Sunday, February 18, 2018

Black Panther (2018): Movie Review

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My Friday night Movie Night turned out to be a truly satisfying experience, and “Black Panther” (2018) - the movie itself - was only part of why. I say that to be dramatic, just to open this post with a catch line, really! But no, in all honesty, the movie did play the biggest role of the night – but give a shout out to everything else man, because this spectacle comes with its own special entourage – the people, the significance, the culture, the timing, and the energy just augmented the whole viewing experience. At least it did on premiere night. You felt like you were part of something larger even before the reel starts spinning - and this is not that common.

Having decided to go for this movie and then finding out tickets were sold out by Wednesday everywhere (almost), my trusted friend Roshni found openings for us at The Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park, Washington D.C. Never having been to this place (I speak only for myself), my first glimpse of it made me freeze with glee. A quintessential, overly lit up movie theater too perfect-looking to exist in this day and age – kind of like the one Michael would walk out of in “Thriller” – awaited our forceful entry. Soon I found out that this was a historic single-screen movie theater (only one movie showing, in America really, these exist!) established in 1936. Our show was at 10:20 PM but knowing it was the premiere we arrived at 9:20 PM only to discover that we were the second group of people to arrive. Directed to stand at the helm of an invisible line, 40 minutes later from the gusty cold outside, we made our way into the warmth and scrambled, "pushing and shoving" to get front seats up top from the regal balcony.  

While waiting in line for this movie, the movie’s magic had already started to unfold: the people. Scores of theater goers from the previous show had started spilling out into the street and then it was evident. This is no ordinary movie. This was a hearty cultural celebration of a long awaited arrival: like a family member you had been waiting for, for a long time, but who never got the chance to visit you till now. Some were screaming “Wakanda” (to my ignorance I asked Alex, “what/who’s Wakanda?” Alex blinked (probably feeling sorry for me) and patiently explained)! Others posed outside with arms crossed in X’s and used their calf muscles to jigger up and down in unison, hinting at something that was probably from the movie. Several had worn beautiful, vividly eye catching African cultural attire while a few more donned Black Lives Matters-like attire and other additions that evoked the Black Panther movement. The diversity of the audience that had arrived to behold this feature film was deliciously refreshing. It felt like a special night, not your regular. I couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like to be at a larger venue tonight. I heard South Africa’s premiere was lit!

And don’t even get me started on the row behind us, that had a hilarious supply of running commentary to dish out throughout the movie (imagine 7 loud Kevin Harts of all sexes sitting behind you with all that sass) – never have I enjoyed someone else speaking while a movie was on as I did this night.

So now to the movie. I know, I know. I’m doing it a bit different this time – why not? Instead of being too technical I’m just going to go straight to the point. Go watch it. This is one of Marvel’s best yet. I had known this would be good given the positive critic buzz that had surrounded it. I read none of them going in; I even refused to watch the detailed trailers – although Roshni politely reminded me that I had actually seen the initial trailer during “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017). Even if this movie sucked, if you follow Marvel like a tail you’d have no choice. But the advantage here is that you can do it without having to endure anything but (most likely) blissful pleasure. My only tip is don't go into this watching the trailer for "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018).

Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa/Black Panther) is an excellent choice; good God are you going to fall in love with that accent. He’s got the superhero makeup fit for an Avenger pinned with a relatable sense of humanity – what more could you ask for? Him, accompanied by his other star cast members, Lupita Nyong'o (Nakia) and Danai Gurira (Okoye), only work to solidify a pretty solid lead. Okoye’s action chops make her the most bad-ass General you are ever not going to want to come across, ever. Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross), like an anachronism out of the Hobbit, is also here, although in my humble opinion he seems a bit misplaced (like he acts for much of the movie), but that could just be me. Having him accompany the leads almost feels like a tact-on “let’s have some White person also play a good person role to not make this be about race and stereotyping”, but that could just be my interpretation! Just saying.

What was also most tasteful about the movie is the humor, or lack of it compared to recent Marvel flicks. More recent films like those with Thor and Dr. Strange tend to rely a lot on humor which was quite successful for them. “Black Panther” on the other hand is scarce with its use of humor, but when used, it dishes it with lethal doses of laugh-out-loud commentary and sheer unexpectedness. You first gawk because you weren’t expecting it, but then find yourself thoroughly appreciating it. Very sharp writing by Ryan Coogler (also the Director) and Joe Robert Cole.

Source: Wikipedia
In terms of general plot and story line, we tend to have a pretty good, unseen story line and setting. There is a sense of inner duality and an almost conflicting sense of side-taking for us (i.e. who should you be rooting for) which is a good thing. I also loved that the narrative didn’t remove us from Wakanda as much, instead of threatening world destruction like every other major super hero flick these days (cough* DC and Avengers). Though there is a narrative that hints at a larger stake, Coogler is apt to never lose sight of the true gem he’s found onscreen that the audience has come to be mesmerized by – Wakanda. The racial political overtones onscreen are also not too vague for us to decipher the key messages and are aptly timely given our current political context. Some tropes, however, like what befalls the hero physically (I’m trying not to spoil anything here) are a bit cliché though because, really, we’ve seen that sequence a thousand times so we could have expected more there. Think Moses. However, given that much of the movie is pretty different, refreshingly forward, and surprising, we can be forgiving.

A truly solid watch. We give “Black Panther” a very well earned, non-surprising, 8.9/10. Adieu.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok (2017): Movie Review

The son of Odin has returned, yet again, with a resounding thunderous crash but this time with a more lighthearted, warmer and almost sillier flash. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) is an oddity in that, while the third sibling, it is its own standalone from its Thor predecessors. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) was almost always too drenched in that dark emo filter that gave it its dreary tint that never fully let the piece rise up to full satisfaction, and “Thor” (2011) while very good was too distracted busying itself with laying its foundations to warrant a good enough introduction. This third son on the other hand comes out hammering. While “he” might occasionally miss your palette for overall sophistication and polish, your funny bone will not walk out of this encounter without a cast for its splinters.   

The premise is simple. If you’re familiar with Norse mythology, know that it’s that time when the Ragnarok (or their apocalypse)  has finally arrived, and just add to that a psycho unknown sister named Hela (Cate Blanchett) who also arrives with it to take her rightful place in Asgard and then some. The story picks up just where we left off last with the last Thor movie and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” almost two years ago. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is back, and as per usual, we are recovering again from his scheming messes – this time the banishment of Odin and his deceptive plot to rule the Kingdom under his father’s guise. As Thor (Chris Hemswoth) makes his way back to Asgard, he finds himself in for more than just dethroning Loki – if anything that would be the easier part. On his journey to ensure Asgard is not destroyed he finds himself teaming up with familiar faces such as the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and new faces like Valkyrie, a sultry anti-heroine skillfully played by Tessa Thompson. Something else that is nice is that the audience is saved from receiving another "this-is-how-Thor-must-grow" narrative. Instead, in this piece we receive a Thor who we feel has truly learnt some lessons off screen and matured enough for us not to have to walk with him every step of the way. 

Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, the opening scene gives a taste for the humor that steadily runs its enjoyable course through the movie. Thor is again seen as lovable but more self-deprecating than we’ve ever seen him before. Although, sometimes the writers could have stopped with the first slapstick and veered from repetition but it is okay – we can forgive (e.g. the chain dangling scene where he keeps turning away twice when once was funny enough). Blanchett’s Hela is a fantastic performance, so much so that I couldn’t even tell it was Blanchett in the first place except for an occasional glance. Whoever does hair and makeup over there is flawless. I keep underestimating Blanchett’s look – they seem to be reinventing her in new ways bending the laws of time and age – remember Galadriel from Lord of the Rings? Wow. But beyond her dazzling dark looks, as one would expect, she delivers well for a movie as light as this. Within the framework she’s working with she delivers to the brim.

Direction by Taika Waititi is also very apt for the most part, cherry picking successful stylistic nuggets from the likes of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) which laid the gold standard for producing long action takes scored with near full-length pop/retro singles. “Thor: Ragnarok” also shows some of the same. The action sequences are what we’ve come to expect from Marvel – innovative, fast, creative and overloaded. CGI comes in no short supply, but Waititi’s emphasis on retro color palettes from the 80s, and set designs and extras that look like they were yanked from extra scenes from the Star Wars franchise melting with a Crayola commercial give this movie a light vibrant feel that refrains from draining the viewer too soon.

What works most well is not really the action sequences and the big budget sets – we’ve seen enough of that from other Marvel renditions and will probably get to see much more in the future (did I hear Avengers: Infinity War)—but more the onscreen chemistry of the core characters and the genuine humorous writing and anticlimaxes. Whomever Hemsworth seems to interact with turns to lovable couplings. Even from the Hulk, for instance, we get more articulate and deeper emotionally seething dialogue in Hulk form (not Bruce Banner) than we’ve ever gotten in the past. The buddy-bro relationship between them is as adorable as it is formidable. Valkyrie also gracefully avoids being the odd vulnerable girly girl left out of the boys club and instead turns it to her advantage of being a badass onscreen that’s equally funny given her own bumbling struggles. Some added story arcs are also developed for her which give her more weight and agency in the overall story, cleverly extracted by Loki’s mindreading – actually one of the more deftly and aesthetically done scenes in the whole movie. The slow-motion war of Gods scene is tantalizingly mythical and evokes a sense of that grandeur.   

While studded with an A-list cast, yet again we see the movie lose out on juicing that acting potency for all it’s worth. Heimdall, played by the one and only Idris Elba, gets some airtime – definitely more than usual, but still not enough to play much other than to drive the plot forward and do some cool slashes with that crazy sword. Natalie Portman who was totally written out of this movie appears not, and then of course Anthony Hopkins, our dear Odin, again left speech-less. Except for some few good liners like “Are you a God of hammers?” we didn’t see too much from him, when we could have.
Overall, “Thor: Ragnarok” is a piece that comes together to please and satisfy nicely. Surprisingly funny, and charged with all the action you would expect and I think you would want, the movie will be a safe watch for this fall season. If anything, it’ll wet your taste buds for what’s to come. We give it a solid 8.4/10. Adieu.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Singles’ Anxiety: An Invisible Pandemic (Part 1)

The South Asians are freaking out. The Lankans are freaking out. The Americans are freaking out. Okay fine, maybe I’m just exaggerating, a bit. Or maybe I’m not. Let me ramble.

The girls have it bad. Bad-der, correction. The brown girls have it worse, or what I mean here is everyone from the brown lands (even the fair ones) have it worse, I think at least. The Western ones over here have it, but they’ve made a deal with Time that cuts them some slack, well a little more at least. But if you think about it - time is perceived though, even though culture, personality, expectations and family won’t lighten the grip on it. The sad truth is that I’ve heard there’s even a “golden” window: 23 to 25 for the special ones from the brown lands. Ripe for the plucking.

I’ve heard stories of pressure delivered relentlessly, passive-aggressively, and outright explicitly, from parents bearing down on their charges to find someone and settle down, as if it were their fault. Daughters end up seeking without a hindsight of love (not that love is the end-all or be-all) or self worth. And sons start worrying if they should be as well. And then I’ve seen love stories unfold between people who weren’t even looking but ended up finding – they are the lucky ones we think. Then we’ve seen those who’ve been searching who find, and those who’ve been searching hit again and again against nothing. On the other side, the ones who’ve had everything seem to keep getting, and the ones who’ve never had anything also end up finally getting or continue with nothing. The mix of outcomes you observe are endless. The fact of the matter is that life is not a fairytale meant to bend to your fantasy. As grim as it sounds, this lethal dose of truth is something we often never wish to swallow. Maybe that’s a good thing since it gives hope, or maybe it’s an evil because it feeds that very hope that is the cause of the hopelessness that suffocates.

A refreshing take would be to think that we are all in this together and that we need to look out for one another. Couples helping singles and singles helping couples. Older generations helping the younger and the younger looking out for both their younger counterparts and their oldies. Western looking out for Eastern and vice-versa. You’d think I talk about a utopian existence but the grass always seems greener on the other side and we might not even realize our capacity. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves and others about this. I remember this story of an Imaam during a sermon who said, his white friend would come up to him and say:

“Man, you guys are so lucky!”

“Why?” asked the Imaam.

“You have so much help behind you and a search party looking for your significant other, I have no one man. No one cares about whether I find someone or not, I’m all on my own. I wish I had that.”

Put that against the browns who complain on the daily about the “bloody pressure” that comes down upon them.

The narrative of the settled happy ending has been written out for us with such bold font it would make a blind man see again. But I would argue that that narrative is flawed. Its enforcement of timelines is archaic. Its marketing of secure endings, unrealistic. Its lavish dishing of expectations: debilitating. It fails to account for the individuality of each of our stories, and that’s what we miss. We assume that like ducks in a row we are meant to follow the trail, not realizing that the trail doesn’t accommodate all ducks that wish to follow, and that some ducklings wish to be still or venture elsewhere.

Coming from a South Asian background, I hear the need to write this narrative all the time from the older generations but less visible is that you’ll even notice your own generation unknowingly (or maybe knowingly) also regurgitate the same narrative expectations. I draw frowns from aunties and uncles every time I argue for sparing someone the pressure or let them figure their lives out, or garner standoffish silences from my own generation Y because I’ve argued on group chats to back-off pressuring someone else about their life and imposing standards and timelines, that they’ll figure it out. A wise person once told me, “don’t tell her she’s fat, she knows” when I had asked for advice on if I should bring it up with a friend because I was concerned for that person’s health and well-being. On that similar note, people know the elephant in the room – but it doesn’t really need to be an elephant in the first place. If you stop seeing it as one, that awful culprit called “society” will also stop seeing it as one.

The answer is not in finding someone. It’s in finding the conditions that make you be at peace in life, first with yourself. That could come in the form of security for your insecurities, in religion, in spirituality, nature, in another person, in a mix of those, all of those, or maybe even none of those.

Easier said than done, I know. But still, doable. Have faith. Your story is yours, no one knows or should be able to tell you how it goes or should unfold. If you feel the anxiety, believe in yourself. As Beyoncé once said, you are flawless. As Priyanka Chopra also added, you might not have woken up like that, but still, you can love yourself, knowing you are worth it. If you are looking for someone, don’t settle, know your worth, be humble and trust in the path. Having Faith always helps, but if you are not the spiritual or religious type there are other ways to arrive at self-actualization. Also remember, just because you arrive doesn't mean you can't slip - that is part of this $%^&-ed up journey we call Life.

This is a big topic I’m chewing on. A tangential topic is loneliness which I couldn’t cover in this for the fear of length and boring you. Will try to catch that in another part of what I think could be a series. Let me know what you think. Adieu. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017): Movie Review

 Tale as old as 1991, emerges from the dusty corners of our nostalgic vaults to entertain with nothing short of warm gooey glee. Disney’s live-action take on the animated classic Beauty and the Beast (1991) is a magical dessert for the indulgent escapists among us. In an uncertain time battered by turbulent winds of change, enter Disney stage right offering 2 hours and 9 minutes of lyrical vibrant childhood romantic fantasy? We’ll take it.

The tale is truly as old as time. Belle (meaning beauty), played by Emma Watson, is a peculiar beauty in her French provincial town, the outsider looking for something more. Finding herself imprisoned in the castle of the seemingly wicked Beast, first impressions and appearances soon give way to deeper realizations of understanding, trust and even love. There’s a ticking rose clock, a dashing evil villain rousing up populist sentiments (life catching up to art anyone?) and an array of adorably supportive characters with tunes galore that make any Disney movie worthwhile.     

I like loyalty, and one of the reasons Beauty and the Beast succeeds is that it doesn’t break its stem trying to be too different from the original. When you got grandma’s one-of-a-kind recipe, why deviate? Disney knows this and we’ve seen this be successful with Cinderella (2015) and for the most part with The Jungle Book (2016). Some critics see it as nothing but a money making machine to cash in on our childhoods. Yes, I agree – but be that as it may, is that any different from cashing in on our most treasured books, games and anime? I think not. Save us from your moral high ground route, we’d rather slide down memory lane through the provincial route of Belle.

Bill Condon (Director), most famously known for his work on Dreamgirls (2006) and Chicago (2002), doesn’t waste any time in carrying us away into the French fairytale world of the Beast’s Castle with a truly striking opening scene. From the onset we see the deviation from the original, but straying only to provide us a richer glimpse into a world we once peeped into in childhood. In flashes and swirls Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe) and of course Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens (Beast) waltz away at the center of twirling ball gowns, incandescent lights, and bursting opulence. In two minutes the Coke and somber black seats of the theatre are forgotten and we are in aristocratic fairytale French terrain.

But it’s not the A-list stars that dazzle at first, but the magnificence of the mise en scène itself. The detail of the burnished grand castle, the birds-eye take of the dance with tracking shots from ceiling to floor accompanied by the sweet melody of McDonald’s vocals is extravagance nourishing vanity, most likely the Prince’s. Seeing instead of hearing (as we did in the original) sets us for the ride. And then the story starts, the initial tale told, zipping us to Belle in her provincial Heidi/Sound of Music like hillside.

A musical indeed, and at times almost rushed from one ensemble to the next, we are forgiving because of its homely familiarity. The memories stir, and the heart expands with each note and rhythm as the words and sounds recall distant feelings we thought we’d forgotten. It wasn’t difficult to see the smiles in the theatre last throughout much of the screening. Disney tends to do that for most. It’s the result of a strong brand image and an even strong impression pressed into the mind’s eye, sealed in childhood. Adults seemed to shrink into children, and children seemed to own their childhood.  

As with much of the content, character depictions were tasteful without too much of a surprise. Though Watson promised to deliver a strong female performance in the form of Belle, much of the work seemed to be mostly loyal to the original. At times more even tempered and resolutely determined than her animated counterpart, the Belle onscreen, while strong was not overpowering. She seemed to be navigating but not driving. A true breakaway was more evident in the more controversial homosexual exploration of Josh Gad’s (LeFou) character that has led to the movie’s ban in Russia (surprise) and Malaysia. Throwing in pinches of wit and being a passive voice of reason, LeFou’s controlled advances on the dashing Luke Evans (Gaston) were entertainingly bold, but ultimately timid. While we may remember the moments of such deviant displays of preference, one wouldn’t consider the exploration of the deviance a groundbreaking statement of any kind. Instead, more of a nod than a showcase. Stevens’ Beast on the other hand, as in the animated version, was thoroughly heartwarming. One thinks if we’d love the human version less relative to the Beast.  

The other secret of Beauty and the Beast is the magic of the screen being able to bring to life the imagination of audiences, delicately blending in memories of the animation while folding in expectations of reality. Much of the sets seemed grand enough, and one could almost imagine when the actors might have been in front of curtains of green screen, but regardless the overall piece successfully delivered by taking the hand of the viewer and securing the trust in the visual. The CGI was rarely detectable, and for a movie like this we are forgiving given its animated baseline. Equally crafty, was the melding of A-list actors Ewan McGregor (Lumière), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth) and Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) with the inanimate. The casting was like a lid to a teapot. Their real-life appearances were barely missed, and revealing them in the end only seemed to be an added treat. This is the result of successful computer animation synchronizing with skilled voice overs and acting.     

And of course, the iconic scene of the ballroom dance was delivered with much perfection. The honey glow filter and lighting used for the scene, with masterful tracking shots again from chandelier to marble floor with 360 coverage was as much as one could ask for with the famous Beauty and the Beast song swimming in the background. Emma’s dress, in my opinion, didn’t seem to match up to Belle’s in the cartoon, but who am I to judge, especially when rumor has it that Ms. Watson said “no” to a corset. But the detail spent on the golden overtones from the washed lighting to the golden curvatures of her fabric, abetted by the smooth dancing of beast and lady were enough to satisfy most audiences. Overall, its loyalty and dedication to replicative detail earns it a solid 7.9 out of 10. Adieu.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Logan (2017): Movie Review

It's been some time since I've written for the Literartist. But an X-Men movie has never failed to take me back to my pen.

Logan (2017) is a rich turbulent dive into one of the darker currents of the human experience. To summarize, we find ourselves stumbling in an almost mutant-less world in 2029 where we find a battered Logan living a life in hiding, struggling to care for a mentally unrecognizable Professor X. As Logan aims to earn freedom for them both with a plan awfully similar to a Florida elderly retirement ad, their roadmap takes a turn with the arrival of a new mutant and familiar but more watered-down evil threats.  

I've said it before and I'll say it again: mega blockbuster franchises, including Marvel’s universe, need to go beyond holding a shot gun to the Earth and threatening to blow it up to make us care. “Logan” instead is just the opposite. The "so what" and "who cares" here are answered on a microscopic experiential level. For the whole movie we barely move beyond the rustic desserts of California and Mexico. It’s not a fantastic show of CGI but a serving of pure human drama accompanied by a little gore and action to remind us that this is still an X-Men movie in part. But it could have been an earthly real-world drama and we would have enjoyed it no less. Writing and acting here stole the show, while CGI chilled in the backseat and just watched.

Finally, we get a Hugh Jackman solo X-Men flick that has been truly worth the wait. The first two failed without doubt. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013) both fell short with their low budget quality visuals and uncreative writing seeping into every corner, in addition to the fiasco of the first leaking an unfinished copy that the world watched before its release. “Logan” is a different beast. Yes we see fancy microbiology on steroids with genome modifications with all the bells and whistles and of course we have the group of bad guys dressed in black running around in droves but at its heart is another more familiar struggle: the struggle against the self in reconciling cynicism, and overcoming the loss of purpose in life. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier) put on a dazzling two-way drama of the intersections of character essences clashing with one another and yet knowing too well of their intertwined reliance. Helped wonderfully by the young presence of Dafne Keen (Laura), the movie isn’t too heavy on comedic relief to offset its serious tone but does spare us with some occasional smiles and flares of wit. But don’t plan on coming to laugh here.

Stewart is a master in action. Watching him play his now more crippled Charles Xavier, both psychologically and physically, is simultaneously painful but awesome. Jackman on the other hand is flawless with his interpretation of Logan. Unflinching to his core, and unyielding even in the most evocative moments of the film, he leaves the audience with a satisfied filling. So filling indeed, one knows the trouble Hollywood will encounter if they were to cast another to follow Jackman. Jackman’s work with the character since the early 2000s has attained a level of brand synergy that rivals Viagra or Chapstick. The first shot of Logan is troubling. He is weak and breaking. We never think of him as vulnerable and mortal, and from the get go the movie develops into something we never expect. The human connection over reconciling the bad hands dealt in life, the loss of hope, and the flooding of jadedness and pessimism swaddles most of the movie’s overarching themes. It’s refreshing to see the internal battles of human drama unfold so ferociously and taxingly on the heartstrings, so much so that no adamantium slashes match up to them.        

The gore in the movie is plenty, and this is not shocking. It’s about time they did it after finally taking cues from Deadpool (2016) which showed that Rated R flicks can bring in the big bucks too. Long due and well received, it adds to the weight and realism of the piece – in life you get seriously hurt. It’s all about hyper realism in this one. Less glossy X-Men flash and more tainted battered world weariness. Also new is that we see some lovely meta-moments when X-Men comic books are referenced multiple times in the movie (three if I counted correctly). The technique again situates this drama in a more stripped out real world setting that’s more familiar, and as bleak. Another great move on the writing.

The score was good to accompany the heavy themes and the cinematography of James Mangold (Director) is tastefully done on most occasions. Charles’ seizures are presented in paralysis and echoing electro rhythms. The sounds will be familiar enough to recognize from previous flicks but what is new is the vibrating close-ups and medium-long shots onscreen of paralysis and trauma leaves the audience appropriately disoriented and out of sync.

On a lower note however, at times the explanatory dialogue of characters to explain time lapses and situate the story were a bit clumsily written and the handheld camera videos that we see from Laura’s mom seemed to be less convincing. That the nurses could take such footage in the form of an explanatory type documentary is a bit hard to believe – reminds you of Andrew Garfield’s Amazing Spiderman when he discovers his dad’s all-explanatory videos. That form of “let’s explain everything in a YouTube like clip” needs to be put aside.

Apart from that much of the movie is set in a dusty sand blown filter that is appropriate for the weary journey that much of this movie sets to take on. Rarely do we give this rating, but Logan receives a solid 9 out of 10 for its bold minimalistic dive into the trauma of our own current and possible future lived experiences. Adieu. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) - Movie Review

Good enough; but nothing spectacular.

I find myself hesitant to criticize X-Men movies (except for Jackman’s Wolverine franchise – because those have had some serious yawn-worthy blunders) because I am so partial towards them. Since childhood, I’ve grown up watching the X-Men TV series (1992 – 1997), the accompanying renditions, movies etc. and these mutants have earned a special place in my preference cabinet.

Watching X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) was pleasant, but left an X-Men viewing veteran nostalgic for 
the past cast. Don’t misunderstand now, for James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto are perfect selections for injecting younger blood onscreen. And of course, none can deny the acting credentials of Jennifer Lawrence as Raven Darkhölme / Mystique. They are not the problem. Maybe it was everyone else? Seeing Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) from Game of Thrones (by the way what is it with the obsession of casting GoT characters – last time we saw Peter Dinklage) play Jean Grey felt a bit…odd and slow. Dearly missed the sultry, mesmerizing allure of Famke Janssen. Having Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers) play Cyclops felt mopey and weak – missed the more robust, dashing James Marsden. And then Halle Berry, oh, how thou were’t missed! Who can churn up a tempest like thee! Surely not the heavily accented Alexandra Shipp. A soft drizzle compared to a typhoon!

Selecting Egypt and the historical context the movie was situated in was different, and the sandy backgrounds and warm filters had their own allure which was great. It helped us forgive the convenient plot holes and convenient writing at times. Again we are faced with the obliteration of the world, but the fact that the first mutant, En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is at the helm of this onslaught is a nice twist. His powers truly are impressive and one cannot help but wonder how the X Men will get around this one, if at all. Heavily CGI-ridden, as are most of these flicks, the sets have variety and we see enough switch screens to know that the threat is global – reminds one of Man of Steel (2013). In terms of plot, and storyline's predecessor X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) undoubtedly gets the nod but this installment, once could argue, is entertaining enough to not deserve too harsh of a reprimand.

There were some nice cameos and nods that everyone will appreciate – which I won’t divulge because spoilers are from the devil! The movie is indeed grand in some senses, but could have beefed up its writing. The comic relief is there, especially provided for us in healthy doses by Quick Silver (Evan Peters) – the true crowd pleaser, and some really good one-liners that would do Deadpool (2016) proud. The backstory for Magneto is heart tugging, and his son’s (Quick Silver) Cirque du Soleil scene in which he saves the inhabitants of the X-Mansion was of course a treat, reminding us of the previous prison scene we got in the last installment. Did everything come together cohesively to be impressive enough as a single unit? That one can debate.

As you may have noticed, unlike previous reviews, I won’t be getting too technical with this one. That I will save for Civil War (2016) which I have heard very good things about, but, shameful to admit – I have yet to see. Definitely next in line. And good Lord, that Assassin's Creed trailer with Michael Fassbender as lead looked to die for! Back to the point; for its loyalty to the past, but better than average yet not superior performance, we give X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) a ‘meh’ 6.9/10. Adieu.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Beyoncé's "Formation" (2016): Music Review - The Beyoncé Politic

Long time since I did a music video review; but when Queen Bey drops a nuclear musical bomb like this – errbody needs to be on high alert! This is not a drill; this is Code Black.

Critics are raving, law enforcement is cringing, Right white conservatives are shrinking, and the black rights movement is blinking. Beyoncé transcended her pop superstar legacy into what will now be known as the Bey Politic. The power of Bey a force to be reckoned with. Don’t you love how even autocorrect knows to correct beyonce to Beyoncé but goes dead on you for “ducking” everything else.

So what really happened?

The day before Super Bowl 50 Bey released her new video and song titled "Formation" exclusively through Jay-Z’s newly acquired Tidal – a high-quality music streaming service that boasts the ability to rival Apple iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. Her first new release since 2014, the main difference in this one is —everything.

We all know Beyoncé is black. But this time her blackness is deeper, louder, sharper and more rooted than anything we’ve seen before. Her last album with hits like “Flawless” and “Partition” was personal. This is publicly more sensitive and ripened for our time. There is nothing implicit about her agenda. It’s a clenched activist’s fist pumped into our racially turbulent air calling for our attention, and then organized formation. The politic radiates because it is situated in the real, and Bey wants everyone to know that she has been paying attention: Trayvon Martin, police brutality, Katrina, and also male chauvinism and the need for greater female empowerment.

The song, video and Super Bowl performance are so rich it’s hard to even pick a spot to unpack this cultural baggage.

The intro lines by Messy Mya “[w]hat happened at the Newwalins?” is not a question. The opening line of the song and the first take of the video situate this artwork right in the wounded political environment and national dialog arena it came to rip open. NPR is calling it a “visual anthem”. The widescreen shot of Bey atop a police car (significant allegory) in what looks like a post-apocalyptic New Orleans jolts our blotchy memories of Katrina. Then the irregular flashing sound takes us in and out of different images, all significantly black: bounce, police, hood and church to name a few.

But then the assault begins. Beyoncé’s actual first three words being “Y’all haters corny…” telling us that she ain’t happy and she’s here to address some issues. After stamping out the Illuminati conspiracy theories leveled against her she goes on to undoubtedly reaffirm her black heritage. She picks it apart with needle sharp references from the patched quilt of black culture which really, has no singular locus though this effort draws from the South. So many quotable lines in this song it’s a drive-by spraying lyrical and visual mastery at every turn.

Like any typical hip hop song there’s brand names and name dropping for product placement – Givenchy, Roc necklaces, and Adidas shoes and Red Lobster (whose sales, I might add, suddenly shot up by 33% after Beyoncé’s song – talk about power). But the difference here is everything is intentionally tied to represent perceived black identity, be it the “hot sauce” in the bag or her love for “negro noses” and them “Jackson 5 nostrils”. Razor sharp references are deliciously specific, and her raw honesty of her Southern lineage situates our previously “whiter” Beyoncé in a different light when she blurts that "My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana/ You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama". Bama, a typically derogatory word used in the South for misfit, is inverted by Bey and flipped on its head and then redefined as something desirable—I mean their union gave birth to and created her.

For a satirical take on White reaction to Bey’s song watch “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black” by the SNL crew.

In drawing from her past, even the at times seemingly low quality 90s MTV music video type quality of the video just takes you back. And that’s the intent – to take you back to black, letting you know it never went anywhere just like how she notes she "Earned all this money but they never take the country out me, I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag". We are transported back to her roots. But she situates it so devastatingly in the present. The last scenes of police lines and hands up in the air are an ode to the recent issues with Trayvon Martin and Ferguson. The little black boy with the black hoodie symbolizes a form of misunderstood innocence, and his MJ-like dance moves are a form of black magic that innocently disarms. The use of children in the shoot, especially Blue-Ivy her own daughter, alludes to the generational impact that's at stake with the issues she wants our attention on. As a mother her concerns are now beyond the personal.

In her Super Bowl performance, as in her video, her “X” formation is a nod to Malcom-X, alongside the homage to the Black Panther-esque wardrobe. Though Coldpay was supposedly the leading act – let’s be real who knew. We all know Chris Martin was obliterated onstage by the sheer force of Beyoncé; unfortunately even for Bruno Mars, it wasn’t just Queen Bey’s height that made her tower over him but her presence, and the message she had brought with her. On a national stadium with 112 000 000 people watching, Bey used the airtime strategically to send strong messages of black resistance to oppression and rallying cries for empowerment both systemically and financially – “You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay; I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”. The NFL now is facing outrage (which I think is also a bit of exaggerated media hype) but everyone will survive. And then we got the commercial ($4 million price tag) that her world tour is nigh.

But really, where to from here? Can art like this really make a difference, or does it need to be honed into targeted activism to have tangible outcomes for our troubled world? If anything it’s a rise and a good first step from one of the stalwarts of our time. Others have heard and will now follow suit we presume. After all:

“You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation”. Adieu.