Soul Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Soul is the perfect film to end the year with. It is an animated film that reinstates the meaning of life and the purpose we serve in the world. It is beautifully animated because Pixar has perfected their rendering technology to make everything lifelike. The story is well-written and is incredibly heartfelt. Everyone has dreams or goals they want to accomplish at a certain time in their life. While trying to achieve those goals, they forget to live their lives.

This movie is one of the most important pieces to come out this year. I think everyone has lost themselves a bit during this pandemic. For the majority of this year people have reevaluated their lives and how they live. While watching Soul you will gain a new appreciation for life because director, Pete Docter shows us how wonderful the small things in life are through a character named, 22 (Tina Fey). We often question what our purpose in life is and as we try to navigate our way through this journey, we lose sight of the small things that can make us happy.

Courtesy of Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a music teacher at his local school and he has one student in his class that has soul when she plays the trombone. She loves playing and Joe can tell that it comes from such a special place. He knows that she was meant to play that instrument, much like his connection to playing piano. Joe is a wonderful music teacher because he believes in the connectivity and the artistic nature of music. There’s a feeling one has when connecting to art, it’s a special feeling and Docter presents it so well. The score from Reznor and Ross elevated the animation and will bring you into the atmosphere Docter created. It is a film that you will lose yourself in because of how stunning it is.

Courtesy of Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures

Soul is emotional and incredibly moving because it has conversations about the choices people make in their lives. What makes us fully formed people? Why do we have the need to find a purpose in life and if we don’t we consider ourselves failures? These are internal struggles that we have all faced, time and time again. There is one scene in a barbershop that I absolutely loved because of the conversation about career paths and life struggles. Life doesn’t always deal the best cards and everyone has to find a path that suits their situation, even if you stray away from your dreams.

The meaning of life isn’t something that can be explained, or even found, there is no answer to the age old question. Humans are placed on Earth to live, to simply exist, while experiencing the wonders life has to offer. Soul will make you appreciate all the memories you have, whether you remember your first bite of pizza ever, the first time waves crashed over your feet at the beach, or the first time you experienced a sunset, those small moments made an impact. That is why life is worth living. It’s not slaving away at your job, it’s not struggling to find your purpose, it’s simply living and that’s a beautiful sentiment.

Promising Young Woman Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

This is the film of the year. This is a film that takes all of the typical “take a girl home” tropes and flips it on its head. It is bold, daring and incredibly dark but in all the right ways. Emerald Fennell’s screenplay and direction is impeccable. She knew the story she wanted to tell and how to execute it to perfection. Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) has been seeking revenge for an incident that happened back in University and she is ruthless. Cassie has easily become one of my favourite characters of all time because of the way she carried herself in the film.

Promising Young Woman shows the treatment of women and the consequences that should come with it. We all figure that it is the year 2020 and well after the #MeToo movement, men would at least try to change their ways. But we continue to be disappointed, time and time again. This film is unlike anything I’ve seen and it is because of how the story is structured. It does slow down towards the middle of the film, only to pick back up and deliver one of the most controversial endings of the year. Some will agree with the ending and others will most definitely be infuriated. However, the ending of the film is the perfect reflection of how women are treated and what men deserve.

Carey Mulligan as Cassandra Thomas
Courtesy of LMKMEDIA and Focus Features

The story is just so well-written and the casting was perfect. We have never seen Carey Mulligan like this and that is why her name (and the film itself) deserves to be in the Oscar season mix. Mulligan gave such a thrilling, complex performance, she completely owned the role and understood Cassie so well. The supporting cast consisting of Bo Burnam, Alison Brie, Laverne Cox, Molly Shannon, Jennifer Coolidge and Connie Britton really brought so much to the table to make this film work. Everything about this film was perfect in my eyes and it will definitely spark a conversation, which is the most important thing.

Courtesy of Focus Features

There are moments in this film that have stayed with me long after I’ve watched it. These key emotional moments are placed perfectly to showcase Cassie’s talents and the underlying misogyny that is evident in society. The soundtrack that accompanies the film reflects Cassie’s journey and the songs are chosen extremely well. The score also juxtaposes what happens in certain scenes, which creates a sense of anticipation when watching Cassie have certain interactions with others. There is an undercurrent of tension prevalent throughout the whole film and it’s because every single aspect of this film works so well together.

Promising Young Woman is the film of the year. Carey Mulligan gives the performance of her career and should be highly praised for her work. The character of Cassie Thomas essentially symbolizes all women who have been treated poorly or have been involved in something much bigger. It felt like a gigantic middle finger to men everywhere and it is a film that will leave its mark on you. Emerald Fennell’s film is crafted incredibly well to give everyone a sense of empowerment while serving justice to all.

Nomadland Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Chloé Zhao’s Nomandland takes the audience on a journey through the American landscape, after Fern (Frances McDormand) loses everything in the Great Recession. She embarks on a journey of re-discovery as a van-dweller and finds solace in the community. Zhao’s direction and storytelling is mesmerizing and captures the subtleties of living.

What was so interesting about this film was the conversation surrounding the American economy and how retired workers choose to live, after they’ve been a slave to capitalism their entire lives. We, as people, lose sight of what is the most important because we are working in order to survive. Zhao choosing to focus on vandwellers was really eye-opening and hit such emotional chords. There’s such a human connection to this film and its characters, that the viewer will understand the decisions made by Fern and the rest of the community.

Frances McDormand as Fern
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The film is beautifully shot and the cinematography is the clear standout, the picturesque landscapes fill the screen, as we join Fern on her journey. It is a stunning film and it is understandable why so many people connected to it but it just was not for me. Frances McDormand carries this film and gives another wonderful performance but again, nothing really stood out for me. Zhao delivered on the technical aspects and her ability to ground her characters in a very humanistic story.

Nomadland is definitely the darling of the festival circuit and has every right to be. It has a strong story, beautiful imagery and a sense of peacefulness for its characters. Zhao is a beautiful filmmaker and has a great future ahead, she is a wonderful storyteller and raises strong questions about life after loss. The film is peaceful, yet draining because of the intimate, emotional conversations shared with its characters.

Mank Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

We have been waiting for David Fincher to grace us all with a new film. A Fincher film is always bold with its characters, meticulous in its camerawork and is always elevated by its score. Mank definitely had all of those aspects going for it but unfortunately something was missing. It did not feel like a Fincher film. If you look at his filmography and watch Mank, it just feels so out of place. When I say that Mank is the equivalent to Citizen Kane (as it should) it is not necessarily a good thing. Citizen Kane has the expectation of being the greatest film of all time and it is one of the most divisive film because of the argument surrounding the status of the film.

Fincher is extremely talented because he does his research. Mank is a film that pays homage to the Classic Hollywood studio system while modernizing it for today’s audience. However, the arguments Fincher raises in Mank are quite contradictory in how he views the cinema experience today. Fincher is a cinema purist, he has said so himself, yet he made a film for a streaming service. In Mank it is expressed that the studios needed to follow the money, that is the way of the future and it still is. Everything that is said in Mank is reflective of how this year went. Whether it be the cinema experience, the studio’s adapting to a different model or politics, Fincher seemed to wrap it all together in a nice little bow.

Mank exists as a parallel to Citizen Kane, it is literally its counterpart. If you enjoyed Citizen Kane then you will most definitely enjoy Mank. If you’re like me and understand that the technological aspects and narrative structure of Citizen Kane is something to be admired but the film does not really grasp you in anyway emotionally, then you will feel the same way about Mank. Fincher’s camerawork was beautiful, the cinematography was stunning and the lighting in true Welles’ fashion was captured perfectly. There were so many lovely aspects in Mank but the screenplay was just so dull, (I find this ironic because the story is about a screenwriter) there were moments where Gary Oldman woke himself up to speak a bit louder, so you could understand where the story was going but it just fell flat.

Courtesy of Netflix

When it was first announced that Fincher was going to shed some light on Citizen Kane I knew the kind of movie it would be. Fincher was trying to prove a point with this film, he wanted to make a film that presented the best of cinema, the golden age because he dislikes the current state of it. The film is a technical feat and will be up for Oscars but this is the most surprising entry in his filmography. For some reason it’s like he played it safe but he also boldly created a film that the general audience won’t even gravitate towards. This film was made with the intention to educate people on who Mank was but there is a hidden agenda in the way he presents this story.

David Fincher finally made the Oscar bait film that we have all been waiting for. It has the Classic Hollywood glam, detailed dialogue discussing the state of the studio system and political undertones that parallel the current state of America. It is a film that will leave you feeling cheated and confused because it has two sides of Fincher, instead of the one we all know and love. There are many wonderful aspects in Mank, there just should have been something more and I just can’t put my finger on it.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a beautiful piece showcasing how extremely talented its leads are. In Chicago, 1927, there was a recording session with Ma Rainey and her band. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), her ambitious horn player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) and the white executives who wanted to control the sound of “Mother of the Blues”. It is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play written by the great August Wilson.

Director George C. Wolfe managed to create such a grand scale for Ma Rainey in the opening scene, as the audience is introduced to her in the middle of a performance. We see Viola Davis in her most unrecognizable and transformative role yet. It was so incredible to watch her embody this role and add a little bit of herself to this complex role. As we saw in Fences, Davis highly respects Wilson’s material and more importantly, she understands it.

Courtesy of Escape Artists and Mundy Lane
(centre) Viola Davis

The direction had this dual sense of atmosphere. Even though it takes place in a recording studio, it did not feel stuffy and static, like other plays that have been adapted for the screen. Wolfe created two separate rooms that had separate energy from each other. What was most impressive was how Wolfe captured his actors. It felt like we were on stage with these actors, the close ups and tight knit camerawork that was used was extremely effective. Wolfe played with the fluidity of stage performing, while still creating a grander space within the frame.

Courtesy of Escape Artists and Mundy Lane
(left) Michael Potts, Chadwick Boseman and Colman Domingo

Not only did Viola Davis put on an acting clinic, but the late, great Chadwick Boseman was brilliant as Levee. We already know that Davis is one of the best in the industry but Boseman… Boseman was incredible in this. It is the second performance this year that has left me completely speechless. Boseman gave a heartbreaking performance, he was energetic, emotional and completely broken by the traumas of his past. In the room with the rest of the band, Toledo (Glynn Turman), Slow Drag (Michael Potts) and Cutler (Colman Domingo), he was the burst of energy like an electrical current being confined in that small room, that would spike during conversations.

Courtesy of Escape Artists and Mundy Lane
(left) Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Chadwick Boseman and Colman Domingo

The entire cast was exceptional, there was never a moment where the energy fell, they all remained consistent with the high level intensity throughout. Levee wanted to be a star of his own, he wrote music for executive Mr. Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne) and the one conversation, which was such a pivotal moment in the film, was the band’s discussion about the white executives and being “spooked by the white man.” The entire monologue delivered by Chadwick Boseman will most definitely be his Oscar reel because of how moving it was.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom feels like such an intoxicating film once you settle into the story and the performances. Each member of the cast holds you and demands your attention whenever they are speaking. It feels like you are watching a play but Wolfe’s direction elevates it to capture powerful on screen performances.


Editor’s Note:

I won’t lie to any of you, this was extremely difficult to watch because of how wonderful Boseman was in this. It is hard to sit there and register that this wonderful, talented man is gone and he left us with this brilliant final performance. There are moments where you completely get lost in his character and then moments where you just watch him and get emotional. Hell, I cried while typing this out. Rest in Power King. Your last performance is one for the history books and it will be studied in the future. You signed off with August Wilson’s words and your legacy will live on forever.