Black Panther

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Black Panther

Black Panther is technically superb. It is also uninterruptedly violent. With apologies to the gifted team that made this movie, I’m troubled by the degree of physical violence that will be seen by millions of people. Here’s to the first person who makes a movie as good as this one where enemies outwit each other with their brains instead of their weapons.

Consider the strengths. Wakanda is a small nation of rock canyons, water, fields, and trees. Beneath that natural cover the small nation conceals a culture unknown to the world. How did this happen? Long ago, a meteorite made of Vibranium crashed into Wakanda and left rich ore that would allow it to develop the extraordinary vehicles and weaponry the citizenry has kept secret from the world.

The movie opens with the notification to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) that his father has been killed and he, the son, will become King of Wakanda. This is complicated by the appearance of Erik Killmonger (Michael Jordan), a villain who challenges T’Challa for the throne. Their rivalry becomes the battle line for the violence that follows as the story works its way toward crowning T’Challa.
Killmonger intends to win the throne with the high tech weapons in the hands of his revolutionaries.

That’s the background for a nearly uninterrupted explosion of violence in the air and on the ground by all the weaponry the Wakandans have invented that the world has yet to see. What saves things – at least almost – are the threads of talk that represent honest disagreement and genuine searching for a better world on the part of some of the Wakandans who don’t want to use their wonderful inventions for killing. Imagine a world where new technologies are used for fun instead of war.

Throughout, we hear sparks of the debates of today as they sizzle among the players. They ask, “Do advanced nations have a duty to share their discoveries to build bridges rather than erecting barriers?”

There is a wonderful scene here of the Black Panther riding atop a spiraling vehicle controlled remotely by Shuri (Letitia Wright) in her lab in Wakanda. Nokia (Lupita Nyong’o) wants to help the less fortunate. The narrow misses, the colorful battles – all are delivered in extraordinary technology. The women have the good ideas here and they begin to lead their new king in the right direction.

Murderous violence is born in the minds of men who then manufacture it and use it, but what if the country who had the tools refused to use them for killing? What if brains instead of brutality won the war? That twist could have been set against the glorious costumes, visual joy, and extreme action delivered in five languages by the genuinely fine actors in this movie. Imagine using these superb special effects to celebrate a country built on that kind of leadership at a time when the world is threatened – as it is now – by men like Killmonger.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Black Panther
Word Count: 496
Running Time: 2:14
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2 March 2018


The Shape of Water

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Shape of Water

This is a tough one. On one hand, The Shape of Water offers us hatred, cruelty, nudity, violence, murder, and beatings. On the other, it offers a tender love story between two afflicted people who lose themselves in a beautiful romance. The time is the Cold War. The place is a dark, decrepit Baltimore building that is a lab space for creating a creature that will become a weapon against the Russians.

Close friends Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Zelda (Octavia Spencer) have janitorial work passes to clean the building without oversight. Eliza’s sharp intelligence allows her to pick up on the clues left behind by the men who are working on the secret project.

The studio puts it this way: “At a top secret research facility in the 1950s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.” True enough, though I would add “in deepest covert Cold War secrecy” in order to explain the dark gloom that surrounds their relationship. The amphibious creature (Doug Jones) has been created for deep cover use by U.S. Intelligence.

We endure the comings and goings of brutal intelligence agents whose presence is lightened only by Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a man who has a formal, abiding respect for the creature. His American colleague is played by Michael Shannon who is convincing as a government agent wrapped in physical brutality – especially when carrying an electric prod.

When Elisa enlists the support of her lonely upstairs neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), this sweet, bumbling fellow agrees to help her save the sea creature she now loves. The always fine Octavia Spencer creates Zelda, the loyal, wise friend who will stand by Eliza through the nightmare that lies ahead. She understands the gestures and signals of her silent friend.

Elisa is a lovely young woman who can’t speak a word. She has walked silently through life with only the friendship of Zelda and Giles, that nice guy across the hall. In this role, Sally Hawkins utters not a word for two hours but tells us everything through the subtlety of her facial expressions and the language of her hands and eyes. Here’s a salute to Hawkins for making Elisa the woman who turns the movie – against all odds – into a sweet fable. After you are thoroughly on Eliza’s side, look forward to one of the most lovely dream sequences ever to grace the screen.

Throughout this strange and riveting story, one question rumbles in our heads: who thought this up? Who has the brain that could imagine these odd pieces and fit them together? If an ordinary person tried to write and film this story, rejection would surely follow. But Guillermo del Toro is not an ordinary person. He and the extraordinary Sally Hawkins, have turned his odd idea into a stunning fable. It is marred only by the barbarism of the ludicrous American Intelligence agents. The Academy overlooked that and gave this film 13 Oscar nominations.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Shape of Water
Word Count: 499
Running Time: 2:03
Rating: R
Date: 4 February 2018