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

Love Actually (2003)

Love Actually

Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson in “Love Actually”.

No matter how big the movie buff you may be, there is always at least one movie that escapes you and you have to catch up to see it (Roger Ebert said at one point he had never seen The Sound of Music). Well, over a decade late, I have finally caught up with seeing Love Actually, and I am glad I did.

That is not to say it is a perfect film. The movie centers around multiple couples in their love lives, and, for the most part, it works. The main reason why is that the director (Richard Curtis) used some of the best thespians at the time. Not movie stars, but thespians. They include (but are totally not limited to) Hugh Grant (playing the prime minister), (the late) Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney,  Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, and Keira Knightley. The film also has appearances by young soon to be stars such as Chiwetel Ejiofor (a decade before he made 12 Years a Slave), Martin Freeman (before he was Bilbo Baggins or Sherlock‘s Watson) and Andrew Lincoln (in the days before playing Rick on The Walking Dead).

It would take too much time for me to write down what each character is going through, and would ruin the surprise to those who may not yet have seen it. My personal favorite is of Colin Firth’s Jamie, a writer going through a breakup and meets a new house keeper named Aurelia (Lucia Moniz). The movie also gives us a look at “puppy love”, which I have always been a sap for.

If I had to cut a story, I would cut two of them. The first is with Martin Freeman’s John and Joanna Page’s “Just” Judy. I cared for these characters, and liked the acting. What I did not care for was the fact that they had to be porn stars. The other involves the character of Colin Frissell (Kris Marshall). Again, the acting is good, but, unlike most of the other stories, he is not looking for love, but sex. It does not add to the movie I feel.

Parents, the movie is not for kids, although (mature) High Schoolers and above would be ok. Just be wary, there is a lot of nudity that does not need to be in the film.

In the end, the film does wrap a big enough blanket around me that gave me a nice, fuzzy, cozy feeling. It ends with one of my personal favorite songs (“God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys), making you look at airports in a different way.

There is a scene in the film where a girl is singing “All I want for Christmas is you” by Mariah Carey. For the longest time, this song was on the Christmas radio station in my car so much I have grown to despise the song. Love Actually made me love the song. That alone is quiet the accomplishment.

Overall: Four Stars ****