Episode 098: Black Panther

Black Panther has arrived and Marvel’s latest film is shattering box office records and receiving plenty of praise in its first weekend. We’re joined by Emmanuel Noisette of Eman’s Movie Reviews to discuss the cultural importance and quality of entertainment that Ryan Coogler’s film brings.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:12

(Aaron – Hamilton: An American Musical)

Black Panther Review – 0:09:21

The Connecting Point – 1:30:15


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Black Panther

BLACK PANTHER (2018)

GOING IN

This is the most excited I’ve been for a Marvel film in several years. Black Panther looks to be set in a completely unique world that feels like an African Asgard. The importance of this superhero film for African Americans is significant, too, and cannot be dismissed. With a cast of incredible actors of color plus two of my favorite Tolkien-universe stars, and director Ryan Coogler whose never made anything less than an excellent film, expectations are high that this will be a comic book movie to remember. Plus, his superhero persona is a cat. I mean, c’mon… who doesn’t love cats?

2 Hours and 14 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

There’s nothing quite like that feeling when a highly hyped movie delivers the goods. It’s euphoric and can lead to long bouts of smiling the rest of the day. When that film is in a genre that has largely become stagnant and routine, a diamond emerging from the rough is an even bigger deal, and cause for great celebration. Those who have followed Ryan Coogler’s brief career thus far (Fruitvale Station, Creed) knew the young director had the chops to pull of a great Black Panther movie, and boy did he ever.

Early in the film, T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) tells him “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” This little nugget of wisdom feels like foreshadowing because that is exactly what Coogler and this fantastic cast have done with Black Panther. Marvel movies make money and are highly enjoyable, so the formula thus far has worked just fine. But Coogler, who also co-wrote the film, has definitely elevated that formula and created something with so much more depth than the majority of comic book films. Fans are constantly clamoring for these films to be more than just jokes and great action, and to have some genuine stakes. Because of the more personal level of the conflict in Black Panther it has those necessary stakes, both for T’Challa as a king and the nation of Wakanda. Coogler’s film also tackles the reality of African American history while comparing that to an incredibly advanced civilization free from colonization and bondage. The subtle but strong way the story handles all of these topics is what makes it so special.

Well, that and the acting. Black Panther features a standout cast that just rocks it in almost every role. Andy Serkis steps out of the motion capture suit to play villain Ulysses Klaue and promptly steals every scene he is in. It’s a performance that is dripping with that exaggerated comic book style and I ate up every second he was on screen. Pairing with him in the villain role is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, who unsurprisingly is phenomenal. Goodness gracious can this guy act! I’ll be blunt – these two together are the best Marvel villains we’ve seen. In Killmonger, for once Marvel has given us a villain worth caring about, and the difference in personality and motivation between he and Klaue makes for superb entertainment. Other standouts are Danai Gurira as Okoye, as T’Challa’s Wakandan General and absolute bad-ass warrior. Her performance is fierce and she epitomizes the strength of Wakandan women who may live under a patriarchy, but are every bit as equal and valued as the men. I could go on and on, but the aforementioned Letitia Wright also was excellent. As T’Challa’s sister, she provides an interesting picture of someone who has grown up with the comfort and technology of a secret tribal country yet still has the sensibilities of a wide-eyed teenager. She gives the film plenty of its humor and is the primary vessel for us to learn about and fall in love with Wakandan vibranium tech (which is AWESOME).

The setting of Wakanda is a beautiful, at times breathtaking, fascinating sort of African Asgard. The filmmakers took great care to make each tribe look and feel unique. Everything about this world felt so vibrant and traditional, from the rituals to the manner of conversation. Much of the score features tribal music with beating drums that fit perfectly, but at times it also switches up to modern musical styles. This is best shown in one particular fight scene where the style of music alternated back and forth based on which character was shown in battle.

Black Panther is truly great, but it isn’t quite perfect. My two biggest complaints about the film are its CGI and a few of the narrative choices made during the climax that felt like shortcuts. The climax also felt a little long to me, but that’s a minor quibble. The CGI being wonky was a major problem in a genre that showcases its heroes using their abilities. Many times it was so bad that it took me out of the moment and lessened the intensity of the action sequence taking place. There are definitely great moments, many relating to the Panther’s kinetic reflecting suit, but overall it was still a letdown from a studio that should be acing that element.

VERDICT

Black Panther may not be king of the MCU, but it certainly is a worthy challenger for that mantle. The film’s deep themes and focus on developing characters makes it linger in your thoughts even after the high has passed. This is the first Marvel film in a long time that I immediately purchased tickets to see again. There are so many great lessons and they’re all contained in a beautifully unique wrapper unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Representation matters and Black Panther is certainly an important step forward in film, but it’s also just a damn good comic book movie and reminder of what the genre can be at its height. Wakanda Forever.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Minisode 035: 2017 Year in Review

In this special SPOILER FREE “minisode,” we wrap up the year by discussing some of our favorite things about 2017. Instead of just a top ten list of favorite films, we talk about the moments and performances that really resonated with us personally. This is a super-sized bonus episode with a ton of content and we really hope you enjoy.

Favorite First-Time Viewings (non-2017) – 0:01:10

Favorite Performances – 0:27:36

Films that Most Exceeded Expectations – 0:52:19

Films that Were Biggest Disappointments – 0:57:56 

Favorite Episodes of the Year – 1:04:31

Our Feelin’ Five Films – 1:15:03

Most Anticipated Films of 2018 – 1:48:13

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Episode 089: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has arrived, and it is proving to be extremely divisive, as critics laud Rian Johnson’s film despite many fans coming away disappointed. We enjoy this opportunity to talk about trilogy world-building and whether we like the directions Star Wars is heading. We also discuss the recently announced 2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards, of which Aaron is a voting member.

What We’ve Been Up To 0:01:05

(2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Awards)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – 0:39:29

The Connecting Point – 1:46:30

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)


GOING IN

In the two years since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, it’s been a bumpy ride for my fandom of this once beloved franchise. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of this new trilogy, but also found its use of nostalgia to be a bit off-putting. And then came Rogue One, which I did not enjoy much and resulted in me becoming very down on Star Wars and its cinematic future. Thankfully, a recent re-watch of The Force Awakens and the release of the first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi snapped me back to attention and I am now properly excited once more.

So many questions exist that must be answered. How will Rian Johnson fare in the director’s chair and how will the treatment of recently deceased Carrie Fisher be handled? Where is Kylo Ren’s character arc heading and will he evolve into a villain on par with Darth Vader? And who, for the love of all that is holy, are Rey’s parents? The Last Jedi looks amazing, and expectations are sky high. Hopefully not so high that they’re bound to be let down.

2 Hours and 32 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

A few weeks prior to the release of The Last Jedi, Disney announced that director Rian Johnson would be expanding Star Wars further with a new trilogy. This news sort of tipped Disney’s hand as to how they felt about The Last Jedi because they certainly weren’t going to give Johnson more work if they didn’t like what he’d done in Episode VIII. Well, it all makes sense now, and Johnson has proven that the franchise is in good hands.

The Last Jedi follows a similar path to The Empire Strikes Back, with dual storylines following Rey (who we last saw tracking down Luke Skywalker at his secret hiding place) and the rest of the Resistance separately. But if you’re worried about the film being a beat-for-beat remake of the hallowed Episode V, you can rest easy knowing that it does not do so and instead offers many surprises. It is telling that Luke says, “This not going to go the way you think,” because for (mostly) better and (a few times) worse Johnson twists and turns this tale all over the place, which creates the exhilaration that comes with having no idea what is coming next. After its typical over-the-top opening sequence, Johnson’s film does lag a bit, though, and I felt the overall length more-so than I have in other epics. It’s not that the character development and plotting aren’t important, but it is noticeable compared to the high octane pacing of the film in its second half. And in that second half is where things really shine the brightest as everything and anything can and does happen. The final third of The Last Jedi is as emotionally affecting, gorgeous to behold, and fun to experience as any Star Wars film has ever been.

One thing that really stuck out the most in The Last Jedi was Johnson’s ability to challenge the moral choices of characters both “good” and “bad.” Poe Dameron has to actually deal with the repercussions of his Maverick-esque personality and Finn struggles with being considered a hero. Even Chewie deals with moving on after the loss of his best friend, albeit with a pretty adorable outcome. Many characters are faced with dilemmas that seem easy to solve on the surface but prove to be so much more. I’m not even going to address Rey and Kylo Ren’s arcs because those need to be seen firsthand with no prior knowledge, but I will say that I appreciated where the former ended up more than the latter. One of my disappointments with the film was being left with the feeling that Ren still isn’t a villain worth fearing like Darth Vader. That being said, this is a different story with different relationships in play, and there is much I do like about the complex Kylo Ren.

Acting is solid across the board with Hamill standing out the most. His grizzled, regretful Luke feels very real and sincere. We do finally get to see Supreme Leader Snoke up close and Andy Serkis does his typical great motion-capture work, however the voicing of Snoke sounds a little too reminiscent of Gollum at times and that can be distracting. Also, thankfully, Carrie Fisher’s appearance is handled with the utmost care and respect. She’s not just a side character either, but a very integral part of the the entire film’s plot. One final small criticism would be that the characters are sometimes forced to use very modern dialogue, specifically when the film is being humorous. Many laughed, but I found some lines to just be more eye-roll worthy instead. Luckily these moments are few and far between, nothing that derails the cerebral and intriguing plot.

VERDICT

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a wonderful next step in this new trilogy and one of most epic cinematic space operas since The Empire Strikes Back. Its unexpected plot choices will have fans gasping in surprise, and many emotional moments will cause a lump in the throat or tears in the eye. As Star Wars has always told us, the Resistance (and Rebellion) operate on HOPE. The story here is no different, but our HOPE in Rian Johnson has also been pleasantly rewarded. Whether you like every choice or not, it’s impossible not to respect the filmmaker’s talent, ambition, and passion, especially as the film’s momentum builds and races home to its incredible conclusion. The Last Jedi is a must-see for fans and should be taken in at the biggest theater possible for full effect. See it soon to avoid spoilers, and may the force be with you always.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes

I keep wondering what we did to deserve this. In this era of blockbuster fatigue and sequel after sequel of middling franchises grasping for every last drop of blood from the turnip (I’m looking at you Pirates and Transformers), how do we rate a trilogy of films, about talking monkeys of all things, that has been handled with such care- with such dedication to story- as to be considered in the discussion of the greatest trilogies of all time?

The first two films in the series, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, are both above average films that work well in unison as part of a collective whole. The conclusion, War for the Planet of the Apes, piggybacking off the climax of it’s predecessor, is masterful, in more ways than one.

A couple of things elevate this final chapter to its lofty height…

First, Michael Giacchino‘s score is on a different level. Music exists in film to accentuate the experience, ramping up or slowing down as needed.   A lot of time, the music just exists as white noise in the background, unnoticed. But when that music works its way into your core being, ebbing and flowing with the tempo of the visual experience, forcing you to feel every crescendo of action or tender emotional beat, music has done more than accompany.  The music here transcends conventional usefulness and forces the viewer to swallow the film whole.

That’s what a film’s score should do. It looks for the viewer who isn’t engaged (how that could be in this instance I don’t know), grabs them by the ear-hole, and makes them be engaged. In War, the dramatic beats of the timpani as a call to arms, or in the quietest of moments when the distant ding of a triangle accompanies a fallen teardrop, Giacchino provides emotional guidance, almost cathartic in its precise execution.

Secondly, Andy Serkis. I’ve been that guy over the past decade claiming what Serkis does is not true acting, and all of the hubbub over championing him for Academy honors as such should be beaten down. Well, color me converted. Serkis IS Caesar.  Every twitch- every nuance- every look into the depths of Caesar’s tired, battle weary eyes is like looking into the inner core of someone we should feel guilty for having bothered.  Serkis has taken motion capture to a masterful level. Not only should he be in the discussion of best actor, there should probably be an award adorned with his name given out for the best in the motion capture arts each year.

That said, Weta Digital, the New Zealand based visual effects company spearheaded by Peter Jackson, should hold exclusive rights to do all VFX work in all films from this point forward. In all three films, the way in which the apes move on screen is seamless.  It’s near impossible to tell that the humans and the apes aren’t truly coexisting within this world. When we aren’t distracted by sketchy CGI, we can concentrate on the important things, like getting caught up in the story and the characters. Isn’t that novel.

As for the story, is it any good? In my opinion, absolutely. There is a Shakespearean quality to this overall story, coming forward in earnest midway through the second film with the relationship between Caesar and his nemesis, Koba (Toby Kebbel).  In his third film, Caesar is forced to come to terms with the fallout of his actions leading up to this point, as a new dramatic turn of events muddies the waters of his already fragile psyche. Caesar’s will to lead is tested as new priorities consume him.

Themes of morality have hovered over this series from the onset. The Apes are intentionally constructed as sympathetic characters.  Beasts yes, but never in a way that suggests they seek anything other than a means to coexist with humans.  The humans, well, they just can’t help themselves from doing what humans do.  It’s the human’s God complex exhibited in the first film, along with a nasty little flu bug,  that brought us to this point, and the humans still can’t find a way to settle differences without succumbing to destructive tactics. Eradicate enemies. Destroy. Kill. It’s never, hey, these monkeys are freaking talking to us in English! Because, human.

The main human villain here is Woody Harrelson, known only in the film as The Colonel.  This is undoubtedly a role designed for the type of actor Harrelson is. No nonsense, ruthless, and devoid of any semblance of ethical fortitude. He isn’t constructed with a ton of depth, and he doesn’t need to be. His lengthy diatribe of why he is how he is warrants perhaps just a touch of sympathy from the viewer- at least we understand where he’s coming from- but Harrelson urges just enough dickishness from the character to keep any good will he might have earned at arms length.

Also notable is young actress Amiah Miller, as the orphaned girl, Nova, who is forced to tag along with Caesar and his posse on their journey. Miller’s scenes, especially during times of emotional strife, are next level. Stricken with a side effect of the Simian Flu in which she loses her ability to speak, Miller must carry the full weight of her character with her eyes and expressions. The more subdued the scene, the more brilliant is Miller’s performance. One scene in particular, as one of the apes is wounded, will stick with you long after the film, and the credit goes to Miller’s unspoken emotional gravitas.

Adding a touch of levity to the film is newcomer, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). His presence is welcome as the story does travel down some weighty, emotional paths.  Nothing that Zahn does with the character pushes the film into corniness, but he does provide a couple of laugh-out-loud moments.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. There is an emotional yet oddly cathartic final scene which sums up Caesar’s journey to protect and serve the Apes. It works as both a catalyst for future installments of the franchise or as a final exclamation point if that’s what the studio prefers to do. Director Matt Reeves has created such an immersive, thoughtful experience with endless re-watchability.  These damn, dirty apes are the gold standard from which the summer blockbuster should be based upon from here on out.

Rating:

 

Episode 067: War for the Planet of the Apes

DAWN has come and we RISE to the occasion of discussing one of 2017’s best films. War For the Planet of the Apes completes one of the greatest trilogies of the 21st century. It’s not just a story of humanity’s struggle to survive, but a character drama that harkens back to the Biblical and historical epics of old. We dig deep into this completion of Caesar’s tale and hope you’ll join us for a great conversation.

What We’ve Been Up To – 001:30

(Aaron –  Greater)
(Patrick – Brainstorm)

War For the Planet of the Apes Review – 0:16:16

The Connecting Point – 1:16:37

Contact

Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download this Episode


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

What We Learned This Week: July 9-15

LESSON #1: CAESAR FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES PREQUEL TRILOGY WILL GO DOWN AS ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE CHARACTERS IN MOVIE HISTORY— It’s really something when the course of three post-apocalyptic films about one version of mankind’s demise can make us root for the apes over the humans.  War for the Planet of the Apes elevates an already incredible series to soaring new gravitas and it’s all thanks to Caesar.  I really enjoyed this Movie Pilot article spelling out the character’s evolution with revolutionary, tragic, and even biblical tones.  Give it a read.  Speaking of Caesar…

LESSON #2: ANDY SERKIS DESERVES AN ACADEMY AWARD— It’s time to recognize the imperative greatness happening before our eyes and under performance capture special effects.  Andy Serkis has taken the potential of performance capture technology and turned it into precision of unparalleled heights.  What he does on the set, through voice, posture, body language, and stunt work supersede how good the finished topical effects turn out.  If he doesn’t qualify as a Best Actor Academy Award contender then it’s time to go a step further with a Special Achievement Oscar.  This is true performance taken to another level.

LESSON #3: SO DOES KUMAIL NANJIANI…— Comedy has long gotten the short straw at the Academy Awards.  In my opinion, having separate comedy and drama categories is one thing the abysmal Golden Globe Awards gets right.  Kumail Nanjiani’s  commitment to bare his soul in The Big Sick and reconstruct a difficult time in his life for unlimited and unflinching humor is downright extraordinary.  The comedian strikes upon a level of mammoth heart and monumental charm that isn’t matched in the efforts of mainstream comedy actors of today, men with names like Ferrell, Sandler, Rogen, and Hart.  His juggling of comedy and drama with equal levels of confidence is Oscar-worthy.

LESSON #4: DIRECTOR MATT REEVES IS GOING TO MAKE A HELL OF A BATMAN MOVIE— If Reeves’ sense of epic scope combined with weighty dramatic importance in the second two Planet of the Apes prequels are any indication, Ben Affleck is going to have to buckle up and raise his game.  Word around the campfire is Matt Reeves wants a detective-centered The Batman, an under-emphasized core trait of the Caped Crusader’s previous film incarnations, and has shelved Affleck’s script to start anew.  I’m all for it.  Give that man carte blanche to make it great his way.

LESSON #5: WONDER WOMAN IS DOING SPECIAL THINGS AT THE BOX OFFICE— The Hollywood Reporter recently discussed the box office earnings data for Wonder Woman now that it has crossed into its second month of steam.  As it turns out, the DCEU winner is boasting the best hold of any superhero film in more than 15 years.  At its current pace, it will pass Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 this week as the top-grossing film of the 2017 summer.  If the blockbuster keeps on chugging, it will flirt with $400 million at the domestic North American box office.   That’s rarefied air and it couldn’t go to a more deserving film.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.