Black Panther – A Movie Review

This is NOT just another Marvel movie.

Black Panther gamely partakes in the Marvel Universe while largely operating as a standalone action movie striving to deliver a societal message of great relevance.

Let’s start with what I determine to be the most important aspect of Black Panther.  I am a forty-one year old white male.  My whole life, I’ve enjoyed white superheroes depicted in comic books, cartoons, toys, and movies.  Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton, Toby Maguire, and Hugh Jackman are but a few.  Let’s not forget to mention the action stars that peppered my youth such as Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russle, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise–the list can go on an on.  It wasn’t until my own daughters were born that I realized women and people of color weren’t given characters who reflected their identity–not in the way that I always enjoyed.

So Black Panther ISN’T just another movie.

For many, Black Panther represents a cultural shift.  It signifies an important moment in our society, a moment that says those who were previously underrepresented will now be given time to shine.  And guess what?  Those who are typically underrepresented on film are letting the world know there exists an audience hungry for more.  It’s no accident that Wonder Woman financially overachieved.  It’s not happenstance that Black Panther DOUBLED the previous Thursday night ticket sales record for February.  The numbers say it all.

I’d like to quickly mention another interesting detail.  My friends and I regularly go to superhero movies on either its Thursday or Friday opening night.  I write this on Saturday morning, February 17th.  We attended the 9:00 p.m. Black Panther show on Friday night, February 16th.  As soon as we entered the theater, it became obvious this superhero movie was different.  There were more African American women, men, and children in the theater than I’ve ever seen before at a premier.  I instantly felt in the minority and a little out of place.  The irony was not lost on me, nor should it be lost on you.

Let’s talk about the actual movie.

First of all, they have created with Black Panther a world unto itself.  Wakanda, the African nation in which Black Panther rules, felt solid, real, and established.  This utopia drew me in completely.  Its glorious technology felt tenable, as did its ancient rituals.  The clothing, the environment, the language, the customs, the unique neighboring tribes–it all struck me as genuine.  The filmmakers successfully created a world that I hope will live on in the Marvel movies for decades to come.

I also loved that they introduced an entirely new technology concept to the Marvel Universe.  Yes, vibranium has been seen in Marvel movies before, but never to this extent.  The full potential of the metal is explored in Black Panther, and I imagine Tony Stark is going to be very jealous.  However, the filmmakers didn’t just use vibrainum as a means to an end.  It wasn’t just the reason they had a Black Panther suit or weaponry or ships.  It also served a cultural purpose to the Wakandan society.  They made it clear that vibranium influences their way of life, and has for generations.  This kind of storytelling and world building is greatly appreciated by those such as me.

The supporting cast in Black Panther also made the film radiant.  His mother, his sister, his general, his friends, his challengers, his mentor–they all had distinct personalities and they all utilized a charisma specific to their character.  No one wasted a moment on screen.

As for the story, I believe Black Panther broke new ground for Marvel movies.  Marvel always does action, humor, and general story pretty well.  They are very good at blending one movie into the next.  No one is denying that.  However, I don’t believe Marvel ever tried to say anything socially relevant … until now.  Black Panther challenges itself not just to deliver an action-packed feast full of visual splendor.  It also tries to say something–something specific not only to people of color, but to all races, all peoples, all creeds, all governments.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s definitely there.  Do they hit you over the head with it a little too blatantly at times?  Sure, but so did The Post, and it’s up for an Oscar.

When I saw the previews, I felt a little apprehensive about Michael B. Jordan’s villain–Killmonger.  I didn’t like that he also wore a Black Panther suit in the previews.  This is a tried and true mistake superhero movies make time and time again.  Hulk fought a version of himself.  Spider-Man has fought a version of himself.  Superman has fought a version of himself.  Iron Man has fought a version of himself.  The Flash regularly fights versions of himself on his TV show.  You get the idea.  I’m glad that they found a sensible reason to have Killmonger in the Black Panther suit that organically served the story well.  When you see the movie, it makes perfect sense.

Killmonger brings me to my only complaint about the film.  It bothered me that the only black American male character in the entire movie was depicted as angry and out for revenge.  I may be reading too much into it, but it seemed as though a subtext existed that black American males cannot save themselves–only outside benefactors such as Wakandans can come rescue them.  We know this is not true, especially in the Marvel Universe.  We’ve seen upright American men of color in the Marvel movie and TV universe before such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and War Machine.  And I realize that it would have been awkward to sandwich those characters in only to serve as a parallel to Killmonger, but it still bothered me a bit, especially because I’m positive that this is, for many people, their first Marvel movie.  They may not even know about those other African American characters.  In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the only other major American male in the movie was Everett K. Ross, a white intelligence officer who helps save the day.  See what I’m saying?  Am I way off on this one?

Speaking of subtext, I loved the fact that Wakanda absolutely relied on its women to thrive.  From the military to the sciences, women were the driving force of order and progress in their society.  Black Panther may have been king, but the women ruled in every other way.

I believe Black Panther succeeded on all levels.  It kept the overarching Marvel story line moving forward while also delivering an epic standalone film that delivered relevant social commentary.  Even if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie before, you can go into Black Panther and enjoy it as an entity unto itself.  In fact, I encourage you to do so.  Though plainly obvious by now, I highly recommend Black Panther.

Image result for black panther movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)


Phantom Thread – A Movie Review

Surprised I’m reviewing this movie?  I’ll watch anything starring Daniel Day-Lewis.  It’s really that simple.

My wife and I have not been together to see a movie in quite some time, so we figured Phantom Thread would be a nice “date” movie for us to enjoy.  In the end, I’m not sure we “enjoyed” it, but we definitely “appreciated” it.

Let’s get this out of the way — Phantom Thread is not a “date” movie.  I wouldn’t even consider it a “mainstream” movie.  It’s very slow, very quiet, very long, and very understated … until it’s not.  More on that in a minute.

I’d also like to say upfront that, had we watched this at home, my wife probably would have fallen asleep and I would then probably have turned it off.  I’m glad we saw it in the theater because that guaranteed we’d give it our full attention.  We were fully engaged and fascinated the whole time, even if we did occasionally check the time.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a fussy dressmaker in the 1950s.  He is something of a mastermind and his house (brand) is always in demand.  However, he is obsessed with his work, and he will not tolerate anything or anyone that detracts him from his life’s meaning.  He soon falls for a waitress while on holiday.  He brings her back with him and then the meat of the story really begins.  He wants to continue life as it was before her–she’s supposed to just slide right into his established patterns.  But she wants to love him on her terms, not his.  Both are headstrong, sharp-tongued, and repressed … until they’re not.  I don’t want to say more because it will spoil a rather interesting development regarding their dynamic.

So, getting back to the thing I said about appreciating it but not necessarily enjoying it.  Watching Daniel Day-Lewis transform himself into this man proved amazing.  His character, Reynolds Woodcock, is contradiction personified.  He is so calm and collected until he loses his temper.  He is tough and cold until he’s an emotional mess.  He’s calculated and intelligent until he spouts angry gibberish.  He’s polite and sophisticated until he acts like a spoiled child.  He’s independent and self-reliant until he admits to being a mamma’s boy.  Day-Lewis delivered this character without apparent effort making him simultaneously believable, charming, and detestable.  As is often the case with Day-Lewis, I did not see the actor during the film, I saw only Reynolds Woodcock.

I believe this movie had a lot to say about relationships as well.  I think many of us can relate to the honeymoon phase of a relationship and then the unavoidable humdrum of routine and monotony.  His love interest, Alma, refused to fall into Reynolds’ regimen.  As I said earlier, she loved him, but she demanded to love him on her own terms, in her own way.  Again, I won’t spoil the actions she takes to make him completely hers, but it’s unexpected to say the least.  His ultimate reaction to her extreme behavior is something I would love to speak to you about privately.  I won’t write about it here, of course, out of respect to those who haven’t see it yet.  Needless to say, my wife and I had much to discuss during the drive home.

Though this movie takes place in the 1950s, I think it applies very much to the world today.  Woodcock works relentlessly.  He takes no time to enjoy those around him.  He does not derive pleasure from the simple things in life.  Nor does he allow life’s spontaneity to influence his existence.  He experiences the world completely on his own terms, even at the exclusion of his loved ones.  I think most of us will see ourselves reflected in Woodcock on some level.  Perhaps we will recognize our own irrational obsessions in him–whether it be that we our workaholics, addicted to social media, tied to our televisions …

In the end, I found Phantom Thread refreshing.  I don’t think a single special effect appeared in the entire movie.  The score rarely rose above the sound of a piano tapping.  This movie excelled purely due to story, production, dialogue, and performance.

While I wouldn’t recommend Phantom Thread as a date movie, I would definitely recommend it for those wanting a change from capes and laser swords.  I’m no film aficionado, but even I recognized the sheer mastery of craft unfolding before my eyes.  Phantom Thread is absolutely worthy of your appreciation.

Image result for phantom thread movie poster

 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)



Beauty and the Beast (2017) – A Movie Review

I know we’re super late to this party, but we literally just watched this for the first time last night.  I’ve been after my daughters for months to view it with me, but they were hesitant.  They were concerned the Beast would be too scary, the wolves too vicious.

Well, within minutes, they were completely won over, and I was, too.

If you’ve seen the cartoon classic, you know the high notes of this film.  The songs are pretty much the same, the circumstances are pretty much the same.  Even with that being said, though, this movie delighted us from start to finish.

First of all, it’s charming. It’s just a charming movie.  Everyone oozes charisma, even Luke Evans as Gaston.  No one bored me; no one made me want the movie to keep moving on to the next scene.

Secondly, it made your eyes fall in love with every set.  There is so much to look at, and it’s all so intricate and, well, beautiful.  The art director of this film deserves a huge pat on the back.  I suspect I could watch this movie a dozen times and find something new in each scene, each time.  I love that kind of attention to detail.

I think the “look” of Beast is what ultimately made this movie so wonderful, though.  Yes, at times his body appeared fake and disconnected when shot as a whole, but his face more than made up for it.  They made his face so expressive and–believe it or not–kind, that we couldn’t help but cheer for him.  His face absolutely looked real, down to the smallest hair.  I will say, however, that they nailed the ballroom scene.  He looked grounded during that moment, with Belle clearly holding on to him and moving with him.  I’d love to watch the “behind the scenes” of that moment to learn how they pulled it off so well.

Of course, they also proved victorious with all of Beast’s “family” as well.  Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, Chip–all of them!  They all moved with weight and fluidity.  Couple that fact with excellent voice acting and you’ve got a sublime experience.

Honestly, when I finished watching this I felt like I’d just watched an instant classic.  The songs were wonderful (with even a few new additions), the acting was charismatic across the board, the special effects were top-notch, the pacing moved quickly, and, best of all, it retained all of the magic and splendor of the original.  My kids immediately wanted to watch it again, which is the true test of a good family movie.  You can bet I’ll be sitting with them on that second viewing.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)



Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Movie Review

The first half of this review will reveal no specific spoilers.  I will offer a warning and then a page break before I get into specifics situations.  However, I will generally address the tone and plot devices in the beginning of this review.  If you do not want any sort of preconceived notion before seeing the film, I suggest you to do not read this review.  Sound fair?  Okay, let’s go …


The Force Awakens got everything just right.  It introduced new, charismatic characters while allowing the established favorites to shine.  It utilized an action-packed pace while jumping from location to location to location as it revealed a plot that tickled our fancy in all the right — albeit familiar — ways.  It gave us spaceship chases involving, well, our favorite spaceships, lightsaber duels, witty banter, and real emotional stakes.  It focused on old relationships rekindling, new relationships bonding, and teased future relationships to come.  Best of all?  It set the scene for major revelations.  What would Luke Skywalker’s role be in this story?  Who are Rey’s parents?  Is Kylo Ren as evil as he would like us to believe?  Will Poe and Finn be the best new duo in Star Wars lore?  Will Captain Phasma have a defining moment?  How do Leia and Chewbacca move on after Han Solo’s death?  And just who is this Supreme Leader Snoke?  At the end of The Force Awakens, I not only felt extremely satisfied, but genuinely excited to discover all of these things with the next installment.

If I could choose one word to describe The Last Jedi, it would be “anticlimactic.”

The Last Jedi starts off with a bang, but then just kind of fizzles and fizzles and then disappears.  I actually found myself a little bored for quite a bit of this movie, which is something I thought I would NEVER say about a Star Wars film.  There’s so much talking.  Soooo much talking.  But nothing is really ever happening — nothing that felt substantial, at least.

And when something monumental did seem to be happening, it quickly turned out to be nothing.  It fizzled, like I said.  The Last Jedi would raise out hopes time and time again only to laugh in our face and run away.  It got a bit offensive, honestly.

Perhaps the greatest offense of all?  It did not get me excited at all for the next episode.  Just the opposite.  Again, I won’t get into specifics in this space, but The Last Jedi seemed intent to crush every cool thing The Force Awakens teased while leaving us with nothing to replace our anticipation.  The Force Awakens had me counting down the days until the next installment.  The Last Jedi left me ambivalent and, frankly, disappointed.

Want to know exactly why I feel this way?  Scroll past the below image and keep reading …

Image result for the last jedi movie poster

Spoilers coming in …

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Let’s run through my long list of grievances …

Kylo Ren – Is he good or evil?  Is he a plant by the Resistance?  Is that why he had such difficulty killing his father?  Is that how he got overpowered by a novice, the great new hope of the Resistance?  Yeah, he’s evil.  Or, at least, that’s what they tell us.  Because, you know, they mostly tell us stuff in this movie.  I really don’t buy him as this supremely evil person.  Worst of all?  He wore his mask for maybe five minutes.  Kylo Ren with the mask and voice?  Awesome.  Could watch him all day.  Kylo Ren without the mask?  No thanks.  Adam Driver’s face does not scream the kind of evil they would like us to believe.  Exactly the opposite.

Leia – Spent most of her time talking.  They showed us an amazing display of the Force.  Then she fell into a coma.  Then she talked some more.  Then she faded into the background.

Finn – Virtually no interaction with Poe or Rey, which, I think, were the crowning moments of The Force Awakens.  No background revelations.  He’s honestly not in the movie much at all.  On a mission to accomplish a goal that seemed forced.  No longer the fish out of water trying to make good.  Just kind of there.

Captain Phasma – Showed up for about three minutes near the end of the movie.  Fell down a hole.  On the plus side, we learned one of her eyes is blue.  Yes, that’s sarcasm.

Poe – In quite a bit of the movie, but now depicted as a mutinous, trigger-happy lunkhead.  No longer the selfless, hotshot pilot with awesome one-liners.  Now spends most of his time questioning leadership as he’s apparently being groomed to be the next leader of the Resistance.

Chewbacca – In maybe two total minutes of the movie.  Does not address his dead partner at all.

Supreme Leader Snoke – Killed in perhaps the most anticlimactic fashion in the history of movies.  Absolutely nothing revealed about his past.  We never find out who he is, where he’s from, or even if he’s Jedi, Sith, or something else.  Why did I care about this guy again?  Why did they put so much effort into making me care about this guy?

Rey – Given virtually nothing to do as she spends most of the movie on Luke’s island being ignored.  No real “heroic” moments to speak of other than moving some rocks.  Has one cool lightsaber fight that proved pointless.  Got to see Finn for the first time with only five minutes left in the movie.  Oh, and her parents?  Apparently, they were nobody.  Just sold her off as a slave.  They wasted so much potential with Rey’s character.  So much potential.

Luke Skywalker – Return Of the Jedi gave us perhaps the perfect sendoff for Luke Skywalker.  He rescued his friends.  He made things right with Yoda.  He got closure from Obi-Wan Kenobi.  He turned his father, the supposedly irredeemable Darth Vader, back to the good side.  He got to see all three of his father figures reunited in peace and harmony as the Empire fell at last.  If you bring him back for The Last Jedi, you damn well better outdo Return Of the Jedi.  They didn’t.  He spends most of his time actively trying to ignore Rey, being cranky with Rey, or being sarcastic with Rey.  He does not train her as a Jedi at all beyond a philosophical lecture about the Force.  However, at the end of the movie, he makes his lone stand against The First Order.  Kylo Ren faces him one-on-one.  We’re prepared for an epic lightsaber battle as Luke stalls so his sister and her Resistance can escape.  Perhaps he’ll gain a grand death, one that will make movie-history.  Or maybe he survives to team up with his sister and lead the Resistance for the next movie?  Nope.  He evades Kylo Ren’s attacks, and then it’s revealed he’s simply an astral projection of the Force, an illusion.  He wasn’t really even there at all.  The real Luke is sitting on a rock, sweating, back on his island.  And after his friends escape, he falls off the rock.  And then he gets back on the rock.  And then he dies.  So, yeah, that felt like a slap in the face.

Those are just the highlights of my disappointment, by the way.  I could go on and on.  But I won’t.  The creative minds behind The Last Jedi seemed to take into account everything we loved about A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return Of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, and then do the exact opposite.  I don’t understand this rationale at all.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)


Justice League – A Movie Review (Spoiler-Free)

I attended Justice League on Thursday night at 10:00 p.m.  As you may remember, I felt very excited and had very high hopes.

With great relief, I report to you that Justice League exceeded my expectations.

First of all, I will freely admit that I am incredibly bias.  I love these characters.  I’ve been reading them for thirty-seven years, and that’s not an exaggeration.  It has been a dream for a long, long time to see them together on the big screen.  Frankly, the movie would have to be a total failure to disappoint me.  I acknowledge that.

But it wasn’t a total failure.  It was a legitimate success.

Let us first address a pressing issue – this is a movie based on comic book characters.  The movie never had the potential to change my paradigm regarding the human condition.  I sought no enlightenment from this movie, I did not expect Oscar worthy performances, nor did I anticipate a terribly complex plot regarding characters undergoing significant change.  We had a little bit of those things, more than I expected, but those things aren’t really what this movie was supposed to address.

What I did expect, however, was to see my heroes working together to defeat a bad guy in an entertaining fashion.  Guess what?  I got it.

Let’s do this  …

The actors playing our heroes had great chemistry with each other.  I truly believed these heroes were, at their core, friends because I felt a warmth and camaraderie from the men and women playing the roles.  The Justice League is not a family, but the members are super friends.   It was fun to see these actors interact with one another.

I also appreciated that Justice League is essentially a direct sequel to Batman v Superman.  I don’t want to get too much into it, but it resolves some conflict from its predecessor, addresses some dangling plot threads, and fully embraces what came before it.

Justice League makes no apologies in that it is made for Justice League fans.  There is so much DC lore in this film, so many blatant nods to both the League’s history but also the shared universe’s past.  Amazons?  Check.  Atlantians?  Check.  References to the 4th World?  Yep.  Mother Boxes? You know it.  There’s much more, but I don’t want to spoil anything …

Best of all?  These are heroes.  I know things were a little murky in Batman v Superman, but that was all by design.  Batman had grown cynical.  After all, they depicted him as 20 years into his career.  You can imagine the pain and heartbreak he’d endured by that point, especially with a troubling hint concerning Robin.  And Superman?  I don’t feel he had quite established himself as a hero in Batman v Superman.  He struck me as on his way to becoming a beacon to the world, but not yet there.  Justice League addresses all of that, and lights the way for both of these men.

Furthermore, Aquaman, Cyborg, Flash, Wonder Woman – they are natural born heroes.  They do good deeds because it is their nature.  As dark as Batman v Superman was in terms of theme and tone, Justice League is the opposite.  Justice League is fun, hopeful, uplifting, and even, at times, funny.  Is it still visually dark?  Well, yeah.  That’s just Snyder’s style.

Can we talk about Batman?  I adore his depiction in Justice League.  This is an old man compared to everyone else.  He’s breaking down.  However, he’s also the group’s mentor.  He gives every hero in this movie a pep talk at some point, and this is totally consistent with his character.  Remember, it’s been established that he’s worked with a Robin in this cinematic universe.  He wants to teach, he wants to encourage.  There’s a great moment when the Flash is having doubts and Batman helps him find his way.  So great to see that Batman instead of the grizzled, pessimistic neurotic isolationist.  And, man, does he have some great character moments regarding Superman.

Wonder Woman is, of course, amazing.  She’s got some mesmerizing action scenes, some hilarious one-liners, and is obviously the glue of the group.  When Gal Gadot stands next to Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, she towers.  She is the icon.  What I appreciate most about this movie regarding her character is that she is a Justice League member.  She is no one’s mother, no one’s love interest, and no one’s caretaker.  She’s doing her thing just like every other teammate.  As well she should.  Her solo movie has received the most critical acclaim, after all.  They better never reduce her to someone’s “damsel in distress.”

After the movie, a friend and I were talking and he mentioned the guy playing Cyborg.  He said exactly what I was thinking – Ray Fisher was the best actor in the film.  The moment he appeared on screen, he had a weight to him, a gravitas.  His voice held almost a power.  It’s hard to explain, but Fisher’s got what I can only describe as presence.  That’s hard to achieve when only half of a face is showing.  I wasn’t excited about a Cyborg movie before, but I am definitely looking forward to one now.  Fisher won me over.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is the absolute bad-ass you’d expect.  Funny, charming, and tough, I think he’s going to convince a lot of people that Aquaman is no joke.  They also managed to pull off some really cool underwater scenes with him and Atlantis, by the way.  Honestly, I was a little worried they were going to make him like a surfer dude with all the “My man!” and “Yeah!” from the previews.  But those scenes were pretty infrequent.  He had some real moments to shine, and shine he did.  Like with Cyborg, I’m excited for a movie featuring Aquaman by himself (but I always have been).

Finally, we’ve got to talk about the Flash.  Ezra Miller brought much of the film’s lightheartedness, warmth, and fun.  Though a hero from the beginning, we got to watch him become a better hero throughout – a more confident hero.  Miller plays Flash with a bit of a twitch and a fun lack of common sense that makes you believe this guy is really just figuring it out as he goes due to his youth.  They avoid the melodrama of the CW show with this iteration of Flash, they just make him likable and a little awkward.  Seriously, Miller’s expressions are so much fun throughout the movie.  His eyes tell the audience everything they need to know in virtually every scene.

I’m going to avoid discussing Superman, because there’s no way to do so without spoiling things.  You obviously know he’s in it, so I’ll just say that I’m beginning to see Cavill portray a hero that could win the world’s heart.

I’m a total fan, as you can plainly see, but I did have a few things I took issue with.  The biggest was Steppenwolf.  While I don’t mind a warm-up from Apokolips before Darkseid arrives, I wish they could have made him appear a little less CGI.  He lacked a certain tangibility that really stood out to me.  I didn’t feel like he was actually filling any space, which took me out of the moment a few times.  But, he made a great villain for the League to team up against, which was really his only purpose from a storytelling standpoint.  I wouldn’t say he was as flat as Doomsday from Batman v Superman, but he wasn’t nearly as interesting as Heath Ledger’s Joker.  So, take that for what it’s worth.

Also, when the Flash ran, that also never quite looked right.  I should say, his legs never quite looked right to me.  Everything else looked perfect – the electricity, the blurring, the sheer speed, but his legs did not actually look to me like they were propelling him at nearly the speed of light.  Small complaint.

In the end, I highly recommend Justice League.  In my opinion, if you don’t like this movie, you just don’t like the Justice League.  I think if you’re a fan of the characters, though, this film will absolutely satisfy.  Personally, I found it a magical, breathtaking experience.  Like I said earlier, it exceeded my expectations.

Oh, and stay through the credits.  The mid-credits will have your inner-geek cheering out loud.  The after-credits will leave you with your jaw on the floor.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Thor: Ragnarok – A Movie Review

I love the first Thor, but the sequel—The Dark World—left me unimpressed.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for the loveable cast of The Dark World, I’d like it even less.  There’s a lot to be said for having Natalie Portman, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, and Stellan Skarsgard all in the same movie.

However, when I think about the super hero genre staling, The Dark World strikes me as a classic example.  Of all the super hero movies (and let’s face it—there’s a lot), Thor needed perhaps the biggest push into new territory (X-Men is also on alert).

When I first saw the trailer for Ragnarok, well, let’s just say I got very excited.  The music, the visuals, the humorous dialogue, the absolute weirdness of it all—it felt refreshing.  Unfortunately, I’ve been fooled by trailers before (I’m talking to you, Suicide Squad).  Therefore, I retained a certain amount of restraint going into Thor: Ragnarok.  I’ll never let a trailer break my heart again.  (That’s probably not true.)

Here’s the good news—Thor: Ragnarok broke convention in many fresh, fun ways.  In fact, that’s how I would describe this movie—fun.  There is no more Shakespearean tragedy, no more deadly serious monologues or pensive stares off into the distance.  Ragnarok moves at breakneck speed with one hilarious zinger after another.  It barely takes place on Earth, and this led to a lot of spectacular alien locales.  In other words, it absolutely lived up to its trailer.

You saw Hulk and Valkyrie in the trailers, and they exceeded my expectations.  They are fantastic.   Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster is worth the price of admission alone.  There’s a breakout character named Korg who pretty much stole the movie (and was voiced by the director—that’s no accident).  Hiddleston as Loki is always wonderful, and Hemsworth gave us a hilarious, likable Thor.

According to Norse mythology, Thor was a bit of a buffoon.  Strong?  Definitely?  Smart?  … Not so much.  While I don’t expect them to go the full dimwit route with Hemsworth, it was nice to see a Thor who wasn’t quite so deadly serious.  I read that the director wanted Thor to be the coolest character in the movie, and I think they mostly succeeded at that.  I’m totally okay with funny Thor, though I am curious to see if they maintain that level of humor with him in the subsequent Avengers movies.

Was Ragnarok perfect?  No, but so few movies are.  The story was perhaps a little too fast and furious to the point it didn’t always seem cohesive … or even logical.  Hela’s backstory left me scratching my head a bit.  Don’t even get me started on the total absence of Thor’s earthly supporting cast and the complete disrespect shown to his Asgardian companions.  And while no one is doubting Cate Blanchett’s acting abilities, those talents were largely unnecessary for the role of Hela.  She was pretty standard stuff as far as villains go.

The absolute success of Ragnarok is that it showed us something new.  I’ve never seen anything quite like what we saw on the Grandmaster’s planet, and that was a ton of fun.  At this point, as far as the superhero genre is concerned, I just want to see something original.

Happily, they took it even a step further.  Fans of the comic book won’t be shocked by a few of the developments occurring at the end of the film, but I think the casual fan will.  I personally couldn’t believe they did what they did—it was pretty bold.  Again, I’ll be interested to see if some of those developments continue into the other Marvel movies.  If you wanted the Thor franchise shaken to its core, you will be very pleased.

Oh, and there’s a certain cameo at the beginning of the film that completely won me over.  We love Hulk and Thor, but I also loved Thor with this character as well and can’t wait to see more.

So, while Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t a masterpiece in terms of story, I think it definitely broke new ground in terms of visuals and storytelling daring.  It ignored several of the genre’s tropes and even made fun of some of its own past sins.  I think if the super hero genre is to survive, especially the traditional ones like Thor, they are going to have to really defy convention and challenge expectations.  Ragnarok is proof it can be done well.


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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Dark Tower – A Movie Review

I very much love The Dark Tower series.  I believe when it is all said and done, these books will be remembered as Stephen King’s masterpiece–his magnum opus.  We have long wished for Roland of Gilead to grace the big screen, but time after time we were burdened with disappointment as it simply never seemed to work out.

Until that disappointment ended.  The news finally arrived that Idris Elba would play Roland Deschain and Matthew McConaughey the Man in Black, Walter, or whatever else you’d like to call him.  These are, under optimal circumstances, exquisite actors.

Furthermore, powerhouses such as Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Akiva Goldsman, and Stephen King himself served as producers!  These are names that have created some of our most revered entertainment.

Tonight, during a hellacious thunderstorm (which I personally considered the perfect backdrop), I finally got my wish–I saw The Dark Tower on a movie screen.

Did it bother me that, other than my friends and me, there were only five other people in the theater on it’s opening night?  Did the bad reviews give me pause?  Did I consider losing faith?

No, I have not forgotten the face of my father.

Here’s what we have to remember–a large portion of the viewing audience has never read The Dark Tower series.  In fact, the guys I saw it with haven’t read the books!  The industry could not make a movie that worked as a page for page adaptation of The Gunslinger.  They just couldn’t.  I know die-hard fans wanted that, but I think that’s being a little unfair.  We all know the rules by which Hollywood plays.  Big summer action movies are not exactly subtle, complex, or plot driven.

But here’s the thing–The Dark Tower isn’t actually that much of an action movie.  In fact, I think you saw most of the action several months ago in the first trailer.  It spent far more time than I expected developing young Jake and Roland’s bond, a bond that, over time, will become one of the greatest and most heartbreaking relationships in all of literature.  Jake is an extremely likable character in the books, and so I commend them for spending the time necessary to allow the audience to get to know him, to sympathize with him, and to like him.  It also offered glimpses into Roland’s past which resulted in his current, surly demeanor.  Finally, it took its time establishing Roland and Walter’s rivalry, one of the most dynamic I’ve ever read.  They provided far more story than I anticipated, and this pleased me to no end.  There’s action–make no mistake.  But there is also a lot of plot with ample room to grow.  More on that later …

Also, with a run time of just one hour and thirty-five minutes, The Dark Tower had to convey a great deal of story, motivation, and character as quickly as possible.  Simply put, it didn’t have the luxury of the books to slowly unfold the intricacies we readers adore.  In my mind, they successfully did this.  The established the Dark Tower’s purpose, Roland’s duty, Walter’s reason for wanting to destroy it, and Jake’s role relating to all three.

Were there some serious changes made?  Yes, there were some pretty significant departures from The Gunslinger.  We just have to accept that they needed to make this movie as digestible as possible for the casual viewer.  In my mind, they did this.  I mean, really, what do you want most from the first film?  I want to get to know Roland, I want to explore Jake and Roland’s relationship, I want to experience Walter and Roland’s ongoing conflict.  The casual audience needs to know the significance of the Dark Tower, and they need to see someone try to destroy it and someone try to save it.  I think the filmmakers did an admirable job walking this very fine line.

Honestly, they need to hook as broad an audience as possible with this first film.  If they do that, and if the rumors of television spin-offs combined with future films are true, they will then have the collateral necessary to dive deep into this multiverse.  Right now we need to get people on board with a big, easy to understand film, and then we can all go down the rabbit hole together as this thing adheres more strictly to the other books.

Oh, and there are plenty of rabbit holes for us to explore.  Though the movie didn’t specifically address any of these things, sharp-eyed viewers will notice graffiti praising the Crimson King, as well as ample rose symbols everywhere.  There are references to other King books, which play a HUGE role in The Dark Tower series.  In fact, you’ll literally hear the words “the shining” and see the name “Pennywise” if you look closely enough.

My hope, my sincere hope, is that with It releasing soon, we are going to get a King universe where they reboot all of his most famous works to interconnect with The Dark Tower.  The Shining, Pet Cemetery, The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, Cujo, and many, many others directly relate or are referenced in The Dark Tower series.   Can you imagine if King pulled a cinematic move like Marvel/Disney?  Why not?  He’s been entwining these books for decades!

I’d like to end this review commenting on the acting.  Matthew McConaughey could have really gone over the top with Walter.  He pulls it back just enough.  His Walter is creepy, unsettling, and obviously evil, but we never get any nefarious monologues or maniacal chortling.  He chooses to often speak softly rather than to bellow, and this made all the difference to me.

Finally, Idris Elba was not the obvious choice in my mind for Roland Deschain.  Let’s face it–most of us always pictured Roland as white.  King himself is on record as saying he modeled him off of Clint Eastwood.  However, Elba nailed this character.  Nailed it.  Elba captured Roland’s penchant for violence, his silent wisdom, his stoic torment, and–most importantly–his ability to accept Jake into his heart.  He delivered the most important aspects of this character so many of us hold dear thus rendering simple skin tone irrelevant.  Idris Elba is Roland Deschain–plain and simple.

I believe if you’re a casual viewer you will really be able to follow and enjoy this film.  For the avid Dark Tower fans, I think the film offers you the most important qualities that you crave with a great deal of potential to deliver the more nuanced adaptation you desire from subsequent films.  Of course, those won’t happen if we don’t get out there and support this first conventional installment.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)