GLASS | Movie Review

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GLASS

Reviewed by REGGIE WOLTZ

Glass brings an end to a saga over 19 years in the making. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Eastrail 177” trilogy started with Unbreakable in 2000 and picked up with Split in 2016. For the past few years, many have wondered how Shyamalan was going to merge the narratives of two of his arguably best films.

Picking up shortly after Split, the many personalities inside Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) have wasted no time in showing the world their true sinister potential. The criminal activities have caught the attention of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who has increased his heroic status since the events of Unbreakable. One thing leads to another, and they find themselves locked in a mental institution alongside Elijah Price a.k.a. Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). The trio becomes part of a study led by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) and her goal is to prove to them that they possess no supernatural abilities, and are like nothing seen in the average comic book. This primary thread serves as an interesting follow-up to the previous two films, considering one was a heroic origin story and the other a villainous one.

Not only is this gist interesting enough to keep one’s attention, but the cast could not be more invested. Jackson and Willis slip naturally back into their respective roles and make it seem like they’ve been longing for this return. McAvoy continues to steal scenes, and even adds more surprises and depth that was not previously seen in Split. Returning supporting characters from the previous two films are just as committed and excited to finally collaborate with each other’s narratives. Shyamalan deserves credit for naturally merging the cast and tone of these two films 16 years apart. No one’s involvement in this crossover feels forced or out of touch with Shyamalan’s vision.

The only element that feels jarring within the cast is that of Paulson’s Dr. Staple. Paulson is a superb actress, and she connects with viewers throughout the majority of the film, but it becomes stagnant. Paulson has major screen time, but her talent feels somewhat wasted due to the lack of range she is granted by the script. However, she reminds the audience of her expertise by making the best of it, thus allowing her crucial role to stay relevant.

On the topic of the script, viewers may start to feel divided. Besides featuring a sometimes underwhelming antagonist, many will find Shyamalan guilty of diving too deep into the nostalgia pool. Nostalgia is always going to have some sort of presence in a sequel, relating to an older favorite, and Glass displays some of the basic forms of sentimentality such as re-spoken lines, visual callbacks, and glorified cameos. However, it’s so frequent that some nods start to feel repetitive. The nostalgia in Glass works best for those who are very familiar with Shyamalan’s trilogy. Unfortunately, for those who are not, and for those who are less sentimental, they’ll likely find some moments cliched.

One’s first viewing of Glass can be best described as riding a rollercoaster without a safety bar. Exhilarating and fun at times, but one sharp twist or turn can result in flying off the ride. Those who manage to stay on for the entire journey will probably favor the experience more than those who fell off. Even then, they still might question why they didn’t go over the edge.  There are plenty of other thrills though, such as sleek visuals by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis and a superb score by West Dylan Thordson. It’s unfortunate that the rocky script will prevent many from giving enough praise to those elements.

Through its many ups and downs, Glass still stands as a decent sequel to two of Shyamalan’s best entries. For being such an unconventional filmmaker, a lot of what works in the film is quite conventional by today’s comic book movie standards. The more unconventional will surely find its audience. Even with this being the case, one may still be left feeling slightly disappointed and wondering what more this could have been considering its vast potential.

© Copyright 2017 – 2019. ALL Rights Reserved.
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THE GRINCH | Movie Review

The Grinch

by REGGIE WOLTZ

The Grinch’s 2018 comeback is to Christmas what Black Friday is to the holiday spirit: commercially perverted to the core. But what else should be expected from a family animated movie that has been promoting an updated Christmas staple since the early days of November?

Benedict Cumberbatch is the new voice of the ill-tempered but lonely Grinch, who lives a solitary life in his cave high atop a mountain that overlooks Whoville. The miserable green guy has only Max, his faithful dog and best friend, to keep him company and, other than occasional trips to Whoville to get food, has nothing to do with his neighbors in the valley.

It’s during one of his reluctant shopping trips that the Grinch encounters Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), a pig-tailed and fearless little girl with a precocious heart. For Christmas, she wants Santa to give her struggling single mother, Donna Lou Who (Rashida Jones), the break she needs and deserves. Only, Cindy Lou Who plans to trap Santa so that she can ask for her request in person.

Grinch, perturbed by family and friends gathering together to celebrate in Whoville, plans to dress up as a less-than-jolly Saint Nick to steal everything associated with the holiday and turn the town’s Christmas Day joy into grief.

In effect, our understanding of the Grinch’s motivations are the same and we get to see a little more into Cindy’s character. Sounds like a good way to add something late on so that the second half might not feel like retread! Unfortunately, albeit with a tad more set-up, the plot leads to the same Cindy and Grinch interaction and resulting events as the original version.

The Grinch does more than triple the running time of the original TV classic, which is to say this animated big-screen version is three times too long and ten times as unnecessary (much like Jim Carrey’s live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas from 2000).

Other than padding the plot, backstories for the main characters, and additional comedic relief, The Grinch is ultimately faithful to its source material. But it never improves upon it – for it may look better with more advanced animation but underneath the paint job is the same old overpacked sleigh.

Most disappointingly, the voicework, outside of Cumberbatch’s starring role, is unmemorable. Of the notable failures, Pharrell Williams replacing Boris Karloff as the story’s narrator and Tyler, the Creator’s update of Thurl Ravenscroft’s “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” amount to interesting choices by the filmmakers that, despite trying, cannot replace either of those iconic performances. The same could be said of this Grinch update itself.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET | Movie Review

Ralph Breaks The Internet

by REGGIE WOLTZ

It took six years for a Wreck-It Ralph sequel to take shape, and it quickly proves why. Ralph Breaks the Internet mostly eschews the video game cultural mash-up of the original to tell a kid-friendly story set inside the Internet. It’s such a different beast than its predecessor, and yet it’ll likely reach a similar adult audience as the original, as the barrier between gamers and memers isn’t too high, if it exists at all.

As far how the plot handles that transition, screenwriters Phil Johnston, also serving as co-director, and Pamela Ribon simply have the arcade owner plug in the establishment’s first Internet router. But an overlong first act has the unfortunate job of setting up the circumstances that bring Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) into the world wide web. There are too many scenes that exist to re-establish their friendship while they play in the same world as the original. It feels like a lifetime establishing Vanellope’s reason for going into the Internet (they have to find a spare part for her arcade machine on Ebay), and the script doesn’t clue us into Ralph’s arc until hers is ending.

But things pick up significantly when the pair starts exploring the Interweb. The jokes are largely simple, such as birds in a tree tweeting primarily photos of cats, and yet just clever enough that they feel fresh. The smart personification of pop-up ads (Bill Hader voices J.P. Spamley, get it?) breathes some life into the early Internet scenes, but the story really comes alive when Vanellope enters an online racing game far more violent and hardcore than her candy coated arcade machine. She’s inspired by that game’s popular racer Shank (Gal Gadot), and thus begins a journey of finding her true home. Splitting from Ralph, their individual journeys give Ralph Breaks the Internet some surprising emotional power in its second half.

Still, the animated sequel feels very much mass-produced and corporate-approved. When the entity doing the approving is Disney, the result is more often than not a mixed bag. When Vanellope visits a family friendly Disney fan site, it’s hard not to feel directors Johnston and Rich Moore sucking up to their corporate overlords. Nods to Marvel and Star Wars aren’t so much hidden as they drive the plot and humor. But then, sometimes the Disney brand is just undeniably strong and, when manipulated in clever ways, can be used effectively. Ralph Breaks the Internet‘s best scene sees Vanellope entering a room filled with all of the classic Disney princesses, from Snow White to Moana. It is an extended sequence written out of pure joy with not an ounce of cynicism. It’s one of the best moments of popular cinema this year, and gives way to one of the film’s other transcendent moments: a hysterical yet poignant song sung by Vanellope about finding where she belongs in a gritty, ultra-violent racing game.

The film draws her arc so smartly, that when it starts wrapping up as Ralph’s is getting started (far too late), the story at large starts to feel like overkill. And yet, the script still weaves in a powerful message about the nature of friendship that, while not wholly original, is relatively unexplored in children’s media.

So while the rough first half could definitely have been shorter, a lot of Ralph Breaks the Internet ends up being worthwhile. As a visual send-up of some of the Internet’s most popular corners, the film is clever and inventive, even if the jokes themselves likely won’t age well by the midway point of the 2020s. But this being as it may be, there’s an artfully written sequencing for the film and a strong heart rooted in friendship. By no means a classic, or capable of making much of a stir on the actual Internet, this animated sequel is coded to entertain, and that it does.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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CREED II | Movie Review

CREED II

Reviewed by Reggie Woltz

While I’m still not sure Creed, with its 95 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was quite as good as everyone makes it out to be, it was certainly better than it had any right to be. What sounded like a joke—a spinoff of the Rocky series starring Apollo Creed’s son, (born out of wedlock), as he masters prizefighting under the tutelage of the Italian Stallion—was instead inventively filmed (the one-shot fight midway through the picture stands out as a brilliantly cinematic scene) and passionately performed.

Similarly, Creed II seemed like it would be a cash-in nostalgia play: newly crowned champion Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is challenged to a fight by Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and his hulking monster of a son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu). Ivan, of course, killed Adonis’s father in Rocky IV before losing to Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and losing the Cold War altogether.

Creed II could have been a silly rehash of Rocky III (a champ abandoned by his trainer because he’s unlikely to beat the physically imposing, impassioned challenger) and Rocky IV (the Russians: still bad all these years later!). But, like its predecessor, Creed II is much better than it has any right to be. And that’s almost entirely because of the work done by Lundgren and Munteanu, who make the Dragos not only sympathetic but kind of sad.

After Rocky’s humiliation of Ivan in front of the Soviet Politburo—during which the Soviet crowd literally started chanting Rocky’s name, recognizing America’s greatness and the implacability of its champions in a moment that signaled America would triumph in the Cold War once and for all—Drago was cast out of Russian society. His leaders shunned him; his people spit on him; his wife left him and Viktor. This isn’t a mission of revenge; it’s a mission of rehabilitation. Drago wants to reclaim the family name, restore their glory, and maybe even win back his wife.

It’s rare for the villains in these films to have interesting motivations. Usually they’re just guys to beat, obstacles to overcome. But the Dragos are interesting, they have a life and world all their own. And that helps Creed II transcend the sequel doldrums that afflict much of the rest of the film. Steven Caple Jr. has replaced Ryan Coogler behind the lens, and his work here is competent but not much more. Visually speaking, there’s nothing particularly compelling about the climactic fight, or anything else, really.

Michael B. Jordan remains charismatic and compelling, his expressive face and chiseled body dominating the screen. By film’s end he too is a father, worried about the world his daughter will face and the challenges she will have to overcome—and weighing what he owes to his father, the boxing great cut down by the hulking commie. Rocky, who probably gets a bit too much screen time, gumming up the momentum of the movie, is having dad problems all his own, trying to work up the courage to reconnect with his somewhat-estranged son.

Creed II sometimes barely feels like a boxing movie, and I mean that in the best way possible: It’s a film about what parents owe their children, and vice versa. The physical combat that frames these conflicts is little more than window dressing.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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FANTASTIC BEASTS: The Crimes of Grindelwald | Movie Review

The Crimes of Grindelwald

Movie Review by Reggie Woltz

The biggest crime in David Yates’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is that it makes the dynamic and magical “Harry Potter” universe boring.

Set 70-odd years before the adventures of the “Boy Who Lived,” the second installment in the “Fantastic Beasts” series gets off to a decent start, as the evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) breaks out of custody during a high-flying prisoner transfer above New York City. But from there, things go downhill — fast.

The next two hours wander through a labyrinth of convoluted narratives, all loosely connected to a troubled young man with terrifying powers named Credence (Ezra Miller), who is hiding in Paris after having survived the events of the first film.

Grindelwald is convinced that Credence is the key to destroying his nemesis, Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), and hunts the boy in Paris. Dumbledore wants to protect Credence, but since he refuses to confront Grindelwald, he persuades magical beast enthusiast Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to find the wayward youth.

For their part, the Ministry of Magic believes Credence is a dangerous threat to society, so they’ve sent an agent named Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), Newt’s sidekick from the first film, to find him.

That’s the simple version of the plot, and it reads clearer in print than on screen. “Crimes of Grindelwald” also incorporates a number of romantic subplots that further complicate the story: Newt and Tina’s potential relationship is on the rocks after some miscommunication, and Newt’s friend Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) are back but wrestling with the realities of forbidden love since Jacob is a “no-maj” (the American term for Muggle).

Newt also has a brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), who works for the ministry and is now involved with Newt’s old Hogwarts crush, Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). To top off the myriad characters’ romantic intertwining, there are also strong hints that Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship is … complicated. 

None of these subplots are crippling individually, but their cumulative effect easily distracts from the film’s underdeveloped core. About halfway through “Crimes of Grindelwald,” you start asking yourself: Is it a Dumbledore origin story? Is it about Grindelwald’s quest for pureblood wizard rule? Is it about social justice for wizards and muggles? “Crimes of Grindelwald” appears to be about a little of everything and a lot of nothing.

The production values are strong, but the dazzling effects of a dramatic third-act finale don’t carry any weight without narrative stakes to support them, and the competent acting goes to waste on characters the audience isn’t invested in. As its centerpiece, Redmayne may be a perfect match for Newt, but is Newt a perfect protagonist for a multifilm franchise? Supposedly, Yates and Co. have three more years to answer that question and correct these outlying concerns.

The introduction of Albus Dumbledore was a hopeful sign that “Crimes of Grindelwald” would help energize the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise, but Dumbledore is barely in this new movie at all, and a five-minute scene at Hogwarts feels like a glorified cameo. This isn’t to suggest that these new films have to recycle “Harry Potter” material to satisfy fans. Rather, the problem is that these fleeting elements are reminders of the sense of magic and wonder that was so palpable in that other series and so absent this time around—aside from the actual CGI magic. 

Where the “Harry Potter” films were grounded in Harry’s coming of age and driven by the conflict with Voldemort, the “Fantastic Beasts” narratives feel wandering and arbitrary. You could argue that author J.K. Rowling — credited as “Crimes of Grindelwald’s” writer — is a better novelist than a screenwriter. But even so, Yates’ film feels like a deep B-side track, fleshing out obscure details and offering extreme fan service while trying to force a retroactive square story into a round narrative hole.

If you’re starting to worry that we’ve got a “Lord of the Rings” vs. “The Hobbit” situation on our hands, you’re not alone.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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BEAUTIFUL BOY | Movie Review

BEAUTIFUL BOY

Movie Review by Reggie Woltz

American movies about addiction follow a pattern that’s difficult to escape: serious drug/alcohol problem, rehab, relapse, rehab, epiphany, sobriety. They normally end on a hopeful note mostly because studios are reluctant to bum the audience out, even though in real life the recovery rate is under 50%.

I single out American cinema because Europeans are more willing to show the darker side of addiction, physical deterioration and all. In fact, one of the best films this TIFF was Let Me Fall, a fierce Icelandic drama that lets you know early on there won’t be a happy ending, yet you stick around because the lead’s descent into dependence hell rings compelling true.

Beautiful Boy tries hard to break the mold, but comes up short. The movie opens with journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) trying to understand the grasp crystal meth has on his eldest son Nic (Timothée Chalamet). David’s research triggers flashbacks involving early signs he chose to ignore, Nic’s transformation into a full-blown tweaker, and the collateral damage Nic’s addiction inflicts on the family.

While Beautiful Boy hits most of the same beats as other addiction movies, the main characters seem like actual people. Carell makes great use of his affable, sad persona with an edge (and he is believable, unlike his bizarre dramatic turn in Foxcatcher). Chalamet, who last year crushed it in Call Me by Your Name, is fine as the teen who thinks he has everything under control until he doesn’t. As a family, too, the Sheffs are intellectually minded and well off, which is a slight break from the usual addiction narrative.

The film is based on two biographies, Beautiful Boy, by the real life David Sheff, and Tweak, by his son. Director Felix Van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) leans noticeably more on the father’s story, which is a bit of a shame considering how few first-person accounts we have of drug abuse survivors with literary inclinations (A Million Little Pieces? Fake). Chalamet is good, but his role never feels fully inhabited.

The character arcs are immediately recognizable. David goes above and beyond to help his son until he realizes the best course of action is to let the boy figure it out on his own. Nic’s half-baked attempts at getting better eventually cease, and it takes a major trauma to force him to accept his inability to control his dependence.

The film’s main achievement is underlining the insidiousness of crystal meth. This particular drug alters your brain chemistry and reduces your capacity for rational thought, making rehabilitation an even taller order.

One of the ways you know this is a Hollywood movie is that Chalamet never loses his boyish good looks, he just seems a little paler and skinnier towards the end (if you have ever seen a meth addict, you know they are nothing like the Call Me by Your Name dreamboat). Still, Beautiful Boy is competent: capable of tugging your heartstrings, while being truthful enough to freak out every parent who watches it.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.
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BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY | Movie Review

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Reviewed by REGGIE WOLTZ

Put Rami Malek on the list for best film performances of 2018. As Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the British band Queen, the Mr. Robot star performs miracles, catching the look, strut and soul of Mercury, who died of complications from AIDS in 1991. Sadly, the film itself shows signs of a difficult birth. Sacha Baron Cohen was set to play Mercury before he left over creative differences. And director Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) was fired for not showing up on set (an uncredited Dexter Fletcher replaced him).

As such, Bohemian Rhapsody moves in fits and starts as we follow Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara of Parsi descent, from baggage handler at Heathrow Airport to co-founder of Queen with guitarist/astrophysics scholar Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer/dental student Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). He auditioned for the musicians in a parking lot and, with incautious speed, is soon onstage as their frontman with John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) joining in on bass.

Shy offstage and struggling with his love for Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and his growing attraction to men, Mercury was secretive and conflicted. But when the singer plays “Love of My Life” on the piano to show his love, the feeling comes through as genuine due to the raw emotion Malek and Boynton pour into their roles. It’s significant that Mercury left Austin the bulk of his fortune in his will. No similar authenticity seeps into the scenes of Mercury’s hedonistic gay lifestyle, participating in orgies that come off here as more mild than wild.

In struggling to make a PG-13 movie out of an R-rated rock life, Bohemian Rhapsody leaves you feeling that something essential and elemental is missing. Thankfully, there’s the music that keeps filling the holes in the script by Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour, The Theory of Everything) with a virtuoso thrum that is never less than thrilling. And there is Malek, who digs so deep into the role that we can’t believe we’re not watching the real thing, down to the eerie coincidence that both singer and actor shared an immigrant experience (the actor’s parents are from Egypt, Mercury’s from Zanzibar). 

Mixing his voice with vocals from Queen and Mercury soundalike Marc Martel, Malek ostensibly becomes the rock star. On set, the actor sang out the throat-straining vocals in his own voice so that, take after take, the lip-synching would match up perfectly and erase any taint of bad karaoke. He also wore fake teeth to capture the four extra incisors in Mercury’s upper jaw that the singer insisted gave him more power and range. 

Physically, Malek nails the frontman’s sexual bravado onstage, with his cropped hair and porn-star mustache, letting loose with “We Are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You,” “Radio Ga Ga” and, of course, the title song. The creation of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an unprecedented, six-minute mix of rock and opera that delighted Mercury even as critics decried it, allows for a comic bit with Mike Meyers as an EMI record exec who claims no one will ever play it. (Cue the Wayne’s World head-banging car scene).

Many of the major Queen hits are heard in the film’s most daring conceit, a painstaking recreation of the band’s 20-minute appearance at the 1985 Live Aid concert from London’s Wembley Stadium. This is what many called the greatest live performance in the history of rock, and, even as a recreation, it’s hard to argue. Whatever special effects were used to show the band in front of this enormous crowd, the scene captures something crucial about Queen’s connection to an audience as Mercury leads an elaborate call-and-response with his fans. The rousing life that Malek brings to this extraordinary recreation deserves all the cheers it gets. Screw the film’s flaws — you don’t want to miss his performance.

© Copyright 2017 – 2018. ALL Rights Reserved.

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5G & Net Neutrality | The Future

Spaceship interior with view on the planet Earth 3D rendering el

“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.” ~ Robert Kennedy

The midterm election on November 6, 2018 is about positioning America for the future. Our bright horizon is wide open. Real leadership will guide us onward and upward.

Trump has spent two years outlining an agenda that indicates his goal is to do a u-turn and steer America back to the 20th Century. He feels very safe in the past. His sense of security appears to be rooted in the methods that ensured his survival during the Mafia-controlled construction and development boom of the 80’s and 90’s in New York City, during which Trump’s Terminator Roy Cohn kept Trump out of jail.

But Roy Cohn is long gone. The Mafia in New York City has been sidelined. And 21st century technology changes everything. So does social media. And so will 5G.

Preparation for the 5G wave begins right now.

What is 5G? 5G (5th Generation Wireless Network) is an ultra fast and stable wireless connection to the internet with massive band widths that will remarkably lower energy consumption. This will transform home, banking, energy, transportation, entertainment, and office management capabilities…to name but a few industries. It has the potential to significantly improve the cost and effectiveness of local, state and federal governments. It will transform public education.

According to Lifewire, AT&T has tested 5G in Austin TX, Waco TX, Kalamazoo MI, and South Bend IN. AT&T and Verizon will continue their trials during the summer of 2018. 5G will expand across the country in major city by major city in 2019, and then by 2020 is expected to be available everywhere in the United States. Simultaneously, it looks like China, Japan and South Korea will be testing their 5G networks during the summer of 2018 as well. Vodafone in the UK began testing its 5G network two months ago.

The 5G rollout will launch an amazing array of new gadgets and products that will WOW American consumers and change the way we do things. Tech giants are expected to rake in billions, possibly trillions, with the 5G global transformation. Without Net Neutrality, American consumers will get the short end of the stick, paying far more for 5G and it’s services than otherwise.

Net Neutrality – an essential consumer protection in this new tech age – was wiped away by Trump and the GOP as of June 12, 2018. Consumers are now very vulnerable. So, as we head to the voting booth on November 6, 2018, it’s imperative that we understand that 5G is an “all day/ everyday” issue. It should be at the top of our list of important drivers that are compelling us to get out and vote on November 6, 2018. 5G will be the backbone of our everyday family life. Without Net Neutrality, our disposable income will be eaten up by unprecedented monthly 5G charges, or we’ll have to go without the myriad of new gadgets that will begin flooding the markets very soon.

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Using Correct Lens(es) to See Properly | Perspective

perspective

The entire world was stunned on August 21, 2017 to witness President Trump stare at the sun without protective solar eclipse glasses, going against the advice of every single professional on earth who was advising the global population on the best and safest protocols during an eclipse.

So why did Trump ignorantly stare at the sun while being broadcast on live television?

A reasonable deduction is that it appears Trump was trying to guide his devoted base of supporters to follow whatever he says and does, no matter how reckless and dangerous.

Why would any American leader wish their supporters such harm?

Trump seems to emphatically believe that his followers are lemmings and will happily tumble off a cliff with him, and for him. Every single day of the year we see Trump fanning this fire, feeding the flames, tweeting out more and more delusional notions for his supporters to gobble up and use as their lens through which to view the Mueller investigation, the environmental crisis, global warming, the national debt, the dramatic erosion of our global leadership, and so much more.

Meanwhile the rest of us are wearing specialized lenses that reveal the hidden clues –glasses like those used in National Treasure to find the missing treasure.

I personally feel an overwhelming indebtedness to James Comey and James Clapper who have recently shared their valuable and profound career insights into Russia meddling in the 2016 election, and the investigation into whether or not the Trump Campaign colluded with the Russians:

  • “Flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.” ~ James Comey, ‘A Higher Loyalty’
  • James Clapper, ‘Facts and Fears’ : “Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense and credulity to the breaking point. Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election. I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians.”

These weighty realities create two very powerful lenses to view current events properly. The fact that some Americans are willing to join Trump and stare at the sun during a solar eclipse without protective eye shields, while others of us are using potent, specialized lenses that help us see the frightening nuances of having a Mob Boss placed by the Russians as our US President… means that we unfortunately won’t interpret current events the same way.

This is extremely worrisome. It indicates that many of us who have GOP family and friends – who’ve slowly but surely refused to turn away from an arch enemy wearing a GOP jacket – that we’re on different tracks, and will most assuredly have different outcomes after we reach the critical fork in the road up ahead.

Do you recall the traumatic tsunami that struck Sumatra December 26, 2004? When the tide was swept out so far, and for so long… and the wise ones recognized what was going on and immediately ran inland and took cover, but 227,898 others ran towards the suddenly vast and empty shoreline, plucking up unique shells they’d never seen before, smiling and  delighted by the unexpected wonder of this phenomenon, but later (fifteen minutes to seven hours later, depending on which coastline), their glee turned to despair as they were swept out to see and died. Some of these destructive coastal waves were as tall as 100 feet.

The heartbreaking part about this tragedy was that there was time for everyone to escape to safety. No animals were killed during the tsunami. But the majority of those killed wouldn’t heed the warnings. They didn’t follow the advice of those fleeing. They weren’t open to another perspective about what was actually taking place.

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Black Panther | DoubleTake by REGGIE WOLTZ

Not Another Superhero Movie

by REGGIE WOLTZ

The Black Panther is not a movie so much as it is a statement. Released in the dead of Black History Month with mountains of hype and molehills of controversy, nothing surrounding it happened by coincidence. At a time when racial and political tensions have hit fever pitches, there are few occasions for synthesis between opposing mindsets as enjoyable as this film. Whether it will succeed in bringing people together is the only question.

If there are any serious issues with this movie, they are more endemic to its genre than anything. Up to this point in its cinematic universe, Marvel Studios has released 17 films. After so many origin stories and sequels, it would seem impossible for its eighteenth to present its viewers with anything they haven’t seen before. And while this film is essentially a retread of Hamlet’s plot, it executes its trajectory with enough style and substance to allow the audience to see past its predictability. In any case, I’d rather be introduced to a new character by a version of Hamlet and The Lion King over another Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor-style backstory.

The style that makes The Black Panther so striking is perhaps director Ryan Coogler’s most outstanding achievement. The soundtrack indicatively switches between vibrant streaks of African tribal music and American hip hop as its central characters rise to prominence; and even combines the two in the heat of their climactic battle.

As much as the auditory elements play into the story, the visual components are what truly stand out. Afrofuturism is on heavy display, from smaller artistic choices in costumes and sets to more easily apparent influences in the Vibranium technology and insanely detailed capital city of Wakanda. Certain scenes in the movie feel like small celebrations of African culture, and the blend between tribal ways of life and science fiction creates a feel for the movie that is wholly unique unto itself. The style ends up seeming like Blade Runner, but with more soul and less bleakness. Considering how Blade Runner set trends for the cyberpunk aesthetic, hopefully this movie inspires more Afrofuturism in subsequent films.

Beyond the style that Coogler sets out to create, The Black Panther also benefits from characterization that one wouldn’t expect from a Marvel movie. Aside from its stars, the supporting cast is deep and talented. Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Angela Bassett form a quartet of powerful women that give tinges of feminine triumph to the film. Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke and Sterling K. Brown give quietly colorful performances as characters that are far more complex than their limited screen time lets on.  Martin Freeman does well as the lost CIA agent, constantly getting one-upped by Wright’s character to humorous effect, and even gets us to care for his starkly contrasted character as he finds redemption in the final act. The most impactful supporting performance, however, belongs to Andy Serkis’s villain who is equal parts manic, threatening, and pure fun to watch.

This movie succeeds on so many levels, but the real heart of it is its leading actors, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan. Boseman is unassuming as the eponymous Black Panther a.k.a. King T’Challa, feeling like someone who hasn’t truly found his identity after the death of his father. As the film goes on and T’Challa comes to grips with the reality that his isolationist nation and imperfect father has set upon him, this identity convincingly develops into that of a confident and beneficent ruler. The conflict within Wakanda’s king is one of the movie’s most fascinating subplots, creating a personal burden of both country and race that presents an impossible choice.

The character that represents the flip side to the noble king is Michael B. Jordan’s cocksure villain, Erik Killmonger. Very seldom do movies give true justifications for the actions of its villain, but The Black Panther instead revels in relaying such complexity at the center of its plot. In effect, Killmonger only seems like the bad guy to T’Challa’s good guy the way Malcom X is against Martin Luther King, Jr. The parallels are definite: Malcom X and Killmonger both seek to stand up and retaliate against their people’s oppression while King, Jr. and T’Challa prefer a more peaceful and patient approach. Nobody is actually right or wrong here. The wrongs have already been done and these two characters simply have different approaches to dealing with them.

If it isn’t what Killmonger represents that makes him such an important character and the Marvel Universe’s best villain, it’s what the movie itself illustrates. This isn’t a superhero movie. It’s a hypothetical situation regarding how an oppressed race could better itself if given the resources to do so. The protagonist takes the high road and the antagonist takes the same road that the ones who transgressed in the first place took. By creating this disparity and placing the binary star system that is Boseman and Jordan in the middle of it, The Black Panther transcends what a superhero movie, or even a film in general, can be and asks the audience this impossible question. That it looks like a superhero movie is only so that lots of people can watch it and have this question asked to them. The underlying reality exists after leaving the theater, even if the solution to it (still waiting on that Vibranium meteorite) does not.

The Black Panther certainly stands apart from rest the Marvel Universe, which is infused with attempts to fill our eyes while leaving our stomachs empty. The Black Panther gives us a balanced diet of eye candy and food for thought, enough to leave you satisfied well after your two-and-a-half hours in the theater are up. As a result, the only thing I want more than for Wakanda to actually exist is for future movies to follow suit and realize that pleasing the masses doesn’t have to be an exercise in killing brain cells.

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