Archives For Film Reviews

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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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.

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.

There is absolutley nothing like nerd rage for unbridled, over-opinionated, bile splattered and contradictory hate. And I say this as a Doctor Who fan. I’ve witnessed rage to the extent where people have fought to death just to explain how the Eighth Doctor can be half human when it’s never been mentioned before. Real ‘Two enter, one leaves’ kind of fighting. It’s quite a sight to behold.

Star Wars fans are equally tenacious in their views. You only have to look at the recent anger aimed at The Last Jedi. But who is really to blame for this outpouring of emotion? The fans for not standing by their love, or perhaps, it’s the creators themselves who deserve scorn for not actually listening to the fans!

M Back in 2011, the documentary The People vs George Lucas used a ‘courtroom based debate’ to expose the dichotomy that exists in all Lucas fans when it comes to the Star Wars universe and its creator.

Quite where the courtroom analogy comes from is hard to say because the documentary is to courtrooms and their linguistics, what a mushroom painted purple is to water polo. It’s also incredibly one sided about the issue at hand.

After a brief breakdown on the rise of Lucas and his original space opera, we get straight into what is considered Lucas’ first mistake: his 1997 special editions and the whole Han shot first debacle.

Didn’t think there’s much to say about that?

Did you notice I used the word debacle? Did you?

Because that’s what it is to some and they want you to know it. People are angered by what they say as a lack of acknowledgment of their childhood. By editing, tweaking and polishing the original movies, some fans see it as a betrayal by Lucas. The films they fell in love with are no longer the films they love. Then there’s the prequels… Oh, lord.

The documentary continues to tick off the rest of Lucas major mistakes including encouraging –  nay – forcing penniless fans to buy Star Wars merchandise. Yep, people’s inability to say no to a Darth Vader shaped night light is all down to the bearded one apparently.

The idea of who owns a piece of art once it’s complete is an interesting topic the film touches upon. On the one side, Lucas is well within his rights to do whatever he wants with his creation. On the other, what he does needs to be seen as respectful by his fans. No one wants to feel like they’re being taken for a ride. However, some Star Wars fans work to a multitude of different criteria. One fan says he hates the prequels whilst praising Jar Jar Binks as a true testament to what Lucas is capable of without studio interference (sic).

As a collection of talking heads and fanfilms, The People vs George Lucas is an entertaining watch, but its wheels constantly spin in a puddle of tears created by so called fans each proclaiming themselves to be the angriest when it comes to Lucas’ legacy. Yes, there is the odd voice that is willing to admit that the fans are getting a little above their station, but they are too few to genuinely say this is a fair and balanced view of George Lucas or his fandom. The five minute love in at the end smacks of the director, Alexandre O. Philippe, panicking that they’ve taken it too far. ‘Don’t sue us George! We love you really! Give us more wookie pez dispensers’.

And that’s the scariest part about the film. For all their cries of ‘unfair’, the fans on screen are the ones that are beating themselves up. They’re the ones that are victimizing themselves, not Lucas. Goodness knows what they’re making of The Last Jedi.

Rather than being an exploration of fan culture, The People vs George Lucas is merely a monument to the kind of overgrown children who ruin any kind of fandom for others, including children.

Court adjourned.

I, Tonya (2018)

February 7, 2018 — Leave a comment

Soon after its release, The Wolf of Wall Street had several accusations hurled at it, suggesting that it was glamorising the life of its titular subject Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo Di Caprio. Admittedly, Belfort looks like he’s having a ball, but, in terms of glamorisation, if you think he’s something to aspire to then it says an awful lot more about you.

The reason why I bring this up is because I, Tonya, the latest from Charles Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), looks set to receive unwarranted criticism regarding the veracity of its tale. There are some who feel the film is trying to exonerate her of her crimes. And in doing so, it feels as if people are misunderstanding the complexity of its antagonist.

I, Tonya sees Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad) playing the titular Tonya Harding, working class good girl turned celebrated figure skater. Oh, and she may have had something to do with the assault on Nancy Kerrigan, a rival skater, which happened in 1994. In retelling the events that led up to and go beyond the assault, I, Tonya negates the traditional biopic narrative and has Tonya’s life recounted by Tonya, her ex-husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan), her abusive mother LaVona (Allison Janney) and, only occasionally, Tonya’s supposed bodyguard Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser).

Of course, no two people ever tell the same tale and I, Tonya is up front about this. An opening card informs the audience that what they’re about to hear is not the whole truth and very likely contradictory. This can be seen in the way Jeff and Tonya describe their marriage, with Tonya breaking the fourth wall in Jeff’s interpretation of events to plead her innocence. It’s a trick that worked wonders in Michael Winterbottom’s 24-Hour Party People and Stephen Hopkin’s The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. And by using this trick, the movie mitigates any need to say its interpretation of Tonya is telling the truth. When the film says that everyone is lying, it’s hard to simply centre on Harding herself. It works too, to a point.

No, making a martyr out of Harding is not the issue. Its real problem is whether it wants to look down upon its subject or revere her. Robbie gives an outstanding performance, one which deserves the praise she’s been receiving. However, throughout the screenplay from Steven Rogers (PS I Love You), there are moments when the madcap energy of the film doesn’t match up to what’s happening on screen. When Jeff takes a swing at Tonya, or smashes her head against a mirror, the effect is somewhat diminished by Robbie turning to camera to give a pithy one liner. ‘Look,’ the film seems to say. ‘She’s making light of it, because she’s used to it. Don’t worry if you giggle.’

Okay, so perhaps, that’s not the film’s intent, but domestic abuse is a heavy spice to throw into a film. It’s also not one you can ignore when you’re talking about a real-life person. Therefore, stick to a tone and perhaps don’t make it an overtly comedic one.

That said, I, Tonya is still a worthy film to watch. It might not be the ‘Goodfellas on skates’ that the marketing would want you to believe, but it gets by by trying to re-establish Tonya Harding as a real life human being, instead of the punchline she’s become. Sometimes it’s not just life’s good guys that deserve to have their lives told. And when that happens, we have to listen to their side of the story too.

Grabbers (2012)

February 7, 2018 — Leave a comment

There is an excruciating moment in I’m Alan Partridge, when the titular DJ is trying to win favour with a couple of TV execs form Dublin in the hopes of bagging a job over there. After running through innumerable Gaelic stereotypes, he hits upon the woeful campaign slogan of ‘Dere’s more to Ireland dan dis’. And whilst it may seem odd to say, Grabbers kind of lives up to his ad campaign. Like Australia, New Zealand and other countries that most people associate with looking pretty on a postcard, Ireland has given us a stonking creature feature.

On a remote island near Northern Ireland, a small village comes under attack from a gaggle of tentacled aliens who have landed to Earth during what appears their mating season. When bodies of local residents start turning up, the safety of the village is dropped into the hands of alcoholic Garda Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle) and visiting Dublin Garda, Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley). Upon discovering that aliens are allergic to blood with high alcohol content, O’Shea decides that the villagers must seek sanctuary in the local pub for a lock-in to end all lock-ins.

Evidently, this is not a sombre under siege horror like John Carpenter’s The Fog. More likely it’s a schlockfest in the vein of Shaun of the Dead; mixing comedy and horror in a way that is often forgotten when these hybrids are produced. Kevin Lehane’s screenplay delivers memorable one-liners, but gives us characters we can believe in. Ask yourself seriously if, under the same situation, you would act like Bruce Willis fighting off the aliens with a toothpick, or like the village’s drunk, Paddy (Lalor Roddy) wondering how you’re going to come out of this alive and drinking yourself into oblivion?

Jon Wright, who gave us 2009’s Tormented, squeezes a lot out of his $3.5 million budget that would put a lot of Hollywood fare to shame. Not relying solely on the formulaic ‘quiet, quiet, BANG!’ motif that comes with most modern horror – Paranormal Activity we’re looking at you! – He delivers some literally explosive set pieces that reflect and rift on a number of classics, including Jaws and Aliens. Did we mention how bloomin’ gorgeous it all looks? Wright embraces the Irish countryside, in a way that would make Peter Jackson weep.

Grabbers is a booze and blood soaked comedy that deserves a lot more credit than it probably gets. A true cult film in the making and fine tourist campaign if ever there was one.