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Critics fall for Wakanda and the entire ‘Black Panther’ cast

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There’s a new king in town and his name is T’Challa. Marvel’s Black Panther won’t open in theaters for another two weeks, but the reviews are in.

As Mashable’s Angie Han wrote, this feels like more than a regular movie, whether because of widespread love for the character or audiences’ craving for nonwhite representation on screen.

A few years ago – and even now – this would have been any easy job to botch, but director Ryan Coogler and his formidable cast delivered.

As of this writing, Black Panther is currently rocking a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 48 reviews.

For more on what critics thought of Black Panther (spoiler-free), read on.

The women of Wakanda (especially Shuri) rule

Kendra James, Shondaland:

Having three women working together without conflict (and all dark skinned with nary a loose curl or straight hair in sight) in a blockbuster film is still a novelty in 2018. Coogler forces his audience to, for the first time in the MCU, acknowledge the power of Black women. There is Nakia (Nyong’o), a spy who considers it her mission in life to surreptitiously help the disenfranchised on the continent. T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Wright), is a teenage genius who leads the country’s scientific endeavors. She’s also Marvel’s first true style icon, and should have an Ivy Park line created in her honor immediately. As General Okoye, Gurira is the actual personification of #Goals; a woman who stands firm in her beliefs, is a primary adviser to the king and his mother (Angela Bassett), and who could definitely take out Black Widow even on her worst day.

Joelle Monique, Polygon:

Shuri is a revelation. Wright steals every scene with her bright smile and perfect comedic timing. From a brazen middle finger to a sense of fashion and confidence in the face of imminent danger, Shuri is an inspiration for all. I cannot fully express the joy of seeing a smart, carefree, nonsexualized young black woman on the big screen…There isn’t a Black Widow sex symbol here, or a Pepper Potts standing in the wings. The women of Black Panther are vital to Wakanda’s success.

Jamie Broadnax, Black Girl Nerds:

She steals damn near every scene in the film, and I’m 110% confident that audiences will walk away talking about Shuri long after the film ends. I’m also confident that Wright would be able to hold a Shuri Black Panther solo movie on her own.  Let’s remember that in comic book canon (during the Reginald Hudlin run), Shuri takes on the Black Panther mantle and becomes ruler of Wakanda. It would only make sense to bring in a Shuri movie at this point. I also would like to add that the focus on her being the smartest person in the universe is strong here, and many characters in the Marvel universe—including Tony Stark himself—have a lot to learn from Shuri’s technology and skills.

A milestone for representation

Joelle Monique, Polygon:

In showing the legacy of Wakanda, which is filled with wealth and knowledge, and juxtaposing it with the hardships that black youths faced in Oakland, Coogler establishes a conversation around the dichotomy of being African-American versus African…Black Panther seeks to find a middle ground between these two worlds: a world where black Americans aren’t left out of the cultural celebration of their West African roots, and where greedy people don’t have an opportunity to consume Wakanda. By focusing on the citizens of Wakanda and their disagreements on how to manage the country’s future, Coogler creates a sense of harmonic anarchy.

Jamie Broadnax, Black Girl Nerds:

it’s afro-futuristic and Blackity-black as hell.  It’s everything I’ve ever desired in a live-action version of this popular superhero and yet so much more. Quite frankly, the experience is indescribable. I left the theater wanting to see this movie at least 10 more times. I already know that Black Panther‘s weight in gold at the box office will be in repeat viewings, because we just won’t want this cinematic experience to end.

Marc Bernardin, Nerdist:

The film does deal head-on with issues of race, subjugation, and oppression in ways both heartbreaking and hilarious. At one point, a young black boy in a rundown apartment in Oakland, California (Coogler’s hometown), dismisses the idea of Wakanda itself: What good is “a kid in Oakland, running around believing in fairy tales”? Coogler answers that question with the film itself: Here is a fairy tale for children who rarely get them, and never like this. What’s more, the final coda is as direct an address to the xenophobia at home in our current administration as that which you’ll find in any film this year, let alone a giant Marvel movie.

Kendra James, Shondaland:

The 31-year-old director has just three feature films under his belt — “Fruitvale Station” (2013), “Creed” (2015), and “Black Panther”— but these three films (which all feature astounding performances by Jordan) share a similar point of view: that the black experience is nuanced and it is varied. We are parents. We span socio-economic statuses. We live with disabilities. We might live delightfully ordinary lives, or we might be superheroes. But no matter where we fall in life, we’re still affected by the lasting (and ongoing) effects that whiteness has had on black people everywhere.
It’s imperative to understand the point of view Coogler brings to “Black Panther,” as it is the scaffolding T’Challa (the Black Panther’s secret identity, played by Boseman) and the rest of Wakanda stand on.

Magical world building

Joelle Monique, Polygon:

With everyone lined up, it’s easy to see that Ruth E. Carter deserves an Oscar for her costume design. Her use of colors is masterful; the palette is distinctly African, and so striking as to make me long for the days of Technicolor.
Wakanda is the African dream. Unsullied by colonization, it is the most technically advanced civilization in the world. It looks like the most technically advanced place in the world, too.
All of Wakanda is constructed in harmony with the natural features of the land. Production designer Hannah Beachler has created some of the most unique sci-fi spaces in recent memory.

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times:

Buoyed by its groovy women and Afrofuturist flourishes, Wakanda itself is finally the movie’s strength, its rallying cry and state of mind. Early on, a white character carelessly describes it as “a third world country — textiles, shepherds, cool outfits.” Part of the joke, which the movie wittily engages, is that Wakanda certainly fits that profile except that its shepherds patrol the border with techno-wizardry, and its textiles and costumes dazzle because of the country’s secret vibranium sauce. More critically, having never been conquered, Wakanda has evaded the historical traumas endured by much of the rest of Africa, freeing it from the ravages of both colonialism and postcolonialism.

Marc Bernardin, Nerdist:

It’s as if everyone enlisted to bring the project to life understood the magnitude of what Black Panther, the first comic-based studio movie with a black hero at the center since 1998’s Blade, would represent. The chance to fill every corner of their fictional Wakanda with the same level of craft and detail usually reserved for British-star-studded period pieces. An opportunity to tell a story about black lives, which matter and are not defined by their pain but, instead, by their glory. An answer to a culture’s question, “When will it be our time in the sun?”

Kendra James, Shondaland:

“Black Panther” is so masterfully shot that its many-hued black actors almost seem to glow. This is how you light melanin. With the help of costume designer Ruth Carter (who must certainly be in contention for an Oscar nomination in 2019 for her work here) and hair department head Camille Friend, director Ryan Coogler has created one of the most visually interesting displays of blackness on screen. “Black Panther” mixes several aesthetics from the African continent (influences came from the Masai, Suri, Ndebele, and Bosotho peoples, among others), and while some may consider it an imperfect display or too much of a melange, the wide-ranging display of black people is astounding.

Black Panther hits theaters nationwide Feb. 16.

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/06/black-panther-review-roundup/

New Movie Reviews

The 15:17 to Paris review Clint Eastwood derails a tale of real-life terror

Charmaine Blake

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Three young Americans who bravely foiled an attack on a train play themselves in a drama that focuses too much on their excruciatingly dull backstories

The 15:17 to Paris review Clint Eastwood derails a tale of real-life terror

2 / 5 stars

Three young Americans who bravely foiled an attack on a train play themselves in a drama that focuses too much on their excruciatingly dull backstories

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/08/the-1517-to-paris-review-clint-eastwood-france-train-attack

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New Movie Reviews

The Commuter Review – Liam Neeson

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Speeding along familiar action-thriller tracks, the actor reaches peak Neeson as a former cop forced to rescue his abducted family while on his daily commute

Theres no stopping this thoroughly efficient train-bound action thriller, which pulls out of New Yorks Grand Central at a sedate pace and steadily accelerates through the suburbs, almost in real time, until 90 minutes later were careering out of control in a reckless race against time. Its another white-knuckle ride from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra something of a master of high-concept, ticking-clock B-movies and his regular leading man, Liam Neeson, who is now as dependable as a Swiss watch in this type of senior action-hero role.

Liam
Liam Neeson in The Commuter. Photograph: Jay Maidment/AP

Neeson plays Michael MacCauley, insurance broker and family man (although they might as well just name his character Liam Neeson). Hes caught the same Hudson line commuter train for 10 years; except this time Vera Farmiga elegantly plonks herself into the seat opposite and makes Neeson an offer he could refuse but doesnt: find one person on the train based on their destination and nickname, plant a tracking device on their bag, and shell give him $100,000. Hes just lost his job, so why not? As an added incentive, Farmiga tells him theyll kill his wife and son if he refuses or fails.

No sooner is Neeson pitched into this predicament than the questions mount up. Who are they? Why are they doing this? How can he possibly locate this mystery person? Why dont they simply tell him who it is? And first and foremost, havent they seen the Taken movies? Dont they know that if theres one person whose family you dont abduct in order to coerce him into being your random fall guy, its Liam Neeson?

But no time for details. Neesons tormentors quickly demonstrate they arent kidding, the pace starts picking up, and the race against time is on. It helps that Neeson is a former cop, and thus well equipped for the challenge. It also helps that he knows some regulars on the train, and we get to know plenty more passengers or suspects. Who could it be? His buddy Jonathan Banks? The brash Wall Street type? Florence Lady Macbeth Pugh? The cocky conductor? The shifty guy with the snake tattoo? The Latina nurse?

As we accelerate from Hitchcock territory into the Die Hard zone, theres a perverse hows he going to get out of this? pleasure to proceedings, with a few switchbacks and red herrings to keep us guessing. Despite the confined location, theres rarely a dull moment visually, either. Collet-Serra is constantly finding new places to put the camera, to the extent that by the end were familiar with every part of the train, from the vent in the toilet to the carriage couplings beneath the floor. The camera even flies through the punched hole of a train ticket in one gratifying shot.

The Commuter trailer video

But what keeps The Commuter on the rails is Neeson himself. Hes in amazing form for a 65-year-old (his character is only 60), and in terms of actorly presence, hes still got it. His craggy face is now as monumental as Mount Rushmore, his voice is a resonant velvety growl, and his body can still give and take one hell of a pounding. Whats more, he can leap crashing train carriages in a single bound. Hes like a live-action version of Pixars Mr Incredible.

On the downside, The Commuter is in such a hurry to reach its destination without delay, theres no time to enjoy the view. Its so stripped down, the characters are mostly ciphers and theres little in the way of leavening humour or unexpected detours. Perhaps you cant ask too much from a modest, mid-range crowd-pleaser like this, but the experience ends up something like a commuter service itself: you know where its going and it gets you there perfectly well, but in a few years time youd be hard pressed to distinguish it from dozens of similar journeys.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jan/10/the-commuter-review-liam-neeson-train-thriller

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New Movie Reviews

‘Call Me By Your Name’ works better if you read the book AFTER the movie

Charmaine Blake

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It’s officially Hollywood awards season, which means anxious moviegoers around the world can finally watch and compare the movies we’ve been hearing about for ages. 

Perhaps the most elusive is Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. The film is currently only playing in New York and Los Angeles and awaiting a wider release, which means that you have time to read the book while you wait for it in another city or part of the world. 

But contrary to all instinct, you may want to wait before reading. Call Me By Your Name is deeply fulfilling on both page and screen, but Call Me By Your Name may just be the rare case where you should watch the movie first before reading the book. 

I read Call Me By Your Name in December, before seeing the film that had just arrived in New York. The novel is unapologetically gripping within the first few pages as André Aciman superbly describes Elio’s attraction – his love, his obsession, his unfettered desire – to Oliver. Aciman’s  words are chosen with almost chemical precision to create a vivid and exact portrait of how young love consumes. The story soars, in large part, because of Elio’s hyper honest narration, which gives the reader an intimate and unparalleled account of one person’s journey through love.

Watching Call Me By Your Name on film lets the actor and audience interpret the meaning of every look and gesture.

However, the movie of Call Me By Your Name does away with Elio’s narration, so viewers don’t get those marvelous words. Instead, you get Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer acting the heck out of Elio and Oliver’s desires and impulses, without any words of narration to aid them in conveying their attraction. 

Watching Call Me By Your Name on film before reading the book lets the audience interpret the meaning of every look and gesture of Elio and Oliver, before learning of every detail of every single thread of thought that led Elio to a single moment as Aciman depicts in the book. 

Art is inherently subjective, much as we criticize it. Having the opportunity to freely interpret a relationship as complex as Elio and Oliver’s as an outside, third-person viewer, rather than through the novel’s first-person narration, only adds to the depth of Call Me By Your Name.

Take, for example, one crucial interaction the two share early on. Oliver touches Elio’s shoulder while a group of people are playing volleyball, and Elio wiggles away.

In the novel, you’re treated to this passage:

…I was so spellbound that I wrenched myself free from his touch, because a moment longer I would have slackened like one of those tiny wooden toys whose gimp-legged body collapses as soon as the mainsprings are touched…It never occurred to me that what had totally panicked me when he touched me was exactly what startles virgins on being touched for the first time by the person they desire: he stirs nerves in them they never knew existed and that produce far, far more disturbing pleasures than they are used to on their own. 

It’s a deliberately relatable sensation, placed early in the book to show you that Elio’s passion is rooted in desires we’ve all shared. Not until later do we have the inkling that this brief moment is something beyond a casual interaction at a volleyball game.

In the movie, though, you see that scene play out over a split second as Elio squirms away. No explanation is offered, leaving the viewer to ask “Is he hurt? Is he being cautious? Is Elio even interested in Oliver?” Where the novel embeds you in Elio’s psyche, the screen version gives you neither Elio’s desire nor Oliver’s doubt in the moment. The scene is loaded with potential precisely because of its ambiguity — we could be any of those casual volleyball game bystanders, unaware that something far more tender is blossoming in their midst.

And those moments of viewer interpretation are echoed again and again throughout the movie. For instance, after Elio and Oliver’s first night together, Aciman spends pages and pages on Elio’s complicated thoughts about what just happened. As Aciman outlines in the novel, Elio and Oliver’s coupling is not the be-all-end-all bliss Elio imagined, but Elio feels that if it had remained in his imagination he would have gone mad wanting to live the experience. 

Something bordering on nausea, something like remorse – was that it, then? – began to grip me and seemed to define itself ever more clearly the more I became aware of incipient daylight through our windows…I had known it would hurt. What I hadn’t expected was that the hurt would find itself coiled and twisted into sudden pangs of guilt.

Elio feels disgusted with himself, yet he cannot regret the decisions he never questioned. He feels an unbridgeable distance growing between him and everyone and everything tied to his life before the night with Oliver.

The beauty of the movie is that instead of analyzing [the scene] for us, we as the viewer get to watch Elio experience it.

In the film, all of those conflicting thoughts must be conveyed through Chalamet-as-Elio’s face, where it can be hard, as a an outside viewer watching an actor, to piece apart all those warring emotions just by watching. 

But once again, that ambiguity may be the film’s strength. It seems impossible that this building, tumultuous romance would include the sort of temporary revulsion Aciman describes in the novel. It is the paradox of not wanting someone once you find out they want you, and the beauty of the movie is that instead of analyzing it for us, we as the viewer get to watch Elio experience it.

That’s not to say that Elio has cast away Oliver. The moment Oliver leaves for the day, Elio longs for his company as both friend and lover. In the book, readers are offered:

He was my secret conduit to myself – like a catalyst that allows us to become who we are, the foreign body, the pacer, the graft, the patch that sends all the right impulses, the steel pin that keeps a soldier’s bone together, the other man’s heart that makes us more us than we were before the transplant.
The very thought of this suddenly made me want to drop everything I would do today and run to him.

In the movie, viewers see this:

We see what Oliver sees, which is a confused kid grappling with sex and longing.

And perhaps that reveals the film’s greatest strength. Call Me By Your Name‘s not-so-secret weapon is Chalamet, whose performance communicates everything in Elio’s head and more if you watch closely enough.

Call Me By Your Name‘s not-so-secret weapon is Chalamet, whose performance communicates everything in Elio’s head and more

Take for instance, the film’s emotional closing, one long shot of Chalamet’s face presented during the credits in which we watch Elio process his relationship. Few other actors could carry such a powerful ending. Once again we are maddeningly distanced from Elio’s inner thoughts and can only wonder how he feels after everything that’s happened. You’ll relive every moment the two of them had together and hope it’ll yield answers. You’ll ache for him, a mere boy, as you watch the magnitude of the summer wash over him.

As it happens, the book ends well beyond that, with Elio recounting Oliver’s whereabouts and their missed connections well into adulthood. If the movie broke you, the book may offer some comfort in filling in what follows. Then again, it may break you all over again.

This isn’t as simple as a book or movie being better than its counterpart. Call Me By Your Name can and should be experienced in both forms: each text only enriches the other and bolsters this already soaring story of love, lust, and longing. 

The novel is phenomenally written, but the film offers a rare opportunity to interpret two people’s incredible journey of falling in love. It’s an opportunity that should be experienced before reading exactly what the main character feels in the novel. Instead of poring over the text beforehand, we can savor the opportunity to witness Elio and Oliver’s love without expectation, subject to our honest reactions and the actors’ raw performance. And afterward – as the Oscar buzz builds – we can read the book and marvel over what inspired such a magnificent movie.

We do not deserve either, to be clear. But we can damn well try to earn them.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2018/01/07/call-me-by-your-name-book-movie/

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