Just Mercy Review

by Theo Sloan


December 17, 2021

Just Mercy is a 2019 biopic about the incredible story of Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard Law School graduate, who worked in Alabama to pardon wrongly convicted death row prisoners and went on to start the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson is incredible, and his list of accomplishments is vast. Just Mercy tells the story of his efforts to get one man—Walter McMillan—off death row, but that truly is the tip of an enormous and impressive iceberg. In fact, I’m linking the Wikipedia article about him, and I encourage you to go give it a look, because he is absolutely worth learning about.

Normally in these reviews, I try to be a little coy about what my opinions are, but I’m not going to do this here. I think Just Mercy is a masterpiece, and I’m going to tell you why. This will not be a review with two sections, one for positives and one for negatives; rather, this will be a long rant about why I think Just Mercy is a fantastic drama and why you should watch it.

The first thing I’d like to discuss is the acting, because it is straight up amazing from the beginning to the end. This film’s three main stars are Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson, and all three of them give the best performances I have ever seen them give. To be fair, I have not watched every movie that these extremely talented and prolific actors have been in, but I’ve seen a fair number, and Just Mercy blows all of them out of the water.

Brie Larson is probably the least interesting to talk about here. She’s just very good in this film, as I’ve come to expect from an actress of her talent and caliber. There’s one outstanding scene near the beginning in which she does a fantastic job expressing panic and terror, but other than that, she’s just very good. I say “just” because there’s less to unpack with her performance than there is with the other two. Please do not mistake this as me being dismissive of her or her performance in this movie. She is incredibly talented, and she does a genuinely great job at playing Eva Ansley, who co-founded the Equal Justice Initiative with Stevenson.

Michael B. Jordan is the film’s lead. He plays Bryan Stevenson, and he knocks it out of the park. He spends a lot of time in this film acting with just his facial expressions. A single look from him can speak volumes about what his character is thinking and feeling, and I think that that is one of the greatest things an actor can do. He has to convey so many different emotions throughout the duration of the movie, and he shifts among them flawlessly. I honestly cannot think of a single moment throughout the film when I wasn’t completely sucked into his character and the story he conveys through his performance.

However, this movie’s absolute standout performance comes from Jamie Foxx as Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian. It is hard to put into words how powerful I found his performance to be. Just think about everything I said about Michael B. Jordan, and then think about what it means that Jamie Foxx did an even better job than he does. Foxx is that good. I’ll just leave it at that. Watch the movie to fully understand what I’m saying.

I also need to give a brief mention to Rob Morgan, who gives another brilliant performance as Herbert Richardson, another death row prisoner. He’s not nearly as present in the film as Foxx and Jordan are, but he makes every little moment count. There is a scene near the middle of the movie, which is about four minutes of him just acting with his face, and that, combined with literally everything else about the scene—the framing, the score, the writing, the content—brought me to tears. It is hard to put into words how much that scene resonated with me, but trust me when I say that it takes a fair amount to make me cry during a movie. That scene was just amazing.

In fact, while we’re here, I need to give a quick shout-out to the score, because not only is it incredible, but the way that the score is used is equally well done, not only during that one scene with Morgan, but throughout the rest of the movie as well. I tip my hat to Joel P. West, who did a really outstanding job here.

Next up, I think it’s important to talk about the writing. The script is very good. The dialogue is tightly written and hard-hitting, and the story, while a tad generic by genre standards, is completely redeemed in my eyes because it’s based on a true story, and a very important one at that. A lot of critics apparently docked points from this movie for having the structure of a slightly generic, if superbly written, legal drama, but I just don’t see that as being a negative. It’s a true story. Should they have changed it to make it less “predictable”? Of course not! That critique doesn’t work for me, and I never found myself objecting to the story, regardless of its “originality,” because I was sufficiently impressed by the frankly incredible true story that I was experiencing.

Lastly, I think it’s worth mentioning that the cinematography in this movie is shockingly good for a biopic legal drama. There’s a lot of very interesting establishing shots and transitions, and there’s one segment that uses a television in a very engaging way. That scene that made me cry had top notch cinematography as well.

Just Mercy is an emotionally resonant legal drama based on a true story about an incredibly inspiring person. It has top-notch writing, even better acting, and surprisingly memorable cinematography. I found myself absolutely hooked from the moment I started watching to the moment the credits began to roll, and I think I would be doing this film an absolute disservice if I gave it anything less than a 10/10.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review

by Christian Asdourian


December 17, 2021

Back in April when the first Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) trailer was released, my initial impression was that the movie was being set up to fail. How could a street-level martial arts movie compare to the massive scale of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019)? Fast forward five months, and I’m walking out of the cinema thinking, “Wow, I’ve never been so wrong in my life.” After rewatching it recently, my love for this film was only reaffirmed. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a masterpiece that beautifully melds action, comedy, and a genuine sense of adventure. More importantly than that, however, it manages to cultivate a unique identity in the vast and ever-growing Marvel mythos.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who is credited with pioneering Asian representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). He draws on the rich history of Chinese culture to tell a compelling story about family. Our leading character is Shaun, or more accurately Shang-Chi, who is played by Simu Liu. I remember that in the weeks leading up to the film’s release in theatres, the press surrounding the movie wasn’t very strong. Liu saw this oversight and decided to raise awareness and excitement for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings himself using his platform on social media. You could tell that he was very passionate about this film, and you can see that throughout all of his scenes. The supporting cast also brought their A-game to provide captivating performances. Awkwafina plays Katy, who is the comedic heart of the movie. She gets dragged into Shang-Chi’s past life as a human weapon and learns about his complicated family drama. Speaking of family, Meng’er Zhang plays Xialing, Shang-Chi’s younger sister, who makes a life for herself out of nothing after she was abandoned. I won’t go any deeper into her character because of spoilers, but her unique fighting style and cool presence makes a terrific foil to Shang-Chi’s warmness. And of course, I absolutely have to mention Xu Wenwu, known as the Mandarin, who is played by veteran actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai. Personally, I think that Wenwu is the strongest character in this movie and definitely one of the best villains we’ve seen in the MCU. 

The plot begins when Wenwu forces his children, Shang-Chi and Xialing, to return home with him. From there, we learn about how the relationships between family members fell apart, which contextualizes the inevitable confrontation between father and child. From there on is spoiler territory, so I have to be vague with my descriptions. The final act takes place in a visually unique and stunning setting, where the true colors of every major character are revealed. 

Here I’ll cover the few dislikes I had with the movie, and I’ll be using details that might spoil key parts about the plot. I think more could have been done with Xialing’s arc over the course of the movie. She had a strong introduction, but that momentum sort of falters in the second act, where she should have had more character moments to show the deeper parts of her character. I’m glad she’s able to reconcile with Shang-Chi in the climax of the movie, which completes her arc. The film also leaves the door open for Xialing’s next major phase, which will hopefully be explored more thoroughly in a confirmed spin-off series. My other major grievance is that in the final act of the movie, the unique identity of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings falters and feels like just another Marvel movie. I won’t get into too much detail, but another world-ending threat with a large-scale but impersonal battle feels out of place in this film. It doesn’t bother me too much, however, since the filmmakers and actors are able to masterfully weave the theme of family into the finale while still giving a satisfying resolution to the dysfunctional dynamic of Shang-Chi’s family.

There is a lot to love about this film, and I doubt I can get into all of it with the amount of detail that it deserves, so I’ll stick to the major points. The action in this movie is so well-choreographed and put together that it makes me question how it is even possible. In the months between my first watch and my rewatch, I could recall how every major action sequence played out in great detail, because they were simply that memorable. And don’t even get me started on the soundtrack. The artists from 88rising really put their hearts into these songs, and it shows. I highly recommend everyone to give the soundtrack a listen. Shang-Chi is a very strong leading character, and I’m excited to see Simu return to play him in future projects. However, my favorite character is definitely Wenwu. In no small part is it due to Leung’s amazing performance as a vicious warlord, a loving husband and father, and an empty husk of his former self. He demands attention in every scene he is present in, and thankfully he’s given enough time in the spotlight to develop his character. I also appreciate how complete the film felt as a whole. Of course, there are post-credit scenes setting up sequels and spin-offs, not to mention the build-up toward another, bigger threat. But none of that impedes the story this film is trying to tell. The goal of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is simply to tell a story about a family, and even if all of these characters are newcomers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it really feels like they’ve been here since the beginning. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings may have been the kick-off to the next phase of Marvel’s machinations, but I don’t really have anything to say about the future of the MCU. I mean, if this is the starting point, I can’t imagine what heights will be reached in the future. Not only that, but I’m happy to say that the Shang-Chi franchise won’t be falling by the wayside anytime soon when big names such as the Avengers inevitably return. The overwhelming success of this movie shows that household names aren’t required to break the box office. I hope we can see more unique and diverse stories like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings carved into the MCU in the future. Until then, I’m more than happy to experience this movie over and over again.


Eternals Review

by Therese Askarbek


December 17, 2021

Recently, the newest Marvel movie, Eternals, directed by Chloe Zhao (of Nomadland fame) came out. A lot of controversy has surrounded this film: it is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie to receive a rotten Rotten Tomatoes score of 48%. The 157-minute movie follows ten “Eternals”—Ajak, Sersi, Ikaris, Kingo, Sprite, Phastos, Makkari, Druig, Gilgamesh, and Thena—who are sent to Earth by a mysterious Celestial being, Arishem, to kill all of the monsters, or Deviants, terrorizing the humans. The Eternals finally exterminate them all in 1521 and spend the next five-hundred years on Earth apart, waiting for Arishem to give them further instructions. The film spends some time giving context, introducing the Eternals and where they are in the present day, before it establishes the initial conflict: the Deviants have come back. Plot twists, impressive displays of skill, and visually stunning action scenes ensue. In this sense, this film follows the typical Marvel movie structure. 

I’ll start off by saying that this movie does not deserve such a low score across the board. That being said, there are aspects of the film that seem underdeveloped and lacking. The comedy in the movie consisted of easy one-liners sprinkled sparingly throughout. Most of it occured in the interactions between Kingo, played by Kumail Nanjiani, and Karun, played by Harish Patel. It wasn’t set up well like in Thor: Ragnarok, or sarcastic and dry like in Iron Man, or endearingly funny like in either of the newest Spider-Man movies. It didn’t bring anything noteworthy or distinctive in terms of humor to the table, which is something that I personally enjoy most in MCU films. Another aspect that I found lacking was the progression of the movie. It seemed very slow in the first half and only started to pick up a little in the second half before the abrupt and anticlimactic ending. The action scene had no real “Wow, that was awesome!” moments and wasn’t memorable. 

The cinematography was aesthetically pleasing, and Zhao’s insistence on filming in real places rather than using computer-generated imagery (CGI) definitely was a great artistic choice. Faced with the daunting task of introducing and developing ten new characters while also progressing the plot, Zhao gave each character their moment to shine and clearly developed each and every one of them. The plot also stayed cohesive and didn’t stray far from the goal, which kept me captivated throughout. The all-around diversity is very important, and it didn’t seem forced. One of the reasons the movie got such a low score was because people had an issue with the representation, whether they thought it was forced or unnecessary. Because the Eternals don’t technically have human ethnicities, and they aren’t mentioned at all throughout the movie, it seems that reviewers might just be projecting their own discomfort with seeing people who aren’t as represented in mainstream media on the big screen. I also enjoyed the fact that this movie, more than previous MCU films, focused more on the emotional, heartfelt moments of the human experience. It dealt with questioning identity, finding a purpose, coping with loss, and other non-otherworldly matters.  

Overall, the new perspective that Zhao brought to the MCU and her execution of it was a great addition to this year’s Marvel catalog. The movie was enjoyable, had a great star-studded cast, and had me rooting for the protagonists. I would definitely recommend watching it over the holidays with family or friends, if for no other reason than to watch Angelina Jolie stab a Deviant.

The Suicide Squad Review

by Allie Vasserman


November 23, 2021

The Suicide Squad (2021) is a DC Comics movie directed by the brilliant James Gunn.  Those who saw the trailers for this movie will recognize the main cast, which consists of Joel Kinnaman starring as Colonel Rick Flag, Idris Elba as Bloodsport, Margot Robbie as the wonderfully crazy Harley Quinn, John Cena as the Peacemaker, Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2, Sylvester Stallone as the lovable King Shark, David Dastmalchian as Polka Dot Man, Peter Capaldi as the Thinker, and Viola Davis as the ruthless Amanda Waller.

At the beginning of the movie, Amanda Waller and Colonel Rick Flag recruit the convicted old and new Suicide Squad members for another suicide mission. The introduction and recruitment of the Suicide Squad is short and quickly brings the viewer up to speed. Amanda instructs Bloodsport and his team to infiltrate the Corto Maltese government facility to destroy all information on a secret weapon known as Project Starfish. At the same time, she instructs Rick Flag to lead another team that includes Harley Quinn. To reveal what happens next would spoil the movie. The movie starts out with a huge number of superhero villains; during the course of the movie, some characters are injured, betrayed, kidnapped, and killed.

James Gunn directed the first and second Guardians of the Galaxy movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After watching this movie, the audience will see how toned-down the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are in comparison. Gunn clearly had more freedom to go less family-friendly for The Suicide Squad, which references some dark themes, including post-traumatic stress disorder. It is very bloody and gruesome—several characters die horrible and painful deaths—but it also has hilarious and meaningful dialogues and moments that make it really fun to watch. There are no slow or boring scenes in the movie. James Gunn also includes many hidden references and Easter eggs that fans of the Suicide Squad will surely notice. 

I especially like that the movie continues Harley Quinn’s character arc. Her dialogue and actions show that she has grown since Birds of Prey: Harley Quinn. There is a particular, beautifully filmed scene of violence, in which Harley goes on a killing spree. Harley stabs a person and when she does, instead of blood squirting out of the wounds, animated petals and birds appear. I think the scene shows that Harley sees beauty even in moments of violence and death. I also like the energetic soundtrack, which I think fits the movie perfectly. 

Some characters’ deaths made me feel sad, while others’ didn’t have much of an effect on me. Some squad members, such as King Shark and Ratcatcher 2, have great chemistry with each other. Their relationship is incredibly wholesome and heartwarming to see. And there is a post-credits scene that reveals the identity of the character who stars in an upcoming HBO Max TV show.

The Suicide Squad is not for those who don’t want to watch violent scenes, but if you don’t mind the violence and are curious to see James Gunn’s version of DC’s The Suicide Squad, I definitely recommend watching this movie.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage Review

by Christian Asdourian


October 30, 2021

If Marvel’s newest blockbuster had to be described in a few words, ironically enough, I would say “pure carnage.” At the start of the month, I went to see this movie with relatively low expectations in terms of story. The appeal of the film mostly stems from people’s love for the characters and the interactions the characters share with each other. After all, this is what made the first Venom (2018) movie so enjoyable for me. Fortunately, the people behind the movie understood this, and capitalized on it in this sequel. Every good aspect of the original is turned up to eleven in Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021), and I’m all here for it.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is October’s newest entry to the Marvel mythos. Directed by Andy Serkis, the film centers on two primary conflicts, one internal and one external. The dynamic duo, Eddie Brock (played by Tom Hardy) and Venom (also voiced by Tom Hardy) find themselves in a bit of a lover’s quarrel. Both partners find it rather difficult to coexist with each other, whether it be as two separate entities or as the Lethal Protector himself. As if that wasn’t already enough, the antagonists of the film, Carnage (played and voiced by Woody Harrleson) and his partner in crime, Shriek (played by Naomie Harris) escape from prison with the goal of wreaking havoc. Eddie and Venom must set aside their differences and work together once again to survive their inevitable collision with some of the craziest Marvel characters ever to appear on the silver screen.

Now I’d rather get to talking about the bad aspects first, since I believe they are vastly outnumbered by all the things Venom: Let There Be Carnage does right. First off, the most glaring problem I found with the movie was the pacing. The first third of the film feels like it drags on forever while the final act leaves you thinking “That’s it?” There could also have been more scenes to develop the antagonists of the film before they crossed paths with Venom. Carnage’s alter ego, Cletus Kasady, really is a captivating character but the film only begins to scratch the surface of his character during its runtime. And don’t even get me started on poor Shriek. They really wasted her character and her powers. At times it felt as though she didn’t even belong in the clash between Venom and Carnage. My last major criticism is more nitpicky than the others, but I feel it is still worth mentioning. Venom: Let There Be Carnage has a PG-13 rating, which limits what it can do with its characters. It needs an R rating instead. This really stuck out at me during most of the scenes involving Carnage, one of the most violent and unhinged characters Marvel has ever created. He was drastically toned down to match the film’s rating, and I think that decision hurt the film more than it helped.

Onto the good stuff! Definitely the first thing to mention is the relationship between Eddie and Venom in this film. It’s a natural progression from where they left off at the end of the first film. Their interactions provide most of the film’s comedic relief, and help keep the tone lighthearted and energetic. Their relationship was one of my favorite parts in the first movie, and I’m glad they kept it for this one. Next off, I absolutely have to mention how great the Carnage direction was for this movie. His presence on screen demands your attention at all times and provides a genuinely dangerous threat to Venom. I specifically remember how his entrance into the movie was drawn out, and the suspense had me sitting at the edge of my seat. The action choreography is a major step up from the first movie. There are no more slime monsters having a slap fight. Each and every hit in this movie feels weighty, and Carnage’s attacks had a particularly noteworthy effect of total brutality. I think the most important improvement that Venom: Let There Be Carnage has over its predecessor is that despite the shorter runtime, the movie gets more done. Once the film has all its characters established and ready to go, all bets are off. I didn’t even notice the second half of the film go by. It was just too much fun to watch! I think it can be best described as a rollercoaster, and that’s exactly what the audience wanted to see. What gives the Venom franchise such a dedicated fanbase isn’t simply because it’s associated with Marvel, but also because all of its efforts are poured into appealing to the audience, not the critics.

Now, I’m not usually one to get into spoilers, but Venom: Let There Be Carnage’s post-credit scene absolutely needs to be talked about. Marvel fans rejoice! The movie ends with Eddie and Venom being transported to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)’s continuity, meaning that our favorite alien vigilante is going to be in Spider-Man: No Way Home! The energy in the audience when that scene played simply cannot be done justice in words. Phase Four of the MCU was kicked off with a great intro in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and is now having the torch carried by Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Marvel fans are going to be living in paradise this year, with plenty of shows and movies to keep us entertained, and I for one cannot wait to see all of it! Expect an Eternals review for the November issue, and a Spider-Man: No Way Home review in December or January.

Now back to Venom: Let There Be Carnage, I’d like to share my closing thoughts. Overall, the film isn’t anything revolutionary. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel. But that’s not what it needs to be enjoyable, and it is enjoyable because it doesn’t try to be new. When people go to see Venom: Let There Be Carnage, they’re going so that they can have a fun time, and this movie definitely delivers that. It was great to watch, and I absolutely recommend that you check it out too.


In the Heights: A Broadway Adaptation Done Right

by Theo Sloan


October 30, 2021

In the Heights hit theatres last June. It’s an adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway musical—also called In the Heights—and its reception was lukewarm, at best. Although it received overwhelmingly positive reviews from both critics and audiences who went to see it, the unfortunate fact is that not many people did see it. By the time it left theaters, it had only made forty-three million dollars worldwide; besides Lin-Manuel Miranda’s being briefly Twitter-cancelled over some ridiculous nonsense, the movie didn’t receive much buzz online. As a result, when I finally got around to watching it, I didn’t really know what to expect. It is directed by John M. Chu, the director behind 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, which was very well-received at the time, and Lin-Manuel Miranda himself is attached as a writer, along with Quiara Alegría Hudes. It also stars Anthony Ramos as the titular Usnavi, and I’ve loved him in basically everything he’s done. However, I was also very worried by the resounding “meh” that this movie earned both in terms of general excitement and box office performance. 

First off,  I’ll provide a brief summary of the movie, which I’m taking directly from IMDB: “A film version of the Broadway musical in which Usnavi, a sympathetic New York bodega owner, saves every penny every day as he imagines and sings about a better life.”1 To provide a bit more context, the musical is a love letter to the New York City neighborhood Washington Heights, where Lin-Manuel Miranda grew up. It tackles themes of belonging and both individual and group culture.

In the Heights is, first and foremost, a musical, and I generally think that the most important thing for a musical to get right is its music. There are musicals out there that I don’t think have a good story, such as The Greatest Showman, but that I still really enjoy because of their soundtracks, and I think In the Heights has a genuinely fantastic soundtrack from beginning to end. From the fast-paced tracks, such as the opening number In the Heights and the full ensemble number 96,000, to a few of the quieter, more reflective moments such as Just Breathe or Paciencia y Fe, virtually every song in this film is fantastic. Not only is the music itself amazing, but the choreography is just as good, if not better. One thing that I really enjoy about In the Heights is that it takes advantage of its status as a movie. As a result, we get a lot of very interesting and well-executed camera work—When the Sun Goes Down was an absolute highlight in that regard—and the big, full cast numbers, such as 96,000, Carnaval del Barrio, and Blackout, have choreography on a scale that feels like it matches the intensity and energy of the music and the medium that they’re being adapted to. And that’s all before we take the lyrics into account. Lin-Manuel Miranda has always been extremely gifted at intricate wordplay and complex rhymes. Here, we once again get to see him bring all of his lyrical chops to the table, as well as some truly inspired genre-fusion that provides a window into how his musicality has evolved as he went from originally writing this in 2005 to the masterpiece that is the Hamilton soundtrack in 2015. Overall, the music in In the Heights is everything you should expect from the man behind Hamilton, and the choreography gives it all the proper scope you should expect from a big-budget movie musical.

However, In the Heights isn’t just good from a music perspective. I think it tells a very nice story as well. Now, don’t get me wrong—it’s not mind-blowingly good or revolutionary or anything like that—it’s just a simple love story, with some heartfelt themes of culture and home woven in throughout. It’s not the most complex stuff, but I think it does a good job exploring its ideas in a unique and touching way. And I think a lot of why it works as well as it does is the cast of compelling characters at the center of the movie. They’re great enough that, besides the music, they’re the highlight of the movie. Not only are they brought to life by some very talented actors and actresses who all bring their absolute A-games to the film, but they’re also written very well and go through some rather compelling arcs throughout the movie. I particularly thought that Anthony Ramos, Leslie Grace, and Corey Hawkins were fantastic as Usnavi, Nina, and Benny, respectively, but don’t take that as my criticizing anyone else’s performance in this film, because everyone did a genuinely spectacular job. It should be illegal for so many people to be so good at both acting and singing and to have so much chemistry with each other. Even when In the Heights was doing things that I wasn’t a fan of, I found myself consistently impressed by the quality of every interaction.

The best qualities of In the Heights are its soundtrack, cinematography, choreography, and its characters, both with respect to their story arcs and to the actors who portray them.  While the overall story of the film is far from fantastic, it works very well alongside the songs and characters. Now let’s make a few critiques, because this movie is far from perfect.

One of the things that I immediately think of when looking at this movie’s flaws is the song No Me Diga. It takes place very early on in the movie, and not only do I skip it practically every time I listen to the soundtrack, but I often find myself wanting to skip over it when rewatching the movie. While all of the singers do a very good job, I don’t think it’s very musically interesting, especially compared to the other songs in the soundtrack. The lyrics also feel very dated, and the humor falls flat. This is rather unfortunate, as the song is pretty important to the plot of the story. It’s just not very well done, and it’s an unfortunate bad patch in an otherwise excellent soundtrack. The only other song that really bothers me at all is Paragua, but that’s more because it’s very much filler, and despite being an alright listen and having an inventive sequence to go with it, it’s hard to ignore how pointless it feels.

And this brings me to my second complaint, which is that In the Heights is too long. This isn’t really the biggest deal, because it’s a very fun movie overall, so the padded length isn’t too noticeable, but I definitely think it would hit a lot harder if it were between ten and fifteen minutes shorter. But that’s it for the negatives of this movie.

Overall, I really like In the Heights. It has an absolutely fantastic soundtrack, the actors all do a great job, and many of the musical sequences are very innovative and fun to watch. It also has some really great characters and a simple story that complements the music well, which is what a musical’s story needs to do at the end of the day. I highly recommend giving it a watch, especially if you’re a fan of musicals. But really, even if  you’re a musical skeptic, I’d still recommend giving this one a watch. If any movie has a chance to change your mind about the genre, this is it. So instead of going to watch Dear Evan Hansen—which is worse than this movie in every possible way—or the second coming of Cats (2019) in theaters, stay at home, grab yourself a free trial of HBOMax, and watch In the Heights instead. I promise you’ll have a good time.


1 IMDB, “In the Heights,”

Squid Game Review

by Ella Silvestrini


October 30, 2021

The new nine-episode series Squid Game, directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, has shattered the record for the most-watched series in Netflix history. The series stars model Jung Ho-Yeon as Kang Sae-byeok, Lee Jung-jae as the main character Seong Gi-hun, and Yeong-Su Oh as Oh Il-name. 

The series takes place in South Korea, where 456 players are given a chance to win an unfathomable amount of money. However, there is a twist. Only one player can win, and the rest will die. They follow a series of children’s games such as red-light-green-light, tug of war, and Dalgona Candy, where players carve shapes out of honeycomb candy. Each person who fails to win in these competitions is either shot or otherwise dies horribly. The games get more and more aggressive each day, and they force the players to fight each other for the money that will change their lives and also their own survival. In the end, the main protagonist, Gi-hun, wins the game because the only other remaining person sacrifices himself for Gi-hun’s happiness. When he arrives back home, Gi-hun experiences immense guilt. To make matters worse, he finds his mother dead. 

The series shines a bright light on the troubles of people struggling with money and highlights what people will do when they are desperate enough. When Gi-hun gets back to the real world, he is shocked. Much like troops who return from war, he was too traumatized to function correctly. He had seen 455 people die in front of him, and he was carrying all their blood on his hands. He doesn’t even touch his credit card with the 45.6 billion won, roughly equivalent to 39 million dollars, until a year after the games have ended. 

I love stories like this, which show the flaws of human society. You might think, “Yeah, but that’s just a show,” but Squid Game was created to highlight these problems in society. It even uses real news feeds in some of its episodes to show that wealth inequality is a real problem in today’s culture. I highly recommend Squid Game to any viewer who is interested in dystopian topics. I rate this show a 9/10, only because I think the ending could have been better. I would also like to give a content warning as it is somewhat gory at parts.

No Time To Die Review

by Allie Vasserman


October 30, 2021

No Time To Die (2021) is the final movie in the Daniel Craig James Bond franchise. The returning cast for the final James Bond movie are Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory or M, Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner, and Christopher Waltz as Blofeld. The movie also introduces new characters such as Lashana Lynch as the MI6 agent Nomi and Rami Malek as the villainous Safin. The movie is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.

The opening of the movie takes place soon after the events of Spectre (2015), the previous James Bond movie. The movie features the classic gun barrel shot before the title sequence, and the song for the title sequence is “No Time To Die” by Billie Eilish. Then the movie jumps several years into the future, where James Bond is recruited by his CIA agent friend Felix Leiter to locate the kidnapped scientist Obruchev and his special project Hercules and bring both back to MI6 custody from Blofeld’s organization Spectre. Bond meets MI6 agent Nomi and goes on the mission, which involves his traveling to Cuba and meeting a new undercover agent named Paloma, played by Ana de Armas. Paloma helps him infiltrate a Spectre meeting. During the meeting, Bond discovers a new deadly enemy who will be his main antagonist for the rest of the movie. 

I’m not going to give away any big spoilers.  This movie is a definite ending to the Daniel Craig James Bond franchise, and I think it is a good ending. It has some really great action scenes in which Bond fights his enemies in his classic suit and tie. The fight scenes in Cuba are filmed incredibly well and entertaining to watch. And there are some heavy emotional scenes. The few deaths in the movie are gut-wrenching to watch if you have become emotionally attached to the characters.

The movie makes references to the previous four Daniel Craig James Bond movies and brings back characters from previous films such as Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008). There are some Easter eggs that reference older James Bond movies by featuring previous actors from the franchise. A scene that features Madeleine Swann’s backstory that was mentioned in the previous movie, Spectre, is crucial to the plot. I think, however, that the script did not do justice to Christopher Waltz’s Blofeld character and the Spectre organization, considering how central they were in the previous movie.

If you are a fan of the James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig, I would recommend watching No Time To Die. I think that all of the actors do a great job portraying their characters and that Craig leaves the role in an unexpected way. I enjoyed this movie, and I can’t wait to see who the next James Bond in this franchise will be.

Now You See Me Starts the Series Well

by Allie Vasserman


April 25, 2021

Now You See Me is a 2013 heist movie directed by Louis Leterrier. It stars Jesse Eisenburg as Danny Atlas, Woody Harrelson as mentalist Merrit McKinney, Isla Fisher as Henley Reeves, Dave Franco as Jack Wilder, Mark Ruffalo as FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, Melanie Laurent as Interpol agent Alma Dray, Michael Caine as Arthur Tressler, and Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley. If you enjoy this movie, there are more to watch: a sequel Now You See Me 2 was released in 2016, and a third installment in the franchise, Now You See Me 3, has been announced for 2022.

Now You See Me starts when a group known as the Four Horsemen is formed. The members of the Four Horsemen, illusionists Danny Atlas, Merrit McKinney, Henley Reeves, and Jack Wilder, come together after displaying their skills in small performances. Danny Atlas presents flashy tricks with cards; Merrit McKinney performs mentalism, a type of hypnosis; Henley Reeves makes use of redirection; and Jack Wilder employs distractions and his pickpocketing skills. The Four Horsemen become famous magicians after banker Arthur Tressler sponsors them. They soon rob a bank while performing a show on a Las Vegas stage and attract the attention of the FBI and Interpol. Dylan Rhodes, who is working for the FBI, teams up with Alma Dray from Interpol to catch the Four Horsemen for their crime. Ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley, who has created a new career for himself by revealing the tricks of other magicians, works with Rhodes and Dray to try to understand the Four Horsemen’s illusions and magic tricks. Throughout the movie, the Four Horsemen put on a series of magic shows and pull off heists using each of their specific skill sets in an effort to enter a mysterious society called the Eye. While doing so, they work to evade the pursuit of FBI and Interpol agents.

I really like the way in which the illusions, magic shows, heists, and conversations between the cast are all connected in some way. The phrase “the closer you look, the less you see” is telling. The Four Horsemen have great chemistry as a team and have several conversations with each other and other characters that are funny and entertaining to watch. The plot of the movie is written very well, and it is difficult to predict what is coming next. There are a few twists in the movie that I won’t reveal because they make watching this movie a more entertaining experience. I watched Now You See Me with my family, and I recommend it as a great option for a family movie night.

Grosse Pointe Blank: A Review

by Theo Sloan


March 29, 2021

Some movies last the test of time. Included in this group is the excellent 1997 action comedy Grosse Pointe Blank starring John Cusack and Minnie Driver. In my review of Grosse Pointe Blank, I’ll be trying out a slightly different format: instead of discussing the movie’s good and then bad points, I’ll give a score out of five to several categories and end with a final score for the movie. Without further ado, let’s get into the review.

Part I: The Performances

I think one of the most important parts of a movie is the acting. An otherwise good movie can be ruined by an awkward or unbelievable performance, and an otherwise unimpressive movie can be carried by one or two fantastic, compelling performances. Fortunately, all the actors in Grosse Pointe Blank give it their all. The obvious standout is John Cusack, who gives a hilarious, entertaining, and oddly compelling performance as an emotionally challenged professional hitman. At the beginning of the movie, he’s both amusing and charming, but by the end, he’s jaw-droppingly hilarious. While he’s not nearly as good when he’s trying to be dramatic and serious, he’s still good enough to make his character reasonably believable. Minnie Driver also does a great job. Although she’s not given too much to work with character-wise besides a sassier-than-usual generic love interest, she plays that trope really well and adds to it some interesting spice and flavor. Driver’s chemistry with Cusack is an essential component of this movie. It’s hard to criticize these two performances; all I have to say is that Cusack probably could have done a better job with a few of his more emotional, serious scenes, though that’s not a very large issue in the grand scheme of things. 4.5/5

Part II: The Comedy

Grosse Pointe Blank knocks the comedy out of the park. It has some incredible jokes, especially near the end. In fact, the last ten minutes of the movie contain some of the best comedy I’ve seen in any movie ever. There’s plenty of witty dialogue; the gags and quips are funny, and the fantastic relationship between Cusack and Driver makes the comedy work even better. The main antagonist is also extremely funny at times, and he plays off Cusack really well. The cherry on top is easily the soundtrack (more on that later), which seems to have a sense of humor of its own. The song choices work incredibly well and almost always make an already entertaining scene or moment even funnier. The comedy is easily this movie’s strongest asset, and I would change nothing about it. 5/5

Part III: The Action

When the action in this movie is good, it’s really good. Just as with the comedy, the last ten minutes has easily the strongest action sequence. There are some other entertaining bursts of action throughout the movie; however, much of the action near the beginning is just not nearly as entertaining or fun to watch as the stuff near the end. In particular, there’s a fight scene in a convenience store that, while funny, is a bit sloppily choreographed, and I feel that both the setup and the aftermath of the fight are far more entertaining than the actual sequence. A fight in the school hallway falls in between those two extremes: it’s much better than the convenience store sequence but still doesn’t quite live up to the final ten minutes of the film. I don’t dislike any of the action, but a few sequences here and there fall flat. 3.5/5 

Part IV: The Plot

This movie follows the basic storyline of John Cusack playing a professional hitman, attending a high school reunion, and hijinks ensue from there. It’s an original idea and executed well. The plot has a pretty good flow to it, and the type of humor employed complements the wacky storyline well. However, I do have to mention a couple plot holes here. The main issue I have is that there are several times when people get shot at repeatedly but miraculously never get hit or injured. There’s a particularly egregious example of this about halfway through the movie, but it’s an issue that pops up several times, and it’s always a bit distracting. Aside from those unfortunate mistakes, the plot’s great. 4/5

Part V: The Score and Soundtrack

This movie’s score is completely unremarkable. It’s a perfectly acceptable, very passable action movie score that does nothing for me. But beyond the score itself, the rest of the soundtrack is a completely different story. It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s a great mix of pop, rock, and punk from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and it complements the movie so well. Some of the absolute standouts are Blister in the Sun by The Violent Femmes, I Can See Clearly Now (The Rain Has Gone) by Johnny Nash, and 99 Luftballons by Nena, though there are many, many other excellent songs on there, all expertly used to complement the movie. The score, a two by itself, is saved by the soundtrack. 5/5

Part VI: Final Thoughts

I really like Grosse Pointe Blank, and I highly recommend giving it a watch, especially if you’re a fan of action comedies, because it’s hard to get much better than this. Although Grosse Pointe Blank does have its flaws, it’s a great movie with some great characters and some amazing jokes. I’m giving this movie a very strong 8.6/10.