‘Luca’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Pixar films never fail to make anyone emotional. The filmmakers find a way to pull at your heartstrings every single time. Luca takes place along the Italian Riviera, in Portorosso. Under the sea, there is a whole world of fish, or rather, sea monsters. There are old legends surrounding the sea monsters, and if they were to ever be seen by the townspeople, they would be killed on the spot. Director Enrico Casarosa dives into Luca’s (Jacob Tremblay) family dynamic. His mother Daniela Paguro (Maya Rudolph) warns him of the dangers of the surface world. She hovers over him and is overprotective, prompting him to take matters into his own hands.

Luca is Pixar’s most beautiful film to date. Each new addition to the Pixar library just improves upon the last release. The animation style is a bit different than others but it just perfectly captures Italy. Being Italian myself, this film felt like home for me. From the piazza in Portorosso, to the names of Mrs. Branzino, and yes, Giuseppe being used on-screen, to using new phrases like “Silenzio, Bruno!”, to even showing the espresso bars, when it’s break-time at 2:00 p.m. It is truly an Italian film, but apart from that, it is a movie about acceptance, adventure and finding your identity.

Courtesy of Disney Pixar

Luca’s dynamic with Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer) is interesting because of how they help each other. Alberto is a sea monster, who lives alone on the surface. Luca is just testing the waters, being on land, learning from Alberto. The budding friendship is beautiful to watch because they pulled each other out of their shells. In their loneliness, they built a wall surrounding their true selves, out of fear of not being accepted by others. Alberto is closed off because of his past and Luca is afraid of everything because of his mother. Which, in reality, is how Italian mothers take care of their children, especially their sons.

Director For Disney/Pixar's Luca On The Film's Beautiful Italian Setting -  LRM
Courtesy of Disney Pixar

As they make their way to Portorosso, in search of a Vespa, they meet a young girl named Giulia (Emma Berman), who is energetic and very optimistic. In order to get this Vespa, Giulia suggests entering a triathlon, to win the prize money for the Vespa. The trio join forces against the arrogant Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), who has won many triathlons before. The film is pretty straightforward but the power of friendship, and love for adventure, will bring you into the world of these characters. What Casarosa does so well is gear this film towards a younger audience with dreamlike sequences and vibrant colours in his imagery, all while carrying a powerful narrative about individual growth among friends.

Luca is one of the funniest Pixar films to date. It is light, energetic, heartfelt, and has a wonderful soundtrack to go with it. Not only is the score great but the Italian pop songs that were chosen worked so well. The film will have you laughing, dancing, and of course, tearing up during certain scenes. On the surface it may seem like a fun summer film but it does pack an emotional punch. Everyone has had issues with their friends and the struggles shown in this film are universal. It is truly one of Pixar’s best and it will always have a special place in my heart.

‘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!

The Vice Short List: ‘The Showgirls Of Pakistan’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

All over the world, women are treated in different ways. Majority of Western culture may not know what goes on across the world and that is why documentaries such as, The Showgirls of Pakistan are necessary. The patriarchy rules in many forms, some countries are more strict than others, which can be damaging to female expression and growth. This documentary is structured as an alternate universe with three distinct stories. Director Saad Khan takes the viewer into the universe of three mujra dancers in Pakistan, as they dodge state censorship and violence, to vie for stardom.

Throughout the decades women have found strength in self-expression and working for themselves. They are able to set their own boundaries, which can still put them in some sort of danger. In this documentary, there are three women who have entered different worlds of theatre. In their cases, you are either forced into marriage, or you choose to lead a different life. The documentary depicts female agency through dance and theatre. Afreen, Uzma, and Reema, three dancers from Pakistan’s Punjab province, have plenty of fans but the majority of people in Pakistan, regard the way they earn a living, as disgraceful.

We see that these women are mentally affected by this ideology and how men are treating the performers. It was interesting to see the versatility these women had when speaking to men versus performing for them. They were all headstrong and outspoken during the behind-the-scenes interviews. Then when they are on-stage it is like that whole world disappears and they are free from these patriarchal restraints. These women have had to endure death threats and physical assault but managed to continue working in order to make a living for themselves.

The Showgirls of Pakistan is empowering, vibrant and incredibly bold with its direction. The lives of these women are shown in the most candid way possible and it is absolutely necessary to watch. The structure of the three stories are different in regards to how the women lead their lives but one thing remains the same, how men treat each of them. There are powerful moments throughout the film, especially when the score would accompany some difficult phone calls shared between the three women and the men they were associated with.

‘The Penny Black’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We all love trying to figure out mysteries. They’re almost like separate puzzle pieces and you’re trying to assemble them to complete the journey. Whether the mystery is in a novel, on the news, or on-screen, it is a brain exercise without meaning to be. The Penny Black is a non-fiction investigative thriller that takes us on a journey with Will, the estranged son of a con-man, who agrees to safeguard a mysterious million-dollar stamp collection for his unknowable Russian neighbor. After the neighbor vanishes without a trace, Will searches for the collection’s true owner, confronting his fear and integrity head-on. But when some of the stamps suddenly disappear, the filmmakers are forced to reexamine Will’s capacity for honesty.

This documentary is structured pretty well because of the set-up at the beginning. There’s an introduction to Will, his past and this interesting story that he is about to tell us. There’s a very nice integration of home footage and Will in his home present day. Director Joe Saunders does a great job capturing Will’s mind, while he processes his answers for the camera and tells him what he wants to hear. It’s interesting to objectively watch Will go through all these motions, while trying to piece the puzzle together with him. The audience is just as confused as Will throughout this whole process. Normally, people don’t think of stamps as anything valuable, so to shed light on that side of it in this way was smart.

At first, the connection to his father was a bit disjointed but then as Saunders pushed in exploring Will’s past, it all clicked. Psychologically, the connection to this Russian man, trusting him with his stamp collection and sharing other valuable information was important to Will because his father never did that with him. In a way, he could be seen as a paternal figure for Will and that is why the attachment is there. The way this documentary unfolds, especially in regards to how Will’s mind and past is exposed made for such a good watch.

The Penny Black pulls the viewer into the story and Will’s world so effortlessly. The structure of this documentary and the laidback direction from Saunders allows the viewer to take the reigns in questioning everything about the feature. Towards the end of the documentary, the suspense of tracking this gentlemen down is definitely felt. The ending is powerful and the conversation had about honesty was interesting to include, considering everything that happened. Saunders also played with the camera as best he could, capturing important moments at different angles.

‘Cruella’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Cruella is one of the best Disney live-action films to date. It has beautiful costume design, great camerawork, career-defining performances and a wicked soundtrack. This prequel is the one we didn’t know we needed. It is a bit darker than other Disney live-actions, but it’s so much fun to watch Stone dive into this character. The story is about young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) who aspires to be a fashion designer. We see young Estella struggle with her identity, as she has a bit of a wild side that she doesn’t have control over. Estella has a tragic past and we get to see how she becomes Cruella.

Going into this film, I had very low expectations and I was pleasantly surprised with how much fun this film was. Cruella will have you hooked within the first ten minutes because of how fast-paced it is. We get a voiceover narration from Emma Stone and it sets the tone for the rest of Estella’s adulthood. The story was well-written and it worked for who Estella would grow into. Estella being a fashion designer worked perfectly and the wardrobe is absolutely stunning. We have Estella working for the Baroness (Emma Thompson), who takes her under her wing and uses majority of her designs.

The film unfolds quite nicely and the twists are perfectly placed. They aren’t over the top, or completely random, they really do work for the story and there are moments that will shock you. The cast is wonderful, Stone and Thompson are incredible together, their chemistry carried the film. It was so fun to watch them go back-and-forth and they give iconic performances. This is truly Stone’s best performance to date and she blew me away. Having two women on-screen, pull these performances out of each other was pure magic.

Craig Gillespie’s Cruella is one of the best films of the year! The London punk aesthetic works extremely well to give the visual edge to Estella and her world. What I found really interesting, is that the exterior world is so loud in its production design, that it feels like the characteristics of Estella’s alter ego, fills the screen, pulling her into this other world. The soundtrack works so well and some songs were reworked to fit certain scenes. The only issue is that it did run a bit long but this was such a treat. And make sure to stay for the post-credit scene, it will make you want a sequel even more!

Make sure to catch Cruella Friday, May 21st on Disney Premier Access or, if you’re lucky, on the big screen.