“Wakanda Forever” Has the Narrative Power of a Modern-Day Epic (Spoiler-Free Review)
When you settle into your reclining theater seat with your favorite movie snacks to watch the anticipated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (preferably in an IMAX theater, which is definitely worth the extra dollars), you can expect a strong story brought to life by a dedicated cast. While the movie honors the late Chadwick Boseman and the character he brought to the screen in the first Black Panther movie (2018), Wakanda Forever isn’t stuck in the past. Nor is it a sluggish transitional sequel, as the second installments in film franchises often are. It’s an exciting, emotionally gripping, aurally immersive, and visually impressive Marvel movie that is, on every level, a modern-day epic. It follows the stylistic and aesthetic patterns set by its predecessor, keeping director Ryan Coogler’s vision for Wakanda alive. It also introduces a few new characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), the ruler of a stunning underwater kingdom. But the glue that holds the colorful costumes, otherworldly sets, and epic fight scenes together is Shuri (Letitia Wright), princess of Wakanda and sister to the late King T’Challa. Her story and development are what make Wakanda Forever, the second longest movie in the MCU, worth every minute.
Director Harry Cleven Achieves Something Truly Remarkable With His Hypnotic Experimental Sci-Fi Film, “Zeria” [Chattanooga Film Festival]
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
Harry Cleven’s Zeria is a wondrous and enlightening celebration of all the things that make us human. Using a combination of miniature sets, practical effects, and puppet-like masks, Cleven creates a breathtaking and unforgettable world that’s mesmerizing, comforting, and terrifying all at the same time. The film is narrated by the last living man on Earth as he writes a letter to his grandson, Zeria, the first human born on Mars. The narrator (voiced by Merlin Delens) tells his grandson about his full and complicated life, offering insight, wisdom, and heartbreaking truth. He talks about his birth, his troubled childhood, his love life, the sociopolitical changes that happened throughout his lifetime, and his lifelong search for meaning, all while seeking connection with someone who has never experienced life on Earth.
The “Strawberry Mansion” Home Release Is Your One-Way Ticket to a “Retro-Futuristic” Adventure
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
Inception (2010) may be one of the most well-known movies about dreams from the last 20 years, but the indie masterpiece Strawberry Mansion is by far one of the most creative and enchanting. From the minds of co-writers and directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley, Strawberry Mansion tells a story about love, imagination, and the importance of dreams, exploring these themes in a rich fantasy world that emulates the sci-fi classics of the VHS era. With a limited budget and a very specific vision for what they wanted to create, Birney and Audley worked for years to make Strawberry Mansion happen. Their years of dedication most definitely paid off, and they succeeded in making a breathtaking and unforgettable movie that transports viewers back to a time when actors in animal costumes was the peak of sci-fi / fantasy production design. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2021 and went on to screen at the Fantasia International Film Festival later that year. Starting June 21, 2022, Strawberry Mansion will be available on Blu-ray and DVD for fantasy lovers everywhere to add to their home video collections.
Move Over, Marvel. There’s a New Summer Blockbuster in Town: Jordan Peele’s “Nope”
If the first trailer for Jordan Peele’s Nope piqued your curiosity with its foreboding tone and vague details, then you were probably bummed out by the final trailer, which seemed to give everything away. You’ll be pleased to know that despite its revealing final trailer, Nope still has a handful of surprises to offer. While it's not quite as intense or chilling as Peele’s first two feature films, Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), Nope is a well-developed, well-rounded, and well-crafted flick that is sure to delight crowds at the theater. It’s filled with all the thrills and chills of a summer box-office hit, bringing together the best of comedy, sci-fi, and horror. And, of course, every shot is accented by Peele’s penchant for the disturbing. As the talented writer and director proved with his first two films, Peele has more than a few tricks up his sleeves when it comes to plot twists, uncanny visuals, and bizarre narratives. Peele has not only joined the ranks of 21st century auteurs - he’s also leading the charge.
Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder is far removed from Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearian take on the comic book series in Thor (2011). The fourth Thor film in the MCU is even more wacky and bizarre than Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which was also directed by Waititi. Perhaps the difference is that this time, Waititi was also responsible for the story and co-wrote the script with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. The good news is, Thor: Love and Thunder features the same cast and characters we’ve come to know and love over the last decade. Throughout the three directorial changes of the Thor films and the many stylistic shifts of the other MCU films featuring Thor, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Natalie Portman (Jane Foster) have remained consistent in their performances, developing characters that can stand the test of time. The question is, can those characters withstand yet another attack on the universe by a new, menacing villain? In Love and Thunder, Thor’s strength is tested once again as he faces Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a dark and devilish figure who’s hellbent on destroying all gods. King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (voiced by Waititi) are there to help, but Thor is at a disadvantage because he can’t bring his trusty hammer, Mjolnir, into battle. This time, the legendary weapon has decided to lend its powers to a new warrior: Mighty Thor, aka, Dr. Jane Foster.
The Action-Packed Finale of the Jurassic World Trilogy, “Jurassic World Dominion,” Is Mostly a Tedious Gimmick
(From left) Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), and Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) in JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION, co-written and directed by Colin Trevorrow.
A strong-willed teen enters her mountain home in a huff, avoiding eye-contact with her over-protective mother. When the tough and rugged family patriarch returns home from a full day of horseback riding and animal herding, he greets his wife with a smooch as she tells him that he needs to talk with his daughter about her recklessness. Later, the family gathers around a campfire for dinner, comfy and cozy in their boots and flannel shirts. It’s not the beginning of a made-for-TV movie about a horse ranch – it’s the beginning of the latest installment in the Jurassic Park franchise: Jurassic World Dominion. Luckily, the movie gets a little better along the way, and it hits its stride during the action sequences. The wholesome, home-on-the-range dialogue gives way to suspenseful fights and chases, and the lead characters step aside to make room for the original Jurassic Park trio: Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Oh, and of course, Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) is involved, as per usual. But even with the return of these familiar faces, it’s clear that Dominion is a different beast than its predecessors. In a frantic attempt to please fans and bring closure to the Jurassic World trilogy, the creative team behind Dominion threw a bunch of self-referential jokes and half-hearted Spielberg nostalgia into the screenplay and hoped for the best.
Batman’s Back, and He’s Showing Up in Style: Experience the Thrills of “The Batman” in Theaters Starting Friday, March 4 (Spoiler-Free Review)
Things are looking grim in Gotham City. As per usual, there's plenty of crookedness afoot — and the city’s elected officials can’t be trusted to stop the criminals of Gotham. On Halloween night, just days before the mayoral election, one of the most important men in the city is brutally murdered in his home. Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) is on the case right away, and he brings a certain Caped Crusader (Robert Pattinson) along to help. Batman’s quick thinking comes in handy when investigators discover a riddle left behind by the murderer. Unfortunately, the answer to that riddle doesn’t give Gotham City police much information. It won’t be long before the sneaky Riddler (Paul Dano) strikes again, and Batman must act fast to stop him.
Time Is of the Essence in “Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes,” a Delightful and Intellectually Stimulating Feature Film From Theatrical Troupe EUROPE KIKAKU
We go to movie theaters to see blockbusters. We go to film festivals to see experimental movies — and we hope that these cinematic experiments will have something fresh and new to offer. In 2021, film festival goers from around the world were able to satisfy their appetite for something new with Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, the first feature film from Japanese theatrical troupe EUROPE KIKAKU. The film’s fluid long takes, stylized comedy, and mind-bending plot impressed audiences at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, the Fantasia International Film Festival, Arrow Video FrightFest, and Fantastic Fest. Starting Tuesday, January 25, 2022, you can watch Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes from the comfort of home. And might I suggest getting really comfortable for this one, because it just might make your brain hurt.
An Old Tale for a New Time: “Belle” Fuses a High-Tech Adventure With a Classic Fairytale
When it comes to fairy tales, setting is key. Fairy tales don’t have to take place in the past or in distant kingdoms, but their settings should invoke a sense of wonder and enchantment. The setting of a fairy tale should work alongside the other thematic elements to draw out and challenge the hero’s best and worst character traits. And if there’s any place where we’ve seen the best and worst of people over the past few years, it’s been right here on the internet. Therefore, it’s no surprise that writer/director Mamoru Hosoda chose to set his 21st-century adaptation of a classic fairytale in a bustling and vibrant virtual world. With a little help from VR technology, the heroine of the story, Belle, can be whoever she wants to be — and her counterpart, “the beast,” can hide his true identity behind a curated “tough guy” internet persona. Belle is a rich, detailed, and ambitious film that’s part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story, and part VR adventure.
Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” Defines Apocalyptic Anxiety for Post-Trump America in a COVID-Era World. No Nuance Needed.
Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) begins her morning like any other. She makes a cup of tea, curses at herself as she prepares her jam and toast, pops in her earbuds, and plants herself in the observatory at Michigan State. But as she looks out at the stars, she notices something strange, out of place, and beautiful: a comet, fierce and fiery, making its way across the solar system. For a brief moment, Kate experiences the joy of genuine discovery. She’s soon joined in the observatory by her fellow PhD candidates and their mentor, astronomy professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio). But after conducting a few calculations, Kate and Randall come to a stomach-churning realization about the comet.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."