Five Films from the Criterion Channel

I’ve been looking for new ways to satisfy my movie watching fix. The moratorium on the theater experience has brought me on a quest to find the emotional and analytical investment that in-person experience brings. From the depths of the application abyss, arose the Criterion Channel to quench those needs. I’ve begun a journey in understanding the style and methods of classic filmmaking that set cinema off on it’s creative trajectory. Here are five films that pushed me past the two week trial period and put me on a path to one of my best purchases ever.

Stray Dog (dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1949)

This journey started with a dive into the Criterion’s Channel’s Toshiro Mifune collection, celebrating the famous Japanese actor’s 100th birthday. My friend Stephen and I started with a Zoom-viewing of the Kurosawa/Mifune samurai collaboration, Throne of Blood (1957). Mifune’s role as the Macbeth-inspired Washizu was a dramatic introduction to his presence. The faces he gives guilt, action, and despair are immediately captivating. As his kingdom falls around him, his frantic rushes to the camera establish the grounds on which our current action heroes reside.

Any Kurosawa/Mifune study must include the highly influential Roshomon (1950), but in this film Mifune only offers support, and it is Kurosawa’s storytelling that keeps our focus. A early work in the collection, Stray Dog, was actually the one that caught my attention most and shows Kurosawa and Mifune working their equal genius in tandem.

Mifune plays a young cop, Murakami, who loses his gun on the job. The gun weaves its way through Tokyo’s criminal underbelly, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Mifune conveys the desperation of a man, just back from war, trying to make something of himself and resist the depravity of his peers on the streets. His character is guided through this maturation by veteran detective Sato (Takashi Shimura), whose insight eases Murakami’s conflicted entrance into adulthood.

Kurosawa has his characters baking in the Japanese summer sun, the tensions of post-war society boiling in the heat. Mifune’s refusal to melt from the pressure with a stoic sense of right and wrong provided the skillset used to become one of the most impactful action heroes in cinema history.

Monterey Pop (dir. D.A. Pennebaker, 1968)

I remember watching this lesser known 1960s music festival documentary in middle school. Some of the performances are ingrained in my personal relationship with music. Watching The Who obliterate their instruments after “My Generation” opened my eyes at the ability of music to express pent up aggression.

The second watch of Pennebaker’s cinematic time capsule contextualized the many other emotions I now seek out in sound. Whether it’s the self destruction and helplessness in the wails of Janis Joplin on “Ball and Chain” or the earthly serenity in Ravi Shankar’s closing piece, this documentary offers a great historical account of how the music of the 60s began to deeper represent our feelings towards existence.

From a filmmaking aspect, Pennebaker’s best work in the documentary is done through the genuine reactions he captures of the public. As he works his way through the crowds, each shot gives a unique style and a brief glimpse into the lives of a past generation experiencing great cultural change combatted by intense global turmoil. Monterey Pop is frozen in time and the intimate footage preserves a transformational time in society, it’s authenticity no longer replicable due to our overfamiliarity with screens.

Bunny Lake Is Missing (dir. Otto Preminger, 1965)

Preminger takes the film noir genre to a experimental level with Bunny Lake Is Missing, adding a layer of mysticism that has his characters walk the line between reality and fantasy. It results in a mind bending thriller, where our fight with the truth is just as dangerous as the shadows that lurk in the night.

Carol Lynley owns her leading role as Ann Lake, a young mother whose child Bunny goes missing soon after their move to London, organized by her brother Steven. The pressures of motherhood topple onto Ann, her panicked worry is turned on her and used as evidence for her lack of sanity. Laurence Olivier plays the detective tasked with getting to the roots of the mystery, if one actually exists.

As doubt exerts itself over Ann, she takes matters into her own hands and navigates the labyrinth of London. As she begin to encounter elements of the supernatural on her quest, her grasp on the truth becomes untethered. Not until the climatic scene does Ann reach enlightenment and break from the constraints placed on her from the male controlled world. She asserts her influence on her tormentors, using her motherly instincts to beat the police (and one of the best actors ever) to the punch. It’s a master performance from Lynley, who takes the twists and turns of Preminger’s direction and uses her powers to best them at each critical moment.

The Pride of the Yankees (dir. Sam Wood, 1942)

The legendary Gary Cooper gives an all-American performance as Lou Gehrig that provides the template for every sports biopic to follow. Cooper’s Gehrig begins from immigrant origins and with intense work ethic achieves the loftiest of dreams. His humbleness and respect for those in charge are what propel his career forward. It’s no coincidence that these principles are on display for an audience at the brink of war.

The Pride of the Yankees also reflects the early period of movie production and how it differs little from our modern practices. The immediate memorialization of our public figures is often seen as a byproduct of the digital world, but the Pride of the Yankees was released just a year after Gehrig’s death. The film takes extreme liberties with the Iron Horse’s true story, smudging the timeline of his marriage to create more romantic appeal and adds plenty of sugar-coated scenes that hype up Gehrig as the ideal American prototype.

This film is over the top cheesy, which is the exact space you want your sports movie to live in. The dramatized version of Gehrig’s retirement speech that Cooper delivers is the going out on top moment which the genre is built upon. The Pride of the Yankees solidifies the argument that some of our heroes are larger than life and their posthumous transition to folklore preserves their legacy in the country’s conscience. 

The Fits (dir. Anna Rose Holmer, 2015)

From the huge selection of modern independent filmmakers on the channel, Anna Rose Holmer’s poignant debut stood out most. Part harrowing, part whimsical, Holmer narrows in on the complexity of African-American life in the Rust Belt, a message that resonated here in Pittsburgh.

The film contains itself within a community center in Cincinnati. The children at the center are left to face adolescence, and the adult problems it brings, on their own. The boys try to punch their way out in the ring. The girls seek community in a dance team, using their developing connection to their bodies to primitively express a change they can’t fully grasp.

Eleven-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower) is split between both groups. Despite the bond between her and her brother over boxing, something unidentifiable attracts her to the dance team. Hightower gives an all-time child acting performance, as her character meets the “strange affliction” of the older girls with horror, but also underlying curiosity. She struggles to relinquish control to the natural forces of the world, deeply aware of the sexist and racist human forces looming outside her childhood safe space.

As these neighborhoods are often depicted in film as being without, Holmer makes a deliberate choice to show her characters within. Within the walls of the center, young men and women find their passions, find their community, and find themselves. Because within Toni is a connection to the mind, body, and soul uniquely hers that no one can diminish.


The Platform and the Power of Activism

SPOILER ALERT: Several important plot points are discussed in this article, including the ending. 

It’s hard to find the ray of hope in Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s dystopian thriller The Platform. The Dickensian hellhole in which his characters exist offers a depressing allegory to our dysfunctional political landscape. From its comments on trickle down economics to violent suppression in support of ideology, The Platform mostly argues that our liberties are locked in and narrowed down by any system. However, Gaztelu-Urrutia leaves one tiny crack in the concrete walls where we could attempt to break ourselves free. That comes from his main character Goreng’s adopted role as activist.

As Goreng (played by Ivan Massague) works his way through the tiered prison complex, where the higher levels eat before the lower levels, his individual determination seems the only chance at the system’s collapse. Goreng arrives in his cell already with an empathetic spirit that puts him on course to become prison liberator. Activism requires understanding the needs of others and putting those needs in front of your own desires. When his first supper arrives from above, Goreng’s immediate reaction was to refuse food so those below had a large supply.

While Goreng’s heart is in the right place, his unawareness of the harsh realities of the hole stunt his drive for change. Empathy may help in understanding the problems of the public, but actual experience brings the problem to a personal level and shows the need for urgent action. Important social movements, like the Black Lives Matter movement, are typically rooted in a collective trauma. A group that has lived through the same oppression can fight injustice more passionately than through the lens of objective morality. The more time Goreng spends in the hole, the more his sense of shared suffering builds. The ghosts of his former cellmates remain with him, pushing him towards a call to action.

One of those ghosts is Imoguiri, who tried her hand at objective reasoning with the other cellmates. She firmly believes in the idea of “spontaneous solidarity,” that over time the cellmates will recognize their shared plight with the other captives, leading to self-imposed rationing that saves enough food for everyone. Imoguiri arrives at the argument, however, from a position of privilege. Having been part of the administration that created the hole, she was able to select her cell partner and found herself beginning on the relatively easy level 33 (the levels go from 1-300). She has no comprehension of the cutthroat nature at the lower depths of the capitalist ladder. Goreng, having seen the darkest sides of oppression, now seems less sympathetic and much more vengeful. There is no possibility at an emotional appeal to a rigged system, you only can attack it.

Goreng’s transformation to a gritty approach in his role as activist shows the painstaking efforts it takes to effect true change. The important social movements of history are typically defined by their seminal moments, but less focus is given to the everyday groundwork that put these decisive events into motion. When Goreng commits with his new cellmate Baharat to collapsing the system from within, they go level-by-level to deliver their message. By the bottom, the two are bloodied, hungry, and mentally drained.

Both were also challenged in their commitment to their end goal and the ethical dilemmas they faced to achieve it. They began to face stronger resistance as they made their way down, and simple persuasion became not enough to change minds. They had to push further. Sometimes, tougher tactics need implemented if a movement is to be successful. The antifa movement are a prime example. As the beliefs of Nazis lie outside the bounds of logic, logical arguments are not effective. Since their ideology is based on a complete lack of compassion, peaceful protest has no chance at getting through to them. The antifa movement found success in driving Nazis back only through aggression. Goreng and Baharat were the same.

Tragically, Goreng’s activist journey ends where a lot do, in sacrifice. Those that gave their lives in defense of justice etch their message into our conscience forever. Education forms the final core component of activism. Even if the efforts made by activists do not lead to direct change, their principles have a better chance at being absorbed by the next generation. That cycle hopefully continues as our modified beliefs begin to advance society.

Goreng reaches the hole’s terminus, all hope gone, only to find a young child awaiting them. New life grows in the most desolate of environments. “The girl is the message,” Baharat tells Goreng in his dream. As a debilitated Goreng drifts off into the abyss, the hole still exists very much as a torture chamber. However, the girl shoots back up to the top level, reassuring that the gears of change are still turning, perhaps a little faster this time.


Your Bad Pandemic Movie of the Week Is… Zoombies (2016)

During these times, sometimes I feel the best way to cope is to approach with a level of dark humor. And what better way to tap into that humor than by looking at some of the poorly done pandemic films over cinematic history. Each week I’ll dissect a new film, ripping it apart to find some socially distanced catharsis.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 17%

Zoo animals are infected with a strange virus, turning them into zombies, and begin wreaking havoc around the zoo grounds. It sounds like a foolproof premise for a really bad but endlessly fun movie, something that John Carpenter or Rob Zombie would absolutely crush. However, Zoombies actually achieves a somewhat impressive task of making zombie gorillas and lions boring.

It’s hard to paint a picture of what makes Zoombies just bad-bad and not fun-bad, but I’ll try. Picture you’re stoned out of your mind on a Sunday afternoon. Like too stoned to change the channel. The TV is stuck to the SyFy channel and on is a movie that looks like it only raised 25% of its Kickstarter goal, but they said, “eh.. screw it, let’s make it anyway.” Now with only a quarter of their budget, the production team can’t afford to hire a writer, so they have a bot watch 1,000 hours of Sharknado on repeat to create the driest dialogue possible. Having blown what little they had on the god damn robot, they were left were no other choice than to scrap all the revolutionary CGI effects I’m sure they had planned, instead settling for running some animation through Photoshop real quick and sending it straight to post. As you watch on from the couch, your brain baking from the bong rips starts to enjoy it, simply because it requires the minimal amount of sound and color recognition. That’s the headspace this movie functions in.

I will admit there were two things about the movie that helped salvage some of the time I wasted watching this. The first were the deaths. Boy, did they really imagine up some very gruesome death scenes. I’ll rank them later. The second was that the movie doubled as a struggling actor ladder match, where all these vanilla characters were fighting not just to survive, but also clawing for as much screen time as possible to add to their reel. And since, this movie never really bothered establishing a main character, it added a level of mystery as to who would be left standing with the belt and a background role on NCIS.

Odds on favorite to win the ladder match is Dr. Ellen Rogers, manager of her late grandfather’s Eden Wildlife Zoo, who wants to clarify early on that this is, in no way, a complete Jurassic Park ripoff. Business is booming at Eden. Ellen has coincidentally just bolstered her security personnel with the hiring of the tough-as-nails Lizzy. Today also is the first day of her internship program, as bright-eyed college kids look to gleam vital knowledge about the thriving zoo industry. She even has started building the framework for her innovative Dangerous Animal Daycare, where small children, like her super annoying daughter Thea, get to have hands on learning experiences with trained “environmental educators,” such as Kifo the gorilla.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Ellen, her zoo’s doctor is dealing with inexplicably infected primates. Using his best medical judgement, he decides to revive a dead and diseased monkey, because never has that had any negative ramifications in a zombie film. The lab becomes overrun, the alarm triggered, and chaos soon to follow. The group of Breakfast Club rejects arrive right in time to be literally fed to the wolves. Suit-clad Gage quickly claims alpha status, mixing a lethal duo of can-do attitude with fiscally conservative beliefs regarding zoo management.

The horrors of shoddy CGI befall the group, as crew and interns start dropping like flies. With the zoo on full lockdown and the stock footage police of no service, it’s up to Lizzy and Ellen to manage the situation by murdering every single animal in the place. The giraffes are victim number one, but not before they take a big healthy bite of Gage. It’s okay though, because this literally has zero follow up later in the movie. Even little Thea does her part by fast-tracking her clearly destined trajectory towards serial killer by smashing the shit out of a koala. As Thea bathes in the blood of her adversary, Ellen concocts an exit strategy. They will, wait for it, leave through the front gate, but not before blowing up the aviary as to not let the virus escape to the public.

The bad acting battle royale comes down to a four-way tie: Ellen, Thea, Lizzy, and Gage. They set the birds ablaze and head for the gates. However, in their path steps Kifo, no longer hungry to inspire young minds but hungry for actual young minds. For no discernible reason, the animators decided to not provide their main animal antagonist with the state of the art CGI found in the rest of movie, and instead opted for the technology used to make the fucking Gremlins. Ellen ends Kifo, and in a sense all of our suffering, as a chopper sends the remaining four back to the safety of their off-Broadway theatre troupes. Our parting shot shows the eyes of Kifo reopening, transitioning us flawlessly into Zoombies 2. A film for another quarantine I believe.

So yeah, even though we have all the time in the world right now, I think I still wished I spent these 90 minutes doing something more productive, like staring at the spackle on my ceiling. Nevertheless, that time is irredeemable now and I guess a silver living should be found. Perhaps solace comes from social distancing helping keep us safe, not just from the rapid spread of virus, but from:

5) Wolves sneaking up behind you to gnaw right through your Achilles

4) A parrot poking your eyes out while mocking your final words

3) A gorilla smashing your skull as if opening a coconut

2) Monkeys bursting through your stomach like that scene in Alien

1) Eagles ripping out your esophagus and using it to make a nest for their eggs

And for that I’m thankful.


Your Bad Pandemic Movie of the Week Is… Outbreak (1995)

During these times, sometimes I feel the best way to cope is to approach with a level of dark humor. And what better way to tap into that humor than by looking at some of the poorly done pandemic films over cinematic history. Each week I’ll dissect a new film, ripping it apart to find some socially distanced catharsis.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%

If you scroll through the Outbreak Wikipedia entry, you wouldn’t peg it as a bad movie. It was a commercial success, earning over $120 million at the box office. Roger Ebert heaped huge praise on it, calling it, “one of the great scare stories of our time.” But then you press play, and an entirely different story shows itself. The plot is messy, the dialogue static, and it features just an incredibly awkward romance.

So let’s unpack this thing. We start off heavy on the xenophobia with a virus outbreak in the African jungle, brought to America by a monkey via a Chinese ship. The U.S. military puts its best team of sexual scumbags on the case. Our ringleader is Colonel Sam Daniels, played by Dustin Hoffman, a virologist who refuses to play by the rules. Kevin Spacey as Casey Schuler is his right-hand man and they recruit Major Salt (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who’s only qualification for handling a pandemic seems to be doing a quick skim of “Virus for Dummies” before boarding the flight to Zaire. These three all report to the by-the-book General Billy Ford, played by Morgan Freeman. Seriously, I don’t think there’s been a cast that’s aged more poorly.

Once back in the states, they take the virus to the lab, zoom in and enhance, and diagnose the virus as “Motaba.” By this point Motaba has made its way to American soil.  Patient zero: Jimbo Scott, played by Patrick Dempsey looking super McDreamy with his luscious looks and Motorhead t-shirt. He tries selling our contagious monkey on the black market, fails, and then proceeds to Harry and the Hendersons the thing into the woods, dooming us all the in the process.

Here’s the kicker though: this monkey was actually a two viruses for the price of one monkey. There’s the original water-borne virus that infects Jimbo and somehow does not spread after his trip to Boston. Then there’s the much more dangerous airborne mutation sweeping through a small town in coastal California. Action must be taken right away to save humanity, and in steps Colonel Daniels.

Except Daniels seems constantly preoccupied by the thought of his failing marriage with CDC scientist Robby Keough (Rene Russo) to even begin wrapping his brain around a global catastrophe or whatever. I mean he never misses a chance to interrupt an important medical briefing by venting about a weird self-imposed custody battle he’s having over their DOGS. He’s one step away from just flipping through the family photo album with patients on their deathbeds. This love rescue mission Daniels is on destroys any chance at intensity in the film, something you might want if you’re telling a story about the world potentially ending.

Health-professionals, military personnel, and generic 90’s news reporters flock to California as Motoba has started its spread. Daniels squeezes past the barricades, against general’s orders, because nothing saves a fractured relationship quicker than curing deadly disease. Meanwhile, on the warfront enters Major General Donald McClintock (Donald Sutherland) hellbent on prioritizing what matters the most, the military’s spit-shine sparkling PR image.

In perhaps the most accurate aspect of the film, McClintock makes the decision to firebomb hundreds of infected civilians, simply to hide the fact that the military were developing the Motaba strain to use as a biological weapon, which is you know, a war crime. Daniels learns of the plot, decides that’s uhh kind of fucked up, and takes matters into his own hands. I guess it’s just a slight coincidence that Keough is also now infected.

Daniels and Salt set out to search and destroy the source monkey. They track the monkey to a six-year-old girl who has just been the most hospitable tea party host for our number one public health threat. Daniels comes up with the most brilliant idea to catch the monkey. They will use the, I repeat, SIX-YEAR-OLD girl as bait, putting her in the middle of a tranquilizer gun and a deadly contagious wild animal. Daniels gives the girl an inspiring pep talk that basically boils down to, “oooo I love my wife,” and by gosh it works.

With the monkey secured, Daniels and Salt hightail it back to the infected site, but not before a totally sweet helicopter montage. However, McClintock still has Operation Clean Sweep at all systems go. Just a quick side note, if you’re planning on spinning the obliteration of an American town as in the public interest, maybe don’t name it Operation Clean Sweep. Daniels sweet talks the bomber pilots into abandoning the mission, detonating over the Pacific.

The dynamic duo then head to the hospital. Salt has miraculously gone from just learning about viruses at the beginning of the film to Nobel Prize winning biologist, developing an antidote in like 7 minutes. Humanity is saved, but most importantly, it looks like Daniels and Keough are going to make it you guys. Oh yeah, and Kevin Spacey dies. Just a great happy ending all around.

So when the credits rolls, I suggest reflecting on the highly important message this movie delivers in these uncertain circumstances. Hit up your ex, because maybe all you needed was a massive pandemic to really make it work.


Portrait of a Lady on Fire Review: An Existential Look at Love

The first scene of Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire narrows in on our titular painting. A lady in fancy gown, looks away to the empty horizon, isolated, the frills at the end of her dress set ablaze. The painting’s creator, Marianne (Noemie Merlant), looks through the painting, staring at a memory long in the past. This moment frames the anguish that drives the complex commentary on love throughout the film.

Marianne is commissioned by a high-society woman to paint her daughter, Heloise (Adele Haenel). As Marianne settles into the estate, she gathers rumors about Heloise’s sorrow. Heloise shrouds herself in her dark cloak, numbing herself to the constraints of 18th century society. She’s to piously accept the arranged marriage set up by her mother, expected to practice the concept of restraint learned at the convent to guide her in the strengthening of the family’s noble bloodlines.

This sense of anguish lurks around the corner in every aspect of Marianne and Heloise lives, but briefly we get to see fleeting moments of escape found in each other. For Marianne, it is an aesthetic release provided by her muse. Her passion ignites from mental snapshots she takes of Heloise. It’s the first sight of Heloise’s golden curls in the sunlight, her piercing blue eyes, and gentle slope of her neck that cement Marianne’s artistic attraction.

Heloise’s escapes come not from the lure of outward beauty, but the moments of liberation from internal strife. In Marianne arrives someone who can break free her emotions long locked away. A smile first cracks open as Marianne plays Heloise a first exposure to orchestral music, a discovery of something profound to define her existence. Through this relationship, she builds ways to contextualize her suffering from music to nature to art itself.

Cinema often portrays love as a permanent cure from our anguish, but Sciamma sees it differently in her award winning screenplay. Yes, Marianne and Heloise find their longest reprieve as they fully consume themselves in one another, but eventually the constraints of life return and sorrow prevails. The motifs of fire as passion in the film quickly give way to signs of internal distress. The complexity of their love pulls back and forth as they look longingly at each other from opposite sides of a crackling bonfire. Heloise’s dress begins to catch fire with her reacting with nothing but emptiness. Eventually, the world swallows up you back up and those moments of escape burn off into the night.

This might make the mood of the film sound awfully bleak, but Sciamma tries to have her characters live outside the binary of happy and sad. Yes, her existential argument centers around the idea that to exist is to feel pain, but she also communicates that any experiences that temporarily lift us from that pain is worth the heartbreak that might follow. Sciamma supports this belief by comparing her two lovers to the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

With Orpheus ordered by Hades to not look at his lover Eurydice until they escape the underworld, Orpheus cannot resist her beauty, turns back, and on the precipice of exit Eurydice sinks back down below. According to Marianne in her interpretation, Orpheus decides to accept the memory of Eurydice, a blissful moment preserved in the mind, never to be soured by time.

Marianne has her own Orpheus moment. At the threshold of her goodbye, she peers back at Heloise, angelic in her wedding gown. The image both haunts and delights. It’s the perfect encapsulation of aesthetic ecstasy Marianne found in her muse, but also reminds of a love doomed from the beginning by expectations. Both fade from each other’s lives forever, only memory remains.

Sciamma concludes her film by showing her characters as a sum of their experiences. Heartbreak facilitated growth. Marianne improved as an artist, her agony translating to a deeper connection with her canvas. Heloise has found a similar connection with her emotions, her tear-streaming reaction to the symphony far removed from the blank face first seen on the French cliffs. Portrait of a Lady on Fire refuses to coddle audiences with a love conquers all messaging, but it does give us some solace in its reminder that at least our anguish drives our human existence forward.


Little Women Review: Jo March’s Lesson on Love


We meet Jo March in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women defiant over her publisher Mr. Greenwood’s demands for her characters to be married by the end of her stories. This reluctance towards marriage persists as we learn more about her. She never misses a moment to mention that her fuel in life comes from her independence.

However, she arrives back to her childhood New England home sharpened much like the winter airs that greets her. She no longer possesses the cheerfulness of her youth, shown to us through intermittent flashbacks that carry the story along. Her role as the leader of the March sisters is no longer necessary, her big sister Meg content in marriage and her little sister Amy off on European adventures. We start to realize the claims of independence mask contrary intentions. Eventually, she unleashes her pent up frustrations to her always understanding mother Marmee.

“Women, they have minds, and they have souls as well as just hearts, and they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. But I’m so lonely.”

Saoirse Ronan’s delivery of this pivotal scene is what frames her character’s viewpoint on love. I empathize with her fears attached to love. The concern is that a sharing of yourself with another leads to you being left with less of yourself. You have less time to pursue your passions. Your important personal connections already made, like Jo’s with her sisters, will move to the background. The worry is that accepting another as a part of you results in an entire shift in your identity.

However, that stance can be a dangerous one to keep. Self-acceptance can quickly turn into complacency. Jo finds her herself in this spot. She is reluctant to challenge herself in her writing. Her educator counterpart Friedrich offers the potential at an equitable partnership based on honesty, but quickly pulls back from the leap necessary to embrace new truths.

She walked herself off that ledge before at the culmination of her transition from childhood to adulthood. The autumnal leaves of change surround her and her childhood friend Laurie. Her sisters have accepted the change ahead. Meg has married. Amy has accepted her aunt’s offer of an artistic apprenticeship in Europe. But when Laurie admits his love for Jo and her leap of faith into unknown appears in front of her, she retreats into what is comfortable: her understanding of who she is without love.

Now Jo faces a future of loneliness, unless she accepts that a past layer of herself must be shed and a new version of her well-defined personality adopted. We as humans must force ourselves out of the rigidity of old ways to allow for opportunities at growth. In these regards, Jo is no longer mentor but mentee to her younger sister Amy.

Amy, played expertly by Florence Pugh, put herself through this cycle of growth. She transforms in the film from fussy and petulant child to steadfast and determined adult. She has worked hard not only at her painting, but in understanding what she wants from life. While Jo prides herself on self-discovery, Amy has discovered herself through her relationships. As she paints her forever love and soon to be husband Laurie, she reveals her mantra towards love.

“I believe we have some power over who we love, it isn’t something that just happens to a person.”

Love needs to be grabbed when you see a chance at it. It isn’t something that serendipitously falls upon us. A successful partnership requires the diligence to work towards common goals, without the suffering of individual identity. We cannot reach understanding alone, as we often are unaware of our blind spots. A true partner can help us reach greater truths about ourselves and give us the fire to push our passions to new heights.

When Friedrich took life into his own hands and finds himself face to face with Jo and the entire March family. Now, Jo must heed Amy’s lesson on determination. A new adventure awaits in a train to California with Friedrich on it. It will not require a sacrifice of who she is, but an admittance there is still much more to become.

So here’s to those of us who are love-hesitant chasing that train in the new year and taking the chance at betting understanding ourselves through the love we can give others.


My Favorite Films of 2019

*Spoilers abound*

10. Judy

Reneé Zellweger’s performance was all it was hyped to be. She adds a new dimension to a star that is sadly fading from the pop culture canon. Zellweger captures tragically the agony of Judy Garland’s last stages in her career. Her eyes convey someone broken, and fully aware she cannot be fixed. Zellweger endears us to Garland with the devotion she has for both her children and her fans. The climatic scene of her pouring her last drops of energy into a final rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a last shared moment between her and the fans that gave her meteoric rise and devastating fall purpose, was one of the most heartbreaking scenes in film this year. Zellweger fully deserves the Oscar that is hopefully heading her way.

9. They Shall Not Grow Old

I don’t think there was a grander feat attempted in film this year than Peter Jackson’s efforts with this World War I documentary. First off, Jackson and his crew sifted through 600 hours of interviews from soldiers collected by the BBC and International War Museum. Jackson then took the distorted footage that remains from almost a century ago, colorized it, used modern production to create more animation, then added sound effects that resulted in one of the most authentic war documentaries to date.

8. Midsommar

The boldest and most imaginative horror film premise on record. The newly crowned king of horror, Ari Aster, takes never ending daylight and transforms it to sinister effect. Florence Pugh kicked off her moment in the spotlight with a good breakout performance as the grief stricken Dani. Unfortunately, Aster wasn’t able to get the most out of his characters like he did in his debut Hereditary. The gang of caricatures in Midsommar don’t produce the same complexity as Toni Collette’s internal fight between grief, anger, and motherhood. Aster should be praised for this brave attempt to revolutionize the horror genre, but I just wish the execution could’ve been better.

7. The Farewell

There is not a single character in Lulu Wang’s family memoir that I do not love. Zhao Shuzhen’s performance as Nai Nai, the family matriarch who is diagnosed with cancer but unaware of her diagnosis because of the family’s cultural practices, is brilliant and if there is any justice in the world should sweep up any best supporting actresses awards (she’s nominated for a Independent Spirit Award in that category). She’s sweet and witty, but also the epitome of toughness that main character Billi (played by Awkwafina) needs in her navigation of the quickly approaching adult world. The other family members deserve their praise as well, from the stoic but secretly hurting son Haiyan (Tzi Ma) to Hao Hao (Chen Han), the grandson and groom lost inside his own culture. The camera swivels rapidly as the family downs shots at Hao Hao’s wedding, each character completely unique from the next but a perfect fit together.

6. The Lighthouse

I’m a sucker for a film heavily packed with allegory and symbolism, and Robert Eggers makes sure to shove as much of those aspects into his sea-epic. Willem Dafoe plays a lighthouse manager, who doubles as a shepherd-like figure for the vengeful god of the sea Neptune. Robert Pattinson is quite literally a lost soul at sea, looking for four weeks of work, but more importantly for salvation from past transgressions. A nasty storm hits that tests Pattinson’s desire for penance, and puts him on the tipping point between heaven and hell. It’s a film that opens itself to multiple interpretations, but regardless of your takeaways the last 30 minutes will leave your jaw dropped.

5. Knives Out

A fun and light murder mystery that also is a politically astute commentary on American politics is a hard thing to pull off, but Rian Johnson nails it. The descendants of Harlan Thrombey’s (Christopher Plummer) self made wealth are a murderers row of everything wrong with our current political landscape: the rise of the alt-right youth, trust fund babies, and lifestyle gurus. Daniel Craig relished the opportunity to get his Atticus Finch on, and delivers a great performance as the righteous Southern investigator. The true star of the show is Marta (Ana de Armas), Thrombery’s nurse living with her undocumented mother, who against her will finds herself up against these scourges of America. Johnson gives his main character a happy ending, and instills in the audience the fantasy of justice that allowed us to escape the unfortunate reality of our current American society.

4. Uncut Gems

This film never gives you a moment’s peace. Adam Sandler never stops screaming as a jewelry salesman and overall asshole Howard Ratner. The noise continues to build as Ratner weaves his bullshit across New York. You’re anxious, you’re irritated, but also somehow rooting for Ratner. The Safdie Brothers did what they set out to do, drain you of all your emotion and leave you dumbfounded. You might leave the theatre not sure what the hell just happened, but you’ll have definitely felt the entire 2 hours right in your pulse.

3. Waves

A true coming-of-age drama that leaves all the sappiness at the door. Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) faces the real challenges of American youth that can’t be overcome with light-hearted romps. He’s weighed down by the expectations not only of family, but of the pre-defined notions of masculinity and our ill-fated attempts at perfection. He faces the reality of human limitations without the copings mechanics to come to terms with his humanity. Mix in the opioid epidemic and you have a powder-keg of youthful frustration that has no healthy chance to escape. We are hit with a harrowing end to act one, but are thankfully given an optimistic second act that gives a tad of reassurance. Themes of love, honesty, and acceptance through the lens of Emily, Tyler’s sister (Taylor Russell), and her positive relationships with her father (Sterling K. Brown) and boyfriend (Lucas Hedges) provides the next generation a blueprint to climb out of that dark hole that often faces us.

2. Parasite

A suspense film masterpiece. Director Bong Joon-ho moves gracefully from comedy to tension, tragedy to vengeance, in his metaphor of class struggle between the working class Kim family and ruling class Park family. The images within the film of that struggle are poignant. The Kims find themselves stuck in the Park family’s house, trapped underneath their luxurious living room table, as the Park couple find sexual gratification in their employee’s poverty. Never will you want to eat the rich more. It’s probably the most complete film of the year, and should clean up come award season.

1. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

I didn’t identify with a character more this year than Jimmie Fails’ fictionalized version of himself in Joe Talbot’s commentary on gentrification and cultural displacement. Jimmie Fails is struggling to find his place in the city he loves. He holds his hope in his childhood home that his family was priced out of. Jimmie maintains the home that he no longer possesses, continuing to paint and garden so the cracks don’t start to show. As the film moves forward, the cracks inevitably do show. The idealized version of his childhood starts to show its true face. Jimmie has built a new family network involving his best friend Montgomery (Johnathan Majors) and Mont’s father (Danny Glover), insulating him from the dissolution of his relationship with his own father. The scene that will stick with me the most from this year sees Jimmie on the bus, eavesdropping on two transplants bad mouthing San Francisco. Jimmie sharply interjects:

“You don’t get to hate it unless you love it.”

It spoke so much to my feelings with Pittsburgh. I hate the problems this city faces, and look nowhere near close to changing. Racism is prevalent throughout the city, its cultural charm disappearing institution by institution. And yes there are some elements I can never understand when it comes to the systemic racism of inequitable development, but Jimmie Fails and his search for his small pocket exclusively his own in the city he loves represents all us city dwellers that are worrisome about where they belong in the future of the city we love wholeheartedly.


Yet Another Star Wars Review

*This article contains huge spoilers, so if you somehow stumble on this without having seen The Rise of Skywalker, it would probably be in your best interest to steer clear.* 

Star Wars opinions: it seems like everyone has one on the Internet these days. Disney sucks. Rian’s fault. JJ’s fault. The inundation of reviews has made it almost impossible to determine whether I even think the trilogy are good movies. It’s all swirling around up there, ready to be synthesized. There is only one possible solution to it all… one more hot take to throw into the fire. Head deeper into the Disney content vortex, in hopes I can sail the ship out the other side with some conclusion.

The only way this can be achievable is if I scale things back and determine what actually matters in a Star Wars film. The biggest problem I’ve had in analyzing these films is that the passion I have for the franchise consumes me (much like the passion Anakin had for Padme consumed him… see, here I go). Once the characters were established for this trilogy, I started to build the vision in my head. Then the plot starts to steer off the course I plotted, and I got upset the Star Wars world I built wasn’t realized.

Thinking about what could have been will get me nowhere. Instead, I need to look back at what started this passion and understand what made those first three movies great to a young nerd. I boiled down the original trilogy to three core elements that carried them into the pop culture pantheon: character development, world building, and story. When scrutinizing the new trilogy on these terms, I think I finally might find clarity.

Character Development

Ah, what a motley crew that greets us in the beginning stages of A New Hope. We immediately receive the groundwork for an epic space opera that’s on a direct beeline for immortality. Darth Vader epitomizes villainy perfectly. Luke is a boy about to embark on the journey of a lifetime, certainly an idea that a young imaginative mind can embrace. Then surround that main character (aka yourself) with the coolest best friends ever. It’s hard not to immediately get lost in that world.

Going forward, they search for love, friendship, and salvation in one another. All of these are achieved for the most part in a group dynamic. That togetherness provokes a familial element that reaches into our inner desires. Watching the bonds of family and friends conquer intergalactic adversity gives us hope that our personal networks we build can achieve the same.

Here we find my first flaw in the trilogy, and the blame for this one lies mostly with The Last Jedi, the film that produced the most inner strife for myself. The Force Awakens regenerates new great characters in Rey, Finn, and Poe, and the film ends placing them all in interesting attack positions on the chessboard. The Last Jedi takes those pieces and with a giant swipe sends them to the dark corners of the galaxy.

These three characters share almost zero screen time in the film until the final moments. Poe and Rey actually meet for the first time at the end of The Last Jedi. Finn spends the movie on a do-nothing mission with a pawn on the character chessboard. Two and half hours dribble by, and the opportunity to build that group rapport is squandered.

Writer and director Rian Johnson took a similar risk that The Empire Strikes Back managed to pull off. By isolating the major players, the characters embark on inner discovery that shapes them for the rest of the series. However, Johnson failed to recognize his positioning within the entire Star War series. Seven films came before him and a whole universe has already been established by the introduction of his chapter in the saga. More works needs done to chip away at the old guard of the first six films and create a new group dynamic that the audience wants to invest in.

J.J. Abrams, the creative point for the new trilogy, tried to right this mistake in his direction of The Rise of Skywalker. While Abrams has taken flak for contradicting The Last Jedi and making Johnson’s contributions to the saga obsolete, the decision to have Rey, Finn, and Poe share the screen for a huge chunk of the film was a needed fix. Watching the new crew sleuth around the Star Destroyer harked back to the adventurous and amusing nature that made you want to root for the OGs.

The chemistry was simmering between the three, but because of the separation caused by The Last Jedi it never reached a full boil. There just wasn’t enough experience shared between them to fully commit to them being lovable successors to their Resistance elders. Part of that is due to the group never encountering meaningful conflict (more on that when I get to the story discussion). Watching the characters work together to overcome their misfortune is what truly bounds the audience to them. As we enter into the final chapter without that redemption arc in place, the trilogy feels more like a cute Meetup session between a pilot, fighter, and Jedi than a family’s journey reaching its satisfying end.

World Building

Tauntauns, AT-ATs, Cloud City… the original trilogy brought us new concepts that revolutionized science fiction cinema. You fell head first into a universe that captured imagination, but left room for you to build more in your head. For the most part, the new trilogy succeeds at this as well.

Here is where Johnson deserves praise for his bold attempt at branching away from the already established and much loved Star Wars universe, and chartering off into his own territory. The planets he creates are unlike others from the series, but my favorite thing about them is they are functional in understanding how the universe operates. This is one of the complaints I have about the world building additions made in the prequel trilogy. The planets created serve no purpose other than for Lucasfilm to flex their CGI capabilities.

Canto Bight is the best example of using a planet to glimpse into the culture and problems that arise from intergalactic governance. Within the Canto Bight scenes, we see capitalist greed, police over-surveillance, and a fight for animal (species, creature?) rights. These are issues we never contemplated occurring within space, but make incredible sense considering the always present themes of imperialism and rebellion within the entire saga. We also receive snippets of religion (the nuns of Ahch-To) and industry (the mineral mines of Crait), all elements that take a universe and mold it into a society.

Sadly, Abrams seemed unwilling to venture into the darkness of the Star Wars universe and discover his own worlds like Johnson did. He retreated into the comforts of the already existing. The climatic scenes of The Rise of Skywalker involved X-wings, Star Destroyers, and the Millennium Falcon. It all felt repetitive and stale. While perhaps there was a vocal group of Star Wars fans that wanted to stay in their nostalgic bubble, I wanted a new adventure that sparked the joy that started this obsession. While there were many flaws to Johnson’s film, at least his universe made us curious about what else laid inside it.


What film can succeed without a coherent story? The original trilogy’s storyline was simple, easy to identify with, and captivating above all. This new trilogy is none of those three.

It could’ve been. The Force Awakens ends with character arcs that should guide them through the rest of the series. Kylo Ren dealing with his inner conflict between light and darkness. Rey set to embark on her difficult journey of self-realization. Johnson’s duty with The Last Jedi is to take these character arcs and develop deep conflict by the end of the film that the characters must resolve in the final chapter. It’s what makes The Empire Strikes Back the greatest film in the franchise. The characters encounter their limitations and face the dire consequences because of it. You worry not only about how they will come on top, but how they will grow as characters. It’s the perfect bridge between beginning and end. Perhaps Johnson tried doing this, but I feel he failed miserably. The characters are in no greater danger than how they began The Last Jedi. Even worse, our main character Rey has no personal crisis that will propel her forward to her coronation as trilogy hero.

The lack of a cohesion between the visions of Johnson and Abrams derails the story completely off the tracks. Abrams gives every impression in his script for The Rise of Skywalker of feeling pressured to correct Johnson’s mistake, scrambling towards some sort of conflict that can carry his film. Once again, he rests on the ideas of George Lucas with a half ass attempt to write Emperor Palpatine back into the universe. Then gives Rey her personal crossroads by an even lamer decision to bind her and Palpatine by blood. It’s lazy writing that lacks a single drop of creativity. When we reach our ending, I hardly cared. The story had been twisted and mangled to the point where the crux of any good action film, your beloved characters overcoming their struggles and affirming our utopian dream of good always defeating evil, was incapable of any satisfaction.

If you leave the theatre after the last film of your favorite film series devoid of any satisfaction, I guess you have no other choice to label the new trilogy not good. After looking past the gut reactions and embroiled debate between friends, I think I now understand why. It comes down to the lack of a unified vision with how this trilogy was to unfold. There were moments in the three films that had the three great elements of a Star Wars film, but never were they working in sync. Abrams built the bare bones for a good story and Johnson buried those bones so Abrams could never find them again. Johnson built a new captivating universe and Abrams blew it up with a Star Destroyer. In the end, I will view this new trilogy as a story of unrealized potential and an inability to work together. And when you consider that Star Wars is a series dedicated to fulfilling your destiny and the power of fellowship, a trilogy that is drastically missing these elements can only be seen as a dishonor to those original films I hold so dear to my heart. 


My Tottenham Trip

Each week, I’m offered a different perspective as an American supporter of Tottenham Hotspur compared to those that actually support from England’s capital. As I step through the door of Piper’s Pub, I immediately feel home amid a sporting culture that treats soccer as an afterthought, and even sometimes, with open hostility. I can gather with like-minded individuals at Piper’s and experience the magnitude of a North London Derby or a massive six-pointer to an almost authentic degree. Celebrating these moments with a small community is what makes me feel connected to my club while so far away.

However, that doesn’t stop there being at least one brief moment each match where I feel there’s a part missing. The distance starts to echo as I look on through television monitors. There is quite clearly an awesome atmosphere beyond the screen that becomes subdued as it transmits over the Atlantic. For the past two years, the desire grew stronger within me after each match. “I have to get over there,” especially pressed as the hallowed grounds of White Hart Lane are to be torn down after this season.

I couldn’t fight the feeling any longer. I saved up and cashed in my vacation days. I welcomed in 2017 on a flight to London to see my first Premier League match, and one of great quality. Spurs were to host Chelsea, heavy favorites to win the league entering the new year after notching 13 wins in a row. I couldn’t pick a better fixture to experience that atmosphere I craved.

The journey to my footballing mecca began with a tour of the grounds. I prepared myself inside the tunnel for that burst into light. I emerged and was surrounded by the perfect green of the pitch. Off to my left, Tottenham crested cranes skied towards the clouds, working on the new stadium just behind the North Stand. My eyes swept across the roof of the opposite East Stand, spotting the bronze cockerel perched on top. The panoramic view offered a brief snapshot into the club’s past, present, and future.

Throughout the halls were other reminders of the great history that accompanies Tottenham Hotspur. The bust of the late Bill Nicholson didn’t do the well-decorated club legend as much justice as the beautiful speech of appreciation that our tour guide gave. On the other side of the room rested the ball used in Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Leicester City to win the 1961 FA Cup, thus becoming the first club in the 20th century to complete the league and cup double. It was the greatest year in the course of Tottenham Hotspur, and I got to relive a small part of it a half-century later.

Trophies ranged back all the way to 1901. Framed was the sponsor-free lilywhite shirt that Ricky Villa danced in to lift the 1981 FA Cup. These relics of past glory helped me realized another reason why I love this club so much. As modern football gives way to sheikhs and oil magnates, we refuse to sell our history. The players of today honor those before them with the same “To Dare Is to Do” spirit. I exited the grounds, reflecting on a quote printed on the hoardings that encircle the pitch. “This is my club, my one and only club.” I felt proud and ready for matchday.

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The floodlights switched on for the primetime fixture. I arrived at the grounds early to witness the atmosphere build. The night began with an egg sandwich and coffee in the corner of a cozy Ethiopian and Eritrean café on Park Lane. After collecting my tickets, I trekked up Church Road for a couple drinks at the Antwerp Arms.

The pre-match pub vibe surprised me. There were no songs or banter shouted loud enough for the crowd to hear in the hopes of being crowned jester. It was quiet and everyone seemed reserved, as if they were storing all energy for the match to come. I picked up an adequate buzz and fell back to White Hart Lane.

People outside the grounds had tripled while I was away. Polices horses now pranced around to keep the traveling Chelsea supporters in check. The winter air felt sharper as the clock ticked down to kick-off. I found a spot and watched people shuffle up and down Park Lane. A man then approached asking if he could interview me. I knew this was a thing that happened at English football grounds, as I often watch ArsenalFanTV after a bad Gooner result to see Claude and Ty implode for my sick pleasure. This, however, was clearly a smaller scale production. The man nudged next to me with a low-budget microphone, his friend recording from a handheld camera. I thought why the hell not.

The man began by asking me who I support, as I looked back at him with my Tottenham beanie and scarf. He then attempted to wind me up, hyping Antonio Conte’s managerial skills and the quality of his players. I politely agreed, but retorted with the magic of Mauricio Pochettino and his Tottenham boys.

“What will be the score?” he asked.


“Chelsea?” he said with a wry smile, hoping I would boil over and he would get an interview that was YouTube worthy.

“No, Tottenham,” I shot back calmly.

I shook off the weird encounter and entered the stadium. I found my seat in the last row of the Southeast corner. My sight line went directly down the corner flag and end line. The pre-match warmups sped by and all of the sudden the two teams exited the tunnels. The adrenaline began to course through me while the hosts welcomed their heated rivals to the Lane with handshakes.

That reserved energy at the Antwerp Arms exploded once Dele Alli passed back to Eric Dier to get the match underway. There wasn’t a single moment in the next 90 minutes when the stands were silent. Even seemingly insignificant parts of the match carried a weight with them. Whether it was Jan Vertonghen intercepting a pass and galloping into the midfield or Victor Wanyama shrugging a Chelsea attacker off the ball, the crowd roared.

Spurs pushed closer to Thibaut Courtois’ goal as the first half progressed. The supporters developed their full voice, working through their catalog of chants. I had yet to join in, feeling undeserving. I worried about being labeled a fraud if I fumbled a line.

That shyness disappeared around when the fourth official displayed the amount of first half stoppage time and a few fans made the poor decision to leave for the restrooms early. All in the stands seemed to accept a 0-0 stalemate at halftime when Christian Eriksen orchestrated one last attack. He played Kyle Walker down the right hand side, where Walker flicked back for Eriksen to float a cross towards Alli at the far post. The young star seemed suspended in air. As the ball arrived at Alli’s head, you could tell what was about to unfold. I was about to experience the moment I traveled all this way for. Alli knocked the ball across goal and past a flying Courtois. 1-0.

The next 30 seconds were spent in unconscious bliss. I regained myself to find Alli in our corner, surrounded by delirious Spurs supporters in the front row of the South Stand. The people around me pulled out their phones for a perfect photo opportunity, while I picked mine off the ground after it must’ve fell out my pocket during the post-goal scenes.

Not shortly after was the halftime whistle. The players were serenaded off the pitch to the tune of the super-catchy Dele Alli chant. This one I couldn’t help but sing.

“We’ve got Alli, Dele Alli. I just don’t think you understand. He only cost five mil. He’s better than Ozil. We’ve got Dele Alli.”

Everyone joined in at different points during the first refrain. The Lane grew in volume during the second refrain and crescendoed in the third go round. I unabashedly belted out every word. It left me with goosebumps.

The second half began by Chelsea delivering me down from my state of elation and putting me on edge. The visitors started to pick at the cracks in Tottenham’s defensive wall and tested Hugo Lloris with a handful of threatening chances. My chest hardened and my foot tapped the concrete below with the pace of a hummingbird. Visions of Eden Hazard dashing our title hopes last year appeared in my mind.

Spurs weathered the storm and dealt the counterpunch that proved the knockout. The second goal mirrored the first: a Walker pass back, a perfectly placed Eriksen cross to the far post, and an Alli header across goal. The stands erupted with a similar burst of noise and chaos, but was followed by a sense of relief. Tottenham could switch on the cruise control for the remaining 35 minutes.

Pochettino and his back three controlled the match until the final whistle. Vertonghen destroyed all of Chelsea’s play that came down the right-hand side. Dier tormented a mopey and ineffective Diego Costa all night.

Supporters continued to sacrifice their vocal chords for the brilliant display their club gifted them. The Lane thundered with the collective stomps that accompanied “Yid Army.” The Chelsea supporters were sent back to West London with the mocking, “na na na na, you’re shite.” The climax came in stoppage time with “The Spurs Go Marching In.” The pause in between each line allowed me to survey the crowd. Everyone had the hands raised in the air. 25,000 were united in love of their club. We had synced with the players to make a statement to the Premier League, and now we celebrated our accomplishment. I gave everything I had left to the chant, a happy goodbye to this special place that had only existed to me within a 36-inch frame just days ago.

The final whistle blew and one last roar came from the crowd. The score flashed “2-0” on the big screen. I hoped that man with the microphone felt like an idiot now.

The team showed their thanks to us while “Glory, Glory, Tottenham Hotspur” played over the sound system. Pochettino and his boys disappeared into the tunnel, and like that it was over. All that energy faded until White Hart Lane returned to its peaceful sea of royal blue seats, the way it was first presented to me on the tour. The night disintegrated fast after that. No amount of beer could rescue that high I just experienced.

The match was so fast-paced that it was hard to process what it all meant to me right away. The amount of emotion within the stadium pushed me back onto my heels, sending my brain into overdrive.

The 7-hour flight back to the States gave me time to decompress and put the trip into context. I sometimes think that “football is a religion” is an overused metaphor, but I would truly describe the four days I spent in London as a spiritual journey. My time in White Hart Lane among the Tottenham supporters gave me a deeper understanding of my faith in this club. I learned of the responsibility that each supporter has to give their passionate voice, in order to tip the scales in their club’s favor. I added a new layer to the communal spirit I feel around with other supporters. I knew how it felt to be one of ten awake at 7:30 in the morning on the Saturday, trying to summon some gas from the bottom of the tank. Now I also know how it feels to be anonymous within the masses. I left my identity outside the grounds and melded with others into one entity, a fellowship solely dedicated to Tottenham Hotspur. I no longer had the feeling that some part of me was missing. Singing Dele Alli’s name under the lights of White Hart Lane filled that last piece. I was now complete.