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Flashback: ‘Shrek’


Gonna be totally honest here: I really didn’t expect “Shrek” to hold up eleven years after its release. I was just about the right age when I did see it - grade school. See, lots of the glue holding “Shrek” together is totally inappropriate humor. The gross-out jokes work all the better considering the slime, maggots, and whatnot look almost photorealistic in this animated style. Even more than that, “Shrek” came out just post-Disney Renaissance - in other words, after a long era of very successful traditional Disney animation. The idea of poking fun at them was topical; Disney’s submission to theaters that year was “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”. You know - that old classic. Today, though, the deconstruction/reconstruction double-whammy is right at home in the box office.


As the first sentence of this review may imply, I was quite surprised to find myself so entertained by it. The story is pretty standard stuff, to be fair. Really, Shrek, are you saying that people have layers? I don’t think you hammered that point home quite enough. But a lot of the jokes are still funny (turns out making fun of Disney World and ye olde fantasie never gets old), or even more so (good thing I never noticed how many penis jokes there are in this movie). And the gross-out gags are still pretty great. I don’t think they’ve even been equaled in further “Shrek” films; I seem to remember the sequels going for the throat of fantasy, but… well, “Shrek” is a gross-sounding name, Shrek himself looks pretty ugly (in a shiny CGI way), and much of the film’s first half hour wallows in its repulsiveness. There’s a charm to that. The swamp is Shrek’s native land.


And about that Shrek… well, he’s the main reason the film holds up at all. It may be a well-worn moral, but the characters’ layers give the film heart. Yes, “Shrek” may bounce between the comedic and the dramatic as its whims desire, but the dramatic stuff is necessary because these aren’t caricatures, and thus need the emotional payoff. The rocky friendship between Shrek and Donkey takes hold in their very first scene together (“I’m an ogre! Doesn’t that bother you?” “No.” “…No?”). Even Fiona is a character worth rooting for, looking for some sort of validation in a life gone horribly wrong. If nothing else, it is fun watching these characters bounce off of each other.

—Paul Anderson

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 Review

This is going to be fun.

So, it is the wonderful conclusion to this blockbuster franchise that has been in the public sphere for almost five years.  Now it seems that our lives will be “forever alone” without seeing Bella, Edward and Jacob on our movie screens.

Bella (Kristen Stewart) is finally a vampire and after having Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) the Volturi think that Bella had a vampire baby, which is dangerous to the state of the vampire world.  So Bella, Edward (Robert Pattinson) and the gang try to find “witnesses” in order for the Cullen family to live.

I had the most fun with this movie, honestly.  I think for pure entertainment factor, this movie brings it one hundred percent, and the comedic effect was just great (when or when it wasn’t being serious).

I know, I know, I’m supposed to hate these movies with a fiery passion. Supposedly, these are shit movies based on shit books from a woman who was having a wet dream.  Honestly, I never understood the hate against Twilight.

The message?  Maybe.  It does deal with a teenage girl whose only reason to live is because of guy (not very Oberlin of her), but the complaints because the product wasn’t all that great? I mean seriously, this movie is better than many films that come out (see: Adam Sandler), and we all know it.

These films are the guiltiest of pleasures and I think many people who see these films also think they are not that great, but they love the characters, well mostly the hot men, and that my folks, is what really matters.  

One thing that I found very laughable and creepy simultaneously was the damn CGI in this film.  Not from the Bella running scenes, when she was trying out her powers, that was obviously green screen, but damn Renesmee and the most horrid CGI face in the world.  The face was Mackenzie Foy (who portrayed great emotion like her counterpart, Kristen Stewart) and the baby was robotic.

 For a film that gets almost half a billion dollars in revenue, and has a budget of, I don’t know,  $120 million dollars, you would think that they would actually hire actors, that they can afford, to play the baby Renesmee and even older teenage Renesmee (and they CGI this face too! Seriously!  WHAT THE HELL).

Anyway, there are also new vampires in this film.  A couple of Arabs, blonde bombshells, some rugged dudes with more moodiness than Edward and my favorite, the stereotypical looking Irish Vampires, Amazon women (who just HAD to black!) and the Romanian vampires with the cheesiest of accents.

They all had special powers too. One was the Avatar, another had electricity in her hands, and Tyra Banks (one of the Amazon women) controlled minds.

So it was the X-men with a high attractiveness meter.

Oh and the Volturi were hilarious especially the great acting chops of Michael Sheen (Aro), who has one of the greatest squeals in movie history.

I don’t want to spoil anything (because the fun is all in the spoilers!) but there is a huge twist and basically everyone cried out because it was so horrible.

By the end of this movie, I was actually sad, they played a slight montage and ended with showing every single one of the actors who were apart of all five movies in the end credits and I was just overwhelmed by sadness, I mean it’s over. The one thing that has plagued many a people is over and now where can I find my source of pure cheesy romance?

Oh well, at least we all know that they will stop dominating the MTV Movie Awards!  

Who should I recommend this to, really?  I guess to the teenage girls who will see this no matter what I say, or maybe to the rest of the population who already wrote this movie off as junk….

I guess I’ll recommend to the person who is bored during Thanksgiving break and wants to run away from their awkward relative moments.

 See this film if you want to have a good time. You don’t even need to see the other films before you see this. If you want to see comedy gold, I have found your movie.  I bet this movie in about ten years will become a cult favorite, just wait and see!

<3 Twilight Forever <3

—Maya Mariner

Flight Movie Review


So when I saw this trailer back during the summer, I was very intrigued. First, Denzel is back with something that seems worth paying to see in the movie theater and second, this movie looks intense in the material that is being presented: Not only with the plane crash but also with this man’s struggle with addiction.

Overall, I thought this movie was a solid movie, but not something to run to go see.

Denzel Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker, a pilot that has an alcohol and drug addiction.  While he is flying a plane, it malfunctions and begins to nosedive.  Whip miraculously saves 96 out of the 102 lives, but there is an investigation because there was alcohol and drugs in his system.

The plane crash is probably the most intense scene that happens in this film.  I was covering my eyes most of the time, and moving around because I was having a slight panic attack; I mean imagine a plane you are in, crashing…

Denzel Washington definitely was the highlight of the film.  Of course, in every film, he brings his magic, but his skills brought this character’s constant struggle and hardship with drugs and alcohol to light, in a way that I have not seen before.  Usually when people play drunks, they are over dramatic, like a sloppy 20 year old after a keg stand, but his depiction of an alcoholic is much more specific and personal.

After this man drinks, he thinks he’s totally fine; totally fine to interact with others, to drive, to fly a plane.  He tries to come back into people’s lives as if he is okay, but he isn’t.  He knows he has a problem and in the movie he kept repeatedly saying during a drunken scene (my words are paraphrasing)  “I choose to be drunk. I choose it.  It’s my life.”

One thing I did not like in this movie was this one woman named Nicole (played by Kelly Reilly) who was this heroin addict that overdosed and Whip met in the hospital when he went there for treatment. I just never really liked where it was going for the start. They developed a relationship and she is there to supposedly “help him”, and I just thought her whole character shouldn’t have been there.  It felt forced, even though she was good, but it all felt off for me, considering she never appeared in the trailers.

Personally, I think the movie should have stayed focused with Denzel’s character and explored his addiction more, like when did it start? Why did he get a divorce?  What is his relationship to his friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood)? I think this movie just wanted to have the Nicole character as a friend to help him, but she doesn’t stay long in the movie to be his coach or support system.

Towards the second half of the movie is when the movie actually starts to get good because now he is dealing with trying to stay sober to lie to the NTSB for being under the influence or succumbing to his addiction.  Some great scenes really hit close to home.  I just wish it were consistent throughout the movie.

I also really liked Don Cheadle in this film. He is in for a few parts (even though I wished his character was explored more with Denzel’s character) he was a very convincing lawyer and I was definitely sympathetic to him especially dealing with this person.  John Goodman’s cameos were good but overall I felt like they were a bit unnecessary, and could have been played by a lesser-known actor, especially because he has two scenes. 

If you are really itching to get your Denzel fix for the holiday season, I would recommend you see this in the theaters otherwise I think saving your money and waiting for this movie on rental would be better.

—Maya Mariner 


Let’s start with what Skyfall is not. It is not a systematic reworking of the character as portrayed by a new actor. It is not taking the franchise in a radically new direction. It is not even an entirely traditional Bond film.


I’m okay with that. There’s already a place for those in the franchise, now 23 films strong. Skyfall is something different. I’m reminded of The Dark Knight Rises. The success of Nolan’s Batman story established, the Nolan brothers went to town in that film with characterization. Selina Kyle, Bane, Jonathan Blake, and Talia Al’Ghul were interesting and complex additions to the mythology, and Batman and Alfred had never been more interesting.


Here, Craig’s been established as Bond. There are new faces—a young Q, a bureaucrat played by Ralph Fiennes, and a Bond woman or two—but the main focus is on himself and M. Judi Dench lends the most weight I’ve yet seen to the role. She’s more than just Mission Control; when Bond is taken out of commission early on, you want to see her succeed as much as Bond. Since the villain’s motivation has much to do with M and her long reign as head of MI6, this is pretty important to nail, and Dench and the scriptwriters do it extremely well. I can’t decide if the highlight is her speech at a later hearing, or her resourcefulness in the climax.


Wait, I mentioned a villain. There must be one; it’s a Bond film. Here it’s Silva, played by the oh-so-smooth Javier Bardem. He plays the antithesis to Bond: it’s a white spy vs black spy story, about the man Bond could have been and didn’t become. This is more effective because we hear snatches of Bond’s earliest days throughout, and his troubled past. That past in turn becomes the reason for the film’s title; it is the source of Bond’s birth, and of another ending that later leads to a new rebirth. The film circles itself, and plays constantly with the idea of resurrection.


And without spoiling things, the stakes of this film are set high from the beginning. Bond has a reason to fight his hardest in this film, making this one of the darkest Bonds I’ve seen. That’s even true literally. Big action set pieces take place in the dark; the climax is shot at nightfall. It often provides a chiaroscuro effect, or just a sense that the filmmakers aren’t afraid of shooting in low light. It’s refreshing to see an action film that’s not worried we’ll miss some key moment.


There aren’t even that many set pieces. Most of the fights are standard gunfights or hand-to-hand combat, which just happen to have a ton of emotion behind them. The best parts are the climax, and a couple of sequences involving trains. The physical effects man is Chris Corbould, who also worked on Nolan’s films (Inception, the Dark Knight trilogy), and he must be something of a star in Hollywood by now. The theater actually rumbled during some of the more impressive effects, which appeared to have been done all in camera.


It’s interesting to me that James Bond, the longest-running film franchise of all time, is now aping from comic book movies. A late twist is reminiscent of The Avengers, and MI6’s temporary headquarters is similar to Batman’s Dark Knight hideout. The result is a darker, more emotional Bond, which doesn’t quite fit with the formula of the franchise but pays homage to it all the same, and frequently—see the film’s vintage cars and referential one-liners for that. It’s not quite as all-out fun as Casino Royale, but it’s a solid movie, and a compelling emotional journey. Here’s hoping that future installments have the same sort of self-awareness and intelligence that director Sam Mendes brings to this one.

—Paul Anderson

Wreck It Ralph

 I think this was one of my most anticipated animated features this year (even more than Brave), and now that I have seen it and processed it….I really loved this movie.

This movie could have gone gimmicky and very kiddy, but it didn’t.  It had so much respect for the video gaming world and brought the old school video games of the 80s and 90s along with the contemporary ones together and created this mishmash of just, plain, AWESOME.

Wreck-It Ralph is the villain in the arcade game, Fix-It Felix Jr.; Ralph doesn’t want to be the bad guy anymore, and so, while trying to prove his hero status to the people in his video game he decides to game jump, and havoc ensues.

First off, the animation for this movie is stunning.  I didn’t see this movie in 3-D, but I wonder what the experience would have been because it was just so gorgeous and I couldn’t get enough.  It was eye candy, especially during the Sugar Rush scenes, which was like Candy-land in high-definition, and I almost died.  Make sure you bring some candy with you because you will definitely be craving it!

I love the fact that this movie didn’t stay away from using 8-bit animation and also having the characters walk and react as if they were still in their video game. They really took care of this movie, and I felt many similarities to Scott Pilgrim versus the World because of the lightheartedness of the characters and the production.

One of my favorite parts of this movie is the voice acting.  It was so well done, and not to mention that the characters look like the actors that portray them.  John C. Reily voices wreck-it Ralph and I can’t think anybody else who would be good to play his part.  He has such a man boyish quality that fits Ralph and you really felt sympathetic to the character. Fix-it Felix Jr. is Jack McBrayer and that was just an excellent choice, a pure opposite of Wreck-it Ralph and everytime Felix Jr. talked, I burst into giggles.  Jane Lynch was Calhoun, and if you have seen even a tiny bit of Lynch’s Sue Sylvester on Glee, you would know she was perfect for the part.

One of my favorites in this film was Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope. Silverman was the highlight in this movie. Her character could have been really annoying, but Silverman was able to use her comedic chops to create a sugar and spice character to bring her not only as this hyper little girl but make her this whole character that has feelings and makes her sympathetic.

The writing was great in this movie and the references were definitely spot on. I was sitting amongst a group of Oberlin students and I think we were laughing the most in this film because the mixture of nostalgia and the aspect of growing up in this video game culture is really resonating, and I know that adults that have experience with these games will absolutely adore this film.

I HIGHLY recommend you see this movie and make sure you get there early for the short, Paperman.  My favorite animated film so far of 2012 (I’m still waiting, Rise of the Guardians).

Now go get your feels on.

—Maya Mariner

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

I heard the great buzz this movie was getting after reading some reviews from the Toronto Film Festival, and after learning that Stephen Chobsky, the author of the novel, wrote the screenplay AND directed it, I had to see this movie.


This movie was probably one of the best movies I have seen all year.


Logan Lerman plays Charlie, a freshman in high school who befriends these two seniors, Patrick and Sam, played by Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, respectively and as IMDB said, “welcome him into the real world.”


The writing was great and kept the characters real and down to earth, which I thought was nice, considering how dramatic writers and directors now make teenagers out to be (looking at you, Glee).  This movie went through some major situations like an after school special: abuse, sexuality, first love, SATS (ugh), but it was done in a refreshing way, that didn’t seem to carry too much on the dramatics as it did focusing on the characters.  As one woman at the movie theater said to the cashier on my way out, “I thought it was gonna be the typical teen movie, but it was really surprising, and refreshing and enjoyable.”


You knew that this movie was greatly influenced by John Hughes.


 It’s interesting that the novel takes place in the early 1990s, but in the movie, the year was never mentioned, only in small nuances with technology, clothing, and music (mix tapes, yep).  The movie felt relevant in today’s world.   


Other highlights: The music in Perks was really strong.  It captured the teen spirit and complemented the character’s personalities well.  Even though, I don’t listen to most of the bands or even know the name of the songs, I really enjoyed it and might dive deeper into some of the music highlighted.


BUT NOW, Let’s go to the acting.  


One of my mom’s friends summarized what everyone thoughts about Emma Watson: HERMONIE WHO?  She was excellent in this film as the sweet, genuine, beautiful friend with a past, and even though her American accent was a little shady in some parts, I felt that for her first major role since Harry Potter, she was great.  She also had great chemistry with both Ezra and Logan.


Logan definitely has grown up since his Percy Jackson days and he definitely stepped up to the plate in Perks as the insecure and sometimes mentally unstable Charlie.  Even though he is 20 years old, he definitely captured the innocence of being a freshman in high school and I he was very believable.  


But honestly, if I saw a kid as cute as Logan Lerman walking around looking lonely, I would befriend him IMMEDIATLEY, no questions asked.


Now, let me talk about Ezra Miller.  This boy is fantastic.  He was the stand out in this film.  He made me laugh and cry and have funny feelings inside, and just did a wonderful job as gay Patrick.  It’s so interesting that he goes from the thriller Let’s Talk about Kevin and then to sweet Perks and you know this kid will become one of our generation’s most talented actors.  Overall, He also had great chemistry with the others, especially with Emma (no wonder she came and saw him perform at the ‘Sco!).


Other great highlights include the lovely Mae Whitman (as my friend said, “I don’t know if I want to be her, or be on top of her”) and Mr. Paul Rudd, who I adored as the English teacher and mentor of Charlie.  He also said the best quote in the film (made famous by Charlie),“We accept the love we think we deserve.” Ahh, my heart. Ahh how true.


It’s only out in a couple of theaters now, but I highly recommend you check out this movie.  Make sure you bring your feels.


—Maya Mariner

Spineless: Secrets of the Lost Summer by Carla Neggers


Generally, I don’t like romance novels. They always end too happily (I’m very much a realist) and the characters’ names are usually exceedingly quaint. That being said, I really liked Secrets of the Lost Summer by Carla Neggers, which surprised me. It was everything that I could want in…

Some of the Best and Worst of the Summer Movie Season

-art my Maya Mariner

Well, summer vacation has been over for over a month, and that means cuddly sweaters, bonfires and dorm room fleece blanket snuggle parties are on their way! But let’s reflect back to the summer for a minute: While most responsible college students interned, got a job, or volunteered over the summer, I stayed at home being a blob, sinking my couch into the floor, and Keeping up with the Kardashians.  I also saw a lot of movies…28 of them in fact.  Yes, you read that correctly, I spent over a hundred dollars of my mom’s money (more if I count the popcorn and peanut M&Ms) and endless hours of my life to go to the movies.  Therefore, I feel it is my duty to share the best and worst of the summer with you all…at the very least so I have something to show for all my trouble, and the fact that summer movies are getting me excited for some fall movie magic!

The Best:

The Dark Knight Rises: Nolan did not disappoint.  Whether you liked it more or less than the Dark Knight, this movie was a great ending to an amazing franchise that took the superhero genre into a new realm. The stunts were epic: Bane took a plane apart, a football field collapsed, bridges blew up, and as much as possible was done without CGI. Also, Anne Hathaway was smokin’ as Catwoman. Finally, congratulations Joseph Gordon-Levitt for hitting out of the park in this one, four for you.

The Avengers: I had high expectations for this baby and BOY WERE THEY MET. The best part was watching the whole super crew fight together after watching them in separate movies for about 4 years, especially in a super-summer, popcorn-eating epic. Joss Whedon, I bow down to you.

Moonrise Kingdom: I had never seen a Wes Anderson film (or a P.T. Anderson film, ‘cause I keep confusing the two), but once the movie started, everything fell into place.  The pacing was great, the dialogue was snappy, the music was a perfect fit, the cast was so on top of everything, and the tween couple (played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) stole the show. I get the Wes craze now!

The Beasts of the Southern Wild: This film won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, and from that moment I knew I had to see it. Everything was so light, gorgeous, and moving; the scenery, the cinematography, the music, the acting…everything!  I never felt like I was watching a film, but watching an almost-documentary on the life of a six-year-old living on the edges of the bayou. Quvenzhané Wallis was such a dynamic force in this movie, and I will not be surprised if she grabs some award nods this season.

Honorable Mentions: Bernie, The Intouchables, Queen of Versailles, Ruby Sparks

The Worst

To Rome with Love: This movie wasn’t as bad as it was disappointing. Woody Allen was coming off a great ride with Midnight in Paris, so my expectations for To Rome with Love were high. I loved the display of the city and the abundant use of the Italian actors, but it was choppy.  Even though it was Allen-esque, it seemed more like Allen was driving and kept running through streetlights.


Take this Waltz: This film was about 90 minutes long, but I swear on all that is good, it could have been over at least three different times.  Three times during a 90 minute movie, I thought the credits were going to roll so I could leave immediately, but it still went on and on while I pathetically watched/slept. Seth Rogen was good though.

Honorable Mentions: The Dictator, Snow White and the Huntsman, Men in Black III

-Maya Mariner 

Summer Movie Review

(From L-R: Brave, The Amazing Spiderman, 21 Jump Street, The Dark Knight Rises, Moonrise Kingdom, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Lorax, The Hunger Games, The Avengers.) -Artwork by Jenna Bergstraesser

Rejoice, all ye merry Oberlin culture junkies - the Apollo is coming back, and just in time for the fall movie season! This is always an exciting time of year for me because many of the year’s best films come in these next few months. Certainly most of the Oscar nominees will. All the kids are back in school; time for the grown-ups to go back out to the theater.

And what better way to celebrate this time of year than by looking back at the last time? For all the problems summer film seasons have had recently (I think the strongest one in recent memory was 2008, and even that’s a stretch), this year had a lot of headliners, mostly thanks to big names. Ridley Scott returned to science fiction, Joss Whedon brought the superheroes of Marvel Comics together in one super-blockbuster, and Christopher Nolan bade farewell to his interpretation of the Man Dressed as a Bat. And what do you know - a lot of this summer was good. In the end, I think it did give 2008 (that memorable year of WALL-E, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight) a run for its money.


So if you’re headed towards the still-distant Christmas season with no idea what movies to buy, rent, or skip from the last few months - well, you’re in luck. Here’s a handy guide to various cinematic categories, with as many movies as I could see crammed in there. I stuck in a few from earlier months, too, but really, when March has releases like John Carter and The Hunger Games, I can’t entirely ignore it.





BUY: Moonrise Kingdom


I might as well start out with my pick for the best film of the year so far - Wes Anderson’s newest picture, Moonrise Kingdom. On the eve of a hurricane, an island-dwelling young boy and girl run away from their respective families to be together, prompting a star-studded search for the children before the storm hits. Oh, yes, there are stars - Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Jason Schwartzman are all here, though the film’s real heart may be found in Edward Norton, a hard-on-his-luck scout leader. The film’s definitely a little odd - the two children are somehow wise beyond their years, thanks in part to their vast imaginations. Yet it’s sweet, too, a chuckle-inducing parody and love letter to storytelling, childhood, and most resonating, for me, boy scouting. The mini military camps are a sight to behold. It’s an adorable little picture, and it’s made with such a love of cinema that I would be surprised if it wasn’t nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. This is this year’s Hugo, released in the slot Midnight in Paris got last year.


RENT: Safety Not Guaranteed


Having seen select episodes of Parks and Recreation, I was familiar with Aubrey Plaza’s portrayal of a deeply snarky, somewhat pessimistic young woman. The character type seemed like it could become easily static, but Safety Not Guaranteed disproved that idea in my mind. This is a story where sarcasm and fun give way gradually to something very sincere, whereas the characters that appear to be taking their jobs seriously are, in fact, not working hard at all. At heart this is a vehicle for Ms. Plaza, but the performances by Jeff Schwensen and Mark Duplass bring the story home. It’s a very small-scale picture, which you might not expect from the time travel premise, but it’s absolutely worth seeing.


SKIP: Seeking a Friend at the End of the World


Steve Carell is fantastic in The Office, but I haven’t seen him do quite so well in dramatic roles. (Well, there’s one exception. He’s pretty good in Little Miss Sunshine, but that’s more or less a comedy anyway.) The problem lies in his brilliant comedic delivery. Michael Scott has a facade of seriousness that seems ready to break out into laughter at a moment’s notice. When Carell holds a poker face through an entire film, it seems to me as if he’s stifling laughter, as if he’s not quite taking the world seriously. He’s so removed from the world that he has a very small emotional presence. The premise of this film is pretty good - apocalyptic romantic black comedy - and I deeply respect it for seeing the promise of doom all the way to the end. Some scenes early on have a great black humor that I missed in the rest of the film. The lead performances, and lack of laughs towards the end, turned me off of this promising film.





BUY: The Secret World of Arrietty


Those familiar with Studio Ghibli and recent hits such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle will recognize the animation style of this film immediately. Miyazaki himself, the genius behind those two films, takes over co-scripting duties here, and it’s by no means his best film. Still, it is lovely. Arrietty is based off of the popular Borrowers children’s book series. The melancholic theme that ended Spirited Away, of the impermanence of human relationships, takes over the entire film here, and it makes for some genuinely heartbreaking scenes. The enlarged house and garden are beautiful onscreen - the animators really nailed the look of individual leaves and blades of grass moving in the wind, not to mention magnified water droplets. Arrietty surprises with its presence of an unambiguous villain, unusual for Ghibli, but that doesn’t distract greatly from the obvious craft and love poured into the movie.


RENT: The Pirates! Band of Misfits


If you like Aardman Studios’ traditional brand of humor - that which shows up in Chicken Run, Flushed Away, and the Wallace and Gromit shorts - you’ll like Band of Misfits, which has those films’ same subversive, dry British tone. As with Arrietty, Pirates is not the studio’s strongest film, only a little unfortunate due to the hilarious source material. Yet it is refreshing to see a pirate movie that doesn’t involved Indiana Jones-style mystical cults and magical artifacts. To those not disturbed by the handmade look of Pirates, the film is definitely worth a watch.


SKIP: Brave


Oh, how it pains me to put a Pixar film here. But for the second year in a row, Pixar’s yearly film is unlikely to be nominated for Best Picture Oscar, or even win the Best Animated Feature category. Brave is not a princess story, but it is quite reminiscent of another recent Disney feature, which if named would present significant spoilers to the plot. It goes without saying that the film is beautiful, and Merida’s hair - so touted in publicity - does look great. But Brave stumbles again and again. The relationship between Merida and her mother is one-dimensional and doesn’t seem to be easily salvaged; the priority of comedy over dramatic integrity, which also presented problems in Ratatouille, undermines the film’s seriousness instead of merely poking fun at it like Shrek did; and only a couple of characters are really developed at all. The directors and writers behind the film aren’t the regular Pixar talent (John Lasseter, Pete Doctor, Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, etc.), which I hopefully blame as part of the film’s problem. Anyway, the best animated Disney heroine picture of the decade has already been made; your time would be better spent rewatching Tangled.





BUY: 21 Jump Street


Where the heck did this film come from? Two of my least favorite genres - buddy comedy and explosion-fueled brainless action movie - mash together to create 21 Jump Street, a buddy cop film wherein two undercover cops infiltrate a high school. Problem is, they get their cards mixed up, and the jock has to play the science kid while the nerd has to pretend to be popular. And this works really well. The high school films and shows most people grew up on - that is, those made in the 80s and early 90s, like for example the original 21 Jump Street - are now outdated. Tolerance is cool and the nerds run the universe, if behind the scenes. It’s a funny and subversive take on high school films, not to mention the basic subversive action movie tropes you might see in (say) The Other Guys are really well done here. (“I really thought that [propane-filled] truck was gonna blow up.”) If this film could win me over, it can win over anybody.


RENT: Rock of Ages


Every summer has its bad movie (usually multiple), and every summer has its musical. Only about half the time are they combined, but this time it worked spectacularly. Because Rock of Ages is wonderfully, gloriously bad. In an age of Glee, the jukebox musical is nothing new, though such a star-studded one might be. It’s all wholly uninspired casting - Paul Giamiatti plays the slimy assistant, Malin Akerman is the sex object, Catherine Zeta-Jones is the feminist, Tom Cruise is the washed-up superstar, and the two leads are adorable and half-decent at singing. The real surprise is Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as co-owners of a club, who eventually start a romance in the film’s most hilarious number. They milk it for all its worth, as does everyone else. The sense of energy lifts the film (this saved Newsies), while the horrible acting and writing bring it crashing to the ground. That combination makes something very watchable. Recommended viewing with other people, though, so you can make snide comments at it.


SKIP: Battleship


If you thought you’d seen the most boring action film of the decade with last year’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, you thought wrong. Battleship is near constant explosions - and when nothing’s exploding, a sickeningly sweet attitude towards American patriotism overruns the film. The rampant destruction is a little unsettling, particularly in the glee these people find in it. And again, nobody is interesting in this, and none of the writing holds any spark. At least Transformers tried for a funny line every now and again!





BUY: The Hunger Games


Let me very clearly establish my position on this one: I thought the book was… okay. It’s kind of an odd premise - killing children seems like sort of like a strategy for keeping people in line that would backfire. The Battle Royale-lite setting held promise, but was overrun with mildly repetitive prose from the mind of Katniss Everdeen. And as it must, the survival story eventually gave way to a love story, which wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. It was mildly promising but very uneven, and I wasn’t really motivated to pick up book two.


The filmic version, though, makes me want to see the sequel immediately. Maybe this is due to their excellent foreshadowing of future events - riots begin in one district before the movie’s two-thirds over. Maybe it’s due to the sense of a larger story that begins to emerge, helped via scenes with the leader of Panem. But I think overall the story is told more smoothly than the book, even though the premise remains perplexing. Jennifer Lawrence is perfect as Katniss, of course, but she doesn’t just reprise her role from Winter’s Bone, which she very well could have done - there’s a darkness to Katniss that Ru didn’t quite have. Meanwhile, the film integrates the audience very well into the reality show of the Games, allowing commentators to speak directly to us as events progress. Impressively, for a PG-13 film the gore is not downplayed; the opening seconds of the Games are some of the film’s most chilling. It’s a very strong film on its own, and certainly a good adaptation as well, which is a line many adaptations struggle to stride. Definitely looking forward to the next one.


RENT: John Carter


This film was undeserved of its critical panning and box office failures. That said, nor was it worthy of Avatar-level revenues (though to be fair, I’m unconvinced Avatar itself was worthy of Avatar-level revenues), and with a budget of this size that might have been what they were going for. I see the film as quite an interesting experiment: a clearly pulp fiction tale, tweaked a little to tone down the sexism and racism (but not eliminate either completely), and then told with a large modern-day visual effects budget. It’s not great, but it’s sincere and silly. And I had more fun with this than I did with Avatar, when I think about it. Too bad Andrew Stanton’s live-action debut didn’t match Brad Bird’s incomparable Mission Impossible outing, though.


SKIP: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax


I’m going to cheat on this one - I haven’t seen this film, but I needed to fill out the literary adaptations category. Still, the review at the link below is a very perceptive piece of criticism, whatever its accuracy.





BUY: The Avengers


For a movie Marvel sank millions of dollars and five prequels into (after all, a huge reason films like Iron Man and Thor even exist was for this one movie), this one damn well better have worked, cause Marvel was betting a lot on it. And work it did. It always would have, really, because a live-action version of the Marvel Universe, where heroes cross over into each other’s titles on a weekly basis, is something many comic nerds would chop off their limbs for. Myself included. And since this film had so much hype (and five prequels) going into it, many people would have turned out just to see if it could be done. (This is why a Justice League movie would probably not be quite so successful - the novelty was a big factor in the huge box office for The Avengers.)


But not only did this film work, it worked brilliantly. I mean that as a fan and as a moviegoer. The film is action-packed from the beginning, but unlike (say) Battleship, the point of everything is always obvious. There are great and funny characters bouncing off of each other, and to the loyal Marvel viewer, The Avengers is the logical next step in the characterization of every single hero here. That’s a very difficult thing to do.


And not that this should make or break a film, but the effects really are spectacular. Early trailers had very few of them, and the shots looked barren, but the power of these heroes and their villains is brought to life, and the threat seems real - like something only six super-powered heroes could take down together. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s pretty great.


RENT: Prometheus


For me, this was unambiguously the best science fiction film of the summer. It presents a weird premise - humans share the genetic material of an alien Engineer race - along with some hefty theological questions. Where do we come from, and what is our purpose? Against this backdrop, Prometheus is action, horror, and intellectual sci-fi; the best of the first two Alien films, with 2001 and the musical feel of Blade Runner sprinkled in for good measure. Most intriguingly, many of those questions it asks are left unanswered, though the film expands upon those ideas through thematic and human connections that grow in the story. I liked it because you left the theater thinking about those ideas. Oh, and it’s pretty, too.


So, I enjoyed it. But the response from most people has been more measured, and on reflection I see some of their points. For all its ambition, Prometheus spreads itself just a little too thin. Some developments don’t further the plot, but the themes, leading to many scenes that appear to have no purpose. And while the movie may feature homages to previous science fiction films, its basic plot beats are largely copied from the original Alien film. In my mind, this makes sense; between the two films, director Ridley Scott establishes a vocabulary of events, and links the two inexorably. History repeats itself. But to a fan of the original, Prometheus may be a bit too repetitive. Still, the film sparked discussion, and the degree to which people like this vary wildly, so check it out - I can’t honestly predict what side of the spectrum you might be on.


RENT: The Amazing Spider-Man


None of the four big summer tentpoles were by any means bad, so I’m eschewing a “Skip” category here. (The fourth is relegated to the next category.) The Amazing Spider-Man does perplex me the most of them all, though. Here is a film, which, only five years after the last one in the franchise, reboots the Spider-Man story with an entirely new creative team, and pulls off most of the important elements better than the original trilogy. The writing is more believable, the cast is filled with better and more charismatic actors, Spider-Man’s fights feel less like two rubber CGI models punching each other, and the origin story is more nuanced than any other one so far, including the comic universe canon origin. But even with all of those qualities, Spider-Man 2 remains my favorite Spidey movie. I think that’s because Amazing takes itself very seriously. There are plenty of funny moments, and the Peter Parker / Gwen Stacy dynamic is a superb touch of lightness, but both are contrasted with a constantly brooding teenager. Think of the first Harry Potter film. It may have been inferior to its sequels, but there was a sense of wonder not quite matched by further installments. The story of The Amazing Spider-Man is pretty good, but the elements don’t come together as smoothly as I’d hoped. Not to say it’s bad - I do think it’s the second-best Spider-Man, and is worth a watch.





BUY: The Dark Knight Rises


And so Nolan’s Batman trilogy comes to an end. That sentence is a bit deceiving, though; The Dark Knight Rises is the only film of Nolan’s movies that is intended as a moment within a larger story. Batman Begins is a revamped origin story; The Dark Knight is a logical progression involving the Joker and Two-Face, but as a middle installment it hardly forwards a three-movie plot. There’s another way to consider Rises: a sequel to both Begins and Dark Knight, since plot threads from both (the League of Shadows and Batman’s ostracization from Gotham among them) are continued and concluded here.


This is bigger in scope than the other two films, which is just a little reminiscent of the planet apocalypse-centric The Avengers. It is longer, as well. After the success of Batman Begins, my theory is that the Nolan brothers had less and less editorial influence. Begins is often quite funny in a way that its two sequels aren’t. So this film takes itself pretty seriously. But there is plenty of good here. Catwoman, Bane, and particularly Gotham cop Jonathan Blake are fun and well-realized characters, very worthy additions to the Nolan mythos. Of the previously established cast, Batman and Alfred have the most interesting character development, with Alfred having grown weary of Wayne’s daredevil stunts, and Batman attempting a comeback after eight years away from the job.


As for the politics, they’re complicated, which is why this film is a must-see of this category. There is an Occupy Wall Street-like movement led by Gotham prisoners and lower-class, or perhaps it’s closer to the French Revolution. And the fat cats of Gotham aren’t helping much either. It’s all quite muddled, but like Prometheus, untangling the problems seems to be part of the point; that’s how it is in real life, after all. If you want an intellectual blockbuster, as usual, Nolan isn’t a bad place to look.


RENT: The Campaign


Again, this film surprised me, because raunchy comedies and I don’t mix. But this one had the added benefit of being politically timely, thanks to the theater of the 2012 campaigns being in full swing when it was released. If you like The Daily Show, there’s a good chance you’ll like this, because some of the gags are familiar. That the campaigns are worried more about presentation than about substance, that the political system is driven by money rather than ideals. But Zach Galifianakis provides heart. He is weird, but there’s a warm squishy center to him that surfaces every so often, unlike some of his other roles where he never seems to exist on the same plane of existence. Will Ferrell tones down his usual shtick (see Talladega Nights or Blades of Glory) to become an outrageous candidate with no respect for personal space. The film may be depressing to some, but it looks closely at current campaign problems and laughs at them, which I believe to be a very healthy response.


SKIP: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


This isn’t actually politics. Never mind.





Beasts of the Southern Wild

To Rome with Love

Premium Rush

The Cabin in the Woods

Men in Black 3

-Paul Anderson

Akeelah & The Bee: The Most Inspirational Movie of all Time

I’ve been feeling super Black lately, so I started watching Black films.  Most of them are about sad, Black men in the inner city who watch all their friends die from gunshots before escaping the hood through either sports or music. Others are about fat, sixteen-year-old Black girls who are still in middle school, pregnant for the second time, raped, abused, have a child with downs syndrome, and are HIV positive.
Akeelah and The Bee, though is, to date, the only happy Black movie known to man.  Unless you count Good Burger. Then there are two.

Akeelah and The Bee is about a young, Black girl growing up in a bad neighborhood somewhere in LA near and/or around where Ice Cube’s brother Ricky was shot in front of Cuba Gooding Jr. She goes to a shit school with no budget and a ton of bullies. Two bullies pick on Akeelah specifically because they, like most people, hate smart children. They hate Akeelah so much that they go out of their way to go to her special events and make fun of her. Say what you will about bullies, but they have a dedication that the kids they convince to kill themselves are obviously lacking.

No H8.

It gets better.

Aside from school life, Akeelah has an interesting family dynamic (and that was the worst transitional sentence ever written). She has four siblings. Her sister is never really seen but has what seems to be an illegitimate baby. Her mildly older brother is in a gang. Her way older brother is in the military in hopes of getting a college degree; he is also Malcolm in the Middle’s older brother’s Black friend in military school and the alien genius from the short lived but utterly brilliant Nickelodeon show Allen Strange.  Akeelah’s mom works long hours at the hospital to provide for her family and her father died during a shooting in the hood; because no Black child in cinema ever has both parents.  Not even in Goodburger.

Right off the bat the film starts building Akeelah’s character through scene. She gets A’s on her spelling tests, she plays scrabble for fun, and she’s excited about learning.  This, of course, get’s her bullied because the urban community hates education almost as much as they hate college (this, of course, is not their fault and reflects the internalized socialization forced on to them by a continually oppressive system, but because the foundlings of said system are in the past and we do not have a delorean, I have no choice but to move forward and insult it—Besides, you probably don’t care).
Akeelah gets offered to do the spelling bee and decides she doesn’t want to.  But then someone tells her to do it for her dead father, which is exactly what you say to a child at a key developmental milestone.  You say to them, “Hey, do this thing you don’t want to do for your dead parent.”  There’s no way that kind of a thing could have dire consequences on a child’s mental health.

At this point Laurence Fishburne shows up as a positive Black role model (as seen in his roles in Boyz n’ The Hood and kind of a little bit in The Matrix) and is way to harsh on an 11 year-old girl. He almost makes her cry. But, he also lends a tender moment to the film by showing Akeelah the most bad ass Nelson Mandela quote of all time.
Akeelah wins the spelling bee shit and becomes friends with a nice Latino/Hispanic kid named Javier with really supportive parents (and a huge eleven-year-old crush on Akeelah) and a nice Asian boy, Dylan, with a father who hates him (and is also a little racist). That could be seen as a stereotypical comment on Asians, but it’s my understanding that all fathers hate their children, so I think it’s less racial and more completely and unfortunately true. 

Her new friendships, though, strain her old ones because it’s hard to manage wealthy friends who play Scrabble  and poor friends who like to actually do fun things. Shit’s rough, man. Social mobility is a bitch.

On top of that, her mom also hates that she wants to do the bee, which sounds cruel and unfair; but if you work full time, have four kids, your husband dies from gang violence, your oldest daughter has a bastard baby and lives at home, your older son joins the army, and your younger son is in a gang, then I think you’ve earned the right to be overprotective of your youngest child; especially when she is in summer school for cutting classes. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Mom was in the right on that one.

As the conflict rises you discover Laurence Fishburne has had to bury his daughter and be left by his wife. Through coaching her, Akeelah brings back a lot of feelings of fatherhood, and the relationship between the two strains. By the end of it, Akeelah teaches him he can move on and be there for others as he would be there for his daughter.

It’s touching in a way only children’s movies can be. 

The sentence seems problematic.

For a time, however, Laurence Fishburne’s character excuses himself from coaching her in an attempt to stay professional. No worries, though. Shit start’s looking up for Akeelah.  Her bee moves the community. Her mom coaches her, her brothers coach her, her teachers coach her, the gang leader (as played by the guy who does Crab Man on My Name is Earl or The Rubber Band Man in the Office Max commercials depending on how dated you want your references to be) coaches her, the Korean shop owner coaches her. Even the local wino helps her.

You know how many other Black movies show communal love towards the education of children?  Approximately none.

Exactly none.


By the end, Javier loses but is okay with that. He knows he’ll have a chance to win the next year. Akeelah and Dylan Bonnie-and-Clyde their way to a co-victory, thus overcoming their differences in a most triumphant victory. Everyone wins and Akeelah’s bee singlehandedly saves the ghetto.

Is it ridiculous?  Yes.

Is it heart warming as fuck?  You bet your ass.

I’ll be honest with you, tumblr: I was high when I watched this movie.  I was high and incredibly emotional.  I cried several different times; twice out of sorrow and twice out of how fucking happy I was for Akeelah.  Then I called my mom and made her validate my existence.  Then I wrote this post.

Technical Stuff:

Cinematically the film makes great use of montage (particularly when showing Akeelah study). The use of POV shots work out well too, adding to the emotional resonance of the film. It’s a kid’s movie, though, so it can be heavy-handed or overly expositional at times; but you have to do that because kids are stupid (as, oddly enough, are most adults). Because of that, the movie is directed in a way that can, to an adult, seem tired or cliché, but to a child makes the emotional flow of the film clear and easy to follow.  Certain actions or segments of dialogue seem overemphasized to show their importance. 

That being said, Akeelah and The Bee does a good enough job of being something any age can enjoy; and while it stoops to a child’s level, thus allowing them a chance to understand, it does not pander to a child audience or force itself to be terribly over simplistic.  It’s also, in part, the fact that this is a children’s movie that allows it to be so unrealistic.  In some kid’s movies, a child is accidently left at home for Christmas and fights off burglars with gadgets and gizmos.  In others, children walk along a set of railroad tracks, discovering themselves as they look for a dead body.  Most plots are stupid; it’s the journey that matters.

I mean, look at Up for Christ’s sake. If someone walked up to you and said, “Hey, I want to make a movie about an old man, a boy, and some animals flying in a house filled with balloons,” you would say, “You are an idiot.” But then it happens and you and everyone else in the theater cries after the first five minutes. Five god-damned minutes!

Fuck you, Pixar. You broke my fucking heart.

Also, for a film targeting a younger demographic, Akeela and The Bee has a sick soundtrack.  Bootsy Collins? Fuck yeah.

    •    “What do you want to be when you grow up?  A doctor?  A lawyer?  A stand up comic?” –Laurence Fishburne (upon meeting Akeelah)
    •    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” –Nelson Mandela (reoccurring theme of the film)