Have you ever left a theater after seeing a movie and immediately knew what you just saw was special? Not good, great, or even excellent. I mean unambiguously special. The type of movie that challenges your expectations of how a film could impact you. It is the kind of sensation that I can only recall experiencing on 2 other occasions prior to seeing “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, and now, the trifecta is completed. And to think, this is a movie about a woman struggling to file her taxes.
This might be one of the strangest films to write a synopsis for, which speaks to how adequately its title describes the movie. A Chinese American immigrant, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), and her meek husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) run a small laundromat and need to file their taxes. Evelyn is struggling to enjoy her life as she has been drowning in her own regrets for some time, causing her to be at best apathetic towards, and at worse, resent the people and the life she finds herself living. She looks down upon Waymond for lacking the conviction to want more from his life, and for believing he was not the man she thought he would be when they decided to leave their homes in China and start a new life for themselves together in America. Their daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is the biggest victim of her mother’s apathy. She wants her mother to accept her for everything she is (she has a tattoo and is in an openly lesbian relationship with her girlfriend Becky), even if it does not align with the expectations her mother had, but Evelyn has made little to no effort in hiding her contempt for her daughter’s individuality. Finally, Evelyn is caring for her father, Gong Gong (James Hong), who is now a fragile old man, but outright disowned Evelyn when she decided to start a life in America with Waymond.
That sounds fairly grounded, right? Well, the story hasn’t even begun yet. Evelyn and Waymond need to file their taxes so they head to their local IRS building where they meet Deirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis). But, on the way to her office, something strange happens. Waymond weirdly changes his character and tells Evelyn he needs her help. He claims he is not of this universe and not the Waymond she married. He gives her a set of odd instructions and begs her to help fight off a great evil. Naturally, Evelyn thinks Waymond is just being stupid, but being disinterested in doing her taxes, she plays along. From this point on, Evelyn is thrown into a multiverse of all of her possible realities, as she helps different versions of her family and friends overcome a cataclysmic force. If I went into any more detail on the plot, this review would take weeks to complete. The complexities of the story are something to marvel at and my synopsis would fail to do it justice.
There are so many elements of this film that are praiseworthy but what connected with me most were the themes and messages. The concept of the multiverse allows us to explore ideas that are otherwise impossible if we were to abide by more grounded terms. As Evelyn reaches into other realities, she sees what her life could have been if she were to have taken different paths in life. At first, this reinforces her overwhelming disappointment with her current reality. She sees this as proof that those around her have held her back and tries to escape to these alternate universes to live out her more successful paths. Who among us has not fantasized about reliving past decisions with the knowledge we have now and making changes? It feels so natural to process regret this way. But the film does an excellent job to explore this concept without belittling or simplifying her true life or any of her perceived better alternatives.
We could have been spoon-fed a “careful what you wish for” lesson, but we were given something with far more tact. Evelyn is forced to process that her choices were her own, that she is responsible for the life she lives currently, and that she has neglected her current life in the defense of the pursuit of hypotheticals. Her selfish outlook on her own life has led her to a point where she has torpedoed her marriage to Waymond and drove her daughter away, all while refusing to reconcile her past with her father. She has to see for herself that she hasn’t failed in her life because of the choices she made in her past, rather she is currently still failing because she is neglecting what is still in front of her. It takes Evelyn experiencing multiple realities simultaneously to learn how to care for the only reality that matters: the one she is currently living.
Every bit of character growth from Evelyn is well earned. She is given her moments to interact with all 4 of the major players in her life (Deirdra is the unexpected 4th) which allows all of their philosophical outlooks to shine through. Waymond is given so much depth to a character that Evelyn outright has dismissed. He is happy and successful in the same life that Evelyn is a failure because he rejects apathy. Evelyn thought of him as weak because he wasn’t a serious man, but he shows his strength because he is able to rise above the attitudes that have caused Evelyn to fall.
Joy challenges Evelyn the most in the film, and if not for her, Evelyn might struggle to see any lessons at all. Without revealing too many details, for the vast majority of the film, Joy is presented as a threat to Evelyn (a not-so-subtle metaphor). Evelyn believes herself to be on a quest to overcome the obstacles that Joy has presented to her many lives. But with every short-sighted attempt to best Joy, it becomes increasingly clearer that Evelyn is not going to “win” with fancy Kung-fu. Joy’s character represents so much to the story. She is a rejection of tradition, a reflection of Evelyn’s apathy, a vessel for the future, and most importantly, a daughter that really needs her mother.
I will admit that this film brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions. Despite all the fantasy and science fiction, this film is so deeply human and emotional. I have no basis in my own life to truly relate to being an immigrant who took such a leap of faith and feels as though she would have been better off if she didn’t. I will never know what it is like to be a mother who has to learn to embrace her own daughter or to be a daughter who has been failed by her mother. But that is what this film is spectacular at. These characters are so real that empathizing with them is one of the most natural experiences I have ever had watching a film. And, to that, the actors deserve more credit than they are bound to receive because they were all as close to perfect in their roles as you could hope for.
It is easy to feel mired in your own circumstances. This film challenges you to be better than that. Cynicism, nihilism, and apathy are easy traps to fall into and it requires work to crawl back out of the pits after you fall. Nothing is truly meaningless if it means something to you, and just because you could have made different choices does not mean that the choices you did make were wrong. The lives we are living are always in front of us and the lives we lived can never be changed because they are behind us. It is up to us to decide which is more important.
This film is exotic and breaks the mold. It tells multiple versions of the same story simultaneously and is able to balance them all. Honestly, what I found most unexpected was just how funny it is. It knows the concepts it embraces are very outlandish and it uses that to create some very comedic moments that never lessen the emotional impact of its Pathos. I think it is almost unfair that there is so much to dissect in this movie that I am only able to talk about a mere fraction of the whole.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is the antithesis of much of the trends of modern filmmaking. It is not mindless entertainment reliant on the same hackneyed concepts that have been shoved in our faces systematically for years on end. It is a challenging watch that treats its audience with enough respect to allow them to truly experience the totality of what the story is trying to convey. It does not pull any punches but in return, it expects you as its audience to put in the effort to follow along with its wild story.
I want to say so much more about this movie but at that point, I would just be rambling. There are good films. There are great films. There are excellent films. And then there are special films. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is a special film.
I give “Everything Everywhere All At once” a resounding “A”.
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, James Hong Directed By: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert Rated: R Runtime: 2 Hours and 19 Minutes
Humans have created organized societies for thousands of years, and we have been reciting tales since those humble origins. After several millennia of storytelling, the ability to come up with truly original stories is becoming harder and harder. So, the evolution of this is that our stories have begun to build and expand on the patterns and tropes of the stories we have told. Hell, this list and this website is just my version of something hundreds, if not thousands, of other websites and blogs have done first.
Tropes and cliches are not inherently bad. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a story that does not contain them. Some of the most respected works of cinema and literature are revered for how well they implement tropes within their stories. So, just because a film you love might contain one, or even a few of these tropes, does not mean that film is necessarily bad. When a film relies so heavily on the predictability of tropes to create a wholly unoriginal story, that is when the use of cliches and tropes devolves into the territory of being hackneyed.
There is a quality to a cliche that makes it stand out so profoundly that I just cannot ignore it. I was drawn to making this list after watching “The Green Book” a few years back and seeing how critics praised it and gave it 3 Academy Awards. My mom and I went to the theater together to watch it and we both laughed at each other when it was over at just how predictable the entire film was. Even if you didn’t see that movie in the theaters, we were fairly sure that any casual moviegoer with the slightest bit of context could have foreseen many of the major plot points coming. This isn’t to say that it was a bad film, just that it was predictable.
As I said, most films and stories are littered with cliches and tropes, mainly because it is simply very difficult to be 100% original all of the time. A lot of the best ideas for stories we have already had. But there are some cliches that are indulged in far more frequently than others, and it are those that I want to discuss. These are some of the most recycled ideas in modern movies, according to my eyes. I would like to give an honorable mention for movie posters where all of the characters are on the front but stare off into different directions in front of a background split between red and blue. I didn’t include it on the actual list since they technically aren’t part of the actual movies, but please, let’s take a break from this.
This is a list I have been trying to create for years now. The original draft of this was written up in the Fall of 2019, but something felt “off” about it. So, I put it on the backburner for a bit, hoping to revisit it after looking at it with fresh eyes. But that didn’t really happen. I circled back a couple of times over the past few years, each time feeling more disenchanted with my thoughts, and eventually, I had given up on it. Now it is late March of 2022, and I am ready to give it a final swing at this. If I am being honest, I still think this list isn’t as refined as it could be. Whatever I felt was missing all of those years ago seems to still be absent now. Having said that, I do think improvements to the original have been made, so don’t think I am trying to pass along shotty work. I hope you enjoy!
10 – Teamwork or Believing in Yourself Solves Everything
Why do we watch films? We primarily enjoy movies to be entertained. However, there are so many elements present in a film that can make it more memorable than the last one. I like to believe the best films are as impactful as they are because they have something important to share with the audience. Many films struggle to really justify their own existence in these terms because they were not created for any other reason than to make money by being mindless entertainment. These films are dragged down by the most primitive and simplistic messages in order to avoid any potentially challenging material being thrown at the audience.
So often, we get the most basic messages like “believe in yourself,” or “working as a team is more effective than working alone,” to effortlessly fill in the blanks of a narrative that only exists for shiny objects, attractive actors, and big explosions. My favorite example of this is in “Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw”, where THE ENTIRE CONFLICT is solved by the titular characters punching Idris Elba’s character at the same time instead of one at a time. It is perhaps the most insultingly stupid resolution to a 2-hour film humanity might ever see. That not enough for you? What about in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” when Rey defeats Palpatine and essentially solves 9 films worth of conflict by activating a 2nd lightsaber and countering Palpatine’s line of “I am all the Sith” with her own “And I am all the Jedi”? Remember that? Unfortunately, I do. Not every film needs to be the next “Citizen Kane,” but would it kill you to put a little effort into writing the story?
9 – Final Countdown/Running Clock
Writing tension is a critical aspect of most third acts of a story. No matter the type of movie you are watching, an absence of stress in the closing moments can bury an otherwise fine story. An easy trick many writers use is to put a running clock. Sports films have the game clock, action films have a time bomb set to detonate, romantic movies have one character chase the other to an airport before their flight leaves. The point is, this trope can take many forms, but they always have the same purpose.
I don’t outright hate this trope, though. It can be very fun to watch the seconds tick away as we watch our heroes struggle to overcome whatever obstacles are in front of them. But come on! It’s just so overplayed at this point. You could go back more than half of a century and find this same plot device being used for the exact same purpose that it is still being used as today. We are just so oversaturated by this trope that it can lose its charm after a while.
8 – Two Attractive Characters in the Same Film Need to Fall in Love
Maybe this one is just me and my inability to understand simple human interactions. I’ll admit, I am not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to romance and the sort. I am just a weird guy who writes his opinions and sends them out into the ether in the hopes that maybe someone out there is at least intrigued by them. But maybe I am also onto something here. That will be up to you to decide.
So often it seems that a romance between leading characters is all but inevitable. And this part I get. Love is a powerful emotion and people are naturally attracted to seeing it displayed. When the love story is integral to the plot of the film itself, the romance can elevate that story. Where I see an issue is that the love story doesn’t always have anything to do with the plot as a whole, and only serves to throw 2 attractive actors into a softcore love making scene. Again, I fully understand the appeal of these scenes. I am not so far removed from humanity that I can’t appreciate the allure of it all.
I find my disconnect with this trope rises from the fact that it feels like every single attractive pair of actors that share a screen together are forced into a romance. It all just feels so predictable. The actors can have no chemistry, or their characters have no real qualities or experiences that would bond them. It doesn’t matter. They are hot so they will be together.
7 – Shared Cinematic Universes
Oh, Marvel, will you ever stop? Of course not! Marvel is the most successful media franchise in film and Disney is going to milk this cow until their just ain’t nothing left to milk. Their financial success has completely changed the landscape of blockbuster filmmaking. Every studio executive has been rabidly foaming out of the mouth, hoping their IP is the next winner of the cinematic universe lottery. But guess what. It won’t be.
Marvel is an anomaly, and it simply will not ever be replicated. That won’t stop studios from trying though! While Marvel and Star Wars thrive, the DC Comics Cinematic Universe, the “Harry Potter” Universe, the smaller “Spider-verse”, the misguided “Monster-verse”, “The Fast and the Furious” universe, The Mad Max Universe, and so many more that it feels ridiculous, all live in the shadow of the gargantuan presence of their trailblazers. All of these franchises are more closely resembling their Marvel counterparts in an attempt to replicate the financial spoils that Disney has reaped from their precious IP.
Not only have none of the other shared cinematic universes been able to reproduce the same success as Marvel, but they have also simultaneously hurt their films in their folly. Films, much like all stories, typically are self-contained. All the information you need to understand and enjoy the film is present in the film itself. Occasionally, a sequel would pop up here and there that would continue threads from its predecessor, but those would rarely stray into anything greater than a self-contained trilogy (Even “The Godfather” did this so it isn’t all bad). But, in these shared cinematic universes, the films are incomplete because the story never ends. Every film is just setting up the threads for the next film, and the cycle repeats itself endlessly until the money dries up.
Does anyone think that the Marvel Cinematic Universe will ever end? Why would it? It is so profitable and the collection of characters they can use is nearly limitless. They are going to continue this until they are physically unable to continue. I know this because they produced a film called ENDGAME which wasn’t even the end of that particular Phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And since other studios are trying (and failing) to emulate this, more and more movies will resemble this incomplete story that is just simply a piece of a greater whole. No longer are we able to just watch a story from beginning to end.
I have always said that with the DC Comics films, they should stop trying to be Marvel. They will never outperform them at their own game. But, all of those other franchises, DC included, have strengths that Marvel cannot match given the circumstances they find themselves in. Marvel can’t take risks because their films are systematic productions. DC has had wild success with their films that are self-contained and stand on their own. They struggle when they attempt to be Marvel’s little sibling.
For the sake of preserving the idea of a quality narrative structure, I hope all of these franchises just go back to telling their stories without the specter of Marvel dictating how to setup subsequent films. Marvel is a runaway freight train. There is no stopping them. But these other franchises are still stalling and there is plenty of time for course correction if they are willing to realize that they aren’t Marvel, no matter how much they want to be.
6 – “The Chosen One”
This is more of an archetype than it is purely a trope. The idea of a “chosen one” has existed in human storytelling since we were still in caves (I don’t actually know that to be true, but I will say it with the confidence of a person who thinks they do). This archetype is berthed from the need for a divine savior to come and rescue us normal people from the circumstances that we are not special enough to best on our own, no matter how hard we work. It is often associated with legends and mysticism, and it is one of the tropes that I detest the most.
My issue with this is that the idea of a chosen one completely eliminates stakes in a story. If a character is given prophetic fate, they are essentially guaranteed to succeed at their task. What is even worse is that their aptitude is given to them, not earned. Characters of destiny are shiny objects that are easy to sell, but they are ironically flawed in that they are inherently not flawed. Filmmakers work with this trope by adding hesitancy, doubt, temptation, and corruptibility to their character traits, which admittedly does help make each iteration stand out from the last in some ways. But it is ultimately inescapable that the character is destined to succeed from the very beginning, not through hard work, but because they were always supposed to succeed.
This trope expresses to us that heroes are born into this world as heroes. If you are not chosen, you need to wait for someone who is so they can carry you along with them for the ride. It is a terribly shallow lesson to build your characters around, and unfortunately, it is very commonplace. Yes, we have notable heroes like Anakin Skywalker, John Connor, Harry Potter, and Neo, but the longer the list gets, the more similar each character begins to feel. And those are just the most popular examples. There are plenty of more that fall flat because the trope leads to predictable, safe, and ultimately consequence-free storytelling.
5 – Musician Biopics
I understand that many people enjoy this genre of films, so this might not land with everyone. If you have seen one Musician Biopic (Biographical Motion Picture), you have seen every Musician Biopic. Frankly, I have issues with all biopics in general, but the ones that focus on musicians are the ones that gluttonously indulge in ritualistic cliche use. And with each passing year, I see more and more musicians be treated to their own biopics with seemingly no end to the vicious cycle.
If you’ve ever watched movie, undoubtedly you are familiar with the term “Based on a true story”. Well, guess what that means. It’s fiction! That’s right. Just because the character was a real person and some of the events existed does not mean the story you are watching is really how it happened. Many moviegoers are duped into believing they are watching a true biography of these figures, but they are watching fictional interpretations of the character.
I have no issue with creative liberties being taken. If you want facts, go watch a documentary. My problem is that all of these films, despite the complete freedom to do whatever the hell it is they want to do, ALL DO THE EXACT SAME THINGS. I have reviewed 2 of these such films on this site and by the time I got to just the 2nd one, I had already felt I had seen the entire library of the genre and was over it. “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman” have the EXACT SAME PLOT. Both are about a shy kid who adopts a flamboyant persona as they establish themselves in the music industry. As they get more famous, they are introduced to more people who want to take advantage of their success, which leads the main characters to disappoint the people who believed in them all along. They experiment with drugs and their sexuality and eventually lose themselves in their own hedonism. Then, when they finally push everyone away, they perform one last time on a big stage and win back the affection of everyone they pushed away. All character development is done by singing the musician’s greatest hits or melodramatic monologue. Copy. And. Paste.
What is so difficult for me is that these films don’t have to be carbon copies of each other. The genre is constrained by limitations that are entirely self-imposed. We already know the films aren’t factually accurate, so why must we always default to the same story each time? Why not do things differently? I understand that these films are not EXACTLY the same. Of course, some details will vary from film to film to try to more accurately depict the specific musician. But the variety is strikingly limited beyond just the few essential specifics required to avoid a plagiarism lawsuit. “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” is a great satire of this genre. Primarily mocking “Walk the Line”, it hammers home the excessive use of every cliche, and it will make it so abundantly obvious just how recycled these films are.
Martin Scorsese says Marvel films are ruining cinema, but I would argue that the Musician Biopic genre, while not as mainstream and dominating pop culture, is doing just as much damage to the state of cinema. But these films are often just vehicles for actors and directors to try to win awards. No one is concerned about thew actual quality of the film because it is a proven formula. The actors really get to ham it up in Oscar bait roles, maybe throw on a slight accent or a prosthetic, pretend to do drugs, have a sexually liberating experience or two, lip-sync a few popular songs, and then get rewarded with little gold trophies that are supposed to signify creative excellence.
4 – Bathos
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, Merriam-Webster defines Bathos as “the sudden appearance of commonplace in otherwise elevated matter or style,” “Anticlimax” or “insincere Pathos (emotional appeal).” Essentially, Bathos is when you cheapen a moment of emotional stress or growth with misplaced actions, most commonly taking the form of humor.
It is all-too common nowadays for films to be afraid to take their subject matter seriously enough to present it without a rider of comedic Bathos. Specifically, Marvel and Disney films are LITTERED with this. Whether it is making Thor fat in “Avengers: Endgame”, or Peter and his friends stopping to make fun of Doc Ock’s real name in “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, films that employ this tactic insist on diluting any potentially challenging material to make it palatable to the least common denominator of moviegoer.
Infamous middle-aged bully Joss Weadon had a famous quote “Make it dark. Make it Grim. Make it tough. But then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” Whether it was his intention or not, studios and filmmakers have embraced this message and in turn devalued true Pathos in film. Sometimes, it is ok for films to take themselves seriously. Sometimes, it is important for characters to experience emotions. Sometimes, bad things should happen. Life is about experiencing the highs and lows around us. We deserve to understand exactly what it is the characters need to overcome to fulfill their character arcs. That is not to say humor is a problem, just that when a film is indiscriminatory with the execution of humor, it lessens the impact it could have had.
I liken this to eating your vegetables. You might not love them, but in the end, they are healthy for you, and you can’t eat candy for every meal. Experiencing sadness, loss, heartbreak, or any other variety of negative feelings are challenging. But there is a beauty in the struggle and the most powerful victories are always those that stem from overcoming the greatest loss. The overabundance of bathos has systematically eradicated these victories from our realm of storytelling, and I wish filmmakers would respect us enough to attempt to challenge us more than they do.
3 – Female Leads with Little-to-No Character Arcs
With our modernized ideals and worldviews, there has been a much needed and concerted effort to create stories for characters that more accurately reflect the makeup of our world. I am well aware of the dichotomy that has formed in our society regarding diversity in film, and I feel like we have been unwilling to actually address the conflict. I believe that the goals of inclusion and diversity are what we should be striving for, but too often, whether it be out of a sense of pride or ignorance, many of those who vouch for positive change refuse to adequately explain their points-of-view. In my experience, it appears as though many feel insulted that they would even need to lower themselves to engage in a conversation with someone who dissents. But that will never change anything. If we don’t engage with each other, the best we can hope to do is talk louder than them, which will encourage them to talk louder too. And you don’t win idealistic conflicts by screaming louder than your opponent.
My rambling has a point to it. In our haste to scream louder than any potential dissent, we have created a shallow husk of our original goal of inclusion. To specify, the way filmmakers have begun to construct leading female protagonists has suffered. Yes, now we have more female-led films in our mainstream culture than we ever have before, and if success were completely number-driven, we would be well on our way to an idealistic victory. But it isn’t and we aren’t. Captain Marvel, Rey, and even the rebooted Mulan all share a quality that actively destroys all they were supposed to achieve beyond the surface-level victories of representation. They all are existing absent a character arc. The filmmakers obviously hoped that these characters would become “strong female characters” and in their haste to create that, they removed their character arcs and created finished products.
None of these characters ever face any opposition that can be considered legitimately challenging. For Rey, she is self-taught, self-motivated, and self-guided right from her introduction. Captain Marvel is the single most powerful being in the galaxy. There is no antagonizing force in her film that could ever challenge her for supremacy. There is no profound lesson that changes her from the beginning of her film to the end of her film. She just learns that the real villains are not who she thought they were in the beginning, that she should believe in herself more, and then goes to single-handedly destroy an entire army with an ill-defined and overpowered skillset. The rebooted Mulan is the most depressing of all because her character was tremendous in her original film. There she had to work hard to overcome the struggles of fighting in a war. She begins as someone who is not physically equipped to handle the challenge in front of her, so she has to learn to overcome these hurdles, using her cunning and growing physically. In the reboot… she is born with magic powers and was always better than everyone around her.
Yes, I know there are terribly written male leads too, and yes, I know it is unfair that there is a century plus of films over-saturated with male leads. The fact is though, female leads have an uphill battle to fight, and we are fumbling the opportunity we have right now to achieve our goal because we are being impatient with the way we write our female leads. A poorly written character hiding behind the guise of identity does harm the goal of representation in the long run. We can’t be so afraid of having a female character be viewed as weak that we forget to show them earn their strength. The best way to make sure the principles of inclusion are upheld is to put in the effort to make female characters flawed, present them with a legitimate challenge, have them struggle, then ultimately grow from the experience. It doesn’t have to be that “cut-and-paste”, but the idea remains true. We need to respect our female leads enough to make them imperfect, and so far, we have not done this.
2 – Deus Ex Machina
Time for another quick vocabulary lesson. Deus ex machina can be translated from Greek to mean “God from a machine,” and Marriam-Webster defines the phrase as “a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” And, since this isn’t an SAT Prep class, I will simplify it one step further. Think of this as an unearned solution to an obstacle.
I don’t think this will be a controversial take, but I would like for the characters in the story I am watching to actually earn their victories, whatever they may be. When Finn and Rose are on The First Order Juggernaut ship and are about to die, they aren’t freed by their own guile or strength. They are freed by a sudden action by characters that had nothing to do with their story. Then, they get to cleanly walk to the single preserved escape ship that survived the destruction around them. Their story just works out because of circumstances that they did not earn or achieve on their own.
In “The Batman”, Bruce Wayne is nearly completely exhausted at the end of the film and looks to be almost beaten. But just when it looks like he is done, he injects himself with a previously unknown green substance and he gets back up and kicks some ass. Where did he get it? What is it? How did he know he would need it? The substance just appears right when he needs it most and it helps him resolve the main conflict. Fortunately, this moment is the outlier in an otherwise well-deserved victory for the character, but it goes to show that many of the more competently written scripts still succumb to this issue.
Thankfully, these pitfalls are easy to avoid with just a little effort and clarity. Filmmakers just need a clear path forward when they are creating the story and these acts of God can easily be setup within the narrative before they have consequential roles in the plot. Stories are always more satisfying when the struggles of their characters are overcome with their own abilities. I doubt this trope will ever be completely removed from film because it has existed since the times of the ancient Greeks, but hopefully we can look to avoid this more and so it becomes a novelty, rather than an actual tool in mainstream storytelling.
1 – The Word “Dark”
Look at all those films with Dark in the title! As bad as all of the other cliches I listed above are, there is no single greater FORCE OF NATURE than a film studio slapping “Dark” into a title and script of a film. What hurts about this the most is that some of my favorite films are possibly the genesis of this trope. “Darkness” penetrated mainstream consciousness could begin when “Star Wars” introduced the Dark Side of the Force in 1977 (although I am sure the concept of dark filmmaking already existed), which is a proper noun and not just abstract darkness. However it is the seeds that have been harvested into the leviathan of nondescript, general “dark” stuff we have gotten today. And if “Star Wars” just planted the seeds, the meteoric commercial and critical success of “The Dark Knight” kicked off the harvest that we have been experiencing for almost a decade and a half now.
The reason I hate this so much is because the trend is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of what made “The Dark Knight” so successful. It stems from a smooth-brained interpretation that fans enjoyed that film because it was “dark and gritty” and not just because it was an expertly constructed film. Studio executives saw that film and said, “The fans want dark movies, and we’ll give it to them!” So, instead of looking towards “The Dark Knight” for inspiration on narrative structure, casting, set design, directing, musical composition, choreography, or special effects, studios are attempting to strike gold by recreating their idea of the tone of that film.
It might sound as though I hate the idea of gritty realism and am advocating for more lighthearted camp in my films, but that isn’t the case. Tone itself is something that should not be ignored, so if filmmakers want to make “Dark” films, they absolutely should. I draw my issues from this because in the desperate attempt to pander to hypothetical audiences by hitting their darkness quota, filmmakers have been taking inexcusable shortcuts. They substitute actual pathos and ethos with broad, generalizations about abstract darkness, and then lean heavily on that borderline ethereal concept to justify plot points.
If you’re craving an example, I will gladly point you to one of the movies I have most heavily critiqued: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. Thankfully, this movie didn’t throw the word darkness into the title, but it is a prime example of this modern trope at its absolute worst. The scene where Rey confronts Luke about his past with Kylo Ren, Luke reveals to Rey that one night, while Kylo Ren was asleep, Luke looked over his body and “felt the darkness”. This motivates Luke to ponder MURDERING HIS TEENAGED NEPHEW IN HIS SLEEP, which eventually causes Kylo Ren to go AWOL and betray his uncle. Do you see the problem? We are never told what exactly “the darkness” Luke felt was. It is just a substitute for “bad stuff”. Any information that could add even a shred of depth to these feelings is completely brushed away for the simplistic crutch of darkness. We could learn about who Kylo Ren is as a person, where these feelings originated from, what was happening in his life that challenged him, and how he was managing these feelings. But we were given “I felt the darkness” instead.
You will also find plenty of other examples of films just abusing the term “Dark”. “Terminator: Dark Fate” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness” are some of my favorites because of just how insultingly obvious they were with their executions. Both of those films have nothing to do with darkness, but the term is just thrusted into their titles to sell tickets. What does “Into Darkness” or “Dark Fate” even mean in the context of the films? Nothing! You could replace the term “Dark” in almost every film with “bad stuff” and I’d wager there is no significant change to any of their stories.
That’s my list! Constructing this was a very long process and I still feel like it is missing something. I had considered leaving this unpublished again in hopes that I would eventually figure it out, but I think that this at least gets my thoughts out there, which might help me think more clearly in the future. I hope someone will read this and can tell me what they think is missing, what I got wrong, and hopefully, what I got right.
Last week, we finally were given our first taste of the new “Obi-Wan Kenobi” Disney Plus show with the release of a teaser trailer. The limited series set to premier on Disney Plus on May 25, 2022, and Ewan McGregor will be reprising his role as the titular Obi-Wan after 17 years since the prequel trilogy came to an end with “Revenge of the Sith”. Obi-Wan is one of the most universally beloved characters in the entire Star Wars franchise, playing the wise old mentor trope in the Original Trilogy and the suave young Jedi in the Prequel Trilogy.
Naturally, Obi-Wan’s return is very exciting, but with that optimism also brings uncertainty. Despite a very compelling teaser tailer and the return of a character and actor that I greatly admire, there are already some flags that are causing me to worry… just a bit. This is only natural, considering the sky-high expectations I have for this show. As the saying goes, “Fear is a path to the Dark Side…”, and the only way to fend off the Dark Side is a healthy dose of hope. So, I want to discuss my fears for the show, but also talk about what I hope for and what makes me so optimistic.
We last saw Obi-Wan return to Tatooine watch over an infant Luke Skywalker, who he gave to his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen to raise. Obi-Wan had just defeated his fallen apprentice and best friend, and now has to come to grips with Anakin’s betrayal which ushered in the extermination of the Jedi Order and the rise of the Galactic Empire. From there, we have only ever had glimpses into the life of the character, until a much older “Ben” Kenobi helps guide Luke on his path to being a Jedi in “A New Hope”. Those of us who have read the old Expanded Universe novel “Kenobi” might already have an image in their heads about what to expect from Obi-Wan’s time in exile on Tatooine. Well, Disney has rendered that story to Legends continuity and considers it to be non-canonical, so, at best, that will only loosely guide the creative team. I am stricken by the fear that the Disney creative team might misunderstand the character and opt for an action-heavy spectacle, rather than the introspective narrative he deserves. Obi-Wan is supposed to be coming to grips with his own failures, learning the lessons of the Clone Wars, and protecting Luke at all costs. His days of adventure should be behind him.
The fans are not privy to all of the details of the show, as far as plotlines go, however we do know that Hayden Christensen is finally returning as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader for the show, which raises some concerns. I am very excited for the prospect of Hayden returning in a sort of victory lap. The fandom was ruthless, and frankly, downright horrendous to him during his run in the Prequels. The fact that he is returning to heartfelt embraces is a redemption arc for the fans. However, the story of Obi-Wan currently contradicts the idea that he would meet Vader again after their duel in “Revenge of the Sith” before they do so again for their final encounter on the Death Star in “A New Hope”. Is it possible for a confrontation between the two characters to not cause a continuity break in the greater story? Absolutely. But it will need to be handled with tact, which is something Disney has not always inspired faith in their fans for.
To a lesser yet much more specific extent, this applies to a potential appearance of Maul. I have seen a few outliers ask for the character to appear in the show, and they were almost unanimously met with disdain from fans. This was even followed up with reports that original drafts for the show had Maul be the primary antagonist but was written out of the show for what I can only hope was because it wouldn’t make any sense. We already saw his story come to a completion and we know exactly how Obi-Wan fits into that story. Do not break continuity and devalue that moment for a chance to cheaply insert the character into a place he does not belong. Thankfully, Maul does not appear to be a part of this show so I would not worry too much about this. Having said all of that, I encourage everyone to watch the very satisfying confrontation and conclusion for those characters we already have.
Recently, Lucasfilm executive, Kathleen Kennedy said that the original scripts for the show were scrapped for being too bleak. While I vehemently disagree with an evaluation that outright equates bleakness to being unfavorable, I can sympathize with her position. Her job is to make sure the product they produce is palatable to as many people as possible. I would argue the most effective way to make sure that result is met is to construct a competently written narrative, and the rest will fall into place from there. But executives fear losing the least common denominator and believe the easiest way to secure that is to add a lot of action, quippy dialogue, and generally make a more lighthearted tone. It is the easy and quick path to commercial success, but often those productions ring hollow compared to their deeper counterparts. There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to make a script more hopeful and optimistic, but they risk making a shallower story if they are too afraid to actually confront the material they are attempting to depict. Characters that endure heavier elements and learn to rise above them are the ones that are the most special.
I don’t think these themes and issues will be completely ignored or neglected, but I worry that they won’t be given the proper amount of exploration they deserve. Disney’s most recent attempt at a character-driven limited series was “The Book of Boba Fett”, and that series lacked direction, focus, and depth: everything that is required for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” to be successful. Style without substance is easy, but it will be tremendous disservice to a character, cheapening a well-earned moment of reflective sobriety. I personally believe that showrunner Robert Rodriguez is at fault for many of the inexcusable issues of that show. However, Disney bears a large portion of responsibility as well. They approved a detrimentally disjointed and shallow production, and this shows me that they continue to not have a complete grasp on what makes a good Star Wars story. It showed me that Disney still clambers onto “spectacle over substance” and has not learned the real lessons of the Sequel Trilogy yet.
Besides the themes and continuity, some concerns I have are aesthetic. Regardless of what the final product looks like, these will not make or break the show for me. First off, Ewan has aged too damn well! It’s not his fault but in the last 17 years, he hardly looks a day older. Good for him. Unfortunately, he’s supposed to look like Alec Guiness in only 9 years of in-universe time, so he better get aging REAL quick. This in no way ruins anything for me, but it is something that is worth mentioning.
The worst offenders for the visual problems are the costume and makeup for some of the characters we see in the trailer. The Grand Inquisitor and the 5th Brother are two characters that we were introduced to in “Star Wars: Rebels”, which is an animated medium as opposed to live action. Something went terribly wrong in the translation! These two characters are supposed to be aliens, but the result we have been given looks like adults in face paint. For a franchise that has always been leading the way for visual effects, this is simply a stunning display of apathy. The part that makes the least sense to me is that any of these alien species have already been portrayed in the films before, and the product was significantly better.
The live action version looks cheap and lazy. The head shape is off, but I can live with that. What I can’t understand is why he is not wearing dental prosthetics to sharpen his teeth or why his eyes aren’t digitally changed to be black with piercing yellow irises. These aren’t even complicated solutions, and yet there is zero effort to rectify them. I’ve heard the argument that prosthetics are uncomfortable and difficult to maneuver in for action scenes, but I find that argument to be insincere. Neither of those two characters are required for this story and if they are unable to be adequately portrayed in the show, then they don’t need to be at all. We already know the fates of those two characters in other stories so their presence in this show adds nothing to the stakes. Why not just replace them with Inquisitors we haven’t met yet and start from scratch? It seems like a simple and inoffensive solution, and I can’t understand why it wasn’t considered.
Lastly, I am afraid that the creative team will resort to pandering with fan-service. I know it is ridiculous to say that having Star Wars characters appear in a Star Wars story would be pandering but hear me out. I have this lingering and very specific idea that Obi-Wan will eventually cross paths with Ahsoka Tano, played by Rosario Dawson, because many fans want the characters to have a reunion after The Clone Wars. That isn’t inherently a bad thing, but moments like that will draw focus away from the importance of the main story. If the story isn’t interesting enough to tell without lowering itself to introducing new shiny objects to distract you, then maybe the script should be written better. This is simply a tactic used by writers and directors who truly don’t understand the material in the stories they are telling, which is a symptom of the fact that Star Wars was not their creation, they simply borrowed (bought) it. Hopefully, this is just a personal anxiety and nothing we will be given in the series.
Despite all that doom and gloom, I am more excited for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” than I have been for any Star Wars release since “The Last Jedi”. I am only critical of it because I feel protective of a character and stories that I hold on such a high pedestal. Perhaps naively, I am fully embracing my optimism and hoping for an incredible story that does the character justice. I do think they will deliver on this.
I personally hope that they give Obi-Wan multiple moments of quiet reflection throughout the show. There are 6 episodes planned, which is more than enough time to give the exiled war general time to come to grips with his failures and learn to overcome them. There are so many lessons for him to learn, and I hope he dives into the folly of the Jedi, and his failure as Anakin’s teacher and friend. As much as Obi-Wan was the shining paragon of what the Jedi are, he bears a considerable amount of responsibility for Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. It would be very satisfying to watch him have to reconcile his failures with his responsibilities to preserve hope by protecting Luke.
In these instances of reflection, I would not be opposed to giving Obi-Wan flashbacks to before the Dark Times, or even new footage of moments we saw in the films. “Book of Boba Fett” showed that this technique is not without it risks, if executed with care and with a good idea of the big picture, flashbacks could provide even more depth to the characters in the story. Disney definitely has the technology to de-age the actors and make them look as they did during the Prequel Trilogy. And, if they really wanted to add Ahsoka into the show, I feel this avenue would be a far more appropriate path to do so.
This would also be a great opportunity to bring in the Force Ghost of Qui-Gon Jin. At the end of “Revenge of the Sith”, Yoda reveals to Obi-Wan that there is a way he can communicate with his late master, and that he will have to learn this technique while in exile. Qui-Gon, portrayed by Liam Neeson in “The Phantom Menace” and a few episodes of the Clone Wars, would be a specter whom Obi-Wan could confide in, seek guidance from, and ask for answers that he cannot see clearly for himself. This would be much like the role Obi-Wan played in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” in relation to Luke’s journey. It would be poetic, which is something we know George Lucas loved to emphasize in Star Wars.
Likewise, I think this show presents an incredible opportunity to explore the character of Uncle Owen. Lucasfilm quietly had themselves a gem of casting during the Prequel Trilogy when they cast Joel Edgerton as a young Owen. At the time, he was relatively obscure and since then, has grown to really establish himself as a very capable actor. And with his talents, he has the potential to really flesh out one of the most underappreciated characters in the entire franchise. Owen is not a flashy Jedi or a cool bounty hunter. He is a moisture farmer on a backwater world in the middle of nowhere living a life beneath the notice of anyone of relative importance. In “A New Hope”, Luke’s only goal was to get as far away from the boring life his uncle was forcing him into. But it is not often discussed how Owen and his wife Beru raised the savior of the galaxy. They gave Luke the values that guided him into being a good person. These values laid the bedrock for the will required for Luke to eventually resist the temptations of the Dark Side and save Anakin from being consumed by the Dark Side. It can’t be understated just how important that role is for the development of Luke. Let us see the lengths at which he goes to keep Luke safe and to what extent he fears (and possibly resents) Obi-Wan for his role in his-step brother’s presumed demise.
This will also be the third consecutive Star Wars Disney Plus show that will spend significant time on Tatooine. I don’t think I am alone when I say that I am getting real sick of seeing the planet that was once so boring, its youths were actively begging to join the military as an alternative, somehow become this massive hub for all of the important events of the franchise. Thankfully, the show does not appear to be destined to linger on the desert world for too long. In the trailer, we see at least two other locations besides Tatooine, both of which seem to have been given high production values to create. Exploring the vast galaxy has always been one of the most alluring aspects of Star Wars and it is tremendously encouraging to see that “Obi-Wan Kenobi” will not continue to pigeonhole the narrative onto the same location we have seen dozens, if not hundreds of times prior.
I would also be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t even a little curious and excited to see Obi-Wan and Vader duel one more time, especially if they are both in their physical primes. I mentioned that their confrontation needs to be handled delicately to not break continuity, but if it is done well, this could be one of the franchise’s most climactic moments. Anakin, now fully submerged into the dark entity that is Darth Vader, seeing the person who maimed him and who he personally blames for all of the tragedy he has suffered. Obi-Wan, a man having to live with his failures, seeing his former best friend, whom he left to burn alive, standing before him as a hardly a living being, encased in a mechanical shell. This moment has limitless potential and I hope it can deliver.
But what would a lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan and Vader be without John Williams. The fact that they brought in the big guns to score parts of this series is so encouraging to me. Whether it be “Duel of the Fates”, “Anakin’s Betrayal”, “Battle of the Heroes”, or even a completely new composition, I have complete faith that John Williams will set the tone perfectly for the confrontation too come.
Honestly, I don’t need any or all of those hopes to be answered for me to love the show. My greatest hope of all is that the show is well-written, and that Deborah Chow’s direction is solid. So long as the story makes sense and the character is fundamentally understood, I sincerely believe that “Obi-Wan Kenobi” will deliver what the character deserves. There is a lingering fear of uncertainty, which is definitely warranted, but it should by no means overshadow the joy and anticipation we are feel. We are getting a f***ing Obi-Wan Kenobi show starring Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen! The very notion still seems like a dream that never come true. But it is true. And if I have to eat my words because I chose to be excited, I would rather that 10 times out of 10 if it means I can enjoy the ride for all it has to offer.
* NOTE: In the following review, when I say, “The Batman”, I am referring to the name of the film. The Batman without the quotes refers to the character. *
** SPOILER WARNING **
There are few characters in western culture that connect with the masses quite to the level the Batman does. It is a character that thrived in the 1960s as a campy, kid-friendly tv show starring Adam West. In the late 1980s, Batman once again dug its way into our hearts with the Tim Burton and Michael Keaton-led films (Joel Schumacher, Val Kilmer, and… George Clooney existed too I guess). The 1990s gave us the animated series with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. The 2000s gave us the Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale Trilogy as well as the start of the Arkham video games. The 2010s gave us the Snyder-verse, which many people are a big fan of (I am not really that into it myself). And now, it is Matt Reeves’s and Robert Pattinson’s turn to add to the catalog with “The Batman”.
Matt Reeves set out to forge a version of the character with the type of story that had not truly been attempted (in live-action film) before. In the world he created, the Batman (Robert Pattinson) is not the beacon of hope the character has been known for in previous iterations. He is a blunt instrument of vengeance who the people fear. He has not refined his approach or even come to understand what he is fighting for yet. Only Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) believes in his ability and willingness to help the city. During Gotham City’s mayoral race, a new killer named the Riddler (Paul Dano) begins systematically picking off major governmental figures in the city, starting with the sitting mayor, in a crusade to expose a generation of corruption within the city. Jim Gordan turns to the Batman to help him decipher the mystery surrounding the killings, much to the opposition of his allies on the Gotham Police Department. The Batman follows the clues and shows us why he is the world’s greatest detective, unweaving the grand mystery that the Riddler has created.
“The Batman”, while at moments, borrows heavily from “The Dark Knight”, constructs a narrative that thematically and structurally different from the formulaic approach to comic book filmmaking that we’ve been bombarded with over the past 14 years. A film should always be commended for taking a risk at all as any attempt to stray from the safety of the norm is a rarity in itself. The choice to invest heavily into the mystery is one of the risks that pays off for the film. Instead of seeing the Batman solve an idealistic conflict with his fists, Reeves takes great care in showing us the cerebral side of the character. The Batman is forced to keep pace with an intellectual foe, which is a quality that is not as common as you would expect. Many films who attempt this dynamic often have a habit of either making their protagonist be carried by more competent side characters, or too cunning that they fail to establish any real stakes in the conflict at all. Pattinson’s Batman hits the sweet spot between the two. He is sharp, seeing things that others miss. But he also needs some help identifying simple things, such as the practical use of a murder weapon.
As strange as this sounds, in “The Batman”, the Batman is actually the main character and attraction in his own film for the first time. He is no longer overshadowed by the suave public persona of Bruce Wayne or Oscar winning villains. We are really given a movie where the Batman is the primary focus, and he spends most of his on-screen time as the caped crusader. The film makes it explicitly clear that Bruce Wayne is not important (yet), and that the Batman will sacrifice anything involving the Waynes if it gets in the way of his mission of being the Batman. We quickly see just how far he has sunken in the opening moments of the film when Pattinson delivers a “Taxi Driver”-esque inner-monologue that sets up who his character is and how he sees the city. The Batman has weaponized fear to such a degree that he says “They think I’m hiding in the shadows. Watching. Waiting to strike. I am the shadows.” He sees himself as abstract concepts of fear and vengeance but no longer the man Bruce Wayne.
As the film boasts an ensemble cast of actors, as is tradition for a Batman movie, there were high expectations for the performers to meet. For the most part, I believe they rise to the occasion. Pattinson as this incarnation of Bruce Wayne and the Batman probably had the largest shoes to fill, as the entire film could sink or swim on his performance alone. He forgoes a lot of the tact that some of his predecessors chose to embrace, mainly because his version is hellbent on ignoring the Bruce Wayne part of the dichotomy, and the Batman is not a healthy person by any stretch. He has no attachments to anyone, no personal goals or dreams, no alternative methods of helping the city. He is a force of nature with a singular focus on his own inward pain while seeking aimless vengeance for it. Pattinson is very cold and monotone as a man completely lost within his own circumstances. His character would rather forgo any feelings at all than work through any of the years of pain he burdens. He is an immature Bruce Wayne for that, but one that has set himself up for positive growth as a person and a hero.
Kravitz, Wright, and Farrell all do tremendous work in this film. As Selena Kyle, Kravitz arguably presents us with the deepest incarnation of Catwoman we have seen yet. For every emotion that Pattinson’s character is resistant to show, she counterbalances with a far more impulsive and emotional display. Her character is essential for keeping Pattinson’s from being too detached. Wright is a very active Jim Gordon who embodies the good cop who is willing to do what needs to be done. And, although he had very limited screentime, Farrell oozes charisma as the Penguin, especially beneath layers of prosthetics that render him completely unrecognizable.
But I would be remised if I did not mention that John Turturro is arguably the greatest casting choice and delivers the best performance of everyone in the film. He plays the Gotham mob boss, Carmine Falcone, who serves as an antagonist and a major player in several of the greater mysteries presented in the film. Turturro’s presence is calm yet unnerving, and he adds a considerable amount to a character that could have been more of a plot device than an antagonist in the wrong hands. Every moment he is on screen, he grabs your attention with his presence, as he fully encapsulates the power and influence his character is supposed to radiate.
However, a relatively disappointing performance of the film was Paul Dano’s. The character was written fairly sharply, and for the first three quarters of the film, he is very compelling in a minimalistic role. But, towards the end, Dano is given seemingly Carte blanch to really flex his acting chops on us. And while the goal was likely to give Dano a chance to reach for some accolades, and to a lesser extent show a character who is unhinged, it really just comes off like a high school drama student trying too hard to nail their big monologue. There are ways they could have conveyed his character’s mental instability without devolving into the depths of over-the-top that Dano felt compelled to take it. I felt as though he had a very strong performance before this, but he doesn’t get out of his own way and ends up lessening his performance because of it. The irony is that the Riddler was already unique and memorable. Reeves took his time constructing the thesis of what the Riddler would represent within the story and to the character of the Batman.
What makes the character so fascinating is that the Riddler is not even a corrupted mirror of the Batman; he essentially is what the Batman is at the time. He views himself as the Batman’s partner in his mission to cleanse the city of the corruption it is so deeply saturated with. The only difference between the characters is that one has a self-imposed no-kill rule. However, the Batman has violently acted outside the law seeking vengeance for 2 years, and his actions inspired others, like the Riddler, to seek vengeance for themselves. So, while the Riddler is meant to be this politically motivated murderer, someone who the Batman views as the antithesis of himself, he is actually just the natural continuation of everything the Batman has shown himself to be. And here lies the message of the film: the Batman needs to grow up and learn to become a beacon of hope rather than vengeance from the shadows. It takes the Riddler showing how badly he has missed the mark with his crusade to help the Batman understand that his actions were not helping Gotham City, rather just quenching his own lust for vengeance. Although he did not view himself as an adversary, the Riddler owns one of the most unambiguous victories over the Batman because he showed him so clearly how wrong he was.
I am compelled to mention and praise the setting that Reeves spawned in the totality of the film. He creates a tone that is akin to a Noir-horror blend that is enhanced by the most thoughtfully crafted version of Gotham City we have seen to date. The streets are filthy, and the buildings are worn in. The Batman has been patrolling the streets for 2 years and Gotham City looks no better now than when he began his crusade. Michael Giacchino’s beautiful musical score reverberates the dread of the city, complimenting every purposefully imperfect frame of the film. The atmosphere is not a product of one, but all aspects of technical filmmaking at their pinnacle like a finely tuned machine.
There are various elements to this film that I could ramble on about forever: The legacy of Thomas Wayne; The extra final act; The cameo that I really wish didn’t happen; etc., because there is such a copious amount of content in this film. For the vast majority of the time, they are handled with care, but it is inevitable that there will be a slip-up here and there. And that’s ok. I have never seen a perfect film in my entire life, and it is completely unfair to start holding films to that standard now.
Unfortunately, “The Batman” is burdened by the expectations that come with carrying the torch of the character. It will never escape the constant comparisons to its predecessors, specifically with “The Dark Knight”. “The Batman” is imperfect, as most films are. But simply being that may inevitably hold it back from exceeding the others within the family, especially considering just how highly “The Dark Knight” is revered. However, we cannot let that overshadow that “The Batman” absolutely does more than enough to stand out and provide something different than the others and it will always have its place within the library of stories. Some will inevitably call this their favorite of the bunch too, which is a victory in itself. Being an optimist, the fact that “The Batman” even strikes up a legitimate debate in this conversation is a testament to the quality of the film we have received.
I give “The Batman” an excellent A-.
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, Jayme Lawson Directed by: Matt Reeves Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2 Hours and 55 Minutes
“There Will Be Blood” is the story of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), an oil tycoon at the turn of the 20th century. Once a silver miner, Daniel strikes oil in a hauntingly quiet opening few minutes of the film. We see him establish himself as an “oilman” as he sells himself to townships across the western parts of the United States. Quickly, his reputation attracts a soft-spoken, yet self-assured Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), who sells him information about the presence of oil bubbling up from the ground on his family’s ranch. When Daniel and his adopted son, H.W., travel up towards California to attempt to lay claim to the oil, Paul’s twin brother Eli (also Paul Dano) inserts himself as an adversarial player in Daniel’s exploits.
Unlike Daniel, Eli presents himself as a man of God. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed healer and minister of the town’s church, which, of course, is all a facade. Eli embodies the false shepherd trope, as his desire for influence and importance drives him to insert himself directly into the lives of his congregation and attempts to do the same to Daniel’s business. Eli does not respect the weakness of anyone and has learned to pray on the simplistic nature of those around him to get what he wants.
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most capable filmmakers of the past 25 years. His films possess this uncanny and hard-to-define quality that allows them to endure. Maybe it is just as simple as the fact that he makes good movies that people enjoy. But that simplicity does not do works like “There Will Be Blood” enough justice.
As the director, Anderson expertly crafts a dichotomy of his players, as they each bear striking similarities despite major deviations to their outward approaches. He shows us a power struggle that exists between the two men as they both play an analogous game. Their relationship with the town is merely performative, as they promise that they can guide this simple frontier community through difficult times. Eli promises he can cleanse them of sin and bring them towards God, while Daniel says he can make them all wealthy while developing schools and roads. But it is all a show. But while Eli views Daniel as a cunning competitor, Daniel sees Eli as nothing but pestilence.
Daniel is primal, violent, and ruthless. Watching the film, you get the feeling that he might believe he is the only real person in the world. Sure, he interacts with others, but he never really processes the humanity of any of them beyond his own utilitarian vision for their presence and labor. The film shows this on many occasions, the most striking being when his oil rig explodes lights the town on fire and deafens H.W., Daniel sees this as a blessing because it proves the oil is abundant and his for the taking.
H.W., whom Daniel adopted when his father, one of his nameless workers, died in one of his rigs, serves as his tether to humanity. He cared for him to the extent that he was capable, which is merely a fraction of what true compassion is for normal people. Daniel claims he was merely a prop used to convince prospective associates that he was a moral family man with good intentions, which could be interpreted as a defense mechanism of a man who refuses to make a connection with another person. But even by Daniel’s standards, he loved H.W. more than he’s ever cared for another person. And while H.W. does not have any of Daniel in him genetically, he is still willing to burn down their cabin with stoic, unfeeling eyes that can only exist in a being that was raised by a true psychopath.
In my opinion, the greatest complexity is that Daniel’s nature does not elude his own notice. He is well aware of what he is, which makes his actions even more dubious. A self-described angry man, full of envy, he openly says “I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.” This contrasts with Eli, who has convinced himself that he is as righteous and important as he sells himself to his congregation. In most instances of real life, “evil” players often share the same outlook as Eli. It takes a truly deviant personality to knowingly be a bad person like Daniel knows himself to be.
These characters, as well-written, as they are, reach consummate status because of the performances of the actors who embody the respective roles. Daniel Day-Lewis is the most decorated leading actor of any era of filmmaking, some claiming he gave a great performance isn’t exactly moving the needle. As Plainview, Day-Lewis reaches an immersive level that few film actors have come close to matching. When he says he is an “oilman” it can be taken literally. He emulates a vocal pattern of a deeper pitch than natural until it almost secretes the very petroleum he drills for. His skin is always shimmering above a thin film of black sludge that makes it seem as though he has been bathing in the wells of black gold. The totality of the character created by the filmmakers, spearheaded by Day-Lewis’s ability to totally immerse himself, produced a character that has built the legs that have carried the legacy of this film for the past 15 years and will continue to do so into the future.
Dano has the unenvious task of acting against Day-Lewis; a challenge he rises to meet. He plays two characters: the twin Sunday brothers, Paul and Eli. Although they never appear on-screen together, and Paul’s time is significantly less than Eli’s, his characters’ impacts on the story are wholly unique and essential. Furthermore, Dano’s meek guise, youthful face, and high-pitched voice are a harsh contrast to the outwardly poisonous persona that his costar wields. It is Dano’s physicality that helps his characters hide their true selfish and manipulative natures. They are weapons used to disarm his prey and hide the fact that he is a predator.
The beauty of watching movies is that there is no correct way to enjoy them. And the best films provide enough substance that you can appreciate the final product from a multitude of perspectives. If you love cinema for the technical aspects, such as sound or cinematography, “There Will Be Blood” will not disappoint you. The musical score is often used sparingly, with large chunks of living noise chosen over musical compositions. In this case, the quiet sets the tone and is just as powerful as a melodic composition would be. But when the music is utilized, the tension of the story is greatly enhanced. With every moment, the sound you hear transports you to the western frontier. The crackling of the wood or the pumping of the oil rigs all captures the idea of what a western should feel like. Likewise, the film is shot in such a stimulating way. Beautiful well-lit landscape shots are contrasted by shadowy intimate conversations, where soft lighting gracefully bounces off of dirty faces. These aspects tell an essential part of the story without any words.
“There Will Be Blood” speaks to me because it explores some of the themes that pique my interest the most. Religious exceptionalism and exploitation in particular are a phenomenon that Paul Thomas Anderson puts a tremendous emphasis on, and the depth at which this idea is explored provides multiple angles in which to dissect the moral implications of the actions depicted. Do all sins deserve forgiveness? Does religiosity equate to moral supremacy? Does a rejection of structural religion really signify freedom or cunning? Does a single bad-faith actor delegitimize the entirety of the idealism they carry with them? Is there more power to be had by thriving within a corrupted system than to existing alone outside of it? Anderson creates a film that compels you to ask these of yourself.
Given enough time, I could compile a list of superlatives to award this movie but rambling of that nature might actually deter engagement from the deeper conversations a film like “There Will Be Blood” deserves to be a part of. The truth is that the combination of acting, cinematography, music, costumes, set design, and writing all complement each other perfectly. Each element on its own is worthy of praise, but the way they fit together is what makes a film reach the caliber that this one achieved.
I give “There Will Be Blood” a solid “A*”.
*I want to change my rating system up from numbers to letter grades. In hindsight, the numbers I awarded in my old reviews don’t fit since I don’t have a structural rubric for how I came up with the numbers. This new system feels more appropriate for the subjective nature of my reviews.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson Rated: R Runtime: 2 Hours and 38 Minutes
There is a popular saying among Star Wars fans on the internet: “Nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans.” Despite the beloved franchise being one of the most commercially successful intellectual properties (IPs) in the world, the fandom has shed its once monolithic love for relatively uncivil factions. But this is not a phenomenon that arose with the Disney era. No, the herald of this venomous hostility was the Star Wars Prequels.
The Star Wars Prequels were once considered to be blasphemous creations that only served to accomplish George Lucas’s bloodlust for merchandising opportunities. The established fandom was overcome with a wave of disappointment that they interpreted as a personal afront of their senses and childhood dreams. It got so bad that they even made an entire movie about it!
In contrast, I, and many millennials alike, love the Prequels. To us, this is Star Wars. Now, a new wave of Star Wars disdain has spawned in the stratified fandom: hating the Disney Sequels. I have already expressed my thoughts on these films in previous blogs and reviews, so I will not beat a dead space horse there. But, in the spirit of intellectual honesty, I feel it is only right if I take a critical eye to the Prequels. Am I being unfair to the Sequels? Has nostalgia blinded me from being objective to the Prequels? Let’s take a look.
We need to eat our vegetables before we can move forward. The films in the Prequels are littered with unforced errors and questionable artistic choices. Many of the common criticisms dished out to these films include “the politics are boring”, “too much CGI”, “stiff, lifeless acting by everyone not named Ewan McGregor or Ian McDermid”, and “Jar Jar Binks” amongst others. If these issues ring true to your opinions, then they are real enough to consider. I am aiming to be as objective as possible, but I understand that if a subjective criticism is widespread enough, it can’t be ignored.
George Lucas has created this enticing universe for people to escape to. His ability to create and think with a “big picture” vision is unmatched. However, his skill as an actual director is still questionable at best. It is well-documented how the original Star Wars from 1977 was a mess that was re-stitched together in editing because the original cut was incoherent and poorly paced. Unfortunately, in the 22 years from the original to the creation of the prequels, Lucas never outgrew this issue and these films suffer heavily from it.
All three of the films have some pacing issues, with “Attack of the Clones” (AOTC) standing out as the most egregious violator. It takes over an hour and 10 minutes to finally be introduced to the main antagonist, Count Dooku. Meanwhile, the story meanders on Naboo while Anakin and Padme are awkwardly being forced into love, and we only really have fun with Obi-Wan.
Speaking of Obi-Wan, he is completely sidelined for a third of “The Phantom Menace” (TPM) when he is inexplicably forced to stay on the ship for the entire sequence on Tatooine. He is one of the three main characters of the prequels and is weirdly not present (even though he very much was able to be) when the other two meet each other and spend significant time getting to know each other. It could have added some much-needed depth to the relationship all three characters share. I happen to actually like the time we spend on Tatooine in TPM, but there is plenty George could have done to make those scenes add more to the story and while still making sense in the context of the film.
This pacing issue extends to “Revenge of the Sith” (ROTS). The original cut of that film was around four and a half hours. While the prospect of that much content in a Star Wars film undoubtedly intrigues me, no film should ever NEED to be that long to be complete (I’m looking at you “Justice League”). These are only three examples of this issue but if you look closer, you’ll see ample opportunities to sure up the pacing in the entire trilogy that many have accused of being slow and boring.
This is just a general overview of the issue, and with more time, we could dive into the details on a micro-level. But even in this lens, the overarching issue is still apparent.
This feels like something that wouldn’t be objective (because it really isn’t), but I’m including it because this is a special case. No one in the world believes that these scripts have natural-sounding dialogue in them. Yes, these characters exist in a different galaxy with different customs and social norms than we have. I can use my imagination to accept that to a degree. But there is a happy medium, and these films do not meet us there. “I don’t like sand” has become a meme at this point, but it is far from the only weird line of verbal communication that characters say.
I will concede that the vast majority of the criticisms of dialogue still come down to personal taste, and one could make an argument that bad acting is to blame. Did bad acting make these lines sound less human than they are, or did these weird lines sabotage capable acting? Maybe we will never know. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Either way, we need to acknowledge that these areas are almost universally identified as lacking and having ample room for improvement.
Weird Choices and Missed Opportunities
We have to acknowledge that there were some just odd choices made in the Prequels that certainly rubbed people the wrong way. Jar Jar Binks being one of the main characters was an odd choice, but I understand his role as a child-friendly comic relief character. Perhaps his antics could have been dialed down a bit, but we should also realize that not everything is created with you specifically in mind. I am sure some children love him, and for that, he works in TPM. But his role becomes less visible yet somehow more important in AOTC until he is relegated to a non-speaking role in ROTS. Instead of trying to improve the character, they decided to just bury him, which is a shame.
I think the strangest choice was making Anakin as young as he was in TPM. At that time, he was 9, and his eventual love interest, Padme was 14. Padme being a 14-year-old, yet also being the Democratically elected executive of an entire planet is weird as is, but it had to be done to keep her relatively close in age to Anakin so their love wouldn’t be that unreasonable. Unfortunately, the film relies heavily on the acting ability of a child actor, which isn’t fair to them. If he, Padme, and Obi-Wan were all young adults when they were introduced, their relationships with each other are given more room to exist without feeling so awkward.
Like with the last criticism, this isn’t an all-encompassing look at the problem. Even in this general bird’s eye view, we see that these issues are all self-created and could easily have been fixed with very few changes needing to be made to the subsequent films to make work. It is a shame because the alternatives feel like the better options, and we were given the lesser versions.
Relying on The Clone Wars Show
Undoubtedly, the biggest flaw of the Prequel Trilogy is that there is simply too much content for the three films to tell us by themselves, a trait that is shared with the Disney Sequels. Within the films, the Clone Wars was an idea that was more akin to a plot device than an actual aspect of the story. We don’t understand the threat of the separatists, who General Grievous is, or why the conflict matters at all. This is where the animated show “The Clone Wars” comes in. This show fills in all the gaps and adds so much more to the half-baked ideas that the films introduced but didn’t have enough time to flesh out on their own.
To a viewer who watches nothing but the films, Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, as well as his relationships with Obi-Wan and Padme, seem rushed and incomplete. The movies make it seem like Anakin was prone to getting angry, then he had a bad dream and got passed over for a promotion, so he decided to become a genocidal maniac. Ok, that might be an oversimplification, but it’s not too far from the truth. We really only get half of a film of Anakin and Obi-Wan looking like they could have appreciated each other’s company, and a few scenes of Anakin and Padme weirdly expressing love for each other they struggle to show in any other capacity.
The Clone Wars show makes us care about the clones, transforming them from limitless CGI renderings into individuals with varying viewpoints and moralities who end up being tragic pawns rather than unthinking peons. The show shows us the flaws of the Jedi Order, how they manipulate Anakin and force him into situations that make him question their morality. We understand that his fall was not sudden, but gradual and almost understandable. We see the separatists be a faction with legitimate qualms against a truly corrupt Republic. We see idealist Senators try to overcome the ever-increasing influence of a growing military state. Each aspect that comes up short in the films is expanded on satisfyingly. But, as great as this makes the overall story, it only emphasizes how incomplete the films are on their own.
Becoming More than a Trilogy
While that might make it seem as if the Prequels are a mess, nothing is fatal. The saving grace of the Prequels is that the story, despite not being fleshed out enough, is a coherent narrative. The skeletal structure of the trilogy is consistent and never loses its message (something the Sequels fail at). That is why the additions “The Clone Wars” show supplement them with work so well. But all that means is that the trilogy has hit the bare minimum of acceptability. That would hardly constitute them as good films. So, do the Prequels do enough, if anything, to overcome their obvious issues? To me, the answer is a resounding yes!
The Prequels tell a story that is far larger than either of its companion trilogies attempt to tell. As far as storytelling goes, these films focus on the macro, using the micro-stories to supplement the big picture. The priority in these stories is to tell the story of the Star Wars galaxy knowing that all of these characters play roles in executing the story. In this capacity, we can view the story itself as the main character, and every other character as serving a supporting role. We still get to learn about these individuals, but they have a responsibility to the plot first-and-foremost. This contrasts with the Original Trilogy and the Sequel Trilogy. In those films, the only reason we care about the grand conflicts is that we are invested in the individual characters.
The difference between the two styles can be jarring, and in retrospect, it is likely why many people said the Prequels didn’t “feel like Star Wars” upon their release. But the result of this is that we are introduced to a far larger universe than we got in either of those trilogies. We are exposed to worlds and biomes, hosting a variety of species and cultures. It is in the Prequels that Star Wars grew from relatively insular, to expansive. For many fans, our imaginations were supercharged with the introductions of new worlds, Jedi at their physical peaks, and weird aliens that weren’t bound to the limits of the practical effects of the time.
We should acknowledge that this type of storytelling is incredibly difficult to pull off. Most entities aren’t allotted the patience to be so big-picture-focused. The Prequels needed the Original Trilogy to establish the base that it rests on. I fully understand that despite being later stories chronologically, the Original Trilogy is essential for getting us invested in the world and allowing the story a chance to expand. Now, conflicts encompass multiple planets at once and our main characters do not need to all be sharing the same cockpit to be involved in important actions. They all can be at different places in the galaxy impacting events from multiple angles. For the first time in Star Wars, it feels like there are more than five or so people who matter.
To add on this, the visual effects, especially in ROTS, are so detailed and filled out and the world building becomes more intricate as a result. The advancements of technology for the time allowed for these films to truly push the boundaries of what a film could look like. And, while this might be controversial, I also think the music of the Prequels is easily the best of any era. Obviously, we can all disagree, but John Williams, to me, created his best work in these films. I will always associate the choir he incorporates with what Star Wars means on a visceral level. The final product is a scopious change to the Star Wars story, mythos, and feel.
You can be the judge if you think this is fair or not, but the Prequels set the bones in place for a larger, total story within the Prequels era. While the incomplete nature of the Prequels as films is inescapable, so is too the expansive foundation they established. “The Clone Wars” show is not one of these films, but with its addition, turns these films from ambitious ideas with insufficient execution to a vast era of cohesive and deep stories. To many fans, myself included, you cannot judge the Prequels alone. The story is not finished with the films and there is far more to say.
But let’s be fair. I did say that if a story needs four and a half hours to be told correctly, something is wrong with it. The Prequels are not exempt from this criticism. They have plenty of room for improvement in this matter. But the content is all there, it just needs to be reorganized a bit.
Many of the most moving elements in all of Star Wars are present exclusively in the Prequels. Order 66, Duel of the Fates, Anakin versus Obi-Wan, the clone army on Kamino, the Battle of Geonosis… We have none of these moments that have momentous implications on the grand story without the Prequels.
My beloved Prequels were afforded their chances at redemption and their legacy has been dramatically improved because of it, and I hope the Sequels are allotted their opportunity as well. For the many flaws those films have, if they make even one person feel as passionately about Star Wars as the Prequels did to me, then I consider them successful. It is my hope that in time the flaws of those films are not forgotten, but that the work is put into fix them, the way “The Clone Wars” filled in the Prequels.
And so, this is the legacy of the Prequels. They are three films that shepherd the narrative in ambitious directions, even if they need some outside help along the way. To many, these are the most invigorating movies of the saga, pushing our imagination far beyond what came before it. They aimed very high, and even if they never quite reached their own lofty expectations, they ultimately laid the groundwork for Star Wars to continue to grow in more creative ways.
*** I want to address something. I have felt lost for some time. The joy I used to feel when it comes to watching and analyzing films has withered away under the pressures of real life. What makes this so difficult is that I am very aware of my stagnation, justifying the dulling of my passion as just the nature of the world we live in. Growing up is tough, and over the past 2 years or so, it has kicked my ass. By conventional measures, I was doing ok, but I had grown stagnant and aimless. I hope this can be the first step I can take in shedding this burden of apathy I desperately want to outgrow. ***
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
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!
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.