Tag Archives: College

“PAPER TOWNS” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Just a paper boy living in a paper town.

The frames we see in Paper Towns are the stuff of fantasies, the kind that we think about and dream of late at night in our bed while staring at the ceiling. It’s hard to look at this movie and not relate it to our own experiences in high school, in first love, in friendship, and in self-discovery. At one point, I was watching the movie and wondering if I was watching someone else’s story, or my own.

If we are watching someone else’s story, that someone is Quintin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff), a regular high school student with regular friends, regular parents, regular life, and regular post-graduation plans. Just about everything is regular to Q except for one thing: Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), the girl on his block that he’s been in love with since they were kids.

Q and Margo are the epitome of opposites. Q is shy and introverted. Margo is confident and extroverted. Q likes to play it safe. Margo likes to take risks. Q likes to look ahead and plan for his next step. Margo thinks not knowing where you’ll end up is the most fun part of anything.

One day, Margo completely vanishes. Her parents, her friends, nobody knows where Margo may have gone. As time passes, however, Q discovers clues Margo left behind for him to discover. A piece of paper in his door. A page torn out of a map. Writing on an old gas station wall that reads “You will go to the paper towns, and you will never come back.” Now convinced that Margo wants him to find her, Q starts piecing all of the clues together to find out where she has gone to convince her to come home.

The second of John Green’s novels to be adapted to film (with the first being last year’s The Fault In Our Stars), Paper Towns is a truly unique and invigorating experience, refreshing in its comedy, in its drama, and in its truth. It reminds me so much of The Fault In Our Stars, and yet, it’s so different from it too.

I’ll start with the best thing from both movies: the characters. Green’s novels have such a unique way of making ordinary characters extraordinary, and that’s just as true with the movies as it is the books. Margo is a spur-of-the-moment, lively and rebellious teenager who serves as more or less an enigma of what adventures high school students fantasize about and aspire to. She’s almost too ecstatic to be believable as a character, and that’s exactly the point. As Q says it best in the movie, “It’s so silly, it can only be true.”

The moments where she takes Q on her midnight adventures are probably some of my favorite scenes in the movie. While Margo was pushing Q to get out of his comfort zone, I was reminded of a scene between the two leads from Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo.

Isabelle: We could get in trouble.

Hugo: That’s how you know it’s an adventure.

Every other supporting character is just as interesting and likeable as Margo is, however less mysterious. Q’s friends, Radar and Ben (Justice Smith and Austin Abrams), are the mischievous sort that talk about high school rumors and made up sex stories just like immature high school students do. Halston Sage portrays Margo’s best friend Lacey, and while she’s convincing and bubbly in the role, she’s a little too old to convincingly look like she’s still in high school. Most of the younger cast is ages 18 to 20. Sage is 22.

The one that most impresses me is Nat Wolff. Originally a supporting character in The Fault In Our Stars, here Wolff transitions front and center as the lead role in Paper Towns. His versatility as an actor is pitch-perfect here, portraying all of the joy, excitement, angst, ambition, and confusion a teenager has during his high school years. Actors in these roles tend to overplay them, either with an over exaggeration of joy or sadness. Not Wolff. Hearing him crack his voice or watching his eyes tear up gets more of a reaction out of me than the overabundance of tears and sobbing we get out of actors who overdo it in other movies. Wolff plays his role convincingly without overdoing it. He doesn’t miss a note.

Everything else in the movie is primed to near-perfection. The comedy is fresh and wholehearted without being on-the-nose or over-the-top. The drama is grounded and believable, and hits on issues that most teenagers experience on the verge of growing up and moving on to college. The only minor complaint I would have with the movie is that some of the plot elements seem so out there for teenagers under 18, but the movie addresses that near the end of the third act.

All in all, Paper Towns does what its supposed to and when its supposed to do it. It made me laugh abundantly and uncontrollably. It made me choke up and quiver. It made me intrigued and interested. And it made me eagerly happy and excited, not unlike the excitement these characters experience with each other throughout the film. I may have been too much of a romanticist while writing this review, but I’d like to think Green was one while he was writing the book. The movie delves into both the truths and fantasies of growing up. Just because not everything happened, doesn’t mean it’s any less real.

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Top Ten Films Of 2014

Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why all of the best of the year lists have to be in the top ten? Like, what sort of critic was working on his list and thought that ten would be the magic number? Why ten and not twelve? Or fifteen? Five? Twenty? Eight? Why was ten specifically chosen as the big number? Was it chosen at random, or was it actually chosen for some relevant, significant reason?

Regardless of whatever the case may be, I’m choosing to be a little rebellious this year. For the past few years, I’ve seen enough films to make a “Top 15″ list if I wanted to, but if I had done that, my site viewership would go down by about twenty views.

So this year, to battle the preconceived notion that “best of the year” lists have to have ten movies, I’m doing two different things. 1) I’m adding an “honorable mentions” selection that while those films aren’t necessarily in my top ten, they are still significant films that have contributed to the year’s industry regardless. 2) In honor of our first full year without the wise, sometime snarky, words of film critic Roger Ebert, I’m offering a special Grand Jury Prize, which honors a film from the year which has made a notable accomplishment that fits outside of my year’s top ten.

As always, there is a few things you need to know before I get into my year’s best. First of all, I haven’t seen all of the films the year has had to offer. I’ve heard from so many people how Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild was emotionally stirring, with Reese Witherspoon’s performance being the greatest highlight of the film. I’ve also read from critics that Selma, A Most Violent Year, and American Sniper were great movies as well, but guess what? None of those movies get a wide release until after Dec. 31, so I’m not able to even see those films until after the year anyway. So what am I going to do? Release a revision to my current list, or add those films to 2015 if they’re good enough? I’ll make a decision when it comes to that. It’s the studio’s faults for releasing those movies so late into the year anyway. Blasted film mongers.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, this is my list for the best films of 2014. Not yours. There has been high praise from many notable films of the year, including Edge of Tomorrow, The Theory of Everything, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. None of those films will be on my top ten list because I didn’t deem them worthy enough to be on there. It’s nothing against the films or the filmmakers: I just didn’t think they were good enough.

If you’re not satisfied with that, then please, make your own top ten list. I’d love to read it, and if your reasonings are sound enough, I’d like to share it with others.

Now then, let’s hop to it, shall we? Here are my top ten films of 2014:

10. Interstellar 

A mesmerizing, breathtaking, and exhilarating journey that may have only slightly exceeded it’s grasp. Based on an idea by physicist Kip Thorne and directed by Christopher Nolan, Interstellar takes place in the future on a dying planet Earth, where the only source of sustainable food is by growing corn. When former aircraft pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon a secret station that has been hiding NASA for so many years, Cooper enlists in a daring space mission to find a new planet that will be able to sustain and save the human race. A testament to the quality of film that Nolan is consistent in making, Interstellar is a brilliantly woven, thought-provoking plot, invoking the same themes of humanity and identity that Nolan exercises in all of his films. McConaughey reaches an emotional depth much deeper than past “Nolan” actors, and succeeds in making his character more human than hero. This is Nolan’s most emotional movie yet, but it’s also his most complicated and convoluted. But if Nolan’s only real flaw with this film is being overly ambitious, I don’t consider that a flaw at all. Three and a half stars.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

A crafty and artsy film that acts as a homage to the early days of cinema. After being framed for a violent murder of one of his former hotel guests, Concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) teams up with his young apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori) to set out and prove his innocence through a series of weird, wacky, and crazy adventures. Written and directed by Wes Anderson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a peculiar, quirky film, a fun and enjoyable ride in it’s own singular way. Anderson is very specific with the direction of the film, using practical effects and set pieces that gives the film a very distinct visual style and aesthetic. The antics Gustave and Zero go through are the stuff of slapstick gold, with these guys doing silly stunts and chase sequences that reminds me of the silent film days of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It’s definitely seasoned for the art house crowd, and it’s definitely more difficult to appeal to the masses. But if you allow yourself to be lost in it and have fun with it, you’ll find that it is easily the most unique film of the year. Three and a half stars.

8. How To Train Your Dragon 2

A wildly exciting and entertaining animated ride that appeals to both kids and adults. When a crusade of dragon-hunters reach the land of Berk and begin their hunt for the flying beasts, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) must team up once again with his dragon Toothless to stop the brigade and save Berk’s dragons and dragon riders. Written and directed by Dean DuBlois, who returned from directing the first film, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a near-perfect follow-up. It hits on every note it needs to, from the comedy, to the animation, to the action, to the emotion. Hiccup is a much stronger, yet more vulnerable, character now, and needs to face more mature situations now as a grown man rather than as he did when he was a boy. In many ways, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is to it’s first counterpart as Hiccup is to his younger self: they both grew. Three and a half stars.

7. Gone Girl

A brilliantly frustrating thriller that exercises themes of infidelity and media harassment. When Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, all eyes turn to Nick for what happened to his wife. When clues slowly surface and more details surrounding the disappearance reveal themselves, everyone is asking the same question: did Nick Dunne kill his wife? Directed by David Fincher and written by author Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is a masterfully orchestrated thriller, equal parts daring, inventive, intelligent, and unpredictable. Fincher propels Flynn’s brilliant plot forward with expert direction, eye-striking camerawork, and a cast that Fincher pulls the best from. This movie is like a game of cat and mouse, except no one really knows who is the cat or mouse. There is not one note in the film that you can guess is coming. Three and a half stars.

6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A compelling and exciting survivalist-drama that looks at the human/primate condition as two sides to one coin. After the chemical attack on planet Earth that took place at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the leaders of the apes and the humans, respectively. As the human-primate war rages on violently, Caesar and Malcolm begin to see that the apes and the humans aren’t so different from each other, and they begin to explore any possibilities of peace between two races. Matt Reeves builds an intelligent, in-depth story around Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and handles its premise with skill and precision.  It surprising that the basis of this film wasn’t grounded in action or ridiculous CGI stunts, but rather in small, intimate moments of conversation and ape-sign-language that characters share with each other. Serkis is a revelation in the movie, and deserves an Oscar nomination for both his physical and emotional performance. Four stars.

5. Birdman

One of the most mesmerizing, unique, disturbing, shocking, and darkly funny films I’ve ever seen. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu writes and directs this ingenious dramedy starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up movie actor trying to escape his image in a former superhero role by adapting his favorite broadway play to the stage. Keaton is a natural in the role, relating his own experience to portraying Batman in order to further authenticity for the character. Cinematographer Emanuel Lubeski contributes to the visual design of the film, shooting and editing it to look like one, continuous shot rather than multiple longer takes. But Inarritu is the most essential storyteller here, making a visual and emotional masterpiece that is so distinct in its own language that it is impossible to define it, let alone replace it. Four stars.

4. Whiplash

One of the most edgy, thrilling, and provocative films of the year. Miles Teller stars as Andrew, an upcoming college student who is majoring in music and dreams of becoming one of the best drummers in the country. A series of events lands him in the top jazz orchestra of Shaffer Conservatory and under the tutelage of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a brilliant but harsh and antagonistic instructor who is known to go very hard on his students. Andrew and Fletcher both develop an intense rivalry that both hurts Andrew, angers Fletcher, and yet equally compels them both to become the very best they can be. Writer/director Damien Chazelle conducts both actors through his sophomore effort, and does a great job in producing a tense, electric vibe consistently throughout the film. Teller and Simmons’ chemistry with each other is equally perfect, with the both of them bouncing off of each other’s words and emotions as perfectly as a drum beat. This film is about more than just music. It’s about the human desire to be great and what sacrifices we’d make to get there. Four stars.

3. Boyhood

The most revolutionary film of the year, ambitious in both production and vision. A twelve-year project pioneered by writer/director Richard Linklater, Boyhood tells the story of Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) childhood, chronicling his entire life from when he was six years old, up until when he turns 18 and leaves for college. The movie isn’t so much a story as it is a scrapbook of memories, and Linklater is pulling each photograph out of it just to show it to us. When he is younger, Ellar isn’t acting but living, behaving like any other child would in the moment because he is in the moment. As he gets older, his performance gets more stagnant and Coltrane becomes more of a surrogate for us to express our emotions through, rather than experiencing his own. In this day and age, it’s rare to find a film as real and honest as Boyhood is. Four stars.

2. X-men: Days of Future Past

The best entry out of the X-men franchise, and the best superhero movie of the year. Serving as a sequel to both 2011’s X-men: First Class and 2006’s X-men: The Last Stand, X-men: Days of Future Past is set in the apocalyptic future where mutants are being exterminated by humanoid robots called “Sentinels”. Having only one chance to go back in time and stop this future from ever happening, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) through time to their younger selves (Portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) so they can stop the triggering event and save the future. Directed by Bryan Singer, who formerly helmed the first two entries in the franchise, X-men: Days of Future Past is a game changer. It is not only a visually-dazzling and highly climactic sci-fi blockbuster: it is a vastly intelligent and contemplative story that focuses on its recurring themes of racism and xenophobia, once again bringing the consequences of discrimination to the forefront. X-men: Days of Future Past is one of those movies that restores your faith in the superhero genre. Four stars.

And finally, my number one film of the year is —

1. The Fault In Our Stars

Surprised? I’m not. The Fault In Our Stars is one of the most magical, heartbreaking, and genuine films you will ever see, and is more than worthy of being called the most emotional film of the year. Based off of the novel by John Green, The Fault In Our Stars follows the love story of two Cancer-stricken teenagers: the shy and book-loving Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and the optimistic amputee Gus (Ansel Elgort). Written and directed by independent filmmaker Josh Boone, The Fault In Our Stars is one of the best stories ever translated from book to film. I initially was skeptical on seeing this film, considering how much it seemed to have been doused in rom-com syndrome. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Boone adapts Green’s story perfectly to the big screen, retaining everything in the novel from the visual details to the words that were written. But its Woodley and Elgort that sells it so well, their chemistry that vibrates so wonderfully with each other and leaves such an impression on you. Trust me when I say this isn’t your typical rom-com: it’s a heartfelt drama disguised as a tween movie, and it is the best of it’s kind. Four stars.

And finally, this year’s first Grand Jury Prize appropriately goes to Steve James’ documented biography Life Itself. Following Roger Ebert’s life and career from him growing up in Chicago, to when he got his first reporting job, to when he won the Nobel Prize for film criticism, to when he lost his best friend, to when he got Thyroid cancer, this film is everything that Roger Ebert is: funny, honest, heartfelt, unabashed, unflinching, and real. It doesn’t give you a peppered-up look at his life: it’s whole and accurate, as genuine as any of the reviews he’s written. I’m probably biased towards this subject, but the subject doesn’t count as long as it is handled well. James’ handles this story with respect and humility, and ends up telling a story about life itself rather than just limiting it to Roger’s story. It’s my favorite documentary of the year, and it brings me great pleasure to award my first Grand Jury Prize to this wonderful film tribute.

Honorable mentions include the creepy and morally ambiguous Nightcrawler, the funny yet stylish Guardians of the Galaxy, the humorously innovative The Lego Movie, and the quietly thrilling The Imitation Game, featuring the year’s best performance from actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Not all films can be honored at the end of the year compilations, but this year I was glad to have seen so many films and give each of them a chance to shine in their own way.

All the same, if you feel differently about some of the films on my list, or you have seen another film that deserves to be recognized, please comment about it. Or make your own list. Movies are deemed as great films not from individuals, but from the masses, and the only way you can tell if a movie has truly accomplished something is if it has the same effect on all its viewers.

On that note, my fellow moviegoers, I end with a classic line from my favorite film critic: “I’ll see you at the movies.”

– David Dunn

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“22 JUMP STREET” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Doing the same thing over again isn’t such a bad thing after all.

22 Jump Street is the exact same film 21 Jump Street was, but with one key difference: it’s self-awareness. While 21 Jump Street was just aimlessly spastic and immature, 22 Jump Street uses that same spasm and immaturity and chooses to make fun of itself for the sake of the audience. 22 Jump Street isn’t laughing with the audience: it’s laughing at the audience laughing at itself, and it is infinitely funnier because of that.

22 Jump Street takes place after Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) tells Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) that they’re about to go undercover at college. After a student died at the hands of a lethal new drug called WyFy, their job once again is to infiltrate the dealers, find the supplier and bring them to justice. Resuming their cover identities as brothers, they slowly try to adapt to college as they continue to search for the supplier who is providing for the whole operation.

“Waitaminute,” you might ask. “Isn’t this what happened in the first movie?” Yes, but like I said, the movie is more aware of itself than by just simply repeating what it did the first time around. This time, Tatum is the guy who is getting accepted and friendly with everyone around campus, while Hill is more or less left to go and sip wine with the art students.

Like I said, the film is on repeat from the plot with the first movie — similar characters, similar jokes, similar order of events. For Pete’s sake, even the run time is the same, with both films clocking in at about 1 hour and 50 minutes.

But like I always say, the repeat isn’t what matters. What matters is how they handle that repeat, whether it genuinely is a funnier, more refreshing take of the original rather than just a rehash. And let me tell you, even though it has Tatum and Hill in it, neither of which I’ve ever found particularly funny, I’ve never laughed harder.

These two guys are hilarious in the movie. Tatum is good as Jenko, a smug older jock who loves to drink beer, play football and show off his physique through physical feats that make me ashamed of my own body. Hill was even better. Whether he was getting into character as a Mexican mobster, trying to impress some girl or desperately trying to figure out how to drive a ferrari, he was clumsy, expressive and hilarious all at once, expertly becoming the likeable underdog needed for a film like this.

Great as Hill and Tatum are though, they are not the highlights of the film. The real stars of this movie are directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, both of whom recently directed The Lego Movie together. Lord and Miller, who also helmed the first film, seem to have a much more fleshed out idea of what they wanted Jump Street to be this time around. The first movie was just a loud, blatant action-comedy, shooting in every which way and direction with no clear aim or focus. Here, the aim couldn’t be more clear. From hearing bits of scathing dialogue — “We’re going to do the same thing all over again” from the captain — to the hilarious end credits spoofing every movie that had laughs and a gun, we can tell their goal with this was to slam the idea of sequels, to make fun of the problems that exist in them, then immerse themselves in that zone of making fun of themselves for the sake of our enjoyment.

I’ve had a complete blast with this movie. In every moment of the film I was either smiling, laughing my head off, or catching my breath, preparing myself for the many laughs to follow. I kept tossing around in my head whether I liked this movie or loved it, whether it was a truly definitive piece of comedy or just something fun to laugh at. I’ve concluded that it is both. 22 Jump Street is a big ball of action-packed comedic fun, a great sequel that has funny jokes, charismatic characters and wonderful self-irreverence. It’s an improvement upon the original in almost every way and will no doubt be a big problem to the studios once they realize they’re going to have to make a second sequel.

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The Best Valentine’s Date There Is: You

I was 19 years old when I kissed a girl for the first time. I was about ten when I hugged one. I was six when I told a girl “I love you”. I’ve never been in a serious relationship.

Yeah I know, boo-hoo me, right? I’ve been in this song-and-dance routine long enough to know how this game goes. Yes, I’m single. Valentines Day translates to me as “Single Awareness” day. You tell people your sad romance story, people go “aw” after your confession, and you go about your own way so you can sulk about. Right?

Well to be honest, I haven’t felt like that in a very long time, and its strange because growing up, that’s the only way that I’ve ever felt.

It all started back in high school. I was attracted to one of my pretty brunette friends that sat in my English class with me. This is the kind of girl that you need to take a snapshot of and save it on your phone. Her hair was long and silky, and spread down her back like a river over a waterfall. Her figure was fit and voluptuous, looking more like a sculpture than a human body. She had this perfumey aroma that was both sweet and addictive. Saying that she was beautiful didn’t do it justice. She was spellbinding.

But physical beauty isn’t enough to make a fitting partner: she needs to be beautiful on the inside as much as outside. And in regards to her, I didn’t know which was more beautiful.

We got along well. Very well. We shared the same taste in movies, books, and television shows, we had the same interests, we both went to Church, we both believed in the importance of family and spirituality, and most importantly, she believed in being happy.

So what happened? Well, despite our friendship, I wasn’t a sociable person back in high school. Quite contrarily, I was a creep. I’ve struggled socially speaking to people all my life, and it was even worse when it came to girls. When it came to my advances, she was instantly intimidated and swatted any of the notions out of the way.

I was devastated, and for my first few years in college I sought a filler for this empty spot that laid in my broken being. Long have I struggled to find the answer until one day it was just handed to me.

I was at lunch with a few of my fraternity brothers. We were all laughing, talking about hot girls we would hook up with and what teacher was the worst at his job. All laughing stopped, however, when I got a message from one of my brother’s girlfriends, saying that she was going to harm herself if he didn’t call her back.

I panicked and showed the message to my brothers. One of them called another friend to try and mediate the situation while another sent a message to her, saying he wanted to reach out. The message was long and endearing, but the part that hit me like a train was this:

“Your happiness can’t be dependent on another person. People can encourage you and be your companions along your journey. However the decision to be happy is up to you.”

I looked at this message long and hard, trying to understand the meaning of it and how I could apply it to my life. Finally, I stopped thinking about it and decided to start doing it: I was going to be happy.

It took a long time, and I’ve had some bumps in the way, but I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can be independently happy without someone else’s influence. Happiness doesn’t come in a relationship. It doesn’t come in a kiss, or a hug, or even in the words “I love you.” Happiness comes in a personal decision and mindset to being happy and being satisfied with who you are, even if you’re a flawed individual. Being in a relationship doesn’t add or lessen your happiness: it’s just an opportunity to share that happiness.

So to the single folks out there who are sulking about their situations, I implore you to think differently. Yes, you’re single. So what? There are thousands of other single people out in the world right now, and they’re in the exact same situation as you. I know that I’m the best valentine date there could ever be, and the best part about that is that its true for you as well.

Happy Valentines Day, everybody.

-David Dunn

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“PITCH PERFECT” Review (✫✫)

Special appearance from the cast of “Glee”!  

Pitch Perfect is a predictable, formulaic film, a movie enveloped in its conventions, forcing in cliche characters, and bolstered only by its joyous music, which cannot help but seem misplaced in a movie like this.  It’s the sort of movie that doesn’t deserve the word “perfect” in its title.  I’d offer an alternative title, something shorter and more subtle such as simply Pitch, but I’ll advise against that for the fear of people mispronouncing it.

The story begins on a young and rebellious Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick), an aspiring DJ who dreams to one day become as popular as Skrillex or David Guetta (80’s kids, look them up on wikipedia).  Her father however, who just happens to be a professor at Barden University, encourages her to become more immersed in her education and to get more involved on campus.  Beca hates school and hates socializing even more, but will put up with it because her father will help her out with her DJ career if things don’t pan out at school like he wants them to.

She gets a job as an intern at a radio station, and ends up joining the Bellas, a group of diversified female singers who all compete at an acappella competition at the end of the year.  These girls are Aubrey (Anna Camp), the snotty, stuck-up leader of the Bellas, Chloe (Brittney Snow), the more civil and more approachable Bella out of the group, and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), a woman who is determined to throw herself out there despite her weight and her unattractive appearance.  Just so you know, I’m not calling her “Fat Amy” on purpose.  That is the specific name she instructed the Bellas to call her when they mistakingly called her “Amy”.  I’ll bet her mother is proud of that, hearing her daughter wanting to be called Fat.

The Bellas were disqualified from the last competition because Aubrey vomited all over the front row of the audience last year (believe me, that wasn’t a pretty sight to see).  Aubrey, as a result, is even more strict about protocol, behavior, and song selection than before, and so now she functions as a sort of an acappella Hitler to these poor college girls who are just trying to find their place at this university.

Let me say something here: there is something seriously wrong with your picture if your best comedy comes from a girl called Fat Amy and the worst involves girls swimming in pools of vomit.  That’s not figurative, by the way, that is a literal reoccurring joke in the picture.  This is perhaps the biggest problem with the picture over everything else: the comedy is not funny.  It is not original, clever, precise, or even remotely well-written.  It is unbelievable, insincere, forced, and extremely ham-fisted.

Why do I say this?  Because not a single laugh was genuine.  Nothing was funny.  The jokes all involve typical cliches or moronic conventions, things you can find easily on a television network like ABC or Nickelodeon.  What other examples do I need to give, besides the vomit jokes?  How about awkward parents, preachy life lessons, bad singing, rapping, stereotypes, hazing and topics about sex?  I’ll thought I was watching a musical here, not an episode of “Kids In The Hall”.  

Oh yes, this film is not funny, but even worse are its characters, who are so unbelievable and overly-dramatized that they can only be in a movie.  These girls are an annoying, rambunctious sort, a group of absent-minded drama queens who worry only about what tradition they uphold or which boys they are sleeping with.  I know they’re meant to be seen as overly-expressive college archetypes, but for Pete’s sake, at least try to be more creative.  “High School Musical” had more interesting characters than this.

Anna Camp is both spoiled and paranoid, a woman who is an over-exaggerated negative picture of sorority girls.  Snow is meager, idle, and useless, there only to inspire Beca to join the Bellas, but not much else since she’s so passive when confronting Aubrey.  Kendrick is good as Beca, but not really that compelling, and even when she first appears on screen we get a sense that the script is going to force us through some deep, meaningful character romance even though it isn’t really that deep or meaningful.  The most compelling and talented actress here is Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy, who is so spirited and so enthusiastic in her role that she ends up more appealing than any of the other sorority brats in this movie.  Her attitude and her humor was uplifting and energetic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she served as a sort of inspiration for overweight girls everywhere.  Dare I say I was turned on by her energy?  No, but she was close.  Really close.

Ultimately, Pitch Perfect is a flat, typical experience.  It provides nothing we haven‘t seen before and its immature handling only reveals more of its desperate copycat nature.  Why, then, am I giving it two stars when it’s story clearly deserves one?  That is because of the music.  If the movie accomplishes nothing else (and it doesn’t), it has the most beautiful covers and acappellas I’ve ever heard, even better than what most of what the TV show “Glee” produces.  There was one great moment where Kendrick even does an original acappella with only her voice, hands, and a plastic cup to use at her instruments.  That does not happen by insincere chance, fellow readers.  That is genuine, passionate talent, one that is evidenced in every beautiful note in these acappellas (although I don’t understand how a woman is capable of singing in baritone.  That’s another issue though).

Oh boy, am I going to get roasted for this.  What, I wonder, do people find so entertaining about this movie?  Look, I don’t expect a perfect film.  I don’t go into these things expecting to dislike them from the outset.  All I ask is that you have good singing, a solid story, and appealing characters for me to appreciate.  Here, the singing is incredible, but the dialogue is flat, the story is predictable, and the characters are more annoying and high-strung than the Kardashians.  Pitch please.

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“MONSTERS UNIVERSITY” Review (✫✫✫)

Class is now in session.  Please open your fright books to page 237. 

Boy, will this bring back memories for you when you’re seventy.  Monsters University does a rare thing with its premise that Pixar does with all of their movies: it incorporates real-world ideas and principles and relates them to the simplistic joys of a kids movie.  Pixar isn’t alien to this concept: with WALL-E, you witness the effects of industrialism, with Up and Toy Story 3, the truth of loss and growing up.  With Monsters University, we are given yet another truth, a truth about changing dreams and the pursuit of a higher education.  It’s not as potent as Monsters Inc., but that’s another issue.

Taking place years before the events of Monsters Inc.Monsters University opens on a young Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), a punky little eyeball who dreams of growing up to be a scarer for Monsters Incorporated.  His gateway into that dream lies in Monsters University, a college mostly known for its Scaring Program.  This college is intimidating, a buidling filled with dark curtains, creaky floors, and echoed hallways, the perfect place for Scare students.  I’d hate to see what the Art Department looks like on this campus.

So Mike Wazoswki immerses himself in his studies and in his bookwork, determined to be the best scarer at the University.  There’s only one obstacle in his way: James P. Sullivan (John Goodman), a cocky, overly-confident jock who thinks getting through college is about a big name and a big roar, which is about the only two things he’s got.  In their first semester at Monsters University, Sully is showing Mike up in every single scare opportunity, and Mike shows Sully up on every test and oral exam.  Monsters University chronicles their adventures together, from their chance introduction, to their rivalrous exchanges between each other, and finally, the unlikely friendship that forms in between them.

Here is a movie that features the typical staples of a Pixar film: a good concept with a well-written plot, all forming together with fluid animation and wonderful voice-acting.  Directed and co-written by Dan Scalon (The other two writers being Robert Baird and original Monsters Inc. writer Daniel Geirson), Monsters University is a story that combines clever, witty humor with that of a conventional, enjoyable story, even if it is at times a tad predictable.  It’s easy to appreciate the humor in the film: even the names of Monster fraternities are enough to utter a chuckle.  Admit it: how can you not smile when hearing the names “Roar-Omega-Roar”, or “Oozma Kappa”?

This is the kind of cleverness in Monsters University: the kind that takes real-world truths and facts and parodies them in a children’s cartoon.  I’ve always appreciated this about Pixar: they’ve always made their work smarter and more profound than other animated films, therefore allowing adults to enjoy their films just as much as the kiddies do.  Whenever you see a slug-like monster rushing at slug-like speed trying to get to class, or seeing a brush0like monster put paint in his hair and go “Ker-Splat!” on a canvas, the cleverness and the humor cannot help but shine through the brightly-colored and textured animation in this film.  Here, the monsters come in all shape, sizes, and breeds in University, and they plop, bang, clang, sneak, slither, and scare in all forms chaos and hilarity on the screen.  Crystal and Goodman, of course, need no comment about the liveliness of their roles.  You only need to see the first Monsters movie to understand how perfect they are in their voice acting.

The important thing to remember here is that Monsters University is not Monsters Inc., and I mean that sincerely as a compliment.  There is no doubt bits and pieces of Inc. that we can piece together in University; it’s charisma is intact, its wit and cleverness in-diminishable, and it cares just as much for its characters as Inc. does.

What its missing, then, is not intelligence or technical efficiency: what its missing is heart.  Or at least, as much as Monsters Inc. has.  To illustrate my point, I bring up a pivotal scene from the original Monsters movie: remember the scene where Sully had to say goodbye to Boo?  Do you remember the scene where he frightened her?  Do you remember Sully playing with her in her room, telling her in his deep baritone voice “Kitty has to go”?  Do you remember that when her door was torn to shreds, he kept one little piece as his reminder of Boo?  And do you remember Mike piecing the door back together, turning it on, and letting Sully open it to find a little girl whispering “Kitty” on the other side?  Do you remember the emotion?  The heartbreak? The happiness?

That “Aww” moment in Monsters Inc. is nowhere to be found in University.  I’m not saying there isn’t emotion in there: there are plenty of deep and convincing moments of well-made drama between characters, and they are done well enough for us to be compelled to care for them.  I’m saying the emotion isn’t done as well, or as effectively, as it was in Inc. to the point where I felt a deeper connection to the characters, almost as if I was in the room saying goodbye to my best imaginary friend.  Someone might think I’m being unfair by comparing this prequel to the original, but that’s the game Pixar is playing here.  Didn’t they know people would automatically look to the original when trying to decide which one is their favorite?

But I digress.  Monsters University is fun, intelligent, and dare I say it, relevant entertainment.  The animation is as stellar as always, it makes its characters compelling, it sets them up properly in line for their inevitable trip to Inc., and it makes a funny connection in between the audience and their own college years.  I strongly recommend you sign up to join the student body at Monsters University.  Just make sure you stay away from the Art Department.

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