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One of the longstanding truths about the realm of comic books is that death isn’t really death. With vanishingly few exceptions, the death of a Marvel or DC character tends to be more of a temporary setback than any kind of permanent loss.

Of course, that isn’t how the real world works.

When Chadwick Boseman passed away, we lost a truly gifted artist. We lost someone whose immense talents were evident in everything he did, from Jackie Robinson to James Brown to Thurgood Marshall to, yes, T’Challa, the Black Panther. An irreplaceable star in the cinematic firmament was extinguished too soon.

And yet … the show must go on.

The massive critical, commercial and cultural success of 2018’s “Black Panther” – as well as its prominent placement in the mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe write large – meant that there was always going to a sequel, but what shape could that now take? Was it possible to make a film that both respected the memory of its fallen star and carried forward the singular and general narratives? Could even a filmmaker as talented as Ryan Coogler pull this off?

The answer to those final two questions … is yes.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a fascinating work of popular culture. Somehow, the parties involved have crafted a superhero film that is good in all the ways that these films need to be good – big action set pieces, memorable characters, some decent laugh lines, a story that works in micro and macro contexts – yet still maintains the more sophisticated effort to explore thornier societal ideas. All that, while also being immensely respectful and reverent of Chadwick Boseman’s memory. Threading that needle would seem nigh-impossible – but Coogler does it.

Published in Movies
Monday, 10 January 2022 15:51

Girl power outage – ‘The 355’

We’ve reached that time on the movie calendar where theatrical offerings tend to land in one of two categories:

  1.     Wider expansion of late-year award contenders, or
  2.     Movies that are various flavors of not good

You can probably guess into which category the new film “The 355” falls.

The latest project from director Simon Kinberg, working from a script he co-penned with Theresa Rebeck, “The 355” is an attempt to craft some sort of high-end spy franchise, one ostensibly intended to place women at the forefront. And while it does foreground female characters, it never really finds its way beyond that, resulting in slipshod plotting and vaguely inexplicable motivations that undermine what very well may have been a good faith effort.

While there are occasional flashes of something more – thanks in large part to the talented cast – the film ultimately fails to resonate – its action sequences are muddy and its twists are telegraphed. Thus viewers are left with nothing more than an empty and unengaging action movie, the sort of forgettable mediocrity that fits right into the chilly box office winter.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 27 March 2019 14:12

This is ‘Us’

Horror cinema has long been a genre whose flexibility has allowed it to serve as a remarkable vehicle for the delivery of big and complex ideas. The allegorical underpinnings of horror movies allow filmmakers to spark conversations about the complicated entanglements of the world in which we live on both macro and micro levels.

Writer/director Jordan Peele took advantage of horror’s flexibility and shifted the paradigm with his 2017 debut film “Get Out,” building a film that was both bitingly socially satiric and legitimately tense and scary. That movie’s wild critical (Oscar nominations for Actor, Director and Picture and a win for Original Screenplay) and commercial (over $250 million at the global box office against a budget under $5 million) success meant a whole lot of anticipation for (and pressure on) the follow-up.

And “Us” clears every bar.

Peele’s latest horror thriller delves into the tropes of home invasions and evil twins and more, using those genre touchstones as part of a meaningful conversation about social stratification and class warfare and other important issues confronting the America of today. I’ll put it this way – “Us” could easily be read as “U.S.” … and that’s certainly not a coincidence.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 11:44

The brave brilliance of ‘Black Panther’

There’s no disputing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has established real dominance over the box office. These movies – nearing 20 in number – appear to have cracked the code for ensuring ongoing success.

Some might argue that the MCU has become too formulaic in its approach, that it has become a bit of a one-size-fits-all situation that doesn’t leave a lot of room for individual filmmakers to make their mark. And I might even concede that point … to a certain extent.

But then a movie like “Black Panther” comes along, a movie that somehow manages to operate within the established MCU structure while also being something wholly and uniquely itself. It’s a film that addresses serious and complex ideas while still existing in a world of superpowered beings and futuristic technology. We’ve seen superhero space operas and superhero paranoid thrillers and superhero buddy comedies.

And now, thanks to the taut direction of Ryan Coogler, the sharp, intricate screenplay of Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole and the performances of a top-to-bottom outstanding cast led by Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, we’ve seen something altogether new.

Something new, thought-provoking … and spectacular.

Published in Movies

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