Articles by Sankha Wanigasekara
Apr. 15, 2016
‘Barbershop’ makes for surprisingly good comedy
After 12 long years, Ice Cube and his entourage of barbers and hair stylists arrive yet again in movie theaters for “Barbershop: The Next Cut” – the third installment in the Barbershop franchise. While many might doubt the ability to follow the movie’s story without viewing the prequels, Next Cut’s introductory scenes and loose narrative structure make it equally pleasing for series fans and newcomers completely oblivious to the former outings alike.
Feb. 19, 2016
‘Zoolander 2’ marks Stiller’s return to ridiculous role after 14-year hiatus
Silly. Preposterous. Occasionally insensitive. More than a decade after the first “Zoolander,” it seems that Ben Stiller and his team of comedic juggernauts haven’t lost a single beat. Stiller’s Derek Zoolander and Owen Wilson’s Hansel are back with more shenanigans, filled with laugh-out-loud moments and leaving the audience in a state of bewilderment.
Feb. 12, 2016
‘How to be Single’ makes for mediocre at best rom-com
As the title itself suggests, “How to be Single” follows the story of a handful of women trying to lead proactive single lives in New York City – in other words, “Sex and the City.” Though there are slight adjustments, both the group dynamic and the plot take some truly bizarre and puzzling turns. This is a nearly two-hour-long film and given the length, it’s hard to ascertain whether it’s a movie, a slew of sketch comedies or an instructional video on relationships. It’s a confusing experience.
Jan. 15, 2016
Charlie Kaufman writes cerebral stop-motion animated film ‘Anomalisa’
Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures Animated movies aren’t synonymous with thought-provoking material. They are the kind that forces audiences to ruminate on the nature of human existence or some other deeply philosophical subject. Charlie Kaufman’s “Anomalisa,” originally a play released in 2005 by Kaufman himself, is one of the few exceptions. Focusing on Michael Stone, a married man out for a business trip in Cincinnati, “Anomalisa” paints a dark, albeit at times humorous portrayal of a man facing an existential crisis. Michael struggles to cope with the routine boredom of his life, made significantly worse by his inability to connect with almost every other living person he encounters. He’s the author of a well-known book revered as a bible for customer service personnel, and happens to be in Cincinnati to give a speech to a crowd of these professionals who treat him like a celebrity. “Anomalisa” features some truly creative narrative and structural decisions that boost its credentials as an animated film. First, it utilizes stop-motion, a time-consuming craft that, as implemented here, doesn’t rob the movie of its dramatic heft (this is not “Wallace & Gromit”). More importantly, however, the movie has a voice cast of three. Michael is voiced by David Thewlis, known world over as Professor Lupin from the “Harry Potter” franchise. He gives the character his British accent, selling the story of an Englishman who moved to America several years ago. Every other character, barring one, is voiced by Tom Noonan, and this is an extremely conscious decision on the part of the creative team. From the very first scene when Michael lands in a Cincinnati airport, the audience realizes that barring Michael, every other on-screen character, supporting or otherwise, is an iteration of the same face, with different clothes and hair, sporting the same voice. This befuddles the audience to begin with, especially when a hotel room scene where Michael calls his wife leads to the audience hearing, yet again, the voice of Tom Noonan. With each progressing scene, however, the audience is able to fill in the puzzle, starting with the name of the hotel Michael stays at, the Fregoli Hotel. It’s a deliberate shout out to the Fregoli delusion, where a person believes that different people are in fact one person in disguise. Naturally, this condition prompts Michael to treat the world with a consistent tenor of nonchalance and indifference. Who can bear to live in a world with just one other person? Especially if all men and women, including his wife, have the voice of a man. That is until he hears the voice of an “actual woman” passing the hotel corridor while he’s in the shower. Michael becomes panicked and eager to discover and locate the person who has a voice different to the one he has heard for so long. Enter Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing the part of Lisa. Michael runs into her after knocking on every door on his entire floor. She, along with her friend, also came to the hotel to see Michael give his convention speech, and after a dinner conversation which included her friend as a third wheel, Michael and Lisa share most of the remaining screen time alone, setting the stage for an interesting and bizarre romance. The second half of the film spawns a vast range of reactions. The events and dialogue elicit laughs, groans and winces and plenty of jaw-dropping moments. Leigh’s Lisa brings an upbeat innocence which is the perfect counterbalance to Michael’s solemn and stern demeanor. This odd mismatch is what provides most of the comedy, but Michael’s responses, especially his romanticism, make the audience queasy and squirm. He goes on and on about Lisa’s voice, which as understood in the context makes sense, as every other person he has encountered has had the same voice, and that of a man no less. Lisa’s voice is the central instrument of the film and shatters the lens through which Michael has viewed the world, allowing him to see and hear her differently than everyone else. Being a stop-motion film, the camera maneuvers are steady and controlled to give the characters’ movements room to be more pronounced. This prevents any volatile jarring on the screen and complements the more active sequences, like when Michael rushes down a corridor or a flight of stairs. The cinematography and art direction were on point, and there’s no doubt that a Golden Globe nomination was warranted. With a film such as “Anomalisa,” its strength lies in its ambiguity. Every member of the audience is bound to have a different opinion of its conclusion. Some may see finality or closure to a bizarre mid-life crisis, while others will see a continuation of the status quo. But for the span of the movie, viewers will be forced to observe a world by ignoring the visual schemata they are accustomed to. Appearance is trivial here.
Nov. 19, 2015
Mandell Theatre presents Watership Down
Since Nov. 4, student and professional actors alike have been performing in the Drexel University Mandell Theater’s latest production, Watership Down, directed by Allen Radway. Conceived when Richard Adams cooked up a story for his daughters along several car journeys, Watership Down was published as a novel in 1972. It received several literary awards before John Hildreth adapted it for the stage. Now, the adventure of countryside rabbits escaping the destruction of their warren has found its way to Drexel.
Nov. 13, 2015
‘Escape the 1980s’ is Philly’s newest interactive puzzle
Traditionally, weekends for teenagers and grown-ups would involve a visit to the movie theater, a Netflix binge, a bout of drinks at a pub or watching Sunday Night Football. Besides the drinking, all these activities require the adult to be a passive observer without having to put an ounce of thought into the endeavor. One might argue that playing Lumosity keeps those brain muscles well-flexed, but memory matrices and mental arithmetic can only take you so far. Luckily, a new solution has presented itself in the form of escape rooms.
Oct. 9, 2015
Gyllenhaal and Clarke reach new heights in ‘Everest’
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures Basing a film on a true story is a difficult balancing act between reality and fiction. This difficulty is one that “Everest” has to contend with, making sure that the movie based on the 1996 Everest expedition tragedy was grounded, without being visually exaggerated to a farcical level. Thankfully, “Everest” manages to tread the line perfectly. The motion picture is centered around two teams that attempted to reach the Everest summit in 1996. One team was led by Rob Hall of Adventure Consultants, played brilliantly by Jason Clarke, the other by Scott Fischer, inhabited by Jake Gyllenhaal, who shows his chameleon nature as an acting stalwart here. Besides the two leads, the movie boasts a truly impressive ensemble cast. Josh Brolin and John Hawkes play Beck Weathers and Doug Hansen, while Keira Knightley and Robin Wright spearhead the female cast, playing their respective spouses. Other big names in the cast include those of Sam Worthington and Michael Kelly. This in itself presents a major problem. Who is supposed to anchor the entire running time? The first act itself tries to squeeze in as much of each character’s back story as possible through exposition, capitalizing on each character’s relationships with others, specifically with their loved ones. While it is definitely a congested landscape of actors, having the personal relationship interactions limited to Clarke’s and Brolin’s characters allowed them to stand out in their own light, while relegating the likes of Gyllenhaal, Hawkes and Kelly to supporting roles. Every actor in this film is a powerhouse in their own right, but creating that focus was a necessity to let the audience better connect with the film. “Everest” begins with a standard, textbook approach for an adventure film. It commences with the planning phase, where each person sets off on the journey, covering everything from airport transits in New Zealand to bus rides in Nepal. This is followed by the meetup phase, where the all-star cast members get to meet each other, laying the seeds for future relationships and character development. Following this routine practice, the climbers power through, or rather struggle through from one camp to the next, slowly but surely, to reach the summit of Everest. Watching the first half of the movie was rather tedious. After being overexposed to the flashy thrillers of mainstream Hollywood, one expects a twisted, adrenaline-inducing accident. Thankfully, “Everest” ignores these tired, cliched approaches. In fact, the more over-the-top moments can be found in the movie’s trailer, which is a good thing. “Everest” capitalizes on the less extravagant struggles the characters take. How does a character struggle through his physical ailments to battle a blizzard and reach home? How does he or she take the next step forward while their lungs strain for oxygen in the cold air? Is he or she willing to risk his own safety to save another colleague? This is where the intentionally slow first half of the film pays off. It spends an eternity developing the characters so when time comes, the audience will be heavily invested in the people on screen, hoping for a fairy tale ending that they know will never come. Once everything starts going downhill, literally and figuratively, the suspense suffocates the audience. It was a slow first half for the movie, but after reaching the summit, the pieces fall into place. The climbers’ fatigue sets in. A blizzard engulfs the entire mountain. Chaos slowly and insidiously enters the picture. This is exactly why “Everest” is a haunting film. The deliberately slow pace and restrained action sequences stretch out the actors’ torment and torture. The camera captures some truly arresting moments of the landscape and of the characters. Shots of the mountain and the storm dwarf the climbers. But when the camera cuts back to the actors’ ordeals, it is truly heartbreaking. Some lie frozen and etched in ice. Others lay plastered to the mountain range, their skin and the mountain’s rock become one. “Everest” may test certain viewers’ patience, but to those comfortable with long running times, it is a great experience. It successfully juggles an expansive cast, permitting even those not on the mountain to chip in stellar performances. Keira Knightley’s pregnant Jan phoning her husband Rob, who is stranded on the mountain and fighting for his life, is a prime example. Their expressions, gestures and tone were befitting a moment few would ever find themselves in, and rightfully made them the highlights of the film. “Everest” is a remarkable movie, showcasing the epitome of human spirit and will in the face of one of nature’s most daunting challenges.
May. 22, 2015
‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ brings franchise to new heights
After 30 years in Hollywood’s development hell, George Miller’s fourth installment in the “Mad Max” franchise has finally arrived. “Fury Road” heralds the return of the road warrior Max Rockatansky, played by Tom Hardy this time around since a 59-year-old Mel Gibson in an action film isn’t the most entertaining prospect.
Apr. 24, 2015
Blake Lively acts beyond her years in ‘Age of Adaline’
“The Age of Adaline” tells us that being immortal isn’t entirely the joyride that one would imagine. Everyone you love and care about dies while you don’t. Trying to keep your immortality a secret also proves to be even more burdensome, as it involves numerous identity changes every now and then and you end relationships as soon as they begin. This is the life led by Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), as a mysterious car crash in the early 1900s prevents her from ever aging.
Apr. 24, 2015
‘Age of Adaline’ director Krieger talks with Drexel students
Following a screening of “The Age of Adaline” at the Ritz East April 15, the film’s director Lee Toland Krieger dropped in for a brief question and answer session at Drexel University’s Cinema & Television Department the day after. The film, which stars Blake Lively as a character that doesn’t age, marks Toland’s entry into the realm of big budget feature films, having previously helmed projects of a more moderate financial standing.