REVIEW: Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea is an enchanting story that addresses family, loss, and closure through the lens of an animated fantasy drama. Directed by Tomm Moore, who is known for Academy Award nominee The Secret of Kells (2009), the magical tale of Song of the Sea follows the adventure of a 10-year-old Irish boy named Ben and his mute sister, Saoirse, a selkie — a mythological creature of Irish folklore that is human on land and a seal in water.

The story begins with a little background behind Ben and Saoirse’s family. Suffering the loss of their mother, Bronagh, their family struggles to be happy. Ben blames his sister for their mother’s passing, Saoirse longs for the love of her broken family, and their father, Conor, still struggles with the loss of his wife. When Ben and Saoirse discover her magical abilities, the two find themselves on a journey to save all the faeries in the land with the “Song of the Sea,” a song of healing that only the selkie can sing.

For those of you who have seen and marveled at the beauty of The Secret of Kells (2009), Song of the Sea proves itself to be even more beautiful. Although at times the story may be a little hard to follow, the breathtaking art and intricate details of the film captivates the audience and keeps them engaged.

The animation is entirely hand drawn and 2-dimensional, playing with the depth of the scenery by overlaying parts of the background with the characters on screen. Almost like a fairy tale book in the form of animated cinema, Song of the Sea is imaginative and beautifully crafted. The animation sequences are fluid and careful, drawn with precision and a kind of gentle softness that draws our eyes, and it becomes enchanting to watch.

Apart from the art, the characters in this film are also very representative of the different ways people deal with loss. The magical characters draw parallels with human counterparts, expressing a variety of ways that people mourn and reasoning with the harmful consequences that they might bring. Macha, the owl witch, promises to take away the pain and suffering by petrifying those who are hurt, even petrifying her own son to save him from the pain. However, Song of the Sea proves that bottling up your emotions and removing yourself from your feelings is not as helpful as we hope it to be.

Song of the Sea inspires its audience to find closure during times of loss and mourning through love and acceptance. The very end of the film brings about the closure the family desperately needed. After Ben and Saoirse’s journey brings them home to their father’s lighthouse, they realize their cooperation and love for each other saves them and their family, as well as all of the endangered faeries and mythological creatures.

Here’s the official summary for the film: “In this enchanting new story from the Academy Award-nominated director of The Secret of Kells, Ben and his little sister Saoirse—the last Seal-child—must embark on a fantastic journey across a fading world of ancient legend and magic in an attempt to return to their home by the sea. The film takes inspiration from the mythological Selkies of Irish folklore, who live as seals in the sea but become humans on land.”

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

(Please note: This review is written in such a manner as to not spoil the film for those who have yet to see it and/or who are yet to read the book.)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 marks the conclusion to box office sensation and critically acclaimed series The Hunger Games. As the title suggests, the film follows the second half of Suzanne Collins’s young adult dystopian novel Mockingjay. It does this in a manner which remains largely faithful to the source material, with brilliant acting by its all-star cast and amazing production value, from the sets to the costumes to the special effects.

However, despite the more intense and action-heavy material of this second half of the Mockingjay story, Part 2 continues to suffer of the same shoddy pacing and occasionally overdramatic writing that led to Part 1’s decline from the earlier installments in the series.

I wanted to like Mockingjay – Part 2 more than I did. As a huge fan of the Hunger Games franchise, I had high hopes for the Mockingjay films, especially after the roaring success of the second film in the series, Catching Fire (which doubles as one of my favorite movies of all time). However—perhaps because of how much I wanted to love this movie—I walked out of the theater Thursday night feeling like I’d been cheated. Not a lot, but a little.

This stems from the way director Francis Lawrence—who has helmed the franchise from the second installment onward—handles the pacing in Mockingjay. The novel itself struggles to find a good rhythm as the trilogy transitions from its traditional setup of pre-Hunger Games build-up, to Hunger Games intensity, to post-Hunger Games fallout. Now, the country of Panem is at war, which is a different game entirely. But rather than fixing the pacing as the filmmakers claimed to hope they would when they announced they would be splitting the third book into two movies (as all good YA book-to-film franchises should be, clearly), they’ve exacerbated these issues. Pivotal scenes in Part 2 move too quickly for the audience to keep up with what’s going on, let alone feel their full impact; scenes between action sequences drag, drawing attention to the film’s bloated two hour and seventeen minute runtime.

This becomes most evident in the scene that finds itself at the heart of Mockingjay’s climax. I don’t want to spoil you if you don’t know how Mockingjay ends, but essentially this scene is the one that makes the series. It’s what Katniss’s journey has been building to from the beginning, the scene that ultimately drives the lessons of the series home. It is the scene on which, more than any others in the entire series, the filmmakers should linger. Instead, we hurry through it, like Francis Lawrence is desperate to get this difficult moment over with. And yes, this is not a happy moment, but it is one that matters. It is one that deserves the extra weight that comes with pausing on it, letting it sink in, so that it can resonate with the audience.

Rather than lingering on this moment, however, we instead spend loads of time on a love triangle that leads to more derisive laughter from the audience than actual investment, along with clunky dialogue rendered decent only by the immensely talented cast speaking it. Indeed, the script spends a lot of time trying to come across as being As Grim and Serious as Possible, which results in more awkward laughing at the movie than genuine laughing with it. For a film about the horrors of war, this is especially unfortunate.

Despite all this, however, Mockingjay – Part 2 is far from a bad movie. In fact, it’s actually a pretty good one, especially when you compare it to the majority of adaptations made from young adult novels. While the Hunger Games franchise’s greatest asset has always been its cast—which includes a bevy of Oscar-winners and household names—the amount of passion and detail put into constructing the world has also been key to its success, and that passion continues to be on display here. Everything about the Hunger Games world is intricate, thought-out down to the smallest detail and too complex to ever fully catch while watching. It is a feast for your eyes. Now, throw Jennifer Lawrence into a world like that, and even the most outrageous elements of The Hunger Games feel horribly real.

While Francis Lawrence might be confused about pacing, he does understand that Jennifer Lawrence is the linchpin to the series. Part 2 thrives on close ups of her face at key moments that tell us more than any exchange of dialogue ever could. She is both parts strong and weak, hardened and dissolving before our eyes, a child thrown into these terrible circumstances and a brave young woman rising to not only meet her fate head on, but to take control of it as well. She truly is the Mockingjay.

So: Mockingjay – Part 2 is not the best film ever made. In fact, it’s a far cry from even the best film in the Hunger Games series. But despite this, it does its best to give moviegoers a valid and satisfying conclusion to arguably one of the best book-to-film franchises ever to come out of Hollywood.

More than anything, Mockingjay – Part 2 is a reminder that this series has been a fantastic ride. And for that I’ll always be grateful.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is in theaters now. Tickets are available for showings at both Goodrich Quality 16 and Ann Arbor 20 (Rave).

REVIEW: Selma

Selma (2014) is a very powerful movie that reminded me how deep-rooted the issues of racism is in the United States, and how brave leaders have emerged to tackle it. By focusing on one key event in civil rights movement among many others, the movie was able to give a very detailed picture for better historical accuracy.

In the movie, Martin Luther King. Jr., leads a demonstration with thousands of people — only Black locals at first, but adding in white allies after then — who marched from Selma to Montgomery in search for equal voting rights. It depicts Dr. King as he evaluates benefits and risks associated with the march, gets incarcerated, gets condemned for his inability to continue the march, makes a uniting speech, and finally makes worthwhile changes happen. As I study about community action and social change, I am inspired by his ability to evaluate the situation and decide what is the best, unafraid of attacks he may receive for his opinions or actions. Although Dr. King is not an easy character to be acted out, David Oyelowo played this role with much-needed dignity and determination. Other actors actors, including Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, Keith Stanfield, E. Roger Mitchell, and many others as well as the hundreds of extras in the march scenes, really made the movie impactful.

There was a lot of depictions of violence, from people getting beaten up to police spraying tear gas all over. While these images can be triggering to some audience (I was surprised that it wasn’t rated R), I think it was necessary to include these. It is difficult, if not impossible, to talk about Black rights movement without mentioning multitudes of violence done on them.

Overall, I was very glad I watched this movie. Many friends of mine went as well, and I appreciated that we were able to spark a conversation on civil rights movement and racism based on the movie. If you have not been to Selma yet, I highly recommend it. You can find the showtimes at the State Theater here.

PREVIEW: Selma

As the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is coming up, Selma is a very suitable movie to watch. This award-winning movie features a story about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, in the hopes to gain equal voting rights. This march ended up with President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is considered to be one of the biggest victories in the civil rights movements. Directed by Ava DuVernay, Selma stars many fantastic actors, such as David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, and Carmen Ejogo.

Showtimes for Selma at the State Theater can be found here. As always, students are eligible for discounted price of $8 with their student ID.

REVIEW: American Reunion

Thursday March 22nd at 9 p.m. students filled the Lorch Hall AskWith Auditorium, to see a sneak preview viewing of the upcoming movie, American Reunion, the fourth in the American Pie film series, and to see four of the cast members from the movie live and in person! After being escorted to a rare available seat in the auditorium by a security guard from Universal Studios, Eli Yudin, a student comedian from the University of Michigan, announced that the cast members were walking to the hall for a question and answer session. The crowd screamed and yelled in electric anticipation to host famous movie stars on the university’s campus. When the MFlicks crew, who hosted the event, were given the signal that the cast members were on their way, Eli suggested that the crowd sing the Michigan fight song as the movie stars enter the auditorium, as a few of the cast members are University of Michigan graduates. The auditorium full of students sang the fight song and fist-pumped as the cast of American Reunion walked from the back of the auditorium, through the aisles, taking pictures and video on their phones of the crowd.

For about 20 minutes Eli asked the cast members questions written down by students in the crowd, most questions directed to Jason Biggs, the main character of the series, about the number of pies used in the famous scene from the first movie, and a request to do a dance from a previous American Pie movie, which he did with the girl from the audience who made the request. The cast members were funny, and the crowd was engaged and entertained throughout the interview.

Soon, the interview was over and the crowd went wild one last time as the stars exited the auditorium, the lights dimmed, and the movie began. Personally, I have never seen an American Pie movie before (shocking, I know!) so I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into. In American Reunion, the original cast of American Pie come together again for their 13-ish-year high school reunion (class of 1999!). (It was mentioned in the interview portion that the idea came up for an American Reunion movie at the 10 year anniversary, and unfortunately it takes time to make a movie, so that’s why by the time the movie came out, it was actually 13 years since the characters graduated! ) Some characters have gotten married and settled down, and others have focused on their careers, but they all realize how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same, through the crazy antics they experience at home during the weekend of the reunion.

Now, do you want my opinion? I really hated the movie! No wonder I never watched the others… The entire movie was nothing but gross-out, dirty jokes, sex, and nudity. I knew it was a comedy, but I thought that there would be some genuine situational humor, not just cheap sexual jokes. Women were relentlessly objectified, and I felt somewhat uncomfortable throughout the entire movie. Aside from the sex, any other plot line or humor used in the movie was so incredibly cheesy and shallow–about 30 minutes in, I wasn’t sure how much more I could take. I know American Pie has a huge following, and the auditorium was filled with university students who were totally into the movie–everyone was saying how great it was as we filed out of the theatre after the show. I suspect my opinion is the minority, so if you disagree with me, or you want to go see American Reunion for yourself, the movie is being released to theatres on April 6th. Check out the website for more information!

http://www.americanpiereunion.com/

Preview: Robert Redford+Co. Stomp The Yard

Robert Redford (Now-ish)

Actually, there will probably be no stomping.  Probably some clapping.  Maybe some hoots and hollers.  Our favorite Hollywood stud won’t be there either.  He’s also not the dude you remember from ‘Out of Africa’.  At 73, Robert Redford, the actor turned environmentalist and Sundance Film Festival creator, has decided to take his baby to the people.  On Thursday night, from a prerecorded video, Redford will address the 1700 seat, sold-out crowd at the Michigan Theater. For the first time in its history, Redford will introduce Sundance to the rest of the country.  As part of the new Sundance USA program, Sundance will leave its lush quarters in Park City, Utah and present films across the country.  On Thursday, Ann Arbor will join the ranks of Boston, New York, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Madison, and Nasheville in welcoming a film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival- along with the film’s directors.

Thursday’s film is “Cyrus”, a new comedy from brothers Jay and Mark Duplass.  Sundance tells us to expect to feel “a tingling, irresistible experience of utter discomfort”.  This discomfort with the discomfort of trying to decide who gets the armrests in a sold-out theater only sounds comforting to me.

Thursday, January 28.  7:30 pm. More info here: http://www.michtheater.org/sffusa.  Tickets are sold out but, like anything in this fair town, you can find a way to get in.  Check the box office day of, talk to craigslist, do what you gotta do. Sold out movie theaters are too fun.  Until then,  Bennett