Black Panther: Movie Man Jackson

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. After participating in the legendary Civil War that pitted Tony Stark and Steve Rogers against each other, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to his technologically advanced and off-the-grid African nation of Wakanda. The Black Panther carries a heavy heart; the death of his father T’Chaka (John Kani) ever lingering within it. Yet, a king is needed, and that responsibility falls unto T’Challa to take the mantle.

As Wakanda prepares to enter a new era, many in the world are hellbent on discovering her secrets. Arms dealer Ulysses Klawe (Andy Serkis) and mysterious nomad Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) align themselves with each other to achieve what they’re after, respectively. For Klawe, it’s precious vibranium and the riches that come with it, but for Killmonger, it’s a lot more personal. He’s coming for the crown, and the man’s willing to spill as much blood as needed to get it, T’Challa’s included.

Bar none, one of the best feelings is being in a theater and realizing that what is on screen can never be duplicated or replicated. The energy and mood are unforgettable. In less than one calendar year, the world has received two cultural touchstone films in Get Out and, now, Black Panther. Like Jordan Peele’s work, there are some that may only see this as one type of movie only, but the fact is, that’s kind of limiting. Black Panther fits extremely well into the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but honestly—like the best superhero films—it’s able to transcend genre and create something long-lasting.

Praise goes all around, but let’s start with the juggernaut. Marvel’s got a formula, which is news to no one. Black Panther, for the most part, stays in the framework of it. However, in their recent catalog the studio has shown a desire to jigger things up and/or play against the superhero genre conventions, be it The Winter SoldierGuardians of The Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarokor even Ant-ManSuccess can make people and organizations stagnant, but it can also allow for more chances to be taken; no way a movie like this gets made ten years ago.

Perhaps the most surprising thing coming out of Black Panther is just how much control uber-talented writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) has over everything. What’s often lost in blockbuster films is a director’s style and vision. But unequivocally, this is Ryan’s vision from the jump, tackling modern issues and topics such as identity, nationalism, and utilitarianism and framing them in the environment that is Wakanda. None of it feels forced or one-sided, either, as valid points are made for each side of the proverbial coin. Providing so much minutiae and plot meat only serves to crystallize the belief that Wakanda is this world that is as culturally reach and detailed as the visuals show. Only the first 10 minutes are arguably a little rough around the edges with a lot of information dumping and a scene that plays out better as we return to it midway through.

Of course, this amount of writing depth carries over to the wide cast of characters in Black Panther, starting with…the Black Panther. Civil War wonderfully introduced the world to T’Challa on a surface level, but his solo film goes into his psyche—sometimes literally—like few superhero movies do with their saviors. Chadwick Boseman is the lead actor this role needs, supremely confident, silently charismatic and in possession of this royal gaze that carries a ton of weight. In short, he’s awesome and an awesomely fresh hero.

But where Black Panther separates itself from its Marvel film brethren is through its villain of one Erik Killmonger, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan in a role that calls for physicality, swagger, and vulnerability. The studio has always had an issue in creating compelling foils for its legendary heroes. Rarely has a baddie been introduced better in his or her opening scene than here. To spoil even the slightest is a sin, but to say it simply, only Loki has a claim as Marvel’s best villain, and so much of the emotion of Black Panther comes from Killmonger’s past and his rational viewpoint that fuel his actions. Seeing T’Challa and Erik wage war over how to best run Wakanda is kind of Civil War-like, where no guy is completely wrong. Only difference are the levels Erik is willing to go to achieve his vision.

Boseman and Jordan are the anchors, but Coogler allows almost everyone to shine. Whether it’s Lupita Nyong’o pushing shoeless on the pedal metal, Andy Serkis going unhinged as a South African gangster, Martin Freeman being the fish-out-of-water, Daniel Kaluuya commanding an entire head of security, Danai Gurira laying waste to a room with a staff spear, or T’Challa’s brilliant sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) cranking out the latest addition to the Black Panther’s repertoire. Some roles like those of Forest Whitaker’s and Angela Bassett’s might be weaker than others, but they all fuse to make Wakanda what it is.

Everything to this point makes Black Panther sound more like a gloomy movie more in line with that other comic book universe, but rest assured, Black Panther is very entertaining even for those who don’t care to digest the emotional beats and geopolitical questions. The writing is mature in both themes and humor. Sight gags do exist, but the strength of the laughs mostly derives from the delivery and timing of the cast. For those who have seen Creed, it should come as no surprise that Coogler can craft long-take scenes of action and spectacle, this time getting really inventive with some of the setpieces backed by a great soundtrack and a magnificent score by Ludwig Göransson. Whether basking in the purple royalty hues of the spiritual skyline or the sparkling waterfalls, Wakanda is an eye-popping marvel whether 3D is utilized or not.

Even the very last shot of Black Panther seems to realize the moment at hand, drawing parallels to the movie that started it all with the MCU way back when in 2008. Whatever goes down in The Avengers’ next chapter, one thing’s for certain: T’Challa’s here to stay. Wakanda Forever.

A-

Photo credits go to digitalspy.com, nairobiwire.com, and hollywoodreporter.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Get Out: Movie Man Jackson

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Tell em, Jojo.  Meeting the parents is always a nerve-racking moment for any couple. That time has come for Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). Chris is Black, Allison, White. Not a big deal, but Chris, nonetheless, is nervous about what her parents may think.

Immediately upon setting foot on their estate, something doesn’t seem right. Rose’s parents, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener), are overly accommodating to Chris to prove they are fine with their daughter dating him. And then there are the “keepers” of the land, each African-American, which looks a little suspect despite Dean giving reason why they are there. Could it all be in Chris’ head? Or is there legitimate reason for him to Get Out of this place immediately?

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No matter what color a person is, race and effects of it exist on a daily level, especially for minorities. Occasionally it is overt, but it often isn’t. The comedy sketch show Key and Peele did a lot of interesting and hilarious things, one of them being race relations and the minuteness of matters, especially from the perspective of black men. Now, first time director Jordan Peele takes a prolonged aim at black/white race relations in Get Out, using the horror/thriller genre as a lens for satire. It’s very well done as a whole, even if it falls short of top-notch greatness horror genre greatness.

In Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, it’s evident from the first shot that he knows what he is doing. Key and Peele consistently featured a high level of camera work and cinematography not often befitting of a sketch comedy show, and though Peele himself never officially directed, what he was exposed to technically carries over here. He builds a bevvy of memorable scenes with minimal cuts, a harp-heavy score (fitting, actually), appropriate camera angles, and good lighting. Get Out couldn’t be called a pure horror, but for two-thirds of it, there is a real notable atmosphere and mystery (and the requisite jump scare here and there) that compels the viewer to keep watching and feel uneasy.

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From a true horror movie sense, the scares that will keep someone up at night don’t really exist in Get Out. From that sense, it is a little of a disappointment. But, it is frightening in a sense because the scenario Peele exhibits is rather spot on. It’s a fear aspect. Relating just a bit to the main character, the small things, like being the only minority in a room, representing an entire group, or people saying how much they like something to appeal to one’s emotion registers the most—well—emotionally. Serious look, but also a legitimately humorous one that utilizes a good mix of humor and thrills for much of the runtime.

But, then there’s the last act. While still very entertaining, it comes off as feeling pretty Key and Peele-ish. Less like a feature film in this part, and more of a sketch. Again, this does not take away from the film’s enjoyment—especially in a packed house—it just prevents it from being truly classic in my opinion.

There are a couple of star-making performances in Get Out. Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington is a great protagonist, written with a nice backstory. He’s asked to do a lot more than trailers and TV spots would indicate, selling the psychological toll that this place may or may not be having on him. There are some really difficult moments that Kaluuya pulls off easily. His chemistry with Allison Williams doesn’t feel cheap or forced, either. Williams, especially, does a job that may go unappreciated until after multiple watches. Tons of analysis can and will be written with regards to her.

Everyone contributes to the humor, written of course by Jordan, but don’t underestimate the delivery and timing aspects that can mar good humorous dialogue if executed poorly. Wouldn’t be surprising if Lil Rel Howery went on a Kevin Hart-esque run after this, he steals scenes whenever he’s in front of the camera. Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Keith Stanfield, and Milton Waddams himself (okay, Stephen Root) may not have big time roles, but they do not take away from the movie. They keep the focus on Kaluuya but always maintaining presence.

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A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Thankfully, Get Out doesn’t waste the viewer’s. Impeccable horror it’s not, but biting social commentary (with some horror thrills mixed in), it is.

B+

Photo credits go to BET.com, blumhouse.com, and bollywoodreads.com

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Sicario: Movie Man Jackson

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“You’re not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves, now.”

For the 1,387,466th time…in Mexico, Sicario means hitman. In what looks like a routine day on the job (or as routine as a day can be for an FBI agent), kidnapping response specialist Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) stumbles into a situation she cannot be prepared for in Chandler, Arizona. The aftermath of the situation isn’t one she can clean herself of, and as a result, she desperately wants to help. Picking up on this, a specialized task force leader named Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), asks her to be a part of the mission.

What is the mission? To take down one of the biggest cartels smack dab in the middle of the United States and Mexico, or in Graver’s words, “The real men responsible” for the carnage seen in Chandler. Giving help to the mission is Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), an enigmatic figure whom little is known about, except that he’s capable to handle this hell. As time goes on in this mission, the idealistic Kate begins to find that right and wrong aren’t all that far away from each other. Welcome to Juarez.

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Two films come to mind after seeing Sicario. One obviously being Trafficwith both focusing on the war on drugs, and the other actually being No Country for Old Menwhich yours truly will come back to. All three of these films are great in their own right for many reasons, but Sicario firmly establishes itself as the best of that group, and taken outside of that group it is an awesome view, regardless.

The first reason? Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) and cinematographer Roger Deakins are the early 2000’s reincarnation of the Shaq and Kobe duo in cinema production form. Every shot is meticulous, meaningful, and worthy of the viewer’s attention, even the most quiet of moments. Like Shaq and Kobe in their tandem heyday, these guys bring the tension, but they know how to make it ebb and flow. It truly is unnerving at times, the feeling even more driven home by the rumbling and unsettling score composed by one of the best today in Johann Johannsson.

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Written by Taylor Sheridan (Sons of Anarchy), Sicario focuses on whether the war on drugs is worth the fight at all, by focusing on the age-old theme of order v.s. chaos. Should chaos be fought with chaos? Is there order to be found in a scenario that seemingly has none? There are a few questions left unanswered in the plot, which is a bit frustrating. But, to yours truly at least, that is part of the statement that Villeneuve is making. Not everything can be answered, and maybe nor should it, and perhaps the sooner one comes to that realization, the better off they’ll be.

As Kate, Emily Blunt is essentially the audience’s eyes to the horrors witnessed. She puts on a brave face in the face of danger, but she is honest to herself and knows this isn’t where she belongs. And it gets to her, and Blunt conveys the uncertainty and bewilderment that Kate has with every step in the mission. She’s all about order and doing things the right way, though she does come off at a little too wide-eyed here and there. Nonetheless, great work by Blunt, whose character is kind of reminiscent from an alignment standpoint of Tommy Lee Jones’ character in NCFOM. Her partner that appears throughout is Reggie Wayne, played by Daniel Kaluuya. Kaluuya is fine, but his role adds little, if anything, to the story. If removed, nothing is missed.

Josh Brolin provides some brief lightness to an otherwise bleak tale. That doesn’t mean his character is a joke, but Graver is unconventional; lighthearted and serious at the same time, with an agenda that few know about. Brolin and Blunt are very strong, but like 2000’s Traffic, there is one man that seizes the attention from his other talented co-stars: Benicio Del Toro. From the second he comes off of a plane, Alejandro is a mesmerizing character. There’s something that screams mystery in the way he carries himself, how he speaks in the occasional riddle, etc. He’s very Anton Chigurh-ish in that sense, but with way more layers. One of the better characters of the year, easily.

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Tense, realistic (at least it feels like it), wonderfully well-acted, and above all technically proficient, Sicario is smaller-scoped look at the war on drugs, but one that never wanes in intensity whatsoever. In Mexico, Sicario means hitman.  To me, Sicario means a very, very superb film.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to screenrant.com, moviepilot.com, and fubiz.net.

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