‘Spiderhead’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The world as we know it has changed drastically in the past three years. And it’s hard to even remember how we were living before. There are larger companies that will always take over and insist that they know what is best for the global population, but most of the time that is not the case. In Escape to Spiderhead, the short story written in The New Yorker by George Saunders, he explores the evolution of drugs and human emotions. Even though the premise of the story is somewhat farfetched, it could also be something that could happen shortly. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick adapted the short story for the screen, and director Joseph Kosinski gave it his unique touch. 

In the near future, convicts are offered the chance to volunteer as medical subjects to shorten their sentences. One such subject for a new drug capable of generating feelings of love begins questioning the reality of his emotions. Kosinski throws you into the concept of this film right from the beginning, which makes for a pretty rocky start. It’s almost disorienting to work backwards and place the scientific aspect of the medical subjects before learning who they are. But, in a way, they are convicts being detained, so it almost makes sense to present the drug before the characters in a formal way. As the film goes on, the structure becomes a bit simpler and it’s easy to follow. The box filled with vials of different emotional drugs is placed on everyone’s lower backs and you can see the shift in emotions when Doctor Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) turns the dial on his phone. 

The one thing about Spiderhead is that even though it was a bit awkward and slow at times, this cast gave solid performances. Jeff (Miles Teller) and Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett) both have done horrible things and they think the trials help them process their pain. In a way, when someone does something by accident, it haunts them for the rest of their lives, and the film poses the question: what truly makes a person bad? Jeff and Lizzy think they deserve all the pain in the world for what they did, and they are compliant with the trials no matter what. But once the trials get a bit more intense, Jeff questions the real reason Abnesti went into pharmaceuticals. There are moments where Teller, Smollett and Hemsworth had to show a wide range of emotions within seconds, which can be fun, but also challenging. It was impressive to see the switch when the different drugs entered their system and changed their emotions.

Spiderhead has a very interesting concept and that is what keeps you engaged the entire runtime of the movie. There are some weak spots and the film seems to drag at times, but the acting always picks up at the right moment. The film does get stronger as it goes on and it gets darker. It is a movie that highlights grief, trauma, and guilt, and how that manifests into something else later on. Chris Hemsworth does give one of the best performances of his career. This is the first time where he loses himself in a character and it was fun to watch him explore his range. What made this movie even more fun was the wonderful soundtrack. The songs that were used throughout really made for some interesting action scenes, which Kosinski is so good at directing. 

Spiderhead will be released on Netflix Friday, June 17th.

‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Vol. 1 Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Heading back to Hawkins is no easy feat considering what happened in the previous season. Even though it feels like a while back, and the kids have grown into mini-adults, the grief from season three lingers at the beginning of season four. The Duffer Brothers throw the audience right into the mix with a little catch-up with Jane Hopper (Millie Bobby Brown). This season takes place six months after the Battle of Starcourt. She explains everyone’s living situations and how divided they all are. To recap, Hopper (David Harbor) is dead, Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will (Noah Schnapp), and Jane are all living in sunny California now. While the Wheeler’s (Finn Wolfhard and Natalia Dyer), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Max (Sadie Sink) are in Hawkins. This cast is massive and they all play a huge part in this season, but you could also sometimes feel the disconnect between the characters.

Season four of Stranger Things is truly the best yet and it’s because The Duffer Brothers decided to go back to basics. It felt like they stripped down the excess from the last season with the upside-down and showed how these characters are processing their grief. Out of everyone, Eleven is taking everything the hardest. She lost Hopper, she doesn’t have Mike by her side, and she has to start at a new school in sunny California. Even though Will is with her, Eleven feels lost and everything seems hopeless without her main two sources of support. We see her struggling to come to terms with everything that has happened to her. In this season, Eleven is tested in every way and it can be considered more of a rebirth for her spirit. The Duffer Brothers set the tone for the season within the first episode and it does send chills up your spine. 

Courtesy of Netflix

Each season of the series has gotten darker, more thrilling, and a bit more graphic. Season four shows the extent of all of these things through a new, compelling monster from the Upside Down. The thrills come from a new villain named Vecna – a ghoulish, powerful lich that slithers out of the Upside Down to wreak havoc on Hawkins. This monster preys on everyone’s worst fears and can destroy them from the inside out. What Vecna is capable of is much scarier than anything they’ve faced in the past and the journey to uncovering the truth about him makes this season incredibly interesting to watch. Everyone in Hawkins is in danger, and the only ones who know how to try and stop Vecna are Steve, Dustin, Nancy, Robin, Lucas and Max. They work together using their detective skills and extensive knowledge of the Upside Down to uncover the truth. The core characters are together in Hawkins, while the rest of them are scattered all over trying to add different pieces to the puzzle.

The way The Duffer Brothers structured this season works for the most part because each section of characters has to go on their journey. But, they still find a way to connect all the layers. The promotional posters show that there is some connectivity and they all work together like a well-oiled machine. However, the one thread that didn’t work for me was the Russian connection. Of course, it is a piece to the storyline that is necessary, but it felt too drawn out to fit the pacing of the other two. Out of the three sections going at once, this is the one that was lacking because it wasn’t that interesting. There are surprises throughout and some great emotional moments. Sadie Sink is the standout of this season, we see that Max also has to process her grief after losing Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Sink was able to develop her character a bit more and The Duffer Brothers let her scenes breathe for fans to connect with her on another level. 

Courtesy of Netflix

Season four of Stranger Things is some of the best television that you will watch this year. The Duffer Brothers pick up on all the 80s nostalgia and add a wicked soundtrack to the madness. Their camerawork has always been impressive, but in this season they almost matched the filmmaking style of the 80s. The quick cuts, the camera moving swiftly from character to character, and some epic transitions to dive into the horror elements. None of it felt jarring or out of place when going on this journey with these characters. The episode lengths are warranted because of how much development goes into these characters and that every minor detail is relevant to the big reveal in episode seven. Volume one is a whirlwind of information and horror being thrown at the audience, but the connection to these wonderful characters makes it possible to process everything with them.

‘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 Lincoln Lawyer’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Legal dramas are always entertaining to watch, just as long as the story is engaging. Whether it’s a television series or a movie, the storyline has to be interesting enough to keep the audience invested. The Lincoln Lawyer offers a bit of everything in regards to a strong, fun, engaging legal drama series for Netflix. The series movies pretty fast and allows for multiple storylines to be used effectively throughout. Surprisingly, having smaller trials in the first half and then diving into the bigger trial in the last half worked. Viewers get to know Mickey Haller (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) through those smaller trials and then root for him in each episode.

When we meet Haller, he is an iconoclastic idealist, who runs his law practice out of the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car. He takes on cases big and small across the expansive city of Los Angeles. It is based on the series of bestselling novels by renowned author Michael Connelly and this first season is based on the second book in “The Lincoln Lawyer” series, “The Brass Verdict”. What’s so interesting about Haller is that he has a past of his own that he tries to work through in the first half of this season. He wants to get back on his game and rise to the top like he used to be. We see him overcome his trauma and rebuild relationships in his life, while he gets his practice back together.

In the first half of this season, Garcia-Rulfo is a bit stiff and doesn’t really do much as Haller. It takes a bit to warm up to him and by the time you do the season is over. He is good in the role of Haller, but something still feels off and it’s hard to put a finger on it. Once we see Garcia-Rulfo in the courtroom his energy changes which does help his performance a bit. The supporting characters, especially the women, Maggie McPherson (Neve Campbell) and Lorna (Becki Newton) made each episode even better. Even though Maggie is in the middle of her own case, separate from Haller, their shared past gives the storyline a bit of an edge. Then Lorna, who is Haller’s ex-wife and is working with him, adds some humour to the show.

The Lincoln Lawyer is your generic legal drama with a solid cast to bring this all together. The storyline is the most important thing and it draws the viewer in. It’s intricate and the character relationships add so much to Haller as a character. It is funny at times just because of the way Garcia-Rulfo delivers his lines, especially in the courtroom. There are some emotional moments as Haller dives deeper into the case he’s working on. Even though the show has many moving parts, the episodes feel cohesive and not overstuffed with legal drama that viewers won’t be able to understand. It’s very surface level for Netflix viewers so that they can understand the layers of this character and the trial.

‘Our Father’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There are documentaries that have highlighted many different stories, some of them have been slightly altered, and others have been true stories. The ones that turn out to be true stories will most likely leave viewers a bit shaken because of the possibility that there are people like Dr. Donald Cline in Our Father that actually exists. It is an interesting expose because of the current conversation surrounding women’s rights in the United States. Director Lucie Jordan addresses the meaning of consent and the many ways that consent can be violated without anyone realizing it. This story is disturbing and emotional for those involved in this case.

The true story is about one woman whose at-home DNA test reveals multiple half-siblings. She then discovers a shocking scheme involving donor sperm and the popular and controversial fertility specialist Doctor Donald Cline. Besides the fact that they show the extensive relation to multiple people within the same grid, the viewer feels the same sense of dread while watching all of this unfold. Instead of imagining this situation happening to you, you’re re-living it with the victims through this documentary. It’s a difficult watch because it is a Doctor breaking consent and administering his specimen in place of the woman’s actual choice. We see these women who have struggled to even admit that they were violated by a medical professional in a female-based field where it’s necessary to understand women’s bodies.

To see these women break their silence and carry so much pain with them is heartbreaking to see. Their children have a different biological father and we see how the children process their history with the father who raised them. After all this time, finding out that the man you grew up with and idolized for so many tears isn’t your biological father is a horrible feeling. There is a wide range of emotions when watching this documentary because of how each family processes this information. It’s so unethical and inhumane for a doctor to even switch out the semen for his own. Was the benefit to keep your practice afloat, to rise to fame as the one medical clinic that has a guarantee of women being pregnant so they can finally have a child?

Many questions will swirl around in your head while watching Our Father. Women should have the right to know exactly what is happening with their bodies at all times and have full control of their bodies. Is it even safe to have men in the medical field practicing these procedures on women after finding this out? Women feel much safer when discussing anything about the female reproductive system with other women. More women need to be in the medical field, so situations such as this one never occur again. This documentary is not for everyone, but it is so important for everyone to watch given the current state of women’s rights.