Airplane vs Volcano

Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (left) stars in “Airplanes vs. Volcano,” a B-list action movie produced by film knock-off company The Asylum. The film is available deep in the vaults of Netflix. / Courtesy of The Asylum

Have you ever wondered what you would do if a volcano started coming after you? Not just erupt. Apparently, the volcano has an unquenchable bloodlust that you cannot outrun. One minute you’re brushing your teeth, the next minute you’re consumed by heaps of lava that you didn’t see creeping behind you in the bathroom mirror. Well, I know I’ve worried day and night about volcanoes chasing me, until “Airplane vs. Volcano” addressed all my lava-related anxiety.

This 2014 B-list action flick follows the story of a commercial aircraft that must fly through a ring of newly formed volcanoes near Ka’ula Island near Hawaii. The volcanoes relentlessly spurt lava at anyone who dares cross their path, as if it is a personal offense. The chaos of the volcanic eruptions turns the aircraft into a pressure cooker of desperation. Meanwhile, U.S. military officials grapple with the decision of saving the people in the aircraft or evacuating the people who live near the volcano (because the military is apparently too small to do both of those things).

I should give full disclosure: this film was produced by The Asylum.

For those unfamiliar, The Asylum is a film studio famous for their “mockbusters” — direct to video knockoffs of popular movies, such as “Transmorphers: Fall of Man” and “Atlantic Rim.” The magnum opus of The Asylum’s filmography is the incomparable 2013 TV movie “Sharknado,” which gathered serious attention because it’s a movie about sharks in a tornado — what more could you want? So anyone familiar with The Asylum should ask this: does (cheesy) lightning strike twice?

The cast of characters is a laundry list of every action movie trope dummy you’ve ever seen. Dean Cain (whom you may remember as Superman from “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”) stars as Rick Pierce, an amateur pilot who takes over the aircraft after the original pilot dies at the hands of the bloodthirsty volcano and its unusually precise onslaught. His commandeering of the flight is met with severe skepticism, particularly from passenger Carlos Crieger (David Vega), who attempts mutiny against Rick. Carlos is supposed to be a “foreign” character, but I am unsure what country his stereotypical performance is supposed to mock, so I’ll just assume that it’s offensive to everyone, Antarcticans included.

Lucky for Rick, he has ample support from flight attendant Lisa Whitmore (Robin Givens), volcanologist Landon Todd (Matt Mercer) and air marshal Jim Kirkland (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, who older people and TV nerds may remember as Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington from “Welcome Back, Kotter”).

None of the performances were spectacularly bad (admittedly, something I crave in any Asylum movie).

In fact, Hilton-Jacobs surprised me with a pretty good performance. He gives his role the authority that it does not even deserve. The Asylum should have cast him as the lead in “Snakes on a Train.”

The cinematography is the standard made-for-TV style: nothing stunning, but it works well enough to where you can’t complain. However, I have to say that I admire the bold use of lens flare whenever they cut to a scene with military personnel involved. I like to think the lens flare is The Asylum’s equivalent to a salute.

The dialogue scrambles together all the action movie dialogue you’ve ever heard with a few little nuggets of brilliance shining through, such as when Rick asks the question that plagues mankind to this day: “If I were a plane, what could I get rid of?”

The technical flaws in this movie are more obvious than a gigantic ash cloud rushing towards a city. Of course, the volcanologist aboard the flight gives Rick the grand advice of “don’t fly too close” to the volcano. Are you sure about that? Isn’t the first rule of volcanic eruptions to get up close and personal with the molten rock and fire? The passengers aboard this flight must also be acrobats, as they attempt feats such as fixing the engine and tossing luggage out of an open cargo hold during flight. The movie suggests that the best way to stop the eruption is by shooting the volcano.

You know, like in “Jaws.” Perhaps the biggest issue for me is the fact that they were flying for about an hour around these volcanoes. Ka’ula is only about a quarter of a square mile in size.

I’m no Amelia Earhart, but a quarter of a mile flight should not take an hour. If it does, you should receive a free drink coupon in the mail afterwards.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is its poster, which confidently claims that “Airplane vs. Volcano” is “BASED ON THE TRUE STORY.” Which “true story” are they referring to? If something even slightly resembling the events of this film actually took place, people would have heard about it. It would be in history books as “The Great Airplane-Volcano War.” Dean Cain would be on a postage stamp.

The world as we know it would have changed.

Even with the many factors working against it — and there are many — ”Airplane vs. Volcano” still manages to be an enjoyable B-movie.

Sure, it doesn’t make any sense when you think about it, but the movie has a way of tapping into your emotions and sucking you in, no matter how stupid the event on screen may seem. It’s nonstop action from start to finish — never a dull moment to sit and reflect on the fact that the volcanologists don’t know anything about volcanoes, and the pilot knows nothing about planes.

Highly recommended for people who want pure excitement to take the wheel. Or in this case, the aircraft yoke.

— By Erin Penney, Staff Writer

JUDGE, THE

Robert Downey, Jr. (left) and Robert Duvall star in new courtroom drama “The Judge,” directed by David Dobkin. / Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

On occasion, films will tackle a genre that rarely leaves the cable television screen: the courtroom dramas. When people think of courtroom movies, they tend to think of the classics: “A Few Good Men,” “The Crucible,” “In Cold Blood,” “The Verdict” and “12 Angry Men.” It’s hard not to love the combination of snarky lawyers and deep moral questions that are always topped off by a big twist at the end.

But there hasn’t been an acclaimed courtroom free-for-all in the 21st century of film as of yet, and it’s difficult to say if “The Judge” will be able to fill that role. Instead of supplementing the electrically-charged court case with a background of interpersonal drama, “The Judge” took the opposite route.

Ultimately, the courtroom became a stage for the Palmer family to force out their interpersonal problems — and this would have been an interesting change to the courtroom film formula, had it tried to balance out the clichés with matching quality.

All the scenes in court took a backseat to the roller coaster of emotions that was the Palmer family disaster. Only 10 minutes into the film, the audience was dragged into the picturesque scenes of a small town family trying to pull itself back together 20 years after it fell apart. The poignancy of the familial moments was arguably only effective due to the outstandingly provoking father and son relationship portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. Even with a whirlwind of shabby directing decisions and a script that limits the potential of what could have been an amazing film, the acting of Duvall and Downey Jr. combined with the empathetic family melodrama left me surprisingly satisfied.

Directed by David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”), the film begins with illustrious city lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.) in a courthouse bathroom “accidentally” peeing on his opposing prosecutor. The entire theater lost it as Downey Jr.’s persona continued to be witty and obnoxiously egotistical, setting the stage for what began to feel like an “Iron Man: Back in Court” experience.

The court case grinds to a halt as Hank hears of his mother’s passing, and he makes the trek to his old hometown of Carlinville, Ind., where nothing ever changes. Hank is clearly (and explicitly) loath to return to the small town life, and the audience soon discovers that it is less because of the town itself and more due to his intensely estranged family. The movie takes off when Hank’s father (Duvall), the town’s only judge, is accused of murder, and Hank dives headfirst into untangling both the truth of the trial and the alienation of his family.

The film hit so many clichés that it’s hard to reconcile that Dobkin actually put them all in intentionally, not even trying to make any of them innovative. There’s the outwardly smug but internally struggling lawyer, the mom that tied the whole family together, every single small town trope you can think of, emotional courtroom scenes where everyone cries at least once and the stubborn grandpa, traditional and morally rigorous to a fault. Unfortunately even with the family melodrama, there were so many points in the two hours and 20 minutes where the film simply lagged before managing to jostle itself awake again. If you want to see a movie of suspension and action, this is not the work for you.

Though not an outstanding legal thriller, “The Judge” touched on the dysfunctional family dynamics that most viewers can relate to without dragging down the film into a dreary puddle of sadness. The cinematography was delightfully bright and captured the quaint small town feel with ease, and the soundtrack was a perfect choice with songs by Lucinda Williams and Bon Iver that are guaranteed to tug on your heartstrings. The entire theater burst into hysterical laughter an abundance of times while leaving room for scenes that made me tear up against my will, balancing humor and sentiment in equal terms.

The Palmer family was the root of all emotions in the courtroom (and theater). The chemistry between Duvall and Downey Jr. as father and son could not have been more remarkable, and we’ve all met a grandpa just like Duvall’s Judge Palmer. He is obstinate, he is honest, he is grumpy and honorable. Judge Palmer is the biggest jerk to his kids and the biggest sweetheart to his grandchildren.

Watching Hank try to reconcile with his father was a journey of one step forward and two steps back, and it was one of the few elements of the film that broke out of its cliché box. The supporting brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) and Dale (Jeremy Strong, “Zero Dark Thirty”) to Downey Jr.’s middle child were not as relevant as they could have been, though it seems to be due to the enormous shadow of Hank’s father drama.

And not to give too much away, but all you need to know about Hank’s daughter Lauren is that you want to give that small child 10,000 high-fives. Without her, the film would not have been nearly as cheerful and might have played out as a complete downer — even with Downey Jr.’s endless sass.

In the end, the film was much longer than it needed to be and hit far too many speed bumps to join the ranks of classic courtroom films, and yet as a family spectacle, it is worth seeing. The ending is one of the few surprising moments and leaves you feeling not entirely happy but undoubtedly content.

If you want to see two highly profiled actors at the top of their game, and you like mixing your laughs with a sprinkling of tears, it is worth setting aside a few hours of your time to settle down and get personal in the town of Carlinville, Ind.

— By Erin Degler, Contributing Writer

the-best-of-me-james-marsden-michelle-monaghan-600x399

Photo courtesy of Relativity

Just like the Nicholas Sparks movie adaptations that have come before it, “The Best of Me” makes you laugh, cry and wonder why life always seems so simple in movies. The movie follows the lives of two people who fell in love 21 years ago and were torn apart by their circumstances, only to be reunited once they have reached very different points in their lives in the present.

Unlike other Sparks movies, this one has a unique twist at the end that helps distinguish it from the traditional happy-ending love story. This story focuses more on fate and destiny rather than the unwavering love between two people. Nonetheless, it is a great love story. For those of you who want to lose yourself for two hours in a compelling love story, this is the perfect film for you.

The story is both relatable and very well told. Because this film is more than just a love story, there are many things that viewers can relate to indirectly. For example, viewers can relate to the concept of deciding what is best for someone else even if it ends up making both people unhappy. We have all been there from friendships to relationships, when we come to a crossroads and make a choice that we then have to live with. The film shows the consequences of those decisions by jumping back and forth between the beginning of the epic love story and the present day. Though the film jumps back and forth, the two time periods intertwine smoothly into one storyline.

Though the story itself was strong, the acting made the film even better. The epic love between young Dawson Cole (Luke Bracey, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”) and young Amanda Collier (Liana Liberato, ”If I Stay”), was mesmerizing. The palpable chemistry between Bracey and Liberato is undeniable. Dawson, a sweet soul that does not fit in with his outlaw family, is shy and Amanda, a well-off southern belle, is outgoing and strong headed. Though the two seem like polar opposites, somehow they prove to be each other’s perfect complement.

Liberato was the perfect combination of sweet and sarcastic. She did a phenomenal job of portraying the vulnerabilities that young girls feel as they grow up and try to find themselves.

And Bracey said more with one look than anyone else could with a monologue. He was captivating as the shy Dawson who breaks out of his shell to open his heart to love. From the moment Amanda and Dawson talk at the top of the water tower and Amanda begs Dawson to let her love him like he loves her, it’s clear that his heart is forever in her hands.

The older versions of the characters pay homage to the young love that lives on inside of us years after we say our goodbyes. Present-day Dawson (James Marsden, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) and present-day Samantha (Michelle Monaghan, “Due Date”), manage to accurately depict the awkwardness that we can imagine would be inherent in seeing your first love after 21 years.

Watching the two grow from awkward acquaintances to rekindling the romance of a lifetime was an enjoyable journey thanks to its authenticity — nothing about it felt forced. Rather, the characters seemed to naturally gravitate towards each another all over again.

After being Allie Hamilton’s second choice in “The Notebook,” Marsden finally got his well-deserved role as a Nicholas Sparks leading man. He was phenomenal; he seemed to make every girl in the theater believe in true love. He adeptly walked the line between wanting to be honest and shout his love from the rooftops and wanting to delicately navigate the flood of emotions that resulted from reconnecting with his one true love. Marsden’s talent is evident in many scenes in which he saves people, often at his own expense. However, he truly shines when he lets his character be vulnerable by telling Amanda that he has not loved anyone since her. The raw emotion that he displays is admirable.

Though the story is endearing and the acting is strong, ultimately, life just isn’t that perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the movies to escape reality just as much as the next person, but at some point, it just becomes too unbelievable. For instance, when Dawson and Amanda retreat to a cottage that holds many special and emotional memories of their youth and end up re-enacting moments from their past, the story becomes too mushy and unrealistic. Like all great thematic loves, everything seems to happen just right, and nothing is too insurmountable for the power of love. Though a love like this is unrealistic, sometimes it is nice to be able to pretend it exists.

Still, “The Best of Me” is another great film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks book. Despite the Sparks genre being incredibly formulaic, each individual film can still be an escape back to a time when people wrote letters to express their feelings, and true love was the “best” part of growing up.

— By Annie McNutt, Staff Writer

 

Book review

Photo courtesy of Quirk Books

Abandoned in dusty attics and deserted, crumbling homes, photographs — old, forgotten, black and white — are often all that remain of lost moments and people. The frozen, gray faces looking out from pictures hint at mysteries from the past. American author Ransom Riggs delves into these mysteries in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

The novel, which was published in 2011 and followed by the sequel Hollow City in January 2014, artfully immerses us in the secrets that the inky exteriors of images repeatedly conceal. Eerily blending elements of fiction and vintage photography, Riggs crafts an engaging fantasy within the seemingly grayscale picture of our own world.

Frightening, funny and surprisingly touching, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has the rare absorbing power to draw us out of our ordinary lives and into another shade of our world. At 16 years of age, Jacob Portman continues to be haunted by the unusual photographs that his grandfather showed him as a child. The images illustrate the impossible stories of his grandfather’s childhood home, an orphanage on a small Welsh island and the peculiar children who lived there during the Second World War. It is on this island that Jacob’s grandfather claims to have found safety from the monsters that hunted him and his companions.

“But these weren’t the kind of monsters that had tentacles and rotting skin, the kind a seven-year-old might be able to wrap his mind around — they were monsters with human faces, in crisp uniforms, marching in lockstep, so banal you don’t recognize them for what they are until it’s too late,” Riggs writes.

In the wake of his grandfather’s shocking and brutal murder, Jacob begins to explore the mysteries behind the stories of his grandfather’s intriguing and apparently inexplicable collection of photographs. The photographs lead Jacob to the remote island of his grandfather’s childhood, where Jacob’s search to understand his grandfather’s past reveals how he himself fits into the continuing story. When the same monsters that hunted Jacob’s grandfather begin to pursue Jacob and his newfound friends, the pace of the novel quickens to above a heartbeat, and readers will be turning pages rapidly until the novel reaches its heart stopping conclusion.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children explores how the past can intertwine with the present and how people are connected across time and generations. Resonating across both Jacob’s story and that of his grandfather, Jacob’s growing awareness of the importance of loyalty and friendship shapes the course of his adventure.

The book begs the questions: can we be friends with people who are different from us? What kinds of sacrifices have the power to define friendship, and how can friendship define us? How are we responsible for protecting our friends?

As Jacob’s blossoming friendships lead him down the path his grandfather once trod, Riggs carefully creates a separate, intricately drawn world within our own — the kind of world where mysteries and people step beyond the fleeting images of imagination. It is through growing friendship that Jacob enters the undetectable place where both he and his grandfather ultimately belong.

“If I never went home, what exactly would I be missing?” Riggs writes. “I pictured my cold cavernous house … the utterly unremarkable life that had been mapped out for me. It had never once occurred to me, I realized, to refuse it.”

Even though the photographs of Jacob’s grandfather have been a presence in Jacob’s life all along, quietly illuminating the shadowy, hidden world to which Jacob belongs, Jacob must embark upon his own journey in order to understand their true, revealing power.

“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary,” Riggs writes. “I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.”

Indeed, readers will certainly recognize the extraordinary, enveloping power of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

— By Amy Krivoshik, Staff Writer

Pinter Fest

Photo courtesy of Martin Rosenbaum

Pause.

Six actors executed the internationally recognized “Pinter pause” multiple times in Emory’s Theater Lab last Saturday night, marking the commencement of “The Pinter Staged Reading Series.” A three-week-long experience within Theater Emory’s “Pinter Fest,” the series will feature staged readings of six of playwright Harold Pinter’s most celebrated and controversial plays: The Homecoming, Betrayal, Moonlight, The Dumbwaiter, A Kind of Alaska and Family Voices.

“Pinter Fest” celebrates the Nobel Prize-winning playwright in his entirety. John Ammerman, director of Saturday’s staged reading, explained that he aims for audiences to “gain an overall view of Pinter” through these events. In addition to staged readings, “Pinter Fest” will include film screenings, discussions and extended insight into the works and motivations of Pinter through the analyses of faculty members and guest performers.

Pause.

The Homecoming was the first, and only thus far, of Pinter’s plays to have been performed in this month’s series of staged readings. In the staged reading format, cast members carry their scripts while performing. Yet, they are able to simultaneously portray their respective roles, both dramatically and effectively.

Furthermore, the actors were given only three days to prepare for the reading. Wednesday was the cast’s first read-through, thus they had three days to look over the script, to gain an understanding of their characters and to sufficiently master a new dialect — the British playwright’s setting revolves, more often than not, around London.

During his introduction of the staged reading, director Ammerman defined the preceding three days as “tempestuous” but, ultimately, an “interesting challenge.”

Pause.

Additionally, while introducing Saturday’s staged reading, Ammerman made it a point to consider the “Pinter pause.”

This device, which Ammerman referred to as “an active participant in understanding the text,” is employed throughout the majority of Pinter’s works, sharply separating dialogues and encouraging the audience to infer what they believe has happened and what has not happened.

The “pause” is essentially ubiquitous in Pinter’s writing and is oftentimes accompanied by sprinkled subtext and silences. His style is, in fact, unique to the point where the term “Pinteresque” has been coined and accepted.

Pinter has mingled pause with drama with silence; indirectly, he is able to suggest ominous references to the world, politics, communication and humanity — and all of its faults.

Pause.

In order to allocate enough attention to the words, actions and silences of the play itself, The Homecoming staged reading employed few distractive details. The set consisted of only a bench, two music stands and several chairs.

Most notable about the set was that there were four chairs upstage; when an actor was to exit a scene, he or she would sit down in one of the four chairs.
The audience could therefore see the transparent expressions of the observing “offstage” actors, most of whom often exhibited the same expressions of surprise, amusement and guilt as the audience members.

One slight counterexample to this simple setting, however, was the presence of James Brown in the Theater Lab.

Although Brown wasn’t actually there, stage manager and Program Administrative Assistant to the Film and Media Studies Department Maureen Downs, would announce “blackout” between scenes. She would then proceed to play a rousing 30 seconds of a James Brown song, namely “Get Up Offa That Thing.”

Pause.

Though the cast’s first read-through was only Wednesday, the group of actors succeeded in eliciting laughter and awe from their audience members.
Particularly amusing and routinely sparking laughter was Tim McDonough, chair and professor of Theater Studies. McDonough played Max, a lonely yet sardonic patriarch who criticizes his three sons and makes snap judgments about his son’s new wife, toward whom he uses a slew of profanities.

McDonough was tastefully melodramatic in his acting, and the contrasts between his created persona and that of the other actors created nothing short of an interesting dynamic onstage.

Pause.

In performing Pinter’s The Homecoming, the cast — with merely three days of practice — successfully utilized the “Pinter pause” amongst various techniques in order to convey a menacing, entertaining ambiance.

Much was appropriately left up to interpretation during the performance. As Pinter stated in his Nobel Lecture “Art, Truth and Politics,” “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”

Audience members were left to decide for themselves. Using pauses and other “Pinteresque” features as guides, The Homecoming’s audience actively interpreted what was true in the play, what was false in the play and what was concurrently true and false.

— By Emily Sullivan, Staff Writer

Photo by Mark Spicer/Staff

Photo by Mark Spicer/Staff

By Jungmin Lee
Contributing Writer

Written by Tennessee Williams in 1947 and set in the same time period, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire has solidified its reputation as an American classic. In fact, its longstanding relevance was showcased by an Emory student theater rendition which opened Friday, Oct. 17 at the Black Box Theater in the Burlington Road Building, and will run through next Saturday, Oct. 25. Presented by the Dooley Players, Emory’s student-run, non-musical theater organization (also the newly birthed combo of former groups AHANA and Starving Artists Productions), the show was an outstanding directorial debut for College juniors Zana Pouncey and Angad Dev Singh.

In a Directors’ Note featured in the program, Pouncey hinted at the intense storyline the audience was in for. She stated, “[Tennessee] Williams boldly allows his characters to wrestle through heavy topics that brashly confront genuine issues in society.” Singh also wrote, “I hope audience members experience the thriving, exuberant atmosphere of New Orleans and connect with the carefully crafted characters that Williams’ has created.”

Both directors emphasized that many societal themes explored in the original text, such as vanity, class and even homophobia, are still prevalent; therefore the late 1940s setting would not be a hindrance for the audience.

Admittedly, I had some skepticism about the production’s ability to capture the nuanced excellence of its many predecessors, especially the Academy Award-winning 1951 film adaptation. But all my doubts dissipated as soon as our protagonist Blanche Du Bois (College sophomore Carys Meyer), stepped onstage, looking and sounding like ever the southern belle. Clutching tightly onto her belongings, she frantically scanned her unfamiliar urban surroundings of New Orleans for dear younger sister Stella Kowalski (College senior Ali Reubenstone). The audience watched silently, enraptured by Blanche’s breathy drawl, a voice distinctly sprinkled with a sophistication that seemed out of place in Stella’s simple home. It became clear that this unglamorous living space was a far cry from where the two grew up, a family plantation called Belle Reve (aptly translated to “beautiful dream” in English). Even more startling to Blanche than her sister’s unimpressive taste in lifestyle, was her horrific choice in a husband — enter Stanley Kowalski (College freshman John Beck), aka her worst nightmare.

The chemistry between Stanley and Blanche buzzed from the moment they met — and not in a good way. He, a brutish Polish-American – or in Blanche’s words, a “Polack” — was a Master Sergeant in the war with a no-BS attitude whose explosive anger often led to instances of domestic abuse in his passionate relationship with Stella. She, a sensitive and complicated woman with a habit of lying to tell things as they “ought” to be instead of the grittier truth, was obsessed with beauty, appearances and high-class matters. In his first acting role at Emory, Beck walked, talked and breathed masculinity as Stanley, eliciting a few chuckles with his blunt attitude and caustic humor, as well as a couple gasps from the audience with his hellish exhibitions of violence. I was particularly impressed when he powered through a scene without so much of a flinch, after accidentally cutting his finger on a prop that literally left him bleeding onto the set. Similar to her co-star, Meyer also gave a compelling performance, demonstrating a special dichotomy in her character, one that simultaneously sparked my sympathy and frustration.

Interactions between these opposite personalities led to an increasingly hysterical Blanche and positioned Stella in the middle of an interesting near-love triangle. Throughout the play, Stella found herself torn between these two loyalties. Although she consistently defended her big sister, Stella’s devotion to Stanley kept her at a small but unmistakable distance from Blanche. Here, Reubenstone deserves special credit for depicting this tug-of-war relationship so believably. As the most emotionally stable individual of the trio, she was also the most relatable to me, because the audience itself shared her struggle to identify a clear villain and victim. A testament to Williams’ writing, Blanche and Stanley were not one-dimensional figures who could easily be categorized into either camp. For Stella, her allegiances were complicated by an overwhelming attraction to her husband which was so magnetic that it made zero sense to her dismayed sister and perhaps to the audience, too.

The challenge these three faced, to bear with one another in the confines of only two rooms barely separated by a curtain, filled the show to the brim with intense dramatics. Thankfully, the whole play wasn’t all tears and screams. Moments of beauty glimmered with hope and sometimes with a quiet sadness; we saw one such instance in the beginning stages of Blanche’s budding romance with a friend of Stanley named Mitch (Goizueta Business School senior Mike Filer). In the gentlemanly and soft-spoken Mitch, she saw a potentially happy future, one where she would finally be at peace with a good man by her side. In addition to these romantic scenes, there was a surprising dose of humor interspersed between the lines in several bits. The audience laughed at many of Blanche’s over-the-top antics, amused at the lengths she would go to keep up appearances or seduce every man she came in contact with – even a collector boy, played humorously by College freshman Devon Gould. Much like Blanche’s unpredictable roller coaster of emotions, everyone in the black box seats experienced a spectrum of feelings watching these stellar performances. One minute, our jaws would be dropped in shock at yet another one of Stanley’s outbursts and the next, we would be smiling and giggling away at Blanche’s flirting.

Unlike the tumultuous relationships featured on stage, Meyer noted in an interview with the Wheel that the cast and crew created a collaborative environment during rehearsals: “The cast worked well together … The directors also did an awesome job. They had a vision for the show, but also let us experiment with our characters,” she said.

Thanks to this smooth pre-production process, each actor had the chance to shine onstage, including supporting roles who lent a seamless hand to the story and proved that one’s quantity of lines really had no bearing on one’s quality of performance.

As for the directors, their clear vision proved successful in the skilled staging and technical features of sound and lighting, both of which helped set the ambiance of the play without distracting from the central plot.

The thundering applause as the entire cast of “A Streetcar Named Desire” took a bow was well-deserved, to say the least. I give the performance a solid five out of five stars. Co-director Singh had written in the program, “This is a play that takes my breath away each time I read or view it, and I hope it does the same for you.”

I can say for myself and no doubt, many others who witnessed Friday’s opening night: mission accomplished.

Editor’s note: This production contains depictions of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Counseling and support services remain available to the Emory community. Students may reach the Counseling and Psychological Services Center by calling 404.727.7450 or the Office of Religious Life at 404.727.6225. Faculty and staff may reach the Faculty Staff Assistance Program at 404.727.4328.

— Contact Jungmin Lee at jungmin.lee@emory.edu

Photo courtesy of FOX

Photo courtesy of FOX

When Fox announced “Gracepoint,” a remake of the critically-acclaimed British mystery “Broadchurch,” viewers wondered what direction it would go. Even though it’s telling the same story, what it’s essential for it to stay away from being an exact duplicate by bringing its own American flair and independence. After finishing the pilot, I found that the show had a good start, but unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough. I kept on wishing more would happen that would help spark my commitment to watching it.

According to the plot, in the town of Gracepoint in Northern California, the Solanos wake up to another typical morning in a humble, crime-free town where people all know and greet each other. However, this seemingly perfect lifestyle comes crashing down when Beth Solano (Virginia Kull, “Boardwalk Empire”) realizes that her son is missing as the police have just found the body of young Danny Solano (Nikolas Filipovic) on the beach. Even worse, the forensics team has ruled foul play, classifying it as a homicide.

The contrast between the horrific crime and the outwardly tranquil atmosphere creates an uneasy, eerie feeling, and it is one of the most effective things that the pilot accomplishes. The thought of a lurking murderer creates unpredictable possibilities that can unnerve anyone, especially parents who fear for the safety of their children.

It seems that the show will explore how a murder will forever change the once-peaceful town. Once the clues start appearing, “Gracepoint” will become a totally unexpected and dangerous mystery. But upon closer examination, is the town as perfect as it seems, or is there a darker secret involved?

“Gracepoint” is also shaping up to be a “whodunnit” due to its large supporting cast. It suggests that a great shadow conspiracy has always been afoot and is about to unfold, contrary to the cheery appearance of the town and its people. As the father walks around town and the police are asking questions, the camera repeatedly concentrates on the same faces. This cast of characters will undoubtedly be suspects for the homicide, although it is a little disappointing that they revealed the group of suspects so early on.

However, this tactic does capture the audience’s attention, and it gives viewers something to ponder about. Especially effective among the people who may have played a part in the sinister plot is Danny’s friend Tom Miller (Jack Irvine). Immediately after being told about Danny’s death, he proceeds to delete all of Danny’s past text messages to him and the data on his computer, further investing the audience in the possibility of a conspiracy.

Speaking of characters, the main characters of the show are Detective Emmett Carver (David Tennant, “Doctor Who”) and Detective Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn, “Breaking Bad”). Tennant actually stars as the protagonist in “Broadchurch,” and it will be fascinating to see how his performance in “Gracepoint” will change and become its original creation. The most engaging thing about Carver is the fact that he has his own troubled personal history, causing a strain on his trust in Ellie, especially after Carver takes Ellie’s promotion.

Ellie is a person who seems determined to prove her worth, and because of her role as the best friend of Beth and the mother of Tom, her storyline will open up new possibilities. Because of the strong possibility of Tom being involved in the murder, Ellie may have to deal with the conflict between personal family values vs. the duty of being a law enforcer.

Another compelling element in these characters will be how they will complement and contradict each other in their partnership; Carver’s cynical, hardened misanthropy will undoubtedly clash with Ellie’s empathic heart. It is regrettable to note that overall, these characters are also surprisingly hard to connect with; Carver is portrayed as aggressive and arrogant while Ellie is too emotionally affected.

I recognize the fact that their characters will surely develop further on in this 10-episode season, but the problem I had with the detectives is the same problem with the overall pilot: too much is happening, causing the introduction to the story and the pacing to feel rushed. In addition, the characters are only recognizable for their roles in the plot rather than their actual distinguished characteristics.

Danny is killed in the very beginning of the pilot, but we never really see the family dynamics of the Solanos. We don’t recognize the part that Danny played in his family’s life and whether there is something deeper hidden. Even though we sympathize with the family over the death of their son, we don’t empathize as much since we don’t actually see who they are. In particular, when the parents grieve, they seem too disconnected with one another, so much so that I was confused whether they were spouses or siblings.

While the pilot does a great job setting up the future episodes, the build-up becomes a weakness for the characters, since we don’t see the chemistry and the mystery behind the community. The subplots offer tense moments, but because so much is shoved down the viewers’ throats, they don’t have time to breathe. As a result, the foreshadowing in the episode will be hard to keep track of and will struggle to retain the viewers’ interest.

This brings me back to my original observation: even though “Gracepoint” is a remake of  “Broadchurch,” I am hoping that it will become its own genuine product. Not just a carbon copy, but one with a separate, imaginative ending and inspired mystery tropes. Viewers of this “whodunnit” mystery should be expecting red herrings, alibis and plot twists to keep them engrossed in the show. Whether the show’s producers will give them the danger to keep us entertained and curious is up for discussion.

It might be too early to judge “Gracepoint,” but with such a thrilling premise, I’ll certainly stick around for the answers to the mystery.

— By Jake Choi, Staff Writer

Antebellum747

Four years after the 2010 release of Need You Now, people still get the hit melody of that four-time Grammy-winning title track stuck in their heads. Ever since the album that made headlines, Lady Antebellum has been traveling the world and pumping out albums that have had listeners endlessly clicking the replay button.

This week, another album has been added to their repertoire. Lady Antebellum’s fifth album, 747, features 11 new songs with a bigger, bolder sound than the band has ever had before — and the deluxe album has even more.

The band, which is comprised of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, is constantly aiming to find a newer, more innovative sound in their music. The album’s title, 747, is a clear reference to a plane soaring to new destinations, which is precisely what the band aims to do with their new album. The new songs are fiercer and more ambitious than before. The beats are faster, and there are fewer ballads than fans of previous albums may expect.

Those who have fallen in love with Lady Antebellum’s ballads are in luck, though: “One Great Mystery” and “Damn You Seventeen” have a softer tone than the rest of the album and are soothing to the ears. Scott and Kelley blend their voices in a harmony that causes “One Great Mystery” to bear the strongest resemblance to the band’s old style, found in songs like “Just a Kiss.” The other stand-out ballad on the new album, “Damn You Seventeen,” plays over Haywood’s smooth instrumentals and focuses on nostalgia, portraying a stream of memories from years past (“I still feel the vinyl of the backseat / With the windows halfway down”).

Their musical style often features this memorable technique, with bouts of repetition followed by a burst of vocals and instrumental additions right at the beginning of the chorus. This structure is in full swing on 747, and the band also uses an old trick of theirs: repeating the first line at the end of the song, just to get that image to stay in your head long after the song is over. This trick works particularly well in “She Is,” which begins and ends with the line, “She hails from Boston / She hates the sound that goodbyes make.”

Nearly all of 747’s songs are upbeat, and without fail, they all got me tapping my toes within the first 10 seconds. The album opener, “Long Stretch of Love,” features a catchy guitar riff and lyrical tune that captured my attention right away, and I immediately knew I’d be hooked. Similarly, the title song, though a little softer, uses Lady Antebellum’s classic steady beat and harmonization as it tells the story of lost love hoping to be revived.

One of Lady Antebellum’s signature tricks is to tell a sad story with a quick beat, a juxtaposition that’s given them so many loyal fans. The final song on the album, “Just A Girl,” does exactly this, depicting a failed one-night stand with a happy, bouncy beat that contradicts the story, creating a mixed mood effect.

The style is a little different, but long-time fans shouldn’t worry; 747 still features Lady Antebellum’s signature country touch infused with a newer, more explosive feel. The band also stays true to their common themes: love, whiskey and letting go. They also don’t quite relinquish their tendency to storytell in their songs, which means the lyrics are as engaging as ever.

I’ll never get tired of hearing Scott and Kelley harmonize together — there’s always been something successful about bands with one male singer and one female singer — and with Haywood keeping up the background vocals and instrumentals, the three sound beautiful as always. With an album like this, it’s hard to see them ever releasing anything sub-par.

With releases like 747 coming out to refresh their style and increase their fan-base, Lady Antebellum is set to stay in the spotlight for a long time.

— By Kelsey Klosterman, Contributing Writer

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Film adaptations of books are always a little bit nerve-wracking. And for good reason: it’s nearly impossible to expect one director’s interpretation of a novel to live up to the amazing characters, settings and situations we’ve created in our imaginations.

But there’s always the possibility: maybe this will be the one that gets it right.

So I was equal parts ecstatic and petrified to see “Gone Girl.” Featuring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris in a screenplay written by Gone Girl author herself Gillian Flynn, the film sounded thrilling. But remembering the pain and suffering that I’d experienced after previous film adaptations of books (“Cloud Atlas,” anyone?) was reason enough to fear the experience.

And that’s why after leaving the movie, I was shocked that I didn’t feel … more. “Gone Girl” had a lot of great elements to it, but it just didn’t hit me in the core the way the book did. I wasn’t angry with the movie, and I wasn’t thrilled with it. I was just … meh.

Directed by David Fincher (“Se7en,” “Fight Club”), the film tells the story of Nick (Affleck) and Amy (Pike) Dunne, a New York-turned-Missouri couple whose marriage is showing the cracks of age. The morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick comes home to find his living room in disarray and his wife gone — and the search for Amy evolves into a media frenzy as the signs increasingly point towards Nick.

It’s a brilliantly constructed book, beginning as your average “whodunit” and evolving into a story that teems with hints of psychology, mystery, memory and a commentary on the tumultuous nature of relationships.

But ultimately, what made the book so enthralling was that you had no idea what was going to happen next. It’s not the kind of book that’s so deeply moving or resonant you can read it again and again and always find new things to appreciate. The first time through, it’s a rollicking, terrifying ride — but once you know how the story ends, the book has kind of done all it can do.

Knowing what was going to happen next made the movie surprisingly lackluster, which was frustrating, after a book that was so viscerally affecting and such a terrifically engrossing page-turner.

Ultimately, the psychological aspects of the story, which were what really made the book shine and differentiated it from your run-of-the-mill detective story, came up kind of flat in the film. There’s only so much you can do with the narrations (which were bordering on excessive, anyway).

That being said, the movie has a lot going for it. Newcomers to the story will surely appreciate the twists and turns that the story takes, trying to understand just what went wrong in Amy’s and Nick’s marriage and the roles that these different characters play in their lives.

Pike is phenomenal in her role as Amy, excellently taking you through all the different versions of Amy we come to know. We love her, we hate her, we feel sorry for her, we feel scared of her — no matter how we feel, we believe her.

Harris does his very best with his first mainstream dramatic role in years, but you can always see a glimmer of Barney Stinson peeking out from behind the façade of Desi Collins.

Cinematographically, the film creates the emptiness and desolation of a small Midwestern town amazingly. There’s a downtown, but it’s not cute and charming — it’s empty and depressing. The stylization of the scenes in New York (where Amy and Nick first meet and fall in love) versus the scenes in Missouri plays to the devolution of their relationship perfectly, a marker of the shift from liveliness and love to boredom and frustration.

And it was beyond refreshing to watch a film adaptation of a book that stayed true to the story. Thanks in large part to Flynn’s role in the film, there were no moments of “Why did they forget that?”

In fact, that’s why the movie is so long; it keeps in all those beautiful little lines from the book, making sure we understand the characters’ motivations and situations.

Word on the street had been that Flynn wrote a different ending for the film than for the book, with the intent of keeping the audience guessing. And that prospect was what kept me intrigued the whole movie — how could she possibly end the story differently? The general consensus seems to be that the book ending was “slapped in,” and I was beyond excited to see where else the story would end. But that was false advertising: the film ends exactly the same way as the book, on a note that both makes the most logical sense and frustrates the audience beyond belief.

This is certainly a difficult film to talk about without giving anything away, and as I’ve said, the whole fun of the story is not knowing the ending. So if you have no idea what direction the story ends up taking, see “Gone Girl.” It’s a hell of a ride. In fact, I’m kind of mad that I couldn’t discover the story all over again. The film succeeds on so many levels, that to a newcomer to the story, it’s sure to be a winner.

I guess that is all you can really ask for in a film adaptation. Accuracy, a tone that rings true to the book and some exceptional acting. And on all of those notes, “Gone Girl” definitely succeeded.

— By Emelia Fredlick, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Most people expect to be frightened by horror films. Anybody who embraces this expectation will inevitably pay close attention to how horror films employ traditional scare tactics, such as making the familiar into the alien or vilifying the innocent in order to achieve this effect. Manipulations of these tactics can instill a deeper and more satisfying level of fear, one that transcends gimmicky ‘person-jumping-out-behind-a-corner’ scenes.

Since the horror genre, and possession films in particular, depends so much on the same basic narrative (someone gets possessed, they think it’s in their head, they start losing it as they attempt to convince others, they seek help or advice from an expert, they move, they’re still possessed and then there’s eventually a ritual sacrifice at the climax), these manipulations are essential in judging a film’s originality.

Annabelle,” the prequel to last year’s unexpected hit “The Conjuring,” has some memorable and unique moments but ultimately falls victim to complacency due to its dependence on predictable and overused horror clichés.

Directed by John R. Leonetti, “Annabelle” begins with an out-of-the-blue occurrence involving a violent intrusion of two satanic cult members in the home of a newly situated couple, John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis). Although the motive behind the attack is not explicitly stated (a detective’s explanation is that: “Crazy people do crazy things”), it is clear that a large doll that John recently gave Mia plays a significant role in the episode. After several more eerie and inexplicable encounters with an invisible, yet omnipresent force within the house, Mia urges John to get rid of the doll and suggests that they immediately move to an apartment in order to put the odd occurrences behind them.

After some time has passed, Mia has given birth to her daughter and John has landed a job in an extremely competitive and time-consuming medical program. However, the doll mysteriously reappears in a moving box, and things get exponentially worse for Mia as she struggles to convince John of her sanity while simultaneously protecting their infant daughter from supernatural forces.

In order to evaluate the originality of “Annabelle,” it’s necessary to first compare it with its loosely-related sequel, “The Conjuring.” Due to the success of “The Conjuring,” many people will go to see this film because it has been marketed as its prequel. However, the word prequel is misleading because “Annabelle” deals only with a brief side story featured in “The Conjuring.” In that case, the Annabelle doll was simply used to introduce the ghost hunters in the beginning of the film and had no causal relationship with the unfolding of events within “The Conjuring.”

Regarding the scope of both films, “Annabelle” mainly focuses on Mia and her daughter, whereas “The Conjuring” had a family of seven and two intriguing ghost-hunters (Vera Farmiga, “The Departed” and Patrick Wilson, “Insidious”). Therefore, “The Conjuring” had more to work with in terms of physical space and character development, and “Annabelle” suffers from the lack of these elements.

The ghost hunters were arguably the most original aspect of “The Conjuring,” because their perspectives gave the film a fresh angle that both acknowledged and built upon the cliché of demonic experts. “Annabelle” uses the characters of a priest (Tony Amendola), who attempts to alleviate the demonic powers through faith, and a wise librarian (Alfre Woodard), who has experience with supernatural powers, in a similar manner but doesn’t spend sufficient time developing their characters. At one point, the librarian’s past is explored in a brief scene, but her involvement with Mia’s affairs seems forced and unnatural. Similarly, the priest is just used to show how ineffective faith and religion are in the midst of satanic powers.

Depending on what you look for in a horror film, you will be either pleased or frustrated with how little background is provided regarding the origin and motive of the demonic presence. I appreciated this aspect because I’ve grown bored of the endless scenes centered on sleep-deprived characters hunched over dusty books with grotesque illustrations of ancient demons and horrific rituals. This faster pace accelerates the film’s rhythm and distinguishes it from the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, which dwells on relatively trivial disturbances like a door mysteriously closing by itself.

I had no qualms with Mia and her confinement to the tiny apartment, but some may take issue with one actor taking up so much screen time and the prevailing sense of claustrophobia that accompanies a modestly-sized urban apartment. Some horror films cleverly use claustrophobia to tap into a universal anxiety, but in this case, the limitation of space comes at the expense of creative content. My favorite scene actually occurs in an elevator and utilizes the sense of claustrophobia in an appropriate way.

Also, this movie is nothing like Chucky from “Child’s Play.” Yes, they are both about demonic dolls, but Annabelle is an inanimate object that signals the presence of something far more disturbing and threatening. Trust me, once Mia sees what is actually attached to the doll, you’ll think twice about seemingly mundane and commonplace objects within your home. In fact, I appreciated that the doll never really came to life because it generated constant anticipation and stayed clear of the absurd silliness of a killer doll.

All in all, “Annabelle” has all of the components of a stereotypical horror film but with several original moments that are reminiscent of its better half, “The Conjuring.” It’s clear that this film’s originality suffers from using the success of “The Conjuring” as a marketing crutch (“Before the Conjuring, there was Annabelle” serves as the centerpiece of its marketing campaign). However, I’m an avid fan of horror films and genuinely enjoyed the experience due to a lively crowd (which can make even the worst movies unexpectedly entertaining) and a thorough obsession with any relationship to the story underlying “The Conjuring.”

— By Nathan Parker, Contributing Writer

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