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Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 11:46 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Whiplash’

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Everly Jazi.

“Whiplash”

★★★★★

In a scene from “Whiplash,” blood spurts out of aspiring drummer Andrew Neyman’s sore hands as he grips his beloved drumsticks, playing the same measure he has practiced for weeks.

Aside from the drum kit and mattress Andrew pulls inside, the room is a bare prison where he works to become the best jazz drummer in history.

Promotional poster for "Whiplash."

Promotional poster for “Whiplash.”

“Whiplash,” which has already received two awards at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the first-year jazz student Andrew (Miles Teller) as he endures massive pains, like those displayed by this scene, while attempting to join a studio band at the fictional Shaffer Music Conservatory.

As Andrew spends hours over his drumset, perfecting his work with maniacal precision, “Whiplash” exposes the music industry as a demanding and controlling powerhouse, a complete contrast to the creative, glamorous environment portrayed in the mainstream.

The studio band Andrew hopes to join is led by conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a machine-like perfectionist with a selfish, obsessive and intimidating personality who comes to represent the harsh truth of the industry.

As Andrew plays for the conductor for the first time, Fletcher gives the audience a glimpse at his caring side by genuinely saying, “Just do your best.” But as soon as Andrew misses a beat, Fletcher responds by throwing a chair at his head.

Throughout the movie, the audience is stunned by the behavior of each character and the absurd but realistic plot that feeds on its own addictive outrageousness. The audience joins in Andrew’s struggle as he works towards becoming one of the greats, while also losing his sanity.

Director Damien Chazelle leaves the audience battling the question: Is it worth becoming going crazy if great art results?

Teller’s performance was crucial to the film’s success. The actor surprised the film team with a talent for drumming and was able to play throughout the film without a stunt double. Teller conveys a seemingly shy and vulnerable character who again and again proves his resilience and strength – his aggressive but hilarious one-liners adding humor to the dark film.

During a dinner party with family friends, Andrew is overshadowed by a football star student, who urges Andrew to “come play with us.”

“Four words you’ll never hear from the NFL,” Andrew quips back.

Simmons also gives an outstanding performance, creating the perfect balance of rage and charm to portray Fletcher. His unrelenting character leaves the audience both intimidated by Fletcher’s intensity and in awe of his dedication.

Chazelle’s vision for the film, inspired by his own experience as part of a jazz studio band in high school, translates into the perfect thriller, leaving audience members gripping their seats in anticipation throughout each lengthy drum solo.

The riveting plot, a relentless take on the music industry, will leave viewers thinking long after the film, still uneasy from its 2-hour adrenaline rush.

Released: Oct. 17
Director: Damien Chazelle
Genre: Drama
Cast: Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”), J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man”), Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser (“Life After Beth”)

 

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Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 11:34 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘The Book of Life’

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Niamh Cahill-Billings.

“The Book of Life”

★★★★✰

Jorge Gutierrez’s newest animated film, “The Book of Life,” is a sweet, vibrant and surprisingly progressive alternative to the bombardment of horror films that normally take over theaters in October.

The film begins on the eve of Dia de los Muertos when La Muerta (Kate del Castillo), the leader of the rambunctious world of remembered souls, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), who watches over the desolate world of forgotten souls, make a wager on who will win the pueblo’s sweetheart, Maria (Zoe Saldana).

Promotional poster for "The Book of Life."

Promotional poster for “The Book of Life.”

Xibalba bets that Maria will marry Joaquin (Channing Tatum), the charming Adonis that saves the pueblo from evil, while La Muerta supports Manolo (Diego Luna), a musician forced to follow his family’s bullfighting tradition.

As the plot unravels, this buoyant and refreshing fantasy manages to touch on hevy concepts of death and mortality, gender roles, bullfighting and Latino machismo while also maintaining the innocence and naiveté that make the film enjoyable for all ages.

“The Book of Life” joins the ranks of the growing body of animated movies that have abandoned cliché and antiquated sentiments of what it means to be a princess, petitioning instead to represent a wider spread of cultures in film.

Woven throughout the scenes is an American-Mexican fusion of style, a theme typical of Gutierrez work, given that he grew up in Tijuana, near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Aside from boasting the largest Latino voice cast in animated movie history, the film’s costume design represents a colorful amalgamation of cultures.

Manolo, the film’s protagonist, sports a Johnny Cash-inspired matador costume meant to emphasize growing globalization and cultural mélange between Mexico and the United States, Gutierrez said in a post-screening interview. Maria’s costume was inspired by Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo, who dressed primarily in traditional Mexican attire.

But the soundtrack stands out as one of the best aspects of the film.

Diego Luna, the voice of Manolo, performs a wide variety of Latino covers of artists from Radiohead to Biz Markie and Mumford & Sons, crafting a mariachi interpretation of pop classics. While older audiences will recognize and appreciate the music choices, younger audiences are enthralled at the goofy mariachi band performing the popular tunes.

The one thing the film is missing is a villain: there’s no evil stepmother typical to so many animated films. Each character is multi-faceted and has understandable motives.

Instead, Gutierrez focuses on the pursuit of adventure rather than the strict good-versus-evil plot employed time and again, adding to the progressive nature of the film.

“The Book of Life” is a refreshing and dynamic experience, despite the heavy and somewhat controversial themes the film confronts. A focus on youth and the saliency of family with the backdrop of colorful Mexican culture lends the film a sense of airiness and ease, especially with the festive setting of El Dia de los Muertos.

It would be naive to say that cartoon culture is no longer dominated by European storylines featuring primarily white casts, but the growing trend to represent and celebrate other cultures, exemplified by “The Book of Life,” is both refreshing and promising.

Released: October 17
Director: Jorge Gutierrez (“El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera”)
Genre: Animation/Adventure
Cast: Diego Luna (“Milk,” “Elysium”), Zoe Saldana (“Avatar,” “Star Trek”), Channing Tatum (“21 Jump Street”) Kate del Castillo (“Under the Same Moon”), Ron Perlman (“Drive,” “Tangled”)

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Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014 1:27 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Gone Girl’

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Jack Alber.

“Gone Girl”

★★★★★

A mesmerizing tale of marriage, manipulation and the thirst of the media, David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” is a strong contender for movie of the year.

Promotional poster for "Gone Girl."

Promotional poster for “Gone Girl.”

The film is an adaption of the wildly popular 2012 novel of the same title by Gillian Flynn. In a rare occasion of the film world, Flynn herself was given control over the screenplay, which she absolutely nailed.

In “Gone Girl,” the plot doesn’t thicken, it congeals.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is a seemingly perfect husband to his seemingly perfect wife, the witty, intelligent Amy (Rosamund Pike). When Amy suddenly goes missing on the couple’s fifth anniversary, the ensuing manhunt grips the country and begins to expose the cracks in the facade of Nick and Amy’s “perfect marriage,” posing the question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Tyler Perry plays celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt, who specializes in defending husbands, little-known actress Carrie Coon (“The Leftovers”) takes the part of Nick’s loyal sister Margo and Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”) is Amy’s long-ago and insanely creepy ex boyfriend, Desi Collings.

Affleck gives Nick’s every movement and thought a subtle but striking touch, creating a character that is at times charming and at other times despicable. Perry adds refreshing moments of humor to the dark film, and Harris fits perfectly into a Fincher film with his ability to bottle up his natural charm, appearing simultaneously genuine and strange.

But it is Pike’s performance that truly makes the film.

Granted, she has the most dimensions of a character to work with, and nearly every revolution of the plot gives her a moment to shine. But Pike knocks her role as manipulative, complex Amy out of the park with every word, look and breath.

She is perfectly composed, yet perfect at letting her composure fall apart.

The dark, moody cinematography is nothing too spectacular, but the soundtrack is the true lifeblood of the film, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross turning in a throbbing and tense score guaranteed to make viewers all the more thrilled as the events unfold – not that you’ll need any help.

As the characters wriggle around in their deceptions, the meaning of the movie itself seems as difficult to pin down as the truth about Amy’s disappearance.

On the one hand, “Gone Girl” presents a sober and pessimistic – albeit highly exaggerated – depiction of the dangers of love. But the film could also represent a satire, or indictment, of the gossip peddlers that dominate news media today, or a warning of the dishonesty and distortion that can come from living a charade.

Maybe none, maybe all three. But whatever you walk away with, “Gone Girl” is guaranteed to make you think long after the credits start rolling.

Surprisingly humorous at parts, poisonously dark, intensely gripping, “Gone Girl” is a film that will be talked about for generations to come.

Released: Oct. 3
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Thriller
Cast: Ben Affleck (“Argo,” “Good Will Hunting”), Rosamund Pike (“Pride & Prejudice”), Tyler Perry (“Diary of a Mad Black Woman”), Carrie Coon (“The Leftovers”), Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”)

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Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014 6:50 p.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Wetlands’

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Eric Robinson.

“Wetlands”

★★★★✰

Sex comedies are always problematic.

Most indulge exclusively in sexist male fantasies. Yet with his latest film, German director David Wnendt defies this trend, presenting an unflinchingly honest depiction of sex from the perspective of a teenage girl.

Promotional poster for "Wetlands."

Promotional poster for “Wetlands.”

“Wetlands” follows the exploits of sex-obsessed Helen Memel (Carla Juri), who embarks on various sexual escapades while scheming to reunite her separated parents.

After a reckless shaving accident, Helen ends up in the hospital, where she reflects on her lifestyle choices and attempts to charm a young male nurse.

The film presents imagery that is, to put it mildly, revolting. Whether it’s four guys masturbating into a pizza or Helen swapping bloody tampons with a good friend, “Wetlands” is not for the squeamish.

Though the scenes in “Wetlands” are absurd, Wnendt’s presentation of grotesque bodily functions is at least true to life. Whereas other films would avoid even showing nudity, Wnendt does the audience the courtesy of revealing every dirty detail.

In one memorable shot during the opening minutes, the camera actually zooms in on a toilet seat teeming with microorganisms.

Wnendt approaches this imagery with both humor and a surprising amount of heart. When Helen and a friend use their own period blood as warpaint, what would normally register as just ridiculous and disgusting becomes hilarious and weirdly touching.

But the film’s writers, Wnendt and Claus Falkenberg, enter dark territory as well. Suicide and divorce serve as a backdrop to the film’s examination of modern teenage sex culture.

Juri gives an outstanding performance as the mischievous and snarky Helen, while also adding a shade of mournfulness to her character that works in the film’s darker moments.

For all its honesty, the movie falters with a generic rom-com-style ending. This moment of insincerity is not enough to topple the entire piece, but seems out of place compared to the rest of the film.

Ultimately, Wnendt’s effort is a welcome change for sex comedies. Profane, nauseating and somber at times, yet sweet, funny and touching, “Wetlands” succeeds because of its willingness to engage with the topic at hand – sex – in a way that’s both frank and entertaining.

Released: Sept. 5
Director: David Wnendt
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Marlen Cruse

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Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 10:52 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Love is Strange’

“Love is Strange”

★★★✰✰

Updated: Sept. 3, 2014 at 11:15 p.m.

While superhero movies and sci-fi thrillers have recently taken over the industry, sometimes you’d like some realism on the screen.

A scene from "Love is Strange." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

A scene from “Love is Strange.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Love is Strange” submerges the audience in the high-brow, art-loving world of Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), who finally marry after almost 40 years as a couple. But not everyone is happy to hear that news.

George, who is a choir instructor at a Catholic school, is asked to leave his position, and the couple, now in financial ruin, decide to live separately until they can afford an apartment of their own.

The decision prompts Ben to live with his nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan). Meanwhile, George lives with friends Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Pérez), two gay policemen who often turn their small apartment into a raging club.

Director Ira Sachs adds comic relief to scenes with depictions of ordinary dilemmas: Ben is forced to share a bunk bed with young Joey, and while Ben constantly talks to Kate while she is writing, he complains when others do the same.

“I can’t really work if there’s someone else around,” Ben says to Kate ironically.

But beneath a comedic exterior, Sachs crafts a film with artistic depth. The film is based on three different phases of love – represented by Ben, Elliot and Joey – a theme that is subtly woven into the movie throughout yet retains a poignant influence on the viewer. Sometimes, though, the subtlety of “Love is Strange” muddles the concept and detracts from the message.

Interestingly, “Love is Strange” is a personal story for Sachs, who drew inspiration for many characters from people in his own life. He manages to turn the stories of past mentors and experiences into a linear depiction of love.

With New York City as a setting for the drama, characters depicted with careful attention to personality traits and an unexpected story that brings unique perspectives to love, “Love is Strange” is the perfect pick for some quiet contemplation.

Released: Aug. 29
Director: Ira Sachs (“Married Life” and “Forty Shades of Blue”)
Genre: Drama
Cast: John Lithgow (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), Alfred Molina (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), Marisa Tomei (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”), Charlie Tahan (“Charlie St. Cloud”)

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the character Ben complained that Kate constantly talked to him while he was writing. He actually complained to Kate that others had done that to him. We regret this error.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 11:46 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Boyhood’

boyhood_xlg“Boyhood”

★★★★✰

The concept behind Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is one-of-a-kind: a movie that follows a boy from age six to 18, filmed with the same actors over 12 years.

The word “nostalgic” doesn’t come close to encompassing this movie. Still, viewers don’t necessarily walk away from the film thinking they’ve just seen a masterpiece of a project. It feels more like a great home movie, the kind you secretly love to watch with your family on rainy days.

In the theater, the audience genuinely laughed at cutesy kids jokes and often whispered to each other when scenes between parents reminded them of their own.

The movie follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he watches anime, attends the book release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” rides a bicycle with a friend on a RipStik and spends class time traveling the Oregon Trail on a PC. As audience members watch the kids get braces, play the new Game Boy Advance and eventually grow facial hair, they are immersed in the movie’s realistic quality. Shooting in short bursts from 2002 to 2013, the filmmakers didn’t need to set the scene or buy the right items from eBay to fit the time. The costume directors didn’t have to go to Goodwill to buy clothes from 2003.

“Boyhood” not only enthralls viewers with a convincing story, but also makes them remember their childhoods, the time their parents fought, the time they had to go to a new school. Linklater shows all of these common experiences without making the film too self-aware of the feat it is accomplishing.

In the early years, Mason is a quiet, shy boy who is overshadowed by his loud, attention-seeking sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Living with their mother, the children are overjoyed when their somewhat irresponsible and immature father (Ethan Hawke) comes back from Alaska in his black, 1968 Pontiac GTO with a pile of presents inside.

The audience really gets to know Mason a few years later when he and his father go camping. Mason starts to develop into a more independent and unique character. As the story progresses, he deals with multiple moves within Texas, alcoholic stepfathers, girl problems, bullies and deciding what to do after high school. His dad changes, his mom changes, his sister changes, he changes and we watch it all on the screen.

Linklater is known for his attention to detail, and this talent is ever-present in “Boyhood.” He is one of those directors who you swear must keep a running list of ordinary things people say so he can include them in every movie. But rather than the usual philosophical and theoretical banter in his “Before” films or “Slacker,” Linklater’s dialogue is centered on everyday life and follows the actual experiences of growing up.

The sentimental soundtrack fits the scenes of the movie nicely, with songs playing during the years they were actually released: “Yellow” starts the movie off and goodies like “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” are sprinkled in. Those details remind viewers that they are watching a movie that spanned years of filming.

A lot happens in the almost three-hour movie, but “Boyhood” never feels overwhelming. Transitions move the audience seamlessly from one glimpse of each year in Mason’s life to the next. His boyhood ends in the final scene: a hike with new friends. It’s a start to another chapter beyond the camera lens.

Released: July 18
Director: Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused” and “Before Midnight”)
Genre: Coming of Age/Drama
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette (“Medium”), Ethan Hawke (“Reality Bites” and “The Purge”)

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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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