Category: Reviews

Review of This Is America, by Childish Gambino (Using One Scene from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Black Arrow)

While I have your attention, do be sure to read Stevenson’s Kidnapped. Alan Breck may just be my favorite character ever.

Okay, here’s how this review works. I describe the opening of the video, then I use a few lines from Black Arrow to express my critical thoughts.

The video opens with a shirtless man whose immediate sex appeal rivals young Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, and Elvis Presley. Then we see him reach for his gun. And you know the rest.

****

The Good Hope was, at that moment, trembling on the summit of a swell. She subsided, with sickening velocity, upon the farther side. A wave, like a great black bulwark, hove immediately in front of her; and, with a staggering blow, she plunged headforemost through that liquid hill. The green water passed right over her from stem to stern, as high as a man’s knees; the sprays ran higher than the mast; and she rose again upon the other side, with an appalling, tremulous indecision, like a beast that has been deadly wounded… 

“Bootless, my master, bootless,” said the steersman, peering forward through the dark. “We come every moment somewhat clearer of these sandbanks; with every moment, then, the sea packeth upon us heavier, and for all these whimperers they will presently be on their backs. For, my master, ’tis a right mystery, but true, there never yet was a bad man that was a good shipman. None but the honest and the bold can endure me this tossing of a ship.”

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Dangerous Historical Revision vs. Dangerous Bad History, A Joint Review of Black Panther by Ryan Coogler and 12 Strong by Nicolai Fuglsig

I don’t fantasize anymore. When I was younger, I loved the way movies elicited some fantasy or other. After Sandlot I could almost see my foot aligned with the mound’s rubber at Wrigley. After Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves I could think of nothing but splitting an arrow with an arrow. And after Top Gun, well, I went on to become a military officer and pilot.

Fantasy no more.

Over the last two nights I finally watched Black Panther and also gave in to the hope that 12 Strong might get it right. These movies are both fantasy action films. They both include a healthy admixture of current events and fiction. And they both elate and inspire their fans. But, by my thinking, they, the resounding box office success of Black Panther especially, beg the question, “Can inspiration be dangerous?”

Black Panther‘s make-believe portion is what I struggle to understand. I do not identify with, neither am I inspired by, the notion that, “all along my people actually were capable and smart and possessed the technology to change the world for the better.” In fact, I find it troubling. More troubling is I think I’m alone in this because I am afraid to even type it.

Naturally, there are millions of reasons why the idea doesn’t inspire me, but I only want to highlight the one reason why it shouldn’t inspire anyone at all: unlike every other superhero movie, it is entirely based on pernicious historical revision. And given that truth depends on the events of history, we might consider the implications behind using historical revision as inspiration.

This takes us to 12 Strong. With 12 Strong we have a different type of fantasy, a different type of revision. The film begins by unnecessarily reminding the viewer of the, not just one, but many attacks that Bin Laden and friends perpetrated on the United States, the last of which being 9/11. Unlike Black Panther’s bright-color-clothed, ancestor worshiping character’s, this movie’s characters achieve depth only if in a kiddie pool. And while Thor’s men certainly declare that they are inspired by him, his greatest strength seems to be undecided. Is it that he can both speak Russian and ride a horse? Or that he got really–and I mean really, really–mad when he saw the news that fateful morning? (So mad that he kicked over his desk!)

Unlike Black Panther12 Strong does not actually revise history. It’s too cowardly to even attempt that. It surely is bad history, but Wakandan-like revision is nowhere in sight. For example, there is no discovery that the terrorists actually love the United States. Nor does some soldier wander into a mountain cave and discover that the United States’ actual forefathers (you know, the ones secretly sabotaging all the Taliban’s bad seed’s biggest plans) have kept alive an underground resistance within the same cave system wherein the bad tribes hid from shame all these centuries.

Nope. You won’t find any of that. Instead, 12 Strong merely works very hard to make sure that no one can say the military response to 9/11 was unjustified. (There’s even a scene where some Taliban leader shoots a burka-wearing woman who had been teaching little girls how to read–something which he believed Allah forbids. Yeah, that’s it. It was their illiteracy that we were pissed about.) By the way, the fact that any American thinks additional explanation for military response to 9/11 is necessary at all speaks louder than any graphic representation of barbaric beliefs ever could about whose side they’re on.

In the end, I guess I do fantasize. I fantasize about the day that we admit that our way of life is under attack every moment, from every angle. I fantasize about the day when we admit that it’s okay–in fact good–to have power and use it. I fantasize about the day when any one of us defends the Founding Fathers of the United States of America as champions of freedom. Do you hear me? I fantasize about these things.

Review of The Great Conversation: Volume One of the Great Books of the Western World, By Robert Maynard Hutchins

No different than the school shootings, we all have opinions on liberal education. Oh, you may disagree in this moment, but watch this: What do you think? Are all entitled to receive a liberal education or only the wealthy and powerful?

See what I mean?

Endearing Backstory: My school’s library had apparently been amassing donations of book sets for a few years and last Monday morning there was a long awaited sale. Each book cost a mere $2, but the catch was you had to purchase the entire set. I had heard rumor (cuz im sooo street) that they had a set of the famed Great Books of the Western World (hereafter GBWW). $126 poorer, and I am the proud owner of that 54 volume set. (They had 53 volumes=$106. I had to track down the missing volume on Amazon for $20. It’s best not to dwell on such things.)

Volume One explains and defends the project. There is no better title for it than The Great Conversation. I would know, because, as you know, I love conversation. According to Hutchins et al. however, what I actually love is the freedom to converse. No argument here. And inherent to our beloved way of life–as presented in GBWW–is the belief in liberal education for all. Put another way, we believe everyone gets a say and no one has the last word.

The one critique I have of the project is that Hutchins writes that the editorial board believes the–now 118 year–lack of teaching great books will be viewed by future historians as an aberration. I am happy to read such clear writing, but where I distinguish myself from Hutchins is that I believe that the lack of teaching the great books, whether someday viewed as an aberration or not, manifests something much worse. It is the evidence that in some very meaningful, though elusive, sense we are no longer the Western World.

Western Civilization, the great conversation it has had, ends with silence.

So speak up, I say! For Christ’s sake, speak up!

Review of Zhang Zuo’s March Seventeenth of Two Thousand Eighteen Performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto (Emperor) with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Boettcher Concert Hall

I should have known the night was on my side when her dress fit.

She briskly, confidently, and oh-so-perfectly entered Boettcher Concert Hall, holding the thin, race-car red fabric of her dress off the floor with her soon-to-set-the-piano-on-fire fingers.

Red is my favorite color. And if dresses could direct their attention, her dress pointed directly at my heart. Did I mention that it fit? It fit.

Beethoven is said to have said something like, “Music is God’s final revelation to man.” Of course, with an understanding like that, he could only have meant the LORD. Amen, Brother B. Amen. And thank you, LORD.

All I really want to do here is call to your attention this pianist. If she comes to your town, drop everything–every single thing that you are holding, whether in hand or mind–and pay any dollar amount to see her play. (Or any other currency for that matter, you uptight legalists.)

This woman turns the concert hall into the cathedral.

Do you believe that there is more to music than sound? Good. Me too. Zee Zee three.

You will not be disappointed.

Review of mother! by Darren Aronofsky

Logan was the first movie I saw in the theater after one year away, over one year ago. Hoping to love it, I instead almost left the theater. Children being violently wounded on-screen? Shouldn’t there be a line?

Now with mother!, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. It is a terrific film–but it puts the graphic, on-screen adult-on-child violence in Logan to shame in a way that I cannot yet reconcile.

Bluntly, Mr. Aronofsky’s motion picture is not for kids. But it is for adults, especially Christians.

Many of you know that I study ancient languages. In brief, you may be intrigued to learn that the naming conventions become tricky quickly. For example, you’ve likely heard of the Hebrew language. Maybe you’ve even heard that distinct from Modern Hebrew is Biblical Hebrew.

If you’re uncommonly interested in such things, you may be aware that within Biblical Hebrew there are designations for both Early and Late Biblical Hebrew–the difference being mostly related to vocabulary as opposed to grammar. Not surprisingly, Late Biblical Hebrew’s vocabulary shows influences from the surrounding culture’s languages. C’est la vie.

Most of you, however, will not know that there is something before Early Biblical Hebrew, that is clearly related to it, but which dates before it. The scholars who discuss this more ancient Hebrew variant call it Paleo-Hebrew.

See what’s going on?

This language is not exactly Hebrew, but it’s also not exactly a different language, nor dialect for that matter. It probably sounded like Early Biblical Hebrew, but the letters looked different. So to try and capture this complicated relationship, the prefix “paleo” is applied. (Sometimes it is also more simply labeled Old Hebrew.)

mother!, then, is likewise Mr. Aronofsky’s telling of, not the Bible’s story, but the Paleo-Bible’s story–except that there is no such thing, until now. And that is what makes the movie so phenomenal.

It has many of the elements of the Bible; for example, Father is the name of the creative storytelling poet who longs to be loved, and his newborn son is unintentionally killed by Father’s fanatical fans–who then eat the dead baby in some kind of cultic memorial ritual.

Oh boy.

I’m telling you too much. You’re not going to watch it.

Review of Phantom Thread, By Paul Thomas Anderson

Michael Mann still owns pacing–he always will. But director Paul Thomas Anderson owns something else. What is it? I have not found the word yet. But when I do, it will describe the way Phantom Thread is not about dresses. It will also convey the way this motion picture about some dressmaker makes me want to wake up early every morning. Oh, and this word will describe how without Mr. Anderson spending any precious time on patronizing summaries, technical explanations, or unambiguous declarations, I felt like I learned something–something that I might have otherwise missed. I wonder, what will you learn?

Review of The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead (A Bloodline Novel)

Fiery Heart

The most fitting way to describe this book is by telling the truth. It is both good and bad.

You may be wondering how I ever stumbled upon Richelle Mead’s The Fiery Heart. The answer: one semester of translating Hebrew and Greek. I mentioned to a friend that over the break I just wanted to read something easy and preferably out of the norm for my tastes. I was thinking sci-fi or fantasy. I thought that that conversation bore no fruit, so I drove to the bookstore where I picked up Octavia Butler’s supposedly sci-fi story Kindredchosen literally by its cover. Sci-fi written by a black woman, who knew? (Review coming soon).

Kindred

Anyhow, the next morning I found Mrs. Read’s vampire tale on my windshield and decided to follow the rabbit. Like I said, it’s good and bad. The following sentences should demonstrate what I mean.

There was just her and the feel of her lips, the exquisite way they managed to be soft and fierce at the same time.

I admit that one caught my attention. It is on page three, and it caught my attention because while I was in college, I took an ethics class. (Oh the fondness of that memory.) There was a lady in the class who had some very odd tendencies, and one friend and I identified these tendencies and exploited them. We were classically behaving as “little shits.” In short, while we ate lunch before class, we would decide which of her tendencies we would adopt and then impose them on the classroom discussions at will. One of our innocent classmate’s tendencies was to answer in opposites. You can imagine the fun we had as we concluded any ethical analysis with, “I guess, what I’m trying to say is, I think it’s both right and wrong.” And the best part was that the woman would resoundingly answer, “That’s how I feel!”

Back to blood boilers and dhampirs (thought I’m still not sure exactly what those are). As I read Mrs. Mead’s novel, I kept noticing this tendency to invoke contradictions in the name of good writing. I didn’t start keeping track until about half-way through the book, but here are a string of them. They occurred about every forty-ish pages.

Her long, dark hair spilled over her shoulders, and there was a fire in her brown eyes that was both dangerous (wait for it) and alluring.

And another.

Even through my jeans, that touch was provocative and made me think of all the times he’d run his hands over my legs. It was agonizing…(drumroll please) and exquisite.

Another.

Time stopped having meaning. It seemed like both an eternity and (How short? Please, I can’t wait a moment longer!) a heartbeat before I was cognizant of my surroundings again.

More bluntly.

This isn’t the same as you running off to a witch’s tea party! This is life and (Let me guess…) death. (YES! I was right.)

Last one, for effect. The speaker is talking to the human girl who is dating the vampire boy.

And that’s the thing, I think…the real reason I’m not that weirded out by you two. It goes against all sound logic, but somehow, you two together…it (Anyone else’s head feel warm?) just (Oh boy. I’m not feeling so good anymore. Bathroom please.) works. (Hurrrl. Now, retract tongue.)

Besides these juxtapositions of contradictory and ultimately inconsequential platitudes, the book contains two hundred plus pages of foreplay and a disappointing sex scene, prescription drug use, illicit drug use, and a whole host of other unsavory behaviors (all by eighteen year old’s) which in and of themselves certainly need no help being normalized into our degrading civilization. Oh, and there was a lot of mouth’s crushing together. Considering the nature of vampire teeth, that seems dangerous. And life-giving.

Just Go See It

I don’t know what the big fuss is about. H8ers gunna hate, I guess. It’s a perfectly good movie. I’d probably say it was “great” but I don’t want to build it up too much. Just go see it.

To critics: That’s enough alone time. I didn’t mean forever. You can go play with your friends again.

Review of Sicario and The Heart of the Sea

These two movies had piqued my interest when I first heard of them, but the mainstream critical reception was off-putting enough that I hadn’t take the time to view them. Finally I had a minute. The critics are wrong.

If you liked Miami Vice and Zero Dark Thirty, then Sicario is for you. My only real problem with Sicario is that it would be ruined if the cartel horrors it depicts were not based in the historical record, but I am too afraid to confirm that they are to do any fact checking. Depressing stuff.

If you have read Moby Dick, then The Heart of the Sea is for you. This one’s reception is especially baffling. Critics can’t say anything good about it, but as far as ocean voyage movies go it is much better than Master and Commander, which wasn’t bad. I loved Moby Dick and so I can’t say how much of that influences my enjoyment of The Heart of the Sea. What I can say is that if you know that Moby Dick is not about a whale, then you’ll like this movie. Conversely, if you are asking yourself, “Moby Dick isn’t about whale?” right now, skip the movie.

That is Patently Untrue–A Review of Matt Damon’s Opening Claim in The Martian Trailer

“Every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out…this instinct is found in every culture without exception.”

From his dissection of the card player’s hands in Rounders, to his dissertation on clubbing baby seals in Good Will Hunting, to his explanation that he knows which vehicle in the parking lot is most likely to have a gun in it in Bourne Identity and more, in just about all of his films Mr. Damon has proven he can memorize and deliver long, dry, and yet convincing speeches that seem like they might trip up other acting professionals. And that’s fine and dandy. I like those movies and I like his characters in those movies. But I don’t know if anyone likes to hear what he has to say after he clocks out, and it seems like the two are beginning to merge. Recently, he’s starred in films that sacrifice entertainment value in favor of agendas, films like the one about fracking. Soooo dramatic. And they’re probably filled with science. Again, whatever.

A year or so ago a couple handed me the book The Martian because they knew I had applied to be an emigrant to Mars. I read it and reviewed it here. This book is now a major motion picture. And all of this is very interesting to me and probably every other independent author, as its author published the book by his own self years before it got picked up by a major publisher and now Hollywood. It looks like Mr. Weir self-published it in 2011, three years before the big boys picked it up in 2014. So it seems that five years after self-publishing a quality book any one of us could watch A-listers act out our story on the big screen. That’s neat. Anyhow, back to the point. The book has nothing to do with making a statement about “every culture” of humans. Anyone that disagrees with this is flat out wrong and I would argue hasn’t read the book. And yet somehow (I picture a lot of whining and temper tantrums and threats to walk out of the room) Matt Damon opens the preview to what looks like a fantastic new space movie with this bogus notion that every culture has a basic instinct to help each other out. I can buy every human does on an individual level. There’s books about that. But the simple fact is there are plenty of cultures who don’t rescue people who find themselves stranded on Mars or mountain tops or the side of the highway. What’s worse is there are plenty of cultures who actively believe in kidnapping people for money or political statements. These cultures are generally those not labeled The West.

I buy and promote the truth that if we’re talking about the level of the soul, then we’re all just people making our way through this world and will more times than not help each other when able. But it is not true that in groups (cultures) we’re all the same and without quantifiable, measurable differences that can be labeled “better” or “worse”–no matter how hard we wish for it.