Palm Springs Review

By: Amanda Guarragi 

Palm Springs had its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year and it instantly created buzz in the film community. It is directed by Max Barbakow, written by Andy Siara and it is a Lonely Island Classic picture. The film brings together two characters, Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) who have questioned their own existence and the decisions they have made. When they meet at Sarah’s sister, Tala’s (Camila Mendes) wedding, the night takes them on an interesting journey, which leads them to a cave and changes everything.

The film is unique to the time loop subgenre that has developed over the years. It has a refreshing structure and the editing is a huge part of it. The reason why this film is different to the genre is because there are more people involved in the time loop storyline. As we have seen in the past, majority of the time, it is only one character processing the idea of reliving the same day, over and over again. In this comedy, it has Nyles informing Sarah, how to approach the time loop in very humorous ways. There is a nice surprise with the addition of Roy (J.K. Simmons) to add an origin story for Nyles and his time loop journey.

It has a nice mixture of comedic moments and realistic discussions about life, which I really appreciated. The perception of loneliness, is always something that should be explored and how life can sometimes seem meaningless, if you do not have someone to share it with. That is why placing the central event, as a wedding day, in this film was extremely beneficial because of the weight it holds on everyone’s lives. It is very well crafted because they address so many different ideas of love and relationships.

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti had excellent chemistry and solid comedic timing. They bounced off of each other extremely well and you could feel the freedom they had with these roles. The pacing was really strong because of how the story builds. Instead of just reliving the same day, in the same location, Barbakow and Siara explored different moments in the day and had them react differently to new information. The way they slowly revealed different aspects of their lives, was really well done and continuously surprised me.

Palm Springs adds so much depth to the time loop subgenre and it is a wonderful edition to The Lonely Island production library. It is probably one of the most charming films I have seen in a while and it will capture your heart. It is also constructed to always keep you on your toes because even though you are stuck in a time loop, life still comes at you fast and you have to adapt to every situation in the best way you can.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga Review

By: Amanda Guarragi 

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a fun Netflix Original Film, that takes Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) on a musical journey, to the iconic Eurovision stage, in order for them to achieve their goals. The film captures the essence of Eurovision perfectly and shows the world united through music. Director David Dobkin, does some great work in this film with his musical numbers and song choices throughout. It is a typical Will Ferrell movie and that should be taken into consideration, before anyone watches it.

It starts out as a dream for young Lars, who hears ABBA on television for the first time ever and starts dancing in his living room in front of his family. He is so overjoyed by their music because of their Icelandic heritage, finally being represented on screen, at the Eurovision main stage. His family laughs at him and his dream but Lars stops at nothing to get what he wants. Lars and Sigrit have been together since they were kids and have been singing as a duo, named ‘Fire Saga’ for a very long time. Lars, as a middle aged man, finally thinks he has the perfect song to enter for Eurovision and Sigrit joins him on this crazy journey.

It is a simple story about a small town dreamer, making his way to the big stage, with some magical elves helping him along the way. It was pretty humorous to see Sigrit bringing goodies, to the magical elves and hoping they bring them luck for Eurovision. With the magical elves being a prominent spirit in this film, they conveniently placed disastrous events so Lars and Sigrit could advance in their journey. Yes, this movie is very unrealistic but it is so much fun and the humour definitely distracts you from impossible situations.

The entire cast is really strong and the chemistry between Lars and Sigrit was great! There were many surprises with the performances, especially Dan Stevens as Alexander Lemtov, who was the Russian singer in the competition. He was just so electric in this role and I don’t think he has ever been better. Rachel McAdams was also really strong in this and was stunning as per usual. Will Ferrell was being Will Ferrell, I missed seeing him in this kind of role because that’s where he truly shines. If you do not like his humour, then this movie isn’t for you.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga has its comedic moments and will keep you intrigued because Eurovision is that exciting. There is plenty of drama, great song medley’s that will surprise you and a couple of cameo’s, that will make you do the Rick Dalton, pointing at the screen meme. The costume design was probably one of my favourite aspects about this as well because each country had their own design. It is vibrant, energetic, funny and what Eurovision is all about, bringing people together through music.

The King of Staten Island Review

By: Amanda Guarragi 

The King of Staten Island is Judd Apatow’s most personal film to date. He collaborated with Pete Davidson and Dave Sirus to bring Pete’s deeply emotional life to the screen. It was candid, realistic and raw to Pete’s journey. It was in typical Apatow fashion, to have such a natural flow to this story. They addressed mental illness and childhood trauma with humorous moments. In his mid -20s Scott (Pete Davidson) is at a standstill in his life, he dropped out of high school and his younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is heading out to college. As the events in his life unfold, Scott must come to terms with his father’s death and processes his grief in many ways.

For seventeen years Scott has lived without his father and the only memories he has of him, are the ones his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei) shares with him over and over again. In Davidson’s life, his father was a firefighter for the FDNY. He was seen as a hero by many because of his bravery in saving someone’s life, as a building collapsed on top of him. Most of Davidson’s dark humour stems from his childhood trauma and his stand up is vulgar and borderline offensive. At the end of the day, that is what makes Pete, Pete. His humour may offend people but it is okay for him to make fun of his own trauma because it comes from such a personal place.

If you have been a fan of Judd Apatow’s since the beginning of his career, you know the way he makes his films. They are personal, witty and very well written. He always attempts to make real situations seem funny, even if it stems from a dark place. The reason why his films have so much heart and resonate with so many, is because he isn’t afraid to show his audience the reality of situations. He wants to say that these characters are real, concrete people, with a twisted sense of humour that exist in the real world.

To those who have followed Pete Davidson from his early stages on Saturday Night Live and appreciated his humour (even though sometimes he crossed the line), you will appreciate this film. I think everyone will learn something about Davidson through watching this film. You may dislike him a bit more, or even start to like him, it is all up to interpretation. This film highlights mental illness  and it’s through the eyes of Pete Davidson, who has truly suffered from it. To see the psychology of Scott, through the eyes of Davidson, is something raw and eye opening. It is a story that only Pete Davidson could tell and it is really special.

The film does drag on a little bit but the third act is really important to Scott’s arc. As his sister goes off to college, his mother begins dating again and Ray Bishop (Bill Burr) also works at the fire department. In the midst of all this, Scott is causing his own damage with his friends and when he finds out about his mother dating a fireman, he goes into a downward spiral and attempts to break them up. We find that Scott does not really know how to express his emotions and sometimes he lets it out through impulsive, violent behaviour, or everyone’s favourite mechanism, sarcasm.

After a huge blowout between Ray, Margie and Scott, they all go their separate ways. That’s why the third act is really special. It brings them all together in a very unexpected way. Scott begins to understand the life of a fireman and he experiences it firsthand. It was very cathartic for Davidson and the REAL stories shared of his father, were important, not only for Scott’s character arc in the film, but for Davidson to maybe get some closure. It was an emotional ending and Davidson gave a wonderful performance.

The King of Staten Island is not for everyone. The only way to appreciate this film, is if you are fans of both, Apatow and Davidson. To newcomers, they may not understand the sentimental value this holds for Davidson and why this was so important for him to make. It was also pretty funny, a lot of Davidson’s humour is things he would say under his breath and being able to catch what he says, in this film was great. It’s a long watch but it is definitely worth it to see the heart of Pete Davidson.


TOTO Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Toto is a very inventive and sweet short film showing how dependant we have all become on technology. It is also quite humorous because the lead is 90 year – old, nonna Rosa (Rosa Forlano) who is having difficulty, adjusting to a robot being in her house. Toto is an ode to real life situations and how people can’t seem to function without technology. It brings together the older generation and the new generation in order to understand the complexities of technology.

Toto definitely hits close to home because I am seen as the “fix it, IT person” in the house. The film doesn’t only apply to seniors, but it also applies to middle aged people who never grew up with technology. All the Gen X and Millennials can understand how frustrating it can be to actually explain how to use technology to others, when it has become second nature to us. It was heartwarming and fun to see Nonna Rosa, who is also the grandmother of the director Marco Baldonado, interact with the robot.

It is a very simple story and shows a full day of a nonna adapting to living with a robot, that is programmed to help her. Toto is very similar in nature to Baymax, from Big Hero 6 but functions differently. The entire climax of Toto is the issue of charging its battery in order for it to help the nonna. That’s where the humour comes in because everyone knows an Italian nonna will always take matters into her own hands, when things go wrong.

The construction for Toto is well done and the robot is quite massive. It used lights and a “siri” like voice to attend to the nonna. Toto was trained to cook and clean, in order to help the nonna, but let’s face it robots can’t be compared to the will power of a nonna. It shows an important lesson of learning about technology but also still trying to do things on your own. When technology fails so many of us, we have to be able to work through situations on our own.

How to Build a Girl Review

By: Amanda Guarragi 

No, I don’t think my adventure starts with a boy. I think it starts with me.”

How to Build a Girl is so refreshing. It’s witty, whimsical, carefree and adventurous. It takes the viewer on a journey of self discovery, with its lead character Johanna Morrigan and it creates this zest for life atmosphere that you feel in your soul. Coky Giedroyc brought the character of Johanna to screen, she brought the audience into her sixteen-year-old headspace and it was beautiful. It shows the raw, emotional journey of growing into your own woman, during your adolescent years and how difficult it can be. 

At 16 years old, we all feel helpless, lost and scared of what the future may bring. We are too young to be adults and too old to still be in the cocoon of childhood. Everyone tells us that we should be more responsible, but then when we take on the responsibilities, we’re too young to be thinking of those things. It’s nowhere near a balanced lifestyle and that’s why we go through phases. We like to experiment and try different things because the truth is, we have no idea who we are, we just have an expectation of who everyone else wants us to be.

It is a very hard age because there is so much pressure on teenagers to start building their life, when they have no idea who they are yet. Whether it be from teachers, social groups or family, teenagers are under a lot of pressure. Giedroyc perfectly shows the mental journey of a 16 year old and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, this accurate, on screen before, especially from a young girl’s perspective. Parents do not understand that their own financial issues or marriage issues, are often projected on their children and deeply affect the teenager’s mental state. Sometimes they think that they have to do more than they already are and become an adult faster, other times they fall into darkness and lose sight of who they are.

The best aspect of Ms. Johanna Morrigan was her deep, loving soul and her appreciation for life. Beanie Feldstein brought such fearlessness, charm and intellect to this role. Her intensity as Johanna towards the things she loves, like writing, was lovely to see because her passion shined through. It’s also a wonderful story about creativity and how people bond over words on a page, or lyrics to a song. Those who are creative, have always attached themselves to a medium that brings them peace. Those ambitions and goals, that creatives make for themselves, are what drives them to the very top and allows them to reach greatness.

Johanna Morrigan’s journey is most definitely a rollercoaster. She wanted to be a writer and break into the industry so badly, that she became a critic for rock music. At the end of the day, getting published in the newspaper, is all that really matters and she definitely succeeded. She was making money for her family and she created an entire new persona “Dolly Wilde” because that’s who she thought she would be in the future. At first Johanna was clean cut and found the beauty in the artists music, that she was critiquing. Then one poor decision, lead to more poor decisions and got her to the point where Dolly Wilde had consumed her spirit.

Johanna lived the rockstar lifestyle with Dolly Wilde, but it wasn’t the person that suited her and it essentially lead to her downfall. Johanna is a layered, complex teenager and she went on her own journey of finding her identity. It seemed like the weight of the world was on Johanna’s shoulders because it started out with her achieving her goals, while still bringing in money for her family. She let the fame and greed get to her head. It presented the issues of mental illness and self harm in a very subtle way that made you understand Johanna’s thought process.

Everything about How to Build a Girl was spot on and it’s one of the best coming of age films I have seen this year. The screenplay, written by Caitlin Moran and John Niven, was very realistic, it had me laughing at the scenes where Johanna was daydreaming about boys and situations that she wished would happen. The wardrobe for Johanna was as whimsical and carefree as she was and I loved that her soul was represented in her attire. What was also really well done was the soundtrack. Each song that was picked represented the scene perfectly and even if Johanna wasn’t truly saying what she was feeling, the song did it for her and I think that added another layer to her character.

The title of this film makes perfect sense. Teenagers, most importantly young teenage girls, go through so many challenges growing up and it’s all apart of the building process. The monologue at the end, that Johanna speaks directly into the camera, felt like it was a message being directed to every young girl or woman watching. It was almost like  reassurance, that it’s okay to change, or to start over and build yourself up, after you’ve been torn down. Everyone goes through these changes in their life and How to Build a Girl makes that journey a joyous achievement for young women everywhere.