Vampire Swipes Right (Vampire in Brooklyn, 1995)

Vampire In Brooklyn was a meeting of minds. Eddie Murphy was coming off a string of films and sequels that were not failures, but not grand successes. Eddie states he agreed to make the film for the studio for the rights to the Nutty Professor.

Maximillion is the last of a clan of Caribbean vampires who arrives one night in Brooklyn via a large freighter. He is seeking a woman to be his queen, and to help him, turns small time hood Julian into a servant ghoul.

Maximillion is searching for a woman born of a vampire and he discovers police detective Rita ( ridiculously gorgeous Angela Bassett) is the woman he is seeking. As he tries to enter her life, he runs into competition from her partner.

Vampire in Brooklyn really feels like a movie competing with itself. On the one hand, it is a gory vampire flick. On the other hand? It is an Eddie Murphy comedy that has the things you expect, like Eddie in various costumes as side characters. One is an Al Sharpton styled preacher which does result in an amusing scene where he bursts into flame and convinces the congregation to rush outside.

It is not that comedy and horror cannot mix, and honestly it is hard to tell where the conflict lies. I have read accounts that Eddie and the other writers intended this to be a more serious vampire film and it was Craven who altered the tone. Other accounts suggest that Craven pushed for Eddie to play the role more serious and Eddie did his own thing.

The movie is full of terrific performers, and so there are plenty of fun bits. Kadeem Hardison’s Julius finds himself falling apart as his body begins to rot, which results in a lot of funny moments as he freaks out. John Witherspoon is funny. And I think it is the problem…these are all talented performers and creatives…but it often feels like they are all working in totally different movies.

You Know Ethan (Mission: Impossible: Fallout, 2018)

Mission_Impossible_Fallout_PosterThe Mission Impossible franchise is kind of…well, a weird one. I thought the first one was okay…but the second film was a mess. J.J. Abrams streamlined things a bit and made an improvement with the third film.  Brad Bird and Christopher McQuarrie directed the fourth and fifth installments…and these turned out to be the most entertaining films of the franchise.  With the sixth film, Fallout, McQuarrie is the first director to return to the franchise.

The actions of the previous film have had an impact on the world terrorism scene. Ethan, Luthor and Benji lost weapons grade plutonium on a mission, and their attempt at cleanup ends up being overseen by the CIA who assign their top agent and assassin Walker to join the IMF. Angela Bassett’s Erika Sloane states that the IMF is like a scalpel, but she prefers a hammer.

Full of twists and turns, McQuarrie keeps the action going and strives to avoid being to predictable, though some of the tropes of the franchise seem unavoidable. Nobody stops the  secret weapon five minutes before the countdown will end…because where is the drama in that?

Cruise does not show any signs of quitting, and he manages to keep up a convincing performance as an action hero within the franchise. Hunt is portrayed as the guy who has the small picture in mind allowing his higher ups focus on the bigger picture.  Two different characters inform Ethan that he pretty much cares about the individual lives so they don’t have to.

Cruise, Rhames and Pegg have good comedic chemistry and play well together as a team.  He and Rebecca Ferguson have a good tension, but thankfully, Ilsa continues to have an agency beyond a potential love interest.  The film manages to make every character feel pretty important, and saving the day falls on all of their shoulders.

I really enjoyed the film…but here is my one caveat regarding the Mission:Impossible Franchise. I have enjoyed the films…but find them hard to remember. I remember I liked them.  I just do not really remember much about them later. I wonder if Fallout will continue this trend.

It’s Good to Be King (Black Panther, 2017)

Black_Panther_PosterCreated by comic book icons Jack ‘the King’ Kirby and Stan Lee, Black Panther has seemed like a character Marvel wants to really make active…but struggles to figure out how to make him work best.  Initially being a guest star in the pages of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, T’Challa (the titular Black Panther) got solo stories starting with 1973’s Jungle Action # 5. The series was not a top seller, and Marvel cancelled it. They tried to continue the Black Panther in his own series, which lasted until 1979.  They tried again in 1988, with a mini-series. This was followed by an appearance in Marvel’s anthology series Marvel Comics Presents in 1989.  1990 saw another series.  But it was 1998 where Black Panther found some footing.  Christopher Priest began his run and truthfully, he cracked the code with an incredibly engaging series. It lasted 62 issues (Priest wrote 60 of those issues). They worked on a new series in 2005 with Reginald Hudlin. 2016 brought back the Panther in his own series led by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This, for me, has come the closest to rivaling Priest’s terrific run.

While the Black Panther film was announced a few years ago, we did not get to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe take on the character until Captain America: Civil War.  I really enjoyed his introduction.  The film only hinted at a larger Wakandan culture, and so now is the opportunity to explore it deeper. This is a spoiler free review (so story references remain vague).

Opening with a young boy asking him to tell the story of home (Wakanda) before bedtime. This works rather nicely, filling us in on how Wakanda was built on Vibranium, how five tribes were united under a single king who was granted powers via plant life altered by the vibranium. Wakanda grew more technologically advanced than any other nation.  They sought to hide from the world.

The film quickly establishes that while the world believes that Wakanda is a low tech third world country, it is a vibrant high tech society. T’Challa and his family are still reeling from the events of Civil War, and it is time to T’Challa to take the mantle of King.

Of course, there are those who oppose him.  The weapons supplier Ulysses Klaue (pronounced “Claw” and first introduced to audiences in Avengers: Age of Ultron) and a mysterious young man called Killmonger are collecting Wakandan tech.

T’Challa struggles with his role as king. Heartbroken over his father’s death (again, in Civil War) and struggling with the role of Wakanda in the world.  His ex-girlfriend Nakia believes that Wakanda should be sharing it’s riches with the world…to be a beacon for the world, not tucked away. She loves him, but cannot see a place for herself in Wakanda when she has seen such suffering in the outside world.

The film shows us a society which has a richness of history and culture. The costume design is beautiful.  The king’s personal guards are all striking in appearance with lush reds and gold.  They are all warrior women with shaved heads (in one entertaining moment T’Challa, Nakia and general Okoye are undercover and she complains about having to wear a wig).

The Wakandan tech is exciting sci-fi tech that would make Bond jealous.  The Wakandan landscape is a combination a immense futuristic cities and beautiful forests and mountains. There are some fight scenes set amongst giant waterfalls that Director Coogler and his cinematographer use lighting and sunsets to amplify the sequences with intensity and beauty.

I really liked the characters in this film.  For T’Challa, it carries over his lessons learned from Captain America: Civil War.  T’Challa is merciful and a good man.  Heavy is the head that wears the crown…this film shows T’Challa struggling to be a King and Protector and not being blind to the world around him.

The women really steal the show in this film.  Okoye is a formidable warrior and guardian.  Nakia is intensely stubborn in her dedication.  But she also is in love with T’Challa (who is also very in love with her).  His mother is a woman of pride and wisdom (Angela Basset is just regal and beautiful).  And then there is his sister Shuri.  She is a fun character who lovingly spars with her brother.  She is a brilliant scientist, but her youth presents a more brash attitude. She is like a super competent “Q”.

Everett Ross (created by Christopher Priest in his 1998 series) appeared in Civil War, but we did not get a real feel for the character.  Here we find him seeming over-confident at first, but he rises to the challenge of helping the Black Panther and his family. While he begins seeming a bit like he might be the comedy relief, he becomes a character who shows himself as heroic and willing to risk himself for his friends.

Killmonger is a villain with a good back story.  He wants to rule the world, but not in some cheesy maniacal ruler fashion. He wants to rise his people up to subjugate the colonizers. Klaue is just after money, and shows no arc…but Andy Serkis seemed to have a lot of fun in the role.

Full of action, heart and punctuated with some great humor, Black Panther was worth the wait.  I would easily categorize this as one of Marvel’s best.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green (Green Lantern, 2011)

green-lantern-movie-posterTwo years before the Man of Steel, Warner Brothers had an opportunity to start building their cinematic universe.  In simple ways, they could have started building.  Hints of a bigger universe…start introducing characters who could cross the films.  I have talked about the missed opportunity before.

The film introduces us first to the ancient evil Parallax trapped by the powerful Green Lantern Abin Sur.  When some unfortunate astronauts stumble into his prison, he uses their fear to free himself and pursue Abin Sur.  This results in Sur crash landing on earth and his magic ring seeking a worthy person.  It chooses carefree pilot Hal Jordan.  When he is dragged into space he is trained in the ways of Space Copping by Sinestro, Tomar-Re and Kilowog.  Sinestro is dismissive of Jordan, thinking he is unworthy of being a part of the core.  Tomar-Re and Kilowog are less certain.  Hal returns to earth and tries to patch things up with Carol Ferris, a fellow pilot and daughter of the guy who owns Ferris Industries.  Both are not noticing the changes occurring their friend Hector Hammond, who was infected by Parallax.

There is a final grand battle where Hal Jordan vanquishes Parallax into the sun all by himself.  Note, Sinestro took a squadron of the finest Lanterns with him and they were all destroyed in seconds.  The film also has a voice over from Tomar-Re declaring Hal the best Green Lantern ever!  This is not a particularly good way to end the first film in a franchise.  It clearly was not meant to be the only film in the series based on the end credits scene.

Characters appear that have no place and are used very poorly, such as Amanda Waller, who resembles he namesake not one bit.  Using a universe ending villain in your first story pretty much means you have nowhere left to go.  No other villain is going to feel like such a large threat after that.

Reynolds is rather charming, but ironically, he and Blake Lively have no onscreen chemistry in the film.  The characters are bland, and how Hal uses the ring are not terrible imaginative (He makes a car! A jet plane! A Gatling Gun!).  The effect are decent, but not really memorable.  Maybe I hoped for better from the director of Casino Royal.  But this film missed the mark on many levels and failed to take the opportunity to start building the franchise they wanted.  Which I guess is all the better for Deadpool.

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