Movies to catch up on from break
Over Cadenza’s month and a half hiatus, there has been an excess of film releases. As the student body gets back into the swing of the semester, we know it’s hard to find time to squeeze in all of them. So, we’ve sorted through them for you, and we present a few of the must-sees.
The first stand-alone film in the “Star Wars” franchise, “Rogue One” follows the motley crew of rebels who steal the Death Star plans that the rebellion later uses to destroy the station in “Episode 4.” The movie sparked fandom controversy over its darker tone and use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) to resurrect a deceased actor. It’s been a box office smash, which, though unsurprising, is important given that the ensemble is made up of a white woman, a Mexican man, two Chinese men and a man of South Asian heritage, all of whom retain their natural accents. In this way, “Rogue One” proves that diverse casts can make box office hits. The first half is, admittedly, a jumble of new and old characters and plotlines, with a fairly mixed message on political resistance. But all that is forgotten as the final battle gears up, and everything and everyone you’ve come to love is threatened. The finale is tense and emotional, and by the time a familiar face returns to close the film, the message is clear: Resistance is crucial, no matter the cost.
Set against the backdrop of a black community in 1950s Pittsburgh, “Fences,” based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, explores the emotional impact of racism, the power of family and what it means to find one’s place. Garbage collector Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a hardworking father and husband, who serves as the primary breadwinner in his family. Frustrated by the discrimination that prevented him from achieving success as a professional baseball player, Troy is reluctant to allow his youngest son, Cory, to attend college to play football. Cory and Troy have never quite seen eye to eye, and the disagreement over Cory’s future creates an all but unhealable rift between them. As the family buckles under the weight of poverty, held together only by the immense strength of Troy’s wife, Rose (Viola Davis), each member is forced to reflect on what is truly important in this world. Likely because of its origins on the stage, “Fences” has a strong theatrical feel: It’s situated primarily in and around the Maxsons’ house and keeps up a powerful dialogue, with phrases that seem to be lifted right out of a poem. It’s an emotional roller coaster that takes a mirror to humanity—as all art should do—and reflects a tough image to face, from a time not so long ago. And if you’re not already convinced that it’s worthy, “Fences” has received four Oscar nominations, including a nomination for Best Picture.
The cultural and historic importance of “Hidden Figures” has been discussed at length. It is a film that tells the true story of three black women—Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson—who played an instrumental role in the launching of NASA’s first space missions. It had been a story notoriously ignored by history, until now. Yet an even more rewarding discussion is the fact that the film is given the cinematic treatment it deserves, with a stellar cast, a tightly crafted screenplay and a sensible direction that recognizes the enormous value of this story. It’s an important accomplishment, given that past Hollywood films dealing with racism have been overtly sensationalized and glossy. “Hidden Figures” has already made history by topping the box office two weekends in a row, becoming the first film with three black female leads to accomplish such feat. Although the film’s source is magnificent enough, the astronomical performances by Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer transform the film into a deeply emotional, uproarious and meaningful ride.
—Alberto De La Rosa
A Monster Calls
Adapted from a children’s novel, “A Monster Calls” tells the story of a boy whose mother is dying of cancer. The boy struggles to cope by acting out and dreaming of a tree monster, who tells him three stories that ultimately prepare him to deal with the fate of his mother. It’s a beautiful movie—dark, raw and unflinching in its portrayal of suffering, but with splashes of gorgeous watercolor animations during the monster’s stories. I took my mother, who battled cancer when I was 16, to see the film with me. Obviously, we cried well into the credits, but we left feeling incredibly grateful that the movie exists to help some family out there better understand and cope with a tragedy like this.
Manchester by the Sea
Warning: Be prepared for a tearjerker. The contents of this movie are deeply personal and pull its audience into a complex story that unveils piece by piece on the big screen. Telling the story of an uncle who takes custody of his nephew after the boy’s father dies, “Manchester by the Sea” serves as a cornerstone example of human struggle and imperfection, appearing all the more moving through its display of grieving characters and the strength and humility with which they go about life. The beautiful solitude and realism of the movie’s visuals on where and how these individuals live evoke an even stronger emotional response. “Manchester by the Sea” has received several Oscar nominations and an enormous 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
There are several things the “Lion” trailer did not prepare me for. First, that nearly half the movie would depict the main character’s life as a child, showing his journey across India after getting stuck on a train and lost from his family. Second, that the film would be darker and more realistic than its heartwarming, Disney magic trailer led me to believe. Despite my own misconceptions, I did not feel disappointed. The film was well-crafted and heart wrenching, adapting the real life of Saroo, who searched for his biological family years later despite not knowing where he was born. It’s an honest meditation on adoption and the construction of families of all kinds, with strong performances by Dev Patel as adult Saroo and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother.
Not a single film on this list will provide such a wholesome, delightful and energetic viewing experience as “Sing Street.” With a killer original soundtrack, this story about a confident high schooler who forms a rock band to win a girl over is the type of relief we need, amidst all the bad stuff going on around us. Directed by John Carney, the film borrows from ‘80s John Hughes films, in a way that feels unique, in part due to the musical aspects. Beyond that, “Sing Street” edges out coming-of-age tropes by creating an ensemble of distinctively written characters that easily elevate the narrative to memorable levels. Underneath the charming performances and clever cinematography, it is a simple story about the anxieties of growing up and the challenges of fulfilling your creative goals. Surely, we can all relate.
—Alberto De La Rosa
La La Land
Whether or not you are a lover of movies sprigged with romance and musicality, we should all be thankful that “La La Land” ended the nightmarish year of 2016 on one optimistic note. This film plays with your senses from the very beginning. While using color and rhythm to portray the glamour of Hollywood, “La La Land” tells the story of a young aspiring actress named Mia (Emma Stone) who works her way from the bottom of the totem pole in the cinema industry, combatting failed auditions and living off a low-wage barista gig. Simultaneously, the story of a young jazz pianist named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who struggles to get himself a steady job, unveils as well. As fate brings these two together time and time again, they beginning to make the journey toward their distinctly individual dreams together. But do they live happily ever after? You will have to go and see. Though a quintessential love and success story, “La La Land” is packed full of realism that you might not see coming. If not for the content of the film, check it out for the beautiful visuals of the lovely California landscape and the appreciation for original jazz music on which Sebastian’s story centers. Thus far, “La La Land” has dominated with 14 Oscar nominations and, despite a release only six days before the new year, has been hailed as one of the best films of 2016.
Though not a movie, “The OA” is a Netflix original, released in the height of exam week, which is best watched in one, albeit very long, sitting. The season follows a surreal tale of a woman who suddenly returns from years of disappearance with the newfound ability to see. While the first few episodes are difficult to empathize with, and the intense shroud of mystery obscures any real audience attachments to characters or the plot, the incredible beauty of the series lies in the flashback story. As main character Prairie slowly opens up to the five motley characters that assemble to listen to her story, their increasing commitment to Prairie’s story mirrors the audience’s, and the horrible backstory that Prairie reveals does not dull for a moment, although the outcome is known the whole series. The current-time plot, though not as wholly emotionally capturing as the backstory is, has its own subtle move and flow of the raw relationships and search for self-identity, in what can be described as a modern, mysterious, and serious “Breakfast Club” assembly of characters. The twist in the last two episodes comes in a whirlwind, from feeling cheated, to confused, to proud and grateful. But the authenticity of the emotions that “The OA” elicits and its unconventional expression of visuals is truly spectacular and, in many ways, cinematic. If you have time for the eight-episode extravaganza, watch it.