Rapid Reviews- Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman serves as the latest installment in the infamous DC Cinematic Universe, a franchise that, up until this point, was yet to produce a good movie. With contemporaries such as Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad in its wake, I was very pessimistic going in. The explosive critical and audience reception, combined with my pre-existing fanship for lead actress Gal Gadot, got me into the theater opening weekend. Two viewings in under 24 hours later, I am so happy I gave this movie a chance.

Wonder Woman is not only the first good DC Cinematic Universe film, but a game changer in DC’s formerly failing battle against its Marvel Studios rival. It manages to address a vast majority of issues that plague the average Marvel flick, namely avoiding being bogged down by its presence in a cinematic universe. The filmmakers traded pointless easter eggs and contrived connections in favor of a focused, stand-alone story. This gives the movie room to breathe, which pays off with its fantastic character development and gripping narrative.

Let me address the pressing question right away, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Almost no superhero actor or actress has managed to seamlessly blend with their character as well as she has. The only possible contenders that come to mind are Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Whenever I think of Wonder Woman from now on, I will think of Gadot. The exceptional writing of the character, combined with her strong performance and natural beauty create the core of this movie’s success.

Gadot doesn’t stand on her own in this fiery core. Wonder Woman directly combats the typical comic book movie flaw of weak side characters by creating one of the most developed and memorable film ensembles in recent years. Chris Pine’s Steve, Saïd Taghmaoui’s Sameer, Ewen Bremner’s Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock’s Chief receive as much development as possible for secondary characters. This allows the viewer to genuinely care and fear for them in the danger they face while accompanying Diana on her quest. Terrific performances from all four only compliment this stellar character writing.

The one area in which this movie failed to outshine its Marvel competitors was in its villains. Without entering spoiler territory, the primary and secondary antagonists all suffered from poor writing, acting, and surprisingly little development. Their cheesy and over-the-top nature clashed with an otherwise tonally consistent film.

The privilege to see this movie for a second time only amplified my prior positive convictions. Wonder Woman is not only my favorite film of the year thus far, but the best comic book movie since 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. I now have a speck of hope for November’s Justice League, a project I previously thought to be doomed.

Final Verdict: Must See

Rapid Reviews- Alien: Covenant

Introduction:

Rapid Reviews is a new series I’m launching. Here, I will be covering films that I want to talk about, but don’t plan on writing in-depth analytical essays on. I will also include a final verdict section at the end of each review, so those who don’t feel like reading the whole post can gain an even quicker summary of my opinion (skip, worth seeing, and must see are the three verdicts I can assign). Anyway, enjoy the first of many rapid reviews to come. Who knows, one day I may expand to other mediums, but for now, I’m just sticking with movies.

Review:

Alien: Covenant serves as both the sequel to Prometheus and the second prequel to Alien. I consider myself to be somewhat of a fan of the Alien franchise, having really enjoyed the original, but not yet got around to watching Aliens. My opinions on Prometheus, however, can be best described with one point: I can’t seem to recall almost anything that happened in the entire movie.

Thankfully, Alien: Covenant doesn’t fall into the same forgettable trap. Combining the strongest elements from both Prometheus and the original Alien, Covenant serves as the bridging point between the two. Despite some major issues, I really enjoyed this entry into the legendary science fiction franchise.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as David, while also portraying a new character named Walter. Regardless of who he is in any given scene, Fassbender is the standout performance of this film; he’s worth the entire price of admission alone. However, when it boils down to the rest of the new cast, we are left with an undeveloped and generically bland horror ensemble.

What makes this movie stand out over its prequel predecessor is the villain, the identity of whom I will not spoil due to its implications in the Alien lore. Despite being an amoral and nefarious character, you find yourself rooting for him due to the sheer blandness of the protagonists. I found myself wanting his sinister plans to succeed, despite their horrible nature.

Aside from one standout performance and a tremendous villain, there isn’t really much to Alien: Covenant. At its core, the movie is a fun popcorn flick, and a solid entry into the classic sci-fi/horror saga. If you were disappointed by the lack of Xenomorphs in Prometheus, you will be immensely satisfied this time around.

Speaking of Prometheus, I would recommend giving it a re-watch before seeing Covenant, just as a refresher. It’s not absolutely necessary, but based on the amount of recap questions I had to ask my friend during and after the movie, It’s probably a good idea.

Final Verdict: Worth Seeing

Attack on Titan and the Avatar Effect

Note: At the time of writing this analysis, I have not yet watched the premiere of season 2.

The second season of Attack on Titan is finally upon us. Although there are plenty of diehard fans donning their scout regiment hoodies and celebrating, the common consensus is a pungent apathy. A second season that would have been welcomed with open arms just three years prior is now faced with an overwhelming wave of indifference. I call this the Avatar effect.

In late 2009, James Cameron released a film that many at the time considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made (including myself). Avatar was treated to critical and box office success, working its way up as the highest grossing film in the history of the medium. When Avatar 2 was announced, fans and the general population alike were ecstatic. Years have passed, and here we are without a sequel. Walt Disney World, however, wanted to cash in on the Avatar mania, and is finally opening Pandora- The World of Avatar later this spring. The problem is that this mania that Disney is trying to take advantage of no longer exists. If they wanted to cash in on a craze, they needed to do so in the small amount of time that the phenomenon would have still been prominent. I probably can’t find you a single person out there now who is taking the trip to Disney World for the opening day of this sub-park.

Attack on Titan had its “mania” period from the second half of 2013 through nearly all of 2014. Hell, Attack on Titan stars were still being featured as guests of honor at conventions well into 2015. There was plenty of wiggle room for Production I.G to get themselves in gear and pump out a second season. Whatever the reason for the delay may have been, here we are, nearly halfway through 2017, and we are finally getting this sequel season. Yet the remaining fans are still wondering why nobody is excited?

You may be asking yourself, if something is a timeless classic, then why would it matter if it took so long to get a sequel, everyone would still be excited, right? Here in lies the issue with Attack on Titan. It is entry level shlock trying to disguise itself as a masterpiece.

I first watched the show in January of 2014, a time in my life where my interest in anime, manga, and otaku culture in general was virtually non-existent. I had been a diehard fan of Naruto for most of my life prior, but even my love for that manga had died out almost a year before. This was also at the height of my tumblrcore phase, where colossal titan and scout regiment memes ran rampant through the site.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I fell in love with Attack on Titan upon my first viewing. I was enamored with an animated work that felt as mature and sophisticated as most of the adult television I was consuming at the time. There was this sense of mystery and intrigue, all presented through gorgeous animation and crisp action.

I considered Attack on Titan to be one of my favorite shows for a large portion of 2014. I bought all of the merch I could get my hands on, spent hours in line waiting to meet voice actors from the english dub of the show at conventions, and posted about the series constantly on Tumblr. I did not, however, take the leap into further anime consumption.

Then my friend showed me Mekakucity Actors. Then I watched Kill la Kill, immediately followed by Madoka Magica. By the time I had watched Gurren Lagann, constructed my MyAnimeList account, and eventually quit Tumblr altogether, that initial anime about kids killing monsters was just a speck in the back of my mind. Still, whether it be out of stubbornness, or sheer denial, I continued to claim it was a masterpiece.

It was not until around mid-2015 that this claim came back to haunt me. After all of my praise, my friend Zack finally decided to give the show a watch himself. Note: At this time, he had also seen the slew of classics I listed above. Zack could not get through a single episode without either zoning out or falling asleep. The show was just boring to him, plain and simple. He did end up finishing it, but only under my excruciating insistence that it got better as it progressed. He did not agree with this sentiment.

It was at this point that I decided to read the manga that the show is based upon. I not only started from the beginning, but surpassed the season 1 content, chugging through what will probably account for all of season 2 and an early chunk of season 3. With atrocious art, bland and non-differentiable characters, and a story that never goes anywhere, it was one of the worst manga I had read to date (and I’ve read a substantial portion of Bleach). It was when I made the decision to drop this ghastly manga that everything came together for me.

The Attack on Titan anime is, to put it quite simply, not very good. However, I can’t deny that it is astoundingly smart. Production I.G knew exactly what strings to pull to craft the perfect entry level anime. In other words, AoT is the metaphorical gateway drug into otakudom. Once you work your way up to LSD and cocaine, do you really see your self regressing back to cheap marijuana? With its gorgeous animation, attractive character designs, and mystery-centric story, it is bound to draw in many on a base level of appeal. However, once you consume other anime that share in all of those properties, but actually execute them masterfully, there is really no point to Attack on Titan. When you can watch Mekakucity Actors, a show with stellar animation, unique and memorable characters, and an intriguing mystery that actually progresses and resolves, why would you bother with the exact opposite?

Avatar drew in such a mammoth crowd with its groundbreaking visual effects and allegorical story. Then you watch Dances with Wolves. Then you watch Princess Mononoke. These are two films that take the same premise as Avatar, but handle it masterfully. What is the point of going back to a bland and uninteresting version of an intriguing premise, when you can consume masterpieces that apply that very same idea?

My autographed poster of Eren Yeager, signed by dub voice actor Bryce Papenbrook, now sits in the recesses of my closet, collecting dust.

I will be watching the new season of Attack on Titan. Who knows, I may end up writing some pieces about it if I have anything interesting to say. The point is, I hope I helped current diehard fans understand why there is virtually no hype around their anticipated sequel season, and why there will be nowhere near as large of a community to share in their enthusiasm this time around.

Thoughts on the 2017 Oscars

The 2017 Oscars were unique for me in that I had a stake. Unlike in years prior, I had actually seen (and enjoyed) roughly half of the films nominated for best picture. I was also pretty well-versed in a hearty chunk of the other movies awarded.

I did feel cheated in the sense that Arrival, my hands down favorite film of 2016 (as well as one of my new all time favorites) was, in a sense, snubbed. However, with 2016 being such a strong year for movies, I understand why. The Academy has a certain taste in cinema that can be better reflected through works such as La La Land and Moonlight (both of which were also great). I’m not going to take the time to dive deep into why Arrival is such a masterpiece here. Once I manage to get a copy of the DVD and give it a few more watches, I will definitely be writing an in-depth analytical review. If you would like a brief excerpt of what’s to come, check out my HIGHLY OUTDATED top 4 films of 2016 list.

Overall, the award choices this year were a mixed bag. Some I strongly support, while others I severely disagree with. However, as I said, with so many great movies in 2016, I was prepared for disagreement.

The animation awards were, as usual, highly misguided. Piper, while a beautifully animated short film, was a bland and sub-par romp, vastly overshadowed by its companion feature Finding Dory. Inner Workings, one of my all time favorite short films, wasn’t even nominated. This trend of neglect oozes into the animated feature department with Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name in English) not even receiving a nomination. Kimi no Na Wa was an international sensation, becoming one of the most renowned Japanese films of all time. How it didn’t receive a nomination was beyond me; the irony is that it definitely would have won. Without Makoto Shinkai’s magnum opus in the frey, it was down to Zootopia and Moana. Deep down, I knew Zootopia would win. Its timely allegorical narrative clearly struck a chord with audiences and the Academy alike. In my opinion, however, the timeless Moana was the vastly superior film in story, character, and message. Zootopia preys on the current political zeitgeist, but I’m sure Moana will go on to inspire a generation of creatives.

In the realm of live action short films, I can’t say I had a stake. The only one I loved from 2016 was This House Has People In It, which wasn’t nominated. I knew it wouldn’t be, it had no Academy sensibilities whatsoever. Being of the horror genre and produced by Adult Swim, I guarantee you it went under the radar of every single Academy member. However, I can’t think of a more original and thought provoking movie to come out of 2016. I plan on covering This House Has People In It (along with the rest of Alan Resnick’s filmography) in some capacity in the near future, so stay tuned for that.

When it comes to cinematography, Arrival was, to put it simply, robbed. Don’t get me wrong, La La Land was a beautiful looking movie, but Arrival had some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen. I understand the impressiveness of La La Land’s long takes and camera movement, but it still felt like a movie. Arrival manages to use cinematography to break all possible disbelief, and transport you into the story. Everything feels crisply real, something a majority of movies fail to accomplish. People cite La La Land with having a dreamlike aesthetic. I can see where they are coming from in terms of the generic common sensibility. However, Arrival is shot like an actual dream; all of the uneasiness and fluidity that dreams bring was not neglected.

I’m not going to dive too deep into La La Land’s best original song victory. It was undeserved, plain and simple. La La Land had a fantastic story, message, and set of performances, but it did not have great music. At best, the majority of its songs were decent. My favorite song in the movie, Audition, didn’t even win. Further, Audition, while great, wasn’t even amazing to begin with. How Far I’ll Go from Moana is not only one of my favorite songs from a musical, but one of my favorite songs of 2016 period. It inspired and stuck with so many on such a personal level, including myself. I hypothesize that it didn’t win because not enough of the Academy saw Moana, while I guarantee you every single voter saw La La Land.

This same bias flows into the best director award, which was snagged by La La Land. Damien Chazelle is a fantastic director, especially for his age. However, his skill is much more apparent in 2014’s Whiplash. All bias aside from Denis Villeneuve being one of my favorite living directors, both Arrival and Moonlight were much better directed films than La La Land.

Perhaps my most positive takeaway from this year’s Oscars was Emma Stone’s victory as best leading actress. I do believe Amy Adams deserved it more for her masterful performance in Arrival. However, I am a huge Emma Stone fan. I have been following her career closely since my pre-teen years (thanks to Superbad). I have watched her mature as an actress, progressing from tertiary generic comedic roles to competently starring in intense dramas. Seeing her finally awarded after all these years was both heartwarming and satisfying, and I can’t argue with that.

Now for the gargantuan elephant in the room, best picture. We all saw the hilarious debacle; there’s not much to say on the matter that hasn’t already been said. However, it will go down in history as one of the funniest Oscar moments. I even made a joke before it happened, “What if they say the wrong movie?” I proceeded to follow up with “I personally enjoyed La La Land more, but I think Moonlight deserved the award.” Apparently I’m a foresightful genius.

All jokes aside, I knew Arrival had no chance of winning best picture. Despite being the far superior film, this is the Academy we’re dealing with. The true battle was clearly going to be down to La La Land vs. Moonlight. Again, despite my personal preference towards La La Land from an pure enjoyment perspective, Moonlight deserved to win from a technical viewpoint. I may end up writing a full analysis of Moonlight at some point, so I don’t want to delve too deep into the movie now. What I can say is that it is a very important film, and, despite its depressing nature, one everyone should see. It was a successful exercise in empathy, and truly helps you to put your life into perspective.

There you have it, my opinions on the 2017 Oscars in a nutshell. I’m really looking forward to what the rest of 2017 will have to offer in terms of film. With 2016 being such a great year for the medium, the coming ten months have massive shoes to fill.

Spirited Away is a Reality Show

As someone who grew up with Spirited Away, and hails it as a flawless masterpiece, naturally I am obsessed with getting other people into the film. Throughout my execution of this mission, I have noticed one common thread: everyone feels that the ending was anticlimactic. At first, I just dismissed my inability to see this problem as mere childhood bias. After all, I had seen the movie so many times that I have probably become desensitized to any flaws it may have.

However, after seeing the movie on the big screen with my roommate while living in D.C., something finally clicked. My roommate loved the film, up until the ending, as most seem to do. However, he explained his issue not just as one of anticlimacticness, but of a lack of payoff. He saw the driving force of the movie as Chihiro’s mission to return her parents to human form and return to the mortal world. If you did have to give the movie a simple synopsis for the sake of a magazine review or IMDB page, that is essentially what should be said. However, I also believe there is a huge misconception based on that very synopsis.

Spirited Away is not an epic fantasy story; it is a reality show. The fantasy adventure premise is merely a vehicle to transport you to a world. Once you are settled in this world, the movie is not about this central conflict. It is about Chihiro, a young immature girl, learning to adapt to a new environment, and mature into a responsible and strong individual.

It is, for this very reason, that the plot of saving her parents is somewhat abandoned for the second and third acts of the film, only to be quickly resolved in the last five minutes. The movie is not about that story, it is about a story of personal growth in a unique setting. But the conflict did get you invested in Chihiro and the characters that inhabit this world, didn’t it?

Reality shows are about people’s lives, individuals adapting to new situations and dealing with their own personal growth. Although person vs. person conflicts are present, they are often artificially inserted to get you more invested. Sound familiar? Hayao Miyazaki inserted an almost artificial fantasy conflict to get you into your seat, and then pushed it to the side to make room for the real Spirited Away.

It is also for this reason that there is no central antagonist in the story. Yubaba, the witchy owner of the bath house, may seem like an obvious candidate to point fingers at. Those assumptions would be misguided. What did Yubaba ever do to harm our protagonist? Yubaba didn’t turn Chihiro’s parents into pigs, her parents did that out of their own selfishness. Yubaba didn’t refuse to give Chihiro her parent’s back. Chihiro never asked for that directly, Haku told her to just ask for a job in the bath house instead. Rather than simply turning Chihiro into an animal, she decided to allow her to work. Yubaba was just a greedy, but overall redeemable person, using a bad situation to profit. Despite being a spirit, she was just being human.

That’s the core of Spirited Away to me, a story about people. Through Chihiro’s eyes, it’s a peak into a world that has been static for a long time, and will continue to be static after she leaves. Chihiro isn’t some epic fantasy heroine that is going to change the status quo of some fantasy world. She’s just a girl, thrown into a rough situation and learning to mature from it. Spirited Away is not a fantasy adventure, but a reality show peering into a fantasy world through the eyes of an outsider.

Moana and Wind Waker: Perfecting the Polynesian Ocean Explorer Aesthetic

May as well cash in on the Moana hype train for a second time. There is a particular aesthetic in media that I have become increasingly fond of over the years. This is that of the Polynesian ocean explorer. Today I am going to be explaining this aesthetic, as well as why I appreciate it, through two pieces of media that perfect it. These are Moana and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Moana takes a very direct approach with regards to implementing this aesthetic. After all, the movie is literally about a Polynesian girl who wants to explore the ocean. Every single trait of the aesthetic is there: island inhabiting tribes, personified sea life, traditional Polynesian fashion. However, the element that stands out to me the most is the exploration of the ocean itself.

Despite being from entirely different mediums, both Moana and Wind Waker perfectly portray the vastness of the oceans at hand. In both instances, the audience knows the true constraints of the body of water. In Moana, it is limited to the confines of Earth’s Oceania region. In Wind Waker, it is bound to the grid-based world map that the player is given early in the game. Despite these literal constraints, the writing manages to make the oceans seem endless.

The idea of Moana’s deep-seated calling for ocean exploration is presented very early in the film. This already gives the sea a sense of vastness, as she is truly unaware of its constraints. She has never left her island; she has no perspective as to the true size of the body of water. To her, it may as well be infinite. This cleverly ingrained theme is only amplified when she actually begins to explore the ocean with Maui. Together, they encounter many unique characters, islands, and magical entities. The feeling that you can come across almost anything only supports this illusion of oceanic endlessness.

Wind Waker, while extremely different, flaunts the very same aesthetic in a similar manner. Before comparing the game directly to Moana, I must explain the context of Wind Waker as a part of a media franchise. The Legend of Zelda, a video game series produced by Nintendo, is one of the most well known high fantasy sagas of all time. The series typically takes place in a somewhat generic high fantasy world known as Hyrule, which always has the typical geographical tropes. A volcanic mountain region, an aquatic lake/river region, a mystical forest region, and a harsh desert region can be seen in almost every game in the series, regardless of where it lands on the timeline. However, aside from minor strides in Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker was the first game in the franchise to truly turn this world upside down. During the time between Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker (the two games directly next to each other on the series’ timeline) the world of Hyrule was flooded by the gods. Wind Waker is the first game in the series to take place in the ocean that is the aftermath of this very flood. There is no longer a main continent, only small islands formed over the peaks of what used to be traditional Hylian landmarks. Now, rather than exploring a vast landmass on horseback, you are sailing across a massive ocean on a small boat.

Although Wind Waker naturally borrows many elements from its franchise predecessors, it manages to use this oceanic atmosphere to its advantage. It seamlessly blends the traditional European fantasy concepts that defined the series with a Polynesian ocean explorer aesthetic. Link, rather than living in a farming village or forest haven, now lives on a small tribal island. The attire of the villagers is influenced heavily by Polynesian style. Once you leave your village, you sail to many islands and come across a plethora of unique creatures, but this aesthetic still remains. In fact, many of the staple characters and enemies of the series get an oceanic makeover. The Kokiri get a re-imagining that feels like it stepped straight out of Polynesian mythology. The Zora race is replaced by the Rito, a group of anthropomorphic bird people that live in a society that is literally that of a Polynesian tribe. Bokoblins, rather than running around Hyrule as bandits, now patrol the seas from rafts and watch towers as pirates. Even the main antagonist of the saga, Ganondorf, now looks somewhat like a tribal chief.

However, what Wind Waker succeeds at the best with regards to this aesthetic brings me back to what Moana did so well. Despite there only being a limited number of original characters and creatures, as well as only 49 small islands to visit, the world of the flood still manages to feel massive and unexplored. This aesthetic doesn’t even wear down the more times you complete the game. With each playthrough you manage to notice new things. Whether it be a hilarious character you never talked to before, or a secret area on an island you thought you knew by heart, the world of Wind Waker still manages to feel endless after all these years. Although the second and final game to take place in the flood era of Hylian history, Phantom Hourglass, does not succeed in implementing this aesthetic successfully, we will always have the endless appeal of Wind Waker. This replayability is one of the main reasons why it is, and probably always will be, my favorite video game of all time.

This is also why I would love to see Moana sequels in the near future. There is just so much of this world still left to be explored. I would love to see new islands, meet new characters, and face new threats with Moana and Maui, as long as the movies continue to be as well written as the first.

How Moana Messed Me Up

When I think about movies I want to see in theaters, I place them in one of three categories. There’s the top tier- movies I must see in theaters, maybe even opening night. Then comes middle tier- movies I would like to see in theaters, but will take my time to see. Finally, at the bottom tier comes movies I will see if invited or if bored with a friend.

Despite being a new Disney animated feature, Moana fell into the third tier for me. I really don’t know why it did, I’m usually the first one out the door when it comes to Disney Studios and Pixar films. I think it may have just been a sheer lack of someone to convince me to see it. The last day before my good friend Zack (go check out his YouTube channel 123zc1, it’s well worth your time) and I left for the semester, we had a few hours to kill. We made a last minute decision to finally see Moana, and boy was that decision well made.

Moana is not the best Disney film by any means. Movies like The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame take that position. However, it is by far the one I’ve personally connected with the most, making it my hands down favorite. I can definitely say that Zack felt very similarly, but at a stronger level, as he was crying throughout most of the movie.

I’m entering a crossroads in my life that has put me in existential disarray. I will be graduating college, and entering the “real world” this year. I know that I will have to get a 9-5 job, and probably live with my parents until I can save up enough to leave Florida. Although not thrilled, I have come to terms with this seemingly inevitable future. This is the path for someone with a passion that does not lead directly to a sustainable career. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a driving passion in my life. Since a very young age, I have always wanted to be an author. Writing fictional stories is my calling. My characters live in my mind like real friends and family, becoming fully realized even before they are put to paper. Having written my first novel last year, I can tell you firsthand that there is nothing more thrilling and satisfying then acting upon your passion.

I can’t talk about the experience of seeing Moana at this time in my life without talking about the accompanying short film. Inner Workings follows the story of a man who is living the exact path I face. The moral of the short is that you have to include little things in your 9-5 office life that make you happy, or else you’ll be miserable. However, I’ve had some influences in my life over the past year that have made this short mean a bit more to me. The Pro Crastinators are a group of YouTube content creators that have served as my main creative influence and entertainment source over the past year or so. Each member serves as a shining beacon of success from abandoning the normal path, and focusing their entire lives on their creative passions. Whether it be anime analysis, writing/drawing comics, or documenting their slow path towards insanity on video, they have embraced their true purpose, and abandoned their ties to the typical life structure that society enforces. In other words, they are a very hedonistic, but intelligent bunch. They would take Inner Workings, and throw it in the trash. I can’t say whether the Pro Crastinators are the angel or the devil on my shoulder. What I can say is that Inner Workings falls right alongside with the ideals of my parents, grandparents, and mentors/advisors, who all believe that a stable 9-5 job is the way to go. Just add a few small things that give you joy and you’re good to go.

If Inner Workings represents the ideals of my family, Moana is the mindset of the Pro Crastintors. The very meaning behind the entire plot of the film is to ignore what society deems to be the correct life path, and follow the passion you have in your heart. Moana has a deep-seated desire to explore the ocean. However, her entire family and village swears by never leaving the island they inhabit, and fulfilling the traditional life path that they have all taken. The only human character who encourages Moana to act on her passion is her grandmother. Gramma Tala is to Moana what Jesse Wood is to me: the voice on one of my shoulders telling me to screw society and follow my passion for writing fiction. While the ocean in the film is a literal entity that calls to Moana from inside her heart, it is clearly symbolic of her internal passion.

I would like you to read the following lyrics. They are to one of the climatic songs of the film, I Am Moana. The first stanza is the ghost of Moana’s grandmother singing to her (I believe this ghost not to literally be present, but in her head). The second stanza is of Moana herself responding. I believe these words perfectly reflect the entire point of Moana as a work of art, and hope you agree:

 

I know a girl from an island

She stands apart from the crowd

She loves the sea and her people

She makes her whole family proud

Sometimes the world seems against you

The journey may leave a scar

But scars can heal and reveal just

Where you are

The people you love will change you

The things you have learned will guide you

And nothing on earth can silence

The quiet voice still inside you

And when that voice starts to whisper

Moana, you’ve come so far

Moana, listen

Do you know who you are?

 

Who am I?

I am a girl who loves my island

I’m the girl who loves the sea

It calls me

I am the daughter of the village chief

We are descended from voyagers

Who found their way across the world

They call me

I’ve delivered us to where we are

I have journeyed farther

I am everything I’ve learned and more

Still it calls me

And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me

It’s like the tide; always falling and rising

I will carry you here in my heart you’ll remind me

That come what may

I know the way

I am Moana!

 

I just need to replace all the specifics of the lyrics with things about me, and this song becomes about me. That’s the beauty of Moana as a piece of cinema. The film is made for self insert; you can’t help yourself but look at everything metaphorically. You can replace the plot elements, setting, specific passions, and characters with things that apply to you, and the story still works. Moana is the story of a girl following the voice inside her heart, and embracing her true passion. That’s the most inspiring thing imaginable to me, and that’s why this movie messed me up.

Top 4 Films of 2016

I don’t get why people say 2016 was a bad year for movies. Yes, I can count the amount of great films that came out this year with my fingers. However, i’d much rather have a handful of greats than a slew of pretty goods. Although there definitely were more 2016 releases that I enjoyed, here are the four that stood out above the rest, proving that 2016 was an unforgettable year for the medium of film.

 

#4- Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

Director: David Yates

Writer: J.K. Rowling

Genre: Fantasy

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I credit J.K. Rowling as the person who shaped me into the avid media consumer I am today. Without the story of the boy who lived, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing this piece. When a prequel series was announced, written by Rowling herself, I was very hesitant to build hype. Especially with the transition of medium from novel to film, I knew I couldn’t allow myself to get too excited. There were so many opportunities for failure with this movie; I am so happy to say that Rowling didn’t screw it up. Fantastic Beasts was fantastic. It did everything a great prequel should. Despite having some subtle nods, it didn’t rely too much on the original work. It had intriguing, well-written characters that weren’t just cardboard cutouts or carbon copies of Harry and company. It managed to work as a satisfying, self-contained story, while still building the foundation for the rest of a five-part saga. Although this isn’t a full review, I couldn’t go without mentioning how much I loved the movie’s 1920s New York aesthetic. Although there were some jarring plot holes, everything else about the movie was so good that I can’t dwell on them too much. Far superior to the other piece of Harry Potter universe media that was released this year (i’m talking about you Cursed Child), Fantastic Beasts is a real treat for any potterhead.

 

#3- This House Has People in It

Director: Alan Resnick

Writer(s): Alan Resnick, Dina Kelberman, and Robby Rackleff

Genre: Horror

I was very tentative about placing a short film on this list. After all, a TV movie under 15 minutes long can’t possibly convey as much as a 2.5 hour theatrical epic, right? Wrong! This House Has People in It managed to do that and more. Alan Resnick has finally made a name for himself by producing one the most clever, intriguing, and genuinely scary horror stories of all time. If you are unfamiliar with Adult Swim’s infomercial block, it is a late-night home for experimental short films disguised as infomercials. You may have heard of some of its more famous products such as Too Many Cooks and Unedited Footage of a Bear, both of which I would also highly recommend. Despite its 12 minute run time, This House Has People in It is one of the most densely packed movies ever made. It is literally impossible to absorb every detail it has to offer, even with multiple viewings. For a fantastic analysis and in-depth explanation of the short and its expanded material, I would highly recommend checking out NightMind. Even if you don’t end up watching this film, I would still give him a look, he’s one of the best horror analysts on YouTube. This House Has People in It might not grab you upon your first viewing. In fact, you may initially find it funny like I did. With each subsequent viewing, however, you begin to pick up more on what is actually happening. Then you begin to think about it. The genius of the film is that this mental process is part of the movie itself, an essential component of its fear building. Hold onto your bed sheets, because you will not be sleeping after experiencing this horror masterpiece.

 

#2- Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name)

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Writer: Makoto Shinkai

Genre: Anime Drama

Kimi no Na Wa, or Your Name in english, would have definitely taken the number one spot if it weren’t for a last minute sneak up. Your Name is the definition of perfect melancholic storytelling. It fills you with such strong and potent emotion, but it’s very difficult to decipher whether these feelings are of happiness or sadness. The only other movie in recent memory that has made me feel this way has been Wolf Children, one of my all time favorite films and overall pieces of media. Although I can’t say Your Name is one of my favorite movies, I can say it is a must see. You may groan at the premise; yet another body swap movie. However, this is the seminal body swap story. Never has this trope been executed more perfectly and originally. Despite being centered around the oldest trope in the book, there truly is nothing like Your Name out there. It takes beautiful animation, relatable characters, and a phenomenal soundtrack, and puts them in a blender to give you an experience. Although an anime film, its medium is by no means a barrier to entry. I would highly recommend this movie to audiences of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of anime experience. If subtitles aren’t your thing, Funimation is working a dub that seems pretty promising. In whichever format you prefer, go watch Your Name. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll even get a bit turned on.

 

#1- Arrival

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer, based on short story by Ted Chiang

Genre: Science Fiction

Arrival was a film made for me. As a fan of science fiction, relatable characters, and alien stories; this was a homerun. It was the only movie this year that managed to become one of my all time favorites. I can go on for pages about how much I loved Arrival. However, I don’t want to talk too much about it, as I do plan on doing exactly that in an in-depth analytical review in the near future. Arrival was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who you may recognize from his work on Prisoners and Enemy, two great movies. Arrival is by far Villeneuve’s best film to date, and what elevated him to one of my all time favorite filmmakers. However, we can’t give Villeneuve all of the credit. I recently discovered that Arrival is based on Ted Chiang’s short story Story of Your Life. Although I have not yet gotten a chance to read it, there is no way it will go unread before I write my full review. Further, science fiction is my thing; it’s probably my overall favorite genre of fiction. However, Arrival goes beyond the typical boundaries of what the genre has to offer. Its unprecedented storytelling method, excruciatingly gorgeous cinematography, and unforgettable characters make it one the best films of the decade. Although I can’t say it’s my favorite science fiction movie, it’s definitely my favorite “alien invasion movie.” That’s just it though, I can’t even bring myself to call it an alien invasion film without precautionary quotation marks. Arrival is just so much more than Independence Day or War of the Worlds. It’s the story of a woman, and the events that reshaped the course of her life. In Amy Adams’ best performance, we come to know the character of Louise Banks, befriend her, understand her, and even cry for her. If not an active consumer of complex fiction such as myself, it may take a few viewings to fully appreciate and understand everything this movie has to offer. But those subsequent viewings are well worth the price of admission. Arrival is a movie I just can’t stop thinking about, and that means something to me.

 

Rogue One- A Gonzo Review

NOTE: This review will contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t read it.

It was interesting to see a Star Wars movie at a time other than midnight. I have begun to associate the franchise with late night coffee at the Grind and schmoozing with fans in $7,000 cosplays. However, with a ticket price of five dollars and some change at the small local theater for the first showing of the day, I couldn’t argue with the appeal of going at 10 a.m. On a Friday, non-holiday, morning, I didn’t expect to see so many middle aged moviegoers crowding the theater. I severely underestimated the power of Star Wars, and its ability to drag people of all ages out of their mundane lives into a galaxy far, far away. Regardless, it was really nice to spend another two hours in that galaxy, especially only a year after the release of the newest main saga film.

Rogue One was the first in what Disney is calling the “A Star Wars Story” brand name. In between main saga episodes, fans will be treated to different stories from throughout the Star Wars timeline. This is probably the best approach Disney could have taken to cash in on their ripe franchise annually. It gives them time to work on the main trilogies, while splintering off different teams to produce these universe-building anthology films.

My expectation for the anthology movies (and specifically for Rogue One) was very simple. As long as it’s good, i’m good. In other words, as long as the film is entertaining and doesn’t disrespect the main saga, it’s fine in my book. It doesn’t need to be the next Return of the Jedi, it just needs to give me a good time. Rogue One did exactly that. It wasn’t amazing, but it was by no means bad.

I think the main issue I have with Rogue One is that the writers forgot one of the main factors that makes most of the Star Wars movies such masterpieces; great characters. Don’t get me wrong, the characters in Rogue One were good enough, but that’s just it; they were only good enough. To quote Jesse Wood, they were a “flock of stock template characters.” Jyn Erso- generic punk/badass chick protagonist. K-2SO- generic comedic relief. Baze Malbus- generic seemingly annoyed, but actually cares, friend character. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Most of the characters in this movie weren’t particularly interesting, which is a stark departure from the franchise’s predecessors. Darth Vader, Han Solo, and now even Rey: some of the greatest fictional characters of all time. I can’t see myself thinking about any of the new characters in this movie unless i’m actually watching it.

However, it’s unfair to not give credit where credit is due. Although not too well written, there were some characters that I genuinely did like. I thought the primary antagonist, Orson Krennic, while somewhat generic, was very realistic. This is the kind of person that would exist and behave this way in a political environment like the Galactic Empire. He
was also very sympathetic; all the best villains are. Despite rooting against him, I understood his position, and genuinely felt bad for him. This was only aided by an occasionally over the top, but mostly strong performance by Ben Mendelsohn.

Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe was a conflicting character for me. He was by far the most interesting, but I feel as if he was wasted in Rogue One. A force sensitive that was neither Jedi nor Sith: what potential. I loved how he treated the force more like a religion, bringing the mysticality back to it. However, with a limited runtime, and many other characters to juggle, he was only able to have a few of the developmental moments he deserved. He could carry his own film to be honest; who wouldn’t want to see a movie about a man who either goes blind or was born without sight, and turns to the force for answers? Disney, can you please make Chirrut Imwe: A Star Wars Story? That honestly probably would have been a better movie.

Anyway, let’s get back on track here with Saw Gerrera. He was an intriguing character that was handled very well. I have come to understand that he was a somewhat important character in the Clone Wars TV series. I’m happy that Rogue One didn’t just expect you to know who he was. They explained just enough for you to understand his character, but left enough open to make you want to go back and watch his Clone Wars episodes. Although he didn’t have as much screen time as I would have liked, his presenc in the movie was still very strong. He added a lot of depth to the conflict dynamic of the rebellion and the empire, showing that the mainstay Rebel Alliance wasn’t the only revolutionary group in the galaxy.

Saw wasn’t the only veteran character to make his way into the movie. Darth Vader, while used very minimally, was handled perfectly. He obviously needed to be there, it wouldn’t have made sense if he wasn’t. However, the writers used him just the right amount. Both of his scenes were fantastic, especially the concluding scene of the movie. The reprise of James Earl Jones, and the absence of Hayden Christensen was pleasantly surprising.

On the subject of veteran characters comes what probably will be the most talked about component of Rogue One; Governor Tarkin. In Episode IV, Tarkin was portrayed by legendary actor Peter Cushing, who sadly passed away 22 years ago. Yet, Tarkin returns in Rogue One, played by “Peter Cushing.” Over the past decade, Disney has been working on a piece of technology that film buffs should have payed more attention to. In 2010’s Tron Legacy, Jeff Bridges fought against a younger version of himself. In Captain America: Civil War earlier this year, a middle-aged Tony Stark presented a younger holographic version of himself to an impressed audience. You may notice that both of these films involved the computer generated use of a younger version of an actor who was in the movie. However, these were simply tests of the technology: tests that succeeded. In Rogue One, this technology was implemented at its fullest potential, allowing for the deceased Peter Cushing to reprise his role, regardless of the physical presence of a fairly unknown actor. I find this very troubling. I would imagine that the Cushing family allowed this, and expressed that this is what Peter would have wanted (although there is really no way to be sure). However, this opens up a whole new can of worms with regards to film ethics. Can filmmakers just bring back famous actors from the dead for their movies? Do studios now have to copyright actors? What is perhaps most troubling about this idea is that all three films that this technology was implemented in were products of none other than Disney. Disney seems to be the only company with this technology, or at least the only one who has actually used it. Although I can see other studios studying Rogue One to figure out this technology for themselves, the fact still remains that Disney has an apparent monopoly on an extremely unethical piece of filmmaking technology. Again, this is all my personal opinion. Most of the audience may not have a problem with this technology. However, it disturbs me a bit, and I feel like that definitely impacted my opinion of the movie (how major or minor this impact I can’t say). To clarify even further, I had no problem with the use of A New Hope era Leia in the final scene. Carrie Fisher is alive and well; she clearly gave full permission for this. It’s only when an actor is six feet under, and has no way of expressing their desires, that I see an issue.

Now i’ve been hinting at my love of the final scene in this movie throughout this whole piece. The ending of this movie is one of the greatest scenes in the history of cinema. The movie concludes with a seamless transition from Rogue One into the opening scene of A New Hope. The slow build to this reveal was perfect; once I realized what was happening, I got literal chills. This scene also serves as the first time outside of expanded universe material that we see Darth Vader mowing down enemies in his signature suit. We obviously got to see his involvement in Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith, but he was still wearing his Jedi cloak when he took part in those actions. As a huge Darth Vader fan, and a lifelong Star Wars fan for that matter, this scene was a reward for my dedication to the franchise. It felt almost like a gift from Disney to me directly, thanking me for my die-hard love of the saga.

Despite what you may think, this final scene was not my favorite part of the movie. There are two more components that, to me, are even stronger. The first is a resolvement of a plot hole that has existed in the franchise since its 1977 debut. How did the empire fail to realise that there was such a huge flaw in their superweapon (the thermal exhaust port)? Rogue One follows the story of Jyn Erso, daughter of Galen Erso, the head architect behind the Death Star. Still sympathetic to the rebels, Galen purposely implemented this tiny flaw into the design of the weapon, hoping that the Rebel Alliance would one day use this knowledge to destroy it once and for all. This was a genius way to make sense of such a large plot hole, and this was the perfect movie tackle that task in.

Now for what I believe is the strongest part of the film. All of the main heroes die in the end. Not one of the protagonists we have followed makes it out ok. They truly sacrificed themselves for the rebellion. It is constantly restated throughout Episode IV that many rebels died to get the Death Star plans to the Alliance. As this was a movie about those very rebels, I’m so happy they didn’t just take the easy way out, and actually had the guts to follow through.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had its problems, but I definitely still enjoyed watching it. For me, it sits comfortably below the original trilogy, the Force Awakens, and Revenge of the Sith, but it still soars eons above Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Rogue One wasn’t amazing, but like I said, it didn’t have to be. It wasn’t disrespectful to the main saga, and that’s really all that matters for a Star Wars anthology movie.

Film Review- Denial

Note: This review was initially published on the Moment Magazine official site on 10/11/16. 

Link: http://www.momentmag.com/film-review-denial/

denial

Denial is an astonishingly accurate adaptation of the famous 2001 court case Irving vs. Penguin Books Ltd. In this case, renowned historian Deborah Lipstadt stood trial against David Irving, an infamous Holocaust denier. After Lipstadt called Irving a Holocaust denier, falsifier and bigot in her book Denying the Holocaust, Irving accused Lipstadt of libel. This case came to fruition due to the British legal system, which requires those accused of libel to prove their innocence—the opposite of the legal system in the United States. The movie portrays the struggles, and eventual triumphs, of Lipstadt and her legal team in their battle against pure hate.

As a Jew with multiple grandparents who are Holocaust survivors, I have an inherent emotional connection to this case—and in turn, this film, which I saw at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s premiere screening. Following the film there was a discussion with Deborah Lipstadt and the producers Russ Krassnoff and Gary Foster. The sheer amount of historical detail incorporated by the filmmakers was astounding. The producers pointed out a perfect example of this meticulousness during the question-and-answer session; the head of Lipstadt’s legal team, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), never made eye contact while addressing Irving (Timothy Spall). A factual detail so easy to abandon would never make it into the screenplay of a generic blockbuster hit.

“Deborah said, ‘I’m about to sign this paper giving you these rights. You need to promise me one thing: the truth,’” Russ Krasnoff, one of the producers, explains. “It was our mantra.” In other words, a painstaking dedication to portraying the truth was one of the Denial team’s core values. The producers explained that this pursuit even extended to having Lipstadt on the set, in order to make sure everything was accurate from her point of view.

Lipstadt’s story is about the dedication to truth—and the filmmakers took her lesson to heart. “Every single word that David Irving says in the film… it was all taken from transcripts or interviews,” says Krasnoff. “Every word was documented.” This was astonishing to me. Some of Spall’s lines were so shockingly ignorant and hate-filled that I assumed they had to be exaggerations—like Irving’s “No holes, no Holocaust” diatribe. However, I came to realize that the over-the-top nature of these deliveries only proves Spall’s skill in accurately portraying such a sinister person.

The film’s realism was only bolstered by outstanding performances from Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall, who flawlessly portrayed opposing forces in what might be their best roles to date. The support and fondness I felt for Lipstadt also extended to Weisz, who was able to transform expertly into the historian over the course of the film’s nearly two-hour runtime. Timothy Spall has always been excellent at playing fictional villains; his transition from fictional evil to real-world evil was seamless.

Where the illusion of realism that drives this film was somewhat shattered was with actors Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott, whose performances sometimes felt unnatural. There were also occasional shots that either lingered too long, or placed emphasis on subjects that should not have been emphasized, which was a bit jarring for me.

But what I enjoyed most about Denial, aside from its potent accuracy, was its timelessness. “It’s not just about Holocaust denial,” says Lipstadt. “It’s vaccines. It’s the environment. It’s Sandy Hook in Connecticut, where kids were murdered.”

A large portion of the Q&A centered around the idea that whenever there is a tragic event in history, there will always be people who find a way to deny it. Whether they are anti-Semitic, racist, or simply in need of a selfish way to cope with said tragedy, they exist. With so many horrific events occurring on a near-daily basis throughout the world, there will always be those who seek to undermine the truth. They cling to tiny details, minuscule inconsistencies, and blow these details up to horrendously large proportions in an attempt to prove their opinions. However, Lipstadt, her legal team and the filmmakers prove that, whether it be the Holocaust or any tragedy, the truth will always prevail.

Denial’s purpose surpasses entertainment. This movie should be used as a tool, a weapon in the fight against hate. Producer Gary Foster explains this best: “If we can spark and inspire conversation—and get people to say, ‘Hey, there’s a difference between opinion and fact’—then we have done good.”