Category Archives: Film Reviews

“Just Mercy” reflects on racial injustice

Korri Palmer

Senior Staff Writer

Warning: Spoilers ahead

On most Tuesdays, I attempt to either do homework like every other Wooster student, hopefully, or I challenge myself to participate in self-care. Last Tuesday, thanks to the Allen Scholar Committee, I was able to attend the movies with four other students to watch the new film “Just Mercy.” The film encapsulates the journey of Bryan Stevenson, a defense attorney with a passion for appealing convictions of prisoners on death row. This film was riveting, and motivating, yet heartbreaking. You should really believe that coming from me because I never cry during movies, but last Tuesday, I was bawling my eyes out.

Why am I, a heartless Capricorn, crying in the theater? Well, let me provide context. With Michael B. Jordan — Hollywood’s go-to black protagonist — as the lead, we, as an audience, are taken into the deep south of Alabama to be immediately placed in the environment where black men faced death row at an alarmingly high rate. At first, I thought the movie would spare me the gut feeling of pain that most mov- ies related to civil rights do. But the most life-changing scene, in my opinion, was in combination with an immense amount of pain. Through Stevenson’s fight to establish himself as a respectable defense attorney, he picks up Herbert Richardson and Walter McMillan as his first clients. At the time, both black men are prisoners on death row.

As the film takes us through the process of appealing a case, we are exposed to the PTSD that Richardson faces after serving in the Vietnam War. This mental illness led him to murder a young woman, and as he was opposed to getting the medical help he needed, he was sentenced to death. The climax of the film occurs when Herbert is executed via electric chair. While the scene is horrifying because the electric chair seems like a torture tactic, it also feeds into the de- humanization many prisoners, especially people of color, face within the American prison industrial complex.

Anyways, back to the film. At this point I am shaking with rage, the tears are welling but not falling as we witness the pain Stevenson and McMillan face after Herbert’s execution. To simply fast forward, Mc- Millan’s case is reopened due to the fact that he is clearly innocent of the Ronda Morrison murder and the charges against him are dropped lead- ing to his freedom (this is not a spoiler since it’s history folks, so don’t get mad at me). Even though McMillan is free and the loud orchestra in the background is signifying the moment as one that is rejoiceful, I could not help but finally let my tears fall. For all the pain that falsely accused prisoners have to face and the death and punishment they must endure, they deserve so much more than one overturned conviction.

I am honestly unsure that the lives lost due to the racial injustices brought to light through this film can be made up for. I feel those mistakes simply have to lay on our consciousness as a reminder that playing God has consequences — especially when we are wrong. So, in the end, it is simply better to just have mercy.

Top Ten movies of 2019

Colin Tobin

2019 was an amazing year for movies, and I had a really tough time making this list. Before I start with my list, I wanted to give credit to some honorable mentions. These are movies that I really loved but I just couldn’t fit into the top 10. They include: “Honey Boy,” “Little Women,” “The Lighthouse,” “Avengers: Endgame” and “The Irishman.”

10. “Ford v Ferrari” – I honestly didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. The stakes in the race at the end feel so high because you become so invested in the characters.

9. “Joker” – This film takes the comic-book genre and flips it on its head. The Joker’s morally ambiguous origin story lends itself well to the “Taxi Driver”/“King of Comedy”-esque narrative. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score are two of the year’s best in their respective fields. I hope DC contin- ues their trend of taking risks and giving directors creative freedom.

8. “Rocketman” – “Rocketman” is a wholly original take on the mu- sic biopic infusing the normal ele- ments of a biopic with fitting mu- sical numbers. It never holds back in its brutally honest portrayal of Elton John’s life and never would have worked without the acting and vocal talent of Taron Edgerton.

7. “1917” – This is one of the most technically impressive films I’ve ever watched. Just trying to think of how to direct, create sets for, write and edit a movie made to look like one continuous shot gives me a headache. If Roger Deakins doesn’t win an Oscar for his cinematography, the entire voting process is a sham.

6. “Knives Out” — I think it’s really cool when you’re able to notice that everyone involved in a movie had a really fun time making it, and “Knives Out” is a perfect example in its finished product. By the end, the film knows how clever it is, and it’s almost showing off. All in all, just a great time at the movies.

5. “Jojo Rabbit” – I never thought I’d see a day where a story following a boy in the Hitler Youth with Adolf Hitler as his imagi- nary best friend be one of the funniest and most heartfelt films of the year. Director Taika Waititi finds the perfect balance of come- dic and genuine human moments.

4. “Parasite” – This is a powerful, suspenseful and darkly comedic commentary on the wealth gap in South Korea. The way that the events of the sto- ry unfold are extremely clev- erly written and to quote the film: “It’s so metaphorical!”

3. “Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood” – Even my fourth or fifth favorite Tarantino movie is still one of my favorites of the year. The plot is less about reaching some sort of end-goal than it is just hanging out with DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters. Both DiCaprio and Pitt are hilarious together in what might be my favorite roles from each of them. It also features possibly my favorite ending to a movie this year.

2. “Uncut Gems” – The Safdie Brothers have crafted an intense environment of high-anxiety, adrenaline-fueled chaos with its sound design and editing. By the time the film was over and I was leaving the theater, I felt like a hostage being freed from cap- tors, in the best way possible. Besides, Adam Sandler deserved way more recognition than he got; he’s genuinely fantastic in this movie.

1. “Marriage Story” – I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me. But seriously, the last five minutes is what made this my #1. Its portrayal of divorce shows how in the aftermath, the worst can be brought out of both people, de- spite there still being love between them. It really bums me out that Adam Driver is (probably) going to lose Best Actor to the clown.

The new “Joker” highlights a different side of the character

Elena Morey

Senior A&E Writer

2019 was overtaken by strong films, but none more anticipated than “Joker.” Produced by Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver, the film is based on the DC Comics character, the Joker (played by awardwinning Joaquin Phoenix). The film stayed true to some DC canon and the infamous smiling clown himself. It is set in 1981 Gotham City, and follows character Arthur Fleck on a journey of slow-burning insanity and mental health struggles which form the basis of his transformation. However, the film never ties directly into the Batman canon, as Fleck is much older than the appearing Bruce Wayne, only a small child when he comes face-to-face with the Joker in one scene.

Despite the obvious displaced time line for the characters, the film highlights significant questions around the psyche of the character, the Joker, and how the city itself creates him. Phillips and Silver really pressed audiences with the many questions they raised in the film. Fleck struggles with mental illness and flashbacks of his abusive upbringing. He takes care of his elderly mother who is trapped in a delusion that Fleck discovers is indeed false. After realizing his entire life and existence is troubled and riddled with pain, Fleck descends into the classic madness and insanity Batman’s worst enemy becomes known for. As a DC nerd and huge fan, watching Fleck begin to symbolize the Joker and grow closer to the character I loved in the comics was creating the fantasy the pages placed in my mind as I rooted for Batman.

One of the most significant aspects of the film is Fleck’s mental illness and his depression. It is revealed that he is seeking professional help and is on “seven medications.” However, due to his poverty and city-wide budget cuts, he no longer can see his therapist or receive the proper medications. Fleck falls victim to his own mind, and throughout the film becomes the classic character with the painted smile. Most importantly, the audience follows Fleck through his evolving mind set about the world around him and how he goes through life unnoticed. In his struggle and search for himself, and to be seen, to feel alive for once, he becomes the Joker and forms a city-wide movement.

At the end of the fantastically shot and acted film, one is left with more questions than answers about the DC character. As a die-hard fan, I found many issues with the suggested character Arthur Fleck being the Joker. However, the writers use him to ask the question, “Is the Joker a symbol that can be worn by anyone?” Clearly, Fleck cannot be the Joker to face the Batman due to his age, but he creates the identity which I believe is passed down to the eventual Clown Prince of Crime. Furthermore, with Fleck’s mental illness, one may wonder if everything in the film actually occurred at all. Were the riots and the character the Joker all in his head? For audience members who pay close attention to the subtler hints, that question becomes one that presides over the entire film. To each their own, regarding the film “Joker.” It is beautifully done and deserves serious contemplation about the state of our current society as well as some of the other serious themes the film brings to light. It is crude in its honesty, but the truths cannot be ignored.

“Cats” (2019) is a baffling but entertaining experience

Emma Busch

Contributing Writer

As someone who has always loved anything related to cats, whether it was the Warriors book series or “The Aristocats,” I felt a sense of obligation to see the new “Cats” movie, directed by Tom Hooper, despite how cringey the trailer looked. I had seen the musical when I was younger so I already knew that the entire concept of the story is abnormal. After seeing both the show and the movie, I still cannot exactly define what a Jellicle cat is or where they go when they win the Jellicle Ball despite there being an entire song about it.

The basic plot of “Cats” is hard to summarize. The movie consists of various cats introducing themselves through song as they compete in front of Old Deuteronomy, the wise leader of the Jellicle cats played by Judy Dench, at the Jellicle Ball. The performing cats include Theatre Cat Gus (Ian McKellen), an older washed up performer; Bustopher Jones (James Corden), a cat with the goal to gain as much weight as possible; and Macavity (Idris Elba), a mysterious and sinister cat plotting to win the ball on unfair terms. The basic concept of the plot does not change much between the musical and the movie, so why was the movie given such terrible criticism while the musical was wildly popular in the ’80s (maybe because it was the ’80s)?

Perhaps the reason the movie was more jarring than the show for me is because traditionally, theatre tends to be more avantgarde and out of the box with the costumes and songs. The wardrobe team has to use more creativity to create the characters without the use of CGI and special effects. The movie version of “Cats” was able to use CGI, but this may have been to their disadvantage. As far as criticisms and reactions to the movie, the CGI was one of the first negatives people pointed out. It is hard not to react to the CGI immediately because it is in your face throughout the movie. The entire concept of humans acting as cats is already a little strange, but the CGI puts it over the edge. Where the costumes for the musical create the effect of cats, the CGI attempts to bring so much realism into it that the humancat hybrids look even more unnatural. Something about the actors’ cat ears and tails twitching as they talk is incredibly unnerving and even worse are the CGI cockroaches and mice with human faces that dance during Rebel Wilson’s song (until she eats them). While an important part of acting is taking on the mannerisms of your subject, watching humans take on feline habits, such as nuzzling faces instead of hugging, combined with the creepy CGI made me regret sitting in the front row of the movie theater.

Despite all these reasons to hate the movie, I left the theater pleased that I saw “Cats.” It is a mess, but the most extravagant and elaborate mess. The dancing and the songs and the baffling number of celebrities that agreed to be in the movie bring a sense of celebration to the experience. Some of the performances could even be categorized as charming. The character of the magical Mr. Mistoffelees, a magician cat that wears a top hat throughout the movie, gives the audience a character to root for as he bumbles through his magic. Additionally, the roles of the leads are filled by talented performers like Francesca Hayward and Laurie Davidson, who plays Mr. Mistoffelees. Their energy and exuberant dancing give the movie life and create an element for the audience to enjoy. Their performances manage to surpass the creepy effects of the CGI, an achievement that deserves some kind of film award.

Will I watch “Cats” again? No, I certainly hope not. Do I regret seeing it? Not at all. The absurdity and extravagance alone make it worth the watch. I am unable to categorize “Cats” as either a good or a bad movie because it transcends any rating system I would usually have for a movie. I would recommend giving it a watch, if only to be able to say you have experienced this undeniably memorable movie.

The new “Breaking Bad” film Brings perfect closure

Colin Tobin

Disclaimer: This re- view contains spoilers for the “Breaking Bad” series.

“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” was written and directed by “Breaking Bad” show-runner Vince Gilligan. It stars Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons and Robert Forster, along with a few other cast members from the origi- nal show. It is a continuation of character Jesse Pinkman’s escape from law enforcement and picks up directly after the series finale.

Over the past six weeks or so, I finally watched all of “Break- ing Bad” after hearing nothing but good things about it for the past few years. To give my quick thoughts on the series: Vince Gil- ligan is a genius, Bryan Crans- ton gives one of the best perfor- mances of all time, in television or film, as Walter White and it really is one of the best (if notthe best) show I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t really see any problems withhow“BreakingBad”ended. Walter’s poetic death in the lab and Jesse’sliberationfromNeo-Nazi meth dealers was perfect. Initially, Ididn’tevenknowifIwantedto watch“ElCamino”infearthatit would somehow ruin what good graces everything ended on. I liked how “Breaking Bad’s” end- ing was ambiguous with Jesse’s escape.Itallowedtheaudienceto come up with our own thoughts on where he ended up. With allofthisinmind,Icangladly say that “El Camino” is great.

It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point to hear that Aaron Paul was great once again as Jesse. It’s im- possible to envision anyone other than Paul portraying him. This moviealsodoesagreatjobwith wrapping up secondary char- acters, the best being in a small exchangethatJessehaswithhis friend Skinny Pete early on. A good bit of the film is told through flashbacks from when Jesse was still being held captive. During these flashbacks, Todd, played by Jesse Plemons, doesn’t do him- self any more favors in the ‘hu- manized, good guy’ department.

My only real ‘flaw’ with “El Camino” is that it doesn’t nec- essarily feel like a movie. The budget is clearly bigger than any episode from the series, but it doesn’t feel very cinematic or like an experience that felt the need to be seen in a the- ater. It’s more like a two-hour long episode of “Breaking Bad,” which isn’t a bad thing at all.

This movie made me remem- ber all the things I love about the character Jesse Pinkman. Even though he was once a drug-addicted meth cook who’s made numerous mistakes, you could always tell that he was a genuinely good person. I really loved that “El Camino” focused on just Jesse. Even with all of his screen time in “Breaking Bad,” he was always secondary to Walter. Everything about “El Camino” is bittersweet, down to the Jesse’s final on-screen catch-phrase: “Yeah bitch!”

So, does this movie really need to exist? No. Does it add that much onto the series? Not really. Should they ever make another movie about Jesse? No. But is it nice to see how Jesse’s story ended? Of course it is.

Insanity sells: Portraying mental health In a new way

Korri Palmer

I first met the Joker through “The Dark Knight,” as most partially committed comic/super- hero fans do. I may be biased, but the Joker is the best supervillain to ever exist. He gives very little backstory to examine his insanity, but just enough for fans to desire a solo movie. This year, we (partial and fully committed Joker fans) got what we’ve been asking for: the “Joker” movie. Through watch- ing Batman over the years, fans can expect some of the Joker’s in- sanity to be explained in the film, but with the recent importance that has been placed on men- tal health, some people say that the film was too much to handle.

I think that this film provides the perspective of the mentally ill, and the creators of this film did a great job of providing a first and third person view of the Joker’s character throughout the film. They touched on mental illness being hereditary, even though we later discovered that the Joker is adopted. This was shown through his relationship of his mother who showed symptoms of anxiety and relied on the Joker to be her main caretaker. They also acknowledged the mistreatment and ostracization that people can face from society when they are having to explain their mental health in public spaces. This was shown through the Jok- er’s medical issue with uncontrol- lable laughter, which led to others bullying him on a consistent basis.

There often is not a conversation around the fear that people face af- ter they are diagnosed with a men- tal illness. The fear is that if they tell people about it, then they will be treated differently. It is almost as if all of a person’s credibility disappears if they suffer from a mental illness, and that a part of them will always be broken. I feel that the Joker’s breaking point was when he finally got tired of being the victim for having one element of himself that he couldn’t control.

As humans, we are no stranger to flaws, yet we always judge peo- ple when we discover their’s. Even if we are open about our flaws, as the Joker is about his mental illness, people view that as a weakness to capitalize on. Through all the bul- lying, bruised ribs and misunder- standings, it is understandable that the Joker eventually “lost it” and re- alistically had a mental breakdown.

Although I don’t have the urge to brutally stab someone when I am stressed about everything in life or want to shoot someone after jump- ingmeonatrain,apartof meun- derstands the Joker’s struggle. All of us want to live in a fantasy world where we meet the love of our life or finally are considered talented for our jokes, but that’s not real- ity. We all want to be understood and maybe a little coddled when we find out that something is wrong with us that we cannot easily re- pair, but that is hardly ever the case.

I think the “Joker” film intro- duces us to a hard truth that we as humanity do not want to face. We do not want to face that we all have flaws. We all have pasts that come with dark secrets and dam- age. Lastly, we all must accept the fact that mental health issues do not make anyone less human and we have the power to make sure that people are aware of that truth.