The King of Staten Island Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The King of Staten Island is Judd Apatow’s most personal film to date. He collaborated with Pete Davidson and Dave Sirus to bring Pete’s deeply emotional life to the screen. It was candid, realistic and raw to Pete’s journey. It was in typical Apatow fashion, to have such a natural flow to this story. They addressed mental illness and childhood trauma with humorous moments. In his mid -20s Scott (Pete Davidson) is at a standstill in his life, he dropped out of high school and his younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is heading out to college. As the events in his life unfold, Scott must come to terms with his father’s death and processes his grief in many ways.

For seventeen years Scott has lived without his father and the only memories he has of him, are the ones his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei) shares with him over and over again. In Davidson’s life, his father was a firefighter for the FDNY. He was seen as a hero by many because of his bravery in saving someone’s life, as a building collapsed on top of him. Most of Davidson’s dark humour stems from his childhood trauma and his stand up is vulgar and borderline offensive. At the end of the day, that is what makes Pete, Pete. His humour may offend people but it is okay for him to make fun of his own trauma because it comes from such a personal place.

If you have been a fan of Judd Apatow’s since the beginning of his career, you know the way he makes his films. They are personal, witty and very well written. He always attempts to make real situations seem funny, even if it stems from a dark place. The reason why his films have so much heart and resonate with so many, is because he isn’t afraid to show his audience the reality of situations. He wants to say that these characters are real, concrete people, with a twisted sense of humour that exist in the real world.

To those who have followed Pete Davidson from his early stages on Saturday Night Live and appreciated his humour (even though sometimes he crossed the line), you will appreciate this film. I think everyone will learn something about Davidson through watching this film. You may dislike him a bit more, or even start to like him, it is all up to interpretation. This film highlights mental illness  and it’s through the eyes of Pete Davidson, who has truly suffered from it. To see the psychology of Scott, through the eyes of Davidson, is something raw and eye opening. It is a story that only Pete Davidson could tell and it is really special.

The film does drag on a little bit but the third act is really important to Scott’s arc. As his sister goes off to college, his mother begins dating again and Ray Bishop (Bill Burr) also works at the fire department. In the midst of all this, Scott is causing his own damage with his friends and when he finds out about his mother dating a fireman, he goes into a downward spiral and attempts to break them up. We find that Scott does not really know how to express his emotions and sometimes he lets it out through impulsive, violent behaviour, or everyone’s favourite mechanism, sarcasm.

After a huge blowout between Ray, Margie and Scott, they all go their separate ways. That’s why the third act is really special. It brings them all together in a very unexpected way. Scott begins to understand the life of a fireman and he experiences it firsthand. It was very cathartic for Davidson and the REAL stories shared of his father, were important, not only for Scott’s character arc in the film, but for Davidson to maybe get some closure. It was an emotional ending and Davidson gave a wonderful performance.

The King of Staten Island is not for everyone. The only way to appreciate this film, is if you are fans of both, Apatow and Davidson. To newcomers, they may not understand the sentimental value this holds for Davidson and why this was so important for him to make. It was also pretty funny, a lot of Davidson’s humour is things he would say under his breath and being able to catch what he says, in this film was great. It’s a long watch but it is definitely worth it to see the heart of Pete Davidson.

 

Shirley Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Josephine Decker known for making a splash with Madeline’s Madeline in 2018, takes on the story of famous horror author Shirley Jackson. Shirley is a character study of the famous author, as she attempts to write another novel. She has been locked in her house for two months and has unwanted guests moving in, as her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) offers a young teacher, Fred Nemser (Logan Lerman) and his pregnant wife, Rose Nemser (Odessa Young) to stay with them, in order to give him a steady position at the school where he teaches.

The story is a typical stockholm syndrome atmosphere but the intrigue in the protagonist and these characters is what was severely lacking. At first Shirley is opposed in having this couple stay with her and then slowly, she preys on young Rose. She begins to create scenes in her head, that are somehow connected to a “missing girl” ad, that has been circling the town. The story of the young girl named Paula, is somehow in this fictional plain, that crosses into the reality of Rose living with Shirley. Shirley goes a bit mad while she writes this story, causing Rose to unravel at the same time.

Does it seem like a a story about a writer and her muse? Sure. However, the present time of Rose growing closer to Shirley does not make sense with how this film ended. Is Paula a real missing person? Is Rose still alive and well at the end of this film? Or was this entire experience of the married couple moving in with them a dream from the beginning? In simple terms, let’s just say that the film leaves plenty to the imagination and how the audience can interpret a writers process.

Elisabeth Moss delivers another stellar performance but the character just did not sit right for her. There was something off about this pairing and I don’t know if the character suited Moss. It just seemed like the film was forcing itself to be edgy and sinister in order to hold onto its audience. There were graphic visuals and unique camerawork to show the madness in the mind of the author and her process but it wasn’t enough to make it interesting.

Shirley had great moments between both women in the film and they had very open discussions about womanhood but those important conversations got lost in the attempted madness of the piece. It was a bit too messy for my liking because of the constant crossover between present time and fictional scenes. It was hard to understand what Decker wanted to present in this film. Maybe I’m someone who gets too involved into the psychosis of the characters and wanting something to come from it. It had its moments and had solid performances from all four of them but sadly it just didn’t sit well with me.

 

 

 

Return To Hardwick Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Return To Hardwick is a generic World War 2 documentary that highlights the 93rd bomb group. Director Michael Sellers brings together sons, daughters and other family members to share their memories of their loved ones who served in the war. Michael Cudlitz (Band of Brothers, The Walking Dead) narrates this journey as the younger generation attempts to travel to the Southern part of England, to uncover the history of a disappearing World War 2 air base.

It was a very nice three part structure that was beautifully shot. They chose to use still photos, archive footage and reconstructed set pieces to tell the story. It is emotional at times because the children/grandchildren of this soldiers, were talking about their experiences in the war and their own relationships with them. What they did really well was integrating the archive footage, with present day, as the younger generation made their way to the air base.

This film offers viewers an in depth look into the lives of those who fought in World War 2 bombing crews. This documentary felt so wholesome and genuine, in the way it was presented because the heart of the director, was with his own grandfather who fought in the war. Those connections are stronger than people think and it came from such a pure, honest place when delivering this story.

The one thing that also worked quite well, was seeing the veterans retell the horrors they experienced in the war. It was really nice to hear their version of the story, while Sellers chose to recreate certain moments from World War 2 in very unique ways, in order to enhance the stories that were being told. It felt like a whole other life time, when watching this film because we have never experienced war the way that generation did.

Return To Hardwick is an emotional World War 2 documentary, that hits all the right notes and leaves you with a better understanding of the hardships soldiers faced during that period. The film is like a heartfelt love letter to that generation serving in the 93rd bomb group, it pulls at your heartstrings and takes you on the journey with the children and grandchildren of those soldiers who served their country.

 

 

Agatha Christine: Next Door Spy Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Agatha Christine: Next Door Spy is an animated film, that tells the story of a young girl, named AC (short for Agatha Christine) that wants to become a detective. She runs her own operation, out of her basement and constructs spy equipment on her own. Young AC wants to solve the crimes in her neighbourhood and comes across a possible burglary at her local grocery store. It has been difficult for AC because no one really takes her seriously as a detective, or even supports her throughout this endeavour.

Director Karla von Bengston wanted to show the journey of a 10 year old girl, trying to harness her true identity, while everyone around her was against her. It’s a touching film that shows the struggles of a young girl, trying to find her identity and attempting to fit a gender stereotype that she does not want to conform to. The animation style is a bit different and I enjoyed how the colouring would change, from dream like detective sequence in black and white, to her reality being in colour. It felt like an old timey, spy film and it worked extremely well.

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Agatha Christie has had trouble making friends in the past and moving to a new city has made matters a bit more difficult for her. As she investigates the burglary, she finds her first suspect, named Vincent, she tries to figure out why he’s stealing, which eventually leads to a weird form of friendship. AC tries to navigate this investigation, while learning about friendship, it’s almost an adult story, masked as a children’s narrative. It was an interesting watch and everything slowly unfolded, so audiences could process everything going on in AC’s mind.

It was almost hard to watch at times because of how her family was treating her and her passion for detective work. She wanted to do what she loved but there was always something mean spirited said against her. As he friendship with Vincent began to grow, she would also have setbacks because she was trying to figure out his mystery but in the end, the bond of going through this journey together, trumped the fact that AC cracked the case.

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It also shows that young girls can be whoever they want to be and how parents can guide them on their journey of discovering their identity. Bengston also used a lizard as AC’s conscience throughout the film and has she got deeper into the case, the lizard grew larger. She kept the lizard locked away and it symbolized her self-doubt in the back of her mind. It showed the dark corners of her mind, through the shading and colours used to design the lizard.

Agatha Christine: Next Door Spy is an animated film with so many important issues being addressed for womanhood. It has great animation, a strong character arc for AC and the value of developing a friendship. It was a long, fun journey to go on and it had some of the coolest gadgets for detective work. It will teach young children to fight for themselves and who they want to become.