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The University Pulse has teamed up with Adam Wright Media. Adam Wright is a local musician, photographer and videographer. He has started the In The Valley Sessions which highlights local and touring bands with a special acoustic performance set in miscellaneous Boise locations.

In this In The Valley Session, Topshelf Record’s Prawn performed two songs in Boise’s Hyde Park district.

Straight out of sunny Los Angeles, California, alternative band The Absolute have been making waves in their local scene and are ready to bring their music and progressive image to the nationwide stage. Here, in an extended interview with University Pulse Music Director Ryan Hoffman, lead singer Phil Ross discusses personal growth, impromptu album cover shoots, rock band web promotion, and getting a bunch of junk thrown on you in the name of art.

Q: The new record is titled Grow. “Grow” in what way?

A: The band has lots of personal mantras, whether it be “smile”, “grow”… we have always globbed on to this whole idea of “positive apocalypse”, just because today’s music and social outlook on life has become very lethargic and gotten stuck in this rut of copy[ing] what came before you.

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How often is it that a sequel is better than its original, even when the original was fairly mediocre? Just this year, we’ve had cinematic failures like Taken 3, The Divergent Series: Insurgent and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, all of which doubled down on their respective original entries’ lackluster filmmaking, yet all still managed to be box-office successes. These films also share a trait of excessively catering to their built-in audiences’ expectations, mostly to the films’ detriment.

Add Pitch Perfect 2 to that list. The original film wasn’t any great shakes; it’s plot followed your standard musical comedy formula (college a-cappella group attempts to win national competition, and of course does) and the humor could be hit-or-miss, as well as ironically mean-spirited, racist, sexist and fat-shaming (the entire character of Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” was designed for nothing less of a joke than “ha-ha, look at the fatty”). Still, the performances by the cast were great for a genre film, including Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Brittany Snow, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who could forget?) and Elizabeth Banks. More importantly, the a-cappella musical sequences remain the highlight of the film, including the famous “Riff-Off” sequence, and the soundtrack sold like gangbusters.

The sequel, on the other hand, is basically a diluted form of the original, now with even more dramatic musical sequences, more cringe-worthy humor, and a more disjointed plot. This time around, the Barden University Bellas are under national and public scrutiny after an embarrassing mishap performing in front of President Obama (here appearing in completely obvious stock footage). The Bellas must rebuild their image and win the A Cappella World Championships if they want to remain a group in the first place, since the University nearly dissolves the group entirely. The viewer, of course, knows that they’re going to win by the end of the movie; this isn’t going to be some deep exploration of what it means to work hard at a chance to be the best and still lose, with dignity.

Beyond the obviousness of the plot, though, Pitch Perfect 2 strains for inciting laughs in the audience in the worst, most offensive way possible. The Bellas’ main competitor in the Championships, the German group Das Sound Machine (hardy har, really funny guys), play up “perfect German” stereotypes by being tall, beautiful and excessively synchronized in their performance routines. Near the end of the film, the a- cappella commentators at the Championships, played by returning actors Banks and John Michael Higgins, crack jokes about the German team that would get a seventh-grader sent to the principal’s office. “This could very well be the greatest conflict between America and Germany in our nation’s history!” Groan. Screenwriter Kay Cannon, who wrote both films in the series, also writes for shows like 30 Rock and New Girl, two other media products whose sarcastic sense of tone alienates viewers who are simply looking for a good, funny story with characters the audience can actually relate to.

Banks actually makes her first-time directing debut here as well, which created pre-release buzz around the film since women directors in Hollywood are so rare, much less ones that handle sequels to major-grossing films. Unfortunately, her directing acumen here is similarly not up to par with the first film. Scenes move from one to another without any real flow between images and this just adds to the haphazard feel of the plot. Jason Moore, who directed the first film, at least made that entry feel more tightly constructed; here, the execution is just slapdash. It will be interesting to what Banks creates next time she steps in the director’s chair. Hopefully, it turns out better than this.

The most egregious aspect of Pitch Perfect 2, though, is it’s pandering to the people who made the first film a success. In story, humor and musical sequences, the sequel follows the original nearly beat-for-beat. In both iterations, an outrageous gag opens the film, Kendrick’s character Becca shows off her musical talent, the Bellas have a crisis of confidence, and by the end of the film, everyone learns how to get along and win the competition. This doesn’t even mention the shameless copying of the first film’s most successful sequence, the aforementioned “Riff-Off”, except this time it takes place in an underground dance club hosted by one of the most annoying characters David Cross has ever played (and that includes Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked).

The film isn’t a complete disaster, and that’s mostly because of the music here, again following the first film. Becca’s mashup sensibility saves what is otherwise a by-the-numbers sequel, and the performances are the only time Perfect 2 provides the audience with a sense of joy.

Of course the film has already debuted at #1 at the box office and of course there’s already another sequel being considered (ugh). Catch this one on streaming services if you must, but be warned: Pitch Perfect 2 is much less perfect than its title suggests.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

Showbiz Rating: 5 out of 10 Pulses

Catch The Showbiz on Fridays from 2-3pm on bsupulse.com.

The University Pulse has teamed up with Adam Wright Media. Adam Wright is a local musician, photographer and videographer. He has started the In The Valley Sessions which highlights local and touring bands with a special acoustic performance set in miscellaneous Boise locations.

In this In The Valley Session, local Boise folk punker, John Primrose, performs a Thermals cover and an original song, “Lost Boy” at Castle Rock in Boise.

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I have been anticipating the release of It Follows for quite some time now. I was impressed by Maika Monroe’s performance in The Guest and when I saw the intriguing trailer, as well as the early positive reviews, I was hooked. Needless to say, for the most part, this movie delivers.

It Follows succeeds on so many levels because for the most part, it completely abandons typical horror movie cliches. Jump scares are minimized, gore is mostly non-existent, the traditional long exposition of ‘The Creature’ is streamlined and there are surprisingly few deaths, with the main characters avoiding the predetermined killing order that haunts most modern horror films.

The atmosphere is downright fascinating, with director David Robert Mitchell creating a hybrid 1980’s/modern vibe that is intricately planned and executed down to the smallest room detail, a concept that sets the mood perfectly and is bound to please hipsters everywhere. The symbolism of this atmosphere seems perfect, a sort of tribute to a lost past and an indication of what our characters will lose in their journey to escape what follows.

From a cinematography standpoint, It Follows is a truly intimate experience, although it doesn’t devolve into the found footage gimmick that follows the Paranormal series like a younger sibling. The camera angles are very close and personal, taking in facial expressions, minute movements and utilizing slow spins to place you right in the center of the action, which makes Jay’s anxiety and fear even more chilling.

Mitchell’s mastery of tension and mood is also impressive. Time and time again, the sinking feeling of an upcoming jump scare hits you, but the movie refuses to offer that cliche, so successfully managing emotions that the feeling remains even as the jump scares stay in the vault.

In a world where horror movies seem to run on predetermined allotments of jump scares, gore and reach arounds, It Follows refuses to offer these, even as it makes you feel constantly on edge, watching the screen for any hint of what is to come. You get all of the fear and all of the tension, without the stereotypes, which is part of what makes this film one of the freshest takes on the genre I have seen in quite some time.

Already, this creative take has led to comparisons to The Babadook of last year and although I think that film was a better constructed, more intelligent watch, I also think that It Follows is inherently more watchable. It Follows feels more relatable and a bit more familiar, making it my favorite of the two.

That being said, It Follows isn’t just a precise, goal oriented exercise in tension, atmosphere and cinematography. The film also offers an extremely intelligent and biting critique of the Western sexual experience. The critique is multi-pronged, touching on the stigma that surrounds our sexual histories as well as the fear and ignorance associated with the sexual act.

In many ways, It Follows is a pointed mockery of the misconceptions and fear that is taken into so many sexual encounters, as it uses the ‘Follower’ to effectively expand on Jay’s sexual experience, allowing for a greater philosophical deconstruction that is surprisingly intelligent.

The film also critiques the traditional stereotypes of sexual encounters as portrayed by the modern media. Time and time again, Jay’s sexual encounters fail to live up to her standards or the standards we expect in today’s media driven world. Violence, emotional stress, selfishness and poor motivations mark the sexual encounters of It Follows, which refuses to glamorize these moments, choosing instead to minimize nudity and portray a realistic female form.

Even the bliss of Jay’s first sexual encounter in her budding relationship is ruined by the ulterior motives of her significant other. It isn’t necessarily an argument for abstinence so much as it’s a down to earth gut punch, both for the characters and for the audience.

These philosophical critiques are only strengthened by the imagery throughout the film, both in regards to the carefully constructed atmosphere and also of the ‘Follower’ itself, which reflects the sexual and relational histories of its victims in a chilling fashion, adding additional discussion to the points above and also hinting at the obvious commentary on sexually transmitted disease.

Ultimately, this intellectual breakdown is probably the strongest portion of the film, distinguishing It Follows as more then just a fresh reimagining of the horror genre. The only sacrifice here (if you can call it that), is that the film isn’t immediately scary. By minimizing the stereotypical scares, there isn’t much that is truly frightening, at least in the way we generally think about fear at the movies.

That being said, tension is the new fear. It sticks with you as a long term scare. You don’t get the jump out of your seat moments of the first great horror films, but you contract a sort of budding anxiety. We find this in classic, tension filled films like Alien and it is also showcased in It Follows.

It Follows does have a few flaws, the first of which can be found in the length. There is a feeling that it runs too long and repeats itself in the final acts. Some of this could be attributed to mood creation in a non-linear manner and it isn’t a damning critique, but some scenes feel unnecessary.

Additionally, there is a slightly problematic death scene with the ‘Follower’ about two thirds of the way through the film. The scene appears slightly rushed, with elements that don’t jive with the tone of the film or with the knowledge we are given regarding the ‘Follower’.

However, all told, It Follows makes it past these issues fairly easily, with the overall quality of the film making this a must watch, the first of the 2015 cinematic year. This film is an extremely fresh and intelligent take on what was, until the release of The Babadook, a dead genre. I highly recommend, both for the entertainment in the theater and the great discussion afterwards.

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For some time now, I have been debating my next film review and up until a few moments ago, I was pretty conflicted. However, after seeing a locally written positive review for the recent awards push film, Clouds of Sils Maria, with Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz, my choice became an easy one.

As with all French films, I offer a degree of leniency when it comes to the overall pulse of the film. French movies are notoriously boring and despite the fact that I personally dislike this tendency, I am happy to offer passes to films like Rust and Bone and Two Days, One Night, which are both high quality films in their own right.

Clouds of Sils Maria however, takes advantage of my good graces, offering a boxed in two hours of what is honestly one of the most lifeless and pretentious films I have ever had the displeasure of watching.

Despite the fact that I like a good comeback, there is no way to get away from the fact that a great deal of this centers around the Stewart casting. Although many a director has attempted to take the credit for rescuing young adult actor’s careers, there is rarely credit to take. As was the case with Daniel Radcliffe, Stewart is an inherently bad actress. She has no range, no emotion and poor vocalization.

Despite the fact that director Olivier Assayas does his best to fit Stewart into a role that matches her drab exterior, her inability to emotionally connect with each scene still shines through bright and clear. This is a film that is critically tied to a number of deep, riveting scenes with Stewart and Binoche. To undercut the emotion of these scenes is, simply put, a death sentence for this film.

Binoche is strong individually, although her abilities are somewhat lost in the doldrum created by the film. The overall attitude is painfully pretentious, with unwarranted cuts to black and pristine Alps shots to remind us to tune in on Oscar night. I can’t spend enough time raging against films like this, which shamelessly draw from the awards file just to pull in hapless cinephiles and art lovers.

Chloe Grace Moretz, hyped by the trailer as a major player in the film, turns out to only have a few minutes of screen time, offering one semi-decent line. Her role is minimal, really just serving as an extra cash and viewer grab, when it could have added a capable third player to the mix.

Ultimately, the dynamic that is attempted between Stewart and Binoche goes on for far too long without really assuming the emotional gravity intended for it. As a final damnation, the film, coming in on the coat tails of the completely fantastic Birdman, really feels like a freeloader, offering a similar look at an aging thespian with many of the same conflicts. The hinted at (and undelivered) sexual tension is, for the most part, a decoy to distract from what is really just shameless awards bait.

Clouds of Sils Maria is altogether overhyped, overrated and underwhelming in all aspects. Don’t see this, don’t buy it and don’t support this industry of money grubbers who assault us with blockbusters and now, increasingly, have infiltrated the movies designated for high quality artistic expression.

If you are looking for more entertainment news and reviews, check out The Showbiz radio show, on the University Pulse every Wednesday (3-4pm) and Friday (2-3pm). The show features Brandon Walton, John Armstrong, Patty Bowen and Phillip Daily.

Looking for more film reviews? Check out the in depth analysis for the following films:

Unfriended-Ryan Hoffman

Kingsman: The Secret Service-Brandon Walton

Gone Girl-Brandon Walton

With the all of the hype and success surrounding writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s recent indie horror sensation It Follows, filmgoers have emphatically suggested to the industry, via their wallets, that they are tired of “found-footage”-style horror films typified by the Paranormal Activity and V/H/S series, and willing to see Hollywood progress into making more atmospheric, jump-scare-free spookshows. Unfortunately, the now-derided genre finds itself adding a legitimately frightening tale to its pantheon, just when audiences are abandoning it.

When the Unfriended trailer premiered earlier this year in January, it made the film seem like just another rote found-footage flick with laughable dialogue and bad acting. Count this as a prime example of bad marketing. As the film plays out, the concept and acting turn out to be the most positive features of the whole endeavor.

Our main protagonist, Blaire (Shelley Hennig), is your typical 21st-century high-school teenager who hangs out with her boyfriend and classmates constantly from her laptop on a variety of social media platforms, like Facebook, Skype, etc. When she receives a private message from a person she knew previously thought to be dead, her and her friends slowly get drawn into a web (ha!) of betrayal, lies and deceit which will pit them against each other in literally life-or-death situations.

Without spoiling the plot, the film is essentially a supernatural revenge flick with only slight moments of shocking gore and imagery here and there. But most importantly, it is also a treatise on the phenomenon of cyberbullying, lending Unfriended a social commentary edge that most horror films dare not aspire to. Director Levan Gabriadze (pronounced gab-ree-add-zee) had personal experience being bullied whlie growing up in Soviet Georgia and being in the Army, lending his film an authentic flair.

Unfriended‘s main conceit (some would say “gimmick”, though I wouldn’t be that cynical) is that it takes place entirely on Blaire’s computer screen. In real time, no less. The whole film is viewed through the lens of what Blaire is looking at on her laptop. It’s like watching someone on a computer instead of being at the computer yourself. What’s amazing about how the film is executed is that it’s not boring, it’s fascinating. Or more accurately, it’s fascinating because it’s boring.

unfriended still

That’s real life, though. Looking at a screen for hours at a time is one of the most boring things modern existence has brought us (indeed, I’m bored just typing this sentence!). In this way, the film not only comments on cyberbullying, but on our technology-addled society and how much more time we could be spending in the presence of others.

One other thing about Unfriended that you may not notice even after seeing the film: the entire thing was filmed in one take. According to a Slashfilm article covering the WonderCon 2015 cinema convention, the filmmakers revealed that “each actor was in their own room with a computer and they shot the entire movie in a single 80 minute take.” The article mentions that certain elements were added and changed in post-production to the shots (most likely including the true-to-life glitched-out video effects that cover the film every time events come to a head; it’s even over the Universal logo at the beginning!), but most of what the viewer sees consists of that one take. This fact raises Unfriended from a pretty interesting horror premise to a must-see movie.

Lest readers think I am being too hyperbolic, the film is not perfect and completely without its flaws. During moments when the tension starts to ramp-up, an obvious sound design element in the form of escalating white noise alerts you to the fact that SOMETHING BIG IS ABOUT TO GO DOWN AND YOU SHOULD BE SCARED. Honestly, the film would function much better without this unnecessary ploy at playing to the audience, just like how most space movies are better off being silent during scenes in space. Also, the story itself will depend on whether or not the viewer accepts the possibility of supernatural events in this otherwise “real” film world (the film’s ending will definitely hinge on this acceptance).

Still, these are minor complaints. Most of the time, Unfriended has a sense of depth and space that recent studio fare like The Lazarus Effect suffer severely from. The fact that both films share a production company that has made quite a name for itself in financing and acquiring micro-budget films that pay dividends at the box office is beside the point. If you give it the time to play out and sink in, Unfriended may end up becoming one of your friends after all.

unfriended poster

Rating: 3.5 out of 4

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