Tag Archives: Novel

“THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY” Review (✫✫)

Plus a few hundred feet more.

There are a few films that can take you out of one moment and immerse you into another, such as the fine aromas and delicacies of a French cuisine resteraunt. The Hundred Foot Journey is not one of those movies. By the time the movie ends, you find yourself thinking less about the main course and more about the half-cooked ingredients that went into it.

The plot follows one Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a young Indian chef who was forced to flee from his home after it was destroyed in a political riot. After gathering together his family, which includes his hard-headed Papa (Om Puri) and his four siblings, they pursue the legendary city of France, only to have their brakes suddenly stop working a few miles out of the city. “Brakes break for a reason,” his father tells them, words that we can take away as the best piece of dialogue out of the entire movie.

They soon meet Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), a stubborn French connoisseur who owns the one star French resteraunt that is exactly 100 feet across from their home. (Ahhhhh, now you get the title. “The Hundred Foot Journey,” har-dee har-dee har.) Now with Hassan’s family working to open their own Indian resteraunt, a rivalry forms between the two resteraunts as both of their cultures and cuisines clash with one another.

I’m sorry, did I make this sound relentlessly boring? I didn’t mean to, but hey: at least you’re getting an accurate depiction of my experience. The Hundred Foot Journey starts with a lack of interest and ends with just as much a lack of interest. Like many failed feel-good dramas, this movie meanders from point A to point B to point C, D, E, and so on and so forth until you’ve reached the end of the alphabet. There’s nothing in this story to compel you to care for the characters, no great sense of conflict or urgency that draws you in to its setting or premise.

Waitaminute, I take that back. There is one thing: Manish Dayal, the young actor who portrays Hassan. He handles his portrayal with genuity and earnesty, the only actor to do so out of the entire production. He’s the curious sort, an eager and passionate young chef who is drawn to all tastes of the senses, whether it is Indian or French. He demonstrates the most versatility in the picture, showing an excitement and enthusiasm so pure that we (briefly) slip into his mind to feel what he is feeling before the rest of the film rips us out of it. He’s a talented young actor, and his presence makes me eager to see how the rest of his career pans out. That is, once he finds better material than The Hundred Foot Journey. 

The rest of the cast members are paper-thin and forgettable. Yes, that includes the talented and charismatic Helen Mirren, who can’t help but look and feel like she’s phoning it in here. I suppose that’s not entirely a bad thing, considering I’d rather forget a mediocre performance rather than remember a bad one. But the plain fact of the matter is I don’t care about these characters, and their performances don’t help remedy my disinterest in the slightest. The most tragic case comes in French actress Charlotte Le Bon, who portrays Hassan’s love interest with a cute smile and sweet laugh to bump. Her performance is not the problem, it’s the one that she’s asked to portray. And she’s asked to portray a ditzy, typecast love interest that would be more entertaining if it were a Chef Barbie doll instead of a live actor.

The actors can’t help but give such bland performances. It’s not their effort that’s the problem, its the material that they’re given. The screenplay, written by Eastern Promises scribe Steven Knight, is complacent and predictable, and asks us to simply go through the motions instead of challenging us by making new ones. The direction by Lasse Halstromm is especially mediocre, as it seems the most involvement he had in directing was just pointing the camera and saying “action” to his castmembers. 

Halstromm’s involvement isn’t so much surprising as it is disappointing. He’s done great movies before (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, Hachi), and yet, he’s equally had many lackluster ones as well (Dear John, Safe Haven, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen). What is with this guy? Does he make one great movie, then decide he’s on break for the next three? He can draw out great performances from his actors. He’s not only done before in previous movies, but in this one too. In one scene, after finding massive success as a professional chef, Hassan tastes a friend’s fried curry, and the spices and the freshness of the tastes brings him back to the memories of his home, his family, and the joy he once found in cooking. This was the most magical moment from the picture, as the tears Dayal gives in the scene feel genuine, honest, and real. Why couldn’t the rest of the movie be like that? What excuse does Halstromm have to make one great scene, then five bad ones after that? Is it just plain lack of effort? If that is the case, then that is the most pitiful excuse for the state of this movie. Many ambitious filmmakers can’t make the films they wanted simply because of a lack of budget or resources. To have the budget and resources and not skillfully use them is a slap in the face for all of the up-and-coming filmmakers out there.

There was one moment in the film where Madame Mallory dipped her spoon into one of Hassan’s sauces, took one taste, then threw the entire meal in the trash. Helen Mirren should have done the same thing to the script.

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“THE REVENANT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The broken spirit, revived. 

The Revenant is one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and I never want to see it again.

The film tells the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), an 1820’s frontiersman who got mauled by a bear, watched his son get murdered, was left for dead by his friends, and crawled 200 miles to society, seeking revenge against those who betrayed him. His story is not fictional. Author Michael Punke captured the true accounts of Glass’s life in the novel of the same name, which serves as the primary basis for this film.

At hearing about the film, you would never have guessed that this is a true story. Watching the film does little to suspend your disbelief, but as it continues on, you catch yourself slowly conforming to the film’s convictions, believing it more and more as it builds to its emotionally binding and captivating climax. Director Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu, who won an Oscar last year for directing Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, has made a film so vivid, eerie, and compelling that it could, and indeed does, pass itself off as reality.

Look at the huge risks Inarritu takes as a filmmaker. In Birdman, he took a great risk by filming in multiple long takes, editing them together to give off the illusion that Birdman was all filmed in one shot. Here, Inarritu takes another risk by shooting everything in natural light, using the sun to naturally fill the space that Inarritu captures on camera. The result allows us to experience The Revenant’s environments as they are, rather than being artificially constructed for the film’s sake.

Beyond its practical filming and staging, Inarritu is equally ambitious in his overarching vision for the film. To pick one word to describe The Revenant is impossible. It’s beautiful. Disturbing. Shocking. Heartbreaking. Violent. Gritty. Emotional. Meaningful. Spiritual. The scope of Inarritu’s filmmaking is simply incredible, peering into this man’s loneliness, desperation, paranoia, and drive as he struggles not only to survive, but to live beyond his son’s death.

Oh, this is a wonderfully shot film. In wide angles, cinematographer Emanuel Lubeski captures the sheer scope and vastness of his environments, capturing both the beauty and danger of nature around Glass. In tight shots, he perfectly encapsulates Glass’s struggle against life, nature, and himself as he fights to keep on living. DiCaprio lends just as much to Glass’ turmoil as Lubeski does. At times he doesn’t speak, but simply reacts to the environment around him, and his grief and angst is so believable that you buy his struggle not as a character or an actor, but as a real person.

All of these elements build to embody a perfect film. Yes. A perfect film. Why then, do I say that I never want to see it again? Because it captures its vision so perfectly that the filmmaking aspect no longer seems like an illusion. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching a movie: it feels like you’re watching life. You feel Glass’ nerves as he freezes in the cold, struggling breaths in between his slit throat and his stitches. You feel the pain stab through Glass as the bear’s claws tear into his flesh, literally ripping apart his fragile body as the blood replaces his decaying skin. And you feel Glass’ wrath and his pain, his internal torture where he knows that he will never be the same man again. The film is so convincing in its art that it becomes uncomfortable to watch. That’s what I mean when I say that I can’t see it again.

The film never tells us that it’s based on a true story in the opening and closing credits, and it doesn’t need to. We are already convinced of this through experiencing pure film.

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“BLACK MASS” Review (✫✫✫)

Fear him. Fear Whitey Bulger.

I would not recommend to any of my friends that they watch Black Mass. It’s not for everyone. In fact, I would argue that it’s not for most. It’s violent, twisted, bleak, convoluted, and has little sense of purpose other than to show us the dark depths of human depravity. In that regard, it is not a worthwhile moviegoing experience. But man, is Johnny Depp’s performance mesmerizing.

In Black Mass, Johnny Depp portrays Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, a notorious gangster who ruled the south streets of Boston for nearly 30 years. When he was finally captured by the FBI in 2011, he faced a 33-count indictment, including multiple counts of extortion, money laundering, selling drugs, corrupting law enforcement, and committing 19 murders. That number surprises me. After watching the movie, it almost seems low.

How was Bulger able to get away with all of this for almost three decades? Simple. He had help. When his childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) was hired by the FBI, Connolly believed he and Bulger could help each other out. As an employed FBI informant, Bulger could provide information to Connolly on rival gangs so the FBI could clean house for Bulger. Meanwhile, Connolly could provide protection for Bulger’s operations as a result of him being an informant. They both end up agreeing to each others terms and Bulger officially enlists himself as an FBI informant.

While watching this movie, I was wondering where I had heard this story before about an FBI informant using the bureau to protect himself from his own criminal operations. Then I remembered Martin Scorsese’s 2006 crime film The Departed, which involved Jack Nicholson’s character also using the FBI to his own purposes. I came to find out that his character was actually largely based around Whitey Bulger’s circumstances. The only difference is that The Departed is somewhat watered down compared to the actual accounts.

Yes, I just wrote that. The Departed is watered down compared to Black Mass. What is the world coming to when Martin Scorsese looks tame?

Black Mass is a sickening, deplorable film, one that outlines one man’s lifetime of crime in disturbing detail. Yet, the film is reasonably sickening because it isn’t actively advocating for Bulger. Indeed, in most of the film, he seems more like the movie’s villain rather than its hero.

So who is the main protagonist then? The movie doesn’t have one. It’s unusual, but it works for this sort of film. This isn’t a story we’re watching, but a report: an account on real-life events that is driven to inform on every detail as accurately as possible. The writers of the original novel, Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, served as consultants on the film, working specifically with director Scott Cooper on what did or didn’t happen based on their experiences.

It is reasonable to say they’re credible sources. Lehr and O’Neill have written numerous books on Boston crime, and Bulger was a key figure in all of their research. Their reporting was thorough and in-depth. They’ve met John Connolly on numerous occasions. Next to the gangsters that have lived alongside Bulger, these two would be the next best accountants on him and his life.

Bringing them on as consultants was wise of Cooper, and his attention to their details brings authenticity to the picture. In one of the most disturbing scenes of the film, Bulger is choking a hooker to death inside of a house. Cooper paused filming this scene because Lehr and O’Neill said one of the gangster that was present in the original events was not present on the set. The fact that Cooper paused filming for such a small detail impresses me. The fact that Bulger wipes his feet, shrugs, and says he’s taking a nap so non-chalantly after killing her disturbs me on how true this is.

Depp is another story altogether. He is completely and utterly eerie as Bulger, perfect in capturing the character’s details and relentless in portraying his acts of violence and cruelty. It’s not just that Depp gives a convincing performance: I literally can’t see any indication that Depp is even in the movie. His being is erased into Bulger’s existence, in his cold, steady stare and his fixed, stoic posture. He’s disturbing in the slurred, snaky voice he speaks in, and how he so casually inflicts pain and death as if he were the Grim Reaper himself. Depp is the highlight of the film, with his portrayal of Bulger evoking memory of Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs or Jack Torrence from The Shining. His performance isn’t just the best of the year: it’s a challenger for the best of the decade. It’s that momentous and memorable.

If I were reviewing Depp’s performance alone, he would be given four stars, because the truth is his performance is perfect. However, I am not reviewing one actor’s performance. I’m reviewing the movie, and the truth is the movie is sloppy. The camerawork by Masanobu Takayangi is smooth and steady, but everything else in the film is lopsided and rocky. The editing by David Rosenbloom is scattered and choppy. The chronology of events is non-linear and hard to follow. And the screenwriters of the film Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk skip an important part of Bulger’s story, which is his upbringing. It doesn’t have to be a flashback either; just simply explaining where the character came from and why he acts the way he does would have sufficed. We’re given clues throughout the movie, but no answers. We are asked to fill in the holes as the movie skips over important questions and just goes to Bulger’s tirades of violence.

Why is the movie called Black Mass? In the 19th Century, a Black Mass was secretly held by a Roman Catholic Church for Satan worship and in mockery of the Christian faith. A Black Mass is a crooked sermon concealing evil intentions. I believe a black mass was made when the FBI enlisted one of history’s most notorious gangsters as an informant. A black mass is also made when we enter the movie theater. The devil’s name is the same in both cases: Whitey Bulger.

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“STEVE JOBS” Review (✫✫✫)

Creator. Entrepreneur. Father.

Steve Jobs is defined by three years of his life: 1984, 1988 and 1998.

The movie, Steve Jobs, covers these years of his life. So will this review.

1984

Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is on edge. The Macintosh is malfunctioning. He is told by his technicians that the computer won’t say “Hello” to him. It’s 40 minutes before the product launches. His ex-girlfriend is waiting in the other room with her daughter, who Jobs insists isn’t his, wondering why they are both living on welfare while he is making millions. He paces back and forth in between his professional and personal problems. He tells his technician to fix it and walks off stage.

Fassbender is mesmerizing as Jobs. He’s ecstatic, energetic, passionate. He’s tense, egotistical, confrontational. He’s at peace when thinking about how many people’s lives this new computer will impact. He’s angry at people who come up to him, trying to stop him from completing his mission. His expression shows that they’ll fail. He’s too determined to let his ambitions die.

The filming in this sequence is enclosed, personal. It uses tracking shots to follow Jobs as he paces back and forth, looking at TIME Magazines, drinking his sparkling water, his mind racing with everything that needs to get done. The reel itself has a texture to it that I couldn’t quite point out until it hit me: this sequence is shot on celluloid film, reminiscent of the decade that it’s reflecting. A great choice of stylistic direction from Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), but just like the time period we’re in, we know that it won’t last long.

Jobs handles his personal issues. The technical issues are resolved. He steps out onto the stage and introduces the Apple Macintosh.

1988

The Macintosh underperformed in sales. Jobs is let go by Apple, the company that he helped start. He feels betrayed by his closest friends, alone in his struggle for significance.

He meets a few of his former colleagues who want to wish him well. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) starts acting friendly to him, but then confronts him on not giving him enough credit on the launch of the Macintosh. He asks him what he does.

“I play the orchestra, and you’re a good musician,” Jobs says. “You sit right there and you’re the best in your row.”

The scene switches to another where Jobs is confronting a former confidant. The editing is off, choppy. It’s cross-cutting between this scene and a flashback so rapidly it’s hard to keep track of the two conversations. I don’t know what Boyle was trying to do here. Maybe he thought he was adding tension to the scene. I thought he was adding confusion.

Jobs visits his daughter in the next room, who is skipping class to come and see him. She’s in middle school. He tells her she needs to go to school before she rushes up to him and hugs his legs.

“I want to live with you, daddy,” she whispers to him.

She and her mother leave. Jobs is shaken. He steps out onto the stage.

1998

This is it: the launch that has come to define both Apple and Jobs for years to come. This is the most important act of the film, and the one I will talk less about for the sake of spoilers.

Jobs looks different. He looks older. His hair is whiter. He’s sporting the iconic glasses and turtleneck that most people recognize Jobs in. Fassbender is no longer just acting like Steve Jobs. He has become Steve Jobs.

The framing of shots is similar to the beginning. It tracks Jobs while he walks from one place to another. He’s more sure of himself in relationship to Apple, less sure of himself in relationship to his daughter. Boyle captures the panic on his face, the fear recognizing his failings as a person and as a father.

It’s nearing the end of the film, and I realize the thing that I love most about the movie is its screenplay. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin captures both the genius and fragility of Jobs, the sharpness in his words and the intimacy of his emotions. This is a good change of pace for Sorkin. From a filmography of lightning-quick, witty characters and dialogue from A Few Good Men to The Social Network, this is his most emotive work yet. It makes you feel more than it makes you think.

I exit the theater. I call my dad on my iPhone and tell him I love him. Steve Jobs too realizes that the greatest thing he ever made wasn’t an Apple product. It was his daughter.

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“THE MARTIAN” Review (✫✫✫)

Again with this, Matt?

Hollywood has spent too much money trying to bring Matt Damon home. I’m sorry, but someone had to say it. Our first venture to bring him home was in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Then, we brought him home from Syriana. His most recent attempt was in last year’s Christopher Nolan epic Interstellar. And now we have The Martian.

Don’t worry, it’s a good movie. The story is thorough, the visual effects are convincing, and Damon does a great job evoking tension and sympathy from his viewers. I swear to God though, if he gets himself trapped on another distant planet or war zone anytime soon, I’m leaving his ass behind and joining a traveling circus with Jimmy Kimmel.

Based on the novel of the same name, The Martian tells the story of the Ares III crew, an astronaut team sent to scout and research the planet Mars. While there, the team gets hit by an intense sand storm and is forced to initiate an emergency evacuation from the planet. While making their escape, however, one of their teammates, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is struck by debris and separated from his team. Believing he was killed, his teammates board the ship and launch away from the planet.

The Ares III team forgot to account for one thing, however. Mark Watney is played by Matt Damon, so of course he’s going to survive. He didn’t last through war zones, conspiracy theories, and elaborate heists just to let one planet do him in.

Now alone on a planet that is incapable of sustaining life, Mark Watney needs to figure out how to survive and eventually escape from the planet Mars.

This film is directed by Ridley Scott. You can see that as either a good or bad thing depending on what part of his filmography you’re looking at. It’s true, he’s known for science-fiction classics including Alien and Blade Runner, as well as the Academy Award-winning Gladiator. But in recent years, he’s also been responsible for a number of duds. For example, has anyone seen, and liked, Robin Hood, The Counselor, and Exodus: Gods and Kings?

Well, don’t worry dear reader: Scott is back in his prime, and he orchestrates his environments beautifully here. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily just because of him. This world was crafted from the mind of author Andy Weir, who before writing The Martian was a software engineer for Sandia National Laboratories, AOL Inc. and Blizzard Entertainment. When he originally published The Martian on his website, he conducted extensive research on Mars’ geography, astrodynamics, and botany to make the book as scientifically accurate as possible.

By the time Ridley Scott and writer Drew Godard read the book, they didn’t have to adapt it so much as reproduce it.

The thing I love most about The Martian is the research that went into it. When it starts, you think this is going to be another survival story in space, not too dissimilar to Gravity or Apollo 13. The surprising thing, though, is that The Martian isn’t so much thrilling as it is fascinating.

Picture being stuck on a planet with no water, no oxygen, and no food. Seems hopeless, right? And indeed it is, but Watney was trained for environments like this. He adapts. He learns to deal with what he is given. So how does he react to having no water, oxygen, or food? He creates his own water by super-heating Mars’ humidity, he tears apart NASA machinery to stockpile on oxygen resources, and he learns to artificially grow his own potato garden by planting them in (don’t vomit) his own feces.

These are just a few of the problems Watney faces in the film. How does he create transportation? How is he going to communicate with NASA? What does he do if a sandstorm blows open a hole in his space station? What if his crops suddenly die out? What if he runs out of oxygen? What then?

This is how the film builds tension: by throwing impossible survival situations at our poor hero and watching as he dissects for a solution. Does his methods get outlandish? Of course they do, but they are reasonably outlandish, and that’s because of the reality Weir grounded Watney in while writing his novel.

Scott’s visual prowess lends well to the film’s scientific applications. In terms of scale, this film operates on a smaller budget than his other recent films (Robin Hood and Exodus: Gods and Kings’ budgets were $200 million and $145 million, respectively. The Martian’s was $108 million). Yet, in comparison, I’m inclined to say this is his most visually authentic film yet. The reason is because of Scott’s use of practical effects. For science-fiction films, it’s so easy to place your character in front of a blue screen and plaster generic Mars footage in the background. That wasn’t good enough for Scott. For the background alone, he went and filmed the production in the Wadi Rum Valley in Jordan, which has the appropriate sandy landscapes and shade of red that is accurate to the geography of Mars. He constructed 20 sets for the many areas Watney traverses. His production crew grew legitimate potato crops so they could capture the process of photosynthesis on film. For any other director, they would have settled for the easy way out, plastering CGI around your actor and having them react to what isn’t there. That wouldn’t do The Martian justice. Scott knew that and created the best visuals possible for a movie that deserved it.

I have one gripe with the film, and that is its climax, which ironically is supposed to be the high point of the film. I can’t say exactly what happens with the end, but I will say it went on for too long. By the time we arrive at the climax, we know what’s going to happen to Watney. What kind of a movie would this be if it ended any other way than what we were expecting? The thing is that Scott treats us as if we’re too oblivious to it, and he draws it out to a ridiculous length in an attempt to further thrill his audience. It doesn’t work. By the time the ending rolled around, I was looking at my watch, wondering how much longer this scene was going to drag out. Climaxes aren’t supposed to do that. They’re supposed to keep you further engaged with the film: not waiting, impatiently wondering when its going to end.

So does Mark Watney survive? You tell me. He is played by Matt Damon.

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“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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John Green visits Dallas for new movie

In the midst of the screams and cheers of excited fans, John Green signed as many autographs as he could when faced with an onslaught of books and movie posters.

The Indianapolis-based author behind novels like Looking For Alaska and The Fault In Our Stars recently came to Dallas to promote the recent film adaptation of his 2008 novel Paper Towns, which tells the story of a suburban teenager searching for his classmate and love interest when she goes missing. He came to the “Get Lost, Get Found” tour 4 p.m. Thursday at The Bomb Factory in Dallas and was accompanied by actors Nat Wolff, Halston Sage and indie band Saint Motel.

“Dude, I love Dallas,” Green said. “I love Dallas so much. Yes, to 4 p.m. on a blistering July afternoon. This is an amazing place.”

The event was hosted by YouTubers Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn, who produce the channel ‘Just Between Us.’ Dunn said Green favorited a video where they were talking about “duck penises.” It wasn’t long before Green personally asked them to host the fan event.

“I had read The Fault in Our Stars, then I read Paper Towns when I heard they were making a movie about it,” Dunn said. “I think I was already following him and when he followed me back. I was like ‘What is happening?’”

Dunn wasn’t the only one to read book by John Green after hearing about the movie coming out. UTA sociology junior Skyler Vasquez did the same thing when she heard that The Fault In Our Stars was being adapted into a film in 2014.

“I read the book before the movie came out,” Vasquez said. “I immediately fell in love with John Green.”

She started reading Paper Towns when she heard it was being made into a film as well, Vasquez said.

Paper Towns is a little hard to get into at first, but it’s a great story,” she said. “You just kind of got to hang on for the first few chapters and then it’ll pick up.”

One element that fans of Green praise about his writing is his style. Burleson high school student Alie Shipman described it as “interpretive”, going so far as to compare it to finding clues to solve a bigger mystery.

“It was a really good book,” Shipman said. “I like the style that he writes in. I’m kind of a bookworm.”

Vasquez said she likes how Green immerses the reader in his characters.

“John Green has a unique way of developing characters that are so different from one another,” Vasquez said. “It’s almost as if you can put yourself in that character’s place.”

Green’s novel was based on his own road trip experiences, and his reactions when he and his friends came across a real “paper town.”

55ad5c45d33b2.image“I really wanted it to be a movie about imagining other people complexly, and how difficult it is to understand what it’s really like to be someone else, and how difficult empathy really can be,” Green said. “I think Jake Schreier, the director of this movie, did an amazing job of bringing that to the screen.”

With Paper Towns being his second book to be adapted to the screen, Green said this is supposed to be a less sad movie than The Fault In Our Stars. Also, unlike his scene that they ended up cutting out of The Fault In Our Stars, he will have a cameo in Paper Towns.

“I have a cameo. It’s in the movie. Almost no one notices it, but it’s there,” Green said enthusiastically. “I know it’s there.”

With Paper Towns releasing on Friday, fans are more than excited for Green’s second big-screen adaptation.

“I just feel so incredibly lucky, not just to have them made, but to like them,” Green said. “I like both of the movies so much, and that’s very rare for authors. I’m really grateful.”

– David Dunn

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“AMERICAN SNIPER” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

And hero, husband, and father.

Chris Kyle was an American sniper. Serving four tours in Iraq, with 160 confirmed kills and approximately 95 more unconfirmed, Kyle earned the title of being called the most lethal sniper in American history. More than being a soldier, though, he’s a father, a husband, and a friend. He was killed in 2013 at age 38. He was shot by a soldier suffering from PTSD that he was trying to help.

We know all these details going into Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. We already know how it ends, we just don’t know everything leading up to it. Eastwood understands this, and uses it to his advantage as his film not only gives an honorable tribute to one of America’s most committed soldiers, but also foreshadows to a sad fate that we already know is coming. Gee, thanks a lot Clint. I didn’t even bring my tissues.

The film opens on the same startling scene that the book does: with Kyle looking down the scope of his sniper rifle at an Iraqi mother and her child, both of whom were aiming to suicide bomb a battalion of soldiers on the street. Eastwood sets up the tension of the scene perfectly here, with Kyle’s sweaty, darting eyes surveying the scene and desperately trying to see any way out of the tormenting choice he has to make. He soon dreadfully realizes there is no way out: it’s either the mother and her child, or the 15 soldiers and the suffering of their families back at home.

Think about being given that situation, about how devastating the experience must be and how haunting it must be to the person who has to make it. Now imagine having to make that same choice day, after day, after day, with your numbers climbing up until you’ve reached over 250 kills.

That’s the life of a soldier that Kyle has lived.

Kyle is portrayed in the film by Bradley Cooper, and both Cooper and Eastwood do a wonderful job representing Kyle here. They show that before he was a soldier, he was a citizen, an American with strong ideals and opinions and unafraid to show them or fight for them. Before he was shipped out and went on tour, they showed how normal Kyle was.

They showed that before he was a soldier, he was a man.

After having to make those difficult decisions day after day, how do you think that affects a man? In interviews, the real-life Kyle has said that he would not take back a single shot because every one that he took was to defend his brothers in uniform. I believe him when he says that, but I don’t believe that it didn’t leave an impact on him. Some soldiers suffer PTSD from killing just one man. How do you think more than 200 may have impacted Kyle?

Both Eastwood and Cooper do a great job humanizing Kyle here, and show that he’s more than the record kills he’s garnered. They show that Kyle is a man of coarse humor and blunt honesty, a man with a thick Texan accent and ideals, a man who tries to show that he’s strong and dependable, but who deep down is hurting and alone. The film is intimate in the ways that it shows Kyle, both in the chaos of battle and in the quietness of being home.

Cooper especially does a skillful job in portraying the iconic war hero. He expresses trauma and subtlety with the character so masterfully that the only differences I can tell between him and Kyle are minor facial features.

This movie has stirred controversy as of late for being “pro-war,” and for glorifying a man who was essentially labeled a murderer. I’m convinced these same people haven’t seen the same movie I saw, because the movie I watched unabashedly looks at the miseries of war and how the deaths Kyle could and couldn’t prevent affected him. The movie does suffer some slight pacing issues (not to mention the infamous “fake baby” seen in one of the shots), but when Eastwood resurrects a war hero to show the man behind the legacy, how can you look at this movie’s scope and not feel something for all of the physical and moral sacrifices Kyle had to give for his home? When the trumpet plays proudly over the solemnity in the end credits, you know that Eastwood represented a warrior in heart and a human in spirit.

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“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” Review (✫✫✫)

Be honest, Mr. Smaug: do you need a breath mint?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is both one of the most satisfying and maddening films of the year. It’s visually splendid, illustrating the joys and perils of the world of Middle-Earth as finely as any movie before it did. It’s emotionally versatile, being comical and lighthearted at certain moments and then treacherous and gloomy in others. The performances are sound, with CGI characters being just as memorable as the live ones. Everything in the film was perfect up until it came to it’s end, which ended on a cliffhanger so big that a slackwire artist couldn’t tightrope across it.

Taking place shortly after the events of An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the journey of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), his troop of dwarves, and the slight hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). After narrowly escaping the clutches of the white orc Azog (Manu Bennett), Bilbo and the rest of the dwarves venture on towards the Lonely Mountains, only having a few days left until the secret entrance closes, leaving them forever locked outside of the Lonely Mountains.

Bilbo, however, has greater concerns if the dwarves do manage to get inside. Deep within the twisty lairs of the mountain lies an endless sea of gold and jewels, and asleep among these riches is the vicious Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), a violent, terrifying dragon that formerly laid waste to the dwarves’ land and took their possessions all for himself. If the company does manage to get inside the mountains, Smaug will be waiting there for Bilbo, and there will be a massive conflict between the 100-foot tall fire-breathing dragon and the small, terrified hobbit.

One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings movies is that the stakes are set up really well in them. Peter Jackson, who has been writing/producing/directing/godfathering the series since The Fellowship of the Ring has proven time and time again how well he can make depth-defying set pieces and visual spectacles, all while raising the emotional stakes of the movie.

Here is yet another example of what Peter Jackson can do in a movie. Visually, the film is unparalleled. There were many moments in the film that I recalled for being either visually spectacular or heart-poundingly exciting. One of them was a eerily creepy fight scene where Bilbo and the dwarves were fighting off an army of spiders in a cursed forest. Another was a chase scene where the crew was stuck in a line of barrels while falling down a waterfall. Other instances in the film include when the dwarves encountered a giant who could transform into a bear, or when Gandalf confronted an early confrontation of Sauron in his own castle. And don’t even get me started on when we meet Smaug for the first time. Jackson’s visual prowess excels just as much as his emotional involvement, and with each of his movies, he always seeks how to outdo himself from his last effort. I’d say he’s outdone himself tremendously here: the look of the film shows just that.

The performances are just as refined as the action and visual effects are. Martin Freeman was just as charismatic and loveable as he was the first time he was Bilbo in An Unexpected Journey, and Ian McKellen once again does well as the wise, ambitious, righteously-driven wizard Gandalf. And Richard Armitage has gained traction as Thorin Oakenshield since the first movie, showing that he can be more than the brutish tough guy. He’s a more vulnerable, more fleshed-out character here, with deep desires and hidden intentions showing that perhaps will be explored more in the third installment.

My favorite character by far, however, wasn’t even from a live performance. Benedict Cumberbatch was frightening, fearsome, and daunting as the terrible Smaug, his articulate, vocabulary-filled speech lining up perfectly with his sinister, seething voice. The visual spectacle of Smaug is perfect, with the dragon leaning luminously over his small, feeble enemies, while his long, slender, scaly arms and body lunge across the dungeon like an elongated spider. But the vocal performance is what makes him convincing, what makes him more than just a CGI creation and a terrifying villain in his own right. The minute I heard Smaug speaking to a shaking Bilbo, I had shivers run down my spine. The entire time he was speaking to Bilbo in mysterious anecdotes and sinister undertones, I was on the edge of my seat. When he started to attack, I clutched my mouth and stared endlessly at the screen, wondering and hoping for the fate of these characters in Smaug’s way.

In An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo benefits from being a more active protagonist than that of Frodo. Here we have Smaug, a giant, fearsome beast that is more actively sinister and spiteful than the stillness of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings.

Everything in the film is refined to the quality of film that you’d recall from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. My only regret is the copout, cliffhanger of an ending that inspired my theater to erupt into boos and groans. I hate it when movies do this to me. They put in so much effort to make a great film up until the last five minutes, where they pull the rug from under you and say “Sorry, that’s all for now! See you next year!” What was Peter Jackson thinking when he went with this ending? At the end of each Lord of the Rings movie, it ended with some form of closure and assurance that the adventure would continue into the next installment, but you didn’t know how it was going to pan out. It kept us intrigued, and it kept us wondering what would happen next. With this movie, it sets itself up to where we already know how it’s going to end: we just don’t get the payoff along with it.

I quote J.R.R. Tolkien: “Books ought to have good endings.” The same should be said for movies.

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“THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A journey J.R.R. Tolkien would want to go on. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the story I first experienced when I saw The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring for the first time. Like The Wizard Of Oz or Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s a sweeping fantasy about ordinary characters getting thrown into extraordinary circumstances. So if hobbits, dwarves, wizards, and fire-breathing dragons constituted as “ordinary” in this universe, imagine the extraordinary circumstances that they go through.

Serving as a prequel to the J.R.R. fantasy epic The Lord Of The RingsThe Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a relaxed and easygoing hobbit who doesn’t like to do much throughout the day except for eat, sleep, and smoke his pipe every now and then. One day, he gets a visit from a mysterious stranger named Gandalf (Ian McKellen), an elderly wizard who is looking for shelter and a young companion to go on an adventure with. Much against Bilbo’s wishes, Gandalf not only stays in his small village home: he invites an entire company of dwarves, who proceed to wreck Bilbo’s house and eat everything in his fridge.

After having a nervous breakdown and cleaning up his entire house, Bilbo overhears Gandalf and the small dwarf brigade’s plans. Ages ago, the dwarves‘ prized possession, the Lonely Mountain, was overtaken by a vicious fire-breathing dragon named Smaug, who destroyed their village and stole the castle and all of it’s gold for his own desires.

After being betrayed by their allies, the elves, and being left to fight for their land all by themselves, the dwarves are determined to travel back to the mountain and fight for their home. Bilbo must make a decision of continuing to live on his normal, uneventful life, or to reach out, travel with the dwarves, and seek out adventure the likes of which he’s never experienced before.

Remembering that it was only a few years ago when I originally fell in love with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the RingThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a prequel that hits on all of the right notes, and then some more that I wasn’t expecting. In comparison to it’s elder companion, The Hobbit is uncanny. It has a wide verse of characters, each one being unique and memorable both in appearance and personality. It has a dynamic and involving story, ripe with exposition and emotion, retaining your full attention despite the lengthy run time. And it has highly stylized set pieces and visual spectacles that excite the eyes and overwhelm the mind. Do not mistaken Peter Jackson’s intentions here: he was inspired by Lord of the Rings when he was making The Hobbit.

And yet, there are so many differences from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings. One of the biggest, I think, would be it’s protagonist. Bilbo is different from Frodo, his nephew in Lord of the Rings whom Elijah Wood inhabited so wonderfully. They’re similar, of course, in that they are small hobbits not necessarily fit for fighting, but are clever, creative, and courageous nonetheless.

And yet, Bilbo is so much more than Frodo is. He’s funnier, for one thing, a bumbling, clumsy little hobbit that reminds me so much of the antics between Pippin and Merry in the original movies. He’s also more outgoing, a more active protagonist doing more in the film than just holding a ring and trekking long miles. He does so much in the film, sneaking around trolls, fighting Orcs, going through traps and mazes, and having a first-hand involvement in many of the film’s biggest fights. My particular favorite scene is one where he is talking to a fan favorite from The Lord of the Rings about the possession of a mysterious gold, rounded object. Hint: His favorite word is “precious.”

My point in saying all of this is that Bilbo is a dynamic character in his own right, and Martin Freeman handles the character very well. In the previous movie trilogy, Freeman had four hobbit inspirations to pull from, and instead of following just one of them, he took characteristics from all of them and made a character all his own. That took great talent and risk, and Freeman’s efforts paid off, making a character that I think is the most memorable and charismatic hobbit out of all of them.

Without a doubt, the best film in the series is Return of the King. This film is perhaps the second best. Sure, at times it might suffer from a slight overdose on exposition, but doesn’t all of the films? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an adventurous, ambitious gamble of a film, and it makes me believe once again in the power that a wizard, a slew of dwarves, and a brave little hobbit can have.

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