Black Panther

The MCU films are an interesting combination of “let’s follow our formula religiously” and “let’s have this one feel entirely different.” It’s a tough line to walk, but they seem to make it work every time.

There are elements of this film that remind us of previous films. We have a young ruler who has to come to grips with the history of his family (like Thor). This guy is chemically enhanced and aided by vibranium (Captain America). He was born into wealth, trying to do the right thing (Iron Man). And we have him facing off with his there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I doppelganger (every MCU hero by this point?).

Obviously, the biggest difference between Black Panther and the rest of the MCU films is that it’s cast is almost entirely black. Chadwick Boseman is the title character, with his whispery voice and his gravitas. He’s aided by Forrest Whittaker, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya and (stealing her scenes) Letitia Wright. The bad guy is Michael B. Jordan, thankfully bringing in a breath of fresh air with his blunt American accent and his relatable backstory. There’s even a small role for Sterling K. Brown to dig his acting chops into.

The two white guys in the cast aren’t quite afterthoughts. Andy Serkis, reprising his Age of Ultron role as a despicable arms dealer is a lot of crazy fun. This guy should do more non-mo-cap work. And Martin Freeman, reprising his Civil War role, has, thankfully, spent some quality time with a dialect coach. He almost sounds American. Watching Gollum and Bilbo face off was a meta-joy for me. (Now I’m looking forward to Everett Ross sharing the screen with Dr. Strange and Justin Hammer.)

But, back to the main story. What the director, Ryan Coogler, manages to do is root this story of revolution in a secretive (and highly advanced) African nation in some heady themes: urban decay, racism, white colonialism and black slavery. But it never feels preachy or exploitative. It feels organic to the story.

I can’t say I’m chomping at the bit for another Blank Panther film, but the world-building going on here, and the impact that this story will have on the rest of this universe is potentially fascinating and should add a new texture to these films.

Well done.

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Customer Service

This a sort of catchall post to discuss some of the customer service I’ve experienced in the past couple of weeks. Let’s start at the top and work our way down, shall we?

University Volkswagen — I recently bought a new Tiguan from these guys. The process wasn’t entirely devoid of the “buying a car” cliche annoyances, by any means. I still got the last-minute high-pressure sales pitch for extra warranties. I haven’t bought a car for ten years, so this part was a little crazy to me. Not only extended bumper-to-bumper warranties, but also warranties for the windshield, the undercoating, the tires, the wheels, and even the paint on the nose of the vehicle. I was half expecting a warranty on the new car smell. That aside, the process was mostly pain-free, I got a good deal on my trade in, and they’ve been very responsive with questions I had in follow-up. So, thumbs up!

Bekins — My parents moved from Chicago to Fort Worth with Bekins… in 1970. But that was enough for me to call them up when I was helping my aunt with her move. They got me a local rep with a local number, the quote was reasonable, and the service has been great. (We’ll see if the move itself goes as well, but that’s less about customer service and more about the service you’re contracting.) Thumbs up.

UPS — When we thought we could accomplish the move with a package delivery company, I spoke several times with UPS, and they were uniformly knowledgeable and helpful. Sorry, guys, but we had to go with professional movers. Still, thumbs up.

FedEx — The other company I talked to about shipping was FedEx. Every person I talked to had a slightly different take on the process. Which amped up my annoyance remarkably efficiently. When the last guy tried to explain the difference between “Ground” and “Home Delivery”, I got lost and said to him, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.” His response was “I don’t know any other way to say it.” Thumbs down.

Dish Network — I’ve never been a subscriber of this service, and I know people who swear by it. But I had one simple task: return the device to Dish because my aunt is moving. First, they gave us the wrong address for the return. Then, after I corrected the address on the internet… there wasn’t anything there. It was a parking lot. So I called the number. Dish answered, but it was a sales number. When I tried to get help, they said, “Write this number down,” and switched me over to a recording. Of course, I was driving at the time, so I couldn’t write anything down. (But I’m sure I’m in the minority of people who don’t have pencil and paper at the ready every time I’m on the phone.) So I found another location on the internet, and called again. This time I said, “I’m trying to get to you. Can you help me.” Despite the fact that this was a Sacramento area code, the guy said, “We’re in Ohio.” And he dumped me to the phone number recording again. This time I took note, and called this new guy. He was helpful, and gave me the address of a local retailer who would accept the returned hardware. I thanked him, drove over there, and was told that, no, they didn’t accept hardware. No one does. It has to be mailed back to Dish. Terrible, terrible customer service. Thumbs way down!