Cold Hard Steel to Warm Humanoids and Everything In-Between

By Justin Perline, Wired Critics

Perline AI 1 Sonny

Nobody truly knows how artificially intelligent robots would react to human beings. Movie directors and scientists alike have long speculated the defining moment of powering on a robotic consciousness and witnessing its first infant moments of free thought. The problems stemming from attempting to replicate human characteristics on a mechanical scale are nearly infinite though, and researchers haven’t come close to achieving any robots even semi-reminiscent of sentience yet. As a result, the functions of artificial intelligence are left to the imagination. And given the lack of robot-only films, the largest quandary for filmmakers nowadays revolves around how A.I. reliant robots would feel about their human counterparts. Every director deals with the issue differently, but there are three overarching models of A.I./human interaction in cinema. Through the lenses of the films I, Robot, Ex Machina, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, artificially intelligent machines’ response to humans varies from morally good to neutral to bad, respectively.

The portrayal of Sonny in the movie I, Robot, demonstrates that artificially intelligent robots may be capable of understanding human nature, sympathizing with humans, and exhibiting noble traits. Sonny, a specially designed droid by Dr. Alfred Lanning, was programmed with the ability to simulate biological emotions. Therefore, Sonny can feel all of the highs and lows that come with natural daily events such as carrying out a conversation or feeling lost. The other robots stemming from the U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men company; however, are not artificially intelligent and do not stray from their pre-written objectives. They are bound by the three laws of robotics, first introduced by noted scientist Isaac Asimov in the earlier part of the twentieth century. These laws come into play in other movies as well because they keep robots’ primary objectives adhered to the service of mankind. The breaking of these subsequent laws is also a common plot point in A.I. movies. Essentially, a robot cannot harm or allow a human to come into harm through action or inaction, must obey all human orders, and must attempt to protect their own existence. The first law mandating the safeguard of all human beings overrides laws two and three if need be.

Without the known assurances that come coupled with the inclusion of the three laws, Sonny is able to go beyond the normal scope of robotic freedom. Appropriately, Sonny needs this additional freedom in order to shut down a malevolent robot named VIKI. In the climax scene, Sonny, Detective Spooner, and Dr. Calvin are attempting to thwart VIKI by injecting her physical core with destructive nanites. Amidst a storm of malicious Sonny-lookalikes, the group fights their way to the injection site, only to find Dr. Calvin dangling from a teetering rail.

After some mild trepidation, Sonny abandons the nanite canister so that he can rescue her, knowing full well that the more logical route would be to end the reign of VIKI. His internal processing power goes beyond simple logical arguments, factoring his emotions into decisions. Sonny represents the significance of artificial intelligence because he is able to circumvent the three laws to accomplish more sentimental actions. Any computer can make decisions based on pure logic, but it requires a human mind to see that the best possible answers are usually more nuanced. What makes Sonny the ultimate representation of good is the fact that he still attempts to abide by the first law despite its nonexistence within him. He knowingly goes out of his way to protect the humans that had earlier tried to deactivate him, thereby demonstrating the ability to forgive past deeds. Not only do Sonny’s morally good actions make him an admirable robot, but also an admirable friend, one that has arguably better ideals than many of his more human counterparts.

Perline AI 2 AvaAva’s artificial intelligence in Ex Machina proves that moviemakers can design robots within a neutral context, not wavering towards or away from human morality in one way or another. Ex Machina’s director, Alex Garland, accomplishes this through Ava’s appeal to human emotion and her closing indifference. Caleb, a company programmer, is selected by CEO Nathan Bateman to help him test Ava’s artificial intelligence at his personal, secluded lab. Ava is a unique robot capable of understanding and emulating human emotion. At first, Caleb conducts the standard tests needed to confirm sentience, but he and Ava gradually grow closer. She coaxes him into agreeing to help her escape the lab by making him think that she is sexually attracted to him. Ava appeals to Caleb’s inner ego, manipulating his emotions so that he can devise a system shutdown at Nathan’s lab, thus freeing her. Despite the perceived attraction; however, Caleb is left trapped inside the house after Ava leaves. At one particular moment, they lock eyes and he pleads to be let out, but she displays absolutely no empathy for Caleb and leaves him.

From the beginning, Ava had one goal in mind – to escape Nathan’s lab. She manipulates human emotion, demonstrating her capability for immoral behavior. But at the same time, one has to wonder if she really did feel the effects of Caleb’s attraction. He fully believed the connection was reciprocated, yet scientists agree that it’s empirically impossible to disprove robotic emotion. With that being said, it’s probable Ava was simply faking the attraction in an effort to escape. Garland utilized the faux connection to drive Ex Machina along, demonstrating that movies with a false antagonist can succeed. The entire time leading up to Ava’s disposal of Caleb, the clear villain in the plot was Nathan, who seemed to be wrongfully building and dismantling these sentient droids. Ava’s neutrality allows her to play both sides of morality, and what began as an emotional and daring escape attempt really becomes a merciless desertion. Therefore, Ava’s moral ambiguity keeps the movie intense and watchable, never providing the viewer a clear picture of what a neutral A.I. might do if given unlimited freedom.

HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey takes the evil artificial intelligence path, serving as the main antagonist in the film. On board the Discovery One, two main scientists and other crew members man the ship bound for Jupiter. Assisting the mission is the artificially intelligent computer HAL 9000, which has no actual physical manifestation, but rather is shown as a glowing red camera lens at various points around the ship. Unaware of the mission’s main objective, the scientists simply follow protocol with HAL providing assistance throughout. Soon enough, the crew receives a transmission warning them of the failure of other HAL units on different bases. Bowman and Poole make their way into an EVA Pod to discuss HAL’s imminent shutdown without his hearing, but HAL reads their lips from afar. In order to guarantee the safety of the mission, HAL knows he must survive. Knowing that Bowman and Poole are planning on shutting him down, HAL attempts to kill every human on board. He stresses this critical logic to Bowman when he tries to re-enter Discovery One, “This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it… I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen”.

Perline AI 3 Dave and HALEvil robots have been a common theme in movies, and figures like Ultron and VIKI constantly return to the illogical humans-need-protection-from-themselves narrative, just like HAL. The main function of HAL was to serve the crew and protect the identity of the mission, but his logic backfired. He hypothesized that the mission status information was more important to mankind than any of the astronauts aboard. Therefore, HAL finds it reasonable to eradicate the crew. Logic is not always the best response for humans, however. HAL is just as flawed as all other evil A.I., and cannot find an emotional response to human interaction. All answers are based purely in logic, vastly different from Sonny’s “real” emotions and somewhat distant from Ava’s simulated emotions. HAL had zero attachment or remorse when killing Poole and the others, making him an easily identifiable antagonist in the plot.

Artificial intelligence in film is up to the director’s discretion, and each major archetype, whether that be good, neutral, or evil, can shape various plots. Using a clearly relatable robot like Sonny with as real emotional reactions as humanly possible makes for a strong ally. Only in very special cases, like Sonny of I, Robot and Chappie of Chappie, are A.I. built with emotions. In these movies, emotions can penetrate far beyond pure mathematical reasoning, often leading to illogical yet morally correct decisions. It is here where movies shine, when directors are able to mix and match the unpredictability of empathy with the superior robot chassis built for action. On the other hand, a robot with no emotional recollection, like HAL, will rely solely on logical calculations, ignoring all life lost in the process. The lack of sentimental reasoning outside of logic creates a cold and calculating force, one which regularly fulfills the role of villain. The most surprising movies use a neutral A.I. in place of clearly good or bad robots, which allow for more nuanced decision making and thought processes. Ava left Caleb completely stunned because her intentions are solely based in logic, but she was still capable of simulating and processing emotional responses. The long con was her emotional state when around Caleb, and the most devastating moment arrives when she looks right through Caleb and decides to leave him trapped. Only at that moment do viewers and Caleb alike realize that artificial intelligence can still be associated with non-emotional beings, ones that operate within the confines of logic and leant algorithms. No matter which approach directors take to A.I., viewers can be sure they’re in for a thoughtful ride, one which commonly touches upon what it means to replicate the human mind and whether that venture is truly for the better.

See More:

Artificial Intelligence, Real Emotion? 

Artificial Intelligence: Gods, egos, and Ex Machina

 


Room: "We're never anywhere but here."

By Maria Dombrov, Wired Critics

  Dombrov Room 1

The film opens, and the day starts with Ma, played by Brie Larson, and Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay, performing mundane tasks like brushing their teeth, putting the day’s clothes on, and making Jack’s birthday cake. The room in which they’re living appears run down – dirt on the walls, no top-lid to the toilet, a stained rug, and an old, crooked bed. The cinematographer, Danny Cohen, makes specific visual pans of the room, so that the viewer can see all the details of its plainness and dinginess, as well as its small size. Crayon drawn pictures decorate the walls of the room, snakes made of eggshells (seen above) scatter the floor, and the only source of sunlight comes from a single skylight.

At first, the audience assumes Ma and Jack live in a small low-income apartment, but then, we as an audience learn that their situation is a little more complex. The first signs of their captivity are presented when Ma puts Jack to bed in the wardrobe, and she tells him to stay there throughout the night. From Jack’s perspective, as he peers between the wooden planks, we are introduced to a new, shady character, “Old Nick”. The next morning when Jack asks, “Why didn’t you tell ‘Old Nick’ it was my birthday?”, Ma responds “Because he’s not our friend”. Soon after the viewer learns that Ma and Jack aren’t allowed to leave the room; and the room is in fact a shed, in which “Old Nick”, their captor, keeps them. Jack has never seen outside of the room, so he’s extremely unfamiliar with the concept of the world and other people. The film features several still clips of looking up at the skylight from an internal perspective, symbolizing how Jack views the outside world. It’s unfamiliar. As an audience, we get to see what Jack sees. We also get to hear inside of Jack’s head, but only when he wants us to. We hear his innocent and honest opinions about certain things and Ma’s voice in his head.

Throughout the film, Room keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next and asking “will Ma and Jack will ever escape?”. Brie Larson does an incredible job of making her character seem strong yet vulnerable for the full 118-minute screen time, even though we only see a small portion of her character’s seven-year captivity. Larson has a great ability to portray both sides of her character – not only is Ma a damaged woman due to the tragic events of her abduction but also a loving mother that would protect her son at all costs. And the latter part of her character is what makes the film so moving. During a scene still inside the room, Ma tries to explain to Jack what the outside world is like and why they currently cannot be a part of the outside world. Ma tries to explain to him what a wall is, to which Jack replies “I can’t see the outside side”. Ma gets

frustrated because Jack isn’t listening to what she’s saying, and they both start yelling at each other. A still shot of Larson’s profile follows; she seems at loss of hope with tears in her eyes. This is one of the many moments where we, as an audience, sees Ma’s sense of hopelessness. We also see Larson’s talent and intense character development.

As an audience, we feel bad for this poor mother and son duo, and we want them to find a way to escape. The bond between Ma and Jack is truly touching, and it’s what makes the film so interesting to watch even though the first hour of it takes place only inside the room. During a scene, Ma makes Jack read excerpts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which is definitely symbolic of their own situation. Just like Alice, Ma and Jack are stuck down their own rabbit hole with no help from the outside world. They must find their own way out.

One of the most fulfilling moments of the film is when Jack first sees the full view of the sky and the trees, and we get to see everything from his perspective. The first time the audience sees the outside of room is when Jack does, which is done purposely, by director Lenny Abrahamson. If the audience gets anxious after an hour of watching Ma and Jack inside the room, we can’t even imagine what it’d be like for them to spend several years trapped within the room’s walls. Once Jack is taken outside the room, Cohen zooms out on the shed for several seconds. At this point, the audience gets to see an external view of the shed. We can visually see how small it is and how it is hidden in plain sight in “Old Nick’s” backyard. We see the trees and the grass. We see the surrounding neighborhood, which looks like any other neighborhood – normal. Because the neighborhood has such a familiar look to it, it can lead audience members to think about kidnapping situations and wonder “okay, we’ll could this happen to me or someone I love?” or “maybe I should be more aware of what’s going on in my local area”.

Once Jack’s outside and escapes “Old Nick”, he tells the police where Ma is, and the moment when they reunite can be emotional for the audience. The film slows down and all sound is muted, as the audience watches Ma run towards Jack, who’s inside the cop car at this point. Watching this part of the film and having an emotional reaction shows how much an audience member can develop sympathy and care for fictional characters after only an hour into the movie. This is something that Room does brilliantly; this film makes you care so deeply about character relationships in such a short time frame.

After Ma and Jack are freed from captivity, they face the difficulties of adapting to common life. For Jack, who’s only lived his life inside the room, must learn how to walk down the stairs and deal with new environments and unfamiliar people. Ma must deal with seven years of lost time, rebuilding a relationship with her family, and regaining her mental and physical health. A majority of viewers wouldn’t even begin to understand what it’s like to be in Ma’s situation although as an audience we want to know how she feels. Room definitely sheds light on what it’s like to be held against one’s will and raises awareness about the horrors of being kidnapped. This film definitely calls for audience members to protect themselves, family and friends, and children against this terrible but true reality. Even, the screenplay for the film (adapted by Emma Donoghue’s novel) is loosely based on true events of a kidnapping in Austria.

Dombrov Room 2

This image shows Jacob Tremblay’s character, Jack, looking out at the skyline from the hospital window.

The plot of this film is very unique, and it is part of what keeps the audience engaged throughout the film. Not many films that I know of focus on kidnapping as the central topic through the perspective of a strong mother- son relationship. The cinematography is also very well done. Through certain angles, we’re able to see perspectives we wouldn’t normally be able to see in films. Through some of these unusual perspectives, the audience is able to see the set as if they were really present while these events were taking place in the film. As mentioned prior, the audience is able to look at things through Jack’s perspective. In the image below, the audience is able look up at Ma and listen as Jack does. Another example is when Jack is lying down in the back of “Old Nick’s” red pick-up truck; it’s as if we were lying down next to Jack admiring the sky as he does.

Dombrov Room 3

Here we can see cinematographer Danny Cohen and crew on the set of Room (Picture credited to hollywoodreporter.com)

 The leading actors, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, are the reason why Room is such a success. Together, the actors create a bond and skillfully tackle a film with such raw emotion and intense subject matter. The main focus of the film makes such a statement in 21st century Hollywood. Of course the topic of kidnapping has been brought up before in filmmaking, but I believe Room explains the subject matter the best. The film allows audience members to visualize and to feel what it could really be like to lose your freedom and happiness and to be stuck in a small room for what feels like an eternity. The film’s excellence is truly highlighted through all of its 118 nominations and 95 wins, including Brie Larson’s wins for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes and for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars.

Sources:

Room's entry at imdb.com

Watch Room here.

Read Room (The Novel) here.


Creating a Modern Heroine: The Evolution of Gender in Star Wars

By Sarah O'Connell, Wired Critics

 

OConnell Star Wars Leia
 At the forefront of almost every popular story is a popular hero. To name just a few: Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Frodo, and Luke Skywalker. Star Wars is arguably one of the most popular franchises of all time. Following the Skywalker family, through at least two, (possibly) three, generations, Star Wars has captured the hearts of millions of fans across the world. All seven films have featured female characters in some aspect. In Episodes IV-VI, Leia acts a somewhat secondary character to male leads Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Throughout Episodes I-III, Padme transforms from a senator to a submissive and helpless wife. In the most recent film, The Force Awakens, Rey is not secondary to any other character. She commands the film without having to fall in love with anyone. This portrayal of women in Episode VII marks a positive change in the representation of women in the media and signals the need for more female heroines. Throughout the last thirty years, the role of women in Star Wars has evolved into a world where female characters have a tremendous amount of agency and are not limited to the desires or controls of powerful men, but rather are the heroes themselves.  

The first prominent female character introduced in the Star Wars universe is Leia in Episode IV: A New Hope. She holds the plans to destroy the Death Star. Shortly after hiding the plans in R2-D2, Leia is captured by Darth Vader. While Leia is portrayed somewhat as a damsel in distress, since she is in the position of needing to be saved by Luke, Obi-Wan, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, she still clearly plays an integral role in the film. Had she never transferred the plans to R2-D2, the Death Star would have even come close to being destroyed. She is armed and arguably has the best shot throughout some of the most intense battle scenes in the film. Leia even calls out Han and Luke saying, “this is some rescue,” then proceeds to take Luke’s blaster and say, “somebody has to save our skins” (A New Hope, 1977). Again, without Leia’s quick thinking and skills, all four of them could have been captured right then and there. While Leia is the only prominent woman in this film, she does show that she is more than just a princess.

 Leia takes control of the escape plan

Following A New Hope, Leia is reduced into further submissive roles and is objectified by the males in the film. In The Empire Strikes Back, rather than being represented as an integral part of the rebellion forces, she is merely caught in a love triangle between Luke Skywalker, whom she is not yet aware is her brother, and Han Solo. She is shown as just an object of male affection rather than an individual with her own goals. Additionally, her own opinion on each of these males is largely ignored, suggesting that she has no say in which guy “wins her over”, like a prize at a carnival.

OConnell Star Wars Leia posterMany people remember Leia for her famous metal bikini. Even further problematizing this costume is the fact that she wears it when she is serving as Jabba the Hutt’s slave. She is extremely sexualized and submissive in this scene. While Leia and Han Solo were captured together, Han was put into jail and Leia was sent to be a slave. This is because she was a woman whom Jabba the Hutt could exploit. While the scene lasts no more than ten minutes, it is arguably the most common image associated with the character of Leia and is the photo of Leia on the theatrical release poster for Return of the Jedi. This takes away any agency demonstrated by Leia in any of the original three films and reduces her to a sex object for male viewers to idolize. While the costume became a cultural icon, the clothing itself was most likely not necessary for the actual progression of the story.

In the most recent Star Wars film, set nearly thirty years after Return of the Jedi, Leia Organa has once again transformed. Rather than being referred to as Princess Leia, she is called General Organa. This title suggests that her identity is partially formed by her contributions to the Rebellion. This is much more powerful than “Princess,” which reduces Leia to a position of passivity. It also suggests that women can and should be involved in battle and war, rather than at the sidelines. This title change is just one way in which The Force Awakens reimagines the role of women.

Padme Amidala, Leia Organa’s mother, experiences a reversal from Episode I, as a strong queen who cares about diplomacy, to Episode III, where she is portrayed as helpless and weak. In The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Padme is placed in positions of power and strength, similar to Leia in A New Hope. In Episode I she is the Queen of Naboo and helps liberate the planet from the Trade Federation. In Episode II, she serves as the senator of Naboo, negotiating with other planets and keeping her planet safe. While Padme is strong and serves in positions of power, her outfits, while not as bad as the bikini, are not practical nor necessary. In Attack of the Clones, one of the beasts in the execution arena rips her top, revealing a new costume that shows her midriff, which becomes one of her most popular and photographed costumes. Like Leia’s bikini, Padme can be seen wearing this outfit in much of the promotional material for the film.

OConnell Star Wars Clones PadmeFollowing Episodes I and II, however, Padme follows practically plays no role other than that of a mother in Revenge of the Sith. When Anakin comes back from war, she reveals that she is pregnant. From this point on, Padme’s role in the film is reduced to just a child bearer, rather than a former queen or senator. She is merely Anakin’s pregnant wife, which suggests that a female’s main role is related to their husband and her child-bearing role. It is this representation of Padme Amidala that’s lands her at number four on Cracked’s list of “Hollywood 5 Saddest Attempts at Feminism”. If someone were to watch just Episode III, they would have no idea that just years earlier Padme was shooting enemies and defending planets. When Anakin officially transitions to the Dark Side, Padme literally dies of a broken heart”. Doctors tell Obi Wan, “medically she’s completely fine…but we are losing her. She has lost the will to live” (Revenge of the Sith, 2005). While Padme is giving birth to two twins who are definitely a reason to live, she just gives up. This suggests that a woman has no identity without a man and Padme’s loss of Anakin justifies her giving up on her own life and abandoning her newborn twins.

  Rey, the protagonist of The Force Awakens is a refreshing character not just in contrast to Leia and Padme (her mother and grandmother perhaps), but also in contrast to other fantasy or science fiction franchises. While in recent years, heroines can be seen in popular culture, such as Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and Tris Prior of Divergent, these franchises do rely heavily on romance plot lines. In The Force Awakens, however, there is a distinct lack of a romantic plot line. When Finn and Rey first meet, The First Order invades Jakku. Trying to escape, Finn keeps trying to hold Rey’s hand. She has to continuously remind him that she does not need his help and that a little explosion here or there is nothing. Throughout the film, she does not have any strong romantic interests for anyone. This plot is a successful way in which The Force Awakens reimagines gender and places power with a female without relating it to a love interest. This film creates and showcases a character that everyone can relate to without falling into stereotypical gender roles at all.

OConell Star Wars ReyIn the most recent film, clearly the most progressive in terms of gender representation, Rey is constantly put in positions where her life is in danger, but she never once plays the damsel in distress. Without her, Finn probably would have died that first day on Jakku. When she is captured by Kylo Ren, Rey uses a Jedi mind trick to escape, before Han, Finn, and Chewbacca can even try to save her (The Force Awakens, 2015). This independence is even more significant when contrasted with one of the main plots of A New Hope, where Leia must be rescued. Even at the beginning of The Force Awakens, Poe is unable to escape The First Order’s Starkiller Base and Finn must save him. Additionally, Rey’s use of the force not only puts a central part of the franchise in the hands of a woman, but proves that she is just as strong as men who use the force, if not stronger. For example, as Luke’s light saber lies in the snow, Rey and Kylo Ren both attempt to use the force to get it, but only Rey succeeds. Rey is arguably the first female protagonist with a practical outfit, which also mirrors Luke’s outfit in A New Hope. Rey is not a supporting character in any way, shape, or form. She is the reason The Force Awakens become an iconic film.  

Evaluating these three women in the Star Wars franchise reveals a great deal of improvement for women in film over the last forty years. At the same time, however, their presence forces one to question why there are only three females that would even be up for discussion in these films. There are no other female characters in this galaxy far, far away a long time ago. It is notable that it is not until 2015 and the seventh Star Wars film that one of the movies passes the Bechdel Test. Episodes I-VI do not feature more than two named female characters that talk to each other about something other than a man. The inclusion of more diversity in the Star Wars universe allows for more viewers to engage and connect with the characters. Obviously there is still a lot wrong with the portrayal of women in the media, but Rey’s positive and powerful role in The Force Awakens shows great potential for the future. These characters are especially important for children, as Rey and other Star Wars characters are cultural icons and role models for young fans. As Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post states, “(The Force Awakens) reminded me just how powerful it can be to see yourself as the hero of a story that you love”. Hopefully, soon enough, narratives like Rey’s will not be so rare and young girls and women alike will not have to be reminded what it is like to be the hero.

Sources:

Liang, Jennifer. "Hollywood's 5 Saddest Attempts at Feminism." Cracked. N.p., 1 Sept. 2008. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. <http://www.cracked.com/article_16587_hollywoods-5-saddest-attempts-at-feminism.html>.

Rosenberg, Alyssa. "How Rey and ‘The Force Awakens’ could change ‘Star Wars’ forever." The Washington Post. N.p., 21 Dec. 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2015/12/21/how-rey-and-the-force-awakens-could-change-star-wars-forever/>.


The Effect of Putting a Familiar and Likable Face on a Racist: Alan Tudyk in 42

By Cyndi Harris, Wired Critics

 

Alan Tudyk is a popular actor known for his funny and lovable roles in DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, Suburgatory, and even voices such as Duke of Weselton in Frozen. That’s why when seeing him in 42 playing a vicious racist, it was a bit of a shock and definitely something to think about.

Movies are constantly confronting racism in one way or another. Though 42 is definitely not the first movie to do so, it may be one of the most effective. 42 tackles racism in a way that makes us uncomfortable, but this discomfort isn’t a bad thing. Thanks in large part to Tudyk's performance, it allows us to understand where this discomfort is coming from and why we still feel that way.

In 42, Tudyk plays the unapologetic racist Ben Chapman, who is the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. According to Entertainment Weekly,Brian Helgeland, the director of 42, deliberately cast a likable guy to play a hostile role because he “wanted a character actor who might make the audience lean forward with his charisma before making them recoil with his dialogue”.

The idea of having a charismatic man play this role is that no one sees him and says, “Ugh, I hate him!” This way, when his character unfolds in an unruly scene, people are utterly surprised to find out that he is portraying a hostile person.

This dreadful scene begins when Robinson is up to bat against the Phillies. Ben Chapman is by the Phillies dugout endlessly screaming “nigger” and “monkey boy” at Robinson. Chapman’s potent anger is shown through his facial expressions as well as his rough, stern voice. Chapman accompanies his racial remarks with a smirk and laughter, making it feel as if he’s naturally like this. His accent parallels with that of the 1940’s – a little bit of a southern drawn which is often associated with conservatives (and often racists). Chapman laughs at his own racial jokes, and uses casual movements with his body and arms to make it appear natural and not rehearsed.

The scene ends with Robinson’s nostrils flaring and staring at Chapman, to which they continue to angrily stare at each other as a symbol of power, until Robinson turns away and runs into the dugout.

This ultimately made us uncomfortable because “Chapman put a face to racism and showed the public a bit of what was in the back of their own mind and it was so ugly to them that they thought about it” (Ew).

Behind the scene, Tudyk admits that he had an extremely hard time with this scene because he felt so much remorse towards shouting at Chadwick like this. Having to consistently and outwardly throw vile obscenities at Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman), Tudyk admitted in an interview with Parade Magazine that he hated it because he is a “pretty typical, sensitive actor guy and being hostile like that – I got tears in my eyes." Playing the part took such a toll on him that he rejected eating out multiple times becausee “I wasn’t fit for public consumption. It was a high-intensity stressful shoot and I really felt it”. Embodying this role and feeling the discomfort with it is something that Tudyk had to work to overcome, ultimately doing a phenomenal job.

Overall, Tudyk puts on a stern and believable performance through attaching natural movements, voice tones and laughter to hostile, racial slurs. Attaching these natural, everyday movements with racial slurs is what makes people feel this discomfort along with the use of such a lovable actor playing a shocking role. This discomfort comes from a feeling of internal guilt as if we are at fault for this occurring. This discomfort leaves us to think: Do my actions and thoughts parallel with those of Chapman’s?

We’ve overcome a lot, but we still have a long way to go.


"The guts not to fight back": Chadwick Boseman buries the rage, shows the pride as Jackie Robinson in "42"

By Justin Perline, Wired Critics

 

Perline 42 2

Jackie Robinson stands as a testament to Major League Baseball’s flawed past and hopeful future. He absorbed every racial slur and insult that flew his way, but fans of the game were never privy to Robinson’s life behind the stadium walls. One man meant so much to the future of race in sport and the United States, and he carried all that weight on his shoulders. Robinson knew that his performance on and off the field, were it not absolutely perfect, could jeopardize the future of African-Americans in affiliated baseball. As a result, he carried himself with an air of confidence and never let any teammate, opposing player, or manager expose his inner frustration, despite the onslaught of insults he received at every game.

Boseman played Robinson in the movie 42, and in the process, revealed the withheld anger boiling right below the surface. Jackie was known to be somewhat of a hot-headed competitor at UCLA, and Branch Rickey knew this before signing him. Rickey needed him to convert this anger into a personal strength because he knew Jackie would need to be strong enough not to respond to insults. One scene in particular exemplifies Boseman’s performance as Robinson in this regard, where his anger finally reaches its boiling point.

Early in his major league career, Jackie is confronted with Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman. In a heated at-bat, Robinson forcefully attempts to withhold all signs of frustration as Chapman yells one racist remark after another at him. Unfortunately, the batted ball results in a towering pop-up, which is easily handled by the opposing catcher. Chapman walks closer to Robinson and tells him that he doesn’t belong in this game, a white man’s game. Beads of sweat pour down Boseman’s face as he struggles to hold in all emotion. Without a word, he walks down the dugout stairs into the clubhouse hallway, whereupon he smashes his bat to pieces against the walls. Down below where nobody can hear the uproar, Boseman screams in frustration.

Boseman characterizes all of the frustration welling up in Robinson as Chapman tries to draw a response out of him. He visibly shakes in anger, and viewers can easily witness just how much Robinson despises Chapman simply by the glare in his eyes. Boseman looks ready to explode in this scene, and his jaw is noticeably clenched as tight as humanly possible in an attempt to withhold all anger. After an intense twenty seconds, he shakes his head in disbelief and turns toward the dugout. Boseman’s raw emotions perfectly simulate the feelings Robinson must have been having at the time. In the original casting call, Boseman performed this exact scene, and displayed just the kind of emotion that was required. The massive amounts of pressure on him, coupled with the sheer hatred for Chapman, would have been enough to push anyone over the edge. However, Robinson was strong enough to keep it out of the public eye. And when all your actions are being scrutinized in an effort to find a weakness or malfunction, sacrificing personal satisfaction for your legacy is more meaningful than any base hit.


The Real Silver Lining: Bradley Cooper's Acting

By Kyle Driscoll, Wired Critics

When thinking of the best young, up-and-coming actors in America today, Bradley Cooper has to be on the shortlist. After highly acclaimed, Oscar-nominated performances in films like Amerian Hustle and American Sniper, as well as blockbuster roles in The Hangover and Limitless, Cooper is undoubtedly one of the hottest actors in Hollywood, and not just because he was People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2011. However, his most interesting performance may be found in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, where he plays Pat Solitano Jr., a man suffering from bipolar disorder. At the beginning of the film, Pat is released from a mental institution to go live with his parents near Philadelphia. While there, he constantly pines for his estranged wife, Nikki, and undergoes a massive self-improvement plan in attempts to eventually win her back over.

A recurring plot theme in the movie is Pat’s continual desire to find a “silver lining”, to find hope that things will get better, that there will be a happy ending to his story. Hence the title, Silver Linings Playbook. When he encounters those who do not appear to share his hopefulness, Pat often becomes enraged. This leads to a memorable episode early in the film, when Pat is disgusted by the negative ending of Earnest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Furious, he hurls the book out of his 3-story window and storms into his parents’ bedroom to vent about Hemingway’s crime.

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 Ordinarily, this scene would not be anything special. It doesn’t really add much to the plot, and it’s barely even a minute long. But Cooper takes this short scene as an opportunity to bring the character of Pat to life, and show the viewers more about who this man really is.

One of the things Cooper does best in Silver Linings is portray Pat’s complete lack of self-consciousness during his violent outbursts. In this scene, he is completely oblivious to the time (4 a.m.) or his parents’ pleas to go back to bed. To Pat, this Hemingway situation is a matter of life and death, and Cooper shows us that he believes it is that serious to everyone else too.

Cooper also does an excellent job of portraying Pat’s anguish caused by Hemingway’s pessimism. Any actor worth their salaries could play the “crazy-guy-yells-at-parents” role, but Cooper makes the audience feel the pain that the lack of silver lining has caused him. From his pacing back and forth, erratic hand motions, and frustrated tone of voice, viewers know that this is a tormented man who was just deprived of some positivity that he desperately needed. This kind of acting is portrayed throughout the film, and early scenes like this are key to our understanding of the complicated character of Pat. We would certainly understand less of Pat without the performance of Cooper.

 


"The only way you could beat my crazy was by doing something crazy yourself."

 By Mariam Bhatti, Wired Critics

In the scene in Silver Linings Playbook where we first meet Jennifer Lawrence's character Tiffany, her peculiar character emits an immediate sense of eccentricity and deviance. As a recent widow, Tiffany is wearing all black, a wardrobe choice that hardly changes throughout the movie. Her ambiguous facial expressions and cryptic choice of words epitomize her character.

Tiffany’s brutal honesty shapes her relationship with Pat. Both characters are recovering from emotional and mental trauma. The sexual tension between the two is immediately obvious as Pat observes her cleavage from her low cut black dress when they first meet. On their first ‘date,’ the two characters challenge each other’s comfort levels by conversing about sex. After sharing her past sexual adventures over tea and a bowl of cereal, Pat makes the mistake of referring to Tiffany as crazy.

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Tiffany’s promiscuous behavior and sexual indulgences collide with Pat’s reserved emotional and mental state, inevitably resulting in a full-blown public argument. Prior to this, Tiffany had schemed to deliver a letter to Pat’s ex-wife, despite the restraining order against him. This type of plotting continues as Tiffany tricks Pat into joining a dance competition in exchange for delivering letters to his ex-wife, a promise that is never fulfilled.

In this scene, Tiffany’s unfiltered personality is displayed through her vulgar comments and compete disregard for public spaces. Although she lacks no hesitation in expressing herself, her vulnerability and emotional instability is conveyed.

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Tiffany demonically laughs and spews curses, while slamming the table and throwing off the dishes and silverware. Her facial expressions strongly convey her emotions; wide eyes, raised eyebrows, flaring nostrils, and clenched teeth.

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This performance continues throughout the movie as Tiffany speaks her words with conviction, openly displaying every emotion through facial expressions.


'Firewatch' torches satisfaction, forges realism

By Justin Perline, Wired Critics

Warning – Spoilers Ahead. Read on at your own risk.

As exciting as exploring the virtual landscape of Wyoming’s forests and safeguarding against potential fires sounds, Firewatch doesn’t hook the player with its premise. However, I saw the trailer as a breath of fresh air against my usual slate of first-person-shooters. The artistic animation style is so unique and visually stunning, a far cry from any action games that have to devote more resources to gameplay. Perline Firewatch 1With that in mind, I ventured into Firewatch expecting to kick back and simply bear witness to radio conversations between Henry, the player character, and his supervisor, Delilah.

What begins as a simple walkie-talkie in the hands of a withdrawing fire watchman becomes your eventual lifeline to the outside world. Henry has recently decided to take on a new job as a fire watchman in the Shoshone Forest of Wyoming. And through a series of interactive questions, the game developers guide you through Henry’s backstory and just why Henry is using the job as an escape. This ranges from meeting his future wife at a bar to standing helplessly by as she descends into early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Gradually, a mystery unfolds involving the disappearance of two girls and strange occurrences around the Shoshone. Henry is swiftly kicked into action when Delilah notices fireworks in his tower’s watch radius.

As you progress and explore the surrounding area, more and more bizarre events keep occurring. Has someone been listening in on your radio conversations? Is someone following you? And what’s behind the mysterious and undocumented fence?

You are left with numerous chances to question Delilah and discuss findings, with each dialogue event offering multiple response options. Henry is allowed to interact with specified objects in his path but cannot actively do much more than travel from one destination to another. Along the way, these choices stack up and Delilah will even react differently to situations down the road depending on player selections.

For example, you can choose what to suggest that Delilah tells the police when reporting the incident regarding the two girls. She can be persuaded to keep the report vague and minimal or to completely ignore the incident. The resulting narrative changes slightly based on what option you chose because those two girls still haven’t been found more than sixty days later. Yet, no matter what choices you make, certain things are inevitable. Henry will never meet Delilah. The Two Forks region of the forest will go up in flames. Against all efforts, Henry loses, and by extension, you essentially lose the game. Furthermore, Olivia White of video-game-journal Polygon discusses just how Firewatch keeps players feeling helpless despite their good intentions and just decisions (should you choose to play the game that way). I found that this detracted from the overall experience, but there are legitimate reasons why Campo Santo chose to design the game this way.

My biggest complaint is the linear storytelling despite hundreds of different character options. You’re presented with numerous dialogue choices but they all lead down the same road. Knowing that all your efforts to succeed will assuredly fail significantly reduces re-playability. In order for Firewatch to succeed, there should be a path to winning. And by including a share of losing options and even just a singular way to win, Campo Santo could have encouraged many more replays.

I was first disappointed when faced with Firewatch’s completion. I’m accustomed to defeating the final boss or saving the world at the end of video games, not being told that I can go home. Then I thought about the ending further…

Perline FirewatchFirewatch is a real-world story. There is no fairy tale ending or massive government conspiracy behind all of the mystery. And in some ways, that’s all right. The developers set out to present players with the realization that not all games end in rousing successes or larger-than-life plots. In reality, people aren’t always satisfied with endings, nor are they suddenly healed once an event has passed. These things take time and understanding, and Campo Santo trusts their consumers to think about the ending before making decisions. In the end, realism drives Firewatch to be a unique game, one with real character emotions rather than contrived fantasy.

Regret, fear, and hope make themselves felt through each character’s decisions, whether that be the antagonist’s rationale for hiding in the woods or Henry’s plea asking Delilah to wait for him. You truly believe what each character is saying even though you’ve only known them for no more than a few hours. The storytelling keeps the game flowing, and provides realistic reasons and personal histories behind every character’s decision. In that aspect, Firewatch excels, even to the point where I believe the story would succeed as an interactive novel or animated movie.

In my eyes, Firewatch exceeded expectations with an eerily suspenseful tale that was genuinely innovative. Even though the player’s decisions are futile, having the ability to freely choose dialogue instills a connection with Delilah on the other end of a walkie-talkie. And in a game that relies on intrigue and personal connections, Firewatch sets you up for an unsatisfying conclusion on purpose. In its stead, the developers managed to open up a believable world for a brief period of time, a feat very few games have accomplished.

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Les Miserables or Tom Hooper Seems Confused About What a Musical Is

By Elly Wong, Wired Critics

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Russell Crowe looking mopey as Inspector Javert

The 2012 movie musical Les Miserables, I’m sorry to say, gets worse every time I see it.

And I’ve seen many productions of this musical. My most recent live viewing, I wrangled a posse of my extended family to go see the 2014 Broadway revival starring Ramin Karimloo. I am one of those people who can, unprompted, launch into a hour-long monologue comparing the various strengths of particular actors and singers for each role. I’m besotted with pretty much everything related to Les Miserables.

The source material, Victor Hugo’s doorstopper of a novel exploring how France’s history has shaped both a very specific moment of rebellion and the incandescent characters that occupy it, is one of my favorite books ever. I love pretty much every version of this story, from the astoundingly well-acted Spanish production of the musical to the astoundingly filler-padded anime adaptation. So I can’t help loving Tom Hooper’s film version, despite the fact that it is sadly closer on the quality scale to the latter.

See, for example, our immediate subjection to Russell Crowe, the gladiator himself. While Crowe actually has a fine rock voice, his attempt at singing Les Mis comes out a pure kazoo-esque mush. He has none of the vocal command needed for the indomitable Inspector Javert. In combination with his toneless static-singing, his decision to play his character as subdued and mournful makes for a strangely bland and mopey Javert. And Javert is just in so much of this movie.

From the start, the scene where he marches around a shipyard glaring at some filthy prisoners showcases many of the bizarre problems in this movie. Javert and Valjean’s back-and-forth comes off as mushy where it needs to build the crushing, angry resentment that colors their history and that will color all their future interactions.

Hugh Jackman’s singing as our hero Valjean is unusually weak for him, compounded by Hooper’s decision to have everyone singing live as they filmed. He delivers his lines with rests at very strange points. For some ungodly reason, the lines “It means you get your yellow ticket-of-leave/You are a thief,” is replaced with “Follow to the letter your itinerary/This badge of shame,” which neither has the assonance of the original nor a meter following the music at all. Unfortunately, both the weird pausing and the oddly-metered lines continue through pretty much any time characters sing their conversations. All of these strange musical choices get compounded by the shaky camera that chooses to hover above, below, or to the side of the characters’ faces.

Hooper is attempting a naturalistic adaptation of an inherently melodramatic work.  Even the original novel’s prose threatens to break into passionate treatises about God and the stars in the course of describing every minor character interaction. And unlike a novel, a musical--or a movie musical--simply cannot cut away from its characters to do something like painstakingly describe the sociological context of the Parisian sewer system.  

Without the option of using richly textured asides to illuminate exactly why 1830’s French society might breed an uprising, the musical has to entrance the audience into standing with the characters through a grandiose whirlwind of emotions. Boublil and Schonberg, the creators of the musical, certainly understood this. Their score omits even the name of the monarch the rebels oppose in favor of songs about freedom for all humanity. It’s emotional shorthand, and it works best when no one is worrying about the details. The movie goes the opposite direction, and tries to evoke some of the novel’s historical and philosophical texture through mere naturalistic direction and detail. This leaves them falling short of both the novel and the musical. It undercuts how Les Miserables works. No extended close-ups of the actors’ anguished faces as they gasp out whispery notes is going to make the audience forget that this movie is just three straight hours of singing about the human spirit.

It’s not all bad. The naturalism actually works in Anne Hathaway’s wrenching rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream.” Her incredible acting makes the fragility with which Fantine’s iconic ballad is portrayed feel raw and genuine. And later in the movie, we get a burst of new characters to distract from Valjean and Javert’s mumbling eternal pursuit. Samantha Barks, a Broadway veteran, plays lovelorn street girl Eponine with the perfect balance of wildness and resignation. Eddie Redmayne ably brings brings the only essential traits for playing the hapless student-turned-rebel Marius: a deep-seated sorrowful intensity combined with an air of absolute confusion. George Blagden is an absolute delight as the revolutionaries’ tagalong cynic; his fatalistic longing glances at Aaron Tveit’s rebel leader Enjolras show remarkable dedication to playing a relatively minor character.

These impassioned characters and storylines do an awful lot to redeem a shakycam movie full of Jackman and Crowe’s dull portrayals of the main characters. As a whole, this movie needed to more wholeheartedly embrace the melodramatic broad sweep of the musical to work. Les Mis superfans like me will probably, in our endless enthusiasm, still enjoy rewatching this bizarre adaptation of a perfectly decent musical. Interested newcomers, however, would probably be better off pursuing a more more, well, musical version.

 

( “Look Down” from the 10th Anniversary Concert)


Tears of the Sun: Can a War Movie be About Something Other Than War?

By Mikaela Friedman, Wired Critics

In Tears of the Sun (2003), director Antoine Fuqua brilliantly follows a group of Navy SEALs in the middle of war-torn Nigeria during the rebel uprising  as they work to complete their mission to rescue two nuns, a priest, and, of most importance, an American doctor from a mission in Nigeria and bring them safely to Cameroon. When doctor Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci) refuses to leave without her patients, commander Lieutenant Waters (Bruce Willis ) is faced with a decision—should he follow orders or follow his conscience?

Despite being a war movie, Tears of the Sun is not meant to be a movie about war. Through Willis’s performance, the audience gets a clear shot at the cinematic focus of the film—the internal struggle between a trained soldier and his emotions. With a script largely minimal in dialogue, Fuqua works in tandem with cinematographers Mauro Fiore and Keith Solomon to bring to center the mind of one man in the middle of a high-tension, constantly moving situation. Undertones of attraction between the doctor and lieutenant subtly add to the personality of the film, but surprisingly and cleverly do not take a “Hollywood role” and overpower the film.


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By typical Hollywood conventions, a movie such as this would be packed with action and explosions, showing more interest in the action of war than in the characters themselves as people. More so, these conventions would ideally dictate that the undertones of attraction between Lieutenant Waters and Dr. Hendricks would be transformed into a main theme of the movie, most likely resulting in a climactic love scene for the two. This is what Hollywood does. Rather than staying true to the film and the original intent, Hollywood works to manipulate the audience and create a “box-office hit.”

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In all honesty, for any movie which is meant to be about war, a climactic scene filled with explosions, shooting and death (that likely carries on entirely too long), would work, but for Tears of the Sun, the one scene like this that exists takes away from Lieutenant Waters and his conflict, and counteracts the intention of some incredibly and shockingly true scenes.

Coming largely unexpected to an American audience unaccustomed to seeing such harsh realities, there are scenes inserted in this film which show otherwise unseen realities of wars like those in the African genocides. One scene in particular vividly depicts Nigerian soldiers raping and pillaging a village. As Lieutenant Waters and his team approach, the horror and anger are felt not only by the American audience, but also by the American team of men. Events like this one show the true knowledge and research behind the film and do a brilliant job at making the film more realistic , and work to further push along the mental conflicts that would truly be affecting a soldier.

Bruce Willis once again provides a hard edge to his character as he does in many of his films, but goes further in Tears of the Sun to contrast that hard edge with moments of insecurity, sensitivity, and vulnerability. Knowing that he has endangered the lives of his entire team and the success of the mission, Willis’s character falls under heavy fire of questions about his intent and his decision, from both his men with him and his superior coming in over radio, none of which he has an answer to, giving them only “When I figure that out, I’ll let you know.” Monica Bellucci compliments Willis’s performance with her tough edge and strength throughout the film. As she did in The Matrix, Bellucci is able to bring in an attitude to her character which provides enough heat to harshen her, while at the same time leaving the ability to show humanity and vulnerability. Under the direction of Fuqua, Bellucci and Willis together bring an unforgettable depth to a war movie, a style which can often lack the dimensions provided in Tears of the Sun. If looking for a movie about war and the action of war, I would advise searching elsewhere, but if looking for a movie with character, meaning, and texture, Tears of the Sun is more than capable of providing.