Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Sun Dec 24, 2017 8:58 am

The Post - The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to free speech and a free press. In 2017 that right is under attack more than it has ever been, with a President who routinely lies and refers to all criticism as "fake news." President Nixon too threatened the right of a free press, threatening the New York Times in court when, in 1971, they published articles based on the Pentagon Papers, an enormous top-secret historial report looking over America's role in the Vietnam conflict, and our military presence in Southeast Asia from WWII on to 1968.

The Post is Steven Spielberg's drama set at the Washington Post, as owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) must decide whether to publish excerpts from the Papers after the New York Times has already been threatened. The Post was considered a much less important paper at the time, and had just gone public at the stock market. This was a big risk at a time when investors could still have pulled out. The Post could have lost everything. Meanwhile both Graham and Bradlee were well connected - both had been friendly with the government for years, and the film plays up Streep's friendship with Robert McNamara himself (Bruce Greenwood). There was immense pressure against the Post not to publish. Directed with fast-paced, rattling speed and intensity, Spielberg's film argues that freedom of the press was at risk of vanishing entirely at this moment, and that Graham and Bradlee sticking to their guns made all the difference.

That may be true. And it may be true that in 2017 this is an important film to release, and an important lesson to put out there. It's certainly a very good film, although it's also yet another celebration of what that generation achieved, at a time, in 2017, when it's increasingly clear that nothing was achieved at all in the long run. The right to a free press that The Post fought for is on life support in the age of Trump, who intends to reduce the press to pro-Trump propaganda. And the generation that protested the Vietnam War wound up voting for politicians who have made it impossible for young people now to enjoy the prosperity that previous generations took for granted. Young people today face hopeless debt and poverty, and newspapers like The Washington Post don't mean much to voters on the right and left who have already made up their minds. You can take this film as inspirational - it shows the importance of the press, and it should show those in charge of our news sources that they should stand up and have the courage of their convictions. Then again, the executives in charge of our news sources are often the problem. As another victory lap for those who lived through Watergate, it's a little hollow. But it's still an important film.

It ends with a quick glimpse of what came next - Watergate - like a superhero film teasing the next installment. The film implies that if they hadn't fought to publish the Pentagon Papers articles it would have been harder to cover Watergate.

Tom Hanks affects a gruff voice as Ben Bradlee. Hanks is otherwise very solid but hearing that voice come out of him makes him seem like more of a cartoon character than usual. Bradlee is also the subject of a documentary film this year, "The Newspaperman." Perhaps that influenced the decision to not simply play the role as "Tom Hanks," but it's a distracting choice. Spielberg and Hanks now have a very long track record together, including Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, and Bridge of Spies. There's not a misstep among those films and this is no different.

This film is, charmingly, dedicated to the late filmmaker Nora Ephron. Hanks and Spielberg were involved in Jacob Bernstein's 2015 documentary about his mother, Ephron, "Everything is Copy." Ephron was Ben Bradlee's neighbor at Grey Gardens and was married, for a time, to Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate story at The Post. This inspired Ephron's film Heartburn, with Meryl Streep in the Ephron role.

And The Post is really Meryl Streep's film. She affects an upper-class accent as Kay Graham, but otherwise finds layers in Graham, who the film portrays as an outsider in a man's world. She's surrounded by men like Bradley Whitford's Arthur Parsons and Tracey Letts' Fritz Beebe who would prefer to speak for her, and consult on her every decision. It takes Graham time to find her own voice, when she's under intense pressure to play it safe and not let the Post publish anything that could send them to court, or jail. She is so upper-class that there's something alien about her, but 90% of the performance is very emotive and human.

Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) plays the late reporter Ben Bagdikian, who tracks down source Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys). Odenkirk is predictably good and I'm surprised it wasn't a larger role. He attempts a mild Brooklyn accent and appears alongside his Mr. Show costar David Cross.

Other well-known good actors do solid work in small roles without making a huge impression. Sarah Paulson plays Bradlee's wife Tony, who reminds him what sort of pressure Kay Graham is under. Allison Brie plays Kay's daughter Lally, and the two talk over and around each other in a way that's unusual in a Hollywood film and shows real rapport. It's yet another in a long line of Allison Brie characters who are old-fashioned, upper-class or otherwise tightly-wound. Michael Stuhlbarg appears as New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal, and Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad) plays lawyer Roger Clark.

Typically for a Spielberg film, The Post features typically moody cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, a rousing score by John Williams, and film editing by Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar.

It feels like Spielberg was concerned that the subject matter might seem too dry and not exciting enough, so the film runs along with real pace and intensity like a spy thriller. Appropriate, as The Post and The Times were sent to court under the Espionage act. The Washington Post was not the paper that broke the Pentagon Papers story - the New York Times was - but telling it from the Post's point of view makes complete sense for this story. It's an old-fashioned news reporter movie, which never lets you lose sight of how important a moment in history this was, and how it led to larger developments later. Spielberg's direction is typically confident and lets key moments in Streep and Hanks' performances go unspoken - Kay's decision to publish, Kay and Ben's respect for one another. When Kay leaves the courtroom, she passes by a whole line of younger women who have been protesting for freedom of the press - a clear, wordless moment of female solidarity.

In 2017, it shouldn't be a huge statement to make a film about freedom of the press - one of our fundamental freedoms - but it is. And it's important to celebrate those who fought for that right in the Nixon era. Even if we realize how much freedom we've lost in the decades since. We have to fight harder now, while we still can.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Tue Dec 26, 2017 11:42 pm

In addition to Oscar screeners, now getting promotional booklets for certain films the studios are pushing hard. The Shape of Water one is very nice. The Three Billboards one leans too hard into the "red billboard" idea. The Post is on posterboard.

Quick recaps:

The Shape of Water: She has sex with the fish man. It's delightful.

Three Billboards: The characters are racist and/or prone to sudden violence and the director doesn't call them on it. It's so morally grey it comes across as unpredictable, which works in its favor.

The Post: A rousing, if cliched film about how courageous the Washington Post used to be, standing up to the White House (they now kiss Trump's butt on a daily basis). Tom Hanks does a voice but Streep is very good.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Wed Jan 03, 2018 7:42 am

https://vimeo.com/249369342

Sean Young recreated for Blade Runner 2049. When she speaks it looks odd, but this is high level work. Their tests recreating shots from the original Blade Runner show the quality of the work, for which Sean Young herself was scanned. Since technically the character isn't human I can forgive the tech here. (This was also the giveaway for the otherwise impressive ILM Tarkin in Rogue One - when he speaks, there's something too sharp, fast and labored about the mouth and eye work - it cuts like a knife. But it shows the state of the art in FX today. The "Apes" films don't have this problem as we're less used to seeing apes speak.)
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Sun Jan 07, 2018 10:35 pm

War For the Planet of Apes (2017) - I hadn't seen the two previous films in this series, and I found this one tough to get through. Very artful and technically impressive, but also boring and slow. I'd say nothing much happened, but this film does depict the demise of the human race as we know it. Your mileage may vary, and probably will, as these films are well regarded. And perhaps the previous films provide the necessary context to care more about these characters than I did, and tell us how the human race lost its way. We're never asked to sympathize with the humans in the film (apart from the child Nova), who are a military force about to destroy one another, with Woody Harrelson as their Colonel Kurtz figure. The film follows a group of intelligent apes imprisoned by the humans and trying to escape and survive. (It's a little silly that this series tries to be a direct prequel to the now quite dated and campy 1968 film.) Andy Serkis and Steve Zahn are very good as the voices and performance inspirations for the computer-animated Caesar and "Bad Ape." Nearly every shot in this film is a marvel of computer animation. Every shot is beautifully composed to be believable and realistic, and understated. It's a CGI blockbuster that wants to be an art film, and a serious film about war. It achieves that, and this subtle approach makes us believe in the film's world and treat it as entirely real rather than animated. It make us care about characters whose only dialogue is "ook ook ook." You'll care about Caesar's struggle to free his people and save his race. But I didn't care quite enough to stay interested in this film, or to finish it in one sitting. Your mileage may vary.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:37 pm

A Get Out parody about Get Out's own chances at the Oscars.

"I would have voted for you three times if I could."

"We're promoting it as a comedy."

Rose holding up the keys, except it's a Three Billboards DVD.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Fri Jan 12, 2018 8:04 am

Molly's Game - A solid if unremarkable effort from Aaron Sorkin and Jessica Chastain, worth watching but unlikely to stand out this Oscar season. Idris Elba and Kevin Costner command the screen in supporting roles. This is actually Aaron Sorkin's first work as a director, following twenty-five years as the acclaimed writer of The West Wing, Sports Night, A Few Good Men, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Newsroom and so on. Sorkin's work is famously wordy and he's prone to writing technical play-by-plays of what's happening, as if describing a sports event or news story. As director he doesn't embarrass himself or remake earlier work, and he keeps things moving at a fast enough pace. But there's something lacking here compared to - for example - David Fincher's work on The Social Network or Bennett Miller's on Moneyball. It's adequate as a film but often lacks that extra sense of character to elevate Sorkin's words beyond what's there on the page - or Molly Bloom's for that matter.

NOTE: I attended a small private screening at Soho House in West Hollywood (on Sunset). Aaron Sorkin and Jessica Chastain were present for Q&A and the reception afterward.

The film is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, Hollywood's "Poker Princess." Her controlling father (here played by Kevin Costner) pushes her to excellence as an Olympic-level skiier, until she "trips on a twig," shattering her dreams. She becomes an assistant to a fratboy real estate agent, and ends up running a high-stakes underground poker game for the rich and famous in L.A. and New York. She makes millions before being taken down by Russian and Italian mobsters, and by the FBI, who arrest her two years later, believing her to be a mob mastermind. Now penniless and needing a lawyer, she has written a gossipy memoir but refuses to name names that haven't already been named by others. Even so, her book is pretty dishy, involving big names like Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio. The film version only manages the likes of Joe Keery and Michael Cera, who appears to be playing Tobey Maguire, as a psychopath who plays poker because he likes to ruin lives. There's also the asshole agent (Jeremy Strong) who yells at her for buying cheaper bagels, and uses the N-word. Who he's meant to be, the film doesn't name names. (Darin Feinstein, apparently.) Stakes were high and in real life, one player lost $100 million in one night.

Molly, as played by Jessica Chastain, is brilliant, and underestimated, and builds her empire by outwitting a series of rich and powerful men. This should all be a lot more fun than it is, but the film largely lacks a sense of humor, preferring to describe events rather than spread sass, shade and gossip. We don't really get a sense that Molly is punching above her weight to outsmart big Hollywood or financial-industries heavies. For one thing, the likes of Michael Cera are younger than she is. Chastain is forty, playing Molly Bloom at ages between twenty and thirty-six - usually at around thirty. Twenty is a stretch, and Chastain may have felt self-conscious about playing younger, as there's a lightness to this performance which feels lightweight.

For a leading role, Chastain's performance is, for the most part, strangely flat and one-note. Most of this is due to Sorkin's script, which has Molly constantly narrating the story at a fast pace. The narration all sounds the same, without the passion of an acted scene, and it flavors the whole film like ketchup. It's an interesting story, and Chastain's narration conveys the sense of a driven overachiever who doesn't want to waste her time or yours. But there's no particular emotion to it, and it saps a certain sense of fun that the film needed.

The other issue, perhaps, is Chastain's many scenes with Idris Elba, as good-guy lawyer Charlie Jaffey, a fictionalized character. According to Sorkin, these scenes were shot early on, one after the other. The actors got through a long seven-to-nine-page dialogue scene every day. Much of Chastain's performance is in these scenes, but each scene feels much the same, as she shows strength under pressure. Idris Elba is excellent and commands your attention, with a certain wry charm under his tough exterior. He has so much to do here that you'll eventually focus on his unconvincing attempt at an American accent, which he almost gets away with.

Molly's memoir could have been explosive, as she was privy to the darkest secrets of the rich and famous. But - according to the film - she censors herself and holds back rather than ruin lives. For an underground gambling queen she has a committment to doing the right thing, when possible, which eventually saves her when the right people take pity on her - notably Elba's fictional lawyer (and her real-life lawyer as well).

While the Idris Elba scenes are great to watch they also show a real weakness in the script. When Charlie is talking to Molly in these long scenes, it's essentially Aaron Sorkin talking to the real-life Molly Bloom. He's learning her story and getting to like and understand her, and it feels like very little effort has been made to turn this into more of a movie. We get the sense that Molly Bloom told her story to Sorkin in person, and was pleasant company, but a film should be digging deeper than that. It is rare that we see Chastain as emotionally raw in this film and it's often undercut by bland voiceover. She becomes addicted to cocaine and other drugs halfway through and the film doesn't register this as unusual (perhaps because of Sorkin's own cocaine addiction, though he's been sober for years now).

Jessica Chastain is occasionally great in the film, especially if you look at the shorter and less wordy scenes. It's easier for an actor to work with less dialogue, and Chastain shines in short scenes like those with Chris O'Dowd as the drunk player nursing a crush on her, whose mob connections help lead to her downfall.

We see what she sees - As the gambling hostess, Chastain is asked to bring Vegas-style sex appeal in this role, as what the film calls the "Cinemax version" of herself. And she does look great.

There is a lot of "what happened" in this movie, and not a lot of "who" and "why." We don't really see Molly as someone who had close friends and love interests. Maybe the book doesn't go into that. Maybe she was really a loner, despite being popular and desired among the elite. Maybe Aaron Sorkin was only interested in writing one female role, as Molly's mother is something of a nonentity. Instead the film spends time connecting Molly's overachieving nature to her demanding father Larry, who in the film became cold and distant to Molly because he believed that as a young age she discovered his infidelity to Molly's mother. This is probably mostly Sorkin rather than real life, as there's something a bit too clockwork to it all - human psychology reduced to a series of inputs and outputs, simple cause and effect. But it's also the film's single best scene, a lengthy, emotional piece of acting where a reluctant Molly reconnects with her father. Chastain puts a lot into this, and at age 62 Kevin Costner has become quite a good character actor. Admittedly it's reductive to take such a strong woman and explain her accomplishments away as fueled by being angry at her father for a couple of decades. But that's a possibility that the movie throws away as quickly as it raises it. Sorkin does write interesting characters, and it helps in a feature film context that he suggests easy explanations for why they are the way they are, while acknowledging that the truth is more complicated.

In his previous work, like The West Wing and The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin has often written about news and politics. He likes writing about people dealing with big, important ideas, who might just be changing the world. The West Wing, which aired during the Bush Presidency, provided a fantasy-world view of a Democratic Presidency, and a political world in general, which was good and kind and populated with people who wanted to do the right thing. It was inspirational, and unrecognizable from Washington as we see it on the news - a corrupt nest of vipers. Critics wonder to this day if the West Wing's fake Presidency did more harm than good to our national psyche. But it was a great television show, exceeding what Sorkin had accomplished with Sports Night. Sorkin's next TV series failed to capture the same magic. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was about a Saturday Night Live-like comedy series, and it had a great cast but was burdened with a West-Wing-like sense of aspiration to greatness, a conviction that this comedy series was changing the world. It was cancelled quickly. The Newsroom was not as immediately promising, but its focus on a news TV show was a much better fit with Sorkin's desire to tell Important Stories, and his capital-D Democratic politics. It was what he should have done previously, and for three seasons it almost worked.

Sorkin tends to write about rich people, connected people, "important" "newsworthy" people and events. His view of the world can seem at times cartoonishly narrow and unrealistic, overly idealistic or preachy in ways which don't tally with the real world. He is certainly a great writer, when he has the right subject matter, but he does have a certain tunnel vision. We often get the sense that Hollywood creators don't live in the "real world" or understand the problems that the average American faces, and Sorkin trips over that particular twig more than most people do, only because he's trying so hard. In The Newsroom, he was writing about real events ripped from the headlines two years prior, and it led to a sort of uncanny valley effect since we'd lived through these events ourselves. He idealizes, and he stands on a soapbox. And although he's written iconic roles for great actresses, he is clearly more interested in the internal workings of a man's mind.

Consider The Social Network, which fictionalized the inner life of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, as a flawed, tragic, lonely, brilliant, robotically psychopathic figure.

Now consider Molly's Game. It's a big leading part that any actress would love to play, but the film is not about her flaws. It's barely about her inner life, apart from her restless desire to excel in any field. It is, more or less, just a story about what she does and what happens to her. Her downfall, as portrayed here, is not really her fault. She created something big and became a big target. At key moments she chooses to do the right thing and it saves her.

But the film isn't about much more than that. It's not a political film. For once it's not a movie about Big Important Ideas. It's a glimpse into the ridiculous world of the rich and famous, and ends with a pointed dig against Wall Street, but this is all fairly incidental. And that world isn't portrayed as tabloid gossip, and only occasionally played for laughs - the original book was juicier. The film is not making a big statement so much as saying, here's a story which Aaron Sorkin found interesting. And it is interesting, but it needed its director to bring a little more color, character and life to it all. The film just doesn't go that extra mile. It's still worth watching, and offers a strong female lead - in a year that's offered stronger. It's a winning hand, but with a two pair, not a Royal Flush. Still, maybe you're feeling lucky.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Mon Jan 29, 2018 4:57 am

Lady Bird - For most of my time watching it, I didn't click with this film or understand its appeal, but the film has received uniformly good reviews so I'll be the odd man out here. It did connect with me at times. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, it's an often emotional coming of age story about 17 year old Catholic school student Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who is going through a slightly rebellious phase and calls herself Lady Bird. It's also about her baffling relationship with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), as the two seem incapable of communicating with one another in a healthy manner. There's a lot here that will ring true for anyone who has ever been a teenager or watched a movie about one, and other stuff that left me scratching my head.

The film is edited and paced with a peculiar, choppy rhythm where the scenes are short and end suddenly, feeling unresolved. It's a slice of life where each slice is too small and leaves you wanting more. Living in 2002-era Sacramento but dreaming of New York, Lady Bird goes on a very bumpy journey figuring out who she is, who she wants to impress, and who she wants to be, eventually taking her first steps to being an adult and coming to terms emotionally with what her parents gave her. She has awkward romantic experiences and tries to impress the cool (wealthier) kids, with whom she doesn't have much in common. There's a lot of subtext going on under the hood which will either resonate with your own experiences or not. For me, I saw a film which claims realism, but I'll have to take it at its word, as the world shown is largely foreign to me.

The performances and characterizations, at least, are good, with characters who feel very lived-in, with full lives going on beyond what we see onscreen. We see kids trying to seem much more worldly and mature than they are, and kids and adults struggling secretly with depression, financial class, lack of control over their lives and how to express their feelings in a way that others will accept. It's good that these characters feel so lived-in because we don't spend a lot of time with most of them.

The film has a "fill in the blank" quality, where it's more emotionally resonant if you've had similar experiences - and some of the scenes will be familiar to just about anyone. There's something a little bit unpredictable about the whole thing which makes it seem less cliched and familiar than it could have been. But I still found it, for the most part, hard to connect with. Your mileage may vary.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Sat Feb 10, 2018 8:25 pm

Marvel's Black Panther is a top-tier superhero film - kinetic, dazzling, and full of complex and believable characters. It stands easily alongside the best of Marvel's movies, and avoids the mistakes that weaker MCU films made. Ten years into the grand experiment that was the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio is still changing the game. Here, a lot of that has to do with hiring a talented filmmaker like Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station). Coogler understands that a good Marvel movie is not just about CGI action and thrills. These movies are (or should be) character pieces, as Iron Man was in 2008, and this is that rare superhero film where every character is interesting, and opinionated, and has their own point of view. Black Panther's journey is grounded in the love his family has for him, and their desire to protect and do what's best for the fantastical nation of Wakanda.

T'Challa, the Black Panther, is played solidly by Chadwick Boseman, and it's a relief that the film doesn't fall into character arc cliches. It would have been easy to turn him into an arrogant asshole whose journey takes him down a peg or two and teaches him a lesson. There's none of that here - T'Challa is basically a good guy who respects the traditions of his country. Although he drinks a concoction to give him powers beyond that of an ordinary man, his struggle comes from being something of an underdog throughout. There are others who want the Wakanda throne, and the title of Black Panther, and they're willing to fight to the death for it, and plunge Wakanda into a civil war.

Black Panther, of course, debuted onscreen in 2016's Captain America: Civil War. Taking the mantle of Black Panther after the death of his father, King T'Chaka, T'Challa was a solid addition to the Avengers universe. But to see him in his solo film is exponentially more exciting. So much of the appeal of the character is the world of Wakanda, and the people who live there. The first Marvel film, Iron Man, was mainly just about one man, Tony Stark. This is something far beyond that, and shows just how much Marvel has grown and embraced its comic book roots.

In the comics, T'Challa joined the Avengers only as part of his ancestral duty to protect the nation of Wakanda. He wanted to see if the superpowered heroes would be a threat to his nation. Here we see why. Wakanda is an advanced, high-tech, futuristic African nation that is otherwise cut off from the outside world. They pretend to be impoverished, and are called a "third world nation" - outdated terminology left over from the Cold War.

The nation is built on a mountain supply of Vibranium, a virtually indestructible precious metal used in the creation of Captain America's shield. While the film doesn't go into details, this has allowed them leeway with the usual laws of physics, as they've been able to create technology centuries beyond the real world of 2018. What's not clearly stated outright, but should be obvious subtext, is that Wakanda kept itself hidden away and defended itself to avoid being plundered and destroyed by colonizers - the United Kingdom, the United States, and so on. In our real world, any African nation that was known to possess wealth and resources of any kind would have had a target on its back for centuries. It's the sort of fantasy that will generate a lot of thinkpieces. It's a futuristic vision of the sort of African nation that could exist without the destabilizing effects of slavers and Imperial warlords.

The film is not heavy handed about this, and lets us fill in our own blanks, but it is the central question of the film for T'Challa. Should Wakanda stay hidden away to protect it from being invaded and destroyed by "superpowered" nations, or is it Wakanda's duty to stand strong and reach out to help other nations and communities who have had to suffer the effects of poverty that they were able to avoid? That's a question with no easy answers, and one where, amusingly, Marvel's first leading-man black superhero must confront his own considerable privilege. But onscreen and off, the fictional Wakanda must be a beacon of hope.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most successful series of films in history, but it's also a series which made ten films starring a blonde white guy named Chris before it managed to make a film starring a black man or a woman. But to their credit, they haven't blown the moment. As Marvel's first film starring a black actor and with a mostly-black cast, the film feels like a celebration of African culture. Wakanda is built on ancient African traditions. The film delights in merging archaic visual design motifs straight out of a museum with futuristic technology, as if they're all the same thing. The film also puts black women front and center. T'Challa's most trusted companions are all women - his sister, mother, love interest, and the fierce women warriors known as the Dora Milaje, who wield ancient-looking spears which actually house advanced technology. Set to the primal sounds of a drumbeat, this could have come off as offensive, and I'm not the one to judge that. But above all else it feels festive and joyful. This is a society which respects and carries on its most ancient traditions. For centuries, African people were forced into slavery and forced to leave their traditions behind, and we often see in African-American art a desire to reconnect with what they've been missing.

This too is the central conflict of the film. Michael B. Jordan plays Erik, alias Killmonger, a Wakandan heir who instead grew up in Oakland, and who racked up hundreds of kills in the U.S. military, as if he were playing a video game. He learned from the CIA how America destabilizes governments during transitions of power. With King T'Chaka dead, T'Challa is set to take the throne, and the ancient tradition of Wakanda's superhero protector, the Black Panther. But Erik knows a good thing when he sees it, and wants it for himself. Wakanda is the "fairy tale" world he grew up believing in, which never had to deal with the lingering effects of racism and poverty. He wants everything that Wakanda has, and he wants to use it to take over, and take revenge on, the world. Michael B. Jordan steps into the role with the swagger and charm of a true movie star. He could easily become one of the biggest names in Hollywood. Everyone else speaks with African accents, and he comes in as the brash American with no respect for their traditions. Killmonger is dangerous, and deadly, and does everything wrong that a person in his position could possibly do, and yet we understand and empathize with him. We see where he's coming from. He is the personification of the effect that our country, the United States of America, could have on a young black man living in poverty. The military taught him to kill, and he's too far gone to live the dream that Wakanda represents. As this fantasy prince and King, T'Challa is in a position of great power, and to coin a phrase from another Marvel hero, that power comes with great responsibility to the world. What good is it living in wealth if you don't use that to enrich others?

This all breaks down, predictably, into a fake-looking CGI fight between one Black Panther and another. Much of the film looks very greenscreened and for a film that's technically set in Africa we don't get any sense of the real Africa onscreen. There are no animals, for a start, apart from very CGI-looking panthers in a dreamscape, and an armor-wearing rhinoceros or two.

These are minor quibbles in a film which is otherwise dazzlingly visual and lush, and as smartly written and acted as anything Marvel has done to date.

It's the supporting cast that really makes the movie, and it's rare to find a superhero film where every single character is this interesting, and fleshed out with their own point of view. Letitia Wright's Shuri might be the best character in the film. She's T'Challa's younger sister, and a whiz at developing advanced technology. She's also funny, and into memes, and teases him in the way that only a sister can. She's also loyal to her family, above all else. Angela Bassett is regal as T'Challa's mother, Ramonda, showing strength under pressure. Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia is strong-willed and independent, and brings out T'Challa's charming and romantic side. Danai Gurira is a force of nature as Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje and loyal to the throne. Forest Whitaker is Zuri, who upholds Wakanda's ancient spiritual traditions, and keeps the king's secrets, for good or for ill. Winston Duke is M'Baku, proud leader of a kingdom under the sign of the Grey Gorilla, who don't recognize the authority of the Black Panther, and who challenges T'Challa for the throne. Daniel Kaluuya is W'Kabi, the trusted second in command who most of all seeks revenge against villainous arms trader Ulysses Klaue. We've seen Andy Serkis as Klaue before but he's terrific in this, as the murderous pirate who knows Wakanda's secrets, chewing the scenery as a memorable villain that you'll wish we got to see more of. Martin Freeman plays Everett Ross, the CIA agent who gradually realizes that Wakanda is not what it seems. We've seen him before too, but not given the vivid character he plays here.

And that's basically it - the film focuses on the battle for the Wakandan throne and doesn't involve Captain America, Iron Man, or the other Avengers (with one brief exception). It's a smart move, as it keeps the focus on the Wakandan characters and allows them to really shine. While it's a shame to see the Wakandans battle one another it shows what's really at stake here. And the character of Black Panther himself is improved exponentially from what we saw in Captain America: Civil War, by showing where he comes from, and who and what he loves and fights for. It's the difference between seeing a superhero alone, and knowing their entire backstory and supporting cast.

We haven't forgotten that the first big-screen Marvel superhero was Wesley Snipes as Blade. And, at a push, we've had Halle Berry as Storm, and in the MCU, Rhodey aka War Machine, Falcon, Nick Fury, Gamora, Heimdall, Valkyrie, etc. The innovation here is not just that this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first black leading man, but that his world, his story, and his cast is as cool and as interesting as any other superhero out there. And he'll carry that with him when he returns for the big teamup in Avengers: Infinity War.

It's another winner from Marvel. Wakanda forever.
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Garrett Gilchrist
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