Poor Start

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Beautiful things happen when you distance yourself from negativity.

Status: good. awake at 3:30am and then couldn’t get back to sleep. Drifted off just as the alarm rang, hit the snooze button and then slept for another hour and a quarter. Good grief. Need to work on recovering from poor starts like that. Was able to accomplish a few things this morning, but nothing of substance (I think), and the writing……

Writing.

Poor week for writing. Period. Because I didn’t know what to do next, I gave up yesterday and started working through the task list. Was able to tick a few boxes, but unfortunately this wasn’t one of them. And the poor start to the day today didn’t help. Need to regroup and try again. That said, I am going to set this aside and bang out a few items off the task list rather than let this hold me in place. Maybe I’ll be able to build some momentum this way.

Photography.

Finished processing all my photos from the last few weeks yesterday. I have a few good ones, others are WTF, but that’s okay. It’s all a learning experience. Will be going to The Chase on Saturday night, so good opportunity for food photos. And then will be working with a model on Sunday afternoon – two locations: street and boudoir. Curious to see how this plays out.

Did some cost analysis yesterday on buying new photography equipment here versus waiting until I arrive at the next place before purchasing it. If I wait, I’ll save almost $700, which is nothing to sneeze at and given the cost of the equipment, it’s a significant enough savings which will provide me with enough to spend on peripheral equipment like tripods and such.

Captain Marvel.

With a certain amount of trepidation, I’m going to see this movie on Saturday. Cautiously optimistic that it’ll be okay. Based upon the events in Avengers: Infinity War and what I know of the comic books (which is significant), Marvel is going to have to make some significant changes to the character’s origin, backstory and journey to get it to fit into the movie universe they’ve created. There was a bit of foreshadowing in Infinity War, which is in line with the comic, so I’m aware of one aspect likely to appear in the movie. But the rest is up for grabs. This is unlike any other Marvel movie to date, they’ll essentially be creating an almost brand-new character for the big screen, with the possibility that the only thing recognisable will be the character’s name. Everything else might be different.

Couple that with some rumblings I’m hearing about the potential political leanings of the movie and I’m not sure that I’m part of the target audience for this film. I just want to see an awesome Marvel superhero movie based on the comics I read as a kid. I have little interest in patronising someone’s self indulgent opportunity to do a little axe grinding. Which is what the filmmakers did with Black Panther.

Ok, let’s get on with it……

Nikon D3400
1/100 sec
f/3.5
18mm
ISO 100

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Black Panther (2018) – Movie Review

black panther

There are some films where you can practically hear the history books writing themselves – though if all history books were as outrageously fun as Black Panther, university campuses would be bursting at the seams. Accompanying 2017’s Wonder Woman as a triumphant one-two punch of unprecedented blockbuster representation finding record-breaking box office and critical success, Black Panther’s real shock is that… yes, it is exactly as good as you’d hope. A robust, whip-smart, emotional, and superbly entertaining thriller as unafraid to dive headlong into contentiously topical politics as unabashedly indulge in superhero silliness. Some things are worth the wait.

And yet, after a dizzyingly gorgeous animated prologue, establishing the MacGuffin mythology of fictional African technology haven Wakanda, we wait even longer, as director Ryan Coogler deviates into a seemingly tangential Prologue 2.0 set in the slums of Oakland, California. It’s a disorienting start (but don’t worry; it’s only moments more before T’Challa spin-kicks someone), but its coy foreshadowing heralds an important lesson: Coogler is an immaculately precise director unaccustomed to wasting a frame of film. No one could accuse Black Panther of being unambitious, with a plot encompassing human trafficking, international arms deals, salient commentaries on tradition vs. modernity, redefining power amidst a global economy, and roughly as many political maneuvers as an entire season of House of Cards (including brazen, poignantly tongue-in-cheek barbs about immigration and colonial history) – as well as, y’know, fight scenes, cool gadgets, and all that other superhero stuff. The seamlessness with which Coogler weaves together each seemingly disparate plot thread and theme is almost mind-boggling – and yet, his film is as much a cohesive entity as it is more than the sum of its parts.

Appropriately, for a superhero film whose production was inevitably delayed for decades due to its affiliation with a revolutionary political party, social politics comprise the core and foundation of Black Panther. Here, Coogler pulls no punches, but is never pedantic. We start out in fun but familiar territory, with a first act globetrotting takedown of Wakanda’s arch-nemesis Ulysses Klaue (a gleefully scenery-masticating Andy Serkis, arguably Marvel’s most downright fun adversary to date), reminiscent of a contemporary 007 romp (complete with T’Challa’s own ‘Q,’ in Letitia Wright’s hysterical, impossibly delightful Shuri). But, right when we begin to settle in and munch our popcorn, Coogler yanks the rug out from us, with a second act tonal shift that flips the film on its head, to the point where more than a few audience members will be left questioning the ethics and legitimacy of the hero we’ve spent the entire first half admiring as infallible. Enter Michael B. Jordan, who not only energizes the film with a furious surge of passion as he shifts from his early performative swagger to magnetic, fiery dogmatism, but shifts the conflict to a ‘Malcolm X vs. MLK’ critique of Wakanda’s isolationist inertia in the face of contemporary racism and post-colonialism. It’s a shockingly bold move for the normally sociopolitically safe Marvel, but it pays off, making the brewing climax not only breathtakingly tense, but an impressively nuanced conversation on ethics, empathy, and the real impact of a contemporary revolution. You won’t find that in Ant-Man.

Nonetheless, Coogler has his priorities straight, and Black Panther balances its political core with a raucously fun comic book ride. Aesthetically, it’s a triumph – the FX, art, and costume design are flooring in their imaginative intricacy, incorporating Tony Stark calibre technology into traditional African designs and costuming (force field cloaks?! cool!), lending itself to a pragmatic sci-fi futurism unlike quite anything we’ve ever seen in the movies before, while the pastel hues of the ‘spirit world’ are jaw-dropping in their beauty. The fight scenes are thrillingly fun, balletic as they are brutal (and while T’Challa’s new suit, and its explosive release of kinetic energy, adds a fun new level to the customary punching, kicking, and clawing, it’s in the hands, spear, and wig of Danai Gurira’s scene-stealing, steely general Okoye, that the film is at its most fun and thrilling), and Ludwig Gorasson’s musical score, layering traditional African chanting and instrumentation into brassy superhero swells, is addictively sumptuous. There are occasional fumbles – Coogler’s pace occasionally lags and sputters, with a more meditative second act verging on the lugubrious (and a couple of “Remember who you aaaaaaaaare” heart-to-hearts with John Kani’s deceased patriarch that can’t help but have their gravitas undercut by snickering comparisons to The Lion King). Still, Coogler sinks it home with furious aplomb, steering (just) clear of conventional Marvel third act ennui with a ‘kitchen sink’ climax so furiously tense and bonkers (two words: WEAPONIZED. RHINOS.) that all cinema armrests will be marked with the claw marks of being gripped by a captivated audience.

As the titular monarch, Chadwick Boseman delivers a remarkably grounded performance. Steering the film with a regal calm undercut with muscular emotion and crucially accessible doubt, the film revolves around his steady, magnetic presence, as the showier, scene-stealing bits are commanded by the trio of powerful women supporting him (the perfection of Wright, Gurira, and the luminous, passionately charismatic Lupita Nyong’o). Martin Freeman’s befuddled fed provides ‘fish out of water’ access to Wakanda with customary dry wit; he’s fun without overstaying. Finally, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, and Angela Bassett all elevate one-dimensional secondary characters with gravitas and class, while Winston Duke’s M’Baku is so ferociously terrifying mitigated by some of the most precise comedic timing seen in years, he damn near strolls off with the film himself.

A staggering accomplishment as fun as it is masterfully thoughtful, Black Panther may not quite settle into The Dark Knight territory of genre-transcending masterpiece, but it pounces proudly at its footsteps, this decade’s ‘thinking audience’s blockbuster with a conscience’ to beat. Soak in the well-deserved fun, and let the BET’s 2010 cartoon theme triumphantly play me out: “Black Pan-ther! Black Pan-ther!”

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Movie Review

avengers infinity warAnd so begins the end of an era. Everything that has happened so far in Marvel’s shared universe that began in 2008, everything has led to this moment. Avengers: Infinity War is where this decade’s worth of narrative & world-building is supposed to pay off. And that makes this film more than just another instalment in the franchise. It’s an epic moment, no less than a cinematic event.

The 19th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of the two planned Avengers films that will conclude their Phase 3 plan, Avengers: Infinity War follows the all-powerful Thanos as he travels across the universe looking for infinity stones that would grant him the strength to impose his will on all of reality and finally faces the Avengers in a battle that would decide the fate of all existing lives.

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok signed off and what unfolds in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s no doubt an ambitious undertaking by the Russo brothers but Captain America: Civil War proved that it’s them who were best suited for tackling this massive assignment than anyone else. And for the most part if not all, they do a pretty neat job at it.

Having been teased only in small doses until now, Infinity War puts Thanos front & centre as if it’s his movie. There is more at stake here than previous entries and in Thanos we have a supervillain who lives up to the expectations. His motivation for the sick fantasy that he wants to turn into reality isn’t as strongly appealing but it’s still serviceable. However, the film actually lacks that smooth, perfect balance the first Avengers film exhibited in all aspects.

The VFX team deserves the maximum credit, for everything from the set pieces to numerous locations to changing backdrops & settings to characters’ appearances & outfits is an end result of their work. There are plenty of moments that will make the audience cheer at the spectacle they are witnessing but it could also be exhausting, for CGI-laden action segments don’t carry that lasting effect and may become tiring after a while, which is exactly what happens here.

Cinematography is splendid, utilising IMAX cameras to capture the images in sharp detail & crisp clarity, but it also fails to make the most of the available technology by operating them in conventional fashion. Editing is brilliantly carried out, making sure the action keeps surfacing regularly to keep the interest alive but there were several scenes that it could’ve trimmed from its already demanding 149 mins runtime. And Alan Silvestri contributes with a rousing score that effectively uplifts the film’s larger-than-life aura.

Coming to the performances, barring a few exceptions, the entire ensemble of the MCU return to reprise their respective roles of the Avengers, the Guardians & their allies but it’s Josh Brolin as Thanos who impresses the most. The years of careful threading that underwent into hyping him as the biggest & baddest overlord of villainy & darkness ultimately works out in the film’s favour, as Thanos makes up for one formidable supervillain who’s far more intimidating than past Marvel antagonists and Brolin’s conquering voice makes him stand out even more.

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark (Iron Man) with all his charisma & magnetic charm in tact and delivers a confidently assured input. Chris Hemsworth is even better as Thor and is bestowed with the most interesting arc of all Avengers. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no slouch either and carves his own moments to shine. Tom Holland is effortlessly captivating as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and steals almost every scene he appears in. Others do well with what they are given but every single one of them is overshadowed by Thanos’ imposing presence.

On an overall scale, Avengers: Infinity War is an enjoyable, entertaining & satisfying extravaganza that somehow manages to live up to its enormous hype. There are plenty of unexpected surprises & unforeseen tragedies in store, plus the ending is going to hit the fans hard, but all of it would’ve left a more powerful & unforgettable impact if we didn’t already know that much of it will be undone in the next Avengers film. All in all, Avengers: Infinity War nearly pays off 10 years’ worth of investment with an exhilarating action-adventure spectacle and signs off by setting up a perfect stage for the grand finale.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Movie Review

captain america civil war

Combining political intrigue with superhero action is a daring, risky move…but “Captain America: Civil War” couldn’t be in better hands. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo prove once again to be the best directors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, turning Stephen McFeely and Christopher Marcus’s brilliant screenplay into a work of art. No other Marvel movie has yet delivered such a fluid combination of intelligence, symbolism, and heartbreaking opposition as the Russo brothers’ latest entry into the already amazing Captain America series.

Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) reminds audiences why his hero has always been the most likable as he embodies the valiantly flawless titular hero in a way only he can. Robert Downey Jr. introduces a new side of his egocentric Tony Stark/Iron Man, which will either make you love him all the more or repel you, depending on who’s side you take. And that’s one of the many beauties of “Civil War”: the viewer has to determine which hero’s side he’s on, as both have their own opinion of the “Sokovia Accords”, a document that will put the United Nations in charge of all super-powered individuals.

As both heroes recruit others of their kind to fight for (or against) the “Sokovia Accords”, a scheming puppeteer manipulates them, practically unseen, both Captain America and Iron Man mistakenly believing the other to be the true enemy. And Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo, the man most determined to accomplish his agenda, delivers the most moving, emotional performance in the whole movie. Helmut Zemo is at once terrifying and enigmatic, in a way no other Marvel villain has been before, and he accomplishes this without any superpowers, bringing to mind Heath Ledger’s Joker. As he stares blankly into space listening to a voice recording on his phone, his motionless face says more than any other actor in the whole film. And that’s saying a lot, because most of what fuels “Civil War” is dynamic, passionate acting from almost all of the actors.

During its worst moments, the film is thought-provoking, conflicting, and emotionally immersive, and when an action scene obligatorily comes along, it doesn’t forget the inherent tragedy of the circumstances. The many lighthearted, chuckle-inducing moments (many courtesy of Ant-Man) don’t distract from the plot, but remind us that the dueling heroes are still friends, despite their differences. The third installment of the Captain America series–and hopefully not the last–is sure to excite superhero fans, and also entice those harder to please.

Synopsis: “Civil War” is an instant classic that transcends typical superhero movie expectations with powerful acting, an artistic vision, and a story that will spark discussions and arguments many years from now.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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