Black Panther

We can be honest with each other right? You are going to see this movie regardless of what my comments on it happen to be. Hell, everyone seems to be on their way to see this. There is a huge anticipation that it will set new box office records for an opening weekend and the early reports are promising so it’s likely you don’t need my perspective. As friends though [even if it is just virtually] it is right to spend some time talking about our impressions of the movie and maybe providing a more tempered view or an alternative perspective. That is essentially what this is going to be. I liked the film quite well and there are characters and aspects that are very rewarding and nicely put together. It is however not the second coming, not a cultural revolution and not the best film in the MCU.

Chadwick Boseman is an actor that I have raved about for a couple of years now. I thought he was great in ’42 and while “Get On Up” had some issues, he was a perfect James Brown. I missed “Marshall” last year but I certainly hope that while he might be good in it, he needs to be careful about getting pigeon holed as the go to guy for black biopics. These days you need to be able to do a lot of different things to keep a career going and too many checks in one column might make you seem limited. His being cast in “Captain America: Civil War” as T’Challa, King of Wakanda and the hero known as Black Panther is a great opportunity for him. He can build some action credentials to go along with his chameleon impersonations. This film however took a while to get his character in sync. The story calls for him to be a bit tentative taking on the role of his late father, but he still needs that persona to shine through and it does not really happen until the third act. For the first two thirds of the movie he is overshadowed by the antagonist, who has far less screen time than Boseman does.

The reason that it takes so long for us to see the true hero that Black Panther should be is that the villain of the piece is played by Michael B. Jordan, an actor who is rapidly turning his charisma into big screen gold. He may not be Johnny Storm but he is definitely Adonis Creed. He dances through an opening heist like the featured player, although in this scene he is mostly a by-stander. When he makes his way to Wakanda, he struts in like Errol Flynn with a deer over his shoulders and drops a big dead bird on the party. By the time we notice that his personality and goals are warped, we are more than halfway to agreeing with him in his assessment of T’Challa as King. The part is written well and he runs with it.

Another reason this film succeeds is that the supporting cast is composed primarily of women who strike the right note of independence but also partnership with the nation. Wakanda has it’s own version of the C.I.A. running ops in Africa, that spy may be the future Queen. . The General of the capital army is an Amazon style warrior who would fit right in on Themyscira with Diana Prince and her family of warrior women. T’Challa’s little sister is basically the Wakanda version of MI6 Q Branch. All of these characters and more are part of elaborate rituals, cultural practices and grand battles that climax the film.

So, having said that about the characters in the film, let’s talk about the world building of this culture. One of the reasons that this movie is being touted as a cultural touchstone is it’s emphasis on strong African characters who define the world in which they exist without conceding to the non-African world. Director and co-screenwriter Ryan Coogler is attempting something admirable with this film, but he fails in a couple of important elements.Excuse me for pointing out a stereotype of these communities in films made by non-Africans in the past, does an African kingdom really need to pass it’s royal heritage from one group to the next through mortal combat? This sounds like the Lions in “The Lion King” or Celtic clans from a millennia ago. It does not seem like a system that would still be followed by a society capable of the technological advances this film gives to them. Maybe part of the story is to confront the tribes that make up the kingdom that “Game of Thrones” style succession is perhaps past its’ time.

I’m also a bit flummoxed by all the technology and cultural magic standing side by side. Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and the chief engineer of the hidden society, pooh poohs  the suggestion that magic had anything to do with the recovery of a C.I.A. operative from a near fatal wound. She proudly proclaims that Wakanda is built on technology. At the same time, people are commiserating with the dead over the past and the future of the country. The spirit of the Black Panther is added and removed through rituals that certainly are not technological in their presentation. I like the idea that the people of this nation are spiritual, but to try to play both sides without acknowledging an inconsistency seems like a story weakness to me.

The visualization of the hidden nation of Wakanda is another thing that bothers me about the film. Take away the dirt streets and the graffiti, and the capital city of the country could be Asgard, home of Thor and his family. It is as if everyone in the comic book world looked at pictures of modern London, superimposed a cultural patina over it and then laid on some technology that works for no apparent reason. I know these are comic book films, but there needs to be a bit more grounding to reality. Billionaire genius Tony Stark, or Bruce Wayne have nothing on King T’Challa, except that they do have limitations of science holding them back. All the magic that Dr. Strange, Loki and the Scarlet Witch are bringing in to the universe is beginning to make it a little less urgent. This movie is pushing for the same kind of agenda. I know that when the Infinity  War gets here, something needs to give our planet an edge, I just what something more tangible than a miracle tool that is going to show up in the last minute. The  Rube Goldberg look of the cities of the world remind me of several scenes from the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Maybe a little less “Wow” factor in the home-worlds would help make us care about them more.

I hope this has not rained on anyone’s enjoyment of the film too much. I like the character of Black Panther and I like his people. The part of the world they live in is so beautiful that it seems a shame to try and top that with some CGI polish. The film is a juggernaut that earns some respect for trying to expand the horizons of the comic book universe it occupies. Let’s just not pretend that it is perfect simply because of those aspirations.

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Fifty Shades Freed

I’m sure your mother told you at some time or other, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all”.

OK, made you look.

There are a couple of nice things to say about this film, although they are not really compliments on the cinema of the story. “Fifty Shades Freed” is bookened with two quite lovely montages. The opening of the film sweeps us through a wedding and honeymoon that could only exist in the rarefied world of billionaires with too much time on their hands. Anastasia and Christian fly on his private jet to European romance spots and ride bicycles, eat at cafes and run through the rain. Then they jet off to a tropical local and spend time on a gigantic yacht and topless beach. An environment that brings out the puritan in our perverted hero. He feels uncomfortable with his bodyguard and chauffeur being able to ogle his new brides boobs.

Then we get an hour and a half of domestic adjustment, bondage, and a kidnapping plot that feels as if it was transplanted onto this story from another film.

At the climax of the movie [we will talk about the marketing tag line in a moment], there is another montage, but this time of events that took place in all three films. These sequences include some spectacular shots of yachts, gliders and more BDSM. The depth of these characters and the story could be covered quite easily with a PowerPoint slide show of their vacations and sex play. There is literally nothing more interesting in any of the three movies. OK, that’s not quite true, there is one car chase sequence that was nicely staged in this film, although it makes no sense at all.

There, having said something nice, I feel free to say some other things that are not so nice. This movie is boring. There are a half dozen sex scenes, a couple of violent moments and the aforementioned car chase, and still it is dull as can be. The plot is creaky and would probably have seemed old fashioned in 1958 much less sixty years later. It basically involves two people who are fairly selfish, learning to think more of their partner than themselves, and one way to do that is to throw in a random revenge plot. The antagonist is a character who was in the first movie for all of a minute and a half. I don’t think there was a mention of him in the second film at all. In this movie he seems at first to be a criminal mastermind who has somehow outwitted the security of the “Grey” Corporation. Then he turns into a salivating maniac who basically makes every stupid mistake possible at the culmination of his plan. Oh, and by the way, the character who is kidnapped is not the female lead, but a secondary character who was in the second film for maybe a minute and then this one for two minutes before the big plan is sprung. It’s barely clear that she is the other of the two other female characters that have more than thirty seconds on screen.

Admittedly most people are not coming to these films for the plot. They are here for the sex. The problem is that for the most part it is joyless and non erotic. In spite of all the handcuffs and special whips and chains, most of what happens just looks like people playing at enjoying sex. The closest the two leads come to having a truly erotic moment comes when they share a midnight snack of ice cream in a kitchen. Unfortunately, instead of sustaining the long build up to a moment of arousal, the director lets them jump quickly back to the old in out and then on to the next scene.

The first of these films was not any great experience, but it was not nearly as bad as so many people said. “Fifty Shades Darker” is mostly just not memorable. This film tries to titillate us in the marketing with a catch phrase designed to appeal to the prurient interests of the series fans. ” Don’t Miss the Climax”. Sorry to disappoint all of you fans of the Mommy porn. This movie is limp. Drop a Viagra and move on to something else. There was a trailer for a film clearly aimed at an older audience that played before this screening. “Book Club” features a plot involving older women reading “Fifty Shades of Grey”. It looks much more entertaining than this movie was, and it doesn’t look good.

I saw this in an IMAX presentation, and I really hoped there would be 3D glasses involved. That might have added something to the experience that would make it more memorable. Here at the end, that probably would not have helped. There is one last good thing about “Fifty Shades Freed”.  We are now Freed from ever having to think of this film series again.

The LAMB Devours the Oscars 2018: Best Picture Nominee: Dunkirk

Once again, I have made a contribution to the LAMB Devours the Oscars series over on the Large Association of Movie Blogs. I was lucky enough to get my favorite film of the year to write about. You can check out the results in the link below.

The LAMB Devours the Oscars 2018: Best Picture Nominee: Dunkirk: Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far: Today, Richard Kirkham from Kirk…

dunkirk

60 Years of Watching Movies

This site is always personal. I inventory every film I see in a theater, I share my history with films, and every review is always based on MY reaction, and expressed in my voice. So having achieved the milestone of reaching six decades of life, I want to share a little nostalgia from sitting in a movie theater. I had a different plan originally, but I chose to tighten it up, which may sound odd when you see what comes.

Scary Movies

I am a horror fan, though maybe not deeply enough for all those Gallo fans out there. The first time I remember being scared at a movie was seeing “The Time Machine”.  My Mom’s friend that we always called Aunt Ginny, took us to a summer series of films at the Rialto in South Pasadena, maybe four blocks from where I lived at the time. Morlocks gave me nightmares.

The scariest movie I ever saw however, continues to this day to be the Exorcist. I was fifteen when it came out and I wanted to see it because my Dad and his adult friend Rusty had gone to see it, and Rusty was so freaked out about it that he stayed at our house that night and slept on the couch. He actually took me to see it and I remember feeling the sweat on my back as the tension built up. Every time they went up to that bedroom, I sank into my seat a little more.

Westerns

I miss the genre as a regular theme at the movies. When I was a kid, there were Westerns everywhere. Now, we get them only occasionally. I sat through several Sergio Leone films. I remember seeing “Duck You Sucker” at the El Rey in Alhambra. John Wayne is the ultimate western hero, but I grew up in the age of Clint. My Dad took me for one of my Birthdays to see “Two Mules for Sister Sara”. I still stop and watch “Unforgiven” whenever I run across it.

And of course if it has this guy in it, that is almost certainly going to be a great western.

Comedy

Who doesn’t love to laugh? Over the years I have been entertained by a series of movies that I would recommend to tickle the funny bone. Not all are politically correct or family friendly but you will enjoy yourself anyway.

Absolutely the funniest film I ever saw was “Monty Python and the Holy Grail“, it is also one of the film moments that I shared with my father, that I would never have expected and tells you why I love movies. You can read about it by clicking the title in the above sentence.

The Seventies

I grew up in the sixties and seventies. The period between 1967 and 1977 is often referred to as the second golden age of movies. If you have been a reader here before, you know this project started as an examination of that time. The original project ran for a hundred and five days and if you go to the archives, look up the posts from 2010 and enjoy.

I’m going to give you a few links to some of my favorite films of that era below. I hope you can take some time to look around and see what I thought of these classics.

Favorite Films

Everyone always asks you what your favorite movie is. I have a link on the page to tell you that, but I have never compiled a top ten list. It would be hard to do, making tough choices and always remembering something later and needing to adjust. So instead of such a list, here is a grab bag of the films I would probably put on the list. I’m sure there are a couple that have momentarily slipped my aging mind, but if any of these was on right now, I’d watch in an instant.

James Bond

If there is a drug that I am addicted to, it is 007. I can’t get enough. I even re-watch the ones that are outright bad. If you look on the site, there is plenty of 007 content. So I’ll just give you the theme songs from my three favorites. Listen in good health, maybe while sipping a martini, made with Vodka of course.

Guilty Pleasures

They say you should not feel guilty about what you enjoy, and that may be true but people still judge you for those things. Blogging is an act of self disclosure. You willingly let people know your thoughts, and some of those thoughts may be odd, counter intuitive or off putting to others.

Here are some bits to let you know things that might leave you less impressed with me as a person.

The violence is brutal, and Kick Ass celebrates it, as do I.

Sharon Stone in a Western, yeah, I love it.

Bad Movie but great two hours. Drive Angry.

NSFW.  Watch the language

Ok, I’m going to hit a stop for now. I may make my 60th an ongoing list of posts. For now, this is what I felt like celebrating today.