Black Panther

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You may be thinking to yourself, “is Black Panther as good as everyone says?” Yes, yes and yes, definitely a must-see. Marvel has yet to disappoint since their first film in 2008, Iron Man. However, Black Panther stands out from the rest with a predominantly black cast AND women portrayed as head-honchos. This reflects the movement in the Entertainment industry to write and produce more films for women. About time! Writer and director Ryan Coogler (Creed) jumped at the opportunity, nailing it. He has proven there's an appetite for stories like this. His success will only propel this movement futher, I’m sure of it. Based on the comic, T’Challa is the newly appointed King of Wakanda, played by Chadwick Boseman (42), but with fresh blood comes envy and jealousy. An outsider, Michael B. Jordan (Creed) challenges his throne with intent to control the African nation. 

Writers Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s (American Crime Story) writing structure introduced this exciting new Marvel superhero story very successfully. It’s sophisticated in that every character has extraordinary powers, and yet are also every day people, in other words humanized. It’s not often you see an African nation shown as technologically advanced with smarts and capabilities other countries can only dream of. What’s more, women lead the army and protect the citizens, and all the remarkable innovations are created by yup, women. It’s great that the film is kid friendly so that younger generations are exposed to these notions and come to see this as the norm. Coogler and Cole have the power to influence young moviegoers' perspectives in strong ways, and this is only the start. Besides these serious undertones, the film is fun and entertaining.

The laugh out loud moments are well timed and hit the right tone. Marvel’s films intertwine comedic relief in between the adrenaline inducing action. They don’t take themselves so seriously unlike other superhero films…cough DC Comics. Newcomer Letitia Wright (The Commuter) and Boseman couldn’t have been a better dynamic brother-sister duo, each one playing off of the other’s wit. There was a 50/50 split between serious star power and newcomers. The familiar faces include Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland). The new kid (I mean girl) on the block was standout badass Danai Gurira (All Eyez On Me). The cast looked like they had a blast making this film, which in turn sets the mood for the audience. It was contagious!

The film is pretty much perfect and I haven’t even gotten to Coogler’s phenomenal directing alongside cinematographer Rachel Morrison. Morrison was recently nominated for an Oscar for Mudbound as the first female ever. With heavy CGI and VFX the film was visually stunning and eye catching, shockingly predominately filmed in Atlanta and South Korea. Fun fact: most every Marvel film is shot in Atlanta. Who’da thunk it?!

Bottom line: The hype is real. You won’t be disappointed. See it in theaters, undoubtedly worth your time and money.  It’s ideal for any occasion – a fun night out for a couple’s retreat, a girls' night out, or an outing with the family. Already counting down the days to the sequel (always series faithful). Remember to stay until the very end of the credits to get a sneak preview of what’s to come. I hope you enjoy the best film of 2018 thus far! 

Thor: Ragnarok

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It’s been four long, dreary years since we last saw Chris Hemsworth's (Thor) golden locks, piercing blue eyes and strong physique in a tight bodysuit with a hammer and the voice of an Australian angel. Marvel Studios has been holding out on us, but it was well worth the wait. They brought us Thor 2.0. He’s still everything we dream about, but with a flare and attitude this time that made the film effortlessly laugh out loud funny. Alongside Thor came some new faces who not only complimented him, but also the story to move it into a whole new realm (no pun intended).

The franchise has only gotten better, perhaps because of the change of directors. Marvel’s director of choice this time was an unconventional one; indie director Taika Waititi. His latest and most well known film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, had a $2.5 million budget...Thor: Ragnarok’s was $180 million, so to say Waititi now plays in the big leagues is an understatement. If you’re a superhero fan then you know the formula: huge, blown out fight scenes, heavy CGI, and a dramatic “save the world” tone. But not on Waititi’s watch! His main focus was to add life back into these movies with more relatable characters, humor and spontaneity. Without his indie touch, this would’ve been just another action packed superhero film with no heart.

Waititi wasn’t the only who had his first go. Writers, Craig Kyle, Eric Pearson, and Christopher Yost did as well, Thor: Ragnarok being their first big script. Marvel really put all their money in one inexperienced basket, but turns out it’s their best decision yet.

It wasn’t just the creatives who were new to the project. There’s still the usual suspects: Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston (Avengers), Idris Elba (Luther), Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal), and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), but some new faces on the scene added a welcomed change of pace. Tessa Thompson (Creed) is Thor’s new potential love interest, replacing the beloved Natalie Portman, for reasons that have yet to be disclosed. She was certainly rougher around the edges than Portman, but her unconventional personality traits made the film all the more entertaining. The most notable addition is Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) who let her villainous character take on a life of its own, arguably overshadowing Hemworth’s performance. Ya…she was that good AND guess what! She’s not overly sexualized – what a novel idea. Marvel always manages to put together the best motley crew.

Bottom line: Thor: Ragnarok is a Marvel fans' dream – delving deeper into the story with all the glitz and glam adrenaline junkies are used to, but with a witty touch that makes this a feel good for everyone, even those who aren’t series faithful.     

Wonder Woman

History has been made folks. The highest-ever U.S. opening weekend for a film directed by a woman, let alone with a female lead, is Wonder Woman. Now that’s something to talk about! The past has proven it’s difficult to be a woman in this industry, but boy have we come a long way. Director Patty Jenkins is no stranger to success, Monster being an incredible film she directed back in 2003 that even won an Oscar for Best Actress. But every director has his or her passion project. Jenkins’ has always been to make a superhero film with a female lead – what better choice than Wonder Woman.

The story is thoughtful and downright deep; the message being key to this film's success. Without giving too much away, Jenkins, as well as writers, Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy), Zack Snyder (300), and Jason Fuchs (Pan) had a clear vision in mind. They wanted to make a superhero film universal to all. Many might assume it’s just for women, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, hence the suggestion for a couple’s retreat (and of course a girl's night out). Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot (Fast Five), is warm, loving, honorable and strong (a badass is more like it), with nothing but great intentions. She stands for something so pure and good, always prioritizing love, justice and kindness above all else. You tell me – does that sound like that’s a message just for women? No, that’s meant for everyone…or so we’d hope. You’ll still get your adrenaline fix, but more importantly you’ll walk out with some life lessons, hard to come by in these action packed films that focus only on the visual effects. My point being Wonder Woman has the whole package.

Gadot is a relatively unknown actress, but that’s going to change real quick. It’s easy to see she took this role seriously, knowing this was the opportunity of a lifetime, especially in a male dominated genre. She embodied everything and more to play a woman who was not only strong and powerful, but also one with virtue, charisma, and charm. Nailed it! It’s no surprise Gadot had a love interest, played by Chris Pine (Star Trek). Their chemistry had a flair with witty banter ping ponging back and forth – a welcomed change from the purely physical relationships in most superhero films with overly sexualized female characters. 

Bottom line: Wonder Woman is well worth your time and money. Don’t judge a book by its cover boys, there’s plenty in it for you. And like I said before, women are breaking barriers left and right, but we still have a long way to go (hint hint, the ending). Expect a sequel so if this film tickles your fancy, you’ll be able to proudly say, “I’m series faithful!” 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

It’s no surprise if you saw the first installment of Guardians of the Galaxy that you’re in for one heck of a ride, full of every fix you can think of. Marvel consistently produces solid films. If you ask me, there’s no other company that makes better wannabe superhero films. All of them have a distinct characteristic. Can you guess? …They don’t take themselves too seriously. Let’s compare the Transformers franchise to well, every Marvel film…Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Avengers, Ant-Man and my personal favorite, Guardians. Humorless in comparison. Marvel has managed to create films that add laugh out loud moments, even in the most dramatic of times. Let’s face it, live-action, animated films, are highly unrealistic. Marvel has created parodies of the genre to stand out from the rest.

A successful sequel is hard to come by these days. Franchises milk them for all they’re worth. Cough, Pirates of the Caribbean, cough. I’m not talking about box office success. What I meant was that Vol. 2 was as good, if not better than the first because of its story arc and the VFX capabilities. With a bigger budget, $30 million more than the first, they added more glitz and glam. It couldn’t have been more action packed to satisfy any adrenaline junkie. They hired a new cinematographer, Henry Braham (The Golden Compass), who put the pedal to the mettle. It can be exhausting, but prepare yourself for that. Perhaps don’t drink too much caffeine beforehand, there’s plenty where that came from. 

Marvel likes their star power. There are the obvious ones – Chris Pratt (Jurassic World), Zoe Saldana (Avatar), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), and Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious), but then there are those that pop up around every corner – Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), Kurt Russell (Miracle), and the list goes on and on. The cameos are priceless. Considering how involved the plot is and the amount of characters that needed to be introduced, Vol. 1 didn’t have time to waste on character development. The story was the highest priority to suck you in. By now they expect you’re invested in each of the characters, for those that are series faithful at least. So writer and director, James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead), dug deeper this time. We learn more about each character's background, their deepest, darkest secrets, and most importantly the insecurities that make them vulnerable. It’s the last part that shows you their true self. I’ll warn you, it can be a bit of a tear jerker at times.

Bottom line: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a feel-good, fun ride with a stellar cast, engaging extension of an already exciting story, wild action, and phenomenal music to add the cherry on top of it all. If you’re ready to have a GROOT time, then this is a must-see for you!

Logan

I’ve been a weee bit nervous to write about the latest X-Men installment, Logan, staring, yup you guessed it, Hugh Jackman (The Prestige) as Wolverine.  It’s important to preface this by saying I’m a diehard X-Men fan: series faithful is an understatement. I remember seeing the first film in 2000 like it was yesterday and can’t believe we’re talking about the 10th film now in 2017. It’s definitely not a casual series to pick up. The timelines and plots of each don’t match that of its predecessors, jumping into the future and back, so it definitely takes some patience. Fan or not, we owe a lot to Marvel, the gold standard of all wannabe superhero films. And with Jackman leaving this franchise after 17 years, staring in 9 out of the 10 films (Deadpool being the exception), this film is the end of an era.

I’ll come right out and say it; I didn’t like the film. It’s been made pretty clear by every other X-Men fan that this couldn’t have been a better sendoff to Jackman. For some reason, it just didn’t resonate with me and here’s why:

It was clear from the start that writer and director James Mangold (Walk the Line), along with Scott Frank (The Minority Report) and Michael Green (Green Lantern) intended to differentiate Logan; not only from the X-Men series itself, but also from superhero films in general. Notice anything about their distinguished films? Dark. Dark. Dark. Great, but dark. That was the immediate tone. Wolverine is exhausted – I mean the dude has had a long run with some gnarly injuries…that miraculously heal. Surely wouldn’t be my ideal superpower, but it could come in handy with the occasional paper cut, perhaps even a mosquito bite. Point is, Wolverine would never have wanted that superpower either. He’d prefer a “normal” life, which is problemo numero uno for me – is the wild wild west his idea of a normal life? It just seemed like an unlikely match for a superhero film, and even when I remind myself “this one is intentionally different,” I still can’t get past it.

Anguish, aging, family and mortality are all critical themes in Logan. For a film that is supposed to be so meaningful, why not actually focus on that substance, instead of excessive violence, catering only to adrenaline junkies? That’s where problemo numero dos comes into play: gory, I mean real gory. We’re talking Quentin Terrantino sh** times 100. It’s the first time an X-Men film has been rated R so Mangold really ran with it. First time motion picture actress, Dafne Keen, Wolverine’s sidekick, was the one that forced me to cover my eyes the most. Keen is Eleven on crack (Stranger Things, do it if you haven’t already). Good little actress, but her screaming and wailing the entire time was excessive. I felt like Anchorman Brick Tamland…“WHY ARE WE YELLING?!” Take it down a notch, girl. Mangold, you had me at hello with the first 3 fight scenes. I’m sorry to say, this cast a shadow over the entire film for me and I was unable to recover because it never let up.   

Bottom line: I’m not in the business of bashing films – it’s not in my best interest, or yours because after all, everyone has different tastes. I respect Mangold and the other writers for going out of a superhero film’s comfort zone, but for me personally it went waaay out into no man’s land and as the credits rolled and the audience was clapping, I asked myself, “did I miss something?” As big of a X-Men fan as I am, I was left sad and disappointed. Not because of the films’ dark material, but because for what closed the wound for most fans, left a gaping hole for me, and there’s no chance for redemption. It’s not called final chapter for nothing.  

P.S: There are no blurbs at the end, Marvel’s signature – throw salt into the wound, why don’t cha!

Suicide Squad

Ever since Warner Brothers announced Suicide Squad, I’ve been dying to see it. I’m sure many of you feel me out there. However, beginning in April, I started to have my doubts as rumors about the film were flying: rushed production, competing cuts, reshoots, and high anxiety for its success. In others words, it began to look like a potential recipe for disaster. Sadly, I think you know where I am going with this. Put it this way, the result was no bueno.

Big studio heads have been in quite a pickle lately – should they take on inexperienced directors? In this case, the director is David Ayer (Training Day & End of Watch). Unfortunately, he wasn’t the best choice as director of a blockbuster, live-action film; his previous films are anything but. Training Day, End of Watch and Fury are all impressive films, there’s no question about that, but let’s take End of Watch for example. It was a low budget film that Ayer filmed with a dashboard cam. Not exactly the resume booster in the realm of action packed films. Sorry adrenaline junkies. At the end of the day, they took a chance on Ayer and I commend them, he could’ve killed it. However, he dropped the ball. BIG TIME.   

While the imagery and graphics were on point, each scene better than the last, both the screenplay and direction (looking at you Ayer) were choppy and disorganized, the ultimate downfalls of the film. It was painfully obvious that there was some miscommunication, as well differing of opinions between the director and executives. The tones from one scene to the next suffered as a result. It sure would’ve been great to be a fly on the wall during those chitchats.

The film was chaotic and the characters were underdeveloped, probably because there were too many crammed into a short period of time. Well casted, yes, but not enough to sustain the film. Winners and losers all around. Viola Davis (Making a Murderer) was great, while Will Smith (Men in Black) was surprisingly weak. Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) wins as one psycho beezy in her role, Harley Quinn. Hmm I wonder what the most popular Halloween costume will be this year – guilty, already planning it!  But seriously what happened with Jared Leto’s (Requiem for a Dream) character as The Joker – since when is The Joker supposed to be a mob boss? I must’ve missed the memo. We miss you Heath Ledger, RIP.  

Bottom Line: Warner Brother’s you let me down, along with everyone and their mother. Go for a few laugh out loud moments and a couple’s retreat. For all you others out there, this is just one of those movies that you will most likely see no matter what you hear. You’re not alone – Suicide Squad’s opening weekend broke the record for the biggest opening of any movie during the month of August (approx. $135.1 million), previously held by Guardians of the Galaxy. Don’t get excited yet Warner Brothers, your last flop, Batman v Superman, opened with promising strength as well and then quickly plunged into the toilet. Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself! 

Captain America: Civil War

I’ve said it before – Marvel films are a must. What can I say, I’m series faithful! Even though I wasn’t looking forward to this one, I knew I’d see it anyway. Why wasn’t I looking forward to this one? The previews. They weren’t as intriguing and humorous as other Avenger previews.

However, the film was a pleasant surprise on two levels: it was a lot of fun and at the same time, dealt with some serious topics. Iron Man or Robert Downing Jr. is typically the sarcastic, funny guy in these films. This time however, there were two new goof balls on the scene: Ant-Man (the one Marvel film I skipped) and Spider-Man. Paul Rudd added comedic relief throughout the film, so Ant-Man is definitely on my to-do list. Tom Holland, a young British actor, did a great job and I’d go as far as to say, outshined all the usual suspects.

Rather than be all action-comedy driven, the film had serious undertones, surprisingly. Captain America: Civil War had meaningful life messages that are great for young kids or wannabe superheroes. Adults, don’t be fooled, you’ll benefit as well. The film addressed topics of revenge, sticking to your beliefs and most importantly, times when one can be overly stubborn insisting you’re right, when you’re actually wrong. I promise this doesn’t spoil the film.

Bottom Line: Although different than the others in this series, Marvel didn’t disappoint. If you need an adrenaline dose or a family outing then this is the film for you. And don’t forget to stay until the end of the credits, the trademark Marvel teaser ;) 

Deadpool

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At one point in time, we’ve all been wannabe superheroes (if this doesn’t apply to you, sorry for the generalization). Marvel Comics nails quality, adrenaline dose superhero films, but Deadpool stands out from the rest.

The opening credits alone had me hooked, not your typical comment. You won’t want to miss them. The plot is not the standard storyline of most superhero movies – it’s a satire, specifically targeting X-Men as it is the eighth installment of the series, a little known fact. It has a lot more substance than you’d think. Reynolds is diagnosed with cancer and is contacted by a secret agent who offers him a solution to his illness (relax, it’s all in the previews). But what I mean by it’s not your standard superhero movie is that Reynolds’s character, Wade, had never set out to be a superhero. Who would want to wear a tight red jumpsuit? But he had no choice – the “solution” to his problem/illness left him with hideous scars and as his best friend said, “you look like a like an avocado had sex with an older, more disgusting avocado!” Now if you don’t laugh out loud at that type of humor, then this is not the movie for you. That’s why I recommend, leave the rents at home.

Reynolds is not only hilarious, but also quite easy on the eyes. He did a great job of keeping you engaged the entire time; it was hard to peel your eyes away from the screen. He perfectly executed the sarcastic tone of the character. The rest of the cast did a stellar job; it was a great ensemble. Although the special effects seem unrealistic, you’ll appreciate them. Finally, the score, music for those of you who aren’t familiar with movie lingo, made the movie. It was all of the popular songs we’ve come to love over the years, but mostly I enjoyed the rap that will undoubtedly get you pumped. 

The ending credits were just as good as the opening. And if you’re a true Marvel fan, like I am, you know to always stay till the very end of the credits because there is ALWAYS one more scene…teasers for the next film – the Marvel signature. In case you never noticed, this is why people don’t leave the theater immediately.

Bottom line: It’s a must-see and can be a couple’s retreat; you may even learn a thing or two (sorry if that was inappropriate).