Minari Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

For as long as cinema has been around, the theme of achieving the American Dream has always been evident. People come to America, thinking they could lead better lives, until they get there, and find that the system works against their people. What Lee Isaac Chung does in Minari, is show the struggle of one Korean-American family, trying to achieve the American Dream after moving to Missouri. Chung explores what goes into making a home, is it the location or the people you’re with? Both, Monica (Han Ye-ri) and Jacob (Steven Yeun) navigate their new life and explore the meaning of living.

The film begins with a beautiful scenic drive, capturing the beauty and richness of the land. Later showing that Jacob’s family would be living on farmland. The location of the farm was vibrant and showed the wonder of nature. Chung showed the roots of life, while Jacob’s family dealt with financial issues, family illness and an additional family member coming to live with them. The film highlights everyday situations that American families struggle with and Chung counters that with showing the importance of life’s natural resources.

The family dynamic consisting of Jacob, Monica, David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho) worked really well. They were all great characters who had different connections with each other. We saw that Jacob and David were closer, Chung wanted to develop their connection in a very natural way and succeeded. The star of this film is little David. Alan S. Kim has such a wonderful presence on screen and added so much emotional depth to certain scenes. David has a heart condition that sets the viewer to worry about him during simple, everyday activities. David’s connection with his Korean grandmother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung) was the highlight of the film. We see how heritage can blend with American traditions and how a younger generations can learn to appreciate it.

Minari is a beautiful film that will keep you interested in their family dynamic with it’s very natural script. As the viewer you are examining the lives of this Korean-American family and learning how they approach living their everyday life. It is rooted in the American Dream but dives into the family structure about conforming to their surroundings. It isn’t until grandma Soonja comes in and changes their perception of what a home truly is. The family structure is challenged by financial and health issues but in the end, they realize there is nothing more important than the love shared between family.

Raya and the Last Dragon Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Raya and the Last Dragon is pure magic. From the second we meet young Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and her father, Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) there is an instant connection to them. The father/daughter storylines always get me emotional and incredibly invested in the story. Raya learned so much from her father, from fighting techniques, to leadership, to uniting people. The story is quite simple, Raya must go on a quest to retrieve five pieces of a whole, in order to unify Kumandra and bring the dragons back. In doing so, Raya meets such fun, wonderful characters along the way, that make the adventure so engaging!

The beauty of Raya and the Last Dragon is South Asian representation. On Raya’s quest, we learn so much about her culture and traditions. The animation was stunning and the score that accompanied the film, especially during action sequences, worked incredibly well. Raya, ventures out to find the last dragon with her sidekick Tuk-Tuk (who is the first cute character we fall in love with) and we get to explore each kingdom with her. Along the way, Raya finds Sisu (Awkwafina), Tong (Benedict Wong), Boun (Izaac Wang) and Little Noi (Thalia Tran). All of these characters have all lost someone dear to them because of the Drunn, which are sinister monsters that threatened their land.

Featuring Kelly Marie Tran as the voice of Raya and Awkwafina as the voice of Sisu, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon” will be in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on March 5, 2021. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

As Raya meets these new characters, she has to learn to trust them and that is the message of this story. With the addition of each new character, Raya learns a lot from her new friends and takes the first step in putting her trust in someone else. After losing her father, to the Drunn, she couldn’t trust anyone else in the kingdom and travelled alone. The film has a great message and a lesson to be learned about how to trust again. This entire voice cast did a fantastic job and the animation for their characters was so great! They came together as a family, to help each other through the grieving and they delivered such heartfelt moments.

Raya and the Last Dragon is absolutely delightful and will make you fall in love with all the characters. What impressed me the most about Raya, was the fighting sequences because of how sleek they were. The combination of martial art techniques were used so effectively and added so much to Raya’s character. Many people will appreciate this story and what Walt Disney Animation did with it. They couldn’t have picked a better voice cast to bring this story to life. Awkwafina was such a knockout as Sisu and she should definitely do more animated films!

Raya and the Last Dragon drops on Disney Plus premier access on March 5th!

‘Umama’ Short Film: Interview With Talia Smith And Malibongwe Mdwaba


By: Amanda Guarragi

Umama written and directed by Talia Smith shows the true story of a mother whose son has gone missing. It is a story of love, loss and acceptance. The morning after Sibongile made a promise to celebrate her son’s academic achievement, she wakes to find he is missing. Sibongile (Connie Chiume) still goes into work and she must care for the children, of her employer, in order to get home and keep her promise. Before heading to NYU, Smith was born and raised in South Africa. She wanted to highlight these stories in the most honest way. Smith had a personal connection to the story because of her childhood. She had a second mother, which is an Americanized way of labelling her as a ‘domestic worker’. Smith wanted to showcase her heritage through these special relationships.

What started out as a class assignment for Talia Smith had turned into a very important film exploring South African culture,

“This is a very common South African story, but on top of that, non-South Africans can relate to the universal theme but also start to see South Africans, not only their stories, but their talent. There are so many incredible stories so I hope that comes across to non-South Africans audiences.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

The beauty of this story is the connection between Sibongile and the children she cared for, even the dynamic between the mother (her employer) and Sibongile. There is a level of respect and love that can only be felt by those who have experienced connections such as theirs. It is essentially like choosing your own family and at the end of the day, they will support you through anything. That is the love that is shared in this film. Sibongile is having a difficult time with her teenage son Thabiso (Malibongwe Mdwaba). She feels detached from his life but Thabiso is trying to venture out and create his own path.

When watching Umama, we see both perspectives in a balanced way. The worried mother, who is trying her best to work and raise her son. And the teenager, who is trying to survive his high school years by making the right decisions. When asked about his own connection to Thabiso, Mdwaba said,

“To be taken back to that sort of timeline, gave me the time to see the bigger picture and heal from those moments. It really spoke to the kind of work that I love doing. That’s any work that has to do with mirroring society, in the most truthful manner and rarely do we get those stories, where we are literally not fabricating anything and we are just telling it as it is.”

– Malibongwe Mdwaba, Umama

We have all gone through our own hardships, in our teenage years and Mdwaba used this character to heal from his own experiences. There was so much thought, care and love that went into this story.

What Smith and Mdwaba hope audiences gain from this story is the connectivity of human relationships. It does not matter how you are connected to the other person, all that matters is the love and respect that is shared. Smith has had discussions with psychologists that deal with families in a lot of these situations and she is trying to create a toolkit,

“Once people have watched the film, if you relate to a character you will be able to kind of see how you fit into that category and figure out something that you may need, or how you can help other people in your life find resources.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

To see an extension of love and support in this way through filmmaking, just shows how genuine Smith is. Her stories will always be rooted in something honest and personal. It is a reflection of how she sees the world and how she wants people to perceive it through universal themes.

Cowboys Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Cowboys is a modern-day western with a deeply touching family story, that will give you some form of hope, in regards to parenting. Steve Zahn plays Troy, a troubled father who only has good intentions for his son. Troy has recently separated from his wife Sarah (Jillian Bell) over many issues. The film is structured incredibly well as the use of flashbacks is integrated to add more depth to the story, as Troy takes his son Jo (Sasha Knight) out for a camping trip. We see that Sarah is having a very hard time accepting that her trans son wants to live his authentic self.

It was really interesting to see how each parent approached the idea of their child transitioning into their authentic self. We see that Troy respects his son’s wishes and treats him as he would like to be treated. Whereas Sarah struggles with the idea of transitioning, or of feeling outside of your body. Sarah forces Jo to wear dresses and to act like a little girl, essentially forcing these gender norms upon her. It got to the point in the film that Troy couldn’t bear to see his son treated so horribly in his own house, so he plans to take him away from Sarah.

What we see on the surface is that Troy is trying to be the best father that he can be to his son. We see the father/son bond early on in the film and that is what stole my heart. If children are fortunate enough to have a parent who treats them with respect and allows them to be their true self, then it’s a beautiful thing to see. This film also gives audiences another lens to look through. Sometimes adults don’t realize what their children are going through because of their own busy schedules. They don’t notice that their child might be reaching it out without actually doing so. Parents need to be more aware of what their children are showing them, without using their words because sometimes it can be difficult to articulate.

Cowboys is a an important watch because of how candid the conversations are about a young boy knowing who he wanted to be. He was young enough to know how he was feeling and everyone should respect that. It’s a beautiful film that explores family relationships, trans lives and overall acceptance. The performances from Steve Zahn and Sasha Knight were fantastic and their dynamic will warm your heart. It is always lovely to see a father/son relationship on screen that is so wholesome and loving. The film was a pleasant surprise and is definitely a must-watch.

2020 Year in Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

2020, what a year!

It was a rough year but we had some great films that came out to help get us through the madness! So without further ado, here are my Top 10 films of 2020 with some honourable mentions of course.

1. Promising Young Woman
dir. Emerald Fennell

(center) Carey Mulligan as Cassandra Thomas
Courtesy of Focus Features

“This film is unlike anything I’ve seen and it is because of how the story is structured. It does slow down towards the middle of the film, only to pick back up and deliver one of the most controversial endings of the year. Some will agree with the ending and others will most definitely be infuriated. However, the ending of the film is the perfect reflection of how women are treated and what men deserve.”

Promising Young Woman Review Excerpt

2. Emma
dir. Autumn de Wilde

(left) Mia Goth and Anya Taylor Joy
Courtesy of Working Title Films and Focus Features

“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 had the perfect balance of tension between possible suitors and a whirlwind of situations that caused Emma to spin out of control.”

Emma Review Excerpt

3. Da 5 Bloods
dir. Spike Lee

(left) Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors
Courtesy of 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks

“The wonderful thing about Spike Lee, is that he makes you fall in love with his characters in the first act of the film. In the second act, he shows you their pain, flaws and grievances. Then in the third act, he exposes his characters, like an open wound, to the world that has so deeply wronged them, time and time again. It is a film, like every other Spike Lee film, that unloads accurate information about Black history. Lee has never shied away from telling it like it is and has always managed to show every perspective on racial ideologies.”

Da 5 Bloods Review Excerpt

4. The Invisible Man
dir. Leigh Whannell

(center) Elisabeth Moss
Courtesy of Blumhouse Productions and Universal Pictures

“Not only did Whannell write a fantastic story, he also created a chilling, isolated atmosphere that affected his protagonist, as well as the audience. You feel everything with Cecelia because of the framing and camera movements, it feels as if you’re stuck with her on this journey. The sound design is also something that flowed nicely throughout the film and was utilized at the right moments, for dramatic effect.”

The Invisible Man Review Excerpt

5. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
dir. Cathy Yan

(left) Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Margot Robbie, Ella Jay Basco and Jurnee Smollett -Bell
Courtesy of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros.

“I loved everything about this, especially the fact that it focused on the many ways women can be mistreated by men. It definitely has a different girl power energy and maybe it’s because I’m older but this badass, anarchist, violent, R rated energy just gives off a higher level of empowerment. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something like that. Seeing all those women on screen, harnessing their powers and setting aside their differences in order to take a villain out.”

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn Review Excerpt

6. Soul
dir. Pete Docter

(left) Tina Fey and Jamie Foxx
Courtesy of Disney Pixar

Soul is emotional and incredibly moving because it has conversations about the choices people make in their lives. What makes us fully formed people? Why do we have the need to find a purpose in life and if we don’t we consider ourselves failures? These are internal struggles that we have all faced, time and time again.”

Soul Review Excerpt

7. Palm Springs
dir. Max Barbakow

(left) Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg
Courtesy of Lonely Island Classics and Neon Hulu

“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.”

Palm Springs Review Excerpt

8. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
dir. George C. Wolfe

(left) Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Viola Davis, Michael Potts, Glynn Turman
Courtesy of Escape Artists and Mundy Lane

“The direction had this dual sense of atmosphere. Even though it takes place in a recording studio, it did not feel stuffy and static, like other plays that have been adapted for the screen. Wolfe created two separate rooms that had separate energy from each other. What was most impressive was how Wolfe captured his actors.It felt like we were on stage with these actors, the close ups and tight knit camerawork that was used was extremely effective.”

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Excerpt

9. One Night in Miami
dir. Regina King

(left) Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree
Courtesy of Snoot Entertainment and ABKCO

“Regina King’s direction was subtle and effective. She took the stage play and made it her own. It felt effortless as everything flowed from scene to scene, even light conversations to deeper ones. Even though the film takes place in one room for majority of the runtime, it’s the dialogue that holds you and the way King focused on her actors. She brought out such fantastic performances and the way she moved them through each scene was strong.”

One Night in Miami Review Excerpt

10. The Trial of the Chicago 7
dir. Aaron Sorkin

(left) Sacha Baron Cohen, Danny Flaherty, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance
Courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures and Amblin Partners

“The film is not a representation of this current era that we are living in. Instead it represents the long fight against systemic racism and how this level of injustice has not been handled properly. A Sorkin script is never easy to get through, many actors have said that it is harder than it seems. It is fast paced and the soundtrack also brought everything together, it wasn’t overused and it came in at the right moments.”

The Trial of the Chicago 7 Review Excerpt:

Honourable Mentions

Best Animated Feature

Wolfwalkers
dir. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart

Courtesy of Cartoon Saloon

AND…

Over the Moon
dir. Glen Keane

Courtesy of Pearl Studios, Sony Picture Imageworks and Netflix Animation

HIDDEN GEMS

Definition Please
dir. Sujata Day

Courtesy of Atajus Productions

Swallow
dir. Carlo Mirabella – Davis

Courtesy of of IFC Films

Miss Juneteenth
dir. Channing Godfrey Peoples

Courtesy of Sailor Bear and Ley Line Entertainment

Well there you have it! For a year with limited new theatrical releases, there have been some great films. There’s more to come in 2021. So start making your lists now!