The Snowbound Monthly Update for February 2018

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but films are so delightful; and since we’ve no place to go, let’s look back at the last month on 100 Films

#16 Accomplice (1946)
#17 Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)
#18 The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
#19 Casino (1995)
#20 Hitchcock (2012)
#21 Fast & Furious 8 (2017), aka The Fate of the Furious
#22 WarGames (1983)
#23 Black Panther (2018)
#24 Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964), aka Zatôichi senryô-kubi
#25 The Dark Tower (2017)
#26 The Duellists (1977)
#27 Persepolis (2007)
#28 Being John Malkovich (1999)
#29 One for the Fire: The Legacy of “Night of the Living Dead” (2008)
#30 Birth of the Living Dead (2013)
#31 Mute (2018)
#32 Big Fish (2003)
#33 My Cousin Rachel (2017)
#34 Mindhorn (2016)
#35 The Villainess (2017), aka Ak-Nyeo
#36 I Origins (2014)
Black Panther

Big Fish

The Villainess


  • With 21 new films watched this month, February is all set to beat a few stats.
  • So, it passes all averages: for the month of February (previously 11.5, now 12.4); for 2018 to date (previously 15, now 18); and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 14.5, now 15.1).
  • It’s also the second highest February (behind 2016’s 24) and the second furthest I’ve reached by the end of February (behind 2016 again, when I’d made it to #44).
  • In 11-and-a-bit years of doing this blog, it’s only the 10th month with 20+ films. That puts it in the top 7.5% of all months.
  • Despite February being the shortest month, 21 is the most films I’ve watched in a single month since last October. If you include rewatches (more on those further down, as usual), it’s the most since… the same. But to find another month where I watched more overall, you’d have to go back to another October: October 2015, aka my highest month ever.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: one of the few gaps in my Tim Burton viewing, probably his most restrained (and, by no coincidence, one of his best) film in the last 20+ years, Big Fish.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: one of the many gaps in my Martin Scorsese viewing, though sadly I found Casino to be rather overrated.

The 33rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
This month wasn’t a bad one for quality viewing — far from it — and yet options for this category quickly narrowed to just a couple of prime contenders. Of those, I had little doubt about my favourite: ticking all sorts of boxes with its African James Bond superhero routine, it had to be Black Panther.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
There were a few less-good films this month, two of them courtesy of Netflix’s Originals line. Of that pair, undoubtedly the worst (to my mind) was The Cloverfield Paradox. Its surprise release may’ve been hailed as genius, but when you actually see the film you realise that innovation was almost all it had going for it. If Netflix ever try to pull the same stunt again… well, it’s not going to bode well for that film’s quality.

Best Action Sequence on Wheels of the Month
Black Panther has a cool semi-virtual car chase, and obviously Fast & Furious 8 bases almost all of its action around motor vehicles, but neither can come close to The Villainesssword fight on speeding motorbikes. And later it trots out a bus-based finale, just to make sure no one else would stand a chance in this category.

Flower of the Month
It may not be the weather for them, but after Big Fish it has to be daffodils.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It’s the film everyone’s been talking about this month — and going to see in droves, too — so it’s no surprise to find Black Panther in pole position here.

In a real turn-up for the books, my Rewatchathon is currently well ahead of schedule…

#5 Blade Runner 2049 3D (2017)
#6 Beetlejuice (1988)
#7 The Mask (1994)
#8 The Love Punch (2013)
#9 Mission: Impossible (1996)
#10 Shrek (2001)

Regular readers with exceptional memories may recall I only last watched The Love Punch in January. Frankly, it’s not a film I necessarily thought I’d ever revisit, let alone so soon, but sometimes you need something inoffensive that will placate a group of family members with varied tastes. And, to be completely honest, although it’s an utterly daft movie, I do quite like it.

Beetlejuice turns 30 next month, so I’ll post more about it then. Mission: Impossible and Shrek will also be getting the “Guide To” treatment, to fill out my archive with posts about the entirety of each series — three of the five Mission films are already here; and while there are no Shreks yet, three of those five will be first-time watches when I get to them. This is also the beginning of a rewatch of all the M:I films before this summer’s sixth arrives. It’s the first time I’ve watched the first two in at least a decade — time bloody flies, don’t it?

It’s time for the annual update of my director’s page header image, which features the 20 directors with the most films I’ve reviewed. (The excitement never stops around here, folks!)

There were no humungous changes like the surge of Spielberg last year. Nonetheless, Michael Bay and Ron Howard have moved into positions where they definitely get to appear on the banner; but there’s a ten-way tie for 18th place, from which only three directors can be selected. Already included in the header were John Carpenter, Alfred Hitchcock, Ernst Lubitsch, Tony Scott, and Billy Wilder — at least two had to go to make way for Bay and Howard. Also under consideration for the remaining three slots were Danny Boyle, Kenneth Branagh, David Lynch, M. Night Shyamalan, and Quentin Tarantino.

In the end, I decided to go for a near-maximum refresh: off come Carpenter, Lubitsch, Tony Scott, and Wilder (Hitchcock stays because, c’mon, it’s Hitchcock), and on go not only Bay and Howard, but also Lynch and Tarantino.

British Summer Time begins. No, seriously: right now it couldn’t be more wintery, but in just 25 days the clocks change. Madness.


Black Panther (2018)

2018 #23
Ryan Coogler | 134 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | USA / English, Xhosa & Korean | 12A / PG-13

Black Panther

Black Panther is not the first superhero movie to star a person of colour in the leading role — not by a long, long shot. But it does look set to be the most successful. In part that’s down to its association with the MCU (the last time one of their movies grossed under $500 million was the first Captain America, 13 movies ago), but it’s also due to a general underrepresentation of non-white heroes right now — Black Panther may not be the first, but it may be the most mainstream. It also won’t hurt that it’s a very good action-adventure movie in its own right, and one that feels especially fresh thanks to tapping into an under-utilised cultural milieu.

Picking up shortly after the events that brought the title character into the MCU (as seen in Captain America: Civil War), the film begins with T’Challa, aka Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), returning home to be crowned king of his country, Wakanda. A scientifically advanced African nation, with incredible technology fuelled by its deep reserves of the extraordinary metal vibranium, Wakanda has kept its abilities hidden from the rest of the world, who believe it’s a third world country of farmers. However, T’Challa must face forces from within and without who think Wakanda should play a greater role on the global stage — in particular long-time enemy of the state Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and his new partner in crime Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), who wants to rule Wakanda and then the world.

The name's Panther. Black Panther.

A villain who wants to rule the world? Black Panther doesn’t spell out his goal quite that bluntly, I don’t think, but that’s what it is. It’s just one of several clues that this is, in many ways, a James Bond movie… only one where James Bond is a black African king with superpowers. The film’s whole structure is more Bond than Marvel, though: most obvious is the gadget-explaining Q scene, but then it becomes a globetrotting adventure (the film sets significant sequences in California, Nigeria, London, and Busan (though they don’t get there by train, thankfully)), complete with undercover operatives, a casino, car chases, and a plot with significant geopolitical elements. I’m not claiming you can map this one-for-one onto the Bond template, but the inspiration (consciously or not on the part of the filmmakers) is certainly there. One Letterboxd user described it as “The Lion King meets Skyfall”, which might sound pithy but is also surprisingly accurate — and Skyfall in particular, not just any old Bond film; but there we’d be getting into spoiler territory, so I’ll leave that for you to think about yourself after you’ve seen the movie.

An even more significant influence, for numerous reasons, is African culture. Much has been made of the film having a predominantly black cast (aside from (to use an already well-worn joke) a couple of ‘Tolkien’ white guys), but it fully embraces that too. It isn’t nominally set in Africa with faces that happen to be of a different colour to the blockbuster norm — African traditions, designs, and ways of life have been woven throughout the film. Are they real ones the filmmakers co-opted or were they just inspired by the iconography of the continent? I don’t know. Does it matter? I don’t think so. It’s a different flavour on the blockbuster stage, and that adds freshness to just about everything.

African culture, real or imagined

For one, it helps the film to look beautiful. It’s colourful without being cartoonish, the vibrant palette coming through via costumes and locations in a very real way. Design is naturally a big part of this — make-up; costumes; however the production design department breaks down across locations, sets, props, etc, etc. They were obviously able to cut loose, finding inspiration from different places to usual (i.e. Africa) and imagining a whole alternate world, similar to ours but a bit more Sci-Fi.

There’s the light, too — this is frequently a gorgeously shot film. Not just the quality captured by DP Rachel Morrison (who made headlines recently when she was Oscar nominated for Mudbound), but also the shot choices and editing — it’s filmic, whereas too many Marvel movies look like TV but with a humungous effects budget. Director Ryan Coogler stages the action well too. Across the board, the visuals don’t feel so generically “Marvel”, while also not forcing themselves so far outside the house style that it doesn’t feel like A Marvel Movie. Put another way, it’s probably not that radical, but it is fine-tuned.

The music is oftentimes striking as well, with Ludwig Göransson’s score and various songs* mixing different styles for a heady but effective blend. In fact, the music occasionally achieves a feel or atmosphere that I don’t think Marvel’s usually-generic soundtracks have reached before, and not necessarily ones you’d expect.

Suited up

The film is rich and fresh in plenty of other ways too. The story is loaded with varied thematic concerns: there’s politics, both on the world stage and internal; the battle between tradition vs modernity; the pros and cons of both isolationism and being open to the world; issues of colonialism and its aftereffects (and the morality of a possible reversal thereof)… Obviously race is a factor as well, but in specific ways rather than some kind of generic “hey, look, black people can do this too!” I feel like there are many different things to read into and out of this film — numerous facets that could be focused on either singularly or in various combinations — and that, actually, the film would reward such a close reading, rather than falling apart when put under a microscope.

Yet another thing it juggles well in this mix are the characters and the performances behind them. There are a lot of people to get to know here, but they’re all so effectively sketched that most are interesting, likeable, or memorable (or all three) within just a few moments. The film may be called Black Panther and he may be the central hero, but he’s not the only strong, capable, heroic figure here — far from it. Indeed, another aspect that will surely generate plenty of discussion is the film’s strong female roles. The Q figure, currently at the forefront of all Wakanda’s incredible technology, is T’Challa’s younger sister (Letitia Wright); the army (or security service? I’ll confess to not being 100% on Wakanda’s military structure) is made up of women, led (of course) by a female general (Danai Gurira); their best spy is also a woman (Lupita Nyong’o); and the Queen Mother (Angela Bassett) is a powerful figurehead who gives strong advice.

Sisters, doing it for themselves

The film doesn’t make a big to-do about all this — it doesn’t boast about how well these women are doing, or have people try to “put them in their place” only for them to overcome it — it just gets on with them being awesome. Obviously the race aspect is going to be the most talked about thing here, at least initially, but I’d wager Black Panther is second only to Wonder Woman in its foregrounding of exceptionally capable female characters in the superhero genre… and, considering how many of them there are in this, one might argue it surpasses even that. Although the lead’s still a bloke, so…

Said bloke is an interesting lead character. He’s often quite quiet and thoughtful, very different to the wisecracking action men who typically lead Marvel movies. I’d guess he’s going to get on well with Captain America come Infinity War because they both have that stoic intelligence. It means that Chadwick Boseman doesn’t have the easy likeability of jokes to fall back on, as has so benefited… well, all those other Marvel leading men. But quiet strength is its own reward, if slightly slower burning, and T’Challa is ultimately a very engaging hero. On the other side of the equation, Michael B. Jordan’s villain is one of Marvel’s rare strong ones — in fairness, something they seem to have been improving since everyone pointed it out. While Erik is unquestionably a bad guy doing bad things, he has an understandable motivation, and Jordan even makes you feel for him a bit by the end.

He just can't wait to be king

Marvel Studios have often talked about trying to mix other genres into each of their movies, to try to add some much-needed variety to the familiar superhero movie formula. On the whole I’d say the effect is minimal — I’m always minded of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which they tried to push as a ’70s-style political thriller, but which I thought was still very much a superhero movie with a dash of political thriller in the mix. Although maybe that’s enough. Anyway, Black Panther is once again undoubtedly a superhero movie in more than just the literal sense that it’s adapted from a comic book about a superhero, but this particular mix of varied influences — some familiar (it’s not the first movie to imitate Bond), others less so (African culture in an action-adventure blockbuster) — does make it feel genuinely different to the norm.

I know some people say this every time the studio releases a new movie, but it probably is Marvel’s best film to date. Nonetheless, I was going to give it 4 stars again; but the more I think about it, the more I feel like it’s time to break my duck and make this the first Marvel movie I’ve given:

5 out of 5

Black Panther is in cinemas pretty much everywhere now.

* I’m sure there was a “songs by” credit, but I can’t remember the name and it doesn’t seem to be in any of the credits lists online. ^

Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008)

2014 #50
Jay Oliva | 75 mins | DVD | 1.78:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

Next Avengers: Heroes of TomorrowNo, not the ’70s spy-fi series The New Avengers (is there no way for Marvel’s superheroes to avoid sounding like that franchise?), nor the sequel to the third highest grossing film of all time (but you knew that), this direct-to-DVD animated movie follows in the footsteps of the two Ultimate Avengers animated movies (though not in the same continuity… I don’t think…), and concerns… the children of the Avengers! How kids’ TV can you get, eh?

So, there’s the son of Captain America and Black Widow; the daughter of Thor and Sif; the son of Hank Pym and Wasp; the son of Hawkeye and Mockingbird; and the son of Black Panther. (Aside: in the live-action movie universe, 100% of those men have or will soon appear; only 50% of the women, though.) These kids must work with the still-living members of the original Avengers to fight… Ultron, the villain of this summer’s Live-Action Avengers 2! (Do you ever feel like the Marvel universe goes round in circles? I suppose that’s not fair — DC does it too.)

I’m being snarky but, actually, this oh-so-childish-seeming cartoon is surprisingly good. Sure, the animation and voice acting is all very ’00s Saturday morning kids’ cartoon, but there’s a moderately solid story in there, and some great new characters. Well, some good interpretations of old characters, and one great new character: Thor’s daughter, Torunn. Her character arc is a good’un, and teen voice actress Brenna O’Brien does good work with her too.

Torunn, James, AzariThe rest of the new characters are largely fine, and while they’re clearly grounded in their parents’ personalities, they’re not just carbon copies — Cap’s son James is less worthy than his father, for instance; Black Panther’s son Azari is less elbows-out; and so on. Though Hawkeye Jr. is a little skeevy… Writer Christopher Yost has done a fair job of crafting realistic-enough kids, and in an era when superheroes seem to spend more time fighting amongst themselves than they do against villains, it’s nice that this team largely get on — though not in an overly-rosy “it’s all happy families” way, thankfully.

As for Ultron, they’ve modified his creation story: he was now built by Tony Stark. That’s where they’re going with it in Avengers 2, funnily enough. It gets hardcore fanboys in a tizzy, but clearly it makes far more sense that the inventor of Iron Man would also create a sentient robot (that does look a little bit like Iron Man, kinda) than that the inventor of a miniaturisation suit would.

It’s quite nice to see a new set of characters and a new ‘world’ within a familiar universe — it feels less re-hash-y than the comics and the longer-running movie franchises can. Rage of UltronCoupled with a good plot, which keeps moving and developing rather than setting up one threat and meandering along until a big fight, as well as a few cameos and maybe even surprises along the way, Next Avengers is the kind of movie you expect to be pretty awful kids-only dross, but turns out to actually be pretty darn good.

4 out of 5

Avengers: Age of Ultron is out in the UK tomorrow.

Ultimate Avengers II (2006)

aka Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther

2008 #83
Will Meugniot & Richard Sebast | 70 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

Ultimate Avengers IISome things in life baffle me. Form dictates I now list a couple of humorous examples, but we’ll skip that and get to the point: why would you make a direct-to-DVD movie that has a subtitle on the box but not on the film itself? I can understand why titles get tweaked on cinema-release posters and/or subsequent DVD releases — for marketing purposes, say; or clarity — but why, when your title is going direct to the DVD stage, do the titles not match? And why does the box add the subtitle rather than remove it for on-shelf simplicity? I have no answers — it baffles me, remember — but this is the sort of thing I sometimes muse about. The sort of thing that most other people don’t even notice, never mind care about.

Insignificant title issues aside, the fact that (as of writing) 2,365 people have bothered to rate the first Ultimate Avengers on IMDb, while only 1,325 have bothered to rate this second, suggests many were so disappointed by the initial film they didn’t bother with the sequel. Which is something of a shame, because it’s a lot better. Problematically, it’s heavily grounded in the first, picking up several threads that were left hanging — enough so as to make that weak franchise opener required viewing, sadly.

Why’s it better? We’ll get the obvious out of the way: yes, it’s a modern genre sequel, so yes, it’s ‘darker’. In this case that means “more adult”, touching on issues you might not expect in superhero animation with such a low certificate — marital problems, survivor’s guilt, political isolationism, even vague allusions to alcoholism. None are dealt with in any great depth I should add, but it will likely please adult fans wishing for something more “grown-up”. There’s also a greater amount of violence, though much of it is implied, or just off screen, or against bug-like aliens. The animation still isn’t great, though at times seems improved. Equally, while both script and story are better — there’s no pace issue this time — there’s still plenty of clanging dialogue, and the adult subplots aren’t exactly subtly executed.

The climax also has its share of flaws. While most of the story is nicely balanced, it’s over-efficient in wrapping up, in the way that only animation seems allowed to be — for whatever reason, this exact story would comfortably fill a two-hour live-action version. The worst effect of this is that some points aren’t treated with their deserved weight — the death of a major character is so hasty and glossed over that I didn’t even realise it had happened until a brief shot of a memorial in the closing scene. On a less pressing note, the giant alien robots of the final battle leave the film just one leg (per robot) away from becoming a total War of the Worlds rip-off. But this tale is of American origin, so the aliens are defeated not by a clever plot twist, but by brute force.

Despite my attention to the film’s weak points there’s actually plenty to enjoy here, provided animated superhero movies are your thing. There’s more action than the first instalment, a more interesting story, more character development… Even if it’s done at quite a basic level it’s still adequately entertaining, enough that you might wish there was a third. An improvement then, if still flawed, but — ultimately — enjoyable.

4 out of 5

For my review of the first Ultimate Avengers, please look here. Live-action sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron is in UK cinemas from this Thursday, 23rd April 2015.