The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

What we’re watching this week: Steampunk, sci-fi and Shakespeare

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a “Netflix and chill” kind of guy or a “Hulu and hang” kind of gal—there’s always something to watch. And here’s what we’re watching this week.
arcane
Alexa White
We’re the (self-proclaimed) campus authority on all things television and movies. But what are WE watching?

Hey, you. Yeah, you! How are YOU, the lovely reader, spending this week? We, the lovely Life section, are constantly drowning ourselves in different media in a vain attempt to forget the fact that classwork and exams exist. Some of us are the type to get completely absorbed in a movie and change our entire personalities afterward, others have Instagram or TikTok open while a carefully-picked sitcom provides background ambiänce—and many do both. But regardless, we’re always watching something. So here’s what we’re watching this week.

 

Arcane ★★★★☆

If I had a nickel for every time an animated series was created based on a popular media entity and the art style looked eerily like Fortnite or Apex Legends, I’d have two nickels, which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice.

Just kidding. This time, it isn’t that weird, because the show in question is Netflix’s “Arcane,” based on a video game that is also the world’s most watched esport: League of Legends. “Arcane” tells the tale of sisters Vi and Powder (Hailee Steinfeld and Mia Sinclair Jenness) as they navigate complex political and family situations and face violent(ly steampunk) villains, ultimately seeking emotional fulfillment and reconciliation after a rough falling out. It’s a convoluted story that surprisingly has a firm grasp of what it’s trying to accomplish about 90 percent of the time.

Design-wise, however, the show hits some targets and misses others. The fight choreography is excellent, the background design is breathtaking and the world is truly immersive. But the characters give you an icky feeling until you get used to living with them. Overly exaggerated hand motions and facial expressions transform them into the awkward love children of an Aardman stop motion film and a papier-mâché sculpture.

Initially, this is off-putting: Vi, Powder and others are uncomfortable to look at, even set against the suave, stylized, somewhat generic steampunk city of Piltover. Stiff, often clichéd dialogue—albeit delivered well by a talented voice cast—doesn’t help this cause. However, the plot naturally defuses these visual apprehensions, allowing us to eventually appreciate and even laud the characters’ digestible and pliable designs.

Pliability is the artistic key here, as “Arcane” places a huge emphasis on how its characters change—both positively and negatively—over the course of nine episodes, even surprising us with a timeskip and character redesigns after the first three. Both before and after this fast-forward, citizens of Piltover are always learning to change—often in extreme ways. These changes are reflected in their designs, meaning we grow, or refuse to do so, alongside our favorite morally flawed protagonists.

Because, truthfully, everyone in Piltover sucks, which is what makes “Arcane” so great. It’s a dirty, gritty, grin-and-bear-it show. The characters intentionally make bad choices, bring about dire consequences and cause irreparable damage to each other. You don’t know who to root for. But when the Marvel hero is lame and the Disney villain is dead, a fictional world where everyone is a bit of both makes for a wildly refreshing experience—one that will no doubt draw me back in for season two.

 

Super 8 ★★★★☆

If you’ve seen “Stranger Things”—and who hasn’t—then you’ve basically seen “Super 8.” Here’s the catch: the film predates the mega-popular Netflix series by five years. As one Letterboxd reviewer posited, it’s honestly a miracle that “Super 8” director JJ Abrams hasn’t sued the show’s producers, the Duffer Brothers, for ripping off quite literally every single element of his movie.

Maybe “Stranger Things” is a more refined, better-executed version of a plot that Abrams might not have handled in the best way? Nope. Abrams did it better, and he did it first.

With stories like these, there’s an intricate balance that must be struck between ‘80s nostalgia, sci-fi flair and character dramatization to create on-screen personalities that have real humanity. Though the first two seasons of “Stranger Things” negotiate this gauntlet well, the third season loses the thread completely and shoves brightly-lit nostalgia and headache-inducing action into every scene—as well as our every orifice.

Meanwhile, “Super 8” doesn’t have the indecency (nor, being a standalone film and not a series, the time) to become as horny for itself as “Stranger Things” inevitably does throughout its long hiatuses. Instead of popping a nostalgia boner every 15 seconds, Abrams takes the time to make us actually care about our main cast of troublemaking kids, whose intricate relationships feel naturally developed—not lab-grown like a certain numerically named character.

Don’t get me wrong: I love “Stranger Things” and will absolutely be tuning in for the fourth and final season this year. But if I had to choose a love like Mike Wheeler and Eleven (Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown) or Joe Lamb and Alice Dainard (Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning), let’s just say I don’t have the patience for a telekinetic girlfriend. And not just because Courtney’s in “The Kissing Booth.”

 

Stargate ★★★☆☆

“Stargate” is the type of ‘90s movie that feels like you’ve seen it before—but that won’t stop you from watching it again. It gives off cult classic vibes without actually being one, and it’s just the right combination of cheesy and genuine to have inspired a long-running television show, one that takes its place among the early aughts sci-fi greats like “Firefly” and “Battlestar Galactica.”

It’s by no means a perfect movie. In their quest to uncover the truth about ancient Egyptian civilization, the characters make silly decisions, their motivations sometimes change on a whim and young Kurt Russell has an absolutely atrocious haircut. But with each strangely familiar scene in which a dashing young James Spader bonds with the ancient Egyptian people on a faraway planet (you read that right), you can’t help but smile at how endearing the story is. Someone really cared about making this movie, and you can tell the whole way through.

You can also sense how “Stargate” became an inspiration for later installments in the genre. The question of where humans came from is one that countless directors have tried to answer in countless ways, with few lining all the cards up just right. And though director Roland Emmerich may not be one of those few, he does line up just enough to produce a satisfying possibility that feels like coming home. That’s more than most can say.

 

The Tragedy of Macbeth ★★★★☆

I’m an English major (derogatory), and I hate Shakespeare.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to like him. In high school, I read “Romeo and Juliet,” “Othello,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Macbeth,” and none of them really resonated with me. Even after watching the insane Leonardo Dicaprio version of “Romeo and Juliet;” even after hosting an in-class wake for Macbeth where everyone brought food inspired by the tragedy; even after some friends and I filmed our own adaptation of “Much Ado” where we turned every character into a soccer mom—I just couldn’t get around the fact that I hated Shakespearean English. (I played the charming single dad, Paul, in case you were wondering.)

The newest screen adaptation of the tale of Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, has cracked the ice that is my unwavering hatred of Shakespeare. Filmed in black-and-white, the movie—only the latest version of a story that’s been brought to the screen more than 20 times—uses the original Shakespearean language, meaning that any new emotion comes only from delivery and blocking. However, Washington and McDormand, along with a marvelous supporting cast, channel the tragic energy of the play so well that I felt like I understood every scene, even if I understood barely half the lines.

The real star, however, is Kathryn Hunter, who plays the witches three. Prophecies and their subversion are always a big deal when it comes to stage plays, but having the prophecy delivered by such eerie, uncanny characters lends urgency to the original script—and Hunter translates the sheer weirdness of the witches to the screen in a way I didn’t know was humanly possible. Her performance is truly something else.

 

My tastes are clearly all over the place. But regardless of whether you’re into steampunk kids in a steampunk world or nostalgic sci-fi, the new semester is here, and we all could already use a movie break. My prophecy says you should listen to my recommendations.

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About the Contributors
Andrew Kolondra Jr., Former Life Editor

Andrew (AJ) Kolondra Jr. ('22) majored in English and classics in the College of Arts and Science. He frequently reviews television and movies or covers local events and festivals in and around the city. As a South Florida native, he spends as much time as possible outdoors — more often than not at Centennial Park. He can be reached at [email protected].

Alexa White, Former Graphics Director
Alexa White ('23) is from Traverse City, Michigan, and is double-majoring in secondary education and English. When she isn't writing for The Hustler, she is probably teaching, reading or creating art. After graduation, Alexa plans to be an English teacher and hopes to inspire kids to love reading, writing and exploring their creativity in all forms. She can be reached at [email protected].
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