‘Spirited’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Christmas is a time to spend with loved ones and of course, to spread cheer. In Spirited directed by Sean Anders, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) finds someone who is unredeemable to haunt to restore their good spirit. After many years of working with his team, he is very close to retirement and has no idea what his next move should be. One file that is brought to his attention is incredibly important to him to solve, so he takes on one final mission. This file is labelled unredeemable; his name is Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds). This film jazzes up the classic Charles Dickens story and turns it into a modernized musical with the same sentiments as the original story. Apple TV Plus has a wonderful holiday film on its hands because of the dynamic pairing of Ferrell and Reynolds. 

It’s almost hard to believe that the two of them haven’t worked together until now. Ferrell and Reynolds had wonderful chemistry and bounced off of each other incredibly well. Their line delivery, slapstick comedy and timing all worked in every single scene they were in. On the one hand, you have Reynolds playing his dry sarcastic self and Ferrell channels his inner Buddy with his whimsical zest for Christmas. Sure, they act as complete opposites for comedic purposes, but once Briggs and the Ghost of Christmas Present head back to their past, they discover they’re more alike than they think. Here, they begin to understand each other and connect on an emotional level to ground the film. There’s some Christmas magic to warm the heart, but it’s those tough, intimate moments from their past that will resonate with audiences. 

Another impressive thing was the choreography in the musical numbers. It felt so extravagant and massive, which just added to the magic of Christmas. Reynolds showed true showmanship in every single number, which was a different side of him. Any modern musical that works tap dancing into its numbers instantly has my heart. Not only is the choreography strong and incredibly sharp, but the original songs are well-written. The songs seem almost unconventional because of the lyrics that are used for Christmas, but they’re ultimately hilarious. Especially because Ferrell and Reynolds are the ones singing some wild lyrics. Movie musicals are scarce nowadays, so it was nice to see a reimagined version of a classic story adding something fresh to it. 

Spirited is a sweet Christmas film that takes the best aspects of the classic Charles Dickens story and updates it for the modern world. Now more than ever, people seem disconnected from the goodness in the world, and this film shows that love and kindness will always be important to lead a healthy life. From the musical numbers to the emotional songs and great comedic chemistry from Ferrell and Reynolds, this is a Christmas movie for the whole family to watch. There are many important lessons in this film, and it’s important to understand that we cannot change the past, but we can alter the way we interact with others presently, so our future can be filled with an abundance of positivity and love. This Christmas film reminds us what it means to be kind to our fellow neighbours and how important it is to recognize that people can be suffering in silence without even knowing. It will be streaming on Apple TV Plus Friday, November 18th.

‘The Wonder’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Set in The Irish Midlands in 1862, The Wonder follows the story of a young girl who stops eating but remains miraculously alive and well. English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) is brought to a tiny village to observe eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy). Tourists and pilgrims mass to witness the girl who is said to have survived without food for months. Director Sebastián Leilo crafts a dark piece that pits science and blind faith against each other. Even though it takes place in the 1800s, the conversation can hold some relevance today. Whether it’s blind faith in what God has created or the scientific fact of what has been studied for decades, the conversation of autonomy over one’s body is always important. The way Leilo and cinematographer Ari Wegner captured the unsettling atmosphere through their incredible visuals and direction made these ideas appear differently to audiences. 

It is one thing to discuss these matters with characters on screen, but it is another to show their feelings through the visual storytelling of the film. Wegner has been such an impressive force with her compositions within the frame that everything complimented Pugh’s incredible performance. It seemed as though the visuals and Leilo’s direction for this piece completely overpowered the story. To see a young woman conditioned to think a certain way after a traumatic childhood event is difficult to comprehend. Her parents have attempted to help her but have turned her into this empty shell of a young girl to fit their religious narrative of heaven and hell. At the cost of a young life, an older generation must enforce their ideals upon everyone, which is even more problematic in itself. Her parents test Nurse Wright’s patience throughout the film, as she pushes her scientific rationalization as to why this young girl has survived without food. 

The moments between Pugh and Lord Cassidy together in young Anna’s room are possibly the best in the film because of their conversations. Nurse Wright has lost a great deal herself and questions if there even is a higher being out there. How can there be if she has lost so much around her, including herself? We see glimpses of Wright’s struggle, and it forces the audience to connect the pieces as to why she is so determined to save young Anna. In return, Anna is so involved in her faith that she doesn’t understand the social cues from Wright. The technical aspects of this film are what hold it together, including the chilling score by Matthew Herbert. However, the script, which is adapted by Alice Birch and Emma Donaghue (who also wrote the book) was a bit too dense. The film suffered from pacing issues and felt overly long to get to the final act. Even though the first half was set up to be a compelling narrative, it did suffer as it slowly came to its conclusion. 

The Wonder has another powerhouse performance from Florence Pugh who commanded every single scene she was in. You felt her pain from her past as it came through in how adamant she was in saving the young girl. Newcomer Lord Cassidy also gave a strong performance as Anna, she had to go to dark places to showcase her character’s blind faith in what her parents had instilled. The technical aspects of this film such as Wegner’s stunning cinematography and Herbert’s chilling atmospheric score are what made this compelling to watch. Sebastián Leilo pulled out a stunning performance from Pugh and made some interesting decisions throughout the film to have viewers question the reality of blind faith in how he chose to bookend this film. Leilo does transport you to a time that feels so distant from what our reality is only to present the same ideologies as we struggle with presently, only proving that the world around us might change, but the same issues will always remain.

‘Falling For Christmas’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Netflix is the one streaming service that knows how to get into the Christmas spirit. They have been able to pump out wholesome Christmas projects to make everyone feel warm inside. In Falling For Christmas, Sierra Belmont (Lindsay Lohan) is a hotel heiress who doesn’t know what to do with her life. She has always been privileged and under her dad’s watchful eye. He wants to look out for her, and he does this by creating a job at the Belmont Resort just for her. On the other hand, Jake Russell (Chord Overstreet) is trying to keep his Ski Lodge afloat to provide for his daughter. He even goes to Mr. Belmont (Jack Wagner) for a business proposal, but it doesn’t pan out. Like all Christmas films, there is a bit of magic and wishful thinking that can spark any situation. Sierra and Jake have fate bring them together in the most unlikely way. 

After a skiing accident, Sierra is left with amnesia, and she doesn’t remember anything before the accident. Jake is the one who finds her in the forest, and after bringing her to the hospital, they find out that she doesn’t have anyone looking for her. Jake naturally offers his Ski Lodge to help her until someone finds her. For Sierra to remember anything at all, she has to start doing normal things to jog her memory. This is where the humour comes in because she was privileged and never did household chores while she was growing up. So simple tasks like cooking, making the bed, and washing clothes were challenging for her. It was wonderful to see Lohan back on screen being adorable and charming while embracing the Christmas spirit. Her chemistry with Chord Overstreet did have some magic that made the Christmas atmosphere the perfect romantic setting at the Ski Lodge. 

Writers Jeff Bonnett and Ron Oliver use the magic of Christmas and the classic “bump on the head” storyline to make this a really sweet and heartfelt movie. There’s so much power in the memories we hold onto, and we don’t realize we’re making memories while being present in those moments. Our brains are incredibly interesting as they register such small, intimate moments without fail. It could be a certain smell or feeling tied to a memory we carry with us. Even after losing someone, those small moments stay with us, and it can be difficult to move on from those memories, just like Jake had to do with his wife. Whenever you meet someone special they could be in a different position entirely in their life, and once you get to know them, their position in your life can change. People can come into your life and change you in ways that you would have never expected. That’s why this film is one of the better Christmas releases on Netflix because of how much meaning went into the story. 

Falling For Christmas is a very sweet and heartfelt Christmas romance that has Lindsay Lohan back in her element. This perfect blend of tender moments from Jake and very clumsy moments from Sierra makes this a joy to watch. The holidays are always special because it brings people together. It’s about love, joy, and unity, and these Christmas films offer so much in some dark times. The film also addresses the emptiness of Influencer culture on social media as being shallow and self-absorbed. Sierra shows audiences that there is a better, more fulfilling way to live your life, and that is to be grounded in the simple things. The way that Sierra and Jake help each other realize the changes they need to make in their lives proves that there can be that one person to make your life better. If you want to get into the Christmas spirit, then this is one film to check out this weekend. 

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When Chadwick Boseman was cast as T’Challa, many didn’t know the impact he was going to make. The character of T’Challa grew into a diplomatic, noble leader of Wakanda over time. Not only was he regal at all times with his demeanour, but he had such a playful side that he shared with Shuri (Letitia Wright). He started as a young man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and became a King to everyone. Boseman’s presence was felt throughout Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and the emotional weight of this film is one of the reasons this felt as draining as it did. Director Ryan Coogler had an impossible task at hand, and he was able to create a complex sequel. He incorporated many layers to suit his cast’s needs, the MCU’s grandeur, and the fans. Grief is the main theme explored as this film’s overarching theme and how everyone grieves differently. That pain never fades, instead, it manifests into other forms of expression. 

There are many moving parts to this film, and at times it can be a bit dense. After the death of King T’Challa, Wakanda lost its protector, and they appear defenceless to other nations. While grieving, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) intimidates the UN Board of Directors, who have been challenging Wakanda’s hold on vibranium. Meanwhile, the CIA has been digging in the ocean for vibranium using a detector made by a scientist. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, they find it and uncover a new nation of people called the Talokan with Namor (Tenoch Huerta) as their god. With a series of misunderstandings about who is after the vibranium and hurting members of the CIA, the Talokan and the Wakandans come face to face. This side of the story is fairly standard and is a good way to introduce Namor in the MCU. What matters most about the geo-political storyline is Namor’s backstory and what ruling means to him. 

Coogler had to bring the audience back into a further developed Wakanda and have everyone grieve over T’Challa together. On top of that, he had to create an entirely new world for audiences to connect with. He was able to construct a connection with those on the surface, and those underwater, who have experienced similar obstacles in their lives. The grieving process is shown through Namor and Shuri extremely well. Shuri has internalized her pain and sees death through a more scientific lens. Whereas Queen Ramonda believes in connectivity to the ancestral plain, and uses spirituality to comfort her. Namor’s grief is tied to a different emotion where he becomes vengeful over the protection of his people. The entire second act dives into both sides and the roles Namor and Shuri must play for their kingdoms. Moreover, the introduction of Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) can be considered the fun puzzle piece amid all this sorrow. Each piece is assembled to move the narrative forward, but it still felt a bit overwhelming. Yes, there can be layers, but it felt like two strong ideas were being pushed into one story. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a beautiful tribute to T’Challa and Boseman’s legacy. The entire cast gave such powerful, emotional performances, especially Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright. The costume design by Academy Award winner Ruth E. Carter was incredible, as she had to design for a whole new nation while upgrading the Wakandan wardrobe. Ludwig Göransson’s score was a bit more subdued compared to its predecessor. It’s not like it went unnoticed, but it wasn’t as integral to the feel of the story as it was in the first one. There are a lot of wonderful things about this film, but from a technical standpoint, it just doesn’t feel polished. The editing is probably the most jarring as the pacing suffered throughout the lengthy runtime. The one thing that did improve from the first film is the special effects and the fight choreography with the new suits was strong as well. This film is strong because of the emotional connection that many of the fans have with these characters, but certain aspects didn’t work for the film in its entirety, and it ultimately suffered from sequel syndrome.

‘Enola Holmes 2’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) has been quite busy since her first investigation and is coming into her own as a detective. Now a detective-for-hire, Enola Holmes takes on her first official case to find a missing girl as the sparks of a dangerous conspiracy ignite a mystery that requires the help of friends – and Sherlock (Henry Cavill) himself – to unravel. This story is based on actual events and is more female-centric than the first installment. It was great to see women at the forefront during a time when their opinions were silenced. In this mystery, the women were trying to expose the corruption within the government and community. Like any Holmes mystery, there are a lot of moving parts and this story was a bit easier to follow than the first.

Enola Holmes is trying to make her way as a Detective in London, but sadly she is always in her older brother’s shadow. She thought after her first case people would know her name. Instead, they go to her hoping there would be easier access to her brother Sherlock. Enola wants to do things on her terms. In doing so, she discovers that it’s better to have people around to help you through those times. You can be an individual and be uniquely, unapologetically you, but you don’t have to be alone to embrace who you are. It’s not only Enola who undergoes this change in mentality, Sherlock does too. It’s interesting to see the dynamic change between Enola and Sherlock in this film as they come together for the greater good. 

Director Harry Bradbeer has done an incredible job and capturing the essence of the Holmes family and how they conduct themselves. You can see the gears turning in Enola’s head, as the visuals are edited sharply together to parallel her mind racing to understand the clue. One character and director also knows when to place the fourth wall breaks to connect with Enola in certain instances. Millie Bobby Brown is lovely in this and has made the character unique to who she is as well. The reason why this sequel worked a bit better is because of the addition of Cavill’s Sherlock. As their stories intertwine, we get to understand who he is as a character a bit more because this is an earlier version of him. 

Enola Holmes 2 is a wonderful sequel that strips away the excess and tells an important story about individuality and women’s rights. The way Bradbeer and writer Jack Throne adapted this story worked incredibly well and showed a different, more mature side of Enola. As the character grows with each investigation (much like Sherlock), the stories get darker in tone as well. Netflix does have a very good thing going with Enola Holmes. Hopefully, after what is set up in this sequel, Sherlock gets his spin-off, so his story doesn’t interfere with Enola’s. There are many mysteries and Millie Bobby Brown needs to continue making these films because of how wholesome they are. The way Enola and Sherlock calculate the clues and the investigation is unique and they join the ranks of other iterations of the Holmes novels.