All posts by Ethan Webber

Don’t look around: the scary reality of “Don’t Look Up”

From absurd presidents to toxic social media, the Netflix film “Don’t Look Up” brings light to the absurdity of modern United States society. Other than giving audiences a satirical story about the end of the world, the film gives many viewers, specifically Americans, a scary wake-up to the ridiculous nation that is the U.S. The only question remains, “How accurate was the film?”

Film Poster (photo from Wikimedia Commons, Copyright Netflix)

The story follows astronomers Dr. Randall Mindy and Kate Dibiasky, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, struggling to alert the world of its soon-to-be death. The two face modern culture, social media, and a troubling government in the journey to prepare for the end of the planet. What becomes clear to the audience is that the film mocks several familiar issues and topics we are dealing with today. The entire plot highlights the controversial concerns of climate change and COVID-19. In the world we live in, people either believe and are concerned about the issues, or think that everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about.

The fictional presidential administration in the film takes many shots at, the one and only, President Trump. As Dr. Mindy and Ms. Dibiasky take the precautionary steps to alert mankind; they run into President Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, who resembles the MAGA Man. She is a former reality star who falls into politics, similar to Trump and his time on “The Apprentice.” The astronomers come to find that President Orlean and her chief of staff son Jason Orlean, along with the entire administration, are not concerned about the comet. Mindy and Dibiasky are told to “sit tight and assess” rather than prepare for doom. Not only does this mock President Trump’s attitude towards topics like climate change and COVID-19, but this bit also makes fun of President Trump’s children. Jason Orlean’s character is based on Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, and not-so-subtle hints of Donnie Jr.

As the film progresses, the Orlean Administration hosts many rallies spreading the slogan, “Don’t Look Up,” a direct jab at Trump rallies. The motto in the film is created to end the worry of the deathly comet, while the astronomers spread the words, “Just Look Up.” President Orlean proudly wears “Don’t Look Up” hats, mirroring the “Make America Great Again” merchandise. Jonah Hill’s character remarks to a rally crowd calling them Republicans to confirm all of these satirical coincidences.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of “Meta” (photo from

Politicians were not the only target of McKay’s writing as social media, pop culture, and the news was also hit with ridiculous, but accurate, satirical comedy. Mark Rylance plays Peter Isherwell, CEO of an advanced technology company who oddly resembles Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. Isherwell is a very odd man, to say the least, with strange mannerisms and his way of speaking, which is most likely inspired by Mark Zuckerberg. For years, social media has claimed that Zuckerberg is not a real human being for his looks, his way of speaking, and his overall personality. Rylance does a good job breaking out the awkwardness to mock the Facebook, or “Meta,” CEO. Also, Rylance’s character focuses on how his new tech and cellphone tracks aspects of its consumers. This is a direct joke to Zuckerberg and the idea that Facebook tracks data. The glimpse of Steve Jobs comes into play when Isherwell showcases the new phone that has unique features to make society lazier.

Both news and social media work together to highlight how morning shows focus on drama and lighthearted topics, rather than actual issues. The news show in the film, “The Daily Rip,” is hosted by Brie Evantee and Jack Bremmer, played by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry. The two news anchors portray the power of the news that exists in our world, as it is said that the show is top-rated. One of the main themes in this bit is the whole idea of these morning shows focusing on the positives, rather than reality. For example, when Dr. Mindy and Ms. Dibiasky join the show for a segment about the comet, the two anchors continue to make light of the situation instead of informing the nation of its inevitable end. This scene took place after Ariana Grande’s introduction as “Riley Bena,” legitimately based on herself. On the show, she talked about her recent dramatic breakup from a rapper. Obviously, this is a play on Grande’s actual drama involving her ex-fiancé Pete Davidson, in which their breakup was spread around social media and news sites as if it were news-worthy.

McKay’s star-studded film has divided its audience completely. The comedy disaster premiered on Christmas Eve only to bring in mixed reactions. Either critics tore the movie apart line by line or praised it for its cast and humor. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 54% while hitting a 7.3/10 on IMDb. It currently sits in the Netflix Originals category on the streaming service, awaiting further criticism, praise, or fear from the film’s accuracy.

Ethan Webber is a senior member of The Quill and the Multimedia Journalism class

The true cinema experience: the importance of movie theaters

Imagine a world without movie theaters, without popcorn, without candy, and without the previews that precede the film. What world does that absence of the theater experience create? The answer is a dull, boring movie-watching experience from a couch. Unfortunately, this hypothetical world is becoming a reality with the continuous rise of streaming services. With the new form of cinema viewing, the audience is not just losing the candy and the materials of a theater, but the overall experience of watching a film on the big screen.

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For years services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu have hosted original work and licensed films. Now other companies, HBO Max and Disney+, have entered the streaming game but with a twist. Along with the original movies and series they develop, they are tampering with films premiering in cinemas. Before these companies, a film would premiere in theaters and then, after some time, be added to streaming services. Some movies are being added directly to the streaming service the same day it premieres in theaters, giving the option to miss the experience.

“I don’t care what anybody says, it’s not the same experience.”

Todd Phillips

Now, what is the movie experience I am speaking of? During an episode of the YouTube series, “The Off Camera Show” hosted by Sam Jones, Todd Phillips, the director of “Joker,” “The Hangover,” and many more, explained how the communal experience is crucial to movie watching. Phillips gives an example referencing his 2009 film: “When you see ‘The Hangover’ with 400 people at the Universal Citywalk (Hollywood theater), and you watch ‘The Hangover’ on HBO, even if it’s your first time watching it, I don’t care what anybody says, it’s not the same experience.” He explains how emotion from the audience, whether it’s laughter or cries, cannot be copied at home. “You can replicate screen size, you can replicate resolution…but you can’t replicate the crowd experience”, Phillips stated and believes that is the difference that separates the film industry from other forms of media.

WARNING: Adult Language included.

The Denis Villeneuve film “Dune” premiered in theaters on October 22. HBO Max has partnered with Legendary Studios to host the film on its streaming service for 31 days, starting on the theatrical release. So subscribers to HBO Max will have access to the movie immediately on Friday. Many people ask, “Why is this such a bad thing?” and point out that they have the film from the comfort of their own home. This is true, but the experience of watching a movie in cinemas is far different from watching one from a living room.

“Dune” Copyright, Legendary Studios

John Nash, class of 2020, was able to see “Dune” ahead of its release. After the viewing, he shared his thoughts on Instagram, stating that it was not only “theater worthy” but “one of the best movie-watching experiences in a while.” 

From my own experience, I have felt the difference between at-home and theater film experiences. On October 1, “The Many Saints of Newark,” the prequel film to HBO’s hit series “The Sopranos,” premiered both HBO Max and in theaters. I decided to get back into the cinema and watched the film opening night on the big screen. I was surrounded by fans of the series as the film progressed with several callbacks and jokes from the show. We, the audience, laughed at the references while subconsciously enjoying the sense of community. Then the film hit a monstrous plot twist that caused a reaction from the crowd. I distinctly remember hearing the gasps and reactions to one pivotal moment. Then as the film closed and the iconic theme song from the show played, we all walked out of the dim theater shaken from the story. A few days later, I rewatched the film at home through HBO Max. After my second viewing, I still loved the movie, but the experience was different. I missed the audience feeling that formed from the giant silver screen.

Movie theaters are a core part of cinema and the art of filmmaking. Streaming services seem to be the future of cinema, but theaters are still, in my opinion, worth the trip outside the comfort of your home. As more movies release at the end of 2021 and into 2022, it may be easier to just stay at home and watch films, but you get what you pay for in these circumstances. Hopefully, production companies see this importance and limit the availability of films premiering on streaming services.

Ethan Webber is a senior member of the Quill and the Multimedia Journalism Class.

An original opportunity: the importance of creative arts at MSJ

“High school is one of the greatest times in your life where you can explore your passions,” stated Mr. Bianco, the director of student life here at Mount Saint Joe, about the importance of student original creative work. High school is, in fact, the opportunity for students to find themselves and the passion that rests inside them. Many students have options to try out for sports, study specific topics, and be involved with extracurricular activities that follow their interests. But what about creative arts? Does high school give students who want to explore the creative arts the chance for student-produced work? I interviewed some of MSJ’s creative and leading teachers for their take on the importance of creative arts at MSJ.

MSJ’s Drama Club’s “Peter and the Star Catcher” cast and crew during rehearsal.

One essential aspect of creative arts is the first word of the study, “creative.” Students find themselves intrigued by the area of study due to the availability to express themselves through creating and producing their own work. That chance for students at MSJ to work on and showcase original work allows them to explore that possible career path. The Carpenter, MSJ’s literary magazine, gives students the chance to publish their pieces of writing. The drama department allows students to act and be a part of the plays and musicals put on in the Knott Fine Arts Auditorium. But other than those two outlets, which are somewhat limited, do students have chances for showcasing original work? The Drama Club at MSJ is currently working on expanding its horizons and giving students more opportunities for showcasing original work. The club is hoping to host a winter cabaret to show original creative projects.

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Mr. Hartsfield, an English teacher and director of the theater department, states that “it’d be great if students could produce their own (creative) work.” Other than the art show here at the Mount, Mr. Hartsfield does not believe we see enough student-driven work. He would like to see students “create their own content like plays, film or singing…I don’t think we see a lot of that now”. He also claims that “there should be more of an opportunity for that to happen.”

Mr. Stromberg, a new theology teacher at MSJ.

Mr. Bianco commented on the idea of giving students the opportunity for an original creative project, “I think if we give students those opportunities, to figure that (project) out along the way, that’s a high school’s responsibility. That’s especially a Xaverian Catholic high school’s responsibility.” Mr. Bianco relates to the importance of the arts due to his “side hustle” of playing the guitar. He explained how, in college, he was in a band that really helped him through that time in his life. He explained how ”those things matter to us because that’s how we express ourselves.”

Mr. Stromberg, a new Theology teacher at the Mount, is also connected with the arts in the way of musical theatre. He received a Bachelor of Music in Musical Theatre from the Catholic University of America. When asked if he felt prepared by MSJ for that area of study, he said, “I would say yes…(MSJ) taught me how to have a certain work ethic.” He continued to explain his creative opportunities at the Mount, “It did prepare me…the way it taught me to approach education.” Still, he detailed how he did not get the specific chance to find that creative work opportunity. He did not find that passion for musical theatre until he went to college at CUA. But as he now begins his teaching career here at the Mount, he wants to support students who have a passion for creative arts and make sure they have that opportunity.

Other than the shows and the literary magazine at MSJ, students do not have a strong outlet for their original creative work to be shown to the school community. Hopefully, the Drama Club will sponsor and host a cabaret for students to explore, create, and showcase their original work for Gaels, friends, and families to see on the stage.

Ethan Webber is a senior member of the Quill and the Multimedia Journalism class.

Does material matter? A look into the revised MSJ dress code

We wanted to simplify the outerwear as much as we can.

Mr. Ryan Luckman, Dean of Students

As Mount St. Joseph eases into the 2021 academic year, confusion regarding the dress code has already taken place. The new rulings impact in-classroom coverings, specifically 1/4 zips. In an act to end the confusion, Mr. Luckman sent a faculty-wide email regarding the new enforced 1/4 zip mandate. According to the email, “Only gray and black 1/4 zips with the school seal on them [or MSJ], bought from the school store, may be worn during class, all other outer coverings are coats and should be removed during the class period.” As most students are aware, the hunt for illegal outerwear has been ongoing since the second week of school. But what does this new ruling precisely encapsulate? I interviewed Mr. Luckman, our Dean of Students, to clarify the attempt to end covering chaos.

A senior wearing an “illegal” blue Under Armor 1/4 zip.

Early this year, and years in the past, students have been wearing 1/4 zip coverings from companies like Under Armor, Patagonia, and Columbia and have been asked to remove them during class. Senior Jonah Matthews was told that he cannot wear a blue Under Armor 1/4 zip, see above. Students like Jonah are thrown into a spiral of questions on why their covering is not allowed. What makes that covering any different from the school-store 1/4 zip coverings? If the covering matches one of the permitted school colors, why must it be removed? The answer is the material of the 1/4 zip. The administration believes that the fabric of the covering determines its appropriateness.

This change made by Mr. Luckman was “all based on making it easier for teachers and staff,” to determine the correct covering. Mr. Luckman stated, “Some students are wearing things that kinda have (a) flat look to them, but then they have sweatshirt material inside…that’s a no-go.” He explained how the covering worn by Jonah Matthews would be allowed two years ago, but is now a violation of the dress code.

The new MSJ Seal (sweatshirt material) 1/4 zip from the School Store

The reason the material matters to administration is because of its connection to professionalism. I asked Mr. Luckman to dive deeper into professionalism and how material indicates that idea: “You don’t see too many people going to work at a business with a sweatshirt…we [the administration] don’t want anything that’s sweatshirt material.” So even if you wear the new light grey 1/4 zip with the MSJ seal (see above) from the school store, it is deemed unprofessional due to its sweatshirt-like material, and you will be asked to remove it during class. But you can wear it all around campus in between classes for that five-minute break!

For the past few years, students were allowed to wear 1/4 zips with sweater-like material. This led to the question: What is sweater-like material? This question can then snowball into a disruption of class time where a teacher must debate with a student over their apparel. Situations occurred where a teacher has told a student to remove their covering at the end of the day while this student has been allowed to wear it in all of his other classes. Students and faculty alike are adjusting to the full-time return to school, and are also adjusting to the new outerwear rule and its application. For example, I had a conversation about whether the Mount Saint Joseph 1/4 zip sweaters sold from the School Store a few years ago are allowed.  I would think the answer is yes, based on my conversation with Mr. Luckman.

After talking with Mr. Luckman, I think the revised rules are straightforward. Students can, in class, wear either of the two 1/4 zips from the school store, a cardigan or pullover sweater of the appropriate school colors, or a blazer. Hopefully will help faculty and staff quickly determine if the student is appropriately dressed for school.

Ethan Webber is a senior member of the Multimedia Journalism class.

Teacher Tales: Sra. Gonzalez

Ever wondered what kind of funny stories the St. Joe teachers have stored up? So did we! So we set out to document some of the greatest stories from the school’s most popular teachers. Check out the third installment of Teacher Tales, featuring past Ryken award winner Sra. Ivelisse Gonzalez.

Ethan Webber is a sophomore member of Multimedia Journalism class and a member of The Quill.

Cole Hite is a junior member of The Quill.