Movie Review (MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN)

The movie MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN was fun feel-good viewing. There were some great dance numbers and all the ABBA songs were delightful to hear, particularly if you like ABBA, which my husband and I each do.

Lily James as the young Donna (played in her later years by Meryl Streep, who only has a cameo scene towards the end in this sequel) was especially lovely, full of believable vivacity. She carried the film effectively whenever she was on screen.

Amanda Seyfried, reprising her role as Donna’s daughter Sophie, was wonderful too, though more serious in tone than the young Donna, which was purposeful.  After all, Sophie has big matters to attend to, such as unresolved grief and responsibilities around getting her hotel business up and going.

Cher added to the fun playing the errant, self-centered grandmother. I’m not at all that into Cher, but she did not detract from the story, music, or scenery in any way.

The movie is super white, unfortunately, with token people of color in servant supporting roles (such as masseurs) here and there. This was not a great film, but it was joyful and heart-warming nevertheless. And the three young, handsome men made for nice eye candy along with all the beautiful Mediterranean island scenery.

Mini Movie Review (JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM)

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM was a thoroughly enjoyable action-packed romp. The CGI dinosaurs were very impressive, and there were lots of them. Iconic imagery abounded as an homage to old monster movies, particularly during the last part of the screen drama, which takes place on a large, elegant estate. From a lush tropical island to a grand home within a pine forest of Northern California, the scenery and sets were beautiful.

The growing suspense kept my eyes riveted to the screen. The amount of visual and verbal humor were just right, not overdone. And to top it off, there was a good message in the film: tinkering with nature out of greed and a thirst for power is opening a dangerous Pandora’s Box.

These kind of blockbusters with fantastical creatures and premises are right up my alley for escapist summer fun, and FALLEN KINGDOM delivered.  I recommend this movie to anyone who also likes this sort of thing.

Movie Review (LOVE, SIMON)

The movie LOVE, SIMON moved me to tears a few times.  I especially appreciated the portrayal of loving, understanding parents that I myself never had at 17 years of age (though they have long since come around). It was interesting and compelling how the use of email and the Internet were central to the story, given how teenagers these days are bound so closely to cell phone and computer technology. The anonymity maintained between the main character of Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a closeted high school senior, and his mysterious, online love interest set up some cleverly written intrigue and suspense in the narrative.

While Simon was portrayed as a relatively masculine white male within a suburban upper middle income family, much of the cast, including extras within the high school setting, were people of color. I could see how the filmmaker and writers were appealing to a white mainstream audience while also trying to be racially/ethnically inclusive, a delicate balance to strike. I imagine some viewers will be critical of the director Greg Berlanti’s and writers Isaac Aptaker’s and Elizabeth Berger’s portraying of diversity or lack thereof, such as having a wealthy white male be the central character. It would have been daring and interesting if he were, say, overtly feminine and from a less privileged background. I do take the movie to task with its flawed, conventional messages about gender and heteronormativity, which I will discuss later. However, Nick Robinson as Simon acted with such sincerity and sensitivity that I found myself soon not caring about his demographics. The whole cast delivered solid performances. The spunky, no-nonsense African American drama teacher (Natasha Rothwell) stood out for me in particular. A close second was Alexandra Shipp as Abby Suso, one of Simon’s close friends, also African American. She was allowed to share some back story, being a child of divorce and new to the school, having grown up out of the area. These experiences I related to and I know many other viewers surely did and will as well.

The only stilted, somewhat two-dimensional character was Tony Hale as Vice Principal Mr. Worth. I would have liked to see him more developed, like he started to seem but then was stopped short by the script writing. He ended up remaining annoyingly chummy, awkward, and sexually ambiguous. This last attribute was likely the director’s intention, that and having Mr. Worth provide comic relief.

Funny, awkward moments peppered the script, balancing levity with very serious subject matter, including blackmail– an age-old issue for queer people– by an insecure peer. I found Simon and his friends navigating a more complex social landscape because of cyberspace, which did not exist for me back in high school. At the same time, the movie’s school campus appeared quite tolerant and safe for gay/queer students, as a very feminine, black gay male character, Ethan (Clark Moore), showed while delivering withering one-liners to homophobic peers, without fear of retaliation. Very refreshing, even if accurately reflective of only some actual schools in large cities across America.

Simon is well-adjusted in this world of school and home life and he makes it a point to stress how “normal” he is. A fantasy scene has him walking along as people wave banners and flamboyantly dance along with a toned-down Simon before he states, “Maybe not that gay.” Um, not that gay?? This leads to my one strong criticism of the film: it’s theme of heteronormativity and conventional gender traits as being equal to well-adjusted and “normal.” What homophobic, transphobic poppycock! How narrow-minded and…boring.  And while Simon’s black, femme gay peer Ethan (Moore) is present here and there, he is always single and off to the side, token, not even a friend of Simon’s, except perhaps just beginning to be towards the end. The director and writer played it safe and, in doing so, lost me at a deeper level or place in myself. True embracing of diversity would have allowed for celebratory, front-and-center portrayals of more gender queer (e.g., flamboyant, “super gay,” femme, butch), even non-binary folk. Everyone except Ethan is clearly binary, cis-gendered, “normal.” Ah, well. I guess it will still have to be another movie where I and many others are fully reflected.

It felt at least partially affirming to watch a mostly well-written, gay-themed movie with good production values in a theater I frequent, where largely blockbusters are shown. Slowly, inroads are being made, even if LOVE, SIMON is just a good start towards more stories and images of positive, wide-ranging queerdom in mainstream American movies. I’ll take it, thank you, and still keep expecting better and more.

Movie Review (A WRINKLE IN TIME)

The movie A WRINKLE IN TIME was a mixed bag, but sweet, cute, and heart-felt nonetheless. The three “Mrs.” characters were far too young, by a minimum of twenty years, especially two of them. The leader Mrs. (Mrs. Which) played by Oprah Winfrey conveyed some degree of gravitas, though even she seemed underaged by at least fifteen years. The three magical, universe-traveling women should have embodied old, wise crones or goddesses, along the lines of the Three Fates or Norns in ancient Greek or Norse mythology, respectively. Instead, they were Hollywood glamorized women who did not come across as particularly sincere or wise, with the partial exception of Ms. Winfrey as Mrs. Which.

The story’s pacing, plot, and character development were often too pat, polished, quick and convenient, as opposed to more steadily built upon to then unfold.  Additionally, the editing was choppy at times, particularly towards the end.  Hence, I was frequently aware of watching a movie and not feeling drawn in much of the time.  There were some visually pleasant special effects CGI, especially in the sunny, grassy world where a field of flowers chatter and levitate.  Other times, the CGI and sets were rather simple for today’s standards, though they at least looked clean and crisp.  Some films, such as JUSTICE LEAGUE, had sloppy, chop suey CGI, so it was great that A WRINKLE IN TIME did not.

I found both Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, as Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who respectively, often downright annoying, particularly Witherspoon. They acted like amateur stand-ins playing characters far older and wiser than they. Even Ms. Witherspoon’s overfull white gown seemed out of place, more like some couture reject than what her ancient, travel-weary character would wear, per how Mrs. Whatsit was fleshed out in Madeleine L’Engle’s thoughtful book. That particular, original Mrs. wore a simple, dowdy dress, indicating how she was far removed from caring about physical superficialities such as clothing style.

I appreciated the three main child roles and acting by the kids who portrayed them. They were generally quite competent. The leading character Meg (Storm Reid), a girl of about thirteen, struggling to overcome her low self-esteem, poor self image, and longing for her long-lost father was someone I could definitely relate to from when I was that age.  Meg ‘s primary motivation to find her father, after his mysteriously disappearing four years before the start of the story, creates and then drives the plot.  She is fairly close to how she is portrayed in the (much better) book, with the exception of being biracial American instead of white and British. These physical changes were understandably made to update the story in a diverse, more awake world. Same goes for the genius younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Meg’s male peer and companion Calvin (Levi Miller) remained Caucasian in the film. The scenes between the children without any of the adults around were the most interesting, sincere, and heart-felt, though Mrs. Which (Winfrey) had some caring moments with Meg, which touched me.

While the resolution of the film was predictable, it felt satisfying. The vital importance of witnessing on screen the successful personality development and maturation of a young female (and one who is biracial at that) into an effective individual of agency was not lost on me. More female-centered films presenting well-evolving girls and women need to be made and seen. And for that I am glad the movie was produced and I supported such a creative endeavor, deeply flawed though it is.

Further Thoughts on the Film BLACK PANTHER

[***Spoiler warning: Outcome of movie referenced towards the end of this article.***]

I’ve seen the movie BLACK PANTHER twice and feel like I can still watch it again and derive more to think about. I have read a few articles written about the film, including a very critical one, which has also helped me to mull it over further.

Historically, Black Panther’s kingdom of Wakanda is a country that has never been truly known or fully “discovered” by the rest of the world. This makes that nation a completely uncolonized land, truly a safe haven for African born people. From this backdrop, the struggle to return to one’s origins when one has not been born in her/his ancient, ancestral land, but descended from natives still there, is powerfully depicted in the movie. I can only try to fathom the workings of this beautifully complex internal and external struggle to sense ever-deeper into one’s African roots and form a clearer, stronger identity from there.  And all this done as a means to help facilitate a solid inner state of purpose and agency in life, these being basic human needs for thriving, not just surviving.  Such a process is constantly played out both individually and collectively for Blacks in America and everywhere.  This movie struck an inner chord for viewers by distilling and mirroring these aforementioned strivings into a compelling portrayal of one man’s flawed but earnest efforts to connect to his beginnings and a resulting cultural identity he had heretofore found lacking, albeit seemingly just within reach.  All this is juxtaposed against an idyllic vision of people living from a line of unbroken rootedness to their ancestors, cultural traditions, and a subsequent sense of cohesiveness and effectiveness in the world around them.  The virile Black Panther King T’Challa, his brilliant tech-savvy princess sister, and other characters closely associated with the monarch each embody this ideal of a solid, grounded identity in their own appealing ways.  Talk about feel-good fun!  Ultimately, regardless of one’s race(s)/ethnicity(ies), I think it’s a natural impulse to wonder about one’s heritage, those somehow special, unique beginnings of where one came from that inform who one is now, be that biologically, culturally, spiritually. Hence, why I–who appear as being almost as “white” as you can get– was moved by this film and its message of valuing a meaningful, alive-feeling connection to one’s rich background, whatever that happens to be, or at least honoring the longing for such. It’s a longing I myself hold dear and sometimes pursue at fulfilling.

Practically speaking, Wakanda is an anachronism, not to mention an obvious bubble of a utopia, placed outside of the context of linear, “real” time as most, if not all, of consensus reality would dictate. Still, this fictional land with its ancestrally “pure” people and the narratives that unfold from it comprise a pertinent allegory of a “place” from which to derive and better understand generalizable truths or large-scale shared experiences about the human condition, some of them just discussed above.  Given that “universal” has become understandably so associated by many with overly-absolutist, simplistic, monolithic thinking, I am purposefully not using that adjective here before the word “truths.”

From a political perspective, I appreciated the complex “villain.” Effectively played by the handsome Michael B. Jordan, the anguished character Killmonger has a good primary intention. He plans to balance out mass injustice via powerfully arming (with Wakanda’s unique vibranium-made weaponry) oppressed populations around the world. All downtrodden African descended peoples are his understandable main concern. However, fulfilling his vision would have led to draining Wakanda of resources in fairly short order and putting the country in imminent danger to other, larger superpowers.

I felt ambivalent about the anti-immigrant message conveyed in the film. But, then, Wakanda is not representative of, say, the U.S.A. It is a small country with unique resources to protect, especially from falling into the wrong, corrupt hands. I could imagine how welcoming immigrants into the little nation would lead to endangering Wakanda’s particular integrity. I imagine others have thought this issue through more than I have, however, and am open to hearing/reading other views on this. I did find that King T’Challa’s opening up his country the way he chose to at the end was naive and not well-thought-out, as much as I deeply appreciated his magnanimous intention behind doing so.

In BLACK PANTHER, the protagonists and main antagonist (Killmonger) were neither “all bad” or “all good” in the tired, formulaic, Manichean way of character presentation in a drama. This was both refreshing and a big nod back to the ancient Greek tragedies, where every main player had a tragic flaw that left them vulnerable to downfall while they also possessed humanly relatable and well-meaning intentions.

BLACK PANTHER is undoubtedly one of the most thought-provoking Hollywood blockbuster movies I’ve seen in the longest time, if ever.

Coming Into One’s Power

BLACK PANTHER is one of those movies I found myself watching (for a second time) in a dual attention way.  I mentally-emotionally processed personal stuff while engaging with the happenings on screen.  This film is about many things, one being that of the simultaneous occurrence of a few individuals’ and a whole people’s struggle to both take back their true, birth-right power while also coming into their power.  To be clear, I don’t mean “power over,” when I say “power,” but, rather, one’s natural inner confidence, agency, and influence in the world.  So, while I witnessed on film a beautiful unfolding of good people coming into their power, including through hand-to-hand combat, I found myself internally better understanding just how I have given my power over in my life without clearly knowing that I was doing so or feeling like I had any other choice.  Well, I now have the space both inside myself and on the outside of my life to see and feel in my heart, head, and body that I need not allow anybody to take my power any longer, ever. And if and when I do start to give over my power, simply out of old residue of habit, I shall mindfully and quickly right this imbalance and promptly reclaim it.  So Mote It Be!

Mini Movie Review (BLACK PANTHER)

As an Eclectic Pagan, I appreciated the shamanic ancestral practices beautifully and respectfully shown in the BLACK PANTHER, as well as the nature-based, animal form goddess and god worship in that movie. The religious and spiritual material appeared to be inspired by and derived from centuries, even millennia, of a variety of actual indigenous tribal ways, with a bit of ancient Egyptian and Hindu pantheon names (Bast and Hanuman, respectively) thrown in for good measure. And while the cosmology of the Wakanda peoples and land was entirely made up, it was laid out at the start in a caring, celebratory way that left me with a sense of honoring or veneration. This pleasantly touched the devotional side of me. The very positive, normalizing portrayal of a culture of Pagan worship that is also technologically advanced while existing harmoniously with the rest of nature (or so this was at least suggested) felt deeply affirming for me as a modern Pagan. There really is a lot of goodness to be found in the refreshing imagery and ideas within the film BLACK PANTHER, from which I continue to derive good feelings.