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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Posted in Movie Review

Top Gun: Maverick

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Capt. Pete Mitchell aka Maverick (Tom Cruise), who after more than thirty years as a naval aviator, playing by his own rules, is ordered to return to the infamous flight academy Top Gun, for one last job. There he must lead a class of young hotshot pilots on a mission that has previously been deemed unachievable.  

If you saw this movie or are planning on seeing this movie, it was/is undoubtedly for the stunts and/or the nostalgia. So, let’s get into it:

The Stunts: Before the movie begins, Cruise literally pops up on-screen, basically telling audiences that what we are about to see is real. “Top Gun: Maverick” is worth buying a ticket to see on visuals alone. From jets doing backflips, to the many sequences where a camera is fixed on an actor as they attempt to maintain control of said jet, it all looks pretty damn real. There were a few times where it looked as though Cruise’s life was very much in danger, so kudos to the entire film crew for that achievement. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) “Top Gun: Maverick” is one of those movies where it’s quite obvious that the actors had to go through extensive training to pull off what was done on-screen; even with millions of dollars of movie magic at work. This style of stunt focused filmmaking was definitely a choice by Cruise and producers, that does pay off. That said, much of the more irresistible action sequences don’t arrive until almost an hour and a half in.

The Nostalgia: At this point we’ve all heard and seen multiple reactions to this film, all of which have been pretty positive; even by those who weren’t in love with the original. So, when talking about the first chunk of this movie, it’s easy to see where the focus was going to be. “Top Gun: Maverick” walks into the room nostalgia first. This is a film made by filmmakers who love 1986’s “Top Gun” and display this fact early and often. Right away and for the first two-thirds, we are smothered with sequences that pay visual homage to the original; sequences solely for people who have seen the original. We walk into a room and are introduced to overconfident characters who all have nicknames and speak almost entirely in quippy one-liners. Even the story is predictable in a very comforting way. Again, that said, this is the section of the film that may take some time to acclimate to for those who have never seen the original or are not used to 80’s style dramatic camp. Honestly, I don’t think it matters if you were a huge fan of the original, but more so if you’ve seen it at all.   

Final Thought: While it co-stars Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly and Jon Hamm (with a heartwarming cameo from Val Kilmer) this is clearly a Cruise vehicle. Not only because he is in every scene, but also because his perfectionist touch is all over this movie. It’s easy to recognize why he is a box-office draw and an action superstar to this day. “Top Gun: Maverick” has its flaws, but if the point of the film is to appease with a healthy dose of nostalgia and wow-factor visuals, it delivers.   

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Posted in Movie Review

Men

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Men” is a somewhat deep, body horror take on toxic masculinity.

Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex-Machina, Annihilation) “Men” follows Harper (Jessie Buckley) who after her ex-husband commits suicide, decides to go to an English countryside estate to clear her mind. Once there, she eats an apple from a tree and then meets a man, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) the caregiver of the house Harper will be staying in. He is nice enough; sheepish and awkward, but “harmless”.

The first day there she decides to venture out into the sprawling countryside for a walk, which leads her into the woods. As her walk continues, she seems more and more at peace. And then, off in the distance she sees a man. He is seated, but soon gets up and suddenly begins to run after at her. She runs back to the house, losing him and deeming this an isolated incident. But soon she will meet the men who live in a nearby town, who all seem to share the same face as the man from the woods.

A “woman in peril” A24 film just hits different. Sure, a movie like “Men” contains the traditional thriller/slasher tropes. We get an emotionally and literally isolated woman. We get the running and chasing sequences. We get countless sequences of a woman not being believed by authority figures. What this movie attempts to add is biblical symbolism atop the social commentary. “Men” contains lots of Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, woman and nature verses patriarchy stuff. But the overarching story concerns our female protagonist’s grieving process post abusive relationship; similar to 2019’s “Midsommar”.

Much as in other A24 horror productions, dramatic lighting techniques act as an additional character, giving the story the proper atmosphere to allow a horror film with almost no jump scares to contain that slow burn unnerving effect throughout. Also adding to the unease was the wonderfully uncomfortable chemistry between the two leads, Buckley and Kinnear (Kinnear actually playing multiple roles). And Garland’s pacing was that of a well-made horror film; efficient and never boring.    

The criticisms: “Men” is the kind of horror that will help A24 fans sleep at night; right after they make a twenty-minute YouTube video entitled, “Men: Ending Explained”. It will also be a downright frustrating watch for those who are not looking for introspective horror.  There will be others who will give “Men” no points for ambition and somehow write this film off as not deep at all.  Furthermore, we must also be conscious as always, that “Men” is a film based entirely on female trauma told through the perspective of a woman, written and directed by a man.  That said, the flaws I took away from this were based on the fact that more than a few ideas and sequences here were very on the nose. Garland just doesn’t seem to trust that his audience understands his arguments and thus adds additional sequences to drive home his point. A continuous example of this is Garland’s representation of abuse throughout the film. For example: There is a scene where Harper tells her husband that she wants a divorce and he then threatens to kill himself. This is clear abuse on his part, but Garland then adds an additional sequence where the husband physically assaults Harper. It could be argued that this scene pertains to the story, but for me this and a few other sequences come off as repetitive, not giving audiences credit that we understand that abuse comes in many forms. But if that is my biggest criticism in a film which contains Cronenbergian birthing sequences, then Garland did a fairly good job.

Final Thought: I believe Garland’s point with “Men” was to capture what different kinds of male abuse look and feel like to a woman; but in a concentrated format. Does he accomplish this? I think he does. But again, as a man I can only speculate if the goal of a film like this was fully met.

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