Posted in Movie Review

 Skinamarink

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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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Posted in Top Ten Lists

My Top Ten Films of 2022

Written by Markus Robinson

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.

Movies that just missed my list (in order):

30. Decision to Leave

29. Kimi

28. Men

27. Thirteen Lives

26. Neptune Frost

25. Barbarian

24. Cha Cha Real Smooth

23. Mad God

22. The Banshees of Inisherin

21. The Black Phone

20. All Quiet on the Western Front

19. Top Gun: Maverick

18. Turning Red

17. The Batman

16. Everything Everywhere All at Once

15. RRR

14. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

13. Tar

12. Fire Island

11. The Fabelmans 

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Posted in Movie Review

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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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Posted in Movie Review

Wendell & Wild

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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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Posted in Movie Review

Tár

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Set in the pretentious NPR world of the classical music scene, Cate Blanchett (in her best performance since “Blue Jasmine”) plays Lydia Tár; an American woman who is acknowledged as the greatest living composer-conductor.   

Like a long-form piece of classical music, there is purposeful structure and pacing to this story and how writer/director Todd Field chooses to tell it, which admittedly will not be for everyone. For the first hour or so nothing of substantial plot driven note happens, as we follow Tár during her daily interactions; which isn’t as uninteresting as it sounds. This first half establishes Tár as a steely, no nonsense, musical genius, getting ready for a book launch while directing a major German orchestra. To be honest, this film contains such little plot during this section that I was very unsure what it had to say about anything until nearly forty minutes in, when Tár has her first combative encounter with a self-proclaimed BIPOC student and her true nature flashes. The second half really kick-starts the actual story, as Tár is ripped from her insulated world of celebrity upon the emergence of the #MeToo movement. This half (though predictable) because of the “ripped from the headlines” subject matter, does allow for a deeper investment into seeing what becomes of this most unlikeable character.     

This is a movie about systemic unchecked power within wealthy white liberal communities. This is also a movie which asks if it is at all possible to separate the art from the artist. But the biggest reason why “Tár” is completely rewatchable despite its pacing, is that it’s a two hour and thirty-eight-minute figurative disemboweling of an abusive narcissist, spearheaded by an award worthy lead performance from Blanchett.

Blanchett’s performance is perfection. I can’t believe I’ve gone this far into my review without dying on this hill it, as she is the best thing about “Tár”. She plays this undemonstrative character we are meant to hate, but still find prolonged interest in, and does it in a way which allows audiences to clearly understand how we are to feel about her actions and responses during every second she is on screen. And Field’s direction is a superb compliment in the way that he frames her in a mostly ultra-sterile world, allowing us to hyperfocus on the smallest detailed and purposeful movement Blanchett has to offer.    

Final Thought: Since this a portrayal of a fictionalized figure and where this film ends up comes straight from the mind of Todd Field, the final thirtyish minutes does become a bit too overworked and nearly too silly for the subject matter. While I understand that there is a point about so called “cancel culture” which Field is attempting to drive home, the ending comes off as a prolonged punchline that while technically makes sense, leaves what was left hypnotically subtle in the first two hours, unnecessarily forced in the final act as the hammer comes out and strikes the point home again and again and again. With that said, if “Tár” were only a two-hour film, it would clearly be one of my top ten films of the year.    

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Posted in Movie Review

Blonde

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Written by Markus Robinson

Adapted from the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name, “Blonde” is the fictionalized retelling of the personal life of Hollywood icon Norma Jeane aka Marylin Monroe (Ana de Armas). Depicting her as someone who aspires to be a serious actress, but is physically taken advantage of by every person she comes into contact with.

The acting here is good. Yes, de Armas has an accent that she tries to mask behind a breathy Monroe inspired delivery, but she puts forth a solid effort; as does every actor in this. But as she is in every scene, I’ll focus on her when I proclaim how painful it was to watch how little support she received throughout from director Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly). It’s not much of a stretch to liken watching this nearly three-hour movie to watching de Armas drown on-screen in slow motion.  

Dominik’s depiction of the life of the infamous “blonde bombshell” is too experimental and surreal for its own good. Some of the film looks like literal screen tests. And while Dominik may believe that filming the entire movie this way serves a purpose, as he attempts to show a world through the eyes of someone whose cinematic life and actual life blur to the point of incoherence, it results in something confusing and awkward and disconnected in its best moments and wildly exploitative in its worst.

“Blonde” is an NC-17 film that depicts the life of an abused individual. So, one would think the subject matter would have been handled with tact. Well, what we get is something in between a stage play and an actual movie, with little to no soundtrack to speak of, and scenes that go on for far too long, containing the random edits of someone just learning how to use Microsoft PowerPoint. It’s simply hard not to feel bad for these actors (especially de Armas). Actors who put themselves out there in super vulnerable positions, as their director seemingly abandons them in order to create the most voyeuristic viewing experience of 2022.  

The second half does work better to create a more palatable, plot driven experience. That said, it does contain the most gratuitous and preachy scenes in the film, so…there is that.

Final Thought: Andrew Dominik is a good director, but “Blonde” isn’t it. “Blonde” is an uncomfortable watch for all the wrong reasons. A bloated mess of film, containing random acts of surrealism, French New Wave, pornography, horror and found footage, Dominik wants to have it all and give it to us all at once, and it’s beyond jarring. Instead of giving us a movie about loneliness as felt by someone violently losing their autonomy, “Blonde” will forever will go down as the movie where Marylin Monroe was humiliated for nearly three hours.

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Posted in Movie Review

The Woman King

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Written by Markus Robinson

Disclaimer: While I don’t believe a film critic has any real impact on the box-office, I am of the belief that there are online influencers who are very much able to galvanize their bases in a very real way in order to impact the box-office, by creating controversies surrounding targeted media they deem to be “woke” or basically inclusive. These influencers are not critics at all, but mostly from the world of political commentary. And while I may be in the minority in my thoughts on how much influence these groups actually have, I will BRIEFLY touch on one of the controversies surrounding this film as a rebuttal I feel is very much needed. Is this film historically accurate? No. There are liberties taken by the filmmakers as to the Kingdom of Dahomey’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. And so, the film is not historically accurate. Not that it ever claims to be. In fact, I have seen this film described accurately as an alternate historical retelling or historical fiction. That said, nobody said shit when white patriotic movies like “Braveheart”, “Gladiator” or “The Patriot” bend the historical truth; hiding factual atrocities and whatnot. But when a movie like “The Woman King” does it, then we have a problem? Anyway, moving on.

My review:

A film that caught me completely off-guard, “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. The film follows this group and their king (John Boyega) as they attempt to fight off a powerful group of slave traders.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball), instantly establishes the scale of this epic by going big right out of the gate with a theater shaking battle sequence. She quickly works to showcase her love and admiration of these physically dominate female characters throughout the film, through fight and training sequences which are all filmed with the visual clarity and boldness of a big budget musical number. 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. And this is possible due to a cast which includes the aforementioned Davis and Boyega, but also Lashana Lynch (No Time to Die), Sheila Atim (Bruised) and Thuso Mbedu (The Underground Railroad) who all give performances which meet the moment, as this collective display of Black cinema excellence more than holds in the same movie as some of the most adrenaline pumping visuals, I’ve seen all year.   

Sure, there are a few melodramatic scenes involving a love interest storyline which take away from the story. And no, the film wasn’t as visually bloody as it could’ve been, as it is PG-13. But the battle scenes are quite gruesome in their own right, while maintaining a spatially coherent, fast paced acrobatic quality that I think many MCU movies could take notes from. And the melodrama here is no different than what one would find in other award-winning historical action-based films like “Braveheart” or “Gladiator”.

Final Thought: “The Woman King” has so much going for it. From the battle sequences, to the character building, to the historical stakes felt throughout because of some fantastic storytelling, 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 before making their own statements about “The Woman King” as a film.

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Posted in Movie Review

Nope

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I hate using the term “elevated horror”, since most memorable horror films are allegorical as hell. With a Jordan Peele film there’s always something deeper at play; a social commentary, critiques on the relationship between America and its Black citizens, and an abundance of well-placed Black history morsels baked into a fictional story. “Nope” is no different, as his overall statement draws attention to how cinema has historically treated its non-white actors.

Synopsis: OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) are in financial distress. They own a horse ranch and are in fact the only Black horse wranglers in Hollywood, but are struggling to find work after a sudden family tragedy. One night after one of the horses jumps a fence and runs off, OJ thinks he sees something resembling a UFO flying above the ranch. When he tells his sister she’s skeptical, but soon realizes that if they could get a clear photo of it, they could monetize this event.

The rest of the movie follows the siblings (with the addition of a couple of eccentric characters) as they attempt to capture evidence of a UFO on film. This is a quest which leads them to the horrifying truth about this particular UFO; with a twist which I did not see coming.

There is also a side story, told as a flashback, which documents the violent event surrounding a chimp who was once the star of its own television sitcom. As bizarre as this tale is, it clearly stands as the most intriguing thing in the movie.   

The characters themselves are fairly two-dimensional, which is somewhat surprising given how Peele usually presents his leads. That said, these simplistic characters really complement the type of story where a small group of “nobodies” band together to defeat an insurmountable bad guy. Oddly enough it’s this “simplicity”, along with Keke Palmer’s standout performance, that allows for a concentrated level of pre-third act entertainment value, which is maintained for most of the film.

The ending is where things came back down to Earth for me. After maintaining said high level of entertainment which allowed me to shrug off some of the more confusing aspects with ease, the final fifteen minutes felt complete, but underwhelming; leaving me longing for a third act that was just as profound as some of the themes throughout the film.

Final thought: When speaking of an auteur like Jordan Peele, it is hard not to start comparing “Nope” to his other films. If at all possible, I would encourage you not to do that. What “Nope” lacks in certain aspects, it makes up for in being a fully original story, as well as being his most visually ambitious film to date. This is a movie which comes to the table with new ideas, while also borrowing from movies like “Jaws”, “Tremors” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. And while it does fall short of those classics, I will continue to proclaim that my least favorite Jordan Peele movie is still a good movie.

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Posted in Movie Review

Spiderhead

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Every time I see a good Miles Teller movie like “Top Gun: Maverick”, I hope against hope that he’s done with throwaway material like “Spiderhead”. But here we are.

The funny thing is, this movie is directed by the same guy (Joseph Kosinski) who brought us the aforementioned visually spectacular box-office hit “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Miles Teller. So, what happened here?

Synopsis: In the near future certain prisoners are brought to an Alcatraz looking incarceration facility for voluntary drug trials. In this facility, the prisoners, one of them being Jeff (Miles Teller) are allowed to walk freely, wear regular clothes and have access to a ping pong table. At least once a day, a “good cop” character named Mr. Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) takes two prisoners and puts them into an observation room together, where a drug is voluntarily administered to them. This drug seems to make the two instantly fall into a state of hyperactive love. But as these trials move forward, we see that there are other drugs; drugs that push the recipients to the extreme edge of a single emotion.

Okay so, the acting is clearly the best thing going for this film. Let’s get the lone positive critique out of the way first.  

A fairly simple sci-fi premise, “Spiderhead” is set up to be quite easily digestible. Visually the setup looks to be mimicking some notable social experiment that we learned about in psychology class.

The soundtrack is a series of 80’s pop hits that are annoyingly on-the-nose, but this can be forgiven if you enjoy these songs.

The plot is very much predicated on the promise of a big third act twist, similar to something from M. Night Shyamalan. It’s just turns out to be simply not as creative.

The movie is bogged down by many things. It’s too long, it feels like something we’ve seen a million times and it’s built upon a terribly unfunny script (written by Rhett Reese, based on a short story by George Saunders) that so badly wants to be a dark comedy. Not to say that humor cannot exist in sci-fi. Of course, it can. And not to say the likes of Chris Hemsworth can’t deliver this form of humor, because he very much can: see any of his films, it’s kind of his thing. It’s the humor in this movie in particular. The humor in “Spiderhead” is akin to being trapped in a conversation with a person who thinks they are funnier than they are. There are moments of reprieve by way of action, but not enough to keep from cringing every time a character tells a joke or does an actual pratfall.    

Final Thought: I really want to be done with talking about this movie, but I must touch on one more thing; the direction. Kosinski can direct. If you’ve seen “Top Gun: Maverick”, “Oblivion” or “TRON: Legacy”, then this statement seems more than obvious. That said, the direction in “Spiderhead” is uninspired and dull. Looking back, I can’t think of one memorable moment. And unfortunately, as the plot twists happen and reveals are made (some silly, but others that are meant to be powerful) they all fall flat because everything leading up to it has been made to feel like such a who-cares-fest. What a shame. “Spiderhead” is a completely forgettable movie. But to be fair, if “Spiderhead” was just a little better it could’ve been considered something likened to a completely forgettable episode of “Black Mirror”. So, there is that.

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Posted in Movie Review

Hustle

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

There is definitely a huge market for movies like these. Ones which lean hard into the underdog/inspirational/feel good stuff. And yes, afterword I did want to go outside and shoot some hoops, which does mean “Hustle” succeeded in its basic sports movie obligation. But with nothing really new to offer, a by-the-numbers storyline, speeches that never quite become inspirational and a couple of Rocky-esque montages that were never going to be as good as the real thing, all praise must go to the filmmakers for understanding how to make this story into a film that was more entertaining than it had the right to be.

Synopsis: Middle-aged disillusioned scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) discovers a diamond in the rough, street ball player in Spain named Bo Cruz, who he believes might be the next big thing in the NBA, and also Sugerman’s ticket off the road and into the NBA coaching job of his dreams.  

Director Jeremiah Zagar saved this movie from becoming background noise, by both using handheld camerawork, giving “Hustle” it’s gritty feel, and more importantly giving Netflix audiences what they came to see from movie like this; don’t bore us, get to the chorus. “Hustle” is conventional, but also is never not moving forward.

And if all you came to see was NBA superstars, “Hustle” has got you covered too. This is a basketball film that would like you to know that it spent a lot of money on numerous NBA cameos. Cameo’s ranging from Shaq, to Charles Barkley, to Dr. J (Julius Erving) himself. There are also plenty of current players in this, the two who get the most screen time being Juancho Hernangomez of the Utah Jazz, who plays Cruz, and Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who plays a highly sought-after college superstar, the Apollo Creed of this film and the antithesis of Cruz. As first-time actors, Edwards and Hernangomez give performances that are good enough not be distracting.

But Adam Sandler is the lead here. And love him or hate him, Sandler is a charismatic actor who can act when he wants to, and he is good in this. Queen Latifah, who plays his wife, does a wonderful job in regards to making their relationship seem believable. But the real standout performance comes from Ben Foster, who plays the evil and spoiled billionaire Philadelphia 76ers owner. He’s not even in that many scenes, but his presence is felt as someone we should love to hate.    

Final Thought: “Hustle” is no “He Got Game”, but is entertaining enough to get the job done. Also, you don’t have to know basketball to enjoy it. In fact, during the gameplay sequences where the majority of Bo’s opponents are substantially shorter than him, it might be better if you’ve never witnessed a minute of professional basketball.

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