‘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.

‘Luck’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

John Lasseter has given everyone some wonderful animated films over his time at Pixar. Now, with his new company Skydance, he brings his expertise to another animated feature with Luck. A story that begins with a teenager named Sam, turning eighteen years old and leaving her orphanage. She hasn’t found her forever family, but she is determined to help out her young friend Hazel find hers. In the opening of this feature, we see a very uncoordinated and awkward Sam, who usually keeps to herself because that’s all she has known her whole life. And, on top of that, she has the worst luck imaginable. Hence, the title. Shortly after she has a very messy day in her apartment, she meets this black cat on the sidewalk – usually bad luck for many- and her luck changes when she finds a penny. 

The lucky penny then changes her outlook on life and she has good things happen to her for half of the next day. However, being clumsy and not knowing she has to hold onto the penny, she loses it. Sam winds up on the same corner and sees the cat named Bob, who is voiced by Simon Pegg. After this point, the heartfelt and emotional family dynamic that was at the start of the movie slowly vanishes into a leprechaun adventure. Bob, accidentally leads Sam to the luck headquarters and Sam is determined to find another penny to take home with her for Hazel. At first, it felt so fast-paced and the actions when Sam had the penny were extremely fun. There’s so much to play with in animation and that’s why the simple story was working. The middle is where it fell apart and the direction of the story became messy.

Even though the animation was fantastical because of all these different creatures and the world of bad luck, the rendering of the characters felt a bit off. The mouth movements weren’t as fluid, and you could tell that they didn’t match the dialogue. It felt like their mouth was catching up with the dialogue. The animation was really strong when the creatures and leprechauns were involved because they made them so adorable for kids to enjoy. The obstacles Sam and Bob had to face were fun to watch because of the distinction between good and bad in the land of luck. They used rich colours to set them apart and the lesson learned by all is that fate can be at the end of a good situation or a bad one. All decisions that are made, or ones that are made for you by the universe, all eventually lead to something different.

Luck had the potential to be a strong animated feature for Skydance, but the original message got lost in the adventure in the Land of Luck. There are emotional moments at the beginning and the end to bookend Sam’s story, but the middle just drags on. Some action scenes were done extremely well because animation can stretch those boundaries, but it was pretty generic. They spent too much time in the land of luck without ever going back to what little Hazel was doing in her world. It felt detached from the family dynamic and that’s why it didn’t work as a whole. Two different stories are being told here and they don’t mesh together unless. Bad luck happens, but it doesn’t define your situation in life because the universe and your decisions can lead you to other open doors. 

Luck begins streaming on Apple TV Plus on Friday, August 5th.

‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Something wicked this way comes… 

Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth takes this world-renowned tale and elevates it through visual storytelling. For those who are not familiar with this story, a Scottish lord, named Macbeth (Denzel Washington) becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland. His ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) will do anything to support him in his plans of seizing power. The powerhouse performances and the incredible cinematography present Macbeth in a new, more visceral way, that transcends the stage directions. 

What director Joel Coen and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel create in The Tragedy of Macbeth is the connection between the internal struggle of the characters and the imagery on screen. It felt as if the stage directions from the play came to life and we could visually understand the impending doom. Through the incredible use of lighting, shadows and silhouettes in each scene, it felt as if the emotional weight of the crown filled the screen. The way Coen framed his actors in certain scenes, especially when introducing them, was almost intrusive. When Washington or McDormand was onscreen, there was this feeling of being present within their mind, almost as if they were exposed. 

After watching The Tragedy of Macbeth, one thing is certain, not everyone will enjoy Shakespeare. The story of Macbeth had never been a favourite of mine (my personal favourite is King Lear), but Joel Coen made me gain a new appreciation for the character of Macbeth. Of course, this film wouldn’t have worked without the incredible performance of Denzel Washington. He has tackled Shakespeare in the past and his Macbeth was absolute perfection. Washington was able to dissect the internal thoughts of Macbeth and run that emotion through every piece of dialogue. McDormand was also great as Lady Macbeth; I just wanted to see a bit more of her. 

The Tragedy of Macbeth won’t be for everyone. This film is for the Shakespeare lovers and aspiring directors/cinematographers who wish to make something as visually poetic as this. Through the direction by Coen, the cinematography by Delbonnel, and the production design by Stefan Dechant, the moody atmosphere was filled with the essence of Shakespeare. Even though it wasn’t static, it still felt like a stage play comes to life with the visual addition of the motion picture. Also, I can’t forget to mention Kathryn Hunter’s performance as the trio of witches; one of the eeriest and taunting performances I’ve seen. Make sure to check out this film on Apple TV Plus on January 14th. 

Wolfwalkers Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Wolfwalkers is another pleasant surprise this year!

The story is about a young apprentice hunter, named Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) and her father Bill (Sean Bean), who journey to Ireland to wipe out the last wolf pack. The pair of them are seen as outcasts and they try to keep to themselves as best they can. Robyn is rather adventurous and does not follow her father’s rules. One day Robyn ventures into the forest with her little bow and arrow, and she befriends a free-spirited girl from a mysterious tribe.

The story is such a magical tale but it’s the animation that makes it soar into the hearts of audiences. It is so beautifully detailed and is designed to create an atmosphere that changes with the emotions of the characters. There are such rich colours that change from scene to scene, depending on the dialogue being exchanged and what it evokes. The magic presented by the wolfwalkers is stunning and is a prominent yellow that glows to heal any person, or animal.

Courtesy of Cartoon Saloon

What was so lovely about the film was the relationship between Robyn and Mebh Óg MacTíre (Eva Whittaker), they were so playful with one another. It was great to see two very different characters adapt to each other and help each other in the end. Wolfwalkers is about friendship and how much power it holds through the symbolism of magic. Mebh saved Robyn and then Robyn did the same in the end. The power of friendship is a strong theme in any film but animation just elevates the theme to another level.

The film is beautiful to watch and there are plenty of moments that will leave you appreciating the depths of the animation. The way the animation is structured almost gives it a three-dimensional look, while it is designed as a two-dimensional ground. The images are stacked upon one another to create this depth and it was so interesting to see the difference from scene to scene. There was also fluidity with the animation of the wolves, which had a pack mentality, even through the movements. Wolfwalkers is the most magical animated film of the year. It has beautiful imagery, impressive animation and a well-written story about acceptance.

On The Rocks Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks is her most personal piece in her filmography and that is why it felt so different from the rest of her films. Coppola focused the story on a young mother reconnecting with her playboy father, after assuming, that her own husband, is going down the same path. The film is heartwarming, funny and explores the institution of marriage.

If we look at this film as a standalone piece and not apart of Coppola’s filmography, we notice some similarities to other New Yorker based romantic dramas. Her writing and direction felt more grounded and realistic, which created a solid connection to these characters. She poses plenty of questions about marriage and how in some instances, we never fully know the person we have chosen to spend our entire lives with.

Love is not about who we fall in love with, but rather, what we fall in love with. When people ask “Why do you love them?” you’re explaining their attributes, their personality, and essentially what attracts you to them. It has never been who but how the person makes you feel. It doesn’t matter who the person it is, but what their love does to you, what their affection means to you.

Courtesy of American Zoetrope
(left) Bill Murray as Felix and Rashida Jones as Laura

Coppola explores the hardships of marriage and relationships in general, from two very different perspectives. One from Laura (Rashida Jones), who is married with two kids and the other, her father Felix (Bill Murray), who is a single man travelling the world. Laura blamed herself for her relationship being on the rocks, while Felix blamed his ex-wife for changing how she loved him. To be with someone for decades and decades is something that people don’t fully understand when they get married. People change within a year, so why is it upsetting when people continue to change and some can’t adapt?

Courtesy of American Zoetrope
(left) Rashida Jones as Laura and Bill Murray as Felix

It was a very interesting dynamic in choosing a father and daughter to have these open conversations with. Especially considering that Felix had left her mother and they still had such a strong relationship. It is always great to see a father/daughter dynamic on screen and their chemistry was just so easy to watch. Bill Murray was an absolute delight and in all honesty, it is probably his best performance to date. He was just so suave, really fun and wise, it felt like perfect casting.

On the Rocks is the lighthearted film that was needed during this season. It was charming and sweet, with a fantastic jazz score to accompany it. Coppola also takes you on a journey through New York City, but in a very different way, you see the city in a whole new light and it is wonderful. The film will definitely grow on you as you watch it and you will learn what Coppola is trying to tell her audience about relationships.