Money Plane: A Review

Comically awful films are the equivalent of junk food for cinephiles across the globe. You know the ingredients are unhealthy and consuming it is inadvisable, but the combination proves too tempting and delicious. The most famous film of this nature is The Room, an amalgamation of abominations at every turn. As if under a spell though, the audience embraces the ever expanding list of horrible filmmaking — instead choosing to laugh, perhaps even at its expense.

 I recently viewed a film not as glorious as The Room, but one that approached a similar level of infamy for me. The picture in question is Money Plane, released in July of 2020 to grace televisions through on-demand streaming, and is currently available on Hulu. 

Money Plane suffers most from its clearly low budget. This limit harshly constrains the extravagant idea the film sets out to accomplish, that being an Ocean’s Eleven-esque casino heist on an internationally hidden aircraft. With this large scale concept in mind, the film’s many pieces — the set, camera work, writing, acting, and production — all fall far short of its aspirations. 

The fabled, lavish Money Plane interior.

So, the movie is confirmed bad. The lines cause cringe, shots are tight to hide the low budget sets, the story makes little sense, and the acting is cheesy at best. Even with all these apparent reasons one should NOT want to watch this film, I can wholeheartedly recommend Money Plane, albeit with an asterisk. 

The self-subjection of watching this film must be contained within the context that the film is not good, and the viewing is for purposes other than witnessing a fine piece of cinema. Instead, the viewing is an exploration of the symptoms caused by filmmakers with big dreams and low means. 

Money Plane achieves hilarity seemingly on accident; a comedy whose intention was high octane heist drama. That being said, the film never takes itself too seriously, often feeling somewhat self aware of its shortcomings. The main villain, played by Kelsey Grammar of Frasier fame, exudes this concept of tightrope-walking the line between hamming it up and playing it serious. 

Grammar gives life to comically rich and powerful Darius Emmanuel Grouch III, also known as “The Rumble.” This is almost a direct quote and introduction Darius Grouch gives the protagonist, a person that given the story’s context Grouch already has history with and has no reason to introduce himself. Grammar seems to enjoy playing the walking cliché that is The Rumble, and absolutely gives the best performance. 

A high octane card came onboard Money Plane

A characteristic I noticed Money Plane has in common with other hilariously poor films is its rewatchability. Even on my third viewing of Money Plane I still discovered tiny awkward and hysterical moments I missed on my previous watches. This phenomenon occurs because there are always multiple things going wrong in each scene, and your brain can only recognize so much, leaving plenty more to laugh at the next time you watch it. 

One humorous piece pointed out to me during my second viewing was the music, which sounds like it is public domain and just slapped on wherever. At one point, I was convinced I heard a guitar riff that accompanies the end of awkward scenes from Full House

In fact, Money Plane shares a lot of the same D.N.A. as television shows, the music being only one particular gene. Almost all shots feel simply functional like a television show’s shots may feel, lacking in any cinematic style entirely. Conversations flow boringly from one profile shot to another following along with the horrendous exposition crammed dialogue. 

This film is the epitome of “tell don’t show,” the opposite of screenwriting dogma. After all this garbage, the film comes out like fertilizer. It may smell and look like crap, but it has plenty of value if you need it to. I’d recommend Money Plane to anyone who can enjoy bad things for being bad.

Written by Damon Rios

Damon is an amateur writer and professional media consumption artist. Movies, music, games, and books are all on the table. He is working towards a bachelor’s in communications and hopes to go professional in any writing capacity. As stated, Damon’s habits rotate from music consumption, to movie consumption, and everything in between.

Smile – Hailey Schimpf

A blog post, an open look at me.

It’s difficult to smile sometimes.

I like to put on a bold front; I try to talk about the positives on my show. I try to look for a good thing every day. I try to make it look like everything is normal with me. Most of the time, it works. Most of the time I can plaster on a forced smile, laugh and joke about everything going on with me, and try to ignore everything in my head. Anything that doesn’t fit the picture can be explained away as a bad day
at work, or a headache.

It’s never that simple though.

This stupid pandemic started a domino train of a horrible year for me. My school was thrown into disarray. My job at the time was getting more and more demanding and soul sucking, both from management and the customers I had to deal with. The worst thing happened. My dream internship, the one I had been applying to for three years, the one I had finally been accepted to, was ripped away. I felt completely alone. Miserable. Heartbroken.

I know I’m not the only one who felt like this, who feels like this. I don’t know how to make things better, I just have to believe that things will get better. They have to. I don’t know how to end this off, I’ve been trying to write this out for weeks and I’m still turning it in late because I couldn’t figure it out. I wanted to talk about dealing with this situation, but the truth is I’m just trying to hold on right now. I’m
holding on the fact that this is going to get better. I don’t know how it’ll get better, it just will.

Everything is going to be better. We’re almost though this mess. Things will be better.

It makes it a bit easier to smile.

Written by Hailey Schimpf

Hailey Schimpf is a musical and Disney nerd who somehow managed to convince the radio station into letting her do a show. That show would be Hailey’s Happenings. For the past two years it has showcased songs from musical theater, Disney movies, and more regular music hits from the 80s to today. It’s also a great place to chill out and relax as she talks about whatever’s going on between the music. Once people are allowed back on campus again, she’ll once again broadcasting live in the studio every Wednesday at 5pm.

Photo: Basile Morin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Zack Snyder’s Justice League Speculation

On Thursday, March 18th the world finally gets to experience Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In 2017, Justice League was originally released into theaters worldwide. Before it was completed, Zack Snyder left the production for personal reasons, and the studio decided to reshoot many scenes after critics said Batman V Superman was too dark. The result was a joke. I enjoyed Batman V Superman, so I was pretty disappointed that they tried to make Justice League a lighter film.

After years of waiting to get our voices heard, HBO Max announced that we would be getting the true version of Justice League in 2021. They would be finishing all Zack Snyder’s VFX shots and adding additional scenes and characters. Everyone knows the main league in this film is Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. The film will also feature The Joker, Deathstroke, Lex Luthor, Darkseid, and Martian Manhunter, making this movie the ultimate DC film for the biggest superfans. Something exciting about Zack Snyder’s Justice League is its runtime, which is just over 4 hours. The 2017 version at 2 hours lacked character development. Hopefully, this 4-hour cut will have plenty of time to develop the characters.

This Thursday, 3/18, Zack Snyder’s Justice League premieres on HBO Max and based on the trailers, the film looks way better than the original!

Written by Josh Greenberg

My name is Josh Greenberg. I’m a huge fan of movies, wrestling and Eminem. My weekly show will combine all three of my interests. Talking about new and upcoming films, discussing everything WWE and listening to Eminem’s entire catalog of music! From Godzilla vs Kong to Wrestlemania 37. From in theater releases to streaming. I will talk about it all!!

Outside the Wire: A Review of the Netflix Film

A not so recent trope that has plagued the film industry is a lack of originality. Of course, plenty of great films exist that are based on novels or short stories, but the rehashing that occurs today is of a different breed and seems to be on the rise. These sequels, spin-offs, and reboots continue on and there never appears to be a lack of material to work off of. 

When not directly related, some films cash in on trends or recycle concepts from previous blockbusters. One such film is a January Netflix release: Outside the Wire. The film falls somewhere in between the good and the bad; it’s not stand-out enough to leave an impression, yet not so bad as to be comically valued. In fact, Outside the Wire feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of a film with gimmicks, concepts, and themes pieced together from other popular films. 

Harp (Damson Idris) alongside a Gump.

Unfortunately, even with all the inspiration in the world, the film lacks a clear sense of self and comes off bland. It’s not simple to pin down where exactly the film goes wrong, but I’ll sterilize, pull on some gloves, and start the autopsy.

    The film fails because it attempts to do so much all at once, and in this task it swings for the fences and gloriously misses. The defining culprit is the film’s writing; the plotline, story structure, and dialogue. Under normal circumstances I neglect to share story details, but out of sympathy for those who already suffered through the film I’ve made an exception for this review. 

The story consists of an American made robot supersoldier named Leo heavily inspired by Terminator “tasked” with overseeing our protagonist Harp, a task which serves as Harp’s punishment after he breaks chain of command. 

The robot pseudo-human supersoldier is played by Anthony Mackie, known well for his MCU fame as The Falcon (although if you know him like I do he will always be, “Clarence, whose parents have a real good marriage” from 8-Mile). Harp is played by Damson Idris, a British actor of relative fame mixed with a scent of obscurity. 

The audience follows this pair through an Eastern European civil war in 2036; a war depicted similarly to established war film convention, although this one is sparsely populated with duller, dispensable robot soldiers called Gumps (think ED-209 from Robocop). 

As the story plods along the audience learns of lies told about character motivations, nuclear warheads threaten to wipe out America, and the plot twists and turns itself into a tizzy. On the surface this film’s premise sounds normal: it’s a future war story inspired by Terminator. The problem is that the way the story unfolds confounds the audience at every turn (not to mention clunky dialogue being tossed around scene after scene). 

This dialogue is the kind of military mumbo jumbo heard throughout war films, plenty of “tango in the LZ we need to charlie circle into a lower latitude with less action,” on top of technology mumbo jumbo attempting to explain the pseudo- AI super robot soldier. 

Anthony Mackie as the pseudo-AI super robot soldier.

All of this would be fine if the film embraced its cheesy nature and did not take itself so seriously. Instead, Outside the Wire is stuffed with forced, high-concept themes that never see fruition. 

For example, the audience is first made to feel like human error is wrong, but the plot is then quickly followed by human soldiers bullying a Gump, claiming a trash-can can’t do a soldier’s job. Then, those bullying soldiers are scolded by Leo to introduce some discrimation theme between humans and technological advances. Counter to this, later in the film the audience finds out that human error is necessary and robots cannot be trusted. As if all this was not enough, the film starts preaching about American foreign policy missteps and moral ambiguity. 

Eventually we learn that for certain artificial intelligence cannot be trusted, human error is a problem but required (contradicting earlier themes in the film), and the previously lambasted American foreign policy wins anyway. It all adds up to a long winded film that can’t get itself to focus; two hours that truly feels longer. The film constantly starts a train of thought and then jumps ship – scenes later – onto another theme and thus always interrupting itself. 

    There are only so many ways I can reword how the film’s writing falls flat on its face, but it’s important to get this idea across. The writing is such a large problem because it undermines the rest of the film’s possible silver linings, its themes especially. Themes of how America benefits from its foreign war interventions, of discerning a moral compass in a warzone, and of “robophobia”, inherent human distrust of the automated and programed, are all interesting. The film trips and falls on its own sword. 

What compounds this film beyond just the unfocused or forced writing is the general production of the film. While attempting to access answers to complex questions, the film suffers from only standard production. It seems almost formulated, rarely using attention-grabbing camera work and littered with rapid editing. 

The sets and costume design all function fine, mostly grey desolate buildings and streets filled with soldiers and gunfire. Leo’s overall robot design was interesting however, with a strange system to heal himself, essentially super band-aids in context. 

An example of the grey gunfire-filled streets of 2030’s Eastern Europe.

The acting was functional as well, although Mackie did feel like he was channeling Will Smith at times, adding a “fresh prince” humor, undermining the heavier subjects with ill timed one-liners. Idris’ acting as Harp was not always something to write home about either, functional once again. That is not to say he did not have some good moments during intense story beats and I will note his American accent fooled me the entire film.

When I think of Outside the Wire, the saying that comes to mind is “run of the mill.” I can commend the film for attempting higher thought theming, but truly the filmmakers ran long before they could walk. The film’s attempts may be its downfall; this potential of what could have been haunts one’s perception of it. 

Outside the Wire is so influenced by other films it becomes difficult to conceptualize without comparisons. It feels like a general cheesy summer blockbuster – much like Battleship, Battle for Los Angeles, Live Die Repeat, or any other envisioning of semi-future warfare one can think of. Outside the Wire then inherently comes off as repetitive, perhaps only valuable in a case study, one that explores the pitfalls of having too many ideas not reach maturity.

Written by Damon Rios

Damon is an amateur writer and professional media consumption artist. Movies, music, games, and books are all on the table. He is working towards a bachelor’s in communications and hopes to go professional in any writing capacity. As stated, Damon’s habits rotate from music consumption, to movie consumption, and everything in between.

Citizen Kane: A Review of the Classic Film

Orson Welles gave his best performance and was astounding in his directorial film debut of Citizen Kane, now considered one of the best movies of all time.  Why is the storyline so significant?  When a child suffers trauma this can set the stage for a lifetime of loneliness and disillusionment.  We find such a story in Citizen Kane, whereby a man who found great wealth, power, and prestige was but a shell of a man.  How coincidental that what transpired on the Hollywood screen decades ago seems to have made its way into our lives today via television, the internet, and social media.  The same power plays and thirst for control are apparent in the political arena and business world we are subjected to on a daily basis.  This type of man is charismatic and knows how to appeal to the crowds.  We want to eat up his story, his words, and his emotion.  But what he wants in return is far greater.  He needs fuel to keep the fire burning.  Who knows what attributes to a person’s constant need for attention and sensationalism, but we can guess that the root of this begins when a person has lost their morality and learns to survive in whatever way will amount to success, even though underlying heartbreak or despair is hidden in the folds of the soul and is tucked away from the prying eyes of the world.

            Considering the political turmoil, big money being thrown around, and secrets being disclosed for the nation to uncover at the present time as well as over the last few years, it is no wonder that such a movie as Citizen Kane hits home with its scandals and messages for the audience to decipher.  Orson Welles was brilliant to have onboard Gregg Toland, a rare cinematography genius who was noted for his unique style of filming and helped Welles to propel this visionary tale of a young boy who was torn from his family at a young age, raised among the elite, achieved insurmountable wealth, acquired a publishing empire, and lost almost everything due to corruption, power control, and the need to find love that had been lost and resulted in a lonely existence.

Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) atop the fruits of his empire.

            What makes Citizen Kane such a monumental film is that Welles did not hold back with his ideas and creativity.  This enabled him to continue experimenting since he had free reign over the filmmaking process.  Working with Toland, the lighting and shadows created an integral part of the film since it set the tone during the entire movie.  The lenses used to create the deep focus aspects of the film were imaginative.  An example of this in Citizen Kane is when Kane is walking through his home, and the audience sees his reflection going from one mirror, to another mirror, to another mirror at the same time.  Kane was in the foreground, and each mirror behind one another was farther from the viewer to the extreme distance.  However, what was incredible is that all of it was in focus.  The scenes in the beginning of the film faded in and out; and the scenes also changed by moving vertically, horizontally, and also had distorted lines in the movie to look like film from a newsreel.  The positioning of the cameras and subsequent filming were ahead of its time, especially the overhead shots of Kane on stage at the political convention and the camera moving forward from the back of the audience to finally focusing on Kane, the overhead shots of Suzie on stage at the opera house as she accepts her bouquets amid the applause of the audience, and the filming angle from floor level as the camera moves slowly from the character’s feet looking upwards.  Toland’s filming of Suzie’s sweat beading on her face as she is ill in bed had much detail and had extremely sharp focus.  The shadowing in each room with the rays of light coming through the windows with dust mites in the lighting was filmed perfectly.  The shadows on the actors’ faces as well as arm movements showing shadows behind them while remaining in focus were remarkable.  Particular scenes really stood out in the cinematography in regard to reflections.  In one scene, an actor was sitting at a desk; and his reflection on the glass top of the desk was filmed in sync and in focus the entire time.  Also, during one of the party scenes, the reflection of the guests in the windows was brought to the audience’s attention.  Splitting frames was also integral in Citizen Kane, such as when Kane returned from Europe and enters the newspaper room.  He is shown in the upper, left corner frame while the focus of the scene is on Leland and all.  None of the frame was out of focus.  Another split frame was when Kane was typing the conclusion to Leland’s derogatory art review of the operatic performance of Kane’s wife on the left side of the frame while Leland is on the right side of the frame as he awoke from a drunken stupor and is surprised that his review is missing from his typewriter.  Buildings, desks, tables, art frames, etc. were filmed so that the angles were prominent in the scenes.  The main, purposely filmed, out-of-focus scene appeared to be when the reporter went to the retirement home to talk to Leland.  The actors in the background are out of focus, which made the focus on Leland so critical.  All in all, Toland was a wizard with the camera and used his experience to bolster the great storyline and directing.  Toland had been recognized previously for his work behind the camera in Wuthering Heights (1939) which predated Citizen Kane.

Using mirrors to reflect many copies of Kane.

            Another interesting point to note is the use of nonlinear narrative. The story is told out of chronological order but is key in having the audience understand certain events and how they affected the main character, Charles Foster Kane.  Newscasters begin the film with their newsreels, but it is mainly narrated by Jerry Thompson, a reporter covering Kane’s life and trying to determine the meaning behind Kane’s last, dying words.  This use of nonlinear narrative was also crucial in the way that Wuthering Heights (narrated by Nelly Dean, a lifelong servant) was told.  Decades later, The English Patient (narrated by multiple narrators, not in chronological order, gave their viewpoints on what happened to the main characters), and Cloud Atlas (the main character from each segment explains his/her view in reverse chronological order while making the viewer understand how each person and moment in the film sets everything in motion from his moment in time and how this affects the future) used nonlinear narrative as a continuation of the success of Citizen Kane setting the standard for the use of nonlinear narrative.

            The makeup effects were astounding on all the main characters but particularly on Orson Welles as he changes back and forth throughout the film as a young adult, forward in time to his death scene, back to his middle-aged years, and so forth.  Welles was actually a young man when he directed Citizen Kane, and the transformations on him were realistic and appropriate for the film.  Joseph Cotton’s (Jedediah Leland) extreme aging from his younger years as Kane’s friend and reporter to his ending shots in the retirement home really helped the viewer to see how his relationship with Kane during the years had greatly affected him even though he seemed nonchalant about it when talking with the reporter.

            The use of sound to garner attention was another aspect of Citizen Kane.  Songs were written for different scenes instead of a long film score or background score being used for the entire film.  The attention on Kane and his revelry of a marching band, majorettes, and all with singing accolades about Kane were reminiscent of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street made over seventy years later.  Apparently, Scorsese realized the importance of Citizen Kane’s use of musical, comical relief while the main character gathers the source of attention (Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane versus Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort).  Kane’s voice in a cavernous room in his palace had its echo being very pronounced; and his quiet, dying words were caught so convincingly that the viewer could imagine being in the same room as Kane’s life departed.

            It is important to note that Kane’s life followed the politics and course of history during his existence, and the concentration of history depicted was during the Spanish-American War, the construction and debate of the Panama Canal, and especially the Great Depression of 1929 and the after effects which collapsed the economy.  His role as a powerful tycoon whose publishing conglomerate reigned over competitors due to the push for risqué and sensational stories propelled him to the top.  Along the way, his thirst for control, interest in politics, obsession over his paramour, building a palatial expanse–complete with elephants, other animals, and flora–to compensate for his constant fixation on buying artwork, antiquities, and other lavish pieces led to his downfall.

            Welles also played with fire for not always following the provisions of Hollywood’s Production Code, also known as the Hays Code.  While not actually defying the Code, he was able to work around certain aspects of it.  For example, Kane was not afraid to have articles published which attacked the U.S. president.  In the toothache scene when Kane followed Suzie up to her home so that she could offer hot water to him in order to clean his muddied clothing, there was much innuendo involved because the audience could perceive this invitation as being something less than respectable.  Even though it was entirely innocent, Kane also sits on the same bed as Suzie, which might have been another suggestive move on Welles’ part.  Finally, Kane’s final declaration about his intentions of staying at Suzie’s home when his wife and political opponent appear most likely lost him some credibility points according to The Production Code because of the ideas of a mistress and the scandal involved.  Welles’ determination in creating a matchless film upon which other films would be based was very risky, yet it showed his resolve was much like his Kane character in that he wanted to push forward with his ideas.

            Finally, the overall theme of the story is something the audience can sympathize with and appreciate since Kane wanted to appeal to the average, working-class people.  Modern-day viewers can see the similarities between a young Charles Foster Kane being torn away from the love of his mother as compared to Anakin Skywalker also having to leave his mother at a young age in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.  No matter the grandeur and opulence of Kane’s possessions, the people in his life, and his need for power and control, his Xanadu palace reflected the loneliness in his soul.  Skywalker’s and Kane’s loneliness were also portrayed in the way in which they had to deal with life, their persistent need for power and control, and their lifetime of disillusionment being reflected in everything.  The love lost as a child was never recovered, and this loneliness lasted until the end.  The audience feels this loss and understands the meaning behind the snow globe and the sled.

Jacqui Mak

Jacqui Mak has been working towards her associate degree while attending Harper College in Palatine, Illinois on her way towards a degree in education.  She and her eighteen-year-old daughter, husband, and canine companion also live in Palatine.  Jacqui’s hobbies include all forms of dance, and she loves to play and coach softball.  A big shout out goes to Professor Brian Shelton for encouraging Jacqui with her film reviews.

Lupin: A Review of the Netflix Series

Most people have seen a magician perform and have been awed in one way or another by them.   Even as someone who knows magic is trickery and misdirection you still wonder, how did they do that?  I remember as a young kid on a field trip, I watched a magician pull my friends card out of the center of an orange and we couldn’t stop talking about it the whole ride back.  Being a magician may be just an act but a good magicians entertainment value is something that really shines on the big screen.

Lupin is a new two part series on Netflix that was filmed and created with a French cast.  The show is loosely based on a fictional book series called Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar by. Maurice Leblanc, which followed a gentleman burglar (magician) named Lupin in the 1900’s.  Throughout the show we see a lot of references to the story and several of the original gimmicks and illusions are recreated by modern day Lupin (Omar Sy). Lupin is also led by French director Louis Leterrier who directed fan favorites like Now you See Me (2013) and The Incredible Hulk (2008).  Leterrier’s experience working with the theme of magicians in Now You See Me translates well into Lupin which merges the world of mystery and drama.  

References to the classic are scattered throughout the series.

The show starts off with a bang and shows the audience a huge heist which target’s Marie Antoinette’s necklace inside the Louvre.  However no heist is too big for gentleman burglar (magician) Lupin and he makes this heist of the century seem like another work of art. This heist felt very real and it didn’t consist of all the cliches we see in most modern day heist and robbery films.   Illusion and trickery are present throughout the film, but the writers couldn’t bring themselves to leave the audience in the dark.  The writers put constant flashbacks throughout the show to either explain how Lupin did something or to bridge the gap between Assanes’ past before he was Lupin.  I appreciated the extra storytelling but it seemed at times like the flashbacks were almost a crutch used by the writers to clear up plot holes and develop characters that weren’t vital to the main story.  All in all the story was pretty well told and after part one’s major cliffhanger I am still looking forward to the release of Lupin Part deux.

One of the show’s greatest strengths was the connection between certain characters which made the audience feel gratitude and love for them.  This is also done through flashbacks and one of the characters that really resonates with audiences may be Assanes father.  Though he only appears in the show through flashbacks the audience can still feel the pain he went through which gives a better understanding as to why Assane is fighting so hard for his father.  Diop’s friend Johnathan is developed through old flashbacks with Assane at school and so is Claire.  Flashbacks like these were welcoming to me and a much better use then just retelling certain scenes with a different perspective. Assane may be doing illegal things to prove his father’s innocence but you will find yourself cheering for him after seeing what he is up against.  

Omar Sy and Etan Simon as Lupin and Asanne.

The final part I wanted to touch on was how I want more foreign films in this category to show on Netflix.  Lupin was dubbed but I watched the whole thing in French with English subtitles.  If it weren’t for the obvious language variation and the landmarks present all throughout Paris I may have even thought this was just another film done by westerners.  The way it was filmed felt like any other show on Netflix and still seemed to come through in terms of bringing something new and fresh to the table.  This show really puts French directors and actors in a good light and may help to expunge the idea that westerners will never appreciate foreign style cinema.  Lupin is full of twists and turns and after watching part 1 I think part 2 will really hit it out of the park and bring the series home. If you can’t tell, I think Lupin is a great show and I highly recommend it.  

Gabriel Pribilski

My name is Gabe Pribilski and I am a lover of fascinating films from Tarantino to Kurosawa as well as a sports fan. I am currently pursuing an associates in science at Harper College and haven’t decided on a major.  I am simply a college student who hopes to get the most out of Harper and continue with my love for film and sports while doing so.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: A Review of the Netflix Film

Netflix produces a lot of exclusive content, some astounding, and some less so. Certain content even has something to say, a message to present, one hopefully that resonates with the audience and doesn’t fall flat. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has a lot to say, which definitely caught me off guard. 

From the trailer and promotional material I presumed that this film was about the titular Ma Rainey and some development in blues music with the featured trumpet player. I adore  music, so it piqued my interest. I googled the film and discovered it was an adaptation of a 1982 play of the same name by August Wilson. Live theatre is a wonderful medium and I enjoy plays and musicals greatly, so I bumped Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to top priority. 

My presumptions about the film were only partially right, Ma Rainey sang the blues for sure, but the story covered so much more than just music. Upon realizing the film’s deeper intentions – those of conceptual and moral ideas – I started to notice the similarities matching play to film.

The film embraces the camera’s potential and tracks the conversation, cutting from person to person throughout the discussion.

Rather than sitting in an auditorium witnessing the play, the film’s camera plays the audience as it follows characters through scenes. The choices made with the shots and edits are incredibly fluid. 

At times, the camera settles into a wide shot, displaying the set and conversation as one, much like the stage of a play. Other times the film embraces the camera’s potential and tracks the conversation, cutting from person to person throughout the discussion. Finally, there are the monologues – powerful moments dotted throughout the film where the camera lingers, letting the audience truly digest what the character is displaying. 

Hilariously it’s these similarities that show how simple yet moving some plays can be, often taking place in as few sets as possible, consisting of character drama, arguing, and monologues that offer wisdom and perspective. These similarities also mean most of the scenes run in real time, and this unfortunately causes a few scenes to feel as if they drag on a touch too long.

Still, it’s a film not a play, so while some scenes are edited fluidly to match the tempo of the live “one take” performances in plays, there are standout hard cut transitions that mark a transition of sets or time jumps. These hard cuts remind the audience swiftly of the current medium they are consuming, as it’s possible to find oneself lost in some of the monologues.

Excellent talent : Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Michael Potts, and Glynn Turman

With a story that consists of intense emotional weight, one needs excellent talent to make those speeches translate to audiences. Each character is performed well, but the clear standouts are Viola Davis as Ma Rainey and Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green. Both actors give wondrous performances and deliver wholeheartedly in their individual showcases. 

In other films, when actors talk about a distant time, place, or concept, the filmmaker may choose to visually represent this underneath their speaking. Perhaps it cuts away to a relevant or contradictory subject to hammer home the point of the speech. 

Instead of this, the points to be made in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom are the characters themselves, so during monologues the camera lingers tensely and inches slowly into a close up. The actors spring into overdrive as the camera draws near and they continue their descriptive story. Their eyes gloss over, and you can see that they are picturing exactly what they are saying in their mind. Suddenly you realize you had been doing the same. Inserting your own mental image as the story went along, continually adding more detail and emotion, until your eyes resembled theirs – lost in the moment. 

Moments like these were absolutely gripping, and it’s all thanks to the incredible writing and powerful performances from the cast. I found myself so lost in one of Levee’s stories that a hard cut to the Chicago L train made me jump (probably to the editor’s delight).

Tragically, Chadwick Boseman passed away last August from colon cancer, and Levee Green was his last performance. Without describing too much of the plot and his character, it feels appropriate for Boseman to have played a young and ambitious black artist laden with tragedy. Tragedy is found throughout the film, but as a result of it the audience can grow and learn. 

The film has a lot to say – teaching its lessons through conflict, between characters, structures, and within themselves. The story is explicitly Black as well and offers an important lesson in the history of social structure and the exploitative music industry during the 20’s. I don’t want to describe the themes of the film in too much detail, as it may deflate their impact, I simply want to state that the film executes and translates clear concepts and meaning to the audience through its deep character drama. 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was a unique play adaptation, a switch from the normal “bigger is better” formula. It honors its forebear by maintaining its plot and themes while offering sublime craftsmanship in its filmmaking and acting. 

I found myself fully absorbed in the story not because of novel concepts, gimmicks, or grand CGI, but because the characters’ personal stories were moving and performed magnificently. Given the film’s trend to be somewhat dour, it’s a hard film to recommend to any current average moviegoer. However, if live theatre is something you enjoy, darker themes should be no stranger, so enjoy the performances and hold your breath.

Written by Damon Rios

Damon is an amateur writer and professional media consumption artist. Movies, music, games, and books are all on the table. He is working towards a bachelor’s in communications and hopes to go professional in any writing capacity. As stated, Damon’s habits rotate from music consumption, to movie consumption, and everything in between.

WandaVision: A Review of the Disney+ Miniseries

To be completely and entirely honest, WandaVision was the show I was least looking forward to when Disney first announced the Marvel shows that would be coming to the Disney+ streaming platform this year. Nobody has time to watch every TV show out there and I decided quickly that WandaVision was not a priority. Nothing against Wanda or Vision of course, but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe they weren’t given enough screen time to be interesting, and with overshadowing pairs such as Peter Parker and Tony Stark, Wanda and Vis were (at least in my experience) few fans’ favorite duo.

“Wanda and Vision, aren’t we a fine pair?”

But somebody at Disney did their job very well and when the trailers for the show came out I found myself rethinking my decision against the series and by the time I sat down to watch I was looking forward to it. 

My thoughts? The show has potential, but it’s starting off pretty slow.  

Instead of releasing just one episode on January 11th, Disney released the first two, and it’s pretty easy to see why after finishing the pilot. 

Episode one has maybe 15 total seconds (in a 30-minute episode) that hint at the fact that WandaVision is not, in fact, actually a 50’s sitcom. With laugh tracks, cheesy comedy, and filmed in black and white, WandaVision so far fits the genre perfectly. The plots of the first two episodes seem to be mostly designed as an excuse to take up time and give tiny hints of the real plot of the show to drag the mystery of what’s actually happening out as long as possible. With episode two generously adding perhaps about 45 more generous seconds of the actual plot, it does leave audiences wondering how long this show will take to get started.

The trailers gave fans a lot to look forward to, and while it’s too early to really disappoint, the first two episodes didn’t deliver quite as much of the intriguing sci-fi-magical strangeness that we came in expecting and looking forward to from them. To be fair, the episodes were quite sweet and genuinely quite funny at times—for a 50’s sitcom. But no one’s watching WandaVision to watch a sitcom.

It really is too early to judge WandaVision on its story even if it is a bit slow so far, after all, many a show has gone on from a less-than-impressive beginning and even first season to become something much better (though I still know far more about the point of the show from ten seconds of the trailers than the first two episodes).

Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olson as Vision and Wanda Maximoff,

But besides that one (rather major) criticism, there are genuinely a lot of things to like so far.  

Elizabeth Olson and Paul Bettany were never anything close to stars of the show in the MCU and more than a few people were curious to see how they would do in the position; they did not disappoint. 

Olson and Bettany showed an easy chemistry that bodes very well for the show, and though the first few episodes mostly have them bouncing off each other with cheesy comedic sitcom banter, they’re still quite a charming couple who will hold their own as the main characters.

 Olson in particular makes an endearing lead and shows the capability to portray more than the semi-two dimensional Wanda we saw in the MCU—if she’s given the opportunity. While I doubt many will watch the show solely for her or Bettany, if WandaVision fails it will not be due to them.

Reality is widescreen while Wanda’s reality is 4:3.

Another thing that the show has going in its favor is its ability to change format and genre. This is something fans have gathered from the trailer rather than the first two episodes, but it’s an intriguing idea and many are eagerly looking forward to seeing how it pans out.

The opening credits starring “Wanda Maximoff” and “Vision” give the show an interesting meta feel, and the aspect ratio changing at the very end of the pilot from square (for the square TV’s of the ’50s) to the modern widescreen to show the difference between Wanda’s reality and the real world was a very cool touch.

 The best thing I can say about the show is the trailer predisposed me to like it and I am still rooting for it to be good. 

WandaVision will either be one of those shows that you keep watching, hoping it gets better until finally giving up, or one that starts fairly slow and rewards those who stick with it. My money is on the latter, but at this point, only time will tell.

Written by Koryn Koch

Koryn has enjoyed writing from an early age, her first work being a story about a unicorn. Since then she has become a marginally better writer and gained an appreciation for film as well. She is pursuing a degree in Digital Marketing and when not busy she enjoys spending time with her nine siblings.

The Mandolorian: A Review of the Disney+ Series

Disney Plus’ original series The Mandalorian seems to have swept up the greater Star Wars fanbase. Every fan, hardcore or casual, that I have spoken to has claimed that the show is a fantastic branch of the Star Wars universe with plenty to enjoy. I have been a fan of Star Wars since I was a young lad when I grew up with the prequels, blind to what many would later be unable to look away from. Yes, the prequels are rough around the edges, but a mix of nostalgia and hilarity keep me entertained through the many faults in the films. The classic trilogy is exactly that, classic. Those three films revolutionized a lot and have established the Star Wars brand through their greatness.

That leaves the sequels, Disney’s attempts at advancing the Star Wars story, as well as various spin off films based around the Star Wars universe. Personally I’m not a huge fan of most of the Disney films for a variety of reasons. Don’t get me wrong they aren’t awful, they have stunning visuals, some interesting concepts, and can be compelling at times. Perhaps my distaste is my own doing. I maintained a sense of potential that these films didn’t reach for me, they fell short of my expectations and only really look grand and spectacular, they don’t feel like it.

The sequels somewhat soured my taste on the newer Star Wars branded Disney content. Fortunately, The Mandalorian presents what I’ve found to be an undivided opinion, it’s pretty good. Inspired by the claims of my constituents I decided to bury my bias and watch the spin off series with an open mind. Season 2 of the show finished its run on December 18th last year and all the excited chatter I’ve gathered has been based around it’s conclusion, so with haste I planned on catching up to the hype train. 

There is a clear Western influence in a lot of shots and themes throughout the show.

Season 1 did not disappoint. The first couple of episodes felt somewhat slow or bloated, but by the end of the season I understood why these storylines were deemed necessary or important. There is a clear western influence in a lot of shots and themes throughout the show. Wide shots of open fields with silhouettes, dark interiors lit only by the light shining around our Mandalorian standing in the doorway, and plenty of quick drawing shootouts in dusty towns. Lighting and production design play a huge part in selling the settings of the series. Often the lighting is dark and contrasted, with our hero operating in the shadows, and at other times things appear colorful or bathed monochromatically.

Under all this light is the production design, consisting of what appears to be mostly live sets. The overall design draws on that of the original trilogy, a rusty industrial future seemingly made of spare parts, and its counterpart, the strange mysticism surrounding the Star Wars universe. At times this mysticism is Baby Yoda and his magic hands, or the Mandalorian (often called Mando) and his tribal or religious background of Mandalore.

What is a review of this series without at least a brief mention of Baby Yoda, the cute little critter he is. Being an actual puppet helps a lot, as its facial expressions and actions are well animated and look absolutely adorable. A simple reaction shot of Baby Yoda can say an incredible amount given the context, and of course the score steers this along as well. The score punctuates the series at all times, from Mando’s signature pan flute theme and tribal drums, to suspenseful orchestral horns and strings. It does a lot of heavy lifting when attempting to elicit emotion from the titular character as well. The light can help here of course, but when the audience is staring at a metal helmet devoid of emotion, the music cues them in intensely on how they should feel, and on how Mando may feel underneath.

Pedro Pascal as the titular Mandolorian.

Pedro Pascal plays the Mandalorian bounty hunter and his body language and voice give a lot of character to what is essentially a shiny and durable suit of armor. The rest of the cast performs equally as well with a few stand outs. Some of these come from my least favorite episode, The Prisoner.  My problems lie not with the performances, just the cartoonishly villainous heist team. It felt almost too cliche, and at the time I struggled to see any importance in the material the episode presents, it felt like filler. These few moments of filler are my only real issues with the series.

Some scenes and storylines turn out to be more consequential than others, but at times it feels that there are attempts at filling run time. I believe this is a symptom of being an episodic series rather than a film or series of films. Overall season 1 sows the same type of seeds that A New Hope does. It offers character growth and gives a great foundation to continue the story into season 2. Call me a believer, This is the Way. 

Season 2 starts off similar to the first season. This time around though, the earlier slow episodes felt like their stories had consequences, like what happened in them will actually matter later in the season unlike the slower episodes in season 1. The difference being that certain episodes in season 1 had what felt like sporadic stories that may be unaffiliated with the previous or next episode, whereas the slower or seemingly inconsequential episodes in season 2 push the story along in one way or another.

More Star Wars moments, larger stakes.

Like any good sequel this season provides more of what the audience wants and better. More answers, more cool Star Wars moments or mentions, more emotional scenes, larger stakes and more action, it truly has it all. Beyond the step up in basically all matters, the rest of the show’s production quality stays on par with the rest of Disney’s Star Wars programs. The sound design is killer and recognizable to any fan of the universe, the set pieces are vivid and feel real, and the character designs fall into Star Wars convention.

As season 2 wrapped up, I felt refreshed. Renewed vigor and faith in Star Wars flowed through me and I was brought to the childlike wonder I had felt all those years ago when I fell in love with the Star Wars mythos. The Mandalorian is refreshing because of its return to its roots in the original trilogy. The world feels lived in and the characters feel like they matter, and because of this their emotional moments don’t fall flat. The series avoids the overblown CGI found in both the prequel and sequel trilogy in favor of real sets and costumes, and especially simple character stories.

The story finds itself drawing on the themes of the original trilogy, themes of mystery surrounding the unknown force and the importance that family and friends can have. In saying this I must mention that none of what The Mandalorian does feels entirely original, and fortunately that’s not a problem. It draws on western imagery and the classic story of the hero, one where the protagonist grows in strength and wisdom throughout their quest, all while collecting weapons and friends along the way.

Even so, the quality with which this classic story structure has been crafted shows that a new spin on the old can be extremely effective. In this same way one can see how the series relates to the original trilogy again. A simple story of a hero’s journey, with down to.. uh.. Naboo? characters that have emotional weight and chemistry on screen. I’d very highly recommend this series to any Star Wars fans, those that love or hate the new Disney material, and more than that I’d recommend this to anyone who is a fan of well shot, scripted, acted, and produced television series. It is seriously worth the watch.

Written by Damon Rios

Damon is an amateur writer and professional media consumption artist. Movies, music, games, and books are all on the table. He is working towards a bachelor’s in communications and hopes to go professional in any writing capacity. As stated, Damon’s habits rotate from music consumption, to movie consumption, and everything in between.

Soul: A Review of the Pixar Animated Film

Soul is Pixar Animations newest feature film, one thrust into the newest era of streaming and available now and for the foreseeable future on Disney Plus. The film is a marvel of 3D animation, showing how far the medium has come and clearly displaying Pixar’s finesse with their abilities. Also on par with most of Pixar’s filmography is the story and subject matter.

Their works can masquerade as “children’s movies” as much of animation is pigeonholed these days, but the contents and implications of the story are much more universal in application. Pixar veteran and Soul’s director Pete Docter wrote the story with his co-director Kemp Powers and writer Mike Jones. Docter delivers again in creating fantastically foreign yet somehow familiar worlds and concepts just like with his previous directorial works Monsters Inc., Up, and Inside Out.

Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) lands in the Great Before.

The mysterious world and story help facilitate a lot of the great animation, such as main character Joe Gardner playing the piano with impressive accuracy and weight to his movements, or the small facial expressions on the character’s faces. The twist on the material (or immaterial really) is similar to Docter’s work on Inside Out. This classic Pixar magic lets the story be told and explored visually in ways only 3D animation can allow. Soul reveals itself to be somewhat self-titled, taking place in a couple different ethereal planes of existence which lie adjacent to Earth.

Whereas most films dealing with the afterlife touch on religion though, Soul chooses to focus on what is left behind, life itself. This results in an inspiring and touching story that helps the audience reflect on their own lives and perhaps create more appreciation for the gift that life truly is. Describing too much of the environments explored throughout the story feels like a disservice to those who haven’t seen the film, since the discovery of these foreign areas is part of the fun.

Joe Gardner playing the piano with impressive accuracy and weight to his movements.

My only nitpicks with the picture consist of coincidences, underdeveloped concepts, and the last third of the film taking a bit long. Things seem too easy for the characters throughout the film, and in some instances third parties are involved without explanation, like “Where did Dr. Brögensson go?” Undeveloped items like this are usually used for a joke, but not always. The jokes are brief and sprinkled throughout the film. It’s quant humor that doesn’t linger, the kind of jokes you either catch and giggle or be left asking what was so funny. These short hilarities along with wondrous colors and animation make light the once heavy subject that is life and death. My last issue lies with the films’ fall off. The last third is a slow release that may affect people differently depending on what each individual takes from the film’s themes, but I personally found the answer long before the film’s official ending.

Still, it is a satisfying and emotional ending for an emotionally satisfying film. Gorgeously rendered and animated by the magicians Pixar employs, and fleshed out to have universal life significant lessons by the story creators. I’d highly suggest Soul to any fans of animation, or any fans of well written Pixar releases.

Written by Damon Rios

Damon is an amateur writer and professional media consumption artist. Movies, music, games, and books are all on the table. He is working towards a bachelor’s in communications and hopes to go professional in any writing capacity. As stated, Damon’s habits rotate from music consumption, to movie consumption, and everything in between.

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