It feels like I have watched a ton of comic book movies recently, probably because I have watched a bunch in the last few weeks. It's the golden goose that keeps delivering for the studios even if the film is mediocre at best. Some studios are able to produce a better product than others and Black Panther is another example of Marvel having the ability to translate their characters to the big screen in a way that doesn't turn them into over the top parodies of what people know about them.
Of course Black Panther could be considered outside the awareness of the general public. I admit to knowing very little about Black Panther before Captain America: Civil War, but Marvel has an uncanny ability to take its lesser known characters and making extraordinary films out of them.
The film directly follows the events of Civil War as T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has returned to Wakanda to assume the throne as king and the mantle of the Black Panther following the death of his father. We learn that Wakanda is a technologically advanced nation that has camouflaged itself as a poor nation that has little attention paid to it in the realm of worldwide affairs- all the better to keep their society hidden. Issues arise when the nefarious Klaue (Andy Serkis) crazily goes into the business of using Wakandian technology to propel his evil schemes along with Kilmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who is more than the mercenary he appears to be.
Black Panther takes the typical super hero tropes and delivers them with a fresh perspective. T'Challa is rich, endowed with technology, and given super human powers, but they are by no means par for the course. There is a procession of birthright, but it's not going to be handed to you. Worth has to be proven to become the Black Panther. It's a step beyond the usual getting powers, here's you suit, and go for it attitude of numerous other stories.
T'Challa isn't alone in his challenges during the film by adding supporting characters that practically create its own cinematic universe within a cinematic universe. Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) is what I guess you would call T'Challa's love interest, but plays more like an equal in quell the issues that have occurred in Wakanda. If Black Panther was James Bond then Shuri (Letitia Wright) would be Q, developing tech to give Black Panther the edge. The thing she does have that Q didn't do much was go out in the field, be it in person or manning a drone of some sort. And the person who should get her own film is Okoye (Danai Gurira), the bad ass leader of the guard that is sworn to protect the throne. Each of these characters really fills out the actual Black Panther and when you get right to it they all hold a piece of the persona along with T'Challa.
On the other side of the conflict Serkis as Klaue is an over the edge madman, going so far as trying to peddle his mix tape, but the real stand out is Jordan's Killmonger. Your film is only as good as your villain and he is an intricate part of what makes Black Panther a good film. When you get down to it what Killmonger wants to accomplish in the end is actually moral, it's just the way he wants to get there that's evil. I have always been more inclined to antagonists that want to do an essentially good thing in their minds, but are blinded by their goals into doing whatever is necessary for their achievement (or, on the other hand, the concept of a villain doing something just for pure chaos and no real motivation ala Heath Ledger's Joker). Thos characters are so much more interesting than the "I am here to rule the world because I'm evil" motif of a villain. Villains with a purpose are deeper. There's a back story of why they got there and that is what fuels their desire. Michael B. Jordan exudes these traits as Killmonger. You can feel his anguish and pain that feeds the things he does as the film moves along. It is a great performance and ranks as one of the best comic book performances ever.
Director Ryan Coogler, who also had a hand in writing the script, delivers a world that while part of the MCU, shies away just as Wakanda. During the first quarter of the film the audience gets what feels like your typical action/comic film (which worried me as I watched), but it's at this point that they deliver something more. Taking a hard left the film becomes a testament of family bonds and how they serve as the fuel for someone as they carve out their place in the world, which seems to be the theme of the film. How do we honor our ancestors? How do we help the people that we care about the most? Black Panther goes beyond the typical "pew pew" mentality and delivers a large budget action film that also has a lot of heart.
The idea of a superhero crossover film was taboo twenty years ago. Everything was standalone and that's the way we liked it. Honestly, did we even really know that we wanted to see more than one comic book lead in a film back then. I don't remember myself, but once Marvel began spoon feeding us these tiny cameos in their after credits sequences that became films that had full fledged teams of superheroes it seems as though a hole that we had as movie audiences was filled. Everywhere we look now we get the news that some studio is planning a "cinematic universe" to create an entire slate of films and more importantly revenue.
The main competition on comic books news stands for Marvel has been DC for decades. Marvel has some iconic characters, but DC also has characters that have been a part of popular culture since the late 1930's. The thing is that the stars have never aligned to deliver a film featuring their own team called the Justice League, other than cartoons and an awful TV special back in the 1970's. They're now trying to play catch up with a definite hit or miss game plan as they enter their fourth film Justice League.
The film follows an intergalactic threat named Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds) whose objective is to find three cubes called Mother Boxes that will turn the Earth into his home world. It's destroying to create, ala Genesis in the Star Trek II and III arc. This is a post Superman world and Batman (Ben Affleck) has decided to not be so homicidal and build a team to work together to battle evil across the globe. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) round out the Justice League as they prepare to battle the greatest threat to this world.
The idea of a Justice League film would have gotten me excited ten years ago. Now, not as much as it should have mainly due to the poor delivery of films such as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (a marquee film that is a waste of stories and characters) and Suicide Squad (a film with a good concept, but no real antagonist). Wonder Woman bucked that trend with a film that is interesting and exciting, but there was still the feeling of dread when this newest DC film came to the local Cineplex.
Even before an audience saw this film the troubled production left many without hope for how Justice League was going to turn out and the verdict is that it is nowhere near a perfect film, but it is a step in the right direction being better than BvS and SS. There isn't that dark despair that punctuated those two films and it feels more like a typical superhero film that actually takes a few beats and has some comic relief. One of my main complaints about Batman v. Superman is that there were no real breaks from the constant action and darkness of characters that were developed so many years ago. Justice League manages to get some laughs, breaking up the seriousness and tension of the film, mainly with Miller's timid portrayal of The Flash, and the general bad assery of Momoa's Aquaman. These characters are more like you would want, except for Wonder Woman who feels like she has been regulated to second fiddle in this film, a shame considering her solo film was such an exciting film.
What causes the problems with Justice League lie in the story. Once again we get Steppenwolf and his collection of video game sprites for our heroes to fight throughout the film, which is something that really polluted Suicide Squad. The character is better than Enchantress, but in the end it feels like you're fighting thousands of the same thing, which has become a well dulled cliché. Then there's the Superman (Henry Cavill) issue. We all knew he was going to come back in this film after being dispatched in Suicide Squad. Sadly, it really isn't very momentous and seems a bit too easy. I know characters come back in comic books all the time, but this really doesn't gel with the rest of the film. The plus is that when Superman does work out his issues, Cavill plays the character more like we are used to instead of the brooding character that was really cutting into Batman's psyche territory.
Justice League is a step in the right direction for the DC Extended Universe. It is an entertaining film that doesn't feel like a two and a half hour depression screening (thankfully they kept the running time at two hours). It is not close to a perfect film, but it does stand as a popcorn movie. I have had an appreciation of these characters for as long as I can remember, so they do hold a special place for me. Hopefully they can keep going in the right direction as they move forward.
Of all the horror franchises that are out there, the one that has been literally treated like a victim in its films is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. How many times has this series been rebooted, re-imagined, or recycled? That would be a daring assignment to figure out with probably no real satisfaction at the end, just a slippery slope into further mediocrity. And when you're about to land at the bottom of the barrel you do an origins film.
Leatherface is a prequel to at least 2013's Texas Chainsaw 3D, a terrible film in its own right. Now why do I say at least? Mainly because I see listings that associate this with the films in the franchise from 1974, 1986, 1990, and 1994 (that being The Next generation, a film thrown in the trash until stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey hit the big time). Who knows? The film follows a young Leatherface from his early days of getting a chainsaw and gutting a fella at his fifth birthday party, which is slightly more painful than a trip to Chuck E. Cheese. Eventually the Sawyer clan, led by the matriarch Verna (Lili Taylor) push their meat harvesting activities too far and end up killing the sheriff's daughter and the wee Leatherface is taken away to an asylum until he is old enough to do whatever he was going to do. I do wonder why none of the family members were arrested for the crime.
We do a time jump and discover an asylum that is full of unscrupulous employees except for the new nurse Lizzy (Grasse). A riot breaks out and Lizzy is taken captive by Ike (Bloor) and Clarice (Madsen) as Jackson (Strike) and Bud (Coleman) go along for the ride. They go on a death race to nowhere while being chased by the same sheriff (Stephen Dorff) as we try to figure out which of these fugitives is going to wind up being the legendary killer Leatherface.
Leatherface is your basic modern era horror film that tries to be coy with the reveal of who ends up being the legendary Sawyer, which is all this film has going for it. The characters are all boxed in stereotypes and the filmmaker's poor attempts at making a plot twist backfires horribly. It will be solved before they even leave the hospital. It's amazing how stupid characters can be written in a film and I understand that many of these individuals are deranged, but I don't buy the idea that has the concept of self preservation at one moment, but they don't at another integral scene. What makes this so difficult to understand is that these people act manic all the time, leading to a sort of cancelling themselves out. Even with the name Leatherface in bold letters to open the film, this is a poor paint by numbers horror film that is banking on the many past glories (and failures).
I'm not big on reboots. I'm even less interested in origin stories, particularly with horror film icons. Rob Zombie made that mistake with his version of Halloween in that he gave us too much back story on the character of Michael Myers as opposed to Carpenter's approach of the mysterious Boogeyman (I'm not counting the sequels, but comparing Halloween to Halloween). Leatherface pulls the same mistakes by giving us not only a back story that eliminates the mystery that a man in a mask has, but manages to do it with some of the worst concepts I've seen in a very long time. Honestly, the opening birthday scene could have been taken out of an issue of Cracked or Mad magazine. It's totally ridiculous.
By 1987 the slasher genre of horror was starting to lose its stride, mainly descending into sequels of already established monsters committing mayhem throughout the countryside or the suburb. Apparently the makers of Slaughterhouse not only missed the memo on how horror films were progressing as the decade headed for its inevitable end, but they also decided to make no attempt at making anything new, otherwise relying on not only the standard tropes of horror films for the last decade, they out and out steal them.
The film does open with something unusual- the processing of pigs at a slaughterhouse. We get a nice look at the shocker and the saws and all of those fun things that go along with a slaughterhouse. Now I'm far from being a vegetarian and I also know that this is a horror movie, but this is a bit much to start with.
What the film amounts to is random people stumbling on the Bacon family's slaughterhouse (Yes, I know the irony of them being called "Bacon") and being wiped out by the resident psycho Buddy (Joe B. Barton), a large hulking man that snorts like a pig and eagerly uses his splitter to dispatch his victims. As progress has taken over the old slaughterhouse looks to be going to either sale or foreclosure the patriarch of the Bacon family Lester (Don Barrett) decides to use Buddy's skills to take care of the people that he feels are trying to steal is property and livelihood from him, while forgetting that even by killing these people I'm sure that's not going to stop the sale of the property for back taxes.
You probably get the idea of how the film progresses from this point. People get killed, other people look for them, and people stumble by and so on and so forth. There are attempts to make a deeper plot to Slaughterhouse, such as the deputy that is having an affair and the local Pig celebration that gets a half hearted build up and an even less enthusiastic execution. It's your basic kill, kill, kill, which is fine if you have something new to say. Slaughterhouse doesn't do that. If you have seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre or My Bloody Valentine you have seen this film as they are the two main victims to the theft that is the plot of Slaughterhouse.
Slaughterhouse was lost in a sea of horror slasher boogey men that were roaming the Cineplex's and few remaining drive ins during the 1980's. A C bill film in a genre that at the time was B level at best. There are a few parts that standout, such as one special effect and a line about being kosher before that effect, but this film winds up being a pedestrian endeavor at a horror film. Doing a bit of research shows that a sequel was planned and it was set up (ala Friday the 13th), but that film never materialized. A person should wonder why there hasn't been an attempt to re-make this film, especially after seeing the glut of horror films that fill or VOD streams (I watched this on Vudu for free). It would be the perfect film to polish up, make with very little money and put a few dollars in your pocket. Maybe that version would be a better film, but we're talking about this film not an imaginary re-make. This film is mostly a waste of time and will be of interest only to people that have exhausted all of the other horror films that use the same formula.
I've never really been a fan of Thor. I know this may make me a blasphemer, but I've never been much into the whole god's thing or gladiators for that matter. You can probably add dragons to that list with the exceptions being Harry Potter and Bruce Lee. So it wasn't really a shock that I wasn't into the either of the first two Thor films. The only word that comes to mind when talking about those films is forgettable because I don't really remember them. Maybe it's just me, but they are the weak links in the MCU.
I have a feeling that the producers and creators of the third outing from the Son of Odin felt the same way because Thor Ragnarok really swerves into something that the previous films did not have. It's an adventure that's tongue in cheek, not taking itself too seriously, which is quite refreshing in the film landscape we have today.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns from high adventure to find his father being mimicked by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and forces him to find and return their dad to his rightful place. After a bit of cameo by Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) that could have been awkward, but actually works in the tone of this film, they find Odin (Anthony Hopkins) preparing for his death and the eventual return of Hela(Cate Blanchett), the hell beast daughter who wants total control of Asgard, meaning she needs to get rid of her siblings.
They're sidetracked on a world that is dotted with junk and ran by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum in full Goldblum mode) who uses Thor as a plaything to compete against his champion, The Hulk. Along with the fallen hero Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) they embark on stopping Hela and regaining control of Asgard.
What's great about Thor Ragnarok is that it veers off into territory that is rarely charted with success being even more fleeting. Instead of the typical comic adventure story, this time the camp button is pushed a little bit more than usual delivering a feel reminiscent of Flash Gordon or Big Trouble In Little China. The film is comedic without making the heroes and villains bumbling idiots, which is a tightrope act when making a movie such as this. Even though this is his third solo outing, Thor as a character feels as though he grows the most in this third chapter. He goes from being quite full of himself in the beginning to modesty as a leader during a tragic time for his people. Director Taika Waititi almost reboots the character into something more entertaining for the audience.
The film doesn't take itself too seriously and even keeps running during the Dr. Strange cameo by making the scene fun instead of the typical advertisement. "Hey, we have other superhero movies!" Sure, the scene wasn't really needed, but it still works. It could have bogged down, but didn't. I had reservations seeing this film since I didn't care for the first two, but this one surpassed my expectations. Thor Ragnarok has really set up a track for future films that makes them a bit more interesting and more importantly, a bit more fun. I dare say that at this point this is one of the best films from the MCU.