Cassious (Cash to his friends) Green is just hoping to get a job, though he fears his life will never amount to anything at all. He wants his life to mean something. He rises up to be a top telemarketer and then is faced with the choice of staying with his co-workers as they fight for better pay and benefits…or accepting a promotion that will solve all his financial problems.
Sorry to Bother you explores Cash and his temptations in a ever so slightly heightened reality. There is a top program called “I Got the S#!t Kicked out of Me” where people go on to be beat up and humiliated (this bit actually reminded me of the film Idiocracy where a hit show in the future was “Ouch! My Balls!”). A new trend in the country is a company called WorryFree which signs people to work contracts and provides for their living expenses. Which sounds great until you realize people are sharing a room full of bunk beds as their home and are forced to do menial task work.
The film skewers working and upper class dynamics as well as race and culture with precision. Writer and director Boots Riley infuses the film with terrific over the top visuals, such as when ever Cash is calling a customer, his desk drops into their house. As his life improves, his old furniture and appliances break open as newer things unfold.
The film has a gag about the black cast using “white voices” and in a stroke of hilarity, Riley has employed white comedians like David Cross and Patton Oswalt who are then dubbed over the voices of stars Lakeith Stanfield, Omari Hardwick and Tessa Thompson.
The cast is terrific. Stanfield was memorable in Get Out, but he carries the moves on his shoulders and does so memorably. Tessa Thompson is just golden as she disappears into the role of Detroit, Cash’s artist and activist fiancee. They are supported by a great cast including Terry Crews, Jermaine Fowler, Kate Berlant and Steve Yeun to name but a few.
Boots Riley and his cast and crew have made a terrific film that is socially tough and biting, hilarious and downright unpredictable. Nothing really had me prepared for the film, and it was rewarding to watch.
Created by comic book icons Jack ‘the King’ Kirby and Stan Lee, Black Panther has seemed like a character Marvel wants to really make active…but struggles to figure out how to make him work best. Initially being a guest star in the pages of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, T’Challa (the titular Black Panther) got solo stories starting with 1973’s Jungle Action # 5. The series was not a top seller, and Marvel cancelled it. They tried to continue the Black Panther in his own series, which lasted until 1979. They tried again in 1988, with a mini-series. This was followed by an appearance in Marvel’s anthology series Marvel Comics Presents in 1989. 1990 saw another series. But it was 1998 where Black Panther found some footing. Christopher Priest began his run and truthfully, he cracked the code with an incredibly engaging series. It lasted 62 issues (Priest wrote 60 of those issues). They worked on a new series in 2005 with Reginald Hudlin. 2016 brought back the Panther in his own series led by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This, for me, has come the closest to rivaling Priest’s terrific run.
While the Black Panther film was announced a few years ago, we did not get to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe take on the character until Captain America: Civil War. I really enjoyed his introduction. The film only hinted at a larger Wakandan culture, and so now is the opportunity to explore it deeper. This is a spoiler free review (so story references remain vague).
Opening with a young boy asking him to tell the story of home (Wakanda) before bedtime. This works rather nicely, filling us in on how Wakanda was built on Vibranium, how five tribes were united under a single king who was granted powers via plant life altered by the vibranium. Wakanda grew more technologically advanced than any other nation. They sought to hide from the world.
The film quickly establishes that while the world believes that Wakanda is a low tech third world country, it is a vibrant high tech society. T’Challa and his family are still reeling from the events of Civil War, and it is time to T’Challa to take the mantle of King.
Of course, there are those who oppose him. The weapons supplier Ulysses Klaue (pronounced “Claw” and first introduced to audiences in Avengers: Age of Ultron) and a mysterious young man called Killmonger are collecting Wakandan tech.
T’Challa struggles with his role as king. Heartbroken over his father’s death (again, in Civil War) and struggling with the role of Wakanda in the world. His ex-girlfriend Nakia believes that Wakanda should be sharing it’s riches with the world…to be a beacon for the world, not tucked away. She loves him, but cannot see a place for herself in Wakanda when she has seen such suffering in the outside world.
The film shows us a society which has a richness of history and culture. The costume design is beautiful. The king’s personal guards are all striking in appearance with lush reds and gold. They are all warrior women with shaved heads (in one entertaining moment T’Challa, Nakia and general Okoye are undercover and she complains about having to wear a wig).
The Wakandan tech is exciting sci-fi tech that would make Bond jealous. The Wakandan landscape is a combination a immense futuristic cities and beautiful forests and mountains. There are some fight scenes set amongst giant waterfalls that Director Coogler and his cinematographer use lighting and sunsets to amplify the sequences with intensity and beauty.
I really liked the characters in this film. For T’Challa, it carries over his lessons learned from Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa is merciful and a good man. Heavy is the head that wears the crown…this film shows T’Challa struggling to be a King and Protector and not being blind to the world around him.
The women really steal the show in this film. Okoye is a formidable warrior and guardian. Nakia is intensely stubborn in her dedication. But she also is in love with T’Challa (who is also very in love with her). His mother is a woman of pride and wisdom (Angela Basset is just regal and beautiful). And then there is his sister Shuri. She is a fun character who lovingly spars with her brother. She is a brilliant scientist, but her youth presents a more brash attitude. She is like a super competent “Q”.
Everett Ross (created by Christopher Priest in his 1998 series) appeared in Civil War, but we did not get a real feel for the character. Here we find him seeming over-confident at first, but he rises to the challenge of helping the Black Panther and his family. While he begins seeming a bit like he might be the comedy relief, he becomes a character who shows himself as heroic and willing to risk himself for his friends.
Killmonger is a villain with a good back story. He wants to rule the world, but not in some cheesy maniacal ruler fashion. He wants to rise his people up to subjugate the colonizers. Klaue is just after money, and shows no arc…but Andy Serkis seemed to have a lot of fun in the role.
Full of action, heart and punctuated with some great humor, Black Panther was worth the wait. I would easily categorize this as one of Marvel’s best.
The Force Awakens, in spite of conflicting reviews had made Disney enough money to feel confident in going forward with their game plan. Disney had set a goal of a Star Wars movie every Christmas.
Since films of the blockbuster nature often can take at least two years of time to assemble, the answer Disney had was to alternate our visits. Star Wars Episodes Seven, Eight and Nine would continue the adventures of the rebels. In the alternating years would be a stand alone story within the Star Wars Universe.
Many ideas were bandied about, from Han Solo to Ben Kenobi to Boba Fett. I suspect that, in part, this is one of the reasons the Extended Universe was declared not canon. They wanted that freedom to play around without any of the constraints of the extended universe material.
The first film announced was Rogue One, the story of how the rebels got the plans for the Death Star that allowed them to destroy it in A New Hope. And so let us take a look…a spoiler filled look…like, do not go any farther if you have not seen the movie and don’t want to have it spoiled.
The film opens on a remote planet as a farmer watches the arrival of Empire ships. He hurries his family away, wanting his wife and daughter to flee. We soon find that the farmer is Galen Erso, an ex-imperial architect to left their employ when he realized what he was building. But he is needed to finish the work, and his former boss is insistent that he and his family return with them. Young Jade Erso witnesses her mother being killed from a distance, She runs to a hidden safe zone. Hours later, left all alone, Jade is found by Saw Gerrera, a friend of her father’s and a well known leader in the growing rebellion.
The film then jumps ahead to a now grown Jade who appears to a regular trouble maker, currently in the custody of the Empire. She is being transported when the transport vehicle is attacked. She is grabbed by a large robot called K 2SO. A droll reprogrammed droid, he is working with Cassian Andor. They are on a covert mission, trying to reach a an imperial pilot named Bodhi who is in the hands of Gerrera. Believing Jade is their ticket to getting Bodhi, they have broken her out.
They arrive on the planet where Gerrera is holed up. Cassian and Jade find themselves in a fire fight between dissidents and Storm Troopers. They are joined by a blind monk Chirrut Îmwe and his protector/companion Baze Malbus. The monk is not a Jedi, but enters fights chanting “The Force is with me and I am with the Force”. Baze on the other hand puts more trust in guns. They are taken to Gerrera by the dissidents.
Gerrera provides information to Jade and allows everyone to leave. They rush from the planet s the Death Star fires on the planet. They have learned where to find Galen, but unbeknownst to Jade, the plan is simply to kill him. Jade learns the truth and unsuccessfully tries to save her father, though he does at the hands of the Empire, rather than Cassian.
Things are looking bleak, but Erso is determined to see that her father’s death is not in vein. While the leadership of the rebellion refuses to back an attack on the planet with the Death Star, Jade convinces Cassian, Chirrut, Baze, Bodhi and several pilots it is a needed mission.
While fighters take to the air, Cassian and Jade lead a team with the goal of stealing the Death Star plans that reveal the flaw her father built directly into the Death Star. We know, of course, that they succeed, because A New Hope already told us that they did.
The first thing one notices in the film is that, unlike previous Star Wars entries, there is no opening scrawl. And the film is simply titled Rogue One on screen, no “A Star Wars Story”. This seems to be an intentional signal regarding a way for the non-episodic stories to be set further apart.
Of course, they do not take a real risk of going to far afield, afterall, Rogue One takes place literally moments right before A New Hope. And truth be told? This was the part that kind of annoyed me. I did not need the film to end at that spot. It was purely the silliest of fan services.
The biggest controversy I heard on this one was how much of a problem people had with the digital Tarkin. I mean, it is an actor playing the role, but like Gollum, there is a digital actor laid over that actor. And, there is a certain…hard to pin unnaturalness to how he looks.
Yet, for my money, the one that just creeped me out was only on screen for a few seconds. Far more awkward to my eyes was the wax museum look of…
I do not get how people were excited by this sequence rather than unnerved by it. There are other little annoying bits of fan service, for instance, Jade and Cassian bump into the aliens that threatened in Luke Episode four in Mos Eisley. It just feels kind of silly, especially when you consider the planet is about to be blasted by the Death Star.
Speaking of which, I notice they do pay a close enough attention to detail to have both times the Death Star is used in the film in a fashion where the planets are devastated, but not obliterated. I note this because Alderaan certainly seems to be implied as the first full on destruction from the Death Star. Though I could be wrong.
For the most part, though, I really do enjoy the film. I mean, they basically decided to make a heist sci-fi film, and it is a pretty tight one. The cast of characters are pretty interesting, though admittedly the standouts are Donnie Yen and Chirrut and Wen Jiang as Baze, along with Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO. Chirrut and Baze have one of those solid movie friendships where they seem somewhat adversarial, but you know there is something stronger and deeper below the surface.
Baze blow’s off Chirrut’s mysticism, crediting himself as the true protector of Chirrut, not the Force (the film features no Jedi or hardcore Force Users). Chirrut is also quite funny in his own right. As the group is captured by Gerrera’s people, bags are being put over their heads and Chirrut incredulously states “Really? I’m BLIND.”
And then there is the droid. K-2SO is kind of an anti- C-3PO. Sarcastic and cynical he lacks 3PO’s refinement, but shares his tendency to appealing to the negative odds. When Cassian gives Jade a gun, he starts to ask if Cassian knows the odds she will not use the gun against the,. “Not very good” he says dryly.
Yet, just as pretty much everyone in Rogue Squadron, K2 gets his moment of glory. But I definitely felt a twinge of disappointment that some of these characters would never make a return. I could totally sit through, say, a TV series about Chirrut and Baze on adventures.
If Rogue One is a sing of things to come for the Star Wars stories, I remain hopeful for that Young Han Solo film.
Taking it’s plot from about two sentences of Star Wars: A New Hopes Opening Scrawl, this Star Wars Story focuses on the Rebels who got the Death Star plans carried by R2-D2. Focusing on Jyn Erso, daughter of a brilliant engineer, Rogue One follows her forced recruitment by the Rebel Alliance in an attempt to get the information. Along with her father, Erso has another connection the Alliance wants to take advantage of. After escaping the clutches of the Empire, Jyn was raised for a time by Saw Gerrera. The Alliance parted ways with him over his extremism, but feel they now need his help.
What follows is an exciting espionage and war film, different from what we have seen in the past…and yet familiar. While there are brief glimpses of some recognizable faces, our central cast is pretty much new. The film is a bit darker than other entries, showing a side of the Rebel Alliance not often addressed. Some have expressed problems with this. While I had not given much thought to some of the darker implications of the alliance, I cannot say this take is unreasonable. The idea that people are sometimes doing things they struggle to justify as being in the greater good makes absolute sense. Certainly, it may seem out of place if you are used to thinking of the Alliance as morally pure.
Jyn is an interesting character who despises the Empire for a pretty simple and personal reason. They took her dad and killed her mom. She seems to have soured on the rebellion though (feeling betrayed by Saw) and given way to cynicism. Meanwhile, Cassian Andor is a dedicated Rebel spy who plays out his role without question. At least until he is given a side mission that makes him question his moral compass.
A real standout character is the reprogrammed Imperial Droid K2-S0. He is mouthy, sarcastic and also the brawn. Whereas C-3PO up-tightly delivers in depth information about the odds, K2 casually tosses out comments along the lines of “The odds are bad” and just leaving it at that. Then there is the blind monk Chirrut Îmwe. He fights like a Jedi Master, but is not a Jedi. He also fights with a staff, rather than a lightsaber. His sighted companion Baze prefers blaster rifles and does not buy into the Force at all.
The film does suffer a bit from the problem of many prequels. The obsessive desire with filling in every blank results in a way that it can start to interfere the film it is “setting up”. This leads to the film dying to pull right up to the beginning of a New Hope.
Admittedly, it feels a little odd having no potential Jedi (Chirrut does not use force moves beyond a certain Daredevil styled super hearing) or lightsaber duels. The Force is spoken of, but not really seen in action beyond Darth Vader.
In the end, however, the film more than overcomes these things. It is exciting and fun, while having an edge more in the vein of Empire. I found Rogue One immensely satisfying.