Tag Archives: Entertainment

Black Panther (2018): T’Challa’s Character Arc

Instead of writing a traditional review of Black Panther, I’m going to dive right into some analysis.  Before I get into spoilers, here’s a link to the trailer for the movie:

A good amount of pixels have been spent praising Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik “Killmonger” Stevens in Black Panther.  Killmonger is one of the most interesting characters in any Marvel film, and Michael B. Jordan is one of the finest actors working today.  One of the things I like the most about Black Panther, however, is that the compelling antagonist doesn’t overshadow the protagonist like it does in numerous other superhero movies (e.g. The Dark Knight (2008); Spiderman: Homecoming (2017); Batman (1989); Superman II (1980)).  T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) journey is every bit as interesting as Killmonger’s.

On the surface, Wakanda is a utopia, but below the surface lies a troubling adherence to traditions that cause most of the problems in the movie.  To move forward, Wakanda needs a leader who will dispense with tradition when those traditions no longer make sense.  T’Challa becomes that leader by the end of the movie, but it takes some work to get there.

In Captain America: Civil War (2016), T’Challa dips his toes into breaking with tradition.  At the beginning of Civil War, he has already taken on the role of the Black Panther even though his father, T’Chaka (John Kani), is still alive.  He makes alliances with outsiders in Civil War, but notably, this is done to bring his father’s murderer to justice.  In other words, the alliances are meant to temporary at first.  The fact that T’Challa extends these relationships beyond their initial purpose shows that he has some flexibility as a character.

During the first part of Black Panther, we see T’Challa largely following in his father’s footsteps.  He performs in the same rituals as his father did, and fails to bring Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to justice just like his father did before him.  This makes sense.  T’Challa has been raised to continue on a thousand-year old tradition.  Breaking with that tradition does not come easily to him.

What T’Challa learns, however, is that being flexible with tradition bears fruit, while following established protocol for no other reason than “this is how it’s done” leads to problems.  He spares M’Baku (Winston Duke) in trial by combat, which leads to an alliance later.  In contrast, when he fails to question whether trial by combat is such a great idea to begin with, he temporarily loses his throne to Killmonger.

The turning point for T’Challa is during his second visit to the ancestral plane.  While he is angry at his father for abandoning his nephew (Killmonger) on the streets of Oakland, when he tells the previous kings that they were “all wrong,” he isn’t doing so out of anger.  T’Challa realizes in that moment that following the old way, with its isolationism, trial by combat, and rejection of outsiders has failed in its essential purpose.  While these conventions were established to keep Wakanda safe, they have instead made it vulnerable.

Had Wakanda not kept the tradition of trial by combat alive, Killmonger would have not ascended to the throne.  If T’Chaka had just taken his nephew in as a child in the first place instead of rejecting him as an outsider, there would have been no Killmonger.  If Wakanda hadn’t kept itself isolated, and helped the peoples of the African diaspora throughout history, there would have not have been anyone like Killmonger.  T’Challa realizes all of this before the end of the movie, seeks to learn from the mistakes of the past, and plans to build a better future.

This is for the best.  An isolated Wakanda will do no one any good once Thanos comes around in May.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: A Full Analysis Part 2

Since I wrote Part One of my analysis of The Last Jedi, I have done two things.  First, I saw the film a second time.  Second, I re-watched Rashomon (1950).  This has sharpened my view of the movie.  While I initially lauded it as a masterpiece, I’ve dialed that back some.  It is still a very, very good movie, probably the third best Star Wars movie.  But it is an imperfect film, so calling it an unequivocal masterpiece is misleading.

None of The Last Jedi’s flaws particularly bother me, but that does not mean they aren’t present.  Most feel nit-picky to me.  One example is how the film hand-waves away several of the science fiction elements.  Star Wars has never been science fiction – its proper genre is fantasy.  Still, it made some viewers wonder why, for example, a hyper-drive collision hadn’t been used more frequently if it could destroy several ships at once.

The one problem that’s hard to explain away has to do with the characterization of Luke Skywalker.  The film doesn’t do a great job of explaining why Luke wouldn’t have tried to deal with Kylo Ren before going into exile.  The closest to a reason that we get from him is when he tells Rey, “What do you expect me to do? Grab a laser sword and take on the entire First Order by myself?”  Luke has concluded that trying to deal with his nephew would lead to nothing but certain doom.  But why?

I didn’t need to know exactly what happened that made him so jaded – the failure of everything he had fought for was enough of a reason for me.  I also can excuse a lack of exposition in an already jam-packed film.  The counter-argument is that this isn’t Snoke we’re talking about – a character who we didn’t really need a backstory beyond “stock dark-side villain.”  Luke Skywalker is the central character in the Star Wars saga and a film should describe his motivations clearly enough that everyone understands them.  If The Last Jedi did not universally accomplish this clarity, that is a flaw.  But how serious of a flaw is it?

Compare, if you will, The Last Jedi to a nearly flawless film, Rashomon.  Rashomon may be known for its unforgettable images and non-linear storytelling, but at its base it is an extremely well constructed film.  Akira Kurosawa gives us just enough plot and characterization to accomplish his storytelling goals, nothing more.  This limits distraction and allows the audience to be fully immersed in four different versions of the same story.  For example, the audience doesn’t even suspend its disbelief to question why everyone in the story takes a medium speaking for a dead samurai seriously.

The Last Jedi is a well made film, but it is not economical in the same way that Rashomon is.  One could argue that The Last Jedi needed to walk a tightrope between viewer reactions ranging from “this is like the boring, blah, blah, blah from the prequels,” and “we demand more world-building.”  That equates the amount of backstory with economy, but less backstory doesn’t cause a movie to be economical in the same way that Rashomon is.  You need enough backstory to keep the audience from questioning the movie in the middle of the experience, and The Last Jedi does not do this for a good chunk of its audience.

Kathleen Kennedy and her team at Disney are terrified of the prequels, and with good reason.  The first two are bad movies, full stop.  The third is okay, but still disappointing, and not a good enough film in its own right to overcome the problems of the Episodes I and II.  I can understand erring towards annoying the “we demand more world-building” people by cutting exposition, but sometimes you need backstory to make sure that your story is universally understood enough to keep its audience immersed in it.  A more economical movie would understand this – and to some extent this is a problem in the Force Awakens too.  We shouldn’t need to read a tie-in book to know what the difference between the New Republic and the Resistance, for example.

That brings me to why the lack of backstory in The Last Jedi isn’t a fatal flaw in the same way that the flaws of Episode I and II destroy those movies.  The information that The Force Awakens leaves out is available in tie-in books.  If we didn’t know about that information then, we know it now.  The Last Jedi will get its share of tie-ins too, which will fill in some of the missing worldbuilding and potentially clarify Luke’s characterization to viewers who wanted more information.

If this is Disney’s scheme to sell more books, comics, and video games,  so be it – film has always been a commercial artform.  But this isn’t a problem in the Original Trilogy and that made plenty of tie-in loot.  If it is going to be Disney’s strategy going forward to play loose with economical storytelling in order to sell side-content, this will prevent its films from being great movies like Rashomon.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

 

 

2017: The Year in Review

Well another year is in the books.  I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years now, which judging by some of the blogs I’ve encountered here on WordPress is an awfully long time to keep up a movie blog.  Anyway enough patting myself on the back – time to do the usual Year in Review Post:

2017 Was a Good Year to Be

Star Wars

Yes, 2017 was a great year for the Star Wars franchise.  Rogue One made a ridiculous amount of money.  The Last Jedi has wowed critics and audiences (well except for a few cantankerous Twitter eggs), and, also, has made a ridiculous amount of money.  The TV series Rebels is quite good I’m told.  Sure a few directors were sacked, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Narrative Inertia

It’s always a good year to be an abstract concept, but the concept of narrative inertia had a top flight year.  It can gather around the water cooler with all the other abstract concepts and talk a big game.  What I mean by this is that two of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones and The Americans had sub par seasons, but I still watched and I’m still excited for the final season of those shows.  I’m even probably going to watch the last season of House of Cards despite the fact that Season Five was a dumpster fire of epic proportions.

Streaming Services

The “big three” (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu) streaming services had a great 2017.  Netflix has been doing the original programming thing for a while now, but 2017 felt exceptional.  The Handmaid’s Tale won a well-deserved Emmy, and I’m currently sucked into the charming “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Good work internet people!

2017 Was a Bad Year to Be

A Scumbag

New rule. Every year should be this bad for scumbags.

Movies for People with 401(K)’s and Mortgages

Was it just me or was nearly every movie in 2017 a comic book movie, a “tent pole” franchise movie, or a cartoon?  Sure there were a few big hits like “Get Out” and “Dunkirk,” but those were few and far between.  Maybe once Oscar season starts I’ll be reassured that someone is still making movies for people over 30.

Tired of an Endless Barrage of Mindless Hot Takes

Sure there have always been opinion websites, but there seem like there are far too many of them now. Everyone has to have a unique take, and it just becomes noise.  Twitter, which was supposed to be bankrupt by now, is still the worst offender.  I kind of just wish the internet would shut up for five seconds and think before it talks.

Scenes from the Great Ale House in the Sky

After last year I considered not doing this one anymore.  Still I couldn’t help but imagine a sold out Chuck Berry, Gregg Allman, and Tom Petty concert.  It’s tomorrow.  Tonight Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Guillaume are giving a talk on what it was like being huge televisions stars in the days before so-called “peak TV.”  It’s called, “You’re Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, Game of Thrones.”  Since that show has actual giants, the pun is clearly intended.

Jerry Lewis stopped by.  Sure, Dean Martin owns the place, but that particular beef is long squashed.  Long before people talked about squashing beefs.  Besides if he didn’t come by Don Rickles was going to zing him very hard.

Adam West is here, and yes he’s dressed as Batman.  Roger Moore is here too, although he is not dressed like James Bond, at least not officially.

 

Anyway, that’s our year in review!  Tune in next time for 2018!

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Full Analysis Part One

I promised a full analysis of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and why I liked it so much. In order to really get into my thoughts, I’m going to have to delve into the details of the movie.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer:

And here’s a “jump” so that you don’t accidentally see anything:

Continue reading Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Full Analysis Part One

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Review, Spoiler Free)

In your travels in the internet over the past few days, you may have seen comments, user reviews, and tweets calling The Last Jedi a bad film. Or a disappointment. Or claiming it “ruined Star Wars.”

These opinions are objectively wrong.

In the coming days I’ll expand on my thoughts of what a masterpiece this movie is. But in order to do so I’d have to reveal major plot points. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m give you one traditional, spoiler-free review.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I like The Last Jedi. The more I think about it, the more I like it. I can’t think of a single Marvel MCU movie that is superior. In fact, The Last Jedi serves as a direct response to those films and their often “paint by numbers” nature. It makes me wonder if any of those films are that good to begin with.

It doesn’t draw from a place that most fans of the modern blockbuster are necessarily familiar with. It draws from the same influences as the Original Trilogy, especially Kurosawa. But there’s a heavy dose of Greek Tragedy and Bergman in there too.

That is to say, despite a surprising number of jokes that land, it is a bleak, bleak movie. Far bleaker than The Empire Strikes Back dared to be. Then again, I’ve never seen Empire without being able to watch Return of the Jedi in short order. I don’t know how bleak Empire must have felt to people who viewed it in 1980.

That said, this isn’t a perfect film. There are legitimate questions about how well the creative choices will hold up if Episode 9 doesn’t stick the landing. These points are hard to get into in a spoiler free review, so I’ll save them for later.

Overall, the Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie aside from the first two. With time to breathe and a well executed Episode 9, it may rank even higher in the end.

You might like The Last Jedi if: You are willing to challenge your assumptions about what a franchise blockbuster should be.

You might not like The Last Jedi if: All you want is a predictable remake of The Empire Strikes Back.

(C) 2017 D.G. McCabe

Starnger Things: What’s Next

So I finished Stranger Things Season Two this weekend.  Before I get into my thoughts on where the show goes from here, here’s your standard spoiler warning.  The article continues after the trailer.

Season two of Stranger things was a lot of fun.  Eight of the nine episodes were nearly flawless.  The other one introduced some interesting world-building that could be used to make season three something a bit different.  That’s what I’d like to write about, where the show goes from here.

While the last scene threatened another round of our heroes versus “the upside down,” I kind of hope that the seeds of season three are contained in episode seven of season two.  While some ink has been spilled by critics about why the “El/Jane goes to the Chicago” episode is the weakest of the season, I think that’s a function of the fact that it isn’t given the room to breathe that the rest of the series is granted.  It also occurs in the middle of a cliffhanger, which throws off the rhythm of other eight episodes.

As an aside, with some notable exceptions (Thor, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer) the most powerful characters in Marvel comics are typically X-Men and other “mutant” characters.  Arguably, the most powerful is Jean Grey – who among other things can manipulate all matter with her mind.    Sound familiar?

As we know from episode seven, El/Jane isn’t the only super-powered being out there.  At least one of her siblings is roaming the country dispensing vigilante justice.  There are at least nine others, whose powers and whereabouts haven’t been revealed.

Now, El/Jane with her Jean Grey powers might have an advantage over the others.  A well worn comic book trope, however, is that this power also makes her a target.  For season three I’d like to see her have to protect her friends against her rogue “siblings,” while the Mind Flayer licks its wounds and somehow returns for season 4.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe

 

Dispatches from the Frozen Land: What’s To Be Done?

Otto von Bismarck never actually said that oft-attributed phrase “laws are like sausages,” but I’m sure someone, at some point, said that about showbiz.  It doesn’t have to be that way, it shouldn’t be that way, plenty of us thought it wasn’t that way anymore, but here we are.  I feel like a vile, mocking voice out of the past is screaming, “See, look, for all your thoughts of progress my horrors are still with you.”

I’m not naive enough to think that harassment, exploitation, and abuse were exorcised from the makings of movies – there has been plenty of evidence to the contrary.  What strikes me this week is the prevalence, and the shrugging in the face of that prevalence, of grotesque behavior at the highest levels of Hollywood.   If one of the top producers in the business has been getting away with this filth for this long, what else is going on that hasn’t been reported yet?

It brings me to question what’s to be done, not just with the people responsible, that’s obvious (or at least should be obvious), but what’s to be done with the art?  We could gather a bunch of Miramax DVD’s and burn them in the town square for all to see.   We’d be creating one heck of a bonfire, to potentially no end except for momentary catharsis and permanent air pollution.  Besides, film is a collaborative artform.  Should the hundreds of people who worked on these films be punished for the actions of one of the lead producers?

I think we can separate art from its process by placing it in context.  Once we start censoring and boycotting any artistic expression, that’s the beginning of the end.  That seems easy, but it’s not.  Lauding the art and ignoring the process enables that process.  After all, that’s why Weinstein got away with it for so long.  If his movies had failed fewer people would have put up with his criminal behavior.

So what can be done? First, the industry needs to shine light on other abusers and scumbags.  Second, the industry needs to deny short-term rewards to these people.  This is easier said than done.

The first depends on people working in an industry where the most vulnerable are the least free to speak out.  “You’ll never work in this town again” is a real threat in Hollywood.  The second depends on audiences, critics, and awarding organizations knowing about the behavior and punishing it by staying away.  This is problematic because it potentially punishes a lot of hard-working cinematographers, makeup artists, set designers, etc. who may have had nothing to do with the actions of an actor/director/producer.  Action needs to be taken before these productions start, not long afterwards.

I’m encouraged by the voices that have been out there this past week, but the pressure needs to be kept up.  Things can change, but if we lose focus, that’s how the status quo resumes.  With that, I hope this past week is the start of something big, rather than a blip on the radar.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe