Movie Thoughts: Black Panther Is The Best Disney/Marvel Movie To Date

Black Panther was so cool and well done, while still adhering to a set of important and worthwhile restrictions placed on it by the noblest of film studios (seriously and more on this later), that it exquisitely side steps all the  currently turding in the punchbowl of social issues and politics and takes you on an AWESOME ride. But it also raises one important question that I can pose, but am neither qualified, entitled, nor capable of answering…

…but everyone can answer it for themselves regardless of their resolve to live according to their answer.

Back to Black Panther. If you accept that Disney Marvel movies are endowed with certain flaws/strengths (depending on your point of view) that all Disney Marvel movies have, then Black Panther is spectacular. It’s the coolest one made to date and it has one thing that places it above all others:

Actual acting!!

No seriously. Screenwriter and director Nicholas Meyer once said (I’m paraphrasing) of movie stars that there are two kinds of actors. One kind goes to work convincing audiences that they are a character, and the other goes to work convincing audiences that the character is them. Both are valid but you could argue that one is harder work than the other. Most Disney/Marvel movies leverage the latter. We love Tony Stark because he’s Robert Downey Jr. We love Nick Fury because he’s Samuel Jackson…although Jackson does have to work hard to not say “Muthaf*cka” so maybe there is some acting going on…but T’Challa is NOT Chadwick Boseman. He’s the amalgamation of an incredibly talented actor, decent writing, and excellent direction. And you can go down the line in the cast and say the same thing about just about everyone in this film.

You can’t really with any of the Avengers, except perhaps Chris Evan’s Captain America (talk about excellent writing, Captain America was, by modern standards, a silly character and Disney did an incredible job of making him relevant).

With regards to flaws/strengths being the same thing, this gets back to my earlier comment on nobility. I want to start with the flaw view so we can end on a positive note in this section. These are the flaws with the Disney/Marvel films:

1. Nobody ever gets hurt,
– Really? Nothing? Not even dust? Sure Tony Stark’s armor gets scuffed up…but that’s about it. Come on, Black Widow wears all black and Nick Fury is in leather. There’s going to be some additional scuffing going on.

2. Nobody bleeds.
– Yes, you can make the case that Thor and Loki are demigods and thus impervious to bleeding, but again…Black Widow and Nick Fury? Even Steve Rogers has to get a paper cut every now and then.

3. Nobody dies.
– Okay there’s always an Avenger there to catch the boulder, the conspiracy theorist might think that perhaps they’re just playing catch with the villains.

4. Nobody curses
– C’mon…you get a airplane chucked at you, you’re going to mutter an expletive. The MPAA supposedly allows for two non-sexual uses of the word “f*ck” so the Avengers could, in theory be a little more aware of their potential mortality.

5. The only damage done is cars and planes get flipped and asphalt gets cracked.
– At this point in the franchises, there must be single-click presets on the visual effects computers being used in post production on these films, almost as if they’re just being run through a Sony Playstation video game.

6. Battles max out at about thirty people, and often involve hero ensembles fighting each other instead of a villain in a confined area of about 50,000 square feet.
– Really? How is the entire Earth in peril because of a friend fight on an airport tarmac?

7. There are only two to three plots to pick from and there is not a lot of work done to hide this fact.
– By the time you get home from seeing Black Panther in the theater, you’ll realize it was almost a page-for-page lift from Thor Ragnarok.

Now let’s talk about the strengths of Disney/Marvel Movies:

1. Nobody ever gets hurt
– I’m still scarred from seeing ET, so I can only imagine the water balloon of emotions that would get dropped on an 8-year-old’s head if they saw their favorite character get legitimately hurt in a Marvel movie. Why alienate fans? Seriously.

2. Nobody bleeds.
– This can affect your film’s MPAA rating, I get this. Make the film accessible to young and old people alike. No foul here.

3. Nobody dies.
– See Strength #1 above.

4. Nobody curses
    – Why take a chance on a script with expletives? You might find that you have three scenes you cannot do without and all three have bad words and then you find yourself saddled with an R-rated Disney movie. Parents don’t want that. Wall Street doesn’t want that. Kids don’t have a clue what they want in the way of foul language.

5. The only damage done is cars and planes get flipped and asphalt gets cracked.
– Personally I hate surprises in films when it comes to violence. I don’t enjoy being scared. I like seeing what’s coming from 1,000 miles away, and parents and kids like this too. Action and violence can be accessible in fantasy and Disney does it swimmingly. Yes, I said swimmingly.

6. Battles max out at about thirty people, and often involve hero ensembles fighting each other instead of a villain in a confined area of about 50,000 square feet.
– The reality is that this is probably due to lack of vision and budget, but I’ll give Disney credit for finding a rationale for this before I did: By containing the fight, Marvel superheroes keep the rest of the world safe. It’s the same strategy used in fighting proxy wars in the real world. Also, it’s fine to have the good guys fighting each other. We live in a world now where it’s impossible to portray a villain on screen short of demonizing a group that raises funds from its community purely on the basis of hurt feelings. In Avengers, Age of Ultron, they cracked the nut by making the villain a robot and overly synthesizing the voice to a point where you couldn’t necessarily tie it to an ethnic group. That’s smart thinking. Again, being serious.

7. There are only two to three plots to pick from and there is not a lot of work done to hide this fact.
– Granted, there is nothing new under the sun and no new tales to tell (hat tip to Love & Rockets), it is possible to rely on structure and use interesting elements, but again, people want to know what they’re getting into with Marvel movies. Parents want to know what to expect, kids want to feel smart for guessing where things are headed, and the Marvel franchise has to keep moving forward. The nice thing is, the Marvel films arguably keep getting a little better each time with the same plots and elements (only different costumes and settings), so yeah, this is comforting.

Now let’s explain why the strengths make Disney noble: Because life sucks dude, no matter who you are, how old you are, where you come from, or anything else. We’re all struggling to succeed and deal with and manage mean people, and to have this series of action movies you can count on to suspend disbelief and thought on all levels and enjoy the ride and come away feeling no sense of loss and totally entertained, knowing that the characters you love to see up there will return is a fabulous feeling. On top of that, you can be any age and enjoy the spectacle. You can be a parent, and approve of these films. You won’t have to explain anything to your kids, nor will you have to comfort them when something goes wrong in the movie, because nobody gets hurt, and everyone survives.

You can count on Marvel. I’m being serious. You can count on Marvel for being entertaining and inspiring and hopeful, and doing the right thing.

Except for one little thing that you can decide on for yourself: How you feel about authenticity.

You see, Disney is a media company like any other that is in business to make money and there is nothing wrong with that as long as nobody gets hurt or dies in the pursuit of profit. I consider Disney to be an exceptionally reputable and well-meaning company, especially considering its size.

But…

Let’s look at the motivation for making Black Panther and making it so well:

This movie was not made under the current political administration in the US, so to suggest that it is somehow reactionary or opportunistic or making a statement on race isn’t fair to it, even it is important in the pantheon of social politics in this regard. It was made to entertain. This film (in its current iteration) saw its development going back to 2014 before things in the US hit the fan the way they have. It was, in my humble analysis, part of a broad and ongoing new synergy effort to align the parks and resorts segment with the film and TV properties being released by the studio segment of the Disney company.

We’ve started to see the fruits of this effort, and they ain’t bad. The Disney theme parks around the world have seen great expansion and stunning creative that looks to be pulled directly from the films themselves as opposed to watered down facsimiles designed to get your buck for the smallest outlay of cash possible.

Seriously. If you haven’t been to a Disney theme park in a while, go! Do it! Right now! This article will be here when you get back!

You’re back now? Good, okay, I’ll dig up the lead I buried. The most likely location to leverage the Black Panther IP (that is to say, the fictional vibranium-rich nation of Wakanda) is no other place than Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida. Make no mistake, this will happen. But this presents a unique issue from the standpoint of racial politics and how one feels about such things, so here is the question I talked about back at the beginning:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom prides itself on legitimately tying its theming back to the authentic cultures of the continents of Africa, India, and Asia. Are you okay with Disney stripping the park’s African authenticity in favor of an African fiction (or myth) that was created by two white men? Is that okay? Is taking a step away from celebrating and sharing a genuine human culture with people who might otherwise never know about it, the price we are willing to pay to step toward a post-racial society where white people own an incredibly profitable  piece of the black storytelling experience?

You can answer for yourself, or not care. It’s up to you.

At the end of the day though, it was one damn entertaining movie.

Go see it.

Movie Thoughts: I Only Liked Black Panther, but I Loved Early Man

Yes, Black Panther was epic and awesome and fun and spectacular, but then there’s the world of Aardman:

Sure Black Panther made a quadrillion dollars this weekend, but I, as a matter of taste and policy, will always hand my non-existent award for the best movie of the weekend to anything made by Aardman or Laika given their rich and heart filled celebrations of feature length storytelling utilizing old school stop motion animation techniques.

The thing to remember about movies like Early Man is that they are hard to make. Made one frame at a time with no key framing (yes there is some frame blending in post production, but that’s beside the point) and everything obviously made from scratch, there are no do overs or second takes without A LOT of effort, so anything and everything that can be done right and locked down in advance (ie story) has to be.

Early Man is no exception. It’s visually wonderful and I imagine, mesmerizing for children who nowadays are coming out of the womb already jaded and with Apple and Samsung smartphones in hand. It’s also really easy to follow and understand, with a simple and straightforward plot that has appeal on both sides of the pond.

Usually when reviewing movies, I like to good-naturedly rip on a film by writing a logline that celebrates the silliness of the plot in question, but Early Man’s story is bare essence and charming and so here’s what it’s about in a nutshell:

In order to save their small prehistoric valley home from strip mining, a cave man and his tribe must beat an evil Bronze Age civilization at a game they don’t know how to play: soccer.

See? What’s not to get? If you’re trying to decide what to see in theaters prior to next Friday, I’d pick this over Black Panther….primarily because Black Panther will be in theaters until Christmas 2022 and this may only last a week or two without moviegoers’ support and it deserves to stick around for a while.

Movie Thoughts: Winchester Was Winning…Chester

Winchester is a completely Australian production and a return to form for the country that wrote the better book on runaway film production than did Canada.

No really, you can always spot movies that were primarily filmed in popular places for runaway film productions like Canada, Eastern Europe (ie The Czech Republic, Hungary, etc), and Atlanta, Georgia. Canadian productions give themselves away because there’s something about the texture of the air that always gives it a warm Kodachrome like look, no matter what is done to grade the film in post. Movies made in Eastern Europe  seem to make use of paints on sets that may be left over from the soviet era as the colors and textures on what are inevitably brilliantly designed and realized sets all seem surreal and as if they were meant to be cheap knock-off equivalents of Pantone colors. Atlanta typically makes the mistake of trying to convince viewers that various metropolitan locations around Georgia can fill-in for well-known places around the world like L.A. or Manhattan. Newsflash: They can’t.

Movies made in Australia though somehow completely buck this trend, perhaps because they either acknowledge their Aussie roots, focus on movies that question reality from the get-go, or simply rely heavily on sets and green screen, which is totally fine. I’ve always been a bigger fan of movie studio backlots and sound stages than location shoots.

Winchester follows a cookie cutter horror format that we’ve seen quite a bit over the past twenty years, but it’s a cookie cutter from Williams-Sonoma, not Sur Le Table or Target, and it has Bruce Spence, so it’s required viewing. You might think that the A-List talent here would phone things in for a horror flick like this, but they don’t and you can tell they’re having fun, especially Mirren who I think is going to start having a blast making these sorts of movies going forward, much like Liam Neeson kicks ass in transit once or twice a year. I’m not going to get tired of Liam Neeson movies any time soon.

This movie also manages to be timely with the gun debate and race issues currently plaguing….scratch that, not currently, more like forever….the US and does so in a way that’s not too heavy handed and can completely go over one’s head if they don’t want to think about such things while switching on their lizard brain to be entertained by a popcorn horror flick for a couple hours.

So I heartily recommend this as a fun scary horror movie that draws on a true story (Sarah Winchester and her psychological stuff) and punches it up with supernaturality (is that a word?). Well made and all levels for the type of film that it is an the genre it falls into. It’s not going to win any awards, but it sure did win my approval.

And it had Bruce Spence…

Movie Thoughts: Call Me By Your Name Was Magnificent

I Saw Call Me By Your Name and the theater was full of guys who clearly couldn’t get their girlfriends to see it with them. Weird, right?

This movie was stunning on so many levels. I don’t even know where to begin: The film is technically flawless, the story just as much. Timothy Chalamet absolutely deserves an Oscar nomination as does Armie Hammer and even Michael Stuhlbarg in his small but incredibly important role, delivering a speech for the ages that every child deserves to hear from their father as they struggle to come to terms with their sexuality and humanity.

At the end of the day though, to suggest that this movie is somehow narrowly focused on being gay or gay culture is hogwash…like that? I just used “hogwash”…it’s an undiluted story about love, and heartbreak, and toughing up and growing up. Who can’t relate to having to figure out for themselves how to be a an adult? Who can’t relate to the heartbreak that comes with life (not people) figures out how to ruin perfect love for you? I know I can. This is everyone’s story…except maybe for the peach. We all do messed up things as we come to grips with sexuality and there’s acknowledgement of that through Elio’s arc, but seriously….the peach? No.

Or maybe you’re a good human being who went and saw ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and know exactly what I’m talking about. In that case, I salute you for celebrating love, life experience, and exquisite filmmaking. Now step up and buy locally made clothing. You’re supporting good causes that way.

Because progressivism.

Movie Thoughts: 12 STRONG – The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers

12 STRONG – The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers is an excellent war-is-hell film that is also a second unit director’s hottest fantasy, filled with post-9/11 Middle East conflict tropes we’ve seen before and an overabundance of the use of the word “flank.” They keep using it. I do not think it means what they think it means. In fact, you could make it a drinking game out of how often it’s used on screen.

The most important takeaways from the standpoint of military history are that uniting Afghan warlords toward a common purpose was a less interesting story than was killing lots of Al Quaeda and that had Al Quaeda leaders not worn so much mascara, they probably could have gotten more weapons through on their supply line rather than filling trucks up with makeup. Also, it seems that (treading lightly here), this movie is portrayed as being a true story however the actual Horse Soldiers weren’t exactly an….ahem!….diverse group, so the insertion of a diverse cast makes this a bit revisionist. I say revisionist because by marketing the flick as a true story, they’ve taken more than creative liberties. Anyway, I liked it, there’s lots of guns and explosions and killing terrorists and its well-directed and edited, even if it focuses on the popcorn elements of the story. I guess I was hoping for Black Stallion meets Zulu meets Darkest Hour, and instead I got an incredible session of Call of Duty.

So that’s cool…

Movie Thoughts: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Whereas the first Guardians of the Galaxy was fun and funny and really entertaining and had heart and wit and a great playlist and that intangible energy that makes you love it, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was just really enjoyable.

You know, like when your uber driver is an architect by day and drives a Saab.

Movie Thoughts: Phantom Thread

One simply cannot talk about how good the movie Phantom Thread is…unless they’re an old person with gray pubes, a shortcut to NPR on their iPhone 5C home screen, and a proclivity for crushing up and snorting lines of niacin tablets. I have an iPhone 5C lying around somewhere but I swear I have a newer iPhone now so I’m not gonna talk about Phantom Thread. I’m still young dammit.

So now I’m going to break rules (unlike Reynolds Woodcock) and review this movie in spite of the fact that I’m still young (dammit):

It’s just about a relationship between two people, but it’s brilliantly shot using vintage equipment that could make this a film as easily made in the 60’s as today, although arguably harder nowadays in an ecosystem dominated by Arri and RED cinema cameras. There’s this lovely and heavily contrasty grain that’s not unlike watching beach sand swirl in water and the use of natural light is superb.

Anderson peaked with Magnolia, one of the greatest movies ever made, in my humble opinion, and hasn’t made something as consummately perfect since then, but I do think this one was a return to form after The Master and Inherent Vice, which were both movies about seriously messed up people.

To be fair, all his films are about seriously messed up people. I guess I don’t have a point, do I?

I think I’m having a hard time articulating why I liked Phantom Thread because I don’t wear New Balance 990’s and go to Meetups. I should have stopped while I was ahead.

Go see it. Jeeze.

Movie Thoughts: Den of Thieves

I went and saw Den of Thieves this afternoon and it’s worth pointing out that it was completely sold out all day on both screens it was showing in at the local multiplex which is scientific proof that not one woman in LA who participated in the 1 Year Anniversary Women’s March was able to get her boyfriend or husband to participate alongside her. But then again, we’ve always known that this is the dynamic in relationships.

With that bit of social science fact out of the way, let’s talk about the movie itself:

There’s nothing new under the sun so saying Den of Thieves is basically Heat isn’t enough and just makes you a dime store movie watcher if that’s the best you can come up with. Also, it’s good so just saying it’s Heat doesn’t acknowledge its twist. While it still may not be as good as Heat, it’s still good! So here are my thoughts:

It’s the goldenrod draft of Heat recut in iMovie while sipping on brotein & brown rice smoothies as you shop for a new ford vehicle (but can’t decide between a Fusion or a Taurus) on Autotrader.

So basically at the end of the day today, it’s going to be tough determining which half of the American couple had a better day: Women who marched rightly in the name of empowerment and women’s rights, or their boyfriends who got to fantasize about guns and periwinkle-blue collar criminals with ridiculous criminal technology robbing banks with guns and high-tech stuff that no ex-con could rightly get his hands on.