Posts Tagged ‘lupita nyongo’

Movie Review: Us

Posted: July 4, 2019 in horror
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After suffering a childhood trauma in a hall of mirrors at a summer beach resort, Adelaide Wilson, (Madison Curry, Lupita N’yongo)  goes to the same resort where they now own a summer home, with her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke) an her daughter, Zora (Shahadi White Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex)  They are joined by friends and beach house neighbors, Kitty Tyler(Elizabeth Moss)  and Josh Tyler, (Tim Heidecker) it should be nothing but, sun, fun and relaxation on the beach, but then another couple shows up, on the Wilson’s driveway,  with two kids of their own.  Who is this couple, what do they want with the Wilsons?

I didn’t like Us, and the primary reason is the writing. The second family is never explained, nor are their characters fully developed, who are they?  What are their motivations, these characters only work as metaphors to explain a host of social issues, and not as three dimensional human beings.  In his attempt to scare people, Jordan Peele relies on some tried and true stereotypes, he might have done it inadvertently, but they are stereotypes nonetheless. In that way, it’s a very conventional horror movie, a family under threat from an outside force. There is a reveal, and the reveal is based on the viewer’s assumptions about one of the characters, once the reveal is complete, and the assumption is stood on its head, there is nothing left to say, so the movie ends.  It is not specifically about race, more about class, but the ideas presented are hardly original.  Us borrows liberally from other sci-fi movies like The Matrix, and Planet of The Apes. Much of the movie is sadly, an excuse for mindless, endless violence, and that is something Peele could have definitely done less of.  Ultimately this is not a scary movie, not even very suspenseful, the symbolism is pretty overt, and redundant in case the viewer misses it.

The acting is very good, especially by Lupita N’yongo.  She is a very talented actress, and she brings her characters to life which go beyond the words on the page, she definitely makes the movie better than written, and her emotionally vibrant portrayal adds a sense of urgency to the movie and humanity to the characters .  The other actors play the roles pretty much as written.  Elizabeth Moss adds a little flair to her characters, but not much.  Newcomer Madison Curry has really expressive eyes and said a lot without ever saying a word.

There are a few visually arresting scenes, but the direction settles into mundane visuals and too much violence, it numbs the viewer after so much repetition.  The pacing is good, and there are some good performances.  I hope Jordan Peele branches out from the horror genre, and doesn’t become a self-satirical version of himself like M. Knight Shyamalan.

Us:  Less a-peele-ing than Get Out

black panther

T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is preparing to ascend to the crown to Wakanda.  T’Challa failed to stop the murder of his father, T’Chaka (John Cani) and now has to prepare to fight  M’baku (Winston Duke) from the rival Jabari tribe to complete the traditional rites and claim the crown for himself,  T’challa wins the contest. T’Challa drinks a potion made from a purple herb to give him the strength to be the Black Panther.

Unbeknownst to the outside world, Wakanda has the has the world’s largest supply of vibranium, the world’s strongest metal , which the Wakandans use in everything including their cutting edge technology.  Wakanda has chosen not to share the vibranium or the technology with the rest of the world, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world isn’t interested in Wakanda and their vibranium.

In England, Erik Stevens, (Michael B. Jordan) and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) steal a Wakandan artifact from the British National Museum, and plan to sell the artifact to a buyer in South Korea.  T’Challa is alerted to  the sale and plans to stop it.  He takes along, Nakia (Lupita N’yongo) aWakandan spy, and social worker, Okoye, (Danai Gurira) head of the palace guard, and T’challa’s former lover, and Shuri, (Letitia Wright) N’challa’s sister, and gadget whiz. As Stevens and Klaue meet up with CIA agent, Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) T’challa and his entourage try to break up the deal and fail.   Later Erik comes to Wakanda, and he has a surprise for T’challa and the ruling family in Wakanda. What is it?

Black Panther is a good but flawed movie that has a lot of good going for it and some not so good going for it. The idea of an African nation being at the forefront of wealth and technological expertise is a fantastic one and it was fully explored in this movie like none before or since.  This movie was also a platform for black grievances as voiced by Erik Stevens, his solutions might have been radical, but the frustrations with establishment politicians or rulers, even if they rule beneficently, are very real. Again, this was a first for a major studio movie.  It also deals with abandonment issues and how the person affected deals with it.  This is unfortunately an issue that many children are forced to deal with. The four strong women taking a central role in this film is a major step forward for women, and women of color in film.  There were also some references to the current administration in Washington DC, which were done subtly enough to not cause a stir.

The movie did have its flaws.  The movie was undoubtedly trying to pay homage to African culture, but sometimes it wandered into territory where it might have reinforced some negative African stereotypes. Was it really necessary to show a character wearing a lip plate so prominently? I’ve seen lip plates on Africans in cartoons from the 1930’s and those aren’t the most culturally sensitive portrayals of Africans.  It wasn’t necessary to show Wakandan warriors riding rhinos either.  The denouement is also disappointing, this would have been a great time to show an ending of reconciliation, which played an important role in the healing of tensions in countries like South Africa, and still eludes Zimbabwe, but Black Panther settles for a traditional resolution of conflict.  There is also a conventional overreliance on violence which is growing tiresome in this genre.

Despite any shortcomings in the script, the acting is superb.  Chadwick Boseman plays T-challa with an understated grace that befits a head of state.  He continues to have a growing list of really well played roles, Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall.  Lupita N’yongo was also understated in her performance as T’challa’s love interest and spy Nakia   She has a strong presence in this role, if not a lot of lines. She is also piling up the interesting character roles.  12 Years A Slave, the underrated Queen of Katwe, the latest star Wars films and now Black Panther. Danai Gurira steals the movie as the headstrong and physically strong head of the palace guard, she wants to protect the newly crowned king, but also is jealous of Nakia, there’s a lot of complexity in her role and she pulls it off. Michael B. Jordan plays the antagonist with the urgency of an instant gratification loving American, he doesn’t want incremental change, he wants change right away.  And he will do whatever it takes to get it, it was a surprisingly strong performance.  Andy Serkis plays another bad guy, and has a ball doing it.  Martin Freeman plays a dull character and doesn’t add much to him, except a passable American accent.  This cast makes a good movie better.

The director Ryan Coogler, directed Fruitvale Station, which I liked a lot, and Creed, which I have not seen, did a really good job with the pacing, This is a 2 hour 14 minute movie, that did not lag, drag or slow down at all. The first scene should have been placed later in the movie to add to the suspense but other than that the direction was first rate.  Coogler also got great performances from a very talented cast.

Black Panther One cool cat.

Queen of Katwe

Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl growing up in a poor village called Katwe in Uganda, selling maize in Uganda to help feed her mother and siblings.  One day Phiona follows her younger brother to a run-down building.  She wants to make sure he stays out of trouble.  What the kids are actually doing in that building is playing chess.  The kids in the building make fun of Phiona because she is poor and does not smell good, but the man running the program, Robert Katande, (David Oyelowo) invites Phiona in and gives her a cup of warm milk.  Phiona takes to chess almost immediately,  and beats the champ of their small group, which inspires Robert to plan for her to compete in an expensive private school competition.  One problem, Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is suspicious of Robert’s intentions, and threatens to keep Phiona away from Robert’s chess school, and the private school’s headmaster wants Phiona or her mom to pay the exorbitant entry fee for the tournament. Does her mother let her go to Robert Katande’s chess school?  Who pays the tournament fee?

I love chess, so I may be biased, but this is a great film.  It shows the seemingly endless possibilities that can open from a young girl’s exposure to chess.  Phiona’s journey is not sugarcoated in the least, she faces a lot of problems, her mother faces a lot of problems raising a large family alone.  Despite all that, Phiona has hope and that hope is provided by Robert Katande and by chess.  Hope imbues this film with a warmth that is very gratifying. One of the things that I hope to achieve with this blog is to make people want to see movies that they may not want to see.  This is a film that you may not have wanted to see, or may not even know about, but you should see it.  You will not be sorry.

The acting is superb.  Hollywood played a mean trick on Lupita Nyong’o, at 34 she’s playing a mother of 5, and several of her kids look like they’re in their late teens.  Lupita pulls of the role with grit and honesty, sometimes angry, sometimes achingly heartbroken.  I didn’t even know it was her until halfway through the film, that it was her she looked older and acted like an authority figure, so she really made me believe in the character, what better compliment can I give her?  Credit her also for taking difficult roles and downplaying her beauty.  In 12 Years A Slave she was abused mercilessly, in Star Wars VII, she was under tons of prosthetic makeup, and in this movie she is nearly unrecognizable. David Oyelowo is also outstanding as Robert Katande, he gives Robert Katende a genuine sense of honor, dignity and self-sacrifice.  He was also outstanding as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. Madina Nalwanga is also incredible as Phiona, this is her debut role, to show such poise and confidence, and then unleash emotion at the drop of a hat, is incredible.

Mira Nair, the director of this film, deserves a lot of credit for the way this story was told, her pacing in prior movies is horrendously slow, but she keeps the pace going at a good pace here.  Nair also lives in Uganda, so a lot of this film was shot in Uganda and other parts of Africa, so that gives the movie an authentic look and feel .  She gets great performances from everyone in the film, many of whom are kids which can be difficult.  David Oyelowo is Nigerian ethnically Nyongo is Nigerian ethnically, and Madina Nalwanga is from Uganda, so Nair deserves a lot of credit for casting the movie authentically.

The Queen of Katwe:  A Good Knight At the Movies.

The Jungle Book 2016

Mowgli (Neel  Sethi) has been raised by a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) for most of his life.  Bagheera leaves Mowgli with a pair of wolves named Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha, (Lupita N’yongo) but he knows the arrangement is only temporary.  Bagheera wants the man cub Mowgli to go to the man village and be raised by men, Mowgli wants to be raised by the wolves.  During the dry season during a water truce, Sher Khan, (Idris Elba) gets his first look at Mowgli, and promises to eliminate the man cub when the water truce is over.  During the rainy season, Bagheeera starts to take Mowgli to the man village, but is attacked by Shere Khan, Mowgli escapes with the help of some water buffalo.

He survives a mudslide, but is trapped by a seductive python named Kaa, (Scarlett Johansson) who plans to make a meal out of Mowgli, but he’s saved by a friendly bear named Baloo, (Bill Murray) who is in desperate need of some honey.  Mowgli uses his man cub tricks to rig up a contraption to get the honey for Baloo, but by this time, Bagheera has tracked Mowgli down, and wants to take him to the man village.  Just as Mowgli is ready to leave, he is kidnapped by some monkeys loyal to King Louie.  (Christopher Walken) Louie wants to know how to control fire, or as the animals call it “the red flower.”  When Mowgli refuses to share the secret of fire with Louie, Louie tells Mowgli a secret that both Baloo and Bagheera didn’t tell Mowgli. What is the secret, and what does Mowgli do once he finds out about it?

This version of The Jungle Book is definitely not the kid-friendly version that Disney first animated years ago.     It is a much more serious and intense telling of the Rudyard Kipling story, young kids might be scared by some of the animal fights, and would not understand subtle casting decisions like casting Scarlett Johansson as a seductress.  This is more a pre-teen adult movie, than a young child story, and parents of young children might be sorry that they took little kids to see it.  But for older kids and adults this is an interesting story, with a backstory in an interesting place, and appropriate use of CGI.  The ending was expected and appropriate, but again, maybe too intense for young kids.

The acting is excellent.  Ben Kingsley makes Bagheera sound regal and noble, he is Mowgli’s protector, and makes sure everyone is aware of that.  Lupita N’yongo really plays up the maternal instinct in this movie, and it’s amazing that an actress who’s so young, can play a mother figure so convincingly.  Idris Elba plays Sher Khan as a fiercely sinister creature who rules by intimidation, the viewer can feel the seething rage in Sher Khan.  The viewer understands his rage as the story unfolds.  It is not by any means a one note performance. Scarlett Johansson is also very good in an integral scene. Bill Murray hams it up relentlessly as Baloo, but the comedy relief is a welcome break from the serious tone throughout .  Christopher Walken plays Louie as a darkly comic villain, and does so effectively. Neel Sethi is a kid, and sounds like one, so nothing really good or bad about his acting, he handles the serious and comic bits well for a kid.

Director Jon Favreau really knows how to tell a fantasy, story, he knows how to pace the story and when to insert plot points to keep the story interesting, he made the talking animals look natural, and doesn’t  use  CGI excessively ,or should I say it doesn’t look excessive.   Favreau directed one of my favorite movies, Elf, and he does a great job keeping the story coherent, while working with all CGI animals. The key was, the animals looked natural, and didn’t look like they stepped out of a video game. He also gets very expressive voice acting from all of his stars. Favreau also wrote, directed, and starred in the excellent movie Chef, he is obviously a talented guy.

Because of its success, Disney is already planning a sequel, they will probably suck the life out  of Kipling’s books, I hope not.

The Jungle Book:  Khan you see it? Shere you Khan!


A United States Air Marshall named Bill Marks (Liam Neeson)  is on  a flight to London, when he receives a text saying in twenty minutes someone will die on this flight, unless 150 million dollars is sent to a secret account . Marks quickly deduces that the perpetrator of the text is coming from Jack Hammond, (Anson Mount) another Air Marshall.  After a violent struggle, Marks kills Hammond, but the texts keep coming.   Twenty minutes after the new texts, the pilot dies, it may be a heart attack, it may be poison.  Another man in Marks’ custody dies, and the secret account is traced to Marks.  The government officials on the ground are starting to suspect Marks, but there are other suspects, a pretty redhead named Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) who switched seats to sit next to Marks, and was in close proximity when the pilot died, a stewardess named Nancy (Michelle Dockery) who was the only one who had a key to the cockpit, an Arab passenger named Fahim Nasir (Omar Metwally) or was it someone else on the plane?

Non-Stop succeeds at being a suspenseful film, even if it’s sometimes redundant.  Every few minutes a new suspect emerges, and undergoes a grilling from Marks.  For 90 minutes, the suspense keeps escalating, but then the who and why are revealed and the suspense leaks out of this movie like air from a balloon.  The movie then proceeds to its predictable ending.

What makes this movie work is a superb performance by Liam  Neeson, in an otherwise unremarkable role.  He gives this Air Marshall an air of vulnerability and humanity that makes the character more complex and therefore more appealing.  There are a few scenes where Neeson really connected with me emotionally, one a soliloquy and a couple of scenes with a child actress.  Neeson is an excellent character actor, he classed up The Phantom Menace, and was excellent in two of the three Batman sequels.   And who can forget his funny turn as Bad Cop in The Lego Movie. I wasn’t sold on this new iteration of Neeson as action star, I didn’t like Taken at all, but he won me over in this role.  Julianne Moore is effective, albeit less so, as the quirky suspicious passenger net to Neeson.  Corey Stoll is also good as another passenger on the plane, but Lupita Nyongo, the heart and soul of 12 Years A Slave, was completely wasted in this film.

The movie is long, and even though the action scenes are well-choreographed and fast paced, there are scenes that lag, the movie could have used some editing. The director is Jaume Collett Serra,  who directed Orphan which I didn’t like, and Unknown another Neeson film.

Non-Stop Marshall Law in the air.