Ta-Nehisi and T’Challa

Black PantherI was checking Twitter one morning, looking for news and information and maybe a retweet of something clever I had written, when I noticed Ta-nehisi Coates tweeting about Daredevil, one of those Marvel Comics superheroes who is featured in a noirish series on Netflix.

Ta-nehisi Coates is a serious political journalist, he writes for the Atlantic and he recently won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for Between the World and Me, a sharply written discussion of being black in America.  It contains some of the best writing I’ve ever encountered.

And this guy loves comic books.

I wasn’t allowed to read comic books when I was a kid, because my mother didn’t believe they counted as reading, so she wouldn’t buy them. My sister sometimes blew her allowance on an Archie or two, most likely to read about Betty and Veronica, and Mom would find us pouring over those and shake her head.

“Why don’t you read something worthwhile?” she would say.

“These are worthwhile,” we would insist, and she would shake her head some more.

After a while my sister found that some of her friends’ brothers had comics they were willing to give away, and we dove into the worlds of Superman and Batman, passing them back and forth between us, studying the elaborate pictures and sorting out the plot lines.   In adult hindsight I can see that it was a love of story that got us lost in those colorful pages, simple but satisfying tales of the battle between good and evil, expressed with an economy of words and lavish illustrations.  And then there was the part where the meek had heroes who could save the day, or in some cases, the meek become heroes themselves. Mild mannered minister’s daughters, we liked that part too.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a new gig: he’s writing the reboot of Marvel’s Black Panther series. The Black Panther was the first black superhero, originally appearing on comic book pages in 1966. Out of costume he is T’challa, the Chief of Wakanda, a fictional African nation with large resources of vibranium, a valuable made-up mineral useful in things like Captain America’s shield.  According to Marvel the Black Panther is “is a brilliant tactician, strategist, scientist, tracker and a master of all forms of unarmed combat.” He’s African but, like most Marvel superheroes, he ends up in New York City, and gets involved with both the Avengers and Daredevil.  Look for him in the upcoming Captain America movie, the one where Cap takes sides against Iron Man. He gets his own movie in 2018, starring Chadwick Boseman and directed by Ryan Coogler, who pulled off the Rocky reboot last year. Black Panther will probably join up with the Avengers a few more times, too.

And Ta-Nehisi Coates is planning eleven comic books.

(Are you a comic book fan? Did anyone ever tell you that they weren’t worth reading? Do you think superhero movies will be the downfall of American filmmaking? Speak your mind in the comments!)

Midnight Special

Midnight SpecialThere’s a cool movie in theaters right now called Midnight Special.  It’s about a boy with mysterious powers, an ability to connect with unseen things that surround him, things buried in radio and sound waves and even in highly encrypted satellite communications.  He also, under the right circumstances, can briefly fix on other people and draw them in with a bright blue light that emanates from his eyes. This experience, this blue light bond, is both comforting and illuminating. People who experience it are profoundly changed.

When the movie starts, the boy and his father, played by Michael Shannon, are on the run. They’re trying to evade both the government, which is unnerved by a kid who can decode highly classified documents right out of cyberspace; and the members of a cult that has grown up around the child and needs his unique inspiration to continue.  There is a deadline looming, and the two need to be somewhere soon, but the details are vague. Everyone assumes that the boy will figure it out in time.

It’s pretty cool.

My husband really wanted to see this movie.  He likes science fiction, and Michael Shannon. We saw it at a packed theater when it was in very limited release, and it was good fun – it’s a mystery and a thriller and Adam Driver is in it, playing some sort of government tech specialist who never had anything interesting to do until this kid showed up.

Midnight Special is playing nationwide but it’s not in that many theaters.  It’s a film that can wait for video, but if you’re looking for a fun night out in the weeks before the summer blockbusters take over the multiplex, this is a great choice.

(A-Z Blogging Challenge: M is for Midnight Special)

Eye in the Sky

Eye in the SkyEye in the Sky is a terrific thriller about a secret military operation to take out three of the western world’s top terrorism suspects. The bad guys are laying low in Kenya, but only a few of the personnel trying to track them down are actually on the ground there – everyone else in this international effort is running the show from a distance, relying on virtual communications systems.

So we have a British Colonel (Helen Mirren) who is controlling the mission from a war room somewhere in the UK. She reports, with some impatience, to a General (Alan Rickman in his final role) who is in London with a handful of high level British diplomats and politicians. Meanwhile, the people who have their fingers on the trigger are a couple of young American soldiers (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox) sitting in a trailer in Nevada.

These far flung comrades watch the unfolding events through a video feed coming in from drones in Kenya. The drones are pretty cool – they’re disguised as bugs, and birds, and they sail around giving high definition visuals to decision makers who are thousands of miles away.

As the mission heats up, the two young soldiers in Nevada notice something moving within the potential missile blast range. A tap on the screen, and an inset close up – a sort of picture in picture – pops up and reveals a young girl innocently setting up to sell her mother’s fresh bread.

So, what do these high powered military commanders do now?

This is truly an edge of your seat kind of story – the players have to weigh the moral, political and tactical issues of the mission against the potential collateral damage, which is represented by this charming little girl.

War is hell, people.

The tension is regularly broken up by the sometimes absurd, and occasionally hilarious conversations had by the players trying to make these incredibly hard decisions under extreme time pressure. That includes the folks in Britain and Kenya and Nevada, as well as a few cameo convos with the British Foreign Secretary who is struggling with a bout of food poisoning in Singapore, and an incredulous American Secretary of State who is irritated at being pulled away from a ping pong game in China.

This movie lends itself well to discussions if your plan is to go out to dinner after the film. Or out for a drink. You might need a drink.

If you’ve seen the film, or want to, or if you have opinions on the legitimacy of drone warfare, let me know in the comments. (One last thing, Eye in the Sky movie starts with E, handy if you’re doing the A-Z Blogging Challenge.) Thanks for reading, folks!