Initial thoughts on Black Panther (2018)

bp1.pngUnderwhelming. I actually watched this last weekend and have hesitated regards posting a review simply because I thought I would re-watch it again, give it another chance. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to do so due to illness so here I am, writing this post based on initial feelings that might be subject to reappraisal later.

Hype springs eternal. Maybe that’s the problem. I missed this film at the cinema but was well aware of all the praise it was getting and its impressive box-office numbers that likely surprised even Marvel. The film clearly struck a chord with audiences.

But of course you just never know what films audiences will engage with and lots of truly great films get ignored while many bad ones become hugely successful- just look at the perplexing success of the Transformers films. Disney seem to have been unstuck by the response to the recent Solo movie – a film that again, I have not seen, so can’t really comment on, but some people whose opinions I value seem to think it was pretty good and yet oddly ignored by audiences. Well, if a film that grossed $323 million worldwide can be said to have been ignored- I suppose its really a matter of scale and expectancy; a Star Wars movie, albeit one that had a troubled production that cost anything up to $300 million to make, might be expected to reach that magic $1 billion easier than most movies. Instead Solo fell well short of that particular measure of success.

But was Solo any less formulaic or uninspired as Black Panther? Or am I being harsh? Are superhero movies, particularly one with a clearly positive racial message, more in tune with the current social/cultural zeitgeist than a movie based on an ‘old’ franchise from the 1970s (I love the dichotomy of considering Star Wars movies as old and dated when all these Marvel movies are based on comics-trips of the 1960s and 1970s)?

Black Panther grossed something in the region of $1.3 billion, so if box-office is a measure of anything, it was clearly doing something right. But yes, it left me a little underwhelmed, even bored. Playing that utterly meaningless box-office card once more, Thor: Ragnarok, which was for me clearly a much better Marvel movie, grossed $850 million worldwide, so what, that means it was actually a worse movie than Black Panther? Okay, while we’re here lets be naughty and play these box-office charades again- the woefully insipid Justice League movie grossed nearly $700 million, so Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t as great a movie as I thought by that comparison (or maybe the DC fans watched Justice League out of morbid curiosity, like some kind of celluloid car-crash). Anyway. Box-office is meaningless when appraising movies, unless you’re a studio executive.

I don’t know why exactly Black Panther didn’t really engage me. Maybe I thought it would  be more original/daring, more culturally significant, less of a (I hesitate to use the word, but here I go) ordinary or formulaic genre movie. Sure, it was never going to be a Deadpool or a Logan, but all the same, it slipped into that dangerous trap of these superhero movies, of degenerating into too much cgi hysterics and less the drama that I had hoped for. I suppose I shouldn’t criticize a movie for being faithful to the original comic, but I think the film would have been more significant if it had addressed the genuine  plight of poor black people in America and involved a typical black kid with limited social mobility/options and neighborhood issues of poverty and drugs and gun crime. I suppose that is some other movie, some other hero. The Utopian dream of Black Panther may be life-affirming and full of positivity, and maybe that the point of the film, I get that.

Was I maybe expecting Marvel by way of Shaft or Superfly? Well, maybe that was the hype. I don’t know. Its not a bad film (certainly not in the DC realm of misfires) but Marvel seem to find it so easy making these films popular that I wonder if they really need to stretch themselves more- after, what, eighteen movies or whatever it was by the time Black Panther came along, you’d think the Marvel Studios formula would be getting a little tired and disengaging audiences- instead they seem to be just lapping it up, eager for more.

 

 

 

 

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Wow me don’t involve me?

Reading various forums, hardware and disc reviews over the past few weeks as part of my research regards buying a new (4K) television, has resulted in some troubling observations. I watch movies because, well, I love movies- good, bad, indifferent, I enjoy watching them, experiencing them, being uplifted, frustrated, awed by them. I enjoy the art and craft of them. Sure, some might turnout to be stinkers but its extremely rare that I ever stop a film mid-way. When I start watching a movie I’m making an effort, a statement of intent,  an investment of my time and I’ll see it through no matter what. I love movies, just as  I love books.

But I don’t choose to watch particular movies because they look good, or show off the hardware I’m watching them on. I watch them because I enjoy them or want to experience something new, perhaps be enlightened or surprised.

I have discovered the rather troubling trend of many enthusiasts who watch particular films just because they look great. Regardless of how good a movie it actually is, if the film has a brilliant image quality and ‘wow’ credentials, it gets praised/highly rated and bought and watched if only to justify the expense of that high-end screen sitting in the corner/on the wall.  Films are actually rated not by credentials like story, acting, drama, craft, but rather by superficial nonsense such as moments of impressive HDR or Dolby Atmos sound-staging, as if the films are simply multi-million tech demos and not creative pieces of art.

Surely these home cinema enthusiasts are simply missing the point?

I loved Blade Runner at the cinema, and I enjoyed it on a pirate-copy VHS that I was gifted at Christmas in 1983, grainy and fuzzy and mono and replete with blooming colours as it was, it was still a great movie. I am certain that it will look great someday when I watch it in 4K on a new television, but it has always been a great movie and while it would not be ideal, if I had to watch it on an ancient b&w portable because that was the only way to re-watch it, then I probably would. The movie is the thing, not the bells and whistles of the hardware I’d be watching it on.

But this does make me wonder if this trend is indicative of why films are so often all visuals and spectacle and little substance now. Are people so obsessed with the size of their screens and all the bells and whistles of modern hardware that elements like script and drama seem antiquated and immaterial? Wow me don’t involve me?

BR2049 home video success?

Whilst on the subject of BR2049 (aren’t I always, here it seems- just wait until I get a new tv to watch my 4K disc on), here’s a link to an interesting article concerning the film getting a second wind on home video, with sales figures not to be sniffed at. Certainly not bad for a film commonly perceived as being a flop. Which it wasn’t of course- it will struggle for a few years to make much profit but it did much better than the original, with critical success and Oscars besides.

(I’d love to see an interview with the heads of Alcon Entertainment and see their take on how the film performed, what they have learned from it and whether they intend to return to the property in some way in future).

Anyway, here’s the link-

http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2018/04/blade-runner-2049-home-video-sales.html

Vangelis & Blade Runner

Its probably old news to most of you, but I rewatched this all-too short video again yesterday and thought it worthwhile linking here just incase anyone missed it. This is exactly the sort of featurette that should have been down for the 4K release of Blade Runner, or at least put on the BR2049 discs to replace some of the EPK nonsense we were lumbered with instead.

Actually, no doubt a ‘proper’ BR2049 disc release will be forthcoming someday. I think it proved quite successful on home video (more so than at the cinema, I hope) and should it gain the following it deserves, a better release with a genuine documentary would be quite deserved. If physical formats endure log enough to see it, anyway.

In the meantime, a reminder of just what Vangelis achieved with the soundtrack for the original film.

And whilst on the subject of Blade Runner music, while it might not be of worth to purists, this was kind of interesting too-

 

Do Androids Dream of 4K?

It may not have been particularly good for maintaining this blog, but the crazy hours I’ve been doing at work since my (soon at an end, hopefully) relocation down the M6 has resulted in a lot of overtime. Which has had me looking at perhaps changing my television sooner than originally intended. It was with some shock that I discovered that my current LCD Sony Bravia is now eight years old- its still got the best picture quality I’ve known in a television and yes, its still refuses to go on the blink (other than occasionally needing a unplug/plug-in to reboot it when it gets confused, but hey, I know how that feels, so that’s nothing to be embarrassed about). I mean, it works, it even looks great, so whats to change?

Okay, here I’ll admit it. I went into Currys the other day, and looked at the televisions. They were playing some of Blade Runner 2049 on a few of them, the fiendish bastards must have known I was coming. Good God almighty, that film looks like something else on a 65″ 4K OLED. I may have been drooling at some point. It looks great on my television in HD, but on that OLED set, it looked like some other movie.

Now of course. I will never own a 65″ television. I’d have to win a lottery and move into a bigger house for that to ever be an option. But the picture quality. Good grief. Maybe these people jumping on the 4K bandwagon are onto something. Some of those televisions sure are something; why ever go to the cinema with something like that sitting  at home? Hell, I can imagine watching the 1982 Blade Runner and its sequel in 4K endlessly, how beautiful 2049 looked, I mean, who’d need any other film to watch? Well, my wife would have a few words on that subject, to be fair…

It is curious though- back when I had my Sony Bravia, 40″ looked like a big screen (anybody remember when 28″ LCD seemed a big deal?), and so did the 49″ set my brother bought a few months ago (the size of television that my common-sense part of my brain knows is the right size for my lounge). But those 55″ sets look awfully tempting. 65″ is a pipe-dream for another life and another home but 55″ might just squeeze in… and its funny how little of a jump it seems from 49″ to 55″ when you’re walking around the Currys Fantasy Land where televisions are lined up like Christmas trees in November.

So anyway, anybody got any tips? It is pretty confusing- LED, QLED, OLED, so many sizes… all the latest models/gimmicks, all last years models going for a song. There’s a few televisions I’ve got my eye on, but as far as pulling the trigger on one, well, its still a lot of money, and while my heart races with visions of 4K Los Angeles my brain still has enough sense to remind me that there’s an old Bravia in my lounge working pretty fine. Or maybe that’s my wife talking- women are always much more grounded in reality than we men, I find, particularly when it comes to gadgets etc.

So yeah, any experiences good/bad and advice, feel free. Meanwhile, I’ll keep on daydreaming of 4K Electric Sheep…

 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

pride1This one’s a curio. This mash-up of genres gets caught somewhere in-between really; too irreverent to be a genuine period costume genre and too light to be a genuine zombie horror movie. Fans of Jane Austen likely feel it isn’t being sincere enough and fans of zombie flicks likely feel it isn’t gory or scary enough. Maybe that’s inevitable with mixing genre’s like this but I can imagine cinema-goers looking for a zombie horror would have been left bored and frustrated by the romantic costume drama and the Jane Austen fans would be horrified by the zombie stuff, leaving no-one particularly satisfied.

Based on a book by Seth Grahame-Smith, I would imagine the film’s problems are inherent in the source material – as Jane Austen is public domain I suppose it seemed a neat idea to use her material and sprinkle zombie thrills into it for sardonic wit. Perhaps it works better on the page, or is the idea itself simply better than the execution? In any case, I think the film-makers should have perhaps used the book as a springboard and then made it truly cinematic by making it a ‘real’ horror movie rather than the action-comedy that it actually is (I did think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at times, it has that knowing, slightly irreverent tone).

But maybe that is the point. Zombies are daft- at least George Romero knew to not take them too seriously, and rather use them for some social commentary.  Yes our culture does seem to have an unhealthy continuing fascination with zombie horrors, as evidenced by many movies and of course the long slow lingering death-crawl of The Walking Dead. But even when filmmakers take them seriously, its all clearly becoming something of a self-parody, so maybe Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is on the right track after all, and horror fans are wrong to be expecting any scares; the scares are all done.

Yet it is rather fun though, and I quite enjoyed it. The action scenes are well-staged and the gore pretty convincing, and of course the period costume drama is well-staged. Matt Smith in particular demonstrates a gift for comedy. For all its failings as a horror film, it at least injects some freshness to the awfully tired zombie genre. What I also found interesting was its alternate-history, using a period setting and giving it a genre spin.  Whatever next, zombies of Christmas Past in A Christmas CarolGreat Expectations and Zombies? 

Even better- War of the Worlds staged as the period drama that HG Wells wrote. Only when the Martian ships land they open up and hordes of martian zombies crawl out. I can see the tagline already : They don’t want our planet, only our brains.

 

The Limehouse Golem (2017)

golemThe Limehouse Golem has a problem: I guessed its secrets fairly early on. I guessed who the Golem was and why the murders were happening. For a film that is centrally a Victorian murder mystery, that’s something of a problem, especially if I’m not alone in rumbling the game so early (otherwise I suppose I’ve watched far too many movies and its getting too easy to ‘read’ them).

Fortunately for this film, there are pleasures here besides that central mystery. Set in a benighted, misty Victorian London the film is sumptuously staged; rich in gaudy colours and vividly ruddy murders, with a production design to immerse in really. This is, to be sure, a filthy London that you swear you could almost smell. Not quite a Tarantino take on Charles Dickens, but its halfway there and gives a suggestion of what that might be like if ever the Ripper took Tarantino’s muse.

Of course, whatever the films faults, Bill Nighy leading a movie is something to be cherished, frankly, and he’s in fine form here as John Kildare, a detective brought in to work on a murder case that seems doomed to failure in just the same way as the Jack the Ripper case would in real London a few years later- the parallels between the cases are deliberate throughout. Kildare is an outsider in the force and knows full well that he is a scapegoat for a nervous London and furious press. As he investigates the brutal and eleborate murders he becomes convinced that his case is linked to that of an imprisoned Music Hall singer, ‘Little Lizzie’ Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) who is on trial for the poisoning of her failed playwright husband, John Cree (Sam Reid). Kildare is certain she is innocent and that by proving it he can also solve the mystery of the Golem’s identity, but time is of the essence, and Elizabeth destined for the gallows soon.

The cast is pretty great, particularly Cooke who has a great charm and charisma as she struggles to succeed in a man’s world. Sam Reid is good as her slippery no-good cad of a romantic interest/husband who is also Nighy’s Golem suspect. Music Hall superstar (and Elizabeth’s friend and mentor, as well as another of Nighy’s Golem suspects) Dan Leno is played with fragile grace by Douglas Booth. The rest of the supporting cast are commendable too- indeed, the problem with the film isn’t the production values or the cast or the direction. Its the script that awkwardly seems to telegraph too much.

It also suffers by comparison to stuff like the (sadly cancelled) Penny Dreadful television series that shares its pulpish gaudy charms; and also the period detective dramas of Peaky Blinders. Back when I first saw the trailer for this film I thought, who would want to make a film of this and why would they think it would prove a success at the cinema in particular?  There is throughout a feel of redundancy, that maybe we’ve been here before, and to be fair, those television shows have production values arguably equal those of this movie with the benefits of longer airtime for character development etc. Maybe this is just the wrong time for a movie about Jack the Ripper-style Victorian murders. Another period BBC series, sure, but a movie?

But whatever my caveats, its enjoyable enough and the performances shine, so certainly its well worth a watch.