‘Prey’ Movie

By: Amanda Guarragi

The Predator franchise has been going strong for years, and not all of the films in the franchise have been winners. Many were apprehensive about Prey being a prequel, but it worked. Director Dan Trachtenberg went back to the roots of the meaning of predator and reworked it to fit the natural way of life on Indigenous lands. In the Comanche Nation in 1719, a fierce and highly skilled warrior named Naru (Amber Midthunder) learns the prey she is stalking is a highly evolved alien with a technologically advanced arsenal. Fans of the original franchise have seen what the alien is capable of, but this prequel showcases its skills differently. Even though they went back to basics, Trachtenberg added another layer to the franchise by using basic animal instincts and survival in the wild. 

The reason why Prey works as a prequel is because of how simple the story was. It wasn’t overstuffed with political jargon that is linked to the government. It felt like an open world with survival mode on high for these characters. Also, it bodes well that the highly skilled warrior is a woman and Midthunder did a great job carrying the film alongside her brother and the rest of the tribe. It just felt like the most natural form of storytelling for a predator film. Naru is highly skilled in tracking and they utilized that when going out into the wild trying to find their friends. The tension that was built throughout, just by them walking through the forest was really strong. The score and sound design also helped amplify those moments of nervousness from Naru. It was so well-paced because of the instincts and pathway to tracking the alien. 

The action scenes were impressive because of how the VFX artists played into the character design for the alien. The invisibility and thermal vision were both effectively used throughout. The invisibility is what impressed me the most because of the way the kills were executed. It almost shielded the viewer from witnessing the brutality against the animals. It added so much tension to the scenes with Naru’s dog because he could have been next. From the action set pieces to the quiet, more intimate moments in the forest, Trachtenberg immersed the viewer into Naru’s world for the entire runtime of the film. This prequel does the Predator franchise justice and if anything, made it more intriguing to a new generation of fans. 

Prey is one of the biggest surprises of the summer and, unfortunately, it won’t be getting a theatrical release. If you’re a fan of the Predator franchise then you will love what Trachtenberg did with this prequel. It gives roots to a franchise that had so much success over the years, only to validate its place in sci-fi action history as one of the strongest out there. Midthunder was the standout all the way through and carried the film on her shoulders. Without her compelling performance, especially her tracking the alien and adapting to its movements, it could have been a different movie. She draws you in with her eyes and then locks you in with her subtle movements. As someone who has never been a fan of the franchise, this prequel has made me want to go back and watch them all. 

Prey will be released on Hulu and Disney Star on Friday, August 5th.

‘Nope’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Jordan Peele’s third feature film dives deep into sci-fi and he combines conventions to make this a unique film. Nope is different from his previous two films and it’s because he dials down on the complexity of social constructs plaguing our society. The story is a bit simpler and Peele focused on the grand scale of extraterrestrial life forms. In a way, Peele explores the food chain differently, and how animals are probed, tested, and trained to be something they’re not. It’s the expectation of a certain creature versus the reality of who, or rather, what they are. Peele did something different and original in the sci-fi genre, and he should be praised based on originality alone.

After random objects falling from the sky result in the death of their father, ranch-owning siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) attempt to capture video evidence of an unidentified flying object with the help of tech salesman Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and documentarian Antlers Hols (Michael Wincott). The story is quite simple and instead of telling a complex, layered, and symbolic story like his previous two films, Peele kept it at the surface. That’s not such a bad thing when the direction and camerawork carried the movie through those suspenseful moments. Peele and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema kept the audience on their toes with the placement of the camera. The images within the frame and how the camera moved during certain moments made the audience feel like they were in the movie.

What was so fascinating about Nope was the unidentified flying object in the film. Peele combined the matriarchial figure with the vehicle of the flying object to make that third act reveal beautiful to watch. Sure, it was a bit anticlimactic because he decided not to show much, but the story centred on capturing this phenomenon on film. It wasn’t about what the antagonist was doing, but rather showing how humans react to the unknown. Humans can be deceitful, understanding, or violent when it comes to other life forms, which also parallels their treatment of animals to a certain degree. Peele set that up in the first half, and the five-part structure with the names of each horse they had at the ranch was a nice way to divide what was happening.

Nope is a visual feast meant to be watched on an IMAX screen. Peele’s direction and van Hoytema’s cinematography make for sure a visually interesting journey through the west. Keke Palmer is the shining star of the film, while Daniel Kaluuya takes a reserved backseat for this one. In a way, they both complimented each other and they created one of my favourite sibling dynamics. Even though the story is a bit generic and the characters are a bit underdeveloped, you can still have fun diving into unknown territory with Peele. Lastly, the score by Michael Abels was really strong and amplified the tension on screen. The sound design also allowed for those jump scares to hit at the right moments as well. Peele is one of the few directors who knows how to hit those comedic beats right after some heavy scenes.

‘The Gray Man’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Another action flick by the Russo brothers outside of the MCU will hit Netflix on Friday with some pretty notable stars. The Gray Man has Ryan Gosling as the CIA’s top asset, and no one knows his identity. He then uncovers agency secrets and triggers a global hunt by assassins set loose by his ex-colleague. It seems like a generic and simple premise for an action movie, but the execution makes it difficult to understand at times. It’s all a grey area which makes perfect sense for Gosling’s character Court Gentry, who is having an epiphany due to his job. It feels similar to another action hero uncovering his company’s secrets, but the Russo’s made the story their own. 

For some reason, the Russos have lost their ability to make a polished action sequence. From Captain America: The Winter Soldier they brought such tight-knit direction to their fight scenes. But, with each new film released, it just seems like they lost their way. The choreography in The Gray Man was compact and had many maneuvers, but the editing just made it jarring to watch. The sound design was strong because you could hear those punches connect and make contact with whatever they were hitting. So after the fifth action sequence, the story just fades into the background and they’re just fighting to keep the movie alive. Just because there are multiple fight scenes, doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes for an engaging movie. 

Is the movie action-packed? Yes. Is the action interesting? Only within the third act. It’s hard to keep a consistent level of fight techniques as they escalate into a final battle. They just become more flashy with no substance. Even the sweeping drone shots for the transitions and Russo’s famous bold intertext for location changes were a bit much. It may have been a creative choice, but it was overdone within minutes. The cast had star power, but they were also severely underused. There’s Rege Jean Page, Jessica Henwick, and Ana de Armas who just didn’t get enough screen time for anyone to care about their characters. Thankfully, Ryan Gosling held this together with Chris Evans. Even though we barely got them on screen together. 

The Gray Man is generic as they come and doesn’t really add anything to the genre. At one time the Russo brothers knew how to direct action scenes, but now they have declined in quality. This movie is a mindless, jumbled mess of an action film, with seasoned performances from Gosling and Evans. Unfortunately, they couldn’t save this movie from being a bit dull at times. The storyline wasn’t strong enough to warrant any scenes in between that had no action. So, audiences will be waiting for the next action scene instead of following the story that is unfolding in front of them. It’s not a well-rounded action movie by any means, but if you want to see Evans in a villainous role and a mustache, then this is fine.

‘Persuasion’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The newest Jane Austen adaptation Persuasion explores the yearning for lost love. When Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis) — the one who got away — crashes back into Anne Elliot’s (Dakota Johnson) life, she must choose between putting the past behind her or listening to her heart when it comes to second chances. All Jane Austen novels have one lead character who has a certain standard for romance and love. This film is another reminder that there is no right way to love someone or find someone in this life because the path keeps changing for everyone. Even though this isn’t the best adaptation, there was still some charm to it. 

First and foremost, Dakota Johnson was miscast in this period piece. For some strange reason, she just doesn’t suit the period. On top of that, the quirky fourth wall breaks and narration by Anne Elliot will take you out of the movie entirely. Understandably, this is Anne’s internal monologue – especially when introducing new characters- but the editing did not work in its favour. Every time there was somewhat of an engaging scene, the fourth wall would abruptly cut the flow. It’s as if the filmmaking was a bit too modern for its good in capturing Austen’s original story. There are some great moments that Johnson had, such tender and emotional ones, but they were undercut by the editing choices. 

The story is about Anne’s lost love returning from sea after eight years, and wondering if he still loves her. They go from exes to friends, to the middle ground that we all like to call a situationship. Johnson and Jarvis had strong chemistry, but it didn’t jump off the screen like other Austen adaptations. It felt a bit dull and uninteresting. When Mr. Elliot (Henry Golding) enters there’s a different spark in Anne’s eyes and the conversation is different. There’s playful banter and a much better connection between Golding and Johnson. However, Anne remains torn between old, comfortable love, and a new, unpredictable one. Anyone can relate to Anne’s misfortune in finding love, but it’s impossible to think that Johnson has ever gone through that. 

Seeing Dakota Johnson in Persuasion is just a bit odd. It’s not to say she doesn’t give a strong performance, but she just doesn’t suit the period. When watching this, it’s more so Johnson acting as herself in a British accent, than taking on the role of Anne Elliot. At times she was quite charming as Anne, but those fourth wall breaks made it impossible to stay in line with the character. There were some humorous moments as well, but the majority of the time it didn’t stick the landing. It’s more the execution of the story than the romantic Austen tale itself. It had the potential to be great and it needed a bit more Henry Golding. 

‘Valley of the Dead’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Sometimes zombie flicks can be really fun because of the cast and the location. If the cast has great banter and understands how to make certain aspects believable, the movie will be a fun ride. Unfortunately, Valley of the Dead misses the mark when it comes to believability and suspense throughout the entire movie. It is as generic as they come, even though it’s about a lawyer in the army trying to navigate through a piece of land where dead soldiers have become zombies. It didn’t really add anything to the genre, but instead just went through the motions to make it watchable. It draws from many other zombie films that had better execution.

Valley of the Dead, which is also called Malnazidos is a 2020 Spanish zombie action film directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera and Alberto de Toro and set in the Spanish Civil War. A small group of sworn enemies must work together when they encounter flesh-eating zombies created in a Nazi experiment. There is some great camera work in the opening scene to show how brutal the Nazis were and how the experiment started. But, it soon fizzled towards the middle when they started to venture through the valley. They moved locations and then more and more zombies would show up until the third act which had a whole army. It felt as if it was escalating because it had to, and not because it worked for the story.

Zombie films are more suspenseful than anything because the anticipation is what would cause any form of tension. That’s what was severely lacking in this movie and it is what made me lose interest. Even though it has a short runtime, it felt like it was dragging on because it wasn’t engaging. The makeup for the zombies was fine but looked a bit cheap at times. On top of that, the kills weren’t that inventive and the blood didn’t look believable either. There was some great banter between characters, but ultimately it just wasn’t scary enough or unique to set it apart from other zombie flicks.

Valley of the Dead had some good moments, and some fun camera work at times, but lacked suspense. This movie just went through the motions of every other zombie film, but just in a different setting. The story wasn’t nearly strong enough to keep the audience engaged. At times, the humour was decent but some jokes didn’t really land. There was so much potential for this movie to actually highlight what happened at that time, but it glossed over the historical accuracy and filled it with the zombie storyline instead. There wasn’t a clear balance in the storytelling for audiences to connect with the story at all.