Hope v. Nihilism, or, Finding the Soul of the Superhero

Written by David Ting ’17

In short, this movie is about two super-people who hate each other because they misunderstand each other. I urge viewers to look beyond the city ruins, the black sky that unleashes sheets of rain, and that abominable monster reborn from the corpse of Superman’s nemesis from Man of Steel, General Zod (Michael Shannon). At the heart of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, you’ll find a message of hope. A few frames near the end of the film are the keys: thousands of citizens crowd around a monument to Superman, which consists simply of his iconic “S” chiseled in the pavement. But the dedicatory statue is absent. Below the “S,” a message is chalked: “If you look for his monument, just look around you.” I can’t explain this anecdote better than by quoting the Bowie song “Heroes”: “We can be heroes, just for one day / We can be us, just for one day.” Continue reading Hope v. Nihilism, or, Finding the Soul of the Superhero

Zootopia Packs a Pointed Punch

While most moviegoers tend to arrive a bit late because they don’t particularly mind missing the trailers, alas I’m too punctual to avoid arriving early enough to see every single preview. My jaunt to see Zootopia was no exception. But after the expected trailers for The Secret Life of Pets and Jungle Book (clearly if you’re seeing Zootopia you must also be interested in every other movie featuring talking computer-animated animals), the all too familiar Scrat from Ice Age appeared on the screen. My immediate reaction: “Oh no! Is this a joke? They aren’t making another one of those are they?” What was once a good kids’ movie has now been marred by increasingly hackneyed sequels, to the point where I am revolted by the mere thought of the franchise. I can only hope this will not be the fate of Zootopia, a fate which would be all the more tragic given that Zootopia is a far, far better film than even the first Ice Age.

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Fuller House: Nostalgia or Narcissism?

What within us creates nostalgia? Is Generation Y really so sentimental for wholesome childhood values in our current world of corruption and needless distaste? The cynic in me says no; it is not nostalgia, but narcissism that fuels the contemporary wave of childhood reboots—from this year’s Grease revamp to the upcoming Gilmore Girls reunion—so that we might relive adolescent comfort from behind a knowing smirk that the world is not quite so upbeat after all.

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Cara McCollum (February 6, 1992 – February 22, 2016)

This week we tragically lost one of our own: Cara McCollum, ’15, former editor and writer for the Princeton Buffer. In addition to writing sharp and hilarious reviews, Cara served as our social media guru who, even after graduating last June and becoming a SNJ Today news anchor, continued to share with us her on again/off again romance with film and television. Cara’s final Instagram wished us all a Happy Valentine’s Day. In return, we would like to celebrate our sharp-witted, talented, and generous colleague and friend by inviting everyone to revisit her memorable work for the blog. Click here to learn more about Cara’s rejection of Prince Farming, her seven-year relationship with True Blood, her conviction that even Stephen Hawking deserves a great love story, and her instant infatuation with “everyone’s favorite bongo-banging babe” Matthew McConaughey.


Hail, Coen!

Hail, Joel Coen! Hail, Ethan Coen! Hail, the Coen brothers! Hail the Coen brothers not because their newest film, Hail, Caesar!, is a masterful work of art that captures the most illusive depths of the human experience. Hail the Coen brothers because they, unlike so many other directors, especially those who receive wide critical and cult acclaim, have the rare ability to change. Hail, Caesar! is not the brothers’ best work, though it is playful, funny, and wonderfully simple; what it offers is something far different from the cynicism of Inside Llewyn Davis or even the comical intensity of The Big Lebowski. This is what makes the Coen brothers great: their generosity. They constantly give us something fresh and new.

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In Kung Fu Threequel, the Panda Has Become The Master

The Godfather Part III, X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3 — cinematic history is rife with gratuitous third installments that make viewers wish the filmmakers had simply stopped after the first two outings. Not surprisingly, when I walked into the theater to see Kung Fu Panda 3, it was not with the highest of expectations. I must confess, however, that by the end of the movie I was pleasantly surprised. While it may not quite live up to its illustrious predecessors, it’s certainly entertaining enough to merit a trip to the theater, and perhaps—dare I say it—even additional sequels.

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Of Aliens and Ethics, the Quandaries of Childhood’s End

Can an externally enforced definition of morality really lead to a lasting utopia?  And is that truly the end goal?  These are the questions that the new SyFy miniseries endeavors to explore in a thoughtfully updated adaptation of Arthur Clarke’s 1950s novel Childhood’s End.  Although Clarke’s novel has been the target of film adaptation before (Stanley Kubrick was interested, but eventually settled with collaborating with Clarke on 2001: A Space Odyssey), this is the first time that we see it realized on the screen.  The three-part novel now exists as three two-hour episodes – six hours of television that you won’t want to miss.

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Generally, I title my reviews with what I think of as clever word play on the movie’s title: “The Distasteful Eight” or “Nothing Grows From The Martian Surface.” But in the case of Charlie Kaufman’s newest film, the delightful, stop-motion, animated Anomalisa, I can think of nothing more clever than the film’s own title, nor more succinct or revelatory. But I’ll try not to give much more away here; the reason will become apparent quickly.

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The Distasteful Eight

At what point does violence in a movie become violence for its own sake? When does it become an ill-advised occasion to show off special effects, rather than a lens into the darkness of the characters’ souls and, by extension, humanity’s? I don’t think there are any definitive answers for these admittedly abstract questions; I think too much violence is something we recognize when we see it. I saw it in the first hour of The Hateful Eight, and that was the relatively tame part.

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Seventy Thousand Blows to the Head. All Denied.

“God did not want us to play football,” says Bennet Omalu as played by Will Smith in the new film Concussion. The problem of concussions in American football clearly deserves more attention and this film about the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) aims to provide it. Although a forensic pathologist discovering brain damage in former football players doesn’t make for the most riveting plot, Concussion keeps the viewer engaged with this important issue through the telling of Dr. Omalu’s compelling life story.

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The Suicide Squad Trailer is Insane

The fact that this trailer is for the same comic franchise that brought us the horrendous Batman v. Superman trailer a few months ago is frankly astonishing. Seriously, Warner Brothers, pay attention. This is how you do a trailer. It beautifully establishes the tone of the film while not giving away much of the plot. Tone is especially important with a movie like Suicide Squad. After all, there are a lot of directions a movie about murderous maniacs saving the world could take. But based on the use of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (which is perfectly timed with the action on screen) and on the jokes interspersed throughout the trailer, it appears the film will have a Guardians-esque humorous quality but with a more gritty and intense bent, relatively similar to its comic book source material. As far as plot, the trailer really only tells us that a nebulous authority (maybe the government, maybe the police) puts together this team of homicidal and unlikely heroes to save society from some threat, possibly the Joker. Our glimpses of the Joker are tantalizingly brief. Jared Leto has pretty big shoes to fill — and not just because he’s playing a clown. Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the character is arguably the best portrayal, not just of the Joker, but of any superhero villain on the big screen (see the Buffer podcast tribute to the Joker by Kurt Thiemann). Since it’s unlikely Leto could live up to Ledger in a mere trailer, it’s for the best that we don’t see too much of him here. For those who have said DC is just trying to copy Marvel’s cinematic success but without putting in the work, this is the movie that could change your mind. Suicide Squad promises to be quite different from any of its predecessors in the superhero genre, primarily because it doesn’t have any heroes, at least not any good ones.

Grade: P

A movie with no heroes may save the DC cinematic universe.


Also check out Kurt’s podcast to learn more about Heath Ledger’s delightfully chaotic portrayal of the Joker.

The Joker’s Ordered Chaos

The Danish Girl: Beautiful, Yes, But Utterly Lost

What makes a film “Oscar bait”? At a time when transgenderism is a media buzzword and biographical films about unsung heroes are a cinema staple, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl seems to tick all the boxes. The story about 1920s Danish painters Einar (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegenar (Alicia Vikander), the former of whom was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, seems tailored to be a critics’ favorite. Yet even as The Danish Girl presents itself as a serious film about serious themes, it has been dismissed as “awards bait” even before its release—good enough for the Academy, but not good enough to be great. Something, despite the big names and polished presentation, does not add up.

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A Film and Television Review