‘Brazen’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We all love our mystery thrillers, and Netflix has a brand new one just for us. Brazen, directed by Monika Mitchell, dives into the life of prominent mystery writer and crime expert, Grace (Alyssa Milano). After her sister Kathleen’s divorce, she hurries back to her family home in Washington, D.C. because her. When her sister is killed and her double life as a webcam performer is revealed, Grace ignores the warnings of cool-headed detective Ed (Sam Page) and gets involved in the case. A mystery writer, solving a case that’s a little too close to home, with a cool-headed detective sounds like a pretty interesting story.

Mitchell gets right into Kathleen’s story in the opening of this film and sets the tone for how easily accessible women are in the digital age. Kathleen is going through a divorce, possibly losing her son, and still trying to keep everything together as a schoolteacher. It feels like her life is spiralling out of control, but when she’s Desiree, the cam girl online, she has power and complete control over her clients. On the other hand, we have Grace who is headstrong, determined and is not afraid to speak her mind. She has full control over her life and definitely overpowers her sister. Grace has no idea that her sister has an alter-ego and is taken aback when she finds out.

Apart from the actual crime that was committed, I found the connection between Grace and Ed to be the most interesting dynamic in the film. Pairing a mystery writer with a detective is a match made in heaven. Page and Milano had a very natural chemistry and bounced off each other quite effortlessly. Their connection made the film engaging and pushed the story along. Watching Grace try and solve the murder of her sister, using her own writing skills was actually empowering considering Ed told her to stay away because it’s a little too close to home. The story did run a little long and loses traction in the middle, but that third act reels you back in for a strong reveal.

Brazen is adapted from the Nora Roberts novel, ‘Brazen Virtue’, and director Monika Mitchell read this book three times over because of how she connected with these characters. They are all very likeable and Alyssa Milano was the perfect choice for Grace, as they share similar character traits. Even though it may seem like a generic crime thriller, the story itself is important and should start a conversation about the safety of women in the online space and men’s accessibility to them. If you enjoy mystery thrillers, then this one will be right up your alley and it may even surprise you.

‘The Power Of The Dog’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is a slow burn examination of the fragility of man and the deconstruction of the ideal wife. Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) brings home a new wife, Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son, Peter (Kodi-Smit McPhee) Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love. We follow Phil and George into town, as they need room and board for the night. During this period, or rather this first act, as Campion brilliantly broke down each section to highlight certain moments that would add another layer to these characters, we get a sense of their brotherly relationship. Phil Burbank was set in his ways; he honoured his best friend and mentor Bronco Henry by being the best man on the ranch that he could be. Phil was one with nature and was proud to be doing the work that he was doing.

Jane Campion's First Directed Feature since 2009, The Power of the Dog  Releases First Trailer - Paste
Courtesy of Netflix Film

On the other hand, George was more reserved and diplomatic, felt like he was the face of the family. He took care of the home finances, and the Burbank name. Phil and George have distinct characteristics and appear to be polar opposites; one as the hotheaded brother and the other more self-contained. Both performances from Cumberbatch and Plemons were fantastic, but this may be the best performance of Cumberbatch’s career so far. The way Campion peeled back the layers of Phil Burbank in each chapter made him one of the most interesting characters to watch throughout this film. The viewer questions what more could he be hiding; Cumberbatch had this tough exterior and he also showed he had a wounded heart, that he was in fact broken. He very much lived in the past, reeling in the memories of Bronco Henry and longing to feel that connection again with someone who truly understands him.

As they stay in this little town, George befriends a woman name Rose (Kirsten Dunst) at the local restaurant. Her husband had passed on and her son has stayed with her to help serve the guests. There is this heated moment between Phil and her son, Peter (Kodi-Smit McPhee) one night that set everything into motion. George and Rose come from different social classes, which eventually hurts Rose in the long run. She must carry herself differently in front of George’s colleagues and friends, causing her to eventually spiral out of control because of the high standards George inadvertently places on her. When Campion gets to Rose’s section and dissects the ideal housewife, she presents the anxiety and genuine fear that comes with disappointing her husband during that period. Thus, resorting to a dangerous vice in alcoholism, which also causes a domino effect of poor decisions.

The Power of the Dog' Film Review: Jane Campion Western Explores Cowboy  Masculinity as Camouflage
Courtesy of Netflix Film

Once her son Peter comes to stay with them, the dynamic in the household shifts. Rose slowly fades into her dark bedroom because of the excessive drinking, and Peter, even after their scuffle, gets closer to Phil. There is an odd tension between Phil and Peter that can’t really be explained until Peter discovers what Phil has been hiding. Phil then takes Peter under his wing, as he discovers his secret, and teaches him the ways of Bronco Henry. Campion built excellent tension in the first three acts, but nothing compares to the deconstruction of Phil Burbank in the last two. Even though this film was a very slow burn, Campion has the audience understand the depths of toxic masculinity and the unhealthy repression of one’s sexual identity.

The Power of the Dog is one of the most beautifully shot films of the year, thanks to Ari Wagner. It has a fantastic score by Jonny Greenwood that adds to the anticipation of each fork in the road for the Burbank clan. Greenwood has a knack for making the simplest conversations feel eerie and off-putting. He was the perfect choice to compose the score for this multilayered western. The more you sit with this film, the more you appreciate how Campion incorporated so many important aspects set in the early 1900s. Both men and women had to put on a front in order to hide their deepest secrets, which eventually would lead to their own destruction. The cast was perfect in order to tell this story but Cumberbatch and Dunst were the standouts and have never been better.

‘Red Notice’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In a world where there are plenty of blockbusters and well-known action stars, Red Notice feels like a mixture of everything. Many of these blockbusters feel like they are recycled with the same actors and it is starting to get a bit dull. There are fun moments because we, as fans, would love to see certain actors work together, but if the story isn’t decent enough to keep our attention, then what are we even watching new ones for? We can all go back and watch the ones we already have and gain the same kick from it. There is star power at the front with Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson, and Ryan Reynolds in a heist film built for Netflix. It feels very generic, a bit messy in its execution and the chemistry between the three of them was off at times.

The opening of the film explains everything that is about to happen in this movie but it doesn’t give away the twists in the third act. The twists may have been a bit excessive but it still added some zest to a fairly bland script. As we dive into this adventure, an Interpol agent, Inspector Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya) attempts to hunt down and capture the world’s most wanted art thief, Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds). Accompanying her on this mission is FBI agent, John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), who is very intuitive and reads Booth like an open book. After that encounter, Booth and Hartley both get acquainted and they start this budding bromance that never fully works.

Hartley and Booth end up working together to take down The Bishop (Gal Gadot), who actually is the world’s greatest thief. Gadot really shined in this role and the villain role suits her. It was a nice change of pace considering the banter between Reynolds and Johnson went stale halfway through the film. The main issue with this movie is that Johnson and Reynolds play the exact same character they always do but it’s just a different action film. It has gotten to the point where people just hire Reynolds to play Wade Wilson in their movie over and over again because he is a draw. Meanwhile, all we want is a Deadpool 3 and it’s very frustrating to sit through. It does have some fun dialogue, but the quippy banter got repetitive, and sadly Johnson did not work with Reynolds in the way I was hoping.

Red Notice is a generic, flashy heist film that uses its star power to carry us through. Unfortunately, the weak script and poorly executed action scenes can’t hold this film together. The twist at the end, in a way, didn’t really work and just made it more confusing. The trio worked well together but when Gadot wasn’t in the mix, Reynolds and Johnson were both stale, which made the first act feel like a struggle. If you want a mindless action film this weekend then definitely give this a go. You’ll laugh with Reynolds trying to get these jokes to land or else it’s a pretty forgettable film for Netflix. Sometimes star power can’t save a weak script.

‘The Harder They Fall’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Good Westerns are hard to come by. The genre has had a difficult time being modernized because those stories are considered outdated and an inaccurate representation of America for some. Westerns continue to be made, but it’s up to the director to add something different in order to entertain the general audience; an audience conditioned to only enjoy action movies in this particular climate. Director Jeymes Samuel fills The Harder They Fall with his style and makes something so unique in the process. It’s all about taking the conventions that came before and improving upon the genre itself.

The film begins with this family eating dinner at the table, when there is a knock on the door. The father opens the door and let’s the well-known outlaw in. His son was seated at the table, when some terrible things happen in front of him. That little boy grew up to be Nate Love (Jonathan Majors), who eventually becomes an outlaw himself. Nate Love finds out that Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) has been pardoned and released from prison. Nate gets his band back together to go serve some justice in Redwood. Samuel set up this story, so the audience could understand the characters and their backstories without over explaining their past.

Samuel sets the tone from the very beginning with his punchy opening credits and wicked soundtrack. You get a sense of who these characters are and what being an outlaw is all about. The Western genre can get generic and a bit dull, but Samuel made this so entertaining and engaging. Thanks to his wonderful, charismatic cast, their chemistry is what made this film complete. We have Jonathan Majors, who has such a presence on-screen and he has this kinetic star power rarely seen today. Idris Elba is an older, more ruthless outlaw, and it was great to see him in this role. Then the badass women of the cast, Regina King, Danielle Deadwyler and Zazie Beetz brought such fun, complex characters to life. To round out the main cast, Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield, Edi Gathegi and newcomer RJ Cyler all brought something different to the table.

The Harder They Fall dives into the world of these outlaws and what they represent. This wasn’t a true story but these characters were real at some point throughout American history. Their story being told in such a vibrant, modernized way really breathed life into a rather outdated genre. It has some great moments between characters and it is also funny at times. Everything about this movie was interesting to watch and it all comes down to the Jeymes Samuel who had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with this Western. Majority of the cast had their time to shine but Majors and Elba stole the show for me. Do not miss this movie on Netflix; it’s one of my favourite movies of the year.

‘Army Of Thieves’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Don’t worry; no zombies were harmed in the making of this prequel. We all loved Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) in Army of the Dead, but we never really expected a prequel with his character. Zack Snyder’s film was a fun zombie flick and we were all happy to see him go back to his roots. However, Army of Thieves was lacking the Snyder touch and it felt completely different in tone. This one is more of a heist film to highlight Dieter’s expertise in safecracking and it does work for the most part. The issue is that the pacing was a bit slow for my liking in between the heists and the secondary characters apart from Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) were forgettable.

This prequel comes before the zombie apocalypse, so we see the early stages of what transpires in Las Vegas. Our favourite German safecracker, Dieter leads a group of aspiring thieves on a top-secret heist, attempting to crack as many safe’s as he can. The most impressive thing that Matthias Schweighöfer did as a director was completely understand Dieter’s character and make the entire atmosphere of the film feel like him. From the music choices, to the fourth wall breaks, and the actual safe cracking, it was all about Dieter. For a prequel that is solely character based, the essence of Dieter was evident and worked for what the film was.

For the most part, it is a standard heist film with some hints to zombies attacking them in the near future. But that is about the only link to Army of the Dead. The Snyder-isms are definitely missed but Schweighöfer’s magic behind the camera came with the attention to the safecracking. He really went into the gears of the safe and every single aspect that goes into opening it. The special effects that were used to show the dimensions of the safe and the actual locks were a very nice touch. There are some strong choices made, some solid action sequences but it’s more style over substance. Which is also a good thing for Schweighöfer to show off his directing chops.

Army of Thieves is a fun prequel for Army of the Dead and it is because of Schweighöfer. If it weren’t for his comedic timing and absolutely brilliant physical comedy, this wouldn’t have worked. He is talented, when working with the right material but he did get the chance to show it off. Dieter is a wonderful character and the movie will make you love him even more. Really glad that Netflix decided to actually go forward with the Snyder, zombie-verse because we can get some fun one-offs like this. If you just want to watch some good old safecracking and some funny physical comedy, then this is a solid watch this weekend.