Black Panther in rant form, Somebody Somewhere, and more!
The Murder of King James I by Alastair Bellany & Thomas Cogswell
This nonfiction history book which both is and isn't (mostly isn't) about the murder of James I is admittedly significantly off my beaten genre path, so bear that in mind as you read this review. I'm noting this because, while I DNF'ed like 50% in, this is an absolutely really well-written intensive deep dive history and if you're into that kind of thing then you might really love it. I'm not into that kind of thing but even so I liked it for a while before getting crazy bored. When I say the book both is and isn't about the murder of James I (and to show you how little I know about English history, I barely knew of his existence let alone that there was a suspicion of murder around his death), what I mean is this: the authors are uninterested in whether or not James I was murdered; rather they're interested in how this small underground publication by one of James' doctors called, in the somewhat bizarrely incomprehensible manner of pamphlet titles of that era, "The Forerunner of Revenge" encapsulated the larger social history of the time and persisted long after everyone involved had been forgotten. The authors have a thesis around what this pamphlet meant, how it fit into a larger world of the religious power tussles of the time as well as in the context of libel law and underground publications in general, plus the overarching political context. The writing is clear but super dense. It's names and dates and quotes in old(er) English pretty much nonstop. What kept me hooked for a while though is that the authors approach the subject matter, as best they can, from the mindset of the people of that era. For example, there's an entire completely awesome section of the blow-by-blow medical analysis of the days leading up to James' death - only the medicine of the day was the four humors (melancholia, bile, etc.) and the authors don't judge it or try to translate it into modern medicine but rather let it play out like CSI: 1600s. I found reading that section to be totally riveting because of the way the authors portrayed it, i.e. without judgment of the science of the day but trying to help us, the reader, see it the way the doctors of that era did. It's what kept me reading; I kept hoping there'd be another section that grabbed me the way that one did. But there wasn't; it was the same sort of writing in which you're seeing events through the lens and meaning of the people of the time, but it was in areas I couldn't click with (like political minutiae and Parliament etc.). Look, the book is clearly well-written and if you're a history buff, especially of that era, and love all the names, dates, and details, you will likely inhale this book and perhaps have a strong opinion on the authors' approach. It wasn't for me, but the quality was there so this is definitely a personal taste thing and not a pan of the book itself.
Somebody Somewhere (Season 1):
So the tl;dr review on this slice-of-life half-hour comedram is that I thought it was slow and draggy with a flat lead character for the first few episodes but I'm glad I stuck it out because I ended up thoroughly enjoying it and also understanding that the first episodes were written that way for character reasons. If you decide to watch, just think of the first few episodes as like the beginning of a character-driven movie where, as with many small films, there's not a ton going on at the beginning but also who walks out after 10 minutes? This is is the same. In fact the point that I realized that the slowness of the first few episodes was deliberate was when, at the end of the episode one, I thought to my myself why am I watching this, this is a character who has no idea how to be happy... only to discover the lead saying the exact same thing in the next episode. And in fact that's what this show is and what makes it soothingly pleasurable. It's about a person discovering being happy is actually an option for her and discovering what joy, to her, looks like. The basic plot is about a mid 40sish aimless woman who returned to her small Kansas town a year prior after the death of her sister and her choice to invest in her life and those around her. She's portrayed as somewhat, not dead on the inside exactly, but just sort of empty, like her job is somewhat sucky and that's fine with her and the implication is whatever she was doing wherever she was doing it before returning home wasn't exactly fulfilling either. The spark of her groping journey towards finding something in herself is a kind of local underground karaoke thing, but really the singing is in the end somewhat incidental as it's more about the connections she makes (to an old high school classmate she barely knew, to her remaining sister with whom she has a combative relationship, etc.) and - and this is where the show gets fun - her discovery (not conscious on her part I would say) that what she’s really into is getting all up in other people's junk. I won't spoiler, but she winds up discovering things about other people, hunting down what they're really up to, and, to some extent, dropping bombs, but what makes it enjoyable is that all these things were happening around her earlier and she was just keeping herself too small on the inside to notice, meaning these plot beats are less about a character being gossipy or whatever and more about choosing to invest in the world in her own sloppy groping mess-creating way. Put a different way: the show tracks her internal state and that state is pretty dead for the first few episodes and slowly blooms. I'm glad I stuck it out because it was a pretty happy amusing though super small, as in can-you-slice-that-extra-thin-please slice-of-life show by the end. In many ways, it reminded me of British shows which have a lot of content in this tiny character subtle humor genre (Peep Show (though maybe that's a little broader than this) or perhaps Detectorists if you've seen it or - way back machine here! - an '80s (I think) movie called Local Hero), and if you're willing to give it a little time to grow and you like the genre, you'll probably enjoy this one too.
Ellen's Next Great Designer (Season 1):
This is a furniture design competition reality show not exactly hosted by but rather with name slapped on and occasional guest appearance by the eponymous Ellen (DeGeneres) and while I'll get to the deets in a second, the tl;dr review of this show is that personally I don't think there are enough furniture design shows on the air and, even though this one is HGTV'ed out the yin-yang, I still liked it. I mean it's so much more interesting to watch people create something with power tools from an abstract challenge than do the same thing with sewing (not that that stops me from watching Project Runway and its offshoots) because, while clothing is ultimately constrained by the human form and thus the design difference are really in the details, with furniture it can be literally anything in any shape with any mashup of materials and colors and so the reveals can be genuine wow moments. Unlike with other types of these shows, because these challenges are things like “make a design incorporating both wood and stone,” all of the contestants might have totally different objects for the final reveal - a lighting fixture vs. a coffee table vs. a console, vs. a chair etc. etc. Watching the furniture under construction or those HGTV'ed design plans doesn't really prepare you to see the final product in front of the judges (which also gives you a sense of the scale of the furniture). I mean I am certainly no expert in this field nor can I say I have any even remote obsession with furniture as my billion year old couch can attest but I love witnessing the act of creation and this show really delivers that. The negative is that, as with all HGTV stuff, there's this glossy fake overproduction and an overweening sense of family-friendly hyper-kindness that really manages to sap the contestants of interest and drive. And the judges clearly were told to be honest but still find something nice to say and so that part of it is a turnoff. A far better version of this sort of thing was a show called Framework which sadly only lasted a season (I'm sure it's somewhere out there on the internets) and was basically this show only without the HGTVization. Even so, if this show comes back for a second season I'll definitely watch because even if the production is kind of blargh, the final products are still cool and it's interesting to see what these creative people are able to come up with.
Bigger (Season 2):
This show remains as hate-watchably background noise-y dumb as the first season only with the knowledge that it's been cancelled adding a soupcon of irritation that I won't be able repeat my same feeling of irritated superiority with future seasons. As a reminder, this is a half-hour I guess comedy (in its mind) about a group of 30somethings living in Atlanta and their loves, lives, and whatnot. It has an incredibly annoying and, to this Janice, desperate device where the lead not only has asides to camera but in this season gets an, um, upgrade with blue animated squiggles around her to indicate she's having a mild panic attack, though I wouldn't say the writing squad goes to much lengths to explain why she's having them other than that she's going through the normal stresses one might have as a successful business owner with a bit of rocky romance (meaning nothing that would seem to merit blue squiggles but there they are). I think the reason I haven't DNFed either season of this show despite its abundant irritations, A-to-B character decision trees, and deeply unfunny quote unquote humor, is that there actually is the kernel of something original underneath it all which is that it tries to address the complications that come with having, workwise at least, achieved ones goals which somehow makes being in one's 30s much like being a senior in college in that you're through the tough part and have a social life... and now what? None of the characters in the show have kids and, while some are in relationships and it plays on some romantic intertwinings between the various leads, the show, whether it means to or not, is making the somewhat interesting statement that, unlike the underlying thesis of most other shows, work, love, and family really aren't enough and I wish the writers had tossed all the other junk and just gone for a half-hour existential dramedy about the period when you're truly no longer a child because you've become a fully self-sustaining adult and are struggling with what you want and what's going to give the rest of your life meaning. The show is not that. At all. But somewhere underneath, it has that vibe which is I think what kept me hate-watching despite (or in addition to) the eye-rolling jokes, annoying characters, squiggles, and silly plots and I think I'm going to choose to call all that a compliment. Maybe.
Black Panther (Marvel Universe #18) - Oyez oyez all rise for the Plessy v. Ferguson of the Marvel Universe in which Black people get their very own separate but equal superhero movie. Marvel decided to jam all the Black people they possibly could into this single movie - and into the world's sole (other than White colonizers) Black continent as you'll soon see - a form of filmic segregation that most brings to mind school water fountains, diner entrances, and bathrooms in the 1950s. Like people of that era showing off their token Black friend, I'm guessing in Marvel's mind they were being super progressive with this film but just to get you up to speed, Marvel: progressive would've been casting all the bajillion prior White primarily male superheroes in a variety of skintones and genders instead and treating Black people the way you did green and blue (Green and Blue?) people, i.e. with histories and origins based on literally anything other than their skintone - you know, treating people like people who come from all kinds of wacky planets with wacky cultures unrelated to the color of their skin. And doing basically the same with your directors, writers, and crew. That would be progressive. This on the other hand - oh well! I’d say nice try but it kind of wasn’t. Onto the plot. In a minute. I just need to sit with the I guess I’ll generously call it implicit racism for a second.
Since clearly in Marvel’s mind a Black person couldn't have been cast as the Hulk or Iron Man or Captain America or all of them actually, I guess it’s a good thing they identified the lead character’s skintone in the title - perhaps they feel they did the same thing in the second Ant-Man though I’m thinking Ant-Man counterpart Wasp is the insect not the cliche group of wealthy New Englanders known primarily for serving mediocre food at dinner parties and never enough of it. I mean I don’t remember the title of the first in this whole sequence being White Iron Man. And really they just compounded their blunt racism in the name of being progressive by the following: White people - basically all superheroes to date - don’t come from some White spot but from everywhere, from America, from the planet Asgard, from some blue blob that looks like Kurt Russell, from outer space, from the 90th dimension, from a series of wide and varied interplanetary locales with no particular history or basis in skintone whereas, according to this movie, Black people only come from one place: Aaaahhhfreekaaah. Do you know why? Because that's the place that's filled with Black people QED, in an otherwise entirely fictional universe, that’s the only culture Black people can ever have. Because it would be unthinkably insane if the made-up country of Wakanda were, say, in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland or tucked into East Europe or South America or Japan or Canada or another dimension or, I don't know, were comprised of a planet of nanotech experts or literally anything that doesn't involve bright wax print toga dresses, foot stomping dances, or drumming on logs. Other than its nice segregated continent of Black people, I guess racial integration or the notion that a small nation could remain under the radar if it had a Black populace but was located near any other skintone remains an impossible dream for the Marvel universe. As far as Marvel is concerned, White people are the default, meaning they don’t have a cultural history based on skintone because they’re from everywhere so their cultural histories are based on their wide and varied fictional histories whereas, in the Marvel universe, Black people have only one cultural history, a cultural history based solely on skintone, and, as is clear from this movie, Black peoples' sole cultural history is… Lion King.
So the basic plot is a million years ago a meteor containing magic Marvel metal vibranium crash-lands in Africa, someone eats it, becomes Black Panther (BLACK in case you weren’t aware) and unites his tribe into the nation of Wakanda though why everyone doesn't eat it and also become a superhero remains, as with so much in Marvel, a mystery. In any event, instead of doing what literally every Western nation did in Africa - conquering it with their superior tech and plundering its resources - Wakanda decides its best course of action, referenced throughout as some kind of philosophical political tug-of-war but really making absolutely zero sense, is to be little and hide. Like an Upper East Side Brearly high-schooler tossing her argyle skirt before grabbing her skateboard, cutoff jeans, pulling her $1 tube socks over her knees and heading uptown to go skating with her Bronx friends after lying to them about growing up in the projects, so with Wakanda being an incredibly technologically advanced nation but wearing Third World drag - in every derogatory sense of Third World - because... well let's see they have some mega-powerful ore that creates superhero-level weapons so… because I guess Marvel believes good Black people should, instead of owning their power, live small. The writers attempt to make this coming-out-of-the-vibranium-closet a political issue in which Wakandans take sides with some believing they should be their vibranium selves and the world be damned and others thinking they should hide for safety. But none of it makes a lick of sense. I mean the entire planet knows who Iron Man with his vibranium suit is and no one's been able to take him down so why the eff are the Wakandans hiding it? Because the writers couldn't think of anything to do with Black people other than have them as African-accented Third Worlders that's why. Sure, I get wanting to avoid being invaded and having your minerals stolen like in, say, South Africa, but if your mineral and technology are so overwhelmingly advanced and powerful then what, precisely, do you think is going to happen? The same thing that happens when anyone attacks Iron Man or MAGA or Thor or anyone else, i.e. you'll be fine and everyone else will be dead. While understandably you want to protect your resources if you're a small nation, that becomes less of an issue when you're a small nation of FRIGGIN' SUPERHEROES doesn't it?!? Am I the only one who thinks the notion of the only all-Black Marvel superhero movie where its leads are basically only ever dressed in African tribal garb and where the story revolves around Black people hiding their power so White people won’t be scared of them is insanely racist?!?!?
Okay enough punctuation. Regardless, Wakandans have become very adept at hiding all their crazy advanced tech which they managed to get that way by sending off various people for internships with Western countries, though how exactly that was happening given that Africa's primary contribution to the viciously racist West up until a few centuries ago was slaves and oh btw why the superhero Wakandans did nothing about stopping slavery on behalf of their Black-continented brethren also remains a mystery. But in any event they do get scientific internships somehow and, at one of them some chunk of time prior to the start of the film, it's revealed that one of these Wakandans has been selling vibranium on the black market though - not to do a vibranium-powered assault on the logic here - that would be like citizens of Dubai, in which the poorest citizen makes a few hundred grand a year from the government, trying to sell oil. I mean, okay, humans are greedy, sure. But let's not forget: you, the betrayer, know that you're selling an item guarded by an army of superheroes, so surely that would put a crimp of some kind in your thought process? Anyhoo, that's what happens and Wakanda is dragged out of the vibranium-closet and, despite centuries of arguing about it, is seemingly ill-prepared for it when it happens.
So some baddies go off to steal a Wakandan object from a museum - and WHY the Wakandans thought the best place to put one of their mega-powered planet-destroying pieces of vibranium tech was on display in some museum was merely one in a long sequence terrible choices (like having tech good enough for someone to destroy you if they get their hands on it instead of, say, having tech with a built-in security feature to prevent that) - the main purpose of which seems to be to reveal an insane amount of familial confusion that no amount of my pondering it during the course of the film was ever able to resolve. I think: some Wakandan was for some reason having to do with sibling rivalry (maybe?) put up for adoption (? left in a dumpster? something along those lines?) and is now very upset about it though, once again, I'm not super clear why. But whatever that all was, and trust me when I say that the 14 years the film devoted to explaining it explained absolutely nothing, he's really angry and has vibranium in his blood or something so can sneak into Wakanda with no one noticing and steal all the advanced tech.
You may wonder why I haven't mentioned title character Blank Panther in all this and the reason is simple: he's barely a superhero and is barely in the movie by which I mean yeah he's in a bunch of scenes but he has no discernible power other than that granted to anyone who, apparently, eats a piece of vibranium meteor herb which in the end doesn't really seem to do all that much beyond generate a fancy suit. Because - and really I've said this before and will no doubt say it again but no one is reading these scripts - all it takes to get rid of Black Panther (unlike every single other superhero)... is tossing him over a waterfall. That's it. The reason you’re wondering?
Well the stepbrother/nephew/adoptee/whatev decides the best course of action to take over Wakanda is to eat a hunk of vibranium then burn the rest of it so no one else can get the power as well which would make total sense IF THE METAL HADN'T SURVIVED A METEOR STRIKE AND FORMED THE BASIS FOR EVERY SUPERHERO OUTFIT/SHIELD WE'VE SEEN SO FAR ALL CAPS! Like when did this crap become flammable? I mean, yes, the things aren’t pure metal but rather some vibranium-infused herb or somesuch (perhaps the same herb I ate in gummy form before watching this movie) but even so it makes no sense. Like how come Black Panther ate the herb, got tossed over a waterfall, barely survived, and then had to eat more herb (an inclination I totally relate to btw) in order to be Black Panther again? What happened to the first dose of herb? And can the bad guy suffer the same thing with his herb wearing out? And how does this herb relate to all the vibranium that's the source of this plot anyway, you know the black market stuff that someone wants to come steal? Anyway the baddie does that plus challenges Black Panther for his Pantherhood or whatever - I guess Wakanda for all its modern high-end tech still believes the best way to govern a country and oversee a metal that could destroy the planet is through two shirtless men having hand to hand combat with the victor declared king. That seems fair! So that's how Black Panther gets tossed over the waterfall and somehow I guess gets deherbed before being reherbed and saving the day though not, I'd note, swapping out his dictatorship for a democracy just FYI.
Well I guess we can conclude that, in the grand tradition of separate but equal, this one was as equally nonsensical, long, chatty, long and chatty, long, and long as the others which I think is about all the equality Black people can hope to get from the Marvel Universe.