Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Black Panther (2018) film review

Year: 2018
Running Time: 134 minutes
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writer: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel comics by), Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole (written by)
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Review by Debbie Zhou

The Marvel Universe has often plodded through a predictable chain of movies, but in comes the newest addition, Black Panther – a triumphant wake-up call to the primarily white-casting of the superhero genre. It marks a step in the right direction for Marvel, right off their more playful and thoughtful efforts with ambitious filmmakers, such as Taika Waititi in 2017's Thor: Ragnorok. This time, there's a more serious approach at play, and director Ryan Coogler confidently takes the reins with a wholehearted embrace of African cultures and experiences, and empowers his protagonists with agency and a unique story.

Black Panther places T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as the newly-appointed King of the African nation, Wakanda, following his father's death. As King, T'Challa is given the powers of Black Panther, deriving from the alien metal vibranium. This special metal is engineered into the entire country, providing them with ultra-modern advanced technologies which enables the population to power their cities – that not even “progressive” Western first-world countries could imagine.

This is a vision of Afro-futurism in its sheer beauty. The scale of Coogler's invention onto the Marvel stage derives not only from the epic landscape and technological wonder of Wakanda, but his meticulous attention to detail. He focuses on the smallest elements which evoke a sense of identity to the Wakandan people – down to the intricacies of African dress, rituals and music (the heavily-percussive and vocal score by composer Kendrick Lemar stands out); it ultimately fuels a prideful connection to a culture that we are rarely gifted the chance of seeing on our screen in such magnitudes.

And there are some fantastically crafted sequences that come from this total encompassing image of diversity, crafted by Rachel Morrison (she is the first female Oscar-nominated cinematographer). The action sequences are shot with rapid intensity, and in particular – a casino scene stands out in its fluidity, through its use of tracking shots. Here, the female protagonists, Nikia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) , are empowered through their fierce movements – the framing and focus of the story becoming integral to fully owning their characters as T’Challa’s true allies and warriors. Shuri (Letitita Wright), T’Challa’s younger sister, is also a nice addition to his circle – whose innovation and intelligence powers the use of vibranium in astonishingly new ways.

The story's antagonist is Erik Killmonger (played by the always reliable Michael B. Jordan), although Klaw (Andy Serkis) sets the stones for the brooding villain to step his feet into Wakanda. But in this Marvel story, T’Challa’s sole dilemma is made more complex: it doesn’t derive purely from a need to defeat a villain, he also faces the challenge of living up to his Father’s legacy and questioning whether change is necessary.

Killmonger is one of the more interesting villains Marvel has created, and Coogler actively attempts to reflect the underlying social and racial problems of America through his character. By incorporating the African-American experience, there's a bitter anger that dictates Killmonger’s actions; the exclusivity of vibranium means that those marginalised in other societies cannot access it. But while the contextual settings hands him over the perfect justification for his acts, Killmonger is quickly tossed to the side as a one-note villain (a Marvel trope) in the third act – where his actions become tyrannical, and his unreasonable abuse of power makes his personality lose nuance and authenticity.

Still, with Black Panther – Coogler has presented us with a section of the Marvel universe that reduces its white characters into supporting roles and instead, elevates its black protagonists on a platform which enables them to fight for their beliefs and their cultures. And for that ground-breaking act, it is most likely the best Marvel film yet.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Exclusive Interview with D-LOVE Director, Elena Beuca

With her debut feature film, D-Love winning ten consecutive film festivals, Elena Beuca is a star on the rise.

The Romanian born filmmaker is one of the great female storytellers on the circuit at the moment. Her film is a love letter to the power of saying yes to the opportunities that are presented to us in everyday life. Beuca and her husband, Dave Rogers (who also wrote D-Love) both star in the simple, but inspirational and relatable film that is based on a true story. 

With The Big Sick being released earlier this year, film watchers are enjoying watching true stories being played up on the big screen by those who's lives the stories are based on. D-Love presents a different type of true story. It brings to us a situation any of us could find ourselves in and does it with stunning acting, cinematography and a superb score by Billy Howerdel. There is nothing better than being inspired by something that you know could happen to you.

We were lucky to be able to sit down with Elena Beuca to have a chat about her film, which is currently showing at Laemmle 7 North Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Firstly, congratulations on all the success you are experiencing with D-Love! What has been the best part of your journey so far?
Thank you so much, I appreciate it. I think the best part of this journey was the people that I have met during this process, and then things that I have learned about myself that I didn’t know before. I want to believe that I have grown much more in the last few years, because I had to work with a film that challenges people to examine their own life and inevitably it made me examine mine to a much deeper level

What inspired you to make a film about D-love and your experience?
When I met Ditlev a few years back, I was fascinated by the way he lived and that he seemed to live so well in the present without too many worries and that is a beautiful skill. One of my favourite authors, Paulo Coehlo said this:

“…A pilgrimage implies in meeting different people, in talking to
strangers, in paying attention to the omens, and basically being
open to life. And we leave our home to go to work, to go to school,
and we have every single day this possibility,
this chance of discovering something new. So the pilgrimage is not
for the privileged… but for people who are open to life

With D-Love, I wanted to implement mentality, and to show how much people can affect other people... how each one of us is so connected and has the opportunity to touch others if we are open to life.

It's my understanding that the film is semi-autobiographical. What parts of the story are fictional?
Yes, D-love is inspired by the fact that we met Ditlev at the airport and how we met at LAX is pretty similar to how it happened in real life. In real life, both Dave and I were very happy to help him
with whatever we could and to give him shelter for a few days. But we knew that the real story would not make a good film and we needed to add conflict to the story, so we decided to make my character Stefania a very damaged , guarded person who doesn’t let strangers in and sometimes not even close friends, and the sad part is that she doesn’t even realize it. Also, because Dave has been always my best friend, we have a very good relationship and we are good at communicating with each other. Our characters in the film, based on the pain that they have gone through and unresolved issues, are in very dark place and they are definitely not communicating or being open with what’s going on in their lives.

The film is one which many people will find relatable. While the change this couple needed arrived in the form of a human, would you say a D-Love could be any type of thing that can inspire you to say yes to life?
Yes absolutely. We chose to show D-Love as the catalyst who awakens them both to life but that is just one way that can inspire you to say "Yes" to life. I think opportunity to change comes in many forms, not just through people, could be through things, events, miracles.. there are many ways and I truly believe that we are always guided towards change for better. Of course, we have the option to either say "Yes" or completely ignoring it .

D-Love really is so inspirational and uplifting. Does this come from the person you are yourself? Is inspiration a love of yours?
Thank you so much for that... its very kind of you. I grew up in a family surrounded by love. My parents have been married for almost 54 years and they have always been in love. We used to call them” love birds” because they always looked like just got back from their honeymoon. Growing up with that kind of love, I knew that when I’ll grow up , I can’t settle for anything less than that and thank God I have found my soulmate in Dave. My dad, who is a preacher, has always had such a desire for
growth, for truth, for love in general and he is my mentor. He instilled in me the same desire of seeing the beauty in people, of loving and learning...always aiming to be a better person and I’m extremely grateful to him for that.

You and your husband, Dave not only star together in the film, but you are the director and he the writer. How has this experience strengthened your relationship?

Working on this film, it made us learn a lot about each other and about ourselves, but overall I think it made us even closer. Definitely it was not easy at times, cause we had to learn new ways to communicate with other professionally and to learn not to take things personally, which is not easy at all at times.

Why do you believe people should go and see your film?

I would love for everyone to go see this film, but the reality is that I don’t think this movie is for everyone. I believe it’s for the people who are not afraid to be challenged to examine their own lives, who are open and who can be inspired by something bigger than themselves. Those who have hope and want to change for the better because the D-Love is vast in its universal themes.

What do you hope people take away from D-Love?
I think at one point in our lives we all encounter a D-Love. Maybe he could be a person, a situation or a thing. I think we are always guided towards change and towards making life better. It’s just a matter of listening and paying attention. Sometimes we have to leave our preconceptions at the door and be open to the unknown and just embrace it. Having the right perspective is what life is all about and believe that sometimes the things we need most show up exactly when they should and sometimes are not necessarily the way we want- but its what we need!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Spotlight on screenwriter, Christopher Lovick

Screenwriting can be a hard gig, but Hollywood up-and-comer, Christopher Lovick has done the hard yards and now, his hard work is paying off.

With his infectious passion for screenwriting and all things cinema, he has recently had his screenplay, Monty Clift optioned by HBO and is working on several other screenplays that are gaining a great deal of interest.

We were extremely lucky to have the opportunity to talk to Christopher Lovick about his upcoming projects and the importance of and his love for film and writing.

When did you first develop your love for film?

I always loved movies as a kid, but it wasn’t until the summer after the 10th grade that I really became obsessed.  There was a store a block away from my house. BJs it was called.  It was one of those convenience stores that also rented videos.  This one summer I was in-between” social groups, essentially a loner.  BJs had a decent selection of films.  I’d rent anything Siskel&Ebert gave two thumbs up.  Stallone in Oscar and Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days were highlights from this melancholic yet informative summer.  I realized the power of film.  A cure for loneliness.  I remember walking home from the video store and seeing the cool kids driving by in a jeep.  Top down.  There I was clutching a Snickers bar and hot new Stallone joint. 

So would you say that film is a medium which gives you an escape, but also adds to your reality and sense of self?

That’s a perfect way to phrase it.  I actually don’t think you can be more concise than that.  When films work, that’s what they do.  They transport you to a far-off land yet illuminate your own existence in the process.  It’s still the most powerful medium. 

Would you recommend teenagers who are trying to find their place in the world to immerse themselves in film the way you did?

Absolutely.  Watch as much good film as you can.  Find those directors and writers that speak to you.  I read a study recently, that we retain more when we trust and feel connected to the source of the information.  The filmmakers we love—we soak them up.  We remember their work because we trust them and so appreciate their specific vision of the world.

You have done a fair bit of work on screen as an actor.  Did a love of acting or writing come first?

I’ve always loved acting. Writing came later. When I was sixteen my acting teacher asked me what I was reading and I didn’t have an answer.  She demanded I read Catcher in the Rye.”  I was so fired up after finishing that book that I sat down to adapt it into a film.  Imagine, this sixteen-year-old kid thinking he can adapt the great J.D. Salinger.  The hubris of that mini-me.  But the fire had been lit. 

Do you still do a great deal of reading?

I do.  I’m reading The Master Algorithm” by Pedro Domingos.  It’s a great book if you’re into machine learning, and not too difficult.  Before that I read Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari.  Another incredible one.  I also read a lot of longform journalism.  I’ll send articles I find online to my kindle.  I read them later in batches offline.

Are books something you still draw inspiration from in your own writing?

Definitely.  I realize I haven’t mentioned any fiction writers.  I’ve read a lot of fiction.  I like the action writing in my scripts to be concise.  Reading the masters of fiction helps with this.  Lorrie Moore.  Richard Ford.  Joyce Carol Oates.  The Sympathizer,” by Viet Than Nguyen. These writers give me ideas as I read them.

Where did you learn the most of what you know about screenwriting and filmmaking?

Growth is three-dimensional.  We develop on multiple, intersecting planes.  I’ve learned from the act of doing (writing, photography, acting), the act of studying (school, reading), and the act of selling the product.  The last one is the hardest because there’s such a stigma to it.  Artists like to feel that if they build it, they will come.”  But we must learn to present our work and inspire others to get on-board. 

Have you found that the activity of screenwriting is a never-ending process?

That’s been my experience.  You think you’re done and put it down, then read it in a few weeks and there’s more to do.  A screenplay especially.  At the end of the day, it’s simply a blueprint to build on.  A screenwriter sets the stage for the artists to follow.  It can’t be about result. 

Your screenplay of the life of classic film star, Montgomery Clift, was recently optioned by HBO.  I imagine there was a lot of research required.  Can you tell us a bit about that process?

Lots of reading.  Not just biographies about him.  But books from the fifties.  Getting a feel for the language and the way people spoke.  Monty Clift is tricky person to capture.  He was a privileged child actor who did Broadway throughout his teens.  Then, in his adulthood, he became a huge movie star.  But he had secrets, and a piercing self-hatred.   I had to take chances.

What are you working on now?

I’m excited about my new script, Sidecar.  It’s about a man who takes on the life and identity of his recently-deceased twin brother.  It’s a personal story, as my father lost his twin as well.  But I’m also drawn to the metaphor of twinship.  As even us non-twins, are in a sense two people, constantly trying to embody our better half.  Another project I’m excited about is The Paris Quintet.  It’s about five men who live as one.  They wear suits and live together in a one-room apartment in Montmartre.  One is the cook, one is the tailor, one is the counterfeiter, etc.  They’re all in love with the same barista, who’s both charmed and put-off by the prospect of five suitors.  The fractured quality of self-hood, and the difficulty of bringing all your different sides together, is a theme I often find myself working with.

What advice would you give young writers starting out?

If you love it, hang in there.  Keep writing and giving it to people to read.  Once you get to a place, in terms of craftsmanship, where you feel confident, start making films and putting your writing online.  This is how you grow.  As a writer, it’s easy to keep things to yourself.  But you have to finish the circle.  You have to put it out there.  Not every one will like it.  Maybe no one will.  But if you keep writing through the humiliation, sharing your work in spite of it all, then something magical can happen.  You learn humor.  You learn when to pull back.  You find a voice and a process that works for you.  Then, who knows, maybe even some money starts trickling in.