Category Archives: Movies

The Women of Black Panther

 

I was going to have her sit this one out, either go with my friends or solo while she was in school. We’d gone to Spider Man, the latest Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok, but these were all somewhat cartoonish, live action comic books without much deeper meaning beyond super heroes beating up bad guys. I was afraid that six years old was too young for Black Panther, that the story of Prince T’Challa returning to his African nation of Wakanda and assuming the throne after the death of his father wouldn’t have enough action to keep her attention. That the movie’s deeper questions about how much responsibility the richer nations of the world have towards helping others would go over her head.

She didn’t let me. I’m not sure if it’s the ninja-like appearance of his costume or the fact that he has Vibranium claws, but her Black Panther action figure has always been her favorite of all the Avengers. As the release date approached and the television commercials became more frequent I knew there was no way I could leave her home.

 

 

We both loved it. I’m not going to comment on the cultural importance of the movie, about the hole in representation that it helps to close, instead inviting you to read this article by Christopher Persley at The Brown Gothamite, someone much more qualified to discuss the issue than I am. ( And a damn fine writer. )

I’m going to talk about the women, the women that my daughter left the theater talking about.  Black women to be sure, darker skinned than is usually seen on television and film, something as equally important as Ryan Coogler’s direction, the African setting or the phenomenal box office success. Black women who are strong, fierce, independent, and just as importantly, respected. These women are just as important figures to Wakandan society and the film as a whole as the men are.

There is Angela Bassett, always badass, as the newly widowed Queen Ramonda, and Danai Gurira, best known as Michonne on The Walking Dead as Okoye, T’Challa’s bodyguard and head of the Wakandan Special Forces. Even more inspiring is Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, a secret agent type that begins the film having spurned the Prince to instead free enslaved women in neighboring Nigeria and Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s  sixteen year old little sister and a genius inventor said to be among the smartest people in the world.

Chadwick Boseman is awesome as the title character and the always fantastic Michael B Jordan plays the best and most fully developed “bad guy” Marvel has put on screen yet. I put bad guy in quotations because he’s not a one dimensional super villain bent on world domination but a sympathetic character that could have easily carried his own movie.

Black Panther is a black movie, directed by a black man with a predominately black cast and everything that those looking for a hero that looks like them could have hoped for.

It’s also just an awesome movie, the same way Wonder Woman was important but also excellent.  It doesn’t matter what your race, whether you have sons or daughters, or if you just like really, really good action movies, go see this one. It’s easily one of my favorite Marvel movies so far and I love the fact that once again my daughter was able to see strong women on screen, not as damsels in distress to be saved by the hero, but kicking ass and taking names.

 

The Women Of Black Panther

 

 

 

 

Disney’s Coco : Two Movies In One

 

 

Coco
Disney/Pixar Coco International Promo poster

 

With winter break now at the halfway point and frigid cold weather keeping us trapped inside, today I joined approximately every other parent in northeastern Connecticut in a trip to the cinema, a matinee showing of the new Disney/Pixar film Coco.

Like every other animated film that parents don’t hate, it was apparent from the opening sequence that this film had been made with us in mind. That like UP,  Zootopia and the Toy Story films,  Pixar was aiming higher than a few mindless hours of occupied children and potential toy and merchandising sales. This wasn’t just an extended version of something just as easily seen on television for free at any given time, it was an actual movie. Depending on your perspective, two movies.

 

*Warning : spoilers ahead*

 

The movie she saw:

The Coco that my daughter really enjoyed was the story of Miguel, a young boy that lives with his extended family of shoemakers but secretly longs for the life of a mariachi.  Alone in the family attic the boy harbors a love of music and guitar playing that has been banned from his household after his great-great-grandfather abandoned the family to pursue his own musical ambitions.

In typical Disney fashion he disobeys his elders, running off on Dia de Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead, finding himself cursed and trapped in the Land of the Dead, searching for an ancestor to give him their blessing and return him to the Land of the Living. There is a funny dog sidekick, lots of songs, and not very scary skeletons representing the dead. After a bunch of adventures he finds his way home, his family once again embraces music and there are no consequences for his disobedience.

 

The movie I saw:

The Coco that I was surprised by was the tragic story of Hector, a singer/songwriter that was murdered while attempting to return to his wife and small daughter, the titular Coco. Hector longs to be able to visit the Land of the Living on Dia de Muertes but has been written out of his family’s history and now remembered only by his daughter, now elderly and suffering from dementia.

Hector meets a stranded young boy trapped in The Land of the Dead and enlists his help in crossing the veil see her one last time before she forgets him completely and he suffers the “last death” that would result from his legacy being erased from The Land of the Living. I won’t spoil the ending of Hector’s story other than to say it ends with redemption, but judging by the amount of sniffling I heard in the full capacity theater, I wasn’t the only one there that was watching this version.

This is one of the best kid’s movies that I’ve seen in a long time, and I saw a bunch this year. If you’re on the fence or need something to do before you’re kid drives you insane this week, I highly recommend it, just get there early. Our showing was packed.

 

 


 

Why You Need To See Wonder Woman

 

Warner Bros / DC Entertainment

 

I don’t know what my record is for movie theater visits in a year, but I’m pretty sure that 2017 is going to set a new one. Starting with February’s Lego Batman and continuing right through The Last Jedi to end the year, every month seems to have several new releases that are worthy of the small fortune that it costs to take my snack loving children.

I won’t have something to say about all of them. Lego Batman was OK, but a disappointment after the brilliance of the original Lego Movie. Logan was a great “adult” superhero flick, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was the most kid-friendly of all the Marvel movies so far.

Other times I will. I found it fascinating that there was so much discussion regarding the gay character in The Beauty and the Beast and fantastic that there was none about the movie’s interracial couples.

 

This past weekend was a busy one but somehow I managed to fit in two different theater visits. I don’t have much to say about Captain Underpants other than it’s about as stupid as you’d imagine, not as funny as I’d thought a movie voiced by Kevin Hart, Ed Helms and Nick Kroll would be, and the little would absolutely not be talked into seeing anything else. She found it hysterical.

 

 

There is a lot that I could say about Wonder Woman.

I could talk about her history. She debuted in All Star Comics #8 in 1941, created by early feminist William Marston . Marston once stated that “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of women who should, I believe, rule the world.”  In 1942 she became the first female member of The Justice Society of America. She was invited to be their secretary.

I could talk about how long this movie has been in development and question why. Wonder Woman is one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world, just as important to the DC Universe as Superman or Batman, yet those two have appeared in multiple film incarnations for decades. Before now the closest Warner Brothers actually got to making a movie about one of their most important properties was a late 90’s project that was rumored to star Sandra Bullock, an idea that now sounds as absurd as a George Clooney Batman. Despite being a large part of the promotional campaign for Batman Vs Superman, her role was limited. It’s credited by many, including me, as being the best part of that movie.

 

Warner Bros / DC Entertainment

 

I could talk about the importance of representation, the importance of girls having a superhero of their own to look up to, and also about gender stereotyping, how ridiculous an idea it is to assume that boys wouldn’t want to see this movie or play with these toys. I love that my daughter never thought twice about dressing as Captain America for Halloween but understand why she’s thinking about Batgirl for this year. Why do we still have to go to the boy’s section to find T shirts with Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot and why can’t you find Wonder Woman while you’re there?

I could talk about the movie’s message, the sincerity that Gal Gadot conveys while uttering lines like “I believe in love. Only love can save the world.” It should be incredibly corny but somehow isn’t. After leaving the all-female fantasy island of Themyscira, believing that killing Ares, the God of War, will bring an end to World War One, the character slowly loses her naivety without resorting to the dark cynicism so often used to make movies about people in costumes seem more “realistic.”

Instead I’ll just tell you to go see it. Wonder Woman is a great action adventure movie, more reminiscent of Indiana Jones than The Man of Steel. I laughed out loud several times, the teenager cried, ( not at the same parts ) and we both can’t wait to see her again in this November’s Justice League.

It’s also way better than Captain Underpants.

 

Warner Bros / DC Entertainment

 

 

The Real Progressiveness of The Beauty and the Beast

 

Judging by ticket sales numbers and the packed theater that we encountered Saturday morning, it seems that the majority of movie goers have chosen to ignore calls from ultra-conservatives to boycott Disney’s new live action remake of Beauty and the Beast.  If you missed it, the “controversy” surrounds villainous sidekick LeFou, played by the voice of Olaf, Josh Gad, Disney’s first openly gay character.  Apparently there are some that are upset at Disney for trying to push their LGBT agenda on our poor, unsuspecting children.

 

Lefou
Disney promo – Beauty and the Beast LeFou

 

My child was completely oblivious.  LeFou acts stereotypically effeminate, stares longingly at his good buddy Gaston (Luke Evans), and dances with another man for less time than it took me to type this sentence.  If I hadn’t been looking for it, it’s possible I would have been just as unaware.

To tell the truth, it wan’t even the gayest thing that we watched together this week.  During a recent episode of the cartoon Star vs the Forces of Evil, one of the characters looks around at a boy band concert to find that everyone else in the audience is part of a couple and kissing their partners, including two same sex couples. The main character in Nickelodeon’s The Loud House has a best friend whose parents are a gay, interracial couple.

One of the main story lines of this season of Supergirl has revolved around the coming out of Alex Danvers, adoptive sister of Supergirl Kara Danvers, and her relationship with policewoman Maggie Sawyer.  After watching the episode where they officially became a couple, it led to this conversation:

“Wait, girls can have girlfriends, not just boyfriends?”

“Absolutely.  People don’t choose who they love.”

“Oh, OK. Why isn’t Wonder Woman ever on this show?”

“I don’t know honey. That’s a great question.”

 

supergirl
CW promo ep 2.13

 

There is a moment in Beauty and the Beast that I think is important, one that matters precisely because it has evoked no controversy whatsoever that I have heard. When the curse is finally lifted and The Beast reverts back to his human form, so too do all his servants. This leads to joyous reunions between the wardrobe, Madame de Garderobe,  ( Audra McDonald ) and her harpsichord husband Cadenza ( Stanley Tucci ) and the candelabra Lumiere ( Ewan McGregor ) and his wife the feather duster Plumette ( Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Its a more romantic moment than anything that happens between the titular characters and departs from the cartoon by showing both of these couples to be inter-racial. This is something that shouldn’t be a big deal, but not very far in the past would have led to calls of boycott of its own.

As absurd as I find some of the things that people are still outraged by, our children are being exposed to more diversity than ever before, both on screen and off.  How they react to that diversity will be determined by how we react to it.  Sometimes the biggest sign of progress is when there is no reaction at all.

 

 

 

 

Two Harley Quinns

By now even the most casual reader of this blog knows that we are big fans of all things superhero in this house. The five year old dressed as Captain America for Halloween, the teenager accompanied me to our first Comic-con last summer, and I still spend way more money on comic books each month than I’d be comfortable admitting to my wife.

It was with great anticipation that I have been waiting for the release of Suicide Squad, the next movie set in DC Comics new extended universe after the extremely underwhelming Batman Vrs Superman.  A fan of the comics since the re-launch by writer John Ostrander in 1987, the premise is that government agent Amanda Waller puts together a team of incarcerated super-villains to undertake high-risk, black-ops type missions that more respectable heroes would balk at. Tiny bombs implanted in their necks deter these villains from trying to escape custody.

The movie follows this same narrative, and while not without it’s flaws, was overall very good.

It was also not meant for children. Although PG-13 and nowhere near as raunchy as Deadpool, this is still a very dark, very violent movie. There is more humor than there was in the dour Batman Vrs Superman, but I’d still consider the appropriate viewing age to be several years older than with the Marvel movies.

Most of the funny moments come courtesy of either Will Smith’s super assassin Deadshot, or from Harley Quinn, played brilliantly by Margot Robbie. This Harley Quinn is an unstable psychopath who was once the Joker’s psychologist at Arkham Asylum before falling in love with him, helping him to escape, and starting a new life as his baseball bat wielding paramour. She’s apprehended in one of Batman’s brief cameos. I still haven’t made up my mind about how I feel about Jared Leto’s  much hyped turn as the Joker, but his role in the film is significantly less than the marketing would have you believe.

 

harley quinn

 

My problem is that there is also another Harley Quinn; one that attends Super Hero High School with Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl, among others. She’s my daughter’s favorite character from the You Tube cartoon series and her favorite action figure from the toy line. When I stopped by my brother’s house last week, the first thing that my four year old nephew did was to show me his new Harley Quinn.

 

kids harley quinn

 

The two are obviously being marketed to vastly different audiences, and it makes good business sense for DC to try and capitalize on one of their most popular properties right now. The argument that parents are responsible for knowing the content of a movie before bringing their children is a valid one.

I also think that the comic book companies have enough heroes and villains in their catalogues  that there can be some characters that are left for children, while still satisfying audiences who like a more grown up action movie.  My daughter shouldn’t have to wait until puberty to be able to watch Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman on the big screen.  She was already angry about being left home while the teenager and I went to the movies. If she had known we were going to watch a Harley Quinn movie, she would have lost her mind.

 

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