Black Panther (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Thousands of years ago, a meteor containing the precious metal vibranium crash-landed in Africa, and, upon finding it, five tribes banded together to create the nation of Wakanda, and used their discovery to become the most technologically advanced civilization on Earth. But, rather than share their knowledge with the world, or help other African peoples when they were being colonized and enslaved, the Wakandans kept to themselves, and even went so far as to kill those who tried to cross their borders. For centuries, the Black Panthers, the rulers of Wakanda, have kept up this tradition. Now, though, the new Black Panther, T’Challa, must decide whether or not he will continue to uphold this practice, as their is an outsider, an American of Wakandan descent, who is challenging him for the throne, and who believes Wakanda should use its technology to help Black people across the globe rise up and take control.

Black Panther is a movie I was very excited for. Not only is it directed by one of my favorite new filmmakers, Ryan Coogler, it’s starring some of my favorite actors, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, and its a genre film that touches upon social issues. You might not have noticed, but I’m kind of a sucker for those. So when I sat down in the theater today, I was pumped. I was there. And when I walked out, I was very satisfied. Black Panther is a lot of fun, and I do think you all should see it. In terms of pure craftsmanship, acting, cinematography, costumes, music, I have no complaints whatsoever. This is a gorgeous looking, and sounding, movie. And everyone in the film gives it their all. The stand-outs, for me, are Michael B Jordan as the ruthless, but highly sympathetic villain, Eric, and Danai Gurira as the Wakandan general Okoye. Both give highly memorable, highly charismatic performances. I also like the world this film created, with Wakanda looking absolutely stunning, and I really enjoyed the questions it raises. For all these reasons, I definitely think Black Panther is worth a watch.

That said, I do have problems with the movie. And I realize that, by saying that, I just earned the ire of a substantial portion of the internet. But I don’t care. I want to make movies, and the best way to do that is to learn from the flaws of others, and this film has a few. For starters, there is a long, long stretch where nothing of much import happens. There are a lot of scenes where we basically get told the history of Wakanda, and, while they are necessary to understanding the world, they don’t really advance the plot in any way. Hell, the main plot, Eric coming to Wakanda to claim the throne and begin a global revolution, doesn’t really materialize until about an hour in. That’s a pretty long wait. Now, I do want to be clear and say that that first hour isn’t boring, but, if you cut several subplots out, including a whole sequence in Korea where the heroes chase down Andy Serkis, the movie would be tighter, and more interesting. The conflict between Eric and T’Challa, between new and old, globalism and isolationism, is fascinating, and considerably more compelling than Andy Serkis wanting money. On top of this, T’Challa, the main character, is kind of bland. Part of this has to do with the fact that all of the supporting characters are so interesting, with his sister, Shuri, his general, Okoye, and mother, Ramanda, all being highly charismatic and fun, but it also has to do with the fact that he’s a very passive protagonist. What I mean by that is, in most films, a character actively tries to accomplish a real, tangible thing, like winning a contest, finding a killer, or finishing an art project. In so doing, they realize that they possess a certain flaw, and change. Now when I say they “actively” pursue the goal, I mean they make the first moves, as opposed to just reacting to things. It’s the difference between Raiders Of The Lost Ark, where Indie chooses to go after the ark, and devises several of the strategies for getting it, and Superman: The Movie, where Clark Kent only decides to be a superhero after the ghost of his father tells him to. For a substantial portion of Black Panther, T’Challa doesn’t have a goal. He doesn’t want any one, tangible thing, like an arc, a grail, or the meaning of the word “rosebud.” He just walks around, and responds to what other people tell him. And then, when the main plot does kick in, he still remains highly reactive. Yes, he undergoes a change, realizing after fighting Eric that Wakanda needs to share its technology with the rest of the world, but he himself doesn’t really want anything. And, finally, as impressive as the film is in terms of its acting, cinematography  and music, there are moments here where the CGI is surprisingly bad. In one scene, for instance, Eric and T’Challa are fighting on a train track, and there were moments where they were flipping around that took me out of the picture because of how fake everything looked. And in another scene, T’Challa is gazing up at this cliffside where all these various Wakandan tribes are standing, and it looked like elements that were just copied and pasted onto the frame. Which is disappointing. This film had such a huge budget, and so many talented people working on it that I’m honestly kind of shocked it had such shoddy CGI.

All that said, the good in Black Panther far outweighs the bad. This is a well-acted, beautiful-looking, highly thought-provoking superhero film, which does what I don’t think any superhero film has done before, and that’s tell its story from a distinctly black, distinctly African perspective. For that reason, coupled with some superb performances, I say, go out and see this. You won’t regret it.

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Moonlight (2016)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Chiron has a hard life. His dad is dead, his mom is a drug addict, the kids at school don’t like him, and he realizes when he’s young that he just might be gay. Which, in his neighborhood, is the equivalent of painting a bright red target on your back. His only friends are a drug dealer named Juan, Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa, and a boy named Kevin, whom Chiron is attracted to, and who just might have feelings for him as well. Will they wind up together? Will Chiron find some peace in life? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Moonlight is a very unusual film; not simply for being one of the few movies to openly address the Black gay experience, but also in terms of how its structured. It’s broken up into three distinct acts, each of which tackles a different stage in Chiron’s life. The first act discusses his time as a little boy. The second act explores his teenage years. And the third act chronicles his life as an adult. There’s not really an overarching plot. There isn’t really a climax. Most of the key events in his life happen off screen, in the years between scenes. In many respects, Moonlight mirrors the works of Wong Kar-Wai, in that its a colorful, atmospheric mood piece, with not much plot, and a huge emphasis on sorrow, longing, and love. And, indeed, Moonlight’s director, Barry Jenkins, has openly admitted that Wong was a huge influence on him. So that right there should give you a good idea of what to expect with this movie. You might not like it, but you’ll at least know what to expect.

For my part, I found Moonlight to be beautiful. Everything about it, from its performances, to its blue-tinted cinematography, to its actors, are gorgeous. And I found the ending, wherein Chiron and Kevin are reunited, to be deeply touching. I wholeheartedly believe that people should watch this movie, if not for the performances and the camerawork, than for the simple fact that it tells a story that is not often told; the story of a gay Black man in America.

And yet, even as I say this, I know that not everyone will share my opinions on this movie. There will be people who’ll watch this film and be frustrated, some for reasons that are understandable, and some for reasons that aren’t. For starters, the movie is very slow, there are whole sequences without dialogue, and, as I said before, there isn’t really an overarching plot. I can totally understand why some people might be bored by this movie. Mood pieces that break the rules of dramatic structure are all well and good, but most people grew up with plot-driven films with lots of dialogue, and, for the most part, they prefer those. Unfortunately, though, that won’t be the only reason why some people won’t like this movie. The other, and perhaps bigger, reason is the fact that it is about a gay Black man. In an ideal world, his story, and the stories of people like him, would be universally embraced. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where a racist, misogynist internet troll with no political or military experience can get elected President, where Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately the victims of police brutality, and where homophobia and transphobia can lead to people being thrown in jail, or even killed, just for being who they are. So if you are one of those narrow-minded idiots who can’t stand to see a person of a different race or sexuality onscreen, avoid this film like the plague. If, on the other hand, you are someone with a soul, and you don’t mind slower, more atmospheric films, give Moonlight a look. It will definitely pull on your heartstrings.

To The Bone (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Ellen has an eating disorder. She doesn’t want to chew, let alone swallow, anything with calories. As a result, she’s lost a truly frightening amount of weight, and there is a very real chance she might die. So, as a last ditch effort to save her life, Ellen’s stepmom signs her up for a special,eating disorder treatment program. She’ll have to live in a house, with other anorexic kids, and partake in therapy sessions with Dr. Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves. If all goes well, she’ll be cured, and allowed to go home. If it doesn’t, she’ll die. Those are the only options, and with the way the film starts out, either outcome is entirely plausible.

To The Bone is a sympathetic, socially-conscious movie, with some fine performances, and some witty dialogue. I watched it purely on a whim, seeing it on Netflix, and hearing some good things about it second hand. And even though I don’t like how it ended, and I wish it could have given me a little bit more insight into why Ellen developed this eating disorder, I am glad I saw it. This is the kind of small-budget indie film that really relies on its script and its lead actors, and it really delivers on both fronts. Everyone in the cast does a superb job, and the script gives all the characters a distinct voice and some funny lines. Which surprised me. For a story that is as serious as it is, there is a lot of good humor in here. THere’s some risky humor too–for instance, they make Holocaust and dead baby jokes, and it doesn’t always work. But, for the most part, the jokes really land, and I could totally see myself going back and watching this movie again, just for the dialogue.

I was also very impressed with how deftly the filmmakers handled the topic of eating disorders. See, you all probably don’t know this about me, but, back in high school, I had an eating disorder. There was a period, in my junior year, when I didn’t want to eat anything, and when I lost a lot of weight, about 15 pounds, in a very short time span. I’m talking two to three weeks. Of course, I didn’t know it was an eating disorder at the time. I just thought I was being health conscious. When I watched the film, however, and I saw all the things that these anorexic characters were doing, like fretting about how many calories were in their food, skipping meals, doing exercise, even at times when it wasn’t appropriate, held a mirror up to my own behavior, and helped me realize that there really was something wrong with me. For that reason, and the fine performances and dialogue, I would recommend you watch this Netflix original. It’s not a perfect film, as I said, the humor doesn’t always land, and the ending gets very weird and hallucinogenic, but, for the most part, it’s solid. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you see it.

Freeheld

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

This isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a good one either. It’s trying to be progressive–to tell a touching, and socially relevant story–but it ultimately comes off as generic, and even somewhat banal.

For those of you who are wondering what the hell I’m talking about, I just sat down and watched an early screening of Freeheld, a new drama film starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page. The movie, which comes out in theaters tomorrow, is based on the true story of Laurel Hester, a Lesbian Police Officer from New Jersey, who, when she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, was unable to transfer her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie. The film chronicles her friends and loved ones attempts to overdue the court’s ruling, and get Stacie her pension.

Now, I’ll be honest, when I heard this film’s premise, I was hopeful. I love “call to social action” films, like Blood Diamond, Philadelphia, and Dallas Buyers Club. I thought that, maybe, this movie would be another worthy addition to the list of socially conscious motion pictures that have come out in the last 30 years. Unfortunately, when I actually sat down and watched it, I was treated to a fairly generic “fight the power” drama, with no real tension, and nothing particularly new in the way of storytelling. Every cliched character you’d expect to see in a movie about gay rights–the butch lesbian, the flamboyantly gay man, the homophobe who grows a heart and does the right thing–is present here. No one’s really given any backstory, and some of the performances are a bit cartoonish. On top of that, this whole movie feels like White Guilt Oscar Bait. You all know what I’m talking about–movies that are hoping to get critical acclaim by talking about something important, like racism, sexism, homophobia, or historical tragedies. It’s practically a joke among actors that, if you want to win an Oscar these days, you’ve got to either pretend to be gay, pretend to be dying, or pretend to be disabled. Well, this film is about homophobia, and its star, Julianne Moore, is both pretending to die, AND pretending to be gay. At this point, the filmmakers are practically giving their acceptance speeches.

Now, to be fair, I know that the directors and the actors intentions here were good, but, honestly, the whole thing just feels exploitative. I’m a disabled person, and I don’t like it when I see non-disabled actors–like Eddie Redmayne in Theory Of Everything, Al Pacino in Scent Of A Woman, and Cliff Robertson in Charly–using our conditions as easy springboards to critical success. Similarly, I don’t like it when I see heterosexual actors giving flamboyantly over-the-top portrayals of gay people, like Steve Carrell does here, just to win awards.

So, to sum it all up, Freeheld is a well-intentioned movie that doesn’t bring anything new to the “fight the power,” social activism genre of filmmaking, and ultimately suffers because of that. It’s a 6 out of 10. Don’t go see it if you’ve already watched films like Philadelphia or Dallas Buyers Club.