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Hoth Stuff: DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Good House
The Good House is an adaptation of Ann Leary’s book of the same name. It’s a character study of Hildi Good (Sigourney Weaver), real estate agent, in a small coastal New England town.
This is not a light movie.
It deals with some really difficult themes including, suicide, addiction, divorce, depression, anxiety, midlife and more.
One of the great things about these types of character study indie films is they can sometimes bring together absolutely amazing casts.
Sigourney Weaver is one of the most unsung performers of her generation. She’s pitch perfect in every scene. Kevin Kline shows his great range and Morena Baccarin and Rob Delaney are excellent in supporting roles. There isn’t a wasted performance here.
This is a great snapshot of small town New England and if it was a lighter movie I would spend a lot of time talking about the cinematography, great views of coastal Massachusetts and the town being a co-star in the film, which it totally is.
The heavy subject matter doesn’t really let you drink in the beauty the way you might otherwise.
There are some quirky choices made by directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky. Some expository narrative that probably should have taken place with a voice over was done with intermittent 4th wall breaks. It was distracting.
This isn’t Deadpool or a comedy where talking directly to the audience might have entertainment value. I found it distracting and later in the film they stop doing it and go to voice over. Maybe the budget didn’t allow for reshoots but the inconsistency definitely detracted from the film.
A film that makes us feel is something to be respected. The Good House will definitely tug at your emotions as Hildi and her community give us a snapshot view of their lives, joys, and pains.
At its core The Good House is an addiction story, but that remains hidden in act 1. If I had to guess there was a late game decision made to evolve the script to highlight the addiction aspects of the story later, but I haven’t read the book so I don’t know that for sure.
There are two supporting performances that deserve recognition. Georgia Lyman plays the mother of an autistic child that becomes critical late in act three. Her ability to deliver raw emotion to the audience tells me she’s been underutilized for most of her career. She deserves more work. Paul Guilfoyle, who has been around forever (117 acting credits), plays a very minor role and delivers in every scene. He’s so genuine it’s always a pleasure to see him on the screen.
The technical side of the film is proficient and as mentioned earlier, there are some amazing visuals of coastal Massachusetts and gorgeous architecture of the area. The editing is excellent and the story flows nicely, aside from the expositional incongruity I mentioned earlier.  Extras include commentary, trailer, and gallery.
If you like well written, well acted, deeply emotional stories this is a film that was made for you. You don’t see these types of films get the widespread acclaim they used to, but they definitely should. Enjoy it! I did.
4 out of 5 stars ( – David Landsman)
The Fabelmans

By now, if you’ve heard of The Fabelmans at all, then you’ve heard that it’s a thinly veiled autobiographical motion picture directed and co-written by Steven Spielberg. That automatically makes it interesting…but is it actually a good movie?

Steven Spielberg, of course, has long since landed himself in the lofty pantheon of great film directors with a half century now of iconic movies from Duel and Raiders of the Lost Ark to more serious works like Schindler’s List and Lincoln. Oldtimers like myself remember the legend of how this young, enthusiastic kid supposedly talked his way onto film sets until somebody actually put him to work and let him direct.

As with any bio-film, the main problem is that it’s too episodic. As with real life, there is no one sustained feeling as the film bounces from our hero, Sam’s, childhood to the verge of adulthood.

There are segments of family drama, sitcom, high school, and antisemitism. Some sections are about filmmaking and those are never less than informative, but others are filled with laughter or warmth, still more with angst, depression, or violence. Sure, real life is also a mixture of emotions and actions but real life doesn’t compress them all into a little more than two hours.

For me, the early scenes were favorites, with little Sam seeing his first movie and the impact it had on him. The metaphorical train segments are done wonderfully, with the mother’s wise understanding of her son’s need to control aspects of his own life, and providing him the means to do so.

Unfortunately, the mother’s wisdom doesn’t last the whole movie. Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams seemed to me to be all across the board with her character. It’s clear early on that she isn’t quite all there and as the image of the perfect middle-class Jewish family starts to deteriorate before our eyes, Williams runs with it, all but drowning out Paul Dano as the father, who gives a much more internalized performance.

The great Jeannie Berlin (hadn’t seen her in decades!) is the grandmother and Judd Hirsch shows up for a brief but inspiring scene as her brother. Seth Rogan surprised me, giving the most natural performance as a family friend who plays a major role in the Fabelmans’ lives and iconic film director David Lynch is dead-on as iconic film director John Ford in one of the movie’s best scenes.

Sam also has three sisters in the movie, and while none of them stand out all that much, I did note that their scenes with Sam seemed genuinely realistic, as though they really were siblings, and not just actors playing siblings.

The success of any bio-flick depends, though, on its main character, and Sam Fabelman is played here by Gabriel LaBelle, who manages to hold it all together fairly well and make us care about whether he’ll be able to achieve his dream of becoming a filmmaker, even though we know the answer going in. LaBelle is at his best when he’s in control—when he’s directing, pursuing a goal, standing up to someone. But he’s equally impressive when he’s floundering, whether it be with family, with bullies, or with girls.

In the end, The Fabelmans takes us up to where Sammy Fableman ends but Steven Spielberg is just about to begin, and we’re left with a sense of optimism, perhaps made more so because we know what came next. Extras include featurettes.

The Fabelmans offers a fascinating look inside a creative mind I’ve “known” for many years now, and if the flawed movie itself isn’t yet another Spielberg masterpiece, it’s at least a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.

Booksteve recommends! (– Steven Thompson)

 

Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor is having a midlife crisis. The events of Ragnarok and Endgame have made him question his purpose, so the “God of Thunder” (Chris Hemsworth) has decided to look for the answer.

This introspective quest with the Guardians of the Galaxy gets cut short with the appearance of Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who believes Thor’s kind serves no purpose at all and must be destroyed.

What follows is a flamboyant but touching 80s metal romp through space with the help of a few old friends in new roles.

Joining him in battle are King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (portrayed once again by writer/director Taika Waititi), and his ex-girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is now curiously wielding Mjolnir like a natural and claiming the Mighty Thor title.

A strong ensemble is the backbone of an epic comedy and the chemistry between this cast is flawless.

Thompson’s coolly collected Valkyrie is a solid partner for Portman’s fledgling superhero excitement. Their friendship deserved more screentime given how in sync they were. Now that Korg is a full team member, his good-natured straight man serves as the classic non-Avenger best friend that Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and a host of other supers have used to humanize themselves when hashing out internal dilemmas.

There are big joyful swings that almost always connect and tender moments that remind you that Thor has grown significantly as a leader and friend throughout his four standalone films. Hemsworth’s comedic timing and delivery are a delight to watch after so many joyless early outings. When he and Jane have their first one-on-one he carries all the false bravado of anyone seeing their ex for the first time in years, multiplied by the (crisis of) confidence of a god.

Jane, on the other hand, is glowing and thriving thanks to Mjolnir and better writing. Waititi’s well-executed version of Jane Foster is worthy of both Portman and the title Mighty Thor. It’s amazing how loosening up just a bit can unlock new depths in rom-com chemistry.

At just over two hours, the pacing is remarkably good for a Marvel movie but this also means you can feel there was more to tell.

Story elements like Thor’s visit to Omnipotent City to request help from his fellow gods could have used more fleshing out. Christian Bale is delightfully creepy during his time as Gorr but I needed more time with the character to appreciate his downturn. Waititi has an endless imagination and capacity for world-building, but only a certain amount of time that audiences will stay in their seats. Given the wealth onscreen there are surely gems on the cutting room floor.

There has always been a distance, a joke that Thor was unrelatable because he was a god.

Waititi’s success with Ragnarok and Love and Thunder comes from making Thor question whether the life he was born into is the life for him – a deeply human prospect.

Is anyone, even a god, worthy of blind adoration? And what would it mean to try and live up to that much love?  Extras include commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, and a gag reel.

In between the action-packed hilarity that has the new Thor’s running neck and neck with Guardians of the Galaxy for funniest in the MCU, Love and Thunder might also be closing in on the top spot for “emotional growth for a god”.  ( – Kristen Halbert)

Violent Night

What is it with vomiting scenes in movies these days? I hate it in real life and I hate it in the movies. Violent Night gets on my bad side right off with one.

Luckily, that changes, and I credit David Harbour.

David Harbour is such a fun actor. No matter the tortures he goes through, be it in Stranger Things, Black Widow, or here in Violent Night, he rolls with the punches and still manages to twinkle. At the same time, he never gives less than a strong performance.

Although at first seen as depressed and disillusioned, Harbour as the genuine Santa Claus quickly won me over.

When a bunch of folks on Santa’s naughty list—led by a scenery-chewing John Leguizamo—take ultra-rich Beverly D’Angelo’s dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve, just as Santa’s catching a few winks in their house on his annual journey, he tries to not get involved.

But the one little girl in the house who believes in him makes contact with him and her belief inspires Santa to help them…but in ways that would never happen on a Rankin-Bass Christmas special.

After it gets going it’s all basically another Die Hard variant, albeit with the magical Kris Kringle as John McClane. There’s even a Die Hard reference early on. Home Alone gets a couple shoutouts and homages as well.

Punny title aside, the film actually does get pretty violent and profane and as such is definitely not for everyone. Although humorous, Harbour’s Santa manages to bring something to this one that other Die Hard-type movies lack, and that’s heart. The spirit of Christmas, if you will.

Extras include featurettes and extended scenes.

Even if Violent Night isn’t to your tastes, even if it offends you a little—or a lot—you may find yourself tearing up just a bit. This movie surprises you. Oh, and unlike the continued controversy over that aforementioned Bruce Willis flick, this one’s definitely a Christmas movie! It even has one of my personal favorite Christmas rock songs over the closing credits!

Booksteve recommends! ( – Steven Thompson)

The Menu

The moment that a hobby passes into an obsession it is fair game for the satire genre.

In The Menu, we find a darkly funny sendup of foodie culture that draws a clear line between those who consume and who provide.

With a stellar cast giving razor-sharp performances that honor a bitingly clever script from Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, this is a feast for the eyes and mind.

Young couple Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) sail to a remote island to eat at Hawthorne, an expensive and exclusive restaurant run by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), for a lavish menu of molecular gastronomy where food is experienced as conceptual art.

However, his approach to dining has some shockingly dangerous surprises for his well-heeled guests.

Even being billed as a technical horror movie, it is equally funny and terrifying. That said, some of the laughter is a nervous reaction to the many twists that appear as Slowik’s plans come into focus.

The acting is incredible, as Anya Taylor-Joy is the audience’s entry point, embodying every person whose eyes glaze over at the 17th listed ingredient in the teaspoon of food on a Tiffany plate.

Nicholas Hoult has shown significant range in comedy, and he plays a celebrity chef sycophant with fervor. Joy and Fiennes play off of each other wonderfully, with his interest in her holding a terrific tension with her suspicion. As usual, Hong Chau as maitre’d Elsa steals every scene that she is in, and remains a top-tier master of timing.

The food styling comes close to being its own character, with impeccable plates that almost seem worth the exorbitant price. Whether you are a Chef’s Table or a Without a Recipe fan, if you enjoy well-plated shots this film is a mouthwatering visual experience. The fine dining need for precision shows up not just on the plate, but in the actions of the kitchen staff who move with a military-level tightness in response to their fearless (and fearsome) leader.

Extras include featurettes and deleted scenes.

The Menu feels familiar as it starts, but as the evening continues each revelation is the lifting of a deadly cloche.

The build is steady and rarely does a joke miss the mark, thanks to the Michelin star cast. If you are looking to feed all of your senses but cannot afford to roll the dice on a 4-figure mystery murder meal of your own, The Menu is an excellent way to taste the pretentious madness. ( – Kristen Halbert)

Smile

It is not the first time nor will it be the last that a feature length horror film adapts the premise utilized for a horror short film in the hopes of drawing in a theatrical audience.

At this point, you could easily argue that horror filmmakers on the rise can effectively pitch themselves with a well-crafted, self-financed short film, as it has been proven time and time again that a significant, positive online response to short form indie efforts will get the attention of studios, as a feature film having a background as a viral short film is a quite effective marketing tool after all.

And Smile is no different.

While the premise of a horror film that sees death foreshadowed by diabolical smiles will inevitably remind many a gorehound of the abysmal Truth or Dare, thankfully, Smile manages to undo much of the damage the aforementioned 2018 cinematic turd had done to creepy smiles, and Smile effectively manages to make that particular facial expression eerie once more.

Opening with a therapy session gone horribly wrong, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is trying to help patient Laura (Caitlin Stasey) when the latter suddenly dons an unsettling smile before taking her own life in a most brutal manner.

After witnessing this deeply traumatizing incident, Rose’s life and sanity begins to unravel as she increasingly struggles with paranoid delusions due to an impending sense of doom of something lurking in the shadows, waiting to claim Rose as its next victim, and Smile pulls no punches in unsettling the viewer as the plot unfolds and the truth becomes known.

Considering how poorly Truth or Dare went over, Smile is almost a downright masterpiece in comparison, as it manages to build and sustain tension and suspense enough to deliver some rather effective scares with lashings of blood and other grim visuals thrown into the mix.

However, that is not to say that Smile covers any new ground in the horror genre as such – and the plot in general and the character motivations of some supporting characters in particular do not hold up to too much scrutiny – but what Smile does have is an abundance of atmosphere.

Being at the center of the narrative as the latest person seeing alarming visions involving eerie smiles, the film relies heavily on Sosie Bacon to carry the film, and she manages to deliver a solid performance as a largely relatable protagonist who has to sell her terror to the audience as she navigates her ordeal.

Additionally, the film manages to warp the sense of what is real and what is imagined so sufficiently that it from time to time may catch the viewer off-guard, much in the same manner as the protagonist is tricked.

The gore is confrontational in a manner that justifies the film’s rating without going overboard and doing gore simply for the sake of gore.

Similarly, the film also utilizes a fair few jump scares throughout, but thanks to its suspenseful atmosphere and the constant uncertainty of what is real and what is not, these jump scares overwhelmingly pay off instead of being a nuisance.

The horror movie genre has, ironically, been pronounced dead every few years since its inception, and while there certainly is a lot of dreck being churned out, there are still worthwhile efforts being made. Extras include director commentary, making of, featurettes, deleted scenes and original short.

Smile may not be the very best of the 2022 horror alumni, but it is certainly not among the worst either, as it is a solid, atmospheric effort that delivers on suspense, gore and scares in that bread-and-butter way we so often take for granted.

Verdict: 7 out of 10 ( – Leyla Mikkelsen)

Ticket To Paradise

Ticket to Paradise reunites Julia Roberts and George Clooney for something akin to an old-fashioned romantic comedy.

The perpetually pretty pair play bickering exes who have never been on good terms but are brought together temporarily in a concerted effort to prevent their daughter from marrying a just-recently met seaweed farmer in Bali. Seriously.

The battling Bickersons are great fun as they snipe at each other constantly, all the while plotting various convoluted ways to “save” their daughter from making the kind of mistake they made. Gradually they fall in love with the island culture and little by little, with each other again.

Clooney and Roberts are quite enjoyable in Ticket to Paradise. I wish there had been more of these old pros and their crazy chemistry and bilious bantering, chewing the admittedly gorgeous scenery throughout.

The movie’s main problem is that I never really find myself caring about the kids as much, and in the end, it’s supposed to be as much their love story as it is the parents’ love story.

Kaitlyn Dever is daughter Lily and she’s fine with what she has to work with but the script just seems to use her and her unusual romance as a plot device. Same with Maxime Bouttier as her paramour, Gede. As much as we feel the growing love and desire between the divorced parents, we are asked to simply accept it from the kids.

Billie Lourd as Lily’s BFF gives a more interesting performance than either of them, with better comic delivery, but her decidedly second-tier sidekick character goes nowhere, in spite of a couple scenes where you think she’s about to become a major character.

In the end, it’s impossible to think of Ticket to Paradise as anything other than superstar-powered fluff but there’s nothing wrong being with just a star vehicle sometimes. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn each had a lot of filler in their careers back in the proverbial day but filler with Cary Grant and/or Katherine Hepburn is still, unquestionably, worth watching.  Extras include featurettes and trailer.

I’d have no problem watching Julia Roberts and George Clooney, as themselves, just sit in a room talking for 90 minutes. In this case, we get a selection of funny outtakes over the closing credits that gives us the real George and Julia…and that works for me. Overall, although far from a classic, Ticket to Paradise worked for me, too.

Booksteve recommends! ( – Steven Thompson)

The Banshees of Inisherin

As the Civil War rages on the mainland in 1920s Ireland, Pádraic lives on the island of Inisherin where he enjoys the simple joys of life, particularly his friendship with the older Colm.

Until Colm suddenly decides he no longer wants to talk to Pádraic, that is.

Pádraic is at a loss as to why his friend has had this drastic change of heart about their friendship, and Colm does not appear to be interested in elaborating on his choice to sever ties with him either.

Having the seminal classic In Bruges in common, writer/director Martin McDonagh and actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson join forces once more in The Banshees of Inisherin, which tells the tale of a friendship falling apart, and how the situation escalates in unpredictable ways.

On the surface, the film is a comedy, and while it certainly generates plenty of genuine laughs due to McDonagh’s writing, there is also a tenderness to how the friendship is portrayed – which is particularly evident with how openly heartbroken Farrell’s Pádraic is about the circumstances – as well as an existential depth that gives the film ample gravitas.

Juxtaposing Farrell’s emotional Pádraic with Gleeson’s stoic Colm, Farrell gets to flex all his thespian talent with how he conveys the inner turmoil of the increasingly desperate Pádraic, whereas Gleeson gives the saying “still waters run deep” a renewed intensity, especially once he finally decides to open up about what it is that has made him so abruptly abandon Pádraic.

This juxtaposition not only lends plenty of nuance to the story itself, it also ensures that the tension of the situation keeps its momentum as the story unfolds with a constant bouncing back and forth between the seemingly mundane and shocking bursts of narrative surprises, all of which keeps the film engaging and unpredictable from start to finish.

As you may have gathered, the performances are stellar, and this is not only with regard to the leading men, but also several of the supporting actors, particularly Barry Keoghan’s awkward Dominic and Kerry Condon’s portrayal of Pádraic’s smart and assertive sister Siobhan.

In terms of visuals, every frame is a painting, not only thanks to the natural beauty of the location itself, but also with how the cinematography frames and lingers on the landscape, the light on people’s faces and all the unspoken emotion both a landscape and a face can convey without any dialogue to explicitly spell it out to the viewer being necessary.

Telling a story of a friendship falling apart often falls flat and because so many of these stories tend to become superficial comedies that merely seek to set up as many exaggeratedly awkward situations as possible before the inevitable reconcilitation with an overbaked display of saccharine emotions oozes out of the screen.

What McDonagh has achieved with The Banshees of Inisherin, however, is a sincere portrayal of how important our platonic relationships are to both our quality of life in general and our sense of self in particular.

Similarly, the film also raises existential questions of legacy and what actually matters in life.  Extras include featurette and deleted scenes.

Naturally, doing so runs the risk of becoming a filmmaker’s self-indulgent finger-wagging at the audience, however, what The Banshees of Inisherin instead does is take those seemingly mundane human emotions, thoughts and situations and elevates them to a truly exceptional story about life, friendship and grief, all told with such immense humor, heart and tenderness that it easily makes the film one of the very best of 2022. ( – Leyla Mikkelsen)

3,000 Years of Longing

3000 Years of Longing is in the end a sweet movie about love, although I wouldn’t really call it a love story. It’s a movie about stories, though, and their importance not only in history but in our individual lives. It’s a shame the movie’s core story is so slight.

Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba are, it goes without saying, quite marvelous as far as their performances go. Flawless, as both actors usually are. But to what end here?

The former stars as a narratologist. The Internet tells us: Narratology examines the ways that narrative structures our perception of both cultural artifacts and the world around us.

The study of narrative is particularly important since our ordering of time and space in narrative forms constitutes one of the primary ways we construct meaning in general.

I think that definition sums up what the filmmakers’ intent was but I’m sorry to say that the final result is fragmented at best, a series of interesting episodic parts within a structure that all but telegraphs its ending from the start.

Not the details, perhaps, but by the time we meet the lonely woman, and note the title, the film’s ultimate direction was inevitable.

Idris Elba fully immerses himself in his role as the Djinn who is freed by a learned woman at first reluctant to make any wishes at all. As the two star actors appear mainly in one single room throughout the first two thirds of the movie, the highlights of the film are instead the elaborate flashback sequences from the stories the Djin tells of his own past and his three bottle incarcerations.

The movie’s narrative takes a very different turn for its last third as the scene changes and the feel becomes that of a rather dully written sitcom with dramatic moments. Things are a tad confusing in this section as well, and I’m sorry to say that the film’s lovely, sweet ending isn’t really enough to pull all that came before together.  Extras include multiple featurettes.

If you’re a fan of either of the stars of 3000 Years of Longing, you’ll want to catch it, but its overall entertainment value as an actual movie just didn’t work for me. ( – Steven Thompson)

Voyage into Space

Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot originally aired in Japan in 1967-68 as Giant Robo. It could probably be described as a precursor to all the Power Rangers variants, and certainly a lower-budget attempt at an Ultraman type series. It never aired in my market growing up although I would sometimes see pictures from it in magazine and books. I ran across it streaming a few years back and couldn’t resist bingeing some episodes. I liked it!

Johnny Sokko is a 10-year-old boy who inadvertently becomes the only person who can control a giant robot designed to conquer the world. The series has an overarching storyline about an alien invasion and Johnny is teamed with a Unicorn agent (not an actual unicorn, although in this type of show, you never know) as they utilize the robot for good in order to stop the alien schemes. Johnny even gets to become a Unicorn agent himself—as much a fantasy as having a giant robot at your command.

When the series ended, AIP’s television arm re-edited four of the episodes into feature-length time and called it Voyage into Space (despite the fact that no one ever actually voyages into space).

The aliens and monsters are mostly the classic rubber suit Japanese types, if a bit goofier looking and sculpted than on some later shows. Some of the human-sized ones use bizarre makeup and are actually pretty good. Well, most of them. The hero robot himself looks vaguely Egyptian for reasons never explained—at least not in this edited form. The sunglasses-wearing evil army, the Gargoyle Gang, are played as Nazi-types, with fancy uniforms and heil salutes. An interesting way to distance themselves from their former Axis cohorts of just 20+ years earlier at the time.

It was a kids’ show and it’s a kids’ movie, but if you are of a certain age and frame of mind, it might just make you feel a kid again. Even the music is exciting! It may be cheap as all get out, but it’s ten times more entertaining than it needs to be.

Booksteve recommends! ( – Steve Thompson)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

There will never, truly, be another Black Panther like Chadwick Boseman.

If this had not occurred to you over the endless months of speculation about the future of the character, the franchise, and Director Ryan Coogler, this movie may not be for you.

The grief woven throughout Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is about more than the untimely death of Boseman, who exuded heroism and camaraderie as T’Challa in all previous MCU outings. It’s also a public mourning of the specific vision of the character that was seared into our minds from the moment he donned the sleek black and silver suit.

Figuring out how to move the film forward was no easy feat, but Wakanda Forever finds a way to balance the complex and fiery grief of Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) while more-or-less delivering a special-effects-laden MCU standard.

Though the 2 hour and 41 minute runtime could lose 20 – 30 minutes for a snappier film, it is a negligible note.

Honoring a lost loved one takes time.

The film opens with a stunning tribute to T’Challa, who has passed away from a sudden illness despite Shuri’s best efforts.

Fast forward a year later, and she has buried herself in lab work as Queen Ramonda fights off the grasping claws of vibranium-hungry world powers. The search for vibranium minus Dora Milaje protection leads to the discovery of a new pocket, and a new secret civilization that this find threatens.

Their leader, Namor (Tenoch Huerta) rules Talokan, an underwater kingdom with significant Mesoamerican-inspired lore and design. Huerta is an excellent anti-hero, bringing sincerity into arguments that would appear darkly nationalist in less skilled hands. His clarity of purpose is a perfect balance to Shuri’s endless uncertainly about her path forward. The loss of her brother has left the normally cool and collected Shuri chilly and short-tempered, with no outlet for the anger that grows inside of her.

I will not reveal too many plot twists, as they are part of the healing process that Wakanda Forever is facilitating in many ways.

But every character that supported Boseman in the first film is elevated to fill the hole left by their leader and friend. More responsibilities, more lines, more fights. Not only does it showcase the excellent casting, it reinforces that getting through this is a collective effort for Wakanda.

There is not a single actor turning in anything less than what would have made him proud. Wright and Bassett are stunning in the strength of their grief and resolve. This is easily some of the best we have gotten to see from Bassett in years, and she leans into the roar of a leader as heavily as the pain of a mother in mourning.

Coogler and cast had a significant lift on their hands, finding a way to balance a death so large in real life that it temporarily shattered the fantasy as well.  Extras are plentiful with commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, and gag reel.

While Wakanda Forever may not deliver on the easily digestible fare that superhero movies tend to be, it is more than everything it needs to be for those that have been waiting to say a final goodbye.  ( – Kristen Halbert)

Black Adam

It’s been 17 years since Dwayne Johnson was initially chosen to play Black Adam.

The expectations, budget, and cast have grown to include the talents of Viola Davis, Pierce Brosnan, and Aldis Hodge with Jaume Collett-Sera directing.

But it seems like we could have waited just one more year for a full-grown movie that would be worthy of the significant talent attached to the project.

Thankfully there is still enough to enjoy that it becomes a mildly forgettable diversion instead of a drag-worthy disaster. Black Adam debuts in the DCEU with a very ambitious script from writers Sohrab Noshirvani, Rory Haines and Adam Sztykiel.

5,000 years after Black Adam gained his powers and went on a vengeance-fueled spree against the king who enslaved him, his homeland of Khandaq is under siege again.

This time, from foreign invaders known as Intergang who are in search of a rare mystical metal (sound familiar?) called Eternium.  This would be a great straightforward story, but the plotlines continue.

Because he is an ancient threat, Viola Davis shows up for the briefest of cameos so Amanda Waller can assign Black Adam’s capture to Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and his 3-person team.

Introducing a lore-heavy character as long-awaited but mostly unknown as Black Adam is difficult enough without adding the debut of a new super team and all of their bios. When we add the vague anti-colonialism plot for the human element it becomes too much ground to cover and do anything real justice.

What we do get is an idea of the great potential of each character, if only given the chance.

Hodge is dynamic as Hawkman, delivering team leader energy in spades while constantly losing his temper when Black Adam tests his concepts of heroism and justice. It’s a shame that we only see his present, with no coverage of a backstory or even which iteration of Hawkman he is supposed to align with.

Pierce Brosnan brings a welcome weariness to Doctor Fate that grounds his scenes, while Sarah Shahi holds the moral compass as Adrianna, the local archeologist that called forth Black Adam.

I wish this was something I was looking back on, something that had the time to show proof of concept and receive a bigger investment in narrative and focused story-building. But 17 years later we’re getting something that would have been impressive in the early 2000s and feels like a pet project now.

Several times in the film, Hawkman tells Doctor Fate, “A bad plan is better than no plan at all.”

Extras include multiple featurettes.

So is lackluster movie better than no movie at all?

According to Warner Bros. Discovery, the answer is no, and have since hired James Gunn and Peter Safra as co-CEOs and are currently rebooting the DC Cinematic Universe.  ( – Kristen Halbert)

Wife vs. Secretary (Warner Archive Collection)

To an old movie buff like me, one of the saddest things about the 21st Century is that even the most classic movie stars of the past are largely forgotten.

In the 1930s, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy were voted the King and Queen of Hollywood. They made several films together. Gable was the most famous and recognizable man in the United States for years, maybe in the world. Superman reportedly even got his name from Clark Gable (some sources say from Clark Savage, Jr. but Doc may have gotten his from Gable, too!)

Clark Gable died in 1960, when I was only a year old, yet I can’t remember a time when I didn’t recognize him on sight with his trademark mustache, his intense stare, his rapid-fire delivery, his million-dollar grin, and his big ol’ ears.

His most successful movie, Gone with the Wind, continued to be re-re-re-released right up into the late 1980s at least!

Somewhere along the way, though, younger generations lost that yearning to find out everything that had come before them. Even worse, they stopped caring about whatever they did learn. This is sad, indeed, and their loss, and that’s not just me speaking now as an old man.

There is something magical about a black and white classic motion picture. It’s as though it’s taking place in its own little world. Wife vs Secretary, released in 1936, is such a movie, albeit a minor classic as classics go. The picture re-teams Gable with Myrna Loy, she whose effortlessly sexy chemistry with William Powell in many films including the Thin Man series was the talk of Hollywood at the time. Loy and Gable shared that same type of chemistry, perfect for a light-hearted romantic farce. Unfortunately, although it starts out that way, as it goes on, Wife vs. Secretary becomes more a glossy soap opera as the couple separates and I found myself hoping Gable would end up with Jean Harlow by the end.

Jean who? Sigh…Surely you know Marilyn Monroe, the ultimate tragic movie sex goddess of the 1950s? Well, to simplify things, let’s just say Jean Harlow was the ultimate tragic sex movie goddess of the 1930s.

The film’s plot’s pretty simple.

Gable is a go-getter publisher attempting to land a big takeover deal. Harlow is his super-efficient gal Friday, Loy his ever-understanding spouse. At least in the beginning. Gable’s character’s mother sows doubt as to her son’s fidelity. Meanwhile, young Jimmy Stewart, Jean’s fiancé, is fed up and asks her to quit and marry him right away. Her loyalty to her boss in his complex business negotiations being what it is, she is compelled to turn him down.

So they break up, and through a series of misunderstanding that could have been played for comedy but weren’t, Loy leaves an incredulous Gable, who has been so oblivious to everything he has no idea what’s going on. He really had been loyal to her the entire time, in spite of one scene with Harlow where the sexual tension is so thick you could slice it with a knife!

Gable and Harlow had a history of sexual tension, both before and after Wife vs. Secretary. Jean Harlow had been generally cast as a wisecracking, dumb, platinum blonde or redhead in such pictures as Red Dust (with Gable) or Dinner at Eight. Here, she actually steals the picture in my opinion, by the simple virtue of not being that character. Her brashness completely unseen this time, she gives an almost modern, subtle performance, acting with her eyes and body movements as much as her dialogue. Had she not died less than a year later, who knows where she might have ended up.

James Stewart, himself with major stardom (and headline-making WWII service) just around the corner, handles himself just fine against MGM’s three biggest stars, and even figures into a rather sad/happy ending.

Wife vs. Secretary is opulent, at times eloquent, beautifully photographed, and perfectly acted by the best in the business at the time. If only its script had been more entertaining. That said, if you get the chance to see it, see it for Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and James Stewart. Like me, you may be disappointed overall, but certainly not by spending time with these master performers!

Booksteve recommends!  (– Steven Thompson)

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