Black Panther ****
Dir: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), prince of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, becomes king when his father is killed. But will he be able to survive the challenge to his rule by Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a warrior with a very different vision from T’Challa’s for both Wakanda (a technologically advanced country hidden from the rest of the globe, it’s technology largely driven by its bedrock of a unique metal called vibranium) and the world?
Writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) stays true to the source material in bringing the saga of Marvel’s Black Panther to the big screen. Coogler’s film borrows from all the key Panther comic-book runs such as those by Don McGregor, Christopher Priest, Reginald Hudlin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates but gives us a cohesive whole. He delivers not only on the super-heroic and action fronts but also drives home important political points in this post-Trump, post-Brexit world (without beating us over the head with them) and, even more importantly, gives us the wonderful imagery of a nation led by intelligent, powerful, noble people of colour who are the heroes of their own stories and need no white man to come to their rescue. In fact, in a terrific reversal of Hollywood casting there are only two roles - one positive, one negative – in the movie of any note that belong to white actors (take that, tokenism!). Just as importantly the women in the movie - from T’Challa’s mother (Anglea Bassett) to his ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), to his technological genius of a sister Shuria (Letitia Wright), to the leader of his elite guard Okoye (Danai Gurira) – the women in the movie are just as smart, capable and formidable as the men.
These are worthy and powerful messages and they raise Black Panther from just another super-hero movie (though one that is very well told) to another, higher level.
Cut to chase: A well-told super-hero yarn with some very powerful and important messaging and imagery.
Dir: Asim Abbasi
Starring: Aamina Sheikh, Sanam Saeed, Beo Zafar, Muhammad Ahmed Khan, Adnan Malik, Mikaal Zulfiqar
After an encouraging start, hopes for a full blow Pakistani cinema revival have taken a major pounding over the last couple of years, with one lacklustre effort after another (with a few exceptions, of course) assaulting our sensibilities and cinema screens. Thankfully, Cake has now arrived in theatres and we have cause for optimism again.
When a medical emergency hits the family Zara (Sanam Saeed) returns from London to Karachi where elder sister Zareen (Aamina Sheikh) has been left to hold the fort and look after their two aging parents (Beo Zafar and Mohammad Ahmed Khan). Zara’s return will result in skeletons in the closet getting rattled and old grievances surfacing.
Writer/Director Asim Abbasi’s first feature is deftly, realistically and touchingly handled. It captures the nuances of family dynamics - the love, the resentments, the secrets, the little stories, the shared experiences, the events (major and minor) and so on. The ties that bind. And in that he gives us characters that we can all relate to. Abbasi is more than ably supported by his cast and crew. The film is beautifully shot by Mo Azmi and the cast is uniformly excellent with Aamina Sheikh and Sanam Saeed in fine form and Beo Zafar almost stealing the show. The score/soundtrack by The Sketches is also evocative.
However, the plotting could have been tighter (some of the events upon which the story turns don’t entirely convince) and the use of Indian film songs as a family memory rankles a bit. I know that most of us have Bollywood songs as the soundtracks to our lives but old Pakistani numbers could have just as easily (and memorably) served the purpose and sent an important subliminal message for local as well as international audiences. But these are relatively minor quibbles. Cake is the type of cinema we need more of where it is purely Pakistani in its particulars but universal in its generalities and brings to us a unique vision of a writer and a director.
Cut to chase: The plotting could have been tighter but this family drama is deftly, realistically and touchingly handled.
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Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection