Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #30


Solo: A Star Wars Story/A Film Review

By Chris M. Barkley:

Solo; A Star Wars Story, (***) with Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Walter-Bridge, Joonas Soutamo and Paul Bettany. Screenplay by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan, based on characters created by George Lucas, Directed by Ron Howard.

Sooner or later, it happens. A film franchise overstays its welcome and the whole enterprise implodes on its own bloated budget, poor storytelling, lackluster acting performances, studio hubris and finally, the indifference of the audience.

But, fortunately for legions of Star Wars fans everywhere, Solo, the second film in a series of standalone films, dodges this bullet.

An orphan, young Han (Alden Ehrenreich), manages to barely escape poverty and is forced into thievery on his home world, Corellia, only to find himself fighting as an infantryman for the Empire on the dangerous backwater worlds on the Outer Rim. He sees a chance to desert when he encounters a group of smugglers disguised as soldiers headed up by Tobias (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newton). Not wanting any new recruits, they arrange to have Han thrown in the brig, where he meets and wins over the trust of a fellow prisoner, a wookiee named Chewbacca. The duo’s escape impresses Tobias so much, he takes them on apprentices.

Complications arise when a heist goes wrong and the gang finds themselves in the debt of Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), leader of the Crimson Dawn Syndicate. His lieutenant, Qi’ra, is someone Han’s know well: she is the other person he was forced to leave behind when he fled Correlia. A new heist is set into motion but one of the requirements is a very fast ship to deliver the merchandise in an incredibly tight timeframe. So the gang seeks out a legendary “retired” smuggler named Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), the owner of a certain YT-1300 freighter named the Millennium Falcon…

A number of mainstream reviewers and critics are already bashing Solo because, in their estimation, it adds “nothing new” to the Star Wars canon. Well, to be perfectly honest, they don’t get it. Star Wars fans probably know most of Han Solo’s story before they see a frame of this movie. What they want is too actually fill in the blanks of his story; to see where he came from and what formed his character from an early age.

And for the most part, this movie delivers some slightly predictable, but pertinent answers. Sure, Han Solo has some rough edges but, as Jake and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay takes pains to point out, he’s smart, resourceful and cunning, and he’s still trying to figure things out, including who he is and exactly what he wants to do with his life.

Both Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover had the most unenviable tasks in Solo; trying to convince audiences that they can fill the shoes of Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams. And surprisingly, they did evoke enough of the ambiance, mannerisms and swagger needed to succeed on their own terms.  And after seeing his work here, I desperately want Donald Glover to headline his own Star Wars spinoff, with Han and Chewie as the supporting characters.

Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra radiates a smug confidence about herself and her abilities but at certain points, also show a vulnerable side that can barely hold back telling Han her true feelings and unbearable secrets. (And her true employer, who is revealed towards the end of the movie, is, trust me, a real SHOCKER!)

If Solo has a palatable weakness, it’s Woody Harrleson’s Tobias Beckett. He’s Solo’s Yoda, so to speak, giving sage advice and trying, against his better nature and interest, to mentor Han. But his narrative function in the story seems a bit too well telegraphed as the movie goes forward.  This, however, did not diminish my admiration of his acting; I just wish his character had been more hard-edged in marked contrast to Solo’s.

A particular delight was Phoebe Walter-Bridge voice performance as Lando’s navigator and companion, L3-37. A “liberated” droid who freely dispensed advice, insults and insights, she was easily my favorite new Star Wars character. And after three films, I think Joonas Soutamo owns the role of Chewbacca for the next generation or so.

If anyone was wondering if they could distinguish which parts were directed by the original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who were fired but accepted Executive Producer credits) and their replacement, Ron Howard, don’t bother because it doesn’t really matter. It’s all very well-directed with some gorgeous visuals and nifty callbacks (or, rather, call-forwards) to Han and Chewie’s other adventures.

Solo: A Star Wars Story may not be a top rank film like its predecessor, Rogue One, but it is a smart, fun little thrill ride that will tide fans over very nicely until Episode Nine opens in a year and a half.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #29

Avengers: Infinity War/A Film Review

By Chris M. Barkley:

Avengers: Infinity War (2018, ***1/2) with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Helmsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Guria, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt and Josh Brolin. Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on The Avengers by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.

Bechdel Test: Passes, in spades.

We’ve come a long way since we were first introduced to the cinematic version of Marvel Comic’s Tony Stark, the “billionaire genius playboy philanthropist”, the first protagonist of the Marvel’s movie universe. The success of the 2008 movie has spawned eighteen loosely interconnected sequels which culminate the ultimate Marvel extravaganza, Avengers: Infinity War, which premieres today.

This was the conflict that we have long-awaited since the tantalizing appearance of uber-villain Thanos in an extra scene at the end of the first Avengers film in 2012. He’s an alien with a very specific goal; obtaining the six mystical stones of Time, Mind, Reality, Power, Space and Soul, that when fitted into a specially designed gauntlet, to become the most powerful entity in the universe.

Although this story has already played out in a series of comics published in 1992, millions of movie fans are anxiously awaiting what screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo have in store for the twenty-two assembled heroes.

Looking back over the past decade’s worth of superhero films, Marvel Studios is clearly triumphant in every sense of the word, culturally, critically and especially financially. Despite their best efforts, the competition from DC Comic’s entries has only seen some marginal gains at the box office. Their next release, Aquaman, is scheduled far, far away from this weekend, which should see the record box office receipts either match or exceed the opening grossed of Marvel’s previous film, Black Panther.

And as all of this is unfolding, I cannot help but wonder if with this release, the superhero movie is approaching the apex of its popularity with the film going public. How can any studio, even Marvel, go any higher, keep up the esthetic pace and production values before it loses its audience and the whole enterprise collapses in on itself?

And the real question everyone should be asking is does Kevin Feige KNOW when these movies have reached a saturation point and go out on top? Speculation has been running rampant about which high-priced actors and/or characters character will die or survive the calamitous encounter with Thanos. Is there a calculated plan to keep the Marvel Cinematic Universe alive for another decade?

Needless to say, if Marvel keeps delivering films like Infinity War, it ‘s guaranteed that they’ll will be around for around for at least another decade.

As the film opens, Thanos and his enforcers have attacked and overrun the ship containing the survivors of the destruction of Asgard. Although a wounded Thor doesn’t know it at that moment, his brother Loki possesses the Space Stone (otherwise called “the Tesseract” in previous films).

Meanwhile, Thanos’s agents are on Earth seeking the Time Stone from Doctor Strange and the Mind Stone, which is resting in the forehead of one of the Avengers, The Vision. Wanda and Vision are ambushed in Scotland, Captain America, Black Widow and the Falcon arrive to help.

When alien craft land in Manhattan, Iron Man and Spider-Man swing into action. The Guardians of the Galaxy are drawn into the action when they rescue Thor and discover that Thanos has attacked the Nova Corps home base and has the Power Stone. Realizing that her step-father may be close to obtaining all six stones, Glamora makes a strange and compelling request of Peter Quill…

As these story threads are spun out on Earth and throughout the galaxy, other heroes and villains will be drawn together in a deadly game of pursuit and combat. And at the center of it all is Thanos, powerful, regal and seemingly omnipotent, he sees as the savior who must destroy half the universe in order to save. As portrayed in motion capture by Josh Brolin, he exudes a single-minded passion in his quest for genocide.

I must say that I have to admire the audaciousness and skill of the Russo brothers in making Infinity War. I have already heard some criticism regarding the story being too spread out and the short shrift some characters receive in the exposition of the story. My only comment as a long time reviewer and lifelong fan is that this movie could not have possible been executed any better and in any other way.

And believe me; nothing can prepare you for the ending of the movie. Prepare yourselves to be shocked, bewildered and dismayed. There is only one extra scene, a cryptic shot that takes place after all the credits have run. It provides a single ray of hope that may hold the key to salvation.

In the meantime, enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp, which opens on July 6th.

If you can.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #28

Martin Luther King and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Plus 50

By Chris M. Barkley:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

If anyone understands it on the first viewing, we’ve failed in our intention.
Director Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968.

Fifty years ago today, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, while attempting to support the city’s sanitation workers’ strike for better wages and working conditions.

Two days earlier, the world premiere of Stanley Kubrick’s visionary science fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey was held at the Uptown Theatre in Washington, D.C.

One event nearly shattered the United States and the other marked a seismic occurrence in film history. Both still continue to resonate and shape our lives to this day.

April 4, 1968 was a Thursday. I was in the sixth grade, attending a Catholic parochial school, St. Francis de Sales. I don’t remember seeing any ads about 2001 during that period of time. The main news of that day, that week, as a matter of fact, was the assassination of Dr. King. President Lyndon Johnson urged the populace remain calm.

That Saturday, the Cincinnati Reds announced that the Opening Day parade and game were postponed. The mayor declared a sunset to sunup curfew for all citizens. Rioting erupted in urban areas all over the country, including Cincinnati. In Avondale, a neighborhood a few miles away from our home, the entire shopping district was destroyed. Two were killed. Ironically, the only thing left standing was a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln nearby.

In the meantime, 2001 opened across the country a few weeks later to mixed reviews. Variety’s Robert B. Frederik proclaimed that it was not a cinematic landmark, claiming, “2001 lacks dramatic appeal to a large degree and only conveys suspense after the halfway mark. Despite the enormous technical staff involved in making the film, it is almost entirely one man’s conception and Kubrick must receive all the praise – and take all the blame.”

Pauline Kael, one of the premiere film critics of the mid-20th century, said, “It has the dreamy somewhere-over-the-rainbow appeal of a new vision of heaven. 2001 is a celebration of cop-out. It says man is just a tiny nothing on the stairway to paradise, something better is coming, and it’s all out of your hands anyway. There’s an intelligence out there in space controlling your destiny from ape to angel, so just follow the slab. Drop up.”

Roger Ebert, an up and coming film reviewer at the Chicago Sun-Times (and ardent, die-hard sf fan as it turned out), was tad more perceptive when he stated, in a five-star review, “The fascinating thing about this film is that it fails on the human level but succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale. Kubrick’s universe, and the space ships he constructed to explore it, are simply out of scale with human concerns. The ships are perfect, impersonal machines which venture from one planet to another, and if men are tucked away somewhere inside them, then they get there too.”

In the spring of 1968, I was mostly oblivious to 2001. I was mainly more concerned with surviving the seventh-grade landscape, in which dodging bullies, doing homework, baseball, meeting my parent’s expectations reading and watching as many movies and consume as much television as possible.. I was also being outfitted with a series of glasses as my myopia decreased the acuity of my eyesight.

Doctor King’s message of non-violence was a sound theory to me at the time. The problem was that the other children I went to school with or were living in my neighborhood were more interested in acting like typical adolescent kids than pondering the philosophical mysteries of being a better person.

Eventually, film was a welcome diversion. Although I missed 2001 on its first theatrical release, I was more than ready in 1974, when it came back to theaters for a limited run in its original 70MM form.

Nothing prepared me for the totally immersive experience of the widescreen presentation. I count seeing 2001 for the first time one of the most influential and best film experiences of my life. From the stunning beauty and grand vistas of the African veldt to the eerily accurate rendering of the lunar surface (15 months before the real deal) to beyond the stargate, I was completely captivated.

What is also remarkable is that all of the makeup, ship models, stunts and special effects were all physical or manmade and not computer generated.

Beyond feeling that I had experienced something transcendental (without the aid of any recreational drugs, mind you), I did not know what to make of my first viewing of 2001. To me, it is completely open to a number of interpretations which is its greatest strength and exactly what Stanley Kubrick in mind.

Kubrick, in an interview with Playboy magazine said, “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film—and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level—but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point.”

When quizzed on the subject, Arthur C. Clarke gleefully recommended people read his novelization (which is still in print, BTW) of the film, which in turn contained substantial changes from the film narrative and further clouded the issue of whose version of the story is more “true”.

Yesterday, I took time out to watch a 2007 dvd reissue of 2001 in a way that I have never attempted before with any other movie I own; with the audio commentary on. The lead actors of the film, Keir Dullea (David Bowman) and Gary Lockwood (Frank Poole) provided a fascinating play-by-play of their involvement with their part in the film and other peripheral views they witnessed firsthand. Since I have seen the movie eight or nine times, I could readily follow the action as they talked. Of particular interest are their descriptions of various scenes such as Lockwood’s jog around the centrifuge of Discovery’s spaceship cabin and Dullea’s rather perilous reentry into the ship after being locked out by HAL.

Another note; Stanley Kubrick showed his true genius in the casting Lockwood and Dullea; the former was a California born athlete and television supporting actor and the latter a film veteran with the attitude of a New York stage actor. Both are approximately the same age (81 as of this column) and remain friends to this day. Although they come from completely different backgrounds and acting styles, they found that each complemented the other perfectly in their roles of astronauts.

Martin Luther King Jr. never had the opportunity to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. Frankly, I can’t see it as being the kind of film he would be interested in seeing. But, if he had done so, I think he would have focused in on one of the most famous moments in the film, the ‘match cut’ as main ape character, Moon-Watcher, learns to wield an animal bone as a weapon and subsequently throws it up in the air, only to come down through the frame and transition four million years later as a nuclear armed satellite orbiting the earth.

Most film critics over the decades have seen interpreted particular moment as the advancement of the human species from its primitive roots to a technological extreme.

Canadian sf novelist Robert J. Sawyer had a different view. Speaking in the Canadian documentary 2001 and Beyond, he saw the film cut from a bone to a nuclear weapons platform as,  “…what we see is not how far we’ve leaped ahead, what we see is that today, ‘2001’, and four million years ago on the African veldt, it’s exactly the same—the power of mankind is the power of its weapons. It’s a continuation, not a discontinuity in that jump.”

I am quite sure that if Doctor King had seen 2001, he would have seen that connection, that our violent past and present might be transcended some day. He might have not agreed with the method, especially if it was implied that it would happen at the hands (or appendages) of extraterrestrial life. He would have preferred that mankind was more than willing and capable of achieving that on our own.

Today, as I reflect back on the past fifty years, I note that people still suffer from classism, voter suppression and widespread profiling and physical violence from the police. That at this point in time, our political system seems to be in total disarray. And that the city of Memphis, the very city Doctor King was in when he was brutally cut down, is still rated by the US Census Bureau as one of the highest rates of poverty in the country.

I prefer to believe the world of 2001, as depicted in the film, is a better place than ours. That, in spite of the apparent tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, we cooperate to the extent that both parties (and more) can operate in space and the moon in relative harmony. And by extension, we may have solved our energy and climate concerns.

Despite everything that has happened since their deaths, the works and words of Doctor Martin Luther King, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke continue to inspire us to do our best for humanity. And hopefully, they will for quite a while.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #27

The author, enjoying some peach moscato, 26 February 2018

 The State of My Union – An Personal Assessment

By Chris M. Barkley:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.

– John Allen Paulos

Until recently, I really hadn’t given too much thought to the opening to Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, which remains one of the most memorable opening lines of any English language novel.

But it became uppermost in my mind when I sat down to write this particular column. I wanted to express my unease at how I look at the world and how it is balanced out by the joy of being alive in this time and place.

I paired Dickens with a quote from eminent mathematician John Allen Paulos because it perfectly summarizes the same point Dickens had made more than a century earlier. While I despair about the condition of our world, I am continuingly amazed at how aware I am and the amazing technology and we have at our fingertips each day.

On the evening of January 31st, my partner Juli and I went to see an excellent historical drama about the Pentagon papers, The Post. Staying home and watching The State of the Union Address was out of the question.

For the most obvious of reasons; the United States is currently led by a vile, anti-intellectual and profoundly stupid man. And by writing that, I want to extend an apology to all stupid people.

As we drove home, I began thinking about what was going to be the subject this column (who is intimately involved with The Post) but as I sat down to write it, I changed my mind.

This column, which is now more than a year old, was intended to be a sounding board for my thoughts and concerns about all things fannish. Looking back, I see that while there were some pretty serious columns, it seems that lately, it has been a little too top-heavy with media related reviews. So, it seems as though I was long overdue for an introspective look at something else. Myself.

My heath is rather nominal. I say rather because while I feel well enough, I have discovered after a discussion with my doctor, that I have been undergoing an extended bout of hyperglycemia brought on by my overuse of Splenda. I know how crazy that sounds but it is true. This is particularly bad news for me because I am a fanatical tea drinker and I like it sweet. Since I have type-2 diabetes, I just assumed it was safe for me to put 4 or five packs of Splendas in a 16 ounce serving. My body had different ideas. The theory is that my body, in the absence of real sugar, has been tricked into producing more sugar and insulin (with a sidecar of dopamine) which, in turn, has thrown everything out of whack.

My doctor has given me eight weeks to get my blood sugars under control or I will be prescribed to undergo insulin injections. Needless to say, my fear of needles is driving my urge to eat properly, walk and exercise on a daily basis.

Officially, I have been unemployed since April 30th of last year. I walked away from my position as the periodicals manager at one of the best independent bookstores in America I felt undervalued by the management and my boss was…well, let’s just say I lost confidence in her and let it go at that.

My current job right now is being a primary caretaker of my two-year-old granddaughter, Lily Bug. She is a delight to watch and I am quite privileged watching her growing and learning each day. She learns quickly and has an uncanny knack of showing that she is self-aware and confidently self-assured before she turned a year old, which I found a bit unusual for someone her age.

As the only child (at the moment), Lily is afforded special privileges from her overly indulgent, such as her Christmas gift of a thirteen-foot-diameter trampoline, which she lovingly calls “jumpy-jumpy”.

I’m also looking forward to her being properly potty-trained by her parents REAL SOON NOW because I would really like to put my toxic waste disposal days behind me.

Books are my life. I have sold them for over a quarter of a century and reading them all of my life. I am overwhelmed with books. I have a very bad habit of starting several books at once so my nightstand is rather swamped at the moment:

Tau Zero (1970) by Poul Anderson; this would be a perfect vehicle for a director like Kathryn Bigelow, Alex Garland or Duncan Jones. Someone should send a copy to each of them so there would be a bidding war. If you haven’t read it, it is one of the finest examples of hard adventure sf ever written.

Mary Astor’s Purple Diary (2016) written and illustrated by Edward Sorel – The Great Sex Scandal of 1936; Mary Astor was a revered character actress in the golden Age of Hollywood. Her personal life became fodder for the tabloid press when her affair with playwright George S. Kaufman was revealed because her salacious diary was discovered by her husband, Doctor Franklyn Thorpe. To say that hijinks ensued would be an incredible understatement. Woody Allen, in a rare move into literary criticism, infamously reviewed this tome for the New York Times Review of Books, which led to a backlash of virulent protest against the book editor, Pamela Paul. As Spock would say, fascinating…

The Nashville Chronicles (2000) by Jan Stuart; a lucky find at a library book sale because I had NO IDEA this book existed. Nashville is one of my top ten favorites of all time and I am enjoying this book as much as I adore Aljean Harmetz’s making of Casablanca, Round Up the Usual Suspects.

Will Eisner’s The Spirit: A Celebration of 75 Years (2015); When I started digging into the history of comics back in 1967, the very first book I came across was Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. I skipped all of the mumbo jumbo analysis that I could barely understand and dove right into the comics. The most thrilling find was Eisner’s tough talking masked man, a comic strip hero I’d never heard of before. I instantly became a lifelong fan.

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (2017); This is a compilation of the ten short stories that comprise the first season of the Amazon Prime series that dropped in late December.

Of course, once the Hugo nominations are announced, all of the above will be put aside to assess what I will be voting on…

There are some days that some of my most creative writing is done on Facebook. While I find it personally satisfying to get the better of trolls and other malcontents whom I verbally cross swords with, but it is very distracting and very time-consuming. I could be doing research, reading and honing my craft and so I might stand a chance of getting paid for this writing gig some day.

But I am passionate about a few things online; censorship, police relations with the public, political corruption of all stripes and most of all, gun control. The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida two weeks ago [at the time this was written] pointedly illustrated out how polarized and partisan Americans feel about the struggle between those who strive to protect their gun rights against gun control advocates.

I don’t want to confiscate anyone’s guns unless it is absolutely necessary. I have only held an actual firearm in my hands twice in my entire life. I have no problem telling anyone that guns terrify me. I’ve been stopped by police officers over a dozen times and managed to survive all of those encounters. I have no need of a gun and absolutely no desire to own one right now. I sincerely doubt I will change my mind but I remain open to being trained one day, just in case.

But over the past few weeks, I have compulsively and aggressively engaged many people on this issue, especially the overly officious people who would dismiss the survivors of the Parkland Massacre because they do not meet their narrow and dogmatic standards:

R: Yes. I have around 70 years familiarity with weapons of all kinds, weapons history (not talking just firearms, here), and literally 50 years of participation in the FAPOL (Firearms And Politics) arena. I pretty much qualify as an expert.

What they saw was horrible, but has absolutely no relevance to what they say about guns, gun owners, or gun laws – I haven’t heard one speak yet who wasn’t absolutely clueless on the subject.

When people insist on vague – or specific but ridiculous – changes to something they don’t know anything about and get wrong every time they open their mouths, it leaves people who do know something about the subject staring at them like they have their heads on backwards.

The fact that they, and other people like them, refuse to listen when you try to educate them, or correct their misstatements, doesn’t buy them any credit whatsoever – it subtracts from whatever credit they started with, and ultimately it gets them ignored as irrelevant.

ME: R, I am ten years younger than you. I have seen plenty myself. I have no problem telling you that you are dead wrong. As wrong as Johnson and Nixon were about the protesters of the Vietnam war. I could cite other examples, but you should keep that one primarily in mind. Historical movements have been started with less provocation. The kids who survived that ordeal on Valentine’s Day are now the spokespersons for an ENTIRE GENERATION who have had enough of the proliferation of guns, enough of the platitudes of politicians who have been paid off in money and influence by the NRA to do their bidding, enough of attitudes like yours, R., that weapons and the right to own and carry them are more important than their rights and their lives.

It’s all going to change R, whether you like it or not.

Change is hard. You can sit on the sidelines harping about these kids all you want.

You can’t stop them. You won’t stop them.

With their help, am I hoping they will be the vanguard of a range of social changes, and that sir, will bloody well include gun control in various forms.

Now, either you or your friends can continue to be part if the problem or you can be part of the solution. I intend to be in the right of history.

I’m supporting these kids.

Mind you, R. was at a distinct disadvantage because I was watching the recent Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour and I felt as though I was directly channeling him as I was tapping out this reply.

And there was this exchange:

V.L.: I believe in liberty and the constitution. The 2cond amendment and the individual right to bear arms is guaranteed by our constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court in the Heller case. As a reasonable person I’m open to some of the ideas being discussed; raising the age to 21 for purchase of certain weapons, universal background checks, banning bump stocks ect. The ‘assault weapons’ ban has zero merit. There’s nothing about guns made with black polymer that look like military weapons that make them more deadly than ordinary wooden semi-automatic rifles. It’s really magazine capacity, not the gun, that makes mass shootings more deadly. My issue with many on the left is they don’t believe people should own guns at all, or they say everyone should be allowed to own a musket because that’s what was available when the founding fathers penned the Constitution. The rationale of the 2cond amendment was a well armed militia to defend the country from a tyrannical government (which had just occurred) so the weapons of the militia should be equivalent to those of the government. I’m not advocating that citizens have access to tanks and rockets, but at the same time the 2cond amendment never had to do with hunting which is now what the left uses as the ‘need’ for guns. “I don’t want to take away Uncle John’s hunting gun”… This was never the basis for the second amendment. Murder is already illegal. Guns shouldn’t be the main focus; hardening school security should be.

To V.L.: ”Hardening school security”? What are you suggesting? Because it sounds like you’re suggesting more of a settling for a prison than school.

And, for the record, those of us who are level-headed folks who believe in some changes in the gun laws want law abiding gun owners to STOP acting like the 2nd Amendment, as written, is the most important thing in your lives. Your “gun rights” are not more vital than any human life.

We want to live in a world where guns are just as hard to buy as houses, cars and a Lear jet. That would include licensing, insurance for each weapon and regular recertification. Anyone caught without those accreditations should be prosecuted to within an inch of their lives and jailed.

THAT’S what we want. Some ideas in your post are a good start. But they don’t go far enough. Either you’re part of the problem or you’re part of the solution.

Choose.

Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado stated in an interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on February 27 that on the whole, we are terrorizing ourself over what to do about gun violence in America. When he was asked by host Rachel Martin whether or not the country had reached a tipping point on gun control with the Parkland tragedy, he said, “Well, there’s an accumulation of sorrow. And I think people’s hearts are just breaking, and there is a frustration now. For the first time, I keep hearing people talking about, you know, long-term Republican funders saying they’re going to fund people based on how they respond to gun safety, the introduction of gun safety laws, and that’s new. I mean, I haven’t heard that before where Republicans, who historically have been fighting for, you know, more traditional Republican goals, right? Lower taxes, smaller government, that kind of thing. Now they’re looking at gun safety as a large enough issue that it will define who they donate money to and who they vote for.”

I plan on working on posting a Gun Safety Manifesto to Change.org in the next month or so. The emphasis of the petition will be on gun safety, not “gun rights. Gun culture, either through the machinations of the National Rifle Association or other gun rights groups have had their day. Repealing or changing the Second Amendment will be on the table one day soon.

The sooner the better I think.

“Those who never change their minds never change anything.”
-Winston Churchill

Dedicated to the students, faculty and administrators of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #26

A Wrinkle In Time: A Film Review

By Chris M. Barkley:

A Wrinkle in Time (***1/2, 2018) with Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey,Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Deric McCabe, Levi, Miller, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis and Chris Pine. Screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, Based on A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Directed by Ava DuVernay.

Bechdel Test: PASS!

When we first meet Meg Murray (Storm Reid), she is in terrible shape. He scientist father Alex Murray (Chris Pine) has been missing for four years. Although she has proven herself to be an excellent student on occasions, her grades are down, she is incessantly bullied by a clique of girls at her school, she a discipline problem for the principle (Alex Holland), she feels overshadowed by her genius little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and, as all fourteen year olds do sooner or later, has no confidence in herself.

Then, one dark and stormy evening, the children and their bewildered mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) meet Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) a free-spirited entity who seems to know Charles Wallace and is afflicted with a good case of Asperger’s syndrome.

Soon afterwards, Charles Wallace introduces Meg and a school acquaintance, Calvin (Levi Miller) to the slightly narcoleptic Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who dispenses her wisdom through quotes and song lyrics.

The arrival of Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), the third and seemingly most powerful alien shows up, she announces that the three have been chosen for an incredible quest: the rescue of Dr. Alex Murray from the furthest reaches of unknown space!

When filmmakers dare to take on a nearly universally acclaimed piece of literature to adapt for a movie, they proceed at their own peril. For every Casablanca, The Third Man and The Godfather, there are dozens of others wrecked along the road to respectability (and profitability.

Now in the docket is Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a young adult science fantasy novel which won the prestigious Newbery Award for children’s literature in 1962. It has been such a popular and beloved book that has NEVER been out of print.

Taking on the challenge are director Ava DuVernay (Selma), director/screenwriter Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Zootopia) and Jeff Stockwell with producer Catherine Hand and Jim Whittaker. It was mainly through the dogged persistence of Hand, who had produced a lightly received, 2003 ABC television movie version, that a big budget version was fully realized fourteen years later.

And let me tell you, this version succeeds magnificently.

I will tell you quite frankly that this film took my heart in its hands and ran with it when Meg, who was being bullied on the playground, lost her temper, took a basketball and beaned her queen bee neighbor square in the face. As someone who was bullied as a child, I felt immense satisfaction in seeing her do THAT! Of course, Meg was totally wrong in her actions, which also illustrates that a big part of her problem is her temper and acting impulsively.

Cleverly, this of all plays into the narrative of the book AND the film, Meg trying her best to cope with, understand and control these feelings.

And while the supporting cast is great, the whole enterprise firmly relies on the shoulders of Storm Reid, who gives a star-making performance.

Over the past two days I re-read A Wrinkle in Time, have noted the changes that have been made and I think that this film is one of the best film adaptations I have had the privilege to see.

Although it has been a nearly month since the opening of Disney’s other juggernaut, Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time has performed slightly below its target of $35 million dollars in the opening weekend, I fully expect that in time, audiences, especially parents with kids over the age of eight or nine, will discover and LOVE this movie.

Each generation of children have had a seminal film for which they will forever associate with their first real movie experience; The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Star Wars, E.T., The NeverEnding Story, etc…

Mark my words, despite the 42% Rotten Tomatoes score, a 52% on Metacritic and a just a “B” from CinemaScore, I fully believe that this film will not only succeed, but endure with children as time goes by.

Tremendous Pushback Against Barkley YA Award Name Proposal

Since Chris Barkley released his “Proposal to Re-Name the Young Adult Book Award” yesterday it has been heavily criticized, and five of the nine signers have removed their names —  Juliette Wade, Melinda Snodgrass, Pablo Miguel Alberto Vasquez, and Shawna McCarthy, and Vincent Docherty, who says his name never should have been included to begin with.

Last year, the Worldcon 75 business meeting finalized creation of a new YA Award for the World Science Fiction Convention, ratifying it by a vote of 65-27, and a motion naming it the Lodestar award received first passage. (For a complete explanation of how the committee chose that name, read the YA Award Full Report.)

Barkley’s proposal urges the award be given a different name — though just what name he planned to keep embargoed until the start of this year’s business meeting. (“There is very good reason why the name will not be revealed at this time and that explanation will also be given at that time.”)

However, when Melinda Snodgrass told Facebook readers why she was no longer a signer, she also revealed the proposed name.

So I have apparently inadvertently stepped into the middle of a science fiction fandom/Hugo/Worldcon hornet’s nest. So do pass on to anyone who might care that this was done innocently and was me attempting to not seem to be slighting Ursula K. Le Guin who was one of our greatest writers.

How this all happened — I had the vague memory that we now have a YA award of some kind and when I got a request to put my name on a petition to have it named for Le Guin it seemed churlish to refuse. I thought it was another make nice sort of honorary thing so I said sure even though it didn’t matter to me one whit.

But apparently this process has consumed fandom and worldcon like a wildfire for the past several years, and I have apparently been pulled into this fight when I didn’t even know there was a fight.

So consider this me stating that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not taking a side because I didn’t know there were sides to be taken, I’ve requested my name be removed and I’m backing slowly away from the whole thing so I can get back to writing and working to get Wild Cards on the air.

Once this whole thing gets settled I will be happy to vote for a YA novel because I really enjoy YA novels. And I don’t care what they call the award.

Chris Barkley sent File 770 this comment “on the record”: “I do not have any comment at this time. If anyone wants to know what name will be officially revealed, they are welcome to attend the Preliminary Business Meeting at Worldcon 76.”

Also, Ellen Datlow, although not listed in Barkley’s post on File 770, announced on Facebook that she has removed her name from the petition.

Renay of Lady Business has made the most thorough critical response to the motion. Jump on the thread here:

At another point she underscores how the proposal disrespects the process used to create the award —

She is not the only one to see the proposal as demeaning people’s work on the award:

While the name was still unknown, Brian White voiced his deepest fear….

However, it needs to be made clear that the Worldcon was not the author of this idea —

Stacy Whitman satirized the proposal in a thread —

And a writer who knows something about the years of debate behind the award wryly suggested another new name:

[Thanks to Mark Hepworth, JJ, and Chris Barkley for the story.]

A Proposal to Re-Name the Young Adult Book Award at Worldcon 76

By Chris M. Barkley

“When the mind is free, magic happens.”
— Young Adult author C.G. Rousing

“Harry Potter” blew the roof off of children’s literature. But that doesn’t mean the work is done — for YA authors, it just means more scope for the imagination.”
Huffington Post reporter Claire Fallon, June 2017

Reading is one of the great pleasures in life. For a time in our modern age, it is seems as though young grade and high school kids had abandoned reading books.

Then, in 1997, along came J.K. Rowling and her creation, the world of Harry Potter. And now, after twenty-one years, it’s hard to imagine what might have happened to entire generation of young readers if Bloomsbury and Scholastic Books hadn’t taken a chance on the saga of a young wizard and his friends and deadly enemies.

The Harry Potter novels, which continue to sell, provided a mighty tide that raised the fortunes of a great many writers; new authors such as Suzanne Collins, Garth Nix, Veronica Roth, Rick Riordan and Tamora Pierce, led story hungry children to the older works of seasoned professionals like Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Madeline L’Engle, Ursula K. Le Guin and Robert A. Heinlein.

In 2006, The Science Fiction and Fantasy writers of America created the Andre Norton Award, which is given to the author of the best young adult or middle grade science fiction or fantasy work published in the United States in the preceding year.

Five years later, a serious effort was started to establish a Hugo Award for young adult books. The World Science Fiction Convention Business Meeting, which governs the WSFS Constitution that administers the Hugo Awards, several committees over several years, determined that the proposed award would better be served as a separate category, to be on par with the other non-Hugo category, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

The amendment to add the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book to the WSFS Constitution was first ratified last summer at the 75th World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland by the members of the Business Meeting and must be ratified a second time at this year’s Worldcon in San Jose, California to begin it’s official trial run as a category.

This year’s Worldcon Convention Committee (headed by Kevin Roche) has graciously accepted to administer the Young Adult Book award in addition to the new Best Series and Campbell Awards.

The nomination period for the Hugos, Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer opened February 5.

We, the undersigned, wish to congratulate the various YA Committee for reaching a consensus with their diligent work in crafting the parameters of the YA Award for the World Science Fiction Convention. However, we also think that the name of this new award should have a name which not only should be universally recognizable, but have an equivalent weight to the name of John W. Campbell, Jr.

We, the undersigned, will respectfully submit a new name for the Young Adult Book Award at the Preliminary Session of the Worldcon 76 Business Meeting on August 17, 2018 as a strike though substitution for the name ‘Lodestar’, under the rules governing the WSFS Business Meeting.

We will also embargo the name until the start of the Preliminary Session.

There is very good reason why the name will not be revealed at this time and that explanation will also be given at that time.

While we also understand that while this motion may cause a great deal of consternation, we also feel that this would be an excellent opportunity to generate a great deal of interest about the Worldcon and bring MORE attention to this new award to potential nominators, readers of all ages, booksellers and the public at large.

The proposed name will forever be known and honored in perpetuity with the Hugo Awards, the John W. Campbell Award, and the World Science Fiction Convention.

Proposed by Worldcon 76 Attending Members:
Juli Marr
Robert J. Sawyer
Steven H. Silver
Chris M. Barkley

Update 03/07/2018: Removed Melinda Snodgrass and Juliette Wade as signers. Also removed Vincent Docherty, who said in a comment his name was included in error, he never was a signer. // Subsequently, Shawna McCarthy and Pablo Vasquez have asked to have their names removed.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #25

Sonequa Martin-Green

File 770’s Black History Month Part Two, Star Trek: Discovery, Season One

By Chris M. Barkley:

Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access, ***1/2) with Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs, Doug Jones, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz with guest appearances by Michelle Yeoh, James Frain, Riann Wilson, Jayne Brook, Clare McConnell, Mary Cheiffo and Rekha Sharma and Chris Obi. Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman based on Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry.

The defining factor of Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future … Once you lose that, you lose the essence of what Star Trek is. That being said… Star Trek has always been a mirror to the time it reflected and [the topical question now] is how do you preserve and protect what Starfleet is in the weight of a challenge like war and the things that have to be done in war.

—Executive producer Alex Kurtzman on the balance between classic Star Trek and new elements in Discovery.

SPOILER WARNING

Before we dive in here, I must say in full disclosure that I have purposefully avoided a great many critiques of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery to avoid copycatting anyone else’s opinion or views. I would like to think that as a fan of a certain age (sixty -one, for the record), and having watched every incarnation of the series since it started, I have a uniquely comprehensive view of the franchise.

On Sunday morning at Capricon 38, I joined forty-five fans and three panelists gathered in a small meeting room. The subject of the panel was Star Trek: Discovery vs. The Orville.

Basically this was a contrast and compare panel but the vibe of the room felt as though there were some very passionate feelings about both shows, but especially against Discovery. and as the hour-and-a-half panel unfolded, most of the discussion was centered on that issue.

When I was asked point-blank by an audience member how I would compare the two side by side, I pointedly stated that for the most part, Discovery was professional grade television and The Orville was some very nice fan-fiction.

Mind you, I stated in my review in a previous column that Seth McFarlane’s show was a pretty decent effort for someone who is demonstrably a big fan sf, of the original series and The Next Generation in particular. But the first several episodes featured some very off-color and rude humor mixed into the rudimentary sf concept. There were several outstanding episodes as their first season progressed (“Pria”, “In the Fold,” “Cupid’s Dagger” and “Mad Idolatry” among them) and for the most part, the show is worth keeping an eye on.

Star Trek: Discovery however, dazzled me right out of the gate with its pilot episodes, “The Vulcan Hello” and “The Battle of Binary Stars”, as I recounted in my impressions from another previous column. At the end of these episodes that Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) of the Shenzhou is dead after a surprise raid on an enemy ship went sideways, the Federation is in an all out war with the Klingon Empire and that First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was convicted of mutiny and imprisoned for life.

And then things got decidedly more complicated.

Six months into her sentence, Burnham’s transfer to another prison is delayed by an emergency “rescue” engineered by Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) of the USS Discovery. Lorca deliberately sought to have her diverted to serve on his ship under the title “Specialist” in order to help the Federation’s war efforts. (Or so it seems.) Burnham, who is still feeling quite a considerable amount of guilt about Georgiou’s death and her part in starting the war, somewhat reluctantly accepts the assignment over the objections of First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), who was the Science Officer aboard the ill-fated Shenzhou. The only person besides Lorca who welcomes her aboard is her roommate, Syvia Killy, a somewhat ambitious (and talkative) Starfleet Cadet.

Captain Lorca is unlike any officer Burnham or any of the crew has ever served with before. Having lost his own crew in a wartime disaster, he seems to be driven by a desire to avenge his loss at any means necessary. Starfleet has seen fit to overlook his obvious symptoms of post traumatic distress and the bending or breaking regulations and laws because of his success in battle against the Klingons.

Aiding in those victories is the innovative spore-drive developed by (and eventually guided by) Science Officer Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) that can teleport the Discovery to practically any point in known space. But what Staments has withheld from Lorca and the ship’s chief medical officer (and his lover) Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) is that there are some debilitating side effects each time he uses it.

Meanwhile, the Klingons have not been idle; following the death of T’Kuvma, the leader who briefly unified the twenty-four houses of the Empire, two outcasts, L’Rell (Mary Cheiffo) and Voq (initially played by Javid Iqbal) formulate their own plan to take the USS Discovery and the spore drive for themselves…

As the season progresses, Burnham faces off against a future frenemy of Captain Kirk, Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Rainn Wilson), is reluctantly attracted to a former prisoner of war turned crewmate, Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), is forced to deal with her relationship while close proximity to Saru, who is wary of her and her motivations for being on the Discovery and is plunged, along with the rest of the crew, into the infamous “mirror universe” where the Federation’s xenophobic counterpart, the Terran Empire, holds sway.

One of the great storytelling devices of all time is to throw the protagonist(s) into a very deep hole and see if they can claw their way out. I think that the creators of Discovery knew that this would be the only way to start the series out, with the Federation being faced with its greatest challenge; how does an organization dedicated to peace stay true to their beliefs in a time of crisis.

Since there has been little in the way of a historical accounting of the ten years prior to the adventures of the original Star Trek series, creators Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman (who also was involved in the big screen “Kelvan Universe” films) decided that this would be a fertile ground to explore.

The biggest complaint that I have heard among critics and fans was simply, “This is not Star Trek.”

Star Trek, with the notable exception of Deep Space Nine, has been mainly about peacekeeping, diplomacy, seeking out new life forms and civilizations and boldly going where no one had gone before. And, under the dictum of creator Gene Roddenberry and his successors, Rick Berman and the late Michael Piller, personnel in Starfleet NEVER engage in significant personal conflicts (unless they are mentally ill, possessed by an alien life form or worse, whatever that might be) discouraged to show any basic human flaws. This rule has been inconstantly enforced at times over the course of the series but many a writer and producer have found out the hard way that while this may be noble cause in practice, but it is a hell of a roadblock for storytellers to hurdle on weekly basis.

Refreshingly (as far as I’m concerned), series creator Bryan Fuller and his team of producers decided to brilliantly defenestrate this rule in the very first episode and had its main character commit mutiny to put an exclamation point on it. “The rules of Starfleet remain the same,” producer Gretchen J. Berg told Entertainment Weekly in June of 2017. “But while we’re human or alien in various ways, none of us are perfect.”

I imagine that a lot of fans felt put out that these drastic variances in the series were completely outside of their previous experiences with Star Trek.  Factors such as the décor and uniforms not matching previous incarnations, the addition of openly LGBTQ characters or the introduction of more women and people of color and in command positions. But this is the 21st century and Discovery, by far, has the most diverse cast in the Star Trek canon, especially with the casting of people of different ethnicities in key roles and a black woman in the lead role.

Critics of Discovery also nitpicked about the aesthetics of the art and set direction (which Kurtzman freely admits was based on the current movie sets). Other complaints were aimed the design of the Klingon’s makeup and costumes; some enormous, balding prosthetics along with the organically baroque looking uniforms designed by Neville Page and Glenn Hetrick are reminiscent of the best work of the late H. R. Giger. I, for one, was not as bothered by all of that as much as I was by how slowl*y and deliberately the Klingon characters were speaking and acting.

Admittedly, this new look was very interesting and invigorating to me, a long time Star Trek watcher. But I rolled with it because I appreciated what these creators were doing, forging a new, sustainable path for Star Trek.

While most of the main storyline involved the redemptive path of Michael Burnham, I was also very intrigued and ultimately surprised by others, especially her ill-fated friendship with Ash Tyler, L’Rell’s long game of treachery, seeing the chemistry between Lt. Stamets and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), the depths of duplicity committed by Captain Lorca and revelation of Tilly’s lofty career ambitions, which reach some shockingly surprising heights by her counterpart in the mirror universe. The only major criticism I have is that the bridge crew, as stalwart, loyal, upstanding and brave as they are, remain ciphers to me. I am hoping that the writers and producers have some big plans for including them in more storylines in season two.

THE biggest and most vocal objection I have read online or heard from fans and at conventions was CBS’s decision to place the series on its All-Access streaming channel after airing the first episode. Full disclosure; I signed up immediately for a monthly subscription immediately. Because (a) I liked what I saw and (b) the freaking cliffhanger!

My continuing subscription is $5.99 a month, which comes out to a little over $2.50 an episode for the fifteen episodes of the first season. I am still paying. Why, you might ask? Because that nearly $6.00 a month not only grants me access to thousands of hours of CBS programming (Hello Perry Mason and NCIS and Medium), it also supports original programming like Discovery, The Good Fight (a sequel to The Good Wife) and the just announced revival of The Twilight Zone which will be produced by the newly minted media mega-hyphenate and Oscar nominee, Jordan Peele. Other shows, genre and otherwise are currently in development.

And Discovery was not cheaply made. The actual cost of each episode of Discovery was estimated to be between $8 and 8.5 million dollars each, the cost of a small independent film!

It’s been twelve years since a Star Trek series was on the air. Would Discovery have been a smash hit if were broadcast on cable or the network instead of streaming? It’s certainly possible. But it’s already a moot point; Star Trek: Discovery was considered so successful from CBS’s point of view in the form of paid subscriptions, that they ordered a second season in October of last year the day after the sixth episode aired.

I have encountered people who think that the shows they love should be available at no charge. But someone is paying and it is you. Television shows produced for legacy networks and syndication were never really “free. They charge a premium price to allow advertisers to showcase products on programs and in turn, those costs have been passed along to you, the consumer, through the prices of those products you buy. As the decades have passed, this business model has been changing; first, the advent of cable eroded traditionally huge audiences for networks, and further divided them as hundreds of cable channels were created, giving the limited pool of viewers an unprecedented amount of material to see.

So, for better or worse, this may be the model that the broadcast networks may follow in the next decade.  And the success of Star Trek: Discovery is just another indication that it works.

Like it or not, welcome to the future. And if you love Star Trek, you’ll be there, too.

(Just a word of warning: The photo is actually an Instagram post from August of 2015 and has been photoshopped to convey the message above.  BUT, in this December 2017 interview from Gulf News, Sir Patrick gave his enthusiastic approval to discovery (even though he hasn’t seen the show yet) so that is my justification for including it here. Discretion is advised for using it , but, what the hell, it’s cute!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #24

File 770’s Black History Month, Part One: Black Panther

By Chris M. Barkley:

Black Panther (2018, ****) with Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman. Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Directed by Ryan Coogler.

Bechdel Test: PASS!!!!!

Ever since Marvel Studios first announced in 2014 it was developing a film version of the iconic black superhero, Black Panther, a great deal of hype and anticipation has surrounded its production. And now, I can tell you, without any hesitation, that this film has exceeded all my expectations.

Set shortly after the assassination of the King T’Chaka of Wakanda in Captain America: Civil War, heir apparent Prince T’Challa (a magnificently ripped Chadwick Boseman) is to be crowned the new King. But although T’Challa has trained and studied for this moment for a majority of his life, he feels as though he is unready and can never be the equal of his father.

T’Challa has bigger problems; the path to the crown does not go unchallenged. M’Baku (Winston Duke), the powerful leader of the agrarian northern tribe tries to depose him, a master criminal, Ulyssess Klaue (Andy Serkis) is at large peddling vibranium, the precious metal that fuels Wakanda’s existence and is distracted by his ex-lover by his concern over the safety of (Lupita Nyong’o), who spends most of her time outside the kingdom as a secret service agent.

But the sudden emergence of Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a previously unknown heir to the throne suddenly appears to pose the biggest threat to T’Challa and his kingdom. A trained killer, he aids Klaue’s activities and seeks to take Wakandan weapons and technology to “liberate” the oppressed minorities of the world in order to dominate the world for himself.

The Black Panther debuted June 1966 in Fantastic Four # 52 and 53 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. It is only natural to expect Marvel Comics, the innovative group of creators that gave us angst driven teenage heroes (Spider-Man and the X-Men) heroes and villains with anger issues (The Hulk, Namor, the Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom) and physical disabilities (Daredevil) would bring the world the very first, true black superhero. I personally believe that they created the Black Panther out of their observations of the civil rights movement and seeing the potential of building bridges to the youthful African-American audience hungry for heroes they can identify with.

(In October of that year, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton created the influential revolutionary group, The Black Panthers for Self Defense as a reactionary counterpart of Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement. Neither man confirmed that the group was named after Marvel’s hero but just calling it merely a coincidence is a bit of stretch.)

I have had the privilege of watching the character of the Black Panther evolve over the decades to come to this particular moment in black cultural history.

There are several reasons why this particular film is important right now:

A) As the 17th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, writer-director Ryan Coogler has assembled of the largest and most diverse casts of black actors, both of American and international origins, in recent memory.

B) The story provides a different, but important slice of the Marvel Universe that many readers of comics were familiar with but most moviegoers were probably unaware of.

C) It also shows a fictionalized region of Africa that has never been colonized, despoiled or exploited by any outside forces, an idealized place where love of country goes hand in hand with advanced technology.

But beneath there are clearly cracks in Wakanda’s utopian vision here; much of the country’s internal success has come from a traditional intense sense of secrecy that does not allow any other points of view. When Erik “Killmonger” Stevens arrives to make his play for Wankandan crown, he finds a fertile ground to sow his nefarious plot. And what should be nagging in the back of every viewer’s mind is could there be a kernel of truth in what he’s seeking.

T’Challa may have a suit of vibranium and advanced weapons at his disposal but he knows he cannot prevail on his own. He is blessed with some serious backup; covert operator Nakia, the fearsome Okoye (Danai Gurira), the head of his all female special forces unit, his beloved mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), a frenemy CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and his spunky and techno-genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who steals practically every scene she’s in.

Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole deserve an enormous amount of credit in balancing everyone’s role so the movie feels like a beautifully infectious fever dream of action, adventure and personal tragedy.

The advanced ticket sales of Black Panther have ensured its financial success, both here in America and overseas. But its cultural impact can only be measured by the number of new projects featuring racially and sexually diverse cast will made in the near future. I, along with you and many others, can only watch and wait.

ONWARD, WAKANDA!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #23

The Orville – A Season One Review

By Chris M. Barkley

The Orville (Twelve Episodes, Rating **1/2 out of four stars) created by Seth MacFarlane with MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J Lee, Mark Jackson and Chad L. Coleman. Executive Producers: Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark.

Fifty-one years ago, I was ten years old and having my mind blown by watching Star Trek. Six years later, I was reading Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Madeline L’Engle, Harlan Ellison and getting acquainted with the authors of the two volumes of The Hugo Winners. Three years after that, I attended my first sf convention.

Throughout my life in and out of fandom, Star Trek has remained one of my cultural lodestones. But as I got older, I often wondered if it would remain relevant or if there were new avenues that the basic premise could explore.

In the early 1980’s, I had the rare privilege of chatting with the late Gordon R. Dickson and had an extended conversation about Star Trek in particular. When I asked him about the possibility of writing a novel for Pocket Books, who were producing a number of paperback books in the wake of the success of The Wrath of Khan, Dickson demurred.

“The universe they created is so big and wide,” he said, “but all they’re interested in are stories about Kirk, Spock and McCoy. And I’m not interested in that.”

The point was well taken. Gene Roddenberry, the cast and the universe that had been created, were slowly becoming cemented into the culture as the ONLY acceptable version of Star Trek people were interested in supporting.

But when Roddenberry was presented with the opportunity of trying to re-create that sort of lightning in a bottle in 1986, he could not resist. Thus, he and a dedicated group of creators and launched The Next Generation, which, defying all odds, ran for seven years in syndication and to this very day in various outlets across the communication spectrum. Many other sf based television shows and movies have followed in its wake but only a few (The X-Files, Doctor Who or Lost, for example) can even attempt to approach its cultural and historical significance.

Actor/Writer/Producer Seth MacFarland is not only a fan of Star Trek, but of sf in general, as he repeatedly demonstrates in his new tv series, The Orville. He wanted to re-launch Star Trek as a series as far back as October 2011, when he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I don’t know who would give me the keys to that car. But I’d love to see that franchise revived for television in the way that it was in the 1990s: very thoughtful, smartly written stories that transcend the science fiction audience.”

When he was asked directly during a 2017 summer press tour if The Orville was a parody of Star Trek, MacFarlane said not really. “For me, it’s a space that’s kind of waiting to be filled in this day and age when we’re getting a lot of dystopian science fiction,” he said. “This is sort of an attempt to fill that void in that genre.”

When Fox announced it had greenlit a 13-episode order for The Orville in May 2016, I did a mental eyeroll. While I was well aware of his somewhat caustic and crude sense of humor (Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show) I had NO IDEA how much of a diehard sf fan at heart.

I had very low expectations when my partner Juli and I decided to watch the pilot. In fact, our first experience with The Orville started out very ominously. The day after The Orville premiered on Fox, we sat down to stream the pilot episode. And, quite frankly, we both were feeling quite underwhelmed by what we were seeing.

Approximately 400 years in the future, Ed Mercer, a starship officer of “The Union”, a spacefaring federation (heh!) has just gotten off duty to come home and find his wife and fellow officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) committing adultery with an alien. A year later, Ed and Kelly are divorced but find themselves thrown together on a newly commissioned Union ship, The Orville.

As much as Mercer dislikes Grayson being assigned to the Orville, he’s stuck with her, at least for the time being. Their bickering and bitterly sarcastic jokes about it take up a great deal of the first half of the show, like a very bad, bizarro version of The Honeymooners.

Fortunately, the crew picks up a priority distress signal from a Union research station. Once there, they discover that the scientists there have developed a process that ages matter. They want the crew to take custody of it before the Krill, the Union’s ruthless counterparts, arrive and seize it for themselves…

And suddenly, literally midway through, the streaming of the pilot (and ONLY the pilot, we learned) abruptly cut out and could not be restored.

After trying several times, I looked at Juli and said, “Maybe this is an omen.” And with that, we both decided to give the show a complete pass.

Over the following weeks, a curious thing happened; I saw a few posts online and on social media either expounding on the virtues of The Orville. To be sure, there were some withering commentary as well but I became intrigued by the good notices. Finally, after a rave from sf author (and Star Trek enthusiast) Robert J. Sawyer renewed my interest in giving it a second chance.

I also did a little research before I binged the twelve aired episodes. (A thirteenth episode was held back due to a scheduling conflict and will serve as the second season premiere later this year).

In an effort to make The Orville as authentic as possible, MacFarlane surrounded himself with a virtual Murderer’s Row of veterans of with previous sf series; producer and director Brannon Braga (The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise and FlashForward), David A. Goodman (Futurama, Enterprise), director Tucker Gates (Angel, Alias, Lost and Carnivale), actor-director Robert Duncan McNeill (Voyager and Chuck) writer-producer Andre Bormanis (Star Trek, Threshold and Cosmos) and actor-director Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Roswell). In addition to Adrianne Palicki’s genre chops (Smallville, Supernatural, S.H.I.E.L.D. and John Wick), he added Penny Johnson Gerald, who was a regular on Castle for several years and had a pivotal recurring role on Deep Space Nine.

Some of the characters MacFarlane created for The Orville mirror some of the archetypes from other Star Trek series; the somewhat brusque Doctor Finn (a blend of Doctors Crusher and Pulaski), Peter Macon’s second officer, Lieutenant Commander Bortus (Worf), Halston Sage as the super strong security chief Kitan (Tasha Yar), J Lee’s John LaMarr (Geordi LaForge) and Mark Jackson’s android Isaac (Data, which I highly suspect is a nod to Isaac Asimov). Character actor Scott Grimes plays the amiable helmsman Gordon Malloy, who is not based on anyone in the Star Trek canon but fills the rather thankless role of a humorous foil for the crew.

I began by re-watching the pilot, “Old Wounds” from the beginning. (Juli decided not to participate.) On the whole it was a slow-moving affair with a lot of McFarlane’s trademarked crude humor being somewhat forced into the storyline. The pilot, directed by film vet Jon Favreau and written by McFarlane, was uneven at best but in the end, was somewhat redeemed by a rather funny and unorthodox solution for eliminating the Krill threat that involved a glue gun and the seed of a redwood tree. I actually laughed out loud when it was executed, which gave me some hope that the other episodes were better than the pilot.

As I proceeded I found that by varying degrees, the quality of some the stories improved, but the overall quality was somewhat uneven:

1)      Mad Idolatry (Episode 12), ***1/2
2)      Into The Fold (Episode 8) ***
3)      Cupid’s Dagger(Episode 9) ***
4)      Pria (Episode 5) ***
5)      If the Stars Should Appear (Episode 4) **1/2
6)      Krill (Episode 6) **1/2
7)      Firestorm (Episode 10) **1/2
8)      About A Girl (Episode 4) **1/2
9)      New Dimensions (Episode 11) **
10)   Majority Rules (Episode 7) **
11)   Command Performance (Episode 2) **
12)   Old Wounds (Pilot Episode) *1/2

Some basic sf concepts are sprinkled throughout these episodes and for the most part they are well handled. “If the Stars Should Appear” realistically features a generation ship with all of the requisite problems that would have made Robert Heinlein himself smile. “Majority Rules” and “About A Girl” are about cultural assimilation and are a bit uncommon because they do not cop-out with a quick denouement or easy answers. We learn more about the Union’s main adversary, the Krill, in the episode of that title, and in the process explore the double-edged consequences of espionage.

While J Lee’s character, Navigator Lieutenant John LaMarr is in the spotlight in “Majority Rules” and “New Dimensions”, I found his character’s development somewhat dissatisfying; he’s portrayed a bit of an idiot in one instance the former episode and is outed as a closet genius and is subsequently promoted to be the ship’s chief engineer in the latter. While I welcome these changes, it’s done in a way in which seems a bit disingenuous at best.

“Into The Fold”, “Cupid’s Dagger” and “Pria” are clever and engaging character studies. Doctor Finn and android Isaac (Mark Jackson) particularly shine in their side adventure “Fold”, while Mercer and Grayson’s past and present relationship is explored a bit further in these two episodes. (I must say that “Pria”, whose presence was graced by Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, could have been a better outing if the focus had been on Grayson’s character rather than Mercer.)

The season’s highlight of the season was the last episode, “Mad Idolatry”, which, I say surprisingly, I am contemplating putting on my shortlist for Beat Dramatic Presentation-Short Form. When Grayson helps heal a little girl’s injury while on an away mission on an uncharted planet, her small charitable action sets off a series of events that finds her being beatified by the inhabitants. When she, Mercer and the crew try to rectify matters, they only make matters much, much worse. Amazingly, 95% of the action is dramatic and the atonal humor is kept to a minimum.

I must admit that the production design and special effects are well done and deliberately invoke the feeling of watching The Next Generation. The only two things that I definitely dislike are the design of the Orville (that business with the three quantum drive rings is not very well designed or pleasing to the eye, in my opinion) and the uniforms (which ape The Next Generation’s a little too closely).

This past November, Fox announced that The Orville has been renewed for a second season. There is some possibility that MacFarlane, the creator and producer of several long running shows, might have another gem on his hands. I have a feeling that like Galaxy Quest, it may gain a toehold in the hearts of fandom and social media, which can only help things along.

It will be interesting in seeing how he and his cadre of actors, writers and producers, refine and adjust The Orville as they continue through the season two and beyond. And, for now, so will I.