The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
Despite a challenging premise and an overlong runtime, the Hunger Games prequel makes the most of the hand it’s been dealt.
The character of Coriolanus Snow is an odd choice for a Hunger Games hero. In the original books and films, as played by screen giant Donald Sutherland, Snow was a cold-hearted, cruel dictator clearly meant to echo real world fascist leaders. Here, in the prequel story The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (say that five times fast), Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) is just a sensitive, emotional teen dreamboat whose main goal is to provide for his family in the wake of the violent revolution that tore apart Panem, the country formerly known as the United States of America.
It’s difficult to understand why author Suzanne Collins, who wrote the novel Songbirds is based on, made the decision to try to humanize a violent authoritarian when a core theme of the original Hunger Games books and movies was lashing back at systemic oppression. Nonetheless, director Francis Lawrence (Catching Fire, I Am Legend) and his enthusiastic cast of talented performers make the best of the rather thematically confused story arc they’ve been given, turning in one of the most exciting, emotionally arresting entries in the franchise. Continue Reading →
We’re officially in the third decade of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being a movie star. The former WWE legend made his cinema debut in the forgettable sequel to The Mummy, where he’s introduced as the dreaded Scorpion King, one of the most infamous early CGI debacles. Special effects have since improved, along with Johnson’s abilities as an actor and charismatic leading man. However, it feels like now we’ve come full circle with DC’s Black Adam. Continue Reading →
The Woman King
Gina Prince-Bythewood is indisputably one of the most interesting directors working in Hollywood today. Since breaking out with the hit sports romance Love & Basketball, her work has ranged from intimate family dramas and love stories (The Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights) to action-packed superhero movies (The Old Guard). It took Prince-Bythewood seven years to bring her new film, The Woman King, to the screen. Epic, thrilling, and jam-packed with delightful character beats, The Woman King understandably feels like the culmination of Prince-Bythewood’s work so far. As masterful at shooting stunning fight sequences as she is wringing emotions from intimate dialogue scenes, Prince-Bythewood delivers a crowd-pleaser for the ages. Continue Reading →
Far more frustrating than a disastrous mess is a film annoyingly close to being good or vastly more interesting. That's The Unforgivable, a sloppy retelling of the Sally Wainwright's (Gentleman Jack, Happy Valley) 2009 BBC miniseries. Continue Reading →
The Suicide Squad
In the last decade, there have been numerous shitty attempts to replicate the success of the Marvel Studios formula, but Suicide Squad (2016) may be the worst of the worst. Writer/director David Ayer’s dark and gritty tone clashed with the pop music-heavy trailers, marketing that included songs already used by – and meant to remind viewers of – Guardians of the Galaxy. In the end, the studio hired that same trailer company to re-cut the movie, which was released into theaters as an incomprehensible mess. Noticeably missing a “2” in its title, The Suicide Squad is essentially a 200 million dollar do-over. It’s the movie Warner Brothers should’ve made five years ago. Continue Reading →
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Awards season is upon us, which means all the studios and streaming services are breaking out their big guns. Luckily, one of the best films of the year comes to Netflix this weekend. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, based on the play by August Wilson and starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman in his final role. A fictionalized snapshot in the life of the Mother of the Blues, Ma Rainey, George C. Wolfe's film imagines her in a sweaty, muggy Chicago recording studio in the 1920s, trying to record her most popular singles for white Northern audiences, far from her comfortable Black Southern crowds. Of course, tensions rise over everything from artistic freedom, racial animus, and Coca-Cola. Continue Reading →