‘In the Heights’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

‘Little details, that tell the world, we are not invisible.’

When we think of our own heritage, we are always proud of where we come from. Everyone wears their heritage on them like a beautiful flag. As generations pass stories to the next, they can stand tall and embrace where they come from because that is what makes them unique. All the hardships that previous generations have faced, are still evident today, they are just masked differently and it is shown in this film. Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights is exuberant, emotional and filled with love for the Latinx community. There are many movie-musicals, that try to avoid feeling like a musical, but Chu embraced that magic and gave us the movie of the summer.

In the Heights is framed as a story, within a story, and Jon M. Chu structured it well on-screen. When we first meet Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) he is retelling his story about living in Washington Heights, to a younger generation. He urges them to say ‘Washington Heights’ so it doesn’t disappear and that it is never forgotten. Passing stories, traditions, songs, and anecdotes to the next generation is important. That is what this musical does so beautifully. It takes all of these stories, these people from different countries, all coming together under the same bandiera, that is Washington Heights.

When we are younger, our first thought is to get out of the current living situation we’re in. We want to be bigger and better, in order to not only achieve our own dreams, but to somehow prove that what our parents sacrificed for us didn’t go to waste. No pressure, right? As we try to move forward with our own dreams, we lose sight of what is in front of us, and Chu, along with Lin Manuel Miranda (writer of the original broadway musical), shows us that we need to embrace what we have around us. If you build your happiness, your dream, in what you already know, there’s no need to move away from it.

In the Heights is beautiful to look at. The visuals were stunning, and the musical numbers, especially ‘96,000’, were executed so well. There are moments in this film that will stay with you, long after you’ve watched it. Prompting you to relive the same magic with the soundtrack, but even then, you’re itching for another viewing. After watching this, you’ll want Anthony Ramos to be in everything. As well as breakout Melissa Barrera, who plays Vanessa, steals some scenes with her beautiful voice and vulnerability. It’s the movie of the summer because of how much personality it brings to the genre. Seriously, do yourself a favor and go listen to this soundtrack!

‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead is an interesting story about survival. There are those who have experienced some sort of trauma and have tried to move past it or those who are the ones trying to better themselves in a negative environment. We see two very different versions of what surviving is and it doesn’t necessarily needs to come from surviving a forest fire. We meet Hannah Faber (Angelina Jolie) who is struggling to work after losing three lives in a forest fire. Hannah is a smoke jumper who’s perched in a watchtower high above the Montana wilderness. She soon encounters Connor (Finn Little), a young boy who’s bloodied, traumatized and on the run in the remote forest.

It may sound like a generic storyline but it also feels like something we haven’t seen before because of the exploration of a smoke jumper. Yes, we have seen forest fires and firefighters on-screen before but this felt like a more contained storyline. Not only do we understand the trauma that Hannah experienced on an assignment before but we get to see the aftermath and how it has affected her mentally in her career. The best part of this film was seeing Angelina Jolie on the big screen again. I didn’t realize how much I missed her presence on-screen. Jolie was great in this and the rest of the cast, consisted of Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen and Jon Bernthal who all really shined.

Like many films that are adapted from novels, the pacing is the major issue that holds the film back. The beginning was set up quite nicely but it lost its footing towards the middle. The story was interesting but I wish there was more depth to Hannah’s character because of what she went through. It was all building towards the third act payoff, which worked extremely well. The cinematography and the execution of the action made the ending worthwhile. Sheridan focused in on nature while Hannah and Connor navigated through the forest. The lightning strikes and the detailed pathway they needed to take all made for an intense finale.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is an interesting watch because of its cast of characters, the execution of this simple storyline and the grand third act. Jolie and Bernthal are standouts in this film. I just wish we got to see more of their dynamic considering their characters past. There are really strong, emotional moments between Jolie and Little and they really carry this film to the final act. Each character individually brought so much to the table but then when they came together the film was elevated. The film is out on HBO Max and in theatres right now, if you miss Jolie on-screen then this film will definitely fill that void.

The Little Things Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

“It’s the little things that matter. It’s the little things that get you caught.”

– Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington)

The story takes us back to 1990s Los Angeles, where the music was great and women broke out of their shell. We see a young woman, Tina Salvatore (Sofia Vassilieva) driving down the open road with her windows down and singing whatever song was on the radio. She notices headlights behind her, tailing her, and she gets very anxious. The opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, as we find out that there is a serial killer on the loose in LA County. Is this a generic crime thriller, that tries to mimic previous neo-noir psychological thrillers? Yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t add to the genre.

First and foremost, you have a fantastic cast that elevates the script. Even at the weakest points of the film, if it weren’t for Denzel Washington, we would have gotten an entirely different movie. Washington’s performance brought so much depth to Deputy Sheriff Deacon. He nailed the level of complexity that came with being a former detective on a similar case. We also have Jared Leto giving one of his darkest and most psychological performances to date, as Albert Sharma. The one person that seemed to be underwhelming was Rami Malek, who played a young detective named Jimmy Baxter. It is almost as if the role didn’t suit him? I wanted to believe that he was a good detective but he just couldn’t pull it off for some reason.

Courtesy of Warner Media

The story itself is interesting – as far as serial killer mysteries go – and some pieces of dialogue were perfectly placed in order to connect certain moments. The first half of the film did drag on and Jared Leto could have made an earlier appearance, just to get the ball rolling. It’s understandable that writer-director John Lee Hancock wanted to establish a love-hate relationship with Jimmy and Deke but it took too long. I did enjoy how they tied everything together and how the past came back to haunt the characters. What it does show is the psychological trauma that can be associated with certain cases for detectives. Once Deke and Jimmy became invested in the lives of these women, they wanted to seek justice for their deaths and it consumed their every thought.

The Little Things has really strong moments but the pacing is the main issue of the film. If it weren’t for the stellar performances from Leto and Washington, it would have been harder to sit through. The way the mystery unfolds is interesting and the connection to past serial killers really added to the development of the characters. The film addresses psychological trauma within the police force and the psyche of a suspected killer. If you love mysteries and want to kill a couple of hours, while watching Washington and Leto give brilliant performances, then this is a good one to watch!

Make sure to catch The Little Things in theatres and on HBO Max Friday, January 29th.

Locked Down Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We have all come to terms with the fact that some screenwriters out there will write a story based on the nightmare that is Covid-19. Everyone copes with the pandemic in different ways, some rather not see the reality of it on screen and others want to laugh about the stupidity that has gone on during the pandemic. The new HBO Max Original Locked Down gives audiences the realistic slice of hell that we’ve all been living in while trapped in our homes. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this my province has declared a second state of emergency.

People may be turned off by the pandemic nature of the story but it’s such a minor aspect of the film itself. It really is about two people, who have grown apart and are forced to face their issues during the two weeks in isolation. Linda (Anne Hathaway) and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) have had a very strained relationship. Linda is now working as a CEO for Harrod’s and Paxton is a service worker who delivers packages. Linda promises that after the two weeks she will leave Paxton and they have fair arguments during their remaining days as a couple.

(left) Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Courtesy of WarnerMedia

The film sheds light on how mentally straining isolation can be and the different ways people were coping with the stress. 2020 was a mentally draining year and to show what people were going through within the first two weeks was very realistic and somewhat comforting. It’s more of a “yes, I totally understand how they’re feeling” versus “how dare they show us this in a movie when we’re living it”. It was actually nice to watch a film about the psychological effects of this pandemic with actors who have a very comforting screen presence. It also had some humorous moments that anyone can relate to during the pandemic.

It was a story about relationships and how everyone was forced to look at who they were individually before looking at their partner. It’s well-written because it touches upon different dynamics and different experiences across the globe. Locked Down is an enjoyable film that has great performances from Ejiofor and Hathaway, their chemistry was great. Their journey as a couple, in a strained relationship, trying to salvage their former adventurous lifestyle, with a heist was really fun to watch. The ending of the film was actually perfect and pretty funny!

If you want to check out this pandemic based film, you can catch it on HBO Max January 14th!

Superintelligence Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Superintelligence is a Ben Falcone film in every aspect. It stars his wonderful wife, Melissa McCarthy and has a very unique concept that doesn’t quite stick. Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy), a former corporate executive, has her life turned upside down when she is selected for observation by the world’s first super-intelligence – an A.I. that could possibly take over the world.

The premise does sound like something that could work but for an action comedy, the humour was severely lacking. Perhaps the slapstick comedy does not work for me anymore but I have to address the fact that it has been used with heavier set actors for as long as I can remember. It just doesn’t work for me at all but to each their own because comedy is personal. It just wasn’t funny, you could see the attempts to set up the jokes but they just didn’t land and it was a hard film to sit through because of it.

What was even worse was that they cast James Corden as the voice of the A.I. The film honestly had this obscurity to it that I can’t even explain, it just felt off from the second it started and then it just went on without any substance. It’s upsetting to watch a comedy and not laugh at all and I love Melissa McCarthy. There are moments where it does get better but then it falls apart again. What was the most frustrating was that Bobby Cannavale and Brian Tyree Henry (who have great comedic timing) were wasted in this film.

Superintelligence has a strong premise and a message about technological advancements eventually becoming a dangerous problem in our lives but the execution was lacking. For an action comedy to lack proper form in a joke set up is very telling about the experience you will have while watching this. Again, comedy is personal but this was the first miss for HBO Max.