“Good memories, bad memories, they’re all just the same right now. It still hurts…”
Japanese Brazilian writer-director Edson Oda has a bold and distinctive voice in his debut feature, a contemplative piece about the nature of living as a human. In an isolated house on a beach, a fastidious man named Will interviews souls for a chance at life on Earth, his living room filled with a wall of CRT televisions screens showing real-time first-person perspectives of those he previously selected. It is the ultimate cinematic contrivance to experience others’ lives through an audiovisual medium, but the archaic technology (Will also records and rewatches his favourite moments on VHS tapes) assists in crafting an otherworldly suspension of disbelief. The primary issue with Nine Days’ conceit is that souls without the experience of life cannot provide meaningful answers to Will’s questions; rather, the selection process is background noise to illustrate Will’s own thought processes — hurt by his own life experience, he seeks those tougher and less sensitive than himself — whilst not really engaging with the inherent cruelty of judging others’ right to live. Winston Duke’s performance radiates the quiet pain of a man hurt by life and unable to forgive himself for perceived failure. However, it is Zazie Beetz that draws in the audience with her intriguing portrayal of a new soul — guileless, and yet intuitively understanding life. Nine Days is likely to strike a chord with certain viewers who find their worldview affected. I found no such profundity, but I would be very content to experience further meditations that Oda may wish to design.
“I am Queen of the most powerful nation in the world! And my entire family is gone! Have I not given everything?”
The shadow of Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death loomed over Black Panther‘s sequel, but Ryan Coogler chooses to embrace it in an elegiac rumination on grief. Shuri has the fullest arc, as her rationality leads to a rejection of her mother’s traditions and an inability to process her grief, but Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda is the film’s greatest asset with a devastatingly powerful performance. Unfortunately, the nuanced exploration of these themes is diverted by the needs of a blockbuster franchise film to introduce new characters and hooks. Wakanda Forever opens on the world stage, as Ramonda refuses to share her nation’s vibranium resources, calling out the US military in contrast to other areas of the MCU. War nevertheless comes from beneath the waves in the form of Namor, reinvented here as the ruler of an underwater kingdom created due to colonial incursion into the Yucatán. Namor is a personification of indigenous rage, his cultural grief mirroring Shuri’s personal anger. Beyond that parallel, he lacks the depth that made Erik Killmonger such a fascinating villain — Namor is simply driven by an obsession that war with the surface world is an inevitability. Meanwhile engineering savant Riri’s introduction feels perfunctory in setting up an Ironheart TV show, whilst providing a fleeting Black American perspective — “to be young, gifted and black,” she quotes Lorraine Hansberry, before realising that means nothing to a Wakandan. The costuming remains exquisite in its detail, as does the Ludwig Göransson-produced soundtrack, though it is interesting to find that the film’s essential “blackness” is less immediately noticeable on this occasion, perhaps arriving so soon after The Woman King. The action, however, is the generic Marvel CG-fest with nothing memorable beyond a sequence in which the Wakandan men belay female warriors fighting over the vertical side of a ship. Coogler is to be praised that, with so much crammed into the bloated running time, its emotional core still feels heartfelt rather than hollow. Shuri’s interactions with those who knew her brother throughout the film explore aspects of grief, broadening her understanding, and particularly fascinating are her conversations with M’Baku who proves a surprising confidante. Nevertheless, Wakanda Forever feels hamstrung by its place within the franchise rather than elevated by it.
“They look exactly like us. They think like us. They know where we are. We need to move and keep moving. They won’t stop until they kill us… or we kill them.”
Jordan Peele’s surprising decision to delve into horror for his debut feature produced the brilliant Get Out but I was a little disappointed that he chose to stick to the genre for his follow up, in which a family is terrorised by their doppelganger “shadows”. He again proves himself an expert at crafting tension, opening with a creepily atmospheric prologue, and particularly in a memorable home invasion scene after the shadow family appear standing silently at the end of their driveway. From then on, over-reliance on horror cliché swiftly dampens the experience. Black Panther co-stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke are both excellent, the former in depicting Adelaid’s traumatic turmoil and the latter in providing much of the comic relief. Indeed, Us arguably communicates part of its message most effectively through moments of levity around the residual awkwardness of the newly affluent black middle class. Unfortunately Peele is more interested in his chosen imagery as a metaphor for distancing ourselves from those we perceive as “other” and wilfully leaving others behind in order to succeed, and the film unravels the wider its focus extends from its tight initial premise, with a mess of illogical steps, broken internal rules and an unsubtle “twist”.
“You’re a good man with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be king.”
A triumphant take on the superhero movie that offers not just a new aesthetic (like Doctor Strange) but is steeped in black culture throughout. It bridges the divide between African and Black American culture but also pits them against one another, considering colonialism and interventionism from the perspective of the technologically advanced but isolated African nation of Wakanda, whilst recognising black anger that atrocities past and present are allowed to happen. It also does not shy away from ritualised displays of strength and violence, but they parallel the respect and empathy felt by T’Challa for his adversaries. Such nuance is unusual for a superhero, particularly one that is meanwhile challenging conventional Hollywood wisdom that a blockbuster with an overwhelmingly black cast would not be profitable.