Tag Archives: Letitia Wright

Into the Void

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The shocking news of Chadwick Boseman’s death brought plenty of feelings. One of them was curiosity about the future. How would the Black Panther franchise – newly launched via Marvel’s most impressive feature – move forward?

Wakanda Forever does it with respect, love and reverence, in a worthy second effort that’s anchored by loss, grief and perseverance.

One year after King T’Challa’s death, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) is wondering if the idea of a “Black Panther” is outdated and Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is facing increased pressure to share vibranium with other world powers.

The world powers, of course, aren’t just asking. And their efforts to take are aided by a new device that can detect vibranium in the environment, which brings the powerful “Feathered Serpent God” Namor (Tenoch Huerta from The Forever Purge and Sin Nombre) out of hiding.

Vibranium is also the resource vital to his undersea world of Talukan. Namor views the detection device as a threat to his nation and demands that Ramonda and Shuri turn over the scientist responsible. If they do not, Wakanda will have a formidable new enemy.

Hannah Beachler’s production design rivals that of her Oscar-winning work in Ryan Coogler’s 2018 original. Wakanda itself is as stunning and fully realized as ever, while Namor’s undersea realm becomes a lush waterworld that puts Aquaman to shame.

But after the defiant, often furious adventure of Black Panther, the most striking aspect of Wakanda Forever is the way it embraces the void left by the loss of both T’Challa and Boseman.

Coogler, writing again with Joe Robert Cole, delivers a more contemplative film this time around. Characters wrestle with loss and power, tradition and progress, rage and mercy. The depth of the script allows Basset and Lupita Nyong’o to really shine, while Winston Duke steals many scenes with a meatier, more layered take on M’Baku.

There is room for action aplenty, equally impressive whether massive seafaring attacks or intimate one-on-one battles (much thanks to the forever badass Danai Gurira).

The introduction of young M.I.T. phenom Riri (Dominique Thorne) is a well-intentioned mirror to Shuri’s technical genius, but the thread ultimately lands as a bit light and superfluous next to the complexities being pondered here. Still, Coogler’s skill with both emotion and spectacle never allows the two-and-a-half hour plus running time to feel bloated, and the film soars highest when the rush to war plays out against a backdrop of immense, intimate grief.

Have the tissues handy for the mid-credits coda. It’s a touching toast to an absent friend, and it cements Wakanda Forever‘s beautiful commitment to looking forward with cherished memories intact.

Murder Was Again the Case

Death on the Nile

by George Wolf

“He accuses everyone of murder!”

“It is a problem, I admit.”

This playful admission by legendary detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is one of the ways Death on the Nile has some winking fun with the often used, often parodied Agatha Christie formula.

And since Christie’s source novel is one of the works that perfected that formula, it’s smart to acknowledge some inherent campiness while you’re trying to honor the genius of the original construction.

After his successful revival of Murder on the Orient Express in 2017, Branagh is back to again star, direct, and team with screenwriter Michael Green for another star-studded, claustrophobic whodunit.

This time we’re aboard a lavish cruise down the Nile in the late 1930s. Wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) has just married the dashing Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), and they’ve invited a group of friends and family (including Annette Bening, Sophie Okonedo, Russell Brand, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright and no-that’s-not-Margot- Robbie-it’s Emma Mackey) to help them celebrate.

Ah, but love and money bring “conflicting lies and jealousies,” and soon Linnet proves wise in putting the world’s greatest detective on the guest list. Murder is again the case!

And when Hercule Poirot is on it – which takes a while – Branagh and Green craft a capable reminder of what makes this formula so sturdy. From the discovery of clues to the requisite red-herring accusations, it’s just fun to feel part of Poirot’s deductive process.

But while Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos expertly utilize the confines of the ship to their advantage, the surrounding locales smack of outdated CGI and land as a disappointing stand-in for the eye-popping wonder of Orient Express.

Branagh and Green also try valiantly to weave a layer of love through the mystery. Opening with a prologue that introduces a decades-old pining (along with Poirot’s keen eye for detail and a dubious inspiration for that mustache), the film’s ambitions for this added narrative weight are worthy, but ultimately add more running time than substance.

The epilogue that checks in with Poirot six months after the cruise lets us know Branagh may have more Christie mysteries on his itinerary, and that’s not a bad thing. Death on the Nile proves that a trusty return to glamour and intrigue can still overcome some excess baggage.

Hearing Voices

Sing 2

by Hope Madden

Are you ever absolutely slain by the voice talent in a cartoon? I find this especially true of a middling animation like Sing, or more to the point, writer/director Garth Jennings’s sequel, Sing 2.

Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Edgerton, Bono, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Pharrell Williams, Halsey, Letitia Wright, Eric Andre and Chelsea Paretti round out the set of vocal stylists bringing this animated animal talent show to the big screen. Was there any budget left for animators?

Well, sure. This is an Illumination animation—the good people behind the Minions and all that—and its visual style is bright, colorful and well suited to the animal antics afoot.

What antics, you ask? Well, big dreamer Buster Moon (a koala voiced by McConaughey) wants to take his enormously popular smalltown song and dance troupe to the big time! But are they ready? Will the man in charge of their destiny (a nasty wolf named Jimmy Crystal voiced by Cannavale) choose to murder Buster? And can they find the famous singer Clay Calloway (Bono) in time for the big show?

Who’s to say? What they won’t do is sing originals. Unlike your typical Disney musical, Sing 2 puts recognizable pop songs into characters’ mouths, so it plays a bit like one of those TV talent shows, except less annoying.

Halsey is memorable as spoiled Porsha, and Jennings himself shines voicing the character of theater assistant Miss Crawly.

Still, there’s not a lot new to see here—I think we’re all familiar with “the show must go on” stories. There’s even less new to hear. Characters are likable enough (aside from that wolf), and very solid lessons are learned and themes encouraged.

Plus, some fun song choices keep scenes lively and it is very hard to go wrong with this talent pool.

Not one memorable thing happens. Not one. But Sing 2 is light-hearted, good-natured fun while it lasts.