Author Archives: David Dunn

Every Oscar Everywhere All At Once

I think the Oscars have conditioned me for disappointment. Every year, I tune in eagerly to the nominations announcement waiting to see who is in the running, only to face one baffling snub after another. Knives Out missing out on a Best Picture nomination in 2020. Da 5 Bloods getting skipped over in nearly every category in 2021. Denis Villeneuve being snubbed a very much-earned Best Director nomination for Dune just last year. Every year, I wait and wait and wait for the Oscars to get it right, only to be met with confusion, frustration, and mind-boggling disappointment every single time.

For the first time in five years, that disappointment never came. In fact, this was probably one of the best Oscar nominations I’ve seen in quite some time.

Now don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of snubs from this year’s nominees. Robert Eggers’ The Northman was overlooked in all of the categories, as well as Adam Sandler’s heart-pounding basketball drama Hustle. Perhaps most bafflingly, Jordan Peele’s eerie sci-fi horror film Nope got a resounding zero nominations. Seriously? Not even one for cinematography? Film editing? Production design? Visual effects? Even sound?

So yeah, snubs are still aplenty, but for the most part, the Academy got it right this year. Now there’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d type.

At 11 nominations total, Daniels’ genre-bending masterpiece Everything Everywhere All At Once is this year’s biggest contender with four acting nominations, a Best Director nomination, and a Best Picture nomination. The film deserves every single nomination it has received and then some, with the only categories it was notably absent in including makeup and visual effects. Still, even with those snubs, it practically swept all of the major categories and has solidified itself as a for-sure contender on Oscar night.

At nine nominations apiece, the next biggest Best Picture contenders include the German anti-war film All Quiet On The Western Front and the Irish tragicomedy The Banshees Of Inisherin. The surprising thing here isn’t the fact that both are so closely tied to Everything Everywhere All At Once. The surprising thing here is that All Quiet On The Western Front is nominated as many times as it is. Originally thought to be a front-runner in the International Film category, it’s now considered a leading contender in the Best Picture category as well, especially with additional cinematography, visual effects, and adapted screenplay nominations.

Following closely behind those two films, however, is Baz Luhrmann’s bedazzling musical biopic Elvis. Austin Butler was obviously a shoo-in in the acting category, and it’s probably the film’s best chance to win an Oscar as well. But I wouldn’t call it a done deal. After all, Austin still has to contend with Brendan Fraser in The Whale, and I question if there’s any performance that could potentially overtake his. Although bafflingly, The Whale did not receive a Best Picture nomination despite also securing makeup and Best Supporting Actress noms for Hong Chau.

From there, the Steven Spielberg biopic The Fabelmans secured seven nominations, including Best Picture. Spielberg obviously got nominated multiple times up and down the ballot, from director all the way to original screenplay. Yet, the biggest surprise to me was Judd Hirsch’s inclusion under the supporting actor category for Sammy’s excitable circus Uncle Boris. His scene was one of my favorites from the whole film, and he did a really brilliant job showing how art can make us feel whole while simultaneously ripping us in two. He was easily one of the film’s most standout actors and created a big impact despite his small screen time. I’m really glad he was nominated, even though his chances to win are extremely slim.

Following The Fabelmans with six nominations apiece are the tragic psychological drama Tar and the heart-racing action sequel Top Gun: Maverick. These are two very different films finding success on two very different sides of the ballot, with Top Gun: Maverick sweeping in most of the technical categories while Tar secured screenplay, actress, and directing noms. The interesting thing is seeing what they aren’t nominated for. Tar was noticeably overlooked in the music and production design categories, while Top Gun: Maverick was wrongfully snubbed under cinematography (actually, the entire cinematography category has gone down the crapper. But there will be time to talk more about that later).

After that, Avatar: The Way Of Water fits in comfortably as the eighth Best Picture nominee, securing additional nominations under the sound, production design, and visual effects categories. While it is a technical and emotional powerhouse of a film, I don’t really expect it to be a major contender in most categories with the notable exception of visual effects, which is fine. After all, the first movie won three Academy Awards and even earned James Cameron another Best Director nomination. If The Way Of Water even comes close to the first film, it will have been a success. Besides, at over $2 billion, it’s the highest-grossing movie of 2022. It’s not like it needs the extra hardware.

Behind Avatar: The Way Of Water is the Swedish satire Triangle Of Sadness, which has secured screenplay and direction nominations aside from Best Picture. Besides that, I gotta be honest: I’ve never heard of the movie. The only thing I know about this film is that its poster features an older woman throwing up gold. Aside from that, I’ve got nothing. Needless to say that there will be few people rooting for it on Oscar night.

And finally, the last Best Picture nominee is Women Talking, a monumental little film about a group of women who band together to defend themselves from vicious attacks in their colony. What’s perplexing about this film isn’t the fact that it’s nominated for Best Picture: that much is to be expected for a film of this subject matter. What’s perplexing is that it only secured one other nomination in the adapted screenplay category. How many times do we have to go over this, Academy? A film cannot be considered Best Picture-worthy for one element alone. Selma wasn’t Best Picture-worthy just because of the song “Glory,” and The Post wasn’t Best Picture-worthy just because of Meryl Streep. Neither can Woman Talking stand on its own just for its screenplay. Seriously, would have killed you to give the movie a supporting actress nomination? Production design? Costumes?

I could pick apart other grievances I have with the nominees this year, like how The Batman astoundingly missed a Best Original Score nomination, while The Woman King was overlooked in every category Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was nominated in despite being superior in nearly every way. But for the most part, I’m surprisingly pleased with the nominees we have this year. For once, Academy Award voters prioritized the films that deserved the most recognition and lifted up the artists that we might have missed last year. Let’s hope they keep that momentum going into the Oscars ceremony on March 12.

– David Dunn

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Top 10 Films Of 2022

Man, what a year 2022 has been. So much happened in my life in such a short timeframe that it doesn’t feel like it’s been just one year, but several. This year, I not only got engaged and married within the span of just seven months — I also put many miles on my soul from Colorado all the way to Cancun, got to party with my best friends during my Bachelor party in Oklahoma City, started my own Twitch channel, and moved into a new apartment with my wife — twice. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again —2022 was probably the busiest year of my life, but it was simultaneously also the most joyous. My wife and I will no doubt look back on this year fondly as we reflect on the precious memories we made together, all while taking a much-deserved break.

But incredibly, my major life milestones weren’t the only positive things to come out of 2022. To my surprise, the movie theaters also yielded the best lineup of films we’ve seen in quite some time. Normally when we have a really great year in movies, it’s pretty common for the next year or two to be slightly subpar or underwhelming by comparison. After all, when 2019 graced us with the likes of 1917, Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, Knives Out, and Avengers: Endgame all in the same year, are we really surprised that 2020 bombed out as royally as it did? Granted, the pandemic didn’t make things any better, but when Nomadland and Mank are considered your best films of the year, you have a serious problem.

With 2021 being such a great comeback for the movies, I mistakenly thought that 2022 would drop the ball a little bit and yield a weaker slate of cinematic releases. Not so. If anything, it upped the ante as it released several great movies that we can return to admire time and time again. Last year was famously the first time I released my Top 21 Movies of 2021, and this year, I could have easily done a Top 22 list if I so chose. I didn’t because, frankly, that Top 21 list wiped me out more than the Snyder Cut did, and I don’t think readers would be interested enough to stick around for an exasperating Top 22 list anyway.

In either case, these are my 10 favorite films of 2022, and there are a few things to go over before we hop into everything. As per usual, I have not seen every film made this year despite my best efforts to do so. You will not find Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees Of Inisherin on this list because it received such a limited release that I completely missed its run in theaters, and you will also not find Damien Chazelle’s Babylon on this list either since it was released so late into the year. Most upsetting is the fact that The Whale will not be considered for this list because for some reason, Darren Aronofsky decided that a tragedy about an obese gay man trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter was the perfect movie for the family to watch this holiday season. How many times do I need to reiterate this to filmmakers out there — STOP. RELEASING. MOVIES. IN DECEMBER. Unless it’s another Star Wars, Marvel, or Avatar movie, we aren’t watching it. Most of us are too busy Christmas shopping, or in my case, getting married.

Second, since this list is limited just to 10 movies, there are way more movies that aren’t going to be on this list than those that are. Among my favorites this year that didn’t make the cut include The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent, Nope, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Prey, All Quiet On The Western Front, Glass Onion, and The Fabelmans. All of these are phenomenal movies that deserve to be on any Top 10 list. It just so happened that I saw 10 other movies that I liked more than these movies. Most devastatingly, I even had to bump Sonic The Hedgehog 2 off of my list. Believe me, that was the biggest gut punch of all of my favorites.

Speaking of my favorites, let’s start this list off with this year’s special prize. Back in pre-COVID times, I recognized one limited-release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, yet achieved more emotionally despite its smaller viewership. “Smaller” is definitely the keyword here, especially since this year’s special prize winner is…

Special Prize: Marcel The Shell With Shoes On

What’s there to say about this precious little gem that squeaked past everyone’s attention this year, much like its titular star? Based on a series of animated shorts co-created by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp in his feature-length debut, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On follows a sentient shell living life in an abandoned Airbnb home with his Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini). Funny, poignant, quirky, and heartfelt, this lighthearted little film beautifully illustrates how we are all a small part of a constantly expanding and greater world. But just like Marcel, our size isn’t what matters — it’s the friends we meet, the experiences we create, the adventures we have, and the memories we share that make life worth living. Marcel The Shell With Shoes On proves that just because you aren’t that big doesn’t mean that you leave a small impact. Marcel is just the miniature-sized hero everyone needed this year, and you’ll quickly learn to fall in love with him (and his shoes) over and over again.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s hop into the 10 best movies I’ve seen in 2022, starting with…

10. The Batman

Warner Bros.

In an age where Batman has been done and redone over and over again (this is the fifth big-screen iteration we’ve seen in 10 years), Matt Reeves’ The Batman manages to feel wholly unique, original, and captivating — as dark and ethereal as David Fincher and as daring and dramatic as Alfred Hitchcock. While his Bruce Wayne isn’t as refined as Christian Bale or Ben Affleck, Robert Pattinson’s Batman is the greatest we’ve ever gotten on screen, beautifully illustrating a tortured man haunted by his grief and trauma. Paul Dano plays an excellent foil to Pattinson’s Batman as the Riddler, a Zodiac-esque serial killer who sees himself as the only cure to the corruption poisoning Gotham City. Never before has Batman felt so grounded in a film. Yes, that even includes Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Three and a half stars.

9. The Woman King

A glorious, riveting, and heart-pounding historical epic that makes you feel the power behind the Dahomey Amazons. Gina Prince-Bythewood returns to direct her first feature-length production in eight years since 2014’s Beyond The Lights, and if The Woman King succeeded in anything, it showed us why she should be hired to direct more blockbusters. Great scripting, amazing cinematography, a moving score by Terence Blanchard, brilliant fight choreography, and some of the best performances of the year are all featured in this sprawling narrative about the evils of slavery and colonialism. Viola Davis, as always, is a dramatic powerhouse in every scene she’s in. The Woman King may not be the most historically accurate blockbuster out there, but it is definitively the most compelling and empowering. Three and a half stars.

8. Elvis

A snazzy and stylish tribute to the King of Rock and Roll and the best biopic of the year. Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby) brings his traditional flair and pizzazz to Elvis’ iconic story, with the elaborate sets, lightning-quick cutaways, and eye-popping costumes matching the high energy of the King’s larger-than-life shows. But the real scene-stealer here is Austin Butler. He delivers a passionate, mesmerizing, and unquestionably authentic performance as Elvis Presley that you never doubt for a second. Much like Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln or David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., Butler channels Elvis perfectly to the point where you can’t even tell whose voice you’re hearing when he sings. An engrossing and absorbing historical drama that you can’t help falling in love with over and over again. Three and a half stars.

7. Turning Red

A vibrant, colorful, and eye-popping animated gem that makes you want to get up and let out your inner red panda in a loud and triumphant roar. Directed by Academy Award-winning animator Domee Shi, this fantasy family film tells the story of a 13-year-old girl named Mei, whose family is cursed with turning into red pandas when they feel intense emotions. Turning Red exemplifies the best of Pixar storytelling: equally emotional and heartfelt as it is funny and entertaining. The animation adopts an anime art style that works perfectly for the story it’s trying to tell, and the characters are just as infectious and lovable. Turning Red isn’t just a fun time at the movies: it’s a moving and monumental coming-of-age story that inspires growth, challenges your perspective, and transforms you into something bigger and better: just like its furry red heroine. Four stars.

Netflix

6. Hustle

A compelling and captivating underdog story neatly wrapped into a heartfelt tribute to the sport of basketball. Adam Sandler is following up from his flawless Uncut Gems role to deliver yet another phenomenal dramatic performance as Stanley Sugerman, a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who dreams of becoming a coach. Real-life Toronto Raptors player Juancho Hernangomez portrays up-and-comer Bo Cruz, and his chemistry with Sandler is so great that his acting ability is never brought into question. This is Rocky for basketball if the perspective was shifted to Mickey, and you’re invested every bit as you watch these two nobodies hustle for something bigger than themselves. A genuinely great basketball drama where Sandler’s deep love of the sport can be felt in every dribble, every pass, and every slam dunk. Four stars.

Paramount Pictures

5. Top Gun: Maverick

A wildly exciting, action-packed and fast-paced dogfighting drama that puts you up in the air with the rest of its adrenaline-addicted pilots and asks you to buckle up for the ride. Taking place 36 years (yowza!) after the original movie came out, Tom Cruise suits up once again as the hot-headed fighter pilot Maverick in a new aerial adventure with Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller). Top Gun: Maverick proudly displays the moviemaking magic that is sorely missing in today’s blockbusters. The aerial dogfights are out of this world and make you feel the G-forces with every maneuver. The stakes are established very well and the tension gradually builds up into the climax with heart-racing execution. And Tom Cruise and Miles Teller are at their very best, with their chemistry embodying the heart and soul of this movie. A masterclass in blockbuster moviemaking that achieved the impossible. Four stars.

4. The Northman

A raw, visceral, and violent revenge tale that explores just how deep mankind’s depravities truly go. Based on the Scandinavian legend, The Northman tells the story of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard), a Viking warrior who swears to kill his uncle after he decapitates his father and kidnaps his mother. This blood-soaked fable has some of the most brutal and unflinching action scenes out of the whole year, with many of the battle scenes matching the scope and scale of historical epics like Braveheart or Gladiator. Director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) builds a brilliantly dark and ethereal world whose lore feels much bigger than what we see here. And the performances are simply breathtaking, with Skarsgard and Anya Taylor-Joy delivering some of the film’s most tragic and heart-piercing moments. A bold, monumental, and powerful Nordic legend that feels destined to be echoed throughout time. Four stars.

3. Pinocchio

Netflix

Far from the gaudy and horrific remake that Disney+ released earlier this year, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio takes a more mature, true-to-life approach on the beloved fairy tale to bring us a mesmerizing stop-motion masterpiece that is as ingenious and creative as it is heartfelt and emotional. After his son Carlo dies as a casualty of war, woodcarver Gepetto (David Bradley) creates a wooden puppet in an effort to revive him. But when the spirit of the woods (Tilda Swinton) resonates with Gepetto’s grief, she brings the puppet to life and names him Pinocchio (Gregory Mann). This is a remake that breathes new life into the Pinocchio mythos, pulling from history and real life in a way that feels original while staying true to the source material. The stop-motion animation is also the most beautiful and eye-catching out of the whole year, with Del Toro reportedly shooting over 160,000 frames to make the animation feel seamless and alive. A genuinely beautiful and captivating retelling of this classic story that will make you see Pinocchio in a whole new light. Four stars.

2. Avatar: The Way Of Water

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A gorgeous, stunning, and visually spectacular sequel that expands the Avatar lore in new ways that makes it feel much bigger and grander than ever before. After the Na’vi successfully pushed back the human invasion 10 years ago, the Sky People have returned to retake Pandora — and this time, they have their sights on the Toruk Makto, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington). This is a sequel that builds on the legacy of Avatar while not feeling repetitive or redundant from the first movie. The new cast of characters are as lovable as the old ones are, with Sigourney Weaver’s Kiri feeling the most majestic and awe-inspiring out of all of them. The movie’s themes of environmentalism and industrialism are as relevant as ever, with a few heart-wrenching scenes adding to the emotional weight of this story. And the visual design is simply breathtaking, with the underwater sequences revealing a whole new world living and breathing beneath the surface of Pandora. Before going in to see this movie, I was hesitant to say Avatar even needed a sequel. Now, I can’t wait for the third, fourth, and even fifth installment of this constantly expanding franchise. Four stars.

And finally, my favorite film of 2022. Talk about a sleeper hit. When I originally saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it was one of the weirdest trailers I ever saw and immediately wrote it off. When I finally gave it a chance and watched it, it was one of the greatest experiences I ever had in the movie theater and made me feel a wealth of emotions all at once. This movie is spellbinding. This movie is transcendental. This movie is…

1. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Never before have I seen a movie so chaotic, so random, so haywire, bonkers, bizarre, and utterly insane, and yet work as brilliantly as it does. Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn, a laundromat owner who is dissatisfied with life and her silly, hopelessly optimistic husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and her rebellious daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). But when a menacing force called the Jobu Tupaki seeks to destroy the multiverse as we know it, Evelyn needs to connect with alternate versions of herself to build the skills she needs to defeat Jobu Tupaki and save the multiverse. This is a film that sounds complex and confusing, but at its heart, tells a simple story about family, fulfillment, and finding happiness no matter where you are in the universe. Michelle Yeoh does a brilliant job as its central character, but really, the whole cast is superb in playing all of their alternate selves, especially Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, who at times feel like different characters entirely. The whole film is a brilliant fusion of genres ranging from action and martial arts to horror and sci-fi. Yet what amazes me is not the mixture of tones, but rather how flawlessly and seamlessly it all blends together in a cinematic collage of genres. A brilliant deconstruction of nihilism that teaches us that the most important thing you can do in the multiverse is love, be compassionate, and be kind. Four stars.

Thank you all for joining me for yet another Top 10 list and yet another great year at the movies. Whatever 2023 brings, I look forward to experiencing it with all of you and hope you have just as amazing a year as I did. I love you all, and I’ll see you at the movies.

– David Dunn

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Dear Mrs. Dunn,

Life feels like it’s been moving fast-forward for us both recently. Just a month ago, we were standing at the altar reciting our vows to each other through our paced breaths and racing heartbeats. A week after that, we went on our first trip out of the country to our honeymoon in Cancun, where we swam in the crystal-clear blue oceans, played with dolphins, and drank more tequila than either of us had any business consuming. A week after that, we went head-first into our first holiday season as a married couple, juggling time between both of our families’ houses. Even now after we have winded down from all of the presents and egg nog, we head into 2023 as different people from who we were earlier this year. If life was moving any faster for us, we’d be parents before Valentine’s even came around.

So much has happened so quickly in the past few months that I don’t want to lose these feelings of joy and happiness, or lose sight of why I fell in love with you in the first place. That’s why before the new year comes around and we once again get wrapped up in the busyness of our everyday lives, I wanted to take a moment to pause, breathe, and simply express everything I’ve felt about you for a while now. No cameras, no calendars, no wedding plans — just you and me.

Our paths crossed through the most generic, millennial way possible — through Bumble. I remember the state of mind I was in before I came across your face. It was Nov. 7, 2020, and after a ridiculous, abysmal year filled with COVID-19, social isolation, economic disaster, police brutality, ongoing social division, and one of the most vitriolic and toxic election cycles in recent memory, I was left feeling depressed, lonely, and angry at the state of the world and how far we have fallen as a country. Mind you, this was also the one-year anniversary of breaking up with my then-girlfriend of two years, totaling my car, and saying goodbye to my grandmother before she passed away.

By all accounts, I was not in a good state of mind — quite possibly the worst I was ever in.

In truth, I don’t even remember much of why I downloaded Bumble in the first place. I think I needed a distraction more than anything else, and swiping left and right gave me something to do other than doomscrolling through Twitter or playing “Spider-Man” for like the 80th time. But then I came across your profile, and I saw your bright, beautiful eyes, your warm, inviting smile, and your red hair that burned as brightly as the sun. You were simply stunning, but I saw something else in you even deeper than that. You radiated like no light I had ever seen before.

I didn’t find out until our first coffee date that light didn’t come from an Instagram filter: it came from you. You were exactly everything I had hoped you were: bright, beautiful, kind, radiant, compassionate, funny, sociable, and powerfully empathetic. To this day, I still don’t know what quality of yours entranced me the most. Was it your bright red hair? Your gorgeous smile? Your beaming personality that shone through every word and every laugh?

You told me that you were a behavioral therapist for a developmental clinic in Dallas and worked with children who were on the Autism spectrum. Knowing that I too was on the spectrum worried me and made me wonder if I was the right fit for you. After all, I knew firsthand how difficult individuals on the spectrum could be. After a long day’s work dealing with children still learning who they are, would you want to come home to a man still learning to do the same?

You assured me quickly that my being on the spectrum didn’t scare you or make you feel any differently about me. In fact, you told me “All I see is David, and I’m really enjoying him.” I can’t tell you how liberating that felt to me. All my life, I felt shackled by who I was — by my tunnel-visioned way of thinking, my social awkwardness, and my inability to connect with others. But just like you do with all of your children, you made me feel less like these are inherent negative qualities of myself and more like personal obstacles that I too can overcome. You truly are the only one who ever made me feel free from myself, just as you do for so many other young souls daily.

The next year with you was spent in absolute bliss. I truly do not remember spending a single bad day with you. Whether we were going out to the movies, on spontaneous shopping trips to Target, skipping town for weekend adventures, or just staying in for a quiet, relaxing night at home, everything just felt right with you.

There was never a moment where I questioned us or where we were headed. You became my new home, and I have never felt more secure than when I am with you.

That’s not to say last year was an easy year for either one of us. From personal family tragedies to work-related stresses to that blasted snowmageddon, 2021 was a year of many challenges for us both. Yet, what inspired me most through it all was not the lack of adversity, but rather how you being there made everything easier for me. Through your cute and infectious little laugh to your sweet and sentimental touch to your deep care and compassion, you made every hardship a little easier, every burden a little lighter to bear, every loss a little less devastating. You have and continue to get me through so much on a daily basis. I only hope I do the same for you as you do for me.

Funny enough, my favorite quote that makes me think of you is in, what else, the 2002 Spider-Man film, where Peter finally tells Mary Jane what he truly thinks of her. Because when he describes his emotions, they are all too real for how I feel about you:

“The great thing about MJ is… when you look into her eyes and she’s looking back in yours, everything feels… not quite normal. You feel stronger and weaker at the same time. You feel excited, and at the same time, terrified. The truth is, you don’t know what you feel except you know what kind of man you want to be. It’s as if you’ve reached the unreachable, and you weren’t ready for it.”

It’s for that exact same reason that I wanted to marry you. You not only make me a better man every day. You make everyone around you want to be the best person they can be — because you empower them to be.

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus commanded his followers to shine their light onto the world: “That they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” Every day, it’s easy to see that your light is the brightest one there is. Truthfully, the world would be a much better place if more people like you were in it.

So as we head into our first year of marriage and the rest of our lives, I just want to say that I am so, so proud of and thankful for you. You excite me, you empower me, you strengthen me, you embolden me, and you inspire me more than any movie, any filmmaker, any actor, any character or any superhero ever could. That’s because unlike these larger-than-life heroes like Luke Skywalker, James Bond, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, or Frodo Baggins, you are real. And you can make anyone feel like they can fly.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, my beloved Meagan Dunn. I can’t wait to spend eternity with you.

Love,

David Dunn

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“BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Long live the Black Panther.

“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping-off point. You reach out with both hands, and Bast and Sekhmet lead you into a green field… where you can run forever.” These words that Chadwick Boseman spoke in his first appearance as T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War echoed in my memory while watching Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a poignant and thoughtful reflection on the Black Panther legacy, what it means to people, and how we are expected to grieve and move forward when our king is no longer with us. Chadwick Boseman is gone. How is the Black Panther expected to survive without him?

After King T’Challa suddenly and unexpectedly passes away, the kingdom of Wakanda is left in a weakened, vulnerable state. The United Nations is after Wakanda and its precious Vibranium. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is struggling to balance her new life as a ruler and as a grieving mother. And while all of this is going on, a new threat emerges from the oceans: Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the king of the underwater nation of Talokan, who seeks war on the world for what the surface dwellers have done to his people. Now left to defend itself from both Talokan and the world, a new Black Panther must rise from Wakanda to protect the nation and its people.

It’s difficult to critique or even write about this movie without reflecting on what it was originally supposed to be. Before Chadwick Boseman tragically passed away from colon cancer in 2020, writer-director Ryan Coogler was knee-deep in writing the sequel and even completed a draft before Chadwick’s sudden passing. Coogler famously said after the fact that he “spent the last year preparing, imagining and writing words for him to say that we weren’t destined to see.” That’s the most heartbreaking part of all, knowing that Chadwick had a big part to play in this sequel that we’ll never get to see what could have been.

So when the movie feels like it’s supposed to be two separate movies, in a way, it’s kind of because they’re supposed to be. There are two intertwining narratives that are conflicting with each other in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The first and stronger one is the fact that T’Challa has passed away and the nation of Wakanda is grieving for their fallen hero. The second is a geopolitical thriller about two warring nations and how they can peacefully coexist in the same world together. Both of these premises are strong enough to carry an entire movie on their own. Juggling both of these narratives at the same time in a lengthy two-hour and 40-minute runtime feels crammed.

But I don’t blame Coogler for how convoluted the movie feels. The fact is he and the rest of his creative team were thrust into a very uncomfortable position and had to make a difficult choice — continue telling the story of Wakanda without its hero, or let its legacy die alongside Chadwick Boseman? Ultimately, Coogler and the rest of the cast and crew decided that the Black Panther mantle was far too important to be left alone or forgotten, though maybe they should have taken some time to grieve and flesh out the script a little more when the loss wasn’t so raw to them.

One thing I will say is that the performances are powerful in this movie — quite possibly even more so than in the first movie. But that’s somewhat to be expected. After all, the entire cast isn’t so much acting as they are expressing their true feelings of loss and grief. While the rest of the world lost a king, a superhero, and an icon two years ago, the cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever lost a colleague, a mentor, and a friend. That pain translates beautifully and meaningfully into their performances. Even traditionally comedic actors like Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira and Winston Duke carry a much more somber, serious delivery with their lines. And Angela Basset was straight-up fierce as Queen Ramonda. She had a couple of truly powerful monologues in the film that was effective in expressing her strength, her resoluteness, and her sadness all at the same time. 

Even the newcomers were just as impressive. Dominique Thorne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Judas And The Black Messiah) takes over for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark as the new Ironheart, and while I was initially worried about how she would fit into this already packed story, she was a standout among the cast and gave the film some much-needed attitude and energy to help keep up the pace. And Tenoch Huerta especially crushed it as Namor. Far from the cheap one-dimensional supervillains Marvel is usually known for churning out, Namor is a much more complex, layered antagonist who is compelled to action not by world domination or destruction, but out of deep love, care, and protection for his people. He serves as an excellent foil to Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, and it makes my heart hurt thinking of all of the great interactions we could have seen from these characters that we’ll never get to.

All in all, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not as great as its predecessor. Then again though, it doesn’t need to be. While the film makes you feel the weight of Chadwick Boseman’s loss and the hollow, empty feelings that come with it, it’s also incredibly healing and reassures you that tomorrow will still come, even when the ones we love are no longer with us. Chadwick Boseman may be gone, but let us be grateful that the Black Panther continues to live on — not just in the people of Wakanda, but in all of us. 

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“NOPE” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

Nuh-uh, nope, nada, nonononono, goodbye, no thank you. 

Mankind has a great interest in the unknown. That’s partly why we’ve always been fascinated with the phenomenon of extraterrestrial life and what’s out there in a larger universe. Is there life beyond our small planet? If there is, what is it like? Is it friendly? Fearsome? Frightening? Or violent? Whatever it is, we as a species don’t have the answers to those impossible questions. That’s why the possibilities of aliens excite us and terrify us at the same time. 

In Nope, Jordan Peele tackles the alien genre in the unconventional way that only he knows how: with loads of thrills, dark humor, eerie, unsettling tension, and a butt-load of subcontext that will fly right over people’s heads. The biggest obstacle most alien sci-fi films face is being too predictable or similar to each other. Let me assure you that you won’t be able to predict a single thing that happens in Nope: not even what the aliens look like. 

In this trippy sci-fi horror flick, Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play OJ and Emerald Hayward, a brother-sister duo who trains and handles horses for film and television productions. But recently, they’ve been noticing some strange happenings around their ranch. Horses vanish in the middle of the night without a trace. The power cuts off randomly at times without any explanation. And one evening, OJ swears that he saw something move through the clouds. Now determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, OJ and Em outfit their whole house with security and recording equipment to capture… whatever it is they think they saw. 

Ever since Jordan Peele released his Oscar-winning picture Get Out in 2015, fans have come to expect a few things from the acclaimed horror filmmaker. They expect his films to be highly unconventional and unpredictable. They expect high moments of stress, unease, and tension that make us feel anxious and on edge. They expect visceral, violent moments brilliantly building up to spontaneous moments of dark humor. And they expect his films to carry a deeper theme to them, whether it involves racism, prejudice, neoliberalism, feminism, or wealth inequality. 

The best thing that can be said about Nope is that it retains Peele’s trademarks as a director. One of my biggest hangups with most horror movies is that they reveal their penultimate threat way too early so that by the time the climax arrives, it’s lost any and all effect of being fearsome or intimidating. The best horror movies masterfully obscure their villains so that by the time they are revealed, their actions leave an impact and give you a reason to remain afraid for the rest of the movie’s runtime. 

Just like the shark in Jaws, Michael Meyers in Halloween, and the Xenomorph in Alien, Jordan Peele shows as little of the aliens as possible throughout the film. That’s because he understands that aliens in and of themselves are not what mankind as a whole fears: it’s what’s unknown about them. About where they come from, what they look like, and what they want from us. Nope asks those questions just like any other alien film does. The difference is once we’ve discovered the answer, we wish we could forget.

And this is a weird compliment for me to make because I don’t usually make it in my reviews, but the sound design in this film is… horrifying. The first time I heard what I thought was the alien’s voice, I thought “That was a weird creative choice to make.” When I realized what the sound actually was later on, it terrified me and sent shivers down my spine. 

But while the film is a technical and a visual marvel, the script is unfortunately not as well-refined. For one thing, it lacks the depth and complexion as Peele’s previous works have. While both Get Out and Us had clearly-defined themes about racism, classism, and inequality, Nope is a lot more obscure with its message and portrayal. Which is fine with me: Us was just as subtle in its messaging and relied much more on implication rather than spelling everything out for its audiences. The difference is I understood everything Jordan Peele was trying to tell us at the end of Us. By the time Nope’s credits rolled, I had to piece everything together until I thought to myself “Wait, that’s it?” 

Also, while the plot twist near the end of the film was wickedly clever and creative, the alien’s final form in the film is… kind of stupid. And unfortunately, the ending is even worse. 

Looking back at Jordan Peele’s wildly successful filmography, Get Out and Us remains to be the greatest achievements of his young directing career so far. Nope lacks the same edge as his previous works do, but it’s still a lot of fun and brings something fresh and unexpected to the alien genre. Thanks to Jordan Peele, I’m never going to look at UFO sightings the same way ever again. I don’t know whether I should be thanking him or just say “Nope.” 

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“THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER” Review (✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Screaming goats and hammersexuality.

Thor: Love And Thunder is Thor: Ragnarok gone wrong, a silly, spastic, stupid, and straight-up ridiculous experience that feels more like a satire of an MCU film rather than an actual MCU film. Thanks to this movie, Thor is the first superhero in the MCU to have four movies in his franchise. And if it succeeded at anything, it showed why most superheroes should just stick with three movies going forward. 

Taking place well after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Thor: Love And Thunder picks up where everyone’s favorite blonde-haired thunder god (once again played by Chris Hemsworth) left off as he tries to discover who he is (as if he hasn’t already found out the answer to that question after eight movie appearances). But as he begins his journey of self-discovery (again), a vicious new enemy called Gorr the god butcher (Christian Bale) rises with one goal: to kill all of the living gods. 

But wait! As he begins his violent quest, a new god emerges: specially Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) wielding Mjolnir. With two hammer-wielding thunder gods, the two Thors now have to team up to defeat Gorr and bring an end to his god-killing crusade. 

When Thor: Ragnarok burst out onto the scene 10 years ago, director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, What We Do In The Shadows) boldly redefined Thor and his mythos, putting him through a compelling story where he lost his home, his powers, and his hammer and asking who the man behind Mjolnir is. Everything in that film worked to near perfection, from the colorful and eye-popping visuals to the deeply dramatic character moments to the gut-bustingly hilarious jokes. It was a great film back then and it remains one of the best MCU entries to this day. 

The best thing I can say about Thor: Love And Thunder is that it replicates *some* of the inspiration behind Thor: Ragnarok. I specifically say “some” because while it possesses many of the same qualities, they’re used nowhere near as effectively as they were in Ragnarok. Still, Chris Hemsworth is as likable in the role as he’s always been, the visual effects are captivating at times, and Taika Waititi brings his usual humorous, lighthearted energy to a character that has typically taken himself way too seriously. 

The problem is Taika has gone completely off of the deep end. While Thor: Ragnarok perfectly balanced its action, comedy, and drama, Thor: Love And Thunder flails about aimlessly without sense or direction, and most of its jokes repeat themselves and quickly become redundant. There are a pair of screaming goats introduced early on that I thought were funny at first, but by the 100th scream, they were giving me a migraine. There’s an odd love triangle between Thor, Mjolnir, and Stormbreaker and Thor gets the bright idea of easing tensions by… pouring beer over them. And the climax involves a ridiculous action sequence where kids are imbued with Thor’s lightning that allow them to fight an army of shadow monsters. That’s what you can expect to find in Thor’s fourth movie, ladies and gentlemen: superkids. 

What of the rest of the cast? How do they handle in this mess of a movie? Well like everything else in Love And Thunder, their skill is technically present. The error lies in how they are used and misappropriated. Tessa Thompson was such a standout as Valkrie in Thor: Ragnarok, but here, she’s shoved to the side in favor of some forced humor and semi-hammersexuality. In the same vein, Natalie Portman is brilliant as Jane Foster, a powerful, fierce, and domineering woman who has fought for and earned the right to call herself Thor too. Yet she is also forced through an overly dramatic plot that feels emotionally manipulative and ends up negating all of the development we see her go through in the film. 

But Christian Bale is the worst of all. Strictly speaking on performance alone, Christian Bale is downright chilling as Gorr, a menacing, slithery presence who feels like the monster that children find hiding under their bed. Between his creepy, eerie performance and a compelling, human motivation, Christian Bale’s Gorr had the potential to be one of the best villains in the MCU. 

But potential does not equal reality, and Taika’s biggest error with casting Christian Bale is not using him enough. Out of the movie’s two-hour runtime, Gorr appears four, maybe five times tops. That’s not enough time to care for and get invested into a villlain’s plight. It’s barely enough time to get invested into a character at all. Because Christian Bale is so absent for most of the film, he ends up having the least impact out of all of Thor’s movie villains. I am not kidding when I say that Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith is a more memorable villain than Christian Bale solely because of his screentime. It’s such a shame, because you can see the effort that Bale puts into his performance. And in the end, it’s all left on the cutting room floor. 

And if anything, that demonstrates the biggest flaw with Thor: Love And Thunder: it is wasteful. It wastes Chris Hemsworth’s and Christian Bale’s amazing performances. It wastes Jane Foster’s debut as the Mighty Thor. It wastes the Guardians Of The Galaxy, its jokes, and its visual effects. That’s ultimately what this movie is: a giant, pitiful waste. 

Guys, I really can’t express this any more bluntly: Thor: Love And Thunder is terrible. The more I think about it, the more it enrages me. For every joke that landed, there were like five that made me groan in the theater. For every emotional moment that pulled at my heartstrings, there were three that felt cheap and unearned. And for every visually stunning and captivating sequence, there was another green screen-assembled mess that looked ungodly awful.

I make no exaggeration when I say this is my least favorite MCU film. There are certainly other films that are as badly written (including Thor: The Dark World and the recently released Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness), but they at least had some technical competency when it came to their editing, cinematography, and visual effects. Thor: Love And Thunder by comparison feels like it isn’t even trying. This is one movie that proves that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice.

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The Worth Of 500

The number “500” is significant for many reasons. For one thing, in Empire Magazine, they listed 500 movies as the greatest films of all time. In Tarot readings, the number “500” represents completeness: a sign that you have lived a fulfilling life and that it will only become more adventurous and exciting from here. Heck, at my current publication, we have a monthly section called “In 500” where readers can submit their own opinion columns in, yup, you guessed it, 500 words. 

All my life, the number “500” has followed me in one elusive way or another. This month, the number “500” has a different meaning to me. As of this moment, I have published 500 articles on my website. 

Yes, that includes the very same article you’re reading right now. 

This is a very strange milestone for me because it’s one I never thought I would reach. Or perhaps more specifically, not one I would have reached on this website so soon. 

When I started David Dunn Reviews in 2013, I launched this website as a way to express my thoughts and opinions on movies and entertainment when I couldn’t express them through other avenues. Before I even published my first byline on here, I was writing movie reviews under the notes tab on my Facebook page. 

I’ll sometimes read through my old reviews, and they were… rough, to say the least. I both cringed and cackled as I went into long-winded monologues diving into director’s filmographies and characters’ comic-book origins, completely unaware that neither of them are relevant when talking about the quality of the film you’re reviewing. And man, the caps. All of the caps. I can’t tell you how many times I wrote words in all capitalizations whenever I was excited, WHICH NEEDLESS TO SAY, WAS WAY MORE OFTEN THAN IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. After seeing it for the 50-millionth time, I can definitely see how my reviews might have been exhausting for my readers at the time. 

But after joining my college paper, it didn’t take long for me to become a sharper, more concise writer. It definitely wasn’t without its own learning curves or creative differences, but after doing it enough times, my writing became more professional, polished, and easy to read. I still remember seeing some of the comments, with readers chiming in on how they wanted to see a particular movie because of my review, or laughing at one of my more scathing critiques. 

But the proudest achievement of my college career remains to be winning Best Review in 2015 at the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association for my review of the DreamWorks animated film Home. My proudest line in that review was where I criticized the main alien race for having “the intelligence of a kumquat and the personality of a doormat.” And most importantly, I got rid of those blasted capitalizations. 

I graduated from college a year later, which seemed scary at the time but eventually became something I adjusted to quickly. I started freelancing for every publication that I could (shoutout to MoviePilot) until I got my first official reporting gig for a local community newspaper. A year later, I was hired to work at a lifestyle magazine, which is the publishing job that I have always wanted. 

This website — and the articles therein — is one of many reasons why I was hired. So in many ways, this website is a big part of my success to this very day. 

I must admit, it hasn’t always been easy maintaining this website — especially during my first year out of college, where I was hopping from one freelance gig to another all while working my day job. But throughout it all, I maintained my love of movies and writing through every new release that came out. I kept reviewing movies whether they were good or bad. I continued my coverage of the Oscars even when writing my recap would take me well into early Monday morning. And every year, I kept ranking my favorite films of the year and sharing the movies that made the biggest impact on me — even those that didn’t make much money at the box office. Especially those movies. 

Now don’t be mistaken — I am still not where I’m at in my publishing career where I thought I would have been. At this point in my life, I thought I would have been writing film reviews for either a newspaper or a magazine, hosting my own podcasts, and talking to movie stars and filmmakers on the red carpet. That dream as it stands has not yet come to pass, although I look back on my experiences interviewing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Aaron Paul, and Vanessa Hudgens quite fondly. 

But new dreams have taken its place that are bigger and better than I would have imagined. I’m still doing what I love, whether I’m writing for this website or for my magazine. I’m still watching movies, playing video games, and live-streaming on the weekends. And later this year, I’ll be marrying the love of my life. It’s crazy how fast and how hard life hits you, and I’m happy to say that, well, I’m happy at where I’m at in my life right now. 

It certainly hasn’t always been that way. 2020 was a particularly rough year for this website since, you know, no new movies came out. Then in 2021, my mental health took a drastic decline to the point where I had to step away from this website for a time being. 

What saved me and what pulled me out of my depression was, as always, the movies. Specifically, a 2021 musical comedy by Bo Burnham called Inside, which touched on issues such as depression, anxiety, and self-worth through a clever and creative lens of a comedian trapped inside his room during a pandemic. That film inspired me, made me feel seen, and made me feel less alone in a cruel, callous, and crumbling world that will probably burn up in the atmosphere a few years down the line. But I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and seeing that film and the reactions to it reminded me that there were many others that felt the same way that I did. Indeed, I was way less alone than I could have ever realized. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m grateful. Grateful that I have this website. Grateful that I have my life. Grateful that I have you, my fellow readers, who keep coming back here to read my thoughts and opinions despite how infrequent they may be. This life of mine is not perfect, but whose life is? I find that the key to happiness is contentment: not in feeling disappointed in what we don’t have, but rather in feeling thankful for the things that we do. 

And I am so, so thankful for you — for any click you made on my website, for any words that you took the time to read, for any comment you left (provided it wasn’t a smartass one), and for any laugh or emotion you experienced while reading my reviews. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you for being a loyal reader of mine. You’ve made writing 500 bylines on this website more valuable than you know. 

– David Dunn

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“TOP GUN MAVERICK” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Welcome to the danger zone.

Top Gun Maverick is a masterclass in epic blockbuster moviemaking, a fast-paced, enthralling, and wildly exciting sequel that achieved the impossible. This is a movie that has absolutely zero business being this good, let alone even existing in the first place. Yet not only is it a worthy successor to the 1986 classic: in many ways, it’s even superior. The famous catchphrase “the need for speed” is a massive understatement for a movie like this, and if it’s referring to anything, it’s probably my heart rate.

Taking place 36 years (yowza!) after the first movie came out, Top Gun: Maverick follows Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) long after his days at Top Gun. Now a test pilot for the Navy, Maverick is pulled back to Top Gun to train a new team of the program’s top graduates to fly a dangerous mission to bomb an unsanctioned uranium powerplant.

But there’s a complication thrown into the mix: his former wingman Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller) is also part of the class, and Maverick fears he might be dooming Rooster to the same fate as his father. Now caught between the lines of friend and fighter pilot, Maverick needs to figure out how to train his recruits and prepare them to face impossible odds.

Let me get one thing immediately out of the way: I hate legacy sequels. Hate them, hate them, hate them. They rarely ever work, and even when they do, they usually rely too much on the classic movie’s appeal rather than their own. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this. Creed, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Blade Runner 2049 are the immediate examples that come to mind that stand alone as their own stories while at the same time honoring their source material. There are, however, way more examples of movies that merely wallow in their own nostalgia like tepid water without bringing anything unique or exciting to the table. Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, and Space Jam: A New Legacy comes to mind as the biggest offenders. And don’t even get me started on Home Sweet Home Alone. There was nothing sweet about that dumpster fire of a film.

So when I heard that Top Gun was getting a sequel more than 30 years after the first one came out, my first thought was that it spelled out disaster. For one thing, Cruise is pushing 60, and you have to wonder how long his character Maverick could be flying before the government forces him to stay grounded. For another, its director Joseph Kosinski has an inconsistent track record (he previously directed Tron: Legacy, Oblivion, and Spiderhead), and I wasn’t sure how well he would handle yet another 30-year sequel. And lastly, Ehren Kruger penned the screenplay. Have you seen how awful the Transformers movies were? I rest my case.

Imagine my surprise, then, that when I went to see Top Gun Maverick, I was absolutely blown away in every single way imaginable. Top Gun Maverick isn’t just good: it’s great. It’s bloody brilliant, actually. It’s the type of raw, visceral, and lightning-fast moviemaking that is sorely missing in today’s blockbusters. While other movies are content with cashing in on their franchise name after editing a few of their best shots into the trailer, Top Gun Maverick pushes the limit to Mach 10 and doesn’t slow down until after the movie is over. Remember the stunt in Jackass 3D where Ryan Dunn is sitting behind a jet engine as it literally blows him out of his seat? You could replace that jet engine with Top Gun Maverick and achieve the same reaction.

Part of that is because of how the movie was filmed. Insisting that the film be as authentic as possible, Tom Cruise actually put the cast through a three-month boot camp to get them used to the aerobatics and G-forces while flying. That’s because during the film’s aerial dogfights, the cast members are actually in the planes filming themselves while in the air. This leads to action scenes that can only be described as legendary. When the pilots fire up their jet engines, you feel the impact blow against you. When their planes whizz past the screen, you feel the supersonic “boom” echo in your eardrums. And when they’re in a combat situation, you feel the bullets spark as they rip through the wings’ hull. There’s actually a scene where Maverick takes off in a plane and literally blows the roof off of a nearby shed. That scene wasn’t planned: he literally blew the roof off during the shot.

That type of authenticity really brings out the effect in the film’s aerial sequences and allows them breathe and come to life in their own way. But in that same vein, Joseph Kosinski does a brilliant job directing these actors and their performances from the ground. Since he obviously couldn’t be in the air with his cast while they were filming, he and his editing team had to review over 800 hours of footage after they landed. That’s as much as all three films in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Editing that had to be a nightmare, yet Kosinski and Eddie Hamilton make the whole film feel smooth and seamless: like a hot knife slicing through butter.

But the film isn’t just a technical marvel: it is also incredibly well-written and acted. This is especially surprising, because again, everything Ehren Kruger touches normally turns into cinematic poison. But I guess this screenplay, and Tom Cruise’s charm, is immune to it. That’s because at its heart, Top Gun Maverick is a story about trauma, loss, guilt, grief, and acceptance as this surrogate family learns to keep keeping on despite the most important people in their lives no longer being there. I was expecting this film to be a fun time at the movies. What I got was so, so much more meaningful than that, and that is perhaps the biggest surprise of all.

Top Gun Maverick is an unrivaled masterpiece — an epic, exciting, and action-packed dogfighting drama that puts you up in the air with the rest of its adrenaline-addicted pilots and asks you to buckle up for the ride. This is a movie that brilliantly utilizes nostalgia not as the destination, but as a vehicle for something much bigger, gripping and heart-racing. Just wait until it breaks the sound barrier.

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“DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Multiverse of Mediocrity.

Let this be a lesson to anyone working on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: if you’re going to come out with a sequel to one of the strangest heroes in your universe, maybe don’t wait six years to release it. Because at that point, not only do you run the risk of it becoming obsolete — you also threaten to have the whole thing crumble under the weight of its own expectations.

Enter Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. In the span between its two movies, the MCU has debuted 18 new heroes, released six new TV shows, concluded the Avengers saga, and even released an entirely new Spider-Man trilogy to top it all off. So much has happened in the MCU that has affected so much already that it’s hard to release any sequel and have it stand alone as part of its own story. One might even argue that you can’t.

Sure enough, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness fails in this sequelitis litmus test, a messy, sloppy film that is all over the place and trying to do way too much all at once. To properly understand this movie, not only have you needed to watch Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War, and Endgame, but also “WandaVision,” “Loki,Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and even a few Fox-owned movie properties on top of all that. This is a film with the buildup of an Avengers movie and the payoff of a botched “What If…?” episode.

After he wiped the world’s memory of Spider-Man’s true identity in Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is trying to adjust to a world with neither Avengers nor Infinity Stones. But just as he begins to experience some sense of normalcy, he encounters a girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who is being chased by monsters through several dimensions. Now determined to help this young girl, Doctor Strange enlists in the help Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) to defend her from the monsters of the multiverse.

Before I say anything else, I want to get one thing right out of the way: it was wonderful to see Sam Raimi return to the director’s chair. While most known for creating one of the best superhero movies ever with the likes of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, his filmography has taken him everywhere under the sun, from deeply disturbing horror movies like Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell to wildly entertaining B-movie blockbusters like Darkman and Army Of Darkness. But with his last feature-length film coming out in 2013 with Oz The Great And Powerful, it’s been nine years since Sam Raimi’s last movie, 13 years since his last horror movie, and 15 years since his last superhero movie. One has to wonder how his directing chops have held up despite being away for such a long time?

The good news is that Sam Raimi’s still got it. More importantly, he still carries his own unique signature that Marvel thankfully allowed him to carry over into one of their most popular franchises. Combining the campiness of his Spider-Man movies with the horrifying imagery of Evil Dead, Sam Raimi creates a dark and disturbing world with Multiverse Of Madness that feels cursed just by the look and feel of it. There were quite a few times where his imagery was so bold, bloody, and grotesque that it actually made me squirm in my seat. There were several moments where characters were getting straight-up dismembered, contorting into twisted, uncomfortable shapes, and even horrifically burned alive.

I was genuinely surprised that Marvel allowed Sam Raimi to go as far as he did with the violence, and even more surprised that this movie didn’t get an R rating. But Raimi teeters the line just enough to where the film never crosses the line of being over-the-top or gory, though I can’t help but wonder how different the film might have felt if Raimi was allowed to go even further.

I also really like the film’s visual creativity, especially in scenes where Strange is traveling through the multiverse. There was one really trippy sequence where Strange is falling through multiple realities, from the prehistoric era to an evergreen paradise to even an animated world flooded with watercolors. The whole sequence was so surreal and outlandish that I felt like I was on acid while watching it. If someone did happen to wander into the theater while under the influence, I pray for their sanity because it might be broken by the time this movie is over.

That said, some of the movie’s visuals don’t work quite as well, and you especially notice it with a lot of the film’s newer characters. America Chavez’s dimensional portals are one instance where they look like firework sprites coming from your laptop’s screensaver. One character in the mid-credits scene is so shiny and pristine that she looks like a scrapped character from Eternals. And one villain has a third eye appearing on his forehead that looks so photoshopped that I couldn’t help but laugh while looking at it.

However, the worst sequence hands-down comes from one fight scene where two sorcerers are casting spells at each other using… musical notes. I’m not even kidding. They literally lift musical notes off of a page of sheet music and cast them at each other like a game of darts. I remind you, this is coming from a franchise that was once a major contender for visual effects at the Academy Awards. And here, they’re just throwing in a fight scene so silly and cartoonish that it feels like it’s a deleted scene from Disney’s Fantasia.

But I can forgive inconsistent visuals. What I can’t forgive is poor writing, and this is unfortunately where the film falters the most. Not only does Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness have one of the worst screenplays out of the entire MCU: I would argue it is the worst screenplay, bar none. Dead serious.

Sure, there are other screenplays that are childish, silly, stupid, half-baked, or even underdeveloped. Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, and Eternals are the immediate ones that come to mind. But even at their most basic levels, those movies demonstrate at least some understanding of their characters and what motivates them. Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness completely misunderstands the heart and souls of its characters, and it makes their actions in the film all the more unbelievable.

Imagine following Tom Holland throughout his six-movie arc, falling in love with his charm, his wit, his sense of humor, his intelligence, and his unwavering commitment to doing the right thing. Then all of a sudden in his seventh movie, he throws all of that out the window and starts going on a violent rampage across the city where he starts viciously murdering people in the most gruesome ways possible. That isn’t just a gross manipulation of his character: it’s a straight-up betrayal of his character, and it does a great disservice to him and the arc he’s built up over the course of the entire franchise.

There are multiple characters that are betrayed in a similar fashion in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. And it would be one thing if these were alternate versions of these characters in another universe. But they aren’t: they’re the original characters in the original MCU. That makes their mischaracterizations all the more worse, and it ruins the experience for anyone who has been passionately following their journeys for quite some time.

Oddly enough, there is another multiversal film in cinemas right now titled Everything Everywhere All At Once. Go and see it. Not only does it utilize its bizarre concept to its maximum potential, but it’s also one of the most creative and unique narratives to come out of cinemas in the past several years. The only way Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness even comes close to that potential is in another universe.

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“SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A blue speedster, a two-tailed fox, and a hot-tempered knucklehead. 

There’s a general rule to film criticism, and that is to always remain objective. No matter what talent, studio, or subject matter is associated with your film, it’s the film critic’s job to separate all of that from the film and focus on the story it’s trying to tell. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an original idea or an adaptation of a 1990s video game. The quality is clear in either circumstance, and it’s the critic’s job to delineate what does and doesn’t work with the film they’re writing about. 

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is the kind of movie that makes you want to throw objectivity right out the window, the kind that makes you want to paint your face blue, put on your hedgehog ears, and throw your popcorn in excitement as your favorite speedster zooms through the theater. I must be honest, dear reader: I have no idea whether Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is, objectively speaking, good, bad, or brilliant. And more to the point, I don’t care. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is a pure joy to experience, and observing it too closely defeats the purpose of watching a movie like this. 

Taking place after the first movie which, surprisingly, was the last box office hit we got before theaters shut down in 2020, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 picks up right where the last movie left off with everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog Sonic (Ben Schwartz) living with the Wachowskis in Green Hills, Montana. After being banished to a Mushroom Planet in the last movie, Doctor Eggman (Jim Carrey) returns to Earth with a new ally, a red echidna named Knuckles (Idris Elba) who has an ax to grind against Sonic. But Eggman isn’t the only one with a new friend: a two-tailed fox named Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey) has also shown up to help Sonic fend off his new foes. Now equipped with an ancient map and the discovery of a powerful artifact called the Master Emerald, Sonic and Tails must team up to get to the Master Emerald before Eggman and Knuckles do. 

Does this plot sound a little insane? Maybe, but some films benefit from a little insanity every once in a while. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is definitely one of those movies. While the first movie was an enjoyable and adorable little introduction to the blue speedster, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 ups the ante by a thousand and asks fans to buckle up for the ride. It isn’t just that it’s more action-packed: it’s more everything. From the laughs to the drama to the excitement to the intrigue, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is just more of what makes Sonic The Hedgehog, well, Sonic The Hedgehog. For casual fans whose surface-level knowledge is limited to knowing that Sonic’s fur is blue, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is simply just more of what the first movie gave us. For longtime fans who have grown up with the franchise ever since his Sega Genesis days, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 gives dedicated fans everything they’ve ever wanted in a Sonic movie. 

Oh I make no exaggeration when I say I was geeking out while watching this film. Nearly everything worked, from Sonic’s quick-witted comebacks to Tails’ ingenuity and invention to Knuckles’ hard-headedness and fisticuff-fueled rage. A few years ago, a movie about a talking hedgehog, two-tailed fox, and an overly-grumpy echidna might sound like a stupid idea to some studio execs. But thanks to the first movie’s success, Paramount saw how fans turned out for it, shrugged their shoulders, and said “Screw it, go for the nerdy nostalgia on this one Jeff!”  

That was the best call the studio could have made for this movie, and director Jeff Fowler really leans in to these characters and what makes them so beloved in fans’ eyes. Here is a movie that, on every level, just gets why Sonic is adored by fans and succeeds in replicating that for the big screen. It isn’t just the fact that the creative team understands the in-game inspirations: it’s that they know the most essential foundations for these characters and leans into them all the way. Other recent video game adaptations like Uncharted or “Halo” misunderstand what made these franchises popular and adapts the wrong parts for their live-action outings. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 does not have that problem. In fact, one might argue that it perhaps relies too much on its source material. But if this movie’s biggest problem is being too faithful, then boy oh boy, is that a great problem to have.

My main gripe with this film is the same one I had with its predecessor, and that is the humans. They’re boring, they’re dumb, and they serve no purpose beyond adding some padding to the cast list. Thankfully most of the movie sidesteps the humans and focuses on the animals and their conflict with the robot mad scientist, but then the second act really focuses in on this stupid marriage subplot that dragged on for way too long and added nothing to the main story. I don’t know if the studio had some clause saying the humans needed a specific amount of screen time or if they thought a film couldn’t function without a more human presence, but either way it doesn’t work. Natasha Rothwell’s character in particular was the worst character in the first movie, and here she has a whole side arc dedicated to her that neither works nor is relevant for the movie she’s in. 

Ultimately, my deep love for these characters and this franchise comes into direct conflict with my objectivity and my duty to appropriately critique this film. As a mere critic, I objectively believe this film is a fun time regardless of whether you’re a casual or a dedicated fan, and it’s definitely a shoo-in for families looking to distract their kids for an afternoon. But as a longtime fan who has followed this series ever since I was a child, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 gave me everything I ever wanted to see in a Sonic movie. So which inner voice do I listen to? Do I listen to the angel blue hedgehog on one shoulder, or the devilish film critic on the other?

Screw it. Objectivity or not, part of a film critic’s job is to also know what they like or don’t like: and I love this movie. Even with the forced human sideplots and gags, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 delivers on the action, the adventure, the humor, and the heart that has made this high-speed hedgehog so beloved in the first place.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is without a doubt the best video game movie ever released, and I am saying that with a straight face. Maybe that doesn’t mean much in a subgenre where there are more failures than there are successes, but hey, I’m celebrating the moment regardless. This is a year that has seen space marines, super soldiers, assassins, aliens, and treasure hunters take over the big screen, yet somehow the movie about a talking blue hedgehog, two-tailed fox, and red-hot echidna is the one that has taken off running. I hope it never slows down.

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