Movie Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)


Title: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Release Date: November 11, 2022
Director: Ryan Coogler
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a sequel that has to contend with death of it’s charismatic star and generational talent, Chadwick Boseman.  The movie begins with T’Challa dying of an incurable illness much like Boseman in real life, handling the problem with greater gravitas and respect for the deceased actor than Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker did for Carrie Fisher.  The women of Wakanda step into the void both as leaders of Wakanda and as the series’ protagonists, particularly scientist and T’Challa’s sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), warrior general Okoye (Danai Gurira), Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and former spy and romantic partner of T’Challa Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).

T’Challa’s opening Wakanda and its technology to the world has the downside of world powers seeking sources of vibranium.  This in turn leads to the emergence of the Talokan, another hidden society of people descended from the Maya whose discovery of a source of vibranium and the herb that grows from gives the ability to live in a kingdom under the ocean.  Their king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), seeks an alliance with Wakanda to destroy the rest of the world.  With Shuri unwilling to carry out mass destruction, the two kingdoms go to war. Wakanda and Talokan each offer an interesting perspective on how colonialism has hurt the non-white people of the world and the lasting trauma contributing to ongoing violence. Namor is also like Kilmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the first film in that he’s a villain with a very good point, and the question remains how to channel that revolutionary fervor to constructive rather than destructive ends.

There’s also a sideplot with Shuri and Okoye needing to protect a scientist from Namor because she’s invented a device that can locate vibranium.  It turns out that the scientist is Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne)  a teenage prodigy who studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This means that as a Bostonian we finally get to see the greater Boston area in the MCU, although they never quite make it across the bridge to Boston proper.  Riri also is able to build her own armored suit like Tony Stark and takes on the superhero name Ironheart.  I have a feeling that with Cassie Lang, Kate Bishop, America Chavez, Love, Kamala Khan, Riri, and others that we’re totally being set up for a Young Avengers team.

The original Black Panther is still the best movie in the MCU, in my opinion, and Wakanda Forever had a lot to live up to under the best conditions.  At nearly three hours in length, it is like a lot of MCU movies in being just too long.  I also feel that despite the great performances by all the stars that the movie suffers from not having a single protagonist for much of the first two acts as well as too many sideplots.  That aside, it is still an enjoyable and heartfelt film and a worth successor.

Rating: ***1/2

 

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Movie Review: My Father’s Dragon (2022)


Title: My Father’s Dragon
Release Date: November 4, 2022
Director: Nora Twomey
Production Company:Netflix Animation | Mockingbird Pictures | Cartoon Saloon
Summary/Review: An adaptation of a 1948 children’s book by Ruth Stiles Gannett, My Father’s Dragon is the latest offering from Cartoon Salon, the Irish animation studio that created standout films like The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and Wolfwalkers. It’s streaming on Netflix and not for the first time this year I’m left wishing that there was more widespread opportunity to see the brilliant visuals of an animated film on a big screen.

Elmer (Jacob Tremblay, of Luca fame) is a resourceful kid who helps his single mom Dela (Golshifteh Farahani) run her store. When the Depression hits they are forced to move to a big city where they struggle to make ends meet. Some encounters with magical talking animals leads Elmer to Wild Island where he rescues a Boris (Gaten Matarazzo), a young dragon who is clumsy and rather goofy.  A gorilla named Saiwa (Ian McShane) chained Boris to the peak of the island to prevent it from sinking.  On the run from Saiwa, Elmer and Boris need to find an alternate way of saving Wild Island.

This movie is pure adventure, and full of fanciful images and ideas.  As always, the Cartoon Salon animation-style is vivid and imaginative.  The voice cast is stacked with noted actors including Dianne Wiest, Rita Moreno, Chris O’Dowd, Judy Greer, Alan Cumming, Yara Shahidi, Jackie Earle Haley, and Whoopi Goldberg.  I think this movie would appeal especially to families with younger children as the sentimentality might turn of bigger kids and teens.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Enola Holmes 2 (2022)


Title: Enola Holmes 2
Release Date: November 4, 2022
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Production Company:Legendary Pictures | PCMA Productions
Summary/Review:

I enjoyed Enola Holmes when I watched it two years ago, although I probably overrated it in my enthusiasm.  The sequel improves upon the original, partly with the benefit of the origin story being taken care of so that it can jump right into the action, adventure, mystery, and romance. And humor.  This movie is a romp and it will always revert to fun.

Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, has opened a detective agency in London.  Potential clients turn her down because of her age and gender, but Enola finally gets a case when a factory girl Bessie (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss) asks for help finding her sister Sarah. Enola’s investigation exposes the cruel conditions that girls and women of the match factory labor under as well as the mystery of why so many of them are getting sick and dying.  Naturally, this mystery ties in with Sherlock’s (Henry Cavill) investigation into blackmailing and money laundering.

A big theme of this film is that Enola’s desire to be independent does not mean that she has to be alone.  Thus she gets an assist from a team involving Sherlock, their mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), and Enola’s love interest Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge).  It’s a good ensemble cast and they have a lot of good chemistry working together.  The film also incorporates a real historical event, The Matchgirls Strike of 1888 which lead to the Union of Women Match Makers, the first women-lead labor movement in Britain.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Enter the Dragon (1973)


Title: Enter the Dragon
Release Date:19 August 1973
Director: Robert Clouse
Production Company: Concord Production Inc.
Summary/Review:

My style? You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.

I’ve made it nearly to the age of 49 without watching a Bruce Lee movie, so I decided to address.  The thing is, when I was younger I was turned off by the violence of martial arts movies, but I guess I’ve reached an age where I can appreciate people balletically punching and kicking one another.

Bruce Lee stars as Lee, a martial artist who instructs at the Shaolin Temple.  He’s recruited by an intelligence agency to investigate a crime lord and renegade Shaolin monk named Han (Shih Kien) under the cover of participating in a martial arts contest on Han’s private island. As additional motivation, Lee is informed that Han’s bodyguard O’Hara (Bob Wall) killed his sister.  Other contestants include the Black American dojo leader Williams (Jim Kelly) and the white American Roper (John Saxon) who has a compulsive gambling problem.

The movie combines Hong Kong martial arts film with James Bond style espionage and Blackploitation (reflected in the banging soundtrack).  It’s utterly ludicrous but in a way I found delightful.  The main flaw with the movie is that I think that they did Jim Kelly dirty.  But otherwise the fight choreography, direction, and humorous bits are all great.  And for a villain, you have to admire Han’s flair in his underground lair’s interior design.  Incorporating a guillotine-vator and a hall of mirrors reflects a certain sense of style!

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Wendell & Wild (2022)


Title: Wendell & Wild
Release Date: October 21, 2022
Director: Henry Selick
Production Company: Monkeypaw Productions | Gotham Group
Summary/Review:

Kat Elliot (Lyric Ross) is the only survivor of a car crash that kills her parents, the owners of successful brewery in the town of Rust Bank. After five years cycling through foster service and juvenile detention, Kat returns to her home town to attend a private girls school on a rehabilitation program. Kat is accidentally marked as a “hell maiden,” which draws the attention of the demons Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele).  They wish to escape their father Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames) and return the land of the living to create an amusement park.  Wendell and Wild strike a deal with Kat to have her summon them to the surface in return for their resurrecting her parents.

There’s already a lot going on in this summary, and I’m barely scratching the surface.  If there’s a major flaw to this movie, it’s that it has too much plot.  Nevertheless, it is an imaginative and visually impressive film.  Director Henry Selick’s previous films include The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996), and Coraline (2009), and fans of his stop-motion animation style will like this film as well. Jordan Peele co-wrote the script with Selick and it reflects his comedy, horror, and social justice instincts.  The metaphors are very heavy in this movie (one scene depicts a literal “school-to-prison pipeline” and one of the villains looks a lot like Donald Trump), but again the creativity of the story and imagination more than make up for any heavy-handedness.

Rating: ****

TV Review: She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022)


Title: She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
Release Date: August 18 – October 13, 2022
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner: Jessica Gao
Episodes: 9
Production Company:  Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Up-and-coming Los Angeles lawyer Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) is traveling with her cousin Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) when a car crash causes her to be exposed to Bruce’s blood and thus acquire Hulk powers.  Turns out that Jennifer is much better at controlling her Hulk powers than Bruce but has no interest in being a superhero.  But her powers are revealed in the most public way possible, and she ends up having to work for a law firm defending super-powered beings while in her She-Hulk form.

This show ends up being something we haven’t seen from Marvel and don’t really see much of at all anymore, an episodic sitcom.  And a very funny one at that.  Following the precedent set by the She-Hulk comics, Maslany to comment on the story.  It ends up kind of being a superhero story crossed with Fleabag and Ally McBeal (but in a good way).  This approach is something that could’ve flopped hard but Maslany’s charm and talent win the day.  I’ve heard a lot about her great work on Orphan Black, a show I’ve sadly not yet watched.

In addition to spoofing legal dramas, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law satirizes the dudebro culture of gatekeeping that all too often manifests itself as misogyny against women in superhero media.  The final episode makes fun of the Marvel formula in a very funny way, although I felt a bit cheated that they didn’t offer an alternate resolution.  Apart from that disappointment this was a very clever and entertaining series. Maslany is boosted by strong supporting cast and guest stars, including:

  • Ginger Gonzaga as Nikki Ramos, Jennifer’s paralegal and best friend.
  • Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky / Abomination, the villain from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk (and the first time in a long time Marvel has acknowledged the events of that movie) who has become considerably more chill.
  • Megan Thee Stallion as herself.
  • Benedict Wong as Wong, because everyone loves Wongers!
  • Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock / Daredevil, Jennifer’s fellow lawyer/superhero who comes from New York for a team-up and a hook-up.
  • And the breakout character of the series, Patty Guggenheim as Madisynn King, who turns being a drunk party girl into a superpower.

 

 

 

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Movie Review: Lightyear (2022)


Title: Lightyear
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Director: Angus MacLane
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Lightyear is a spinoff that likely didn’t need to exist, but as a fan of Pixar animation and the Toy Story movies in particular, I feel duty-bound to watch it.  Personally, I’d rather see a movie about the lives of the puppets on the 1950s Sheriff Woody TV show.  At any rate, Lightyear offers nods to what we know about the toy Buzz Lightyear, but the action-movie character Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) has a story that’s largely unique.  In fact, the movie Buzz Lightyear’s story is so unique it’s hard to believe the premise that this was the movie that Andy watched in 1995.  This is a small thing though, because the movie with 2022 sensibilities is more interesting than if they tried to make it a retro-1995 type of media.

The story focuses on Lightyear serving as a Space Ranger on a exploration vehicle that due to his own error gets stranded on an inhospitable planet.  Lightyear serves as a test pilot for a new hyperdrive but due to time dilation when he returns from every one of his four minute flights, four years have passed for his companions on the planet.  Buzz sees his commander and close friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) age, marry, have children and grandchildren, and ultimately die.  Upon returning from his final, successful test flight he finds the planet under attack by robots, and must team up with a ragtag crew including Alisha’s granddaughter Izze (Keke Palmer), the cowardly Mo (Taika Waititi), the elderly convict Darby (Dale Soules), and his delightful robotic cat companion Sox (Peter Sohn) to defeat the evil robots.

Lightyear is charming, funny, action-filled, and has a certain weirdness that justifies its existence as a movie.  On the other hand, it suffers in comparison to the Toy Story series.  It feels like a cash grab and yet it probably would’ve done better artistically and commercially as its own original story as opposed to being a spinoff to something else.  All that being said, this is a fine film and I’m sure many families and children will enjoy it.

Rating: ***

Movie Reviews: The Sea Beast (2022)


Title: The Sea Beast
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Director: Chris Williams
Production Company: Netflix Animation
Summary/Review:

“But you can be a hero and still be wrong.”

In a world where the oceans are filled with giant sea monsters, the heroes of the age are The Hunters.  Salty crews of sailors on ships like The Inevitable under Captain James Crow (Jared Harris) and his adopted son Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) hunt down and kill sea monsters for rewards from the King and Queen of Three Bridges.  An orphan Maisie Brumble (Zaris-Angel Hator) stow away on The Inevitable and soon ends up separated from the ship with Jacob.  They soon discover that the stories they’ve been told about the sea beasts may not be true and that there is alternative to endless war.

For a visually-compelling animated feature it’s disappointing that this movie’s primary viewing platform is Netflix, because I think it deserves the big screen experience.  Nevertheless, I think it’s an enjoyable family film with good voice work and great feel for seafaring adventure in the Age of Sail.  It touches upon a lot of topics such as political corruption, generational trauma, and reconciliation but in a way that is not too heavy-handed for younger viewers.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Thor: Love & Thunder (2022)


 

TitleThor: Love & Thunder
Release Date: July 8, 2022
Director:Taika Waititi
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) becomes the first Marvel superhero to have four solo features, with Waititi returning to direct after joining the series with the excellent Thor: Ragnorak.  Like its predecessor, Love & Thunder revels in good humor and a general all-around weirdness. While not as good as Ragnarok, it still proves just the kind of fun adventure with a lot of heart at its center that I need right now.

Thor has suffered several traumas and the loss of several loved ones (as depicted in previous Thor and Avengers’ movies) and has embraced an emotional distancing to cope. He only allows himself to be called on to help people who need him to fight for them. The threat in this movie comes from Gorr (Christian Bale), a man who was betrayed by his god and has taken up a sword called the Necromancer to become the God Butcher.  When Gorr adbucts all the children of New Asgard, it’s up to Thor and his surviving loved ones to save them.

Thor teams him up with s Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi), and his former girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), as well as a pair of screaming goats. And in a twist, Thor’s powerful hammer Mjolnir, once destroyed, has called to Jane and made her The Mighty Thor.  It’s all a bit complicated but fun in a a weird way.  Together they have some mighty adventures.  The fights are good, the jokes are better, but the camaraderie is the heart of this movie.

Rating: ***1/2

 

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TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)


Title Obi-Wan Kenobi
Release Date: 2022
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner:  Deborah Chow
Episodes: 6
Production Company:  Lucasfilm
Summary/Review:

The Star Wars franchise has a way of defying my expectations for good or for ill.  There are some things I eagerly anticipated seeing that ended up being rather bad (The Phantom Menace, The Rise of Skywalker).  Then there are things that I originally questioned why they needed to be made that turned out to be among the best Star Wars works ever (Rogue One, The Mandalorian).

When I heard there would be a show about Obi-Wan Kenobi set between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars, I didn’t really think that there was any good story to be told during that time.  Then the news that Hayden Christensen was cast to return as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, I wondered what the point was since he’d be behind a mask and voiced by James Earl Jones.  Well, all of my questions were answered to my satisfaction and beyond in this series that really delves into some of the most compelling characters in the Star Wars universe.

For all the flaws of the prequels, it did have some talented actors with Ewan McGregor among this best.  This show allows McGregor to flourish as he portrays the Jedi master dealing with guilt and isolation as he’s separated himself from the Force while watching over they young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely).  Christensen, who was criminally underserved by the poor scripts in the prequel, gets to show off his acting chops as well.  Newcomer Moses Ingram appears as Reva Sevander, a Force-sensitive Inquisitor working for the Empire to hunt down Jedi, also does a great job.

Of course, the best part of this series was a huge surprise and I’m going to hide it below the trailer in case you’ve read this far but don’t want to see spoilers.

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