‘Cruella’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Cruella is one of the best Disney live-action films to date. It has beautiful costume design, great camerawork, career-defining performances and a wicked soundtrack. This prequel is the one we didn’t know we needed. It is a bit darker than other Disney live-actions, but it’s so much fun to watch Stone dive into this character. The story is about young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) who aspires to be a fashion designer. We see young Estella struggle with her identity, as she has a bit of a wild side that she doesn’t have control over. Estella has a tragic past and we get to see how she becomes Cruella.

Going into this film, I had very low expectations and I was pleasantly surprised with how much fun this film was. Cruella will have you hooked within the first ten minutes because of how fast-paced it is. We get a voiceover narration from Emma Stone and it sets the tone for the rest of Estella’s adulthood. The story was well-written and it worked for who Estella would grow into. Estella being a fashion designer worked perfectly and the wardrobe is absolutely stunning. We have Estella working for the Baroness (Emma Thompson), who takes her under her wing and uses majority of her designs.

The film unfolds quite nicely and the twists are perfectly placed. They aren’t over the top, or completely random, they really do work for the story and there are moments that will shock you. The cast is wonderful, Stone and Thompson are incredible together, their chemistry carried the film. It was so fun to watch them go back-and-forth and they give iconic performances. This is truly Stone’s best performance to date and she blew me away. Having two women on-screen, pull these performances out of each other was pure magic.

Craig Gillespie’s Cruella is one of the best films of the year! The London punk aesthetic works extremely well to give the visual edge to Estella and her world. What I found really interesting, is that the exterior world is so loud in its production design, that it feels like the characteristics of Estella’s alter ego, fills the screen, pulling her into this other world. The soundtrack works so well and some songs were reworked to fit certain scenes. The only issue is that it did run a bit long but this was such a treat. And make sure to stay for the post-credit scene, it will make you want a sequel even more!

Make sure to catch Cruella Friday, May 21st on Disney Premier Access or, if you’re lucky, on the big screen.

‘Army of the Dead’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What do you get when you combine Zack Snyder, zombies and a heist? You get one of the most entertaining films of the year! If you are a Snyder fan, this one sure caters to the fanbase. You are in for a fun ride through a zombie wasteland in Las Vegas. It is larger than life, loud and action-packed with stunning visuals, courtesy of the man himself. Snyder knows how to create tension quite effortlessly, and more importantly, he knows how to mix in a wicked soundtrack that juxtaposes certain scenes. From the very beginning, as Elvis Presley’s ‘Suspicious Minds’ plays, while newlyweds are on a joyride, the lyrics, ‘we’re caught in a trap, we can’t walk out…’ sets the tone for the entire film.

We get a typical Snyder opening credit sequence detailing what happened to the Las Vegas strip, while a slow version of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ plays out. It is one of his strongest opening title sequences, and I won’t lie, I had a gigantic smile on my face. At the start of any Snyder movie, we all think to ourselves, ‘What does he have in store for us this time?” and majority of the time he exceeds expectations. Snyder went back to his zombie roots with this film. It wasn’t that gory, or overstuffed with kills, it just flowed really well. It didn’t rely on the zombie conventions, that we are used to because that part was sidelined. This was a heist film straight through and it had great balance combining both genres.

This film wouldn’t have been as entertaining without its cast of characters. First and foremost, Dave Bautista needs to be recognized as the lead in this film. Bautista has been sidelined for majority of his film career and hasn’t been taken seriously as an actor (until Blade Runner 2049), Snyder put him at the forefront and he carried the film quite well. His character Scott had to endure some traumatic moments when the zombies tore up his town and has been trying to reconcile with his daughter. Bautista nailed the emotional moments and left me impressed. The other standouts were Marianne (Tig Notaro), Vanderhoe (Omari Hardwick), Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and Lily (Nora Arnezeder), they each had their time to shine and brought so much to their characters.

Army of the Dead is filled with great action sequences, fun character banter, and plenty of zombies. The film did suffer at the end because even though the runtime went a bit long, the ending still felt rushed. Did I enjoy the ending? No. It left such a bitter taste in my mouth. But don’t worry, there is another ending, that will also leave you questioning what the point was. At the end, it was all about the journey and it sure was a wild ride. I can’t forget to mention the Junkie XL score because he keeps putting out such great pieces to accompany action scenes. If you love Snyder, you’ll set aside the small issues with the film and enjoy the zombie spectacle for two hours and twenty-eight minutes.

‘Spiral: From The Book Of Saw’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After the success of other instalments in the Saw franchise, it’s only fair to keep making them. This franchise has a massive fanbase and I can see why. After watching all eight films ahead of Spiral: From the Book of Saw – for the very first time I might add – I already felt some fatigue. While watching this instalment, the fatigue continued. As a new horror fan, the first three Saw films had so much style to them that made them unique. It set them apart from other horror films. But as the franchise went on, the further the filmmakers distanced themselves from the original vision from Leigh Whannell and James Wan.

Did Spiral: From the Book of Saw follow similar tropes? Of course it did. But they wanted to focus more on the detective story than the actual link to Jigsaw and the traps. The main issue with this franchise is that the story does not need to flow from movie to movie. Seriously, trying to connect the dots over nine films is ridiculous and it’s never clear. I know what you’re thinking, “But no one cares about the story,” and I get that but if you don’t have a strong script then at least make the traps memorable. The traps in this instalment were set up for shock value and there was no struggle to get out of them.

What has happened to the Saw franchise is that it has become too polished and clean cut for the movie they’re trying to make. Give us that grimey, sketchy warehouse feel with the traps that have high stakes. Bring back that graphic, bloody, almost naseautic visuals that made the first half of this franchise shine. Making it more cinematic and clean does not help the franchise after the seventh instalment. It just strays so far away from its original style that made it work in the first place. Unfortunately, with the story not being that strong, the performances also fell flat for me. So this was a total chore for me to sit through.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is enjoyable if you are a diehard Saw fan and that is what is important here. This film caters to the fanbase that has stayed with the franchise over nine films. Seriously, NINE FILMS, that’s pretty amazing. This is a franchise that tries to reinvent itself because of the horror climate constantly changing. The Saw franchise just isn’t for me anymore but I do hope the fans enjoy their franchise and this ninth film. Will there be a Saw X? Go big or go home, Jigsaw, let’s play another game.

‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead is an interesting story about survival. There are those who have experienced some sort of trauma and have tried to move past it or those who are the ones trying to better themselves in a negative environment. We see two very different versions of what surviving is and it doesn’t necessarily needs to come from surviving a forest fire. We meet Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) who is struggling to work after losing three lives in a forest fire. Hannah is a smoke jumper who’s perched in a watchtower high above the Montana wilderness. She soon encounters Connor (Finn Little), a young boy who’s bloodied, traumatized and on the run in the remote forest.

It may sound like a generic storyline but it also feels like something we haven’t seen before because of the exploration of a smoke jumper. Yes, we have seen forest fires and firefighters on-screen before but this felt like a more contained storyline. Not only do we understand the trauma that Hannah experienced on an assignment before but we get to see the aftermath and how it has affected her mentally in her career. The best part of this film was seeing Angelina Jolie on the big screen again. I didn’t realize how much I missed her presence on-screen. Jolie was great in this and the rest of the cast, consisted of Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen and Jon Bernthal who all really shined.

Like many films that are adapted from novels, the pacing is the major issue that holds the film back. The beginning was set up quite nicely but it lost its footing towards the middle. The story was interesting but I wish there was more depth to Hannah’s character because of what she went through. It was all building towards the third act payoff, which worked extremely well. The cinematography and the execution of the action made the ending worthwhile. Sheridan focused in on nature while Hannah and Connor navigated through the forest. The lightning strikes and the detailed pathway they needed to take all made for an intense finale.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is an interesting watch because of its cast of characters, the execution of this simple storyline and the grand third act. Jolie and Bernthal are standouts in this film. I just wish we got to see more of their dynamic considering their characters past. There are really strong, emotional moments between Jolie and Little and they really carry this film to the final act. Each character individually brought so much to the table but then when they came together the film was elevated. The film is out on HBO Max and in theatres right now, if you miss Jolie on-screen then this film will definitely fill that void.

‘The Woman in the Window’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The Woman in the Window directed by Joe Wright is a psychological thriller, that has a very impressive cast, strong visuals and a twisted story. Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams) is agoraphobic and hasn’t stepped out of her home for a couple of months. She witnesses something she shouldn’t, while keeping tabs on the Russell family, the seemingly picture perfect clan that lives across the way. In a modern Hitchcockian style thriller, Dr. Anna Fox spies on this family by using her camera and actually inviting each of them into her home. It is an interesting story, with some pacing issues, but a strong performance from Amy Adams holds this together.

The one thing that really stood out was the cinematography. The visuals were strong and the camerawork surprised me at times. There was a fluidity in the movements, especially when framing Anna Fox and her descent into madness. The camera movements were sharp with every single sound that she heard. There was a distinct colour palette to show her loneliness and seclusion versus her actual reality within the apartment. It’s very subtle and you won’t clue in until the third act but it really is noticeable when the story unfolds.

The main issue with this film is the pacing. Yes, it’s supposed to be a slow burn and obviously a mystery, but it just did not flow in the way it is supposed to. Every time there was a strong scene filled with necessary information, to move the story forward, it just fizzled. There were quiet, awkward moments that didn’t really work and slowed everything down. When it did pick up, it was interesting because this cast brought the script to life in those heavy, emotional moments. The third act is executed quite nicely and you understand where Anna’s trauma and mental illness stems from. The editing and strong visuals, make the third act reveal beautiful to watch.

There are some really strong moments in this film but as a whole it just felt a bit empty at times. In all honesty, this could have worked better as a mini-series instead of a film. The depth of her character could have been analyzed more in order to appreciate this layered performance from Adams. The third act reveal was probably the best part because it felt separate from the obvious parallel to Rear Window. It is an interesting psychological thriller because of its strong cast, crisp visuals and satisfying ending. The Woman in the Window drops on Netflix tomorrow.