West Side Story Review

By Olivia Sterenfeld

Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited rendition of West Side Story has finally reached theaters nationwide. Although the film has not found success at the box office, it is a much-needed re-telling of the iconic 1950s New York version of Romeo and Juliet. While I have never seen the stage musical and thus cannot discuss the potential outdatedness of it, I have seen the 1961 film adaptation and can confidently say it needed an update. The music has always been the star of the movie, with clarity of plot taking the backseat, and rightfully so, given the brilliance of Leonard Bernstein’s music and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. The story itself, however, is worthy of the improvements it received in this adaptation. Coincidentally, what a way to pay tribute to Sondheim, given his death in late November. 

Spielberg’s West Side Story resolves all points of plot confusion from the original movie, primarily due to Tony Kushner’s writing. The film opens with a shot of the plot of land that will become Lincoln Center, a cluster of buildings that houses the performing arts. We see a poster displaying a model of Lincoln Center outside of a construction site where buildings are being torn down. These opening images instantly make clear the slum gentrification of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Paired with these shots, references in dialogue to the increasingly gentrified surroundings throughout the rest of the movie build an important context for the pressure on competing gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, to fight for the limited land left, the land that remains unrenovated. Kushner’s screenplay also provides a clearer sequence of events in the film, which, in addition to the context for the rising tension between the gangs, creates a more compelling story. Maria’s (Rachel Zegler) infamous “I Feel Pretty” does not feel as trivial given that immediately after the scene ends, she runs into Chino (Josh Andrés Rivera), who reveals the tragic news about a loved one. The juxtaposition of Maria’s glee to sorrow and confusion emphasizes the latter emotions. For the audience, “I Feel Pretty” follows this sad scene, making the song already upsetting to watch, given that we know the tragic news Maria does not yet know. Ultimately, Kushner’s screenplay not only provides us with a more engaging story but situates the music in the plot in new, necessary ways.

Visually, the film is striking. Justin Peck’s choreography seamlessly blends dance and action so that the feel of a musical was not lost but did not dominate the screen time. The scene in which Tony and Maria sing “Tonight Tonight” on Maria’s fire escape, for instance, flows like a dance number without much of any dance occurring. The use of grating on fire escape balconies to separate Maria and Tony, who struggles to reach Maria on her platform, conveys the nature of their relationship as star-crossed lovers. The divide of the two by bars, on the escape’s stairs and railing, builds tension to the moment when they are finally face to face, in each other’s arms, on the balcony. The song simultaneously escalates to this moment, forming a truly romantic, exciting scene for the couple. 

Paired with choreography, the use of color in costumes contributes to the stunning visuals of the movie. In the school dance scene, the white couples wear blue and the Puerto Rican couples wear red and yellow. Maria, however, is dressed in white lace, wearing only red lipstick and Anita’s (Ariana DeBose) red belt to connect her to her Puerto Rican community. She is even seen wiping off the lipstick before Bernardo sees her. The white lace dress and removal of lipstick communicate Bernardo’s, and, accordingly, everyone else’s, view of her: a young and inexperienced, with the subtext of sexually pure, woman. We see, though, that she wants to be treated as a mature adult and wants to make her own decisions, demonstrated in not only her attitudes that she conveys to Anita but in that she tries on the lipstick in the first place. The white costume also helps her stand out for the audience, making her easier to spot among the crowd at the dance. Maria’s costume is nearly identical to the 1961 counterpart, so this choice is nothing new but is certainly effective. 

The visuals are supported by audio that lends itself to authenticity, further conveying the need for this updated version of the film. While autotune is inevitably used, compared to many other movie musicals, it does not feel so overdone. There are still moments where we can hear the unadulterated voice of each character, especially allowing them to sound genuine in instances of strong emotion, which is not uncommon in this story. It certainly helps that many of the actors are professionals in musical theatre, such as Zegler, DeBose, and, of course, Rita Moreno, who plays the added character of Valentina. The film also, necessarily, includes characters speaking Spanish, contributing to the authenticity of this version. After all, the 1961 movie did not cast a Latinx Maria, instead opting for the famous Natalie Wood. The actress could not even sing, therefore requiring a ghost singer, Marni Nixon. Although Spanish is spoken throughout the film, subtitles are not provided. There is no need for subtitles, however, because the acting and action reveal all that the audience needs to know. Transitions from dialogue spoken in Spanish to English are cleverly incorporated, having frustrated police officers yell at the Puerto Ricans to speak in English as a means of understanding them and Anita demanding that Maria and Bernardo use English in order to practice speaking the language for their own benefit. The effort to cast Latinx actors and use Spanish in scenes with Puerto Rican characters contributes to the more accurate depiction that is this version of West Side Story.

It feels like more screen time, however, is given to the Jets, the white gang, and some of it could have been cut. There is a scene, for instance, in which they buy a gun for the climactic fight. The seller recognizes Riff (Mike Faist) as being similar to his father, which ultimately supports the idea that the Jets have bums for parents and how it is such a shame that they have not found their way out of poverty. The scene drags on for too long, though. Whereas the Jets receive perhaps too much screen time, the Sharks could have been allocated more of it. The musical number “America,” sung by Anita and her friends, was shortened. While it is likely that several songs were shortened for the sake of time, every one of the ingenious lyrics in “America” deserves to be heard and probably could have been if a few of the Jets’ dialogue scenes were shorter.

Otherwise, West Side Story was thoroughly entertaining and well done. Hopefully, it will be shown on streaming services sometime soon and receive the widespread attention it deserves. For those who grew up on the 1961 original and those who have barely heard of the musical alike, this adaptation is worth seeing.

Consensus: 4.5/5

Why Fans Are Right to be Concerned About Blade Runner: Black Lotus

by Beef Pickens

As someone who has seen “Blade Runner 2049” countless times and the original a few less, I was ecstatic to hear that a Blade Runner anime was going to be produced this year. Blade Runner fans had already received a magnificent taste of what an anime could look like with the “Black Out 2022” short film that was released alongside “2049” in 2017. The director of “2049,” Denis Villeneuve, asked his friend Shinichiro Watanabe to animate a brief film in 2D detailing an important event between the original movie and his new film. Although short in length, it was nothing short of beautiful and left fans wanting more. After all, there isn’t much Blade Runner media content to go around (“2049” came out 35 years after the original).

“Blade Runner: Black Lotus” was announced a year after the release of “2049”. It is a collaboration between anime company Crunchyroll and television channel Adult Swim, aptly deemed “a Crunchyroll and Adult Swim original.” Previously mentioned director Watanabe will be serving as a creative director for the project, and it will have both Japanese and English dubs. Around the period of the initial announcement, information about the anime was obviously quite scarce. Nevertheless, fans were sure to keep their ears open for any new information about the project; however, incredibly long stretches of time passed without even a word. Eventually, on July 23rd of this year, the Adult Swim YouTube channel released a 2 minute and 6 second trailer for the show that finally gave the ravenous fans a look at what they could expect later in the year. According to the video’s reception, their hopes were squandered.

One of the first things that someone would see while patrolling the comments of the video is a multitude of complaints regarding the choice to switch to 3D animation. Viewers made no efforts to mince their words, going as far as to compare the animation to that of a Playstation 2 game. The sentiment is a valid one; quality 3D anime are few and far between. It is even more confusing considering the extremely high quality of “Black Out 2022.” Essentially, 2D animation, which comprises the majority of anime, has been proven more than effective in portraying the “Blade Runner” universe. In an interview with show directors, it is revealed that 3D CG was chosen because it was the best way to portray the city, and seeing the characters against such a backdrop would be “entertaining.” I can’t help but think, though, (especially after looking at the quality of the animation in the trailer) that it was more cost-effective and thus was ultimately the required direction. It most certainly does not instill confidence in the quality of the show when it doesn’t seem to have enough genuine care and concern behind it for a proper animation budget.

Although there is clearly talent within the team responsible for the project, the content we have been exposed to has been rather concerning nonetheless. A second point of contention within the original trailer was the music choice. “Blade Runner” is known in large part for its atmosphere, and its soundtrack contributes heavily to this. The stunning synth and saxophone soundscape created by Vangelis for the first film perfectly matched the tone and what was happening in “Blade Runner’s” cyberpunk cityscape. Although “Blade Runner 2049’s” soundtrack did incorporate the synth heard in the original movie, it had a much different, heavier, bass-reliant sound that complimented moments of touching connection and heart-pounding chases. 

With this being said, the music chosen for the trailer clashes significantly with the tone established in the “Blade Runner” series. “Feel you Now” is a pop song that feels too commercial and out of place in the series universe. One would have a very hard time guessing the property from the soundtrack alone. In another video revealing the opening released by Adult Swim, the song was confirmed to be the opening theme. While this could just be a poor decision that doesn’t actually reflect the soundtrack of the show, it is yet another major reason for concern.

Despite seeing the familiar cityscapes that fans have come to know and love, the trailer doesn’t feel very “Blade Runner” at all. A large effort was made to have a focus on action and combat scenes, which clashes with the films’ more meditative and thoughtful tradition. The “Blade Runner” franchise has always been focused on what it means to be human more than fast-paced fights. Although there were moments of heart-pounding action, they were very clearly not at the forefront of what the movies were trying to portray. Admittedly, this could be an attempt from the creators of the trailer itself to have it appeal to a wider audience, but it still creates yet another reason for skepticism. It is my hope, of course, that these doubts are ultimately unfounded. I want nothing more than to have a quality “Blade Runner” anime, and we will hopefully know soon whether the show is worth giving a shot.

Venom: Let There be Carnage Review

By Tyler Quigley

“Venom: Let There be Carnage”  is the sequel to the 2018 film adaptation of Venom, which is considered to be one of the funniest, yet most interesting characters in Marvel Comics. For better or worse, however, Sony has primarily focused on the humorous aspects of Venom in these films as opposed to his more serious and nuanced traits. This is something that is doubled down on in the sequel. While this movie is generally fast-paced with some amazing fight scenes and CGI, it unfortunately sacrificed character development and a cohesive narrative in order to cram in as much zaniness as possible.

Starting with what the film does correctly, the absolute best aspect of the film is the dynamic between Eddie Brock and Venom. The movie plays into the relationship between these two, framing this human reporter and extra-dimensional symbiotic as an old married couple that cannot stop bickering. This is where a majority of the humor comes from, which isn’t an issue at all since the interactions between Eddie and Venom are incredibly funny, well written, and well-acted by Tom Hardy (who also serves as the voice of Venom). Hardy doubles down on both Eddie and Venom’s personalities and performs both roles excellently. Venom also gets his own humorous and emotional moments detached from Eddie, having his own story arc for a decent chunk of the movie. This allows Venom to be a more fleshed out character that can be enjoyed on his own merits, not just in his relationship with Eddie. 

Another character that also is executed well is Cletus Cassidy. Woody Harrelson puts on a great performance as the psychotic serial killer and only becomes more deranged and more entertaining to watch after he bonds with the Carnage symbiote. 

Other good things about this movie are the fight scenes and CGI. The symbiotes look more “real” than they did with the first “Venom” and the fight scenes have more flair to them, with the climactic battle between Carnage and Venom at the church being a genuinely amazing fight. 

Unfortunately for this movie, everything good about it has already been said. It’s a blessing that Eddie, Venom, and Cletus are all entertaining characters that take up so much screen time, as the side characters in this movie are uninteresting at best and downright annoying at worst. Eddie’s ex, Anne, regresses from a fairly interesting main character to the simple damsel in distress by the end of the movie, with most of her scenes being pointless to the plot. Her new husband Dan isn’t even his own character and just acts as a punching bag for Eddie and Venom to take out their anger on for “stealing” Anne. 

Aside from Cletus, none of the new characters are memorable. Despite being in the title, Carnage, unlike Venom, has zero personality or motive aside from “kill Venom”, which makes him surprisingly forgettable when combined with his lack of a distinctive origin. This absence of development makes Carnage simply a vessel for Cletus to cause mayhem which, while fun, misses so much of what makes the symbiotes interesting. This is especially jarring given how great the dynamic between Eddie and Venom is in this film. Cletus’s girlfriend, Scream, is a bland and frankly annoying secondary antagonist that doesn’t have any interesting interactions with Cletus or Carnage.

 Another thing this movie suffers from is a lack of character development across the board.  No one is different from how they are at the beginning of the movie, which leaves the audience with the feeling that the movie didn’t matter. The movie tries to get Eddie and Venom to learn some “we actually need each other” message, but it’s so hollow and is resolved so quickly that it just feels like something just to pad this movie’s short runtime. 

This movie has a story in the loosest term, but nothing to actually engage the audience. There doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency for the first half of the film and the movie haphazardly gets the characters where they need to go without any thought. 

One last criticism of the movie is its rating. “Venom: Let There be Carnage” should be rated R and not rated PG-13. All of the best aspects of the movie would be elevated with an R rating and would help further overshadow the problems with the movie. The dialogue between Eddie and Venom would be much funnier with more violent language and jokes. More importantly, though, the fight scenes, especially with Carnage, could be extremely violent. This could show the audience how dangerous Carnage is compared to Venom (something only told to us in the PG-13 version) and allow for more extravagant and outlandish fights. Being rated R would allow the best aspects of this movie to shine even brighter, which unfortunately means that being rated PG-13 makes these best aspects duller.

Overall, if you want a dumb and funny superhero movie, this movie is for you. If you want to see a movie that makes you think even the smallest amount, don’t see this movie. “Venom: Let There be Carnage ” is simply dumb fun, with an equal emphasis on both the dumb and fun.

Consensus: 2/5

Squid Game Review

by Olivia Sterenfeld

When Netflix released Hwang Dong-hyuk’s Squid Game in September, immense popularity soon followed. People couldn’t stop talking about the new thriller-survival show and its commentary on social class. Set in contemporary South Korea, the series follows a group of characters in financial jeopardy as they play a game that could either end by winning all the money they could ever need, or in death. The plot primarily focuses on Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-Jae), a low-life who lives at home with his rapidly aging mother. He cares about his daughter, but his unemployment and gambling addiction prevent him from improving his life. After meeting a salesman who offers him the chance to play children’s games to win money, Gi-hun is launched into a world in which 455 other desperate people in teal tracksuits compete against each other. Ordered around by authority figures in hot pink jumpsuits and masks they soon discover these games are a matter of life and death. Failure to win the game results in a gunshot, and success leads to the ability to pass onto the next of six rounds. Gi-hun makes alliances with other characters, some of whom the audience roots for just as much as, if not more than, Gi-hun. The players and authority figures become involved in corrupt practices out of greed, displaying the innate selfishness of everyone in the game and perhaps humankind at large.

The characters and their compelling stories make the show engaging, providing a reason to keep watching episode after episode of violent behavior. I wanted to see my favorite characters move on to the next round and see which alliances were formed and broken. Gi-hun is the perfect protagonist of the story: he serves as an antihero, a bit of a loser, never being the fastest to win a game, with a strong moral compass. He is loveable in his somewhat foolish assumption that others will be allies to the end, which is especially conveyed in moments of betrayal. Gi-hun is certainly a flawed character, which can be seen in selfish behavior toward his mother early on and moments when his selflessness is tested throughout the games. By the end of the show, though, the audience gains a full sense of Gi-hun’s selflessness. In addition, his subdued personality allows more attention to be drawn to many other characters and their stories, providing the series with a strong ensemble performance. There are so many players whose lives matter to the audience, giving the storyworld a sense of richness.

One gripe that many have with the show, however, is its lack of novelty. The script for a feature film version was originally written in 2009, a time when dystopian commentaries on social class were all the rage, especially in the young adult world. If the story was released in some form then, it still would have felt fresh. Suzanne Collins had already written and gotten published two-thirds of the Hunger Games books, but the stories would have at least been contemporaries. Now, over a decade later, this hyperbolic look at the rich using the poor as puppets feels overdone. While it is still entertaining to see a new iteration of this genre, more of it is not needed. Thus, when the (what I had assumed to be) mini-series ended on a cliffhanger, implying that this show was merely the first of several seasons, I was disappointed. How many more renditions of the rich killing the poor for fun can people take? Or, how many more do they really want? Its similarity to themes and tropes of movies like it, such as The Hunger Games, is so entrenched in the show that it seems impossible to continue the series without watching more of the same. There is the clear establishment of a hierarchy of authority, the gluttonous, perverted men who bid on players and watch the games as a form of entertainment, the engaging ensemble of characters, and a behind-the-scenes look at the game. Just one season would have been more than enough.

Consensus: 4/5

Mortal Kombat Review

by Shaun Rousso

“Mortal Kombat” is a film based off the hit video game franchise of the same name, which tells the story of a tournament (called Mortal Kombat) between “Earthrealm” and “Outworld” that determines the fate of both realms. The film focuses on Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a new character created for the film, as he learns about his destiny to help defend Earthrealm against the evil forces of Outworld. Over the course of the film, we meet a slew of characters from across all installments of the beloved video game franchise, and witness as they fight and (of course) brutally slaughter one another. What ensues is a bloody mess of delightful gore and not-so-delightful writing.

 There are some very strong elements of this film. Most prominently, the visual effects are astounding. There are a few instances, typically involving fully computer-generated character models, where they fall short, but mostly they look stunning. Standouts in this department include Sub-Zero’s (Joe Taslim) ice, Scorpion’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) fire, and nearly all the fatalities, violent attacks performed after defeating an opponent that “finishes them” in grotesque ways. Had these effects not been up to par, the entire movie would have crumbled and felt like a complete waste. Luckily, not only did they meet expectations, but they exceeded them.

In fact, the entire film looks outstanding. From the first sequence, the rich production design and cinematography work to pull in the viewer. Not every setting is as intricate as it could be, but most of them exceeded the bland sets that plague the world of typical action blockbuster films. Similarly, the cinematography has more care put into it than many films of similar caliber. This particularly rang true for the action sequences. In several instances, the takes were longer and more thought out than in many other action films, forgoing the bland and incomprehensible jump-cut riddled scenes present in those types of movies. Similarly, the stunt choreography felt more meticulous and unique than that of many other comparable films. Sadly, in many other sequences, the film relied on the typical tiring and infuriating action scene techniques.  

The main issues with the film arise from the screenplay. The story beats did not feel as if they arose from any actual motivation. The characters just moved from place to place with thinly veiled reasoning just because the script was trying to set up another fight. If the film had leaned into the lack of a motivated plot more, it may not have come off as an issue, but it did not fully commit, striking an unfortunate balance between self-aware and painfully oblivious. For example, a character discovers his special ability because he feels passionately about an egg roll. At this moment, it feels like the screenwriters knew they were making a silly movie and really leaned into it. But in other moments, like when a major character develops their special ability off screen (after having built up the plot line for a while), it feels like the writers wanted to do something cool as a sort of surprise, but they just produced a disappointing moment. Additionally, the characters are unbelievably bland. Cole, the protagonist,  instantly goes along with everything he is told. When Cole is informed that he was chosen to defend “Earthrealm,” he essentially shrugs and accepts it, despite being someone who has no experience with anything out of the ordinary. None of the other characters are much better. The most character development anyone in the film experiences is one who loses his arms, gets them immediately replaced with no consequences, and then has the new arms grow stronger.

As someone who has played the Mortal Kombat games, I still felt no connection to any of the characters (outside of the occasional, “wow that’s *insert character name*”). That being said, it’s an exceptionally fun movie to watch for the purpose of making fun of it. If you are planning to pop this in (or rather, scroll to it on HBO Max) with a bunch of friends and joke about the silly writing choices, I highly recommend it. You will forget everything about the movie, but it will be a very entertaining two hours. However, if you plan to watch it hoping to experience the peak of cinema, maybe choose a different film. All in all, while the script feels lower effort than writing your own name, the visuals are outstanding and under the right circumstances, it is a very fun film to watch.

Consensus: 2.5/5

Oscar Predictions

Despite the insane year the film industry has had, the Academy Awards are upon us. Whether you think that the Oscars are a celebration of cinema that puts true art into the mainstream, or if you think they are an overrated hoax made so that Hollywood executives can pat themselves on the back, there is one thing that everyone can agree on: it’s fun to bet on the Oscars. But you know what’s even more fun than entering an Oscar pool? Winning your Oscar pool.

But with such a strange year for movies, this year seems harder than ever to predict the winners. Luckily for you, the team here at Moviehouse has done the work for you. Our crew of collegiate movie nerds has put in the hours of research so you don’t have to. Without further adieu, here are the Moviehouse predictions for the 93rd Academy Awards

Best Picture: Nomadland

“Nomadland” is without a doubt the safe choice here. It’s swept award season, winning at the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, and the PGAs. While it’s worth mentioning that there have been many years where a movie has swept these categories and still missed the Oscar, those years were always a close race. Take last year, when “1917” swept award season but “Parasite” won, or when “La La Land” was the favorite in 2017 but lost to “Moonlight”. In both situations, it was a close race between one or the other. This year, however, there isn’t another contender that can really go toe to toe with “Nomadland.” Because of the preferential ballot, this gives “Nomadland” an edge that those other upsets just didn’t have.

Directing: Nomadland

After winning the DGA, Golden Globe, and BAFTA for best director, Chloé Zhao’s Oscar win seems like a given.

Actor in a Leading Role: Chadwick Boseman

The passing of Chadwick Boseman this past year was felt deeply by the film community. His final performance in “Ma Rainey’s” was just one of many outstanding performances in a career that ended too soon. After winning the SAG and the Golden Globe, it is hard to imagine this Oscar not going to him, deservedly so. Rest in power, Chadwick Boseman.

Actress in a Leading Role: Carey Mulligan

Actress in a Leading Role is certainly the hardest pick to make this year. The case could truly be made for any of the nominees. Viola Davis gave us another incredible performance in “Ma Rainey’s,” and while we’d love to see her get it, it’s hard to picture the best actor and best actress coming from a movie that doesn’t get a Best Picture nomination. Frances McDormand’s last win feels too recent for her to get it again. While a case could certainly be made for Andra Day, Carey Mulligan’s bold performance that drives “Promising Young Woman” seems more likely.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Daniel Kaluuya

Another actor that has swept in this category during award season so far. Kaluuya better have space for this Oscar next to that Golden Globe and that SAG award.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Youn Yuh-Jung

Youn Yuh-Jung might be the best part of “Minari,” which is really saying something. While there are plenty of great nominees, it is hard to see them giving this award to anyone else. 

Cinematography: Nomadland

Film Editing: The Trial of the Chicago 7

In recent years, the Oscars have preferred films with more obvious and more stylistic editing choices. “Chicago 7” intercuts two different people giving accounts of the same scene, as well as shots from the scene from different perspectives, all while telling the story in a non-chronological order, and still manages to make sense. This is a movie with a lot of editing, and it does it well. If “Chicago 7” has any chance at bringing home an Oscar, it will be in this category.

Adapted Screenplay: The Father

Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman

With recent winners of this award including “Parasite” and “Get Out,” it seems that the Academy not only looks for which original screenplay is the best, but which original screenplay is the most original. The revenge thriller about rape culture seems to meet both of these categories comfortably, which is why we think it is going to take home the gold trophy.

Animated Feature Film: Soul

While “Wolfwalkers” certainly has a chance, it is really hard to beat a Pixar movie, and even harder to beat an original Pixar movie. If Pixar had dished out another half-assed sequel then this would probably go to “Wolfwalkers,” but “Soul” is far from Pixar nostalgia bait. The film feels like Pixar is back at their A-game, and it doesn’t seem like “Wolfwalkers” can really compete with that.

Sound: Sound of Metal

Duh.

International Feature Film: Another Round

As the only international film with a nomination for directing, “Another Round” is the easy choice. Not to mention, did you see Mads Mikkelsen’s dance scene in this movie? That part alone should win an Oscar.

Original Score: Soul

Mank Review

by Will Johnson

“Mank” follows the eponymous screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, played by Gary Oldman, as he rushes to finish writing “Citizen Kane” in only 60 days. However, “Mank” is not just a movie about a movie. Director David Fincher is far more interested in Mankiewicz’s complex life as an alcoholic, washed-up writer who speaks his mind too often, only to hurt himself and those around him.

Fincher took obvious care to ensure that the film displayed the same look and feel as “Citizen Kane” by shooting in black and white and by mimicking techniques like structure and cinematography. “Mank” utilizes a similar non-linear narrative which follows Mankiewicz writing for Orson Welles in 1940 while his life unfolds in a series of flashbacks taking place between 1930 and 1937. This is instantly recognizable as the same structure that “Citizen Kane” used where Charles Foster Kane dies in the opening scene, but his life is explored through flashbacks. By paralleling the structure, “Mank” provides an intimate and thought-provoking look into the way that reality influences film.

“Mank” is overflowing with style that all works beautifully to display its setting in the Golden Age of Hollywood and screenwriting aesthetic. Flashbacks are shown as scene headings, giving a unique spin to the often bland use of on-screen text. Fincher never wants the audience to forget that screenwriting is at the heart of this film, and creative decisions like this allow for the visuals and story to seamlessly blend together. Also, through extreme attention to detail in the costuming, music, and set design, “Mank” serves as a wonderful ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood without ever glorifying the time period. Characters like Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg are shown in an appropriately complicated light and their treatment of lower-level employees at the studios are boldly captured. Similarly, mentions of Nazism, anti-Semitism, and Hitler remind the audience that the era was not as glamorous as many films at the time made it appear.

Additionally, “Mank” handles the politics in the film studios at the time phenomenally. The audience sees the magic of movies through scenes taking place in writers’ rooms, on sound stages, and on sets, but “Mank” is also unafraid to show the darker side of Hollywood. Laborers take pay cuts while the wealthy studio heads party at mansions and executives forget their ethics to achieve their selfish goals. These ideas are best shown through the use of Upton Sinclair and the 1934 California gubernatorial election. This incredible plotline allowed Mankiewicz’s hidden noble nature to be seen while also exploring the façade of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s.

The performances are a major highlight of “Mank,” most notably with Gary Oldman, who is perfectly cast in the lead role. Supporting actress Amanda Seyfried shines as Marion Davies and is successful in separating the real figure from Susan Alexander Kane, who has too often overshadowed her legacy. Even a minor role like Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst becomes memorable within the short screen time that he is given. One monologue delivered by Dance at a dinner party near the end of the film is a haunting scene that emphasizes how powerfully the actors and actresses take over the screen. Even though only a few key performances are mentioned here, there are no actors that are noticeably weak, making the casting one of the strengths of this film.

However, despite all of the accomplishments of the film, “Mank” feels like it too often relies on the influence of “Citizen Kane” in order to work thematically. The latter tells the story of a man whose life is too complex to be summarized by just one word. “Mank” clearly wants to deliver a similar theme, going so far as openly acknowledging the inability to capture a person’s life in only two hours. Yet references such as this, or discussing the issues with telling a non-linear story, come too early within the film to feel impactful. It seems as if the writers are using the viewers’ understanding of “Citizen Kane” to deliver major themes before putting in the actual work. This does not mean that “Mank” fails in accomplishing its themes, only that it would not have been as successful without its comparisons to that movie.

Another major issue is the way “Mank” structures its scenes. The writers want to portray Mankiewicz as a complex character who can never truly be understood, but this is not as powerful as intended due to a lack of diversification in the scenes. Flashbacks consist mainly of Mankiewicz having drunken outbursts that anger the powerful figures who employ him. Yet these scenes begin to feel tired and overdone by the end of the film. There are some scenes that attempt to shine a different light on Mankiewicz through his attempts at preventing suicide or fighting against a smear campaign, but it all feels too altruistic to be effective. Another issue with repetition lies in the manner in which Mankiewicz is written. His dialogue mainly consists of snide, yet genius comments delivered at the expense of those around him. Unfortunately, that veil is almost never lifted, giving the viewer too few instances of a genuine Mankiewicz, rather than the one who hides behind his enormous intellect.

The writers also seemed to be slightly confused on what kind of movie they wanted to make. It clearly explores Mankiewicz’s life more so than a behind-the-scenes look at “Citizen Kane.” But by only showing the parts of his life that inspired his writing of that movie, it feels like it lands someone in between a biopic and a movie about a movie without ever truly being either. On top of that, the demographic of this film is unclear. Real-life figures and historical events have very little contextualization requiring a significant amount of background knowledge on the audience’s part in order to completely appreciate this movie. By needing an intense understanding of the studio landscape at the time and all of the key figures, “Mank” becomes a difficult film to recommend.

Overall, “Mank” is a powerful and moving film that explores a troubled yet influential figure and the dark, frequently unseen side of early Hollywood. It effectively captures the era through stylistic decisions and extreme attention to detail. Yet “Mank” willingly chooses to intertwine itself with “Citizen Kane” which occasionally hurts the film. Its mimicking of structure and themes are emotionally moving, but make it feel as if “Mank” is destined to be nothing more than a companion film to “Citizen Kane.”

Consensus: 3.5/5

The Father Review

by Nick Cochran 

“The Father,” written and directed by Florian Zeller, is a masterpiece in almost every way imaginable. It explores how dementia affects everything: from you to your life to those around you. “The Father” tells the story of Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) as his daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman), attempts to get him the care he needs. However, this film does not simply tell his story; it forces you to understand what dementia is like. This is done through many different tactics including the brilliant screenplay and the unconventional editing choices.  Along with these filmmaking techniques, Hopkins’s acting, complemented by the wonderful supporting cast members, enables this movie to truly achieve what it wants to achieve, and the chemistry between Hopkins and the rest of the cast does not go unnoticed. 

The screenplay for “The Father” is what truly confuses viewers and throws them for a loop as you try to understand what is going on. It creates a puzzle and fills in the pieces randomly so over time you start to see some parts of the whole picture, but you don’t see the full thing until the screen goes dark and the credits roll. At first, this feels weird and unusual, but as you get further into the film, you will realize it is forcing you to share Anthony’s dementia for an hour and 37 minutes. 

Another hugely important, but more subtle, method of confusing viewers is through the editing choices. Unlike other films, “The Father” doesn’t use its editing to give the viewer an indication that time has passed or that the location has changed. Rather, it is edited in a way that leaves the viewer uncertain of the date, time, and location. In doing so, it breaks down what you already know until you are left wondering what to actually believe. The film also utilizes establishing shots in conjunction with the ever-changing environment to throw the viewer for a loop. When in one shot, you think you understand the environment, in the next, the production design has been subtly changed to indicate it may be a completely different one. 

Anthony Hopkins, however, is the reason this movie is a must see. His performance is easily one of best of the year. Portraying an old man with dementia believably it is an extremely difficult feat, but Hopkins does just that. He pulls viewers into his world in ways that few others are able to do. He makes you believe everything you see, and even the tiniest of details don’t go unnoticed with his performance through a range of emotions. Most of all, he makes you feel every emotion that Anthony feels. It is also vital to mention the wonderful supporting cast of Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, and Mark Gatiss. All five actors, led by Colman, support us along the way as we struggle right alongside Anthony. That is to say, they make us believe every twist and turn in this story and enable Hopkins to take us on the wild ride that is “The Father.” It is also Anthony’s relationship with these other characters, supported by Hopkins’s chemistry with each actor, that strengthens the bond the viewer feels with each character. 

Nothing about this movie presents any major problems or stumbles on the way in telling this story. That is why “The Father” is a masterpiece and well worth the watch. My only recommendation is that you prepare yourself, as this movie is not an easy watch and will bring many to tears. Viewer discretion is also advised for those who know/have known someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s as this movie could possibly be very difficult to watch for those individuals.

Consensus: 5/5

Sound of Metal Review

by Jacob Zito

Although “Sound of Metal”  was not created with the intention of being dropped during the midst of a global pandemic, it is a film that captures the spirit of the world at the time of its release. The film follows Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a heavy metal drummer and recovering drug addict who unexpectedly begins to lose his hearing while on tour with his partner, Lou (Olivia Cooke). Immediately, the genuine nature of this story stands out.  Writers Darius Marder and Derek Cianfrance’s story makes every character, whether they are in a starring role or just a single shot, feel well lived-in. Ruben and Lou could have easily been written off as one-dimensional punks that have to navigate the hardships that come with hearing loss; in fact, this is how they are seemingly set up in the first scene, but as the movie continues, it is clear that much more respect is given to crafting the identities of these two musicians, giving the audience an intimate peek into their lives. The space that they live in, the meals that they share, and the conversations they have create an environment that feels exceptionally sincere, making it especially heart-wrenching to watch Ruben’s world crumble in a matter of hours.

It is hard to imagine anyone else but Ahmed being able to portray Ruben’s grief in a hauntingly honest way. His performance, from his subtle expressions to his violent outbursts, exposes all the vulnerable actions and reactions of a man experiencing the painful realization that he can no longer continue his passion due to unpredictable loss. It is near impossible to not feel worried for Ruben as he walks the line between nervous composure and complete breakdown. This concern is perfectly reflected in Cooke’s performance of Lou because, much like Ahmed, Cooke is able to capture the beautiful intricacies of a relationship and the ultimate anxiety that comes with watching a loved one become vulnerable to relapse. Whilst on the film’s top performances, Paul Raci’s portrayal of Joe, a tough-loving rehab center manager who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War, is phenomenal. Any time Joe is on screen, he radiates a calm, safe energy that allows Ruben to accept his condition and begin his new journey as a man who can no longer hear.

Undeniably, the most remarkable aspect of the film is how it captures the jarring nature of hearing loss through sound design. From the beginning, the film emphasizes noises ranging from the booming cacophony of drums to just the minuscule drip of a coffee pot, so that when Ruben is suddenly plunged into the deafening ringing of hearing loss, it dawns on the audience just how much we take the safe consistency of life for granted. The auditory contrast of ordinary life to the muffled silence that eventually takes over Ruben’s psyche is chilling, and it is through fine-tuned use of sound that we truly empathize with the characters.

The one small issue with this film is the pacing. “The Sound of Metal,” of course, is not intended to be a fast-paced drama but rather a slow-burn character study. There are moments that feel particularly bloated in their use in runtime in the second act; however, if you are a fan of slower cinema or are just willing to experience the tranquillity of Ruben’s journey, it won’t be a problem at all. 

“Sound of Metal” comes out at a time after all of us have had to refine our lives to recontextualize what normal even means. In an instant, the pandemic made everyone lose a fragment of who they once were. We all had to wrestle with new, bleak prospects and reflect on a way of life that seems long gone, and it is in this way that we can all relate to Ruben. We all process grief in our own individual ways, and it is not always a straightforward trajectory; sometimes it can be messy. Just as you think you have adapted to strange circumstances, something comes along that sets you back, and that is okay. If “Sound of Metal” teaches anything, it is that every day is a new day, and we just have to appreciate those moments of stillness along the way.

Consensus: 4.5/5

Minari Review

by Elizabeth Saliba

Minari. A plant native to Korea that doubles as a weed and a vegetable. According to Lee Isaac Chung, director of the film holding the same title, Minari “grows very strongly in its second season, after it’s died and come back.” From the title of the movie to the countless nuances throughout the plot’s development, every aspect of “Minari” seems delicately intentional. For that reason, the film is up for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Score.

“Minari,” set in 1980s Arkansas, and captures the experience of a Korean American family in search of a fresh start and the American dream. Jacob Yi, patriarch of the family, played by Steven Yeun, views their home on wheels and abundant farmland through rose colored glasses. Monica, played by Yeri Han, questions her husband’s optimism and his ability to support their two children, David and Anne, played by Alan Kim and Noel Cho. Jacob attempts to soften the family’s arduous life transition by inviting Monica’s mother, Soonja, into the picture.

The cinematography beautifully captures Jacob’s perspective through shots of radiant sunlight melting into vivid greenery. The soundtrack acts in harmony with the cinematography, tastefully adding another layer of emotion emitted by the natural landscape. If a scene is subtly building into a larger event, the soundtrack foreshadows through a dynamic sort of ambience that has to be felt for yourself to truly be understood. Piano solos, typically dominating the mood, were complemented by a light humming that made the viewer feel like a dainty piece of grass in an Arkansas field, whimsically overcome by the force of a light breeze. Similar melodies repeat in their own forms throughout the course of the move; like the plant minari, this symbolizes nuanced growth and development over time.

One of the highlights of “Minari” was the evolution of the grandmother-grandson relationship between Soonja and David. David, a first-generation Korean American child, had set polar opposite expectations for his grandmother, hoping for a cookie-baking, sweet-talking old woman when instead he got a foul-mouthed, highly-competitive jokester. This relationship adds a silver lining of humor to the serious circumstances the family faces. It also outlines an underlying identity crisis faced by David when assimilating to a new culture, which is emphasized by his preference of the American “water of the mountains”, otherwise known as Mountain Dew, over most anything else. 

Digging deeper into the idea of assimilation, Cheung presents the Yi family’s situation in a very interesting way. The viewer is provided no reference to Jacob and Monica’s previous life in Korea. The only presentation of their Korean heritage is through food and language, surface level things that can be perceived effortlessly. This seemed to remind viewers that the human experience is repetitive and familiar, despite surface level variations that are easy to label as stark differences among groups.

Overall, “Minari” was a very well done film. However, it would have been interesting to delve deeper into Anne’s experiences and perspectives. Anne was weighted with a great responsibility of taking care of David and appeared to be a poised, obedient, and selfless daughter. Nonetheless, she was just a child reveling through the family’s experience in her own way. Anne’s role as a side character (while all other family members take leading roles) seems to parallel the reality of being a side character in her parent’s eyes. 

It will be interesting to see how “Minari” is recognized at the Oscars after winning best foreign-language film at the Golden Globes. Controversy arose after this win; while the film did not meet the 50 percent English language requirement, “Minari” was filmed in the United States by an American director, and it was financed and produced by the American companies A24 and Plan B, respectively.  This categorization prevented the film from receiving Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture. In response, Chung told New York Times, “Maybe the positive side of all of this is that we’ve made a film that challenges some of those existing categories, and adds to the idea that an American film might look and sound very differently from what we’re used to.”

Consensus: 4.5/5