The Best of… Michael B. Jordan

Michael B. Jordan is one of our greatest talents. And I am not being hyperbolic. The young performer has acting charisma coming out of the wazoo. There is not one performance of his that is bad – even in naff films. I mean, we can all sit there and sniff, grumbling about the Fantastic Four outing but you cannot deny his rambunctious and spirited Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch) was one of the high points of the film.

The 31 year old star is on a great path; his work is praised by many and he tackles each of his roles with gusto. Now, happily, he has a villainous role in the brilliant Black Panther film and he is, by far, one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s greatest antagonists.

To celebrate today’s release of Black Panther, we’re looking at the best of Michael B. Jordan.

The Wire (2002)

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Despite this being one of the actors first roles, and at a young age too, his performance is still revered. Perhaps one of the sadder stories on the first season of the show,  audience and cast favourite Wallace was a teenager coerced into the world of drug-running  and gangs. It was a great role with Jordan that was ultimately cut short. His work was impressive, a character who wished to get out but fell into old habits. Charismatic with lots of potential, Jordan’s teeth-cutting  character proved he had meat for his upcoming career.

Chronicle (2012)

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Josh Trank’s innovative superhero drama is an indie classic and a perfect re-envisioning of the two genres. The film revolves around a group of high-school kids who find a strange entity in a forest one day and discover the next that they have special abilities including telekinesis, flight, and more. It is all exuberant and adolescent until one of them goes slightly mad with the power. Jordan’s high-spirited antics caused many to shuffle their bums, sitting up to pay attention to him. Though only a supporting role, his work here is an exhilarating one – capturing that excitable youth attitude, enough to make his casting of Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, legitimately exciting  (again, Fantastic Four wasn’t a good film, but Michael B. Jordan was tippity top.)

Fruitvale Station (2013)

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Perhaps Jordan’s greatest performance and most certainly his breakout one,  denoting the first time he and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler worked together, Fruitvale Station is an intimate and harrowing drama. Jordan stars as Oscar Grant, the victim of a heinous police-shooting  in 2009 by a BART police officer. Coogler’s debut feature film, Fruitvale Station follows Grant’s last day as he tries to reconcile his past mistakes and look towards a better future for his family until the awful fatal incident. Jordan is phenomenal here as Grant, bringing to the big screen a man who is simply trying to put his best foot forward and the injustices of his murder. It is an amazing and delicate performance.

Creed (2016)

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The biggest problem with Creed is how Jordan was bereft of nominations for his performance, considering how momentous the film was . The second collaboration with Coogler, Jordan takes on yet another lead role as Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of the late Apollo who wishes to be a boxer just like him. Finding solace and a mentor in the legendary Rocky Balboa, Adonis rises from turbulent young man  into a great sportsman. Creed is a passionate film that is more about human strength than the fighting and looks at relationships more so than the boxing. With this focus, Jordan excels as the lead character, from the initial steps  to the ferocious finale. It’s a fantastic performance as Jordan spars off with Sylvester Stallone and has great energy with Tessa Thompson.

Black Panther (2018)

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There are many and countless reasons to go and watch Black Panther today: The visuals, the director, the characters, the cast, the soundtrack, the action – all the elements that make a impeccable film. But if you want one specific reason to see the latest Marvel action movie, it’s Michael B.Jordan’s Eric Killmonger. As the main antagonist, he attempts to infiltrate the secretive and technologically advanced Wakanda in order to better the plight of minorities across the world. Though brutal in this execution, Killmonger’s message is vital and important. Jordan layers this brilliantly, making Killmonger an emotional, intellectual, and highly compelling villain who is imposing throughout the film. It’s an  impressive performance that solidifies him in Marvel history.


Black Panther is out now!

Looking Back…Fruitvale Station (2013)

In his debut feature, director Ryan Coogler depicts the life and the death of 22-year old Oscar Grant by Bart police officers is explored in a highly fueled and moving portrayal of one man and his last day. Michael B. Jordan plays Grant, as he goes about his life on New Year’s Day, before he is shot by police, while unarmed in 2009.

Here, audiences get an accomplished film that portrays the tragic events of one single day and the abuse of power from American law enforcement. The film stars Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan in a role that solidifies him as a talented leading man.

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The film follows one day in the life of Oscar Grant (Jordan). We watch as Grant interacts with his girlfriend, daughter, and mother (Spencer), while also trying to straighten out mistakes in his life. Watching Grant make both good and bad decisions, while also getting an insight into his past, the film builds to the night at Fruitvale Station where tragedy strikes.

Previously Coogler had directed three well-received shorts before moving into feature length films. Coogler also penned the screenplay for the film, with the help and input of Grant’s attorney as well as Grant’s family. Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker produced the film, after meeting with Coogler, who expressed an early interest to make a film about Grant’s life and death.

As a story, this works as an observational piece. The majority of the film is about getting to know its characters by watching them. This can be a risky approach, but is brilliantly accomplished here, simply because you care about the film’s characters.

The film utilises pace fantastically. Through Coogler’s simple storytelling and un-flashy script, we get an intimate insight into Grant’s world. The film builds until all hell breaks loose and chaos is felt throughout. Despite the fact that we know the outcome of the day, you yearn to know how Grant will end up on that train platform in the position he finds himself in. It is a testament to great storytelling that even though audiences know the conclusion, you are still enthralled by the film. Grant feels so realistic that audiences grow attached to the film’s lead subject. This is due in part to Coogler’s script and direction, but also Jordan’s wonderful portrayal of him.

In Michael B. Jordan, Coogler cast a charismatic and brilliant young lead. His performance is understated, yet layered in portraying Grant’s many aspects. Able to hold the audience while alone on screen, through prolonged silences, yet also interacting with the film’s strong cast. The scenes that show Grant with Oscar-winner Spencer are highlights that display his talent holding his own with such a screen presence. Also, the scenes with his onscreen daughter make the film’s approaching finale so much more felt.

The director has chosen to portray Grant in a good light. In no way a perfect viewpoint, but merely a character that loves his family. We see his love of his girlfriend and young daughter, as well as his respect for his mother and even for a hurt dog. But Coogler has also made Grant a misguided character. The film begins with him and his girlfriend discussing his betrayal of her. Flashbacks show that Grant did indeed serve time in prison and is prone to angry outbursts. Grant also used and dealt drugs, but this is merely part of the character that is displayed onscreen. Coogler has made Grant a flawed character, but a real one, which makes the events of that horrific day all the more gut-wrenching. Audiences will feel great empathy for Grant in his struggle to better himself. For those that have a one-sided opinion of the events at Fruitvale Station, this can either be seen as a criticism or a compliment. Either way the audience’s affection for Grant carries the film and delivers its final revelation with heartbreaking consequences.

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The film features some of the footage that was filmed by witnesses that day in the station. Indeed, Grant’s shooting was filmed by many bystanders and subsequently watched by many Americans in its aftermath. The decision may be criticised by some, but its inclusion makes the film more realistic and more heartfelt. The footage was one of the many aspects that caused such outrage with protesters who state that police officers used excessive, even aggressive force that day.

Fruitvale Station is a well-written, superbly directed first feature for newcomer Coogler. It showcases his talents for storytelling and features an Oscar-worthy performance from Jordan. In fact, Jordan continues to feel like an actor that is destined to win an Oscar with his amazing ability and audiences can only hope that his future projects, including one with Coogler, are as magnetic as this one. A heartfelt and moving portrayal of a young life lost.

Fruitvale Station is available to watch on MUBI

Very Popped and Delicious Kernels: Creed (2016)

What was once old is new again.

2015 was the year that classic franchises all came back; Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Mad Max, and Terminator all had new instalments last year after a long break (Some longer than others), and whilst they didn’t all hit the mark, the ones that did were outstanding. Amongst those was Creed, the seventh entry into the Rocky franchise which decided to focus on a different character. Admittedly, I was sceptical about the whole thing; it all just sounded like a cheap, cash grab spin off that would really add nothing to this legendary series. But once the trailers came out, the whole thing became a lot more promising, and the film opened to critical and commercial success. Creed packs a punch, but does it stand a chance against any of the other Rocky films?

Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the underprivileged son of legendary boxer Apollo Creed, who lost his life in the ring to Ivan Drago. Born just after his father’s death and raised in and out of juvenile detention, he was adopted by Apollo’s wife, and dreamed of following in his footsteps, much to her dismay.  He moves to Philadelphia in search of a mentor, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), the retired heavyweight champion of the world and enemy-turned-friend of Apollo. With the help of the Italian Stallion, and the support of his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), Adonis’ fight to the top begins.

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The Rocky series has a reputation of being nothing but cheesy montages, and it’s not hard to see why considering how prominent they are in the sequels. But because of that, it’s easy to forget just how dialogue heavy the first Rocky is (mainly because Rocky never shuts the fuck up, but still). It’s a real character driven film, and Creed mirrors that. Much like the new Star Wars, Creed is a loving homage to the original, and arguably, the best film since. Creed hits all kinds of emotional highs over the course of its 2 hour and 13 minute runtime. For one, it’s utterly nerve wracking. You’d think by now that we’d be able to see everything coming but it’s still so effective. It helps that Ryan Coogler is an astounding director who seriously knows how to craft a scene and manipulate emotions. Every fight scene in this film is exciting, but the first one is just unbelievable; it’s done entirely in one shot, and it’s all the more involving and intense for it. It’s also quite a feel good film, especially in the more intimate scenes with Adonis and Bianca, and gets to be quite heart wrenching too. Creed is far from a one note film, it does a lot of different things and does them all perfectly.

Let’s talk performances; Michael B. Jordan is outstanding. He’s already proved himself a fantastic young talent in films like Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, and Fantastic- Um yeah, but this definitely takes the cake. You can really feel Adonis’ determination through Jordan’s performance, and it makes him such an easy character to root for. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Jordan’s performance is how he manages to hold his own; this is a new character, stepping into a Rocky film starring Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, and at no point do you forget that he’s the main character.

Him and Stallone work together in equal measure with beautiful chemistry, that of the teacher and student, and simply complement each other for a balanced film, as opposed to taking back seat to Rocky in a film where that easily could have happened. Stallone, who was a hot topic around awards season where he was nominated for everything under the sun, though shockingly lost the Oscar to Mark Rylance, is equally amazing.  I can’t speak for Rylance, but Stallone holding that trophy would have been a thing of beauty. Stallone is an actor a lot of people don’t take seriously, due to a long career for cheesy action movies, but he has always knocked it out of the park as Rocky. It’s his commitment to and understanding of the character that makes it happen; Rocky isn’t just the same boxer in each film, he evolves in every single one to a new position in his life and Stallone adapts to it so well. This time around, he’s older, he’s wiser (He’s growing hair in really weird places…) and he’s at peace after the closure he received in Rocky Balboa. Now, he sees a new opportunity in Adonis and melts into the role of mentor, a role he had in Rocky V but that took a very different route. Stallone brings a certain wisdom and awe to the screen, and I dare say that it’s the best performance he’s ever given.

Finally, Tessa Thompson shines in her role as Bianca. Bianca is very much like Adrian in that she is an essential part of Adonis’ character. She isn’t a throwaway girlfriend required to cheer her boyfriend on, she is very much her own character and, once again, the chemistry between her and Jordan is very engaging and just a delight to watch. The diversity issue at this year’s Oscars could’ve been simmered down a little by giving these two the nominations they deserved (and the same goes for Coogler).

Creed is an absolute triumph; it stands toe to toe with the first Rocky film and honestly has a chance of winning. It’s a gripping, tense, whirlwind of a film with an overwhelmingly cinematic feel to it and is easily one of the best films of 2016.

Creed is available on Netflix
Black Panther is out now! 

Captain America: Civil War – Review

By 2016, we’d been inundated with many, many superhero films.  The increase of spandex loving, power wielding, evil fighting heroes had reached breaking point, much like Deadpool’s great ass in pants. The film industry’s over-reliance on trotting out superheroes to give us an action flick may please a lot of us but it can be wholly infuriating for a regular cinema going who just wants at least one year without Marvel or DC swinging their balls in their faces.

Alas, that is a distant future where robots dictate our viewing schedules (movies about robots.) All is forgiven, however, when  really, really, ridiculously good superhero movies such as Captain America: Civil War come out.

After the disbandment of SHIELD, and the destruction of Sokovia in Age of Ultron, the public damage that the Avengers leave in their wake has caused their usefulness to be brought into question, especially after a mission in Lagos leaves many innocent people dead. When confronted by his conscious, Tony urges all the Avengers to sign up to a government scheme that keeps tabs on superhero affairs. Captain America doesn’t see this as fair, knowing that agendas and those in charge can easily be corrupted. Besides, his friend Bucky has been implemented in a terror attack but when the previous Winter Soldier denies all knowledge, it seems that there is someone else pulling the strings…That isn’t before the heroes start a war….a civil war…

The political landscape and the change in atmosphere for the third Captain America film has changed the trajectory of our most lovable goofy hero into a significant, strong, and allied hero. Whether you are Team Cap or Team Iron Man, the Russo Brother’s allows each side their own pedestal to state their case. Steve Roger’s determination to make this land fair and free, whilst also protecting his metallically armed boyfriend may have Tony’s tin can head rapping against the wall. But equally, Tony’s constant arrogance shows that he is driven by ego, rather than the valid program and when his own priorities shift, he moves with them. This liquid landscape allows the film to keep energised and flowing, deep with themes, semantics, and politics alongside the action.

The likes of Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner, Sebastian Stan, Paul Rudd, and Scarlett Johansson, all return as their superheroes, respectively (click their name to see who, in case you didn’t know,) and bring a fiery passion to characters who should be cinematic exhausted by now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That means the writing, direction, and performances are completely in sync to make an arduous two and a half hours seem like a breeze. In fact, you’ll be salivating for more after the credits (and two credit sequences roll,) because everyone still believes in the power of comic book films and brings their circled A game to Civil War.

New faces appear in this third Captain America film such as Martin Freeman and Daniel Bruhl. On opposite sides of the coin, their acting is still impeccable and brings a freshness to the MCU. Yet it is the additions of Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa/Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man who enter this new heroic film. Though Black Panther is a crucial role, and played wonderfully by Boseman, the former is somewhat watered down in lieu of his origin story outing  (which is amazing, by the way.) The latter, however, is the real joy of the whole film. Tom Holland’s casting as the web-slinging was met with grumblings. We’ve been so used to thirty year olds playing teenagers that the baby-faced Holland seemed a bit jarring. But this is by far the best portrayal of the comic web-slinger on the big screen, adding the right amount of quips and snarky geekiness that made us love the red and blue spider in the first place.

Arguably, Civil War is not as good as Winter Soldier, particularly with twists and a punching ending the predecessor delivered. Civil War suffers from mild pacing issues in the overall set-up as well as a rather cheesy seemingly tacked on ending. It’s also irritating that Team Cap’s philosophies get somewhat sluiced down to Bucky love. However, with strong action sequences, brilliant character development, new introductions, and a lot of well-placed humour (Bucky and Sam’s frenemy relationship is pure gold,) the end result makes you completely gleeful – leaving the cinema exhilarated by superheroes again.

Make sure you watch Captain America: Civil War.
Black Panther is in cinemas now!