‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Vol. 1 Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Heading back to Hawkins is no easy feat considering what happened in the previous season. Even though it feels like a while back, and the kids have grown into mini-adults, the grief from season three lingers at the beginning of season four. The Duffer Brothers throw the audience right into the mix with a little catch-up with Jane Hopper (Millie Bobby Brown). This season takes place six months after the Battle of Starcourt. She explains everyone’s living situations and how divided they all are. To recap, Hopper (David Harbor) is dead, Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will (Noah Schnapp), and Jane are all living in sunny California now. While the Wheeler’s (Finn Wolfhard and Natalia Dyer), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Max (Sadie Sink) are in Hawkins. This cast is massive and they all play a huge part in this season, but you could also sometimes feel the disconnect between the characters.

Season four of Stranger Things is truly the best yet and it’s because The Duffer Brothers decided to go back to basics. It felt like they stripped down the excess from the last season with the upside-down and showed how these characters are processing their grief. Out of everyone, Eleven is taking everything the hardest. She lost Hopper, she doesn’t have Mike by her side, and she has to start at a new school in sunny California. Even though Will is with her, Eleven feels lost and everything seems hopeless without her main two sources of support. We see her struggling to come to terms with everything that has happened to her. In this season, Eleven is tested in every way and it can be considered more of a rebirth for her spirit. The Duffer Brothers set the tone for the season within the first episode and it does send chills up your spine. 

Courtesy of Netflix

Each season of the series has gotten darker, more thrilling, and a bit more graphic. Season four shows the extent of all of these things through a new, compelling monster from the Upside Down. The thrills come from a new villain named Vecna – a ghoulish, powerful lich that slithers out of the Upside Down to wreak havoc on Hawkins. This monster preys on everyone’s worst fears and can destroy them from the inside out. What Vecna is capable of is much scarier than anything they’ve faced in the past and the journey to uncovering the truth about him makes this season incredibly interesting to watch. Everyone in Hawkins is in danger, and the only ones who know how to try and stop Vecna are Steve, Dustin, Nancy, Robin, Lucas and Max. They work together using their detective skills and extensive knowledge of the Upside Down to uncover the truth. The core characters are together in Hawkins, while the rest of them are scattered all over trying to add different pieces to the puzzle.

The way The Duffer Brothers structured this season works for the most part because each section of characters has to go on their journey. But, they still find a way to connect all the layers. The promotional posters show that there is some connectivity and they all work together like a well-oiled machine. However, the one thread that didn’t work for me was the Russian connection. Of course, it is a piece to the storyline that is necessary, but it felt too drawn out to fit the pacing of the other two. Out of the three sections going at once, this is the one that was lacking because it wasn’t that interesting. There are surprises throughout and some great emotional moments. Sadie Sink is the standout of this season, we see that Max also has to process her grief after losing Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Sink was able to develop her character a bit more and The Duffer Brothers let her scenes breathe for fans to connect with her on another level. 

Courtesy of Netflix

Season four of Stranger Things is some of the best television that you will watch this year. The Duffer Brothers pick up on all the 80s nostalgia and add a wicked soundtrack to the madness. Their camerawork has always been impressive, but in this season they almost matched the filmmaking style of the 80s. The quick cuts, the camera moving swiftly from character to character, and some epic transitions to dive into the horror elements. None of it felt jarring or out of place when going on this journey with these characters. The episode lengths are warranted because of how much development goes into these characters and that every minor detail is relevant to the big reveal in episode seven. Volume one is a whirlwind of information and horror being thrown at the audience, but the connection to these wonderful characters makes it possible to process everything with them.

Interview: Mexican Film Producer Mariana Méndez Dives Into Animation

By: Amanda Guarragi

Mariana Méndez Alejandre is a Mexican film producer based in New York City. She has produced several acclaimed short films including Oscar ® nominated projects Ala Kachuu – Take and Run and Bestia as well as Zero Hour written by Guillermo Arriaga and the Ariel winning animated short Viva El Rey.
Since 2017, she has supported the execution of Academy Award® campaigns for entertainment companies such as Focus Features, Warner Bros., Apple and GKIDS. As well as campaigns for the Oscar® winning shorts Skin (2019) and The Neighbor’s Window (2020).

Méndez has been able to work on projects from different studios and directors that have made an impact on audiences everywhere. She has always chosen projects with a unique viewpoint that will generate a conversation among viewers. For her newest venture, Méndez is taking a turn in stop-motion animation, her hometown has invested in a studio with three sound stages, just dedicated to stop-motion animation. She said that she was just excited to be here and to have it funded from her hometown. 

Stop-motion animation is a medium that can bring forth some challenging topics while visually exploring the subject matter. There’s a way to show different perspectives through animation that live-action work just can’t stretch to. There’s a way to appreciate the medium and more people should value it, 

“I think they see it as a kid’s medium and like children’s Saturday cartoons. And I think, this year’s Oscars sort of proving that people are ready for more adult content. And it’s just another way of telling a story. It’s not just for kids. I see that shift happening and hopefully, people are going to be engaged in this story.”

– Mariana Méndez 

Stop-motion animation has grown into a medium where adults can explore different subject matters and it works so well. Whether it’s an illness or trauma, the medium can fantastically explore different facets to show it all. Méndez just fell into this industry because of her hometown and how the film was always around her. The animation was something that spoke to her because it’s a form of storytelling that is underappreciated and you can do so much with it. 

The main reason Méndez wanted to break into the industry is so that she could put a spotlight on her hometown, “There’s a lot of potential in my hometown and one of the things we do at my company is trying to bridge the gap between Mexican talent and Mexican talent in the United States.” She wants to be part of this shift in the industry where there can be more opportunities for International filmmakers to get the recognition they deserve. 

Méndez believes that everyone is on their journey and to be able to hone your voice as a producer in the industry will set you apart from the rest. She has worked in Public Relations and as a producer so having both under her belt has helped her immensely when working on projects. Méndez is very meticulous as a producer and will always notice something that others wouldn’t. She takes pride in her work and how far she has come as a producer. 

‘Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Many of us grew up with Disney cartoons on Saturday morning and Rescue Rangers was one of those shows. Two cute little chipmunks with squeaky voices and some great detective instincts made a show worth watching. Chip and Dale both have been with Disney since the very beginning and they’re almost on the level of Donald, Mickey, and Pluto. Even if you haven’t heard the theme song in a while, once you hear it in Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers all those memories come back in an instant. Having John Mulaney voice Chip and Andy Samberg voice Dale complimented the characters so well. It’s funny, fresh, and kind of emotional when it comes to the friendship they share.

After thirty years that their popular television show ended, chipmunks Chip and Dale live very different lives. When a cast member from the original series mysteriously disappears, the pair must reunite to save their friend. Co-writers Dan Gregor and Doug Mand created a backstory for Chip and Dale that created an emotional connection to their friendship from the start. Anyone can relate to Chip and Dale because they both felt like outcasts in school before they met each other. After one lunch together, they performed until they became stars of their show. There are many surprises in this movie and the characters are very self-aware about the movie they’re in. 

Having established comedians like Mulaney and Samberg helped the characters of Chip and Dale develop into actual performers. They suited the characters extremely well, but you can see the straight man and wise guy trope between them. So it does feel like a buddy cop comedy, but also an old-fashioned tag team in regards to their comedic background. Our favourite chipmunks meet many other animated characters along the way and meet some odd characters in the uncanny valley. What was most impressive about this movie is the diverse animation used throughout for different characters. There is such a mixture of character designs from 2D to 3D that make this one unique.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a very fun time for the whole family. It feels very nostalgic but at the same time, it doesn’t rely on the nostalgia to tell the detective story in this sequel/reboot/remake. It was funny hearing characters in a Disney movie talk about sequels and reboots while they are in the middle of a remake themselves. It does get away from them a bit in the middle because they stretched out the story to fill time, or else the sentimental value of their friendship and how long they’ve known each other packed the emotional punch by the end of this film. Make sure to check out this Disney original film this weekend on Disney Plus!

‘Men’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What can be said about men that hasn’t already been said? Men can be labelled many things, and they’re almost never derogatory. Unless, of course, it comes from the viewpoint of a woman. The only reason women speak out against men and demand better from them is that in certain instances, women are provoked by their emotional outbursts and outlandish behaviour. Men can be excused on all counts because of the patriarchal society we live in. No matter how many women fight for their rights, men still seem to be making the decisions on their behalf. The world is filled with men who provoke and instigate, while women are being gaslit and talked down to because of their reactionary behaviour. In Alex Garland’s film Men, we see the extent to which emotional and physical abuse can lead to a woman’s behaviour.

Garland explores the themes of love, grief, and trauma throughout this film. In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, Harper (Jessie Buckley) retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside, hoping to find a place to heal. However, someone or something from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What begins as simmering dread soon becomes a fully formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears. Women give all their love to the people they care about most, so what happens when that love isn’t reciprocated or it turns into something violent? In this case, Harper is blindsided by the man she once knew and that love that they once shared turned sour. Garland shows boundaries being crossed and what the definition of consent is in this film.

As Harper tries to navigate her healing process, Garland places flashbacks at the opportune moment to show what she’s struggling with. With every encounter Harper has with her stalker, a piece of her is brought back to her time with her partner. There are parallels to his behaviour and how afraid she was in that moment with him to the present day. She is traumatized by many things in that relationship, but by the third act of this film, she realizes all men are the same in different ways. The visual imagery in Garland’s films always elevates the story. In this case, Garland throws Harper into a nightmare in the third act that symbolically shows men being reborn and breeding other abusers. One step further, it shows the patriarchal hierarchy of men teaching other men how to act masculine, therefore harming others around them with their ideology.

Garland is one of the best working filmmakers at the moment because he expertly crafts a narrative that isn’t bloated with social commentary. He places his characters in situations that can be considered a mental exercise being projected into the atmosphere of the screen. Men has strong visuals, a fantastic performance from Jessie Buckley, and a third act that comes full circle in a graphic way. The messaging is subtle and as a woman watching this you will laugh at the audacity of men, while Buckley tells them off. It’s a slow burn that highlights how women can be tormented even long after they have left a traumatic situation. When the film ends there is this lingering feeling of uneasiness, but a sense of hopefulness that women can overcome anything.

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

It’s officially summer blockbuster season and Top Gun: Maverick is the movie of the summer. It’s still early to claim this, but what a way to start. Audiences have grown accustomed to Marvel movies taking the summer blockbuster spots, while other action films barely reach that level of success or hype. In this case, director Joseph Kosinski takes the fans back to the 80s-style blockbuster and Tom Cruise gives a classic movie star performance to make the film one of the best of the year. Not only is it nostalgic, but it elevates the fighter jet sequences from the first instalment. This sequel improves upon what made Top Gun directed by Tony Scott so great in the first place. 

After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it. From the opening of this movie, Maverick had to move on from the ghosts of his past, which means Goose (Anthony Edwards). It made perfect sense for Cruise to come back for Maverick 30 years later when Goose’s son is all grown up.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Maverick has always been alone, but Goose and his family welcomed him. After what happened in Top Gun, it was hard for Maverick to ever have a relationship with Bradley (Miles Teller), knowing he was there when his father passed. In a way, Maverick always blamed himself even when he was cleared of all of that. The reason why this movie worked so well is because of the emotional connection to Goose and his family. There are key moments that made Maverick think about Goose because of what Rooster was doing. Not only does Teller look exactly like Anthony Edwards, but he did bring out the character of Goose a bit too. These roles were never meant to be as iconic as they became, but seeing Rooster resemble Goose so much made it so emotional.

Even though Teller didn’t have too much screen time, the way they dropped little tidbits throughout the movie made it work. It felt like Rooster had to ease into having Maverick as his teacher knowing everything from the past. The audience already knowing the connection the two of them had while others in the Top Gun class had no clue made for some interesting reveals. Cruise and Teller’s chemistry was great given the little time they had with each other, but they didn’t need that much to sell the story. It was all about showing how much they cared instead of telling each other, which just makes more of an impact in the third act of this film. Maverick helped out Rooster and taught the rest of the class to trust their instincts by being a bit like him while flying.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Not only was this a great conclusion to Maverick’s character arc because of how simple it was, but the movie itself looked incredible. With a team like Kosinski, Cruise, Jerry Bruckheimer, Chris McQuarrie, and Claudio Miranda working on this movie, everything worked together like a well-oiled machine. They all wanted to make an action film that stayed true to the original while adding so much depth to the characters. On top of that, they constructed authentic action sequences to make it one of the best sequels ever. This film demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible because the visuals make you feel like you’re in the cockpit with them. Knowing that they’re all flying on their own just raises the stakes while watching some intense flying in the third act.

Top Gun: Maverick exceeded expectations and delivered an emotional, action-packed thrill ride to open Blockbuster season. It is one of the best movies of the year and it will leave you speechless at the end of it. This movie will have you crying and laughing. And it will even make you hold your breath out of anticipation of what’s going to happen next. Everything about Top Gun was iconic when it came out in the 80s, but for a sequel to come out three decades later and be even better than the original makes it even more iconic. This is the most fun I’ve had in a movie theatre since Avengers: Infinity War and that’s because the stakes were high. Even if you’ve never watched the first film, you NEED to feel the speed of this movie and watch it in IMAX.