‘Pinocchio’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The story of Pinocchio has been adapted many times. Some have done it through live-action and modernized it. Others have reimagined it through the power of animation. After similar iterations, no one has altered the story and created something so poignant as Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson. This version of the story is adapted from the book written by Carlo Collodi and is a more grounded retelling of the famous story. This version felt more authentic to Geppetto (David Bradley) and his life in Italy. Collodi presented a different narrative because of his native Italian heritage. Del Toro showed an unfair world under the Mussolini regime and how children were taken away from their families. This film particularly highlights the dynamic between father and son through different perspectives. The emotional connection to Geppetto is established early on that will resonate with audiences throughout, making it easy to feel for Geppetto’s loss. 

As we all know, Geppetto loses his son. While grieving, Geppetto wishes that Carlo would magically return to him. Early in the film, Del Toro and Collodi create a bond between father and son. Which is something we have never gotten before in previous adaptations. We get to see their relationship and how Geppetto adored his son, Carlo. They were both loving, sweet, and incredibly caring. Even when Geppetto walked through town with Carlo, everyone praised the two of them. The townspeople knew their circumstances and expressed how gracious they both were. They enjoyed each other’s company, no matter what they were doing. Del Toro’s visual storytelling through animation is some of his best work because of the attention to detail in Pinocchio’s story. The images on the screen held meaning, which is deeply connected to Carlo’s life and how much he meant to Geppetto. Del Toro used a single pine cone to tell one of the most heartbreaking stories of the year. 

Even though there have been many that have come before it, the reason why this version of Pinocchio is the best is because of the way the story is presented. Animation is a powerful medium that can turn one man’s grief into a magical exploration of human connection. As someone who has recently lost someone dear to them, del Toro’s Pinocchio struck such a chord in me. No matter how badly we want our loved ones back, it’s impossible to regain what we once had. Thus, new relationships must form, not to take the place of the hole in your heart, but to grow with others around you. Geppetto drank away his life without moving forward, and one night he carved Carlo out of pine. Geppetto’s grief pushed him to create a wooden boy. And through his tears, life was brought back to his home. While little Pinocchio is trying to navigate his new life with the help of Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), Geppetto cannot accept this new entity as his Carlo. Geppetto and Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) try to understand each other and how this new relationship will work. In doing so, words are exchanged that do more harm than good.  

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is beautifully written and will resonate with many who have experienced loss. The bond between father and son is explored on multiple fronts, and how fragile relationships can be. The film is grounded in Geppetto’s love for his son, and through the stunning visuals, his love is transported through the magical creatures who help him move forward. Del Toro is a master of his craft because he can make the fantastical incredibly grounded and emotional through the complexity of his characters. There are layers to Geppetto and Pinocchio that have never been explored before. Every aspect of this film is brought together by Alexandre Desplat’s touching score that plays so softly in times of sadness for Geppetto. It’s almost as if the music moves with his emotions as he enters each stage of grief. This version of Pinocchio is the best adaptation to date. And one of the best films Netflix has made. It will begin streaming on December 9th, do not miss this one. 

‘The Wonder’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Set in The Irish Midlands in 1862, The Wonder follows the story of a young girl who stops eating but remains miraculously alive and well. English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) is brought to a tiny village to observe eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy). Tourists and pilgrims mass to witness the girl who is said to have survived without food for months. Director Sebastián Leilo crafts a dark piece that pits science and blind faith against each other. Even though it takes place in the 1800s, the conversation can hold some relevance today. Whether it’s blind faith in what God has created or the scientific fact of what has been studied for decades, the conversation of autonomy over one’s body is always important. The way Leilo and cinematographer Ari Wegner captured the unsettling atmosphere through their incredible visuals and direction made these ideas appear differently to audiences. 

It is one thing to discuss these matters with characters on screen, but it is another to show their feelings through the visual storytelling of the film. Wegner has been such an impressive force with her compositions within the frame that everything complimented Pugh’s incredible performance. It seemed as though the visuals and Leilo’s direction for this piece completely overpowered the story. To see a young woman conditioned to think a certain way after a traumatic childhood event is difficult to comprehend. Her parents have attempted to help her but have turned her into this empty shell of a young girl to fit their religious narrative of heaven and hell. At the cost of a young life, an older generation must enforce their ideals upon everyone, which is even more problematic in itself. Her parents test Nurse Wright’s patience throughout the film, as she pushes her scientific rationalization as to why this young girl has survived without food. 

The moments between Pugh and Lord Cassidy together in young Anna’s room are possibly the best in the film because of their conversations. Nurse Wright has lost a great deal herself and questions if there even is a higher being out there. How can there be if she has lost so much around her, including herself? We see glimpses of Wright’s struggle, and it forces the audience to connect the pieces as to why she is so determined to save young Anna. In return, Anna is so involved in her faith that she doesn’t understand the social cues from Wright. The technical aspects of this film are what hold it together, including the chilling score by Matthew Herbert. However, the script, which is adapted by Alice Birch and Emma Donaghue (who also wrote the book) was a bit too dense. The film suffered from pacing issues and felt overly long to get to the final act. Even though the first half was set up to be a compelling narrative, it did suffer as it slowly came to its conclusion. 

The Wonder has another powerhouse performance from Florence Pugh who commanded every single scene she was in. You felt her pain from her past as it came through in how adamant she was in saving the young girl. Newcomer Lord Cassidy also gave a strong performance as Anna, she had to go to dark places to showcase her character’s blind faith in what her parents had instilled. The technical aspects of this film such as Wegner’s stunning cinematography and Herbert’s chilling atmospheric score are what made this compelling to watch. Sebastián Leilo pulled out a stunning performance from Pugh and made some interesting decisions throughout the film to have viewers question the reality of blind faith in how he chose to bookend this film. Leilo does transport you to a time that feels so distant from what our reality is only to present the same ideologies as we struggle with presently, only proving that the world around us might change, but the same issues will always remain.

‘Blonde’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When biopics are made there is a certain level of care and understanding. The filmmakers chose to explore every aspect of one person’s life to have some form of admiration for what the artist brought to the world. Even if it’s embellished a bit for dramatized purposes on screen, some tell the story as authentic as possible. Some filmmakers have highlighted stories of fictionalized events in one’s life and did so tastefully by respecting who they were. Whether the story is fictional or not, many filmmakers have respected the artist they have chosen to dedicate years to behind the camera. The one filmmaker who did not do any of what is stated above is Andrew Dominik for his fictionalized Marilyn Monroe feature Blonde. 

Firstly, the fictional novel written by Joyce Carol Oates depicts the dual life of Norma Jean. She has to put on a persona like Marilyn Monroe, and she completely loses her true sense of self the longer she plays the character. Oates fabricates multiple sexual assaults, abuse, and abortions and treats mental illness as a plot device. There were already many issues with the novel, but after watching the choices Dominik made to bring this adaptation to the screen, it was better to be left to the imagination. There are extremely uncomfortable moments to watch because the person on screen does not feel like Marilyn Monroe in the slightest. There is this emotionless detachment to her, no warmth or love is radiating off of her, it’s as if Ana de Armas is playing a hollow character that no one ever knew. 

Apart from the story feeling like horrible graphic scenes placed in a sequence to show the worst days of her life, the film felt overly stylized. The cinematography did not match the story that was being told and kept changing throughout. From aspect ratio changes to colour grading to symbolic transitions that became laughable, there was no clear vision for this story. Other than to exploit and degrade a woman who has been treated with disrespect at every turn. Monroe became a sex symbol because that’s how she was marketed, but Norma Jean had a different persona entirely. They touch upon the differences but with no respect towards her as a whole person. The nudity was gratuitous and so were the sex scenes that added absolutely nothing to the story. From the beginning of this film, Norma Jean was treated as a worthless doll who longed for love but felt absolutely nothing. 

Blonde is a fictionalized disservice to a beautiful, kindhearted woman, who has always enforced love, body positivity, and equality in an industry where the studio system silenced women. Dominik showed no care towards her as a human being whatsoever and there is absolutely no sense of humanity in this film. It is a series of scenes exploiting her and showing the worst moments a woman could go through. Marilyn Monroe was a great actress; she had great comedic timing and could also play in those deep emotional moments. She was energetic and sweet, despite what was happening beneath the surface in her personal life. She fought for her position in Hollywood and uplifted other women in the industry at the same time. The woman you see in this film is nothing like the woman everyone adored. 

‘Day Shift’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

A hardworking dad Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) out to provide for his daughter uses a boring pool-cleaning job as a front for his real gig: hunting and killing vampires. Director J.J. Perry sets the tone early on in Day Shift when he gets right into the action with Jablonski and how he hunts vampires. Audiences can relate to him because he is a father doing the best he can for his daughter, as he sells certain vampire body parts for cash. He can track these vampires and hunt them down with a shotgun to get this money. The action is jam-packed at the very beginning and gives a strong sense of how the movie is going to play out. 

Like any other vampire movie, there are rules set within the universe that help audiences understand how everyone operates. The only issue with that is the exposition in regards to how they over-explain their vampires and what they do. It could have been handled a bit differently and not as dense as it was, considering there was a more playful tone at the beginning of this movie. It does get darker as the movie goes on, which would explain the shift. The characters are separated at first but then they all come together in the end to have a final standoff that further explains the history of the vampires in the town. There is a nice mix of mystery between all the characters, but ultimately it drags and the pacing doesn’t work in its favour.

The one reason to watch this vampire-hunting Netflix film is the action. From the moment it started, the fight choreography and special effects are what grabbed my attention. When Foxx was fighting the first vampire, the camera angles and the swift movements of the character impressed me. It felt like Perry wanted to almost make it a video game type of feel with those action sequences. The sequences got more graphic as the movie went on, which is what made it so much fun to watch. There were moments where the VFX on the vampires worked well and almost disgusted me because of how realistic they looked. Perry sold the believability of the vampire-hunting through the action scenes and that’s all anyone can ask of this movie. 

Day Shift had the potential to be better than it was if he focused more on the story than the action. There needed to be a balance for this movie to be a memorable addition to the Netflix library. Unfortunately, the jokes did not land and it wasn’t as funny as they thought it would be with Dave Franco and Snoop Dogg in the mix. Is it a fun action movie? For the most part, yes. But it doesn’t have the strength in the story for it to be engaging at all. In this case, the action does overpower the storyline, so it feels like a mindless action movie where you’re just waiting for those awesome scenes. Foxx is always great but it didn’t feel like he had much to do with his character at all, which didn’t do much for the story. 

‘Valley of the Dead’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Sometimes zombie flicks can be really fun because of the cast and the location. If the cast has great banter and understands how to make certain aspects believable, the movie will be a fun ride. Unfortunately, Valley of the Dead misses the mark when it comes to believability and suspense throughout the entire movie. It is as generic as they come, even though it’s about a lawyer in the army trying to navigate through a piece of land where dead soldiers have become zombies. It didn’t really add anything to the genre, but instead just went through the motions to make it watchable. It draws from many other zombie films that had better execution.

Valley of the Dead, which is also called Malnazidos is a 2020 Spanish zombie action film directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera and Alberto de Toro and set in the Spanish Civil War. A small group of sworn enemies must work together when they encounter flesh-eating zombies created in a Nazi experiment. There is some great camera work in the opening scene to show how brutal the Nazis were and how the experiment started. But, it soon fizzled towards the middle when they started to venture through the valley. They moved locations and then more and more zombies would show up until the third act which had a whole army. It felt as if it was escalating because it had to, and not because it worked for the story.

Zombie films are more suspenseful than anything because the anticipation is what would cause any form of tension. That’s what was severely lacking in this movie and it is what made me lose interest. Even though it has a short runtime, it felt like it was dragging on because it wasn’t engaging. The makeup for the zombies was fine but looked a bit cheap at times. On top of that, the kills weren’t that inventive and the blood didn’t look believable either. There was some great banter between characters, but ultimately it just wasn’t scary enough or unique to set it apart from other zombie flicks.

Valley of the Dead had some good moments, and some fun camera work at times, but lacked suspense. This movie just went through the motions of every other zombie film, but just in a different setting. The story wasn’t nearly strong enough to keep the audience engaged. At times, the humour was decent but some jokes didn’t really land. There was so much potential for this movie to actually highlight what happened at that time, but it glossed over the historical accuracy and filled it with the zombie storyline instead. There wasn’t a clear balance in the storytelling for audiences to connect with the story at all.