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 it’s to be sold in Busan, South Korea so T’Challa, Okoye, and Nakia fly there in one of their spaceship-like-transports supported from home by Shuri (who’s like James Bond’s Q in being a techno wizard, constructing all types of gadgets, including those improvements to Panther’s costume and a transparent car which she pilots through a virtual-reality-interface in Wakanda to aid her brother).  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 audienceanother time she calls him “colonizer,” which 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 nickname 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 Okoye and Shuri (the Queen Mother stays with the Jabari for protection) 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 (like the car that connected her to South Korea) 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 National 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 farmers have to offer?”  (He'll find out.) 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 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: (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 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,, 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.
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):

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