‘Black Panther’: Erik Killmonger Is a Profound, Tragic Villain

Adam Serwer—The Atlantic:

Where was Wakanda? Wakanda failed. Killmonger was right. He is blinded by his pain to the evil of his own methods, but he is correct that Wakanda abandoned its responsibility to use its unmatched power to protect black people around the world. They could have stopped the endless march of souls into The Void. They did not.

Terrific deep dive into Black Panther’s internal politics by Adam Serwer. I’m still not convinced of the wisdom of laying blame for centuries of black African subjugation at the feet of an African kingdom, even a fictional one, but the story was powerful despite this jarring detail and well dissected by Serwer.

If you liked the film for more than its spectacle, you’ll enjoy this read.

#BlackPanther #Killmonger #Wakanda #T’Challa

How Superhero Movies Became Escapist Fun Again

Christopher Orr—The Atlantic:

we appear to be in the midst of a new, and altogether different, shift in the genre—you might even call it a backlash—which may well provide a more sustainable model for superhero movies to come. As the saying goes: first time tragedy, second time farce. Experiments in supercomedy are taking place with increasing frequency, and meeting with considerable success. The various studios currently churning out stories of flying heroes and masked vigilantes are at different points in their evolution from drama to comedy. But in the steadily growing genre, they are all trending in that direction.

Not all. Black Panther, though not without its humorous moments, was no Deadpool, or even a Thor: Ragnarok.

That said, these screenplays appear to come in two variants; high-brow a la the Dark Knight trilogy and its like, and low-brow: Deadpool, Suicide Squad, and arguably Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel. Check that. Deadpool was basically no-brow.

How the viewer responds is a function of whether he or she drank the Cool-Aid, in which case all are near-equally terrific, or has a taste for one of the brows. Sometimes there’s a pleasant surprise for fans of the more grim variety of superhero story, like Ant-Man and Guardians.

Color me high-brow. I’d rather one epic Dark Knight trilogy and no more comic-world films than suffer through stories trending toward potty humor for audience titillation.

If you’re a comics-derived film fan, this article was a good read on the state of the industry, regardless of how you take your humor.


∴ Black Panther

Movie poster for Black PantherMy group of friends went to the debut showing of Black Panther last night. It’s been one of the most anticipated films of 2018, and the first stand-alone comic genre film featuring not only a black lead, but a mostly black cast. Initial reviews of the film have been very positive.

I’d been looking forward to last night for two years, since the Black Panther character was revealed. Some folks have been waiting for last night much longer.

There is one specific spoiler in this article, so if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know what’s in it, stop reading now.

Overall, Black Panther turned out to be a good film, but not great. The acting, story, costuming, music, and effects were very good. The direction, though, meandered. A two-and-a-quarter-hour run time felt like three, yet I wondered more than once how co-writer and director Ryan Coogler could bring the story to a close before the end credits, right up until it was actually over. Though the film possesses plenty of action scenes, and these are among the best scenes in the film, it feels less like an action flick and more like straight drama. And many of the dramatic scenes go on.

That’s a minor quibble, though. Superhero films are rarely of Academy Award level stature. Where this film shines is in its depiction of a proud, advanced culture bearing technologies and social mores beyond our own, peopled entirely by African black men and women. The story incorporates more than enough empowered women and positivity to overcome sluggish direction. It was, if nothing else, a good story well-acted and well-photographed.


One thematic element bugged me, though. I’ve since come to a reasonably positive conclusion about it, but I was stunned when it joined the overall theme of empowerment, and still wonder about its placement in what is otherwise a very ethnic-positive character story.

In a flashback it’s revealed that T’Chaka, the now-dead king of Wakanda, left behind a nephew in America after killing his brother, N’Jobu. It’d been discovered that N’Jobu had stolen Wakanda’s precious vibranium, and planned selling it to arm people of color with this powerful weapon, helping them fight oppression.

Since this scene was set in 1992 Oakland, California, and all of the characters are black, we know the referenced oppression was American racism. Later reference was made to the “two billion people who looked like us,” so the underlying theme is both contemporary and historical global oppression of people of color.

In order to keep their kingdom and its advanced, vibranium-based technology and culture secret from western colonialists, Wakandans had long portrayed theirs as a poor, third-world African country. The king would tolerate no-one violating that defense. N’Jobu dies.

N’Jobu’s son, N’Jadaka, grows up to become a US soldier, and later an elite, mercenary-like CIA paramilitary known as Killmonger. His life goal becomes reaching back to the culture responsible for his father’s death and his own abandonment, and further, the abandonment of people of color around the world. He aims to continue what his father set out to do: arm the oppressed.

Killmonger lays blame for the toleration of oppression at the feet of Wakanda, the fictional African nation that could have stopped it; this film’s screenwriting therefore blames the continued oppression of blacks on … fictional black Africans.

My mind boggled at that, to the degree that I was pulled out of my storytelling-induced state of disbelief and out of the film entirely for a few minutes, thinking it over.

Film critic Eric Willis puts the ensuing confrontation between T’Challa and Killmonger well at The Movie Waffler:

Of course, this is the origin story of how Black Panther realises the error of his society’s narcissistic ways, but we’re left to ask the uncomfortable question of why it took this long. Assuming the Wakandans refused to intervene during the AIDS and famine crises that rocked their continent makes it incredibly difficult not to fall in line with Stevens [Killmonger], who plans to take over Wakanda and use its technology to actually better the lot of the African diaspora.

My thought during the drive home was that this played like a white guy’s idea of a black superhero origin story: blame the victim, then have him make amends. In doing so he is cleansed of his sins. That clash of fiction and reality would be, of course, an utter betrayal of basically every black and brown person walking the Earth, if only a fictional one.

Why would Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole, both black, incorporate such an element in what is entirely a story about strong, smart, empowered people of color? Even if this thematic device were “true to the comic,” as defense of the occasionally indefensible usually goes, why carry it on?

On my way into work next morning, I recalled that the story had ended on a very positive note. T’Challa, the new Wakandan king and son of T’Chaka, begins revealing Wakanda, its people, technology, and culture to the world. That’s when I made the connection between “the blame” in mid-story and T’Challa’s eventual response which will, presumably, help lift people of color out of oppression and poverty.

That ties up in a neat bow Wakanda’s change of heart, redeeming T’Chaka’s egregious error. The story comes clean in the end and T’Challa is revealed as a wise king, after all.

Still, the scripted lines about Wakandans hiding from and ignoring two billion people who “looked like us” spoken by a strong black character are jarring. It appears a road the story simultaneously had to go down—how else to explain an unknown Earthly culture so alien-like in its advancement—and shouldn’t go down. Do we really need to hear continued oppression of people of color blamed on other people of color for the sake of entertainment?

The cognitive dissonance remains uncomfortable. It’d play better, and truer, if Wakandans were white. But then it wouldn’t be Black Panther.

#BlackPanther #T’Challa #T’Chaka #N’Jobu #N’Jadaka #Killmonger #MCU #Marvel

‘Black Panther’: It’s Exhilarating, Groundbreaking and More Than Worth the Wait

Ann Hornaday—The Washington Post:

“Black Panther” may be grounded in the loops, beats, rhymes and hooks of contemporary film grammar, but it feels like a whole new language.

Feels like, but is not. The language is ancient, not of this continent, and four centuries overdue. Somehow, Ryan Coogler has managed to weave this story together with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther has “epic” written all over it.

Glad I snagged my opening-night ticket two weeks ago. I’ve not been this excited about a forthcoming, novel film since, well, ever.

#BlackPanther #MCU #Marvel

Blade Runner 2049’s Director Thinks he Knows Why it Didn’t Score a Best Picture Nomination

Alex McLevy—AVClub:

Villeneuve wasn’t complaining about the snub, to be clear. He was understandably proud of the film’s five nominations for technical achievements and cinematography (which, holy hell, Roger Deakins deserves a Oscar at the very least for his work), but expressed regret that Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch didn’t receive a nomination for the soundtrack. “I think what [the composers] did for the movie, the score of the movie, was by far one of the best this year,” Villeneuve said.

At least Roger Deakins is up for an Oscar, for his cinematography. Blade Runner 2049 was stunningly shot.

That said, the Academy Awards nominating process has been for shit for years. Far more relevant are the Critics’s Choice Awards, nominated and awarded by people who make a living doing professional criticism of the finished product.

How much bias (of all kinds; recall #OscarsSoWhite) goes into the nominating and awarding process for the Academy Awards, some of it conditioned into the voters? When you’re casting a vote for a movie or actor, how easy is it to lean toward your friends and favored genres, let alone do the lazy thing and vote according to box office returns?

I don’t know that this happened in Blade Runner’s case, but there’s a glaring single point of failure in the Academy’s process that diminishes their credibility.

#AcademyAwards #CriticsChoiceAwards #BladeRunner2049

AVClub: Blade Runner 2049 Brought Humanity to Today’s Most Artificial Movie Gimmick

There’s a scene near the end of Blade Runner 2049 where Rachael, who was played by Sean Young in the Blade Runner of 1982, walks out of the dark and back into Rick Deckard’s life, if briefly. The visual is stunning. It’s her, and yet it can’t be her. Rachael is dead, and Sean Young is thirty-five years older. Yet a near-perfect replica of that original character is walking and talking in that scene.

During my fourth time through the film this past weekend, I paused to freeze Rachael at the moment she approached Deckard closest and spoke to him. We took a long, close look at her image. Kelly mentioned CGI, but I wondered if it was a different, very similar-looking actress. IMDb gave us a small clue, crediting Loren Peta as “Rachael Performance Double.”

It turns out we were both correct. Here’s how Peta became a near-replica of Sean Young’s Rachael:

Sean O’Neal — AVClub:

Getting Rachael’s two minutes of screen time exactly right required an entire year of work from visual effects supervisor John Nelson, as well as the participation of both Young and her stand-in, British actress Loren Peta. Young, who leveraged her appearance into a production job for her son, was able to be present on set while still maintaining some outward secrecy while Peta acted opposite Ford and Leto, even helping the hairstylist recreate Rachael’s retro-’40s coif. Later, both actresses spent a day performing Rachael’s lines in facial capture rigs for the visual effects studio MPC, who also took a scan of Young’s head and used it to create an anatomically correct 3-D skull. (You can see photos of it in IndieWire, in case you don’t want to sleep tonight.) From there the team went back to pure hand animation in order to flesh out everything about Young’s memorable makeup and mannerisms, copying her sly smile and the subtle raise of her eyebrows, and even inserted three digital recreations of shots from the original film to make it all seamless. It also added some genuine flyaway hairs, for that authentic Replicant feel.

Four times through, the effect is still mesmerizing.

#BladeRunner2049 #film #CGI

AVClub: The Last Jedi’s Best Moment vs. Fanboy Ire

William Hughes – AVClub:

the truth that Johnson teases out of Rey and Ren’s heart-to-heart carries neither Lucas nor Abrams’ fingerprints; is, in fact, a pretty glaring “Fuck you” to the storytelling styles of both of Rey’s off-screen daddies. As Ben says—and, as a dazzling bit of mirrored surrealism earlier in the film hints, Rey has always, on some level, known—she’s really just a nobody, parentally speaking. No secret lineage, none of Lucas’ love of monomythic, Harry Potter-style “unknown king growing up in the wilderness” tropes. No deeper Abrams-esque mystery. Just Occam’s Lightsaber, chopping through the bullshit, and leaving a powerful young woman with no lingering, grasping connections to the wider Star Wars universe.

This was a powerful scene, without precedent in any Star Wars film: the hero and villain having established a dialog spanning the film to this point briefly acted together, saving themselves. In the process of disagreeing to work together further they destroy Luke Skywalker’s blue lightsaber.

Rather than sitting through an elaborate exposition about who Snoke is, we saw him cut in half. Bye-bye.

We learn that Rey’s parents were, like almost everyone else in the galaxy, nobodies.

In the waning moment of the film, a stableboy is seen using the Force to sweep the floor.

This diminution of the Star Wars/Force magic is likely what has the fanboys’ panties in a twist. Well, suck it. It made for great story telling, just not the story they wanted to see.

As my pal Neal has written, Rian Johnson’s direction was likely not a “fuck you” to Abrams or Lucas. Both are reported to have loved the new film, as did I.

#StarWars #TheLastJedi #Rey #Ren #RianJohnson #controversy

∴ Star Wars: The Last Jedi

*NO spoilers*

The Last Jedi is still rattling around my mind today. That’s always the mark of a great movie. Holy mackerel, it was more fun than any previous Star Wars film.

Sure, there were recognizable character-types (is Rey becoming Luke, or Han?), and the plot, though more complex this time, was familiar. Never-the-less I was transfixed for the film’s entire two hour, thirty-two-minute run time.

Three quibbles: why do bombers move so slowly in space, when everything else moves at the speed of heat? And why do their bombs fall as if in gravity? And why does every stupefyingly huge weapons platform have a vulnerable spot? These almost pulled me out of my suspended disbelief early on.

Stick around through the end credits for a brief tribute matte to Carrie Fisher. BTW, though they couldn’t have known it would be her last-ever when shooting the film, you’ll know her final scene is at hand near the end of the film. It just has that sort of feel. 

And watch Luke’s feet in that scene. Feet.

I wasn’t as gobsmacked today as I was the day after Blade Runner 2049, but I’ll call 2017 a success for giving me two movies to watch over and over. Well, three. Wonder Woman was great, too.


#StarWars #TheLastJedi

Aston Martin’s DB11 Looks Like a Million Bucks, Only Costs a Quarter of That

Jonathan M. Gitlin – Ars Technica:

To the casual observer, Aston Martin cars might all look the same. A long hood. Voluptuous curves over the wheels. That iconic grille. It’s a design language that you can trace back through the decades to the 1950s.

Sixty years later that formula is still being obeyed, but it would be a mistake to think that makes this car—the DB11—an anachronism. Underneath its gorgeous aluminum and composite body panels is the most technologically advanced machine yet to wear the winged badge. It’s the first all-new Aston Martin in years, and race-bred aerodynamics, a clever twin-turbo V12 engine, and some 21st century electronics knowhow (courtesy of Mercedes-Benz) come together to create a gran turismo that’s as much PhD as 007. Over the course of a week and several hundred miles, I came away with the impression that if this car represents the future of the marque, that future will be rosy indeed.

Aston Martin DB11

What a beautiful automobile. It can be yours for a paltry $250k. Its sister vehicle, the Vantage, is more powerful and faster, but lacks the refinement of this gran tourismo model.

I can dream.

(photo by Aston Martin)

#AstonMartin #DB11 #granTourismo

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune Won’t be Anything Like David Lynch’s Version

Sam Barsanti – AVClub:

Speaking with Yahoo! Movies on Facebook (via IndieWire), Villeneuve explained that he has “massive respect” for David Lynch and that he was impressed by Lynch’s Dune and its “very strong qualities,” but it’s not the adaptation he has “dreamed of.” So, rather than acknowledge the other film at all, he’s going to go “back to the book” and resurrect the images that he created in his head when he first read it. Basically, it sounds like Villeneuve is politely saying that he wasn’t crazy about Lynch’s movie—which is hardly a controversial stance—and he’s going to make something that’s both more faithful to the book and more faithful to his own imagination.

I’m very glad to read this.

I loved Frank Herbert’s Dune, going as far as three books into the series before realizing it had turned into a soap opera. The first book, though, was mesmerizing, and my first experience with modern science fiction writing when I read it.

I did not love David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune. Admittedly it’s a difficult book to put on the big screen. So much of it takes place in Paul’s head as he lives through the story. How do you make a movie of what’s essentially the lead character’s inner dialog?

Denis Villeneuve’s been on a roll lately, directing two of what’ve become personal favorites – Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. His vision for those films clicks with me. They still resonate weeks and months after my last viewing. Here’s hoping his vision for Dune, informed by the novel’s text, is just as satisfyingly intelligent and engrossing.

#BladeRunner2049 #Arrival #Dune #DenisVilleneuve #FrankHerbert #DavidLynch