‘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.

Interview: ‘The Quest’ On Disney Plus Presents A New Prince With Elliott Ross

By: Amanda Guarragi

The Quest on Disney Plus offers fans of the Fantasy genre to dive into the world itself. It is a ground-breaking immersive competition series that drops eight young people into the fantastic, fictional world of Everealm, where they must save a Kingdom by fulfilling an ancient prophecy. Audiences have fallen in love with the fantasy genre because it is the truest form of escapism. When playing video games, reading a book, or watching a series, any fantasy world that is created can become a haven for so many. Disney has made a show for teenagers to believe in their power within to become a warrior on their terms. 

When Elliott Ross came across The Quest it was one project that he wanted to work on. As someone who is a diehard Lord of the Rings fan, he needed to be part of a fantasy television series. Ross plays Prince Cedric in the series and lights up the screen in every scene he is in. He has been honing his craft for over 12 years in London, until recently when he relocated to LA. He has a strong theatrical background, having worked at The RSC, Shakespeare’s Globe and on London’s West End. Ross has been passionate about studying his craft and exploring every avenue in the acting industry, “I think I just felt like the work didn’t feel like work, and I enjoyed being consumed by it.” Sometimes work is more of a calling and that’s what it feels like for Ross. 

This series presents a new concept that allows fans of the fantasy genre to be more interactive with it. It fuses the fantastical realm of Everealm with regular teenagers who have always wanted to be part of that world. To be able to add the twist of a competition show, while structuring a narrative that fits the fantasy genre on top of that is impressive. Disney Plus has been able to construct new, interesting concepts that can have fans of any genre come together to work on something different. Ross loves the fantasy genre and when he found out that he was working with producer Mark Ordesky (Lord of the Rings), it was a dream come true,

“I was riding through the forest during a night shoot and I just kind of, I just took the moment in. I looked at the forest and I looked at the armor I was wearing and it looked like I was in Lord of the Rings. And I was like dude, this is my dream. I’m living my dream.”

– Elliott Ross, The Quest

It has been known that Disney always makes dreams come true for so many children all over the world. But little do people know, that actors who make-believe for a living also get the chance to fulfill their dreams in the projects they produce. Even though Ross plays a Prince in The Quest, he carries the same poise and kindness in his own life. When talking about his future and how he wants to grow his platform, he wants to share his resources to help others. He has had a passion for writing and in his next step, he is currently developing a TV comedy series script that explores modern patriarchal masculinity. Ross wants to use his platform to have an open discussion with his fans and others who have struggled with the process. He wants to be able to touch upon all of the sensitive topics while having a respectful dialogue in his series. 

Courtesy of Disney Plus

Ross has been able to explore every avenue of this industry and he has gained some wisdom as he creates this pathway for himself. After going through many projects and auditions, he has some advice for upcoming actors trying to make their way in the industry,

“I would say to young actors is it’s to not worry so much about the conventional way, because it doesn’t happen for everyone. It’s not easy to get into drama school and it’s, you know, not everyone gets to audition for all the projects. You have to make your own path through it. And I think with that in mind, it’s very important that young actors don’t get carried away in focusing on the big dreams. So my main piece of advice is focus on what is in front of you and focus on the next step.”

– Elliott Ross, The Quest

By creating your own path in life and not comparing yourself to others, you will be more fulfilled. Social media has also affected everyone’s mental health and motivation because of this constant comparison to other people. Ross believes that if you take it one step at a time and focus on what’s in front of you, you will be able to achieve anything. More importantly, you must surround yourself with people who will uplift you and support you while you navigate your life. Similar to the series The Quest, even though you’re in healthy competition with others, they’re all in the same boat trying to reach the same goal, but everyone is different. Ross has been working on his craft for some time now and his hard work has paid off because he now has a platform to help others.

All eight episodes of The Quest are available now on Disney Plus

‘Bridgerton’ Season 2 Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Dear readers,

Shonda Rhimes brings us back to the ton with Lady Whistledown’s secret slowly being uncovered. After her long absence, she returns to the writer’s room to share the gossip of the ton once more for this new season. It seems like Lady Danbury has found a possible diamond in Edwina Sharma for the Queen, but her overprotective older sister Kate Sharma may get in her way in finding a suitor. While Daphne Bridgerton is living her best life with the Duke and her newborn, her brother Anthony, is searching for his very own Viscountess to fulfill his duty to the family. This season wouldn’t be complete without a Bridgerton making their debut; as Eloise prepares for the season, she turns to Penelope and Benedict to help ease her mind and ends up getting more than what she bargained for.

Courtesy of Netflix

Whether you have read the book series by Julia Quinn or fell in love with the characters in season one on Netflix, this show will keep surprising both audiences. For those who have read the book, season two is adapted quite well in showing the relationships blossoming for future seasons. The character development for Penelope (Nicola Coughlan), Eloise (Claudia Jessie), Benedict (Luke Thompson), and Colin (Luke Newton) is very strong and they prove that they can carry the rest of the series. For those who found this little show on Netflix, season two leans heavily on Lord Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) trying to find a suitable wife. Driven by his duty to uphold the family name, Anthony’s search for a debutante who meets his impossible standards seems ill fated until Kate (Simone Ashley) and her younger sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran) Sharma arrive from India. When Anthony begins to court Edwina, Kate (Simone Ashley) discovers the true nature of his intentions — a true love match is not high on his priority list — and decides to do everything in her power to stop the union.

This season is different than season one because of the main focus on Lord Anthony Bridgerton. We get more of a backstory on the family and how he developed into the Viscount at such a young age. This show is more than just a steamy love fest and it dives into real feminist issues, mental health issues, and childhood trauma that are beneficial for each character moving forward. If you didn’t really like Anthony because he was the overbearing brother spoiling things for Daphne, then your perception of him will definitely change throughout this season. Even though the focus is more on him, the writers definitely spread the love as best they could and each character had their moment to shine. There is this level of comfort heading back into the ton; a nice familiarity because we get to sit with these characters and explore their desires. If you enjoy a slow-burn romance, then this will be right up your alley and you will appreciate the difference in romance from season one.

Courtesy of Netflix

The glue that holds the show together is the chemistry between Anthony and Kate. From the playful banter to their actual hatred for one another, the steam was there and it fuelled the season. The eye contact, the sharp remarks, and their subtle grazes all made it worthwhile. Electric chemistry like theirs rarely happens and it’s impossible to look away. When they are alone together, the power balance shifts and Kate is more agreeable with Anthony. But, in front of others, she is constantly countering him and they are equally vexing. We see the difference between sex and romance in this season and it’s such an important thing to note. Love, sex, and romance all go hand-in-hand but there is also a difference in all three of those things and it is explored in this season. Bailey and Ashley have such wonderful moments together. It was all about their intimacy in fully knowing the other and connecting with each other.

Bridgerton expands upon the ton that we know and love. It explores these characters and adds new dynamics to each household. We see growth for each character, including the Featheringtons and how dedicated the Queen (Golda Rosheuvel) is in taking down Lady Whistledown herself. The one character that absolutely shined this season is Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh); she had so much to do with the Sharma’s and presenting them to everyone. She played such an intricate part in their rise in the ton and how the Queen perceived them. This season also shows the loyalty between the senior characters in the story and develops their connection to each other even further. This season solidifies the fact that this is one of the best Netflix series on the platform and will have us swooning for seasons to come.

CBC’s ‘The Porter’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The most important aspect of television as a medium is the way stories can be broken down and explored. Sometimes narratives that are inspired by real events need to have room to breathe because of the subject matter. This can only be done when crafting episodes for a television series, like The Porter, directed by Charles Officer and co-written by, Annmarie Morais and Aubrey Nealon. The more detailed the episodes are, viewers can understand the hardships and the roar of the 1920s. We follow the journey of an ensemble of characters who hustle, dream, cross borders, and pursue their ambitions in the fight for liberation on and off the railways that cross North America.

Like many stories before it, the series highlights the hardships of the Black community, during a period of time when they were oppressed. They were segregated through the work force and there was a clear class divide in the 20s. We see a group of men working on the train, serving others and still not being fully paid for their hard work. Even though there is a focus on the working class and how they are treated, the more upbeat, club elements show a different side of their lives. There’s this integration of difficult issues to overcome, while working for the white men in the corporation, and also living as freely as possible in the outskirts and safety of their own community.

What this show does have is a great ensemble cast that will take you through each story. It’s more so navigating these hardships and allowing each of these characters to have their moment to shine, especially through their own reflection of racism and discrimination are shown in the workforce. There are heartbreaking moments that are quickly replaced with anger because of how these men are treated in light of an event that takes a jab at their spirit. It is a series that sheds light on the past of North America and who really built the country we are currently living in. Sometimes looking back on history can be brutal, but it’s a necessity to understand how wrong it all was.

The Porter is a series that blends the highs and lows of the 1920s while creating a narrative that presents both sides of Black culture. It’s important to note that history has always been one-sided, and never truly taught in a balanced way. It is almost always seen through one particular lens, so it’s important for creators to explore these stories with representation behind the camera to create something as authentic as possible. What we can see in this series is the joy and genuine love that the Black community share between one another, even during times of sorrow. It is a great drama that is meant to shed light on issues, while also celebrating a time to be alive and thankful for the gift of life, no matter who you’re sharing it with.

‘Midnight Mass’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

I really had to sit and think about this one.

As everyone knows, I am a Mike Flanagan supporter. He has captured my heart and I love his work. He brings so much detail and knows how to create tension throughout his pieces. However, Midnight Mass did not do it for me. I left this series feeling a bit underwhelmed.

It is a very different approach to the horror genre. He strays away from his typical ghost stories from Hill House and Bly Manor. Instead of paying close attention to the things that are creeping around the home, Flanagan puts all the focus on the dialogue. I am a fan of dialogue heavy projects BUT it must be engaging. We are rating this show as a whole and not based on a fantastic finale.

Courtesy of Netflix

The arrival of a charismatic priest, brings miracles, mysteries and renewed religious fervour to a dying town. The first half of Midnight Mass is very slow. The character introductions are fine but definitely not strong enough to make me care for any of them. Flanagan started out with Riley Flynn’s (Zach Gilford) story and then it fizzled out halfway through. There were many storylines that didn’t really intertwine the way they should have. Some character stories fell flat. The only interesting character, who held all this together was Monsignor Pruitt (Hamish Linklater). He commanded the screen and had powerful moments during his sermons.

You have a very complex character in Pruitt. There are so many layers to him. Unfortunately, he had no one to bounce off of, that matched his level of intensity during dialogue heavy scenes. There needs to be some back-and-forth for his character to work. Majority of the time, I would be waiting there to see when he popped up on screen because then I knew it would get interesting. I just expected so much more from the characters and the performances. Unfortunately, nothing really grabbed my attention until the final three episodes.

Netflix's 'Midnight Mass' Review: Mike Flanagan's Latest Gothic Horror -  Variety
Courtesy of Netflix

There are still great moments throughout this series. The creature designs are beautiful and there are some great kills with tension-filled moments. The practical effects and use of blood were both lacking at certain times. I appreciate that Flanagan is having a healthy conversation surrounding faith. That people should not blindly follow a system that can sometimes be corrupt. He also showed the fine line between good and evil, especially with the Angel coming into play. The journey that Flanagan takes you on in these seven holy episodes ends up spiralling out of control.

Midnight Mass is an interesting new addition to Flanagan’s body of work. This series just did not hit me in the same way the previous two did. Maybe it’s because I already contemplate all of the questions raised as a Catholic myself? So it felt repetitive for me. I feel like the point Flanagan was trying to make about faith, self-doubt, and corrupt religious systems got lost in translation as the show went on. It also ended up in a very different place and I don’t know if that’s a good thing.