Tag Archives: Ryan Coogler

Black Panther (2018) Movie Review By John Walsh

BLACK PANTHER

Director: Ryan Coogler
Writers: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o

I’ve long been an admirer of Ryan Coogler. The man is a supremely talented writer, director and his collaborative efforts with Michael B Jordan usually come with a guarantee of brilliance. Mix this with my love of all things MCU related and you should have a match made in heaven.

Black Panther has been lavished with praise from all quarters and is tearing it up at the box office just about everywhere. What did I make of it the film though? I’ve seen it twice now and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a hugely enjoyable watch. I still don’t think it’s a flawless piece of cinema mind. It has a few little, niggling issues which I’ll get into in due course.

It’s set almost immediately after the events of the magnificent Captain America: Civil War in which, of course, the former king of Wakanda, T’Chaka is killed. This leaves T’Challa bestowed with the power of the Black Panther and he must return to his home immediately to be ushered in as the new king. And that’s precisely what happens, but not before a very cool opening, animated scene outlaying the history of the country, the different tribes within it and so on. This scene, incidently, is narrated in the style of a bed prime story by N’Jobu, the brother of T’Chaka and is interconnected to the villain of the film later on in a way that I thought was very intelligent.

You see there’s a flashback to 1992 in Oakland after this, where the previously mentioned N’Jobu (stationed there as a spy) is outed for conspiring with Ulysses Klaue to arm black communities outside Wakanda with Vibranium. He’s then killed by his own brother, leaving his young son orphaned in a strange land. The true importance of this killing and abandonment on the story and it’s characters isn’t felt until 20 odd years later and around the mid way point of the film, but suffice to say it’s a hugely significant moment.

Back to the present day and like I mentioned, T’Challa heads back to his homeland for the hastily arranged coronation ceremony. Accompanied by the trusted badass Okore (Danai Gurira), he performs a quickfire extraction operation in Nigeria on the way, to bring his ex-lover and spy, Nakia (Lupita Nyongo’o) home for his big day. Now, I have to say that it’s such a cool moment when the ship finally bursts through the holographic barrier giving us the first sight of the frankly incredible Wakanda. The city with its gleaming, high rise buildings, winding monorail and an amazing juxtaposition of the old and new is a real treat for the eyes as most things are in this film.

We meet two main figures upon their arrival, those being, Zuri (Forest Whittaker), a spiritual adviser to the king (who just so happens to be hiding a major secret) and Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s younger sister, who is insanely intelligent and the provider of much of the cool gadgets and technology Black Panther uses. Both of these characters have their own significantly large roles to play as the plot progresses.

But I digress, the ceremony gets underway, in the most stunning of settings and T’Challa is challenged by M’Baku of the mountain tribes. The fight is fairly fierce, quick fire but our man prevails, successfully getting him to yield in the process and so he’s declared king of Wakanda. Well, for now at least anyway. He then sets his sights on capturing and ending the travails of the permanent thorn in the side that is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). He does this via a short hop to Korea. We see Klaue in a short little heist scene beforehand incidentally, alongside the, at this point, unnamed Michael B Jordan character.

Klaue is apprehended temporarily before the shit hits the fan in an escape spearheaded by Erik. During this Martin Freeman’s Everett K Ross character, a CIA agent takes a bullet in the mayhem of Klaue’s escape. Now, until this point, probably around a third of the way in, Klaue was clearly the antagonist of the film. But shortly after his breakout he’s unceremoniously discarded by the now revealed true villain Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) and things really pick up pace wise after this. Not that the film was slow beforehand because it wasn’t but there was just something lacking.

Erik makes his way to Wakanda and challenges T’Challa. A brutal battle then plays out and the king is rather easily seen off. This scene honestly reminded me of the way Bane broke Batman in the Dark Knight Rises. It was painful just watching it. Killmonger takes to the throne and desires to utilise Wakanda’s immeasurable technological power to help disenfranchised black communities worldwide. This is the raison D’etre of the character and one of the main themes explored by the film in general. Wakanda until that point had chosen to remain secretive, keeping its wealth and power to itself whilst many struggled against oppression.

Now, I’m not sure if Coogler meant for the disappearance and implied death of T’Challa to be more impactful than it was but it mirrored the arc that Caesar had in Dawn of the Planet of Apes and that film handled it so much better for me. Never at any point did I ever doubt he would live and return. It did allow the film to travel to M’Baku’s ethereal throne room setting though so I wasn’t THAT bothered by it.

Of course, T’Challa does indeed return to the fray, setting up one final battle, in true Marvel style. I enjoyed this action packed finale. It featured multi-perspectives, Everett had a part of play, as did Shuri, Okore and Black Panther himself. The death of Killmonger was incredibly poignant with his line about N’Jobu telling him stories about Wakanda as a boy marrying in perfectly with that little opener.

He was very much in the vain of a Roy Batty villain and he’s arguably the most complicated and best villain we’ve seen to date in a Marvel film. Much of that’s down to Michael B Jordan who I can’t praise enough. I think the guy is just oozing with talent that shines through in every film he’s a part of. A sizeable part of it is also down to the journey he had and how relatable the character was too. His ethos and desire to help liberate the oppressed minority isn’t a very villainous cause. Perfectly summed up by his line “Two billion people all over the world who look like us whose lives are much harder, and Wakanda has the tools to liberate them all,” “Where was Wakanda?” His story was a tragedy.

Indeed he manages to change Black Panthers mind on Wakanda’s continuing secrecy, as that potentially monumental post credits scene proves.

In terms of other noteworthy performances. I could probably spend a good 10 minutes talking about them alone. Chadwick Boseman was outstanding as T’Challa. He imbued the character with raw power, athleticism and real emotion. His accent is so good it would fool me into believeing he was actually from the African continent. Speaking of accents, hats off to Andy Serkis. I love this man as an actor and I was delighted to see him in a non-mo cap role. He looked cool, had a convincing South African accent and I was bitterly disappointed he was killed off.

Lupita Nyongo’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Forest Whitaker were all absolutely superb too. Lupita speaks for herself. Gurira was a incredible in some of the action sequences. Gliding about the screen delivering beatings. Anybody that’s watched the Walking Dead will know what she’s capable of. Shuri had such an upbeat, cheeky and infectious personality that lit up every scene she was in. That’s all down to Wright. Zuri was kind of a tragic character too. He had to live with the death of his friend and his role in it for 20 odd years and it was a great performance from Whitaker who disappointed in Rogue One.

The overwhelmingly majority of this film I did love. The visuals were stunning, every element of them too. The CGI was masterful, none more so in the films two trips to the ancestral realm. The bluish to deep violet tones of the ethereal sky left me stunned by their beauty and added so much to the power and feeling of those scenes which were up there with some of the best in the film.

The costume designs and the attention detail in general was great too.

The score was very cool too. Ludwig Göransson did an outstanding job capturing an authentic African feel throughout. He immersed himself in the continent collaborating with artists and you can tell. It had a great blend of contemporary and classic stuff going on. Killmonger on the soundtrack probably perfectly typifies that. Ancestral Plane is probably my favourite through and Wakanda was up there too.

Now for my biggest gripe or gripes because there’s two in there. The story to me felt a little average. I couldn’t put my finger on why at first but then it dawned on me and it’s the handling of the villains. The first hour of the film doesn’t really have one. Klaue was portrayed as one, but he didn’t ever feel like a serious threat to our heroes. Sure he was involved in that great chase scene in Korea but that was it really. Then he was killed out of the blue. Why? I don’t know.

Killmonger absolutely should’ve been more prominent from the beginning, why he didn’t step forward until half way through the film is beyond me. Things improved dramatically when he did. Even then though, it really didn’t feel like T’Challa would be in any danger. The final battle was enjoyable enough but lacked the urgency I’ve grown accustomed to. This film was deliberately set on a smaller, more personal scale admittedly and it semi-worked when Black Panther was at odds with his fathers legacy, betrayal and his inner conflict. But not so much when it came to a big, bombastic battle.

In the end, I did enjoy Black Panther and that’s down to the unique setting, the much superior second half of the film and the excellent performances in the main. For a film of this stand.

Fruitvale Station (2013) Movie Retro Review by John Walsh

FRUITVALE STATION

Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer

A powerful and emotionally wrenching story that four years on from its release is still sadly revelant in today’s climate of ongoing, racially charged hatred. Much of the emotional content of this film stems from it being based on the real life murder of Oscar Grant. A young, 22 year old, African-American man who was shot in the back by police officer Johannes Mehserle after New Years celebrations at the titular Oakland rail station.

Mehserle, claimed to be reaching for his taser when he inexplicably pulled his gun instead and fired. What came next was the usual ghoulish media attention and riots from rightly outraged people. When word of the killing reached the attention of then film graduate Ryan Coogler, he was immediately inspired to tell the story of Oscar’s final 24 hours. He developed the script and with the financial backing from Forest Whitaker and his production company, soon set about making this a reality. And it’s in that inspiration where this film finds its real soul. The media almost always fails to convey the human story in these situations. Coogler rights that particular wrong here, shirks going down the usual route of overly politicising the story and instead delves into the real tragedy. I.e. Oscar and his loved ones. It focuses on who he was as a person and manages to breath a new, more intimate, personal perspective into both the atrocity.

There was accusatory criticism levelled at Fruitvale after it’s release for over romanticising the life of Oscar, portrayed by the immensely talented Michael B. Jordan. If it is guilty of this then it’s a forgivable use of artistic licence, especially in the early part of the film, when the viewer is still forming an emotional connection to the character. It does have a few unlikely soppy scenes in there. The chief of which being his epiphany like moment when he throws a zipper full of marijuana into the sea to denote a new found sense of maturity. You’ve also got the fairly ridiculous, foreshadowing meeting with the dog at the gas station, which is then the victim of an unlikely hit and run, ultimately dying in his hands and even the semi-flirtatious brush with a young lady at the supermarket in desperate need of some cooking advice, which Oscar selflessly provides via his old grandma.

Ok, maybe I’m being harsh with the last one, I mean that may well have happened, he did work at a supermarket, but the marijuana incident is an embellished truth at best and the dog scene is the pure figment of Coogler’s imagination for sure.

In Coogler’s defence though, he does counterbalance these couple of holier than thou traits with the more human like faults (for want of a better word) you’d expect in a young man of that age, growing up within that difficult environment. For instance, it’s established early on that Oscar has been guilty of cheating on his wife, potentially endangering his marriage and relationship with his four year old daughter. He’s been guilty of dealing drugs (admittedly to keep a roof over his family’s head), and at the point we join him, has just lost his job for repeatedly poor timekeeping. He’s also seen serving time in prison via a nicely worked flashback with his mother Wanda, played by the wonderful Octavia Spencer. A flashback, which incidentally, continues the ongoing psyche balancing act by showcasing his potential for hot headedness and quickness to anger.

I could understand this criticism more if the man is put forward as a messiah like figure, but he isn’t. If anything, Fruitvale paints an impressively complicated figure of Oscar. It does project the kind, thoughtful and family man aspects, but the aforementioned deliberate counterbalancing of his character means the criticism is ultimately misplaced and more than a little harsh. It really stems back to what I mentioned earlier. This film is a brilliant portrait of Oscar, taking a good, reflective look at his side of the story, and by all accounts, the facts are pretty much bang on. He was indeed married with a young daughter and had recently lost his job, and even the darker sides of his life, like the time spent in prison and drug dealing are accurately depicted.

In the end, Ryan Coogler did exactly what he aspired to do in telling Oscar’s story and putting his final day on film. In doing so, he also delivered a pretty damning indictment on the modern issues that seem to be afflicting many young African-Americans. Most notably, the incarceration many disenfranchised, young men face for repeat offending, a problem only exacerbated by the complete lack of opportunity given to them, and last but by no means least, the systematic racism still ingrained in many police forces to this day. A problem that causes killings like Oscar’s to be repeated again and again on an almost yearly basis. If films like this, by portraying the human story in the frenzied media reporting of such incidents, can change attitudes in even a small proportion of people then that can’t be a bad thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film from pretty much the start to finish. It possessed a moving, engrossing and excellent story. This was definitely enhanced by the mere presence of Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer. Both delivered exceptional performances alongside Melonie Diaz, who was also excellent as Sophina. It’s a surprisingly short film, but it’s brilliant and definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 4/5

Creed (2015) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

CREED

Director: Ryan Coogler
Writers: Ryan Coogler (screenplay),  Aaron Covington (screenplay)
Stars: Michael B. Jordan,  Sylvester Stallone,  Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad

The idea of a Rocky spin off sounds like taking things a little too far in a franchise that spanned over 40 years. If this movie had been pitched around 15-20 years ago I would honestly predict it would have been a straight to VHS release lying in some bargain bin at the local supermarket and the name Sylvester Stallone wouldn’t have been attached to it.

The surprising success of the 2006 film “Rocky Balboa” changed everything with this franchise. Back in 1990 the awful Rocky V looked to have killed off our beloved “Italian Stallion” in an underwhelming plot and substandard performances from the actors and not to mention the abandonment of the classic Bill Conti score. Fast forward 16 years and to be honest the news of a new Rocky movie didn’t excite me one bit. My first thought was…how old is Sly now? What far fetched storyline will we get to believe Rocky Balboa could step in the ring again. Well enough of that for now as I will do a Retro Review on that movie soon and explain why I was wrong on so many levels.

We revisit the “Rocky” universe 9 years on that film and surprisingly Stallone isn’t in the writing chair for “Creed”. Both Coogler and Covington wrote the screenplay and follow the early life of a young man named Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) (opening in the year 1998) who has spent most of his childhood life from one detention centre to the next. That is until an older lady visits him in his cell (after one two many punch ups) and offers him a chance to restart his life under her wing. Adonis surprised and a little confused on why this stranger would want to do this kind act. She reveals herself to be the wife (Mary Anne) of his father…….Apollo Creed.

The audience learns very early on that just before Apollo died, he had an affair and as a result Adonis was born after his father passed away. The year is now 2015 and we also learn that Adonis is now a settled young man making his way in the world and pursuing a career thanks to the guidance of Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) Just like his late father he has a passion for fighting and wants to begin a career in the ring under the name of Adonis Johnson to make his own name in boxing without the burden of living under a large shadow.

I must say the first 10-15 minutes of the movie made me realise that the angle Coogler and Covington found to resurrect the franchise was clever and solid. The casting of Rashad as a seasoned actor to play the widowed Mary Anne was just write to open the movie and Michael B. Jordan as the lead was a fine piece of casting too. Jordan was just about at the write age to portray a character that if we are checking our calculations should be 30 years old (although Jordan was 28 at the time) if Apollo in the timeline died in 1985 (is this canon?)

Having made this decision to become a fighter Adonis heads from Los Angeles to Philadelphia and to look up an old friend (and foe) of Apollo Creed. Enter Sylvester Stallone as the iconic but ageing Rocky Balboa. Stallone basically inherits the role played by Burgess Meredith in those original films and I think is the same age as Meredith was in the original Rocky. Since we last saw Rocky in 2006’s Rocky Balboa another family member has passed on (Paulie) and Rocky is still running his restaurant “Adrian’s” in honour of his late wife.

I have to say and this is full credit to the writers in this spin off movie. Although Stallone makes an influence on every scene, the storyline generally avoids a trip down nostalgia lane and to be fair to Stallone, he takes a back step in this story and only adds a familiar face to the film. Don’t get me wrong, Rocky is battling his own demons and both Adonis and Rocky support each other in their battles and their fight.

Without a doubt Michael B. Jordan occupies the leading role with charisma that Carl Weathers would be proud of while Sylvester Stallone carries his ageing character with dignity and doesn’t conceal. In fact it’s quite the opposite as he takes advantage of his age in order to portray Rocky’s story.

Tony Bellew portrays Liverpudlian”Pretty” Ricky Conlan, the cocky boxing champion of the world who needs a massive send off as a public relations strategy after some legal bills. What better way than Bill his final bout against the son of Apollo Creed. Unfortunately, the movie dedicates him very little time to Conlan and I felt he was as menacing as Mason “The Line” Dixon was in “Rocky Balboa.” Everything you expect from the public image of a boxer in real life but nothing happening in his personal life. This itself has a little impact on the fight itself as I felt a little more information about this character could have added a bit of spice to the fight. Nonetheless Bellew is a good opponent.

The same could be said of Adonis’ love interest Bianca played by Tessa Thompson. Thompson is a fine actor and every scene she is in is decent. The chemistry between Jordan and Thompson is also decent but the character is somewhat shoehorned into the story and doesn’t really serve any purpose other than Adonis having a connection outwith Rocky in the city of Philadelphia.

In summary “Creed” is a great movie and as believable as the story can be with the backstory already fleshed out about the main characters heritage and the legacy that is lying in wait. The actors barely put a foot wrong and the casting of Jordan and his chemistry with Stallone works. It may not be up there with Rocky or Rocky II, but I would put it on par with Rocky Balboa for its cinematography and for its storyline. Highly Recommended.