Movie review: Black Panther

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the newest and, arguably, the most important Marvel movie! This is Black Panther!

IMDb summary: T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

As usual, before I start, my previous MCU reviews are here: Guardians 1 and 2, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor 3.

Writing

Black Panther was written by the director of the film Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. I thought that the duo did a stellar job with the script. I’m not going to talk about the plot in detail, so as to keep this review spoiler free, other than to stay that a lot of narrative things happen in this film and a couple of them are quite unexpected. There are also a few of meaningful deaths (that might silence MCU critics who say that nobody ever dies in this universe). What I’m going to discuss more elaborately are the brilliant and multiple thematical concepts of Black Panther.

Just on the surface representational level, this film was a game changer. Black characters were elevated from the roles of the supporting friend/the funny sidekick/the one-scene cameo and were brought to the forefront. It’s also refreshing to see fictional black characters rather than real-life rebel slaves or civil rights activists (those smaller biographical movies are important too, but diversity in the blockbuster field is key as well). Also, even though this movie told a fictional story about fictional characters, it honored and paid homage to a lot of its real-world equivalents/inspirations, which raised a question for me: why haven’t we seen pictures about real, past or current, African tribes that were not documentaries???

Anyways, more on Black Panther paying homage to certain real-world ideas/events. I absolutely loved how the movie honored the connection that Africans have with their ancestors (and how in touch with their spirituality they are) as well their connection with nature (healing herbs, animals as deities). It was also great for the movie to acknowledge the violence within African culture (both the inner to the culture and the one coming from the west). Most importantly, it was just so amazing to see the Afrofuturism ideas on screen, which connected modernity with the traditional side of the culture. Scholars have been racking their brains about how to develop Africa without Westernizing it! Well, just do what Black Panther did: connect the two things rather than make one negate the other!

As the movie’s main character was a sovereign of a country, Black Panther also had some political commentary, mostly about a single country’s relation and obligation to the world. It also explored the well-known idea of the sins of the father reflecting of the children but in a royal context.  The film also had some fascinating things to say about communities, tribes or one’s ‘people’. How do we define that category? Do we draw lines based on race? Ethnicity? Nationality? Culture? Common beliefs and ideals? One of the central conflicts in the film was based on the fact that the villain and the hero of the story had different answers to that question. Speaking of the villain, Killmonger might be Marvel’s best one yet because he wasn’t just a villain but a character in his own right, whose goals were radical yet valid. The viewer could definitely understand his frustrations and reasons for his thinking.

Directing

Ryan Coogler (of Creedand Fruitvale Station) did an amazing job with Black Panther. He realized the visuals of Afrofuturism so well (with the help of production design, of course). The sets were brilliant and the costumes – absolutely impeccable and so cool as well! The action was really great too: fast-paced, intense, and meaningful for the plot. The pacing was also great!  The much-celebrated music of the movie was great (so it has been celebrated for a reason). I wanted to hear even more if it!

Acting

Black Panther assembled a stellar cast, led by Chadwick Boseman (Civil War) in a role that he was born to play. I’d love to see his involvement in the MCU leading to more non-biographical roles for him (cause I have seen him in quite a few biopics). Coogler’s collaborator Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) played the villain and fully embodied the role, both physically and emotionally. I absolutely loved his character’s Americanized look too. An absolute scene stealer was Letitia Wright as the tech (and actual) princess. I loved her portrayal as a tech genius who was super excited about her creations and I also loved all her outfits and amazing sense of humor (bit cringe-y at times but so relatable). Lupita Nyong’o (The Jungle Book, The Force Awakens) also had a great role in the film – really loved seeing her in a big picture in person (not as in Star Wars, in motion capture).

Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira played an incredible role of the leader of Dora Milaje (who were all so amazing), while the breakout star of last year Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) also had an interesting role to play (I loved how his character’s cape-like looking thing was also a shield). Winston Duke played a fun and multifaceted character too. Some more seasoned talent was also spotlighted: Angela Bassett was great as the mother of the king, while Forest Whitaker (Southpaw, Arrival, Rogue One) was perfect as an elderly statesman. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (War For The Planet of The Apes, The Last Jedi) also reprised their earlier roles in the MCU and were great. Freeman was a lovable CIA agent (not a word I’d use to describe a CIA agent, but, oh well), while Serkis was super crazy as one the villains of the film but it was really nice to see him in a non-motion capture performance.

Post-credits/End-credits (bit spoiler-y)

While Black Panther was mostly divorced from the MCU (it didn’t have many Easter Eggs that I could notice except of course the Stan Lee cameo), it did have a neat after-credits scene, where a fan-favorite from Civil War (‘White Wolf’) was defrosted. He seemed to be doing well in Wakanda.

The mid-credits scene was closely related to this picture and had a nice message of peaceful communication. It sounded a tiny bit naive but I can’t really fault hope.

In short, Black Panther was both a great Marvel comic book movie and a sophisticated game-changer in terms of representation for the whole context of modern cinema.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Black Panther trailer

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Movie review: The Jungle Book

Movie reviews

Hello!

A few weeks ago, the first live-action fairytale reached theaters (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). Now, let’s talk about this summer movie season’s second feature of this genre – The Jungle Book!

IMDb summary: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

Adaptation from animation

2016’s live action film is an adaptation of the 1967 animated feature, so, in preparation for this year’s film, I revisited the old animated classic. I concluded this: the 2D animation is still beautiful while the story and the premise remain timeless – I mean, who doesn’t like cute talking and singing animals? My favorite moments from the original film are all the elephant sequences (‘an elephant never forgets‘) and, of course, the iconic song – The Bare Necessities. The_Jungle_Book_poster

The character of Mowgli has originally been created by the author Rudyard Kipling in the 19th century. While I don’t remember reading any of his stories as a child, I do recall the times when I used to play a Mowgli video game. I was never much of a gamer and never really had the latest technology to play the games on, but I distinctly remember playing some kind of Mowgli game – I think you had to jump and pick up bananas or something. It was the early 2000s, so the games weren’t as advanced as they are now.

2016’s The Jungle Book is not the first, neither the last time that Hollywood is remaking the original animated picture into a live action feature. Back in 1994, Disney made a live-action version of the story with Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli. In 2018, Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes) will finally release his Jungle Book film – that movie has been pushed back numerous times and will serve as a full directorial debut for Serkis. 2018’s film will also feature a star-studded cast, who will motion capture and voice the animals . However, the 2016’s version also has a bunch of big names, headlining the movie.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

The Jungle Book’s screenplay was written by Justin Marks. Marks doesn’t have any big writing credits on his IMDb page. Nevertheless, he did a really nice job with the story.

To begin with, I don’t think that they changed the original story of the animated picture that much (except the very ending) – they only expanded on it a.k.a. added more details. For example, we found out that elephants were the ones who ‘created’ the jungle. The viewers were also introduced to the ideas of truce at the peace rock during the dry season and the Laws of the jungle. Shere Khan also appeared more consistently throughout the film, instead of just showing up at the end. His plan to get Mowgli to come to him was also a nice addition. Moreover, Mowgli’s parent’s backstory, which involved Shere Khan, added more depth to the characters and made the story more logical. The role of the ‘mother’ wolf was also expanded. The only gripe that I had about the narrative of the film was the question why some animals could talk while others could not.

The human village in the film also had a more prominent role – Mowgli got the fire from that village instead of getting it from the lighting, as in the animated picture. This tiny change made the story more sophisticated and more heartfelt. The film also stressed the importance of team-work, although the individual courage was also praised. The ideas of belonging and searching for identity were also explored.

The only big change that the filmmakers made to the plot was the ending  – Mowgli stayed in the jungle, while he usually goes to live in the human village in other versions of the story. However, since this film earned a lot of money during its opening weekend and the critics are loving it as well, Disney will most definitely make a sequel, so they will probably make Mowgli’s move to the human village – the main plotline of the next film.

Directing

The Jungle Book was directed by Jon Favreau. I am most familiar with his work on Marvel Phase 1 films – Iron Man 1 +2. A few years ago, he also wrote, directed and starred in comedy-drama Chef, which I quite enjoyed. I also recently watched one of Favreau’s earliest films – a Christmas comedy Elf (I did not like that film and found it extremely annoying).

Speaking about Favreau’s work on  The Jungle Book – I think he successfully brought this classic story to life, for a new generation. The film had more action than the original animated feature and the whole plot was very high energy, starting with the opening chase/run. In addition, the visuals of the scenery, as well as the realistic look of the animals, were both amazing – I was extremely impressed with the CGI. My favorite scenic sequences were the sped-up montage of the dry season and the falling waterfalls. All of the animals looked amazing, but I especially liked Baloo’s and Raksha’s spiky and soft fur versus Bagheera’s sleek looking fur. The little wolf Grey was also extremely cute. Plus, the design of the snake – Kaa –  was also pretty spectacular. I mean, that python was huge! The fire sequences, both in Kaa’s story and the 3rd act of the film, were great as well. Lastly, the ending – the closing of the book –  was very reminiscent of the original animated picture’s beginning and ending and was a nice nod to this story’s past. The way they used the visuals of the book during the actual end credits was also quite nice and entertaining way to finish the movie.

Music

John C. Debney scored the film. I really loved the fact they include the iconic ‘The Bare Necessities’ song – it fit nicely into the plot of the film. However, the other song from the original animation – ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’  – felt out of place in the live-action movie. Since this remake was not a musical, I think that one song from the original picture would have been enough. Nevertheless, I did like the end credits song – also from the original animated movie – ‘Trust in Me’ as performed by Scarlett Johansson

Acting

Favreau used computer generated imagery rather than the motion capture technology to bring this story to live, so the majority of the cast only did voice work.

  • Bill Murray as Baloo was the funniest character in the film. He was also very smart and cunning (in a good way). I loved his line about the Law of the Jungle: ‘That’s not a song, that’s propaganda!’ – it was quite an adult humor. However, other Baloo’s lines about hibernation (‘I nap…a lot’) were funny to all age groups. Murray did an amazing job with his voice work.
  • Ben Kingsley (Stonehearst Asylum) as Bagheera was the sassiest character. I especially enjoyed his line about bears and work. Kingley’s voice was very appropriate for the character and I also enjoyed listening to his narration at the beginning of the film.
  • Idris Elba (Beasts of no Nation) as Shere Khan was quite scary and furious villain. I didn’t recognize Elba at first, but his voice was very fitting to the character and really brought the tiger to live. Elba will also be voicing one the characters in the upcoming Finding Dory film.
  • Scarlett Johansson (Marvel) as Kaa was also really good. Johansson’s voice was very haunting, thus, fitting to the snake, who can hypnotize people and animals. Johansson is not a newcomer, when it comes to voice acting – she was the voice of the computer in 2013’s Her and will also be voicing one of the characters in this year’s computer-animated musical comedy Sing.
  • Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars) voiced Raksha and did a great job – her voice was very loving and full of motherly emotions.
  • Giancarlo Esposito (The Scorch Trials) did the voice of Akela, while Christopher Walken (Eddie the Eagle) voiced King Louie – they both did a nice job in a few scenes they had.

The film’s main character was played by a newcomer Neel Sethi. Child actors have been getting better and better every year, so I don’t even think that it is appropriate to call them child actors – they are just actors. I first spotted this change with Jacob Tremblay in Room. Going back to Sethi as Mowgli: he was really really good – he was appropriately annoying yet still likable and funny. He probably spent the majority of his time on set, interacting with fake models and green screens and he still managed to do an amazing job. I wish the brightest future for this young performer.

In short, The Jungle Book was a feel-good film that put a smile on my face. I sincerely think that both adults and kids can enjoy it. It stressed the idea of being yourself no matter where you are by conveying this message through nice dialogue, spectacular visuals and a heartfelt performance of a newcomer lead actor.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: The Jungle Book trailer

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Movie review: Stars Wars The Force Awakens

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of Star Wars The Force Awakens! I have never thought that I will be able to write about a Star Wars film and a new one, nonetheless. Once again, my review will be from a newcomer’s perspective – I have already explained all of this in my preview, which you can read here. So, without further introduction, let’s celebrate Christmas early and review Episode 7!

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

IMDb summary: Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

Atmosphere

Only a few times in my life I have seen the whole cinema cheering and applauding the film even before it has started. That’s exactly what happened in one of the premiere screenings of The Force Awakens in my hometown – as soon as the words ‘A long time ago in the galaxy far far way…’ appeared on screen, the energy of the crowd doubled and it just kept on increasing throughout the whole film. We all said goodbye to this film with another round of applause, of course.

George Lucas

George Lucas is the creator of this universe and he also directed a lot of the Star Wars films. From what I can gather from the Internet (not the most trustworthy source), the fans have this mixed opinion about him: they like him for creating this amazing galaxy but hate him for re-releasing and re-editing the films over and over again. He also doesn’t seem to understand that the fans prefer the practical effects and a great story and not the CGI monsters and walking/sitting/standing exposition. Lastly, the huge difference in quality between the originals and the prequels is also a dividing factor in the fandom and in the image of George Lucas.

My own personal opinion is also mixed. However, I am happy that Lucas was involved and will be involved going forward with the sequel trilogy as creative consultant. It’s his world – let’s let him expand it and make it even cooler. Just don’t give all the power to him.

Directing + Visuals

J.J. Abrams directed the film and he did an amazing job. I was expecting him to nail it and he did not disappoint. The action was great, the establishing shots – breathtaking and the close ups – suspenseful. I loved both the big battles in spaces and the more personal lightsaber fights. The final duel in the woods was wonderful! I hope that Abrams continues to work on the Star Wars films going forward, at least as a producer. He has directed some of my few favorite films (Star Trek and Mission Impossible) and I can’t wait for his next film. BTW, I practically did not notice any lens flares if that bothers you.

Writing + Story + Dialogue

Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt wrote the script for the film with the help of Abrams himself. Kasdan has written Episode 5 and 6 back in the 1980s and is writing the script for the Han Solo spinoff for 2018. Arndt has written a screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine (one of my favorite movies ever) and has worked on a few Pixar films as well as Hunger Games Catching Fire and Oblivion. I really enjoyed the story that they wrote. It was both fresh and familiar. To be fair, quite a few plot points were very similar to the original films – they might have referenced Episodes 4 to 6 a bit too much (especially in the 3rd act), but I still loved every minute of it. I liked how they set up the new characters but were still able to incorporate the old ones. The new characters were just similar enough to the old ones to induce nostalgia, but fresh enough to be interesting. I loved the funny moments as well. They were organic and fit the occasion. My favorite ones were the thumbs up and the reveal of the Millennium Falcon. The revelation of the family relation was not as surprising this time (we were all expecting something similar), but it was amazing nonetheless. In addition, the film left lots of gaps in a story, which the fans can fill in themselves and speculate – that’s part of the fun. The prequels hit the viewers with tons of boring exposition, but the sequels do not seem to be following the same path. Also, on a side note, John Williams’s score was glorious once again.
Acting/Character by character

The new trio:

  • Daisy Ridley as Rey – she is definitely my favorite female character of 2015 (even better than Furiosa, although I really loved Theron in Mad Max). Rey was young and independent, strong and vulnerable, a bad-ass fighter and a good friend. If I ever need a costume for Halloween or if I ever get a chance to go to a comic con, I’m definitely dressing up as her. Lastly, I cannot not speculate – I think she is Kylo’s sister and a Rey Solo – how else could the force be strong with her? However, she also might be a Skywalker or a Kenobi. I guess we will just have to wait and see. Daisy Ridley  has not starred in any big films before but she played an amazing lead. I couldn’t be happier that this actress will be the one taking us on the journey in the galaxy far far way in the near future and I also am excited for her other projects (if she has any time for them).
  • John Boyega as Finn – another amazing lead. I liked how we finally were able to have stormtrooper (or a former one) as a lead. I, personally, have always thought about stormtroopers as soulless tools of the Empire (or the First Order), so it was really nice to be proven wrong. Boyega did a really good job with his action scenes – he was just the right amount of clumsy and funny. Boyega does not have a long list of films on his resume as well, however, I think he has a bright future ahead.
  • Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron – another amazing character who I can’t wait to know more about. He was extremely likable and a really efficient pilot. I hope he gets a bigger character arc in the sequel. I also want more scenes with him and Finn (bromance shippers- the Tumblr is yours). Isaac was the most experienced actor out of the new trio. I have seen a few of his films – Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina – I especially loved the second one. Oscar Isaac will also play Apocalypse in the upcoming X-Men film – I can’t imagine him as a villain and can’t wait to see that film because of that.

The old trio – it was amazing to see all of them coming back for this film – and they actually had some stuff to do and weren’t just there for emotional purposes (although, for that also).

  • Harrison Ford as Han Solo – I liked Ford’s take on Solo one last time. He played an older, wiser Han, however, he was still the smuggler that we all knew and loved. The scene on that bridge broke my heart and I think I wasn’t the only one weeping in the cinema.
  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker – while he personally didn’t have much to do, he was the thing driving the plot. His meeting with Rey at the end of the film was really great – it had no dialogue but was still very powerful. I hope he comes back for another film (he probably will and will have a much bigger part in it).
  • Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa – while Fisher is known online for being a tough actress to work with, I still love her as Leia. She also played a different kind of Leia – Leia in her next stage of life. Fisher’s and Ford’s scenes together were as amazing as 30 years before – they haven’t lost any chemistry.

Villains:

  • Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was a really good antagonist. He received a lot of development and had lots of emotional depth. He has defeated his father and I can’t wait to see his confrontation with his uncle and a former teacher. I was really surprised that they  allowed Kylo Ren to take his mask off in the first film – I was expecting them to keep this reveal for at least the sequel. Speaking about the actor portraying Kylo – I am not really familiar with his work but can see him getting lots of work after this movie.
  • Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke – the king of motion capture captures not only motion but our attention once more. I think he will be a great ‘big bad’ for the sequel trilogy. I am also really looking forward to other motion capture roles by Serkis – the 3rd Planet of the Apes film and Jungle Book.
  • Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux – was a surprisingly big character. I think Gleeson did a really nice job, although, I don’t see his character surviving till the last film. I have seen a few of Gleeson’s films and liked all of them (mainly Anna Karenina and Unbroken). He has also starred in Brooklyn this year and will also be seen in The Revenant.
  • Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma – the only disappointment of the whole film. I was expecting her to have a bigger part but she had like 3 lines and a few insignificant scenes. I hope they fix her character in the sequel. This is the 2nd time that I expect Christie to have a proper role in the film and am left only with disappointment – the first time was Mockingjay Part 2.

Supporting cast:

  • Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata, a pirate – although there have been rumors floating around that Nyong’o was almost cut from the film, because her motion capture skills were not good enough, I believe that she did an amazing job. I really like the design of the character, especially the eyes and the goggles, but even the most amazing visual design would have been worth nothing without the amazing acting of Lupita. I hope we get a chance to visit Maz in the other movies going forward. Next year, we will hear Lupita in The Jungle Book.
  • Also, I really liked the new droid – BB-8 – it was so cute. In addition, I liked seeing the familiar faces of R2-D2 and C-3PO. Lastly, I am not that familiar with biology or anatomy of the Wookiees, but Chewbacca has not aged a day – could you imagine Chewie with gray hair – I mean all of it…

Future

In 2016,  we will be getting the first standalone/spin-off film – Rogue One and a year after that Episode 8 will reach theaters. While I am definitely happy that Star Wars franchise is back, I am a bit worried that if the market gets over-saturated with Star Wars films, they quality will diminish once more and that they will become a less special event – just an ordinary sci-fi film. However, I want to keep an open mind and hope for the best.

All in all, Star Wars The Force Awakens was a great film. I felt included in the experience of watching it, although I didn’t have any nostalgic connections with the previous films. I still can’t believe that it’s Star Wars and it’s back! Everything – the story, the visuals and the characters were just the right amount of familiar and newly exciting. If you have any worries that this film won’t be good, just drop them and go to see it with a calm heart and mind. It is amazing and is definitely worthy of breaking all the box office records.

Trailer: Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer

Rate: 5/5

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MTV Movie Awards 2014

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On Sunday (April 13th) MTV Movie Awards 2014 happened. I am going to do my little review of this award show. I usually watch every award show that airs on TV, starting with Academy Awards and ending with Kids’ Choice. Speaking about this year, in my opinion, MTV went all out with the scene decorations and set building. The host, Connan O’Brien wouldn’t be my first choice, but he did a pretty good job. I would rate these awards 4/5, just because there were no shocking or really memorable moments (remember Miley on last years VMAs?).

My awards to awards:

*Favorite category : Movie of the Year. I loved the fact that Hunger Games won and that I got to see Josh Hutcherson and Sam Claflin both on stage. I was surprised that Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t attending.

*Favorite Speech: Jared Leto. I loved his speech at the Academy Awards as well as this one. His quotes are really inspiring. “Love who you want to love, live how you wish to live and never let anyone ever stop you from turning your dreams into your reality.”

*Favorite moment: A tribute to Paul Walker. I still cannot believe that this actor is no longer with us. I loved him in every Fast and Furious movie. My dad and I watched every single one a million times. And his philanthropy work with Reach Out Worldwide also shows, that a world lost an amazing, kind and truthful person, which we all gonna remember with smile.

*Favorite performance : Rihanna and Eminem – Monster. I like this song, but haven’t really listened to it non-stop, so I guess I am not bored of it like everyone else. Watch that performance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5p1sLl5bR34

*Favorite Surprise: Orlando Bloom. He rarely attends these kind of awards shows and I was really happy to see him. He plays my favorite character of all time – Legolas –  in Lord of the rings and the Hobbit. I love elf’s, because they are smart, loyal, beautiful, great fighters and they live for a long time. Who doesn’t want a life like that?

*Best dressed – Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong’o (in Karl Lagerfeld).

slide_345412_3613986_free2014 MTV Movie Awards - Press Room(Getty Images)

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