The Sunday Magazine: Ant-Man and The Wasp

If there is one reason for Marvel’s success on film it is because they vary the tone of their films so successfully. They also mange to deploy this variety in a strategic way. For the first film after Avengers: Infinity War the choice of going with a movie that was essentially a comedy in Ant-Man and The Wasp shows this.

The first Ant-Man movie carried with it a comic heist mentality. This formula is repeated in Ant-Man and The Wasp. The biggest difference is the presence of Hope Van Dyne as The Wasp. As portrayed by Evangeleine Lilly she is the kick-ass straight woman. Which is fine because Paul Rudd as Scott Lang has plenty of goofy charm for her to push back against.

The movie picks up after Captain America: Civil War where Scott has been put under house arrest after his actions in that movie. He is almost to the end of his two-year sentence when of course something arises to make him have to choose to leave the house. That something is a message from Janet Van Dyne who has been lost in the Quantum Realm for over thirty years. It brings everyone together along with a new villain, Ghost, who also has ties to the Quantum Realm. One of the refreshing things about the movie is the self-awareness of how often they keep using the same technobabble phrase. That’s part of what sets this movie apart. It is as close as Marvel is going to get to having a character break the fourth wall and wink at the audience.

The stakes in the movie are appropriately small as our heroes are trying to rescue Janet from the Quantum Realm while people who want that technology for other purposes interfere. For all that they are not galaxy spanning problems I was as invested in their success as any other Marvel movie. This is down to director Peyton Reed who knows how to get the most out of this material.

It all leads to a happy ending which is quite a nice change. If you need a tonic for the Avengers: Infinity War carnage Ant-Man and The Wasp is the ideal prescription.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Netflix’s GLOW

A year ago, as I was working my way through the first season of the Netflix series GLOW I listed it as a guilty pleasure. By the time I finished the season there was no guilty attached to it. The show surprised me with where it finally ended up. I just finished watching the second season which took the show to a higher level.

The show is based on the original syndicated television show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling-G.L.O.W. If you were up late at night in the late 1980’s it was likely you ran into this show while channel flipping. The actual show had a crew of wrestling stereotypes putting on their promotion at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. It was done on an elaborate faux-ballroom set with a wrestling ring trimmed in pink in the middle. It was the epitome of cheesy late-night television. This reality is the inspiration for the fictional GLOW.

The series is created by Liz Flaive and Carly Mensch after they saw the 2012 documentary on the original syndicated series. Their concept was to chronicle the women’s movement in the 1980’s. The series which has come out of that speaks to the present by looking back at that time.

Betty Gilpin (l.) and Alison Brie as Liberty Belle and Zoya the Destroyer.

Season one introduced us to Ruth Wilder an aspiring actress played by Alison Brie. She is discouraged as she goes on audition after audition never getting and lasting acting gigs. Her best friend is Debbie Eagan, also an actress, played by Betty Gilpin. Debbie has gotten a regular acting job on a soap opera. These are the two tentpole characters through which we experience GLOW. I use the word tentpole because GLOW is a kind of circus and the other characters are equally memorable; starting with the ringmaster.

Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia

Actor Marc Maron plays director Sam Sylvia. Sam is the renowned director of b-movie horror films who has been hired to direct GLOW. He works with the producer Bash Howard played by Chris Lowell. They are really the only two men who have stories which continue.

All of Season one is the creation of the wrestling promotion introducing us to all of the other wrestlers. Because this is wrestling the characters are broad stereotypes based on ethnicity and appearance. There is an ongoing theme throughout as we learn these women, who are more than a stereotype, feel empowered by having a job which gives them the ability to make decisions for themselves. It is touched on throughout season one but in season two it is hammered home in an episode where two of the wrestlers who are mothers interact with their children. It is where the show really begins to spread its wings commenting on social issues which have meaning today.

This is all done with a comedic tone around the serious ideas. At every turn GLOW surprises as the characters grow into their roles as empowered females. The show doesn’t diminish the power men still had over these women, but they also show triumphs. One of them negotiates her way to becoming a producer showing a woman finding her way in the decision-making process of a business.

Finally, I like that everything the women hope for is hard earned. Nothing comes easy. Including the friendships.

If you want to watch something great check out GLOW on Netflix, it is one of the best television shows of the year, no guilt involved.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Txakoli White Wines

Just like there are perfumes I only wear in the summer when it comes to wine it is the season when I do the majority of my white wine drinking. One reason is because it can be served cold. The other reason which mirrors my fragrance selections they are lighter in body without sacrificing complexity. The only drag about this is my white wine rotation has become a rut of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios, Rieslings, and the occasional non-oaky non-malolactic Chardonnay. There’s nothing wrong with that but to break out of my routine I wanted something new. It showed up on my radar at the end of last summer but so far this year I have been spending most of the early summer drinking Txacoli white wines from Spain.

Txacoli Vineyard

Before you ask Pat to buy a vowel the name is pronounced cha-co-lee. They come from the Basque country in northern Spain right where it borders France. The grape used, Hondarrubi Zuri, thrives in the mineral-laden soil which is kept temperate by the breeze coming in off the Bay of Biscay. Because of the conditions the wine is produced to be drunk immediately. It also carries a natural effervescence after aging in the bottle. Along with its lower alcohol content it is like a natural white wine spritzer.

What draws me to them is something I experience in the mid-coast California white wines; a kind of taste of the sea. There is a bit of salt air within the wine.  It is like drinking at the beach while I’m on my deck. I’ve tried three different brands and they are all available in the $15-25 range.

The first one I tried was, get ready Pat I’m going to need some vowels, Txomin Etxaniz, Txakoli de Getaria. It has a weird doughy nose along with citrusy undercurrents. On the tongue there is a frisson of effervescence as apple and lemon rise from the fizz. As refreshing as I can ask for in a summer white.

I mentioned the salt air quality; Itsasmendi Bizkaiko Txakolina is the one which has it in spades. This is all fresh crisp fruit on the nose. This time the fizz feels like sea foam as the wave of citrus and apple crash onto my palate. If you like the sea air quality, as I do, this one will become a favorite.

Gorka Izagirre has the most different releases in my area. The one I’ve been drinking is the Bizkaiko Txakolina. This one is the most complex on the palate of the three as after the fruit and fizz pass there are some lovely herbal nuances. We’ve had this with garden-grown tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella which that finish goes perfectly with.

If you want something outside of your normal white wine routine give the Txacoli whites a try.

Disclosure: This article based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Why Art? by Eleanor Davis

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Technology is a wonderful thing. One thing I marvel at is the ability to read the comic books I want to read on my tablet. It also allows for the service I use to recommend new releases for me. I usually know about the superhero ones before they are recommended. What has been great is the small one-shot stand-alone graphic novels which I look at to see what might be interesting. A few months ago, a title popped up which intrigued me enough to see what it was about. It has turned out to be one of the more thought provoking pieces of writing I’ve read. The book is “Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis.

The title of the book is a question asked by many. As a society we have to decide how to value art while also deciding what it provides to it. What makes this version of answering that question is Ms. Davis is how “Why Art?” starts as one thing and ends somewhere completely unexpected.

The first part of the book is a guidebook on doing art. It is clever in that the drawings are in black-and-white but they are labeled with lettering which tells you what color they should be. She believes each reader can effectively project their version of the color to fill in the white space. The guidebook starts you down the path of projecting your color into the pages. It was so successful for me that for the one colored section I was jarred for a second. Ms. Davis suggests color is how we effectively describe emotion over how we describe the shade of an object. Throughout the first half the spare prose along with the drawings asking of me to participate I am drawn into making my own art of the imagination. This is all technique in the end even if it is taking place in my own head.

The switch comes with the introduction of Dolores who is an artist. The back half is a more traditionally told story focusing on Dolores. When we meet her, she has had success but is trying something new. Those who liked her previous work have trouble letting go. Dolores feels the answer to the titular question is one which includes her personal evolution being seen in her art. Then society collapses. The drawings describing this is one of the places where our mental work in the guidebook pays off. The drawings are still black-and-white but I don’t see them that way. There is the palette of my mind overwriting the white. As part of rebuilding society art is seen as a critical building block of that process.

The thing I’ve taken away from “Why Art?” is the viewer is critical to its existence. Ms. Davis doesn’t want art to be passively taken in but actively collaborated with. Even if it is only in your mind’s eye. It has had an effect on my viewing of art as the thoughts from the book were rippling through my consciousness at my last gallery stroll.

“Why Art?” answers the question by challenging you to believe it is because you are always part of it.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Africa by Weezer…….and Toto

There are quite a few songs which have over 1,000 plays on my ITunes list. There are fewer that are above 2,500 plays. I have noticed many of those song are ones I enjoy singing along to and playing accompanying air instruments. I am particularly partial to the imaginary drums, as my car steering wheel will attest to. Which means I have pounded out the drum fill from verse to chorus in the 1982 song “Africa” by Toto a lot because it is one of those 2,500+ songs. The song has had a rebirth for a new generation just in time for the summer of 2018 by the band Weezer. The origins of the song and the reason it has been reborn are both interesting.

I remember seeing one of the members of the band on MTV mention that the song is from the perspective of watching documentaries about Africa. The band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro wrote a song full of the kind of inaccuracies which exist from that. None better exemplifies that as the line, “as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti”. Both are in Tanzania but are separated by enough distance the lyric makes no sense. It does make sense if the songwriter is looking at a World Atlas and thinks it might be true. I don’t enjoy the song for the accuracy of its lyrics it is the rhythm and the synthesizer produced kalimba along with it. It would hit #1 on the charts in 1983.

For some unexplained reason thirty-five years later a young fan of the band Weezer began a campaign to have the band cover “Africa”. Using all of the tools of social media she began her campaign in December 2017. By May 2018 it looked like she was going to receive a kind of half response as a cover of another Toto hit “Rosanna” appeared. I thought that was it. Then two weeks ago I noticed that “Africa” by Weezer was trending. When I hit the link, there it was, Weezer playing a mostly faithful cover of “Africa”. I found myself enjoying this version as much as the original. The members of Toto have tweeted their appreciation of the new version. New fans are learning about African geographical improbabilities. Even more are probably adding a new song to their air percussion playlist.

I know the new version and the original version will be played a lot throughout the summer. As I search for Kilimanjaro from my driver’s seat.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

I had a lot of other things I wanted to write about today but after the announcement of Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide on Friday I couldn’t. It was also because three days earlier another artist I admired also took her life, Kate Spade. Both were originals in their respective fields. I don’t want to get too caught up in their similarities instead I want to take a moment to remember why I care that they are no longer here.

I was fortunate enough to have a window into the backstage world of the fashion industry in New York. As an outsider I could often stand back unnoticed watching the shows come together. One of the things which made me smile is if I looked over at the spot where the handbags were stored there was a similarity to many of them; a tag on the outside which said Kate Spade. Ms. Spade predicted the need for an accessory brand which catered to those who wanted to be wealthy. Using simple design techniques, she dominated this market. I knew if she ever branched out into men’s accessories I’d be adding something. My first iPad case was a Kate Spade. The current power pack on my cell phone is a Kate Spade. Her simple no-bullshit aesthetic was what appealed to me. I was so interested to see what her new brand, Frances Valentine, had to show me. I felt like she had already identified another niche to dominate.

Anthony Bourdain was the cultural successor to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. I know he would probably hate to be described that way, but his words carried the same visceral authenticity as Mr. Thompson. I remember reading his first book “Kitchen Confidential” and I leant it out with this recommendation, “it could be called Fear and Loathing in the Kitchen”. In a world where there are so many who assiduously polish an image Mr. Bourdain sought to take us along with him. We shared the same travel desire to stay away from the places where tourists gathered and find the places where the real food of an area was made. Because of him some of my favorite travel memories are in a neighborhood restaurant where the locals delighted in watching the silly American read from his phrasebook. All the while feeding me unforgettable food. Mr. Bourdain challenged me to look underneath the surface,

Which is one of the reasons their deaths sadden me. Because there was clearly something underneath the surface they had become skilled at masking. I miss both of their perspectives.

Before I finish this, I want to once again mention Project Semicolon. Founded on April 16, 2013 every year on that date you will see some of your friends or acquaintances wear a drawn semicolon on their wrist. It symbolizes this: “a semicolon represents a sentence the author could’ve ended but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” Making the choice to use a semicolon over a period is not simple but Project Semicolon provides a visible way for those deciding on their own punctuation choice. A way of not feeling alone. In that can be found the first moments of deciding to use a semicolon. I made a donation this week in the names of Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain because I hope the awareness of their plight can also help others who need to see a different choice.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Solo A Star Wars Story

Sometimes a little mystery is a good thing. It might even be a better thing when it comes to prequels in the Star Wars series of movies. As I covered in last week’s column the prequel itself saps any tension about the fate of anyone we’ve seen later in the time line. Solo A Star Wars Story particularly suffers from that. We know Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian all live to come together at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back”. Which means every time they are in danger; well they’re not. Because Solo is at heart a story about a crew of criminals in a galaxy far, far away robbing people that isn’t a fatal flaw. I thought the two heists pulled off in the film were executed well except everyone but Han, Chewie and Lando were cannon fodder. If life would be lost it wasn’t going to be them.

No if there was a fatal flaw it was the movie was made for me and other hardcore fans. One thing I didn’t cover in last week’s prequel column is these movies sometimes labor to answer questions I don’t care about. It was charming when Han Solo introduces himself to Obi-Wan and Luke as the pilot of the Millennium Falcon the only ship which “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.” It has always been one of those anomalies where the writers got tripped up in their tech speak and substituted a measurement of distance for one of speed. Sure enough, Solo spends a plodding set-up explaining it; leading to something I noted because I am a fan. Mrs. C has seen all the Star Wars movies and enjoys them a lot. I asked her about it after the movie and she never caught it. She is the majority of Star Wars fans not the ones like me, which means the movie wasted time, dialogue, and effects explaining something that passes over the head of almost everyone in the theatre. Even in my theatre on opening night packed with those eager to see Solo there was only scattered laughter when the payoff line comes.

This is where Solo fails. It answers questions about our favorite rogue that only a die-hard fan cares about. Mrs. C did not catch the significance of a single inside joke. I spent the entire drive home explaining different ones because there are a lot of them. So many that Solo is a heist movie with inside jokes stuffed in between.

If there is going to be a continuation of these standalone movies they have to follow the template of Rogue One from two years ago. Characters we have never met fighting the good fight in a corner of the galaxy far away from where the Skywalker clan is doing their thing. There has been talk of future standalones featuring Obi-Wan or Boba Fett after seeing Solo I am not excited by either of those. I am excited to follow someone new as they strike out in a new direction. Like whoever survives next year’s Episode IX. Star Wars need to move forward and let go of mining the past it is not what they do well.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Problem with Prequels

Coming home from the new Star Wars film “Solo” I realized why I enjoyed it yet there was something missing. Took me a minute but it is something that has been missing from most movies or television shows which go back to before we met the main characters. What it means is there is no chance of anything drastic happening to them before they get to that place where we met them. In “Solo” it isn’t really a problem because at heart it is a heist movie and those don’t usually have mortal consequences for any of the main characters either. Where it becomes an issue is in large sprawling sagas where there is so much ingrained history that the story is straitjacketed into a very narrow space.

A perfect example has been the two attempts at Star Trek television series designed as prequels to the original series. Star Trek: Enterprise showed the first voyages into deep space by Earth. If the writers had been content to leave it at that the show might have been better. Instead as happens all too often they begin to introduce things way before they are supposed to be known. This happened with so many things in Star Trek: Enterprise it became irrelevant. The latest series Star Trek: Discovery is doing the same thing by introducing a new character into one of the iconic characters’ family who should have been mentioned somewhere prior. This becomes especially egregious when this person plays pivotal parts of at least three key moments in Starfleet history; in the first season.

It isn’t just Star Trek; Gotham also struggles with the Batman story. Every villain ever is infesting Gotham City all while Bruce Wayne is a teenager. It is like “Teen Batman” but in typical DC fashion made gritty so it is PG-13 rated “Teen Batman”. There is zero dramatic tension between any of these characters. Why? Because we know every single one of them becomes older to bedevil Batman/Bruce Wayne at a later date. It doesn’t matter how dire the situation I know nothing permanent is happening to any of these characters no matter how it may seem.

Which really leads to the real problem. All of these are made for the particular fan base not for the general public. It is fan fiction done by professionals. They survive by filling themselves with inside jokes only a dedicated fan gets. So yeah am I interested to see something actually happen which was only explained in dialogue in the original? Turns out it is like visiting a museum exhibit. It can be fun, but it feels old.

As a fan these prequels are mostly enjoyable, but they really will never come close to the originals they are trying to fill in the backstory for.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: American Idol 2.0

I am not sure about the health of broadcast television. Based on the announcements of the new shows for next fall it seems like the current attitude is if it got big ratings in the past exhume it and put it back on the air. The cynic in me knows that if you can strum some nostalgic chords in even an older audience those are good enough ratings in this current television landscape. As much as it feels creatively bankrupt I admit I’ve watched with more enjoyment than not.

In a case where the absence was hardly long enough to miss it American Idol returned just two years after it was over. I planned on watching the first few episodes then leaving it alone until maybe the finale. Turns out the producers know a good formula and how to remind me of what it was I enjoyed about this singing competition.

For this revival the show changed networks from Fox to ABC. You might not see that as something worth noting except ABC is part of the Disney entertainment family. That means there were going to be no missed synergies throughout the season. In many ways American Idol is a reality version of the Disney theme “When You Wish Upon A Star”. Which leads to the other change; talent paired with heartwarming stories were accentuated in the audition rounds. There were the very occasional trolls and clueless divas but they were overwhelmed by the people who could sing. Which then made the second phase of the competition more fun to watch.

Because they allowed us as an audience to get to know more of the contestants when the Hollywood Week part where they cut down to a Top 24 I had rooting interests. This meant I felt sad when some of them succumbed to the pressure. It also gave me stronger attachments to the one who made it through.

(l. to r.) Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, Ryan Seacrest, and Luke Bryan

I want to talk about this year’s judging panel; Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Katy Perry. They did a great job of finding a group of singers who filled all styles. They provided America an opportunity to vote for who and what style they liked best. They managed to also do this without becoming the focus of the show. That is my biggest problem with “The Voice” the panel are the stars not the singers. American Idol gets the balance right.

One final piece of my enjoyment of this year’s installment was the advancement of contestants who could sing. That meant a drag queen named Ada Vox made the Top 10. A young lesbian wife of a servicewoman made Top 7. The show was unafraid to put these out to America and allow them to decide if that was what their American Idol looked like.

Going into tomorrow’s final America wasn’t quite ready for that much change but the three contestants remaining have been among my favorites from the first weeks. I am going to have a difficult choice to see who gets my vote based on their performance.

Maybe bringing back the old isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

It gets hard to know when the hype has something behind it. Most of the time it is exactly what that word indicates, overblown expectations for something quite ordinary. I have boxes of hyped debut novels which are from authors never heard of again. Then there are the extremely rare occasions where the book exceeds expectations. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is one of those.

The plot of this new book is set in the West-African country of Orisha. Our entry into the world is through the eyes of Zelie who has the white hair which designates her a maji; a wielder of magic. The King of Orisha wants to eradicate magic; mostly by killing the maji. Zelie’s mother was one of the casualties. This sets her on the classic heroine’s path to restore her legacy against the oppression of the King.

Tomi Adeyemi

What sets this apart is we meet the children of that King; Princess Amari and Prince Inan. As the Marvel movies have done so well lately, their perspective provides a reason behind the brutality visited upon the maji. This is what makes a great story when the evil is not just cackling garden variety kind but one with a goal that is rooted in a flawed reason. The Prince and Princess cross paths with Zelie and the story takes off across Orisha leading to an epic cliffhanger.

 I know little about Ms. Adeyemi, but I was impressed at the level of detail in her magic system. This is sometimes a throwaway part of a fantasy series and it can set my teeth on edge when it is. Not here. From the first pages to the last the rules are adhered to. Magic McGuffins don’t appear to save the day.

Just as Black Panther did in comic books and movies; Ms. Adeyemi opens new avenues of myth to be mined for story by turning to Africa. As I read through the book I could feel the pride of Ms. Adeyemi for these myths being transformed into something new. These are completely new perspectives for me to delve into which make this a joy to read because I am learning as I go.

If you need a beach read for the upcoming summer add Children of Blood and Bone to your list.

Mark Behnke