The film Black Panther, a Marvel movie directed by Ryan Coogler, is a different brand of superhero movie that destroys many of the tropes that are expected from the genre.  The film outlines the rise of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to the throne of Wakanda, a Central African country that has hidden itself from the rest of the world, despite the fact that it houses vibranium, the most powerful substance in the universe.

The beginning of the film brings T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka (John Kani) to Oakland to bring his brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) back to Wakanda.  After a dispute that transpires in Captain America: Civil War, T’Chaka loses his life and T’Challa must become the Black Panther.  After a customary passage to the throne, Erik Killmonger (Michael B.Jordan), the forgotten son of N’Jobu, comes to challenge.

Jordan’s villain might be the best of any one of the Marvel villains.  With a right to the throne and a firm belief that moving away from isolationism is the right move makes him a sympathetic character along with being the most powerful foe whom we have seen so far.

The supporting cast is also great. Andy Serkis, as the arms dealer Klaue, does an awesome job of driving the plot along.  As a crazy vibranium dealer who relishes the thrill of the chase, Serkis shows his action chops outside of his usual motion-capture performances for which he is known.  Angela Bassett as the Queen Ramonda also gives a powerful performance.  She is regal and wise, and brings much energy to the film.  

The breakout performance of the film is from Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s sister.  Being the equivalent of Q from the James Bond franchise, she adapts Black Panther’s costume and gadgets to maximize his abilities.  She brings a lot of humor and fun to the film and Wright is definitely a rising star.

Marvel films of late have tried to interweave the other heroes of the franchise into the film to bring all of the stories together for the upcoming Avengers:Infinity War.  Black Panther breaks this mold by creating a standalone superhero movie that goes away from the standard origin story that has been the formula for the introduction of most of the franchise’s films.

The movie brings a lot of traditional African elements to the characters without being over the top or kitschy.  The tribes of the region are united in a mutual respect for one another, and it is interesting to watch when they gather to name a new king.  There are many elements of the film that feel almost Lion King-esque (in a good way) with T’Challa communicating with leaders of the past in order to make the right decisions.

Black Panther begs many questions that are pertinent to society today.  Boseman as T’Challa is a formidable leader and always stands up for what is right, but is forced to question his own morals in order to do what is best for Wakanda.  Jordan’s Killmonger brings much of a gray area to the quintessential villain and leaves the audience wondering if his aggressive stance may be the correct one.  The high-flying action mixed with the social overtones make for an extremely entertaining and interesting movie.

The film, along with breaking many barriers, is an extremely action-packed romp for all comic book fans (and even non-comic book fans) to enjoy.  As is customary of each of the Marvel movies, there are a couple of post credit scenes, so don’t leave until the lights come on.

The 15:17 to Paris, directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the memoir The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos, is a film that brings three lifelong friends through trials and tribulations that culminate in a situation of chaos in which they must thwart a terrorist attack aboard a cross-country train through Europe.  Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos all portray themselves in the ordeal, and bring a sense of realism to the movie.
The film begins chronicling the relationship between the three main characters, all outcasts in a Catholic middle school who find solace with each other playing Airsoft in the woods of California and recreating battle strategy from major skirmishes during Word War 2.  After being forced to separate because of school choice and a change of parental custody, the three keep a bond through high school.  After Stone and Sadler join the military, the three decide to take a backpacking trip through Europe and hit as many sites as possible.  Splicing their pasts with their present, the film comes to a climax when they leave Amsterdam to get to Paris, France, their last stop on the route.
While aboard the train, the group happens to be in the midst of an attempted attack by an ISIS insurgent.  After the terrorist shoots a passenger who tries to stop him, the group begins to rally against him, using their own skills to prevent further injury.
The film is very well directed, and is intense throughout.  The main characters are likable and believable, and the viewer is rooting for them whether they are in a dance club in Amsterdam, a hostel in Italy, or especially protecting the people around them against a person who only wants to destroy any sense of security around people trying to enjoy a sightseeing trip.
Spencer Stone is the most prominently featured member of the group, and the film chronicles his transformation from a chubby adolescent war buff to a seasoned Air Force man.  Alek Skarlatos is the quiet muscle, nicknamed “The Robot,” who never falters and does not back down from any sort of altercation.  Anthony Sadler, who on a whim goes to visit his friends, becomes an irreplaceable part of the team.
The supporting cast of the film is also great.  Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, who play Stone’s and Skarlatos’ mothers respectively, although known for their comedy chops deliver great performances. Thomas Lennon as Principal Akers and Tony Hale as physical education teacher Coach Murray, also deliver in comedic yet defining roles in the main characters’ adolescence.  The children who portray the main characters at a young age, William Jennings as Spencer Stone, Bryce Gheisar as Alek Skarlatos, and Paul-Mikel Williams as Anthony Sadler, also deliver great performances. The fact that the protagonists portray themselves is something that is not often seen, and it is obvious that the three are not seasoned actors, which is understandable.  That vulnerability brings some uncomfortable scenes to the film, but it also makes for an interesting dynamic to a very recent historic event.
The film’s theme is that every person’s destiny is molded by the obstacles that they face.  It is an uplifting film that shows that it doesn’t matter what country a person is from or what they believe, if people band together, any hurdle can be overcome.  Although the film seems predictable throughout, it is factually accurate for the most part, and definitely worth the watch.

The film Winchester, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, is a haunted house movie that is inspired by the true story of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), who is the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which was left to her by her late husband, William Winchester.  After the death of her husband and child, Sarah believes that her house is haunted by the ghosts of the people who have been killed by her husband’s creation.

Set in 1906 San Diego, Sarah has built a house that she continues to build upon with no real rhyme or reason, except for appeasing spirits.  When the trustees of her late husband’s company question the validity of her claims, they attempt to have her sanity evaluated by a psychologist.  The psychologist that is chosen is a Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who at first is hesitant, but after being made an offer that was impossible to decline, he reluctantly accepts.  Clark is a person who has been battling his own demons, including addiction to opiates that he uses to deal with the death of his wife.

At the Winchester Mansion, the audience is introduced to Sarah’s family member Marian Mariott (Sarah Snook), who lives with her elderly matriarch with her son, Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey).  It is found that Henry has been acting strangely, and seems to be possessed by some sort of otherworldly entity.  While attempting to psychoanalyze Sarah, he begins to realize that she is also sizing him up.  As Dr. Price begins to see the ghosts, his assessment predispositions of Sarah begin to change.  As he finds out that Sarah has been adding the rooms due to a desire to give the ghosts closure after their brutal deaths from her namesake’s company, he begins to investigate the creepy goings on in the mansion.

The movie is a lazy attempt to capitalize on some of the recent ghost movies (which also claim to be based on true events) that have gotten relatively good reviews and have done well at the box office, including The Conjuring movies and Annabelle.  The film relies on jump scares through the beginning scenes, but then fails to really bring any sort of fear that the concept definitely could have used.  The acting is subpar, and none of the characters have any real likeability.  The true story of the Winchester Mystery House is fascinating, and many people believe that there is definitely supernatural activity in the house, but the film fails to capture any of the imagination that definitely could have improved the story.

All in all, this film is not worth the time of watching.  The scariest part of the movie if the fact that after a little more than an hour and half, there is no desire to watch another minute.

WORCESTER – This week’s episode of the Belch and Sargent Show was recorded “live” at Moynagh’s Tavern at 25 Exchange St. in downtown Worcester on Friday, Dec. 29.

Belcher and Sargent were joined as always by Jack Burlas and Hick’s FLIX author Dan Hickey to recap their favorite things about 2017.

Following a brief recap of 2017 in Worcester, the show deep dives into their favorite television shows, movies and sports moments of the past year.

To conclude, Belch, Sargent, Burlas and Hickey all give their 2017 Person of the Year — four different people from different strata of society that made impacts both locally and nationally.

Happy New Year everyone and we look forward to 2018!

 

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, directed by Jake Kasdan, is a new take on the classic children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, Jumanji, and a pseudo-sequel to the 1995 film of the same name.  

Going away from the previous premise of bringing a board game to life, this film brings a group of high school students into a situation in which they are sucked into a video game, adopting their respective video game characters’ physical and scientific attributes while maintaining their own personalities.  

Unlike the original 1995 film, in which the game Jumanji brings the jungle to the characters, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — as the title states — brings the characters to the jungle.

Disappointingly enough, this new iteration of Jumanji doesn’t involve nearly as many jungle animals as the 1995 film and is dictated solely on the action of the characters instead of their jungle counterparts.

The film begins with a prologue that takes place in 1996 in Brantford, New Hampshire, the setting of the original film.   The audience is introduced to a college student named Alex, at  whose father finds the ominous board game on a beach and gives it to his son.  The game starts to play the ominous drum beats and turns into a video game cartridge that Alex decides to try.  Alex chooses his character and is sucked into the jungle nightmare of Jumanji.  

In a scene reminiscent of the popular 80s teen film Breakfast Club — a nerd, a jock, a popular girl, and a quiet, Ivy League bound girl find themselves in a Saturday detention and are tasked with cleaning an old storage closet.  Rather than removing staples from some books, the group stumbles upon the old cartridge and decide to give it a try.  When they choose their characters, they are also sucked into the game and fall into the land of Jumanji and are tasked with saving the jungle from a villain named Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) — an updated version of the villain from the 1995 film — who is attempting to control a jewel that is situated on a statue of a jaguar that allows him full control over the animal kingdom.  

The students at the beginning of the film do a good job of setting the stage for their blockbuster star counterparts to emulate their personalities.  Alex Wolff, who is most famous for his role as Dzhookhar Tsarnaev in 2016’s Patriots Day, plays the mild-mannered Spencer, who gets a giant body transformation into his avatar, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, who happens to have the physical attributes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  

Although still having the angst and anxiety of a person who is picked on in high school, he is the most powerful character in the game.  

The bigtime football player, Fridge, is played by Ser’Darius Blain, a hulking human whose physically imposing presence strikes fear into all of his peers.  When he comes back as the diminutive Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, played by Kevin Hart, he is upset to see that his physical ability and size has been taken away from him and he is an unathletic, quick witted sidekick to Johnson’s Bravestone.  

Morgan Turner is the driven student, Martha, who eventually becomes the bombshell Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and has a set of skills akin to Lara Croft from Tomb Raider.  The most drastic transformation comes from the character of Bethany (Madison Iseman), who becomes Professor Sheldon Oberon, played by Jack Black.  

The comedy in the film is very good, and for the most part there are nonstop laughs.  The cast of characters in the jungle are fun to watch, and the chemistry is great.   Dwayne Johnson, as always, steals the show and his charisma and comedic timing essentially drive the film.  Jack Black’s Sheldon/Bethany is at first seemingly annoying, but as the film moves forward, becomes one of the funniest parts of the movie.  Hart’s Finbar is pretty much Kevin Hart playing Kevin Hart in every movie that he is in, but does a good job being the opposite of what his “real life” alter-ego has the ability to do.  

Karen Gillan, who has a very large role in this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, also has some scenes (one of her strengths is dance fighting) that will keep the audience wanting more.  There is also a cameo from Nick Jonas as the adult Alex character from the beginning of the film that ties up some loose ends in the film.  

The big knock on the film is the fact that there is not much of a plot.  The film basically relies on the fact that the dynamic cast will carry the movie, on which they do a good job of following through.  The credits roll with the fact that the film is based on the book, but the movie is absolutely nothing like the original book, or the original film.  There are a few references that allude to the 1995 film, but nothing that is that important to the plot.  The villain, Van Pelt, does not bring anything close to the character from the original movie from which he is adapted.

Overall, the film is definitely fun to watch.  Most moviegoers who are looking for a popcorn flick will not be disappointed.  The movie is fun, funny, and action-packed, and as we said before, the cast couldn’t be better.  If you are looking for a movie that is going to get a buzz during Oscar season, this probably is not it.  However, if you want a movie that you don’t really have to follow or think about, but want a few laughs and action, you will not be disappointed.   

WORCESTER – This week’s Belch and Sargent Show focuses on the ongoing investigation on the death of 59-year-old Cynthia Webb, the newest edition to the Star Wars saga, and the Patriots’ playoff outlook.

As always, Belch and Sargent are joined by the man in the update chair, Jack Burlas, and the author of Hick’s FLIX, Dan Hickey.

Tune in on New Year’s Eve for the next edition of the Belch and Sargent Show!

Listen to this week’s show here:

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the ninth installment of what may be the most popular franchise in movie history, starts off with a bang and continues to carry that bang through the duration of the film.

Beginning with the ever-recognizable “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” into the opening scroll, the film captures the excitement and anticipation that have turned George Lucas’ creations into a billion dollar cash cow that spans far beyond the big screen.

The film begins with the ominous Star Destroyer ships that are the usual openings to the films, and the audience is reintroduced to one of the heroes of The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), as he orchestrates a brave, if not stupid, attack on the Empire’s fleet in order to escape into hyperspace, but loses some key members of the Rebel Alliance along the way.  

He is reprimanded by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) for not being tactful in the operation and is demoted from being a high-ranking officer to a regular member of the X-Wing crew.  When Leia is injured in a subsequent strike, it leads to Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) being in charge rather than Dameron, leading to a struggle of power within the Rebel force.  Meanwhile, the former Stormtrooper-turned-Rebel Finn (John Boyega) is paired with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) embark on a journey to find a codebreaker that may help get the Alliance back on track, as well as Finn’s desire to find Rey.  

In Ach-To,  Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has unwittingly been tracked down by the relentless Rey (Daisy Ridley), along with Star Wars staple heroes Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and droid R2-D2 aboard the recently demised the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s famous ship.

Upon finding Skywalker, the group sees a man that had every possible opportunity to fight against the Empire, but has abandoned his need to rise up and has accepted his fate as the last man who can carry the credo and presence of the Jedi order.  When the group, most convincingly R2, let Skywalker know about the death of Han Solo, the Jedi master agrees to give Rey some lessons about how to master the Force.  This part of the movie elicits the feel of a kung fu  film, with a new, stubborn student attempting to overcome an innate rage and find what it truly means to become a Jedi.  With Luke acknowledging a mistake of which he will never let go, it brings both he and Rey to a point that they both have to overcome their pasts.  

Adam Driver reprises his role as Kylo Ren, and does a great job of bringing a shade of grey to the character that, in The Force Awakens, was more of a spoiled brat than the heir apparent to Darth Vader.  He is under the beckon call of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who exemplifies the unshakable confidence of an omnipotent dictator.  The commanding general of the Empire’s fleet, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), is a good fit for his part as a scared underling to the Empire’s most feared duo, much akin to General Tarkin (Peter Cushing) in A New Hope.  All three of these characters tangibly make the audience understand why the Rebellion really is the only hope.  

The film is action-packed, and virtually never stops from beginning to end.  The space battles are extremely well done, with some great X-Wing/TIE Fighter battles of which George Lucas would have dreamed in 1977.  The epic battle scenes utilizing some of the machines of old combined with some new creations are great.  There are numerous lightsaber duels that will go down as some of the best in the franchise’s history, including one with Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker.    

The female cast in the movie steals the show.  In Carrie Fisher’s last performance, Leia continues to be a leader who always does what is best for the Rebel Alliance’s goal to overthrow the empire.  Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the perfect student to Hamill’s Skywalker, and her internal conflict of being the chosen one and her connection to Kylo Ren serve as a great storyline throughout.  Laura Dern as Holdo is a very strong presence throughout the movie, and does a great job of being a foil to Isaac’s Dameron.  

The Last Jedi is easily the best of the films made after the original trilogy.  As a fan, there are so many callbacks and direct references to the originals (including appearances by Yoda, Maz Kanata, Admiral Ackbar, and Nien Nunb), and the story parallels most of the original themes that the original trilogy exemplified, with the new cast paying homage to the originals while paving their own bright future. Go see The Last Jedi in theaters, the Force is strong with this one.  

The Disaster Artist, directed by James Franco and based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, chronicles the production of what may possibly be the most notoriously bad film to ever see the light of day, The Room (2003).  The film follows the mysterious Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and his friend Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) through their trials and tribulations in Hollywood that eventually lead to the production of a movie so bad that it is culturally revered.  

The film opens with real-life comedy greats and Hollywood bigshots (Kevin Smith, Adam Scott, Danny McBride, J.J. Abrams, and Kristen Bell to name a few)  giving praise to the original film, lauding its uncharacteristic and extremely comical, if not sad, rise to such a prominent level of cultural significance.  The film then flashes to San Francisco in 1998, where Greg Sestero is failing miserably on stage at an acting class.  After being critiqued and berated for his lack of passion and talent by his teacher (Melanie Griffith),  the enigmatic Wiseau approaches the stage for his turn to act.  After an extremely uncomfortable, unintelligible yet fearless rendition of the “Stella” scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, Sestero realizes that Wiseau has the precise reckless abandon that he himself needs to succeed.  When Sestero befriends Wiseau and they realize they both share a desire to be Hollywood stars, Wiseau insists that Sestero join him to live in his L.A. apartment and pursue the endeavor together, with little plan or system.  

With Sestero having mixed success getting an agent (Sharon Stone) and auditions as well as a girlfriend, Amber (Alison Brie), Wisteau grows more jealous and erratic in their interactions.  Channeling his anger into an “artistic” outlet, Tommy pens the screenplay for The Room.  After making Sestero read the entire screenplay in one sitting, he insists that Greg play the second lead in the film and that he would be entirely funding the project.  

Once the process of making the movie commences, the audience is introduced to the cast and crew of The Room, which is the best part of the movie.  The crewmembers are great, and include Seth Rogan as script supervisor Sandy, Paul Scheer as a Raphael, a disgruntled production assistant, and Hannibal Burress and Jason Mantzoukas (The League) as the owners of the lot on which the movie is filmed, and make the absurdity of the entire production more tangible.  The actors are also very believable and interesting, with an excellent performance by Zac Efron as Dan, an actor who plays the over-the-top intense “Chris R.”  

Franco’s Wiseau is a dead-on impersonation, and he is virtually unrecognizable in the role.  His undecipherable accent is accurate for his character, who has become famous for having an unknown background.  Franco emits the desire of Wiseau to succeed with an obviously less-than-ideal set of skills.  His charisma and drive throughout the movie make the character likeable and at times sympathetic, and he nails many of the iconic lines that Tommy delivers in the original film.  

The cinematography of the film is very well done, and gives a very nostalgic nod to the early 2000s with the music, scenery, and style.  While the portion of the movie in which they are filming The Room is almost documentary-style, it definitely helps to highlight the insanity of the production in a comedic way.  At the end of the film, the side-by-side reels from The Disaster Artist juxtaposed with the respective scenes from The Room are uncanny and extremely entertaining.  

The Disaster Artist is definitely an industry film, and gives many winks to Hollywood in general.  The celebrity cameos are almost constant, and they deliver a great punch to the movie.  The movie could be characterized as a biography, comedy, drama, buddy film, and a rise to success movie, and hits the nail on the head on every level.  This film about Tommy Wiseau will be a huge success, but this time because it is actually excellent.  

WORCESTER – On Sunday, Nov. 19, The Belch and Sargent Show – presented by ThisWeekinWorcester.com – with  special guests Dan Hickey of Hick’s FLIX to talk about the newest DC Comics film Justice League and Pam Martin from TWIW’s Across the Bar. 

Belch and Sargent will also check in on what’s going on in Worcester, where the best Thanksgiving morning and evening bars are in Worcester, and their favorite Thanksgiving traditions.

Along with Jack Burlas in the update chair, the duo will also check-in on the rising Boston Celtics and the New England Patriots game this Sunday in Mexico City against the Oakland Raiders.

Here’s this week’s episode:

The film Jigsaw, directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, takes the Saw franchise to new levels of stupidity and nonsense.  What started as a thrilling, thought-provoking franchise in the original Saw has now been reduced to a shoddily thrown together movie that does not offer any scares or intensity of its predecessor.

The film introduces the audience to the game with a robber named Edgar Munsen(Josiah Black) who goads the police into shooting and injuring him while he activates a trigger to begin the game.  The film then goes to a barn that has five captives in bucket helmets being dragged towards a wall with buzz saws rotating quickly.  When the people are prompted to make a blood sacrifice to ensure survival to the next level, they each let the saws cut their skin, allowing them to advance, with the exception of one, who does not make it.  After the body of the dead man is strung up for the public to see, it propagates the investigation into the copycat killer, using the same modus operandi as the deceased John Kramer (Tobin Bell), or Jigsaw.  The investigation is led by Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Detective Hunt (Cle Bennett), who must invoke the help of forensic scientist Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and his assistant Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson), who has a strange obsession with Jigsaw’s game.  

As in the first film, the movie attempts to blur the line between what is right and wrong, and gives the prisoners an out with confessions of their sins.  While the prisoners struggle to discover why they were captured, their stories are revealed more and more as the film drags on.   The prisoners are Anna (Laura Vandervoort), drug-dealer Ryan (Paul Braunstein), petty robber Carly (Britney Allen), and Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles).  The prisoners are very poorly developed and do not give the audience any reason to have sympathy for them.  

The devices used by the Jigsaw character to get justice are not very interesting compared to the other films.  There are no characters that have any redeeming characteristics in the movie and there are very few scenes that make the audience jump, or even have any sort of fear that the original installment elicits.  

Halloran’s character gets much of the focus throughout the film, with his morally ambiguous investigative style.  The character is at odds with Logan, as Logan has seen him botch or alter evidence and let people go.  This mistrust and deceitfulness between the two attempt to make the viewer question who is right and who is wrong in the ongoing investigation.  

After seeing the film, it is obvious that the film is more of a cash grab using the success of the previous Saw movies to make money and capitalize on a weak Halloween market.  The film is poorly written, and eventually leads to a climax that is not even interesting.  There is no real driving plot throughout the film, and the lack of character development greatly takes away from the final product.  The concept of Jigsaw being the judge, jury, and executioner is an interesting concept, but when it is thrown together with no real plotline, the game is not as fun.  Rather than seeing this film, I would recommend revisiting the first incarnation.