‘The Penny Black’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We all love trying to figure out mysteries. They’re almost like separate puzzle pieces and you’re trying to assemble them to complete the journey. Whether the mystery is in a novel, on the news, or on-screen, it is a brain exercise without meaning to be. The Penny Black is a non-fiction investigative thriller that takes us on a journey with Will, the estranged son of a con-man, who agrees to safeguard a mysterious million-dollar stamp collection for his unknowable Russian neighbor. After the neighbor vanishes without a trace, Will searches for the collection’s true owner, confronting his fear and integrity head-on. But when some of the stamps suddenly disappear, the filmmakers are forced to reexamine Will’s capacity for honesty.

This documentary is structured pretty well because of the set-up at the beginning. There’s an introduction to Will, his past and this interesting story that he is about to tell us. There’s a very nice integration of home footage and Will in his home present day. Director Joe Saunders does a great job capturing Will’s mind, while he processes his answers for the camera and tells him what he wants to hear. It’s interesting to objectively watch Will go through all these motions, while trying to piece the puzzle together with him. The audience is just as confused as Will throughout this whole process. Normally, people don’t think of stamps as anything valuable, so to shed light on that side of it in this way was smart.

At first, the connection to his father was a bit disjointed but then as Saunders pushed in exploring Will’s past, it all clicked. Psychologically, the connection to this Russian man, trusting him with his stamp collection and sharing other valuable information was important to Will because his father never did that with him. In a way, he could be seen as a paternal figure for Will and that is why the attachment is there. The way this documentary unfolds, especially in regards to how Will’s mind and past is exposed made for such a good watch.

The Penny Black pulls the viewer into the story and Will’s world so effortlessly. The structure of this documentary and the laidback direction from Saunders allows the viewer to take the reigns in questioning everything about the feature. Towards the end of the documentary, the suspense of tracking this gentlemen down is definitely felt. The ending is powerful and the conversation had about honesty was interesting to include, considering everything that happened. Saunders also played with the camera as best he could, capturing important moments at different angles.

‘Cruella’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Cruella is one of the best Disney live-action films to date. It has beautiful costume design, great camerawork, career-defining performances and a wicked soundtrack. This prequel is the one we didn’t know we needed. It is a bit darker than other Disney live-actions, but it’s so much fun to watch Stone dive into this character. The story is about young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) who aspires to be a fashion designer. We see young Estella struggle with her identity, as she has a bit of a wild side that she doesn’t have control over. Estella has a tragic past and we get to see how she becomes Cruella.

Going into this film, I had very low expectations and I was pleasantly surprised with how much fun this film was. Cruella will have you hooked within the first ten minutes because of how fast-paced it is. We get a voiceover narration from Emma Stone and it sets the tone for the rest of Estella’s adulthood. The story was well-written and it worked for who Estella would grow into. Estella being a fashion designer worked perfectly and the wardrobe is absolutely stunning. We have Estella working for the Baroness (Emma Thompson), who takes her under her wing and uses majority of her designs.

The film unfolds quite nicely and the twists are perfectly placed. They aren’t over the top, or completely random, they really do work for the story and there are moments that will shock you. The cast is wonderful, Stone and Thompson are incredible together, their chemistry carried the film. It was so fun to watch them go back-and-forth and they give iconic performances. This is truly Stone’s best performance to date and she blew me away. Having two women on-screen, pull these performances out of each other was pure magic.

Craig Gillespie’s Cruella is one of the best films of the year! The London punk aesthetic works extremely well to give the visual edge to Estella and her world. What I found really interesting, is that the exterior world is so loud in its production design, that it feels like the characteristics of Estella’s alter ego, fills the screen, pulling her into this other world. The soundtrack works so well and some songs were reworked to fit certain scenes. The only issue is that it did run a bit long but this was such a treat. And make sure to stay for the post-credit scene, it will make you want a sequel even more!

Make sure to catch Cruella Friday, May 21st on Disney Premier Access or, if you’re lucky, on the big screen.

‘The Father’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

The Father written and directed by Florian Zeller dives into the mind of an elderly man suffering with dementia. Anne (Olivia Colman) takes care of her father Anthony (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and begins to notice that he is slipping further away into this illness. She doesn’t know how to care for him properly, so she must find a way to make him as comfortable as possible and help him adapt to his surroundings. Zeller’s script would be interesting to read. After all, it is his play that he adapted to screen and I’m sure it is executed differently onstage. Even though the performances were absolutely brilliant, there was something that was lacking.

There were very strong moments between Coleman and Hopkins, very natural, emotional moments that candidly presented the illness. However, due to the execution of this script and the editing of the film, those moments got lost in the execution of the film. Of course, I can appreciate and understand what Zeller was attempting to do. He showed Anthony switch in-and-out of consciousness throughout the film but unfortunately, it hurt the narrative and the emotional connection to these characters. The film is more of a character piece than a clear narrative and that is completely fine but it doesn’t work as a film.

I truly would have loved to see this onstage because it would have had minimal production value and maybe even a smaller cast. It wouldn’t rely on the visual storytelling in regards to Anthony’s internalized mental struggle. The editing and the production design did work for the story Zeller was trying to tell and I commend him for trying something different. As we see Anthony fall into the depths of this illness, his surroundings begin to change; the flat that he lives in is slowly stripped away to reveal where he is actually living, in a care facility. It is a very interesting watch because of those elements, I just wish I could have connected to these characters a bit more.

The Father had incredible performances, especially from Sir Anthony Hopkins but the execution was flawed. The final scene of this film, where he attempted to explain what he was going through, was what should have been explored a bit more throughout. It felt like the conversations with his daughter Anne, took hold of his own emotional suffering and it would have been more effective to show that as well. That final scene brought me to tears and it is some of Hopkins’ best work as an actor. As someone who has seen what this illness can do firsthand, it did accurately show what happens to everyone involved in an interesting way and I respect what was done.

Canadian Film Festival Selection ‘Woman In Car’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Woman In Car is written and directed by Vanya Rose. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. It takes the female experience of Ann Lewis (Hélène Joy) as she is in the middle of getting married to her new husband. The script is well-written and Rose peels back the many layers of Ann. There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into. It is so intriguing to watch because Joy gives such a nuanced performance and carries the entire film to the very end. Her connections to other characters may be a bit confusing at times but it all pays off in the third act. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.

Ann appears to have it all. But when her stepson returns to Montreal with the beautiful Safiye (Liane Balaban), Ann develops an obsession with the stranger, who she fears could destroy the privileged life she has built. Rose explores two different female characters in a sincere and compassionate way. What starts out as a defensive tact on Ann’s part turns into a very vulnerable olive branch in wanting to tell her story. The film does explore issues of class, family and deception. It is just so fascinating to watch because of Joy’s layered performance. What I found most interesting is the fact that she was an archer and she always had to have a sense of control when shooting the bow and arrow. Oddly enough, that pressure to be perfect ruins Ann’s peace and concentration when craving that form of release, while her secrets build up.

Ann had many secrets that she tried to bottle up but eventually those secrets came back to haunt her. Throughout the film, we see that Ann is losing herself to these skeletons in her closet. She is under so much pressure because of this wedding and her feelings of neglect from her previous marriage seem to creep up on her. We see how everyone can carry their emotional and mental trauma, from one relationship to another, if they feel like they are somehow being treated in the same way. If these issues are not addressed, situations tend to become worse than they already are. Ann is an incredible character because of how she internalizes her pain in order to keep the public persona of being perfect and composed. It is in an obligation in higher social class systems to always appear poised, even if something is bothering you.

The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is rooted in the culture of Montreal and dives into the social class system by showing how people who aren’t born into it, can become traumatized by their lifestyle. Woman In Car has so much tension and the build up is strong. There are such intimate, emotional moments that will make you really feel for Ann and want to see her come out on top, even though the storyline is a bit risqué. There are so many issues that Rose explores in this film and the most important takeaway is that there is so much compassion between female characters in sharing those vulnerable moments with others.

‘Yes Day’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

We have all experienced missed opportunities because we didn’t say ‘Yes’. We sometimes look back on our lives and regret dismissing certain opportunities because they didn’t feel right at the time. Depending on how adventurous you are, majority of people say ‘yes’, when they are eager to try something new. In Yes Day, we see Allison (Jennifer Garner) and Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) fall in love with each other because of their zest for life. At the beginning of their marriage, they went on adventures in the middle of the day, without a care in the world. Then… they had children and entered the world of ‘No‘.

Yes Day shows the shift from being a couple to being parents quite well. Children are a huge responsibility and once you have a child, or three in their case, your time and attention is no longer on the relationship. Allison and Carlos agree to do the ‘Yes Day’ challenge for 24 hours, where they have to say yes to everything. It is a fun concept with really wild moments throughout and the family dynamic worked really well. The Torres family go on their little adventure for the day and end up in situations they never would have imagined.

Courtesy of Matt Kennedy/Netflix Film

It was also great to see how there are different approaches to parenting and we see that when certain decisions are being made. For their children, Katie (Jenna Ortega), Nando (Julian Lerner), Ellie (Everly Carganilla) they all wanted the freedom to do what they want at a very young age. The main conflict of this film is that Katie wanted to go to a music festival, at fourteen with her close friend, without parental supervision. Now, we all know what happens at music festivals and her mom, does not want her to go at all. After a day of saying, ‘yes’ and realizing that her mother, is actually really fun and just wants the best for her kids, Katie ends up doing the mature thing.

Yes Day is a lot of fun, even with some pacing issues, it still has plenty of teachable moments for parents and children. The cast had great chemistry and they all brought something special to the table. The film drops on Netflix, Friday, March 12th and I challenge you to have a ‘Yes Day’ of your own this Friday! Say ‘yes’ to pampering yourself, for taking some time off and more importantly to have one day of fun! It is a light, wholesome film that is definitely needed to loosen everyone up during these crazy times.