‘The Tender Bar’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

George Clooney is back in the director’s chair for The Tender Bar. This is adapted from the memoir written by JR Moehringer and it explores his childhood with an absent father. In 1972, nine-year-old J.R. (Daniel Ranieri) moves into his grandfather’s dilapidated house in Long Island, N.Y. He is searching for a father figure and naturally, he falls under the unconventional tutelage of his uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), a charismatic, self-educated bartender who introduces him to a handful of the bar’s colourful regulars. As the year’s pass and J.R. becomes a young man, he tries to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer. Throughout this film, we see the identity crisis this young boy has and how the people around him shape him into the man he becomes.

Maguire’s memoir is filled with little anecdotes and emotional moments. Even though his father is a drunk and abandoned him to work for radio, he still feels a connection to him when hearing his voice. His father is this empty figure that has such a dark presence in his life. The one person who makes that all go away is his Uncle, Charlie. Little J.R. takes a liking to Charlie because he is very honest with him and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He treats him like a little adult and always wants him to be the best version of himself. This is one of Ben Affleck’s best performances because he just naturally radiates this comforting, paternal energy. Affleck’s Uncle Charlie may be a bit of a hot-head, but when it comes to his family and his little nephew, he puts everything in check.

If it weren’t for Ben Affleck’s magnetic and heartwarming performance, The Tender Bar would have been as engaging. Clooney’s direction was very generic in retelling this story and the use of two different timelines in the narrative; a young J.R. and a future J.R. (Tye Sheridan), didn’t flow as much as it should have. There were many heartfelt moments shared between J.R. and his Uncle Charlie but when they weren’t on screen together, Sheridan didn’t have chemistry with anyone else. Clooney could have pulled a little bit more from the rest of the cast but they just didn’t connect.

The Tender Bar is a generic coming-of-age story that explores one family guiding a young boy to become successful, to lead a better life. There are some great life lessons and some fun moments, courtesy of old Uncle Charlie. It will also give you an appreciation of those parental figures in your life, who helped you become the person you are today. Even though Clooney’s return to the director’s chair is a bit lacklustre and a by-the-numbers adaptation, it’s Ben Affleck’s performance as Uncle Charlie that elevates the script to make this a decent watch. Make sure to catch this heartwarming film on Amazon Prime!

‘Being the Ricardos’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz shaped American television in the early 50s. The slapstick comedy that Lucy did so well brought so much joy and laughter into everyone’s homes. Even though “Lucy” was her persona, Lucille Ball had a tough rise to fame as a woman in the industry. She went through so much off-screen that no one realizes how difficult she had it. She’s one of the first women to breakthrough the vicious cycle of the studio system to create something of her own, I Love Lucy. She was so in love with her husband that she would have done anything for him. The one thing Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos does right is highlight her fearlessness and tenacity as a comedic actor and a woman.

Again, Aaron Sorkin takes on writing the screenplay and directing his own film. Unfortunately, this time, the structure of this story suffered immensely. Lucille Ball’s life is filled with plenty of important moments, so it’s impossible to highlight everything. Sorkin is a strong screenwriter, but even he couldn’t create a cohesive narrative that could encapsulate what it is to be Lucille Ball. The angle he chose to focus on will make you lose interest quickly because it is the most uninteresting thing about her. Sorkin chose to focus on a very minor detail of her being slandered in the paper about being a communist and after that, the story is pulled in many different directions.

The strongest moments are on the television set, whether they were in-between scenes, or having offset conversations, all of it worked for me. We got to see Lucy (Nicole Kidman) and Desi (Javier Bardem) behind-the-scenes with William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda). The biggest issue is that the actors, Bardem and Kidman, did not lose themselves in this role. It felt like they were mimicking Lucy and Desi because the script wasn’t interesting enough to get lost in the dialogue, in order to blur those two aspects. On the other hand, Simmons and Arianda stole the spotlight whenever they were on screen and completely embodied Frawley and Vance.

The lesson after watching Being the Ricardos is that the biggest stars or the best actors can sometimes take away from the intimacy of the roles you are presenting on screen. Sorkin’s direction was uninspired and very static when it came to framing certain scenes within scenes during the television sequences. The placement of certain scenes to show Lucille’s growth and eventual downfall with Desi did not work and that’s because the editing was jarring. If Sorkin just focused in on their marriage failing while working together, this would have been a much stronger film and maybe, we would have gotten better performances from the leads.

‘River’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When someone experiences a great loss, it can deeply affect them. It can change their mental state and alter their emotional capacity to actually feel things. There are stages of grief that everyone experiences differently, and if the people around you are not able to handle these outbursts of emotions, then it is even more difficult to move forward. River is a psychological sci-fi thriller, that follows River Allen (Mary Cameron Rogers), a 20-something woman who has spiralled out of control after her mother’s death. She ends up disappearing for over a week, with no recollection of how she returned home. She is disoriented, lethargic, volatile, and nightmarish images haunt her mind.

The film starts off with some beautiful camerawork that establishes the vastness of the forest near River. The story is centered on River’s grief, and how she slowly begins to lose herself with each passing moment, that her mother isn’t with her. Her mother made her feel safe, and she was comforted by the fact, that someone actually accepted her for who she was. There are some great mother-daughter moments during flashbacks, that show the bond that they shared. The story unfolds slowly, and you get pieces of information as the film goes on. We see River go through the different stages and there is an emotional connection to her character.

It is more of an emotional journey for River. Once she begins having these nightmares, and the supernatural element kicks in, the film starts to lose its footing. They needed to make the supernatural aspect from the forest a bit stronger, in order for her descent into grieving, and her loss of identity to make an impact as a whole. It just needed to be introduced and explained a bit more earlier on in the film, so that the viewer could easily make the connections. The concept of panic attacks, or anxiety being tied to lights flickering, or furniture moving, would have worked extremely well if the execution was bit cleaner.

River had some close friends that helped her through her grieving but something felt off. Her friend Amanda (Alexandra Rose) was somehow linked to this supernatural journey that River had to go on. Or rather, forced upon her. The concept was there, it just could have been stronger to show the sci-fi side in this film. The link between grief and expressing your emotions through natural elements around you, should have made for a more interesting film. There were strong moments, and the cast had great chemistry, but it wasn’t enough to properly hit those emotional chords, that this subject matter should have done.

‘Without Remorse’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is about a Navy Seal, named John Clark (Michael B. Jordan), who goes on a path to avenge his wife’s murder only to find himself inside of a larger conspiracy. You have Michael B. Jordan leading an interesting cast that doesn’t really work for some strange reason. The film has an interesting story but the execution was lacklustre. It was difficult to follow at times and the pacing of the film is not engaging enough for the viewer to sit through the runtime. There are strong action scenes but they do not make up the way the story plays out.

It is always difficult to adapt novels to screen and unfortunately Without Remorse suffered from trying to incorporate too much. The writing for John Clark just wasn’t strong enough and it pains me to say this because Michael B. Jordan is one of my favourite actors working today. For some strange reason it just didn’t work for me. His military life and domestic life were rushed in the beginning, only for the aftermath of his wife’s death to last longer than it should have. It’s Tom Clancy, it really shouldn’t have been this hard to take this action-packed story and translate it to screen.

It just does not hold the viewer’s attention long enough to make them care about the actual story or the characters. It felt like even the characters were waiting for the action scenes to happen, in order for anything to move forward. The story just didn’t flow and the writing for the characters seemed really bland. The real downfall of the film was that majority of the action scenes – which we all patiently waited for – were all in complete darkness, it was impossible to see what was happening or even who was fighting who.

Without Remorse had potential to be a great action piece for Michael B. Jordan but unfortunately it fell flat. It was hard to sit through because the writing just wasn’t engaging enough. The story was overstuffed, as they tried incorporate as much as they could from the novel. It really suffered the adaptation issues that many films face. I could see the story they were trying to tell but there wasn’t enough explanation or connection to any of these characters for any viewer to care. It is definitely not enough that Jordan was leading this film.

I Care A Lot Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

As we all know, films can be a representation of society. Which means, that there can be genuinely good people as protagonists, or morally flawed, complex and bad people as protagonists. Some films want to showcase these disturbed protagonists with ideologies that counter the government or any system put in place. I Care a Lot introduced us to Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a court assigned legal guardian, to the elderly, in their time of need. What Grayson does, is take hold of her clients assets and drains them of their savings. Could there be people out there who do this? Well, we sure as hell found out in this film.

This film shows the perseverance and ambition in achieving the American Dream. Grayson had been poor her whole life and in her eyes, the only way to gain more of a financial status is by cheating the system. Rosamund Pike was perfectly cast as Grayson, no one else could have played this role. Pike has mastered the role of a morally conflicted woman, with a flawed perception of society, who eventually executes the ideas in her head, in a very disturbing way. Sure, Pike only has Amy Dunne as a character that can be referred to, but Marla Grayson is in that tier performance wise. If Pike is so good delivering these roles to us, then why don’t we have her in more films that center on a layered protagonist such as this one?

The film had such a great cast. Pike, obviously steals the spotlight but Eiza Gonzalez, Peter Dinklage, Chris Messina and Dianne Wiest all went toe-to-toe with her. Pike was great on her own, with her vape pen, and famous smirk that showed, she was thinking about the next five steps. Even though Gonzalez had a small role, her chemistry with Pike was a stand out. When Pike shared scenes with Wiest, Dinklage and Messina, they all presented different levels of power and she matched all of them. It is an exciting watch because the cast elevated the script in every way. The plot twists were placed in the right spots and it didn’t lose its footing, until the third act.

I Care a Lot has a really twisted perception of the meaning of a court appointed legal guardian. Even though Marla Grayson does some very questionable things, we can still understand where she is coming from. Again, it is not sympathizing with the flawed protagonist, it is more so enjoying the performances of these bad people and hoping they get paid their due. It is a humorous thriller, with many exciting scenes, strong pieces of dialogue and multiple endings that will leave you stunned. The film is purely a showcase for how talented this cast is and a reminder that Rosamund Pike is a force to be reckoned with.