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Movie Reviews

Black Panther

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Released: 13th February 2018

Directed By: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o

Reviewed By: Van Connor

It may have taken its time getting here, but the seemingly endless wait for an Afro-centric superhero movie hasn’t taken its toll on Black Panther. Creed director Ryan Coogler’s entry into the now eighteen movie-long Marvel Cinematic Universe shows up ready to play. And play it does – with breathless confidence – into pure comic book escapism that never fails to cast an eye outward toward genuine racial discussions and a message of unity that stands up as one of the more upbeat offerings in its genre’s entire history. If Wonder Woman created waves for the treatment of women in our culture, then make no mistake, Black Panther’s a cinematic tsunami as regards the triumphant chest-bump its characters offer mainstream African-American culture. And it’s even got time to shine more than a few spotlights on the women in the crowd, to boot.

Largely playing with a sci-fi live-action mould of The Lion King, Black Panther sees T’Challa – newly ascendant to the role of king, following his father’s death in Captain America: Civil War – return to accept his crown and lead his people. Amidst discussion of where the future of his advanced isolationist kingdom lies in the scope of a wider and ever more desperate world, the new king is also tasked with defending the Wakandan people in the form of warrior hero, the Black Panther, a role he must learn to harness with the arrival of a pair of enemies with designs on Wakanda itself.

Having dazzled his way through madcap James Brown biopic Get On Up and brought a design air of Roundtree-esque cool to Thurgood Marshall last year, there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that Chadwick Boseman could bring the goods when it comes to T’Challa – particularly following a startlingly meaty part in Civil War a couple of years back now. Given the full breadth of his Afro-futuristic playground in which to cut loose then, Boseman makes it clear from the onset that this is his show, and it’s one he’s going to own you with for at least the next two and a quarter hours. At complete ease with the nuance and intricacy of his subject, Boseman’s hero is one of measurement and introspection, boasting a depth of character unseen in literally any MCU movie to date.

As the lingering memory of Heath Ledger reminds us, however, it’s all for nought without a great villain; and it’s here that Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s screenplay turns out its greatest creation in the form of Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. Jordan knows well how to swing for the fences in Coogler’s yard, and here – aided by some concise writing that’s absolutely unafraid to dig into the other known use of its own title – he’s given enough space to build a genuinely terrifying performance.

Black Panther’s not just all about the boys though, and it’s impressive that Coogler would take as much focus as he does away from the Y-chromosome to give his three central female figures the space in which to shine. The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira is an instant Marvel classic – arguably the closest any of the movies have come to rivalling TV-offshoot Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Melinda May in the loveable badass stakes – while Lupita Nyong’o gets easily the best love interest part any actress has ever landed in the MCU, bringing warmth, sincerity, and outright physical chops to a role she unquestionably makes her own. Letitia Wright’s the breakout star of Black Panther, however – with genius princess Shuri doubtless set to become a fan favourite, to say nothing of wanting to see the acerbically poised acid-tongued teen potentially square off against the comparatively dimwitted Tony Stark some day.

The entire cast – without stopping to dwell on the likes of Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, or the brilliantly scene-stealing Winston Duke – are given a grand old time here, with Rachel Morrison’s gorgeous cinematography giving Hannah Beachler’s stunning production design and Ruth Carter’s astonishing costumes the perfectly realised vision of Wakanda in which to thrive. Coogler knows the strength of his film lies in its cultural identity, and along with bringing that identity to texturally wondrous life, he never shies away from providing real world context to it all either. His true genius, however, is in infusing that context so intrinsically into the bones of his story so uncompromisingly.

Though Black Panther quickly asserts itself as the most out-and-out cinematic work of the comic book movie genre since Nolan (at least twice), it’s not without minor grumbles, naturally – the great ones rarely are, if we’re honest – and its a number of thinly drawn story elements (Gurira and Kaluuya, for instance, are mentioned fleetingly as being lovers in what appears to be an excised sub-plot) and some pretty weightless CGI action sequences that aren’t helped by rather misjudged lighting. Such strikes in the con column however pale in comparison to the eyebrow-raising number of ticks in the pro one, with Black Panther a shoo-in to become a widespread fan-favourite in the mould best compared to the first Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s another call for cementing of Chadwick Boseman as an outright star, and delivers one of the definitive comic book movie experiences of our time all whilst carrying what could so easily have been the burden of its own cultural significance with all the swagger and grace of its eponymous king. Ryan Coogler’s going to become a genuine auteur down the line – he’s dangled the possibility over us a couple times before and now he’s making us believe – taking his own stabs at everything from old Phantom serials to the action patois of F. Gary Gray and even throwing a cheeky wink to Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq as he goes. More than just that, he’s an aspiring auteur with an absolute dream team in collaborators such as cinematographer Morrison and composer Ludwig Göransson. The synergy and dialogue between everyone behind the camera creates a genuine harmony within Black Panther, and with the story, spectacle and acting talent Black Panther has to offer, it won’t just be the characters depicted within who are proclaiming “Wakanda forever” once those credits roll. This is a movie with real claws, and it will not mess around getting those claws into you.

Keeper of Lola M. Bear. Film critic for Movie Marker, TalkRADIO, and others. Producer of podcasts. Skechers enthusiast and blazer aficionado. All opinions my own.

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk

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Beale Street Movie Marker

Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie

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Stan and Ollie Rating Movie Marker

Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

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