‘Army of the Dead’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What do you get when you combine Zack Snyder, zombies and a heist? You get one of the most entertaining films of the year! If you are a Snyder fan, this one sure caters to the fanbase. You are in for a fun ride through a zombie wasteland in Las Vegas. It is larger than life, loud and action-packed with stunning visuals, courtesy of the man himself. Snyder knows how to create tension quite effortlessly, and more importantly, he knows how to mix in a wicked soundtrack that juxtaposes certain scenes. From the very beginning, as Elvis Presley’s ‘Suspicious Minds’ plays, while newlyweds are on a joyride, the lyrics, ‘we’re caught in a trap, we can’t walk out…’ sets the tone for the entire film.

We get a typical Snyder opening credit sequence detailing what happened to the Las Vegas strip, while a slow version of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ plays out. It is one of his strongest opening title sequences, and I won’t lie, I had a gigantic smile on my face. At the start of any Snyder movie, we all think to ourselves, ‘What does he have in store for us this time?” and majority of the time he exceeds expectations. Snyder went back to his zombie roots with this film. It wasn’t that gory, or overstuffed with kills, it just flowed really well. It didn’t rely on the zombie conventions, that we are used to because that part was sidelined. This was a heist film straight through and it had great balance combining both genres.

This film wouldn’t have been as entertaining without its cast of characters. First and foremost, Dave Bautista needs to be recognized as the lead in this film. Bautista has been sidelined for majority of his film career and hasn’t been taken seriously as an actor (until Blade Runner 2049), Snyder put him at the forefront and he carried the film quite well. His character Scott had to endure some traumatic moments when the zombies tore up his town and has been trying to reconcile with his daughter. Bautista nailed the emotional moments and left me impressed. The other standouts were Marianne (Tig Notaro), Vanderhoe (Omari Hardwick), Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and Lily (Nora Arnezeder), they each had their time to shine and brought so much to their characters.

Army of the Dead is filled with great action sequences, fun character banter, and plenty of zombies. The film did suffer at the end because even though the runtime went a bit long, the ending still felt rushed. Did I enjoy the ending? No. It left such a bitter taste in my mouth. But don’t worry, there is another ending, that will also leave you questioning what the point was. At the end, it was all about the journey and it sure was a wild ride. I can’t forget to mention the Junkie XL score because he keeps putting out such great pieces to accompany action scenes. If you love Snyder, you’ll set aside the small issues with the film and enjoy the zombie spectacle for two hours and twenty-eight minutes.

‘Spiral: From The Book Of Saw’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After the success of other instalments in the Saw franchise, it’s only fair to keep making them. This franchise has a massive fanbase and I can see why. After watching all eight films ahead of Spiral: From the Book of Saw – for the very first time I might add – I already felt some fatigue. While watching this instalment, the fatigue continued. As a new horror fan, the first three Saw films had so much style to them that made them unique. It set them apart from other horror films. But as the franchise went on, the further the filmmakers distanced themselves from the original vision from Leigh Whannell and James Wan.

Did Spiral: From the Book of Saw follow similar tropes? Of course it did. But they wanted to focus more on the detective story than the actual link to Jigsaw and the traps. The main issue with this franchise is that the story does not need to flow from movie to movie. Seriously, trying to connect the dots over nine films is ridiculous and it’s never clear. I know what you’re thinking, “But no one cares about the story,” and I get that but if you don’t have a strong script then at least make the traps memorable. The traps in this instalment were set up for shock value and there was no struggle to get out of them.

What has happened to the Saw franchise is that it has become too polished and clean cut for the movie they’re trying to make. Give us that grimey, sketchy warehouse feel with the traps that have high stakes. Bring back that graphic, bloody, almost naseautic visuals that made the first half of this franchise shine. Making it more cinematic and clean does not help the franchise after the seventh instalment. It just strays so far away from its original style that made it work in the first place. Unfortunately, with the story not being that strong, the performances also fell flat for me. So this was a total chore for me to sit through.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is enjoyable if you are a diehard Saw fan and that is what is important here. This film caters to the fanbase that has stayed with the franchise over nine films. Seriously, NINE FILMS, that’s pretty amazing. This is a franchise that tries to reinvent itself because of the horror climate constantly changing. The Saw franchise just isn’t for me anymore but I do hope the fans enjoy their franchise and this ninth film. Will there be a Saw X? Go big or go home, Jigsaw, let’s play another game.

‘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.

‘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.