Black Panther

February 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

“Black Panther” is a project that had been in the words for over 2 decades, beginning with Wesley Snipes, who went onto be in the “Blade” films; and by the time he could realize the film and bring it to fruition, he’d already been known as Blade for too long. “Black Panther” needed a new face. And we would never see that face until “Captain America: Civil War” when we first see Chadwick Boseman portray him. Black Panther was an interesting character, and it was inevitable that in the coming years, we’d get an origin film.

Now, “Black Panther” comes to the big screen in all his glory, and it’s a smashing achievement. Not only is Boseman a charismatic actor, but he has a stoic quality that’s necessary to pull the character off. Much of the film takes place in Africa and South Korea; but it begins in 1992 in Oakland, CA. It’s important that we see this prologue, because we’re introduced to a backstory of Wakanda, a secret African country “hidden in plain sight”–meaning that the country exists in the natural world, but only as a third world country. In reality, Wakanda is home to a resource known as vibranium, that came from a meteorite. It can basically do anything–it can heal, it can destroy, it can even turn you into a superhero. Wakanda sends out undercover agents throughout the world, and the King of Wakanda, T’Chaka, sends his brother N’Jobu to America. N’Jobu winds up being involved with an arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, with no CGI capture this time), and T’Chaka believes this to be a betrayal as he helped Klaue steal vibranium as weaponry. N’Jobu is killed, but not before having a son named Erik. This, of course, will play a big part in the film’s climax.

But before all that, we’re reminded that T’Chaka is killed in the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, and this paves the way for his son, T’Challa (Boseman) to take the throne as King of Wakanda, also making him the new Black Panther (the vibranium superhero). Klaue is still out there, trying to expose vibranium to the world by stealing other artifacts. His right hand man, a now grown Erik (Michael B. Jordan), continues to help him. T’Challa follows Klaue to Busan, South Korea, when he finds out that he’s going to sell the artifact and spread vibranium for his own personal gain. There we’re re-introduced to Agent Ross (Martin Freeman), who also was in “Civil War”. You can’t go one Marvel movie without some cross-pollination injected somewhere. Ross turns out to be an ally for T’Challa, but is mortally wounded while trying to save his ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) winds up helping Ross recover back at Wakanda, since she has all the technology and is a bit of a scientist there.

Wakanda as a secret superpower nation doesn’t set well with Klaue, who cynically wants to expose the country for what it is. But instead of altruistic purposes, he wants to exploit the weaponry. This is used as a MacGuffin of sorts. Wakanda as a nation has much to offer the world, but they have always been shrouded in secrecy to protect its people. There are 5 tribes, 4 of which are loyal to the throne. The 5th, the Jabari, self-exile to the mountains. But their “king”, M’Baku, tries to take the Wakanda throne by challenging T’Challa in combat when he’s initially crowned. This ritual is also revisited when we see Erik again, who returns to Wakanda late in the 2nd act.

The film is bursting with bright color and animation, depicting a lovely world like Wakanda with a sense of wonder. We understand the sentiment that Wakanda’s majesty should be shared with the world, like the vast technological advancements and all of the positives that make it so great. But T’Challa is conflicted because of the tradition of keeping Wakanda under wraps. One of his friends, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), wants to break from this as well. We can sympathize.

As a whole, the film has some breathtaking action, some big laughs, all manufactured from Marvel’s best and most enjoyable films. It’s formulaic and predictable, but that’s become part of the MCU charm. The film holds up as well as any of the best, like “Spiderman: Homecoming”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and “The Avengers”. It doesn’t ever lag, even running over 2 hours, and always has enough going on to keep you entertained. The performances are very good; but, of course, they all fall within the standard comic book movie personality vortex. But there is also a nice message about sharing power for the greater good of mankind; the ending leaves us with a sense of hope that “doing good” can be something that makes this a better world. Corny, sure; but it’s presented as credible enough to take it in with good vibes, rather than negative cynicism.

My rating:  :D

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

December 29, 2014 by  
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This film was originally called “There And Back Again”–but Jackson changed it, with the justification being that Bilbo was already ‘there’ in the second film, “The Desolation of Smaug”. So it’s now “The Battle of the Five Armies”, and it is extremely aptly named since almost the entire film is literally just one long battle. It is breathtaking to watch, however, and serves to be a very satisfying ending to a somewhat bloated trilogy that probably should’ve been one film–or, simply left as the opening of “Fellowship of the Ring” in “Lord of the Rings”.

But, Jackson makes the most of his budget here, and takes us on one final journey into Middle Earth–for the time being, at least. The film opens with Smaug attacking the city of Laketown. Smaug is taken down by Bard (Luke Evans) with the “black arrow”. With the end of Smaug, the dwarves take the Lonely Mountain. Thorin (reprised by Richard Armitage), is not satisfied. He is looking for the Arkenstone, a royal jewel of the Dwarves. Bilbo has actually taken it, keeping it from Thorin as he is suffering from “dragon sickness” as Smaug did–being crippled by greed and driven to madness. The Arkenstone is basically like the ring of power, and has similar effects. And after all, Smaug does sound like Smeagol.

But there are other problems. The Orcs have finally built up their armies and want to attack. The humans and elves try to reason with Thorin to claim their gold within the Lonely Mountain’s treasure. Thorin thinks they have stolen the Arkenstone, or thinks one of his own dwarves has betrayed him. But Bilbo thinks he can barter with Thorin and reveals it was he who stole it. This does not go over well, as now Thorin lashes out at Bilbo as well.

It looks bad for the Dwarves initially until Thorin’s cousin Dain (Billy Connolly) appears with a big dwarf army. So there’s your five armies, and let the battle begin.

The elves, humans, and dwarves end up allying with each other as the orcs attempt to kill all of them. Azog the orc chief is intent on killing Thorin especially, and Thorin goes after him to do the same.

You’d think with all of the fighting, it would just be one big noise, the way “The Matrix Revolutions” ended. But this is quite a spectacle to see, perhaps aided by seeing it in 3D.

The story is still strong, with the characters of Tauriel (reprised by Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aiden Turner) falling deeper for each other, and Legolas still coming in to break it up–while shooting arrows like a machine as usual. And also, as usual, Legolas pulls a miracle out of his legs by being able to step on falling stones before falling to his own death. It’s these kinds of shenanigans that are going to either have your eyes rolling in your head, or popping from them in wonderment.

But if you’re in the right frame of mind (maybe not 48 frames though), you can still enjoy this film for what it is. It’s certainly more thoroughly entertaining than “Smaug”, which really fell short of being anything more than a hammock film. It brings the story to a nice close, and it’s good to see that Peter Jackson took us there and back again, and didn’t totally ruin it.

My rating:†:-)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

January 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

The journey continues for Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves and this one is a little more action packed than its predecessor. However, just like in a lot of hammock films, it’s pretty much all set up and absolutely no resolution. It still makes for an entertaining film if you’re already a fan of Tolkein’s classics and Peter Jackson’s adaptations. But it leaves a lot to be desired.

This one begins a bit before the first film’s events where Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen, who is starting to look sort of tired of playing this role) first meets Thorin Oakenshield (reprised by Richard Armitage). I don’t think we really needed this scene, but what medieval fantasy film would be complete without the “drunk pub” sequence? We need to see thirsty men dance and drink to believe we are in middle earth.

There are some new characters we are introduced to, such as Tauriel (played by Evangeline Lilly, looking a bit…lost), and Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) who can change into a large bear, but looks even creepier in his human form. The dwarves are still on a quest to recapture their gold from the Lonely Mountain which is still being held captive by Smaug, the dragon (voiced curiously by Benedict Cumberbatch). Along the way they are attacked by large spiders, followed by Azog and the Orcs again. One thing you really come away with in this series is that no one really likes dwarves, and no one really pays much attention to hobbits. But that doesn’t stop these stout hearted men even if they are sleight of height. Some of the antics are fun, such as a rip roaring rapid adventure that looks like it’d be a fun Disney ride. But some of the film slows down once the dwarves are captured by the Elves, who are just so smug and perfect you want to stick an arrow in their backside sometimes. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is featured here, but his screen time isn’t as majestic as it was in “Lord of the Rings”.

The series itself isn’t as strong as “Lord of the Rings” and that’s obviously because the source material was one small novel and not an entire trilogy of books. Jackson borrows from other sources to beef up the material, but there are some very drawn out scenes that you can tell is just plain filler. The other problem is that a lot of the characters are just not that interesting. The characters don’t have much depth, and Bilbo takes a back seat to the dwarves which is a narrative mistake.

The dragon effects for Smaug are good, and the film starts to find its footing once the dwarves reach the Lonely Mountain. But †here’s the thing about that: just when you think this is going to have some climactic ending…it fades to the credits.

Now, the second film in any planned trilogy is going to naturally suffer from this. Even “Catching Fire” had this problem, though I found that a lot more involving. The only one that’s ever really felt satisfying as a stand alone film is “The Empire Strikes Back”, even though that didn’t really have an ending either. It was saved by having one of the best twists in its climax, though, and it stands as one of the best sequels ever made.

“The Desolation of Smaug” isn’t catchy title, and its matter of fact blandness sort of becomes the symbol of why this film is not very memorable. You’d pretty much only watch it if you were going to watch the entire trilogy of “The Hobbit”. It does leave you craving for the final film, “There and Back Again”; but I think Jackson could have done a better job trying to give this its own identity as well.

My rating:†:?

The World’s End

August 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

Edgar Wright made quite a splash on the horror comedy scene with 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead”, one of the freshest films of the decade and one of my favorite horror comedies of all time–and one of the best zombie films of all time. He followed it up with the darker but still fun and entertaining “Hot Fuzz” in 2007. Now comes the third in what he calls the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy”, “The World’s End”. The plot is quite simple: a bunch of boyhood friends gather together after over 20 years of being apart to try and conquer The Golden Mile, a 12 tavern pub crawl in one night. The man behind the plan is Gary King (Simon Pegg, always appealing, if a little over the top this time), and he is stuck in the past as he wants to recapture the glory days of youth and finish the pub crawl that they could not finish when they were teenagers.

His group of friends, however, have grown up and gone their separate ways. His closest friend, Andy (Nick Frost), has quit drinking and become a business man. His other friends, Pete (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Steven (Paddy Considine), have also matured into adults. Not all successful, but certainly past being pub crawlers. As for Gary, he hasn’t grown at all. Still has the same car from that night, and the same cassette tape that was playing when they drove there.

The pubs all belong to a town called Newton Haven, where they grew up. They haven’t been back since, nor have they cared to. In some ways, all of their skeletons were left there and they were more than happy to leave them–especially for Andy, who had a falling out with Gary one night that Gary thinks Andy should just get over.

Gary finds all of his buds and is able to convince them to come with him based on telling them a sob story about his Mum dying, and their fascination with him being able to persuade Andy to come along piques their interest. Once together, it’s off to the pubs. But something is different. Each pub is identical, sterile, and the people are different. They’re colder, and quiet. The ones that should remember Gary and the gang don’t seem to recognize them at all.

In the bathroom, Gary finds out what is going on just as the rest of his friends grow restless with the evening. Oliver had invited his sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), who Steven has had a crush on all these years, and Gary has tried to put moves on her as well. She leaves, disenchanting the others. Andy, who has been drinking water instead of beer, decides it’s time to go. But when they try to collect Gary, they are swarmed with kids resembling androids complete with blue blood and T-1000-like†mobility. They’re convinced they’re surrounded by robots, but there’s actually a bigger plot going on. It’s an invasion. Flooding us with technology and brainwashing us with pseudo-pacification, the gang tries to escape being assimilated.

But Gary still wants to get to the World’s End, the last pub of the crawl. Through the chase sequences, we learn more about their relationships with each other and why there was a falling out. It’s almost like “The Big Chill” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. But Wright doesn’t completely rip off either film. He also merely touches on an apocalyptic story about the downfall of human civilization as we become more and more reliant on technology. It would have been a nice thing for him to really satirize, as it seemed to be leaning in that direction.

It’s still good fun, though; and if you’re a fan of either or both “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, this won’t let you down. The performances are strong, the action sequences are exciting, and most of the film moves at a good pace. The only time the film lags is near the end. It’s almost as if Wright didn’t have a real tight grasp on how he wanted to end this one, so it is a bit anticlimactic. While some of this is used for comic effect, it almost starts a whole new story with only about 10 minutes to go in the film. The film’s last scene feels like it could be the first scene of the next film, should he want to make a sequel. Although, since this was part of a “trilogy”, I guess Wright would have to bend the rules.

This is an enjoyable film, but I think it’s the weakest of the three. It’s certainly ambitious and it has some great moments. There are some very funny scenes, and the characters are very likeable, especially Sam and Pete. But there’s something more that could’ve been done with the plot, I think, that would have put it even above “Shaun” and really made a criticism about modern life. Instead it’s nothing more than a heady pint. While that can be satisfying, it still leaves something to desire. Especially if it’s an India Pale Ale.

My rating: :-)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

December 26, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

Much like the individual films of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it’s hard to review something you know is simply part of a bigger story. Like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1”, you’re only seeing a portion of the whole story. Most trilogies are forged simply because they’re just stringing together sequels (like the “Alien” and “Back to the Future” franchises), whereas these films almost cannot be viewed on their own without seeing all 3 of the films. There is no ending in “The Fellowship of the Ring”; there’s no resolution at the end. Same, obviously, with “Deathly Hallows Pt. 1”. Well, we have the same problem with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, which seems more like an unexpected trilogy since “The Hobbit”, unlike “The Lord of the Rings”, was only one book.

I wasn’t enthused about this being stretched into a trilogy. Peter Jackson has gained an apt reputation of being rather self-indulgent with the “Lord of the Rings” franchise, and here it just seemed like he was milking it even more.

But after seeing “An Unexpected Journey”, I think I may have been a little harsh on him to begin with. Besides some pace problems in the beginning, and a lack of a clear reason why Bilbo Baggins (played marvelously by Martin Freeman) wants to go on a dangerous journey, the film is certainly reminiscent of the energy and fun that permeated “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I suppose these could be called prequels; but this is already a better start than a certain other prequel trilogy which I won’t name.

Here, though, Jackson doesn’t have to practically start all over with his palette of characters. We are familiar with Bilbo, but only as an aged and retired hobbit; there is no Merry, no Pip, and hardly much of Frodo. But we are re-introduced to Gandalf; and, at a later point, Smeagol. So it’s a bit of a reunion but not exactly a “gang’s all here” film. Instead, we have a new gang. All dwarves. The backstory is that a dragon named Smaug wiped out much of the dwarves’ kingdom, and the leader, Thorin (well played by Richard Armitage), is aiming to take back their kingdom. Smaug has settled in what’s called the Lonely Mountain, which is where the dwarves’ home is. Bilbo is enlisted by Gandalf who believes he has a higher purpose than just rotting away in Bag End, and thinks he may be able to help the dwarves because he’s so light on his feet and easy to miss when coming into contact with the enemy. And speaking of the enemy, a pack of Orcs are after the dwarves after their leader’s arm was sliced off during a battle by Thorin, after Thorin witnesses his grandfather slain by the war chief.

Once the dwarves and Bilbo have joined forces, the film’s pace quickens, and we’re taken on another lush journey through Middle Earth, and we even get to see Rivendel again. The special effects are very well done, and although there is some shoddy 3-D effects and the high frame rate can be a bit nauseating, the creatures look great and the magic looks splendid. I also liked the dwarves, and felt a bit of pity for them as they’re forced to be forever nomads. They’re not as easily accessible as the hobbits in “The Lord of the Rings”; but they have their own unique charm. The performances by the principal dwarf characters, along with the other main characters, are all strong.

I was trying to think throughout the film what it’s about compared to “The Lord of the Rings”, which is about the journey of friendship and maturing in life. It seems as though “The Hobbit” is about discovery, and trust. The dwarves and Bilbo aren’t going to be best friends. They’re too far apart as people, and there are too many of them to become intimate. Bilbo is more independent than Frodo, and a bit more selfish. With this theme, however, I believe Jackson has enough material to span two more films.

The running time is a bit laborious; but at least the ending comes when you expect it to, and the film doesn’t run on too long in that regard. Besides that, I am†a fan of fantasy films in general, and I always appreciate them being done well such as they are in this case. For this, I actually had a great time revisiting this world, and I see why Jackson has spent so much time and effort on this project. You can see he loves it, too, and that this is a labor of love rather than a love of cash. He allows his characters to talk to each other, to have fun with each other, and entertain each other as much as they entertain us. The soundtrack, again, is wonderful to listen to. This is a film that lives and breathes through the Middle Earth, and if you want to take the trip, you won’t be disappointed with it. I would say, however, if you weren’t a fan of “The Lord of the Rings”, don’t make the mistake of thinking this will change your mind. You may as well stay away from it.

There is a thought out there that says this trilogy is making us “pay” for the success of “The Lord of the Rings”. That may be true; but if you’re willing to pay the price, it’s well worth it.

My rating: :-)