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

12 Years a Slave

February 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

“I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” Those are words spoken by our film’s protagonist, Solomon Northup (Chiwitel Ejiofor) who was a real historical black free man kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film “12 Years a Slave” depicts his journey into that world, and his hope that he can return to his family. He is an accomplished fiddler and carpenter, and has a wife and two children and lives in New York. He is approached by two seemingly harmless men to join their “circus” as a featured musician. But we all know where this is going–he is given too much wine after celebrating a successful tour, and wakes up in a cell in chains.

What follows is a very emotional story, anchored by one of the strongest performances of the year by Chiwitel Ejiofor; however, some of the film’s weak points distract from what could have been an even more powerful film. Northup is given a new name upon capture, Platt, and told he is a “runaway from Georgia”. His first experience as a slave is on a slave ship heading down to Louisiana, and witnesses some of the real brutalities of slavery immediately. He is sold by an indifferent slaver (played by Paul Giamatti) to a rather nice plantation owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). But one of Ford’s carpenters, John Tibeats (Paul Dano), wants to make life a living hell for slaves (as if life weren’t hard enough). This is where the film is weak, and I’m a bit disappointed in Paul Dano for choosing such a caricature role. It’s easy to play the hilljack Southern racist who mugs the screen by licking his chops at any chance to yell out racial epithets and use a whip. I think we get that these people existed…but this character could’ve been played by anyone and been just as shallow and useless as an ancillary background role. Northup doesn’t back down, however, and when he fights back, he is hunted by Tibeats and even strung up, about to be lynched. Tibeats and his crew are fired by the overseer, who leaves Northup hanging, although the rope hasn’t been fully discharged, so he still can hardly breathe and dangles helplessly as a slew of people come out and do their normal routines as if nothing is happening to him. This is one of the better scenes in the film because it’s a continuous shot that continues to unfold and pretty much symbolizes what we thought of slavery and blacks at the time.

Ford is unable to protect Northup and so he sells him to another plantation owner who is far more cruel (of course) and pretty much insane. Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) is the new owner, who runs a strict cotton plantation, and treats his slaves as if they were animals–except one slave girl named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) for whom Epps has obvious feelings for, and is resented by his wife (Sarah Paulson). While Epps is another white guy with a whip, Fassbender brings another dimension to the character, showing him to be more of a controlled coward than just your average racist. He is consumed with wanting power, but is powerless when it comes to his wife, and he does whatever she tells him to do. She is hard to figure out–but she isn’t exactly high on the slaves, either. In a way Epps’ character reminds me of Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth in “Schindler’s List” (although I think that character was better written). Epps also has a strange ritual in the evenings, to order his slaves to dance to happy music with him. Since Northup can play the fiddle, he is spared the dancing, but still has to watch it. Patsey is the most skilled picker on the plantation, bringing in over 500 pounds daily, but deep down she is consumed with wanting to be set free from the plantation, even if it means leaving the physical earth completely. At one point she asks Northup to end her life, to which he cannot bring himself to do.

Eventually a white criminal joins the group of slaves and Northup sees this as an opportunity to get out; but he is betrayed by the man and has to talk his way out of giving a letter to the man that would have reached New York, and notified his family of his predicament. Epps believes Northup’s story that the man wasn’t to be trusted anyway and just wanted to become an overseer, and this was just a tactic of his to manipulate the situation. But later, another white character is introduced–a Canadian carpenter and friendly to slaves, Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt). Bass is a bit of an arbitrary character, seemingly on brought to screen for exposition and being preachy–another weakness of the script. Pitt is a fine actor but it seems like his presence in this film was screaming “I produced this, so I’m going to put myself in the film as the most sympathetic white character.” Northup again has to try and trust this man, knowing what he is risking. But to the audience, it’s pretty obvious what will happen.

Overall, there are powerful moments in the film, especially in its climax, and thanks to Ejiofor’s incredible performance, the film works. The other strong points are the soundtrack and the cinematography. There are a lot of shots of trees, seeming to represent constancy, and even when the trees look like they’re dying or somehow suffering, they still stand strong. The backdrops of dusk and dawn show a representation of the passage of time, and how these points of day symbolize death and life. It isn’t just about surviving, as Northup points out, it is about living. This is a part of our history, whether we want to bring ourselves to accept it or not. I think the film could’ve presented a statement in a more clever way at times; but sometimes it needs to be blunt. It’s not a film you would necessarily want to watch over and over again; but for one viewing at least, it is certainly worth the time and will definitely move you.

My rating::-)