The Woman King

The Woman King historical epic inspired by the true events that happened in The Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. Viola Davis makes every performance of hers seem effortless, and her role as General Nanisca of the Agoije, the Dahomey’s all-female group of warriors who defend the Kingdom, is no exception. Davis portrays the titular character as a fighter with a tough exterior who eventually peels back layers to reveal pain she must defend herself from through physical and emotional strength. Thuso Mbedu and Lashana Lynch are both outstanding, Mbedu as a new recruit who must grow into a courageous fighter, and Lynch as a commander who gives it her all into the role physically and makes you care so much about her character.

The action is staged very well and is surprisingly strong for a PG-13 rating, but it’s never distractingly holding back from showing violence either, though nothing is disturbing here. The grandeur of the costumes and sets makes the atmosphere work so well, and the film benefits from a spectacular score from Terence Blanchard, who should at least get nominated for an Oscar. Though the film does occasionally slow down between the powerful moments, the last act especially is the most exciting, investing and empowering and elevates the entire movie. It’s a great popcorn action film but also a showcase of amazing production and performances that’s built for the big screen.

Three Thousand Years of Longing

A lonely scholar, on a trip to Istanbul, discovers a Djinn who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom.

George Miller’s first film since Mad Max: Fury Road allows him to let loose as expected, but doesn’t feel as rewarding as it could have. Tilda Swinton shines in a more fun, likable role than some of her more “chameleon”-like performances, and Idris Elba is great as a Djinn tasked with most of the film’s dialogue and monologues. The production design is also very noteworthy as is the score by Tom Holkenberg, easily his best music for a film since Fury Road. However, the CGI doesn’t look as grand or convincing as it attempts to be and could’ve used some more work.

Though Swinton and Elba’s conversations about how all the ways wishes could go wrong are interesting, the stories Elba tells about his past don’t feel as powerful or intricate as the film wants you to believe. The third act feels an abrupt turn of events and certainly drags, in a way feeling anticlimactic. Upon digging, Miller has a lot of interesting things to say, whether it be about longing, imagination, or love, but he doesn’t explore them deeply enough to deliver that unexpected blow of catharsis and fulfillment that the ending wants you to experience. Perhaps this is one film that constitutes a rewatch, but only certain parts feel inviting to revisit, while others, I feel I’d simply skip over if I ever saw this film again. It’s certainly bold and like nothing that’s come out this year, and its ambition is worth commending, but for most, this isn’t worth rushing to theaters to watch.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor enlists the help of Valkyrie, Korg and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster to fight Gorr the God Butcher, who intends to make the gods extinct.

Taika Waititi brings his signature laugh out loud humor and energetic storytelling style to Love and Thunder, as well as playing the lovable rock giant Korg who’s become Thor’s sidekick of sorts. Chris Hemsworth is as always having lots of fun, and Natalie Portman returns as his old flame Jane, who accompanies him along with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson kills it as always though her character doesn’t get as personal as Thor and Jane do) on the film’s journey. Russell Crowe is also quite funny as Zeus, and expect some great celebrity cameos as well. The standout though is definitely Christian Bale as the villain. He gets to go all out with his performance as Gorr the God Butcher, and his motivations make sense as well as his weapons and planets seeming cool, though I would’ve added a little more screentime with the character because in a way he’s still underutilized compared to the heroes. But also worth mentioning is the memorable soundtrack that gives the film a lot of life — and Guns N Roses hits.

Though Waititi’s style now feels synonymous with Thor’s solo journey, it also feels like the saving grace of the movie that Taika’s at the director’s chair. Since Thor’s already gone through most of his meaningful development from his first movie unto Endgame, there isn’t much left to develop with him and the movie is best enjoyed as a Waititi adventure comedy as a result. It’s also not as smooth or funny as Ragnarok, and the director’s weakest film yet. The script feels rushed and slowed down in the wrong places and certain nuances feel underdeveloped — a few more minutes of runtime wouldn’t have hurt. The final battle is also visually uninteresting though conceptually fun, the location and lighting of the action feels anything but exciting. Thor and Jane’s romantic chemistry is sweet but also nowhere near as natural of a pairing as Tom Holland and Zendaya in Spider-Man or Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man movies. It also feels like Thor’s journey concluded more naturally with Endgame, and as an epilogue to his story it serves the character fine, but I think Marvel should close his arc here because it feels like all of Thor’s most memorable moments and growths are in the past.

Thor: Love and Thunder is a solid 2 hours of fun visuals and laughs, though it feels like the character’s story is being stretched a little past its breaking point, go for the enjoyment and cast, especially Christian Bale’s villanous performance.

Elvis

Elvis provides a look into the life and career of the King of Rock and Roll and his relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Austin Butler’s immersive performance stuns as he brings the singer back to life with so much energy and character, that you’d believe it was really him in every shot he’s in. The costume design is accurate to Elvis’ real wardrobe and overall gives the film a spectacular visual side to it. The musical sequences are by far the most entertaining, impressive, and even emotional aspects of the film. If that’s enough for you, this movie is worth a watch, but this movie is brought down by Baz Luhrmann’s pretentious style (director of Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby). The editing is very flashy and fast in an attempt to immerse you into the vivid world of Elvis’ music and journey, but as a result, any sort of intimacy or room to breathe feels gone. Butler’s performance is terrific but the only times we get to interact with Elvis as a real person (and not just as the musical legend he was) are when the movie uses incredibly cliche beats we’ve seen in plenty of other music biopics like Walk the Line, Rocketman, Respect, Straight Outta Compton, and so on. Moments such as Elvis getting his love for music, dealing with loss, rising to stardom and creating his greatest hits feel lost in the prestige Baz feels so insistent on — it’s a tiring assault on the senses with some questionable decisions, like including music by Doja Cat in a scene that’s set in 1950s Memphis? Some of the CGI and green-screen also feel unrealistic and break the illusion of an old-fashioned look.

Tom Hanks is still my favorite movie actor, but his character in this movie is such an odd, one-note character and showing lots of the film from his perspective just makes us feel farther from Elvis’ humanity. The movie is also very long and gets too boring before it makes a real emotional point. What’s really interesting to see from a story perspective is how Elvis brought black music to white audiences and forced the system to reckon with the integration of cultures. Though this aspect is really eye-opening, it’s a shame that it isn’t focused on for the latter parts of the movie as well. The film decides to simply throw everything at you that you don’t get enough to appreciate the moments that are beautiful, or feel that you’re with Elvis for enough time because of the film’s montage-like editing fashion.

Though Austin Butler is a powerhouse and perfectly captures the stage presence and livelihood of Presley, and the musical sequences are exciting and breathtakingly brought to life, Elvis is brought down by its surface-level character writing as well as its poor and overwhelming editing. Luhrmann cares very much about making his movies a spectacle, but how much is too much? If you’re an Elvis fan, watch it at home, but if I ever end up watching Elvis again, you’ll probably find me skipping right away to the music scenes and that’s it.

Licorice Pizza

The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley in 1973.

Licorice Pizza is no less than a Paul Thomas Anderson movie — stylized, larger-than-life, and a beautiful anomaly. Like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, things happen to the characters that often go unexplained but its the way the characters react that defines the story. PTA makes movies that are defined by characters who feel larger-than-life but have a human core, though one may not always understand them on the surface. Alana Haim steals the show in her very first movie role, portraying a young woman trying to find herself only to find that she may not be alone in that. To make things even cooler, her family plays themselves in the film! Cooper Hoffman is also great as an incredibly confident teen actor who looks forward to achieving his destiny someday. The crazy situations that happen may not always add up to much sense but they offer revealing moments about the film’s spirit and character. With that comes a layer of irreverence and craziness with how bold and out there this film gets — like a famous actor trying to his favorite scenes from his movies, or another Hollywood star having a big meltdown — but it’s all PTA’s complex way of conveying his themes and the messy beauty of the human condition. The free-spirited nature is amplified by the vivid direction, including great production value and soundtrack to immerse you into the Valley in the 70s. Like many of PTA’s other films, the movie doesn’t quite fit the mold of one genre — it’s part coming-of-age story, part outrageous comedy, part political drama, part Hollywood-based epic. The movie does slow down in the second half but ends on a strong beat. The movie is a picture of youth, the parts we play to fit into the world, and the bonds that not everyone may understand. It’s a great watch, but it’s best to be familiar with the director’s style and filmography to know what you’re in for.

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Black Widow

Set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Natasha Romanoff, on the run from the law, encounters friends and enemies from her past as she confronts her dark origins.

With the return of theaters, it’s so exciting to see a Marvel movie again on the big screen, a whole two years after the last one, Spider-Man: Far From Home. The action, set around the globe from Cuba to Budapest, is exciting and more grounded than other MCU films. It focuses less on superhuman or fantastical abilities and more on the grit and hand-to-hand combat, along the lines of spy films like Jason Bourne and Atomic Blonde. The fights have lots of impact and feel nail-biting — there’s only a few weird moments of slo-mo that weren’t needed. Scarlett Johansson never lets us forget why she’s such a beloved actress and Avenger, and Natasha’s spirit is ever present as personal revelations about her surface. It’s really great to see her front and center, headlining her own film, but it feels like it should’ve been released back in 2017, in between the films it was set. In a cinematic universe all about bringing in connections from past films and setting up future ones, it feels weird to ask the audience to dial their brain back only a few years to an era we already passed where films like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther are set. What requires even more suspension of disbelief is the fact that we know where Natasha’s journey leads afterwards in Infinity War, and ultimately ends in Endgame. However, that doesn’t completely sink the film’s quality and consistent enjoyment factor, from the get-go with an exciting opening action scene. The visuals consistently stand out, which was enhanced for me by the 3D experience, and the pacing is also strong for a film that’s 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Florence Pugh is the highlight of the film, bringing her fantastic acting chops to the emotion and heart of the film, and shares some wonderful scenes with Johansson as well as David Harbour and Rachel Weisz, who form Nat’s makeshift family. Pugh and Harbour bring their already respected reputations with them, but reinvent themselves with memorable, humorous and heartfelt roles, though Weisz is worth mentioning too. My main issues are mostly minor, but the themes aren’t often as emphasized as in other MCU films, which is a shame, and the progression of the plot isn’t as strong either. It isn’t Black Widow’s best appearance, don’t go in expecting The Winter Soldier, Civil War or Endgame, but better late than never to have her as the lead in her own film. The villain are also very uninteresting, and though he does the job to motivate our hero, Ray Winstone’s performance is very one-dimensional. His sidekick, however, Taskmaster, is a very intimidating presence who’s great to watch. It’s overall not top-tier Marvel material, but still a satisfying standalone film that utilizes its tone, action set pieces, and cast well, and worth the theatrical experience, as always, stay seated for the credits and enjoy and intriguing post-credits scene.

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F9

Dominic Toretto is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but a new threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past to save those he loves most. His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Dom’s forsaken brother, Jakob.

F9 will fulfill the fans and audience’s expectations of adrenaline-pumping, large-scale action the franchise delivers. But is it enough this time around? The answer is — the movie is best when focused on the action set pieces and excitement, but the theatrical experience is strictly needed. And the Fast & Furious saga was built just for that. Justin Lin, who directs for the franchise for the fifth time, understands the massive grandeur necessary to experience the action. He directs expensive, impressive stunts that will get you excited — when you don’t think about how they obey the laws of physics. He also brings back the comedic, irreverent sense these films need which I don’t think Hobbs & Shaw managed to nail without becoming too parodical. The comic relief in this series has always been Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris as Roman and Tej and they give so much to this movie with their humorous banter. However, it’s the villains that bring the fun to a halt. Charlize Theron, who’s normally one of my favorite actors, is terrible once again as Cipher, but at least in the last one she was imposing and raised the stakes — here she does almost nothing. John Cena’s performance also didn’t work for me — and neither did lots of the supporting cast shoehorned in from previous films. The villains’ plans and objectives are also boring and not treated with enough care for the audience to even feel like there is a real possibility of danger. Tej and Roman even comment on the fact that after all they’ve been through in these films, they feel “invincible”. And whenever the movie tries to connect to predecessors and tie up “loose” ends with exposition, it feels incredibly heavy-handed and unfitting, and often just there as fan service, especially a certain character who is brought back. This excessive use of flashbacks feels like a pause in the story rather than world-building as the movie believes it is.

F9 continues the growing expansion of the series which started as films about street racing into what they are now, enormous, expensive superhero movies. Logic has been thrown out the window for a lot of the action sequences in this movie, but Lin treads the line between practicality and splendor to keep the audience there with the nail-biting and excitement he wants to deliver. And as said before, the comedy is very important here and he handles that well too. Whenever the script inevitably takes itself seriously at times, though, with big twists and tiring cliches, it becomes a checklist of a formula that the series keeps repeating. The franchise’s reputation has given fans room to laugh both with and at the story, but that’s only excusable with a series that has evolved so expeditiously without truly alienating any demographic of moviegoers. The first 30 minutes are genuinely great and the action gets the audience going and laughing, and the loud action throughout will get you excited, it’s just the series’ character development that feels like it’s given up on truly reinventing the wheel. After all, the saga is notorious for Vin Diesel’s “family” mottos. Although its mostly what you’d expect from this franchise, perhaps for the Fast Saga, that may as well be enough — especially when the scale keeps aiming higher and in a consistent direction that graps onto what its audiences want from an enormous, irreverent theatrical experience like this.

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Cruella

Cruella dives into the origins of the infamous 101 Dalmatians antagonist. Emma Stone is seriously great as the lead and another reason to praise the actress as well as the seemingly impeccable casting directors at Disney. Her performance is charming, unpredictable, and twisted. Though she is notoriously an insane criminal and dog-killer, she is likable in comparison to the other big Emma of the film. Emma Thompson plays a ruthless, egomaniacal fashion designer whose absolutely repulsive without a single redeeming quality. Her repugnance reminded me of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, another evil, sadistic, fashion designer. Thompson portrays this narcissism and wickedness well, and the movie does a mostly good job, aside from a few lines, keeping her out of cartoonish territory. The relationship between the Emmas onscreen is easily a gripping anchor for the film’s story. Two other standouts are Cruella’s loyal surrogate brothers and sidekicks, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. My favorite was especially Hauser, who is much more comedic (and British) than his other popular turns in films like I, Tonya, Richard Jewell and Da 5 Bloods, and nails every moment he’s on screen. As a fan of his, I was especially glad to see him be in a film with a wide audience like a Disney film.

Cruella‘s script manages to, for most of the runtime, distance itself from the famous story it’s inspired by, despite a few nods and a shoehorned post-credits scene thrown in for the Disney hardcore fans. It feels very much like a Craig Gillespie movie — like his previous film I, Tonya, it’s a fast-paced chronicle of a morally ambiguous woman’s journey into such obscurity. However, it’s the hyper-stylistic approach that’s most detrimental to the film. The soundtrack is a nonstop barrage of rock music with no room for silence or drama, with one popular rock song after the other, and the music choices being frankly on the nose and unoriginal (seriously, why do so many films use “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones?). Had the style kept some of this energy but toned it down to make scenes feel less fluffy and more dramatic for its villain, the movie would’ve resonated more. With such gorgeous production design and costumes that made me awe (and trust me, I don’t always notice beauty in costume design like I did in this film), as well as solid acting and writing, why didn’t Disney trust its audiences to stay engaged from these elements instead of throwing in popular music every second? There’s also a little too much narration for my taste, and you can tell this took inspiration from Scorsese’s hyper-style he trademarked with Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street — a style at least one big movie a year feels the urge to adapt. The movie’s script is best when it follows the psychotic nature of Cruella and her descent into darkness, which Stone wonderfully portrays and is the most intriguing part of the film. It’s also enjoyable to point out the similarities between Cruella and other popular solo movie villains like Joker and Harley Quinn (who headlined the considerably entertaining Birds of Prey), I only wish this movie embraced what worked so much about those two aforementioned films’ approach to their villains. And that’s not saying they should have gotten rid of the energy and fast pace — which does work once Estella becomes Cruella — just give the darker, more unpredictable moments of Stone’s performance room to breathe rather than be edited like a fun heist sequence from an Ocean’s Eleven movie. There’s also a few iffy moments of CGI, including the dogs and a scene involving water, that made me cringe. Cruella is entertaining, fashionable, and has fun with its concept, but feels boxed in by a soundtrack poorly edited into the film that weakens the impact of certain scenes and connections to the original IP that feel thrown in just to check boxes on a studio checklist. Those who are interested will enjoy it, as it’s certainly a good time that’s carried well by its cast, especially the insanity conveyed by Stone, but I feel like there was potential for a stronger film in the editing room.

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The Oscars (93rd Academy Awards) Winners

After a crazy year with movies being released in streaming and hybrid formats, the Oscars have finally happened, this time in late April! In case you missed it but want to find out who won, here you go:

Best Picture: Nomadland
Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland
Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Best Actress: Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-jung – Minari
Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Father
Best Animated Feature: Soul
Best Original Score: Soul
Best Original Song: “Fight for You” (from Judas and the Black Messiah)
Best Cinematography: Mank
Best Film Editing: Sound of Metal
Best Production Design: Mank
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Costume Design: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You
Best Visual Effects: Tenet
Best Sound: Sound of Metal
Best Foreign Language Film: Another Round (from Denmark)
Best Documentary Feature: My Octopus Teacher
Best Live-Action Short: Two Distant Strangers

I think for what they were given, the Oscars did a good job creating an interesting show with a more intimate space and less people than the Dolby Theater. There were a lot of great winners and milestones, including Chloe Zhao as the 1st woman of color to win Best Director and the 2nd woman to win the category. My favorite win of the night was Daniel Kaluuya who I’ve been a fan of since Get Out, and blew me away as Chairman Fred Hampton. However, I was susprised by the winners for Best Actor and Actress. The expected winners were Chadwick Boseman and Carey Mulligan who I was rooting for. Boseman delivered a magnificent final performance and not only was it my favorite lead performance, it would’ve been a terrific way to honor his legacy. Mulligan was also brilliant in the provocative and unforgettable Promising Young Woman, and I would’ve awarded her — it also wasn’t so long since Frances won in that category for the fantastic Three Billboards in 2017. McDormand has now won 3 times in that category, but won an additional time this year for producing Nomadland, a unique film experience that won the biggest award of the night! Another Round is an excellent Danish film and the director Thomas Vinterburg’s speech was the most moving of the night. However, I have to give a special shoutout to the award-winning short films — Two Distant Strangers (live-action) and If Anything Happens I Love You (animated) are available on Netflix and tackle grounded issues, but I should warn you that they are guaranteed heartbreaks and both took my breath away with their creativity and messages. My Octopus Teacher is also a wonderful documentary, and this comes from someone who normally isn’t into nature docs but this one really moved me, find it on Netflix too. Many of these terrific films that won are available on streaming services including Netflix, Amazon, HBOMax and Hulu, and I beg you not to sleep on them. Seeing new entertainment releases helped me get through this unusual time without theaters — which we’ll hopefully see the return of soon!

Academy Reveals Poster Art for 93rd Oscars - Awardsdaily - The Oscars, the  Films and everything in between.

The 78th Golden Globe Awards

Last night, the Golden Globes honored a hectic year of movies and television. Here are the winners in the film categories:

Best Picture – Drama: Nomadland

Best Picture – Musical or Comedy: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Best Actor – Drama: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actress – Drama: Andra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Best Actor – Musical or Comedy: Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Actress – Musical or Comedy: Rosamund Pike – I Care a Lot

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Foster – The Mauritanian

Best Screenplay: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Original Score: Soul

Best Original Song: “Io Si (Seen)” from The Life Ahead

Best Animated Feature: Soul

Best Foreign Language Film: Minari (USA)

I was mostly satisfied by the winners, even though the presentation was far from perfect with the hybrid in-person/virtual format. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did their best but clearly they thrive best with a full audience and even though they tried to stick it to the HFPA’s controversies, Ricky Gervais did a much better job last year. The nominees were also far from perfect — Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods was completely shut out. Minari won Best Foreign Language Film because it is mostly in Korean, but sparked controversy because it was produced in America, so why not let it qualify for Best Drama? In my opinion, cinema is cinema and the boundary of subtitles is simply an addition to watching a film when it’s in a different language, not an obstacle. Sia’s directioral debut Music was nominated despite apparently having an offensive representation of autism, and Hamilton, while culturally resonant, was a filmed musical, not really a movie. So in that weak comedy category, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was the only decent one in my opinion (but still not excellent), while Emma, On the Rocks, and The King of Staten Island would’ve made for great nominees over Hamilton, Music, and The Prom. There was also the controversy coming up of the lack of black members in the HFPA. While this was addressed and needs to continue to be addressed, a large number of black artists did also win awards during the ceremony, including the incredible Daniel Kaluuya who took my breath away as Fred Hampton. Another deserving win was the late Chadwick Boseman, who delivered one of the best performances of the year and his wife paid touching tribute to the legend as he won posthumously. Chloe Zhao became the first woman of color to win Best Director for her unique work in Nomadland, and there was a record number of female director nominees, including Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman and Regina King for One Night in Miami — all three were deserving of a nomination to me. However, the one win I disagree with was Andra Day — she was amazing in her debut role, but having seen all 5 of the films in her category, I think all 4 of the other performances were superior. Carey Mulligan and Vanessa Kirby were groundbreaking in their respective films, and I wish one of them had won. Jane Fonda also won a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in films, TV, and activism throughout the decades.

2021 Golden Globe Nominations: See the Full List | Entertainment Tonight