The Sunday Magazine: Once Upon A Time

One of my favorite cartoons when I was a child was a segment on the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show called “Fractured Fairy Tales”. In these vignettes the well-known fairy tales were twisted to tell a different story. All of them narrated by Edward Everett Horton it was like having an out-of-town uncle tell you the story you thought you knew in a different way. The current version of “Fractured Fairy Tales” has been unspooling for the last seven years under the name of “Once Upon A Time” on ABC.

The show was created by two of the writers from the show “Lost”; Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. Their idea of the show antedated their time on “Lost” but they found no one was interested in a show about twisted fairy tales. Once “Lost” ended they pitched it to ABC again and this time their concept was picked up.

The story in the beginning was about a small town in Maine called Storybrooke where The Evil Queen had ripped all the classic fairy tale characters to the very not enchanted present day America. Only three characters were aware that they were under a curse; The Evil Queen, Rumpelstiltskin, and the Evil Queen’s son Henry. Henry comes to realize he is the son of a woman named Emma Swan who he needs to make believe that there is such a thing as magic. Henry tricks Emma to come to Storybrooke so she can live up to her role as The Savior.

For six seasons we watched as an extended cast of fairy tale characters would deal with present day dilemmas paralleled with flashbacks to their time in the Enchanted Forest. As it was with “Lost” those flashbacks provided the audience understanding into the basic nature of a character even when they didn’t remember who they were. Prince Charming and Snow White always tried to be the positive solution even when they thought they were David and Mary Margaret. At the end of last season many of our character arcs found their “happily ever after”. This final season has been very interesting as the original villains; The Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin are trying to find theirs. It is a testament to Mr. Horowitz and Mr. Kitsis that I am very much hoping for that result to two characters I loved to hate in the early years of the series.  

On May 18 the last page of “Once Upon A Time” will be turned. I am hoping it will be a grand send-off where even the darkest villains can change to find their happiness.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Return of “Roseanne”

I remember when “All in the Family” premiered on television it was so different. That it premiered later in the evening on the same night, Tuesday January 12, 1971; it had been preceded by “Green Acres” and “The Lucy Show” it really stood out. At a time when the Vietnam War was dividing the country along generational lines here was a comedy which laid out all the emotion with laugh out loud one-liners. What I remember most about “All in the Family” was it began discussions around the dinner table the next night. It was a valuable catalyst through which understanding might take place. The recent reboot of “Roseanne” has me thinking it might be the return of a sitcom which can also create a chance for understanding.

Roseanne cast in 1988

Roseanne Barr brought the original “Roseanne” to television in 1988. It portrayed a poor working-class family, the Conners, in Lanford. Illinois. It was an off-shoot of Ms. Barr’s stand-up comedy routine about her life as a “domestic goddess”. Just like “All in the Family” before it “Roseanne” portrayed the blue-collar life in America. There were not often easy answers yet always a sense of humor was found. For eight seasons this formula worked. Then in Season 9 they decided to have Roseanne win a lottery and all of a sudden the easy answers did show up. In a twist at the end, the show tried to make it the way Roseanne coped with her life by imagining an alternate reality. The show lost viewers and it was ended.

Roseanne cast in 2018

There has been a lot of nostalgia posing as creativity in television comedy as some of the most successful shows of the past are being reincarnated. The thing is none of those have interested me as it was rare that I wondered what happened to the characters on a sitcom after it ended. When I heard “Roseanne” was returning with the original cast I wasn’t sure if I would watch. I did sit down when it premiered and was instantly reminded of “All in the Family” as this felt like another show for a time when America has divided itself along fault lines.

The original kids have grown up and some of them have kids. Nobody has moved away from their blue-collar upbringing. The show opens with an open discussion of the Red-Blue political divide as Roseanne has not talked to her sister Jackie since the 2016 presidential election. Each voted differently and couldn’t let it go. Through the first thirty-minute episode they finally found an opportunity to talk without either giving up their beliefs while making me laugh. This is what most strongly reminds me of “All in the Family” as people who love each other can disagree while still loving each other. It also is a show which can allow for discussion to grow out of it, too.

Halfway through the first season back “Roseanne” has been full of laughs, a couple of tears, and the fostering of acceptance. If you haven’t caught on I highly recommend it.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Vina Falernia Carmenere Reseva from Elqui Valley, Chile

I think my favorite part of drinking wine these days is discovering a new region for myself. It is like discovering a new perfume brand the exhilaration comes in the exploration. Like perfume it all starts with a sample. I was at my local store and asked about something to go with my Easter leg of lamb. I was asked if I’d tried the Chilean carmeneres, which I had. It didn’t seem like the best match, but I was told of a small region in Chile that takes the grape and treats it like they do for Amarone in Valpolicella, Italy. That got my attention because Amarone della Valpolicella is exactly what I would pair with lamb but for just a dinner at home I wanted something more moderately priced. Enter the Chilean version from the Elqui Valley; Vina Falernia Carmenere.

The Elqui Valley turns out to be one of the more unique vinicultural areas in the world nestled between the Atacama Desert and the Andes while being close enough to the Pacific to get the cooling sea breezes. It is also unique because there is almost no precipitation or below-freezing temperatures. The saturated sunlight matched with the altitude creates a singular terroir for wine.

Aldo Olivier (l.) and Giorgio Flessati

Vina Falernia was founded in 1999 as an off-shoot of the Olivier family’s production of table grapes and Pisco fortified wine. Aldo Olivier realized there was potential for winemaking. He hired winemaker Giorgio Flessati and they began. They planted predominantly Syrah and Carmenere grapes. Because of the climate Sig. Flessati thought it would be ideal to try and emulate the Amarone-style of harvest.

That style is to allow the grapes to dry out on the vines by leaving them there for up to two months past peak harvest. Sig. Flessati can shorten what takes four months in Valpolicella because of the intense sunlight and the moderate temperatures.

Falernia Vineyard in the Elqui Valley, Chile

The wine which follows the Amarone-style procedure is Vina Falernia Carmenere Reserva. The current vintage available in my area is the 2015. This vintage is made from 60% of the dried on the vine fruit with the remaining 40% made up of the grapes harvested earlier. It turns out to be a lovely stand-in for the much more expensive Italian version.

The 2015 vintage is a contrast to the aggressively herbal carmeneres from the rest of the Chilean viniculture areas. By using the dried fruit that seems to have been tamped down. What remains is a deeply satisfying mixture of cherries, chocolate, and cinnamon on the palate which are all also evident on the nose.

This turned out to be just what I was looking for as it was ideal with Easter dinner. In my area it goes for $14/bottle. Which is an outstanding value if you compare it to an Amarone.

I am going to seek out more of the Vina Falernia wines as I can. There is also one other vineyard in Elqui Valley called Mayu and is run by a cousin of Sig, Olivier. If they’re all as good as this one, it is yet another of the South American regions producing quality wines at moderate prices.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Warren Zevon

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There is a deep pleasure in my ability to go deep down any rabbit hole I find because of technology. One of the triggers for this is usually a song which comes out of my iTunes library when I put it on shuffle. My latest experience came after the song “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” by Warren Zevon played through my headphones. In what would be an eerily prophetic song for Mr. Zevon when it was released in 2000; foreshadowing his battle with cancer. It would lead to his death in September 2003. That would happen days after the release of his last album “The Wind”. That album contains what I consider the companion piece to “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”; “Keep Me In your Heart”.

Mr. Zevon was part of the Southern California singer-songwriter community of the 1970’s. I first learned of him through a song written by him done by another artist; Linda Ronstadt. One of her biggest hits off her 1977 album Simple Dreams was “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”. It was my favorite song on that album. One of my more clued-in friends asked if I had heard the original version. When he played Mr. Zevon’s version it was a revelation, to me, of a new artist. I was just in time to catch on with everyone else with his second album Excitable Boy in 1978.

Mr. Zevon’s more ironic, darker themes delivered in a hard-edged folk-based style was an alternative to the pop versions his peers were releasing. That they knew he was a unique talent who needed opportunity came when close friend Jackson Browne produced and invested in Mr. Zevon’s first two albums. Mr. Browne would then take him out on tour. That was where I saw him live for the first time.

I saw him live in a much more intimate setting the second time. When I was in graduate school in Athens, Georgia in 1984 it was a time when the music scene was exploding. One of the cool things about being there was other artists would come into town to collaborate. Through a whisper stream the word would go out that so-and-so was playing with this band at one of the smaller clubs under a fictitious name. When the rumor of Warren Zevon plus REM made it to me. I closed the lab for the night and headed out to see a band called Hindu Love Gods. I was treated to a night of covers plus new songs being worked on. In this setting I saw Mr. Zevon’s love of rock music as he clearly enjoyed being on stage with the other musicians. They closed the night with “Werewolves of London” his biggest hit but it was everything prior to that which was memorable.

The final year leading up to his death was about recording a final album with all his friends. Informed by his coming mortality it could have been a mess. Instead Mr. Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Don Henley, Mick Fleetwood, Joe Walsh, T Bone Burnett, and Emmylou Harris joined in over the songs on the album to produce a moving musical elegy.

There are few of us who can choose how we leave this world. Mr. Zevon did it with his music. Herd to ask for more than that.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: BOOM! Studios Abbott by Saladin Ahmed

One of the best things about comics is the amazing writers who will participate in writing them. No longer seen as something less than, novelists from all genres are willing to take on the cape and spandex protagonists. One novelist who has caught my attention over the last year is Saladin Ahmed. He has been the author of a truly amazing series featuring the King of the Inhumans, Black Bolt. If you’re saying, “who?” that’s not surprising. Many of the novelists are drawn to taking a character from the shelf and giving them a new spotlight. For forty years Black Bolt has been a stiff. In Mr. Ahmed’s hands he is fascinating. Even so he is still hemmed in by the accumulated canon history of the character. As I’ve appreciated the Black Bolt Series I wondered whether he would continue. Turns out he had an original character he wanted to do, Abbott, and the first two issues have been released from BOOM! Studios.

Mr. Ahmed grep up in Detroit during the 70’s and 80’s so he decided to set Abbott in that era. The title refers to black female journalist Elena Abbott. The time period sets her apart for her skin color and her gender. One thing I like about the first two issues is the way it isn’t dwelled upon, but it isn’t ignored. We know that Abbott has more than a mystery to deal with in her life. It is essentially one of my favorite genres of urban supernatural mystery.

Saladin Ahmed

Abbott is out doing her job when she comes across a couple of mutilated bodies. It reminds her of the “unexplained” attack which killed her husband. She is still dealing with that loss because she saw something otherworldly take him. Mr. Ahmed gives Abbott personal quirks which give the reader a clue to what’s going on inside. The bodies provide her an opportunity to find some answers.

Mr. Ahmed has fully captured early 70’s Detroit. Abbott is a bit like the old Blaxploitation movies of the same era. Although the writing is better. Freed of some of the commercial restrains of corporate comics artist Sami Kivela saturates many of the panels with monochromatic hues to give a presence to the scene being portrayed.

The story is just getting ramped up only two issues in, but this has become one of my most looked forward to titles in 2018.

Now I have to go grab a copy of his fantasy series, “Throne of the Crescent Moon” to pass time between issues.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s Optimism vs DC’s Nihilism at the Movies

I imagine over at the Warner Brothers DC offices there must be a lot of envy as another Marvel movie takes off. The latest release, Black Panther, must really sting because it took in as much money in the first weekend that the big team-up movie, Justice League, did in its entire run. I’ve been thinking about why this is so. I think I’ve figured out one part of it.

To start with I return to the comics themselves back in 1986. That was the year that DC was releasing two of the most lauded comics ever produced. They were part of the movement from comic books to graphic novels. One was “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller and the other was “Watchmen” by Alan Moore. They stood out for being different from the other titles surrounding them. One reason for that was they both had nihilistic protagonists more interested in winning than anything else. Collateral damage was just part of the job. Forget vigilante these heroes were the executioner when it was necessary. Now I adore both stories for giving that style to the comic book realm. Except it has become a pervasive infection, especially at DC. They would race to make ever darker grittier versions of their recognizable heroes. Retconning their origins if necessary. It was not a resounding creative success.

Director Zack Snyder would film an excellent version of “Watchmen” which captures much of its nihilistic charm. After that he would take over as the creative force of the DC movie universe hoping to create a similar series of films to what Marvel had done. There were expectations.

Marvel was taking a different path. During the same time as DC was trying out the darkness Marvel decided they needed a giant crossover event. Thus, was born Secret Wars which spanned 12-months from 1984-1985. The numerous different creators of all the main Marvel heroes agreed to have a universal battle where every hero would have their moments. There was lots of humor. The universe was saved with a smile and “Kapow”. Marvel would continue this lighter side of things without deciding to go all in on what their competitors were doing. Although there were some notable exceptions in series like Daredevil, for instance. For the most part there was a Marvel style which was not gritty.

When director Jon Favreau laid the first brick in the Marvel movie universe, 2008’s Iron Man, he brought with him that same humorous style. Robert Downey Jr. inhabited a hero unafraid to laugh while also throwing a punch. He looked like he was enjoying being a hero. That is what the essence of Marvel movies have been; the characters understand the responsibility while also showing a joy at having these powers.

Mr. Snyder would take the darkness and shroud the DC movies in it. For a character like Batman that has always been part of the undercurrent. For a character like Superman it was not. Yet he was turned into a killer who destroyed a city at the end of his movie. This nihilism is the glue which holds the DC universe together except for one which doesn’t; Wonder Woman. One reason is the director Patty Jenkins didn’t see her heroine as anything but noble she used humor and optimism to power it to the biggest DC universe movie to date. Inclusive, funny, and heroic instead of exclusionary, grim, and nihilistic.

Compare this to Marvel’s latest releases; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther. Three different filmmakers who stamped their movies with their perspective while also never losing the optimism which binds the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is why there is much more faith in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War which will blend 20+ heroes over the disastrous Justice League which couldn’t pull off the same trick with six.

I think nihilism only appeals to a very small slice of the moviegoing public. Mr. Snyder is an embodiment of that as a creative concept and seems unable to see the DC universe in anything but shadows. I wonder what it would look like with Ms. Jenkins in charge?

The fun optimistic world which the Marvel universe inhabits shows time and again where people want to spend two hours in a movie theatre. It is a lot more fun to feel like part of a positive universe than one which seems intent on reveling in what is bad.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s Black Panther

I have mentioned in previous columns that I am always pleased when one of my geek touchstones is realized well on the screen. There have been extremely rare opportunities when what is portrayed on the screen not only exceeds my expectations it provides a new perspective; Marvel’s Black Panther has done this.

I have seen the movie three times now and the richness of the story Director/ co-writer Ryan Coogler uses continues to allow for me to find new things to enjoy on each showing. Mr. Coogler has poured himself into making this movie and his cast has joined him. I am not going to dwell on the plot very much but instead talk about some of the things which make this movie stand apart.

Ryan Coogler

I will start with the nearly entirely black cast and main characters. This was discussed endlessly prior to release. After seeing the movie it is necessary to have this cast to tell this story. It is also refreshing to see Africans as the pre-eminent technological society in the world. Every character displays competence without speaking of it by performing their jobs. There is also a lovely inversion of movie tropes with the inclusion of the two white actors in the spots people of color occupy in most action movies; the low-level bad guy and the plucky sidekick. Played by actors Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman I saw them referred to as the “Tolkien White Guys”. Mr. Freeman’s CIA agent smiles and nods at the end completely in the background as hundreds of black sidekicks have done before.

(l. to r.) Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Okoye (Danai Gurira)

The title might be Black Panther but the movie could also be called Women of Wakanda. There has never been a superhero movie with so many women characters who pop off the screen. The tech genius sister Shuri, plaved by Letitia Wright, as the film’s fierce intelligence. The ultimate warrior Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, always in control of the elite military guard of the country. The spy who is also the conscience Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o. These characters are as integral to the plot as the name in the title. Truth is, that I see them in the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War has me even more excited about that film.

Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger

The villain matters when he is given such incredible tones of grey instead of monolithic black. Erik Killmonger’s story could have resulted in the hero’s quest as easily as T’Challa’s but for one crucial decision. Killmonger’s motives have some reason behind them even some which are sympathetic. What makes him villainous is his method for achieving them; pure ruthlessness. By the end of the movie T’Challa stands victorious but Killmonger and his philosophy effects a change. So much of this is due to the performance of Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger his performance is the equivalent of Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa-The Future King of the Marvel Universe?

My final thought on the movie is this. When Iron Man was released ten years ago there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was a movie taking chances with the style of telling a super hero story on the movie screen. Fueled by the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. That movie was the first cornerstone laid in what has become one of the greatest movie sagas. With Black Panther and an equally charismatic actor in Chadwick Boseman; the cornerstone, I hope, has been laid for what comes after the Avengers finish with Thanos. The next part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe story needs to be firmly set with Wakanda as its center and this rich vein of characters as the glue which unites the movies. Black Panther ends with a scene reminiscent of Tony Stark telling the world he was Iron Man at the end of the movie. That seems a good start to the next decade of Marvel movies.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Black Panther The Album

Yes, I have many thoughts about the movie, but I want to see it one more time before diving into all of them. I have found equally as inspiring the music for the movie which is what the topic will be for this column.

One of the things I admire about albums by innovative artists who interpret a movie is it provides a different artistic perspective on the same material. One of my favorite Prince albums is his music inspired by the first Tim Burton Batman. It was the work of a musician firing on every creative cylinder. The same has happened for Black Panther: The Album as an equally precocious talent, Kendrick Lamar, adds an authentic musical signature to a movie which lives its authenticity.

When director Ryan Coogler approached Mr. Lamar about providing a song or two he asked if he could see the movie. When Mr. Coogler showed him what he had Mr. Lamar wanted more than just a couple songs he wanted the whole thing. He has provided a fantastic musical companion to the movie.

In the hip-hop world of 2018 it is all about collaboration and Mr. Lamar and Sounwave took on the majority of the production duties pulling from a number of current stars to form a killer line-up of talent.

The most recognizable song is the one which plays over the end credits “All the Stars” with Mr. Lamar and SZA. Like I mentioned above it is the songs which pick up threads from the movie and elaborate on them which connect with me.

“King’s Dead” might as well be the villain of the movie’s Killmonger, theme song. The lost son of Wakanda full of swagger. “Pray for Me” is the internal dialogue of T’Challa as he fights for his kingdom. Every song on the album does this. I had listened to it enough that when I saw the movie for the first time I was cued into picking up the musical backing vocals to the action on screen.

Black Panther: The Album is the kind of collaboration that adds to the enjoyment of the very movie which inspired it. Just another reason for the success of the overall enterprise.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin

There are times when I worry that one of my favorite literary forms is slowly disappearing; the short story. With less and less of the print literary outlets available the basic topsoil, where the form thrived, is eroding away. I was talking to a colleague about what we were reading, she told me she was reading an incredibly relevant book of short stories about women. When I asked she told me the name of the book was Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin. After finishing it I am still considering the perspective that was presented to me.

I am not sure how Ms. Lazarin convinced a publisher to release a book of short stories. One way might have been that there is a connective thread which runs throughout. These are stories of women at all stages of life mostly dealing with experiences anyone has gone through. In one story a girl experiences the loss of her mother and the bloom of first love. There is one which covers the nature of how women experience power as a transaction becomes a battle. An emotionless summary of the men a woman has no love for until she ends her narrative with, “I’ve forgotten too much, or maybe I just refused to learn it.” It is that kind of summation that recolors the story I just finished in a different hue. Is the narrator a free spirit or an empty one? Allowing every experience to flow through her without sticking?

Danielle Lazarin (Photo: Sylvie Rosokoff)

Throughout all the stories they feel like snapshots of the mundane female perspective. Like a conversation I will never be privy to because of my gender. Ms. Lazarin finds a way to make it all seem spontaneous

The story which continues to rattle around in my head is “Gone”. It is the story of two teenage girls who start keeping a book of the dead in a composition notebook. Entwined through the incidents they would record are the joys of best friends who, at that age, feel like the only one who understands you. As the ledger is discovered, with lots of parental concern, there is a pivotal moment of defiance practiced with silence and crossed arms. This leads to their separation and knowledge that this relationship was on its way to being added to their list. Ms. Lazarin’s style of writing is evocative in every single story here but the loss of friendship feels like a death in this story.

In these early days of 2018 with #MeToo movement in ascendance stories of women living their lives showing that each of those acts also carry significance too seems especially prescient.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: My Hero Looks Like Me

I love being a geek in this present time. For over forty years I have been a fellow traveler with my heroes as we journey to fantastic new places or protect the world from bad guys. For most of those years it was easy for me to see myself as Mr. Spock, Frodo, Bruce Wayne, or Peter Parker. They shared a skin color with me; I could pretend to be any of those. The first time I became aware of this was in high school as my social circle read J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings”. We all took alternate names from the books. I remember my friend Rodney, who was black, also played along. Except he chose a white character to take a name from because there wasn’t anyone who looked like him in the story.

Nichelle Nicols as Lt. Uhura on "Star Trek"

The other affirmation of the power of having someone who looks like you doing heroic things comes from actress Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. After the first season had finished she said to the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, that she was going to leave the show. Soon after she was at an NAACP meeting and she met someone there who was a fan; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He told her how Star Trek was the only television show he let his young children watch because of her character. A black woman on the bridge seen as equal to everyone else there. She was there not to preach but simply to show that equality comes in funny guises. Ms. Nichols would be instrumental in recruiting female and non-white candidates to NASA as astronauts. It is what it means to see someone who looks like you, being heroic.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

In the last year there have been so many examples. The female centric heart of “Wonder Woman”. The new core of heroes in the new Star Wars trilogy. The spectacular re-imaging of the superhero through an African-American lens in “Black Panther”.

Poe, Rey, and Finn from "Star Wars"

That each movie was helmed by directors and writers, intent on making these visions seem normal without feeling like you’re being told it is special. As Diana Prince faces down the villain in the epic final act of Wonder Woman there is no thought that she is weaker. When Rey ignites her lightsaber she is every bit as formidable as anyone who has wielded one. Literally, the entire set of characters in Black Panther show strength of character is not the exclusive property of Caucasians.

The Cast of Black Panther

I have mentioned this in the past, but I use the cosplayers at Comic-Con as barometers of how far things have progressed. Last year there were a lot more Wonder Women and Reys walking around as women found new ways to represent themselves. I can’t wait for this October because I suspect Black Panther is about to have a similar impact.

The great mass of us geeks are often referred to as “fanboys” and as recently as five years ago that was accurate. With the inclusivity of heroes who look like more of the world I think we’re going to have to find another word.

Mark Behnke