‘Shiva Baby’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Life is all about the choices we make. Whether they are well-thought out, or out of desperation, all of these decisions make an impact. Deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life, at the age of 18, is probably the most stressful situation possible. Majority of teenagers are not thinking about their careers but they are forced to. Some know the path they want to take, and others struggle trying to decide what interests them the most. It is extremely hard. Others are dependent on their family, and some take matters into their own hands, wanting to break free from their sheltered home life. Shiva Baby perfectly displays the mind of a college student and what it feels like to be in their position.

Writer-director Emma Seligman tells a simple story of a college student, named Danielle (Rachel Sennott), who runs into her sugar daddy, at a Jewish funeral service with her parents. The structure of this film is what made this so interesting to watch. Seligman placed key moments throughout the film, and she slowly built up tension quite effortlessly. Every single time we think Danielle may be in the clear, something else would happen, and sends you spiralling with Danielle. The setting; picture a small house, filled with people, all gossiping and chattering away, while you’re trying to think of your next move.

Rachel Sennott is absolutely incredible in this role. She showed such range and knew when to take it to another level. Even though this played out like a typical coming-of-age film, it also doubled as a horror film. Danielle’s secrets swirling around the house, older women gossiping about her being a failure, and her raunchy private life creeping into her perfect family life. What was so impressive about this film was Seligman’s ability to project Danielle’s anxiety so it fills the space around her. Danielle feels it, the people around her add to the anxiety, which then creates this suffocating atmosphere for the viewer.

Shiva Baby is filled with many twists, which are effortlessly placed within the story, to make Danielle’s situation worse. The reason why it doubles as a horror film is because of the disorienting score that accompanies the film. It is not overused, it is subtle, and there are cues to show the beginning of another twist. It is intoxicating, anxiety-inducing, and perfectly written to show how college students struggle with their identity. Truly fantastic work from everyone, your eyes will not leave the screen, and it will put you in trance. Do not miss this film.

‘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.

‘Fear Street Part Three: 1666’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We are back for one last Shadyside scare! Fear Street Part Three: 1666 ties up the trilogy quite nicely, making it one of the most consistent horror trilogies in the past couple of years. We dive into Sarah Fier’s backstory, as we head to the time of witchcraft, and the devil. Fier’s small, colonial town is gripped by a witch hunt, that has deadly consequences for centuries to come. Fier’s story is then combined with Samantha Fraser’s from 1994, as the group of teenagers try to put an end to the Shadyside curse before it’s too late. The way this slowly flows into each instalment and era is really well done. The characters are all somehow linked to the curse of Sarah Fier, and the reveal in this third instalment is genius.

What worked incredibly well in this third instalment is that Deena is transported to 1666 through Sarah Fier. The concept of possession normally works for the present time and the body is rarely brought into the world of the dead. So it was a really nice change of events. We see that majority of the characters from the first two films are also in this third one. Doing this allows the audience to remain familiar with the faces while telling a new story, so that the emotional connection that was previously established could carry through.

The structure of Sarah Fier’s story was interesting because of the queer representation in 1966. Relationships were kept hidden, or were called abnormal; those who were queer were automatically linked to the devil. Fier’s story became rather important once we found out what had actually happened to her. It took one person, a town filled with misogynists and loyal Christian followers to create a false narrative. This all ties together at the end of Sarah Fier’s story, there was a Saw-like montage, showing the audience everything they missed in the trilogy. Once the audience goes back with Deena to 1994 they know what the plan is to end the curse for good.

Fear Street Part Three: 1666 has a sinister atmosphere from the start and authentically presents 1666. The score was disorienting and reminded me of Hereditary, there were plenty of animals used, flies were very prominent, and the essence of the devil around the townsfolk was felt. The violence and gore in this third instalment was subtle, but effective. The fun, fancy kills, were brought in at the end in 1994, which made complete sense. All in all, this trilogy had a perfect release strategy from Netflix, allowing this to become one of their best properties in their library.

Oh, and don’t worry, there could be another sequel… I wonder where they will go next?!

‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What can be said about Gunpowder Milkshake?

Well, it does bring the neon lights with some style and cool fight choreography. It has a solid soundtrack, and a fantastic cast of women, but it still falls short. We open on Sam (Karen Gillan) who is on a job for her boss Nathan (Paul Giamatti). It looks cool, sleek, and feels like its neo-noir with a modern action movie spin to it. The combination of those genres can only work if the script is strong, and sadly, this was a little too simple for my liking. They stretched a simple concept really thin. It didn’t have enough substance to match the flashy style of the lighting and camerawork.

What was the most upsetting is that Karen Gillan gave the most bland, internal performance I’ve seen in a while. It’s hard to lead a film if you are emotionless and stiff the entire time, rarely giving anything for your co-stars to even work with. You have absolute legends like Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, Lena Headey, and Michelle Yeoh in this film, that were barely giving anything, and they still outperformed the lead of the film. It is hard to sit through this, knowing that those four actresses are there, waiting for the final battle, when they could have been scattered throughout the film.

The concept was there but the execution was disappointing. It was great to see an all female cast in an action film but they underused them as well. We have Sam, whose mother (Lena Headey) abandoned her at a young age do go do a job. Then 15 years later, Sam takes on her mothers hitman job and works for ‘The Firm’ with Nathan. She ends up whacking the henchmen of another big boss and he wants to get even. Very straightforward, had so much potential to be a fun, action film, but the entire second act was painfully boring. The highlight was when Sam went to the “library”, and there she meets Yeoh, Gugino and Bassett. She needed books, and in those books, there were different guns.

Gunpowder Milkshake had so much going for it, but it fell victim to having a wicked trailer, that had every good part of the movie in it. I had so much hope for this film because of this all-star cast but I was really disappointed with it. There were great action sequences but some of them ran long and felt really generic. There were choices made that lasted longer than it should have and that is what makes it a drag. There are ways to make something unique, play it up, and then know when to fold them. Sadly, this film is the lowest blow for me this year because of how hyped I was for it.

Why ‘Never Have I Ever’ Is The Perfect Feel-Good Show To Watch On Netflix

By: Amanda Guarragi

If you are a fan of Mindy Kaling, you know how deeply in love she is with romantic comedies. Yes, she started out on The Office but she really hit her stride when she made The Mindy Project. In her show, she paid homage to all of her favourite rom-coms, while creating her own love story. She knows how to pull on the heartstrings and make your heart sore with longing for key romantic moments. Kaling continued her quest for more romantic comedies by producing Never Have I Ever on Netflix. The show highlights the complicated life of a modern-day, first generation Indian American teenage girl, inspired by Mindy Kaling’s own childhood. It has her written all over it and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan who snagged the lead role of Devi is a superstar.

Season one was an introduction to Devi’s world. She was competitive, at the top of her class, had a great group of friends, and of course, she had a massive crush on Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet). The characters on this show are so well-rounded, and each episode explores the people around Devi, as she finds herself as well. After the loss of her father, Devi goes through a massive shift, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The connection to her and her family is definitely felt and it becomes a universal love story. Not only about crushes on hot boys in school, but the love shared between friends and family.

Meet the Cast of "Never Have I Ever" - Who are the Characters in Netflix's "Never  Have I Ever"
Courtesy of Netflix

The series explores coming-of-age but it also focuses on the lives of women, and how they are treated by men. One thing that can be said about the women in Never Have I Ever is that they are all strong-willed, straightforward, caring, and vulnerable. More importantly, they are all very honest with one another and they lift each other up. Even when Devi makes a mistake – trust me, there are many mistakes that she makes – a family member, or her friends, are there to give her the hard truth. The honesty shared between Devi and her girlfriends, the aspiring actress, Eleanor Wong (Ramona Young), and future robotics engineer Fabiola Torres (Lee Rodriguez) is something I wish I had growing up. These girls all share their thoughts openly and have great communication skills. Even when they get into a fight and they are irritated with each other, they still sit down and clear the air.

There are some crucial moments that shape Devi into a different person after losing her father. The weight of that loss, pushes Devi to look at things differently, at people differently, and each episode shows a different side of her. There are some heartfelt, emotional moments, but Mindy Kaling knows how to balance those moments with some perfectly timed humour. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is literally a mini Mindy Kaling, it was perfect casting. Not only does she hit the emotional beats, but her bluntness and sarcasm really just make her such a wonderful character. She’s so fun to watch and will keep you coming back for more episodes.

What We Know About 'Never Have I Ever' Season 2 - PureWow
Courtesy of Netflix

In season two, we see Devi in a different headspace – or so it seems – there is almost a level of cockiness that Ramakrishnan adds to Devi. We last see her kissing her rival classmate, Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison), right after scattering her father’s ashes in the ocean. In true rom-com fashion, a love triangle is the center of season two. Devi is struggling to actually choose between heartthrob Paxton Hall-Yoshida, and Ben Gross. This also shows that you can be in love with two different people, at the same time, but for different reasons. In the end, it’s hard to choose who is best for you because you see the best in both of them. So in typical Devi world, chaos unfolds and there is complete madness in Sherman Oaks because of her indecisiveness.

As all this is happening, and Devis ego inflates like a giant hot air balloon, a new girl enters the chat. Aneesa (Megan Suri), another young Indian teenager, transfers schools, and changes the game for Devi. What is important to note here is that Devi is feeling disposable. She feels like Aneesa can replace her, and she slowly starts to spiral in later episodes. It’s really interesting to see how this show handles mental health, and depression, for young audiences, while keeping a light tone. This show has a perfect balance, and really sends its audience on an emotional rollercoaster with Devi.

Never Have I Ever' Season 2 News, Release Date, Cast, Spoilers
Courtesy of Netflix

Never Have I Ever season two is just as strong as season one and it has consistency with its characters. There is so much growth shown in each characterization and it is very natural. It really does pull you back into Devis world quite effortlessly and brings you back to the romance that is severely lacking on-screen nowadays. The cheesy, over-the-top, displays of affection, the longing stares, the awkward smiles, this show has all of that, and it will make you feel so warm inside. For some reason, studios have shied away from romantic comedies, so if you need to fill that void, look no further. If you haven’t watched the first season, then you might as well start binge-watching now. It is such an easy watch and you will instantly fall in love with these characters.