film review

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: 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: 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.

REVIEW: Cherry (2022)

After discovering she’s almost 11 weeks pregnant, Cherry (Alexandria Threwhitt) has a big decision to make in just 24 hours, whether or not to keep this unplanned pregnancy.

Films about women’s access (or lack thereof) to essential healthcare like abortions and the morning after pill are becoming more common nowadays as women’s right to choose is still being debated – and in some places being outright denied. Personally, I’m a fan of this timely sub-genre, whether it’s a dramatic period piece or a teen road trip comedy as no matter what the central characters decide it’s a huge decision and the circumstances of their pregnancy can be so different.

Cherry is in her early twenties and has had a load of dead-end jobs, is still mostly living with her mother and has no real direction in her life. Her life is a bit of a mess and while some of this is down to her, it’s also obvious that everyone has their own things they’re going through and when people are absent it’s sometimes not because of maliciousness. Alexandria Threwhitt gives a great and compelling performance as Cherry. She bounces between her family, her friends who she sort of ditched and her not so serious boyfriend/the would-be baby’s father a she tries to figure out if motherhood right now is for her while finding it increasingly difficult to talk to the people in her life about what’s going on with her.

As Cherry tries to decide what to do, she talks to her parents about parenthood in a roundabout way, trying to get their advice and guidance without telling them why she’s suddenly so interested in about the circumstances of her own conception and birth. The scenes with her dad (Charlie S. Jensen) are especially good as it’s clear they both have different ideas of what it is to be a parent and support their family. Her father said he was a good father because he worked all the time so they could be secure but to Cherry that meant he was never around and their awkward relationship is testament to that.

I want to mention the doctor Cherry sees, played by Sandy Duarte, quickly. Perhaps it’s because some of the films I’ve watched recently that deal with this topic have had doctors that have been judgmental or unhelpful, but it was so refreshing to see this doctor – who herself was clearly very pregnant, be kind and non-judgemental towards Cherry. She gave her all the information she needed, talked her through all her options and refused to judge her no matter what decision she made but was still firm that Cherry needed to decide one way or another as there was no ignoring what was happening to her body.

Cherry is one of those wonderfully short (its runtime is less than 75 minutes) but poignant and funny indie dramas. It has a great soundtrack and the sunny streets of LA and Cherry’s shiny red roller-skates help give this film almost a sense of whimsy even though Cherry has big choices ahead of her. 4/5.

REVIEW: Werewolves Within (2021)

After a snowstorm traps a group of eccentric townspeople in the local, secluded inn, new ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) tries to keep everyone calm as he looks for the mysterious creature threatening the community

Werewolves Within is based on a videogame but it’s not a game I’ve played, or had even heard of before I heard about this film, so I can’t comment on how well it works as video game/movie adaptation though historically they’ve been kind of hit and miss (and mostly miss). Werewolves Within as film though, is definitely a hit.

Finn is the new guy to town and with postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) acting as his guide to the town and its people, he soon learns that everyone has their own quirks and there’s bubbling tension as developer Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall) wants to knock down homes and businesses to put down a gas pipeline and the town is divided between those who want to sell their homes to make it happen, and those who don’t. So naturally, when something appears to be stalking the town the people are quick to point fingers and tempers fray.

Werewolves Within is a horror/comedy but it mostly feels like a really fun whodunit! There are some scares, including some pretty funny ones, but it’s the mystery and the characters that made Werewolves Within really work for me. There’s a lot of interesting characters and the script is great as a lot of the time, things that are mentioned in passing at the beginning have an alternate meaning as the film progresses. It’s fun to try and figure things out alongside Finn as he’s the perfect person to take on this case as an outsider – however, being an outsider can also be to his detriment as these people have known each other for a lot longer.

Werewolves Within is just a lot of fun. It has a great script along with great performances – the whole cast are perfect for their roles but it’s Richardson who is a solid lead performance, grounding any and all of the absurdity that ensues – and with a 90-minute runtime, Werewolves Within is an entertaining horror/comedy/mystery hybrid. 4/5.