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Black Panther Goes Big

Oscar nominated shorts offer tiny gems

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BLACK PANTHER. It seems important, maybe necessary, to set a few things straight: I hope Black Panther breaks all of the records, that it somehow financially bankrupts the already creatively and ethically destitute elements of the movie industry, that it creates broad, sweeping change in media, in attitudes and in our national conversation. The movie is a good and a powerful thing, a cultural phenomenon long overdue and a vital addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, wherein lies my conflict: Black Panther is every inch a Marvel Movie and I'm kinda tired of them.

I'll readily admit that I likely overburdened the movie with my expectations. Director Ryan Coogler's earlier features (Fruitvale Station, 2013 and Creed, 2015) moved me with their sympathy toward their characters, their narrative even-handedness and disproportionately mature marriage of style and story. Fruitvale marked Coogler as an artist on the rise, someone who belongs behind a movie camera telling stories. And Creed confirmed the first movie wasn't a fluke produced by a confluence of passions and current events. When I learned he was attached to Black Panther, I was heartily pleased but not surprised.

One of the few things big movie houses seem to be getting right lately is the hiring of "young"/"indie" directors to helm tent-pole entries: Colin Trevorrow on Jurassic World, Rian Johnson on The Last Jedi, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden on the upcoming Captain Marvel. Never mind Trevorrow being fired from directing the next Star Wars or the same fate befalling Phil Lord and Chris Miller on Solo, or Gareth Edwards having "help" foisted on him to finish Rogue One. Two steps forward, however many steps back.

Coogler had established himself as a director ready for the big show and the introduction of Chadwick Boseman as Prince T'Challa of Wakanda/Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War (2016) signalled an imminent solo outing. And here it is, a solid and singular superhero picture replete with CGI and oversized set pieces; it's entirely on me for wanting it to be something different.

An animated sequence first describes the formation of Wakanda, an African nation founded by an uneasy armistice among factions brought together by a meteorite-borne lode of vibranium, the strongest element in the universe (from which Captain America's shield was formed). Vibranium becomes the source of Wakanda's vast wealth, fueling its mind-boggling technological advancements and enabling it to withdraw from international trade behind a veil of false poverty. After the death of his father, King T'Chaka (John Kani), T'Challa ascends to the throne and is thrust into a conflict to recover and contain stolen vibranium artifacts. This leads to war for control of the country against foes at home, abroad and from the past.

The highlights of Black Panther — the flashbacks to Oakland, circa 1992, a casino heist spilling into a car chase through Busan, South Korea — are exhilarating and emotional, with some innovative approaches to the action. But weighed down as they are by sections of stodgy dialogue and the inevitable, oversized climactic battle, their impact, along with their promise of something apart from the comic book norm, recedes into the background.

Black Panther is still one of the more interesting, dynamic characters so far in the MCU and the movie bearing his name does nothing to diminish that. Michael B. Jordan (Coogler's constant collaborator) stretches out as a villain, as does Andy Serkis, and both seize the opportunity with ferocious exuberance. At heart, Black Panther has a fascinating, nuanced story to tell and tells it well, but some of it is lost in the unnecessary noise. PG13. 134m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS. I generally have mixed feelings about the mixed bag of shorts recognized by the Academy each year. On one hand, they can offer the most vivid, intense shot of movie-craft one is likely to see in a given year. Unburdened by "the system," by studio notes and mandatory test screenings, shorts can get right to the expression of a vision and to the excitement and engagement that define the best of the medium. At the same time, I'm always left wondering how many worthy experiments, how many little shots of brilliance we aren't seeing because they haven't been anointed by a popularity-obsessed sanctioning body, or because they weren't the beneficiaries of lavish funding.

It's probably not a question worth laboring over. Instead, we should relish the rare opportunity to get a look at some noteworthy short form cinema, quite a variety of which is on offer here.

The animated shorts are, as usual, a fun and breezy enterprise, ranging from a Kobe Bryant's five-minute love letter to the game that made him rich to a near half-hour adaptation of Roald Dahl's twisted take on some classic fairytales, with some Pixar and some heart-rending meditations on love and loss folded in. The live-action entries lean into the politics of the day, addressing violence and exclusion (the Australian entry being the lone comedic outlier) with varying degrees of subtlety, but all arriving at the necessity for compassion and greater understanding. The documentaries, to even more heartbreaking effect, offer a sort of aggregate image of "where we are now," with stories of elder abuse, the overdose capital of America and ex-cons making good, among others. MINIPLEX, MINOR.

—John J. Bennett

*Due to the holiday, updated theater listings were not available at press time. For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

ANNIHILATION. Natalie Portman stars as a biologist who goes searching for her missing husband in an environmental disaster area that may be more than it appears. R. BROADWAY.

THE DARK CRYSTAL. Vintage fantasy and creepy puppets from Jim Henson. PG. 100m. MINOR.

EVERY DAY. Romance between a teenage girl (Agourie Rice) who falls in love with a soul who hops from body to body every day. PG13. 95m. BROADWAY.

GAME NIGHT. Comedy about a game night cohort dragged into a murder mystery that gets very real. Starring Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman. R. 100m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER. A little girl cops supernatural powers from a flower in this adaptation of The Little Broomstick. PG. 125m. FORTUNA, MINOR.

PRIMAL RAGE. Locally filmed Bigfoot horror with a lost couple, sketchy hunters and the big guy on a rampage. R. 106m. MINOR.

Continuing

15:17 TO PARIS. Clint Eastwood hikes his trousers up to direct the American servicemen who foiled a terrorist attack on a train in 2015 in a film about the event. With Jenna Fisher. PG13. 94m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. This meticulously crafted adaptation about a romance between the roguish Oliver (Armie Hammer) and precocious, 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is charged with excitement, secrecy and the shame of new discovery. R. 132m. MINOR.

DARKEST HOUR. Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill as a new prime minister of an England with little appetite for conflict on the cusp of war with Germany. With Kristin Scott Thomas. PG13. 125m. MINOR.

EARLY MAN. The creators of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run return with a Claymation soccer battle between cave people and Bronze Age bullies. With Tom Hiddleston and Maisie Williams. PG. 89m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

FIFTY SHADES FREED. On-brand sex scenes strung together with a script, story and acting bad enough to make you blush. Starring a creepily infantilized Dakota Johnson and a cardboard cutout of Jamie Dornan. R. 101m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. Hugh Jackman sings and dances as P.T. Barnum because a sucker's born every minute. With Michelle Williams and Zac Efron. PG. 105m. BROADWAY.

HOSTILES. Despite strong performances, Scott Cooper's Western about a fearsome army captain (Christian Bale) transporting a dying Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and a traumatized woman (Rosamund Pike) lacks moral ambiguity and bite. R. 134m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. A remake of the 1995 board game adventure starring Dwayne Johnson. PG-13. 119m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE. The last of the video game-inspired action series with a boy band of rebels, fighting lame adults who are sacrificing teens to find a cure for a disease. Starring Dylan O'Brien and Rosa Salazar. PG13. 142m. BROADWAY.

PETER RABBIT. A clever and ultimately kind live-action/animated comedy barely based on Beatrix Potter's books. With James Corden voicing Peter, Domhnall Gleeson as Mr. McGregor's control-freak nephew and Rose Byrne as a rabbit-sympathizing artist. PG. 93m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE PHANTOM THREAD. Paul Thomas Anderson directs Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps in a romance about a couturier who falls in love with his muse. Immersive settings, costumes and a nuanced story reward the viewer's patience. R. 130m. MINOR.

SAMSON. Biblical story about a strongman who gets a bad haircut. Starring Taylor James. And hey, it's Billy Zane and Rutger Hauer. PG13. FORTUNA.

THE SHAPE OF WATER. Guillermo del Toro's exquisite love story/fable/tribute to monster movies of yesteryear showcases its stellar cast, including Sally Hawkins as a mute woman who falls in love with an amphibian (Doug Jones) and Michael Shannon as an evil scientist. R. 123m. BROADWAY, MINOR.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. A sterling cast (Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Zeljko Ivanek and Peter Dinklage) in a drama about a small-town murder but the film unravels in the last act. R. 115m. BROADWAY.

WINCHESTER: THE HOUSE THAT GHOSTS BUILT. Guns don't kill; ghosts do. Haunted house scares with Helen Mirren in head-to-toe black lace as the heir to the Winchester rifle empire. With Jason Clarke. PG13. 99m. BROADWAY.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill and Linda Stansberry

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