November 2022 Roundup
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures // Directed by Ryan Coogler // Starring Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorn, Tenoch Huerta Mejía
2022 has been a mixed year for the superhero genre and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was the last hope for a big sendoff - but it would need to do so without its King. Following the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman, Kevin Feige, returning director Ryan Coogler and the Marvel team had an unenviable task ahead of them following the colossal success (commercially and culturally) of 2018’s Black Panther to deliver another satisfying chapter in the MCU and simultaneously deal with the loss of one of its flagship characters. In Wakanda Forever, tribute is paid wonderfully to Boseman’s memory and the legacy of T’Challa, and the passing of the torch is handled with sensitivity, emotion, and aplomb. Wakanda Forever is a fitting follow-up to its 2018 predecessor, but it is not without its flaws. It’s hard to fault the performances, Angela Bassett slays once more as Queen Ramonda and Letitia Wright as Shuri delivers an emotional performance in an expanded role as she grieves the loss of her brother before assuming his once-held mantle, whilst Mejía’s Namor was a compelling villain (or antihero) despite looking a bit…goofy with his winged ankles - no fault of the actor who put in a fine turn. We're also introduced to Dominque Thorn's Riri Williams in a fun performance as the prodigious inventor who assumes the mantle of Ironheart. At two hours and forty minutes long though, the movie suffers from some serious second act weight that threatens to undo the good work from before - sequences in the underwater empire of Talokan were visually pleasing, but the pacing was thrown off course and the movie struggled to find it’s rhythm comfortably after. If the third act felt rushed and more than just a little overly chaotic/illogical, everything with Shuri in it was excellent - her action scenes being among some of the more brutal in the franchise and the aftermath of these sequences carried real power. The power of Wakanda Forever lies in the characters, their quieter moments, and Wakanda itself - once it strayed away from these and the MCU connections/conventions began, it felt a little lesser (those Freeman and Dreyfuss scenes smacked of reshoots and shoehorned rewrites). That said, there’s a bucket load to enjoy with Wakanda Forever - Okoye is back and still badass (with obligatory awesome fight scenes), the explosion of black culture, the fact the humour lands, Ludwig Göransson’s score is again sublime, and the ending and subsequent post-credits scene cap the movie off beautifully. Wakanda Forever is a moving tribute to Boseman’s legacy, and, whilst the movie struggles under the weight of its own swollen story, it delivers when it needs to most.
Searchlight Pictures // Directed by Mark Mylod // Starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Reed Birney, Judith Light, John Leguizamo
I love food. Who doesn’t? What I don’t like is the waffle that surrounds fine dining, the foaminess of it all - I love great food, I don’t need a story to accompany it. Mark Mylod’s The Menu serves up a bitingly unsubtle satire on fine dining and the pomposity of it all as Ralph Fiennes dons the whites of reclusive, exclusive chef Julian Slowik to…entertain a select group of elite diners - including Nicholas Hoult’s sycophantic fanboy Tyler and Anya Taylor-Joy’s wholly uninterested Margot. The social commentary that Mylod employs is there for all to see, and, whilst the story itself is honestly fairly thin, the performances and writing are top-notch throughout. As the movie progresses, we see the upper-class attempt to weasel their way into Slowik’s good books by indulging his esoteric experience before the truth of their presence is revealed and the movie takes an altogether different direction - the isolation of the singular restaurant setting only adding to the growing sense of dread that begins to envelop every unfolding situation. Ralph Fiennes is clearly relishing the opportunity to again step into the role of the villain, his presence providing the perfect balance of menace and gravitas and Taylor-Joy is excellent as his counterpart throughout (special mention for Hoult’s nauseating but brilliantly-acted Tyler who just screams foodbro). The darker elements are sprinkled throughout The Menu like a good seasoning, liberally enough to not become overutilized but sparingly so as to be unnerving every time you hear the thunderous clap of Slowik’s hands to signal the introduction of the next course (course slash revelation). The balance between tension and humour is also wonderfully recognized, the black comedy lands just at the right moments to create a sense of unease and, yes, sometimes satisfaction. As with food, sometimes simple is best and with the right ingredients, you can serve up a sumptuous dish - The Menu is a deliciously dark comedy with some devilish horror beats thrown in for good measure, it's a real treat.
Bones and All
Warner Bros. Pictures // Directed by Luca Guadagnino // Starring Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Mark Rylance
Luca Guadagnino is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s most interesting directors - sure, he has always delivered quality movies (not you, The Protagonists) but in recent years his output has been superb. His latest offering Bones and All reunites him with his Call Me By Your Name star Timothée Chalamet, but not Armie Hammer, thankfully, as this is a story all about cannibalism. Well, that’s a general stroke, Bones and All focuses on the blossoming romance between two young adults on a cross-country road trip and the challenges they face as they comprehend their own morality and futures - Chalamet and Taylor Russell are splendid as Lee and Maren, the two young “eaters” who, in order to survive, need to consume human flesh and blood. Whilst the idea sounds horrifying, and, to be fair, it is, Guadagnino doesn’t necessarily linger on the horror aspects - there’s blood and some truly nasty sound effects, but it all plays a back seat to the romance and coming-of-age story that’s at the forefront. It all amounts to a strangely atmospheric affair that also manages to somehow feel slightly hollow at its core. At times, the movie is ponderous, and whilst the ending is an earned and emotional conclusion, it does take too long to really get to that point. None of that can take away from the truly unique nature of what is, in the end, a beautiful movie. Led by two fine young cannibals, Bones and All is peculiar, eerie, and seductive, yet slightly leaden all at once.
Decision to Leave
CJ Entertainment // Directed by Park Chan-wook // Starring Tang Wei, Park Hae-il
Following 2016’s The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook returns with something rather different in the form of Decision to Leave - a mystery romance noir film, a patient story of infatuation and murder. Whilst investigating the death of a man in a climbing accident, obsessive detective Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) begins to develop a strong desire and need for the deceased’s wife Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei). Already consumed with his all-encompassing workload, his latest infatuation may be the hardest he’ll have to overcome in the pursuit of his impossible perfectionist goals. Chan-wook adeptly marries genres in Decision to Leave and conjures a mystery full of intrigue and compulsion, one that is perfectly anchored by both the dogged, impressive Hae-il and Wei who plays the femme fatale role magnificently. Alongside Jeong Seo-kyeong, Chan-wook delivers a screenplay and narrative that is intelligent and engaging, we are afforded real insight into the mindsets of our characters, even as they make increasingly absurd decisions the further they fall into the web in which they are entangled - Seo-rae and Hae-jun’s strange desire and craving to maintain their doomed romance lends some real effervescence to the story and the use of varying perspectives ensures the viewer is never one step ahead of the movie. Additionally…Decision to Leave finishes with a powerfully chilling ending, the tragedy revolving around Seo-rae’s knowledge that this is one case that Hae-joon must never solve lest his obsession with her end. Kim Sang-bum’s editing, too, is wonderful, though in honesty some trimming of the runtime and minor story points would have elevated this even higher. Overall, any negatives are simply minor details as the vast majority of Decision to Leave is excellent - it looks great, it sounds great, and it is great.