‘The Silent Twins’ Confounds and Fascinates

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How silent ARE they?! (CREDIT: Courtesy of Lukasz Bak/Focus Features)

Starring: Letitia Wright, Tamara Lawrance, Leah Mondesir-Simmonds, Eva-Arianna Baxter, Nadine Marshall, Treva Etienne, Michael Smiley, Jack Bandeira, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn

Director: Agnieszka Smoczyńska

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: R for Teens Misbehaving

Release Date: September 16, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Identical twins June and Jennifer Gibbons don’t exactly like communicating with anyone besides each other. They keep extensive diaries and invent a sort of sing-song patter with an oddly clipped accent, but again, that’s just for themselves. It’s almost invasive that we get to see a movie version of them doing this, even if it’s not documentary footage. Twins are notorious for having their own unique twin language, which is apparently so common that there’s a name (and Wikipedia page) for it. It’s called “cryptophasia,” and the Gibbonses have the most extreme version I’ve ever witnessed. They talk and walk and dance in unison. It’s practically telepathic. But it also cuts them off from the rest of their family and the rest of society, as they stumble into teenage rebelliousness and eventually end up in a mental hospital.

What Made an Impression?: Much like its real-life subjects, The Silent Twins seems to be creating its own vernacular, one that I found kind of impenetrable. Ambitious movies are wont to attempt such a thing, and it’s always a gamble whether or not the audience can pick up on it. I found myself in a blur, but I certainly appreciated the effort. The ladies playing the twins certainly give it their all, with Letitia Wright as June and Tamara Lawrance as Jennifer. And as the younger versions, Leah Mondesir-Simmonds and Eva-Arianna Baxter are just as revelatory.

But for as unique as much of this story and much of the filmmaking are, the mischief that June and Jennifer get up to is rather garden variety. Now, if the events that we see are what really happened (or close to it), I’m not asking for any fabulation. But the way it all plays out struck me as a little ho-hum. Maybe there’s just a natural oomph of resistance when you try to fit a typical narrative engine onto such an atypical subject. There’s plenty to dig in and analyze here, though; it’s just not always electric.

The Silent Twins is Recommended If You Like: Secret twin languages, The Dark Side of Coming-of-Age

Grade: 3 out of 5 Secret Languages

‘Sing 2’ Sure Features a Lot of Singing! Is it Too Much? Let’s Find Out

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Sing 2 (CREDIT: Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures)

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Bobby Canavale, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Halsey, Pharrell Williams, Nick Offerman, Letitia Wright, Eric André, Chelsea Peretti, Bono, Garth Jennings, Adam Buxton, Jennifer Saunders, Peter Serafinowicz

Director: Garth Jennings

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: PG for Threats of Grievous Bodily Harm

Release Date: December 22, 2021 (Theaters)

In Sing 2, Bobby Canavale voices wolf/media mogul Jimmy Crystal, who’s basically the lupine version of the studio executive that Graham Chapman played in Monty Python‘s “20th Century Vole” sketch. He says that he wants to see something “big” and “different,” but really that’s just code for “I’m impossible to please!” When we first meet him, he’s auditioning a menagerie of potential acts for his next live show, and they all look pretty unique to me. I mean, have you ever seen a lemur sing Billie Eilish’s “Bury a Friend” while doing gymnastics or a trio of ducklings nailing Eminem’s “My Name Is” while dressed like Dick Van Dyke-style chimney sweeps? Maybe Jimmy Crystal has, because he immediately dismisses them with a “been there, done that” attitude. So what does he want? Guaranteed cash flow, I assume, because just about the only thing that excites him is the mention of legendary lion Clay Calloway (voiced by Bono), a rock icon-turned-recluse who nobody’s heard from ever since his wife died. And for some reason, plucky koala impresario Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) has promised that he can book Calloway.

Moon and his musical crew are basically in the business of putting on the sort of live musical spectacular that you’d see at Las Vegas. They perform a jukebox medley of all sorts of hit songs along with a vague storyline. At the beginning of Sing 2, they’re putting on something inspired by Alice in Wonderland, but they’re eventually told to come up with something original, so resident librettist pig Gunter (Nick Kroll) crafts a space opera about traversing the planets of War and Joy. That sounds like a pretty great show to me! They don’t need a giant cat voiced by one of the most famous rock stars of all time to make it work. I mean, I’m not saying that they should get rid of Bono, but I understand the over-the-top theater kid appeal of this endeavor with or without him.

The other major thought about Sing 2 that I want to express has to do with its inclusion of U2 songs. Quite a few are featured, and the implication seems to be that in the Sing universe, every single U2 song is a Clay Calloway song, which suggests a whole host of metaphysical implications that I’m not sure writer-director Garth Jennings is prepared to grapple with. (Or maybe he is! And if so, I’d love to hear his thoughts.)

Anyway, this is all pretty lightweight, but I can’t deny that my ears pricked up and my heart swelled at some key moments. The voice cast has been assembled for good reason. Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, and Taron Egerton all know how to sing. And I’m particularly invested in Tori Kelly as nervous elephant Meena, because she’s a 100% Certified Cutie (Kelly, that is, not Meena, although I don’t judge if you’re into cartoon pachyderms). Halsey joins the fun with a full-on Joisey accent, while Kroll, Eric André, and Chelsea Peretti deliver an acceptable amount of funny. It’s bright, it’s buoyant, and my only major disappointment is that the Minions didn’t show up again after they appeared for the Illumination production logo.

Sing 2 is Recommended If You Like: Relentless soundtracks, Cartoon characters embodying clichés about evil media moguls, Elephant trunks holding ice cream cones

Grade: 3 out of 5 Big Leagues

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Black Panther’ Absolutely Resides Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Just a Hitherto Barely Explored Corner

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CREDIT: Disney/Marvel Studios

This post was originally published on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Sterling K. Brown

Director: Ryan Coogler

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Prolonged Fighting with a Variety of Weapons, Some of It Fairly Brutal and Bloody

Release Date: February 16, 2018

Black Panther culminates with the lesson, “The wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.” This appeal would seem to apply most directly to the United States at this particular cultural moment, but instead it is an exhortation to the fictional African nation of Wakanda now that its new king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has ascended. Wakanda is filled with vast riches and incredibly advanced technology thanks to the stockpile of the alien metal vibranium long ago delivered by a meteorite crash. But it is also supposedly one of the poorest nations on the planet, likely due to a generations-long isolationist policy. Much of Black Panther feels like buildup to this point of opening up to the rest of the world, and in that way it is a prelude to the sequels that are sure to come. But what it reveals over the course of that prelude is thrilling.

Black Panther is not the first black superhero movie, but with a majority-black cast, black director, and African setting, it is unabashedly black in so many ways that are unprecedented for a blockbuster of this magnitude. It is unsurprising then that its initial villain is reminiscent of blaxploitation heroes fighting against The Man. Ulysses Klaue (an agreeably gonzo Andy Serkis) is a white South African arms dealer who is looking to get his hands on vibranium and make a pretty penny in the black market.  But after Klaue is dispatched, the conflict ultimately comes down to that between T’Challa and Eric “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), who was born in America but has Wakandan roots and just as legitimate a claim to the throne as T’Challa. While Killmonger’s methods are overly destructive, his complaints, both personal and regarding how Wakanda does its public business, are legitimate. That Black Panther focuses on an intranational conflict should not be viewed as evidence of African and black cultures refusing to engage with the rest of the world, but rather an illustration that they already have plenty to keep themselves occupied.

While filled with several action set pieces and a fast-moving plot, Black Panther is most successful in its design and production elements. This is the sort of movie that brings a fully realized vision of a fictional world to life. The costumes are based on traditional African garb, but they are their own uniquely lavish style. Diverse tattoos and piercings add to the mix, including a few elements (such as one very stretched-out lower lip) that could be presented comically but are instead signs of dignity.

Culturally, this is a people that honors its elders, going so far as to have another dimension of sorts that exists at the nexus of technology and magic. Dubbed “the Ancestral Plane,” its purpose is for new kings to visit their deceased forebears for the sake of imparting necessary wisdom. Wakanda also treats its women in high regard, as they no big deal serve essential roles in government, science, and diplomacy. It may be true that the throne may not appear to be an option for woman (at least in this outing), but the monarchy is not as unilateral a position as it could possibly be. Considering all that progressiveness, it is disheartening that so much of Wakanda honor is bound up in a code of fighting and a culture of combat. That is not a complaint against the movie; in fact, what we have here is an appreciably complicated look at the difficulty to be a paragon of a nation.

The Black Panther is not just T’Challa, but rather a mantle that he holds currently. Accordingly, Black Panther the film is very much an ensemble piece, with attitude- and passion-driven performances from all the Wakandan tribes. The particular breakthrough is Letitia Wright (probably best known for the “Black Museum” episode of Black Mirror) as T’Challa’s spitfire younger sister Shuri, who manages to be both the comic relief and the Q to his James Bond.

Black Panther fits squarely within the overarching narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even though it can stand firmly on its own. Furthermore, it is nice to see it sidestep the easy template of the typical origin story that most solo superhero cinematic debuts tend towards. It has the standard two post-credits scenes, and weirdly enough they fit in the the MCU’s next chapter more squarely than other recent post-credits stingers. The last one is also more satisfying than those recent examples, perhaps because Black Panther takes care of its own, and we are ready when it stretches out.

Black Panther is Recommended If You Like: Shaft, Captain America: Civil War, Fruitvale Station

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 Headwraps