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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The Blob


Viewed – 06 February 2018  Blu-ray

You have to love the 80s.  It was a golden era for horror, and a time when horror could be fun as well as horrifying. Today a lot of horror movies go straight for the jugular and can be way too nasty   They’re almost a test of endurance.  That can’t be said for this rather under-appreciated 1988 remake of a 50’s b-movie of the same name.

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When a meteor crashes near a small town, biker rebel Kevin Dillon (The Rescue) finds himself thrown into a battle for survival alongside high school cheerleader Shawnee Smith (Saw).  Even as authority figures and adults dismiss the disappearances along with sightings of a weird goo … of course it’s up to the kids to find a way to stop what’s happening.  Yeah, there’s nothing all that clever here, but it retains that b-movie tongue-in-cheek tone that perfectly suits such a silly concept, with cast all doing a great job of going along for the ride.  Director Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) piles on some effective gore with still great practical effects and a couple of genuine shocks (the kid in the sewer).  Also I’d forgotten how likable Shawnee Smith is, and well Kevin Dillon’s always been a great bad-boy (where’s he gone?).

It reminded me at times of John Carpenter’s seminal The Thing remake but fares poorly in comparison due to clichéd characters and only passable acting, and that silly tone stops it from being scary even for a second.  Yet as it stands this is still a great deal of fun and is certainly worth your time.

The Blu-ray is rather a pleasant surprise … image quality may seem a bit soft but colours are vibrant and overall the picture is clean, and free of any print damage.  The sound gets the lossless 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio treatment, but seems to lack a bit of ‘punch’ overall.  Extras feature a trailer and a director interview, but that’s it.  Considering the movie at time of writing still lacks a UK Blu-ray release this Region B Australian release is a godsend.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

Moana


Viewed – 20 January 2018  DVD

It seems there’s so many animated movies these days, its hard to keep up and I’ll admit I’ve missed out on a few big titles.  However I managed to get hold of this recent Disney offering and although knowing little about it, rarely does the house of mouse let me down.  Moana, the only daughter of a tribe living on a peaceful tropical island finds herself setting out on a journey to find the once-mighty demigod Maui, who her people believe has cursed their oceans after a sacred stone was stolen from a far off island.

Moana

This plays very much on Disney tradition; the princess yearning for a life beyond her palace (island) who has to go on a journey of self discovery and finally believe in herself to overcome impossible odds.  It’s incredibly clichéd which holds this back a little despite plenty of action and songs.  For a musical we do get some enjoyable numbers (stand out: ‘You’re welcome’) and characters are full of personality thanks to some excellent animation.  Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson especially stands out as Maui.  The movie also looks gorgeous too as is expected these days, even if like most CGI it lacks a little artistry.  So what does it have we haven’t seen before?  Not much but it’s often funny and frequently exciting and leads to a solid, feel good ending that still left me satisfied.

Disney played it safe here but it’s still near impossible not to find something to enjoy when it’s done so slickly.  Not essential, but worth a watch if you’re a Disney fan, otherwise there’s more unique animated movies out there.

Verdict:  3 /5

Star Wars: Episode VIII


Viewed – 20 December 2017  Cinema

The Last Jedi

After what I’d call the triumphant success of Episode VII: The Force Awakens for re-establishing a much loved franchise and resurrecting it from the ashes of George Lucas’ mostly misguided prequels – I awaited this follow up in the proposed trilogy with no small degree of anticipation.  What would Luke Skywalker say to Rey on top of that mountain?  What would Kylo Ren do in wake of what he did to his own father Han Solo?  I was about to find out…

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Following the destruction of star-killer base, Kylo Ren and General Hux lead the First Order in an assault against the resistance to restore rule over the galaxy. Rian Johnson (Looper) takes over directing duties and has delivered what largely looks like a Star Wars movie, has the action and confrontations you’ll expect from a Star Wars movie, but offers up a decidedly different feel than expected following Force Awakens and Rogue One.  This is a much more lighter in tone movie with what appears to be a stronger focus on a somewhat child-friendly audience with as a result, a surprising lack of menace.  Almost every serious situation is sprinkled with humour, sometimes well judged, sometimes out of place.  When two of the main bad guys end up coming off like a squabbling comedy double act, something seemed a little off.

Kylo RenThankfully we do get what we came for, especially Rey (a more mature Daisy Ridley, settling into her role) finding herself getting reluctantly trained by a world-weary and cynical Luke (Mark Hamill), and discovering a telepathic link with Kylo Ren (a still slightly bratty yet complex Adam Driver).  This as expected turns out to be the movie’s beating heart, with the myriad of space battles and daring missions onto enemy starships proving less enthralling (especially that casino sequence).  Finn (John Boyega) again sits awkwardly between hero and bumbling buffoon, with Po (Oscar Isaac) taking a (much appreciated) larger role at the forefront of the dogfights and fancy X-Wing piloting.  However the late Carrie Fisher seems to get put on a pedestal (be it intentionally or following reshoots after the iconic star’s passing) and is bizarrely given a rather God-like stature with one scene in particular just coming out of nowhere, leaving me baffled. She’s great, but her character doesn’t seem to fit in with what we’ve previously known.

That’s ultimately where Episode VIII falls a part.  Characters that we’ve grown to know and love, are poorly handled (Luke included), add to this a Saturday morning cartoon vibe to action, performances and situations, and although I still gasped at certain moments and got the feels where it counted … I also didn’t get all that invested – and I really should have.  For it’s pluses and minuses, this is still a fun, visually spectacular and at times exciting sequel.  Yet as a long time Star Wars fan, it leans closer to those prequels than either the earlier movies or the recent ones … and that’s slightly worrying.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets


Viewed – 19 December 2017  online-rental

I suppose we’re beginning to take for granted that pretty much anything is possible in the world of visual effects, only limited to a director or screenwriter’s imagination, and seeing such incredible worlds displayed on the biggest screens we can find, is becoming the norm.  So that is perhaps one reason why this incredible spectacle of boundless imagination and wonder didn’t fair all that well both with critics and the box office.  Oh, and the lack of a big name star probably didn’t help.

Valerian

In the far flung future, two special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) maintain order throughout the galaxy.  When the minister of defence (Clive Owen) sends them on a mission to floating, over-crowded metropolis … the discovery of a dark force lurking at the city’s core sets into motion a race against time to solve a mystery.

This is a visually spectacular and stylish experience from beginning to end, part Avatar and part director Luc Besson’s own earlier foray into sci-fi, The Fifth Element.  It retains that movies’ bonkers tone that’s decidedly French-European with a little far-east for good measure and well it gives everything a quirky infectiously-entertaining vibe that’s hard to ignore.  However it’s also a great deal to hang on the shoulders of two young leads who aren’t exactly Hollywood A-List or all that charismatic despite best intentions and well, a Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence type-combination would have worked wonders.  That being said, Besson can certainly direct action, understands his source material (a series of graphic novels) and is clearly having a blast introducing us to a rich, diverse and fascinating world, packed with endless possibilities.  The story although engaging fails to deliver on such potential, and like I said performances are serviceable, but as an example of true escapist entertainment … this did it’s job.

Verdict:  4 /5