‘Koala Man’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In the age of superheroes, everyone seems to want to be recognized for doing some good. Even if it’s a backwards way of being helpful. We have become so used to the formulas being recycled. So when something fresh like Koala Man is released, there’s an appreciation for the change, which makes it unique to the character. The series follows a family father with a not-so-secret identity as the ritual hero with a burning passion for petty crime. The creator Michael Cusack also stars in the show alongside Sarah Snook, Demi Lardner and Hugh Jackman. Apart from this being a family superhero show, it also takes place in Australia, so the humour is entirely different. The episodes are compact and have an obstacle each family member must face. Each episode adds another layer to the family and Koala Man creating a nice balance between the two.

The family unit is quite similar to other adult-animated shows, but they have unique personalities that make them stand out. The actors who voice the characters all add a little piece of themselves. Michael Cusack brings out his full Aussie as the father figure and everyone’s least-favourite hero in his local city. His wife Vicky (Sarah Snook), has an alter-ego as she plays the line between motherhood and her individuality as a woman. His daughter Alison, voiced by Demi Lardner, adds some spunk and a young girl trying to find her way in high school. And lastly, his son Liam, also voiced by Michael Cusack is a bit lost and needs a bit of a push to find himself. They’re all different from each other, but the little anecdotes they share and the obstacles they go through bring them closer together in the finale of this season.

No adult-animated series is complete without a strong voice cast to make you feel close to the characters. That’s why having an actor like Hugh Jackman as Big Greg was a lovely surprise. The animation style for Koala Man is a bit softer than Rick and Morty. It is nice to see them expand their skills into another show. Australian humour is a bit different because of the slang, but once you stick with these characters long enough, you’ll find them hilarious. You get a slice of daily Australian life while being served a brand new hero who will grow on you. Each episode has something wild and unexplainable that happens. But of course, there is a life lesson that comes with it. The series explores individuality and family quite well. These characters all have room to grow, and there’s a natural progression to their changes. 

Koala Man is a very refreshing adult-animated series for Hulu that will put a smile on your face. The episodes are short but deliver action and humour. Each character does something wrong in each episode, but they learn and grow from it. The Aussie humour and love for the community are shown effectively, which makes viewers feel included. All it takes is one episode to hook the audience because it’s a show that knows exactly what it is. It’s engaging, witty, vulgar, and incredibly fun to watch. It takes superhero programming to another level with what Koala Man goes through as a man in his local community. Michael Cusack has created a balanced series about parenthood and being the best version of yourself that you can be. The series premieres on Hulu, on January 9th!

‘M3GAN’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

A new year means new movies, but January doesn’t always have the best track record. When horror movies are released this early in the year, they seem to have it rough. They’re not always great, but they’re still watchable. M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone, is all the campy fun you would want from a slasher film, but it lacks in the kills. Megan is a “toy” that was created to pair with young children and be their long-term best friend. Constructing something so personal and intimate ultimately comes with a price. The “toy” is responsive to the child’s emotions, can get overprotective, and eventually have a mind of its own. Megan becomes a force to be reckoned with in this film because she learns from everyone around her. 

The first half of this film handled grief and trauma quite well. Young Cady (Violet McGraw) loses her parents in a car accident, and she has to learn to live without them. Her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) becomes her guardian, and she doesn’t know how to change her lifestyle to fit Cady’s. It was hard for Gemma to pull away from her work because she was focused on building a robot that would be the ultimate toy (and best friend) for young girls. While processing Cady’s trauma, Gemma dives head first into constructing this AI robot for her niece to help her grieving process. She didn’t want her to be consumed by losing her parents, and M3GAN would help her move forward. Gemma didn’t expect the deep, emotional connection Cady would have with M3GAN. 

As the film goes on, M3GAN adapts to her surroundings, and she becomes closer to Cady. She understands what she wants and how to help her through anything. The more intimate they become, the more overprotective M3GAN gets. Anything said against Cady would irritate her, and this is where she starts to change. Johnstone’s direction for M3GAN all came down to the subtlety of her glances and how she would pick up on conversations. That is what made the character intriguing. The way Johnstone would lead up to the kills worked well, but it didn’t feel as creepy as it should have. It could be because the humour and anticipation were more interesting than the kill. The combination of young Amie Donald physically playing M3GAN while Jenna Davis voiced the character was impressive. They did make a unique character with a strong story, which should be the main takeaway here. 

M3GAN had a strong start because of how Gemma and M3GAN were helping Cady with her grief. Having the villain gain sympathy from the audience first was a smart move. Almost everyone is afraid of technology and what it’s capable of. That plays in the back of the viewer’s mind while watching this. Even if M3GAN is sweet to Cady and protective, something has to go wrong because she doesn’t have the full spectrum of human emotion. The film works better when it taps into the psychology of AI and how it works for/against humans through Cady. The main issue is that the “good parts” were already shown in the trailer. It does take away from watching those scenes in the context of the film, making it less surprising. There were some fun moments, and it was enjoyable for the most part, but it felt a bit bland toward the end. 

‘Babylon’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we look at the entertainment industry, we see it divided into sections; the filmmakers, the producers, the critics, and the audience. The majority of the industry is divided. Especially the critic/audience disconnect. But Damien Chazelle’s Babylon explores the importance of everything working together perfectly as a beautiful mess. The film tells a tale of extraordinary ambition and outrageous excess. The film showcases the decade when silent film stars suffered the transition of talkies, and filmmakers had to change. Chazelle presents multiple characters from the silent film era wanting to make it big in Hollywood and stay at the top. The film takes a bit to find its footing, but once it hits its stride in the second act, Chazelle subtly places moments for the finale to tie it all together. 

Manuel Torres (Diego Calva) and Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) met one fateful night at a party. Torres worked with elephants for the movies, and LaRoy is a star waiting for her big break. At this one party, things changed for both of them, and in a way, they navigated the silent film era together. One thing about Hollywood is that the highs are high, but the lows are low. The drugs, parties, and alcohol aided the crushing reality of how insignificant they felt in the grand scope of Hollywood. This is also applied to Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), who was at the peak of his career. Chazelle emphasized the extraordinary parties to show the emptiness in these characters. Each had something missing, and cinema filled that void for them. Whether they were in front of the camera or behind, it completed them. However, the ego does get in the way, and actors are fragile people. 

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Chazelle captures the essence of filmmaking and what it would be like to be on a set in the 20s/30s. Many don’t understand how jarring the transition was from the silent era to “talkies” until they watch Stanley Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain. Those silent film stars often exaggerated their reactions and were larger than life in a silent picture. “Talkies” didn’t have to be that extra because there was dialogue, and they had an added layer of expression. It’s almost as if the actors and to learn how to act again. This changed the trajectory of many careers, and some couldn’t handle the shift. Chazelle has always leaned heavily on the sound design of his films, and Babylon played with all of it. He mixed the incredible score by Justin Hurwitz, the sound on set, the orchestra, and the dialogue to have the audience understand the monumental shift in cinema. The two that suffered the most in this film because of their image were LaRoy and Conrad, who had two different paths, yet they came to the same conclusion. 

Margot Robbie gives the most vivacious, and emotional performance to date as Nellie LaRoy and is the star of this movie. She steals the spotlight continuously and is the only person that could have played this role. Even though Diego Calva is the lead of this film, it felt like Manny Torres was a bit sidelined. His character arc is the strongest because of the turn of events in the third act. Calva and Robbie had wonderful chemistry that held it together. Even though their romance felt forced, it still showed the hopefulness each of them had because of their love of movies. Torres had romanticized his relationship with LaRoy because she was bold and exciting. Loneliness and the ambition to be a star made LaRoy do wild things to stay in the public eye, which is one reason her star power fizzled as it did. As for Brad Pitt, it seemed he wasn’t playing a character but instead a more accurate version of himself as Jack Conrad. He was the only one who felt out of place in his 20s for me. 

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Babylon is Chazelle’s love letter to cinema history and how everyone in the industry has a part to play. No work is ever insignificant but a moving piece to propel the medium forward. Whether you’re a critic, producer, director, actor, or personal assistant, it all matters on the grand scale of the Hollywood scope. This a film that will slowly grow on you as it progresses because you stay with the characters for a while. They all morph into versions of themselves to fuel the Hollywood fire. Chazelle subtly crafts the characters to have longevity during the silent film era to use those moments memorably at the end. This was the definition of learning from the past to make something unique that will last. The final scene with Diego Calva in the movie theatre and the crescendo of the score by Justin Hurwitz ties everything together quite nicely, and it will hit audiences with the truth; everyone lives through movies.

‘The Pale Blue Eye’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Vengeance makes people do some questionable things, but it becomes a different story when a father seeks justice for his daughter’s rape. The Pale Blue Eye works on two plains as Veteran Detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) investigates a series of murders with the help of a young cadet who will eventually become the world-famous author Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling). After a cadet is found with a noose around his neck, Landor interrogates the others who knew Cadet Fry. After that, they find his heart cut out of his body in the morgue. The mystery of the murder continues as another cadet suffered the same fate. Detective Landor works with Allan Poe to try and decipher messages and the symbolism of carving the heart out of a deceased man. As Landor gets to know the cadets, he also tries to find the men who raped his daughter without ever telling the story of what happened to her. 

Director Scott Cooper sets a wintery backdrop as Landor and Allen Poe work together to solve this mystery. There’s the factual and logical reasoning from Detective Landor, while Allan Poe (rightfully so) creates a poetic reimagining of the murders. He taps into the symbolism of carving out a man’s heart and instantly links it to a former lover. This leads to the suspect being a woman, a path Detective Landor wouldn’t have guessed. Slowly, the story begins to unfold, and witchcraft becomes involved with the brutal murders of these men. Who is conducting these ceremonies, and what is the purpose? Detective Landor is at wit’s end as he finds more information about these murders that also tie into his daughter’s rape. The murders are the main focus, but the reluctance to accuse women without justifiable evidence is explored in this case. When Lea (Lucy Boyton) and Julia Marquis (Gillian Anderson) enter the story, they are endearing and incredibly empathetic. 

Bale always gives a strong performance, but Anderson is the standout in this film. Her voice and mannerisms are peculiar, making her an interesting character to look after. Boyton has lovely chemistry with Melling, as Lea and Edgar bond over their differences throughout the film. Edgar speaks to Lea differently than all the other cadets, which she appreciates, and she starts to like him. Edgar Allan Poe is obscure, but he is more of a lover than a fighter. He sees things in a different light, a bit bleaker but somehow uplifting. Melling’s performance as Allan Poe is possibly the most accurate portrayal on screen. It was an emotional performance while still brushing the small details that make Allan Poe a poet. It was the early stages of his life, and he had a hopefulness in humanity, which was nice to see. He was very observant and could understand someone’s soul without speaking to them. 

The title of the film, The Pale Blue Eye, is considered a trap within the film. The eyes never lie, no matter how much you want to cover something up. Your emotions will always come through without even meaning to because everything reaches the eyes. Whether it’s a smile, sadness, or even a blank stare in not knowing how you feel, it’s not hidden. The Pale Blue Eye is a novel by Louis Bayard that won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2007. The film did do the book justice, as it captured the slow burn of love, loss, and the lengths of witchcraft to protect oneself. Even taking place in the 1800s shows the difference in social class and relationships that also factor into the murder and the misogyny surrounding rape culture. It’s a mystery thriller that will keep you engaged because of the odd women, Allan Poe’s words, and Bale’s performance as a father seeking some form of retribution for his daughter. 

‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

For many, living life to the fullest comes in many forms. If we’re lucky, we keep evolving and growing into different people as time goes on. Life is about exploring and experiencing special moments with your loved ones. It’s hard to gauge the value of one’s life, but time does tell how we appreciate the things around us. In Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Puss (Antonio Banderas) is on his last life. As a cat, he thought he could live forever because of his nine lives, but without realizing it, Puss has died eight times in his lengthy career as a hero (or outlaw). Without knowing he can be invincible, he faces death (a wolf as a bounty hunter), which greatly affects him. He doesn’t perform as he usually does and runs away from his problems instead of facing them head-on. In this film, Puss understands the meaning of friendship, loyalty, and the importance of working with others. A strong support system is truly one of the most important things in life, and many take that for granted. 

The adventure that Puss goes on is a simple one. He overhears Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and her family of bears discussing a plan to get the map for the wishing star from Jack Horner (John Mulaney). So, this naturally turns into a heist film with some incredible animation. The action is well-executed from the beginning of this film because of the different animation styles incorporated. It was fast-paced, fun, and entertaining. The one thing the Shrek franchise has always done extremely well is reimagining the fables and fairytales that we’ve known for decades. They give these characters different backstories and plant references throughout the film. They have consistently used nostalgic objects and names to have the audience clue in but change the expectation of the narrative. Writers Tommy Swerdlow, Tom Wheeler and Paul Fisher delivered a wonderful adventure for Puss but also uniquely developed Goldilocks and Jack Horner’s stories. 

Puss explores his feelings as he goes on this journey. He reflects on his life and realizes he should have people to share his life with. Puss thinks he needs to wish for nine more lives, but on the way, his little dog companion Perro (Harvey Guillén) teaches him to be grateful for the life you have. Once Puss and Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) steal the map from Jack Horner and Goldilocks, they had to the dark forest to find the star. This is where the world-building gets fun in the magical realm. Whoever places their hand on the map has to go through certain obstacles that reflect the wish’s desire. Not only are the obstacles physical, but they are also psychological and affect the thought process of the person making the wish. It is a layered story for the characters who want to make their wish. And it explains how to make decisions, not only for yourself but for the others around you. 

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is entertaining from beginning to end and shows the value of friendship in the one life you have to live. The films in the Shrek franchise have always been consistent in their humour and made it appealing to both adults and children. More importantly, this film addresses anxiety in a way children can understand and adults can relate to. The power of animation shows the exact feeling of it through Puss, and it’s subtle. This is a well-rounded animated feature with a fun adventure, well-written characters and an important lesson about gratitude. Even though Banderas has played Zorro, Puss in Boots is still one of his best roles because of how much heart he pours into the character through the dialogue. This sequel took a decade to be released and it was worth the wait. There is a reason why DreamWorks was at the top of its game, and this film is a reminder of the incredible work they’ve done over the years.