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Fantastic Beasts Finds Success

Just as academics need to reveal any conflicts of interest in their studies, so do I feel the need to admit a bias right off the bat here: I love Harry Potter. I read the series growing up; I waited until midnight for the sixth and seventh book releases; and I have a themed hat, scarf, bathrobe and wallet.  J.K. Rowling has left a huge imprint on my life, and when I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007, I felt an emptiness. That was it. No more visiting the Wizarding World with any new stories.

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Man with a Movie Camera: Stylistic Innovation, Substantive Rumination

When asked to analogize Russian documentarian Dziga Vertov, who died in 1954, to a more contemporary artist, I have difficulty locating an answer. For a lot of other filmmakers, this isn’t so. The work of Akira Kurosawa, cinema’s most refined master of breathtaking spectacle and intelligent kineticism, can be aesthetically paralleled to the maximalist records of Kanye West, whose symphonic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy remains among the most rousing and epic of this century’s popular music. The philosophical films of director Terrence Malick, which follow characters ambling aimlessly through existence in search of earthly salvation, parallel the music of Sufjan Stevens: thematically in their shared Christianity, aesthetically in how their subdued emotional intensity is conjured by sporadic acknowledgements of quiet wonder. Dziga Vertov, on the other hand, defies easy categorization.

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Three Takes on Arrival

“What happens now?”

“They arrive.”

by Elyes Benatar

Arrival. The title itself echoes as a strike against convention. This is not a film about aliens invading. It’s a film about aliens arriving. It’s a film that presents a realistic narrative about humanity’s attempts at contact and interaction with extraterrestrial beings.

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Sew Their Mouths To Prevent Further Sequels

What do you think when you think horror? A rated R flick that tries to scare the daylights out of you? Recently, rated R has become a dying art replaced by PG-13, a much bigger and more profitable demographic. But does it work? It does in The Haunting (1963) (rated G) and Lights Out (recent PG-13 flick) but doesn’t always, as with the 2014 film Ouija.

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You Just Got Trolled

Well, I said this before in a past installment of my column Animation Analysis, but I must repeat it here with greater sincerity: I owe DreamWorks Animation an apology. All of the previous flak I’ve given Trolls, I would like to redirect to their marketing team for making me think this was going to be a stinker of a film. Seriously though, do some reorganizing in that department. The cringeworthy teaser gave us twerking trolls; the film itself actually turned out far better than I dared to hope. To be sure, it has its share of flaws, but overall DreamWorks’ Trolls, directed by Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell, actually delivers a good time.

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Sonic Sea: An Ocean of Emotion

It’s no secret that humans are destroying the earth at an alarming rate. However, not much is being done because not enough people care. The 60-minute documentary Sonic Sea explores the impact of noise pollution on whales and other marine mammals and presents possible solutions and measures that can be taken to prevent more harm. The documentary opens with an animation of the sea, along with soothing music, setting the stage for an emotional journey that could make any landlubber want to do anything in their power to save our oceans and marine mammals. The film first explores the increasing number of whale and dolphin beachings and features several scientists each giving their take on the situation, as well as mildly graphic images of the stranded animals.

Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE..Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)..Photo Credit: Film Frame ..©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Strange: A Psychedelic Cure to Superhero Fatigue

You’ve felt it, I’ve felt it, we’ve all felt it:

Superhero Fatigue. With the constant slew of superhero blockbusters flooding cinema screens, it’s hard to keep this genre fresh. These films all share a remarkably similar structure, as well as common tropes like love interests, wise sages and all-powerful enemies. However, beyond the similarities within the genre itself, we now have the convention of cinematic universes. The pioneering Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has inspired a trend of shared universes including the lackluster DC Comics films, an attempted Monster Movie Universe, and now I hear they’re making a spinoff of The Big Lebowski centering on Jesus (the bowler, not the messianic figure).

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Metropolis: Alloy Orchestra Come to Cornell Cinema

Created in 1927, Metropolis (dir. Fritz Lang) is a classic urban dystopian tale — we follow the story of Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of the wealthy Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel), whose power and influence essentially keep the city running, and Maria (Brigitte Helm), a young woman who is a saint to the poor underground workers who keep the city’s essential machinery running through long, tiring shifts. With the class struggle as a core driving force of the plot, Metropolis was initially criticized for communist themes — and shortly after the premiere, the film was heavily edited and shortened. On Saturday night, Cornell Cinema played the most recent restoration of the film, done in 2010, which, amazingly, has restored 95% of the original film. Despite the length of this restoration (over two hours), the film is well worth it — filled with the Art deco themes that are so indicative of the twenties, Metropolis feels strangely modern; it’s visually pleasing, even in black-and-white.

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The Innocents: Fascinating Premise, Mediocre Execution

For as long as film has existed, nuns have been subjects of intense fascination to cinema-goers. Whether it be in Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947) — which follows a small group of them as they establish a mission among the unreceptive, “primitive” people of the Nepalese mountains — or Pawel Pawlowski’s recent Ida (2013) — which follows an adolescent nun in post-WW2 Poland as she comes to terms with her Jewish ethnicity before she is to profess her final vows — filmmakers have tended to use nuns as easy symbols of naiveté who, upon leaving the convent, are confronted by a hostile universe where their faith is tested at best, or ruined at worst. While the reigning, anti-theistic ideology that underlies most films about nuns (Sister Act is the only exception that now comes to mind) isn’t inherently problematic, the aestheticization of faith has, on occasion, tended to reduce the complexities of religious conviction to simple-to-resolve binaries. When audiences are deprived of the opportunity to meditate over the many, contradictory possibilities that grapple with whether there exists a higher power, an afterlife or a divinely-mandated moral paradigm, we are right to feel intellectually patronized. This sentiment justifies one’s dismissiveness toward the bludgeoning “God’s not dead he’s truly alive!” of God’s Not Dead (2014) and, on the other end of the spectrum, the irritating anti-religiosity of The Innocents, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year.

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Jack Reacher: A Relatable Hero Marred by Poor Screenwriting

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is exactly what I expected it to be. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but watching this movie with the wrong expectations could be rough. I’d place this in the realm of the first three Transformers movies (Age of Extinction was just garbage) — not strictly good films, but fun if you’re willing to turn off your brain a little. The Jack Reacher films are based on Lee Child’s popular long-running novel series of the same name. Never Go Back is largely based on the plot of the eighteenth novel in the series, with which it shares its title.