Archives For Blog

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.

Advertisements

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.

The Howling III sees Jebra (Imogen Annesley); a young shape shifter running away from her village in the Australian outback, as well as her abusive step-father. Arriving in Sydney, she becomes the lead in a trashy horror franchise, directed by a Hitchcock lookalike who works actors into the ground. Falling in love with a member of the production crew, Jebra must hide her lycanthrope secret from him, not knowing that Daddy Dearest has sent her sisters out to get her back.

Director Phillipe Mora (Mad Dog Morgan) wrote and directed The Marsupials as a retort to an unhappy production on his previous film The Howling II, which concluded with  extra nudity being inserted without his consent. Watching the film, it’s pretty easy to see the stabs and kicks he’s aiming at that production, falling, as they do, with all  the subtlety of an elephant parachuting.

It’s very much a patchy affair that, with its psychic werewolf ballerinas and birthing scenes, makes next to no sense. Admittedly, the same thing could be said for the original Howling, but at least it had some capable talent on board as well as a modicum of a budget. This second sequel’s problems can be summarised when it blows its load on a transformation sequence that happens in a film within the film, and not actually to our protagonists.

Whilst it may seem petty to criticise a horror comedy for being silly, the fact is that with barely a titter to be had or a scare to be seen, the silliness is all The Marsupials has left. It’s like watching your grandma dance around in her pants – No one is laughing and there’s a deep concern for all involved.

Despite the challenge of finding one person to admit they liked Marlon Wayans’ found footage parody, A Haunted House, it made enough of its money back to fastrack a sequel. And here it is. A Haunted House 2: a retirement home where jokes and artistic integrity go to die.

Following on from the ‘plot’ of the first, Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) has started a relationship with a single mother of two children played by a frustratingly wasted Jaime Pressly. Their idyllic lifestyle is mitigated when Malcolm finds a series of snuff films in his attic and his step-daughter becomes possessed.

It’s not just the fact that this film has been thrown together to make a quick buck that offends the most. It’s the racist, sexist and homophobic epithets sprinkled throughout the script like hundreds and thousands on fairy bread. Really offensive fairy bread. Many bad taste comedies are successful because at their heart there is sense of irony and, importantly, intelligence. This film has neither.

Perhaps A Haunted House 2 can best can be surmised by the scene where Wayans has sex with the doll from The Conjuring. Nobody asked to see it. Nobody wants to see it.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, The End of the F***ing World feels like a Wes Anderson film set in the backwaters of Britain. James (Alex Lawther) is like every other teenager careering towards their 18th birthday. He wants to do something different, he wants to escape being stifled by his father, he wants to kill someone. You know, the usual stuff. Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is spitting fire at the world. She hates her step-dad, she hates school and she’d probably hate James too, but he appears to be nerdy and aloof.

Over the course of eight criminally short episodes, Charlie Covell’s script uses James desire to kill Alex as a springboard into a deeper exploration of growing up, mental illness, and the ache of being dragged kicking into adulthood. Deciding to find her real dad, James and Alyssa decide to run away together, where they soon kill a serial rapist and find themselves on the run from the police.

In some ways, the show is like the reverse of Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker. There we saw troubled teen India realise that she can’t escape the dark feelings that course through her veins, before eventually embracing her desire to kill. James’ homicidal tendencies, as with Alyssa’s rebellious attitude, is revealed to be nothing more than a front. They’re both simply using mechanisms to help them ignore what’s happening around them.

With each episode narrated by the duo, their home lives are depicted are depicted as torturous purgatory that no one else will understand. However, we, the audience, are made privy to the odd glance, a dropped word, a small gesture that manages to paint volumes about things they can’t/don’t want to see. James’ dad, played by Steven Oram, is perpetually cheery, but it’s suggested this is merely a front to hide the fact he’s still mourning his dead wife. Meanwhile, Alyssa feels she can’t talk to her mum about her pervy step-dad, but the audience knows that not only does mum know, she’s scared to do anything about. Despite James and Alyssa’s, shall we say, affectations, they perfectly echo that deep-rooted angst in us all that forces us to believe at that age that we really are alone.

All of which makes The End of the F***ing World sound like you’re playing all your Radiohead albums at once. Far from it, a thick juicy vein of nihilistic comedy runs right through the series. Having shown his repertoire of nervous twitches and stuttering in Black Mirror’s Shut Up and Dance, Lawther brings them out to full effect as the Dexter-lite killer, who goes into panic mode when he finally gets a chance to kill someone. Barden, meanwhile, brilliantly captures that violent frown that only teenagers can do so well. Everything she’s face with is an annoyance of some kind; whether it be meeting her deadbeat, absentee father, or having to clean up after a dead rapist.

All of which contrasts nicely with the series bleak ending. The End of F***ing World is not merely a bombastic title, it’s a forewarning that everything you’re about to see may be for naught. Once the credits for the final episode play, you realise that the show was always going to end this way. Like James’ effect on Alex, and vice versa, the show leaves an indelible mark on you that’s both bittersweet and strangely uplifting.

Batman: Year One (2011)

February 10, 2018 — Leave a comment

The rather moody Batman: Year one is based on the comic series by Frank Millar of the same name, which in turn was the basis for Christopher Nolan’s equally moody Batman Begins. The key word, if you haven’t already guessed, is moody.  If you’re a comic aficionado or have happened to have seen Sin City or 300, you’ll know what to expect from Millar’s take on the Caped Crusader’s first steps into crime fighting.

Inner monologues that sound like the same person no matter who is talking? Check. Honestly, you could swap the voices and it wouldn’t matter jot.

Laughable attempts to make everything seem grown up? Check. Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman is a prostitute, Batman says ‘fuck’ and 90% of the fight scenes seem to happen within Gotham’s red-light district.

That sneaky feeling this is all a bit misogynistic? Check. As well as Catwoman being a lady of the night who looks after a 12-year-old prostitute, the only other strong female character is merely used as a plot device for the soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon to have his end away with. Sigh.

The plot hangs around a series of snapshots taken during the first 12 months of Bruce Wayne’s tentative steps as Batman. Whilst this makes for interesting viewing, some sub-plots are picked up and dropped quicker than would be liked. Depending on how you look at this, this can be a bit frustrating.

As this is a serious film about serious grown up things – did I mention Batman says ‘fuck’? –  there is clearly a huge effort to ground all this in reality. A commendable effort that is somewhat skewed by the fact that everyone appears to have unbelievable superhuman strength. If it’s not Gordon kick boxing like Sagat from Street Fighter II, it’s Selina Kyle leaping out of a four-storey building before landing safely on concrete and Bruce Wayne punching a pile of bricks to dust before kicking a tree in half. Seriously, in half.

Yes, this is a cartoon world, films have to earn your suspension of disbelief. A man dressing as a bat is going to be difficult to take seriously as it is without him having to ability to take out oak trees in a single swipe.

It’s not all bad. The minimalist animation is effective, and the denouement is surprisingly low key for a superhero film. If you count babies falling from a bridge low-key, that is. All of which goes some way to show that Batman: Year One can do subtlety when it can be bothered.

Overall, considering this is based on a well thought of comic book series, Batman: Year One is kind of a missed opportunity. It has a criminally short running time (just over 60 minutes) and there is just not enough of an attempt made to get inside the head of Bruce Wayne. Did I mention it’s incredibly moody? I’m not saying Batman needs to break wind and giggle, but the darkness would contrast better if it was up against some lighter moments.