‘Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

For many years the Guardians of the Galaxy have become everyone’s extended family in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They are one cohesive group that treats each other like family. That dynamic is something that The Avengers couldn’t grasp. And that’s what makes the energy for both groups so interesting. Like Thor, the Guardians, especially Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), have lost so much. This Holiday special goes back to the beginning of Quill’s galaxy quest with Yondu (Michael Rooker), and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) remembers one specific moment that ruined Christmas for Quill. After Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) hear this, they go on a mission to bring Christmas to Quill on this new planet and restore his Christmas spirit. The one person that does come to mind for Drax is, of course, Kevin Bacon. Writer-director James Gunn takes Drax and Mantis on a sleigh ride to Earth in this Marvel special presentation to give Quill the ultimate gift. It is a fun way to close out phase four and still leave a little surprise for the future of the Guardians. 

Like all Gunn projects, the soundtrack is one of the most important aspects. He does handpick some of the best-hidden gems that will pull on memory for audiences. From the opening credits, the songs set the tone for the rest of the film, and they kick in at the right moment. Mantis and Drax are front and centre in this special presentation, and it was nice to see them go on the journey for Kevin Bacon. They have become a comedy duo of the Guardians family, so for them to venture out together made sense. Mantis also feels guilty because she has a secret that she shares with Quill later on. Mantis also gets a bit more reckless and physical in this presentation than in previous films, which is entertaining. For some reason, Drax’s schtick is getting old, and he’s not as funny as he used to be. The jokes aren’t landing in the same way, making for some awkward screen silence between him, Mantis, and Kevin Bacon. 

The special was fun for the most part, but it shied away from exploring Quill’s past with Yondu. Kraglin telling Mantis and Drax the story was convenient for the special and was just a way to give Quill Kevin Bacon. And the way that this unfolded was a bit underwhelming. The Quill we knew from before would have reacted differently to Kevin Bacon. In a way, it felt a bit out of character for him. Pratt also looks completely different as Quill. He looked defeated, uninterested, and out of it in this special. Sure, he lost Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and is still trying to process it, but it didn’t feel like Pratt was present. It feels like Quill has lost all hope in everything around him, and when Mantis tries to restore that, it falls a bit flat. A level of detachment from Quill makes this special feel a bit odd for his scenes specifically. There are great moments in this, but it felt off. There was also a different version of Groot (Vin Diesel) that they never really dive into, and it would have been fun to see him a bit more. 

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is the epilogue of phase four as it handles Quill’s past and how he’s currently feeling emotionally. The soundtrack made Mantis and Drax’s Earthly adventure incredibly fun for the most part. After many years of Kevin Bacon not making an appearance for Quill, this was the best way to bring him in. As much as we all love the Guardians, much like the original six, it feels like the characters have been exhausted, and it’s hard to develop them further. If this presentation shows anything, it’s that Vol. 3 is coming out at the right time to wrap up this band of misfits. The group of them have been a wonderful, crazy family for a very long, and it is time to say goodbye to these characters. Especially because Gamora was Quill’s whole heart, and without her presence, you could feel his emptiness. The holiday special will begin streaming on Disney Plus, on November 25th. 

‘She Said’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Journalists are meant to find the truth and amplify voices using their platform for whichever publication they write for. There was a period when America fell to pieces because of the President they elected into office. If you weren’t a white cis male, you were a target for discrimination and harassment. The President himself had many sexual assault allegations made against him, but he was still sitting in the White House. This was proof that men would never be held accountable for their actions. During the same run of *his* presidency, Hollywood also crumbled because of the big bad producer, Harvey Weinstein. In October 2017, the New York Times published a story detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Weinstein. She Said is about the two women, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), who wrote the article exposing Weinstein’s transgressions. As more women came forward with their own stories, the #MeToo movement — which started in 2007 by Tarana Burke — gained some steam when Alyssa Milano urged women online to share their stories amidst these new allegations.  

Director Maria Schrader made some excellent choices to show the stories of the survivors. She let the stories breathe as the women would retell their painful memories to the journalists. Schrader never showed any physical moments between the survivors and Weinstein, which was the right choice. Given the title of this film, the words being spoken by the women became more powerful as there were only images implying how the situation had unravelled. It was more powerful to process the words than to connect to graphic images on the screen. These claims happen to women more than any of us care to admit, and the language used to explain what happened is more chilling than a re-enactment of a terrible memory. The script is co-written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Kantor, and Twohey. They highlighted the spaces in the timeline to keep a steady pace. There are tense moments that could resonate with journalists on a different level, and the score by Nicholas Britell would flow seamlessly in and out without overpowering moments. The score has a mix of sadness and hopefulness, depending on who is speaking.

It’s hard to present this story while still addressing certain actors in the business who didn’t want to corroborate with the filmmakers. However, Ashley Judd stood firm and told her story with such gravitas, similar to her speech at the Women’s March. Having her in this film is one of the reasons why this felt so grounded. The other stories were presented in a way that viewers could connect with. But it’s a familiar face, whom audiences know, and it puts things into perspective. Many do not know the story of Weinstein, but those who do feel connected to the women who shared their stories, especially actors, whom they’ve connected with over the years. It also helped that Mulligan and Kazan have two of the most trusting faces, which made their performances as journalists compelling. Kazan had a softer approach than Mulligan, and that’s why they complimented each other. Twohey was more of a take-no-prisoners journalist who went head-to-head with the lawyers and Weinstein. Kantor was able to speak sincerely to survivors and connect emotionally. The two of them together made such a fantastic pairing, and I wanted to see more of them after the film ended.

She Said has entered the hall of fame of films about journalism. This is one of the better, more engaging pieces surrounding a publication like the New York Times. Maria Schrader knew how she wanted to handle the subject matter, and she kept a woman at the centre of every single conversation and frame. This time, the voices and pieces of dialogue were more important than showing the assaults on screen. It felt like watching a chain of events unfold naturally, and all the missing pieces would align for the story to move forward. Even when Weinstein did make an appearance, the camera stayed on Twohey, and her gaze burned into him because she knew the truth. This film is a powerful reminder that there are women whose stories have yet to be told. Hollywood has put on a facade for many years to protect one of the producers with the deepest pockets. If this could happen in a billion-dollar industry, imagine what is happening in other workplaces that suffer without anyone addressing it. It is also a difficult film to watch because of the stories shared. Even if a woman has never gone through an experience like that, there is empathy for the situation because it could, unfortunately, happen to anyone.

‘Strange World’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Walt Disney Animation has been developing unique stories for family-friendly years. Whether it’s about romance, adventure, or family, there have always been stories many can connect with. There are many Walt Disney Animation Studio releases, and Strange World is unique because it has one of the best family dynamics in the library. Writer Qui Nguyen wanted to explore the relationship between a father and son with Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) and Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal). Jaeger is a famous explorer who wants to teach his son to be just like him. But one day, when they go exploring, Searcher becomes more invested in the ecosystem surrounding their city. He finds this glowing plant with energy flowing through it. He thinks about the long-term effects of farming it. Instead, his father pushes ahead to see what is on the other side of the mountains they’d spent years trying to cross. At that moment, Jaeger felt like he had lost his son because he didn’t want to move forward with him and his interests. This had a long-lasting effect on Searcher because he felt like he was never good enough. 

The film highlights the generational trauma that can be passed down from parent to child in an almost vicious cycle. Sometimes parents can take insecurities and project them onto their children. Other times parents can be exactly like their parents after trying incredibly hard not to turn out like them. Children battle with their parents at a young age over wanting to be an individual and not an extension of their parents. That is when the perception of a parent of their child begins to change. A child isn’t brought into this world for parents to fix the issues they couldn’t heal from in their childhood. This runs throughout the film with Searcher and his son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). Once Searcher finds some pests in his crops, he ventures to the outskirts of Avalonia to get to the root of the problem. During this adventure, Searcher wants Ethan to learn the farming ways with him. As Ethan explores with his father, he understands that he has a different perspective on living organisms than his father. Ethan has discussions with his father about whom he wants to be and what he wants to do. And Searcher has flashbacks to his life with his father that begin to haunt him. 

There is a focus on generational trauma and how it can affect children, but director Don Hall also crafts a delightful adventure. Walt Disney Animation Studios has made its 3D technology so life-like that it felt like an old-time adventure. Jaeger Clade was presented as a legend and comic book hero for Avalonia for discoveries, while Searcher was treated as a resourceful hero for his farming. This original action adventure is fast-paced and fun to watch because of the lengths the Clades go to for their fulfilment. There is never a dull moment, and that is because the characters of Searcher, Ethan, and his mom Meridian (Gabrielle Union), are a fun-loving, cohesive family unit that brings the laughs. Ethan is also one of the first openly queer Disney characters. And for once, the story doesn’t surround the fact that he is. It’s natural for him to have a crush on a boy and openly discuss it with his family. The importance of acceptance within this family unit is what the world needs right now. They also shift focus on the individuality of Ethan’s career and his path in life, which is a far more interesting thread to pull on when speaking on lineage. 

Strange World is an ode to adventure films that have been dearly missed over the years. The presence of Jaeger Clade will make audiences feel nostalgic because of his passion for exploring. It was impressive the way Nguyen layered the construction of Avalonia. He revealed the twist at the opportune moment. The world-building in this film is wonderful to explore with the characters. And the adorable creatures all fit into a larger perception of the world they live in. It is action-packed, the pacing is strong, and the score by Henry Jackman pulls you into the adventure with the characters. The beauty of exploration is shown in this film, and the audience gets to learn with the characters. This is a film the whole family can enjoy, and the Clades will most likely become one of the most loved families in the Disney library. They are so different from each other, yet they blend into the most endearing family unit. The film will be released on Wednesday, November 23rd, in theatres. 

‘Disenchanted’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Fairytales have always been an important part of pop culture, especially when we were children. The idea that anyone can break into a song and express their true feelings is what makes them magical. The characters have always been virtuous, loving, and empathetic towards others to have kindness overpower any form of hatred. There is just something special and heartwarming about fairytales that other romances do not have. Disney princesses have always been a staple in everyone’s lives, and Gisele (Amy Adams) from Andalasia certainly made her mark. Ingrid Werner who makes her acting debut in Disenchanted has her own reasons as to why fairytales can resonate with everyone,

“I enjoy them because while it’s like very fantastical storylines, I enjoy being taken out of reality for a moment in time, and kind of escape a little bit. It also grounded in real morals and stories, and when you peel away the fantastical elements, it’s all there to teach us something or make us realize something about ourselves or even society.”

Ingrid Werner, Disenchanted

Fairytales can come in all forms and it’s bold to make some changes to their structure. Uprooting an animated princess in a fairytale world and placing her in one of the rudest cities known to man was a choice. Adams was an absolute delight as the excitable and ever-so-loving Gisele, who wanted to spread all the love and kindness wherever she went. Here, Gisele learned from the people around her and made a grumpy middle-aged man into someone warm and kind. 

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

The sequel Disenchanted offers a different take on a fairytale. Gisele has now built a family with Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and Morgan Philip (Gabriella Baldacchino) but she still feels something is missing. The magic in her life has turned into something different with her newborn child, and she misses the fairytale world that she came from. One could consider this a midlife crisis for a princess, which seems attractive at first. However, as the story goes on, it changes from a fairytale into a nightmare for Gisele. There’s a comment made by Morgan after moving to a new part of town that felt homier for Gisele, and she calls her, “stepmother”. After being with her since she was born, Gisele was hurt by this comment. She finds this magical wand with some help and she makes one wish to make her life more of a fairytale. Since she had Morgan’s comment in mind, her fairytale slowly turns wicked. After waiting over a decade to see our cheerful Gisele back on screen, it was a bit disheartening to see her go in a darker direction.

There is no issue with Amy Adams’s performance, as she completely nailed the descent into the wicked stepmother, but it felt like we didn’t get enough time with Gisele. The film of course is extravagant and the wonderful music by Alan Menken made the musical numbers worthwhile, but it just felt a bit empty because the attachment to Gisele was lost in the fold. Sure, it felt nostalgic and the development of the mother/daughter storyline with Gisele and Morgan was touching in the end, but it felt disjointed. The songs were not as memorable as the one’s in the first and it feels like a disservice to the wonderful character of Gisele. It’s hard to enjoy a sequel that is so focused on changing the lead character to make it a bit more interesting so it’s not a repeat of the first instalment. The cast is lovely and Maya Rudolph had some strong moments, the song “Badder” is probably one of the best moments between her and Adams. It sadly felt like a sequel with no clear direction in where they wanted Gisele to go. Of course, it was wonderful to see Adams in the role again, but it didn’t do anything for the character. 

(L-R): Amy Adams as Giselle and Maya Rudolph as Malvina Monroe in Disney’s live-action DISENCHANTED, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Jonathan Hession. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When asked about the change in storytelling over the years in Disney films, Werner expressed that the films have changed drastically and it’s because we as an audience don’t buy into the magic of the storylines anymore. The world has changed our perception of everything and we are no longer looking at it through rose-coloured glasses,

“I’m of the generation where we all bought into the fairytale and you find your happily ever after. Right? Now, there are a lot more inclusive storylines, and I love the new princesses that came out in the last 10 years. It’s just really interesting stories and I love that they keep finding new things to create. But also the stories have a bit more dark elements to them, but I feel like now they’re dealing with real world problems, but in a fairy tale perspective.”

– Ingrid Werner, Disenchanted

Disenchanted may look and feel extravagant because of the production design, costuming, and musical numbers, but at its core, it feels a bit hollow. There just wasn’t the same magic that was there in the first instalment. It’s sometimes hard to recapture the same feeling in sequels, especially those that come a decade after their predecessor. Adams plays the dual role incredibly well, and she proves again that she is one of the best actresses of our generation. It comes down to the writing and the direction they decided to take the story. Just because it looks magical, doesn’t mean the story matches that level. There are small moments that creep through that work, but it takes a while to get into the story and when that happens, it’s too late. The expectations were high for this sequel, especially because Gisele is one of Adams’s best characters. It is the one that put her on the map and made people recognize how much talent she has. The film is now streaming on Disney Plus and is still worth watching if you’re a fan of the first one.

‘Spirited’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Christmas is a time to spend with loved ones and of course, to spread cheer. In Spirited directed by Sean Anders, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) finds someone who is unredeemable to haunt to restore their good spirit. After many years of working with his team, he is very close to retirement and has no idea what his next move should be. One file that is brought to his attention is incredibly important to him to solve, so he takes on one final mission. This file is labelled unredeemable; his name is Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds). This film jazzes up the classic Charles Dickens story and turns it into a modernized musical with the same sentiments as the original story. Apple TV Plus has a wonderful holiday film on its hands because of the dynamic pairing of Ferrell and Reynolds. 

It’s almost hard to believe that the two of them haven’t worked together until now. Ferrell and Reynolds had wonderful chemistry and bounced off of each other incredibly well. Their line delivery, slapstick comedy and timing all worked in every single scene they were in. On the one hand, you have Reynolds playing his dry sarcastic self and Ferrell channels his inner Buddy with his whimsical zest for Christmas. Sure, they act as complete opposites for comedic purposes, but once Briggs and the Ghost of Christmas Present head back to their past, they discover they’re more alike than they think. Here, they begin to understand each other and connect on an emotional level to ground the film. There’s some Christmas magic to warm the heart, but it’s those tough, intimate moments from their past that will resonate with audiences. 

Another impressive thing was the choreography in the musical numbers. It felt so extravagant and massive, which just added to the magic of Christmas. Reynolds showed true showmanship in every single number, which was a different side of him. Any modern musical that works tap dancing into its numbers instantly has my heart. Not only is the choreography strong and incredibly sharp, but the original songs are well-written. The songs seem almost unconventional because of the lyrics that are used for Christmas, but they’re ultimately hilarious. Especially because Ferrell and Reynolds are the ones singing some wild lyrics. Movie musicals are scarce nowadays, so it was nice to see a reimagined version of a classic story adding something fresh to it. 

Spirited is a sweet Christmas film that takes the best aspects of the classic Charles Dickens story and updates it for the modern world. Now more than ever, people seem disconnected from the goodness in the world, and this film shows that love and kindness will always be important to lead a healthy life. From the musical numbers to the emotional songs and great comedic chemistry from Ferrell and Reynolds, this is a Christmas movie for the whole family to watch. There are many important lessons in this film, and it’s important to understand that we cannot change the past, but we can alter the way we interact with others presently, so our future can be filled with an abundance of positivity and love. This Christmas film reminds us what it means to be kind to our fellow neighbours and how important it is to recognize that people can be suffering in silence without even knowing. It will be streaming on Apple TV Plus Friday, November 18th.