Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke

Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture.

 

Well, Black Panther’s finally here. Compared to every other MCU film to date, Black Panther is one of the titles I hadn’t read until the film was revealed. Like Iron Man before it, I just didn’t know much about the character or the comic, but as soon as I heard about the adaptation and the inclusion of director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), I wanted to read as much as I could. Black Panther is under a lot of pressure to be good. Expectations have been abnormally high on this one. How did it turn out?

Picking up about a week after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, 42, Marshall) arrives home in Wakanda to claim his birthright as King. He is reunited with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), an old flame who sees Wakanda’s secretive advances in technology as a tool to help the world, but T’Challa believes that revealing Wakanda for what it is puts the country in jeopardy and creates enemies. One such enemy is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, War for the Plane of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin), a smuggler and arms dealer, has allied himself with the mysterious Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, Fantastic Four, That Awkward Moment), who has his own reasons for wanting to reach Wakanda.

Black Panther is one of the most-layered films in the MCU, and it excels in two areas that MCU films regularly fail: the villain and the music. First, the villain is an interesting and flawed character who has understandable motives in his ultimate quest. Just like Civil War before it, Black Panther presents a very interesting dilemma that has merits on both sides of the argument, and T’Challa is just as flawed with his decision as Killmonger.

The music is also a major step up from previous MCU films in that Black Panther has a theme, courtesy of Ludwig Goransson, and its complimented by Kendrick Lamar’s music supervision of the soundtrack. This film has a unique feeling that stands on its own while embracing the tightrope act of the larger MCU framework.

Coogler presents powerful themes in the film like Responsibility and Legacy. While T’Challa doesn’t want to lead from a throne, he is challenged by what has come before. He would rather be out hunting for Klaue himself. He looks up to his father but he is challenged by the difficult decisions T’Chaka had to make as king. T’Challa is forced to confront these difficult decisions and their aftermath, further conflicting his views on the legacy that his father left. The way he interacts with Killmonger, too, brings forth conflicts in identity and the question of nature vs. nurture in their lives.

I think Black Panther is a hell of a showcase of its principal cast. It’s proof of the incredible amount of top-notch performers of all races. Each role was cast with purpose, from Danai Gurira (The Visitor, TV’s The Walking Dead) as Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, an all-female team of protectors, to Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Arrival) as Zuri, a spiritual figure in Wakanda who protects a special and powerful herb. Every performer in the film is so precisely cast that you couldn’t see anyone else playing that character. I was especially impressed with Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Sicario) as W’Kabi, friend to T’Challa. Up until his role in Get Out, I did not know Kaluuya, but with such a small amount of screen time, he creates a lasting impression in the film.

For all the amazing things Ryan Coogler did with Black Panther, one cannot forget that this is a superhero movie in a crowded genre at the beginning of the year. He should be recognized too for the absolutely incredible experience of watching the film. Black Panther was downright fun to watch and be a part of. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I’d advise you to head to your theater immediately to see it in the largest crowd you can. This is probably my favorite film so far this year.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

 

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[Early Review] Annihilation (2018)

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

Screenplay: Alex Garland

115 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.

 

Alex Garland (Ex Machina) is a director to keep an eye out for. He is mostly known for his writing on films like Dredd, Never Let Me Go, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later, but now that he is directing, his vision has never been more focused.

Annihilation is the story of Lena (Natalie Portman, Jackie, Song to Song), a biologist who signs up for a dangerous exploration of a mysterious area called The Shimmer to find out what happened to her missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Last Jedi). What she quickly discovers upon entering is that The Shimmer does not operate by the standard laws of nature, and there is something else alive inside.

Okay, so I just got home from Annihilation and there’s a lot more to unpack before I really understand. Don’t worry, no major spoilers here. In fact, I did a pretty good job tiptoeing around spoilers in the above description. Suffice to say, Annihilation is an impressively ambitious mind-bender. I was enthralled as the film’s chess pieces moved into place and the ending was strange, beautiful, haunting, and confusing in all the right ways.

As the film moves along, there are some tremendous set pieces and some truly disturbing imagery. One of the flaws of the film, though, is that it takes a bit before it starts rollicking along. There’s some heavy exposition chunked up at the beginning of the film, and it isn’t until they enter The Shimmer that the film really takes off.

Annihilation is bolstered by tremendous acting performances from Portman as expected. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Amityville: The Awakening) plays Dr. Ventress, the leader of the expedition. Leigh is cold and broken as Ventress, a haunting portrayal of a woman driven to discover. Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok) is also brilliant as Josie, another member of the expedition.

Annihilation has a lot in common with other sci-fi fare on its surface, but what makes it different is the calculated pacing and the slow build of tension that is at times horrific and shockingly beautiful in equal measure. The questions it asks are not easily answered, some are not answered at all, but for all of its inquisition, Annihilation is a beautiful examination of ideas and thoughts. This one is likely to keep viewers dissecting and reassembling the piece long after leaving the theater.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins

Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost

130 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.

IMDb Top 250: #207 (as of 12/22/2017)

 

I think I was one of the few people in the world who wasn’t worried a bit about Thor: Ragnarok. I just had a good feeling about the whole production, and considering that the original Thor is my favorite MCU film to date, I overall didn’t worry in the slightest. So I guess it comes down to it. Was I right not to worry?

Things haven’t been going well for Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman, Star Trek) lately. His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island, TV’s The Night Manager) is believed dead. His father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs, Transformers: The Last Knight) has seemingly gone off the deep end. But when Thor discovers that he has a sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, How to Train Your Dragon 2), who has broken free of her captivity, he finds himself zipped across the galaxy to a strange planet where he must fight for his life against intergalactic gladiators to appease the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park). Thor must band together with a ragtag group of friends and old foes to get back to Asgard and prevent Hela from unleashing Ragnarok, the Norse Armageddon.

I wanted to try and avoid some spoilers with Thor: Ragnarok, but they are inherently in the film’s plot. That being said, Ragnarok is by far the most unique MCU film to date and most definitely the best one of 2017. Bringing on Director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) was an absolutely inspired choice, one that set up this installment for success from the very beginning. It is the kind of space film that deserves the term “rollicking.”

As always, Hemsworth and Hiddleston have excellent chemistry, but it is the addition of all the new characters like Goldblum’s Grandmaster, Tessa Thompson (Creed, Dear White People) as the Valkyrie, Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Pete’s Dragon) as Skurge, Hela’s commander, and Waititi himself as the alien Korg that make the experience as tremendous as it is.

Thinking about faults in the film, I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of concern about Ragnarok at all through the film. Sure, it’s the Flash Gordon of the MCU but I wasn’t really concerned for any of the players. Also, classic characters like the Warriors Three are tossed aside and mishandled. As for Lady Sif, she is nowhere to be found, and I think the film suffers by not addressing it.

Treating Thor: Ragnarok as a space road trip movie and teaming up Thor with the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight, Now You See Me 2) is the crowning achievement of the film, and being the third in a tremendous group of 2017 MCU films only steepens excitement for where this franchise is going as a whole. Ragnarok falters a bit when addressing the overall momentum of the franchise but it stands by itself as a singularly enjoyable experience that rivals that of the first Thor film for entirely different reasons. It’s my favorite superhero film of the year.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Freedom Films] Rocky (1976)

 rocky1976a

Director: John G. Avildsen

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith

Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone

119 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Director
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Sylvester Stallone)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Talia Shire)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Burgess Meredith)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Burt Young)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song “Gonna Fly Now”

iMDB Top 250: #213 (as of 1/18/2016)

 

Today, on Independence Day, we look back on American Films about America. We will be taking some time to look at Rocky, the 1976 Best Picture winner, in this limited series of reviews during major American holidays. Rocky is the first sports film to win Best Picture. It also holds the distinction of being the Best Picture with the most sequels, six as of this year’s upcoming spin-off Creed. In 1975, Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables, Grudge Match) had less than $200 in his bank and not enough money to feed his dog. He believed in his screenplay and vision so much so that when the script was purchased, he gambled his career on the bet that he could perform. When casting Apollo Creed, Carl Weathers (Predator, The Comebacks) was hired when he made a crack about Stallone’s inability to act. Ironically, Weathers didn’t receive an acting nomination but Stallone did.

rocky1976b

Rocky Balboa (Stallone), also known as The Italian Stallion, is a southpaw boxer who hasn’t had luck in life. He boxes when he can, but in order to make ends meet, he has to hustle for a loan shark. He can’t seem to get closer to the woman he cares for, Adrian (Talia Shire, The Godfather: Part II, Palo Alto), and his closest friend is a drunk named Paulie (Burt Young, Once Upon a Time in America, Rob the Mob), who happens to be Adrian’s brother. But when Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion of the world, needs a gimmick for his upcoming New Year’s Day fight, he calls upon the little guy, The Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa himself. Now, with the help of aging manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith, Grumpier Old Men, Santa Claus), Rocky is going to try and take on the biggest boxer in the business and seize his chance at being a somebody in this film from director John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid, 8 Seconds).

Rocky is a great sports film, one of the greatest ever. Director Avildsen gives his greatest work as a filmmaker here, ably controlling several variable factors to make a compelling character piece. I think what makes it such a strong and moving film is the likable underdog in Rocky, written and played well by Stallone, and the focus on creating interesting characters first and foremost and keeping the focus on them over the actual sports moments. It’s just like how the best war films are about great characters experiencing war. Stallone and Avildsen worked well together to fix issues as they came up, with Stallone writing scenes like the one where Rocky points out the mistake on his shorts the night before the fight or him calling out the oversized robe. These scenes were added due to production errors but because of the partnerships, you’d never notice. Well, I guess now you would.

We also get great work from Shire, Young, and especially Meredith, who gives a performance that only seems cliché because of how many films copied it later. I even really loved Weathers as Creed even if he didn’t get the nomination.

The terrific score from Bill Conti is the stuff of legend, a piece of musical brilliance imitated but rarely met. The Academy Award Nominee song “Gonna Fly Now”, also known as the Rocky Theme, stands with it as a franchise signature.

Rocky suffers from some uneven cinematography not counting the fight scenes, which are top notch.

rocky1976c

So is Rocky the best film in the series? Yeah, I suppose so, but I do enjoy watching it in conjunction with the sequel, Rocky II. In fact, I love the Rocky series in general, with the notable exception of Paulie dating a robot in Rocky IV (still a great film, but I mean…c’mon…). Rocky is, from a technical sense, a great film with an ending that challenges the conventions of most other similar films. See this one, and love it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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