The story is pretty much the same as it’s animated source material. A curious teenage mermaid named Ariel (Halle Bailey) ventures to the surface world and falls for a prince. She then trades her voice to a sea witch in exchange for legs, all for some man.
These Disney live-action remakes have always been set up for box-office success, having a fanbase which miraculously doesn’t seem to care if these films are simply shot for shot remakes, as long as the songs are there and the vibes are right. And while “The Little Mermaid” is not a shot for shot remake whatsoever, all the most memorable visual aspects of this remake are the shots that keep true to the 1989 animated original.
For a remake which is almost an hour longer than the original, director Rob Marshall does a good job of keeping this two hour plus film moving at a pace which accounts for a child’s attention span. And his interpretations of some of the most beloved musical numbers in the Disney canon, will be received well by audiences.
To account for this extended runtime, we get new songs with music from Alan Menken and lyrics from Lin-Manuel Miranda. Some of which are catchier than others, but all fit the atmosphere of a more modern retelling of this classic tale. In addition to the new songs, more backstory is added to many of the characters in an attempt to give enhanced motivations. Truthfully, this aspect neither harms nor helps with actual story engagement.
Most importantly, the live-action CGI talking crab, fish and seagull are done well enough to not be a distraction. I’m being facetious, but also, I understand this is a worry which sits in the back of the minds of non-child viewers who become fixated on these very things. The only issue I have with the visuals is somewhat of a bad timing thing, as the underwater CGI is made underwhelming due to the recent release of “Avatar: The Way of Water” and the technical comparisons these scenes are sure to garner. I must restate that the direction here (while the weakest aspect of this film) is fine and will only be picked apart by critics. My criticism of Marshall’s vision is that he doesn’t seem to have one that wishes to step out of its predecessor’s shadow. This is not a sleepwalking directorial effort, as it’s all quite entertaining. It just doesn’t rock the boat in any capacity. Which isn’t a bad thing, if that is what you came to see.
All of that said, this version does stand out from the original due to the enjoyment many will get from these performances. Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Javier Bardem as King Triton are great casting choices and very much filled the shoes of these supporting characters quite well. The same goes for Jonah Hauer-King who plays Prince Eric, very much giving dark-haired Ryan Gosling. Awkwafina is the voice of Scuttle the gannet (not seagull) and Daveed Diggs is the voice of Sebastian the crab, both doing much of the comedic heavy lifting, adding comedic touches which differ from the straight-forward whimsy of the original. The fact is, there are no bad performances. Jacob Trembley who voices Flounder is a complete afterthought, but even his voice work isn’t what I’d call “bad”. Anyway, Halle Bailey’s performance is the main reason to see this movie. She is such star quality, capturing the essence of her character (Ariel) better than any other character in any Disney live-action remake thus far.
Final Thought: The 1989 “The Little Mermaid” was my favorite animated film as a child and so I did go into this ready to enjoy myself, but also ready to be all sorts of unforgiving at the slightest hint of an attempt to ruin my childhood. Thankfully, this version of “The Little Mermaid” was an overall enjoyable watch. And due to the nostalgia evoking musical sequences and Bailey’s performance, “The Little Mermaid” is quite rewatchable.
When a Hollywood movie focuses on a marginalized group, more often than not there are large aspects of the story which are sensationalized and exploitative. But thankfully this story was not made for the cisgender gaze.
Synopsis: Monica (Trace Lysette) is a trans woman who after years of being away, apprehensively travels back to her hometown to visit her estranged dying mother (Patricia Clarkson).
This is a story not bogged down by exposition, and we are asked to gather information through nuanced interactions Monica has with the world around her, her sister-in-law, her brother, their children and her mother who may recognize Monica but refuse to acknowledge Monica for who she truly is. Amidst the reality we live in of a violent and ever-present nationwide (worldwide) anti-trans movement, co-writer/director Andrea Pallaoro and writer Orlando Tirado make a conscious decision to present this trans story as a piece of slice of life realism. It’s a decision which pays off.
Trace Lysette, who is on screen for every second of this film, intimately portrays a woman who carries with her the trauma of a tragic situation that is all too common in regards to LGBTQ+ youth. A queer child who is kicked out of the house at a young age; rejected by their own family and loved ones. Now grown and asked to interact with those who’ve ostracized her, Lysette is tasked with giving a performance that is not only personal, but also representative of so many who share very similar stories. And Lysette more than comes through with a powerhouse and award worthy performance.
This performance is paired up with Pallaoro coming through with some of the best direction I’ve seen all year. Initially filming (framing) Monica in a way that felt distant, but not detached, as we move forward in the story we are allowed more and more into Monica’s existence; into her routine, her mannerisms, her body, her job, her anxiety, her motivations, her hopes and dreams, her joy and pain, and the isolation felt by someone alienated from family.
Final Thought: “Monica” is a triumph of trans storytelling. It’s a somber movie about attempted reconciliation and forgiveness in a situation where neither of those things may be an option. It’s a movie which shows the results of parental abandonment. And above all things, it’s a movie dedicated to spending time with a woman who is trans, as she moves through this world. “Monica” is a quiet film that is sure to speak volumes to those who take the opportunity see it.
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Adapted from Andreas Malm’s nonfiction book, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire”, in which it is argued that sabotage (property damage) is the most effective form of “local climate activism”, this movie continues in the spirit of its source material, presenting an unapologetic call to direct action.
Synopsis: A small group of young people (some self-proclaimed climate activists, some not) from all across the United States, come together in West Texas with the goal of blowing up an oil pipeline.
Director Daniel Goldhaber drops us right into the action giving his film immediate momentum. Within the first twenty minutes we watch these characters build homemade explosives (Note: no actual bomb making instructions are given in this film) and discuss their plans for the hours ahead. As we witness them prepping for an act which some may call terrorism while others would call self-defense, we are given flashbacks showing how everyone arrived at this point.
Goldhaber along with co-writers Ariela Barer (who also plays the lead character) and Jordan Sjol’s choice to construct this story as a heist-thriller was a stylized stroke of genius, adding an additional layer of tension onto a story containing sky-high stakes from inception.
Very much coming across as a collective passion project, the filmmakers as well as a cast which includes some very engaging performances from the likes of Lukas Gage (The White Lotus), Sasha Lane (American Honey), Jayme Lawson (The Woman King) and Barer herself, take careful consideration in continuously highlighting the revolutionary, communal and anarchist culture and reasoning at the heart of this feature. In the midst of what is a fast-paced film, we are asked to sit with beautiful shots of desert landscape, if only to reaffirm what it’s all for. We get flashbacks that accurately portray how an entire generation could be pushed to these lengths. We even get a pre-title land acknowledgment honoring the native peoples and land that this movie was filmed on. On arrival the collective voice of this film is felt, culminating into something visually and emotionally powerful and creating a sense of solidarity with even the most skeptical viewer.
Final Thought: During said flashback sequences we witness an entire disenfranchised generation surrounded by posters, pop-up social media ads as well as authority figures all suggesting that the only forms of activism that are deemed correct are voting and peaceful protests. And still the characters in this film choose to go the route of non-passive action. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” asks only one question. What constitutes true and effective activism during a time of immediate crisis? And this question is asked in the most edge-of-your-seat way possible, without sacrificing its “by any means necessary” message. “How To Blow Up a Pipeline” is definitely my kind of heist movie.
In this psychological horror, we follow Joséphine (Noémie Merlant), a French woman living in the United States, who is a very successful entrepreneur/model/blogger. Her life is seemingly “perfect”. She has a husband (Kit Harington) and is about to give birth to a child named Ruby. But after she gives birth, Joséphine slowly begins to spiral, suspecting that people surrounding her are suddenly trying to harm her; including Ruby.
One could say “Baby Ruby” is simply about the horrors of having a child, with a smattering of very dark humor concerning the process of caring for an infant. But more accurately, “Baby Ruby” is a horror movie specifically dealing with the theme of postpartum depression. And how playwright turned writer/director Bess Wohl blends these elements together is impressive to say the least, especially for a debut feature.
From the opening scene, “Baby Ruby” is set completely in the world of horror. But the visuals go further than just seeing an exhausted first-time parent. Wohl’s horror inspired visuals work hard to capture the feeling of raising an infant, through the eyes of a woman who is home alone with said infant all day long. For a portion of this movie the only background noise we get is the sound of a baby relentlessly crying. Wohl then presents a world where Joséphine begins to ask for help and is met with dismissive responses that range from, “It’s normal for babies to cry” to a slew of microaggressions masked as advice.
When I say that this has dark comedic elements, nothing in “Baby Ruby” is laugh out loud funny, but more so a satirical critique on the things that are normalized in the United States healthcare system surrounding giving birth and caring for an infant. All of the dark humor scenarios in this have been seen before in your standard comedy about raising young kids. Wohl takes these tropes and plays them not overtly for laughs, but more to illicit anxiety and fear. In its darker moments, the sharply written script addresses the idea of someone believing their baby is capable of being angry to the point of violence, the idea of being angry with your own baby and the idea of being afraid of your own baby.
The performance from Noémie Merlant only adds to the viewers ability to empathize with this character, even when what she is seeing becomes less and less believable. Through the performance we see Joséphine as someone who is thrown into a situation that she is told she will instinctually be able to handle. And even as she begins to sink, is still expected to maintain her “girl boss” persona.
Final Thought: As someone who is never going to give birth, “Baby Ruby” is not a horror movie made for me. I understand that. I also understand that some of Wohl’s punchlines were meant to garner a trauma response only from those who’ve given birth and/or raised an infant. That said, as a childless millennial, I really admire this movie; in its technical construction, its story and most importantly in its willingness to shine a light on some of the darker aspects of the “things we don’t talk about”, that people who give birth go through when raising a child.
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Being the first movie in the “Rocky”/”Creed” franchise without Sylvester Stallone playing his infamous Rocky Balboa character, and also Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut, walking into “Creed III” I was more curious than anything about how all of this would turn out. But the story told is strong enough to stand independently and the inclusion of an antagonist played by Jonathan Majors, allows “Creed III” to be considered one of the better movies of the lot.
The story sees the now retired, accomplished veteran boxer turned boxing promoter Adonis Creed, wealthy and happy with his successful wife (Tessa Thompson) and daughter by his side. Everything seems to be going well, until his childhood friend, Damian (Jonathan Majors) who we discover has been in prison for eighteen years, resurfaces. Damian was once the biggest rising star in amateur boxing history, destined to become a world champ, when his dreams were taken from him. And as he was forced to watch the rise of Adonis from prison, his resentment grew, believing that an incident from their childhood was the reason Adonis has the life Damian was always meant to have.
It’s a “retired fighter, forced into one last fight” story. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before, especially in the “Rocky” franchise. This story is strong, but with formulaic beats that feel nostalgically appropriate, resulting in an engaging buildup and effective “final battle” sequence. But what really elevates this above simply a Mr. T vs. Rocky remake are the performances of the two leads. Smartly, Jordan (as a director) realizes this and both him and Majors share a significant amount of screen time throughout.
“Creed III” asks Jordan to transform into the elder statesman, fully taking over the role that Stallone has been playing for a while now. And he does this well, giving a performance that is one of the most grown up of his career. Although, Jordan’s performance is outshined by Majors’ elevation of the standard “Rocky” antagonist (something of a boxing version of Killmonger). He is a villain on paper, but Majors delivers a performance that quietly commands our attention, asking us to not just sympathize with Damian, but to understand his motivations and anger. Bottom line, it is a joy to watch these two high caliber actors play against each other.
Director Jordan does a really good job at the helm. And as the movie progresses, his creativity behind the camera really expands past simply giving us solid camera angles during boxing choreography. During the movie’s final act, Jordan makes it clear through some very creatively and almost interpretive dance inspired visuals that he has something to say about unresolved Black male trauma, and does it in a way one rarely sees beyond the anime arena. That said, the original “Creed” film was directed by Ryan Coogler, one of the best directors working today (one of the best Black directors of Black cinema). So, in a side-by-side comparison, it is a bit obvious that some of the Black-centric intimacy of this script (which Coogler has screenwriter credits) is not hammered home as well is it could’ve been. Also, the pacing meanders a bit at times, and then proceeds to speed up a bit too much just as things begin to feel like this is a two hour drama (the actual runtime is one hour and fifty-six minutes). But none of that prevents “Creed III” from being an entertaining accomplishment, giving lovers of the franchise everything they need to feel at home.
Final Thought: Maybe a hot take, but the absence of Stallone goes unnoticed. I would argue that this Rocky-less story contains a much less clunky narrative than “Creed II”. That is something I’ve always felt was a struggle within the “Creed” movies; balancing between telling the Adonis Creed and Bianca Creed story, while attempting to fit a Rocky story in there without making it seem as though Rocky has become an afterthought. “Creed III”, with its flaws, sees the creative team behind these films spread their wings, making me hopeful for the future of this franchise.
On January 1, 2022 the 1926 book “Winnie-the-Pooh” entered the public domain in the United States. In May of 2022 it was announced that an independent slasher starring the beloved children’s character Winnie-the-Pooh had been filmed, where the titular Pooh was now a feral monster on a killing spree. This week I paid for and sat through this movie. All I asked was that it be fun. And it’s not awful. In fact, the premise is quite good. But on a technical level, “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” is a hot, sticky mess.
First, the good stuff. The introduction revolves around Christopher Robin and the entire Hundred Acre Woods crew (expect for Tigger, since Disney still owns the rights to the name and likeness). One day, Christopher leaves for college and Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit and Owl feel abandoned. They don’t know what to do with themselves and at one point begin to starve and must eat Eeyore in order to survive. After that, they feel irreversibly betrayed by Christopher and vow to kill any human who enters their path. To make things even better (for those who are as into this premise as I am) this introduction, taking place within the first few minutes of the movie, is told entirely in an almost Frank Miller inspired black and white animated montage; with full proper British narration. In this animated sequence, while short and sadly the only aspect of this movie that I would say is rewatchable, I immediately caught a glimpse of the shockingly high potential that a film like “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” had.
Now, the rest of the movie, which is a live-action straight-forward slasher, sees a group of female friends travel to a vacation cottage near the Hundred Acre Woods, where they are subsequently terrorized by a bloodthirsty Pooh and Piglet. This “rest of the movie” also leads me to why this movie doesn’t work.
Writer/director Rhys Frake-Waterfield wanted this to be “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” or “Friday the 13th” so badly. He just didn’t have the technical abilities to pull it off. Many of your favorite slasher movies are considered “low-budget”. And while “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” is admittedly lower budget than most modern slashers, it fails on three aspects that are all the result of bad filmmaking and thus render most of the movie unwatchable. First, the sound mix is poor. As the action commences, it is accompanied by a very standard horror score. The problem is, the score is louder than any actor speaking. So, for about thirty minutes of this movie it’s nearly impossible to hear what anyone is saying. Now, it’s a slasher, so the dialogue may not matter. But what does matter is the lighting. As soon as it becomes dark and the characters make their way outside, everything becomes hard to see. So, for many of the chase sequences, it’s a struggle to know who is where and if they are getting away or not. But none of that is as big of a problem as the movie’s most egregious flaw. It seems that nobody on set knew how to film a murder. Many independent slashers have done a great job of filming murder sequences using camera tricks to hide that fact that they lacked a budget to recreate the visuals necessary. What ‘Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” suffers from is a lack of talent and experience behind the camera. Any practical effects, when used, were poorly filmed. And many kills not relying on gore are presented in a way that will leave audiences confused as to whether the person murdered is dead or even hurt at all. This aspect is only compounded by that fact that a few of these kills had halfway decent set-ups. But when you know that the kills are going to continuously result in the least satisfying outcomes, after a few of them you cease to be invested in anything happening on-screen.
Final Thought: The pre-production of “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” is a far more interesting thing to talk about than the movie itself. That said, get a better director and someone who knows their way around practical effects for the sequel, and I’m definitely here for that.
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Making the rounds in underground horror circles, “Skinamarink” has some saying it’s a total borefest and others proclaiming this to be one of the scariest movie experiences they’ve ever had.
Written and directed by Kyle Edward Ball, set in 1995 and shot in a way that feels as though you are watching a low-fi home movie, “Skinamarink” follows two small children who wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing and all the doors and windows of their house are gone. Not shot in real time but unfortunately feeling like it is, what we get is a movie where we never see the children’s faces and are left to watch this story play out through a series of blurry shots of the ceiling, corners of the living room, dark hallways and a television set playing old cartoons, as the kids speak off-screen attempting to piece together what is going on. Their voices are also accompanied by ambient “house noises” and overmodulated and warbled sounds that mimic the playback of an old VHS cassette tape recording.
I get it. That all sounds wildly unwatchable. But shockingly it’s not, as Ball constructs these visuals in a way that delivers on that creepy feeling of watching something we shouldn’t be watching.
Slow to start, Ball does establish a clear story which captured my curiosity early on. And while I didn’t care for the final twenty minutes of “Skinamarink”, which ditches the plot entirely and ventures off into this purely experimental realm of confusing sights and sounds and “cool camera tricks” (and there is nothing in this that could justify the hour and forty-minute runtime), there was definitely a few segments where I could clearly see the film’s full potential as a horror that would make you think twice about checking for monsters under your bed.
When replaying this movie over in my head, I’m acutely aware that not much happens after a certain point. I am also aware that for much of this movie I watched it with my stomach clenched and at times through my fingers. And for me, this is a huge part of what makes a scary movie work.
I’ve seen some reviews label “Skinamarink” as art, as in it’s more of an “art piece” than a movie made for entertainment purposes. But I truly believe the filmmaker’s intent was to create a disturbing horror on par with something like “Paranormal Activity”, while also attempting to hold true to his low-budget, “what if David Lynch directed “Poltergeist”” vision. While I don’t believe this experiment will be as much of a mainstream success story as “Paranormal Activity”, “Skinamarink” does achieve the disorienting visuals mixed with unnerving atmosphere, which makes this experimental film an effective horror watch in the right setting; alone at home in the dark.
Final Thought: The theories behind what is actually going on in this movie will definitely be fun to talk about for those who can make it through. Is this a fever dream? Is this real life? Is this some sort of purgatory? Is there someone or something in this house that is making all of this happen? Is this movie even good? That said, I understand why people dislike this film, as it is an endurance test. On top of that, I understand that “Skinamarink” may be a movie that is more interesting to talk about than it is to actually watch. And so, I cannot fully recommend it to everyone. But I am glad it exists.
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Introductions are dumb. Let’s get right into this. The following are my picks for the ten best movies of 2022.
10. Nanny: A horror take on Ousmane Sembene’s 1966 classic “Black Girl”, only this time told as a modern examination of female African immigrants living in America. “Nanny” tells the story of a Senegalese immigrant named Aisha who takes a nanny position for an upper-class white family in New York. With her own child back in Africa, Aisha’s goal is to raise enough money so he can come live with her. But the longer she works in this abusive and exploitative nanny position, the more nightmares she has, as if something is attempting to get her attention. This could be considered horror in the same way “The Babadook” is, where the horror is less about the monster and more about the situational trauma. The way writer/director Nikyatu Jusu filmed her mostly Black cast visually reminded me of “Moonlight”. And I already stated how “Nanny” takes its story almost directly from arguably the most influential African film of all time. “Nanny” is a movie which takes from the best and executes this reimagining with haunting proficiency.
9. Happening: Adapted from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel, “Happening” takes place in 1960’s France when abortion was illegal. Broken down into weeks, the story is a race against time, following a young woman named Anne as she attempts to obtain an illegal abortion. Along the way she is abandoned by friends, confronted by people who are against a woman’s right to choose and doctors who attempt to sabotage her. Director Audrey Diwan keeps the camera fixed to our protagonist, making this an increasingly uncomfortable and painful watch, witnessing firsthand what someone seeking an illegal abortion must go through. With this past year seeing the overturning of Roe v. Wade, “Happening” may be the most important film on this list.
8. The Woman King: Viola Davis, the action star? A film which caught me completely off-guard, director Dina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King” is a superior theater going experience on almost every level. Taking place in 1823 West Africa, this film tells the story of Nanisca (Viola Davis), the leader of an all-female unit of warriors in the Kingdom of Dahomey. Through theater shaking battle sequences Prince-Bythewood works to showcase her love and admiration for these physically dominant female characters throughout the film. But it’s not just about the action, as there really are only three or four big action sequences. It is the smaller scenes of levity and female-centric bonding centered around trauma, loss and triumph which really carry this two hour plus film. “The Woman King” has so much going for it. From the battle sequences, to the character building, to the historical stakes felt throughout, to Viola Davis becoming an action star before our very eyes, there is something for everyone. For me there was also something deeper. “The Woman King” depicts its relationship between elder Black female characters and younger Black female characters as analogous to the fractured connection between Africa and every single person stolen from her during this horrific time in history. A profound theme handled with such care, that I wish more people would actually experience this movie before making their own statements about “The Woman King”.
7. Elvis: As someone who isn’t an Elvis fan and couldn’t care less if a new generation was introduced to a historical figure some refer to as the “King of Rock & Roll”, but also as someone who knows a lot about the man’s life, this was always going to be a tough sell. I mean, another Elvis movie? (Sigh). With so much Elvis content in the world (documentaries, biopics, etc.) and many “notable” impersonations throughout cinematic history, going into 2022’s “Elvis” all I wanted was something different. And what director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!) gave me was different and so much more. No matter how you feel before you watch “Elvis”, it’s undeniable how effective the film is. Austin Butler gives an Oscar worthy lead performance as Elvis. Luhrmann delivers sequences which transport audiences into the crowd of an Elvis performance, giving us the most accurate taste of not only what it looked like, but more importantly what it must have felt like. I never really understood why people of a certain generation were so starstruck by Elvis. Luhrmann makes it make sense using his own unique visual flair, dousing the story with a flamethrower of larger-than-life visual effects, a modern score and the “electricity in the air” feeling which constitutes a Baz Luhrmann cinematic event. This is the best Baz Luhrmann film I’ve ever seen.
6. Prey: A “Predator” prequel that is on par with the 1987 classic. Taking place in the Northern Great Planes in 1719, “Prey” tells the story of a young warrior of the Comanche Nation (played by rising star, Amber Midthunder) as she fights to protect her tribe against a predatory alien who has crash-landed on earth. This is very much a “Predator” movie, meaning it holds a pretty simple cat and mouse setup, with lots of bloody action and an “against all odds” montage leading to a final battle. What separates this installment is a couple of things. Writer Patrick Aison and director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) do an excellent job of placing the focus on the story’s Native characters and how they are portrayed. And using a villain as ruthless and bloodthirsty as the Predator as a foreshadowing event for the Indigenous fight against European colonizers, was a stroke of genius. “Prey” also sees a slew of talented indigenous actors at the helm. Representation continues to be addressed and championed. As the Predator series is an established media property, this installment, with this story and this cast is a big deal. But how it chooses to represent the indigenous community is an even bigger deal.
5. Resurrection: If you know me, you know I have a tendency to gravitate into the morbid underbelly of cinema from time to time. And so, I present, “Resurrection”. A woman (Rebecca Hall) living with her teenage daughter in the city, suddenly begins to see a man from her past showing up in random places, seemingly attempting to intimidate her. Although he doesn’t approach her at first, her terrified reaction says it all. Soon her world begins to spiral, as a secret from her past comes back to haunt her. This is a movie that has been highlighted by many for the intense central performance of Rebecca Hall. And yes, her performance drives this movie forward, as the story veers more and more into the bizarre. It’s the story from writer/director Andrew Semans which takes a common thriller and puts a surreal and disturbing twist on it, pushing said twist to its natural conclusion; a conclusion I wasn’t able to wash off. This movie does what a good horror should do. It gives us a monster while delivering statements on real world issues. In the case of “Resurrection”, the film is actually about trauma stemming from a relationship where grooming is involved.
4. Triangle of Sadness: Socialism and Capitalism are on a cruise together. That’s the setup to the joke writer/director Ruben Östlund’s attempts to tell in his new dark comedy “Triangle of Sadness”. And though it’s not subtle and longer than some may believe necessary, and the antagonists are billionaires and other wealthy criminals, so it was never hard to root against them, every so often a movie comes out that I believe was made just for me. This is that movie. It warmed my anti-capitalist heart. The story is simple. A couple of models (her career is taking off, while his is on the back-end) find themselves on vacation on a yacht with a group of ultra-rich couples. Also on this cruise are the staff who are instructed to never say “no” and told by management there is nothing better in life than tips. With humor, ranging from political class analysis to pronged barf and feces sequences, “Triangle of Sadness” is a relentless and superbly written bashing of the social elites and patriarchal structure, in what amounts to a two hour and twenty-seven-minute love letter to the working class. Here for this!
3. Cow: Documenting the life cycle of dairy cows, director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey) gives us a glimpse into a world that the public rarely see. For the most part this documentary consists of handheld close-ups of everything from the birth of a cow, to the eyes of the mother cow as she frantically searches for her young after its removal, to the udders of a cow as milking machines are hooked-up to them for hours at a time. We also see the insemination process. “Cow” not only shows the physical toll this process takes on these cows, but also displays the slow spiritual death that occurs within these animals as they are used and abused for years until they are no longer viable. Animal rights films which usually get a lot of exposure are the larger Netflix documentaries, where we are witness to mass animal genocide. But there is a place for smaller movies like “Cow”. Documentaries which follow a few animals at a time, in this same world, under these same conditions, but allowing audiences to form a bond and empathize with the individual a bit better. What Arnold does here is allow for this empathy to occur by showing us every part of this process.
2. Vortex: This is a movie about the brutalities of getting old. This is a movie about the effect on those watching someone slowly deteriorate. The story is an unflinching look into the decline of an elderly couple, played by Françoise Lebrun and Dario Argento (both of which gave my favorite performances of 2022). The woman suffers from dementia and her husband who has his own health problems, acts as her caregiver. Written and directed by Gaspar Noé (a filmmaker who is more known as a provocateur) “Vortex” is shot entirely in split screen; meaning there are two separate scenes going on at once during almost the entirety of the film. This may all sound more than a little overwhelming, but Noé makes it work so naturally that I couldn’t imagine “Vortex” filmed any other way. As for the content, it’s devastating. There are sequences depicting what dementia looks like physically, but Noé also highlights the in-between moments surrounding “next step” conversations. How do you have a conversation with an elderly parent who is ill, about seeking help or about any end-of-life discussions? Noé gives us these moments and asks you not to turn away. “Vortex” is this filmmaker’s most compassionate and most personal film. It’s also his most hopeless. This isn’t a movie I’d watch again, but a masterpiece I couldn’t leave off of this list.
1. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: While the Black Panther films are technically located inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they both stand as fully formed and evolved enough to not only live outside of this world, but thrive. With “Wakanda Forever”, writer/director Ryan Coogler uses this stage as equal parts in memoriam to the great actor Chadwick Boseman and as an attack on white supremacy, with a healthy dose of Black female empowerment for good measure. In this sequel, Wakanda stands exposed to threats of intervention from the United States and other world powers and find themselves with an opportunity to join forces with the leader of an underwater empire called Tolokan. Selfishly, “Wakanda Forever” holds a higher place in my heart than its predecessor due to my half-Black, half-Mexican heritage. Coogler really goes mask off, making it clear early and often that this is a story about colonization and the shared historical trauma of two nations worlds apart. He does his best to keep his characters grounded in realism; real people having real conversation regarding the Black and Brown experience, which is usually the antithesis of how Marvel characters are written. This movie is so much better than your favorite MCU movie.
Not just another Marvel movie. At one point in the film, we see a reenactment of the Spanish colonial enslavement of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, portrayed more accurately than anything I was taught about in school (pre-college). I could make an argument that though this is a science fiction movie, sections of “Wakanda Forever” should be shown in schools as points of reference.
From the opening funeral sequence that simultaneously mourns the loss of King T’Challa and the late great Chadwick Boseman, to the creation of a nearly three-hour film that gives the middle finger to the United States past and current colonial efforts, writer/director Ryan Coogler shows what a movie confined to certain rules of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), can do with a fully realized idea.
Synopsis: After the death of King T’Challa, the nation of Wakanda stands exposed to threats of intervention and forced extraction of vibranium from their land by the United States and other world powers. As Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) and her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) decide what their next steps will be, they are approached by Namor (Tenoch Huerta) the leader of an underwater empire called Tolokan (based on the mythical Aztec paradise). Namor informs them that the United States has found vibranium underwater near Tolokan. He asks for an alliance with Wakanda in order to halt this oncoming threat of colonization. With opposing views on how to solve this United States problem, the two powerful nations soon find themselves as rivals.
Coogler really goes mask off, making it clear early and often that this is a story about colonization and the shared historical trauma of two nations worlds apart. He does his best to keep his characters grounded in realism; real people having real conversation regarding the Black and Brown experience, which is usually the antithesis of how Marvel characters are written. He also makes it a point to spend a good amount of this film capturing shots of the lush, green African landscape as well as the vibrant clothing, dialect and mannerisms of her people. And with this sequel we get yet another film that revels in the idea of Black futurism in a way that is unapologetically powerful.
When we do get to the Namor section of the story, Coogler dedicates more time to tell the backstory of the fictionalized Tolokan people and real colonized indigenous peoples of Yucatán, Mexico, treating their story with the same amount of respect that he showed when introducing the world to Wakandans back in 2018. Namor is a character who operates off of the pain and historical trauma of his people, and will stop at nothing to protect them. He also doesn’t age quickly and was alive during the time when Spanish conquistadors enslaved his people. This adds an extra layer to his story, as Coogler wants you to understand where Namor is coming from when his actions take a vicious turn at times. It is also not meant for Namor to be seen as a villain at all, but instead displaying strong similarities to both the Wakandan people and the character of Killmonger from the original “Black Panther”.
As with “Black Panther”, “Wakanda Forever” isn’t as simple as “good guy” versus “bad guy”. Well, there is a “bad guy”; it’s the United States. But as far as the Wakandans and the Tolokan go, theirs is a story about two cultures attempting to survive in a world dominated by white supremacy, but each having vastly different notions on how to go about doing so.
Final Thought: Black Panther films, while technically located inside the MCU, are fully formed and evolved enough to live outside of this world. One can enjoy this movie having never watched a Marvel movie. While there are “superhero things” which happen in this film (a well filmed chase sequence and lots of superhero, large scale battle stuff) compared to others in the MCU, this particular Black Panther installment is one of the least concerned with being an actual Marvel movie. This may be a concern if what you came to see was another Thor film or something containing one hundred quippy jokes a minute with tons of slapstick humor. “Wakanda Forever” is not that. It’s so much better than any of that. With “Wakanda Forever” Coogler uses this stage as equal parts in memoriam and attack on white supremacy, with a splash of Black female empowerment for good measure. This movie is so much better than your favorite MCU movie.
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This is a Henry Selick (Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas) directed film, so it’s going to look amazing. Add to that a screenplay co-written by Jordan Peele, with characters voiced by both him and longtime comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key, this Netflix animated feature had all the makings of a hilarious and visually stunning masterpiece.
Synopsis: The story centers around a troubled thirteen-year-old orphaned Black girl with green hair and punk rock aesthetics, named Kat (Lyric Ross). She has been paroled and released into the care of a Catholic juvenile academy. We get the sense early on that there is something special about Kat, when during her first night at the academy she falls asleep and two wacky demons named Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele) pay her a visit and offer to resurrect her dead parents in exchange for her summoning the demons to the Land of the Living.
Make no mistake, “Wendell & Wild” is the best-looking animated film I’ve seen all year. But the other half of this equation falls flat, as this movie is unintentionally unfunny, with a storyline that begins with a bang and definitely has something to say, but is also overall pretty boring.
Back to the good stuff: Not only does “Wendell & Wild” look amazing, this also may be the most inclusive animated film to date, wherein we see almost all characters are of varying diverse and/or marginalized backgrounds and orientations. In fact, a lot of the praise you may have already heard regarding this film undoubtedly focuses on the inclusion of a trans character named Raul (Sam Zelaya) who plays a significant role in the film. The praise for inclusivity here is well earned. It is so seamlessly incorporated into the story and never comes off as pandering or done for any other reason aside from representation. This aspect in particular is handled with such care that though I will not be loudly recommending this movie as a whole, there is a valid argument to be made that if a child who has never seen themselves represented in a positive way on film watches “Wendell & Wild” and feels seen, then this movie should be considered a success.
Final thought: “Wendell & Wild” does have a lot going for it. Even though the instantaneously intriguing story becomes aggressively mid, and the comedy aspect falls flat routinely, mainly due to the fact that the Wendell and Wild scenes contain the weakest moments of the film, dammit if this isn’t a great looking film with tons of well-developed non-white male characters at the helm. The sensational visuals paired with worthy characters and a creative dark fantasy edge (containing themes of regret, death and gentrification) are all notable reasons to sit through this movie however interested or uninterested you are with the content. That said, going back to the fact that none of the jokes work may be the most important statement here if you are expecting a child to sit through this.
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