There’s a thing called White Supremacy and a thing called white superiority. They are not synonymous.

The former term, White Supremacy, refers to the extant state of society where white people generally populate places of power (see: Congress, every boardroom), dominate our media and entertainment (see: the majority of TV shows), and elsewhere (see: the Dove ads) due to centuries of active discrimination against and exploitation of non-white populations.

The latter term, white superiority, is the myth that both originally led to said exploitation and that some now believe is fact because they see the resultant white-dominated society and think, “We did that and no one else could because we’re better.”

Alt-right icon Richard Spencer is one of these believers. He’s trapped in the myth of white superiority. He doesn’t KNOW it’s a myth, the product of so many centuries of White Supremacist culture and policies. He has no idea that the very idea of whiteness as an identity was utterly  non-existent in history until slavery was racialized in colonial America.

Before that point in history, captive Africans worked alongside enslaved indigenous people and white indentured servants. They’d also intermarry and rebel or run away among their class, leading to interracial alliances inconvenient for the ruling class. So the powers that were decided to restrict the slave class to the ones most isolated in the Americas: the Africans. And that’s when “white” became an identity, all in the cause of maintaining the permanence and separation of the slave class.

Spencer doesn’t know that, though.

Journalist Gary Younge recently visited Spencer for an interview. Younge’s stated goal was to see what the intellectual underpinnings of what the British citizen calls “the Trump movement” look like.

It was like watching a man tie rope around his own neck, then blithely walk down a steep hill.

Spencer was that man, not Younge.

In the interview, Spencer relates his belief that African slaves in America are better off than Africans in Africa (as though colonialism didn’t nearly destroy the continent’s progress). That British citizen Younge will never be an Englishman because of his race (only true if douchebags like you have a say so, Spencer). That whites are “the genius that drives” world history (no, you only had A) the gun and B) Christianity, the latter of which muted your natural tribalism long enough to see about conquering others with the former).

Spencer is wrong on every count. But he’s not alone in his delusion, one that even had me caught in its web.

Case in point: “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman.

In 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” and 2018’s upcoming “Black Panther,” he plays the part with a (patched together) African accent that I thought was slightly exaggerated in the 2016 film.

I was like, “Why doesn’t he speak English better? He’s more than smart enough.”

I, too, had fallen in the White Supremacy trap. I was thinking: Better English equals better intelligence. But Boseman has thought about this.

“People think about how race has affected the world.” Boseman said. “It’s not just in the States. Colonialism is the cousin of slavery. Colonialism in Africa would have it that, in order to be a ruler, his education comes from Europe.

“I wanted to be completely sure that we didn’t convey that idea because that would be counter to everything that Wakanda is about. It’s supposed to be the most technologically advanced nation on the planet.

“If it’s supposed to not have been conquered — which means that advancement has happened without colonialism tainting it, poisoning the well of it, without stopping it or disrupting it — then there’s no way he would speak with a European accent.”

He added: “If I did that, I would be conveying a white supremacist idea of what being educated is and what being royal or presidential is. Because it’s not just about him running around fighting.

“He’s the ruler of a nation. And if he’s the ruler of a nation, he has to speak to his people. He has to galvanize his people. And there’s no way I could speak to my people, who have never been conquered by Europeans, with a European voice.”

And there it is. And that’s why I’m now ABSOLUTELY OK with his accent — it’s an artistic rebuke of White Supremacy. And it’s also one more reason I am pensively anticipating the movie in February for bigger reasons than it simply being the newest potential Marvel Studios blockbuster.

 

 

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So sometimes I get to write film reviews for the newspaper I design and copy edit for, http://www.GwinnettDailyPost.com when our regular movie critic either can’t or won’t make a screening.

  

Here’s a draft of my capsule review of Thor 3 written for the paper:

Thor: Ragnarok (PG-13)3 stars

Marvel’s godly hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns for a third solo outing. Tons of humor — a little too much, actually — makes “Ragnarok”  great fun despite a high-stakes plot where he’s stripped of his iconic hammer and cast far away from the homeland he’s sworn to defend (this time from Hela, goddess of death played by Cate Blanchett). Co-star Tessa Thompson nearly steals the movie. — Khari J. Sampson

The GDP uses a simple 4-star scale. My personal score, though? That’s a little different. I give it 3.5 stars.

 

==SPOILERS FOLLOW== 

There might be a few too many jokes. Some work great, as in the early moments of the film when a fairly dense amount of exposition is dumped in chuckle-inducing fashion. Said sequence works great to re-establish the title character at the peak of his powers, confidence and seeming invincibility before the story begins to strip them away.

  

Other times, though, the humor seems a bit mistimed. It’s a tightrope act, and while it never falls from the wire, “Ragnarok” wobbles a lot.

  

A particular weak point is Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. He’s a different sort of bad guy for a Marvel movie, but far too much of the actor than the character comes through here. He doesn’t break the movie, but it’s a very good thing he doesn’t have to carry it as the main antagonist.

  

That job goes to Cate Blanchett’s Hela, and boy, is she up to the task. Hela is the most powerful and legit threatening Marvel villain to date. She plays it with a deft mix of arrogant menace and camp that is fun to watch.

  

Hulk reappears after being MIA since “Age of Ultron” a whole five films ago. Again, he’s played for laughs, which might be a good thing because there’s a pitch-dark tragedy at the center of the story of the Hulk and Bruce Banner. I feel a little bit cheated in that, in the interest of making fun films, perhaps the Marvel Studios’ efforts have shied away from the darkness that could make a masterpiece like Fox’s “Logan.”

  

But I’ll take the film as it, because the Hulk/Banner thing isn’t the only thing that’s pitch dark in “Ragnarok.”

  • Odin? Expires.
  • Mjolnir? Destroyed.
  • Thor? Exiled and unable to protect his homeland.
  • The Warriors Three? Murdered.
  • Armies of Asgard? Slaughtered.
  • People of Asgard? Enslaved or in flight and hiding.
  • Asgard itself? Destroyed.

 
This is literally a story where the villains prevail. The heroes’ only W is that most of them live to maybe fight again.

Such as Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie.

  

At first, she seemed another example of stunt casting for diversity’s sake. Some folks complain about this sort of “reverse whitewashing,” wanting to see the movies stick to the comics’ canon.

  

I get it. I’m also bothered when films change stuff up for the sake of adaptation or worse (see “Deadpool” in 2010’s “Wolverine: X-Men Origins”).

  

But it’s also important that more kinds of people be represented onscreen and in entertainment media.

  

The only reason most of these characters are white is because of decades of overt and then covert attitudes of white supremacy. When white has been the norm for so long — and artificially so — it’s going to take some intentionality to balance matters out.

  

“But the Norse gods ARE white” someone is saying. That’s not necessarily so.

  

When various cultures create or adopt a religion, if their gods take on human form, they tend to resemble elements of that culture. Have you not seen the black or Asian Jesus Christ imagery in those respective homes and houses of worship?

In the case of Marvel’s Norse mythology, the characters are who they are — but who’s to say that the rare Norwegian mortal who actually caught sight of Heimdall  or, more likely, simply heard of his existence, would not cast him as a dark-bearded white man in his imagination rather than as Idris Elba?

  

Back to Thompson.

  

She captivates every time she’s onscreen, lending a degree of complexity that Thor himself rather lacks. (Though, to be frank, her arc isn’t terribly complex, either.) Her Valkyrie is tough without overwhelming her femininity, and yet never seems to be trying too hard at either. She’s not relegated to being the love interest, either, in a refreshing divergence from the usual plotline.

  

There’s also this quote from the actress:

 

“I never thought I could be in a superhero movie.”

 

This is why, although I love the classic Brunnhilde the Valkyrie in the comics, I am all in favor of this sort-of recasting. Particularly after seeing how fantastically it works.

 
————— 

Here’s how the film falls in my personal ranking of MCU movies this week:

17. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

16. Iron Man 3 (2013)

15. Iron Man 2 (2010)

14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

13. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)*

11. Doctor Strange (2016)

10. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)*

8-9. Thor (2011) / Thor: The Dark World (2013)

7. Ant-Man (2015)

6. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)*

5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

4. Iron Man (2008)

3. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

1. Avengers (2012)

Films in italics I’ve only watched once and I can never settle my feelings on this sort of nerd cinema on the first viewing alone.

  

Now…bring on Justice League! And Star Wars! And Black Panther!

 

It’s such a great time to be alive!

“Has anyone seen channel 8’s new morning traffic reporter? She’s a size 16/18 woman in a size 6 dress. She looks ridiculous. I understand that when I watch Channel 8 I’m going to get biased reporting and political correctness, but clearly they have taken complete leave of their senses.”

 

So a Texas woman named Jan Shedd openly complained about a local TV reporter’s “provocative” dress. Black Twitter (which, for those who don’t know, is basically just outspoken black people on the social media platform) called her out on the criticism, inferring that reporter Demetria Obilor’s dress was less the issue than her race.

I wasn’t sure they were entirely on target in that inference. Shedd simply seems like the kind of woman who may be uncomfortable with curves and anything resembling pulchritude. My mom is that type; she is really uncomfortable with wearing anything that hugs her figure. And Shedd had this as her Facebook cover photo:

Ugh. Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes and it offends me to see the anti-Nazi quoted here by this lady. She probably thought she was speaking out on evil — in this case, the evil of this woman exposing her dynamic figure and thus leading men to lust, I guess. (Which is frankly men’s problem to solve, period.)

But let me unpack the levels of wrong in Shedd’s criticism.

  • Obilor’s dress is too small, she says. No, it just fits and isn’t loose.
  • Obilor looks ridiculous, Shedd says. I wonder why she thinks so? I’m a dude, so I think Obilor looks FANTASTIC. For Shedd’s part, she’s veering close to body shaming territory. It’s this line of thinking that asks “What were you wearing?” to survivors of sexual assault.
  • Shedd complains of biased reporting/political correctness: Now I can’t really comment on News 8’s reporting, not being in the area, but I highly doubt bias is quite the problem Shedd thinks it is on the local level. (Nationally, perhaps. But not local TV news.) And I wonder what rates as political correctness in local news coverage for her?
  • Shedd thinks News 8 has lost their minds. Wow, that’s quite a charge to make. The station has done the unthinkable: Put on a pretty girl wearing pretty clothes on to report the weather or whatever.OH WAIT, LOCAL NEWS STATIONS HAVE ALWAYS DONE THAT.

Shedd is entitled to her opinion, of course, but opinions are like rectal orifices: Everyone has one. And hers stinks of self-righteousness.

But did it stink of racism? I wasn’t sure. That is, until this tweet following the spitstorm she endured afterward.

You. Didn’t. Notice. She was black.

Jan. If your sense of sight is sharp enough to notice Obilor’s dresses and figure, how can you claim not to notice her not-exactly-white ethnicity?

Here’s a friendly message to every reader of this blog: Being colorblind in this way is NOT A VIRTUE. At all. You don’t get any points in civil society by erasing this aspect of another human being. (More on that in a future post).

In Shedd’s case, perhaps Obilor’s ethnicity truly didn’t make any impression on her, and thus she viewed the TV reporter as a fellow white woman and judged her by that standard — perhaps the only quote-unquote “decent” standard for beauty and appearance that Shedd has ever known or employed.

Which is, of course, the problem: that she could live this long and still feel that her standard is the main one that matters.

Instead of trying to dismiss people who don’t try to ignore race and ethnicity as “racists” as Shedd does here, she’d do better to listen to their point of view and broaden her view of the world. And to stop looking down on women like Obilor who aren’t ashamed of their form.

The best man

2017/11/06

Today was my brother Darron’s birthday. And this is a photo of his wedding last month to a lovely woman named Maggie.

I wasn’t there.

Barely more than a week earlier, I got the phone call from the local China visa office.

Despite my supplying a written job description of my work as a designer and copy editor and I signing a sworn statement I would not perform anything related to my work while in China, the Chinese consulate would not issue me a tourist visa until after a scheduled Oct. 26 face-to-face meeting at the consulate in Houston. Apparently, the government is extremely nervous about the fact that I work in the newspaper business.

My flight was scheduled for Oct. 2. Darron’s wedding was Oct. 7.

I may never go to China after this. I am certain I’d need to make the requested in-person interview, but these people made me miss my only brother’s wedding. I cannot imagine my anger would go unnoticed. I can’t imagine they would issue the visa.

So this is something like the speech I would have made as the best man had the Chinese government been less terrified of a free press.

————

Darron,
I’ve known you all your life.
Mom says I greeted you warmly, but also that, being about age 2, regressed a little bit. So it’s not a huge stretch to say we’ve grown up together.

We shared most everything when we were younger. We shared our toys — even though some were definitely YOURS and mine were definitely MINE. We shared wild imaginative worlds together. We shared those frequent moves between towns and schools and clung to each other through the sadness of parting and the greeting of new experiences. We shared those gaming and TV and movie viewing experiences. We even shared the same college experience, at least part of it. And of course all those private jokes.

But also of course, you couldn’t share it all forever. Even when we were small, you were ever the one looking to the horizon, ready to travel far and wide and deeply, while I was happier in one place.

Still, you’ve always kept us close even when far away and, when you could, returned home. And it was literally a life saver for me that one September night.

It came as no surprise, but you definitely showed you’d become a superb man. Courageous. Gentle. Calm. Responsible. Kind. Intelligent. Beautiful. Funny.

And now you’re one more thing: married.

I know you’ll be kind to Maggie. You had the courage to court her, the gentleness and responsibility to do it right and well.

(I only have one bit of counsel: Do try to tone some of your outbursts down when you’re trying to make a point.)

If you love her even half as much as you’ve loved me, she’ll never feel unloved. Ever.

Maggie,
“I don’t know you at all.” That’s what I want to say.

But actually, it’s not true. I already know a few things about you, even though we’ve never met in person, just had a couple of Facetime chats.

I know you’re kind. Darron could never fall in love with someone who was unkind.

I know you’re responsible. Darron couldn’t spend his life with someone reckless.

I know you’re intelligent. Which is good because Darron likes intellectual conversation. (But don’t be shocked if he gets super silly. Because he does. Frequently.)

I know you’re beautiful. I’ve seen the pictures and had the aforementioned Facetime. And more importantly, your soul is beautiful.

I know you’re a good person because you love Darron. And I love YOU because you love Darron.

I know you’ll be kind to him. He’s a gentle soul, one more easily wounded than one would think due to his outward strength. It’s that gentleness, I think, that drew you to him.

He’s the best man. You’ve married my best friend. And I’ve gained a precious sister — one I can’t wait to meet.

I do have one more bit of counsel: Please bear with his funny but embarrassing habit of making sound effects for emphasis when he’s amused. Because he will.

It’s been a very long while since I last wrote here.

One reason is the trash circus better known as the presidential campaign of 2016. Though I am an independent moderate, the election of Donald Trump has shoved me further toward the left than I care to think about.

I am no longer certain I can bridge certain extremes. And I am frankly still too angry to try.

But the chief reason is a certain bit of misfortune that occurred to me last Memorial Day weekend.

Yes, that’s my door, and yes, it was kicked in. And yes, my computer (and PS3 and my brother’s PSP) and all my files on it were stolen. Bereft of my equipment to write or even gain internet access, I let said access lapse and have since enjoyed not paying that bill.

But the cost has been no ability to write. Not at length. And of course I’ve missed it. I’ve missed a number of things.

Therefore, when National Novel Writing Month rolled around again this year, I planned to take part. Usually, November catches me rather by surprise and I find myself having forgotten that NaNoWriMo is happening and I never participate. But not this year. This year I had a story idea in mind and had even started to outline.

But again, there will be no novel writing. I found myself pining to return to this Bridge Over Troubled Opinions blog (and to its hobby-minded sister, Heroclixin.com). I have too much on my mind and Facebook just doesn’t cut it as an outlet or repository for it all. And the less said about — or on — Twitter, the better.

If only that dude in the Oval Office could get that idea into his yellow-coifed skull.

I still lack internet access and thus I’ll be writing a lot for the future rather than live. But I’m raring to go. I hope you’ll hang with me as I share thoughts on:

  • How I celebrated Halloween
  • Updating my ranking of the Marvel Studios films
  • A review of the latest such film, “Thor: Ragnarok”
  • Election 2016
  • Why Trump is not going down on collusion charges
  • Why TF people policed a teenaged girl’s breasts
  • My brother’s wedding…that I missed
  • Race in America
  • SO MUCH about race in America
  • Seriously, it’s time to stop avoiding the issue
  • Tired of white folks being so fragile on this issue
  • Because it’s literally getting black people killed
  • While some folks are mad about other folks kneeling WHEN DID KNEELING BECOME “DISRESPECT?”
  • Guess what? Everyone’s problematic.
  • The upcoming Black Panther film looks amazing
  • The current Black Panther comic is kinda trash, tho
  • Can “Justice League” continue the redemption of the DC Comics movies that “Wonder Woman” started?
  • And more

Let’s do this.

It’s time again for my annual personal Oscar screening party! (See the 2015 and 2016 versions)

This year it’s with a big difference: I’ve become a sort-of professional movie critic! I work for a small newspaper and occasionally the regular film critic can’t (or won’t) attend certain screenings due to schedule conflict or … reasons. So I and my other immediate teammates get opportunities to step in the gap.

(I really need to mirror the reviews here.)

Last year was the “Oscars So White” controversy. This year, it seems that the Academy has made it a point not to overlook black people-led projects. Some consider that pandering, but when the films are great anyway, how so?

On to my ranking of the nominees.

9.

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“Manchester by the Sea”

This one I actually got to review ahead of its release. And like Brooklyn last year, it’s one that really ought not be on a Best Picture list in my unhumble opinion. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch,  but it screws up from its opening scene and thus sort of wastes a lot of good performances because the central plot and character arc is a bit murky.

The newspaper uses a 4-star system. I prefer a 5-star one and so give “MBTS” 3 stars.

8.

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“Fences”

I saw this with my parents over the holidays. About 30 minutes in, my mom leaned over and asked, “What is this movie about?”

Based on a great stage play, “Fences” is adapted to the screen by the original writer who, obviously, remains in love with all his words. It’s less a movie than the play with really, really detailed sets. But the acting is top-notch across the board, especially Viola Davis, who should win the supporting actress Oscar. 3.5 stars.

7.

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“Hell or High Water”

Part heist movie, part 21st-century Western, this movie appealed to me because it’s about two brothers (which will always get me in the feels because of my brother) and it’s got a nice stick-it-to-the-Man edge beyond the crime aspect. 3.5 stars.

6.

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“Moonlight”

It kinda seems obligatory to have an LGBTQ-themed film make the Best Pic nominees. But this quiet film is well deserving of the honor. Like “Manchester By The Sea,” it features a taciturn protagonist and very deliberate pacing. But it actually shows progression in the main character, doesn’t rely on confusing flashbacks and comes to a satisfying conclusion. And so it sits rather higher on my list. 3.5 stars.

5.

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“Hacksaw Ridge”

As a man of faith, I found this World War II biopic about a conscientious objector who nevertheless fought to serve in the war as an unarmed medic to be right in my wheelhouse. The underrated — and oddly polarizing — Andrew Garfield is deservedly up for an acting award.   4 stars.

4.

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“La La Land”

I hate live-action musicals. So the fact that this one was so effective wins it a high spot. It didn’t hurt that I love Emma Stone.

It better not win, though. As fun as it is, it’s far too long and is the least important film of the lot. 4 stars.

3.

lion_ver2

“Lion”

Yet another film based on a true story, this one about Saroo, an Indian youth who, after being adopted by an Australian couple, decides to find his birth family really torques the waterworks. Dev Patel is great as the adult protagonist, but it’s the young Sunny Pewar who’s a revelation. Its only shortcoming is the title. There are no lions in India. But it all makes sense in the end. 4 stars

2.

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“Hidden Figures”

From the opening scene to the end, this film sent me soaring like no other film on this list. It needs to be viewed by every single American of all ages. Though based on true stories, it’s marred somewhat by the ahistorical white savior scenes in the middle and part of the climax. But it’s not enough to mar my love for these hidden figures. 4.5 stars.

1.

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“Arrival”

As much as I loved “Hidden Figures,” it wasn’t quite exceptional enough, especially with it being based on true events. If said true events were interesting enough to warrant a film version (and these are), in my opinion the work’s half done. It’s just a matter of not screwing the actual story up by adding or subtracting too much for the sake of whatever.

No, for my money it’s original stories that translate into truly exceptional film. And that’s why “Arrival” takes my top spot, with its so unexpectedly good take on the science fiction alien contact tale coupled with a human interest story of how a woman moves on after great loss.

And then it gets better when you realize what’s really going on and the story becomes that much more magnificent in the final act. 4.5 stars.

20161031_2021242

I never knew my grandma was a cheerleader as a girl.

That was probably the most surprising thing I learned about her as our family laid her body to rest Halloween 2016.

 

My grandmother Martha had been ailing for several years now, bedridden with diabetes,  dementia and requiring round-the-clock care.

In the morning of October 26, 2016, I got the call from my dad that she had at last passed away overnight.

I’ve been bracing for this moment for years, in a way, and particularly so in the last few days of Grandma’s life since being alerted that the end was near. It’s true that seeing it coming helps at least a little.

Maybe more than a little in my case. I’m surprised at how normally I’ve been able to function in these several days since the news. But this eulogy has been far more difficult in coming than I thought it would be —  evidence that I wasn’t processing the loss quite as well as it appeared even to myself.

She’s the last of my grands to go, outliving her husband by a little over 15 years and my paternal grandfather by a decade. (My biological paternal grandmother died when Dad was a sophomore in college.) And so passes that generation of my immediate family.

———

Born in 1924, by age 11 Grandma was an orphan, having lost her mother when she was only 2. She was then raised by an uncle who probably misremembered her birthdate and so Grandma celebrated her birthday a day early until her 80s, when her original birth certificate was found.

It was said she treated her childhood dolls as children while playing. She would go on to raise 13 children of her own and serve as a church and neighborhood mother to more still — to say nothing of her 21 grandkids and 30-plus great-grandchildren.

She was called a mother of mothers by one of her sons-in-law — my dad — and the title is fitting.

———

Grandma was a devoted Christian who, even when deep in her dementia, could still occasionally sing and pray to her Lord. And as a praying woman, she likely had a direct effect in changing the course of my life.

Upon graduating college in the early 1990s, I opted to stay in Washington D.C., despite having very little in the way of a plan or money or anything. I was barely employed. I had a line on a place to stay, but looking back on it, it was sketchy. Still, I was determined to figure something out.

(There may have been a girl I was interested in.)

I later heard that Grandma specifically prayed that I get out of D.C. Answered prayer may have been why I suddenly abandoned all my plans and decided to go home to Atlanta after all.

It may have been the decision that saved my life. It almost certainly was one that led to the saving of my soul, as it was in Atlanta that I became serious about my faith for the first time.

———

 

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There’s no question. This is my favorite photo of Grandma. It’s a significant one for me for a number of reasons.

She and Grandpa were Atlanta Braves fans from the time the team came South. I couldn’t have cared less about baseball during those summer visits during my youth, but as an adult in my late 20s and 30s, I became a fan of the home team. During adult trips to her Macon home, I enjoyed sitting with her to watch baseball games. They were bonding moments for us.

All this time, though, she’d never been to an actual major league Braves game. So, in 2010, at age 85, during one of her extended stays with my mom and dad’s place, we — myself, my parents, her youngest son and his wife, with tickets provided by my cousin Angela —took her to one.

She enjoyed it but the constant roar of the crowd grew unpleasant for her and so we took her home before the end of the game. The Braves were losing, anyway.

Until they actually ended up winning after she’d left. But she could cross that off the bucket list. (I’m not sure she HAD a bucket list, though.)

I look back on this summer day as pretty much the last time she could get around well enough to enjoy such an outing and my company.

———

I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete this eulogy — or even really start to properly grieve — until after the home going service. And indeed, it was during the car drive to the service that it really hit. As we began our drive, I saw a road worker standing at attention with his hardhat off. And all the way to the church during the roughly 5-mile route, every single driver on either side of the four-lane road had stopped out of respect.

That doesn’t happen in Atlanta. But it speaks to the values that still live on in Macon — values that Grandma embodied more than most and passed down to every single one of the children she mothered. And it was a most fitting tribute from these strangers-but-neighbors to this tiny woman who nevertheless stood like a tower in the spirit over this unworthy world.

Now she is receiving her due in heaven from her Lord.

Until we meet again, Grandma, may I embody those values and bring Him my own crown — one that, if not for your prayers, I might not have.

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So, after months and months, I’ve finally come back to this blog for this bit of unfinished business: How the Marvel Studios movies stack up in my opinion.

 

13. The Incredible Hulk [2008]

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Though at the bottom of my rankings, I still find this to be a fun, fun film, and one that establishes the easy vibe that is an MCU movie. Every Marvel Studios film must meet this standard at minimum. So far, so good.

Low moment: Leader tease. Too, too in-joke and never went anywhere.

Fave moment: Banner and Betty in bed. It showed how much the Hulk was really a curse.

———

12. Iron Man 3 [2013]

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This is an odd movie among the rest. Being the first followup to the monstrously successful Avengers, it’s really a character piece about Stark’s PTSD from the events of that story.

Low moment: The Mandarin switch / the moment you realize the air rescue was the climax

Fave moment: -tie- the Mandarin’s attack / Air rescue.

———

11. Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]

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I was not hugely impressed by this one upon its release, but its homey charm has grown on me considerably. Making it a period piece was absolutely the right call.

Low moment: Cheesy Bucky fall. Really bad effects in that shot.

Fave moment: When shirtless Rogers is chasing the Nazi spy and he pauses a moment when a boy falls in the water during the chase. But the boy, between age 8 and 11, says, “Get him! I can swim.” Just a perfect moment that captures the period.

———

10. Iron Man 2 [2010]

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Many fans dislike this film more than I do. I find it hugely entertaining. It certainly has its problems — more on that below — but it’s my jam.

Low moment: Random Nick Fury appearance in the middle of the movie. This is the pivot point for the entire narrative, and it hinges on a character we’ve seen NO HINT of in the entire film… one who hasn’t even been named except in the hidden scene you didn’t know you had to stick around to see TWO YEARS AGO in the first Iron Man film.

Fave moment: Black Widow hallway fight. This was a low-key first look at the future of Marvel Studios movie marvelousness. (Though that curly-headed wig still looks all kinds of wrong.)

———

9. Avengers: Age of Ultron [2015]

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This film’s signature moment comes very early during the lead-in to the title card. We see that the driven Stark is still haunted by the PTSD seen in his previous appearance in Iron Man 3. Sure, he’s being manipulated by Wanda Maximoff, but the point stands. The movie that follows doesn’t quite live up to the promise. It’s fun to watch, but mostly sound and fury and Whedonism.

Low moment: Ultron vs. Klaue sums up my issues with the villain. In the scene, the robotic villain has an all-too-human, almost funny encounter with the gun runner that doesn’t seem at all right for an A.I. planning genocide. Too often, Ultron felt like a Whedon villain, which is normally great but here it was so off.

Fave moment: “If you walk out that door, you are an Avenger.” I thought Hawkeye had great moments in the first film, but he tops here. This scene made the clumsy turns of the twins from super-heels to heroes worth it.

———

8.Thor [2011]

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I still love how this film goes from epic Shakespearean family drama mixed with ice giant fights to a fish-out-of-water screwball romcom with equal aplomb. Some fans weren’t thrilled with the shift, but I loved it — and love this movie. Kat Dennings made it.

Low moment: Clint Barton goes to a weapon rack for a rifle, pauses, then picks a bow instead. These kinds of Easter eggs can be a bit too on the nose sometimes.

Fave moment: Thor’s moment with Jane, after he’s truly been humbled by his failure to lift his hammer and learned of his father’s (supposed) death.

———

7. Thor: The Dark World [2012]

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Honestly, this film and its predecessor switch spots all the time. Sequel gets the edge for its mid-film tragedy that threatens to turn on the waterworks.

Also, more Kat Dennings.

Low moment: Having to wait for the very end of the credits for the happy reunion I’d wanted.

Fave moment: Thor and Loki fighting together one last time. I’m one of two brothers so this theme always gets me in the feels.

———

6. Ant-Man [2015]

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An-Man takes what could have been an incredibly silly -looking concept and makes it heroic and heart-filled from jump, even if it doesn’t play quite as well for me on repeat viewing (which kept it from the top five). It’s also notable as one of the only MCU movies to sport a recognizable musical theme for its hero.

Low moment: There wasn’t really one for me.

Fave moment: That great Avengers cameo.

———

5. Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]

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I said over and over back then that I liked this movie but didn’t love it. But it’s aging better than a lot of the others on this list because so much of what works emotionally is done in minimal fashion, in the margins. It never beats you in the head and simply trusts that you got it. So Guardians grabs — at least for now — a spot in my top five. It’s well-deserved.

Low moment: There really needed to be a moment to sell us on the idea that Star-Lord or Gamora could survive in the vacuum of space. The filmmakers did other exposition well enough.

Fave moment: “It would not go ‘over my head.’ I would catch it. My reflexes are too fast.”

———

4. Iron Man [2008]

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It set the standard for what a Marvel Studios movie could and would be. It’s full of wit — thanks, Robert Downey Jr., for taking the role — and just enough action to whet our appetites.

Low moment: He’s capable, sure. But from the beginning, Terrence Howard felt miscast as James Rhodes. He was a case of “Let’s get the ‘Name black actor who’s not Denzel Washington’ for this role.”

Fave moment: It’s hard to pick one. But it’s probably the last line. It feels earned.

———

3. Captain America: Civil War [2016]

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What the DC films tried to do with its second outing in “BvS,” Marvel Studios built up to across a dozen movies, and the difference in quality shows in this romp. It’s great fun and still brings the pathos. One can see the POV of both camps and it really stings when our favorites get chin-checked.

Low moment: Occasionally the characters do things that are just a little bit TOO superhuman. (Only your ARM is super-strong, Bucky.) Yes, there are nods to reasons why, but…

Fave moment: Just about every moment featuring T’Challa, the Black Panther.

———

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier [2014]

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The best of all the MCU movies, it’s a political spy movie in superhero drag. The pacing and action are pitch perfect and Chris Evans has truly settled into the role.

Low moment: Like too many MCU films, the score is forgettable to an extreme.

Fave moment: The elevator scene.

———

1. Marvel’s Avengers [2012]

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From its opening scenes, this culmination of MCU Phase One was something special, something way greater than the sum of its previous parts. Director Joss Whedon really brought it with his trademark wit and willingness to go where the movie needed him to go. I was astounded, listening to the commentary, at the number of great moments and transitions in the film that were more or less happy accidents.

But the fact that each character gets his or her moment(s), sometimes in the same scenes, those were no accidents.

Low moment: None. It’s not the best MCU film, but it’s the most fun by far and has no false note.

Fave moment: “I’m always angry.” Followed by that signature group shot and that music — one of the few times score has made an impression in these films.

———

In a few weeks, this baker’s dozen will expand to 14 cinematic offerings with the inclusion of Dr. Strange on Nov. 4. So far, Marvel Studios simply hasn’t made a bad film. But like Guardians and Ant-Man before it, this one doesn’t look like a sure thing, and the Iron Man sequels and Age of Ultron all show weaknesses in each phase of the MCU. So we’ll see if the magic continues.


This fanfare is almost as affecting as the 20th Century Fox one before a Star Wars film used to be.

There was a run there, from the release of Toy Story in the mid-1990s through to about 2010, when the genius animation studio Pixar simply could not make a mediocre film.

Alas, the deal it made with longtime collaborator Disney has seemingly drained Pixar of some of its old magic toward The Mouse’s own animated masterpieces in recent years.

Anyway, I bring up that Pixar run because in this blogger’s opinion, Marvel Studios seems similarly incapable of making a bad film. With eight years and a full baker’s dozen films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s not a stinker in the lot.

Iron Man [2008]

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It was a bold gambit: After years of seeing its properties either mishandled [see about half the entires in the X-Men and Spider-Man movie franchises and all the attempts at the Fantastic Four] or, more importantly, profited upon by other studios careful not to share too much of those profits, Marvel Entertainment took a risk on a B-level character knowing that the failure of this film would cost its rights to a founding Avenger.

It worked out, though. Unlike outside studios, the nascent Marvel movie machine could exercise much tighter fidelity to the source material than most film directors were interested in doing. That attention to the spirit and letter of the comics brought a much greater realization of the comics to film than had ever before been attempted, and the fans rewarded the studio for it.

I had been highly skeptical of the film and the risk Marvel was taking at first. But when I saw the trailer about a month out from its early May release, I openly mused, “…I should buy stock in Marvel, right now.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds.

 

The Incredible Hulk [2008]

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The fledgling studio accompanied “Iron Man” with this film in June, an attempt to reclaim its own character from the uneven Ang Lee picture “The Hulk” from 2003. Like “Iron Man,” it was a risk that could have cost Marvel a venerable character. But it was also successful, though nowhere near as much a critical or commercial one as its predecessor.

 

Iron Man 2 [2010]

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Hard to believe nowadays, when there’s a new Marvel Studios flick about every six months, but it was a long two years to wait for more Iron Man. Also a commercial success, the critical and audience reception for this one was more muted.

 

Thor [2011]

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This was the first big test: Would Marvel be able to adequately meld this magical, mythologically based superhero into its heretofore science-grounded universe? With the help of a solid script, game performances from the exceptionally well-cast actors and the direction of Kenneth Branagh, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

 

Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]

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Previous attempts at bringing Captain America to film tried to pull him into the modern day. This one did it right, by starting — and keeping — the story in World War II and making a superhero period piece. The end result is both charming and pedestrian all at once.

 

Marvel’s Avengers [2012]

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Director Joss Whedon brought his considerable wit to bear and made this ensemble piece one of the hugest hits ever and cementing the superhero genre into the film canon pretty much for good.

 

Iron Man 3 [2013]

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The first followup to Avengers, this seeming final film in the Iron Man franchise was also a big hit, but audience reception was mixed as it was the first Marvel Studios film to sharply diverge from the comics’ approach to the characters.

 

Thor: The Dark World [2013]

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Opinions split on Thor’s sequel as well. Some, like myself, absolutely love this movie. Others have some bones to pick with it.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier [2014]

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Released in the not-so-peak-season of late March, this was something of a surprise hit and is considered by many to be the finest film in the MCU to date.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]

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Equally surprising was the late-summer debut of a new MCU film chock-full of all-new characters with no apparent connection to any of the previous heroes — and it was still well-received anyway.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron [2015]

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Most surprising of all, though, was the stumble in quality for Joss Whedon’s sophomore — and final — effort in the Marvel Studios system. Though a humongous success financially and generally enjoyed by critics and audiences alike, the Avengers sequel remains widely considered a step down from its predecessor.

 

 

Ant-Man [2015]

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If any film looked likely to stumble on its concept alone, Ant-Man seemed the one to do it. Lacking any real connection to previous Marvel films, it would need to be just about perfect to work. Based on its success, it apparently worked.

 

Captain America: Civil War [2016]

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Coming off as an unofficial “Avengers 2.5,” this third Cap film promised the same character overload that threatened to overwhelm “Age of Ultron” — as well as a retread of the in-team in-fighting that was so prevalent in that earlier film. But the talented Russo brothers brought the same solid ability used in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” to deliver another critically acclaimed success.

 

Next post, I’ll give my personal ranking of the 13 films, complete with signature moments from each.

 

 

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I thought I had one good photo of her.

Not the one above, her senior yearbook pic, where Miss Kristina M. Baesman is all cleaned up and pretty and normal-looking. No, I mean a photo of Kris, just as pretty and freckled but wearing her Sharpie-marked-up denim jacket and jeans with the knees out and probably a cool hat of some sort.

My Kris.

Some weeks ago, I heard over FB that my high school buddy Kris Baesman was missing. She’d gone for a spring morning’s walk and never returned. It was some 48 hours later when she was found, unconscious and in a hypoglycemic coma.

She eventually woke, but had suffered such severe brain damage from the ordeal that, barring a miracle, she would not recover at all. So, just days after her 45th birthday, she was moved to hospice care and passed away Sunday morning.

It’s been more than 20 years since we last spoke, meeting by chance at some party we’d both been invited to by separate individuals. We’d already fallen out of touch over our respective college years; I suppose we’d outgrown each other.

I’m reminded of something my mother said about Kris when we were in high school. She said that Kris had clung to me for dear life. I didn’t know what Mom was talking about, nor did I then understand why she was a little concerned about the amount of time that Kris and I would be alone and unsupervised at Kris’ house after school.

Kris and I were buds, see. Completely platonic, at least so far as I knew. But you know about the old platitude that sometimes we choose our friends and sometimes our friends choose us? Kris was definitely in the latter category.

We met in 10th grade as members of the art club. While I was nursing a low-level crush on club president and senior Kara Walker (who’s gone on to do some big-time arty things), this red-haired metalhead chick sorta latched on and didn’t let go. At the time, I was gearing up to try out for a school newspaper slot and thought I didn’t need this sort hanging around.

But, of course, a friend like that was EXACTLY what I needed.

  • Kris introduced me to a new crowd. Some might say it was the “wrong” crowd — indeed, my mom once mused aloud wondering why so many of my friends were “from the fringes” — but they were absolutely harmless, at least when I was around.
  • Kris introduced me to Queen. She got me hip to the group’s “A Day At The Opera” and, specifically, “Bohemian Rhapsody” a full two years before “Wayne’s World” brought the classic back into the mainstream consciousness.
  • Kris took me to my only theater experience of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is the only way to watch that film, in truth.
  • When she shared the Queen album, Kris also shared her best of Duran Duran hits, though she was embarrassed about it.
  • Kris was also a fantastic artist. Having been accustomed to being the best at drawing in most of my classes, even Art class, it was refreshing to have someone who, along with mutual friend Amy Evans, could relegate me to being third best most of the time.
  • For all her subversive humor and somewhat disturbing love for horror movies, I never remember her being cruel. Kris was always kind to me and mine.
  • But most of all, Kris helped me become more comfortable in my own skin than I’d ever been up to that point in my life. The teenage years are all about finding out what kind of people we are and what we want to be. And she definitely aided in that process by being a fellow oddball who was more unafraid than I was to wear that oddness on the surface.

I feel as though Mom may have had Kris in mind when she wondered about my friends on the fringes. And the answer I gave then (though I can’t recall if I spoke it aloud) is the same as it is today: “Mom, your son is on the fringes, too.”

I have an enduring memory of Kris. Not the movie trips or the shared art projects or the late nights out or even the ready smile. It’s from early in our relationship. In this memory, I am circling the back of the school building, headed somewhere on some errand, and I spot her, in her trademark jeans, denim jacket and hat, trudging up the long hill that leads to the back exit way from school grounds. And I have an urge to call out her name, but I know that will delay us both from our destinations, and I, for one, cannot delay. I have not yet made up my mind about her at this point and I know I’ll see her tomorrow, anyway. So I let her continue, alone.

I sort of repeated this when I saw her at that party after our college years, and again when we reconnected on Facebook. But then the accident happened and I could only have one-sided conversations with her during her last few weeks of life.

I told her, in less well-considered words than you’re reading here, how much of an effect she had on my life for the better.

In the wake of the untimely death of Prince earlier the same week, a quote has been floating around:

“We don’t mourn artists we’ve never met because we knew them. We mourn them because they helped us know ourselves.”

Kris helped me know myself.

And so the only photo I have of her is the one that’s on my heart. And in the end, that’s the one that’s mattered most, anyway.

I love you, Kris.