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.

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.

 

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.

 

Softness of Bodies Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Softness of Bodies feels like an authentic European tale, with a self centred, narcissistic, American poet as the protagonist. It takes place in Berlin, where Charlotte (Dasha Nekrasova) an aspiring poet, hopes to win a prestigious grant, all while dealing with her past relationships. The film unfolds quite naturally, as a string of events cause Charlotte to think on her feet and adapt to her current situation, in order to stay on track for her grant.

Charlotte is one of the most intriguing characters I have seen in awhile. She is very aloof, blunt and passive. She has the chronic need to steal anything she desires (which includes boyfriends) and tends to get herself into some sticky situations. The pacing of this film was the one thing that worked extremely well. Everything happened for a reason and it allowed each bad event, to escalate naturally, in order to suit Charlotte’s actions.

The title of the film speaks on multiple levels but it can be interpreted as the exterior of the body, by touch, is something delicate and sensual. All that matters is the feel of the person and not what is on the inside. The exterior is something people crave, people objectively analyze others every single day, without realizing they do. Their bodies are the first thing that anyone notices before they cast judgement on who they are. Their personality, flaws, or history do not matter.

Once we get to know people, that is when that soft exterior fades away and we are met with the reality of the person. In Charlotte’s case, she was a very tough person to get along with because of the way she was. She was into herself and those around her, were either there to tear her down, or to watch her crumble. She had to deal with her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her, while she was sleeping with another man, who was in a relationship. The film was filled with lying, cheating and deceit. When reflecting on the film, it does seem like Charlotte got away with the ultimate robbery.

The camerawork was interesting, the tracking shots that were used for Charlotte, were great. She was always on the run, or riding her bicycle and the editing during those chase scenes were strong. The colour grading and textures, were subtle throughout but were punched up a bit, during house party scenes. There were yellowish tones and pastels that were used and the smoke that filled the apartments gave it a relaxed, hazy feel.

Softness of Bodies, at first, is a character study and then, one event, kickstarts a downward spiral for Charlotte. She is a master manipulator and con artist. It does get darker, as the film goes on and I think that is why it’s so intriguing to watch. Majority of the time, you question if it can get worse and it definitely does. Charlotte walks through life, unfazed by any minor inconvenience, as if it never even happened. She takes control of her own hardships and finds a way to make it out on the other side.

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.