‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

It’s officially summer blockbuster season and Top Gun: Maverick is the movie of the summer. It’s still early to claim this, but what a way to start. Audiences have grown accustomed to Marvel movies taking the summer blockbuster spots, while other action films barely reach that level of success or hype. In this case, director Joseph Kosinski takes the fans back to the 80s-style blockbuster and Tom Cruise gives a classic movie star performance to make the film one of the best of the year. Not only is it nostalgic, but it elevates the fighter jet sequences from the first instalment. This sequel improves upon what made Top Gun directed by Tony Scott so great in the first place. 

After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it. From the opening of this movie, Maverick had to move on from the ghosts of his past, which means Goose (Anthony Edwards). It made perfect sense for Cruise to come back for Maverick 30 years later when Goose’s son is all grown up.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Maverick has always been alone, but Goose and his family welcomed him. After what happened in Top Gun, it was hard for Maverick to ever have a relationship with Bradley (Miles Teller), knowing he was there when his father passed. In a way, Maverick always blamed himself even when he was cleared of all of that. The reason why this movie worked so well is because of the emotional connection to Goose and his family. There are key moments that made Maverick think about Goose because of what Rooster was doing. Not only does Teller look exactly like Anthony Edwards, but he did bring out the character of Goose a bit too. These roles were never meant to be as iconic as they became, but seeing Rooster resemble Goose so much made it so emotional.

Even though Teller didn’t have too much screen time, the way they dropped little tidbits throughout the movie made it work. It felt like Rooster had to ease into having Maverick as his teacher knowing everything from the past. The audience already knowing the connection the two of them had while others in the Top Gun class had no clue made for some interesting reveals. Cruise and Teller’s chemistry was great given the little time they had with each other, but they didn’t need that much to sell the story. It was all about showing how much they cared instead of telling each other, which just makes more of an impact in the third act of this film. Maverick helped out Rooster and taught the rest of the class to trust their instincts by being a bit like him while flying.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Not only was this a great conclusion to Maverick’s character arc because of how simple it was, but the movie itself looked incredible. With a team like Kosinski, Cruise, Jerry Bruckheimer, Chris McQuarrie, and Claudio Miranda working on this movie, everything worked together like a well-oiled machine. They all wanted to make an action film that stayed true to the original while adding so much depth to the characters. On top of that, they constructed authentic action sequences to make it one of the best sequels ever. This film demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible because the visuals make you feel like you’re in the cockpit with them. Knowing that they’re all flying on their own just raises the stakes while watching some intense flying in the third act.

Top Gun: Maverick exceeded expectations and delivered an emotional, action-packed thrill ride to open Blockbuster season. It is one of the best movies of the year and it will leave you speechless at the end of it. This movie will have you crying and laughing. And it will even make you hold your breath out of anticipation of what’s going to happen next. Everything about Top Gun was iconic when it came out in the 80s, but for a sequel to come out three decades later and be even better than the original makes it even more iconic. This is the most fun I’ve had in a movie theatre since Avengers: Infinity War and that’s because the stakes were high. Even if you’ve never watched the first film, you NEED to feel the speed of this movie and watch it in IMAX.

‘The Northman’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Robert Eggers has easily become one of the most interesting filmmakers to watch in recent years. The Northman is his third film and it feels as if he has perfected his style. He has managed to create a balance between his visual storytelling and his linear script for audiences to appreciate. Even though this is an independent film, mainstream audiences will for sure appreciate Eggers’s approach to Viking lore and the world he created for these characters. The way he structured this story worked extremely well because of the emotional connection to his protagonist and his quest. It felt like an old story being shared with audiences for the first time and it was intriguing.

We meet Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak/Alexander Skarsgard) who is on the verge of becoming a man when his father, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) is brutally murdered by his uncle Fjölnir The Brotherless (Claes Bang). His uncle ends up kidnapping the boy’s mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Two decades later, Amleth is now a Viking who raids Slavic villages. He soon meets a seeress who reminds him of his vow — save his mother, kill his uncle, avenge his father. After two decades of living on his own and learning to kill, Amleth is reminded of his quest to avenge his father. He has all the tools needed to do this. And with the help of some witchcraft, he is guided by his father on this journey.

Eggers’s previous films had leaned heavily on experimental elements; style over substance if you will. Whereas in this film the visuals enhanced this simplistic narrative to emotionally connect with Amleth’s quest. There is one particular sequence Eggers designed to show that Amleth’s beating heart was tied to his family tree and that was the most beautiful thing to show on-screen. Even though Eggers did not shy away from the brutal violence known to come from the Vikings, it was impossible to look away because of how visually interesting he made those scenes.

The Northman ties in the witchcraft through Prince Amleth’s environment affecting his path. It did not overpower his quest and the focus was always on his father’s blood pact at the beginning of the film. Whether it was through animals coming to him, or the brilliant use of the score to elevate the witchy elements used throughout, it never directly felt like the witchcraft was actually performed. Instead, it felt like it was a lingering presence. Everyone in the cast played their roles well, but Nicole Kidman stole the spotlight in act four, that one scene left me stunned and showed how great of an actress she is. This had the perfect balance of Eggers’s style, baseline experimental elements, and a hero’s quest to make this film feel like a Viking epic.

‘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.

‘Marry Me’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Love is definitely in the air and it comes with some very illogical choices. If you’re a fan of romantic comedies, you know that each one has something unique to set it apart from the rest while still using the same conventions. What works, even more, is when the rom-com is very self-aware of the story they’re telling; no matter how unconventional it may be. Many people are turned off by the genre because of the word romance, but this genre teaches you all about self-love, relationships (platonic/romantic), and of course how to love. In the new Jennifer Lopez rom-com, Marry Me directed by Kat Coiro we see what love truly is and how to keep fighting for it no matter how old you are.

We meet Pop superstar Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez), who is about to get married before an audience of her loyal fans. However, seconds before the ceremony, she learns about her fiancée’s cheating ways and has a meltdown on stage. In a moment of inspired insanity, Kat locks eyes with a total stranger, named Charlie (Owen Wilson) in the crowd and marries him on the spot. Even though Charlie is a boring math teacher and Kat is a music icon, they both have something the other needs. Which is what makes their dynamic so fun to watch. Their relationship blossoms naturally because the person you think you need (given your status) is not necessarily the person you’ll connect with the most. Coiro shows the importance of actually connecting with the person you’re in a relationship with, even if it’s the safe choice.

We’ve all made mistakes when it comes to relationships. Many of us have failed time and time again, but the important thing that Kat taught us in this film, is to never give up on love. Relationships are kind of like math problems, sometimes things don’t always add up, but ultimately, trying is the most rewarding part. Even though Lopez and Wilson seem like the most unlikely pairing, they are both incredibly charming and help ground the crazy gimmick. What I loved the most about this is that Lopez went back to her roots and truly shined. This story was perfect for her and it felt like she was in her element again. Even the soundtrack for the film has great songs that can be listened to on repeat. You have the superstar persona with Lopez and then the homey dad vibe with Wilson. They both complimented each other quite well.

Marry Me is sweet, heart-warming and has a wonderful Jennifer Lopez performance. Even though she rocks that diva persona, she is still very much grounded in who she is and where she came from. You can see how genuine she is in this film as Kat and how connected she is to the character. This fit her like a glove and it’s just such a fun time. This movie is a reminder that we need more studio comedies; no matter what sub-genre they are because that is what the market is lacking. We need these movies more than we care to admit because there isn’t enough love and laughter being spread around. People still need these films to distract themselves and bask in the warmth of it all. Romantic comedies will always be lovely and fun to watch.

‘Scream’ (2022) Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

To many of us Scream directed by Wes Craven means the world to us. The reason why it does is because it was our first horror movie ever. To be introduced to the slasher genre through Scream is probably the best way to dip your toe into horror. It is the perfect starter film to get anyone into the genre. Not only does the first Scream have great kills and an awesome cast, but it also has a strong story that is self aware of the film they’re making. Using all of the horror tropes, while crafting a slasher in itself is difficult to do and that’s why no one has even come close to what they did in the first instalment. There comes a time where the franchise goes too far in the horror genre and Scream (2022) did not make a requel that does justice to any of the characters.

Without getting into the actual events of the film, the story is about two sisters reuniting after one of them was attacked by a new Ghostface. The younger sister, Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) was attacked in her home as the conventional opening kill, but she survived. Her estranged older sister Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barerra) returns to Woodsboro with some secrets of her own. All of Tara’s friends are connected to the history of Woodsboro in some way and naturally; one of them is the killer. We all know the rules, and so did her friends, but it got a bit too preachy when Dewey Riley (David Arquette) steps in to help them solve the case. The first four instalments were self-aware, but still managed to form an interesting narrative that wasn’t predictable. This fifth instalment took the metafiction writing to a whole other level that made this feel more like Scary Movie than Scream.

In a way this film does go back to the roots of the franchise (quite literally) and doesn’t really add much for the new characters. Trying to form a new cast by linking all of them to a legacy character or one of the friends that went to Woodsboro High is very much a stretch. It’s also lazy writing to go back to something that had already been done in a better way 25 years ago. This story just wasn’t strong enough to push any of these characters forward without the legacy characters going with them for the next two instalments. It’s like this film was more of a tribute to the 1996 version than a film that can restart the franchise with these new characters. The first act seemed promising because they tried something different but then that third act just fell apart as they directly mimicked what happened in 1996.

Scream (2022) was one of my most anticipated movies this year and I left the theatre feeling extremely underwhelmed. I did not connect with anyone other than Tara, and unfortunately, Jenna Ortega is technically not the final girl, Melissa Barerra is. For me, Barerra fell flat and she doesn’t seem like she’s capable of leading a franchise without Ortega by her side. The one takeaway is that co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett brought a modernized look to the franchise, which really worked. The kills were also more brutal than they’ve ever been, which I really appreciated heading into a franchise revamp, since they are competing with other slashers that are amping up the look of the kills. It’s definitely a love letter for Wes and that’s perfectly fine, but what they did with this story just didn’t work for me at all.