Black Panther

February 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

“Black Panther” is a project that had been in the words for over 2 decades, beginning with Wesley Snipes, who went onto be in the “Blade” films; and by the time he could realize the film and bring it to fruition, he’d already been known as Blade for too long. “Black Panther” needed a new face. And we would never see that face until “Captain America: Civil War” when we first see Chadwick Boseman portray him. Black Panther was an interesting character, and it was inevitable that in the coming years, we’d get an origin film.

Now, “Black Panther” comes to the big screen in all his glory, and it’s a smashing achievement. Not only is Boseman a charismatic actor, but he has a stoic quality that’s necessary to pull the character off. Much of the film takes place in Africa and South Korea; but it begins in 1992 in Oakland, CA. It’s important that we see this prologue, because we’re introduced to a backstory of Wakanda, a secret African country “hidden in plain sight”–meaning that the country exists in the natural world, but only as a third world country. In reality, Wakanda is home to a resource known as vibranium, that came from a meteorite. It can basically do anything–it can heal, it can destroy, it can even turn you into a superhero. Wakanda sends out undercover agents throughout the world, and the King of Wakanda, T’Chaka, sends his brother N’Jobu to America. N’Jobu winds up being involved with an arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, with no CGI capture this time), and T’Chaka believes this to be a betrayal as he helped Klaue steal vibranium as weaponry. N’Jobu is killed, but not before having a son named Erik. This, of course, will play a big part in the film’s climax.

But before all that, we’re reminded that T’Chaka is killed in the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, and this paves the way for his son, T’Challa (Boseman) to take the throne as King of Wakanda, also making him the new Black Panther (the vibranium superhero). Klaue is still out there, trying to expose vibranium to the world by stealing other artifacts. His right hand man, a now grown Erik (Michael B. Jordan), continues to help him. T’Challa follows Klaue to Busan, South Korea, when he finds out that he’s going to sell the artifact and spread vibranium for his own personal gain. There we’re re-introduced to Agent Ross (Martin Freeman), who also was in “Civil War”. You can’t go one Marvel movie without some cross-pollination injected somewhere. Ross turns out to be an ally for T’Challa, but is mortally wounded while trying to save his ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) winds up helping Ross recover back at Wakanda, since she has all the technology and is a bit of a scientist there.

Wakanda as a secret superpower nation doesn’t set well with Klaue, who cynically wants to expose the country for what it is. But instead of altruistic purposes, he wants to exploit the weaponry. This is used as a MacGuffin of sorts. Wakanda as a nation has much to offer the world, but they have always been shrouded in secrecy to protect its people. There are 5 tribes, 4 of which are loyal to the throne. The 5th, the Jabari, self-exile to the mountains. But their “king”, M’Baku, tries to take the Wakanda throne by challenging T’Challa in combat when he’s initially crowned. This ritual is also revisited when we see Erik again, who returns to Wakanda late in the 2nd act.

The film is bursting with bright color and animation, depicting a lovely world like Wakanda with a sense of wonder. We understand the sentiment that Wakanda’s majesty should be shared with the world, like the vast technological advancements and all of the positives that make it so great. But T’Challa is conflicted because of the tradition of keeping Wakanda under wraps. One of his friends, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), wants to break from this as well. We can sympathize.

As a whole, the film has some breathtaking action, some big laughs, all manufactured from Marvel’s best and most enjoyable films. It’s formulaic and predictable, but that’s become part of the MCU charm. The film holds up as well as any of the best, like “Spiderman: Homecoming”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and “The Avengers”. It doesn’t ever lag, even running over 2 hours, and always has enough going on to keep you entertained. The performances are very good; but, of course, they all fall within the standard comic book movie personality vortex. But there is also a nice message about sharing power for the greater good of mankind; the ending leaves us with a sense of hope that “doing good” can be something that makes this a better world. Corny, sure; but it’s presented as credible enough to take it in with good vibes, rather than negative cynicism.

My rating:  :D

Get Out

April 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

“Get Out” is a truly original horror film experience. Writer/director Jordan Peele, who has a background in comedy, is able to weave humor and satire into a striking, sometimes shocking thriller about a black man going to his white girlfriend’s parents’ house to ‘meet the parents’ for the first time.

This premise seems more appropriate for a summer rom-com; but Peele uses it as a chance to make a statement about race relations, and status in this country. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) has been dating Rose (Allison Williams) for about 5 months, and Rose wants him to come to her parents’ country house for the weekend. Chris, who is a photographer by trade, is a bit worried when he asks her, “Do they know?” She plays coy, but eventually relents that she hasn’t told them. She doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but Chris has obviously had some experience and braces himself. According to her, this is also her first black boyfriend, so Chris is even more sure that there will be an issue. Rose assures him that her parents are extremely liberal and open minded, and her dad would have “voted for Obama for a third term if he could have”. As patronizing as that sounds, it at least sets Chris at ease that maybe they won’t make as much of an issue of it as he initially feared. Chris has his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) take care of his dog while they’re gone, and they set off to the country house.

On the way, they accidentally hit a deer. This affects Chris, as he watches the deer die off in the woods by the side of the road. That along with a roadside incident with a white police officer, who seems to have more of a problem with Rose than Chris, sets a somewhat ominous tone. We think we know what we’re in for at this point–but Jordan Peele does have some surprises for us.

When we meet Rose’s parents, Missy (Catherine Keener), and Dean (Bradley Whitford), we see what Rose was talking about. Dean speaks highly of Obama, and keeps calling Chris “my man”. Missy is very welcoming, and casual. Neither have an issue with Chris being black, and Rose teases Chris about him being wrong. But there is something a bit strange: the two caretakers of the house–Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson)–are black. Dean plays this off as irony, because the two of them actually took care of his father, who died years ago, and kept them on so that they’d be employed somewhere. Dean explains that his father finished behind Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Chris laments it’s a shame his father had to live that down, but Dean brushes it off, that Owens was the best. A seemingly innocuous exchange, but it has a little more importance as we dig deeper into the story.

Eventually Rose’s brother comes, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who takes an interest in Chris as an athlete. He challenges him to a fight obnoxiously, but Chris is pulled away by the family who chastise Jeremy for being rude. Rose apologizes to Chris by the end of the night, in which Chris smirks and says, “I was right.”

The following day, Rose discovers that the family had been planning their annual big get together with the rest of the family and other friends, which means even more white people for Chris to have to try and figure out who is going to make him feel more uncomfortable. It’s some commentary about “being the only black surrounded by whites”–no matter how obsequious or polite, it still makes someone feel out of place. But there’s even more unsettling things going on at this party. Not only are the whites trying to impress Chris with their accepting demeanor, but the only black person who does show up–as a guest of an older white woman–acts strangely, and seems out of place himself.

As things start falling into place, Chris realizes he’s somewhat become trapped into this little world, and uneasiness and awkwardness give way to outright fear. He allows himself to be hypnotized by Missy, who wants to help him quit smoking–and that starts to become a problem for Chris once he realizes what they’re up to.

The film has some familiar tropes and Peele does a nice job of sending the message that he’s aware of the familiarity. So he throws a few wrenches into the plot, and mixes things up a bit. It’s a clever film, and has some biting commentary, especially because the racial undertones don’t have to do with Southern white yokels, but rather seemingly intellectual whites who try to come off as unprejudiced. I’m sure Peele has some personal experience with this, and his cynicism is well displayed throughout the film. The performances are very strong and credible, particularly Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, who really wants to just survive this crazy family weekend and get back to his life. He also has a dark secret about his past that becomes exploited at some point, creating another layer for the narrative of the film, which was already strong to begin with.

For a first time effort, this is a fantastic exercise in horror and satire, and Peele has certainly laid the groundwork for a brilliant filmmaking career. This isn’t for the squeamish–for gore or social commentary. So come in with a strong constitution, and a truly open mind, and you will be greatly rewarded.

My rating: :D