Black Panther


Viewed – 21 February 2018  Cinema

Following the death of his father, Prince T’Challa aka Black Panther returns home to claim his birth right and become king of Wakanda.  However when news surfaces of a terrorist who has stolen some of his homeland’s resources, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) springs into action to stop his home’s sacred power being used for evil.

Black Panther

This has had a great deal of attention and is now one of the highest rated Marvel movies on RottenTomatoes.com, surprising when the character has never been what you’d call a household name like Thor, Spiderman etc.  For whatever reason this movie has gained such attention, what we actually have is a fairly basic super hero movie with the twist of an African setting and largely black cast.  Panther is an interesting, layered character and fairly refreshing compared to the usual machismo we get with other characters; but with a rise and fall and rise again story ark, I failed to see how this was any different than what we’ve been getting for several years now.  Add to this an underwhelming Michael B Jordan as the villain who’s character is basically a carbon copy of another Marvel villain, and like in Creed has no screen presence and is instead feels miscast beyond his impressive pecks.  Yet we do get a fantastic car chase sequence, decent CGI and some tense fight scenes, along with good support from Martin Freeman and especially Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s sister – who gets all the best lines and funniest gags.

As it stands this was very pretty, often fun but very drawn out considering it’s simple plot, and felt more like an ‘also ran’ in the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe than anything else.  I still had a good time, but like a lot of heavily-hyped things these days … I also came away wondering what the fuss was about.

Verdict:  3 /5

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Happy Death Day


Viewed – 20 February 2018  online-rental

Blumhouse Productions seem to getting quite a reputation for making high concept, well received horror what with the popular Purge franchise and the sleeper hit of Don’t Breathe.  So we come to this recent offering that again has a clever concept at it’s heart, and follows a day in the life of University student ‘Tree’ who finds herself stalked by a masked killer and ultimately killed.  No, this isn’t spoiler territory as that’s when Tree’s day starts repeating itself ala Groundhog Day, and so it quickly dawns on her that she has to find how who her killer is, to hopefully set things right again.

Happy Death Day

It’s not a new idea but given a teen-movie twist along with the central character having to solve her own murder is at least a novel spin.  Yet despite strong potential in a creepy and played straight opening, once it descends into the day repeating, ill-fitting comedy comes into play and transforms this into a sillier movie than I’d have liked.  This is not helped by a mostly unlikeable group of characters, who despite best attempts at quirky pop-culture spouting dialogue, come off as self-absorbed idiots, including our lead.  Yep, she’s got some tragedy in her past, but does that mean she should be so utterly stuck up?

It attempts to save itself in some fun, if tame stalk and slash sequences and a couple of twists did keep me guessing … but when we have the final reveal, it’s pretty ‘meh’ again because of it’s wafer-thin characters.  There’s some moral lessons to take away here, but overall this was nothing to rush out and see.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

The Greatest Showman


Viewed – 14 February 2018  Cinema

I can’t say I was particularly enthused at the prospect of seeing this, despite rave opinions from people I know who had been.  I have a bit of an uneasy relationship with musicals, and they have to be particularly good to win me over.  This based on true events depiction, has Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, a man who rose from nothing to become one of the pioneers of show business as we know it.

greatestshowman

I can’t say I was particularly familiar with the story but as soon as this started, I was transfixed.  Jackman, who of course I mostly associate with Wolverine, is a revelation as Barnum and commands the screen with total, Hollywood magnetism and presence.  His rags-to-riches story whilst somewhat clichéd is classic stuff and made me think of Charles Dickens books along with Rogers & Hammerstein musicals of yesteryear.  You know – back when Hollywood did it right.  Add at times breath-taking choreography and several stunning set pieces, with grand set design, colourful costumes and eye-catching cinematography and this was a real treat for the senses.  The songs, if at times a little ‘samey’ are foot-tapping and enjoyable, aided by larger-than-life performances from also Zac Efron and Michelle Williams and a plethora of colourful characters … and well, sometimes it’s overwhelming but never boring.

The movie seems to stumble a little in a plot device with a famed Opera Singer and although essential to the story, takes things in a direction that isn’t quite as much fun … but then comes back again to deliver a great feel good ending that left me wanting to stand up and applaud.  This movie’s been a bit snubbed by the Oscars and that’s a shame as really, a night out at the movies doesn’t get much better than this.  Essential.

Verdict:  5 /5

Lost In Translation


Viewed – 03 February 2018  Blu-ray

I’d hazard a guess that Scarlett Johansson transformed from acclaimed actress into genuine Hollywood star in this much loved 2003 comedy-drama.  She continues to be one of my go-to actresses, but I always look back on this with fondness and well, I’m not sure if she’s ever been as good since … at least not in what I’ve watched.

Lost In Translation

She plays Charlotte, a woman visiting Japan with her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) who more often than not finds herself abandoned in the hotel where she’s staying, frequenting the bar and occasionally meeting up with friends … but ultimately ‘alone’.  At the same time, a former Hollywood actor now doing whisky commercials, Bob (Bill Murray) finds himself similarly lonely in a foreign country, feeling out of place amongst the locales whilst trying to figure out his place in life.  So the two catch each other’s eyes and gradually form a friendship, that gently turns into a strong bond.

I really like this movie.  It treats it’s characters intelligently, doesn’t ‘go there’ but you kind of end up thinking (wishing?) it would, and every step of the way director Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides) makes you really believe in the friendship whilst also making the backdrop of Japan a character in it’s own right.  It’s funny in a gentle, heart-warming way, Murray is fantastically under-stated, and Johansson is just simply gorgeous.  The movie develops what should be a forbidden love story but still makes you fall in love with it (at least it did me).  I especially liked how freeing their friendship became, trapped and unhappy when apart, free-spirited when together … and it’s infectious.  At times the sheer wackiness of Japan is a tad clichéd and well, I’m not entirely sure why Scarlett is shown walking around in her underwear so much (even if I’m not complaining), and for such an otherwise easy going general-viewing movie, that bit in the strip club is just out of place.   Nit-picks because along with very genuine performances and such a charming, whimsical ‘vibe’ topped off with that heart-breaking yet strangely feel-good ending … this remains in a class of it’s own.

The limited edition steelbook I picked up has the movie in decent shape.  It’s not the most eye-popping of visual presentations due to it’s very natural photography … yet Coppola’s classy direction still made this viewer feel ‘there’ and I very much enjoyed being in the company of two of my favourite actors.  Sound, presented in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio whilst gentle, with carefully chosen, mood-enhancing music cues (and a great Karaoke scene) has clear dialogue and overall suits the relaxed feel of this movie.  Extras consist of deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage, an interview with Murray and Sofia Coppola and a music video.  The lack of a commentary is disappointing but otherwise this isn’t too shabby.

Verdict:

(the movie) 5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Atomic Blonde


Viewed – 30 January 2018  Online rental

Charlize Theron is certainly now one of those bankable stars and somewhat a chameleon who can deliver the goods in a wide variety of roles.  Following her action-star making turn in Mad Max Fury Road previously, carrying her own action vehicle seemed an obvious progression (as long as we forget Aeon Flux).  So we get an 80’s set espionage thriller that see’s Theron as Lorraine, a highly trained spy who’s given the task of tracking down a stolen micro-film containing the real identities of tons of secret agents.  Along the way she teams up with James McAvoy’s under-cover agent, with the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin wall as set dressing.

atomic-blonde

This felt like it was trying too hard to be cool, minus the director’s actual ability to marry cool looks and cool action with cool music (leave that to either Tarantino or Nicolas Winding Refn).  However, with Theron’s obvious presence, an interesting setting with all that cold-war intrigue and political unrest … what we get is an energetic and at times gutsy thriller, somewhat in search of it’s own identity.  You see, we’ve seen this plot many times, the story is basically Mission Impossible #1 and well, Theron’s Lorraine isn’t that far removed from Angelina Jolie’s ‘Salt’.  McAvoy also didn’t add much, looking like Tyler Durdon and grimacing and doing his quickly grating McAvoy-thing throughout.  The story wasn’t that easy to follow either, told mostly in flashback with a wealth of double crosses, twists and misdirection.  After a while it gave me a bit of a headache.

Which is a shame as beneath it’s flaws and familiarity, there’s potential for a great movie here.  We do get one incredible, superbly-choreographed sequence involving Theron, an army of bad guys and a stairwell, but when the story confuses and characters hide so may secrets and agendas, I just had difficulty caring.  It’s worth a look for Theron and some decent action, but otherwise there’s better thrillers out there.

Verdict:  3 /5