Malcolm & Marie Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie is a very interesting watch. This is the first movie, in a very long time, where I still don’t know how to feel about it. Am I supposed to enjoy the film based on the performances alone? Am I supposed to dislike it because the screenplay is absolutely bonkers? Levinson masks his own insecurities as a filmmaker, by combining his personal grievances towards critics and writing from the perspective of a Black filmmaker… which didn’t make sense. Sure, John David Washington and Zendaya give fantastic performances but the film is just an endless cycle of arguments.

First and foremost, why is Sam Levinson writing from the perspective of a Black filmmaker? The dialogue that he gives Malcolm (John David Washington) is oddly specific. It was as if he scrolled through reviews of other films and tried to find the most ridiculous ones to put in the script. I wish Levinson just kept it general instead of criticizing reviews from a perspective that he doesn’t know much about. As you watch Malcolm rant for the entire movie, over one review, you see it through a white lens. Levinson literally made a film criticizing white critics, for using the same language, when reviewing Black-led films and accuses them of “trying” to be progressive. Yet he made a film from the perspective of a Black filmmaker, addressing these issues, when he could have been generalizing the rant instead. So if you think about it, it’s contradictory to what he was trying to do.

Courtesy of Netflix

If we remove the endless rants about critics knowing absolutely nothing about the art of cinema, Malcolm and Marie (Zendaya) have a very toxic relationship. They are constantly badgering each other, provoking the other and jabbing each other with the most hurtful things. It’s as if Levinson thought about the worst possible things he could ever say to a person and just threw it in every single argument. The film was exhausting to sit through. Every single time they would calm down, Malcolm or Marie, would bring something else up and start all over again. By the third argument, you’re just blown away by the fact that they’re still going. It just drags on and leaves you with a headache.

It’s entirely possible that I liked Malcolm & Marie but I can also acknowledge all the flaws. The performances carry it all the way and in all honesty the film wouldn’t have worked without Zendaya or John David Washington. They elevated Levinson’s words (as absurd as they were) to make you want to listen to what they had to say. However, the way Levinson addresses white critics reviewing a Black filmmakers work just doesn’t feel authentic. It felt like he had all this pent up rage and he wanted to express it but he also didn’t want to make it about himself. The script is incredibly narcissistic and just left me asking, “but why? what’s the point of this” and now I’m realizing, maybe there was no point. He just wanted to rant and he expressed it in the only way he knew how, through the art of cinema.

The Little Things Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

“It’s the little things that matter. It’s the little things that get you caught.”

– Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington)

The story takes us back to 1990s Los Angeles, where the music was great and women broke out of their shell. We see a young woman, Tina Salvatore (Sofia Vassilieva) driving down the open road with her windows down and singing whatever song was on the radio. She notices headlights behind her, tailing her, and she gets very anxious. The opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, as we find out that there is a serial killer on the loose in LA County. Is this a generic crime thriller, that tries to mimic previous neo-noir psychological thrillers? Yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t add to the genre.

First and foremost, you have a fantastic cast that elevates the script. Even at the weakest points of the film, if it weren’t for Denzel Washington, we would have gotten an entirely different movie. Washington’s performance brought so much depth to Deputy Sheriff Deacon. He nailed the level of complexity that came with being a former detective on a similar case. We also have Jared Leto giving one of his darkest and most psychological performances to date, as Albert Sharma. The one person that seemed to be underwhelming was Rami Malek, who played a young detective named Jimmy Baxter. It is almost as if the role didn’t suit him? I wanted to believe that he was a good detective but he just couldn’t pull it off for some reason.

Courtesy of Warner Media

The story itself is interesting – as far as serial killer mysteries go – and some pieces of dialogue were perfectly placed in order to connect certain moments. The first half of the film did drag on and Jared Leto could have made an earlier appearance, just to get the ball rolling. It’s understandable that writer-director John Lee Hancock wanted to establish a love-hate relationship with Jimmy and Deke but it took too long. I did enjoy how they tied everything together and how the past came back to haunt the characters. What it does show is the psychological trauma that can be associated with certain cases for detectives. Once Deke and Jimmy became invested in the lives of these women, they wanted to seek justice for their deaths and it consumed their every thought.

The Little Things has really strong moments but the pacing is the main issue of the film. If it weren’t for the stellar performances from Leto and Washington, it would have been harder to sit through. The way the mystery unfolds is interesting and the connection to past serial killers really added to the development of the characters. The film addresses psychological trauma within the police force and the psyche of a suspected killer. If you love mysteries and want to kill a couple of hours, while watching Washington and Leto give brilliant performances, then this is a good one to watch!

Make sure to catch The Little Things in theatres and on HBO Max Friday, January 29th.

Dummy Short Film Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Dummy follows a detained suspect, as he walks investigators through the scene of his loathsome crimes. Surprisingly, his law-enforcement escort makes an unnerving display of fellowship. On the surface, the film is beautifully shot and writer-director Laurynas Bareisa makes some great choices while navigating through the forest. It’s also a very interesting perspective if you really think about it. Not many filmmakers show this side of a crime scene, especially with the detained suspect. So to write a film from this perspective was definitely unique.

The issue with Dummy is that the one woman working with the team, Miglé is the only one taking notes and actually detaching herself from the story. The rest of the men listening to the detained suspect are hanging on his every word and getting to know him as a person. As if his actions of rape and murder of a woman is a minor flaw. Miglé keeps her distance and the men are constantly jabbing with poor jokes. It was hard to sit there and hear them joke around, when the rapist is just casually explaining what he did to the woman.

When they finally got to the end of the crime scene, the detained subject wanted to go for a swim and the rest of the men allowed him to. Miglé stayed on land, while the rest of the men joined him in the water. This showed that it was a boys club and that the treatment of women wasn’t important enough to hold this man accountable for his actions. It was just really jarring and unsettling. In such a short amount of time, the group dynamic is established and the treatment of Miglé is horrible. There was one moment where the rapist reenacts what he did with the dummy that was used through this journey. The men around him made jokes involving Miglé and it was incredibly disturbing.

At first, Dummy just seems like a regular investigation but as the story goes on, it becomes so much more than that. The writing from Laurynas Bareisa is incredibly strong because he doesn’t pack the dialogue. He plants certain remarks and keywords to make you realize that these men are actually horrible. The story progresses slowly but it definitely leaves you with so much to unpack. It is an entirely different perspective on how to write story showing the treatment of women.

Cayenne Short Film Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

As a woman, there is always reason to be on high alert. Women have been conditioned to be aware of their surroundings and protect themselves from predators. Women are the ones who carry mace in their back pocket and always have to be five steps ahead in order to be safe. What Simon Gionet does in Cayenne is interesting because he creates tension in the most basic form. The atmosphere at a secluded gas station, late at night, set the tone for the female clerk quite well. The second a man approaches her, you get an odd feeling in the pit of your stomach.

It is a very simple story but the way it was structured and presented made Cayenne intriguing. The female clerk goes out to help fix this man’s car. As she helps him, the man makes small talk with her and she is very short with him. There are subtle glances and reactions from the man, that make you question his intentions. Thus making the viewer feel like something bad is about to happen. Gionet did a very good job in creating tension in this case and making the viewer feel uncomfortable. All I wanted was to get the female clerk back to safety because this guy felt creepy.

What impressed me the most was the tracking shot near the end of the piece. Gionet follows the female clerk with his camera from behind, as she walks back to the store. The back of her head is placed in the lower half of the frame, almost like the person walking behind her was slightly taller. The assumption was made that the man was following her back to the store and in that moment your anxiety spikes. Gionet places you in the shoes of the female clerk so well and the tension is felt. The ending of the film is not what you expect at all, so it definitely keeps you invested.

Cayenne is a very well-written and directed short film that heightens your awareness of how women live in constant paranoia. Gionet shows the most simple interaction, that could happen on a regular day and the energy shifts because it’s through the eyes of a woman. It is the female clerk’s experience and yet, it symbolizes what all women think about. How they have to prepare themselves to outwit a man and get out of a possible situation. Women go through this more than we care to admit, it’s the everyday anxiety when a man looks at you in a different way.

Pieces Of A Woman Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Pieces of a Woman is a heartbreaking film about the loss of a new life. It also puts into perspective how fragile we are as humans. Director Kornél Mundruczó shows the raw emotion and physical journey of a woman in labor. There are natural ways to give birth and Martha (Vanessa Kirby) wanted a home birth. There are horror stories that you often hear about, in regards to home births, but you never quite see the the aftermath. Mundruczó showed everything. It was uncomfortable, and rather painful to watch but the emotional connection established with Martha is incredibly strong.

The film is more of a character study centered on Martha. We see her quirkiness, energy and light in the beginning of the film. As she struggles to push the newborn out of her (for the first 20 minutes of the film) Kirby gives a very raw performance, one that you would see in acting classes. Mundruczó creates so much tension during the birth, that you feel something bad is about to happen, especially when the midwife begins to panic. There is a small moment of happiness, of complete elation when the birthing process is complete and then, it feels like someone rips your heart out and crushes it with their bare hands.

Vanessa Kirby
Courtesy of Bron Studios and Netflix

It has such a strong story and the performances from everyone, especially Ellen Burstyn were extremely strong. The structure and the pacing are the only issues with this film. It started off very strong and then there’s a lull in the middle. Kirby’s performance is internal and you can see the stages of grief as the film goes on. There are other issues that come up in regards to their child that move the story forward but it was extremely slow. Kirby’s performance carries the entire film until the very end, as she has minor confrontations with her mother Ellen Burstyn. The scenes are executed almost like a stage play, meaning the dialogue was heavy and the scenes were static.

The important thing that can be noted from watching Pieces of a Woman is that technology has allowed everything to be safer during the birthing process. There is a conversation between Martha and her mother, that was really eye-opening because they discuss how some mothers from older generations gave birth without the help of doctors in hospitals. They all had a midwife and had home births because there was no other option. The film explores the stages of grief, depression and anxiety from a mother’s perspective after the loss of her child. It is a very heavy film but it is a story that needs to be told in order to help further understand what can go wrong during the birthing process.