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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.

Featured Review

Climax ★★★★★

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Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)

Directed By: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer

Reviewed By: Dion Wyn

Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.

Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.

Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?

Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.

Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and untameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Movie Reviews

The Little Stranger ★★★★

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.

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Released: 21st September 2018

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.

Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.

From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.

The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.

The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain.  This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.

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Movie Reviews

Dogman ★★★

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Released: 19th October 2018

Directed By: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Marcello Fonte

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.

But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.

When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.

Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.

To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.

In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.

Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.

Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.

An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.

Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.

No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.

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