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Saturday, March 8, 2014 7:06 p.m.

What We’re Watching: “The Wind Rises”

Hatchet reporter Tim Palmieri shares his latest movie experience.

The Wind Rises

★★★★½✰

the wind risesFamed director Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song, “The Wind Rises” is a gorgeous, emotional and unique animated adventure representing youthful ambition and the horror of war.

Loosely based on real events, a young boy living in pre-World War II Japan named Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dreams of being a pilot. Over time, Jiro grows to love building airplanes for their elegance, but realizes they are ultimately instruments of destruction. As ethics are questioned and Japan struggles through the film, Jiro must have faith in himself in order to create a masterpiece for the fulfillment of his life and his country.

The complexity of “The Wind Rises” makes it rich with symbolism, controversy and inspiration from the inventive sequences to the historical depictions of Japan.

Anri Yasuda, assistant professor of Japanese at GW, remembers watching Miyazaki’s films growing up and has always admired his ability to encapsulate realistic humanity in animation, something that “The Wind Rises” highlights in every scene.

“The unique power of Miyazaki’s works lies in how these plausible people and worlds mesh with more magical elements,” Yasuda said. “This more humanist approach has been inspiring new generations of manga and anime works, alongside the continuing popularity of more fantasy-laden and stylistically extreme works.”

The attention to detail and the various lighting effects pull audiences deeper into the experience. Composer Joe Hisaishi’s enchanting soundtrack fits the delicate animation perfectly.

Characters in the film are flowing with personality and realism because of the excellent voice cast. Gordon-Levitt as Jiro fits the persona of a quiet, intelligent, gentleman and Emily Blunt channels the emotional impact needed behind the young traveler Naoko. Martin Short is humorous as Jiro’s boss Kurokawa and lends himself to some of the film’s lighter moments. Additional recognizable names, like John Krasinski and Stanley Tucci, contribute to the enjoyment of the film by rounding out a diverse cast of characters.

Minor pacing issues prevent the film from attaining perfection, although these are hardly a detriment to the overall experience. Coming off of numerous classics such as “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” Miyazaki has once again proven his legacy in the industry with this majestic bittersweet film.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Genre: Animated, Historical, Fantasy, Adventure
Cast: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski
Release Date: February 28, 2014
Watch if you liked: Spirited away, Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle

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Hatchet reporters Allison Kowalski and Andrew Avrick catch up on “Arrested Development.”

Your first alarm has gone off since being home for summer break, exactly 15 minutes before 3 a.m., because as the internet has been warning you for the past several months, “Arrested Development” came back for its fourth season Sunday on Netflix.

And, yeah, in hindsight, waking up at 3 a.m. when you went to bed at midnight might not have been the best idea for a focused Netflix binge, but we’ll be here doing a close watch, reviewing each episode, cataloging the best and worst of what we see.

Episode 1: “Flight of the Phoenix”

Number of “Charlie Brown” sad theme references: 1
Number of “Loose seal/Lucille” references: 1
“Workaholics” cast cameos: 4
Best one-liner: “You ever even been on a plane, you piece of shit?” Michael to P-Hound, George Michael’s college roommate

Just as the screen loads, I’m taking bets in my mind on what character makes the first appearance on screen. Right now my money’s on Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth. I’m wrong: it’s Kristen Wiig as a young Lucille Bluth. And so the cameos begin.

Opposite Wiig is Seth Rogen as a young George Bluth, Sr. A young Lucille leers wide-eyed from her balcony with a green face mask, overlooking the pier below and tapping her fingers together in an homage to the Grinch, only this time, the character is reinventing Cinco de Mayo, not ruining Christmas. Lucille and George together craft “Cinco de Cuatro” in order to destroy the party supplies before the holiday that Lucille has such deep contempt for.

But the real focus of this episode is Michael Bluth; As creator Mitch Horowitz has said, each episode will focus on one main character and their story. We see Michael is apparently in debt to his mother’s nemesis, Lucille Austero, and it’s insinuated that he sleeps with her to pay this off. Then we have a flashback to how this all began.

Most of the episode is spent with Michael living in his son George Michael’s (Michael Cera) dorm room, with George Michael trying to softly and awkwardly find a way to kick him out. George Michael and his actual roommate, P-Hound, are currently working on an “anti-social network,” a perfect reference to the fact that Cera is often mistaken for Jesse Eisenberg, star of “The Social Network.”

The narrator addresses the six-year gap between seasons three and four by calling it “The Great Dark Period,” and the flashbacks are told using a pop-up timeline as a reference, which can become a little overwhelming. This first episode was a solid start, but definitely needs your keen attention so you can see the setups in future episodes.

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Contributing culture editor Olivia Kantor shares her latest cinematic experience.

The Great Gatsby” (2013)

★★★★✰

A little party never killed anyone – oh wait…

The Charleston pounds and pulsates against a backdrop of dubstep and crooning pop music.Welcome to a jazz era mixed with thumping beats, foaming bottles of champagne and copious amount of glitter. At the center of this era of swing and swishing hemlines is not only Jay Gatsby, but director Baz Luhrman’s Jay Gatsby. A brooding and dreamy Leonardo DiCaprio, decked out in a dashing suit, staring into that hypnotic green light.

You know the story: It follows Nick Carraway, played by a wide-eyed Toby Maguire, and his experience with his mysterious neighbor Gatsby. It’s the classic tale of the corrupted American dream and the perils of trying to replicate the past

Popular sentiment has held that Gatsby is not fit for film. The 1925 novel, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, has often experienced heavy-handed transfers to the stage and screen. Its been argued that true artistry and lasting power of the Gatsby come from its prose and language. The absence of Fitzgerald’s words makes most adaptions seem shallow and incomplete on screen. For many, Fitzgerald’s iconic masterpiece is best shown in black ink on a white page.

If you’re hoping for a historic period adaption of the great American novel, this is not the Gatsby for you. Luhrman has a reputation for being wonderfully sacrilegious. His version of Romeo and Juliet (also staring DiCaprio) was more acid-trip circa 1980s Miami than Elizabethan tragedy. His inventiveness and artistic vision turns Fitzgerald’s novel into a visional spectacle. While he sticks to the novel scene by scene, splashes famous lines across the screen, and allows Nick Caraway’s inner monologues to narrate the action, Luhrman does it in a gaudy, operatic style.

“Is all this made entirely from your own imagination?” Daisy Buchanan, played by the ethereal Carey Mulligan, asks Gatsby. In the case of Gatsby, and even direction Baz Luhrman, the answer is yes.

Director: Baz Luhrman
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton
Genre: Drama
Release Date: May 10

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013 12:48 p.m.

What We’re Watching: “Iron Man 3″

Iron Man 3

Promo Poster for Iron Man 3

Hatchet reporter Andrew Avrick describes his latest cinematic experience.

It’s a surprisingly well-written comedy in between explosions.

The “Iron Man” series bursts back on the screen in a flurry of high tech armor and dramatic destructions of Malibu mansions. This time we find Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) struggling to stop a horrific terrorism campaign being waged by The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Audiences finally get a glimpse of the real Tony Stark, without his genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist reputation, or his famous suit. But despite this strong premise, the movie often feels like a wasted opportunity.

The film explores themes of dual identities, and like the characters it portrays, it also has trouble making sense of itself. The film’s subversive sense of humor, which blends extremely well with Robert Downey, Jr.’s sharp delivery, makes dramatic scenes awkward. The trailers prominently feature a somber Stark pulling a lifeless Iron Man suit through the snow, but in the film, the moment comes off as amusing.

It doesn’t help that Iron Man 3 is the first picture from Marvel Studios to be released in a post-”Avengers” world, both in terms of audience expectations and unnecessary incorporation of the events as a prologue. The characters incessantly remind each other (and in turn the viewer) about how different the world is after the Norse gods, wormholes and Shawarma laid siege on New York. The only person it seems to have had any effect on is Tony, whose crippling panic attacks are used as a fairly hollow plot device.

Regardless, “Iron Man 3″ will still entertain most of the audiences it needs to impress with stunning visual effects and a solid cast, including Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow and Guy Pearce. Despite the missteps, it’s hard to knock the superhero blockbuster too much – things blow up, people say funny things. “Iron Man 3″ is simply an average entry in a franchise where expectations are usually set a tad higher, slowing down Marvel’s post-”Avengers” momentum.

Starring: Robert Downy Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce

Director: Shane Black

Genre: Superhero action

 

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Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 10:27 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Olivia Kantor shares her latest television experience.

House of Cards – Chapter 1” (2013)
★★★★★

Viewers are first introduced to “House of Cards” central character, the congressman and majority whip Francis Underwood, as he strangles a dog in a crisp white tuxedo shirt.

Clearly, this is not a typical political thriller.

Directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards” is Netflix’s first foray into the television industry. Based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” the show centers on the deliciously ruthless Congressman Underwood’s collusive ascent to power in D.C. After getting passed over for secretary of state, Underwood goes rogue, and as he states in his velvety smooth southern gait, he doesn’t belong to anyone anymore. This liberation sets off a string of political conquests filled with scandal, revenge and delightfully sinister dealings.

Spacey is by far the show’s greatest asset. He crafts Underwood as a study in contrasts: On the exterior he possesses a charismatic southern charm, but internally he maintains an eerie, sociopathic demeanor. This tension between the congenial congressman and the cold-hearted realist grabs the viewer and propels the narrative, as told in gripping scenes of Underwood venomously outlining plans to annihilate the careers of his political rivals as he nonchalantly sanitizes his hands.

Though “House of Cards” plays into an already overflowing niche of political thrillers, it brings something new to the tired genre. Underwood often breaks the fourth wall by addressing the camera directly, plotting and scheming with the viewers. The audience plays Spacey’s confidante, and in return, he offers them a chance to become the ultimate Washington insider.

Welcome to Washington, as Underwood announces to us—and the world of binge television.

Director: David Fincher
Genre: Drama
Cast:
Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Larry Pine

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Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 10:57 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Jesslyn Angelia shares her latest movie experience.

Warm Bodies” (2013)
★★★½✩✩

In many ways, “Warm Bodies” fits the mold of an archetypal romantic comedy.

But then there’s the whole zombie thing.

An inventive mash-up of Shakespeare and zombies based on the novel of the same name, “Warm Bodies” revolves around the life of R (Nicholas Hoult), an unusual zombie who, despite being limited to grunting and uttering monosyllabic sounds, gives the audience a glimpse of his mind with his narrative voice overs. On a hunt for brains, R encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer), a human, and falls in love with her after eating her boyfriend’s brain and inheriting his memories. From then on, R adopts a decidedly human trait: He becomes Julie’s protector, not her predator.

While “Warm Bodies” had a promising premise, its neatly packaged ending felt all too contrived. And in the scope of zombie movies, it’s entirely overshadowed by films like “Zombieland,” a more funny and original apocalyptic tale. I definitely expected more from director Jonathan Levine, known for films like “50/50.” Still, praise must be given for the solid cast and a fun, oldies soundtrack.

Ultimately, “Warm Bodies” is an elevated twist on a date night movie. It’s “Twilight” with more humor, less cheese-factor, a cohesive story line and an engaging cast.

Director:
Jonathan Levine
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco
Release Date:
Feb. 1

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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 11:03 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Emily Holland shares her latest movie experience.

Mama” (2013)
★★★✰✰

Not many horror films gain both critical acclaim and top box office ratings, but then again, “Mama” is not your average horror film.

Produced by Guillermo del Toro, the mastermind behind “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Mama” skyrockets the horror genre out of its typical cheap stereotype and into the spotlight.

Based on a short film of the same name, “Mama” follows the story of two young girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse), who are abandoned in the woods by their father. Together, they survive for five years under the care of a mysterious being they call “mama.” When their uncle and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) gain custody of the children after they are found, they soon realize that becoming parents isn’t going to be an easy task, especially since the girls have turned into savages during their abandonment. As the girls become more civilized and grow closer to their new family, “mama” gets jealous and strange things start to happen around the house.

The first three-quarters of this movie are full of suspense and mystery. What exactly is “mama”? Initially, only glimpses of her distorted figure shadow are seen. But as the plot continues to develop and “mama” becomes less of a mystery, the scare factor drops dramatically. By the end of the movie, she became almost funny to look at. Instead of being scared by this character, the audience laughed whenever it popped up onscreen.

Still, the movie boasts admirable performances. Chastain does well as the punk-rock girlfriend turned caring mother, and, let’s face it, not all Academy Award nominees are going to be stellar all the time (take Jennifer Lawrence in “House at the End of the Street,” for example). Charpentier and Nélisse display remarkable performances, and show convincing, subtle changes in behavior throughout the movie.

Even with its ups and downs, “Mama” is worth it for a quick scary movie fix.

Director: Andrés Muschietti
Genre:
Horror
Cast:
Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier 
Release Date:
Jan. 18

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Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 9:27 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet staff writers Julie Alderman and Karolina Ramos share their latest movie experience.

Les Misérables” (2012)
★★★★½✰

Devoted fans of the musical, and even those rare literature buffs who have read the novel in its entirety, may have their worries about “Les Misérables,” the film adaptation of the famed Broadway production. Will the film actors butcher the songs musical aficionados grew up with? Could the studly Hugh Jackman pull off the look of an old man? Can Russell Crowe even sing?

The answers to such inquiries prove surprising in one of the most talked-about films of the season.

Taking place in the post-French Revolutionary period, the story revolves around Jean Valjean (Jackman), a petty felon who seeks to establish a new identity after a recent jail release. Unable to catch a break, Valjean is vigilantly chased around France by scrutinizing inspector Javert (Crowe). As he ventures throughout France, Valjean comes across desperate characters vying to survive amidst proletariat rebellion, from impoverished mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to student activist Marius (Eddie Redmayne).

Director Tom Hooper departed from traditional approaches to movie musicals, having the cast sing live instead of lip syncing with a prerecorded track. Some fared better than others, like musical theater alums Jackman and Hathaway, while others, namely Crowe, struggled to deliver revered Broadway classics with skill.  Hathaway’s visceral rendition of the classic “I Dreamed a Dream” rightfully left movie-goers in tears. And although we’re not complaining about Jackman’s abundant v-necks displaying off his muscular pecs, it was hard to believe he was playing a rugged 60 year-old man with a felonious past.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, a quick Wikipedia search may be in order to understand the complexities of the entirely-sung story. If you’re already averse to musicals, “Les Mis” is probably one to avoid.  Still, the film is sure to satisfy Broadway-devotees and French literature buffs alike.

Director: Tom Hooper
Genre:
Drama, Musical
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried
Release Date: Dec. 25

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Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 6:16 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Emily Holland shares her latest movie experience.

Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)
★★★★½✰

When two major actors step out of their traditional cinematic comfort zones, it serves tales of mental illness well. Just ask Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

A quirky interpretation of a Matthew Quick novel, “Silver Linings Playbook” tells the story of Pat Solitano, Jr. (Bradley Cooper), a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder after breaking into a violent outburst sparked by the discovery of his wife’s cheating ways. Upon being released from a treatment facility after eight months, Pat adopts a new philosophy of optimism and belief in silver linings in order to be reunited with his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee). Along his quest to fix his marriage, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow of a police officer with her own set of complicated mental issues. The pair’s friendship flourishes through their dance partnership, but even more through their shared emotional struggles and past pains.

The film boasts many other “crazy” characters, including Robert De Niro as the OCD, football-obsessed Pat, Sr. and Chris Tucker as Pat’s friend from the mental hospital. Both Cooper and Lawrence deliver their best career performances in the movie, and the role is a refreshing change for the typically comedy-leaning Cooper. With their surprising yet superb chemistry, the pair display their mastery of the entire spectrum of emotions and an ability to convey a hidden complexity beneath the surface of their characters. The performances felt so authentic that the audience couldn’t help but clap after Pat and Tiffany performed their dance.

With a confidence that garners favor from audience members and critics alike, and a carefully crafted script which reveals a soft, humorous side to mental illness, this crazy, fun, drama-filled film is nearly flawless, carried by masterful direction, a clever script and unprecedented performances.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Release Date: Nov. 21

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Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 4:43 p.m.

What We’re Watching

Hatchet reporter Jesslyn Angelia shares her latest movie experience.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” (2012)
★★✰✰✰

I’ll start by saying that Twi-hards will not be disappointed. When watching what we hope is the last of the “Twilight” franchise, one will get what anyone would expect from the teen romance saga: a shirtless Taylor Lautner, sappy clichés and sparkling vampires. If that isn’t what you’re looking forward to, then expect to be rolling your eyes throughout the movie.

The movie begins where audiences were left off in Breaking Dawn – Part One. Bella (Kristen Stewart) awakens from her slumber to find that she’s been turned into a newborn vampire and proceeds to experiment with her new supernatural skills. Bella sees her daughter, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) for the first time, and is surprised to see that she’s grown so quickly. She’s even more surprised when she finds out that Jacob (Taylor Lautner) had imprinted on her daughter. The plot thickens as Irina (Maggie Grace), a fellow vampire, mistakes Renesmee for an “immortal child” and reports the Cullens to the Volturi, the ruthless group of vampire ruling class who immediately plan on exterminating Renesmee because of the threat she poses on exposing the vampires to the humans. In attempt to protect their daughter from the evil clutches of the Volturi, the Cullens go on a search for vampire witnesses all around the world in order to convince them that Renesmee is not a threat.

The movie is predictable and transitions poorly between scenes. The acting is less than mediocre (smile for once, Kristen Stewart?) and the awful CGI — especially of baby Renesmee — gives the movie a low-budget look. However, I must admit that there are some unexpected twists to the movie.  A steamy romance scene only fifteen minutes in proves scintillating, and the film’s climactic battle scene is largely entertaining and unforeseen until … well, let’s not spoil it.

Bottom line for all non-”Twilight” fans?  It wouldn’t hurt too much to watch this latest installment in spite of the inevitable eye rolling. If nothing else, you’ll at least get a good kick out of seeing all the decapitation.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Action
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning
Release Date: Nov. 16

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