To the Stars: An Ad Astra Review

Brad Pitt stars in Ad Astra, a story about human bonds that has cosmic proportions.

For a long time, the idea of humans living in space remained in the realm of fantasy. But as we tiptoe towards environmental collapse, a future of mankind in space seems more and more inevitable. 

This might explain why there has been an uptick in films that grapple with humanity in space and mankind’s quest to find a place in the cosmos. Some quintessential 21st-century “space movies” that come to mind are Wall-E (2009), Interstellar (2014), and The Martian (2015). 

And Ad Astra is another (lengthy) addition to this “space movie genre,” but instead of widening the scope to include all of humanity, it focuses on one individual.

Brad Pitt stars as Roy McBride, a cool, capable, yet emotionally repressed astronaut who narrates this story through an internal monologue. He is the son of a famed astronaut who disappeared during a mission that attempted to find intelligent life beyond Jupiter. Roy is tasked by SpaceComm to deal with “Surges,” violent earthquake-like events that cut off electronic power on Earth and other human-colonized planets. Roy’s employer believes that Roy’s father is still out in space causing these surges, and cautiously sends Roy on a classified mission to Jupiter in order to stop his father and bring him home. This journey forces Roy has to confront his complex, tumultuous relationship with his father, confront the personal rifts he has caused in his relationships, all the while dealing with the life-threatening ordeal of space travel. 

Visuals-wise, Ad Astra and it’s cinematographer (Hoyte van Hoytema, also DP of Interstellar) succeed in creating a distinctive look for the cosmos. Some of the most memorable visuals include those of Pitt saturated in oppressive reds and sea glass greens, along with the heart-racing opening sequence and the high-contrast space-pirate chase on the Moon.  

However, the writing is more of a mixed bag. 

The premise is interesting enough– but what bogs down the entire movie is the internal monologue and cliche dialogue. Brad Pitt’s internal monologue is hit or miss. At its best, it hits you with a painstaking clarity, such as when McBride describes his complicated relationship with his father. But at its worst, the writing can feel redundant and even condescending towards the audience, as emotional nuance is sacrificed for direct, straightforward monologues that weakly echo the well-acted shots of Brad Pitt experiencing that said emotion. Brad Pitt does what he can with the script however, and at moments you can forgive the redundancy. 

Pitt shines in Ad Astra as he recounts the multifaceted nature of his relationship with his father. Within two hours, we have moments of longing and the simple need for mutual understanding, begrudging respect and emulation, scorn and frustration, and a heartbreaking acceptance and letting go, with varying levels of fitting detachment from Brad Pitt. When the film touches on fatherhood and trauma, everything fits together with breathtaking clarity. 

But apart from this clarity, the rest of the relationships in this film feel murky. 

While the father-son relationship is fleshed out, I was left wondering why the writers couldn’t have done the same for Eve, Liv Tyler’s character and Roy McBride’s ex-wife. There are very few moments where they’re together, and it’s hard to believe by the end of the film Eve is ready to romantically reconnect with Roy, as such little attention has been paid to her. Due to this, the end of this film leaves something to be desired, as it feels very tacked-on and cookie-cutter. 

But I’m not going to let this bog down what I loved about Ad Astra. Ad Astra isn’t about extraterrestrials, exploring new planets, or a ragtag story of unlikely friends on a space ship. It is deeply human and relies on solitude, and what happens when this solitude is disturbed. When forces outside your control force you to question what you have known.

 Ad Astra isn’t a space movie. It is a familiar story of a father and his son, but instead of having it happen under an Earthen roof, it expands its scope and turns to the stars, “ad astra”.  

AD ASTRA (2019) 3/5

-Grace Lee (’21)

The New Fast & Furious: Worth the Watch?

As the new Fast & Furious movie, Hobbs & Shaw, hit movie theaters, fans wonder if the film was worth the wait.

The answer is not really. 

A disappointed, resigned, reluctant not really, coming from both personal experience and a recap of the movie’s reviews of others. 

But first, some context. 

The Fast and Furious series is a popular American movie franchise focused on action-heavy plots that revolve mainly around heists, covert spies, and illegal activities. Its newest movie (the seventh, to be exact), Hobbs & Shaw, was released on July 13 in the United States and on August 15 in Korea. Some fans were beyond excited to see what the new movie had in store; others were less expectant, as the Fast and Furious series had been rumored to be declining in quality ever since the third movie, Tokyo Drift. 

It seems as if the rumors did hold a measure of truth to them. To start off with a bit of the personal aspect of this article, my experience of the seventh movie of Fast and Furious was nothing short of a let-down. The movie is—in one word—cliché. From the very beginning, when the characters are introduced—Hobbs the rugged philosopher and Shaw the slick man in a suit—it’s obvious that this movie is going to go down the path of the many stereotypical ones in its genre before it. 

The cliché then became overwhelmingly apparent when the overall plot and the two characters’ motives were revealed. Shaw’s sister, Hattie, is discovered to carry a deadly virus that an evil scientist (surprise, surprise!) wants to use for equally-as-evil purposes. By the way, that scientist is Russian and his name is Brixton Lore (and this is where I heaved a weary sigh in the middle of the dark theater).

But Hobbs and Shaw absolutely cannot work together, and they decide that themselves. But then the sister is kidnapped (how convenient), and the two decide that it is imperative that they do work together in order to save her. 

Describing the rest of the movie would result in spoiling it for those reading this article, so I’ll refrain from it. But one note would be that the climax is just as cliché as the scenes building up to them. And the resolution is an absolute forehead-slapper. 

A number of articles written on Hobbs & Shaw seem to share my sentiments towards the movie. One article from The Guardian states, “Sometimes there is pleasure to be found in brainless action, but the extended video game-style finale left me furious and fatigued.” Another from the Atlantic describes the movie as, “an exhausting 135 minutes, and it feels longer, meandering from set piece to set piece and location to location without much purpose.” You get the gist. 
Maybe the movie will appeal to those who love watching the stereotypical action, heist-filled movies. In that case, Hobbs & Shaw is the one for you. But for those expecting an action movie with a compelling and novel plotline should stay out of theaters until the hype driven only by the tagline, “Fast & Furious presents,” has passed.

-Lauren Cho ’22

3rd Time Wasn’t the Charm

Following the grandiose retirement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s superstar Ironman in Marvel’s Endgame, fans of the universe responded explosively to the announcement of a new Spider Man movie. Spider Man, also known as Peter Parker, was the on-screen protégé of Ironman, and Marvel’s take on the beloved character through actor Tom Holland as a developing teen with conflicts about his identity was adored by the public. 

While executive producer Kevin Feige’s execution on the character was well loved, fans looked forward to seeing Spider Man finally on-screen with other Marvel characters. For almost a decade, two cinema giants fought over the character rights and usage of Spider Man in the box office. While Spider Man was the creation of Stan Lee, one of the founders of Marvel, the creative rights are owned by Sony, which produced the critically acclaimed Sam Raimi trilogy and the Amazing Spider Man duology. Both of these productions, however, were met with definite shortcomings: the Raimi trilogy had a lackluster finishing while the Amazing Spider Man duology ended with talks for a third movie coming to an end. The MCU Spiderman trilogy, however, is continuously receiving critical acclaim and the hype doesn’t seem to be dying down as Disney announced the final movie of the trilogy to be coming in a couple years. With talks between Marvel and Sony regarding their collaboration to bring Tom Holland’s Spider Man into the cinematic universe, the Spider Man-dilemma seemed to be coming to an end. That was, of course, until last week.

The online community, ranging from hardcore Reddit fan pages to mainstream news outlets, reported that Spider Man would be leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe as negotiations between Marvel and Sony executives fell apart. The original deal over Spider Man was that Disney – which owns Marvel – would receive 5% of gross revenue generated by all profits that trace back to the MCU Spider Man, while Sony would take the remaining 95%. Kevin Feige and his team’s success with the inclusion of Spider Man in the Avengers series and Spider Man stand-alone films propelled them to renegotiate with Sony, now asking for a 50-50 deal instead. Unable to come to an agreement, Sony decided to take back the character for their own films.

There have been multiple rumors circulating online from entertainment outlets such as EW which claims the negotiation has taken a turn for the better due to public outrage. Unfortunately, recent updates from both sides and a statement from Sony blaming Marvel and Kevin Feige will mean Spider Man won’t be returning to Marvel for a while. For now, fans are waiting for updates that may lead to a positive outcome. While unofficial, fans are speculating that a new instagram post from MCU Spider Man actor Tom Holland and Ironman actor Robert Downey Junior with the caption “We did it Mr. Stark!” may lead to their participation in negotiations. 

With the love that comic book fans have for Spider Man, it’s been a tragedy to see that such iconic fan-favorites are caught between crossfires of corporate dealings. While it’s always been Marvel’s policy to not let its designers have access to the creative rights of their characters, Spider Man’s treatment in the entertainment industry is reflective of the way Sony and Disney executives had treated comic book legend Stan Lee during his lifetime, tunneling in on profits rather than the beauty and intrinsic value of the character.

Both sides are equally at fault in this situation. Even if one side provoked the other during negotiations, the results of these failed dealings show the immaturity and disrespect that billionaire companies have for the creators of the characters, the characters themselves, and most importantly, the fans who care. The future of Spider Man will most likely continue to be jeopardized by the struggle between the two corporations over the rights of the character. The only way to ensure that Spider Man doesn’t eventually disappear under the dust of corporate warfare is if fans continue to voice their love for the character and fight for his survival. While many may view this entire ordeal as childish or meaningless, Spider Man holds a dear place in the hearts of many generations, both from elders in their 70’s to children growing up in this digital age. Spider Man needs us.

Featured Image: BGM Twitter

-Andrew Hong (’20)

How a Trending Netflix Rom-Com Teaches Us About Culture

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before? Noah Centineo?  Whether you’ve joined in on this ultimate movie frenzy or have been on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter— basically any form of social media in the last month— those words probably ring a bell.  Teenagers all across the world are fangirling (or fanboying) over the movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the current Netflix sensation.  Most people probably watched the movie for a two hour escape from reality into a world of romance and relatable high school experiences.  And you probably finished the movie thinking one of two things. One: “Wow… Noah Centineo is really hot.” Or two: “I wish I had some love in my life.”  But these movies envelope ideas that are more valuable than just teenage love.  

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” features a Korean-American family of a single father raising his three daughters.  Lara Jean, the main character, writes love letters to her crushes and keeps them hidden in a box. When her younger sister, Kitty, sends the letters out to their respective recipients, Laura Jean finds herself “fake-dating” a boy, Peter Kavinsky.  The movie unravels the details of how her fake relationship with Peter Kavinsky led to her finding her true love.

Everyone who watched the movie was absorbed in Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky’s suspenseful and heart-fluttering romance.  But I’m sure the Korean-American audience noticed something more throughout the film. Even the cast gives heavy emphasis on Asian-American actors in an otherwise White-dominated movie market.  Personally, I feel represented and proud whenever a Korean-American family is featured in a US movie or TV show because I can relate to their daily struggles so well.

Laura Jean’s father struggles to follow the Korean food recipe that their mother left behind when she passed away.  In the midst of constant meals of In-N-Out, Italian food, and Chinese takeout, the father wanted his two girls to enjoy a nice home-cooked Korean meal, a way to find your true culture despite being surrounded in people of different nationalities.  

The most famous reference to Korean culture can be seen when Peter Kavinsky is introduced to a “Korean yogurt smoothie”, known as Yakult (야쿠르트).

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  After taking a sip, Peter Kavinsky actually loved it, being pleasantly surprised at the unique taste.  Since I know many Korean-Americans who grew up in the United States being surrounded with friends who were unfamiliar with the snacks they brought to school and hesitant to try them because they were “Korean”, this scene was a new and pleasant welcome for me.  

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A while into the movie, Peter Kavinsky makes a romantic move of driving all the way across town to the Korean market to buy the yogurt smoothie Laura Jean’s family loves so much.  After the film’s release, stores in the United States have been selling out of these Yakult drinks. My Korean friends living in the US have been telling me that since the movie had gained popularity, their non-Korean friends are finally trying those drinks. The teenage Korean-American Twitter community especially blew up after this movie, posting about how this movie has sensationalized their favorite childhood drink.

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It’s personally great to see so many new people trying and enjoying one of my all-time favorites as it feels like Korean culture is being shared across the United States.  This movie depicts the realness of Korean lives and emotions, showing the international audience that we are essentially the same people as them. Yes, we have our Korean quirks, and yes, we are unique in our own ways.  But this film sheds light upon the fact that Korean-Americans aren’t just tiger-parents and super good at math, but rather that we are more than just the typical Asian stereotype.

Granted, Yakult becoming widespread and enjoyed doesn’t really seem like much.  But it’s a way for other cultures to learn about ours and experience it for themselves.  I’m certainly happy when Korean-American families or characters become new hits in the United States, as it means our culture and our lives are being appreciated.  It’s not a large step in eradicating all Korean stereotypes or the division between races, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

– Michelle Shin (’20)

 

Justin Reviews: Coco

‘Coco’ is Pixar’s latest feature film, but does it live up to its critical acclaim? Read more to find out! (Spoiler-Free)

A mini-rant before I start. I’ve never understood why people tolerate low quality in films intended for children. Their rhetoric can be summarized with: “But it’s just a kid’s film!”. Hmmm, we put so much effort in creating a healthy, safe environment for children, but when it comes to entertainment it’s okay to put out bare-minimum, ‘passable’ movies? I don’t think so. Luckily, Coco is fascinating enough to wipe all those awful Disney sequels we saw as wee lads out of our memories.

Coco’s greatest strength comes from its simplicity and the introduction of high ‘stakes’. If this project had fallen into the wrong hands, it would have been a tensionless, corny story about a boy named Miguel and his love for music, culminating in an overblown cover of Ricky Martin’s Livin La Vida Loca. But Pixar succeeds where others fail by adding in a new aspect – the Mexican Land of the Dead. Once Miguel ends up here, things start to get interesting. Miguel has 24 hours to return to the real world, or else fade from existence – but also to find out the secret behind his ancestry. If he gets caught by the countless security guards, he’s toast. If he gets caught by his dead relatives, who believe music is a curse, he’s toast as well. Again, easy-to-understand high stakes – that’s the backbone for Coco’s brilliance.

Aesthetically, Coco also triumphs most movies. Pixar did their research correctly, spending months in Mexico, wondering how to elevate a culture that’s foreign to them. The results are stunning. The streets of Mexico are not portrayed as colorless, crumbling slums, but rather individually unique houses that are scattered amongst displays of Mexican clothing, music, food, traditional art, and most of all – the bright orange leaves placed on every path for ‘Dia de Los Muertos’, providing navigation for spirits in search of their former homes. The Land of the Dead which Miguel explores is equally beautiful. It reminded me of a Miyazaki film, in that the spirit world and the real world are able to exist in harmony, with macabre and human aspects combined, reflected in the colorful buildings and creatures inhabiting a world that is, ironically, refreshingly alive.

 

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Similar to Lunar New Year, Mexicans honor their ancestors on Dia de Los Muertos.

 

But what surprised me the most is how much momentum this film had left, even after Miguel’s family secrets are revealed. He even proves himself as a musician, performing for hundreds of the dead. You’d think that these two moments the premise promises would be a suitable conclusion, but there are many twists after that point. They’re executed so well that even if you have a vague idea of what they might be, they still land like a hammer to the head. My favorite twist? When the audience learns why the movie is titled Coco – and not Miguel – tying several themes (death, family, childhood innocence) together perfectly.

Now back to my opening rant. I love Pixar because they don’t pander to a certain demographic or the lowest common denominator. Case in point: Coco is one of the most anti-kid kid films I have ever seen. What kind of animation studio builds their movie around grievance and death? Yet Pixar pulls off this incredible feat by sticking to a tried-and-true formula: a simple story and complex details. Shame on the parents who chose Ferdinand (starring John Cena… as a bull?) instead. 

Good movies can make a 6-year old laugh and a 60-year old cry. Coco is one of them.

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The Overlooked Value of Movies

“Movies touch our hearts, and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things.” – Martin Scorsese, Film Director

One of my favorite sci-fi films in recent years is titled Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. The premise: Tom Cruise plays a soldier who gets trapped in a time loop, which involves him fighting against an army of alien invaders, only to be swiftly killed and reincarnated the previous morning. At first, all he can think of is how frustrating this is. Plus, everyone thinks he’s gone nuts – and who wouldn’t? 

Eventually, he adapts, slowly learning about the aliens and as a result, progressing the battle from a ‘being annihilated within seconds’ status to a few alien deaths. He also gets help from a sergeant played by Emily Blunt, who starts believing him after his contributions become increasingly noticeable. Through trials and tribulations, the duo solves the mystery behind the time loop, defeats the aliens, and saves humanity. Roll credits! 

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Defeating an advanced group of aliens isn’t as easy as it seems.

Why did I even bring up this movie? Well, the way the Tom Cruise character overcomes his crippling fear of an eternally repeating tumult is a bit like how we cope with our own repeating tumults –  filled with homework, tests, and SAT hagwons. It’s because movies are a representation of human emotion that they are extremely relatable.

I remember Forrest Gump becoming the main reason why I started to consider majoring in film in the future. Great movies like this not only entertain and innovate – they also inspire us. Who knows, maybe Love Actually will give you the courage to say “I love you” to a crush. Maybe Edge of Tomorrow will inspire you to work harder and escape that endless loop. If at least one KIS students discover a film that impacts their lives in a positive way, I’d be more than happy.

Forrest Gump
Life is like a box of chocolates: Someone already ate all the good ones.

Unfortunately, if you can’t find time for movie watching, then why not venture into the world of television? High-quality shows such as Breaking Bad and Seinfeld are just as good as most Hollywood films. There’s also the option of splitting a movie into two or three separate viewings. Because movies are so well-divided into 3 acts, this shouldn’t feel like a nuisance at all.

Conclusion! Starting from the next issue of Blueprint, I’ll be starting a column that reviews upcoming movies that you guys get to choose. I’ll buy my own ticket, sit down for 2 hours, and tell you if a certain film is worth watching or not. Sounds like a good deal to me.

IMPORTANT: WHICH MOVIE SHOULD I REVIEW? (Answer on Blueprint or Facebook!)

–  Justin Choi (’20)

Image Sources:

Featured Image by Neo Pak (’19)

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Movie Review: It

The recent adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel, “It”, has released in theaters and once again reminded us of the fear of clowns.

As one of the most anticipated movie this year, “It”, has released in theaters worldwide and once again reminded us the long lost childhood fear–clowns. Despite its success from the original film in 1990 with its iconic symbol of clowns, the new movie has been able to overcome the the overall anticipation, delivering a different perspective of the novel.

As I am no horror movie fan, I knew nothing about Stephen King’s novels nor novel based movies which makes it more interesting for a horror movie watcher newbie. Through the whole 135 minutes, the movie put me on the edge of the seat.

As you may have already seen in the trailers, the movie starts with the main protagonist (Bill)’s brother floating down a paper boat and meeting the clown, Pennywise. Bill and his friends from ‘Loser’s Club’ try to defeat Pennywise as it eats feared children in every 27 years. But what makes this movie so different from other Stephen King movie is its 1980 retro vibe with simple and funny teen melodrama moments. With the movie involving a love triangle between the adolescent characters, the combination of melo comedy and eeriness makes the movie more unique.

Another factor that made Pennywise horrifying for all was its visuals. The CGI for Pennywise’s transformation to other creatures with its tooth looked incredible, making the original clown from the 1990’s look silly. Starting from the first scene, when Pennywise eats Georgie, Bill’s brother, its blood and it’s teeth has turned all audience’s horrified. The CGI for Georgie’s lost arm had the audience’s stomach churning as Pennywise’s eyes gave them a chill creeping from the back. Overall, I thought that the visuals and CGI for Pennywise intensified its thrill of the audience.

My favorite aspect of the movie was how the movie was able to scare the audience only by its slowly creeping horror. Although there were a few jump scares, the slow appearance of Pennywise and its uncanny movements made the movie disturbing yet appealing as a horror film. Many reviews overall highly praised its plot and the director’s scene choices, but what I thought needed to be highly praised was Pennywise’s symbol. (Spoiler Alert) Pennywise represented each character’s biggest fear, making it indestructible against each individual. The movie’s main theme was the strength of teamwork and synergy which help characters overcome any fear. Although, this may be a cliche theme, it was unique to see a deep theme in a horror movie. Unlike the other horror movies that puts people to jump every 10 minutes, “It” put people to tightly hold onto each other on the edge of the seat for the whole 135 minutes.

Although, I praise every actor’s eye catching performance, many of the protagonists looked like elementary kids instead of high schoolers. I could understand why the director chose younger actors as he wanted to represent innocence against fear. But when they fought with bullies twice their size, it seemed like child abuse rather than bullying. Although, this is only my personal viewpoint of the actors, I thought that many would agree that the main characters looked too young.

Talking about the disappointments of the movie, I would say that the director overly focused on the children’s fears into Pennywise. Pennywise appeared too much in the movie as towards the end, the horrifying appearance of Pennywise faded. Furthermore, the movie couldn’t capture the indifference of adults, questioning why are adults ignorant about these missing kids. Although the movie couldn’t fit all aspects from the novel, it still was able to deliver the thrills.

As the movie was based off of the novel by the king of horror books,, it terrorized people with clowns and haunted them with their childhood fear. Although, the movie couldn’t show all the aspects from the book, it was able to have all the audience tensed and at the edge of their seat. The dialogue and its subplots further added a retro vibe, differentiating the movie from other horror movies. Already, the upcoming release of the sequel with the protagonists all grown has begun to excite people.

In case you didn’t watch it, here’s the trailer:

Featured Image: Observer.com

-Mark Park (’20)

Movies for March

A preview of 9 astonishing movies soon to hit the theaters in March.

March is a month of blossoming. With warmth, we embrace a blossoming of new changes—that includes the season, temperatures, and, of course, movies. To perhaps aid you in planning for what movie to watch during spring break, here provided is a list of 10 movies that will hit the theaters in March.

Logan (March 3)

In the third and supposedly last chapter in the superhero Wolverine’s saga, Logan protects newly introduced character Laura, a young mutant girl who shares the same power as Logan, from a government organization Transigen that exploits mutant children as uses of weapons. You must not miss out on this one because it is most likely this will be the last time Hugh Jackman will play Marvel’s mutant Wolverine on the big screen after his 17 loyal years as Wolverine.

The Shack (March 3)

Faith—the single word that can sum up this movie. Based on the New York Times best-selling novel by William P. Young, The Shack steers us through a character’s journey revolving around the forces of family and faith. The main character, Mack Phillips, weathering through a family tragedy alone, receives a mysterious invitation that is later proved to transform his life to one “full of wonder and miracle.”

Before I Fall (March 3) 

What would you do if you could live a day again? Before I Fall is a mystery drama literary adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s novel. Samantha Kingston, a young and charming woman with everything one can ever ask for—a boyfriend, friends, and the looks—is compelled to relive her last day over and over again while unveiling enigmas surrounding her death.

Kong: Skull Island (March 10)

Beauty and the Beast is yet another live-action adaptation of the animated and another classic and more or less familiar Disney fairy tale. With Emma Watson playing Belle, the bright, beautiful, and independent young woman, and Dan Stevens playing the Beast, the public’s expectations are high. Let’s hope the re-telling of the romantic and true love story allows us to relive the 90’s animated renaissance (And that the tea cup can still sing).

Life (March 17)

A science fiction horror film, Life is about a six-member crew trapped aboard the International Space Station in the middle of their research about extraterrestrial life on Mars. Get ready for the thrill as the movie is thought to resemble movies Alien and Gravity in various ways.

Power Rangers (March 24)

Chances are you all remember them from your childhood—and that they were for some reasonably period of time, your idols. Just like the film you faintly remember, Power Rangers features five ordinary (American) high school students with extraordinary powers and, most importantly, colorful suits to save the planet.

Ghost in the Shell (March 31)

With technology becoming a greater part of our lives, Ghost in the Shell shows a complete engulfment of humanity by technology. The main character is a human-cyborg hybrid, starred by Scarlett Johansen. And ironically, the movie is devoted to tell her battle against hackers.

The Zookeeper’s Wife (March 31)

Based on the real-life story of Antonina Żabińska,The Zookeeper’s Wife pictures the story of a woman who becomes a war hero during World War II. Putting her family and herself at great risk, Antonina opens her arms and the entrance of the Warsaw Zoo as refuge for people and animals in the midst of German invasion.

Boss Baby (March 31)

Dreamworks and animation. Putting those two together make perfection. The Boss Baby is not only hilarious with the most eccentric baby, Tim, who is boss like the title suggests wears a tie and speaks with the voice of Alec Baldwin, but also it leaves us with a heart-rending message about the value of family.

– Yoo Bin Shin (‘18)

La La Land: A Review

Simultaneously the biggest hit and the most heated debate of 2016: La La Land. Does it deserve its glory? Read what writer Hope Yoon has to say about it.

Seven Golden Globes. Fourteen Oscar nominations. Endless critical acclaim. With all the colors and nostalgia a movie can muster, La La Land marked a fireworks-ending to 2016.

But for a movie so successful, it was not a universal pleaser- in fact, it turned into a downright divisive topic amongst audience members who rated it differently, from a life-changing movie to a mediocre disappointment. The 21st-century Hollywood musical left us with a looming question few dare to answer: was it overrated?

I am no critic, nor am I an extraordinarily frequent movie-goer. And, admittedly, I have next to no knowledge about films. But I am a lover of words, music, theatre, and most importantly, stories. So I will give what I have on this movie, including my takes on the criticisms it has received. Read further for an entirely personal review of La La Land– unprofessional, subjective, and heartfelt.

To begin with: in terms of cinematography, the film reached a level of excellency that even its harshest criticizers find difficult to disagree with. It was a technical and visual delight, with breathless shots and fearless use of bold color in both the sets and the costumes. What’s more, the impeccable acting by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling made the scenes and characters seamlessly believable. Everything was perfect to the eye.

But when it came the the ear, the debates picked up volume. Being a musical, the songs had significant weight in the overall progression of the movie. While for some, it was the best original soundtrack of recent years, for others, it lacked any memorable tunes that carried themselves beyond the theatre into nodding heads and tapping feet. But in the end, music can only be evaluated through individual taste, and it happened to strike my chord. I thought the soundtrack was a delight, and this opinion intensified as I listened to the songs on repeat after watching the film itself. In contrast to songs that have hit me with a catchy boom upon the first listen and then turned increasingly boring as I put them on repeat, the La La Land soundtrack drew me in further every time I played it. In other words, the addiction deepened instead of tapering off. And what more can be said about the lyrics- especially in the climax piece “Audition”, which seems to embody everything the film is about?

Some people found dissatisfaction in the fact that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were not Broadway-level singers (or dancers), but I found it to be a deliberate choice. It would have been easy to cast doubles for a “perfect” musical, but the film chose to forgo that to prioritize reality and genuineness. Personally, I felt that the slight drawl of Gosling’s voice and the subtle quiver of Stone’s notes made the characters mesh with the music better. The music was a vehicle and an enhancer for the film as a whole, not a purpose in itself. If what I was looking for in La La Land was extraordinary vocal prowess, I would be browsing Youtube covers of the songs instead. And besides, La La Land sets itself apart in that the songs blend effortlessly into the scenes and dialogue, escaping the often choppy talk-then-sing transitions of other movie musicals.

Another pick that viewers had on the movie was its lack of diversity, questioning the casting choices as a mere result of star power or an attempt at gathering a bigger audience, sometimes getting into the question of white privilege. But I feel that this is a separate debate from analyzing the movie itself, and for convenience, will keep my scope to the content of the film.

The biggest point of contention is, almost certainly, the plot- and especially the ending. (At this point, I advise readers who have yet to watch the movie to skip to the final paragraph in order to avoid spoilers.) The broken romance between the two leads left many heartbroken and some simply puzzled. The heartbroken argue that the ending was unsatisfactory and turned the build-up and the excellent chemistry into a sham- a hollow ending that only leaves what never was. The puzzled wonder why the break-up was necessary in the plot, questioning whether the ending was a stretch to add an artistically sad element to the movie. And to make matters worse, the ending swerve wasn’t the only part of the plot put into heat. Many simply found the character development shallow and the scenes riddled with cliches. Plainly put, not deep enough.

I have personally found it difficult to admit to such people that I loved the film and its plot, including the ending. Liking something popular despite such criticism makes me feel somewhat juvenile, or that I’m possibly missing something that deeper thinkers see, having shallower ideals. But the plot did not present me with any issues, and I was certainly happy with the ending. I agree that the story uses many well-trodden tropes and themes, including the starving artist, obsessive passion, and the contrast between dreams and reality. The romance between Mia and Sebastian was built with a series of meet-cutes. But cliches are cliches for a reason- because they are widely relevant, impactful, or relatable- and even the same theme can be portrayed for a thousandth time and still be a great work of art if it is crafted with skill. That is the job of the storyteller.

Personally, I found Mia’s struggle as an aspiring artist in society and especially her breakdown as she began thinking that she simply wasn’t talented enough to be deeply touching. The dialogue had no fancy symbolism but was honest and real- almost as if the lines were searching for that one artist sitting in the audience, just to deal a singular gut-punch and leave the rest of the crowd wondering where the depth was to be found. And Emma Stone’s complete embodiment of the character brought the emotions to a culminating explosion in the climax. We’ve all heard this story before. It’s only because the storyteller was talented that it was able to bring tears to so many eyes.

Some blame the movie for being sugarcoated, but it takes plenty of picks at Los Angeles and the irony of the performing arts industry. Yes, the film decided to make both Mia’s and Sebastian’s dreams come true, and it frankly did leave me wondering if the film would have changed for the better had that not been the case, but after a length of pondering, I came to the conclusion that the decision to deal individual happy endings was inseparably tied to the ending and the message. The movie wouldn’t have worked out this way and sent the same message had only one of them realized his/her dream, or neither.

To me, the ending didn’t feel like a stretch to squeeze in some sadness. While most commonly cited as a romance, the film isn’t ultimately about the romance. It is driven by the relationship and certainly says something about relationships in general- but the more important story is that of two individual artists. The cutting forward into the split ending illustrated that so many things in life really could work- and if something doesn’t work, we would like to demand a reasonable and understandable problem as to why it doesn’t work- but the reality is that some of those things just don’t. Life is defined less by perfect clicks and cause-and-effects and more by subtle nudgings of different circumstances or pure chance, guiding the ball down the hill in one of its millions of paths.

One of those subtle workings of life may have been that I watched this movie exactly at the point in my life when its lines would hit me over the head. Apart from countless viewings of Youtube clips and songs, I have watched this twice in theatres and have cried at exactly the same points throughout (there were four); of course this review would have to be biased. I would say La La Land is not a sad film. It reaches out to certain people, and it doesn’t for some others. It was a fearless revival of classic movie musicals rendered with modern brilliance, dancing with colors and music and life, ultimately giving hope to millions of people worldwide to chase their dreams- no matter what they are and how slim their chances may be. This may be a naive or reckless message- but the film doesn’t shy away from showing the pitfalls, failures, and sacrifices. Besides, the whole point of the movie is that the message is indeed naive and reckless, but that you should go for it anyways. A dream-lender, spark-sender, reality-bender. The world needs more of this.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Cover Image: La La Land poster

Doctor Strange Review (Extreme Spoiler Alert!!!)

Re-live the hype from the newest Marvel Studios film Doctor Strange! MAJOR spoilers ahead! You’ve been warned.

The latest movie to join the long line of Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch (AKA Sherlock Holmes, AKA Khan, AKA Smaug, etc) as the renowned surgeon Stephen Strange. Director Scott Derrickson has done an extraordinary job bringing the beloved Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme himself, to life from the pages of Marvel comic books.

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PC: Marvel studios

After playing extremely serious and intense characters like Sherlock Holmes, it was a welcome change to watch Benedict Cumberbatch enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the arrogant and, quite often, rude Stephen Strange. In order to mend himself after his hands were damaged in a horrific car accident, Doctor Strange seeks the rumoured land of Kamar-Taj.

Despite Strange’s skepticism and arrogance, he progresses extremely quickly as a sorcerer, encountering the mystical Cloak of Levitation, which, let’s face it, had quite an attitude for a floating piece of cloth. The fact that so much character was given to a normally inanimate object provided a twist to Doctor Strange’s atmosphere, integrating some much-appreciated comedy and chemistry between the cloak and Doctor Strange throughout the second half of the film. (By the way, Benedict Cumberbatch just completely nails the look of Doctor Strange.)

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PC: Marvel Studios

The Astral (“soul) Dimension, the Mirror Dimension, the Dark Dimension; Guardians of the Galaxy may have brought the cosmos to the big screen, but Doctor Strange really brings a whole lot of mysticism to the table. This allows the film to present itself as a distant cousin to the other Marvel Studios films we’ve had so far.

However, by far the most interesting aspect of Doctor Strange was the concept of bending space and time, especially during Cumberbatch’s showdown with Dormammu, a supposedly infinitely powerful being from the Dark Dimension. In an unexpected turn of events, Strange uses an artifact called the Eye of Agamotto to create an infinite time loop within the Dark Dimension, starting with Strange meeting Dormammu and ending with Strange’s death every time. It was painful to watch Cumberbatch die over and over again, in so many different, gruesome ways that only the video game Mortal Kombat’s fatalities can seem to match.

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PC: Marvel Studios

The flow of Doctor Strange seemed a tad bit rushed in the beginning, with Stephen Strange seemingly mastering the elementary and intermediate skills as a sorcerer and already learning to control time by nearly the 70-minute mark of the film. Furthermore, Stephen Strange may be the most arrogant character we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet. Nevertheless, as we saw in the film’s first mid-credits scene, Doctor Strange most definitely will become a hero and join up with the Avengers sooner than we might think, starting with helping Thor look for Loki in Thor: Ragnarok.

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PC: Marvel Studios

Rather than another long, drawn-out fight between heroes and robots, Marvel Studios decided to spice things up a bit and bring us this intriguing and exciting new film Doctor Strange. Stephen Strange’s pure intellect but desire to help brought us back to the days when the first Iron Man movie was released, making the two moustached geniuses seem like long-lost twins.

With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 coming up next, Marvel Studios has quite some hype to live up to. Let’s hope they deliver in 2017 as they did this year with Doctor Strange!

Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.

– Daniel Park (‘17)

Featured Image: Marvel Studios