Review: Nerve (2016)

2.5 stars

Fast-paced, charming, and a bit predictable, Nerve offers viewers an entertaining, although forgettable, movie with flashy cinematography and editing.

Dave Franco and Emma Roberts star in this teenage-aimed, high-paced internet parable. The characters are cliché, but not unbearably so. Franco plays the mysterious bad boy, while Roberts plays the good girl—and everyone knows they’ll end up together from the first time they meet. Regardless, the actors had great chemistry and the audience was rooting for them to be together all the same.

The plot itself is a little too extreme to believe completely, but the commentary is relevant (although it’s obvious). Teenagers around the country begin to play a game called Nerve. They must choose if they want to be a “watcher” or a “player”. Watchers pay money to see the player act out ridiculous dares. Clearly, it escalates out of control and is highly dangerous to those involved. The entire premise is based around the cultural obsession of being on phones, and the ways in which the internet desensitizes us to violence. It’s easy to hide behind a screen, blah, blah, blah.

Nerve has a consistent tone of suspense throughout it, and many people in the theater were literally on the edge of their seat. I found myself biting my nails a few times, even though I acknowledged that much of the risk-taking was bound to end in a predictable way (and it did). The ending is wrapped up all too easily, but the film had its moments of thrilling suspense that didn’t feel too cliché and offered a few real scares.

The glowing, colorful lights of New York City provided the needed neon backdrop for such a technologically centered film, meshing with the synthesized pop songs playing in the background. The glitzy lighting makes it feel almost like a music video, highlighting the focus on pop culture and social media. The editing was well-matched with the modern, atmospheric shots, taking us inside of the character’s phones and into the world of social media. In the scenes meant to be riddled with tension, the editing is perfectly paced, letting moments linger just a little longer to cause viewers to feel uneasy, or snapping different shots together quickly to make them feel overwhelmed.

The entire movie was obviously meant to be relatable to teenagers, and it does that very well. My little sister is 17 and she adored the film. I enjoyed it, although it was a bit too cheesy for my taste. Going in I wasn’t too excited, but I came out liking it more than originally expected. The film isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it’s a fun and fast-paced movie to watch.

There are worse films to watch on movie night.

-B

Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

 

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Suicide Squad is probably the most anticipated film of the year—and according to a lot of viewers, the biggest let down. The film struggles to deliver the irreverent, dark, and quirky story the trailers promised and manages to entangle its characters in an overdone, unoriginal plot and horrible CGI. While it isn’t a colossal mess like Batman v Superman, it is by no means where DC needs to be. However, I found the film to be enjoyable and was mostly pleased with the performances and characterization of the beloved DC comic book characters. Suicide Squad manages to provide mindless fun regardless of the meager storyline and whirlwind pacing. Comic book fans will be fairly satisfied.

A secret task force of the most dangerous supervillains in the world working to save the world is promising, when done correctly. The movie was so hyped up by the studios that it was hard to go in without being slightly disappointed. The characters have so much potential and that potential was underutilized. The characterization of Harley Quinn was certainly a highlight of the film. I’ve adored the character since I was a little kid, so her live action debut was extremely important to me, and I was pleasantly surprised with it. Margot Robbie portrays the unstable, Joker-crazed character perfectly, depicting Harley’s damaged and chaotic personality in an empowering and emotional manner. The cotton-candy colored character enacts violence with a giddiness that is straight from the pages of a comic book, and she included the iconic accent on a more subtle level than past cartoons. Robbie did the best she could under the misogynistic situation the film put her in. While Harley’s character has always been sexual and uses that sexuality as a weapon of power, the film manages to objectify her, presenting her as an object for the male audience with slow, sensual pans up her half-naked body. It was curious to me that Harley Quinn and Enchantress were scantily clad while the majority of male characters were in head to toe armor. There’s a difference between being sexual and being objectified, and the director clearly didn’t acknowledge that line (and if you’re argument is that Harley is over-sexualized in the comics, well, surprise, comics can be misogynistic too).

Other cast members stood out as well, although none as brightly as Robbie. Will Smith shone as the gun-slinging assassin Deadshot, bringing a more stable and realistic characterization to the movie than any of his teammates. He and Robbie manage to anchor their cast mates and bring some stability to a chaotic plot. Unlike many audience-members, I applauded Jared Leto’s performance as a twisted, flashy Joker, which he played with instability and an underlying psychotic rage that was mystifying and impressive. According to Leto, many of the scenes he filmed were cut, which results in a lack of continuity in his storyline. His parts of the film seem a bit inconsistent and he continually shows up seemingly out of nowhere. Compared to the hype of his character, there was a severe lack of the Clown Prince of Crime in the film.

The pace of the film was incredibly jarring. The beginning of the film was a whirlwind of trying to set up identities of each of the main characters. They were each summarized in a way that seemed forced, but worked well enough. The film is set up better than Batman v Superman, and the cast has a great chemistry that helps the banter amongst the team feel believable. The second half of the film was fully of each character fighting in their own personal ways, but there was a lack of urgency as they grew closer to the “end of the world” (and what exactly was Enchantresses plan, anyway? It’s not exactly clear).Throughout the film the tone shifts drastically, trying to be lighthearted and funny while dark and gritty. The flashback scenes of Harley and Joker were mystical, psychedelic, and tragic, while the scenes of the entire squad working together were attempting to be quirky, comical, and irreverent.  The film was split between those two tones, failing to choose one and resulting in inconsistency and confusion. It’s as if David Ayer wanted to tell a dark and cynical story while the studio pressured him to make a film more lighthearted, like Guardians of the Galaxy, in order to compete with Marvel. Ayer has his name on this film, but I don’t believe it is the film he set out to make.

Suicide Squad does not deserve the horrific reviews it is receiving, but it doesn’t deserve any awards either. Although it didn’t live up to the hype, it manages to be a fun and entertaining movie with lovable characters worthy of a comic book nerd’s time. It was a small step forward for DC compared to Batman v Superman, but they still have a long way to walk. Hopefully this is a trend, and each movie will be better than the last.

Help us Wonder Woman, you’re our only hope.

-B

Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.(2015)

starss

Spy movies are nothing new. The tropes are all recognizable: the car chases, gadgets, cheesy one-liners, and ambiguous love interest. It’s hard to find anything really new and unusual in the genre. However, the film The Man From U.N.C.L.E. presents more slick and stylish cinematography than others (although it could use a bit more narrative substance).

This film was not the most spectacular one to watch, but the images were intriguing and stick in my mind. I honestly fell in love with the characters, regardless of whether or not they were cliché, loving Armie Hammer’s performance in particular. His character struggles with mental illness and emotional unavailability, and he played it believably. Henry Cavill played the more cliché character, a charismatic, playboy of a spy. It was hard not to roll my eyes with some of his cheesy, over-masculine one-liners. I was disappointed by the character, expecting more from Cavill. As far as the treatment of women, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) was smart and a great mechanic, but still a damsel in distress in the end. She’s often objectified. It’s as if the writers wrote a strong female character on paper, but failed to give her any believable heroism on screen. She ticks off the boxes that avoid being a complete damsel in distress, and they figured it was okay. In the end, she essentially is there to serve as a love interest and provide conflict. Although I didn’t want to admit it, I rooted for her to end up with Illya. Yes, I know, the spy always gets the girl. But this couple got to me. I think they had an undeniable chemistry (even though Ilya was fairly misogynistic). It was something about the subtle vulnerability in Hammer’s mannerisms. The way all three of these characters play off of each other with their different personalities was a bit overdone, but worked well enough.

The editing in the film is unique, showing techniques that I had never seen before. For example, the subtitles when characters were speaking in a different language weren’t always strictly across the bottom. The lines that are meant to stand out and have the most meaning to the plot were bolded, bigger, or placed in an interesting way on screen. One of my favorite examples of editing is when Gaby is in the car having a conversation. The camera is placed outside the glass, a shot that has been done before. However, when the camera is outside the glass, the audience cannot hear the conversation. It’s as if we are actually outside the car, wanting to hear the words but not able to. Instead, we hear the words through a crackling radio, a result of a bug in the car. It’s only when Gaby rolls the window down that we are finally a part of the conversation.

Sound editing continues to present itself as unique throughout the film. Most spy movies have an action sequence, presented as a montage. This film definitely uses that, but in a more nonconventional way. The screen is split in three or four places, showing multiple actions happening at the same time. Yes, this has been done before. But I found it interesting that there was not sound or dialogue. Just music. There weren’t even gunshots heard.

This film relies a lot on music to provoke emotional reactions from the audience. The music used when Solo is in the truck eating as Illya drives a boat fighting off explosions adds to the comical element of the scene. The song played does not match the action outside of the vehicle. This mitch-match of music and action is an element repeated in the movie.

The camera angles also proved to be very interesting. When Solo first meets Gaby, she is on her back working under a car. The audience gets a perspective shot of Napoleon, as if we are on the floor looking up. At another point in the film, Solo is drugged, and the image of the woman he sees is distorted (as well as her voice). The film enjoys putting audiences in the perspective of others, keeping the viewer’s attention and impressing film bloggers such as myself.

The film seems to set up a sequel, and unlike most films, I wouldn’t be opposed to one. I felt the movie ended with audiences wanting more. Overall, this film is a great one to watch if you’re into espionage films or period pieces. It plays off all of the cliché spy tropes we’ve all seen, but it also brought some new techniques to the table, and the cast meshed well. Not the most remarkable I have seen substance wise, but as far as spy movies go, I liked it.

Better than the most recent Bond film, in my opinion.

-B

Neighbors 2: The Progressive Comedy I’ve Been Waiting For.

 

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a refreshing, progressive bro comedy that women can finally relate to without being completely objectified. Aiming at the misogyny centered in colleges, it is incredibly self-aware and manages to be fun to watch. The movie is explicitly feminist but the comedic tone presents the subject matter without throwing it into viewers faces in a serious, preachy way.

The character Shelby, played by Chloe Grace Mortez, aims to provide a sorority that fights against the sexist college system, where only fraternities can throw parties. Tired of those parties that target young women as sex objects, “Kappa Nu” throws parties the female characters actually want to go to. They accept anyone, dress any way they wish, and throw any party they want, including a “Feminist Icon Party”.

The interactions between the female characters feel grounded in reality rather than two dimensional, distinctly different from most comedies. As a female in college, I found these characters intensely relatable and was overjoyed to see the typical bro-comedy torn apart in a satirical manner. The scene when they go to a frat party for the first time and are immediately targeted and disgusted by what they see was all too familiar, but that side of the experience is rarely shared on screen. Instead of showing a frat party as crazy, fun, and a great time, Neighbors 2 represents how uncomfortable and “super rapey” (as Beth puts it in the film) those parties can be for young women.

Shelby and her friends roll their eyes at sexist comments and dismiss men that see them for nothing but their bodies. Rather than objectifying the women, this film blatantly objectifies Teddy, played by Zac Efron, as he dances on stage shirtless, in tiny shorts. However, he is presented as more than the typical masculine bro. Although he was head of his fraternity and is seen making a few sexist comments, he learns from the women around him and slowly adapts a more feminist attitude, claiming you can’t call girls “hoes” anymore.

This film is ultimately about the death of masculine stereotypes, making fun of the “common” male in a way that isn’t preachy at all. The presentation of masculinity is extremely progressive. Teddy is seen crying multiple times, showing even the seemingly biggest bro has a more sensitive side. Pete, a womanizing frat bro from the first films, gets engaged unexpectedly to another man, demolishing gay stereotypes.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is all about equality. It was a refreshing break from the over-the-top, intensely masculine comedies that usually dominate the box office. It perfectly executes what it feels like to be young feminist in a patriarchal society, as well as the potential danger of traditional masculinity.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

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Batman v Superman is not meant for critics, it’s meant for the audience.

The new Batman v Superman film has all kinds of mixed reviews. Superhero nerds love it while film aficionados aren’t impressed. There are hidden winks at comic fans and cameo appearances by many different DC characters. But is it enough to make it a great movie?

The film starts out with the well-known tragedy that gives Batman his mommy-issues: the death of his parents. In an absolutely breathtaking sequence, the film goes through the traumatizing events in slow motion, flashing between the incident itself and the funeral after. In typical Zack Snyder fashion, the shots are beautiful and whimsical, teetering between reality and a dream world. The film continues in the same style as Man of Steel, full of color but dark in tone. And, of course, massive destruction.

The film is so big it almost misunderstands itself. There is so much information jam packed into 151 minutes that it’s inevitable to have loose ends and missing elements. The motivation for the villain is never quite revealed, but his hate for Superman is apparent.  Batman v Superman stops short of being a jumbled mess, bringing together the complicated worlds of three heroes in order to unite against a greater threat. However, the viewer is left with many questions, which will hopefully be answered in the upcoming films.

Ben Affleck plays a new, dark, brutal Bruce Wayne. Bulked up with muscle and encased in armor, this Batman is more angry and cynical than ever before. Henry Cavil reprises his role as Superman, but more vulnerable than before. Jesse Eisenberg plays a quirky and borderline schizophrenic Lex Luthor. Gal Gadot blows audiences away as Wonder Woman, proving that the superhero game is for girls too as she fights just as well, if not better than both Batman and Superman. Amy Adams is also on the front lines as Lois Lane, aiding the plot, not just standing by as a passive love interest.

Batman v Superman fulfills its job requirement: it sets up the next movie. In addition to that, it provides the audience an entertaining yet exhausting story about our favorite superheroes coming together to fight a supervillain, with very few chuckles along the way. This is not a lighthearted Marvel film that audiences are used to. It’s a dark, gloomy, special effects packed DC film about the darkness of humanity and all that entails. It’s fighting for its identity amongst the never ending storm of hero films we get each year. This film is not meant to blow critics away (something they aren’t understanding). It’s not meant to be funny. It’s meant to set up the beloved characters of the gloomy and heroic DC universe. It’s for the nerds.

Batman v Superman isn’t The Avengers, and it isn’t supposed to be.

-B

Review: Spotlight (2015)

5 stars

The message Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight sends is one that is relative to anyone trying to take on a powerful authority. You have to fight.  A riveting and tension ridden tale of the Boston Globe investigators that revealed the corrupt power of the Catholic Church in the early 2000s, this Oscar winning film shows that you don’t have to wear a uniform or have superpowers to be a hero.

During the film, the viewers get to spend most of their time with the journalists, creating a feeling of inclusion. As the characters uncover more about the church, we feel as if we are a part of that, cheering them on from the sidelines. When they feel disgusted, so do we. Viewers don’t learn anything before the reporters do. Unlike many other movies, audiences get the facts along with the characters, accompanying them to interviews. As the film goes on watchers grow angry, wanting them to break the story and reveal the horrendous acts being committed. When Mike Rezendes, played by Mark Ruffalo, explodes in anger, we understand that anger.

Speaking of Ruffalo, while his performance is perfectly loud and believable, it overshadows the brilliant performance of the ensemble cast as a whole. There is no single outstanding acting performance in Spotlight. Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Live Schreiber, John Slatterly…the list goes on. Each character is portrayed in an equally credible manner. Even the minor performers, depicting the victims, are incredibly significant. The actors are all pieces in a magnificent puzzle and without one the film would not feel complete.

The most memorable aspect of the film is its uncanny timing. Creating a film that is over two hours long and keeps the viewers’ attention for the entire duration can be tough, but Spotlight pulls it off perfectly.  Our eyes are never diverted from the screen and there is not a moment that feels dull.

The ending is not meant to give viewers a feeling of relief or comfort. The heaviness of the plot is supposed to sit in our stomachs. Spotlight is meant to have an impact on our perception of the church, or any other major societal authority. It shows the true power of journalism and spreading awareness. Don’t just sit by, speak out. You can’t fight corruption with cowardice.

-B

Review: Night of the Hunter (1955)

5 stars

Robert Mitchum as a scary serial killer? I’m in

Chris Laughton’s final and only film as a director, Night of the Hunter, is a compelling and creepy tale of a religious psychopath that pretends to play a family man. It’s an interesting film to be classified as classic film noir, but its expressionist lighting and dark themes narrowly place it into the genre/style.

Mitchum plays an evangelist madman, Powell, whom while in prison, hears about a now fatherless family that has a fortune hidden away somewhere. After being released from prison, he seeks the family out and marries the prior widow. The true stars of the film are John (Billy Chaplin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), the step-kids of Powell. The entire film is viewed from their innocent eyes and we watch as that innocence begins to fade away as they become the target of Powell’s insanity. They are exposed to an adult world of greed and violence much too young.

Every frame in the film is carefully crafted. The most memorable shot in the movie is that of the deceased mother at the bottom of the river. Cinematographer Stanley Cortez masterfully crafted the haunting image of her hair floating along with the seaweed at the wheel of a car. Throughout the film, his cinematography contributes to the frightening feeling the viewer feels. The basement scene when the kids are attempting to hide from Powell, the children floating down the river, Powell’s silhouette as he sings on his horse. The low-key lighting aids to the mystery and keeps audiences on the edge of their seat.

A terrible twisted version of a child’s tale, the film resonates with horror. The film is dated, but as an adult watching from 2016 I still felt a chill while watching. Mitchum portrays a terrifying figure, menacing and memorable. His singing will haunt my nightmares. Chaplin puts on a performance that is both empathetic and heartbreaking, much better than many child actors I have experienced. Night of the Hunter is an unnerving masterpiece that current horror and thriller movies could learn a thing or two from. Take notes, filmmakers.

-B

Review: Deadpool

Deadpool is blowing up, both characters in his movie and in the box office. The film is quick, quirky, and quintessentially Deadpool. Fans are getting exactly what they expect from the character- vulgarity and violence. New viewers are probably confused, but will find the film witty and enjoyable. You’ve never seen a superhero film like this because,as Deadpool says,”surprise, this is a different kind of superhero story.”

For those who are new viewers, Deadpool is a Marvel comic book character that fans have been begging to be made for the big screen for years. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) works as a sort of bounty hunter, taking down the bad guys for money. He finds out he has terminal cancer, and in order to help both himself and his fiancée, he undergoes an experimental treatment that mutates his genes, curing his cancer and resulting in an inability to die. Afraid that his fiancée will be terrified of his appearance, he becomes the anti-hero Deadpool, hunting down the man that mutilated his skin.

It’s incredibly funny- the audience was laughing out loud through the entire duration of the film. By breaking the fourth wall, as Deadpool does in the comics, it gives the audience a more personalized experience. We aren’t just watching the movie; we are literally a part of it. The pop culture references the characters makes help us relate to him. The film even goes as far as to have Deadpool, played by Ryan Reynolds, make fun of Ryan Reynolds.

Speaking of Reynolds, his portrayal of the characters is spot on and the role could be the biggest of his career. He speaks with snark and sassiness that was nowhere to be seen in The Green Lantern (which Deadpool absolutely makes fun of). His enthusiasm for the role is clear through his irreverent performance.

Deadpool is a superhero movie for adults- moving away from the generic and cliché and into originality. It’s wildly entertaining and could change the way superhero movies are done. It’s rumored that Wolverine 3 may have an R rating…whether or not it will embrace that rating as much as Deadpool is hard to tell. It’s not easy to compete with a character with the Merc with such a giant, raunchy mouth.

Did someone say chimichanga?

-B

Ex Machina: Allegory of the Patriarchy

What do robots have to do with gender politics? According to Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, everything. While many people view this thrilling sci-fi drama as a commentary on the tech industry, it can also be seen as a commentary on gender roles in our modern society.

Think about it- the entire film revolves around the central idea of humanity, and what makes something truly human. The only AI’s built are female. The women are literally objects. Caleb is summoned to test if Ava can pass as a human, even though he knows that she never will be. This represents the way our patriarchal society looks at woman- as things, not people. Traditionally, men have been perceived as the dominant sex. This movie focuses on that patriarchal view and the ways in which women no longer want to be seen as inferior or subdued.

It also presents interesting subtext about female sexuality, and the ways it can be manipulated. The male characters of the film see the female robots as sexual objects that will do as they expect. Nathan thinks extremely thoroughly about how to allow Ava to feel sexual pleasure, explaining it to Caleb in detail. Nathan was not satisfied with real women who he would have to deal with emotionally, so he created his “dream girl” to use for pleasure on his terms (not to mention the ridiculous racial fetishes that come into play here—the only robot with true intelligence is the white one. Nathan’s “playmate”, Kyoko, is Asian.)

Caleb, on the other hand, doesn’t just see Ava as a sexual object- he sees her as a damsel in distress (which, to the viewer, may seem ridiculous considering she is a highly intelligent computerized being). He believes that if he “rescues” her, she will owe him her love. It’s what I like to call “nice guy syndrome”. You know those men that complain that they don’t know why girls don’t love them because they are so nice? (when really women don’t owe them anything at all). Ava recognizes the misogynistic feelings Caleb illustrates and she uses that to her advantage. She dresses up for him, and moves sexually and deliberately when she knows he is watching.

I’m sure many people finished the film and felt that Caleb was betrayed. The film does set him up as our protagonist, after all. Garland manipulates cinematic language to confuse the viewer. However, anyone that truly sees Caleb for the misogynistic “white knight” wannabe he is, will know that he only wanted to use Ava for his own masculinity. His intentions aren’t much different from Nathan’s sexual using. Think about it- Caleb only ever planned on taking Ava. What about Kyoko? Isn’t she a “damsel in distress” as well? This, to me, proves that he isn’t shocked with the injustice going on in Nathan’s home. He doesn’t care that Nathan is mistreating the AI’s. He only cares about his own feelings for Ava because her freedom is good for him. He will get to keep her all to himself. She would move from one prison to another. Essentially, Caleb is going to use Ava for a means to an end. She will be his object. (But he’s a “nice guy”, right?  He’s our #NotAllMen. )

The best part of the film for me, personally, is when Nathan dies. For starters, his assault of Ava is full of rape imagery. He flips her over and holds her arms down in an intense struggle. A few moments later, he is stabbed by Kyoko. This stabbing can represent his emasculation. Especially the second time, when Ava has the knife. Whereas the rest of the film Nathan has had sexual control, the knife represents Ava holding the sexual power. The motion of her pushing the knife into his chest is slow, sexual, fluid. As he falls to the ground, Ava is the only being left standing in the hallway. She finally has the power. This could represent modern women. Today, women want to be treated as equal, want to hold power. Women don’t want men to continue holding them down. Women were not created to be things that men can have.

Ex Machina is an intriguing, unexpected tale of female empowerment.  As a woman, watching this film gave me hope for Hollywood. A hope that I can see more films that commentate on gender roles in such a refreshing and brilliant way.

This film is about the future, and the future for women is one where men cannot control them. Just ask Ava.

-B

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

In early 1920, Germany was introduced to what is considered the first horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (with Nosferatu a close second). A bit disorienting and incredibly creepy, it’s hard for a modern audience to consider Robert Wiene’s expressionist masterpiece “scary”. However, back in when it was released, the film shocked audiences. Featuring a visually intriguing set full of oblique angles and odd shapes, the film embodied early German expressionism, and resembles any Tim Burton movie you have ever seen.

The film is most remembered for its bizarre look. The set is full of diagonal stairs, jagged angles and shapes, and other crazy distortions. It’s as if the viewer is watching a movie through a mirror at a carnival funhouse. The actors are all decked out in dark, radical makeup, creating a shocking and dramatic look.  The set is just as twisted as the story.

The eerie silent film is about an eccentric man named Dr. Caligari and his zombie-like sleepwalker, Cesare. At a carnival in Germany, Caligari claims his “somnambulist” can see into the future. The predictions are quite ominous and a series of dark events occurs. The plot was extremely intense for 1920 and audiences were shaken and terrified.

If you’re a horror movie fan, or enjoy influential cinema, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a must watch. You may think silent films are boring, but this one just might change your mind.

-B