‘If These Walls Could Sing’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There’s a connection to music that people feel more than others. Only other musicians can understand the feeling. Or in Mary McCartney’s case, she grew up surrounded by music, lyrics, and a community of artists. If These Walls Could Sing is the untold story of Abbey Road studio and explores its rich history. McCartney interviewed many incredible musicians who had the opportunity to make music in studio one. First, she interviewed her father, Sir Paul McCartney, who walked her through the early stages of “The Beatles” and the progression of the 60s. After the war, music and culture in the UK completely changed. The musical journey for these artists changed with the sociopolitical landscape resulting in their music changing. 

The timeline of events on screen is detailed by what Sir Paul McCartney experienced while “The Beatles” became a phenomenon. Even if the outside world got a bit crazy, they found sanctuary at Abbey Road. Mary McCartney made some excellent choices in using the voices of the artists while showing the empty studios. You don’t realize how many artists walked into Abbey Road with a little tune and walked out with some of the best records ever made. It became a haven for artists because they could freely express their lyrics and tunes without pressure. After watching this documentary, there’s a level of respect for these artists and the community built inside Abbey Road. You could tell that these artists felt at home, which helps with the project’s creativity. 

Mary McCartney stylistically captured the essence of the 60s, and it worked. It didn’t even feel like watching a documentary at times. It felt like a story-time setting, and the audience was gathered in a circle at Abbey Road, just listening. McCarthy made sure to have this sense of comfort from the beginning to have the communal atmosphere of Abbey Road come through the screen. In doing so, artists like Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John and John Williams shared their experiences at Abbey Road, and goosebumps were felt. Understanding their process in making some of the greatest pieces ever adds more of a connection to the place they created them in. This documentary had such a homey feel that it made you want to stay in the studio with them.

If These Walls Could Sing is a warm and heartfelt documentary. Mary McCarthy saw things through a different lens than her father, and that’s why this angle worked so well. She knew that Abbey Road felt like home to many others and presented that through her direction. The walls at Abbey Road are filled with memories, and each artist has a special connection with the studio. The title works well because many lost songs are embedded in those walls. Songs that were left unfinished or songs that were changed into something else. Music is another form of storytelling, so combining her love of documentary filmmaking and her childhood experiences with her father was something special to see. 

‘Willow’ Series Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In 1988, Ron Howard and George Lucas teamed up to make one of the most underrated fantasy films. Willow was about a young farmer chosen to undertake a perilous journey to protect a special baby from an evil queen. Val Kilmer was at the top of his game in the 80s, so to have him as a romantic leading man in a fantasy film was perfect casting. Joanne Whalley and Warwick Davis made it worth watching because of their characters. Now, decades later, Howard’s small, beloved film has been turned into a Disney Plus series. Since world-building was done a bit differently in previous eras, television shows can build the foundation of the world in a more detailed manner. Fantasy shows have been all the rage in 2022 because many viewers want to be transported to another world. It’s almost as if we’ve been deprived of different escapes. 

This new series created by Jonathan Kasdan captures the same magic as the original film, but of course, in a modern way. The most important takeaway from the new series is the inclusivity of its cast of characters. Kit Tanthalos (Ruby Cruz) is the princess and daughter of Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and wants to learn how to fight and be involved with the townspeople. She wants to make her own choices, especially in marriage. Her brother, Airk (Dempsey Bryk), is the golden boy, heir to the throne, and is in love with a kitchen maid named Dove (Ellie Bamber). The siblings have gone in two very different directions, and in this series, they explore their individuality and whom they are destined to be. Kit has the strongest journey in this series. She learns how to fight and to love with her swashbuckling trainer, Jade Claymore (Erin Kellyman), by her side. The relationship between Jade and Kit makes for an interesting dynamic as they go on this journey with Willow. 

In this series, twenty years after vanquishing the wicked queen Bavmorda, the sorcerer Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) leads a group of misfits on a dangerous rescue mission into the unknown. Kasdan refocused the story and the lore with the new characters without leaning on the nostalgia of the original film. It was lovely to see Davis back in that element by also giving him a bit more to do with his character. The cast worked together well, and some stylistic choices worked for the modernity of the piece. There are some humorous moments and some song choices to bring these characters into a new generation. It felt refreshing to see a fantastical world highlight a queer romance and characters struggling with their individuality in a kingdom that has expectations for them. This series places women at the forefront and has a unique twist that makes for a compelling story in this first season. Audiences will connect with these characters. And understand what they’re struggling with, which is the importance of representation on screen. 

If you have been a long-time supporter of Ron Howard’s Willow, you will appreciate the world-building in this new series. And if you’re a newcomer, who hasn’t watched the original film, then get ready to dive into a brand new world with characters you will love. Kasdan brings together a cast that works together through their individuality and their knowledge of the realm. Each episode brings new lore and magic that pulls you into their world. Cruz, Bamber, and Kellyman are the standouts of the series, and the always-lovely Tony Revolori adds another layer of charm. The pacing is strong as well, nothing feels rushed, and the characters evolve naturally over the length of the episodes. It is a fantasy show that Disney Plus needed on their platform, and each episode will be streaming weekly on Wednesdays. 

‘Disenchanted’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Fairytales have always been an important part of pop culture, especially when we were children. The idea that anyone can break into a song and express their true feelings is what makes them magical. The characters have always been virtuous, loving, and empathetic towards others to have kindness overpower any form of hatred. There is just something special and heartwarming about fairytales that other romances do not have. Disney princesses have always been a staple in everyone’s lives, and Gisele (Amy Adams) from Andalasia certainly made her mark. Ingrid Werner who makes her acting debut in Disenchanted has her own reasons as to why fairytales can resonate with everyone,

“I enjoy them because while it’s like very fantastical storylines, I enjoy being taken out of reality for a moment in time, and kind of escape a little bit. It also grounded in real morals and stories, and when you peel away the fantastical elements, it’s all there to teach us something or make us realize something about ourselves or even society.”

Ingrid Werner, Disenchanted

Fairytales can come in all forms and it’s bold to make some changes to their structure. Uprooting an animated princess in a fairytale world and placing her in one of the rudest cities known to man was a choice. Adams was an absolute delight as the excitable and ever-so-loving Gisele, who wanted to spread all the love and kindness wherever she went. Here, Gisele learned from the people around her and made a grumpy middle-aged man into someone warm and kind. 

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

The sequel Disenchanted offers a different take on a fairytale. Gisele has now built a family with Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and Morgan Philip (Gabriella Baldacchino) but she still feels something is missing. The magic in her life has turned into something different with her newborn child, and she misses the fairytale world that she came from. One could consider this a midlife crisis for a princess, which seems attractive at first. However, as the story goes on, it changes from a fairytale into a nightmare for Gisele. There’s a comment made by Morgan after moving to a new part of town that felt homier for Gisele, and she calls her, “stepmother”. After being with her since she was born, Gisele was hurt by this comment. She finds this magical wand with some help and she makes one wish to make her life more of a fairytale. Since she had Morgan’s comment in mind, her fairytale slowly turns wicked. After waiting over a decade to see our cheerful Gisele back on screen, it was a bit disheartening to see her go in a darker direction.

There is no issue with Amy Adams’s performance, as she completely nailed the descent into the wicked stepmother, but it felt like we didn’t get enough time with Gisele. The film of course is extravagant and the wonderful music by Alan Menken made the musical numbers worthwhile, but it just felt a bit empty because the attachment to Gisele was lost in the fold. Sure, it felt nostalgic and the development of the mother/daughter storyline with Gisele and Morgan was touching in the end, but it felt disjointed. The songs were not as memorable as the one’s in the first and it feels like a disservice to the wonderful character of Gisele. It’s hard to enjoy a sequel that is so focused on changing the lead character to make it a bit more interesting so it’s not a repeat of the first instalment. The cast is lovely and Maya Rudolph had some strong moments, the song “Badder” is probably one of the best moments between her and Adams. It sadly felt like a sequel with no clear direction in where they wanted Gisele to go. Of course, it was wonderful to see Adams in the role again, but it didn’t do anything for the character. 

(L-R): Amy Adams as Giselle and Maya Rudolph as Malvina Monroe in Disney’s live-action DISENCHANTED, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Jonathan Hession. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When asked about the change in storytelling over the years in Disney films, Werner expressed that the films have changed drastically and it’s because we as an audience don’t buy into the magic of the storylines anymore. The world has changed our perception of everything and we are no longer looking at it through rose-coloured glasses,

“I’m of the generation where we all bought into the fairytale and you find your happily ever after. Right? Now, there are a lot more inclusive storylines, and I love the new princesses that came out in the last 10 years. It’s just really interesting stories and I love that they keep finding new things to create. But also the stories have a bit more dark elements to them, but I feel like now they’re dealing with real world problems, but in a fairy tale perspective.”

– Ingrid Werner, Disenchanted

Disenchanted may look and feel extravagant because of the production design, costuming, and musical numbers, but at its core, it feels a bit hollow. There just wasn’t the same magic that was there in the first instalment. It’s sometimes hard to recapture the same feeling in sequels, especially those that come a decade after their predecessor. Adams plays the dual role incredibly well, and she proves again that she is one of the best actresses of our generation. It comes down to the writing and the direction they decided to take the story. Just because it looks magical, doesn’t mean the story matches that level. There are small moments that creep through that work, but it takes a while to get into the story and when that happens, it’s too late. The expectations were high for this sequel, especially because Gisele is one of Adams’s best characters. It is the one that put her on the map and made people recognize how much talent she has. The film is now streaming on Disney Plus and is still worth watching if you’re a fan of the first one.

‘Welcome To Chippendales’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

During the 70s, women began to feel a bit more sexually liberated with the surge of the adult film industry. It was no longer a time for only men to express their sexual impulses, but women too. Of course, at that time, strip clubs were reserved for men to watch women take their clothes off for money. After breaking ground, sex workers are finally taken seriously in an industry that has been shamed for years. It’s a profession like any other, so when Steve Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) created the male version, ‘The Chippendales’ became a phenomenon. What should have been a safe space for queer men and women to feel liberated from societal marginalization became a prison of greed, notoriety and status for Banerjee. Sometimes power can consume someone and they spiral down a bad path to keep their dream afloat. Ambition is always a good thing to have, but not when there is no morality or making tough decisions. Welcome to Chippendale’s is a sprawling true-crime saga, that tells the outrageous story of Somen “Steve” Banerjee, an Indian immigrant founder who became the unlikely founder of the world’s greatest male-stripping empire – and let nothing stand in his way in the process.

Banerjee worked at a gas station for seven years and saved enough money to start a business of his own. He wanted to open a Backgammon Club in Los Angeles. At the beginning of this journey, Banerjee was a simple man who just wanted a nice place for people to feel like they were living a posh lifestyle. Little did he know, that his obsession with fame and money would ultimately consume him and make him a terrible boss. He trusted a stranger who called himself a club promoter to turn his dud of a club into a “happening” place on a Friday night. After heading to a gay club with two strangers and seeing male dancers with straight women cheering them on, Banerjee put two and two together and came up with a male strip club for women. The series is created by Robert Siegel, who completely captured the essence of the late 70s. Everything came together nicely, from the costuming to the music to the make-up and hairstyling, to make it feel authentic to the era. Each episode added something more to the club itself, until it became too much to control.

The cast works together extremely well, but the standouts were Nanjiani and Murray Bartlett, who plays Nick De Noia, an Emmy-winning choreographer. As the club received more attention, Banerjee needed to polish off his show for it to grow even bigger. One night, De Noia walked in and left him his card; perhaps it was fate that brought them together, but as the series goes on, it seems like their meeting did more harm than good. This series pits ego against ego and a businessman against a choreographer with status. There is plenty of flashy dancing and fun moments in the club, but the intense business negotiations and backstabbing are what made this compelling. No one ever fully understands what it means to build a business, and Robert Siegel made sure to show every inch of the mayhem. Nanjiani gives one of the best performances of his career as he descends into the madness of becoming the best in the world. He loses himself in this role, and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen him do. 

Welcome to Chippendales is an entertaining, vibrant, and dark look at the entertainment industry. It shows how cutthroat people can be and how important a creative idea can be when it comes to the bottom line of business decisions. Nanjiani and Bartlett have incredible chemistry and work together well to make this story even more convincing. Watching De Noia and Banjeree’s relationship grow over the episodes was interesting because they have different perspectives on the business and which aspects to focus on for the Chippendales to grow. The first half of this series sets up Banerjee’s life and his constant need for the next best thing, while De Noia focuses on what’s in front of them with the dancers in the show. We see two different focuses that ultimately alter the Chippendales and their impact. The series will begin streaming on Hulu on November 22nd, and it is worth a watch if you want to know more about the creation of the Chippendales.

‘Werewolf By Night’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The feel of old-fashioned monster movies isn’t present in horror movies today. What they offered was something different. Horror doesn’t only consist of scares, an excessive amount of blood, or graphic violence. It can also bring some humanity to the monsters we see through their interactions. Old-fashioned horror monster movies would design a different way to scare audiences through the use of lighting, shadows, and an incredible score. These films would tap into the viewers’ psyche and tap into their fears. The cinematography has always been an important factor when constructing these monster films and director Michael Giacchino brought this all back in the Marvel Special Werewolf by Night. It is a wonderful homage to the comic books and the monster movies audiences have loved. 

When a secret group of monster hunters gather at Bloodstone Manor following the death of their leader, they engage in a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic which will bring them face to face with a dangerous monster. Co-writers Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron adapted the comics most simply. It was one evening filled with lore, monster hunters and creatures lurking in the shadows. Jack (Gael Garcia Bernal) has a secret of his own but is more interested in finding out who this creature is that they must kill to retrieve the Bloodstone. Ulysses’ wife Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris) is the one orchestrating this evening for her husband. When their estranged daughter shows up, Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) wants to put a stop to the tradition. 

Giacchino and director of photography Zoë White build that old horror mood together. The production design was simple as they crafted a little maze within a town for the hunt. As Giacchino moves through the maze with Jack and the rest of the hunters, he slowly moves the camera when the characters are in the frame. There’s a symmetry with the lighting and highlights that White expertly designed so it feels as if you are coming out of the shadows with them. There are some beautiful shots in this special presentation and it’s because of her work. Once we see the werewolf, Giacchino’s choice to show the kills and movement through shadows and flashing lights is fantastic. It was lovely to see a project go back to the genre’s roots. 

Werewolf by Night is one of the best Marvel projects that has come out this year. Director Michael Giacchino had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with this special presentation, and it worked. On top of that, he is one of the best composers, and his score for this project brought that sinister feel as they navigated through the town. It worked as a contained story. The ending of this could also lead to more tales about the Werewolf by Night. The reason why the end worked so well is because of what is referenced, and it is such a layered way to end the special. It is a perfect Marvel project to bring in the Halloween season, and it’s something that fans will return to every year. Giacchino did a great job with this, and it’s only fair that we get to see more.