Tag Archives: Star Trek

New Shows + Movies by Women — August 27, 2021

One of the things I’ve been paying attention to lately is the content creation niche that’s dedicated to arguing why every project by women fails. I’m in a few “Star Trek” groups (shock) and one of the ‘analysts’ we regularly shake our heads at is Doomcock. Now first off, he should really get that checked out by a doctor. Secondly, he traffics in “inside rumors” and “sources” that he insists makes him a resource for prognosticating the future of shows.

He’s railed against newer “Star Trek” series by insisting they’ve turned their backs on the previous eras by focusing on inclusivity and diversity. Never mind the inclusivity and diversity of the entire canon. Hell, “The Next Generation” spent an episode discussing assisted suicide, followed up by an episode where Riker tries to save someone from conversion therapy. That was in 1992, the year before they launched a show where a Black commander, his best friend who’d changed genders, and a famed terrorist led “Deep Space Nine”. This was all unheard of in 90s TV; if anything, modern Trek could stand to push boundaries even more.

Where is this going? Doomcock (see a doctor!) and those like him rely on their “sources” to break news like “Star Trek: Discovery” getting canceled. It wasn’t; it would subsequently film its fourth season. His “sources” revealed that “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” would never even get to filming. It finished filming its first season in July. Nearly every rumor is complete fabrication, nearly every source unreliable to an historic degree. And yet…people still tune in because it feeds the narrative they want to hear – one that says shows about women, that prioritize women, that are made by women, and that focus on inclusivity, diversity, and intersectionalism are all doomed to failure. It feeds the thinking that these are things that are unsustainable in our culture, instead of the reality that we keep renewing them and getting more of these shows because there’s such an audience and hunger for them.

One of the biggest narratives this cottage industry of hate has been pushing this year is the failure of “Black Widow”. Why, it’s a $200 million film that’s only made $180 million domestic! Forget the pandemic, forget that it’s made around 75% more on Disney+. (Disney’s own figures put its opening weekend at $60 million on Disney+, in addition to the $80 million it made in theaters).

“Black Widow” is a film directed by Cate Shortland, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s second film centered on a woman protagonist and first directed solely by a woman (“Captain Marvel” was helmed by directing team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck). It has to be a failure. They cannot fathom or allow it to be interpreted as successful.

The reality is that “Black Widow” stands as the highest earning movie at the box office this year at $180.6 million. “F9: The Fast Saga” is second at $172.6 million, and “A Quiet Place Part II” is third at $160.1 million. Nothing else crests $100 million.

“Black Widow” very likely made at least another $140 million via streaming, which would make it more profitable than any of the three “Thor” movies that have been released. People like Doomcock (at least get some ointment!) make excuses for similarly expensive movies led by men – they came out during a pandemic, they have same-day streaming releases – while calling the most watched and highest earning movie of the year a failure. It must be in order to fit their narrative.

This happens in a year where Kate Herron directed every episode of “Loki”, Kari Skogland directed every episode of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”, and Jac Schaeffer showran “WandaVision”, all three of them popular successes and media darlings.

We saw the same thing in 2020 with Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey”, the sixth highest earner all year, declared a failure. The results of films by men are given excuses, whereas films by women are held to a standard as if the pandemic isn’t even happening. Be in the top six and it’s a failure. Be the top performer and it’s a failure. Men get the contract to direct the sequel no matter how they perform. Women effectively get fired from the franchise. Leading a movie? Could you imagine Disney+ refusing to pay Chris Hemsworth? Meanwhile Scarlett Johansson has to sue to get half her pay in a film that outperformed all three of his.

On to this week:

NEW SERIES

King of Boys: The Return of the King (Netflix)
showrunner Kemi Adetiba

“King of Boys” was a 2018 Nigerian political thriller about power struggles and corruption. It centers on a woman, Alhaja Eniola Salami (played by Sola Sobowale). The TV series continuation “King of Boys: The Return of the King” sees Salami return after 5 years of exile in a ruthless attempt to seize power.

Kemi Adetiba created, wrote, and directed both the movie and this new, seven-part limited series. She’s won numerous awards within Nigeria’s music video industry.

You can watch “King of Boys: Return of the King” on Netflix.

NEW MOVIES

Really Love (Netflix)
directed by Angel Kristi Williams

A Black painter tries to break through the art world in a rapidly gentrifying Washington, D.C. that’s less and less interested in Black art. He tries to balance this with his personal life, but he may not have the energy for both.

This is director and co-writer Angel Kristi Williams’s first feature film.

You can watch “Really Love” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you like what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

The Case for Counselor Troi — How “Star Trek” & “Buffy” Shaped Movies, TV, and Me

Buffy the vampire slayer

by Gabriel Valdez

I was raised on Star Trek. In The Next Generation, male power figures struggled to connect with their emotions (Picard, Worf, Data).

On Deep Space Nine, they struggled to contain their anger when the universe took away the things they loved (Sisko’s sanity, Worf’s wife, Bashir’s research and humanity, O’Brien’s pretty much everything – I think the writers made it their mission to obliterate O’Brien twice a season).

On Voyager, they struggled to be commanded by a woman, not because she was a woman – mind you, Star Trek posed a civilization too advanced to be dealing with that – but because she was the Yul Brynner to their rag-tag, rowdy Magnificent Seven (Chakotay, Paris, the Emergency Medical Hologram). The metaphor, however, was pretty clear.

These struggles with male expectations often proved to be the most difficult obstacle for a plot to overcome. For all the derision heaped on Counselor Troi in Next Generation – the running joke in a lot of the show’s criticism was that she was useless – she may’ve been the most crucial cog in that entire crew, constantly coaxing men to get over themselves and experience another person’s or culture’s perspective. She may have saved the Enterprise more than any other character, not through the orders she gave or actions she took, but by helping the crew to inhabit situations from the perspectives of others.

Picard goes through the ringer several times – indoctrination by the Borg, torture by the Cardassians, living a whole other alien life because of a mysterious space probe – and it’s always Troi bringing him back from the edge. She helped Data achieve his goals of becoming more human by introducing him to concepts of art, empathy, and social responsibilities outside of his duty. She talked Worf out of suicide countless times. The suicide was always ritual – cultural – but it came at times when Worf was afraid of dying in a way that wasn’t warlike enough – that wasn’t manly enough.

Major Kira

On Deep Space Nine, while Sisko and Worf and O’Brien struggled with their personal losses, it was Kira Nerys – a survivor of genocide who had lost her family, culture, religion, and most of her species – who held it together the best. There were times the others were barely fit to command, and would risk crewmates or shirk their responsibilities in order to exact vengeance, but Kira was the one who could fight for a cause one minute, and look her enemy straight in the eye and relent when it saved lives. (If you’re at all a fan of science-fiction, Deep Space Nine is on Netflix and Hulu. It is the best science-fiction show ever put to television, with the possible exception of The Twilight Zone.)

On Voyager, Captain Kathryn Janeway incorporated a band of rebels into her crew, relied on a convict navigator, a holographic doctor, an officer who was essentially reconditioned from a lifetime in a genetically enhanced cult, and even – at points – the son of an omnipotent being. She made decisions more quickly and more fairly than any other captain because she came fully in tune with her own emotions – she didn’t have the same struggles as Picard or Sisko – and constantly approached situations from the perspectives of her opponents. She was Counselor Troi and Captain Picard all rolled up into one.

So Next Generation showed me that being manly, being Rocky or Rambo, could cause more problems than it ever solved. Solutions came through the diplomacy Picard represented, yes, but true diplomacy could only be achieved through the empathy Troi championed. Deep Space Nine showed me that relying on my anger would only risk those around me, that anger is self-perpetuated and can destroy better solutions in order to maintenance its own survival. And Voyager showed me that sometimes men should shut up and listen, not because women know more or have better opinions – it’s all pretty much equal – but because our society gives men so many more chances to speak that we can’t benefit from the opinions we never hear.

Captain Janeway

But then came Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its men whined and pouted and spilled their feelings willy-nilly, while the women kicked ass and got things done. Creator Joss Whedon is often criticized for making women strong by making them literally, physically strong rather than emotionally or mentally, but that’s a false argument to me. Buffy coped with heartache and breakup and becoming a single parent to her sister while dealing with the end of the world and staking vampires through the heart. Guys like Angel and Riley couldn’t do both at once – they would get sidetracked by bottled-up emotions they had failed to deal with and lose sight of the fight at hand. At times, they may have been Buffy’s physical equals, but they were never her mental or emotional equals. They had a lot of maturing to do before they could make that claim.

Fast-forward to the spinoff Angel and even Valley-girl Charisma Carpenter became the war-wearied voice of reason and unofficial leader of the pack, allowing Angel to continue his more personal quest to become the moodiest moodster in Moodytown.

You know what, though? Angel became a better person – he literally gets his soul back – by connecting with those around him and sharing his feelings. Clutzy, nerdy Xander becomes a leader precisely because he was so emotionally honest in his formative years – he had learned to deal with his emotions rather than hiding them or pretending they weren’t there. Giles is perpetually himself and doesn’t feel any pressure to be any other way. It keeps him sane through some pretty messed up plot. So Buffy might have strong women, but I’d already bought into that idea. It was important to have that reinforced, but just as importantly, Buffy featured men who understood it was OK to be weak, to talk about your problems and, yeah, to whine. And that was pretty crucial for me to be exposed to.

None of these shows on their own finished painting the picture, but all of them combined helped me place different priorities on what was important in “being a man.”

I didn’t see them in a vacuum either – they were informed by Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis styled action roles. Yet when I watched those roles, they didn’t seem like the examples of manliness they were supposed to be. I saw pieces missing. I enjoyed their exploits, but they never seemed like full characters.

There’s a reason that male Marvel heroes spill their guts and confront each other about their emotions now. It’s not because Whedon’s in charge of them either – they did that before he came on board. It’s because shows like Star Trek and Buffy forced science-fiction to grow up when it came to how men and women related to each other. Schwarzenegger and Stallone stopped feeling real to enough people, they stopped having as much function for viewers; men who were strong because they shared their emotions started feeling more real and started being more useful.

We often talk about how geek culture took over – I don’t think it did, at least not because it’s specifically geek culture. I think science-fiction, comic, and fantasy fiction were the only genres that let us progress as a storytelling society and so, like water flowing down the path of least resistance, we gravitated toward the genres that allowed us to evolve our storytelling and the kinds of characters we felt were important.

We still watch the old-fashioned movies, and there’s still a lot to fix in the new ones, but it’s nice to know that Troi and Kira and Janeway all helped explain (along with the voices of friends and family) that there were better ways to solve problems than just beating them up, that empathy was more important than dominance, and that characters like Picard, Worf, O’Brien, and Chakotay would be less successful, or even dead, without the benefit of empathy, understanding, and compromise. That paired well with Buffy telling me it was better as a man to talk about emotions and move on than to be tough, hide them, and never cope. Voices of women not only saved other characters from science-fiction and fantasy predicaments, they saved science-fiction and fantasy themselves.

That “Star Wars” Trailer — In Defense of J.J. Abrams

by Gabriel Valdez

It’s a safe announcement trailer, built not to sell a story but rather to shore up a fan base. J.J. Abrams was not a popular choice among fans to direct Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The new Star Wars trailer had to show some visual muscle, and it did. If it had relied solely on a mysterious tease, fans would have blown up about what mistakes Abrams had made that Disney was hiding. Millions of voices would have cried out in terror, but they would have never shut the hell up. We needed a safe trailer that nonetheless got our pulses racing and, well, that’s exactly what we got.

Why does so much negativity swirl around Abrams anyway? His Star Trek reboot was viewed as being clever and respectful of the original material among many fans. As someone raised on a steady diet of Next Gen, DS9, and Voyager, it felt playful and loving, featuring some visual moments that I hadn’t realized I’d always wished for from the franchise until I saw them.

Sure, the sequel Into Darkness was a misstep that succeeded in the impossible task of miscasting Benedict Cumberbatch. Abrams first went after Benicio del Toro, however, so his initial instinct was on the nose. Mainly, the whole affair just made me yearn for Dr. McCoy to ditch the bunch of them and adventure through space on his own, healing bodies and sniping egos as he went. Sort of like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, but with Karl Urban, sharp one-liners instead of heavy breathing, and more phaser fire. “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a Kay Jewelers spokesmodel.”

Into Darkness made mistakes, but looking at the rest of Abrams’s catalogue…how is this guy so viciously hated? As a TV producer, he’s brought us Felicity, Alias, Lost, and Fringe, each one a show that stands near the top of its genre. The short-lived Almost Human was briefly among the best programs on television and gave us a Karl Urban-Michael Ealy odd couple more rewarding than most relationships on TV. Revolution and Person of Interest aren’t too shabby either.

There’s a reason subsequent espionage programs like Blacklist, Chuck, and even NCIS stole vast swathes of plot from Alias, which deftly translated the Greek tragic form while giving us some of the best fight choreography ever put to television.

Lost was the best show on TV for a few years, inspiring rabid loyalty among fans. Ten years ago, it was THE cultural touchstone. Even though it lost its way a few times, it maintained its mystery without compromising its hard sci-fi values. It lasted seven seasons this way. No show that copied its Twilight Zone-gone-large storytelling lasted more than a handful. Most didn’t make it a season, which makes Abrams the only producer who’s successfully pulled it off.

As for Fringe? Name for me another show that came as close to living up to The X-Files‘ combination of science-fiction and supernatural horror. In terms of Golden Age science-fiction, Fringe even equaled its predecessor in heartbreaking standalone episodes like “Johari Window” and “White Tulip.”

As a director, Abrams changed the direction of the quickly sinking Mission: Impossible franchise, successfully remixed Star Trek before his too-clever-for-its-own-good sequel, and gave us the phenomenal Super 8. The last of these is sometimes criticized as being too much of a riff on Steven Spielberg’s early career, which focused on the intimate story of a broken family juxtaposed against world-changing events. I’ll tell you what: Super 8. Mud. The Devil’s Backbone. Those are the three films since 2000 that have most successfully melded coming-of-age stories into an epic framework. J.J. Abrams, Jeff Nichols, Guillermo Del Toro. That’s pretty good company.

As a film producer, he gave us Cloverfield, among the best found footage films, the severely underrated Rachel McAdams-Harrison Ford comedy Morning Glory, and Brad Bird’s follow-up to Abrams’s own Mission: Impossible entry, Ghost Protocol.

Abrams also changed TV in another important way. It often gets overlooked as a simple inevitability of history, but Felicity, Alias, Lost, and Fringe all shared one thing – women as protagonists, asskickers, and leaders. Keri Russell, Jennifer Garner, Evangeline Lilly, Yunjin Kim, and Anna Torv all led their shows as equals or superiors. TV history was meandering this way already with shows like Ally McBeal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Abrams gave the medium a hard shove in the right direction that sped the process up. Without Russell and Garner in particular, television wouldn’t be so brave about running shows led solely by female protagonists.

Abrams has a high floor for quality. His missteps are rare. He can find the personal and quiet moment inside the larger, chaotic scheme of plot. He can back up and find the epic moment that frames us in another world. He can translate classic and mythic forms of storytelling while infusing his work with the style of other directors. Most importantly, he shows inventiveness within the storytelling restrictions of a variety of forms. While not all of his films have put women and minorities front and center, all of his TV shows have. I can’t help but notice his Force Awakens trailer primarily features an African-American man (John Boyega) and a woman (Daisy Ridley).

Is Abrams the best choice? No, but I don’t think David Fincher’s going to do a Star Wars, Ridley Scott turned the offer down in the 90s (and may’ve jumped the shark since), and Guillermo Del Toro turned the offer down a few years back.

I don’t know that Brad Bird would have been better, and I’d rather have him working on Tomorrowland. If you saw the up-and-down Elysium then you know that Neill Blomkamp simply isn’t there as a director yet. Davids Cronenberg and Lynch turned Return of the Jedi down in the 80s and, by the way, have you seen Dune? I mean, I like it better than most, but is this really what you want Star Wars to be?

George Lucas? Empire‘s Irvin Kershner? Jedi‘s Richard Marquand? I might love some of their films, but let’s face it: J.J. Abrams is the best director who’s ever taken the helm on a Star Wars movie. Period.

At least Lucas isn’t doing it again, or we might have this:

Our Better Angels, Our Gifted Children: The Robots Are Coming to Get Us

Automata Antonio Banderas

by Gabriel Valdez

“I have asked myself that many times as I have struggled to be more human. Until I realized: it is the struggle itself that is most important. We must strive to be more than we are, Lal. It does not matter that we will never reach our ultimate goal. The effort yields its own rewards.”

– Data, “The Offspring,” Star Trek: The Next Generation

HBO just ordered Westworld to series. Based on the 1973 film of the same name, it will focus on an Old West theme park in which all the actors are robots with the artificial intelligence required to play their parts. At a point, they malfunction and rebel. Along with JJ Abrams, Jonathan Nolan (brother to director Christopher and co-writer on Interstellar) is serving in a production role, but it’s not the only series he has with HBO.

His Foundation series, based on Isaac Asimov’s series of novels, will soon join it. This is exciting news: HBO has signed Darren Aronofsky (Noah) to develop Margaret Atwood’s bleak pre- and post-apocalypse MaddAddam trilogy, director David Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) to adapt BBC’s Utopia, and rumors have swirled around Peter Dinklage leading the sci-fi/supernatural thriller about a dwarf private eye, Beasts of Valhalla.

That’s no less than 5 science-fiction projects HBO is developing. They’re becoming the SyFy channel we always wanted.

There’s something else happening, however, and not just at HBO. Westworld and Foundation are part of it, but so are upcoming films like Gabe Ibanez’s Automata, Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie, and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.

Robots are settling in. They’re coming to get us. And I couldn’t be more thankful.

I still want a TARS

See, robots used to be the bad guys. I’m sure they will be in Westworld (that’s the whole plot), but it’s HBO – we’ll have sympathetic robots trying to do the right thing (Evan Rachel Wood plays an AI discovering that she’s artificial for the first time) and getting screwed over for it, and we’ll have dastardly evil ones (Ed Harris is picking up the Yul Brynner role, for instance) being, well, dastardly and evil. The humans (Anthony Hopkins, Miranda Otto) look to be the real terror.

In Foundation, however? In the novels, robots are generally good, helpful, self-sacrificing for their human brethren.

In Automata, we treat a society of robots like refuse, much the same way we treat third-world countries as we sap their resources. In Chappie, a childlike robot learns to care, to sacrifice…to be human. The humans abuse and fight over it. Ex Machina is a film that asks a man (or is he?) to choose between trusting a robot and a human being.

Look at Big Hero 6 and Interstellar, or last year’s Her. Baymax, TARS, and Samantha are well-meaning artificial intelligences full of personality, there to aid humanity. In Big Hero 6, Baymax is a friend to Hiro, who draws Hiro back from a dark moment in the film’s most heartfelt scene. In Interstellar, TARS is the most beautifully selfless character of the year. In Her, we are given an AI with the capability for love.

Big Hero 6 hairy baby

Gone are the days where a robot was our nemesis, when our fear of losing jobs to technology made us believe in Hal and Terminators and the android in Alien. Now we have something much worse – drones – and we’ve lost those jobs because of human decisions. We are ourselves a species that lead double-lives, the real and the one on the screen in front of you as you read this. We are psychologically, if not physically, cyborgs. Is that bad? Is that good? We have yet to figure it out very well – the evolution is still happening.

What do robots become if we’re psychologically closer to them now than ever before, as we look around a brilliantly interconnected world and see for the first time the true scope of how inhuman humans can be?

The tide has turned. We think the opposite now – robots in fiction don’t threaten the loss of our humanity. We’re doing a fine job of that ourselves. Instead, they represent searching for something better in ourselves. All these robots strive for something in common, as Data on The Next Generation once yearned for: to become more human. The few that don’t have already reached a human ideal – like Baymax and TARS, that of helping unconditionally. They each treasure being human seemingly more than we do, not to survive but to survive rightly.

They are no longer a projection of fear of the “other,” like the aliens in our science-fiction. They aren’t a paranoia about technology. Now, they harken back to what Isaac Asimov originally imagined: the next logical extension of an idealized human race. The only problem is that the human race isn’t holding up that “idealized” end of the bargain.

It’s not a robot’s strength or their speed that we envy in fiction, not their inability to suffer hunger or sleeplessness. It’s how beautifully they see the world in that moment of self-awareness. That’s the capability we envy most, the fairy tale of seeing with fresh eyes what we’ve come to view with cynicism and doubt.

Science-fiction once used robots as the next step of evolution for a human civilization that had overcome its petty squabbles. They were the reward for our curiosity and cooperation, allowing us to stretch that curiosity even further into the universe. Now, science-fiction views them as a correction, an improvement. They don’t yearn to be like us anymore. We sit in the theater and yearn to follow their selfless example. Or at least, we should.

They now hold a perspective we deeply miss, that which once believed curiosity and cooperation really could win out. They can’t be here to help us extend our curiosity if we’ve given up on curiosity itself. Instead, they’re here to be the last shreds of our human conscience.

So I say let the robots come and get us. Maybe they can teach us something. If we won’t struggle to be human anymore, somebody ought to.

Love Letter to the Human Race — “Interstellar”

Interstellar Anne Hathaway

by Gabriel Valdez

Interstellar is the best movie I have ever seen. As a critic, you’re expected never to say things like that, but that’s never how we watch movies. We invest our emotions, put ourselves into another world, develop faith in characters, we give our entire body over – our pulses race, we tremble, our mouths drop, we grip the armrests, our minds reel. We watch movies because that very next one might be the best we’ve ever seen.

We watch films as engrossing and challenging as Interstellar to find that awe and wonder we had as kids, when we looked up at the sky and dreamed that this very moment – as a people – caught us midstep in becoming something greater. We dreamed that as kids, and we never stopped dreaming it, even when we struggle.

When we struggle, we hope, or we wouldn’t struggle anymore – we’d just let things be. But when we hope, we fear, and Doctor Who tells us fear is a superpower. We rage, and Dylan Thomas tells us rage is the driving force of pioneers. We wonder, and Star Trek tells us wonder is the thing that can unite entire races in the midst of destroying themselves. We’re driven by love, and Robert Heinlein tells us love isn’t a wild, unpredictable emotion, but rather the mastery of our pettiest stresses and insecurities.

Science-fiction houses its what-ifs in scientific theory and social experimentation, but its curiosity is invariably driven by hope. Interstellar poses an Earth that’s lost hope, caught in a postapocalypse driven not by the violence of nuclear war or excitement of zombies, but by crop plagues and soil deterioration caused by overpopulation.

Interstellar Murphy and Cooper

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) was once a NASA pilot. Now, like everybody else, he’s a farmer. Corn is the only crop left. One can’t escape the feeling that his daughter Murphy’s generation will be the last on Earth.

But…Murphy has a ghost that keeps knocking books off the shelf in her bedroom. Cooper doesn’t believe her until he witnesses it during a ferocious dust storm. It’s not a ghost, it’s a gravitational anomaly, and it carries a message.

That message means Cooper will leave his family, discover the remnants of NASA and – being the last experienced pilot around – lead an expedition to find another planet for humanity’s migration. He’ll be joined by Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and a sarcastic robot named TARS on a journey that will take them through wormholes, past black holes, and onto other planets.

The laws of relativity mean that, while their journey will take a few years, decades will pass on Earth. Murphy will grow up. Our pioneers don’t just need to make choices about fuel and food and air supply. Time is the resource they can’t afford to lose. On one potential planet, an hour on the surface equals 7 years back on earth. Every conversation, even about minutiae, carries the weight of the world. Our species hangs in the balance of philosophical debates.

There will be personal betrayals, nerve-wracking space maneuvers, haunting and inspiring sights of space in all its lonely glory. Pioneers will be heartbreakingly lost, the laws of physics will be bent, teary-eyed arguments will be had. Interstellar is an action movie, a tale of discovery, a crash course in both philosophy and astrophysics, but more than anything else it inspires awe in a way few pieces of art ever do.

Interstellar space

Interstellar is nothing short of a narrative masterpiece. Director Christopher Nolan’s past narrative contortions, like Memento, The Prestige, and Inception? Those seem like training runs for what Interstellar pulls off. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted science-fiction to be, and as the movie delves further into quantum mechanics, it isn’t just a science-fiction movie anymore; it becomes magical realism.

(The ending may throw some viewers – it’s heavily based in concepts like quantum consciousness. Interstellar will explain it to you fast, but it never stops too long to run down its more difficult concepts, favoring emotional reaction and more plot over understanding every little nuance. If you’ve got a basic understanding of quantum mechanics – say, you watch PBS or other science programming occasionally – you should be fine. If not, you’ll still have the film’s complete emotional journey, but you may lose out on some of the finer plot logic.)

Nolan favors an old-fashioned approach to narrative – the journey is told through simply presented story and excellent performances. Even the special effects are grounded in live action. CGI isn’t abused, but saved for exceptional moments, making their impact far greater. For my money, McConaughey delivers a performance that knocks his two last year (in Dallas Buyers Club and Mud) out of the park. There’s no trace of ego there, just a completely internalized character. Hathaway and our two Murphys, young Mackenzie Foy and adult Jessica Chastain, are nothing short of remarkable.

Interstellar Jessica Chastain

If hope contains fear and rage and wonder and love, it’s what gets us through our struggles. The single greatest gift a parent gives to a child…that’s hope. That’s practicing hope, learning hope, being disappointed in hope, and being surprised by it. It’s learning how to use it, how to make it bring out the best in us and – when all is at its worst – allowing it to master us despite all evidence to the contrary.

So you’ll understand when I tell you that, for a child raised on enough hope for himself and every other person he’s ever met, who’s been inspired by hope, betrayed because of hope, who’s been ruined by hope, achieved things he never thought he could but always suspected he would because of hope, who thinks the most important thing he can do after seeing a movie that inspires him is sit and write like a hurricane…you’ll understand when he comes away from a film like Interstellar and tells you: “This is the best movie I have ever seen.”

I don’t say that as a critic, I say that as someone who looks up at the stars every night and wonders why the hell we’re not up there in droves, who stayed up late to watch Star Trek and the really old, boring Doctor Who where every planet was the same old rock quarry, who read Asimov and Heinlein and Le Guin and Pullman until four in the morning, and who learned from them all that hope is the real superpower of the human race.

Interstellar is a movie that tells its story through impossibilities, that finds a way to treat emotion as a dimension through which you can move and marries this to complex, cutting-edge science that tells you why. It’s a rare film that reminds us “it’s hopeless” is not a state of being. It’s a challenge to do better, not just in the world’s eyes but in your own. That doesn’t mean we always will, but it does mean we should always try.

Interstellar was designed for the child who looked at the stars and wondered, and learned all he could about them, and grew up to still look at the stars and wonder. Is it the best movie ever made? Who knows, who cares? For that child, and I suspect I can’t possibly be the only one, it is the best film he or she may ever see.

Interstellar is an astonishing love letter to the human race. What else is science-fiction but exactly that?

Should You Watch? ‘Believe’

When I was growing up, you had two seasons when new TV shows premiered: Fall and Spring. And we hiked uphill in the snow to get to both. (The summer was for re-runs.)

Now we have so many channels and so much turnover, there’s a new TV season every two months. Well, it’s March, and we’ve had three major premiers in as many days: Believe, Cosmos, and Resurrection. I’ll handle the first today:

BELIEVE
Pilot”

Believe 2

Imagine, if you will, that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had been the show you wanted it to be, following a rag-tag group of specialists sharing with each other only on a need-to-know basis while protecting and facing people with super-powers they couldn’t begin to understand. It might even have an interesting cast and fight choreography not done by a three-year old. Now imagine the very best episode that show-in-your-head might have, the kind of once-in-a-season nailbiter that offers enough answers to make you appreciate the mysteries it raises. Now you’ve got the pilot for NBC’s Believe.

In the pilot, we meet Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a little girl with powers she can’t quite control but that involve telepathy, telekinesis, seeing people’s futures, and commanding animals to get downright feisty. A mysterious billionaire named Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan) is out to get her – to train her as a weapon, we’re told – and it’s up to an ill-funded underground operation to protect her. Bo’s newest foster parents are assassinated in the opening sequence, in one of those trademark long-takes that director (and co-creator) Alfonso Cuaron does so well. Cuaron’s coming off an Oscar for his direction of Gravity, but he adjusts tone well to television – there are shades of grittiness akin to his Children of Men, but by and large, Believe is a unique creation.

One thing about having Cuaron and executive producer J.J. Abrams (Lost; Almost Human) on board is that they’ve attracted top notch TV talent. It’s up to the enigmatic Winter (Delroy Lindo) and his protege Channing (Jamie Chung) to find a replacement to protect Bo. They choose an unlikely candidate in Tate (Jake McLaughlin), a death row inmate we meet just a few minutes before his scheduled execution. It’s up to him to rescue Bo from the first of what I’m sure will be many spies in the assassin Moore (a wicked Sienna Guillory). Most of the pilot is an enjoyable extended chase, involving two very well-done fight sequences, clever set-piecing and superb choreography.

The Cast

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Lindo is constantly underrated in B-material (most notably David Mamet’s Heist). It’s fun for a cinephile to think of him going up against Kyle MacLachlan (made famous by David Lynch in Twin Peaks). Lindo plays Winter so earnestly that it’s hard to tell if he’s just that good of a guy or if he has his own ulterior motives for Bo.

Chung and Jake McLaughlin, as the two younger heroes, have been working their way steadily to this sort of gig for years – Chung through thankless chauvinist dreck like Sucker Punch and The Hangover series, McLaughlin as supporting characters in Warrior and Savages. In just a handful of scenes, Chung communicates Channing’s near-religious awe for Bo and, by extension, Winter. McLaughlin plays rough and ready-to-rumble well, while balancing Tate on the fine line between charming and smug.

Sequoyah is key to the series, and she invests her role as a maybe-prophet with the flightiness and curiosity of a normal little girl. It makes for a compelling character, but one who we need to understand as more than a MacGuffin before we’re ready to take a season-long ride with Believe.

Much as Fox’s Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human feature African-American and Latin American protagonists, representing the cultural makeup of today’s United States in a realistic fashion, I also applaud Believe for featuring a Native American, an African American, and a Korean American actor as three of its four good guys. All three of these shows are associated with J.J. Abrams or his producing tree. That’s no mere coincidence. However much of a problem fans may have with how Lost ended or how Star Trek got rebooted, he’s pretty much the only producing force on network TV whose shows regularly feature minorities in roles of heroism and leadership.

Should You Watch…

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…the pilot? Absolutely. It’s a fantastic hour of TV. I’d be shouting this one from the mountaintops save for two things.

Thing the first: Alfonso Cuaron directed the pilot episode. It’s tense, energetic, and just a touch gritty. He’s obviously not directing past this, so this may be the best episode we get for a while. On the list of future directors, the one that jumps out is Roxann Dawson. She’s most recognizable as an actress from Star Trek: Voyager, but has directed episodes of various Star Treks, Crossing Jordan, Cold Case, The Closer, and – most recently – the best Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet (“Eye Spy”). She’s a go-to contract director on genre fare. Stephen Williams, a director of 26 episodes on Lost, also gives me hope.

There’s some neat stability – the cinematographer across the first several episodes, Gonzalo Amat, is a Mexican short film director hand-picked by Cuaron. Production designer Lester Cohen has created clean, evocative set design for both White Collar and Suits. Make-up head Patricia Regan held the same position with the fantastical Pan Am and the realistic Girls and her looks – especially for McLaughlin and Guillory – are creative and enticing while being just a touch off-putting. That shows me that the behind-the-scenes talent is being given the room to get creative and spread their wings here. That’s promising, so long as the direction of the show itself remains tight.

Thing the second: if movies are the director’s playground, then TV belongs to the writers, and the first episode gets schmaltzy. Now, I like a bit of schmaltz now and then, but there’s noise made about Bo to the tune of: “Think how many people she’ll help along the way.” The show is better set up as an episodic action-adventure than as a miracle-of-the-week. They need to keep the chase the priority and humanize Bo – these two things will let them get away with any Touched By An Angel dynamic they want to work in, but it’s got to be action first if they want it to function.

The directors and writers are rounded out by a smattering of Battlestar Galactica vets and writers on BBC dramas. That sounds like…I don’t know what that sounds like. If there’s a show that combined gritty action and schmaltzy philosophy so simultaneously annoying and provocative as Battlestar Galactica, I haven’t met it. The banter between Tate and Bo is wryly promising. That and Delroy Lindo should keep things very watchable, but this pilot isn’t the kind to tell you where the show is headed yet. I’m being a bit hard on Believe because, even though it’s so promising, you can see the potential pitfalls a mile off…and we’ve been disappointed enough by the Heroes and Agents of recent years. Hopefully, Believe has learned the lessons of these other shows. With a first episode this good, it’s hard not to be cautiously optimistic.