Sound of Metal Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Sound of Metal is another film that pleasantly surprised me this year. It is such an inspiring film and it explores the lifestyle of the deaf community. It brings such authenticity and uniqueness in telling a story about someone losing their hearing. The reason why this film is being received so well is because of the choices that were made through the sound design of the entire piece.

The film is centered around a heavy metal band, called ‘Blackgammon’, which is just a drummer named Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) on lead vocals. The film opens with the two of them performing at a venue and the music was blaring. The camera is focused on Ruben, as he listens to the cues and drums his heart out. As the camera cuts to a close up, the sound changes, the music changes and we see something change within Ruben.

Riz Ahmed gave a fantastic performance because of how intune he was with his character and the importance of delivering this important story. The performance was more reactionary because his mind was going through a change. Everything surrounding him felt different, the sounds were different and his perception changed. This film heavily relies on cues and the incredible sound design. For the general audience to truly understand the deaf community, the execution of the story was crucial and Darius Marder did a great job in creating a strong atmosphere to explore this character.

Courtesy of Caviar Ward Four
(left) Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke

Having a musician, especially a drummer, gradually lose his hearing as we watch him play his set, was heartbreaking. Ahmed had so many layers to his performance because of Ruben’s troubled past as an addict and holding the persona of a rockstar. Olivia Cooke also gave a great performance as Lou because of how understanding and emotional she was in order to help Ruben. Cooke and Ahmed had great chemistry and they shared key emotional moments in the film that really made their love for each other so believable.

Sound of Metal is one of the most important films to come out this year. Marder told an original and very unique story, that gave the deaf community proper representation. Due to its brilliant sound design, the film allows audiences to be fully immersed in the story because they are experiencing the realization of loss through Ruben. It has wonderful performances, an educational, heartfelt story and great direction from Marder.

‘The Great’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The Great is a series, that is based on the play created by Tony McNamara, which focuses on the history of Russian Emperor Peter III and the fearless Catherine the Great. It is a satirical, comedic drama that follows Catherine’s (Elle Fanning) journey as an outsider, as she navigates her way to solidifying her position as a ruler. It is a fictionalized series, that details Catherine’s early twenties and her plot to kill her deranged and sadistic husband. The Great on Hulu is completely unhinged, daring and humorous because of how exaggerated their behaviour is.

It is a series that is so bold with its storytelling because of how honest and vulgar the dialogue is, especially when Emperor Peter III (Nicholas Hoult) is speaking. It is a strong piece on the Catherinian  Era that really has not been done before. It is incredibly entertaining, charming and does not shy away from the possibility, that people in that era, would have been just as heinous in their personal lives. It is eye opening because it is believable that the murder, torture and poor treatment of women in the Russian Kingdom, under Emperor Peter III’s rule, would have been that brutal.

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Courtesy of Hulu (left) Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning 

The character development for Peter and Catherine, shift immensely from the beginning of the series and it is almost as if they began to pull traits from each other. At the start, Catherine is this love struck, naive, young woman, who is pulled into the authoritative, violent hands of Emperor Peter III. She was taught that love conquers all and that her kind heart will serve her well in this life. She had this romanticized perception of the palace life, until Peter broke her innocence. Catherine’s loss of innocence was probably the most moving aspect about this series because she had to quickly adapt to the situations unfolding around her.

Peter, on the other hand, did not care about anyone else but himself and his narcissism got the best of him. He has a gigantic ego and pleases himself in anyway he can. He does not care for his Kingdom, or his subjects and did absolutely nothing to help his people. He would drink, eat, torture and have affairs with whomever he wanted. Catherine took notice of his unbearable behaviour and any romantic feeling, that could have developed between the two of them, seemed impossible. The sex scenes between Catherine and Peter, were cold, rigid and neither of them felt anything, they went through the motions because it had to be done, in order to conceive an heir.

The first half of the series shows Catherine’s crushing realization, that Peter was not a normal human being. In fact, he is one of the most peculiar characters I have seen on a series in a while. He is so complex, in an obscure way and just when you think he falls into some kind of normalcy, he surprises you. Catherine builds up her power and forges a plan to take down Peter, through her network of people that have sided with her and against the Emperor. Catherine slowly develops the same raw, animalistic and daring traits as Peter, but utilizes them against him. She was cunning and knew that in order to take Peter down, she had to feed his ego and in doing so, she became more powerful than he could ever be.

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Courtesy of Hulu (center) Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great

The humour was also quite refreshing and honest and I think that’s why I fell in love with this series. It is definitely unconventional and Nicholas Hoult gave one of my favourite performances of the year as Emperor Peter III, his line delivery and presence on screen really carried the series and made it so entertaining. The script was filled with dirty one liners and ballsy dialogue, that you normally would not hear in a comedy today. Hoult and Elle Fanning had such powerful chemistry, that with every scene they shared their feelings became more palpable and the closer that their characters got to each other, created more playfulness that resulted in a great finale.

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Courtesy of Hulu (left) Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult 

Elle Fanning was a dream as Catherine the Great, she embodied her perfectly and had a fantastic performance alongside Hoult. It was just such a beautiful portrayal because of her journey and her development as a ruler and a woman. She was fearless, ferocious and stopped at nothing to get what she wanted. She perfectly manipulated him with her intelligence, wit and faux naivete that proved she would be the better ruler. The finale was well written and executed so well, that the final shot of Catherine, obviously left me wanting more and thankfully there will be a Season 2.

The Great on Hulu is one of the best series that has come out this year; it is fun, sexy, hilarious and unique, which will leave you wanting more after each episode. The energy from Hoult and Fanning is infectious and their chemistry carries the entire show. The endless cycle of manipulation creates a very entertaining atmosphere for the ensemble and everyone wants to take a jab at Emperor Peter III. It is incredibly binge-worthy, that you will be able to hopefully finish it in one sitting. If you loved this Era of history, then this show is definitely for you!

 

 

Little Fires Everywhere Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Little Fires Everywhere is a Hulu Original series, that is adapted from Celeste Ng’s novel. The series explores the residence living in Shaker Heights, specifically the picture-perfect Richardson family but when a mother and daughter, move into their rental home nearby, things take a dramatic turn. It has a very strong narrative structure, it is well written and shows the complexities of each character extremely well. The show tackles racial discrimination, microaggressions, the meaning of motherhood and a woman’s right to choose.

We first meet Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon) who is standing on the sidewalk, staring at her mansion, burning to the ground. We can understand that something has gone horribly wrong and someone else has set her home ablaze. The opening title sequence is stunning as well, showing plenty of important objects and pieces that symbolize how materialistic the residence in Shaker Heights can be. The opening sequence, to any show, is the tipping point because it gives so much away and no one even realizes it, that’s why it is one of my favourite aspects in a series.

Elena had a perfect home, a perfect family, a picture-perfect life but she was unhappy with herself. She has always been confused about what she wanted. Did she want to have a career or did she want to have four children? Naturally people would say, that she could have both and live that picture-perfect life but it is unrealistic. No one’s life is perfect because people are not perfect. Elena wanted to have a family and have a career, but the more children she had, the more she resented the fact, that her journalism career was dwindling. This was such a perfect role for Reese Witherspoon because she plays the privileged, broken woman so well.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine 

The idea of perfection is what causes the most harm in anyone’s life. The pressure to be perfect and to always make the right choices is exhausting. Everyone doubts themselves and if they made the right choices in their lives. At the end of the day, we never really know until ten years later, when you realize how much time has passed and you reflect on your life. This is the case with Mia (Kerry Washington) and Pearl Warren (Lexi Underwood) who have been relocating, their entire lives because Mia is an artist, with a very dark past.

Mia first meets Elena when she takes a look at her rental home, which is down the street from the Richardson house. When Elena speaks to Mia, she is very passive and delivers lines with a discriminatory undertone. Elena reeks of white privilege and Mia is very transparent, when having discussions with her. The racial issues, are not only discussed throughout the series, but they are planted in the very passive dialogue, from white characters and it shows the microaggressions quite effectively. It is all about the way things were said to Mia and to Pearl, it is almost hard to stomach at times because of how oblivious Elena is to her own vocabulary.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (left Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon) 

Elena makes the attempt to welcome Mia and Pearl into her home, they became friends and had discussions about motherhood. The flashbacks to their former selves, played by Tiffany Boone and AnnaSophia Robb, were placed properly as well, so the audience can come to their own conclusion of how “motherly” these characters were. What does it take to be a mother? Are all women fit to be mothers? How does one even define motherhood? Is it really a choice to even be a mother or is it more of an obligation to the gender role? These constructs have women in a box, in a cage, if you will and once they get locked into a role or a life, they did not plan on having, it leads to difficult decisions.

What was most interesting about this show, was the character dynamics, between Mia and Izzy Richardson (Megan Stott) versus Pearl and Elena. Pearl wanted to live a normal life, she wanted to attend school and go to homecoming dances, maybe even experience her first love and stay for a while. Izzy hated her small town life, she did not want to feel boxed in and her art was her freedom. Both Izzy and Pearl, essentially, wanted to switch lives and switch mothers. Izzy and Pearl, saw who they wanted to be when they were older. Izzy saw herself, as a free, artistic spirit like Mia and Pearl saw herself, in a huge home, with a picture-perfect husband and a family like Elena.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (top) Kerry Washington and Lexi Underwood (bottom) Reese Witherspoon and Megan Stott

The final three episodes of the series, is when all the demons and secrets, creep out and wreak havoc on everyone close to the Richardson family. Their perfect family is torn apart by lies and poor decisions made by Trip Richardson (Jordan Elsass), Lexie Richardson (Jade Pettyjohn) and Elena. The central story, eventually shifts, to a legal battle between Elena’s friend, Linda McCullough (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Mia’s coworker, Bebe Chow (Lu Huang), who fight for custody of young Mirabella/May Ling. It leaves everyone questioning, who is the right fit, to mother this child. Is it the birth mother or the adopted mother? As that heartbreaking storyline unfolds, we find out who Elena and Mia really are through flashbacks.

Little Fires Everywhere is one of the best series I have seen this year and it will keep you in it, until the very end. This cast is extremely strong, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon are incredible in this! The show is very important because it is very subtle in its delivery, that you won’t even realize how many issues are boiling under the surface. It slowly creates this atmosphere of doom like a slow, burning fire, that will ignite at any second. The final episode shows the privilege literally burning to the ground and I think it is a wonderful metaphor.

 

Softness of Bodies Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Softness of Bodies feels like an authentic European tale, with a self centred, narcissistic, American poet as the protagonist. It takes place in Berlin, where Charlotte (Dasha Nekrasova) an aspiring poet, hopes to win a prestigious grant, all while dealing with her past relationships. The film unfolds quite naturally, as a string of events cause Charlotte to think on her feet and adapt to her current situation, in order to stay on track for her grant.

Charlotte is one of the most intriguing characters I have seen in awhile. She is very aloof, blunt and passive. She has the chronic need to steal anything she desires (which includes boyfriends) and tends to get herself into some sticky situations. The pacing of this film was the one thing that worked extremely well. Everything happened for a reason and it allowed each bad event, to escalate naturally, in order to suit Charlotte’s actions.

The title of the film speaks on multiple levels but it can be interpreted as the exterior of the body, by touch, is something delicate and sensual. All that matters is the feel of the person and not what is on the inside. The exterior is something people crave, people objectively analyze others every single day, without realizing they do. Their bodies are the first thing that anyone notices before they cast judgement on who they are. Their personality, flaws, or history do not matter.

Once we get to know people, that is when that soft exterior fades away and we are met with the reality of the person. In Charlotte’s case, she was a very tough person to get along with because of the way she was. She was into herself and those around her, were either there to tear her down, or to watch her crumble. She had to deal with her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her, while she was sleeping with another man, who was in a relationship. The film was filled with lying, cheating and deceit. When reflecting on the film, it does seem like Charlotte got away with the ultimate robbery.

The camerawork was interesting, the tracking shots that were used for Charlotte, were great. She was always on the run, or riding her bicycle and the editing during those chase scenes were strong. The colour grading and textures, were subtle throughout but were punched up a bit, during house party scenes. There were yellowish tones and pastels that were used and the smoke that filled the apartments gave it a relaxed, hazy feel.

Softness of Bodies, at first, is a character study and then, one event, kickstarts a downward spiral for Charlotte. She is a master manipulator and con artist. It does get darker, as the film goes on and I think that is why it’s so intriguing to watch. Majority of the time, you question if it can get worse and it definitely does. Charlotte walks through life, unfazed by any minor inconvenience, as if it never even happened. She takes control of her own hardships and finds a way to make it out on the other side.

My Hindu Friend Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

My Hindu Friend is based off of Hector Babaenco’s final year of his life. He has directed many features and is a well known Brazilian filmmaker. The film is a deeply personal story about Diego (Willem Dafoe) who is diagnosed with cancer and is in need of a bone marrow transplant. In order to stay alive, the doctors find a young Hindu boy, to do a blood transfusion and that is the friendship that flourishes. Diego tells the young boy, possible ideas for films that he would like to make, as he passes the time with him in the hospital.

The film is a bit obscure and doesn’t quite capture the essence of what the title implies. It is Diego’s journey as he tries to survive this illness, while balancing a relationship with his wife and somehow rediscovering his sexuality through all of this. The story was the only thing that was troubling about this film because it just took away from the pure connection between Diego and the young boy. It was overtly sexual and took away from the actual penpal connection. It’s understandable that it is the final year of Diego’s life and Babenco attempted to cover it as intricately as possible but there were too many things on the table.

As Diego went through his treatment in the hospital, he was also visited by this “businessman” who was there to collect him and bring him to heaven. Those scenes exchanged were quite interesting because of the analogies used to explain purgatory and death. One of the best scenes in this film was when Diego took out the breathing tube in the middle of the night and started singing “I’m in Heaven”. There was a spotlight on him and he was placed in front of a blank wall, that faded to black. It was eerie and effective, considering the fact that the audience would have no idea if Diego would survive.

Willem Dafoe gives a fantastic performance as he always does but it wasn’t enough to make me appreciate what Babenco was trying to do with this film. There were some beautiful scenes that had great lighting and a strong score to carry them out. Babenco also captured the beauty of women in this film quite nicely, as their bodies were seen as moving pieces of art at times. It can also be argued that they were pieces on Diego’s journey of sexual rebirth. It’s a very challenging film because of how Diego struggles with coming to terms of giving a second chance after a near death experience.

My Hindu Friend has plenty of layers to dive into but the most important connection gets lost among the excessive narcissism and selfishness of it’s lead Diego. There were soft moments with the young Hindu boy but there was no established connection to warrant that kind of emotional pull to the relationship. It has very strong visuals and a great performance by Willem Dafoe that carries the story to the very end.