Black Panther

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fair weather Marvel fan; the more buzz surrounding the newest one, the more I’m inclined to get up at 4a to see the 6a show in IMAX. Historically, the trailers of these movies have been mainly comprised of white men — Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Thor, Captain America — and the occasional woman.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I saw the Black Panther trailer jam-packed with striking men and women of color.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the movie we need right now. For a myriad of reasons, this is the two-hour escape that we’ve been begging for, and it’s finally here.

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Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his African nation of Wakanda. Hiding from the rest of the world, Wakanda is thought to be a third world country, when in fact, it is akin to a divine utopia. Returning to Wakanda as well is T’Challa’sĀ former flame, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). An operative of Dora Milaje — a special forces team that is made up of exclusively women — Nakia has come back to see T’Challa crowned the new king.

Waiting to receive him in Wakanda are his mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). With them, head of the Dora Milaje — Okoye (Danai Gurira) will look on as the new king takes his rightful place as ruler of Wakanda.

Amid the serenity of his new responsibilites is personal turmoil — disagreements with Nakia regarding what Wakanda should and should not be sharing with struggling countries — and incoming treachery from a rabble-rouser named Klaue (Andy Serkis) and his cohort, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

While Klaue poses a threat, he doesn’t quite hold a candle to what’s bubbling just beneath the surface in Killmonger. While Klaue has his eye on Wakanda’s abundance of the most sought after metal — or, anti-metal — in the world, vibranium, Killmonger has a much different agenda.

A diplomatic man, T’Challa takes on the power of the Black Panther to defend his people while acting in Wakanda’s best interests. He struggles to find his voice as a king, and that wavering may cause him to falter.

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With Okoye faithfully by his side and Shuri — the tech genius of Wakanda — whipping up wild and fantastic new gadgets for her brother in her lab, nothing can prepare them for what’s coming.

I wish I could offer insightful comparisons between the film and the comics, but I never did get into this world. What I CAN tell you is that for a Marvel movie, Black Panther blew me away.

That said, as a film in the general sense, Black Panther blew me away.

It is remarkably topical and pragmatic in the delivery of its message. Every move Black Panther makes is deliberate and Director Ryan Coogler lets his voice be heard loud and clear.

A renaissance for the superhero genre, Black Panther breathes new life into the waning phenomenon of the caped crusader ideals laid down by previous franchises. It speaks to the malaise coating every inch of this country and gives reprieve in spades.

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Gratification, I suppose, is the best word to use here. An overwhelming satisfaction fills the theater and there, in the darkness, everyone has been on this journey together and are better for it. Boseman, Kaluuya, Bassett, Jordan, Nyong’o, Wright, and Gurira deliver the desired movie-going experience with flawless, gorgeous, and unstoppable excellence.

Black Panther is powerful and bold, unapologetically saying — in no uncertain terms — what so many are thinking. Speaking eloquently, I can easily say that this movie will leave viewers feeling a deep sense of empowerment and liberation.

Not speaking eloquently, you’re gonna cream your cosplay.

Black Panther is in theaters this weekend and sold out at theaters across the country. I can’t wait to see it again myself — Wakanda forever!

Fifty Shades Freed

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What does this country need right now? A film about two white people who happen to have bottomless wealth? How did this movie happen? Who lost a bet and had to make all three of these things?

I’ve so many questions.

Ladies and gentlemen, Fifty Shades Freed is a movie full of actors who are getting paychecks no matter what.

In this third and hopefully final installment, we open on Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) exchanging vows. A few shots of the reception reveal brief appearances by key characters from the previous chapters, most of whom never to be seen again in Freed. Christian approaches his new wife and whisks her away to start their honeymoon.

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Arriving in one of his Audis at a private airport where a plane is waiting, Ana exclaims, “You OWN this?” to which Christian slyly replies, “WE own this.”

Girl, HOW are you surprised that your billionaire husband owns a plane?

Off to see the most beautiful sights, a painfully saccharine pop song plays over the montage of merriment as The Greys frolic and make out a bunch.

Their fairytale is cut short when a message from back home alerts them to an arson attempt at Grey Enterprises that resulted in stolen files. Immediately identifying a poorly masked Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), Ana’s former boss who assaulted her, Anastasia is issued extra security detail.

Later in the film, when Ana’s life is threatened, Sawyer and Prescott (Brant Daughtery and Kirsten Alter, respectively) — Ana’s personal protection — neutralize the threat. Prescott asks Sawyer for something to bind the assailant’s wrists while they wait for the police, but he wasn’t given such equipment. So, these two rough and tumble folks assigned to protect the billionaire’s wife weren’t even given the proper utensils to detain a threat.

This is when Ana offers, “We’ve got something” referring to the arsenal of restraints she and Mr. Grey share. And the theater crowd goes wild!

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With Hyde in custody and Christian leaving town on business to do whatever the hell it is that he does, Anastasia is given explicit instructions to go to work and come straight home.

Cue a text from her BFF, Kate (Eloise Mumford), asking to meet for drinks at the old Bunker Club. Sawyer watches her like a hawk the entire time, and she arrives home safely, but Christian finds out anyway and uses The Red Room of Pain to punish her.

I just want to stop for a second and remind you that someone wrote this in a book, someone else published it, and now it’s a movie.

The rest of the film is rife with sex scenes and jet setting. A getaway to Aspen? Who DOES that anymore? Rich, white people. That’s who.

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Now, kids, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but I MUST address one scene in particular. This was the most offensive of the entire film, in my opinion.

Upon arrival at the Aspen house, Christian sits right down at the grand piano and starts playing a tune familiar to my ears. It’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney and Wings. My inner dialog was on its knees, praying that he wouldn’t sing. This was the moment I realized that the filmmakers hate us. All of us. Because he does sing. He sings for what felt like 12 minutes.

I’d checked out at this point.

It’s here that I’d like to mention that I’ve been filling in my coworkers about the film this morning. It wasn’t until moments ago that I was laughing about it with someone when a woman shushed me and said, “I’m gonna see it tomorrow! Don’t say anymore!”

So we really are divided as a nation.

The main take home point for me after seeing this movie was that if this can get made, so can my movie about a man who lives underground and wears a mask made out of brick-like material and his name is Brickface.

Freed has one saving grace, and that is Dakota Johnson. She’s quite good and has delightful comic timing. The soundtrack, however, is akin to drinking bleach, set to music.

The rest is a bit surreal to see conveyed in a serious light on-screen. Someone earnestly made this movie. Someone wrote these words down as Twilight fan-fiction, then someone took those words and turned them into this, and someone took THAT and made THREE full-length feature films.

The moral of the story is — even if your dreams are garbage, you can still see them to fruition in wide release, just in time for Valentine’s Day! Laters, baby.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

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I’d like to shoot you straight, reader; before this latest installment, I’d never seen these kids running mazes. The last time I saw Thomas Brodie-Sangster, he was in love with an American girl in Love, Actually.

And that fella Barry Pepper was running around Vietnam with Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers last I remember seeing him on the big screen.

I was wary of this movie at first because it was explained to me as another Divergent or Hunger Games.

Reader, the moment I watched Barry Pepper leap from a car that was tethered to a moving train, botch the landing, and pull himself onto the train with what should have been — but were not — shattered ankles, I was all in.

I see movies for suspension of disbelief, and I have never doubted anything more than the fact that the bones in his feet were in tact after that jump.

This review is going to be a bit of a mess because in lieu of watching the first two movies and educating myself, I’m going at this the same way I went for Harry Potter; only seeing the last film of the franchise and reviewing it as such.

Death Cure opens on what I presume are beloved characters that we’re glad to see again, Brenda and Jorge (Rosa Salazar and Giancarlo Esposito, respectively) awaiting instruction via walkie from our hero, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and their other comrade, Frypan (Dexter Darden). I like to think Frypan is the name on his birth certificate.

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Thomas and Vince (Pepper) are fixin’ to hijack a train full of children in chains, none of whom are named Alice that I know of.

One of them, however, is Minho (Ki Hong Lee). From what I gather, Minho is very special to Thomas. I don’t believe a single one of my friends would lift a train car into the sky using an elaborate plan to save me were I in need.

Not. One.

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Anyway, popping up out of the middle of a field, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) runs to aid the mission and the group successfully pulls it off without a hitch. See, they blew up the hitch. The hitch was holding together the train and they used an explosive to destroy it, hence, no hitch.

If you are still reading, I applaud your efforts.

The group, reunited, arrive back at base camp only to find that Minho isn’t among the kids rescued. After there is talk of a city — when all of the remaining cities had supposedly been demolished — Thomas decides that’s where Minho is and that he’s gonna go and collect him.

The only problem is that there is a wall around the city. A WALL. To keep out undesirables. I see what you did there, movie, and I thank you for it.

On the other side of that wall? Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). She was once part of the squad but now holds the title of MAJOR TRAITOR. While her heart is in the right place — wanting to cure the disease plaguing the planet — she still did wrong by the rest of her crew.

Teresa’s… boss?… Ava (Patricia Clarkson) and her unctuous counterpart, Janson (Aidan Gillen) are playing for the same team but their motivations are wildly differing. Before the end, Janson and his Great Clips haircut might just have the last word.

Will the kids find the cure for the pandemic wiping clean every remaining trace of life before it’s too late? Will Thomas and Teresa reconcile? Will Aidan Gillen ever not look like one of the models in the catalogs they give you at Supercuts while you wait?

In all honesty, I had the same experience with this movie that I did with the final Harry Potter. I went in with little knowledge of the preceding films. I had the gist. Fortunately, like Harry Potter, Maze Runner gives the audience a bit of gentle hand-holding for the viewer who is less cultured and refined.

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A bit long, Death Cure keeps a fine pace, only slowing down to explain some crucial plot points. It’s a fun one that I didn’t mind as much as I thought I might and speaks on topical matters far more than I’d anticipated.

Will I watch the first two? Not likely. Do I recommend this one? Yes! Do I think it’s hilarious that on the iMDB page, Director Wes Ball’s four “Known For” movies are the three Maze Runners and the romantic dramedy Beginners? Dear, God, yes.

We’re in a dead zone for movies at the moment and will be until Black Panther, but this is a good one to catch for a bit of action, some laughs, and that delightful boy from Love, Actually all growed up.