‘The Pale Blue Eye’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Vengeance makes people do some questionable things, but it becomes a different story when a father seeks justice for his daughter’s rape. The Pale Blue Eye works on two plains as Veteran Detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) investigates a series of murders with the help of a young cadet who will eventually become the world-famous author Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling). After a cadet is found with a noose around his neck, Landor interrogates the others who knew Cadet Fry. After that, they find his heart cut out of his body in the morgue. The mystery of the murder continues as another cadet suffered the same fate. Detective Landor works with Allan Poe to try and decipher messages and the symbolism of carving the heart out of a deceased man. As Landor gets to know the cadets, he also tries to find the men who raped his daughter without ever telling the story of what happened to her. 

Director Scott Cooper sets a wintery backdrop as Landor and Allen Poe work together to solve this mystery. There’s the factual and logical reasoning from Detective Landor, while Allan Poe (rightfully so) creates a poetic reimagining of the murders. He taps into the symbolism of carving out a man’s heart and instantly links it to a former lover. This leads to the suspect being a woman, a path Detective Landor wouldn’t have guessed. Slowly, the story begins to unfold, and witchcraft becomes involved with the brutal murders of these men. Who is conducting these ceremonies, and what is the purpose? Detective Landor is at wit’s end as he finds more information about these murders that also tie into his daughter’s rape. The murders are the main focus, but the reluctance to accuse women without justifiable evidence is explored in this case. When Lea (Lucy Boyton) and Julia Marquis (Gillian Anderson) enter the story, they are endearing and incredibly empathetic. 

Bale always gives a strong performance, but Anderson is the standout in this film. Her voice and mannerisms are peculiar, making her an interesting character to look after. Boyton has lovely chemistry with Melling, as Lea and Edgar bond over their differences throughout the film. Edgar speaks to Lea differently than all the other cadets, which she appreciates, and she starts to like him. Edgar Allan Poe is obscure, but he is more of a lover than a fighter. He sees things in a different light, a bit bleaker but somehow uplifting. Melling’s performance as Allan Poe is possibly the most accurate portrayal on screen. It was an emotional performance while still brushing the small details that make Allan Poe a poet. It was the early stages of his life, and he had a hopefulness in humanity, which was nice to see. He was very observant and could understand someone’s soul without speaking to them. 

The title of the film, The Pale Blue Eye, is considered a trap within the film. The eyes never lie, no matter how much you want to cover something up. Your emotions will always come through without even meaning to because everything reaches the eyes. Whether it’s a smile, sadness, or even a blank stare in not knowing how you feel, it’s not hidden. The Pale Blue Eye is a novel by Louis Bayard that won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2007. The film did do the book justice, as it captured the slow burn of love, loss, and the lengths of witchcraft to protect oneself. Even taking place in the 1800s shows the difference in social class and relationships that also factor into the murder and the misogyny surrounding rape culture. It’s a mystery thriller that will keep you engaged because of the odd women, Allan Poe’s words, and Bale’s performance as a father seeking some form of retribution for his daughter. 

‘Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Alejandro González Iñárritu returns with an introspective expressionism of his own life. As an artist, one’s life is analyzed from two perspectives; through the creative mind and reality. Iñárritu covers the history of the Mexican-American bridge and the truth of his people. Silverio Gacho (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is a Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker who prides himself on telling the truth about his country and his people. Iñárritu expertly projects the thoughts of Gacho into visual imagery to showcase his existential crisis throughout the film. From the opening scene, Gacho is just a shadow of himself on the land he values with his life. He has two personas that he grapples with, which is his ultimate destruction as he spirals into a shell of his former self. Gacho navigates the media, his family, and his demons while he’s in the process of receiving an award for his work. The symbolism in Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths speaks louder than the dialogue uttered by the characters. 

The most impressive aspect of this film is Iñárritu’s ability to show different angles of Gacho’s emotions through symbolic imagery. The loss of his son is something he carries with him, and the image of the newborn baby comes to his mind when he least expects it. The bloody image of the umbilical cord stretching down the hallway as Gacho and his wife Lucia (Griselda Siciliani) walk out of the hospital shows their attachment to the child moving forward. There are many moments where Iñárritu shows Gacho feeling trapped and yearning for freedom through the imagery used. There are fish that break free from a bag filled with water that he holds onto, and moments where he can’t move or is lost in a dark space that parallels the depth of his mind. Gacho is lost within himself because of who the media tells him he is and the man he thinks he is, but that still isn’t enough to make him feel whole. 

The cinematography by Darius Khondji is stunning, and Iñárritu’s framing of Gacho and his surroundings matches perfectly. Gacho tries to understand who he is after losing his newborn baby because it takes a toll mentally. He wants to move forward, but the loss stays with him. It then affects his perception of himself as a father, a creative, and a man. He has a love for his country and for his profession, which has uprooted him from his home. The media questions his credibility and journalistic integrity as a documentary filmmaker as he accepts his award for his work. He suffers from imposter syndrome and questions his morals regarding his profession. It may feel like Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is a bit farfetched and confusing. Still, it’s simply a representation of memories and feelings that are expressed through symbolic images to connect to Gacho. 

Alejandro González Iñárritu carefully crafts his journey through Gacho in one of the most beautifully shot films of the year. It’s an emotional journey with Gacho as he navigates this sense of emptiness and loss. It affects his entire life and he questions every decision he has ever made, including moving to the United States. He shows how he had to balance his life as a journalist in America and how his people responded to his success. Daniel Giménez Cacho gives a powerful performance in this film and explores Iñârritu’s emotional journey with him. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is a heartbreaking set of memories and life experiences that highlights the entire spectrum of emotional expression through stunning symbolic imagery that will affect each viewer differently. It’s a deeply personal film to Iñârritu and you can feel his connection to the visuals more so than the character of Gacho himself. Further proving that the moving picture can evoke certain emotions that words cannot. 

‘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.