Movie Review: Black Panther


Long live, King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)! (Source: IMDb)

T’Challa–otherwise known as the Black Panther–made his MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War. He is such a cool superhero! Dressing up in his black suit and panther mask, he grants super speed, strength, stamina. It was great to see him kick ass at the airport with Iron Man, Captain America, among others. Two years later, we finally get to see Black Panther’s solo feature. I can’t picture a better time to see it!

Black Panther is the first big-budget extravaganza from director Ryan Coogler. From the overlooked indie film Fruitvale Station to Creed, the miraculous entry in the Rocky franchise, he is becoming one of the greatest filmmakers of this generation.

After the events of Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his African homeland of the technologically advanced Wakanda. He takes the throne as the new king who wants to keep his people safe. However, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan, Coogler’s frequent collaborator) and his ally Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a South African arms dealer, seek to overthrow him. While putting his country’s fate over the edge, he suits up and joins forces with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead), Shuri (a scene-stealing Letitia Wright), and CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Together, they must prevent the two from annihilation.

If I ramble on about this movie, I’ll spoil it for everyone. With a screenplay written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, this contains the humor and thrills as expected in an MCU film, as well as morals, politics, and visual wonder (great cinematography by Mudbound‘s Rachel Morrison!). Boseman is the perfect choice to play Black Panther, and he leads a marvelous cast featuring Jordan (as MCU’s best villain), Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya, and the legendary Forest Whitaker. Black Panther is officially my favorite film in the MCU, surpassing Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok. This is destined to be a classic!



Movie Review: The 15:17 to Paris


Spencer Stone (as himself) notices something is seriously wrong on the train in Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris. (Source: The Houston Chronicle)

Clint Eastwood is no stranger when it comes to hiring non-actors in his movies. For instance, the Hmong community in Gran Torino give such natural performances as different characters. In his latest film, The 15:17 to Paris, he casts three friends who were involved in an act of courage during a terrorist attack on a train to Paris. Two of them served in the U.S. military. One thing in common? They play themselves.

Not only is it their first movie together, I’m positive this will be their last. It’s a shame considering how a legend like Eastwood went from The Outlaw Josey Wales to the Oscar-winning Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby to Gran Torino to American Sniper to Sully. He has never made a bad movie until The 15:17 to Paris.

Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone have been best friends since middle school. They would spend more time in the principal’s (Thomas Lennon) office than in the classroom. The mothers of Alek and Spencer (Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer) stick up for their sons whenever they meet up with their teachers and the principal. Years later, while Alek and Spencer join the military, they decide to bring Anthony for a summer vacation in Europe. They have a great time until the unthinkable happens on August 21, 2015 when they board a train from Amsterdam to Paris.

There is so much potential to be had with The 15:17 to Paris. This powerful story featuring three American heroes playing themselves offers so little. The three men are truly terrible actors and the supporting cast try way too hard (what the hell are you doing here, Jaleel White?). Instead, they are trapped in a plot (written by Dorothy Blyskal) wrapped with inept, wooden dialogue and shallow pacing. Leading up to the terrorist attack (the saving grace of this terrible movie), the movie features Skype chats, selfies, and discipline. There is nothing much happening. Once the movie finally picks it up within the last twenty minutes, it showcases the intensity and sheer realism of the event. Other than that, this is a wasted opportunity.


Movie Review: 12 Strong


Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) and his team of Special Forces join the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to take down the Taliban in 12 Strong. (Source: Joblo)

Jerry Bruckheimer productions have been a mixed bag over the years. From the good–The Rock, National Treasure, the first Pirates of the Caribbean, Remember the Titans–to the bad–Kangaroo Jack, The Lone Ranger, Pearl Harbor. With 12 Strong, the latest movie about The Horse Soldiers, it seemed nothing entirely special. Surprisingly, even for a January release, this is a solid tribute to the first responders of the 9/11 attacks.

On  September 11, 2001, everybody was watching the news when the two planes flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is getting her daughter ready for school until it happened. He becomes the leader of the first U.S. special forces team to head into Afghanistan. Along with Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon), Sam Diller (Michael Peña), Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight), Max Bowers (Rob Riggle) among others, Nelson joins forces with Gnl. Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to take down the Taliban and members of al-Qaeda.

Having to play these real-life soldiers sounds like a dream come true to this gifted cast. Particularly Riggle who plays Col. Max Bowers. An interesting fact: Before becoming a comedic actor, we used to be a Marine who actually served under Bowers.

“He was a very proficient leader,” he said. “He knew his stuff, and he cared about his troops, and I thought he was a real professional. So that’s all you can ask for.”

With New Mexico serving as the backdrop of Afghanistan, 12 Strong has strong production values (nothing is more awesome than seeing the soldiers fight into battle on horseback) and steady action set pieces, thanks to Nicolai Fuglsig’s direction and Rasmus Videbæk’s cinematography. Despite the limited character development, Chris Hemsworth and the team do make up for its flaws. It hardly brings anything new to the table and it might be twenty minutes too long. The results are somewhat underwhelming. Also, William Fichtner as Col. Mullholland looks so bizarre with a shaved head that it’s almost impossible not to crack up. Nevertheless, I’m glad I went to see this movie.


Movie Review: Insidious: The Last Key


Parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) returns to The Further once again in Insidious: The Last Key. (Source: IMDb)

Starting the New Year with–what else?–a horror movie.

James Wan and Leigh Whannell have crafted one of the most successful horror movie franchises in recent memory. With a $1.5 million budget, Insidious provided the much needed atmospheric thrills without becoming too gimmicky. It contained some of the most horrifying images in any PG-13 rated horror movie. The two sequels followed the same premise of an entity taking over someone’s soul and calling upon a parapsychologist to save them. While Insidious: Chapter Two ended up being too silly for its own good, Insidious: Chapter Three had enough decent scares to carry through. With the previous film ending a cliffhanger, the beloved Elise Rainier returns to face her worst nightmare in Insidious: The Last Key.

Elise (Lin Shaye) has investigated paranormal activity for years. One day, she receives a phone call from a man named Ted (Kirk Acevedo), whose house is claimed to be haunted. This leads Elise and her ghost hunters–Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell)–to Five Keys, New Mexico, where she grew up as a child. As she looks back at her childhood, she must go back into the Further to save her niece Melissa (Spencer Locke, Monster House) from the evil entity once and for all.

Is it really necessary to make another Insidious film? Of course not! But–this is slightly better than Insidious: Chapter Two. It has its moments; ranging from providing some decent scares and strong set pieces. Shaye is as great as ever as Elise. Her rough childhood is what makes this movie. It opens up in 1953 with Elise as a little girl living through the Cold War with her young brother Christian (Pierce Pope; Bruce Davison, as the adult Christian), loving mother (Tessa Ferrer), and abusive father (Josh Stewart). Whenever she is communicating with the spirits, this really pisses her father off. Then–she unleashes the evil spirit before leaving her home for good.

After the strong prologue, The Last Key descents into a state of dullness. Featuring little to no surprises and forced attempts at humor, this is far from the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen. It’s most certainly one I will never revisit anytime soon.


Movie Review: Darkest Hour


Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) writes a little something on her typewriter for Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. (Source: Seattle Times)

Starring in about a hundred films, Gary Oldman is one of the greatest character actors working today. Ranging from Sid Vicious (Sid and Nancy), Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK),  Commissioner Gordon (The Dark Knight films), Sirius Black (Harry Potter), Dracula, Stansfield (Leon: The Professional), and Zorg (The Fifth Element), he has one impressive repertoire. Now–he takes part in delivering the most ambitious role of his entire career.

Hundreds of actors have played U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill; from Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech to John Lithgow–a surprising turn–in Netflix’s The Crown. After spending 200 hours in the makeup chair, Oldman is unrecognizable as Churchill in Joe Wright’s new film Darkest Hour. With a screenplay written by Anthony McCarten, it might be a romanticized portrait of Churchill’s first days as Prime Minister, but there is a lot to like here.

In May of 1940, World War II is in full steam. Nazi Germany has just invaded Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Churchill (Oldman) steps in to replace Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, who took John Hurt’s place after his death) as Prime Minister, accepted by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). Right away, he must find a solution to a peace agreement with Germany. With the support of his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), he does whatever he can to save British troops on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Darkest Hour makes a great triple feature with this year’s Their Finest and Dunkirk. Through the long, unbroken shots, the dramatic close-ups, and the gorgeous, vintage sets, this is pure Joe Wright. Oldman delivers his performance with enough wit and empathy that the audience forgets they are watching an actor. We laugh when we’re supposed to (“Will you stop interrupting me while I’m interrupting you!?” he sneers at his War Cabinet.), and we root for him every step of the way when he attempts to save the world.

While James and Mendelsohn are worth mentioning of their wonderful performances, Darkest Hour is Oldman’s show through and through. How can you not have the feeling of standing up and cheering after he delivers his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech in Parliament? I would be shocked if he doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar. He is long overdue for one!


Movie Review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri


Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) gives a piece of her mind to Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. (Source: Variety)

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is something Joel and Ethan Coen would direct. It has the dark comedy mixed with drama. Frances McDormand, Joel’s wife and collaborator, leads a terrific cast as a woman on a quest for the truth.

If only they were actually attached. However, that’s not the case.

Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) writes and directs this tale about the fight for justice. It’s foul-mouthed. It’s devastating. It’s violent. And it’s funny.

Divorced mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has heard nothing about who is responsible for raping and murdering her daughter Angela seven months ago. She goes to the local advertising company to rent three billboards outside her home to get the attention from the authorities. They read: “RAPED WHILE DYING.” “STILL NO ARRESTS?” HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”

After appearing on the news, she becomes a local celebrity. Not surprisingly, her decision of the billboards becomes a controversial topic. When Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and Officer Dixon (the understated Sam Rockwell) get involved in the case, it’s on!

As a British filmmaker, McDonagh truly understands how messed up our world can be. Especially in America, there has been problems concerning police brutality over the years, from the Detroit riots to the incident in Ferguson. It’s still a recurring issue. Kudos to a razor-sharp script, Three Billboards showcases the madness within its protagonist and the small town she resides.

McDormand’s Hayes is somebody worth rooting for. Despite her frustration, she never backs down to have the police provide her any information about who the perpetrator is. Her morals come into play perfectly here. Her comedic timing is also the icing on the cake. When she drives pass the reporter about the billboards, she tells her this is only the beginning.

She also has a beautiful scene where she encounters a deer, a sign that it might be her daughter reincarnated. “You’re not trying to make me believe in reincarnation, are you?” she asks. “You’re pretty, but you ain’t her.” There is a possibility her brilliant performance will be a shoe-in for her first Oscar since Fargo.

Featuring career-best performances by Harrelson, Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, and Lucas Hedges, Ben Davis’ flawless cinematography, Carter Burwell’s stunning score, and perhaps one of the best screenplays of the year, Three Billboards is a terrific American movie. Certainly one worth discussing about for years to come.


Movie Review: Justice League


Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and the rest prepare to kick some ass in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. (Source: IMDb)

The DC Extended Universe has finally released a great movie this year with Wonder Woman. Not only did it become the highest-grossing film ever to be directed by a female, but it sparked a new light into popular culture; as it did back in the 1970s. Wonder Woman teams up with Batman and new group of heroes in Justice League, the shortest film in the franchise (clocking in at two hours). Zack Snyder returns to the director’s chair to give a big, beautiful mess. Surprisingly, however, I find it to be quite solid.

After Batman’s (Ben Affleck) fight with Superman (Henry Cavill), Gotham City is in mourning after Superman’s death. Bruce Wayne recruits Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to save the world from a group of mythical aliens, led by Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). They assemble the Justice League. This includes Barry Allen a.k.a. The Flash (Ezra Miller), Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Victor Stone a.k.a. Cyborg (Ray Fisher). All of them work together to show Steppenwolf who’s boss.

I will never forget what Snyder did to ruin Batman vs. Superman. He has a tremendous visual style, but he never has enough substance to carry through. While Man of Steel had a different take on Superman, Batman vs. Superman fell apart after the first 30 minutes. The biggest problem with DCEU is how their movies (except Wonder Woman) take themselves so seriously. While Justice League can draw comparisons to The Avengers, I had a good time with it. With a screenplay written by Joss Whedon (of all people), the movie manages to have somewhat of a sense of humor. While the cast does a good job, Miller is the one who steals the show. He maintains Barry Allen’s geeky personality almost to perfection.

While there is a lot of kick-ass action to feast the eyes (how can you not get pumped during the scene where Wonder Woman takes down those terrorists in London?), the movie falters with its bland villain and dull subplots surrounding Superman and Lois Lane (Amy Adams). It’s riddled with holes and it should have been a little longer. But–at least we all got a taste of the upcoming Aquaman. And boy–does it look good!