Black Panther

BlackPanther

Black Panther

Directed By: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Bozeman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Basset, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, et.al.
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A+

Black Panther, the latest home video release from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, follows T’Challa, who was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, as he attempts to settle into his new role as King of Wakanda.  Shortly after returning from a failed mission to capture Ulysses Klaue (pronounced claw), an arms dealer introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron who stole a valuable mineral, Vibranium, and set off an explosion that killed several Wakandans, T’Challa is challenged and overthrown by a man named Erik Stephens, who calls himself Killmonger, and is a long-lost cousin T’Challa never knew he had.  After his defeat, T’Challa must fight to regain his thrown and stop Killmonger from using Wakanda’s advanced technology to devastatingly attack cities across the world.

Black Panther is a great movie.  Since the MCU began their endeavor over 10 years ago, they’ve managed to change comic book movies from story-lite, action-heavy popcorn fare into compelling, character-driven stories about the (usually) human beings behind the super hero personas.  The result is a ground-breaking movie like this.  While the main villain may be a little one-note (revenge, while a common and easy motive, is a tad bit overused and is no longer as compelling as it once was), Michael B. Jordan gives his all to inject as much pain and humanity into Killmonger as he can, and for the most part, he succeeds.  All of the actors clearly have a blast in the movie.  While not filled with the cheeky humor of Thor: Ragnarok, they still get to have fun, usually at the expense of Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett Ross.  From what I can tell, the only main actor in the movie using their native accent is Michael B. Jordan, though my admittedly untrained ears didn’t notice anyone stepping on the ones they use.

The effects are well-done.  Marvel/Disney always make sure their graphics are top-notch, and this movie is no exception.  The CGI blends well with the scenery, and isn’t overly obvious.  They even manage to turn a horse into a rhinoceros without much difficulty.

I definitely recommend seeing this movie.  Not only is it a record-setting example of why representation in cinema matters, but it’s also an enjoyable story that’s accessible to everyone.  Those who hate comic book movies might not like it, but the general public should.  And anyone worried about not know what’s going on should breathe a sigh of relief, since this is the first Black Panther movie, and most of the characters are making their debut.

Black Panther isn’t available to stream anywhere at the moment, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service or purchased from a participating store or on-line retailer.

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Peter Rabbit

PeterRabbit

Peter Rabbit

Directed By: Will Gluck
Starring: James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley, Sam Neill, Sia, Colin Moody
Rated: PG
Grade: B

Peter Rabbit is a modern-day telling of the stories of Beatrix Potter.  In the movie, Peter and his family live in a wooded area just outside the small British town of Windermere, where they spend their days sneaking into the vegetable garden of Old Mr. McGregor, or spending time with their human friend Bea.  After Old Mr. McGregor dies and his nephew, Thomas, inherits the property, they face a new challenge in that Bea appears to be developing feelings for the young Mr. McGregor, which incites a rivalry between Peter and Thomas.

On the whole, this movie is enjoyable.  It’s definitely more geared toward children, and they’ll probably enjoy it more than adults will, at least for the first 3/4 of the movie.  The voice actors, James Corden (Peter), Margot Robbie (Flopsy), Elizabeth Debicki (Mopsy), Daisy Ridley (Cotton-Tail), Colin Moody (Benjamin), and Sia (Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle), all play computer-generated forest creatures who interact with Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, and Sam Neill’s live-action human characters, and Robbie’s Flopsy also serves as the film’s narrator.

As stated before, adults might have a hard time getting into the movie.  There were times I found myself not rooting for the rabbits, and questioning some of the logistics of the plot, like why Bea, who’s so insistent that the rabbits and other forest creatures be able to wander wherever they please and raid the local gardens, doesn’t seem to have a garden of her own to provide for them.  Toward the end, however, once Peter and Thomas have set aside their differences, the movie becomes more enjoyable and emotionally rewarding.  Most of the animals who speak don’t seem to do it in front of humans, and much of the movie implies that the animal language isn’t even understandable to human ears, aside from a brief scene near the end in which one of the characters begins to question their sanity after hearing Peter talk.  Children will love this movie, and while the parents will only have a handful of entertaining bits until the end, it’s ultimately worth the watch, just for the adorable ending.

Live action/CG mix is a difficult thing to get right, but animation studios have made great advances since the concept was first introduced.  While the animals don’t look terribly realistic, they look real enough to not be an eyesore while watching.  Aside from said animals and a series of explosions toward the end, there aren’t any obvious special effects, though I’m sure there were some used.

Ultimately, I would recommend seeing this movie.  Your kids will most likely enjoy it, and there are a few enjoyable niblets for adults to tide them over until the end.

Peter Rabbit isn’t available to stream anywhere, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

Coco

Coco

Coco

Directed By: Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alannah Ubach, Renee Victor, et.al.
Rated: PG
Grade: A+

Disney/Pixar once again delivers a beautiful, emotionally satisfying story with Coco, the story of a boy named Miguel who is determined to have a career as a musician, despite his family’s generations-long ban on it, which unwittingly leads him to pursue his roots in the Land of the Dead in order to gain approval from his ancestors and lift his family’s music-based curse.

At a time when, unbelievably, non-Caucasian heritage is still too often glossed over and whitewashed, it was a pleasant surprise to see a movie that took so much care and effort to bring an important Mexican holiday tradition to the world.  The story is touching, and resonates with everyone.  The voice work is superb, and not an emotion is missed.  While not a true musical, there are plenty of music sequences, and the songs are beautiful and catchy.

Anthony Gonzalez is Miguel, a boy from a small Mexican town who’s sole desire is to grow up and become a great musician, like the town’s legend, Ernesto de la Cruz, voiced by Benjamin Bratt.  Unfortunately, his family has banned all music from their lives after Miguel’s great, great grandfather abandon the family to pursue a music career and never returned.  Believing he can change his family’s mind by winning a local singing contest, he breaks into the late de la Cruz’s crypt and attempts to take the famed actors legendary guitar to use when he performs.  Unfortunately, this leads Miguel to be taken to the Land of the Dead, where he runs across Bernal’s Hector, a soul who’s light is quickly fading, and makes a deal to with him to find de la Cruz, whom Miguel believes is his long-lost great, great grandfather, and get his blessing to pursue music in exchange for placing a picture of Hector on an altar so he may be remembered and keep from fading away.  Along the way, Miguel finds his other deceased relatives, who try to send him back on the promise that he won’t pursue music, which Miguel rejects in favor of finding his hero.  At some point, Miguel learns the truth about both who his true ancestor is, and what his hero did to achieve the status he’s remembered for.

The animation is beautiful.  The colors are rich and vivid, and when they’re faded out, the darks have a depth to them, all of which is a hallmark of Pixar’s animation studio.

I highly recommend seeing this movie.  As stated before, the story resonates with everyone, and people rarely scoff at others for wanting to see Disney/Pixar movies since they tend to be so enjoyable.

Coco isn’t available to stream anywhere, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Directed By: Carlos Saldanha
Starring: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, et.al.
Rated: PG
Grade: B+

Ferdinand follows the story of a young bull calf from Spain who runs away after learning he will be forced to compete in a matador competition when he gets older and attempts to live a life of relative ease as the pet of a girl on a flower farm.  Unfortunately, after a misunderstanding at a festival, he’s sent back to his old home, where he finds that little has changed, and his life now depends on being the toughest bull in the lot.

If you can look past the fact that the movie takes place in Spain and most of the characters are voiced by Caucasian American actors, then you won’t have a problem with this movie.  It’s based on a children’s book, so the movie’s main demographic is for the under 10 set, who probably won’t care who the voice actors are.

The movie itself is actually very good.  The story is simple and sweet, and John Cena continues to flesh out what little acting ability he has as Ferdinand, the title character.  Kate McKinnon was clearly having fun voicing Lupe, Ferdinand’s friend/comfort goat, and she puts her usual zest into the role.  Bobby Cannavale seems to enjoy voicing the minor villain turned ally Valentino, a fellow bull who’s determined to be picked for the latest matador fight.  David Tennant voices Angus, an out-of-place Highland bull who’s mostly used for comic support.  Anthony Anderson’s Bones, another childhood friend/rival of Ferdinand’s, is an almost painfully undersized bull (I think he might be a Holstein or a Jersey, but I’m not certain) who’s determined not to let his size stop him.  Payton Manning’s Guapo, a bull with a sensitive stomach, doesn’t do much besides provide growth for the other characters, and there’s a short sequence devoted to rescuing his character from a dog food factory toward the end.  The main cast is rounded out with Gina Rodriguez’s Una, Daveed Diggs’ Dos, and Gabriel Iglesias’ Quatro, a trio of hedgehogs who help Ferdinand plan his second escape from the bull ranch.  There’s also a trio of German-accented show horses voiced by Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, and Sally Phillips who act as tertiary villains/roadblocks to freedom.  As with most animal-centric movies, the humans seem to be the real villains.  Ferdinand is only able to convince his fellow bulls to leave the ranch after he reveals that the bulls never win the fights and always die.

The animation is typical for Blue Sky, who’s also responsible for the Rio and Ice Age movies.  It’s reminicint of hand-drawn animation, despite the fact that it was done on computer, though it’s not a bad thing, and lends to the charm of the story.

I would recommend seeing this movie.  You can use your kids as an excuse if you want to, but it’s something that most people not averse to cartoons will enjoy.

Ferdinand isn’t available to stream anywhere, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

Thor Ragnarok

ThorRagnarok

Thor: Ragnarok

Directed By: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchette, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Taika Waititi, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins
Rated: PG-13
Grade: A+

Thor: Ragnarok infused life back into a dying branch of the MCU.  After 2013’s overly-dour Dark World, many had lost hope that the franchise could be saved, but this movie proves it still has some juice left in it.  In an attempt to put a halt to Ragnarok, Norse Mythology’s version of the apocalypse, Thor, having left Earth, has set out to defeat those who would see it brought on, and in the process, learns that all is not as well on Asgard as he’d been led to believe.

This movie is amazing.  It’s funny and dramatic, and everyone involved seems like they’re having the time of their life, particularly Cate Blanchette, who plays Hela, Marvel’s first major female villain.  Tessa Thompson shows some skill with accents as the boozy Valkyrie, a scrapper on the planet Sakaar who’s spent the better part of a millennium numbing the pain of being the last of her kind, mainly in part to the first battle against Blanchette’s Hela.  Jeff Goldblum shows up and basically plays the same quirky weirdo he usually plays, not that anyone would complain.  Director Taika Waititi has a supporting role as Korg, an affable rock creature who acts as spirit animal/camp counselor for the warriors enslaved by Goldblum’s Grandmaster, which includes Thor.  Hiddleston’s Loki, the poster boy for all Marvel villains, finally gets started on the emotional arc/redemption storyline fans have been asking for since the first movie.  He also gets to show that he do more than just metaphorical mustache twirling.  Mark Ruffalo almost expertly pulls off the confusion and constantly being half a step from completely losing it as Bruce Banner, who’s spent the previous two years, since his character flew off at the end of Age of Ultron, Hulked up on Sakaar, where he’s become the Grandmaster’s prized possession and greatest warrior.   Karl Urban’s Skurge is somewhat underdeveloped and underused, though the actor makes the most out of what little he’s given to do, and by the end, you do actually kind of care about what happens to him.  Benedict Cumberbatch shows up briefly to reprise his role as Dr. Strange, though like with Hopkins, his role is little more than a glorified cameo.

In addition to the decent storyline, the effects are also well done.  Comic movies tend to rely heavily on CGI, and this movie was no different.  In addition to large, Hulk-heavy sequences, there are also lots of aliens, space travel, and battles.  And a ginormous wolf.  The opening sequence alone, a huge CGI battle set to Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song, is worth watching the movie for.

Definitely see this movie.  You really don’t even need to be that familiar with the Thor franchise or the MCU to understand most of what’s going on, and they also do a quick catch-up of what led to the movie’s events.

Unfortunately, this movie isn’t available to stream anywhere yet, but it can be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

XXX: Return of Xander Cage

XXXReturn

XXX: Return of Xander Cage

Directed By: D.J. Caruso
Starring: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Nina Dobrev, Ruby Rose, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Ice Cube
Rated: PG-13
Grade: D+

XXX: Return of Xander Cage sees Vin Diesel return to the franchise after opting out of 2005’s XXX: State of the Union, in which his character, this movie’s titular Xander Cage, is said to have died.  We quickly find out that’s not the case, and Diesel’s Cage is once again brought into the world of extreme sports/spying, this time to keep seemingly unstoppable weapon out of the hands of terrorists.

This is your basic action movie, thrown into a blender, and saddled on poor Vin Diesel’s shoulders all to cash in on the actor’s ever-growing status and bankability.  The plot is so thin you can see through it, and none of the characters evoke any kind of sympathy.  Nina Dobrev plays a glasses-wearing nerd girl who spends most of her time fangirling over Cage and the motley crew of misfits he brings in to help him out.  Ruby Rose basically plays the same person she always does: a smart-mouthed, I’m-too-cool-for-this, wannabe bad ass who ultimately comes off as trying too hard to look like she’s not trying too hard.  Toni Collette is Cage’s new handler, after Jackson’s Gibbons is seemingly eliminated in the opening sequence, and she spends most of her time wandering around chewing on scenery.  Ice Cube reprises his role from State of the Union, though his appearance, like Jackson’s, is little more than a glorified cameo.  Deepika Padukone and Donnie Yen, naturally, play the terrorists, a pair of disillusioned former XXX agents bent on vague revenge, though only one of them is a true believer.

Normally I can forgive a lazy, thinly-plotted movie if the acting and effects are decent, but both seem to have been sleepwalked through.  Most of the performances are completely phoned in, including Diesel’s, and the effects are too run-of-the-mill to be impressive, which at least the first XXX movie had a couple of (at the time) somewhat impressive sequences.  It’s very evident that everyone involved in this movie was looking for a quick paycheck, and didn’t actually care about the type and/or quality of movie they were making, which ultimately makes a bad movie even worse.

You really shouldn’t invest any money in attempting to watch this.  It’s not worth it.  A boring, predictable mess whose value is limited to something to watch when you need background noise and don’t care how you achieve it.

You can stream this free with your Amazon Prime and Hulu accounts, and it can also be rented from Redbox or Netflix home delivery service.

Baywatch

Baywatch

Baywatch

Directed By: Seth Gordon
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra
Rated: R
Grade: B-

What you see is what you get with Baywatch, a movie based on the TV series from the late 80s/early 90s.  The show takes place in the fictional Emerald Bay, Florida, a seeming Miami substitute, and follows Mitch Buchannon as he tries to protect the beach he loves.

One of the best things about this movie is the fact that it seems to realize that its source material, a show that took itself seriously when it aired, as aged into something of a fine cheddar over time, and makes itself into a nice cracker with which to enjoy the nostalgia of what was ultimately a completely ridiculous show.  The cast seems to be having a blast, which shines through in the performances.  They know they’re not making great cinema, and they’re okay with that, which helps make it okay for the viewers to find the humor.

The storyline is somewhat predictable.  Johnson’s Buchannon is an overzealous lifeguard lieutenant who has made it his job to not only protect people in the water, but out of it as well.  This becomes a problem for Chopra’s Victoria Leeds, who’s determined to found a drug/real estate empire out of her club on the beach, all because she has daddy issues (and yes, she actually tells another character that she’s doing this because her father left the family’s legitimate business to her idiot brother, and she wants to show the world that women are just as capable of being successful).  Along the way, the Baywatch Lifeguard station (company?) is taking applications for new hires, including Efron’s Matt Brody (a washed up former Olympian with disciplinary issues) and Daddario’s Summer Quinn.  There are also cameos by David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, who are probably both still best known for their roles on the show.

All in all, the movie is highly enjoyable to watch.  As stated before, the cast seemed to be having fun while filming, and the movie doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be considered actually bad.  More in line with so-bad-it’s-actually-kind-of-good.  The effects aren’t too complex, so there wasn’t much to mess up in that department.  Definitely check this out when you want something light and funny and you don’t want to think too hard.

Baywatch isn’t currently free to stream, but can be rented from Redbox, as well as Netflix home-delivery video services.

Valerian

Valerian

Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets

Directed By: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevenge, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke
Rated: PG-13
Grade: D+

Valerian is a busy, confusing, hectic mess in which the main characters stumble across bits plot while chasing after each other in attempt to rescue the other from a string of life-threatening situations.  The movie is based on the French graphic novel series “Valérian and Laureline”.

Neither DeHaan nor Delevenge has a charm or star power to anchor such an ambitious movie, and the fact that the actors look so young makes it seem as though they’re teenagers cosplaying with friends in someone’s basement, and the more seasoned actors (Owen and Hawke) seem to be confused and/or embarrassed as to what they’re there.

Valerian (DeHaan) is supposed to be an intergalactic fuckboy with a list of conquests large enough to paper the hulls of his ship, unfortunately, the actor isn’t Hollywood-attractive enough to pull off playing such a character.  Laureline (Delevenge) isn’t given much to do other than be the occasional damsel-in-distress and arch her eyebrows at Valerian’s antics.  There’s an entire section of the movie dedicated to Rihanna’s character Bubble, a shape-shifting exotic dancer who’s mostly a plot device and is probably meant to instill a sense of sympathy for the non-human characters in the film, but it isn’t necessary, and her inclusion seems to mostly be a way to get the singer/actress on screen in a series of skimpy fetish outfits for her introductory scene.

By the time the movie actually gets the plot, a.k.a., the reason Valerian and Laureline are on Alpha, the City of a Thousand Planets from the title, which was lovingly introduced in the beginning of the movie with David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity,’ the viewer likely won’t care enough to be invested in the outcome since, as stated before, the actual plot is spread so thinly across the entire movie you’ve likely forgotten about it by the next time they mention it.

That’s not to say that the movie is entirely without merit.  The visuals are interesting to look at, especially the scenes on Mül (pronounced mule) and the sequence when they’re introducing Alpha and showing the various habitats.  However, that’s not enough to make this something to watch when you’re not bored or too busy to care about the plot of what’s on.

Continue reading Valerian

Gotham by Gaslight

GothamByGaslight

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Directed By: Sam Liu
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Scott Patterson, Tara Strong, et.al.
Rated: R
Grade: A-

Batman gets the Victorian treatment in this DC Animated Universe movie which pits the titular hero against Gotham’s version of Jack the Ripper.  Gotham by Gaslight is somewhat based on the DC graphic novel of the same name, though there are some characters appearing in the movie that aren’t in the comic, which I only know because I looked it up.

The movie itself is well-made.  Though likely animated by computer, it was done to look hand-drawn, which seems more fitting to the subject matter.  There’s lots of blood and violence, as well as some implied sex, so parents should be wary, because it definitely earns its R rating.

While dealing with the upcoming turn of the century, and planning a World’s Fair for Gotham, the city is struck with a series of murders done by a man calling himself Jack the Ripper, putting police and citizens on edge.  Naturally, Batman is there to investigate, as well as a smattering of other familiar characters from traditional Batman lore.  The story keeps you engaged and guessing, and when the identity of the Ripper is revealed, it’s a genuine surprise.

Fans of the DC supplemental films should be happy with this movie.  Even casual viewers shouldn’t be disappointed, as long as you’re willing to step outside the traditional Batman storylines.  All in all, great view.
It’s not available to stream anywhere yet, but if you can find it cheap somewhere, it’d be worth putting in the money to purchase/rent.