Movie Review – Black Panther

Opening night at Black Panther felt like a celebration. All six showings at my cinema were totally sold out that night, and continued to sell out through the weekend. But, yes, the audience was ecstatic, completely into the event, dressed in traditional African attire, laughing, cheering, applauding, hooting, and generally having a great time. It makes me want to give Black Panther a higher grade. There’s nothing like a good party.

My A- is still a very good grade. But I honestly preferred the recent Thor: Ragnarok and Spiderman: Homecoming…those were better plotted stories, tightly woven with better heroes and villains, more sprightly humor, and people I cared about. This movie (an origin story that suffers by introducing an entire NATION of new characters) moved along so quickly that I was often lost, and didn’t get to know much about anyone. The title character himself, with so much else this movie had to accomplish, had surprisingly little to say or do. The actual Black Panther had more action in Captain America: Civil War.

However, Black Panther is a spectacularly gorgeous film. The cinematography, location shots, the CGI, the total aesthetic appeal — all was topnotch. There was an epic feel to the proceedings, decent humor (mostly from the scene-stealing Princess Shuri), and standout female performances by the aforementioned Princess, the Queen, the Girlfriend, and the General. The women were the best part of the narrative.

Wait, of course, through the entire credits. This is a Marvel movie, after all. The final movie stinger provides a long-awaited payoff.

Updated Note: With Avengers: Infinity Wars coming out this week, and Black Panther STILL in theaters, this is the first time we’ve had two MCU movies playing at once! I might make my movie day a double feature…

Movie Grade: A-

A Black Perspective on Marvel’s Black Panther

Black Panther’s Wakanda Fashion in the Real World

Read More Marvel Movie Features on RunPee.com

 

Movie Review: Maze Runner – The Death Cure

I’m a huge fan of dystopian stories, and I liked the first Maze Runner book and film (the one that had an actual maze and runners). It was a fresh and intriguing idea.

I didn’t see the second, and I was definitely lost in this third movie. Maybe the story was incoherent no matter what, but neither I nor my companion (who hadn’t seen any of the movies in this franchise) really followed much of the plot. It was, quite frankly, a hot mess.A long, drawn-out, senseless muddle, where you don’t get to know any characters at all, much less care what happens to them. There are chase scenes, there’s a cure, there are double crosses…with more chases, more convoluted details…and never a moment to catch your breath or follow any character’s point of view. It’s also possible that the theme of Young Adult Dystopias is played out. (We’ll always have The Hunger Games to savor.)

This one should be a cautionary tale on how NOT to make a movie. In spite of that, the 8pm and 9pm showings of Maze Runner 3 were sold out at my theater. Yep.

This might be my shortest review ever. I can’t think of anything to discuss. It was a good-looking film, I’ll give it that. This one is for Maze Runner fans only, and series completists. At least they didn’t divide the last book into two films. So it’s got that going for it: Divergent fans will probably never get their final film.

Movie Grade: D+

Movie Review: Hostiles

This is a sad, slow, and brutally violent film. A lot of deaths occur with regularity, and they don’t spare the viewer the ugliness of it. People scream, cry, wail, and lose their minds. The soldiers dig a lot of graves.

There’s also very little conversation. While a lot of plot happens, watching Hostiles is still an interminable, funereal slog, full of torture, rape, killings, and makeshift memorial services. Who exactly are the titular “Hostiles”? It’s clear that both sides in the conflicts of the Western Expansion can shoulder the blame. With Den of Thieves from last week, this is now two consecutive movies where a knife blade’s width divides the good guys and the bad. I don’t think this is exactly a fresh theme, but the message is clear and well-told.

The director took his time to develop the story, which is one good thing. The music and location settings (in New Mexico and Colorado) were also nicely done. I can’t fault the acting in any way.

It’s just not a happy tale at all…ever. There are no moments of levity, and many grim ones. In times like these, it’s not something I’d choose for entertainment. Good production values and fine storytelling make this a better film than the usual, so I’ll give it a B.

Movie Grade: B

Movie Review – Den of Thieves

I think Den Of Thieves tried hard to be a good tale. Basically, we see that the good guys and the bad guys are not so different, and act the same ways to get their jobs done. We feel sympathetic for both sides occasionally. But mostly, we see that everyone in this movie are jerks.

The big problem is that none of the characters are developed to the point that we even know their names, or care. There are minor sequences with Nick’s life, but honestly, those just make great Peetimes. I’m not sure why they bothered to show those scenes — they have nothing to do with the plot, and felt squashed in to give Gerard Butler something to do besides…shoot things. As of 2017, he’s our new B Movie action hero, right?

I like a good caper, mystery, or thriller, but this is NONE of those. I’d say to wait for the DVD if you must see it, but only bother if you want to see guns going BANG BANG BANG for the entire second hour. Really. BANG: by this time, any semblance of storytelling was abandoned. I got a headache from this movie. It’s shocking how so much time was wasted in such a long film, without developing anyone beyond “barely good guy,” and “barely bad guy.”

Even that premise sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s not. I wanted to go home after the the first hour mark passed. I thought about leaving and pretending I saw the end, I kid not. I’ve watched a LOT of movies for RunPee and put up with all kinds of plot disappointments. This was just abysmal.

Movie Grade – D

Movie Review – The Post

Tom Hanks is the man. Streep does her usual good job, but basically she’s playing a nicer version of her Miranda Priestly role from The Devil Wears Prada. Hanks is really the standout actor in this, and it’s not easy to upstage Streep! He’s settling nicely into his older roles, and in The Post he is so good at being this smart, genial, likeable, dedicated newsman that I lost myself in his part, instead of being constantly impressed with his work. If this sounds like a contradiction, remember that really good acting is about the story, not the actor. When someone subsumes their persona into the role given, you forget about star power and just enjoy the work. Many kudos to Hanks. He’s become really reliable and versatile over the years.

Bob Odenkirk also deserves a shout out — he had some of the best, most gripping scenes, and was a great choice in this altogether stellar cast.

One question I do have: did every man in this era have a growly voice like the actors affected here?

The film documents a brave, historic, and positive moment in time, showcasing the better side of human nature. It will make you feel happy to be a small part of it, even as just a passive movie viewer. Politics sometimes isn’t completely depressing! Good job, Spielberg; once again you haven’t let us down. The wonderful score by John Williams is resonant and uplifting as well. I don’t usually enjoy historical dramas, but this is easily an A experience.

Movie grade: A

Movie Review – The Commuter

It’s strange: I did really enjoy this movie while watching it, and felt entertained immediately afterwards. But by the time I got home, the good stuff was already fading, and I was left with a lot of improbable plotting and endless images of Liam Neeson walking up and down train cars, having uninteresting and random conversations with people. There’s no character development, and the jeopardy is so completely unlikely. In *Speed* for example, which this film tries to be but isn’t, it makes sense in-story for the bomber to know everything Keanu Reeves does. (The bomber is watching everything on camera.) Here, we never actually understand the Phone Woman’s magical powers — it’s never addressed. And how exactly is she caught? I must have missed the work done to find her.

So, pop quiz, Hotshot: is this *Speed* wannabe movie also trying to piggyback off *Murder on the Orient Express*? The mystery is so lackluster that I’m a little lost. Even the big action set-pieces sort of lagged.

Honestly, I liked this at the theater, before I sat and thought about it too much. At least Qui-Gon-Jin still has a great voice and calm demeanor, but I think it’s time for him to stop being an action hero. It’s not his age, but the lack of intensity. Neeson isn’t the best choice for an action hero, even in B movies.

Movie Grade: C+

Movie Rewatch – Jurassic Park

It’s been a long time since the first Jurassic Park graced our theaters, but it’s still the best. The CGI effects have vastly improved since 1993, but the story is what matters most — and the original still brings back the happy tears and goosebumps I felt back then, seeing beloved dinosaurs come to life. I loved Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler, Dr. Malcolm, and Gameskeeper Muldoon.

Almost everything in this movie is perfect. I know all the lines, and still use them in current conversation. Here are an offhand few: “Must go faster”, “Clever girl”, “Spared no expense”, “Life finds a way”, “I’m fairly alarmed here”, “Dodgson, Dodgson, we’ve got Dodgson here!”, “We’re back in the car, again”, “They’re flocking this way”, and, of course: “Welcome to Jurassic Park”.

The score from John Williams doesn’t fail to make me shiver, just a bit, every time. (BTW, how does he do it? I can name a dozen major movie themes he’s done over my lifetime that have become instantly recognizable and are completely original).

Now, in 2018, I’ve seen the newer Jurassic World three times. It’s a visual feast, with the ever-lovable Chris Pratt, amazing effects, and a nice story that harkens back to the first film (thankfully, since the immediate sequels are of varying quality). But it still lacks the (carnivorous) meat the original served up. Sometimes you can keep a story going, and even do a good job, but lack the spark of the first time. Jurassic Park delivered then, and still does now. When you see those impact tremors in the cup of water, you remember how a simple visual shorthand can become iconic.

Grade: A+

Read our review of Jurassic World

Just for fun…watch the Honest Trailers video of Jurassic Park. Even these guys love the first and best dinosaur film in the series.  

Movie review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

It’s harder to love this movie than any of the *Harry Potter* films. The setting is rather gray and dreary, and the costumes are mundane, even for the time period. Main characters Newt and Tina are both underplayed, and hard to get a feel for. Their sidekicks, Jacob and Queenie, are much more appealing. There IS humor, but aside from a few really good “beast” scenes, nothing here feels very magical.

It’s possible the story will improve with subsequent viewings, but I found myself – a die hard HP fan who publicly dresses in full Hogwarts attire – not really caring much about the story. I couldn’t relate to the actual plot, and found this dense tale a bit confusing. I can’t imagine a casual Rowling fan would follow much of the situation. Things blow up and explode into little CGI bits, over and over again. Who is the smoky creature, who is the creepy little girl, and why is Colin Farrel so grim and stalkery? I’m not satisfied with that ending of the movie at all, or the reveal. Yet I’m just so thankful to have more of the Wizarding World to look at, and the abundance of amusing interactions between Newt and Jacob carry a lot of goodwill.

It also took me a while to clue in that Newt seems to be on the Autism spectrum, which would explain his constant under-emoting. He was hard to connect with when he wasn’t interacting with his creatures. I’m guessing — now that I understand he has trouble with actual people — that the movie will improve on re-watch. [Note from much later: *Fantastic Beasts* does get more fantastic. It’s now a beloved movie within my collection of *Harry Potter* universe films. I’m excited for the next one.]

I’m giving this movie a B+, but largely from grading on a curve within the *Harry Potter* universe. I miss Ron, Hermione, and Hogwarts…and Quidditch, classes, and teachers. I wanted some brooms (apparating is boring to watch), and those cool English wizard pub scenes. I missed the intricate detail of places like Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We did get an excellent Wizarding Speakeasy scene. Being inside the suitcase was rewarding. The Niffler and Bowtruckle (he’s like Baby Groot!) were adorable, and the Thunderbird: simply magnificent.

I saw this movie in 2D, and will see it again in 3D. If that improves things, I’ll adjust the grade. Should you see this film? Yes. But don’t expect lush Scottish scenery or a sense of magical awe in this outing.

UPDATE: I saw this a second time, the very next day. This time I saw it in 3D, in a good seat, in a better room at the cinema. Don’t waste your time in a small theater with this – seeing it properly improved things a great deal. Also, the film is simply better upon a second viewing experience. The actual ‘evil’ plot is still tedious, but the Beast scenes really are very good. Any time we spend in the suitcase is precious. So I did upgrade the film to a B+.

I did want to add that enjoyment of the film DOES require significant investment in the books of Harry Potter, or at Pottermore online. You will need to have read the books to understand why Grindelwald is important. The HP movies alone don’t give much context with what happened in Dumbledore’s era.

And appreciating the Beasts themselves is better if you’ve read the 2001 Hogwarts “textbook” *Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them*, unless you are already conversant with the critters in question. These Beasts aren’t the well-known ones you might have expected — no gryffins, sphinxes, or even dragons. They’re pretty damn obscure. Ever hear of a Demiguise?

If you like JK Rowling’s Wizarding World, make sure you get in early for good seating in a quality theater — much more enjoyable. At this time, this movie is planned to be in one of five with these new characters, just so you’re mentally prepared.

Grade: B+

Movie Review – I, Tonya

This movie surprised me: I teared up and cried a little for Tonya Harding. She’s been known as an Olympic villain for so long…and here we see that she may have been unfairly painted by history. If this story is an accurate representation, then I feel bad for believing the worst of this girl. I hated seeing her crummy life, the abuse, and how she couldn’t seem to get a break. But I also reveled in her Triple Axle Jump, and obvious adoration of the sport. It’s clear her first and real love is figure skating.

But how were the actors? Really, top notch. We got to see how well they inhabited their roles during the credit reels. Margot Robbie was absolutely believable, if much much taller than the real Harding – but who cares about that? She pulled off a difficult role, carrying 90% of the film. I look forward to seeing this actor mature.

Sabastian Stan was almost unrecognizable. This is the freaking WINTER SOLDIER, folks (he even gets a funny little line about superheroes), but in I, Tonya, he’s a detestable, bumbling, moronic boob.

The best work by far — no shock here — was by Allison Janney. I hated her character with the fire of a sun, but her iron gravitas and mean wit was undeniable. She’s awful. She’s great. Janney has been underrated since her work in The West Wing, and I’d love to see her garner some awards and bigger roles after this.

The conceit of the character interviews (it’s not “4th wall breaking” if the character is filmed within the film) added a deft and light touch to an otherwise sad, desperate plot. I did like the 80s/90s musical cues and outfits. The direction was pretty standard, as anything more stylish would have only called attention to itself.

I personally didn’t love I, Tonya, since it’s pretty bleak; not my idea of a fun time. I wouldn’t have seen it if I didn’t need to get Peetimes. But it does tell an interesting tale. I’m not sure it needed to be told after all this time, but it does have that nostalgia factor and really excellent acting. I expect there will be awards aplenty.

Movie Grade: A-

Movie review: Star Wars: A New Hope

*A New Hope* runs very closely to the number one spot that *Empire Strikes Back* occupies in the SW oeuvre — clipping its heels, as it were. It started the whole mythology and adventure in a well told opening story. It’s almost perfect. But the “official” name, *A New Hope,* is just lame. This movie will always be *Star Wars* to me. (And here I show my age. Yes, I was 12 in the theaters for *Star Wars*, and waited in those huge lines to see it over and over again.)

Grade: A+