Movie Marathon with Ben Bjork

By Ben Bjork

‘Rogue One’ justifies Disney’s takeover of Star Wars

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Sometimes when going to the movies it can feel impossible to escape big franchises. All of the top ten highest grossing movies of 2017 so far are either a sequel, a remake, or a reboot of a previous movie, a trend which has been on the rise for years. While popular series like Marvel’s Avengers franchise do very well at the box office, they’re beginning to feel more and more streamlined, like if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Noticing this trend, fans of Star Wars felt some apprehension when Disney, the same company that has been cranking out Marvel movies left and right, purchased Lucasfilm for $4 Billion back in 2012. And while audiences generally liked 2015’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it was not until last year’s Rogue One that hardcore lovers ofStar Wars began to feel at ease with the new corporate home of their favorite film series.

Rogue One acts as a direct prequel to 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope and follows a band of rebels on a mission to steal the highly coveted to the planet destroying mega-weapon the Death Star. Anyone who has seen the original A New Hope will have some idea how their mission ends, but director Gareth Edwards tells the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) with an intensity and importance that Rogue One feel like more than just a cash-grab by the suits at Disney, but rather a justified addition to the Star Wars canon. Edwards is clearly a fan of the series, and handles the recurring characters like rebel leaders Mon Mothma and the iconic Darth Vader with care, even the awkward CGI rendering of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, while somewhat jarring, is well meaning and certainly an impressive technical feat. With a large ensemble cast, not every character feels necessary to the story and not every actor feels entirely comfortable in their roles- I would expect most people to forget Riz Ahmed’s boring role as a former Imperial cargo pilot Bodhi Rook, and Forest Whitaker’s bizarre performance as Saw Gerrera is Razzie material. In fact, the most entertaining character in the film is Alan Tudyk’s comic relief as a reprogrammed enemy droid K2-SO, whose dry wit cuts through the rather dark screenplay tension at just the right moments.

More important than any of the film’s few mistakes and triumphs is the overall sense that Disney cares about Star Wars as something more than just a money farm, and fans can plan on catching a movie set in the galaxy far, far, away without the disappointment associated with so much mainstream franchise filmmaking of today.

‘Enemy Mine’ A decent film with a timeless lesson

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Great science fiction often tells us more about the present day when it is created than the future it depicts. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange shows us a world overrun with vicious psychopaths to teach us of the often dehumanizing nature of modern media, while Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner warns that the 80’s corporate consumer culture could ultimately destroy the environment and start to drain us of our very humanity. Wolfgang Petersen’s 1985 film Enemy Mine, though by no means a great work of science fiction, can act as a lens through which we can view the fractured world of The Cold War.

Dennis Quaid stars as space marine Willis Davidge, who after a crash landing is stuck on a desolate planet with Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr.), part of an alien race called the Drac who are in an intergalactic war with humans. Davidge and Jeriba start the film at each other’s throats, demanding that the other hold accountability for their crimes their species have supposedly committed. Soon enough, they discover that the harsh conditions of this deserted planet will require them to work together in order to survive, and the duo begin to form a brotherly bond that transcends their race.

The Cold War was highlighted by a vague and enduring hatred of the nebulous “Other.” The US population was divided along lines of class, race, gender, and ideology, and often times the prejudices of the rulers were legislated and reinforced through the War on Drugs, voter suppression, and unfair welfare reform. People held an irrational anger towards the “communist threat” of the USSR, that lead to Russians being cast as the enemy in almost every popular film of the time. Enemy Mine, though by no means a perfect (or even very good) movie, subverts this trope, and teaches us that sometimes we have more in common with or enemies than we may have thought, and that the only way to solve our problems is to work together.

Will Work for Food: Fresh Cheese

With the threat of nuclear war looming over us once again, it might be a good time to learn some new skills and become more self sufficient. Learning how to scavenge food and collect potable water are obviously important, sure; but knowing how to produce luxury goods is also important. While hunkered down in the sewers at night, between your day trips to the surface-world to scavenge for canned goods and “fresh” meat, wouldn’t it just be nice to settle in with a canteen full of toilet wine? Well, what good is toilet wine without my favorite luxury item – cheese.

I get all kinds of disgusting with cheese, which you may already know if you caught my beer cheese recipe in a prior issue. While the cheese I’m going to explain how to make, a simple ricotta, shouldn’t really be your first choice when it comes to making a sauce or fondu, it’s a great starting point for an aspiring caseiculturist.

Ricotta is what is known as a fresh cheese, as in, “you can eat it fresh without having to wait for it to age like a plebe.” It has a light, fluffy texture, and a mild, adaptable taste. It’s great for salads or whatever post-apocalyptic version of the salad will exist by the time 2020 rolls around. It is also often used in lasagna recipes.
What you’ll need:

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ tbsp salt
  • 2 lemons
  • honey

You will also need a clean (preferably never before used) dishcloth, or if you are some kind of fancy lad a cheesecloth made specifically for this kind of thing.

Prepare your lemons in advance by juicing 1 ½ of them into a bowl. I know I said above that you will need 2 lemons, but you can’t buy ½ a lemon.

Begin by adding the milk, heavy cream, and salt to a pot over high heat. Stir it constantly, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the pot with your spoon, until the mixture begins to boil (it will look kind of like marshmallow fluff, or something else that looks like marshmallow fluff). Once that happens, bring the temperature down to low (if you are using an electric stovetop you might want to switch burners) and stir in the lemon juice that you were smart enough to prepare in advance so that you didn’t have to stop stirring. Keep stirring until it looks kind of like grits in yellow water, or baby spit-up, then remove it from the heat.

Place a strainer over a large bowl, and line it with the dishcloth (or a cheesecloth if, again, you are a fancy lad). Slowly pour the contents of your pot onto the cloth. Make sure you get all of the curds out of there with your spoon. Let it sit and drain for a while before gently folding the cloth over and pressing down very, very lightly. The goal here is to get out all the liquid without upsetting the poor cheese. If you are clever, like I am, and you have a health conscious roommate, like I do, you might be able to convince them to save the whey that has drained into the bowl below your cheese for future protein smoothies or whatever. Upcycle your runoff and all that for environmental reasons.

That’s pretty much it. Transfer the contents from your cloth into a serving bowl, mix in honey and more salt to taste. If you want to get real crazy, add some nuts or something.

We served our cheese over some fresh bread that my girlfriend made, some sliced peaches, and then drizzled it with more honey.

…About Diversity and Theatre

Welcome to the first edition of the UB Post: “UB Should Know…”
Here, you will find a variety of different debates, discussions, and interests that you and your fellow peers are passionate about. Topics from art museums closing down to scientific breakthroughs to conspiracy theories can be discussed here between up to four people, not including your moderator. If you wish to be a part of the next edition of UB Should Know… please feel free to contact the UB Post at editorinchief.ubpost@gmail.edu

“Theatre is for old white ladies.” An acquaintance of mine told me after I expressed my love of musicals and plays. I thought this statement was ridiculous; as I have been fascinated by the theatrical arts for many years, I have grown up and seen it change. By change I mostly mean diversify.

Every few years a Broadway gem appears and everyone loves it for its storyline or songs. The show is usually incredibly different from the average Broadway show, often consisting of a subject matter that isn’t easy to discuss, a celebrity, a surprising music style, or a cast of very few white actors and actresses. These shows gain popularity and, in many cases, spark the attention of younger theatre goers; unfortunately, theatre is an expensive spectacle that not many can afford to experience.

I have been incredibly fortunate to experience many theatre productions all over; after having sat in a Broadway audience, I can confirm that the audiences are mostly older white people, presumably because they are able to afford $100 and up tickets with ease. Because of this, many large-scale Broadway productions will cater to their audiences by providing them with familiar and relatable white
lead faces.

Everyone wants to watch characters that they can relate to in one way or another, the easiest and most obvious way consists of skin color. Specific people can relate to the cast of Phantom of the Opera and Dear Evan Hanson but so many more can relate to the likes of Hamilton and Aladdin. A mostly white cast versus a group of racially diverse ensemble and lead roles is now a topic that is often argued, sometimes to the point of entire shows closing down due to casting struggles.

After being nominated for twelve Tonys and only winning two, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, is to close on September 3. Not specifically due to the Tonys, as the production is greatly adored by many who are sad to see it go, but because of the incompetence of producers. The lead role of Pierre had always been played by a white male, the originator and writer of the show, Dave Malloy, Scott Stangland as the understudy, and Josh Groban. After Groban’s departure, former Hamilton star Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan took over, ticket sales began to drop. Because of depleting funds, Homeland star Mandy Patinkin was set to take
over with the full support of the show’s producers.

I do not believe that Patinkin, a white actor, was made to replace Onaodowan, a black actor, based on race. The show had been running for so long with celebrity Josh Groban that ticket sales dropped due to his departure only. Unfortunately, Broadway Black, a community that highlights the success of black actors and actresses on Broadway, focused on racism in the upper Broadway community, the story was maimed until Patinkin himself dropped out of the show. With all of this controversy, The Great Comet has been
left without a celebrity Pierre, decreasing ticket sales, and a ‘For Sale’ sign ready to be placed on the Imperial Theatre doors.

Quite often, celebrities are brought in to plays and musicals in order to boost ticket sales. The Great Comet portrays one of those times. But when lead roles go from black to white, people become angered at the lack of representation and feel cheated. Good shows with amazing stories lose their spirits when potential audience members are against the casting calls; when shows are originally cast with white actors, there is less frustration when they are replaced by more and more white actors in a certain role. It seems easy enough to believe that the reason there fewer diverse casts on Broadway is because casting directors and producers cannot be bothered to deal with unhappy audience members who feel they aren’t being represented. There are so many stories that need to be told on a stage, and not all of those stories are all white. Someone just needs to start telling them properly.

Surviving Life: Chapter Eight

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It was a new day. Xavier and I ventured out to the front of the store. The world was a foggy green.

“Well…that doesn’t look good at all.” He commented with a huff.

“We can’t stay here.” I crossed my arms over my chest and shook my head “We’ll need more supplies soon. We should get out before the fog gets too bad.”

“Yeah, this is insane. Carter said there’s a supply truck out back.” he turned away from the window and began walking back to the store room. “Let’s mask up and go take a look. We can take some people and drive around.”

I caught up with him. “No.”

“What, why?” he looked confused.

“I’ll mask up and take our SUV and drive around.” I told him.

“No! You can’t go by yourself, it’s dangerous.” He pleaded.

I denied his help. “I promise, I’ll be fine. We need to conserve the gas in that thing until we know where we can go, anyway.”

Xavier let out an exasperated sigh “What if something happens here and we need you?”

“Well,” I chuckled “I guess you’ll just have to be in charge of our group while I’m gone.”

“I’m not a leader.” He rolled his eyes.

I nudged him “I’ll be gone for three hours, tops. Don’t worry.” I reached into the pocket of my coat and pulled out my face mask and goggles. “Maybe Carter has some walkie-talkies we can borrow.”

Carter did, in fact, have eight walkie-talkies to use between the group. “Stay on channel four while you’re out there, okay?” Xavier insisted.

I turned the dial on my walkie to four and nodded my head after putting a new mask and a pair of goggles on “I’ll be back in three hours. Do not come searching for me. If you guys have to up and leave for some reason, try leave me a note or a trail if you can’t get to the walkie in time.”

He nodded his head and held his hand out, wanting me to shake it. “In case something does happen, thank you.”

Taking his hand, I said “Don’t mention it, Xavier. We’ve got to try keeping one another alive.”

I ventured out into the still, dreary wasteland and got into the SUV. For the first time in so many years I realized I had no solution; I couldn’t think of a single method to solve this dilemma.

Driving out of the parking lot I felt a familiar sensation wash over me. My body thrummed and my vision deteriorated until I could no longer see my numb hands gripping the steering wheel.

“Failure,” I heard. “Yet again.”

Baltimore History Live!

UB History Alive in Archives

UB Associate Professor of History Nicole Hudgins here continues a series of history-related interviews exclusively for the UB Post.  The series will feature men and women whose personal or professional lives can help us learn more about the Baltimore area’s fascinating history.  Here, the second interview in our series, UB history professor Betsy Nix answers questions about her experience teaching incarcerated students at the Jessup Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison in eastern Howard County. UB’s special collections of local history, and the importance of preserving our archives.

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Nicole Hudgins:  Betsy, I know since settling in Baltimore many years ago, you’ve become a really active citizen of the city.  Besides currently chairing the Division of Legal, Ethical and Historical Studies at UB, what groups in Baltimore do you find time for?

Betsy Nix:  I’m a founder and board member of Southwest Baltimore Charter School, a public school in my neighborhood that serves over 400 Baltimore City kids in grades K-8 (http://www.sbcschool.org).  I’m the Vice President of the Baltimore City Historical Society (http://www.historicbaltimore.org), and I represent that organization on the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) (http://chap.baltimorecity.gov) for the city of Baltimore.  I’ve taught at the University of Baltimore for 13 years.

NH: How did you get interested in the Jessup Correctional Institution Second Chance program?

BN: Andrea Cantora is the faculty director of Second Chance, and associate professor of criminal justice at UB.  I got to know Andrea when she was a CPA [College of Public Affairs] rep to the UB Honors Council and I was the Honors Program director.  Andrea was working so hard as a volunteer to get approval for the program to start, and she was so committed to the success of the members of the cohort that I wanted to get to know them, too.  Andrea was so enthusiastic about the program that I wanted to find a way to get involved.

NH: What have you taught for the incarcerated students?  Can you tell us a little about the logistical procedure in place for teaching in a prison?

BN:  The students are completing their general education requirements in the first few semesters.  Andrea told them the history program Gen Ed offerings, and the cohort picked Modern America, a survey course that covers 1865 to the present.  I used Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and the urban witness committee of my church, Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian, donated a copy for each student.

In my on-campus classes, I use slide shows to prompt discussion, but limitations on technology at JCI made me go old school.  At Jessup I was not allowed to bring in a flash drive with a slide lecture, so I made copies of maps, the photographs of Jacob Riis, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, and graphs.  No binder clips or spiral notebooks.  The biggest challenge was actually my clothing.  We had to dress modestly, but the classroom/library was extremely hot, so finding appropriate outfits was difficult.

NH: Why no clips or spiral notebooks?

BN:  No binder clips or spiral notebooks are allowed because of the possibility of creating lock-picking tools or weapons.

NH: We talked earlier about how delighted you were with the class of students.  What was the classroom like?  The students?

BN:  The course started in 1865 [end of the Civil War], but the book started with the first encounters between Europeans and native peoples.  We read the first three chapters together as a class, then skipped about 200 pages to get to 1865.  Most of the students read the portions of the book that weren’t assigned and engaged in animated discussions about that content.

One student who was in his 50s told me about the risks that the students were taking by just enrolling in college courses.  He reminded me that all of them had a certain status at Jessup, as mentors and employees.  Taking college classes, where they would be graded and would have to learn new skills like math and keyboarding, challenged that hard-earned reputation.  His insights reminded me about the leaps that all adult learners make when they come back to school.  My Thursday night class was the highlight of my week. I had to stay on top of current events because students always asked about historical precedents — immigration bans, the North Korean nuclear program, firing an FBI director, and there was no Googling once I got inside.

One Thursday night there was a problem with the memo at the front gate that should have allowed me to go in.  I had to go home without having class.  At a conventional campus, I imagine many students would be happy if one class were cancelled at the last minute.  But not at Jessup. The students were so happy when class took place the next week and insisted we add another session to the schedule to make up for the missed class.  Several students asked for extra copies of the text book to share with their friends.  Others said they had started talking about history to their kids during visits and phone calls. They were completely engaged with the content and clearly saw the importance of historical context in understanding our world.

NH: We’ve read about how prisoners could apply for Pell Grants in order to earn credits toward a degree at Jessup.  A study funded by the Department of Justice found that incarcerated individuals who participated in education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs.  What do you think the students get out of taking classes with UB professors?

BN:  I hope they feel part of the UB community even if they aren’t on campus.  Students at Jessup have UB t-shirts and come out of the program with ties to another institution.  It’s important for returning citizens to have connections with people and access to supportive networks in the communities they will rejoin.  When they are released these students are well on their way to reaching an educational goal, and the support that UB can provide should help them transition to their new lives.  It’s also helpful for people outside correctional institutions to see what life is like inside, and all of the potential of the incarcerated population.

NH: Did you see a full range of grades in the class?

BN: The students as a class submitted the strongest set of midterm exams I have ever seen in a class.  They organized study sessions to prepare, and almost everyone wrote for the entire two-and-a-half-hour class.  Students also wrote two papers and submitted drafts for each one.  No one turned in their assignments late.  The final grades for the class were higher than the final grades in any other class I have taught in my 20 years of teaching.

NH: Very impressive.  It seems to me that if we, as a society, spent more money nurturing our school children, we might end up having to spend less money incarcerating adults.  A 2011 article in The Atlantic reported that one year at Princeton University cost $37,000, whereas one year at a New Jersey state prison cost $44,000.   I’d rather the eighteen-year-old go to Princeton or another college!

BN:  I agree! Many of the students, now middle-aged, had entered prison at age 17.  At least one had not finished high school. One student who grew up in Washington, DC and as a kid played in Frederick Douglass’s yard in Anacostia, remarked, “I can’t believe I had to go to prison to learn about Frederick Douglass.”

NH:  Wow – that really gives one the sense of there being “pipeline” from poorer neighborhoods to prison – the sense of our warehousing people.  Did you see 13th on Netflix?  What did you think of the filmmaker’s argument?

BN:  I saw 13th and I think it is an effective introduction to the history of mass incarceration. After I saw the documentary, I read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform by John Pfaff.  Pfaff makes a compelling argument that changing drug sentencing is not going to make a big dent in the prison population; the key to stemming mass incarceration lies in reforms to prosecutorial practices.  I also read Chris Hayes’ Colony in a Nation, and thought that he brought up some important historical context.

NH: Will you be teaching inmates at Jessup again?  What was your favorite part of the experience?

BN:  I hope I will get to teach there again. They have just accepted a new cohort who will need another humanities Gen Ed course, so maybe I will get to go back.  My favorite part of the experience was getting to know the students.  They were so committed to their studies, engaged and engaging, smart and witty.

NH: Are there any volunteer opportunities for students or faculty if they want to assist with inmates’ education?

BN:  As Second Chance scholars transition out of Jessup, there will be opportunities for UB students to act as mentors. We sometimes have opportunities for graduate students to volunteer. We are always accepting school supplies (composition notebooks, printer paper, highlighters, pens, etc.). For info on that students can email: prisoncollegeprogram@ubalt.edu

We do have a donation page at https://www.ubcommunity.org/second-chance. We are always looking for donations to help support the operations of the program. Andrea Cantora has more information about opportunities.

NH:  Talking with you about your experience was fascinating, Betsy.  It leaves me with a hopeful feeling – thanks!

The second coming of ‘Lunastus’

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society brings sci-fi back on stage

By Liz McMahon

“Show is God.” Erica Patoka, music director of the upcoming Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS) show The Terrible Secret of Lunastus, tells the UB Post the motto that unites the group.

On September 15, BROS will bring its original sci-fi comedy back on stage with a new script, new music and a brand new aesthetic. “This is a rewrite of my first rock opera,” Lunastus writer and director Chuck Green shares. “A lot of people have wanted to see this show again.”

BROS first performed Lunastus in 2011 as part of a double-feature. This fall, the show will stand on its own.

The two-hour production is inspired by the sci-fi genre—particularly Star Trek—with musical influences from David Bowie, Phantom of the Paradise, Velvet Goldmine , and Smashing Pumpkins. “I’m a huge Trekkie,” Patoka admits over the phone. “I’m staring at a figurine of Q as we speak.”

Though the show has been rewritten, the story remains the same: four astronauts and their robot friend, Android, journey to find a new planet for humans to inhabit before the Moon falls from orbit and destroys Earth. They arrive on planet Lunastus and discover a bizarre alien world with, for lack of better words, a “terrible secret.”

Patoka describes the sound of the show as “atmospheric glamorous alien.” The even crafted what they call a “space-bone,” a trombone affected with pedals that can play several octaves at a time. The entire album has already been released online at bros.bandcamp.com.

BROS currently rehearse at The Bell Foundry, a multi-purpose arts space in Station North, but are actively fundraising to move into their very own rehearsal and performance home. It’s at the Bell Foundry that Jacob Dillow, costumes co-designer, creates the extra-terrestrial getups that pair with the show’s glam-rock ballads, alongside his fellow costume and design teammates. Dillow focuses mostly on the alien costumes, while other designers take on the humans and the “nog trees—” a supernatural component of Lunastus that you’ll just have to see for yourself.

Dillow describes the alien aesthetic as, “space Elizabethan with a little BDSM.” The look is completely different from the 2011 production. Dillow went with an Elizabethan style, “because it’s familiar but there’s also distance. Also, there’s a lot of stuff going on during that time period that parallels the story,” he explains. The parallels he refers to include colonialism and religious schism, both of which are subtexts of the script.

Both Dillow and Patoka got involved with BROS during the 2011 Lunastus production and have been active members ever since. “BROS has been my gateway drug, more or less,” Dillow says. “It’s an entryway for a lot of people into theater.” Patoka, who has written the music for both iterations of Lunastus, is “so excited to bring this show back—better and badder. It maybe took some years off my life, but it’s totally worth it.”

Green was stage manager for the BROS’ first ever production, Gründlehämmer, and later took on the role of writer when the group decided to perform a historical rock opera. “I just sort of delved though all of my science-fiction entertainment knowledge,” Green recalls. “I feel like my forte in writing is in comedy.” He describes Lunastus as having “light-hearted character dialogue in a sci-fi scenario—this is the funniest show that BROS has done.”

Patoka expresses that BROS “want more people to get involved.” The organization is entirely volunteer-based. “We’re always looking for volunteers and new creative people,” Dillow adds. “We’re fun to hang out with.”

The BROS have already raised 61% of their $75,000 goal to open a space of their own— to be dubbed, glamorously, “The Paradise.” Check out The Terrible Secret of Lunastus at Zion Lutheran Church, Sept. 15—Oct. 8. Tickets: baltimorerockopera.com

Photos by Hailey Chaudron.