Black Panther (2018) Review

There has never been a more relevant time for the Black Panther film to come out. With the issue of representation in film being such a hot button issue, nothing made me happier to see a film starring a black superhero, especially one with this much joy and rich character development.

After the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has taken the mantle of King of the technologically advanced African country of Wakanda. As T’Challa comes to grips with being king, a foreigner by the name of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) lays seige to Wakanda, forcing the King to relay on his former flame Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and his tech savy sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) to protect his kingdom and all of its secrets.

Since a lot of people are making a big deal over a black superhero, which is all well and good, it doesn’t mean shit to me if the movie sucks. Thankfully it doesn’t. Marvel has it’s characters down to a science, and that’s where Black Panther truly shines. T’Challa is a fully realised character with empathy and a sense of duty. He goes on a spiritual journey that many of us have been on, and it gives him a true sense of history.

The MCU has been know to have some underwhelming villains for most of its run, but Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the best antagonists in the series. Much like Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, you get a clear understanding of Killmonger’s motives, hell I even found myself sympathizing with him. He was just captivating to watch every second he was on screen.

Black Panther continues Marvel’s Phase 3 overarching theme of fathers and sons. Here is a man who is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps while trying to be his own man, his own king. It even goes deeper into it’s theme; can a son forgive the sins of his father? Should he have to pay that price?

Of course the action is first rate, and you will find yourself in awe of the spectacle, but there is more than that. The issues of race, heritage, and legacy are all there to be absorbed and discussed. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it still gets to me that a character, up until a few years ago, was considered to be a B-lister at best, has been given a treatment that is usually reserved for more prominent characters. King T’Challa is a character I can’t wait to see again.


The Shape of Water (2017) Review 

     Director Guillermo Del Toro has always been an astonishing visual director, even when it comes to a few of his lesser films. Even then the man has had a love for everything horror and fantasy, but even then there has always been a subtle fairy tale quality to his work. The Shape of Water not only embraces these attributes, they have come together to bring a different type of film that is clearly one of his most personal movies. 

     In 1960s America, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute woman working at a government facility with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) when an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) is brought in for experiments overseen by Dr. Hoffstetler (David Stahlbarg). Elisa and the creature form a deep bond that is threatened by Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) and his need to protect America. 

     Let me get this out of the way and say that it’s pretty obvious that this is just Del Toro’s version of the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. Of course, it’s much more lyrical, even poetic than the earlier film. Even though the movie takes place in a bygone era of America, it feels like an entirely different world. The color schemes, with their hues of greens and blues, come off as a fairy tale. Even the musical score by Alexandre Desplat just reinforces the point, almost like something out of a French New Wave film. 

     If Sally Hawkins, and Octavia Spencer for that matter, don’t get Oscar nominations for their work, then clearly fantasy horror have no place at the Oscars. Hawkins has to give a performance entirely in pantomime, and has to rely on just her face and body movements to convey her emotions. Trust me, this is fucking hard to pull off and Hawkins makes it seem way too easy, she’s so good in this. Even Doug Jones underneath all that make-up gives such emotions, the chemistry between the two actors is better than most big budget movies that have tackled a similar romance. 

     Spencer manages to take an almost thankless role and gives depth to emotion to a woman who’s living at the height of the civil rights movement. Through the vile character of Strickland, Del Toro manages to touch on the issues of racism and sexism without getting preachy, but enhances the themes of isolation and rejection, even within our own civilization. 

     Del Toro has crafted a deeply personal work of art here, one that, yes, does pay homage to old school monster movies but that has its own qualities, it’s own take on the outcast monster story that we all grew up on in some form or another. It is just without question that this is one of the best films of the year, and needs to be seen. 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Review

     I still remember, all those decades ago when I first saw Star Wars and I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. He was, and will always be, my first childhood hero, as surely must be the case for countless others. So know we’ve reached the 8th episode, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything you could want from a Star Wars flick, even if its not in the way that you expected it. 

     Picking right where The Force Awakens left off, The Resistance, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher) is on its last leg as the forces of the New Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are on the verge of wiping them out and winning the war. Poe (Oscar Isaac) sends Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to save the Resistance, while Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to find out her destiny. 

     The Last Jedi relies on some tried and true aesthetics that does make it come alive. While the film does manage to hit some of the same plot beats as The Empire Strikes Back, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as the previous film did when it came to A New Hope. Trust me, that’s a good thing. Some of the questions that were posed before are answered here, whether we like it or not. 

     I do have to say that the performances are on point here, with Hamill giving a truly melancholic performance as Luke, that was easily my favorite in the entire film. The weariness, the humor on display that reminds us of that young farm boy from Tatooine. It really resonate with you if you grew up with the Saga. 

     I noticed especially that the humor was kicked up a lot, and it did make me smile; Be it from Poe, or Leia herself, I was overjoyed that the movie remembered that this is a children’s film, and that my God, children do love to laugh most of all. 

     If there were any egregious flaw to the film, is that there needed to be a lot of things fleshed out. I mean, a lot of shit. The irony that this is the longest Star Wars movie sure as shit isn’t lost on me. There needed to be more with Stoke (Andy Serkis), a lot more on this pretty kick ass Casino, and way more between Luke and Rey. If anything, the movie felt rushed, almost as if writer/director Rian Johnson started to put  shit that should’ve happened in Episode IX. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it just felt lacking in this respect. 

     I did enjoy The Last Jedi immensely don’t get me wrong; there are images in this movie that will stay with me forever, and even make me shed a tear or three. I guess I wanted more out of it, more of the characters I love and cherish, and not have mysteries set up only to refer to them offhand. To be fair, I may need to see this a few more times before I can even begin to rank it, but the movie succeeds in being Star Wars and for more of you, that’s more than enough.  

Justice League (2017) Review

     Well it was nice while it lasted. After loving the fuck out of Wonder Woman I was hopeful that Justice League was going to be another upward tick for the DCEU, but instead all we have now is just a disgraceful mess of a movie that wouldn’t even pass muster in a film class. 

     With the world still in mourning after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to put together a team that consists of Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to take down the evil Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) before he gets some boxes that would destroy humanity. 

     Fuck where do I start with this? To reiterate, the movie is a mess; the story, the characterizations, the acting, just everything. It’s so frustrating to watch because there’s a really good movie in here. Its just not a good Justice League movie. The movie starts with Superman dead and buried, how do people move on from having their savior fucking dead? Imagine that for a second. That movie is so much more interesting than whatever the fuck you want to call this movie. 

     The characters, even Batman and Wonder Woman, are painfully underdeveloped. They have no arc. All of them. They all even work together effortlessly with no conflict. I couldn’t tell you anymore about Cyborg’s character than before I saw the movie. Aquaman to me was unrecognizable from the comic, and that’s fine, but you have to tell us as filmmakers who the hell he is, what drives him as a hero. Nope none of that. And I really wish I had some seasonings, because Steppenwolf is the blandest villain I’ve seen in a film since Thor: The Dark World. Just no personality at all. I will give credit that Ezra Miller had some good moments as The Flash, but even he seemed to trying way to hard to carry the film. There was just no chemistry between any of the actors. 

     Now to discuss the stuff I liked, no matter how fleeting, there will be some light spoilers concerning the Man of Steel. 
     So Superman gets resurrected, and that’s to be expected, but the good movie in here is how his family reacts, especially his mother. I got choked up when she saw that her little boy was alive, and the overwhelming emotions that it brings. But it’s like 2 minutes of the movie. Hell, we don’t even see how the world reacts and I think it would be a pretty big deal. I can only imagine seeing an awesome movie with the world mourning the death of a god and then have them return. But I guess we’ll see a team beat up a shit villain instead. 

     I’ve waiting decades to see a Justice League live action film, and this is a poor excuse of a movie. I can’t imagine anyone feeling like they got to see their favorite characters be bad asses when we don’t even get a feel for who they are. The high benchmark of superhero movies is The Dark Knight and this movie should be ashamed of itself for believing it belongs in the same sentence as that masterpiece. Remember folks and fans alike, you deserve so much better than this. You truly do. 


Thor: Ragnarock (2017) Review

     The last Thor film, The Dark World, is still the worst Marvel film from their output. The first one being a silly lighthearted affair, but man that follow up… such a piece of shit. Well, I’ve never been happier to see an entry just improve so exponentially. I actually walked out with a smile on my face, instead of punching anyone in the face. 

     Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is trying to find his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) with the help of his douchebag brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). They both come across the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett) who wishes to rule over Asgard. Thor, now defenseless, finds himself on a strange planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and has a run in with a long missing friend… Its the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

     Clearly Thor: Ragnarock is the best of the Thor films, and so much fun. The best moments involving Thor in his other appearances are the humorous ones. Hemsworth has such great comedic timing that in retrospect, made the Dark World such a bore was the lack of humor. Everyone in the movie has phenomenal comedic moments, and I want to see Thor and Hulk cause some more shit. They are so good together. Blanchett’s Hela is a character so rich and evil, that makes you wonder why the hell she wasn’t in this series sooner? I was scared of her, because Thor was, and you can clearly see why when presented with the film. 

     More than anything I was awestruck by the musical score from Mark Mothersbaugh. Director Taika Waititi was clearly going for an 80s retro feel, and that score really brought that feeling home, with sparing use of synth, but once in use the aesthetic truly came alive. 

     I’m impressed by the fact that Marvel Studios is three for three in one year of releasing movies. All have succeeded in just being pure pieces of entertainment while actually having both thematic and character arcs. I officially can’t wait for the next adventure these guys get into, and with this being the 18th movie in a franchise, you know that’s some high fucking praise. 

Stranger Things 2 (2017) Review

     Now that I’ve let this second installment of Stranger Things sink in, I’ve come to realize that the show made an 80s reference that might have escaped some; that the sequel is better than the original. The stakes are higher, the character development more pronounced, the overall story more satisfying. Oh and the budget is larger. That’s totally an 80s thing. 

     It’s been a year since the events of Stranger Things and everybody has more or less moved on with their lives. Will (Noah Schnapp) is still recovering from the Upside Down, Joyce (Winona Ryder) has a new guy in her life, Bob (Sean Astin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is still holding out hope that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still alive somewhere. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Calab McLaughlin) are vying for the affection of the new girl in town, and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is still with Steve (Joe Keery). Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is still pinning for Nancy. Hopper (David Harbour) is hiding a secret for everyone else’s good. 

     This is just the bare minimum set up for Stranger Things 2 everything else unfolds at a breakneck speed that can cause you to binge the shit out of it. I took my time and let it breathe so I could absorb the themes and references that the show is making. 

     The casting of Sean Astin as Bob is a stroke of genius because of the fact that he played Mikey in the 80s classic The Goonies. And I have to say that that man is the real MVP. He managed to take a character that could’ve been so annoying, but instead made him funny, warm, and even sympathetic. You usually don’t have characters like this in sequels typically. 

     What the Duffer Brothers have manage to realize in the horror genre is that symbolism and metaphor are aplenty. The love triangle between Dustin, Lucas, and Max (Sadie Sink) is something so embedded into the tribulations of growing up. Every person in school, no matter what age, has been through that. The show always excels when dealing with real issues amongst pure supernatural terror. 

     This season is at its core, about growing up and the confusion that brings; who we are, and how the world works (a theme heavily played up in the much mangled 7th chapter). There really isn’t any lulls in the episodes, but I don’t imagine anyone just jumping in at this point. The first season is mandatory. 

     There’s a lot to dissect and pick a part here, but that will arrive in do time. Everything is on point for this season and its still a fun ride to experience. 


Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review

     These type of sequels aren’t supposed to be this good. You know the ones I mean; the ones that took decades to write direct and produce, especially if the original is a masterpiece of its genre. Blade Runner 2049 is an exception that should become the norm. A sequel that expands and compliments the original instead of negating it completely. 

     Its Los Angeles 2049, artificial humans called Replicants are now outlawed except for use as officers called Blade Runners, who hunt down older replicants. One such Blade Runner named K (Ryan Gosling) soon uncovers a secret tied to an old Blade Runner from 30 years ago named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) that could change all of humanity. 

     Even though I gave a bare bones plot summary, I feel like I gave away too much. While Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel, make no mistake, but this comes off more like a story that took place in the same universe. This time though, the story is much more of an odyssey than the standard sci fi fare; its still a noir story except we’ve actually met the person he’s searching for. 

     I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor in a performance and thought that no one else could’ve played it, but it happened here with Gosling as K. He anchors his performance with wide eyed silence that almost comes off childlike. He’s discriminated against, by both his peers and the people he’s sworn to protect; its easy to sympathize with him, even though that’s not how he plays it. The presence that Gosling has is just completely mesmerizing. His relationship with a Siri-like application is equal parts sweet, and sad and it came off as believable. He anchors the entire film and gives it its emotional weight. 

     Director Denis Villenuve has crafted his greatest film so far; the man was wise enough to know that the reason that the original is a science fiction influence is to keep the effects as practical as possible. This feels like a world that was built and lived in for decades. It is just one of the most gorgeous films I’ve looked upon in God knows how long. Love and care went into this, and it’s there on the screen. 

     Even though Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own story, people who haven’t seen the original might have a hard time following some visual and audio clues that key us into not just into the action but the emotions as well. I do apologize if I seem to be all over the place with this review, but there’s so much to take in on a story and visual level. Like the first film, Blade Runner 2049 begs repeated viewings and analysis. Like the best films are wont to do. 

Don’t Be Upset That Twin Peaks Ended, Be Joyous That It Happened. 

     On September 3rd, Twin Peaks: The Return ended its run with a two part finale. I’m still reeling from so I will do my best to keep some sort of sanity in my thoughts. I sense that a lot of people royally pissed off over how it all transpired; the events, the use of the characters, the explicitly unanswered questions, just take your pick, its all valid. 

     If you find yourself upset, ask yourself this: 

     Do you even know David Lynch?

     The last two episodes (especially the second one) come off as some sort of fever dream that quickly spiraled into a nightmare. This is Lynch at his purest, most surrealist that he’s been in years. From the likes of Lost Highway to Inland Empire this is what the fimmmaker has always done; the dropped plot points, the strayed characterizations, I mean this is pretty common. 

     The final episode, to get back on track here, is a surrealist masterpiece. Based on that one viewing, I legitimately have no idea where to start to make sense. No matter though, when it comes to David Lynch I have come to learn that if you don’t know how to feel, just go with the music and the images. The use of negative space, think of the car scene at its climax, along with the lingering shots, create such a sense of unease, almost as of we’re descending into Hell. I feel a sense of loss, but I can’t even begin to tell you why. The ending just feels sad and open ended and that has always been Lynch’s style. 

     I do have a theory about what it could mean, but that requires some spoilers. 
     Based on the last few episodes, I believe that the events of this series of Twin Peaks all transpire in Audrey’s coma. I am fairly confident that in one of the early episodes it was mentioned that she was in a coma, but in a throwaway line. And then with her dance at the Roadhouse it became pretty apparent. But again that’s my immediate reaction. 

     What does it all mean, this new Twin Peaks? I believe it’s about the fact that you can never go home again. It just isn’t the same. And when you do go back, be prepared to face the demons you left behind. If not then all you’ll experience is the bleakest void imaginable. 

     This ending is going to stay with me for awhile. I knew that since the beginning. 

The Defenders (2017) Miniseries Review

     The Defenders has that Avengers vibe going for it, and that’s a great thing. Here we have four distinct characters, all with their own style, so forgive the skepticism when I came into this, um, miniseries? Yeah, I’m going to call it that. 

     When the series picks up, Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is on his own, Jessica Jones (Kristin Ritter) takes up a case that gets her arrested, Luke Cage (Mike Coulter) is just getting out of prison, and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) is coming back to New York to face The Hand which is run apparently by Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). After meeting in a brawl, they begrudgingly team up to take down The Hand once and for all. 

     The greatest things about this series is that the interactions between the four leads is just so much fun. The way in that they team up feels natural and no one acts out of character. Think about it, all four of them are lone wolves so having to trust strangers is just not going to be easy. 

     But easily the happiest part for me was the chemistry and banter between Luke Cage and Iron Fist. As a comic book nerd growing up, even I know the chance of seeing those two on a screen was going to be damn near impossible. These are the Heroes for Hire, man!!! What an age we live in. See the two of them laugh, starting to look out for one another just bleeds the comics. I already want their spin off series. 

     Marvel/Netflix keeps up their tally of having villains that are so much better than their big screen compatriots. Weaver just reminds you that no one can be so evil, yet calm, like she can. She actually has an arc, a motive, even an understanding of why The Hand needs to destroy New York. She holds your attention every damn step of the way. 

     At a brisk eight episode, the show doesn’t have time for filler, but it does drag on occation. But I have to say that while Finn Jones has gotten better in the role of Iron Fist, but Jesus Christ, does he have a way to go. He’s great opposite Luke Cage, hell with any of the other Defenders, but when he has to act tough or serious, he sucks. I actually yelled at my screen at him to lighten the fuck up, it just doesn’t come off natural, and you’re full of shit if that’s because of how the character is supposed to be. No. He sucks. Luke Cage needs to be in every scene with him so he can stop sucking so damn much. 

     Stupid Iron Fist moments aside, the show is just a lot of fun if you enjoyed any of the previous Marvel/Netflix series. I was truly apprehensive about The Hand being the antagonists, they were among the shittier things in Daredevil Season 2, and Iron Fist, but this actually made them compelling. The motives are now so clear and defined to put it lightly. It was great to see these characters again (except Iron Fist) and I already can’t wait for what comes next. 

The Dark Tower (2017) Review

     Author Stephen King has written many an epic tale, but none more so than The Dark Tower series of books. Imagine if Lord of the Rings were to meet a Spaghetti Western. Yeah, its weird but because King is fucking insane he makes it work. To adapt that as a film you need to be just as crazy as him or as passionate about the Gunslinger and his quest. The filmmakers got one of those right. 

     On Mid-World, The Gunslinger (Idris Elba) has been on a quest for vengeance against The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) for years, who has a goal of destroying the Dark Tower which holds together all of existence. If left in ruins all of reality with cease to exist as we know it. But a little boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) could hold the key to either its salvation or annihilation. 

     This verson of The Dark Tower is not the book series. Yeah it has the basic ingredients that do make it the series, but ita truly not. The books were more meditative, more about the existential pursuit of something that gives your life meaning and purpose. The movie is more action and conflict oriented because you need to get to the point when it comes to cinema. 

     A key missing ingredient in the film is the spaghetti western element from the books. The lingering shots of the landscape, the unspeakable violence and especially the music. This is more of a 21st century film problem, musical scores are just bland. Think of the score from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and that is the Gunslinger’s music. Drive around with that music playing and you’ll feel like a badass. 

     The best thing about the flick, hands down, is the casting of Elba and McConaughey in the lead roles. The presence that they both carry just commands your attention. Elba manages to embody Roland’s stoic yet vulnerable nature of a man who has essentially become ronin. McConaughey, fuck, I haven’t seen an actor have this much fun playing a villain in years. The guy chews up scenery like he ran out of bubble gum. There is no greater joy than seeing an actor just have fun being evil. These two guys alone are worth the price of admission alone. 

     Putting aside my love of The Dark Tower books, it works on its own even if the plot is flimsy at times. Fans of Stephen King should have a lot fun spotting the easter eggs from his other stories, and the flick just ain’t bad at all. I mean, once you see Maximum Overdrive you can only really go up when it comes to Stephen King film adaptations. It says so little, but it truly says a lot.