A Historical Supreme Court Nomination

by Anna Augart-Welwood

News

February 25, 2022

Justice Stephen Breyer, one of three liberal justices, is stepping down after serving for twenty-seven years on the Supreme Court. During his time on the Court, Breyer operated with the belief that interpretation of the US Constitution should not be fixed but instead should change with the times, which opposes the ideas of conservative justices who adhere to the intentions of the writers. Breyer stated, “The reason that I do that is because law in general, I think, grows out of communities of people who have some problems they want to solve.” Following Justice Breyer’s retirement, President Joe Biden must nominate someone, whom he has promised will be a black woman, to fill the vacancy.

President Biden’s ideal nominee should be able to persuade members of the court as well as the public and possess legal skill and integrity. Biden says he is heavily considering four candidates, including Judge J. Michelle Childs from South Carolina, Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson, who used to work as a clerk for Justice Breyer, and Justice Leondra R. Kruger, who worked in the Obama administration and currently serves on the Supreme Court of California. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who was present at the meeting in which Biden discussed the nominees, stated that Biden wants “someone in the model of Justice Breyer, someone who will write stirring, compelling, lasting arguments—hopefully in the majority at some point, but probably, in the coming few years, in the dissent.” Biden is planning to reveal his choice by the end of February, after which the nominee must be confirmed.

Nevertheless, the confirmation of a justice is a lengthy process. When there is an open position in the Supreme Court, the President nominates a candidate. The Senate Judiciary Committee then holds a hearing in which the nominee answers questions about their qualifications and beliefs. Then, the Judiciary Committee votes on the nomination and sends its decision to the full Senate. The Senate determines the results of the nomination with fifty-one required votes for or against the nominee, a change implemented in 2017 that allowed Trump to appoint three Justices. In the event of a tie in the nomination, the Vice President will cast the conclusive vote. The Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Assuming all Democratic senators vote in favor of the nominee or gain support from some Republican senators, Vice President Kamala Harris will have to break a tie vote. The illness or death of even one Democrat on the Senate could cause the party to lose their majority, and then Biden’s nominee might not be confirmed.

Regardless of whom Biden chooses, the first black female Supreme Court Justice is an important step in diversifying leadership and government in the United States. However, this nomination is only the beginning; there are many qualified black female judges and, hopefully, more will soon be given the chance to serve on the Supreme Court.


Detrow, Scott. “Biden Says He’s Done a ‘Deep Dive’ on 4 Supreme Court Candidates.” NPR, February 10, 2022.
https://www.npr.org/2022/02/10/1079973484/biden-says-hes-done-a-deep-dive-o-four-supreme-court-candidates.

Georgetown Law Library. “Supreme Court Nominations Research Guide: Nomination & Confirmation Process.” Accessed February 18, 2022.
https://guides.ll.georgetown.edu/c.php?g=365722&p=2471070.

Hulse, Carl. “Here’s Why Republicans Can’t Filibuster President Biden’s Supreme Court Nominee.” The New York Times, January 26, 2022.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/26/us/politics/biden-scotus-nominee-filibuster.html.

Hulse, Carl and Katie Rogers. “Biden, a Veteran of Supreme Court Fights, Ponders His Own Historic Pick.” The New York Times, February 12, 2022.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/11/us/biden-supreme-court-pick.html.

Williams, Pete. “Justice Stephen Breyer to Retire from Supreme Court, Paving Way for Biden Appointment.” NBC News, January 27, 2022.
https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/justice-stephen-breyer-retire-supreme-court-paving-way-biden-appointment-n1288042.

As You Like It: Interviews With the Cast and Crew

by Giselle Wu

News

February 25, 2022

After nearly two years of performing on Zoom, Boston University Academy’s Drama Club has made an in-person return with the winter play! Directed by Mr. Gardiner, BUA’s winter play, William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, was performed in the Black Box Theater from January 21 to January 23, 2022. How was this in-person experience for our BUA cast and crew? The following are interviews with members of the BUA cast and crew of As You Like It.

What has it been like to return to doing drama in person? 

Mr. Gardiner, Director:

It’s been exciting, scary and a relief. I was trained in theater and for me that’s in-person interaction with an audience. We did some performances on Zoom in the past two years, and I was very proud of them, but it’s really a different medium than live theater. It is great to finally be in the same space with my actors and students and return to a way of working that feels more comfortable for me. On the other hand, it’s a struggle to try to rebuild a program after such disruption Covid brought. At the same time, I learned from the ways I had to adapt the program for online or hybrid learning.

Suzie Marcus ‘22, Stage Manager:

I’m so glad we got to do it in person! Personally, I love the rush and excitement of the constantly moving parts—the quick changes, props, actor cues, etc. It was also great to see people able to perform in front of an audience and make use of the Black Box space.

Condredge Currie ‘23, Actor:

I participated in the winter play in my freshman year, and it was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had doing drama ever. I found a community of people who were as passionate as me, and it was a new experience that I somehow lacked without knowing [it]. Then, after Covid began and my sophomore year started, I found myself less passionate about the drama exercises we did in class, and learning the winter play was going to be fully online, I [developed] this aversion entirely. I wanted to move my body to words and feel the material in a more sincere way. This year was incredible because I was able to truly explore my role in the winter play, and the emotions I felt at the center of a stage are unmatched.

Michael Bolgov ‘23, Actor:

A return to drama in person was awesome! I think that audience participation is truly what makes theater a great work of art. From the point of view of an actor, we need the audience to give us feedback. I really enjoyed being able to have the freedom of acting on a stage again and interacting with the rest of the cast and audience!

Theo Chitkushev ‘24, Actor:

It was wonderful. It felt good to feel the BUA sense of community return and even through all of the uncertainty with the Omicron spike, it still felt good to put on a show.

How have coronavirus protocols affected drama? 

Mr. Gardiner, Director:

Covid has affected drama in so many ways! Though I believe an actor needs to use the WHOLE body, it’s an adjustment to overcome how much we rely on facial cues, not only in acting but even in our day-to-day interactions with other people. On stage, we can’t see the actor’s face [when they’re masked], and neither can an actor see their partner and react appropriately to what is being given to them. I have confidence that my actors can rise to the occasion.

Suzie Marcus ‘22, Stage Manager:

Masks for the actors was definitely an ongoing question of “How will we make this work?” Basically what we did is use black and white masks to signify the family or “type” of person the actor was portraying. Honestly, for the actors who played multiple characters, and for the two who had characters pretend to be other people, I think the masks might have actually helped. It made it more obvious to the audience that there was a distinction between people. The other thing was the constant worry of having a cast member get Covid right before or during show week. I decided to make everyone get tested everyday for that week and a half, so that we could stay on top of things, had there been any cases. Luckily, there weren’t any during Tech Week or the show!

Condredge Currie ‘23, Actor:

Wearing masks while acting was an experience that was manageable, but it changed the experience entirely. I couldn’t explore every aspect of my role as much as I wanted because of the fatigue I felt wearing a mask. I was sometimes overwhelmed with delivering lines, moving, and simply trying to breathe.

Michael Bolgov ‘23, Actor:

The Covid protocols that affected us most were the masking and the seating restriction. I know of many people who couldn’t attend the show because the time that worked for them was fully booked, which made me upset, but it was also understandable why they imposed this rule. The masking also affected us, as the show we were doing was Shakespeare, which is hard to understand even when the audience can see and hear the cast fully. This just imposed a small challenge to us, as actors, to make sure that everyone heard us and understood everything we said.

Theo Chitkushev ‘24, Actor:

Obviously being masked was annoying, but other than that not much changed. However, this definitely wouldn’t have been possible with last year’s distancing guidelines.

What was your favorite part of the winter play?

Suzie Marcus ‘22, Stage Manager:

My favorite part of the play was the quick changes and the very organized chaos of everything—that’s why I love being stage manager. I also enjoyed greeting the actors once they came off stage and hyping them up in between scenes.

Condredge Currie ‘23, Actor:

My favorite part of the winter play would have to be the cast. We formed a strong bond, and it strengthened our experience overall. Being together and creating those memories and producing a work of art is a unique experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

Michael Bolgov ‘23, Actor:

My favorite part was the community we created in our cast. We all became really close friends throughout this show.

Theo Chitkushev ‘24, Actor:

I really liked seeing the BUA community come together and laugh in the audience, especially during the Friday show!

What are your plans for the spring musical? 

Mr. Gardiner, Director:

We are doing a new musical called ALiEN8. It was written by a group called Ignition Arts, based on interviews with teenagers about issues that resonate with them. It premiered at Drexel University in 2019 and hasn’t been performed since then. We’ll be the first group of high schoolers to present the piece. The action of the play takes place in a small town in the Midwest that has just recovered from a tornado. Out of the storm a mysterious stranger, named 8, appears. People aren’t sure about 8’s gender, backstory, or anything really except that 8 seems to be of high-school age. 8 teaches the students its language, which is based on movement or gesture. Learning the language opens up students and eventually the town to confronting how they dealt with a traumatic incident in the town’s recent history.

A Review of The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals

by Theo Sloan

Reviews

February 25, 2022

The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals is a horror-comedy musical produced by Team Starkid. It was written and directed by Matt and Nick Lang, with music and lyrics by Jeff Blim, and it stars Jon Matteson, Lauren Lopez, Jeff Blim, Joey Richter, Jaime Lyn Beatty, Mariah Rose Faith, Corey Dorris, and Robert Manion. It’s also free to watch on YouTube and well worth the watch if you have a couple hours to spare. It’s set in the fictional town of Hatchetfield and follows a simple man named Paul as his worst nightmare comes to life: the world turns into a musical. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most important part of a musical is its music, because that is almost always the thing that will stick with the audience the longest. You can have a fantastic story with interesting, well-developed characters, and it will still only work as a musical if the songs are good; on the flip side, it is very possible for a musical to have a bad or even problematic story, and for that to not really matter because the songs are good (e.g., Dear Evan Hansen). While I definitely don’t love every song in The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals, most of them range from good to fantastic, and the soundtrack as a whole is pretty listenable even outside the context of the show. A few of my personal favorites are the opening number and title track, “The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals,” as well as “Let It Out,” “Inevitable,” “Join Us (and Die),” “La Dee Dah Dah Day,” and “Show Stoppin Number.” The opening number serves as a great tone-setter, not only establishing the comedic chops of the cast, but also introducing the basic premise and main character. It’s super high-energy and has some really fun jokes sprinkled throughout. It also gives every cast member a chance to sing a line or two, so it introduces us to them all as performers and gives us a little idea as to what to expect going forward. “Let It Out” and “Inevitable” are the two songs that close out the show. “Let It Out” features some of the best acting in the show, and really showcases what Jon Matteson, who plays Paul, is capable of, both as an actor and a singer. I don’t want to get too much into what “Inevitable” is about, as it’s a fairly large spoiler, but suffice to say that it serves as a very good representation of this show at its very best, both as a comedy and a horror story, not to mention that it features an excellent medley of all the major songs sung in the show up until that point and is led by another fantastic vocal performance by Jon. “Join Us (and Die)” is the show’s first turn into full horror and also showcases Jaime Lyn Beatty’s stunning vocal range; “La Dee Dah Dah Day” is a fun, upbeat ensemble number in which the comedic side of the show is dialed up to eleven; and “Show Stoppin Number” is an acid trip of an interlude, led by Robert Manion, in which you question both your own sanity and the sanity of everyone involved in putting the number together. It’s also some of the best satire of musical theater as a genre to ever exist. Suffice to say, I really like a lot of the music in this show.

However, that’s not to say that every song in the show works for me on a musical level. “Tied Up My Heart” is a song with some fantastic choreography on Jeff Blim’s end, but it goes on for too long, and the singing is iffy at best and grating at worst. It still makes for an entertaining scene, but it would have been better if it were written in Blim’s natural range and went on for less time. The other song that I don’t really like is “Not Your Seed,” the song that kicks off the second act. My main problem here is that it cycles through musical ideas very quickly; as a result, it’s very difficult to ever properly get into the scene. Just when I’m vibing with one style, it completely switches up, and this creates a sense of whiplash when listening to it. But Mariah Rose Faith’s voice is absolutely incredible. Do not mistake this as me criticizing her performance, because she does the best she possibly can with the material she’s given.

Another element of this show that shines throughout is the choreography. From Blim’s dance that he does tied to a chair, to Manion’s insane dancing during “Show Stoppin Number,” to Matteson’s fight with himself in “Let It Out,” the choreography in the show never fails to build on the music in a creative, visually engaging way. It’s able to elevate songs that I don’t much care for, such as “Tied Up My Heart,” into scenes that I find fun to watch, and that alone speaks volumes about its quality.

Now besides the musical aspect, the other most important part of a musical is its writing, both in terms of overall story and screenplay. In terms of story, I think this show is simply brilliant. I love the idea of a musical apocalypse, and I think it’s executed very well. It’s sufficiently goofy when it needs to be, sufficiently terrifying when it needs to be, and it does a surprisingly good job blending the horror and the comedy together. The show is, in many ways, an homage to the over-the-top and campy horror films of the 1980s, and by embracing that tone, it’s able to get away with a lot that many modern horror stories would not be able to. The primary thing that comes to mind is the practical gore effects, which are somehow both excellent and patently ridiculous at the same time. All that is to say that the concept is excellent.

The script, on the other hand, is a bit tricky. Full disclosure, I absolutely adore it, I find the comedy in it to be absolutely fantastic, and I doubt I will ever get tired of watching it. However, I acknowledge that comedy is a very subjective medium, and it’s very likely that some people will watch the show and just not like the style it’s written in. While there are some jokes that I’m comfortable with describing as unambiguously excellent, such as the bit involving walking through the audience, the entirety of “Show Stoppin Number,” and some of the physical comedy in the coffee shop numbers, the comedy in the show is often quite R-rated, and depending on what type of humor you enjoy, your enjoyment of the show will likely vary.

Finally, I’d like to touch on the characters. This show has a fairly small cast, so pretty much everyone plays multiple characters in the show, with the exception of Matteson. A few personal favorites of mine are General John MacNamara, portrayed by Blim; Emma Perkins, portrayed by Lopez; and Paul, portrayed by Matteson. All three have the most distinct characterizations out of the larger ensemble, but that’s not to say that I dislike any of the characters in the show. Sure, there are one or two who feel a tad more like caricatures than fully fleshed out people, but I think that fits with the overall tone that The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals is going for. And importantly, Paul and Emma, the two main characters of the show, do go through compelling and nuanced character arcs.

Overall, I think The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals is a fantastic show. It has great songs, better choreography, and a very solid story that, tying it all together, often passes into greatness. Not to mention, I find the jokes to be really funny, although I understand that will vary a fair amount depending on the comedic style you enjoy. I personally really like the show, and I highly recommend checking it out. You have literally no excuse not to, because it’s free to watch on YouTube! 

9.5/10

Don’t Look Up Review

by Allie Vasserman

Reviews

February 25, 2022

Don’t Look Up (2021) is a satirical comedy movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy, Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky, Meryl Streep as United States President Janie Orlean, Jonah Hill as Jason Orlean, Cate Blanchet as Brie Evantee, Rob Morgan as Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe, and Ariana Grande as Riley Bina. It is directed, written, and produced by Adam Mckay.

The movie starts off with PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky discovering a comet about five to ten kilometers wide. She shows it to her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy, and they calculate that the comet will hit Earth in six months and fourteen days. Upon impact, it will wipe out all life on the planet. Kate and Dr. Mindy call Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe and request a meeting with President Orlean to discuss the situation. After talking to the president, who does not take their concerns seriously, Kate, Dr. Mindy, and Dr. Oglethorpe decide to leak the information about the comet to the media and the public themselves. 

Usually, end-of-the-world disaster action movies have a few incredibly likable main characters who face obstacles throughout the movie and save the world at the end. This movie, since it is more of a satirical comedy, does not necessarily have such a happy ending. Most of the characters are pretty unlikable and behave in selfish ways. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dr. Mindy lets fame and power go to his head and makes poor decisions with his work and with his family. Meryl Streep, as the president of the United States, does not take the threat of the comet seriously and only takes action when she thinks she can make a profit from it. She cuts corners on every single plan and chance to save humanity, and it is revealed that her only real intention is to save her own life. Jonah Hill plays Jason, the President’s idiotic son who is incompetent and obnoxious and has power only because his mother is the president. I instantly disliked his character and President Orlean, which shows what good actors Jonah Hill and Meryl Streep are. This movie portrays most of the government officials as selfish people who only want to gain money and power and do not care about serving the public. I liked Jennifer Lawrence’s character the best, because to me, she was the most realistic of all the characters. Her reaction to the comet and the way in which she processed that she was going to die seemed very understandable to me. While watching this movie, I kept hoping that if such a world-ending disaster were to actually happen, governments would handle it better. 

Overall, I found this movie pretty entertaining and I definitely recommend watching it. One tip: if you want to see Meryl Streep interact with aliens, or Jonah Hill’s character get what he deserves after his despicable behavior throughout most of the movie, make sure to stick around for the post-credits scenes.

Remembering Dr. Formichelli

by Alyssa Ahn

News

January 27, 2022

Members of the BUA community shared the following stories about Dr. Formichelli (1974-2021) and the impact she had on BUA. 

Amelia Boudreau ‘23:

Dr. Formichelli was my freshman year English teacher, and my freshman and sophomore year advisor, and then my junior year English teacher as well. And even years where I didn’t have her as my English teacher or advisor, I would talk to her in general outside of class. 

It’s really hard to say a favorite memory, because there are so many, but there are a few that come to mind immediately. One is [not long] ago. She stopped by our history class. And while we were looking at the slate pencils from the African-American Meetinghouse, she sat next to me. We were trying to figure out what these slate pencils were, at first, because we weren’t told. And someone was like, “I wonder if they can break.” And she snapped one in half and was like, “They can.” And later when we were presenting what we thought [the slate pencils] were to the group, someone was like, “And then we found out that they can break,” and I was like, “Thanks to somebody in our group,” and I looked at her, and she laughed, really really hard; it was very funny. 

Also, I had talked about this at ASM, but we had had a whole email exchange, a few months or so ago, where we talked about possible fan fiction and merch spinoffs of the books that we’d read together in class, so, things like “If Hester Prynne had an Etsy shop.” We actually later found merch with Scarlet Letters. She printed them out and hung up one of these T-shirt models wearing a black T-shirt with a red Scarlet Letter on the corner, and she wrote, “The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale’s great-great grandson fulfilling his hereditary role,” or something like that. It was super funny, and it was on her whiteboard until recently. She told me, the next day when I came in for class, after we had had this exchange that involved this merch, “Look Amelia, I hung it up over there so that every time I walk past it I can be reminded of our jokes.” 

And, I remember—this is somewhat less lighthearted, but last year I was having a really tough time in spring semester—I was not sleeping at all, I was also just in a bad headspace in general, and, yeah, it wasn’t good at all for a few months there. And I remember receiving an email from her saying, “Hi Amelia, I was wondering if you’d allow me to meet with you for just ten minutes a week, or it can be longer, not because of how you’re doing as a student—you’re a fine student, but because I want you to know that I’m here for you, and that there’s somebody here that cares and wants to hear whatever you want to share, even if you don’t feel like sharing it, if you’ll just allow me to listen.” I regret it so badly that I didn’t actually accept, because sometimes we get into headspaces where you reject help, in any form, but I went back and reread that, recently, and it just meant a lot, to think of that. She didn’t have to do that at all.

Mr. Kolovos: 

If we were lucky, we all had at least one teacher early in our lives who not only inspired us with their passion for their subject, but who took the time to get to know us at a personal level, see us as individuals, and maybe even recognize more in us than we did in ourselves. Dr. Formichelli was that person for so many BU Academy students. She loved language and literature, but loved working with adolescents even more. She took their ideas seriously, challenged them, and laughed with them. She [is] deeply missed.

Sonya Moo ‘23:

I first met Dr. Formichelli when I had her as my English teacher freshman year. Then I had her again junior year. I always liked to talk to her about gardening and mob shows/movies, which is an odd combination, but those were two interests that we had in common. I know that she was in the process of writing a book in a true-crime style that would’ve been super cool, and she gave me tips on plants that I had at home. She was super cool, and I liked her a lot as a teacher and as a person. 

Madison Ho ‘24: 

The first memory I have of Dr. Formichelli is from freshman orientation. She gathered us all around on Zoom and asked us to share our names and the meaning behind them. She then proceeded to make Quizlets of each one of our names and their meanings so that we could better remember one another. She didn’t have to do it, any of it, but she still did. And that’s what she continued to do throughout the rest of my year with her. During our first remote Wednesday class, Dr. Formichelli’s Wi-Fi cut out for a few minutes. It wasn’t long, but it was all it took for her to come back to the Zoom to find us with all of our names switched. We giggled like the comedians we thought we were and waited for her reaction. She looked around the screen, smiled at our antics, and went right back to teaching. This tradition of remote Wednesday shenanigans continued into the next Wednesday, the Wednesday after that, and all the Wednesdays for the rest of the year. We dressed up as characters from The Odyssey, The Iliad, Raisin in the Sun, Macbeth, Great Expectations, etc. and as our favorite Italian dishes (at Dr. Formichelli’s request). Dr. Formichelli took all of our wild ideas and bad poker faces and cackles in stride and encouraged us to have fun in class. My favorite memory is when we all dressed up as Bob the Minion. Upon joining, Dr. Formichelli surveyed the situation and quickly changed her name to Dr. Bob. She not only cared about us, but also cared about us caring about each other. She cultivated a true sense of community in our own little classroom and had us looking forward to every single class together. The bond and the friendship she nurtured between each of us still lasts today. She was a brilliant teacher who not only helped me [Zooming in all year from California] to grow as a literary student, but also encouraged me to champion the social justice issues I believed in. In such a short time and from three thousand miles away, she shaped the student I have become today, and I’m eternally grateful for her. She was one of the greatest pillars of our community, and her memory will be there with me for the rest of my life. Rest peacefully, Dr. Formichelli. 

At the request of Jennifer’s family, donations in her memory may be made to the MSPCACharles River Alleycats, or to the financial aid program at Boston University Academy. More information about making a gift in Jennifer’s memory can be found at this link.

Unrest in Kazakhstan Prompts Governmental Changes

by Therese Askarbek

News

January 27, 2022

Kazakhstan, an oil-rich country sparsely populated with just over nineteen million people, has recently undergone major governmental changes in response to recent protests. Earlier this month, on January 2, protests erupted in Zhanaozen, a small town located in western Kazakhstan, before spreading across the country.1 The protests, catalyzed by frustration over the government raising gas and oil prices, intensified because of discontent from Kazakh citizens. In 2011, police shot dead at least fifteen people in Zhanaozen protesting in support of oil workers who were dismissed after a strike.2 Disquiet over continual human rights abuses such as these, corruption, inequity, poor quality of living, and other factors fueled the most violent and large uprisings the country has seen since its separation from the Soviet Union in 1991. To give a picture of Kazakhstan, about a million people are estimated to live below the poverty line.3 The average national monthly salary is less than 450 pounds, about 600 dollars, according to a 2019 report by KPMG, a British-Dutch global professional services network, while 162 people in the country own more than fifty percent of its wealth.4 

The protests quickly spread to other parts of the country, but were mostly focused in the former capital city, Almaty. According to current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, “About 1300 businesses were affected, more than one hundred shopping centers and banks attacked, and about five hundred police cars burned.”1 Looters and unidentified non-state armed groups emerged among the peaceful protests, with the government claiming these groups have ties to “criminal, extremist, and terrorist networks—homegrown and foreign—though without providing any convincing evidence.”1 They knocked out doors and windows, threw around documents, and destroyed offices. Grocery stores, among other establishments, were looted, leaving many without basic necessities.1 Nurali Kuanyshbaev, a resident of Almaty (and the cousin of this reporter) who flew into Boston from Astana on January 17, had this to say about his experience during the protests: “The first two days, my family and I were very worried. We then moved to our grandparents’ house, which was safer. We rarely went outside, only to the grocery store for necessities. In the beginning, when the protests were peaceful, I supported all the protesters, but not the looters who decided to cash in on the trouble. Most of the people here have not liked or supported the government for a long time.” Many others in Almaty had similar experiences during the protests. They stayed in their houses as the bullets fired outside, and those who couldn’t get to a grocery store shared food with their neighbors. 

The now burned-down Almaty akimat, or government office, has become a symbol of these tragic events, known as Qandy Qantar—Bloody January. After the situation was deescalated, reports surfaced of police wrongly detaining civilians on charges of participation in the violent riots and looting.1 Victims released from detainment claimed they had suffered prolonged interrogation, beating, torture, and pressure to confess. The tactics used to suppress uprisings in Kazakhstan closely resembled those in Belarus: a brutal and swift takedown of peaceful citizens and looters, sowing disinformation, broadly blaming unspecified foreign “terrorists,” and cutting out the internet across the country.5 At the height of the unrest, Tokayev said he had ordered troops to shoot to kill protesters without warning. The official death toll is 225, with nearly ten thousand detained. The authorities have justified their response by putting responsibility for the protests on both foreign and domestic “bandits and terrorists.”

A peaceful protester, Sergey Shutov, was arrested on January 11 after attending protests in the city of Atirau. He claimed security services brought him to a gym on the outskirts of town and repeatedly beat him and dozens of others. “I begged them to stop kicking me. I had to promise I would never join a meeting again,” Shutov said. A veteran opposition activist, Aset Abishev, said, “There is no way back for Tokayev. The people of Kazakhstan have seen what this regime is capable of. He has blood on his hands.”6 Along with the President announcing an order for state police to shoot to kill without warning, the state used water cannons, tear gas, and flashlight grenades against civilians. Those who stayed after signs of escalation were caught in the crossfire between the police, who used both rubber and regular bullets, and non-state armed groups on the night from January 4 to January 5. The government still has not released the names of the deceased civilians, despite civil activists’ demands.1 A senior aide to Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general said that 3,337 offenders were released while over a thousand people were currently under arrest.4

In response to the uprisings, Tokayev attempted to pacify the crowds by dismissing former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, taking over his position as chairman of the National Security Council, and naming a new prime minister and government. He fired and detained Karim Massimov, head of security services, and an official who worked under Nazarbayev. Several other officials related to Nazarbaev, such as his nephew, also were removed from their high positions.7 Many protesters demanded that Nazarbaev be removed from power, who resigned from his post in 2019 but still is considered by citizens and outsiders to be controlling the government and, in tandem, Tokayev.8 Many seem to think that Tokayev’s decision to take Nazarbaev’s position was a move to safeguard Nazarbaev’s legacy and keep him close to power.4 

In any case, Tokayev’s attempt to appease the public wasn’t effective enough, so he switched tactics by describing the demonstrators as terrorists. He then brought in the Russian Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, to send “peacekeeping forces” to Kazakhstan “to stabilize and normalize the situation,” according to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.2,9 Approximately three thousand Russian soldiers were deployed, alongside some five hundred troops from Belarus, one hundred Armenians, two hundred Tajiks, and one hundred fifty Kyrgyz, to conduct the “counter-terrorist operation,” as described on Twitter by Tokayev.10 He also rejected calls from the international community, including the United Nations and the United States, to resolve the crisis peacefully, saying it was not possible to negotiate with parties he described as “armed and trained bandits, both local and foreign.”9 The Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, made an official visit to Kazakhstan in May of 2019, including regions of Aktau and Almaty where the protests emerged. According to her, Kazakhstan’s overly broad use of the word “terrorism” in this context against protesters, civil society activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and political parties aimed at instilling fear was deeply concerning. Several other experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council echoed her sentiments.11

In very recent news, before Tokayev removed the rights of a private recycling monopoly linked to Nazarbaev’s daughter Aliya, he made his first ever public criticism of Nazarbaev, saying last week that under his predecessor’s leadership, many lucrative businesses and extremely rich people had appeared in Kazakhstan and that it was now time for the ordinary people to receive what they deserved.4,12 Numerous political analysts are not surprised by Tokayev’s moves to dismantle Nazarbaev’s power monopoly, as they have claimed that Tokayev has been trying to get out from under the control of Nazarbaev since his own instatement.7 Nazarbaev, who seemed to disappear during the protests, finally reappeared in a video address on Tuesday, in which he claimed, “In 2019 I handed over my powers to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and since then I am a pensioner. I am currently taking deserved rest in the capital of Kazakhstan and I have not gone anywhere,” in response to rumors that he had fled Kazakhstan.13

Now, weeks after the height of the protests, there are some political uncertainties within and outside of the country. Russia’s involvement and Putin’s interests are making political analysts and commentators uneasy, and citizens are still reeling from the death and destruction that this situation has left in its wake.14 Many are looking for their loved ones who are still unaccounted for and begging the government for answers.

If you’re looking for ways to help, supporting local activists, demanding accountability, and donating to fundraisers are just a few ways to support those affected. I recommend the following three fundraisers: Stand with Kazakhstan, Dollar-for-dollar donation initiative to help civilians in Almaty and other regions of Kazakhstan to recover from the aftermath of social unrest and the ensuing chaos, and Aid for those affected in Almaty, Kazakhstan.


1 Akbota Karibayeva, “Kazakhstan’s Unrest Leaves Behind a Traumatized Society,” Foreign Policy, January 19, 2022,
https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/01/19/kazakhstan-unrest-trauma-aftermath/.

2 “What’s behind unrest rocking oil-rich Kazakhstan,” AP News, January 6, 2022,
https://apnews.com/article/business-europe-russia-moscow-kazakhstan-3349e68089ccdbcd08e76a5e8fd4a909.

3 Gareth Jones, “From stability to turmoil – what’s going on in Kazakhstan,” Reuters, January 8, 2022,
https://www.reuters.com/markets/currencies/stability-turmoil-whats-going-kazakhstan-2022-01-06/.

4 Pjotr Sauer, “‘His Family Robbed The Country’: personality cult of ex-Kazakh leader crumbles,” The Guardian, January 20, 2022,
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/20/nursultan-nazarbayev-family-robbed-country-personality-cult-of-ex-kazakh-leader-crumbles.

5 Michael Bociurkiw, “For Putin Kazakhstan is a domino too big to fall,” CNN, January 17, 2022,
https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/17/opinions/putin-kazakhstan-russia-unrest-bociurkiw/index.html
.

6 Pjotr Sauer, “As the Dust Settles on Kazakhstan’s Unrest, Reports of Torture and Violence Surface,” The Moscow Times, January 19, 2022,
https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/01/19/as-the-dust-settles-on-kazakhstans-unrest-reports-of-torture-and-violence-surface-a76084.

7 Rachel Pannett, “Kazakhstan’s ‘father of the nation’ resurfaces, says he’s retired after Russian intervention in bloody unrest,” The Washington Post, January 19, 2022,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/01/19/kazakhstan-president-nursultan-nazarbayev-video/.

8 Shaun Walker, “Poverty, inequality and corruption: why Kazakhstan’s former leader is no longer untouchable,” The Guardian, January 5, 2022,
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/05/old-man-out-kazakhstan-discontent-to-change-leaders-legacy.

9 Helen Regan, “Kazakhstan is in turmoil and regional troops have been sent to quell unrest. Here’s what you need to know,” CNN, January 7, 2022,
https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/06/asia/kazakhstan-almaty-protests-explainer-intl-hnk/index.html.

10 Matt Cavanaugh and Jahara Matisek, “Little Blue Helmets in Kazakhstan,” The Diplomat, January 19, 2022,
https://thediplomat.com/2022/01/little-blue-helmets-in-kazakhstan/.

11 Atul Alexander, “Kazakhstan Crisis: Has International Human Rights Law anything to offer?” The Leaflet, January 19, 2022,
https://www.theleaflet.in/kazakhstan-crisis-has-international-human-rights-law-anything-to-offer/.

12 RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, “Kazakh President Replaces Defense Minister, Parliament Removes Nazarbayev From Lifetime Posts,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, January 19, 2022,
https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-toqaev-ousting-nazarbaev/31661748.html.

13 Shaun Walker, “‘I have not gone anywhere’: former Kazakh leader denies fleeing country,” The Guardian, January 18, 2022,
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/18/former-kazakh-leader-nursultan-nazarbayev-denies-fleeing-country.

14 Shaun Walker, “As order is restored in Kazakhstan, its future remains murky,” The Guardian, January 8, 2022,
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/08/as-order-is-restored-in-kazakhstan-its-future-is-murkier-than-ever.

Spider-Man: No Way Home Review

by Christian Asdourian

Reviews

January 27, 2022

How does one even begin to describe the experience that was Spider-Man: No Way Home? Do I call it the most anticipated movie of 2021? Or maybe I should just call it another chapter in the Marvel anthology. Perhaps talking about the records broken by the first trailer alone could make a decent starting point. Interestingly enough, this film first debuted over a month ago, and I’m still finding myself thinking about it every so often. I wonder if any of you who have seen it feel the same way. Regardless, I don’t think this review really needs a starting point. Instead, I’m opting for a less formal approach: focusing on the feelings of the film. After all, the best movies are always the ones that leave you feeling awestruck, astonished, and amazed. 

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) is directed by Jon Watts, who has grown as a filmmaker in each entry of our Web-head’s trilogy, a recurring theme you’ll come to notice. The main cast also returns to deliver some lively performances that keeps things light despite the film’s darker tone. I was very happy to see MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and of course Peter (Tom Holland) share more scenes than they had in the previous films. Their great chemistry really made you feel like they were a team, but more importantly, friends. This helped ground the conflict for the young Avenger, which I felt was especially important, considering the premise of the film. This movie has a massive cast and an even larger scope. As much as I’d love to cover every character and scene, I’m going to blatantly prioritize the stellar selection of villains Peter had to face off against, along with a vague summary of the plot. We start right where we left off: Spidey’s identity has been revealed to the world! This irrevocable act of Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) pushes Peter’s life into a spiral of mishaps and mistakes—but hey, at least he dodged the murder charges! Things come to a head when Peter’s friend’s college acceptance is in question simply because they are associated with Spider-Man. Desperate to fix things, Peter seeks out the help of Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to “reset things” and put his loved ones’ lives back on track. The spell is botched, however, and now the movie really begins. Villains from alternate realities flood into Peter’s world and immediately start causing chaos. The major antagonizing force comes from the returning wrongdoers Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina), and Electro (Jamie Foxx). These three gave some amazing performances and quickly became my favorite parts of the film. You could immediately tell that they were happy to be back and really wanted to iron out any kinks from their original performances. Things quickly veer into spoiler territory here, so I’ll leave it up to you whether or not this synopsis interests you enough to go see Spider-Man: No Way Home.

I’m happy to report that I have very few complaints about this movie and that they’re really just nitpicks that I thought were worth mentioning. If I had to describe it, the pacing of this movie felt irregular. I mean it when I say that this movie is a journey. You cover a lot of ground in two and a half hours, and that leaves me feeling ambivalent. I’m grateful to have had a story so jam-packed with the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Spidey, but some parts definitely needed more screen time while others felt extraneous. Perhaps the issue mostly stems from the fact that this movie doesn’t set up its payoffs as well as it could have. The first two films in this trilogy are joys to watch but fail to distill the core parts of Peter’s character. The supporting characters in his life were not nearly developed as much as they could have been in the first two movies, and that leaves the responsibility for this to Spider-Man: No Way Home. Despite being dealt a bad hand in having to pick up the slack of the first two films, the final entry of the trilogy does its best to make up for it and then some. Another minor thing is that I felt some villains weren’t really necessary to the plot of the film. They were only there to add a more intimidating presence to the roster of villains. Maybe one day, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Lizard (Rhys Ifans) can get the development they deserve. Aside from these minor grievances, the movie rocks!

I could honestly sit here all day and gush about everything this movie did right. I remember seeing memes about how fan expectations were so demanding that the movie was bound to disappoint in one way or another. I’m going to get into major spoiler mode for this section, so be warned. First off, Peter’s arc was so incredibly satisfying to watch unfold. Of course, it would’ve been impossible to pull off without Holland’s incredible acting chops. The range of emotions he shows in this movie alone is outstanding. From grief and rage to acceptance and optimism, he really puts Peter through the wringer, and you can feel the toll it takes on him. Peter as a character has come a long way from StarkTech gadgets, and his development doesn’t feel forced at all in this film. I’m also happy that the major villains are given enough screen time that really develops them in a way we haven’t seen before. Electro particularly stands out here, since he has a more pronounced personality and motivation. Foxx definitely augments his character’s growth by using his great chemistry with the rest of the cast. 

However, it would be criminal to not give credit to the star of the villains: Green Goblin. Along with a cutting-edge redesign, Dafoe is somehow able to top the performance he gave in Spider-Man (2001) by letting loose. It was so refreshing to have a villain be evil just for the sake of it. No tragic backstory or relatable motivation is present, which sets Green Goblin apart. The nuance of Norman Osborn comes from his dual personalities. Peter sees a man trapped in his own body with a monster before he sees what the monster is truly capable of. It endears Norman not only to Peter, but to us as well. It really puts May’s (Marisa Tomei) lessons to Peter in a new perspective. Green Goblin poses such an overwhelming threat to Peter physically and, more importantly, emotionally. His cruel actions in this film alone cause Peter to question his own morals. Peter is faced with a dilemma of giving into his rage and avenging May, but at the same time he would be killing an innocent man not in control of his actions. How much better can a supervillain get? 

And don’t even get me started on the heroes. Even a month later, I still can’t believe that we got to see all three Spider-Men swinging around together! What really surprised me, though, was how much time we got with them outside of the action. Seeing Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield play older versions of Peter was an interesting concept that was executed well. All three of them have great chemistry. At times, it feels like they’re brothers who have known each other their whole lives. If anyone was the most excited to be back, it would have to be those two. Honestly, it feels like they were there for the whole movie, since they poured so much energy into their performances. Maguire plays the oldest brother so well, and I’m glad they left his time after Spider-Man 3 (2007) vague. And the catharsis Garfield was able to convey when he caught MJ was one of the most emotional moments of the movie, and it was in the middle of the final battle! All three variants of Peter somehow have the same set of core values, yet feel distinct from one another. I really hope this isn’t the last we see of them. All of these combined efforts really made this movie an enjoyable experience for me.

Wow! I wrote a lot and barely even scratched the surface! It really is a wonder to see a movie produced and released during a pandemic do so well for itself and for its audience. A movie about a guy in red and blue spandex who can swing from buildings has been the object of my attention and excitement for the past three months, and honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m glad all of us have our own little things like this to look forward to. Small escapes like superhero movies are part of what makes life so flavorful, and I genuinely hope I convinced you to give this film a shot. If you enjoy it half as much as I did, you’re bound to have a good time.

And to the regular Marvel crowd: we really ate good this year, with a near constant stream of some of the funnest content the MCU has ever produced. I’m excited to see the future of NYC’s resident Wall-Crawler, and hopefully we can catch up with his older brothers at one point or another. Dr. Strange is the next big fish to watch out for, and you already know I’m going to be covering it. Cheers to a spectacular year of comics come to life and to many more full of new faces and familiar fun.

10/10

tick, tick… BOOM! Movie Review

by Theo Sloan

Reviews

January 27, 2022

Hello everyone, and a late happy new year to all of you! Since 2021 has now passed, and we’re all now facing a new calendar year of movies, I figured I’d take some time to review the best movie that came out in 2021 that I saw, tick, tick… BOOM! There are a few movies that have come out that I didn’t quite manage to see (e.g., CODA, Candyman, The Tragedy of Macbeth, King Richard, Annette), and one of those could very well displace this film, but until that time, this is the best movie of 2021. 

tick, tick… BOOM! is a film adaptation of the off-Broadway musical of the same name about aspiring composer Jonathan Larson. It was produced by Netflix, directed by first-time movie director Lin-Manuel Miranda, and stars, among others, Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, and Vanessa Hudgens. The music and lyrics were written by the late and great Jonathan Larson, who was the creator of the original stage show. 

I’ve always said that the most important thing about a musical is its music, and while the songs are vitally important to this movie, I actually think they’re slightly overshadowed by Andrew Garfield’s incredible lead performance as Jonathan Larson. Not only can he sing like an angel, but he delivers what is perhaps the best performance of his career. I think it’s fair to say that most people know Garfield as “that guy who was in those two crappy Spider-Man movies,” and if you think that, you just need to see him in this. He’s fantastic at communicating complex emotions with just facial expressions, he manages to never stop acting, even when he’s pouring his heart out into a song, and he effectively serves as the emotional core of the story as a result. He’s also very funny when he needs to be, and his wide range helps make the story and the characters within feel very human. The other actors are also all very good. Alexandra Shipp does a consistently good job as Susan. Her standout moment is definitely the song “Come to Your Senses,” which contributes to one of the most emotionally powerful scenes in the movie, and I think it was that moment that fully sold me on her performance. Robin de Jesus is also wonderful as Michael, Jonathan’s best friend. He and Andrew have really good platonic chemistry, something that’s really hard to pull off a lot of the time, and although his arc is less-developed than those of Garfield and Shipp, he makes the most of it and does a great job in his song, “Real Life,” near the end of the film. There really isn’t a single bad performance here. 

I also can’t talk about the actors without mentioning the diner scene, which is literal candy for any fan of musical theatre. It is filled to the brim with cameos from high-caliber Broadway stars, featuring everyone from director and Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda (and his father Luis Miranda Jr.), to Phantom of the Opera star Howard McGillin, to Hadestown star André de Shields, to Reneé Elise Goldsbury and Philippa Soo, who are most known for playing Angelica and Eliza Schuyler in Hamilton. This is genuinely only the tip of a frankly enormous iceberg, and rewatching that scene to try and catch every single cameo hidden throughout is an absolute treat if you’re interested in musical theater.

But that’s enough about the actors, because the songs are so good! They don’t quite measure up to some of my all-time favorite musical soundtracks, such as Hadestown, Hamilton, or Six, but every song on the tick, tick… BOOM! soundtrack is memorable, engaging, and quite often heartbreaking, sometimes all at once. My personal favourites are “Therapy,” “30/90,” and “No More,” but they’re all great, and there are no wrong answers when picking favourites, although I’ll have some serious questions for you if you pick “Green Green Dress” or “Play Game.” As I already mentioned, these were all composed by the late Jonathan Larson, who was primarily known for creating the musical Rent, and that’s actually a great segue into the movie’s story.

tick, tick… BOOM! is a semi-autobiographical musical. Larson wrote it about himself and his attempt to get his first musical, Superbia, picked up by a Broadway producer and made into a reality. All of the characters are real people, and the events of the movie are more or less true. Now, events being true doesn’t make them any more or less impactful on their own, but when they’re backed by performances as strong as Andrew Garfield’s in this movie, the truth behind them absolutely gives the whole thing an extra punch. (This is the same thing I think about Just Mercy, by the way.) Anyway, the story takes place over the course of about a week, and it tells the story of Larson trying desperately to fight through his writer’s block to finish the last song of his musical before his first musical workshop takes place in front of a large group of Broadway producers. Meanwhile, his relationship with his girlfriend, Susan, is getting increasingly strained, his best friend grapples with being gay at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and Jonathan struggles with the idea of turning thirty years old without having released any sort of great work of art into the world. It’s not the most complex story ever told, but it is what actually happened, and the writing, performances, and musical numbers all enhance it beyond belief.

There’s also some really innovative cinematography in the movie. This is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first time behind the camera, and I was quite curious as to what he’d do with it. I didn’t expect anything too impressive, because I’ve always thought that Miranda’s greatest talent was his writing ability and wasn’t really sure how the director’s chair would suit him. I was honestly blown away. The most impressive sequence was the song “Swimming,” with the way he used the lines on the pool floor as a staff that notes appeared on, but every musical number was filmed in a very interesting way. A good example is how Miranda combined the flash-forwards to Garfield as Larson performing the stage musical tick, tick… BOOM! in front of a live audience with the rest of the main movie in the song “Therapy” and the scene in the marketing focus group.

Overall, tick, tick… BOOM! is an absolutely stellar movie musical. It’s funny, entertaining, and it has an incredibly moving and also kind of depressing third act. It’s an easy 10/10, it’s the best thing I’ve seen all year, and I cannot recommend this film enough, even if you think it’s not going to be your thing. It’s available for streaming on Netflix right now, so what are you waiting for? Go watch it!

Logan Lucky Review

by Allie Vasserman

Reviews

January 27, 2022

Logan Lucky is a heist movie directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, Adam Driver as Clyde Logan, Riley Keough as Mellie Logan, Daniel Craig as Joe Bang, Seth MacFarlane as Max Chilblain, and Sebastian Stan as Dayton White. It was released in 2017 and takes place in West Virginia. 

At the start of the movie, which could be described as an action-comedy, Jimmy Logan is laid off from his job as a construction worker due to budget cuts. After he talks to his hairstylist sister Mellie, visits his daughter Sadie, who lives with his ex-wife Bobbie, and talks to his brother Clyde, who is in need of a new arm after his time in Iraq, Jimmy comes up with an idea to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend, the same weekend that the track will be hosting the Coca-Cola 600 race. Jimmy explains to Clyde that since he used to work at the speedway, he knows how the money is moved throughout the speedway and therefore how to steal it. Jimmy and Clyde visit Joe Bang, an explosives expert who is currently serving time in prison and recruit him for their heist. Joe agrees to help the Logan siblings as long as they include his two brothers in the heist. Jimmy, Clyde, Mellie, and the rest of their team coordinate and work together to attempt to pull off the heist successfully.

One of the things that I really liked about this movie is its strong theme of family loyalty. The Logan siblings help each other out and stick together even though it seems like all hope is lost. When a rude customer makes fun of Clyde’s missing arm at the bar where Clyde works, Jimny stands up to the bully for insulting his brother. The Logan siblings are a lot more clever than one would think. During the movie, they’re repeatedly referred to as “stupid” and “idiotic,” yet they all have their own talents and intelligence that help them in planning and executing this great robbery. I found the father-daughter relationship between Jimmy and Sadie to be really sweet, and I liked how close they were to each other. I also loved how Jimmy’s sister Mellie supported Sadie when it came to Sadie’s passion for beauty pageants, showing a loving aunt-niece relationship. 

There are many comedic moments in this movie. The actors all do a great job of portraying their characters. Daniel Craig, whom most people know as the latest James Bond, does an especially great job playing a character who is very different from a British secret agent. The only part I didn’t like about Logan Lucky were the last couple of minutes. I felt that they were trying to make an excuse for a future sequel, which I think would be unnecessary.

Overall, I found Logan Lucky to be an enjoyable movie and perfect for a family movie night.

Just Mercy Review

by Theo Sloan

Reviews

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.