REVIEW: BLACK PANTHER (2018)

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BLACK PANTHER (2018)

Black Panther is the latest edition to the MCU and once again Marvel comes up with a way to keep this series fresh after ten years and eighteen films. The movie opens with a brief introduction to the history of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. It tells of the fateful meteorite landing which introduced the miracle metal vibranium to the land, which transformed Wakanda into a technically advanced civilization. They’ve long kept hidden their technology from the world, though, to prevent ill use of their weaponry. Enter the newly crowned King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is also The Black Panther, Wakanda’s protector as well as ruler. While still mourning the death of his father, T’Challa finds out a hard truth about the death of his uncle and of a cousin he didn’t know he had…a cousin known as the mercenary Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wants to take the throne and use Wakanda’s arms technology to start a global revolution.

This sometimes stunning film is directed by Ryan Coogler from a script by he and Joe Robert Cole. Coogler has a wonderfully sumptuous visual eye and making full use of African cultural influence turns this into a film worth seeing for the sights alone. His script with Cole takes things deeper than that with a story rich in depth, not only in it’s cultural surroundings but in the political, racial and social issues effecting it’s African characters and the continent’s descendants around the world. It weaves this context into it’s action/adventure story-line very well, so it’s never preaching, but the issues are boldly there. It represents those who have a more aggressive way of dealing with these issues in it’s antagonist N’Jadaka / Killmonger and those who see a more peaceful solution in it’s hero T’Challa. It also doesn’t shy away from the fact that these differences can pit brother against brother, too. Black Panther is still also very much a superhero movie and we gets some spectacular action, some amazing gadgets and even a James Bond-ish trip to South Korea, where T’Challa meets old friend Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and old foe Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who is aligned with Killmonger. Panther is given some wonderful support in his sister Suri (Letitia Wright) who is technology savvy and is the “Q” to T’Challa’s Bond. There is king’s bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira) who is Wakanda’s greatest warrior, elder Zuri (Forest Whitaker) and his proud and strong mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett). The SPFX are amazing, there is a wonderfully African infused soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson and some beautifully realized dream sequences that add even more depth to a film that has spirit and heart as well as action.

Simply put this movie also has a great cast. Boseman is a perfect fit for a character that has to be ruler, hero and diplomat, as well as, simply a man. He is charming, handsome and gives the heavily burdened T’Challa a sense of humor and warmth as well. Michael B. Jordan is solid as his vengeful cousin known as Killmonger. Jordan is usually in the role of hero or nice guy and here he shows he can be a bad-ass too. N’Jadaka is a street smart killer raised in America and he brings that urban edge to his warrior with a mission. His purpose may have a bit of a noble center, but it’s his methods and ruthless execution of them are what make him a villain. Serkis is fun as Klaue, following-up his amusing part in Age of Ultron and it’s too bad his part here is almost as small. He’s a fun and eccentric bad guy. Letitia Wright is cute and energetic as T’Challa’s genius sister Suri and Danai Gurira is a blast as warrior woman, Okoye. She’s a powerhouse and deserves her own movie. Rounding out are strong characterizations from Freeman as Ross, Angela Bassett as Ramonda and Forest Whitaker as the noble Zuri. There is also a cool post credits cameo I won’t spoil.

Once again Marvel has delivered a splendid entertainment that is at once a story with it’s own heart, soul and purpose and yet fits well into the MCU game plan. There are political and racial issues weaved into T’Challa’s first solo flick and it is as energetic and exciting as it is thought provoking. Ryan Coogler is a director who has not only a brilliant visual style but can make popcorn entertainment that is also food for thought. A delightfully entertaining movie with some well appreciated heart and depth. As always, stay through the entire credits for two extra scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

rated 3 and 1/2 black panthers.

 

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REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)

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STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

The Last Jedi is a true middle chapter of a trilogy as it has barely what could be called a story, opening not long after the end of The Force Awakens and obviously not wrapping much up by it’s end. The film has Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) rousting The Resistance from it’s hideout and following General Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) remaining ships in hot pursuit, picking them off one by one as they run out of fuel. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) learns more about her power while trying to convince reclusive hermit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) to get off his arse and come save the galaxy…and that’s it.

This chapter is written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper) and is an improvement over the lackluster retread that was The Force Awakens…though not by much for the first two thirds. There are some nice moments and some solid action, though the film seems to drag it’s flimsy story out too long and some sequences, like a silly trip to a casino planet, seem like filler. The last act is when it really kicks into gear and we get the thrills we came for. It was also nice to see Daisy Ridley expand her character of Rey a bit more and that the film sets up an interesting connection between she and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who also is given some more depth. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar isaac) aren’t as lucky, given not all that much to do, however, and new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) never seems to rise above sidekick status and has some of the film’s weakest lines. The real treat is seeing Hamil, as the conflicted and tormented Luke Skywalker and the late Carrie Fisher in an expanded role as Leia. Reminds us why they were so magical in the original (middle) trilogy. The action scenes we get are spectacular, though seem more relegated to the first and last acts, and Johnson has a visual style that gives this a look and feel unlike the previous chapters, but never alienating itself from the series. There are some cool surprises and even if it drags at times, The Last Jedi, overall is a satisfying installment, though lacks the aura of legend that New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi had. Last year’s Rouge One was refreshingly adult and very intense, this one seems to return to the more family friendly tone of cute critters, comical robots and corny moments, with the intensity being only occasional. Too bad, Rouge One is one of the best of the entire series, IMO and felt more strongly like a Star Wars movie than this new trilogy, so far.

As for our cast…Johnson can certainly director actors. As stated Ridley gets to show some real strength as Rey learns to manipulate The Force and become more of a hero. She’s a good actress and gives the role depth even when script weaknesses leave it all up to her. Driver is given some nice conflict to play with within Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and does a good job with it. He’s becoming a solid villain. Serkis is fine as Snoke who is basically an Emperor Palpatine retread. Hamil is great as Luke and gives one of his finest portrayals of the character, as does the late Carrie Fisher as his sister Leia. She will be missed moving forward and it was a welcome return for Hamil. Boyega and Isaac, sadly are given little to do and their characters don’t really grow that much from when we last saw them. Kelly Marie Tran is a bit bland as resistance mechanic Rose. Her character came across as a bit two dimensional and cliché. She didn’t leave an impression. Rounding out is Laura Dern doing nicely as a tough resistance Admiral and Benicio del Toro giving some life to his mysterious scoundrel.

So, overall, chapter eight is an improvement over the weak chapter seven, but still pales when placed up against chapters four through six. It had some good action, some striking visuals and did do some new things with some traditional Star Wars tropes. It’s weaknesses are it’s paper thin story and that it seems a bit dragged out considering it’s 150 minutes long and not a lot is accomplished till the last act. With Chapter IX awaiting us in 2019, there is obviously a lot left open, though it’s not quite an outright cliffhanger like Empire. Hopefully this series can really wrap this trilogy up with a bang for that final chapter, so far it’s not quite hit the mark, lofty though that mark may be.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 Millenium Falcons.

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REVIEW: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

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WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)

Third installment of this series, that acts as both prequel and reboot, joins the war between humans and apes two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that started it. The war is starting to turn against Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the apes due to the aggressive methods of a psychotic colonel (Woody Harrelson). Caesar suffers personal loss and while on a mission of revenge, the apes are captured and enslaved by the colonel and his troops. Can Caesar free the apes and get them to a safe haven across the dessert before the colonel sees them all dead?

Second sequel is again directed by Matt Reeves, who co-wrote the script with Mark Bomback. As with Dawn this is an intense film both in terms of action and emotional depth and it’s all expertly directed by Reeves. Like his last go around, Reeves really gives his characters a three dimensional-ity and that certainly includes his motion capture CGI simians. This might be the most dramatically intense of the three films and when the action does come it’s a fast and furious spectacle that evokes some of the best war films. There are also some very subtle but clever nods to the original series, such as a mute little girl with a very familiar name.  The score is again by a returning Michael Giacchino and it adds atmosphere to a very solid entry in this clever re-imagining.

The cast are all strong, even though most of the principles are motion capture. Andy Serkis is once again very good as the ape leader Ceasar. He gives the character a lot of emotional depth through his body language and dialogue and it might be his best performance as the simian hero. Harrelson delivers another solid performance as the cruel, ape hating colonel. While he is most certainly the villain here, the script allows Harrelson to give him a human side, one built on fear and loss, so that he is not a two dimensional monster, but a human driven to hatred and cruelty due to his own inner pain and fear. Despite his heinous actions and cruel behavior, there is a person under the layers of anger and brutality. The supporting characters all do good work, too, from Karin Konoval as ape Maurice. Steve Zahn as the eccentric “Bad Ape” and little Amiah Miller as the mute Nova.

So, another top notch entry in this reboot series from Matt Reeves. It was as emotionally strong as it was filled with intense action. There was a good script and solid direction to go along with some very strong acting both from those playing humans to the motion capture performers behind our simian characters. A really good movie in a very solid series. If it is the last one, it is a fitting climax.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Caesars.

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REVIEW: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

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DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

I really enjoyed Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, it was an inventive way to reboot the series by going back to the very beginning and re-inventing it from there. It was well acted, solidly directed and gave the series a good start with plenty of material to be covered before the films even progressed to what we saw in the original classics. The movie was a critical and box-office success and thus the series is being continued.

The sequel picks up 10 years after the virus, that began in Rise, has decimated a massive amount of the human population. The apes, led by Caesar, (Andy Serkis) have started a community deep in the California wilderness where they are living a relatively peaceful existence and have seen no humans for years… until now. A small band of humans led by a man named Malcolm (Jason Clarke) happens upon the apes territory and after an accidental wounding of one of the apes, are sent fleeing. The apes follow them back to San Francisco where they find a human colony still exists and one that is well armed. Caesar goes there with an army as a warning to the humans to stay away from the apes’ home. But, Malcolm begs Caesar to allow the humans to work at dam nearby their village, to restore electricity to the human colony which is running out of fuel. Caesar agrees in an effort to promote peace but, as Malcolm and the ape leader form a fragile alliance, fear on the human side and hatred on the other side in the form of an ape named Koba (Toby Kebbell), threaten to not only end that peace but, elicit all out war.

Sequel is this time directed by Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves who does a great job of creating a film that is it’s own movie yet, still fits in with the previous chapter. Reeves gives the film some very strong dramatic weight while not skimping on the action or suspense and it has a really effective look of a world where nature has grown over cities formally populated by people. The script by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver takes it’s time to establish the characters, especially all the new human ones, and where the world stands at this time. It also achieves this as the story moves forward and thus we get the information we need as part of that story and the film never needs to stop for exposition. A lot is achieved in it’s 130 minute running time and the film has a brisk pace and yet, covers all the ground it needs to. The action, when it comes, is exciting and very well staged and carries a lot of impact’ as well as, an epic scale. The gunfire, chases and explosions also serve the story and is never overindulgent for the sake of satisfying the Summer movie crowd. This is an intelligently written movie that also vastly entertains and should satisfy both the popcorn movie audience and those looking for a little more substance in their movie. The SPFX are flawless, for the most part and the film is wrapped in a very effective score by Michael Giacchino that evoked some of the music from the classic Apes series of the 70s. In fact the film’s story has some nice echoes of those classic 70s flicks too that will be obvious, but not obtrusive, to fans of the original series.

Also serving the story and supporting Reeves excellent direction is a great cast. Serkis’ motion capture acting for Caesar is fantastic and he gives the simian star a very emotionally expressive face and body language that really creates a three dimensional character from the CGI. The same goes for most of the ape performance actors with Kebbell’s Koba  also being strongly portrayed. Clarke makes a noble character in his Malcolm. He really wants what’s best for everyone and his pain when conflict arises seems genuine and it is understandable that he and Caesar would bond. Gary Oldman is strong as the head of the human colony, a man named Dreyfus. His leader wants what’s best for his people even if it brings war but, he is never portrayed as a villain. It’s about the survival of the human race and Oldman conveys that the man’s harsh decisions are not from hate as much as simply willing to take what his people need to live. Keri Russell plays a former CDC nurse and part of Malcolm’s team who  is a sympathetic and strong woman and one who has her inner pain too. She gives the character a nice dimensionality despite not really being all that major a part when all is said and done. The rest of the supporting cast are equally good and really add the final piece to making this a smart and highly enjoyable film.

So, a first rate sequel to a first rate reboot and a really enjoyable and entertaining movie. The script is intelligent yet, still weaves in plenty of action and it’s all brought together by a really well done directing job from Matt Reeves. When all is said and done, probably the best movie I have seen so far this summer.

3 and 1/2 Caesars.

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FULL TRAILER FOR ‘DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES’ ARRIVES!

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Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes turned out to be a pleasant surprise and was a really good flick so, I am looking forward to it’s Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) directed and Gary Oldman starring sequel. The new full trailer arrives and it looks really good!. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is set to open 7/11/2014!

Source: CBM/Youtube

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TEASER TRAILER FOR DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES ARRIVES!

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Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes turned out to be a really good flick and a pleasant surprise so, I am looking forward to it’s Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) helmed and Gary Oldman starring sequel. The new teaser only heightens that anticipation. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is set to open 5/23/2014!

Source: Youtube

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