundtracks were dispersed in the worst possible moments. Their $19 million budget could’ve gone to much better use.

Ben Ripley, writer of “Flatliners,” is clearly ill-knowledgeable in comedy and romance. Even the serious romantic wedge of the film was utterly spoiled by a dialogue between Ray (played by Diego Luna) and Marlo: “What do you see in me?” “You’re hot.” Try going on a date or two, Ripley.

Plain and simple: “Flatliners” is merely about oblivious rich kids that open unnecessary amounts of bottled wine and are too self-centered for their greater good to mourn for their friend’s death, all accompanied by one-toned jump scares. Cheap and pathetic, “Flatliners”  deserves the 2 percent it got on Rotten Tomatoes.


 

The Reel: Why “The Lion King” is the greatest animated film of all time

My all-time favorite movie (yes, my favorite movie ever) is the 1994 Disney animation and now-classic “The Lion King,” written by Irene Mecchi & Jonathan Roberts and directed by Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, with an iconic score by Hans Zimmer & Elton John.

“The Lion King” features a zootopic recreation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” in which the king’s brother murders his Majesty for the throne and the son of the King comes back and takes the throne back, modeling the story structure of the age old tale of King Arthur. Starting at the dramatic and powerful opening in front of a song glorifying life and the vastness of Mother Nature (which is, in my opinion, the greatest opening to a film ever), it’s clear that this movie has its priorities straight: ruling a kingdom of such delicate structure requires wisdom. However, above all, it’s a responsibility, which serves as the central theme to the story.

With the opening scene also comes the exposition, first and foremost establishing that the king Mufasa and his wife Sarabi have produced an heir to the throne in the most legendary way possible: having a wise, old baboon hold him over the ledge of a giant rock. After all, the heir will be king someday, introducing the main plot through only fabulous visuals and song. The screenplay then places forth the vibrant overconfidence and young prince Simba in the following scenes, and also establishing the jealousy of Mufasa’s dark younger brother, Scar. Funnily enough, both are done mainly through song. Scar’s solo in the cave with the hyenas is actually where I first learned the word “meticulous.”

Despite being conventional in its exposition, “The Lion King” manages to add a darker spice to it, going for a nonconventional and adolescent style, which works magnificently in adding to the conflict and driving a character arc.

Next comes Mufasa’s death, (which, I would like to add, is incredibly adventurous of Disney to do in a movie built for kids) a perfectly-fitting and dramatic spin on the banal timeline thus far. I remember crying my eyes out as a six-year-old when Simba asks “Dad, we have to go home.” I’m even getting a little chokey as I write this column. But here’s the thing about Mufasa’s death: it happens fairly late into the movie. It’s not part of the exposition, but it’s not part of the rising action either. In a normal film, this option would be risky for the screenwriter. But here, it works brilliantly for two reasons:

First, it allows time for the Mufasa character to develop and form an obvious effect on Simba, and in turn, on us, the audience. As Scar continues to plan his ascension to the throne, we don’t know entirely how the movie’s going to work, because it seems that Mufasa is tough enough (he beat up a bunch of hyenas in a prior scene and Scar mocked him for his “brute strength” in previous scenes) to handle himself, which brings me to the second reason: it fits with the plot. Allowing Scar to win the throne significantly raises the stakes of Simba’s return to Pride Rock, driving forward the plot with an urgency and underlying tick-tocking. We care about Mufasa, we care about Pride Rock, we care about the kingdom, thanks to the elongated exposition time covered in reason #1.

Finally, we have the rising action, or Simba’s hang out with Timon and Pumba, two of the most memorable characters in recent film history. The famous meerkat and warthog represent the other side of the story that is both undesirable yet tempting. The movie suggests that being happy and having a responsibility can merge, which is a good thing (although misleading in my experience). The more time Simba spends away from home, the louder the tick-tocking gets.

We know that Scar has control of the throne, we know that he is wrecking havoc, and what does Simba do? He eats bugs and has fun all day. This makes us anxious, this makes us want to say to Simba: “go home, idiot. Save your kingdom.” And of course, the fun onscreen distracts from the real plot of the movie, which I see as a good thing, because technically Simba is also being distracted from the drama going on at home. Therefore, the first portion of the rising action is underlying, until we arrive at a nighttime scene in which Timon, Pumba and Simba stare into the sky and reminisce at the stars. Timon accidentally reminds Simba about a remark Mufasa had made to his son in an earlier scene about how the ancestors of kings watch over everything. Simba leaves the party and passes out in guilty frustration.

The audience’s thoughts are conveyed through the character of Nala, Simba’s childhood friend, who arrives at Pumbaa & Timon’s home to hunt. Go home, she says, take back the throne because it’s your responsibility. Simba becomes increasingly conflicted, which builds and builds until the wise Baboon Rafiki (mentioned earlier) leads him into a confrontation with Mufasa, who comes entirely from Simba himself. He imagines a conversation with his deceased father before arriving at a conclusion, ending the beautiful and well-written character arc in a series of Hans Zimmer’s orchestral tones. “The Lion King” suggests that outside forces can never make decisions for another to take on a responsibility; Simba is the rightful king, and therefore he can be the only one who can decide his fate.

Simba defeats Scar in a red and orange blaze of glory that is the climax, for which the audience has been waiting for over an hour. They will not disappointed. For a 1990s animated film made by a generally G-rated entertainment studio, the action scenes are amazing. The resolution comes with a wash of rain (water represents change) over the burning savannah, and Simba roaring into the night sky in triumph. I still get chills when I watch it, and I’ve watched the movie well over 50 times.

“The Lion King” is one of the greatest written, directed, scored and animated movies there has been. The implications of the beautifully-crafted character arc and underlying theme of responsibility and choice are timely and will always be. The music is fantastic, the animation quality was definitely ahead of its time, the plot is dramatic and appropriate and the emotion throughout is variable and effective in establishing both a character and story arc: proud, dramatic, sad, happy, comedic, angry, relief, then back to proud. Like I said, a masterpiece.

And now, I’m going to watch it again.

 

The Reel is a weekly column that publishes entertainment pieces on films, the film industry, analysis of movie structure, film creativity and film reviews.

The Reel: Poetic storytelling should not be celebrated for being poetic

A while ago, I saw “Moonlight,” a film that I commended for its screenplay craftsmanship in another column. Despite being ambitious and beautifully-shot, it lacks the essential quality of entertainment: substance. Of course, it conveys principles much needed for today’s changing times, but would it have hurt at all to add a visible storyline?

I loved “Moonlight.” But as I watched it with my family, ranting at times about how the breeze was brilliantly symbolic of internal friction or how the swimming scene was filmed so that the camera went unsubmerged and submerged just like Chiron, or how beautiful the colors were, I realized something. It was beautiful, of course, but it lacked a story. Instead, it dove headfirst into its moral with most of the attention going to a character arc that arguably isn’t even the center of the story.

And then about a month ago, I saw the 2008 movie  “No Country For Old Men” for the first time. I might be called racist for saying this, but the Coen brothers can craft a balance between story and spectacle far better than Barry Jenkins can. The plot is entertaining and gripping, and the poetic ideals conveyed manage to engage the viewer long after the film is over. Not to mention, the theme conveyed by “No Country For Old Men” is far more sophisticated and ambiguous than that of “Moonlight,” a movie whose adapted title “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” itself literally conveys all there is to come out of the film.

Both movies seek to present an idea, but only “No Country For Old Men” can do it through an entertaining movie. Nobody enjoyed the beach scene in “Moonlight,” because there was no context, the connection between the two characters was pointless, but hey, the breeze is symbolic, right?

Mahershala Ali, who happens to be one of my favorite actors ever, drove the film forward because his words had substance in them; his acting style and his dialogue were the only pillars supporting a structure whose purpose was probably 90 percent  made of A24 wanting to grab some quick cash without spending too much. Ali’s character was the reason I enjoyed the film. Other than him, the film loses its philosophical support and despite being filmed in bright, cold colors, never regains that spirit. The second and third acts are boring, pointless, and amount to almost nothing until little Chiron turns to the camera in the final shot of the film.

Movies should not be appreciated for being unique, they should be appreciated for being good. Altered timelines are fine; look at Tarantino films. Spectacle is fine; look at Christopher Nolan.

“Moonlight” is a beautiful movie, and it’s an important movie. But it’s not a good movie.

‘Ghost in the Shell:’ a hollow adaptation

I never particularly liked the original Ghost in the Shell – the 1995 anime movie directed by Mamoru Oshii. It didn’t immediately blow my mind. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by 21st century visuals. It could have been the dense political intrigue, or the (literally) drawn-out shots of random city scenery. But I will admit that 1995’s Ghost in the Shell – packed with philosophy, intricacy and unrelenting ambition – wholly deserves multiple viewings, like any good work of fiction. This year’s Ghost in the Shell? It doesn’t deserve even one.

It didn’t start out too poorly. Ghost in the Shell (2017) begins with the building of a body, like the original, beautifully adapting the famous sequence of a cyborg woman’s construction, wholly machine save for the brain.

In fact, the movie establishes an astonishingly detailed city and world. Buildings stack high into the atmosphere; miscellaneous citizens work industriously and convincingly; and holograms run amok with commercial abandon. The soundtrack, your typical cyberpunk-themed techno beat, pumps with urgency and intensity. But the illusion breaks in every dialogue line and every confusing plot choice.

The original Ghost in the Shell’s premise was simple and intriguing: the Major, a female cyborg super-soldier in a world ruled by technology, works with the clandestine agency Section 9 in pursuit of a devastating hacker, known only as the Puppet Master.

Unfortunately, the live action version begins faltering as soon as it strays from the source material. Intended surprises reveal themselves prematurely, enemies fall back on cliche motivations and exposition lacks the relevance or authenticity that the original utilized to bait out viewers’ curiosity. The film unnecessarily reigns in itself. It seems as though the producers decided to fall back on “safe” plotlines played out typically by Marvel or action B-movies, instead of relying on the original’s groundbreaking narrative.

Rather than a grim killing machine, an empowered woman, an occasionally sympathetic friend, Johansson plays your average cop-movie cop, complete with poorly justified disobedience, bland visits to the coroner and stiff, unintimidating interrogations. The Major becomes weak. She loses her physical superiority and commanding air, which instead are replaced with overdone character weaknesses played out by every Hollywood  super-soldier spy hero. The outrage against the casting of a white woman to play an originally Japanese character could possibly have been quelled by a convincing performance, but Johansson becomes the kind of machine that could substitute when Siri wants to call in sick.

Regardless of quality or interest-arousement, every scene in the original 1995 anime stands with remarkable distinction. Each fight, conversation and thematic element is memorable in and of itself – the garbage men, the boat, the initial leap. But the modern Ghost in the Shell, even with its homages and easter eggs, is every bit as forgettable as the Major’s hackneyed amnesia. It also lacks the contemplative philosophy of Oshii’s classic, instead sufficing itself with several repeated “revelations.”

The new Ghost in the Shell finds itself on the long list of failed live-action adaptations, alongside Dragon Ball: Evolution and The Last Airbender. Beyond sensory distractions, the movie lacks any soul (or “ghost,” as it is called). Fans of the original can continue waiting for a true and loyal redesign, while newcomers should stick to the animated cult classic – not a definite eye-opener, but undoubtedly better.

“CHiPs:” a crime of a movie

The police comedy, action movie Chips that came out on Mar. 24 was a modern comedy based off of an older TV show. Dax Shepard wrote, directed and starred in the movie as the main character Jon Baker. Michael Pena acted as the other main character, Frank “Ponch” Poncherello. The two characters played off of each other’s jokes, getting progressively closer throughout the movie, maybe even too close.

Ponch starts off as a high-ranking, charismatic FBI officer. He later joins Baker, a sensitive, ex-motocross champion who has troubles with his wife. Baker joins the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to rekindle the relationship with his wife as the oldest rookie. Poncho is assigned to be his partner on an undercover mission to arrest a gang of highly skilled murdering motorcyclists.  The movie goes through an intense Hollywood chase scenes to huge explosions to sexual jokes.

I enjoyed many similar movies such as 21 Jump Street, Fast and the Furious and Why Him, so I was excited to watch this movie.  Yet I thought this movie was not quite as enjoyable as these other movies.  The movie only appeals to a certain type of audience and is over-the-top with big action scenes and obscene jokes.  It is extremely funny, but it is not everyone’s type of humor.  I did not love the plot, but I did laugh a lot.

I thought the two main characters were likable and found myself rooting for them to survive and cringing when they were in imminent danger.  I would recommend seeing this if you enjoy movies with lots of action and comedy.  But with that said, this is not your deep Grammy-winning movie. It would make for a fun time with your friends, but that’s about it. 2.5/5

King Kong is back, and he’s definitely worth your money

The first film ever about a giant gorilla batting angrily at aircraft first came out in 1933. Since then, along with the Japanese monster Godzilla, King Kong has been an icon in film history, revolutionizing, if not setting off, the long string of giant monster films that would ultimately follow it.

In 1962, Japanese director Ishiro Honda featured both iconic monsters in a film, “Godzilla vs. King Kong,” a movie that is currently being made with modern filmmaking, set to release in 2020. In 1967, a movie called “King Kong Escapes,” featuring a battle between Kong and a robot replica of himself was released. And in 2005, “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson led the way for a modern King Kong that was well received by critics and audiences.

Although the original King Kong storyline has been changed somewhat, the basic outline is this: in an America at the turn of the 18th century, three people, one of whom must be a blonde, travel to an unknown island on which Kong lives. Toward the end, Kong climbs the Empire State Building while World War I era airplanes shoot at him. This storyline is iconic, and has been modeled after by countless films.

“Kong: Skull Island” leaves behind this traditional plotline and instead sets itself in more modern times, immediately after the Vietnam War. A battle-loving army commander played by Samuel L. Jackson and his team escort a team of explorers, some of which include former British Special Forces Captain James Conrad, played by Tom Hiddleston, a formidable photographer Mason Bates, played by Brie Larson, secret-harboring archaeologist Bill Randa, played by John Goodman. On the island, they meet a refuged World War II pilot, played by John C. Reilly, who can help them escape.

The cast is extremely talented and delivers perfect performances despite rather banal character design. The film satisfies the wants of the audience like any character-based adventure/action movie would. For example, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston, the two attractive actors of the team, obviously fit well together. The more nerdy characters work well together. Regardless of the trite character elements, it’s obvious that the cast has chemistry and are charismatic together on-screen, letting the audience care about them.

One thing that stands out in “Kong: Skull Island” that sets itself apart from other King Kong movies is the cinematography. The director and DP (Director of Photography) understand that this film takes place in a more modern setting, and adjusts it to fit the hot, muggy, unclear nature of the drama taking place. Many scenes are filmed with pugnacious, Vietnam War-esque styles, as if this were more serious of an action film. The realness of each scene was emphasized through the intense color correction, the warlike unknowing that the island presents.

In addition to the cinematography, the visual effects are absolutely spectacular. Kong legitimately looks like a giant ape. When I watched the movie in the theater, I wasn’t looking for mistakes in the FX or sitting back in my chair because Kong looked like an animated Harambe. It’s evident that the CGI crew put more than enough resources and energy into making a giant gorilla look like, well, a giant gorilla. Of course, the mystical, visually-stunning cinematography helped with Kong’s look, but overall, it definitely is an upgrade from the 2005 film.

And finally, the fight scenes. The 2014 remake of “Godzilla” is my favorite big-monster movie of all time, because it glorified the idea of Godzilla, teasing his tremendousness, saving the powerful fighting for the finale, making the action sequences all the more thrilling. The buildup from the point of view of the characters on the ground helped make the final battle an exhilarating sight to behold. “Kong: Skull Island,” instead shows Kong, in all his glory, right away, introducing his ferocity right as our heroes show up. This dulled the fighting, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still amazing to watch. With the cinematographic identity and stunning visual effects, the fighting scenes were nail-biting and fantastic.

Despite minor banalities in the characters and the plot, “Kong: Skull Island” redeems itself with an excellent portrayal of Kong and does justice to the iconic monster. 8.5/10

“Logan,” an overrated, misguided Western, fails to make up for a flimsy plotline

Yes, that’s right. I did not enjoy “Logan.” It’s actually not that terrible of a movie. The action sequences are well executed and Hugh Jackman did an excellent job portraying a mentally-wounded warrior with many scars, as did Patrick Stewart with Professor X. Newcomer Dafne Keen impresses as the young blood X-23, and Boyd Holbrook embodies the psychopathic evil of Pierce.

However, while the film is respectable, it isn’t worth the praise in which critics and audiences are showering it. I am suggesting that “Logan” was misdirected, directed more at creating a unique style in which the superhero genre has rarely been filmed to give a legendary actor, Hugh Jackman, a proper sendoff, as it is his final X-Men movie.

The movie takes place in the near future, where mutants are nearly extinct. A group of dark government-esque forces hunts a young mutant whose gifts are similar to that of Logan, a now older, grittier, more bitter alcoholic limo driver, living on the Mexican-American border with a withering Charles Xavier and mutant Caliban whose gift is tracking. One day, along comes a gifted youngster whose name is “Laura,” also known as the X-23 mutant whose powers bear a resemblance to that of Logan’s.

There’s a reason why the film began so fiery and ended so heavily. “Logan” tells its story through methods that I like to call “plot hops,” which are essentially conflicts within a story that arise and are then immediately resolved.

A film based on plot hops is basically just a series of mini story points that collectively tell a greater story, made up of the underlying subplots. This style isn’t always reliable because the audience can quickly get tired of the rapid-firing of climaxes, then lose attention when the movie’s climax occurs, dulling the impact of the final act.

By plot hopping, “Logan” loses a lot of the momentum and ends without an explosive finale. Instead, the best action is presented towards the beginning, when nothing has occurred prior to dull the explosiveness of action.

In essence, critics are raving about “Logan” not because of its quality, but rather its distinctive style and emotional value. A movie isn’t good because it’s different, neither is a movie good because it’s just like every other one. Films must make sense and must instill thought into the audience, not send an iconic actor goodbye. 6.5/10

Teenage story reveals hidden life messages

The face of a worried girl fills the big screen, and everyone is silent. The people’s heartbeats quicken as the audience grows tense. We see the face of this girl wake up to the same day over and over. Everyone waits on the edge of their seats, anxious to see what the girl will do. This was the effect that “Before I Fall” had on the audience in the theater.

“Before I Fall” is a movie about a popular high school girl who is killed in a car crash and must relive the same day seven times. The movie is adapted from the book written by Lauren Oliver, which teaches readers about change in one’s personal life and redemption.

The main character, Samantha Kingston, portrayed by Zoey Deutch, plays both a protagonist and antagonist role. In the beginning of the film, the character acts as a bully along with her friends. As the plot unfolds, Samantha realizes what impact her actions have on others as well as herself and learns to change for the better.

The story is an emotional one, as certain moments hit the viewer with a forceful impact, causing the viewer to rethink important decisions. Common clichés are shown in the film, but the way they are depicted allows the audience to think deeper about what is shown on the surface.

As morbid as the story’s concept may sound, it teaches everyone to take risks and do as much as possible with their time and the opportunities they are given. Time is precious and needs to be spent wisely. It is never known when one will lose their only chance to do something.

The concept of the movie also shares the benefits of being a good person. In the movie, Kingston displays the importance of being nice, considerate and appreciative to her family, friends and everyone around her, as she started out as the opposite.

While most high school dramas will star white females, “Before I Fall” has a diverse cast. Medalion Rahimi, an Iranian-American, plays the main character’s friend, Elody. Cynthy Wu who also plays one of the main character’s friends, Ally, is a Chinese-American.

The movie was distributed by Awesomeness Films, originating from a YouTube network called AwesomenessTV. The company chose a YouTuber from their own society, Kian Lawley, to act in the movie.

Critics compare “Before I Fall” to the film “Groundhog Day,” mostly in a negative manner due to its lack of humor. Despite these reviews, “Before I Fall” is a refreshing story that focuses on an adolescent’s viewpoint and its seriousness emphasizes the themes previously mentioned.

Having read the book, the film adaptation of “Before I Fall” was well produced. It was disappointing to see small scenes cut out, but understanding that there needs to be a time limit, the most significant scenes were included.

After seeing the movie, I thought about it for hours afterwards, reminding myself that I have the ability to change. I recommend “Before I Fall,” to all teenagers, as well as the book, for key lessons will certainly be learned and will expand the viewer’s or reader’s mind.

The Reel: Tension

Any sort of on-screen entertainment must invoke emotion in the viewer. Sadness, happiness, anger, pity, laughter, the invocation of emotion is pretty much the definition of entertainment.

In order to maximize the extent of this emotion, movies need to employ plot development or character development, which refers to the progressing and changing spectrum of the story or a specific character. Development serves an important purpose: to make the viewer shift attention or feel during a specific point in the film. So, when the plot moves forward, the audience feels  what  the director intends, and are hence, more entertained.

Think of it like this: If a movie introduces a character, gives some backstory on that character, makes that character more likeable and then kills him/her off, the viewer would feel significantly heavier impact than if that character were mothballed. “Suicide Squad” (2016) is the perfect example of bad character development. The prison guard is given more exposition than Slipknot (If you don’t know who Slipknot is, then there’s the problem), who was the first Suicide Squad member to die. The event was played and painted as a huge reckoning for the group of villains, and quite an important one, too. But the character failed to invoke in the audience any remote level of interest or emotion.

I love feeling emotions when I watch movies. “Interstellar,” (2015)  “The Lion King,” (1994) “Forrest Gump,” (1994), and “Game of Thrones,” (2011-2018) have all given my throat lumps. “The Social Network,” (2008) “The Dark Knight,” (2008) and “Inglourious Basterds” (2008) are several of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen.

However, it’s just not the same after seeing great movie after great movie, especially since my condescending attitude forces me to analyze films instead of enjoy them. I’ve basically lost my ability to feel emotions at the movie theater at this point, with the exception of one: anxiety.

There are a lot of factors that go into crafting a scene that’s so tense, that generates a profound level of anxiety in the viewer.

What is perhaps the most important in a tense scene is what comes before. For example, establish a threat in a scene before dragging on the scene with almost pointless dialogue that serves no purpose other than to generate anxiety. If there’s a confrontation between a killer and victim, establish in the introduction of the movie that the killer is capable of killing without remorse. The viewer then feels more worried about the victim instead of saying “Oh, that’s a main character, they’re not going to die.”

The great British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock practically invented the style in his movies “Vertigo” (1958) and “Psycho” (1960). Of course, people my age don’t exactly enjoy black-and-white movies with elementary cinematography by today’s standards. While I would love to just fill the list with Sergio Leone’s Western standoffs (an exceptional one is from “Once Upon a Time in the West”) and Hitchcock, I’d like to recommend some more modern films with amazing tension that will make all of you anxious for days, ranked from five to one. Enjoy biting your nails off while sitting on the edge of your seats:

Thunder Road Pictures

“Sicario,” directed by Denis Villeneuve

Warner Bros.“Zodiac,” directed by David Fincher

Warner Bros.

“Se7en,” directed by David Fincher

The Weinstein Company

“Inglourious Basterds,” directed by Quentin Tarantino

Paramount Vintage

“No Country for Old Men,” directed by Ethan and Joel Cohen

 

These don’t have analyses attached to them, because spoiling amazing scenes is even worse when said scenes are supposed to keep the viewer in suspense. Nevertheless, I strongly urge you to watch every single one.

The Bye Bye Man disappoints

R

eleased on Jan. 13, 2017, The Bye Bye Man follows the story of three friends who discover the legend of a man to is capable of very malicious acts.  

Elliot (Douglas Smith), John (Lucien Laviscount) and Sasha (Cressida Bonas) are all college students and have recently moved into an old house off-campus.

The legend behind the Bye Bye Man is that whenever the name is said or thought of, the Bye Bye Man is “summoned” and is able to cause murder through giving hallucinations to the person who said or thought of the name.

Throughout the movie, the viewer learns the signs of the Bye Bye Man is coming are coins that randomly appear from nowhere, train sounds and a large bare hound. However, these are presented in awkward manners which takes away from the suspense of each.

While this mythology gives the movie good potential and high expectations, the movie isn’t able to deliver anything close, but in fact makes the backstory ridiculous, messy and therefore confusing. Also, most the of the content isn’t original and the movie in total seemed to just be a mashup of previous horror films.

The characters of the story discover that the only way to protect themselves is “don’t say it, don’t think it,” which is repeated throughout the movie multiple times, but even this seems unoriginal.  

After a promising intro to the film, it all goes downhill. For a movie to display visions that supposedly makes the character go insane and still be rated as PG-13 shows how much potential went missing during filming. The characters were also terribly developed and the focus was clearly on setting up small jumps scares that proved dissatisfying as they were too predictable.

In fact, there was barely any aspect of this movie that could be counted as satisfying.

The creating of a sequel to follow The Bye Bye Man as the film will prove to be a huge mistake if it happens due to this failure of a horror film.

The Reel: The five least-boring Best Picture winners of the 21st century

The Academy Awards is made up of 6,687 members who vote every year on the best movie of the year, through a weird voting style called “instant-runoff voting” in which voters rank the nominations in the order in which they enjoyed each one. This is a much more complicated process that seeks to choose a Best Picture winner based on the broadness of support it receives. If you would like to know more, the voting process is detailed here.

Usually, Best Picture winners don’t exactly receive the majority of votes and are usually unrecognized until they win. I can’t speak for everyone, but I hadn’t seen “Birdman” or even heard of it until it won the Oscar in 2014. The most popular, provocative and bold movies usually don’t win anymore. Unless, of course, they do – which is why I’m here to provide a series of movies that won Best Picture that are truly worth watching, not just for their Oscar-bait nature, but also for their boldness in storytelling.

New Line Cinema

1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, 2004

A spectacular end to Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy that capped off the greatest adventure that was ever put to film. Glorious battle sequences, emotional conclusion wrap-ups, airtight linear plot structure, flawless visual effects and an epic final chapter made up this masterpiece of a film that defined and inspired a generation of nerds (and non-nerds).

Miramax Pictures

2. No Country for Old Men, 2008

The Coen Brothers produce another fantastic film (what’s new?), and this time, it’s a Western, starring one of the greatest actors of our time, Javier Bardem in his greatest role yet. Scenes are always tense, dialogue is beautifully crafted, every spoken word is lethal, each gunshot is set up to be a bomb. Essentially, it’s a darker, grittier “Inglourious Basterds.” There is no doubt that this film deserved every award it received, plus more. “No Country for Old Men” also happens to be on my personal top ten list (Number 6).

Warner Bros

3. Argo, 2013

I love Ben Affleck’s movies. He’s a skilled actor and a visionary director. I believe that “Argo” is his best film thus far, and that’s an insanely high bar to reach. “Argo” tales the journey of a CIA operative whose job was to fetch several diplomats from Tehran in the Iran hostage crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s under the cover of a science fiction film. The constant looming threat of discovery and prosecution, as if every step taken outdoors in this hostile nation or blowing your cover as your alter ego can go from zero to 100 in a heartbeat. The movie is tense, personal, emotional and subtly obtrusive in its murmuring speculation on what it means to be imprisoned.

Miramax

4. Chicago, 2003

I first watched “Chicago” in my American Literature class junior year. Of course, watching it during class dulled the cinematic experience that a film usually comes with. When I watched it at home, the explosiveness and pure spectacle of the musical completely blew me away. “Chicago” was the “La La Land” of 2003, about an aspiring jazz singer, without the romance involved. Simple ambition, obstacle, and execution – the perfect film about dreams and aspirations and the course on which one must change before their goals can be achieved. Not to mention, the music, dance numbers, cinematography and production design are simply extraordinary.

First Look Media

5. Spotlight, 2016

“Spotlight” was by far my favorite film of 2015. Not just because as a member of the Epitaph, I’m obligated to endorse any movie about journalism, or because of my undying love for Rachel McAdams (I’ve been a fan since “Mean Girls”), but because of its subject. The Boston Globe’s shocking report of widespread pedophilic molestation within the Catholic Church is an inspiring tale on its own, but “Spotlight” gave it the recognition and quality retelling it deserved, even more than a Pulitzer Prize. The movie is emotional yet calculating, ordinary yet smart, told through the eyes of a team of ordinary reporters who have yet to find their edge. It may seem like Oscar bait, but “Spotlight” does something that very few can do – recraft the raw emotion of child abuse and rape without showing it on screen. The reporters react as we would, as if the Spotlight team is the audience. The producers of the movie do not condescend to the audience; instead, they trust that we have an emotional core, that we would do the same if we were in the position of the journalists onscreen. “Spotlight” is a journey, a tale of integrity and humanity and justice, more than just a Best Picture winner.

So, there you have it, my personal favorite Best Pictures winners. The Academy of Motion Pictures’ voting system favors mediocrity, which means that especially daring films usually don’t receive the award for greatest film of the year. I’m heavily rooting for “La La Land” this year, but you may be rooting for “Moonlight” or “Arrival.” No matter, 2016 gave us great movies, and I’m excited to see who comes out victorious on Sunday.

The Reel: A beaut. And fin.

You’ve probably seen a good film before. Did you enjoy it for its visuals or story? It probably depends, right? For example, “Fantasia” (2000) is purely based off of visual stimulation and how the narrative of the music correlates with the implications of what’s on the screen. Others like “The Social Network” (2010) satisfy purely with story – how the characters interact, how the story progresses and how the setting changes. The cinematography is uniform.

At this point, my fellow Film Club officers probably expect me to say: “Visuals don’t matter. Film is designed for story purposes only,” which is only partly true. I love story and always base my liking of a movie on its story, but sometimes the visuals and imagery are part of the plot.

For example: take the “Fast and Furious” franchise. I’ll admit, I enjoyed quite a few of those movies, although some of them are pretty deflated when it comes to soul – and that’s a low bar to reach, because there are a total of eight films now to draw character, setting and plot from. However, a huge part of executing the storyline are the visuals. My favorite “Fast and Furious” is the seventh one, directed by James Wan, who, if you look him up, specializes in horror.

Wan did a surprisingly amazing job, with the skydiving, tower-jumping, mountain chase scenes. The story is action-packed and filled with soul (especially that tear-jerking final scene where Don parts with Brian, backed by six previous movies of brotherhood). The visuals do the bulk of the work.

But sometimes, visuals eclipse story. For example: “Transformers.” Although I watched every one (Michael Bay is good at visuals, despite his explosions fetish), any scene without giant robots is boring – and that’s a problem.

One of my favorite directors is Christopher Nolan, who, I believe, is the greatest visuals-story crafter of the last fifty years, and that’s an insanely high bar to reach. “Inception” and “Interstellar” are two of my favorite films because they combine the best of both worlds: amazing visuals, and effective stories. The soundtracks, both by Hans Zimmer, combines both into a euphoric cinematic masterpiece.

The latest phenomenons include Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” and Denis Villenueve’s “Arrival.” Sadly, I did not see “Silence” or “Arrival” before making my top-ten list. However, I highly recommend these. They are three amazing contemporary films that everyone should see.