BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER: Nothing like a hot, wet man to pull you out of a funk.

Na-more, please!

Based on the movie industry’s reaction to his premature passing, it’s clear Chadwick Boseman was greatly loved and respected. Those feelings are shared by anyone who loves movies as well.

So it’s natural that in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever a sense of loss permeates everything. In the opening, we’re told King T’Challa is dying. His genius sister, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), is trying to digitally recreate the purple flower that bestows power on the Black Panther, but she fails, probably because her 3D printers are only calibrated to make clothes that look like the orange netting they stretch across potholes.

Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda has no time to grieve, because she has to go to the UN to show everyone that diplomacy can indeed be done in solid gold chain mail. The issue at hand: now that Wakanda’s vibranium has been exposed to the rest of the world, greedy superpowers want it. For some reason, France is made the lead nasty here, which is like trying to make Albania the villain in a movie about Nazis.

We feel you, Wakandans, but we didn’t come back to your vibraniant land for sadness and politics, did we? We came for action, and the hot Wakandans who bring it. With both Black Panther and Killmonger gone, we’re left with an old guy who keeps a salad plate handy in his lip, and M’Baku, the mountain tribal leader who harbored the refugees in the first movie. M’Baku is a lot of man, but not enough to go around. We need more…Nay-more!

That’s right. This Wakanda movie introduces the Marvel character who lumped my teenage knickers even more than Wolverine – the Sub-Mariner, Prince Namor of Atlantis. They’ve changed his origin to Aztec Mexico and don’t refer to him as the Sub-Mariner or call him prince, but they’ve kept the most important detail – his tight green swim trunks. And his dangerous sexuality, which even in the comic books was oozing off the page. DC tried to bring this edge to their boring blonde Aquaman by darkening the waters with Jason Mamoa, but Marvel’s undersea god is not playing for snarky one-liners. He’s playing to get everyone wet.

Everyone except Shuri, unfortunately.

Namor wants Wakanda to join forces with his underwater kingdom of Talokan – which also has vibranium – to overthrow the humans on land, because he knows those French (?) and their western lackeys would wipe them all out to get the vibranium. Instead of doing a poll to find out that the majority of us land people would be fine with a world that looked like Wakanda and had a hot ruler who liked to show off his junk, Queen Ramonda and Shuri pass on the proposal.

After a skirmish on a bridge (where would action movies be without bridge fights), Shuri gets captured and taken to Talokan, which has underwater caves with air for the occasional non-gilled guests. Namor is an excellent host, giving Shuri gifts and clothes that aren’t made with a 3D printer, and telling her his tragic life story. I would have moved in then and there and dealt with having seaweed as my only vegan option for every meal. But boring Shuri is unmoved, and I’m baffled why the movie doesn’t want to create some sexual tension here. Maybe since Letitia Wright refused to be vaccinated for the production she couldn’t get close to anyone?

Ramonda brings Lupita Nyong’o’s character Nakia back from her teaching gig in Haiti to rescue Shuri, firing General Okoye in the process, who has done nothing but bust her ass for that royal family through like four films now. Time for you to go work for The Woman King, Okoye.

Everything comes to a head as Namor attacks Wakanda via river and the international superpowers jump in to get their vibranium. At least France has been sidelined, because Julia Louis-Dreyfus with a blue streak in her hair is much more intimidating. Her shady US operative that appeared at the end of Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow is back, but again, we barely get to enjoy her, as everything has to shift focus to who will be the new Black Panther, as if we didn’t know.

And after the missed opportunity for someone to make out with Namor because Letitia Wright – who is playing a brilliant scientist – doesn’t believe in science, we have to watch this same limited actress try to fill Chadwick Boseman’s shoes. The purpose of this whole outing was to get us fired up about a new Black Panther, and Wright is just not up to the task.

Though Ruth Carter has upped her already phenomenal game with both the Wakandan costuming and the whole new world of the Aztec-inflected Talokan, and the special effects on Namor’s movement in the air and underwater are great, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a movie gasping for the air of originality and excitement that the first one had, and could have been saved with some mouth-to-mouth.

Predicted Oscar nominations: 5

Supporting Actress, Production Design, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Song

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN: Colin Farrell gets unfriended.

When a friend gives you the finger, take a hint.

At some point, we’ve all considered a Facebook purge. Those grammar school mates you haven’t seen since grammar school. Some stranger who showed you a meme at a party. People you never even met but friended because you agreed with their post about Gavin Newsome 2024. Basically, all those hundreds of near-or-total-stranger ‘friends’ whom the FB algorithm puts in your face 20 times a day to waste your precious scrolling time with inspirational quotes or photos of a curious slug in their garden (“Can anyone tell me what this is? It’s eating my cucumbers!”)

But we rarely go through with the purge, do we? We don’t want to hurt their feelings. Who knows what delicate emotional state they may be in? Facebook friends may be the only friends they have.

Well, in The Banshees of Inisherin, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) has no such concerns. (And it’s 1923, so he doesn’t have Facebook anyway.) He wakes up one day and decides his buddy Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is too much of a dullard to waste any more time with. No drifting apart over a few months, no pretending he has other plans at pub time. Cold turkey. Friendship over.

Poor dull Pádraic has no idea how to process this. His days consist of three things: milking his cow; taking the milk to market; having a pint with Colm. He lives with his supportive sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), but she’s a woman, and wouldn’t appreciate his scintillating conversation about what he found in his donkey’s shit that day.

The plot follows Pádraic’s increasingly pathetic attempts to pull Colm back, and the drastic measures Colm takes to convince Pádraic to leave him alone, including self-mutilation. Even after Colm throws his finger he has cut off at Pádraic, Pádraic cannot give up, and their war of attrition escalates to ever more drastic actions.

Sporadic cannon fire from the Irish civil war across the water on the mainland serves as a backdrop to the proceedings, but it’s really more of a textural layer. Banshees, in the end, seems to be about despair, how we handle it and how much burden we take on to help those we love handle it. Set on an island of steep cliffs, the film places its main characters at various distances from the edge of that despair, and has them move toward or away from it.

Colm, a fiddle player, is right on the edge, and has come to realize that it’s his music that calls him away from the precipice. Daily interactions with tedious Pádraic have become too much of a drag on him, so he drops the weight. Stripped of the friendship that kept him cushioned in his simple world, Pádraic now sees what despair is, and is terrified. Colm sees his behavior as self-preservation, Pádraic sees it as cruel and selfish. Yet he can’t recognize his own cruel dismissiveness of the simpleton Dominic (a fantastic Barry Keoghan), who seeks Pádraic’s friendship.

It’s only Siobhan who eventually escapes this isolated land of miserable, stubborn men intact, by walking up to the edge of her cliff and leaping over it, to a job far away. In doing so, she too is abandoning Pádraic to save her soul.

Even for someone like me who appreciates heavy stories as long as the acting is brilliant – which it is beyond here – this would be a lot. You need a sense of humor to get through it, and writer/director Martin McDonagh weaves this throughout, keeping a spark lit in his characters no matter how dark they get on the outside.

Come to think of it, humor is the reason I don’t do that Facebook purge of ‘friends’ whose posts make me want to jump off a cliff. Show me enough clips from Family Guy and kidsgettinghurt and I’ll keep scrolling through the soul-crushing dullness.

Predicted Oscar nominations: 10

Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor x 2, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Editing, Score

TÁR: Kate Blanchett gets stuck in it.

Ah, the sweet freedom of playing a character with absolutely no redeemable qualities.

Tar would have been a great name for Kate Blanchett’s character in that Thor movie. She was oily and black and hot and definitely not good for the planet (Asgard in that case).

But that was a superhero movie, a silly lark they’ll likely exclude from the reel that plays when Blanchett receives her lifetime achievement Oscar. You could argue that she plays some version of an all-powerful being in 90% of her roles, so Todd Field, the writer and director of Tár, lets her pave her relentless path through a narrative more fitting to a real-life Hela.

She is Lydia Tár, a symphony conductor of such astronomical talent that it takes the movie’s entire opening to list her accomplishments (she even has an EGOT!) via an interview on stage at a New Yorker forum. Blanchett’s characters almost always have a whiff of arrogance, but there’s never been a script that’s allowed her to lean into this to the extent she does here, and her all-in embrace of the pretentious, dismissive and completely unlikeable Lydia is mesmerizing.

This opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, which surrounds Lydia’s cutting intelligence with a world so haughty and culturally rarified that it often becomes a parody of itself. Whether that parody is intentional or not is one question of many that makes this film’s point hard to understand.

For example, while teaching a seminar, Lydia cuts down a student’s work with a remark along the lines of “God, that’s worse than the venison sausage at L’Auberge.” Is this pretentious screenwriting meant to comment on Lydia’s affectations, or is it writer/director Field showing off that he has a library of insidery tidbits in his head bigger than all of Wikipedia.

The thrust of the drama follows a #metoo theme, with the twist being a powerful woman using and abusing other women, emotionally and sexually. The ballsier question to ask concerning this subject matter – what exactly constitutes sexual abuse when both parties are consenting adults – is not explored. We are given no details of Lydia’s relationship with the young woman whose suicide results in Lydia’s professional blackballing, other than that Lydia blackballed her when the woman started to expect Lydia to help her career in exchange for their sexual relationship.

Lots of works, from The Fountainhead to Whiplash, have looked at the idea of genius excusing questionable behavior (separating the art from the artist), and forced us to really think about it. At the start of the film, Field teases that he’s going to do the same. When Lydia is teaching the seminar at Juilliard, a non-binary BIPOC student expresses disdain for Bach’s music because they claim the man was a misogynist. Lydia argues with forceful intelligence against dismissing great historical and artistic achievements because the author’s past behavior has been deemed unacceptable under contemporary standards. When the student storms out and calls Lydia a bitch, the message is that the student’s wokeness is both immature and performative.

What follows this is a slow and relentless take down of Lydia for, again, an act of abuse we are given little detail about. This turns a narrative that was introduced as a legitimate debate into a one-sided argument that Lydia’s type of person – a brilliant and arrogant artist who draws in sycophants and takes advantage of opportunists – deserves to have their legacy wiped away.

‘What goes around comes around’ may be a satisfying storyline to some, but it’s a pretty lame take-away when you have an amazing performer like Blanchett at your disposal. And a real wasted opportunity when we so need to explore how to move through the fraught cultural and political climate around wokeness.

Predicted Oscar nominations: 5

Picture, Original Screenplay, Actress, Score, Sound

WOMEN TALKING: Men. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t access the kingdom of heaven without ‘em.

When the cat’s away, the mice will vote to kill it.

If it wasn’t already evident by the deft touch she shows in her films, Sarah Polley, the director and screenwriter of Women Talking, has great timing. The movie is rolling out into theaters just after American women voters have turned out en masse to tell conservative lawmakers to fuck off. Which is exactly what the women in Women Talking have to do, only they don’t say the fuck off part out loud, because God.

The violence that underpins this story – a group of men in a Mennonite community are habitually drugging and raping the young women in the middle of the night – may sound like a handmaid dystopia, but we all know the gaslighting over and excusing of extreme misogyny is all too real in a strict and primitive patriarchal society like this one, and the one our own conservative leaders envision.

Polley wisely chooses not to depict any of the violent incidences, instead focusing on the aftermath as the community’s women come together in a hayloft to hash out what they should do about the abuse they and their daughters have been forced to endure.

As these women can’t read or write, drawings represent the three choices they can scratch their X next to: forgive and forget; stay and fight; leave. What’s at stake is nothing less than the afterlife, as the religion the women were indoctrinated with teaches them that they cannot get into heaven without the blessing of their men.

Following the novel on which it’s based, Polley’s script makes sure every position is given equal time. Frances McDormand is the Ginny Thomas/Amy Coney Barrett of the group, falling on religious doctrine to excuse the abuse. Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey and others represent the steady center, while Claire Foy is the revolutionary, arguing to kill the rapists. Jessie Buckley gets the toughest role, an abused mother of an abused daughter whose anger flies everywhere but where it should.

This all might sound heavy-handed and stagey, and could have been with a different director. But Polley knows how to use her medium to take the story beyond a filmed essay. As in the book, the men are away to the city to bail out the arrested rapists, and Polley uses light, camera angles and sound design to heighten the threat of violence upon their return that hangs over the women’s deliberations. The shadowy hayloft where they gather feels dangerous, its high, isolated position leaving no easy escape, and the discussion taking place there is kept engrossing as Polley shifts the mood in erratic spurts. The talking is broken up with scenes depicting the few moments of peace the women have in their lives, interacting with nature, friends and their children. These are the things they can still have after they leave the men, and realizing this seems to get them past the last fears holding them back.

Women Talking opens with the title “An act of female imagination”. Along with the narration by one of the characters relating the story to her daughter from a better future, the phrase keeps a light on at the end of the dark tunnel these women must traverse. Yet it’s also gutting that ‘imagination’ suggests that what these women end up doing is a fantasy, a film fantasy and by inference, a real world one.

“An act of female imagination” could also describe the midterm elections, though, so in our world maybe the fantasy just inched a little closer to reality.

Predicted Oscar nominations: 6

Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress x 2, Supporting Actor

DON’T WORRY DARLING: Olivia Wilde chooses Styles over substance

We all have questions, Flo. Like ‘didn’t you read the script?’

“Don’t worry darling,” Olivia Wilde said to Harry Styles, speaking in her endearing punctuation-free manner. “I’ll layer my movie in so much disingenuous feminist commentary – just like you on the red carpet! – that no one will notice you’re no Marlon Brando.”

Harry stared back at her blankly, straightening the pussy bow on his blouse. “Will I get to sing?”

“Don’t worry darling. You’re going to make me sing. With your tongue. While a massively talented actress waits around getting pissed off.” Olivia smiled, more to herself, really. “How many Hollywood norms am I upending, vright? And showing this town that I’m not a one-trick pony that’s always going to churn out insightful, perfectly-toned films like Booksmart.”

Harry put the script down on the table. A stack of paper can get heavy for a man who fits in a ladies size 1. “I’m a slow reader. Can you just tell me what the movie’s about?”

“You play a handsome 50s businessman with a beautiful housewife who’s willing to be careless with her fancy china to get her pussy eaten. That’s called feminism, and there’s a lot more to come.”

“Cool so far. Who’s the lucky actress?”

“Florence Pugh. You know you only pretend to eat her pussy, right? That’s how acting works.”

“Oh, ok. I had to give my co-star a real blow-job in the fag movie I just did. The cameras were hidden so I would feel more comfortable.” Harry paused to think, but his thoughts were like his music, a waft of pleasant background sound that had the courtesy to never settle enough to be a distraction. “Florence Pugh is the girl from Midsommar? She has little boobs.”

“That’s feminism. I could have cast Kim Kardashian, which would have made more sense with you. Anyway, you and Florence live in Palm Springs but I call it Victory. Everything is orderly and perfect and scripted, like The Truman Show. All the wives are totally obedient to their husbands and seem brainless, like The Stepford Wives. But all is not as it seems, like Get Out. This world is actually a computer simulation, like The Matrix.”

“Ooh, is Keanu Reeves running the matrix?”

“No, Chris Pine. I need everyone around you to be a really good actor.” Olivia caught herself. She was a sharp woman, inclined to quick answers, without giving adequate time to contemplate the other party’s reaction. Slighting both her new pop star lover and a huge action hero was a potential headache she did not need on the heels of dumping a man who’d recently gone from SNL filler to the Television Academy’s favorite chuckle-getter. “It’s a quality thing,” she added.

“I’ve always wanted to spit on Chris Pine,” Harry said.

“Wait until we finish filming.”

Harry began flipping randomly through the pages. “Which character am I?”


“I don’t have a lot of lines.”

“To paraphrase Norma Desmond, great actors don’t need words. They have faces.”

Harry had no idea what this meant. “I think I’ll do my Cockney-meets-Scottish-by-way-of-Don Draper accent.” He was now poking around in the final act section. “Wait, you said my character was handsome. That’s what my fans want. Here it says ‘Jack, unshaven, pock-marked, with greasy hair and smudgy eye-glasses, turns to face his tired wife’.

“That’s because we find out at the end that you’re actually this unemployed loser jealous of his successful wife, who has no time for him and doesn’t want to be eaten out by a greasy slacker. So you drug her and hook her up to this computer simulation where she becomes your devoted wife in this misogynistic world. How you keep her alive when she’s lying motionless trapped in your device 24/7 or for that matter how the simulated world is physical enough that when someone dies there they die in real life too isn’t important.” Olivia had made this argument to her screenwriter, so felt Harry might need it as well. “Don’t worry darling, you look hot in 7/8 of the movie.”

“Maybe I flip her over every now and then to keep her from getting bedsores.”

“Good build.” Olivia smiled. Harry was sometimes capable of surprising her with more than his finger. “I think an incisive commentary on the pervasiveness of a misogynistic worldview wrapped in mid-century luxury, ironically-placed needledrops and six other film plots, held together for two acts solely by the talent of a great actress, then dissolving into muck with a purposely unsatisfying ending is exactly what fans of Watermelon Sugar will love!”

Harry nervously fingered his House of Chalamet pearl choker. “What if they don’t?”

“Then they’re anti-feminist.”

Predicted Oscar nominations: 1

Production Design