The 300 Week 7: THIS IS T’CHALLA!


Welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature that chronicles my attempt to see 300 movies in theaters in 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, and hidden gems as a way to explore the wide world of cinema in all of its forms.

As always, there are three rules for The 300:

  • The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film
  • I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue
  • While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times

While I’ve already spent a lot of time at Metrograph, I wound up at BAM Rose Cinemas a bunch in the last week. In the lead up to Black Panther, they had a great film series on black action heroes and black superheroes, and a new series going on right now celebrating the work of Oscilloscope Laboratories. As the year goes on, expect to see BAM show up a bunch more on these features.

And again, I’m staying away from the Alamo Drafthouse given their history of sexual assault and harassment issues. The local franchise owners are probably good people, but I won’t be back until Tim and Karrie League step down.

And so, onward.

48 of 300: Trans-Europ-Express (1966)

Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Marie-France Pisier, Christian Barbier, Catherine Robbe-Grillet
Country: France
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Thursday, February 15th

Three people on a train make up a crime story, revising as they go along; the story plays out on screen. That’s Trans-Europ-Express in a nutshell, the cinematic equivalent of reading one of writer/director Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novels. Trintignant is railroaded in absurd fashion, an existential figure totally adrift, and a meta commentary on the fate of fictional characters determined by forces outside a text. That explains the BDSM and sexual play throughout—roles people fulfill in games of dominance and submission. Like Robbe-Grillet’s novels, I like the ideas contained in the work more than the work itself.

49 of 300: Sleight (2016)

Director: J.D. Dillard
Starring: Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Dulé Hill, Storm Reid
Country: USA
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Friday, February 16th

Sleight is frustrating. An orphaned magician hustles to raise his little sister in LA. He’s got a strange object embedded in his shoulder, like some RadioShack Iron Man. Rather than explore that, Sleight is saddled with a cliched “drug dealer wants out of the game” story. While it’s a commentary on the lack of opportunities for young black men, it’s also a case of Chekhov’s object in the shoulder: I wondered for most of the film when will our hero a) finally explain what the heck that thing is and b) use it to do stuff in the drug dealer plot. The performances and direction are good at least, with Dillard getting the most tension he can from a clunky script.

50 of 300: Yeelen (1987)

Director: Souleymane Cissé
Starring: Issiaka Kane, Aoua Sangare, Niamanto Sanogo
Country: Mali
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Saturday, February 17th

Yeelen is mythic, and its presentation feels drawn from an ancient oral storytelling tradition. A sorcerer leaves home to avoid his murderous estranged father. The flight from home becomes a magical odyssey/passage into adulthood. Magic is depicted as small scale shamanistic rituals, and they are remarkable to watch unfold. Cissé’s imagery is rich in earth tones, which adds brilliances to any greenery on screen as well as the color blue. As Yeelen winds down, the storytelling moves into symbolic territory, with imagery that reminded me of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo.

51 of 300: Strange Days (1995)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis
Country: USA
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Sunday, February 18th

Strange Days is peak 1990s: there’s Y2K fatalism, VR as a heroin analog, and some of the worst grunge you’ve ever heard. The film works when it addresses Rodney King and the LA riots; some of the dystopian imagery feels a like a cross between Children of Men and Ferguson, Missouri. Yet the movie’s at least 20 minutes too long, and crummy dudes get in the way of interesting women. Fiennes is our dirtbag protagonist rather than Bassett’s capable, compelling heroine; James Cameron’s indulgent script gets in the way of Kathryn Bigelow’s direction. The film includes an excessively misogynistic rape scene, like something out of a Lucio Fulci movie.

52 of 300: Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira
Country: USA
Seen at UA Court Street Stadium 12 (Brooklyn, NY)
Monday, February 19th

From its mostly black cast to its big-budget afrofuturist aesthetic, Black Panther feels like next-level blockbuster filmmaking. This is black Star Wars and black James Bond in terms of its importance: a movie that marks a new cultural moment in representation that may inspire a generation of artists to come.

Newly crowned king T’Challa wants to connect the technologically advanced kingdom of Wakanda to rest of the world. But what’s the balance? The price of utopia seems to be reverting to isolationism or succumbing to imperialist urges. Black Panther features some of the best women in the MCU, the standouts being warrior Okoye and scientist Shuri. They’re more than just sidekicks, they feel like they have identities outside of this film. Black Panther also features the best villain in the MCU by far in Killmonger. He’s got strong personal motivations for his goals, which explore notions of what W. E. B. Du Bois called double consciousness; there’s also the colonial mentality finding a radical path to revenge through the mentality and tactics of colonizers. Killmonger is the Magneto to T’Challa’s Professor X.

My only gripe with Black Panther is that most of the action was poorly shot and edited. Camera placement, camera movement, and choppy editing obscured the fight choreography; foreground movement blended into the background too much, muddying the action. It’s the equivalent of someone mumbling a brilliant speech. The best action seemed to be any scenes shot using natural daylight. Even when the camera was too close and the editing spotty, I could at least figure out what was happening. I harp on this because Coogler had such crisply executed action in Creed, and the rest of Rachel Morrison’s cinematography is splendid.

53 of 300: Mother of George (2013)

Director: Andrew Dosunmu
Starring: Isaach de Bankolé, Danai Gurira, Bukky Ajayi, Tony Okungbowa
Country: Nigeria/USA
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Tuesday, February 20th

Mother of George is a hidden gem, beautiful and rare and extremely human. The film centers on a Nigerian couple’s difficulties having a baby, and the strain it places on their marriage. The performances are all wonderfully complicated, and they’re elevated by Bradford Young’s breathtaking cinematography. Color, texture, focus, and negative space emphasize the emotional undercurrent of each shot. Dosunmu enhances the visuals by isolating his performers or piecing together disparate images to convey some hidden truth. Whatever a character leaves unspoken, the imagery communicates. Mother of George is a must see if you enjoy reading the text and subtext of images.

I wish I saw another movie this week featuring Danai Gurira or Angela Bassett. Was close to an actress hat trick.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.