Critics' Choice

By Jonathan Ross Gregory Porter Ellen E Jones
Author: Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross is a comedian, talk show host, film critic and one of Britain's most successful broadcasters.

Author: Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones is The Independent's TV critic and a columnist for The Independent on Sunday and The i Paper. She runs regular review writing workshops and mentoring programmes for young journalists, yet still finds time to squeeze in a solid four hours of TV-viewing a day.

Author: Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter is a multi-award winning jazz singer, songwriter and actor.

Jonathan Ross says…

Blade Runner 2049 is showing on board and, although I don’t think it comes close to the original masterpiece (also showing), it’s
still a pretty fine slice of dystopian science fiction, with a banging cast and great visuals.

Watching the beautifully gloomy yet compelling Blade Runner 2049 made me consider how sci-fi movies run the whole spectrum from complicated, intense and confusing riddles to loud, brash rock ’em, sock ’em action spectacles. I once met with the director Michael Bay to discuss the possibility of a movie based on a comic strip I had written. Nothing came of it, but I got a fascinating insight into the mind of the master of super-slick, superficial cinema (whose work I normally enjoy, by the way). I was told that if a sci-fi project was set in any kind of post-apocalyptic world, Mr Bay wouldn’t go near it unless he could tell his story against the backdrop of a recognisable version of the here and now. Unless the humans in the story were at risk of losing not just their lives, but their cars and their smartphones, then he didn’t see why an audience would care.

Maybe he has a point. It’s certainly easier to empathise with our on-screen avatars if the threat they are facing is something that we can imagine ruining our own lives. That’s why sci-fi disaster films such as Geostorm are so easy to enjoy. Robots are another obvious threat. They’re fine when they stick to stacking containers onto ships, but give them enough intelligence to start thinking about what they’d rather be doing, and you know there will be trouble.

The plot of I, Robot and Blade Runner aren’t that dissimilar. The first places the focus on the kind of ass-kicking action that Will Smith excels at, while the second asks the big existential questions. Both films are entertaining, but one satisfies our urge to see humans come out on top, the other leaves us wondering whether it’s us who are the monsters.

Maybe one day a robot itself will write and direct a movie on that very subject. I suspect it would feel rather like one of Michael Bay’s films. Come to think of it, does anyone know if he needs to be plugged in at night ?

Gregory Porter on jazz clubs…

If you’re going to a jazz club for the first time, have an open mind as to what you’re going to hear. Some piano players have a really strong classical tradition, some are steeped in folk and there are some artists who lean towards the blues side. There can be an air of elitism – but that can happen with anything that becomes cool or desirable. Jazz fans are actually the most fun and loving people I’ve come to find. People have this romantic idea where they listen to the artist for a few minutes, then they start talking over their cocktails. That’s only in the movies – you really are supposed to listen!

St Nick’s pub in Harlem was the place I first honed my craft around 2010: it was a tiny place, with an anything goes vibe, as long as it was interesting. A jazz dive bar since the 1920s, NYU students and tourists from around the world would come. It wasn’t a slick place. The Christmas decorations on the wall stayed up all year – it was the real deal. There was no cover charge so you could come and see me perform for four or five hours for a $3 beer. Tourists would ask when I would have a show in London: at the time, I didn’t even have a passport.

My first London gig was at Pizza Express in Soho. It was a whirlwind – Gilles Peterson and Jamie Cullum had been playing my first record on the BBC, but I was blown away by the enthusiasm. I remember trying to find my way around this amazing city with grey skies – and not having a particularly nice hotel.

If there are ten jazz capitals in the world, I would put London in the top third. The intimacy and the history makes Ronnie Scott’s one of the best jazz venues in the UK. I haven’t had a proper residency yet but I’m sure I will as the ‘reach out and touch you’ vibe of Ronnie’s is pretty amazing.

Frankly, jazz has been enlivened by the interests it has outside its American origins. I cherish the appreciation the British audience has for jazz. There’s that connection between the US and the UK – it’s something that binds us, the music that we share, most definitely.

Ellen E Jones says…

The drip feed of enticing Star Trek: Discovery details began in earnest in early 2017. We found out the series would be set ten years before the events of the original Star Trek; that it would feature the first openly gay character (played by Anthony Rapp) and, perhaps most significantly, that the show’s lead character would be a black woman, played by Walking Dead actress Sonequa Martin-Green. First Officer Michael Burnham is a human raised on Vulcan, after the death of her namesake father, and as the series opens she’s serving under Captain Philippa Georgiou (played by Malaysian actress, Michelle Yeoh).

Internet trolls wasted no time in expressing their disapproval of this set-up: “Is everything going to have to have females in every damn thing?” wrote one YouTube commenter. Another derisively dubbed the show “Star Trek: Feminist Lesbian Edition”.

When asked about this backlash, Martin-Green responded with the calm, irrefutable logic of her adoptive Vulcan culture: “It was surprising, because to say that you love Star Trek but you’re upset about diversity on the show is completely antithetical.”

Indeed, the first black female lead in a Star Trek series may seem like a giant leap for television, but it’s actually quite a small step in the direction that show creator Gene Roddenberry set out on some 50 years ago. Diversity was always part of Star Trek’s utopian vision and the command bridge of the original 1966 series included Japanese Sulu (played by George Takei, who has gone on to become a prominent LGBT rights activist) and African-American Lt Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), who shared US TV’s first interracial kiss with Captain Kirk. In her autobiography, Nichols revealed that it was Martin Luther King Jr himself who persuaded her to stick with the show, citing her importance as a role model.

Still, perhaps the most elegant answer to this casting controversy comes from watching the series. As Burnham, Martin-Green is everything a Star Trek hero should be: principled, open-minded and always boldly going where no man has gone before. Starfleet is lucky to have her.