Posts Tagged ‘Lupita Nyong’o’

The Wakanda Usurper

Black Panther

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke, John Kani

Marvel successfully diversifies its Avengers universe with an inventive self-sustaining Black Panther film. The Black Panther aka T’Challa who becomes king of the technologically advanced yet exclusive central African kingdom of Wakanda after his father T’Chaka played by South Africa’s John Kani is killed in an assassination.

Creed director, Ryan Coogler assembles an all-star cast for Black Panther including Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) as Black Panther’s love interest, the beautiful and noble Nakia as well as Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) as Zuri along with Angela Bassett as Black Panther’s regal mother and Queen of Wakanda, Ramonda.

Black Panther has to fight off the likes of a crazy South African mercenary Ulysses Klaue dubiously played with a terrible accent by Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes) attempting to steal smuggled vibranium from Wakanda at a buying exchange in Busan, South Korea, a scene in the film which is both brilliantly shot and innovatively orchestrated with a virtual reality car chase sequence.

Back on African soil, T’Challa soon realizes that the real enemy is the American born Erik Killmonger wonderfully played by Michael B. Jordan (Fantastic Four). With the able assistance of his cheeky sister Shuri fantastically played by British-Guyanese star Letitia Wright, Black Panther manages to fight Killmonger in a noble duel about the paternal claim to be the future King of Wakanda.

Director Ryan Coogler ingenuously incorporates lots of African tribalism and cool technology into Black Panther however he does take the superhero genre too seriously by unashamedly politicizing it. This is the Avengers after all, which Spiderman has just joined. Superhero movies are meant to be pure escapism, which is precisely why director Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnorak was such a refreshingly funny movie.

What remains to be seen is how effectively Black Panther will be blended into the mainstream Avengers films with the new Avengers: Infinity War opening soon. Chadwick Boseman is not as convincing as the main hero, Black Panther as his counterpart Michael B. Jordan who relishes playing the ruthless villain.

Lupita Nyong’o holds her own and kicks some butt in Black Panther as does rising star Letitia Wright who is an actress to watch out for. Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown has a minor role while Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) is suitably untrustworthy as Black Panther’s best friend and Wakanda protector W’Kabi.

Whether the much hyped Black Panther’s initial success in African cinemas is translated commercially to international audiences globally remains to be seen, yet the effort and rejuvenation of the highly anticipated Black superhero genre is applauded and provides starring roles for a host of African-American stars who have been clamouring for their own identifiable superhero film.

Marvel fans that enjoyed Captain America: Civil War and The Avengers franchise will certainly appreciate Black Panther, despite some uneven performances. At least now there is a guaranteed diversity of fans attending Comic-Con especially since its coming to Johannesburg in late 2018.

For all its vibrant celebrations of African culture, Black Panther gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

 

Strengthening the Universe

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyongo’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Maria Tran

Looper director Rian Johnson draws significant parallels between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back even including such iconic characters as Yoda and featuring a substantial role for Luke Skywalker played again by Mark Hamill.

At two hours and 32 minutes Star Wars: The Last Jedi could have been cut by half an hour. Which is my only criticism. After all The Empire Strikes Back made in 1980 was just over two hours long.

While the second half of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is absolutely thrilling particularly the final battle sequence on a white salted mining planet complete with red earth reminiscent of the battle between the Empire and the rebels on the ice planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.

The first half drags a little, particularly the Jedi scenes between the reclusive Luke Skywalker and Rey wonderfully played by Daisy Ridley, who is battling to grasp the extent of the force.

John Boyega reprises his role of Finn with the help of a feisty newcomer Rose wonderfully played by Kelly Maria Tran which should appeal  to a diverse audience which is exactly Disney’s cleverest marketing ploy since buying the rights to George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise and effectively reinventing the Galaxy and strengthening this cinematic universe.

Notable cameo’s include a superb performance by Oscar winner Benicio del Toro (Traffic) as DJ who certainly injects some life into the extremely long narrative especially when Finn and Grace meet him when they go in search of the elusive Master code breaker, a briefly glimpsed Justin Theroux, safely ensconced on a decadent casino resort planet, a vibrant episode in the film.

Another notable scene stealer is Oscar nominee Laura Dern (Rambling Rose) as Vice Admiral Holdo who frequently clashes with the bravado of flyboy Rebel poster pilot Poe Dameron wonderfully played again by Oscar Isaac.

The most poignant scenes are played by the late Carrie Fisher reprising her role for the last time as the iconic Princess Leia just wiser and with a more sensible hairstyle, guiding the resistance like a faded debutante. Look out for a nostalgic reunion scene between Skywalker and Princess Leia.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi delivers remarkably on the action front and director Rian Johnson should be particularly commended for also writing the screenplay, no easy feat considering the weight of the franchise and the expectations of the fans.

Yet despite the length, Johnson rises to the challenge and delivers an absorbing sci-fi epic which will satisfy the legions of Star Wars fans globally, judging by the record breaking opening weekend internationally of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is highly recommended viewing best to be experienced in true cinematic splendour with surround sound and some like minded companions. The film gets a rating of 7.5 out of 10.

 

The Pioneers of Uganda

Queen of Katwe

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Director: Mira Nair

Cast: David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Nalwanga, Martin Kabanza

Indian director Mira Nair has produced a sterling body of diverse films from the critically acclaimed Monsoon Wedding to The Reluctant Fundamentalist to the gorgeous period drama Vanity Fair featuring Reese Witherspoon as the social climbing Becky Sharp.

Now Nair teams up with the beautiful Mexican-Kenyan Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Non-Stop) and British actor David Oyelowo in the Ugandan chess drama, Queen of Katwe. With a distribution deal by Disney, Nair has secured the way for Queen of Katwe to get a prolific cinematic release and a much wider audience appeal.

Queen of Katwe is a vibrant story of a young poverty-stricken girl Phiona Mutesi who is desperate to escape the dire circumstances of her neighbourhood and soon with the assistance of Robert Katende wonderfully played by Oyelowo, discovers an aptitude for chess, a strategic game traditionally played by young boys and men. Phiona, superbly played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, has to battle teasing from the boys as well as her domineering mother Harriet Nakku wonderfully played by Nyong’o who is desperate to try and lift her family out of poverty.

What Mira Nair does do is so perceptively is not dwell on the circumstances of poverty but on the hope that anyone can lift themselves out of a poverty stricken situation by applying their mind to their own talents and not let poverty trap them in a continuous cycle. This is exactly what the young and vivacious heroine Phiona does as she soon gains considerable recognition in the Ugandan and African chess world as she soon masters the strategic game and becomes a Ugandan chess champion, despite the odds.

As the narrative moves from the smart private schools of Kampala to the icy streets of a Russian city and back to the shores of Lake Victoria, Queen of Katwe is a heart-warming African story about what can be accomplished when one realizes ones talent and practices religiously to succeed.

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What makes Queen of Katwe so refreshing is that it’s a vibrant 21st century story of an African girl who becomes a champion in contemporary Uganda without any references to violence, dictatorial history or colonial repression, so different from such films as The Last King of Scotland. Mira Nair paints contemporary East Africa as a vibrant entrepreneurial area where the possibilities are endless.

British star David Oyelowo (Jack Reacher, The Paperboy) should get an Oscar nomination for his superb performance as Robert Katende who gives up a stable job in the Ugandan government to ensure that the pioneers succeed. The pioneers are his chess club which aims to alleviate poverty through social upliftment and sport, which is exactly what happens to the courageous and intelligent Phiona.

Queen of Katwe is based on an ESPN article by Tim Crothers and is highly recommended viewing. Intelligently acted by the three main leads and wonderfully directed by Mira Nair, this is an uplifting tale of human achievement.

Reconciling the Myth

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyongo’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Max von Sydow, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels

Thematically set 30 years after The Return of the Jedi, director J. J. Abrams reconciles the myth of the original and iconic Star Wars Trilogy when he takes over as conceptualizer of the new Star Wars trilogy, given a touch task of remaining faithful to the original trilogy while introducing millennials to the original Star Wars iconography.

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In a genius casting move, Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings all the original cast members back from the first trilogy including Harrison Ford as Han Solo, the rarely seen Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and the illusive Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker along with all the lovable companion characters including Chewbacca, and of course the droids C3PO and R2D2, which made up the original Star Wars. Even the Millennium Falcon is revived, which is enough to satisfy the original fans. Believe me, there are a lot of fans out there!

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The new cast includes Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, a former Stormtrooper turned Rebel. The Empire so prominent in the original series has been replaced by a more sinister totalitarian regime called The First Order which includes the evil General Hux, played by Domnhall Gleeson (Brooklyn) and the conflicted Kylo Ren brilliantly played by Adam Driver. Oscar Isaac (Drive) stars as Poe Dameron an expert Rebel X-Wing fighter pilot who has hidden a hologram into his droid BB8 about the whereabouts of the mythical Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi Knight.

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As the continuous action moves from outer space to distant planets, the first of which Jukka resembles Tattoine, the desert planet in the original Star Wars, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is visually captivating, with a vast and imaginative array of droids, monsters, bounty hunters and sinister forces all beautifully orchestrated to give what audiences came to see: An adventure story set in a Galaxy Far Far Away to the memorable music by John Williams.

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Oscar winner Lupita Nyongo’o (12 years a Slave) plays Maz Kanata an E.T. like creature sympathetic to the Rebel cause. The chemistry between the diverse cast is amazing and adds to the magic of The Force Awakens, most notably the newcomers Daisy Ridley as a scavenger Rey, whose own propensities for becoming a Jedi open all sorts of questions and British actor John Boyega as Finn who immediately establishes a rapport with the infamous Han Solo as well as Poe Dameron whom he rescues from a gigantic looking Death Star.

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The production design and visual effects of Star Wars: The Force Awakens are spectacular and Oscar worthy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is definitely for the fans of the original trilogy, the films directed by George Lucas which captured the imagination of a generation of boys and girls back in the late seventies and early eighties.

star_warsIf it’s any indication, I remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back while on holiday in Atlanta, Georgia in America back in 1980 when it first premiered and The Return of the Jedi in 1983 in the old Embassy cinemas in central Durban.

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Judging by the packed cinema and the international media hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens will do exceptionally well at the Box Office and this new version is recommended to fans of pure science fiction and to all those who grew up on the original series. It’s comforting to know that American director J.J. Abrams who reignited the Star Trek franchise, now in partnership with Lucas Films and parent company Disney, plans on making two more Star Wars films to complete this new re-energized trilogy and introduce Millennials to a whole new universe of Star Wars characters.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is highly recommended viewing, brilliantly orchestrated by reconciling and paying tribute to the original mythical trilogy while seamlessly blending in an entire new batch of characters. May the Force be with us at least until 2019.

You’ll Never Fly Again…

Non-Stop

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Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast : Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong’o, Shea Whigham, Scoot McNairy, Linus Roache

Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Orphan) has teamed up again with Liam Neeson for a new action aerial thriller Non-Stop. Neeson has found a new cinematic lease after the success of the Taken franchise and seems to be brilliant at playing the aged action hero.

In Non-Stop, he plays a hard drinking US Air Marshal on board a transatlantic flight from JFK in New York to London and as the plane takes off and settles into cruising altitude, all is not what it seems. Non-Stop is an action murder mystery set entirely on this non-stop Transatlantic flight and is similar to films like Flightplan and Flight. All three films should not be recommended for viewers with a fear of flying.

Non-Stop cleverly integrates the cellular digital world in its quirky and suspenseful narrative as Bill Marks, played by Neeson receives text messages on a secure flight mobile device from a suspected hijacker saying that he will kill a passenger every twenty minutes if $150 million dollars is not deposited in a Swiss bank account.

Acclaimed actress Julianne Moore (The Hours, Far from Heaven) plays Jen Summers a fellow passenger who assists Marks in tracking down the culprit, while the rest of the cast is made up of character actors like Michelle Dockery and Corey Stoll from such hit TV shows as Downton Abbey and House of Cards. Look out for an underwritten appearance by Hollywood It girl  Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) as air stewardess Gwen, which proves that Non-Stop was made before Nyong’o won a best supporting actress Oscar elevating her to instant fame.

Nevertheless the cast are secondary to the action and suspense on Non-Stop as this mid-flight murder mystery turns into a fully fledged action film, as Marks battles the clock to find out which passenger is responsible for killing off fellow passengers. Non-Stop is hugely entertaining and nowhere near as diabolically stupid as such airline films as Snakes on a Plane or the comedy series Airplane. Non-Stop is economical in narrative, huge on suspense and great on twists and unexpected realistically done action sequences all set aboard a 737 bound for Heathrow.

Neeson is adept at playing the ripened leading action man with enough emotional and physical baggage to weigh down international departures, and in Non-Stop, he does not disappoint as the main hero, despite all his characters known flaws. If audiences enjoyed Taken and Unknown , then they will love Non-Stop. See it now before making any airline reservations!

86th Academy Awards

The 86th Academy Awards / The Oscars

 

Sunday 2nd March 2014

 

OSCAR WINNERS AT THE 86TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS

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Best Picture/Film: 12 Years a Slave

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Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

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Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

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Best Actress: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

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Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave

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Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze – Her

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Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty (Italy) directed by Paolo Sorrentino

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Beauty

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Best Documentary Film: 20 Feet from Stardom – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20_Feet_from_Stardom

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Best Animated Feature: Frozen

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki – Gravity

Best Editing: Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger – Gravity

Best Hair and Make-up: Robin Matthews – Dallas Buyers Club

Best Original Score: Steven Price – Gravity

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Best Production Design: Catherine Martin – The Great Gatsby

Best Costume Design: Catherine Martin – The Great Gatsby

Best Visual Effects: Gravity

Source: http://www.oscars.org/

 

 

 

 

Sold Down the River

12 Years a Slave

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Director: Steve McQueen

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Quvenzhané Wallis, Michael Kenneth Williams

Based upon Solomon Northup’s groundbreaking novel, 12 Years a Slave published in 1853 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_Years_a_Slave, British director Steve McQueen brings the critically acclaimed film version to the big screen exposing the cruelty, violence and brutality of the slave trade in the Antebellum Deep South prior to the American Civil War. Audiences have to bear in mind that 12 years a Slave is set in 1841, the first half of the 19th century when America having broken away from Britain was expanding its nation commercially especially in the Southern States like Georgia, Louisiana and basically most South Eastern states below the Mason-Dixon line from Virginia downwards.

Nevertheless, director McQueen emphasizes the emotional and physical imprisonment of both slave and slave owner in a terrifying master servant relationship which is based entirely on commerce and the expansion of agricultural land in the vast cotton-picking states of the American South East where slave owners viewed slaves as their personal property to be bought, sold or exchanged for debts as part of payment for arable land. Despite the commercial exchange and vicious currency of slavery, this does not excuse the devastating effects it had on the African American people who become slaves often ripping families apart as well as being subjected to all sorts of human rights abuses which would be unimaginable in a 21st century America with Barack Obama as president.

Slavery is a tough subject to contextualize onscreen and British director McQueen takes the challenge head on and show through the extraordinarily horrific experience of Solomon Northup (superbly played by British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor) who as a free man in Saratoga, New York travels as part of a minstrel band to Washington DC where after a drunken night is drugged and sold into slavery and literally shipped down the Mississippi river to the slave port of New Orleans.

Northup first becomes the property of seemingly benevolent land owner Ford played by Benedict Cumberbatch (The Fifth Estate), but after an altercation with the vicious plantation manager Tibeats an excellent cameo by Paul Dano, is transferred as part of a debt owing to the even more sadistic plantation owner Epps brutally played by Michael Fassbender. On Epps’s cotton picking Louisiana plantation, Northup meets the vulnerable but tough Patsey (an excellent performance by screen newcomer and Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o) who becomes the forbidden object of desire by the psychotic, bored and lustful Epps.

It is really Nyong’o’s Patsey who endures rape, torture and a particularly cruel whipping scene which elevates 12 Years a Slave into a shocking and harrowing portrayal of the absolute horrific conditions of 19th century slavery in the deep South, conditions so horrendous that the Northern states eventually intervened in a bid to abolish slavery resulting in the bloody American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_War.

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McQueen’s film while at times lacking in narrative structure, is still an absorbing historical portrayal of humanity’s capacity to inflict cruelty and suffering on their fellow humans, a point which Brad Pitt’s character Bass emphasizes and who eventually assists Northup in his bid for emancipation. Shot in the suffocating heat of a Louisiana summer, 12 Years a Slave is atmospheric, brilliantly acted and deeply disturbing and a testament to man’s own ability to survive under vicious circumstances.

Whilst 12 Years a Slave won People’s Choice Award at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and has nine 2014 Oscar nominations, it is really the breakout performance of Lupita Nyong’o who shines amongst a British American cast including Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti and Benedict Cumberbatch and Quvenzhané Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild as Northup’s daughter Margaret.

This is recommended viewing for lovers of historical films, but be warned 12 Years a Slave is cruel, violent and shocking, which is exactly McQueen’s intention in showing up Slavery as one of Mankind’s most atrocious historical eras, a completely ruthless and harrowing practice, offering a contemporary cinematic counterpoint to the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind.

 

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