Mulan (2020) Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Disney has given us another live action film from their vault and it is completely different, than what anyone had in mind. To some, the change of pace can be seen as refreshing, honest to the cultural story and beautifully shot. On the other hand, it can also be seen as a very bland, uninteresting, heartless reconstructed version of the Mulan we know and love.

The film lacks any emotional connection to Mulan (Yifei Liu) because her performance was so wooden and lifeless. The fact that her journey as a woman is completely stripped in this film, is what turned me off. The whole point of her story, is to see her grow into the woman she wants to become, not the ideal, that everyone in her village wants for her. I feel like that entire journey was lost because the story focused on the army, instead of her.

The cinematography is probably the best part of the entire film because there were some beautiful shots, but everything else was lacking. The first act felt rushed and yet the story also dragged on. There were quick cuts during action sequences, which made it difficult to understand what was happening. The VFX that was used looked like it was unfinished and at some points, it seemed like the green screen was visible.

It was really hard to get into a film that didn’t have any substance, it just felt weaker than the other live action films and I really wish I enjoyed it. I loved that there is representation on screen. It was great to see Asian culture depicted properly, and on such a grand scale, but I just couldn’t get into the film at all. I just wish there was better dialogue and a stronger story.

Mulan is a bland restructured version of the animated film we all know and love. The heart of Mulan is stripped away in this film and the acting is unconvincing. The tight combat scenes are executed well but the poor editing, creates plenty of issues for the film as a whole. It is always hard not to compare it to the animated film because so many of us grew up only knowing that version.

These live action films are very tricky to adapt because of our connection to the material. Animation is a beautiful medium on its own, so naturally people will be overly critical of a live action adaptation. In this case, Mulan is a completely different version because its focus is on what she can do for her country, instead of discovering who she is inside.

Cannes Award-Winning Feature: ‘Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The ‘Cannes’ award-winning feature Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture is a satirical animated film, that dives deep into the stories of young Hollywood starlets and their treatment throughout the years. It is written, directed and produced by Nicole Brending, who also voices 14 characters in the film. It takes multiple tabloid stories from the lives of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and bluntly addresses the toxic, intrusiveness of the media, when it comes to young teenage girls, being forced into an industry standard.

It is extremely fitting, to have dolls symbolize the conformity of being a starlet in Hollywood and having to essentially become a clone, in order to become accepted by everyone. The first half of this film, explores the sexploitation of young women in the music industry and how they have been mentally abused, by the authoritative presence surrounding them. At the young age of 12, Junie Spoons was cast in the show Candy Castles, which very much resembles the Mickey Mouse Club and it was more of the journey Britney Spears went on at a very early age.

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Courtesy of Rock Salt Releasing

When taking serious subject matters and presenting them through a different medium, in this case, animation, it is much easier to express honesty in the toxicity of the subject. Brending was so honest in her storytelling and how the media, would always spin the lives of young starlets in a negative manner. The one thing I found worked really well was the depiction of men, through boyband member Zachary Wilderness, whose name oddly resembles Justin Timberlake’s. Bendring presented the journey of Zachary Wilderness, as this perfect fairytale and that’s how young men, are taken care of by the media in the industry.

The juxtaposition of the two, was really eye opening, especially because young starlets like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, have been very outspoken about the treatment of women in the industry, specifically child stars. It is very well written and uses major tabloid stories, that viewers still remember to this day. It was hard to watch because of how in depth the film went into Britney Spears and her downward spiral, especially considering how much we know now. It was necessary to make a film like this, in all of it’s nastiness, while addressing the faux journalism that takes place when taking control of these narratives.

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Courtesy of Rock Salt Releasing 

The film does lose its way in the third act with a surprise storyline. There was a storyline that was placed at the end involving a transgender character and I think that’s where it lost its way a bit. It was difficult to understand why this storyline came up towards the end and I tried to find the symbolism behind it. It seemed that it was symbolic, in wanting to achieve perfection and the media’s idea of perfection, is the look of a young Hollywood star. This ideal is so incredibly damaging, that it leads to many eating disorders and plastic surgeries gone wrong. It still doesn’t make the case, as to why the sexual identity comes into play at the end but it’s definitely up for interpretation.

Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture is a film that allows viewers to understand and interpret how poorly treated these young girls are. They are exploited sexually, forced to grow up in a toxic environment and treated as a possession, until they are old enough to understand how authority figures abused their power over them. Nicole Brending does excellent work in delivering this subject matter with such brutal honesty, that the film should be studied for years to come.

‘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!

 

 

Miss Juneteenth Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Miss Juneteenth is a film, about the generational effects of mothering and how choices can affect the future. This is Channing Godfrey Peoples directorial debut and she wrote the screenplay as well. The film is about a former beauty queen and single mother, Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) who prepares her rebellious daughter, Kai Marie Jones (Alexis Chikaeze) for the ‘Miss Juneteenth’ pageant. The film shows Black heritage and the different opportunities that are made available for the Black community.

It begins with Turquoise reminiscing about her pageant days and the future she could have had. She sees her bright, young daughter and wants her to follow in her footsteps, in order to succeed. Turquoise wants her daughter to accomplish more than she did, which causes her to push her to her limit and overwork her for a pageant, she does not want to take part of. It does seem that Turquoise sees this as a redemption arc, for herself, if her daughter wins the pageant and gets the scholarship for university.

Turquoise worked hard to become ‘Miss Juneteenth’ and there was pressure, that came with the title but it also shows how circumstances, like an alcoholic mother, or a pregnancy, can lead to difficult decisions, that could change your life. The film pushes Turquoise back into the world of pageantry and she begins to doubt herself, in how she’s raising Kai. Turquoise can be seen as a very strict mother and Kai wants to express her creativity through dancing instead of becoming a clone of her mother, for this pageant.

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Courtesy Ley Line Entertainment (left) Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze

 

Nicole Beharie gives a nuanced, emotional, complex performance, as Turquoise and it is one of the best performances of the year. As she guides her daughter Kai, through the pageant, she picked up double shifts, to pay for her pageant run and she realized, that it meant more to her, than it did to her daughter. Turquoise was working three jobs and trying to make everything work, for her family but it seemed like everyone was against her. It may not have been intentional but Turquoise had to hustle and do everything for herself, when others fell through.

Turquoise had struggled with so many things in her life, including a strained relationship with her alcoholic mother. She was responsible for her own mother, from a very young age and she had to learn how to support herself. Those are choices that need to be made, in order to survive and that is what she did. She is a woman that would go to any lengths, to protect the people that are around her and go above and beyond for them, when times get rough.

Miss Juneteenth is a strong debut from Channing Godfrey Peoples, as she discusses the systemic racism and corruption in the Black community, in regards to equal opportunities for schooling and businesses. It shows the journey of a woman, who needed to make tough choices in order to survive, as she remembers a version of herself, that is now a ghost of her past life. Women sacrifice so many things for others around them, including their children and this was a film, that definitely showed the determination they have.

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.