2022 TV & Movie Reviews: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever / The Fabelmans / The Menu / Atlanta / Bones and All / Chucky / Causeway / Resurrection

Lotsa offerings this Thanksgiving weekend.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

The road to catastrophe is paved with the best intentions, and while I don’t think Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is exactly a catastrophe, it certainly struggles as a Marvel movie. It begins with a literal funeral for T’Challa and a metaphorical one for Chadwick Boseman. These scenes are done well, with Ryan Coogler demonstrating why he’s one of Marvel’s most precious assets. Coogler along with costume designer Ruth Carter and composer Ludwig Göransson make it look and sound great, but as the movie progresses we got bogged down in this colonialism cautionary tale that seems like it would be a much better fit for a serious movie about colonialism. Marvel isn’t great at drama, when you’re shooting people on a green screen in separate countries, who are supposed to be sharing a moment with each other it doesn’t turn out quite like a two-shot. Despite some reliably great acting from Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and most of all, Dania Guirra, all of the character interactions not involving remembering T’Challa seem pretty rote and on-the-nose. There’s also a shockingly underwritten subplot with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Martin Freeman. I was half expecting Dreyfuss to spike the camera and say “So we just improv?” The main villain is also not as compelling or developed as Michael B. Jordan‘s Killmonger, and has these goofy tinkerbell flying anklets, like seriously, you have to see this, it looks like something out of Peter Pan. He seems like less of a character and more of amalgamation of a people, the whole thing is extremely allegorical but not in a neat way. There are many hanging threads on this, it’s really sloppily thrown together and the CGI looks awful at times, especially under water. Having just seen the undeniable underwater CGI of Avatar 2 during the previews, it’s even more disappointing. Added to this, the movie falls apart in its second half concluding with one of the most underwhelming finale fights I’ve seen in a Marvel movie. Overall, it seems like Coogler really was struggling on where to take this series after the unexpected departure of its lead. I totally understand that and I applaud him trying to take it in a new direction, I just think it needed more figuring out. There are some entertaining sequences here and there, some solid performances and impressive costumes, but Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a bit of a dud. Grade: C+ (In Theaters)

The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg is the single most influential filmmaker to ever live, maybe not the best but over the course of a 50+ year career he’s invented the summer blockbuster (Jaws), created one of most prominent adventure franchises (Indiana Jones), educated the masses on the dangers of fascism (Schindler’s List) since most non-film people probably didn’t see Shoah, made a string of cerebral and sometimes heartwarming science-fiction movies (A.I., Minority Report, Close Encounters, E.T.) and even started a production company with Tom Hanks (DreamWorks). If anyone has earned the right to be a little precious and self-involved to make a movie about themselves and their love of movies, it’s that dude. The Fabelmans is an extremely autobiographical tale of a young aspiring filmmaker in Phoenix, Arizona, Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), whose faith in his craft is tested by his parents’ marital problems and anti-semitic bullies at school. The movie is really good at showing how Spielberg‘s two biggest filmmaking talents of being wholly empathetic and a technical wizard were shaped equally by his parents – the artistic nature of his mother, Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and the scientific nature of his father, Burt (Paul Dano). It might err on the side of sweet more than most movies, but it never comes across as inauthentic or dishonest. It somehow manages to be heart-wrenching without being cynical, and that’s a pretty tough tonal feat. This is a movie about family dynamics but more so about the relationship between Spielberg and his mother – both beautifully played by newcomer Gabriel LaBelle and an absolutely incredible Michelle Williams. The scenes they share together are the strongest of the film along with Sammy figuring out how to make movies with limited resources and budget. The rest of the cast is great – Paul Dano is superb per usual, Seth Rogen basically plays Seth Rogen more or less which totally works in the context of the movie, and Judd Hirsch shows up for a glorious five minutes as an eccentric uncle. A great cast, fantastic cinematography by Spielberg veteran Janusz Kamiński and one of John Williams best scores (and that’s saying a lot) make this easily a Top 10 Spielberg for movie. I cried three times. Grade: A- (In Theaters)

The Menu

Disappointing to anybody who saw the trailer in that it reveals far too many plot twists, The Menu is a relatively benign eat-the-rich satirical thriller that squanders a truly interesting premise with easy jokes and annoyingly on-the-nose social commentary. Added to that it’s predictable at almost every turn and the characters are so one-dimensional you couldn’t care less about them. It must sound like I really hated this, but I actually didn’t. It’s not a bad way to kill an hour and forty-five minutes and the quality of the performers inhabiting these under developed roles is top notch all around. Anya Taylor-Joy is totally fine as the protagonist/only not awful person while Ralph Fiennes is clearly having a blast playing a super pretentious control freak. John Leguizamo is fun as a butthead actor, Ozark‘s Janet McTeer is strategically cast as a disgusting shallow restaurant critic, Succession‘s Rob Yang is perfectly deadpan as a bullshit tech guy and Watchmen‘s Hong Chau is really funny as Fiennes‘ teacher’s pet sous chef. The performance of the movie for me, and mostly because his character had the most interesting arc/payoff, is Nicholas Hoult as Joy‘s cowardly food snob/gourmet fan boy date. There’s some fun visual gags and some good character moments here and there, but the whole thing is bogged down by its refusal to paint the characters as anything other than pretentious rich people stereotypes. The best eat-the-rich narratives humanize these people while never downplaying their awfulness, that’s why everyone loves Succession, The White Lotus, etc. By keeping them as shallow as a meme, we’re unable to care about them and by proxy, the entire film. The one character we should care about, played by Joy, is so shrouded in mystery yet so plucky and resourceful at every turn that never get to see her vulnerability. Besides satirizes the rich, it also satirizes what much of fine dining has become – chefs more interested in engaging their customers intellectually through bullshit concepts instead of you know, making tasty food people want to eat. Several recent films, namely Pig and Boiling Point, did this much better. It’s ironic that Mark Mylod‘s The Menu ends up being as hollow and up it’s own ass as Ralph Fiennes‘ menu within the film. Wait for HBO. Grade: C+ (In Theaters)

Atlanta (Season Four)

After six years and four seasons of delivering some of the smartest satire television has ever seen, Donald Glover‘s Atlanta limps to a close in its disappointing final episode about sensory deprivation tanks and black-owned sushi restaurants. A character we’ve barely seen this season or last, Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) begins tripping in sensory deprivation tanks and blurring the lines between fiction and reality. It’s only mildly amusing with annoyingly predictable payoffs while the subplot involving Earn (Glover), Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) and Van (Zazie Beetz) at a sushi place that puts corn in the rice doesn’t say anything the show hasn’t said a million times better in similar episodes. This is a shame because more than half of Season 4’s episodes are really good, with four of them being all-time greats – “The Homeliest Little Horse” which shows the insane lengths of Earn’s pettiness, “Light Skinned-ed” which explores Earn and Alfred’s dysfunctional but relatable family, “Andrew Wyeth. Alfred’s World” which is basically Brian Tyree Henry doing Liam Neeson in The Grey, and most notably, “The Goof Who Sat By Door” a funny, bizarre and poignant mockumentary about the blackest film ever made – A Goofy Movie. The series leads got more air time this season than last, but only Henry and Zazie Beetz really knocked it out of the park. For as good as it was and as great as it was compared to most any other comedy running at the same time, Season 4 of Atlanta stands as it’s weakest. Grade: B+ (Hulu)

Bones and All

Italian director Luca Guadagnino has made an interesting career pivot after the Oscar-nominated coming of age drama Call Me By Your Name. Having started out making sexy, character-based dramas mostly set in Italy, he surprised a lot of people four years ago with his nosedive into horror with his remake of the 1977 Dario Argento classic, Suspiria. Guadagnino kept the basic plot points but hollowed out the center to make his own filling – a civil war between witches who run a dance Academy that mirrored the civil war of a 1980s Berlin literally split in two (by a wall, the Berlin wall actually, if you didn’t already know.) It was one of the best remakes I’ve ever seen, horror or otherwise, because it did something completely different with the material. With his latest, Bones and All he’s made an original cannibal road trip horror film that seems to be the weird love child of Kathryn Bigelow‘s Near Dark and Wim WendersParis Texas about young doomed eaters in love. The biggest issue I had with this was probably with screenplay by Dave Kajganich. It is severely lacking connective tissue between some truly fantastic scenes. There’s like six or seven incredible scenes in this movie but getting to them seems kind of like a chore. Kind of like a road trip in itself. It’s definitely twenty minutes too long and it’s also unclear what the message of the movie is – is it about the endless cycle of violence/abuse or is it just about young sexy people with blood all over their faces who are in love? The technical aspects of the movie are sublime, Bones and All is beautifully shot and features a subtle and effective score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The acting is solid for the most part with Timothee Chalamet proving yet again he’s one of the best and most charismatic performers of his generation. His co-lead, Taylor Russell, didn’t quite do it for me. A lot of the emotional weight of the movie is on her shoulders to deliver through her performance, and I never felt connected to her character. I think her part needed an actor who could communicate better without dialogue. A lot of the time I was struggling to understand how her character was receiving and contextualizing the madness around her. There’s a strong string of one-scene performances in this from Chloe Sevigny to Andre Holland to Michael Stuhlbarg and David Gordon Green as a couple of revolting backwoods cannibals who believe they’re doing a righteous thing by eating people. The best performance and really the best part of the movie is from Mark Rylance, gloriously big and downright terrifying performance as a lonely old cannibal trying to forge a connection with our lead. While this doesn’t hold up to the gold standard Guadagnino set for himself with Suspiria, it illustrates that he can always add something new and exciting to the genre. Grade: B (In Theaters)

Chucky (Season Two)

CHUCKY — “An Affair to Dismember” Episode 108 — Pictured in this screengrab: Chucky — (Photo by: SYFY/USA Network)

Chucky is the wildest, most consistently inventive horror series on television that barely anyone is watching. The first season of Chucky managed to do some really different things, but season two ups the ante. It’s so cheesy, meta and over-the-top, but it aligns with the outrageousness of its plot. It’s basically about a doll possessed by a serial killer who has managed to fracture his consciousness into hundreds of other dolls, creating a killer doll army partly run by Liar Liar and Bride of Chucky star Jennifer Tilly, playing a serial killer who has possessed the body of Jennifer Tilly. This is decidedly not for everyone but anyone wondering just how far you could take the killer doll concept, look no further. Added to this Chucky features a very talented cast of teen actors, more three-dimensional gay characters than almost anything on tv right now and an explosively entertaining performance by an unhinged Jennifer Tilly. However, as crazy as season two got it never reached the narrative heights of the first season, which spent more time focused on the personal dynamics between the main kids versus insane world building. For all of its faults and underdeveloped new characters this season, Chucky is one of the most unique and enjoyable shows on television, a great example of camp done right. Grade: B+ (SyFy + Peacock)

Causeway

The havarti cheese of low-key dramas in that it’s exceptionally bland and only memorable because of the two performances at its center. Jennifer Lawrence plays an Afghanistan veteran who after “being exploded by an IED” (her words, not mine), returns to her hometown to undergo physical therapy. Awkwardly trying to reconnect with the world, she befriends a mechanic missing a leg (Brian Tyree Henry) who is dealing with his own demons. Over the course of a mercifully short 90 minutes, she tries to patch up her relationship with her alcoholic mom and deaf drug dealer brother (gee, you think she has enough issues?) and also tries to start a new friendship. The scenes with J-Law and fam are overwrought and overwritten, but whenever she shares the screen with Brian Tyree Henry their performances get past a lot of the movie-of-the-week schmaltz. It’s been a hot minute since Lawrence has been this good and Henry matches her note for note. It’s worth seeing for the pool scene alone. Great, I spoiled it. Now you know there’s a scene in a pool! Grade: B- (AppleTV+)

Resurrection

The best horror movie I’ve seen this year outside of Barbarian, Resurrection is an extremely confident second feature by writer/director Andrew Semans. It knows exactly what it is and executes on the terms it sets for itself perfectly, a rarity for such a green filmmaker. Rebecca Hall, in her best performance yet, plays a victim of abuse fleeing her absolutely disgusting and eerily soft-spoken ex fantastically played by Tim Roth. He finds her and her teenage daughter in a new city and begins a horrifying psychological game with her. The most unique thing about Resurrection is the way it delivers its deepest scares with mere dialogue between these two actors. Sure, there are some terrifying and gruesome horror movie images, but the focus is always on their interplay. Like most really good horror films, it somewhat falls apart at the end but at least remains ambiguous enough to be interesting. It’s exceptionally disturbing and certainly not for everyone, but it’s a really smart addition to the “elevated” horror canon. Grade: B+ (Shudder)

ALSO STREAMING OR IN THEATERS

FILM

AftersunIn Theaters

The Banshees of InershinIn Theaters

Decision to LeaveIn Theaters

TÁRIn Theaters

Armageddon TimeIn Theaters

Everything Everywhere All at OnceShowtime

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Roku

NopePeacock

Halloween EndsPeacock

Licorice PizzaAmazon Prime & Paramount+

BarbarianHBOMax

Top Gun: Maverick $5.99 rental on Amazon

MoonfallHBOMax

Nightmare AlleyHBOMax & Hulu

OldHBOMax

The Eyes of Tammy Faye HBOMax

The Batman HBOMax

Last Night in SohoHBOMax

BlondeNetflix

Don’t Look UpNetflix

The Lost Daughter Netflix

Army of the DeadNetflix

The Power of the Dog Netflix

Texas Chainsaw MassacreNetflix

TV

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Lize Johnston as Keziah in episode ÒDreams in the Witch HouseÓ of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Cr. Ken Woroner/Netflix © 2022

Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of CuriositiesNetflix

The Midnight ClubNetflix

28 Days HauntedNetflix

Reservation DogsHulu

The ResortPeacock

Harley QuinnHBOMax

The RehearsalHBOMax

Only Murders in the BuildingHulu

I Just Killed My DadNetflix

Black BirdAppleTV+

SeveranceAppleTV+

Pachinko AppleTV+

The Righteous GemstonesHBOMax

YellowjacketsShowtime

We Own This CityHBOMax

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