Black Panther

Black Panther

Posted on February 15, 2018 at 6:38 pm

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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3D Action/Adventure DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy Race and Diversity Scene After the Credits Scene After the Credits Science-Fiction Series/Sequel Superhero


Posted on November 24, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense sports violence (boxing), illness and disability
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 25, 2015
Date Released to DVD: March 7, 2016 ASIN: B019EEK7ZA
Copyright Warner Brothers 2015
Copyright Warner Brothers 2015

Rocky had to find the eye of the tiger. When we first met him back in 1976, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) was an amiable, good-hearted lug who loved his pet turtles, Cuff and Link, and if he ever saw himself getting into the ring with champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he could only imagine it would be as a sparring partner. His aspiration was not to get his nose broken and go the distance. Over the course of six films, he took on ever-more daunting opponents, so we could always think of him as the underdog. In the first film, he had the advantage of surprise. Creed assumed he could easily defeat the unknown fighter. Rocky did go the distance (and did get his nose broken), and lost in a split decision. In the second film, Creed knew what to expect and his pride was on the line. This time, it was Rocky who got soft after his fame and success. He had to get hungry and learn to be a fighter again. Rocky faced — and defeated — a champion at the top of his game.

Rocky went on to fight ever-more terrifying foes: Clubber Lang (Mr. T) who was not the decent, honorable guy that Creed was, and then the steroid Soviet man-machine Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). In the last two films, Rocky struggled with the killer knock-out punch that we all face — old age. His trainer Mickey and his wife Adrian have died. He still wants to go the distance, but now it does not seem so distant any more.

And now here is another fighter looking for a title shot. We first meet young Adonis Johnson (called Donny) in juvie, where we learn that he just can’t stop fighting. Eye of the tiger is not his problem. It is taming the tiger he has to work on.

Apollo Creed’s widow Mary Anne (dignified but warm-hearted Phylicia Rashad) is willing to give him a home. Donny’s father was Apollo Creed. His mother is dead. Mary Anne has decided to raise him. And she has no intention of letting him become a fighter.

Donny (charismatic Michael B. Jordan) is doing well in his office job, but there is something in him that just needs to punch people. So he leaves Mary Anne working in an office and he seeks out Rocky as a trainer. Rocky does not want to train anyone (see Tommy Morrison in #5). He just wants to miss Adrian in the restaurant he named for her. But this would not be a Rocky movie if Rocky didn’t go back to the gym, and pretty soon that training montage starts up. Gosh darn if it doesn’t still work, especially when that Rocky theme starts filtering through.

Pretty soon there’s a pretty girl, of course, Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson (“Dear White People” and if you haven’t seen it, please do so now). I loved this character for many reasons, primarily because she never took the “oh, don’t fight, you’ll get hurt” role (that is left to Rashad), and because she plays a character who embraces life so fully that she responds to a progressive hearing loss by devoting herself to her passion for creating music while she can. It is genuinely moving to see a disabled character in a film who is not defined by disability. Bianca is a strong, confident, passionate woman and Thompson plays the role beautifully in every sense of the word. Plus, she and Jordan have some sizzling chemistry.

This next chapter (apparently the beginning of a new series) goes the distance. Jordan, thankfully far from the catastrophically awful “Fantastic Four,” is back with writer/director Ryan Coogler. Their last film together, “Fruitvale Station,” was one of the best movies of 2013. As they did in that film, they have created a character who is complex, layered, trying to understand his past and not sure whether he can move on from it. Jordan can hold the screen with as much star power as any young actor in Hollywood today. He and Coogler are true to the Rocky tradition without being trapped by history. Yes, they go back to the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And yes, you will tear up when they do.

Parents should know that this film includes intense scenes of boxing with graphic injuries, strong language, sexual references and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Adonis want to use his father’s name? What changed his mind? What would you do if you had Bianca’s health challenges?

If you like this, try: the “Rocky” movies and “Southpaw”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Series/Sequel Sports
Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four

Posted on August 6, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

Three things a superhero movie should not be: dreary, dull, and tedious. Three things this movie is: see if you can guess. I am a huge fan of the comic book series Fantastic Four, which I first read as a teenager, ready for something with a little more edge and attitude than my beloved Superman. I have suffered through previous efforts to make their stories work on film, and dared to hope that this one would be better. It is awful in every category. The script is terrible, wasting much too much time on a revamped origin story that goes back to 5th grade(!) and the high school science fair(!) and still does not tell us anything interesting about the characters or how they got their powers. The characters are dull and all seem to be acting in separate bell jars, with no indication that there is another human being in the scene. Even when they are supposed to be friends, siblings, parent and child, or possible romantic partners, they act as though the other person was a tennis ball hanging in front of a green screen.

People who are supposed to be super-smart do things that are super-stupid. Like constantly. One thing scientists understand very well is that empirical data matters. So when things go terribly wrong when you try something, what’s the deal with doing the same thing again without taking any new steps to prevent further disasters? And Reed Richards’ only complaint is that the new pod is not as pretty as the old one and needs ten minutes of corrections to the code?

The dialog is filled with appalling clunkers like, “Do you ever think about what would have happened if you never came to the science fair?” “We cannot change the past. But we can change the future.” It even has locker-room style pep talks like, “He’s too much for each of us, but if we all work together we can beat him!” And many of the comments are just pointless and there are developments that have no logic of character or plot, indicating that the movie was even worse at some point and was cut like someone was slicing the bruises off a banana. The special effects look like they were created on Fiverr. The action scenes are muddy and static. At just over 90 minutes, it still feels endless.

And another boneheaded decision: while the comic book characters are adults, somebody decided to age them down into teenagers for this version so we could add in some adolescent angst, a love triangle that is about at the level of who will ask Sue to the prom, and, I am not making this up (I wish I were), the whole superpower thing happens because those darn kids get drunk one night and take the dimensional traveling machine thing out for a tipsy joyride. Think “Fantastic Four 90210.” We’ll have fun, fun, fun ’til Daddy takes the dimensional traveling pod away!

And what is the number one requirement for a superhero movie? A great villain. No such luck here. The bad guy is just a moody misfit who likes the same girl as the other guy and just might blow up the planet over it. And somehow when he’s abandoned for a period of time in another dimension on what looks like another planet with no life forms of any kind, somehow he manages to eat enough to stay alive AND come away with a really cool new cape and hood, sewn for him I guess by little elves? And unless Sue Storm’s new powers include hairstyle changes, the continuity people on this film have some ‘splaining to do.

There is a legendary Fantastic Four movie, available only on bootleg, made in 1994 as an “ashcan” film, not intended for release, just to preserve the studio’s rights to the characters. My bet is that it is better than this version. There is no bad guy in the history of the characters who has inflicted as much damage on the F4 as this sorry, soggy mess. (Thankfully, the plans for the sequel have been scrapped.)

Parents should know this film features extended sci-fi/comic-book peril and violence, some disturbing images of characters getting fried and exploding, parental death, domestic violence, some strong language, and drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: Why did Reed run away? How are Reed and Victor alike?

If you like this, try: “The Avengers” and “Iron Man” and the Fantastic Four comics, especially those featuring Galactus

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Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Remake Science-Fiction Superhero
Trailer: “Creed,” a New Chapter in the “Rocky” Saga

Trailer: “Creed,” a New Chapter in the “Rocky” Saga

Posted on July 18, 2015 at 8:00 am

In Rocky, Sylvester Stallone played the title character, who got a one-in-a-million chance to fight the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). In this film, Rocky is training the son of Apollo Creed, played by one of my favorite young actors, Michael B. Jordan.

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Series/Sequel Sports Trailers, Previews, and Clips

That Awkward Moment

Posted on January 30, 2014 at 6:00 pm

that awkward moment

A cast of exceptionally appealing performers and some very funny lines are not enough to make this raunchy comedy overcome its essential charmlessness.  At its heart, it wants to be a romantic comedy, a chick flick from the perspective of the guys.  But even Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan cannot make us wish these guys on anyone, and especially not on Ellie (Imogen Poots) and Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis).

Best bros/ladykillers Jason (Efron), Daniel (Teller), and Mikey (“Fruitvale Station” breakout Michael B. Jordan) make a pledge to avoid entanglements of the romantic kind and devote themselves to a “roster” of willing lovelies, kicking to the curb any woman who has the temerity to start a sentence with “So.”  “So,” it seems, never leads to anything good.  It is always the precursor to some version of “where do you think this is going?”  If it is supposed to be endearing that Jason’s response to a “So” conversation from a woman he has been having sex with for six weeks is an internal “I didn’t know we were dating” while he comforts her with a variation of “It’s not you, it’s me,” it fails to persuade us.  “I’m not even close to the guy you need, the guy you deserve,” he comforts her as he escorts her to the door.

Brief interruption for an important message: Guys, if you sleep with someone, it is likely that she thinks you’re in a relationship.  Ladies, unless you don’t care whether you’re in a relationship or not, don’t sleep with him until you have a relationship first.  And if you are looking for someone who has a bed frame and does not drink coffee from a cereal bowl, then check those things out before you go to bed with him.

Mikey gets dumped by his wife, who tells him she is having mind-blowing sex with her lawyer, who, according to Mikey, looks like Morris Chestnut.  A repeated joke that white people do not know who Morris Chestnut is will not make sense to those who are fans of the handsome actor or those who do not know his work.

Jason and Daniel, who work together illustrating book covers, decide that the best way to comfort the devastated Mikey is to make a promise that they will sleep with a lot of women and not get emotionally entangled.  As has been true ever since before Shakespeare, this pledge is always immediately followed by meeting an irresistible woman.

Daniel has been relying on his gal pal Chelsea to act as his wingwoman, though her role is limited to some mild banter interspersed  with the highly unoriginal tactic of complimenting pretty women’s shoes and then turning her over to Daniel with some outrageous lie intended to capture their interest and sympathy (“he’s a virgin”).

Jason meets a smart, pretty girl named Ellie at a bar, has sex with her, and then concludes, based on the flimsiest of evidence, that she is a hooker (his term), despite the fact that she didn’t make any effort to negotiate payment.  So, he dashes out while she is asleep, only to find, in a highly unoriginal “Top Gun”/”Grey’s Anatomy” twist, that she is a client of his firm and he is supposed to impress her.

And Mikey tells the guys he is pursuing a girl he met in the bar, but in reality he is pursuing the wife who asked him for a divorce.

The ups and downs of these relationships are thin at best and most often icky and crass.  Another plot development seems lifted from the vastly superior “High Fidelity.” And another asks us to find theft and deception endearing.  The female characters are underwritten male fantasies — easily seduced, easily placated, undemanding, and with mad Xbox skillz.  Even the big public apology that is the very hallmark of a chick flick is unimpressive.  What people seem to miss is that if a raunchy comedy is supposed to be romantic, the worst of the raunch has to be by proxy with the least sympathetic character, as in “American Pie.”  This movie is not even close to the one we need, the one we deserve.

Parents should know that this movie is extremely raunchy, with explicit sexual references and situations, some graphic images, and brief pharmaceutical abuse.

Family discussion: What scares Jason about the “so” sentences? Why were the guys afraid to tell each other the truth? Why did Chelsea spend so long acting as wing woman?

If you like this, try: “Going the Distance” with Drew Barrymore and Justin Long

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Comedy Romance
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