Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood – A Messy, Meandering Love Letter to 60’s Hollywood

Who would’ve guessed Quentin Tarantino is such a massive nerd? Well, it turns out, everyone…

It’s common knowledge that Quentin Tarantino cultivated a near encyclopedic knowledge of film and films before he began making them. He spent time in theater and acting classes while he was young, and worked for five years at Video Archives, a video store where he watched multitudes of movies; some obscure, some iconic, but always engaging. It’s this wealth of knowledge that informs the stylistic influences in his films, and he’s not ashamed of that. In fact, it’s a direct part of his writing process, his visual style, and even the way he directs his actors.

This library of knowledge takes center stage in OUATIH, even more so than any of his films before. The film spends so much time showing us a mix of classic film and television footage, stars, icons and legends, both real and fictional, that he crafts a portrait of a bygone era solely through the media present within it. The culture of Hollywood within the 60’s drives the film, and while the setting and characters present within it are a joy to watch, the incessant obsession with homages and references and metatextual in-jokes weighs it down in a way that no Tarantino film up to this point has felt to me.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows several interlocking stories through Tinseltown, with actors and filmmakers finding their way in the industry, or trying to stay relevant. The most centered of these stories is the relationship between Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth (played by DiCaprio and Pitt respectively), an early 60’s TV star and his stuntman who were once iconic in the television show Bounty Law, but now are struggling to find fulfillment in a Hollywood transforming faster than they can keep up. Running parallel to this are scenes of Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, basking in the glory of her newfound stardom.

I think easily the best thing about this movie is the sheer dedication to replicating the era. Everything, from the neon-lit set design, to the eccentric costume design, and even the grainy cinematography Robert Richardson works so meticulously to craft, is designed to transport you back to the tail end of the 1960’s, and it absolutely succeeds. The technicals of the film don’t really entertain you so much as they enrapture you, making you feel as if you’re really there and, and the fact that they could stretch out the illusion for nearly three hours is a feat in and of itself.

On location of Columbia Pictures’ ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

But the real showcase here are the performances. DiCaprio gives one of his best as Rick Dalton, a man trying desperately to reinvent himself and climb out of his comfort zone. The meta nature of his work here isn’t lost to the film, as most of Rick’s story follows him trying to get into character for a TV villain on the real-life show Lancer. It’s wildly different from anything Dalton’s done before, so watching him grapple with losing himself in a role for the first time in ages is incredibly interesting and unique. His relationship with his old stuntman and best friend, Cliff Booth, also just elevates the acting to another level. Brad Pitt brings such a level of swagger and bravado to the role that it’s hard not to enjoy every moment he’s on-screen (even if the character’s backstory has a rather unnecessary and pointlessly problematic implication), and the chemistry the two of them have is electrifying to watch.

However, despite her limited screentime in the movie, I have to say that Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is the show-stealer for me. Every time she’s on-screen you’re completely enraptured by her performance, which is mostly just scenes of her enjoying life as well as her budding career. While Rick and Cliff are two men trying to find out where they belong in a industry quick to change, Sharon Tate is wide-eyed and awestruck by the fact that she’s even there. There’s a scene halfway through the film where she goes to the theater to watch her performance in The Wrecking Crew, a spy comedy from the 60’s, that’s just infectiously joyous. Watching her watch herself on-screen is more of the metatextual ideas that the film plays around with here; it feels like a statement on the transformative power of film as a whole and the self-reflexive nature of filmmaking.

In fact, I feel like most of the movie’s thematic weight can be viewed through Tate’s representation in it. Her intense enjoyment of life, of living, of stardom, is really the film’s way of showcasing the innocence and the allure the dreamscape that is Hollywood. Tarantino is showing us less of the reality of the industry and more of the idea of it; a place where anything is possible. Aging actors can find a second chance and young starlets can make it big. The movie clings to this dream, and goes out of it’s way to desperately hold on to the innocence that made up the era, while simultaneously reminding us of the tragic nature of its end through the film’s usage of the Manson Family. Charles Manson himself doesn’t appear that often, but that doesn’t remove his shadow from looming large over the movie. The decision to include the notorious cult leader and his followers is a sinister yet purposeful move; the film knows that we know who he is, and his inclusion feels like an ever present reminder of the horror and the tragedy that brought the era to an end.

There are so many interesting themes and elements to the film that I could talk about them all for hours, but unfortunately there’s also just a lot of dead-air here. The editing is very jarring, cutting from scene to scene with no real rhyme or reason, and for the first time in what feels like forever I found myself wondering whether or not a Tarantino film felt aimless. Now, after finishing it, I know it isn’t, it does have intention, but the first two acts of the film are bloated with pointless cutaways that really don’t do much other than remind the audience that Quentin Tarantino is a living breathing trivia game. Like I said before, the wealth of references and in-world media makes the world feel lived in, but at the same time it almost feels like the movie is more concerned with parading around it’s knowledge of the era more than it is with telling a coherent and efficient story. Honestly, the entire thing could have been at least a good 30 or 40 minutes shorter and would have felt more compact and straight-to-the-point. The movie picks itself up in the third act with an insane finish that only feels appropriate in a Tarantino film, but I don’t think it justifies everything that comes before it, especially when the movie requires a random time skip and abrupt narration to get there.

However, this is a Quentin Tarantino film we’re talking about here. Despite its missteps, it’s still incredibly interesting, incredibly well-made, and an utterly stunning labor of love to a period long gone. Even if the first two acts of the film loiter along from scene to scene, it’s still very entertaining to watch it do so, and frankly I think the absolutely bonkers third act delivers one of his most satisfying yet, mixing his distinct visual and stylistic flair with a scathing critique on the pointless violence of the Manson Family as well as the sheer blind stupidity of his ideology. OUATIH is long, it’s self-indulgent, it’s tedious, but it’s also a bittersweet and deeply touching attempt at preserving the dreamlike energy of a time that promised peace, love, and happiness, and was tragically cut short for all the wrong reasons.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gets three Tarantino feet shots out of five.

-Chrishaun

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The Lion King (2018) – The Circle of Life is Actually Just an Uncanny Valley

Don’t worry though, Baby Simba is still adorable. Naturally.

Do you remember the first time you ever saw Disney’s original seminal classic The Lion King? If you’re anything like me, you probably watched it with an emotionally irresponsible parent, urging you on to believe that what you were about to see was just the shenanigans of a group of adorably hand-animated felines, only to be slapped in the face with this scene straight out of a Shakespearean family tragedy? I don’t understand how I was able to even fathom the emotional intensity of Mufasa’s death at five years old, but I was, and it has stuck with me ever since, for better or worse.

If you’re planning on going to see Disney’s live-action remake, well I have good news for you. Mufasa’s death won’t make you sad. In fact, it won’t make you feel anything. Actually come to think of it, nothing in this movie will make you feel anything at all.

The Lion King is the eleventh (yes) live-action retelling of a classic Disney animation, but ultimately, retelling really isn’t the right word. While Jon Favreau does add some new sequences to the film and shake up the timeline of certain events, at the end of the day, the film is borderline a shot-for-shot remake of the original, filled with the same awe-inspiring musical numbers and haunting visions of animal fratricide. The biggest difference is the fact that the movie just feels hollow in comparison.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to pretend like the movie doesn’t do anything right. It does quite a bit right, actually. For starters, Jon Favreau directs the hell out of a spectacular ensemble voice cast. James Earl Jones is just as wise and powerful as Mufasa as he was 25 years ago, and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Scar practically drips with menace and malice. JD McCrary is the only human alive who could somehow be just as adorable as Baby Simba looks in this film, and he does such an awesome job as the young prince that it’s hard when he goes. But that hole is thankfully filled when Donald Glover takes the reigns, bringing a charisma and energy to the older Simba that is only matched by his vulnerability. It’s Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s Timon and Pumba that steal every scene though, carrying much of the comedic weight of the film on their very furry shoulders. Aside from them, John Oliver, Keegan Michael Key, Alfre Woodard, and Florence Kasumba also all do great jobs, and Beyoncé’s performance is as solid as can be expected from someone who isn’t a professional actress.

However, we all know that she wasn’t necessarily cast in the movie for her acting chops, which brings me to the best part of the whole affair: the music. Hans Zimmer manages to capture the same triumphant and soulful aura of the original while bringing even more of an authentic African sound to the score, which compliments the musical numbers of the film wonderfully. Aside from some minor mixing problems, I really can’t pick out any problems I had with the music, and that’s not even mentioning just how beautiful the songs are, especially JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph’s infectiously joyous version of I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, and Donald Glover and Beyoncé’s tender and intimate rendition of Can You Feel the Love Tonight. Even though it’s not a musical number in the film, hearing Spirit playing over one of the scenes is just the icing on the cake.

And honestly, as solely a demonstration of the power of modern visual effects, this film is utterly breathtaking. I knew going into it that it was entirely CGI (aside from the very opening shot), but there were moments where I had to question myself in that knowledge simply because it looked so photo- realistic.

But that in and of itself is a double-edged sword. While the photo-realism of the landscape is undoubtedly beautiful, it works against the interest of the film because the animals, our main characters, are incapable of conveying any emotion whatsoever. This makes it impossible to tether onto them for any kind of emotional response because they can only make one face. Unlike Favreau’s Jungle Book, which had the benefit of a human actor to bounce off of, The Lion King just breeds indifference because there’s no way to showcase emotion. Add this to the fact that at the end of the day, there really is no reason for this film to even exist, and you have all the makings of a subpar reboot.

Now, that’s not to say that the movie isn’t enjoyable. I enjoyed it. But only to an extent. And after leaving the theater, and reflecting on what I had just watched for a few minutes, I came to the realization that, unlike The Jungle Book, if I ever get the urge to watch The Lion King ever again, there would be absolutely no reason for me to choose to watch the remake over the original. And that’s a little disappointing.

The Lion King gets 2-and-a-half adorable baby lion cubs out of 5.

-Chrishaun

Netflix’s Secret Obsession – Brenda Song’s New Thriller is Clichéd but Hilarious

The scariest thing about this film is its terrifying lack of originality

Oh, Netflix. You never cease to amaze me. There was a time when you were consistently giving us originals on the scale of Beasts of No Nation, Daredevil, and First They Killed My Father, and now…at least we have Bird Box to fall back on? Right? Right?! Boy? GIRL?!

Which brings us to this. Secret Obsession. A movie so predictable that anyone who has seen at least five, maybe six films in their entire life could predict the plot with relative ease. Seriously. In fact, I won’t even spoil the movie in this review, and I can guarantee you that by the time you’re finished you’ll be able to guess each and every plot point without even starting it. Which, to be fair, you definitely should, because it is most definitely worth your time. Ready? Okay…

Netflix’s Secret Obsession stars London Tipton- I mean Wendy Wu- I mean, Brenda Song as Jennifer, a young woman who we first meet trapped in a desperate battle of survival with a masked killer. For a moment, escape seems imminent, until she’s hit by a car and awakens in the hospital with virtually no memory of the incident or her life prior to it. If this seems like David Fincher’s 50 First Dates to you, then you’d be on the right track, because soon after she’s visited by a man who claims to be her husband Russell, played by Mike Vogel. Russell, of course, is concerned and caring, as any good husband should be, and after a few weeks (or days maybe? This film’s timeline makes absolutely no sense) of physical training, Russell is ready to take Jennifer home to try and jog her memories, and inevitably make new ones.

Do you remember that time when you were voted Homecoming Queen but cancelled because you had to fight the ancient evil spirit of Yan-Lo? No? That’s a shame.

But under the surface, things are not as they seem. Jennifer’s memories start to come back, particularly of the violent night of her attack, while at the same time Russell starts to become less stable and more possessive. And if that’s not enough, an aging detective with trauma of his own (played by Dennis Haysbert, AKA that dude who keeps telling me I’m in really good hands) becomes determined to find out the truth of what happened to Jennifer.

I’d be lying if I said that there was any single part of this film that stood out distinctly as being better than the rest. Brenda Song’s acting here is…decent? You can tell she’s trying, but that doesn’t really count for much compared to the script which is trying equally as hard to make her character seem as dumb as possible. Which is saying something, because every character in this film ranks in the danger zone of passable stupidity. Characters walk when they should be running, hide when they could be escaping, and conveniently forget things when they shouldn’t. The funniest of these is a nasty foot injury that Jennifer gets early on in the film, one that she spends the entire movie deciding whether or not it actually hurts.

While it might be hard to choose a standout for best quality here, it’s definitely very easy to pick out the worst: the script. Plot holes abound, and questions are raised that seemingly have no answers in sight, to the point where you would think that the filmmakers were just as confused as the audience. You can tell that the screenwriter was trying his best to hurry along, moving from predictable plot point to predictable plot point. Each clue towards the film’s inevitable reveal is so obvious and unmistakable that it would actually make more sense if the main character was blind instead of an amnesiac. At least we’d have an explanation for why this horrifying image masquerading as a wedding photo doesn’t immediately set off red flags.

“Baby? That’s an…interesting tan you’ve got there.”

I really don’t know what to tell you about this one. Well, that’s a lie, I know exactly what to tell you. Secret Obsession is certainly not smart, or clever, or particularly well-made. If any of those are requirements for you to have a good time with a film, then this is definitely not for you. But if you enjoy laughing at others’ stupidity and find enjoyment in utter confusion, then you will definitely get a kick out of Secret Obsession.

Secret Obsession gets 1-and-a-half terribly Photoshopped pictures out of 5.

-Chrishaun

SDCC 2019 – Every Major Reveal from Marvel’s Hall H Panel

Just enough content to make you forget that Disney is devouring consumer entertainment like Galactus

Unless you got hit with a weapon’s grade EMP and haven’t had access to the internet over the past four days (in which case I would say get that checked out asap), then you’re probably aware of the fact that this past weekend was 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con, the largest collection of absolute geeks ever collected (minus me). And all the biggest geeks were no doubt all huddled into Marvel’s Hall H last night to watch as Lord Paramount Kevin Feige announced the rollout for Marvel’s Phase 4, the batch of films that would be released in the aftermath of the conclusion of the Infinity Saga.

And let’s just say he did not disappoint. Eleven projects were outright confirmed, films and television shows for the Disney+ streaming service, as well as other projects that were discreetly teased at by the big man himself. For anyone that just so happened to miss arguably the biggest news of the entire convention, I’ll be recapping every major announcement here, in chronological order of their release dates, as well as offering a bit of speculation as to where some of these projects might take the MCU moving forward. Without further ado, here we go.

Black Widow – May 1st, 2020

The first film in the Phase 4 itinerary will be Black Widow, an action vehicle for Scarlett Johansson’s iconic (and very dead) SHIELD agent and former KGB spy. The film, directed by Cate Shortland of Berlin Syndrome fame, will be a prequel set before the events of the first Avengers film and will feature Natasha Romanoff as she tries to find herself and her purpose in the world after her days as an assassin. Starring alongside Johansson is David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov, aka the Red Guardian, a KGB pilot who is eventually trained and enhanced by the Soviet Union as their answer to Captain America. In the comics, Alexei was originally married to Natasha before they both entered Soviet service, but this connection has not been confirmed nor denied in the film. Florence Pugh also has a major role as Yelena Belova, a young girl who was trained alongside Natasha in the Red Room and eventually became the second Black Widow. Rounding out the cast is Rachel Weisz and O-T Fagbenle, both in undisclosed roles, although Rachel Weisz was sure to let us know that her character IS in fact a “bit of a badass.”

Based on descriptions of footage shown last night it seems as if Belova might take on more of an antagonistic role due to the fact that one of the highlights was a fight sequence between the two characters, which was apparently very reminiscent of The Winter Soldier as well as Jason Bourne. It was also confirmed that Taskmaster will indeed be the main villain of the film, a villain notable for his ability to duplicate the fighting styles and techniques of anyone he comes into contact with. It seems like a heavy emphasis of the film will be on hand to hand combat, which will be really interesting to see considering there aren’t a lot of distinctly notable fight sequences in the MCU thusfar.

With Black Widow being a prequel, I’m not exactly sure how much insight the film will provide us into the state of the MCU moving forward. However, Kevin Feige has assured us that Black Widow will be important in the grand scheme of things.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Fall 2020

The first of the Disney+ television shows to premiere, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been confirmed to be released sometime in Fall of next year. Details have been kept very under wraps, but spiraling out of Endgame we know two things for sure: one of them being that Sam Wilson will indeed be carrying Cap’s shield. It isn’t revealed for certain whether or not he’ll be operating under the mantle of Captain America just yet (I’d bet money that the first season will deal with him grappling with whether or not to adopt that mantle), but I’m sure it will be a case of when, not if.

The second major confirmation we have on the show is that Daniel Brühl will be returning as Helmut Zemo, a Sokovian mercenary and main antagonist of Captain America: Civil War, who in the MCU had a major vendetta against the Avengers for the deaths of his family in Sokovia. The last time we saw the character he was in the custody of Everett K. Ross, and reports from Comic-Con state that when Brühl took the stage he donned Zemo’s iconic purple mask.

Zemo in the comics is a character who has had a long and convoluted history, starting with a vendetta against Captain America for killing his father back in Nazi Germany, the original Baron Zemo. The comic version is most notable for creating an incarnation of the Masters of Evil, a group of supervillains bent on destroying the Avengers, as well as for temporarily joining a version of the Thunderbolts, a team of reformed supervillains who seek to use their powers for good, a la DC’s Suicide Squad. Since Civil War’s version of the character is a lot more toned down and less overtly villainous, I can’t really see him working with any of the MCU’s other more sinister characters, but there’s definitely a possibility that we could see a reformed version of the character reluctantly working with Sam and Bucky, which could even lead to a version of the Thunderbolts somewhere down the road.

The Eternals – November 6th, 2020

A film that we’ve heard has been in the making for quite some time now, the Eternals is another gamble in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man in that its comic history is rooted in Bronze Age camp and deeply woven science fiction mythology. However, Marvel clearly has a lot of faith in the property, as it’s packed with a stacked cast that features Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjali, and Lauren Ridolff. Since their history is so far-reaching and deeply complicated, I’ll try to sum it up the best I can.

Eons ago, the Celestials (the massive alien race we see glimpses of in the MCU and who have been loosely linked to the Infinity Stones in GotG) decided to get a little freaky and started doing wide scale experiments on planets across the universe. They dabbled with the Kree and Skrull homeworlds, but their greatest successes were on Earth, where their genetic experimentation created the Eternals, a race of relatively normal-looking but virtually immortal beings, as well as the Deviants, their disfigured and monstrous alternates. The Eternals have lived on Earth for centuries, protecting humanity from the Deviants throughout history as well as crafting advanced technology.

During their existence, a civil war broke out amongst the Eternals between Kronos and his brother Uranos, who wanted to use their technology to enslave other species on Earth. Uranos was eventually defeated and forced into space, where he built a colony on Uranus and ventured out throughout the galaxy, settling on the Kree homeworld as well as Titan (in the comics, this is the origin of Thanos: he’s a far removed descendant of Uranos’ Eternals). Back on Earth, however, Kronos was performing experiments into cosmic energy, which (naturally) went horribly wrong and destroyed the Eternals city of Titanos. The explosion also activated latent genes in the bodies of the Eternals, which granted them superhuman abilities derived from the cosmic energy. Kronos’ body was destroyed by the incident, so for the first time in history, the Eternals merged together into what was known as the Uni-Mind, a universal hive mind experience, to decide which of Kronos’ sons should rule in his stead. His son Zuras was chosen, and his other son A’lars was chosen to leave Earth to avoid causing another civil war.

There’s a lot more to their history, including several meetings with the God pantheons in Marvel Comics (characters like Thor and Odin on the Norse side and Hercules and Zeus on the Greek side), but the most pertinent information regarding the film is that the Eternals who will be the main characters are all from the third generation of the race. These include:

  • Richard Madden as Ikaris – A 20,000 year old Eternal who possesses the ability to levitate himself and other objects, manipulate atoms and molecules, create illusions that affect lower-level and less evolved minds than his, and can project cosmic beams from his eyes and hands. Ikaris has played a part in several major events throughout history, most notably being present throughout ancient Greece.
  • Salma Hayek as Ajak – The leader of the Eternals, Ajak has similar powers to Ikaris in that she can manipulate cosmic energy, as well as fly, control and transform her genetic makeup, and teleport. In the comics, Ajak is typically portrayed as a man, but Salma Hayek will be playing her here.
  • Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo – While Kingo has all of the powers usually granted to the Eternals, he generally ignores them in favor of battling with a sword in the style of a Samurai, due to having spent centuries in Japan training in the ways of the Samurai. In the present day, he actually becomes a notably movie star in Japan using his skills. He wields a sword granted to him by the Eternal Phastos that can cut through any material.
  • Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos – Phastos is the Master Technologist of the Eternals, responsible for crafting the majority of their tech and weaponry as well as having the same abilities that the other Eternals do. He wields a special hammer (sound familiar?) that fires blasts of an unknown energy. Not much is known about his comic counterpart’s history, but judging by the fact that they cast such an accomplished actor to play him, I’m sure that Feige and Co. will find a compelling arc for his character.
  • Angelina Jolie as Thena – Thena is an extremely well-studied and intelligent Eternal born in the city of Olympia in Ancient Greece. She possesses extreme hand to hand prowess, as well as a near-indestructible suit of armor and a bow that fires arrows of “cold energy” alongside an energy spear that can produce intense heat or anti-gravitons.
  • Lauren Ridloff as Makkari – Another character who was originally portrayed as male in the source material, Ridolf will not only be playing a gender swapped version but as a deaf actress she will also be playing the first on-screen deaf superhero. Makkari is another Eternal born in Olympia, one who more frequently involved himself in human affairs. Makkari has the same cosmic energy-related abilities of his counterparts, but his focus on speed has caused him to channel most of his powers into solely his running speed. Because of this, he has lost the ability to fly as well as having severely reduced powers, but can run at near light-speed.

It’s not exactly clear just yet how director Chloé Zhao plans on introducing the Eternals, but if reports are to be believed, Hercules and the rest of the Greek pantheon may make an appearance, which means that we more than likely will see the millennia-stretching history of the Eternals on-screen, or at least some of it. And judging by the fact that the Eternals are created by the Celestials, a massive and incredibly powerful alien race, is it possible that Marvel is gearing us up to introduce even more cosmic characters, such as the Living Tribunal or even Galactus?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – February 12th, 2021

Even if you don’t know who this is, this announcement is bound to make MCU fans who feel slighted by a certain character in Iron Man 3 very happy. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, and star Simu Liu in the starring role, as well as Tony Leung Chiu-wai, who will be playing the true incarnation of the villainous Mandarin (sorry Trevor, you were cool…never?). Awkwafina and Donnie Yen will also have undisclosed roles.

In the comics, Shang-Chi is a mixed-martial artist born to the classic villain (and arguable racial stereotype) Fu Manchu, who raised him from birth to become the most powerful martial artist of all time. He learns and excels at these skills enough to defeat his father, and from then he’s become one of, if not the best hand to hand fighter in the entire Marvel Universe, training such characters as Captain America, Wolverine, and Spider-Man. The Master of Kung-Fu, as he’s been referred to in the past, typically has no powers, preferring the usage of his fists and weapons such as nunchaku, swords, and kali sticks, but a recent storyline saw him exposed to cosmic radiation that granted him the ability to create duplicates of himself.

The Mandarin, on the other hand, is a classic villain (and also an arguable racial stereotype) who dates all the way back to 1964, and who’s roots find him born to a wealthy Chinese man before the Communist revolution. His parents died soon after, causing him to grow up with his paternal aunt, who dedicated all of the family’s wealth to training the Mandarin in technology, science, and of course, hand to hand combat. After his wealth ran out, the Mandarin was forced out of China. In an effort to get revenge on the government that had cast him out, The Mandarin explored the forbidden Valley of Spirits, a mythic forest that had been untouched for centuries. It’s there he finds the alien spacecraft of a dragon-like creature from another planet, along with the Ten Rings, objects of immense and varied power, and learns to master them and bend the villages of China to his will. The original Mandarin has frequently been a villain of Iron Man, but with Tony now building suits inside the Pearly Gates, it seems Mandarin will find a new arch-rival in Shang-Chi.

No doubt the director and screenwriters will be actively seeking a way to modernize both characters and make them relevant and contemporary without losing what makes them interesting. On top of this, due to his status as a martial arts teacher without rival, it would be cool to see whether or not he goes on to maintain this mentorship with other characters in the MCU.

WandaVision – Spring 2021

The second of the Disney+ TV shows to premiere, WandaVision will hit screens sometime in Spring of 2021, and will star Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as Scarlet Witch and The Vision, as well as a new surprise cast member, Teyonah Parris, who will be playing a grown-up version of Monica Rambeau, the young daughter of Captain Marvel’s Air Force BFF Maria Rambeau. Plot details for the show have been kept very hush hush, but Maria’s inclusion can only be an indicator that the MCU plans on introducing her superhero alter ego sometime soon.

Comic book Monica was a police captain who, in trying to dispose of a powerful energy disruption weapon, was bombarded with cosmic and extradimensional energy that granted her the ability to turn her body into any form of energy imaginable. She took these abilities and eventually became the second Captain Marvel for a while, and had a lot of alter-egos, but her most recent and most well-known is Spectrum.

With plot details being very scarce, there are plenty of different directions that the show could go, but it will undoubtedly have to feature some sort of resurrection for Paul Bettany’s Vision. One theory put forth is that the show could be a loose adaption of Tom King’s comic book storyline “The Visions,” which sees The Vision creating a family of androids in an idyllic 1950’s setting in an effort to experience a side of humanity he physically can’t. In the comics, Scarlet Witch has used her reality altering abilities to birth children for her and The Vision out of thin air, so the theory goes on to state that the show will follow her incidentally recreating The Vision and children to go along with it, inside an unstable and crumbling pocket reality.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – May 7th, 2021

The last time we saw Dr. Stephen Strange, he was was arguably guilt-tripping Tony Stark into killing himself so maybe this film will deal with the repercussions of that.

In all seriousness, Multiverse of Madness will probably be the most important film of Phase 4, with it’s title being an indication that it’s set to completely redefine the boundaries of what we thought the MCU was. The Multiverse, in both the films and the comics, represent an endless collection of dimensions and alternate realities, some radically different from others and some frighteningly similar. The last time we got a glimpse of the Multiverse were in two scenes from Doctor Strange (2016): here, when the Ancient One first meets Stephen, and here, when Stephen subjects poor Dormammu to a fate worse than death.

The two most important takeaways regarding Doctor Strange 2, imo, are that Scarlet Witch will feature prominently into the film, as it will tie directly into WandaVision, and that director Scott Derrickson has promised that this will be “the MCU’s first horror film.” That’s a bold promise, and Doctor Strange is certainly the character to deliver it, considering the wide array of ridiculous and horrifying characters he deals with.

There have been a lot of rumors suggesting that based on these comments and the premise of the movie that Nightmare will be the main antagonist of the film. In the comics, Nightmare is the ruler of an alternate “Dream Dimension,” where he terrorizes humans by manipulating their dreams into…you get the idea. He’s basically what happens if Freddy Kreuger had just a bit more of a flair for the theatrical. He’s the perfect villain if Strange 2 plans on veering into both alternate dimensions and horror, and the existence of the Multiverse will definitely shake a lot of things up moving forward, most notably as the potential for introducing everyone’s favorite mutants into the universe.

Loki – Spring 2021

Everyone’s favorite adopted brother is back from the dead, although not in the way most people think.

There really are no major plot details for this show just yet, but we do have confirmation that this will follow the adventures of Loki, specifically the version of the character who we see steal the Tesseract and escape during the time travel sequence to the first Avengers film. This, of course, will create an alternate timeline, and it’s here where this show will take place. Reports indicate that we might see Loki using the Tesseract to travel through different events throughout time and history and meddle with them, which sounds totally par the course for Loki.

While I don’t know how this show will impact the grand scheme of things, Doctor Strange could provide a reintroduction for this version of Loki into the main timeline considering his film will see him traveling the Multiverse. Hypothetically, Doctor Strange could pay a visit to the alternate timeline created by Loki here.

What If…? – Summer 2021

What If? will be the fourth show in the Disney+ roster and also the first animated content set within the MCU. What If? is based on a long running comics tradition, in which Marvel writes short one-off comics set in alternate dimensions where major changes have altered some of our favorite characters. Some of the most iconic stories from the comics include What If Spider-Man Became the Punisher?, What If Tony Stark Became the Sorcerer Supreme, and What If Professor X and Magneto Had Formed the X-Men Together? It’s a really fun concept, and the fact that we’ll get to see alternate takes on iconic MCU storylines is even more exciting.

Feige revealed that actor Jeffery Wright will be playing Uatu the Watcher, a member of a race of beings known as Watchers who can see past, present, and future in all different realities. It seems that based on this, he will be the narrator of the show, adding to a stacked voice-acting cast that will reportedly feature stars from the films like Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger), Benedict Cumberbatch (Strange), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (Vision), Taika Waititi (Korg and Miek), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), and so many more.

There are a wealth of different What If? stories that Marvel could adapt from the comics or even make up themselves, but if rumors are to be believed, the first episode will follow the story of Peggy Carter becoming the first Captain America, with Steve Rogers instead becoming Iron Man.

Hawkeye – Fall 2021

Hawkeye will be a show based around everyone’s favorite NOT-useless Avenger, and follow a recently beloved comic storyline in which he trains a young female archer by the name of Kate Bishop. Jeremy Renner is set to return, and Kate Bishop has not been cast yet (or so they say), but this seems to be one of the Disney+ shows that people will be most excited for considering it’s an idea that fans have wanted for a while.

Kate Bishop was first introduced back in 2005 as a member of the Young Avengers, a group of teenaged characters inspired by the exploits of the actual Avengers, and who’s ranks include Patriot (a young black kid who’s grandfather was illegally experimented on during Vietnam), Hulkling and Wiccan (remember those kids that Scarlet Witch created out of thin air?), among others. Since Kate’s introduction is so closely tied to this group, I could see Marvel creating a version of the Young Avengers in the films, especially since we already several of-age teens including Spider-Man and Cassie Lang.

Thor: Love and Thunder – November 5th, 2021

And ending Phase 4 will be Thor: Love and Thunder, directed by returning director Taika Waititi. After the critical and commercial success of Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel would have been idiots not to have Taika back, but it seems like he was always planning to return to Thor which is great news, because he gave the character his first real solo success in the MCU.

The plot, as we know it thusfar, will involve Valkyrie, as the new King of Asgard, searching for a worthy Queen, as the character was revealed to be gay in a deleted scene from Ragnarok. If that wasn’t news enough, it’s also been confirmed that Natalie Portman will be returning as Jane Foster, who will pick up the hammer and mantle of Thor just as the character did back in 2014.

These two plot details can’t really be a coincidence, so my first instinct leads me to believe that Thor will be caught in the midst of a love triangle between Jane and Valkyrie, but that’s only a theory. Whatever happens will no doubt spiral out of or into James Gunn’s Guardians 3, which will also feature Thor in some capacity.

Other Films and Projects

If all that wasn’t enough, Feige still had the audacity to announce that Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali would be starring in a reboot of the Blade franchise. This film/TV show will not be apart of Phase 4 however, and will kick off Phase 5.

For those who have somehow never seen the absolutely iconic first two Blade films starring Wesley Snipes (one of them is directed by Guillermo del Toro of all people), Blade is a vampire hunter who’s mother was bitten during her pregnancy. This made Blade a Daywalker of sorts, someone who inherited all the abilities of the creatures he hunts, but none of the weaknesses. So in layman’s terms, he’s a badass, full stop.

The most interesting part is that Feige has admitted that Mahershala actually contacted him after his Green Book win to ask for the role of Blade personally. Hopefully the fact that this property kicks off Phase 5 is an indication that the MCU may be moving away from the stars and more towards things that go bump in the night.

Feige also cryptically teased that reboots for both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four were in the works and being planned for release somewhere down the road. Since they aren’t officially on the Phase 4 roster I’d bet that they’re being planned for release in Phase 5, which would fit them in snuggly among Blade, Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man 3, and Guardians 3. Phase 4 seems to be a fresh start, with mostly introductions, so it’ll be interesting to see how Phase 5 continues so many stories as well as finding room to introduce such iconic characters.

Frankly, since Black Panther made his debut in the pages of a Fantastic Four comic, I think it would only be fitting irony to introduce the Fantastic Four in Black Panther 2. This would gain them some traction before giving them their own film.

The X-Men will undoubtedly be a bit trickier, as several of their characters have long histories that span through several major events such as WW2, as well as the fact that in the comics mutants have been around for decades whereas the MCU hasn’t even so much as introduced a mutant yet. However, if I were a betting man, I’d be dropping money on the idea that the Eternals, and particularly the Celestials that created them, will turn out to be very important to a certain mutant gene…

And there you have it: every major announcement and tease from Marvel Entertainment’s Comic-Con presentation. The next two years promise to be particularly Marvel-ous (did you really expect to avoid this pun?), with a wealth of new content to look forward to.

For now, it seems like Disney’s complete and utter absorption of all facets of entertainment will continue providing us with enjoyment long enough for them to discreetly become a monopoly without anyone noticing.

Well played, Feige. Excelsior indeed.

-Chrishaun

HBO’s Watchmen – Absent Friends Return in the Trailer for New Series

HBO’s Watchmen stars Regina King, Don Johnson, Jeremy Irons, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Jean Smart. Its current release date is set for October 2019.

The clock is ticking. Faster every second. Actually, come to think of it, that clock might just be my heartbeat while watching this trailer.

Earlier today at SDCC 2019, HBO treated dedicated fans to the first full-length trailer for their new Watchmen TV series, which Damon Lindelof has promised will be a “remix” as opposed to a reboot or remake. Which is really just a fancy way of saying a sequel, as judging from the trailer we can tell that the original events of the graphic novel seem to be somewhat canon here, and even a point of pop culture for the people living in this alternate universe.

A segue: I absolutely adore Watchmen. The story is incredibly intriguing, fraught with Cold War-era political satire smashed into a Scorsese-esque neo-noir and blended in with superheroes for good measure. The characters are dynamic and varied, the art is delicately textured and so layered, and hell, I even enjoy the film for what it is. So when I heard that HBO and Damon Lindelof of all people were revisiting that world, I was…apprehensive. Scared. Nervous. But most of all-

I was pumped.

Now, a year later, we have our first glimpse at what this new world will look like, and it’s a doozy. The trailer opens with a scene from a shlocky and campy-looking true-life adaptation called American Hero Story, detailing the adventures of the OG crimefighting group the Minutemen. It seems like Lindelof paid a lot of attention to the metatextual and in-world resources that fill the universe of Moore’s original graphic novel and seeks to pay homage to that in a way, which is awesome.

After some shots of Regina King’s new police officer character walking through what looks like a parade celebrating Dr. Manhattan (definitely not a sequel to Snyder’s film, otherwise that dude would be public enemy no. 1), we are introduced to what looks to be a far-right cult based around Rorschach, judging by the fact that they’re all lily white and inside a church. It seems like these impostors have begun waging a war on police officers, which eventually led to cops donning masks and secret identities to protect themselves and their loved ones, in a bit of an ironic twist on the Keene Act that provided the catalyst for the original book. My guess is that Rorschach’s journal actually was published after the events of Watchmen, but based on the fact that Rorschach is an absolute psychopath, full-stop, no one believed him but these guys.

Next we get a scene of Regina King kicking mad ass (now that’s black girl magic), as well as a scene of what looks like a group of masked cops more than likely breaking some civil liberties as Jean Smart’s character (oof, more on her in a minute) watches on in shock. “People who wear masks are dangerous. We should be scared of them,” a young black man tells his daughter (who I’m sure is Regina King). “Why?” “Because they’re hiding something.” If Lindelof is using the concept of masked cops as a vehicle to tackle institutional police corruption, then they can consider me a loyal viewer already.

At what looks like a funeral scene for a cop, Jean Smart introduces herself to Regina King as “Laurie Blake, FBI.” Yep, you heard that right. Silk Spectre 2 is apparently now an FBI agent, and it seems like she’s investigating the goings-on of Tulsa’s masked cops. “Can you tell the difference between a cop in a mask? Neither can I.” BIG OOF.

After this, we see Regina King meeting with an elderly black man in the middle of a cornfield, telling her “there’s a vast and insidious conspiracy at play.” If there wasn’t, would this even be Watchmen? When asked who he is, he jokingly responds with “maybe I’m Dr. Manhattan.” To which Regina King responds “He lives on fucking Mars.” Well, that answers that.

Here the trailer really kicks up, ironically to the tune of David Bowie’s Life on Mars. A shot of a man riding by a pirate flag on horseback (another TV show, maybe one based on the Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic from the OG?). Laurie walking away from some strange, Dr. Manhattan-inspired device. Absolute carnage at a carnival (heh). DOCTOR MANHATTAN ACTUALLY ON MARS. Police vs Rorschachs. Don Johnson’s character flying what appears to be Archie, Nite-Owl 2’s adorably named ship. More police on vigilante violence.

And somehow, things get weirder. There’s a shot in a courtroom, of a judge presiding with a drawn sketch of the alien from the graphic novel next to her. A few shots of Jeremy Irons’ totally inconspicuous, definitely not Ozymandias character looking anything but ominous (*wink*). Laurie Blake seemingly shooting what appears to be a Nite-Owl impostor. Pigs…running out of a courtroom? Tiny squids…falling from the sky?? And over it all, Jeremy Irons whispering “nothing ever ends. It’s only just begun.”

And then, just when it seems to be over, that statement rings truer than ever. Because the final shot of the trailer brings us back to the desolation we see earlier at the carnival, as a well-dressed man casually leans down to pick up a plastic Dr. Manhattan mask.

A well-dressed man with a blue hand.

Well, what does this all mean? I have…absolutely no idea. Besides a few overtly obvious threads like the Rorschach’s modeling themselves after his released journal, Dr. Manhattan’s potential return, and not-Ozymandias’ involvement in all of this, HBO has been keeping the lid very tight on the kettle for this one. They know that fans will be asking certain questions, such as whether or not Adrian Veidt’s master plan was ever truly exposed, or whether or not Dr. Manhattan’s return is peaceful or sinister. And they know that the only way these questions will be answered is for people to tune in to HBO in October and watch the Watchmen.

As for me? I’ll be watching the Doomsday Clock as it ticks ever closer to midnight. Tick-tock.

-Chrishaun

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review – New Locales but Same Old Spidey

Spoilers for Tom Holland’s newest outing as everyone’s favorite Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler

Spider-Man: Far From Home is the 23rd film in the MCU, as well as the 7th solo film dedicated to the iconic Marvel hero. However, despite being filled with great performances and chock full of distinctly Marvel-esque humor, it also doesn’t really attempt to break new ground that hasn’t already been tread in the Web-Slinger’s previous outings.

Before I begin, just to note: I’m a hardcore Raimi Trilogy fan. I adore the OG trilogy and Spider-Man 2 is one of my favorite films of all time. However, I’m also a Spider-Man fan, and I accept and welcome the changes to the canon made in the MCU to present us with a new version of Peter we haven’t seen before. Interconnectivity with a larger world has presented us with a character less concerned with paying rent and making it to work on time and more concerned with fitting in and finding his place among the greats. Versatility between interpretations is what will keep this genre fresh, so any likes and dislikes of mine will fall squarely on what the film does or does not accomplish and whether or not it lives up to that new interpretation.

Okay, on to the review.

Far From Home tosses us into the middle of a world trying to find balance again after the double-whammy of Infinity War and Endgame. People are trying to work out the seriously messed up implications of the Snap and its reversal – the Blip. On top of this, the world is also reeling from the loss of several major heroes, most notably Tony Stark. One person taking this the absolute hardest is Peter Parker, who’s trying desperately to acclimate to a reality without his mentor and also one where people expect him to become the Next Big Thing. In an effort to put his alter-ego aside, and also to make a move on his crush MJ, Peter decides to go on a class trip to Europe with several of his classmates. However, as any good superhero knows, nothing ever works out in your favor, as Peter is tracked down and forced by Nick Fury to help him take on the Elementals – four massive, terrestrial monsters that are…exactly what they sound like they’d be. Hot on their heels is Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio, a mysterious (please, hold the applause) hero from an alternate dimension, one where “heroes” are apparently allowed to look as psychotic as Jake Gyllenhaal.

The action in Far From Home is competently directed, but my problem with it is that for the most part they’re all just standard Marvel action sequences. Part of this is just an unfortunate side-effect of the major villains being giant monsters, but at the same time, Spider-Man has some of the wackiest powers in comic book history – it shouldn’t be hard to use them in inventive ways. Although I have to admit, Mysterio does add a bit of flair to the battles with the Elementals, most of what we see Peter doing here is swinging and throwing things at other things, which gets a bit stale after a while.

Although not many of the supporting cast in this film have a lot to do here (besides Ned and Betty, who have a hilariously tragic millennial relationship subplot), it’s always a joy to see Samuel L. Jackson’s Fury again. He brings such a stone cold abrasiveness and commanding to the character that he’s just awesome in every scene he’s in. Zendaya’s MJ is also a definite standout. She’s a radical departure from any on-screen version of the character that we’ve seen before, but that’s a good thing, because she also has more character and more agency as well. She’s far from a damsel in distress, and while her budding romance with Peter is a central focus of the film, she’s also completely competent in her own right.

However, the central relationship at the heart of the movie is ultimately between Peter and Mysterio. When Nick Fury first recruits Peter to fight the Elementals, he’s frustrated, annoyed, and angry. The one opportunity that he has to try and maintain some semblance of normality is taken from him as soon as duty comes calling. This is inevitably the curse of Spider-Man: no matter how hard he tries, he can never escape the shadow of the mask. When he meets Quentin, someone who understands the struggles of heroism, he immediately latches on to him and vents his frustrations out to him. Quentin understands his desire to just lead a normal life, his apprehension at the thought of being the next Iron Man. He’s the only person who understands Peter’s inability to juggle both heroism with his teenage experiences, which makes for some tender and heartwarming scenes. This, of course, means that Mysterio is a dick, and in a twist that will be obvious to anyone with a working knowledge of Spidey’s villains (or with eyes, honestly), Quentin Beck turns out to be a con man, high-tech illusions to trick Peter, Fury, and the world into thinking that he’s the greatest villain since Iron Man. This is honestly a teaching moment not to trust people named Quentin.

Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely sells Mysterio on all fronts. At first I was really worried that Marvel had brought him on to phone in a performance as a stoic mentor-style hero, but thankfully I was very wrong as he switches it up completely at the halfway mark and goes full diva on us, becoming an insolent and fame-hungry VFX director at the blink of an eye. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t direct him at all and just let him act like the maniac he actually is. I only wish that the actual writing of his character could be as good. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much of an end goal or desire outside of what he’s been doing the entire time, and his origin – a spurned scientist who used to work for Tony Stark until his employer stole his hologram technology and repurposed it as his own in Civil War – feels like both a retread of Vulture’s origin in Homecoming and also wildly out of character for Tony Stark.

This leads me to my biggest problem with the film. While Tom Holland undeniably brings a new edge to the character, the movie itself just doesn’t try to bring anything new to the table of Spider-Man movies. If you’ve seen any of the previous six films featuring the character, chances are you know exactly how this is gonna go. While Peter’s tragic attempts at trying to live a normal life unburdened by superheroism are authentic and well-executed here, they’re still just retreads of themes we’ve seen before and done better. Even it’s twisted tale of mentor/mentee gone horribly wrong has been done by almost every other Spider-Man movie in existence (at least TASM2 had the genius idea of making Spider-Man the villain in a sense, too bad it was just awful). And while this might not be a problem for some people, I was just hopeful that the movie would manage to show us something that we hadn’t seen yet from the character, especially since Homecoming gave us such a new and unique look at Peter’s high school experiences as well as the first glimpse of the interconnectivity that he would have with the wider MCU.

This isn’t to say that the movie isn’t good. There’s plenty to like here. The score, a stellar mix of triumphant Marvel fanfare and Spider-Man’s OG theme song, absolutely slaps. There’s an extended sequence a few scenes after Peter discovers Mysterio’s treachery where we get to see the villain unleash the full extent of his abilities, in a sequence as visually stunning and surrealist as Doctor Strange. And Jon Watts, ever a crowd-pleaser, took complaints about Peter’s lack of Spider-Sense in Homecoming and used them as an opportunity to craft one of the most satisfying third-act conclusions thus far in a Marvel solo film. Even the after-credits scenes are unbelievably shocking in a way that the main twist of the film wasn’t, so much so that I actively spent days thinking about all the possibilities that the third film could take.

If you’re a fan of Marvel movies or Spider-Man in general, there will certainly be a lot in Far From Home that will appeal to you and excite you for the prospect of what’s to come in Marvel’s Phase 4. I know I am. However, if you’re expecting Far From Home to deliver a unique and original experience along the lines of Into the Spider-Verse, then you’ll leave feeling as betrayed as Peter did when he saw Mysterio for who he truly was. Jake Gylenhaal.

Spider-Man: Far From Home gets three unwieldy fishbowl helmets out of five.

-Chrishaun

Midsommar and the Consuming Horror of Loneliness

Spoilers for Ari Aster’s newest film ahead

There is a palpable and primal terror in Midsommar, director Ari Aster’s second horror film after last year’s critically acclaimed Hereditary, and it isn’t what you think it is. It doesn’t come from the esoteric and culturally distinct commune that our unfortunate Americans find themselves a part of in Sweden. It doesn’t come from skinning fools or being burned alive (although there’s plenty of that to go around, don’t get me wrong). But it’s just as gripping and traumatic all the same.

The real terror at the heart of the film is being alone.

Everyone has dealt with loneliness in all its many forms. You might have moved out to a new place and found yourself surrounded by strange and unfamiliar people and places. You may have ended up in a situation where you have no one to rely on and everywhere you turn you’re met by hostility. You may even feel the kind of loneliness derived by a lack of a romantic partner, or the neglect of one instead. Regardless of what kind it is, it is a natural human feeling that we all must learn to overcome in our pursuit of happiness.

Unfortunately for Dani, she’s currently dealing with all three.

After the beginning of the film finds her parents and sister’s lives cut short in a tragic murder-suicide, Dani, played by an exceptional Florence Pugh, finds herself well and truly alone. Her boyfriend Christian “tries” his best to offer her aid and emotional support, but tries is really the operatic word here considering that he’s been gaslighting her from the jump and looking for any opportunity he can out of their relationship, aside from, y’know, just breaking up with her. Because of this, and because of his toxic inability to confront their faults head on, Christian ends up reluctantly bringing her along with his friends (Mark, Josh, and Pelle) on a summer trip to Sweden to meet Pelle’s commune and experience their Härgas festival.

From the very beginning of the trip, it’s evident that something is wrong. And no, I’m not talking about the way that everyone in the commune feels eerily in sync with each other, or even the massive caged bear that the natives seem to conveniently ignore (seriously, who’s poor dog is this?). I’m talking about the immediate hostility that Christian’s friends greet Dani with the entirety of the way to Sweden. Mark is very adamant about Christian breaking up with her for the sake of his sex life, Josh barely says two words to her the entire time she’s there, and it seems like only Pelle is really truly concerned for her wellbeing and wants her to enjoy herself on the trip. Despite being “invited” to come along in the loosest way possible, everyone involved has made it distinctly clear to Dani that she’s not welcome.

There’s a scene a little under halfway through the film in which our gang of plucky tourists first make it to Sweden, and they decide to take psychedelics their first day there. While wacky ‘shrooms hijinks ensue, Dani finds herself in the midst of a record-breaking bad trip because Mark conveniently decides to mention that the group is like a “family” to him. This, of course, sends Dani over the edge, because she’s not only just lost her real family but because the only other one that she can lean on is being as cold to her as humanly possible. She has no family, and she knows that no one currently around her is taking any steps to ensure that she is apart of theirs.

But that is a hard contrast to the commune, which represents Pelle’s ersatz family. From the moment they arrive, the community makes sure that every single one of them is as comfortable as they possibly can, and they really seem to be as loose as possible about what they can and can’t do while there (except for going in that delightfully Bohemian yellow tent curiously set up in the middle of the settlement). Everyone seems to enjoy the free-spirited locals and their strange but intriguing culture at first, and all of them take a distinct interest in Dani and her state of mind, especially Pelle, who even goes so far as to ask Dani whether or not she feels like her relationship is working. “Does he feel like home to you?”

Of course, anyone who has ever seen a single thing by Ari Aster knows that good things can never last, and of course it turns out that the commune is more akin to that other c-word that horror films love so much. Bodies start to drop, literally, as the group is brought to watch a ceremony in which two elders of the community hurl themselves off a high peak to their rather graphic deaths down below, in an apparent display of autonomy over their lives and inevitable deaths. As brutal and traumatizing as this is, Dani can’t take her eyes off of it. It’s enthralling, and to the other members of the commune, it’s beautiful.

More corpses start to pile, starting with two other tourists brought to the festival by Pelle’s brother, and then both Mark and Josh go missing, incidentally after both finding ways to piss on the traditions and culture of the Swedes. Then it’s down to both Christian and Dani, as it began, but we see them on complete opposite ends of the spectrum from where they started. Dani reluctantly agrees to what she thinks is the world’s most intense dance-off, only to win and discover that her prize is being corronated as May Queen, a prestiged honor of the locals. She’s draped in flowers and whisked away to be placed at the head of the table, where the commune waits patiently and intently for her every action. She’s now the center of attention.

Christian, meanwhile, is drugged, disoriented, and, in typical fashion, agrees to impregnate a young woman who’s been slipping him love potions and runes since he first arrived. Unfortunately for him, Dani accidentally witnesses the ritual, completely breaking her and pushing her over the edge into a complete mental breakdown. However, this time she’s not on her own. Surrounded by a company of other women, Dani’s breakdown is mimicked and echoed, first eerily, then almost comfortingly. She’s finally receiving the validation that she’s so desperately needed since the film’s opening.

After being used up and tossed out, Christian is knocked unconscious and paralyzed, where the final reveal is made disturbingly clear to both him and the audience. Härgas has been one massive ritualistic sacrifice, one which requires two elders, four outsiders, and two willing members of the commune. Now all that’s left is for the final piece of the ritual to be decided: the May Queen, Dani, must choose between a randomly selected member of the group, or…Christian. It’s a horrifying, yet inevitable decision, and one that the movie has spent its entire runtime justifying the case for. When Dani’s eyes glaze over, we already know what she’s decided.

It’s at this point where Christian is sewn up inside the skin of the bear from earlier (apparently animal cruelty is low on the totem pole here), placed inside the mysterious yellow tent (so it wasn’t an Air BnB?), and burned alive as the Swedes dance hysterically. Dani is, of course, distraught, but eventually her horror turns to a questionable sense of content. She’s finally at peace. True, she’s just burned the man who was supposed to be her partner, the one who was supposed to care for her and support her in her time of need. But the entire time, Aster has been showing us that this has never really been the case. Christian has never been “home” to her. He’s never been family. And the smile Dani gives the camera at the end lets us know what she’s just discovered.

She is home. She now has a family. One that will support her, treasure her, and welcome her in all the ways that everyone else in the world has not. For the first time since the start of the film, she’s no longer lonely.

And that’s a happy ending if I’ve ever seen one.

-Chrishaun

Contemporizing Bond? New 007 to be played by Lashana Lynch

The franchise has just got to grow. It has just got to evolve, and the important thing is that the film treats the women properly.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

It seems as if Bond 25 won’t just be notable for being the 25th installment in one of the longest running franchises of all time, but also for its multiple attempts at modernizing a series that has been questioned for its sexism and outdated stereotypes. First starting with Rami Malek’s specific requirements for playing the film’s villain, the Daily Mail has reported that Lashana Lynch will be taking over Bond’s 007 moniker after the character retires from MI6. The 31-year old actress got her start on the television show The Bill, and has appeared in a variety of projects such as 2011’s Fast Girls and ABC’s period-drama Still Star-Crossed, but her most recognizable role comes from this year’s Captain Marvel, as Carol Danver’s best friend and experienced Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau.

A lot of internet discourse surrounding this has misconstrued what’s actually happening: Lashana Lynch is simply taking over Bond’s License to Kill designation as 007, not becoming James Bond himself. Daniel Craig’s version of the character is very much still an active presence in Bond 25, and will actually find himself reportedly infatuated with Lynch’s new skilled female agent, trying to bed her very early on to no avail. This new direction for Bond comes from the hands of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, writer of the hit comedy Fleabag and BBC’s critically-acclaimed Killing Eve, who’s also writing the screenplay in an effort to bring the character into the post-#MeToo climate. In fact, while the film will reportedly feature a ton of callbacks to previous Bond films, the one reference that won’t be present is the concept of Bond girls; apparently they’ll be renamed Bond women from here on out.

As a big fan of James Bond, I can’t deny that the character and the franchise has relied on very problematic and outdated viewpoints for quite some time now. For every dynamic setpiece and larger-than-life villain, there’s always been a female character relegated as a damsel or simply just a prop to enhance Bond’s womanizing swagger. I’m a firm believer in the iconography of the character but it’s certainly time that the franchise matured in its depictions of females as well as the implications of Bond’s actions. Considering the reported magnitude of Lynch’s role, I wouldn’t be surprised if this passing of the mantle resulted in a spin-off or sequel series starring her new agent as a 007 trying to fill the void left behind by Craig’s Bond. Let’s hope that a new angle and a dynamic cast of supporting characters pushes Bond 25 closer to the ranks of Casino Royale and Skyfall as opposed to Quantum of Solace and Spectre.

-Chrishaun

Audio//Visual: An Introduction

Who I am and why I decided to start this blog.

“Art is the closest we can come to understanding how a stranger really feels.”

Roger Ebert

Hey. Hey you. Yes, you. The person reading this right now. Do you like movies? Of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be on a page reading about movies. And you’d probably be kind of a weirdo.

Do I like movies? Well…

My name is Chrishaun Baker, and for as long as I can remember film has been an incredibly integral part of my life. From the time I could read I was…well, reading, but from the time I could comprehend storytelling I was in front of a screen, watching Tim Burton’s Batman with my Dad or sneaking off to watch whatever horror films I could catch a glimpse of behind his back. These experiences were exhilarating, and have stayed with me well into my adulthood and have shaped me as a person.

Of course, while I’ve had a very close relationship with film over the years, I can’t say that film has had an equally close relationship with me. Being a black man in America, it wasn’t until very recently that I’ve had the benefit of seeing myself on-screen nearly enough, and while that has never dampened my love of the craft, watching the industry making the slow and steady progress that it has in the past couple of years has filled me with a wonder that I can only describe as almost childlike in nature.

I have big dreams of one day becoming a professional screenwriter (and hopefully a director) as I’m sure we all do, but until then I’ll remain on the ground by combining my love of writing with my appreciation of film in a more mediated way: blogging and discussion. Nothing brings me greater joy than articulating how I feel about a movie, good or bad, in a digestible way that opens up conversation and differing viewpoints on the same thing. I think it’s important to look at different points of reference when it comes to something you love, like film. There are a ton of movies I would never have been introduced to if I hadn’t considered the opinions of critics, journalists, and amateur reviewers, and hopefully I can share that same experience with someone else.

As for this blog, despite it’s humble beginnings I hope that it can grow into something bigger. I want this to be a place where I can give my opinions on recently released movies, somewhere that I can dive deep into the meanings and symbolism behind some of my favorites, discuss and speculate on recently revealed film-related news, and maybe even share some of my own personal growth as a filmmaker. And eventually, in time, I hope that I can share all of this with an audience who’s just as invested as I am, and get some of that sweet sweet validation that everyone on the internet so desperately craves.

Or maybe I’ll just scream into the digital void from time to time and wait patiently for a response from the ether. Whichever works.

In the meantime, keep watching, discussing, sharing and enjoying, as we all wait patiently for the Academy to inevitably do something embarrassing that will bring us all together as a community once more in solidarity.

-Chrishaun