Tag Archives: Martin Freeman

Black Panther (2018, Ryan Coogler)

Black Panther moves extraordinarily well. It’s got a number of constraints, which director Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole agilely and creatively surmount. It’s also got Coogler’s lingering eye. The film can never look away from its setting–the Kingdom of Wakanda–for too long. Rachel Morrison’s photography emphasizes it, the editing emphasizes it, Ludwig Göransson’s likably ostentatious score emphasizes it.

The film opens with a stylized flashback prologue, setting up Wakanda. It’s an isolated African nation. A meteor with a magic metal crashed into it before humans and made magic plants. When humans arrive, they eat magic plants, they use magic metal, they become technologically superior. And they isolate themselves.

Then the film introduces lead Chadwick Boseman. Not protagonist Chadwick Boseman, unfortunately, but lead. And immediately he gets overshadowed. First by Danai Gurira as a general. Then by Lupita Nyong’o as Boseman’s ex-girlfriend and a spy. Everyone in the movie–with the exceptions of Martin Freeman and Daniel Kaluuya–gets to overshadow Boseman at one point or another. Coogler and Cole don’t seem to have an angle on the character, who should be on a self-discovery arc but can’t be because it’s a Marvel movie and he’s a superhero.

There are a few other things Black Panther really wants to do and wants to be, but can’t because of that Marvel movie constraint. Coogler and Cole do some amazing things to counter–especially since the movie opens with Boseman just getting down with his adventure in the third Captain America movie. They immediately work to establish the film on its own ground. Gurira and, especially, Nyong’o make it happen.

Then it’s time for more supporting cast introductions. Letitia Wright as Boseman’s techno-genius little sister. Mom is Angela Bassett. Forest Whitaker has a big part. Winston Duke is one of the tribal leaders. And Kaluuya. Kaluuya is Boseman’s friend who never gets to one-up Boseman. Wright’s whole part is one-upping him. Same with Duke.

Martin Freeman doesn’t get to one-up Boseman either. He’s a returning character from the Captain America movie. He’s narratively pointless. But Coogler keeps him busy and has some fun with the character. Andy Serkis is the other connection to the existing Marvel narrative. But he’s great. Coogler and Cole write this obnoxious jackass of a super-powered arms dealer and Serkis makes it work. I don’t remember Serkis–playing the character for the third or fourth time–ever being anywhere near as impressive as here.

Because Coogler makes it happen. He’s able to balance all the things Black Panther needs to do, wants to do, and can’t do.

Villain Michael B. Jordan is separate from that balance. He’s the bad guy, but he’s got a more traditional protagonist arc. If he weren’t a bad guy. Even the heroic aspects of his arc, there’s something bad about. Jordan plays the hell out of the part. It’s a better performance than part. One of the things Black Panther runs out of time on is Jordan’s villain arc. Because the third act’s got to have the action.

Coogler directs the action well. He directs the high speed fight scenes–Boseman’s nanite-infused outfit does something like superspeed–and he keeps it all moving. The fight choreography is awesome, whether it’s Boseman and Jordan or Boseman and Jordan’s CGI doubles or an actual huge battle scene with Gurira commanding troops.

I mean, Freeman’s Star Wars spaceship fighter chase thing is narratively required but not good. Coogler doesn’t do the starfighter chase thing. It’s fine. It’s not just Freeman playing Last Starfighter, thank goodness; they wisely leverage Wright to pace it better.

The final showdown between Boseman and Jordan is pretty good. The movie runs out of time with it too though. The denouement is too short. The second act is too short. Black Panther could easily support another ten or fifteen minutes over its two and a quarter hour runtime.

Great photography from Morrison. Great editing from Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver. Likable but not great score from Göransson. Breathtaking production design by Hannah Beachler. It’s a beautiful film.

Nyong’o, Gurira, Wright, Duke, Sterling K. Brown; all great. Whitaker’s pretty good. The part turns out to be a little wonky. Bassett’s good. Kaluuya’s part is undercooked. And then the lunacy of Serkis.

Black Panther is a darn good superhero movie and a beautifully, lovingly, and expertly produced one.

It’d just have been nice if Coogler and Cole had as strong a handle on Boseman’s character as they do on Jordan’s. It’s a Marvel movie, after all. The bad guys never get to overshadow the heroes.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ryan Coogler; screenplay by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Rachel Morrison; edited by Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Hannah Beachler; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger), Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross), Forest Whitaker (Zuri), Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi), Winston Duke (M’Baku), Sterling K. Brown (N’Jobu), and Andy Serkis (Klaue).


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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Peter Jackson), the extended edition

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is really long. Director Jackson’s greatest achievement with the film has to be making that length work. He runs out of ideas for action sequences (worst is when he repeats one just a couple set pieces later), he doesn’t give his actors anything to do (he’s more concerned with showcasing the makeup jobs on most of them); in fact, he barely has any enthusiasm for anything in journey.

He starts to wake up when Hugo Weaving arrives, but Weaving isn’t particularly good. Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee show up just after Weaving, which is good, as they’re both great (and they lessen the load on Ian McKellen, who’s otherwise got to maintain the film himself). Not enough can be said for McKellen, who isn’t just excellent in an underwritten role (they’re all underwritten), but he’s also the only regular cast member who Jackson trusts. While Martin Freeman’s supposed to be the protagonist, Jackson doesn’t trust him. He gets around to it by the end of the film (after a number of aimless, if decently paced, adventures for Freeman) for Freeman’s scene with Andy Serkis. Or Serkis’s CG stand-in, which isn’t just the best performance of a digital character (by far), it’s the best rendering of a digital character. The film cuts between Serkis’s painstakingly rendered character and the rest of the party’s adventures in a video game. The CG isn’t ever so much cheap as boring.

Okay, the monster cats look cheap.

The party refers to thirteen dwarves. None of them make much impression, except the leader, played by Richard Armitage. His part’s poorly written and the script gives him a lot of bad dialogue and strange behavior–the best being in the film’s inert climax, accompanied by some real bad music by Howard Shore–but Armitage makes it work. He at least brings consequence to his performance. None of the other twelve dwarves bring anything–like I said, Jackson and photographer Andrew Lesnie are far more concerned with showcasing their makeup.

When he does get something to do, Freeman is likable, never exactly good. Jackson and his fellow screenwriters skip over character development, fully utilizing Hobbit’s position as an afterthought prequel to Lord of the Rings to get them out of first act responsibilities. Sadly, the exposition–and Journey has nothing but expository dialogue (except maybe between Blanchett and McKellen)–litters the rest of the film.

It could be a lot worse, though it should be a lot better (Jackson could’ve just done all CG for the amount of use he has for his human stars). And it is impressive how he manages to be boring overall but not from scene to scene.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Jackson; written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien; director of photography, Andrew Lesnie; edited by Jabez Olssen; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Dan Hennah; produced by Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Walsh and Jackson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), William Kircher (Bifur), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Dean O’Gorman (Fili), Aidan Turner (Kili), John Callen (Oin), Peter Hambleton (Gloin), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori), Adam Brown (Ori), Ian Holm (Old Bilbo), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Christopher Lee (Saruman) and Andy Serkis (Gollum).


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Dedication (2007, Justin Theroux)

Is it possible to use The Doors’ “The End” without it recalling Apocalypse Now? Even if it’s just the opening snippet.

No, it’s not. Especially not when you do it twice like Theroux does in Dedication.

But Theroux harkening back to great films (or, hey, if he even harkened back to a mediocre one) would be such a vast improvement over what he does, which is hard to describe. It’s kind of like an insincere rip-off of Darren Aronofsky (Theroux doesn’t fully commit to the high contrast shots or the jump cuts, only using them for transitions), with a terrible script and a lot better actors than the film deserves. Tom Wilkinson is, admittedly, hacking it out here, but he’s very good at hacking it out. Bob Balaban, essentially playing an R-rated version of his “Seinfeld” character, is fine.

As for Mandy Moore, she’s one of the worst actresses I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing perform. She’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen in a film given a theatrical release (since the advent of direct-to-video). Indescribable.

And Billy Crudup, long the best actor not working? Well, that title’s certainly no longer applicable. It’s not so much his fault–it’s the awful script. Crudup’s character is probably an undiagnosed, certainly unmedicated schizophrenic who the viewer is supposed to find hilarious at some times and tragic at others–when all the guy really needs is some therapy and a lot of meds.

Theroux has obviously watched a bunch of movies preparing for his directorial debut but he must have watched bad ones (obviously, given the Aronofsky references). His framing is all slightly off, which I think is supposed to make Dedication look “cool,” but instead it looks incompetent.

I’d been looking forward to Dedication–Crudup in a lead, the story kind of sounded like George Sanders in Rebecca, only modernized–but it’s utter crap. Oddly though, given how bad Crudup’s movies of the last six or seven years have been… seeing him in such an excremental waste of time is unsurprising.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Theroux; written by David Bromberg; director of photography, Stephen Kazmierski; edited by Andy Keir; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, Teresa Mastropierro; produced by Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Galt Niederhoffer; released by the Weinstein Company.

Starring Billy Crudup (Henry Roth), Mandy Moore (Lucy Riley), Tom Wilkinson (Rudy Holt), Martin Freeman (Jeremy), Bob Balaban (Mr. Planck), Dianne Wiest (Carol), Christine Taylor (Allison), Amy Sedaris (Sue) and Bobby Cannavale (Don).


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Hot Fuzz (2007, Edgar Wright)

I was going to start this post off with a mention I had no idea spoof movies were back–then I realized I just hadn’t been partaking in them (I’m thinking the Scary Movie series and whatever else the Brothers Weinstein squeeze out between Oscar-lusts). Hot Fuzz is a technical spoof for the most part–though I think there are a lot of Bad Boys II and Point Break references–with lots of fast cuts, fast pans, rapid montages. There’s a good deal of Lethal Weapon references, as well as Terminator 2 ones. Hot Fuzz‘s most admirable trait–its ability to keep with this crap and ride it through–is also the most irritating. There’s little actual content beyond these technical references–except, there should be, because Hot Fuzz has a great cast. With a handful of exceptions–the 1970s-looking detectives make no sense–the supporting characters are perfect. But Simon Pegg’s lead is an action hero among regular folk… Hot Fuzz reminds me a lot of Last Action Hero. Pegg plays the character as an action hero lost in the real world (with a few hinky exceptions, like the detectives) and it works against the film.

Pegg’s actually really good as the action hero. He’s a fine actor. But he’s–I need a metaphor for something moving against the grain and I’m not getting one. There’s also some serious writing problems–I’m sure one could defend it as some kind of a reference to plot holes in action movies, but there’s no real excuse for it. My biggest problem with Hot Fuzz, besides that plot hole, is it’s unnecessary. Action movies reference, homage, and mock each other and have been doing it for twenty years. Pointing out all the stereotypical film techniques–down to Lethal Weapon‘s music, in fact–well, if Hot Fuzz had been fifteen minutes–or even eighty-five–but it’s two hours. The jokes get old after about five seconds, long enough to notice the references, then Hot Fuzz carries them through… so it’s admirable, but pointless.

The supporting cast–especially Timothy Dalton–is all good. Dalton’s great throughout while other characters have reveals and don’t do as well… script problems too.

I find it odd movielens said I’d give it three, but IMDb correctly suggests five bad movies to see if I liked it. Including Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys II. Though I’m just guessing on Bad Boys II (I try not to see things like that).

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar Wright; written by Wright and Simon Pegg; director of photography, Jess Hall; edited by Chris Dickens; music by David Arnold; production designer, Marcus Rowland; produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Rogue Pictures.

Starring Simon Pegg (Nicholas Angel), Nick Frost (Danny Butterman), Jim Broadbent (Frank Butterman), Paddy Considine (Andy Wainwright), Timothy Dalton (Simon Skinner), Anne Reid (Leslie Tiller), Rafe Spall (Andy Cartwright), Billie Whitelaw (Joyce Cooper), Edward Woodward (Tom Weaver), Bill Nighy (Chief Inspector), Martin Freeman (Sergeant) and Steve Coogan (Metropolitan Police Inspector).


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