Miss Juneteenth Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Miss Juneteenth is a film, about the generational effects of mothering and how choices can affect the future. This is Channing Godfrey Peoples directorial debut and she wrote the screenplay as well. The film is about a former beauty queen and single mother, Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) who prepares her rebellious daughter, Kai Marie Jones (Alexis Chikaeze) for the ‘Miss Juneteenth’ pageant. The film shows Black heritage and the different opportunities that are made available for the Black community.

It begins with Turquoise reminiscing about her pageant days and the future she could have had. She sees her bright, young daughter and wants her to follow in her footsteps, in order to succeed. Turquoise wants her daughter to accomplish more than she did, which causes her to push her to her limit and overwork her for a pageant, she does not want to take part of. It does seem that Turquoise sees this as a redemption arc, for herself, if her daughter wins the pageant and gets the scholarship for university.

Turquoise worked hard to become ‘Miss Juneteenth’ and there was pressure, that came with the title but it also shows how circumstances, like an alcoholic mother, or a pregnancy, can lead to difficult decisions, that could change your life. The film pushes Turquoise back into the world of pageantry and she begins to doubt herself, in how she’s raising Kai. Turquoise can be seen as a very strict mother and Kai wants to express her creativity through dancing instead of becoming a clone of her mother, for this pageant.

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Courtesy Ley Line Entertainment (left) Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze

 

Nicole Beharie gives a nuanced, emotional, complex performance, as Turquoise and it is one of the best performances of the year. As she guides her daughter Kai, through the pageant, she picked up double shifts, to pay for her pageant run and she realized, that it meant more to her, than it did to her daughter. Turquoise was working three jobs and trying to make everything work, for her family but it seemed like everyone was against her. It may not have been intentional but Turquoise had to hustle and do everything for herself, when others fell through.

Turquoise had struggled with so many things in her life, including a strained relationship with her alcoholic mother. She was responsible for her own mother, from a very young age and she had to learn how to support herself. Those are choices that need to be made, in order to survive and that is what she did. She is a woman that would go to any lengths, to protect the people that are around her and go above and beyond for them, when times get rough.

Miss Juneteenth is a strong debut from Channing Godfrey Peoples, as she discusses the systemic racism and corruption in the Black community, in regards to equal opportunities for schooling and businesses. It shows the journey of a woman, who needed to make tough choices in order to survive, as she remembers a version of herself, that is now a ghost of her past life. Women sacrifice so many things for others around them, including their children and this was a film, that definitely showed the determination they have.

Shirley Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Josephine Decker known for making a splash with Madeline’s Madeline in 2018, takes on the story of famous horror author Shirley Jackson. Shirley is a character study of the famous author, as she attempts to write another novel. She has been locked in her house for two months and has unwanted guests moving in, as her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) offers a young teacher, Fred Nemser (Logan Lerman) and his pregnant wife, Rose Nemser (Odessa Young) to stay with them, in order to give him a steady position at the school where he teaches.

The story is a typical stockholm syndrome atmosphere but the intrigue in the protagonist and these characters is what was severely lacking. At first Shirley is opposed in having this couple stay with her and then slowly, she preys on young Rose. She begins to create scenes in her head, that are somehow connected to a “missing girl” ad, that has been circling the town. The story of the young girl named Paula, is somehow in this fictional plain, that crosses into the reality of Rose living with Shirley. Shirley goes a bit mad while she writes this story, causing Rose to unravel at the same time.

Does it seem like a a story about a writer and her muse? Sure. However, the present time of Rose growing closer to Shirley does not make sense with how this film ended. Is Paula a real missing person? Is Rose still alive and well at the end of this film? Or was this entire experience of the married couple moving in with them a dream from the beginning? In simple terms, let’s just say that the film leaves plenty to the imagination and how the audience can interpret a writers process.

Elisabeth Moss delivers another stellar performance but the character just did not sit right for her. There was something off about this pairing and I don’t know if the character suited Moss. It just seemed like the film was forcing itself to be edgy and sinister in order to hold onto its audience. There were graphic visuals and unique camerawork to show the madness in the mind of the author and her process but it wasn’t enough to make it interesting.

Shirley had great moments between both women in the film and they had very open discussions about womanhood but those important conversations got lost in the attempted madness of the piece. It was a bit too messy for my liking because of the constant crossover between present time and fictional scenes. It was hard to understand what Decker wanted to present in this film. Maybe I’m someone who gets too involved into the psychosis of the characters and wanting something to come from it. It had its moments and had solid performances from all four of them but sadly it just didn’t sit well with me.

 

 

 

My Hindu Friend Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

My Hindu Friend is based off of Hector Babaenco’s final year of his life. He has directed many features and is a well known Brazilian filmmaker. The film is a deeply personal story about Diego (Willem Dafoe) who is diagnosed with cancer and is in need of a bone marrow transplant. In order to stay alive, the doctors find a young Hindu boy, to do a blood transfusion and that is the friendship that flourishes. Diego tells the young boy, possible ideas for films that he would like to make, as he passes the time with him in the hospital.

The film is a bit obscure and doesn’t quite capture the essence of what the title implies. It is Diego’s journey as he tries to survive this illness, while balancing a relationship with his wife and somehow rediscovering his sexuality through all of this. The story was the only thing that was troubling about this film because it just took away from the pure connection between Diego and the young boy. It was overtly sexual and took away from the actual penpal connection. It’s understandable that it is the final year of Diego’s life and Babenco attempted to cover it as intricately as possible but there were too many things on the table.

As Diego went through his treatment in the hospital, he was also visited by this “businessman” who was there to collect him and bring him to heaven. Those scenes exchanged were quite interesting because of the analogies used to explain purgatory and death. One of the best scenes in this film was when Diego took out the breathing tube in the middle of the night and started singing “I’m in Heaven”. There was a spotlight on him and he was placed in front of a blank wall, that faded to black. It was eerie and effective, considering the fact that the audience would have no idea if Diego would survive.

Willem Dafoe gives a fantastic performance as he always does but it wasn’t enough to make me appreciate what Babenco was trying to do with this film. There were some beautiful scenes that had great lighting and a strong score to carry them out. Babenco also captured the beauty of women in this film quite nicely, as their bodies were seen as moving pieces of art at times. It can also be argued that they were pieces on Diego’s journey of sexual rebirth. It’s a very challenging film because of how Diego struggles with coming to terms of giving a second chance after a near death experience.

My Hindu Friend has plenty of layers to dive into but the most important connection gets lost among the excessive narcissism and selfishness of it’s lead Diego. There were soft moments with the young Hindu boy but there was no established connection to warrant that kind of emotional pull to the relationship. It has very strong visuals and a great performance by Willem Dafoe that carries the story to the very end.

Canadian Film Fest 2020 Selection: Pressure Play Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Pressure Play is a short film that premiered at the Canadian Film Festival. The film is an in depth look of the mind of a seventeen year – old Black teenager named Fraser (Emidio Lopes), who really wants to make his high school basketball team. Fraser is very reserved and quiet, but on the court, he finds his voice and his freedom. The film is directed and co-written by Eric Bizzarri, it is a follow-up to his film Cold Hands which also deals with toxic masculinity.

The most impressive thing about the film was its sound design. It flowed really well through each scene and brought a certain edge to Fraser’s character. It’s a very internal role and it was hard to understand what Fraser was feeling at times. There was no development for his character and it felt like it was basketball or nothing for him. It’s understandable that a teenager would feel that way but his story really did not go past basketball.

The camerawork was good and the shots on the court were effective, it felt like you were in the middle of the tryouts alongside the rest of the players. There was one scene in the locker room, where players were having their pre-game conversations. They were talking about their encounters with girls and their own lives. It would have been beneficial to extend scenes like that, to understand why Fraser felt uncomfortable during those conversations. There was so much left unsaid for Fraser’s character and I wanted to know more about him. It left me with so many questions.

When it comes to showing sports in films, it somehow always comes down to the story you want to tell through the Coach’s actions. Is the Coach going to be uplifting and inspirational or stern and abusive? Pressure Play accurately shows the “tough love” approach, with unconventional tactics used by Coach Riggs (Andrew Bee) as he verbally abuses the boys on the team. It escalated quite quickly from scene to scene making Fraser’s timid demeanor, counter that of Coach Riggs. As Riggs pushed harder with his abuse, Fraser began to open up and find his voice.

Pressure Play is a film that scratches the surface of toxic masculinity but never fully dives into that subject. It shows the mental game of a young man who wants something and fights for it, even when the rules to the game come with a level of verbal abuse. It will leave you wanting to know more about Fraser and if his basketball dreams will come true.

 

Canadian Film Fest 2020 Selection: Age of Dysphoria Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Age of Dysphoria is a short film the explores the issues of alcoholism and alzheimer’s in a very unique way. It is a disjointed narrative that pieces back the memory of one horrid night, that an elderly man, will remember for the rest of his life and will haunt his mind in the worst way. The film is about a young woman named Fin (Laura Vandervoort) who tracks down an elderly man, named Fred (Gordon Pinsent), in order to make amends for the tragedy that devastated his life.

Fin had been sober for a couple of months and feels ready to make amends with the person she hurt the most. The film addresses drunk driving and alcohol addiction. It shows the difficulty of coming to terms with an addiction and how it can not only affect your life, but others around you. It’s beautifully shot and it has great direction from Jessica Petelle for important scenes addressing addiction.

The most heartbreaking part of this film is the performance from Fred, he is an elderly man who lost his wife and is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The only thing he remembers is his late wife and the accident that occurred a while back. He associates every person he meets with his wife and calls them by her name, Stella. The conversation in the diner really got to me because Fred called Fin by his wife’s name during the difficult conversation. It’s very well written and as an all star team of female filmmakers that wanted to present this story in a realistic way.

Age of Dysphoria is a very emotional film, which speaks on the human condition and the importance of human connection. Humans are vulnerable creatures and everyone deserves to have that shoulder to lean on. The film is very candid with how it presents pain and suffering. People need to have difficult conversations to clear the conscience and cleanse their souls, in order to be move forward and that is what this film does.