Little Fires Everywhere Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Little Fires Everywhere is a Hulu Original series, that is adapted from Celeste Ng’s novel. The series explores the residence living in Shaker Heights, specifically the picture-perfect Richardson family but when a mother and daughter, move into their rental home nearby, things take a dramatic turn. It has a very strong narrative structure, it is well written and shows the complexities of each character extremely well. The show tackles racial discrimination, microaggressions, the meaning of motherhood and a woman’s right to choose.

We first meet Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon) who is standing on the sidewalk, staring at her mansion, burning to the ground. We can understand that something has gone horribly wrong and someone else has set her home ablaze. The opening title sequence is stunning as well, showing plenty of important objects and pieces that symbolize how materialistic the residence in Shaker Heights can be. The opening sequence, to any show, is the tipping point because it gives so much away and no one even realizes it, that’s why it is one of my favourite aspects in a series.

Elena had a perfect home, a perfect family, a picture-perfect life but she was unhappy with herself. She has always been confused about what she wanted. Did she want to have a career or did she want to have four children? Naturally people would say, that she could have both and live that picture-perfect life but it is unrealistic. No one’s life is perfect because people are not perfect. Elena wanted to have a family and have a career, but the more children she had, the more she resented the fact, that her journalism career was dwindling. This was such a perfect role for Reese Witherspoon because she plays the privileged, broken woman so well.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine 

The idea of perfection is what causes the most harm in anyone’s life. The pressure to be perfect and to always make the right choices is exhausting. Everyone doubts themselves and if they made the right choices in their lives. At the end of the day, we never really know until ten years later, when you realize how much time has passed and you reflect on your life. This is the case with Mia (Kerry Washington) and Pearl Warren (Lexi Underwood) who have been relocating, their entire lives because Mia is an artist, with a very dark past.

Mia first meets Elena when she takes a look at her rental home, which is down the street from the Richardson house. When Elena speaks to Mia, she is very passive and delivers lines with a discriminatory undertone. Elena reeks of white privilege and Mia is very transparent, when having discussions with her. The racial issues, are not only discussed throughout the series, but they are planted in the very passive dialogue, from white characters and it shows the microaggressions quite effectively. It is all about the way things were said to Mia and to Pearl, it is almost hard to stomach at times because of how oblivious Elena is to her own vocabulary.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (left Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon) 

Elena makes the attempt to welcome Mia and Pearl into her home, they became friends and had discussions about motherhood. The flashbacks to their former selves, played by Tiffany Boone and AnnaSophia Robb, were placed properly as well, so the audience can come to their own conclusion of how “motherly” these characters were. What does it take to be a mother? Are all women fit to be mothers? How does one even define motherhood? Is it really a choice to even be a mother or is it more of an obligation to the gender role? These constructs have women in a box, in a cage, if you will and once they get locked into a role or a life, they did not plan on having, it leads to difficult decisions.

What was most interesting about this show, was the character dynamics, between Mia and Izzy Richardson (Megan Stott) versus Pearl and Elena. Pearl wanted to live a normal life, she wanted to attend school and go to homecoming dances, maybe even experience her first love and stay for a while. Izzy hated her small town life, she did not want to feel boxed in and her art was her freedom. Both Izzy and Pearl, essentially, wanted to switch lives and switch mothers. Izzy and Pearl, saw who they wanted to be when they were older. Izzy saw herself, as a free, artistic spirit like Mia and Pearl saw herself, in a huge home, with a picture-perfect husband and a family like Elena.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (top) Kerry Washington and Lexi Underwood (bottom) Reese Witherspoon and Megan Stott

The final three episodes of the series, is when all the demons and secrets, creep out and wreak havoc on everyone close to the Richardson family. Their perfect family is torn apart by lies and poor decisions made by Trip Richardson (Jordan Elsass), Lexie Richardson (Jade Pettyjohn) and Elena. The central story, eventually shifts, to a legal battle between Elena’s friend, Linda McCullough (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Mia’s coworker, Bebe Chow (Lu Huang), who fight for custody of young Mirabella/May Ling. It leaves everyone questioning, who is the right fit, to mother this child. Is it the birth mother or the adopted mother? As that heartbreaking storyline unfolds, we find out who Elena and Mia really are through flashbacks.

Little Fires Everywhere is one of the best series I have seen this year and it will keep you in it, until the very end. This cast is extremely strong, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon are incredible in this! The show is very important because it is very subtle in its delivery, that you won’t even realize how many issues are boiling under the surface. It slowly creates this atmosphere of doom like a slow, burning fire, that will ignite at any second. The final episode shows the privilege literally burning to the ground and I think it is a wonderful metaphor.

 

Dads Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Dads had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and it is Bryce Dallas Howard’s directorial debut. The documentary covers a wide range of diverse families, across the globe, that show the true meaning, of what it takes to be a father. Howard opens the film with home footage of her being born and then has her father, Ron Howard, shared his views of fatherhood. It integrated celebrity fathers and true stories, from every perspective imaginable, some stories were fun and light, others were heartbreaking to sit through. At the end of the day, parenting does not come with a manual and Dads shows that in a very candid way.

It was such a lovely film because it has fathers at the forefront. We all know women can do it all and a mothers love is extremely important. When a father is present and involved in the child’s life, it is wonderful to see that dynamic of a father with his children. I am extremely close to my dad and I often find that films or tv shows, rarely have a positive father/daughter dynamic. There is always some conflict or the father is not in the picture at all. So films that have a positive and loving relationship representing that fatherly bond is a step in the right direction.

It is important to show, how fatherhood has changed and how men, in general, change their perspective of what it means to be a man. Celebrity dads such as, Ron Howard, Patton Oswalt, Will Smith, Neil Patrick Harris, Hasan Minaj, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Ken Jeong, Kenan Thompson and Judd Apatow all had very insightful moments throughout the documentary. Howard had this steady flow when having the open discussions about fatherhood with each of them. It was candid because all of the anecdotes shared were realistic and grounded. You could feel Howard’s connection, to the men in her life and it was lovely.

Howard brought together different family units, that included diverse cultural representation, sexual orientation and economical backgrounds, in order to have viewers appreciate and understand what it means to be a father. The stories were truly special and to watch these fathers pull through, under their own health issues or financial issues was really moving. It had a very nice structure and it allowed the stories of Rance Howard, Reed Howard, Glen Henry, Robert Selby, Thiago Queiroz, Shuichi Sakuma, Rob Scheer and Reece Scheer to be the emotional centers of the documentary. The celebrity stories were used as the comedic relief, while these true stories shed light on so many different issues.

Dads is a documentary that shows the journey of the modern dad. There are plenty of heartfelt moments in this film and there is a perfect balance of humour, that counters the serious subject matter. Whether your child was adopted, or has gone through multiple surgeries, or has kept you up at night, causing you to be delusional, they have shaped you into the man you are today. Fathers are important and this documentary shows all the good dads, who have been there for their children. It is a really special film and a wonderful debut for Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

Revival Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Revival directed by Danny Green, is a mixture of every performance medium: a Broadway musical, Hollywood musical, animation, green screen technology, and sound stage. It is one of the most interesting and inventive films that has been released recently. Not only does it cover the spectrum of all art forms but it presents Catholicism in a different way. The story of Jesus is told in a humanistic way, with a wonderful book of songs to accompany it.

The way that it began as a stage play, with an introduction from Harry Lennix, who plays Pilate in the show and then slowly began to cycle through different performance spaces was really unique. There were moments of the film being on location in the mountains, or they made the choice to use a green screen for certain scenes. The special effects were quite good as well. It did seem overindulgent but it is probably because, there has never been a film that has tackled this many forms at once.

This cast was also really strong as well. There were many surprises but seeing Michelle Williams and Chaka Khan in the same film was awesome. The music was what held this film together and enhanced the story as it went on. The entire company did a great job with this passion play, both on the stage and on location. The costume design was strong as well because the vibrant colours made it visually stunning. The conversations about Jesus being a man first and a prophet second, were really thought provoking and challenged the ideology.

Revival is an innovative feature and I commend the film for being so bold. It crossed so many artistic mediums to present a story that we know, in a different way. The music will carry you through this journey and it will keep you locked in to the very end. It is a very refreshing film and they presented the story of Jesus in a more realistic way.

 

Artemis Fowl Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Artemis Fowl is the title of a book series written by Eoin Colfer. This film adaptation has been completely altered to make it kid friendly. The book series was initially intended for children. There is nothing good to say about this film because it was difficult to understand the second it started. The special effects were terrible, script was very messy and the editing, was not fluid enough to make a cohesive narrative. The worst part, is that this film had so much potential to be great, it is not right to change the source material to the point of the story being unrecognizable.

The film is an Irish tale, filled with lore and mythical creatures that were never fully explained. Majority of the time it was hard to understand what was happening in the film, or even care, where the story was going because of how overstuffed it was. Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) used to believe in all this lore that his father, Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell) instilled in him at a very young age. Once his father is captured by an unknown villain (because they’re probably planning for a sequel), Artemis must decode his father’s journal of these fantasy creatures. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, the script would say otherwise.

The entire film seemed rushed, the pacing was all terrible and scenes were cut short for some strange reason. Everything that was shared between characters, ended abruptly and nothing was added to the story. The fight scenes were poorly executed and it seemed that there was no clear direction for this film whatsoever. It is also extremely frustrating seeing actors like Colin Farrell and Judi Dench waste their talents on a film like this. Yes, it’s a children’s movie, but what happens when children, do not even want to sit through a film like this?

This is why changing source material, to make it more kid friendly, for their brand is very problematic. The story was perfectly fine the way it was. It blurred the lines between good and evil. This has been a theme used for a very long time and it is evident in other Disney films. This film had so much potential and it was wasted because they did not want to dive deeper into the mind of a 12 year old criminal mastermind. If the books were so well received, then why change it now? It is very hard to understand the logic behind the change.

Artemis Fowl is a film that has mediocre production value and a convoluted story. It is a messy, special effects ridden Disney channel movie that should have stuck to the source material. I am very disappointed in the way they handled this film and the cast deserved better than what they had to work with. The worst aspect is walking away from a completed project and knowing it could have been better.

 

Da 5 Bloods Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Da 5 Bloods is one of Spike Lee’s most mature film to date. He has taken every little detail, theme and ideology, that he has used throughout his filmography and expertly incorporated them into one film. Lee is known to use archival footage, still photos and historical moments in his films to express the urgency in the story he chooses to deliver. Da 5 Bloods takes place in present day America and has 4 African American veterans, returning to Vietnam. They are on a mission to find the remains of their fallen Squad Leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide, all those years ago.

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. Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) were veterans who understood, the battle they were fighting in Vietnam, was not theirs to fight because of the systemic racism that was oppressing their rights in America. Whose rights were they fighting for exactly?

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. Paul, was a Trump supporter, MAGA hat and all. They discussed his decision in voting for the President, or as Spike Lee likes to call him, “Agent Orange” and his political stance quite openly. He has always addressed things head on and it is truly something to be admired in his films. He wants his audience to learn and to grow with him.

Apart from this script being perfectly written, Spike Lee really enjoys using his camera, he uses the lens to tell the story in such a unique way. My favourite thing about this film is the transitions to flashbacks. Normally, switching aspect ratios throughout the film can be taxing but Spike Lee made sure to make it as smooth as possible. The frame would change each time Stormin Norman (Chadwick Boseman) was on the screen and it worked so well! The colour grading and vintage, war time feel to the sequenced flashbacks were really effective as well.

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Courtesy of Netflix Film:  (left) Delroy Lindo and Clarke Peters

Many may question the events that unfold in the third act but it holds so much symbolism. These men fought in the Vietnam war, three tours and they made it out alive. They return to the forests of Vietnam, that are still filled with landmines and they have to navigate through them, in order to find the hidden treasure. These veterans suffer from severe PTSD, especially Paul. Delroy Lindo gave an exceptional performance and it is the best of the year. He was incredible. To go back to the place, that gave them nightmares and experience it all over again, was brutal and extremely emotional.

Another thing that may seem foreign to so many people, is that Spike Lee made the artistic choice in keeping his main actors for the flashback scenes. Normally, they would cast younger versions of their counterparts but in this case it worked very well. Spike Lee really wanted his audience to understand that these veterans, were going back to a time that broke them down. So to literally, see them fighting, at their current age, alongside their deceased friend, Stormin Norman felt more personal.

Da 5 Bloods holds so much emotional weight for Black veterans. They all show their pain and suffering in such powerful ways. Each character is very opened with their struggles and I think that is such an important thing for men to share with each other. Spike Lee breaks down toxic masculinity through brotherhood, loyalty and a shared wartime trauma. It is one of the most profound and deeply moving films of the year. This film will be broken down and analyzed for years to come.