Despite only being a little less than five years apart, the two Black Panther films were released in different cinematic landscapes. The original Black Panther came out as the superhero movie genre was at its peak, riding a cresting wave of critical acclaim for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It featured some of the franchise’s best world-building, its best villain, and introduced a new cast of characters who could conceivably lead their own entries. The sequel, Wakanda Forever, is without its lead after Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death mid-production, and it’s coming in the middle of a creative slump for the MCU, dogged by overproduction and the distillation of the brand thanks to a dozen Disney+ series. The money still gets made, but Wakanda Forever doesn’t linger like Black Panther did. A world that seemed endless after the original feels constrained by the sequel. It’s time for director Ryan Coogler to get out while he still can.
Every year, there’s at least one movie whose critical acclaim makes me feel like an idiot. Drive My Car was too uneventful, Zama too opaque, and for 2022, Aftersun was too cold. Charlotte Wells’ autobiographical debut bowled critics over, and audiences too judging by the prodigious sniffling in the theater, but all I could pull out of it was a strong coming of age story about a girl and her totally normal dad. I don’t buy every rug that looks nice, I’d prefer a crowd of people not sing Happy Birthday to me, and I would hate being ambushed by karaoke. Clearly, I’m brooding and mysterious and worthy of being the central enigma in a movie.
Comedian, actor, and writer Billy Eichner has been vocal about the momentous nature of his film Bros, one of the first gay romantic comedies backed by a major studio. He was equally vocal about audiences not showing up to support a film that didn’t make its modest budget back, blaming homophobic theatergoers as opposed to his film’s own deficiencies and a cinema business still struggling amidst Covid. Eichner, director Nicholas Stoller, and the cast and crew of Bros should instead take this commercial and creative failure as a sign of progress. One kind of success for the LGBT community is the ability to make mediocre art and immediately move on to the next thing. Acceptance isn’t resting on every work. Bros overestimates a lot of things about itself, like the appeal of its characters, its choice of genre, its humor, its transgressiveness, and its role in the broader culture.
After seventeen years, Todd Field finally returns to filmmaking with Tar, the objective masterpiece of 2022. Only Field’s third film, Tar comes in the footsteps of In the Bedroom and Little Children, both literary adaptations about the sins lurking beneath their ostensibly happy Americana settings. In Tar, Field’s first original screenplay, the same basic theme applies but there’s nothing normal or average about the film’s towering protagonist. Cate Blanchett gives what could be the best performance in her storied career as Lydia Tar, an elite conductor beloved by high society but haunted by all the personal and professional landmines she’s planted in her life. As those landmines begin to detonate, the rarefied air that she’s been living in becomes a toxic cloud, brought on by her own manipulations and arrogance. For 158 immaculate minutes, Field and Blanchett keep the viewer rapt and devoted to the political minutiae of classical music as one of its brightest stars comes crashing back to earth.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.