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


Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

The Hollywood culture of the 1950s is on full display in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Wrapped in the calculated mannerisms of the era, sexpot actress Gloria Grahame won a supporting actress Oscar in ‘52. For women, twenty-five was retirement time. There were legends who were exceptions, but most young women, like Grahame, fell into sudden oblivion. Women were scripted additions to male stars whose age, of course, didn’t matter.

We watch Annette Benning create Gloria Grahame in her golden days, followed by her affair with the much younger Peter Turner. Eventually, she leaves him for another man, dabbles in all kinds of ludicrous adventures, becomes sick and dies at fifty-five. All this is based on Peter Turner’s memoir of his affair with Grahame after the culture of the era forced her off the screen. His sensitive book about a woman who remained a creature of her time has been filmed with dignity by everyone involved.

The operative word here is atmosphere. When Grahame moves in with Turner in 1979 and says “It’s a long way back to Sunset Boulevard,” we realize that we are in for a mixture of both sadness and appreciation. We watch snatches of her old movies, hear her memories – and watch her decline. The story unfolds in diminished natural colors as director Paul McGuigan and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh turn Peter Turner’s memories into a groundbreaking look at what can happen when stardom ends. Theirs is a groundbreaking look behind the scenes in Hollywood’s glory days. They have done it with delicacy and respect.

Annette Benning becomes Gloria Grahame without ever once trying to soften the tough reality that growing older bestowed on Hollywood women. Benning at fifty-five, has known continual success as an actress and as a wife with a husband and four children. As she steps into this part, she leaves behind any of the fakery she might have used in a role that is often unflattering to her. It is a tribute to the culture of today that women of her talent can command the screen at any age.

Jamie Bell creates Peter Turner, the aspiring young English actor who was smitten with Grahame and helped her through her last days after she had left him for another man. Peter and his mother Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) become Grahame’s custodians while she is dying. Grahame’s last words, “How do I look?” are the perfect summary of what we have seen.

The acting conveys it all. Annette Benning creates a brave older woman who is living in pretense, caught in her own flawed imagining of who she really is. Jamie Bell does a beautiful job as the younger lover, resisting any temptation to overdo his part. Add to these Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham as Peter’s parents and Vanessa Redgrave as Grahame’s mother. This is a cast who understood the delicacy of bringing Peter Turner’s book to the screen and they do it with great sensitivity. It’s original. It’s good.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Word Count: 497
Running Time: 1:45
Rating: R
Date: 25 February 2018