Marvel movies are designed to hew to convention, the better to allow them to seamlessly fit together into the larger tapestry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, within their stand-alone confines, they afford some room for artistic risk-taking, as is evidenced by Black Panther, Ryan Coogler’s blockbuster about the war for fictional African nation Wakanda.
On one side of that conflict is Chadwick Boseman’s noble King T’Challa (aka Black Panther), who believes that protecting his people is best achieved by hiding them from the outside world. And on the other side is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a violent challenger to the throne who wants to use his homeland’s technological might to stage an oppression-upending global revolution.
Underscored by such weighty hot-button themes, Coogler’s material is enlivened by eye-popping production design and captivating performances, in particular from Jordan, whose antagonist proves the finest superhero villain since the late Heath Ledger’s Clown Prince of Crime. It’s a distinctly African-American comic-book epic with universal appeal.
Isle of Dogs
While it falls shy of the deliriously droll heights achieved by his prior stop-motion gem, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is still a better breed of animated adventure. The story of a young Japanese boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) who embarks on an expedition to reunite with his beloved canine best friend on Trash Island where an evil mayor has banished all of the nation’s dogs, Anderson’s film exhibits both his signature meticulous aesthetics (all symmetrical compositions and period pop songs) and witty sense of humor.
With a sterling voice cast led by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, and many more, it’s a fleet and funny feast for the senses. Moreover, in its condemnation of intolerance, fear-mongering, anti-science rhetoric, and anti-immigration sentiments (as well as its lionization of student uprisings), this imaginative tribute to a boy’s love for his four-legged companion doubles as a timely commentary on our contemporary reality.
It’s all fun and games until things turn deadly in Game Night, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s sharp, funny, and formally adept mainstream comedy. Gathering for their annual evening of board games, a group of friends led by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams’s hyper-competitive couple wind up on a crazy nocturnal adventure after Bateman’s cocky brother (Kyle Chandler) is kidnapped—and it turns out that his abduction may not necessarily be part of the role-playing murder-mystery activity he’d planned.
Mark Perez’s script boasts a high batting average when it comes to witty one-liners, and its fast-and-furious forward momentum is aided by direction that’s consistently inventive, as with a protracted chase around a mansion for a Fabergé egg. Touching upon various marital issues with a light, goofy hand, it keeps one guessing, and laughing, to the end, replete with a Jesse Plemons turn—as a weirdo neighbor boxed-out of the gaming festivities—that’s one of the year’s best.
For pure, uninhibited craziness, few recent films can match Estonian writer-director Rainer Sarnet’s November, an adaptation of Andrus Kivirahk’s novel Rehepapp that operates like a Grimm’s fairy tale as reimagined by Czech animator Jan Svankmajer and Italian horror legend Mario Bava.
A black-and-white saga involving werewolves, witches, ghosts, the Devil, and strange contraptions built from rural gardening tools that are then brought to life by dead people’s souls (and used as de facto slaves by their creators), this import is a beguiling and slyly amusing whatsit that never comes close to dipping its toes in familiar waters. That it also features The Human Centipede’s creepy star Dieter Laser only further pushes it into out-there realms.
A Quiet Place
Few exploitation-cinema subgenres are as durable (and problematic) as the rape-revenge fantasy, and French writer-director Coralie Fargeat’s contribution to that group has a gonzo vitality and self-conscious sense of humor that invigorates its familiar premise. In a vast desert, a married man’s (Kevin Janssens) sexy young mistress (Matilda Lutz) is sexually assaulted by one of his two visiting friends; when she subsequently flees, they attempt to kill her, albeit unsuccessfully.
That instigates a game of cat-and-mouse in the vast, arid middle of nowhere, which Fargeat stages with extreme stylishness, be it close-ups of gushing wounded flesh or a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-hallucination sequence that underlines her playful attitude toward the proceedings.
As energized as anything he’s made in years, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman tackles our current white nationalist-stained era via the based-on-real-events tale of 1970s African-American rookie undercover detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who infiltrates the KKK with the aid of Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). Lee has a tendency to let scenes run on long after their point (and impact) has been made, yet here that habit rarely undercuts the electricity of his action, which has Stallworth and Zimmerman posing as a racist white man (the former on the phone, the latter in person) to gain the confidence of the Klan and its leader, David Duke (Topher Grace)—all as Stallworth develops a less-than-upfront relationship with an African-American activist (Laura Harrier).
Let the Sunshine In
Leave No Trace
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Love After Love
Upcoming Releases (2018)