Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler, 2018) – T’Challa’s rising to the throne of Wakanda is met with opposition by a vengeful outsider, who challenges his claim to the crown.
Embodying cultural and political significance, Black Panther claws its way out of MCU’s formulaic plague.
The repute of Black Panther is, and will be for a time, inseparable from its notable majority cast of black actors. Such representation in the genre has been a long time coming. But what director Ryan Coogler has achieved goes beyond on-screen cultural progress. In a decade when superpowers continually call for walls and borders against refugees, his work also comes as a timely and thoughtful study in modern isolationism.
Black Panther follows the events of Civil War, as T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) comes to terms with his father’s death and rises to the throne of Wakanda. Under his reign, Wakanda continues to watch the world from the shadows, hiding her people in the cloaked safety of their beautiful secret sanctuary.
The hardened stance of Wakanda takes forms in our world, where defectors gets no reprieve from countries desperately trying to keep them out. What T’Challa’s confidante W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) proclaims is striking in its familiarity, “You let the refugees in, they bring their problems with them and then Wakanda is like everywhere else.”
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The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (Hannah Tinti, 2017) – After years spent on the run, Hawley moves into his late wife’s hometown with his daughter Loo, who has begun to question the cause of her mother’s passing.
On love and loss, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is rich with poignancy, evoked by perfect cadence and thoroughly beautiful prose.
Every scar tells a story. The twelve on Sam Hawley’s body reveal his dark past, where his reckless crimes have left him trapped in a cycle of endless retribution. What is his to bear, afflicts his family just the same. A constant shadow looms over his indisputable yet tainted love for his child Loo.
In unravelling the reasons for Sam’s broken self, author Hannah Tinti adeptly weaves the complicated lives of father and daughter in The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. Tinti captivates with her beautiful prose, making astute observations of selfless familial love that is not always visible.
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The Cloverfield Paradox (dir. Julius Onah, 2018) – During the testing of a device that may solve the Earth’s energy crisis, a space crew ends up facing a dark alternate reality.
While a decent work of entertainment, The Cloverfield Paradox is as much a sequel to Cloverfield as Toy Story is the second parter of Puppet Master. (It isn’t.)
By now, the secret is out. The Cloverfield Paradox has turned out less of a sequel to the monster movie than an ambitious concept riding on the waves of it. It would not be wrong to call this a marketing scam. But on the bright side, the anthology has lent a boost to scripts that would have usually gone under the radar.
After all, the trick had worked once. Two years ago, 10 Cloverfield Lane sprung a pleasant surprise, where John Goodman’s conspiracy theorist abducts a young woman and claims the role of her protector. His ambiguous motives tease his insanity, but also a possible catastrophe beyond the bunker. Could the disaster be connected to the titular monster? The question rouses anticipation for its arrival, which makes the final minutes particularly gratifying.
Similar loose ties should have been expected of The Cloverfield Paradox. If only the Netflix production had not been touted as the answer to how the monsters first arrived on Earth. Setting viewers up for disappointment from the get-go, The Cloverfield Paradox is off to a shaky start.
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In Bruges (dir. Martin McDonagh, 2012) – Two professional hitmen are instructed to hide out and await instructions in Bruges, after a mishandled job in London.
Martin McDonagh’s directorial debut explores the difficult themes of sin and redemption, turning in a beautifully written film that is hilarious and moving in equal parts.
It is about time I write about In Bruges, one of my all-time favourite films and the perfect introduction to Martin McDonagh, whose brilliant storytelling career traces back to theatre. Even in his twenties, the respected playwright had already produced several highly acclaimed tragicomedies on stage, as funny as they are genuinely heartbreaking.
Delving into the darker side of humanity, the playwright’s works have been known to be controversial. Many of his characters possess a predisposition to violence, some more callous than others. This is seen in his 2004 film debut Six Shooter, where a recent widower finds an unexpected connection with a disturbed young man – in their grief. For that, he deservingly won his first Academy Award for Best Short Film.
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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh, 2017) – A year after her daughter’s murder goes unsolved, Mildred Hayes takes it upon herself to challenge the local authorities.
Dark and funny as with McDonagh’s usual brand of wit, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri takes an incisive and thoughtful look into the complexities of humanity.
There are no clear-cut protagonists in Martin McDonagh’s works. From In Bruges to Seven Psychopaths, the writer-director takes interest most in morally grey characters, whose values are often corrupt either by upbringing or circumstance. Similarly, amorality and righteousness are indefinite in his latest masterwork, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
The story centres on Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a woman who demands sole responsibility out of police chief Bill Wiloughby (Woody Harrelson) for her daughter’s unsolved murder. Her commissioning of the damning billboards is driven by a want for justice and more so by wrath, however misplaced.
The characters are fascinating. In her dogged prosecution of the cancer-stricken Wiloughby, it is easy to dismiss Mildred as an unsympathetic and almost cruel woman. It is easier still to hate Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an irredeemable cop who repeatedly escapes consequences for his acts of police brutality and unconcealed racism.
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Good Time (dir. Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie, 2017) – Constantine Nikas spends a night attempting to break his brother out of prison after a botched robbery.
Promising less than its namesake, Good Time presents an unflinching portrait of crime, propelled by misguided familial love.
In hopes for a better future, Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) ropes his mentally handicapped brother Nick (Ben Safdie) into his precarious life of crime. But a botched bank heist lands Nick in prison alone and leaves him unable to cope behind bars, where only the harshest of convicts escape unscathed.
The pure always act from love, the damned always act from love. Iggy Pop’s haunting track captures the complex dynamics of the Nikas brothers in Good Time. There is much to admire about how layered characters are despite minimal exposition. For instance, while it is never clear what first led Connie down the transgressive path, his criminal inclination seems borne of a misguided belief that the means may justify the end.
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