“Black Panther”: one of the most impressive “magic kingdoms” ever presented in film (even the Metro)

I waited a few days to see “Black Panther” (directed by Ryan Coolger, written with Joe Robert Cole), and saw it at a Regal in Alexandria mid-day Wednesday before a moderate crowd in a large Imax auditorium in 3D.  The film is still selling even during the week.

First, it seems honorable to name a superhero after a cat. And it shouldn’t seem so novel to introduce an African-American superhero.

That person is the Black Panther (T’Challa) himself, a young king of Wakanda, a secret small African nation where with advanced technology and personal powers related to a fictitious rare earth element called vibranium, found in a meteorite.  The character has a history of connections to other Marvel characters as from Captain America.  Maybe it is a Shangri La, or may it is as reclusive as North Korea.  But it seems to be a prosperous place, with policies of isolationism.  But BP (Chadwick Boseman) seems to be a rather establishment king (or God King), until he is challenged by a rival N’Jakarka (Michael B. Jordan), with radical ideas.  Should this rich kingdom welcome refugees and be expected to share its wealth with the poor?

The makeup on Jordan’s body, of a matrix of keloids, is remarkable, and adds to the impression of combativeness. That idea presumes no body hair.

The city that is shown is one of the most fascinating sci-fi cities on film, with a layer of street shops overlaid above with a bizarre array of skyscrapers.  There is a fascinating subway system in the caverns or catacombs below, where the tunnel dynamically surrounds the train. The track may be a kind of Mobius strip; you wonder if that can even work electrically. (Regal Theaters has a short film introduction to its corporate brand in animation with a similar roller-coaster subway which is well done;  remember also the subway in the Matrix movies.)

The film starts out with the backstory about the meteor, and then presents the characters as youths in Oakland CA, before Marvel presents its proud musical trademark.  I’ve never seen a movie studio introduce itself with a delayed fuse this way.

The film was shot in Australia (for the desert scenes), Busan South Korea (as far away from North Korea as possible) for a subplot, and indoor scenes in Georgia.

Geographically, the closest county would be Rwanda.  I recall the film “Hotel Rwanda” (2004) which was presented in high school English when I worked as a sub (even with video quizzes).

I don’t personally make a big deal of racial representation in the movies, all the more superheroes.  It is true, however, that, for example, the teen superman in Smallville, as played by Tom Welling, must have seemed like a fantasy of white perfection to some viewers.

Oakland neighborhood (wiki).

Busan (wiki).

Rwanda lake scene (wiki).

Name:  “Black Panther”
Director, writer:  Ryan Coogler. Joe Robert Cole
Released:  2018
Format:  2.35:1  Imax 3-D
When and how viewed:  2018/2/21 Regal Potomac Yards
Length:  134
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Link:  official
Stars:  3/5   ***–

(Posted: Thursday. February 22. 2018 at 11 AM EST)


“I.T.”: stereotyped B-movie show how the values in the information technology world have changed since I worked in it

I.T.”, by John Moore, is indeed a formulaic B-movie about computer hacking, but it manages to make a few important points about how the world of “information technology” and the people who work in it, has changed since I made a living at it from 1970-2001.

The film boasts Irish James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan as executive producer, and Brosnan plays tech magnate Mike Regan, who behaves more like Donald Trump than a silicon valley executive, because he is aging. Regan has formed an aviation company that will provide an air-taxi service like Uber and wants to take it public. He’s hired a personal I.T. consultant Ed Porter (young Australian actor James Frecheville) to handle the GUI in his office. But Ed takes an interest in Mike’s 17 year old daughter (Stefanie Scott) and starts showing up in situations where he’s not invited. Mike gets irritated and fires Ed, who then takes revenge by hacking Mike’s smart home and company, even interfering with his SEC filing.

Until the late 1980s or so, “IT” was dominated by mainframe computing with a lot of batch cycles and character driven online terminals. Things started to migrate toward minis and PC’s partly because of the military at first, and most of us remember the changes as the Internet was unleashed in the 1990s. The I.T. world made some resurgence before Y2K and then tended to fragment into a “W2” contractor-driven market was demand and supply for older expertise dwindled. This actually hurt when this kind of maturity was needed to build a technically reliable health care system that we call Obamacare. Had a better job been done in putting it together, it might not have become a flashpoint in the 2016 elections. In fact, in the distant past, the polite term for “I.T.” used to be “management information systems”, along with the stodgy “systems development life cycle”.

When you meet Frecheviile’s character, you want to see him play a good person instead of a villain. Why not cast him as an entrepreneur inventing a new security company doing away with ransomware once and for all. Physically, at about 26, he is quite “cute”. But it appears, by comparison on Google images, that he must have waxed his chest for this film (like Steve Carell, the “man-o-lantern” in “The 40 year Old Virgin” (2006)). .

I do remember seeing Brosnan in “Die Another Day” in 2002, some time after 9/11, a film that depicted North Korea as supply terrorists. (Then there is “Red Dawn II”, and North Korea’s nuclear threat today.) Brosnan was real hairy then.

This new film was shot largely in Ireland. There are sets made up to present the Kennedy Center with a backdrop of the Capitol and Washington Monument, that obviously look fake.

Name:  “I.T.”
Director, writer:  John Moore
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant
Length:  98
Rating:  R
Companies:  Voltage
Link:  official  don’t confuse with a 2017 horror film “It” which I haven’t seen yet, or with the Stephen King novel and TV movie.

(Posted: Friday, May 26, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT)

“Into the Inferno”: Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer visit volcanoes around the world, with a detailed look at North Korea

Name: Into the Inferno
Director, writer:  Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer
Released:  2016/11
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play, 2016/12/23
Length:  107
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Netflix Red Envelope
Link:  official site


Into the Inferno” is a moving documentary by Werner Herzog, distributed by Netflix, but grand enough to be an Imax film for the Smithsonian.  There are landscapes in this film that truly look alien.

The documentary is based on the book “Eruptions that Shook the World” by Cambridge University volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, who travels around the world narrating his experiences.

The film starts on Tanna Island of Vanuatu, east of Australia, exploring a tribe with a history of cannibalism, as it shows us the bowels of a volcano, before it moves on to Sumatra, Indonesia and Mt. Erebus, Antarctica.  But soon Oppenheimer settles down and stays a while in some places, especially in Ethiopia in a hot plain below sea level, in a tribal area, and actually helps look for fossils. But the high point of the film is his trip to North Korea, and Paektu Mountain,  Herzog insists that filmmakers can only show what the North Korean communist dictatorship wants you to see, but he explains the mythology that the ruling cult family attributes to the volcano.  He also shows some daily life in the Pyongyang subway, where there is no public Internet, no newsstands, no commercial advertising, only statist propaganda, yet everything is clean, showy and orderly.

Oppenheimer then visits Iceland, showing a coastal village buried by ash in in 1973 and impressive volcanic landscapes greening up, before finally returning to Tanna.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Chnagbai, DPRK, by Mates Il, ubder CCSA 3.0.

(Posted: Friday, December 23, 2016 at 12:45 PM EST)

“The Lovers and the Despot”: How North Korea kidnapped a filmmaker and his actress wife to bolster its own propaganda machine


Name: The Lovers and the Despot
Director, writer:  Ross Adam and Robert Cannan
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1, much archival footage
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St, 2016/9/26. afternoon, small audience
Length 98
Rating PG-13
Companies: Magnolia
Link: link

First, the threat of North Korea is dead serious.  The DPRK does seem to have built a nuclear weapon that can be put on a missile.  It probably could nuke South Korea now, and maybe Japan.  In a few years, it might reach the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the US.  Great circle maps have the longest missiles capable of reaching northern Michigan. Hopefully NORAD (“War Games”) would be ready.

And Km Song-Un has made plenty of blustery threats. At worst, he could be capable of making the moral pronouncements of the doomsday prepper crowd relevant. An attack against “just” to South could have enormous ramifications for the markets and could happen at any time.

In fact, during the 1990s, when I wrote my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, it seemed that Korea was the most serious military issue we had.  I wasn’t aware of the gravity of asymmetric terrorism yet,

So, yes, “The Lovers and the Despot”, by Ross Adam and Robert Cannan, is “another” documentary about the DPRK, a dicey thing ever since the country’s brazen bullying of Sony Pictures over “The Interview” at the end of 2014.

And the movie sets up an intriguing “story”, even if it is the politics that seems to matter now.  In early 1978 – while I was living my last year in NYC and a most interesting time for me personally – Hong Kong was still under British rule (until 1997) and did not have the glitz of today (with the Mira Hotel where Snowden stayed).   Filmmaker Shin and actress Choi have divorced, and during a stay in Hong Kong, Choi is lured to a “party” and kidnapped and taken to the DPTK.  Shin follows to Hong Kong and gets kidnapped himself, and both wind up imprisoned in North Korea   The kidnapping of Shin is not covered in as much detail.


Soon they learn that Kim Song Il (who has taken over from his father) wants the filmmakers to buff up the film industry of North Korea, which Shin would do.  Under supervision, the couple, reunited, would be allowed to travel.

The film then moves to 1986, where, with a caper-like sequence worthy of Hitchcock, the couple, visiting Vienna, escapes to the US embassy and asks for asylum, which the Reagan administration quickly grants.

As for North Korea’s propaganda film industry, I recall seeing a horrible film “Flower Girl” at the Washington Square Methodist Church in New York City in the fall of 1974, shortly after moving into the City.  A story about a girl getting medications for her mother, it was sing-song-y and boring, preachy, and endless.


Adam’s film mentions North Korea’s attempt to make a successor to “Titanic” long after Shin’s escape.  But DPRK’s films have never gotten distribution outside the country

Adam also shows some of the cruelty of the regime (as have many other films).  People are forced to weep in public at the passing of both leaders, in a parody of what I call “upward affiliation” (but then, again, Donald Trump provides another such parody).

But the most shocking idea is the kidnappings in a foreign, western-controlled country.  We’ve heard about China kidnapping booksellers and writers today in Hong Kong and even Thailand.  The couple in the film is from South Korea.  But could something like that happen to am “ordinary” American journalist or even blogger?  The conventional wisdom, is don’t visit authoritarian countries as a tourist unless you really know what you’re doing (the topic came up at a travel expo recently, writeup ).  But could you really be “taken” anyway?

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Pyongyang by John Pavelka under CCSA 2.0

Second picture:  about 15 homeless people camped out at McPherson Square Metro in downtown DC last night.

(Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 11 AM EDT)