Directed by Luca Guadagnino — Screenplay by David Kajganich.
Call Me By Your Name was my introduction to the work of Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino. In my review of Call Ne By Your Name, I went to great lengths in emphasizing the power of cinema, the universality and transformative nature of Guadagnino’s film, and a couple of the incredibly well-realized performances in said film. Since then, I’ve seen a few additional films of his, but none of them have reached the heights of his 2017 coming-of-age masterpiece. When I first heard about the fact that Guadagnino had made a new coming-of-age film also starring Timothée Chalamet, I became very curious. When I found out that it was supposed to be a cannibal romance film, my eyes widened in surprise. Bones and All, his cannibal romance, is probably my second favorite film of his. That said, it definitely isn’t as easy of a film to, ahem, ‘eat up’ as his 2017 film was.
Directed by James Gunn — Screenplay by James Gunn.
I’ve made it no secret that the Guardians of the Galaxy films mean a great deal to me. I saw the first film in theaters with my family when we greatly needed something to smile about and we all absolutely loved it. It came around at the exact right time, and James Gunn’s spin on these C-List Marvel characters has made them family favorites (and I’m sure that isn’t just true in my family). I’ve often said that it had the potential for a Star Wars-like impact on a generation, and so I thought it was a hilarious and brilliant idea for James Gunn to add to his overarching narrative about this group of Guardians with a holiday special, as Star Wars’ infamous 1978 holiday special is still spoken about to this day. Thankfully, whereas the Star Wars special was criticized so much that it has never been officially rereleased, this Guardians of the Galaxy special feels much more appropriate to the tone of the films it has spun off from. Like how Werewolf by Night was an entertaining Halloween Marvel Studios special presentation, James Gunn’s Christmas special is exactly what I needed to reconnect with the holiday spirit just in time for December.
Directed by Sara Dosa — Narrated by Miranda July — Available on Disney+ now.
Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love chronicles the careers of famed French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft from their early blossoming romance that took them close to burning hot lava to the unpredictable dangers of the gray volcano eruptions that eventually took their lives. Along the way, the documentary makes sure to emphasize how they were somewhat different, but also how devoted they were to one another, and how they eventually dedicated their lives to communicating the dangers of certain volcanoes and the need for proper timely evacuation.
A shoo-in for the documentary category at the upcoming Academy Awards and one of the best things I’ve seen this year, Daniel Roher’s NAVALNY, in case the title didn’t give it away or if you don’t know his story, is a documentary about imprisoned Russian opposition leader and anti-government protester, Alexei Navalny. The documentary has access to the titular politician and freedom fighter, and he answers all of Roher’s questions in a way that makes him come across as being surprisingly on top of things. Roher’s documentary also features illuminating footage of Navalny during protests, campaigning, essentially doing an edge-of-your-seat gripping investigation, and, of course, some footage of the time he was poisoned (allegedly on the order of the most powerful man in Russia who supposedly sought to silence him).
Series Created by Tony Gilroy — Available on Disney+ now.
Since Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, it has been somewhat of a bumpy ride. Their so-called sequel trilogy features a safe-but-satisfying opener (The Force Awakens), an excellent and thrilling second film that divided the fanbase and revealed toxicities (The Last Jedi), and a conclusion that, in trying too hard to satisfy toxic fans, went back on what the previous film had set up and ended the trilogy on a whimper (The Rise of Skywalker). Even the spin-off films have divided opinions due to them over-explaining things that needed no explanations. As live-action Star Wars has embraced streaming, it has been with similar ups and downs. The Mandalorian is a bonafide hit (but in its most memorable moments it has still clung to fan service). The Book of Boba Fett was good in glimpses but its best episodes are essentially episodes of The Mandalorian. Finally, though richly satisfying, Obi-Wan Kenobi was a safe and fan-service-laden limited series that was yet another reminder of how insular Star Wars storytelling can often feel. As a huge Star Wars fan, it pleases me greatly to be able to affirm that ANDOR, a prequel spin-off series of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, is a breath of fresh air in that it is a mature, dark, and gritty series that makes the Empire and the Rebellion feel real again.
Directed by Mark Mylod — Screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy.
Mark Mylod’s The Menu follows Margot (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) and her food-obsessed boyfriend, Tyler (played by Nicholas Hoult). Tyler has paid for them to go to this highly exclusive restaurant called ‘Hawthorne,’ which resides on this little remote island. Hawthorne is home to the world-renowned chef Julian Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes) and his highly devoted kitchen staff. Tyler has paid an obscene amount of money to get there because he worships Slowik, and, in actuality, the trip wasn’t originally meant for Margot but rather for his ex-girlfriend. In fact, Margot seems wholly disinterested in the pretentious dishes and overall culture around high-end cooking. She stands out immediately among the guests who also include a food critic that can make or break careers (played by Janet McTeer), tech investors, a past-it actor (played by John Leguizamo), and others. For this evening, Slowik has prepared a detailed but theatrical menu that toys with expectations and that takes aim at his guests. But, eventually, Margot and others start to question whether what is happening is showy high-end cooking or something much more malicious.
Directed by Sebastián Lelio — Screenplay by Emma Donoghue, Alice Birch, and Sebastián Lelio.
General audiences are unlikely to see an opening shot as surprising or even mystifying as the opening shot in Sebastián Lelio’s The Wonder. If you go in knowing that you are about to watch a period drama set in the 1800s, then you’re going to raise your eyebrows when you see what awaits you. Lelio’s first shot shows an empty film set warehouse and a scaffolded house that likely contains a principal set for the film. A female voice sets the mood by way of an absorbing and mysterious narration that emphasizes how the characters in the story cling to and fully believe the stories they tell. As the camera glides into a set containing Florence Pugh in-character, the film begins properly. It is a showy opening that is effective in underlining the questionable reality of the stories we ourselves gather around a television — or inside a theater — to watch, and, even though this framing device is a narrative-breaking technique (not its only fourth wall-breaker in the film) that isn’t wholly unique (just see last year’s HBO Scenes From A Marriage remake), it absolutely is an opening that takes your hand and asks you to partake in the story’s mystery. I think you should accept the offer and the instruction to buy into what you’re seeing.
Directed by Andy Serkis — Screenplay by Kelly Marcel — Story by Kelly Marcel and Tom Hardy.
I thought Ruben Fleischer’s Venom (2018) was pretty bad. As a film, it felt like a product of a different time, it felt outdated, it was surprisingly dull, and all it had going for it was a go-for-broke Tom Hardy performance. To me, it felt like he was in a different film than the rest of the cast. It has become a film that I remember primarily for one absolutely hilarious scene, but it’s also a film that I don’t feel like rewatching. It should come as no surprise to you then that I didn’t feel like rushing out to theaters to see its sequel. In fact, because of the similar critical reception, I’ve never really felt the urge to watch it. That is, until today when I finally ripped off that symbiotic band-aid. Turns out it was almost exactly what I expected it to be. That’s not a good thing, but it’s also not the end of the world. I don’t think it’s good, but it is better than I expected it to be.
Directed by Ryan Coogler — Screenplay by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole.
How do you follow up on one of the most popular superhero films of the last decade, when the incredibly magnetic actor portraying the titular iconic character is no longer with us? Such was the seemingly impossible task for Ryan Coogler when he sat in the director’s chair for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. As I sat down to watch the film, this was the big question that was on my mind. Chadwick Boseman, the charismatic actor who passed away in 2020 due to a private battle with colon cancer, was such an amazing screen presence, and he was the focus of that first film, and you definitely miss him in the sequel. However, it must be said that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever actually does work quite well in spite of the big missing link. One of the reasons why it works is because the presence of a gaping hole at the center of it is an intrinsic part of the plot in more ways than one.
Directed by Tobias Lindholm — Screenplay by Krysty Wilson-Cairns.
Like the many films with the word ‘American’ in the title (American Sniper, American Gangster, American Ultra, American Hustle, American Pie, etc.), films or shows with ‘Good’ in the title are a dime a dozen. The Good Dinosaur, The Good Wife, The Good Doctor, and so on and so forth. Let’s just say that Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurse has a very generic title. I’d love to be able to say that the film isn’t like that. But, honestly, it is a fairly generic but ‘okay’ film that somehow has a great cast, director, and screenwriter.