by Carrie Specht 

women-in-film-logoAt the end of August Women In Film sent out their usual weekly newsletter (via email).  In it there was a message from the communications Coordinator, Morgan Green regarding the approaching one-year anniversary of the organization’s #52FilmsByWomen campaign.  It was on October 1, 2015, that they first launched the ingenious program as part of our Trailblazing Women Initiative with Turner Classic Movies (that’s right, TCM!).  Women In Film asked a simple question: “Will viewers watch a film a week by a woman for one year?” As it turns out nearly eight thousand people said YES.

women-in-filmGiven the number of people who go to the movies every week, watch TV, or stream content in the US alone this may not seem like an all too impressive number.  However, I think it is.  The number is particularly impressive when you consider how many people have taken on the challenge who did not sign up for the pledge online, either because they became aware of the project via TCM rather than through the organization, or simply didn’t feel the need to officially sign up.  What it says is that there are people out there who are interested, and care about giving female filmmakers the opportunity at getting their work the exposure they deserve.  No one’s saying that a film by a women is always going to be great.  All anyone is trying to achieve is having an opportunity, to succeed or fail, by having an opportunity at all.  Get it?

imagesFor those who were on this journey from the very beginning, you dedicated movie watchers may have nearly finished your list of fifty-two (and if you have, WIF would love to hear about it).  However, life may have gotten in the way as it sometimes does, but that doesn’t mean you should give up!  You can always support women creators by watching their work.  If you’re concerned that you can think of fifty-two films by women to watch and need inspiration, check out 245 Films by Women on Netflix.  Not only does it give you an extra 193 films, it’s a pretty amazing list that provides more than enough options for film loving entertainment.  Heck, I just checked out the options that start with an A and there’s easily five films there alone that I’d like to watch!

director-spotlightYou can also check out the personal list provided by Morgan Green herself (personal list).  It’s a little short of 52 films at the time of this posting, but the recommendations are solid ones.  In fact, you may just be surprised at how many of these films you’ve already seen.  And may not even have realized they were directed by women!  Which is kind of the point, isn’t it?  After all, the sooner we stop labeling films by the gender of the filmmaker (or ethnicity, or religion, or what have you) the sooner we can simply enjoy every film for what it is and not view it through an imagined perspective that merely skews the experience.

If this is your first time hearing of the campaign, it’s not too late! You can make the pledge today, and help Women In Film get to 10,000 pledges before #52FilmsByWomen celebrates its first anniversary.  Who will join me in the exploration of some amazing talent?  Who knows, this could lead to you expanding your horizons in a multitude of directions when it comes to your cinematic pallet.  I envy your journey.  Bon voyage!

The Jungle Book, 2016 is Fun Action/Adventure for the Whole Family

by Kailee Maeda

The_Jungle_Book_(2016)One of the most highly anticipated films of the year was none other than Disney’s The Jungle Book.  Directed by the very well known, Jon Favreau (Swingers, Iron Man), The Jungle Book takes the audience along side the man cub, Mowgli, as he ventures through the jungle attempting to find safety.  With a cast filled with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, the audience is granted a unique experience as each actor comes to life on screen through the computer generated characters.  This film, based on Rudyard Kipling’s story and Disney’s classic animated version, is a thrilling live-action adventure that includes amazing technological advances, creating a truly remarkable visual experience.

102727_030The Jungle Book sticks fairly close to the original plot, although, it includes a much darker feel compared to the animated version.  There are lives lost, and much more realistically violent battle scenes.  However, these are balanced with the familiarity of the original musical compositions.  During the film the audience follows the adventures of Mowgli, a man cub who has been raised by a family of wolves.  However, when a dangerous and powerful tiger known as, Shere Khan, begins to see him as a threat, Mowgli must find sanctuary elsewhere.  The cast for this film is very impressive.  It includes GOlden Globe winner Idris Elba as the voice of Shere Khan, Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley as the voice of Bagheera, comedian Bill Murray as the voice of Baloo, screen beauty Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Kaa, cult icon Christopher Walken as the voice of King Louie, Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of Raksha, and character actor Giancarlo Esposito as the voice of Akela.  

3056512-poster-p-1-want-to-vacation-like-mowgli-in-jungle-book-airbnb-has-treehouses-at-the-readyThe only actor that is human on screen is newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli the man cub; the rest are represented through photorealistic computer generated animals.  The visual aspects of this film are absolutely jaw dropping; I felt as if I was submerged into the jungle right beside Mowgli.  The vibrant colors of the scenery, as well as the photorealistic computer generated animals truly give the audience a one of a kind movie going experience.  I was also amazed to discover that the entire film was shot on a set, rather than on location.  The blend of the photorealism of the CGI technology with the action in this film is so perfect that the audience is misguided into thinking the setting is an actual jungle.  The Jungle Book combines advanced cinema technology and storytelling with live-action adventure, creating a truly amazing film.

TJB-Footage-6This film was most definitely a cinematic success in my eyes.  Perhaps, most of this is due to the expensive technology that was used to create the extravagant visuals. Nonetheless, this revamped version of Rudyard Kipling’s, The Jungle Book, is one of the many true successes of Disney.  A 3D version of this film was offered as well, however, I decided to watch the normal version because as a rule I do not like 3D films.  It was absolutely captivating.  I found myself whisked back to my childhood.  Hearing the original songs played through the amazing theatre speakers only helped to enhance my experience.  The sound production also had an immense impact on the film’s overall success.  Everything from atmosphere sounds to the roars of the many animals in the jungle were vibrant and full of life.  And the action sequences were made all the more realistic through the careful production of sound effects.  As an audience member I was able to hear every single detail of the fights; sharp claws, snarls, screams, etc.  In one particular scene there is a fire in the jungle, and I swear the crackling of the flames appear to be licking at your ear lobes.  Other sound effects that particularly impressed me were, the sounds of the water in the river, the rain, and the precise difference in footsteps for each character, whether they be paws, hooves, or whatever.  Overall, this film definitely thrived on sound and photorealistic technology.

MV5BMTkyNTUxMDczMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUzNDA4NjE@._V1_CR39,0,1842,1036_AL_UY268_CR10,0,477,268_AL_If you’re a fan of all things Disney or Rudyard Kipling’s creations, I would strongly recommend seeing this film.  If you’re not particularly a fan of either, but you enjoy action films, I would still highly recommend giving this film a chance.  The Jungle Book is a perfect combination of an action-based adventure, with a true family feel to it.  In my opinion, The Jungle Book is enjoyable for all ages and it’s rated PG.  Overall, there is no question that this film will take its place among Disney’s many classics.

Zootopia: a Film for Animation Fans of All Ages

by Chad Osborne

movie_poster_zootopia_866a1bf2Like many animated films, we get a childlike adventure seeing several different characters come to life in the unusual world of Zootopia.  This world, however, is not very different from ours, except for the fact it’s filled with animals.  Zootopia is a story about a small rabbit trying to keep up with the larger animals around her (I challenge anyone not to see this as a metaphor for the Western World’s way of life).  In this case an eager young Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), struggles to pursue her dream of becoming the first “rabbit” cop in the great city of Zootopia. Along the way she soon finds out that the job is more challenging than it seems, and in more ways than she cold ever have imagined.

images-3Visually, this film pleases the eye with the impressive art design, especially in the depiction of the variety of biodiversity settings, each relative to the many species of animals that live in the city of Zootopia.  Although the narrative does follow the style of “the hero’s journey”, it does not portray a story that seems in any way generic.  Not at all.  Quite the contrary, the plot adds several twists, keeping you involved every step of the way as Judy learns one lessons after another about the realities of the world in which she lives.

imagesAs the pursuit progresses across the city’s many districts the changing biodiversity challenges each character to adapt (or not) to the worlds of Zootopia.  It is literally a survival of the fittest as the mysteries continue to pile up for Judy and her sidekick Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox whose street-wise personality contrasts perfectly with Judy’s fresh optimism.  The film virtually jumps off the screen with exploding movements and quick action that pulls you through the streets of the city, taking you to the next level of crime solving mystery as the two unlikely companions try to unravel the case.

zootopia3Beyond its visual appeal, the film does a very good job getting the audience to relate to the adorable animated characters through the everyday life situations they undertake.  The lead character undergoes several stages of struggle, which shows her growing process as to how she finds out who she really is.  It leaves us with the lesson – it does not matter how small you are, you still can do great things.  This is definitely a film that does not leave you thinking of it as a child’s movie, but rather I feel as though all ages will relate to it.

images-1While all the elements of this film meet their goals, the one particular element that really stands out is sound.  Although this is true about most animated features, Zootopia really out does the minimum requirement by adding extra effects when needed.  After all, Judy is a speedy rabbit, full of ambition and courage, creating a lot of movement with every action.  As Judy Hopps struggles to complete her training she is surrounded by larger animals who gather in a pack, stomping loudly around her.  But this does not stop her from zipping around them or through the streets of Zootopia, past loud cars and through the commotion of people.  The audible bustling of the city life of Zootopia brings a plethora of different sounds that enhance the excitement of the story.  This adds to the greatness that Zootopia has to offer audiences.  It’s not just another “kid film” with a simple story.  I encourage you to take the time to watch a corny rabbit, a sly fox and some hysterical slow-moving sloths all in a large world of an animal running society and you will see what I am talking about and become a fan of yet another Disney family blockbuster.

Don’t Think Twice: The Spotlight’s Not For Everyone, and Neither is This Movie

by Carrie Specht   

dont-think-twiceI had absolutely no interest in seeing a film about improv artists.  Especially one cast with a bunch of virtual no-names led by a some-what known Keegan-Michael Key. I find the man very likable, but I have an aversion to improv – only because it’s usually very painful to watch. Email after email appeared in my in box about various screening opportunities and I still had no interest.  In fact, it wasn’t until I received notice of a press luncheon that involved a beer and wine tasting that I reconsidered my position on improv.  Needless to say, I was suddenly very interested.  I’ll admit it was the promise of free food and alcohol that got me to make the trek from Riverside to Hollywood, but I’m glad I did.  Now, it’s not as if I discovered some amazing film that spoke to the creative spirit in all of us.  No.  You’d have to be a struggling artist of some type to really get the significance of this film.  But Don’t Think Twice is entertaining as long as you don’t set your expectations too high.  It offers an amusing inside look at the struggles of those scraping to survive at the fringes of the entertainment industry, even if it does offer an all too convenient ending.

thumbnail_24450Set in New York City, Don’t Think Twice portrays a group of six improv players as fun loving friends who have been working together so long and know each other so well that even making fun of a members dying father’s speech impediment is not off limits (the moment is actually quite funny and extremely well delivered by Tami Sagher).  The main dramatic question for these lovable imps seems to be whether or not any of them will “make it” and be successful.  Initially, success means landing a coveted spot on the long running TV comedy sketch show, “Weekend Live” (I guess they couldn’t get permission to use the name Saturday Night Live).  The improv group is very good at what they do, and have a full audience at every one of their immensely popular shows, but is that enough?  Should it be enough?  Or should they want more?  And is more a true barometer of success? These questions are placed at the forefront when two of the friends (Key and Gillian Jacobs) are chosen to audition for the revered television show.  The “aging” thirty-somethings suddenly begin to question their talents and the validity of their pursuits, ultimately coming to terms with what success means to each of them.

1280x720-6D7Sounds nice.  And it is nice. The performances are nice, and the film leaves you with an overall nice feeling. However, the niceness leaves little room for any real conflict.  There’s a passing mention of losing the theater space they’ve been in for years, but there doesn’t seem to be any concern wasted on it.  There’s animosity toward the two who have been chosen to audition by the other four, but that’s simple petty, professional jealousy.  And there’s resentment from the group toward the member who is independently wealthy, but other than accusing her of having nothing at stake it goes nowhere (come to think of it, why didn’t she save their theater space?). But other than a peevish moment outside of a club where harsh words are exchanged, there’s nothing really at risk in the story, and ultimately everything is resolved all to cleanly. I’m not looking for Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman or Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, but a closer look at the real struggles of these characters would have been for more interesting, even in a comedy.  What little time is spent on the awkward, insecurity of two characters (Kate Micucci and Chris Gethard) is really intriguing.  I would have liked more of that, and less of the all too pleasant break of the two involved characters.

dontthinktwice1It all comes down to the inexperience of writer/director, Mike Birbiglia, whose own character as it happens was the only one fully fleshed out.  He seems to have been too nice in his writing and way too nice in his directing.  Comedy needs some drama.  Without it, you’ve got something more suited for a family friendly cable station (not that’s anything wrong with that) and not a movie theater.  



Real Steel

by Cesar Gonzalez

51ulq+I7vHLIn the year 2011 there were plenty of films to go around, both new ideas and adapted ones.  It was a rather big year, you had the Marvel Cinematic Universe already hitting the fast track with Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor.  From the biggest film adaptation of that year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to reboots, such as X-Men: First Class.  Yes it was a rather big year, and yet 2011 harbored some potentially great films that either passed under the radar or were just born too early for their time.  One of those films was Real Steel, a movie that had the potential to bring in a bit more originality into the movies.

Real-Steel-featurette-with-Hugh-JackmanReal Steel, directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Cheaper by the Dozen) is set in the not so distant future were human boxers are replaced by Robots.  It follows leading man, Hugh Jackman ( X-Men, Prisoners) as he pits his robot against some of the toughest in the league.  Accompanying him is his estranged son played by Dakota Goyo (Rise of the Guardians).  Also starring in the film is Evangeline Lily (Ant-Man, White Chicks) and Kevin Durand (3:10 to Yuma, Winter’s Tale).  The film has received mixed reviews all of which had something in common, stating that the story was not the best.  The story of the film is lazily put together and it is a bit obvious that the direction is poor.  It’s a rather cliché story: father finds out he has a son, he is forced to spend time within before he is taken away, the two bond and grow close, there is an issue with who keeps him, the two live together as a happy family.  While the direction of the story did not go so well the direction and performances of the actors is one of the better aspects of this film.   

real-steel-2-movie-hugh-jackmanThe actors manage to work with the subpar story well and give a decent performance with what they were given.  Hugh Jackman is the best performer out of everyone in the film, although this film is not one of his stronger roles.  His character goes through the most development in the film and is actually one of the only likable characters.  At first Jackman’s character only cares about the fighting and making as much money as he can to pay off his debts, and when his son is introduced in the film he initially wants nothing to do with him.  But as the film progresses Jackman’s character grows closer with his son and they eventually form a close bond with one another as they both share a goal of having their robot beat the best on the league.  Jackman manages to deliver a great performance even when it is a bit obvious that the script is either bouncing all over the place or a line does not make sense.

18lpupizxwciojpgJackman’s co-stars, however, are another story.  Evangeline Lily is likable in the film but her role is rather small.  She is regulated to the love interest to Jackman’s character and has little screen time.  She still manages to deliver a good role on her part but the film actually would have played out the same if her character wasn’t in it ay all.  She had no impact on the story other than the fact that she owns the gym were Jackman’s character trains.  While Lily and Jackman’s roles are the best in the film, the other two did not really deliver the best they could.  Dakota Goyo is a new face to film and his performance in this is below average to say the least.  The film revolves around his and Jackman’s character, so some pressure is clearly present and that may have been the cause for his weak performance.  Although he has good chemistry with Jackman and the two bounce off each other as if they really are father and son, Goyo certainly has room to improve.  Kevin Durand’s character is the weakest in this film, playing the role of the ‘antagonist’.  I put that in quotations because Durand’s character really does not do much other than steal money from Jackman’s character and then disappears for more than half the film. His character is utterly useless and provides nothing to the overall plot of the film, if anything the only thing you get from his character is a strong urge to punch him as his performance is so bad that you can’t stand to look at or hear him when he has his few moments of screen time.  The thing that saves and is the main selling point is the robots themselves.

atom_in_real_steel-wideThis film has some of the best visual effects in film and some of the best sound design as well.  It was obvious from the very start that seeing these boxer robots fighting it out in the ring was the main reason to see this film and there is actually a good chunk of film that has robot fight scenes.  Unlike the Transformer series, in this film you actually get to see the robots plenty of times throughout the film and it is very pleasing to the eyes.  The sound design of this film is also very well done.  The sounds of metal scraping together and crunching is rather satisfying to hear as you see it unfold on the big screen.  Truly one of the best aspects of this film.

 imagesYou won’t get any morals out of it and you won’t really remember it after a day or two, but all in all Real Steel is a good popcorn flick to watch with the family.  In my opinion the film missed out on what could have been the start to a new franchise.  Unfortunately, with poor direction and sub-par acting this film was destined to be a simple one off.  In the end I recommend this film to anyone who enjoyed the Transformer films and definitely those who like action films.  It’s a good film to watch on those nights when you cannot find anything else to watch.

The Book of Life: Good Family Fare

by Zulma Orta

The_Book_of_Life_(2014_film)_posterThe animated feature, The Book of Life is a magnificent film directed by Jorge R. Gutiérrez and written by Jorge R. Gutiérrez and Douglas Langdale.  This movie is one of my all-time favorites, revolving around romance, friendship, tradition, death, and life.  Its powerful messages will not only reach the hearts of viewer’s but the film introduces kids to a vibrant world of color.

The friendship that Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin (the protagonists) share is truly a bond that cannot be broken, although it’s obvious that both Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) and Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) are interested in Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana) as a woman and not just as a friend.  The mantra of the trio is, “No retreat, no surrender”.   The fact that this film shows children how pure and innocent love is is incredible.  Particularly since love is something that is often confused for lust.  The internal and external struggles that each character face here are some that adults are faced with on a daily basis.  Maria is stuck in between doing what is right for her Pueblo of San Angel or doing what her heart desires the most, which is to love Manolo endlessly.  Manolo is stuck between Bull fighting and honoring his family name or fulfilling his passion of singing, while Joaquin is stuck between being a strong male figure and becoming who he truly is.  These are everyday struggles that people face; the decision between what is “right” and what we emotionally feel.  We often sacrifice our own well being for the good of others.  This movie gives the audience a chance to identify themselves with characters who do the same.

the-book-of-life-official-trailer-2Maria is a strong lead female role.  Although this is a kid’s movie it shows how empowering and strong women can be.  Maria is sassy and defeats the odds facing a Latina woman.  She wants to have power over her own life and do something more with her life than attend to a family household.  Additionally, I felt that it was very smart of the writers to show a more sensitive side on the male stand point as well.  Both Joaquin and Manolo are sensitive and want to be comprehended.  They act like “tough guys”, but at the end they let the viewer know that it is okay to be weak in some sense.  I believe this is more than realistic and it happens every day.  Society has made us believe that women should be women and men should be men.  Yet, this movie defies that message by letting the younger generation know that it’s okay to be different; it’s okay to be yourself.  Again tradition is very much present in this film.  From the vibrant colors that scream Mexico, to the traditional clothes, music, food, and holidays.  This movie is able to personify Mexico in such a beautiful and successful way.  I could tell that they studied the geographical regions in Mexico and that is something that I truly appreciate, as well as the music that they use throughout the film.  It is not fully Mexican but it does have that Mexican flare. 

book_of_lifeIt’s important to note that one of the central themes of the film is death.  Death is a topic that is usually seen as something tragic.  Children are usually introduced to death in films like “The Fox and the Hound” or even in “The Lion King”, but I feel that this film incorporates the portrayal of death in such a subtle and beautiful way.  They made sure that it is seen as a passage on to a better life where there is celebration and you can be reunited with the loved ones that have already passed.  I think that is such an important concept that children should not be immune too.  This film, of course doesn’t leave out the truths about death.  Yes, it hurts and of course you will miss your loved one.  But, you must enjoy your life to the fullest because you never know when your last day will be.

150625-book-of-life-01-1920Saying that, life is also a major part of this film.  The concept of life is probably by far my favorite topic in this movie.  They portray Manolo as someone who was writing his own story, showing kids that they have control over their future and their own goals.  It is just a beautiful message of encouragement and it proves that not everything is set in stone.  Drawing back to the internal struggles that each character had, Manolo is scared of killing a bull.  But, the truth is he isn’t scared of defeating the bull.  He is scared of letting his family down.  Yet, he is a courageous character who refuses to let his family’s pressure get in the way of what he believes to be right.  The beautiful message is that sometimes we have to let go of our own fears in order to be able to create our own path.  Joaquin is a character that is ambiguous.  In the language of a kid he is a meathead.  He only cares about his own achievements and his looks.  But, really he’s afraid of admitting that he isn’t like his father and he will never be a “Grand General.”  I identified myself very much with him in this sense.  We’re always looking to fill someone else’s shoes, and we forget that we have to fill our own shoes.  I feel like this is telling children that they can be whomever they wish to be.

manolo-and-joaqiun-brotherhood1This movie isn’t all about beauty and inspiration.  The writers are able to incorporate some of the downfalls we deal with in life, such as the people who don’t want us to succeed.  In this movie it is Chacal, a villain who terrorizes villages.  Chacal wants all or nothing and he honestly doesn’t care about who he hurts in the process.  I feel like we all deal with someone like this in our everyday life.  As much as we try to avoid them they are never content.  They try to distract us in any way they can.  This is where the characters unite as a unit and defeat the negativity,  showing kids how to be comrades.  More than anything it teaches them values and reinforces kindness.  Sometimes we have to fight for ourselves even if that means deferring to greater forces.  I don’t think violence is the answer, but I do believe that we have the right to fight for what we believe.  This movie is a great example of people who want the same thing fighting for it together.  Not only do the characters put aside their own differences, but they realize the truths they’ve been trying to avoid.  Sometimes you cannot do everything on your own.  Sometimes you need to turn to the people who love and care for you.  I believe that this movie emphasizes friendship, love, triumph, but most importantly that it is completely okay to be yourself.  You should never acquiesce to others.  It is okay to put yourself first.  

maxresdefaultI believe the film also speaks to parents.  It lets them learn that they cannot push their children to be someone who they might not want to be.  They have to let them explore and come to be who they want to be.  Maria’s dad doesn’t realize this at the beginning.  He wants to mold his daughter into a modest young lady because he is afraid of what people would say about him.  Later he comes to realize that “she is the son he never had.”  He realizes that he loves her regardless of who she is or what she is.  Maria likewise is going to love him in return the same way.  He just needed to learn to accept her.  I feel like a lot of us need to learn to accept things instead of forcing them.  Sometimes we truly only make it much worse than it really is.

book-of-life-movie-images_zpsdf83a781In conclusion, I believe this is a magical film for families all around the world.  It celebrates customs and empowers family.  The filmmakers did a good job in mixing up the stereotypical roles that we put upon women and men.  They managed to embody the true definition of friendship, and they were able to depict something so beautiful, which is acceptance.  Here we see families learning to accept and love those around them as well as themselves.  Becoming accepting of the hardships we are faced with and learning to embrace the life we are given is an important lesson.  I give this movie a ten out of ten.  There are many other messages that speak volumes about multiple issues as well.  I also believe the film embodies my Mexican traditions in a beautiful and subtle way.  And lastly it taught me “No retreat, No surrender.”  Life is beautiful and we should always keep fighting. 

Captain America: Civil War

by Justin Guiao

Captain America: Civil War by the Russo brothers is the 13th film in Disney’s Marvel’s new cinematic universe.  It’s strange to think that Marvel has been able to put out so many frankly similar films at extremely high budgets in this relatively short amount of time since the first Iron Man hit theaters.  They continue to make money however, meaning many more of them are to come.


I had fairly high expectations for Civil War.  I saw Fox’s Deadpool in theaters a month or two before which was my first visit to a theater in over two years.  I was thoroughly impressed with Deadpool, and the raving critical reviews of the Civil War screeners led me to go to the theater once again.  However, these heightened expectations may have damped my enjoyment somewhat.  Even though I did enjoy it, I am probably going to continue holding out on going to the theater for any more blockbusters for a while and will just start waiting for Blu-rays.  Regardless of all this, I did think Civil War was a good film, and I probably will see it again after it comes out on disk.  It features a few firsts for a Marvel franchise 13 movies into its story, with Downey as Tony Stark showing up in a non-Iron Man or Avengers film for the first time, as well as the introduction of new characters to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Black Panther and Spiderman, both of which are unsurprisingly up for solo movies in the near future.  It also features a large battle between many of the heroes, as well as some notable smaller bouts, in contrast to previous MCU team-up films where the heroes fight off endless hordes of weaker minions.

captain-america-civil-war-image-46-1200x499Unfortunately, I think Marvel is coming up to a point where they have too many heroes in their MCU.  It has gotten to the point where there are so many that it seems silly to have a big crisis that only one hero deals with when we are aware that many other exist and operate relatively nearby.  On the other hand, the big team up film that is Civil War almost feels like a bunch of promotional material for movies about the new heroes, as even after everything that happens in the film, at the end there are not any sizable rifts created between the heroes and everyone starts carrying on as normal, resulting in that feeling that little or no progress was made.  Also, Marvel has been adherent to the thought of letting any of their heroes die.  The fact that the audience knows this by now takes some of the intrigue and tension out of the film. We know how it’s going to end, just not how it’s going to get there.  In spite of this, the Russo Brothers were able to create a film that stands out among the seemingly exponentially increasing amount of Marvel superhero films that have been coming out.  While it doesn’t have the strongest plot that would make it stand out as a classic in the future, it does fulfill its purpose as an action blockbuster well.  The special effects were top notch as always through these films along with excellent fight choreography (although Captain America definitely killed a majority of the people he fought.  There is no way that would just knock them unconscious like the film made it seem, they’re dead).

screen-shot-2016-03-10-at-12-12-20-pm-173561I can’t say much for the sound of the film.  This may be because I have been spoiled by Marvel’s production quality in the last near-decade, but it was just really more of the same.  Loud explosions, extremely over exaggerated punches and hits, the same mechanical sounds from Iron Man, and fantasy-like mystical sounds from the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.  While the sound was definitely high quality, you could tell that actors were the real stars and sound was just there to make them look better.  The editing of the film was also impressive.  I can only imagine how many cuts and scenes were filmed individually in the film.  Even with such heavy amounts of CGI, there was plenty of practical effects used to make it seem more real, including most of the explosions.  While the big fights were all CGI, the editing on the scene where two super humans are running down Bucky on a motorcycle really makes it seem like they’re outrunning all of the cars.  The hand to hand combat, even between CGI’d head to toe Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, seemed fluid and believable.  I don’t know too much about video editing, but I could tell that the people who worked on this film took pride in it and managed to do an excellent job.

For how many people have played Spiderman recently, I really liked this iteration. They portrayed him closer to his comic roots, a teenager with a quick wit and a loud mouth. The incessant chatter from him during the big fight scenes really brought forth what I think the original writers intended for the character. I didn’t really know what to think of the casting choice for Black Panther and really I still don’t, as I did not know much about the character.

2818A5BD00000578-3069258-image-a-2_1430857574138With all the strong acting and effects, I really feel that the overall plot is the weakest thing in the movie.  It seems like they were trying to cram too much into one movie, and the suspension of belief for the plot started to fade away in the process.  The civil war comic story was extremely popular and very receptive to a movie version, but perhaps it could have used two movies.  However, this didn’t matter too much during the film itself, as the actors, choreography, and special effects led the way once more for Marvel.  With Civil War, Marvel has created another enjoyable and action-packed blockbuster to whet the appetites of long time comic fans for the introduction of more characters into the MCU.

A Single Man: A Beautifully Realized Translation of Word to Image

by Juan Espinosa

MV5BMzU5MTk4MjQ2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDU0MzEwMw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Through the use of attention-grabbing visual techniques, Tom Ford creates a masterpiece in his directing debut in cinema.  Creating such a vivid interpretation of the novel on which the film is based, Ford’s main challenge in making A Single Man was to transform a story that was all about a man talking to himself into a world where we can see exactly what the novel’s author, Christopher Isherwood intended for us to imagine.  With the novel having to focus all on words to get the story across, the film transforms those words into visual form exceptionally well.

In 1964, Christopher Isherwood, an iconic English novelist, published A Single Man, a story about a middle-aged English professor named George who is living out his last day.  George spends his last mortal day paying close attention to every detail of his surroundings as he gives himself a penetrating last look at life.  The novel was adapted into an award winning major motion picture in 2009 that was the directing debut of world renown fashion designer, Tom Ford.  Both film and book have a core relation to each other, but the dissimilar ways in which the book and the film tell the story directly reflects the personal lives of the author and filmmaker: through background, character and personal love lives.


Immediately the visual design of the film grabs the viewer, providing a strong guiding hand to the overall mood and atmosphere of George’s world.  There is a notable transition from very dull and sad colors as he (our “hero”) goes through his daily life, to images that are vivid, warm and strong.  The undeniable message is that this character is taking a close, careful, and youthful look at life.  The angles of the camera and where it is focused during these times of vividness shows the detailed orientation of the main character’s concentration.  This careful and rigorous look gives the feeling that the camera is absorbing all which it observes.  Add in the music of composer, Abel Korzeniowski and the tone and mood of George’s character is complete.

articleLarge-v2Author, Isherwood and filmmaker, Ford tell two very different personal stories through A Single Man.  Isherwood wrote the novel out of fear of losing his lover, Don Bachardy after Don had left him for many months to live on the other side of the country with another man.  Imaging as if Don died, Isherwood wrote A Single Man as if he was a widower.  The story directly reflects all of what was going on inside Christopher’s head.  When transforming the novel into a film, Ford tells the story through his personal perspective while using his intricate techniques as a fashion designer to give the audience a film they will never forget.  His obsession for perfection allows him to adjust the plot exactly the way he wants and drives him to construct a cinematic experience so vivid and flawless.  With every detail being attended to, the film is completely his own creation.


Although both author and filmmaker are gay icons, they did not emphasize the main character, George as being a homosexual man.  He was just a man.  As in most of his stories, Isherwood writes in a biographical manner.  He expresses his life experiences, which is the reason for most of the main characters being gay.  Yet, the most interesting part of his style of writing is that he does not write as if the character is straight or gay, he writes as if they are just ordinary human beings.  This is the same view on life with which Ford focuses within his fashion ads.  These two men live in different eras, yet they share many similar experiences and view points.

single-man_george-carlosGeorge (played by Colin Firth), is coping with the loss of his partner, Jim, whom he loved deeply.  Jim died in a car crash on his way to visit his family, and unfortunately, George was asked by Jim’s brother to not attend the funeral because of the family’s homophobia.  Since that day, George’s life is cold and melancholy.  He no longer has any enjoyment or interest since the accident.  He lost his lover, whom he had for quite some years.  With the intergenerational homosexual relationship being the dynamic of the association of the two, both Ford and Isherwood could directly relate.  Tom Ford and his partner, Richard Buckley have a thirteen year age gap between them.  And Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy have a thirty year gap.  The difference though is that Ford is the younger partner in the relationship as Isherwood was the older.  Yet, the unique vibrancy of their relationships is correspondingly understood by both. 

Ford was able to relate very well to Isherwood’s love life and personal issues, which inspired him to transform the book into a film.  A fascinating coincidence about the three most important people from the story: Isherwood (the author), Ford (the director) and Colin Firth (who plays George), is that of their personalities.  In an interview, Ford distinctively points out, “This might sound silly to some of you – I don’t know – but Christopher Isherwood was a Virgo.  Virgos are precise, almost uptight.  It’s all about precision and order and I’m a Virgo.  Colin Firth is a Virgo.  This was the Virgo, Virgo, Virgo film”.  He explained how the harmonic of the three worked very well in knowing how the story should be portrayed and delivered to the audience and to satisfy themselves.  Another interesting strategy Ford used in the film is, besides the main character, he had all the American actors speak in British accents and all the British actors speak in American accents: Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode, etc.  All-in-all, the direction Tom Ford took on the film was outstanding.


In both the work of literature and that of the cinematic, the personal lives of Christopher Isherwood and Tom Ford are individually reflected by the same core story through their own works.  One of the most amazing things that is indeed an exceptional occurrence is that even though the novel and film have many differences and personal intents, they both work out perfectly to tell the same story with the same meaning.  A Single Man brings to light a delicate insight of the true internal emotions of two separate men.  Whether in a book or on the screen, that is a work of art.  


Breaking Bad: A Series to Admire

by Aaron Navarro 

thBreaking bad is about methamphetamine and a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White.  His life is close to miserable and it only gets worse.  Walter’s salary barely makes ends meet, so Walter has another job working at a car wash.  His wife is about to pop out their second child and their teenage son is battling cerebral palsy.  Everything hits the fan when Walter learns he has terminal cancer, so Walter flips out hence the name Breaking Bad.  With the realization that his illness probably will ruin his family in the long run, Walter races to earn as much money as he can in the time he has left.  Breaking Bad is an American drama series that was aired on AMC for five seasons, and five was all it needed.

Breaking bad is a story about man versus time.  While the basic plot grabbed my attention, what really interested me was the series’ ability to tackle a current issue.  The series really showed how meth has exploded into a huge drug in the black-market.  Not only does the series shows how easy it is to make the meth, but shows how addictive and cheap the drug can be.  Breaking Bad did an excellent job of taking people out of the norm and into this underground world.  Although, as much as I love the story hook of meth and Walter’s ambition to make the most money possible, I am mostly interested in the characters’ social and internal conflicts.  

th-3Starting with the main character, Walter White is conflicted by his personal life and his meth life.  Walter is stuck between two lifestyles and finds himself trying to make sense of it all. As the series goes on Walter slowly learns to accept the immoral things by creating an alter ego. Walter’s alter ego is known as Heisenberg and he uses this identity to mask his morals, therefore committing violent crimes. In addition to his violent acts, Walter finds his inner Heisenberg slipping out of him like Dr. Henry Jekyll. Throughout the series, Walter is conflicted with family ties and loses his cool, but I believe that it Heisenberg who is taking action and not Walter. 

th-1Secondly, Jesse Pinkman is Walter’s partner in crime and is my favorite character throughout the series.  Jesse evolves throughout the series and matures.  At first, he starts off as a small time drug dealer and an occasional drug user at the beginning of the series. Throughout the series, Walter impacts Jesse in both a positive and negative way and it seemed like he guided Jesse.  While Walter did everything out of personal interest, this exposed the underlying problem Jesse had within.  Jesse struggled to seek affirmation from others since his family neglected him.  Furthermore, everyone in the series abused Jesse, thus making the audience feel sympathetic towards him.  This heightened sympathy that I felt could have been the result of me relating to his character. As a young adult, I can relate to Jesse the most because he endured social expectations and searched for affirmation from others.  Jesse’s personality gives the series a lot of color and his social endeavor grabs my attention even more.  At the end, Jesse is able to walk away with experience and maturity.

th-2Finally, the last character that I thought played a major role in Breaking Bad was Hank Schrader.  Hank, the antagonist was Walter’s brother in law.  He was constantly on Walter’s tail and ambitiously did so throughout the whole series.  Not only was it a constant cat and mouse game, but this conflict also played on the audience’s morals. Indeed, the audience becomes attached to both Walter and Jesse even though they are criminals.  The audience is forced to pick a side between justice and personal morals.  Our minds side with Hank because his actions are justified, but our hearts side with Walter and Jesse because we sympathize for them.  Besides Hank’s impact on the plot, his internal problems create another dimension to which the audience can relate.  Hank is human no matter what he does or says in the series.  He is the typical tough guy who talks big and is the big shot in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  Despite his image and reputation, Hank deals with psychological problems.  For example, Hank struggles with anxiety in the series and when he is promoted to a higher position in the DEA this anxiety is exposed to the viewer.  Shortly after his promotion, Hank strolls into an elevator by himself.  He then starts to panic in the elevator and when the doors open he walks out acting like nothing happened.  Since Hank was isolated in the elevator, this shows how he deals with this anxiety by himself because there is no one around to take notice.  This leads me to believe that his macho man attitude is affecting him psychologically.  Again, interpersonal and personal conflicts bring life to Breaking Bad.

 th-4Breaking Bad’s characters all influence the series in their own way.  Vince Gilligan, the director, does one more thing to represent all the characters’ influence on the storyline. He uses color to affect our visual perception and sensation, and to explain what is happening in the plot.  Throughout the film Vince plays with different shades of specific colors to show and explain what is going on in a certain situation; for example, green usually symbolizes money, greed, and envy while yellow is usually associated with meth. This color scheme continues throughout Breaking Bad and to understand it fully one would have to watch the series.  Overall, Breaking Bad is a wonderful series to watch because it is filled with non-stop action, mystery, and romance. Meth is exposed and explored to the point where not only are our morals tested, but so is our visual field.


The Grand Budapest Hotel: Signature Wes Anderson

by Robin Garcia

The_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_PosterWe are all fascinated by pretty colors that match and compliment each other, beautiful costuming, and scenic backgrounds, and so is Wes Anderson.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s eighth feature length film.  It is filled with dry comedy, curious dialogue, and lovable characters, as well as set in picturesque areas and background drops that are sure to delight and please the eye.  Just like in previous films Wes Anderson directed, he amazes us with the colors of the set design and costuming.  But is that the only valuable part of the movie; it’s exterior?  Absolutely not. 

To begin with the film was shot in 35mm, as Wes Anderson requested to his cinematographer, Robert Yeoman.  The film is not exactly widescreen; it has a boxy shape to it.  Everything is focused in the middle of the screen.  The cinematographer was nervous about making the film this way, but it ended up working out very well because it suited the mood, and character of the film.  Everything on set including the characters are perfectly placed.  All characters were placed evenly in the center of the frame during lengthy shots.  Wes Anderson’s crew worked especially hard for it since they had to manually assess with a yellow tape measure that the character was in fact centered in the middle.  On top of that several of the places Wes Anderson envisioned, simply didn’t exist.  So an incredibly detailed mock up of the Grand Budapest Hotel was made, along with several beautifully hand painted backdrops.  All that hard precious work paid off, and gave the film a memorable quirkiness.


The editing that takes place in this film is minimal.  The film keeps it simple by doing basic cuts from shot to shot.  I love this aspect of the film because I believe that if the editing were any more complex than it is, it would take away from the film.  It would distract from all the little things occurring on screen.  Often repeated throughout the film are long tracking shots.  These shots work wonders for the film because they really grab the audience and show off all the beautiful work they’ve put into the set.  They also make things flow smoothly throughout the film, and make people wonder just how did they do that?  Another type of shot that is commonly repeated through the film is the whip pan.  This shot also helps the film achieve its wonderful curiosity and quirkiness  (whip pan is when the camera quickly moves to face another character, or area and lands perfectly still on the subject).

grand-budapest_2813768bNow, onto the color wheel – yes, every single little thing on screen at any given shot corresponds with everything else when it comes to color.  Wes Anderson is known for choosing a certain color pallet and sticking to that for his films.  In Moonrise Kingdom, the color pallet that he used was filled with vibrant oranges, yellows, greens, and the occasional use of soft pink.  He must have loved the look of pink on film because The Grand Budapest Hotel is covered in it.  The color pallet he sticks to includes, soft pinks, vibrant pinks, soft reds, light blues, rich purples, and the occasional use of a soft yellow, all together all the time!  The brilliance it takes to make all the colors work on set is amazing.  The use of colors makes you fall in love with the film, and makes the film memorable and unique.  It made my eyes want to just engulf the screen; it made my spine shiver, and it made me wish I had a great eye for interior design.

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-5Of course, as much as the art design is a signature element to a Wes Anderson film you can’t forget his unique use of dialogue.  The dialogue in this movie stands out virtually as character unto itself.  Although. each character has a distinct pattern and delivery in their dialogue, which makes them stand out from one another, it’s surprising how it all remains distinctively Anderson.  Some characters speak in quick patterns and muddle words together, and say curious phrases, while others are slower and have a darker outlook that comes out in their dialogue.  Over all I love and adore all the little bits and fragments of dialogue that are shared throughout the script.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 8.45.29 PMAnother unifying factor is the music.  The music used in the film ties everything together.  The orchestral music lets the audience know what time period they are in, along with what level of social class the hotel is associated with.  It is light, airy and moving.  At times there is a choir that creates suspense in moments where needed.  At other times there is the beat from a simple drum kit that keeps things going.   Undoubtedly, the music in a Wes Anderson film breathes life into each and every scene.  Slow music makes us feel what the characters are feeling in a sad scene, while adventurous and upbeat music makes us feel that moment of adventure that is taking place on the screen.

Now to move onto the most crucial part of a film, which isn’t set design, casting, characters, or even dialogue but the story.  Every one of those aspects listed can be perfect and beautiful, but if the story drowns within all this and gets lost then the film in its entirety falls apart.  The story illustrated in this film is interesting, and attention grabbing.  There isn’t a moment where the story is lost.  The audience is always reminded of what is at stake, and where the protagonist wants to get.  The film has a strong sense of story.  I enjoyed this film very much; because the screenplay itself is brilliant, and it’s evident that time was spent working hard on it because it shows on screen.

grand-budapest-hotel-willem-dafoe-adrien-brodyI will never forget when I first watched this film at the movie theater, I was excited and I had shivers going down my spine.  Over all I completely enjoyed this film and all of the aspects that it has to offer.  All the different bits and pieces that make the film are ones to enjoy and simply appreciate.  I recommend seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel, because it truly does have something for everyone to enjoy.