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Black Panther (2018)

February 20, 2018 — Leave a comment

Even if you’re a die-hard Marvel fan, you may have found yourself wavering during the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ten-year run. Now entering what they call their ‘Third Phase’, most of the films have become synonymous with a certain aesthetic which has seen directors having to fit their vision of a project into Marvel’s more restrictive one; all in the name of establishing one coherent universe to sell this year’s Avengers: Infinity. Sometimes though, sometimes Marvel Studios allows itself to a take a back seat and trust that the people they’re hiring know what they’re doing. See Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok and now, Black Panther.

Directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed), Black Panther is the 18th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’d be amiss not to mention the weight that hung heavy to the project before its release. Let’s be clear, representation matters and black superhero movies are few and far between, with Hancock being the last one that comes to mind. (And even then, the tale of an alcoholic, swearing ex-hero was hardly one you could bring the kids too.) Yes, there were a lot of hopes pinned to Black Panther, which makes it even more satisfying to know now how great the film actually is.

The plot in summary: Appearing as a third world country to the rest of the world, the nation of Wakanda has, due to the arrival of a meteor centuries ago, been making leaps and bounds in technological advancements. It’s a utopia of free thinking and respect. After the passing of his father, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has been crowned the King of Wakanda, which includes taking on an on-the-ground role as the super-powered Black Panther. When a Wakandan artefact is stolen from a museum by arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), it sparks off a series of events that ultimately brings a man by the name of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) knocking at the door of T’Challa’s kingdom.

Ostensibly an origin story, Black Panther bucks convention by skipping the first and second act to dive straight into the final act and beyond. There is no will-he-won’t-he when it comes to T’Challa taking up the mantle of Black Panther, it’s one that goes back generations. In a 90’s flashback, we’re treated to T’Challa’s father donning the mask himself on the streets of LA. No, the real question is how T’Challa will use his power as King and as the Black Panther to rule wisely. This is reflected through a struggle that we don’t ordinarily see within the usual superhero fare.

It’s made explicit that Wakanda, although advanced, refuses to get involved in the politics of the outside world. Equally, it doesn’t allow ‘outsiders’ to come in and sully their Utopia. It’s a diplomatic tradition that T’Challa seems content to uphold, which is what makes his character so interesting. In some ways, you could argue that, like The Punisher, T’Challa is an anti-hero. Yes, he comes to the aid of his people, but every now and then you’re reminded of who those he turns his back on.

Which is where Killmonger comes in. Marvel movies have come under fire for their lacklustre bad guys, but with Jordan’s Killmonger, we have someone who leaves an indelible mark on the canon. An ex-marine who believes Wakanda should be doing more to help racial injustice in America and beyond, Killmonger’s anger at T’Challa and Wakanda is justified. Killmonger has been dragged up on the streets and finding out someone could have been doing something to help his brothers and sisters fails to mitigate his fury. Of course, being the antagonist, Killmonger’s methods to get Wakanda to share its resources are above questionable. However, that’s what’s impressive in Black Panther’s approach to characters. It gives us a hero and a villain whose motives aren’t just black and white, there are moral greys to be navigated.

Not that Black Panther is simply a film of two men beating their chests and pointing fingers at each other. Through the likes of scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright), Wakanda special forces leader Okoye (Danai Gurira), Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Wakanda spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Black Panther has a feast of female characters, who are just as equal to the men. It’s a breath of fresh air how often the aforementioned are involved in determining the course of the events, instead of being simply defined as ‘strong women’ because they wear a tight leather jumpsuit and can strangle men with their thighs. (Black Widow, I love you but you deserve better from Kevin Feige).

In fact, with some much to recommend it, the only issues that truly stand out in Black Panther are some ropy CGI, which appears to be part and parcel of the modern blockbuster, and another godawful Stan Lee cameo. Yes, it’s sacrilege, but the last truly good Stan Lee was Kevin Smith’s Mallrats. There I said it!

Like Winter Soldier, Black Panther is more than just a superhero film. It wrestles with modern day politics, issues of identity and race, and does so in the most accessible fashion it possibly can. Even taking the film at face value will you have you leaving the cinema dismantling the things it has to say. If only every Marvel film could be like this.

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Finding out your husband is a porn baron would be daunting enough for most people. So spare a thought for uptight housewife Sophie (Natacha Langinger) who inherits her spouse’s ailing adult film empire on the day of his funeral in this entertaining French series.

Whilst the premise of the show suggests a potential for raunch, Hard aims more for tittering rather than titillating. It provides some genuine smiles as Sophie has to put aside her naivety to manage the company’s expansive portfolio. Going so far as to bring in an acting coach to help the performers become more believable in their work. Linginder is thoroughly charming throughout. As too is François Vincentelli playing Roy the Rod, the dimwitted star performer whose feelings for Sophie end up being bad for business.

Unfortunately, with only six episodes, each no longer than 28 minutes, Hard feels at times a little soft. There’s not really much room to let the plot breathe and a subplot involving prostitution that surfaces in the penultimate episode feels tacked on rather than organic. However, the show very rarely outstays its welcome and ultimately wins you over.

The disappearance of a child ripples throughout this engrossing Irish drama which, due to various factors, never aired in Australia. Reminiscent of ABC’s dramatization of The Slap, we follow the lives of those close to the titular Amber. Her recently divorced parents who unwittingly use the search to take potshots at each other, a younger brother in danger of being caught in the cross fire and a family friend who uses her journalist connections to launch an investigation of her own. In addition, we see the domino effect the case has on the lives of those who would be considered complete strangers, including a young immigrant and a potential suspect.

Despite deliberately referencing high-profile kidnappings that have played out in the media, Amber never feels like it’s being exploitative. Adopting a non-linear structure that spans two years, it rewinds and playbacks scenes allowing for a different point of view, altering the perspective of the viewer and any feelings they may have already established. Whilst it does veer off into melodrama at times, Amber should be commended for its powerful performances, engaging script and a finale that refuses to present everything in a neat little package.

Here’s a round-up of what I’ve been writing in November.

Donna McRae Finds Ghosts on Lost Gully Road – Read full interview at FilmInk.

Dragon Force X (2017, Dir: Stuart Simpson)  – ‘Insane, gory, and extremely funny.’ Read full review at FilmInk.

Inseperable (2016, Dir: Marcos Carnevale) – ‘There’s no denying that Inseparable wears a large heart on its sleeve.’ Read full review at FilmInk.

Lost Gully Road (2017, Dir: Donna McRae) – ‘… a slow burner of a tale that doesn’t feel rushed to get to where it’s going.’ Read full review at FilmInk.

Tarnation (2017, Dir: Daniel Armstrong) – ‘…a cross-pollination of The Evil Dead and The Mighty Boosh.’ Read full review at FilmInk.

That’s Not Cheating (2016, Dir: Ariel Winograd) – ‘Genuinely funny in parts, with solid performances from its leads…’ Read full review at FilmInk.

The Neon Spectrum (2017, Dir: Lee Galea) – ‘Like A Streetcat Named Bob, The Neon Spectrum manages to be a feelgood film, whilst grappling with weighty themes.’ Read full review at FilmInk.

The Villainess (2017, Dir: Jung Byung-gil) – ‘Reminiscent of Gareth Evans’ The Raid and Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry, Byung-gil throws his audience head first into a Sook-Hee-led ballet of destruction.’ Read the full interview at The Reel Word.

Timothy Spanos: Throb Like it Just Won’t Stop – Read full interview at FilmInk.

October Film Round Up

November 4, 2017 — Leave a comment

Here’s everything that I wrote/published in the month of October!

About Love. Adults Only (2017, Dir: Nigina Sayfullayeva, Pavel Ruminov, Yevgeniy Shelyakin, Natalya Merkulova, Rezo Gigineighvili, Alexey Chup) – ‘However, for all its talk of modernity, Adults Only is surprisingly old fashioned.’ Full review at FilmInk.com.au

Arrhythmia (2017, Dir: Boris Khlebnikov) – ‘Whilst the film tries to suggest Katya or Oleg are equal in their misery, it does at times seem to favour Oleg and his man-child ways.’ Full review at FilmInk.com.au

Ben Elton: The Man from Freo – ‘I mean, even the love story is a little bit jagged. It does compare folk music fans to Hitler fans!’ Full interview at FilmInk.com.au

Blockbuster (2017, Dir: Roman Volobuev) – ‘Underneath the screwball comedy and stylised violence, Blockbuster has something it wants to say; feminist themes run throughout, but don’t necessarily run deep.’ Full review at Filmink.com.au

Chicago Rot (AKA Rot, 2016, Dir: Dorian Weinzimmer) – ‘What could have been a by-the-numbers grindhouse flick of two violent men in pursuit of each other, blossoms into a patchwork quilt of minotaurs, demons, aliens, and people sewing their victims flesh onto themselves.’ Full review ar horrornews.net

Closer to God (2014, Dir: Billy Senese) – ‘The film is so serious and portentous that it almost feels languid.’ Full review here

Demon Hunter (2016, Dir: Zoe Kavanagh) – ‘Demon Hunter feels like a relic from the 90s; as if Razorblade Smile and The Matrix had a baby and didn’t buy it a pony when it really, really wanted one.’ Full review at Horrornews.net

Detroit (2017, Dir: Kathryn Bigelow) – ‘Through its expert craftsmanship and recounting of the events, Detroit demands you sit up and realise what is happening around you, right now, in this century.’ Full review at thereelword.net

Dogs Are The Best People: Interview with Mary Zournazi – ‘The film really is this journey of the people and the animals in this time of crisis, and in this sense, I feel a huge responsibility to convey how people experience their lives in difficult times.’ Full interview at filmink.com.au

Dogs of Democracy (2016, Dir: Mary Zournazi) – ‘Engaging and thought-provoking, go see Dogs of Democracy for the wet nosed mischief makers, but stay for the uplifting philosophical discussion.’ Full review at Filmink.com.au

Goosebumps (2015, Dir: Rob Letterman) – ‘…goes down the route of a traditional narrative, culminating in a showy finale that appears to be the prerequisite of all blockbusters currently. It’s not as bad as it sounds.’ Full review here.

I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013, Dir: Steven R. Monroe) – ‘…vicious, nasty, soul crushing story.’ Full review here.

K-11 (2012, Dir: Jules Mann-Stewart) – ‘Reminiscent of the bunched up fist that was Scum…’ Full review here.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017, Dir: Matthew Vaughn) – ‘…having only scratched the surface when it came to the world of the Kingsman, director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman literally blow that all up so they can world build again with The Statesman.’ Full review here.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014, Dir: Matthew Vaughn) – ‘The film’s light misogyny comes to a head in a final scene joke that attempts to satirise the typical ending of a Bond movie, but instead manages to rewrite Eggsy character unnecessarily.’ Full review here.

Return of The Killer Shrews (2011, Dir: Steve Latshaw) – ‘Neither funny or scary, The Return of the Killer Shrews biggest scare is the threat in the end credits of an oncoming third film.’ Full review here.

Spacewalkers (2017, Dir: Dmitry Kiselyov) – ‘Engrossing, nerve rattling and patriotic without turning into parody…’ Full review at FilmInk.com.au

Ten Non-Horror Films to Creep You OutFull list at thereelword.net

The Cobbler (2014, Dir: Thomas McCarthy) – ‘The problem lies with the tone of the film that battles itself to be either a knock about comedy or a social drama laced with magic realism.’ Full review here.

The Convent (2000, Dir: Mike Mendez) – ‘Yes, The Convent may well be bleak, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.’ Full review at horrornews.net

The Pink House (2017, Dir: Sascha Ettinger-Epstein) – ‘What makes The Pink House so fascinating to watch is that it doesn’t try to sugar-coat their existence with attempts at titillation, instead it revels in the normality of their existence.’ Full review at FilmInk.com.au

Viking (2016, Dir: Andrei Kravchuk) – ‘…a vicious and sexual biopic that may shock those expecting a by-the-numbers period drama.’ Full review at FilmInk.com.au

What If It Works? (2017, Dir: Romi Trower) – ‘Whilst What if It Works? may not have the most complex of plots and secondary characters do seem light on exposition, this simply gives us the opportunity to enjoy the company of our heroes.’ Full review at filmink.com.au

For a while, Dark Angel (AKA I Come in Peace) almost feels like two separate films. The first follows Dolph Lundgren’s tough as nails cop joining up with a naïve FBI agent to hunt down the drug baron who killed his partner. The second sees an overly large humanoid alien literally arriving on earth with a bang and immediately going on a killing spree whilst being pursued by an equally humongous extra-terrestrial. However, both storylines are actually connected by the drugs bust where Lundgren’s partner was killed.

Dark Angel is very much an action movie of its time. Lots of punching people in the head on moodily lit, rain soaked streets in a city under perpetual nighttime. Director Craig R. Baxley (The Warriors) cherry-picks the best bits of 80s blockbusters, particularly The Terminator, to provide something that is more fun than it has any right to be. There is very little here to tax the brain. People talk in exposition on a regular basis and when things start getting a bit slow, you know you’re guaranteed an explosion just around the corner.

However, none of this hides the fact that Dark Angel is a very derivative and not particularly well-made film.

This review originally appeared in FilmInk.

K-11 (2012)

October 27, 2017 — Leave a comment

In neon-soaked exploitation drama, K-11, when record exec, Raymond Saxx (Goran VIsnijc) is brought into LA County Jail off his face, a turn of events lead him to being thrown into the titular unit reserved mainly for transsexuals and gay men considered a danger to society, presided over by the sadistic Lt. Johnson (D.B. Sweeney). Trying to prove his innocence, Saxx finds himself being dominated by the very personification of fire in stilettos, Mousey (Kate del Castillo), whilst becoming a father figure to the naive but unhinged Butterfly (Portia Doubleday).

Reminiscent of the bunched up fist that was Scum, First time director Jules Stewart (Yes, Kristen Stewart’s mum) seems to be on a dare; hell-bent on piling one taboo on top of another without really trying to advance the plot.  Tonally It’s all over the place; sloppily strutting from high camp to evasive aggression in the blink of a false eyelash.

K-11 is a vicious film that tries to tackle so many subjects (drugs, rape, child abuse, homosexuality, loss of innocence), it never really manages to get a firm hold on anything in particular.  A success in aggression, but a failure in any other department.

This review originally appeared in FilmInk.