Our staffers have some recommendations for what you can watch at the theater or in the comfort of your home this weekend.
K. Austin Collins: Black Panther is, obviously, a Wakanda story, meaning that its images ripple with Wakanda’s specific rhythms and textures; characters’ in-jokes and senses of humor seem to open up untold bits of history among them; rituals feel genuinely ritualistic, lived in and specific to the people and the place. It’s convincing in the way that the struggles between young Creed and old man Rocky became the foundation of one of the most moving and unlikely screen relationships in recent memory. Their shared history, evoked in the pictures on the walls, the scratches in the furniture, and the gestures and looks that divvy up the emotional beats of the story, is what creates that bond. [Director Ryan] Coogler takes history — geographic, interpersonal, textbook — seriously. But that’s merely a personality trait. What makes his films a cut above is his ability to give that history an afterlife in images, to weld those images into a story, to fashion that story into something larger than life — larger, even, than movies.
Collins: You can’t blame a movie studio for trying to cut its losses, but something about all of this stinks, like congratulating the local power plant for engineering new ways to dump toxic waste in your backyard. The local fauna are sprouting three heads and new grass won’t grow for 10 generations, but at least Netflix got to prove it can con with the best of them, right? The Cloverfield Paradox cost Paramount, its original backer, $40 million to make, and while watching it doesn’t remotely clarify where all that money went, it does explain why a company would cook up a smoke-and-mirrors show to prevent us from measuring the movie’s worth in box-office receipts. And it more than explains why Netflix is an ideal partner in crime for doing so.
Kate Knibbs: Christian Grey has, since the first film, exhibited notable similarities to Donald Trump. He’s a prickly, egotistical, germaphobe billionaire with a chip on his shoulder about his background, a reputation for ruthlessness and weird behavior around women, and a penchant for elaborate displays of wealth. (He also lives in a giant skyscraper with his name on it.) In Fifty Shades Freed, there are several shots of Dakota Johnson styled strikingly like Melania, in pantsuits and stilettos and zippered sheath dresses, eyes hidden under sunglasses and expertly styled brunette tresses. Ana asserts her dominance over a sultry, long-legged blonde would-be usurper with more than a passing resemblance to Ivanka. … The whole thing is, in typical, blowsy Fifty Shades fashion, spectacularly unsubtle and possibly unintentional, but it hits at the heart of the series’ appeal: When presented with a nonsensical yarn about the bliss of yielding your life to a despotic, damaged jetsetter, there’s no response more of-the-moment than to sit back and laugh.
Alison Herman: [Chris] Rock has thus made his most personal special without ever getting that personal — a testament to his talents, not a criticism of them. Brought out of stand-up semi-retirement and a five-special, multidecade relationship with HBO by personal circumstance and, yes, financial incentive, Rock has successfully resisted the potential temptation to phone it in or refuse to evolve. Strolling the BAM stage in a T-shirt and jeans (not a suit, as he’s customarily worn in previous appearances, or even a snazzy leather jacket), Rock appears to be enjoying some especially hard-won confidence. He’s had a bruising few years, but he’s learned to see the silver lining, even when surrounded by his ex-wife and six divorce lawyers. After all, they all wanted something from him, a 10th-grade dropout from Bed-Stuy. That meant he had something worth wanting.
Miles Surrey: When The Leftovers ended, there was a bittersweetness, but also a sense of optimism, that two people who were irreparably broken by a Rapture-like event could learn to live and love again, even if it took actual decades and might be predicated on an elaborate lie. The Good Place’s own spiritual journey may not deliver quite the same emotional heft — or as many gorgeous shots of the Outback — but as the show goes on, one can expect Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani to test their moral compasses. And though they’ll probably struggle, Season 2 ends with the hope that they will leave this other-Earth as the better people they’ve been striving to be.
Surrey: Versace contains multitudes; it is a portrait of a killer, a condemnation of America, a race through time. But most of all, Versace is a tragedy — of the people who were lost, whose lives feel fully realized onscreen as they’re simultaneously taken away by Cunanan. Television has seen so many crime shows, and so many serial killers, that most viewers are numbed by the deaths of their victims. Versace’s greatest strength as a series is the way it makes you care again.