KUNG FU PANDA 4 – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

By the fourth film in a franchise, one expects some diminishing returns. Kung Fu Panda 4 doesn’t reach the heights of the 2008 original, but this panda still has a few kicks. In Kung Fu Panda 4, Jack Black again returns to voice Po, but the character has plateaued. Having acquired the jade-green staff of wisdom since the original film, he’s ready to teach a new dragon warrior and become the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace, says his instructor, Master Shifu. Yet Po, happy with ribbon-cuttings and quests, shies from this responsibility.

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AIR – Review by Nell Minow

2023 will be remembered as the year of the movies that are consumer product origin stories. We’re used to seeing heroic stories of military figures, musicians, political leaders and activists, and, because movies are written by writers — writers. But in 2023 we had a remarkable number of movies with heroes or anti-heroes who were, well, capitalists. We saw the origin stories of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Blackberrys, Beanie Babies, and the proto-computer game Tetris, By far the best of the group, though, was the story of a sneaker, a shoe that would become so popular it would have, well, a massive cultural footprint.

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HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES – Review by Susan Granger

When the original Hunger Games devoured the silver screen in 2012, I vividly remember the savage power of its pop culture message about formidable female empowerment, particularly in contrast with its banal, dull, boring prequel Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Directed by Francis Lawrence, this epic, tri-part dystopian dirge is set 64 years before the original trilogy. The essence of what’s lacking in this franchise film: Katniss Everdeen, the resourceful, heroic character embodied by charismatic Jennifer Lawrence.

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AIR – Review by Susan Granger

Air recounts how Sonny Vaccaro convinced the then-rookie Michael Jordan to sign a unique endorsement deal that changed the retail sports-apparel industry. Insightfully scripted by newcomer Alex Convery and astutely directed by Ben Affleck (Argo), it’s really a sports fable, centered on the 1984 corporate culture at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Back then, Nike was known for its running shoes which had zero impact on fashion. This underdog story begins as Nike’s basketball scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) searches for the next player to promote the footwear brand.

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AIR – Review by T.J. Callahan

Air: A shoe is just a shoe until someone steps into it. It was 1984. Americans were doing the Jane Fonda workout. Prince Charles and Lady Diana became parents to a future king, Mr. T pitied the fools, Clara Peller asked “Where’s the Beef?” and Converse ruled the athletic shoe world. A little ol sneaker company in Oregon was out to change that.

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AIR – Review by Susan Kamyab

I am so happy to say that this movie is not only a slam dunk, but it’s one of the best films of the year so far. I know it’s early to say that, but this particular A-list film is going to stick with audiences all year long. Directed by Ben Affleck, the film is about a sports marketing executive, played by Matt Damon, and how he led Nike in its pursuit of the greatest athlete in the history of basketball: Michael Jordan.

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African-American Film Critics Association Awards – Nikki Fowler reports

The African-American Film Critics Association’s (AAFCA) awards ceremony, held on March 1 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, marked a much-deserved moment of celebration for Black creators and actors who’ve been unexpectedly snubbed by other awards groups this year. Although no longer tagged as #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy Award nominations slate had glaring omissions of Black creatives and actors, including Gina-Prince Bythewood and The Woman King, Chinouye Chukwu and Till and Elegance Branton and The Inspection, and all of the brilliant talent associated with those and other superb Black films.

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My TIFF 2022 Diary: Highlighting Day-to-Day ‘IRL’ – Johanna Schneller reports (Exclusive)

After two minutes, I realize I’m levitating an inch from my seat with happiness. This movie is everything I’d hoped and more. There is not one wasted syllable. I keep swatting away tears of anger (on behalf of the characters, and their real-life counterparts). I can feel the emotion rolling up and down the rows, that feeling you can only get in a theatre full of people who are having a collective experience. I won’t know this until a few days later, but Women Talking sets the tone for my whole TIFF: brilliant women directors, squaring their sites on the patriarchy. And experiencing their work in public again, finally.

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THE WOMAN KING – Review by Susan Granger

One of the many benefits of inclusion is the ability to learn about historical events that have never before been chronicled on the big screen. Set in 1823, this story follows Nawi (Thuso Mbebu), a rebellious Dahomey teenager who refuses an arranged marriage; infuriated, her father forces her to join warrior force known as the Agojie, commanded by General Nanisca (Viola Davis). Working from a jumbled, often overly melodramatic script by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens, director Gina Prince-Blythewood delivers a rousing, action-packed adventure.

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