Post by Peyton Austin

Twelve minutes into the Academy Award-winning film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the main protagonist, Miles Morales, spray-paints his outline over the words “no expectations.” This references his earlier literature assignment on the book Great Expectations, the famous novel by Charles Dickens. When I first watched the movie and they showed Miles reading this book, I didn’t think much of it past my own excitement. Great Expectations is one of my favorite novels, so seeing it included in the movie pleased me. The subsequent subversion in Miles’s graffiti was equally pleasing. The second time I watched, I similarly didn’t think much of it. The third time, however, I could not stop thinking about this insertion of Great Expectations. Did Miles truly have no expectations, and how far could one apply the 19th-century book to the 21st-century movie?

The answer: far indeed. I soon realized that the writers of Into the Spider-Verse are not actually using Miles Morales to subvert Great Expectations, but rather expand on it. The themes and issues that Pip, the novel’s protagonist, face prove that the writers of Into the Spider-Verse took their consideration of the novel’s themes far beyond Miles’s graffiti art. 

Courtesy of Netflix.

For Miles, his expectations have nothing to do with money—rather, the sudden inheritance that he receives is his superpowers. Miles’s expectations are deeply tied into his family life. The same way that Pip’s sudden influx of money causes him to treat his family horribly, Miles’s new powers further isolate him from a father who hates Spider-Man and an uncle who works for the main villain. (No matter how great the expectations are, they bring with them a lot of baggage.) This family set-up, however, is most crucial for Miles, because it is his family that will help him fully come into his powers.

The graffiti scene becomes immediately important again. It’s no coincidence that Miles receives the spider bite while he graffitis with his uncle, at the spot his uncle picked out. One of the major themes of Into the Spider Verse, and the one important for this essay, is family as inspiration. While Miles’s father discourages Miles’s tagging, Uncle Aaron is the one who inspires Miles creatively, encouraging him to continue his passion for graffiti art and tagging. As Miles tags, his uncle says, “The real Miles, comin’ outta hidin’.” Thus this scene comes together both thematically and narratively: Uncle Aaron takes the time to encourage Miles in his art and life, and Miles gains his superpowers in the process. His “real self” also becomes his superpowered self.

This graffiti scene is also the one that first poses the question for Miles: does he truly have no expectations? In fact, he has many—his family, and especially his father, expects him to succeed in an elite school where Miles originally did not want to go. The original Peter Parker expects Miles to disable The Super Collider. The other Spider-characters expect Miles to be able to save the multiverse. Yet more than that, Miles is loved. His mother and uncle love him, and his father, while harder on Miles, clearly loves him too. So where is Miles getting this perception that he has no expectations?

Despite the love there, the family still remains fractured. Miles and his father cannot get along, and Miles’s father and uncle further cause a rift by refusing to talk to each other at all. Miles struggles with his powers throughout the movie (as Pip struggles with money and love, getting himself into large debts). No matter how much Peter B. Parker attempts to teach Miles control of his powers, no matter how much advice the other Spider-characters give, Miles’s powers cannot grow in strength. Miles’s family, especially when Aaron dies, is still falling apart.  

Courtesy of Netflix.

Miles finally achieves his full powers when his father approaches him about Aaron’s death. His father opens up to Miles, reaffirming his love and care for Miles and saying, “I see this spark in you, it’s amazing. That’s why I push you, but . . . that’s yours.” Immediately after this moment, Miles taps into the full extent of his powers. This is the critical moment, between Miles and his father. Despite Miles being unable to respond, his father stops trying to place so much expectation on his son, instead giving it to Miles to do whatever he wishes. He offers unconditional love, especially in the face of family tragedy. In the moment where Miles has lost his number one supporter in his uncle, his father finally steps up to reconnect. This was something that Peter Parker didn’t understand (and couldn’t, considering his family issues with Gwen). It’s Miles’s family that finally steps up.

Despite losses like Aaron, Miles’s superpowers eventually bring his family closer together, where Pip only reconciled with his family as he grew out of his elitism. But it’s still very clear that the writers of Into the Spider-Verse were more than inspired when it comes to Great Expectations. (Plus, many of the characters in Pip’s life can transfer right over to the movie. It’s crazy how similar they are.) The movie writers took their own perspective of the book’s themes of family, inheritance, and coming-of-age. 

And what is Into the Spider-Verse about if not the way we relate to other people’s stories while creating our own? All the other Spideys have stories that are similar in narrative but distinct in detail to Miles’s, and this is exactly how the movie plays Miles’s story with Great Expectations. Miles is another version of Pip, the same way he’s another version of Spider-Gwen and Peter Parker and Spider-Man Noir. And as the movie proved, despite Miles Morales’s similarities to other narratives, he’s able to create a distinct and unique narrative of his own.

Post by Peyton Austin

“Hallmark movie” has become synonymous with “bad, cheesy romance movie”— and rightfully so — but the general consensus is that they can be forgiven because they spark joy a la Marie Kondo. Or, in my case, they’re fun to make fun of. Or, what’s really true (and less mean): Hallmark movies are a great place to analyze tropes and find out why they work, fail, or are needed. Much in the same way that intentionally symbolic films or books ask you to read into itself, the heavy tropiness of Hallmark movies begs you to do the same.

Over spring break, I had the equal pleasure and misfortune of watching Hallmark’s Once Upon a Prince. The movie follows Susanna, an aspiring gardener, as she falls in love with Nate, who she assumes is a regular, vaguely British-sounding man but surprise! He’s really a foreign prince. Despite the fact that he can’t marry a commoner, much less an American, he continues to court her. How romantic!  

The issue throughout the movie, however, is that there is never an issue between the two of them. This is not to say that there is no conflict in the movie at all. Susanna’s father is hospitalized very briefly, and Nate’s mother (the queen) refuses to let Susanna and Nate become a couple. There are some digs at Susanna’s Americanness and class, though Susanna in actuality is very well-off and the prince accommodates her and her sister. But there is never any conflict between Nate and Susanna. From the moment they meet, when Nate helps Susanna fix a flat tire, they are amicable and completely into each other.

This type of plotting, where the couple must fight against an external (rather than internal) problem, is common in Hallmark movies. Just think about how many of the Hallmark Christmas movies must save Christmas! or save the town’s Christmas spirit! The couple just happens to fall in love along the way. This type of plotting, consequently, made me realize why the enemies to friends to lovers trope is so good, and it comes down to a) actual conflict between the couple, which eventually leads to b) mutual understanding and respect.

There are two main problems with these couples that have no internal conflict. The first is that emotional moments, or moments that should be emotional, have no weight. Susanna finds out that Nate is the prince because her sister shows her an online article, but the movie cuts before we see her reaction. She then confronts Nate, but even using “confronts” is too strong a word. He explains everything and it’s laughed off. His major lie has no consequences at all, because the movie refuses to put any conflict between the characters. Moments of emotional weight completely disappear, dissolving major stakes in the relationship.

The second problem is that the relationship becomes boring. The entire movie, Susanna and Nate just do various activities side by side (gardening, walking, eating dinner) without talking about anything meaningful. The edits cut between their gazes, held just long enough so that the audience can understand Susanna and Nate are into each other. The closest thing the audience gets to understanding their intimacy or compatibility is an outside character’s comment on the relationship. It’s all telling and no showing; there are no moments of genuine connection because these characters don’t actually know each other. The movie tells you, “Root for these people to get together!” and you think, Well, why? Even the shown moments of connection are bland.

In an enemies to friends to lovers situation, there is practically nothing but emotional weight. The initial hatred between the two characters is what fuels their relationship, usually pushing the characters into further action out of anger, pettiness, or this hatred. The emotional weight is constant — in fact, the emotional weight is present in every stage of the enemies to friends to lovers relationship. The friendship tempers the previous hatred, also sparking disbelief that the two characters can get along. This disbelief continues in the lovers stage, along with every other emotion that accompanies romance. This development between the characters, especially starting in hatred, never makes the relationship boring.

And in the lovers stage, the question Why this person, after everything? is easily answered because the relationship develops so thoroughly. To get to lovers—to even get to friends—there has to be an understanding of the other person. These people hate each other because of fundamental beliefs or because of personality traits—intrinsic and internal conflict. This hatred can only be amended by various meetings between the people, where they learn new things and attempt to reconcile this news with the person they hate. They have to reach new understanding and knowledge about the other person. They have to conflict! They have to work hard to get to friendship. And from that understanding of each other, love blossoms. The love feels earned because genuine effort was put into these two characters reaching this romantic point. It’s dramatic and exciting! The conflict between them heightens the romance, rather than the other way around.

This is not to say, as I wind this post down, that every couple needs to follow the enemies to friends to lovers trope. But the this trope shows, in possibly the most extreme version, that conflict between couples is a good thing (and let me make it clear, enemies to friends to lovers is different from abuse). It forces a deeper understanding of the other person and creates a more dynamic relationship between the characters. This change occurs in the audience as well as the characters, and there’s no doubt about why these characters are together.

So let the Hallmark movie writers continue to pick plots and characters by throwing a dart at a board. We can learn from their gold mine of tropes, even if — as in my case with Once Upon a Prince — the trope isn’t actually there.

Post by Elise Escamilla

What makes a Jane Austen film adaptation good? Is it complete faithfulness to the text, or can it be found in the innate nature of film to “up the ante,” so to speak, in terms of drama and romance? Like most things in life, the answer can be found somewhat in between the two extremes. While I’m under no circumstances a researched, doctorate-wielding, Jane Austen scholar, I have seen enough adaptations (too many) to come to a solid conclusion about which worked well and which should be forgotten in the depths of hell forever. Here are my favorite Jane Austen film adaptations.

Persuasion (1995)

With only two well-known adaptations, this isn’t the most difficult choice. The 1995 film creates a wonderful picture of Anne Elliot as the sweet, patient, and capable heroine that Austen wrote in her novel. The actress is also a bit older, as the character is supposed to be 27 years old, an unmarried age that delegates her the title of “spinster.” The older age is quite different than most of Austen’s leading ladies and the casting choice is significant to Anne’s character. There is one scene in the film that doesn’t appear in the book, where Anne stares into a mirror, tracing the aged lines on her face, after Wentworth makes a comment about not recognizing her “altered” appearance. (He’s lying of course, but how rude of him!) The comment itself was a line in the novel, but the movie gives us her absolutely heartbreaking reaction: contemplating her loss of youth brings out a new aspect of Anne that makes us empathize with her and recognize that she has deep, unspoken feelings. Indeed, both of the romantic leads are much older looking, weathered even, by the lifetimes it seems they have lived apart, than any Austen adaptation I’ve ever seen, and I think it suits the novel perfectly.

Clueless (1995)

Clueless is, by far, the best adaptation of Emma ever made. There are a few more adaptations to contend with, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma being the most famous. However Clueless goes a lot deeper into Cher (Emma) than any other adaptation, and has a more defined character development. Readers of the novel know that Emma is completely humbled for her awful behavior and begins atoning for her wrongs in an authentic way. Similarly, Cher looks for small things she can do to help others, actively searching for ways to better herself. It comes from a genuine place. I didn’t want to talk about other adaptations, but what really bothered me about Paltrow’s Emma is one specific line, where Emma tells Knightley, “If only you’ve been around to see how much I’ve changed.” Cher never needs to say anything like this to Josh (Mr. Knightly), instead in a voice over narration she stresses the importance of bettering herself for herself, saying, “I decided I needed a complete makeover, except this time a makeover for my soul.” Overall, the writing is incredibly fun and witty throughout the film, taking Austen’s characters to another realm of social hierarchies in a completely new playing field. Who doesn’t love a good high school story?

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

I doubt that I could ever sing enough praises for this film. It is the perfect example of just the right amount of production and set design, an absolutely incredible script, and great actors. We have Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, and Alan Rickman giving the absolute best possible performances, bringing Austen’s characters truly to life. The script actually won Emma Thompson an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and it is well deserved. Sense and Sensibility, as a novel, was also not the most interesting thing to me when I first read it. Maybe as a young girl with only brothers I couldn’t relate to the close, sisterly relationship between Elinor and Marianne Dashwood presented in the novel. However the film made me feel so deeply for the two sisters and their relationship. You are able to see more conversations and interactions between the two sisters and it really accentuates the difference between them, one being a pragmatist and the other a romantic, while also portraying the strengths and weaknesses of both. I fell in love with Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Elinor Dashwood as she perfectly encapsulated the calm and collected, yet deeply emotional woman that Austen created. I cannot finish this subject without mentioning Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon. I became infatuated with him and his character because of how romantic he was in the film. If you watch no other Jane Austen movie, watch this one.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

What can I say, BBC knows how to make British things. I have seen my fair share of Pride and Prejudice adaptations in my life, most of them awful. Interestingly, what most adaptations of Pride and Prejudice get right is the characterization of Elizabeth Bennet. I think every actress brings their own flair to her, but her character is so naturally likeable and fun, it is difficult to completely ruin her. But what differs about the 1995, episodic version of the novel is its depiction of Mr. Darcy. One of the most significant aspects of the novel is Mr. Darcy’s understanding of his own faults and accepting that he must change to become, not just someone Elizabeth could love but, a better person in general. This miniseries truly captures that change, without shying away from the fact that Mr. Darcy did some pretty insufferable things. I think it is important to make the distinction that Mr. Darcy’s character isn’t just some shy, introverted, and quirky guy (I am looking directly at you, 2005 Pride and Prejudice). Likewise, Elizabeth Bennet has her own share of prejudices that she must reconcile, which should also not be disregarded. The actors in this adaptation are incredible and there was so much attention to detail in the creation of costuming and set design that deserves appreciation in and of itself. Of course, this version has the added benefit of being hours and hours long, but if you want to see the most true and entertaining adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, this is the one.

In conclusion….what is it about the year 1995 that produced the best Austen adaptations? I have absolutely no explanation other than Jane Austen must have been sending her energy from the beyond the grave. So what does make a good adaptation? For me, it lies in the characters. What I think is so great about Jane Austen’s novels is her vivid and complex characters, especially her female characters. And she goes a step further in all of her novels by also employing these already fleshed out characters to represent intimate social aspects, or critiques rather, of the Regency Era. If not for her characters, her novels would just be lifeless, one-dimensional windows into the domestic life of women during a time period where their prospects were limited to marry rich or marry poor (or live and die alone as a burden to your family—my personal favorite). I find that what makes an Austen adaptation good for me is truth to the novel’s characters. It doesn’t matter if the story around them is conflated, but as long as each character action or dialogue is something that represents the characters that Jane Austen created in her novels, then the film really can’t go wrong.

(post by Pauline Pechakijan)
I interviewed Kathleen Sarnelli, a senior English major, and Manvel Kapukchyan, a senior Political Science major, on their journey together as a filmmaking duo. They have recently been working on their Los Angeles Drought Documentary with a number of honorable researchers in order to investigate whether or not El Nino could affect or mediate the severity of the drought. Read on to hear what they have to say about filmmaking!

What inspired you two to delve into the world of film?

K:  Well, I always loved telling and writing stories. I was always fascinated about other people’s lives so I usually would make up stories about them. Film allows me to tell the stories I create and share them with the world.

M: I always had many interests and could never decide what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I found myself most interested in art, history, photography, computer graphics, and business, but directing was my main love. I believe directing is unique because it combines technical formal practices with art. It was this combination of technique and art which gravitated me towards film, as well as the emotional and political impact film can have on societies.

How has your work changed throughout the years? Does working with each other help inspire new ideas?

K: I learned how to develop my stories to be more in depth. Also, my stories have progressed throughout the years, as have I, and they have transformed with me through new experiences. Working with Manvel is great because he is blunt and will let me know of ways I can improve my work. His honest criticism has helped push my work to new levels of maturity.

M: It would be impossible to be where we are without each other’s support. Our work continues to improve as we learn the craft and hone in on our individual and collective skills. Kathleen comes up with the stories, and I find a method to tell that story in the best possible way.

What are you currently working on?

K: The L.A. Drought Documentary. I know this deviates from my traditional fictional story telling, but I believe there is a story board component to making a documentary. We had been hearing about the California drought and subsequently low water supply, but were not getting a clear answer as to whether or not El Nino would clear it [the drought] up. Thus, we investigated this question and decided to make a documentary.

M: Our largest project now is The L.A. Drought Documentary. It is a UCLA research project which will be presented in May at the Undergraduate Research Conference. We also hope to exhibit the documentary at various film festivals. The project explores the current water crisis in depth by looking at the past, present, and future of the drought in regards to science and politics. We are working with many experts from JPL, UCLA, the local government, and the Metropolitan Water District.

What would you say are the biggest challenges for up-and-coming filmmakers?

K: The biggest challenge is negative feedback from naysayers and the competition within the industry. Although it is highly competitive, persistency and consistency will pay off in reaching your goals.

M: The biggest challenge is staying hopeful and optimistic in the face of what may seem to be a far-fetched and outlandish goal. We always encounter people that diminish our efforts or tell us our goals are impractical, but this is what we want to do and we will do everything in our power to ensure that we reach them.

Do you have any advice for other students who would like to explore filmmaking?

K: Do not be afraid to pursue something new because, chances are, it will make you stand out.

M: My advice is to be persistent and not give up. It’s so hard to know if you are on the right path or if your work is being appreciated or noticed, but the most important thing is to keep on filming and creating, as ultimately, that’s what being a film maker is about.

Where can we find more on your current project?

K & M: For more information, you can check out our Facebook page which is the most active and up-to-date source. Also, be sure to check out our trailer for the documentary on YouTube and our Instagram page with some short clips taken directly from the project.

Searching for a chance to break out of the campus bubble and find some cultural stimulation? Look no farther than UCLA’s own backyard. The Hammer Museum offers frequent public engagement programs, focusing on the arts and cultural issues, and often supplementing the museum’s current exhibits. Admission and public programs are all 100% free!

ART programs include weekly Lunchtime Art Talks and biweekly guided Exhibition Tours. Tours are led by Hammer student educators and include Art in Conversation tours, using conversation to compare two works of art.

LITERATURE & POETRY programs include Libros Schmibros Book Club meetings and a series of readings from prestigious authors around the country. Recent readings have featured JD McClatchy, Michael Waters, V. Penelope Pelizzon and a celebratory reading of Alice Munro. Coming up in June, the series will host a group of award winning UCLA student poets for a group reading, including Westwind’s very own Tina Lawson.

FILM programs include series of screenings related to current exhibit topics and, a personal favorite, the quarterly Open Projector Night. On Open Projector Night, short film submissions (of all genres) are accepted until the start of the event. Subsequently, each film is screened for two minutes, at which point the audience votes on whether or not to finish watching the film by cheering or booing. The event is emceed by a pair of brother comedians, and always holds the promise of a riotous evening.

Other frequent programs include concerts, performances, lectures, and family activities. Additionally, The Hammer Student Association puts on a series of mixers and parties to encourage student engagement with the arts, and the museum hosts a popular drop-in guided meditation every Thursday afternoon.

The programs are always memorable and definitely worth stopping by. Check out the full calendar of events here.


Hand coded by CRUXimaging