REVIEW: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

In the wake of King T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) death, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) must lead the people of Wakanda as they fight to protect their home from outside forces – whether that’s member states of the UN, or the nation of Talokan in the deep depths of the ocean led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta).

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about Wakanda Forever without talking about the passing of Chadwick Boseman and the affect this had on the film. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler incorporated Boseman’s passing into the film and needless to say in the first five minutes I was already getting emotional. This makes Wakanda Forever an almost unique grieving experience. All the characters who knew T’Challa are mourning his passing, and so are the actors playing them, and so are you as you watch this film. It’s easy to imagine that in some of the big emotional scenes, the actors used their grief for their friend and co-worker to fuel their characters grief.

There’s a lot going on in Wakanda Forever with new characters and a new civilisation with a lot of backstory introduced and some aspects were more interesting than others. Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett Ross is back and while his character is somewhat integral to moving the plot forward to begin with, it does kind of feel like the film grinds to a halt every time it leaves Wakanda to see what he’s up to in America. Wakanda Forever is close to three hours long and it’s moments like this that makes you feel the runtime.

The whole cast is incredible but Bassett, Huerta and Letitia Wright are truly standouts. Angela Bassett gives a couple of powerful and emotional monologues and the fact that one is almost soft with her contained rage while the other has her pain over flowing just shows how talented she always has been. Plus, the first happens in the UN in front of a majority white audience while the latter happens in the throne room in Wakanda, infront of the other tribal leaders and her people – once again showing how these characters have to be uniquely aware of their race and power even when they’re from one of the most technologically advanced countries in thise universe.

Namor is such an interesting villain – though really he is more of an antihero – and Huerta is just so compelling that your eyes never leave him whenever he’s on screen. His Namor is principled and loyal but on the flipside, he can be very intimidating and, like the first sequence where the people of Talokan attack, almost frightening. Letitia Wright’s Shuri goes through a lot in this film but she’s truly the emotional centre of Wakanda Forever. She’s trying to combine her love and knowledge of science with the realisation that it wasn’t enough to save her brother and if that’s the case how can she protect her people? Her inner turmoil is fascinating and Wright is phenomenal – pretty much every time I felt myself get teary eyed, it was due to her performance.

One of the many things I really appreciated in Wakanda Forever was that it let emotion and drama sit with you. There are jokes or humorous moments in the film – mostly from Winston Duke’s M’Baku who is still an excellent scene-stealer – but they’re used in a way to ease some tension rather than becoming an almost parody of the MCU joke machine as seen in some other MCU movies recently aka Thor: Love and Thunder.

Black Panther won Oscars for Music, Costume, and Production Design and those same Oscar winners are back for Wakanda Forever and I wouldn’t be surprised if they got awards consideration again. Ludwig Göransson’s score has echoes of familiar themes but also plays on the unknown with Talokan, and both Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler make both Wakanda and Talokan feel so alive with their costumes and set design and when it comes to Wakanda, adds to the history and culture we already know. Both Wakanda and Talokan feel so vast and real because of the costumes, sets and props especially as they’ve incorporated African and Indigenous cultures into it all.

Overall Wakanda Forever is a story about grief. How grief is hard and messy and people deal with it in different ways and some ignore grief until it almost consumes them. It still has its action and the Dora Milaje led by Okoye (Danai Gurira) is still awesome and it’s a thrill seeing so many complex and powerful women on screen, working together. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is definitely my favourite MCU film released this year. 4/5.

REVIEW: Confess, Fletch (2022)

After arriving in Boston to try and find stolen paintings belonging to his Italian girlfriend’s rich father, Fletch (John Hamm) encounters problems straightaway when he finds a murdered young woman in the house he’s renting. With the police convinced he’s the murderer, former-investigative reporter Fletch strives to prove his innocence while simultaneously searching for the missing paintings.

Confess, Fletch is a reboot/adaptation but as I’d never seen, read, or even had heard of the books/films before I saw the trailer for this film, it’s safe to say I took this film on its own merit and have no reference point for it. I think that’s a good thing as Confess, Fletch is an old-school mystery in the best possible way and I had a thoroughly good time with it.

It’s the dry wit and sharp script that makes Confess, Fletch so much fun. There’s so many quips but they never undercut any drama of the moment and Confess, Fletch is the sort of film that rewards you when you give it your full attention. Fletch, as a character, is brilliant. He’s charming, quick-witted and can talk himself out of (or into) just about anything. He’s almost annoying with how smooth and confident he is, but he does it all with a smile so you can’t stay mad at him. It’s easy to see why the two detectives on his case (played by Roy Wood Jr. and Ayden Mayeri) get so frustrated nearly every time they talk to him.

The mystery has a lot of avenues and it’s fun to see how it all plays out and if and how all these eccentric people Fletch encounters are connected at all. John Hamm has great comedic timing and is a brilliant lead here but Confess, Fletch thrives because the supporting cast is just as good. Fletch’s girlfriend Angela (Lorenza Izzo) has a rivalry with her father’s wife (Marcia Gay Harden), then there’s John Slattery playing Fletch’s old boss and Kyle MacLachlan as an art dealer. Everyone has their own eccentricities and agenda and the dialogue between them and Fletch is often top-notch.

The humour in Confess, Fletch comes from the characters and it it’s really a funny and charming film. I’d love to watch many sequels with John Hamm in the lead role as these sort of clever but fun mysteries are truly timeless. I hope I’m wrong but due to the release and lack of promotion I can see Confess, Fletch going the same way as The Nice Guys – a funny mystery that’s ripe for sequels never getting them as it doesn’t find the audience when it’s first released. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness. Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest. After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born. If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?

I really enjoyed the setting and world-building of The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy. The fantastical land where “drudges” (basically zombies) roam and how the mythology and religion of these people does have some bearing on their lives today. How Mercy cared about the dead and how the burial rituals are different to what we tend to know about them was really interesting and how the dead are honoured and cared for isn’t something you see in books that often. Especially in a romance where the heroine is an undertaking – it’s not the most pretty or girly of jobs but Mercy’s love for it shined through.

It’s easy to compare The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy to the film You’ve Got Mail as it’s the story of two people who don’t like each other but find they a connection when they don’t know it’s their worst enemy that they’re writing to. The letters were a great way for the reader to get to know more about Hart and Mercy and see beneath their hostile exteriors. While it’s easy to say Hart is the grumpy one, Mercy can be pretty harsh and cruel too as she tends to think she’s right a lot of the time. Seeing how they both soften overtime when it comes to each other as well as with family or co-workers was nice.

The problem I had with The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, and the reason I put it down for a while and took so long to finish it is because around the half way point something happened that just made me feel uncomfortable. To go back to the You’ve Got Mail analogy, what happened was like if Tom Hanks had walked into the coffee shop to meet Meg Ryan, knowing she was his anonymous pen pal but she didn’t and then started a relationship with her without telling her that he knew so much about her because they’d been writing to each other for months. It was a power imbalance to the relationship that just made me feel weird and as naturally the truth would come out eventually, that made me more stressed waiting for it to happen especially as it took a lot longer than I thought it would.

I know in romance stories there’s often miscommunication or that one final hurdle before the couple have their happily ever after, but the way this one played out made me more uncomfortable than interested. I don’t read a lot of romance so if you’re more used to that trope then maybe The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy would be absolutely fine for you. I think knowing it would happen and then reading this long drawn-out process was a different thing.

I wanted the “lies” to come out a lot quicker than they did and it took me longer to read this book than it should’ve as I’d be apprehensive waiting for the big reveal and I found it hard to root for Hart and Mercy’s relationship when one of them was keeping such a big secret from the other.

Overall I did like this mixture of cutesy romance and fantasy. It wasn’t something I’d read before and was surprised how well the elements came together and when there wasn’t big secrets I found The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy to be very quick and easy to read. 3/5.

REVIEW: Enola Holmes 2 (2022)

Now a detective in her own right, Enola Holmes’ (Mille Bobby Brown) detective agency is struggling as she tries to make it out of her older brother Sherlock’s (Henry Cavill) shadow. That is until she gets asked to find a missing girl by her little sister, and soon Enola is entangled in a dangerous conspiracy and her case may even be related to Sherlock’s case and they both will need all the help they can get.

I was a big fan of the first Enola Holmes film and I’m very happy to say the sequel is just as fun and delightful as the original and expands on the characters in an engaging way. In many ways Enola Holmes 2 is incredibly similar to the first film as it may be a different mystery but there’s still the undercurrent of political/feminist themes and the same fourth wall breaking with a wink from Mille Bobby Brown but what this sequel does well is not make these elements seem tired or boring. Look sometimes it’s nice for a sequel to do something vastly different, while other times it’s nice for a sequel to embrace what made the original so entertaining and just do that again. With a lot of Netflix’s action output being stoic, it’s nice that they’re investing in the fun adventures of a plucky young girl in Victorian London.

Mille Bobby Brown continues to shine in Enola Holmes 2 and the referential humour could become grating in lesser hands but with Brown as our lead, she plays Enola as charming and resourceful as ever. Though it is the moments when she is out of her depth, like attending a ball and having to ask young Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) to teach her to dance, that are really interesting as while Enola comes across as self-assured, her independence doesn’t fit into what society deems fit for women and there are some things that she is clueless about.

The mystery itself loses its way a bit in the middle and all the loose ends aren’t tied up particularly neatly but the inclusion of new adversaries – David Thewlis’ Superintendent Grail is fun as it appears that every Holmes has a problem with him, including the matriarch of the family Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) – old friends, and some young romance and rebellion makes it an enjoyable ride.

Having Sherlock involved more in this mystery works without him taking control and pushing Enola out of her own story. He has his own case and while he does help Enola, she helps him too and their awkward personal relationship is more compelling than their working one. Also Cavill’s dry sense of humour as Sherlock while still being very protective of his little sister is brilliant.

I honestly would happily watch Enola and her friends and allies go on many more adventures. A casting choice in a mid-credits scene makes me hopeful that there will be a third film as I need to see more from that person than a cameo. Plus, these films are just fun, lightly feminist, teen girl power escapism and are really enjoyable to watch and we all can use some light, charming fun these days. 4/5.

REVIEW: Black Adam (2022)

Nearly 5,000 years after he was given the powers of the gods Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is freed from his earthly tomb, to find his home country of Kahndaq is now besieged by mercenaries, so he sets about unleashing his unique form of justice on the modern world.

The best thing Black Adam has going for it is Dwayne Johnson. He does make an imposing villain/anti-hero and it is kind of fun seeing him be so ruthless with a bunch of bad guys without then second guessing it. It’s clear from the outset that the people who have invaded this country are not good people and deserve anything that is coming to them.

Naturally Black Adam needs some superpowered good guys to go up against and that’s where the Justice Society of America (JSA) comes in. Like all the superpowered characters in this film, I knew nothing about the JSA and I still know little about them and how the Justice Society works as this film gives very little backstory or characterisation to any of them. Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) is the new guy, Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) has pretty cool and colourful wind powers, Hawkman’s (Aldis Hodge) main thing is saying “heroes don’t kill people” over and over again, and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) is just the best and steals just about every scene he’s in – even when he’s going toe to toe with Black Adam.

Everyone gives fine to good performances and the JSA team are all generally likeable and have decent charisma but it was hard to really care about them all. Also naturally, as Black Adam couldn’t be an out and out villain, there was always going to be something that would unite him and the JSA as they fight some other big bad. It’s a superhero movie cliché and unfortunately in this instance, the random new baddie wasn’t particularly interesting either.

Something that the film treats as a Big Reveal and a plot twist, is diminished as it’s in the trailer and it’s not even a subtle thing. If you’ve seen the first trailer, the trailer below in fact, you may be like me watching this film, just waiting for something seemingly obvious to be spelt out, but that thing is only so obvious when you’ve seen the trailer. It’s poor marketing on the studios part as any dramatic heft is lost.

I did like what Black Adam had to say about Western (super) powers not being interesting in the strife of a Middle Eastern country such as Kahndaq, until they have their own powerful guardian and then they are seen as a threat. That kind of on the nose but different (for a superhero movie) political commentary was unexpected but welcome.

Black Adam is neither particularly good nor particularly bad. If I was a kid, I’d probably have a great time with this as it reminded me a bit of those “middle tier” superhero movies like Fantastic Four (2005), it has a lot action set pieces and bombastic fights while also not being very memorable. Some of the CGI is a bit dodgy and trying to stuff so many new and somewhat obscure characters into a two-hour movie means that characterisation is left by the wayside. 3/5.

REVIEW: Deep Rising (1998)

John Finnegan (Treat Williams) is the captain of a speedy little boat who’s been hired by armed mercenaries to take them to a luxury cruise liner in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean where they can loot it and hold the passengers to ransom. Things don’t go to plan however as when they arrive the ship is almost deserted and it’s clear that someone, or something, has already ransacked the place.

Deep Rising is written and directed by Stephen Sommers, director of The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001) – two of my favourite films – and Odd Thomas (2013) which I also have a soft spot for. So, while I am a self-confessed wuss, I thought I could handle this film and while it certainly has a higher rating than the other films mentioned, and utilises that with the blood and guts spurting everywhere, Deep Rising is also a really fun and satisfying action/disaster/horror movie.

Deep Rising is one of those fun 90s moves where you can go “It’s them!” a lot. The mercenaries are led by Wes Studi and also feature Jason Flemyng, Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis, Trevor Goddard and Clifton Powell. Famke Janssen’s thief Trillian is the sole female character in this small group of survivors and she’s pretty great. Easily likeable and Trillian has her own illegal skills which helps her when she’s in a jam.

Deep Rising does a great job of building tension, especially as what’s attacked the ship isn’t seen fully until over halfway through the film. Being economical with the special effects means you instead have something pulling characters off screen, banging on doors and walls, and the sense that something is in the water, stalking everyone. It plays with expectations too as there’s a number of times when you’re waiting for the jump scare and the film makes you wait longer than you think it will, still managing to make the seemingly obvious scare a surprise.

Overall Deep Rising is a decent creature feature and has some very satisfying kills of some horrible characters. Look, we all enjoy it when the bastard gets their comeuppance. Also, there should be more films with jet ski chase sequences. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Haunted Mansion (2003)

When workaholic realtor Jim (Eddie Murphy) and his wife/business partner Sara (Marsha Thomason) get a call to view a mansion, they and their kids soon find things aren’t what they seem when they get stranded in the old mansion overnight.

The Haunted Mansion is one of those Disney movies I missed as a child. I definitely went through a phase of considering myself too old for Disney movies – even the live-action ones – but as it’s Spooky Season I thought I’d watch a family friendly horror film because I didn’t want to get too scared or have to pay too much attention. Considering that was where my mind was at when I chose to watch this film, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed The Haunted Mansion.

The scariness and laughs are well balanced and the atmosphere is perfection. The mansion itself is gorgeous and suitably creepy with its creaky lifts, secret passage ways, and a huge graveyard with a fair amount of ghosts. The set design is just fantastic and the mansion becomes its own character – as it should be. The way lighting is used throughout, whether that’s candlelight or flashes of lightning, adds to the atmosphere and tension and provides some good scares too.

Eddie Murphy is pretty great here and his brand of sometimes over the top comedy works well to lighten things up when things are getting a little too serious or scary. Because that’s something The Haunted Mansion does really well, it balances the comedy and the horror to make scary stuff that walks that fine line of fun and terrifying for kids.

Terence Stamp as the creepy butler Ramsley is perfect. He’s unnerving and intimidating in equal measure while being delightfully polite. Potential vague spoiler alert but this needs to be said; perhaps it’s how I watched this as an adult but the real villain of The Haunted Mansion is racism, it may be implied but I’m pretty sure that’s where they were going with Stamp’s character and I find that surprisingly interesting for a Disney horror film. Though, all horror films have layers and are often about other things.

The Haunted Mansion is a good, fun, spooky, family horror film. A lot of the special effects still hold up which is always a nice surprise and the sequence with the skeletons was a real highlight. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

Teamed with a group of her closest friends – including Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin), and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) – Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) goes off on a mission with the unit from District 13 as they risk their lives to stage an assassination attempt on President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who has become increasingly obsessed with destroying her.

While Katniss and her team have to take part in guerrilla-style warfare, the themes that have been prevalent throughout this series are still there. Katniss’s march through the boobytrapped Capitol is like she’s back in the Arena and both President Snow and President Coin (Julianne Moore) are doing their best to manipulate the situation and Katniss to their advantage.

Josh Hutcherson deserves a shout out for his performance in Mockingjay – Part 2. Naturally Jennifer Lawrence is still fantastic and she is really the glue holding this franchise together, but in this film, Hutcherson gets to do more than just be in love with Katniss and be a way for her to show her softer side. Peeta has been tortured and had his mind manipulated while being captured by the Capitol and as he slowly starts to break out of the confusion of not being able to trust his own mind, Hutcherson’s performance is often both impressive and heart-breaking.

Katniss and her team’s mission is tense and exciting as boobytraps of any kind can spring up out of nowhere and when Peeta joins the team he’s a wildcard that gives Katniss extra stress. There’s a couple of moments of levity at the beginning of Mockingjay – Part 2, mostly down to Finnick and Annie (Stef Dawson), but really it is almost relentless grim as it doesn’t shy away from the realities of war and Katniss has to face losing the ones she cares about in a way she hasn’t before.

Sure, an argument can be made that Mockingjay should’ve been one film (like many last books in YA series film adaptations) but it really is a solid end to a series of films that have always been somewhere between good and fantastic. I think The Hunger Games films are some of the best adaptations of YA books and is truly the high point of an influx of dystopian media we had a decade ago. Mockingjay – Part 2 is an impressive and satisfying end as it pulls together all the themes and characters the series has been dealing with. 4/5.

REVIEW: Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson

This book has trigger warnings for transphobia, homophobia, and racism, war and death of a loved one.

Narrated by Nicola Coughlan.

There’s a prophecy that the Sullied Child will bring about a demon so strong that it will cause the end of all witches, and even the end of the world. Decades on from a civil war, Helena, High Priestess of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven (HMRC), will do whatever she can to stop that from happening while her childhood friends and fellow witches have all left behind the bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is focusing on being a wife and mother, Niamh is a country vet, and Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven. But when the child is found and the prophecy is looking closer than ever, the four friends must try and figure out the best course of action as loyalties are tested and conflicting ideals arise.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is told via the fours friend’s perspectives and it’s great to get inside each of their heads. Niamh and Helena probably have more focus and development than Elle and Leonie but it’s still an interesting look at female friendship and how some friendships can last decades while others get strained over time. Leonie is a Black, lesbian witch while the other three are all white and pretty middle class so the things she sees and how she reacts to things is often different to the others. She’s incredibly aware of the differences between them and how society treats Black women and gay women differently to whit, straight women but some of her childhood friends just see them all as women and therefore have the same problems.

There’s a lot of discussions in Her Majesty’s Royal Coven about what it is to be a woman and how transwomen fit into that. A lot of the anti-trans rhetoric that we hear nowadays is used though it’s always clear that it’s wrong. The discussions the characters have about being a woman and how that can be different for different people, women-only spaces and how trans people do (or don’t) affect cis people. I think having these discussions through a fantasy lens was interesting and worked well as you got to see pretty much every point of view (good and bad) that we see in real life but there’s also meaningful discussions and it makes some potentially big ideas more accessible.

I really enjoyed the setting of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. It’s mostly set in the town of Hebden Bridge (a place I’ve visited a couple of times as one of my best friends lives there), but also a bit in London and Manchester. Having a witchy fantasy novel set in present-day Britain where the characters are all in their mid-thirties felt like this was truly for the British millennials like me. There’s a lot of 90s references as that’s when the girls grew up as well as references to more modern-day issues like Brexit and Covid. It was so nice to read a fantasy novel where the character are adults and have to juggle things like their families, relationships, and jobs while also having magic and responsibilities outside of the “normal” stuff. Plus, how witches and witchcraft is explained to have been a part of Britain (and the world) for centuries helps flesh out this modern interpretation of witches.

I borrowed the audiobook from my library and it was narrated by Nicola Coughlan (of Derry Girls and Bridgerton fame) and she was fantastic. She captures the different voices of the four women so well and makes the exposition just as compelling as when there’s a big action sequence. The final showdown is something I could easily visualise in my mind and was very cinematic. Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is the first book in an adult trilogy and I hope Nicola Coughlan narrates the other books in the series because I’d love to carry on reading these books that way.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven has compelling characters and relationships and the different kinds of magic is great. It’s a story that’s exciting and thoughtful and packs an emotional punch too. I got really quite attached to a lot of these characters, Elle’s daughter Holly especially, and the ideas of fighting fate and prophecy were interesting too. 5/5.

REVIEW: Inventory (2021)

After someone tries to shoot at Boris (Radoš Bolčina), a middle aged and very normal man, he tries to figure out who could’ve done it as he takes note of all his friends and acquaintances that may have felt wronged by him.

I’m pretty sure this is the first Slovenian film I’ve seen and it was an interesting, tense and sometimes darkly funny introduction to that part of the filmmaking world. Inventory is a slow-burn drama and it’s the central performance from Bolčina that keeps things compelling.

From the start you’re introduced to Boris and his perfectly normal life. He has a wife, an adult son, a job in a university, and isn’t particularly interesting nor does he do anything to make him stand out from a crowd and everyone says he’s perfectly pleasant. Him being shot at in his own home is the most unexpected thing to happen to him and when the police start questioning whether he has any enemies, he can’t remember the last time he had a disagreement with anyone.

The shooting shatters the banality of Boris’ world and while over time his family and friends move on from the incident and can forget about it, he can’t. As the police investigation comes to a standstill, Boris’ paranoia grows – especially after the lead detective (Dejan Spasič) helpfully states that it’s the victim’s loved ones are most often the perpetrators of such a crime. The small gestures Bolčina makes as he studies his wife, friends, or son, trying to figure out what (if anything) they had to gain from his death are brilliant and show his inner turmoil. While the police also say it could’ve been a totally random accident and anyone could’ve been shot at and Boris wasn’t necessarily a target, Boris can’t seem to deal with having no definitive answer and calls into question his relationships and his own personality.

Inventory is a sometimes tense, sometimes funny, sometimes awkward kind of film as Boris goes through all the emotions as his life has been turned up on its head. The score from Matija Krecic adds to the uneasiness, especially when Boris starts conducting his own investigations as you wonder how far he’d go to get to the truth. 3/5.