‘Violent Night’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The only Christmas movies that have made any chatter have been from Netflix for a while now. The last one that was produced and released in theatres was Last Christmas and The Night Before; no studio has taken a gamble with a holiday film. Streaming services have had a good time producing these films; many like to cozy up with a cheesy Christmas film on a cold winter’s night. So, major studios haven’t been looking to produce a Christmas project because these films haven’t been doing well in theatres until now. Universal presents Violent Night with David Harbour as Santa Claus, as he tries to protect a young girl on his nice list from thieves who want to take money from her wealthy family. It’s a wild Christmas Eve at the Lightstone house, and only one person can save them through the magic of Christmas. Some mercenaries hold the family hostage, and the hopefulness of the Holiday season feels lost. This film makes you feel like a kid again with the power of believing in Santa. A wave of nostalgia is seen through the eyes of young Trudy (Leah Brady) as the story switches focus to what matters. 

When a wealthy, dysfunctional family comes together on Christmas Eve, there are bound to be some personalities to play with. Co-writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller took the best aspects of Home Alone, Die Hard, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to make a fun original story that will become an instant Holiday classic. Director Tommy Wikola did not hold back during the action sequences because it works with Santa’s abilities. Those fight scenes had inventive choreography that used any Holiday decoration they could find. On top of that, the jokes all landed, and every member of this cast delivered the lines effortlessly. Not only was this wickedly funny, but it was entertaining the whole way through. It was fun to see Beverly D’Angelo back on screen doing what she does best and answering everyone with a snarky remark. The one standout, apart from Harbour, was John Leguizamo as Scrooge. He came in guns blazing and delivered his lines so harshly that it was impossible not to laugh at the one-liners Casey and Miller came up with. 

Habour gives us one of the best versions of Santa Claus because he’s the most grounded and realistic. They decided to give him a backstory to explain his fighting reflexes, which worked to show that everyone has some good in them. The reason why Harbour worked so well is because of the history he already has with audiences. Being the father figure in Stranger Things has already given audiences that comfort in seeing him, which translates to him being a believable Santa. Harbour embodied jolly old Saint Nick in two ways; the grumpy man tired of delivering presents to ungrateful children and the cheery, hopeful Santa who uses his Christmas magic for some good. To mirror Santa, young Trudy pulls a page out of Kevin McAllister’s handbook and has some fun. Of course, those scenes are a bit more graphic in this film, but the anticipation of the boobytraps working made it one of the best sequences. The tag team of a young girl believing in Santa is what he needed to restore his faith in the holiday. 

Violent Night is one of the best films of the year. It is an incredibly entertaining Christmas film that will become a classic. Harbour and Leguizamo are incredible in this and have a playful banter when they encounter each other. Some cheesy lines are said by Santa and Scrooge, which adds to the wackiness. The script may seem a bit predictable, but the humour makes this so refreshing. It’s also heartfelt when the Lightstone family finally understands that money isn’t everything and that remaining hopeful for the people you love is more than enough to keep anyone going. The action scenes are the most impressive because of the objects used. It’s almost shocking to see such a lighthearted Christmas film so graphic and bloody. Every time it gets too sentimental, there’s a brutal action scene to remind audiences that it’s a fast-paced action movie. Even though it references other Holiday films, it still does something special with Santa Claus, and that’s because Harbour makes him so likeable. 

‘Willow’ Series Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In 1988, Ron Howard and George Lucas teamed up to make one of the most underrated fantasy films. Willow was about a young farmer chosen to undertake a perilous journey to protect a special baby from an evil queen. Val Kilmer was at the top of his game in the 80s, so to have him as a romantic leading man in a fantasy film was perfect casting. Joanne Whalley and Warwick Davis made it worth watching because of their characters. Now, decades later, Howard’s small, beloved film has been turned into a Disney Plus series. Since world-building was done a bit differently in previous eras, television shows can build the foundation of the world in a more detailed manner. Fantasy shows have been all the rage in 2022 because many viewers want to be transported to another world. It’s almost as if we’ve been deprived of different escapes. 

This new series created by Jonathan Kasdan captures the same magic as the original film, but of course, in a modern way. The most important takeaway from the new series is the inclusivity of its cast of characters. Kit Tanthalos (Ruby Cruz) is the princess and daughter of Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and wants to learn how to fight and be involved with the townspeople. She wants to make her own choices, especially in marriage. Her brother, Airk (Dempsey Bryk), is the golden boy, heir to the throne, and is in love with a kitchen maid named Dove (Ellie Bamber). The siblings have gone in two very different directions, and in this series, they explore their individuality and whom they are destined to be. Kit has the strongest journey in this series. She learns how to fight and to love with her swashbuckling trainer, Jade Claymore (Erin Kellyman), by her side. The relationship between Jade and Kit makes for an interesting dynamic as they go on this journey with Willow. 

In this series, twenty years after vanquishing the wicked queen Bavmorda, the sorcerer Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) leads a group of misfits on a dangerous rescue mission into the unknown. Kasdan refocused the story and the lore with the new characters without leaning on the nostalgia of the original film. It was lovely to see Davis back in that element by also giving him a bit more to do with his character. The cast worked together well, and some stylistic choices worked for the modernity of the piece. There are some humorous moments and some song choices to bring these characters into a new generation. It felt refreshing to see a fantastical world highlight a queer romance and characters struggling with their individuality in a kingdom that has expectations for them. This series places women at the forefront and has a unique twist that makes for a compelling story in this first season. Audiences will connect with these characters. And understand what they’re struggling with, which is the importance of representation on screen. 

If you have been a long-time supporter of Ron Howard’s Willow, you will appreciate the world-building in this new series. And if you’re a newcomer, who hasn’t watched the original film, then get ready to dive into a brand new world with characters you will love. Kasdan brings together a cast that works together through their individuality and their knowledge of the realm. Each episode brings new lore and magic that pulls you into their world. Cruz, Bamber, and Kellyman are the standouts of the series, and the always-lovely Tony Revolori adds another layer of charm. The pacing is strong as well, nothing feels rushed, and the characters evolve naturally over the length of the episodes. It is a fantasy show that Disney Plus needed on their platform, and each episode will be streaming weekly on Wednesdays. 

‘Pinocchio’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The story of Pinocchio has been adapted many times. Some have done it through live-action and modernized it. Others have reimagined it through the power of animation. After similar iterations, no one has altered the story and created something so poignant as Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson. This version of the story is adapted from the book written by Carlo Collodi and is a more grounded retelling of the famous story. This version felt more authentic to Geppetto (David Bradley) and his life in Italy. Collodi presented a different narrative because of his native Italian heritage. Del Toro showed an unfair world under the Mussolini regime and how children were taken away from their families. This film particularly highlights the dynamic between father and son through different perspectives. The emotional connection to Geppetto is established early on that will resonate with audiences throughout, making it easy to feel for Geppetto’s loss. 

As we all know, Geppetto loses his son. While grieving, Geppetto wishes that Carlo would magically return to him. Early in the film, Del Toro and Collodi create a bond between father and son. Which is something we have never gotten before in previous adaptations. We get to see their relationship and how Geppetto adored his son, Carlo. They were both loving, sweet, and incredibly caring. Even when Geppetto walked through town with Carlo, everyone praised the two of them. The townspeople knew their circumstances and expressed how gracious they both were. They enjoyed each other’s company, no matter what they were doing. Del Toro’s visual storytelling through animation is some of his best work because of the attention to detail in Pinocchio’s story. The images on the screen held meaning, which is deeply connected to Carlo’s life and how much he meant to Geppetto. Del Toro used a single pine cone to tell one of the most heartbreaking stories of the year. 

Even though there have been many that have come before it, the reason why this version of Pinocchio is the best is because of the way the story is presented. Animation is a powerful medium that can turn one man’s grief into a magical exploration of human connection. As someone who has recently lost someone dear to them, del Toro’s Pinocchio struck such a chord in me. No matter how badly we want our loved ones back, it’s impossible to regain what we once had. Thus, new relationships must form, not to take the place of the hole in your heart, but to grow with others around you. Geppetto drank away his life without moving forward, and one night he carved Carlo out of pine. Geppetto’s grief pushed him to create a wooden boy. And through his tears, life was brought back to his home. While little Pinocchio is trying to navigate his new life with the help of Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), Geppetto cannot accept this new entity as his Carlo. Geppetto and Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) try to understand each other and how this new relationship will work. In doing so, words are exchanged that do more harm than good.  

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is beautifully written and will resonate with many who have experienced loss. The bond between father and son is explored on multiple fronts, and how fragile relationships can be. The film is grounded in Geppetto’s love for his son, and through the stunning visuals, his love is transported through the magical creatures who help him move forward. Del Toro is a master of his craft because he can make the fantastical incredibly grounded and emotional through the complexity of his characters. There are layers to Geppetto and Pinocchio that have never been explored before. Every aspect of this film is brought together by Alexandre Desplat’s touching score that plays so softly in times of sadness for Geppetto. It’s almost as if the music moves with his emotions as he enters each stage of grief. This version of Pinocchio is the best adaptation to date. And one of the best films Netflix has made. It will begin streaming on December 9th, do not miss this one. 

‘Bones and All’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There can be times when loneliness can affect many aspects of our lives. Some can feel lonely surrounded by others, some feel lonely but find it comforting, and others are constantly seeking something to fill their emptiness. It can also stem from not fully understanding who you are or questioning your life purpose. In Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All, two lonely cannibals find each other and explore different cravings. Through their loneliness Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timotheé Chalament) have survived life as “eaters” and have approached their urges in their way. When they come together, those morals are tested, along with understanding the meaning of loving someone’s flaws. Guadagnino created an ominous atmosphere for the cannibals. But, also an incredibly vulnerable one, where Russell and Chalamet were stripped of any excess. Their chemistry and open conversations about being what they are made for some beautiful moments. 

The film begins with paintings as the credits roll, and there’s an instant familiarity with the artistic side of Guadagnino. Without doing much, he sets many locations for Maren and Russell acts like she is an outcast at this school. She wants to make friends, but she doesn’t understand her urges. When Maren goes to a sleepover (without her father knowing), she gets close to one of the girls. She asks about her past, but Maren is detached; her mind wanders because of her heightened sense of smell by inhaling her scent. The look of carnal desire on Russell’s face says more than words ever could. There’s a mixed wave of lust and discomfort while watching her, which is confusing. Then without thinking, she takes the girl’s finger into her mouth, and blood gushes everywhere. Guadagnino expertly combines grotesque imagery with sensuality to heighten every emotion in you. It’s impossible to look away at any point because it’s mesmerizing. 

Guadagnino does highlight the morality of these characters. They do contemplate whom they eat. Someone like Maren hasn’t fed at all, and it feels like a coming-of-age story for her. The older “eater” named Sully (Mark Rylance) only feeds on people who are about to die because he can smell them. Then there’s Lee, who only feeds on bad people or people without families. The “eaters” can also track each other, which is problematic for Maren. Sully takes an interest in her out of his loneliness in finding someone he can fully be himself with. There’s a hint of desperation, that exits Rylance’s voice whenever he’s around Maren. He truly has one of the most chilling performances of the year. When Maren meets Lee unexpectedly at a superstore, they click instantly. The chemistry between Russell and Chalamet is electric, and they didn’t have to say much to sell that they were that connected. Guadagnino also knows how to capture intimate moments through glances and stolen smiles, which is what he did through Maren’s perspective. It’s visually implied that she had been longing for him the entire road trip to find her birth mother. 

At times Bones and All can feel rushed by glossing over moments that would have helped Maren and Lee connect on screen a bit more. If anything, more time should have been spent building their relationship because of how magnetic their screen presence was. Even though there was tension between the two, it felt like a struggle to focus on cannibalism or their relationship. Ultimately, this story is about Maren and her discovering what it means to be an individual living with this condition in this world. What it means to fully be herself, especially with someone she truly loves and sees her for who she is, after years of not being accepted by anyone. Russell gives a stunning performance, while Chalamet takes a back seat with his charm as Lee. They learn from each other and adapt to a world that doesn’t understand the complexities of living. It is a beautiful love story with a heartbreaking message that to love anyone you have to love their flaws, bones and all. 

‘Wednesday’ Series Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When it comes to cult classics The Addams Family is one of them. Americans got to know the family as a comic in The New Yorker in 1938. After comic artist Charles Addams died in 1988, The Addams Family became public domain and has been adapted into films, television shows, and even video games. In 1991, Barry Sonnenfeld revamped The Addams Family for a new audience, who brought some campy goodness to the characters. Even though the cast was iconic, there was just something about Wednesday Addams, played by Christina Ricci. She was the most interesting character and had so much to do. After Ricci dominated the role, it wasn’t touched again until now. Director Tim Burton and Jenna Ortega presented a new side of Wednesday Addams in the Netflix series Wednesday. 

In this series, Wednesday is up to her destructive ways as she protects her brother Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez) from bullies at school. Now, the Addamses have been integrated into society for a while. They have been at a regular middle school, and Wednesday hasn’t been the most approachable. By defending her brother, she gets expelled and is sent to Nevermore Academy. The catalyst for Wednesday’s story is her connection with her mother Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). She doesn’t t want to be like her at all, and now by going to the school she graduated from, she wants nothing to do with her legacy. This series explores Wednesday’s individuality and tough exterior. As each episode passes, she becomes softer because she begins caring for her friends around her. She does understand that it’s important for her to make friends, but she remains guarded. 

As Wednesday navigates through this new school, she uncovers more about her family than she had hoped. While people are investigating her, including her therapist, she is tracking a different case entirely. The deeper she goes into uncovering the truth about her parents, the more people end up helping her. It’s wonderful to see Wednesday in a different light in this series. Ortega was made for this role, and she understood the emotional depth she needed to bring to the character. Wednesday was never heartless, and she would fight for her loved ones fearlessly. That is how she builds her relationships at Nevermore. Even if she’s cold and a bit of a sociopath, she is still humorous. Without Ortega boosting the script as she commands the screen, the other characters somewhat fall flat. It’s hard to set up a well-known character in a new environment and develop others around them. 

Tim Burton’s Wednesday is a fun addition to the franchise, and Jenna Ortega is a bonafide star. The pairing is a match made in heaven, as Ortega explores Wednesday’s psyche, and Burton presents a new fantastical world for her to play in. The pacing of this series is probably its biggest issue, as some episodes drag a bit. The episodes that have Morticia and Gomez (Luis Guzmán) are placed at the right moments to push Wednesday forward into the investigation. Wednesday does feel less alone at Nevermore Academy because she can connect with others who are different. She taps into her supernatural powers, which helps her understand odd things that happen around the area. Two stories flow into each other, and it would have been better if there wasn’t so much excess. It’s a fun series that takes a bit to get going, but once it does, these characters help Wednesday become a different person by the end of it.