Black Panther

Black Panther follows the traditional superhero formula for films where there’s already been an origin. For filmverse Black Panther, Captain America 3 was basically his origin film. This pattern is – see the hero’s strength, see the villain’s strength, the villain rises, it appears that all is lost for the forces of good and then the hero wins.

In films like that, the important is the specific details, the character bits, the frills. And Black Panther is very good at those.

Spoilers Underneath

Chadwick Boseman has the most difficult job. Because playing good is difficult and he knocks it out of the park. Heroic good in films tends to be reactive, and given very little to actively do. It’s a hard balancing act, of being awesome and good without being too preachy.

I am taking the time to say this mostly because the rest of this is all about how awesome everyone else in the film is but T’Challa is the base of all of that.

The most important detail is that Michael B Jordan will break your heart. I mean, actually break it. With a significant assist by Sterling K. Brown. It’s that moment where you realise that the opening narration isn’t T’Challa’s father to T’Challa, it’s N’Jobu to Erik. It’s an exiled prince telling the son he fears will never get to see his homeland all about it, and that breaks me because he knows he’s about to do something that will get him exiled for ever but is going to do it anyway because it’s the right thing do. Or at least he thinks it is the right thing to, and he might be right and Marvel are doing that thing again. The whole film is full of situations like that, see also T’Challa’s father is not a bad man, he might not be a good man, but he’s not bad, but he did a terrible thing, again, because he thought it was the least worst possible option, even though he was probably wrong. Did I mention, Marvel are doing the thing!

Then there’s the “I’m not crying” tears and how vulnerable and deadly Erik is at the same time, and the contrast between that and the equivalent scene of T’Challa and his father.

And then the ending, where Erik’s ready to be let down by Wakanda, the way he has been by everything else, and he isn’t, because it is every bit as beautiful as his father promised, and he’d still rather die than be imprisoned because he knows he’s right. That was the bit that made me cry.

Killmonger is very much one particular type of Marvel villain, he is the bad man with a righteous cause. He is Magneto, down to the name, it’s just that this time the cause is that much more real.

One of the reasons why the film works is that Killmonger isn’t the only one who believes that Wakanda shouldn’t be isolationist, Ntiri does too, it’s just Killmonger’s methods that are … too extreme. Too often in films like this, anyone who disagrees with the hero is wrong, and either misguided or evil. Black Panther makes sure that that doesn’t happen. The film is very careful that Ntiri is always good, and kind, and just, and agrees with most of what Killmonger is saying. Which is tricky to pull off, and it helps when you have Lupita Nyong’o to play the role.

A lot of thought has gone into this film. I mean, more than usual. T’Challa can get away with going “no, vengence is bad” to W’Kabi because he did forgive his father’s killer. T’Challa he knows that you have to forgive to avoid a cycle of violence (the end of which, last time, was the Sokovia mess). It means that, while you might disagree with his not killing Klaue, he’s not a hypocrite when he tells W’Kabi that it was better to take Klaue in alive. They must have had at least the vague outline of this plotted out when they were writing Captain America 3 to make sure it worked. I like it when Marvel plan and have joined up thinking.

Talking about awesome, let us now speak of Okoya. Partly, she’s a stock character I like done well, it’s someone who is loyal to the kingdom, not necessarily who is on the throne. But normally, they’re crusty old men with beards (hello Colonel Zapt in “Prisoner of Zenda”) and Okoya isn’t.

She never breaks. She sticks to her word. She serves Killmonger until he, and W’Kabi, break the rules. No matter how much it hurts her, her word is her bond, and her honour upholds the throne. Yes, she might be glad that they give her the opportunity to rebel, but until they do, she sticks with her duty. Charging a rhino at her was never going to work. (I do love that W’Kabi doesn’t even try to do anything else when his rhino stops. There’s a certain sort of “no go” when a rhino doesn’t want to do something.)

I love the fighting style of the Dora Milaje. Which I love. Because it looks so effective, and they actually train to be a person down, which makes so much sense. All hail fight tactics in films making sense.

The way the right of challenge was phrased made it quite clear that T’Challa wasn’t going to be dead, I mean, beyond it being his film and him turning up in the Infinity War trailer beforehand. You only phrase things that way when you need a get out clause.

All hail M’Baku, the noblest man in the kingdom. Because he could have taken the last of the heart-shaped herb and challenged Killmonger. No-one would have known that T’Challa wasn’t dead. I do like that the Jabari’s thing seems to be “we are awkward and we enjoy it” (even if I am deeply confused by Hanuman having followers that far west. I mean, I totally support Hanuman having worshippers wherever they are but …). I was so worried that he was going to be the film’s heroic sacrifice.

The heart-shaped herb as a whole sets up some interesting things for the future. Ignoring any spiritual-mystic stuff, the idea of a plant that both gives and takes away power is interesting, as is Killmonger destroying the remaining plants. I think he does it, not just to stop any immediate challengers to the throne but because I’m not entirely sure he expects to live long enough to have children. I think that’s supposed to be one of the contrasts to his father, T’Chaka and T’Challa. I also wonder how the burning of all the heart-shaped herb affects any future Panthers, because if it’s vital then there’s a problem, but if it’s not, then they’ve got other problems.

I feel bad for leaving Shuri this late in my write-up (and her bit being so short) because I love her so. Because she’s geek girl done accurately, adorable and a genius, all the way down to the terrible sneaker jokes. (Also, really T’Challa, what did you expect to happen when she said that the new gear used hits to it to produce force? She warned you!)

It was only reading the stuff around Black Panther that told me that Everett Ross in Captain America 3 was supposed to be an annoyance rather than a budding Trask/Gyrich-esque villain. Note to self – you and Hollywood have different concepts of annoyance and villainy. I do think that he was written deliberately less irksome/villainous in this one, when he’s being irksome in the interrogation of Klaue but immediately tries to save Ntiri from a bullet. It’s only writing this post that’s made me realise why they had to have someone get badly injured for the ending to work properly. Killmonger’s choice to die rather than be imprisoned only works if we know that Wakandan technology can save him.

I refuse to accept Angela Bassett is old enough to have a grown son, never mind a son who is old enough to be king.

The casting directors deserve so much credit for how well they cast the young T’Chaka and the young Zuri. I mean, yes, they cast the actor’s son for T’Chaka, and while they swear Denzel Whitaker is no relation, I think that’s just to hide how advanced their cloning programme is, because he moves like Forrest Whittaker, but only when Zuri’s revealed to be Zuri. All joking about cloning aside, it’s a clever little bit of physical acting.

Andy Serkis knew he was playing the weak villain who gets killed to make either the good guy or the villain look strong and played the role with gleeful aplomb. On the otherhand, I’d like to know how you get Klaw out of Klaue, as, AFAIK and Afrikaans isn’t one of my languages, Afrikaans is a say what you see language. I can maybe just about get Klow-eh out of that, but not Klaw.

Which brings me to the only thing that was a little off with the film. I understand the filmmakers were aiming for “there is more to Africa than you see in the news” but they do it by making Wakanda a melange of so many cultures. I think some of it is from the comics (Black Panther was never one of my comics, I only know characters that crossed over with the X-Men), because that’s who I am blaming for Hanuman being a God anywhere in Africa. Or Bast being a goddess that far south of Egypt.

In the words of one friend, “why are they speaking Xhosa so far north.” I know why they chose Xhosa, it’s immediately recognisable but … It’s noticeable.

That does seem a picky thing to comment on when the film was so bright and vibrant and good. Which it was, and I recommend everyone go watch it.

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Yearly Book Location Data Viz

The yearly update on where the books I have read are set.

 

pie chart

 

There’s been a slight increase in non-UK set books, but in total, still more than half are set in the UK.

For UK-based books:

 

another pie chart

 

Still completely dominated by England. Theoretically, there should be one set in Scotland but I have had forgotten to write down the name of the book so it is not counting (until I can find it again).

Just Say No To Phil Neville

Having been exposed to his inanity on Match of the Day, I’d say that as a general statement, but on this particular occasion, I mean “Just Say No To Phil Neville as England Manager”.

My objection to Phil Neville being England manager has nothing to do with his tweets. Admittedly, you’d think that, given that the last England Women’s manager was sacked for improprieties*, the FA would try to make sure the next one was squeaky clean but I can live with an idiot as manager.

What I object to is his complete lack of coaching experience.

A summary of Phil Neville’s coaching experience:

1 game, assistant coach, England U21s.
3 games, assistant coach, England U21s at the 2013 Euros. At the 2013 Euros, England finished bottom of a group containing Italy, Norway and Israel, scoring only 1 goal.
~ 18 games, assistant manager at Valencia. During this period, Valencia had their lowest win percentage ever.

You’ll notice the complete absence of head coach/manager experience.

In many way, the question to ask is not “is he the right choice for the England Women’s team?” but “is he the right choice for any England job?”

Would the people saying he’s fine for the Women’s job be okay with him managing the Men’s team? Probably not. Same for the U21s and possibly the U19s. At best, he’s acceptable for the male U17s and maybe U19s.

So, for some unknown reason, the FA have decided that the Women’s team can have a manager that they’d never appoint to most of the other national jobs.

The FA’s defence is that everyone else they’ve asked has turned them down. The BBC article I’ve linked mentions 3 other people.

Lets give the FA the benefit of the doubt. Lets presume they asked every manager in the two Women’s divisions in England, and all the managers of Women’s teams in Europe and North America who might be available before asking Phil Neville. What does it say about the situation that no one with experience wanted the role?

I doubt it’s because it’s a job in Women’s football. There are already female managers, and male managers of women’s football teams (and also a few managers that used to coach men’s teams that have switched).

I doubt it’s the players. They don’t seem to be bad, you know, 3rd at the last World Cup, semi-finals at the last Euros, haven’t lost horribly to Iceland. The Men’s team wishes it did that well.

So what is it?

Could it be that no one involved in Women’s football wants the England job because they know that they’re always going to be an afterthought and that the manager is going to be in an invidious position where, if they win stuff, it’s “only women’s football” and if they lose, it’s “why are we giving them money”?

The Lionesses are doing well despite the FA, and with another World Cup coming up, I worry that this choice of manager is going to derail the chances of them winning it.

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* the FA were very unclear as to precisely what kind of “inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour” Mark Sampson committed at Bristol Academy, so I have just gone with impropriety.

FIFA World Cup 2018 Draw

As I am prone to doing, I’ve done a redraw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup based purely on the rankings. The rankings used are FIFA’s October ones, as that was the latest available ranking when the draw itself took place.

The result of the real draw can be seen here.

Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H
Germany Brazil Portugal Argentina Belgium Poland Switzerland France
Denmark Croatia Uruguay England Mexico Peru Spain Colombia
Costa Rica Iceland Sweden Tunisia Egypt Senegal Iran Serbia
Saudi Arabia South Korea Panama Russia Japan Australia Morocco Nigeria

I abided by the FIFA rules that each team could have no more than 1 team from each Confederation (or no more than 2 from UEFA). To comply with this I had to swap Iceland and Costa Rica to stop there being too many UEFA teams in Group A and I had to move Australia and Japan along one to prevent there being two Asian Football Association teams in group G. (Yes, Australia is in the Asian Football Confederation, not the Oceania one.)

Panama, South Korea and Saudi Arabia have all been moved up one, again to prevent there being too many UEFA teams in group A. I had to move that many because if I’d just swapped Saudi Arabia, there’d be too many UEFA teams in B, and if just Saudi Arabia and South Korea then there would have been too many in Group C. Mostly this shows how many more European teams are put in the World Cup draw.

Groups A, D and H have 1 out of 4 of the same teams as the random draw, while groups B, C, E, F and G are completely different. I suspect Portugal and Spain might prefer mine, while in my draw, groups B and H are a bit group of deathy.

FIFA, however, also have a tradition whereby the host country is always the first team in group A (so that they get to have the opening match). If I apply this rule to a draw from the rankings, you get these pools.

Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H
Russia Germany Brazil Portugal Argentina Belgium Poland Switzerland
Croatia Uruguay England Peru Mexico Spain Colombia France
Costa Rica Denmark Iceland Sweden Tunisia Egypt Senegal Iran
Saudi Arabia South Korea Panama Morocco Japan Australia Serbia Nigeria

For version 2 I had to swap Peru and Mexico to stop there being two South American teams in group E, Denmark and Costa Rica to stop there being too many European teams in group A and Serbia and Nigeria to stop there being too many European teams in group H. Finally, I also had to swap Japan and Morocco to prevent there being two African teams in group E.

Group A now has 2/4 teams the same as the real drawn while the remaining groups are completely different. I suspect England are glad this wasn’t the real draw, as they would face the mighty Iceland (and some team called Brazil), and groups E and F look tasty.

There was a big to-do-age about how easy Russia’s real draw was, but I think it’s more of an artefact of putting the hosts in Group A. Because Russia’s ranking is lower than everyone else’s, there were always going to be two weak teams in A, and, because Russia are in UEFA, the weak team weren’t going to be the weakest of the European teams, who might, or might not, be better than Saudi Arabia, who they did get.

And, even with this allegedly suspiciously easy group (I am deeply, deeply dubious of the stats, factoids and logic used to define group A as an easy group, from a Russian perspective), Russia still aren’t going to qualify.

I know this, you know this, they know this. The terribleness of the Russian national football team is known factor.

It is inexplicable.

I have no idea if it’s because the shape of the Russian football season is so different to others, or if it’s that the huge amounts of money floating about the Russian league have lead to a lack of players for the national team, or if my curse on Fabio Capello had some unfortunate knock-on effects. Maybe all the really athletically ept Russians do other sports. Whatever the cause, there is something rotten with Russian football and they haven’t been able to fix it before this World Cup. That means that the atmosphere for the later stages might be lacking. That FIFA know this, and might try to fix it, might be why people were suspicious of the draw, although I think it was within the bounds of probable draws due to Russia being picked first.

Top 7 Films of 2017 – Explanation

The best film that was new to me that I saw last year was “Sleepless In Seattle.”

It’s so good, it’s got these little realistic touches and I found myself yelling at the screen, repeatedly.

It should be noted that the person who complained about me putting this in the post objected to me not putting “M” the year it was also the best film I saw that year. I just can’t win.

As usual, my criteria for films are:

1 – did the film do what it set out to do? (The Ebert rule)
2 – did it use it’s resources to it’s best ability? Or, a £250,000 film is not going to have as good explosions as a £25,000,000 film, or it shouldn’t, and if it does, there’s something wrong with the £25,000,000 film. It’s basically a technical merit score.
3 – Intellectual satisfaction – does the film’s plot pull some really stupid move at the last moment? Does the plot rely on characters being stupid than they are?
4 – Does this work as a whole? Did it work for me? And I am aware that this is the most subjective of subjective criteria!

This year, most of the films were failing on point 3.

Let’s start at the top:

1 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Yes, I am mostly rewarding the opening. But the opening contains more hope, joy and wonder than the rest of the films on this list combined.

The rest of the film was enjoyable, and I am a Cinema du Look girl, have been since I was young, so I found the visuals enormously appealing. Was it perfect? No. It needed better dialogue, Dane deHaan and Cara Delevingne are not quite strong enough actors to pull it off, and you can see the influence that the original Valerian comics had on The Fifth Element so bits of this feel like a re-run of that.

But still, it was solid and enjoyable overall.

Next come two films, where, despite their flaws, I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.

2 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

3 – Thor Ragnarok

My comments for GotG 2 and Thor 3 are very similar. They did their thing and did it hard and to the best of their abilities. They’re fun.

After them is where we start to get to ishy films.

4 – Blade Runner 2049

The visuals are good, the acting solid. The parts that tie it back to the original Blade Runner are the weakest parts (although that scene with Rachel is the best scene in the film), which is odd, but not as odd as the choice to explicitly say that “to be human is to reproduce” which is a peculiarly regressive message for a science fiction film.

5 – Assassin’s Creed

Things in this film I will not knock. The actors, the fight choreography, oh my goodness, the cinematography. No, really, there are shots from this film I’d have as stills on my wall.

Things I will knock – the complete lack of characterisation, or indeed names, for people who are not Aguilar. You know the how to deal with a large cast thing that Mad Max: Fury Road did really well; this did it really badly. To the point that I cannot remember Aguilar’s modern name, and modern name is the main character of the film.

6 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Partly its that so much money was spent making a film that was so bland in its vision of the future. There was none of that visual magic you got with the original films, which was disappointing. The plot was overwrought and stupid. It’s the stupidity I object to more.

Not as the much as I object to the stupidity of Atomic Blonde.

7 – Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde actually made me angry. The stupidity of the plot wastes so much.

It wastes an exceptional soundtrack and fight choreography, production values that are amazingly detailed (seriously, I had the same coat as Spyglass’s daughter at the same time 500 km to the South) and some damn fine performers, all for a “clever” twist. The twist is stupid, makes no sense and is significantly less cool than the writer thinks it is. It wastes everything to no good effect. It’s so … frustrating.

This could have been an excellent film, and it’s been ruined by the writer’s hubris.

Top 7 Films of 2017

Slightly fewer films than usual because 2017 was weird year. I hope to get the number up for 2018.

1 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

2 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

3 – Thor Ragnarok

4 – Blade Runner 2049

5 – Assassin’s Creed

6 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

7 – Atomic Blonde

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Somewhat jokingly, after I’d watched it, I suggested other names for Star Wars: The Last Jedi on twitter. They do sum up my problems with the film quite well.

Star Wars: This Could Have Been So Much Better

None of the problems are with individual actors or characters, indeed, I’d like to single out Domhnall Gleeson and Adam Driver for praise. None of the problems are due to the SFX or technical stuff. Very few of the problems are due to the director. Most of the problems are due to the writing. The writing, in terms of plot and cohesion, is bad. That leads to…

Star Wars: Poor Communication Kills

In the original trilogy, you had evil doing its thing; doing it bureaucratically sure but at least being vaguely competent. The forces of good, meanwhile, were outnumbered and outgunned but using their resources wisely.

Then came the prequels, where yeah, the forces of good were hubristic (I agree with Luke about that) and kept making every possible wrong choice in any given situation, but hey, evil was competent and skillful, and the Emperor basically played the entire galaxy like a fiddle.

The problem with Star Wars: The Last Jedi where you have incompetent evil versus useless good.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to watch the sci-fi office sitcom where someone (probably Captain Phasma) has to cope with their 3 variously incompetent bosses and their perpetual bickering, but it’s not very convincing as an evil empire. Why should I respect/fear them if their underlings don’t?

On the other side, you’ve got good guys who have managed to go from a position of power at the end of Return of the Jedi to being a very small rump against the Empire redux. They’re also marshaling their lack of forces very poorly.

The Resistance are tactically inept!

There’s no good reason for Admiral Hoda not to tell Poe about the plan. Not telling him almost lead to the whole plan failing. It also creates a giant plot hole about how come DJ knows about the plan when Poe doesn’t. Even if we presume he’s read the computer files that suggests it’s only Poe that they’ve deliberately not told which is an odd tactical choice!

I do wonder how much of that is Hollywood having issues with portraying heroic guerrilla warfare.

I couldn’t help but feel that if both sides were lead by robots, like BB-8 and BB-Hate (sorry, I have no idea what the evil robot’s name is), fewer stupid mistakes would have been made.

The story is very fragmented; Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren are the on-going Jedi-Sith-Skywalker saga, the idiot plot with Poe is the driving force of this episode, while Finn’s bit is interesting, and at least emotionally fulfilling even if it moves the plot forward not one iota.

Slimming those three plots down to two would make it a much better film (and I’ll let you guess which one I would get rid of).
Star Wars: ‘Talyn, Starburst’

The feeling that this could have been a better film is not helped by the way it feels like it has borrowed bits from other better films – like the last stand at Helm’s Deep/Krayt or Hoda’s/Crais’s big dramatic sacrifice. That last one wasn’t helped by the graphics looking so similar to the starburst scene.

That was one of the more visually appealing scenes.

Rian Johnson did seem to be trying to do things, but the film seems to be hamstrung by this being A STAR WARS FILM and therefore it NEEDS TO LOOK LIKE A STAR WARS FILM. I think it would have been a much better film if he’d been given more room for artistic expression.

Although, if he was being hamstrung, the script department were too. Which led to …

Star Wars: Maybe We Shouldn’t Have Been Mean About George Lucas’s Dialogue, They’re Stealing It 40 Years Later

Serious recycling, and dull and virtuous recycling at that. Really, who didn’t know that “if you strike me down” was coming in the end fight. Okay, so in the screening I was in, matters weren’t helped by D having a coughing fit right at the least opportune moment – D insists it was an accident.

The film was more interesting when it played with the formula; DJ’s thing about who do you think the Rebels get their weapons from, DJ being a Han Solo who didn’t come back and Kylo Ren not accepting the chance of redemption that his grandfather did take.

I’m not sure how I feel about Kylo Ren being beyond redemption. Or rather, I am not sure how I feel about Star Wars saying a character is beyond redemption, given who has historically been redeemed.

The heavy weight of the franchise, and its effects on the plotting and scripting really spoiled what were excellent performances by the cast.

I ❤ Rey, like beyond all reason <3, and I understand Finn.

I ❤ Rose, the way the film wants me to.

I want to smack Poe, probably more than the film wants me too (I have a low tolerance for charming but feckless), but I accept that the stupidest mutiny ever was not his fault.

I think Admiral Hoda is awesome, if strategically stupid (please film, if you’re going to tell me someone is a great general, don’t have them screwing up that much).

General Organa continues to be the only sensible person on both sides.

DJ is oh, he’s interesting, because yeah, he’s what true neutral actually looks like and it’s not a good look. And yet … basically, casting Benicio Del Toro is always a good idea.

Over on team actually evil, um listen, I cannot be reasonable about Domhnall Gleeson. He’s one of those actors who attracts my attention, and Hux only works because he’s a damn good actor and turns froth-mouthed ranting space spiv into someone with motivations. Like that little grab for the gun when he thinks Ren is down for the count and how quickly he moves his hand when it becomes apparent Ren is not unconscious. Because that man is a terrible, terrible coward (as well as being a space spiv).

Adam Driver is damn good. Like, he almost makes me want to sympathise with Kylo Ren, while keeping him the whiny, angst emo sith we all know and want to dip in a lake of lava. I am really impressed.

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The acting is good. The SFX, the CGI-is-not-good-enough-to-do-feathers-yet of the Porgs notwithstanding, and a couple of Leia scenes that I suspect suffered due to the unfortunate occurrence, was solid. Ditto the direction.

That’s why I get annoyed, because so much of this was good, and it’s let down by the incoherence of the plot.