CVIndependent

Mon03252019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Selecting Ryan Coogler to helm Black Panther is a major triumph: His entry into the Marvel universe is a majestic, full-bodied, exhilarating treatment of the African-king title character (Chadwick Boseman) with the crazy-cool suit. Marvel has yet another big success with a grand future.

Coogler has three feature films to his credit now—one masterpiece (Fruitvale Station) and two very good movies (Black Panther and Creed). He’s officially one of the best directors currently calling the shots. This is also his third collaboration with actor Michael B. Jordan, who brings a fleshed-out, complicated villain to the screen in Erik Killmonger. Man, you need to be bad with that last name.

The pre-opening-credit scenes involves Black Panther’s dad and predecessor having a confrontation in 1992, in Oakland, Calif. A major event takes place as some kids playing basketball look on. It turns out to be one of the more brilliant and heart-wrenching setups for a Marvel-movie character yet.

The action cuts to present day, where Black Panther/T’Challa is dealing with the death of his father due to an event that took place in Captain America: Civil War. (The producers and screenwriters linked these films together very well.) He’s set to become king, but must pass through a ritual with some risk involved. He overcomes the obstacles, gets his throne and prepares for his rule. However, his kingdom doesn’t get a moment to breathe before trouble ensues.

Elsewhere, Killmonger has come across an ancient weapon forged in Wakanda (the Black Panther’s homeland), made from vibranium, a precious resource that fuels much of Wakanda’s advanced technology, including the Black Panther suits. With the help of Wakanda enemy Klaue (Andy Serkis, acting with his real face as opposed to a motion capture suit), Killmonger obtains the weapon, threatening world stability.

The story is told with a stunning level of social relevance for a superhero film, especially when it comes to Killmonger’s motives. He’s not just some guy looking to enrich himself for selfish purposes; he’s got some big reasons for having gone bad, and they make him a far more sympathetic character than, say, Loki from Thor.

As good as Boseman is, and he’s really good, Black Panther is a big success thanks very much to the cast around him. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o plays the possible love interest in Nakia, getting her finest post-Oscar role yet. The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira makes a confident graduation to big-screen action hero, while Letitia Wright gets a lot of laughs as T’Challa’s mischievous and extremely smart sister, Shuri.

There are so many great performers in this movie that there isn’t enough room here to give them all praise, but here are a few more: Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya and Sterling K. Brown all play formidable roles. It’s early in the year, but this will surely stand as one of 2018’s best ensemble casts.

Coogler proves he can handle a big-action blockbuster. His action scenes mostly snap with precise energy and efficiency, but some of them are a bit jumbled and hard to follow due to low light or ill-advised camera angles. I saw the film in IMAX 2-D, so perhaps some of what I was seeing played better in 3-D. There was nothing too sloppy, but some moments were not as tight as the rest of the film.

Black Panther is a superhero saga rich with culture and gravitas, and yet it does not skimp on the good humor and action thrills we’ve come to expect from Marvel. DC’s recent offerings (Justice League, Suicide Squad) make everyone involved with them look like goofballs in comparison (with Wonder Woman being the lone recent exception). Black Panther and Marvel show us that big-screen superhero entertainment can be about much more than suits and explosions.

Black Panther is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

I wish I could tell you that Captain America: Civil War is so good that it will make you forget the horror that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Bursting Diseased Cinematic Pustules. Alas, nothing is good enough to clear that out of anyone’s brain anytime soon.

Captain America: Civil War is very good, though, a nice blast of superhero fun that finds a diplomatic way to include many Marvel favorites without feeling crowded or rushed. This is one well-oiled Marvel machine.

Front and center, there’s Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, still having Brooklyn-bro issues when it comes to the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Cap wants to back up his former best friend, but the guy committed some shady, hard-to-defend acts while brainwashed. Captain America has to make some extremely difficult—and potentially cataclysmic—choices.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) thought Age of Ultron sucked for more than the obvious reasons: On top of being boring, it left death and destruction in its wake, as did the far-more-exciting original The Avengers. World leaders want to put the Avengers in check, using them as a sort of alternative to nuclear weapons. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., still owning it), in the midst of a crisis of conscience, agrees to the proposed accord. Rogers thinks it’s bullshit and won’t sign. This all works as a fine setup for an eventual battle between Iron Man and Captain America, during which both sides have compelling reasons to fight. It’s actually hard to pick a side in this movie, making the confrontation all the more fun.

The Avengers get split up between Iron Man and Captain America. Stark has Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (an excellent Paul Bettany), as well as new recruits Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and, yep, Spider-Man (Tom Holland, looking like he could be the best Spidey yet) in his ranks. Rogers goes into battle with the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bucky and new recruit Ant-Man (a funny Paul Rudd).

It’s no easy task, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with their screenwriters, juggle a lot of characters and spin a lot of plates—successfully and entertainingly. No single character hogs the screen for too long; everybody gets a nice stake in the movie; and the newbies are introduced in satisfying ways. Spider-Man manages to get his setup in a solid scene with Stark and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei … hooray!). It’s a relatively quick scene, but, hey, it’s Spider-Man. He doesn’t need a long setup. Just introduce him, and let him start shooting webs and wisecracks.

The film has good performances throughout, but Downey is the true standout. He’s the anchor of the Avengers universe, and he brings true gravitas where other actors would just make things corny. Holland gets a lot of points for making the most of his screen time and slipping comfortably into the costume most recently worn by Andrew Garfield. He’s perfect for Spidey on the acting front—and, if you take a look at his Spider-Man workouts, you’ll see he doesn’t necessarily need a stuntman.

Conspicuously missing are Hulk and Thor. Something had to be left for the next Thor movie, so those two get a break here. While Age of Ultron felt like nothing but a bunch of scenes setting up the next chapter, Civil War works as a standalone action movie.

There are no clear plans for Captain America and Bucky in The Avengers saga going forward. They are great characters, but there are plenty of great characters now existing in the Marvel Comics Universe. Captain America: Civil War gets things back on track after the weak Age of Ultron, and should make people excited for next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

I’ll just keep saying it: You must stay through the damn credits until that blue ratings thing shows at the end. It’s a Marvel movie! There are two extra scenes to see. Stop leaving before the screen goes dark. It’s driving me crazy!

Captain America: Civil War is playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Godfather of Soul is the subject of a rollicking if ultimately milquetoast biopic with Get on Up, showcasing a dynamite Chadwick Boseman as James Brown. The movie is entertaining, and it does flirt with the more controversial aspects of Brown’s life—but it plays things a little too safe.

A true telling of James Brown’s often insane life would be a real powder keg of a movie. In this PG-13 film, director Tate Taylor (The Help) doesn’t avoid the domestic violence, drugs and brushes with the law that were a mainstay in Brown’s life, but he does treat those aspects as a side note. The film’s focus stays primarily on Brown’s tough upbringing and his music. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does result in a missed opportunity for greatness.

The movie, which is not told chronologically, starts with the events leading up to the infamous police chase that landed Brown in jail for three years. Boseman is nothing short of amazing in these scenes as a somewhat crazy, older Brown, brandishing a shotgun and seeking out the person who dared to take a dump in his bathroom.

The film then bounces around in time, showing Brown as a young child in Augusta, Ga., and going all the way up to his latter years as a performer. This narrative technique is certainly fun; Boseman even breaks the fourth wall to chat with the audience—something that is a bit jarring at first, but eventually works.

The film highlights many of the legendary concerts in Brown’s career, including his groundbreaking first concert at the Apollo and the healing experience that was a Boston concert shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In most of these scenes, Boseman is lip-synching to Brown’s voice, but he does sing a few passages in the film using his own vocals. Taylor puts it all together seamlessly.

As for the physicality of his performance, Boseman is a kinetic marvel. He truly becomes James Brown, immaculately re-creating the dance moves and stage theatrics that made Brown one of the all-time-great performers. His method of delivering dialogue is, quite appropriately, not always intelligible: Brown had a tendency to mumble and ramble as he got older, and Boseman doesn’t shy away from that. Somehow, I still managed to understand everything he was saying.

Viola Davis is good in her few scenes as Brown’s troubled mother. Dan Aykroyd and Craig Robinson impress as Brown’s manager, Ben Bart, and saxophonist Maceo Parker, respectively. The supporting cast’s most valuable player is Nelsan Ellis, as longtime Brown sideman Bobby Byrd. His part is essentially the voice of reason in the madness that was often Brown’s life.

This story took a long time getting to the big screen, with everybody from Wesley Snipes to Eddie Murphy rumored to play Brown. Spike Lee was attached to direct at one point; he was also attached to a Jackie Robinson biopic. The eventual 42 was not directed by Lee, but did star Boseman. I guess this sort of makes Boseman an enemy of Spike Lee by default.

If you want to see somebody kick major ass with the James Brown dance moves, Get on Up definitely delivers. If you are looking for a biopic that truly captures Brown’s amazingly crazy life, you’ll have to keep waiting. This movie, while fun, doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Get on Up is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Spike Lee tried for many years to get a movie about American sports hero Jackie Robinson, starring Denzel Washington, off the ground. However, he couldn’t make it happen. That’s too bad; I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special.

Instead, we got 42, from director Brian Helgeland (Payback). While it’s really good at times, it gets awfully hokey at other times, and as a result, the film is just OK.

Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black to play Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford also delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors. Christopher Meloni leaves the movie too soon as Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended the year Robinson made his debut.)

Boseman, who looks a lot like Robinson, shines even when the movie doesn’t, and it’s a lot of fun to see Ford do something this different. However, I just can’t buy some of the fictional moments created for this movie, including an all-too-sweet moment between Robinson and Rickey just beyond the dugout stairs. (I am pretty sure that Rickey never put his head on Robinson’s shoulder.)

Also: Robinson went through major hell, and the movie only scratches the surface. A movie that really showed what he went through would have trouble getting a box-office-friendly a PG-13 rating, and wouldn’t offer fake moments of relief. Still, this film offers a decent representation of the sport, so perhaps it’s good that kids can go see this movie and get an idea of what Robinson did for civil rights.

Special Features: The Blu-ray package offers a few looks behind the making of the movie and Robinson’s legacy.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Spike Lee tried to get a movie with Denzel Washington playing Jackie Robinson off the ground for many years, but couldn’t make it happen. I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special with this story.

Meanwhile, this effort from director Brian Helgeland (Payback) is OK, and even really good at times, but gets awfully hokey.

Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors, and Christopher Meloni leaves the movie all too soon as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended in 1947, the year Robinson made his debut.) Boseman shines even when the movie doesn’t, and it’s a lot of fun to see Ford do something this craggy and different.

This film is good, but it should’ve been great. 

42 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews