Jury Coordination and Notes

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Jesus Live: A Remarkable Performance That Will Stay in Your Mind Forever

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Recently, I attended Sight & Sound’s production of Jesus Live in Lancaster, PA. For more than 40 years, Sight & Sound Theaters have produced live entertainment with a purpose – bringing stories from the Bible to the stage.

I watched this production with some knowledge of the Bible, as a former practitioner of Christianity and a lay practitioner of Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism for more than 31 years.

We see the streets of Jerusalem and the raging Sea of Galilee, as Jesus befriends outcasts and heals those who are suffering. He presents challenges to “social norms and confronts hypocrisy.” In the two-act production we experience Jesus (Jonathan Blair) who sets sail with fisherman and talks with religious scholars, touching and changing many lives along the way.

I enjoyed watching this bigger than life stage production, partly due to one of the largest LED screens ever used in a theatrical production. It is 113 feet wide, almost 30 feet tall and weighs 12 tons. It is made up of 1,242 individual 500 mm x 500 mm panels with almost 21 million pixels.

One of my favorite scenes is the story of the Prodigal Son. The younger son asks his father for his share of his inheritance, then goes off and is gone for many years. When he returns penniless, hungry and tired, his father rejoices and welcomes him, much to the distain of the older son. It is a reminder that there is always hope for reconciliation. Often our children think they know more than their parents and need to go out to spread their wings. Most parents welcome them back into the fold and help them to go forward.

Jesus Live features 368 costume designs for 882 costumes and 2,400 costume pieces. The seamstresses of Sight & Sound sewed 14,000 snaps by hand and used 7,644 yards of fabric (that’s 4.3 miles). The show features 288 wigs. Jesus Live includes live animals including horses, dogs, pigs, goats, sheep, camels, alpacas and more! All the cast members are excellent singers, dances and actors. The 45 member cast including people from across the country and around the globe. I had the remarkable opportunity to interview many of them which you can see here:

I give Jesus Live 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18 as well as adults. This production is playing through January 5, 2019 so check it out. For details, visit https://www.sight-sound.com/ticketing/shows/title

Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

 

The Big Apple Circus: Truly Spectacular!

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Acclaimed Ringmaster Ty McFarlan welcomes the crowd and introduces the various acts from the BIG APPLE CIRCUS including 10-time world record-holding high wire artist Nik Wallenda, award-winning contortionist Elayne Kramer, third-generation animal trainer Jenny Vidbel, and acclaimed acrobats The Anastasini Brothers. World renowned for its one-ring, intimate and artistic style, where no seat is more than 50 feet from the performers, BIG APPLE CIRCUS is passionate about revitalizing the circus for modern-day audiences with unique and astounding human feats, and innovative design and technology. The 40th anniversary season program features the famous seven-person pyramid on the high wire with Nik Wallenda and The Fabulous Wallendas and the daring quadruple somersault attempted on the trapeze by The Flying Tunizianis – the first time in circus history that both legendary feats are performed under the same big top. The record-setting acts are joined by Dandino & Luciana, a dynamic duo who combine speed, acrobatics and daredevil grace on roller-skates; award-winning contortionist Elayne Kramer; master juggler Gamal Garcia; Jan Damm on the Rola Bola; acclaimed Risley acrobats The Anastasini Brothers (who broke the World Record for Most Flips on November 9, 2017); Ringmaster Ty McFarlan; hilarious clowns Skip & Mr. Joel; and circus trainer & presenter Jenny Vidbel, who performs in the ring with 16 horses and ponies, as well as six rescue dogs. KIDS FIRST! Juror, Juanita L. comments, “I was very surprised and truly enjoyed every minute of it.” See her full review below.

The Big Apple Circus
Juanita L., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

On Monday, May 28, 2018 I attended The Bi Apple Circus. I was very surprised and truly enjoyed every minute of it.

The Big Apple Circus completely changed my feelings about circuses. My early memories of the circus included smelly dirty elephants, weird people and animals. Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Big Apple Circus, promises an afternoon or evening of thrills and laughs – and a lifetime of memories!

I love the historical background of this circus. After traveling in Europe, Paul Binder and Michael Christensen returned to New York City and founded the Big Apple Circus in 1977. It began as alternative to the glitz and spectacle of the traditional American three ring circus. Big Apple Circus has epitomized the intimacy and artistry associated with the European one ring circus.

As part of this year’s celebration, Big Apple Circus presents 10 time World Record Holder, Nik Wallenda. Hailed as “The King of The High Wire” and the “Greatest Daredevil of Our Generation.” Nik and the Fabulous Wallendas amaze the audience with dare-devil feats never before seen under the Big Apple Circus Big top.

There are so many thrilling and amazing acts and talented performers, I don’t know where to begin. My favorites include Ty McFarlan, the Ring Master and the two clowns that interact and have fun with audience members. The daring seven person pyramid on the high wire by Nik Wallenda and The Fabulous Wallendas is breathtaking.

I recommend The Big Apple Circus for ages 4 to 18 as well as adults and give it 5 out of 5 stars. Reviewed by Juanita S. L.

For more information on the BIG APPLE CIRCUS, its schedule and for tickets, please visit bigapplecircus.com.

 

 

 

Show Dogs – Family Friendly Action Filled, Family-Friendly Adventure

Monday, May 21st, 2018

After a failed attempt to recover a stolen baby panda, police dog Max reluctantly teams up with a human FBI agent named Frank. A hot tip leads Max and Frank to Las Vegas for the world’s most exclusive dog show. To find the panda, Max goes under cover as a contestant to get the lowdown from his fellow canines. With help from their new friends, the crime-fighting duo must now foil another kidnapping plot and rescue other valuable animals from a gang of greedy smugglers. KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer Juanita L. comments, “I thoroughly enjoyed watching Show Dogs. This is a family friendly film which combines humans and talking canine characters to give one an adventure, action-filled and funny story.” See her full review below.

Show Dogs
By Juanita L., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Show Dogs. This is a family friendly film which combines humans and talking canine characters to give one an adventure, action-filled and funny story.

The storyline follows Max (Ludacris), a rugged lone-wolf Rottweiler NYPD police dog and his human FBI partner Frank (Will Arnett) who set out to investigate the kidnapping of a baby panda by an unknown network of illegal animal traders. They get a tip that the ring of thieves is planning to sell the panda at the prestigious Canini Invitational Dog Show.

Macho Max must undergo a complete makeover with the help of a seasoned trainer (Natasha Lyonne) including mud baths, ballet lessons and Brazilian waxing in order to take on this undercover mission to thwart the thieves. Working with Frank, his new human handler, Max discovers his inner show dog. He also learns that trust and working with the help of others can often be more rewarding than working alone. There are great examples of team work with Max’s other canine friends – Sprinkles (Gabriel Iglesias) and Karma (Shaquille O’Neal) to catch the would-be kidnappers.

One scene that is questionable happens when Max is challenged by one aspect of the dog show – the inspection of his private parts. Frank helps him by telling him to go to his happy place, so he will not be bothered by the inspection. When Max goes to his happy place, we see a display of colorful visuals, along with moving music and Max is not bothered by the inspection. I understand that Global Road is re-cutting the film now after complaints from mommy bloggers and others. The new cut of the film will be available by this weekend.

Although there is some rude humor and suggestive language, I recommend this film for ages 10 to 18 as well as adults and give it 4 out of 5 stars. Show Dogs opens nationwide in theaters May 18, 2018. Check it out and experience a prestigious dog show from the inside.

School of Rock: The Musical – Thrilling Production With Great Cast and Message

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Based on the cult film and with a rocking new score from Andrew Lloyd Webber, School of Rock follows slacker Dewey Finn as he turns a class of straight–A  students into an ear-popping, riff-scorching, all-conquering rock band! As they prepare for the Battle of the Bands, can Dewey make them embrace the empowering message of rock? KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer Juanita Seon L. comments, “If you want to be entertained, as well as inspired, this is the show for you. The determination of Dewey and his students to uncover their talents and show their parents the importance of listening deliver a wonderful message in this show.” See her full review below.

School of Rock: The Musical
By Juanita Seon L., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

Recently, I was thrilled to attend the musical production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music. The musical, based on the Paramount movie written by Mike White, brought out my love of musicals. The production has two acts, with a total of 20 musical scenes. The sets are very well designed and the flow of scene changes is excellent.

School of Rock is the story of a Dewey Finn (Rob Colletti), a wannabe rock star who needs to earn money to pay rent. He poses as his friend Ned (Matt Bittner) to be a substitute teacher in a very prestigious private school. Dewey sees an opportunity to realize his life-long dream to compete in a battle of the band competition as he turns a class of straight A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band.

I enjoyed watching Dewey pretending to be Ned. He is not a licensed teacher and has no clue about how to teach.  When he discovers the students at Horace Green are very musically talented, he sees a chance to compete in the Battle of the Bands.  He awakens the students to their inner strengths and talent while working very hard to keep the principal, Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) from learning the truth about him.

My favorite scene is when the students express their feelings about their parents as they sing “If Only You Would Listen.”  We get the sense that often young people feel that their parents want to live their dream through their kids instead of letting them pursue their own dreams.

All the cast members are excellent singers, dances and actors. The cast members are also are exceptional musicians and they all play instruments in the play. If you want to be entertained, as well as inspired, this is the show for you. The determination of Dewey and his students to uncover their talents and show their parents the importance of listening deliver a wonderful message in this show. You should know that there are some elements of adult language. I recommend this for ages 8 to 18 as well as adults and give it 5 out of 5 stars. School of Rock: The Musical is touring the US now. Next stop: Detroit, April 10 through 22, 2018.   For the full tour dates, visit  https://ustour.schoolofrockthemusical.com.

 

 

Director’s Close Up: Real Life vs. Reel Life

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

While there are plenty of challenges to bringing a fictional universe to the big screen like in, Wrinkle in Time, or getting the complex daughter/mother relationship just right in Lady Bird, neither face the unique challenge of presenting a real-world story to an audience in an entertaining matter.

The fifth and final week of 2018 Director’s Close Up featured directors of many IRL-based-productions. These directors not only question the real-life results but also allow the viewers to question it themselves. A brand-new film, I, Tonya talks about a scenario just like this. The director of the film, Craig Gillespie, talked about what they want the audience of the film to feel, which is a realistic issue for realistic films. Often the real-life story has a clear and cut result driven by journalistic feeds, but as many know, humans are much more three-dimensional than that. This allows these realistic films to give the viewer a whole new perspective on judging infamous people in society.

This principal is great in theory, but rarely in practice. A film may indeed show the third dimension, but also show a skewed truth. Jonathan Dayton, director of films like Battle of the Sexes and Little Miss talked about just this. Twisting the truth can be necessary to make a good film, but can also hurt the concept terribly by making the film more like fiction than reality. It causes false impressions of real-life people, or even worst, changes their place in history due to a false description. In this way, the people who create these films also take the risk of altering history and ruining people’s lives. Yet, if done right, it can reveal new truths and remind people of forgotten values.

Angela Robinson, director of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, had a unique story to tell. Instead of making a film based on modern or somewhat modern events, she went nearly a century back to the creation of the famous superhero, Wonder Woman. While the story details may be commonly known, the intricate reasons for her creation are revealed and can be rather shocking. This is a perfect example of how a film can add to history, instead of destroying it. Before this film was made, little was known about the creators of Wonder Woman and was most likely kept secret. Now, it has been made public and adds a new side to the classic superhero. One could argue that these filmmakers are also historians, piecing together the past for our enjoyment.

In many ways, this was the perfect ending to the Director’s Close Up for 2018. It perfectly defines the concept of the event which is to show a whole new side of filmmaking that is not revealed from simply watching the film. There are often months, sometimes years of work and research dedicated to making these two hours of (hopefully) entertainment. Behind the camera of a motion picture is a small world that events such as these allow us to enter. Even if it is just for a moment, it opens up a whole new way of watching movies.

Images courtesy of
Wireimage and Film Independent

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: It’s a Beautiful Day Collection – Comprehensive Set of Shows by the Esteemed Mister Rogers

Monday, March 26th, 2018

This special set of 32 memorable episodes and over 15 hours of content celebrates the 50th anniversary of the beloved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the pioneering children’s television series from The Fred Rogers Company. Mister Rogers helps children learn the importance of being kind to others, appreciating what makes everyone unique, recycling and taking care of our planet, and much more in the classic series. The new release also includes a very special bonus episode – the series premiere, in original black-and-white! Through his popular daily TV visits, generations of young children have grown up with the kind and gentle Mister Rogers, who created a calm and safe place that welcomed all to his neighborhood. With real-life guests, adventurous field trips and charming make-believe segments, the iconic Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood encouraged kids ages 2 to 5 to learn about themselves and the world around them, speaking directly to the series’ young audience with his unique one-to-one affirmation of their self-worth. Celebrity guest stars have included: Tony Bennett, Julia Child, Margaret Hamilton, Michael Keaton, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Rita Moreno, and Bill Nye. KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer, Terry S. comments, “I will always have a special place in my heart for Fred Rogers, for his kindness and understanding of teaching and learning for the preschooler.” See her full review below.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: It’s a Beautiful Day
By Terry Solowey, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

This is a wonderful collection of shows by the iconic Mister Rogers. I have fond memories of representing this program when I worked at WNET in New York launching the Ready to Learn program. I represented all the programs on PBS at that time, in workshops teaching preschool instructors how to use TV as an educational, interactive tool to supplement and enhance their curriculum. I will always have a special place in my heart for Fred Rogers, for his kindness and understanding of teaching and learning for the preschooler.

It is a walk down memory lane to view several episodes from the 60s to the following decades. It is interesting to note that, through the years, Mr. Rogers maintained the same routine which made him unique, influential and well celebrated for his kind manner – teaching children that they are special and unique in their own right. He is known for greeting children everyday by coming through his door, taking off his jacket and shoes, and putting on his sweater and sneakers. He invites his audience to share some time to explore, discover and learn new things. He sings to “make the most of this beautiful day, won’t you be my neighbor?” You feel as if he is talking directly to you.

The topics of the episodes varies, from helping children know what to expect on their first day at school to talking about different kinds of families from birds to people, learning about sharing, giving and receiving, and encouraging generosity and gratitude. Children learn about the world and how to live in it.

We are introduced to friends, neighbors and workers such as Mr. McFeeley, the speedy delivery man, Lady Aberlin, a good friend and Joe Negri, a music shop owner, photographer, builder, handyman and guitar player – a man of many talents and trades. We are also introduced to Daniel Tiger, who currently carries on Mister Rogers’ tradition in the animated series.

One of my favorite segments is on disc four, Encouraging Generosity and Gratitude. Here we see how fortune cookies are made: from mixing flour and eggs, that become cookie batter ready to go into baking pans on a conveyer belt, to how the fortune message is put into the baked cookie shape and packaged. Mr. McFeeley delivers fortune cookies to Mister Rogers, who shares some with him. Both men are happy to give and receive. In the trolley car segment and land of make believe, even though King Friday thinks fortune cookies are silly, others on the show love them. The magical part is when a special fortune cookie man pops out and speaks in Spanish and delivers fortune cookies through his fortune cookie hat to others. Daniel Tiger says, “Anything can happen in the land of make believe.”

Another segment that stands out features the celebrated children’s author Eric Carle, who invites Fred into his art studio and shows him how he makes his colorful art papers, which he turns into collages for his picture books. He reads “Head to Toe,” pointing out how different animals move their body parts and they both move their body parts along with the story. Eric Carle gives him a book as a gift, reinforcing the lesson of generosity and gratitude.

I give this DVD 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for young children ages 2 to 5 as well as parents, caregivers and early childhood teachers. If you are a fan of the current Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, then Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is a must see for its ground breaking educational and entertaining programming. This DVD streets on March 27, 2018 so be sure to check it out.

Mascots Matter: Gender and Race Representation in Branding

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Mascots Matter: Gender and Race Representation in Branding
Presented by Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

How are products being marketed to children through brand mascots? And what role does gender and race play? Are boys and girls being marketed to differently and if so how does that effect the way they perceive gender roles? Join us as we answer these questions and present the first findings from our Mascots Matter: Gender and Race in Branding Study. Panelists include: Tiffanie Darke, Moderator, Editor in Chief, A+E channels History, Biography and A&E; Sarah Barclay, Global Executive Creative Director, J. Walter Thompson New York; Madeline Di Nonno, CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Torsten Gross, Executive Planning Director, J. Walter Thompson New York; Courtney Parker, Writer; Laura Treviño, Vice President, Marketing, The Jel Sert Company.

Mascots Matter: Gender and Race Representation in Branding
By Imani Baptiste-Green, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media presented a Salon recently called Mascots Matter: Gender and Race Representation in Branding.  This salon touched upon varioua points of gender and race. The event’s main focus is on power, and how people succeed as long as they put their mind to it, no matter what the circumstances. The event was hosted by Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, whom I had the pleasure to meet and talk with. The branding of mascots was discussed as how they convey the essence of brand marketing. This topic helped me formulate my own thoughts on the issues discussed.  

The atmosphere of this event has such a welcoming feeling, from when you walk through the front doors. I really enjoyed speaking with the other guests to get a better sense of the importance on how branding plays a role in how we view things! The mingling and meeting of new people made the night that much more memorable.

The five panelists shared their own stories which showed their strengths and the hardships that they still deal with, but embrace. For instance, being a woman of color, Courtney Parker, Executive Creative Director, JWT New York, expressed how she had to accept who she is in order to fight for what she wanted to do in life. And she has! I really admire every word that she had to say, especially since I too am a woman of color and have big dreams in life. She also quoted something her father once said to her: “There are two things that you will never be able to change and have to accept –  being black and a woman.” This really stuck with me, because I am now learning to embrace the skin that I’m in and loving it. Our society sends out so many hurtful stereotyping of people of color and women in general, which makes it difficult to work our way to the top. This event really enlightened how powerful women are and I adored it.

Torsten Gross, Executive Planning Director, J. Walter Thompson New York, was the only male panelist and had an amazing and powerful story to offer. He appeared to be very strong and comfortable, despite the fact that he has a disability. Not many people in this world accept people who struggle with disabilities, but Torsten did not let that affect his accomplishing what he wished to achieve in life. Sure, people treated him differently, but Torsten did not let that define who he is as a person. That too is a powerful message that was brought forward by this panel.

Women need to have a platform that gives them a place to show their projects and uniqueness that men cannot always offer. Their voices need to be brought forward and heard because, even though we are not men, we are equally important and have the same or more to offer. Our creativity needs to be expressed throughout the world and acknowledged! Without women, there would be no world!

Photo: Imani B. G. and mother

Director’s Close – The Independent Spirit: A Directors Roundtable

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

 

Week four of Director’s Close Up: The Independent Spirit: A Directors Roundtable featured four directors and writers who are nominated for the 2018 Spirit Awards. The four talked about many interesting things, but what I found most helpful was their tips on how to keep a film’s budget low. Josh & Benny Safdie talked about attempting to keep budgets very low when filming Good Time, for which they are both writers and directors.

One story that really has a powerful message is when they were trying to get a crane for a shot. They decided to call a construction company that was doing work nearby and were lucky enough to get a crane for a very reasonable price. It shows that, even in what seems like the most unlikely scenarios, it never hurts to ask.

Chloé Zhao (writer/director, The Rider) had different methods for keeping expanses low. For shooting, she was able to get sets for little money by working on a reservation where permits are around fifteen dollars. Then, in post-production, she was able to raise a good amount of money just for soundtrack and editing. This allowed her to make an amazing film with an equally incredible score on a budget. She also talked about attempting to find the right story. She knew the person she wanted to make a film about, but didn’t know what specifically to do. After waiting for a long time, the story came to her. It just shows that allowing life to shape the film may sometimes be best in order to get it just right!

Sean Baker’s stories about directing The Florida Project taught many morals for creators to ponder about. Sean filmed it all on 35 mm, which means it was filmed on film stock instead of digital like most modern movies. Sean talked about various possible challenges in independent filmmaking, ranging from pressuring actors (or them pressuring themselves), to getting it right the first time, to overexposing the lighting in order to get it visible on film. 

I have to say, this event was truly inspiring and educational, especially for a young filmmaker like myself as well as movie enthusiasts in the audience.

By Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

Images courtesy of
Wireimage and Film Independent

Director’s Close Up: A Wrinkle in Time

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Week three of Director’s Close-up featured many people from the new Disney film, A Wrinkle in Time. Instead of focusing on acting, the panel focused on the many departments and resources it takes to make a big film of that proportion a reality. One of the most interesting discussions revolved around props. J.P. Jones,  prop master of the film, talked about the many small details that most viewers will never notice are put into the film. One anecdote shared is about one of the quilts used. He talked about looking far and wide for the perfect and how eventually he had an authentic African quilt made from scratch. Hair stylist Kimberly Kimble and VFX supervisor Richard McBride both talked about their personal lines of work and the challenges of trying to make the world they created real, but filled with a sense of noticeable fantasy.

A true eye-opener was the discussion about the location. Director Ava Duvemay, Director of Photography Tobias A. Schliessle and Supervising Location Manager Alison A. Taylor talked about the difficulties of finding the perfect place to set the film in. Alison travelled up and down California looking for a place to shoot. Tobias had to make sure it was feasible to shoot there  and it was finally up to Ava to see if her vision matched the location. After hours of looking, they settled on the West Adams area – one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Tobias also talked about his part in making the film feel fantasy-like. He used camera setups that purposely made the world they created look somewhat fake and impossible.

Editor Spencer Averick and Composer Ramin Djawadi shared details about their work after the film was done with production. Spencer took a pile of clips and rearranged them into a flowing and unique story. Ramin took Spencer’s work and carefully composed music for different parts, resulting in several final themes. Casting Director Aisha Coley shared a funny anecdote about trying to find the actor to play Charles Wallace. After traveling all over the world attempt

ing to find the perfect kid, they found Deric McCabe in Burbank, who apparently lives three blocks from where the auditions took place. This story stuck out, not only because it perfectly portrays the challenges of the work of good casting directors, but also shows that the answer can be quite literally under our nose (or in this case, three blocks from it).

All of the crew members showed a common message. While the actors are a crucial part of the film, there is a whole part of movie-making rarely looked at which lives behind the camera. If it wasn’t for their often unrecognized hard work, the actors wouldn’t have films to act in and viewers would not be able to enjoy such a masterpiece as Wrinkle in Time.

Images courtesy of WireImage and Film Independent.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

 

Black Panther – One Of The Best Marvel Films Within The Ever Expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakandan Special Forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie Jones comments, “Strong black women drive this movie and give young black girls true heroes. And, they never need a cape.  To top this all off, it’s one of the best Marvel films released within the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.” See his full review below.

Black Panther
By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

Has a superhero film, in the history of cinema, ever been so socially involved? While Wonder Woman was an important film in the blockbuster cannon, the social context about Black Panther feels a little more amped.

At a point in time in which race-relations are still tumultuous, and women’s rights are being re-evaluated and improved, this movie contains themes and content that satisfy and challenge the changes we all wish for Hollywood to make, and the changes we all wish for the world to undergo. Black on black violence is subtly yet powerfully addressed. Strong black women drive this movie and give young black girls true hereos. And, they never need a cape.  To top this all off, it’s one of the best Marvel films released within the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s well paced, well acted, well written and is very nearly flawless.

The pace of this film is exceptional. Kudos to director Ryan Coolger and editors Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Castello. No scene lingers too long, no sequence halts the forward momentum. The 134 minute run time goes by in a breeze. Ryan Coolger and Joe Robert Cole write a tightly constructed screenplay that includes all the Marvel cinematic conventions without ever compromising the story.

The screenplay is expertly and smartly written. It is filled with dialogue that never gets unattractively melodramatic, and every so often says something that goes beyond the screen. The issues and debates brought up in the film, particularly about sharing resources within the black community and the fine line between conflict avoidance and complacency, are brilliantly implemented. They are themes and ideas that aren’t just dumped into the movie to give it a faux social relevance, but are instead used as motivations to advance character development and feed the plot with stakes. The movie is also laced with genuine comic moments that aren’t used as relief or brought about forcefully, henceforth interrupting the flow of the movie. Any and every comic moment within the film is very much natural and stems from well timed writing and acting.

Leading man Chadwick Boseman is known for being typecast in biopics (a bit of an oxymoron). He’s known for playing Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall. Here, he brings the charisma needed to do a biopic, and graces the screen with it. He doesn’t miss a single beat, whether it be dramatic or comic. He’s all at once suave, funny, likeable, questionable, dangerous and frankly, cool. He has swagger. Supporting him is a cast made up of Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker, and Angela Bassett. There’s no overacting. There’s nothing but an incredible chemistry. Each cast member performs with a sense of urgency. Their passion for this project is apparent and it feeds into their performances. A special shout out to Michael B. Jordan, who plays a villain and doesn’t completely overdo it. Often times, we find ourselves wondering whether his intentions as the villain are actually malicious. Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira serve as the backbone of this movie. Their gentle ferocity is strongly alluring and their stillness accentuates their beauty while simultaneously exuding great power. Your eyes will be glued to their performances.

Ryan Coolger directs this film with confidence and gives it an indelible flavor. Every directorial choice is warranted, thought through, and well executed. His use of fluidity with the cinematography gives the movie its suave feeling, which makes the moments of stillness so powerful. And there are some very striking images in this movie. Coolger makes full use of the beautiful art direction and costume design without glamorizing the aesthetic. Some of the costumes in the movie are destined to be iconic, and I mean more than just Black Panther’s suit. Lupita Nyong’o is given costumes that could make her the Audrey Hepburn of the Marvel Universe. She wears her costumes with more than beauty and grace, but with total confidence. The sets and environments in the movie are more than attractive, they’re unique. The production design firmly sets us in Wakanda, and we don’t want to leave. Marry that with Marvel’s greatest costume designed movie, and the pure attractiveness of the movie is almost in itself worth the price of admission.       

The soundtrack is fantastic and helps push the film along. As a matter fact, to get back to the cultural impact the film has already made, the marketing campaign was brilliant. Kendrick Lamar, a major musician, produced and wrote an album inspired by and used in the film as a sort of companion piece – kind of like an opening act to a concert. It can be heard on Spotify and I highly recommend it, just as I highly recommend this movie. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18. It can be seen at a local theater near you.

 

 

 

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