What’s it like to be a student filmmaker at Princeton? This year, five members of the Class of 2014 are making a film for their senior thesis: Nick Ellis (Religion), Jun Kuromiya (Philosophy), Dayna Li (Politics), Christina Maida (Anthropology), and Brady Valashinas (Anthropology). Each is pursuing the film track within the Visual Arts certificate and will submit their film as part of their independent work requirement.
I read Orson Scott Card’s science fiction masterpiece Ender’s Game for the first time when I was ten. When the main character Ender Wiggin was ten, he led the most successful army in the history of his “battle school” and then graduated early to become the commander of humanity’s forces in a war against an alien race. By the time Ender was twelve, he’d singlehandedly won the war and become a global icon considered the savior of the human race. As I write this, I’m twenty-two and I’ve never even had a paying job.
Anytime Woody Allen makes a movie, it’s inevitably going to be compared to Annie Hall. While Blue Jasmine doesn’t quite measure up, it does give Annie a run for her money. With its topical themes and experienced cast, Jasmine’s story is a solid addition to the 77-year-old filmmaker’s oeuvre.
As January rolls around, my favorite annual activity begins: reflecting on the best movies of the year. There is no better holiday party game. You learn which friends to keep because you respect their opinions and which friends to get rid of because you’re horrified by their taste in film (this year I unfortunately lost quite a few friends who enjoyed Pacific Rim). My list of 2013 favorites is packed with some goodies –The Spectacular Now, Dallas Buyers Club, Wolf of Wall Street – but my very favorite has to be one that far too many people missed: The Way, Way Back.
Discomfort at the movies is an odd feeling. It evokes a mixture of eye-averting, leg-shifting, and some casual looking around at the other moviegoers to make sure you’re not the only one feeling this way. There was a lot of discomfort involved in watching Blue is the Warmest Color, Abdellatif Kechiche’s film that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this summer. The director shared the award with the two main actresses, Léa Seydoux, and Kechiche’s ingénue Adèle Exarchopoulos. Given the media hype around the explicit girl-on-girl sex in the film, in a few years we might remember it, unfortunately, simply as “that lesbian movie with the long (very long) sex scene.” But the discomfort I felt wasn’t at the sight of sex—after all, this is a European film—or with Kechiche’s objectifying male gaze which reduces cinematic sex to pornography. The realness of emotion that Kechiche captured and that the actresses beautifully portrayed is what had me squirming in my seat. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos were awarded for their acting, not their bodies.
“Life in space is impossible.” There is no gravity, no sound, no air pressure, and no oxygen. Director Alfonso Cuarón opens the film, Gravity, with these facts about space on a black backdrop, accompanied by unnerving silence. When astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tweets dissected several inaccuracies in the film, many reviewers lashed back, arguing that the film is a science-fiction film and not a documentary: it makes no pretenses to scientific accuracy. But it does. I am neither an astrophysicist nor an astronaut—merely a chemistry major—but even I noticed a few key blunders in a film that painstakingly tries to be as scientifically accurate as possible. Little wonder science-minded viewers interpret every fact to be a taunt. Gravity throws down the gauntlet and dares us to find something wrong with it. Challenge accepted.
When I picture the 80s, I see scrunched-up leg warmers, primary-colored tights, high-cut leotards, and chunky off-the-shoulder sweaters Tae-Bo-bouncing in unison to “Eye of the Tiger” on a television of microwave thickness. I imagine the smell of aerosolized hairspray in the dressing rooms of Broadway’s Dreamgirls and the taste of glorified teenage angst served in The Breakfast Club. I hear the beats of Madonna’s “Material Girl” and feel the onslaught of the dancing plague made viral by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
But beneath the threat of environmentally unfriendly hair product dispensers and angry teenagers was a real danger, one so well known in present-day, first world, hygienic, retrovirus-aware America that we often forget how it horrified our country just thirty years ago. I’m not talking about dancing zombies. I’m talking about HIV.
I, along with almost every other college student out there, grew up in the generation of Harry Potter-mania, reading every book and eagerly hitting the theaters every summer to see the onslaught of Potter movies. Now as a college senior facing a life filled with overpriced rents and underpaid jobs, rediscovering my obsession with fantasy novels geared towards thirteen-year-olds has been quite the relief. And after binge reading the Hunger Games trilogy last week, I was skeptical to see how the movie adaptation of Catching Fire could possibly stand up to the scope of the novels. But director Francis Lawrence delivers, satisfying not just the 13-year-old book lover in me but also the cinephile. The latest installment of The Hunger Games creates a mature franchise for a post-Potter generation.
When a new franchise movie comes out, I almost always dress up to go see it, but for some reason this didn’t hold true for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. When the first movie came out last spring, my way-too-excited group of friends and I donned our leather jackets and “fiery” clothing and did our hair in our best imitation of Katniss’s signature braid. Despite the common consensus from early critics that the sequel was better than its predecessor, I guess I just wasn’t looking forward to it as much. Having already been introduced to most of the cast and knowing the feel of the script, edited and approved by author Suzanne Collins, I felt like there was less to anticipate. Looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Though you’d never guess from the title, the most dynamic character in Jules and Jim is not Jules or Jim, but Catherine. Played by a passionate Jeanne Moreau, it is she who makes François Truffaut’s 1962 film—based on Henri Pierre-Roché’s 1953 novel of the same name (which Truffaut purchased on a whim from a street-side Paris book vendor)—great. Catherine is a charming and flirtatious woman who flouts social norms and bewitches the titular characters (Oskar Werner’s ruddy Jules and Henri Serre’s severe Jim) in her quest for lasting happiness. Characterized by jump cuts and sudden transitions, Catherine’s story manages to be one of the most compelling things about a film memorable for its lovable if not entirely sympathetic characters, its ironic, fast-paced, and humorous style, and its powerful, understated symbolism. Overall, I was floored.
We celebrate the fifteenth anniversary (November 23, 2013) of Disney-Pixar’s A Bug’s Life: has it stood the test of time?
On the face of it, it seems nearly impossible to humanize insects. But those creepy crawlies that barely get our attention, save for a scream or a swat, elicit onscreen not only many a chuckle but also a great deal of emotional investment from the viewer of A Bug’s Life. This in itself is perhaps the greatest achievement of Disney and Pixar’s 1998 film chronicling the life and times of an ant colony that faces an existential crisis when a band of roving grasshoppers seeks to exact tribute from their small store of food. Moviegoers were hooked by the professional animation and visual impact of the new Pixar animation. But though the fifth highest grossing Thanksgiving movie ever, fifteen years later A Bug’s Life has failed to acquire the iconic status we bestow upon many other animated films, like The Lion King (1994), Toy Story (1995), or Finding Nemo (2003). Could the biggest reason for the film’s disappearance into cultural limbo be that A Bug’s Life was always as much covert political allegory as light children’s entertainment?
I gave my ticket to the movie theater employee expecting him to quickly rip off the stub and send me on my way to the theater showing Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s screenwriting and directorial debut, Don Jon. But the ticket collector didn’t let me through. He instead asked, “ID?” It took me a second to realize he doubted I was 17. A senior at Princeton University, I was offended I didn’t look mature enough to watch a rated R film.