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Movie Reviews

Black Panther



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

Bad Times at the El Royale ★★★★

Bad Times at the El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp.



Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman

Released: 12th October 2018 (UK)

Bad Times at the El Royale has seemingly fallen foul of the particularly hectic October release schedule in the U.K. As Venom and A Star is Born dominate the box-office and with the London Film Festival in full swing, El Royale has not received the recognition it deserves.

Boasting an impressive cast, Bad Times at the El Royale follows seven strangers whose stories intertwine at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. As each person’s agenda for being at the El Royale is revealed, tensions inevitably rises and the characters collide.

From the get-go, El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp. Director Drew Goddard, no stranger to managing madness following his debut A Cabin in the Woods, has crafted an immersive, intricately linked murder-mystery that feels like a grindhouse version of Cluedo. The violence is garish but necessary, the dialogue is short and snappy and the characters are most importantly, interesting. The hardest part of any film with so many moving parts, is making the audience actually bond with those involved. Goddard, who also wrote the screenplay, has nailed this – giving enough back-story for each, whilst holding enough back to keep us learning more.

Between Jeff Bridge’s bad-ass priest, Dakota Johnson’s kill-happy hippy and Chris Hemsworth’s dancing cult-leader, the wider cast have somehow managed to create a credible on-screen dynamic, despite the stark character contrasts. Cynthia Erivo’s soulful singer Darlene is the obvious standout and her interactions with Bridge’s Father Flynn provide some of the most film’s most satisfying scenes. Lewis Pullman’s unassuming concierge Miles is another strong performance deserving of a mention.

The film swaggers along accompanied by its killer soundtrack, which plays a crucial part in the films tonal change from chapter to chapter. It’s dark and violent, yet at times it’s engaging and even emotional. The sharp edits that mash-up the timeline don’t over-complicate the plot, but accentuate the frenzied feeling that Goddard is creating as we head towards the plot’s crescendo.

As expected there are some areas where a film with so much going on inevitably suffers. Jon Hamm’s Seymour is arguably the biggest victim of this, with his character perhaps not utilised as much as it could have been. The film also feels a little too fleshed out in parts, lingering on some of the less necessary aspects and leaving one or two plotlines unexplored as a result.

Bad Times at the El Royale really does feel like a Tarantino movie and that’s no mean feat, Goddard has taken his own style and applied tried and tested techniques to create a compelling, genuinely exciting movie and one that deserves to be enjoyed by a wider audience.


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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Arctic ★★★★



Released: 5 December 2018

Directed by: Joe Penna

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir

Reviewed by: Lauren Tina Brady

An expanse of white as far as the eye can see, gently sloping mountains in the horizon, a polar bear pads silently across the snow, pausing briefly to gaze back at the watching man across the valley.

At first Arctic reads as a classic survival narrative; the basic man vs. nature conundrum. I’d recently seen The Mountain Between Us, which draws some very obvious similarities; plane crash, hostile snowy environment, a great expanse needing to be crossed for a chance of survival. However, unlike relying on the pairing of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba for context,  Arctic’s dialogue is bare. This is largely due to the fact that there is only the protagonist for the first third of the film, played by Mads Mikkelsen.

At first it appears to lull you into that false sense of security of knowing exactly how this works out; he sticks to a routine of catching fish, laying out black rocks spelling ‘help’ against the snow and signalling for nearby aircraft. However, crucially, we don’t know who he is. He speaks very little, in both Danish and English. He offers no information to help us piece together a backstory and remains an enigma throughout, which feels fresh. The character becomes more than a person; he becomes the flicker of hope for survival, the spectrum of emotions that occur in the darkest of hours.

There is plenty of drama to keep us on the edge of our seats; he has a chance of escape quite early on – a small helicopter has spotted him and attempts to make it’s way towards him in strong winds leading to a crash. There are two people on board; one is killed with the other, a woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir), who survives but is badly hurt and must be cared for. Suddenly the odds of both surviving are halved; the danger is intensified.

Here is a tale of endurance over survival. This is where Mikkelsen excels; he digs deep to portray every possible emotion through a gruelling and ice-cold journey. He is silent but his face says everything. I laughed in delight, I wept quietly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this role.

It’s a feat for Joe Penna, directing his feature film debut. See it for Mikkelsen, stay for the sensitive direction and the stunning cinematography.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Museum ★★★★



Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Stars: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro

Released: London Film Festival 2018

It’s Christmas Day, 1985. College dropouts Juan Nunez and Benjamin Wilson are ready to pull off an audacious heist that will have authorities searching for professional art thieves for years. Based on a true story, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film sees the duo attempt to steal 140 priceless artefacts from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, Museum explores the mindsets of two would be criminals with nothing to lose.

The tale is narrated by Wilson, played with subtle compassion by Leonardo Ortizgris. Wilson’s role is much like Nick’s in The Great Gatsby, an opinionated and somewhat loyally biased eye through which Juan is diluted. Played by Gael Garcia Bernal, Juan is the film’s focus, a Mexican Cool Hand Luke drifting through his young adulthood. In the hands of another actor, Juan may have come off as entitled, lazy even, but Bernal’s performance layers the character with sympathetic naivety and relatable desire. A perennially youthful, multifaceted actor, Bernal paints buckets of emotion into every micro-expression.

The crime takes place after Christmas dinner, a lively family affair that sees Juan alienated and berated. At first, the silence is reminiscent of the hanging scene from Mission: Impossible; the tension equally palpable. But soon the action changes, pared back to a static style similar to the panels of a comic book. It is a technique repeated throughout the film, the continuity broken up into freeze frames that are not quite motionless, still alive with a touch of movement. Reducing these scenes to a childlike fantasy, Ruizpalacios succeeds in creating the ultimate sense of idyllic, youthful adventure.

Something often ignored in heist films is the aftermath, when the thieves must deal with the fallout of their decisions. Museum’s second act focuses on this aspect, allowing the introduction of an English art dealer, played by the superb Simon Russell Beale. Uncertainty builds from the start of their meeting, as the camera endlessly pans until Juan’s misguided perceptions come crashing down around him. In a script littered with intelligence and comedy, it is a pleasant surprise to see the characters’ raw emotion become the focal point.

Ruizpalacios seems content to pose questions that hang wispily in the air, unanswered: questions of cultural ownership, of morality and greed. He is more interested in the character study at the heart of this story, of a man who commits a crime out of boredom, a sense of nihilism or a desire for adventure, or perhaps a little of all three. It is a fresh idea in a crowded genre, making for a film that is impressive but never quite brilliant, a wonderful adventure that doesn’t aim to blow minds. But does that matter? As Juan says and Wilson relays: “Why let the truth ruin a good story?”, a sentiment Ruizpalacios takes quite literally. Luckily for him, Museum is without a doubt a good story.

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