Greyhound Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Greyhound is based on the 1955 novel ‘The Good Shepherd’, it was adapted by Tom Hanks, who also stars in the lead role, as Commander Ernest Krause. The film follows a US Navy Commander on his first war-time assignment, he was in command of a multi-national escort group defending a merchant ship convoy under attack by submarines in early-1942 during the ‘Battle of the Atlantic’. It is yet another generic war film, that is filled with a bombastic sound design and score, that went above and beyond, to elevate the story in some way.

There are some redeeming qualities in this film because of the uniqueness with the camerawork from director Aaron Schneider. At times the direction almost didn’t match the dullness of the story and the weak performances from everyone. The technical aspects like the sound design, score, sound mixing, cinematography and practical effects were all solid and made the film look quite pleasing. For a film that takes place at sea, the visuals were important and the horror of being at sea, during a war was definitely effective. The editing was fairly mediocre and the constant fades to black, with the time stamps, made it feel disjointed and almost episodic. Apart from the final battle at sea, there was no length of time where I felt anything for these characters.

It was a very lacklustre war film and it is because the writing just wasn’t there. It is almost hard to believe that Tom Hanks wrote the screenplay because of how one note the story was. I admit that he tried to construct a different structure for it and it did look promising but something just wasn’t connecting. It feels like the entire budget went directly to the practical effects because it looked like a very expensive film. It felt larger than it should have and that may have been the issue, I can’t even put my finger on it.

Greyhound is a war film that attempts to show the darkness of the waters during World War 2, in a unique way but the story is not strong enough to make the journey interesting to the viewer. The technical aspects of this film overpower everything else but the somber atmosphere at sea made it quite boring and the characters were emotionless throughout the film. It had so much potential to be a great film but the content just wasn’t there.

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.

 

Artemis Fowl Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Artemis Fowl is the title of a book series written by Eoin Colfer. This film adaptation has been completely altered to make it kid friendly. The book series was initially intended for children. There is nothing good to say about this film because it was difficult to understand the second it started. The special effects were terrible, script was very messy and the editing, was not fluid enough to make a cohesive narrative. The worst part, is that this film had so much potential to be great, it is not right to change the source material to the point of the story being unrecognizable.

The film is an Irish tale, filled with lore and mythical creatures that were never fully explained. Majority of the time it was hard to understand what was happening in the film, or even care, where the story was going because of how overstuffed it was. Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) used to believe in all this lore that his father, Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell) instilled in him at a very young age. Once his father is captured by an unknown villain (because they’re probably planning for a sequel), Artemis must decode his father’s journal of these fantasy creatures. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, the script would say otherwise.

The entire film seemed rushed, the pacing was all terrible and scenes were cut short for some strange reason. Everything that was shared between characters, ended abruptly and nothing was added to the story. The fight scenes were poorly executed and it seemed that there was no clear direction for this film whatsoever. It is also extremely frustrating seeing actors like Colin Farrell and Judi Dench waste their talents on a film like this. Yes, it’s a children’s movie, but what happens when children, do not even want to sit through a film like this?

This is why changing source material, to make it more kid friendly, for their brand is very problematic. The story was perfectly fine the way it was. It blurred the lines between good and evil. This has been a theme used for a very long time and it is evident in other Disney films. This film had so much potential and it was wasted because they did not want to dive deeper into the mind of a 12 year old criminal mastermind. If the books were so well received, then why change it now? It is very hard to understand the logic behind the change.

Artemis Fowl is a film that has mediocre production value and a convoluted story. It is a messy, special effects ridden Disney channel movie that should have stuck to the source material. I am very disappointed in the way they handled this film and the cast deserved better than what they had to work with. The worst aspect is walking away from a completed project and knowing it could have been better.

 

Emma (2020) Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” – Jane Austen 

The first line in the novel is also presented at the beginning of the film adaptation of Emma, which was adapted to screen by Eleanor Catton and directed by Autumn de Wilde. Having this quote placed at the beginning of the film, set the tone for the film de Wilde was about to give her audience. The film felt like the embodiment of the character of Emma Woodhouse, like her entire soul was spread into the corners of the frame and we could feel her presence, even if she wasn’t on screen. De Wilde captured Ms. Woodhouse’s entire being and made sure we understood who she was.

Emma Woodhouse is one of my favourite characters in literature and Anya Taylor Joy owned the role. She was just as clever, beautiful, witty and had a knack in playing matchmaker for those around her. The one thing that de Wilde and Catton really did well was introducing the web of characters that Ms. Austen so expertly crafted when telling Emma’s story. There was such a flow between scenes and the tension between characters was very strong. This is probably one of the most perfect films of 2020, everything worked so well together, from the production design to the costuming and the score was perfectly composed to personify Emma herself.

Now I am not a hopeless romantic and I think that’s why I love Emma Woodhouse so much. She just wants to play matchmaker to make others happy and she always wants the best for those around her. It’s hard navigating your own romantic journey and sometimes you’ll find love when you least expect it but for Emma, it just never happened the way she wanted it to or who she wanted it with. Maybe expectations do put a damper on your romantic journey, or who you think you deserve to be with. At the same time those standards or values you carry should never be seen as an issue in hindering a relationship.

The film also made me reminisce about my own relationships with people and how I’ve played a role in each of their lives. It’s hard to process the role you play in someone’s life because you’re just focused on how you present yourself to them. Emma made me look at all those relationships a bit closer and asses the way I was treated, to eventually come to the conclusion, that I was used majority of the time for personal gain. I’ve been acting as a placeholder my entire life. Just once, I was blessed enough to actually feel like I meant something to someone, I didn’t feel like they were using me to make themselves feel better about who they were. It’s hard to come to these conclusions, and by watching Emma, it felt like an emotional support film of feeling understood and seen.

Emma had the perfect balance of tension between possible suitors and a whirlwind of situations that caused Emma to spin out of control. Emma’s chemistry with Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) was felt from the first time they were on screen together. I’m someone who picks up the subtleties and I definitely appreciate a slow burn. Whenever they were bickering together or near each other, their hidden feelings for each other were felt and I loved how de Wilde chose to unravel their story. Flynn and Taylor Joy complimented each other so well and I think they may be one of my favourite onscreen pairings to date.

Emma is one of the most delightful films of 2020 and if you’re a fan of Victorian Era romance films and love Jane Austen then this will definitely be right up your alley. It’s beautifully shot and adapted so well that Autumn de Wilde will make you fall in love with Austen’s world all over again.

 

All The Bright Places Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

All the Bright Places is a film that is adapted from the popular novel, written by Jennifer Niven. We have had our fill of young adult novels and majority of the adaptations have been quite generic, so if one stands out, then it’s a good thing. As Netflix continues to add to their original content, some coming of age films get lost in their library, All the Bright Places feels like it will toe the line of being memorable.

Niven wanted to take a look inside the mind of two teenagers who suffer from various mental illnesses. When we meet young Theodore Finch, played by Justice Smith, he is taking a jog down an open road, with his music blaring in his headphones. He slowly comes to a stop, as he sees this young blonde named Violet Markey, played by Elle Fanning, standing on the ledge of a bridge.

The beauty of this film is that help can be found, even in the darkest of times. If someone is shining a light and reaching out to you, it’s always a sign of hope. We as humans are conditioned to need affection, reassurance, friendship and genuine connectivity in order to function. Humans can sometimes get lost in their own mind and doubt themselves. They even doubt the connection they have with the people around them and then isolate themselves. It’s through this isolation that any mental illness can affect your thought process, emotions or your physical well-being. There are always people around you that will remind you, that you are not alone, ever and they will make sure to distract you, by making memories along the way. Sure, you remember the bad times, the really dark times but there was always a light, a simple distraction, that will attempt to cancel out the bad.

“We do not remember days, we remember moments” – Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places 

The writing is very honest and realistic, until the cheesy dialogue swoops in and reminds us that it’s also a romance. Elle Fanning and Justice Smith were cute together and had a solid chemistry but at the same time, their levels never really matched. For half the film, Violet (Fanning) was grieving and Finch (Smith), was there by her side, doing his utmost to make her smile. Then in the second half, when the roles were somehow reversed and Finch was suffering from his own traumatic past, he was sporadic and the energy wasn’t matched. One character was more developed than the other, we see more of Violet and how she came to terms with the loss of her sister. Niven never really developed Finch at all and it was really hard to understand his journey, without an explanation.

I commend Niven and the entire crew for raising awareness for this subject matter because these conversations truly need to be had. It is hard to write about mental illnesses and attempt to deliver it in a way that is balanced enough, that it educates and also makes an impact on audiences. All the Bright Places had great discussions but the story, as a whole, was not developed enough for the screen.