The Witches (2020) Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

The Witches directed by Robert Zemeckis is a fun, family friendly, adventure film that modernizes Roald Dahl’s book. Everyone can look back on their childhood and remember something that absolutely terrified them. Some may have been scared of clowns, vampires or even werewolves (specifically to me, Michael Jackson in the Thriller music video) but the young boy in this film has an encounter with witches.

A Robert Zemeckis film is always incredibly entertaining and inventive. The story is adapted very well and the structure of the narrative made sense for a modern audience. The film begins with a slideshow and voice over by an older character (Chris Rock), retelling his encounter with witches when he was younger. It was really effective to format the film in this way because it was much easier to follow.

The film feels really extravagant because of its elaborate production and costume designs. There are so many vibrant colours used and the palette feels as whimsical as the witches themselves. Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, was perfect casting and her accent was probably the funniest aspect because of the play on words for her dialogue. Octavia Spencer was a ball of light as the young boy’s Grandmother and her energy was infectious.

The Witches is a modernized version of the old tale and it feels nostalgic at the same time. This is a film that will bring the whole family together for the month of Halloween. It is filled with incredibly cute moments and some special effects that will leave you a bit spooked. Zemeckis captures the same magic that makes all Roald Dahl adaptations special.

Make sure to catch The Witches on HBO Max on October 22nd!

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.

 

The King of Staten Island Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The King of Staten Island is Judd Apatow’s most personal film to date. He collaborated with Pete Davidson and Dave Sirus to bring Pete’s deeply emotional life to the screen. It was candid, realistic and raw to Pete’s journey. It was in typical Apatow fashion, to have such a natural flow to this story. They addressed mental illness and childhood trauma with humorous moments. In his mid -20s Scott (Pete Davidson) is at a standstill in his life, he dropped out of high school and his younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is heading out to college. As the events in his life unfold, Scott must come to terms with his father’s death and processes his grief in many ways.

For seventeen years Scott has lived without his father and the only memories he has of him, are the ones his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei) shares with him over and over again. In Davidson’s life, his father was a firefighter for the FDNY. He was seen as a hero by many because of his bravery in saving someone’s life, as a building collapsed on top of him. Most of Davidson’s dark humour stems from his childhood trauma and his stand up is vulgar and borderline offensive. At the end of the day, that is what makes Pete, Pete. His humour may offend people but it is okay for him to make fun of his own trauma because it comes from such a personal place.

If you have been a fan of Judd Apatow’s since the beginning of his career, you know the way he makes his films. They are personal, witty and very well written. He always attempts to make real situations seem funny, even if it stems from a dark place. The reason why his films have so much heart and resonate with so many, is because he isn’t afraid to show his audience the reality of situations. He wants to say that these characters are real, concrete people, with a twisted sense of humour that exist in the real world.

To those who have followed Pete Davidson from his early stages on Saturday Night Live and appreciated his humour (even though sometimes he crossed the line), you will appreciate this film. I think everyone will learn something about Davidson through watching this film. You may dislike him a bit more, or even start to like him, it is all up to interpretation. This film highlights mental illness  and it’s through the eyes of Pete Davidson, who has truly suffered from it. To see the psychology of Scott, through the eyes of Davidson, is something raw and eye opening. It is a story that only Pete Davidson could tell and it is really special.

The film does drag on a little bit but the third act is really important to Scott’s arc. As his sister goes off to college, his mother begins dating again and Ray Bishop (Bill Burr) also works at the fire department. In the midst of all this, Scott is causing his own damage with his friends and when he finds out about his mother dating a fireman, he goes into a downward spiral and attempts to break them up. We find that Scott does not really know how to express his emotions and sometimes he lets it out through impulsive, violent behaviour, or everyone’s favourite mechanism, sarcasm.

After a huge blowout between Ray, Margie and Scott, they all go their separate ways. That’s why the third act is really special. It brings them all together in a very unexpected way. Scott begins to understand the life of a fireman and he experiences it firsthand. It was very cathartic for Davidson and the REAL stories shared of his father, were important, not only for Scott’s character arc in the film, but for Davidson to maybe get some closure. It was an emotional ending and Davidson gave a wonderful performance.

The King of Staten Island is not for everyone. The only way to appreciate this film, is if you are fans of both, Apatow and Davidson. To newcomers, they may not understand the sentimental value this holds for Davidson and why this was so important for him to make. It was also pretty funny, a lot of Davidson’s humour is things he would say under his breath and being able to catch what he says, in this film was great. It’s a long watch but it is definitely worth it to see the heart of Pete Davidson.

 

The High Note Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The High Note is a perfectly composed film that effortlessly shows the production journey in the music industry. It had an authentic feel and a nostalgic atmosphere because of Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her very long, successful music career. The film is about women in different places in the industry, one a superstar and the other an assistant/wannabe producer Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson). Their relationship appears strong but it is definitely tested throughout the film. It is written by Flora Greeson and directed by Nisha Ganatra (Late Night) who delivered one of the best films of the year.

It is one of the most interesting films that shows the musical journey in Hollywood. Grace Davis is a middle aged woman in the industry, who has locked a Vegas residency. Everyone loves the icon and her assistant Maggie wants to push for a new album, instead of extending the contract for another year. Maggie goes above and beyond her paygrade and ends up getting into arguments with Davis’ manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) who keeps putting her in her place. Flora Greeson accurately tells the story of reinventing a brand and an artists story, through multiple perspectives from the people around her.

This cast is truly something special, they all had wonderful chemistry together, which made for a great ensemble piece for everyone involved. Tracee Ellis Ross was stunning. I don’t know any other way to put it but she just gave off this elegance and prowess in her performance as Grace Davis. Dakota Johnson was lovely in this role and really carried the story with her characters dream to be a producer one day. Ice Cube was cast perfectly as Davis’ manager and definitely had the quippy attitude down pat. While watching this film, the one that truly surprised me was Kelvin Harrison Jr. who played David Cliff in the film. The man is very talented but hearing him sing, just elevated my adoration for him and he should be the name on everyone’s lips after this film.

Everything about this film flowed beautifully from scene to scene. The sound design and soundtrack that accompanied each scene worked so well together, as if everything was placed to shed light on the power of music. It was so heartwarming and you could feel the passion for music from everyone who worked on this film. There was so much care and love into creating this story and you could feel it from the entire team. The direction was great and there were many humorous moments that released some of the tension.

It was important to shed light on the treatment of women in the music industry, especially Black middle aged women in the music industry. Tracee Ellis Ross presented such raw emotion when discussing the sexism, ageism and racial issues that plague the industry. It was also important to highlight the difficulty a female producer would face and the connection shared between Davis and Maggie was important to this story. They shared such a beautiful friendship and I think it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of this film.

The High Note is refreshing and one of the best films of the year. This was a film that needed to be made because it highlights the lives of women in the music industry, in a way that no other film has. This film is also filled with plenty of surprises, especially the twist at the end, which made for a pretty emotional final performance. It is a film that captures women in such a unique light and shows that they are strong enough to create a pathway, for everyone to follow suit. It is all about taking risks and putting in the hardwork, in order to achieve your goals in life.