Tag Archives: sequel

Black Panther

[4.5 stars}

This last year in film (and the world) has been one of evolution and, in some cases, revolution. With Black Panther, director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (Creed), has managed to both stick to the Marvel vision of super hero mythologies and remake them all at once. Like Wonder Woman (but with a better script), Black Panther is loaded with strong and smart female heroes as well as showing us a new view and venue for a story, never once touching down in the USA ( except for flashback and tag). It is also unabashedly fits into our current times, commenting upon world politics and the challenges that face the world. Oh, and it is also a hell of a lot of fun.

And Coogler managed to do all that while building on the tiny threads we’ve been getting about Wakanda, and amplifying smaller characters like Andy Serkis’s (War for the Planet of the Apes) Klaue and looping in Martin Freeman’s (Sherlock) Agent Ross. Of course we’d already met Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War), but we knew very little about him until now.

Now we see Boseman as a child and in his kingdom. He is surrounded by strong women without whom he would die more than once: Lupita Nyong’o (Queen of Katwe) as his top spy and love interest, Danai Gurira (The Visitor) as his General, Letitia Wright (Humans) as his scientist/sister, and Angela Bassett (Survivor, Chi-Raq) as his mother are all loaded with responsibility, brains, guts, and brawn. They all also have a healthy sense of humor and humanity about their young King; he doesn’t get a free ride anywhere. Each has some challenging storylines of their own, particularly Gurira.

There are also some standout performances in his retinue and world from Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Florence Kasumba (Emerald City),  Winston Duke (Person of Interest), and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us).

But every hero must have his nemesis, and Michael B. Jordan (Creed) brings it with incredible style and ability. Jordan’s storyline, like the rest of the script, is far from simple. He also serves as an oddly uncomfortable voice for politics and society today while hearkening back through various movements of the last 40 years (and more).

I saw this in IMAX, which was glorious, but it is also the reason I had to ding the rating of the film. As good and fun as the script is, Coogler doesn’t quite know how to film up-close fight scenes for the truly big screen. He was a bit too close and cutting far too quickly in many cases, making what were clearly good choreographed scenes a blur. I plan on catching the film again on a standard screen, though probably not 3D, before too long. I’m curious to see if that will help with some of the issues.

So go see this, for so many reasons: great script and story, great humor, incredible visuals and action, and the shattering of many walls. I don’t know where they’ll take this in future, but Black Panther has earned his place among the Avengers as well as film history.

Black Panther

The Cloverfield Paradox

[3 stars]

At the end of last year, Netflix stepped afield from original and purchased series programming and entered the big-budget feature game with Bright. It wasn’t an instant classic, but it was a shot across the bow of the current film distribution system and raised the bar in some ways for its pure streaming competitors.

This latest feature had a surprising trajectory that may remake the release landscape yet again. Bright was bought early in its inception  band guided by Netflix. In the case of Cloverfield, what was supposed to be a big theatrical release this April got picked up and near-instantly released by Netflix. Mind you, there are reasons it was available for such a purchase, but it speaks both to the power of the streaming giant and the new thinking of studios who are scared of losing money.

The movie itself, even with its flaws, is certainly on par with a lot of what hits the big screen; a low bar, I know. It parallels the Cloverfield universe, offering up (perhaps) some answers to where we left it off in 10 Cloverfield Lane.  And it tackles the story with the expected bad science fiction the series has embraced, and a great cast.

And the cast is probably one of the more surprising aspects of the story. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Miss Sloane) drives this tale with incredible and complex (and occasionally questionable) emotional and intellectual strength. David Oyelowo (Queen of Katwe), as well, brings a command and depth to his performance. Daniel Brühl (Burnt) is a bit forced, but commits to his part of the story. The same is true for Ziyi Zhang (The Grandmaster), Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), as well as the relatively unknown (in the US) Roger Davies. Chris O’Dowd (Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children) is the odd man out in the cast personality-wise. He works, but mostly as delightfully understated comic relief. He isn’t a particularly credible crew member, but then again, none of them are. The most abused by the bad aspects of the script was Aksel Hennie (The Martian), whose taciturn Russian was way too cookie-cutter.

As his second feature, director Julius Onah shows some solid promise controlling big stories. He built a good path in terms of energy and flow and elicited some real emotion in the middle of what is arguably just a horror film on the order of Event Horizon. The real weakness was Oren Uziel’s (Shimmer Lake) script, which had unrealistic characters as well as forced and unexplained plot trajectories and moments. Fun? Sure…and O’Dowd got to take the most advantage of that…but completely inconsistent in ways that just left too many questions rather than a sense of something happening. For all its absurdity, Life at least had their astronauts behave like astronauts and their creature obey some set of definable rules.

Netflix still doesn’t quite know how to produce a solid feature-length film, but they’re learning and getting to use some impressive name dropping to keep it going until they do. I’ve seen way (way) worse on the big screen over the last year, and this is a perfectly fun and distracting entertainment with a couple really good performances.

Ultimately, and not unsurprisingly, there are more Cloverfield stories to come. Overlord is due in October this year to continue the universe (or so it’s rumored). What dropping a critical installment of this sequence of films straight to streaming will do to the franchise will be an interesting story to follow.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

[2.5 stars]

With most of the stoopid science behind them, this finale is basically a lot of great action sequences, with a couple good moments, and some questionable script and acting. Enough for an evening’s entertainment? Well, that would be up to you. The ride, from the get go, is pretty unrelenting. As a story, this popcorner held together way better than the first two; motivations were mostly clear and mostly made sense. Satisfying? Eh. I never was able to read past the first book of the series myself (the science and plot were just so poorly thought through), so I’m clearly not the target audience.

You may have noticed I used “mostly” a good deal in my comments. There are still some truly horrendous moments of bad science, plotting, and dialogue. However, relative to its earlier installments, it is a huge leap forward.

What is sad is that these young actors, from Dylan O’Brien (The First Time), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones), Will Poulter (The Revenant), Rosa Salazar (The Scorch Trials), Ki Hong Lee (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales),  to the adults Giancarlo Esposito (Money Monster), Patricia Clarkson (Learning to Drive), Barry Pepper (The Lone Ranger), Aidan Gillen (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), and Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) are all capable. Of this rather packed list, only Salazar, Esposito and Goggins have any real moments in the final cut and they are minor characters. The rest are just going through their paces and getting through the script. They aren’t awful, but nothing pops out as emotionally effective, which is a crime at the end of a trilogy. You may have hated how Hunger Games finaled, but you can’t claim it didn’t have emotional punch.

There are also a few craft issues. First and foremost, directors have to learn that when you’re going to do an IMAX release, that any hand-held camera work you have should be cut by 30%-50% from what you think you want to do. The size of the screen amplifies movement and a shaky cam gets quickly unwatchable. Maze isn’t the first offender, or even the worst (which was Hunger Games), but somehow it still keeps happening. Then there were the costuming issues. Let’s just say that the lower class and the kids were way too clean and crisp for people living in the streets and that having female scientists in 4″ heels was, well, a bit out of touch these days (forgetting how absurd it was).

If you’re hooked or a mega-fan, you’ll probably enjoy this wind up. Frankly, as a film series, I’d have liked to see at least an attempt at a better script and more than a passing attempt to make a movie rather than a glorified and stitched together series of action sequences. If there is anything that films like Jumanji have taught the industry in the last year, you can have your cake and eat it too when it comes to silly action films. A good script pays massive dividends; pretty pictures alone only works some of the time (witness films like Avatar). While Death Cure didn’t make me wish for the big sleep, I can’t say I’d ever need to see this hobbled piece of trifle again.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Travelers (series 1 & 2)

[3 stars]

I didn’t write up the first series of Travelers because, well, it was just pretty typical Canadian science fiction. And, yes, that is an identifiable genre at this point. Think things like Continuum, Dark Matter, 4400, Lost GirlKilljoys, Orphan Black, Warehouse 13, Sanctuary. Some good some bad, but they all share some base sensibilities. Their stories tend to be rushed or shorthanded, the casting often shared among shows, the production qualities uneven, but often slick. The humor tends to be broad. The cinematography often feels overly polished (oh, and lots of smoke and alleyways). There is also a perceptible difference between BC and Ontario productions, but I won’t belabor this conversation. Almost all are entertaining enough to survive at least a few seasons, but don’t rise to classic status. And then there is the exception that proves the rule: Stargate SG-1 (the other spinoffs fall more in the main category). Most do, however, get a solid cult or fan-base dedicated to them. Certainly, I watch enough of them myself.

But back to Travelers. It has an intriguing, if not new, idea and some good complications for its characters. It does suffer from the uber-conspiracy approach, but it also tries to make it work in their favor without becoming “everyone is evil and can’t be trusted.”

They also pulled together a pretty solid cast, led by Eric McCormack (Will & Grace). A number of recurring characters are familiar faces such as Ian Tracey, Amanda Tapping, Teryl Rothery, and, probably the best of the bunch in terms of part, Patrick Gilmore (SGU Stargate Universe). Given the involvement of Tapping and Stargate creator Brad Wright, the sensibility of the show shouldn’t be surprising, but it still hasn’t quite found the magic of his biggest hit.

So why write this up at all now?  Travelers managed something most shows really can’t: it survived its first season and actually improved in it is second (at least until the very end). And it is that hiccup at the end that drove me to write it all up. The first series was a good setup with some nice individual tales and a crazy cliffhanger for a finale. Generally uneven, but interesting enough to keep me coming back. It thought through some of the science and issues (though not all) and tried to tackle some very tangled morals in the process. The second series adds some new explanations and complications. And while the season as a whole is true to its arc, I really disliked the conclusion. The finale choices aren’t well considered nor sustainable for the characters or the show.

I will be back for the next round, assuming they are renewed. The improvements from 1 to 2 give me hope. Hopefully they can break the mold and find a more sustainable path. If not, it remains a reasonable distraction as part of your Netflix subscription. I just always want a bit more when I can see potential.


Pitch Perfect 3

[3 stars]

Threequels are a conundrum. Unless the trilogy is planned in advance, the subsequent stories feel like random, episodic silliness. For all its entertainment value, Pitch Perfect 3 is pretty much in that category. It manages to give all the characters a nice round-up and send off, but they really had to stretch to find a new storyline. At least having the continued involvement of Kay Cannon as one of the writers kept the characters consistent.

But you don’t come to a movie like this for great film making, you come for the music and the comedy and there is a lot of both. Overall, it lands somewhere between the first and second movies in quality. The humor remains pretty slap-stick, but it seems to come to more of a point than in the other two films. Oddly, the singing has less of a point or plot focus, though it is just as good and toe-tapping as ever.

If you enjoyed the first two films, you’ll like this third. There are some fun surprises and performers to keep it fresh and alive, and there is even some action to liven it all up.

Pitch Perfect 3

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (Christmas 2017)

[4.5 stars]

Well, it was a long slog getting to this finale, starting back with the opening frames of World Enough and Time last season and then getting teased at the end of The Doctor Falls at the end of series 10.  But it definitely paid off. This farewell to Moffat as writer and show-runner, not to mention Capaldi as the Doctor, is poignant, well crafted, and full of nice moments. And, yes, probably a few mistakes in history and dropping of some threads regarding The Mastress. Having Rachel Talalay direct the entire through-line certainly helped keep it all steady in look and feel.

The impact of this sequence aside, it was also just a really good Who episode and not overly Christmas-y. In the best way it integrated the holiday for those who wanted it without making it the focus of the story in a way that pushed away others. The bridging plot of Mark Gatiss’s (queers.) character made that both possible and wonderful. And the “return” of Hartnell’s original Who, through the capable hands of  Game of Thrones alum David Bradley, was surprisingly effective. I also want to call out some great editing and camerawork that helped on that point, especially the cuts from past to present and back again.

Overall, this was a wonderfully strong ending for a Doctor who should have had a longer run. And, as I’ve railed over the last few years, a better set of scripts. I am looking forward to seeing where the show goes now with Chris Chibnall at the helm. Chibnall has a wide-ranging background and a series of critical and popular hits under his belt and a clear love of the Who universe. He is likely to bring a darker view, and a more science fiction approach back to the show. But he is also getting to blaze new ground and was left with one heck of a cliff hanger…one that mirrors the arrival of Matt Smith who was also brought new direction to the series.

All in all, a great ending to a mixed run by Moffat and a satisfying close to the Capaldi years, despite wondering what might of been.

Doctor Who

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

[4 stars]

OK, I admit it, I was surprised. Seriously surprised. This long-coming sequel (third if you count Zathura: A Space Adventure) wasn’t really something I felt I would need to see, but I ended up going on a lark.

There are multiple things that really made this movie succeed. First the script is very clever, even if it missed hitting some obvious jokes for the geek crowd. But mainly it is thought through and uses just about everything in clever ways, especially near the top in showing us how the new Jumanji works.

Jake Kasdan’s direction is also nicely done, keeping the adults on an even keel and focused on their particular realities. Well, most of them anyway; and this is the last critical piece that makes this film a great romp. These are the kinds of parts that play directly to the acting and comedic strengths of Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch) , Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) , and Jack Black (Goosebumps). They embraced their teenagehood and awkwardness and managed to get us to see enough of a ghost of the kids inside to enjoy their discoveries. Nick Jonas ( did fine with his role; it wasn’t complex or brilliant, but it certainly met the needs. And Bobby Cannavale (The Fundamentals of Caring) got to chew up some serious scenery as their nemesis. Only Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer), drops the ball on the acting. He is funny and, at turns, very real, but he kept falling back on his shtick… shtick that didn’t really match his IRL counterpart.

OK, yes, the “life lessons” are slapped on with a heavy hand. And, yes, it is sometimes a little too easy, but it is a video game after all. Ultimately, though, there was enough time in this movie to allow it to breathe and be more than just slap-dash action flick. Even when some of the effects get a bit cheap, the story and characters carry it along nicely.

This is a guaranteed crowd and family pleaser with enough PG humor to keep it interesting for anyone above the age of 15 and with enough risk and action to keep it from being too predictable. Go and have some fun with this. It isn’t the best film you’ll see this year, but it is way better written than latest Star Wars and, frankly, entertained me more.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

[3.5 stars]

A really mixed bag, this one is (in my best Yoda voice). When it is good, it is really pretty good, but when it isn’t, well, it really isn’t. I wasn’t expecting that result given writer/director Rian Johnson’s (Looper) track record.  He is a great and unique storyteller, able to make complex, character-filled plots sing. I don’t want to say he was my last hope, but it was certainly a big plus for me. What he delivered has an odd, uneven patchwork feel to it rather than the perfect constructions he usually delivers.

The sensibility oscillates between kid film and adult, with very little apology or transition. Silly, empty moments with animals and laughs are interludes or intercuts between, and even amidst, complex emotional story moments and revelations. Only once do those animals have a real part to play. The rest are just there for show.

Additionally, while some of the plotting is told in new and interesting ways, other plot branches are literally dead ends. Anathema in writing, and I’d expect better from Rian Johnson. These latter branches literally go nowhere and serve no purpose other than to give characters we know something to do in this sprawling second installment of the new epic. This was particularly true for the entire John Boyega (Attack the Block), Kelly Marie Tran, and Benicio Del Toro (Song to Song) sequence. It makes the movie as a whole a fairly empty and frustrating experience, despite the few very good moments.

There isn’t even a main character for this film. That, in and of itself, could work as an ensemble, but in this case it simply muddied the waters. It really isn’t Daisy Ridely’s (Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens) film this time. It seems to want to be more Oscar Isaac’s (X-Men: Apocalypse). But it isn’t his either, nor is it cleanly Adam Driver’s (Logan Lucky). If anyone, it is probably more Mark Hamill’s (Sushi Girl) tale than anyone’s, simple because he has a cleaner storyline to follow and much of the action revolves around him.

I’m beginning to believe that the real problem with Star Wars is that, like Peter Pan, it just doesn’t want to grow up. We’re getting very little that is new. So much is recycled, not just homage or reflection but actual transposed fights and dialog (or close enough). Plot points and characters repeat, which I know is partially the idea, but c’mon already, we’ve seen so much of this; surprise me already.

Part of the magic of the first trilogy (eps 4,5,6) was the cast. The return of Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher (Catastrophe) was certainly a gift. Hamill, in particular, gets to expand his character in this trilogy. But there is still no one in this new series that has the charisma and presence of that cast. It makes the jokes fall flat and the catharsis fizzle. There is no epic journey, simply a big, noisy story. I’m not saying they’re bad actors, they just don’t have that spark, that magic that makes them bigger than they are. Johnson’s take on the tale come closer to bringing this out than others have, but it still misses the mark.

I was actually primed for this installment of Star Wars specifically because of Johnson’s involvement. Sadly, the resulting film only feels about half his, with the other half being driven by a misplaced nostalgia and the studio quants who wanted to sell toys. Even the 3D felt bolted on and unnecessary. It adds a minimal amount to your experience, though it is probably the only way to see it on a really big screen, so the extra cost is up to you.

OK, reality: it is going to make a mint. You’re likely going to see it, either because you want to or because you have kids or friends that insist that you do. It is a visual ride, with some incredible locations selected. There are moments in there that are really, really good, and there is stuff to build on into the final installment. But, frankly, it isn’t a great film, just a reasonable (not even brilliant) entertainment. It has nods to previous Star Wars movies as well as inside winks to other shows like Battlestar Galactica and, of course, a weirdly emotional dance around Fisher herself.

So go and enjoy (as if I could stop you). But be honest with yourself about how good it is or isn’t. I don’t see this trilogy enduring like the originals because there are no new truths, no real threads to invest in, only a lot of great special effects.

Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

The Librarians (series 3)

[4 stars]

The Librarian movies weren’t brilliant pieces of fantasy adventure, but there was something wonderful about the concept and the characters in the franchise. The first movie, in particular, struck a chord. Then it began a long slide into silliness and, frankly, weaker and weaker writing. Entertaining, but not memorable.

When it was reimagined into a series, it carried that sensibility with it and, through sheer energy, overcame the overly simplistic, Nickelodeon-style approach to the tales. Nothing brilliant, but some fun distraction that I certainly took part in, being the geeky book collector and lover of genre that I am.

With season three, the show found its footing again. The story plots are full of short-cuts on the order of Scooby Doo, but the subject matter is, at its core, stuff adults can appreciate too. It has fun while being entirely self-conscious of its intentions. Much like a good library, the goal is to pull in younger viewers and excite them to learn more about all the stories and history. I don’t really classify this as educational TV, but it certainly plants seeds and introduces those who are curious to ideas and facts that could take root later.

The cast have always worked well together but, like their characters, they’re cooperative energy has gelled in their third season. Christian Kane (Leverage), Lindy Booth (Kick-Ass 2), and John Harlan Kim are more a cohesive unit and Rebecca Romijn (X-Men: First Class) more of the leader she needed to become as Noah Wyle (Falling Skies) has stepped further away from being the overriding authority. And, of course, John Larroquette (Me, Myself, & I) always brings a fun energy and delivery. Each season has its particular arc, and this one brings in Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) to provide the friction. She provides a nicely myopic antagonist and walks a good line for younger and older viewers alike.

The writing and directing are less bombastic this season, which has helped its sensibility. Sure there are prat falls, but far fewer. And the scenery is only mildly chewed upon by the cast, and only on occasion. It is a fun run and suggests a stronger season to follow if they can stick to their creative guns and direction.

The Librarians

Justice League

[3 stars]

Let’s start with the short version: Yes, it is better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Yes, it is a big-screen movie. Yes, it has some good (if flawed) entertainment value.

Now for the longer version: Little was going to completely rescue this movie. It was coming out of a long history and vision which had set the tone and approach. It was very much in the can before Joss Whedon (Avengers) was brought on to finish it after Zack Snyder’s family tragedy. Whedon brought some bright spots in dialogue and character, but the main structure of the story was set and there wasn’t going to be a massive rework.

One of the big draws for this installment was the return of Wonder Woman. Mind you, she is far from the focus of the story. In fact, no one is really the focus of this film, which is part of its flaw. It also suffers from a slightly different angle on the issue that Thor: Ragnarok has. Thor has a big “surprise” a third of the way in that we all knew because of the adverts. It didn’t ruin the movie, but it diminished the impact. Justice League is structured solely to get Superman back so the League can exist. Despite that, more than half the movie passes before we get to that goal and intent and, instead, we wallow for ages with guilt and battling a villain we don’t really care about (and whose CG was appallingly bad and whose character resolution was head-scratching, though that may be because I didn’t know the Darkseid background).

Despite those issues, there are lots of good moments that help buoy the weight of the plot. Whedon’s dialogue is primary there…mostly in the guise of Adam Driver’s (Silence) Flash and interchanges between the characters. If you want to see all the bits and pieces that Whedon changed, here is a near exhaustive, and spoiler-rich list. Definitely insightful and with only a few surprises in ownership.

Justice League serves as a bridge away from the Zack Snyder era and into whatever is next for DC. For the moment that looks like it will be Joss Whedon influenced, which could be the best thing to happen to them since Christopher Nolan. I would actually argue that is better that Nolan because Whedon is a much more entertaining storyteller overall, but that isn’t the discussion for today.

Snyder, for all his faults as a writer and director, has a singularity of vision and was in the forefront of defining how Hollywood brought to life a true sense of comic books. It was an unrelentingly, navel-gazing, and ultimately ill-conceived view, but it was undeniably well-intentioned on his part. Most movie-goers aren’t sorry to see him leave the fold at this point, but we shouldn’t begrudge him the props he is owed for getting us here nor deny that he may return again triumphant when he is ready to take up his seats again behind the camera.

As to Justice League… yeah, go see it. It isn’t the train wreck you fear, even if it isn’t the glory you’d wish for. It is an important stepping stone to whatever is to come and it really does deserve a big screen the first time you see it.

Justice League