Scanlyze

The Online Journal of Insight, Satire, Desire, Wit and Observation

The Universal Appeal of Black Panther

This is a reaction piece, not a full review. It will be most sensible to those who have seen the film, but only low spoilers due to some things just should not be spoiled.

I went to Black Panther determined to write an objective review. This isn’t one. Within a few minutes of the film’s start, I had tears on my eyes, and when King T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) returned home to Wakanda, they just started streaming down my cheeks.

The sets, costumes, and city are a great example of “show, don’t tell.” Though there is plenty of exposition of the nature of “as you know” or flashbacks and visions as well.

I have read a lot of reviews saying how this is a black movie, and it is, through and through. But it is more than that. Black Panther pulls you in and I felt like this was my family, my people, my African nation as it should have been without colonization and neocolonialism. This isn’t the world as it is, but in some sense, a vision of the world as it could be.

The fictional nation of Wakanda, being the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, shares many of the dilemmas which the US faced when it was technologically advanced compared with other nations. “If we allow in immigrants, they will bring their problems with them,” as one character tells King T’Challa. Similarly there are issues of arms exports and bringing justice through superior firepower. An interesting and thought-provoking mirror.

Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is certainly the best of the Marvel villains, an area where they have been notably weak in characterization and motivation in the past. A Shakespearean family drama ensues. As well as Killmonger and T’Challa acting as proxies for the African diaspora v. mother Africa.

It’s funny how critics run in packs. I’m curious why the neoliberals aren’t screaming about cultural appropriation because this movie is all about that.

Wakanda is supposedly in East Africa more or less where real life Rwanda and Burundi are today. But people speak isiXhosa, a South African language. And the hairstyles, fashions, and architecture and textiles are a mishmash from all over the continent. All overlaid on what is now retro-futurism dating back 50 years to Jack Kirby’s illustrations for the comic.

Of course, Wakanda doesn’t exist in the real world, and more’s the pity. So they had to use inspirations from somewhere. And everything is so beautiful and awe-inspiring that I guess every reviewer in the world is giving them a pass on this and I’m no exception. Of course I tend to be a “world citizen” and “all one people” person so I am prone to want to encourage people to learn and use and do the best of everything, and to make it their own anyway. But that’s another story.

Wakanda is kind of a Pan-Africa melting pot and hodepodge in the way it is portrayed, even though it is presented as severely isolationist. The backstory for this in the comics is that the Rift Valley where Wakanda is situated is the Ur-seat of all human civilization, and African civilizations in particular.

Very strong cast. Chadwick Boseman seems to be channeling a young Nelson Mandela in his regal bearing as a newly-crowned king, his accent, his cadence, and his badassness (Mandala was a hereditary prince of his tribe, and a boxer as well as a lawyer before he was imprisoned on charges of murder and terrorism.) His nemesis, Killmonger, played by Michal Jordan is a Shakespearean anti-hero who almost steals the movie.

There are many strong and independent female characters. Notable is Leticia Wright as T’Challa’s snarky younger sister and master of Wakanda’s vibranium-based technology, Shuri. Danai Gurira as Okoye, general of Wakanda’s Royal Guard, the Dora Milaje, is ferocious as the guardian of the throne. And Angela Bassett brings a regal presence to the role of Queen Mother Ramonda.

There were a couple moments which were immersion breaking for me. One early one which I will spoil involves CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) interrogating South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, having great fun chewing all the carpet in sight in his own skin instead of mo-cap), who replies with questions of his own. I suddenly realized I was watching a game of riddles between Bilbo (Freeman) and Gollum (Serkis). As a meta-callout this is amusing but also distracting for me. The second weakness is some rather sloppy CGI which would frankly be better served with Wuxia-style wirework or even simply cutting those few seconds.

The third act suffers from too much action, falling into the typical problem where every Marvel movie has a setpiece battle where they try to top all the previous movies. Not up to the standards of Civil War, but special bonus points for (spoilers) armored rhinos! Remote piloted space ships! Personal force-shields and sonic blaster vibranium spears! Heel-Face Turn and The Cavalry. All in one rather chaotic battle. The narrative and characterization is somewhat lost in the festival of badassness which ensues. But this is a genre standard and the movie can be praised for opening so many new avenues it can be forgiven for the rather predictable final battles. I’d say more but big spoilers there.

Overall, a most lovely movie which will stand the test of time, better than I expected after reading 30+ positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and a rollicking good time. The movie seems too short at 2:14 so I am looking forward to a director’s cut and one hopes, one or more sequels, including perhaps a spinoff for some of the interesting secondary characters. Wakanda Forever!

5 of 5 stars. Bring a friend so you don’t talk your Lyft driver’s ear off as I did on the way home. :)

Copyright © 2018 Henry Edward Hardy

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16 February, 2018 Posted by | Andy Serkis, Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, media, Michael Jordan, scanlyze, Wakanda | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vote for Hillary Clinton to continue these Bush-Obama policies

Vote for Hillary Clinton to continue these Bush-Obama policies:

Eternal, undeclared, illegal, aggressive war. In Libya, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Chad, Somalia, Nigeria, Philippines, Honduras, and Yemen. Universal surveillance. General Warrants. Secret courts. National Security Letters. Endless imprisonment without trial or charge. Effective abolition of the writ of habeas corpus, notwithstanding that it is in the US Constitution Article I, Section 9. Black sites. Rendition. Special Ops death squads. Assassination of US citizens without trial or charge. Including juveniles. Robot bombs sent to assassinate more than 2,000 civilians so far in neutral countries with which we are not at war. Mercantilist trade policies such as TTIP, TPP, NAFTA. Okay, Hillary was for TPP and helped write it, until she was suddenly against it a few months ago. Fracking. Bailing out Wall Sreet, AIG to the tune of $318 thousand million dollars, then also bailing out big banks like Citi, who were already re-insured by AIG. But Obama could not find $20 billion to bail out Detroit’s pension funds, nor $60 million for public works to replace all the lead pipes in Flint.

Copyright © 2016 Henry Edward Hardy

30 March, 2016 Posted by | election, eternal war, hypocrisy, media, politics, scanlyze, US, USA, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Force Awakens is a snide parody of Star Wars

“The Force Awakens” is another snide Abrams parody and deconstruction of a beloved science fiction classic. Here’s why.

There is this terrible inversion of the moral and ethical underpinnings of Lucas’ shared universe.

Love doesn’t redeem. The force doesn’t protect the (mostly) innocent. Han doesn’t shoot first when necessary. Family ties are not stronger than the lure of power.

I think Abrams likes to destroy the tropes and ethics of the works he is mocking. Look at what happened to the dear old Enterprise in Abrams’ parody of Star Trek.

Enterprise NCC 1701 could go mano-a-mano with the world-eating doomsday machine in TOS but in Abrams it is disgracefully beat to shit by another Star Fleet vessel without even being able to fire a shot.

The most generous interpretation of this is that Abrams loves to use the cheap trope of the “Worf effect.”

“This monster/baddy is really terrible, see it beat the crap out of Worf.”

The ungenerous interpretation is that Abrams likes to make little kids and fans cry.

As the kid sitting in front of me at the Force Awakens premiere said, “I didn’t like to watch it because evil won.”

I like the idea of a storm trooper character and of course he would be conflicted and confused. But there is a right way and a wrong way to invoke this. The right way is in The Clone Wars, where the Clone Troopers (not Storm Troopers) despite being a clone army, are fully individuated and several like Rex particularly have become such fan favorites that they have been resuscitated for Rebels.

We literally got no backstory and no characterization for any of these Force Awakens characters other than stock tropes. Orphan–virgin birth–desert planet. Storm trooper–cowardly–can’t shoot straight. Supreme leader–inhuman and scary, appears in holo-images. The leader’s second — Cyborg==black armor==fallen Jedi, etc. That is so lazy.

Rey is a major Mary Sue by any definition, to a ridiculous and suspension of disbelief breaking degree. And actually, no that’s not okay. It means the script is operating at the level of the most self-servicing and badly written fan fiction.

Luke didn’t just magically learn to be an ace pilot without ever having flown before. Luke trained with two old Masters, Obi-Wan and Yoda. And it was a major plot point when he went tearing off before his training was complete and promptly got his ass handed to him and his hand chopped off.

Contrast Ahsoka Tano, who made major mistakes and lost the better part of two squadrons of fighters and almost lost an entire battalion of soldiers in her first commands before she gained more experience and learned to bridle her aggressive tendencies. In The Clone Wars Season I.

Star Wars The Clone War – Storm over Ryloth (The first attack)

I’m sorry but the the action scenes in Force Awakens are horrible, only better than a mediocre fan film or kids playing Star Wars in the back yard due to better production values. Truly embarrassing. Okay Rey has probably never used a light saber so that’s excusable. But Kylo Ren is supposed to be the head of the Evil neo-Sith/Dark Jedi Knights, who trained with Luke Skywalker and Supreme Leader Snoke? What an emo shlub!

Emo Kylo Ren

The following a good light saber battle. Imagine if this was the trailer for the new Star Wars movie how much cooler it would be than the Abrams parody:

Return

There’s more character development, drama, suspense, action, plot advancement and general badassery there in six minutes than in any 3 hour Abrams sludgefest.

Or a more recent example from Rebels a few weeks ago:

Inquisitors vs. Ahsoka & Kanan ᴴᴰ

Ahsoka Tano is Anakin’s former apprentice in both old and new continuity. This is her Big Damn Heroes/The Cavalry moment as we haven’t seen her in action since she left Anakin and the Jedi Order at the end of season 5 of The Clone Wars. 16 years ago in-universe time.

I’m not trope averse, I just don’t like to see them mishandled or misused.

Another negative regarding Force Awakens is the presence of the Jar-Jar expy, Finn. The prequel movies are rather derivative of the original trilogy, and Force Awakens is completely unapologetic in strip mining the tropes from the real Star Wars films.

Although the character elements have been tossed a bit we can still clearly see trope-wise, or structural analysis-wise:

FA/Original trilogy/Prequels
Rey = Luke (ground) = Anakin
Finn = C3PO = Jar-Jar
BB8 = R2D2 = R2D2
Poe Dameron = Luke (air) = Anakin
Luke = Yoda = Yoda
Mas kanata = Obi-Wan = Qui Gon Jinn
Kylo Ren = Darth Vader = General Grievous
Snoke = The Emperor = Count Dooku

I’ve read a number of articles praising the new Star Wars parody by JJ Abrams as, “inclusive” or words to that effect. Really? There is one count ’em one, black or brown face among the characters.

My issue is not with John Boyega’s portrayal of the character. He has done a good enough job with the material he was given.

However, Boyega’s character, “Finn”, shares a number of tropes and characteristics with Jar-Jar Binks, the much-derided alien from the prequel movies.

Here are some specific points of similarity between Finn and the dark-skinned alien with big lips and a faux-Carribean patois:

Cowardly? Check.
Clumsy? Check.
Fails at everything he attempts? Check.
Treated as comic relief? Check.
Lies to the other characters? Check.

Abrams has even added an old trope new to Star Wars. What’s Finn do when he finds the protagonist, Rey? As soon as the Empire arrives and they flee, he grabs Rey’s hand, twice. She even explicitly tells him not to do that, which puts this into the squicky realm of harassment.

Your Star Wars dollar is far better spent watching the old movies, even the prequels, or the excellent “The Clone Wars” or the almost-excellent “Star Wars Rebels” than this dreck.

Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy

23 December, 2015 Posted by | media, movie, review, scanlyze | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The United States fetishizes gun Violence

The United States fetishizes gun Violence

I think it is very facile to attack guns for gun violence. That model fails to account for societies like Switzerland or Finland with high gun ownership but little gun violence.

What separates the United States is the degree to which it fetishizes gun violence. The stock character of the Western hero has morphed into the hard nosed cop and now into the faceless futuristic enforcer but the plot is the same: a lone man, using violence to right wrongs in society, then conveniently riding off into the sunset. “Hiyo, Silver, away!”

American Exceptionalism is the modern version of Manifest Destiny and White Man’s Burden. All are pinioned on the Idea that American Ideas are the Best, so much Better, in fact, that extreme violence and skullduggery are justified in their lofty pursuit of a greater good only America the Beautiful can provide.

Well, where’s the beef? Where are the benefits this benevolent violence are supposed to provide? Stable governments, democracy, prosperity, pluralism, tolerance, human rights, rule of law, all that?

Shall we ask Afghanistan? Or Libya? Or Yemen? Or Somalia? Or Iraq?

How’s that workin’ for ya USA? Is that the right model for Syria? Really?

I think it is very facile to attack guns for gun violence. That model fails to account for societies like Switzerland or Finland with high gun ownership but little gun violence.

What separates the United States is the degree to which it fetishizes gun violence. The stock character of the Western hero has morphed into the hard nosed cop and now into the faceless futuristic enforcer but the plot is the same: a lone man, using violence to right wrongs in society, then conveniently riding off into the sunset. “Hiyo, Silver, away!”

American Exceptionalism is the modern version of Manifest Destiny and White Man’s Burden. All are pinioned on the Idea that American Ideas are the Best, so much Better, in fact, that extreme violence and skullduggery are justified in their lofty pursuit of a greater good only America the Beautiful can provide.

Well, where’s the beef? Where are the benefits this benevolent violence are supposed to provide? Stable governments, democracy, prosperity, pluralism, tolerance, human rights, rule of law, all that?

Shall we ask Afghanistan? Or Libya? Or Yemen? Or Somalia? Or Iraq?

How’s that workin’ for ya USA? Is that the right model for Syria? Really?

Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy

30 October, 2015 Posted by | Afghanistan, anthropology, foreign policy, gun, Iraq, Libya, media, nonviolence, policy, scanlyze, Somalia, Syria, United States, violence, Where's the beef? | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughts on the TV show Vikings

Vikings is the tale of the semi-historical Ragnarr Loðbrók and two of his wives, Lagertha and Aslaug, and their children, Bjorn Ironside, Ivar the Boneless, Hafdan Whitecoat, Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye and Ubba.
Ragnar is a wealthy farmer at the start of the show. He is a clever and brutal warrior, a combat pragmatist. But he is more, a visionary, a charismatic leader, intellectually curious, a technological innovator, shrewd judge of character, and a Machiavellian magnificent bastard of the first degree.
The show exists in a kind of magical realism where magic is believed in but whether it is ‘real’ is always up to the eye of the beholder.
The show is well grounded in the Norse culture and presents a lot of values dissidence through the vehicle of Æthelstan, a monk from Lindessfarne who Ragnarr makes captive during the first Viking raid on England.
The sets and costumes are reasonably accurate. In order to be more identifiable on the battlefield to the viewer, nobody wears helms in battle, which given the number of head wounds suffered is obviously quite stupid in-world. The depiction of viking and Anglo-Saxon and Frankish tactics is quite good.
They make hash of the topography. They have fjords in Kattegat, they have mountains by Uppsala, they have people crossing from Denmark to Sweden dryshod on land.
And being the we-used-to-be-a-history channel, they make hash of the history. For instance, Ragnarr did not succeed Horik I and king of Denmark, his son Horik II did.
The ships and houses and costumes are very nicely done and era-appropriate generally.
I’m curious to see if Rurik and Dyre will come in season 4 as the viking (varangian) founders of modern Russia were contemporaries of Ragnarr and his sons. Dyre’s companion Askold was the son of Hafdan Hvitsark Ragnarrson and thus grandson of Ragnarr and Aslaug and thus Ragnarr’s grandson.
Someone above scoffed at ‘conquering a new land with 30 guys’ well yes they didn’t have thousands of extras on set. But dark ages battles did not involve thousands of people either. The Great Heathen army of Ragnarr’s sons invaded and conquered most of England, the Isles, and northern Ireland with according to some scholars, less than a thousand men. Although Crusader Kings II gives them 15,000.
The show is very violent. It is about the events leading up to the Great Heathen Army which led the Christians of Europe to make special prayers for protection from them such as:
Pity [us] the highest favor by preserving and guarding our bodies, free us from the savage Norman tribe who devastates our realms.
They aged and young would have their throats slit, and maidens and lads too, and the multitudes also. Repel the evil from us, we altogether implore [thee]. Bring thee the ruling realm, we plead on our knees, to the king of glory, who pity us with true peace, soundness, hopes and strength. Give us peace and harmony. Bestow us unmitigated hope, genuine faith also; concede us continual charity and let completed be. Sanctify our prayers that we be availed in achieving this, that we be rejoiced in glorious measure. Praise be peace and glory, to the Trinity who [is] wholly most-magnificent for the people. Amen
–Charles the Bald
870
I give Vikings high marks for:
Music
Choreography
Values-neutral presentation of medieval Christianity vs Norse paganism. They are all anti-heroes at best except the Anglo-Saxon monk Aethelstan who is a viewer reference in that he is moral and isn’t murderous, Machiavellian, or batshit crazy. Well, he is Machiavellian, actually.
Acting, especially Travis Fimmel as the snarky, reserved, observant, calculating and ruthless Ragnarr and Katheryn Winnick as the stalwart shield-maiden Lagertha.
World-building set design and costumes are well thought out and authentic-ish. Such as the clinker-built ships they use.
Not so good for:
History, however Ragnarr isn’t acknowledged by all historians to be a historic character, although all his sons are. How could he not be real if his sons exist?
Ragnarr and Lagertha’s and Aslaug’s stories are caught up in the great cycle of Norse myths and legends such as Aslaug/Kraka/Ranhildr is the daughter of Sigurd the dragon-slayer and the shield-maiden Brynhildr. Her early story corresponds to “Clever Peasant Girl” folk tale, Aarne-Thompson no. 875, so either it nicely fit that pattern of changed with retellings to fit it.
Nevertheless the script has Ragnarr become King of Denmark, which for sure did not happen.
Geography as mentioned. Locations have been picked for their visual appeal and way of framing establishing shots, but have nothing to do with the actual geography of the places depicted in most cases.
There’s a lot more analysis at tvtropes but better not to read it yet because spoilers.
Overall, Vikings is a great show and well-worth watching.

5 June, 2015 Posted by | history, History Channel, media, review, scanlyze, television, Vikings | , , , , , , | Leave a comment