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A Cinematic Review of 2018: Ten great films and five flops

(02/26/19 3:48pm)

The Oscars may have come and gone, but I’m still not quite ready to embrace the new cinematic year. So, as a final send-off, it seems fitting to reflect on the best and worst films that 2018 had to offer. A couple of caveats before I begin, though: 1) Rather than organizing these films into a meaningless ranking, I’ve arranged them alphabetically. However, I have bolded the titles of the best film and the worst film of 2018 (in my humble opinion). 2) There are plenty of films from 2018 that I would have loved to see but haven’t gotten a chance to, largely due to accessibility issues. If you don’t see one of your favorite films from last year on this list, assume that I wanted to see it, didn’t get the chance to and would have included it on this list if I had. That last part is total wishful thinking, but it will keep everyone marginally happy. As a disclaimer, I did see all the Best Picture nominees. 


Review: ‘The Green Book’ doesn’t leave a mark as an artistic work

(02/19/19 7:40am)

After a two-decade career spent directing lighthearted comedy films with his brother Bobby, Peter Farrelly has struck out on his own to co-write and direct “Green Book,” a comedy-drama about the relationship between notable black pianist Dr. Don Shirley and his driver for a tour of the American South, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. The film is set in the 1960s and based on true events, with Vallelonga’s son Nick helping write the Oscar-nominated script. The film has since also been nominated for awards in lead and supporting actor, film editing and best picture. “Green Book” is a movie that seeks to capitalize on the feel-good nature of its triumphant story: that of a white man driving a black piano player through a deeply segregated America and finding friendship and support along the way. Admittedly, the film succeeds in its efforts to enthrall with this trope of race transcended through humanity, and it makes for a highly enjoyable film that nonetheless feels like a glossy magazine print, airbrushed and edited to cater to generalized enjoyment. Ultimately, “Green Book” takes a heart-warming story and ties it up in a neat little bow, resulting in a film that makes you smile and nothing more — it doesn’t challenge conventions or leave a lasting, meaningful impact. 


Review: ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is an elegant masterpiece

(02/19/19 7:35am)

Almost two years ago, I wrote an elated review of Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning juggernaut “Moonlight,” extolling it as one of the century’s very best films. Looking back on that review, I wince a little at its naïveté and ignorance — an ignorance which I know can only be born out of the immensely privileged position I occupy. Nevertheless, my fundamental feelings about the film have not changed in the intervening time. Indeed, I’ve watched the film at least half-a-dozen times since I first saw it in theaters; it remains a masterful work, a revelation of astonishing filmmaking fused to a perfectly crafted narrative. As we enter the final year of the 2010s, I’m hard-pressed to imagine that there will be a better film released before this decade officially closes out. 


This year's Oscar-nominated shorts have surprising depth

(02/15/19 7:00am)

Last Saturday, I went to watch the Hopkins Center’s screening of the collection of Oscar-nominated live-action short films without a clue of what I was getting into. I hadn’t looked up any of the films before my viewing, and in my innocence, I assumed that the brevity of the shorts meant they would toe the line between light-hearted and meaningful. They would not be too dark or bleak, I assured myself, before the lights went dim and the title card for the first short appeared on the screen.


Leonard Cohen’s ‘You Want it Darker’ inspires beyond the grave

(02/14/19 7:29am)

We are so concerned with what is new and exciting in music that we often forget the artists we’ve lost, the artists that even from the grave figure prominently in our collective imagination. Big names have died in the last few years — Tom Petty, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin — and it feels like time is running out for the musicians who inspired popular music today. Leonard Cohen is one such artist. Cohen passed away in November 2016 at 83, but still inspires people with his not-quite-music-not-quite-spoken-word pieces years later. 


‘Roma’ captures the mundanity of daily life but lacks emotion

(02/14/19 7:30am)

As a film-goer, I watch movies to escape reality — to dive into a fantasy and feel immersed in a new environment. All of this is accomplished by the trademarks of a film: action, dialogue and acting. It’s clear from the movies that often win at the box office that most audiences also appreciate similarly exciting, enthralling films. Yet among the films most critically lauded this year is Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical film “Roma.”



Review: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ is a nostalgic debut novel

(02/12/19 7:35am)

I grew up in the south, and some of my most vivid childhood memories took place on the sandy shores of the Atlantic or in the pristine saltwater marshes on the Carolina coast. I was always captivated by the raw beauty in these environments: sunlight bending through Spanish moss, the great arc of a blue heron in flight, hundreds of fiddler crabs scuttling across the mud flats and the gentle lapping of waves at low tide. The sheer abundance of life clustered within the marshes always astounded me. They were their own little sanctuary, sheltered from concrete high-rises and boisterous tourists, having just the right conditions to foster an entire ecosystem. 


Review: ‘Tangerine’ parallels a relationship with a revolution

(02/12/19 7:30am)

“Tangerine” by Christine Mangan transported me beyond my world. I felt like I knew how the ghostliness, both the good and bad tangles of history, feels in Tangier. The book brought the feeling of standing on top of Phoenician tombs, gleaming white against the azure of the intersection of the Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans alive; I felt like I could feel the layered history beneath my feet and the physical manifestations of syncretic culture present before my eyes.



Review: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ reveals the goodness of humanity

(02/05/19 7:30am)

There was a moment of collective solidarity on the Internet — which is really rare, considering it’s the Internet — when Fox announced the cancellation of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” in May of 2018. Fans of the show, from Lin Manuel-Miranda to Guillermo del Toro, all tweeted their outrage, leading to the show’s resurrection at NBC a mere 31 hours after the announcement of its cancellation. 


Review: ‘Fyre’ explores the consequences of willful ignorance

(02/05/19 7:35am)

It was one of the greatest marketing campaigns of all time: a pristine launch video showing supermodels swimming in bikinis on an island once owned by Pablo Escobar, a series of cryptic orange tiles posted online by celebrities and Instagram influencers and the promise of an immersive music experience in the Bahamas called Fyre Festival. In reality, it was an utter disaster; gourmet meals became two slices of cheese on soggy bread, luxury villas became disaster-relief tents and Fyre Festival became a colossal failure of the millennial age.


Review: ‘The Undressing’ is a powerful reflection on time and love

(01/31/19 7:35am)

The first poem I remember loving was “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee. I memorized its soaring verses, each one a dedication to peaches, and would recite it at nearly every lunch period to the chagrin of my classmates. I was a girl obsessed. That was the first time I had seen a poem that was unapologetically jubilant; Lee eschewed everything I thought I knew about poetry in “From Blossoms.” There was nothing depressing, pejorative or traumatic. It was simply an exalting review of some really good fruit and a really good summer’s day — and it was in that simplicity that Lee found the nuance and depth that marks interesting poetry. 


Review: ‘Polar’ is a disappointing yet entertaining mess of a movie

(01/31/19 7:30am)

It’s an understatement to say that Netflix has a bad history with its original movies. Sure, they might make one decent movie every now and then, but for every “Roma,” there are at least three films like “The Cloverfield Paradox.” “Polar,” regrettably, won’t be joining “Roma,” “Mudbound” or “Beasts of No Nation” in the lofty pantheon of decent Netflix movies because, depending on your definition of what makes a movie good, it’s either some of the worst trash to ever grace the “trending now” section of Netflix, or a glorious hot mess that’s incredibly entertaining by virtue of how bad it is.


Review: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' surpasses all expectations

(01/29/19 7:00am)

Let’s begin this review with the following two statements: 1. Spider-Man was the first superhero to whom I was introduced. 2. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is hands down the best Spider-Man film ever made. Full stop. No qualifications. I mention these two things in conjunction because even though they initially appear to be unrelated, they are, in fact, intrinsically linked. I never read comics as a child, and when I finally did find myself immersed in the world of superheroes, my favorite was always Batman thanks to Tim Burton’s bizarre, stylish 1989 film adaptation. Nevertheless, my first proper experience with anything superhero related was watching Tomo Moriwaki’s “Spider-Man 2” at the impressionable age of 7 or 8. Thus, even to this day, I have a special fondness for everyone’s favorite web-slinger. 


'Circe' is a new take on traditionally misogynistic Greek mythology

(01/25/19 7:00am)

At once a stunningly evocative retelling of Greek mythology and a commentary on mortality, motherhood, resilience and female agency, “Circe” by Madeline Miller intertwines the fantastic with the familiar, shaping a narrative whose supernatural exterior ultimately serves to tell an altogether human story of a woman’s life.


Review: "Aquaman" is two-and-a-half hours of dumb, frothy fun

(01/22/19 7:35am)

“Aquaman” is the sixth film in the DC Extended Universe, following on the heels of four films that range from mediocre to atrocious (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman,” “Suicide Squad,” “Justice League”) and one of the best superhero films not just of the last decade but of all time (“Wonder Woman”). Unsurprisingly, the overall abysmal quality of the franchise has led countless think pieces to ponder how it might be fixed. While I profess to be no authority, I’ve always found that solutions demanding the original director’s cut of “Justice League” or advocating for an alternate-universe reboot both miss precisely what made Wonder Woman” exceptional.


Review: The third season of "True Detective" is back to its roots

(01/22/19 7:30am)

Here’s a disclaimer: the first season of “True Detective” is my favorite season of television ever made. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, the first eight-episode iteration of HBO’s crime anthology series is a near-perfect evaluation of human character in the face of death, evil and chaos. Though the writing is at times heavy-handed and the subtle undercurrent of complicated mysticism never really comes to fruition, that first season is still an engrossing masterwork of intrigue and filmmaking. McConaughey and Harrelson give career-best performances, Nic Pizzolatto’s writing takes brilliant, unexpected turns, and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s sumptuous filmmaking pulls viewers into the Louisiana bayou and doesn’t let them go. After the first season’s final episode left me clutching my head in awed disbelief, I eagerly awaited the show’s second season, only to be left in utter disappointment.


Marie Kondo’s new show doesn’t have to do more than ‘spark joy’

(01/18/19 7:35am)

When I returned home for the winter holidays this past November, my parents announced on the drive back from the airport that we were moving out of the home we had lived in for the last 14 years. I reacted as anyone might after an abrupt announcement that they were losing their childhood home: nervous laughter, and then an incredulous “What?”




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