Wakanda For Real (Black Panther review)

I find it supremely satisfying to learn that a well-made movie, about a comic book character, and an origin story no-less, is at the top of this list both critically and commercially.

That the character is a black superhero appeals to me as both an artist (and an outlier) and because I think we’ve seen more then our share of white superheroes for some time now.

 

Black Panther (2018)

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright,  Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
Director: Ryan Coogler
released on blu-ray May 15, 2018
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%, Audience Score 79%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Ryan Kyle Coogler is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is best known for crafting stories that put minority characters and their cultures into the spotlight. He has directed three films, Fruitvale Station, Creed, and now Black Panther, all of which feature Michael B. Jordan in a prominent role. He will also be directing the Creed sequel which releases later this year.

Black Panther is currently the highest grossing film in history directed by an African American, a critical success and an overwhelming commercial success with an insane opening weekend box office of $202 million, beaten out only by two of the three Avengers films, Jurassic World, The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi.

Special thanks to an anonymous Editor for the IMDB summary of the film –

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes (Andy Serkis) (Michael B. Jordan) conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and members of the Dora Milaje (Danai Gurira), Wakandan special forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war.

This is a film which upends a lot of stereotypes we’ve come to expect in movies. With an almost entirely black cast, each character is developed with great detail, and so there is someone for everyone to identify with, effectively eliminating any oversimplification of motives, interests and abilities. Wakanda is so much more technologically advanced then anywhere else in the world, in fact, they make James Bond movies look silly, which is demonstrated when T’Challa visits Seoul.

And let’s not forget that Shuri is the most brilliant scientist, and that the Dora Milaje are the most bad ass of the bad ass warrior guards I’ve seen in any movie really.

Pros: It’s beautiful to look at, with meticulously created sets, character backstories, lots of supporting cast that work well together, and well directed, despite it’s long runtime. Michael B. Jordan sings as Killmonger, making him one of the best villains, it not a serious contender for number one.

Cons: The fighting and action is such a formula now that it’s difficult to really appreciate it in light of all of the political discourse taking place over the length of the film. Chadwick Boseman takes a backseat to Michael B. Jordan.

Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes

Points of Interest: The name “Wakanda” comes from the Wakamba tribe of Kenya, also known as the Kamba. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis both starred in The Hobbit movies, and were affectionately known on set as the “Tolkien White Guys”. In one of the areas where Wakandan glyphs move on translucent walls, one wall is blue and has “4” written on it, an homage to the Fantastic Four, where the Black Panther and Ulysses Klaw made their debut appearances.

Not only is it the best looking Marvel movie yet, the soundtrack is excellent on it’s own, and it can knowingly function as it’s own film, with very little involvement from other Marvel Studio movies. Plus the politics. Thank God for the political subtleties of this story.

theories Summarized

So there you have it, all of my thoughts and feelings about the Black Panther movie, which I believe is a very important movie in the MCU and am very thankful has gotten so much praise from minority groups, considering how well made it is. I hope that means we will see even more minority character representation in the MCU movies going forward – perhaps even a Sam Wilson Captain America?

I also thought it would be a good idea to release a Watch Culture video about Captain America Civil War to coincide with this Black Panther review! After all, we wouldn’t have gotten a Black Panther movie if this one hadn’t preceded it, plus it’s an amazing representation of comics in general.

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Lots more theories to come!

Tim!

Combine And Transform (Batman Ninja review)

Not every movie is going to resonate with all audiences, especially when it deviates from expectations, when it shifts our ideas of what a franchise means AND when it embraces unpopular elements to make something better.

 

Batman Ninja (2018)

Cast: Roger Craig Smith, Grey Griffin, Tony Hale, Fred Tatasciore, Tara Strong, Yuri Lowenthal, Will Friedle, Tom Kenny, Adam Croasdell, Eric Bauza
Director: Junpei Mizusaki
released on blu-ray Apr 24, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 5.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Audience Score 47%
The Guardian: N/A

Junpei Mizusaki is a Japanese animator, producer, and newly minted director. Having previously worked on Mega Man games (Megan Man X8, Megan Man X Command Mission, Mega Man X7) a TV series called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, a segment from the film Zoo, and a host of other anime content.

His anime resume should more then prove his ability to put together a solid anime film, but what is truly at stake is the mythos of Batman. And the question that remains is can Mizusaki properly fuse to elements of culture without bastardizing one to improve the other?

Special thanks to Warner Brosfor the IMDB summary of the film –

Batman Ninja takes a journey across the ages as Gorilla Grodd’s (Fred Tatasciore) time displacement machine transports many of Batman’s worst enemies to feudal Japan – along with the Dark Knight (Roger Craig Smith) and a few of his allies. The villains take over the forms of the feudal lords that rule the divided land, with the Joker (Tony Hale) taking the lead among the warring factions. As his traditional high-tech weaponry is exhausted almost immediately, Batman must rely on his intellect and his allies – including Catwoman (Grey Griffin) and the extended Bat-family – to restore order to the land, and return to present-day Gotham City.

If it’s not clear yet, I actually love Batman, which is why I’ve been so selective in my reviews on Batman related content, because at timotheories we really want to give you the best movies to watch, not just what is popular and trending. And so I can argue without a reasonable doubt that this is one of the best Batman movies since 2008’s The Dark Knight. Yes, I loved The LEGO Batman Movie, but there have been so many other properties distributed in recent years that fail to capture the discipline, absurdity, intellect, and intensity of The Batman.

Gotham By Gaslight was pretty good too, but this resonates much more strongly. I’m not sure that’ve made this statement properly before either, but I believe that Batman should be a public domain property at this point. Sure DC Comics can retain the right to produce movies, make stories and sell merchandise, but other creators should have the ability to tell stories with a character which is almost a century old at this point.

And this is why I loved Batman Ninja. An untested director took the mythos, respected it, and also added to it. Now, I will admit that the movie gets stranger as it moves along, but if you watch any anime, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the film would enter into weird tangental discussions and feature ridiculous plot threads.

This is common in anime, and Batman Ninja delivers on the absurdity of Batman’s history.

Pros: The Japanese animation team that constructed this story honours the history of Batman, while also elevating his mythos and injecting something new into the mix, something that is far more interesting then many of the previous DC animated films. The backdrop of the story is lushly crafted, and the zaniness of the comics is amplified with Japanese samurai, ninja, and feudal era culture.

Cons: The premise of the story is unique, but it is somewhat rushed to resolution in the final act, and how everything progresses to reach that resolution (spoilers: robot castles) is somewhat bizarre when considered through the lenses of western standards of filmmaking.

Runtime: 1 hours 25 minutes

Points of Interest: All of the fight scenes were performed and filmed with live actors first and then animation was created from that footage. The Batman figure formed from the bat and monkey armies in the final battle is very similar to his first costume in Detective Comics.

Ultimately, my major disappointment with this film is that I expected a more serious exploration of Batman trapped in feudal Japan. Learning and improving upon samurai and ninja disciplines was an awesome plot thread, but why wasn’t it explored more?

theories Summarized

In summary, if you are willing to accept the flaws of Batman, and go into this film expecting it to defy traditional western filmmaking, then you’ll have a really great time seeing a properly made Batman anime. In fact, I hope DC makes more of these types of films, or all of their flagship characters. If you’re a collector this needs to be on your shelf.

And if you want another genre-defying film to fill your film-watching needs, then it might be time to either dust off The Descent or pick it up if you haven’t seen it yet. Chris has all of the details in this Watch Culture video movie review

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Lots more theories to come!

Tim!

Traumatic Disorder (Hostiles review)

The life of a soldier is oft met with tragedy, both on the battlefront, and at home. But what happens when his battlefield is in his hometown? Prejudice, trauma, and an unhealthy mixture of isolation abound.

 

Hostiles (2017)

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Jonathan Majors, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster
Director: Scott Cooper
released on blu-ray Apr 24, 2018
******* 7/10

IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Audience Score 72%
The Guardian: ***

Scott Cooper is an American Director, screenwriter, producer, and sometimes actor. His list of director credits include Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, Black Mass, and now Hostiles. Having been active in the industry since 1998, Cooper spent the first decade of his career in the television industry, taking small acting roles before fully realizing that writing and directing was far more rewarding.

His directorial debut, Crazy Heart is nothing short of captivating, and shows a side of country music most of us miss. Plus, Jeff Bridges is amazing in it, so obviously Cooper recognizes casting quality over quantity. Hostiles also features a smaller cast and as it takes place in the late 19th century, has an authentic western flavour, but it’s not a misguided cowboys and indians kind of flick.

Special thanks to Nick Riganas for the IMDB summary of the film –

In 1892, after nearly two decades of fighting the Cheyenne, the Apache, and the Comanche natives, the United States Cavalry Captain and war hero, Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is ordered to escort the ailing Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi)–his most despised enemy–to his ancestral home in Montana’s Valley of the Bears. Nauseated with a baleful anger, Joseph’s unwelcome final assignment in the feral American landscape is further complicated, when the widowed settler, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), is taken in by the band of soldiers, as aggressive packs of marauding Comanches who are still on the warpath, are thirsty for blood. In a territory crawling with hostiles, can the seasoned Captain do his duty one last time?

What I loved about this movie is also what I ultimately hated about it. If I might be so contrarian. I’ve always been a fan of westerns as a young boy, and I attribute a lot of that love to the relationship I have with my father and grandfather, who were both small-town farmers. It wasn’t until my dad moved to the “big city” in his late twenties, met my mom, and had me that the lifestyle cycle started to shift. Either way, they both love westerns, and I have a kinship with anything associated with it.

Hostiles is not your classic John Wayne, Yul Brenner or Lee Van Cleef story – where the heroes and villains are depicted by how long their shadows cast. There is serious consideration of the effect of colonization on indigenous peoples and no ethnic group is cast in a particularly strong light of altruism and rightness, instead each character is morally ambiguous, having both good and bad qualities, just like life should be. But lines are drawn to show both groups and the impact each has on the other. And Cooper does an excellent job of depicting the effects of war and colonization.

Now, what I hinted at about loving, is that in it’s longer run, it tells a great western story, but for that same reason, it doesn’t give characters like Yellow Hawk room to breathe. Which is incredibly frustrating to watch, because Wes Studi is such a legendary actor. Sure Christian Bale and Rosamond Pike are great, and it’s awesome to see how their characters evolve, but if a third protagonist had been given due exposure, this movie would have been phenomenal.

Pros: It challenges our conventions of history and the stories constructed to retell that history. It’s by no means flattering to any party, but as a result it simultaneously feels more raw and empathetic. While not an innovation of the form, Rosamund Pike and Christian Bale deliver great performances.

Cons: The pacing is incredibly slow, and the inclusion of additional characters in the third act feels forced, drawing away from an examination of characters, and into a broader back story for Blocker, which is unnecessary at that point. But again I ask, where is the development of Chief Yellow Hawk and his family?

Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes

Points of Interest: The film was shot in chronological order, and because it takes place mostly outdoors, the cast was exposed to the elements a lot. Production was shut down on a few occasions to account for weather. This is the second western Christian Bale has starred in – the first being 3:10 to Yuma remake.

It’s amazing to see how the life of Blocker has been shaped by living on a battlefield, and that because the American frontier is filled with tribes and peoples all trying to find their space, he never really gets to rest. Even more interesting that his final mission means escorting one of his early enemies home, and that they come to a better understanding of each other in the process, is very meaningful. I just wish I had seen more perspective from the Chief.

theories Summarized

A couple of final thoughts from me. Whether or not you enjoy westerns, this film is a great candidate to exposure of what western films have meant for American citizens for over a century now. They are effectively a propaganda told through the eyes of the victors. What hostiles does, is try to tell the story in a more nuanced way.

Yes, it does ultimately fall short of it’s goal, both due to pacing and character development, but the parts it succeeds at are well worth the struggle.

Speaking of struggles. I wanted to share this Watch Culture video I did on one of my all-time favourite animated classics – The Last Unicorn. Heavily influenced by classical literature, this is another movie which features Jeff Bridges in a voicing acting role, is directed by the team of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. AND the band America did the soundtrack.

It’s highly underrated, in my humble opinion, but I hope this review gives you a chance to check it out or dust it off, as it were!

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Lots more theories to come!

Tim!

Murder and Father (Mom and Dad review)

I promised myself I would stop watching bad Nicolas Cage movies. I’ve had my heart broken too many times now, and at this point it’s masochistic to continue.

But then I found out he made a bad movie on purpose, and my interest was piqued.

 

Mom and Dad (2017)

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur
Director: Brian Taylor
released on blu-ray Feb 20, 2018
******* 7/10

IMDB: 5.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Audience Score 40%
The Guardian: ***

Brian Taylor is an American director, writer, cinematographer, and producer. He is best known for collaborating with Mark Neveldine on the Crank films, Pathology, Gamer, Jonah Hex and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. This is his first film without the support of Neveldine, but it is still well within his wheelhouse of gritty action and dark comedy – Thankfully for me, Mom and Dad is his best film to date, and I hope he continues to explore homage films for the exploitation genre.

Special thanks to Nick Riganas for the IMDB summary of the film –

There’s definitely something terrible going on in the peaceful suburban community, as, one after the other, otherwise loving and caring parents mysteriously turn into ravenous carriers of an unfathomable pandemic that targets their offspring. Suddenly, every son and daughter–not only in the neighbourhood but also in the entire region–have to run for their lives, as the rage-filled murderous intent is simply as unstoppable as it is inexplicable. Of course, Brent (Nicolas Cage) and Kendall’s (Selma Blair) teenage children (Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur) are no exception, and before long, the simmering but usual familial tensions will take a completely different meaning. Kids, stop hiding. Mum and Dad love you so much.

I was half-expecting this film to end on an upbeat note while I was watching it; there were so many clues that indicated both Brent and Kendall were capable of overcoming the instinct that the so-called global savaging would produce. We didn’t know if parents were killing their offspring because of flora and fauna, biological weapons or alien rays. And yet, this movie is far more in-line with grindhouse horror then it is a dark comedy.

The message is the violence itself and the catharsis associated with release from obligation. Being a parent is a great responsibility for sure, but the challenges come in the day-to-day. We all age and lose our youth, so jealousy of the kids looks, opportunities and freedom can become a real grind. Brent fantasizes about his misspent teenage years, and Kendall wants to have a better relationship with her daughter, as it was before the onset of puberty. But that does matter, because in the end their desire to murder outweighs society expectations and social practices. And it’s an awesome thing to behold.

It’s the perfect setting for Nicolas Cage to go over-the-top.

Pros: It packages anarchy and the mundane together in completely believable way. It works perfectly when you can accept the premise without much thought for what sparked the epidemic. Nicolas Cage works perfectly as a disillusioned dad gone crazy.

Cons: While it does an amazing job of executing the concept over-all, it’s in the details that the film loses focus and comes off under-cooked. The pool table flashback and the inevitable visit from the grandparents come to mind in particular.

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Points of Interest: Nicolas Cage has said this is his favourite film he’s worked on in the past ten years. The film also features cameos from Grant Morrison and Bokeem Woodbine; Morrison is the writer of Happy! which was adapted by Taylor for television.

The film has generally favourable reviews amongst critics, but is far less popular amongst general audiences, my theory for this is that this is not popcorn fare. You have to be in the right mood for something dark, and watch it with people who are open this kind of humour and level of violence. Under the right setting, I could easily put this into a horror marathon, Nicolas Cage marathon or on a gloomy day.

theories Summarized

Film like this don’t get made with A-list actors very often. And this is because most people don’t want to see a movie that challenges convention… unless they are prepared for it going into the film. I can tell that Nicolas Cage had fun making this movie, and for that reason alone, it is worth a watch. When Cage is cast correctly, he is very entertaining. Go watch Mom and Dad, and maybe you’ll learn to appreciate your parents and/or children a little more.

[]

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Next week I’ll have a review on folk album and a horror-comedy film, and an interview preview with a pretty cool musician.

Tim!

Throwing Glass In Brick Houses (Phantom Thread review)

Romantic love can last but a moment, but companion love often lasts for a lifetime. And this is important because it’s a much more real feeling then something so fleeting as lust – the desire to be needed, to be important to someone, to be truly understood, it’s just so much more powerful.

Thankfully, dear readers, this film does expresses just that.

 

Phantom Thread (2017)

Cast: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
released on blu-ray April 10, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, Audience Score 70%
The Guardian: *****

Paul Thomas Anderson is an American filmmaker. He has been nominated for over eight Academy Awards, and his films have generated over 25 nominations for cast and crew. His list of films is fairly short, having made 9 films over a 20+ year career – Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice, Phantom Thread, and 2018’s Waterlily Jaguar.

Now, I would be willing to argue that There Will Be Blood is one of the best, if not THE best film of the 2000s, so when I learned that Mr. Anderson directed it, I took notice and seriously looked at his portfolio. This is important because Phantom Thread is the second film that Daniel Day-Lewis has starred in with this director, and it’s also the last one before he retires.

Special thanks to Focus Features for the IMDB summary of the film –

Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love

Now, I’m going to posit another theory, and you can choose to agree with it or not.

Romance is about a fantasy, whereas companionship is about taking a very real journey together. I originally watched this movie because it was nominated for a Best Picture award, and it registered with me, but didn’t affect me at the time. Then I decided to watch this film for a second time because I was reminded of something a friend of mine had said. He told me that this film was especially compelling because the two leads challenged each other. While I agree that Reynolds and Alma challenge each other, and I’m about to spoil an important part of the movie, so be forewarned, I think that poisoning someone to shift the balance of power in the relationship is pretty dramatic. So it still works as a movie, because movies typically take the highs and lows of life and leave out the majority of in-between moments.

But it’s in the in-between moments that human connection exists, and that’s why the story of the house of Woodcock, and the waitress that threw a brick into the front window, is the real focal point of a real love story. Not Daniel Day-Lewis, and we are all the better for it.

Pros: Vicky Krieps steals the show, and while Daniel Day-Lewis is enigmatic and bold, as he is in all of his roles, Alma is far more powerful in her strong-willed directness. The attention to detail in the sets, costumes, and interactions amongst the cast will hold you in, make you gasp for air for a moment, and finally accept the beauteous new outlook on life.

Cons: It is a very insular world, and because it doesn’t invite the casual viewer in, you might miss the fact that this is a far better telling of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Points of Interest: The name Alma means “soul” in Spanish and Portuguese. Daniel Day-Lewis has not seen the finished film, and found the role incredibly emotionally demanding.

It might seem obvious now, but the title Phantom Thread eludes to several things. The role of dressmaking in Reynolds identity, the familial ties between Reynolds, his sister, their mother and their business, Reynolds relationship with his mother, and more importantly, the unseen connection between Alma and Reynolds. And this last thread is what drives the story. It might not seem obvious that there is an unbreakable bond between the two lovers, but try as fate might, their love cannot be broken, only strengthened.

That’s what real love does over time, it continues to define the identities of its partners.

theories Summarized

I love this movie. It grabbed hold of my attention, because it demanded a second viewing. I can see myself watching it multiple times over the years. Paul Thomas Anderson has done something wonderful in creating a period film that is timeless, but is very rich in it’s depictions. It’s a little sad that the only award it won was for Best Costume Design, but ironically enough, that might be the highest compliment it could receive given how intimate a role clothes play in our lives.

The exterior beauty of the dress could only exist with the loving labour of dressmaking.

And so that leads us into the Watch Culture video review I have lined up on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut – Don Jon. It’s a story about sex addiction, and how one man’s addiction to pornography has defined how he views most of his intimate relationships. It’s totally worth a watch, and like Phantom Thread, it has some great insights romantic love VS companion love.

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Next week I’ll have a review on folk album and a horror-comedy film, and an interview preview with a pretty cool musician.

Tim!