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Review: “Black Panther” Packs the Biggest Punch of the MCU

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Black Panther

If Marvel’s Thor was a watered down Shakespeare with a surfer glaze, Black Panther is the real deal. It’s a tale of kingdoms and ancestors, where men of sordid family histories battle for the throne. At the same time, it’s also a James Bond film of gadgets, casinos, and chases with sexy cars. But, wait, it’s also profoundly political and racial with elements of xenophobia and colonialism. The only thing more astounding than seeing all of this present in a Marvel superhero film is that all of it works incredibly well and serves as Marvel’s most influential and most groundbreaking of comic book films.

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has some cleaning up to do at home before he can jump back into the Black Panther superhero suit. His father dead, he must take on the mantle of king of Wakanda. To the rest of the world, Wakanda is a third-world nation, but hidden behind a holographic shield is a thriving metropolis built on Vibranium, the same substance used for Captain America’s shield. Even with all their tech, Wakanda is still a land of tradition and T’Challa must prove himself in shirtless combat atop a waterfall to be the king of his people.

black panther

Governing a metropolis overflowing with Vibranium, he must keep at bay the cackling Klaue (Andy Serkis), a sinister dealer that fancies Vibranium and brandishes a fake arm that houses an energy gun. He could very well be our standard villain for T’Challa to foil, but he thankfully isn’t the true antagonist. That title goes to Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) or Killmonger as he’s better known from the comic books. He is easily one of the best villains in the MCU for his pathos and plight that make some solid points. Having grown up on the streets when dear old passed was murdered, Stevens blames Wakanda’s closed nature for his dark childhood and the ills of the world. It’s a notion that T’Challa must weigh and not merely brush aside as a typical villain monologue. Sure, it’s easy to go against Killmonger once he enacts his plan of ruling Wakanda and plans to dominate every country with Wakandan technology, but his argument about the nation being xenophobic is a strong one that can’t be denied.

While Black Panther does adhere to a few familiar formula aspects of the MCU, its script manages to be original for focusing more on a classic tale of kingdoms than a quippy cape adventure. There’s faith in the direction to plow ahead with its drama of bloody family histories and raw emotions of clashing cultures, evading the usual stammering jokes to poke fun at the fantastical. I had my worries with the rebellious tech Shuri (Letitia Wright) and the outsider CIA ally Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), but they thankfully never grind the picture to a halt with their silly mannerisms. By that same token, T’Challa’s female forces of the stoic Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the emotionally driven Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) never mug for the camera that much. They know they’re badass and don’t need to add a pointless exclamation to stress this point, doing more talking with their fists than forgettable banter.

The look of Black Panther may be one of the most thoroughly realized and gorgeous looking settings of any Marvel movie. The balance of otherworldly technology and African culture creates a unique mixture of a colorful utopia. Shuri’s lab of Wakandan tech is the most remarkable of locations, dressed up like a fancy loft with its winding stairs, circular platforms, and colorful walls that make the lab appear as an art installation. The various costumes of Wakanda are fantastic and believable of what an African culture would look like if they had a boom in industry; one of the representatives of the tribes brandishes lip discs and fancy suits. The customs are rich with intrigue and mysticism, as with the ceremony where the new king must be buried in sand to communicate with his ancestors. Even the technology itself has a specific purpose and function, as with the mining train system that uses an elaborate means of light to transport Vibranium at high speeds.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without some superhero action, and there’s just enough here to please. The car chase through the streets of South Korea is exciting with Wakandans using their tech to manipulate cars and Black Panther leaping from one vehicle to another. T’Challa’s suit comes equipped with armor that is not only strong enough to take a bullet but also take that kinetic energy and use it against his enemies. The battles cliffside are the most exciting of all with raw warriors in combat for the throne. And though the climax settles on a large-scale battle of pike-wielding warriors and armored rhinos, it’s a final fight that feels more earned than necessary for all the drama stirred up to this point.

With a big production and a story heavy with race and politics, Black Panther is a risky gamble of a superhero picture, but the bet on black paid off greatly. Unlike Wonder Woman, which merely placed a leading female within a typical superhero popcorn blockbuster, there’s a real influence, and meta-storytelling is going on, so that isn’t just another Marvel movie with a refreshing African coat. It’s an inspiring tale of old-fashioned kingdom drama, well-choreographed action, dazzling fantasy, and an ending that is deeply profound for the impact you’d want to see an actual hero make in the world. It’s been stated that a lot of black children are going to be attending this film in droves. They’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that they’re not just getting an all-black comic book movie, but one of the best comic book movies of the year that will give them more than just a satisfying dose of fists and explosions.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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Review: “The Predator” is a Humorous Homage, Sometimes Fun

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Shane Black’s The Predator is simultaneously the most no-nonsense and all-nonsense entry of the series. It does away with a lot of the fat for its story, skipping briskly through its introduction so that gory action of a human-hunting alien arrives quickly. It also doesn’t try to take itself seriously, favoring a comedic format to its writing so high on the goofiness it may as well be labeled a parody of the previous films. This odd assembly prevents such a generically titled film from becoming just another tired retread of a dug-up franchise, hit or miss though it may be.

In order to get the bloody gears grinding, Black throws a lot of inexplicably odd actions at the screen. I didn’t set my watch, but I’m pretty sure it was less than a minute before the first Predator marches onto the screen, crashing onto Earth and going about its secret mission. Encountering the Predator and his arsenal is sniper-for-hire and former Army Ranger, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who not only takes to the Predator tech quickly but also takes the risk of swallowing some of it so it can’t be found. To cash in on newly acquired treasures from outer space, he decides to ship the rest of the alien technology to his mailbox. Seems like a ridiculous idea, but it needs to be done so that the story can arrive on schedule to include a Predator-savvy scientist (Olivia Munn), a greedy government villain (Sterling K. Brown), a savant of an autistic kid with a smart mouth (Jacob Tremblay), and a team of mercenaries that includes a jokester (Keegan-Michael Key) and one with Tourette’s syndrome (Thomas Jane).

L-r, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael-Key, Thomas Jane and Augusto Aguiliera in Twentieth Century Fox’s “The Predator.”

I could detail the elaborate scheme of the Predators and the tactics used by the human characters, but does it matter? There are convoluted plot elements for sure, including the most ridiculous use of Asperger’s Syndrome as a plot twist, but all that this amounts to is the self-aware knowledge of a goofy gore fest. The script, co-written by Shane Black, always seems careful never to go overboard with exposition without a joke in between. A key scene that could have been a bore is the initial alien dissection scene, its purpose to describe the new Predator and decipher his visit. Munn harps on why the scientists have called the alien a Predator when his purpose seems more akin to a big-game hunter.

While the choice to favor knowing comedy or dark action is a smart one, it’s not exactly a home run of ideas. The first act, in particular, has some rather stale nostalgic callbacks that one would expect from a lesser retread. Variations on some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic lines from the first film about choppers and the ugliness of the Predator felt so lame that I started gripping my seat, bracing for the entire film to be this adrift of inspiration. But the film thankfully proceeds down its own silly path by the second act, turning into a non-stop bloody bonanza of alien-on-human action. The gore goes for the gusto so heavily that it becomes just as strong as the comical banter between Holbrook and his team of gun-toting good guys, trying to stop the Predator from killing a kid and the government from killing them first.

The Predator in Twentith Century Fox’s THE PREDATOR. Photo Credit: Kimberley French.

There’s a lot of dumb and messiness in The Predator, but the constant winking from Black’s director and the all-star cast save it from being another PG-13 snoozer of a repeat. Armed with machine-gun speed comedy, violence more than worthy of an R rating, and a giddy sense that is always present, what could’ve been a merry-go-round turns into more of a roller coaster experience of a Predator movie. Black doesn’t exactly rework the Predator mythos into something new or even more akin to its quality camp roots, but he does have fun with the material. And when you’ve got a multi-mouthed alien with braids turning humans into hamburger, you’ve gotta have some fun mocking the spectacle, especially after so many films that take themselves far too seriously.


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“The Nun” Scares Up Strong September Box Office

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September has its first box office champion to topple August’s hit of Crazy Rich Asians, and by a substantial amount at that. The Nun, a spin-off and prequel to The Conjuring 2’s scary nun ghost in the painting, has earned an impressive $53.5 million for its debut weekend. That’s an exceptional premiere to warrant the film’s budget of $22 million, rather high for horror. The future is looking bright for The Conjuring franchise. Still, Crazy Rich Asians is still going strong as the romantic comedy of the year, grossing another $13.6 million for a domestic total now sitting at $136 million. With plans for a sequel already in the works and a chance at hitting $200 million, the film may very well carry deep into fall considering it’s still in the top five after four weeks.

Also debuting to a decent take for the weekend is Peppermint, an action-oriented thriller starring a revenge-seeking Jennifer Garner. The film made $13.2 million in its first weekend which may be a bit disappointing for a $25 million budget, but it may have decent enough to legs to make a profit depending on how September shapes up.

Plenty of the returning films are holding on strong. The Meg, the shark movie with Jason Statham, has remained in the top five long enough to clear its budget, with a domestic total now at $131 million. Also sticking around is the social media thriller Searching, dropping only 25% to make $4.5 million for the weekend, the domestic total sitting at $14.3 million. And BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s comedy about infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan, is still hanging in the top 10, making another $1.5 million for a domestic total of $43 million, stunning results for a $15 million film in somewhat limited release.

View the full box office weekend results below.
The Nun ($53,500,000)
Crazy Rich Asians ($13,600,000)
Peppermint ($13,260,000)
The Meg ($6,030,000)
Searching ($4,515,000)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($3,800,000)
Disney’s Christopher Robin ($3,196,000)
Operation Finale ($3,043,000)
Alpha ($2,505,000)
BlacKkKlansman ($1,565,000)

Next weekend will be a battle of a returning alien hunter and an odd thriller. The Predator, a remake of the alien franchise directed by Shane Black, will be in 3,900 theaters while A Simple Favor, a thriller directed by comedy director Paul Feig, will hit 3,000 theaters. Of the smaller releases are Pure Flix’s latest religious picture Unbroken: Path to Redemption and the Matthew McConaughey starring cop drama White Boy Rick. There’s little doubt that The Predator will swoop in to claim the weekend.


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Review: “The Nun” Offers Few Scares and Fun

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And from The Conjuring another spin-off cometh, presenting origins we didn’t really need to know for spooky supporting demons. If these films weren’t already showing cracks, The Nun comes crumbling, struggling to find scary and fun stuff to do with a nun that looks like she went to a goth concert. She looks great with the contrast of white and black that blends perfectly in the darkness. She’s unfortunately squandered in a film that is such a mess it dips between horror, comedy, and adventure.

The setting is 1952, Romania, where a nun has just committed suicide by hanging. To investigate this dark matter, the Vatican sends a ragtag duo of a priest and a nun familiar with the area and the demonic. The priest is Father Burke (Demián Bichir), having previously performed an exorcism and struggling to make himself boring with a crossword puzzle hobby. The nun is Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a yet-to-have-taken-her-vows woman that is a bit of a rebel around the convent with her talk of dinosaurs and not wearing her habit. They venture to Romania, and with the help of a French-Canadian farmer going by the name Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), they’ll discover the dark secrets of the church turned haunted house.

The scare playbook from The Conjuring universe appears very dusty in this film. The majority of frights rely on the cheapest and tiresome of stagings: see something potentially scary in the distance, look away, it’s gone. Irene thinks she spots a nun in the shadows; turns away, turns back, gone. Burke thinks he spots the child he was unable to save from his previous exorcism; there one shot, gone the next. The other overused scare tactic is that of slowly venturing towards something scary. The demons are hoping our holy heroes will be dumb enough to follow every come-hinder spooky trap, to the point where Father Burke is being led by a bell being dragged on a string.

There’s a lot of disbelief suspension required to go along for the ride. There are visions of previous nuns of the church, but they’re staged as unconvincing twists that require the priest and nun to accept the answers of a faceless nun at (no) face value. A scary nun shrouded in black with a sinister voice recommends they spend the night. Surely nothing spooky will happen come nightfall. But, surprise, spookiness on cue! They investigate more and some other nuns they meet recommend staying another night. I’d think about breaking out the good book and a cross on that second sleep considering all the haunted hijinks. The Romanian haunted church comes complete with a graveyard of many crosses, where crows caw during the day and mist mysteriously crops up at night. Oh, and snakes.

Speaking of snakes, the film seems to grow so bored of its by-the-book haunted house method that it slips into Indiana Jones territory. Consider how Frenchie comes to the rescue in the third act as the comical action hero, chopping off the heads of zombies and shooting them with a shotgun. He seems to only come back when it’s time to explore underground passages with torches, searching for a religious artifact that can stop demons from hell. This adventure angle makes Jonas Bloquet the best part of the film, even if it feels like he’s a character that became lost on his way to the set of another tomb.

The Nun delivers the bare bones of what we’ve come to expect from this Warner Bros horror franchise. There’s some decent camera work and some technically sound frights here and there, despite some rather poor editing to keep everything on schedule and twisty. One aspect I could always count on enjoying was the audience reactions during these movies. They didn’t let me down. One viewer was so spooked by the silence after a nun’s cracked neck that he exclaimed “WTF” during the screening. It was the biggest laugh of the movie and one of the few reasons I have left to keep returning to this style of horror because there’s not a whole in The Nun itself to keep me satiated with terror or fun.


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