‘M3GAN’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

A new year means new movies, but January doesn’t always have the best track record. When horror movies are released this early in the year, they seem to have it rough. They’re not always great, but they’re still watchable. M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone, is all the campy fun you would want from a slasher film, but it lacks in the kills. Megan is a “toy” that was created to pair with young children and be their long-term best friend. Constructing something so personal and intimate ultimately comes with a price. The “toy” is responsive to the child’s emotions, can get overprotective, and eventually have a mind of its own. Megan becomes a force to be reckoned with in this film because she learns from everyone around her. 

The first half of this film handled grief and trauma quite well. Young Cady (Violet McGraw) loses her parents in a car accident, and she has to learn to live without them. Her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) becomes her guardian, and she doesn’t know how to change her lifestyle to fit Cady’s. It was hard for Gemma to pull away from her work because she was focused on building a robot that would be the ultimate toy (and best friend) for young girls. While processing Cady’s trauma, Gemma dives head first into constructing this AI robot for her niece to help her grieving process. She didn’t want her to be consumed by losing her parents, and M3GAN would help her move forward. Gemma didn’t expect the deep, emotional connection Cady would have with M3GAN. 

As the film goes on, M3GAN adapts to her surroundings, and she becomes closer to Cady. She understands what she wants and how to help her through anything. The more intimate they become, the more overprotective M3GAN gets. Anything said against Cady would irritate her, and this is where she starts to change. Johnstone’s direction for M3GAN all came down to the subtlety of her glances and how she would pick up on conversations. That is what made the character intriguing. The way Johnstone would lead up to the kills worked well, but it didn’t feel as creepy as it should have. It could be because the humour and anticipation were more interesting than the kill. The combination of young Amie Donald physically playing M3GAN while Jenna Davis voiced the character was impressive. They did make a unique character with a strong story, which should be the main takeaway here. 

M3GAN had a strong start because of how Gemma and M3GAN were helping Cady with her grief. Having the villain gain sympathy from the audience first was a smart move. Almost everyone is afraid of technology and what it’s capable of. That plays in the back of the viewer’s mind while watching this. Even if M3GAN is sweet to Cady and protective, something has to go wrong because she doesn’t have the full spectrum of human emotion. The film works better when it taps into the psychology of AI and how it works for/against humans through Cady. The main issue is that the “good parts” were already shown in the trailer. It does take away from watching those scenes in the context of the film, making it less surprising. There were some fun moments, and it was enjoyable for the most part, but it felt a bit bland toward the end. 

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After thirteen years, James Cameron has returned with Avatar: The Way of Water. In 2009, Cameron changed the cinematic experience with the technological advancements he pushed for while making Avatar. The motion capture and special effects became lifelike. On top of that, it was the rebirth of 3D, as he placed you in the world of Pandora. Cameron created a visual spectacle that also changed the genre of science fiction. 3D became a staple after, but no one could ever match his breathtaking visuals or the VFX work. Cameron raises the bar again with the sequel, as the visuals appear even more polished than before, and it feels as if the characters are real. The sequel is gorgeous, but it suffers from a weak script and an emotional disconnect between these characters. 

There’s a montage of Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) life with his children and Neytiri (Zoë Saldana) on Pandora. And they soon find out that there is a familiar threat that is targeting them. The Sullys find a place to hide with the Metkayina Clan, who are one with the sea. The choices made by Sully and his children throughout this film are questionable and cause confusion. As the Sullys adapt to the traditions of the water tribe, the looming threat continues to move closer, thus feeling a bit like a carbon copy of the first one with new characters. As Sullys children explore the water tribe, they keep getting into trouble. We don’t get a loving family unit, which should have been the beating heart of this film. They keep mentioning that their family unit is strong, yet we only see the kids get reprimanded the entire runtime. 

The exploration of Metkayina Clan is stunning, as Cameron’s visuals in the water world completely take you into another universe. They spend time in the water and learn about the creatures within it. Cameron incorporates the skills from both tribes and plays to their strengths when exploring the ocean. The creatures are also beautifully designed, and it was so impressive to see what Cameron came up with. The whole second act has Sully’s children learning the way of the water from the Metkayina Clan. It looked magical whenever they were in the water, and the VFX was extremely well done. Even the way the action scenes were executed felt more fast-paced than usual because of the double frame rate in the water. This is another technical achievement for Cameron and a visual spectacle that we haven’t experienced in over a decade. 

Avatar: The Way of Water visually exceeds expectations in every single way. James Cameron is the only one who can push the boundaries with this franchise to see technology raised to new heights. However, the story suffers and feels like a recycled version of the first instalment. There is no emotional connection to these characters or this family because their family dynamic was rushed. Out of a three-hour runtime, it felt like we did not spend any time with the family. There was an obstacle to overcome in almost every other scene, which only divided the family unit even more. There were subplots introduced but also dropped. It felt like there was no time, yet it also felt like they could have explored so much more. There could have been much more depth to this sequel, but sadly it was more style over substance. The focus is more on technological achievement than the development of the world and its characters. 

‘Bones and All’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There can be times when loneliness can affect many aspects of our lives. Some can feel lonely surrounded by others, some feel lonely but find it comforting, and others are constantly seeking something to fill their emptiness. It can also stem from not fully understanding who you are or questioning your life purpose. In Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All, two lonely cannibals find each other and explore different cravings. Through their loneliness Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timotheé Chalament) have survived life as “eaters” and have approached their urges in their way. When they come together, those morals are tested, along with understanding the meaning of loving someone’s flaws. Guadagnino created an ominous atmosphere for the cannibals. But, also an incredibly vulnerable one, where Russell and Chalamet were stripped of any excess. Their chemistry and open conversations about being what they are made for some beautiful moments. 

The film begins with paintings as the credits roll, and there’s an instant familiarity with the artistic side of Guadagnino. Without doing much, he sets many locations for Maren and Russell acts like she is an outcast at this school. She wants to make friends, but she doesn’t understand her urges. When Maren goes to a sleepover (without her father knowing), she gets close to one of the girls. She asks about her past, but Maren is detached; her mind wanders because of her heightened sense of smell by inhaling her scent. The look of carnal desire on Russell’s face says more than words ever could. There’s a mixed wave of lust and discomfort while watching her, which is confusing. Then without thinking, she takes the girl’s finger into her mouth, and blood gushes everywhere. Guadagnino expertly combines grotesque imagery with sensuality to heighten every emotion in you. It’s impossible to look away at any point because it’s mesmerizing. 

Guadagnino does highlight the morality of these characters. They do contemplate whom they eat. Someone like Maren hasn’t fed at all, and it feels like a coming-of-age story for her. The older “eater” named Sully (Mark Rylance) only feeds on people who are about to die because he can smell them. Then there’s Lee, who only feeds on bad people or people without families. The “eaters” can also track each other, which is problematic for Maren. Sully takes an interest in her out of his loneliness in finding someone he can fully be himself with. There’s a hint of desperation, that exits Rylance’s voice whenever he’s around Maren. He truly has one of the most chilling performances of the year. When Maren meets Lee unexpectedly at a superstore, they click instantly. The chemistry between Russell and Chalamet is electric, and they didn’t have to say much to sell that they were that connected. Guadagnino also knows how to capture intimate moments through glances and stolen smiles, which is what he did through Maren’s perspective. It’s visually implied that she had been longing for him the entire road trip to find her birth mother. 

At times Bones and All can feel rushed by glossing over moments that would have helped Maren and Lee connect on screen a bit more. If anything, more time should have been spent building their relationship because of how magnetic their screen presence was. Even though there was tension between the two, it felt like a struggle to focus on cannibalism or their relationship. Ultimately, this story is about Maren and her discovering what it means to be an individual living with this condition in this world. What it means to fully be herself, especially with someone she truly loves and sees her for who she is, after years of not being accepted by anyone. Russell gives a stunning performance, while Chalamet takes a back seat with his charm as Lee. They learn from each other and adapt to a world that doesn’t understand the complexities of living. It is a beautiful love story with a heartbreaking message that to love anyone you have to love their flaws, bones and all. 

‘She Said’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Journalists are meant to find the truth and amplify voices using their platform for whichever publication they write for. There was a period when America fell to pieces because of the President they elected into office. If you weren’t a white cis male, you were a target for discrimination and harassment. The President himself had many sexual assault allegations made against him, but he was still sitting in the White House. This was proof that men would never be held accountable for their actions. During the same run of *his* presidency, Hollywood also crumbled because of the big bad producer, Harvey Weinstein. In October 2017, the New York Times published a story detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Weinstein. She Said is about the two women, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), who wrote the article exposing Weinstein’s transgressions. As more women came forward with their own stories, the #MeToo movement — which started in 2007 by Tarana Burke — gained some steam when Alyssa Milano urged women online to share their stories amidst these new allegations.  

Director Maria Schrader made some excellent choices to show the stories of the survivors. She let the stories breathe as the women would retell their painful memories to the journalists. Schrader never showed any physical moments between the survivors and Weinstein, which was the right choice. Given the title of this film, the words being spoken by the women became more powerful as there were only images implying how the situation had unravelled. It was more powerful to process the words than to connect to graphic images on the screen. These claims happen to women more than any of us care to admit, and the language used to explain what happened is more chilling than a re-enactment of a terrible memory. The script is co-written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Kantor, and Twohey. They highlighted the spaces in the timeline to keep a steady pace. There are tense moments that could resonate with journalists on a different level, and the score by Nicholas Britell would flow seamlessly in and out without overpowering moments. The score has a mix of sadness and hopefulness, depending on who is speaking.

It’s hard to present this story while still addressing certain actors in the business who didn’t want to corroborate with the filmmakers. However, Ashley Judd stood firm and told her story with such gravitas, similar to her speech at the Women’s March. Having her in this film is one of the reasons why this felt so grounded. The other stories were presented in a way that viewers could connect with. But it’s a familiar face, whom audiences know, and it puts things into perspective. Many do not know the story of Weinstein, but those who do feel connected to the women who shared their stories, especially actors, whom they’ve connected with over the years. It also helped that Mulligan and Kazan have two of the most trusting faces, which made their performances as journalists compelling. Kazan had a softer approach than Mulligan, and that’s why they complimented each other. Twohey was more of a take-no-prisoners journalist who went head-to-head with the lawyers and Weinstein. Kantor was able to speak sincerely to survivors and connect emotionally. The two of them together made such a fantastic pairing, and I wanted to see more of them after the film ended.

She Said has entered the hall of fame of films about journalism. This is one of the better, more engaging pieces surrounding a publication like the New York Times. Maria Schrader knew how she wanted to handle the subject matter, and she kept a woman at the centre of every single conversation and frame. This time, the voices and pieces of dialogue were more important than showing the assaults on screen. It felt like watching a chain of events unfold naturally, and all the missing pieces would align for the story to move forward. Even when Weinstein did make an appearance, the camera stayed on Twohey, and her gaze burned into him because she knew the truth. This film is a powerful reminder that there are women whose stories have yet to be told. Hollywood has put on a facade for many years to protect one of the producers with the deepest pockets. If this could happen in a billion-dollar industry, imagine what is happening in other workplaces that suffer without anyone addressing it. It is also a difficult film to watch because of the stories shared. Even if a woman has never gone through an experience like that, there is empathy for the situation because it could, unfortunately, happen to anyone.

‘Strange World’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Walt Disney Animation has been developing unique stories for family-friendly years. Whether it’s about romance, adventure, or family, there have always been stories many can connect with. There are many Walt Disney Animation Studio releases, and Strange World is unique because it has one of the best family dynamics in the library. Writer Qui Nguyen wanted to explore the relationship between a father and son with Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) and Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal). Jaeger is a famous explorer who wants to teach his son to be just like him. But one day, when they go exploring, Searcher becomes more invested in the ecosystem surrounding their city. He finds this glowing plant with energy flowing through it. He thinks about the long-term effects of farming it. Instead, his father pushes ahead to see what is on the other side of the mountains they’d spent years trying to cross. At that moment, Jaeger felt like he had lost his son because he didn’t want to move forward with him and his interests. This had a long-lasting effect on Searcher because he felt like he was never good enough. 

The film highlights the generational trauma that can be passed down from parent to child in an almost vicious cycle. Sometimes parents can take insecurities and project them onto their children. Other times parents can be exactly like their parents after trying incredibly hard not to turn out like them. Children battle with their parents at a young age over wanting to be an individual and not an extension of their parents. That is when the perception of a parent of their child begins to change. A child isn’t brought into this world for parents to fix the issues they couldn’t heal from in their childhood. This runs throughout the film with Searcher and his son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). Once Searcher finds some pests in his crops, he ventures to the outskirts of Avalonia to get to the root of the problem. During this adventure, Searcher wants Ethan to learn the farming ways with him. As Ethan explores with his father, he understands that he has a different perspective on living organisms than his father. Ethan has discussions with his father about whom he wants to be and what he wants to do. And Searcher has flashbacks to his life with his father that begin to haunt him. 

There is a focus on generational trauma and how it can affect children, but director Don Hall also crafts a delightful adventure. Walt Disney Animation Studios has made its 3D technology so life-like that it felt like an old-time adventure. Jaeger Clade was presented as a legend and comic book hero for Avalonia for discoveries, while Searcher was treated as a resourceful hero for his farming. This original action adventure is fast-paced and fun to watch because of the lengths the Clades go to for their fulfilment. There is never a dull moment, and that is because the characters of Searcher, Ethan, and his mom Meridian (Gabrielle Union), are a fun-loving, cohesive family unit that brings the laughs. Ethan is also one of the first openly queer Disney characters. And for once, the story doesn’t surround the fact that he is. It’s natural for him to have a crush on a boy and openly discuss it with his family. The importance of acceptance within this family unit is what the world needs right now. They also shift focus on the individuality of Ethan’s career and his path in life, which is a far more interesting thread to pull on when speaking on lineage. 

Strange World is an ode to adventure films that have been dearly missed over the years. The presence of Jaeger Clade will make audiences feel nostalgic because of his passion for exploring. It was impressive the way Nguyen layered the construction of Avalonia. He revealed the twist at the opportune moment. The world-building in this film is wonderful to explore with the characters. And the adorable creatures all fit into a larger perception of the world they live in. It is action-packed, the pacing is strong, and the score by Henry Jackman pulls you into the adventure with the characters. The beauty of exploration is shown in this film, and the audience gets to learn with the characters. This is a film the whole family can enjoy, and the Clades will most likely become one of the most loved families in the Disney library. They are so different from each other, yet they blend into the most endearing family unit. The film will be released on Wednesday, November 23rd, in theatres.