‘Senior Year’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There are many people out there who would love to go back to high school – with the knowledge they have now – and do things a bit differently. Depending on which clique you were part of in high school, everyone has their own experience. As long as you had a great group of friends around you, high school wasn’t so bad. One thing is for sure, that no matter when you went to high school, the popularity contest was still prevalent. Even watching a movie like Senior Year makes you reminisce about the fun times and also the times when you would cringe because of how awkward certain situations were. Everyone had a different high school experience and everyone can relate to a film like this.

After a cheerleading stunt went wrong, Stephanie (Rebel Wilson) landed in a 20-year coma. Now she’s 37, newly awake and ready to live out her high school dream: becoming prom queen. It does feel a bit generic as far as older people returning to high school to fulfill their dream, but Rebel Wilson is back. Here’s the issue with Senior Year, if you are a fan of Rebel Wilson’s humour then you really will enjoy this, but it feels like this type of humour is outdated. When Wilson first stepped onto the big screen in Pitch Perfect that awkward humour was funny, but there are only so many films that you can place it in. Wilson grasps at straws because the jokes just didn’t land and her character was more irritating than anything.

The one good thing about Senior Year is the social commentary surrounding social media, cliques, and how technology consumes teenagers. There is one thing that Stephanie said in the film that rings true, that the popularity contest that used to be in high school just expanded into the virtual world of social media. Everyone is worried about comparing themselves to other people and social media has made people doubt the nature of their true selves. It’s difficult to be on social media at any age, but now teenagers are growing up with it. It can harm one’s self-esteem and personal image. Sometimes, people can even lose themselves to the pressure of an online persona.

Is Senior Year as deep as it could have been regarding the social commentary on social media and popularity? No, but it does give you that nostalgic 90s feeling while watching the movie. It’s a fun watch just to feel like you’re back in that high school state of mind, but it doesn’t deliver on the laughs. Sam Richardson is also in this and he is just a charming ray of light that saves certain scenes in this movie. If you want to see Rebel Wilson back in action, then this is the movie for you this weekend. It’s light, fun, and does warm the heart. It brings all the awkwardness of high school back again and you may suffer from secondhand embarrassment. There are some decent emotional moments, but ultimately it just doesn’t stick the landing as a whole.

‘The Adam Project’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

As we get older and we learn how to accept our past, the idea of being able to talk to our younger selves is always floating around. What would you say to your younger self? How could talking to the 12-year-old version of you affect your future decisions? Well, The Adam Project taps into that very idea in a sci-fi film that is grounded in human emotion. Director Shawn Levy constructs a heartfelt story about time-travel that revolves around childhood trauma and grief. It does have the charming Ryan Reynolds with his usual sarcasm, but this is a well-rounded sci-fi, action adventure that balances the humour and drama quite well.

We meet Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) who is wounded while he is trying to steal a ship in order to go back in time to stop time travel from being created. Unfortunately, he crash-lands in the year 2022 and bumps into his 12-year-old self, played by newcomer Walker Scobell. As we know, Reynolds has his own dry sense of humour that he carries with him in all of his characters, but what was so impressive was that Scobell matched his delivery. It was like two peas in a pod, and their dynamic carried the entire film. On the surface, it may look like any other sci-fi film, but the time travel storyline and how it affects both Adams is really emotional.

Time travel can always get a bit messy and it can be difficult to understand. If you just follow the rules placed within the movie itself, then it isn’t so bad. The futuristic weapons and armour combined made the action scenes really fun. Of course, there are references to other films like Star Wars, but it was fitting. The VFX work was strong and the soundtrack they used to really pack it on that there wasn’t that much time left worked really well throughout the movie. Any movie that utilizes “Foreplay/Long Time” from Boston gets a high grade for me. This movie was fun when it needed to be and it had really beautiful, emotional moments between family members.

The Adam Project is one of the best Netflix films in their library and the entire team should be proud of this film. It is a family-oriented film that touches upon grief and how every little thing that happens in your childhood can shape you into the person you become. The cast works together so well and having a 13 Going on 30 reunion with Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo is something we definitely needed. It is a wholesome film with so much love and an important message that time really does heal everything. What everyone can learn from this film is that it is important to feel these emotions in order to grow as a person, and I think that is what makes this film so wonderful.

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Due to the popularity of other slasher films making direct sequels to the original film in the franchise, Texas Chainsaw Massacre decided to take a stab at it. Now, the difference between this slasher film and the others is that they had a distinct final girl. We have Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott, both of who have been the central focus in their designated franchise. Texas Chainsaw Massacre never really had a memorable final girl, but they had Leatherface. No matter how many sequels they make with Leatherface, nothing compares to the original film and the stunning cinematography. The kills in the original were brutal and the film itself had more tension because of the camerawork alone. This direct sequel doesn’t really add much to the story and it doesn’t even have a strong enough motivation for its characters.

In order to make Leatherface relevant for this generation, the story needed to be centred on influencers. After nearly 50 years of hiding, Leatherface returns to terrorize a group of idealistic young friends who accidentally disrupt his carefully shielded world in a remote Texas town. These young kids have no idea what they are getting themselves into, as they step into the house owned by an elderly lady with some demons of her own. Director David Blue Garcia does some good work in building anticipation but the story just doesn’t pan out as well as it should have. The story is straightforward and feels recycled, but we are all really watching this for the kills, aren’t we? It doesn’t matter if any of these characters survive because they are just placed in this town to get murdered with no prior knowledge of Leatherface.

This is the type of sequel where you’re just waiting for the kills to happen. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has some of the most brutal kills I’ve seen in a while. There’s so much blood and gore, that even the close-ups of anything piercing someone’s skin will make you cringe. The kills will also make you laugh because of how bold they are. You can definitely feel every single blow to the head or axe to the chest. It does get a bit ridiculous in the third act because it could have ended in three different spots, but it kept going. They tried to make a final girl out of Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré) but it just didn’t make any sense because no one is connected to her enough to make this feel like “one last time” heading out to kill Leatherface.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a sequel that tries to recapture the same essence of the original but falls flat. The characters are hollow and there is absolutely no reason to even root for them. Leatherface has always flown under the radar and his backstory was always weak. If we compare his story to Jason, Freddy, or Michael, each of their stories is a bit more developed, which created well-rounded antagonists. In this case, it felt like they were mimicking the importance of other franchise villains with Leatherface in their place. Fans of the franchise will definitely appreciate the kills but at the end of the day, it’s just a recycled story trying to cater to this generation to make it relevant again.

‘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.