‘My Fiona’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

It’s always simple to assess our own lives and how we are personally feeling. We can overthink every single aspect of our lives and anxiously wonder how people perceive us. The one thing we really can’t read into or even understand is how someone else is feeling. They can be your closest friend or even your significant other, yet some things will be kept hidden. That is the worry that comes with being that close to someone; what if they close themselves off so they don’t disappoint you? In Kelly Walker’s directorial feature debut My Fiona, she explores grief, mental health and the human connection in a very honest way.

In the wake of an unexpected suicide, Jane (Jeanette Maus) is devastated by the loss of her best friend Fiona (Sara Amini), and finds purpose in helping Fiona’s widow Gemma (Corbin Reid) care for their seven-year-old son Bailey (Elohim Nycalove). While Jane’s carefree nature compliments Bailey’s youthful imagination, Gemma throws herself into work, unwilling to let anyone sense the cracks in her facade. Walker shows different ways of coping with death and how children’s behaviour can change because they do not know how to process grief yet.

The most important aspect of My Fiona is the connection between best friends and significant others. Jane openly loved Fiona with everything she had and Gemma was very much in love with her wife. Their relationship differed but there was so much love that Fiona received. When that one person who brings so much light and love into your life is gone, whom do you turn to? In this case Jane and Gemma find solace in each other but things don’t run smoothly. We see the emotional and physical connection between the two of them, but the spiritual memory of Fiona hinders their connection.

Kelly Walker showed the human connection through grief in all its complexities. How does one even begin to process a death like this? Jane and Gemma help each other with their grief but because they latch onto the last piece of Fiona they have left, it’s difficult for them to move on. There is so much growth with each character by the end of this film that you will also feel their progress in how they healed. It is an incredibly honest and heartfelt exploration of love and mental health, which is something we need more of today.

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

This is the second movie of the year, where I went in with very low expectations and it surprised me. Everyone knows that I am not a huge Ghostbusters fan, but this sequel had so much heart, even though it felt like a reworked version of the first instalment. For some reason, I got attached to these characters because of the generational pull of the Spengler family. We have Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two kids, Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original ‘Ghostbusters’ and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.

Director Jason Reitman was able to reinvent the franchise with this legacy film by having a young girl take on her grandfather’s life’s work. Phoebe is a scientist first and a kid second. McKenna Grace continues to blow me away with how talented she is because she showed such range in this role. She held this movie together; well, her and Paul Rudd because it’s Paul Rudd and he’s just fun to watch at this point. Grace had the emotional pull that made this movie so heartwarming and Rudd brought his charisma, especially when running away from mini-marshmallow puffs.

Apart from the very basic looking location, and the rough editing, what really added to the excitement of the action scenes, were the visuals. There weren’t that many ghosts, but cinematographer Eric Steelberg and the VFX team came together and made some really interesting choices to tell this fun ghost story. We had ghosts coming out of the shadows and there were some perfect jump scares. What I really loved was that they got the kids involved and put them in the action, just so a new generation can appreciate the ‘Ghostbusters’.

People say that nostalgia ruins sequels or reboots, but sometimes, when it’s not overstuffed in order to make the audience feel something, it can be really great. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is actually a beautiful tribute to Harold Ramis and the legacy he left behind. It has such an emotional ending and will leave you wanting another one with this fun cast. This movie is special, if it could make a non-Ghostbusters fan shed a tear at the end. It’s funny, a bit far fetched in the third act, but it has character, just like the first installment. Make sure to stay for the post-credit scene to see a familiar face.

‘The Power Of The Dog’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is a slow burn examination of the fragility of man and the deconstruction of the ideal wife. Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) brings home a new wife, Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son, Peter (Kodi-Smit McPhee) Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love. We follow Phil and George into town, as they need room and board for the night. During this period, or rather this first act, as Campion brilliantly broke down each section to highlight certain moments that would add another layer to these characters, we get a sense of their brotherly relationship. Phil Burbank was set in his ways; he honoured his best friend and mentor Bronco Henry by being the best man on the ranch that he could be. Phil was one with nature and was proud to be doing the work that he was doing.

Jane Campion's First Directed Feature since 2009, The Power of the Dog  Releases First Trailer - Paste
Courtesy of Netflix Film

On the other hand, George was more reserved and diplomatic, felt like he was the face of the family. He took care of the home finances, and the Burbank name. Phil and George have distinct characteristics and appear to be polar opposites; one as the hotheaded brother and the other more self-contained. Both performances from Cumberbatch and Plemons were fantastic, but this may be the best performance of Cumberbatch’s career so far. The way Campion peeled back the layers of Phil Burbank in each chapter made him one of the most interesting characters to watch throughout this film. The viewer questions what more could he be hiding; Cumberbatch had this tough exterior and he also showed he had a wounded heart, that he was in fact broken. He very much lived in the past, reeling in the memories of Bronco Henry and longing to feel that connection again with someone who truly understands him.

As they stay in this little town, George befriends a woman name Rose (Kirsten Dunst) at the local restaurant. Her husband had passed on and her son has stayed with her to help serve the guests. There is this heated moment between Phil and her son, Peter (Kodi-Smit McPhee) one night that set everything into motion. George and Rose come from different social classes, which eventually hurts Rose in the long run. She must carry herself differently in front of George’s colleagues and friends, causing her to eventually spiral out of control because of the high standards George inadvertently places on her. When Campion gets to Rose’s section and dissects the ideal housewife, she presents the anxiety and genuine fear that comes with disappointing her husband during that period. Thus, resorting to a dangerous vice in alcoholism, which also causes a domino effect of poor decisions.

The Power of the Dog' Film Review: Jane Campion Western Explores Cowboy  Masculinity as Camouflage
Courtesy of Netflix Film

Once her son Peter comes to stay with them, the dynamic in the household shifts. Rose slowly fades into her dark bedroom because of the excessive drinking, and Peter, even after their scuffle, gets closer to Phil. There is an odd tension between Phil and Peter that can’t really be explained until Peter discovers what Phil has been hiding. Phil then takes Peter under his wing, as he discovers his secret, and teaches him the ways of Bronco Henry. Campion built excellent tension in the first three acts, but nothing compares to the deconstruction of Phil Burbank in the last two. Even though this film was a very slow burn, Campion has the audience understand the depths of toxic masculinity and the unhealthy repression of one’s sexual identity.

The Power of the Dog is one of the most beautifully shot films of the year, thanks to Ari Wagner. It has a fantastic score by Jonny Greenwood that adds to the anticipation of each fork in the road for the Burbank clan. Greenwood has a knack for making the simplest conversations feel eerie and off-putting. He was the perfect choice to compose the score for this multilayered western. The more you sit with this film, the more you appreciate how Campion incorporated so many important aspects set in the early 1900s. Both men and women had to put on a front in order to hide their deepest secrets, which eventually would lead to their own destruction. The cast was perfect in order to tell this story but Cumberbatch and Dunst were the standouts and have never been better.

‘The Estate’ Blends Genres And Keeps You Guessing Until The Very End

By: Amanda Guarragi

We all love diving into the lives of the rich and famous because they are just so interesting to watch. They seem to have this carefree life and they are able to do whatever they please. In The Estate, writer and actor, Chris Baker, explores the complexity of privileged, rich people by placing them in very odd situations. Normally, when we have stories about the rich and famous, they are always struggling with their persona and how hard it is to constantly be in the spotlight. In this movie, we see a spoiled son named George (Chris Baker) and his billionaire patriarch’s newest wife, Lux (Eliza Coupe) plotting to murder him. They form a psycho-sexual bond with their brutally handsome hitman, named Joe (Greg Finley), as they kill and kill (and kill) in their quest for wealth and recognition.

There was this perfect marriage of ideas between Baker and his director James Kapner. You could tell that they shared their ideas and tried to execute this story in a different way. There are plenty of moments in The Estate that got me very excited because of how refreshing and bold it was. Films, such as this one, come around and sweep you off your feet because it’s well-rounded and it knows what it wants to be. From the very beginning it had this playful nature, especially because of the dialogue that was delivered perfectly by Coupe and Baker. Who would have thought that pairing a young stepmother and her stepson would make for a hilarious duo? Their line delivery was fantastic because we normally wouldn’t hear their whacky conversations in real life, but they were so committed to their characters, that they sold me.

The Estate (2020) - IMDb
Courtesy of Stone Lane Pictures

When asked about his character of George, Baker said that he spent so much time with him while writing this character, but really felt that connection to him while performing him and inhabiting him for as long as he did. George is an openly gay character in the film, and Baker wrote him as the central focus, without the story revolving around his sexual identity. George was plotting the murder of his father with his stepmother and its pure madness. Baker went onto say,

“Most of the story itself isn’t a gay story, which is kind of refreshing. I have gone on a lot of auditions for gay roles and it’s always about being wildly effeminate and cheering on the female lead character, which is a great role to have but it’s also about being a victim or about being sick or being bullied. I was so thrilled that I could write a character that was an anti hero, that had so many flaws and that went through a journey and a descent into hell.”

– Chris Baker, The Estate

It was incredibly refreshing to see that representation on screen in such an effortless way. This is the story that Baker and Kapner wanted to tell and it played out nicely. The character of George went on such a journey in this film. There was a nice balance between comedy and horror throughout because Kapner knew how to build tension and not cutaway from the darker moments. He let the emotional moments breathe without undercutting them with a cheap laugh. It was still fun and campy, when it was supposed to be, but then the slasher elements were executed in such an impactful way. There were vibrant colours that hit on giallo horror and the kills were unexpected.

James Kapner's 'The Estate' (2020) - Film Review - PopHorror
Courtesy of Stone Lane Pictures

When asked about balancing both, Kapner said, “It was tough because you put somebody in a certain headspace and you have to put little easter eggs along the way. So once you get to the heart pounding moments, it’s not completely out of nowhere, you have to drop little hints and not get too telegraphic with it.” This is one of the first films, in a very long time, where I felt like it was unpredictable. There were plenty of shocking twists that were placed perfectly throughout to keep the viewer engaged. When there were acts of violence on screen, Kapner said that they wanted to play that straight, so the audience could feel the tonal difference between the upbeat, nonchalant attitude of contemplating the murder versus actually following through.

The Estate is the hidden gem of the year. It is ballsy, refreshing and full of energy. It’s a movie that will pull you into the excessiveness of the rich and famous, while grounding these characters in their moral judgement. It is also one of the funniest and most enjoyable films of the year. Every single aspect of this film, from the soundtrack, to the cinematography, to the direction was spot on and made this film special. Baker is a very talented writer and it’s impressive how he was able to bring this complex trio together to create such a unique comedic thriller. If you live for the drama of rich people, then definitely check this out! It is now streaming on Apple TV, YouTube and Google Play.

‘Cowboy Bebop’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

3, 2, 1… let’s jam!

One of the most beloved anime has been given the live-action treatment on Netflix. If you haven’t heard of Cowboy Bebop or you haven’t dived into the extensive anime catalogue, then this series will definitely get you interested. Cowboy Bebop is a Japanese science fiction neo-noir anime television series created and animated by Sunrise and André Nemex for Netflix has adapted it. We see a ragtag crew of bounty hunters (in space), chase down the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals; they’ll save the world for the right price. So yes, they are heroes, but they also gain some coin in the process.

The opening credits sequence that was released had everyone sold even before watching the actual series. The one thing that can be said about Cowboy Bebop is that it has a fun style and there is vibrancy to the atmosphere on each planet. When we first meet Spike Spiegel (John Cho) and Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) they are on a mission to collect a bounty. Within that first sequence, Cho completely embodies Spiegel and the fight choreography that follows will have you locked in for the rest of the series. The directors, Alex Garcia Lopez and Michael Katleman have so much fun with the fight sequences, as they fuse together western genre conventions and anime tropes.

Spike Spiegel has a past that he has been trying to get away from and he has adapted to his new life as a bounty hunter quite nicely. Spiegel and Jet Black are fairly comfortable with each other but it seems like they don’t know the extent of each other’s lives before they met. As the story unfolds, we get flashbacks to Spiegel’s past life and how it suddenly merges with his encounters on different missions. There are plenty of characters that come into play like, Julia (Elena Satine), Vicious (Alex Hassell), and my personal favourite Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda). They all bring something different to the table and change the dynamic of the story.

Without spoiling anything – even though this is an adaptation of an anime that has been around since the ’90s – this story tends to get lost a bit throughout the series because of the surface level ‘bounty hunting’ in each episode. Even though the story does get a bit jumbled, and the main storyline gets slightly off track, the series is just filled with so much style and excitement, that there really is never a dull moment. It’s a lot to take in, but once you understand these characters and get to the meat of their story, you’ll want to see more of them. Cowboy Bebop has impressed me and if the live-action does anything, for anyone, it’s that it will make you want to watch the anime from the beginning.