Film Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

BEASTS OF SOUTHERN WILD

Film Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild
by Nick Scully

If you’re like me, you made a plan about a month ago to try to watch all the films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  If you’re really like me, you’ve only seen a couple of them and the big night is creeping up faster than you thought possible.  Maybe you’ve started going through your “To Watch” list and have started crossing out those movies you hadn’t heard of, or don’t consider to be serious contenders.  I’m here to tell you to put your pen down; do not cross Beasts of the Southern Wild off of your list.

It centers on the story of a little girl named Hushpuppy and the small bayou community called “The Bathtub,” a poor town on the outskirts of civilization.  Everyone in the town is close with one another, and they celebrate the fact that they don’t live on the other side of the levy, despite their obvious struggles to survive.  Hushpuppy believes that the world works in harmony; the animals that she cares for speak to her in codes.  The childlike imagination through which Hushpuppy views her world is one of the most gripping points of the film.  When a giant storm comes through and almost everyone evacuates, the few left behind—including Hushpuppy and her father, Wink—must band together to survive the floodwaters and protect one another while remaining independent from the rest of the world.  It incorporates a wide range of allegories and blends between fantasy and reality—which quite frankly, I still haven’t figured out.  Nonetheless, it is an emotional tour-de-force that doesn’t shrink back from the uncomfortable, but retains the heart and love that can only be found in the innocence of childhood.

The movie originally only played film festivals and is the first feature film by BenhZeitlin, who is nominated for Best Director this weekend. The cast of Beasts were not trained actors, which surprisingly makes for very convincing performances all around.  But the obvious standout and driving force behind the film is the now nine-year-old, Quvenzhané Wallis (pronounced: kwuh-ven-jah-nay). Wallis lied about her age in order to audition for the part (she was only five), and she was six throughout the majority of filming. There has been much buzz about the fact that she is the youngest person ever nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, but she is the youngest person ever to be nominated for any major award at the Oscars when you consider age during filming.

The utter force behind Wallis’s acting is incredible; I guarantee that you’ve never seen a person so young with as strong a screen presence before. She’s so direct that it all seems effortless for her, and yet you can’t help notice the pain and rage in Hushpuppy’s eyes. All at once, you can see Hushpuppy’s fear of losing everything she knows and her defiance against the forces that change her life. This kind of raw talent isn’t something one comes across every day. I doubt this movie would have been so well-received without her.

So while Beasts should be at the top of your list for its magic and its heart, you should definitely watch it if only to see Quvenzhané Wallis in her breakout performance as one of the youngest and most courageous heroines of the year. In any case, this is not the last time we will be seeing her on the big screen—and I would not be surprised in the slightest if we will be hearing a speech from her on Sunday night.

About the Writer:
Nick Scully is a senior Creative Writing major from the Southside of Chicago. He loves movies and television, and watches too many shows to keep up with; luckily, reading and writing have always had a huge impact on his life, and both help him to stay well-rounded.

Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook

silver-linings-playbook
Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook
by Kevin Sterne

Although at times it is heavy handed, and often teeters between charming and cheeky, clichés abound, there is something attractive about the way “The Silver Linings Playbook” tells its story. No, this is not the most ambitious movie of the year; it’s actually quite accessible even if you aren’t an anxious, depressed, OCD type with an attention deficit disorder. And if you are one with illegible RX’s wondering if they are even giving you the correct horse pills, this film probably strikes an emotional chord for its realistic portrayal of those with “issues,” a chord much louder and heavier than watching a few hostages escape from Iran. Argo, go screw yourself. The academy prescribes to Hollywood endings whether they are loosely based off semi-accurate historical events or not. If the latter, a book adaptation or sequel will usually suffice. But here in a little “indie” flick billed as a “love story,” we have all been surprised. And even though it does at times conform to the critically maligned tropes of today’s, let’s just say, inadequate cinematic standards–boy with problems falls for girl and thus doesn’t have anymore problems–it is a film that has taken, at the very least, a small step outside of the proverbial box of formulaic crap.

But let us hope for the sake of storytelling that the ability to be just a tad unconventional and slightly successful is not the formula for creating one of the best cinematic ventures of the year. Maybe it takes an actor to finally rise above awkward performances and forget, as we have painstakingly tried, just how bad “Limitless” and “The Hangover II” really were. Perhaps it was the fact that Mathew McConaughey look-a-like casting calls haven’t materialized, (though I hope after “Magic Mike” he will finally fade into oblivion), that forced Bradley Cooper to deliver a performance that exceeded expectations that had never even existed. Or maybe it was as simple as putting on a garbage bag and jogging around South Philly, it worked for Tony Danza after all, which drew us to a character unlike the archetypes we are so used to buying off the box office assembly line. There is a particular balance between being loved and loathed that Cooper’s character, Pat, exhibits; it is a fine tight rope act not far from reaching, but certainly still living in the shadow, of a Joaquin Phoenix or Daniel Day Lewis-esque performance.

Truth be told, good acting can only exist if great writing precedes it. Maybe the Golden Globes did get one thing right this year by nominating David O. Russell for his superb script. Don’t be fooled, these rich, big wig critics are definitely unconcerned with artistic quality so long as ego driven pocket crowding can still satisfy the billfold’s owner. Thus it is for us to decide. Can we not wind our way through the monotonous filth that pollutes our culture’s entertainment landscape and dive into something with a little substance? Silver Linings, at the heart, does just that while decorating itself with a cheap overdone message about the human condition and a painfully obvious plot twist that might not even fool M. Night Shyamalan. Beneath these cut-rate gimmicks, there is indeed a silver lining; we approach this film with expectations fit to the genre but come away mildly surprised.

Ultimately, this is a cinematic venture that initially slaps us in the face with its abrupt and, at times, frantic narration but later mellows out to a stereotypical love story. Rather than leaving the theater saying, “What the hell did I just watch?” we have long forgotten the maddening sequences concerning an obsessively compulsive, almost pathetic SOB who hits his mother and is all too often prone to exploding like a bottle rocket in a very real fit of rage. We have forgotten the jarring camera angles and blaring music that mirrors the utter chaos Pat frequents every minute. We have forgotten what makes this movie so good. But alas, followers of the mainstream herd are not ready for great art; see Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” No, instead we are glad to only remember that Bradley Cooper and that girl from “The Hunger Games” eventually worked it all out. This is all we really wanted wasn’t it? At the very least, this is what Hollywood wants us to crave. “The Silver Linings Playbook” seems to happily conform while still craftily hiding its brilliance for those smart enough to recognize.

About the Writer:
My name is Kevin Sterne, and I am a Creative Writing major with a minor in Screenwriting. I enjoy movies, music, and anything outdoors. Writing has always been my passion and I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I have been given that allow me share my work with others.

Theatrical Review: “Potted Potter”

Review of Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience / A Dan and Jeff Production
by Russell Nye

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I first heard of Potted Potter: The Unofficial Harry Potter Experience sometime in the late summer of 2012. The show’s premise is performing all seven Harry Potter books in seventy minutes with only two cast members. Was this even a possibility, or was I recalling the amount of page numbers and characters incorrectly when I reflected that there were over 300 characters and 3407 pages? When the performance came to my attention, I was currently re-reading the books, and I thought it to be too obscure of a coincidence to not go out and see the show. The entire premise of the project alone seems too other-worldly to even embark on, and the shock value of that tagline is not to be overlooked—for it is the selling point. The very prospect of all seven Harry Potter books being contained within a seventy minute parameter is un-thinkable for a fan, and so the idea sells.

I was definitely sold. I eventually made plans to go and see it this past December 2012. In the month leading up to going to the show, I built up more anticipation than I needed to and propelled my hopes beyond any level that could ever be lived up to. It is also important to note that my high expectations were due to the intense amount of sentiment which all of the Harry Potter books bear to me, as they do with so many others. Finally, the night of the show came: the curtains were figuratively drawn at the Water Tower Place Theatre, and the performance began. From start to finish, it was nothing but a disappointment.

Instead of trying to create any sort of impressive, or admirable, or even humorous production, the pair of Jeff and Dan decided to keep their show anchored to a street-performance quality (at which the show started in the mid-2000’s and never progressed). The premise of the show is that there are two actors who are there to put on a very expensive, lovely, and fully realized parody of all seven Harry Potter books to the audience, and one of the two jokes which is returned to every-minute of the show is that this is not the case—they do not deliver an expensive, fully developed parody.

Jeff is supposedly the world’s foremost Harry Potter scholar, and in addition to playing Harry for most of the sequences –where they are, in fact, trying to act out the books, and not returning to the same joke which relies on the audience’s, as well as their own recognition that, “wow, they (we) aren’t doing that”– his role throughout the entire show is to express the opinion on behalf of the half of the audience who has in fact read the Harry Potter books. Jeff’s role is lost to the second joke, which is that Dan hasn’t read the books and whose role represents the other non-read half of the audience.

These two jokes are demonstrated throughout the show in this way:
1) Jeff attempts to describe an aspect, or a scene of the Harry Potter series, and then he describes the set, prop, or knowledge of the series that the two of them will need to have to properly perform the scene.
2) Before Jeff can finish his description, Dan interrupts and says the situation is under-control.
3) After some uncomfortable conversation, it is revealed that Dan does not know what to do, which set materials/props to have acquired, how to spend their budget, or very much about Harry Potter at all.
4) At this point Jeff, as well as the audience are face-to-palm in recognition.
5) Once the actors and audience have recognized once again that there is no budget to spend and Dan hasn’t read the books, it is then concluded that they cannot put on the promised production, and they then move on to attempt whatever lesser-means of a performance they could muster.
6) The cycle repeats.

Though, for all of its blunders, the actors must at least be commended of their energy. For the entire duration of the show, the two actors lobby for audience reaction and interaction, eventually culminating —in the only really entertaining bit of the event— in a game of Quidditch. In this game, the front-row audience, which is divided into two subsections (Slytherin vs. Gryphyndor) knocks a beach ball back and forth towards two illuminated neon-rings posted high above the stadium. At the end of the match, Jeff comes out dressed up as a golden snitch, and is slammed into the ground by one of two children called up to the stage to be seekers.

Leading up to this theatrical marvel, Dan continuously runs onto the stage yelling, “Quidditch!” This moment was the only other funny part of the show–which peculiarly also had to do with Quidditch (conclusion: Quidditch is the funniest aspect of Harry Potter). Unfortunately though, this joke too falls victim to bilateral-joke-cycle which was constructed: they return to this yelling of Quidditch continuously because Dan does not know the meaning of Quidditch. Thus, Dan is unable to participate in the athletic competition because he has a vaccum and no broom–even the seemingly hilarious portion of the show was not very funny at all.

Before the show began, one of the two creator-cast members, Dan, ran up and down the aisles, shaking everyone’s hand, and introducing himself. I could have sworn there was a tearful glint in his eyes: perhaps this action was an apology of what was to come.
Note: “Potted Potter” is currently on its U.S. tour; the production has no upcoming performances in Chicago, but can be found in more cities throughout the country. Go to http://www.pottedpotter.com/ for more information on current shows and upcoming tour dates.

About the Writer:
My name is Russell Nye, and I am from Naperville, IL. This is my first year at DePaul. Prospectively, I am an English major, although I’m considering doubling in Philosophy.
Reading the writing of other people and trying my own hand at it have been the preferred methods of entertainment of mine for a fairly long time. Personally, I find writing to be very therapeutic; Nothing clears my head more than writing for no other reason than to write.

Book Review: Safe Haven

Bookcover_safehavenBook Review: Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
By Kathryn Sinde

Nicholas Sparks is known for writing his novels with a formula in mind: before even reading a work, readers seem to know how the novel is going to end and its basic premise.  As an avid reader of Sparks’ novels and former creative writing student, I can definitely see how some would think that there is a formula to these novels.

Firstly, it is easy to see the similarities of many of Sparks’ main female characters.  They are usually suffering from something that might be revealed in the beginning or held in secret until some point in the novel, and they are running from those secrets.  They end up meeting another character that is there to bring her comfort and form a bond that will carry them throughout the climax of the novel.

Having read a number of Sparks’ novels, I thought I knew what I was getting into when I picked up Safe Haven (mind you, I read this novel before the movie was even announced).  But still as I sat down and immersed myself in this novel, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional roller coaster ride that Sparks ended up taking me on.

The book follows Katie as she settles down in the small town of Southport, North Carolina, and her arrival is met with whispered questions and rumors as to why such a beautiful young girl would decide to settle into the small town.  Katie, is running from a tragically emotionally charged past that continues to affect her as she meets Alex Wheatley, a widower struggling to raise his two kids.

Katie and Alex form a friendship that helps both to heal from the tragic hand that life has dealt them.  Alex helps Katie begin to feel settled in Southport, and Katie begins to enjoy life in the small town, until that this until her past catches up with her.

It’s at this point that this novel really stands out as a romantic thriller because of the emergence of Katie’s past: Katie’s ex finds her and threatens her life and those she has met in Southport. In the climatic moment of this novel, you’re heart will pound, and you will just hope that everything works out in the end.

This novel goes above and beyond what I have come to expect from Nicholas Sparks, and I urge all English majors, especially creative writing students to read this novel because Sparks has to be doing something right to constantly creating bestsellers.

About the writer:
Kathryn is a junior English major from the small town of Hampshire, IL.   She writes because she feels it cleanses the soul and finds it easier to express feelings through writing than with actions.  Kathryn is also a huge Michael Phelps fan and has seen almost every single Mark Wahlberg movie.

His Name is Not Ted: An Evening with Josh Radnor

His Name is Not Ted: An Evening With Josh Radnor
By Gabbie Zeller

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            Imagine sitting in a coffee shop, catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in years. You have no idea what is going on in his life, and you don’t have the slightest clue as to how he is doing now. You begin to ask him questions such as: “How was life after college?” and “How exactly did you know that you wanted to be an actor?” For many of us, this was a reality last night when Josh Radnor, the star of the television show How I Met Your Mother, visited DePaul’s campus to give a talk. Of course a multipurpose room replaced the coffee shop, and there were a large number of us packed into the space.

Anyone who came to the event, or who happened to be in the Student Center, recalls that the line to even get into the room was extremely long. I happened to get very lucky when I saw how long the line was; I grabbed some homework and rushed over. This was at 4:30, and the event was not even supposed to start until 6pm! I can’t even imagine how many people ended up getting in line, but I guess that shows how popular the event was.

After anxiously waiting for an hour and a half, it was finally time to sit down and get situated before the event got started. The suspense was building, and everyone was getting very excited. When Josh came out, he was welcomed with cheers and applause. Not to mention obsessed fans yelling for “Ted” and saying “Marry me, Ted Mosby!”  When things finally calmed down, Josh told us that DAB, the DePaul Activities Board, had given him a water bottle and some Garrett’s popcorn. He decided that we all needed a snack, and proposed that we pass around the bag of popcorn. Josh started off with a little introduction about other schools he had been to, and then opened the floor to questions. I’ll admit, I was going into this thinking the whole thing would just be a talk, but most of it was actually a question and answer period. I thought that was interesting and preferred the question and answer format.

Many students asked intriguing questions, and Josh would reply and then go off on a slight tangent with an interesting story or fun fact about himself. He talked about his experiences from acting, writing, and directing, and his love for his profession.  At one point he asked the audience, “This is college. We can talk about stuff, right?”  Josh was ready and willing to answer every question that came his way. He shared insightful stories about college and finding yourself.

As great as the event was, I must note my one qualm. One aspect that put a damper on Josh’s talk was the hecklers in the audience. People were randomly yelling pointless comments while Josh was talking, and it was not only irritating to me, but also to Josh, and not to mention disrespectful. We are all adults, not children, and even though we may be big fans of his, he still deserved to be able to speak without being interrupted. Sure, most people were there because they watch How I Met Your Mother, and I believe most people are convinced that Josh is really Ted. I went, and I’m sure many others did to, to hear him share his insights and experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge How I Met Your Mother fan, but yelling out comments and going crazy is not my style.

On a lighter note, it was great to see how open Josh was with us, and hearing about how he tries to shed the “Ted” image. We can all relate to this. Sometimes there are things that seem to define us that really don’t. Although Josh is a lot like Ted in some ways (he’s from Ohio and loves to read) he is not Ted. He is Josh, a completely different, very real person.

Overall, it was a fantastic night and I had a blast! I know that all the students did too, and I believe Josh did as well. He was so nice, and even took a picture of all of us for his Twitter page. A very special thank you goes out to DAB for bringing us not only a great speaker, but also a fun night filled with laughter. And thank you to Josh Radnor, whose name is not Ted Mosby.

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About the Writer:
My name is Gabriella Zeller, and I am a freshman English major at DePaul. I am from Peoria, IL, three hours south of Chicago. I love to write short stories and hope to go into editing/publishing one day. I believe that to be a good writer one must be an avid reader. Reading is an important hobby instilled in me at a young age by my family. I enjoy reading all types of books and here are a few of my favorites: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Starter for Ten by Andrew Nicholls, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Steig Larsson.

Book Review: Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A WWII Memoir Rediscovered

By Anne Malina

some-girls-some-hats-and-hitler-a-true-storyOriginally published in 1984, Trudi Kanter’s memoir about her experiences as a hat designer during WWII made very little impact. However, her book was re-released in October of 2012 and is finally receiving the recognition it deserves.

Unlike most WWII memoirs, Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler has an upbeat quality conveyed through Kanter’s buoyant prose. As a Jewish woman from Vienna, Kanter is optimistic despite her numerous hardships and she is truly resilient in the face of ceaseless danger. In this account, we learn how she relentlessly fought to get herself and her husband out of Austria and into safety in England. But she did not stop there. She also took pains to get her aging parents to safety, proving her love and loyalty through her courageous actions.

Additionally, Kanter’s true love story is woven into this memoir. We watch her love grow and develop during times of fear and apprehension. Despite the chaos in her life, her love for her dear Walter only grows stronger and serves as impetus for her to fight all the harder.

This memoir took me completely by surprise with its charming wit and unexpected accessibility. Kanter is a thoroughly modern woman, unafraid to fight for her rights and for the rights of those she loves. She was a divorcee and a small business owner during a time when that was virtually unheard of. She fought with all she had to achieve not only safety, but economic success. Her unfailingly optimistic voice takes the reader on an unforgettable journey through war-ravaged Europe as seen by an unswervingly resilient young woman of Jewish descent.

In short, it is a touching, inspiring, and unexpected memoir that is well worth the read.

About the writer:
Anne Malina is a freshman at DePaul, double majoring in English & French, from Berwyn, IL.

Student Review: Saunders Reading 1.9.13

On Wednesday, January 9th, DePaul’s Student Center was graced with the presence of celebrated author, George Saunders. He read aloud from his new book, a compilation of short stories entitled, Tenth of December after which he graciously answered questions from the audience. The reading was moving and witty, enhanced by Saunders’ enthusiasm and character voices; the audience’s response was tremendous.  We laughed heartily and rooted for his characters even as we were moved by their pain and their hardships.

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What is most interesting about Saunders is that he is not merely a writer—he is an entertainer, and he certainly kept everyone entertained. He is also a man of the people, untainted by his great success. He answered questions humbly and often humorously, never taking himself too seriously, but always getting his message across. All in all, it was a lovely evening, and we, at DePaul, were very grateful to have had him here. He inspired many DePaul students and professors that night. We hope he visits us again!

–Anne Malina

About the writer:
Anne Malina is a freshman at DePaul, double majoring in English & French, from Berwyn, IL.