Thursday, February 22, 2018

Black Panther

                            The Roaring, Soaring Panther

                                                        Review by Ken Burke

                                Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
                      
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): We learn the quick history of the fictional African country of Wakanda where long ago a meteorite struck, leaving a huge deposit of a fantastic metal, vibranium, which impacted a heart-shaped-herb consumed by the first Black Panther, giving him superpowers along with the kingship of the almost-unified-country (one tribe resisted, now lives on the social margins).  Over time vibranium allowed the Wakanda rulers to develop a highly-sophisticated, grandly-technological culture kept hidden from the rest of the world.  In 1992 we see a confrontation in Oakland, CA between the then-King and his younger brother about whether the Wakandan resources should be kept secret for the benefit of their own people or should be used in a weaponized manner to aid oppressed Africans and their descendants worldwide, an argument that continues into the present-day-setting as Prince T’Challa assumes the crown/Panther role but must weigh keeping his country’s unique resources safe for the benefit of his own tribes or sharing what the Wakandans have so zealously guarded for centuries, a choice put to the test when some of the precious material enters the black market, with old and new enemies emerging to challenge the current Panther’s skill at maintaining stability for his nation.  Yes, this is at base just a highly-sophisticated-superhero-action-movie, but with some significant underlying moral considerations put into the context of a cinematic celebration of African people, cultures, and abilities.  It’s made an enormous amount of cash even in just its opening weekend, has received uniformly high critical praise, and sets the stage for this character to have continued impact in the ongoing onslaught of Marvel-based-fantasies.  The surface action, sound, visuals, and performances are stunning, but there’s substance in the ideas behind it all as well.  It’s easy to offer my unqualified show of support.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: Through voiceover of a tribal elder talking to a youngster we learn that eons ago a meteorite of the exotic mineral vibranium (the strongest metal in the universe, used for Captain America’s shield) crashed into central Africa in a place where 5 tribes were warring for domination.  One of the leaders then ingested an herb affected by the vibranium, giving him superpowers, so he became the first Black Panther, king of the newly-combined nation of Wakanda (although the Jabari tribe refused to participate, remaining on the margins of the country).  Over the centuries, the line of kings/Panthers found many uses for the metal, including technological breakthroughs that make them the most advanced nation on Earth (although to prevent invasions seeking their resources they created a sort of invisibility cloak around their borders, with implications to the rest of the world they’re just poor farmers worth nobody’s attention) as well as the foundation for an sleek, armored Panther uniform making the wearer virtually invulnerable (an improvement within this story also allows the suit to absorb energy hurled at it so the wearer can generate a retaliatory-power-blast, sort of like what happens when Wonder Woman slams her bracelets together).  With all that background efficiently established (although some of it’s revealed as the plot progresses) we shift to Oakland, CA in 1992 when then-current Wakandan King T’Chaka (John Kani) visits his younger brother, N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), and his partner, who turns out to be the king’s confidant, Zuri (Forest Whitaker), planted as a spy on N’Jobu because of suspicions he’s working with black market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to steal the precious vibranium.  We end this scene with N’Jobu ordered back to Wakanda to stand trial.  Quickly we cut to present day where T’Chaka’s dead (killed by Helmut Zemo at a UN conference in Vienna during the action of Captain America: Civil War [Anthony and Joe Russo, 2016; review in our May 13, 2016 posting] as a result of massive damage done to Zemo’s country in Avengers: Age of Ultron [Joss Whedon, 2015; review in our May 7, 2015 posting, if you want more backstory on all these events]).

 Prior to Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) being crowned king, he goes on an active mission with Okoye (Danai Gurira), the chief of his all-female-warrior regiment, the Dora Milaje, to bring his ex-lover, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), home (from a spy mission helping enslaved women in Nigeria; apparently Wakandans keep tabs on what else is happening worldwide even as they keep their own situation secret) for the coronation to join his mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and younger sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright); however, the festivities grow serious when, by tradition, anyone from the 5 tribes can challenge his kingship, which happens when Jabari leader M’Buku (Winston Duke) steps forward.  T’Challa must drink a liquid nullifying his Black Panther powers to provide a fair fight, which he wins, convincing M’Buku to tap out rather than be killed.  The Panther’s next challenge comes quickly in London as Klaue and his henchmen, including Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), steal a Wakandan axe (the blade head is vibranium) from a museum, with undercover word getting around it’s to be sold in Busan, South Korea so T’Challa, Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri (who’s like James Bond’s Q in being a techno wizard, constructing all sorts of defensive gadgets, including those improvements to Panther’s costume and [for a reason I didn’t catch] a transparent car).  In Korea they find the buyer’s intended to be CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman).  All hell breaks loose in the secret casino where the transfer was intended to take place, Klaue is captured (despite a lethal vibranium weapon attached to his left arm, finally ripped off by the Panther after an amazing car chase through Busan) then turned over to Ross; Klaue tells the G-man the truth about Wakanda’s advanced status, creating a rift between Ross and T’Challa.  That’s soon forgotten, though, as Erik and the other thugs free Klaue from his prison cell, seriously injuring Ross in the process, so T’Challa makes the decision to abandon his mission of bringing Klaue to justice, instead taking Ross to Wakanda for healing (prompting Shuri to spew “Another broken White man for us to save,” one of a few racially-tinged-zingers bringing howls of approval from my largely African-American audience—at another point she calls him “colonizer,” which also went over well).

 ⇒T’Challa also wants answers, about what really happened to his uncle all those years ago; Zuri reluctantly tells him N’Jobu was planning to steal loads of vibranium with a plan to work with Klaue to ship it to oppressed people of African descent worldwide in order to foment revolution with the underlings now in possession of formidable weapons.  Rather than accept his decreed return to Wakanda, though, N'Jobu attacked Zuri, forcing T’Chaka to kill him, then leave the body rather than stir up unrest back home and risk the world learning the secrets of their country; for the same reasons, they also left his young son, who turns out to be Erik, an embittered young man who eventually went through CIA black-ops training before linking up with Klaue in an attempt to fulfill his father’s plans (we also learn from Ross that Erik took on the surname Killmonger).  Well, kill he does, dispatching Klaue so he can return to Wakanda with the body in a ploy to convince T’Challa’s friend/Okoye’s lover, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), of his good intentions which results in another challenge to T’Challa’s throne as Erik reveals his heritage (true name, N’Jadaka), so another battle ensues with the Panther once again reduced to mortality; this time he’s defeated, though, with his body thrown over a high waterfall, as Erik becomes king, receives the Panther potion (after which he has the infusion chamber destroyed so no one else can ever use it), then prepares to send vibranium-powered-weapons to Wakandan agents worldwide to spark those violent revolutions (only the women of T’Challa’s inner circle oppose him, as Okoye feels her loyalty’s to the office of the monarchy, Zuri’s been killed by Erik in retribution for his part in N’Jobu’s death).  With no alternative, the 3 women and Ross go to M’Baku for help, only to find he’s recovered T’Challa’s body in tribute to not being killed himself previously; Nakia’s got some of the magic herb, stolen prior to the destruction of the other plants, with which they bring comatose T’Challa back to life.⇐

 With T’Challa returned to action as an inspiration, soon the 3 women along with the Dora Milaje warriors are in hand-to-hand-combat with Killmonger’s troops while Ross is set up in Shuri's virtual-reality-cockpit which somehow allows him to shoot down the planes attempting to leave Wakanda with the dreaded weapons; just when the ground war is looking dicey for the home team, M’Baku and his troops show up to help (after first refusing such a request from T’Challa’s family).  When W’Kabi understands Okoye will kill him if she has to in order to defend whom she now feels is the rightful heir to the throne he drops his weapon, the other troops do the same, so it’s now just T’Challa and Killmonger, both in their Panther suits doing battle to the death.  This time it’s T’Challa as victor, but when he offers his cousin the opportunity of healing his mortal wound Erik declines (largely in recognition his life would then be spent in prison), asking only that his body be buried at sea so he can join the remains of all those captured Africans who willingly jumped to their deaths in the ocean rather than face a life of enslavement.  This all comes to closure back in Oakland when T’Calla shows Shuri the building where their uncle died, telling her he’s bought it and some others nearby in order to establish a community outreach center to be run by her and Nakia.  Ending graphics assure us Black Panther will soon be back (in May 2018, in fact) to join the larger band of superheroes facing the powerfully-evil Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony and Joe Russo)—as well as challenging Disney in a May box-office-showdown with Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard).  But, of course, Marvel movies never end with just the credits so midway through that flow we get a quick scene at another UN meeting in Vienna where King T’Challa announces Wakanda’s ready to share its resources with the world, an offer which gets an incredulous (but appropriate, given the sham understanding of that nation portrayed for so long to the rest of the globe) response of “What does a country of poor farmers have to offer?”  Then, after the credit crawl’s finally concluded we get a last scene where Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is shown with Shuri in Wakanda, continuing his rehab after the terrible carnage of Captain America: Civil War.*⇐

*Here’s a 4:14 video about these 2 post-plot-buried-within-the-credits-scenes with a good bit more illuminating commentary than I could offer at this point, given how little I’ve probed into the vast background in the world of Marvel Comics that supports these superhero tales adapted to screen.

So What? 2018 has a long way to go before all the critics’ scores and box-office-results have been tabulated, but any other cinematic entity hoping to out-perform Black Panther had better start retooling itself now for the summer or year-end blockbuster seasons because the often-forgotten-doldrums of February/early March releases (with exceptions such as Fargo [Ethan and Joel Coen, 1996] and Get Out [Jordan Peele, 2017; review in our May 11, 2017 posting]) now have a new champion with the huge initial-and-still-growing-success of Coogler’s/Boseman’s triumph.  Rarely do the terms “critical acclaim” and “financial juggernaut” come together as well as they do for Black Panther, boasting 96% positive reviews (of 313) at Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 87% at Metacritic (on track for them, with a usual situation of lower scores connected to significantly fewer reviews than RT, but still a notably high score for this site), coupled with an enormous $426.8 million in worldwide box-office receipts in just its debut weekend, easily covering its $200 million production budget.  ($242.2 million of that take is from domestic [U.S.-Canada] theaters—well-timed to both Black History Month and the Presidents’ Day Monday-weekend-extension [I saw it on Monday at a packed matinee], making it #5 all-time for a standard domestic weekend opening, although still outpaced by the $248 million take for Star Wars: The Force Awakens [J.J. Abrams, 2015; review in our December 31, 2015 posting—however, for a 4-day-weekend debut it’s now #2 behind … The Force Awakens which jumps up to $288.1 million for its 4-day-haul]; just to be complete, its international income made it #25 all-time for a standard opening weekend [nobody outside the U.S. celebrates Presidents’ Day] while its worldwide total places it at #15 for such [with the Big Enchilada on both those lists being The Fate of the Furious {F. Gary Gray, 2017} with a $541.9 million debut global gross]).  But however it shakes out … Panther’s a grand hit everywhere.

 If you’re among the few folks on planet Earth who haven’t seen Black Panther yet, leaving you wondering if it’s truly worth all that hype (as well as the enormous influx of opening-weekend-ticket-purchase-dollars), I’ll testify that it is, verified by the fact I’ve now posted reviews of 252 films/movies (I differentiate by artistic vs. entertainment intention with these terms but don’t’ assume one as superior to the other in ultimate value, even though the more aesthetic stuff may be more useful to us as a species for our mind-broadening-needs compared to the ritualistic, social-maintenance aspects of entertainment, yet relief and restoration can easily be as valuable as spiritual growth depending on specific circumstances and needs) with ratings of 4 stars or higher—along with several hundred more with lower numbers—but only 6 of them come from the superhero branch of the Fantasy genre.  (All rated at 4 stars; along with Black Panther there’s also The Amazing Spider-Man [Marc Webb, 2012; review in our July 12, 2012 posting], The Amazing Spider-Man 2 [Webb, 2014; review in our May 8, 2014 posting], The Dark Knight Rises [Christopher Nolan, 2012; review in our August 5, 2012 posting], Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Wonder Woman [Patty Jenkins, 2017; review in our June 8, 2017 posting]; had I been doing these reviews when The Dark Knight [Nolan, 2008] debuted, though, I’d have given it 4½ stars, as it’s still my choice as the superior example of this type of genre story.)  Everything from conception about how the hero evolves from a long line of kings/warrior protectors, how there’s strife in the current royal family based on King T’Chaka’s decision years ago, how Wakanda’s managed to develop itself into a technological wonder of a nation all the while keeping its high-profile-identity secret from everyone else, how T’Challa struggles with the ages-old-social-dictum to keep his country isolated from the rest of the planet’s inequities and hostilities when several of those in his inner-circle (including Erik, whether he’s welcome or not) now feel Wakanda should share its riches and knowledge, all taken together makes for a conceptual depth you’d not expect to find in a superhero tale where the usual situation is simply stopping some villain from imposing his rampant destruction upon innocent lives.

 To further note ... Panther's accomplishments, the full cinematic package of highly-resolved-results found in its acting, production design, costumes, music, cinematography, editing, and exhilarating action scenes makes for a theatrical experience well worth your investment (as for the extensive cultural research that went into this historically-conscious-movie, I can’t speak much from experience on such matters but if you explore the extremely well-documented development, pre-production, and design details at this site you can learn a lot of useful information).  I happened to see it in 3-D because of my logistics that day but I don’t sense you need to go the extra bucks unless you prefer such a format; whatever feature you might choose to attend, though, buy your tickets in advance if you can, then get there early for seat choice because it may be awhile before the crowds subside enough for you to be more casual about it.  Still, Black Panther’s part of a pop-movie-genre, so don't expect complete originality as there are audience expectations to be met (including a riveting car chase, given that none of these characters fly so if they’re going to be zooming around in machines they usually need to stick to the ground so as to not seem too repetitive of Star Wars-type aerial battles—besides, car chases are so inherent to so many genres they never seem to get old as long as some new aspects are worked in, such as Shuri’s transparent car disappearing right out from under her during the Korean pursuit of Klaue) in stories such as this, as well as borrowings from other movies of this type to help maintain a sense of familiarity in the midst of ever-escalating action and tension.  In the case of Black Panther there may be other items such as those I'll cite which I didn’t notice, but I’ll call your attention to a few that stood out for me:

 (1) That aforementioned transparent car (maybe there's a need for it to have such a characteristic; if so, the explanation flew by me just as the car flies through the streets of Busan) reminds me of how in the Wonder Woman comics (prior to the universe reboot in the 1985-’86 Crisis on Infinite Earths series) Princess Diana used an invisible airplane for flight (before she was also rebooted with powers that more approach Superman’s), although it had to be depicted as transparent to be seen in print, (2) the invisibility shield that cloaks Wakanda from the outside world also reminds me of the same device used to hide in plain sight the Amazonian island home of Themyscira in Wonder Woman, although both of these porous shields seem to be more translucent, sort of distorting the appearance of what they protect rather than completely blocking them off from the rest of the world, ⇒(3) T’Challa being brought back to life with the “Panther herb” clearly reminded me of similar circumstance with Superman and the Kryptonian genetic fluid in Justice League (Zack Snyder [and Joss Whedon], 2017; review in our November 23, 2017 posting), (4) when M’Baku and his Jabari warriors arrive to aid T’Challa’s forces in the final battle I couldn’t help but think of Han Solo roaring back into action at the end of Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977), temporarily knocking Darth Vader’s fighter out of action, allowing Luke Skywalker to initiate the chain reaction which destroyed the Death Star.⇐   I don’t mean to imply that any of these resemblances are conscious lifting from these other films (or their antecedents, in the case of the invisible airplane), but these plot similarities just go to show how the kinds of activities populating these stories do recur, even if it may be completely unintentional on the part of the filmmakers (Coogler and his team surely didn’t know what was going to be included in a couple of 2017 movies while they were making their own), just like when I got the chance years ago to interview Bob Fosse when he was promoting All That Jazz (1979), noting to him how certain shots in Lenny (1974) reminded me of similar ones in Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941); he admitted he always had a great fondness for … Kane but didn’t realize until he saw it again after finishing Lenny that he’d replicated some of the imagery, just because it looked appropriate to him at the time of his filming.

Bottom Line Final Comments: While you can find hundreds of films set in Africa (especially if you consider ones actually made there—primarily in countries such as Egypt, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, South Africanot just U.S./British/French productions [especially those, but I’m sure they originate in other countries as well]) but often shot mostly in American or European locations, the more-memorable-ones (eliminating a host of racist crap largely produced before the later-20th-century) tend to be Hollywood-style celebrations of the triumphs—or at least resolutions—of Whites facing various perils on the “Dark Continent” such as The African Queen (John Huston, 1951), Zulu (Cy Endfield, 1964), Out of Africa (Sydney Pollack, 1985), Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, 2001) or the more recent historically-based-explorations (as are all the above, in one sense or another, fictionalized as they may be) of challenges and/or triumphs of Black African native-born-people facing internal difficulties (often dangerous) in their own cultures such as Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004), The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald, 2006), Invictus (Clint Eastwood, 2009), Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair, 2016; review in our October 5, 2016 posting [the above cluster carry a decent amount of respect, with a total of 11 Oscars among them, the most—7—for Out of Africa]).*  Black Panther departs from most all of this by being purely fictional; tied in (although with no mention within its plot except for the short post-credits scene) with the hugely-successful Avengers series (its group and individual episodes within the vast Marvel Cinematic Universe); based on an indigenous African culture free of the usual stereotypes of poverty, colonialism, and internal strife (except that of briefly-empowered King Killmonger, with his clear opposition to all the Wakandans have held as sacred for centuries); and starring a Black African superhero whose abilities are the match of most of the Marvel and DC pantheon members (unlike, for example, earlier Avengers’ entrants into their widely-connected-cluster of stories, such as Black Widow [Scarlett Johansson] and Hawkeye [Jeremy Renner], who respectively rely on such non-superhuman-“powers” as martial-arts and arrows [!]), allowing him (and his purely-human-but-formidable-associates) to subdue an uprising within his own nation as well as prevent world-wide-chaos, just as all of the previously-introduced-costumed-crusaders are always expected to do.

*I’ll note that when I started ruminating on “movies set in Africa,” the ones above that quickly came to mind are all set in the Sub-Saharan realm of the continent (which I didn’t notice until later), but upon running that phrase above through a search I found lists of about 100 options, almost all of which also have this setting so it just shows another sense of assumptions set into the Western mind, possibly through decades of African-set-movie-and-book-plots.  Even if I did include the northern third of the continent, though, I’d still be coming up with examples such as Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) or The English Patient (Anthony Minghella, 1996) where the focus remains on Europeans dealing with miseries in the desert (although the miseries in those 2 examples are caused by other Europeans, specifically Germany’s WW II Nazis), but you still won’t find many native Muslims in featured roles.  I guess you could even push this situation back to (ABC-TV’s oddly-chosen-perennial Easter broadcast of) The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956) where the Israelites look European (e.g. Charlton Heston as Moses) while at least a few of the Egyptians don’t (e.g. Yul Brenner as Ramses II [although Brenner’s actually from far-eastern Russia]) even though most of them, such as Anne Baxter (Nefertiti), are clearly as European as the Jews.  One notable break from this scenario is the famed The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) in which native North Africans struggle against their French colonialist overlords (this small cluster of examples is also Oscar-heavy with 13 wins, primarily for The English Patient [9]).  With all this as background, Black Panther resonates with audiences desperate to see a strong, stable society of Black Africans who don’t have to focus on the intrusions of Europeans (except Klaue, but he’s really more of a unwitting device allowing Erik to return to his homeland in order to challenge his cousin)

 Admittedly, some of T’Challa’s—or any of the previous Black Panthers’—powers come from his  vibranium-infused-hero-suit which deflects most danger thrown at him plus his ingestion of the other-worldly-enhanced-plant, so when these attributes aren’t available to him, as happens in his 2 kingship-battles in this movie, he’s not inherently super-powerful as are Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Thor, Spider-Man, Captain America, etc., but neither are Green Lantern (needs his ring) or Iron Man (needs his armor) so he’s still in good company—like all of the above—and better off than Batman who, in Justice League, admits his superpower is he’s “rich,” allowing him to function on a general par with these enhanced-humans by way of his massively-complex, expensive technology.

 Those of you who’ve read previous reviews I’ve done of superhero movies (of which there have gotten to be such a vast supply that I’m no longer as eager to see them as I once was) know I’m no expert on all of these extraordinary crusaders, save for a reasonable knowledge of a few of them, mostly pre-1970s Superman and Batman, mid-‘70s Thor, along with periodic passing interest when DC decides to once again reboot their universe in an attempt to cull out some of the overflow of super-beings (including a cluster of the recurring antagonists), so I make no pretense at knowing anything about Black Panther prior to his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, at the conclusion of which he grants asylum to Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), War Machine James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and the Winter Soldier after the explosive confrontations in that movie, to allow Barnes opportunity to recuperate, so I can tell you nothing about how this current movie may relate to what T’Challa’s already encountered in print (which, as noted above is the case with most of my background knowledge of any of these superhero movies, short of knowing the basic backstory of the most prominent members of Marvel’s Avengers and DC’s Justice League, but even that gets modified as time goes on with various updates or twists in the print source material).  A little research tells me Black Panther’s been around in Marvel Comics in various manifestations since the mid-1960s, that Klaue did kill T’Challa‘s father (although called Klaw in the comics), that Erik did lead a revolt in Wakanda, but otherwise it seems Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole have largely staked out their own plot here, with T’Challa not as involved in issues and conflicts outside his country as he seems to be depicted in the comics, making for a successfully-self-contained-plot, as well as a final battle scene that miraculously doesn’t wreak havoc on Wakanda’s elegant, technological cities the way other superhero movies leave a huge trail of destruction in NYC, Metropolis, or wherever else the climactic battle may occur.

 The biggest battle within the film industry on an annual basis (in addition to which studio’s made the most money—which you can get an update about regarding 2017 at this site, with Disney already massively in the 2018 lead because of … Panther, with another boost anticipated in May with the release of Solo …) is who will win the Oscar statuettes (my predictions for the 2017 releases will be noted in my next posting), but … Panther’s already being discussed in regard to awards to be handed out in 2019 (see this site for speculation about several nominations in the technical categories [Maybe even the major categories?] along with the short list of Marvel movies already considered for one of these prized trophies [No wins yet, but could … Panther change that with its dazzling use of various technologies that seem to be fueled by vibranium?  Check back in about a year to find out.]).  But you don’t have to wait any longer for me to wrap up this review, as always with my choice of a Musical Metaphor to offer one last line of commentary (yet from the perspective of the fluent aural arts).  I suppose I should just choose one of the songs already released from the soundtrack, Black Panther: The Album, produced by/some of the music written by Kendrick Lamar, but based on what I experienced in a theater filled with joyous, raucous Black patrons, cheering on a superhero from their own ancestry in a movie filled for a change in mainstream promotions with Black performers (including a lot of strong, smart women)—applause rising up when T’Challa “resurrects,” reminding me a bit of the theatrical version of Peter Pan where the audience energetically wills Tinker Bell back from the dead—I think it’s only appropriate I go with James Brown’s “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud” (from the 1968 album of the same name), as audiences all over this country (as well as around the rest of the world) see on screen an embodiment of “Some people say we’ve got a lot of malice Some say it’s a lot of nerve But I say we won’t quit moving until we get what we deserve […] But just as sure as it takes  two eyes to make a pair  Brother we can’t quit until we get our share [… so just] Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud!”*  

Here's James with a video to bring this compelling message home to you honoring Black Panther:


*Besides, Chadwick Boseman may have been humming this song to himself under that Black Panther mask, thinking back to this energetic portrayal of the famous Godfather of Soul in Get on Up (Tate Taylor, 2014; review in our August 7, 2014 posting), adding to his gallery of biographical triumphs as Jackie Robinson in 42 (Brian Helgeland, 2013; review in our April 18, 2013 posting) and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (Reginald Hudlin, 2017; review in our October 19, 2017 posting).

 Finally, in brief, while I’m not Black I do have something to be very proud about (off the topic of movie reviews): the courageous actions the students whose classmates were killed or injured in the horrific shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL are taking in response to the carnage at their campus (along with massive amounts of other teens in other communities supporting their common cause).  During a break in writing/posting this week I’ve watched them on MSNBC and CNN (no, I don’t even bother with FOX News because I’m left too dumbfounded—and uninformed—by what they choose to report) meet with President Trump in Washington, D.C. and ask pointed questions of their governmental representatives at a huge Florida rally, with a consistent message this latest massacre of innocent people has got to move our society to some sort of change to protect defenseless citizens from the killing sprees plaguing the U.S.A. more than other industrialized nations (but not by expecting teachers to carry guns!).  These kids are passionate, eloquent, and brave.  We should all aspire to be as focused on true justice as they are.
           
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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2017’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, March 4, 2018 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2017 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2017 along with the Oscar nominees for 2017 films.

Here’s more information about Black Panther:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_oXMx76w_I (7:43 video on the movie’s Easter Eggs and background trivia that I couldn’t begin to know so I hope you enjoy it)



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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com(But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website, https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
         
OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.
           
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 50,121 (a huge increase from last time, thanks to all of you worldwide); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (Merci beaucoup, mes amis):

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2017 Top 10 and Short Takes on The Commuter

                          Doubling Down on Death

                          Comments and Review by Ken Burke

 For those of you who read my last posting (February 8, 2018) you know I was limited then to only one review due to lack of interest in what’s currently available (except for films already covered) along with other logistical considerations, so all I did was finally catch up with The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017) which was just barely worth the effort.  This week the additional logistics were considerably more (along with lack of anything I cared much about in my travel zone), so I’ve turned back to make brief remarks on something I saw almost a month ago (The Commuter) plus admitting anything else from 2017—especially Mudbound (Dee Rees), seemingly only available on Netflix streaming at this point, so I’ll pass until later—just isn’t going to come my way anytime soon, therefore I'll finally offer my Top 10 Cinema Releases of 2017 (based on all those I’ve seen).

1.  Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman; review in our October 26, 2017 posting [Rotten Tomatoes 84% positive reviews, Metacritic 62% average score])

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


2.  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh; review in our December 7, 
          2017 posting [RT 93%, MC 88%])
3.  Lucky (John Carroll Lynch; review in our October 19, 2017 posting [RT 98%, MC 79%])
4.  The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro; review in our January 4, 2018 posting [RT 92%, MC 
          87%])
5.  The Post (Steven Spielberg; review in our January 18, 2018 posting [RT 88%, MC 83%])
6.  Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig; review in our November 23, 2017 posting [RT 99%, MC 94%])
7.  Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan; review in our July 27, 2017 posting [RT 92%, MC 94%])
8.  I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie; review in our January 18, 2018 posting [RT 90%, MC 77%])
9.  The Big Sick (Michael Showalter; review in our July 13, 2017 posting [RT 98%, MC 86%])
10.  A Ghost Story (David Lowery; review in our July 27, 2017 posting [RT 91%, MC 84%])

 My other considerations included, among others of note, Get Out (Jordan Peele; review in our May 11, 2017 posting), Darkest Hour (Joe Wright; review in our December 14, 2017 posting), Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson; review in our January 25, 2018 posting), The Florida Project  (Sean Baker; review in our October 26, 2017 posting) and Columbus (Kogonada; review in our August 16, 2017 posting)—at least for my tastesalthough it’s always a matter of a discussion, argument, or rationalization-exchange for anyone to attempt to “prove” they’ve got better insights on subjective matters of aesthetics than anyone else, so I’ll just say the 10 above are the ones still sticking with me the most actively (using death as a recurring theme in all of them, either as a driving force [#’s 1, 2, 7], an ultimate reality [3, 10 {both of them least likely on other lists}], a horrid fear [9] or the desire on the part of the antagonists for their opponents to suffer something close to that harshness [4, 5, 8] or the feeling that even being alive in Sacramento is like walking death [6]), although there are many others which also have redeeming qualities, evidenced by the fact that of the 95 releases from 2017 I’ve reviewed during last year and this one, 36 of them got my 4 star-rating (normally the highest I go, saving the top numbers for truly unique accomplishments) while 2 rated those valued 4½ stars (#’s 2, 3 above) while … Vincent (#1) got my extremely rare 5 stars.  Certainly, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has different opinions as their 9 Best Picture nominees include only my #’s 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, although they did nominate Loving Vincent for Best Animated Feature (technically correct as each frame was shot singularly from a separate oil painting made to resemble the style of Vincent van Gogh, with the kinetic energy created from the small frame-to-frame-differences making it look considerably different from the likely winner, Coco [Lee Unkrich; review in our  November 29, 2017 posting])other of their nominees are in my Related Links section far below (I’ll post some predictions just before the March 4, 2018 Oscar ceremony).

This double image serves a double purpose: To present a different "starry, starry night" 
and to preview the rest of this posting with a van Gogh self-portrait that 
reminds me a bit of Liam Neeson, starring in The Commuter.
 Of course, I don’t always synchronize very well with the Academy, as for the last 6 years I’ve been doing these blog reviews we’ve only agreed 3 times on my #1 and their Best Picture (12 Years a Slave [Steve McQueen, 2013; review in our November 14, 2013 posting], Birdman or (The Unexpected Value of Ignorance) [Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, 2014; review in our November 6, 2014 posting], Spotlight [Tom McCarthy, 2015; review in our November 19, 2015 posting]), while my initial 2 top choices (Melancholia [Lars von Trier, 2011; review in our December 12, 2011 posting—the first review we ever did, which in retrospect is probably worth 4½ stars {the film that is, not necessarily the review}, but I didn’t want to start out being too generous], The Master [Thomas Paul Anderson, 2012; review in our September 27, 2012 posting]) didn’t even make their Best Picture nominees, but variety, especially concerning aesthetic debates, is always the spice of life.  As for my only actual review this week, read on if you like below, although The Commuter certainly won’t be on anyone’s list of awards considerations next year, despite its fine functionality as a thrill ride (I hadn’t even planned to write about it until I ran dry for this posting).  But before boarding that train, I’ll put in a Musical Metaphor (my standard device to round off a review, but from the perspective of the aural arts) in tribute to Loving Vincent: what else could it be but Don McLean’s “Vincent” (from his 1971 American Pie album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wrNFDxCRzU, which I used in the original review so here I’ll offer a different video version (McLean performing), again for all-hallowed-variety, our salvation from bland homogeneity (but it still contains a lyrical-closure that speaks to anyone who wonders why I’d pick Loving Vincent over the more-obvious-front-runners for 2017’s Best Picture: “They would not listen, they’re not listening still Perhaps they never will”).
                   
SHORT TAKES (more or less)
                 
                         The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): A just-fired 60-year-old family man (also an ex-cop, known for excellent detective skills) with big debts suddenly gets a strange offer to locate an unknown traveler in a short time on a commuter train in return for a big payday; however, once he accepts the initial offer by pocketing the $25,000 hidden in a restroom on the train (although you later get the sense he’d have had no choice but to comply with finding the mysterious stranger, no matter whether he’d taken the bait money or not), the circumstances get tense, the actions get violent, plot twists aplenty are thrown in to keep the audience (along with the hero) constantly off balance, with the entire enterprise functioning quite well as an afternoon-matinee-diversion, but if you’re interested you’d better move fast because it’s been out for a month already and in a few more days Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) will likely be playing on all the screens in the known world.

Here's the trailer:



If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

 With no disrespect intended to Liam Neeson (a marvelous actor), honestly the main reason my marvelous wife, Nina, and I even saw The Commuter is we had plans to meets some friends for dinner on a Thursday night a month ago but going from our Bay Area (CA) suburb to their Bay Area suburb takes about an hour when traffic is light, not in the middle of (inappropriately-named) rush hour, so we headed from Hayward out to Pleasant Hill in the early afternoon to kill some time at a movie.  However, based on what was available, what we’d already seen, show times, etc., we ended up half-heartedly choosing Neeson’s latest action-adventure-flick (3 Takens [about foiling kidnappers] since the first one in 2008 [Pierre Morel]—plus sequels by Olivier Megaton [2012, 2014] along with Non-Stop [Collet-Serra, 2014], which takes place in a most-confining-environment, a jet airliner in flight, where there’s little consideration of jumping off the moving vehicle to escape, as in The Commuter).  Critical response was weak (RT 58%, MC 56%), although the previous opening-weekend-domestic (U.S.-Canada)-income was impressive at $15.8 million (although still limp compared to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle [Jake Kasdan, 2017] at $35.2 million that week after having already been out for a month [its worldwide total’s now at about $883.4 million, The Commuter’s now at $92.6 million globally]), so had the schedules been different we might have been rockin’ with The Rock, but for us it was time to board The Commuter train.  The trip, overall, was effectively tension-filled and entertaining, with constant complications that keep piling up the same way the train does at the end, but you also know throughout that no matter how desperate the situation seems to be our hero is destined to triumph because—after all—if he doesn’t, then why would anyone want to depart from a thrill ride like this one in a bummed-out state of mind?*

*If you’d rather just add this summary video (5:25) to my written wrap-up rather than see Liam's movie for yourself, please note it also contains plenty of plot spoilers (and some inaccuracies—the video analyst refers to Farmiga‘s character as “Lorraine” rather than “Joanna“; Mike doesn’t forget his phone, it’s stolen from him as he rushes for his train; the person he’s looking for on the train is named “Prynne,” not “Prinn,” based on Hester Prynne in Nathanial Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), which Sofia is reading when Mike finally figures out she’s the one he’s been looking for⇐—but otherwise it’s a useful take on The Commuter, noting notable plot problems).

 The basic plot line has Neeson as Mike MacCauley, a former NYC cop, now working in life insurance (nice thematically-based-pun) with a wife, Karen (Elizabeth McGovern), a son, Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman)—about to attend college—and 2 mortgages needed to support their suburban expenses as he rides a commuter train every day to work in the city until the fateful day when he’s laid off.  After some drinks with former colleague Detective Lt. “Murph” Murphy (Patrick Wilson), Mike’s headed home, noting the regulars on the route, surprised by newcomer Joanna (Vera Farmiga, great in a small role) who offers him $100,000 to put a GPS tracker on someone named “Prynne,” a person unknown to both of them; however, he only has a limited number of stops in which to accomplish this task, is made aware he’s being watched, tries to pass a message to a friend who’s soon getting off then sees the guy pushed in front of a bus to verify Mike must act alone and succeed or harm will come to his family (he’s constantly being updated by Joanna on a phone he’s borrowed).  From there it really gets intense: ⇒Mike thinks he’s found “Prynne” after fighting with him but later realizes that guy’s an FBI agent who’s now dead, hidden in a compartment under a floorboard; police enter the train at a stop with Mike aware his weird actions make him a suspect for questioning so he also slips into the hidden space; then he has to escape downward from it when the train starts up again, runs to jump back on, soon faces one of Joanna’s thugs whom he kills (See how this all ties into my initial “death” theme?) by pushing him out of a window.  Eventually, Mike determines a young woman, Sofia (Ella-Rae Smith), is “Prynne,” on her way to a witness-protection-meeting with federal agents because she secretly saw her boyfriend being killed by Joanna’s agents plus she’s got Enrique’s hard-drive full of incriminating evidence.⇐

 Somehow, Joanna has eyes and control abilities everywhere (maybe she’s kidnapped Mike’s wife and son, maybe not; she definitely makes a lot of phone contact with Mike, yet it's hard to know if she's truthful or just ruthless—it's doubtful Mike would not have been killed after "Prynne" was identified on the train) so when he refuses to kill Sofia suddenly the engineer’s dead with the train now on a high-speed-collision-course.  Mike manages to get the end car loose from the rest of the train so the huddled passengers in it avoid sudden disaster, then Murph comes in a negotiator (cops assume Mike’s a killer holding the others as hostages) as we find he’s part of Joanna’s mob, there to kill “Prynne,” but the passengers confuse him with a tactic straight out of Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960).  He and Mike fight, snipers outside accidently kill Murph, all problems are resolved, followed by Mike getting his police job back allowing him to track Joanna to Chicago where he arrests her.⇐  If you watch the video noted above (ignoring its few minor mistakes—except it’s clear the guy who made it didn’t catch anything about The Scarlet Letter) or see the movie itself you’ll easily find there are notable plot holes, but if you play along with the assumption Mike’s been recruited to find “Prynne” in a short time because he’s such an insightful detective (even though Joanna’s organization seems to know just about everything else about this situation, even as it unfolds) you can enjoy the intensifying action as it speeds along, then wash it from your memory as you head out for dinner (ours was delicious that night); if you need more substance for your movie dollars, though, I’d encourage you to carefully consider my 2017 Top 10 list just above.*

*You might even find Loving Vincent somewhere; it's been playing at Berkeley's (CA) Shattuck Cinemas for about 5 months (a place with great cinematic tastes, enhanced by a marvelous bar).

 As for The Commuter’s Musical Metaphor, given I didn’t really have all that much to say about the movie I’ll indulge you with 3 aural interludes because none is a perfect fit but together they speak to Mike’s crisis reasonably well.  We’ll start with “The Wreck of the Old 97,” as sung by Johnny Cash (from his 1957 Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar album at https://www.youtube.com/watch ?v=FHKxk719AMc, complete with the lyrics and footage of old steam trains rolling through the countryside, other footage reflecting the lyrics) in that the final burden put on Mike by Joanna and her accomplices was intended to be a brutal train wreck, killing all left on board at that point, just like the victims in the song died as they were “going down a grade making 90 miles an hour [… with the engineer] Scaled to death by the steam.”*  But, to enhance your sense of Mike’s dilemmas (should you make a calculated choice not to seek out this movie, preferring to just absorb my brilliant ruminations on it) you should also give a listen to the Grateful Dead’s "Casey Jones" (from the 1970 Workingman’s Dead album, with lyrics below the video screen if you like, maybe more interesting than looking at the same Dead graphic for 4½ min. [I picked this video over live performances given the audio’s notably better with this one]), because while Mike wasn’t “Drivin’ that train” he probably felt he was “High on cocaine” as his head, heart, and body continually raced through the various challenges he faced, constantly aware of “Trouble ahead Trouble behind [… from his] Lady in [more purple than red, so even though he knew she was warning him to] Watch your speed [at times he might've felt he’d] be better off dead.” (Again, well connected to my theme.)

*The added imagery, along with Cash’s distinctive voice, make this a useful choice in conjuring up allusions to the high-speed-trauma found in The Commuter, but for some great instrumentation of this song, I’ll also recommend this version by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs from their 1963 Hard Travelin’ (The Ballad of Jed Clampett) album.  Further, I still have memories of someone singing this song with some excellent yodeling thrown in from back in the late 1960s in Austin, TX, but I can’t find any version like that to show you; maybe someone out there reading this might know whom I’m vaguely remembering—possibly Allen Damron, in that I saw him quite a bit at the 11th Door, the Chequered Flag (where I actually did an open mike set once, with my friend/roommate/musical partner, Jerry Graham), the Kerrville Folk Festival, and other venues around the area, but maybe not.  (By the way, the tune’s based on an actual crash in 1902 of a Southern Railway train, the Fast Mail—with a reputation for always being on time—trying to catch up from being behind schedule, went too fast, careened off the side of a bridge into a ravine near Danville, VA killing 11, injuring 7 more, a tragic event celebrated musically since the 1920s with various folks claiming authorship.)

Amy Dold and Nina Gail Dold
 Yet, let’s end on a lighter note than all of the death events or intimations in my Top 10 of 2017, The Commuter, and these smashing tales of railroad destruction by turning instead to a political/social commentary ditty from 1949, written by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes, “M.T.A.”  The most famous version is by the Kingston Trio (from their 1959 At Large album), telling the story of another commuter, Charlie, caught unaware of a fare increase on the Boston subway system, who didn’t have the necessary “One more nickel [so he] couldn’t get off of that train!”  Unlike our bruised-but-surviving Mike, Charlie “never returned and his fate is still unlearned,” although I'm not sure why, if his wife “Every day at quarter past two [could hand] Charlie a sandwich As the train comes rumbling through,” she couldn’t put a nickel in with it to prevent her husband from being “the man who never returned” (unless she’s got something else more interesting going on at home after she makes the sandwiches).  So, with that closure which takes us back to “Wreck of the Old 97” (“Oh, now all you ladies you’d better take a warning, From this time and learn. Never speak hard words to your true-lovin’ husband.  He may leave you and never return.”) I’ll close this shorter-than-usual-posting (What’s that I hear? Is it wild applause?), only to return to you soon with more substantial reviews, after celebrating Valentine’s Day with my aforementioned wonderful wife, Nina, who’s now got a new grandniece named after her (with our thanks to the newborn’s Mom, Amy Dold, for the honor).
              
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
                 
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.
AND … at least until the Oscars for 2017’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, March 4, 2018 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2017 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2017 along with the Oscar nominees for 2017 films.

Here’s more information about The Commuter:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyhHco9r2iM (3:51 video to give you a taste of the actual production process of making this movie, plus a short historical note at the end)



Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at kenburke409@gmail.com(But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website, https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
                 
OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.
              
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 29,281; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (Hello, France and Russia!):