Black Panther is a “Bad” Cat


For all those of you who have NOT seen the Black Panther film, stop reading. Stop reading right now and go and see it. It’s that good.  And of course you have to understand that in the hood, “bad” means good. And everywhere, someday, right will win the fight, and all that is noble and just will finally reign supreme.  Regardless of your sex, race or ethnic origin, if you love watching the best team win, and if you love what is true, and honest and lovely and good, you will love this film.

If you love comeback stories and good overcomes evil dramas, the Black Panther is for you. And if you love victories with a come from behind turnaround twist, you will appreciate the cinematic genius of Ryan Coogler and the acting acumen of Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, and Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright and Angela Basset and so many others.  

I read an outstanding review by Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post and can’t say it any better that she did. In short, Ann Hornaday said, “The Black Panther is a different kind of superhero (who) will mean so much to so many.”  Amen sista.

Here ya go:

” ‘Black Panther,’ an adaptation of the iconic comic book that has been decades in coming, proves to be more than worth the wait. This lush, impressively well-acted film, about an African king learning how best to marshal the superpowers with which he’s been endowed, comes draped in anticipation, not only from hardcore fans of the source material, but also from filmgoers already steeped in breathless hype. Director Ryan Coogler, working with a script he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole, doesn’t just meet but exceeds those expectations, delivering a film that fulfills the most rote demands of superhero spectacle, yet does so with style and subtexts that feel bracingly, joyfully groundbreaking.

Chadwick Boseman, until now best known for channeling the likes of Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, comes masterfully into his own here as T’Challa, crown prince of the mystical kingdom of Wakanda, who assumes the throne when his father is killed while giving a speech at the United Nations. After an elaborate initiation ritual, T’Challa is tasked with hunting down an evil arms merchant named Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who has stolen a Wakandan artifact made of the precious metal vibranium. Outfitted with dhesive footwear, a fearsome feline mask and a suit that can absorb and redirect power, invented by his techno-genius sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa sets off for South Korea with his allies, General Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), an accomplished operative who also happens to be T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend.

That game, once it’s afoot, is plenty entertaining, even if it never veers beyond the most conventional contours of modern-day movie action. In a recent interview that went viral, the music producer Quincy Jones noted that most rap music is “just loops, beats, rhymes and hooks.” The same formula applies to the comic book movies that, at their most uninspired, feel like thinly cobbled-together series of battles royal, windy expository encounters, spatially challenged chase scenes and epic standoffs.

The difference with “Black Panther” is that, while observing the outlines of the traditional comic book arc, Coogler and his creative team have enlarged and revitalized it. Drawing on elements from African history and tribal culture, as well as contemporary and forward-looking flourishes, “Black Panther” pulses with color, vibrancy and layered textural beauty, from the beadwork and textiles of Ruth Carter’s spectacular costumes and Hannah Beachler’s warm, dazzlingly eye-catching production design to hairstyles, tattoos and scarifications that feel both ancient and novel.

Make no mistake: Coogler doesn’t use “Black Panther” as an awkward delivery system for such Deep Ideas. Rather, he weaves them in organically and subtly. “Black Panther” is great fun to watch and shot through with delicate threads of lighthearted humor, mostly delivered from Wright’s cheeky, sarcastic whiz kid and Martin Freeman, who shows up midway through the film as an earnest if unlikely ally.

Gracefully photographed with a gratifying un-frenetic touch by Rachel Morrison (nominated for an Oscar for her marvelous work on “Mudbound”), “Black Panther” succeeds far beyond Coogler’s directorial chops (which are prodigious), striking visual design and thematic depth. As a showcase for many of the finest actors working today, it proves how essential performance is, even in movies that on their surface demand little more than fitting into a latex suit and affecting a convincing grimace.

Boseman, who strides through “Black Panther” with unforced, charismatic ease, assumes almost Shakespearean levels of doubt as his character is challenged by an unexpected rival. Nyong’o, Wright, Sterling K. Brown and Daniel Kaluuya bring poetry and gravitas to roles that transcend mere support. Michael B. Jordan, who broke out in Coogler’s debut film, “Fruitvale Station,” brings scrappy, street-smart volatility to his performance as a character with whom T’Challa has a karmic connection, and Gurira steals every scene she’s in as an indomitable warrior trained in the art of spearcraft.

It’s these actors — their faces, their commitment, their attention to craft and detail — that elevate “Black Panther” to stirring heights, whether they’re surfing on top of speeding cars through the colorfully lit streets of Busan, arguing against the backdrop of a teeming, futuristic city or communing with their deceased elders on the ancestral plane. And, as they dominate the screen in a movie rooted firmly in their own history and narratives, they provide an exhilarating, regal rebuke to the chronic absence and denigration of black bodies in American cinema.

‘Black Panther’ may be grounded in the loops, beats, rhymes and hooks of contemporary film grammar, but it feels like a whole new language.”


Running The Human RACE  


I just saw the 2016 film, RACE, “a sports movie that once again shows the triumph of the human spirit and how everyone is equal when the gun goes off.” 

Jesse Owens’ quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy. It’s a solid sports biopic that teaches and entertains and leaves you longing for more. The history lesson gives nuances that you definitely want to explore on your own, such as, what did Owens do after the Olympics?

The racial challenges that Jesse Owens wrestles with in the film are palpable. Jim Crow rules on the American frontier while Hitler and the Third Riech are rising in Germany.  While both are sinful, it’s hard to split hairs or point fingers; the tension between the races presents the viewer with a moral dilemma: when it comes to race, is there a blacker black or a whiter white? The question is asked but not answered. Racism and antisemitism are on full display, and who’s to say which is the more sinister evil?

Sports gives the human race the opportunity to run the race of life with zest and zeal, blocking out all distractions and evil intentions in order to obtain gold.  And now, in this the 21st Century, when it comes to race, it seems that the blending and the melding of interracial relationships present us an even tone instead of the juxtaposition of black vs. white, which are values, not colors.

As for the film, I enjoyed it emensily, but also agree with this film critic: “Perhaps the strongest argument against Race is that a film this important deserves more than a standard, by-the-numbers treatment. Although there’s nothing terribly wrong about the movie, there’s nothing special about the way in which it presents a remarkable 20th century chapter. The bare necessities are there, the performances are competent, and there are some strong moments but Race suffers from a lack of ambition. It’s too safe and that quality mutes its impact and limits its ability to be more than a history lesson.”   (A movie review by James Berardinelli)

Don’t Play With The Game

Bend It Like Beckham

The game of life comes with rules and regulations, directions and instructions and do’s and don’ts. For instance, it’s just not a good idea to drink and drive. Hence the admonition, “Don’t Drink and Drive!” Then there’s the allowance for right turns on red. So that’s a good thing, right?

We’ll here’s one for everyone to follow as well: “Don’t play with the game.”

Life is nothing to play with. Since life is a game, and there are rules for games, then this is one of them. Life is too short, and tomorrow is not promised. Make the most of every moment, and don’t trifle with the sanctity of life. Living is hard enough, so breaking rules and making up your own policies is foolhardy, at best.

In the game of life there’s a game clock and half court and foul balls and penalties. Sometimes someone may commit a false start or run out of bounds or line up off-sides. Even though It happens, most times it shouldn’t. You’ll want and need to play within the rules, right?

But then again, the world has imposed some rules that need to be broken. Ours is to figure out which ones are hard and fast and which ones are flexible. For instance, what about these recent taboos:

The rule to marry within your culture?

The rule to follow the crowd?

The rule to put family first?

The rule to marry for money? (The rule actually says you should marry for love, right?)

Anyway, it takes discernment and discretion and wisdom and good judgment to play this game the right way. And since we all want to win, we should play to win. And playing to win means that you honor the guidelines and bylaws that have been time tested and proven.

So don’t play with the game. Don’t take it lightly or live it loosely. Play hard and play for keeps. And when necessary, bend it like Beckham.

Watch the film Bend It Like Beckham. You’ll see what I mean.

“Keepers of the Game” – Sports and Spirituality Go Hand in Hand

Keepers of the Game
Sports and movie fans, I found another one that’s a must see. Here’s what Andy Webster of the New York Times had to say about it:

“If you’ve cheered on a daughter at a high school sporting event, you’ll identify with Judd Ehrlich’s exhilarating documentary “Keepers of the Game.” If you’ve lived in a small town, as do the resilient athletes in this movie, you’ll probably connect even more. And if you are a fan of lacrosse, a game originated by Native Americans, you may relate most of all.

Keepers of the Game’ is about the Salmon River Shamrocks, a girls’ varsity lacrosse team near Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, in Canada and upstate New York, during their 2015 season. The pressures aren’t just on the field. There is the historical oppression of the American Indian, a fact never lost on the players. Boys call a local radio station to express doubts about the suitability of girls for lacrosse. Tsieboo Herne, a high school senior and the team captain, first embraced the game to fight depression.

The ninth-grade goalie Marcella Thomas, who lives on a reservation with her mother and who once found her father’s dead body after a horseback-riding accident, grapples with self-doubt. And there are the Shamrocks’ regional rivals, the Massena Central Red Raiders, whom they face in a climactic championship.

There are heroic adults here, including Hawi Thomas, Marcella’s patient mother, and Elisha King, a firm, nurturing coach. There is also deft editing, artful camerawork and effective music in abundance; Mr. Ehrlich (“Magic Camp”), an Emmy-winning documentarian, clearly knows his craft.

I won’t say how this movie ends. But the film is about much more than the game.”

Trouble With The Curve

Trouble With The Curve

What do Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake have in common? You guessed it! A sports movie! Trouble With The Curve is a decent, borderline believable, tough and tender sports film about baseball and boys and dads and daughters and living life in general and life and living in specific. That’s how good this film is.

Eastwood is, well, Eastwood. He’s a gritty and grumpy, beaten and beleaguered baseball scout who still has a little left in the tank. His daughter, his gutsy but girley protégé, is sent by a family friend to look out for him, but it’s the Dad that makes up for lost time and ends up finally looking out for his little girl. And then there’s the love interest. Timberlake plays the boy next door who comes in just at the nick of time to save them both, and ends up getting saved himself.

So if you like Eastwood, and I finally do, and can stomach Timberlake, who’s more than a decent actor, and an amicable and antagonistic Amy Adams, then you’ve got yourself a movie. All you need now is a date.

Life can throw you curves. And most of us, if not all of us, have trouble with the curve. We have trouble with our faults and our fears and our doubts and our dreads and our qualms and our quagmires. But thank God for grace. God’s grace helps us with the curves of life. When we can’t seem to get a hit, and we strike out and luck out and bottom out, God helps us.

So, if you’re having trouble with the curve, get up and look up and give up the curves that life throws you. Stop swinging at nothing and whiffing at the wind. Give your curve to God. Just surrender to Him and give God your curve. He can handle it better than you.

Repeated, Recurring Redemption – Cam Newton and Michael Oher in Super Bowl 50: “Another” Second Chance

Cam and Michael Oher

Michael Oher’s story is the subject of the hit 2009 sports film “The Blind Side.” The storyline features Oher, an offensive lineman who played for the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans and currently plays for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL. “Blind Side” follows Oher from his impoverished upbringing, through his adoption by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, portrayed by Sandra Bullock, to his position as one of the most highly coveted prospects in college football, then finally becoming a first-round pick of the Ravens.

And now, Oher has another chance to protect another quarterback’s blindside. And the story of his coming to Carolina and playing in another Super Bowl is as special as his original rags to riches sports saga.

After being cut by the Tennessee Titans, Oher was rehabbing from toe surgery in the offseason when he received a text from Cam Newton. The quarterback has recruited players before, but not this hard. Newton’s brother, Cecil Jr., had played on the practice squad in Baltimore, and he was around Oher every day. They became friends. He knew Oher was talented and professional, and was confident he could protect his brother. Cecil told Cam that Oher would be a key acquisition to the team.

So, as the story goes, Newton texted Oher, and he didn’t just say he wanted him. He said he needed him. When the Panthers signed Oher to a two-year, $7 million deal last March, the move was widely criticized. Oher, 29, appeared to be on the downswing and in a downturn.

But the opposite happened. The unthinkable and un-scriptable happened. Oher got another second chance as he wound up being the only offensive lineman besides center Ryan Kalil to start every game in 2015 for the Panthers, who surrendered just 61 quarterback hits.

Oher said the message from Newton made him feel at home. For the first time in a while, somebody wanted him. He was reunited with offensive line coach John Matsko, his former coach with the Ravens, and quickly bonded with his teammates.

What a story. I mean, really radical redemption comes once for a few of us; for Michael Oher, it came twice. And if you believe in miracles, and I do, then the miraculous that happens on the grassy field is only a fraction of what could and can happen on the glassy field of spiritual life. And that’s why for all of us, repeated, recurring redemption is always readily available.

And The Last Shall Be First . . .


So the last shall be first, and the first last.
Matthew 20:16, KJV

Kevin Costner is one of my favorite actors. He has stared in and directed a number of sports movies that have told the story of stunning triumphs and stellar victories. From Field of Dreams to Bull Durham to For Love of the Game, Costner captures the essence of sports on camera and through film like few others can.

Costner’s latest amazing achievement is McFarland USA, a true story about a transplanted, first year, cross-country coach in a small California town who transforms a tacky team of amateurish athletes into a comely collection of championship contenders. With no means and no money and no modicum of coaching cross-country, Costner’s character, Jim White, manages to convince and convert a contingent of castaways into a compelling crew of contenders.

Costner certainly came across a little known, marvelously phenomenal tale of trial and triumph. It is a telling of the lives of young men who didn’t’ think they had a chance at anything but share cropping and menial living. Yet Coach White coached his chosen, cherry-picked, crew of up and comers and coached across the class and color lines and was blessed to harvest a bumper crop of champions.

I watch sports movies for something to do and McFarland USA came of nowhere and is right up there with the best of ‘em. Don’t tell everybody, but I’m a sucker and a pushover for a rags-to-riches, come from behind, win when no one gives you a chance story. And McFarland USA is another one that will juice you up and fill you up and lift you up to believe when all signs point the other way.

McFarland USA teaches that the last can and indeed shall be first. That’s theological, spiritual speak for this: the underdogs and underachievers and under-believers can come from all the back and end up leading the pack. An underdog is one who is last and least and the slightest and has the slimmest chance at a championship. All underdogs have a disadvantage and are expected to lose. And that is why McFarland USA is such a great movie and is an even greater story.

Just watch it and see.