‘Pam & Tommy’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In the early 90s, the accessibility to women and the treatment of women from the tabloids had gotten worse. As someone who grew up in the 90s, high-profile women like Pamela Anderson were considered idols to young girls like me. We worshiped them and wanted to be exactly like them. Women who were free to dress a certain way, act a certain way, and have their own identity presented to the world. Pamela Anderson was a woman who knew who she was and adapted to situations around her. She exuded this fearlessness, this power when she was Pamela Anderson for the cameras. Whether it was through her photos, her performance on Baywatch, or even in interviews, Anderson had such a strong spirit and knew how to handle herself in an industry that eventually turned against her. In Hulu’s Pam & Tommy, we see Pamela Anderson for who she truly is and if this series does anything, it will give you a new appreciation for the woman behind the star persona.

Pam & Tommy begins with Pamela Anderson (Lily James) on Jay Leno having a conversation about the sex tape. It was very noticeable that Anderson was uncomfortable with the topic and within those moments, we get a sense of how this story will be presented through different lenses. Before getting into Pam and Tommy’s relationship, director Craig Gillespie has us sit with Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen) to build up the motivation for stealing the sex tape. Gauthier was Tommy Lee’s (Sebastian Stan) carpenter, while he was renovating his home. Gauthier had many uncomfortable, and quite frankly, scary moments with Tommy Lee. After a few scuffles about payment, Lee made an enemy out of Gauthier. The importance of these specific encounters is to see how Tommy Lee had two very different sides to him.

Pam and Tommy Trailer: Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman Steal the Sex Tape -  Variety
Courtesy of Hulu

As the series goes on, we get an in-depth look at Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s explosive relationship. The one thing to note is that Anderson loved, love. She was a true romantic at heart and would connect with someone on a different level. It’s more of a feeling than checking off boxes for Anderson and that is how she ended up with Lee. Was it love at first sight? No. Instead, it was a vibe; an instant connection, like a current running between the two of them. The chemistry between James and Stan was off the charts and they were both perfectly cast to bring this story to screen in the most accurate way possible. Their love was palpable and even as a viewer you could feel the genuine connection they had at the very beginning of their relationship. But, as we see with Gauthier, Lee did have a dark side.

Two very important matters run simultaneously in this series. The first was the dawn of online sex work through the popularity of the sex tape itself. Gauthier had an idea to place the information about the sex tape on a website to drive sales. He charged $60.00 for one copy of the tape and made a profit. But like all good things, they only last a short period. The 90s was the transitional period for technology and this shift came with a price. The media turned into a cesspool because of what this sex tape did for clicks on websites and generating buzz about a top celebrity couple. Paparazzi photos were at an all time high for Anderson and Lee, which were probably sold for hundreds of dollars. Privacy did not exist in the 90s and it is all because of Gauthier uploading one intimate, romantic, sex tape between husband and wife.

Pam & Tommy: People Can't Get Over Lily James' Pamela Anderson Voice In New  Trailer
Courtesy of Hulu

The second is Pamela Anderson’s loss of agency and being slut-shamed for a private video of her and her husband. The sex tape, combined with the distasteful jokes from late-night talk show hosts, and tabloids printing the photos from the tape, completely ruined her acting career that she so desperately wanted to evolve. There are multiple times in Pam & Tommy where it was incredibly emotional to watch Anderson go through so many terrible moments in her life. Anderson wanted the industry to look past that she was this beautiful, blonde bombshell and recognize her for how talented she was. This industry praised her as a sex symbol but never took her seriously as an actor. The 90s were very cruel to Pamela Anderson and after watching this, we see how kind, sweet, and driven she was, even if they didn’t deserve it.

Craig Gillespie completely captures the essence of the 90s in Pam & Tommy. The story is so much more than Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s relationship; it really dives into how the media operates and how it became more of an invasion of privacy. Anderson had to deal with a toxic, misogynistic industry just because of the way they labelled her as a sex symbol. The labels that were given to women in the industry place them in a box and don’t allow them to grow outside of it. The focus shifted from Gauthier and his side of the story, to Pamela Anderson’s side of the story, and Tommy Lee was shown for who he truly was. This was such a brutal look at how women lose who they truly are because of how the media constructs a persona for them.

The first episode of Pam & Tommy will drop on Hulu on February 2nd.

The Haunting of Bly Manor Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Here we are, in the month of October, or Spooky Season, as we have named it. Mike Flanagan takes his rightful place as King of the entire season. The Haunting of Bly Manor is beautifully adapted, from the stories of Henry James and it takes us, into the hearts of the characters, at Bly Manor.

Similar to The Haunting of Hill House, the writing is the strongest aspect of the series. Each episode is perfectly written, to allow the viewer, to connect the dots themselves, all while delivering a heartfelt story. You do not realize that you are registering the tiny hints, they have set in each episode, until it flourishes. This series will captivate you, from the moment it begins and you will get lost in Bly Manor until the end.

The series is deeply rooted in the idea of love and what it truly means to love someone. The extent you would go to for the one you love, how to properly love them and how valuable time with the one you love can be. This gothic romance shows the immense loss one can feel and how everyone grieves differently. It explains the many versions of love and the perception a person can project, for what they truly want.

The beauty of the series lies in the small details in each episode, everything is perfectly placed and the series is structured incredibly well. Both The Haunting series’ are brilliant pieces for Netflix, especially with Flanagan at the helm. He is incredibly gifted in telling these stories and showing audiences, what he wants them to see, through the lens. The framing composition, cinematography, lighting and camera movements, all come together to create, a perfectly splendid atmosphere for the characters.

Courtesy of Netflix
(center) Victoria Pedretti as Danielle Clayton

This was the first time, in a very long time, probably since The Haunting of Hill House, that I have been fully immersed in a series. The Haunting of Bly Manor has fantastic performances, from its cast, but Victoria Pedretti and Oliver Jackson – Cohen, continue to blow me away, with how talented they are. The entire cast is perfectly splendid and had wonderful chemistry together. You will remember their names and fall in love with their stories.

The Haunting of Bly Manor is beautifully haunting and rich in gothic romance conventions. The impending doom, that rests upon the roof of Bly Manor, is felt through every nook and cranny. Everything is perfectly crafted and it is one of the best series to come out this year. So settle in and listen closely, to a love story, that has many surprises and an ending so beautiful, that it will stay with you, long after you’ve finished.

‘The Great’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The Great is a series, that is based on the play created by Tony McNamara, which focuses on the history of Russian Emperor Peter III and the fearless Catherine the Great. It is a satirical, comedic drama that follows Catherine’s (Elle Fanning) journey as an outsider, as she navigates her way to solidifying her position as a ruler. It is a fictionalized series, that details Catherine’s early twenties and her plot to kill her deranged and sadistic husband. The Great on Hulu is completely unhinged, daring and humorous because of how exaggerated their behaviour is.

It is a series that is so bold with its storytelling because of how honest and vulgar the dialogue is, especially when Emperor Peter III (Nicholas Hoult) is speaking. It is a strong piece on the Catherinian  Era that really has not been done before. It is incredibly entertaining, charming and does not shy away from the possibility, that people in that era, would have been just as heinous in their personal lives. It is eye opening because it is believable that the murder, torture and poor treatment of women in the Russian Kingdom, under Emperor Peter III’s rule, would have been that brutal.

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Courtesy of Hulu (left) Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning 

The character development for Peter and Catherine, shift immensely from the beginning of the series and it is almost as if they began to pull traits from each other. At the start, Catherine is this love struck, naive, young woman, who is pulled into the authoritative, violent hands of Emperor Peter III. She was taught that love conquers all and that her kind heart will serve her well in this life. She had this romanticized perception of the palace life, until Peter broke her innocence. Catherine’s loss of innocence was probably the most moving aspect about this series because she had to quickly adapt to the situations unfolding around her.

Peter, on the other hand, did not care about anyone else but himself and his narcissism got the best of him. He has a gigantic ego and pleases himself in anyway he can. He does not care for his Kingdom, or his subjects and did absolutely nothing to help his people. He would drink, eat, torture and have affairs with whomever he wanted. Catherine took notice of his unbearable behaviour and any romantic feeling, that could have developed between the two of them, seemed impossible. The sex scenes between Catherine and Peter, were cold, rigid and neither of them felt anything, they went through the motions because it had to be done, in order to conceive an heir.

The first half of the series shows Catherine’s crushing realization, that Peter was not a normal human being. In fact, he is one of the most peculiar characters I have seen on a series in a while. He is so complex, in an obscure way and just when you think he falls into some kind of normalcy, he surprises you. Catherine builds up her power and forges a plan to take down Peter, through her network of people that have sided with her and against the Emperor. Catherine slowly develops the same raw, animalistic and daring traits as Peter, but utilizes them against him. She was cunning and knew that in order to take Peter down, she had to feed his ego and in doing so, she became more powerful than he could ever be.

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Courtesy of Hulu (center) Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great

The humour was also quite refreshing and honest and I think that’s why I fell in love with this series. It is definitely unconventional and Nicholas Hoult gave one of my favourite performances of the year as Emperor Peter III, his line delivery and presence on screen really carried the series and made it so entertaining. The script was filled with dirty one liners and ballsy dialogue, that you normally would not hear in a comedy today. Hoult and Elle Fanning had such powerful chemistry, that with every scene they shared their feelings became more palpable and the closer that their characters got to each other, created more playfulness that resulted in a great finale.

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Courtesy of Hulu (left) Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult 

Elle Fanning was a dream as Catherine the Great, she embodied her perfectly and had a fantastic performance alongside Hoult. It was just such a beautiful portrayal because of her journey and her development as a ruler and a woman. She was fearless, ferocious and stopped at nothing to get what she wanted. She perfectly manipulated him with her intelligence, wit and faux naivete that proved she would be the better ruler. The finale was well written and executed so well, that the final shot of Catherine, obviously left me wanting more and thankfully there will be a Season 2.

The Great on Hulu is one of the best series that has come out this year; it is fun, sexy, hilarious and unique, which will leave you wanting more after each episode. The energy from Hoult and Fanning is infectious and their chemistry carries the entire show. The endless cycle of manipulation creates a very entertaining atmosphere for the ensemble and everyone wants to take a jab at Emperor Peter III. It is incredibly binge-worthy, that you will be able to hopefully finish it in one sitting. If you loved this Era of history, then this show is definitely for you!

 

 

Little Fires Everywhere Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Little Fires Everywhere is a Hulu Original series, that is adapted from Celeste Ng’s novel. The series explores the residence living in Shaker Heights, specifically the picture-perfect Richardson family but when a mother and daughter, move into their rental home nearby, things take a dramatic turn. It has a very strong narrative structure, it is well written and shows the complexities of each character extremely well. The show tackles racial discrimination, microaggressions, the meaning of motherhood and a woman’s right to choose.

We first meet Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon) who is standing on the sidewalk, staring at her mansion, burning to the ground. We can understand that something has gone horribly wrong and someone else has set her home ablaze. The opening title sequence is stunning as well, showing plenty of important objects and pieces that symbolize how materialistic the residence in Shaker Heights can be. The opening sequence, to any show, is the tipping point because it gives so much away and no one even realizes it, that’s why it is one of my favourite aspects in a series.

Elena had a perfect home, a perfect family, a picture-perfect life but she was unhappy with herself. She has always been confused about what she wanted. Did she want to have a career or did she want to have four children? Naturally people would say, that she could have both and live that picture-perfect life but it is unrealistic. No one’s life is perfect because people are not perfect. Elena wanted to have a family and have a career, but the more children she had, the more she resented the fact, that her journalism career was dwindling. This was such a perfect role for Reese Witherspoon because she plays the privileged, broken woman so well.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine 

The idea of perfection is what causes the most harm in anyone’s life. The pressure to be perfect and to always make the right choices is exhausting. Everyone doubts themselves and if they made the right choices in their lives. At the end of the day, we never really know until ten years later, when you realize how much time has passed and you reflect on your life. This is the case with Mia (Kerry Washington) and Pearl Warren (Lexi Underwood) who have been relocating, their entire lives because Mia is an artist, with a very dark past.

Mia first meets Elena when she takes a look at her rental home, which is down the street from the Richardson house. When Elena speaks to Mia, she is very passive and delivers lines with a discriminatory undertone. Elena reeks of white privilege and Mia is very transparent, when having discussions with her. The racial issues, are not only discussed throughout the series, but they are planted in the very passive dialogue, from white characters and it shows the microaggressions quite effectively. It is all about the way things were said to Mia and to Pearl, it is almost hard to stomach at times because of how oblivious Elena is to her own vocabulary.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (left Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon) 

Elena makes the attempt to welcome Mia and Pearl into her home, they became friends and had discussions about motherhood. The flashbacks to their former selves, played by Tiffany Boone and AnnaSophia Robb, were placed properly as well, so the audience can come to their own conclusion of how “motherly” these characters were. What does it take to be a mother? Are all women fit to be mothers? How does one even define motherhood? Is it really a choice to even be a mother or is it more of an obligation to the gender role? These constructs have women in a box, in a cage, if you will and once they get locked into a role or a life, they did not plan on having, it leads to difficult decisions.

What was most interesting about this show, was the character dynamics, between Mia and Izzy Richardson (Megan Stott) versus Pearl and Elena. Pearl wanted to live a normal life, she wanted to attend school and go to homecoming dances, maybe even experience her first love and stay for a while. Izzy hated her small town life, she did not want to feel boxed in and her art was her freedom. Both Izzy and Pearl, essentially, wanted to switch lives and switch mothers. Izzy and Pearl, saw who they wanted to be when they were older. Izzy saw herself, as a free, artistic spirit like Mia and Pearl saw herself, in a huge home, with a picture-perfect husband and a family like Elena.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (top) Kerry Washington and Lexi Underwood (bottom) Reese Witherspoon and Megan Stott

The final three episodes of the series, is when all the demons and secrets, creep out and wreak havoc on everyone close to the Richardson family. Their perfect family is torn apart by lies and poor decisions made by Trip Richardson (Jordan Elsass), Lexie Richardson (Jade Pettyjohn) and Elena. The central story, eventually shifts, to a legal battle between Elena’s friend, Linda McCullough (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Mia’s coworker, Bebe Chow (Lu Huang), who fight for custody of young Mirabella/May Ling. It leaves everyone questioning, who is the right fit, to mother this child. Is it the birth mother or the adopted mother? As that heartbreaking storyline unfolds, we find out who Elena and Mia really are through flashbacks.

Little Fires Everywhere is one of the best series I have seen this year and it will keep you in it, until the very end. This cast is extremely strong, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon are incredible in this! The show is very important because it is very subtle in its delivery, that you won’t even realize how many issues are boiling under the surface. It slowly creates this atmosphere of doom like a slow, burning fire, that will ignite at any second. The final episode shows the privilege literally burning to the ground and I think it is a wonderful metaphor.

 

Hunters TV: History Repeats Itself


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Hunters on Amazon Prime is a drama web television series that will leave you speechless. Executive Producer Jordan Peele and series creator David Weil take the audience on a brutal journey involving Nazi Hunters. Everything about this show is relevant to current day politics, while still educating people on the hardships Jewish people went through in World War 2/Post WW2.

Hunters takes place in New York, circa 1977. The Nazi Hunters that have assembled under Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), discover that there are war criminals conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the U.S. The series takes the tragic history of the Holocaust and expands on the stories, in order for the young generation to grasp what it meant to be a Nazi. David Weil examines the lives of the Jewish people, while still maintaining a balance in developing Nazi characters and their sadistic backstories.

The premise is more than just hunting Nazi’s because the perspective is through a third generation, Jewish teenager named Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman). Jonah lost his mother at childbirth and was raised by his grandmother, Ruth Heidelbaum (Jeannie Berlin). Naturally, as any grandparent would, Ruth would tell Jonah all of her stories and what she went through during World War 2. The bond between a grandparent and a grandson/granddaughter is unbreakable and the relationship is pure, that connection can never be replaced.

Logan Lerman was absolutely incredible as Jonah Heidelbaum, he continued to get better and better in each episode and he had great chemistry with Al Pacino. Lerman has always flown under the radar and I was rather happy to see him knock it out of the park, after all this time. Lerman as Jonah Heidelbaum truly is the star of the show and brings a new generation to the forefront to fight against their oppressor. After watching Hunters TV, Lerman is the only one who could have given such a powerful, emphatic and compassionate performance as Jonah.

David Weil listened to his own grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, tell her stories as a young child. In an article for Entertainment Weekly, Weil had said

“It was such a strange and jarring thing to hear as a kid, I saw those stories as comic book stories, stories of grand good versus grand evil, and that became the lens through which I saw the Holocaust.” – David Weil, Story Creator, Hunters TV

Weil incorporated pop culture in the retelling of what he considered a heroic act, based on the stories of Jonah’s grandmother in the Holocaust. There were plenty of comic book references and the basic theme of good vs. evil was evident throughout. The Jewish people who were oppressed and struggled to make their way out of the concentration camps, are true heroes and showed such bravery with whatever act of rebellion they took against the Nazi regime.

Hunters brings everyone together to fight one common enemy and in the late 70s and the Nazi’s were apparently hiding in plain sight. Weil addressed that Nazi’s have reinvented their way of life and have moved out west. They have changed their approach and have added more targets. We also see the diversity in the cast, when they come together in Meyer Offerman’s basement. The cast of characters including, Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor), Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany), Roxy Jones (Tiffany Boone), Joe Mizushima (Louis Ozawa), Murray Markowitz (Saul Rubinek) and Mindy Markowitz (Carol Kane) all have their own backstories and different tactics when killing Nazi’s. They all have such big roles to play and the writing for each of them was perfect.

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(left) Tiffany Boone, Louis Ozawa, Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, Josh Radnor, Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane

photo courtesy of Christopher Saunders/Amazon Studios 

They all have such distinct traits and stand out in their own way. Their backstories are fleshed out in each episode and tie together perfectly when hunting their next Nazi. I was rather impressed by Josh Radnor’s performance as Lonny Flash, his comedic timing was fantastic and his egotistical sarcasm made me love the character even more. Lonny Flash is one of my favourite characters, next to the dynamic duo of Mindy and Murray Markowitz, played by Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane. Their story was heartbreaking because they actually lived through the Holocaust, they worked so well together and you grow so attached to them as the show goes on. As they work together as a group, you’ll end up loving this unconventional clan.

I can’t stress enough how important Hunters TV is, especially in this current socio-political climate, where there is always a discussion of white supremacy because of how blatantly it is displayed. History definitely repeats itself and comes back in different forms. It has gotten to the point where these people are in a position of power and openly present their ideology to the people in their country. If it is out in the open right now, to the point where there HAVE been actual KKK rallies (without the hoods), are these people even hiding anymore? Even though the show takes place in the 70s, it shows the evolution of the Nazi mindset and how it can progress because of how it’s passed down to the next generation.

The show is multidimensional and addresses many sides of history in order to tie it all together against one group of people. Hunters TV is loosely based on the stories of World War 2 and definitely exaggerated in some instances. There were brutal, sadistic moments filmed at the concentration camps, that I truly believed could have happened. However, when these fictional moments happened in the show, Weil was under fire by the Auschwitz Memorial twitter for presenting these moments.

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People began to reply to the criticism claiming that any art form is allowed to alter history and create fictitious moments because it is creative expression. There are always more than two sides when interpreting any form of art but the criticism in the film or television medium, almost always raises questions of the necessity of these fictitious or exaggerated moments. David Weil then responded to the criticism with the following statement:

“Hunters, like a myriad of acclaimed films on the subject, does not always adhere to literal truth in its pursuit of capturing the representational truth of the Holocaust. My decision to fictionalize was made in awareness of this debate, and this show takes the point of view that symbolic representations provide individuals access to an emotional and symbolic reality that allows us to better understand the experiences of the Shoah and provide it with meaning that can address our urgent present.”

As I watched certain scenes unfold, like the chess match at the concentration camp, I was in shock. I felt a knot in my stomach and I truly couldn’t believe there were such sadistic people, during that period that would do such a thing. The human chess match was completely fabricated, it was fictitious but I truly believed that a traumatic thing like that could have happened, considering all the other horrifying things that happened during the Holocaust. Is it wrong of me to think that actually happened? Is it wrong that my heart genuinely broke for the Jewish community who had to suffer in such a disturbing way? It’s completely understandable that a scene like that was disturbing to watch and that it is damaging to the community but Weil was trying to make others understand that the treatment of Jewish people was just as brutal in different forms.

David Weil is right in saying that there should be more films about the Holocaust and these stories from Jewish people who suffered and overcame this nightmare. These stories aren’t just stories anymore, they’re also considered a blueprint because of the evolution of Nazi’s in the modern world. The script for each episode felt like you were watching a chess match, it was intricate, ballsy and had great execution. It is one of the most strategic shows I’ve seen in a very long time and the pieces come together effortlessly. The expertise of Hunters TV lies is the integration of history and the current political climate.

Hunters TV is currently on Amazon Prime and everyone needs to see this show. It will draw you in within the first five minutes and it will set the tone for the wild journey you will embark on with the Nazi Hunters. It’s a quick watch and each episode is better than the last. It is one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time and this is the first time I’ve ever wanted to write an article on a series because of how amazed I was with the show as a whole.