Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a beautiful piece showcasing how extremely talented its leads are. In Chicago, 1927, there was a recording session with Ma Rainey and her band. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), her ambitious horn player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) and the white executives who wanted to control the sound of “Mother of the Blues”. It is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play written by the great August Wilson.

Director George C. Wolfe managed to create such a grand scale for Ma Rainey in the opening scene, as the audience is introduced to her in the middle of a performance. We see Viola Davis in her most unrecognizable and transformative role yet. It was so incredible to watch her embody this role and add a little bit of herself to this complex role. As we saw in Fences, Davis highly respects Wilson’s material and more importantly, she understands it.

Courtesy of Escape Artists and Mundy Lane
(centre) Viola Davis

The direction had this dual sense of atmosphere. Even though it takes place in a recording studio, it did not feel stuffy and static, like other plays that have been adapted for the screen. Wolfe created two separate rooms that had separate energy from each other. What was most impressive was how Wolfe captured his actors, it that felt like we were on stage with these actors, the close ups and tight knit camerawork that was used was extremely effective. Wolfe played with the fluidity of stage performing, while still creating a grander space within the frame.

Courtesy of Escape Artists and Mundy Lane
(left) Michael Potts, Chadwick Boseman and Colman Domingo

Not only did Viola Davis put on an acting clinic, but the late, great Chadwick Boseman was brilliant as Levee. We already know that Davis is one of the best in the industry but Boseman… Boseman was incredible in this. It is the second performance this year that has left me completely speechless. Boseman gave a heartbreaking performance, he was energetic, emotional and completely broken by the traumas of his past. In the room with the rest of the band, Toledo (Glynn Turman), Slow Drag (Michael Potts) and Cutler (Colman Domingo), he was the burst of energy like an electrical current being confined in that small room, that would spike during conversations.

Courtesy of Escape Artists and Mundy Lane
(left) Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Chadwick Boseman and Colman Domingo

The entire cast was exceptional, there was never a moment where the energy fell, they all remained consistent with the high level intensity throughout. Levee wanted to be a star of his own, he wrote music for executive Mr. Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne) and the one conversation, which was such a pivotal moment in the film, was the band’s discussion about the white executives and being “spooked by the white man.” The entire monologue delivered by Chadwick Boseman will most definitely be his Oscar reel because of how moving it was.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom feels like such an intoxicating film once you settle into the story and the performances. Each member of the cast holds you and demands your attention whenever they are speaking. It feels like you are watching a play but Wolfe’s direction elevates it to capture powerful on screen performances.


Editor’s Note:

I won’t lie to any of you, this was extremely difficult to watch because of how wonderful Boseman was in this. It is hard to sit there and register that this wonderful, talented man is gone and he left us with this brilliant final performance. There are moments where you completely get lost in his character and then moments where you just watch him and get emotional. Hell, I cried while typing this out. Rest in Power King. Your last performance is one for the history books and it will be studied in the future. You signed off with August Wilson’s words and your legacy will live on forever.

Happiest Season Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

‘Tis the season to get your onesies out, drink some hot chocolate, and settle around your nearest screen to watch some Christmas movies. Thankfully Clea DuVall made a Christmas romcom that has been long overdue for the LGBTQ community.

Happiest Season is the film that all lesbians have been waiting for. It’s lighthearted, funny and a well rounded romantic comedy. For once there is no sadness, no yearning and no heartbreaking ending. The title of the film says it all and it is such a beautiful movie. Not only does it speak to, and on behalf of, the LGBTQ community but it touches upon family issues that are universal.

The reason why this film is refreshing is because lesbian characters are at the forefront. Two women are in a romantic relationship and they are following all the conventions of a typical romantic comedy. It was just great to see a romantic story about two women in this setting. It is definitely a feel good movie and the speeches in the final act of the film will leave you sobbing until the end. The cast is perfect, everyone fit like a puzzle piece in telling this great story.

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis were adorable together and their chemistry was great. It felt completely natural and that is the difference. Kristen Stewart was in her element, she was fun, playful and gave a very emotional performance as Abby. Davis gave a complex performance because of the duality of her character Harper. She lived one life with Abby and was another person when she returned home to her parents. What really resonated with me was the idea of perfection and how some families expect so much from their daughters.

I do have to mention the brilliant comedic timing from Dan Levy because it was just effortless. There would be such tense moments and then Levy would just swoop in and make you bust a gut laughing. He was the perfect choice to play Abby’s best friend. Stewart and Levy also bounced off each other, even through serious moments.

Normally, I don’t compare films in my reviews but out of all the lesbian romance dramas we’ve seen, this one definitely felt the most realistic than the others, mind you the other ones were really sad, so maybe that’s the difference? Thanks to Clea DuVall and Mary Holland, they wrote such a great screenplay and brought forth many important conversations.

Happiest Season is a great Christmas rom-com that will hold a special place in your heart and will definitely be added to your annual Holiday watch list. It is a film that explores individuality and acceptance through a lens that the LGBTQ community deserves. Please make sure to watch Happiest Season on Hulu November 25th and it will be available on iTunes November 26th!


Pictures Courtesy of E1 Entertainment

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Holy, Jingle Bells!

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two is the film that will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit! My favourite Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) is back and this time the story takes us to the North Pole and his workshop… well Mrs. Claus’s (Goldie Hawn) workshop.

It is a very solid sequel that builds upon Kate’s (Darby Camp) story and her relationship with her mother. It’s a very different Christmas for the Pierce’s as they celebrate the holiday on a beach, in Cancun, thanks to Claire’s (Kimberly Williams – Paisley) new beau Bob (Tyrese Gibson). The intention of the vacation was to bring both family units together to bond, as Bob and Claire take their relationship to the next step.

The wonderful thing about this sequel is that it brings the same Christmas magic as the first one and tells a heartfelt story about adapting to a new life, after grieving. It seems dark when explained in that way but the Christmas spirit created a lighthearted atmosphere in order to tell this story. Kate has the Christmas spirit because of her father and it is a beautiful thing to see. Kate is headstrong and wants to celebrate Christmas the normal way, her dad’s way but Bob just came in and decided to change everything.

Courtesy of 1492 Pictures and Wonder Worldwide
(left) Goldie Hawn, Darby Camp, Jahzir Bruno and Kurt Russell

The idea of moving on, from any situation, is easier said than done but when it comes to grieving a parent, there is no amount of time to even process the pain. Kate has wonderful memories of her father, even the song “O, Christmas Tree” has a special place in her heart and it’s associated to a memory. As Kate processes her possible new life with Bob and a kid brother Jake (Jahzir Bruno), she calls upon jolly old Saint Nick to help her with one final Christmas wish.

The story isn’t only about Kate, there is a parallel with the antagonist of the film named Belsnickel (Julian Dennison), who has an interesting story of his own, involving Santa’s workshop. As the story unfolds Belsnickel and Kate have more in common than they thought, in regards to how to deal with their feelings of neglect. It presented such a great story that young children will definitely understand and allow parents to understand what their child could be going through. It is fun for the whole family with a great lesson to be learned.

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two improves upon the same heartfelt story and elevates the action sequences from the first instalment. It is a film designed to make you feel warm and cheerful about the upcoming Christmas season, even though things may seem bleak. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn bring their charm to the screen to steal everyone’s hearts, as they both embody the true spirit of Christmas. It is lighthearted, very funny and wholesome.

Make sure to catch The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two on Netflix November 25th for a jolly good time with the whole family!

HorrorFest International Winner ‘Red Light’: An Interview with Filmmakers Ted Raimi and Alex Kahuam


By: Amanda Guarragi

Since 2001 HorrorFest International has brought the Horror community together to celebrate the genre and emerging filmmakers. The festival showcases features, short films and scripts, to live in-person audiences. This year, the film Red Light won for Best Midnight Movie at the festival. Director Alex Kahuam is absolutely delighted that his film got the midnight spot during the festival and was overwhelmed by the reception. The film stars the legendary Ted Raimi, as Ian, a man who teaches millennials a thing or two about karma.

The film begins with this quote,

“As a child I never imagined that all of the real monsters in the world would be human”

-Mobeen Hakeem

It sets the tone for the rest of the film because everyone has their own perception of monsters. It is a reflection on humanity and the treatment of others. It also highlights the persona of social media influencers, on and off their screen. Kahuam wrote a great screenplay exploring these ideas and he definitely presents them in a unique way,

“It reflects all people. It’s just a reflection on humanity and how we are monsters in a way and that’s what I wanted. So the audience would get a taste of what the whole picture was going to be. Everyone’s a monster in their own way. 

– Director Alex Kahuam, Red Light
Courtesy of Veva Entertainment
(left) Chloe Ortega, Jade Janet, Esteban de la Isla, Alex Sands and Layne Herrin

Red Light captures the human condition and how everyone fears something different. The most unique aspect about this film is the long takes that Kahuam decided to do. Everything was perfectly orchestrated and the tension was really prominent throughout. These long takes also brought out great performances from his actors, allowing their fear to feel real. Kahuam also used lighting and shadowing to enhance the atmosphere,

“The colour is super loud, violent and visceral and I wanted the audience to feel that at the beginning and at the end.”

– Director Alex Kahuam, Red Light
Courtesy of Veva Entertainment

The placement for these colours for the opening and closing shots, definitely packed a punch and made it memorable.

Not only was this film visually pleasing and so incredibly fun to watch, Ian (Ted Raimi) as a character was intriguing and he left you wanting to know more. The writing for the character was really strong and watching his story unfold was great. Raimi spoke about his character and praised Kahuam for writing him so well. Raimi said that his character and the story reflected something that everyone is currently dealing with,

“We happen to be in the middle of a generational crisis right now, it usually takes place every 50 years. I think Alex has tapped into that quite well and so it was easy to step into.”

– Ted Raimi, Red Light
Courtesy of Veva Entertainment
(Ted Raimi as Ian)

This is what is interesting about Ian’s character, he genuinely believes that he is paying it forward and restoring order in the universe. Ian kidnaps these teenagers and ties them up in his basement to set them straight, all while answering to a higher power, his own parents. We see three generations in a very different light and how they respond to each other.

The last act in this film has stayed with me because of how powerful the visuals were. The Horror elements were perfect and it is a short film that would work even better as a feature because of how strong the writing is. From the lighting, to the song choices, to the sound design, the film is beautifully crafted and I am looking forward to seeing more from Alex Kahuam.

The Glorias Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

The Glorias directed by Julie Taymor is a beautiful film, honouring Gloria Steinem’s life and everything she has done for women. The film shows the multiple versions of Gloria, throughout the years and the conversations she would have with younger versions of herself. It is a rather unique biographical drama because of the choices made by Taymor.

The film begins with the Glorias on a bus, sitting in different seats and staring at the window. The bus was in black and white, but the outside world was in colour. By showing all four Glorias on the bus at the beginning, shifting from actress to actress, so the audience knows ahead of time was a nice touch. The way they would return, to the Glorias on the bus, on this long winding road, paralleled her long life and her incredible journey. The editing could have been a bit cleaner, in the first half, with the young Glorias but it eventually hit its stride, in the middle with Vikander.

Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore, gave great performances as Gloria Steinem, the most important thing they were able to capture, was her voice. You don’t realize how distinct someone’s voice actually is, until you hear an actor change theirs, to sound like them and like every journalist, her voice mattered. It was incredibly important for Vikander and Moore to accurately sound like her.

The film did run a bit long, like any biographical drama, but it incorporated different elements. There were dreamlike sequences that would take the viewer in and out of Gloria’s mind. What I really appreciated was seeing Gloria talk to her younger self, an actual conversation with her young, open-minded and ambitious self. It was interesting to see how she started, what her thought process was, and how it all changed in the blink of an eye.

The Glorias is a very special film about highlighting women’s voices from every race, nationality and sexual orientation. It takes many people to start a movement and even though, Gloria Steinem is the name people remember, she made it known, that she was not alone in fighting for women’s rights.