Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place, the horror flick from earlier this year directed by and starring John Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt, is a most brave film in a genre that sometimes competes with itself to be the loudest in the room.

A Quiet Place doesn't do those usual tricks, and, as the title suggests, is remarkably hushed. There is hardly any dialogue. What little dialogue there is in usually in the form of American Sign Language. There is a score (a pretty good one by Marco Beltrami, who has written music for numerous horror movies, such as Scream and The Woman in Black), but it's not a dominating one like in Psycho or Jaws. All in all, this is a rather silent movie, and it pays off well.

At some point, the reviewer needs to explain the plot. I firmly believe that the less you know about this movie, the better. What I will tell you is that centers on a family living in a rural part of the country. Blunt and Krasinski play the parents of three young children (played by Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, and Cade Woodward. They are basically the only cast members in the film, which was somewhat low-budget with $18 million and yet it made more than $50 million in just its opening weekend.

The actors are terrific. Blunt has never been better, Krasinski delivers a performance so unlike what fans are used to seeing him as Jim in The Office, and young Jupe gives a particularly noteworthy performance. But the best reviews probably go to young Simmonds. Simmonds, who herself is deaf and uses American Sign Language, delivers a perfect performance of a young girl growing up in a world turned upside down. She blames herself for things that have happened to their family, and she argues with her father. The father (Krasinski) is (or was) an engineer, so he's constantly tinkering with cochlear implants but comes up short. The two argue, with one often disappointing the other. The family constantly makes efforts to keep quiet, and yet they face problem after problem. What makes matters worse for this family is that Blunt's character is pregnant and about to give birth; it goes without saying that such an act is not a quiet one, further complicating their efforts to survive.

Much praise goes to Krasinski for his acting and directing. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck. Let's hope many more horror films continue to be as smart and fun as this one.

Friday, August 17, 2018

BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee is back. With his provocative film BlacKkKlansman, "based on some fo' real shit," this part-thriller, part-drama, part-comedy flick is saturated with the kinds of societal critiques and questions that have made Lee an essential part of American cinema. He returned to this form several years ago with Chi-raq, but BlacKkKlansman is so much more unforgettable. Taking aim at the Lost Cause revisionist history of The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind, Lee poses tough questions for every viewer to contemplate. And fortunately, there's basically everything you would want in a Spike Lee joint: thrills, innovative camera work, comedy, and especially social commentary (in a way that virtually no other American director can do). But his ability to capture joy in a movie essentially about human tragedy is exceptional; the "Too Late to Turn Back Now" dance scene in the bar is probably the best music moment of the year.

John David Washington (son of Denzel, Lee's frequent collaborator) plays Ron Stallworth, a young, eager rookie cop for the Colorado Springs Police Department. Bored with his tasks at the department, he eagerly asks for some kind of reassignment as a detective. He's only a rookie, and so he's brushed off. Eventually, he is charged with going undercover at a student rally featuring Stokley Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), by then known as Kwame Ture. At the rally, he meets Patrice Dumas (played by Laura Herrier, whose most prominent film performance was in her terrific performance as Liz Allan in Spider-Man: Homecoming last year), the president of the black student union. Romance ensues, and he's warned to remember his job. It also helps to remember his job, because Patrice hates cops.

Browsing through the newspaper at work, Stallworth comes across an add for the local KKK chapter. Practically out of boredom, he calls the number pretending to be a white racist, leaving a voice message filled with a long laundry list of racist expletives against virtually every group the KKK hates. It's the funniest scene in the movie, as his colleagues slowly drop what they're doing and listen in, totally stunned. The most humorous acting in that brief shot is Adam Driver, not usually known for his comedic abilities. Driver plays Flip Zimmerman, who is recruited to play Stallworth as the racist recruit once they are approved to go undercover and infiltrate the chapter to see if they are planning violent activities. While Zimmerman may be white, he also is Jewish, which means that not only does the KKK hate him, too, but if his identity is revealed, he'll also be in a tremendous amount of jeopardy. 

The investigation continues to gather information about the chapter's activities and their hints of violence. Stallworth even fools David Duke along the way. (Yes, that David Duke.) Duke is played by Topher Grace in his best performance in years. He says "darn tootin'" so often and with such an earnest grin that you might occasionally forget about everything Duke has said and done. Ever since he became a star in the TV show That '70s Show, Grace's film career has been mostly unmemorable. Here, however, he pulls off a very noteworthy performance. Additionally, Harrier really nails the role, and this is the first performance I've seen of Washington's, and he may have as prosperous a film career as his famous father.

There is hardly any complaint about the acting from the rest of the cast members, though Paul Walter Hause (who is very funny here), is practically giving the same performance as he did last year in I, Tonya as the village idiot. Isiah Whitlock, Jr. also appears briefly, and just as he did in Chi-raq, Lee gets him to do the "shiiiiiit" thing he did all the time in The Wire, but by now one might feel bad for him just to have these cameos in Spike Lee movies doing the same thing over and over again. And in more evidence of Bechdel Test failure, this is a film that is predominantly about men (even though in Stallworth's book, at least one female member of the chapter is mentioned). There are essentially only two female characters (and both of them fictional): Patrice and Connie. Ashlie Atkinson plays Connie, the adorably hospitable yet horrifyingly racist and violent KKK housewife, and yet she is so over the top. So, too, is Finnish actor Jasper Paakkonen, playing her husband, the clansman deeply suspicious of Flip. Most of the other cast is fine, however, especially the appearances by Alec Baldwin, Harry Belefonte, and Michael Buscemi (brother of Steve).

This isn't to say that there is nothing wrong with the movie. Like Argo seven years before it, BlacKkKlansman features an exhilarating climax that is easy to spot how untrue it is.

But the elephant in the room regarding this movie is Donald Trump and the alt-right, the modern-day, watered-down term for the KKK and neo-Nazis. Some of the anti-Trump stuff is a little too cute and a little too on the nose. Duke quickly tries to explain his goals by saying something along the lines of America needing to find its greatness again (get it?). Duke and his clansmen repeatedly yell "America first!" at their ceremony. (Duke could sue Trump for stealing all his stuff.) Trump, frankly, deserves this. His unbelievably shocking response to the Unite the Right violent rallies in Charlottesville last year and his unwillingness to condemn Duke and renounce his support during the 2016 campaign have permanently tied him to them. (He likely won't see this movie anyway.)

I want to end by writing that I don't want to reveal anything about the final five minutes. I just want to mention that it's about as powerful a conclusion to a film as you'll ever see.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Fantastic Woman

A fire-breathing female monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tale. "A chimera. That's what I'm seeing," one woman says to Marina in A Fantastic Woman (Una mujer fantastica), the Chilean film directed by Sebastian Lelio that won the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars. It's a rather direct, yet common, way many of the other characters view her, for a variety of reasons. Some, like the brother of her partner, are at least somewhat sympathetic, though not often sticking up for her. (The brother at least calls Marina "ma'am" and, though meekly, reminds others that they should also refer to her using feminine pronouns.) Some treat her like she shouldn't exist, and some are downright violent toward her.

A Fantastic Woman is many things, but it is first and foremost a very good movie, deserving its acclaim. It's fairly captivating without making ostentatious efforts to do so. The film opens with a dazzling opening of the natural scenery of waterfalls, then it shifts to a man in a sauna. This man is Orlando; he's played by Francisco Reyes, who looks like he could be the Chilean Jeremy Irons. Orlando is a 57-year-old divorcee who is in a relationship with a new woman, Marina (Daniela Vega), a waitress and singer. They go out for dinner and dancing in Santiago to celebrate her birthday. They have a lot to drink and smoke a bit of pot. That night, Marina wakes up to find Orlando acting strange; he's short of breath and unsure what is wrong. She rushes to get him to the hospital, but he trips and falls down the stairs on the way.

At the hospital, he dies. The cause: an aneurysm. This isn't a thriller, but Orlando's family members and others start to believe that Marina might have had something to do with it, given the lacerations on his head. Marina is transgender, and Orlando's family is more or less disgusted by her and begin to suspect that there was foul play in his death. (Marina was too drunk to remember exactly what happened.) Whether it's being identified with the masculine pronoun or being forced to undress at the police station, it is apparent that Marina is going to have a lot of heartache and humiliation. One character calls her a perversion, while another asks if she's had "the operation". At one point, she is assaulted.


A feud begins between Marina and Orlando's family members. They want her out of the apartment, they want the car, and to top it all off, they want the dog, which Marina says was given to her by Orlando. Most insulting of all to her, they refuse to allow her to attend the wake or funeral.

Some of the symbolism is subtle, while at times it is laid on a bit much, like the inclusion of the Aretha Franklin song "Natural Woman". But the biggest highlight is Vega's performance. She show the audience so much, often with little more than her facial expressions. She demonstrates how Marina is shy, vulnerable, strong. She has agency, for the most part. "I'll survive," she says. Recovering from Orlando's death and struggling to deal with all she has been through since, she escapes to a debaucherous nightclub. In some kind of dream sequence, she leads a minute-lone, ethereal dance. Beyond her performance, the mesmerizing, hypnotic, old-fashioned score by Matthew Herbert is really remarkable.

This movie does not feel as if its job is to enlighten everyone on what it is like to be transgender. One will certainly get a sense of the difficulties, and one imagines that Vega channeled her experiences from her youth when she was bullied. I do really hope we'll be seeing a lot more work from Vega, who was listed as one of Time magazine's most influential people this year, and from Lelio.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Avengers: Infinity War

"Infinity is the end. End without infinity is but a new beginning."
-Dejan Stojanovic

I'll state upfront just how much I despised The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. I found them to be overly ambitious, preposterous, overcrowded, and stupid. (These often are the problems found in many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.) My skepticism of this newest film, the nineteenth of the series in the past decade, called The Avengers: Infinity War, I think is therefore understandable. Virtually every protagonist who has appeared in the MCU so far is back, including the interesting ones (Spider-Man, Black Panther, and the Guardians of the Galaxy) and the dull ones (Vision, Scarlet Witch, and the Winter Soldier). Whether you want them or not, the band is back together, and they have a rather formidable foe to face.

That foe is one of the parts I was most skeptical of: Thanos, played by Josh Brolin. Despite Brolin having proved himself to be one of the great actors of our time, what little we could see of his Thanos in the marketing material looked weak, like computer game animation from the 1990s. However, Brolin as Thanos is undoubtedly remarkable in every scene, and the motion-capture technology used is stunning. He is a giant of a villain, with menacing eyes and a very peculiar chin. They may not be his most well-known work, but Brolin has appeared in a variety of comic book adaptions of all sorts over the years, from Men in Black III to Sin City: Dame to Kill For to Jonah Hex. And of course, he played Marvel villain Cable in Deadpool 2 (outside the MCU) just after Infinity War was released. But this is his best comic book performance. Thanos' only goal is to wipe out half of the entire universe, and he needs six Infinity Stones (magical rocks or something that have been appearing in different MCU movies) to achieve that aim.

Based largely on the 1991 comic Avengers: Infinity Gauntlet and the 2013 Infinity comic, the film basically starts right where last fall's Thor: Ragnarok finished; the Asgardian refugees are Thanos' first target. Thanos and his crew are on their way to Earth, and only the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) can warn other superheros. Barely escaping to Earth, he finds Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), but in some respects, they're too late. Slowly but surely, Thanos hops around the galaxy, successfully adding to his collection, and Earth (specifically a certain country in Africa) is last on his stop. Dr. Strange has one stone (the Time Stone), while Vision (Paul Bettany) has one on his head (for some reason). Both are on Earth.

More and more of these famous characters trickle in, and it seems that what has frequently been a problem in Marvel movies -- that of crowdedness -- actually turns out to be an advantage in Infinity War. Thanos kidnaps his adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and the gang basically all split up: Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Dr. Strange chase after some villains in a freighter; Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) chase after Thanos; Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) join Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to attempt to rebuild his hammer (because why not?); and Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and others make their way to Wakanda to help King T'challa (Chadwick Bosemon) fend off Thanos' army.

The movie certainly feels like it goes on for infinity, with a whopping run time of almost three hours. And the climactic battle on Wakanda is almost as boring as it was in Black Panther. But other than that, there surprisingly isn't too much to complain about. There's fortunately a lot of humor, particularly thanks to the duo of Rocket and Groot (now a bratty teenager), and Thor is more like how we saw him last time as opposed to the old-fashioned nobleman of before. And since Cap and Stark aren't on speaking terms anymore, Pratt's Quill serves as a nice stand-in for the bickering and banter. In addition to all these returning characters, some of the new ones are quite interesting; the best new addition is Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Thanos' henchman, Ebony Maw. He's a particularly frightening villain, and an efficient one, taking delight in locking up Thor or slowly penetrating Dr. Strange's face with sharp knives.

The next Avenger movie comes out next year, and if that is too long for you, you're in luck: there are more Marvel movies on the way. In addition to the Marvel Comics character Deadpool making his return this year (again, outside of the MCU), other upcoming MCU movies will be Ant-Man and the Wasp this year and Captain Marvel next year before the next Avengers movie. Additionally, Sony will release a standalone Venom movie (and while it's not in the MCU, either, who knows if Holland's Spidey will show up). We're in for a very long ride.



Friday, June 15, 2018

Love Simon

Simon Spier has a fairly perfect life, or so it seems. His family comfortably lives upper-middle class lives with a gorgeous home. His young sister makes breakfast practically every morning, and whether it tastes good or not, Simon and his parents are so supportive and cheer her on. He's "just like you", but with a "huge-ass secret": he's gay. Dreaming of Daniel Radcliffe for a few nights and realizing that he wasn't into girls after a few awkward dates, he has come out to himself but not to others. In many respects, he cannot be blamed. There is only one out student at his school, and this student is constantly mocked. It is not uncommon for Simon to hear jokes from his dad poking fun at "fruity" people. He listens to a lot of friends and their "gaydar", and yet they appear pretty oblivious about him.

Love, Simon, directed by Greg Berlanti and based on the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, is being hailed as the first gay teen comedy released by a major studio. Love, Simon has all the familiar elements of a teen comedy -- first love, coming of age, discovering one's identity -- and yet in some respects it does them better. But it is remarkable that moviegoers have had to wait this long for one featuring a gay teen. Fortunately, it's a (mostly) good one.

Simon doesn't exactly know how to be gay. He Googles how gay men dress, and when he finally comes out to a female friend, she tries to elicit from him which guys he's attracted to, and yet he struggles to find the right words. When confronted by an enemy about his orientation, he can't even say the word "gay". So what's clear is that he's not ready to out himself, and he's certainly doesn't want to be outed on someone else's terms. Even in 2018, despite all the progress that has been made, it can still be difficult for queer people, especially young ones, to come out of the closet.


Simon, played by Nick Robinson, reads an anonymous post online from someone at his school who is also in the closet. Calling him Blue, he begins a pen-pal writing relationship with this person. (Simon takes the name Jacques.) The two share similar experiences, but don't reveal their identities. Who is Blue? Simon begins to guess. At first, he thinks it's a classmate named Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale), then he thinks it's the waiter at the local Waffle House whom he flirts with. Then he thinks it's another guy, and soon he really starts to feel frustrated. But those are pretty low stakes. What really turns Simon's world upside down is that he forgot to log out of his Gmail account at the school library, and another student, Martin (Logan Miller), hops on the computer, finds the correspondences, and starts to use them to blackmail Simon. (Teenagers can be cruel, but not this cruel, right?) Martin really wants to date a friend of Simon's named Abby (Alexandra Shipp), a new girl at the school. Abby is not interested in Martin, but this will not stop him from applying desperate and cruel measures to get there. Simon feels he has no choice but to comply. Despite his friend Nick (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) having feelings for Abby, Simon tries to sabotage that by hooking him up with Simon's best friend, Leah (Katherine Langford). This will theoretically help Martin get with Abby. Things start to get very complicated.

The screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger is decent, although the dialogue is often painfully annoying; no family talks to each other like that, with plans of a TV night. The movie is John Hughes in tone, but not in script. Principals and vice principals can be annoying (to students and teachers both), but none act as ridiculously as the one played by Tony Hale, who turns the character into the Jar Jar Binks of teen comedies, and it's a Razzie-worthy performance. No educator would talk to their students about Tinder dates. He literally ruins scenes.

There is so much to like in Love, Simon, and yet there is also so much to hate. I really, really enjoy Simon's journey and his story, but a lot of other parts genuinely hurt this movie. Mainly the adults, who overact and have stupid moment after stupid moment, particularly the vice principal and the drama teacher. This, plus the jokes which frequently fall flat, is what prevents Love, Simon from being a great film. That being said, the one veteran actor who is a joy to watch is Jennifer Garner as Simon's mother. She has warmth, empathy, and humanity in her that reminded me a lot of her performance in Juno from a decade ago.

Most of the movie is adequate. There's a clever sequence in which Simon images what it would be like if situations were reversed, if straight kids were the ones who would have "a secret" and would have to come out to their parents. And Love, Simon genuinely gets better as it goes, with a few powerful scenes sprinkled around in the final half-hour.


This movie channels all the mixed feelings many will have about their high school days (hopefully more of the good than the bad), and beyond that, I think it's not an exaggeration to say that this movie could change lives. Robinson's young brother came out while he was making this movie, as did Lonsdale at the cast party. If there had been a movie that championed queer youth as much as this movie does, perhaps more would have come out in previous decades.

See Love, Simon. Give it some time and try to get past the shaky first third. Reflect on it. Celebrate the novelty of it, the conventionality of it, and the joy of it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Maudie

The great Sally Hawkins gives such a full-bodied, theatrical performance in Maud, the 2016 drama directed by Aisling Walsh, that one anticipates she will abruptly shout "Acting!" the way John Lovitz used to on Saturday Night Live. Hawkins is the title character, Maud Lewis, the Canadian folk artist whose famous work mostly included outdoor scenes and some of which was purchased by Richard Nixon. As Maud, she is not ignorant of how her rheumatoid arthritis makes her sort of peculiar in the eyes of others. "Some people don't like it if you're different," she says at one point. From the very first moments we see her, she is required to express a variety of emotions within a matter of minutes: hope, anger, disappointment, desperation. And yet, it's not a particularly impressive performance in a fairly bad, overrated film.

Maud lives alone with her aunt (her parents have passed away and her brother essentially has abandoned her), and the two don't appear to get along too much, to the point where she does not to try it out on her own. There she meets Everett a rather shy, impulsive, fisherman prone to angry outbursts with little provocation. He also works at an orphanage, a place in which a man of such temper probably shouldn't work. Everett is played by Ethan Hawke, who channels his inner modern-day Harrison Ford disgruntlement and whose acting choices in the film more or less mirror those of Hawkins. His entrance serves as a rather creepy set up for a sort-of romantic pairing. Everett needs a housekeeper and Maud needs a home, so they agree to have her be hired. The following abusive dynamic between them is not dissimilar to what was depicted in last year's Phantom Thread. Everett insists that they share a bread to prove she's not a princess and barks at her when the floor is not perfectly cleaned. Maud laughs off rumors that she's his romantic partner or sex slave, while Everett slaps her if she tells a stranger the home is comfy. He is more concerned that she talks when he believes she's not supposed to over the fact that she has begun painting all over the walls of the house. He is abusive, to say the least, in so many ways. But he gets his redemption, so if the redemption arc in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri infuriated you, avoid Maudie.

Everett and Maud do decide to get married, and her aunt believes that Maud is the only one in their family who ended up happy. This might partly due to Maud's success as a painter. Maud Lewis was a real-life figure, and one in which the audience is to inherently root for. Maud's painting continues to become an important part of her identity, and she and Everett begin to sell them, though she doesn't make much for them. Everett's attitude remains that he is the one doing all the work, and he is never really admiring of her work. All of these segments are portrayed sort of as playful banter, which adds to the discomfort, in my opinion. There are no small performances in this movie, but no good ones, either. Even if there were, it wouldn't help, as the second half is unbelievably boring.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Solo

Solo (I refuse to use the subtitle because I think it's stupid), the fourth film in the famous franchise since Lucasfilm started its reboots in 2015, is the Star Wars movie nobody wanted. Neither, for that matter, was Rogue One, the first standalone movie Lucasfilm released the following year. But that film was a commercial and critical surprise (if that's the right word), becoming the second-highest grossing movie 2016 and the twenty-fifth overall. Solo, on the other hand, is one of the most expensive films ever made, and the estimated loss to Disney could be up to eighty million dollars. We all knew Star Wars fatigue was upon us; we just didn't know it would arrive so soon.

And why shouldn't it with this one? From the get-go, Solo looked like perhaps the most puzzling of the choices for a standalone film. A story about Rebel spies stealing the plans to the Death Star? Perhaps. An Obi-Wan Kenobi tale with Ewan McGregor returning to the role? Definitely. A story about a young Han Solo meeting a young (well, almost 200-year-old) Chewbacca? Nope. There was as much hype over this movie as there was for a standalone Yoda film (which to my knowledge is not happening). Given all the problems leading up to the release (original directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord were fired, and Michael Kenneth Williams, who played the villain, was unable to return for re-shoots, so the character was re-cast), it might be considered a miracle that the film was even released. Ron Howard, who of course was directed by George Lucas in the 1973 film American Graffiti (also starring Harrison Ford), was brought in to finish the movie. Despite succeeding in getting the job done under difficult circumstances, for an Oscar-winning American treasure who has given us some of the biggest films of all time and has the weight of Lucasfilm and Disney behind him, I expected a lot more.

Solo just doesn't work, but not for the reasons you might expect. Han Solo has always been a favorite character among fans, and to see someone besides Harrison Ford in the role was a risky gambit. Here, the young pirate is played by Alden Ehrenreich, who is perhaps the least known of the cast that includes veteran actors Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, and Thandie Newton. It does take some getting used to, but he actually does a pretty effective job. He has that required charm and sarcasm and whit, but he is arguably overshadowed by Donald Glover, who is essentially the Renaissance Man of the year due to his appearance here, the popular music video for his song "This Is America", and the second season of Atlanta, the show that earned him an Emmy. Glover plays the younger version of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams in the original trilogy for the four people in the universe who haven't seen them), and he's delightful in every scene he's in.

Written by veteran Star Wars writer Lawrence Kasden and his son Jonathan, and originally developed by George Lucas before he sold his company, Solo shows us the future smuggler escaping his home planet of Corellia and losing the love of his life, Qi'ra (played by Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame). Determined to return to his home planet and find her, he joins the Imperial Navy with ambitions of being a great pilot (and yeah, rescuing the girl). While in a fierce battle (that as far as I could tell wasn't really explained, but I doubt anyone would really care), he meets, as expected, his soon-to-be lifelong Wookie friend Chewbacca (played by Joonas Suotamo, who also plays the character in the other newer films). Then the two of them meet a smuggler named Beckett (Harrelson) who hires them to help steal some kind of chemical that I also did not care one bit about. Their first main test features a train sequence that actually is the least exciting train sequence since last year's adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express


Beckett and his crew have a series of hiccups along the way, but eventually they are ordered to deliver boring chemical weapon thing to a crime lord named Dryden Vos, played by frequent Howard collaborator Paul Bettany. Vos is not as menacing as Darth Vader or as merciless as Emperor Palpatine, but he sure likes stabbing people with those light-knife things, and the scars on his face that change with his mood heighten the tension. While Bettany is mostly interesting to watch, the character is rather lame compared to other newer villains like Kylo Ren or Orson Krennic. (But his hair and snobbish attitude could make him a contender for being the grandfather of General Hux.) Other actors who appear are frequent Star Wars actor Warwick Davis (who was directed by Howard in Willow), Clint Howard (Ron's brother, who often appears in the movies he directs), Phoebe Walter-Bridge as a droid with a passion for liberation, and Jon Favreau as an alien member of Beckett's team. Finally, there is a cameo that is...interesting (and full of potential); I shall say no more.

There are some moments here that do work. Han shoots first here, so that will likely make fans happy. There are a few meta jokes about how Lando (or at least Billy Dee Williams' version of him) apparently couldn't pronounce Han's name. And the movie occasionally has a Western feel that allows it to shine. But for the most part, Solo feels boring and uninspired. Death scenes have no impact, and most of the twists are either puzzling or predictable. Unlike the previous three entries, there is no humor and no heart. Apparently one of the main reasons why Lord and Miller were fired is because they kept veering the film off into comedy territory, and if the bad jokes throughout are their fault, then they probably deserved to be fired.

Remember how angry everyone was over all the nostalgia in The Force Awakens? You might be surprised to hear that basically the only good parts of Solo deal with nostalgia, like Powell's use of the TIE fighter battle music right before using the asteroid music. Unlike most of the other main original characters, Han never had his own theme, until now that is. John Williams composed a theme to be used with John Powell's score, but you won't remember either as you leave the theater. And the cinematography by Bradford Young is so dim you will think there is a problem with the screen.

But perhaps my biggest complaint is of the characters: none of the new ones are interesting. Byond that, there is no exploration of how Han Solo came to be the way we know him. There is an explanation of things no one has ever cared about, like how he met Chewie and some information about his name. Some things that might have been interesting to explore are not, and part of the mythology of the character (like the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs) are forgettable. Creating a visualization of something we've known about our favorite characters for decades is possible (J.J. Abrams and crew gave us a captivating look at how James T. Kirk cheated the Kobayashi Maru test in Star Trek), but Howard et al are unsuccessful at it.

Is Solo the worst in the long reign of Star Wars? No. It's weaker than Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens but better than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones (and certainly better than the live-action made-for-TV movies of the 1970s and 1980s). There are still plenty more of these movies to come, whether we want them or not. Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and her team must proceed with caution, because moving forward I have a bad feeling about this.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Annihilation

The directorial debut of writer Alex Garland, whose most famous novel is The Beach and whose screenplays include 28 Days Later (and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later), SunshineNever Let Me Go, and Dredd, was Ex Machina from three years ago. It was a bold yet subtly eerie look at AI; not quite dystopian, but bordering on it. In his follow-up, Garland has adopted the novel by Jeff VanderMeer called Annihilation. In this story, there again is a "not-good place", called "the Shimmer", a quarantined expanse where creatures mutate, and yet this film is grander and features a lot more big swings. One of them is that Garland is not going to give a lot of answers, and while that may still work fifty years on with something like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it doesn't work here.

It's not as if Annihilation does not try. Speaking of Kubrick's famous film, it does often look like Annihilation takes inspiration from the avant-garde sci-fi flick (along with AlienJurassic Park, and a touch of Pan's Labyrinth), certainly in terms of visuals. But pretty images do not make up for a lack of story and character development, and they certainly don't, on their own, inspire and excite viewers, or at the very least wake those who are bored out of their mind. Such is the problem with Annihilation.

The movie starts in an ominous way. A character named Lena sits answering questions, not sure of much, especially the whereabouts of her colleagues. She wears white medical clothing, quarantined, being questioned by a character played by Benedict Wong, and she seems totally dazed and confused, unable to recall anything of her nearly four months in the Shimmer. We can deduce that she is the sole survivor. Lena is a cancer professor and former soldier going through grief after the death of her partner, Kane (played by Oscar Isaac), a soldier who has died in a mission she knows little about.

This would certainly make Kane walking into her home even more surprising to her, but that he does. Still, something is certainly off about it. He doesn't feel well, and he is rushed to a hospital after falling into a seizure. Here, Lena meets Dr. Ventress (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who tells Lena about the Shimmer, how the scientists have "many theories, few facts" regarding the mysterious entity. Is it religious in nature? Extra-terrestrial? No one knows. Kane was part of team that tried to find out; they failed. He's in good company, as everyone and everything they have sent in to try and discover answers has never returned. Perhaps the environment kills them, or perhaps they go crazy and kill each other. Lena, determined to find an answer to what ails her lover, joins Ventress and other scientists: Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), and Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson). She pointedly does not tell them about her connection to Kane, fearing it would "complicate" things.     

It's a real, real shame that a film with such intriguing female roles for great female actors has turned out so dull. In Ex Machina, women also had a majority of the roles, but it felt exploitative at times. Not so here. Thompson, though, is a real marvel in the movie. Her performance is so unlike her recent work in films like Creed and Thor: Ragnorok. She transforms into this character, a shy but clever individual, not in an ostentatious way, and the subtle choices she's made make her almost unrecognizable. I was a little more disappointed in the performances of Leigh and Rodriguez, who both overdo things, mostly in different ways. Portman is mostly fine, yet her being cast is another example of whitewashing in Hollywood, as the character in the original book series is described as Asian. (Additionally, Leigh's character is described as half-Native American.)

The Shimmer is like a macabre version of Neverland, a state park with a lush, green forest surrounded by a transparent layer that looks similar to oil mixing with water. Flowers have mutated into gorgeous new species. But almost immediately, the characters start to lose their memories. They've been there for days, and yet they can remember almost nothing. Adding to the Neverland quality is giant crocodiles, but these ones happen to have teeth similar to sharks.

Annihilation certainly requires a lot more patience than Ex Machine does. It's a lot sillier, too. The motivation of Lena's character to go on such a mission is too difficult to believe. Like Sam Neill or Jeff Goldblum before her, it is not plausible for her to accept. This movie is more Prometheus than Alien, and yet it thinks the reverse is true. The characters certainly seem like they're straight out of the former, as they don't feel they need protective masks when walking around the Shimmer. Garland and team try the whole less-is-more approach, and yet it often does not pay off. There are horror moments that are not frightening in the slightest, action scenes that aren't thrilling in the slightest, and the whole thing feels like it would work better as a spooky short story written by someone in middle school. Is Annihilation pretentious? Most likely. Boring? Definitely. Ultimately, there is not a single exciting or interesting moment throughout this film. Annihilation will challenge you to think, but who would be inspired to engage in such inquiry about a movie like this?



Sunday, March 4, 2018

Stop, It's Oscar Time: The Best Movies of 2017

Hey there, cats and kittens.

After an awful year for Hollywood and the entertainment industry but a pretty darn good one for films, 2017 showed that Hollywood has continued to inch its way in the right direction in terms of more diversity in film, better visual effects, and terrific (albeit sometimes unoriginal) storytelling.

And so, here are the best films of 2017 (and, as usual, some overrated ones), just in time for the upcoming Academy Awards:


10. Get Out
Before I get started, I have to note that Get Out is basically tied with It, the coming-of-age Stranger Things-before-there-was-Stranger Things adaptation of Stephen King's famous novel about a killer clown. Both are horror films that weren't all that scary, both made a ton of money, and both will have long legacies. But I'm so opposed to ties on top-ten lists, that after some back and forth, I decided to put Get Out at number ten and have It as an honorable mention. Why is Get Out here and not It? While I'm impartial to coming-of-age films, I really liked the way Get Out seemed so fresh and original, while It is based on a popular book from the 80s that was made into a popular TV miniseries in the 90s that inspired a recent hit Netflix show and will now have a sequel.

I feel fortunate that I knew as little as possible about Get Out before watching it. You should, too (if you're one of five people who hasn't seen the movie.) So I won't go into the plot. All I'll add is that Get Out is the movie I'm rooting for for Best Picture (as well as Best Original Screenplay), mainly because it's a horror movie, and the last (and only) horror movie that won Best Picture was Silence of the Lambs in 1992. I enjoyed most of the performances (especially Daniel Kaluuya, Bradley Whitford, and Catherine Keener), and I appreciated how writer-director Jordan Key Peale put a unique spin on the villains. This is a very intelligent and astute movie. There are not many films quite this clever.

9. Battle of the Sexes
A biographical film about the most famous tennis match of the 20th century, Battle of the Sexes works on three different levels: it works as an exhilarating, though at times clichéd, sports film; it works as a loud-and-proud movie about gender equality; and it works as a delicate and mature same-sex love story. I can't think of another movie that does all three so easily.

Like Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' directorial debut (a little movie called Little Miss Sunshine), this undoubtedly is a crowd-pleaser. If that's not you're kind of movie, you might want to stay away. Beyond that, it's more than challenging to not see the Battle of the Sexes tennis match of 1973 as a parallel to a lot of what happened during the U.S. presidential election of 2016. If you're not interested in re-opening those wounds, you also might want to avoid this movie.

Not to say that there aren't any problems with the movie (like it's use of a "magic gay man"), but it's still one of the year's best. It's certainly one of Emma Stone's best performances, and if you can understand that Steve Carell is meant to be as obnoxious as possible, you'll love his performance as well. They're supported by a big cast that includes Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Andrea Riseborough, Alan Cumming, Natalie Morales, Austin Stowell, and Tom Kenny.

8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
First, the elephant in the room: I am aware of how problematic this movie is. While I am not sure I would agree that it is a racist movie, it is certainly a movie that is about as tone-deaf about race and racism in the United States as there can be. I can only conclude that writer-director Martin McDonagh, an Irishman, probably didn't think too carefully about how some situations and characters (and unnecessary character arcs) would be received in the U.S., especially among minority communities.

Some have defended him by calling the criticism "alarmist". I'm not sure if that's a fair word to use. The concerns about the movie are genuine, but there is a lot to like about the movie. Why do I like the movie? I loved Frances McDormand's performance; it may be even better than her iconic role in Fargo. In a year in which Wonder Women wasn't nominated for anything, we should celebrate tough, bad-ass women as much as the Academy will let us. (Yes, I didn't care for Wonder Women, but I recognize that everyone else on the planet did. And if a major blockbuster that made tons of money and was adored by fans and critics alike can't get nominations, I don't know what can.) I like the other actors in the cast as well, mainly Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson,

The backlash against Three Billboards is most likely justified. I liked this movie, and I really hope McDormand wins another Oscar; I just wish McDonagh had thought more carefully before making some of the choices he made.

7. The Post
While it's impossible not to watch Battle of the Sexes and think about the events of 2016, it is also impossible to watch The Post and not think of the events of 2017. This movie loudly trumpets the role of the media and cautions against a reactionary executive. Meryl Streep, in her first performance in a Steven Spielberg-directed film, is legendary Washington Post head Katherine Graham. Hanks reunites with Spielberg in his performance as editor Bill Bradlee. Hanks' performance is a bit too, well, Hanksy. (Do we really need him playing every kind of Jimmy Stewart-esque character there is? Apparently yes, because he's been cast as Mr. Rogers). Streep's performance, however, is exceptional, as always. How easy she continues to make this all look. Like other movies on this list, there is a great supporting cast: Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, and Michael Stuhlbar.

Of the three most recent Steven Spielberg-directed somber historical motion pictures (the other two being Lincoln and Bridge of Spies), The Post is the best. While there is the uncomfortable controversy regarding the fact that this is The Post and not The Times, meaning the filmmakers exaggerated the role of the Washington Post in releasing the Pentagon Papers while not giving the New York Times enough credit, I was willing to overlook it, but it probably doesn't help its Oscar chances. (For the record, I can't figure out why they didn't just make it The Times. Perhaps because Graham and Bradlee are such well-known figures.)

If you are concerned that Speilberg and frequent Trump critics Streep and Hanks are going in for an unabashedly pro-media, anti-fascist film, rest assured that this very much is a bipartisan critique on the U.S. presidents and their administrations that repeatedly lied to the American people about the situation in Vietnam. That list includes both Democrats and Republicans: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon (who is featured throughout the film through the use of those infamous tapes).

6. Coco
Pixar's first musical is a grand celebration of Mexican culture that is so magnificent, it has become the highest grossing film in Mexican history. Anthony Gonzalez plays 12-year-old Miguel, an aspiring musician in a family that has banned music. Miguel runs away, and through an accidental bit of magic, he finds himself in the Land of the Dead during Day of the Dead. Racing against time to avoid being permanently stuck there, Miguel finds his ancestors (who hate music as much as his living relatives), a helpless musician named Héctor (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal) longing to be remembered by the living, and one of the most famous singers in history named Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt).

Coco starts off with lots of spirit, and then sort of drags a bit in the second act. However, that's when the music starts, and man, does Gonzalez have an incredible singing voice. The third act is where most of the film's heart is, and it's one of the most pro-family messages in a while, even if it lays it on a bit thick. The images of the Land of the Dead (particularly that gorgeous bridge) are some of Pixar's most stunning, just as beautiful as the stuff seen in WALL-E, Up, and Inside Out. Aside from its lame title (you can read here the controversy behind why it was changed), this is an awesome film for movie-goers of all ages.

5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The most controversial (and yet one of the best) Star Wars films ever, The Last Jedi has proved that this franchise is here to stay for a while. To some, this is bad news. As David Chen of Slash Filmcast pointed out, there were three types of fans who were disappointed by the movie: the alt-right crowd angry at all the diversity in the newer films of this franchise, the hard-core fans who feel writer-director Rian Johnson is overstepping his bounds with his creativity, and film nerds who were picking apart the film's plot holes. (Nobody wants to be in the first group; everyone wants to be in the third.)

Whatever. I loved this film. I loved its meta quality. I loved the final performance of the late, far-above-great Carrie Fisher. I loved the cagey, alienated, disillusioned portrayal of Luke Skywalker by Mark Hamill. I adored a reunion scene that I won't elaborate on because I think it's too soon to spoil. I was so impressed by the acting of Daisey Ridley, who continues to inspire young girls around the world, and Adam Driver, whose portrayal of the malicious Kylo Ren continues to remind us of the limitations of Millenials. I was thrilled from start to finish (save for that lame casino scene), and I applauded the performances of Laura Dern, Oscar Isaac, and others. Johnson took some big swings and mostly hit it out of the park, regardless of what the three types of the agitated had to say.

As I wrote in my review, there will come a time when fans tire of this franchise. Star Wars is not Marvel, another Disney-owned studio, with enormous longevity. But for now, considering how wonderful the three most recent movies have been, why stop now?

4. Kedi
A cat in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul during my 2011 trip. They're everywhere.
Who would've thought that a Turkish documentary about the feral cats of Istanbul would be so entertaining? And yet, it is. It goes without saying that this is a must-see for cat lovers, but even if you hate cats, you'll probably like this movie. As one man in the documentary says, you can't really trust people who don't like cats.

This documentary takes us through the streets of Istanbul, one of the world's great cities. And while we meet lots of different common folks, the main focus is on Istanbul's cats. As someone who's traveled there, I can affirm to you that these creatures are indeed ubiquitous, and unlike most places, they really don't seem terrified of humans.

This documentary, directed by Ceyda Torun, will tug at your heart and make you impressed by the resourcefulness of these felines. Her camera takes a very active approach to following them around and telling their stories. This movie is the most surprising must-see of last year.

3. The Big Sick
The Big Sick is one of the very best romantic comedies in a long time. Based on the real-life love story of comedian Kumail Nanjiani and writer Emily V. Gordon, Nanjiani plays himself (which is kind of weird), and Gordon is wonderfully played by Zoe Kazan. Among the supporting cast are Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as the parents of Emily; Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, and Anupam Kher playing Kumail's family members; and Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant as his comedian friends. All are fantastic. The first discussion over lunch Kumail has his Emily's parents at the hospital is probably the funniest scene of the year.

There's so much in this movie: comedians, love, family drama, interracial dating, and a health crisis to top it all off. I'm deeply disappointed that this movie didn't get more nominations, like for Best Picture, for example, though I am happy that Nanjiani and Gordon are nominated for Best Original Screenplay. In terms of acting, we've never really seen Nanjiani pull off stuff this dramatic, and Kazan is as charming and perfect as ever. You owe it to yourself to see this movie.

2. The Salesman
The second Best Foreign Language Film by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (who did not attend last year's Oscar ceremony to protest Donald Trump's travel ban of Iranians entering the U.S.), The Salesman is yet another fantastic marriage of subtle tenseness and acute observations of the unique difficulties ordinary people face. Set among the backdrop of a local production of the play Death of a Salesman, this movie has all the ingredients of a great Farhadi thriller: toxic masculinity, suspicion, paranoia, and false choices. Like he did with A SeparationAbout Elly, and Le Passé, Farhadi has made a tense movie without including any typical Hollywood cliches. I greatly await his next motion picture, which will be his first Spanish film.

1. The Florida Project
The Florida Project is a masterpiece. Like Tangerine before it, Sean Baker finds atypical stories so worth telling. To paraphrase the fine folks at Pop Culture Happy Hour, this movie might seem like it's going to be "poverty porn" and overly didactic, but it isn't. I don't know how Baker and team managed to do a movie like that this way, but they did. Part of it may be due to the performances, which are perfect. With all due respect to Sam Rockwell's more ostentatious performance in Three Billboards, The Florida Project features probably Willem Dafoe's best performance yet, as the hotel manager and borderline babysitter for the hotel's kids and their parents. (I'm rooting for him to win the Oscar, though he's the underdog.) There are also so many other brilliant performances by unknown actors who for some reason have not been nominated for anything this awards season (especially Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite as the daughter and mother, respectively, living in this low-rent hotel not far from Disney World). This movie is probably one of the best of the decade, and I cannot wait to see the next projects directed by Baker.

Honorable Mentions: The Disaster Artist, Thor: Ragnarok, The Lego Batman Movie, It, Call Me By Your Name


Fortunately, the films in my top ten show a list of diversity: The Florida Project features a diverse cast set in economic situations American films rarely feel comfortable detailing; The Big Sick features an interracial love story, and much of the cast members are Pakistani or Pakistani-American; Kedi and The Salesman are both foreign films from countries with majority-Muslim populations (Turkey and Iran, respectively); Coco celebrates Mexican culture and features a Latino cast and is co-directed by a Mexican-American; Star Wars: The Last Jedi is (controversially, for some stupid reason) probably the most diverse Star Wars movie ever; The Post certainly doesn't pass the Bechdel Test, but it does star Meryl Streep as Graham, a towering figure in American journalism; and finally, Battle of the Sexes features basically an all-white cast (except for Morales), but essentially half the cast is female (and of course, it's about one of the U.S.'s most celebrated gay athletes). Three Billboards has its controversies, but it is led by a strong woman playing a strong woman. And then of course, there's Get Out, which uniquely visualizes the U.S.'s problems with race.

I do hope Hollywood continues this trend.



Overrateds of the YearWonder WomanGod's Own CountryThe Happiest Day in the Life of Olli MakiColumbusProfessor Marston & The Wonder WomenOkjaMarjorie PrimeThe Square

Actor Who Was In Everything: Caleb Landry Jones (Get Out; American Made; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; The Florida Project)

Runner-Up: Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Goodbye, Christopher RobinAmerican Mademother!Crash Pad)

Fireman of the Year: Christopher Plummer (All the Money In the World) (and special shout-out to Jack Matthews for giving Plummer that title)

Oscars:

Best Actress:
Who Will Win: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Who Should Win: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Best Actor:
Who Will Win: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Who Should Win: Timothée Chalomet (Call Me By Your Name)

Best Supporting Actress:
Who Will Win: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Who Should Win: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)

Best Supporting Actor:
Who Will (Probably) Win: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Who Should Win: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Black Panther

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip
Skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised. 
-"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", by Gil Scott-Heron

"You know, it was like having tea with a black panther."
-M.S. Handler's introduction of The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Wakanda is a land that presents itself to the world as a country very much like large parts of Africa: a developing nation struggling with few roads and high illiteracy, made up mainly of farmers with unique clothes. Wakanda and its people, though, have a bit of a secret: their undisclosed technology, with alien-like ships and potent armour, makes them the world's most advanced, and yet they fear the consequences if the world finds out about their equipment and knowledge. This is to say nothing of the fact that their king is Black Panther, a reluctant member of the Avengers.

Originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and recently appearing in comic books written by Ta-nehisi Cotes, who will team up with Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan on a new film), we last saw King T'challa (Chadwick Boseman, who aside from this is most famous for playing notable black American figures like Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, and James Brown) was in Captain America: Civil War, when his father was assassinated and the young king was pitted against Captain America and his allies. Hype for the character was, I think, rather low, as fans instead braced for the much-anticipated return of Spider-Man and a big fight between Captain American and Iron Man. Fortunately, however, Black Panther, and Boseman's performance, ended up being a highlight of the film. Here, in his own movie, he's given so much more to do, and he's got a lot of help along the way.

Just look at this cast assembled here in Black Panther: Boseman, Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis. You're not likely to find a cast that awesome for some time. But the break-out star of the film is, without a doubt, Letitia Wright. As the younger sister of T'challa, she is also a brilliant scientist and the Q to T'challa's Bond. I'm a big proponent of humor in these kinds of movies (one of the reasons why I liked Thor: Ragnarok so much last year), and she provides some of the movie's funniest moment. Also providing some humor is Winston Duke as M'Baku, one of Wakanda's great warriors. I won't give away the biggest laugh he got, but damn, was it funny. Kaluuya, fresh off his Oscar nomination for last year's Get Out, does a fine job as W'Kabi, a second-in-command to T'Challa. But the performance besides those of Boseman, Nyong'o, and Wright that has stayed with me the longest is that of Michael B. Jordan. Jordan, who also worked with director Ryan Coogler on very different projects--the real-life tragedy depicted in Fruitvale Station and the Rocky spin-off Creed--occasionally doesn't quite get the menacing delivery of the typical villainous lines out quite right. But one certainly gets the sense that he developed his character's look with great attention; every glare and strut has been given the methodical analysis of a master actor, which Jordan became long ago.

Here, Jordan is Erik Killmonger (yes, that's his name), a resident of Oakland who has links to Wakanda. Killmonger lives up to his name; he was a war machine in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, and he's decorated his body for every life he has taken. He's angry about the injustice towards black people around the world, and feels that Wakanda is not doing enough to stop it. It's a bit ironic that Killmonger is not the Black Panther himself, because his philosophy might make him welcome in the Black Panther Party. T'challa, though, takes a more cautious, isolationist approach, one that will likely have consequences for many and will set him up in opposition not simply to Killmonger but to other members of the Wakandan community.

Finally, it's also nice to see Freeman, as CIA agent Everett Ross, and Serkis, as villain Ulysses Klaue, together again, a duo the internet has brilliantly dubbed the "Tolkien white guys" of the movie. (The two were opposite each other in The Hobbit.) This is Serkis' third major blockbuster in a year (after War for the Planet of the Apes and Star Wars: The Last Jedi), and yet this is the movie in which he looks like he's having the most delicious, deserved fun. Nyong'o has also appeared in Star Wars, but she is given a much better part here.

Some moments in Black Panther don't work. The car chase through Busan, South Korea tries really hard and sometimes is successful while other times bland (though ending with a scene-stealing moment from Nyong'o). There are also battle rhinos, and I didn't need that, frankly. There are other banal moments that are beneath a director as talented as Coogler; its second act drags and is overly and overtly predictable. Still, it recovers.

I got to see it in West Africa at a cinema in which the energy the audience was giving off was beyond palpable. Applause took off as the credits rolled. I can't pretend that this is a movie directed towards inspiring people like me, but it's more than obvious that representation has not been Hollywood's strong suit since...ever. Hopefully, with movies like Wonder Woman and Black Panther, that will change. Black Panther shows that it's a good start.