Hillbilly Elegy Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Hillbilly Elegy is a film about generational differences, family dysfunction and psychological trauma that all stems from childhood. The film is adapted from the memoir Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. There is a different way of life in Middletown, Ohio and the memoir explored how he was personally affected by his family. Ron Howard pulls career best performances from Amy Adams and Glenn Close but it just falls short as a whole.

The screenplay, which was adapted by Vanessa Taylor, seemed promising at the beginning of the film. There was a voiceover from a young J.D. Vance (Gabriel Basso) explaining how life was for him, living with his family and what category they fit into in the grand scale of America. The film does dive into childhood psychological trauma and how each generation has somehow damaged the next.

It does not matter how it’s delivered, it can be any form of abuse, no matter how miniscule, children are most definitely affected. It felt like an endless cycle of trauma and misguided hatred within the family unit and that is what made certain scenes rather upsetting. The decisions made by generations before, somehow affects the lineage and all it takes is one family member to break the cycle and in this case, it was J.D. Vance.

Courtesy of Netflix Film
(left) Glenn Close and Amy Adams

My dear Amy Adams – an actress who has always gone above and beyond the script- has never had a bad performance, she was transformed as Bev and had incredibly strong, emotional moments. Watching her go toe-to-toe with a heavyweight like Glenn Close, was something I didn’t know I needed. Both have been underappreciated by the Academy for many, many years and if this film is what it takes, then so be it. The film simply does not work without the two of them.

Hillbilly Elegy had some strong moments but the editing made everything feel disjointed and episodic, rather than a fluid structure as a whole. The flashbacks were filled with traumatic emotional moments, that seemed to cut through J.D.’s peace in trying to get a summer internship. It is a film that does its job in blatantly showing real social issues, while allowing its stars to put on an acting clinic to carry the film to the end.

For Glenn Close and Amy Adams, make sure you check out Hillbilly Elegy on Netflix November 24th.

Sweet Taste of Souls Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Sweet Taste of Souls has a really unique concept that flips the moving picture frame trope on its head. When four struggling band members stop at a small roadside cafe for a slice of cherry pie, they find themselves imprisoned in the owner’s framed art collection. The film was intriguing from the very beginning and had refreshing moments for the supernatural subgenre in Horror.

Ms. Ellinore (Honey Loren) was heartbroken and defeated when her husband left her. She harnessed these supernatural powers to create a picture perfect life within her art collection, a life that she could never have. The film dives into the psychology of trauma and abuse, while adding a supernatural element to it. It is one of the most refreshing concepts because of how this complex, emotional story ties in with a trope we’ve never fully explored on screen.

Courtesy of Dark Coast Entertainment

The most impressive aspect of the film was the special effects and how they were used in certain scenes. There was a whole process in taking the souls of the characters and transferring into the frame, which was really interesting. It also felt really claustrophobic at times (which was a horrible feeling for me) which worked extremely well for the suspense of being locked inside of a frame.

Sweet Taste of Souls had great special effects, a really complex psychological story and sound design that elevated the story. It had great use of colour, especially the colour red, to pop against a faded background and make you remember that Ms. Ellinore was around the corner. It’s a very fun, original horror film, with a deep psychological exploration of trauma.

Over the Moon Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Over the Moon co-directed by Glen Keane and John Kahrs is one of the best animated films of the year. It has such stunning animation and an incredibly emotional story that will move you to tears. The screenplay co-written by Audrey Wells and Jennifer Yee McDevitt was so beautiful and explores grieving from a young girl’s perspective. When losing someone so dear to your heart, there is always some little detail, or memory that we hold onto to make us feel better and this film does that so well.

In this animated musical adventure, young Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) remembers the story her mother used to tell her, when she was a child about the moon goddess. It is a love story about an archer who passed on and his spirit remains with the moon goddess, so she waits for him to return to her, hoping that their love can be rekindled. The lore parallels the relationship between Fei Fei’s parents and she so desperately wants to believe that this story is real because it is what her mother told her.

The animation is incredibly well done and the world that was created was so imaginative. It has such a wonderful soundtrack and the songs will definitely stay with you after you’ve finished the film. It is so much fun from beginning to end (I may be biased because of the white bunny named Bungee with purple eyes and magic powers stealing my heart) and it will pull on your heartstrings.

Over the Moon was an unexpected surprise for Netflix and it is such a wonderful animated film added to their library. It also holds so much cultural significance that is so lovely to see on screen. It literally takes you out of reality for a little while and that’s what is so exciting about the film. Its animation, soundtrack and heartfelt story will make you remember this film and the universal support that it gives those who are grieving during this time.

On The Rocks Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks is her most personal piece in her filmography and that is why it felt so different from the rest of her films. Coppola focused the story on a young mother reconnecting with her playboy father, after assuming, that her own husband, is going down the same path. The film is heartwarming, funny and explores the institution of marriage.

If we look at this film as a standalone piece and not apart of Coppola’s filmography, we notice some similarities to other New Yorker based romantic dramas. Her writing and direction felt more grounded and realistic, which created a solid connection to these characters. She poses plenty of questions about marriage and how in some instances, we never fully know the person we have chosen to spend our entire lives with.

Love is not about who we fall in love with, but rather, what we fall in love with. When people ask “Why do you love them?” you’re explaining their attributes, their personality, and essentially what attracts you to them. It has never been who but how the person makes you feel. It doesn’t matter who the person it is, but what their love does to you, what their affection means to you.

Courtesy of American Zoetrope
(left) Bill Murray as Felix and Rashida Jones as Laura

Coppola explores the hardships of marriage and relationships in general, from two very different perspectives. One from Laura (Rashida Jones), who is married with two kids and the other, her father Felix (Bill Murray), who is a single man travelling the world. Laura blamed herself for her relationship being on the rocks, while Felix blamed his ex-wife for changing how she loved him. To be with someone for decades and decades is something that people don’t fully understand when they get married. People change within a year, so why is it upsetting when people continue to change and some can’t adapt?

Courtesy of American Zoetrope
(left) Rashida Jones as Laura and Bill Murray as Felix

It was a very interesting dynamic in choosing a father and daughter to have these open conversations with. Especially considering that Felix had left her mother and they still had such a strong relationship. It is always great to see a father/daughter dynamic on screen and their chemistry was just so easy to watch. Bill Murray was an absolute delight and in all honesty, it is probably his best performance to date. He was just so suave, really fun and wise, it felt like perfect casting.

On the Rocks is the lighthearted film that was needed during this season. It was charming and sweet, with a fantastic jazz score to accompany it. Coppola also takes you on a journey through New York City, but in a very different way, you see the city in a whole new light and it is wonderful. The film will definitely grow on you as you watch it and you will learn what Coppola is trying to tell her audience about relationships.

The Queen’s Gambit Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

The Queen’s Gambit is a sexy, well written, tension filled chess match and every episode is structured to perfection. The story is about a young orphan, named Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), learning the masterful game of chess, from the custodian at the orphanage, named Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), she gets adopted at the age of fifteen and goes on to play in tournaments.

The series follows Beth Harmon at different stages of her life. There are moments that Beth remembers vividly, that shape her psychological and emotional state as a young girl. As a little girl, at the age of 8, she is very reserved but cunning and when she found an interest in chess, her intellect came naturally when playing the game. Mr. Shaibel knew that she was special and that is why he continued to teach her the game of chess.

When Beth turned fifteen, she was finally adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley, who have a nice little home in Kentucky. As she enters into chess tournaments, her new mother finds intrigue in the prize money she could win, if she beats the rest of the men vying for the same title. Beth holds nothing back and uses her intuition to carry her far, eventually leading her to go head to head with one of the greatest Grandmasters to the play the game in Russia.

Courtesy of Netflix
(center) Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon

Scott Frank and Allan Scott created such a thrilling atmosphere in each episode. Not only was the game of chess really interesting and fun to watch but Anya Taylor Joy demanded your attention as she played the game. She has these big, beautiful eyes and she does so much with them. There’s so much depth in her performance and it was effortless. She was poised, ruthless and seductive, while she was playing the game. Taylor-Joy is truly a force to be reckoned with in this industry and The Queen’s Gambit is her best performance yet.

The script is so brilliantly written that Beth’s psychological and emotional trauma were explored in each episode, eventually leading to her downfall. Her traumatic childhood and her new life, coexisted inside of her but somehow the worst aspects of both haunted her in the end. Leaving an orphanage is almost like culture shock, Beth had to adjust to a completely new life and she navigated it by playing chess. She is such an inspiring character, even through her hardships, and definitely one of the most respectable chess players to ever play the game.

Courtesy of Netflix
(left) Marcin Dorocinski as Vasily Borgov and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon

The Queen’s Gambit is an incredible showcase for Anya Taylor-Joy’s talent as a bright, young actress and the roles she has taken, have definitely shaped her into the force she is today. The writing is what makes the limited series exciting but Taylor-Joy elevates it to another level of entertainment. It is almost impossible for anyone, to not binge these 7 episodes in one sitting because that is how exciting the creators made the game of chess.