Category Archives: Miles of Movies

Miles of Movies: Your Name

By Miles Barber (CE ‘18)

Every once in a while, a movie comes along with rave reviews and high expectations, but it’s a few months before it makes it to my area. (This film was released in Japan in 2016 but not until quite recently in the U.S.) All of the things I heard, the amazing animation and the great story, really built up the anticipation. And then, in a rare twist, this film exceeds my expectations. Your Name is the best anime film I’ve ever seen, and I think it’s one of the best traditionally-animated films ever made.

The premise is fairly easy to understand: Two people, a country girl and a city boy, randomly wake up inside each other’s bodies for a day at a time. Some days they’re swapped and some days they aren’t. They slowly learn more about each other and accidentally mess up days of each other’s’ lives to great comedic effect. Each lead very different lives with different dreams and aspirations, which really blends well to make this story engaging. Due to some twists and turns in the story, they become determined to find each other. And all of this happens around a gorgeous comet event. It might seem a little cheesy, but it works for the movie. It certainly worked for me.

This film is perfectly paced. It draws you in from its first scene and never lets go. I was thoroughly invested in the characters and incredible premise right from the start. And just when it seems like a chapter in the story is going to overextend itself, there is some twist that blows your mind while simultaneously fitting perfectly into the movie. The film wraps itself up in a nice bow that leaves you satisfied with what you’ve seen and eager to experience the film again. You really feel like a lot of time has passed in this story, and parts of it actually create a profound sense of nostalgia.

The technical aspects of the film were, as expected, fantastic. The animation leaps off the screen, especially in the rural landscapes where the girl lives. There are so many gorgeous shots of the landscape that feel incredibly real. The animation also handles lighting very well. There is a scene at twilight that feels incredible, and the comet is illuminated beautifully in the sky as it passes overhead. There is just something incredibly magical about the way this film is animated. While there are plenty of computerized effects, they somehow blend with the traditional, hand-drawn animation really well and don’t feel jarring.

Something else that I found impressive about this film is how well it manages to flesh out its characters and put them in realistic relationships. Not once did a character’s actions feel contrived or strange; instead, they just make sense. The differences in the lives of these characters are so well-realized in this movie. Even though this type of story is on the complicated side, I never felt confused or lost at any point in the story; it was all clear and powerfully directed.

There is something in this movie for everyone. Whether it’s from the touching story, the great twists, the genuine mystery element that takes form when the two characters try to find each other, the gorgeous animation, or the premise alone, Your Name will leave it’s mark and you’ll never want it to end. ◊

Grade: A+

Miles of Movies: Life

By Miles Barber (CE ‘18)

Life is about a group of scientists at the International Space Station (ISS) who discover cellular life from soil samples on Mars. This lifeform is studied and nurtured aboard the ISS, growing rapidly. But when one of the scientists shocks it in an attempt to revive it after an accident, it attacks. The rest of the film is about how the remaining scientists try to contain this creature and ultimately try to survive.

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Miles of Movies: Logan

By: Miles Barber (CE ‘18)

In a world of uplifting, happy-ending, fast-paced superhero films, Logan takes a different approach. It presents its titular character as a dark, depressed man who’s lived for two hundred years, watching other mutants like him rise and fall, and watching people he’s cared for get killed because of him. To Logan, the world is a painful place, and there isn’t much to make him care about living. Charles Xavier is one of the few people he takes care of—until he meets Laura, a young Hispanic girl that he must take to the Canadian border.

This film is half road-trip, half bloody action. There are no bright colors or super heroes. The opening ten to twenty minutes set the tone perfectly: heartbreaking, realistic and believable. They also provide some backstory about Laura and make the main characters feel authentic.

The special effects, sound design, and cinematography are all great in this film. Hugh Jackman plays Logan well and has for the past seventeen years. Dafne Keen, who plays Laura, isn’t given a whole lot to do until the last act of the film, but really brings it then. As far as I know, she’s never been in a film before, so I’m interested to see where she goes from here.

Logan’s character arc develops strongly in the first two acts of this film (introduction and road-trip), but it does not play out well in the third act. As a “road trip” movie, you might expect this film to be formulaic. And it is but not in a way that I particularly like.

For a dark movie like this to work, you need the main character to be either likable, relatable, or sympathetic. After all that Logan has been through in the previous X-Men films, he should at least be sympathetic. But in the third act, he isn’t. He just goes back to being a stubborn, cranky guy who doesn’t want to do anything or help anyone. And that took me out of the movie.

Overall, Logan is a new tone for a superhero film. It features a different world for mutants without hope or purpose. The first two acts are strong in setting up the tone, characters, and story. There are some truly heartbreaking moments here, but the third act made Logan unlikable again—which was disappointing. I would still recommend this film, but just know that it is a bloody mess and isn’t terribly uplifting or fun like a typical superhero film. ◊

Grade: B+


Miles of Movies: The Lego Batman Movie

By Miles Barber (CE ‘18)

The Lego Batman Movie is about Lego Batman who goes around Gotham City saving the day, fighting criminals, and above all, working alone. Much to the dismay of Alfred, his caretaker, and even The Joker, who just wants to be Batman’s arch-enemy, Batman just doesn’t care about anybody but himself. So when he accidentally adopts the orphan Dick Grayson, Batman must grapple with his fear of family and what that might mean for both him and his image.
I was skeptical about this film, which seemed like it would be just a sillier version of the previous Lego Movie, but in fact, I was surprised. The Lego Batman Movie is just as good as The Lego Movie, playing a lot of the same beats but taking its focus away from the story and onto Batman. In fact, the entire film revolves around Batman’s inner struggle with having people around him to care for. There are a lot of moments when you really feel for Batman and what it’s like to be admired by so many people but unable to connect to any of them.

The self-aware humor and cultural references in The Lego Movie are all back for this film. What worked really well in The Lego Movie works even better here as this film brings back all of Batman’s villains and then some, making fun of everything Batman. The slapstick comedy that was everywhere in the previous film is toned down a little bit in this film to make way for more Batman-related humor. The Joker’s relationship with Batman is hilarious and the other villains tie in pretty well. Even Sauron is in this film! How did they manage to get that to work?

A big change in this film is the animation. It’s still mostly Legos, but there is a distinct camera now, giving a feeling of a live-action film. The lighting effects are really great this time around, and there are some wide shots of Batman flying that look gorgeous. The color scheme is different too, focusing on blacks and reds in contrast to the colorful feel of the previous film. All of these changes make you forget that you’re watching a movie animated from Lego blocks. So much of The Lego Movie revolved around building things with Legos, but almost nothing in The Lego Batman Movie required them.

Overall, The Lego Batman Movie is a worthy follow-up to The Lego Movie. It keeps the same amount of humor but changes it up a little. The story itself is centered around Batman, which makes for good character development but a bit of a forgettable story. I really enjoyed the change in animation style, even though it begs the question, “why even bother making it a Lego Movie?” I really had a blast with this film and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good time or just feeling a little lonely; you’ll finish the movie with a smile on your face. ◊

Grade: A-

Miles of Movies: The Edge of Seventeen

by Miles Barber (CE ’18)

The Edge of Seventeen is about Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a high school junior who suffered a huge loss in the family a few years ago. She’s bitter and annoyed at how life has turned out and resents her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) who just seems unfairly perfect. and now feels betrayed by her only friend Krista who seems to be prioritizing other people. Throw in a hilarious teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) and some real emotion and you have a stellar coming-of-age story that is pleasantly surprising.

I wouldn’t call this film a comedy, but there is a lot of humor, especially from Woody Harrelson. The situational awkwardness of so many of the scenes is also funny. Nadine is a pretty awkward person, but one of the characters in this film, Erwin, is hundreds of times more awkward. Usually I don’t like awkward humor but it works in this film because Nadine’s self-loathing is driven by her awkwardness.

The performances are really good too. Hailee Steinfeld has only really had smaller roles since her fantastic performance in True Grit, playing smaller characters in often mediocre movies. I’m so glad this film lets her really shine. Blake Jenner is really good as her brother too, giving a layered character some really powerful scenes towards the end. Even Woody Harrelson’s character works on multiple levels.

What I’m really getting at here is that the writing in this film is pretty stellar. Not a single line of dialogue felt like it was fake or written for a movie. All of the characters had depth beyond what you might expect in a comedy or even your standard coming-of-age film.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t without some flaws. Though I love the writing of the dialogue, the story is just a little messy in the middle of the film. There are just a few too many stories and characters set in motion for everybody to get enough time to shine. A lot of time is given to Erwin while less time was given to Krista, who should have been a little more central to the story. Still, it’s impressive enough as it is that all of these characters have real depth.

Overall, The Edge of Seventeen delivers a solid coming-of-age story with layered characters, clever dialogue, and some real emotion towards the end. When characters feel something, you feel it too. Even though Nadine is such a bitter person, you feel for her pain and the seeming hopelessness of her situation and ultimately relate to her. ◊

Grade: A-

Miles of Movies: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

by Miles Barber (CE ’18)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is about Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a wizard with a particular fondness for the magical creatures, some of which he keeps in an enchanted suitcase. Newt arrives in 1926 New York City in the midst of turmoil; strange occurrences are threatening to reveal the wizarding world to the non-magical community as it seems there are dark forces at work. Could the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald be involved? Newt gets his magical case mixed up with a very similar non-magical suitcase belonging to Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), which results in some of the creatures getting loose and the exposure of the wizarding world to Jacob. Tina Goldstein, a former auror (like wizard police), also gets involved through Newt’s unregistered arrival to New York. Meanwhile, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a high-level auror, is trying to recruit Credence (Ezra Miller) to help him find out what is causing these strange occurrences; Credence thinks it might be an orphan child under the care of Mary Lou, a magic-hater.

There is quite a lot going on in this film and quite a few characters to keep track of. Surprisingly, the film does a good job of balancing everything. I’m not sure if it will be more difficult for someone unfamiliar with the Harry Potter books or films, but it was easy to follow most of the time. That doesn’t stop there from being some pacing and tonal issues in the middle of this film. There is a scene in this film involving a floating chair that just seemed out of nowhere and rushed. On top of that, the mixture of the different stories isn’t always that smooth. For example, the main story of Newt and finding all of his magical creatures that were let loose is pretty light and fun in tone. But the “behind-the-scenes” story involving Graves and Credence is very dark and sometimes confusing. It shows the brutality wizards face at the hands of people who want to burn them in creating a “New Salem.” Mary Lou, along with a few other characters in the film, is incredibly cruel to anyone sympathizing with magic. There is some dark content implied in this story that just doesn’t mix very well with the lighthearted fun of Newt searching for his creatures.

Still, there are a lot of great things to talk about. For one, the acting is great in this film. Eddie Redmayne seems perfectly cast in the role of Newt Scamander, an awkward wizard whose eyes light up when he’s interacting with his creatures. The music adds a few layers to this feeling as well. Composer James Newton Howard has always been good at producing scores that feel wondrous. The main theme for this film is no different. The film also does a great job at showing everyone what it’s like to live in this world. There are so many cool things that I wish were real in the wizarding world like clocks that tell you where certain people are and trunks with enough space inside to fit an entire zoo. Jacob Kowalski is like us; he gets exposed to all of this magic and reacts to it with a mixture of fear, bewilderment, and then excitement. This provides quite a lot of situational humor that added some more levity to Newt’s story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It has some great acting, a good score, likable characters, and tells an entertaining story. There are a few tonal and pacing issues in the film, particularly in the middle, and the story may not be easy to follow for someone not familiar with at least the Harry Potter films. But I still had a great time with it and would recommend checking it out. ◊

Grade: B

Miles of Movies: Doctor Strange

by Miles Barber (CE ’18)

Doctor Strange, the latest superhero film from Marvel is about Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an arrogant surgeon who crashes his Lamborghini on the way to a conference. When surgery fails to heal his hands, he heads to Tibet in hopes that some Eastern form of healing can do what Western methods could not. He meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who shows him a spiritual world in a psychedelic, world-bending scene of visual beauty. He is also alerted to a spiritual threat about to be unleashed by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of The Ancient One. As jumbled and rushed as all of that is in the film, I prefer to start with positives, so let’s talk about how entertaining and visually dazzling this film is.

Right from the start, the Marvel Studios formula is in full effect as we’re introduced to a cocky character, a brisk pace, and a fair amount of humor. The story operates as a mixture of familiar stories, notably those of Ant-Man and Iron Man (who are remarkably similar characters to begin with). It’s a good time with a lot of fun moments and good performances all around—Benedict Cumberbatch seems perfectly cast! I wouldn’t say it’s more fun than Iron Man and Ant-Man, but it was still an entertaining time.

Where this film definitely stands out is in its visual style. As I mentioned before, this film deals in spiritual worlds, which can look like anything. This film capitalizes on those infinite possibilities here by presenting manipulations of our world and entirely new worlds. Both are mind-bending, but the most spectacular was definitely in the “entirely new worlds” parts; these just explode with beautiful neon colors. The standout scene for me in terms of visual effects was definitely towards the beginning of the film, when The Ancient One first shows Strange these worlds for the first time.

The film’s problems lie in its pacing and length. Doctor Strange bears a lot of similarity to Iron Man in terms of its story structure but is almost fifteen minutes shorter. So much of this film is exposition that, given the film’s shorter runtime, compromises the exploration of themes and character-building. Iron Man had a much fuller character transformation at the end of Iron Man than Doctor Strange had at the end of this film, mainly because Doctor Strange just doesn’t have enough time to get into these things.

My favorite scene in the entire film is in a slower moment when a particular character reflects on life and how short time is. The villain’s entire motivations have to do with the shortness of time and mortality. This is an important theme in the film that needed proper exploration! It would have given the story more focus, clarity, and depth. The difference between a decent superhero film and a great one is in how much time it dedicates to character and themes. It’s why I’ve discussed the character conflict behind the entire premise of Captain America: Civil War countless times to different results and never once discussed anything about Iron Man 2 because it just doesn’t have much character conflict.

Overall, Doctor Strange was another fun addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It had a unique visual flair that produced some really standout scenes. But the shorter runtime limited the film’s potential by rushing the story at the expense of character development and exploration of themes. ◊

Grade: B-