‘Willow’ Series Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In 1988, Ron Howard and George Lucas teamed up to make one of the most underrated fantasy films. Willow was about a young farmer chosen to undertake a perilous journey to protect a special baby from an evil queen. Val Kilmer was at the top of his game in the 80s, so to have him as a romantic leading man in a fantasy film was perfect casting. Joanne Whalley and Warwick Davis made it worth watching because of their characters. Now, decades later, Howard’s small, beloved film has been turned into a Disney Plus series. Since world-building was done a bit differently in previous eras, television shows can build the foundation of the world in a more detailed manner. Fantasy shows have been all the rage in 2022 because many viewers want to be transported to another world. It’s almost as if we’ve been deprived of different escapes. 

This new series created by Jonathan Kasdan captures the same magic as the original film, but of course, in a modern way. The most important takeaway from the new series is the inclusivity of its cast of characters. Kit Tanthalos (Ruby Cruz) is the princess and daughter of Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and wants to learn how to fight and be involved with the townspeople. She wants to make her own choices, especially in marriage. Her brother, Airk (Dempsey Bryk), is the golden boy, heir to the throne, and is in love with a kitchen maid named Dove (Ellie Bamber). The siblings have gone in two very different directions, and in this series, they explore their individuality and whom they are destined to be. Kit has the strongest journey in this series. She learns how to fight and to love with her swashbuckling trainer, Jade Claymore (Erin Kellyman), by her side. The relationship between Jade and Kit makes for an interesting dynamic as they go on this journey with Willow. 

In this series, twenty years after vanquishing the wicked queen Bavmorda, the sorcerer Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) leads a group of misfits on a dangerous rescue mission into the unknown. Kasdan refocused the story and the lore with the new characters without leaning on the nostalgia of the original film. It was lovely to see Davis back in that element by also giving him a bit more to do with his character. The cast worked together well, and some stylistic choices worked for the modernity of the piece. There are some humorous moments and some song choices to bring these characters into a new generation. It felt refreshing to see a fantastical world highlight a queer romance and characters struggling with their individuality in a kingdom that has expectations for them. This series places women at the forefront and has a unique twist that makes for a compelling story in this first season. Audiences will connect with these characters. And understand what they’re struggling with, which is the importance of representation on screen. 

If you have been a long-time supporter of Ron Howard’s Willow, you will appreciate the world-building in this new series. And if you’re a newcomer, who hasn’t watched the original film, then get ready to dive into a brand new world with characters you will love. Kasdan brings together a cast that works together through their individuality and their knowledge of the realm. Each episode brings new lore and magic that pulls you into their world. Cruz, Bamber, and Kellyman are the standouts of the series, and the always-lovely Tony Revolori adds another layer of charm. The pacing is strong as well, nothing feels rushed, and the characters evolve naturally over the length of the episodes. It is a fantasy show that Disney Plus needed on their platform, and each episode will be streaming weekly on Wednesdays. 

‘Welcome To Chippendales’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

During the 70s, women began to feel a bit more sexually liberated with the surge of the adult film industry. It was no longer a time for only men to express their sexual impulses, but women too. Of course, at that time, strip clubs were reserved for men to watch women take their clothes off for money. After breaking ground, sex workers are finally taken seriously in an industry that has been shamed for years. It’s a profession like any other, so when Steve Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) created the male version, ‘The Chippendales’ became a phenomenon. What should have been a safe space for queer men and women to feel liberated from societal marginalization became a prison of greed, notoriety and status for Banerjee. Sometimes power can consume someone and they spiral down a bad path to keep their dream afloat. Ambition is always a good thing to have, but not when there is no morality or making tough decisions. Welcome to Chippendale’s is a sprawling true-crime saga, that tells the outrageous story of Somen “Steve” Banerjee, an Indian immigrant founder who became the unlikely founder of the world’s greatest male-stripping empire – and let nothing stand in his way in the process.

Banerjee worked at a gas station for seven years and saved enough money to start a business of his own. He wanted to open a Backgammon Club in Los Angeles. At the beginning of this journey, Banerjee was a simple man who just wanted a nice place for people to feel like they were living a posh lifestyle. Little did he know, that his obsession with fame and money would ultimately consume him and make him a terrible boss. He trusted a stranger who called himself a club promoter to turn his dud of a club into a “happening” place on a Friday night. After heading to a gay club with two strangers and seeing male dancers with straight women cheering them on, Banerjee put two and two together and came up with a male strip club for women. The series is created by Robert Siegel, who completely captured the essence of the late 70s. Everything came together nicely, from the costuming to the music to the make-up and hairstyling, to make it feel authentic to the era. Each episode added something more to the club itself, until it became too much to control.

The cast works together extremely well, but the standouts were Nanjiani and Murray Bartlett, who plays Nick De Noia, an Emmy-winning choreographer. As the club received more attention, Banerjee needed to polish off his show for it to grow even bigger. One night, De Noia walked in and left him his card; perhaps it was fate that brought them together, but as the series goes on, it seems like their meeting did more harm than good. This series pits ego against ego and a businessman against a choreographer with status. There is plenty of flashy dancing and fun moments in the club, but the intense business negotiations and backstabbing are what made this compelling. No one ever fully understands what it means to build a business, and Robert Siegel made sure to show every inch of the mayhem. Nanjiani gives one of the best performances of his career as he descends into the madness of becoming the best in the world. He loses himself in this role, and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen him do. 

Welcome to Chippendales is an entertaining, vibrant, and dark look at the entertainment industry. It shows how cutthroat people can be and how important a creative idea can be when it comes to the bottom line of business decisions. Nanjiani and Bartlett have incredible chemistry and work together well to make this story even more convincing. Watching De Noia and Banjeree’s relationship grow over the episodes was interesting because they have different perspectives on the business and which aspects to focus on for the Chippendales to grow. The first half of this series sets up Banerjee’s life and his constant need for the next best thing, while De Noia focuses on what’s in front of them with the dancers in the show. We see two different focuses that ultimately alter the Chippendales and their impact. The series will begin streaming on Hulu on November 22nd, and it is worth a watch if you want to know more about the creation of the Chippendales.

‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 2 Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Welcome back to the Arconia, Only Murders in the Building fans! This time the mystery-solving trio gets a sequel to their podcast as they try to solve Bunny’s (Jayne Houdyshell) murder. The cliffhanger in season one worked well and now poor Mabel (Selena Gomez) is at the forefront. Everyone is accusing her of being the murderer. So in this season, Mabel, Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin) have to clear their names. Charles kicks off the season by narrating what it’s like to live as a famous person in New York City, and then as an infamous person that people can’t stand to look at. It sets the tone for how each episode is structured, which makes for a very engaging season two. 

Season two introduces some new characters: Mabel’s love interest, Alice Banks (Cara Delevingne), Bunny’s mother, Leonora Folger (Shirley MacLaine), the new building manager, Nina Lin (Christine Ko), Charles’s daughter, Lucy (Zoe Colletti), and Amy Schumer moves into Sting’s apartment. All of these new characters come into play and are used as red herrings throughout the season. The beauty of season two is that John Hoffman and Steve Martin know how to construct a story within an episode, while also having it flow into the larger scale of the story. As the trio attempts to clear their names, the new people they meet have them blinded by the charm of someone new.

Not only do they focus on the murder of Bunny, but Hoffman and Martin also highlight how New York has changed. The world doesn’t value these old monuments in the city, it’s always about reconstructing the history. And isn’t that what we all do in our minds when memories get a little foggy? In a way, there is a parallel in the world surrounding the Arconia and the characters. Each episode explores an event from a character’s past that can be used to play into the investigation. The writing is strong this season because we get more of a backstory on Charles and Oliver. They both have been through so much and they are starting to deal with their past this season. The tactics that they have both used in the past prove to be useful for their podcast.

Only Murders in the Building consistently surprises viewers in every single episode because of how well it’s crafted. It’ll present a new idea at the beginning of the episode, give some backstory on the characters, and then tie it all together in the end with the investigation. It is such an entertaining show and the chemistry between Martin, Gomez, and Short has just grown stronger this season. Be prepared for a wild, hilarious, mystery in season two because this series is just getting started. There are many cameos and endless possibilities as to where this show can go. The show is unique to the whodunit subgenre, all while modernizing it with a podcast. Such great work all around. Make sure to check out new episodes every Tuesday on Disney Plus! 

‘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.

‘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.