Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Posted on November 8, 2022 at 12:20 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action, and some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Fantasy potion
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense comic-book/fantasy peril and violence, very sad deaths, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 11, 2022
Date Released to DVD: February 6, 2023
Copyright 2022 Disney

The sequel to “Black Panther,” like the original, begins with the death of the king. We may think we were prepared for this. We have had two years to mourn Chadwick Boseman, whose instantly iconic portrayal of the title character was powerfully dignified, courageous, dedicated to his people, and yet endearingly vulnerable. Remember how overcome he was by Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). But in the first moments of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” we see Queen Ramonda (a fiercely fiery Angela Bassett) and her scientist/engineer daughter Suri (Letitia Wright) shocked and devastated by the death of their son and brother, King T’Challa, of some unstated illness. Suri had frantically tried to create a synthetic version of the vibranium-infused “heart-shaped herb” that might have been able to heal him. And so, their grief is deepened by a sense of failure. His loss is the end of the Black Panther line because only the herb could grant the superpower strength and agility.

It is clear, though, that it is not just the characters who are in mourning but the actors and the filmmakers, who give Boseman a most loving tribute. Like the people of Wakanda, we have lost a rare and treasured member of our community who had so much more to give us. This is a comic book movie with a lot of tears on screen and I predict a lot in the audience as well.

A year after T’Challa’s death, the queen has taken over as the leader of Wakanda. She appears before a UN panel who accuse her of not living up to her country’s promise to share the extraordinary properties of vibranium, which is found only in their country and is the basis for their extraordinary technology. She tells them that they have shown they will abuse the mineral by adapting it for offensive weapons. She is withholding it, “not for the dangerous nature of vibranium, but for the dangerous nature of you.”

Predictably, the world powers were not going to wait for Queen Ramonda to decide to share vibranium. The US has a vibranium detecting machine — just one — that has located some on the ocean floor. The leader of the previously unknown vibranium-based underwater country is Namor (Tenoch Huerta). He appears before Queen Ramunda with a threat — if she does not Find and kill the inventor of the machine that can find vibranium, he will attack Wakanda.

It is a shock to the exceptionalism of Wakanda’s identity to disco ver that vibranium not only exists in other place; it has also been the basis for an advanced civilization. And they are more protective, even aggressive, in keeping out intruders. Like the first film, which popularized the term “colonizer” as an insult, this film is grounded in the trauma of centuries of plunder and abuse. It lends the series a gravity that makes even the most fanciful elements more meaningful.

Suri and the General of the Wakanda army, Okoye (Danai Gurira) find the inventor, an MIT undergraduate Marvel comic fans will recognize as Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). She is, like Suri, an engineering genius. And she has a gift for skunkworks machines made from a combination of junkyard finds and uniquely crafted designs. Namor and the Wakandans are not the only people who want the creator of the machine. This leads to a wild chase scene through the streets of Boston, and to both girls being taken to Namor’s Talokan. Suri is curious to learn as much as possible about Talokan. And she is determined to protect Riri.

The movie’s visuals are stunning, wildly imaginative but within the realm of possibility and always gorgeous. Production designer Hannah Beachler, who has worked with writer/director Ryan Coogler since “Fruitvale Station,” and Ruth E. Carter, who was awarded a well-deserved Oscar for “Black Panther’s” costumes, have outdone themselves with one jaw-drooping image after another, always in service of the story. Queen Ramona’s jewelry and costumes match Bassett’s powerful dignity and resolve. The people of Talokan reflect the indigenous designs of South America. Every single time they appear out of the ocean, it is goosebump-inducing. The titles informing us of the locations begin with the native lettering, and then are translated into English, underscoring the respect for the cultures being portrayed, refusing to “other” them.

As I have observed many times before, superhero movies depend, more than the powers of their heroes, on the motives and personality of their villains. Eric Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan in the first film, is, in my opinion, the best Marvel villain of all time. Huerta’s Namor is also a top-level villain, willing to do whatever it takes to protect his people, still furious over what happened to them when they still lived on the land. His conflicts parallel Suri’s, making the dynamic between them more meaningful. Where does justice end and vengeance begin? Is it possible to have one without the other?

This is a movie about the Wakandan women. Winston Duke’s M’Baku and CIA Wakanda expert Ross (Martin Freeman) play important supporting roles, but it is Queen Ramunda, Suri, Okoye, Nokia, and Riri who are at the center of this story. Their interaction, with good will and often good humor (the comments about the dress presented to Shuri by the Talokans is a hoot) is the vibranium that is this film’s superpawer.

Of course there is also that wow of a chase scene and terrific comic-book action. There are some flaws — too much backstory, and the whole idea that killing the inventor would prevent any further efforts to locate more of the world’s most precious substance — but this is a movie that would make T’Challa proud, and it is a worthy tribute to Boseman and to the Marvel writers and artists who first envisioned Wakanda and made us all want it to go on forever.

Parents should know that this movie has intense comic-book peril and violence with characters injured and killed and some painful deaths of family members. Characters use brief fstrong language and there is a non-explicit scene of childbirth.

Family discussion: How are Namor and Suri alike? How are they different? What should Wakanda do about sharing vibranium?

If you like this, try; “Black Panther” and the comic books

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Black Panther

Posted on February 15, 2018 at 6:38 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book-style peril and violence, guns, fistfights, chases, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 16, 2018
Date Released to DVD: May 14, 2018
Copyright Marvel Studios 2018

Wakanda forever! And all hail writer/director Ryan Coogler, the Black Panther, the Dora Milaje, and everyone who helped to bring this next-level, majestic, and wildly entertaining superhero movie to life.

Quick primer for those unfamiliar with the Marvel Universe: Black Panther, the first major black comic book superhero, lives in a self-sufficient, almost completely hidden African country called Wakanda. An American CIA field agent describes it as a poor, undeveloped country: “textiles, shepherds, cool outfits.” That is how they want to be seen by the world. In reality, thanks to a meteor that landed there in prehistoric times, they are the world’s only source of a metal called vibranium, which is extremely powerful, and which has been the basis for the world’s most advanced technology. Because Wakanda is cut off from the rest of the continent by mountains and rainforests, they have never been colonized and had very little interaction with the rest of the world. When they did, it did not go well. King T’Chaka spoke to the UN in “Captain America: Civil War,” and was assassinated. After a brief scene set in the past, we begin the story when his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is about to take over as king.

Much of the film takes place in Wakanda, gloriously imagined by production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth Carter, reflecting extensive research into African design. It is worth seeing the film a second time just to revel in the wonderfully vibrant shapes and colors, and in the African landscape.

Copyright Marvel Studios 2018

Wakanda’s all-female military is called the Dora Milaje, led by General Okoye (Danai Gurira). She advises T’Challa about a mission outside of Wakanda, where he is going to rescue his one-time girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a spy who has gone undercover and has been captured by warlords. “Don’t freeze,” Okoye tells T’Challa. “I never freeze,” he replies. But he does. That’s the effect Nakia has on him. At first, she is angry that he interrupted her mission. But then he tells her that he wants her there when he becomes king, and she is glad to agree.

When they return, we see him honor his mother (Angela Bassett, regal and steadfast) and get teased by his sister, the tech whiz Shuri (Letitia Wright). She is this movie’s version of James Bond’s Q, except that she does not just provide the cool gadgets; she invents them. Her motto seems to be what she tells her brother: “Just because something works does not mean it can’t be improved.” That comment, made as a gentle taunt to a brother who is not as comfortable with change as she is, is just one example of the way that this film is able to raise profound issues in a way that resonates but is never heavy-handed or distracting. And the way T’Challa responds to being teased like the admonition not to freeze, helps to humanize the brilliant, brave, handsome, wealthy, powerful superhero.

T’Challa wants to continue to keep Wakanda away from the troubles of the rest of the world. Nakia tells him that they are obligated to share what they have to help protect others. She says, “I can’t be happy here knowing there are people out there who have nothing.” Of course, they are both right, and this conflict is reflected throughout the film in a way that is remarkably nuanced and thoughtful, not just for a superhero movie but in any context.

As I have often said, superhero movies depend more on the villain than the hero, and this one has one of the all-time greats. Michael B. Jordan, who starred in Coogler’s two previous films, “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” is nothing less than mesmerizing here, playing a man who represents the “other” to T’Challa, but who is connected to him as well. The film touches lightly but with insight on the difference between being an African, raised in a country where everyone is black and unqualifiedly patriotic, if insular, and being an African-American, deeply conflicted about the relationship with “home,” but better able to understand the plight of others. It touches on other vital contemporary issues like refugees and radicalization and it is all completely organic to the story.

And it is a full-on superhero movie, with a wild chase through an Asian city some very cool stunts, and a huge climactic fight scene involving a massive battle and at least two different modes of transportation, not including the battle rhinos. Yes, I said battle rhinos. I know, right?

The supporting cast includes an outstanding Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”), a rare on-screen appearance by motion-capture master Andy Serkis with his Tolkien co-star Martin Freeman as a CIA agent, Forest Whitaker as a priest, Winston Duke as the leader of on of Wakanda’s five tribes, and “This is Us” star Sterling K. Brown as a guy you’re better off not knowing too much about until you see the movie, which I hope you do, more than once. You’ll want to be a part of Wakanda, too.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive comic book-style action violence with many characters injured and killed, guns, spears, hand-to-hand combat, chases, explosions, and some strong language.

Family discussion: If T’Challa and Erik had grown up in each other’s environments, how would they be different? How should Wakanda resolve the conflict between tradition and innovation? Is it true that it is hard for a good man to be a good king? Why?

If you like this, try: the Black Panther comics and the Avengers movies

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Chi-Raq

Posted on December 3, 2015 at 3:37 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, nudity, language, some violence and drug use
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: A theme of the film is gang-related violence, guns, shooting, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Race and gender issues are the theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 4, 2015
Date Released to DVD: January 25, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B017W1P79I

“WAKE UP!” Laurence Fishburne pleads at the end of Spike Lee’s incendiary movie, “School Daze,” not just one of Lee’s best films but one of the most important films of the 1980’s. He was not talking to his fellow students. He was not talking to the camera. He was talking to us in the audience. He was telling all of us to rise above fear and petty differences — and fear of petty differences and stop hurting each other.

Copyright Amazon 2015
Copyright Amazon 2015

That message is even more urgent now, and so “Chi-Raq” is an even more powerful call for all of us to wake up, and it is Lee’s best non-documentary film in many years. It is more than a film; it is an anguished wail of grief and fury and the most important film of 2015.

We call the great Illinois city on the shores of Lake Michigan Chicago, but as the opening lines of the movie explain, for the residents of a South Side community with more violent deaths than the US military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is Chi-Raq. In the film a little girl is killed by a stray bullet in a gang-related shooting. She is collateral damage. The week I saw the film, there was a funeral in the very community where it is set for a nine-year-old boy who was a deliberate murder target as an act of reprisal against his father. Even the ultimate symbol of Chicago gangster violence, Al Capone, never went that far. This is not a documentary and the mode of storytelling here is heightened, but there can be no credible claims that what it portrays is unfair or exaggerated.

They feel completely isolated from any kind of help from the outside. Businesses are afraid to come into their community, so there are not jobs or services. The government does not help. The newspapers do not tell their story. Their news is reported by rappers, and in a sensationally dynamic scene in a club a rapper known as Chi-Raq (a fierce Nick Cannon) tells the truth about what they see all around them.

Lee, working with co-screenwriter Kevin Willmott, brilliantly positions this vitally contemporary story as an updated version of a play written in 411 BC, “Lysistrata,” by Aristophanes. Just as the savvy strategist of almost 25 centuries ago plotted with the other women of her community to bring an end to the Peloponnesian War by withholding sexual favors from all of the men, “Chi-Raq’s” Lysistrata (a sizzling performance by “Mad Men’s” Teyonah Parris) sits down with the women from the opposing gang (to continue the classical themes, the gangs are the Trojans and the Spartans) to get them to pledge that there will be no loving until there is no more shooting. The heightened classical overtones include a narrator/chorus who has a Greek-sounding name Dolmedes — inspired by the Blaxploitation hero Dolemite and played by Samuel L. Jackson in a series of natty, brightly colored suits. And then there is the dialog, all in verse, somewhere between rap and iambic pentameter, which actually have a pretty broad overlap.

Lee makes it clear that this is a widespread, even universal problem as women around the world join forces with Lysistrata. And no one escapes responsibility for the carnage, with a searing climax of tragedy and redemption. We see a mother (Jennifer Hudson) scrubbing her little girl’s blood off the street. We see people tweeting the details of a shooting as it happens. Lysistrata is inspired not just by her namesake but by the real-life Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who brought the Christian and Moslem women of Liberia together to stop the fighting in their country. Lee is very clear about who is to blame and who is responsible for making it better: all of us.

And when we see mothers holding pictures of their children killed by guns, we are seeing real mothers, holding pictures of their real children. All of the flash, music, sex, and spectacle are balanced with moments of intimacy, connection, and poignancy, and all are anchored in Lee’s passion for his community. That reality makes this a rare movie that can change the conversation.

Parents should know that this film features gang-related and other violence with tragic outcomes including characters injured and killed, explicit sexual references and situations with nudity, smoking, drinking, and drug use.

Family discussion: What is the best way for the community, the government, and business to stop gang-related violence? How can a movie like this make a difference?

If you like this, try: “School Days,” “Do the Right Thing,” and “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and read “Lysistrata”

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The New Yorker’s Actress Profiles: Tilda Swinton, Angela Bassett, Katharine Hepburn, and More

Posted on May 29, 2015 at 8:00 am

The New Yorker has created a section with some of its best profiles of actresses, including Angela Bassett, Julia Roberts, Diane Keaton, Tilda Swinton, and Katharine Hepburn. They are a treat to read and will inspire you to check out or revisit some of their classic performances.

Anthony Lane on Julia Roberts in 2001: “The essence of Julia Roberts’s appeal is that she is more lovable than desirable, and that, even when love is off the menu, she cannot not be liked. There is no more flattering illusion in movies: here is a goddess, and she wants to be your friend.”

Claudia Roth Pierpont on Katharine Hepburn in 2003: “With her starved, whippetlike grace and overbearing intensity, Katharine Hepburn appeared slightly mad. But the same characteristics also made her seem a distinctly new type of woman, poised between the nervy and the nervously overwrought.”

Hilton Als on Angela Bassett in 1996: “While she has yet to account for a film’s financial success, her dignified, alert, and earnestly emotive screen presence does generate audience sympathy. And she appeals especially to that segment of the moviegoing public (black women, white housewives, lesbians, and married men) who are not just fetishizing her striking upper-body musculature but are responding to the subtext of her performances—a subtext that includes her struggle to reinvent Hollywood’s view of black women as something other than wisecracking or doleful martyrs, their hair stiff with brilliantine and the funk of subjugation.”

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