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Oscars 2018 Best Picture Review: Black Panther

Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman plays The Black Panther who has to save the kingdom of Wakanda and his people.

People have been waiting for the longest time for a superhero movie to get nominated for Best Picture. If there’s a movie genre the 2010’s will most be remembered for, it will be for the heydays of the superhero movie. Deadpool and Wonder Woman were heavy favorites that ‘missed by that much.’ However it’s Black Panther that finally did it. And rightly so!

Now I’m not going to give a brief synopsis of the plot because most of you already know the story and saw the action. I will talk about superhero movies and how it lead to Black Panther’s most recent Oscar success. Now we’ve had superhero movies in previous decades and back in the 20th Century. I’m sure many of you can remember the old Superman and Batman movies from the 80’s and 90’s. The problem is around that time, the emphasis on popcorn movies back then was to be heavy on the action, and even heavy on the market hype, but comparatively minor attention to the characters and story-line. You couldn’t blame them; action movies blew people away and won big at the box office. However the flaws of a shotty script with minimal character development would soon become noticeable, especially by the critics. Around the 90’s as independent films were winning people over with storylines and well-developed characters, the stories and characters in action movies were starting to look either cardboard or idiotic. 1998’s Godzilla was possibly the best example of a film loaded with hype and action, but a ridiculous cookie-cutter story with foolish acting.

The 21st Century would mark a turning point for popcorn movies and especially for superhero movies for them to deliver better stories and better acting. Some say 9/11 became a turning point for movie watchers as they became less interested in cheering for villains and sleazes, but there’s more to that. The first sign was 2002’s SpiderMan. The producers were aware that despite the love for action in movies, the films story and acting could not be compromised. The film was loaded with action, as expected, but it did an excellent job in delivering a good story along with good acting as a result. That would not only open the doors for more superhero movies to come, but would also change the way superhero movies were done too. Marvel and their cooperating studios would become less focused on marketing hype — have you noticed there are less fast food chains plugging action movies lately? — and more focused on developing a well-written and well-acted story. It’s not to say that there were duds. There were a few SpiderMan sequels that were lousy and the 2015 rehash of the Fantastic Four was lame, but most superhero movies were very winning and easily demonstrated why they were winning crowds over.

Also on the subject of superheroes, I remember there were groups from religious organizations highly critical of the movies Hollywood was shelling out. They were complaining about all the ‘hazardous’ things in movies and how it threatened their values. Although no censorship occurred from their pleas, it did have an effect on the way superheroes are portrayed in the big-screen movies. One thing the studios were reminded of was that superheroes didn’t just simply do amazing things with their hands. They were characters that took a stand for values and were not afraid to do what’s right and be unafraid to deliver in their call of duty. In fact there have been many cases of some studios’ writing teams hiring Christian writers for the task. In most cases (obviously not for Deadpool), the superhero movies of the 21st Century were often praised by Christian critics of promoting values and dignity in a winning way. To think back in the 1990’s while gangsta rap and anti-hero entertainment were the call of the day, most people thought a story promoting values would come across being like a Mister Rogers. The 21st Century superhero movies proved that promoting values can be done in a winning way.

However it’s only been in recent years that superhero movies have the potential to do very well in the Oscar race. Most of the time, the best chances superhero movies had at scoring Oscars or Oscar nominations were in the technical categories like Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing. Sometimes they would win nominations in Best Costume Design, Best Production Design or Best Original Score despite nominations going mostly to ‘timepiece’ movies. The big turning point came in 2008 when The Dark Knight was a heavy favorite to get a Best Picture nomination. It didn’t happen, but Heath Ledger won an Oscar for his portrayal as The Joker. It was the biggest sign of how much better superhero movies, and even popcorn movies in general, became. In the past two years, there were two superhero movies, 2016’s Deadpool and 2017’s Wonder Woman, that were nominated for Best Motion Picture for the Producers Guild Awards. The Oscar nomination however did not happen: for Best Picture or any category!

It’s 2018; enter Black Panther. The Black Panther is a hero that actually made its debut in the Marvel universe in a Fantastic Four strip in 1966. The Black Panther has made many appearances in various Marvel comic stories. In film, the first appearance of the Black Panther was in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War where he was played by Chadwick Boseman. That of course was an Easter Egg of what was yet to come. The movie of The Black Panther was released in 2018. As expected, it was to tell the story of how the Black Panther came to be and how the Black Panther had to achieve their first defining moment of greatness. However it did a very good job in presenting a story of a moment in the distant past, to the ‘near-past’ of 1992 to the present. The story doesn’t just simply focus on T’Challa becoming the Black Panther, but also on his family and restoring the dignity of the Jabari Tribe and the wealth of the kingdom of Wakanda.

The film also does a good job in developing a story that’s entertaining for adults but also not too confusing for children. Another hard job of superhero movies is developing a story that works for both children and adults. It shows the conflicts abounding between T’Challa and Killmonger, as well as Killmonger’s pursuit of the throne of Wakanda with the intent to rule corruptly. It delivers the story in an excellent and entertaining manner with well-developed characters. Of course a superhero film needs to have its action moments, but the film does not compromise at all on the story or the characters.

The best efforts of the film come from director/co-writer Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole. Coogler has had a steady progression in the film world. His first film was the 2013 independent arthouse film Fruitvale Station, then progressed to popcorn movies with 2015’s Creed, and now Black Panther. All have had winning results. Black Panther could have gone to another white director that was part of the Marvel team, but marvel made the right choice to have Coogler direct despite never directing a sci-fi movie. The result is winning. Cole has also been able to make his mark in this film. The most writing experience he had before the film was 2011’s Amber Lake and the TV series The People vs. O.J. Simpson. Here, he’s able to make a name for himself in a big way and should open bigger doors in the future.

With the great directing and the great story, the acting is also excellent. Chadwick Boseman delivers very well as the Black Panther and succeeds in delivering a three-dimensional role for the character. Michael B. Jordan (who also acted in Fruitvale Station and Creed) also does a great job portraying the villain. Lupita Nyong’o was possibly the biggest scene-stealer of the movie. She was enjoyable. The costuming by Ruth E. Cater worked excellently for the film as well as the sets for the film. It made Wakanda look very believable as a place. The music by Ludwig Goransson also fit the film excellently and the special effects were dazzling and entertaining.

It’s easy to see why Black Panther is a winning film. It’s a superhero story that delivers in all facets and manages to dazzle crowds too. It also succeeds in again taking a seldom-known Marvel superhero and turning him into a household name.

VIFF 2018 Review: Edge Of The Knife (SG̲aawaay Ḵ’uuna)

Edge Knife

Tyler York plays a Haida man who’s inner monster overtakes him in Edge Of The Knife.

One of my goals each VIFF is to see a Canadian feature-length film. I had the good fortune when I went to see Edge Of The Knife. Not only is it a Canadian feature, but possibly the only feature-length film ever completely in the Haida language!

The film begins with the carving of a wooden mask and then burning it in a fire. The story begins with a meeting of two Haida families over at the Haida Gwaii in Northwestern BC in the 19th Century. It’s an annual fishing camp the families have together. Adiits’ii is the oldest son of and close to the family of Kwa and his son Gaas, who sees Adiits’ii as his mentor. Kwa’s wife Hlaaya finds his appetite for challenges to be too reckless for her son. However Adiits’ii often feels belittled by his own family. Sometimes Kwa makes him feel inferior.

In the evening, Adiits’ii decides to take Gaas onto the waters on boat. Overnight a storm hits the coast. The families fear the worst for Adiits’ii and Gaas. The next morning, the bad news. Gaas is found dead on the coast. Adiits’ii is missing and presumed dead. However Adiits’ii is still alive. He’s in a remote forested location and feels he can’t return because of the reactions from others he fears. Secluded, he becomes overtaken by a huge spirit. He transforms into a Gaagiid/Gaagiixiid — the legendary Haida Wildman  — and his behaviors become feral and even demonic. The whole family searches for Adiits’ii. Kwa and his wife are first to discover Adiits’ii, but lashes out at him wanting to kill him. The wife tries to stop him, but that leads Kwa to speak out his belief of who he thinks Gaas’ true father is. The families work to get Adiits’ii captured before they can free him from his possession. They set up a trap and they succeed. It’s at a ritualistic ceremony that involves prayer and piercing of the chest that they have to free Adiits’ii from the possession of the Gaagiixiid. The film ends with Adiits’ii carving out a mask out of wood, the very mask seen at the beginning, and burning it. At the end, we notice it’s in the image of how Adiits’ii was when possessed by the Gaagiixiid.

As far as film quality goes, this is a film I’d call great, but not excellent. The story is very good as it focuses on physical actions and unspoken feelings. However I have seen Canadian films with better dialogue and better story lines. Culturally, this is an excellent film as it captures the Haida culture and the Haida language without any interruption of the English language. Also it captures Haida mythology with excellence. It introduces us to the Gaagiixid. I am not familiar with Haida culture at all, but the film gives me a good understanding about the mythological belief of other beings. We should remember that Adiits’ii is a person with personal demons. He feels like the misfit and he feels like he’s belittled. Although he doesn’t say it, it’s obvious. After the accidental death of Gaas, it’s his guilt that gets the best of him and runs away. It’s there when he turns into the Gaagiixid. I believe the Gaagiixid is all about his personal demons and bad self-image. He had to conquer the Gaagiixid inside of him to truly come to peace with who he is and what he did.

This is an accomplishment of a film as far as culture goes. First off, this is a film done by not one, but two First Nations directors: Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown. Secondly, this is a film done completely in the Haida language. This is a film that is essential for the language. At first, Haida was the only language the people spoke. However with the happenings of past history and with modernization, there are only twenty fluent Haida-speakers left. Even though there is educating young people inn the Haida language or even a resurgence of bringing back the language, the struggle is still there. This film does an excellent job in displaying the language and the culture of the Haida people. The idea of the film came back in 2011 by University professor Leonie Sandercock. In making the film, those involved received a Partnership Development Grant of $200,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, so even arts funds knew of the importance of this film to be made. Also to create a time before European settlers arrived really involved a lot of effort. The whole

Also the film has been widely welcomed and celebrated by the Haida peoples and other First Nations peoples of BC. I remember a couple of times during the VIFF, I was waiting to see a film after Edge Of The Knife over at the theatre I was to attend. Each time I was in line, I was given the news that there would be a 30-40 minute delay of the start of my film. As Edge Of The Knife finished, I saw more than just people exiting. I saw some dressed in traditional First Nations costume. Some even brought drums and performed a song of celebration. When I saw that, I felt I had to see Edge Of The Knife when I had the chance. This was more than just something. I’m glad I did.

Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown did an excellent job in directing and creating a world far back in the past and appear authentic. The script by Gwaai and Jaalen Edenshaw, Graham Richard and Sandercock was not too intense in terms of dialogue, but it does present a very good story that’s more about emotions and image-based. Tyler York did a very good job as Adiits’ii. His acting was more about what was inside of him rather than what he said. Willy Russ almost stole the show as Kwa. The actors involved are more of a Haida community rather than actors by profession. All did a very good job. The film was light on special effects, but the effects fit the film and the scenes right. It didn’t need more effects than necessary.

Edge Of The Knife may not be the best Canadian film I’ve seen or even the best of subject of First Nations peoples. However this is a very culturally-important film that deserves to be shown. It also tells its story in both an entertaining and mesmerizing way. Definitely worth seeing.

VIFF 2018 Review: United Skates

United Skates

United Skates is a unique documentary that shows how vital roller skating is for those that do it, and why roller rink closures hurt.

It’s usually good to take a break and watch a documentary that doesn’t have a political agenda heavily shown. I was able to see that in United Skates.

The film begins by showing various African-Americans going out and having a good time on skates. Very soon we see some of the more sensational moves that are frequently seen at the rinks. They’re stylish or they’re acrobatic. Whatever it is, they’re all out to have a good time. Young or old, single or with family, they’re all out to have fun. This is a phenomenon that has been going on for decades nationwide. A place where various African-American skaters have their own moves and their own fanfare.

Soon into the movie we learn how roller rinks are considered a top getaway for African Americans. Roller rinks may have had their biggest heyday in the late-70’s and early-80’s for most Americans, but African-Americans kept it lasting long after that. It was a getaway from the harsh realities of daily life. It was one place they could take their kids away from the harsh realities of urban living. It was also a place where the first hip-hop and rap artists found a stage to perform on. Yes, roller rinks were an integral part of the early years of hip-hop culture. When night clubs and radio stations, even the soul and urban stations, wouldn’t give those artists their time, roller rinks gave them their stage. Coolio and Salt ‘N Pepa can vouch for that. There are even scenes in Straight Outta Compton that show NWA perform at roller rinks during their early days. In fact there was even a case in the 90’s where two roller rinks in Los Angeles would be the different domains of two rival gangs: the Bloods and the Crips. When one rink closed, the other rink became neutral territory for the two.

The documentary shows how roller rinks have gone from commonplace nationwide starting in 1982 to disappearing gradually starting in the 90’s to today being probably one tenth of what it was. Modern times have proved to be a very trying time for roller rinks. Gentrification has been a pressure with turning a lot of top recreational areas into land for condos. Roller rinks, commonly seen as something of the past, have fallen prey and have seen closures. If an African-American family wanted to take their family to a roller rink, they would have to travel a longer distance.

We even meet a family from Los Angeles before the closure of the World On Wheels rink. The mother has a huge love for roller skating as she has been doing it since her child hood. She was able to share that same love with her children. When they go to World On Wheels, it is family time. It is time for the kids to show their decorated skates, time for all to show off their moves, and a time for the son who has behavioral disorders a place to avoid getting in trouble. Then World On Wheels closes in 2013. They show closing day. The rink tries to make a party of it. Young and old come to have fun one last time. We see people in their late-50’s early-60’s — people that were a part of the ‘roller boogie’ heyday– skate around with the same love. The closing day is as much a day of heartbreak as it is of fun.

Then the rink closes. We see how the owner tries to take everything out of the rink from the lockers to the concessions. We also see how the family tries to cope. They drive hours to a different rink, but face heat because the wheels their skating with are too small.World On Wheels welcomed their skating wheels with open arms. Also the rink has an urban night or soul night. African-Americans undergo security checks. There’s no security checks for white families. It’s obvious the family doesn’t feel welcome here. It gives a sense that these rinks are out to exclude African-Americans. The pressure hits the family hard too as the son committed a crime and has to spend time in prison. The film shows other rink closures too and how much it hurts those that love it.

However like one former rink owner says, patience is the true test for anyone. Over time, there would be skate clubs abounding over social media where people can go out an skate, whether it be in parks or outdoor rinks. Also World On Wheels reopens after popular demand. The re-opening is welcomed with open arms. And the family that was the centrepoint of the story can now skate as a family wearing whatever wheels they want to. We also see the son, just out of prison, having fun again.

It’s obvious the film has a point. The film obviously is showing how roller rinks are important for the vitality of African-American families. It was roller skating where there were a lot of segregation protests. Even roller rinks in the 60’s were a focal point as African-Americans simply wanted to skate on the same rinks as whites. They didn’t want to be confined to blacks-only church halls. It also shows how important roller rinks were towards hip-hop musicians. However the documentarians Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler allow the people to tell their stories. There’s no narration here. Some graphics that tell a lot but it’s the people from the owners to the families to the hip-hop musicians who tell their story about roller rinks and why they don’t just simply love it, but consider it a key part of themselves. You can bet the audience will feel the energy. There were many times people were cheering on the moves and they gave the film a big applause at the end.

United Skates has a point to say, but it doesn’t just simply say it. It shows it. It also makes you open your eyes and notice that roller rinks aren’t simply a relic from the ‘roller boogie’ phenom. They’re now and they vital.

NOTE: The website of United Skates has a page where you can donate to keep roller rinks open. Their goal isn’t just to show how important they are, but also to get the viewers to help keep them open. If you want to donate, go to: https://www.unitedskatesfilm.com/donate

Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie is full of surprises. Especially for Charlie Brown.

The Peanuts Movie is full of surprises. Especially for Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown and the Peanuts characters are some of the most beloved cartoon characters in history. The Peanuts Movie brings them back into action in 2015. And in winning style.

It’s winter. While the kids are having fun skating and playing hockey on the ice, Charlie Brown is nervous. A family has moved into town and with them is a girl– the little Red Haired girl– he wants to win the attention of. However he has a track record of bad luck in the neighborhood and among his peers. He sees Lucy for ‘professional help.’ She advises him to make a winner of himself and be more confident.

First chance is at the school talent show. Charlie has a magic act planned with Snoopy and Woodstock assisting. Charlie’s last up. Sally is second -last up with her cowgirl act. However she gets ridiculed by the crowd. Charlie decides to help her win the contest at the expense of his own humiliation. It works. She wins and he makes a fool of himself.

Next chance is the school dance which consists of prizes going to the winning solo dances for both boys and girls. The little-red haired girl wins the female prize.  Charlie Brown appears to have winning form but a slip causes him to fall and disrupt the sprinkler system which disrupts the whole dance. Again a blockhead!

Next chance is a book report which he’s partnered with the little red-haired girl. Then comes aptitude testing which Charlie Brown is believed to score the highest. Just before Charlie Brown is to receive a medal for his perfect score, he learns the truth and declines his medal on stage. To make matters worse the book report Charlie Brown wrote for the little -red-haired girl is destroyed in the air by Snoopy’s plane.

Summer approaches and classmates are assigned to be pen pals. The little red-haired girl chooses Charlie Brown. The thing is she’s to spend the summer at camp. Charlie Brown has one last chance to meet up with her. Does he do it or doesn’t he? Those who saw the movie will know for sure.

What the filmmakers had in terms of bringing the Peanuts back to the big screen was a challenge. The first challenge was for possibly the first time, the Peanuts characters were 3D in a 3D world. The second challenge was what to include in the film. No doubt the film was to include the common traits of the characters as well as the common lines used by the characters throughout. The other challenge would be what kind of world would The Peanuts be in? Would they be in their past world consisting of common things like books, playing baseball and Snoopy using a typewriter? Or would they be in the modern world where kids use iPads, skateboard, hop onto Wikipedia for whatever info they want and save their essays as Word Documents?

I believe the writers and animators made the right choices to have the story situated in the traditional world of the Peanuts characters. That’s how fans of the cartoon series best remember them and converting them into the modern world would be very tricky stuff and may turn long-time fans off. Another element I liked is that it maintains a lot of familiar situations from Peanuts cartoon strips and Peanuts cartoon shows of the past. The humor of Charles Schulz had to be kept with the story as well as the familiar personality traits of all the characters.

However with this being a feature-length movie, it had to present a legible story with a beginning, middle and end. This was a challenge to write out such a story and mix in the common humor of the Peanuts characters and familiar moments of the Peanuts history. I feel it did an excellent job of creating a consistent story with mixing in the humor of the Peanuts franchise as well as giving all the other characters their moments too. It can’t all be about Charlie Brown. Plus I’m sure all of us wanted to see Charlie Brown win the ‘little red-haired girl.’

Kudos the Charles Schulz’ son Craig, grandson Bryan and Cornelius Uliano for writing an excellent story true to the Peanuts series as well as entertaining from start to finish. Additional kudos to director Steve Martino. To make such a movie work, they had to put it in the hands of someone who knows how to direct animation. Martino has proven himself in the past with Horton Hears A Who and Ice Age 2: Continental Drift. Here he delivers again. I also give the animators credit for making 3D characters of the peanuts characters for possibly the first time. That was another challenge: keep them 2D or make them 3D? They took the risk with 3D and it worked very well. I will admit I did see a few glitches in terms of speed but the form of the characters as well as the settings were flawless.

The vocal talent from the young actors were all there as they not only sounded like the characters but they personified them as we commonly knew them. Additional kudos for Christophe Back for providing the score familiar with Peanuts animation of the past as well as adding some things of his own.

The Peanuts Movie is an excellent movie with all the right moves to win over fans of Peanuts cartoons and introduce the Peanuts kids to a new generation of children.