‘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.

‘Army of the Dead’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What do you get when you combine Zack Snyder, zombies and a heist? You get one of the most entertaining films of the year! If you are a Snyder fan, this one sure caters to the fanbase. You are in for a fun ride through a zombie wasteland in Las Vegas. It is larger than life, loud and action-packed with stunning visuals, courtesy of the man himself. Snyder knows how to create tension quite effortlessly, and more importantly, he knows how to mix in a wicked soundtrack that juxtaposes certain scenes. From the very beginning, as Elvis Presley’s ‘Suspicious Minds’ plays, while newlyweds are on a joyride, the lyrics, ‘we’re caught in a trap, we can’t walk out…’ sets the tone for the entire film.

We get a typical Snyder opening credit sequence detailing what happened to the Las Vegas strip, while a slow version of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ plays out. It is one of his strongest opening title sequences, and I won’t lie, I had a gigantic smile on my face. At the start of any Snyder movie, we all think to ourselves, ‘What does he have in store for us this time?” and majority of the time he exceeds expectations. Snyder went back to his zombie roots with this film. It wasn’t that gory, or overstuffed with kills, it just flowed really well. It didn’t rely on the zombie conventions, that we are used to because that part was sidelined. This was a heist film straight through and it had great balance combining both genres.

This film wouldn’t have been as entertaining without its cast of characters. First and foremost, Dave Bautista needs to be recognized as the lead in this film. Bautista has been sidelined for majority of his film career and hasn’t been taken seriously as an actor (until Blade Runner 2049), Snyder put him at the forefront and he carried the film quite well. His character Scott had to endure some traumatic moments when the zombies tore up his town and has been trying to reconcile with his daughter. Bautista nailed the emotional moments and left me impressed. The other standouts were Marianne (Tig Notaro), Vanderhoe (Omari Hardwick), Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and Lily (Nora Arnezeder), they each had their time to shine and brought so much to their characters.

Army of the Dead is filled with great action sequences, fun character banter, and plenty of zombies. The film did suffer at the end because even though the runtime went a bit long, the ending still felt rushed. Did I enjoy the ending? No. It left such a bitter taste in my mouth. But don’t worry, there is another ending, that will also leave you questioning what the point was. At the end, it was all about the journey and it sure was a wild ride. I can’t forget to mention the Junkie XL score because he keeps putting out such great pieces to accompany action scenes. If you love Snyder, you’ll set aside the small issues with the film and enjoy the zombie spectacle for two hours and twenty-eight minutes.

‘Monster’ Movie Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Monster on Netflix is a poignant story about a 17-year-old aspiring filmmaker in Harlem, who is being accused of a robbery that he was not a part of. The film stars Kelvin Harrison Jr, ASAP Rocky, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson and John David Washington. This film was truly a surprise for me because I didn’t know what I was walking into. The performances from everyone in the cast were emotional, powerful and really effective. It had a unique structure, a well-written script and interesting narrative choices to move the story forward.

On the surface the film seems like it is a generic courtroom drama with a story that we have seen quite often. The difference, in my opinion, is the execution of this story. What I found really interesting was the use of the voiceover from Steven Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), as we first see him in his jail cell. He expresses his internal thoughts as we his journey unfold. The voiceover works perfectly because it gives a different meaning to what the viewer is seeing on-screen. Since Steven is a filmmaker, the execution of this story mirrors his director’s lens in his mind and externalizes his emotions.

The film explains the negative perception that comes from the systemic racism embedded in the legal system. The film is titled, “monster” because it is one of the words used to describe Steven Harmon when he is on trial. Harmon is haunted by this word because he has never seen himself as one, and now he is questioning, what does it mean to be one? This is the emotional basis of the film and then, there is another layer of perspective, from a filmmaking standpoint that compliments this theme.

Monster is a film that is structured incredibly well because it uses its flashbacks properly. This is a very balanced way to show the events leading to his arrest in the past and then showing the trial in the present day. The performances drive the film and the direction from Anthony Mandler was intriguing. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is one of the most talented young actors working today and this is another project where he truly shines. Make sure to catch Monster on Netflix this weekend!