‘Monster’ Movie Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Monster on Netflix is a poignant story about a 17-year-old aspiring filmmaker in Harlem, who is being accused of a robbery that he was not a part of. The film stars Kelvin Harrison Jr, ASAP Rocky, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson and John David Washington. This film was truly a surprise for me because I didn’t know what I was walking into. The performances from everyone in the cast were emotional, powerful and really effective. It had a unique structure, a well-written script and interesting narrative choices to move the story forward.

On the surface the film seems like it is a generic courtroom drama with a story that we have seen quite often. The difference, in my opinion, is the execution of this story. What I found really interesting was the use of the voiceover from Steven Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), as we first see him in his jail cell. He expresses his internal thoughts as we his journey unfold. The voiceover works perfectly because it gives a different meaning to what the viewer is seeing on-screen. Since Steven is a filmmaker, the execution of this story mirrors his director’s lens in his mind and externalizes his emotions.

The film explains the negative perception that comes from the systemic racism embedded in the legal system. The film is titled, “monster” because it is one of the words used to describe Steven Harmon when he is on trial. Harmon is haunted by this word because he has never seen himself as one, and now he is questioning, what does it mean to be one? This is the emotional basis of the film and then, there is another layer of perspective, from a filmmaking standpoint that compliments this theme.

Monster is a film that is structured incredibly well because it uses its flashbacks properly. This is a very balanced way to show the events leading to his arrest in the past and then showing the trial in the present day. The performances drive the film and the direction from Anthony Mandler was intriguing. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is one of the most talented young actors working today and this is another project where he truly shines. Make sure to catch Monster on Netflix this weekend!

‘Without Remorse’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is about a Navy Seal, named John Clark (Michael B. Jordan), who goes on a path to avenge his wife’s murder only to find himself inside of a larger conspiracy. You have Michael B. Jordan leading an interesting cast that doesn’t really work for some strange reason. The film has an interesting story but the execution was lacklustre. It was difficult to follow at times and the pacing of the film is not engaging enough for the viewer to sit through the runtime. There are strong action scenes but they do not make up the way the story plays out.

It is always difficult to adapt novels to screen and unfortunately Without Remorse suffered from trying to incorporate too much. The writing for John Clark just wasn’t strong enough and it pains me to say this because Michael B. Jordan is one of my favourite actors working today. For some strange reason it just didn’t work for me. His military life and domestic life were rushed in the beginning, only for the aftermath of his wife’s death to last longer than it should have. It’s Tom Clancy, it really shouldn’t have been this hard to take this action-packed story and translate it to screen.

It just does not hold the viewer’s attention long enough to make them care about the actual story or the characters. It felt like even the characters were waiting for the action scenes to happen, in order for anything to move forward. The story just didn’t flow and the writing for the characters seemed really bland. The real downfall of the film was that majority of the action scenes – which we all patiently waited for – were all in complete darkness, it was impossible to see what was happening or even who was fighting who.

Without Remorse had potential to be a great action piece for Michael B. Jordan but unfortunately it fell flat. It was hard to sit through because the writing just wasn’t engaging enough. The story was overstuffed, as they tried incorporate as much as they could from the novel. It really suffered the adaptation issues that many films face. I could see the story they were trying to tell but there wasn’t enough explanation or connection to any of these characters for any viewer to care. It is definitely not enough that Jordan was leading this film.

‘Things Heard And Seen’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Things Heard And Seen is a really interesting ghost story, centered around a couple, George (James Norton) and Catherine Claire (Amanda Seyfried) who end up moving to a small town because of George’s new job. Catherine stays at home with her daughter Franny, as her husband goes off to work. There are issues that are shown between the couple early on in the film, which makes for a very dramatic watch as the film goes on. We notice that the connection Catherine has to the house and the spirit within it is more than just your typical ghost story.

The first half of this film will definitely get you invested in this couple. We see that Catherine is struggling with an eating disorder and she feels like she is trapped in this life that she is in. Catherine feels like she doesn’t belong for some reason and George just continues to move forward without her, not caring about her at all. We see this in the move to a small town because he got a job offer, or did he? The mystery truly lies with George because of James Norton’s great performance. It is very layered and as the film goes on, we see a different side of him. We find out who he truly is before Catherine does.

What I really enjoyed about the first half of this film, was the exploration of the afterlife and of certain spirits merging with the living. There can be good spirits that latch onto good people and evil spirits that latch onto bad energy. Instead of just focusing on the evil spirits in the house, the focus is on a female spirit who lived her life in fear because of her husband. The spirit latches onto Catherine because she is going through her own nightmare with her husband. George was dishonest from the beginning and the marital issues get pushed to the forefront in the second half of this film.

It had a unique story, interesting framing and great performances but as they wrapped up this ghost story, it felt incredibly rushed. It didn’t feel like a rewarding ending, even though the symbolism at the end with the paintings, made it very clear who the spirits latched onto. It had a strong first half but lost its way in the second. If you enjoy supernatural thrillers, then it is still an enjoyable watch. The drama between husband and wife will keep you engaged until the very end, Seyfried is fantastic in this!

Hot Docs 2021: ‘It Is Not Over Yet’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

It Is Not Over Yet is an in-depth, emotional journey into the day-to-day rhythm of a controversial nursing home for people with dementia in Denmark. There are many stories that come out of nursing homes that aren’t always positive. There have been very traumatic stories surrounding the treatment of the elderly, especially those suffering from dementia. The documentary highlights, the founding nurse of Dagmarsminde, May Bjerre Eiby, who has no interest in specific dementia diagnoses or medicine. Since neither improves the quality of life for her 11 residents.

As someone who has seen dementia first-hand, this documentary made me extremely emotional. To just see a different approach for treating this illness was moving. My own grandmother went through so much in the nursing home and it is truly heartbreaking to leave a loved one in there. It is a tough pill to swallow because of the negativity surrounding the nurses who work in those facilities. Recently, it has been uncovered that the long-term care homes in my local area have been violent with patients, or they even just let them go without assisting them. They have never had full time care, or even proper care, for that matter.

What nurse Eiby enforces to her residents, is a treatment inspired by methods introduced by Florence Nightingale 150 years ago, as well as Danish philosopher Løgstrup. It is called ‘Compassion Treatment’, as Eiby calls it. It prioritizes hugs, touch, humour, nature, and the joy of being a part of a community. It was just such a refreshing take on the approach in helping elderly people suffering from dementia. After suffering the painful loss of her own father, due to neglect at a nursing home, Eiby is determined to inspire complete change in the way people with dementia are treated in the healthcare system.

It Is Not Over Yet is a very intimate, beautiful and informative documentary on how to approach helping those suffering from dementia. It is a necessary watch that can hopefully bring some change in order for the residents and their family members to feel safe leaving their loved ones in a nursing home. Eiby’s approach is something that should be studied and adapted in order for people to understand what dementia is and how it can be treated without medicine or any form of frustration towards the elderly during their time of need.


Amanda’s Picks: Oscars 2021 Predictions

Happy Oscar Sunday everyone! After a very long Oscar season, we are finally ready to award some great films. Truly never thought this season would be over. The work never stops though because we are always planning for the next season. I am very happy for all the nominees this year because there are some films that would normally fly under the radar and now they are getting recognition.

WHO WILL WIN WILL BE HIGHLIGHTED IN GOLD

WHO SHOULD WIN WILL BE HIGHLIGHTED IN PURPLE

So without further ado, here are my predictions:

Best Visual Effects

“Love and Monsters”

“The Midnight Sky”

“Mulan”

“The One and Only Ivan”

“Tenet”

PREDICTION: Tenet is the clear frontrunner here because of the practical effects. Love and Monsters is also something that could come in and swipe that away.

Best Director

Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”)

David Fincher (“Mank”) 

Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) 

Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) 

Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) 

PREDICTION: Chloé Zhao has been sweeping award season and there is no doubt about it that she will be making history tonight with this win.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) 

Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) 

Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”

Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”) 

Lakeith Stanfield (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)

PREDICTION: Daniel Kaluuya hands down. His performance in Judas and the Black Messiah is one for the history books.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova (‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) 

Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) 

Olivia Colman (“The Father”) 

Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) 

Yuh-jung Youn (“Minari”) 

PREDICTION: Yuh-jung Youn has had an incredible award season and her performance stole my heart!

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) 

Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) 

Gary Oldman (“Mank”) 

Steven Yeun (“Minari”) 

PREDICTION: Chadwick Boseman is going to win and deserves to win because his performance was on another level this year. It was incredibly moving and very emotional. You could feel his passion for the words through the physicality in his performance.

Best Animated Feature Film

“Onward” (Pixar) 

“Over the Moon” (Netflix) 

“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (Netflix) 

“Soul” (Pixar) 

“Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV Plus/GKIDS) 

PREDICTION: Soul is the obvious frontrunner because it is a beautiful Pixar film and the animation is stunning. However, Wolfwalkers is unique and there is an appreciation for the three-dimensional hand-drawn elements in its animaton. So it is a close one.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Andra Day (“The United States v. Billie Holiday”) 

Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) 

Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) 

Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Prediction: This is such a tough category and it is impossible to predict this year! I would be happy with either Davis or Mulligan winning but the edge on Mulligan.

Best Adapted Screenplay

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”
Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Nina Pedrad

“The Father,”
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller

“Nomadland,”
Chloé Zhao 

“One Night in Miami,”
Kemp Powers 

“The White Tiger,”
Ramin Bahrani 

PREDICTION: The Father had a very strong script but I personally don’t think the execution elevated it at all. One Night in Miami is dialogue heavy and keeps you engaged from beginning to end.

Best Original Screenplay

“Judas and the Black Messiah.”
Screenplay by Will Berson, Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas, Keith Lucas

“Minari,”
Lee Isaac Chung 

“Promising Young Woman,”
Emerald Fennell 

“Sound of Metal.”
Screenplay by Darius Marder, Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,”
Aaron Sorkin 

PREDICTION: The TOUGHEST category because they are all strong in their own way. Since Emerald Fennell has been getting traction off her WGA win, it’s only fair to assume that she has sealed the deal. Personally Judas and the Black Messiah had an incredible screenplay because of how intricate the story was and the dialogue.

Best Original Song

“Fight for You,” (“Judas and the Black Messiah”).
Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas

“Hear My Voice,” (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”). 
Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite

“Húsavík,” (“Eurovision Song Contest”)
Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson

“Io Si (Seen),” (“The Life Ahead”). 
Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini

“Speak Now,” (“One Night in Miami”). 
Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth

PREDICTION: Solely because of its Golden Globe win it is entirely possible that they follow suit. However, Leslie Odom Jr. created a beautiful song for One Night in Miami and if this movie wins anything, it needs to be this category.

Best Picture

“The Father”

“Judas and the Black Messiah”

“Mank”

“Minari” (SHOULD WIN)

“Nomadland” (WILL WIN)

“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7″

PREDICTION: Nomadland has become the Oscar darling but it is not a well-rounded film. The technical aspects are the most important part of the film but the story was lacking. Minari was a well-rounded all American film with a beautiful family dynamic and it should be the winner this year.

Best Original Score

“Da 5 Bloods,” Terence Blanchard 

“Mank,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross 

“Minari,” Emile Mosseri 

“News of the World,” James Newton Howard 

“Soul,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste 

PREDICTION: Soul has it in the bag because of the mixture of jazz and electronic dance music. Truly some of Reznor and Ross’ best work.

Best Sound

“Greyhound”

“Mank”

“News of the World”

“Soul”

“Sound of Metal”

PREDICTION: Sound of Metal is a lock because of how they switched the frequency when Reuben was losing his hearing. You could understand what he was going through because you could heard the shift. Incredible work.

Best Costume Design

“Emma”

“Mank”

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

“Mulan”

“Pinocchio”

PREDICTION: Realistically the competition is between Ma Rainey’s and Emma because they are period pieces and they looked beautiful on-screen. Do not keep Mank out of the conversation because it is old Hollywood glam.

Best Animated Short Film

“Burrow” (Disney Plus/Pixar)

“Genius Loci” (Kazak Productions) 

“If Anything Happens I Love You” (Netflix) 

“Opera” (Beasts and Natives Alike) 

“Yes-People” (CAOZ hf. Hólamói) 

Best Live-Action Short Film

“Feeling Through” 

“The Letter Room” 

“The Present” 

“Two Distant Strangers” 

“White Eye” 

Best Cinematography

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” Sean Bobbitt 

“Mank,” Erik Messerschmidt 

“News of the World,” Dariusz Wolski 

“Nomadland,” Joshua James Richards 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Phedon Papamichael 

PREDICTION: As I said the technical aspects in Nomadland will take the gold for sure and the cinematography was beautiful. She really captured the scenic landscapes across the country. I did think Judas and the Black Messiah had such a unique style and camera work was very strong.

Best Documentary Feature

“Collective”

“Crip Camp”

“The Mole Agent”

“My Octopus Teacher”

“Time”

Best Documentary Short Subject

“Colette”

“A Concerto Is a Conversation”

“Do Not Split”

“Hunger Ward”

“A Love Song for Latasha”

Best Film Editing

“The Father”

“Nomadland”

“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7″

PREDICTION: Again, it is Nomadland’s to lose because of the technical aspects. However, when it comes to editing pieces of music or instrumental scenes, I feel like Sound of Metal would be the better choice. Also, we can’t cancel out The Father either because of the cycle of consciousness fading in and out for the protagonist.

Best International Feature Film

“Another Round” (Denmark) 

“Better Days” (Hong Kong)

“Collective” (Romania) 

“The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia)

“Quo Vadis, Aida?”(Bosnia and Herzegovina) 

PREDICTION: Another Round has been taking the season by storm and the director is also nominated so that is saying a lot. However, after watching Better Days and interviewing the director, Derek Tsang, the execution and honest storytelling should give it the edge.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

“Emma”

“Hillbilly Elegy” 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

“Mank”

“Pinocchio”

PREDICTION: Viola Davis was completely transformed as Ma Rainey, so it’s only fitting that it would take this category. I can see Emma steal it here as it did have some good qualities about it.

Best Production Design

“The Father.” 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

“Mank.”

“News of the World.”

“Tenet.”

PREDICTION: The reason why The Father could win is because of how the production design changing paralleled the lead character’s descent into his illness. But, Ma Rainey’s design just felt rich in its colours and decoration with the only two rooms they had to work with. Again, do not count Mank out of the conversation.

If you haven’t voted yet, here is a prediction ballot link for the Oscars, thanks to The Academy. This is what it generated for me the other night. Yes, there are some changes but it’s still so difficult to choose.

Well there you have it! My full list of predictions. Let’s hope I get some right tonight. Let’s face it, even though we complain about the season, we always love to watch on Oscar Sunday.