CELEBRITY SHOT: Ammonite – Movie Review By Chris Nordstrom

Zach: Hello friends! I have once again poked my head back into the ether of our reality, and I come bearing a gift: another Celebrity Shot Movie Review! This review was written by my good friend, Chris Nordstrom. Chris and I have been friends since the 8th grade when he moved from Weston and bravely sat next to me at lunch. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have the guts to do that since I am still, to this very day, deathly afraid of teenagers and social interactions.

Chris, enjoying a crisp adult beverage.

It was a good thing that he was braver than I since he might be the person I have the most in common with. Chris, similar to me, studied Political Science in college. Although, he’s a try-hard and got his Masters while I fiddled around on a blog about movies. Our Sophomore year of high school, Chris and I went to Star Wars Celebration where we were in the same room as George Lucas. 6 years later, we were able to rally more friend to go again (where he introduced me to Kyle, the author of the last Celebrity Shot), this time as sophisticated adults, with keys and credit cards, and responsibilities. Together, we met Mark Hamill (Whom I accidentally rubbed beards with) and, before his passing, the late Stan Lee.

Not a day has gone by in the past 6 years or so that I haven’t spoken to him in some form. Chris is always down for a good intellectual sparring, but not above a stupid joke about butts or some nonsense. And, maybe his greatest superpower, Chris has somehow maintained a massive collection of the most random and unflattering pictures of all of his friends that he will not hesitate to pull out, whether you provoke him or not. Be aware, if he knows who you are, it’s already too late…

Anywho, I think you get the picture. Please enjoy his review of “Ammonite”.

Ammonite stars Kate Winslet as the remarkable albeit little-known real-life figure Mary Anning, a 19th century Victorian Era British self-taught paleontologist who resides on the chilly coastline of Lyme Regis. The film is the second full length picture to be directed by Francis Lee (who happens to be a self-taught filmmaker himself).

Admittedly, I went to see this movie on a pure whim. I thought the two-sentence premise sounded interesting enough and so I went off to see the film in a theater that was superbly clean and social distanced (empty). For the next one hundred and twenty minutes, I had the most sublime experience I’ve had in all of 2020 in theaters (okay it was also the only time I’ve spent in a movie theater this year).

This film starts off more than a bit slow, wandering and some would probably argue uninteresting. We witness Mary Anning, a hard-working and weathered looking 40-something British woman and her elderly mother living in a modest two-story home that doubles as a gift shop of sorts in Lyme, England. Mary forages for, excavates and collects fossils from the seashore and sells them to tourists and travelers that come into town. Mary is intensely focused upon her work and seems wholly uninterested in anything or anyone else. That is until Roderick and Charlotte Murchison, a posh married couple, enter her store. Roderick is a mostly oblivious bloke whose hobby of the month happens to be paleontology and so, based on her noted reputation, he requests to tag along with Mary for a few days and learn from her. Before long, he wants to move along and continue his scientific journey across Europe. However, he acknowledges that his wife is suffering from depression (or as it described in the film, melancholia) and deems her unable to continue on his trip. So, he arranges Charlotte to stay behind in Lyme for the next month or so and offers to pay Mary a sizable sum to look after her and accompany her on scavenges and excavations. Begrudgingly, Mary accepts this offer and the rest of the story unfolds: slow burning, organic and poignant romance.

Before addressing the acting and writing, I’d like to do a brief run-down of notable components of this film.

While I am unfortunately no expert on 19th century England, the set and costume design feel true to the era. Combined with superb acting performances, the end product is a small, quiet and listless Victorian Era coastal town that feels so very real and lived-in throughout the film.

The sound design is a high point in this film: from the violent, crashing waves on the rocky seashore to the scratching, plucking and prodding of fossils to the creaky and quiet mood of the wooden homes that make up Lyme – this film makes the viewer feel, viscerally, the sensations of what it must have been like to live in the era in which it takes place, surely the benchmark for any period piece.

The soundtrack appears seldomly but is effective in the few spots it is deployed. The sparse violin and soft piano match perfectly with the quaint and dreary atmosphere of Lyme.

All of these aspects set the stage for Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan – and boy do they deliver. Their chemistry is understated yet compelling and in brief moments, fiery and evocative. This film most certainly is not for everyone, there is no action to speak of and it mostly revolves around body language and facial gestures to convey the story. Kate Winslet in particular shines in this regard. Mary is almost entirely closed off from meaningful human connection and her personality is devoid of warmth or joy, that is until Charlotte enters her orbit. Charlotte in the film is a traditionally beautiful Victorian woman, piercing blue eyes, smooth flawless pale skin and a thin build. The camera is pleased to linger on her facial features whenever it can. Mary’s frozen heart begins to thaw when she is forced to take care of Charlotte after she develops hypothermia following a dip into the English Channel. After several days of development of a Doctor-Patient kind of relationship, both women warm to each other and a friendship is formed. Charlotte develops both an appreciation and genuine interest in Mary’s work. As they spend more time with each other cohabiting a small home, sexual tension slowly builds and permeates their atmosphere.  The camera wisely makes sure to linger in all the right moments to highlight this subtle, sometimes even subconscious, attraction between the two. Inevitably, the tension boils over and explodes into two fiery and raw romantic sequences which feel righteously earned given the film’s leisurely pace.

As often is the case in life, once Mary and Charlotte reach the apex of their relationship, Charlotte is whisked away back to London to reunite with her husband. You can feel the soul crushing agony that her departure creates for Mary, who has led a solitary life dedicated to her work (which she has received little to no recognition for). I won’t discuss the finale of this film in hopes that folks will see it for themselves, but I will say that the ending sequence is magnificent, thought provoking and open ended.

I found this film to feel, truly, like a glimpse into a bygone era of a story that had been long forgotten but has been necessarily brought back into the forefront of our attention. It exhibits much of what makes cinema not only great – but a transcendent art form. This film will delight romantics, introverts and especially – romantic introverts with an affinity for emo vibes and long walks on the beach. With that being said, Ammonite was my favorite movie of 2020 and I humbly assign it the score of 9.5/10

Directed by: Francis Lee
Starring: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones, James McArdle
Runtime: 2 Hours
Rated: R

Zach: I’d like to thank Chris for taking the time to write this review! It means the world to me when my friends want to get involved with my silly blog. If you feel the itch to come up here and speak your mind, be my guest! Reach out to me on social media, or message me directly if you know me like that. Having more voices can only give us new perspectives.

Top 10 Monologues in Movie History

The unimaginable chaos of my absence has left the world gasping for life. When the world needed me most, I vanished. But now…


I have returned

Much like the risen Christ, I am back to spread the gospel (and possibly incite several millennia of war and genocide in my name). I have journeyed long and far on my sabbatical. The universe has conspired to cast me into oblivion, but I am BOTH the Unstoppable Force AND The Immovable Object! It is only natural to fear me.

What I am trying to say is that I took a few months off because I got a new job, but now I am back. You’re welcome. In my hiatus, I actually suffered one of the cruelest ironies imaginable: I have a paralyzed vocal cord and am unable to speak. Zach has been shut up! Life imitates art. Since June, I have not been able to make a sound beyond the decibel of a raspy whisper. In fact, earlier this week I had surgery to try to help the situation with the results still pending (Still no voice but now my throat actually hurts).

But I will not bore you with the extravagant details of my misfortunes. My resurrection means a fresh, hot, steaming, throbbing, slightly curved dosage of Shut Up Zach! content! I can’t say I don’t envy your position.

My inability to create pockets of air pressure in my larynx and form audible noise has just made me appreciate the power of the spoken word in a new light. Monologues are the purest form of spoken communication in films that a single character can express. Sure, conversations are nice but I hate other people so this is what I settled on.

The history of cinema is decorated with exceptional performances that are punctuated by the profundity of singular monologues. Performances, films, and even in some rare cases, entire genres can be elevated on the strength of a particular monologue. This list will honor the Top 10 Monologues in Movie History.

Obviously, the list is my opinion (WHICH SHOULD BE CONSIDERED NONFICTION) so if you disagree, perhaps I could make a Top 10 List about locations where you can gently place your thoughts.

There are many honorable mentions I could throw in here but I have chosen just one. It is not the best or most important, but it is one of, my personal favorites so I am including it here. Enjoy!

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Dr. Hannibal Lector is one of fiction’s greatest creations and his film origins planted the seed. Anthony Hopkins’ cold stare and the soft charisma in which he just exposes Clarise is menacing. Since this quick monologue, many have since tried to recreate the magic of this scene, but all pale in comparison.

Independence Day (1996)

President Whitmore’s iconic rallying speech before the climactic finish of “Independence Day” probably does not have the same je ne sais quoi that you might expect from many entries on this list, but I assure you it belongs here. While the film is not exactly an Oscar-winning drama, it is a classic that has stood up for generations. But it is really Bill Pullman’s monologue that elevates the entire film to legendary status. This is arguably one of the most recognizable moments in all of 1990s film.

Mommie Dearest (1981)

To many in my generation, this film might not be as recognizable as some others. But Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford delivers what I consider to be the most nightmare inducing monologue a child can witness. It is just pure, unadulterated, psychotic, emotional abuse.

A Few Good Men (1992)

“A Few Good Men” is one of the rare Tom Cruise movies that I actually enjoy and this scene is the reason. Jack Nicholson’s role is relatively small in its entirety but this courtroom outburst is truly brilliant. The rage is the prominent quality but the wording is what lasts for me. What is the morality of doing terrible things for noble purposes? Are grotesque actions excusable if they are necessary? Do we really need someone to make the sacrifice to be the bad guy?

Good Will Hunting (1998)

The late-Robin Williams perfectly foils his young costar Matt Damon. This monologue is tough love manifested. It is soft, vulnerable, deep, and intuitive. Empaths feel for his ability to connect to the pain of living a life full of love and corresponding heartbreak. Intellects must acknowledge the logical appeal to Will on how as smart as he is, no one can know what is going on just by reading the cliff notes in life. This is perhaps one of the most universally admired monologue in cinema.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Much in the same vein as Jack Nicholson’s monologue in “A Few Good Men”, Marlon Brando’s famed “Horror” speech is all about giving into the necessary evils of war. In contrast with the former, Brando’s delivery is so calm that it is unnerving. It is the voice of a man who knows and accepts that he is the monster. He does not fear the consequences for his actions because he knows they are evil, but judgement is something he will not accept. But, I think my favorite part about this speech is that Francis Ford Coppola was forced to light the scene the way he did because Brando was so fat, no one would believe he was supposed to be a rogue Colonel fighting in Vietnam.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Maybe the Christians get some credit here because they technically wrote the Bible verse that makes this so iconic. But, Samuel L. Jackson really spices it up. There is not much to say except that this is just so goddamn cool. No list is legitimate if it does not include this entry.

Precious (2009)

This one gets me every time. My words do not do this monologue enough justice because I don’t think I could ever truly comprehend the layers of heartbreak, scarring, delusion, and anger that Mo’Nique delivers. The grim circumstances surrounding Precious’s and Mary’s relationship… I am at a loss for words.

Blade Runner (1982)

There is a simple allure to Roy’s soliloquy. It is not the longest or most difficult feat of acting you will ever see. But it may be the most damn near perfect monologue ever constructed. With these few lines, the entire concept of artificial life and the moral and philosophical implications of sentience and machines is exposed at its barest levels. Roy’s existence has meaning. His memories are a reason to want to exist. He is alive. The entire film builds beautifully to this moment of introspective grace that is stunning to the supposedly human and necessary for those that just want to feel like they matter.

The Great Dictator (1940)

No comment.

I hope you have some thoughts on this list. Was there any specific entry that you would have added that I missed? The answer is no because I don’t miss.

It feels great to be back. I know I was missed and it feels good to know that you were all sad without me. Will I be back for long or was this just a flash in the pan? Tune in next time to find out!

CELEBRITY SHOT: Tombstone Movie Review by Kyle Altomare

Zach: Salutations, friends! Today we have a special treat! This has been in the works for some time now, and after working out the kinks, I am proud to debut what I hope becomes a reoccuring series: Celebrity Shots! My friend, Sir Kyle Altomare, gratefully accepted his duty as tribute to be the first guest writer on Shut Up Zach!

A little background on Kyle: He is exactly who you think of when you hear the name “Kyle”. He once attempted to light my scalp on fire with a blow torch. He is one of the only human beings I have ever met that can go blow-for-blow with me at a buffet, which is the reason why I have dubbed him a “Sir”. He is a major advocate for all foods that come in a can. He frequently takes naps underneath his bed for reasons I still can’t quite comprehend. But before you think he is all meme, know that he is also an alumn of Florida State University where he double majored in Biology and Chemistry, which likely qualifies him as the king of all Kyle’s everywhere.

This is what Kyle looks like when he’s eating

Enough of my ramblings. Please enjoy Kyle’s ramblings about the film “Tombstone”.

“TOMBSTONE” REVIEW (The movie, not the pizza– I’ll leave that one to Dave Portnoy)

I’d like to start by thanking the man who once ate 127 shrimps in a single sitting, Lord Zach Vecker, as he has bequeathed me the honor of a review for this piece of cinema. 

*Spoiler- this ain’t as refined as Zach’s writing that y’all city folk may be used to, so bear with me on this one!

Allow me to preface this review with a complete admiration for the facial hair in this movie.  Throughout this quarantine, some of us have been lucky enough to see what kind of beards and mustaches we are able to grow, some are borderline feral.  I am not one of these people, as I struggle with growing hair on my face as well as on the top of my head, BUT I DIGRESS.  The mustaches in this movie are second to none, with most of the characters sporting a ‘stache reminiscent of a cross between Ron Swanson and Waluigi–truly impressive.  And better yet, almost EVERY character has one. 

Anyways, on to the meat and potatoes…

Our story begins in the Western town of Tombstone, Arizona near the Mexico border in the late 1800’s.  Known for its silver deposits, it was a crucial city in the culmination of the pursuing Gold Rush.  Shortly after the Civil War, Western expansion exploded, further driving the growth of these small prospecting towns.  With the influx of people, came a sea of opportunities, whether it was through an honorable profession or more dubious means.  All this opportunity brought with it crime, and a higher murder rate than modern day New York or Los Angeles.  

While some tried to set up shop in the new towns, bandits preyed upon the weak, striking fear into all.  With a gun on one hip, and a red sash on the other; they called these bandits… “The Cowboys” (Cue Western music).

The feud between good and evil is a dynamic that transcends many cultures over the centuries.  It is in this film that we get to experience the classic tale, based on true events, but from a different perspective.  Good and Evil, right and wrong, blue dress or white dress; these are some of the debates we constantly find ourselves returning to as we ponder the inner machinations of our minds (an enigma some would say).  On the backs of stallions, our main characters ride in on a blaze of glory.  Ok, it was a lame horse drawn buggy for their arrival but still, horses ‘n stuff.  Retired lawman Wyatt Earp and his 2 brothers embark on a journey to Tombstone with their friend Doc Holliday.  Three brothers walking down the road, with a gambling dentist.  It’s just 3 brothers fighting their way out, 3 brothers.  Why isn’t this movie called “3 Brothers”? It’s just 3 brothers.

Hoping to strike it rich along with countless others, they arrive in the town only to see first hand the debauchery that ensues.  Shootouts, which are a daily occurrence, are just a single piece of the charm of Tombstone.  Since the town is still young and growing, they are able to set up shop in an attempt to make a name for themselves and retire with a fortune.  However, not everyone is a fan that our mustachioed lawman is in town (This time we cue dramatic music)! 

Kurt Russell stars as Wyatt Earp, the main protagonist. Once an infamous lawman, he is now retired and wishes to live a quiet life out West trying to avoid getting involved in the town chicanery.  However, he cannot resist his innate urge to uphold justice wherever he goes.  As he continues to forge his path in the town, he starts getting some pushback from the cowboys who have made Tombstone their home.  The conflict eventually escalates to where Wyatt is at gunpoint, seemingly helpless, until a man named Doc Holliday shows up.  What unfolds is a part of history that you don’t want to miss.

I really enjoyed Kurt Russell’s performance in this.  It was very interesting to read about how much input he had on the film.  The original director, Kevin Jarre, was replaced by George P. Cosmatos soon after filming started which opened the door for Russell to really embrace a hands-on role in the overall direction of the film.  Individual monologues from both Russell and Val Kilmer (Doc Holliday) show off how well they truly embraced their role, nailing the accent and the vernacular consistent with the times.

Doc Holliday, played by Val Kilmer, is a dentist, gambler, drinker, and a smoker; but most importantly a southern gentleman.  Doc’s actions seemingly place him in the same realm of morality as the cowboys, as his day-to-day consists of robbing and gambling.  But, it is when he is with the Earps that he shows his true colors. Armed with a thin mustache and charming smile, he is a smooth-talking, pistol-slinging gambler who will do anything for his friends.  Unfortunately, Doc has a severe case of Tuberculosis.  His days are numbered, ever adding to his brave and seemingly reckless choices.  Self-proclaimed as one of the fastest shots in town, he is able to take control of situations most would shy away from. And while Russell has many incredible and gripping scenes, it is Val Kilmer who really steps up to the plate and shines throughout the whole film.

Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, along with the 2 other Earp brothers played by Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton are some of the Red-blooded Americans that gives this movie its charm and bravado.

The director does a great job in viewing both sides of the coin several times throughout the movie.  Arguably the most notable is showing Doc Holliday on the top of the world seemingly untouchable in battle, while simultaneously on his death bed sick with Tuberculosis.

The cowboys are a rowdy bunch, with little regard for the consequences anyone would try to impose on them.  Constantly brandishing their weapons, some may say they are – uh – compensating for something. They ride around bending and breaking the law wherever they go, “persuading” the dealers to replay a hand.  In the end, it’s just robbery but with extra steps. Led by William “Curly Bill” Brocious, played by Powers Boothe, the gang of cowboys travel in packs with a flash of red from their sashes as they ride by on horseback.  Johnny Ringo, played by Michael Biehn, is Curly Bill’s right-hand man who is known as the fastest shot in the West, but is he as fast as Doc?

I hate to deal in absolutes, since I’m not a Sith Lord, but this movie was absolutely badass from start to finish.  A bit of poetic justice to finish it off with redeeming character arcs coming full circle makes for a captivating story.  Dare I say it, this movie is one of the best Westerns I have ever seen (Yes, better than John Wayne at the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrims).

Great movie, quotable, and badass all at the same time.  The music in the final scenes is a near perfect finish to the adventure the film takes you on.  Epic, to say the least.  It’ll make you want to move out west before it’s finished.

“I’m your Huckleberry”

Cast: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, Jason Priestley, Jon Tenney, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Dana Delany, Paula Malcomson, Lisa Collins, John Philbin, and Billy Bob Thronton
Director: George P. Cosmatos, Kevin Jarre
Final Score: 8.7/10
Run Time: 2 hours 14 minutes
Rating: R

Thank you for getting this far, I appreciate you sticking with this one!  Special thank you to Zach for letting me do this, now he has to watch it ☺

Oh and one last thing—- Shut up Zach!

–Kyle Altomare
P.S. – go watch the trailer and the music will instantly teleport you back to the 90’s, no Delorean needed

Zach: I’d like to thank Kyle for being the Neil Armstrong of this website. He is a good friend and his review made me laugh an unhealthy amount. He is braver than all of you! But if this inspires any of you to want to review a film or tv show or video game or any piece of entertainment that you hold dearly, I would be honored to be given the opportunity too publish your work!

BlacKkKlansman (2018) – Movie Review

Our world is in desperate need of change. If you are like me, you may feel as though you do not know how you can do your part to help mend wounds of society that are still open and bleeding after hundreds of years. Political activism is a necessity but it is a slow and resistant mechanism to change, or else things would already be fixed. While our governing bodies begrudgingly crawl at a dangerously slow pace to reflect the values they so proudly claim to champion, we must realize that is but one element of our problem. For us, as the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world” to live up to that moniker, we need to also put in the work to better ourselves at the individual level.

I have no local protests that I can join and I am desperately searching for some outlet that I can contribute even the slightest to the dialogue that needs to be had. Whether it be by coincidence or a pseudo-premonition, I had just shown my parents the film “BlacKkKlansman” a week ago, just a few days before George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis Police was caught on film and exposed for the world to see. I had already seen it twice when it was making its theatrical run in 2018 and I had recalled the visceral reaction I had when leaving the theater both times. It is a film with a painfully clear message that has criminally never been addressed in the myriad of generations that preceded both the story and the film, and have only been exacerbated in the time since. I do not know what else to do right now, but I will use this opportunity to talk about a tremendous work of cinema, to the best of my abilities, and hopefully be able to contribute in someway to the goals that director Spike Lee would have hoped would come from his work.

The film follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who becomes the first black officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department in the early 1970s and begins an investigation into the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white officer, Flip (Adam Driver). Together, they infiltrate a local chapter of the white supremacist organization in order to stop the presumptive assassination of the leader of the Black Student Union, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) after she hosted national civil rights leader Brother Kwame Ture to speak at an event. Ron meets and befriends Patrice while undercover at the speech, but they quickly discover that they follow two different paths to achieve a common goal. Patrice and Brother Kwame, who are advocates for a coming “Black Revolution”, are unlawfully arrested, harassed, and sexually harassed by a member of the Colorado Springs Police. Meanwhile, Ron is an undercover cop trying to use the system that has treated black people like animals against the Klan to protect her.

The characters also serve as microcosms of the differing ideologies about racism and police. Beginning with Ron and Patrice, we see how the black public has lost faith in law enforcement to protect them and views them as the oppressor. Patrice is correct in her evaluation and the film does not hide the fact that many officers, both local and federal, actively pursue racially charged actions and hide under the cover of their badge. Ron represents the idea that not all cops are bad and some have moral goals for pursuing law enforcement. Flip shows that not all white cops are racist, but before he met Ron, he was passively going along with it because it was not any of his business. And Fredrick Weller’s Master Patrolman Andy Landers is the cop that fully and intentionally abuses his authority to criminalize being black in his community. And while the overlying issue of “Everyone versus Racism” is a clear moral dichotomy, Spike Lee shows that multiple conflicting truths about racism and law enforcement can all exist simultaneously underneath the surface.

Undoubtedly, the most powerful trait of this film is its ability to expressly paint parallels to our modern world, and thus make the viewer really ponder their own place in the system. It is one thing to recount the events of the past and think “Oh, that is horrible! How could that ever happen?”, and it is entirely another when that very same film forces you to face the fact that the problem is alive and well almost 50 years later. I believe it to be the true genius of Spike Lee that he removes all notion of ambiguity, bombards you with a clear message, but the mediums he utilizes never feel contrived. Imagine a viewer who does not want to hear this message for whatever their stated reasons are, whether they feel it is anti-Trump or a direct lecture on their own character. Instinctively, they would likely put up their own walls and refuse to listen, which is human nature. But “BlacKkKlansman” powers through this reflex. There is no way to deflect this message because it utilizes real, current parallels. It is right to the point and it hits hard.

Because of the brutality and truthfulness of the subject-matter, Lee infuses a seamless blend of dark comedy and melancholy to make this tough pill easier to swallow. Afterall, the goal is for you to absorb the message, not drown in it. Washington and Driver display amazing chemistry, wit, and heart in their portrayals, and Topher Grace makes a surprisingly bombastic performance as real life former Grand Wizard David Duke both alluring and infuriating. It cannot be understated just how important the acting is to making this movie the force that it is. This message is not a new one. The black community has been pleading with the rest of society for centuries with this message, and artists have and continue to find new ways to express this. It is the persistence and creativity of the artist that propels each iteration of this message to provide a unique and differently powerful punch that it does.

There is no way around the fact that “BlacKkKlansman” will make you feel. It is up to you to determine if those feelings are that of shame, anger, hope, heartbreak, or inspiration. The closing minutes of this film are a montage of real-life footage taken during the Charlottesville “Unite the Right Rally” of 2017, in which hoards of tiki-torch wielding white people chanted the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil”, as well as “Jews will not replace us” throughout the city as they protested the removal of a Confederate Monument from a public park, and in turn were met with protests that sparked an explosion of civil rights rallies across the country in response. What you are shown is real and it is happening now. The idea that this is an issue of the past is a myth. Racism still exists. It is strong. It is openly supported by leaders of the United States. It is still violent. It is still perpetrated by our criminal justice system. And “BlacKkKlansman” forces us to confront that reality.

To many, none of this is news. To members of the black community, this is a daily reality and nothing more than an artistic representation of normal life. Many white people, such as myself, cannot understand that reality on our own. We have never lived in a system that oppresses us and actively treats us with malicious intent. It is imperative for us to listen, now more than ever. Seek to understand and help. Be an ally. This should not be and is not a “Black versus White” issue. This is “Everyone versus Racism”. Do not be defensive because we are not the victims. Apathy and indifference are not an option and silence is deafening. Change is long overdue.

In an ideal world, a film like “BlacKkKlansman” would be a once in a generation masterpiece. It is a production that will undoubtedly stand the test of time, but based on our track record, racial injustice will continue to survive, even if it just changes its appearance. I recall my father showing me the film “Mississippi Burning” both as a child and an adult and thinking that we should have moved past living in a society that would still so openly protect racism long ago. The ideas seemed so clear and obvious and the message seemingly has been penetrating through to white audiences for at least a generation now, so I couldn’t comprehend the disconnect between understanding and lack of change. In between these two films, there is a rich bounty of stories on the subject that do not get the audience a film like this does, just as there are likely thousands of instances of racist brutality that is not captured on video for the world to see. The message of this film is not simply that racism is bad, it is that racism is brutal, alive, fortified, omnipresent and it is our responsibility to not repeat the failures of the past because we ARE failing.

“BlacKkKlansman” earns a 9.5 out of 10

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Fredrick Weller, Jasper Pääkkönen, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson
Directed by: Spike Lee
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 15 Minutes

If you feel inspired to help make a difference and do not know how to put that to practice, you can start with simply having an open dialogue. After, I recommend visiting BlackLivesMatter.com , NAACP.org and ACLU.org for ideas on how to take action in your community. Please, everyone stay safe out there. Do not forget that we are still under a pandemic and that you should social distance where possible and where a mask and gloves when out in public. Don’t let one tragedy hide under the shadow of another.

The New World (2005) – Movie Review

I have this friend (I know that is a shocking development for you) and for the sake of privacy, we can call them “Guy”. Guy insists on recommending films for me to review as if I needed the guidance of lesser beings to instruct my cinematic viewing schedule. But Guy is persistent and eventually crawls his way under my skin and I am forced to use the twin guns of tact and finesse to destroy my worthless adversary with a fair compromise: if he follows my “Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episode Guide”, I will allow him to choose one film for me to review. Naturally, he fell for my clever ruse and submitted to my terms and conditions, and after he completed The Clone Wars, all that was left was for him to choose his one film.

Guy had long been ranting about how the extended cut of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was vastly superior to the fecal extract we were given in the theatrical release, and I was thoroughly convinced that he would assign me the task of watching the 4 and a half hour nightmare, so much so that I had already put in an order to Walmart for a pack of 5-Hour Energy Extra Strength shots. And yet, the world continues to make fools of us all, for even though Vegas had “BVS” as the clear frontrunner, Guy defied logical convention and submitted “The New World”, a 2005 historical romantic drama from director Terrence Malick, as his choice. According to Guy, “The New World” was such a surreal cinematic experience and he was so curious how I would interpret the film that he was willing to forfeit his only chance to force me to watch the extended cut of “BVS” to do so. It is such a bold gesture on Guy’s end that earned my respect.

And just as quickly as Guy had earned my respect is equally as quickly as he lost it. “The New World” was not the experience I was promised. For reference, I watched the entirety of the film with both of my parents, and immediately after the credits rolled, they both declared in unison that “Guy is no longer allowed to suggest films in this house ever again”. Now, I will be clear, my parents are not always the keenest viewers of cinema and their opinions aren’t gospel, but I thought that was a funny true story to include here.

“The New World” is the story of early British settlers at Jamestown Virginia, specifically Captain John Smith (Collin Farrell) and his capture by the natives and his subsequent love story with the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher). There are supporting roles played by Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale as well, but the main storyline is simply about Smith and Pocahontas. This story has been made most famous by Disney as one of their notoriously culturally insensitive animated portrayals, and in that comparative sense, “The New World” is tremendously more loyal to factually-based storytelling than its cartoon counterpart. Malick’s main goal with his film is clearly to express the unfiltered wonder of exploring a new world and culture, and in a way, he does succeed.

To be fair to Guy, his opinions are not completely unfounded in some sort of reality. I will give him his due and admit that I understand where he was coming from. The first act of the film, which is undoubtedly the strongest, does exude many qualities akin to the surreal, dream-like description he promised me. Cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is inarguably one of the most talented people to ever pick up a camera and he proves just how influential the right photographic techniques can be in the storytelling process. When Smith is with the tribe of natives, dubbed “the naturals”, the film is at its most captivating mainly due to the beauty of how it was filmed. Smith himself wonders if his experiences were a dream because they contrast so heavily with the life he knew at Jamestown with his fellow settlers. Without Chivo’s cinematography, as well as James Horner’s understated musical score, I doubt the feelings would have effectively been consigned.

But it is after Smith returns to Jamestown that the film falters as without the technical aspects creating an extrasensory experience, the flaws of the film become extremely apparent. As the visual and audio aspects begin to take a backseat to the characters, you begin to see just how extremely minimalist the script is and just how much it relies on its technical achievements to tell its story. The plot begins to drag shortly after a quick violent scrimmage the follows Smith’s return, so much so that the film requires unnecessary amounts of effort to follow the motivations and what little subsequent actions that follow are.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the film is that despite its very talented cast, no one delivers a noteworthy performance. Christopher Plummer is the only actor in the entirety of the film that does not whisper every one of their lines. The minimal audible volume of all the characters is a severe problem of the film. Not only does no one emote even in the slightest, but it is a physical struggle to hear what little dialogue there is. Subtitles are absolutely required or much of the film becomes incomprehensible. This is not even a matter of turning up the volume on your television as much as the fact that the characters mumble all of their lines under their breaths with the most stoic expressions on their faces. Again, without the technical achievements, I believe the story would be impossible to follow.

I feel like I should reiterate the fact that I believe I understand the goals of Malick when he made this film. He created a piece of cinema that is very beautiful to look at. I believe he wished to simply document the story, which ultimately results in a neutral tone. I cannot help but feel that the film doesn’t have anything to say about any of the content it is showing other than the beauty and stark comparisons of culture. After the film concludes, the only lingering questions I found myself having been just those that wondered if there was a message at all.

The fascinating aspects of this story are not given enough attention to truly be thought-provoking. Was Smith a traitor to his people? Is it appropriate to fall in love with a 14-year-old girl in any time period? Was Pocahontas kidnapped and forced to conform to Christianity or did she simply seek refuge at Jamestown? Were the settlers truly hostile or were the naturals justified in the defense of their land? Was Pocahontas justified to re-marry John Rolfe (Christian Bale) after she believes Smith died even though she did not love him? Was Smith selfish for leaving Pocahontas to pursue his career? Why are any of these characters worth following? Unfortunately, none of these questions are adequately explored. The minimalist approach is tremendous for exploring the beauty of the settings but there is not enough substance in this film.

It is not fair to say that this film is a failure. I highly doubt most filmmakers could craft such a beautiful film with a cast like this one. Malick was very respectful to Native American cultures, and to the best of my knowledge, I believe he did a tremendous job with his research to create a genuine retelling of the story. There are plenty of challenges that he did rise to meet and that should be applauded. I just can not bring myself to truly recommend this film to most people because it is not a very easy film to watch. It is a long, slow journey that does not deliver a satisfying enough conclusion to justify the path it has taken. Some aspects undoubtedly can be appreciated about it but if you are hoping to see a film that is entertaining or thought-provoking, this is not that film.

And so, Guy’s only recommendation did not live up to the expectations that he had set for it. Is this an indictment on Guy as a person? Probably. If we are being honest, Guy has a lot about his own life to reconsider. One could suggest that he cowardly shrunk at the opportunity to recommend the real movie he wanted me to see. Others could just say Guy is just a simpleton. All of those opinions have their merits, but I think we should go easy on Guy. He usually agrees with me on most topics and no one is perfect, so he was bound to have at least one public wrong answer. No need to hate him because I know he is a good guy (Heh. I am proud of that one).

I give “The New World” a 6.5 out of 10

Starring: Collin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, August Schellenberg
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 15 Minutes

Before Sunrise (1995) – Movie Review

In quarantine, it is important to try new things and avoid stagnation. We now live in a world where time is nothing more than a human construct as we float in an endless void. I have been struggling, as I am sure are many others, adjusting to and finding motivation in our new normal, and so, on the basis of a trusted recommendation, I watched the film “Before Sunrise” to see if it could spark something in me. Director Richard Linklater has a well-earned reputation for constructing thoughtful character studies and coming-of-age tales, and his “Before” Trilogy has garnered significant praise from audiences for decades. If anything, I knew this film would give me a lot to think about.

On the surface, is not the type of movie I expected to connect with. Typically, I gravitate towards films that prioritize structure and favor plot over characters. That is not to say I ignore character development, but usually the most important element of a film, in my eyes, is having a competent story. However, the vision of this film is unobstructed by what you think you want and proudly walks against convention. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give this film is that Linklater makes zero attempts to appeal to my preferences and it still manages to forge an unexpectedly emotional connection to me as a viewer.

Moving past my offerings of vague praise, the film itself is simply about two people, Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who meet on a train from Budapest to Vienna and spend one evening getting to know each other. The two are young strangers who take a chance on enjoying the company of someone they likely will never see again after the following morning. While the premise does not seem like a likely situation that I, as an antisocial quasi-human, would ever do, the film sets up their interactions as the believable actions of naïve optimists with nothing to lose from trying.

The product of this could be described best as a moment of life that is so meaningful that one should hope for in their own lives. The film is essentially one deep, elongated conversation between two individuals as they travel about Vienna and discuss their lives, beliefs, past, and hopes for the future. I can understand if it sounds pretentious but it is executed in an unbelievably realistic manner. They even acknowledge the awkwardness that arises from this situation and they embrace it. They are as brave as you wish you were. Perhaps my most fatal flaw as a failed human is that I am notoriously deaf to romantic queues in film, likely because I don’t perceive romance the same way Hollywood portrays it typically. However, the connection between Céline and Jesse feels so tangible and real that even someone as out-of-touch with love as myself could not only pick up on the budding love but also found myself invested in their feelings.

The idea of falling in love with a stranger in a foreign country by spending only one evening with them seems unrealistic, but credit to the writing, nothing feels forced or cheesy. Every interaction they share and topic they discuss prove the visceral qualities of these characters who are portrayed as some of the most realistic individuals I have ever witnessed in film. It is the imperfections that they truly find most attractive in each other, which is a concept stories like to claim they tout without ever fully understanding the message they are preaching. My personal favorite scene is when they go to a dive bar and begin to reveal their recent romantic pasts while playing pinball. They unveil a healthy dose of cynicism that previously might have gone undetected and grounds their relationship from seeming too-good-to-be-true. It shows that life is very much about trial and error, that they take responsibility for their past though it may not be perfect, and that even from the negative experiences of the past, we can grow for the future.

This film could have easily fallen into the traps of being a cliché or cheesy romantic comedy, and while there are moments of lighthearted humor, it would be disingenuous to classify this film as a romantic comedy. Like Jesse suggests in one of his passing train thoughts, this is the art of people living life. In lesser hands, I have my doubts that this film could work, but this cast and crew deliver an exceptional product that I was able to connect with on a deeply emotional level. I eagerly anticipate watching the two sequels, both of which were nominated for Academy Awards for writing, and completing this trilogy of films.

I give “Before Sunrise” a 9.3 out of 10

Starring: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 41 Minutes

Uncut Gems (2019) – Movie Review

I had initially viewed “Uncut Gems” in theaters in the first week of January of 2020 and had chosen to forgo writing a review. I had just returned from a 10-day road trip and was responsible for seeing “1917”, “Richard Jewell”, “Little Women”, and “Bombshell” in the same week to catch up on what I had missed during my hiatus and to save time, most of my opinions about those films were condensed to small nuggets in the margins of other posts. However, the world being on lockdown has provided me with a second opportunity to give this film the attention that it deserves.

I recollect that this film quickly elevated itself into the cultural conversation as a “comeback” vehicle for Adam Sandler. Sandler has a large and very loyal fanbase due to his successful run on “Saturday Night Live” and his dominant run of 90s comedies, but has recently found himself on the butt-end of cinema with duds like “Jack and Jill”, “Blended”, “That’s My Boy”, and “Pixels” among others. Though he never lost the love of his fans, critics rightfully put his career in the ground over the past 2 decades, but when the first footage of the film was released, the entire world seemingly was rooting for its success.

The selling point of the film was always Sandler, and I recall praising it after my first viewing, but I was curious if that recognition was truly warranted or the product of misplaced wishful-thinking. As it turns out, I found his performance even more tactful upon my subsequent viewing. Interesting vocal tendencies that I might have overlooked originally became more apparent, also suggesting a fair amount of preparation went into developing the character of Howard by Sandler. This is not an example of Adam Sandler being himself in a more sophisticated film, rather a genuine example of an actor creating a character and putting in the effort to effectively make the role unique. Through his filmography, Sandler has proven to be capable with the right motivation and right material, to deliver quality performances, but he takes it to a new level here.

Howard Ratner is not the same lovable idiot role Sandler has made a career off of. He is a man of sleaze. From the way he rips off people at his jewelry shop, to the way he is hiding his separation from his wife and an affair with his employee from his children to the total irreverence he treats the prospect of consequences with, Howard is a legitimate scumbag. And yet, you are always rooting for him, even when he continuously puts every relationship, both personal and professional, in immediate jeopardy because of his debilitating gambling addiction. The best way I can describe it is that Sandler shows just enough for you to sympathize with him, even if you cannot empathize with his decision-making. You find yourself yelling at the screen, pleading with the man to just stop, cut his losses, and go back to his family, and even when he ignores your cries, you are still hopeful he will learn his lesson before the next incident.

“Uncut Gems” is a rush of adrenaline that will elevate your heart-rate without giving you much of a chance to catch your breath. Characters frequently yell over each other’s dialogue. Lighting is harshly juxtaposed against brightly colored sets and costume designs. The settings and characters are saturated with material extravagance and hedonistic behaviors. The only honest description is that the film is stressful which might not be easy to digest for everyone.

Those who favor the tone have suggested it was among the best films of 2019. With careful consideration, I would put it right on the fringe of a top-10 film but I cannot elevate it into that category. It is very good and perhaps in a year of more standard-level competition it would easily fit in the top-10, but something is lacking. While it is exceptional at being itself, it lacks any catharsis. There is not as much substance to chew over post-viewing and my biggest criticism is that it lacks layers that most of the other films have. If you cannot relate to the story of addiction or cannot see yourself in Howard’s family or lifestyle, it is not much more than quality acting and an exciting tone.

A retrospective examination of “Uncut Gems”, just a few months after its theatrical run, provides a unique perspective of the concluding year of the 2010s in cinema. Objectively speaking, 2019 was one of the strongest years of cinema of my lifetime, and when everyone is overachieving, it is even more difficult to stand out. I personally believe that Sandler deserved to be nominated for his performance here and I would put it up against almost every leading performance by an actor that got more love. In a more standard year, “Uncut Gems” could have potentially been an Academy Award Cinderella story thanks to its unmatched tone, challenging dialogue and “controversial” subject matter, but alas, it was not to be. Unable to breakthrough, “Uncut Gems” somehow failed to garner a single nomination from the Academy and thusly lost out on gaining a legacy that many had hoped for it. But even without earning prestige, “Uncut Gems” serves as a shining beacon to remind us all what can be created when films are driven by passion and genuine care for the material.

I give “Uncut Gems” an 8.7 out of 10

Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, LaKeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Kevin Garnett, Mike Francsesa, Judd Hirsch
Directed by: Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie (as the Safdie Brothers)
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 15 Minutes

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episode Guide

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is an animated Star Wars television series that originally aired on Cartoon Network in October of 2008 and is perhaps the most expansive and diverse source of Star Wars content out there. There is an unfortunate perception out there that animated media is simply for children and that misrepresentation grossly diminishes the sophisticated storytelling the series has to offer. “The Clone Wars” never cowers away from mature themes like death, torture, and slavery, as well as philosophical elements associated with identity, morality, and finding one’s place in a galaxy at war.

The Final Season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is now streaming on Disney+. This series is one of my favorite animated television series and does a fantastic job at expanding on the lure and stories of the prequel films in the Star Wars Saga. Unfortunately, the series did not exactly begin with the most clear of direction, as the feature length film was actually just 4 mediocre planned episodes sewn hastily together. If you are interested in binge-watching the show during quarantine, some guidance might be needed to traverse the filler episodes.

I have constructed a list of all of the essential episodes of the series and in the proper order in which to watch them. Not every episode that I omitted from the list is bad, just not as important to the show’s themes and overarching story as the ones that did make the list. But if you are interested in absorbing the series in its entirety, by all means watch them all! Just know that there will be some Jar Jar-heavy episodes, heavy politics episodes, and droid-centered episodes. Each have something to offer, but might not appeal to everyone.

Season 3 Episode 1 – “Clone Cadets”

Season 1 Episode 5 – “Rookies”

Season 1 Episodes 19-21 – “Storm Over Ryloth” ; “Innocents of Ryloth” ; “Liberty on Ryloth”

Season 2 Episodes 5-8 – “Landing at Point Rain” ; “Weapons Factory” ; “Legacy of Terror” ; “Brain Invaders”

Season 2 Episodes 12-14 – “The Mandalore Plot” ; “Voyage of Temptation” ; “Duchess of Mandalore”

Season 3 Episode 2 – “ARC Troopers”

Season 3 Episode 10 – “Heroes on Both Sides”

Season 3 Episodes 12-14 – “Nightsisters” ; “Monster” ; “Witches of the Mist”

Season 3 Episodes 15-17 – “Overlords” ; “Altar of Mortis” ; “Ghosts of Mortis”

Season 3 Episodes 18-20 – “The Citadel” ; “Counter Attack” ; “Citadel Rescue”

Season 4 Episodes 7-10 – “Darkness on Umbara” ; “The General” ; “Plan of Dissent” ; “Carnage of Krell”

Season 4 Episodes 19-22 – “Massacre” ; “Bounty” ; “Brothers” ; “Revenge”

Season 5 Episodes 2-5 – “A War on Two Fronts” ; “Front Runners” ; “The Soft War” ; “Tipping Points”

Season 5 Episodes 1, 14-16 – “Revival” ; “Eminence” ; “Shades of Reason” ; “The Lawless”

Season 5 Episodes 17-20 – “Sabotage” ; “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much” ; “To Catch a Jedi” ; “The Wrong Jedi”

Season 6 Episodes 1-4 – “The Unknown” ; “Conspiracy” ; “Fugitive” ; “Orders”

Season 6 Episodes 10-13 – “The Lost One” ; “Voices” ; “Destiny” ; “Sacrifice”

The show gives a spotlight to many phenomenal characters that the films do not, such as Asajj Ventress, Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex and all of the Clones. Don’t worry though, Anakin and Obi-Wan are right there the whole time and even Count Dooku becomes mildly important! The final season is currently streaming on Disney+, however episodes are still being released on a weekly basis every Friday. I hope you enjoy the show as much as I do!

Snowpiercer (2013) – Movie Review

As the world is coming to an unceremonious, yet merciful end, we can once again turn to the prophetic edicts of cinema to enlighten us as to our uncertain future. What was once a simple exercise in imaginative speculation now is a useful precaution to help tune our expectations. The film “Snowpiercer” offers many insights as to the destination of our rapidly decaying socio-economic structure, as well as a reminder of the less tangible aspects of human resolve. When the film released in 2013, it may have gone unnoticed in the eyes of western audiences. Convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, who headed the production of this film, often clashed with director Bong Joon Ho and tried to bury the release of his own film simply to spite a man who he didn’t like. 7 years later, Bong Joon Ho wins 4 Oscars in one night and “Snowpiercer” is getting a television series adaptation on TNT, all while Harvey is sentenced to 23 years in prison and has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

In the world of “Snowpiercer”, Earth has frozen over after a failed climate experiment sends the planet into a new ice age. All life on the planet is killed off except the lucky few survivors who boarded the train Snowpiercer, a reimagining of Noah’s arc that is powered by a perpetual-motion engine that will never stop. Aboard the train, a strict class system emerges, where the wealthy passengers live hedonistic lives of excess and comfort up in the front sections of the train, and the passengers at the tail-end live and are treated like a pestilence. Among the passengers in the tail is a bearded Chris Evans character named Curtis, who leads the passengers of the tail on a systematic revolt of the hierarchy, moving from one incredibly imaginative train car set piece to the next.

Bong has quickly ascended to the position of luminary guide for the cinematic discussions of class in the modern world. His 2019 Oscar-winning international phenomenon “Parasite” dove deep into the psychological disconnect of the wealthiest class’s perceptions of the struggles of the working class, and many of those themes and ideas were explored first, albeit through a different lens, in “Snowpiercer”. Aside from those selected to govern and police the train, a majority of the upper class are blissfully unaware of the struggles of those living in the tail. They never interact with them, and for the most part, just go about their lives without even a consideration of their existence. Their actions are not evil merely complacent and irreverent, but the consequences are equally as significant as if they were actively oppressing them by their own intent.

The exceptions to the aforementioned callowness are the few times when rebellions are organized and systematically foiled. Curtis’s revolution is intended on being an overthrowing of the establishment that has oppressed the passengers in the tail but is weaponized by the head to continue their oppression of the tail. What is the greatest weapon for enforcing the status quo? Fear. What is the greatest catalyst for exploiting fear? Ignorance. The wealthy class is taught to fear the tail because revolutions are shown to them as violent and foolish, and their oppression is justified for without it, the train, and subsequently, their safety will fall into chaos.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the head of the train is the submission to zealotry that is uniformly adopted by its passengers. There are very few concepts in sociology that fascinate me more than a shepherd leading a herd. It is arguably the most enduring social construct outside of the family that humans have ever abided by, and quite possibly the strongest influence on the average person’s life after said family. What is most remarkable about it is the voluntary nature of this submission which is an indication that the masses are willingly surrendering their agency to a higher power. These people bow before Wilford (Ed Harris) and the eternal engine he created, the results of which are the manipulation of the passengers’ cognitive and moral processes. He is their deity and his engine is his son that has guided them to salvation. This sort of cultism can be considered a natural evolution of our religious bodies and political institutions and is seen to only be empowered further under cataclysmic circumstances.

On the other side of the revolution is a testament to the human spirit. Curtis, as you will come to find, has committed truly horrible acts in the name of self-preservation and desperation. He is our hero, not because of his altruism, but his resolve. His past does not prevent him from looking to better himself or his surroundings in the future. He adopts the role of a leader to guide them from the ashes of what they once were to a hopeful future. It is under this guise that he represents what we as humanity can become if we are willing to change our ways and learn from the past.

While our real-life apocalypse may not be led by people as beautiful or talented as the one presented in “Snowpiercer”, we can look to it, not as a cheat sheet, but as a guide. The logistical differences between our world and the film’s world are noticeable, but the depictions of humanity have tangible similarities to reality. Works of fiction, especially science fiction, seek to extrapolate our tendencies to a logical conclusion and thus make us wary of pitfalls. For even if the world is not doomed to end in the coming weeks, we should still reject apathy towards growing disarray in our socio-economic landscape and learn how to change before it is too late.

As a work of cinema and Bong Joon Ho’s rightful introduction to Western audiences that was stolen from him, “Snowpiercer” is tremendous. It is a thought-provoking exercise into humanity’s future as well as an entertaining and well-acted action film. The term “better late than never” may have been conceived just to adequately describe how we have come to treat this film.

I give “Snowpiercer” a 9.0 out of 10

Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang Ho, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Ko Asung, Jamie Bell
Directed by: Bong Joon Ho
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 6 Minutes

12 Monkeys (1995) – Movie Review

Humanity’s nature is very perplexing. If you were to be approached by a stranger on any given day prophesizing an impending plague, most likely you would dismiss that stranger as hysterical. And yet, our existence is due in no small part to our wily ability to survive and our primal instincts that demand self-preservation among all else. Cataclysms have happened before but we carry on as if we are sure they could never happen again. Perhaps we would not be where we are without our much-justified sense of skepticism as well, but those two instincts can be at odds with each other. On December 30, 2019, Dr. Li Wenliang offered us a warning of the discovery of a new strand of the Coronavirus. He was dismissed and silenced, and not even 3 months later, he is dead at the hands of the very virus he attempted to warn us about while global society is coming to a screeching halt at the mercy of Dr. Wenliang’s foretold pandemic.

“12 Monkeys” is a film that thrusts you into Dr. Wenliang’s position. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a survivor of pandemic sent back in time from the year 2035 to recover information on how the disease spread so the remaining humans can construct a cure in their present time. Upon arriving in 1990, Cole is presumed to be a paranoid schizophrenic and detained in a psychiatric ward. Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) is his psychiatrist that believes Cole is suffering from a condition of mental divergence, where his psyche constructed the idea of the upcoming plague and him being from the future as a way of escaping his current reality. Cole, however, is insistent that his mission is true and the death of 5 billion people is a mere 6 years away from the current moment. Unfortunately, his detainment means he cannot proceed to gather information and he ends up befriending Jeffery Goins (Brad Pitt), another patient at the institution who suffers from paranoia before he is brought back to 2035 to get another crack at his mission.

The film proceeds to see Cole travel through time, instantaneously on multiple occasions, which eventually strains his understanding of reality. He steadily believes he is mentally ill, as Dr. Railly diagnosed him and comes to question if he was ever from the future at all. We as the viewer begin to view Cole as an unreliable narrator of events and start to question if the cartoonish hellhole of the future could be real or just images placed in his head from the ramblings of patients like Jeffery Goins. And as we begin to grow skeptical of Cole, we become Dr. Railly, a retrospective irony you will come to see as the film progresses. “12 Monkeys” presents a case study of what is known as the Cassandra Complex, which is the psychological phenomenon that Dr. Railly studies. This dynamic gets its name from Ancient Greek Mythology, where Cassandra rejects the advances of the god Apollo and in retaliation, he bestows upon her the ability of prophetic foresight and the guarantee that she will not be believed. Dr. Wenliang, like Cole, suffered from the Cassandra Complex. Their warnings were given to unwilling listeners that were only validated after it becomes too late.

“12 Monkeys” reveals a trick in our cognitive abilities. The characters in the film that are outwardly paranoid are all dismissed, but yet they all seem to have merit to their thoughts. Even Goins, who is a manic patient with obvious psychological issues, is never totally off-base with his evaluations of society, both inside and outside the psychiatric ward. His rants are easy to brush off as the ramblings of a lunatic, but he is correct about almost everything he says, including his father’s work on animals and diseases. Inversely, as Dr. Railly, who was praised as a rational follower of psychology, finds evidence that supports Cole’s story, and begins develops an outward paranoid appearance, eventually inheriting the Cassandra Complex she studies.

But it is irresponsible to believe that this film is advocating paranoia. I am sure Cole would be just as opposed to the masses freaking out over the end of times because he frequently says that his mission is not to stop the virus but to gather information. In his words, the outbreak already happened in his time and he cannot stop that. People going insane over the end of times will not prevent the end from coming and he knows it. What the film is preaching is not to be dismissive and to listen. It is very simple. Return to the real world for a moment. Our current public health crisis is causing a bevy of reactions in society. Some are paranoid and hoarding supplies for Armageddon, and some that are still going to bars and restaurants as if it is a normal day. We have all been given our warning, yet some are paranoid and others dismiss it. And both are viewed as harmful actions.

And for all the film tells us is inevitable, it still revels in the ambiguity of motivations, purpose, and reality. Director Terry Gilliam uses an exceptionally light touch when introducing ideas in the plot, enough to make you leave your viewing with plenty to ponder. There is a multitude of elements within the film to appreciate, as well, that each contributes in some way to the uncertainty the audience feels. The frequent use of Dutch angles, a flat filter, and harsh, bright lighting help convey an unease through visuals. Although the representation of technology in this film is very much restricted to the limited imagination of the 1990s, the production design does succeed in creating a believable yet mildly outlandish view of a dystopian future. The electrifying performance of Brad Pitt as Jeffery Goins also delivers a major contribution. This character is burdened with being friendly, unbalanced, unpredictable, deranged, and intelligent in every scene he is in, and in the hands of a lesser actor, could have become a slapstick-heavy comedic relief character, but instead is an important player that you cannot pin down for sure. Even Bruce Willis, a man notorious for not caring about his work, puts in a very respectable and committed performance that could easily be delusional.

After watching “12 Monkeys” you are forced to ask yourself if you would believe Cole if you were Dr. Railly. Hopefully, you would not stop your self-questioning there. How do you think you would have treated the warnings of Dr. Wenliang in December of 2019? Or, hypothetically, would you be able to convince someone on September 10, 2001, of what is to come tomorrow? Would you listen to someone who tried to warn you? Imagine the burden of knowing but not being listened too. Apollo really was malicious to punish Cassandra the way he did.

I give “12 Monkeys” a 9.0 out of 10

Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer, David Morse
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 9 Minutes

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