Review: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.

That’s the premise behind “The Fault in Our Stars.” Based off the acclaimed and universally-obsessed-over book by John Green, “The Fault in Our Stars” is more than another teen love drama. It’s a story about cancer, love, and pain that demands to be felt.

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is a teenage girl who has been battling cancer since she was diagnosed at 13. She has to breathe from a tube and haul an oxygen tank everywhere she goes, as using stairs and standing for too long make her short of breath.

After her parents suspect Hazel of being depressed, they make her go to a support group for kids with cancer. It is here where Hazel meets Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort), an 18-year-old boy in remission. The two get to talking, sparks fly, and, despite Hazel’s hesitance about hurting Gus with her inevitable death, the two fall madly in love.

The genius of “The Fault in Our Stars,” lies with its risk to be funny while telling a sad story. You’ll laugh at the banter between Gus and Hazel, the goofy persona of fellow cancer victim Isaac (Nat Wolff), and the way the characters poke fun at their disease (as Gus says to Hazel’s father, “I didn’t cut this guy off for the hell of it,” motioning to his amputated leg he lost to his cancer).

A Fault In Our Stars

Following up amazing performances in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, Woodley is never better. As Hazel Grace, she is witty, sweet, and heartbreaking. You won’t be able to take your eyes off her. Opposite her Divergent co-star Elgort, the two are a match made in heaven.

“The Fault in Our Stars” isn’t just another cancer movie comprised of sad scenes and cliché. The story is lively, the characters bright, and the love poignant. The soundtrack, featuring songs from Ed Sheeran, M83, and Kodaline among others, breathes life and beauty into the film.

But, you must remember, this is a cancer movie — it’s not all laughs.

The audible squeals, giggles and applause from the audience slowly turn into suffocating silence and broken cries of “why?” and “no!” By the film’s conclusion you will find yourself bawling into your popcorn (or, in the my case, smuggled-in chocolates), surrounded by loud sobbing and nose-blowing noises from the packed theater. You will leave feeling broken but complete at the same time.

It lives up to its hype.

Review: ‘Divergent’

Divergent

In a futuristic Chicago there live four factions, where the citizens are categorized according to their personalities: Candor (honesty), Amity (kindness), Abnegation (selflessness), Erudite (intelligence), and Dauntless (bravery). Each faction performs specific roles for society and are forbidden to interact with anyone outside their group. Upon reaching a certain age, the city’s youth are given a personality test, which determines which faction they should join. Everything is peaceful and well within the walls of the city — that is, until Tris takes the aptitude test.

Enter, Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley). Tris is Divergent — someone who does not fit completely into the requirements of one faction. Tris is a danger to society. Her existence threatens to overthrow what has been in place for as long as anyone can remember. Because of this, Tris must hide her inconclusive test results and not let anybody know she is a Divergent.

“Divergent” is nothing original. But what separates the film from most movies based on YA books (think, “Immortal Instruments,” “Vampire Academy,” “Beautiful Creatures,” etc.) — it doesn’t suck.

Maybe the success rests with the exceptional cast. Following her strong performances in “The Descendants” (which earned her a Golden Globe nomination) and “The Spectacular Now,” (and overlooking her stint as a pregnant teen in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,”) Woodley shines as Tris. She’s strong, beautiful, brave, determined, but is still afraid and doubtful of herself. She’s a gem.

Alongside Woodley is the gorgeous and talented Theo James. James brings just the right amount of irresistible, come-hitherness to Four, one of Tris’ mentors. Kate Winslet is despicably wicked as Jeanine, the Erudite leader with a diabolical plot, and Miles Teller is the douche bag you’ll love to roll your eyes at.

Or maybe it’s because of the intriguing, sci-fi distopian setting. The country has been ravaged by a mysterious war, which led to the construction of a wall around the city’s barriers and complete isolation from the outside war. What caused the war? Who was it between? What is life like outside the Chicago barrier? A potential sequel or two will (hopefully) answer these lingering questions.

“Divergent” is no “Hunger Games,” but it provides entertainment — mouthwatering man candy, steamy romance scenes, kick-ass action sequences, strong female characters, and a “don’t be afraid to think for yourself” theme. What else could you want out of a YA novel adaptation?

Good Book, Bad Movie: Top 5 Worst Book-to-Movie Adaptations

This past weekend I went to the movie theater. No, I did not see “The Lego Movie,” which has taken the world by storm these last couple of days. (97% on Rotten Tomatoes? Can it really be that good? I think I’ll wait until it’s on Redbox). Instead, I  saw “Vampire Academy.”

“But Claudia, why would you do that?” you might be wondering. “‘Vampire Academy?’ It looks awful! Horrendous! ‘Twilight’ minus the sparkling!” And yeah, it pretty much was. I wrote a review of it for my movie column, which you can read here.

As explained in my column, I decided to see “Vampire Academy” simply because I owed it to my 14 year-old self. I went through a phase where I obsessed over teen paranormal romance novels, as every young girl does. And one of my very favorite book series was Richelle Mead’s vampire romance. I loved everything about it- Rose’s snark, Lissa and Christian’s unconventional relationship, and don’t even get me started on Dimitri; I was in love with that hunky Russian guardian. “Vampire Academy” was a quality series. And as with many book-to-movie adaptations, the film fell flat on its face.

So in honor of Hollywood’s latest fail to adapt a popular book series, I’ve decided to take a walk down memory lane and remember all the books that I love and the movies that completely crushed them into the ground.

1. “Eragon” (20th Century Fox, 2006)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Every time I think of “Eragon,” I feel so sorry for little sixth-grade Claudia. In the course of the school year I devoured Christopher Paolini’s first two novels (the only ones that were published at the time), “Eragon” and “Eldest,” and I thought they were absolutely brilliant. Fantasy, romance, adventure, mystery, battles, dragons, magic- what more could you ask for from a story? When the movie finally came to theaters, I was shaking with excitement. I went to the theater with my dad, all giddy and bouncing in anticipation…and then my hopes and dreams were destroyed.

It was god-awful. The acting was horrendous, the story was watered down almost beyond recognition, and Hollywood almost killed off Saphira and barely mentioned Angela. No. No no no. A part of my childhood died that day. And to make things worse, I didn’t have the emotional strength to express my dissatisfaction over the film, thus my parents assumed that I liked it and ended up giving it to me on DVD as a present. So now I own it. And every time I see it sitting among my other DVDs as I’m searching for a movie to watch, I vomit in my mouth a little.

2. “Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” (Universal Studios, 2009)

Universal Pictures
Universal Studios

I found Darren Shan’s “Cirque Du Freak” series almost accidentally. I remember I was at Borders, glancing over the shelves, when the first book, “A Living Nightmare,” caught my eye. I opened it, sat down, and read the preface. That’s all it took- I was hooked. After that day, I read the 12-book series in record time. It captivated me- “Cirque Du Freak” was unique, unpredictable, void of all clichés. I loved it so much that I even wrote fan fiction and made slideshows of fan art in my spare time. (Sixth-grade Claudia had a lot of spare time, okay?)

When I learned it was going to be made into a movie, I was thrilled. But, as with “Eragon,” I was only to be disappointed. Let’s be real- this movie was doomed for failure the moment that John C. Reilly was cast to play the sexy, mysterious, bad ass vampire Larten Crepsley (my favorite character of the series). To be honest, I can’t remember much of the movie, which is probably for the best. I remember a train wreck of the plot being completely changed and awful acting, but no specifics. I have successfully pushed the traumatic experience out of my mind, and I am perfectly okay with that.

I don't even know what's going on here. Why, Hollywood? WHY?
I don’t even know what’s going on here. Why, Hollywood? WHY?

3. “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” (20th Century Fox, 2010)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Oh Logan Lerman, where did you go wrong? You can do so much better! Where is the charmingly awkward Charlie from “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” that we all fell in love with?

To be fair, Logan Lerman is probably the best thing about this adaptation of Rick Riordan’s popular children’s series. The acting was blah, there were changes to the plot that I had strong feelings against, etc. It just didn’t do it for me, okay? I also had a hard time adjusting to Annabeth’s hair being brown.

"ANNABETH IS A BLONDE! A BLONDE!" -me, internally.
“ANNABETH IS A BLONDE! A BLONDE!” -me, internally.

But seriously, how hard is it to dye your hair? And why is she finally blonde in the sequel, “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters?” I must not have been the only one who freaked out over this seemingly-infinitesimal detail. (It’s a big deal, guys).

4. “The Golden Compass” (New Line Cinema, 2007)

New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

With a cast including Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Ian McKellan, and Sam Elliott, “The Golden Compass” should have been a hell of a lot better than it was. Yes, the animation is pretty impressive. Yes, Philip Pullman’s fantasy story of a parallel universe is nothing short of stellar. But “The Golden Compass” ended up as one big train wreck.

What went wrong? Well, it could be the fact that the big-name actors get remarkably little screen time compared to the “star,” Dakota Blue Richards, who portrays (or, tries to portray) Lyra. It was pitiful to watch the poor girl. The Catholics got upset because it was “anti-Catholic.” If they were going to get upset, it should have been because it was an utter piece of crap. And it ended on what is quite possibly the most boring cliffhanger (Lyra looking out to the horizon, urging her enemies to “just try to stop us”) for a sequel that will never be made.

5. “The City of Ember” (20th Century Fox, 2008)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

“The City of Ember” wasn’t awful. It was just simply extremely forgettable.

Nothing was “wrong” with it, per say. I am a huge Saoirse Ronan fan (“Hanna,” “The Lovely Bones,” “Atonement,”) and Billy Murray, who plays the mayor of Ember, can do no wrong. The reason I have included “The City Of Ember” on this list is simple: it did not even come close to doing the novel justice.

Jeanne DuPrau’s story is phenomenal. I read “The City of Ember” multiple times throughout elementary school, and I will always associate the story with my childhood. The film adaptation just fell flat. It was fine, but nothing that impressive. Eh.

P.S., what’s up with the giant moths and moles, Hollywood? DO NOT ADD THINGS TO SOMETHING THAT IS ALREADY PERFECT!

Review: ‘Saving Mr. Banks’

Walt Disney Pictures

Ever since I can remember I have been surrounded by films such as The Aristocats, Winnie the Pooh (my absolute favorite- I have the tattoo to prove it), The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc. etc. etc. I had Disney bed sets and costumes and too many stuffed animals to keep up with. I have multiple soundtracks and Disney’s Greatest Hits compilation albums, numerous coloring books, and Disney Princess Candy Land. I grew up with Disney.

I’m telling you this, dear reader, to give you a fair warning before you continue so kindly reading: I am biased. This review is filled with complete and utter bias.

From the moment I first saw the trailer to Saving Mr. Banks over the summer I instantly started excitedly rambling to my friends, parents, and anyone else who would listen about this film I had not yet seen. “It’s going to win Oscars,” I said. “Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, how could this not be amazing?” And after it’s been playing in theaters for nearly a month, tonight I finally went out and saw Saving Mr. Banks. 

And it was everything I thought it would be.

The film is the true story of how Walt Disney, played by the always marvelous Hanks, convinces P. L. Travers to let him turn her Mary Poppins children’s books into the movie we all know and love. Travers, portrayed superbly by Thompson, is a piece of work. She’s stubborn and stuck-up, making her interactions with Disney and his poor employees hilariously awkward as the two parties try to reach a compromise that will more or less please them both.

Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks is full of heart. As Disney tries to reason with the demands Travers has regarding the movie (such as no animation, no singing, and absolutely no color red), the emotional connection Travers maintains with her character Mary Poppins is revealed to the audience through heartbreaking flashbacks of a troubled childhood and father who is more or less Mr. Banks himself. Just try not to cry.

Thompson has already achieved a Golden Globe nomination for her role. And she, along with Hanks, are bound to get Oscar nods as well.

It’s pure and simple: this is a film Disney fans like myself have dreamed about. It’s pure magic.

Is Disney ‘Frozen?’

Frozen

Life during winter break is dull. For almost two weeks I’ve been doing nothing but binge-watching Breaking Bad and desperately trying to finish reading Under the Dome before I return to Columbia in mid-January. When I do leave the house, chances are it’s going to be for the movie theater. Coming into break I made a list of nine movies I wanted to see over these next five weeks of boredom. On that list- Dallas Buyers Club, Catching Fire (for a second time), American Hustle, Anchorman 2, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street, Saving Mr. Banks, and the topic of today’s post: Frozen.

Yesterday I finally ventured out and saw Frozen, Disney’s latest animated film loosely based on the fairy tale The Snow Queen. The movie follows Anna and Elsa, sisters and princess of the kingdom Arendelle. All is well for the sisters until an accident causes Elsa to fear the power she holds to manipulate ice and snow, leading her to shut out all those close to her and essentially live her life in isolation. Despite her attempts over the years to control her powers, Elsa’s secret gets out the day of her coronation and she accidentally plunges the kingdom into an eternal winter. Fearing hurting those around her, she flees into the mountains and it’s up to Anna, with a little help from mountain man Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, to save the frozen land of Arendelle.

When I first saw the Frozen trailer over the summer, I thought it looked god-awful. Horrible. Atrocious. I told my friends, “This looks just like Tangled, but in Norway and with an obnoxious snow man.” I had no intention of seeing it. But when it finally did come out at the end of November, I heard nothing but good things about it, which sparked my curiosity.

Let’s get one thing straight: Frozen is not a bad movie. It’s filled with catchy songs, goofy characters, and beautiful animation. I was wrong about it being awful, but it’s nowhere near Disney’s best. It’s a cute story; it’s just the same story that Disney always seems to be falling back on.

Look back on the three most recent Disney princess movies: Tangled, Brave, and now Frozen. All are good movies, I’d even call Tangled fantastic, but it’s all too clear that all three of these films tell the same story.

1. Each follows a princess who somehow feels isolated. In Tangled, the isolation is obvious with Rapunzel being locked up in a tower with only a chameleon for company. The isolation is apparent in Frozen as well, with a disgruntled Anna living in a castle whose doors are perpetually closed to everyone. In Brave, Merida’s mother tells her exactly how she should act, making her feel invisible, misunderstood, and, well, isolated.

2. In Tangled and Frozen, the princess goes on an adventure across the kingdom with a guy that she eventually falls in love with. I get it, I get it, everybody loves a love story. But please, try to change it up a little. This is where I have to applaud Brave– the romantic interest is taken out of the formula.

3. There is always a last minute save. At the end of Tangled, Brave, and Frozen, there is a point where things are not looking good for the characters. Whether it’s when Eugene/Flynn nearly dies after Gothel stabs him, when the sun rises and Merida’s mother still hasn’t turned back into a human, or when Anna’s frozen heart turns her into an ice statue, there’s always a moment of bleakness where the other characters are crying and everything looks hopeless. But this is Disney, and unhappy endings don’t exist. Just as everything seems hopeless, the power of true love swoops in and saves the day, saving the lives of the precious characters and restoring everything to how it should be.

Again, I’m not trying to bash on Disney or on these three movies, I honestly think that Tangled is the last truly great Disney movie made. But Disney seems frozen on this specific formula of movie-making.

So to you, Disney, I implore you: in the future, please change things up a little. Move away from the princesses. Ditch the “true love saves everything at the last second always” mentality. I want to see something different.