Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The Black Panther sticks another landing for Marvel

Perhaps it is late for me to say, but Marvel Studios is starting to mirror that of Pixar, in that it is hard for them to have a flop financially or critically (it helps when you partner with Disney). A decade after the universe was launched with Iron Man, Marvel Studios is still going strong, and now delivers one of their very best in Black Panther.

Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther takes place just after those events, where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is being crowned King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a country steeped in poverty, but only in the eyes of the outside world. We learn it is truly flourishing with technology that is beyond anything we have yet seen in a Marvel movie (or any other). At first, I was afraid it would be too much like Asgard (the home world of Thor), but Wakanda still manages to stand out as its own environment.

Before he can take his place as king, T’Challa/Black Panther must stop Ulysses Klau (the always reliable Andy Serkis) from stealing Vibranium (the key substance to Wakanda and its economy, not to mention weapons and armor). Helping him is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who manages to make a name for himself along the best of Marvel’s baddies.

What makes Black Panther so wonderful is the same formula that makes nearly all other Marvel films great as well. The actors take the roles seriously, but are still managing to have a lot of fun (especially Andy Serkis). Director Ryan Coogler (who also directed Jordan in Creed and Fruitvale Station) never has moments (well, maybe one or two) that drag on. We are enticed from the word go.

It also helps that, despite lack of screen time, every actor is giving all they got to the roles they play. Such actors include (but are not limited to) Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead‘s Michonne), Daniel Kaluuya (recent Oscar nominee for Get Out), Angela Bassett, and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). When you see them on-screen, you know talent is erupting.

Parents, this is another Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen at least one (I don’t know many kids who haven’t), they are fine here. There is some swearing and violence, but no sexual content or nudity (despite some female characters wearing some revealing clothing, but nothing bad).

Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie? The vote is still out, but it is definitely in the running. It says a lot about an action/adventure movie when the action free scenes are as engrossing as the action scenes are (which are superb).

It is clear that 2018 now has its first great movie. And what a movie.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

Queen of Katwe (2016)

queen-of-katwe-8

Like any good coach, Robert (David Oyelowo) teaches lessons beyond chess to Phiona (Madina Nalwanga)

It should surprise no one how many movies are made of underdogs in sports, so it is a shame when a movie like Queen of Katwe comes out. It is a movie that is bound to be overlooked, while it is fresh, encouraging entertainment for the whole family.

It tells the true story of missionary Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who is a coach to some of the kids of Katwe, Uganda in soccer (an injury has sidelined him from play). Other kids are unable to play, so he shows them another game, Chess.

One of the kids is a stand out. Her name is Phiona (newcomer Madina Nalwanga). Along with her brother Brian (Martin Kabanza), they manage to use chess as an escape from their life in the slums with their mother (Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’O). There is also their older sister Night (Taryn Kyaze), who is in and out of the house on the road to a life in the slums.

Basically, it is the same underdog story told in countless other movies, but what makes the film work is, above all, its heart. It really goes all in on the story of a young girl whose only real handicap is where she was born. The performances work (especially Oyelowo and Nyong’O), and the “action” of the games never results in a stalemate of any kind.

Parents, there are some dramatic moments (one character is in a road accident and is taken to the emergency room), but that is it. I don’t recall any swearing (some kissing, but nothing more). This is a feel good family film that deserves more attention.

I would say more, but I want you to discover the film yourself. That, plus I have to revisit my chess app and get practicing again…

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

 

The Jungle Book (2016)

THE JUNGLE BOOK

Mowgli and Baloo on a relaxing river ride.

I grew up in the 1990s, so all the classic Disney movies I had were on VHS (much thanks to my wonderful parents). Therefore, I grew up on the animated version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, so I was not sure what I was really expecting. All I knew was that it had great potential with the cast, and that last year’s Cinderella was a very good remake.

Once again, Disney scores rather big with another live action version. Directed by Jon Favreau (who made Elf and the first two Iron Man films, among others), it is one of the very few remakes to not only pay tribute to the original, but stand on its own. When I heard it was all made in a studio in Los Angeles, my respect grew even more.

For those who don’t know the story (which is unlikely), The Jungle Book tells the tale of a “man-cub” named Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi, in a very fine debut). He is raised by wolves (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o) and is also cared after by a panther named Bagheera (the always perfect Ben Kingsley). With Bagheera, Mowgli must go back to the man villiage before he is killed by the sadistic tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba). There is also Baloo the Bear (Bill Murray), who becomes Mowgli’s best friend, the giant serpent Kaa (seductivly played by Scarlett Johanson,) and King Louie the giant ape (that fantastic actor known as Christopher Walken).

I now look back at some of the casting from the 1967 animated film. King Louie was voiced by Louis Prima, and his song “I wanna be like you” is one I am not afraid to admit is still on my phone. Still, Walken had me cracking up, and his rendition was his own (including some new lyrics). Anyone who knows the animated film knows the theme song of “The Bare Necessities” which I am still convinced no one should sing except Phil Harris. Nevertheless, few actors can conjur charm like Bill Murray, and his singing of the song almosted reminded me of his days back on SNL.

Yet of all the casting done in the live action version, my favorite would be Idris Elba as Shere Khan. The animated version had that wonderful actor George Sanders as the tiger (his voice was like that of Jeremy Irons, who of course was Scar in The Lion King), but Sanders’ Khan had very little screen time. This is not the case with the live action version. Every time Shere Khan was on-screen, I had that feeling that my hair on my arms may stand on end. That is not something that happens often with me when I see a villain, be it a Disney villian or not.

While all the actors are great, the CGI was impeccable. It reminded me  of when I was a kid, and thought all the animals were real in the classic film Babe (1995). I may get in trouble for this, but I thought the CGI in The Jungle Book was better than it was in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. There I said it!

Parents, there is some scary parts, but it is the good type of scary parts for kids. They may hold on to your arms, but if your kids have seen at least one superhero flick before, they will be fine with this film.

The movie never says it out loud, but it does say how Mowgli has one thing no other animal in the jungle has: wit. That is what makes this film great. It has wit.

And fun. Lots of it.

Overall: Four Stars ****