‘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.

‘The Green Knight’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There are medieval tales that capture the essence of the nobility and honour within the kingdom. We have been told the stories of powerful rulers, gallant knights, and bewitching women. David Lowery’s The Green Knight, shows the journey of King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) headstrong nephew, Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) as he embarks on a daring quest to confront the Green Knight, a mysterious giant who appears at Camelot. It is a journey of a noble knight, seeking honor and validation from his King. Through its symbolism and stunning imagery, Gawain is placed in a dreamlike plain to explore the true meaning of Knighthood.

First and foremost, this perfectly suits the A24 library. It almost feels like the most polished entry. The Green Knight is a very simple tale, but it’s David Lowery’s direction and Andrew Droz Palermo cinematography that elevates the entire film. Like any medieval story, there is witchcraft involved, which allowed Lowery to have a multilayered story through powerful imagery. We do get the surface level of Gawain’s journey, after he beheads the Green Knight, he must wait a whole year, before he receives the same fate in return. The witchcraft comes into play when testing our noble knight out in the forest. Not only is this Gawain’s journey, but the audience is experiencing this journey in a different way.

From the moment this film begins, Lowery brings you into the world he has created. You are fully immersed in the time period, the Kingdom, and the medieval lore. It feels like you are entering a different realm and it works beautifully. Gawain flows in and out of reality, we see the witchcraft take hold of his mind, showing him two different paths, the easy one and the difficult one. What would a young knight do to achieve greatness, to achieve honour? How far would he be willing to go? Again, it’s simple on the surface, but once you peel back these layers, and dive into these obstacles in such a visceral way, the moral judgement shifts.

The Green Knight explores knighthood and the obstacles one might face to prove themselves honourable. Things such as love, lust, and greed, can all cloud one’s judgement, it is all how you choose to overcome those obstacles. These aspects can most definitely parallel anyone’s decisionmaking and that is why it’s such a wonderful journey. As the viewer, you will completely lose yourself in the beautiful imagery on scenic landscapes on screen. And when the third act challenges Gawain, you end up questioning how you would approach his situation. The story has so much depth because of the visual storytelling. It’s hauntingly beautiful and the journey will leave you fulfilled.

‘Zola’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out?
It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”

What may have started out as a Twitter thread, turned into a film that definitely suits A24s library, and has a positive perception on sex work. For those who weren’t on Twitter when @_zolarmoon’s story dropped, this movie does do her story justice. Newcomer Taylour Paige is Zola, a Detroit waitress who strikes up a new friendship with a customer named Stefani (Riley Keough). She seduces her to join a weekend of dancing and partying in Florida. To Zola, it appears to be a glamorous trip full of “hoeism” but it then transforms into a 48-hour journey involving a nameless pimp (Colman Domingo), an idiot boyfriend (Nicholas Braun), and some unexpected Tampa gangsters.

Zola is a true story and that is what makes this rollercoaster of a journey interesting. If you have read the thread – like I have – then lower your expectations going into this film. But if you haven’t, and you are going in blind, then you will be in for a treat. On that one night, where the thread went viral, @_zolarmoon’s voice was definitely heard in those tweets, unfortunately that is one thing that should have translated to the film. Her voice made the thread what it was, the level of storytelling through that thread did not make it to the film. The one thing that did work, when involving her tweets in the film, was the actual sound cue of a tweet being sent. I caught on about halfway through, but it worked.

Janicza Bravo’s direction was unique, and her vision to have sex workers painted positively, made me enjoy the film even more. She captured the bodies of women in a different way and explored their athleticism when working. Bravo really focused on showing how women view men in any situation, but specifically in sexual situations. She did not glamorize any of it, whether it was stripping or actual sex work, she showed the reality of it and I respected that. The stars of the film Taylour Paige and Riley Keough brought so much to their roles and played off each other. Keough was more outspoken, loud, and straight up irritating, while Paige was more reserved and her expressions truly said it all.

Zola is a slow burn that has colourful characters to drive the narrative home. There are some sequences that are beautifully shot and that highlight female bodies in the proper way. It feels like a never-ending journey because of all the obstacles they face. It is very eye-opening to see how women are treated and how women treat each other. You will be fully immersed and feel like you are on this road trip with them. The soundtrack will have you bumping with them as they drive to Tampa and there are moments that will keep you frozen in your spot as you watch the scenes unfold. It is interesting to see Keough and Paige deliver two very different performances but still manage to work off each other so well.

Minari Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

For as long as cinema has been around, the theme of achieving the American Dream has always been evident. People come to America, thinking they could lead better lives, until they get there, and find that the system works against their people. What Lee Isaac Chung does in Minari, is show the struggle of one Korean-American family, trying to achieve the American Dream after moving to Missouri. Chung explores what goes into making a home, is it the location or the people you’re with? Both, Monica (Han Ye-ri) and Jacob (Steven Yeun) navigate their new life and explore the meaning of living.

The film begins with a beautiful scenic drive, capturing the beauty and richness of the land. Later showing that Jacob’s family would be living on farmland. The location of the farm was vibrant and showed the wonder of nature. Chung showed the roots of life, while Jacob’s family dealt with financial issues, family illness and an additional family member coming to live with them. The film highlights everyday situations that American families struggle with and Chung counters that with showing the importance of life’s natural resources.

The family dynamic consisting of Jacob, Monica, David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho) worked really well. They were all great characters who had different connections with each other. We saw that Jacob and David were closer, Chung wanted to develop their connection in a very natural way and succeeded. The star of this film is little David. Alan S. Kim has such a wonderful presence on screen and added so much emotional depth to certain scenes. David has a heart condition that sets the viewer to worry about him during simple, everyday activities. David’s connection with his Korean grandmother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung) was the highlight of the film. We see how heritage can blend with American traditions and how a younger generations can learn to appreciate it.

Minari is a beautiful film that will keep you interested in their family dynamic with it’s very natural script. As the viewer you are examining the lives of this Korean-American family and learning how they approach living their everyday life. It is rooted in the American Dream but dives into the family structure about conforming to their surroundings. It isn’t until grandma Soonja comes in and changes their perception of what a home truly is. The family structure is challenged by financial and health issues but in the end, they realize there is nothing more important than the love shared between family.

Midsommar Review and Analysis

Ari Aster’s sophomore film is much more inventive than Hereditary and has undertones of grief in all forms. People often associate grief with death, but it can also be applied to any loss and the emotional journey in which that takes you on.

Florence Pugh delivers a very honest, innocent and internal performance that is very beautiful to sit through. Her energy is just so pure that from the very beginning of the film you just want to protect her at all costs.

This being said, Ari Aster is a wonderful filmmaker, the camerawork and cinematography were absolutely stunning, for a film that is so eerie and graphic to take place in an open field in broad daylight was very different and I commend him for that. Most horror films (I do not consider this a horror in any sense whatsoever but it’s still classified as one and marketed as one) have such a dark setting that it’s almost impossible to understand what is happening at certain moments. In Midsommar everything was laid out in front of the camera allowing audiences to vividly see the gore and deaths. He tried to do something different and I respect the way he told the story visually.

The issue I have with Hereditary and Midsommar is that the cult symbolism in both films do not directly correlate to the thematic undertones. Both films started with themes of family dysfunction and grief but ended in a very different place. At least with Midsommar it was more cohesive as a narrative because Dani and Christian’s relationship was already on the rocks, so the ending somewhat made sense. There is very little explanation as to why these characters end up in these cult situations and I just think that he can elaborate more when trying to come up with a shocking third act finale.

I also feel that the lead characters do not get the chance to ever build on their repressed emotions. It was hard to watch Dani take what Christian was giving her and she was just very nonchalant about how he was treating her. The smirk she gave at the end of the film was too subtle considering the action that she was forced to do.

I also understand that Ari also chose to show the 5 stages of grief throughout the film:

Denial – the initial reaction after her parents and sister die, she was screaming and she did not want to believe that it was true.

Anger – the shrooms trip that she got the first day in Sweden, she was extremely angry

Bargaining – I would say that weighing the pros and cons of her relationship with Christian would fit this and the fact that she wanted to leave.

Depression – They showed her emotional state throughout

Acceptance – the third act is her processing the concept of death and then allowing herself to move forward from her old life and Christian was the last thing that tied her to her past self.

I could definitely analyze the film scene by scene, especially considering Dani and Christian’s relationship and how the major family death forcefully pushed them together and then the trip to Sweden was positioned to salvage it. There were a series of tests for Christian and he continued to fail her on an emotional level. They were disjointed from the start and she could feel him distancing himself from her. He was also very selfish and he manipulated her into thinking that he was the victim in majority of their arguments.

This film is aesthetically pleasing, the sound design is lovely and the story was better than Hereditary. Ari just has to create some sort of balance in his third act in order to bring everything together.