Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

© Marvel Studios

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Film Review

Cast: Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman

Director:  Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: Following the passing of King T’Challa, the nation of Wakanda finds itself increasingly isolated and weakened as it faces a new threat in the form of Namor, the leader of an all-powerful underwater nation…

Review: It would be something of an understatement to say making a film is a massive undertaking which requires a herculean amount of effort from a troop of people both in front of and behind the camera, especially for a tentpole blockbuster. However, for the sequel to 2018’s phenomenally successful Black Panther, the typical challenges facing the cast and crew were compounded by the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020. The passing of the man who brought so much to a role which meant so much to millions of fans across the world, it begged the question as to how on earth could director Ryan Coogler and his crew overcome such a heart-breaking loss? It is therefore to their immense credit they have overcome the most devastating of obstacles to produce a film which not only beautifully honours Boseman’s legacy but delivers a worthy sequel to one of the best films in the MCU.

The nation of Wakanda finds itself in mourning following after their beloved King T’Challa dies from a mysterious illness. One year later, after a funeral and a beautiful celebration of his life, his sister Shuri (Wright) is struggling to come to terms with her loss and chooses to keep herself occupied with the Wakandan technology she pioneered. However, Wakanda finds itself under increasing scrutiny from the rest of the world which wants to see the country share its resources, most notably vibranium, putting pressure on Ramonda (Bassett) who has become Queen following T’Challa’s passing. However, the Wakandans face a further challenge when they encounter the ruthless Namor (Huerta), the leader of the underwater nation of Talokan, who is determined to wage war on all of the countries on the surface.

The task facing Coogler and his fellow screenwriter Joe Robert Cole to honour the legacy of Boseman in this sequel was an unenviable one, to say the least. Death is something we as human beings will all have to grapple with at some point in our lives. The grief and personal pain we experience when someone we love departs this world varies from person to person, and the screenplay offers a profoundly moving story which analyses how the grief and pain we endure manifests itself in individuals, whilst simultaneously illustrating the power of communities coming together to pay their respects to those who have passed on. It enables the performances of the characters, especially those of Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett, to flourish as their grief over the loss of their brother and son is raw, powerful and extremely emotional. We, as the audience, are grieving for them, and with them. As a result, their stories understandably take centre stage, but it does mean returning characters such as Nakia (Nyong’o), Okoye (Guiria) and M’Baku (Duke) feel somewhat underutilised.

Aside from the deeply personal tragedies facing its characters, in the same vein as its predecessor, Wakanda Forever also brilliantly factors geopolitical issues into its story. The first film grappled with Wakanda’s decision to hide itself and its resources away from the rest of the world. However, without their ruler and protector, the Wakandans are much more vulnerable, and this is something the rest of the world is keen to exploit. Consequently, this only causes Wakanda to find itself increasingly more isolated, which is where Namor, the leader of the underwater nation of Talokan comes in. In the same vein as Killmonger, Namor is a compelling villain, with a fascinating backstory. He too leads a nation which is isolated from the rest of the world, but one which is also steeped with resources and considerable military strength, which makes for a fascinating dynamic between Namor and the Wakandans, and Huerta’s performance is extremely captivating.

Returning costume designer Ruth Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler once again do a magnificent job of bringing Wakanda and Talokan to life, and while the first film’s cinematographer Rachel Morrison does not return for the sequel, Loki cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw steps up to the plate magnificently. The film can feel a little long in places and certain aspects of the film could arguably have been left on the cutting room floor. However, after the last few MCU films have been grappling with the concept of the multiverse and lots of big CGI battles, it is a refreshing change of pace to see Wakanda Forever dial this back to allow the characters and their journeys to take centre stage. This isn’t to say that there is no CGI battle, because it would not be an MCU film without one, and Coogler’s direction remains marvellous and the visual effects have considerably improved this time around.

It is next to impossible to imagine how tough it must have been for the cast and crew every day during production. However, in the face of such devastating tragedy, they have ensured Phase 4 of the MCU closes with one of its best films and serves as a fitting dedication to the legacy of Chadwick Boseman, who through his immense body of work, will live on in the hearts and minds of millions of fans forever.

Through unimaginably difficult circumstances, Wakanda Forever is a moving sequel, delivering a poignant reflection on grief and tragedy while serving as a beautiful and emotional tribute to the wonderful legacy of Chadwick Boseman. 

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Us (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Monkeypaw Productions and Blumhouse Pictures

Us – Film Review

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss

Director: Jordan Peele

Synopsis: As they relax during a summer vacation, a family’s holiday quickly turns to a nightmare when they receive some unwelcome, and very familiar, looking guests at their home…

Review: For someone who made their name for many years as one half of a very successful comedy duo, Jordan Peele’s career has gone in quite a different direction in recent years. As he has made the transition from comedy, to film-maker pretty seamlessly. After the success of the unnerving and furiously relevant Get Out, which bagged him a much deserved Oscar, Peele is back to terrify audiences once again.

At the centre of this new nightmare is Adelaide (Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Duke), and their two kids Zora (Joseph) and Jason (Alex), setting off for a vacation to their summer home. All appears to be going swimmingly with the family enjoying themselves. Not long after arriving however, the holiday goes a bit awry, when some visitors arrive unannounced. It quickly dawns on them that these people, who bear something of a close resemblance to themselves, have got some sinister motivations. Thus a deeply unnerving ordeal lies in wait, and the family find themselves in a fierce battle to stay alive, a battle literally against themselves.

Like with Get Out, there is a vast amount of subtext and deeper meanings to Peele’s screenplay that are definitely intended to mess with your mind. It’s not quite as politically charged as his previous film, but nevertheless Peele isn’t afraid to get across some dark and disturbing symbolism. He shines a light on humanity, and the human condition, which can be open to a lot of different interpretations, chief among them being is humanity its own worst enemy? This is far more than your typical home invasion film, and Peele’s direction in these intense dramatic scenes is masterful. Even with the haunting score from Michael Abels and Mike Gioulakis’s ominous cinematography, it’s proof if needed that you can make anything scary if you want to. You will never look at red overalls and scissors in the same way ever again.

To be asked play two very different versions of yourself cannot be an easy task for any actor, but it’s a task that every member of this family rises to in spectacular, and haunting fashion. Lupita Nyong’o has proven herself in the past to be a fantastic actress, but here she gives maybe the performance of her career as both she and her doppelganger counterpart are the leaders of their families. After his hilarious turn in Black Panther, Winston Duke is on hand to provide the comedy, and he does so brilliantly. When adding comedy into a horror story, it can be extremely problematic as it can negate the horror elements of the story, but Peele’s background in comedy ensures that the film stays on track.

Despite a mere two films under his belt as a director, Peele has in the last couple of years gone from strength to strength. It’s one thing to make your first film to be eerie, enthralling, extremely well layered and thought provoking in terms of its themes. Yet to follow that up with another equally thematically deep and haunting film is a resounding testament to Peele’s remarkable talents as a writer and a director. Get Out was by no means a fluke, and now audiences, especially fans of the horror genre (and their doppelgangers) have a new name to hail as a horror film-making force to be reckoned with.

 Brilliantly tense performance(s) across the board, especially from Nyong’o, Peele further enhances his reputation as a horror maestro with a suspenseful and thought-provoking sophomore feature.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Black Panther (2018)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Black Panther – Film Review

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyongo’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Director: Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa returns to his homeland of Wakanda, to be crowned King. Yet as he seeks to continue the Black Panther legacy, challenges to his rule begin to emerge…

Review: For all the might and marvel that the MCU has built and delivered to audiences all around the world, there was always something missing from this vast and enthralling universe. No, not a female led superhero film (though that is on its way), but a film that taps into a vast culture that up until now hadn’t really been explored. A culture that encompasses the beautiful continent of Africa, and all the beauty it has to offer. Indeed, little Easter Eggs were placed in earlier films but now at long last, it takes centre stage.

Following on from the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to his home of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa that has chosen to shield itself and its absolutely awesome technology away from the world. However, trouble is brewing for T’Challa as events from the past are threatening to reap terrible consequences on Wakanda and its people. All the while, T’Challa must balance his duties as the King of his country, whilst also being the iconic Black Panther, being a King is sometimes not the great thing it is so often cracked up to be.

After reinvigorating the Rocky franchise so succesfully with Creed, Ryan Coogler takes on what his comfortably his largest project to date. Yet much like Taika Waititi before him, he brings his own sense of style to the story and indeed to the wider Marvel Universe. The work that is done to establish this world of Wakanda is so breath-taking and done in such a vivid manner, it feels like it almost could be a place on this planet, which regrettably it is not. Of course it being an MCU film certain things are almost guaranteed to be present, such as the humour. While a few jokes can be hit or miss, for the most part, the humour adds to the scenes but never compromises the experience of what is ultimately a very personal story about a man, his duty to his country, and to his family, and what that means to his country.

Ready to pounce…

Speaking of which, Boseman continues his excellent work as both the man and the hero, but special mention must go Letitia Wright as the King’s technological whizkid of a sister, Shuri. She has all the technological toys that she and her brother get to utilise, and their chemistry is excellent. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is also on excellent form as the tough warrior Nakia, as is Danai Gurira as the head of the Dora Milaje, a fearsome squad of badass female warriors serving Wakanda. This cast packs plenty of stars and nearly all of them really get their moment in the spotlight. Coogler’s muse though seems to be Michael B Jordan, and as Erik Killmonger, he comes across as a strong villain who’s well fleshed out, and you fully understand his motivations.

Re-teaming with his cinematographer from Fruitvale Station, and recent first time Oscar nominee for cinematography  Rachel Morrison, the film is beautifully shot with stunning shots of the Wakanda landscape. There are more than a few insanely good action sequences to relish but the film is not reliant on these to tell the story and let the audience have fun. The deeply personal story that Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole craft is what makes this story so invigorating. It has central themes that will hit home with any and all who watch it. It’s extremely relevant and important film-making in this respect, and for Marvel to continue to break new barriers, after an incredible 18 films into their Universe, is an important and remarkable achievement.

 A gripping personal story, packed with vibrant colours and costumes, terrific characters and a fascinating look into a breath-taking civilisation, it’s another landmark achievement for the MCU. Wakanda forever!

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

12 Years A Slave (2013)

Image rights belong to Fox Searchlight Pictures, Entertainment One, Regency Enterprises, River Road Entertainment, Plan B, New Regency, Film4
Image is property of Fox Searchlight Pictures, Entertainment One, Regency Enterprises, River Road Entertainment, Plan B, New Regency, Film4

12 Years A Slave – Film Review

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulsen, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Paul Giamtatti, Brad Pitt

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis:  The extraordinary true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in the United States who is one day deceived, abducted and sold into slavery, facing the remaining years of his life in captivity.

Review: The slave trade is a dark part of the history of the United States and rarely, if ever, has a film captured the sheer brutality and injustices that existed within this vile trade. Previous films have glossed over these details. However,  in this heartbreaking true story, it absolutely does not hold back in showing to the audience the horrific hardships and cruelty that people endured as a result of this barbaric business.

Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) along with an adapted screenplay from Solomon Northup’s memoirs by John Ridley, gives us a moving and powerful telling of the story of one man’s struggles against slavery that went on for more than a decade. Solomon Northup, a talented violinist who when offered work in Washington DC, is tricked and sold into slavery.  McQueen does not deceive the audience by sugar-coating the situation. He shows the horrendous treatment that Northup received once he had been sold into slavery. Locked in a tiny cell, in chains, intense whippings, and made to work for long hours by malicious and evil people that took great pleasure in beating these people up. Furthermore, the terrible abuse and hardships that these people suffered at the hands of slave owners has rarely been put onto the big screen. There is no hiding from the situation, it is in your face and it reminds you from a very early point in the film that this trade was monstrous and brutal and even now, it still leaves its mark on the people of the USA in particular.

The acting on offer here is among the best acting to appear on the big screen in 2013. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a fantastic performance as Solomon Northup. In the early scenes, he is a man who is free to do as he pleases, but then he wrongly becomes a captive man. His body language once he has been captured breaks your heart as it displays a man who is broken, devastated by the fact that he has lost his freedom. From a mere  look in his eyes, he is a man who despairs  in the fact that he is more than likely to be a slave until his death. Michael Fassbender collaborated with McQueen in both of his previous films. He appears here as the malicious slave owner Edwin Epps. A man who believes it is his right to beat and torture his slaves as he believes they are his “property.”

There is no restraint on his part and he viciously takes it out on slaves who dare to defy him. Patsey, played by newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is one of those slaves who feels the full force of Epps’ cruelty. Everyone in the film was phenomenal but Fassbender, Ejiofor and Nyong’o were the stand-out performances and all three have landed Oscar nominations in the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, and all deservedly so.

When watching this film, some may draw comparisons between this and Django UnchainedWhile it can be argued that Epps is like Calvin Candie from Django Unchained, Epps is a far more realistic representation of a slave owner.  Django Unchained was undoubtedly a very enjoyable film. However, it used slavery as a backdrop to give a signature Tarantino style story about vengeance, filled with dramatic violence. It did really illustrate story of  the brutality of slavery, certainly not to the level that McQueen does.

On the other hand, 12 Years A Slave is a hard-hitting, disturbing story. It captures the awful situation that many black people found themselves in during this period, and really illustrates the brutal nature of this business. This film has a great chance of winning some Oscars this March, with a total of nine nominations and it deserves every one. It is being tipped by many to win this year’s coveted Best Picture Oscar.  It is a film that should be shown to every pupil learning about slavery in school and a film for everyone to remind them of the inhumane slave trade. It is by no means an easy watch and some scenes are particularly horrific in nature. Nevertheless, it is a very moving and very powerful film that will have you thinking about it for a long time once you have finished watching it.

The film is dark, and is not a pleasant watch for sure, but the brilliant acting and emotional story make it a must see.

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